If you do want to do some cooking though, then a bit of baking hits the spot. You can get some done during the day as you juggle your other jobs and it makes the house warm and toasty too.
Cooking with chocolate is always satisfying, not least because you can lick out the dishes as you go. And since the invention of the microwave, melting the chocolate no longer requires faffing about with bowls over simmering water, even the pros now use microwaves.
You do need good chocolate though, with at least 70% cocoa solid and we’ve been impressed with Menier Chocolate. It’s made with UTZ certified - cocoa, which means it’s farmed sustainably and signed off by the recognised authority and it’s also vegetarians society approved and kosher.
Antoine Brutus Menier founded the company that has his name 200 years ago, using the chocolate to coat the bitter-tasting pills he sold as a pharmacist. In 1830 he created the first mechanised mass production factory for cocoa powder in France and soon after his distinct packaging became world- recognised.
The Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, was restored in 2004 as a theatre and arts complex with an art gallery and restaurant.
The latest Festive Nespresso collection just launched has Festive Variations inspired by three famous desserts from Vienna:
Sachertorte is a glazed chocolate cake with a thin layer of sweet apricot jam. The Variations Grand Cru combines the round and balanced profile of Livanto with soft chocolate and apricot notes. It is best enjoyed as an espresso.
Variations Apfelstrudel is inspired by the classic puff pastry dessert with a sweet apple filling delicately spiced with cinnamon. In this Grand Cru coffee, Livanto’s fruity notes are complemented with the rich aromas of pastry, baked apples and a hint of cinnamon.
Nespresso pays homage to the popular Austrian Linzer Torte: a tasty red fruit tart topped with an iconic lattice design. This espresso is a combination of Livanto and the taste of red fruits and spiced dough notes.
We tried all three and they polarised opinion with the self-appointed coffee connoisseurs turning their noses up rather, while others were noddingly approving. Most liked was the Apfelstrudel, which transported drinkers to a Viennese pastry shop decked with holly. Then they came back and went to Pret for lunch. Try for yourself www.nespresso.com
The Shell Deli2go Winter Kitchen range is back on the shelves at Shell service stations up and down the country and also in our office thanks to a timely lunch delivery for testing. At the stations it’s a selection of fresh and toasted sandwiches, hot wraps and baked goods.
The recipes are apparently inspired by British classics, home cooking and seasonal ingredients and slow-cooked flavours – such as roast beef and ale chutney – turned into hot sandwich fillings.
Well we didn’t get any hot treats for obvious reasons, instead we were given ordinary cold sarnies but not as cold as Prets though, thank goodness.
Beef and Ale Chutney Sandwich – A multi-deck sandwich of South American topside beef with a brown ale chutney and served with mayonnaise and rocket on soft grain bread. Yes, the beef was pretty juicy, not everyone liked the chutney which was felt to be a bit vinegary
Cave Aged Cheddar and Plum Chutney Roll was aged Cheddar cheese with plum chutney made in Scotland, served with mayonnaise and mixed salad leaves in a soft, multi-seed roll. This was one was liked by all, cheese and chutney well-balanced.
Wholesome Turkey, Sausage & Bacon Triple Sandwich. Roast turkey, pork and leek sausages, farm assured smoked streaky bacon and sage and onion stuffing topped off with chicken stock mayonnaise and cranberry sauce. Heck of a mouthful but good thick turkey taste and if you’re on the road Xmas day it might well stave off the tears and tantrums.
Pork & Apple Sausage Roll with traditional pork and apple sausages with watercress, free range English mustard mayonnaise and caramelised onion in a semolina topped white roll.
You are rather held to ransom by petrol stations, especially on motorways, but the new Shell range seems to us to pretty good for the money. When we’re next out, we’ll try the hot ones.
EasiYo is a ‘make it yourself’ yoghurt maker and we reviewed Easiyo a while back. It needs no electricity, it's as as simple as boiling a kettle because that, in fact, is what you do. It's even eco friendly as it uses lamb’s wool for insulation.
You can make your own or use the yoghurt kits which have more nutritional benefits than shop-bought yoghurt. There are no artificial colours or flavours and no thickeners in EasiYo, and EasiYo is also gluten free and vegetarian.
There’s also a mini Green Easy-Yo, for making small 500g batch yoghurts for smaller families or to take a pot to work, and now there’s a limited edition pink maker too.
EasiYo is stocked all over the UK at retailers including QVC, Lakeland, Holland and Barrett, Wilko’s, The Range, Hobby Craft and a large number of independent stores.
The EasiYo Red Yogurt Maker is priced at RRP £17.99 and the Green at £7.49 and each EasiYo yogurt sachet is priced from RRP £2 (per 1kg serving).
If you've ever been to Singapore, you may well have had their singular version of toast, Kaya toast.Sometimes served simply spread on toast but often sandwiched into French toast it's an addictive treat.
If you can’t afford to fly out to Singapore, then you can add a little bit of sunshine to your breakfast by spreading some of Organic Buko’s new coconut jam on your toast.
Available in Original, Sea Salt and Chocolate varieties the jams use a maximum of four totally natural and organic ingredients, resulting in rich and pure flavours. The chocolate one is sublime.
We loved it on toast and bagels, especially the sea salt variant which was very more-ish, and the jams also make an interesting twist in baking and smoothies. They can even be sampled straight out of the jar, and at least one person in the office had to be restrained from eating a whole jar that way. It's very hard to stop once you start.
For every jar of jam bought a square meter of rainforest will be saved, which has to be a good thing too.
Seriously, of course most of us chop by hand. The more adept using the professional ‘large knife against the knuckles’ technique that allows very high speed chopping with virtually no risk of accidents. Using a small knife is always a recipe for getting cut.
Others use the classic mezzaluna, the single or double curved blade with handles that you speedily rock up and down. This, when sharp, is superb for dealing with large quantities but I have never found that it stays sharp for long and ends up just sort of crushing my herbs.
While crushing herbs does release the oils, and is why one should always make herb based sauces in a pestle and mortar and not a blender, sometimes you want clean, unbruised, chopped herbs for garnishes or to put into a dish last thing of all. And for that you need sharp blades.
Like all Microplane devices it features very sharp, very thin micro blades that act as tiny scissors. Stuff the herbs in the top, don’t use wet herbs as they do tend to stick, push down with the other half and do a fast pepper mill motion with your hands.
The gadget also has a handy ‘stripper’ device to remove the leaves from the stems of the chunkier herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage etc.
Washing is easy if you don’t let the herbs dry to the surfaces, the parts come apart very quickly and a rinse under the tap does the job.
A gadget worth getting? Yes probably if you’re not happy with big sharp knives or you want the perfect garnish of evenly chopped herbs.
We like a soup at Foodepedia, hot food you can heat in the microwave and enjoy in moments. These days every supermarket has moved on past the rather predictable tinned soup selection to have a much larger and more exotic choice.
Some, seeing how successful fresh soups had become, started putting tinned soups in carton style boxes. It was sneaky and gave the impression you were buying something better but of course the fact it wasn’t refrigerated was the clue.
Cully and Sully are an Irish brand of soups whose website and packaging owes a lot to the style set by Innocent, all mimsy, self-congratulatory, solipsistic, soft sell and devoid of marketing speak. The occasional spelling mistakes though are probably not deliberate.
Of course it’s all a bit of a trick, Cully and Scully are no small producer despite their cute address being The Henhouse, Cork.
They are in fact now a subsidiary of US-based Hain Celestial Group, a natural and organic products company and the two founders did well out of the sale to the reported sum of E4.5 million each, in addition to the purchase price. Cullen Allen, one half of the duo, is a nephew of Ballymaloe chef Darina Allen who has always done well for herself so cooking up profits clearly runs in the family.
However making a profit isn’t a sin and on the taste tests we did, as well a lot of label-peeking, the soups certainly taste very good and there’s no hint of any nasties creeping into the recipes. Perhaps a bit too much sugar in the otherwise very good Pea and Minty soup, which was just the right thickness for a lunch soup.
There are around eleven soups in the range and we also liked Chicken and Vegetable, although it seemed a bit over salty. Our only slight caveat is the plastic packaging, surely tetra pack would be greener? Cully and Sully Soups are a bit costlier than some at £1.50 approx. for 400g (two persons), but are winners of Great Taste awards and do definitely taste better than the tinned competition.
Pots & Co.’s range of handmade puddings are marketed as restaurant-quality puddings each coming in its own very ceramic ramekin. These ramekins are perfect to go straight on the table and even better for an old hoarder like me they can be kept to reuse again and again.
There are no additives and they really are very luxurious Pots & Co. Salted Caramel & Chocolate Pot is made with a blend of salted caramel, chocolate and the finest Cornish sea salt and was so rich it had the eater moaning happily while the Chocolate & Orange Pot was very well balanced so that the orange cut that richness perfectly for me.
Not though having a sweet tooth, my favourite was the Lemon & Lime Posset zesty with lemons and limes
There are eight in the range and some like Sticky Toffee Pudding or the double baked Chocolate Fudge Pudding can be heated up on their individual pots in the oven before serving.
The Pots & Co. website has some clever ideas of how you can reuse your pots, which is good as you’re liable be collecting quite a few as these desserts are very tasty indeed.
Salted Caramel & Chocolate Pot, Lemon & Lime Posset, Roasted Hazelnut & Chocolate Pot, Vanilla & Chocolate Pot, Passion Fruit & Orange Pot, Chocolate & Orange Pot, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Chocolate Fudge Pudding
Pots & Co.’s puddings are available from Waitrose, Tesco, Ocado, Wholefoods, Booths, Budgens, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. RRP £2.00.
There’s a scene in Goodfellas, well there are lots of scenes, but in this one Fat Paulie is discussing how to prepare garlic. He recommends a razor blade and insists that it has to be sliced very, very thinly.
He also of course likes to slice up other things too, but in this case he has a valid point. Finely sliced garlic stewed slowly releases lots of garlic flavour, while bashed or crushed garlic is harsh and overpowering.
No doubt there is a scientific reason, the same way that herbs pounded release better flavour than herbs chopped. Something to do with crushing garlic breaking down the cell walls perhaps whilst slicing retains the oils.
Slicing garlic thinly is very hard though, even with a razor blade. However get a Microplane Cutter and you’ll be as good as Paulie straightaway.
We tried one and found the blades or teeth act like very sharp knives to cut ingredients with relentless precision. You just pop in up to three peeled cloves into the device and work the top back and forth vigorously to slice.
Your hands and chopping boards stay odour free, there’s also a scraper included, and the job’s done in seconds. The pieces clean up under the tap or in the dishwasher.
Microplane make very good gadgets and this is another winner for your dinner. Available at John Lewis and other stores.
If Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes, Charlie Bigham makes pretty good pies. We reviewed them a while back and in general approved, although we were a bit unhappy with the portion size. Like so many ready-meal makers, old Charles was a bit mean with the meat to veg ratio and seemed to underestimate the appetites of the average eater. Or perhaps we are just greedy? No, surely not.
Well here is ‘new and improved Charlie Bigham’s Cottage Pie. Does it now contain real cottages? No but the ingredients have been upgraded apparently and feature better quality beef slow cooked in red wine and topped with mash, breadcrumbs and Parmesan and Cheddar cheese.
As they were kind enough to send us one, we whacked it in the oven. You can’t microwave as it has fresh ingredients and even if you could you would not get a nice crisp topping that way. At first it would seem that the case holding the pie is not oven safe, being a kind of wood or bark, but it is and it’s nice to see an eco-friendly package and not the usual tin or plastic. Thirty five minutes to cook, so go open the wine.
Taste verdict? Rather good actually, if the scraping of the pack was an indication. Or it could be a sign that they still aren’t big enough. Definitely more meat than before and a deeper, more complex taste.
Charlie has also revamped his Shepherd’s Pie following customer feedback, so that’s another one to try from a very extensive range of 32 dishes. Still think they could be a bit bigger though.
When a recipe calls for egg yolks only do you carefully put the saved whites into a cup in the fridge ‘I’ll make a meringue with that later’, only to leave it there until it develops into a sentient life form?
Many chefs don’t bother with fresh eggs, they have the eggs supplied shell-less in a bottle and also as separates - yolk and white. It’s cost efficient and less wasteful
Well you too can have your egg whites in a handy carton thanks to Two Chicks and the good news is that using egg whites in recipes rather than whole eggs means 70% less calories, no fat and no cholesterol.
