Sunday, 26 June 2011

Potatoes: The Result

The potatoes took a bit of a battering in the recent heavy winds so we weren't sure how things would end up. We've only had a couple of flowers on them and not much action since then. Since a couple of the stems have broken and died in the wind, we decided today was the day to pull them up and see what we've got.

We were both quite excited to see what our crop was like and we've already decided to put some more potatoes in that will hopefully be ready in the autumn. We couldn't find anything to tip the soil out on to but we've got plenty of spare pots so this compost won't go to waste, we can get some more bits and bobs out for summer crops too.

So we tipped them out and I think somewhat to our surprise potatoes came out! They look lovely as well, really smooth skin and a lovely yellow colour. I think they'll be delicious. We're trying to decide what to make with them so we can really appreciate their flavour. I'm thinking simply roasting them or a warm potato salad. We've got a huge amount of Greek basil that was a reduced supermarket rescue so maybe that will be the way to go.
For now the potato saga has come to an end. Twas a very satisfying business all round. We've got ourselves a decent bag of lovely potatoes and now the excitement grows as the rest of our garden develops and grows in today's beautiful weather. Long may it continue.


Silent Sunday

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Strawberry and Coriander Crumble Slices

Finally, some of the strawberries in the garden are ripe enough to eat! This prompted me to have a little google around today, looking for nice ideas of what to bake using strawberries - as we don't have enough for both of us just to eat them plain. This has led me in an interesting new direction. 

First of all I came across a recipe competition where your recipe must include strawberries. Given that the prize is Le Creuset and I would probably kill for that stuff, I pretty much decided on the spot that whatever I baked would be my entry.
My next challenge then, was to come up with an original recipe that included my strawberries. This led me into researching flavour pairings. I wanted to find a taste combination that was unusual, I already had in the cupboard and that had a really good flavour. I discovered Khymos' post about molecular gastronomy and a new form of extreme housewifery was born - extreme baking!

The essence of this is that if foods share a majority of major volatile molecules, i.e. the things that make them smell and therefore taste the way that they do, they are likely to make pleasurable flavour combinations. Much to my surprise, strawberries and coriander were asserted as one such combination.

And so extreme baking is born. Baking stuff using food combinations that people might not normally consider. As ever, once I'd started on this path I realised that we had no eggs, so I had to cobble together this recipe to compensate for that. My recipe, as you can see from the picture, included rose water. However, this made absolutely no contribution to the final taste so I'm dropping it from the written recipe.

Extreme Housewife's Strawberry and Coriander Crumble Slices
Serves 8


For the slice:
200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g caster sugar
40g oats
2 tsp dry fried and ground coriander seeds
50g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
175ml milk

For the topping:
100g flour/oats, in whatever proportion you prefer
50g butter
40g caster sugar
75g strawberry jam
75g fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat your oven to 180'C. To prepare the slice, put the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, caster sugar, oats and coriander. Mix in the butter until the mixture resembles a crumble mix. Stir in the golden syrup until well incorporated, then stir through the milk to create a batter. Put to one side while you create the topping.

Mix together the flour, oats, butter and sugar to create the crumble topping. Grease your pan (a tin would probably be more effective that what I used if you have it) and pour the slice batter into it. Scatter over your sliced strawberries and dollop the jam in the remaining spaces. Pour your crumble mixture evenly over the top of this, but do not pat it down as this gives a nicer, crispier crumble topping.

Put into your preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes. You will see the crumble topping turn golden brown and the jam start to bubble just underneath the surface. Bring out of the oven and slice immediately before leaving to cool. After about 5 minutes, you can lift the slices out of the tin and place on a cooling rack to finish cooling.
We thought that these slices had a really lovely texture - quite dense and unctuous because of the golden syrup and oats in the slice mix, but still relatively light and moist. The sweetness of the jam also cuts nicely through the main slice and the crumble topping is a lovely addition of further texture.

