Equipment, books, gifts, all things shopping.

 

When it comes to tourism in Belgium, Brussels gets a bad rap.

Go to Bruges, they say, for the picturesque canals and mediaeval centre.
Go to Antwerp, they say, for world class art and hipster fashion.
Go to Ghent, they say, for more of the same plus cycling too.
Go to Ypres, they say, for WW1 history.

But Brussels? Brussels is often dismissed as little more than a hub for politicians and lobbyists.

Of course, there’s much more to Brussels than politics! Yes, Brussels is the home of the European Union, NATO and the United Nation’s European office…

…but it is also the capital of a country of two halves – the Dutch-speaking Flemish region of Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia in the South. Multicultural Brussels, the third region of the country, is bilingual though French is now more prevalent than Dutch. These days English is widely spoken as well as many other languages, indeed it’s said that as much as half the population speak neither French nor Dutch as their native tongue.

As a Londoner, one of the things I find most appealing about Brussels is this sense of multiculturalism. Although the issue of language is still a hot potato for many Belgians, especially when it comes to education and cultural identity, Brussels is a city that is very open to the world.  Indeed, we chat to Pierre from the local tourist board who tells us that the people of Brussels refer to themselves as zinneke (bastard dogs), wearing their mongrel heritage with pride. Pierre is himself the perfect example – his mother is gipsy, his father Walloon and Flemish, his wife Brazilian and his sisters are married to a German, a Frenchman and a Czech, respectively!

Brussels is a vibrant city with a historic heart and a modern outlook. And the Eurostar service takes you from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi-Zuid in less than two and a half hours!

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When it comes to sightseeing, you still can’t beat a good old-fashioned guide book, or the website equivalent. I won’t try to recreate that here but suggest that as well as the popular Gothic and baroque buildings of the Grand Place and surrounding narrow cobbled streets, the shiny Atomium housing a variety of exhibitions and the incomprehensibly mobbed corner where the Mannekin Pis resides you might want to look up Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis – the squatting female and doggie equivalents of Mannekin, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre (and the Comic Strip walk that takes you past comics painted on the walls of a number of buildings), an amazing array of grand buildings such as the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, the Bourse (stock exchange), the Royal Palace, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur and the architecture of art nouveau architect Victor Horta. Lovers of literature, art, history and even cars, will also appreciate several excellent museums in Brussels.

Instead, I’m going to share my tips for some great places to eat, drink, shop and sleep.

 

Chocolates and Patisserie

Brussels is awash with shops selling chocolate, but much of what’s on sale is cheap, bulk-manufactured products that are hardly worth wasting suitcase space for. Here are the ones that are worth seeking out.

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Laurent Gerbaud is one of Belgium’s rising chocolatiers and is fighting an uphill battle to move Belgians on from the idea of “Belgian chocolate” to an understanding of the actual origins and varieties available.

Like several chocolatiers I’ve met, Laurent was a chef first; he came to chocolate via chocolate sculpture with an artist friend, and that lead, eventually, to his current career. As a child, he developed an interest in China, perhaps because of several friendships he had with Chinese and Taiwanese families. He worked in Chinese restaurants, took courses in Chinese and, after a university degree in history, finally moved to China for a couple of years. There, he discovered that the Chinese don’t have as sweet a tooth as Europeans and he lost his taste for high sugar sweets. When he came back to Belgium, he had the obvious thought of bringing his experiences in China into his chocolate making but realised he wasn’t inspired by fusion flavours. Instead, he focused on quality ingredients, including some sourced from Asia.

Today, the Chinese influences is perhaps most evident in his logo which is an artistic interpretation of the Chinese hanzi characters for “chocolate” and his name.

Laurent is keen to make chocolate that people love to eat; he says “one of my purposes is to make junk food – you eat one and you want another because it’s really good”. Judging by the chocolates we tasted, he’s nailed it – I could have eaten a whole box of the chocolates made with dried figs from Turkey and candied oranges from Italy. His shop on Rue Ravenstein is also a boutique tea room, with plans to extend the service to offer a savoury menu too.

Tip: Of course, you can visit his shop just to buy some of his excellent chocolate, but for a more personal experience, book a chocolate tasting or chocolate making workshop.

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Pierre Marcolini is one of the few Belgian chocolatiers to make chocolate from bar to bean, before then using it to make a range of chocolates. His chocolate shop at 2 Rue de Minimes is certainly full of temptation but what I recommend above the chocolate is a visit to the address around the corner at 39 Grote Zavel, where his spectacular patisserie is sold. I found the macarons surprisingly disappointing but a glossy strawberry patisserie was a winner.

Other famous chocolate brands in Brussels include Wittamer (a long standing bakery and chocolate business) and Frederic Blondeel (a chef turned chocolatier who also makes chocolate from bean to bar).

 

Speculoos Biscuits

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Speculoos, hailing from Belgium and The Netherlands, are spiced shortcrust biscuits that were originally associated with the feast of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) in early December. Made from flour, brown sugar and butter with a spice mix that usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper, these days they are popular and available all year round.

Maison Dandoy, established in 1829, makes a range of sweet bakery products but is best known for its traditional speculoos and gingerbread biscuits. These days, it has a handful of shops in Brussels, but its worth making a trip to its oldest remaining store at 31 Rue au Beurre, to admire the beautiful wooden biscuit moulds lining the shelves. The Tea Room on Rue Charles Buls (also known as Karel Bulsstraat) is larger, offering the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of biscuits, pastries and drinks inside. There are an additional four shops in Brussels, plus one in nearby Waterloo.

Having tried several supermarket brands of speculoos biscuit, I was surprised to discover that it’s not just a case of fancy shops and branding – the Maison Dandoy speculoos biscuits are definitely superior!

We also tried Dandoy’s pain à la Grecque, a crunchy bread-cum-biscuit coated with pearled sugar crystals. I was more fascinated by the origins of the name than the biscuit itself – over two centuries ago, the monks of a local Augustine abbey used to support the city’s destitute by giving them bread. The abbey was located near a place known as Wolvengracht (Wolves Ditch); the gracht pronounced grecht in local dialect. Over time, pain a la grecht morphed into pain à la Grecque, confusing generations of shoppers with its erroneous suggestion of a Greek origin.

Tip: If you’re as huge a fan of speculoos biscuits as we are, make a quick visit to a supermarket to pick up a couple of extra large packs of mass-produced biscuits as well. There’s a mini supermarket in Brussels Midi Station.

 

Cuberdons

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I first fell for cuberdons over two decades ago, and if anything, I love them even more today. A purply-dark red colour and conical in shape, the cuberdon is a raspberry-flavoured gummy sweet, firm on the outside with an oozing interior. In Dutch, it’s known as a neus (nose), in French it’s called a chapeau-de-curé or chapeau-de-prêtre (priest’s hat).

You can find cuberdons in quite a few sweet shops in Brussels, several of which sell multiple colours and flavours, a relatively recent phenomenon. But we’ve found that the best prices for regular raspberry cuberdons is from the Cric-Crac sweet shop inside Brussels Midi station, which sells by weight.

Tip: These sweets are best eaten within a couple of weeks of purchase, as the liquid centre can crystallise and harden if left for too long.

 

Waffles

Belgian Waffles fall into two types.

Firm, rich and chewy Gaufre de Liège (Liège Waffle) are made from an adapted brioche-dough and work well both hot and cold. These are usually oval in shape and have a slightly crunchy exterior from the crystallised sugar that has caramelised against the waffle iron. They’re great for eating on the hoof as they’re traditionally eaten plain (though you can buy them with toppings too if you prefer).

