May 042015
 

Since my first smartphone, I’ve been a loyal Android girl. Having worked extensively with Apple macs in a professional capacity I was never as bowled over by their alleged coolness as many of my contemporaries, nor willing to pay the premium. I started with an HTC Wildfire which didn’t disappoint; I quickly became used to checking and responding to emails and social media, navigating via Google Maps and accessing the full extent of the web.

In 2012 I was given a Nokia Lumia 800 to review but quickly discovered that despite loving the physical design I absolutely hated the Windows platform. With a vengeance. I switched back to my HTC before the Lumia and I came to blows. When I eventually looked to upgrade the Wildfire I stayed loyal to the brand – that proved to be a mistake; the entry level HTC Desire was three years newer and yet slower, with poorer battery life, than the Wildfire it was intended to replace.

I was reluctant to blow the big bucks when I’d only just upgraded but was seriously considering it… when along came an offer to review the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4. I totally clicked with my S4 phone and have been using it happily for two years now.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-165511 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-164435
Out of the box; after a few weeks

My latest review item is a Huawei Ascend G7, launched in the UK late in April.

The Ascend G7 is an Android smartphone with large screen size, smart, slim, metal casing, 4G capable and an attractive midrange price point – currently around £200.

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Huawei, here’s the cheat sheet: Huawei is a global Chinese company specialising in telecomms networking and equipment; one of the largest manufacturers in the world. You may well have encountered their products before, as a large part of their business is making white-label products for other brands. Now they are promoting their own brand mobile handsets across Europe.

I’ve now been using the G7 for a few weeks. There are a few aspects I really like, but quite a bit that I find frustrating – I haven’t yet made a decision on whether I’ll be stick with the G7 or switch back to my S4.

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THE HUAWEI ASCEND G7

Physical phone

The slim form metal case is attractive, there’s no denying this is a good looking phone.

But bigger isn’t always better – I’ve come to realise that the size is just that little bit too large for my hands; the extra 7 mm width means I can’t comfortably use the G7 one-handed without quickly feeling muscle strain. That’s a personal issue, of course, and not a criticism of the G7 and it will suit those who are looking for a larger screen.

 

Image & Sound Quality

Sound quality seems pretty similar on the S4 an the G7, certainly I’ve not found myself thinking the G7 is better or worse than the S4. In fact, I just played the same music video on both phones and I’d say the sound is definitely comparable.

Officially, the resolution of the S4 is much higher (441 ppi against the G7’s 267 ppi) but I think the G7 does a fantastic job of harnessing those pixels – everything looks good and sharp, with nice colour definition and,to my surprise, I haven’t felt a step down from the S4.

However the (impressively large) screen shows every fingerprint and smear in a way that my Galaxy S4’s screen doesn’t. The smears are really intrusive in bright light, and I’m constantly rubbing the phone against my trouser leg trying to clear up that display.

Likewise, I struggle to see the screen in bright light, making outdoor photography and general phone use rather tricky when the sun is shining.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-164306

 

Phone Manager & Battery Life

Hands down my favourite feature of the G7 is this clever app management (and security) software which allows me to easily and quickly close apps and clear trash files, thereby hugely extending battery life. I can choose myself which apps will never be closed by the Phone Manager and can manually override on an individual basis.

There are a number of power save settings available, which will likely come in useful for those occasional times when I am not able to plug the phone in for a charge overnight.

Apparently there is also a harassment filter which can be used to block nuisance calls or messages from specified numbers and even a Do Not Disturb mode which blocks all calls save those from your personal Allowed list.

And by the way, battery life is phenomenal – I’ve never come close to draining the phone, even on a really heavy-use day.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-58 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-15
Before running the optimisation and after

 

Missing Apps Tray

In their infinite wisdom (I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my words, even in the written format?) Huawei have done away with the Apps Tray which means that every single app you install, plus all the ones they’ve preloaded the phone with (including quite a few useless ones), are crowded into your five home screen pages.

Having an Apps Tray (a standard part of the Android platform) means that all apps are automatically listed in alphabetical order, which makes it very easy to find those I only need to access very rarely. I can therefore create shortcuts on my home screen pages only for those apps I use on a regular basis, creating a layout that is customised to my needs.

