Stroopwafels are a delicious Dutch treat we particularly enjoyed during our last visit to Amsterdam. The direct translation into English is syrup waffle and indeed, stroopwafels consist of two thin waffles (or one thick one halved) sandwiched around a layer of sticky, treacly caramel syrup.

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When we got our waffle cone maker recently, as well as shaping some of the hot waffles into cones, I couldn’t resist sandwiching some together with a jar of dulce de leche we had in the store cupboard. For me, these were best after a few hours, once the waffles had become a little chewy and soft by drawing moisture from the caramel toffee filling.

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We used the basic thick sweet batter recipe that came with the machine (and is similar to many you’ll be able to find via a web search).

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After spreading a thick layer of dulche de leche onto a hot waffle, we placed another hot waffle on top (a few minutes later) and Pete used a clean tea towel to quickly press down and sandwich the two together; the heat of the waffle helped bind it to the filling and hold the two firmly together.

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These weren’t the same as the ready-made stroopwafels you can buy but they were simple to make and tasty!

 

When I was approached about reviewing the shiny new Samsung Galaxy S4 phone I was a little hesitant.

I never blogged about it but twitter followers might remember how much I disliked the Nokia Lumia 800 (Windows) phone I was given to review last year. Genuinely keen to develop a fondness for it given its sleek hardware design and high end phone camera with Zeiss lens, I tried really hard but I just couldn’t get on with it at all. Nothing about it fit the way I wanted to use my phone, access my email and calendar, engage with social media… and so many aspects of navigation and app design seemed ill-conceived to me. When I went back to the official campaign team to ask for answers, most suggestions were that I adapt to the tool, rather than it to me, and one “solution” even pointed me towards an amateur hack to fool a secondary provider into thinking it was an iPhone. Colour me unimpressed. After 3 or 4 weeks, ready to jump up and down on it until it shattered into a 100 pieces, I went back to my HTC Wildfire – less fancy, less slick but with an interface and set of tools that worked far better for me.

But the Samsung Galaxy S4 struck me as a much better option, even on paper. It’s predecessor, the S3, has proved hugely popular and early reviews of the S4 suggested it would fare just as well. The upgrades from S3 to S4 sounded intriguing. And, most significantly for me, it was an Android phone, just like my HTC.

No need to change the way I work to fit the phone, this time around!

I recently replaced my damaged HTC Wildfire with an HTC Desire (and was very disappointed to discover that a model more than three full years newer than the Wildfire performed far less well, with camera functionality amongst others severely pared back). So within months, I began mulling over replacing it again and Samsung Galaxy phones were very much on my radar. The only thing making me hesitate was the price, and with a new job under my belt, I was coming around on that too.

But serendipity stepped in and Samsung got in touch asking me to review. I accepted, hopeful of a better experience.

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They arranged for me to meet British-Mauritian MasterChef winner Shelina Permalloo, and for us both to be given our new phones together. To my delight, Shelina picked Lahore Karahi in Tooting Broadway, an old favourite from when I worked around the corner for a few months and used to visit regularly with colleagues. Together, we opened our phones, already fully charged for us, and started playing with them.

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Within 24 hours, I was hooked.

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In that time, I had already found navigation familiar and instinctive for an existing Android user. I’d been wowed by the quality of the beautiful large screen and the high resolution display. Even more appealing once I replaced the cringe-worthy “Life Companion” slogan with “Kavey’s Phone”! And I was blown away by the sharpness of the camera and especially impressed at its focusing range on the macro end of the scale.

Don’t get me wrong, the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t perfect.

Although I’ve come to appreciate Air View (touch-free scrolling) – helpful when reading from an open website whilst cooking or eating, when my hands are too mucky to touch the phone without smearing food on it – I do wish it was available in all apps as I’d particularly like to use it whilst browsing twitter or Pinterest, whilst eating my lunch.

The Settings interface is confusing and poorly structured. The user manual is worse than useless and often the only way I can learn how to change a given setting is to Google for an article on a helpful tech blog.

The Gallery app that seemed clever at first glance is actually rather intrusive and also earned top place in my bad books by automatically creating album after album after album of hundreds of photos it pulled across from an old blog, my email accounts and even a few ancient Picasa albums. More web searching to find a way of removing all of those, as the Gallery menu and settings certainly didn’t offer any obvious way to turn this feature off. I managed it, eventually!

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The camera was the first function to wow me when I first switched on the phone. It continues to be the one that pleases me most. In good light, it’s super sharp and as high resolution as my point and shoot camera (13 megapixels). It’s almost macro-like in how close to the subject it can still focus, which is great for food photography. All the images above, from our recent holiday in Scotland, were taken on the S4, and have been (very lightly) post-processed, same as I do for photos taken on my other cameras.

