Aug 312009
 

Anyone who knows me well knows how I feel about cheese! I adore it. The riper, smellier and stronger the better! Soft cheeses so ripe they are practically oozing their way off my plate. Blues that are pungent, sharp, creamy and piquant. Delicious rinds containing flavoursome cheesey goodness that makes me grin with delight!

So, when I became twitter friends with Matt of Pong Cheese, online purveyors of fine quality cheese, I whiled away some happy time salivating over their website.

But what’s this? In their tempting online shop I found a selection box for men and another for women, a set of cheeses recommended for connoisseurs, a range ideally suited to a picnic and even cheeses grouped by city or country of origin. All well and good.

But where were the strongest and smelliest? Those cheeses so beloved to those of us who love the ultimate cheeses?

Ever responsive to the wishes of cheese aficionados (or should that be desperados?), Pong Cheese responded by creating The Ultimate Pong Box! An olfactory and gustatory whallop! And since I’d proposed this new box, Pong very kindly sent me one to check out!

The current contents of this fabulous selection are Epoisses de Bourgogne, Munster, Oxford Blue and Finn. The cheeses are dispatched in a sturdy box, securely nestled within shredded paper, with a small coolpack to keep them cool but not too cold.

The Ultimate Pong Box arrives!

Opening the box feels like my birthday has come early (though as it’s next month, the timing isn’t bad, actually!)


Epoisses

Epoisses is one of my all-time favourite cheeses in the world and I buy it often, most commonly from Waitrose, who offer a great selection of quality cheeses. Unctuous verging on sticky, the smell of this Burgundian cheese is often compared to smelly socks or sweaty boxers but don’t let it’s foetid reek put you off – this is a cheese to be reckoned with. Very ripe on arrival, the marc de Bourgogne-washed rind was liquidy and the inside was spreadably soft. The taste didn’t disappoint, delivering a heady kick of pungent meaty savouriness or umami.

Munster

Next up is Munster, a cheese I’ve tasted only a few times before and not for quite some time. Next to most cheeses it’s a stinker but far less of one than Epoisses. Also made from cow’s milk, in the mountains of Alsace, this is a smooth, creamy flavoursome cheese. The rind is milder than I had expected, though perhaps that’s only in comparison with that Epoisses. The cheese has a lovely sweet salty taste.

Finn

From France to England and a cheese made at Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire. Finn is, as Pong put it: “an amazingly stunning soft cheese: rich, luxurious and devilishly oozey.” Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and suitable for vegetarians, Finn is the only triple cream cheese made in England. It has a mouldy white rind around a butter yellow interior which, if the cheese is left to ripen fully, likes to make a run for the side of the plate! The taste is as gratifyingly rich as one would expect from a triple cream soft cheese but it also has the unexpectedly tangy sharpness of a blue cheese without the blue!

Oxford Blue

And on to the Oxford Blue, the only one of the four cheeses I had not tasted before. Pong’s website tells us that the cheese is made on a small scale but becoming very popular, and I can certainly understand why. This creamy, semi-soft blue was apparently developed in Stilton in 1993 as a creamier alternative to the traditional harder blue of the area. It’s fabulous! The rind is white with patches of grey and brown mould. Inside is a phenomenally goeey cheese with generous veins of blue that provide a very, very moreish depth of flavour. This cheese is also suitable for vegetarians.

Any negatives? Well, only a couple of minor ones:

One is that the cheeses were at different levels of maturation/ ripeness and therefore not suitable for serving on a cheeseboard at the same time, which I would have liked to do. It might be nice to offer an option on the website to specify whether customers would prefer their selection to be ready simultaneously or not and also whether they’d like them at optimum ripeness on arrival or a few days later.

And the other point is that while the packaging is sufficient if you’re at home to take delivery the box couldn’t really be left outside (in a specified place) until you’re home, as is the case with other fresh food suppliers. This may make it more difficult for office-based customers to take delivery.

However, all in all, the box is an absolute treat. If you are ever struggling to think of a gift for a foodie friend (me in particular) you should look no further! And, of course, this is also a great option for those of you not fortunate enough to live locally to a great cheese monger’s but wanting your fix of high quality cheeses.

