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I’ve been reading about black garlic for the last few years. I’ve even tried a product made with black garlic – my friend Dave made some striking black garlic cheese which I used in a delicious seasonal butternut squash and cheese bake.

But until this week, I’d never actually tried the stuff as it comes, nor used it in cooking.

If you haven’t come across black garlic, you might be wondering what it is? Well, it’s not a new or different variety of the plant we love and know. Simply put, it’s very caramelised garlic. Sold in whole bulbs, it can be (peeled and) eaten as is or used as an ingredient in cooking.

The process to make it is occasionally (and erroneously) referred to as fermentation – but there is no microbial action involved. Black garlic is made by gently heating whole bulbs of ordinary garlic for a long period of time, until the cloves inside caramelise. Just like roasting garlic brings out a wonderfully mellow sweetness, so too does this process for making black garlic. The key differences are that black garlic remains (marginally) firmer than roasted garlic, and there is a hint of acidity to the flavour of black garlic that is rather like molasses or reduced balsamic vinegar. In both cases, the fiery nature of raw garlic is completely tamed.

Apparently the idea originated in East Asia – possibly Korea – where black garlic is commonly marketed as a health product. It started gaining popularity in the USA less than a decade ago and quickly crossed to the UK, initially as an import. It is now produced here from British-grown garlic by a number of brands. The one I’m using below has just rebranded to Balsajo, so packaging may look a little different if you seek it out in the supermarket. Mine is from Sainsbury’s.

Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-8542 Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-8546

The packet contains just one bulb (and mine was a fairly small one) so I wanted to use it in a way that would show off the flavour. A simple pasta dish seemed just the ticket, with mushrooms to balance the sweetness and cream to make it more decadent.

 

Black Garlic, Mushroom & Cream Penne Pasta

Serves 2 (could easily stretch to 3)

Ingredients

Penne pasta, amounts as per your usual portions – we use 50 grams dried per person
1 bulb black garlic
Small splash of vegetable oil
500 grams cup mushrooms, halved and sliced
150 ml double cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Put the pasta on to boil.
  • In a large frying pan, fry mushrooms in a small splash of vegetable oil until they have released their juices. Continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated / been reabsorbed by the mushrooms and they take on a little golden colour.

Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-8549 Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-8552

  • While the mushrooms are frying, gently peel and slice the black garlic and set aside.

Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-8556

  • When the pasta is nearly cooked, reduce the heat under the frying pan, stir in the double cream and add the black garlic.
  • Stir to distribute the black garlic evenly through the mushrooms and give the cream and black garlic time to heat through.
  • Season to taste.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly.
  • Either combine pasta with the sauce in the pan or divide pasta into bowls and spoon sauce over the top.

Black Garlic Mushroom and Cream Penne Pasta KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle textoverlay

I love the sweet flavour of black garlic! It’s a lot like sweet and sticky caramelised onion, but with that familiar garlic flavour, mellowed as it is when roasted. Utterly gorgeous and well worth seeking out!

For more inspiration on how to use black garlic, check out:

Kavey Eats received a sample of black garlic, plus a small contribution towards ingredients, from Sainsbury’s. Current price per packet is £1.50.

 

Sous-vide is a wonderful cooking technique, but it’s not an ideal option for anyone tight on either budget or space. Our ‘prosumer’ water bath (the SousVide Supreme) is the size of a small microwave and has a list price on the wrong side of £370. Even disregarding the price angle, kitchens are already groaning under the weight of numerous popular appliances; the need to find space for a bulky water bath next to the toaster, the food processer, the stand mixer, the blender, the microwave, the deep fat fryer, the rice cooker, the juicer and the slow cooker rules out a traditional sous vide machine even for many who can afford it.

Hang on a minute… the slow cooker… the slow cooker is half-way to a water bath already; it’s a large container that can heat liquid (such as water!) for hours at a time.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a small device that could convert an existing slow cooker to a sous vide water bath by way of accurately controlling the temperature of the water inside? Well of course, that’s where Codlo steps in.

Codlo 1 Codlo-Steaks-sidebyside-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7497
Official product image; my Codlo in our Kitchen (don’t look at the un-grouted tiles!)

Codlo is one of those ideas that’s really obvious once someone else has had it, not to mention done all the hard graft in getting it to work. This clever device turns your slow cooker – or rice cooker, or tea urn, or anything else that holds and heats water – into your very own sous vide water bath. Essentially Codlo is a small plug-in gadget with a temperature probe which allows it to turn the power of the attached appliance on and off and on in order to achieve and maintain your target temperature. That’s the theory but how does it work out in practice?

Codlo with Slow Cooker adj
Codlo and glass slow cooker (image provided by Codlo, mine was completely out of focus!)

The short answer is, remarkably well.

In the name of science, we cooked two identical steaks (here’s my guide to cooking steaks sous vide) – one in our SousVide Supreme and the other in our venerable old Breville slow cooker attached to the Codlo. After cooking one steak in each bath, we fried them together in the same pan for exactly the same amount of time before tucking in to a delicious dinner, each of us eating half of each steak. We genuinely couldn’t perceive any difference in the end result; texture and level of cooking were identical.

Codlo-Steaks-sidebyside-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7495 Codlo-Steaks-sidebyside-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7501
Codlo-Steaks-sidebyside-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7503 Codlo-Steaks-sidebyside-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7506

That’s not to say that the Codlo-controlled Breville performs identically to the SousVide Supreme. Firstly, it takes a little longer to come up to temperature – but that’s understandable, as our slow cooker is a 290W model and we ran it on Low (we will try the High setting next time) whereas the SousVide Supreme is rated at a much higher 550W. Given that sous-vide cooking is usually a long process, adding an extra 15 minutes at the start isn’t a big deal for us. Of course, this difference also depends on what appliance you plug the Codlo into – a more powerful appliance will likely reach temperature just as quickly as the SousVide Supreme.

