Some time before Christmas, I was invited by Asda  to attend a blogger event at Leiths cookery school. You may have seen the TV adverts promoting the partnership between Asda and Leiths, whereby Leiths have given their stamp of approval to a selection of the Asda Extra Special range.

I’ll admit that I reacted in a very unbecoming way, disdainful that a respected professional cookery school would be endorsing a range from what I perceived as a cheap supermarket with products to match. So I’ll put my hand up and state that I was wrong, unequivocally wrong. Every single one of the products I’ve tasted from the Asda Extra Special range has been excellent, and would hold its own against products from any other supermarket, whether that’s Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or M&S. When I take prices into account, I’m even more impressed and genuinely disappointed I don’t have a branch near me.

At the school, Leiths Managing Director, Camilla Schneideman, explained that her team had not only handpicked their favourite products, based on taste and quality of ingredients, but they had also developed a range of recipes using the products, to give Asda shoppers some fresh ideas on how to use them well. Initially, the partnership focused on Asda’s Extra Special Christmas range, but I understand it will be an on-going partnership through the year.

Rather then sit down to a meal prepared by someone else, we scrubbed up, put on our aprons and spent a happy couple of hours in the Leiths’ kitchens, cooking a festive feast using the Leiths recipes. In teams of 4, we cooked canapés, starters, a main with sides and a delicious pudding. Luckily, some of the ingredients preparation had been done for us, such as peeling and weighing, so we were able to do a lot in a relatively short time. Only after all our hard work did we sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labours. My stand out favourite was the rich gravy accompanying the rack of venison, and the chocolate Yule log, but everything was very tasty.

Asda kindly offered a Christmas hamper for a Kavey Eats competition, but as I was running a fair few competitions during that period already, I asked for a non-seasonal hamper instead, to cheer someone up through the new year blues. Being a picky sort, I made the selection myself and have chosen everything from biscuits and popcorn to crisps and nuts to balsamic vinegar and dipping oils to pasta and pesto to chutney, gravy and honey. There’s even a nice bottle of red wine and one of bubbly cava!

Asda Extra Special 16 Mini Meringues 65g Asda Extra Special Aceto Balsamico di Modena 250ml Asda Extra Special All Butter Parmesan & Garlic Mini Twists 75g Asda Extra Special Artisan Bakery Soft Baked Apple Cookies 250g Asda Extra Special Artisan Bakery Stem Ginger Chocolate Biscuits 150g Asda Extra Special Belgian Milk Chocolate & Pecan Popcorn Clusters 150g Asda Extra Special Caramelised Onion Chutney 320g Asda Extra Special Cracked Black Pepper Ciabatta Croutons 85g Asda Extra Special Garlic Dipping Oil 250ml Asda Extra Special Hand Decorated Toffee Cake Asda Extra Special Hand Finished Apricot Crumbles 80g Asda Extra Special Italian Conchiglioni 500g Asda Extra Special Italian Pesto Alla Genovese 190g Asda Extra Special Rich Beef Gravy 300g Asda Extra Special Spanish Orange Blossom Honey 340g Asda Extra Special Spiced Plum & Ginger Marinade 275g Asda Extra Special Lightly Salted Vietnamese Jumbo Cashew Nuts Asda Extra Special Hand Cooked Mixed Vegetable Crisps with Sea Salt Asda Extra Special Marques Del Norte Rioja Reserva 75cl Asda Extra Special Mas Miralda Cava Vintage 2010 Brut 75cl

Contents of Prize Hamper: Extra Special mini meringues, Extra Special Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Extra Special all butter parmesan and garlic mini twists, Extra Special soft-baked apple cookies, Extra Special stem ginger chocolate, Extra Special Belgian milk chocolate and pecan popcorn clusters, Extra Special caramelised onion chutney, Extra Special black pepper ciabatta croutons, Extra Special garlic dipping oil, Extra Special hand-decorated toffee cake, Extra Special apricot crumbles, Extra Special Italian conchiglioni, Extra Special Italian pesto alla Genovese, Extra Special rich beef gravy, Extra Special Spanish orange blossom honey, Extra Special spiced plum and ginger marinade, Extra Special Vietnamese jumbo cashew nuts, Extra Special vegetable crisps, Extra Special Marques Del Norte Rioja Reserva, Extra Special Mas Miralda Cava Vintage 2010 Brut

 

How to enter

You can enter the competition in 2 ways.

Entry 1 – Answer the question
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
What’s your best tip for combatting the January blues?

Entry 2 – Tweet
Tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win an Asda Extra Special hamper from kaveyeats.com #KaveyEatsAsda

Rules & Details

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 27 January 2012.
  • One blog entry and one twitter entry per person.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize is a hamper of food and drink from the Leiths Approved Asda Extra Special range, with an approximate value of contents of £50 (based on current prices). The prize includes delivery, and can be delivered to UK mainland addresses only.
  • Asda reserve the right to substitute any items that are out of stock for other Leiths Approved Asda Extra Special items of a similar value.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered directly by Asda.
  • Valid entries must contain either an email address or twitter account, for contacting the winner. For those leaving a comment using their blogger/ Google ID, please make sure an email address is visible in your profile.
  • The winner will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received by the end of Tuesday 31 January, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?