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Rectangular Brussels Waffles are made with a leavened batter, resulting in a much lighter and airier texture and are definitely at their best enjoyed hot, fresh from the waffle iron. Traditionally, Brussels waffles are served with a dusting of icing sugar but these days you can choose from a wide selection of toppings including ice cream, chocolate sauce and fruits. But I suggest you ignore all of those and ask for your waffle with a generous dollop of speculoos paste. With a texture much like smooth peanut butter, this sweet spread is the same flavour as the famous biscuit and melts wonderfully into the indentations of a freshly-cooked hot waffle.

Tip: You’ll find waffles on sale all over Brussels, often from hole-in-the wall vendors, but if you want to sit down and eat, try Maison Dandoy’s Tearoom.

 

Beer & Bars

Belgium is world famous for its beers and rightly so, with a rich tradition that goes back many, many centuries. The range of beers produced by Belgian breweries is impressive, including pale, golden, amber, red and dark ales, dubbels and tripels, Flemish sour brown, Champagne beers (which receive a second fermentation using the method now most strongly associated with Champagne), wheat beers and lambics (spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts that are native to the brewery, as opposed to the addition of cultivated yeasts).

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Both Pete and I absolutely love what owner Jean Hummler is offering at his two bars, Moeder Lambic and Moeder Lambic Fontainas, located at 68 rue de Savoie and 8 place Fontainas, respectively. He started the first bar less than five years ago, after a career working for industrial food businesses in France.

He starts off by telling us why he wanted to do something different; “most places are not very selective, they sell coca cola and junk food” and their beer selection is not very inspiring either. He is committed to selling only quality produce and that applies to the beers, the food and even the soft drinks. He has two key criteria, the way a product is made and how it tastes. “Making money and brewing great beer are often not the same job”, he laughs. He looks for products that are made by hand, adding that he doesn’t want “industrial anything”. For a beer to be selected it must be made with craft and it must pass the taste test – it must taste good! Right now, he has approximately 150 beers on the menu of which 46 are on tap. These include beers from around the world, including a number from the UK.

The same principles apply to his sourcing of cheeses and charcuterie (which form the main thrust of the simple menu) and the non-beer drinks menu (which includes some delicious farmhouse apple juice, for those less interested in the beers).

The cheese selection (€12.5) is utterly wonderful; all are raw milk cheeses and range from soft and mild to fantastically pungent, each one a genuine delight. In the centre of the serving board is a bowl of pottekees – a blend of fresh white cheese, onion, pepper and lambic beer. Just as excellent is the meat selection (€12.5) which includes garlic sausage, French sausage, paté made with geuze beer, hâte levée – pork cooked slowly in bouillon with garlic and spices, Tierenteyn mustard, Belgian pickles (which are a lot like piccalilli). Both plates are served with a basket of bread and a superb raw milk butter.

As he introduces each item on the plates, his enthusiasm for the producers and their products is self-evident; “The idea is to offer another selection, another quality, another explanation that most people don’t know exists”.

Two other key policies for Hummler are ensuring that all his staff know and love the product range, and establishing strong relationships with each supplier – and one (of many) ways he furthers both is the Moeder Fucker series of beers brewed by Le Paradis microbrewery not far from Nancy, in France. For each beer he sends two of his staff to the brewery to help make it; they decide which style of beer to make and work with the brewery team to create their vision. During our visit, Moeder Fucker IV was on tap.

As we talked, Pete tried five beers, guided by Hummler through the staggering range available. He drank Taras Boulba by local Brasserie de la Senne (Belgium), Moeder Fucker IV by Le Paradis (France), Mozaic Black by Mont Saleve (France), Cuvée De Ranke by Ranke (Belgium) and Fièvre de Cacao by Thiriez (France).

In the end, Hummler is a man after my own heart. “We all have to decide. Each citizen has to decide what they want to do with their life. I decided for myself that I wanted to eat very good food. I eat less and less meat, maybe once a week but what I eat is very good, like the chicken that is aged 120 days on a small farm. Taste is very important to me.

Tip: Ask staff for guidance in selecting beers for your own beer flight.

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Small and traditional pub La Fleur en Papier Doré was the perfect place to meet local friends for an evening drink. At 55 Rue des Alexiens, it was very close to our bed and breakfast, and also easy to reach by local bus. The menu shares a little of the history of the bar, housed in a small maisonette that dates from the mid 18th century. In the past it housed a convent, which moved to a new home in the middle of the 20th century. As a pub, it became the favoured meeting place of the Surrealist cultural movement with regulars including René Magritte; a few decades later it was a focus point for the Cobra (avant-garde) movement, creators of experimental art and philosophy. Mementos of both remain on the well-worn walls of the cosy pub, protected (along with the façade, the ground floor rooms and some of the furniture) by the local government which has decreed them of historical value.

Stop for a few beers (and some charcuterie) or for a simple meal.

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The Cantillon Brewery welcomes visitors for brewery tours (7 Euros including a beer) or to buy beer. You can buy to drink in or takeaway; lovers of lambic will particularly enjoy a visit. The address at 56 Rue Gheude is only a short walk from the central tourist district.

 

Lunch Stops

My first recommendation for a light lunch is the cheese plate and charcuterie selection at Moeder Lambic, above. Super quality, and each provides a generous portion for the price.

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Another great option is recently opened Peck 47 (amusingly named for its address at 47 Rue Marche Aux Poulets). This all day cafe offers a short menu of home made sandwiches, salads, soups, cakes, fresh juices, smoothies and a small selection of local beers. For just €8, my poached eggs on sourdough with smoked salmon and homemade relish was far more generous than I expected and all the items were of excellent quality. The eggs were perfectly poached, the salad nicely dressed and the home made relish very good indeed. Pete’s sandwich – roast chicken, rocket, lemon and basil mayo and slow roasted tomatoes – also impressed, for €5.

Tip: A particularly nice touch is that the free tap water is stored in the drinks fridge in large bottles stuffed with mint. Ask for some!

 

A Traditional Dinner

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I have to say from the off – don’t go to Restobieres if you’re looking for great service. The three staff on duty ranged from friendly but incompetent through utterly disinterested to downright sullen. That usually stops me from recommending a place but Restobieres is a good option if you’re keen to try traditional Belgian dishes alongside a range of Belgian beers.

Herve Cheese Croquets (€10) were a tasty comfort food, served hot and freshly fried. Homemade paté with Rochefort and foie gras  (€12) was a generous slab; light on the foie gras but tasty nonetheless. My calf’s liver with shallots and Chouffe  (€20) was decent; I really liked the beer and shallot sauce. Pete had satisfactory steak and chips with another good sauce and a generous well-dressed salad. The star of the mains was our friend’s bloempanch blood pudding (€12) which was both tasty and generously portioned for the price.

The only duff note (with the exception of the service) was a scoop of speculoos biscuit ice cream (€4) which we decided could only possibly have been made by a chef who’d never tasted speculoos (and not bothered to look up a recipe for the spices usually used). The texture was unpleasantly gritty too.

Located at 9 rue des Renards, not far from the Jeu de Balle flea market.

 

Brussel’s Modern Dining Scene

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I already explained how much we liked the multicultural vibe in Brussels. This goes equally for the food scene, which has some great restaurants to explore. One such place launched just a few weeks before our visit; located along very trendy Rue de Flandre in the Sainte Catherine district, Gramm is a restaurant offering bold, inventive and modern food. It’s headed up by Chef Erwan Kenzo Nakata, who grew up in Brittany to a French father and Japanese mother, thus explaining some of the eclectic Japanese touches to otherwise modern French cooking.

The evening offering is a fixed tasting menu, 6 courses for €38. Although the courses are individually quite small, we felt very satisfied at the end of our meal, having enjoyed the array of tastes, textures and colours in Nakata’s self-assured dishes.

While I felt the food was good value, I was less impressed with the drinks pricing, for wines, beers and soft drinks (which were served in shockingly tiny glasses) so if you’re on a fixed budget, keep an eye on your drinks orders to avoid a shock at the end of the evening. Also, do set aside plenty of time. Service is very warm and friendly but the wait between courses, even in a nearly empty restaurant, is a little longer than ideal.

