Sunday, 13 April 2014

Pilgrim's Choice Cheese

I have become a VIP (Very Important Pilgrim) so this week we've been trying lots of delicious things with Pilgims Choice cheeses. And best of all they sent them to me for free!

We paired the cranberry and wensleydale pick n mix with our home wine tasting session, and it went down a storm because of its creamy taste, punctuated with sharp sweetness.We had the smokey cheese pick and mix grated over an omelette. I absolutely adore smoked cheese, so this is a real favourite for me. I think that added depth of flavour is just delicious, especially when paired up with chorizo in the omelette. Bliss.

The Boy made a simple tuna and tomato pasta bake, which had the Extra Mature Cheddar Crumbles with breadcrumbs and herbs as an instant topping. The breadcrumbs make it go lovely and crunchy, so this is a great standby in the fridge. It makes a basic dinner into something a bit more special. We ate the whole thing!

The resealable packs mean that the Mature Cheddar Crumbles are really convenient to take with you for work lunches. I have some bread in the freezer at work so I was able to make some microwave cheese on toast. I added a layer of pesto hummus underneath for some added flavour. I'm the first to admit that it wasn't much to look at - cheese on toast in the microwave is never the best, but it did taste good.

This did get me in the mood for some proper, crunchy cheese on toast though, and so it wasn't long before I treated myself to some for breakfast. It was everything I was hoping for. The crumbles contain quite a lot of potato starch, presumably to keep the crumble texture and stop it all from sticking together. This means that it isn't that great to eat as it is, you really do need to melt it, but it is a convenient thing to have in.

The Firecracker pick and mix was a great option for livening up a vegetable chilli that we knocked up one evening. Gave it a real extra kick, which was flavourful rather than unbearably spicy. And finally I made some little sausagemeat tartlets last night as friends were coming over. A little sprinkle of the Crumbles with herbs and breadcrumbs finished them off really nicely, so they were better than the homemade sausage rolls which had no cheese!

As you can see, we've had quite a cheesy time, all things considered. I hope I continue to be a Pilgrim's Choice VIP for a long time to come - I quite like getting sent cheese in the post.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Campaign for Real Salad: Tesco Creamy Herb Pasta

We picked up a couple of Tesco Creamy Herb Pasta from Tesco's 'Deli Salad' range from the reduced aisle the other day, in the interests of research for the Campaign for Real Salad (don't forget to sign the petition!) Since writing about the Great Product Labelling Swindle six months ago, I thought the situation might be getting better with these pre-packaged deli salads, but not so!

I took one of these salads to work, with a tub of salad leaves to accompany it, since it has no vegetable content (apart from oregano and garlic puree, if you think that counts). It was very heavy, sauce laden and extremely rich. I also felt there was too much vinegar, but that's probably just my palette, I'm not in to vinegar. There was, as I have observed previously with these packaged pasta salads, way too much sauce. I think you could comfortably reduce the amount of dressing by 75% and still get the same flavour but significantly more enjoyment. I spent the whole meal trying to wipe excess sauce from the pasta before I ate it, as you can see from my plate. About half way through I was absolutely full of it, and feeling a bit sick because there was so much fatty sauce.

My leftovers - note the thick layer of sauce on the plate.

And not eating too much of this 'deli salad' is definitely the best way to go. Looking at the ingredients list, you can see that the cooked pasta composes 50% of the total, so this pot is 160g, 50% dressing. It's not indulgent and delicious as you might expect. It's greasy and overwhelming. Even the Boy felt sick after trying to eat some. 

Further to this, Tesco have now reverted to their old trick of labelling the dish with 100g and 'heaped tablespoon' quantities. On the actual packet, it doesn't tell you how much is in a heaped tablespoon, but happily at least it is mentioned on the website as 50g. That means there are just over 6 servings per pot perhaps?

The nutritional info of this item is truly shocking.

At 310g per tub, that means if you (with amazing superhuman powers) manage to eat the whole, single-serving sized tub without vomiting forcibly and copiously, you will have consumed 810 calories and a staggering 60.14g of fat. That's 86% of you daily recommended 70g fat intake.

Awesome, thanks Tesco. What a great meal option this is. Even if you just eat one heaped tablespoon of this pasta salad you will have had only fractionally less fat and calories than eating an entire Cadbury's Flake (170 calories and 9.9g fat). And received about the same nutritional value given that neither have any vegetable, fruit or general goodness in them whatsoever.

If you think this is stupid, sign the petition, comment below and generally kick up a fuss. Let's get our office lunchtimes back on an even keel.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Chocolate Banana Loaf

You know what you need on a Sunday morning?

Cake. That's what you need. I made a chocolate banana loaf yesterday and we ate it with custard. It's got walnuts in and I even tried to make it a marble cake, but I didn't reserve enough of the mixture to keep plain and so you couldn't see much of the marbeling.

