Sunday round up. 21/02/2016

This week has been a little up and down.

Mainly ups, but some downs. Then I read this article thanks to my best friend, Jodie, and things seemed to gain a little perspective. If you haven’t yet read it, I urge you to. I think it’s applicable to most people. It’s addressed “To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind In Life” but is a particular good read if you’re possibly, potentially, maybe having a brief  ‘mid-twenties’ crisis. You’re welcome.

A highlight of this week, without a shadow of a doubt, was curry night at my old man’s. It’s also his birthday today – so shout out to Pete and happy birthday from your number one favourite blogger, Sophie’s Scran!

Dad loves curry. He always has done, always will do. His recent stint living in north Manchester and desire to take a ‘healthier’ approach to eating curry almost daily, saw him ditch the takeways and has started making his own from scratch instead.

Curry Night at Dads (9)
chicken tikka, wholespices and spices simmering in the pan with masala gravy

Inspired by a cookbook he got this Christmas (Atul Kochhar’s Curries of the World), he’s been experimenting will all sorts of new, authentic Indian flavours and techniques. So on Wednesday he made Atul’s British chicken tikka masala complete with homemade chapatis and chickpea dhal. Served with wholespice infused basmati rice. We even tweeted a picture to the twice Michelin starred man himself (Atul, that is), and he kindly tweeted back with his approval. Well done, Dad!

 

Curry Night at Dads (10)
homemade fresh chapatis, ready to be dry-fried in the skillet
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puffing up to perfection, Dad’s homemade chapatis
homemade masala gravy - the basis of many curries in Atul's book
homemade masala gravy – the basis of many curries in Atul’s book
the finished feast ❤

Sticking with the positives, we are dog-sitting this week for Brad’s parents. It’s so lovely to have their staffy/collie cross, Vinnie, with us this week. We took him on a three hour trek around Tatton Park yesterday, which also gave me the opportunity to browse their food offerings…

In the Housekeeper’s Store they sell all sorts of fancy local ingredients including venison reared on site. I’m making a Moroccan tagine for friends next week, so picked up some mutton, which I thought might be nice instead of lamb. All will be revealed next week!

In the meantime, here’s a cute picture of Vinnie absolutely living the dream after his walk!

It's a dog's life!
It’s a dog’s life!

Have YOU had a good week? I sure hope so. Happy Sunday, anyway.

Sophie -x-

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Cheshire Food Blog

Campfire Gourmet Challenge: British Macaroni Cheese

I was recently asked by Park Resorts to create a gourmet, campfire-inspired recipe using British produce; something a family could easily rustle up on a camp site holiday in the UK.

My initial thoughts were of a family sat around a campfire in the middle of the woods, toasting marshmallows on long sticks, singing along to a gentle guitar-strummed rendition of kumbyyah… Then I thought, hang on a minute, nobody actually does that any more… and did they ever?!

These days, a more common way to get all gourmet when camping is to make use of gas camping stoves. I take them with me whenever I go camping, as they are a safe and easy way to cook up favourite staples like pasta, but still with the fun novelty of outdoor cooking. Win win!

For my take on the ‘Campfire Gourmet Challenge’, I decided keep it simple with a British take on the all American family classic, “Mac and Cheese”. This is a stove-top version, so no need for an oven and it really tastes just as great (if not better!)

Using a generous mix of Welsh cheddar and English Red Leicester, British pancetta rashers, English mustard and some hearty oregano to season, this recipe is delicious, easy and cost-effective. Making a Mornay sauce (Béchamel with cheese) using the French roux technique in front of your fellow campers is sure to show off your gourmet skills, and might even get you out of doing the washing up. I should hope so anyway!

If you prep your ingredients before you leave and arrange them in your cool bag, once you’ve set up camp getting started couldn’t be easier. For a really quick and easy gourmet campsite dinner, cook the pasta at home before you leave and take it along with you in an airtight container. Then all you have to focus on is cooking the pancetta and getting the cheese sauce perfect to feed all your hungry campers after a long day of fun and adventure ❤

Serves 4, 30 minutes.