Pancakes are of course the first thought, so we made some and after the usual dumping of the initial one we fell into a rhythm of rightness. The pancakes were light and crisp and just as nice as traditionals.
You can make plenty more things with egg whites than you might imagine - quiches, cakes, muffins and high protein shakes. The Two Chicks website has plenty of recipes.
Each 500g easy-pour carton contains the egg white of 15 free range eggs so plenty to play with and, as its pasteurised, it has a reasonable sell-by window.
They don't call them crisps, perhaps for legal reasons, but these snacks don't look like crisps either. Or do you as much health damage.
We all like snacking but we all know the demon crisp will have us on a Channel 5 show being winched out of our bedroom by paramedics sooner than you can say Turkey Twizzler.
These crunchy little numbers have the bite of a crisp but are high in protein and low in fat and carbs and just 100 Calories a bag. In fact they are 50% lower in fat than ordinary crisps.
Available in three flavours, sea salt and cracked pepper; Sour cream and Onion; and Spicy jalapeno they really are rather good. The Jalapeno one in particular, being hot enough to knock your handwoven socks off.
It’s funny how many coffees have a back story, you don’t seem to get that with tea do you? Advertisers have to invent one, lovable chimps, hilarious Yorkshire folk and others. Coffee is a lot easier to promote, it has a romance like wine.
ApparentlyCuban coffee was famous around the world for 200 years and then mysteriously all but disappeared, no one mentions the elephant in the room here but his name may have been Fidel.
Well now it’s back, the good folk behind Alma de Cuba coffee have been giving the mountain farmers tools to get back into growing as, presumably, socialism can’t manage that simple task.
Cuba has one of the best soils and climates for growing coffee and the Campesinos have the knowledge handed down through centuries to nurture young plants to successful outcomes.
It’s roasted in small batches, almost to order, to keep it’s freshness and after all that effort it arrives in our office to be carelessly made into a hot beverage and tasted before we allowed ourselves to be influenced by the story.
You can taste these beans are premium -strong, rich and fragrant. A smooth coffee that fills the room with a classic coffee aroma and puts new heart into fading interns.
It’s a bit pricey, but good things always are and it is doing good things for growers and drinkers alike.
It’s the first single origin coffee to be roasted, packed, and branded for sale primarily through e-commerce. So check it out on their website www.almacuba.com
Breakfast for some is a fry up but for many of us a weekday grab and go is all we can manage. Tea and toast always hits the spot and as we discovered when the toast is topped with one of these quite superb preserves the day gets off to a very good start indeed.
Crosta & Mollica an Italian brand has plenty to recommend it but these conserves are special - Mandarin Marmalade, Peach Jam and Fig Jam - each is rich with fruit and, as they are not jams,not heavy on sugar. This means that like all conserves they're to be kept in the fridge once opened.
Made with figs grown near Avellino in Italy, the Fig Jam has the real taste of figs and is not only good on bread but makes a great partner for cheese. The Mandarin Marmalade has all the aroma and fragrance of Sicilian mandarins and of course none of the bitterness of English marmalade. Peach was not for me as I have a bit of a love hate relationship with peaches but the other half loved it.
Mandarin Marmalade is £2.49 for 350g, Peach Jam is £2.49 for 340g, while Fig Jam is £2.59 for 340g. The jars have stick on labels which makes them easy to remove and repurpose the empty jars, a nice touch.
Irish Lily O’Brien is not a front name for a large corporation but one named after a real person, the daughter of Mary Ann O'Brien who founded the business from her kitchen in the early 1990s.
It’s a pleasant success story and the chocolates have done well in a crowded marketplace. We tried the Desserts Collection as something a bit different to hand round with the coffees.
Billed as ‘the world’s best-loved dessert recipes’, this boils down to Hazelnut Torte, Passion Fruit Posset, Banoffee Pie, Creme Brulee, Raspberry Infusion and Key Limey Pie in milk, dark and white chocolates, 18 chocolates in total in the smart box.We found they were all a good take on the desserts, the Banoffee pie was rich with banana flavour and the hazelnut had right-sized pieces of nut. They needed, we found anyway, to be a eaten very much at room temperature to get all the flavours out.
We all know kids eat too many crisps. Sometimes standing in the supermarket queue it's hard not to be appalled at the quantity of crisps parents have in their trolley along with 5ltr bottles of no-brand fizzy drinks.Lentils though have always seemed a healthy option, even for a while being branded the 'no-fun'food beloved only by hippies and people living in Crouch End.Well we got some samples of Burts Lentil Waves to try and we rather liked them. Available exclusively in Waitrose nationwide, gthey come from the coastal region of Devon (waves, geddit?) and in three varieties: Sour Cream & Chive Lentil Waves, Thai Sweet Chilli Lentil Waves, and Lightly Salted Lentil Waves.
Very tasty and with a good texture, they didn't ast long in the office and as they contain 40% less fat, have a low glycaemic index and are less than 99 calories per bag, we felt all virtuous after.
With the Great British Bake Off in full swing, and Sue Perkins perfecting her trademark ‘Look everybody, I’m being ironic!’ manner, we at Foodepedia felt we should get swept up too.
Impetus came in the shape of an unsolicited delivery from mycakedecor.co.uk of tubes of ready to use frosting. It was tempting to stick one in the mouth and squeeze like some kind of sugar obsessed spaceman but we refrained. We’re not animals you know.
Cupcakes are within most people’s grasp as a baking project, so armed with a packet of paper cupcake holders we went to work. Chocolate ones were the choice, as everyone likes chocolate and we had a dusty tin of cocoa powder from the last millennium at the back of the cupboard.
All went well, the cakes turned out pretty even sized and so we got a tube of choc and vanilla two colours frosting ready for action. The advantages of ready-made frosting are of course speed and simplicity and in the case of two colours ability, as it’s not that easy to do yourself, even if you do own a piping bag and appropriate nozzle. Here it’s all built in for you.
You need to get a good grasp of the end and be prepared to squeeze hard. It takes a few mistakes to get used to the amount of squeeze needed and we found the frosting was sluggish to come out. But by the tenth cupcake we were getting quite good, or so we felt anyway.
While the frosting is still soft you can add sprinkles, we intended to add nuts but the bag exploded when we tried to tear it open and while I was happy to brush up the nuts and add them anyway I was voted down. The frosting never seemed to get any harder over time, two days later and it’s still creamy, but we’re unsure how hard it should really get. It’s very nice though and we only have two cakes left which proves it. Also available from mycakedecor.co.uk are plain chocolate, Madagascan vanilla and strawberry and vanilla frosting tubes. Each one does around twelve cupcakes.
The mycakedecor.co.uk site has all kinds of clever things to turn you into Mary Berry, except the weary air of pained disappointment. You will have to cultivate that yourself.
A lot of people seem to be lactose intolerant these days, and not just the kind of people who like to discover they are intolerant to something in order to make themselves feel special and mess up other people’s dinner parties. In fact only one in 50 people of northern European descent have some degree of lactose intolerance, whereas most people of Chinese descent have the condition. In the UK, lactose intolerance is more common in people of Asian or African-Caribbean descent.
So what do you put in your cup of PG if milk makes you ill? Well soymilk is what most people choose but it’s historically not been the nicest of tastes. It is however full of health benefits and even if you can drink milk it’s still change for the better. Vivesoy sent us a selection of their range soymilks to try and we were surprised and impressed by them, being rather sceptical at first.
Vanilla Vivesoy was very good indeed, lightly chilled it was refreshing and moreish and we found it had all gone too soon.
The Chocolate Vivesoy was also delicious and can be added to coffee to make a very good dairy free mocha. You can also heat it up to create a tasty alternative hot chocolate for those winter evenings.
There are six Vivesoys, including unsweetened, light soy and cappuccino and all have the benefits of the soybean, which is high in natural protein and essential amino acids, contains omegas-3 and 6, is Cholesterol free, is high in fibre and rich in isoflavones – the natural plant oestrogens said to have a number of positive health properties.
To be called grappa, the following criteria must be met:produced in Italy, or in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino, produced from pomac with fermentation and distillation occurring on the pomace—no added water.
So as Dappa comes from Devon it ain’t really Grappa. However anyone tasting it won’t be too worried about that.
It’s a grape marc spirit made by the Devon Distillery who pull in the grape skins from vineyards around the UK and by using an authentic Italian copper still, with guidance and inspiration from an award-winning Italian distiller have created something very delicious indeed.
A powerful 43% ABV, it’s a heady brew, whether drunk neat as a digestif or shot into coffee to create that wonderful Italian concoction the Caffè corretto, or Coffee corrected, often enjoyed by office workers in the morning. If only we could do that here without an email from HR landing in our inbox eh?
A 35cl bottle is a hefty £50 while a miniature, enough for four or more good shots is £9.50 and both can be ordered online.
Still on the subject of grapes, have you heard of Verjuice? Used by canny chefs like Skye Gyngell it’s made from the juice of unfermented grapes and used it as a gentle acidulant being less tart than lemon juice or vinegar.
You can use it in salad dressings, for deglazing pans to make gravies and sauces and even poach dried fruit in it although your bottle won’t last long that way.
Our sample came from Maggie Beer in Australia. In the old days in Europe verjuice (under various names) was made from the secondary tiny unripe grapes at the top of the vine that were no good for wine, or the thinnings made during the season. Maggie Beer use all their unripe Barossa grapes, otherwise they would never be able to make enough to meet demand.
They also make a Vino Cotto, made from the must of grapes its ‘agrodolce’, flavour is a good and cheaper substitute for balsamic vinegar which has become, in many cases something of a rip off. The real balsamic is delicious but so much on the market does not deserve the name. So instead use this.
Again it’s a great pan deglazer and works in the classic strawberries and balsamic combination. There are plenty of great recipes using verjuice in Maggies book Cooking with Verjuice available on Amazon.
Three jars ofwhat appears to be tomato sauce for pasta arriving in the office does not make our hearts beat faster; all too often such sauces are acidic and tasteless
Mr Organic, the company which makes a range of tomato-based sauces, pestos and condiments, has made these vegan high-protein pasta sauces using Seitan, Soya and Tofu.
What’s seitan? Well we had to look it up ourselves to be honest. It’s a wheat gluten basically and apparently it contains as much protein as a sirloin steak plus a generous helping of essential amino acids. This particular sauce has a gentle kick of chilli so ideal for a chilli without the carne.
Tofu we know well; it’s supposed to be both full of protein and healthy for your heart and this sauce mixes tomatoes with sweet red peppers.
Soya? Well it’s good for your brain, your bones, and your blood. Mr Organic has mixed it with sun-ripened tomatoes plus cracked black pepper and seasonal herbs.
All three new sauces are 100% certified organic and the family factory in Italy has been supplying some of the world’s leading brands for the last three generations.
Mr Organic has it’s said long, deep relationships with their farmers, pre-financing the crop yields, full traceability and trading fairly on costs means making it one of the most sustainable food companies in the UK. Additionally, all the sauces are made right next to where the tomatoes are grown, so quality is high and transport costs are next to zero.
We tried all three and all were really very good, by far the best jarred sauces we’d tasted for a long while, but the soya was outstanding; the tomatoes sweet and fresh and that soya making the sauce rich and satisfying when poured warm onto cooked linguine
When we're talking food, the promise of 'handmade' is good. The promise of pud is good. The promise of two together? Very good indeed. But poor execution of either of both is bad - and all too commonly the case.
Pots & Co.'s dessert range certainly looks the part, presented in pastel-coloured ramekins and tall shotglasses that are not only decent enough to serve to dinner guests without any decanting, but also scrub up a treat for later use. As we all know, though, some of the most perfect puddings look an absolute car crash, and some of the slickest-looking sweets can leave you feeling bitter at having being seduced by their good looks.
But these have the cocky swagger and deliver when you stick in a spoon. Fur coat and knickers, so to speak. Looks great; tastes great; and achieves that tricky balance of sating whilst simultaneously leaving you yearning for another spoonful. It's rare that the products in a collection comprising so many dreamy, creamy desserts are so distinct from one another, and don't merely blend together in your brain as one big homogenous blob of nondescript dairy.
Each of Pots & Co.'s puds is true to its name in terms of taste and, cruicially, texture. In the ramekins, lemon and lime posset is thick and silky-smooth; blood orange and passionfruit cheesecake has a decent biscuit base and the right amount of fruit flavour in the baked filling; chocolate and orange pot is ganache-rich; whilst well-seasoned salted caramel and chocolate pot is thicker, with a fudgy chew from that caramel.