But that didn't matter, it tastes lush. And now you can enjoy looking at it and perhaps go and make up your own random cake recipe. Why not? It's Sunday, the weather's a bit pants and your family will thank you if you do.

Ahhhh, it's kind of liberating posting about food without bothering to add in the whole recipe.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

REVIEW: Home wine tasting with Smeda Wines

corks, wine, tasting, reviewWe received a home wine tasting voucher for Christmas and finally got it booked in and underway this week. I was looking forward to seeing how it compared to the wine tastings we have done at wineries and also venues like the Saatchi Gallery.

We didn't really know what to expect, then our rep turned up with cases of wine for my friends and I to try. The company was Smeda Wines, a wine wholesaler from Northampton. We'd put out some cheese and biscuits and all our glasses ready and it was nice to have some recommendations of when, and which cheeses to try with various wines. We tried about 10 wines in all and received a complimentary bottle of a sparkling German red to keep.

Our favourites were:
Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand 2011
This was really full of fruity and complex flavours. Really well rounded with nicely balanced sweetness. Even though we're red drinkers, we really liked it.

Chateau Bladinieres Cahors la Preference 2009
This is a 70/30 Malbec/Merlot blend (not 93/7 as our rep told us!) which is really French tasting - it's got that smell and flavour of barrels and cellars. The Merlot comes through nicely to balance the wine, stopping the overall flavour from being too heavy.

Kuehn Gewurztraminer Alsace 2012
A beautiful, light and floral wine with fabulous hints of rose and soft lychee fruit. Really drinkable.

Spier Shiraz Western Cape
A lovely smoky full bodied red with no discernible fruit flavours. Quite a hefty 14.5%, but really worth it.

rose, wine, glass, review, hand, tastingSo we tried some nice new wines and were all happy. I wouldn't, however, bother with a home wine tasting again. The Smeda website shows that the usual price without a Wowcher would be £99 - it's definitely not worth that. The tastings poured were far too small - you were lucky to get one decent sip in a glass and there was clearly no scope to re-taste any of the more complex wines.

The rep also seemed hurried, and rarely introduced a wine with winery, varietal and vintage. She mainly just told us whether a wine was sweet or dry and gave some simple tasting notes in each case. She asked us to mark a price list with our marks out of 10, but then didn't say which wine was which so sometimes it was hard to find them on the list.

When we didn't want to commit to buying a case of wine at the end, she quickly packed up and left with hardly a goodbye. I know that these companies are running wine tastings to get you to purchase, but at £99 a session I think you'd be rightfully expecting a little more banter, much more coherent information about each wine, a fun experience and a no-pressure attitude to sales. I also noticed, as I was googling around for links to each of the wines, that Smeda's website is quite light on information and the prices are significantly higher than what you can find elsewhere - so if you fancy trying any of these wines I'd recommend shopping around.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

REVIEW: Moo! Penrith

We had a nice little trip out to Penrith. I had a conference so had to be there the night before to get there in time. That evening we spotted super sweet little craft ale pub, Moo. The Boy loved it, with its great selection of American craft ales at a reasonable price.

They also had a wide range of other Belgian, World and European brews and a couple of local Cumbrian ales thrown in for good measure. It wasn't the cheapest, yet for the quality and diversity on display they weren't pricing out the market. Pints were around £3.50 to £4.40 and a glass of wine around the £4 mark. 

It is a tiny little place, with rustic tables and barrels for furniture as well as a fetching trophy cow head on the wall. It was visited by a steady stream of regulars while we were there and the bar guy said it gets really paled on a weekend. I thought it was worth visiting for the cow print toilet seats, but that's just me.

They are partnered up with a nearby restaurant so don't really offer food. the restaurants menus were on the table and it looked high end, bit still relatovrly reasonable.

This was definitely my top pick in Penrith. Welcoming and friendly, the bar staff were knowledgeable but in no way snobbish or superior. They even gave us a couple of the moo stickers which adorn their pint pots. I can only recommend you stop by if you're in the area.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Dear Mr Gove by Jess Green

It never fails to amaze me the amount of bile spread in the media whenever people chose to go on strike to protest about poor working conditions. Yes, a withdrawal of labour is inconvenient, that's the entire point. It shows that those striking are valuable, dedicated employees that make a difference to our lives.

Last week's teacher's strike was no different. Anyone who knows someone in the profession will know that an already difficult job is being made harder and harder by Education Secretary, Michael Gove's incessant meddling.

Yet, reading the bottom of the internet, you'd never guess it.* I can never get my head around the hatred directed against hardworking people exercising their democratic right to strike...

"This is purely a political strike, nothing to do with teaching. NUT members are typical left leanig (sic) sandal wearing troublemakers. I am surprised any child in this country gets educated at all."