Tip: Don’t be shy about asking for more of the excellent bread and butter, by the way, it’s great for mopping up some of the juices and sauces!

 

The Marolles Flea Market

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Usually, I’m not much of a shopper but offer me the chance to browse a car boot sale or flea market and I’m instantly excited, so I was very keen to return to the famous Marolles Flea Market held daily in the Place du Jeu de Balle. On sale is a charming mix of cheap tat and more expensive “antiques”; it’s definitely a case of one man’s rubbish being another man’s treasure. With my love of retro kitchenware, I was in heaven as there’s plenty of it here, at very bargainous prices. It’s actually a miracle I came away with only a couple of ornate old teaspoons and two Nestle branded cups and saucers in amber glass – there was, I think, a complete set of six in the box but most were too chicken-shit-and-feather covered to assess very well, so I just bought the two cleanest ones for a whopping €1!

The market runs every day of the year. Official start times state that it starts at 6 am and finishes at 2pm on weekdays, 3pm on weekends.

Tip: Take lots of small change with you and of course, be prepared to haggle!

Brussels has many more markets to visit including markets for art, food, flowers and vintage clothes.

 

An Elegant Pillow

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X2B Brussels is a family run luxury bed and breakfast in the heart of Brussels, just a few minutes walk from the Grand Place. The three guest bedrooms are each on a different floor – we booked the first floor double and were delighted to discover a vast room with soaringly high ceilings, simple and elegant furnishings and a very generous en-suite bathroom. Do note that none of the rooms have step-free access and, as you’d expect in a private home, there is no lift. Guests are welcomed either by owner Xavier or his mother Monique, who sit down with guests on arrival to share tips for visiting Brussels, personalised to their guests’ interests. Breakfast is excellent: a basket of fresh bread and pastries with an enormous selection of jams and spreads, cheese and cold hams, yoghurt, eggs however you’d like them, rounded off by coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. The hot freshly made raisin bread pain perdu is a lovely touch. Free wifi is also a boon, for those of us who like to stay connected. From £160 a night including breakfast.

Tip: make sure you jot down the house number as well as the street name; there’s no obvious sign on the outside so we walked up and down the same stretch of road several times, eventually identifying the B&B only by peering at the tiny labels for individual doorbells.

 

Getting Around

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In terms of getting around, the key sites in Brussels are within a fairly small area and its certainly possible to walk. But you can also make use of the metro and tram network, as well as local buses. The Brussels Card gives unlimited use of public transport, free entry into some attractions, discounted entry into many more and discounts in shops and restaurants too. You will also be given a free city map. Available for 24, 48 or 72 hours for 24€, 36€ or 43€.

 

With thanks to Eurostar for the complimentary return tickets between London and Brussels and thanks to the Brussels Tourist Board for their assistance in planning some of our sightseeing highlights and their insight into historic and modern Brussels.

Jul 282014
 

Did you know that Jelly Belly do sweets other than jelly beans? I didn’t!

The good news is that the Jelly Belly Candy range is as tasty as their jelly beans. Pete and I have been ripping open bag after bag these last few weeks and I have to confess, none of them have lasted very long. Pete’s favourites are probably the Sunkist Fruit Gems – large soft fruit jelly discs. I’m torn between those and the Raspberries and Blackberries – these have a soft centre coated in crunchy candy “seeds”. There are also gummy bears (regular and hot cinnamon), chocolate Dutch mints, a liquorice “bridge mix” and American stalwart, candy corn.

Although I try not to buy sweets too often, the nostalgic pull of a bag of sweets is hard to resist and takes me straight back to ye olde Woollies pick and mix. What helps temper temptation is my increasing dissatisfaction with some of the cheaper sweets, full of jarringly artificial flavours and often far too sweet. These Jelly Belly candies are undeniably pricier but so much better that they’re absolutely worth the extra, in my opinion.

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The quintessentially American Candy Corn is now joined by Gummi Bears, Licorice Bridge Mix, Chocolate Dutch Mints, Raspberries & Blackberries, Sunkist Fruit Gems and Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears and the bags are priced at £6.62 each.

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COMPETITION

One Kavey Eats reader will win a set of all seven of Jelly Belly’s candy range, as pictured in the bags above. The prize includes delivery in the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite childhood memory of eating sweets.

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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 set of @JellyBellyUK’s new candy range from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/Nymaog #KaveyEatsJBCandies
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

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  • Where prizes are provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a set of Jelly Belly candies, as listed above, and includes free delivery within the UK.
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  • The prize is offered and provided by Jelly Belly.
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Kavey Eats received samples from Jelly Belly.

Jul 212014
 

Safari

I love safari! Pete and I are fortunate to have been on several over the last two decades and have particular soft spots for the wildlife parks of Botswana, Kenya and South Africa, to name a few.

tomboy (c) Africa 2008-bbb

There’s something utterly captivating about observing birds and animals in their natural habitats, up close and personal. Of course, there are the poster animals – sleek and powerful lions and leopards, lithe and speedy cheetahs, elegant-necked loping giraffes, portly hippos, grinning hyenas, wild dogs, buffalo, zebras, wildebeest – all of which are a delight to see.

But we find just as much joy in the smaller or lesser known wildlife – a family of silver-backed jackal pups playing in the dawn light under the watchful gaze of their parents, colourful lilac-breasted rollers or malachite kingfishers taking to the wing in a flash of colour, a fighting gaggle of vultures competing fiercely over the remnants of the latest unfortunate, a sniffling porcupine shuffling through the grass with quills-a-quivering, two bat-eared foxes cautiously poking their heads up from the entrance of their den, blinking bush-babies sitting high in a tree watching us watch them, a dung beetle laboriously rolling his ball of dung along the ground, the shimmer of sunlight against the iridescent plume of a glossy starling or ibis, the striking facial patterns and horns of the mighty oryx, the tight grip of a tiny reed frog clinging to a tall stem jutting out of the waters in the Okavango Delta… There is even excitement to be found in the footprints of animals long since departed, imprinted into the earth and now a challenge to our skills of identification – elephants and lions are much easier than the many ungulates!

Someone once declared that if you’d seen one wrinkly grey elephant’s arse you’d seen them all and he couldn’t see the point of going on more than one safari in one’s life. To say that I was flabbergasted is an understatement!

There are many ways to safari, from budget self-drive to remote luxury camps with private guides. We’ve done and loved both – each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Luxury safari camps are places of such beauty – gorgeous full height canvas tents with comfortable furniture, en-suite bathrooms and open air dining rooms where guests and guides come together for delicious meals. Of course, the focus is the wildlife viewing activities but we certainly enjoy the catering and accommodations in between!

Jungle Juice Memories

It was at one such safari camp that I was first offered Jungle Juice, a jolly name for a mixed fruit smoothie. Usually featuring a banana base with a range of additional fruits depending on what was available, this quickly became a favourite for me, especially as I’m not a wine or beer drinker. Indeed, when we later visited camps that didn’t offer anything similar, I was happy to describe Jungle Juice, and they would kindly rustle some up for me. (In the same way, I have introduced more African safari guides to shandy than I care to think about!)

Of course, as Jungle Juice is simply a mixed fruit no-dairy smoothie, it’s a drink many people make and enjoy.

Jungle Juice Sorbet

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Recently, I was sent an Optimum 9400 Blender by Australian brand Froothie. It’s a super powerful blender, with a very sharp blade which means that as well as making quick work of smoothies and sauces, it can also grind nuts and seeds and crush ice. The powerful motor even allows it to knead dough, and because the blade turns at 48,000 rpm it can generate enough heat to make piping hot soups as well. I’m yet to try these functions, and will report back as I do.

What I can tell you is that the motor and blade make quick work of chunks of frozen fruit and the advantage of blending them straight from frozen is that Jungle Juice becomes Jungle Juice Sorbet!

