Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Christmas Wish List

There is nothing like sending your Christmas list to Santa in time for his arrival on Christmas Eve and if you have been good you can expect some great surprises.

On my list this year I think I will have a couple of products from HoMedics such as My Spa - 2 in 1 Instant Pedi for heavenly soles.
Diamond crystal rollers to gently remove hard skin all over your feet - a real feet treat! (uses 3 x AAA batteries and they ARE included!)

HoMedics My Spa - Facial Cleansing Brush to deep clean and exfoliate your face for beautiful skin. Its water resistant so you can use it in the shower and it sits nicely on the bathroom shelf in its own holder.  And as above it uses 3 X AAA batteries which ARE included!!

And lastly from HoMedics how does a Handheld Shiatsu Massager sound?
Popping into TKMaxx for me is like a kid popping into the sweet shop!  However the thing about TKMaxx is that the stock turn around is quick and limited so if you see something you like you should buy it then and there!

I found a couple of goodies on my last visit which will make welcome additions to my Christmas decor and help make my entertaining a little easier.  For starters, I want the Christmas tree shape as my main shape this year (last year it was snowflakes) and really love this stainless steel candle holder in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Following on from that is the miniature cast iron pan with a mix included to make a single serving of chocolate brownie and guess which shape the cast iron pan is ... yes, a Christmas tree!!
The board in the back ground makes a fantastic plaque to pop onto a nail on the wall or a mince pie serving board.  I liked the simple colours and messages meaning it would work with any Christmas decor.  The total cost of all three was within my twenty pounds budget.

Something that caught my eye as I walked past was this serving board with three little pots. You could serve mince pies and a selection of creams (whipped cream, brandy cream and a cointreau cream) to dollop on top of the mince pies or perhaps cheese selection with chutney, pickle and olives in the three pots.  The possibilities are endless taking this right into the BBQ season in the summer.  The price was just under fifteen pounds.
Mr R is the red wine lover in our house (I prefer a crisp dry white wine) so I thought this new item from VacuVin was perfect for him.  Don't tell him he is getting this for Christmas!!
The carafe sits in a cork base which is on a ball bearing. When you fill the carafe with your favourite red wine you can just give it a swirl, first in one direction then in the opposite direction and the swirling will help aerate the wine letting it breathe and enhance the flavours of the experience upon drinking.  This will surely be a great present for the wine lover in your life!!
Fed up of under cooking or over cooking your Christmas turkey or large piece of meat.  Thermapen are a reliable meat thermometer which when stuck into the thick part of the meat will read the temperature thus letting you know when you have reached the safe cooking levels.
If you want to win a Thermapen you can read my recent blog post which includes a giveaway by clicking here.

If you are in need of a quick and really tasty supper over the busy shopping period Giovanni Rana Italian Indulgence, large ravioli will do the job in time.
I was sent a selection, cooked one for supper with a simple Cirio tomato sauce and put the other two in the freezer for another work tired day!
This is just a quick list of some of the products I have been sent lately to review.  I was not paid to write a positive review and as usual all opinions are my own.  All photographs are my own and cannot be reproduced or used without my permission.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Supper Club Ghanaian Style with Patti Sloley

I first heard Patti Sloley on the Nick Coffer radio show on BBC Three Counties radio and she and Nick were talking about the cooking lessons she was involved in, in conjunction with Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli's cookery school.  Let me explain that Patti is from Ghana and was talking about food that I had never heard of but sounded really intriguing.

Following on from this I 'met' Patti on Facebook and we became Facebook friends however every time we tried to meet something would come up and it was after nearly four years of 'online friendship' that we finally got to meet in person a few weeks ago!
Patti invited me to attend one of her Ghanaian supper club dinners she hosts at the Hitchin (Hertfordshire) deli called Halsey's.  I was so excited to actually me her and to have my first ever experience of Ghanaian food.
Patti was so colourful in real life, much more than her on-line persona and hugs and squeals were in abundance at that meeting.