That said, it’s really not a great performer in low light, especially when there’s a strong light source also in shot, as below (which has been post-processed much more heavily to recover detail and reduce some of the noise) so won’t be as useful in restaurants as I’d hoped. It offers reasonably good control and a few useful modes including an image and sound option that lets you record 10 seconds of sound annotation after taking a picture. One control I’m missing though is flash exposure – I like to use a dialled down flash fill-in when taking portraits, and this is one area where the S4’s phone falls behind my point and shoot camera.

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I love the completely daft dual camera mode which takes simultaneous pictures with both outward and inward facing cameras, allowing you to include a little thumbnail (which you can move) of the photographer in the scene captured by the main camera. It’s gloriously kitsch, even though it needs more concentration than I can muster after a strong cocktail! Of course, the dual camera also means the S4 is great for video-enabled skype calls too, making international calls cheap if one has free wi-fi available.

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Drama Shot is another fun mode to play with – when activated, it takes a fast series of images of a moving subject and then auto-selects a few of them to create a collage. You can manually adjust the choices it’s made before saving the final image too, but it’s actually pretty good at selecting the best ones, going for ones which don’t overlap. It does struggle to pick out the moving subject if too close or too far from the phone, and sometimes only manages to take a single image instead of a series, but it’s a fun toy nonetheless.

On a more serious note, I have had a little play with the S Translator, Samsung’s nifty text and speech translation app. I’ve spoken to it in French and Japanese (the two languages I’m familiar with, to varying degrees) and the translation back into English has been good enough. Not perfect, but good enough. Likewise, the other way around from English to Japanese and French. I’ve tried the written text translation too, though not the image scan function. The main weakness for me is that it’s an online-only app whereas to use it while travelling, offline would be more cost-effective and convenient.

I’ve not really used the Smart Pause eye-control feature. The idea is that it’ll pause a video or movie automatically when it detects you looking away from it, but even with the S4’s great screen, video isn’t the kind of content I’d access via my phone. I have a tablet, laptop and PC for that.

Overall, I am delighted with the phone. It’s not perfect, as you can see from my feedback above, but it’s very very good and I love it!

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Next task – finding a proper case for it instead of one of Pete’s socks!

 

Addendum: Compared to the HTC smartphones I’ve used until now, the gorilla glass screen of the S4 breaks much more easily. Although it’s certainly scratch resistant, as you’d expect from gorilla glass, the problem is that it’s also very hard and brittle, which means it is prone to shattering. A few weeks after getting the phone, I dropped it from my back pocket, in its case, from a height of less than 1.5 feet (No it didn’t fall into the loo and yes I did feel like an idiot anyway). The screen shattered very badly indeed and I actually got a glass splinter when I next typed something in using the swipe typing method. Given that the screen doesn’t extend right to the edges, but is lipped by a narrow metal band, and was further protected by a (cheap) case this was an enormous surprise.  Samsung have very kindly replaced my screen, but not commented on whether this is an inherent weakness of the S4 design.

Kavey Eats received a review Galaxy S4 phone from Samsung.

 

Moser Roth is a long-standing German chocolate brand which seems to have passed through a few hands in recent decades. It’s now sold globally, exclusively through Aldi stores as far as I can tell.

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Priced at £1.09 each for 125 grams, the range includes milk and dark chocolate as well as a number of flavoured bars. I think there are also some filled bars which are slightly more expensive.

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Inside each box are 5 individually foil-wrapped mini bars. This makes the bars great for sharing or, as I’m currently doing, keeping in the office drawer in case of emergencies. Note: emergencies commonly involve brain drain after a particularly long and boring meeting and eye strain after a day spent peering at Excel. Your mileage may vary!

The quality is lower to middle of the stream, which matches the pricing. For my money, I like these better than the cheap big brand milk chocolates but not as much as somewhat pricier brands such as Green & Black’s. Then again, Green & Black’s use cocoa butter. Obviously, it’s not fair to compare Moser Roth to higher end chocolate with its correspondingly higher prices.

Moser Roth use vegetable oil, as do most lower end manufacturers. But I am happy that their bars are palm oil free, which is great news for habitats and wildlife endangered by rampant palm oil production.

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The milk chocolate bar is creamy smooth and quite sweet. It strongly reminds both Pete and I of Galaxy milk chocolate in taste. This is the chocolate we’re reaching for when we need a chocolate and sugar hit.

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The milk chocolate caramel is divisive though we both really like it. Pete is wrong-footed by his expectation of a soft, more liquid caramel filling in place of the harder, slightly crunchy and slightly chewy texture in these bars and thinks they should be labelled as toffee. I don’t mind the solid caramel at all, in fact I rather like it. Again, the overall bar is very sweet, but also surprisingly addictive.

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The 70% dark is shockingly sweet – far too sweet for me; it reminds me of Bournville even though the cocoa content is much higher. Pete finds it “quite tolerable”, which is very telling as he usually won’t eat dark chocolate at all. It does have just a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste, but needs a lot more of it in my opinion.