The strawberry and coriander taste worked really well. Like most good flavours, the coriander is not overpowering, but it does add a very satisfying background note which lingers pleasantly in the aftertaste.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

REVIEW: Penn State Pretzels

After a little conversation with Penn State Snacks on Twitter, they sent me some of their delicious nibbles to sample and review. I'm already a fan of their Sour Cream and Chive pretzels, so was looking forward to trying some more.

Penn State were the first company to produce pretzels here in the UK in 1996. They sent me a very interesting press release with exciting details of their latest expansion, into popcorn. They will be releasing Sweet & Salt and Monterey Jack Cheese popcorn this summer. That there cheesy popcorn sounds like it'll be delicious I have to say, however they haven't sent me any of that so I'm afraid I'm in no position to comment at the moment. Will have to wait for the summer launch in snacky anticipation.

In the press release Steve Harger of Intersnack, the company behind Penn State says "All our snacks offer consumers the health benefits of a low-fat, low-calorie snack, without compromising on taste." Sounds good to me, so I had no hesitation on making the intrepid dive into tasting the Penn State Worcester Sauce Flavour pretzels.

I always find 'Worcester Sauce' a bit of an odd choice for a flavour. I think of Worcester Sauce as an ingredient, not something you'd want on its own! However, they are really tasty. The pretzels have a very strong savoury flavour. There is quite a tang with it but it's not too salty and the plain taste from the middle of the pretzels cuts through the flavouring with the pretzel, biscuity taste making the overall flavour none too strong. They are really satisfyingly crunchy and leave a pleasant aftertaste in the mouth.

I think the packaging looks really smart as well. The colour scheme is classic and appealing, the fonts they use are quite modern looking and I think that this branding holds itself up well against other more premium snack brands. At the time of writing (15/06/11) a search for Penn State Snacks puts a 175g bag of Original Salted pretzels at £1.29 in most supermarkets, although they are currently on offer at 65p in Ocado and a good value £1.10 standard price in Asda. This compares favourably to other premium sharer bags - Walkers Sensations are around £1.75 for 150g, for example.

Let's go back to Mr Harger's claims about Penn State Pretzels being a relatively healthy snack. The nutritional information on the pack states that a 30g serving, the small pack size, contain 131 kcals - 7% of an adult's RDA. There is 1.1g of sugar (1% RDA), 3.4g of fat (5% RDA) and 0.5g salt (8% RDA). Given their claims that this is a relatively healthy snack, let's see how it compares to some other leading brands. The Walkers website does not have the detailed nutritional information that Penn State has per product. Instead, their nutritional information page only talks about how they cook in sunseed oil for a lower fat content and have reduced the salt. They state that their crisps now contain 0.9g of saturated fat, 5% RDA. Penn State Snack contain 0.4g - 2% RDA. Chalk one up for Penn State there. The Walkers salt content for a 'standard bag' is now 0.5g, the same as Penn State.

I managed to find online information about the nutrition in Pringles on their website. In a 28g serving, slightly less than the Penn State snack size, they have 150 kcals, 9g fat, 0 sugars and 150mg of sodium, which is 6% RDA. On this basis, Penn State are clearly much lower in fat, although the calorie and salt content are relatively similar.

There you have it. Due to popular demand, Penn State will be relaunching their 'tang-tastic' Worcester Sauce flavour pretzels after discontinuing them in 2009. They are baked, not fried - and while I would not personally claim snacks of this nature to be 'healthy', I would certainly say that they are a healthier option than some other brands. Certainly there is all of the taste you would want. I score them a tang-tastic 7 out of 10 Extreme Points. This is not my personal favourite flavour, however I did enjoy them. I am looking forward to getting the sharing bag out when friends come round, I think they will fly out of the bowl!

BOOK REVIEW: The Tides of Avarice by John Dahlgren

I was sent a free copy of The Tides of Avarice by John Dahlgren to review by the lovely Ben Cameron. And very kind of him it was to do so too!

Straight off the bat I'm happy to jump in by saying "Garrrrrr! I loves this book, me hearties!" Quite frankly, who doesn't love pirates? And when those pirates are foxes and beavers and a whole host of other furry, woodland creatures then that makes it so much the better from my perspective!