Shotglass 'mini pots' are the new puds on the block -a tasty trio featuring another of those perfect possets, in lemon this time; a chocolate-and-hazelnut concoction; and a very softly-set vanilla pannacotta topped with jellied raspberry compote sourced from France after what we're sure was torturous extensive research by Pots & Co. founder Julian.
Whatever your pud preference, something from Pots & Co. will appease your sweet tooth. And if you've got a whole mouthful of the things, best get one of each.
You generally know where you are with a jar of 'Indian' chutney or pickle. The typical expected offerings on the supermarket shelf or restaurant table are a) sweet, gluey, jam-like mango chutney and b) lime pickle so oily and acidic you'll need half a pack of Rennies before you've finished your poppadom.
But Anjum Anand isn't into that inauthentic, substandard representation of the subcontinent's condiments. So her new 5-strong range of Chutnis for The Spice Tailor eschews the expected in favour of some of the chef's favourites.
Treating highly herbal green chutney for shelf stability will always result in a less vibrant hue; but what the Mint Leaf Chutni lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in terms of taste. The piquant Punjabi preparation is a zingy, zesty answer to British mint sauce and every bit as lovely with lamb.
Under no circumstances consume the fiery Tomato, Garlic & Chilli Chutni ahead of a hot date - this Rajasthani recipe is both super-spicy and garlicky enough to dissuade the most persistent vampire. It adds a little lift to allsorts - try it in an ersatz Arrabiata or spread on toasted bread.
The 'Spice Tailor' brand name hints at the versatility of each Chutni; inspired by India, but inspiring when used with food from anywhere and everywhere. The Peanut & Tamarind Chutni will go down a treat with sate sauce-lovers, the authentic Andhra recipe at once creamy and tart. Like peanut butter, you might find yourself spooning it direct from jar to mouth.
There's a lime pickle in the lineup - but The Spice Tailor's fat-free 'Mama's Lime Chilli Pickle' has more in common with the clean punch of a perfectly preserved lemon than that oily, oesophegal lining-obliterating stuff you might know and hate. Made to a time-tested family recipe, it's the closest you'll get to relishing a homemade Indian relish without eating in an Indian family home.
Something sticky and sweet is the final number in the five - but Anjum offers a Gujarati-style Green Papaya Chutni, not that tired'n'typical mango mess. Although it's sometimes known as 'plastic chutney' owing to the crystal-clear appearance of the papaya pieces, this Chutni tastes anything but; flavoured with aromatics including whole peppercorns, fennel and nigella seeds.
Based on the majority of commercial chutneys, you'd be right to be dubious about yet another range hitting supermarket shelves. But then not many manage to stay so true to the authentic Indian recipes on which they're based. In Oliver Twist, Fagin (almost) told his band of boys that 'you've got to pick a pickle or two'. If he'd tried this little lot, he'd be adding Chutni to that shopping list too.
It’s getting to feel an awful lot like summer what with the sun out, the temperature up and even hooded youths letting their
guard down and exposing the backs of their necks to the fresh air. A time when hipsters begin to scratch their itchy beards and think of the razor’s blessed relief.
And thoughts turn to salads, at least ours did when the Salad Zinger turned up in the office. Now like most people we make salad dressings in a washed out jam jar and keep it in the fridge until it threatens to walk out on its own. The Salad Zinger is a far more effective and hygienic way to create flavour- infused dressings and it looks a lot better on the table too.
In the bottom is a ‘grinder’. In here you put the solid ingredients - garlic, onion, citrus, spices, fruit, whatever your fancy - and you screw it back on to the upper body.This action rotates the blades so doing all the work. The upper half has a rubberised ring so that even oily fingers can get a purchase.
The base is also cushioned to make the Zinger non slip. Then add oil of your choice from the top and it seeps down through the base mesh to infuse with the solids. The best being of course that while the flavours get in, the oil remains clear so that there’s no chance of bits of garlic etc landing in your food.
The bung/spout is well kitted out with seals so there’s no chance of disaster even with the most vigorous shaking, and the spout cover also clicks into place reassuringly.The whole thing has a quality component and well-designed air to it.
We liked it and we’re going to work our way through all the Salad Zinger recipes as long as the sun shines and beyond.
We’re a bit odd about drinking hot chocolate in the UK. It’s largely seen as something that old people do before going to bed plus the chocolate we drink is normally pretty nasty anyway.
On the continent things are different and chocolate is drunk all through the day and it’s a serious business. No instant powders, just quality chocolate prepared with care.
Hasslacher’s is a range of new fine foods from South America, named after a 21st Century ‘Phileas Fogg’ living in Bogota, Colombia, Simon Hasslacher. Hot chocolate is pretty much Colombia’s national drink and people there prefer it over tea or coffee and, having tasted Hasslacher’s, we can see why.
Made from the native South American Criollo bean, the chocolate’s bespoke roasting and fermentation technique gives Hasslacher’s Hot Chocolate a very different flavour to other hot chocolate products on the market that use bog-standard West African hybrid beans.
It’s not sweet, it’s up to you to decide how much sugar you put in and after the original 250g bar ‘Solid Bar’ Colombian Hot Chocolate there are now convenient Solid Hot Chocolate Discs created to melt more easily. The chocolate can of course also be used in baking for high-quality results
You need to melt the disks gently and then add hot milk, plus sugar because you do do need to temper the bitterness slightly,whisk and then enjoy the rather fruity aroma and the knowledge that it is cholesterol free and high in antioxidants. as well as a very business friendly, the makers buy direct from Colombia’s cacao farmers and growers who are guaranteed fixed prices for 6 month periods.
Bars cost around £4.95 for 250g from Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Tesco and the discs around £5.00 or you can buy online
Green tea is good. Made from the Camellia sinensis plant it’s been drunk for centuries throughout Asia to improve alertness and is said to be a cancer preventative, thanks to its polyphenols and antioxidants, although many of its other claimed benefits are unproven.
That said, the anti-oxidants found in green tea EGCG, (also known as epigallocatechin gallate,) have been proven to prevent the growth of cancer cells as well as kill cancer cells without the harmful side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy.
In fact the list of things green tea can prevent or reduce symptoms of, is enormous. You might instead of asking ‘what can green tea do?’, ask what can’t it do?
teapigs Matcha is 100% green tea leaves from the Nishio region in Japan, ground by granite stones into powder form. Instead of brewing it you simply blend the powder into any drink you’re having, even water. This makes taking your daily dose of green tea simple and easy.
Almost tasteless, it does turn your drink a murky green colour and we found it best blended into a small ‘shot’ of water and tossed back in one. teapigs online testimonials are all positive, well they would be wouldn’t they, but actually all our testers agreed they felt livelier and more alert after drinking. And if you don’t fancy drinking it, there are plenty of Matcha recipes that use it too.
Buy teapigs Matcha online along with a modern or traditional blender and we think it’s well worth a try and to take the teapigs Matcha Challenge
We weren’t either, but we’re glad to have discovered Somerset-based Mexicana Cheese either way. The company makes Mexican-style chili-infused versions of classic cheeses, making cheese on toast and other favorites just a little bit more exciting.
The Sweet Chili Cheddar was a welcome revamp of the classic English cheese, adding a little warmth, spice and colour. It’s made with real chili jam and without artificial colours and flavours, so you know you’re putting good stuff down your gullet.
The Extra Hot Cheese, on the other hand, was an absolute scorcher – be careful and handle with rubber gloves.
A new range of premium products available from foodhq.co.uk is called Black Dog Delicatessen. Why Black Dog? Well it’s not a reference to Winston Churchill’s famous depressions, but to company MD James Tyler. He has two rescued black labradors, Bailey and Blue,and proceeds from every Black Dog product sold will be donated to The Labrador Rescue Trust.
“We wanted to create a signature brand that people could trust. Black Dog combines authentic provenance at an affordable price. What’s more, given the fact that the British are such a nation of dog lovers, I’m sure the rescue dog element will prove popular too”.
Well, quite, but even our love of dogs won’t make us eat dog food, so it’s good to report that the range doesn’t just look great in its very fancy packaging, but from the samples they sent us it tastes great too.
We liked the risotto carnaroli rice packs, already mixed with porcini in one instance and tomato in the other, but were suspicious of the cooking instructions which seemed too simplistic. We made ours the usual way, sizzling the rice in butter first then gently, gently feeding the rice with hot stock. It went down very well with some griddled squid.
The olives were plump, not too briny and actually tasted of olive. That may seem an odd thing to say, but far too many supermarket olives taste of nothing at all. A jar of Black Dog olives, with their extra notes of garlic and basil in the oil (not in the olives), is just the thing to hand around with some pre dinner drinks. The Sicilian olive oil was lightly grassy with only a hint of a tickle at the back of the throat and ideal for light dressings.
If these samples were anything to go by, then the range is well worth checking out. We rather fancy the Black Dog Luxury Hamper ourselves - olives, pasta, risotto mixes, Extra Virgin Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with at least £5 from the sale of each hamper going to support the Labrador Rescue Trust.
Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner, and for home-sick expats, it's a time of year when getting together with friends and family to celebrate is of utmost importance. If heading out for a traditional State-side-inspired meal is not your cup of tea, then why not get the gang over for something a bit different, an American cheese tasting party. Paxton and Whitfield have come to the Thanksgiving party this year with a selection of top-of-the-line artisanal cheeses from Wisconsin's dairy country and the home of America's finest food, California's Sonoma Valley.
Vella Cheese's Mezzo Secco or Partially Dry Jack is made in the region. Dry Jack has a very subtle flavour, and was originally created back in the 30s to fill the market's need for a soft-medium cheese that would hold up during those hot summer months in the days before a fridge was anything but the remit of the very wealthy. Not as firm as a traditional dry Monterey Jack, the Mezzo Secco is creamy and buttery in flavour and leaves a fresh feeling in your mouth after eating.
Made by the Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin, the Pleasant Ridge unpasteurised cow's milk is made in the tradition of Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort. Pleasant Ridge is made from the milk of a single herd of cattle that graze lush pastures of grass, legumes and herbs, resulting in a rich, nutty cheese full of character with hints of wildflower, clover and grass.
If you thought the best creamy blues were only to be found in the UK and France, then you probably haven't tried the Penta Creme made by Carr Valley Cheeses in Wisconsin. With a rich legacy of fine cheese making, the family-run Carr Valley cheese is owned by one the few certified Master Cheese Maker's of Northern America, Sid Cook.
Smooth and creamy and with the same kick as a Blue Stilton or Gorgonzola, the Penta Creme is earthy and rich with distinctive lactic notes. A versatile cheese working as well in sauces and salads as with left-over turkey sandwiches, this American Blue classic is ideal for celebrating Thanksgiving Day.
It would be sheer madness to go only slightly nuts when you could treble the fun. Whole Earth understands this philosophy entirely, and despite already producing some fine peanut butter, has decided to go completely nutty. With '3 Nut Butter' the company's squirreled a terrific trio into each jar - combining the omnipresent workaday peanut with its more luxurious chums, the hazel and the cashew.
As we all know, nut butters must be consumed responsibly. Despite the fact this one's high in fibre and contains no added sugars, that's simply no excuse for putting your spoon straight from jar to mouth - or, worse, your finger. Although it is pretty irresistible, I'll give you that.
But there are so many legitimate excuses to work it into your daily diet that you won't need to look far for your fix. You could be obvious and have it slathered on buttered toast, smeared onto celery and apple, or teamed up with jam - not 'jelly', c'mon, I'm English - in a sarnie, but there's more fun to be had thinking outside the box.
How about using it as the base of a satay sauce, in a cheesecake, or for a cookie dough that may or may not make it to the oven? It's great against salty, crisp bacon or dolloped over a fried-egg in a burger. Whizz it into an indulgent smoothie or shake and claim it's all about the protein content.
Or drop the virtuous act and mix it with melted white chocolate and icing sugar, chill, shape into discs, and coat liberally in more melted chocolate. I think you'll find these DIY Whole Earth 3 Nut Butter cups are like remixed, rather more regal Reece's. Go on, go nuts. Or at least, go and get a jar.