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The dark chocolate with chilli is similarly sweet. Pete describes it as having a nice hint of chilli heat but it is missing the fruity flavour that chilli can provide. That said, he likes it.

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Dark chocolate, orange and almond is reminiscent of Terry’s Chocolate Orange. The almond doesn’t come through in the taste, and serves only to give it a slightly gritty texture. That’s a shame as I like the flavour of the chocolate and orange together.

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The 85% dark chocolate is, unsurprisingly, deemed too dark by Pete. Yet it’s not particularly bitter. In fact, I find it a little bland in terms of flavour, like an under-roasted coffee. It comes into its own when stirred into coffee and I can imagine it making good hot chocolate or used as an ingredient for baking.

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The dark chocolate and mint is one of our favourites, probably because the bitterness of chocolate, sweetness of sugar and strength of mint are balanced on similar lines to nostalgia-inducing favourites such as After Eights, Bendicks and mint Matchmakers!

 

COMPETITION

Aldi have offered a set of all the bars above to one Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery anywhere in the UK.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me which Moser Roth bar you are most looking forward to trying, and why.

Entry 2 – Facebook

Like the Kavey Eats Facebook and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a selection of Moser Roth chocolate bars from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/GlNPn #KaveyEatsMoserRoth
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the hashtag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 28th June 2013.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • The prize is a set of seven bars of Aldi’s Moser Roth range of chocolates, as shown above, and includes free delivery anywhere in the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Aldi.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received review samples from Aldi.

The winner of this competition was Maxine Grant.

Jun 212013
 

I’m not usually a fan of fruit teas, not least because what are so often described as such are not teas at all but fruit infusions. Call me a stickler but I like to call a spade a spade, a tea a tea and an infusion an infusion…

Real fruit teas (containing fruit and tea) I do like; jasmine green, lychee black and a mango black tea I used to buy from a little old man in Camden market when I was a teenager (in the 1980s) but have seldom found since.

Bluebird sell a range of blends which combine good quality tea leaves with fruits, herbs and other ingredients in a way that struck me as fresh and appealing, so I was happy to accept their offer to review some samples. I asked for them to send small taster pouches rather than full packets of each. Great tea doesn’t keep well and I hate wastage. They did include a couple of full size packets to let me see their packaging.

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The company names comes from a ski term: a bluebird day being one with sunny blue skies and fresh powder snow; ideal ski conditions, in other words. Why skiing? Because founders Krisi and Mike escaped the rat race to become “ski bums” in Canada (as they put it). Krisi had worked in the UK tea industry before their trip and whilst in Canada, found a job in a Canadian tea business selling some innovative tea products which they both really admired. The couple decided to hot foot it back home to set up a tea business of their own. Focusing on blending teas and other ingredients to create unique mixes, they refer to what they do as “tea mixology’; although the term struck me as a bit pretentious at first, it’s grown on me more as I’ve come to know their products and can see how well it fits.

Most of the thirty-plus teas in the range are priced at just £4.50 per 65-75 gram pack, with a couple that are a little more at £6 and £7.50. Delivery is similarly reasonable at £2.95 and free on orders over £30. That makes Bluebird one of the most affordable tea companies I’ve reviewed.

You can explore their full range of teas for yourself on their website, but here are my thoughts on the eight I tried.

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Cherry Lips – Sencha green tea, Rose petals, Cherry

Brews to a traditional green tea pale green colour. Has the pleasant familiar grassy green flavour of green tea with clear real fruit cherry and a floral scent from the rose.

 

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A Great British Cuppa – Indian Assam black tea, Ceylon black tea, Chinese Yunnan tea

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Blending three black teas from different tea growing regions of the world creates a nicely rounded and rich black tea.

 

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Elderflower Champagne – Chinese oolong tea, Elderflower, Lemon verbena, Apple pieces, Orange peel, Lemon peel, Hibiscus, Rosehip.

Brews to a pale green with little pools of pink from the hibiscus flowers; mixes to a pinky green. Initially, the smell is of mint and citrus (perhaps the lemon verbena coming through) but as it brews for longer, a clearer tea aroma pervades. When tasting, the apple dominates for me, with little elderflower, citrus or oolong detectable.

 

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Toasted Apple – Chinese green tea, Apple, Japanese Genmaicha

Brews to a pretty green colour. The most dominant scent is that of the popped rice from the genmaicha. On the palate, the green tea dominates with a hint of fruit and rice. This is an ideal tea for those who want tea first, fruit second.

 

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MojiTEA – Chinese green tea, Peppermint, Dried lime pieces, Lemongrass, Lime leaves, Stevia

Brews to a pretty pale peach colour. On the nose this tea is intensely minty, indeed little else comes through. I found it similar on the palate, with little evidence of the lime and lemongrass. The stevia gives a hint of sweetness.