And that's not to say that this is what I would class as a cutesy, young adult novel. This is a straight up fantasy book, which holds up well with some of the greats of that genre, like my personal favourites, Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey.

The book is about Sylvester Lemmington. He is a Junior Archivist and Translator of Ancient Tongues. And he is a lemming. Like most lemmings, he lives a quiet life, working in the library, secretly hoping to steal a kiss from his childhood friend, Viola, and keeping his mum company in the vain hope that one day his father will return from the Great Exodus over the Mighty Enormous Cliff into the Great Wet Without End. He is quiet and reserved and perhaps even a little pedantic. Niggles are forming in the back of his mind about the society in which he lives - is there more out there beyond the comfortable confines of his quaint village, Foxglove. More to the point, why does the Great Spirit Lhaeminguas want the faithful to go on the Great Exodus to the Land of Destiny?

And that's all I want to tell you. As I mentioned earlier, this is a novel about pirates, with fighting and grog and treasure, but if I detail any more of the plot, or indeed how poor little Sylvester gets tangled up with those scurvy knaves, then I'll ruin your enjoyment of it! Suffice to say that I was hooked very quickly by this novel. With each new page comes a new piece of information, a morsel of intrigue or wave of skullduggery. The plot unfolds at a satisfying pace with some excellent, clever twists. The characters are truly three dimensional, and Dahlgren is something of a master at making you sympathise even with the most black-hearted blackguard.

This clearly gets a swashbuckling 10 out of 10 Extreme points from me. Reading this book transported me into the fantasy realm of Sagaria with its colourful characters, vivid landscapes and debauched pirate settlements. At some points I was even outflanked by Dahlgren, thinking that I had guessed where the plot was going, only to find it took a completely unexpected turn. That hasn't happened for a while. Buy it, read it, love it. Yarghhhhhh!

REVIEW: Get Loaded in the Park 2011

Here I am!
Seems like most posts I write these days start with me explaining how I got something for free. This is not to be sniffed at and I am grateful. Still, I wonder if it gets all a bit samey for you, dear reader.

We won tickets to Get Loaded in the Park last weekend, held on Clapham Common, London.
To be fair, we hadn't really heard of any of the bands, and the ones we had heard of we didn't really like - so we were in two minds as to whether or not to go. We looked the lineup up on the web and listened to a few people's MySpace page and decided that it was probably worth it, since there seemed to be some decent folk, cutting through the indie. I particularly enjoyed listening to 'Old Grunge' by Beans on Toast, although in the end we didn't actually catch them.

The weather was pretty crappy for nearly mid-June. The sky was overcast and rain showers were on and off throughout the day. We turned up mid-afternoon and the atmosphere seemed as grey as the weather. There was the odd group of 15 year olds evidently having the time of their lives, as you'd expect, but generally people were mooching around looking a bit bored.

And that was no surprise! Get Loaded in the Park was absolutely tiny. There were three stages, a decent amount for a day festival, but there was no variety in the types of music they were playing - all guitar based bland pretty much. Where's the reggae stage or dance tent we cried!

Main stage in the background
We caught the end of Patrick Wolf (bland),  a bit of what may or may not have been O. Children (why don't bands put their name on the drums any more? Then we'd know who they were...). The band we watched the most were called The Agitator. They were a nice surprise in an otherwise desolate musical landscape. An interesting mixture of vocal, drums and percussion only I was impressed by the singer's great pitch and strong voice and most of all by the really cool percussion in the background. Lots of fun - I have started following them on Twitter, see if I continue to enjoy them! The straw that eventually broke the camel's back was British Sea Power. They were truly shite. We listened to three vapid, samey sounding guitar-based twaddle songs and decided, after nearly 70 minutes, it was time to give up on Get Loaded in the Park and go to the Tate Modern instead. For free.

The other stage and the four shop stalls
As for other entertainments at the festival, it was a truly paltry show. There were four shop stalls - if you didn't want some Peruvian embroidery or a cowboy hat, you were basically shit out of luck. There was a block of about 15 food stalls on the centre of the site, all selling tiny portions at huge prices. £5 falafel wrap anyone?