On the G7, every time I install a new app it randomly inserts itself into one of the few free spaces in one of my home screen pages, and I have to waste several minutes moving several other app shortcuts around (rather fiddly) in order to position the new app in alphabetical order. This is utterly nuts and a really stupid decision on Huawei’s part, no doubt an attempt to emulate the iPhone platform.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-26
My customised home screen centre page

 

App Names & Icons

Speaking of icons and shortcuts, I’ve quickly discarded Huawei’s own Calendar and SMS Messaging apps – they just aren’t very good – and unfortunately, when I install my preferred Google Calendar and the standard Android SMS, the G7 doesn’t pull through the relevant icons, using instead the same ones as it’s own label versions. Very confusing. I’ve had to hide the Huawei versions away in a dumping ground apps folder in order to keep them out of the way. (Yes, still missing the Apps Tray, here).

 

Camera

The camera really failed to impress for the first couple of weeks. I couldn’t understand why my images were so frequently out of focus until I eventually realised that it seemed to be back-focusing. Since social media is a key reason I use a smartphone, a camera that didn’t work for me was an immediate deal breaker.

Thank goodness, Pete suggested trying some other camera apps to assess whether it was the camera hardware itself at fault or just a poorly-written camera app.

I’m currently using the Google Camera app, which is much much better and gives me handy exposure compensation controls, which I appreciate. Certainly I’m not having any trouble with focus / sharp images anymore. Unfortunately, this app plays an annoying shutter click sound even when my phone is in silent mode and there’s no setting I can find to override that. That said, it has at least proved to me that the camera hardware itself is fine, which is a huge relief.

I’m keen to find a better solution and am considering Camera FV-5, but the free trial version restricts me to very low res images which are hard to assess properly. If you have any experience of Camera FV-5 or other good Android phone apps, please leave me a comment – I’d be hugely grateful for your suggestions!

For number crunchers, the G7 has a 13 MP main camera with f2.0 aperture and LED flash. The front (selfie) camera is 5 MP. (Virtually the same as my trusty S4, the only difference is a f2.2 aperture).

I’ve not explored the G7’s camera software features much as I so quickly gave up on using Huawei’s camera app but the app boasts HDR, panorama settings (on both front and rear cameras) and a facial-enhancement feature called Beauty Mode. An intriguing All-Focus mode allows you to take a photo and then select the focus later, blurring the foreground or background appropriately to create shallow depth of field after the fact – weird but it does work, should you want it!

 

File & Image Folders

Samsung’s Gallery feature was irritating as hell but once I worked out how to turn it off, I was happy with image organisation and could easily create folders and move / copy images between them.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be possible to create folders and sort content within the G7 File Manager, and that applies to image files too. Irritating!

 

Notifications, Shortcuts & Settings

Both Push Notifications and Shortcuts to key settings are accessed by swiping down the top menu. Unfortunately, the Huawei skin hasn’t made this user friendly.

On my S4, the first swipe down immediately lists notifications, and then a tap on either of the two icons provided will take me to either Shortcuts or to full Settings. On the G7, swiping down gives me access to either Notifications or Shortcuts, seldom the one I want at the time, and I have to switch between them.

Furthermore, the Shortcuts list is truncated and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell it to always display in full; given that you can’t customise which settings are shown in the list, and that all the ones listed fit easily on screen, this seems a pointless extra step.

The main Settings panel has also been reskinned for no good reason, making everything that little bit trickier to find, but not offering a single advantage over the Android standard.

Although I’m open to innovations that provide a benefit, I’m really not a fan of change for change’s sake.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-41 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-48
Shortcuts shown as they first come up, and expanded

 

Performance

I remember from my brief switch to the HTC Desire (before I got my S4) the frustration of slow performance when I was used to fast.

Although the tech review sites have highlighted laggy performance in their G7 reviews, I can’t say this is something I’ve noticed at all and I’m very happy with the phone’s performance.

 

Other Niggles

I nearly always set my phone to Vibration mode (zero volume, buzzing for incoming calls and notifications) and it’s easy enough to select that option. Unfortunately, time and time and time again (several times a day) I discover that the G7 has switched into completely Silent mode, without vibration. This is driving me crazy, so if anyone has an answer to how it keeps happening, or better still, a way to stop it, I’m listening!

And speaking of Vibration mode, the vibration is really weak. Perhaps that contributes to the excellent battery life but I’d sure like a way to pump it up a little. (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter, yes you!)