 

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Monkey Chops – Ceylon Black Tea, Vanilla, Calendula, Banana

This tea brews to a peach colour and smells intensely of sweet popcorn; it’s not an aroma I particularly like but I have a feeling it’s one of those love/ hate kind of smells. On the palate it tastes completely different to the smell, with a rich fruity flavour. I’m disappointed it’s not more obviously banana but it’s certainly fruity. The black tea is lost a little.

 

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Lady Lavender – Ceylon black tea, Lavender, Bergamot oil

Brews to a pale peach, paler than I expected from a black tea. Smells of citrus but the typical medicinal tang of lavender comes through on tasting. The bergamot takes a back seat. A nice alternative to the usual Earl or Lady Grey.

 

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Earl’s Paradise – Ceylon Black Tea, Papaya, Strawberry, Lime, Jasmine, Bergamot

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Has a heady scent of tropical fruits and flowers, not obviously bergamot. But when you taste it, the bergamot comes through clearly and the fruits are less evident. It’s a lovely version of earl grey, with fruits used to add aroma and a gentle fruitiness to the finish.

 

I’ve enjoyed trying these unusual and inventive blends and am happy to recommend them, especially at the price point. And if you order a sample set you can work out which ones you like best without spending too much and then order larger packs of your favourites.

And for those who like to try something new, the Bluebird matcha is a blend of Japanese matcha (powdered green tea) and Kenyan white matcha (powdered white tea). That’s certainly something I’ve never come across before!

 

Kavey Eats review samples of the products above from the Bluebird Tea Company.

With thanks to Pete for most of the photographs.

 

The best way to explain The London Foodie Japanese Supper Club is in Luiz’ own words:

“The aim of my supper club is to recreate the kind of food I used to eat at home, cooked by my Japanese family in Sao Paolo, or the cuisine I learned during the time I lived in Japan. This is not an unsophisticated style of cooking, but neither is it the kind of Japanese food familiar in the UK – no sushi rolls or sashimi is on the menu tonight.”

Having enjoyed Luiz’ cooking a number of times in the days before he gave up his job in investment-banking to gain a Cordon Blue Grand Diplome (and also made an extended trip to Japan to further expanded his knowledge and skills), I finally booked to attend his Japanese Supper Club, hosted in his beautiful North London home.

On arrival, we gathered in the living room where we were served soft drinks or complimentary G&Ts and some delicious canapes of Leek and Tofu Gyoza with home-made Teriyaki sauce and Shichimi (Japanese seven spices) Popcorn.

Downstairs, the real feast began:

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Starter 1 – Sea Bass Sushi “Gangnam Style” with Garlic-Soy Jus, Pickled Daikon & Carrots, Spinach and Sesame

 

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Starter 2 – “Nasu Dengaku” – Grilled Aubergine, Miso Dengaku & Mozzarella cheese

 

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Main 1 – Pork Belly, Cod & Seafood Nabe Hotpot in a Spicy Dashi Broth

 

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Accompaniment – Tempura of Courgette Flower Stuffed with Scallop, Tofu and Lemon Mousse and Broccoli and Oyster Mushroom

 

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Main 2 – Pan-fried Beef & Vegetable Maki Rolls in a Rich Soy & Mirin Sauce

 

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Accompaniment – “Tamagoyaki” Sweet, multi-layered Japanese Omelette

Accompaniment – Edamame rice, mange-tout, spring onions (not pictured)

 

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Dessert – Flourless Chocolate Cake with Armagnac Prunes served with Quenelle of Homemade Green Tea Ice Cream

Guests were also treated to a complimentary glass of dessert wine.

 

As you can see, this was an epic feast. Every course was absolutely superb and I am sure you’ll agree that the suggested donation of £38 (plus service at your discretion) is an excellent deal. It’s also BYOB (no corkage), so you can bring whatever you like, whether that’s wine, beer or something soft.

Oh and be prepared to be sociable, this is an informal supper club in a private home and guests are seated together at long communal tables. I had a lovely evening talking about food, travel and all kinds of random topics with the two lovely ladies at my end of the table.

 

Joselito is described as the best jamón Ibérico de bellota in the world.

That’s quite a claim, isn’t it? The best. In the world.

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Made in Salamanca, in the North West of Spain, by José Gómez Joselito, the current CEO of a family business founded by his great grandfather over a hundred years ago, Joselito ham is made from acorn-fed Iberian pigs and cured 100% naturally, in the traditional way. The pigs roam Joselito’s holm and cork oak forest pastures, feeding on grass and acorns. The nature of the breed, combined with their natural diet and the ability to exercise freely result in a wonderful marbling of intramuscular fat, which in turn results in jamon that is meltingly soft and intensely flavoured.