I make Jungle Juice Sorbet with nothing but fruit – no honey or sugar, no dairy, no oats – so it’s a very healthy alternative to dairy ice creams and sugar-laden sorbets.

For the first few moments, I thought the frozen chunks of banana, pineapple and mango I had thrown into the jug were simply too solid for the blade to handle but after a few tens of seconds more, the blade started to reduce the fruit to a thick cold paste. Pete used the tamper tool provided to push the chunks at the top down nearer the blades and a few minutes later, the sorbet was done.

Of course, you’ll want to eat the sorbet the moment it’s ready, so be prepared and have your bowls, spoons and eager diners ready and waiting.

As there is no added sugar or preservatives, this sorbet is best eaten fresh.

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Jungle Juice Sorbet

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1-2 bananas, peeled, chopped and frozen
200-300 grams mixed fruits, peeled and chopped (if necessary) and frozen

Note: So that you can make smoothies and sorbets quickly whenever you feel like it, I recommend you keep chunks of frozen fruit ready to hand in your freezer. Banana is best frozen already peeled and chopped, likewise larger fruit such as pineapple and mango. Berries can simply be washed, hulled and frozen as they are. Make sure they’re fairly dry when you put them into the freezer, so the liquid doesn’t cause them to freeze into a solid block.

Method

  • Place your chosen fruit chunks straight from the freezer into your blender. (You’ll need a really robust blender to handle this. Alternatively, a high quality food processor will also work).
  • Blend until the fruit has been broken down into a thick, creamy puree. Pause once or twice to push solid chunks down closer to the blades if necessary.
  • Serve immediately.

This is my entry for July’s #BSFIC challenge – frozen treats inspired by Holiday Memories.

IceCreamChallenge mini

 

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 from Froothie and the link(s) above are affiliate links.

 

I have too many cookery books. There, I’ve said it.

Despite two major clear outs in the last couple of years, when lots and lots of cookery books were given away to charity shops and fundraisers, the assigned shelves are overflowing. Books are stacked two deep, with extra ones squeezed on their side above the others. Others sit in stacks on the dining room floor, living room coffee table, and even lost amongst the papers on my desk.

I’m aware my collection is tiny compared to some, numbering at only 150 or so against the many hundreds some of my friends and acquaintances report.

And yet there is still an argument to be made that I have too many. There are many that I’ve cooked from only once or twice; some that I’ve never cooked from at all. Often, I don’t even remember that I have a particular title, only to exclaim in excitement at its rediscovery during yet another session of tidying. Surely, a cookery book exists to cook from – or at the very least, to inspire and inform one’s cooking? If I consistently forget about the book, do I really need it at all?

Of course, that’s my rational head talking rather than my emotional heart, which clutches these books to itself with all the fervour of an addict, wild-eyed in distress at the thought of parting with favourite tomes, regardless of their practical use (or not) in my life.

My emotional heart says I certainly do not have too many cookery books, thank you very much!

Still, it’s true that I haven’t been making great use of my collection.

Eat Your Books

So…

  • What if there were a way of making my collection more accessible to me?
  • What if there were a way of reminding me easily about all the books that I have, and better still, of all the recipes contained within them?
  • What if there were a way of flicking through recipes by book, author or ingredient without the need to pull every single book off the shelf?

That was just the kind of thinking that occurred to sisters Jane and Fiona a few years ago. Jane came up with the core idea for Eat Your Books after realising that, despite owning a lot of cookbooks, she would go online when she wanted to find a recipe quickly. She goes on to explain, “It made me wish I had a searchable index of all my cookbooks.  I seriously considered creating my own database then realised there must be lots of people like me around the world who feel they don’t use their cookbooks enough as it takes so long to find recipes.” So she talked through her idea with sister Fiona, who has a technology background and the pair decided they had the makings of a good business.

So that is Eat Your Books: a fantastic online service offering exactly what I describe above – a way of making my collection of cookery books more accessible and therefore more useful to me.

Bookshelf

Launched in 2010, Eat Your Books is already hugely popular with many tens of thousands of users around the world. It’s particularly successful in US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and is growing its user base here in the UK.

Eat Your Books allows you to create a virtual bookshelf of all the (English-language) cookery books you own.

Once that’s been created, it’s a matter of a few clicks to search through all the recipes in all the books on your virtual bookshelf by whatever keyword you like. All the matching recipes are listed, and when you find one you like, you know exactly which book to retrieve from your real bookshelf in order to read the recipe.

In order for the search tool to be useful, every book must be indexed by hand so that recipes are keyworded only for the ingredients, techniques and descriptions that are key to each recipe and likely to be used to find them. Auto-index tools tend to list too many false positives in their search results – a search on chicken might include every recipe that uses chicken stock, for example – and are therefore not an option when creating a truly user-friendly database.

New books are being added all the time, with a focus on adding the big sellers as quickly as possible.

OlderTitles

Although I first joined a couple of years ago, it was only a couple of months ago that I finally invested the time to go through my entire real life bookshelf and add the titles to my personal Eat Your Books account. I had expected to find many of my titles missing from Eat Your Books’ database, but actually there were only a tiny handful that I couldn’t find, and they are pretty obscure titles. Judging from my collection, the database seems pretty comprehensive for books released during the last 30 to 40 years, at least.

Search

When building your bookshelf, searching can be a little tricky for some titles but most are very easy to find. For some books, searching by author or title works best; for others, I entered the book’s ISBN. For certain books, Eat Your Books lists multiple editions, so you might need to check the front cover image or ISBN number of those listed in the search results, to make sure you add the right one.

There’s also an Import Books feature (available to paid members only) which lets you enter a list of up to 500 ISBN codes in one step. You can generate this list by way of a barcode scanner app on your smartphone.


cod potatoes 1
cod potatoes 2

After populating my own bookshelf, I was keen to start searching through my recipes.

You might remember a recipe post (for cod baked with chorizo and potatoes) in which I mentioned an error that resulted a delivery of 4 kilos (rather than 4 small pieces) of beautiful Norwegian cod, much of which is still sitting in my freezer. After entering all my books onto My Bookshelf, I was delighted to discover that I have 78 recipes for cod contained within the cookery books I own, many of which I’d never have thought to turn to when seeking a recipe.

Results can be sorted by title, author, publication date and user rating. To see whether a recipe suits what you’re looking for, click the title to see a list of the main ingredients and any notes that have been added.

The more books you have, the more recipes will be listed but you can filter your search results by ingredient (very handy if you have an allergy to cater for), recipe type or course and ethnicity. I’ve filtered below to exclude salt cod, baby food, sauces and dips, and pies and pastries, to bring my list of cod recipes down from 78 to 31.

Additionally, you can also create your own bookmarks with which to tag books and recipes, to help you further categorise them above and beyond the filter definitions. I’ve created a “Made” bookmark to record recipes I’ve already cooked and another called “Shortlist” to identify those I’m keen to make soon.

Filtered search

Just this service alone would, quite frankly, be worthwhile -  for me and for anyone who owns an unwieldy collection of cookery books which they don’t make the best use of.

There are also a number of other services on Eat Your Books which are deserving of mention.

There are currently 73 food blogs (of which I’m delighted to be one) listed, with recipes indexed and searchable in exactly the same way as published cookbooks.

If you subscribe to a popular food magazine, the title can be added to your bookshelf too, giving you a quick way to search through the recipes in each issue. New issues will automatically be included in your future searches and you can add any past issues you’ve kept too.

In addition, there is a huge library of online recipes you can access, even if you don’t own the books. These are recipes that publishers and authors have officially permitted to be published online, and Eat Your Books indexes them and provides a direct link to the content.

On the rare occasions you own a book that isn’t already indexed, you can index it yourself. Though this is quite a big task, it does make your virtual bookshelf more complete, and also benefits the wider Eat Your Books community.