I brought my vegetarian blogger friend Nayna with me as her daughter had recently returned from Ghana telling Nayna all about the fantastic food she had there. Click here if you want to read Nayna's account of the evening too.

First of all we had a warming soup which was very apt for the weather that evening's cold and wet weather.  The soup, a rich chowder, was made with coco yam, yam, sweetcorn and bacon and was rich and creamy (a vegetarian version without the bacon was also available) and everyone loved it.
The next course Patti demonstrated in front of us and made the vegetarian version which she would serve to Nayna although the rest of us would have a meaty version.
It was a simple stew which was thickened with ground melon seeds called Egusi. Egusi is a tomato based stew typical of Ghanaian cuisine thickened with ground melon seeds. The non-veggie version was served with a turmeric rice with a fish Egusi on one side and a lamb Egusi on the other with sauteed plantain chips to garnish.
A mid course of fresh fruit salad in a syrup of ginger and lemongrass was a perfectly refreshing palate cleanser.
We were really full by this time and really appreciated the light pudding that followed.  Patti has perfected her version of a Plantain Pudding that is made without sugar, butter or eggs and yet remains full of flavour and very moist.  It was served with a vanilla marscapone cream dolloped on top.  This cake would be a perfect Christmas cake when a light and moist cake is needed after seasonal indulgences!
We finished our meal with a warm drink called Hissap - a hibiscus drink infused with spices, sort of like a non-alcoholic mulled wine!

I am eager to get together with Patti and see what we can cook up together and don't worry I will keep you informed.

Thanks to Patti's Menu for inviting me and Nayna.  I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions and photos are my own and cannot be copied or reproduced without my permission.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Get the meat temperature right with Thermapen and a Giveaway

I have wanted a Thermapen thermometer to check if the meat is cooked for ages.  I am very pleased to say they sent me one to try and in good time for the Christmas turkey which is always tricky to check if it is cooked.

The Thermapen is the UK's number one selling food thermometer and used in most professional kitchens. It is really easy to use, can be held in either hand and has an easy to read display which puts itself to sleep if not used for a while but turns itself on again when picked up thus saving the battery life.

The range of measurement is from -49.9 to 299.9 oC.  You can set it to show Centigrade or Fahrenheit and comes with full instructions to set it up.

You don't need to wait as long as I did to get one a Thermapen. Just follow the Rafflecopter instructions and one lucky person will win one.  Good luck.

I was sent a Thermapen for review and was not expected to write a positive review.  All photos and opinions are my own.

One winner will be selected at random and must reside in the UK.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 25 November 2016

Devon-Dorset - Axminster and a visit to River Cottage

Last year I had the pleasure to visit River Cottage in Axminster, Devon for an autumn blogger trip.  It was a great chance to put names to the faces of bloggers in our various social media groups.  It was such a success that thanks to River Cottage and Foodies100 we were invited again this month.

River Cottage is situated in a valley just outside Lyme Regis, Dorset and Axminster, Devon, a really beautiful part of the UK of majestic hills and undulating valleys.  I traveled to Axminster with two of my blogging buddies, Nayna and Manjiri the day before where we stayed in a lovely B&B (more about that later).
We were able to spend some time in the morning walking around Axminster visiting shops for blog props and having coffee and cakes in an off the beaten track cafe.
Once we arrived at River Cottage we were taken down the steep track by tractor and greeted with large smiles by the staff and a warming glass of apple cider brandy, the chill just disppeared!
River Cottage HQ is a really warm and friendly place, a place of obvious activity and yet calm and peaceful.  Everywhere you look there is a moment that catches your breath and makes you stop.  I find this sort of location makes me reflect, even if only for a second, on what I like and what I would like to see in my future.
River Cottage HQ is really quite complex place, a cooking school, private event hire, meeting place and more.
The main workshop was a talk given to us by one of the River Cottage Chefs on brining meats and poultry ready for Christmas.
This wasn't something I had considered doing even though I had heard about it.  I thought it would be messy.  All the prep was ready and we were enthralled to hear exactly how to make a turkey, chicken, piece of beef, shoulder of pork (which we would eventually have for our meal) or even a loin of venison be preserved in such a simple and historic way.