Would love to read your feedback on other Pong Cheese selections!

Got A Beef?

28 Aug 2009  1 Response »
Aug 282009
 

Quite a while back, we expected a bone-in joint of beef but were accidentally sent a boned one instead. Abel & Cole’s customer service was on the ball and arranged to send us the correct joint at a later date.

In the meantime, we roasted the boned joint and I was blown away by just how flavoursome it was.

As I said at the time: As soon as it came out of the oven I (as the Mrs Spratt of the family) sliced off some of the crisped fat. The orgasmic sounds started there and then! And all the way through the meal I just couldn’t stop myself oohing and aahing and making delighted comments about how exceedingly good the meat was. I was so repetitive about it Pete near as damnit told me to shut the hell up! The texture was as good as it always is for this cut, and the moistness that results from the marbling of fat was evident too – so far so expected. But it was the flavour that was so unexpectedly fantastic. I cannot remember the last time I so enjoyed a piece of beef in any format or dish.”

So I had high expectations of the bone-in joint when it arrived in early August.


2 rib joint

The meat itself had a good rich red colour as expected. I was slightly surprised that a layer of fat had been tied on to the joint – all the boned rib joints I’ve bought have simply come with their own thick layer of fat in tact. And the dark grey area showing between the pieces of fat was a little off-putting too. But I’m a strong proponent of trusting one’s senses and as it smelled fine, I popped it into the oven to roast.

Out of the oven and rested

So, what did I think? Well, honestly, whilst this was a tasty piece of meat, it didn’t come close to matching the flavour of that accidentally received boned rib I raved about before. This was a perfectly decent, good quality piece of meat but not one that made me want to sing out loud. Not one that made me think about putting my Christmas order in here and now.

(I wondered if I’d misremembered how good that boned joint had been but, a couple of weeks later, we defrosted the other half of that boned joint – which had been too large for just the two of us to use in one piece – and my excitement was renewed all over again).

Leftover beef went into a tasty, crunchy salad the next day including home-grown carrots, supermarket red onion, spring onion, cucumber and sugarsnap tossed in a simple home-made salad dressing.

Crunchy leftover beef salad

The bones are in the freezer to be made into stock.

So, is there a case to be made for Abel & Cole including the suppliers’ names on each package of meat they send out? Certainly, if I felt there was a reliable way for me to order beef that would equal the first (boned) joint rather than this bone-in one, I’d place my order now. As it is, I can’t justify spending that kind of money on what could very well be no better than the considerably less expensive meat I can get in my local supermarket.

 

The day of reckoning finally approaches – I’ll be hosting a stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market this Thursday, 27th August!

As I have mentioned previously, I signed up a few months ago to participate in a collaboration between food bloggers and market organisers. Members of the UK Food Bloggers Association are taking it in turns to host a UKFBA stall at the market and my turn has finally arrived.

Several weeks ago I made the first goods for the stall in two marathon days with my mum and a (godsent) visiting cousin. We made chutneys, pickles, ketchups, jams and marmalades which we bottled into my beautiful hexagonal 8oz jars and my mini 1.5 oz jars.

Since then I’ve also made some fudge, designed and printed labels, worked out costings and prices, bagged up the fudge, stuck hundreds of labels onto hundreds of jars and cut out a ridiculous number of squares of organza which I’ve secured to the 8oz jam jars with elastic bands!

The next couple of days will see me baking jam tarts, brownies, biscuits and cakes and pulling everything we need to take together and packing it all into boxes. It’s a surprisingly big list when you get down to it!

Whilst I’m really looking forward to the day I’m also quite nervous about it, even though I am, believe it or not, doing this for fun! Having always enjoyed browsing and buying from food markets such as this one, I think it will be quite an experience to be on the other side of the stall for once!

The stall will most likely be located on the cobbled area to the East of the covered market in Covent Garden (though if it’s not there, check the West side as it did move on one occasion). And we’ll be there from noon to 8pm (though we’ll probably be up and running an hour earlier and we may slope off early in the unlikely event we sell all our stock).