The world’s best chefs and food critics line up to sing it’s praises and include it in their menus:

  • “Joselito ham is unique, perfect. A constant inspiration to all who love the cuisine.” Ferran Adrià, chef
  • “Joselito ham is the world’s most wonderful and it is Joselito as a person.” Juan Mari Arzak, chef
  • “Joselito has perfected the curing, aging to produce the most exquisite ham.” Heston Blumenthal, chef
  • “The taste of Spain, the king of ham”. Testsuya Wakuda, chef
  • “Joselito ham is Spain’s greatest culinary treasure and one of the finest natural products of the world. Trying Joselito is a unique and unforgettable experience”. Robert Parker, writer
  • “Joselito ham is the finest of its kind.” Daniel Bouloud, chef
  • “Subtle scent that awakens our kitchen, murmurs are silenced by a unique flavour that fills the palate.” Mario and Oscar Pedro Manuel Perez, chefs
  • “Joselito, your name and ham are a jewel of Spanish cuisine.” Hilario Arbelaitz, chef
  • “A slice of Joselito Gran Reserva is like taking a walk through paradise.” Rafael Garcia Santos, food critic
  • “Joselito is undoubtedly the product that best presents the culinary culture of our country. The rigor, quality, professionalism and passion.” Quique da Costa, chef
  • “Joselito is for me the best portrait of a traditional Spanish artisan product.” Nils Henkel, chef

But, to my shame, I didn’t know any of this when I accepted a kind offer from Jamoteca to send me some Joselito samples. Their introductory email did tell me the product was the most renowned ham in Spain but, used to the hyperbole of PRs, I didn’t pay much heed to that. What came through clearly was their belief in the quality of this product and their enthusiasm for me to assess it for myself.

When the package arrived, I gazed at the beautiful fuchsia-pink of the ham, admired the creamy fat, saw how it glistened. I opened the Jamon Gran Reserva first. The aroma was wonderful, sweeter than other hams I’ve encountered. The texture was, as the oft-used cliché goes, as soft as silk and as pliable as fabric too.

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One bite. That’s all it took for me to realise instantly, that this was easily the best ham I’d ever tasted in my life. I don’t have the writing skills to convey to you just how magical a combination of taste and texture this product has. Rich, intense, vivid, meltingly soft, savoury and yet sweet….

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The chorizo was next, with its heady scent of smoke and paprika. Like the Jamon Gran Reserva it was simply amazing.

Only after savouring every sliver did I turn to the internet and realise what a special treat I’d been given, how renowned was the product I’d enjoyed so much, and that far better palates than mine really had deemed it the best in the world.

On other days, we enjoyed the Lomo (tenderloin) and the Paleta (shoulder) Gran Reserva and these were wonderful too.

Of course, quality such as this does not come cheap. A selection of five 100 gram packs of sliced ham, including the four I tried plus salchichón) is available from the Jamoteca website for €62 plus another €20 in delivery costs. At today’s exchange rate, that’s approximately £70. They are dispatched directly from the Guijuelo warehouse and should take 3-4 working days to arrive. If you had asked me before I’d tasted them whether I would ever spend £70 on 500 grams of ham, I’d have laughed, dismissively. Now I’ve tasted the products, I realise I actually might.

In the mean time, for those wondering what to get me for my birthday, here’s another one to add to the list!

 

Kavey Eats received review samples of Joselito products courtesy of Jamoteca.

 

safaricookiesMattGibson1

Sometimes I see a product and fall utterly in lust with it immediately. The intensity with which I covet said product is often inversely proportional to how much I rationally need it. Indeed, a product I may use once in a blue moon can often hold far greater appeal than one which I’d likely use regularly and often, and which might actually make life easier in a significant way.

Whether or not I actually need the product in question doesn’t really matter at all. (Unless it’s really expensive, in which case sheer “sticker shock”, as our American friends describe it, drives me to accede to my rational side).

Do you remember browsing through the Innovations catalogue as a kid? I remember bookmarking a whole host of cool but unnecessary products in every edition, though we never bought any of them. Except for those luggage straps with our names woven in; my dad did buy some of those…

These days, it’s sites such as Lakeland, Not On The High Street, Culture Label, HowKapow, Firebox and Suck UK which fulfil that function, full of things that make me Gollum-like in my need to own them. They’re good sites for finding gifts too.

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When I first saw these 3D Safari Cookie Cutters I think I might just have clapped my hands with glee, a cliché of delight if ever I performed one. But they were out of stock with no date given for when they might be on sale again, so they were relegated to the dusty depths of my bookmark folders. After an indeterminate period, by which time my fever for the cutters had finally abated to manageable levels, Suck UK obtained more stock and kindly agreed to send me review samples of the full set.

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Not realising that a recipe was included within, I sourced another recipe for plain sugar biscuits from the web, though I’ll try the one they provided next time. My vanilla sugar cookie recipe was delicious, holding it’s shape but with a pleasant chew to it too.

Mostly, the process was pretty straightforward with the exception of cutting out the baby hippo’s legs which were so small we couldn’t easily push the dough out of the cutters. Perhaps we’ll oil the cutters before we use them next time, or I might just miss out the baby hippo as it was far less cute than I anticipated!