Thanks to Asda and Leiths for inviting me to the Extra Special cookery class and for offering this prize.

Congratulations to the winner, Riocaz.

 

We’ve really been enjoying making lots of home-made ice creams, sorbets and frozen yoghurts over the last several weeks. But there’s also times when it’s nice to buy ready made.

Here are my tasting notes about the range of ice creams designed by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose; they went on sale a few months ago.

hestonwaitroseicecream

Chocolate & Rosemary

HestonIceCream-9296 HestonIceCream-9297

This was the first one we tried and was a bit disappointing.

Although the rosemary comes through quite clearly in the smell, it doesn’t really reach the taste buds. The chocolate flavour is pleasant; a decent quality. But the main problem is the texture, which is grainy rather than smooth. That lets it down hugely.

Salted Caramel Popcorn

HestonIceCream-9746 HestonIceCream-9748

After my first mouthful of this, I wasn’t sure. I liked the flavour but there was the strange papery texture of popcorn husks which I found a little off-putting. For Pete, that was a key issue, and he didn’t really move further from that.

But, this ice cream very quickly grew on me, because I just adore the flavour.

It’s utterly reminiscent of the crunchy, sweet, toffee popcorn I used to buy and eat in the cinema as a kid, in place of the boring plain salted kind sold in the foyer in huge tubs. This ice cream captures that flavour perfectly, and I couldn’t help but sing “Butterkist Butterkist ra ra ra” as I ate it. Perhaps I’m giving undue attention to this old popcorn brand, but as Blumenthal is just five years older than me, I suspect his memories of the same toffee popcorn may have come into play during development! I didn’t get a huge salty kick from this, though it is there, subtly.

I polished off the entire tub in just a couple of sessions and shall be buying another one soon!

Mustard Savoury

Definitely the most unusual of the trio – and certainly the kind of idea many expect from Blumenthal – is the savoury mustard ice cream.

HestonIceCream-9821

This was also the most surprising. Neither of us thought we’d like this much, but went ahead and served a small scoop each with some very delicious steak.

It was fabulous, with a perfectly judged mustard kick and a hint of sweetness that balanced it out very nicely. We actually can’t wait to serve this again with other savoury dishes.

Kavey Eats received review samples of these ice creams from Waitrose.

Aug 012011
 

Some weeks ago we were invited to review M&S Wine Direct.

MnS wine 1 homepage

Rather than having their marketing representative place the order, we suggested that it would be a far better review if we navigated the website ourselves, placed a direct order as a regular customer and assessed the entire process as well as the wine.

A value was agreed (and payment transferred to us directly) and we were left to our own devices to make our choice and order.

MnS wine 11 mixed case reds classic claret detail

We decided to take the opportunity to buy a smaller number of more expensive bottles, hoping for something better than the bottles we most commonly buy for around a tenner.

We chose a case of 6 Classic Claret wines priced at £130.97, working out to £21.83 per bottle.

Delivery went without a hitch and the bottles arrived in good condition.

Wanting more input on our assessments, we shared the bottles with friends and family. Unfortunately, everyone was in agreement.

Five of the six bottles were deemed “alright” but not as good as expected for the price. Independently, the same refrain was repeated – that the feedback would be more positive were the bottles priced between £10 and £12 but that they simply didn’t justify £20+. And one of the six bottles would have been disappointing even at £10.

Based on our experience, we’re not sure we’d rush to order wine from M&S Wine Direct again.

We’re curious now about whether their less expensive wines are a better deal.

Perhaps, if a specific wine we already knew and liked (not just region but vineyard, style and year) were particularly well priced, we’d consider buying from M&S. But the chances of this seem remote.

And possibly if we needed to send a wine gift via the post, we might order it through M&S. However, if we’d been sent this case as a gift, I’d have guessed the value to be half of what we actually paid for it. When we spend money on a gift, we want our budget to go as far as possible and want to coddle our recipient, not underwhelm them!

Have you ordered wine from M&S Wine Direct?

What did you think? Was the wine you received good value at the price you paid?

Do please let us know, in the comments.

Using The Website

MnS wine 1 homepage

From the home page, select an initial category to view such as Mixed Cases or cases/ bottles of Champagne, Red Wine, White Wine, Rosé Wine, Single Bottle Gifts and so on.

MnS wine 2 mixed cases

Here, Mixed Cases has been selected. Current special offers are listed first, then the rest of the cases are sorted in order of popularity with customers. A dropdown at the top allows you to sort by price or user rating or to show new products first.

MnS wine 3 mixed cases filtered to reds MnS wine 4 mixed cases filtered to reds and then 12 missing one

Filters don’t work well.

For example, viewing all Mixed Cases (above) shows 3 cases of 12 red bottles. But clicking on the filters at the left to narrow down to red wine and to cases of 12 bottles results in only 2 cases being displayed.