There is a difference in a hot 20% brining solution used to 'cure' the shoulder of pork similar to the one we would soon be eating and a 10% cold brine perfect for turkey or chicken.

After the workshop and before the celebration Christmas meal we gathered in the yurt to warm by the fire and play a little guessing game.
We had to put our hands into a hole in a cardboard box and after feeling the various items inside write down a list of what we thought was inside.  There were shrieks of laughter and I thought this image of Manjiri was too good to miss!
When the fun was done for the evening we assembled for a very impressive and special Christmassy meal. Each course elicited groans of excitement and oohh's and aahh's from those seated along the two long refectory style table, filled with around 70 food and lifestyle bloggers.

We truly had a feast with dishes such as a ravioli on a bed of celeriac puree, a slow cooked ragu of rabbit, the slow cooked pork shoulder that had previously been brined and served with a char-grilled wedge of cabbage and a vegetable mash. There was a delicious side dish of home cooked haricot beans cooked with onions, tomatoes and fennel.  The pudding was an homage to the simple apple, a cup of  honeycomb crème brûlée served with apple crisp, apple puree and a rye & treacle crumble on the top - apple heaven!
Coffee and little delicacies were served but just like Cinderella we had to run to catch our lift back to the B&B with a warm and satisfied feeling inside and a longing to return again next year!

To read Nayna's account of the event click here.

I was a guest of River Cottage and was not required to write a positive review. As usual all photos and opinions are my own.  Thanks to Foodies100 for making all the arrangements.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

October Bites (and Sips) and Pieces

Over the weeks I get sent products to taste, read and review OXO have added a new 'wet' stock cube to its range - LAMB! Yes now you can add real lamb flavour to your hot pots, moussaka, shepherd pies and more!
If you want to know about the other flavours in the range, ready my last post by clicking here .

Have you ever made a cake in a loose bottom cake pan and the mixture leaked out around the bottom.  I have and then you have to pick the bits off around the cake pan.  Good news, the world's first leak-proof, loose based pan is here - 100% liquid tight with a patented silicone seal base from PushPan.  There are a variety of sizes along with non-stick range and aluminium range.
I was sent an 8cm round cake pan which is perfect for my fruit cake recipe that I have been making for years.
This fruit cake takes 340gm of dried fruit which can be made up of any mixture - a great way to use up the last few glace cherries, prunes, dates or what have you in the cupboard.
I always like to soak my dried fruit, sometimes in brandy for a more formal fruit cake or as in this case in strong tea.  In place of a little bit of milk to get the consistency right I use the brandy or tea that the fruit was soaked in, yummmm!

After the original Qcumber water there is now Qcumber tonic with ginger.  I was sent a Press Release which had a recipe for a Gin cocktail with rhubarb and Qcumber tonic with Ginger.  I just happened to have some Rhubarb Gin that I had started in the early summer when the allotment rhubarb was young and ready to be picked.
I wanted to try a cocktail using my gin and Qcumber tonic with ginger. My cocktail recipe:-

Fill a tall glass with ice cubes.  Pour over the ice 25ml of homemade rhubarb gin
then 25ml vodka. Fill the glass with Qcumber, stir and pop a few pieces of the rhubarb on top.  Ad a straw and sip a really refreshing drink!. Qcumber is also perfect on its own as it is as a mixer with gin and vodka.
If you love clean, refreshing drinks you might be interested in Aspire's new range of refreshing drinks each containing green tea which is full of anti-oxidants however the whole range is free from sugar and full of multivitamins as well and comes in a range of flavours: Cranberry, Apple & Acai and Mango Lemonade.
Green tea extracts have been shown to help reduce body fat by stimulating the metabolism and giving you extra energy (when combined with a low calorie diet plan). There are key essential vitamins inside each can but most importantly there are no calories, no sugars and no carbs!