There is a shopping list function, but it’s not currently advanced enough to be useful as recipe indexing doesn’t currently list amounts. If developed further, I can see this becoming a valuable tool within the site.

So the next big question is how much does it cost?

The answer depends on how much of the functionality you want to access.

Some some parts of the site can be accessed without registering and if you create a non-paying account you can access quite a lot of the site.

Full functionality is reserved for those who buy premium membership, which is priced at US$25 a year or US$2.50 a month; (at today’s exchange rates that’s £15 / £1.50). Before you dismiss the idea of paying for an online service, let’s just pause to put that into perspective – £15 is the cost of a single cookery book a year and if you make proper use of the service, will help you maximise the benefit of owning all the books you already have.

  • Anyone can search the recipe database. Don’t forget that, for books and magazines, the actual recipes are not reproduced on the site – rather Eat Your Books is a sophisticated personal catalogue and search system. But users can filter the results to show only those recipes which are fully available online, linked via the site.
  • Anyone can read the blog, and subscribe to it using RSS.
  • Non-paying members can add up to five books and five magazines to their bookshelves (and self index as many additional books as they like, provided the titles are not already available on the site).
  • Paid members can add as many books and magazines as they like (and self index as well). Paid members may also use the Import Book function to add large collections of books more quickly.
  • All members can add unlimited blogs and online recipes to their bookshelves.
  • All members can upload their personal recipes to the site.
  • All members can create bookmarks (with which to tag items on their bookshelves) and can add notes to recipes and books (including personal notes).
  • All members can make use of the EYB discussion forum.
  • Paid members will not be shown advertising when visiting the site. These adverts are a way for EYB to subsidise the cost of non-paying users.

I asked Jane to tell me a little about the first few years of creating Eat Your Books and what they are planning for the service, next.

It has been a huge amount of work but we feel we now have a really valuable website.  We have indexed over a million recipes from cookbooks, magazines and blogs.  Members can add any online recipe they see and also index their own personal recipes.  There is no other place in the world where you can have a searchable index of all your recipes.  I think for anyone who loves cooking, EYB is the best tool for organizing your recipe collection.  For the future, there are lots of new features we plan to add.  We also want to improve our mobile site and add an app.  Our biggest issue, as a small company, is getting ourselves better known – so thank you Kavey for spreading the word.

 

COMPETITION

Eat Your Books are offering a truly fantastic prize to one of my readers – a lifetime premium membership to Eat Your Books. That’s right, not just a single year’s subscription but an account that lasts a lifetime.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me which cookery book is your favourite and why.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page 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 love cookery books! So I’d love to win a lifetime subscription to @
EatYourBooks from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/RTA24E #KaveyEatsEYB
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Saturday 6th July 2014.
  • 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 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 a lifetime premium membership subscription to Eat Your Books.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Eat Your Books.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but do not have to do so 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 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 a complimentary subscription from Eat Your Books.

 

Do you drink a variety of teas? Black, green, white? Oolong? {whispers} Herbal or fruit? {stops whispering}

How do you make yours?

Do you boil the kettle, pour boiling water over the tea bag or leaves and stir impatiently to make the tea brew faster?

Do you brew directly in the mug?

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I use loose leaf tea in a mug.

I don’t really miss a teapot as I rarely drink more than a mug of tea at a time (and never the same tea as Pete chooses to drink). Tea leaves go into a fine mesh strainer that can easily be lowered into my mug. I reuse the same leaves for at least another brew, often two or three, depending on the tea.

But I am guilty of using boiling water straight from the kettle.

And, as any fule kno, many teas are not at their best when brewed in boiling water.

Black tea (and herbal or fruit infusions, which I snootily don’t consider to be tea) are better suited to brewing at 100°C.

But oolong, green and white teas benefit from lower temperatures.

Flavour-providing amino acids and natural sugars dissolve into water at relatively low temperatures, releasing sweetness as well as a range of rich and complex flavours. Higher water temperatures extract more tannins resulting in bitterness that can easily overwhelm the key flavours of these types of teas.

Good quality tea should be treated with respect.

I really ought to know better, having benefited from the wonderful expertise of many a top tea master over the years. I have tasted exquisite teas from China to Japan, Taiwan to Korea, India to East Africa and enjoyed them at their optimum. And yet the best I’ve managed when making tea at home is to leave the kettle for a few minutes after boiling, to allow the temperature of the water to drop a little. Of course, I never have any idea of just how much it’s dropped.

It’s criminal really, given that I happily spend money on excellent tea. My current favourite is still Momo Cha Fine Teas’ High Mountain Oolong, but I’m also enjoying a delicious genmai-cha from The East India Company and an elderly but surprisingly well preserved oolong from Teanamu (my fault: I found it, forgotten, at the bottom of a box of tea).

For over a year, I’ve loosely been investigating smart kettles – the kind that allow you to heat the water to a number of different temperatures. A friend of mine has one and I’ve been coveting my own but I never get farther than an idle internet browse. I’ve not even made a shortlist, let alone picked a winner and placed an order.

sage by heston tea maker 2

Lucky day, then, when Sage by Heston Blumenthal asked me if I’d be interested in trying their Tea Maker, a specialist kettle with tea making function built in. The Tea Maker has a number of pre-sets and the option to use customised settings too. You can use it simply as a kettle, heating the water to your desired temperature. It also offers a brewing function: place tea leaves into the basket provided and the Tea Maker will lower the leaves into the heating water for a specific amount of time, dependent again on the type of tea. Lastly, the Tea Maker can keep the tea (or water) warm for up to an hour.

I probably won’t use the brewing function very often, as it’s recommended for a larger volume of water than I’d want to brew at a time. But the adjustable brewing temperature is an easy way for me to enjoy my favourite teas at their very best.

 

You can find more information about the Sage by Heston Blumenthal Tea Maker here, including a video of Heston explaining how it works. To hear Heston talk in more detail about tea, see this #TalkTeaWithHeston Youtube video.

Kavey Eats received a sample Tea Maker from Sage by Heston Blumenthal. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

Call myself a foodie* and never been to the home of the pork pie? Shame on me!

Luckily, an invitation to attend the Artisan Cheese Fair in Melton Mowbray gave me the chance to fix this oversight and Pete and I made our way North on the first Saturday in May.

Held in the Cattle Market, which itself is in the heart of this ancient market town, the Artisan Cheese Fair is now in its fourth year and bigger and better than ever. We spoke to organiser Matthew O’Callaghan about how he came to create the event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXF4NIsHvgM&feature=share&list=UUKdQswQXJXh8KiDjuikxOPg

Unlike other cheese festivals we’ve attended, entrance is just £1 and there are no hidden costs to worry about. Free on site car parking is available and the various talks and musical entertainment don’t require additional payment.

The majority of the stalls were given over to cheese, as you’d expect, though of course, the famous local pork pie was represented by a couple of producers, as was locally produced beer. There were also a few non-cheese stalls selling fudge, cakes, bread and other bakery goods, a variety of alcoholic and soft drinks, ice cream, jam and samosas (though, surprisingly, no paneer-filled ones!)

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Hunt Cake and Pork Pies at Dickinson & Morris aka Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe – I can recommend both!

As Matthew said, over 50 British cheese makers were represented, most of them showcasing multiple cheeses. We spent a few hours at the Fair so I was able to sample at least one cheese from nearly all of them. Here are my top picks.

Kavey’s Favourites From The 2014 Artisan Cheese Fair

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Quickes Oak Smoked Cheddar & Goat Cheddar

Smoked with oak chips from their own woodland and made with milk from their own dairy, the Quickes oak smoked cheddar had a beautifully natural smoke flavour which was perfectly balanced with the cheese itself – in so many smoked cheeses, the only flavour is the smoke itself. The texture of the cheese was lovely with a pleasing creaminess from the fat content and I liked the level of salty sharpness.