Also worth noting is that the temperature in the Codlo-controlled Breville takes a little time to settle; it (deliberately) sails past the target by a couple of degrees, drops below it when the food is added and gradually heats back up again. However, once it’s settled at the target temperature – around 10-15 minutes on our slow cooker’s Low setting – it’s rock steady, varying less than the SousVide Supreme. And the food seems to be none the worse for wear because of that initial temperature variance. The makers of Codlo advise us that the device adapts to each individual cooker it is attached to so these times will likely vary depending on the appliance you use.

codlo book 2

In addition to the Codlo controller, there is also an accompanying cookery book – Codlo Sous-Vide Guide & Recipes – full of information on the sous vide cooking technique, on temperatures and times for different types of foods and lots of tempting recipes. This would be useful not just to Codlo users but to anyone starting out in sous vide cooking and I’m hoping to share a recipe or two from the book soon.

Codlo does everything it promises, turning inexpensive equipment we already owned into a functional sous vide water bath, with results that equal our bulky and pricy prosumer alternative.

Kavey Eats received a Codlo for review purposes. RRP is £119 but Codlo is currently available at the pre-launch price of £99.

 

You can take the girl out of Luton…

Smack in the middle of the eighties – which I still hold to be the best decade, musically and fashion-wise (though I admit to harbouring some bias on this) – I did a German Language Exchange Trip through my secondary school. Luton and Hamburg were an odd pairing; the kids of that rather attractive northern German river port city must surely have been a tad disappointed when they discovered that the attractions of Luton amounted to little more than a biscuit-shaped pincushion in the local museum and a pink flamingos fountain in the Arndale shopping centre.

The (frankly marvellous) pink flamingos have long since gone, which is a huge shame as they were one of Luton’s best (if not only) attractions.

pinkflamingoesofluton

Worried I might be imagining the biscuit-shaped pincushion (though my little sister remembers it too), I made a call to the museum last week and was delighted to hear back from one of their specialist curators that they do indeed have a biscuit-shaped pincushion in their collection (though it’s not currently on display). It dates from around 1870 and was produced as an advertising product by Huntley, Albert & Palmers. I should add at this point that the museum did, of course, have a great deal more on display than the biscuit-shaped pincushion, including no-doubt-excellent exhibits about the local hat- and lace-making industries for which Luton was, once upon a time, quite famous. It’s just that, as a teenager, little of this captured my attention; I’d probably appreciate it much more today!

And, by the way, did you know that the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ originated in Luton?

Anyway, back to Germany…

I’d actually already dropped German from my curriculum by the time the trip came around. We signed up for the exchange in our second year but travelled in our third by which time, having mastered only ‘ich liebe dich’ and ‘du bist eine dumme ganz’, I decided to focus on French, which I found immeasurably easier. I added one more phrase to my German knowledge some years later, by the way; even today I still like to point at random plants and declare ‘das is kein gummebaum’ (that is not a rubber plant) – a very useful phrase, I’m sure you’ll agree?

Luckily, the majority of people I met in Germany spoke superb English, so I got along just fine.

My host family showed me around Hamburg, of course. It’s an attractive city and the views from the revolving restaurant up in the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm comms tower were beautiful. I also spent a few days visiting German Schleswig – a school trip within a school trip – with my exchange partner’s class.

One of the days I remember most fondly was a family outing to nearby Lübeck, just an hour’s drive away or 45 minutes by train.

Situated on the River Trave, Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, and a major port in the area. For several centuries it was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, a commercial confederation of merchant guilds and market downs that dominated trade in Northern Europe, stretching along the coast from the Baltic to the North Sea. The Old Town, on an island enclosed by the Trave, is famous for its extensive brick gothic architecture and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Images of Lubeck from Shutterstock.com

Niederegger Marzipan

It was not just the beauty of Lübeck that won my heart, oh no! Lübeck is also famous for its marzipan. And I really, really love marzipan!

A local legend suggests that marzipan was first made in the city in response to either a military siege or a local famine. The story goes that the town ran out of all foodstuffs except stored almonds and sugar, and these were combined to make loaves of marzipan “bread”.

In reality, marzipan is believed to have been invented far earlier, most likely in Persia though historians are undecided between a Persian and an Iberian origin.

Niederegger have been making marzipan in Lübeck for over two centuries, and relate the story from the perspective of founder Johann Georg Niederegger.

Our marzipan was invented far away, where almonds and sugar are grown. Rhazes, a Persian doctor who lived from 850 to 923, wrote a book in which he praised the curative qualities of almond and sugar paste. When the crusaders returned from the Orient, they brought with them a host of spices and Oriental secrets. In 13th century Venice, Naples and Sicily, spices and confectionery were generally traded  in tiny boxes. The enchanting word “Mataban” (box) gradually came to be used for the contents of the box:  Mazapane (Italian), Massepain (French) and Marzipan (German). Did you know that even back in the 13th century, the renowned philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas reflected upon the indulgence of eating Marzipan? In his doctrinal teaching, he reassures enquiring and anxious clerics: “Marzipan does not break the fast.” In his stories, the great novelist Boccaccio clearly describes the correlation between passion and marzipan. In those days, marzipan was topped with gold leaf to crown the sweet temptation. Great Hanseatic merchant boats brought spices and other prized ingredients to the North. Initially, however, only apothecaries were allowed to trade sugar and spices. Not until confectionary became a trade in its own right were so-called ‘canditors’ allowed to produce marzipan. The first Europeans to indulge in marzipan were kings and rich people. It has been reported that Queen Elizabeth I of England, who lived from 1533 to 1603, was addicted to all things sweet.  The saying ‘regal enjoyment’ was coined. Later, at the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV’s sumptuous feasts, huge tables laden with marzipan were the order of the day. Marzipan reproductions of all sorts of fruits, poultry and game were created – anything you desired could be made. In the first half of  the general population were now able to sample the almond delicacy to their heart’s content in coffee houses. Now that sugar could be extracted from sugar beet, the costly luxury became slightly more affordable. Marzipan was also particularly popular and prized in Lübeck. I would now like to tell you something about my life: as a young man, I left my home town of Ulm to become apprenticed to a confectioner, Maret, in Lübeck. In 1806 I was able to open up my own shop. I supplied my wares to kings and tsars. From then on, my reputation grew thanks to excellent quality. My recipe for marzipan – as many almonds as possible, as little sugar as necessary – is secret, and has been passed on from generation to generation since my death. That way, Niederegger Marzipan remains what it has always been: a delicious speciality made from the very best almonds. New York, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, a sweetmeat goes on tour … Niederegger stands for “marzipan of world renown”.