There was one, slightly lonely looking fairground ride, toilets, drinking water, a lone massage gazebo in the middle of nowhere and then there were the bars. Helpfully labelled 'North bar' and 'South bar' to prevent confusion - despite all parts of the site being clearly visible wherever you were standing, these were two huge shrines to commerce. With more stalls and staff than was strictly necessary for the size of the site, you were served immediately. And with prices ranging from £4.00 for a 440ml can of 'Limited Festival Edition' Tuborg, £4.50 for a bottle of Brothers Cider or £4.00 for a plastic serving sized bottle of Jacob's Creek in rose, white or red, it was clear that only the promoters were getting Loaded in the Park.

Smaller stage and overpriced food vending outlets
And here's where I get to the crux of the problem I had with Get Loaded in the Park, and indeed the way festivals in this country are going generally. Under the guise of Health and Safety, but in reality to feed the cheery spirit of commercialism of capitalism, you are not allowed to bring in your own food or drink - although they do make one concession that you can bring up to 500ml of non-alcoholic liquid in. This festival was on from midday until 9pm (which is also a joke if you ask me) - and you are forbidden from bringing a picnic. You have to buy food from overpriced venues if you want to eat. If you want to drink, you have to buy from the big brands who are now over taking the festival scene. I would imagine that this is not to stop members of the public from bringing in glass bottles which could be dangerous, but rather to make sure that the only alcohol branding you see, albeit scattered on the floor, are the bottles and cans from event sponsors.

These attitudes means that the event is less fun. Without even a campsite you can escape to to drink your own warm cans with your mates, and sit around perhaps playing a guitar, a vital element of the festival experience is missing. We heard one person saying that he'd spent £120 on food and booze by 3pm - what a joke. I think a festival without people sat around in groups having a picnic or generally sharing whatever they've brought with them has lost some of its soul. People eating the same food and drinking the same drinks as far as the eye can see is just plain strange.

From what I can see on the web, a ticket for Get Loaded in the Park costs £47. In comparison, this is much better value than a day ticket for the Leeds Festival 2011, at £82.50. Guilfest is £44 or £49 per day, depending on what day you go. The mighty Sonisphere is £80 per day ticket. Leicester's own Summer Sundae is £30 or £50 depending on the day and the Hop Farm Festival costs £70 for a day ticket. So, compared to similar small festivals it is roughly similar, and about half the price of the real big festivals, as you might expect. Given the price of gig tickets these days, if you love two of the bands, it is pretty much worth buying a ticket.

And don't get me wrong, I completely understand that if you go to ANY festival with a good group of friends and your favourite band ever is playing, you are going to have a fabulous time. I just don't like a festival that has clearly been designed for my maximum spend, but minimum enjoyment. Festival promoters, free our festivals! We want to stay out past 9pm, we want to listen to music that is a bit too loud and we want to be able to bring our own Pringles!

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Silent Sunday

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Guerrilla Crochet: Worldwide Knitting in Public Day

 Today is Worldwide Knitting in Public Day. In true fashion, I just have to be a little different, so I have just been out crocheting in public.

Well, in fairness, I am in the middle of a crochet project, but I haven't got any knitting on the go at the moment, so it was just a natural move. However, if anyone asks, I am telling them that I am engaged in some Guerrilla Crochet. It seems much more appropriate for the practice on an Extreme Housewife.

Turns out that crocheting on the move is a bit trickier than normal crochet. I can well imagine that the intention is for people to knit in parks, or on the bus, somewhere a bit more sedentary, however I thought if I have to blow 10 minutes of my life walking to tesco and 10 minutes walking back I might as well get something a bit more productive done. It is quite tricky though. 

I'm not as experienced at crochet as I am at knitting, so I have to watch what I'm doing a lot more. I found there were many obstacles along the way - crossing roads without getting run over, not walking into lamp posts and also keeping my mate, Sam engaged in conversation so he wasn't as bored as me at having to go to tesco. 

