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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

New Year, New Gadget!

Happy New Year to all…and yes, I’ll make the resolution again to cook and blog more, but don’t hold me to it!

Here’s hoping you all had a happy and healthy festive period and have since de-cluttered, found a fresh spring in our step and are ready to embrace January. If so, I have just the think to start the new year: a hearty but healthy bean and pasta stew / soup. I suppose it’s really a version of Italian bean or Peasant soup, made with whatever you have to hand and served on top of a slice of toasted, slightly stale country style bread. Ok, so it might not sound brilliant, but I promise it delivers on flavour.

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Ingredients:

streaky bacon (leave out if you want a vegetarian version)

onion

leeks

carrots

can of chopped tomatoes

can of borlotti beans

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

pasta for soup (little pasta!)

oregano / dried mixed herbs

sweet paprika

slice country style stalish bread

Method:

Chop the ingredients into bite sized chunks

Brown bacon, then fresh veg in a pan

Add tomatoes, stock, herbs, paprika and pasta

Cover and simmer until pasta is cooked

Meanwhile, toast the bread.

Once the soup stew is cooked, season well and pour on top of the bread.

Easy – and perfect to warm you up on those colder days. I even blitzed it for the baby as I used homemade, very low salt stock…and a bit of bacon does no harm every now and then!

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And as for the new gadget, it’s a Tefal Cook 4 Me…a sort of new-fangled one pot pressure cooker. I actually browned the ingredients in there, then threw everything else in and cooked for ten minutes. More on this amazing pot in a later post – I keep forgetting to take pictures of what I’ve cooked. Also this week, I’m looking forward to my last discounted Gousto delivery. Definitely getting back into this cooking malarkey!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Gousto–worth it?

I’ve been looking into all these new recipe box ideas recently and, in particular, the Gousto scheme, which I signed up for at Taste of London. I’d chosen this as there are options to choose your recipes from a selection, rather than just receive what is sent, and the fact that I got a great offer at the festival – first box half price, third free, so essentially. first three boxes for half price, making it just £1.88 per portion if you chose four meals for four people. Now, the Ella’s Kitchen baby food pouches are £1.40 each so this seemed a brilliant opportunity to give these a try.

Each week you choose from the selection of recipes. There are some tried, tested and rated recipes, and some brand new ones, meaning you’re not always cooking the same things every week. You can also put your subscription on hold and just log into order when you feel like it with no obligation to reactivate it. This seemed like a good idea to me so opted for this as soon as I signed up so I didn’t need to remember to cancel it, if you see what I mean!

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The box arrived, finally, at just after 6pm, which is absolutely no good if you want to use it for that evening’s tea, especially if you have little ones who’re hungry, even though the box sticker said delivery by 5pm. Therefore, I’d advise you plan an alternative meal for the delivery day. The meat and products do last past the 4 days worth of meals – my delivery was on the 1st and the date on the chicken breasts was not until the 8th, so it does give you flexibility as to when to have them during the week.

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Meats, fish and perishable items were stored in one half of the box in that lovely wool keep cool packaging, while veggies and other items were in the second half. Everything is pre portioned in sachets or bags which makes it really easy but does create an awful lot of plastic waste. Surely its not that important to have exactly 100g of carrot – one medium carrot would do the job, and be fine on it’s own in the box without the need to be wrapped in a plastic bag. Me and Effie had great fun un-bundling it all to see what we had, then decided to re-bundle it into meal kits as all the ingredients for all the meals come in one package, so you’ll need to sort out what foods belong to which recipe, which is made much easier by the inclusion of the recipe cards for each chosen meal.

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We chose a Persian Lamb Quinoa Pilaf, BBQ chicken, Haddock Linguine and Bacon Wrapped Chicken. Cooking times varied from 20 minutes to 45 and, I timed as I cooked each one, were fairly accurate. All the recipes were tasty and pushed me to try flavours and ingredients I wouldn’t usually choose. The ras el hanout added to the the Persian lamb was absolutely delicious, and we enjoyed the Gentleman’s relish as part of the BBQ chicken sauce too. It certainly stopped me from cooking the same things week in, week out and meant I didn’t have to buy a whole jar or spice just for one recipe, as is so often the case if cooking Indian, Asian and African dishes. It was also brilliant not having to even think about what we would be having for dinner. I simply got our pre-prepared bag out from the fridge and followed the instructions. Yes, you still have to chop and actually do the cooking, but it’s easy. Either follow the recipe cards or use the app, which is well designed and intuitive.