Like most of Huawei’s in-house software, the Phone Dialler must surely also have been written by people who just don’t use phones very much! I can work out how to call a number from my Contacts and I can see how to type a number in myself. What I can’t readily do is paste in a phone number that I’ve copied from an email or tweet – the only way I’ve found is to start typing a number in to the Diallier, paste my copied number in and then go back and delete the number I typed in to bring the field up in the first place.

 

In conclusion

Although my review isn’t altogether positive, the Phone Manager / battery life are such strong additions to the Pros column that they do go a long way to balancing the Cons. And if Huawei gave up their insistence on replacing perfectly good default functionality with crappy in-house versions, most of the Cons could be crossed off the list.

Let me end with a few photos taken on the G7 (and posted to instagram):

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Kavey Eats was provided a Huawei Ascend G7 for review purposes.

 

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.

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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.

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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. Codlo is priced at £119, available here. This is an affiliate link, please see blog sidebar for further information.

 

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).

 

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.

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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.

 

My initial plan, when Choclette and I set our joint #WeShouldBSFIC challenge for January, was an ice cream sandwich. I wanted to make chewy chocolate chip cookies and sandwich white chocolate vanilla ice cream between them. But every time I started scribbling potential recipe notes, my thoughts turned instead to a chocolate ice cream recipe I shared back in the summer of 2012; a rich, dense and wonderfully dark chocolate ice cream. I still remember the richness of that ice cream!

Like many no-churn recipes, it has a base of condensed milk and double cream (plus regular milk). Unlike most no-churn recipes, it’s not simply a case of folding together whipped condensed milk and cream, adding flavouring and popping into the freezer. It needs the milks and cream to be boiled, the chocolate (and other flavourings) to be melted and thoroughly mixed in, and then a flour thickener added before the mixture is cooked further until it’s so thick you can only just pour it from the pan to a plastic box.

I was keen to see if I could adapt the recipe to make it in my Froothie Optimum 9400. This power blender has such a jet engine of a motor that it not only blends but heats too – there’s no heating element but the friction of the blades at top speed will generate enough heat to make your mixture piping hot. Having already made an ice cream custard base in the Optimum 9400, for my silky smooth white chocolate vanilla ice cream, I was hopeful my adaptation would work.

When I took the ice cream out of the freezer,  I belatedly remembered how dense this ice cream is and how hard it is to scoop. We ended up popping the entire block out of the plastic box and cutting a slice off the end with a knife. It doesn’t look pretty, as the photographed side shows where it slid out of the box and the other side looked even stranger, from where the knife pushed through it.

That’s when I realised this recipe would  be utterly perfect for individual chocolate ice cream lollies, or fudgesicles as Americans call them. As soon as you cut into the ice cream with a spoon, it reveals it’s beautiful smooth texture, utterly silky in the mouth and with a hint of chewiness that reminds of the wonderful mastic ice creams of the Middle East. I took a bite straight out of the slice and oh yes indeed, this would be perfect on a lolly stick! Too bad I didn’t think of that 24 hours ago!

So please use your imagination to see past my appalling photo and trust me when I tell you that you should give this recipe a try.

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Rich, Dense & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream | Made in a Power Blender

Ingredients
200 grams sweetened condensed milk
100 grams whole milk
100 grams double cream
100 grams very dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped*
0.5 scant teaspoon instant coffee granules or powder
1 scant teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
Small pinch fine sea salt
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon cold water

* Note: To save on washing up, use your power blender to “grate” the chocolate, then pour/ scrape it out of the jug and set it aside.

Method

  • Into the jug, pour the condensed milk, whole milk and double cream. Blend on high power until the mixture is steaming hot.
  • Add the chocolate, instant coffee, vanilla bean paste and salt. Blend on high power again until the chocolate melts and is fully mixed into the cream and milk.
  • In a small bowl, mix the flour and water into a smooth paste, then add to the blender.
  • Blend on high power for 4-5 minutes. The mixture should be thick and glossy.
  • Pour / scrape into a shallow freezer container, or better still, into individual lolly moulds or small paper cups, with lolly sticks inserted.
  • Transfer to the freezer overnight or until solid.
  • To serve, take out of the freezer 10 minutes ahead of scooping (or slicing).