'The army marches on its stomach', who said that? It's true though, keep a British squaddie well fed and he'll go through thick and thin with only the minimum of moaning.Tomato ketchup and brown sauce are at the base of a soldier's diet; sure you can bring in Heston Blumenthal to redesign the menus but as soon as his back is turned you'll hear the sound of sauce hitting plate.
Forces Sauces is a nice idea from veteran Bob Barrett that turns the soldier's love of sauce into a good cause - helping support the ex-soldiers looked after by Stoll and the Royal British Legion. Every bottle sold means 6p goes toward a very worthy cause. When you consider that in the UK we spend over £200 million yearly on sauces, that could add up to a lot.
Of course charity is fine but are the sauces any good? Well happy to report, yes. The tomato one is made in Britain from all UK ingredients and tasted, to our mind, actually better than the well-known brand leader. Plenty of tomato flavour, a whiff of Johnny Garlic and no vinegary aftertaste. Unfortunately no one in the office likes brown sauce, but there's no reason to think it isn't equally as good.
So pick up a bottle of Brigadier Brown or Corporal Ketchup and donate to a good cause as you sink your teeth into a Great British Butty or self-medicate a hangover with a proper fry up.
A new fruit concept from jam makers, Bonne Maman; individual Pots of Fruits are like jam without the sugar. We were impressed at just how much fruit they crammed in, the cherry one had over twenty before we stopped counting. We liked the way the rasberry one had the sweetness cut with some apple acidity and the peach one appeared to have a whole peach in it.
The size is just right; ideal for a quick snack or to lob onto a bowl of cereals or to slip into a lunchbox. A nice idea, these pots are pretty versatlle and really rather addictive too.
Bonne Maman Pots of Fruits cost £1.29 for two 100g pots and are available from major Tesco stores nationwide
‘Love it, hate it, just don’t forget it’, implores the new Marmite ad. And Paul A Young’s taken the aide memoir as a timely reminder to create something no-one’s likely to forget in a hurry – the Marmite Brownie.
Now, Paul’s brownies are ordinarily pretty easy to love. But shot through with rivulets of Marmite, the sticky, salty-bitter substance with that peculiar and particular viscosity, it’s a slightly more challenging paramour.
Lucky, then, that I like a challenge, and I am very, very partial to my mate Marmite. The dense, intense chocolate flavour of Paul’s brownie has a meaty, almost purple-fruity savour which allows one to eat the whole hefty slab in one sitting, that salty edge precluding saccharine saturation. Of course, ‘one’ would never be so greedy. Heavens, no.
The Marmite Brownie is will be exclusively available from the Camden Passage Paul A. Young store from 1st September, and costs £5.50. For more information, visit www.paulayoung.co.uk
When it’s time for a little nibble of something sweet with a cuppa – of coffee or tea – a biscuit is a biscuit is a biscuit, isn’t it? Well, no. Not according to the team at Fox’s. And I think they are right.
A packet of Fox’s Caffè Snaps turned up at my door this morning. It’s a brand new biscuit designed especially to go with coffee. Not tea; coffee. So I made some. And sat down. With just a couple of these sophisticated, thin, coffee bean shaped biscuits. And a mug of strong but milky, frothy coffee.
I took a sip. I snapped a Caffè Snap in half. Satisfying Pavlovian noise (there’s a clever indentation running down each Snap, echoing the seam in a coffee bean, that breaks neatly). I bit off a chunk and – sceptical me was very surprised. Crisp and not too sweet, the hazelnutty flavour went exceptionally well with the coffee. This wasn’t a cup of coffee with a biscuit; it was practically a pudding. Very mouth-satisfying. I made sure with another biscuit. Sip. Swallow. Snap. Bite. Chew. Ingenious. As for dunking, which I did, the Caffè Snap soaks up enough coffee, without collapsing, to marry the two flavours and maintain crisp crunch. It was very, very good. And only 36 calories a go. So, obviously, I had a few more.
And then I tried the equally new Fox’s Caffè Thins. Crescent-shaped, slightly crunchier, able to soak up a bit more coffee – they might appeal most to people with a sweeter tooth (and only 28 calories a time). Like the Caffè Snap biscuits, they come in two flavours – hazelnut (which worked best for me) and caramel, the two best selling flavours of coffee syrup showing that our palates are already well-tuned into which flavours best complement coffee.
Available from all major retailers: Fox’s Caffè Snaps RRP £1.19 for a pack of 20; Fox’s Caffè Thins RRP £1.69 for a pack of 18. The boxes fit neatly in the top drawer of an office desk.
Ah, the seventies. Sweet sophistication was a bowl of coffee and walnut ice cream, a sprinkle of chopped walnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup. Adding a smoky sweetness, not as strident or as thick as treacle, richer and more complex than caramel, as buttery as toffee, it has a taste like no other sweetener – and, four decades later in my life, it still turns a scoop of ice cream into a posh pud.
Surprisingly, it has also been labelled a superfood because of its health benefits. With fewer calories than sugar or honey, it is a good source of zinc; includes iron, calcium and potassium; and provides 22 per cent of our daily allowance of manganese which provides energy and antioxidants. No need for guilt, then.
There is scope for a pat on the back, too. If you, like me, prefer to support independent businesses, you can buy Clarks Maple Syrup smugly. Clarks, now the UK’s best selling maple syrup brand, is a family-run business based in Newport using maple syrup harvested in Quebec by small farm producers.
Helpfully, the label on each of the four varieties of Clarks’ Maple Syrup tells you what it goes best with. A squeeze of Clarks’ vanilla maple syrup blended with carob fruit syrup livened up the last dollop of vanilla ice cream waiting in my freezer for some proper attention. Try it with strawberries, porridge, salmon and gammon or, rather more obviously, sponge cakes, pancakes and milkshakes. The Pure Canadian No 2 Amber Grade, much darker in colour (a deep amber with red tinges), goes well with parsnips and bacon – or instead of sugar in hot drinks.
By an odd quirk of fate, the day the Clark’s Maple Syrup arrived through my door, my newspaper published a suitable Mark Hix recipe: Lamb cutlets with tapenade, maple syrup and paprika, a coating I suspected would work as a dip or, spread on crunchy toasted slices of ciabatta or baguette and topped with a pretty garnish, as a nibble with drinks. Or try these spicy lamb kebabs.
It’s hard to resist swirling it into porridge at breakfast, stirring it through a mid-morning (or mid-afternoon) coffee or finding any excuse at any time of day. It's in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and some Nisa stores. Expect to pay between £1.98 and £3.40 depending on which variety you fancy.
Rachel’s is up against a tricky customer – you don’t want to get on the wrong side of my opinions when talking about mangoes. There is only one and it’s the Alphonso. From India (principally the state of Maharashtra, the capital of which is Bombay) it has a disappointingly short season (May into June, but start watching for them in April) and, no sooner have I got into my stride, dashing out almost daily for a dozen, than they have gone. Intensely sweet, heavily scented, gloriously flavourful, and the colour of a golden setting sun, sucking the stone is essential (it’s less hairy than other mangoes, so you might not even need to floss). No other mango comes close.
It is in this new yoghurt, as it should be (not quite a third of the mango content comes from Alphonso mango purée) but it could do with some more (to give it a bigger mango kick) though I suppose we might not buy it if it sends the price right up there (which it would; this queen of mangoes is not cheap). Is it worth eating, despite the limited presence of this perfect mango variety - and not just because the yoghurt is low fat?
It wouldn’t have been fair to judge it by my palate alone so I gave away a couple of pots and sought opinions. Did it taste more peach-like than mango-ish, I wanted to ask but didn’t. No point in skewing the survey. I just handed over the pots and said let me know what you think. I know they eat Alphonsos – we’d shared chin-dribbling tales last year – but they might not be as rigid as me, a devouring devotee for 57 years.
They approved. The flavour was definitely mango; it was appropriately creamy and smooth. Their only slight niggle was the consistency – they prefer a more solid yoghurt (Rachel’s Greek Style Yoghurt is often in their fridge) and this is thick but runny. I suppose the juice from fruit will always loosen the mix, turning this into a pudding-style yoghurt rather than an ingredient (though it’s good as that, too).
I thought it exceptionally smooth and rich and enjoyed the addition of chunks of mango though I’d have preferred them to be larger and less uniform in shape. I never score the fruit in the cups of my Alphonsos, turning them into chunks to be hedgehogged into view; that’s unnatural and hideous to purist me. I scoop out the succulent flesh in misshapen spoonfuls and then scrape, scrape, scrape until the last mist of juice is gone. Perfect cubes make it seem less artisan, out of kilter with Rachel’s history and organic credentials (it was Britain’s first organic dairy and pioneer of branded organic dairy produce, though it is no longer a family business). I suppose chunking it is inevitable, given the need to churn it out to satisfy our demand for Rachel's generally. It’s definitely good but I can’t help wishing Rachel’s had added some more Alphonso mango purée and some imperfect pieces of Alphonso. I’d pay the extra – but perhaps others wouldn’t.
No colourings, artificial flavourings, preservatives or sweeteners. Find it in Waitrose and Ocado at £1.75 for a 450g pot.
Brindisa have launched a Green Spain range - a combination of new and classic products originated from the north of the country, and which are available to purchase online at brindisa.com and lucky us we got sent some samples.
Cantabrian Heather Honey (£9.95 rrp / 500g) is, we are told, 'collected from a mountainous region with five native heathers, which bestow minerals, vitamins and a high protein content giving it exceptional medicinal and nutritional properties. This organic honey is not heated or pasteurized, and has the most gentle of extraction methods.’
Well its dense, caramel texture and aromatic bouquet certainly stand out, it is quite unlike any honey we’ve had before and is gorgeous on toast or stirred into tea, but the latter is probably a bit wasteful. Rather expensive, so go easy with it.
Raw Milk Tetilla (£16.75 rrp / 850g minimum) is one of the most iconic cheeses from Galicia, often referred to as ‘tit cheese’ because of its shape, Hey, don’t blame us we didn’t come up with that name. This one comes from a dairy located between the Fraga do Eume National Park and Red Natura Monte Forgoselo, using artisanal production methods. Milk is sourced from their farm or from the farms of their partners which are within 3km of where they produce their cheese.
All very good but we still can’t all that get excited about this type of cheese, it may be subtle or an acquired taste, but we still find it rather bland. No doubt a connoisseur would beg to differ and in which case we can only apologise.
Ah but the Salt cod (£9.25 rrp / 300g) which is produced from fresh fish, sustainably sourced from the north Atlantic, which are then individually cured for 30 days in salt is just excellent. This is not rock hard salt cod, needing days and days of soaking, in fact it is only semi cured and so needs to be kept refrigerated and soaked only overnight.
We made a classic brandade and it was quite superb with a crisp salad and a bowl of green beans. There were virtually no bones and it fed three people. It would undoubtedly make excellent croquetas.
Finally Nardín Anchovies (£6.75 / 100g) are fished in the Spring from the Cantabrian coastline. Salted the same day that they are caught to remove water, they’re cleaned and smoked over beechwood before being filleted and packed by hand.
You could use these in a dish, but when we tried we couldn’t help eating them straight from the tin instead as they as were so delicious. A glass of Fino was all they needed, along with some good crusty bread. Beautiful as part of a tapas table.
I'd espouse the excellent of this mixture even more effervescence were there not severe danger of spraying you with a delicious geyser of bits o' Bombay Mix. As a runner-up on ITV's 'Food Glorious Food', Anjula came within a samosa's throw of getting her champion chicken tikka on M&S' shelves. In a rather uncharitable manner, I must say I'm glad she lost.
Because it's enabled her to devote more time to this marvellous munchy mixture. Anjula's is an agglomeration according to her dear old Dad's doctrine, although she's fiddled and tweaked it to make it all the more moreish. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I'm even more of a glutton when it comes to downing sweet-savoury-spicy-salty snacks by the fistful.
And this fist clutches a well-seasoned selection of crisp potato sticks; pleasingly chewy raisins; crunchy-fried lentils; rice flakes; a good few dead posh cashews and almonds, all hand-blended by a well-seasoned pro. Forget crisps - step away from the salt and vinegar and mix up your snacking with a packet of this brilliant Bombay Mix.
As soon as I open the envelope containing my eagerly-awaited sachet of Deema’s, I deem it decent. Actually before that – I can smell the Sri Lankan spice blend the instant it pops through my letterbox. And, when I finally ‘unleash the beast’, the full force of the roasty, toasty masala is a mind-blower. This mix is a Sinhalese recipe, the baby of a woman born in Sri Lanka who settled in Singapore.