And there’s no waste. Not one bit.

Effie ate them all, as did CC – I just made sure I kept a smaller pan aside, or removed stuff before adding salt, for her, then mashed or blended into a rough, textured puree. I chose recipes for 4 people to include the children and because I have a husband who eats double portions. I was a little worried that 1 chicken breast was sent as a serving for two people, but each one was huge and fed us adequately, especially with other ingredients padding it out, such as the huge amount of coleslaw and potato wedges! I had enough Lamb Pilaf for two huge adult meals that night, plus we both had second helpings, and two lunch portions the next day.

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Will I be using this after my three half-price boxes? Probably not on a weekly basis: at full price (£60 for four meals for four people, £3.75 per portion) I feel that I can do similar much cheaper myself. But throw in the time taken to shop, the idea that you don’t throw anything away, the new recipes each week and the fact that you don’t have a three year old pot of ras el hanout in the cupboard, wondering what to do with it, I will certainly be using it on those busy weeks, especially when I return to work at the end of February.

And they sent me a big bag of free popcorn too!

If you want to try, simply click this link and get £25 off your first box…

https://www.gousto.co.uk/join?promo_code=HANNA188010 

Or go to the website and click the ‘have a special code?’ link under the menu button on the homepage and paste in this code: HANNAH188010

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Taste of London: The Festive Edition

I’ve coveted tickets for the Festive Edition of Taste for the last couple of years, but finally got my hands on some via a Big Green Egg Facebook competition this year – winning a pair to the Tobacco Dock extravaganza. And boy, was I excited!

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I packed up the children and the grandparents, ensuring Papi was driving, and took us off early on the Sunday morning for the 40 minutes drive to Wapping. I wanted to begin by taking my 5YO to the Beas of Bloomsbury gingerbread man decorating workshop in the Patissier’s Pantry, which was free, but you needed to book after arrival. Luckily, they managed to squeeze us on an end as it was already fully booked ten minutes after the doors had opened, and what fun we had!

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We then headed through the lower ground floor, sniffing out smoky aromas from the Big Green Eggs and choosing places to visit later on, before heading for the Great Gallery where we found 3 restaurants, many stalls, and plenty of seating. The LO enjoyed a Chicken Schnitzel Sub from Tom’s Kitchen, followed by Crispy Cod Cheeks from Tredwells. We had the Icon Dish of Smoked Rare Rump Cap from here too, which was delicious, our own portion of Cod Cheeks since monster had eaten the first plate, Adobo spare ribs and a Crispy Pork Belly Taco from Mole Taco Bar. All washed down with a couple of glasses of Prosecco, which was to be found everywhere!

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Next was a wander round the stalls, stopping particularly at Pan-n-Ice to order Oreo and Nutella ice cream rolls made in front of our eyes! I think the stall holder was a little fed up with having to demonstrate what it was all about without people actually ordering, so didn’t realise we really did want an ice cream from him. The grumpiness did fade in time!


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By the end of lunchtime, the whole building was buzzing. Live music, a dj, delicious smoky aromas all adding to the festive atmosphere. By far the tastiest morsel was something I grabbed on the way past … a Big Green Egg cooked Pork Belly Bun from Kurobuta. This really was just scrummy. My mouth’s watering just looking at the photograph again! I nearly went back for seconds but had lost the rest of my family by this stage so thought I should really catch up!

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To top if off, a hot mulled cider, oh yes, and a little chat with Marcus! A thoroughly enjoyable day…just fantastic. Thank you Big Green Egg. The perfect start to the Festive Season.