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As instructed, we let the dough rest before rolling and let the cut cookies rest in the fridge before baking. The pieces held their shapes pretty well and we were able to assemble all of them except one, the baby giraffe, which just wouldn’t support itself properly. The legs were a touch wobbly on a a number of them, especially the mummy giraffe but they stood unaided in the end.

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Aren’t they magnificent?!

Of course, not only did the cookies enchant all of us (we made them during a self-catering holiday in Islay with friends), they were deliciously tasty too and it was a daft but fun pleasure to ask “who ate the baby hippo?” and “I’m munching the elephant ears right now!”

Artistic types could probably ice these and make them really roar (or grunt) but we thought they were lovely as they were.

I think they’d be a great gift for children who enjoy baking (and may encourage those who don’t) or could be a fun idea for a themed birthday party.

 

If you order them on Suck UK, you can’t specify a particular animal though they will send different animals if you order more than one. They suggest ordering on Firebox (which I assume is a sister site) if you wish to choose a specific animal. The sets are £7.50 / £7.99 from the two sites, respectively, plus delivery.

Suck UK also sell similar dinosaur 3D cookie cutters.

 

Kavey Eats received review samples of the 3D Safari Cookie Cutters from Suck UK.
Thanks to Matt Gibson for the additional image, used at the start of the post.

 

Bringing a taste of Barcelona’s La Boqueria  market and local cooking to London – that was the aim of Streets of Spain, a combined food market and cultural event held at London’s Southbank over the first May bank holiday weekend. Sponsored by Spanish wine producers Campo Viejo, the event saw a (fairly small) selection of traders from La Boqueria set up their stalls at one end of the far larger Real Food Market that extended from Royal Festival Hall to the London Eye.

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As part of the event, renowned Spanish chef Angel Pascual presented a special tasting menu in a three night popup restaurant.

Until 2011 when it closed its doors, Pascual was at the helm of the michelin-starred Lluçanès Restaurant which he and partner Rosa Morera originally opened in Osana, Catalonia in 1991 but relocated to Barcelona in 2006. Once there, they also opened a second restaurant, Els Fogons serving affordable traditional tapas.

Now they run a catering business that also provides consultancy, cooking classes and demonstrations.

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In a space that looks like it was converted from parking or warehouse space (and is now regularly used for similar popup events organised by the Southbank Centre), we discovered a small bar and a tiny temporary kitchen on a raised platform over-looking an expansive dining area.

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Each evening was organised into two sittings – we were part of the first. Despite the tiny kitchen and 40 diners per sitting, dishes came out at perfect intervals in a clearly choreographed performance between chefs and waiters. As the waiters delivered dishes to each table, they were followed around by colleagues who introduced and poured matching wines for each course.

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Horse mackerel and guacamole with a bloody Mary sauce

Before the menu proper, came an amuse. In a martini glass was a small slice of horse mackerel that had been lightly salted and dried. Served over an intense smooth guacamole, topped with sweet sharp tomato sauce, it was a cross between cocktail and canape. The mackerel was as soft as sashimi. The Campo Viejo Cava Rose served with it was a touch sweeter than the white Cava Brut we tried later, but still crisp.

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Sopa cremosa de comenillas con huevo de cordoniz cocido a baja temperatura

The first course listed on the menu was “seasonal wild mushrooms stuffed with traditional Spanish black pudding, served with quail egg in a cream of mushroom sauce” and served with the Cava Brut.

The morel mushroom was superbly flavoured, as was the rich cream of mushroom soup but neither of us could detect any hint of black pudding within the stuffing. The dryer cava cut through the richness well and gave Pete a faint impression of lemon sherbet.

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Mil hojas de verduras i setas de temporada

The next course was translated on the menu as “a variety of layered season vegetables accompanied with a potato parmentier sauce  and drizzled with a flavoursome vegetable reduction”. The matched wine was Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2011. I always bristle a little when menus describe a dish as tasty, flavoursome or delicious – it always seems a little too presumptious to me. Still…

Although it looked pretty on the plate, the layering, with crisp pastry-like potato on top, made it difficult to eat without it splatting out across the plate. That aside, it was delicious, and noteworthy for how intensely Pascual made each vegetable sing of itself. Courgette was intensely courgette, aubergine intensely aubergine, and the same went for carrot and mushrooms. I thought the rosemary a touch strong but it balanced with the white sauce and oil which both, contrary to the expectations given by the menu, tasted of very little.

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Arroz de barca especiado un punto picante com gambas de la Ionja de la Barceloneta

With the prawn head standing to attention, I watched the next course of “smoked risotto cooked with prawns fresh from the Barceloneta market – served a little spicy for added kick” being served to the tables around us.

Staff were a little slow to serve the Campo Viejo Reserva 2007 but perhaps that was because they took more time to explain the choice to match a red wine to the fish dish. Brand ambassador and head sommelier Alfredo Del Rio, when he spoke to us later, was keen to make much of how bold and rare a choice it was to pair fish with red, but really it’s not quite as unusual as he implied. Still, with such strong flavours, it made good sense.