Likewise, viewing all Mixed Cases reveals a case of 6 called Sparkling Celebration. But clicking on the filter for Mixed Sparkling, only two options are listed, and Sparkling Celebration isn’t one of them.

This issue is prevalent throughout the site; more care needs to be taken by M&S to correctly categorise and flag all products loaded to the site.

In the mean time, we’d suggest you plough through all the products within each category rather than relying on the filters at all.

MnS wine 7 beer is navigated food and wine then wine and then beer

Beers are listed within Wine Direct. Perhaps it’s just us but if we were looking for beers on the Marks & Spencer website, it wouldn’t occur to us to select Wine from the Food & Wine main menu (to bring up Wine Direct) and then search down the left to find beers.

MnS wine 11 mixed case reds classic claret detail MnS wine 12 showing labels details in classic claret case

Detailed information and guidance is provided about each product.

Mixed Cases show an image of the collection of bottles together and list them separately in the product details below.

Also provided are individual images of the bottle labels for all bottles in the collection; you can zoom into these sufficiently to read them clearly.

MnS wine 13 video about clarets from classic clarets page

Some products also provide an informational videos such as the Classic Claret case and the Charles Freminet Brut Champagne.

MnS wine 14 delivery and returns information

Standard delivery (within 5 days) costs £3.50. We opted to pay £4.95 in order to be able to nominate a specific delivery date.

Delivery is free on orders over £150.

MnS wine 16 my basket

Adding items to our basket was easy.

The check out process necessitated registering an account for the website, but this didn’t take too long and the name and address information fed back through to the relevant delivery fields.

MnS wine 20 delivery date

We didn’t have any problem selecting a delivery date. All upcoming Mondays to Saturdays were available.

From there we simply entered credit card information, confirmed the order, were shown an order confirmation page and sent a confirmation email.

Kavey Eats tried M&S Wine Direct courtesy of M&S.

 

Like many others, I was invited to cook some of the meals from the Sainsbury’s Feed Your Family For £50 meal plan which purports to provide 3 meals a day for 7 days, for a family of four.

Of course, I don’t have a family of four and would not have stuck to it exactly even if I had (I had food already in the house and meals out already booked into the diary). So my evaluation isn’t complete, by any stretch. But receiving the shopping for one week’s meal plan and making a few of the meals from it allowed me to get a feel for it and look into how it all works.

Here are my findings:

Pros

  • It’s hard for those of us who do cook regularly, make good use of ingredients, utilise left overs and and how to plan ahead to remember that there is a huge part of the UK population that does not share these skills. In some cases, of course, it’s lack of interest, but in many households, it’s down to a genuine lack of knowledge, confidence, inspiration.

    The meal plan has been much discussed on food blogs in recent weeks, and I’ve read many comments about how much better a use of the budget keen and willing cooks can make, but I’ve also read comments on national newspaper sites which show that, for many people, this be beyond them, and that these meal plans are a step forward from their current position.

    The meal plans, basic though they may seem for regular cooks and shoppers, will help those who haven’t done it before to understand the point of and get into the habit of planning their meals ahead and shopping to a budget. Perhaps they’ll be inspired to develop their own meal plans, according to family preferences, using what they have learned.

  • As has been revealed by a number of surveys in recent years, many families get stuck in a rut, cooking the same handful of recipes week in week out, month in month out, year in year out. The £50 meal plans may provide some ideas and inspiration to break out of that mould and try something new. Certainly, the sausage and bean casserole in Meal Plan 2 was a dish we’d probably not have cooked without encouragement, but which we really enjoyed.
  • The meals are apparently well-balanced in terms of nutrition; indeed Sainsbury’s say the plans have been approved by the British Nutrition Foundation. Of course, the plans wouldn’t suit a family with a vegetarian or a coeliac, but for a family with no special dietary requirements, they are designed to provide a healthy diet.

    I think more fresh fruit and vegetables and less carbohydrates would be better still, but I suspect that the plans as they stand are still an improvement on the diets of many people in the UK today.

  • The meal plans features simple, home-cooked meals; there’s not the reliance on oven-fries and ready-meals that I expected. Those items both have their place (and I make use of them regularly myself), and some of them are cheap enough that they could probably fit into the budget, but the meal plans show that home-cooked meals can stretch a limited food budget further.
  • Some articles and meal plan books aimed at spending less on food probably go too far for a target audience that isn’t necessarily into cooking, nor wants to spend a great deal of time or effort. Whilst I love making stock from my roast chicken carcass, chutney from fruit that is past its best and using leftovers, I accept that many people do not and I appreciate that this meal plan doesn’t alienate people by making frugal home-cooking seem too daunting.

Cons

  • The dreaded online-shopping omissions and substitutions! In my “£50″ shop, a bag of parsnips was omitted completely, as were both red and white onions. Three loaves of supermarket own brand bread were substituted with only two (same sized) loaves of a more expensive brand. Basic mushrooms were substituted with a smaller volume of non-basic ones. And basic potatoes were substituted with a significantly smaller volume of organic ones.