Pete and I will be there the whole time. My mum (Mamta of Mamta’s Kitchen) is hoping to be there for a couple of hours between 1pm and 3pm though as she’s landing back home tomorrow she may be too jetlagged on the day.

I’d LOVE for friends and readers to come and visit us at the stall – no obligation to buy anything but would certainly appreciate the support and it would be great to put faces to names for many of my online friends.

If you do come along, please introduce yourself to us!

Wish me luck!

Aug 082009
 

Way back in May I asked readers of my blog (plus foodie friends elsewhere) to pose questions for me to answer as part of an introductory post for my newbie blog’s 2 month anniversary. I didn’t meet my deadline and managed to post the first set of responses back in June, focusing on those relating to my childhood food memories and experiences.

I’ve been meaning to post another slew of answers for ages and ages and ages but kept forgetting to pull the draft off my USB stick – how crap an excuse is that?

So, without further ado, here’s more about me as told through food:

In The Now
Anne: Do you prefer to cook or be cooked for?

This one’s an easy one for me to answer as I’m a ridiculously lazy individual! My interest in cooking is driven entirely by my love of tasty food! My husband, superstar that he is, does more of the cooking at home than I do. I do some, of course, but when it comes to every day eating, he’s the man! We do decide what we’ll have together, though if he’s cooking, the final say is his, as it depends on what he feels like making. I prefer to cook when I have more time and am not knackered (as I often am after work) so I try to think of interesting dishes to cook on days when I’m working from home or not working.

In my fantasy world, we’d have a personal chef – one with a deft hand in a wide range of cuisines and who would prepare what we fancy just how we like it. Of course, in this fantasy, we’d also have won enough on the lottery for a lovely big house with a huge, well-equipped kitchen. Then again, since we’d be rich enough not to have to work, we’d probably have more time and inclination to cook ourselves! But we could still turn to our chef on days we didn’t feel like it!

Heavenly Housewife: What foods make you the happiest when you eat them?

Unfortunately, one of the reasons I’m so rotund (or, lardy-arsed, as I call it) is because so *many* foods delight me! A few of my favourites are alphonso mangoes, foie gras entier, lamb chops cooked on the BBQ or at an okacbasi grill, goose-fat roasted potatoes, my mum’s lamb curry and keema curry, so many dim sum dishes, cheese – oh goodness, cheese (I love cheese so much i could write an entire eulogising post just for cheese), tiramisu, fresh strawberries and cream, spare ribs, king prawn tempura, scallops, chocolate…

Bexxi: What do you think is the biggest fad (“must have”) ingredient that is being pushed at the moment (i.e. the least worthwhile one)?

I tpp get fed up of all the ingredients that suddenly become trendy when their supposed health benefits are over-pimped! Acai berries and goji berries spring to mind! Then again I’m not a big health nut so these claims are of little interest to me. I usually find such ingredients making their way into far too many products, particularly smoothies and snacks!

Recently, I’ve seen a flurry of posts about sumac – a spice made from grinding the fruit of a genus of plants found around the world. The spice is used in Middle Eastern cuisine. But, for once, I’m guilty of following the crowd as I’ve blogged a recipe featuring sumac myself only last month! I liked the lemony flavour it gave but wouldn’t suggest you rush out to get some!

Bexxi: What is your favourite easy-as-hell main course?

I’d probably go with a roast dinner. Either roast chicken or roast rib of beef, some goose-fat roasted spuds, savoy cabbage and some nice gravy incorporating pan and resting juices (plus port for beef gravy). I find roasts pretty easy as, apart from spud-peeling, there’s so little to do. Back when Pete and I were dating and he was working in London whilst I was still studying at Warwick, he’d come up to be with me every weekend and I’d cook a lovely roast dinner for him on Friday evenings.

If the easy-as-hell dish needs to be a little quicker than a roast I’d either use the microwave to defrost some home-made stock from the freezer and make some risotto (with additions such as pancetta or bacon or blue cheese or leeks) or I’d make Pete’s cheesey potato bake which is another incredibly easy recipe!

Applelisa: Which is your favourite Indian spice?