When we actually got into the shop, it was even more difficult - handling a basket, remembering what you actually needed to buy in the first place, finding the right aisle and not tripping over small children or walking into trolleys. However, I persevered and I believe the experiment was a success. I didn't get forcibly ejected from the premises, which was a bonus, and at the end of it all I treated myself to a well deserved sit down and a little spot more crochet.

But soon it was time to go home. Luckily it turns out that the police don't feel like arresting you for crafting in public either - phew!

Monday, 6 June 2011

REVIEW: Berry Scrumptious

 I thought I'd write a little review for the lovely Berry Truffles I received from Berry Scrumptious - nom nom nom.

They didn't send me Berry Truffles to review, however I did get them for free as I won their competition - woo hoo! They didn't ask me to do a blog review, I'm just doing it on a whim, because it's nice to hear about the lovely things that little companies like theirs are doing up and down the land!

Copyright © 2009 Berry Scrumptious
As the name suggests, Berry Scrumptious are a farm based enterprise, who use their carefully grown raspberries and strawberries to make delectable gourmet treats. One of my favourite things on their website are the chocolate covered strawberries - especially the incredibly cute wedding day strawberries - such a lovely gift for a happy couple!

So essentially, they combine delicious fruit, grown themselves, with tasty choccy in innovative and frankly quite beautiful ways. This is a good thing.

They sent me a pack of six Berry Truffles. The packaging was nicely understated, but sweet. I liked the handwritten label, someone has very nice handwriting! Our pack was said to contain Raspberry & Milk, Strawberry & Lemon, Strawberry & Balsamic Vinegar Cup and Raspberry Cup. This confused us ever so slightly because there appeared to be only three types, but with four flavours on the card. I reckon that we couldn't tell the Raspberry & Milk and Strawberry & Lemon apart, but that's probably down to our poor palettes.

That's my only criticism really. We found that once we started eating them, the sweet berry juices were so fresh and sharp that it kind of overpowered your mouth, so they tasted quite similar. However, they tasted of nommy fruit and really high quality, well made truffle and chocolate, so I am in no way complaining.

The most distinct flavour was the Strawberry & Balsamic Vinegar cup, which was absolutely delicious, despite myself and The Boy having slight reservations about this flavour! I think the sharpness of the vinegar and strawberry flavours contrasted so well with the high quality dark chocolate bitterness of the cup and the smooth, sweet and luxurious truffle centre.

Well, I said this would be a short note, so I think I shall stop here. Suffice to say, these were absolutely delicious and I can't thank Berry Scrumptious enough for picking me as one of their competition winners and giving me the opportuniy to taste some of their fine comestibles!

An extremely high class 9.99 out of 10 Extreme Points from me and a respectable 8 out of 10 Hippy points from The Boy - who said he marked harshly because he found it hard to distinguish between the flavours and sometimes it was hard to visually tel which flavour corresponded with which flavour on the card.

I appear to have actually dribbled on this one
But we're really picking fault. They were really beautiful chocolates. Try them for yourself and tell us what you think.

REVIEW: Sacla Sauce for Risotto

As promised, here is the follow up to my post about making home made pasta and trying out Sacla's sun-dried tomato pesto. That was a very successful operation, and we have had numerous yummy dinners with our Sacla products since. Unfortunately, The Boy is too quick off the mark and used most of them to cook me tea (which I am not complaining about!) before I had the chance to blog about them. One tip that he especially recommends is using the Sacla stir through Italian tomato sauce with olive as a pizza sauce! I would never have thought of that, so it's a good job that he's here, but I can completely recommend it, it's delicious! 

Warning: stir before looking at contents of pan
Today, we were trying out the Sacla butternut squash with parmesan for risotto. I must confess, this is the last of the products we have tried because I don't typically use ready made sauces and the idea of using a sauce for a risotto confused me a little bit! However, we perservered, and I added a few extra bits, as is my wont.