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Monday, 5 December 2016

ASK Italian, Chelmsford … A Review

What, with all these new chains opening up in Chelmsford, I can barely keep up! But one thing that will set a good restaurant apart from the others, since the food is is usually comparable, is the service. One of my main bug bears is the fact that there aren’t more independent places here, but when there are, it seems they struggle to get the service right too. Take for example A Canteen. It used to be a fab little place, perfect for a hungover weekend brunch. Then they expanded … too fast: huge premises, wildly long opening hours, three menus throughout the day at first, and new staff, who were awful. And the food went downhill too – with so large a choice, the chefs just couldn’t do it all, And the lack of communication between front of house and kitchen is still very poor.

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Anyway, I digress. At many of the new chains, I have also experienced poor service. From tables not being served at the same time, some people having finished before others were served and the excuse being, “Well, we are very busy”, to poor knowledge of product from the waiting staff. At the press night at ASK, however, the staff and service was excellent. Way above anything else in Chelmsford. Staff were trained at the Billericay and Colchester restaurants for several weeks beforehand and comprised a mixture of experienced and new, which just seemed to work. Now, I know it was the press night and everyone was on best behaviour, but from product knowledge, personal experience and professionalism, to asking if we wanted the remnants boxed to take away without us asking, they were really superb. Difficult to find staff this good in when the market is saturated with new restaurants. We even received an email to say my partner had left his rucksack and that they had it safe for us to collect!

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And the food wasn’t too bad either! I’ve never been to an Ask before and was pleasantly surprised. The new mixed antipasti board was delicious, the tomatoes served at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge, so they actually had taste, and the mozzarella was soft, squishy and simply delicious. I chose a pizza with mixed salami which was exactly as expected…crisp and tasty, as was the super thin garlic bread we chose to accompany it. The OH decided on a meatball pasta, which was ok. A little more sauce would have gone down a treat as it was a bit dry, but came with a lovely side salad instead of having to order this separate and he ate it all.

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But the real star of the show was the Etna Dessert – I'll let the picture speak for itself, but if you go, you must leave a pudding space for this!

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The interior is the right side of industrial with open piping in the roof space but nicely finished wood and metal surroundings. There are a combination of booths and tables and plenty of space to fit buggies…always useful for a girly lunch!

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Here’s what ASK had to say about the opening …

“The new restaurant features seating for 140 guests, with capacity for an additional 60 covers outside in the warmer months, overlooking the river Chelmer. The imposing glass frontage floods the restaurant with light during the daytime and showcases a very impressive hand built wooden staircase.

Serving a range of dishes from starters such as Butterfly King Prawns, Antipasti boards and Dough Balls to mains including stone baked pizzas, pasta and salads, busy Chelmsford shoppers will be spoilt for choice at ASK Italian. One of the highlights has to be the very ‘instagrammable’ Chocolate Etna dessert where hot toffee sauce is poured over a dark chocolate cup at your table to reveal a hidden scoop of vanilla gelato on top of a hot chocolate fondant.”

We’ll see how they cope over the festive period, but if you fancy it, all 3 ASK Italian Christmas menu options are available to view online here

Classico – 3 courses for £18.95

Festivo – 3 courses for £22.95 or 2 courses for £14.95 (Mon-Fri until 5pm)

Super Festivo – 3 courses for £24.95

I’ll be visiting again next time I’m in town for lunch…here’s hoping the service is just as good!

Disclaimer: Our meal was complementary for review purposes. All opinions given are my own, honest and truthful.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Our Local Butcher … at last!

Something Chelmsford has needed since I moved here over 15 years ago is a decent butchers. A couple are in and around...the farm shop on Moulsham St. has a selection of meats and Lathcoats farm shop on Beehive Lane also sources and sells local meat. There are a couple of butchers in the market and a few  independents in most of the surrounding areas, such as the Vineyards at Baddow and the shops at Galleywood.