Recipe: Camp stove British Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients

  • 300g dried spirali pasta (cooked beforehand)
  • 60g Welsh cheddar, grated
  • 60g Red Leicester, grated
  • 50g dried mushrooms
  • 12 rashers pancetta
  • 500ml semi skimmed milk
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp English mustard powder
  • 50g butter
  • good handful fresh oregano, roughly torn into small pieces

Method

  1. Fire up your stove and first of all, cook the pancetta over a low heat in a frying pan. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, but cook until crisp then set aside on some kitchen paper. Heat a cup of water to the boil, and pour over the dried mushrooms to rehydrate while you make the Mornay (cheese, to you and me) sauce.
  2. Gently heat the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour and mustard powder and stir until combined and you have a smooth paste-like consistency. Cook for 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and continue to stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Give it a bit of elbow grease as it thickens, you don’t want any lumps! Season to taste.
  3. As the sauce comes to the boil, drain and squeeze out any moisture from the mushrooms and add them to the sauce. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes over a low heat. Take off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir until the cheese has completely melted.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce along with the pancetta (break the crispy pancetta into small pieces so it distributes evenly throughout).
  5. Just before serving, stir through the torn oregano and check the seasoning. Serve immediately with extra oregano to garnish, if desired.

 

The Portly Grocer, Knutsford

I recently received a wonderful artisan food hamper from The Portly Grocer, a Knutsford-based company who work to support Britain’s finest artisans. Always one to support local businesses, I was delighted to learn that they wanted to send me some of their offerings to try, so I didn’t hesitate to get stuck in.

The hamper itself was packed full of goods – from Prince & Sons Tea Co. Jasmine Pearls tea bags to an array of Spice Entice Spice Kits (Thai Green Curry, Jamaican Jerk and Rogan Josh to be precise). Also packed in was the most delightful array of C&B CHOCOLATE BISCUITS, which really went down a treat with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon and on a dull Tuesday in the office. I can also now say I’ve tried Wild Boar Game Pâté (delicious), and that Aubergine and Basil Paste is sooo the new pesto and if you haven’t tried it, you should… It’s heavenly.

The Portly Grocer is a husband and wife team who operate an online fine food & drinks business specialising in new up-and-coming, mainly British artisan foods.  They started nearly 12 months ago and aim to help small food producers launch their products and provide free business advice. They also don’t charge the producers to sell on their (lovely) website. Whatsmore, they have a rather wonderful story that dates back to 1884, which explains how and why they came to be in the business of sourcing and selling fine food products. If you fancy a nice little read, find the full story here.

Artisan Food Hampers

When the box promptly arrived, I was first impressed by the sheer range of goodies inside. Other things it contained included Amaretto flavoured ground coffee, luxury breakfast granola, a salad dressing vinaigrette, some chutneys and a range of rather ‘grown up’ crackers made by Cartwright & Butler. So to save this being the longest blog post in the world, here’s my thoughts on a few key products.

Spice Entice Thai Green Curry

This little spice kit promised ‘lovingly selected herbs and spices with a recipe to make a delicious dish of Thai Green Curry, to serve four’. The shopping list was quite long, but luckily I had most of it in; soy sauce, fish sauce, stock, coconut milk, palm sugar… that sort of thing, plus some fresh ingredients like garlic, onions, birds-eye chillies, veg, and chicken. I was surprised not to see fresh ginger on the shopping list for this curry, but not all green curry pastes contain it. As I had some monkfish in I was eager to use, I substituted this for the chicken. I would highly recommend this, just reduce the cooking time a little to suit the fish instead.

The recipe was really easy to follow, you do need a blender to whizz up all the ingredients for the paste (it perhaps should say that on the outer packaging) but that’s my only gripe as it was quick, simple, nutritious and delicious. Just how I like it.

Mellow Yellow Classic Vinaigrette

Apologies for the photo of the half empty bottle, but I think that goes to show how much I am enjoying this item! The main ingredient is Rapeseed oil so it’s lighter than olive oil dressings, which it really nice. And very convenient for my ‘health kick’. It’s scent and flavour is tangy as you would expect from a classic vinaigrette, and it seems to have the perfect balance of oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, herbs and seasoning. Below I have served it with a simple couscous salad with baby spinach and cherry tomatoes. Very easy to put together for a working lunch and absolutely maximum flavour with very little effort.