Ta da! (Still looks a bit like sick)
 I thought of using this today because I had some baby sweetcorn in and I'd seen a recipe online that involved baby sweetcorn with butternut squash, which triggered off some secret receptor in my brain saying "You have something involving butternut squash in the cupboard". Upon remembering this, the plan was formed.

I chopped up some baby sweetcorn and a bit of garlic and stuck it in the pan. Then as per the actual  instructions, I added 200g of rice (regular rice - I was desperate for a quick tea and there was no risotto rice in, sometimes time is of the essence), the contents of the jar, 3 jars worth of water (nice and easy that) and a stock cube. Simmered for just over 15 minutes and Robert's your dad's brother - tea was ready!

Well, as you can see from my final photo, I actually added some soft cheese stirred in before I served it, but in the interests of fairness, I tasted it first. It was actually really good. There were some actual pieces of butternut squash (extra points to Sacla from me for that) and they had a nice sweet flavour. The sauce was really quite creamy, although of course the texture would have been slightly better had I used risotto rice. It didn't require any extra seasoning - the sauce mixed with a stock cube were quite sufficient, although as with most meals a twist of black pepper was the icing on the cake. The best thing about the flavour, which actually surprised me, was the parmesan flavour. It was clearly discernible and really yummy! All in all, this was really enjoyable. For people where the nearest we come to prepared sauces is Sacla pesto, this was a nice quick fix. Certainly something I would have stored at the back of the cupboard for emergencies.

An extremely high ranking 9 out of 10 Extreme Points for me. A very pleasurable surprise.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Slaughteryard - Esteban Echeverria

The lovely publishers at The Friday Project had a little conversation with me on Twitter and sent me a copy of a new translation of Esteban Echeverria's The Slaughteryard to review. The Friday Project is an offshoot of Harper Collins and they're quite an interesting little set of publishers. They source interesting new talent on the web and give previously unseen talent an airing.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of The Slaughteryard before. Apparently this is the first English translation that has been published, so that might explain it. However, given that it is pretty much studied in every school in Argentina and I enjoyed a good few weeks in Argentina a couple of years back, that's still pretty wrong of me. However, this translation has all bases covered for a novice such as myself.

The work itself is more of a short story, spanning a mere 29 pages. The rest of the book is filled with a comprehensive introduction, extremely useful glossary, the original text and several fascinating appendices, including one section on Federalist verse. Needless to say I have come out of reading this with a much more detailed understanding of the political situation in 19th century Argentina. As the story is so short, you'll forgive me if in summarising I essentially give away the whole plot! Feel free to skip the next bit, or better still return to this review after you've read it for yourself!

The story itself is set in Argentina, 1839. Although a work of fiction, it is set during the terrifying reign of Juan Manuel de Rosa and the whole piece is intricately crafted to demonstrate the political divisions and frighteningly violent division of opinion that the country suffered in that period. It is a hugely powerful story of the events at a slaughteryard, where a young man is accidentally caught up and killed by an angry mob.

Echeverria's writing is extremely emotive. A moral thinker and poet of his time, he has penned beautifully crafted analogies and similes throughout the work and cleverly draws out the physical and political differences between the Federalists and Unitarians. I was particularly blown away by the similarities in the description of the escaped bull and the unfortunate Unitarian - the wild red eyes, the foaming at the mouth - the unbridled anger at the injustice that was surely to take place.

This book is a real must for lovers of literature. For people of the UK, this is a hidden gem that has been obscured from our view for too long. It truly captures to author's passion for his country and his desperate desire for reform to take place. This very much reminds me of the patriotic spirit of the people we met in Argentina, their fierce pride in their country, despite many of its problems still not having been resolved in the present day.

More importantly for me, this is an exciting book. Reading the whole package, which must have involved quite some significant amount of research to compile, I was thrown into the murky world of Argentina's early politics, driven to a large extent by economic dependencies, most notably in this context, the cattle market. Thoroughly enjoyable, and a real educational experience - opening a door for me into South American politics that is rarely available to most Europeans. A solid 10 out 10 Extreme points. Buy it, enjoy it - and then if you're feeling particularly brave, use the original text to help improve your Spanish!
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