Now, Stock is much further out than 'Chelmsford' and his new butchers is just on the far side of the village, based at Stockbrook Farm Shop and Nurseries. Its’ here that James has opened up a little butchers counter. Although small, he is happy to make up or prep. ahead anything available for you to collect, or order your leg of lamb for Sunday roast in advance. And with a new delivery scheme set up, there's really no reason not to.
I visited this week and was pleased to see quite a big range of meats, including several pre-prepped options, such as hunters or lemon chicken, fresh stir fry or stuffed lamb noisettes. These sauced and pre-prepped options are always homemade from natural, store cupboard ingredients and perfect to pop straight into the oven. The meat is sourced as locally as possible, with pork from Wicks Manor and other meats from Hanningfield and Great Leighs. James has developed relationships and struck up friendships with Smithfields Market, London, and ensures all meat is high welfare, even if it's not always possible, due to demand, to ensure it's as local as he would like. Talking of local, nearby customers are also currently given a 5% discount!

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I chose four lamb noisettes and a chunk of rib eye which James chopped in two for me and was pleasantly surprised they only came to £15! I would have posted pictures, but we gobbled them up far too quickly! the steak was great, and I’d advise you to cook quickly on a high heat first to sear the fat and begin to melt it down, then finish them off in the oven to medium. I usually eat my steak rare – as in, just touched the pan rare – but with a ribeye, it’s important that if you want the full flavour, you need to crispen the outside fat and melt it down to make the middle moist. As for the lamb, I fried this. On a high heat to begin to, again, brown the far, then on a lower heat to begin to cook the middle. I ate this pink and it was delicious. I served it with potato dauphinois, baked tomatoes and mushrooms and roasted vegetables. They were utterly delicious.

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You'd definitely be advised to follow James Facebook page, Our Local Butcher, and new website to view the full range of meats, and to check out recipe ideas and meal suggestions from him too. The delivery service has just begun, with different areas of Chelmsford being covered on different days. Free delivery for orders over £25 and a £5 charge otherwise.

This seems like the perfect answer to fresh, local meat for me, until they invent chilled meat lockers on every road anyway (!) , and I’m already looking forward to this week’s visit. 

Photographs taken from Our Local Butcher website.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Spicy Pumpkin Soup




I always struggle to use up the bits and bobs of pumpkin that are leftover from carving. Doesn't everyone just scoop out the seeds and gunk and leave most of the flesh inside, or is that just me? Anyway, this year, I had a few pieces that I refused to throw away, so topped them up with other things to make soup. It was sooo easy.



Fry off the leftover bits of pumpkin along with a peeled and cubed sweet potato, a few stalks of chopped celery and a red onion. That's it. Once beginning to soften, add a stock of your preference and simmer until cooked through. Blitz in a blender and serve to your little monsters. For a spicier kick, throw in some chilli flakes and chilli powder. That's our post rainbows, pre trick or treating tea made then! 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Homemade Salted Caramel Buttered Popcorn

 

After recently attempting Laura Amos’ Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart from her Dessert Deli, and giving the caramel at least three goes, I was more confident to try this on my own. So when we decided on a relaxed ‘cinema afternoon’, with the big cushions pulled off the sofa onto the floor, the shutters closed and the Lego Movie on the box, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try out a quick caramel to top our popcorn.

I’d highly recommend buying the corn kernels to pop yourself. They’re so cheap and easy…and fun, especially if you have a glass lidded pan so you can see them popping. Take care to put less than you think in – a layer over the bottom of the pan will be fine -  turn the heat up and keep shaking so they don’t burn on the bottom. As soon as they begin to burst, turn the pan lower and keep shaking that pan til popping slows.

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As for the caramel. you could make a simple sugar syrup…stop after the sugar has melted, or continue to make a richer caramel sauce. Pour a layer of caster sugar over the bottom of a saucepan and keep the heat on medium. Try not to stir the sugar, simply wait for it to melt and turn a golden orangey colour. If you end up with a lump of unmelted sugar, gently swirl the pan. Once all the sugar has dissolved, take the pan off the heat and quickly stir in a lump of salted butter – this will cause the mixture to bubble, but don’t worry and keep stirring. You can also stop at this stage or add a splash or two of cream. Again, keep stirring. If you get a few lumps, return to a low heat and stir, stir, stir. The more cream you add, the runnier the finished caramel. Once finished, add the popcorn into the pan and coat each piece thoroughly using a spoon.

Don’t forget to have some wipes handy for those sticky fingers afterwards!

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