    All in all, this resulted in a glaring hole in not just one but several recipes. A family hoping to follow the plan in full would have to do additional shopping at additional expense, to cover the short falls.

    This, on top of the fact that the order actually came to £53.80 not £50, means that we’re talking about a real spend of nearer to £60 to really cover all the food required.

  • The meal plan allows nothing at all for snacks during the day. I think this is hugely unrealistic, especially in a family with two teenage children, who I’m sure would be complaining of hunger mid-morning and late-afternoon.

    There are also no drinks at all included, not even tea or coffee (let alone sugar) or basic fruit squash to have with meals.

    And no puddings, not a single one.

    It’s a budget plan, yes, but the best way to help people stick to it is make sure it really does provide enough to feed a family without feeling so austere.

  • Because several ingredients are used in multiple recipes, if there’s a particular dish that a family dislikes and wants to change for something else, it takes a lot of effort to work out how to amend the shopping list without messing up what is needed for other dishes.
  • There is no provision for having friends around at all, either family friends or the kids’ mates.

    I’d like to see one meal a week that makes enough to feed guests. If there are no guests, it can either be made in half the quantity or half can be frozen for another time.

  • There are a fair few ingredients that are not included in the plan but are expected to be in the store cupboard.

    The meal plans include items such as olive oil (in fairly large quantities over a whole week), dried mixed herbs, fresh garlic, mayonnaise, flour, beef and vegetable stock, mustard, vinegar, tomato puree and ketchup.

    However, the shopping list doesn’t seem to set aside any of the £50 to renew the store cupboard. I would say that at least £5 of the £50 should be set aside for renewing these items.

  • I’d like to see a better integration into the budget of making use of a good store cupboard and bulk buying some items. So, for example, one week’s shopping might include a larger bag of rice or lentils than would be needed for that week’s recipes, but the rest could go into the store cupboard. Some of the extras could be used in the following week’s meal plan and that week would also include buying extra of something for the week after that…

    In addition, extra recipes, that can be pulled together from store cupboard ingredients, could be provided as an addendum to the meal plan.

    This kind of added complexity in the meal plans would help teach people about building up and maintaining a store cupboard, and how to make use of it during lean times or when one has extra mouths to feed.

  • With Indian food one of the nation’s favourite cuisines, I’d include some kind of curry at least once a week. Bottled sauces are expensive but decent curry pastes less so, and could be used week to week. A basic range of spices would also be a useful store cupboard addition, though, as above, I’d like to see that included in the budget.

  • Of course, it’s a budget meal plan, but the lunches in particular are repetitive and boring. Breakfasts too, to an extent, though that doesn’t bother me as much. I’d find it hard to eat nothing but sandwiches every week day. Then again, I’m coming from a foodie perspective and an unusual desire for variety in my diet.
  • The recipe instructions are not always sufficiently detailed, especially for less experienced cooks, which is the group I think the plans will most strongly appeal to. Following Plan 2’s frittata recipe, we got an edible result only because we continued cooking for much longer than the recipe indicated, because we could see and feel that it wasn’t ready in the allotted time, at two different stages. That said, it did work out and was tasty, as was the sausage and bean casserole recipe we adapted (to use better sausages).

  • There is only one evening meal recipe that is vegetarian. I would think an easy way to save money (that can then be spent elsewhere such as snacks) is to include two vegetarian dinners a week. Perhaps the target audience wouldn’t go for that?
  • It’s a very carbohydrate-heavy diet. I realise that meat protein, and to an extent dairy protein, is more expensive than carbs but I know I’d be pushing my plate away if I tried to eat so many carby meals day in day out.
  • I feel very strongly that meal plan pricing should be based on regular prices for goods and not include any short term special offers. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and archived meal plans have a note, if you try and buy the associated ingredients, that “this meal plan may now be over £50″.

    If this is more than a flash in the pan gimmick, and is really something Sainsbury’s want to bring more people to, the archived meal plans should still be available for £50, for at least a couple of months after their publication date, if not longer.

  • Some of the products are really short-dated, with use-by dates of just a few days from delivery. This means that you have to swap the menu days around to suit the shelf-life of ingredients, or have a lot more freezer space available than many people have. I think this is a general problem with supermarket deliveries, from what I understand, and something I’d like to see resolved in general. If I was shopping in the store, I’d choose the longest dated item on the shelf; I want the picker to do the same on my behalf!
  • Despite there being a quick click option to buy all the shopping required for a meal plan, delivery is not included, so will add to the final price. I realise, of course, that people have the option of printing the shopping list and doing the shop in person, but wouldn’t it be nice to waive the delivery fee for those buying into the meal plans?

  • There are some great resources on the web which can help with meal planning on a budget. I’ve just been checking out The Resourceful Cook, which has lots of meal plans on file, which you can filter by the number of people to be fed, by budget, by cooking experience and more. More importantly, they offer great flexibility, with the option to swap out some of the recipes or to increase the numbers you’d like to feed from a particular meal, say if friends are coming round. And, in order to create a more useful shopping list, you even have the option of adding drinks, treats and snacks, toiletries and house hold items such as bin bags, cling film, cleaning products. I’ve not used this tool yet but it looks great, and I’ve seen many positive comments about it from people who’ve already tried it.