To my mind, Sri Lankan roasted curry powder speaks of meat. You see, for me, it imparts a deep, rich, umami savour that ordinarily comes only from animal origin - and evokes an animalistic, primal hunger in the diner. To my mind, whether paired with seafood or vegetables, there’s something somewhat sausage-y to the smell.
It’s probably partly down to the fact that I rightfully associate many of those Sri Lankan spices with the good old-fashioned British banger – after all, the spice trade meant we’ve been seasoning our sausagemeat with cloves, black pepper and coriander for centuries. But there’s more magic in this mix – an alchemical agglomeration adding all sorts of extra excitement.
In Deema’s version, a dozen indispensable ingredients go into the blend. Along with the aforementioned trio, there’s cardamom, fenugreek, chilli, turmeric, curry leaf, mustard seed, cumin, that wonderfully sweet, aromatic locally-grown cinnamon, and the lemongrass that makes Sri Lankan masalas exotic to even seasoned Indian palates.
If you look closely, you’ll note this mix ‘also contains rice’. And this, my friend, is the secret. Roasting and grinding rice grains in with the spices lends that characteristic flavour that’s absolutely unmistakeable yet all but impossible to guess from whence it came. So now you know. Similarly, certain spice blends use dry-roasted dals in the same manner for that essential extra savour.
Using dal or rice in a spice blend also acts as an effective thickener - a coconut-milk-based gravy made with one of these masalas feels beautifully full-bodied. Deema’s mix is also full-flavoured; compiled from a well-balanced cast. Each spice brings unique power to the party, no one character dominating your dinner.
Deema’s masala isn’t quite as dark and brooding as some Sri Lankan spice blends, which can verge on pitchy-black. This one boasts a suave, tawny shade – like a proud holidaymaker returning from a few months basking in the Sri Lankan sun. It’s made somewhere rather less exotic, though – Edinburgh; where Deema’s irreverent daughter, Deepthi de Silva-Williams, manufacturers her Mum’s masala with reverence.
Successful roasted curry powders take serious skill - a firm handle on judging the fleeting moment between ‘burnished’ and ‘burnt’ for each individual spice; the ability to gauge the perfect proportions for the intended blend. Deema’s is a smoky, smouldering triumph. If you’ve not tried Sri Lankan curry powder before, be prepared to be wowed. And if you have – ditto.
He was a big lad old Pavarotti, a serious pair of lungs on him and S. Pellegrino, has launched a limited edition bottle in honour of one of Italy’s largest talents. Exclusive to Selfridges and Selfridges.com and in restaurants since the start of May, the new bottle is the latest in the Italian Talents range from S. Pellegrino, which has previously included Bulgari and Missoni special edition bottles.
The launch supports the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation, a charity founded by the late tenor’s widow Nicoletta Mantovani. The foundation operates with the goal of keeping Pavarotti’s memory alive by supporting talented emerging singers who are keen to take their first stepsonto the opera scene. S. Pellegrino shares this passion for talent scouting by supporting aspiring young chefs in the fine dining world
It’s appropriate as Pellegrino is one of the few waters you can bring to the table still in its bottle, the others having no character at all. Of course there is always Perrier but they threw their lot in with alt.comedy and the Fringe some time ago leaving the field wide open for the Italian stallions. Perrier is also for many diners trop petillante, which is French for ‘too fizzy’ and most prefer SP’s finer bubbles and minerality
The S. Pellegrino Luciano Pavarotti tribute bottle is available to purchase from Selfridges.co.uk and in store. The limited edition S. Pellegrino bottle design, along with its still water counterpart Acqua Panna, is also now available in restaurants.
Still enthusing over Italian Olive oil? Well maybe it’s time to try Greek. Pelia cold pressed extra virgin olive oil comes from the relatively unknown Manaki variety of olive.
The olives are hand-picked from small family owned groves in the northern Peloponnese where the olive oil is extracted on the same day at the local olive press. The olive oil is then packaged and sealed on site, ensuring they say that the customer receives it in its very purest form.
We found it had a light golden colour and delicate taste that makes it good for use in both its raw form and for cooking, although using it for cooking does seem a bit of a waste really but if you must then you can buy Pelia in 3ltr bag in the box quantities
Pelia is available to buy online from the Pelia UK Web Shop y in 3ltr Bag-in-box RRP. £29.99 including delivery (additional 10% discount when entering promotion code “TASTE” on payment page)
Menakao means, simply, red cocoa. And, having just cracked into a couple of the flavoured bars, I'm a bit ruddy-faced and hot under the collar too. This is not just chocolate. This is a revelation wrapped up in a nifty little 75g packet. My first ephiphany comes in the form of a dark bar prickly with a trio of peppercorns - pink, black, and the local wild ones. This isn't anything like that silly chilli choc - these are all there for flavoursome savour; it's tickly without becoming harsh or hot.
The slogan in 'truly Madagascan' and, like Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin. Or cardboard sleeve, with each Menakao box decorated with a funky portrait of a different local character, whose lifestyle has possibly benefitted considerably from the company's bean-to-bar approach, keeping the process - and the profits - in the local economy.
Menakao has eschewed the lengthy, expensive procedure of becoming officially accredited as 'Fairtrade'- opting instead to merely pay way above the set guideline prices for its cocoa and operate according to the guidelines in its practical dealings. The company plows the cost of the application process back into providing workers with better opportunities and standards of living - encompassing regular wages, hot showers and free lunches. Tasty stuff.
Everything from the growing to the packaging may happen indigenously, but the enjoyment of the end product is a truly international pleasure that speaks a language of its own. I don't know of 'combava' until Google reveals it's another moniker of the kaffir lime - and then I know why, combined with dark chocolate and sprightly pink pepper, it fills my mouth with such lusty, musky magic. Red cocoa, green ethics, black magic. Menakao's chocolate is solid gold.
Melting Pot fudge, that is – little bricks of brilliance wrapped in unassuming brown paper. Modesty in food packaging is an all-too-rare virtue in a splashy, shouty marketplace where the general rule of thumb is that the loudest specimens inevitably over-promise and under-deliver. Not so the brown-paper bunch – its elegant, workaday aesthetic asserting that the content will likely rock your socks.
Another clue is the natty little gold-and-black Great Taste Award logo proudly displayed on quite a few of the flavours like a well-polished button on a noble vet’s army jacket. The human bearers of this bling are the three Bittles sisters behind the brand, who have been rolling up their sleeves to hand-beat, hand-break and hand-wrap their fulsome Irish fudge for almost a decade.
Flavours can get pretty funky – but, lucky for some, the 13 varieties all start with the same signature, brilliant base – assuring a superior sweet from the off. Ingredients are all-natural, well-sourced and top-quality; in short, Melting Pot’s is not that fudge scooped into paper bags at many a so-called ‘gourmet market’ from stalls bedecked with garish, tasteless confectionary cubes.
The supremely smooth, flavoursome Plain Butter fudge is sweet enough to spike the blood sugars nicely, making the slimline slab a handy pocket companion whether negotiating a mountain climb or a mind-numbing meeting (if it’s a real slog you might want to opt for the Harvest Malt). Chocolate in fudge is a divisive issue, but to my mind there’s nowt wrong with a bit of a tasty culinary BOGOF.
When it comes to Manuka honey, I’m less enamoured, but only ‘cause I’m averse to the super-sweet superfoods’ medicinal characteristic. I like my indulgences to taste like treats, not treatments. But that’s just me. And much more ‘me’ is the Irish cream and white choc combo. Or the rum’n’raisin. Yo ho ho.
Melting Pot’s latest innovation may well have been the product of a brainstorming session fuelled by excessive quantities of those sugary, boozy morsels. I imagine it ran thus; ‘What could be better than a chunk of fudge?’, ‘I know, a great big dish of fudge just waiting to be melted into a great big puddle of pleasure!’, ‘Yes, you’re right. Especially if we tell people to stick it on the barbecue.’
And y’know, they weren’t wrong. Plain fudge is packed into a glazed earthenware tapas dish, which can be nuked into a flowing fondue in the microwave, oven or over the coals on a barbecue. The latter method yields a particularly compelling confection, a molten mouthful with the smoke’s subtle savour softening the sweetness. Phwoar. Melt yourself one of these Melting Pots, pronto.
Melting Pot fudge costs £1.90 for a 90g slab, and the Fudge Fondue is £3.75 and comes in Chocolate and Buetter Fudge flavours. Order online at www.blackthornfoods.co.uk
Don a leather jacket and a sneer, grease up your quiff and hit up the diner with your gal and pals to blast rock'n'roll and jitterbug boogie til dawn... or, at least, your curfew. Alternatively, invoke the great American spirit and the capture that soda-fountain feel by merely procuring a few bottle of Old Dominion's traditional fizzy pops, make just like they were in in the good old days.
The range features root beer and ginger ale alongside a gloriously glowing creamy orange cream soda and a broody black cherry brew that knocks spots off a Cherry Coke. The sodas are sweetened with cane sugar and honey and full of natural, true flavour. What's more, they're all caffeine-free, meaning you can go to town when that pretty waitress offers you a top-up on your cup of java.
Gü are celebrating 10 years of desserts with the launch of a twist on an all-American classic: the NEWGü York Cheesecake.
We liked the fact it came in two handy glass ramekins to be used as ashtrays later (sorry but...) and the lightly spiced caramelised biscuit base topped with Madagascan real vanilla cheesecake,with some more caramelised biscuit on top hit the spot. Eaten at the desk it was pretty naughty but nice.
Pre-cooked Basmati rice is a rather British eccentricity. Most cultures think nothing of popping on a pot whilst they bustle about doing the real cooking, removing the lid to reveal a mound of marvellous fluffy sustenance. But we like to flap and fuss and frankly frighten the life out of those tender grains 'til they - and we - give up altogether. So if pre-cooked pouches dispense with the pre-amble, why not?
And, sticking with that national eccentricity, why not add in a few flavours we've adopted as thoroughly British? Tilda has enlisted Masterchef winner Dhruv Baker to create a pilau reminiscent of well-loved Coronation street party salads and the be-flocked British Indian curryhouses so close to our hearts for so long. Mildly spiced and sweetly fruity, the 'British Curry Rice' is equally appealing to gran or the grandkids - although to feed a feast you'd need a fair few packs.
The 250g portion does a greedy one or a more restrained duo nicely. Although recommended as a base for recipes including kedgeree or even Italianite arancini, a good flavoured rice should be able to speak for itself - and this is tasty enough to enjoy as a meal in its own right. Two minutes in the microwave is all that stands between you and a cinnamon-y, coriander-y, coconutty supper. If you're lacking power or just plain hungry, it's perfectly palatable scoffed cold from the pouch - a dish I've dubbed 'pleb's pilaf'.
Tilda's Limited Edition British Curry Rice is available from Tesco, Ocado and Wairose until May, RRP £1.29
Balls, tea balls. You know the things, they look like Lilliputian sputniks and you load them up with leaf tea, lock the sphere shut and suspend them in your teapot or mug. If you’re smart you don’t forget to leave the safety chain hanging out, because otherweise the recovery of the sphere entails a lot of monkey noises as you burn your fingers.
OXO to the solution, to what may well be a 1st world problem, with something we initially regarded as a gadget with no real value but soon started to fight over as we came to rely on it. The OXO Good Grips Twisting Tea Ball It is so fiendishly simple and effective. Twist the nice rubber-feeling handle on the long stainless steel neck and the ball opens. Stick it into loose tea and scoop up and then, with a flourish.close the ball. It’s very satisfying and the ball slides shut like Blofeld’s escape pod with an engineered neatness.Place business end in mug, add water just off the boil, and wait. Or waggle the thing about if impatient and to speed up the process. Soon the tea is ready, so remove the device and hold it over your recycle bin before opening it up and emptying.This is ideal for speciality teas such as the olive leaf tea we tested earlier this year (see below). The ball scoops up just the right amount straight from the tea caddy, so there’s no waste. It’s quick and easy to use and generally one of those things you soon find indispensable. Ideal for offices as you can keep it safe in your desk and its easily washed out and put back. And it can take spices too, perfect for stews and curries where you might want to get all the flavour of the larger spices but to remove them before serving to save people’s teeth.Another OXO Good Grips, good buy
Tea made from olive leaves? You can imagine the wily Italians wondering what they could do with all the pesky leaves on their olive trees, ‘You knowa what,’ they might have said in appalling stereotyped accents, ‘we canna sell dis to the English!’