The flavour of the risotto was far more successful than the texture, which we found intensely chalky, almost gritty and let the dish down for us. On the other hand, the rice carried a strong taste of the sea, which worked well against the very sweet and soft prawn. I yearned for more actual seafood; Pete’s dish had a full prawn, albeit a small one but mine must have broken during the cooking and what remained was the size of a newborn’s thumb.

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Texturas y temperaturas de ave cerdo y ternera con verduras del tiempo a la brasa

The meat course was “a selection of duck, pork and beef with grilled seasonal vegetables” served with Gran Reserva 2005 and was a very mixed course for me.

I loved the simplicity of the presentation, and on first glance the pork looked particularly good. Sadly, when I moved to eat it, I discovered that nearly the entire piece was bone and cartilage and there was just a thin sliver of meat and a soft and unpleasantly chewy skin. Luckily, the beef, incredibly tender and well flavoured, and the duck, like a slice of fall-apart sausage made from confit of duck, were super.

Better still were the vegetables (and fruit); it’s my abiding impression that this is where Pascual truly shines. A single slice of apple was at the same time yieldingly soft yet with the thinnest layer of crispness around its exterior. A slice of artichoke had great intensity of flavour but none of the unpleasant fibres that can sometimes lessen the pleasure. A small cube of potato was beautifully cooked and delicious.

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Bombon de chocolate, sonoro, explosive y tonificante

Described on the menu as “a rich chocolate ingot served with peppermint and an explosive surprise” this disappointed in part because of the damp squib when it came to the surprise element. The popping candy in both our chocolates was so meagre as to give only the merest hint of a snap; certainly a far cry from anything explosive as promised.

Served with the same Cava Rose as the amuse bouche, the best element on the plate was the peppermint foam which was thicker and a touch less ephemeral than the usual fine dining foams are wont to be. The orange jelly was ok too, perhaps blood orange or pink grapegruit. I didn’t feel any of the three elements worked together very well and found the dessert disappointing.

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During the meal, I visited the open kitchen to watch the chefs at work. Angel Pascual was joined by a respected chef from La Boqueria – I was told that she runs a casual restaurant within the market area, serving dishes based on produce sold at the family stall. I’m afraid, I didn’t make a note of her name.

We were also able to chat further to Alfredo Del Rio, who generously invited us to sample some additional Campo Viejo wines which had not been included in the menu. The first was Dominio, which he explained was the premium wine made by the brand, made from grapes grown on just 5 parcels out of the 800 parcels of land that make up the vineyard. Aged in only new French oak barrels for 11 months, it’s young but rich for its age. Pete described it as smooth yet gloriously, lip-puckeringly tannic with tart fresh black fruit. The second was Graciano, not sold in its own right but one of the blends that makes up about 5% of the Gran Reserva served with the meat course. It’s an indigenous varietal, not one that we’d heard of before, and had strong black and blue berry flavours, a dark colour and strong tannin.

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With coffee after the meal, the menu was priced at £65 a head, including the matching wines.

Although we didn’t love every aspect of each dish, we enjoyed the meal thoroughly, not least because of Pascual’s mastery of making vegetables sing and his tendency to let the flavours of the ingredients talk for themselves.

 

Kavey Eats were guests of Campo Viejo.

 

Though it was something of a Fulham Road institution for over 25 years, I never managed to make it to Thai restaurant Blue Elephant at its original London location. In January last year, they moved into a shiny new building at Imperial Wharf, a short distance away.

We finally made our maiden visit on a sunny Sunday in May, driving down from North West London and parking in the adjacent car park that is part of The Boulevard complex. There’s also an overground rail station just around the corner, with quick services from Clapham Junction.

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The space had already been interior designed as a Thai restaurant when the Blue Elephant team took it over, adding their own touches. It’s modelled on a traditional Thai house, with lots of dark wood panelling, beautiful artwork and statuary and fresh tropical flowers.

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image provided by Blue Elephant

Although pastiche like this can often be a turn off, I thought it well done in this case. Spread over three floors, it’s an expansive space, but divided into different areas and rooms, it doesn’t feel that way.

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The first Blue Elephant was opened in Brussels over 30 years ago by chef Khun Nooror Somany Steppe, a Thai living in Belgium with her husband Karl Steppe. The London branch opened a few years after that and now there are twelve in the chain, located across Europe and Asia. Most recently, Blue Elephant have launched cookery schools in some of their locations, with a London school said to be coming soon.

Even though I’d heard some good things about the food (and some less so), it was the high prices of the à la carte menu that put me off visiting for so long. Frustratingly, the website menu doesn’t show prices (and requires you to download a PDF to boot) but we’re talking starters around £11, mains around £30 and sides and desserts are similarly pricey. A multi-course Thai dinner for 2 could easily run to £150 or more even with only a modest drink order.