For a great post from a blogger who did trial the plan more comprehensively, visit Feeding Boys And A Firefighter.

 

Over the next few months, Tesco Real Food are looking for the nation’s best real food cook.The idea is to provide a platform to share recipes for the kind of food we cook at home, whether we’re making breakfast to munch on the go, tasty and filling family suppers, something a bit special for entertaining friends or dinner on a tray in front of the telly.

Recipes entered into the competition will be featured on the website, so anyone can try their hand cooking those which appeal.

There are eight categories representing different mealtimes and moods. The best recipes in each category will be short-listed and their creators invited to take part in a national TV Cook Off on Channel 5.

Jamie Tesco 1

I’m very pleased to be part of the judging panel and I’ll be partnering with Jamie Theakston to look after the Talk and Fork category. Not every meal with friends involves a dinner party – sometimes we just want to rustle up something simple and comforting that we can enjoy while having a good old natter. For Talk and Fork, we’re looking for casual and easy meals that can be eaten with just a fork, relaxing on the sofa with friends or family.

tesco talk fork

Over coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing Jamie Theakston about his food loves and hates, his skills in the kitchen and asking him what makes a great Talk and Fork dish for him.

And of course, I’ll let you know how the search for the nation’s best real food cooks is progressing. I’m looking forward to attending the filming and, hopefully, tasting the finalists’ dishes!

Do you have a great recipe you’d like to enter? Find out more about all eight categories and how to submit your recipe to the challenge, at the Tesco Real Food Challenge website.

Lastly, if you have any food-related questions to suggest for my interview with Jamie, please let me know via comments or email. Thanks!

Mar 302011
 

If you need some help deciding which Easter eggs to buy this year, my recent Great Easter Egg Review should give you lots of chocolate for thought.

In the meantime, here’s a competition to give you the chance to enjoy some Easter eggxcess of your own!

Many producers and retailers kindly supplied Easter eggs for the review. However, whereas most provided one of each type of egg (which was all we needed), Tesco sent vendor packs (with 6+ eggs in a box) for each of 9 different Easter eggs (I chose to include only five in the review).

My house was so full of Easter eggs, I could have opened a shop!

Thankfully, Tesco responded positively to my request to sell most of the extra eggs to raise funds for charity. I sold most of them at work, which raised £97.50 for Comic Relief. The rest I sold at Danny’s Food Urchin Supper Club, which raised £37 for the Red Cross Japan fund. Thanks, Tesco, that’s a lovely £134.50 to good causes!

We also agreed that I would put a few aside to share with readers of Kavey Eats.

I’m offering one each of 9 Tesco Finest chocolate Easter egg products, as pictured.

Easter Eggs-5990 Easter Eggs-5991 Easter Eggs-5992 Easter Eggs-5993 Easter Eggs-5994 Easter Eggs-5996 Easter Eggs-6753 Easter Eggs-6756
Easter Eggs-6754

As I’ll be paying postage myself, this competition is open to UK mainland addresses only.

How to enter

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me about your favourite Easter chocolate memory. Please ensure you leave your email address* in the field provided or in the body of your comment. Entries without any means of contacting the winner will not be included in the draw.
  2. Enter on twitter by tweeting the following:
    I’d love to win lots of Easter eggs from www.kaveyeats.com #kaveyeatseastereggs

Details

  • One blog entry per person. One twitter entry per person.
  • The prize is a selection of 9 Tesco Finest Easter eggs, as pictured above. The prize cannot redeemed for cash.
  • The prize has been provided by Tesco and will be delivered by Kavey Eats.
  • The prize can be delivered to UK mainland addresses only.
  • The deadline for entries is midnight BST Saturday 2nd April 2011.
  • A winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The winner will be notified by email or twitter asked to provide a delivery address. If no response is received by Wednesday 6th April, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?

 

tesco-1

Supermarkets have been selling ‘own label’ products forever. Beer is no exception – I’ve reviewed Aldi’s Finchley’s Ales IPA previously here, and I’ve got another of their bottles lurking downstairs in my “to be reviewed” pile. Usually, the actual producers of these own label products are fairly obscure; although it’s suspected that Aldi use Bateman’s for their beer, it’s not mentioned on the bottle – that guess is largely based on the bottle shape!

Tesco have taken a different approach with their ‘Finest’ range, and named the breweries that they have worked with. At first I imagined that they’d approached these producers to come up with something just for Tesco, but it actually looks like in each case they’ve just changed the name of one of their existing brews a little and slapped a new label on – it’s a little disappointing, but I suppose I can understand that it’s a lot easier for the breweries to take this approach.