Coriander – especially the fresh leaves, though I guess those count as a herb rather than a spice? I absolutely adore the taste of coriander leaves and since the plant also provides us with it’s flavoursome seeds, it’s a double dose of goodness! I particularly love coriander in my mum’s green chutney, which uses lots of coriander leaves plus some mint and a number of spices. It’s very quick and easy to make and goes wonderfully not only with Indian snacks but also in cheese sandwiches!

Applelisa: What’s your guilty food pleasure?

I tend not to feel guilty about enjoying food whether it’s a donner kebab, a Burger King whopper, a pot noodle, a chip butty or eating a block of marzipan straight from the packet. I really could do with feeling more guilty about some (most?) of what I eat, given my girth, but I’m too much of a hedonist to do guilt very well!

Travelling Free
Lindacatarina: When you are abroad what food do you miss back home?

Growing up near London and now living here, it’s my good fortune not only to be exposed to a wonderfully wide range of cuisines and ingredients but also to indulge in them often. So, when I’m abroad, even in places renowned for their fine food, what I miss most is variety. For example, last time I was in Italy, I delighted in all manner of fantastic pasta and seafood dishes; I was in heaven and yet… after a week, I started to crave Indian, Chinese, Thai, Turkish… I just needed a change! I find it even harder when visiting India where my family members will often eat lentils and vegetables with rice / flat bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner day after day after day. Even if I adored those dishes (and I really don’t) I’d struggle after only a couple of days! So, the honest answer is the luxury of variety from meal to meal and day to day.

Lindacatarina: What’s your favourite meal from your travels?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one! We’ve had so many wonderful meals whilst travelling! Most recently, fantastic steak and empanadas in Buenos Aires. The most delicious ragu in Bologna, fritti misti in Venice pizza in Naples and Sorrento. So many marvellous meals in France it’d be impossible to narrow it down but those that spring to mind just at this moment include a simple, rough-cut meat terrine in a cave restaurant in the Loire, lightly fried fresh foie gras d’oie entier served with fried, caramelised apple slices in Bordeaux and a fantastic picnic of fresh bread, cheeses, pate, fresh fruit and juices bought from Dijon market and enjoyed under a sunny Burgundy sky. On our several African safaris in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania we’ve stayed in some small, luxury camps with incredible chefs who produce amazing meals worthy of any top class restaurant, often in the tiniest of kitchens or even over an open fire, outdoors! South Africa is another great destination for foodies – I challenge anyone to eat badly in Cape Town and along the Garden Route – I can still remember many of the meals we enjoyed 5 years ago in surprising detail.

Some Random Thoughts
Lindacatarina: If you lost your sense of taste…what one food you would miss the most?

I’m assuming we’re talking about losing both smell and taste, since they are so interconnected? I think probably something like the alphonso mango, which is such an explosion of perfume and flavour. But probably lamb too! You know, I’m never very good at narrowing down my favourite foods so it’s hard to pick one thing that I’d miss the most!

Icklebecka: If your friends (or you) were to sum you up as a dish, which dish would it be and why?

It would have to be a chocolate banana. I remember watching Blue Peter when I was quite young and this recipe was featured. From that point onwards, preparing the chocolate bananas was my job. And it still is! Make a slit in the concave side of the banana, carefully push some chocolate pieces into the flesh (without causing the banana skin to split). Wrap the whole thing up in foil and cook on the dying embers of a BBQ. It helps that yellow is my favourite colour, I adore chocolate and am often told I’m bananas!

Anne: What food would you take to a desert island?

I started off thinking about a huge hog roast but, thinking more long term… maybe I should take a male pig and a female pig and get them makin’ bacon, in the hopes of having assured hog supplies for as long as I was on the island! Likewise, maybe I’d take some fruit and vegetable seeds – mangoes and coconuts would grow on my island, right? And I want sweetcorn, mushrooms, onions, peppers not to mention citrus oh and herbs and spices too… And maybe I could grow some kind of wheat for flour. Mentally I’m a regular Robinson Crusoe but, let’s be honest, I haven’t the skills, stamina or temperament to achieve such self-sufficiency! But, really, I’d be so miserable on my own that it wouldn’t matter what food I had with me. Please can I take my Pete with me?