Olive Branch Aubergine & Basil Paste

This stuff came as a real surprise as it was wrapped so beautifully, which is part of the service if you wish, complete with cute personalised labels! At first I was a little unsure of what to make of it. Was it a pesto, a dip, a sauce? Turns out it’s all three… Such a versatile little jar of deliciousness. So far I have used it as a dip with the Cartwright & Butler Linseed and Sesame Flatbreads which worked really well. I’ve also used it in a simple pasta dish, instead of pesto and it made a really creamy, yummy sauce to coat the pasta.

Olive Branch Paste
Olive Branch Paste

Sweet Treats – Breakfast Granola and Chocolate Biscuits

Other highlights were these delicious sweeter items in the hamper. Sensible Dave’s Strawberry Granola with White Chocolate shavings is a real delight. I wouldn’t eat this on a regular basis for breakfast, but, on a Saturday morning after being good all week it’s the perfect treat and much quicker to put together than a bacon sarnie!

The Chocolate Oat Crumbles were also a firm favourite. Beautifully rich and creamy chocolate, and the biscuits were buttery and crumbly and very, very morrish. The wafers and dark chocolate and lemon varieties were also lovely, but the oat crumbles stole the show for sure.

Packaging & Attention to Detail

As The Portly Grocer’s story dates back to fine foods during the 1920’s, they are keen to replicate the attention to detail of that era; by hand-wrapping each product in luxury brown paper, and tying each one with twine in a vintage style. I must admit, the products look as good as they taste and it really makes it clear you’ve got something special on your hands.

Overall, I am really impressed with The Portly Grocer’s range of products, packaging and the service in general. Their website is also beautifully simple and very easy to navigate. It also has a lovely blog and some fantastic recipes ideas. They seemingly sell products to suit everyone – teas and biscuits for Grandma, Curry Kits for Dad’s and a huge array of everyday products that are bound to jazz-up your experience in the kitchen, all whilst supporting independent artisans – the ethos at the very heart of what they do.

If you’re looking for a gift idea for literally any type of person and for any occasion – then I would highly recommend you give these guys a whirl!

They also have an alcohol licence and have started retailing British produced spirits, with plans to expand into British gins, cassis and wines later this year. Also, you can look out for their pop-up stalls at various food & drink events in the North West.

Visit their website at www.theportlygrocer.co.uk and make sure you follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and give them a Like to show your support on Facebook.

The Home & Fine Food Co.
T/A The Portly Grocer
Booths Hall Estate
Chelford Road
Knutsford
WA16 8GS

0161 241 2791
info@theportlygrocer.co.uk


The Portly Grocer sent me this hamper to sample on a complimentary basis, but, as always my review is as honest and objective as possible ❤

Soulful Food Co. ‘One Pots’ plus Discount Code!

I have recently been in touch with the lovely and super-cool people at Soulful Food Co. and have been sampling their #SoulfulOnePots, with the view that if I like them, I will share a discount-code with you all as a little thank you for reading and following my blog. You will be pleased to know, they have turned out to be an absolute delight!

As you know, I have recently been on a health-kick. I’ve decided to get my ass in gear and start exercising, as I was starting to feel a little ‘under the weather’ (as we all do from time to time). I attributed these feelings to my sheer lack of exercise, eating too many calories and not getting the right balance of nutrition in my diet. Over the past few weeks, I have cleaned up my diet, stopped eating for the sake of it and joined a really nice gym where I have been working my ass of to try and get into better shape and health.

So… The arrival of 6 healthy, hearty #SoulfulOnePots therefore, couldn’t have come at a better time. For the past week, I have been fitting them into my diet (mostly for lunch, which means snacking less in the day) and sometimes for dinner (perfect when you’re in a rush – you will see why later).

Here is a summary of what I thought of each pot – and at the end of the article, there is a discount code for you to enjoy a whopping 35% off your #SoufulOnePots online order! You are welcome!!

How they taste:

Official Name & Description: Mexican Bean & Sweet Potato with Quinoa. A rich & warming bean fiesta of a stew, with sweet red pepper, tomatoes & lentils.

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Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Low Fat, Low Salt, Gluten Free, Vegan, 262 Calories per tub.