The quality of Niederegger marzipan is certainly renowned, as is that of slightly younger Lübeck marzipan manufacturer Carstens (founded in 1845, 39 years after Niederegger).

At its core, marzipan consists of nothing more than ground almonds mixed with either sugar or honey. These days, a wide range of marzipan is available; many commercial versions contain a comparatively low volume of almonds; instead they contain more sugar with the flavour boosted by almond oils and extracts or even cheaper synthetic almond flavourings. They are often sickly sweet.

Niederegger marzipan is the very good stuff. With a high ratio of almonds to sugar, the flavour is subtle and natural and the sweetness is not overwhelming.

Germany grades marzipan according to the following ratios:

  • Marzipanrohmasse (raw marzipan) contains 65% ground almonds and 35% sugar. When you see a label of 100:0 or 100%, it means 100% raw marzipan with no additional sugar added, not that there is no sugar at all.
  • Niederegger Marzipan is raw marzipan, made to the 65:35 almond to sugar ration and labelled as 100:0 (100% raw marzipan).
  • Lübecker Edelmarzipan (Lübeck fine marzipan) is described as 90:10. That means it’s 90% raw marzipan mixed with an extra 10% sugar. Don’t forget, that 90% is not 90% almonds but a mix of almonds and sugar. More sugar is added to that raw marzipan paste. That means the ratio of almond to sugar falls to around 58:42 (58% almonds, 42% sugar).
    Lübeck marzipan has a PDO (protected designation of origin) and the label can only be used for marzipan manufactured in the region to the 90:10 ratio.
  • Gütemarzipan (quality marzipan) must be 80:20. It’s made of 80% raw marzipan and 20% sugar. Almond makes up 62% of the total and sugar the other 28%.
  • Edelmarzipan (fine marzipan) is described as 70:30. It’s made of 70% raw marzipan and 30% sugar. The almond now makes up only 45% of the total and sugar the other 55%.
  • Gewöhnliches marzipan  (ordinary or consumer marzipan) is described as 50:50, so is half raw marzipan and half sugar. That means only a third of the total content is almond and two thirds is sugar.
  • There are also other designations such as Königsberger marzipan, which is no longer associated with place of manufacture but describes a style of marzipan that usually contains almonds, sugar, egg white and lemon juice and has a distinctive golden brown colour.

For anyone looking for high quality marzipan, you can buy Niederegger here in the UK – I’ve seen different products from their range on sale in John Lewis, Waitrose and Tesco and of course, you can buy online (from the same stores plus Chocolatesdirect.co.uk, Ocado and Amazon, to name a few).

Probably the most common Niederegger product  is marzipan coated in dark-chocolate, which is always wrapped in red foil. Blue foil denotes a milk chocolate coating and other colours of foil indicate flavoured marzipans such as apple, caramel, espresso, orange and pistachio – the latter being one of my personal favourites. There is also a liqueur range available.

Marz1

GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Niederegger in giving away two hampers worth £25 each to readers of Kavey Eats!

Each hamper contains:-

  • 1 x Milk chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x Dark chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x 125g Marzipan loaf
  • 1 x 200g 16 Piece mini loaves assortment
  • 1 x 100g 8 Piece mini loaves classic
  • 1 x 40g Marzipan stick
  • 6 x Mini Loaves
  • 1 x Gift hamper box
  • Free delivery within the UK

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment sharing a memory of language lessons at school, when you were a kid.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a marzipan hamper from @niederegger_uk and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsMarzipan #KaveyEatsMarzipan
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet and please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

RULES & DETAILS
  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 1st May 2015.
  • The 2 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each prize is a hamper of Niederegger produts, as detailed above and includes delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Niederegger .
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received sample products from Niederegger.

 

Dutch cheese Gouda has a bit of an image problem in the UK, often dismissed as a somewhat boring cheese. This is no doubt because our opinions are based on the young mass-produced Gouda which has most commonly been available here in the UK in recent decades.

But, like many cheese, the best Gouda is absolutely terrific!

Kaashandel Peters aka the goudacheeseshop.com is a family business based in Harderwijk, about 40 miles East of Amsterdam. They specialise in selling high quality Dutch cheeses to both consumers and catering customers and since the launch of their web shop in 2009, have also been able to sell cheese to customers across Europe. The cheeses are cut into segments and vacuum-packed, making them suitable to store for at least 6 weeks, which means delivery to the UK is perfectly feasible.

Gouda-KaashandelPeters-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7488

The Best Three is a selection of Kaashandel Peters’ top three Gouda cheeses, 500 grams of each and sells for €23.50 (plus shipping).

The three cheeses from left to right in both images above are Boeren Belegen – Stolwijker Kaas (farmhouse 6-month matured gouda from the Stolwijker region), Belegen Goudse Kaas (gouda matured for 16-18 weeks) and Oude Peter Goudse Kaas – Extra Kwaliteit (high quality gouda matured for 14 months)

Gouda-KaashandelPeters-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7494

REVIEW

Boeren Belegen – Stolwijker Kaas

  • The Dutch term Boerenkaas translates as Farmer’s cheese and is a protected designation that can only be produced by Dutch farms to a traditional recipe. This cheese is made from fresh rather than pasteurised milk and is matured for about six months.
  • This was not disimilar in flavour to the Belegen Goudse Kaas (below) and had the same rich and creamy texture, but the flavour had a wonderful nuttiness too, and was significantly stronger. This reminded me of a good quality mature cheddar.

Belegen Goudse Kaas

  • This gouda has been matured for 16-18 weeks, less than the other two cheeses, but more than the youngest gouda available.
  • As you would expect, we found this the mildest of the three, a less complex flavour but still rich, creamy and with good flavour. It had a hint of sweetness and a little grassiness too.

Oude Peter Goudse Kaas – Extra Kwaliteit

  • This is a particularly high quality gouda that has been matured for 14 months.
  • Unsurprisingly, this was the strongest of the three cheeses with a pronounced (and gorgeous) nutty flavour, some crystaline salt texture but still a lot of creaminess in the mouth. A truly superb cheese and one that I’d happily choose for a special occasion cheese board.