Finding a 3 for £4 deal (now sadly expired) I snapped up the three different Tesco Finest beers on the shelves at my local branch, and brought them home to sample.

tesco-2

Starting with the American Double IPA (9.2%), produced by those crazy people at Brewdog – and likely to be a badged version of their Hardcore IPA. A crystal clear, deep golden beer with a lingering foam, it’s actually so full of hops that I’m pretty sure I found a petal or two floating in the glass. Buckets and buckets of sweet, flowery citrus hops on the nose and a real undertone of alcohol fumes. The taste is, if anything, even more full of bitter citrus hops than the smell, but the alcohol punches through even more strongly. It’s almost a great beer but the balance is somehow off – the big hitting hops clash with the equally hard hitting alcohol and it’s just too much. A big strong beer like this can be a wonderful thing, but this somehow doesn’t quite pull it off – I’m a little disappointed.

tesco-3

Next up, Traditional Porter (6%) from the Harviestoun Brewery, which is actually their Old Engine Oil. A black brew with a thin, fine bubbled head and a rich chocolate smell, which combines with bitter coffee notes on tasting, it’s rich, sweet and deeply flavoured and is a wonderful tasting porter. Excellent work and comfortably the best beer of the set.

tesco-4

Lastly, Traditional Alcoholic Ginger Beer (3.8%) from Williams Brothers Brewery. Pouring light straw coloured, with very little head, it looks more like a fizzy drink than a beer. Ginger is the overwhelming smell you get, but it still tastes of actual beer on drinking. The heat from the ginger is very much in evidence, although the taste is not so obvious – it’s a very light tasting beer, with a citrus lemon sharpness and a lot of artificial fizz. It’s not a bad ginger beer, but it’s not remarkable.

Overall, a bit of a mixed bag, and no more successful than if I’d just walked in and grabbed three bottles off the shelves at random – I’m not convinced that the ‘Finest’ label makes much sense here. That said, it’s certainly exposed me to some new breweries and Harviestoun is definitely getting added to my BTAH (Brewery Tour At Home) list!

 

Back in November, Waitrose launched a new cookery school. It’s probably not news to most of you eager cooks as there have been lots of articles and reviews in the last couple of months. I’m going to add another one to the mix!

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4580

I love Waitrose! We both arrived in my neighbourhood at the same time, Waitrose and I. My local branch opened it’s doors just around the corner from us just a month or two after we moved into our house. Both of us have been here for more than 16 years now and have a mutual love-in going on. I’m loyal to Waitrose; it’s my primary supermarket. And Waitrose is loyal to me too; looking after me by consistently delivering good products, employing friendly staff, showing good customer service and on top of all that, it’s widely regarded as an ethical supermarket too.

WaitroseCookerySchoolMacaronClass-4572

So, I was quite excited by the idea of Waitrose Cookery School. Luckily for me, I was invited to check out the school, along with a group of fellow bloggers, a few nights before it opened to the public on November 8th.

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Located above the huge John Barnes (Finchley Road) branch in North West London, it’s a beautiful space. Modern white walls and black and white flooring are lifted by the warmth of pale wooden furniture and shelving. Chrome fittings look suitably high tech. Tables are decorated with funky centre pieces made from fresh vegetables. Bookshelves are stacked with a cookery book collection every single one of us lusted after. Bottles of wine and other cooks’ ingredients line other shelves. Pristine cooking equipment is stacked along deep window sills.

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At the far end of the room is the cooking space. The tutor’s workspace is set in a long line, faced by stools for the students. Beyond it are workstations for the students.

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To one side is a bar area – some of the classes include cocktail lessons too.

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There’s even a state-of-the-art lecture theatre available too.

As impressive than the space are the team Waitrose has assembled to run the school itself:

Gordon McDermott has 17 years experience as a chef, much of it working at some of London’s best restaurants. He was a lecturer at Rick Stein’s Cookery School for four years and he established and ran the Anton Mosimann Academy in London. In his latest role as Waitrose Cookery School’s Course Manager he designs the courses, picks the chef instructors and ensures that courses are delivered to the highest standard, as he did during our taster session.

James Campbell is the school’s Head Chef for Pastry. He became Gary Rhode’s Group Head Pastry Chef at just 24 years old and has over 20 years experience in five different Michelin restaurants. In his role as Head Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel he ran cookery courses and demonstrations as far afield as Malaysia.

James taught the macaroon-making part of our sample class, with Eleni Tzirki (school sous chef and trainee pastry chef) assisting.

The other part of our sample class was a cocktail making course, taken by Wilson Chung. Wilson, who hails from Australia, is one of the school’s sous chefs. Growing up in a family nearly all of whom work in the food industry, Wilson’s career in restaurants, bars, professional food writing and Australian TV is perhaps inevitable.

Also helping on the night was James Bennington, the school’s Head Chef. James began his career in professional kitchens in 1997 but his big break came in 2005 when he became head chef at La Trompette, which at the time, didn’t have a Michelin star. With James at the helm, it gained one in 2008. James left La Trompette in 2009 to join the cookery school (which may explain why we didn’t enjoy it quite as much on our second visit, last summer).

If these five are representative of the rest of the Waitrose Cookery School team, I am sure each and every class is bound to be very good.

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Before starting our sample class, we were treated to a range of drinks and canapés, freshly made by the cooking team in the kitchen. (The school offers half day, full day and evening courses; the first two include a sit-down meal in the spacious sitting area.)