The Goat Cheddar was also fantastic, indeed it’s one of three cheeses I purchased to bring home.

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Cote Hill Blue

Mary Davenport’s family have been dairy farmers in Lincolnshire for 40 years, but turned to making cheese 9 years ago when the falling price of milk made running the business solely as a dairy less viable.

I loved Cote Hill’s soft mild blue cheese made in particular; though the cheese is mild, the blue flavour comes through clearly and the rind is lovely. The Cote Hill Reserve was also delicious – a semi-hard washed-rind cheese which uses Tom Wood Beers’ Bomber County to add flavour to the rind.

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Cheesemakers of Canterbury’s Canterbury Cobble

This stand had a wider range of cheeses on display than most exhibitors, as well as butter and biscuits. It was their Canterbury Cobble that appealed the most. Cheesemaker Jane Bowyer explained that it is made like a brie but then matured into a hard cheese. It was creamy but sharp, with a lovely hint of lemony citrus.

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Belvoir Ridge Rutland Slipcote

Jane and Alan Hewson from Belvoir Ridge Creamery were showcasing a new soft curd cheese called Colwick, having recently revived an old 17th century recipe. It was perfectly pleasant but it was the oozing Rutland Slipcote that stole my attention, and was another cheese I purchased to bring home. Slipcote is a white mould-ripened cheese and is delightfully pungent and gooey when ripe. The Hewsons make their cheeses with milk from their rare breed Red Poll & Blue Albion cattle.

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Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar

As she cut me a sample, Rachel Holden explained that her father Patrick (who was busy cutting and wrapping cheese) looks after the family dairy while she and brother Sam make cheese. The milk from their brown and white Ayshire cows produces a creamy nutty cheddar with a distinct brassica flavour. It’s the kind of cheese you could accidentally eat far too much of!

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Thimble Little Anne & Dorothy

I confess I ended up spending ages chatting to cheese maker Paul Thomas and his wife Hannah Roche. The couple have been in the cheese industry for many years and Paul is also the head cheese maker for Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers. Their own cheese making business is in its first year and currently has just two adorable little cheeses called Little Anne and Dorothy. Little Anne is a fresh lactic cheese and Dorothy is a soft washed-rind cheese; both are made from unpasteurised raw cow’s milk.

Paul also teaches cheese making classes at the The School of Artisan Food.

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Hampshire Cheeses Tunworth

I almost didn’t stop at the HC stall, as I’m already so familiar with Tunworth – it’s a cheese a buy nearly every time I visit Neal’s Yard Dairy. But I saw a window of opportunity when the stall was miraculously free of fellow visitors and took the chance to chat with cheese maker Stacey Hedges.

Of course, the Tunworth was delicious as always, but I was particularly excited by Stacey’s news that they started making a new cheese last year. Called Winslade, the new cheese is wrapped in a band of spruce bark, which adds flavour to the rind. It’s currently produced in limited volume, but she told me to look out for it in Neal’s Yard Dairy.

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Whitelake’s Goddess

I didn’t mean to make cheese maker Peter Humphries blush when I asked if one of his cheeses was named for someone in particular but his embarrassed expression as he said “yes” was utterly charming. As too was his cheese. It was the oozing yellow centre making a break for it that drew me to the stall – the cheese is (commercially) known as Goddess and is produced (for musician-cum-cheeseman Alex James). Made from Guernsey milk, this is a delicious mild and creamy soft cheese.

Ticklemore Harbourne Blue (no photo)

Ticklemore had three cheeses on sale – Devon Blue (made from cow’s milk), Beenliegh Blue (made from sheep’s milk) and Harbourne Blue (made from goat’s milk). The Devon was a bit plain and the Beenliegh too acidic but the Harbourne Blue was a wonderfully tasty cheese. The balance between sweet, salty and blue was delicious and the rich full fat creaminess was a real delight. This was another of the cheeses I bought to bring home.

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Sparkenhoe Red Leicester

I wasn’t able to chat to anyone at this busy stall as they were busy selling cheese but did taste both their hand made Red Leicester and a mild and chalky blue cheese.

 

Talks & Entertainment

Luckily, we learned a lot about the history of Red Leicester (and exactly how anatto came to be used to give it that distinctive bright colour) by attending one of the free talks, An Unusual History of Cheese. In this entertaining and hugely informative talk, Matthew O’Callaghan shared a light-hearted history of cheese that was perfectly pitched to convey lots of information in a very engaging way. His abiding love for cheese itself and for local and national history was self evident!

Outside, visitors were entertained by the Melstrum Ukulele Band and the New St Georges Morris Dancers.

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I was drawn to a recreation of an old milking parlour, set up in an open-sided trailer.

 

The Melton Cheeseboard

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A special thank you to Tim Brown of The Melton Cheeseboard, a local shop specialising in a wide range of British cheeses and local specialities, for his very warm welcome and the generous selection of cheeses and local products he gave us. His shop is located in the heart of Melton Mowbray at 8 Windsor Street and is open 6 days a week.

 

* Actually, I’m more likely to refer to myself as a greedy glutton than a foodie, but you catch my drift…

Kavey Eats was a guest of the Artisan Cheese Fair. Thanks to Matthew, Lin, Rachel and Tim.

 

I have a soft spot for retro crockery and kitchenware, particularly anything with the greens, oranges, browns and aquas of the sixties and seventies.

We are lucky to have six different charity shops on our little local high street, so I’m often popping in, not to mention markets and bric-a-brac shops when we’re out and about.

Here are some of my favourite finds from the last few years.

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Since buying these plates last year, we use them most days and regular readers will certainly have spotted the distinctive pattern in several of my recent recipe posts. When I first saw the price tag of £15 for eight second hand plates, I was a bit hesitant but they are Royal Doulton, which is apparently quite posh. In any case, I was smitten so I paid up! The pattern is called Kaleidoscope, and I love the bright colours and the lovely design. Some have a bit of scratching but I don’t mind it really.

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This large Hornsea Bronte flour jar was £10 from a different local charity shop. We do use it for flour, though I think it tickles Pete to use it for plain flour, whereas the label on the cork lid says self-raising. No room for confusion there, not at all…

Jugs

We found a lovely little gravy jug in Hornsea’s Heirloom pattern for just £4 a few months ago, and I so enjoyed using it for our roast dinners, but it had a little accident a few weeks back and the handle snapped off. So sad but I’ve just bought a replacement from eBay for £5.50 – the same pattern but a squatter and slightly larger jug. Perfect!

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The Palissy Taurus coffee pot on the left (with the dusty lid) was an ebay purchase last year. Isn’t that prancing horse delightful? And of course, the mustard yellow colour is a real winner for me.

The pot next to it was £4 from a local charity shop. I love the pattern and the way the colour is deeper where the glaze is thickest.

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I have never used this set but it gives me enormous pleasure every time I look at it. I found it several years ago in a bric-a-brac / antiques shop in which the wonderful clutter was spread across several rooms and two floors of a rambling old building somewhere in the Cotswolds. It was an absolute steal for £12. Gorgeous!

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I spotted this set during a weekend visit to Netil Market last year and couldn’t resist. I made an offer of £8 thinking we’d negotiate to £10 or £12 but to my surprise and delight, the stall holder accepted my original offer. I love the colour and pattern. And yes I did spot the tiny chip in the sugar bowl at the time!

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The creamy white cup and saucer set were from the same local charity shop as the Royal Doulton plates. I bought the set specifically for Christmas day dessert (of lemon posset and candied clementines) a few years ago, thought I’ve since used them for other puddings. I have a feeling the set was £8.

Behind it is a glass serving bowl and matching individual bowls which I found in a second-hand shop specialising in crockery and glassware, somewhere near a smokery in Somerset. Also £8.

I have no idea when I’ll use the little condiment dishes, to be honest, but they were 50p for a set of 4 from a car boot sale last summer and I couldn’t resist.