Gouda-KaashandelPeters-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7483

GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Kaashandel Peters in giving away three sets of the above three cheeses to readers of Kavey Eats! Delivery to any address within the EU is included.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways gives you double the chance of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite hard cheese – what’s it called and where is it from?

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win three gorgeous Gouda cheeses from @goudsekaasshop and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsGouda #KaveyEatsGouda
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 24th April 2015.
  • The 3 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is Kaashandel Peters’ The Best Three selection, including the three cheeses listed. Delivery to any address within the EU is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Kaashandel Peters.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or via Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received samples cheeses from Kaashandel Peters and was reimbursed for my time. All opinions my own, as always.

The winners for this competition are Jackie ONeill and Philip Wright (blog entries) and @anglesey42 (twitter entry).

 

One for the Star Wars fans, this – an X-Wing Knife Block – created by bluw to celebrate the release of the seventh film later this year.

Starwars Knife Block (c)KavitaFavelle-8106 Starwars Knife Block (c)KavitaFavelle-8111
Starwars Knife Block (c)KavitaFavelle-8108 Starwars Knife Block (c)KavitaFavelle-8114

The officially licensed set contains an X-Wing shaped knife block with five stainless steel knives – a bread knife, a carving knife, a utility knife, a paring knife and a cook’s knife. Each knife has a protection sheath that it slots into.

The block is frustratingly flimsy – you have to hold it with one hand to pull a knife from it with the other and the knives are very lightweight too; it’ll be interesting to see how long they last. This is much more of a novelty gift than a serious kitchen set, I’d say. However, I can’t help but smile at the idea, regardless. Prices vary considerably from £48.99 to £79.99 so it’s worth shopping around, if you want to buy one.

Kavey Eats received a product sample from bluw.

 

Pete and I are big fans of Salter equipment, having used a Salter scale in our kitchen for many years. And we’re already fans of Heston’s collaborations with appliance brands; I’ve recently posted about the Quick Touch microwave and Smart Scoop ice cream machine Heston designed with Sage.

So it was our pleasure to try out the Heston Precision range created by Heston and Salter, which includes dual platform measuring scales, an adjustable rolling pin, a balloon whisk, measuring spoons and cooking spatulas.

Heston-Salter-Scales-(c)KavitaFavelle-8124

The scales comes in a beautiful box with instructions on use printed on the inside lid. I asked Pete to review them, as they’re perfect for his home brew needs (as well as regular kitchen use):

Homebrewing makes some heavy demands on kitchen scales. Recipes can call for a total of 6kg or more of grain, and yet our standard scales can’t handle more than 5kg. At the same time, some of the minor grain ingredients can weigh as little as 100 grams – at which point, the fact that our scales measure in steps of 4 grams can introduce a significant error.

So the main platform on the Heston scale is a godsend – handling up to 10kg means that it can handle the biggest recipes in my book, and with a 1 gram accuracy I can be confident that my measurements are all spot on.

Of course, that’s only half the story; as well as grain, beer needs hops. While English hops are often measured in the tens of grams – and so can be weighed with some success on standard scales – with more powerful New World hops recipes can call for smaller quantities of 5 or 10 grams. Obviously when your scale only measures in steps of 4 grams, accurately measuring 5 grams of anything can be next to impossible.

This is where the secondary platform on the Heston scale comes in, which can weigh up to 100 grams in steps of 0.1 grams – perfect for lightweight ingredients such as hops.

Of course, you can buy separate scales for such small quantities but combining two into one is a much tidier solution – especially for a homebrewer with an ever growing pile of equipment.

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The rolling pin has adjustable depth guides to make it easier to roll to a depth of 3mm, 5mm and 8mm.

The measuring spoons have a leveller slide along the top to remove excess and ensure an accurate measure. They can be used for wet and dry ingredients, but are not intended for use with oils.

The spatulas are heat resistant to 250°C and dishwasher safe.

The large balloon whisk has a comfortable non-slip handle, is light and easy to use and is dishwasher safe.

HestonPrecisionRange

GIVEAWAY

Salter are giving one set of products from the Heston Precision by Salter range to a reader of Kavey Eats. The items in the set retail for over £100 and include:

  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale (RRP £49.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin (RRP £19.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Measuring Spoons (RRP £14.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk (RRP £8.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas (RRP £14.99)

The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me what you’d make if you won the Heston Precision by Salter giveaway prize.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a set of Heston Precision kitchen equipment by @SalterUK from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KEHestonSalter #KEHestonSalter
(Do not add my twitter handle to the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 10th April 2015.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions and must be followed exactly.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is one Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin, one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adustable Measuring Spoons, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk and one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Salter Housewares.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received product samples from Salter Housewares. This post includes affiliate links, please see blog sidebar for further information.

The winner of this competition was Ann Goody (blog entry).

 

With Easter just around the corner, it’s time for the annual Hotel Chocolat Easter giveaway here on Kavey Eats.

It’s become quite a ritual for me to browse the entire range of Easter products and pick some of my favourites to share with three lucky winners. Enter now and share the news with your friends and family, as this year’s prizes are more tempting than ever!

FIRST PRIZE

300429_Easter 2015_All your eggs in one basket-v2

New this year – and a limited edition, so get to the shops fast if you want to buy one – is the fantastic All Our Eggs In One Basket.

The hexagonal box contains a gigantic cookie-crammed milk chocolate Ostrich half eggshell, an extra-thick caramel-chocolate half eggshell, an extra-thick 70% dark chocolate half eggshell, a Supermilk Facet Egg, a milk chocolate Goose Egg, a caramel-chocolate Goose Egg, a milk-chocolate Scrambled Egg and – nestled in tissue paper at the bottom, a selection of salted caramel egglets.

SECOND PRIZE

300430_Easter 2015_Facet Egg SUPERMILK

I’ve loved the geometric design of the Facet Egg since it was first introduced a few years ago. Made from Hotel Chocolat’s Supermilk, this is one for dark and milk chocolate lovers to share!

THIRD PRIZE

300428_Easter 2015_Scrambled Egg_White-v2

The new Scrambled Egg range are the perfect size – each box contains a 150 gram chocolate egg and a box of 6 matching chocolates. I’ve chosen the White Chocolate Scramble Egg as the third prize for this year’s giveaway.