However, the Blue Elephant Sunday brunch buffet turns that on its head, offering an enormous feast for a fixed price of £30 per person.

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Tables groan with a huge array of starters, mains and desserts. Plenty of staff are on hand to explain dishes and help as needed. Most things are self-service with a manned noodle soup station, made to order and a roast lamb station, with meat carved from the joint on request.

When we visited, the buffet was spread out across the top floor with dining tables on the ground and lower floors. That does mean lots of clambering up and down the stairs with loaded dishes.

As my hip has been playing up lately, I have poor balance carrying things at the best of times and have mild vertigo when going down stairs as well, I resorted to using the lift provided for disabled access. It was slightly disconcerting as it made such loud beeps as it came to rest each time, but no one seemed too put out. If stairs are an issue for you too, ask for a table near the lift when booking.

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Everything Pete and I tried (and between us we tried a lot) was very good, though I found myself drawn most strongly to starters and desserts, many of which were absolutely excellent.

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The dessert table in particular had lots of things I’d never tried before. I was familiar with most of the fresh fruit, beautifully carved and cut. The only one missing for me was some fresh mango, which was certainly in season during our visit, to enjoy with the delicious sticky coconut rice.

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But I’d never come across one fruit on the table before! I did ask my waiter, who went away and came back with the (obviously incorrect) answer of rambutan, so I left its identity aside and broke into the prickly protective shell. The fruit is soft, tastes both sweet and sharp, and it’s quite distinct from any other fruit I know.

A quick web search reveals that this spiky treat is salak (salacca zalacca) aka snake fruit. The fruit of the salak palm tree, it’s native to Indonesia but now grown and enjoyed across East Asia and is a popular street snack in Thailand, where it’s often sold pre-peeled and eaten dipped in sugar and salt.

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We were also fascinated by some of the Thai sweets we’d not seen before, such as the strange but accurately described crispy jelly, with a crunchy shell and soft interior!

Although there were a good number of vegetarian options, I’d say the buffet is best value for omnivores and pescetarians who can benefit from a larger selection of the many dishes on offer.

I’ve read mixed reports on the à la carte offering, both in terms of price and food. But given the high quality of the dishes we tasted, I think Blue Elephant’s Sunday brunch buffet is an excellent way to enjoy their food at a fair price.

 

Blue Elephant on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Kavey Eats was a guest of Blue Elephant Group.

Jun 072013
 

Last year we did Spices, now it’s time for herbs!

Defined (culinarily) as the leafy green parts of a plant, either fresh or dried, herbs are usually used in small amounts to provide flavour or seasoning. They are distinct from spices, which are most commonly a product of the seeds, berries, roots, bark, flowers and even resins of various plants and also used to flavour and season.

The list of herbs is long indeed and the uses (both culinary and medical) are almost endless. It’s not uncommon for me to come across a reference to yet another herb I’ve never heard of before, let alone seen or tasted.

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Za’atar and farmer Abu Kassem, Southern Lebanon

Whether you make something sweet or savoury, whether you create an ice cream, sorbet, granita, slushy, lolly or other frozen treat… make sure it’s all about the herbs!

You can choose a familiar herb such as coriander or mint, parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme, bay, basil, oregano, tarragon, dill or chives…

…or something more unusual such as anise, costmary (mace leaf), lemon balm or verbena, perilla, angelica, sorrel, calamus (sweet sedge), purslane, pennyroyal, sweet cicely, myrtle, lovage, feverfew, stevia, marshmallow or lemongrass…

…or even something completely new to you such as brooklime, greenthread, papalo, tulsi, peppergrass cress, rosella, sculpit, burnet, speedwell or sarsaparilla.

As always, I’ll seek out some inspiration and share it on my Pinterest board.

IceCreamChallenge

 

How To Take Part In BSFIC

  • Create and blog a recipe that fits the challenge by the 28th of July.
  • In your post, mention and link to this Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream post.
  • In your post, include the Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream badge.
  • Email me (by the 28th of July) with your first name or nickname (as you prefer), the link to your post and an image for my roundup, sized to no larger than 500 pixels on the longest side.

You are welcome to submit your post to as many blogger challenge events as you like.

If the recipe is not your own, please be aware of copyright issues. Email me if you would like to discuss this.

Entry into the challenge confers permission to use your image in my round up blog post of all entries, as well as related entries on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media.

If you like, tweet about your post using the hashtag #BSFIC. I’ll retweet any I see. You are also welcome to share the links to your posts on the Kavey Eats Facebook page.

 

This isn’t a proper competition, but I will send out a gift of some herb seeds to the author of my favourite entry (as long as the border agency regulations of your country allow it).

 

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P.S. Karen at Lavender & Lovage runs a monthly Cooking with Herbs challenge; your herby #BSFIC would be an excellent fit for hers too!

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