"at least these activists won't be poisoning the childrens thoughts for 24 hours. so there is an upside"

* PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING: Do not read the bottom of the internet. Especially on tabloid websites. It's really bad for you.

So, as an antidote to all the criticisms and anger, here is fantastic Leicester poet, Jess Green. She expresses the problems teachers are facing eloquently. Take note, Mr Gove.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Blaggers Guide to: Talking to Musicians

I don't know about you, but I find myself in rooms full of musicians all the time. Now I like to play music, I like to sing, but I don't actually know anything about it. And I certainly don't know anything about guitars. So I decided it was time to put together a short guide so you can blag your way through any muso-dominated situation.**

**Disclaimer: Explanations may not be true definitions. But they should be enough to get you through. Please ensure you excuse yourself and get another drink immediately after using any of these lines, to avoid more in-depth questioning.

Situation: A friend is showing off his new 'axe', much to the admiration of the gathered crowds.
You say: "Nice action?"
They reply: Some bullshit response, generally in the affirmative.
But what does it all mean? 
The 'action' is the distance between the strings and the fretboard (the long thin bit of the guitar). Most people prefer a low action where the strings are close to the frets, so you do not need to apply too much pressure with your finger to get a clean note. However, if the action is too low, the string will vibrate against the metal lines of the frets and cause a buzzing noise.

They say: "So I'm getting my sweep-picking arpeggios down now."
You reply: "Nice - you're turning into a real shredder now then, eh?"
But what does it all mean?
"I've been practicing a technique where I can play an up or down sequence of single notes really quickly on my guitar, and it makes me sound really ace."
"Oh really, well done - so you're getting to be a very fast guitar player now then, are you not?"

Warning: Pretend musicians are everywhere
They say: "This whammy just knocks everything out of tune."
You reply: "You should put a Floyd Rose on it."
But what does it all mean?
The whammy, or vibrato bar, is the metal stick that sticks out from the strings on the main body of the guitar. When the guitarist wibbles it, it makes the note wibble like Mariah Carey. Or Britney Spears. Or Whitney Houston. You know, people who can't just hold a solid long note and have to have it wibble all over the place. So, somehow, possibly by magic, the whammy bar is attached to the strings and when you wobble it, you wobble the strings. Now because the length of the strings is what makes each specific note, when you wobble it about you might change the length a bit. That would make the guitar out of tune. But with a Floyd Rose (a type of locking whammy bar), the strings are locked so that you can wibble it all you want, without losing your tuning. Simples.

 The situation: Someone hands you their new guitar, for your approval. What do you do?
Hold the guitar with the fat end away from you and peer intently all the way along the strings. Then you say "Nice neck."
But what does it all mean?
Absolutely nothing. The neck of a new guitar should be pretty much straight. An older guitar might not be. Some styles of guitarists deliberately bow their guitar necks a little bit cos that's how they roll and actually, unless you play the guitar and you know what you're doing, you won't know how the construction of the neck affects the sound. But they all do it. And now you can do it too.

The situation: A friend's band is playing. Afterwards, the drummer asked what you thought.
You reply: "I liked your sound, it really held things together. And your toms were tuned really nicely."
But what does it all mean?
Weirdly, you can tune drums. They have little screws at the side that make the skin on the top more taught (or not), which will change the pitch. A drum kit will sound better when properly tuned, and certain jazz musicians will play in a certain key throughout the set so that they complement the drum tuning all the way through. I think. Anyway, you'll be giving a nice little technical compliment. And you won't look like a dufus, providing they don't ask you anymore questions.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

RECIPE: Guaca-pasta

Do you need an easy tea? Everyone needs an easy tea sometime, somthing comforting and delicious. I adore avocado - they bring a wonderful natural creaminess to your cooking and are extremely healthy for you. So in under 10 minutes (take that Jamie Oliver) you can whip up a fantastic, guacamole inspired pasta.

I'm not bothering with proper quantities again, get on with your intuitive cooking.


Serves 2
Wholemeal pasta
An avocado
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil - just a teaspoon, or even less
3 cloves of garlic (or to taste)
  • Put your pasta on to boil.
  • Meanwhile, add the garlic cloves to a food processor and whiz them up.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to your processor and whiz them up to a creamy, green pasta. The lemon adds flavour and also helps the avocado to keep its colour.

  •  Drain your pasta, reserving a dash of the cooking water.
  • Toss in your sauce and serve!
So simple, but really delicious. The heat of the pasta warms the sauce through and takes the edge off the garlic flavour, but still leaves a great punch. You could add in anything you like. Some crispy bacon crumbled over the top would be amazing. But then it would probably take you more than 10 minutes. Well, 9 actually, the pasta took 9 minutes to cook.

This comes in at 380 calories a serving, and is quite high in fat on account of the avocado and olive oil, so it's not quite in my 'Under 300 calories' recipe collection, but still mainly healthy fats and a blast of nearly raw veg. A great meal.