 

GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Hotel Chocolat in giving away these three prizes to readers of Kavey Eats!

  • First prize is Hotel Chocolat’s All Our Eggs In One Basket (£50).
  • Second prize is a Hotel Chocolat Supermilk Facet Egg (£18).
  • Third prize is a Hotel Chocolat White Chocolate Scramble Egg (£15)
  • Each prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment sharing your favourite Easter-related memory.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win @HotelChocolat Easter egg prizes from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyeatsHCEaster #KaveyEatsHCEaster
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Follow @Kaveyf on Instagram. Then instagram a suitably Easter-themed image (chicks, rabbits, eggs…) in your Instagram feed. In the caption include my username @Kaveyf, @hotelchocolat and the hashtag #KaveyEatsHCEaster.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 27th March 2015.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The 3 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator. The first name selected will win the first prize. The second name selected will win the second prize. The third name selected will win the third prize.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • First prize is Hotel Chocolat’s All Our Eggs In One Basket. Second prize is a Hotel Chocolat Supermilk Facet Egg. Third prize is a Hotel Chocolat White Chocolate Scramble Egg. Each prize includes delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Hotel Chocolat.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Instagram entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @Kaveyf at the 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 Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received samples of items in the range.
Winners: 1st prize @thestax (twitter), 2nd prize trevor linvell (blog), 3rd prize @bettyjaneee (twitter).

 

It’s been a gradual (and on-going) learning process over the years to work out which cuts of beef are best suited to which dishes or cooking methods. Although I’m pretty confident about the cuts to buy for my favourite meals, I am still getting to grips with others and constantly on the look out for new ways to get the best out of them.

When I asked a few friends for their thoughts recently, it quickly became clear that choosing which cut of meat to buy isn’t an easy task for everyone. And of course, buying the wrong cut for your dish often leads to disappointment, which makes people even more nervous the next time. Says my friend Matt Gibson, “I’ve never really got the hang of the cuts, especially for beef. Basically I just buy whatever looks nice in the shop without thinking too hard about it”.

That comment spurred me on to create my guide to choosing the right cut of beef. The suggestions below are based not only on my own favourites but also incorporate recommendations from fellow bloggers, food writers and chefs.

shutterstock_125055797-cropped
Beef cuts diagram via shutterstock.com

 

First, Lessons from a Master Butcher

Having been a butcher since he was 14, Martin Eccles – Master Butcher at Quality Standard Beef & Lamb – reckons that memories of bad experiences in the past also linger; during a private butchery class he explains that “plate waste” was once common when buying a chop or steak to cook at home – that’s the pieces of tendon or gristle left uneaten on the plate – but today’s butchers are moving to reduce that by cutting meat differently.

A big part of Martin’s job for Quality Standard Beef & Lamb is working with butchers to train them on adapting the way they breakdown carcasses to better suit today’s consumer. He advises them on how to to optimise “carcass utilisation” and how best to create modern cuts and smaller roasting joints to suit singles, couples and smaller families. The organisation also works with farmers and supervises the Quality Standard Beef and Lamb marks.

What does Martin mean by modern cuts? He shows me a large rump of beef and explains that it consists of three distinct muscles. Because a steak is best when cut across the grain of the muscle, he separates the three rump muscles, completely removes the silver gristle and then cuts the muscles into individual steaks. Where traditional rump steaks consist of all three muscle types held together with connective tissue, the three new cuts – picanha (aka rump cap) steaks, prime rump steaks and bistro rump steaks – are each comprised of just one muscle. They are easy to cook, tender and with no plate waste.

EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9215 EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9217 EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9225
Martin breaking a rump into different muscles and cuts of steak

Incidentally, here’s a quick Kavey lesson for you: Raw meat is made up of muscle, fat and connective tissue – the muscle is what we think of as meat; the fat melts or crisps during cooking, adding flavour and moisture; collagen-heavy connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) also break down if cooked for long enough; but other connective tissues (such as cartilage and membranes) don’t break down and are what we subsequently label as gristle. Note that while we have a preference to avoid gristle in Western cooking, the stretchy and chewy texture is prized and enjoyed in some cuisines.

Back to Martin’s lessons on newer ways of cutting beef. Whipping out a long lump of meat from the shoulder blade, he tells me that this was (and still is) commonly cut and sold as feather steak. But the feather has gristle running right down the centre, meaning that every steak has a piece of gristle at its heart. Another option is to cut the long blade into two thin pieces, remove the gristle completely and then divide the two long flat irons, as they are known, into individual portions.

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Martin cutting feather blade into two, removing membrane and creating flat iron steaks

Martin also tells me how butchery changed in the years following World War II; beef was far less readily available and animals were older and tougher too so butchers broke the meat down into smaller cuts, separating the tender ones from the tougher ones, to allow for different cooking. Now that we have access to top quality beef again, there are still cuts that benefit from long, slow cooking, but it is also be very straightforward to choose quick-to-cook, tender cuts.

 

Kavey’s Guide to Beef Cuts & Dishes

Mince

Although it’s not really a cut so much as (usually unspecified cuts of) beef ground through a mincer, mince is one of the most popular ways we buy and eat beef.

Restaurant chef Mat Follas often cooks mince at home as his kids love dishes such as “burgers, meatballs and lasagnes”. Bloggers Alicia Fourie, Laura Scott, Karen Burns-Booth and Kathryn and are also fans, praising its versatility and adding dishes such as meat loaf, chilli, spagbol, cottage pie and keema to the list. My husband Pete makes a mean ragu, letting it cook longer for a more tender texture.

Alicia’s recently purchased a mincer attachment for her stand mixer so may switch to making her own; I hope she’ll share tips on which cuts are best for which dish.

beef_mince
Mince

Braising / Stewing – Shin of Beef, Ox Cheek, Brisket, Chuck, Oxtail, Short Rib, Flank

Everyone I spoke to loves braising beef – cooking it long and slow in liquid until even the toughest cuts become tender. Collagen is your friend here, as it breaks down into a gelatinous sauce that adds flavour and richness.