 

 

Foraging
Humans evolved, so I’ve read, as foragers. Eating a predominantly fruit, vegetable, nuts and seeds diet, our ancestors ate little and often. Whether they turned to meat because we couldn’t find sufficient edible flora or simply by watching and learning from predators, it’s clear that the ratio of meat to non-meat we eat has steadily increased over the millenia, especially in recent decades. And, in the majority of cultures, we’ve fallen into a pattern of 3 main meals a day rather than small, regular grazing.

Of course, fewer larger meals fits in much more easily into our modern lives, segmented as they are into work, play and chores. But I often come across suggestions that some of us might benefit from a shift back towards the little-and-often pattern of those long-ago ancestors. Certainly, it might alleviate those after-meal crashes where one’s body feels lethargic and bloated as it struggles to digest a large volume.

What is Graze?
All this was loosely in my mind when I started reading blog posts from friends who signed up with Graze to receive regular deliveries of fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds packed into handy boxes posted directly to their work or home addresses.

I’d been meaning to investigate and try them out myself for quite some time when a twitter friend posted a free trial code that finally prompted me to check our their site.

A single graze box costs £2.99 including delivery and usually contains one large portion of fresh fruit plus one medium and one small pack of dried fruits, nuts, seeds or mixes. The box is sized to fit through a standard letter box and the packaging is recyclable.

Although you can’t specify the contents of each box, you are encouraged to spend a few moments browsing through the various categories (including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, savoury snacks, olives and mixes) to rate each option as either bin, try, like or love. The first means you’ll never receive the item, the next that you’re not sure but are happy to try it and the other two indicate how much you like the item and hence how often you’d like to receive it. The idea is that, as you graze your way through each box, you pop back onto the site to update your ratings resulting in boxes that match your personal tastes ever more closely. (Clicking on an item produces a pop up with further information on the contents).

Some Grazers use their boxes to achieve a steady level of energy through the day, replacing lunch with all-day nibbling. Others use the natural snacks to restore energy when they’re flagging. Me? I’ve geared my boxes towards the more decadent options such as frosted cashews, lemon salted pistachios, dried mangoes, seaweed peanut crackers… and simply enjoy the contents of my boxes as a tasty treat!

Pros and Cons
So the pros are tasty, natural treats conveniently delivered to one’s door.

What are the cons?
Cost is probably the first one. Whilst the price is not unreasonable for a variety of nibbles in handy packets, delivered directly to your door it’s also true that one could assemble one’s own packs for significantly cheaper.

The second is the reliance on Royal Mail for delivery. My first box (for which I was re-credited) was due on a Friday but didn’t arrive till the following Tuesday, by which time the fresh fruit was rotting. The second box was hit by the postal strike but arrived only one day late – however Graze had cleverly re-designed the box in advance to exclude the large portion of fresh fruit and replace it with an extra medium and small pack of the longer life dried items.

What I’d love to see is the option to deliberately choose the dried goods only configuration, regardless of whether a postal strike is expected. This would make the boxes more flexible for me, as most of the dried packs have use by dates a few months in the future.

Free Trial Code
If you’d like to try Graze for yourself, enter code 21Q63KF to get your first box absolutely free. (Each time the code is used, I also get a £1 back, just so you know!)

If any of you do go ahead and try Graze, I’d love to hear about your experiences and opinions. Happy munching!

Edit: I have since had a go at creating my own graze boxes and realised that the pricing is actually very reasonable!

Aug 012009
 

Having some leftover fresh mozarella balls and proscuitto slices in the fridge, not to mention a third of a home-grown yellow courgette, I sent Pete off to buy some ready-made puff pastry, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil for a quick and tasty evening meal.

After scoring a border around the edges, I layered slices of tomato and courgette, broke up the soft squishy mozarella and dropped it evenly across the top and then threw on some fresh basil leaves to add another flavour and colour.

After about 20 minutes in the oven the tart was cooked.

I distributed the proscuitto slices over the top, in scrunched up piles and dinner was ready!

Not the most elegant presentation but it was quick, easy and tasted wonderful!

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