This is my entry for the joint Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream and We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by myself and Choclette.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I was given my Optimum 9400 along with the opportunity to be an ambassador for the Australian brand, as it breaks into the UK market. Hand on hearts, Pete and I have been enormously impressed with the blender, especially given the price when you compare it to market leaders like Vitamix; (you can read a comparison of the two, here). We’ve made super quick frozen fruit sorbets, delicious vegetable soups (which are blended and heated so quickly that they retain the fresh taste of the vegetables, an unexpected bonus), quick custards (both to enjoy as they are and freeze into ice cream), and we’ve also used it to grate, puree and blend. And yet we’re only at the start of our learning about all that it can do. I’ll continue to share my favourite Optimum 9400 recipes with you here on Kavey Eats. You can access them all via my Froothie tag.

Like this recipe? Here are a few more power blender recipes from fellow bloggers that caught my eye:

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 power blender from Froothie. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Optimum with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

Jan 092015
 

Back in November, I was invited to a Secret Supperclub dinner by Miele. Taking place in a “secret location” that would be revealed only when our cars delivered us to the address, all I knew was that the meal would showcase what could be achieved with Miele’s steam ovens.

The location turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, being in the Miele kitchen showroom in Cavendish Place – I’ve attended events there several times before, and assumed from the hush-hush secretiveness, that the venue would be somewhere more exciting.

Still, a large dining table at the back of the showroom was beautifully decked out in a Christmassy theme and we quickly learned that our chef for the evening was Martyn Meid of INK restaurant. Our hosts were welcoming and it was a jovial evening.

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Hailing from Klaipeda, a small port town in Lithuania, Martyn grew up in a culinary culture that had access to superb fresh fish. In order to enjoy fish during winter months, it was preserved in different ways, and Martyn developed skills in pickling, curing and smoking fish and other produce. Today he is known for showcasing a very stripped back Nordic style of cooking, with strong reference to the preserving techniques of his youth. He focuses on fresh ingredients, simplicity and precision.

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Salmon roe on a two-week rye sourdough. I loved the burst and salty fish flavour of the caviar against the rich and dense rye bread.

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Cured mackerel with betroot and hay ash, served with a shot of dill vodka. The ash was a common element in several of the dishes.

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Next up was my dish of the evening – raw seabass cured in lime, pickled ginger, served on on burnt chicory, with apple vinegar. Martyn mentioned that he’d used a whopping 2 kg of butter to cook the chicory! This dish was all the more surprising for me as I’m not usually a fan of chicory, but here the buttery cooking brought out a wonderful sweetness.

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Sadly, this was my least favourite dish of the meal and indeed many of us had the same issue. Described as a salted egg yolk on a bed of potato, with morel mushrooms, the egg yolk was shockingly salty; even a tiny piece of yolk in a full spoon of potato was too salty to enjoy.

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The presentation won me over before I’d even tasted it! Crab, razor clam, langoustine, crunchy cucumber balls, grilled onions and cucumber emulsion. Marvellous!

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Next was 12 hour salted cod with textures of tomato. I enjoyed this, though not as much as the seabass and chicory or crab and onion dishes, but for my friend Gary, this was his dish of the night.

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To finish, a bread panna cotta with raw milk chocolate.

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Images of Martyn and his team at work, courtesy of Miele

We did, on occasion, get up to watch Martyn and his team at work, preparing the dishes using the show kitchen equipment just by our table. However, they were very focused (as you’d expect) and too busy to be able to talk us through what they were doing. I was frustrated by my resulting lack of understanding about how the specialist Miele steam oven technology was used and what difference it made to the cooking of the various elements of the dishes.

The ovens (and other items in the showroom, such as the zoneless induction hobs and integrated induction woks) looked amazing, but it was hard to tell for sure without actually cooking on them. As our oven at home is on its very last legs, we’ll be in the market for a new one soon, and I’d hoped to get a better feel for the advantages of a steam oven over other models, but I’m still in the dark on that front.

However, I’m grateful to Miele for giving me the chance to experience Martyn’s cooking at this intimate private event.

Kavey Eats attended the Miele secret supperclub as a guest of Miele. Additional images (any without copyright text) provided courtesy of Miele.