Blogger Sally Prosser (a Brit transplanted to Dubai) loves “slow-cooked casseroles with red wine, bay leaves and carrots or a beef stew with dumplings” at “any time of the year, even the height of a Dubai summer”. Food blogger and journalist Neil Davey buys “the low and slow” stuff (listing several braising cuts) more than anything else as he likes “no fuss hearty cooking”. At this time of the year, he uses the slow cooker a lot. “While these are no longer the bargain cuts they were, you still get a lot of bang for the buck”. He uses these rather than mince for dishes like chilli, cottage pie and pasta sauces.

Food blogger Helen Best-Shaw recommends “shin of beef for long slow cooking, it is so rich and also very affordable”. Laura agrees, telling me beef shin is her favourite “as it makes the most tender yet fully flavoured stew. It does need lots of cooking time” but she reckons its worth it.

Karen and Alicia favour brisket; Karen says it’s her “number one cut for flavour” and recommends “Hunting Beef – an old English recipe where the beef is marinated for 4 days in a spiced salt rub”. This cut is also a popular choice for making corned beef, salt beef and pastrami.

Alicia and Neil are the only ones to mention my personal favourite, ox cheek which is still an underrated (and therefore bargainous) cut. I adore it in dishes like beef cheeks bourguignon and Chinese-style braised ox cheek, but it also works beautifully substituted into recipes such as balsamic and red wine braised lamb or beef carbonnade with mustard toasts. Make sure you (or your butcher) remove(s) any remaining membranes before cooking cheeks whole or cubed. Incidentally, I’m really not sure why beef cheeks (and tails, liver and blood) are often labelled as ox – the term more commonly refers to cattle used as draft animals rather than for food. I guess it’s one of those language hangovers…

beef_shin bone in & boneless,cubes,braising stk beef_rolled brisket
Shin (bone in, boneless, cubed) and rolled brisket

Roasting – Rib, Picanha, Sirloin

When Martin told me that Brits roast far less than they used to, I didn’t believe him and yet only two of the friends I spoke to listed a roasting joint in their top three cuts.

Neil, Karen and I are in complete agreement that the best joint for roasting is a (fore) rib of beef. As Karen points out, it would be her number one beef purchase if the cost weren’t so prohibitive, and likewise Neil does a rib roast a couple of times a year. There’s no question in my mind that beef rib is the tastiest choice – the texture of the meat, the marbling of fat through the meat, contributing to its superb flavour. But yes, this is an expensive joint. Cooking for two, I often buy a boned and rolled rib, but if cooking for more, bone in is gorgeous.

Topside and silverside are two very common roasting joints. Usually significantly less than half the price per kilo of rib joints, this makes them very popular, and a decade ago these were the joints Pete I usually bought; we took supermarkets on their word that these cuts were great for roasting. Eventually we realised we were more often disappointed than happy with their taste and texture, and decided we’d rather have really fabulous roast beef once every few months than mediocre roast beef every couple of weeks.

Another cut that I think makes a fantastic roast is the picanha (aka rump cap). Picanha is the cut’s Brazilian name, by the way, and it’s a highly prized piece of beef. Here, it’s often cut and sold as steaks, but ask your butcher to sell you the rump cap in one piece and try it for your next roast.

My other choice, when there’s no rib available, is a very thick slab of sirloin. The meat counter in our local supermarket cuts sirloin steaks to your preferred thickness; instead of asking for steaks, I have them cut me one piece about 7-8 cm thick, which makes a quick two person roast (with leftovers for a tasty sandwich).

Where I don’t want to stretch budget to one of my three preferred roasting cuts, I’d rather roast a chicken or lamb, or cook a braising joint long and slow, in liquid.

I certainly recommend avoiding beef sold only as a ‘roasting joint’ without any indication of cut, like a recent example from our local supermarket, bought when the meat shelves were unusually bare. Sadly, for all the label’s fancy talk of Hereford Beef and 30 days dry aging, it was enormously disappointing.

beef_forerib & boneless rib,& single rib beef_Boneless rolled sirloin,Sirloin stk
Fore rib of beef (bone in and boneless) and boneless sirloin

Steaks

The two front runners for choice of steak are rib eye followed by sirloin.

Rib eye is my own favourite, and our number one purchase for a perfect dinner of steak and triple cooked chips – Pete’s in charge of those and they’re super!

At home, Mat also chooses rib eye because “it has flavour, unlike most other cuts, from lots of fat”. Neil agrees. A few years ago he attended a comparison session between rib eye, fillet, rump and sirloin. He says, “Fillet is boring as, sirloin and rump are both very good, but a well marbled piece of rib-eye, cooked somewhere around medium-rare / medium so that there’s a char and all that fat is starting to melt? That’s what it’s all about.” Laura too loves a rib eye, “well marbled with a good layer of fat”, adding that it’s “the fat that provides the most flavour when it comes to a good steak”. She’s also a fan of wagyu (high quality, highly marbled Japanese beef) for the same reason.

Sirloin is the steak of choice for Sally, as it offers “the perfect balance of fat to meat ratio for a fat-averse family”. She also buys 3 kilo whole sirloins for the barbecue. I don’t find it as flavoursome as rib eye but if you can find a longer aged piece, that helps.

What about other cuts?

Steaks from the rump are usually very good, though I’d recommend seeking out the newer cuts Martin describes above, where the three rump muscles are separated and then cut into steaks individually.

Kathryn reckons that “ribeye and rump give you quite a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ particularly when it comes to flavour”. She also finds rump “is a bit more forgiving when it comes to timings and you can cook it for a little longer and it doesn’t get ruined”.

Incidentally, when it comes to cooking any of the fattier steaks (such as rib eye) I recommend taking them to medium rare (or even medium if that’s your preference) rather than rare; this allows the fat within the meat to melt and the larger pieces of fat to brown.

Flat iron, another cut that I talked to Martin about, is another tasty and somewhat more affordable choice, though I rarely see it in supermarkets; a butcher is your best bet. It’s cut from feather blade piece but divided into two to remove the central gristle, which leaves two long thin pieces that can be portioned into three or four steaks.