I love the refreshing taste of green tea with ice and when it is combined with flavours like mango what could there be to not like!!
These are just a few of the things I have been sent for review lately.  There are more coming next month as well as my Christmas Wish List!!

I was not paid to review any of the above items. All opinions and photographs are my own.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The King of Cheese - Parmigiano Reggiano - Fun Cooking Event

Cheese is one of my 'can't live without' foods and the king of these is Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano),   I was recently invited to discover some new recipes using Parmigiano Reggiano 24 months aged Parmesan which was being held at Food at 52 a cooking school I have attended many times and I really look forward to going to.  If you are interested in finding a great cooking school in London check them out - you won't look back!

Anyway, back to the cheese!  A few Parmesan facts for you ......

1. The minimum age of the cheese is 12 months but the average is aged for 24 months.
2. It takes 14 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of the cheese.
3. 40 kilos is the weight of a wheel of Parmesan.
4. It takes 550 litres of milk to make a whole wheel of Parmesan.

All of the food we ate had Parmesan cheese as an ingredient.  To start as we assembled ourselves we were offered a glass of Prosecco and some tantalizing nibbles. These were made for our arrival to be enjoyed with a glass of Prosecco while we waited for everyone to arrive.  Parmigiano Reggiano & Wild Mushroom Risotto Balls, Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Straws Wrapped in Parma Ham and Parmigiano Reggiano and Rosemary Shortbread - all delicious!
Then we had to work for our supper! We made Walnut and Parmigiano Reggiano Pesto - by making it in the mortar and pestle you can control the texture as well as the seasoning more easily.
The pesto was made to go with the home made Parmigiano Reggiano and Sage Gnocchi we made as well. It was really easy to make fresh gnocchi and very quick to cook.
They tasted lovely and fresh and we simple put the pesto we had made drizzled over the top and topped with some freshly shaved Parmesan and some rocket leaves.
For our pudding we made an Apple and Almond Cake with Parmigiano Reggiano, Pine Nut Streusel and served with Vanilla Cream. Fortunately there was loads left over so we could take some home for morning coffee the following day!
The King of Cheese is really versatile working well in savoury dishes as well as sweet ones. We had a really good time discovering new recipes to use Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in.  All of the recipes were developed by Bridget Colvin, Home Economist and Chef.

I was not required to write a positive account of our time. As usual all photos and opinions are my own.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

My Top 7 Travel Tips

This is a list of my favourite travel tips - little things that help make the journey or time away from home a little more bearable!

1. Clear Glasses Cases
2. Condiments
3. Cosmetics
4. Be Prepared
5. Coconut Oil - A travellers best friend
6. Pack-A-Snack
7. Travel Essentials - travelling in comfort

A few travel tips from friends, fellow bloggers and family here for you too ......

Neil says " wear cargo shorts or cargo trousers - plenty of pockets to put your things in ready to hand" and "chill out - delays etc are out of your control so don't waste time worrying"!

Mr R never travels without his 'Puzzler' magazine.  He loves the range of puzzles and finds it great to do when you are not allowed electronic devices or smart phones or when there is little to no wifi or internet connections.

Choclette Ammar Travel as light as you can for easy manoeuvrability - take layered tops that are interchangeable and go with everything and suitable for every occasion.

Kavey always splits the money between her and her husband so if one gets theirs lost of stolen you still have some to tide you over.

Caroline makes a 'Busy Bag' for the children - a new bag with colouring books, crayons, reading book, small packets of sweets or snacks and a little toy along with a fruit drink to keep them busy on the journey. They really look forward to it at the start of a holiday.

Nayna says "I always take my fave shawl on the airplane to keep warm".

Becca Pusey Take some spare underwear in your hand luggage, just in case your suitcase gets lost!

Penelope Reader - If you have food allergies or healthcare needs, do a quick google translate of key words phrases and save them on your phone in advance. Saves stress & panic if you need them in an emergency

Do you have any favourite travel tips? Please feel free to leave yours in a comment below.