Actually they have been making tea from olive leaves in Abruzzo and around the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, although technically it is perhaps an infusion. Mirabilia’s olive trees are organically grown and the leaves are harvested by hand in the early morning, once the dew has evaporated, before being slow dried in ovens.
The leaves are caffeine and tannin free and apparently have more antioxidants than green tea and their Oleuropein content is claimed to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as have anti-viral, anti-fungal and antibiotic properties.
All very well but what does the tea taste like? Well not of olives you’ll be pleased to hear, it’s slightly bitter and woody but the taste is unique and hard to describe except as ‘good’. If you’ve found green teas too much, and too expensive, then this could be the right cuppa brew for you as it even leaves your cups looking cleaner than before you poured the tea in.
January is all about detox and trying to move forward and Mirabilia’s Olive leaf tea is a good place to start. Chuck out your mid-morning chain store coffee or tannic tea and take on a little Mediterranean sunshine. It even comes in olive leaf and bay leaf, olive leaf in wild mint and olive leaf with pomegranate variations too
January is traditionally a time for ‘new year, new you’ pieces. As we contemplate the coming summer, a certain self-loathing comes over us as we think of all the food we’ve just eaten. The mere thought of a mince pie makes us cringe.
So salads, ah yes salad that’s what we need; as well as rejoining the gym, getting off the bus two stops early and cutting down on the wine. All very good resolutions and all doomed to failure when we remember that the gym is full of horrible people, that walking is hard work and without the evening bottle of wine life is barely worth living.
Salads though are easy to deal with, little pillow bags that pop open to release inert gases and a cornucopia of colourful leaves into our lardy lives. But they do need dressing and unlike our Gallic neighbours we seem to have trouble mixing a simple vinaigrette, it never tastes as good as it does in France.
Those of us of a certain age will remember Kraft salad dressings the contents looking like the centre of a lava lamp when viewed from the outside, great amoeba-like globs of oils floating mysteriously in a sea of dried herbs. They weren’t much good but compared to mum’s vinaigrette they were exotic and almost enough to make her plate of leathery lettuce and watery tomatoes palatable. Perhaps new salad dressings from Maille can now save us?
Monsieur Maille began making vinegar in 1720 and in 1747 started making the mustard that still dominates the French domestic market. Not so long ago it was unthinkable as a Brit to return from France without a pot of Maille grainy mustard in your suitcase even though no one liked it. Their new venture, a range of salad dressings, is made up of balsamic vinegar with orange, red wine vinegar with shallots and finally olive oil with a touch of black olive, and come at around £2.80 a bottle.So armed with some crusty bread, lets dip in and see what we’ve got.
This is made mostly from vegetable oil, with some olive oil and of course that orange. Jalapeno pepper is also listed on the ingredients, rather oddly and could not be detected. The first taste was mostly of oil, but giving the bottle another, more violent shaking, got all the flavours working. The acidity of the orange was pronounced, as was the orange flavour. The astringency worked well on tomatoes, combining with the acid of the fruit to paradoxically add extra sweetness.
This tasted overpoweringly of fried onion, reminiscent of the taste you get at the back of your throat when walking past a hot dog or hamburger stand in the local DIY store superstore car park. Not very nice at all. Some sweetness was apparent and the red wine vinegar was restrained but it would all be a lot better without the onion.
More than a touch of black olive, this was pronounced in oliveyness but that’s not not a bad thing. The oliveyness tasted like the olives you find bobbing about in brine in tins, the ones that have rather bitter flavour, but as a seasoning for the vinaigrette this works. Rather a fruity flavour and robust enough to kick life into salads gone a bit past their prime.
Verdict? Worth a try and reasonably priced. The onion one seemed a step too far but the orange one really quite pleasant.
Mexico, it’s not all tequila, tacos and chillies you know. That said we’ve reviewed two tequilas Olmeca Altos and Jose Cuervo Platino and now we have a jar of Gran Luchito to have a go at, so some stereotypes are in order.
It’s a chilli paste made in Mexico from five allegedly rare Oaxacan chillies, including the Pasilla Oaxaca, a smoked variant which is normally found in Mole Negro. The smoking turns them from fiery red to ominous black and they are to Mexican taste buds around averagely hot, while to ours they are fierce but not death dealing. Unlike so many chilli pastes or sauces, it’s not designed for people with no taste buds.
The flavour is smoky of course but there is a depth of flavour too, a hint of garlic and a kind of bacon fruitiness which makes it go well with a British bacon sarny or cheddar cheese roll. It’s chutney-like texture makes it easy to spread.
Also good is to stir some into your chili con carne, making sure not to add your usual amount of chillies as overload could easily occur.Another obviously smart idea is to add some to a Bloody Mary instead of Tabasco, so adding flavour, and we tried stirring it into a stir fry for a Chinese-Mexican mash up.
In fact stirring it into most things works well, your seafood sauce on your prawn cocktail or a tub of cream cheese. Eating it straight out of the jar with a Pringle we found a bit tear-jerking.
A small jar goes a long way and it should keep well in the fridge as you experiment with it. You can find some good ideas on their website.
A popchip is not the same as a poptart, which is a shame as I rather liked those and hoped to find one in the box. Who can forget the pleasure of third degree burns after mum left the poptart too long in the toaster and its centre became molten lava?
Well not me, and I have the scars to prove it, but Popchips are rather fun too. We all know that a diet of crisp sandwiches is not nutritionally sound, despite their popularity in some parts of the UK, and we feel a bit guilty even eating crisps at a party. All that salt and fat, it’s such a nuisance that they are so hard to resist.
Well Popchips go a long way to soothing your angst because they aren’t fried. They aren’t even baked. Instead they are submitted to heat and pressure and somehow a crisp, or chip, comes out. Then seasoning is added and not much else, not even preservatives.
This all sounds like a prelude to eating something with the taste profile of cardboard, but actually they are rather good with over 14 flavours including sweet potato, parmesan and garlic, jalapeno and of course classic salt and vinegar and cheddar.
They really are very crunchy too; eat these and you won’t hear a word that the interesting person in the kitchen is saying to you about his journey there and the traffic hazards he encountered. So there’s another result.
Odd name but you can’t fault the philosophy. Teapigs was founded by a professional tea taster and a tea evangelist in 2006 as a response to what they saw as the UK’s slide into poor tea drinking. They now have a range of 14 whole leaf teas and 7 berry and flower infusions on offer and they sent us a small selection to try. Each little brown box contains two ‘tea temples’, or bags as we used to call them, the bags being made out of a curious kind of netting, almost plastic in feel, but which we are assured are fully bio degradable. We lobbed the used bags in the compost bin, so time will tell.
The teas were good, the ‘Tummy Tonic’ of peppermint leaves particularly so, very close to tea made with fresh leaves, and our caffeine-free team members liked the Rooibus for its strong flavour and vivid colour. The spiced teas made a decent winter warmer and the ‘Everyday Brew’ had a taste of tea we’d forgotten.
The quality is excellent; the price is probably more than Jonny Vegas would want to pay, although his monkey seems a bit of a gourmet. And a box would make a decent Xmas pressie for a tea lover.
‘Like brands only cheaper’ is Aldi’s strapline and it’s fairly accurate. Unlike Lidl, Aldi don’t mind a bit of fancy packaging to lure in the shopper and overall there’s a slightly less ‘pikey’ feel to their products. The Xmas pudding they sent over was surprisingly good after a few minutes nuking in the microwave with a good, boozy, flavour and plenty of fruit and nuts, although the nuts could have been in smaller pieces.
Not as heavy as more expensive puddings, rather spongy, but we felt this was actually a good thing given the state most people will be in when they come to eat it on the day. Which Magazine also rated this pud as good. £6.99.
Their Aldi Moser Roth Artisan Chocolates also fared as well with us as they have done elsewhere. A solid tin won’t give the game away that you didn’t buy them at Waitrose and the taste and texture will back you up. Our tin included Lady Marmalade, a mix of bourbon vanilla ganache and a fruit raspberry ganache with a white robe, Crunchy Dream which was Hazelnut nougat with broken wafers, Orange Queen with Lubecker marzipan with orange liqueur and candied orange peel and a Crème Brulee filled with bourbon vanilla ganache plus a caramel layer in milk chocolate with crispy hood. Very nice and pass the port.
And also some mince pies were tried and we liked the buttery pastry, which was crumbly but didn’t fall apart as you bit it in as far too many pies do. Good colour, decent packaging as part of the Specially Selected range, and just £1.69 a pack. Can’t argue with that for value.
These came around from the ubiquitous Mr Young’s shop in Soho and were the subject of some fierce questioning – ‘Is it wrong to mess with the classic pie?’, ‘Is it too much money for a mince pie’ and ‘Did the singing career not work out then?’
We liked the artisan (shorthand for ‘a bit rough around the edges’) look of the pastry cases as they clearly didn’t come out of a machine. The brownie filling was certainly unusual and cheerfully gooey, but we missed the straightforward blast of fruits.
Interesting and tasty, but rather pricey and probably more for people who live in Primrose or Notting Hill than for us ordinary working folks. Paul A Young tweeted a picture and, as we ate our samples before we took our own pic, hopefully they won’t mind us using it.
The Dip Society launched four flagship flavours with an initial range of four dips into Selfridges, Wholefoods, online retailer Ocado,as well as a number of independent stores. Handmade on a Lincolnshire Farm by founders Claire and Helen, and include ‘Sweetbeet’, ‘Mackerelata’, ‘Kickpea’ and ‘Wasapea’ and can be worked into recipes - making them a versatile fridge must-have - or be used as an addition to a simple home-made canapé.
‘Sweetbeet’ is a superfood combination of earthy British beetroot, fresh mint,honey and fiery chilli and comes in at 120 calories per pot
‘Mackerelata’ contains British smoked mackerel, lemon and fresh parsley and offers an omega 3 and 6 boost in a pot.
‘Wasapea’ is packed with British peas and chickpeas along with a dash of wasabi to give it a subtle kick with no oil added.
What is a sous chef? Well he or she is the under chief, literally, which is not the same as being an underdog of course. But unlike an assistant director on a film who, despite the title is actually less important than the caterer, a sous chef is genuinely second in command. If cheffy has the night off, collapses with nerves or thumps a critic and is arrested, sous takes over.So he or she is a very reliable person. Sous chef is also the name of a new website which aims to deliver a service to the home cook, sending out ingredients which might otherwise involve time consuming searches in the shops or, if you don’t live in a big town, may even be completely unavailable.
Of course you can always find anything mail order on the internet if you look hard enough, but finding them all in one place is a time and postage saver. The range of stuff at www.souschef.co.uk is staggering, from fancy cookware including sous-vide machines to little bags of exotic spices.
Need some Tonka beans? Well we all do sometimesand they do make a refreshing change from vanilla pods adding a subtle spicy note to custards and cremes. Dried mushrooms can be hideously expensive in supermarkets, and not that many to a packet either, but sous chef’s are a decent mix and really enrichen a fresh mushroom risotto or mushroom pasta sauce.The website www.souschef.co.uk is basically a real treasure house of ingredients from around the world with some excellent recipe ideas too.
A lot of good things are said about rice bran oil such as how it has a high level of components with nutraceutical value such as gamma-oryzanol and tocotrienols. Oh yes, those. Very healthy apparently.
More practically and understandably, it’s a very good frying oil. In fact in the USA it’s now used in Japanese restaurants almost exclusively for tempura frying because it has a delicate flavour and high smoke point of 230C.We tried it as a stir fry oil and it was very good at the job. The oil was able to get to a much higher temperature than vegetable or peanut oil before it smoked, which meant the food fried and sealed faster.
The same benefit made it a very good oil for roasting potatoes in, although duck fat does do a tastier job, albeit with attendant health risks. Rice Bran oil can also be used for up to 16 hours compared to other oil’s six so Asian restaurants find it practical as well as tasty.