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myself and lovely Becca from how to make a mess

Jackets or aprons donned, we first lined up on stools in front of James’ demonstration station and watched him and Eliza take us through our basic macaroon recipe.

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The school advocates making meringues using the Italian meringue technique rather than French, which means making a sugar syrup and adding it to the whisked egg whites whilst hot. This partially cooks the meringue mix before baking. This meringue is then folded into a paste made from ground almonds, more sugar and more egg white.

We were encouraged to ask lots of questions and we did! All were answered with patience, consideration and a little humour. We gleaned lots of tips on what to do and what to avoid!

After the demonstration we went back to our own cooking stations (one between two students) to have a go at making our own. The teaching staff were constantly available to give guidance and reminders, as we worked.

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Becca and I had some problems; we were scuppered not once but twice by our mixer grinding to a halt half way through whisking the eggs and hot sugar syrup. Our instructors quickly brought out a replacement mixer from their cupboards but this failed too and we eventually did our whisking at James’ demonstration station.

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It meant we fell behind and were still piping our shells when most of the class moved across to the bar area for Wilson’s cocktail lessons.

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It wasn’t a problem, however, as he repeated the lesson three times so that everyone who wanted a hands-on experience had a go.

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Those of us who didn’t make our own cocktails didn’t miss out on sampling some of Wilson’s delicious concoctions!

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As our sample session was a shortened evening one, we made orange macaroon shells and then filled them with some “here’s some we made earlier” piping bags full of orange marmalade butter cream.

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We were also given some pretty pink shells (sparkly with edible glitter) and two different fillings which we piped inside – a thicker pink buttercream and a runnier mulled wine reduction that we pooled within a circle of the buttercream.

As we were finishing up, we were given pastry boxes in which to take our creations home with us, which I liked.

Although I’ve made macaroons twice before, I’ve always felt nervous about working with hot sugar syrup, and have used the French meringue technique. After attending the class, I’d feel confident in trying the Italian meringue recipe again, though I’d definitely invest in an electronic kitchen thermometer first.

Here’s the recipe for the macaroons we made during our practical:

Orange Marmalade Macaroons

Ingredients

Meringue
187 grams caster sugar
75 ml water
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
5 ml orange food colouring
Paste
187 grams ground almonds
187 grams icing sugar
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
Buttercream Filling
180 grams whole milk
80 grams sugar
40 grams egg yolks
300 grams butter, diced
100 grams orange marmalade

Method

  1. For the Italian meringue: In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water and mix until there are no lumps. Add the food colouring and place the saucepan over medium to high heat and place the sugar thermometer inside. The required temperature is 114C.
  2. In the electronic mixing bowl, add the 62g of egg whites with the whisk attachment. This will then be ready for the sugar syrup when the required temperature is reached.
  3. Cut out two sheets of parchment paper, the same size as the baking tray and set aside ready for piping. Then place the correct sized nozzle in a piping bag and set aside.
  4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the ground almonds and icing sugar. Continue to check the temperature of the sugar syrup.
  5. Once it has reached 112C, start whisking the egg whites on slow speed. Once the temperature has reached 114C, lift the thermometer out and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl ensuring not to splash yourself! Turn onto full speed and after approximately five minutes, the Italian meringue will become glossy and soft.
  6. Then, we need to make the paste: Add the other 62g of egg whites to the icing sugar and ground almonds and mix with a spatula until a paste has formed.
  7. Once the Italian meringue is ready (soft peaks will form) this is combined with the paste in 2 stages. If it is over mixed the mix will become too liquid and the macaroons will become very flat once cooked. It is important to ensure a nice gentle mixing motion.
  8. The macaroon mix is then ready to be piped. Using a spatula, fill the piping bag with the nozzle half way. Pipe some mix into each corner of the baking trays in order to stick the parchment paper onto the tray. Pipe in straight lines going from left to right leaving a 2cm gap in between each macaroon.
  9. These are now ready to be baked for 12 minutes at 140C.
  10. Once they are cooked, take the trays out of the oven and leave to cool.
  11. For the orange marmalade butter cream: Heat up the milk over medium heat.
  12. Separately, dice the butter and set aside.
  13. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
  14. Once the milk comes to the boil, add some of the milk to the egg mix and mix with a spatula, Then, transfer this mix to back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Continue to stir over a low heat with the spatula and once the mixture coats the back of the spatula, pour it into the electronic mixer with the paddle attachment on medium to high speed. (you can also use a thermometer and once it reaches 80C, take off the heat)
  15. Once the mix has almost cooled in the electronic mixer, begin to add a third of the diced butter on low speed. After a minute, increase the speed and wait for a further 3 minutes. Add another third of diced butter and repeat this process until all the butter has been added. The butter cream should become thick, smooth and shiny.
  16. Finally, add the orange marmalade to the butter cream and mix on low speed until the marmalade is fully incorporated.
  17. Using a spatula, spoon the mix into a piping bag and set aside ready to pipe on the macaroons once they have been cooked and cooled down.