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Likewise, it was 50 pence (or possibly even 20) for the pair of tiny red-topped glass goblets from a stall at Watford Covered Market. I visited the market regularly for sushi on weekday lunch times and browsed the Friday second hand stalls on the way back to work.

The 4 green side plates were £1.95 from another local charity shop, part of my most recent haul on the last Saturday of April.

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This enormous (and enormously) heavy enamel casserole was also part of the same recent April haul, from on of the local charity shops and was £5.99. I’m not sure what brand it is, but would love to know the make and pattern, if anyone recognises it.

In fact, I’d love to know the make and pattern for any of the unidentified items above. I’m only familiar with the patterns for the Hornsea, Royal Doulton and Palissy items.

Are you a charity shop magpie and if so, what kinds of things do you tend to buy? If it’s kitchen ware, are you drawn to the retro colours and patterns here, or do you prefer plainer or more modern lines?

 

We usually use our Magimix food processor for slicing and grating but it has a large footprint, and takes up valuable space on our worktop… And as it’s pretty heavy, it’s not hugely practical to put it away and get it back out each time we need it. Even though it’s a great appliance, I’m starting to resent the space it takes up more and more, and thinking about alternatives.

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Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go; Sensiohome Slica

When I first saw these much smaller food slicers, I thought one of them might be a good option. They are a fair bit smaller than our food processor, so could be left out all the time, but they’re also light enough that it should be easy to grab them from the cupboard as and when needed. Of course, the functionality is reduced – we use our food processor to puree, blend and mix wet batters – but we have a very good blender that can do those tasks just as easily.

I was offered the opportunity to review two models by well known brands. We did some side-by-side testing to put both models through their paces.

As you can see, the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go has a smaller footprint, which is great for households with limited space. The Sensiohome Slica is a little larger, but exactly the same height.

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The Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go comes with three attachments – slicing, shredding and grating.
The Sensiohome Slica comes with five attachments – fine slicing, coarse slicing, fine shredding, coarse shredding and grating.

The Desire Slice & Go has specially provided slots on the back in which to store the two attachments that are not currently in use.
The Sensiohome Slica doesn’t have any such storage for the four attachments not in use.

We found the Desire Slice & Go attachments very simple to change – they are held in place with the red screw-on cap.
In contrast, the Sensiohome Slica attachments were a real struggle to change, particularly to remove after use.

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The feeding funnels are similar in size – the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go one is marginally smaller, requiring food to be cut into slightly smaller pieces before feeding through.

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We found that the Sensiohome Slica had more of a tendency to fling the extruded vegetables to the side, thus completely escaping the bowl we’d placed beneath it. A wider plate would help with this.
The Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go also did this, but to a much lesser extent.

By virtue of its additional attachments, the Sensiohome Slica allowed us to grate red cabbage, white cabbage and carrot more finely.
However, the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go attachments grated the vegetables sufficiently finely for our purposes.

Although the motors are both rated at 150 watts, the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go was significantly faster and more powerful, and the vegetables fed through without pressure, very quickly.
We found ourselves having to push vegetables down with the feeder insert and force them against and through the cutting blades.

After use, we found the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go much easier to disassemble and clean.
The Sensiohome proved tricky to disassemble and clean, partly because pieces of food became stuck between blade and tube during use.

Both models offer a continuous power and a pulse option. We used continuous power for our testing.

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We did a further experiment with a block of cheddar.

The Sensiohome Slica was completely unable to process the cheddar at all – the cheese gummed up the grater attachment and tube within seconds. We suspect this is because the attachment cutting edges aren’t sharp enough. We tried to push the cheese down against them using the tube feeder, but it didn’t help and we gave up and grated the cheese by hand.
The Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go handled the block of cheddar without any problems at all. I don’t know whether the blades are sharper, or whether Russell Hobbs have simply harnessed more power from the motor (both are 150 watts), but whatever the reason, the results were drastically different.

 

CONCLUSION

When it comes to pricing, both appliances are available for approximately the same price, if you shop around.

Amazon is currently offering the Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go for £29.88.
The Amazon price for the Sensiohome Slica is £44.53 however, you can find it for £25.89 at Argos or £24.99 on The A Range.

Clearly, Russell Hobbs Desire Slice & Go is ahead on virtually all counts – it has a smaller footprint, is faster and more effortless to use, the attachments are easier to insert and remove and it is easier to clean after use. It is also better able to handle dense or sticky ingredients such as cheese.
The Sensiohome Slica offers more granularity of grating or shredding size, and a very slightly wider feed tube but is difficult to assemble, disassemble and clean, lacks power in use and fails on key tests such as grating cheese.

 

Kavey Eats received product samples of both appliances, courtesy of Russell Hobbs and Sensiohome (MPL Group).

 

Recently I started thinking more about ready meals, about other people’s cooking and eating habits and about our own thoughts on ready meals. Usually we have ready meals or ready-made components about once a week. I started musing on whether we could do 7 days in a row eating only ready meals each evening.

I decided to restrict our choices to a single range within one supermarket – Sainsbury’s were kind enough to step up and I chose their Taste The Difference Bistro range to put to the test.

Most of the meals within the Bistro range are priced at £7 (and serve two people); the lasagne costs £6. Some of the meals have felt better value at that price point than others.

For the last several weeks, the Bistro main meals have been part of a £10 meal deal which allows you to choose one main, one Bistro dessert and a bottle of wine. If you fancy dessert, and drink wine, I’d say it’s a fair offer, since the desserts are usually £3.50 and the wines around £5 a bottle.  You’ll have to do the legwork though; in our local store the shelves where the meal deal is promoted never have any wine displayed and my husband has to head to the wine section and root out the wines included in the deal. We took advantage of the meal deal twice. Without the meal deal, these are a little pricy, in my opinion.

Also, be aware that not all branches will stock the full range of Bistro meals or desserts. We generally found only 3 of the meals readily available each time we visited, with another 2 very occasionally in stock. None of the others are sold by our branch and I turned to the team at Sainsbury’s to help me source the rest.

In the end, availability issues (both in terms of us having a fully clear week and the lack of stock in our local branch) meant we weren’t able to stick to my plan to eat the ready meals back to back in a single week. We also ended up trying eight rather than seven items from the range.

We ate these ready meals below spread over a few weeks.

Bistro Chicken with Cider Sauce (£7, 800 grams)

This was a great start. The chicken remained moist during cooking, the creamy cider sauce was tasty and the roasted baby potatoes had a good texture and taste. The onions on top veered towards burnt, but overall, flavours were excellent. I would possibly buy this again, though there are other ready meals I’d choose in preference.

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Bistro Wiltshire Ham Gratin (£7, 800 grams)

Ham, green beans, cheddar cheese, potatoes and breadcrumbs – what’s not to like? We found this delicious and would be happy to buy this again.

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Bistro Lasagne Al Forno With Slow Cooked Beef (£6, 710 grams)

The Bistro lasagne didn’t stack up at all well against premium lasagnes we’ve tried from other supermarkets. Although the ragu had a good flavour, it was lacking in moisture and it didn’t stand out well against the hard, chewy pasta. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I’d never have believed this was from a premium range and it’s definitely not worth £6.

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Bistro Catalan Chicken (£7, 800 grams)

For us, this was definitely the weakest in the range. The chicken meat didn’t remain moist but that was a minor detail. The “Catalan” sauce was really unpleasant, with a horrible flavour reminiscent of a really cheap bottle sauce. There were also a couple of larger pieces of potato that remained a little hard, because they had not cooked sufficiently in the time.