If you’ve ever travelled to France you’ll be familiar with onglet and bavette, two popular cuts served in restaurants across the country. Karen (who spends much of her time in France) loves rump for flavour but in France she’ll usually opt for bavette, which offers flavour at a great price. So what are onglet and bavette in UK terminology? Onglet is known here as hanger, skirt or butcher’s steak, cut from the plate (diaphragm) area and with a really deep flavour. Bavette is flank steak, taken from just behind the onglet and is also dense and well flavoured. Both are best cooked fast on a very hot griddle, medium rare to rare. Overcooking these can result in dry or tough steaks.

Flat iron, onglet/skirt and bavette/flank are also great choices for marinating before cooking.

Fillet is known as the most tender cut, but it has very little fat and lacks the flavour of the other cuts; I would never choose it myself. (For American readers, this cut is what you guys call tenderloin).

beef_thin flank(skirt)
Skirt (onglet) steak

 

Buying British

Perhaps it’s a function of who I asked, but everyone I spoke to makes an effort to seek out British beef and lamb.

Mat, being a kiwi, has an excuse for choosing New Zealand lamb, though he also points out that British lamb is sold in early spring when it’s not had much time running around in fields and is too young to have developed enough flavour. When it comes to beef, he buys British. For his restaurant he buys from a butcher or wholesaler, for home it’s a split between butcher and supermarket. He says he’d “rather spend a little more for quality and have less quantity”, echoing my own thoughts on enjoying a fabulous beef rib roast every now and again rather than an inferior roast every fortnight.

Karen buys British when she’s in the UK and French or New Zealand when in France, preferring organic, locally sourced meat with a known provenance.

Neil explains that although he’s “been known to happily devour USDA steaks at Goodman”, when cooking at home, he buys British, noting that “we produce some of the finest meat in the world; the fall out of the BSE problem and Foot & Mouth has been a massive improvement in farming standards and improved labelling”.

Laura has been to visit two animals farms (something I’ve also done) and believes “our meat is of a high standard”. She buys organic or Freedom foods meat, keeping an eye out for special offers which she stores in the freezer.

Alicia always seeks out British, and if there’s none available, she doesn’t buy. She says that although “Rayner makes a compelling case for New Zealand lamb, for [her] it isn’t about the food miles so much as supporting British farmers and creating food that has a sense of the place we live in”. She doesn’t “understand steak houses that open here making a virtue of the fact that they use American beef – the British beef I have had is the best I have had anywhere”.

While Matt may not yet have much knowledge of cuts, he does “pretty much avoid buying non-British”. As he hates the “overall big supermarket experience” he buys most of his meat from local independent butchers, which he has within walking distance. When “it’s a choice between rubbish ‘local’ supermarkets who aren’t good for meat, or fabulous, friendly independent butchers who really know what they’re doing, it’s no surprise I end up in the butchers”.

 

Contributors

Alicia Fourie foodycat.blogspot.co.uk
Helen Best-Shaw fussfreeflavours.com
Karen Burns-Booth lavenderandlovage.com
Kathryn londonbakes.com
Laura Scott howtocookgoodfood.co.uk
Mat Follas matfollas.com
Matt Gibson gothick.org.uk
Neil Davey nrdavey.co.uk
Sally Prosser mycustardpie.com

With thanks to Quality Standard Beef & Lamb for arranging a private masterclass with Martin Eccles and giving us some delicious British beef and lamb to take home. Further information about British beef (and lamb), including quality assurance, nutrition, cuts and carving advice can be found at the Simply Lamb & Beef website. Additional images courtesy of Quality Standard Mark and Shutterstock.

 

I grew up in Luton, which may not sound like a hotbed of multiculturalism but our personal corner of it always was – our family friends included Chinese, Jewish, Indians, Irish, Malaysians, Scottish, Sri Lankans amongst others. When it came to New Year, we celebrated according to both the Gregorian and traditional Chinese lunar calendars. I will never forget the days we spent running wild with the other kids around the farm house, outbuildings and extensive gardens of Uncle John and Aunty Margaret, in between repeated bouts of feasting from a huge kitchen table groaning with dishes and the all-important steamboat. Cherished memories…

So it’s a shame that I seldom cook Chinese food at home; it remains something we tend to eat out, not least because I have a soft spot for dim sum, hard work to make at home (given the sheer variety that can be enjoyed in a single inexpensive meal out). The same goes for roast duck and many other favourite dishes.

That said, I have been using Amoy products for many years; mainly their soy sauces which are available in varieties including light, dark, reduced fat and special selection. I recently tried the lemongrass and kaffir lime one, which adds a lovely rounded citrus flavour – perfect for one of my favourite simple marinades for grilled lamb chops – mix soy, mustard and honey to taste and spread over the meat before grilling.

The meal below was created using some of Amoy’s other products, which they sent to me along with Chinese lanterns, fortune cookies and gold-embossed red envelopes, used to give monetary gifts on special occasions. I’ve added a bowl of clementines, not only because they’re one of my favourite fruits but because oranges are a common gift at Chinese New Year, associated with prayers for good fortune. Fresh fruit also symbolises a new beginning.

Red, gold and orange are the key colours for Chinese New Year, and make laying a themed table simple to achieve. If you are able to add in a few lanterns and red envelopes of your own, so much the better!

7865-AmoyCNY-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-textoverlay

We weren’t so keen on the Amoy straight-to-wok medium noodles, which we combined with spring onions, beansprouts and Amoy’s chow mein stir fry sauce – the texture of the noodles was mushy (though we cooked them exactly as instructed) and the sauce wasn’t one I’d buy again.

But we enjoyed the Amoy satay stir fry sauce which we combined with chicken thighs, button mushrooms and sugar snaps. I’d serve this over rice rather than add noodles to the pan (as recommended in the instructions).

7874-AmoyCNY-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-textoverlay 7877-AmoyCNY-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-textoverlay

Wishing all my readers a very happy Chinese New Year – Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Kavey Eats received a selection of sample products, decorations and a supermarket voucher from Amoy.

 

A lot of foodies scorn microwaves. They proudly announce that they don’t, and never would, have one in their kitchen and I can’t help but wonder if they imagine all those who have one subsist on microwave ready meals and reheated takeaways. I always feel a little sorry for them, honestly; their conviction that real foodies never microwave means they miss out on one of the great modern tools of the domestic kitchen.