The light nutty flavour makes it a realistic alternative to the usual olive oil, perhaps now more relevant than ever, as it looks like a bad growing year will mean that olives, and thus olive oil, will be more expensive next year.KIng Rice Bran Oil comes from Thailand, in fact King is the biggest producer in the world, and in the UK the oil can be found at Planet Organic, and One Click Pharmacy
Warburtons have launched a range of Naan breads, it's rather suprising no one thought of doing so earlier really
The new range includes two variants of Naan bread – plain and garlic. The garlic variant is a plain Naan with a garlic oil sachet included for drizzling and seemed rather tasty when we tried it
If you're used to your naans being the classic teardrop shape, these are oddly quare in shape and quite flat. This does lend them to being used in unusual ways, as wraps for example or as 'pizza' bases and Warburtons have some recipes that leverage the squareness
Michelin Starred Chef Atul Kochhar has lent his name to the marketing, and he's not somebody who would endorse rubbish, and he says: "I am very excited to be working with Warburtons to launch its new Naan breads as it means you can now enjoy restaurant quality Naan from the comfort of your own home. They are perfect - soft and bubbly, tasty and easy to prepare and there is so much you can do with them.”
Available from major supermarkets, Warburtons square Naan breads have an RRP of £1.19 for a plain Naan and £1.29 for a garlic Naan.
How do you get a decent tomato in this country? The Dutch ones are a pathetic pale colour, more a virginal blush than a decent red, and are as hard as apples and nowhere near as tasty. You can of course buy vine tomatoes, but only in the better class of shops and at a fairly whacking price. And then there’s the airmiles to consider, something we are all painfully aware of as we munch somewhat guiltily on our Kenyan beans.
The Isle of Wight is a lot nearer to home and tomatoes have been grown in the Arreton Valley, in for over 20 years. The Tomato Stall has been supplying fresh tomatoes to demanding consumers and Farmers’ Markets since 2001 but now they offer a range of processed products too.
Their range includes pure tomato juice and pure tomato sauce, Great Taste 2009 Gold winning oak-roasted cherry tomatoes, oven-roasted tomatoes including Great Taste 2010 Gold winning Oven-Roasted Tomatoes with Basil and Award winning Great Taste 2010 Gold Tomato Ketchup.
We tried a bottle of the pure tomato juice and it was rather special. Initially the slight colour made us wary, used as we are to tomato juice the colour of blood made from Italian plum tomatoes but we were soon reassured.
Plum tomatoes are grown for their thick fleshy walls and little juice whereas English tomatoes and other round types have thin walls and more juice. We tend to scoop out the juice, seeds and pulp when we use them but if the tomatoes are decent then this is often the best bit.
Drunk neat the freshness and flavour bounded onto the tongue. A refreshing acidity and a hint of sweetness with none of the cloying texture standard tomato juice often has. We had a bottle of Snow Queen vodka in the office and so, it being mid afternoon, we added the juice to that and got a brilliant Bloody Mary.
We also cooked pasta with their Oak Roasted Tomato, Garlic and Thyme Sauce but found the smokiness too strong for the delicacy of the tomatoes and herbs. On the other hand the Chunky Tomato and Basil sauce was excellent and the Red Tomato Relish with ginger and garlic really made a cheese sandwich that put a grin on our faces.
With a whole load of products, all made with tomatoes based on flavour and not looks, The Tomato Stall are putting the Isle of Wight on the foodie supplier map. Look out for the fresh toms at Farmers’ Markets and the preserved products in stores and outlets near you.
Harissa from Olives et Al The company is called Olives et Al because. for those not in receipt of a classical education, the et al bit means ‘and others’ in Latin. That’s because this company sells a whole slew of tasty sounding products in addition to olives and the Harissa they handed to us for a test.
Harissa is the indispensable ingredient in any tagine meal, that wonderfully aromatic North African stew. It’s named after the conical lidded clay pot that it’s cooked in, the cone allowing the steam to condense and fall back into the stew so keeping it moist even after hours of slow low temperature cooking. A tagine meal also tends to include lamb and chick peas and often dried fruits too with a delicious preserved lemon to round it all off. The stew is then served at table in the bottom half of the tagine pot and with couscous.
Harissa recipes vary by region, but most home cooks buy it ready made. A very popular brand in North Africa and France is Cap Bon from Tunisia, which comes in tins or in toothpaste type tubes, but it needs loosening with oil a bit before being stirred in and the flavour is not complex, being mostly just hot.
Olives et al’s Harissa comes in a jar and is lovely and loose, just the way I remember buying it in the market in Marseille many years ago. It has heat for sure but moderated with extra notes of garlic, ginger, smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, fennel and lemon. It stirs through the stew easily, spreading its fiery fingers into every nook and cranny. It also works well spread over chicken pieces tgat are then oven roasted and personally I’ve grown fond of it spread on crackers with cheddar, although I doubt that’s quite how it ever gets eaten in Morocco.
Kent and Fraser free from gluten, big on taste Bread is one of the great human inventions. Indeed, sliced bread is the bench mark by which all ideas are judged. So shed a tear for that poor band of men and women who suffer from gluten intolerance. For they are not just denied bread with gluten appearing in the most bizarre places, even ketchup. Cookies, a big part of many people’s lives, are one such enemy. Thankfully gluten free products are on the rise to allow people those little indulgences. Kent and Fraser is one such brand.
‘Free From’ ranges are often tasteless, but their Big Chocolate Cookie was tasty. The texture was crumblier than normal, with a slightly chewy consistence being my preference. The chocolate taste was in full effect however and very pleasant. They also do a range of shortbreads and savoury biscuits, and I tried out their Sussex Farmer Biscuits. Slightly smaller, they were less successful for me due to a slightly underwhelming cheese taste. For my money, the big cookie is where it's at.
The chocolate cookie weighs 60g and is sold for 99p each available in all Holland & Barrett stores whilst the biscuits are £2,29 a pack, and are available in Harrods, Selfridges, Lakeland and all good fine food stores, independent delis and health food stores across the UK.
Break for the Border Biscuits Who doesn't like biscuts? Well everyone except us Brits it seems, as the biscuits sold over the Channel are nearly always quite horrible with German and Dutch biscuits really taking the biscuit for vileness. No wonder so many expats go all misty eyed when you mention Digestives to them. It's in our genes to dunk.
We on our island know that tea and a biscuit is not only the finest snack known to civilised man, but also a cure for just about every ailment in the medical dictionary. Just been bombed out of your home by the Luftwaffe? Have a brew and a biscuit.
Border Biscuits we have reviewed before, they are very rich and rather posh. And now in time for Xmas they come in a lovely big tin that dad can steal away after and use for nuts and bolts in his shed after you've eaten the black forest cookies, strawberry and cream shortbread, chocolate and orange shortbread, lemon soufflé cookies, chocolate and walnut brownies and toffee apple crumbles. Brilliant biscuit thinking Borders!
Pizza Ristorante delivers on taste What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, lots obviously. Yet as far as Foodepedia is concerned, the greatest contribution of the Romans, and the Italians in general is their food. From mozzarella to pasta, that fuel of students and backpackers alike, Italian food has taken over the world.
One of the pinnacles of this is the humble pizza, recognisable the world over. Whilst there is some variation (America, being America, has its own variants) the form remains much the same. Pizza is such a big deal in Italy that the Neapolitans have a plaque in Naples commemorating the creation of the Margherita.
Reasonably time consuming to make at home, it's a staple of the frozen good aisle. I was recently sent some of the 'Pizza Ristorante' range by Dr Oketer to try.
Controversially, the pizza had no discernible crust to speak of. I'm not sure how I feel about this but trying to make pizza seem healthier appears to be a common trend. Witness Pizza Express' somewhat novel approach of cutting out the middle and replacing it with salad. The base itself was light and crisp, a far cry from the doughy cardboard of some offenders. I tried the pepperoni number, it being my pizza topping of choice, and can report that it hit the spot nicely.
Friendly Vegetables from Good Natured In today's binge drinking culture it's sometimes easy to forget that your reccommended 5 a day refers to fruit and veg. Children fare no better, with many somewhat optimistically seeing a jaffa cake as a piece of fruit. You can kind of see where they are coming from, after all it does taste of orange.
We were therefore at a slight loss untill the good people at Good Natured sent us a hamper full of veg. When we eventually plucked up the courage to try the assorted treats, we found them surprisingly good.The Crunchy Carrots, Splendid Spuds and Fantastic Flat Leaf Parsley, as well as doing a nice line in alliteration, were fresh and made us all feel vaguely healthy.
Excitingly for all you health conscious people out there, they are completely free from pesticide residue. This makes them good for nature, and good for you. Everybody wins, which is always a plus.
With Christmas slowly approaching (Is it not slightly depressing that people are already putting their lights up?), it would be churlish of us not to pass on some of the helpful tips from chefs they provided for those of you new to the whole Christmas dinner scenario. Apparently Gordon Ramsay keeps his turkey moist by using parsley lemon and garlic under the skin. Whatever helps you sleep at night Gordon.
As well as the vegetables, they also do a range of salads, fruits and herbs. These are available in most major supermarkets.
Historic mixers with 1870 We don't just do the food here at foodepedia, oh no. We also do a nice line in drinks reporting as well. Whilst we have the excuse of ‘research’ to appease our partners when we arrive home looking tired and emotional on a school night, most of our readers have proper jobs.
That’s why we were more than happy to try these 1870 mixers. Once I’d explained to some of the team what the concept of a mixer was, we got down to tasting.
Whilst my world remained unmoved, they were enjoyable and much better than you would expect at the price of 89p a litre. Often the cheaper ranger of mixers has a horribly artificial taste, which was thankfully lacking from these.
Made with pure British spring water bottled at its source in Kent’s North Downs, they are sufficiently tasty to drink on their own, although to my mind that somewhat defeats the point of a mixer. Each to their own I guess.
1870 is available in 7 varieties – Tonic Water, Tonic Water Light, Soda Water, Bitter Lemon, Lemonade, Lemonade Light and Ginger Ale. It can be purchased from selected Waitrose stores nationwide, as well as all good independent and wholesale stores.
Basmati rice is a bit of a bugger to cook. The best way is to either do what most Asian households do and buy a rice cooker, or failing that investment then the absorption method using a good cast iron pot is pretty much foolproof.
It’s a fiddle though, washing the rice first, keeping an eagle eye out for the boil and then timing the cooking. Basmati benefits from resting after cooking too, so that’s more time wasted.
Now mention Microwave to most foodies and they cross themselves three times, spit over their shoulder and make a mental note to cross you off their Christmas list. They do have their uses though and while many foodies seem to have a lot of time on their hands, some of us have very little. Enter Tilda Microwave Basmati.
We looked at the pouches suspiciously of course but knocked up a Chicken Jalfrazi anyway. It was rather relaxing not to have to worry about the rice for once and when the curry was ready we whacked the rice in the zapper having first, as the instructions said, massaged the clump inside to break it up and we tore a steam hole in the top.
Whirr, whirr. ping! Ninety seconds later out the pouch came and the steaming contents were tipped onto plates. Actually two pouches, as Tilda had given us one of Lemon and one of Coconut, which was just as well as one pouch wasn’t quite enough for two people, as is traditional with all ‘ready meals’. Who does their calculations?
Result? Not bad at all. The rice lacked the firmness I prefer, but maybe tinkering with the recommended times might fix that. Both the lemon and the coconut had good flavours though and you can’t knock 90 seconds from larder to table.
Of course at £1.21 a pouch your rice fix works out considerably more expensive than getting a sack of Basmati, as I do, from your local Asian greengrocer. Still with thirteen varieties on offer and super convenience, they’re well worth having a supply of for late night takeaway supplements, or for back from the pub meals when using the gas ring could end in disaster. Look around and you can get some very good deals on bulk buys too.
To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, Bottlegreen have launched a limited edition Bottlepink in aid of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
The usual deep red of Bottlegreen's cordial and peachy hue of the sparkling water has been transformed this October. Bottlepink's Pomegranate and Elderflower cordial and sparkling water will boast a striking pink label and cap to promote Breast Cancer Breakthrough. These bright pink bottles will make a nice touch to any Breast Cancer Fundraising parties or events plus 10% from the sale of each bottle will go to help Breast Cancer Breakthough's pioneering work.
Good intentions aside, the delicate blush of Bottlepink's Pomegranate and Elderflower Sparkling drink looks so pretty in a glass and tastes even prettier. The flavour is a subtle blend of fruity and floral, a perfect refreshment for these ridiculously warm October evenings.