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Bistro Chicken with a Red Wine, Madeira & Mushroom Sauce (£7, 800 grams)

The cooking was split into two for this meal – part way through, a packet of sauce provided was poured over the chicken and the tray returned to the oven. Sadly, the sauce wasn’t great and didn’t live up to expectations on flavour. Onions and mushrooms didn’t benefit from being baked, with mushrooms turning out rubbery and dry and onions ending up a little burnt. The chicken breast wrapped in bacon was decent, but the so-so sauce was the dominant taste. By the time it was the turn of this dish, we were already bored of skin-on roasted new potatoes, though at least the small and size meant they did cook through properly.  I would not buy this again.

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Bistro Chicken with Brie, Bacon & Cream Sauce (£7, 800 grams)

Yep, you guessed it – more skin-on roasted new potatoes. Like the previous dish, the sauce was poured over the vegetables part way through the cooking time. The cheese and bacon kept the chicken reasonably moist. The sauce was tasty though I didn’t feel it went very well with the choice of vegetables, and the vegetables didn’t suit the cooking method very well. The potatoes were properly cooked through. This meal tasted reasonably good but didn’t strike us as a particularly coherent plate.

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Beef Bourguignon (£7, 800 grams)

When we picked this meal up we did start to wonder if the product development team were unaware of other ways to cook potatoes – peeled steamed potatoes would work better here, as would a good creamy mash. Skin-on roasted new potatoes, not so much! The flavours in the Bourguignon itself were good; if the stew were sold on its own, I’d consider buying it (though I’ve made my own previously), but as a complete meal with new potatoes, I wouldn’t buy it again.

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Bistro Creamy Ham Hock & Chicken Pie (£7, 600 grams)

I think this would more accurately be called a gratin rather than a pie, as there’s no pastry in sight. Again, presentation was pretty poor here – it’s clear Sainsbury’s aren’t going for the dinner party demographic! At first glance, there didn’t seem to be much ham or chicken, but as soon as we dug under the surface, there was plenty there. This was a very tasty meal and I’d happily eat this again.

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So the hit rate for great meals in the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Bistro range was quite a bit lower than I expected, especially as chance meant we started strongly with two good choices. We tried eight meals in the range.

There were only three that I’d be happy to have again – the chicken with cider sauce, the Wiltshire ham gratin and the creamy ham hock and chicken “pie”.

Two were good in parts – the choice of potatoes let down the beef bourguignon and the side vegetables did the same for the chicken with brie, bacon and cream Sauce.

The lasagne, Catalan chicken and chicken with red wine, madeira and mushroom sauce were disappointing.

 

Our main supermarket is Waitrose; as we live a couple of minute’s walk away we are able to shop every couple of days rather than do a large weekly shop. We have had a far better hit rate with the ready meals we’ve bought there over the last several years. I’d hoped that the Sainsbury’s meals would hold up well, given that the price point is the same, but it wasn’t the case.

I’m hoping to do similar reviews of other premium ready meal ranges from some of the other supermarkets in coming months. Please let me know if there are any you particularly recommend I try (or avoid)!

 

With thanks to Sainsbury’s for providing the above ready meals for review.

 

After my introduction to sous vide –  in which I explained what sous vide means, its history, how it works and the advantages and disadvantages of this cooking technique – I was planning to share a clever, inventive recipe with you… something to show off the cheffy possibilities… something unusual and impressive.

I’ve been admiring lots of wonderful sous vide recipes online. Delicious ideas by fellow bloggers include Dom’s fennel risotto, Jan’s pork belly with honey and apple cider glaze, Mardi’s caramelized bananas with coconut gel and snow, Helen’s rhubarb compoteJeanne’s 20 hour oxtail stew, and Luiz’ Tamago Onsen. I’ve also found much to tempt via Google and Pinterest, such as 48 hour Momofuku short ribs, 36 hour chashu pork belly, olive oil poached salmonpeach bread pudding with sweet tea rum sauce, duck fat fried potatoes, white chocolate rum caramel bananas and salmon confit in elderflower oil.

But after all that, I decided to talk to you about sous vide steak!

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supermarket sirloin medallions

I have always loved steak and we often cook it at home, varying the cut depending on our mood and what’s on offer, though most commonly settling on rib eye. We were happy enough with our technique – oil (and season) the steak not the pan, heat the pan until it’s properly hot, add the steaks and don’t move them at all until it’s time to flip them over, cook the second side, remove from the pan and rest for several minutes while making the sauce – but it wasn’t unusual for us to cook the steak a little more or less than we’d intended; the finger test is helpful but still a little tricky to call. And then I read that using a sous vide machine to cook steak should make it impossible to over or undercook, so steak was an obvious candidate for one of our first experiments.

And we discovered that cooking steaks accurately is ridiculously easy this way!

We have now cooked several steaks in our Sous Vide Supreme, including sirloin medallions (on offer at the local supermarket), rump and some fabulous grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye steaks from Provenance Butcher. Each time, we’ve been thrilled with the perfect cooking, even texture and excellent flavour – even less expensive steaks (that haven’t been dry-aged for a long period or aren’t from rare breed animals) taste intensely beefy. The wagyu rib eye in particular really benefited from the gradual melting of the marbling into the surrounding meat.

Recipes list cooking times anywhere between 1 and 6 hours for steak; however, we find 1.5 to 2 hours is plenty of time for the meat to cook through, for steaks up to 3 cm thick. We like our steaks medium rare, so we sous vide them at 56.5 °C (133.5 °F); I found this chart very useful in selecting the right temperature.

Be prepared for the steaks to look rather unappealing when you take them out of the sous vide machine – a rather pallid pinky-grey; the caramelised flavours and dark brown colour that most of us appreciate on a steak are created by the Maillard reaction, for which one needs higher temperatures. For this reason, we briefly sear the steaks after they come out of the sous vide machine.

How To Sous Vide Steak (Medium Rare)

Ingredients
Steaks of your choice
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Method

  • Pre-heat sous vide machine to 56.5 °C (133.5 °F).
  • Very lightly season the steaks and vacuum seal into bags.
  • Submerge steaks fully and leave to cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Before finishing the steaks, cook your vegetables and your sauce, so that they’re pretty much ready to serve.
  • Preheat heavy-based pan to scorching hot and very lightly oil.
  • Remove steaks from the bags.
  • When pan is really scorching hot, briefly fry the steaks on both sides to sear – only for about half a minute on each side as you don’t want the heat to penetrate too far into the steak and change its perfect texture
  • Assemble all your elements and serve.

Note: The steaks can remain in the sous vide for quite a lot longer than the required cooking time – the beauty of sous vide is that they will not overcook, since the internal temperature will not rise above the temperature of the water bath. That said, I have read that leaving steak in the sous vide for a very long time can result in the meat becoming mushy, usually in reference to cooking times of 15 hours or more.

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Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye from Provenance Butcher

One of the questions I’ve been asked, by friends who know I’m experimenting with the Sous Vide Supreme, is whether we’ve found it worthwhile using it just to cook steaks, given that we’d previously cooked them happily enough in a frying pan. I asked myself the same question before I started using it, because it’s quite a bulky piece of kit and it really needs to justify itself, given how much storage space it takes up. In fact, we have found it quick and straightforward to fill with water, set the temperature, seal food into bags and submerge to cook, so it’s not felt like a chore to use it at all. When we’re done, it’s easy to empty into the bath, leave aside to dry and put away again. Of the equipment we own, it’s our deep fat fryer that we use more rarely because filling (and emptying) the oil is far more of a faff. That’s been a good benchmark for us to use for assessing how we feel about the Sous Vide Supreme.

What do you think? Do you have a Sous Vide Supreme? Or have you considered buying one? Do you think you’d get enough use from it? Would it be a white elephant or kitchen hero? I’d love to know your thoughts, and for those of you that have one, please let me know your favourite sous vide recipes and techniques. (For fellow Pinterest users, here’s my Pinterest Sous Vide board).

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme and vacuum sealer in exchange for sharing my experiences using the equipment.
The sample of Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye was courtesy of Provenance Butcher.

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