Easy-Microwave-Caramels-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle2015-textoverlay
My latest microwave experiment, I’ll be sharing the recipe soon

Even before you consider recipes that can be made in the microwave, there are many little heating tasks at which they excel:

  • Melting butter
  • Melting chocolate without a bain marie
  • Poaching eggs
  • Steaming vegetables
  • Cooking rice
  • Reheating dishes that would tend to dry out in the oven or overly reduce on the stove top
  • Briefly heating a lemon or lime before juicing (to make it easier to juice)
  • Heating a mug of milk for a quick latte or hot chocolate
  • Decrystallising honey
  • Sterilising kitchen washcloths and sponges
  • Heating wheat packs for muscle pain relief

I’ve also heard of people using a microwave to speed proof yeasted doughs, to roast a head of garlic and to par cook jacket potatoes before finishing them in the oven. The latter we now cook in the slow cooker, and I’m yet to try the first two; let me know if you have!

It won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve always had a microwave. My parents had one through most of my childhood, they kindly bought me a small, cheap one for my student house when I was at uni, and Pete and I have had one in our kitchen for the last two decades.

Last year, I reviewed a couple of appliances designed by Heston for Sage, including my lovely Smartscoop ice cream machine (review post here).

This month I’ve been putting my Heston for Sage Quick Touch microwave to the test.

QuickTouch-Microwave-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle2015-7371 QuickTouch-Microwave-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle2015-7372
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  • Because the water content in different foods varies so wildly, it can be tricky to guestimate how long different foods need in the microwave; chocolate contains only 3% water whereas most vegetables contain 95%!. Sensors in the Quick Touch microwave sense the amount of humidity released from food and automatically adjust the power level and the cooking time accordingly.
  • There is a shortcut panel (of pre-sets) for common tasks such as melting chocolate, softening butter and heating baked beans (a personal favourite of Heston’s, apparently) – all you need to do is input the weight and touch the relevant button.
  • Of course, the Quick Touch has normal microwave functions as well – you can manually input your power (with 10 levels from 10% to 100%) and the amount of time. The maximum power is 1100 watts so it’s pretty versatile. (Older consumer microwaves often topped out at 800 watts).
  • Pete’s a big fan of the fact that the timer defaults to 30 seconds and if you don’t press any other button or enter a time, will simply start at full power as soon as you close the door. There’s also a cute A Bit More button when something is nearly done but not quite.
  • So far, we’ve been very impressed with the melting butter, melting chocolate and sensor cook functions – perfectly cooked carrots and broccoli courtesy of the latter.
  • Reheating leftovers works fine, as do all the other regular tasks I listed above. Heating seems to be even throughout a plate of food, rather than spots of scalding hot and still cold.
  • It’s a heavy beast, so best for kitchens where it won’t need to be moved regularly.
  • The price tag (around £250-270 depending on retailer) is high, especially as this microwave doesn’t have convection cooking or grilling functionality.

By the way, if you caught a glimpse of the green writing on the front of the freezer in one of the images above, you may be interested in my post on how to organise the contents of a large freezer.

I’ve also been talking to other food bloggers and writers about how they use their microwaves.

Celia Brooks, cook and cookery book author, loves her microwave. She reminds us that “it’s not an oven but a tool to vibrate water molecules” and is therefore “especially good for veggies” with their high water content. As Celia’s main food group is vegetables, it’s an essential tool in her kitchen. She loves to steam vegetables in it, and she cooks aubergine chunks or slices with a little salt before adding them to a ratatouille or moussaka – they absorb less oil if cooked a little first. She likes to “fill flat mushroom caps with cream cheese and herbs”; cooking these in the microwave forms “a luscious sauce”. She also warms milk, makes porridge and heats single portions of dishes like lasagne, for which heating the regular oven would be wasteful.

Helen Best-Shaw, food blogger and recipe developer, mainly uses hers for reheating, defrosting and cooking vegetables and grains. She says she nearly always cooks brown rice in it, which is “perfectly cooked in 14 minutes”. She also partially cooks baked potatoes before finishing in the oven.

Urvashi Roe, food blogger and baker, uses her most days, mainly for defrosting and reheating. She also uses it to melt chocolate, and for “emergency baking” when she has chocolate cake cravings. She finds it particularly useful on days she’s running late, needs to feed the children and can simply take a batch-cooked soup or dhal out of the freezer, defrost, heat and serve.

MiMi Aye, food blogger and cookery book author, loves the convenience of her microwave. She uses it to heat leftovers, cook vegetables like courgettes, warm soup and baked beans, cook ready meals and make microwave popcorn. Like Urvashi, she likes batch cooking meals and freezing them in portions. She reminds me that the microwave is also the easiest way to sterilise baby bottles. And she sent me this rather mesmerising video of blowing up Peeps (American marshmallow birds) in the microwave!

Alicia Fourie, food blogger and keen cook, uses her microwave for warming milk and reheating leftovers. She also loves it for cooking asparagus and corn on the cob, finding it “much easier than boiling” and less faff than lighting the barbecue.

Miss South, food blogger and cookery book author, originally got a microwave because, although she’s a “freezer fiend”, she lacks the organisation to take things out in time to defrost. She also loves using it to cut down on cooking times, pointing out that “microwaving takes less time and costs less than turning [her] electric cooker”. These days, she also uses the microwave to back up her slow cooker, by “batch cooking 3-4 portions of something lovely” and freezing the rest; being able to defrost and blast these home made ready meals in the microwave stops her “tiring of staples” and is also a boon when she’s ill or really busy. She is also a fan of microwaveable rice, which she pimps into fried rice with the addition of frozen peas and an egg.

Of course, a microwave isn’t a substitute for other cooking appliances. I love my gas stove top and electric oven and I regularly use my slow cooker, sous vide cooker and power blender (which can cook soups and custards).

The key is to understand a microwave’s strengths  and put it to use accordingly.

Do you have a microwave? How do you use it? And what’s the one thing you use it for that you’d hate to do without?

Kavey Eats received a Quick Touch microwave for review. Lakeland links are affiliate links, please see sidebar for more information.

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