 

This ice cream is very much inspired by a recipe from The Bojon Gourmet, a blog I discovered via Pinterest. It caught my eye when I was looking for ideas on new ways to put some of our enormous apple harvest to good use. I replaced Alanna’s cream base with a rich and very sweet custard base and roasted my apples until the sugars not only caramelised, but the edges caught and blackened to add texture and a touch of bitterness. I didn’t include a crumble as it tends not to stay crisp for long and our ice creams usually last at least a few weeks in the freezer. That said, this one’s disappearing fast!

Serendipity struck when making the custard ice cream base: I decided to use up 75 grams of sugar mix leftover from a recent apple pie making session. The leftover sugar had a little cinnamon and plain flour mixed into it (for thickening the pie filling) and I topped it up with an additional 25 grams of plain sugar. I blended and cooked my custard using my wonderful Froothie Optimum 9400 power blender, and found that the inclusion of the flour resulted in a beautifully smooth and thick custard.

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Burnt Apple & Bourbon Ice Cream

Ingredients
For the roasted apple

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
100 grams light brown sugar (I use Billington’s sugars)
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of allspice
For the ice cream base
250 ml double cream
150 ml full fat milk
100 grams sugar
1 pinch salt
3 large egg yolks
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional: 1 tablespoon plain white flour
To make the ice cream
Custard
2 tablespoons bourbon
Roasted apple mixture

Method

For the roasted apple:

  • Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
  • Toss all the ingredients together to combine and transfer to a small roasting dish. Roast for about 45 minutes, checking on progress once or twice during the cooking time. If the apples are not yet caramelised, with a little charring on some edges, roast for longer until they’re ready.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. These can be made the day before churning the ice cream and stored in the fridge until needed.

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For the ice cream base:

  • I combined all the ingredients and used my power blender to both mix and cook the custard for several minutes. The speed of the powerful blades generates enough heat to cook the custard while continuing to mix it so that nothing catches. No burnt bits, no lumps and very quick.
  • Alternatively, you can make your custard the traditional way by gently heating cream, milk and half the sugar in a pan until it reaches boiling, then removing from the heat. Meanwhile beat the remaining sugar and egg yolks together in a large bowl. Slowly pour the hot cream and milk over the eggs, whisking continuously, and then pour the combined mixture back into the pan and cook until it thickens. Make sure you stir continuously so that the custard doesn’t catch and burn.
  • Once cooked, set aside to cool. The custard can be made the day before churning the ice cream and stored in the fridge until needed.

To make the ice cream:

  • Add two tablespoons of bourbon to the custard base and mix well.
  • Add the roasted apple mixture. Alanna puréed some of hers and adds the rest whole, but I decided to leave all of it whole. I added only three quarters of the mixture as I thought it would be too much but in retrospect I could certainly have all of it.
  • Churn in an ice cream machine until ready.

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With the fruit, bourbon and spices this ice cream is very reminiscent of mince pies and Christmas pudding.

The Smart Scoop: Sage by Heston Blumenthal

For the last couple of years I’ve been using a Gaggia ice cream machine. I’ve been happy enough with the results, but have sometimes wished it would churn the ice cream till it was just a little more solid. I have worked around this by transferring the finished ice cream to a freezer container and popping into the freezer to solidify further.

When I heard that the Sage by Heston Blumenthal range of appliances included an ice cream machine, called the Smart Scoop, I was intrigued by some of the extra features it offers over my Gaggia. It’s also a good looking machine with its handsome brushed stainless steel surface.

Instead of just having a timer function that switches off when the time is up, the Smart Scoop offers a range of settings from sorbet through frozen yogurt and gelato to ice cream. Once you’ve chosen the texture you’re aiming for the ice cream maker starts freezing and churning. It automatically senses how hard the mixture is so it can alert you when it’s ready. Alterrnatively, you can use manual mode to freeze and churn for a set time according to your own recipes.

There’s an alarm to alert me when the ice cream is ready. I can adjust the volume (or set it to mute) and I can choose between a regular beeper and an ice cream van-style musical tune.

The Smart Scoop also has a function to keep the finished ice cream (or sorbet) at your chosen consistency for up to three hours so I don’t need to come running the moment the alarm goes off.

With our Gaggia, I always have to stay close, especially as the machine comes to the end of it’s timer run. Sometimes the ice cream isn’t finished and I have to turn the dial again to give it more time. Sometimes the motor starts to strain as the ice cream becomes too solid for the machine to churn any further and the paddle stops rotating; then it’s a case of having to switch the machine off quickly and transfer the ice cream into another container to pop into the freezer. The Smart Scoop solves both of these problems.