To find out more about Bottlegreen's Limted Edition Bottlepink, visit http://www.bottlegreendrinks.com/
These delicious teas have been sweetening the foetid air of the FP offices, staffed as they are by people who eat for a living and thus suffer from alimentary gusts and breezes, for a week or so now. It is suddenly like being in a boudoir or the offices of The Lady perhaps. Even served in our hilarious tea mugs ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps’, the tea’s delicate nature remains undisturbed.
Green tea, it has been recently claimed, may ward off cancer, which is something we should all be trying to do obviously. Not least as there may well be no public health service to wash and bathe us in our autumnal years and green tea is cheaper than selling the house over the children’s heads to afford private care.
It’s the antioxidants that do it of course. Green tea is loaded with them but all too often, for me at least, it actually tastes medicinal. Nanny’s edict that if tastes horrible it is doing you good, never struck a chord with me.
London Tea’s Green Tea is very delicate and one of the few green teas I can actually drink without effort.
Favourite though is the White Tea with elderflower, lemongrass and a hint of apricot. Not only does it taste rather wonderful and smell even better, it has all the benefits of White Tea which is made from the youngest buds of the tea plant.
Almond Stuffed Olives with Smoked Paprika are crunchy with almonds and nicely briny with just a smidgin of heat from the smoked paprikaFrench Olive Mix is a good blend of giant green, meaty, Lucques olives and small, firm, Nicoise olives in a traditional French dressing. The Nicoise ones were our favourites, the stones just squeeze out
We also quite liked the Green Olives with Pesto and Pine Nuts although a purist might argue there are already pine nuts in pesto. Greek Goat’s Milk Balls with Mint based on Labneh, a staple of the Middle Eastern diet, these are made from goat’s yoghurt and are mild and pleasantly minty. The new Diced Greek Feta with Herbs is good for lobbing into a salad to take you back to that holiday in Corfu.
We like our chorizo spicy, so the new Spanish Hot Spicy Cooking Chorizo Sausages (£3.59,250g) and is challenging you to try it. It makes a fabulous recipe ingredient or served with unearthed®’s Spanish Potato Omelette for a Spanish inspired main meal.
Do you remember All Bran? Long before our obsession with health took off it was a breakfast cereal that mothers would occasionally buy when the family was a bit ‘bound up’, to use the expression of the day.
This was also when cereals in general were non- pc. Sugar Puffs were pretty much all sugar and Frosties weren’t much better. They were quite delicious, of course.
So the taste of All Bran is forever linked with privation and suffering and a vague memory of being forced to dig ditches, although perhaps that’s just something we dreamt up under the stress of no sugar.
On the plus side they are a lot better for you than salty snacks, on the other hand eating them is a bit like reading The Guardian – you know it’s supposed to be good for you but it’s a bit dull and worthy.
But after a bit you get used to them, and their scoopy shapes make them useful for dipping in the taramasalata, hummus and all that stuff. Here the rye flavour comes into its own.
Made from Finnish rye, the dark rye chips (£1.30/80g) are low in fat and presumably healthier alternative to crisps.
Nordic Bakery Soho14a Golden SquareLondon W1F 9JGMonday - Friday 8am – 8pmSaturday 9am – 7pmSunday 11am – 6pm
Nordic Bakery Marylebone37b New Cavendish StreetLondon W1G 8JRMonday - Friday 8am – 7pmSaturday 9am – 7pmSunday 11am – 6pm
Toast and Marmite is our idea of a light healthy breakfast, but there is another school of thought of course.
Muesli. Even the word makes you shudder, you know it's going to make you gag as you eat it and sure enough you do.
Now of course healthy is good, good is healthy, but the food has to be palatable. Choking down the equivalent of a hair shirt at breakfast is not something anyone but a dedicated left winger is ever going to want to do.
Jordans Granola has always managed to steer a comfortable line between the extremes of muesli on the one hand and the full English on the other. Granola is actually quite tasty, especially when loaded with honey and softened with milk.
New Super Nutty Granola is, as the name suggests, full of nuts and we know what a wonder fuel high fibre nuts are. Wholegrain British Oats (a slow release energy source) mixed with almonds, sliced brazil nuts and roasted hazelnuts. The balance is perfect.
We ate it with milk, but soon after took to having it in bowls at our desks and eating it dry as nibbles. Very nice and our energy levels did seem to be maintained all day.
We’re partial to a biscuit at FP towers and we’ve never forgiven McVities for making their digestives half-fat. Half fat means half the taste after all.
It’s all very well trying to guard the nation's health like some fussy mother hen McV, but you could have given us the option to choose?
Anyway we don’t eat them anymore, we eat an own brand digestive that hasn’t gone all PC on us and we save money too.
You won’t save money eating Border Biscuits, they are a bit pricey, but boy are they worth it. Straddling the border between cake and biscuit, these buttery bad boys come from Scotland where a bit of indulgence at teatime is seen as a proper luxury.
In fact a glance at the ingredient list shows that butter makes up a lot of the Border Biscuit, but we’re cool with that. You just have to eat a few and not a pack. A Dark Chocolate Ginger from the classic range was crispy, crunchy with rich chocolate and a sneaky ginger sparkle at the end. Already one of the best-sellers here and with expats.
The range Deliciously Different is bravely named but the Toffee Apple Crumbles were brilliant, a real blast back to a time of those toffee apples your parents never liked you to eat. The flavour recreates the period perfectly. A Strawberry and Cream Shortbread was appropriate to munch watching Wimbledon on the iPlayer instead of working, a real teatime treat.
The Border Gourmet Goodness range has won awards and no wonder, the Yoghurt, Cranberry and Pumpkin Seed Crumbles made us feel healthy and indulgent all at the same time and the Raspberry, White Chocolate and Pistachio Crumbles were definitely crumbly, but we happily chased the pieces around our keyboards.
Really good biscuits from a company that’s Scottish, over twenty-five years old, small and dedicated. Bite on that McV.
Crisps have been demonised a lot, apparently responsible for obesity, anti-social behaviour and bad grades at O-Level. It’s easy to slag the salty snack.
The manufacturers haven’t helped, making the bags more full of air than crisp and ladling in a range of bizarre flavours along with a load of salt and a heavy ad campaign. Yes Linneker we’re looking at you and stop chewing in class.
Of course there are middle-class crisps like kettle crisps, apparently nothing to do with police crowd control tactics, but we’ve found them often to be just too crispy. A decent crisp shouldn’t shatter with a sound like a gunshot, but gently break before melting.
Formed by crisp lovers in 1997 who set out to use local spuds and fresh sunflower oil, Burts is a Devon company which seems to think that crisps are called chips, a basic error that suggests they are run by foreigners. However that aside, they do make a deliciously perfect crisp (as we will insist on calling them).
Burts are proud of their ability to season evenly, avoiding the Russian Roulette when eating of naked crisp/tasty crisp and they fry in small batches and by hand, even putting the fryer’s name on the pack.
Ingredients are sourced locally – the meat in Smoked Streaky Bacon Flavour is from Denhay Farms and the heat in the Sweet Chilli crisps comes from South Devon Chilli Farm. Other flavours include classic Sea Salted, Firecracker Lobster, Parsnip and new Pesto Chips
At around a few quid or more a bag, they won’t be eaten on the council estates, but kids coming back from Waitrose in the rear of the BMW 4x4 will be kept extra quiet with a bag of these in their hands (there’s even a no salt range just for them).
There’s something about boiled sweets that always makes us think of Ford Anglias. My maiden aunts had one of those funny cars and on any journey they would always open the glove box to reveal bags of boiled sweets to be handed to us kids in the back.
Robinsons, who are as English as knee high socks, sandals and cub scout merit badges, have come up with a range of all-natural boiled sweets on time for Wimbledon.
We’ve been crunching through them in the FP office, even though it’s always safer to suck, and they are nostalgically good.
The fruit flavours all taste natural and fresh both in Classical and Tropical and the Barley Water took us back in time with the lemon just topping the orange for taste.
Monty Bojangles does make exceedingly good chocolate. If you’re looking for something a bit more adult to munch, then Monty’s truffles should do the trick
Nicely hinted with bitterness and dusted with cocoa, these French-made fancies are very addictive. The new flavour – ginger – adds perky spice notes to the range and is excellent with coffee and whisky after the kids have been sent off to bed. The marketing may make you choke a bit, but the product rises above it and can be ordered online.
Garlic is garlic you’d think, the only distinction being between the ‘green’ just out of the ground version and the usual dried type. Black garlic adds another dimension to the allium that attracts. The packets seem to contain garlic bulbs that have been driven over by a tractor but which are in fact what happens when garlic is fermented for three weeks. The result is cloves that are jet-black, as sticky as beach tar and said to contain twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic.
It also doesn’t make you breath smell. When we tried though the major attribute seemed to be its infernal stickiness. Almost impossible to slice or dice, it recongealed together again instantly almost by magic. This made dispersing it into a risotto almost impossible.
That said, the flavour is both sweet and savoury and almost truffle-like in the way it invades the nose. Definitely one to try and the website has plenty of recipe ideas too
No doubts about what the Fresh Pasta Company sells. With a market already as stuffed tight with pasta products as Nonna’s ravioli, what makes them think they can stand out and, as the Madmen say, get Brand Share?
Quality and taste. We tried the Handmade Venison Tortelloni and they were rich with tender braised meat and moist with a red wine jus. Not surprisingly they have been winners at the Great Taste Awards some years running. We also tried the Butternut Squash and Sage Tortelli and these also had good flavour although not quite as much as expected. Many people roast their squash with oil and herbs before breaking it down to make a pasta filling, but we weren’t sure that the RPC had done that.
Made in North Italy using traditional methods of production with “00” flour, high egg content (20% min), the range is wide and includes sauces too and you can even buy the flour direct to have a go at making your own.
The trouble with spices is that go off. We’ve all reached for that bag at the back of the larder that we bought last year, used a bit of once, and then shoved out of sight. It might as well contain sawdust for all the flavour it has left but rather than trek to the shops we use it anyway and then wonder why the meal doesn’t taste of much.
Spicentice sell spices in portion sized bags so that when you come to use them they are as fresh as a daisy. Dreamed up by hungry students at University it’s a family run affair in Leicester. Originally focused on Indian food, the family originating from there, it now covers a world of spices from Mexico to Jamaica stopping off the Middle East.
We found the spices really vibrant; there really is no substitute for freshly ground spices carefully pre-blended to the exact right quantity and to a traditional recipe. A cupboard full of these packs is an investment you can’t lose on. You can even get gift sets to send to your foodie friends.
Now here’s a funny thing, the blurb says that Orange Aero is ‘back by popular demand’. Well I hadn’t actually noticed that it had been away, which shows how much Aero I eat these days. I do recall there was also once a Peppermint Aero too and when I look at the current advertising I also remember a man called Les Williamson who wrote the original ‘abubble’ concept back in the 80’s. A lovely witty man he used to work in the next office to me, but has now sadly been headhunted by the great Ad Agency in the sky.
Personally I like my Aero straight up and unflavoured. This new one is very orangey indeed and inside it glows as if irradiated. It’s also rather crumbly at room temperature and pretty much falls to bits when you try and break a piece off. But I suppose that when you make a structure that is mostly holes that’s bound to happen. It has no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives though, so points scored there.
I still lean towards Wispa myself, Aero’s arch-rival, but if you were one of the people who pestered Nestle to bring back Orange Aero then the 110g bar is in the shops now at £1 RRP.
So, he said chopping one hand into the other and staring hard at the Mac screen, what’s all this then?
Having visited a project that cares for street children in Tanzania Gordon decided he wanted to use his profile to help Comic Relief 365 days of the year
Three years in development, the Seriously Good range was created in Gordon’s kitchens and overseen by the man himself with support from his team of top chefs
We were sent the Korma sauce to try and whilst it was thought a bit too sweet and mild, even for a Korma, it was still a handy and quick way to rustle up a decent curry in a hurry. A side dish of fresh tomatoes cooked down with Mr Singh’s wonderful sauce helped zing it all up a bit.
It’s all in a good cause as Comic Relief receives at least 10p from the sale of every jar of sauce. Gordon doesn’t get a penny. So beat that Lloyd Grosssman!
Air Bubble Type Washing Machine
The money raised by Comic Relief helps to give a better chance to people living in conditions of poverty and social injustice - across Africa and some of the world's poorest countries. It also helps poor and disadvantaged individuals and communities across the UK turn their lives around.
China retort, vacuum packaging machine, Vegetable cleaning machine maker - Heying,http://www.heyingmachinery.com/