Pros

  • Beautiful, spacious environment with good quality equipment
  • Demo then practical learning format
  • A strong team of instructors and support staff
  • Clear instruction
  • Encouraged to ask questions


Cons

  • Quite large class sizes
  • Sharing work stations – fine if you book with a friend but may or may not work out if you book a single and end up with someone who monopolises or you don’t get on with
  • Pricey


School Information

The Waitrose Cookery School is located in NW London, just by the Finchley Road tube station. Full day courses cost £175. Half day (morning or evening courses) are priced £105. The school also offers demonstration evenings for £65. For more information, call 020 7372 6108.

Oct 272010
 

Hallowe’en has it’s origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end”:

The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. ~Wiki

As far as I can make out, the old Celtic festival seems to have merged into the Christian calendar, in which departed souls are commemorated on All Saints Day, also known as All Souls Day, Day of the Dead and All Hallows Day.

The name, Hallowe’en (now often shortened further to Halloween) is an old Scottish abbreviation for All Hallows Evening, the night before All Hallows Day.

Another tradition that has become associated with Hallowe’en is that of carving pumpkins.

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My very first pumpkin

How did this come about?

A common practice for All Souls Day (Day of the Dead) was to commemorate souls in purgatory with candle lanterns carved from turnips.

In North America, pumpkins are more readily available and larger, making them much easier to carve than turnips. Pumpkin carving became an American tradition more than 150 years ago. Although carving jack-o’-lanterns was originally associated more generally with the harvest period, it became more specifically identified with Hallowe’en in the mid-to-late 19th century

Personally, I really like the growing popularity here in the UK for hand-carved candle-lit pumpkins featuring grinning or grimacing faces, witches, broomsticks and cats, skulls, owls, spiders and cobwebs and all manner of other spooky motifs carefully chosen, applied and carved into the beautiful orange squashes.

But… I have never carved a pumpkin before.

Nope. Never!

I once watched in admiration as American university hall mates carved a friendly jack-o’-lantern for our shared kitchen (and stopped them throwing away the seeds with a horrified squeal – washing, salting and roasting them instead). That was nearly 2 decades ago!

So, when Waitrose invited me to take part in a pumpkin carving contest, offering to send me pumpkin, instructions and carving kit, I knew it was time to have a go for myself.

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In my box was a large, lovely pumpkin. An instruction book included some helpful instructions plus some, way-too-complex-looking templates and a little set of specialist tools.

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Step 1: I can haz pumpkin. I named him Pob.

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Step 2: Cut out the lid – the little handle makes it easier to position the lid back in place.

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Step 3: Scoop out the string, seeds and excess flesh.

Step 4: Print template, cut roughly around pattern, soak paper quickly, slap wet paper template onto pumpkin and use clever little roller tool to mark pattern into pumpkin skin.

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Step 4: Use drill to create starter holes in which to insert saw.

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Step 5: Saw out pattern. Carefully!

Step 5: Crow delightedly.

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Step 6: Pop candle inside pumpkin, try to light candle with short matches, swear, try again a few times, swear again a few times, tape match to blunt knife handle, light elongated match, light candle and crow some more.

Step 7: Note where candle flame makes sooty mark on underside of lid, remove lid and create tiny chimney hole using drilling tool.

Step 8: Replace lid, stand back and admire.

Kavey Eats Tombstone Pumpkin Template 2010

I must confess that my original design included, the letters RIP on the gravestone below a much smaller cross. However, when I began transferring my pattern to the pumpkin I panicked at the idea of carving such detail and went for the larger cross instead.

In actual fact, I found the two saws included in the pumpkin carving kit tool set properly sharp and really easy to use and I don’t think I would have had any problems with the RIP lettering.

If you’d like to use my template, please go ahead. All I ask is that you post a comment below with a link to a picture of your results!

The Pumpkin Carving Kit from Waitrose is priced at £6.99 (though it’s currently reduced in my local branch and on Waitrose Direct).

Have you carved a pumpkin before? How did it turn out? What do you think of my results?

 

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Name: Finchley’s Ales India Pale Ale

ABV: 4.5

Price £1.19 from Aldi

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, not bottle conditioned.

Colour: Deep amber.

Head: Good lingering head.

Mouthfeel: Nice bubble feel, although a little fizzy.

Taste: Some maltiness, with a long and quite strong hoppy finish.

Comment: I only really bought this because I came across it in Aldi and, living in Finchley, I assumed they’d started doing store-specific labelling or something – it was only later that I discovered that this is the ‘own brand’ label that Aldi seem to be using for their beers. There’s a fair amount of debate about just whose beer is in the bottle, the prevailing opinion being that it’s Bateman’s.

Regardless of who makes the stuff, I’m a fan.

Aside from a touch of over-fizziness (something which I’m beginning to realise is a slightly obsessive theme of mine – I’m taking to letting my beer ‘breathe’ for half an hour, like wine, to allow the fizz to die down!) it’s a wonderful ale; a nicely malty start, a well balanced and lingering bitterness and at a price which is, frankly, irresistible. I look forward to exploring the rest of the Finchley’s range.

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