Niggles?

I wish the Smart Scoop ice cream bowl was dishwasher safe; this seems to me to be an oversight for the modern kitchen.

And of course, like most ice cream machines with integrated freezing unit, it’s large and very heavy. This, of course, is the same for all the models that I’ve come across.

Overall?

I’m really happy with it and shall be sharing many more sorbet, froyo and ice cream recipes to come.

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Other ideas to make the most of apple season:

And if you’re interested in the history of apples, read my post about a Visit to the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale.

This ice cream is my entry into the September / October #BSFIC challenge, Anything Goes.

IceCreamChallenge

Kavey Eats received a review machine from Sage by Heston Blumenthal and an Optimum 9400 blender from Froothie. All opinions are my own. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Froothie Optimum 9400 with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

 

Premier Housewares Ecocook pans are an affordable range of lightweight, non-stick cookware. They are suitable for use on gas, electric and halogen hobs and the larger pans (over 20cm) can be used on induction hobs too. The non-stick coating is a mineral-based ceramic, free from toxic chemicals associated with traditional non-stick materials, and recommended for superior heat conduction. The pans are now available in two new colours, lime green and black, as well as the original red.

ecocook

I love colourful kitchenware. Most of our pans and appliances are a random rainbow of different colours with orange, blue, black, maroon, yellow and now I have some fabulously bright and cheery lime too! The pans feel reassuringly solid, but not too heavy to lift (which is a consideration for many of us) and I like the feel of the non-stick surface.

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COMPETITION

Premier Housewares have offered an Ecocook 30cm Sauté Pan to three readers of Kavey Eats. We have one each of black, lime and red to give away and the prize includes delivery in the UK.

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HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, describing your favourite stove top recipe.

Entry 2 – 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 @PremierHousewrs Ecocook Sauté Pan from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/dW0fgJ #KaveyEatsEcocook
(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!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Share an image from your kitchen via your Instagram feed. In the caption include my username @Kaveyf and the hashtag #KaveyEatsEcocook.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 10th October, 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 3 winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The first winner picked will be assigned the red pan, the second winner will be assigned the black pan and the third winner will be assigned the lime pan.
  • 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 Premier Housewares Ecocook 30cm Sauté Pan. Free delivery within the UK is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Premier Housewares.
  • 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 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 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 an Ecocook 30 cm Sauté Pan from Premier Housewares.

The winners are CariadonWales (Instagram), Shereen T and Rosemary Sheehan.

 

I guess I’m like a kid with a new toy at the moment. Here’s another power blender recipe for you, made once again in my Froothie Optimum 9400 blender.

We’re in the midst of a courgette glut (something I’m very happy about as I love them and feel rather sad in those occasional years when our harvest fails). This quick and tasty soup recipe is a great way to use courgettes. It’s also the perfect choice for the courgettes you failed to spot and which grew a bit larger than you intended; of course, you can make it with smaller courgettes too!

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Quick Courgette & Blue Cheese Soup | Made in a Power Blender

Serves 2

Ingredients
850 grams roughly diced courgette (weight after removing ends and scooping out seeds)
75-100 grams strong blue cheese
30-50 ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  • Place courgette into blender jug. Pulse until courgette has been liquidised. You may need to pause between pulsing once or twice to shake the jug, and help distribute the courgette to within the blade’s reach. Don’t be tempted to add water, as it’s not necessary (and you don’t want to water down the flavour of your finished soup).
  • Once the courgette has been liquidised, add the blue cheese and cream and switch on the blender, ramping it up to the highest speed.
  • Leave it running for 6-7 minutes until the soup is piping hot.
  • Taste and add seasoning, blend for another few seconds and taste again.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Great with fresh bread or toast.

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Check out these posts for more great power blender soup recipes:

 

Kavey Eats received an Optimum 9400 blender from Froothie. Kavey Eats is a member of the Froothie brand ambassador programme, but under no obligation to share positive reviews. All opinions published on Kavey Eats are 100% honest feedback.

Special Offer: For an additional 2 years warranty free of charge on any Optimum appliance purchased, follow this link, choose your Optimum product and enter coupon code “Special Ambassador Offer” on checkout.

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