My Verdict: Overall this tasted absolutely fantastic. Great textures from the variety of beans (black beans, pinto beans and red kidney beans) and also green lentils. The lentils have a slight bite to them which is lovely. The sweet potato is firm but squidgy and soft in the middle, nice bite-sized chunks. Loads of flavours from the added herbs and spices, particularly fennel seeds and cumin which gives an authentic Mexican flavour. LOVELY!

Official Name & Description: British Pulled Beef Chilli with Black Barley. West Country Beef, slow cooked till tender, in our fresh take on the classic chilli con carne.

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Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Low Fat, Dairy Free, Lean Protein, 2 of your 5-a-Day,  391 calories per tub.

My Verdict: The beef in this one pot is tender, meaty and there is plenty of it. Absolutely no accompaniment needed if you’re having this for lunch like I was. It’s packed full of loads of fresh red peppers, onions, kidney beans and celery which all contribute to the wholesome flavour. A great level of spice and seasoning, from both the fresh red chilli used and the cayenne pepper, chilli powder and pepper. Delicious.

Official Name & Description: Free Range Thai Green Chicken Curry with Kelp Noodles. Our own fragrant take on the eastern classic with babycorn, sweet potato and red pepper.

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Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Lean Protein, Dairy Free, Gluten Free, 2 of your 5-a-Day, 441 calories per tub.

My Verdict: This was one of my favourites, simply because I love Thai curry and this one is done really well, whilst still maintaining balanced nutrition. I had never tried Kelp noodles before, but can honestly say they are light with a great texture (a little bit like glass noodles but without the starch). As the kelp is raw and very low in carbs, this allows rest of the food fill you up, which I found kept me fuller for much longer (so less/NO snacking, yay!) The chicken had a great ‘pulled chicken’ texture, and the veggies were crunchy as if they has just been stir-fried. Absolutely tonnes of fragrant, tasty Thai flavours coming through too: lemongrass, coconut, basil, coriander and chilli. So much nicer than the Innocent Veg Pot ‘Thai Green Curry,’ by a clear mile. DIVINE!

Official Name & Description: Free Range British Pulled Pork Stew with Chorizo, Beans and Spelt. Hearty & rustic, with smokey British chorizo & nutty grains of finest Somerset spelt.

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No picture! So here’s a pretty picture of the packaging!

Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Low Fat, Low G.I, Dairy Free, Gluten Free, 2 of your 5-a-Day, 315 calories per tub.

My Verdict: For just 315 calories per tub – this is seriously impressive. I forgot to take a photo of this one, as I was in a rush after work to get home, eat dinner, and get my ass to the gym. So, I just grabbed this one pot from the fridge, heated it in the microwave and ate it straight out of the tub. As I am used to brown rice, I must say the texture of spelt as an alternative is a little strange to get used to at first – but it is an overall more nutritious option with more fibre and less calories per portion. The sheer flavour from the pulled pork and smoky chorizo more than made up for the new texture. You can tell a lot of love has been put into slow cooking this very hearty and nutritious stew. I ate it about 45 minutes before my gym session and it gave me enough energy to absolutely smash it!

Official Name & Description: Free Range Moroccan Chicken Tagine with British Spelt. Chunks of chicken, veg, apricots & almond, slow cooked in delicious North African spices.

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Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Lean Protein, Dairy Free, Low G.I., 2 of your 5-a-Day, 395 calories per tub.

My Verdict: Lovely and warming spices (ginger, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper and cinnamon). There is less spelt in this one so the texture less noticeable. There was perhaps a little bit too much carrot for my liking, but for lunch this was a very satisfying dish, which would be lovely as a dinner with some homemade chapatis.

Official Name & Description: Butternut, Lentil & Spinach Hotpot. Gently cooked with coconut, lemongrass & a warming hint of Indian spices.

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Nutrition Info: 380g serving (1 pot) = Low G.I., Gluten Free, Vegan, 2 of your 5-a-Day, 388 calories per tub.

My Verdict: I must admit, I think (subconsciously) I saved this one until last, because I didn’t fancy it as much as the others. However, this one turned out to be my favourite overall. The chickpeas, cauliflower, spinach, split peas and green lentils all work together really well to give a light but hearty texture. The spices used are really warming (turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamon powder, ginger and red chilli), which give the hot pot a lovely little kick. The only drawback is that the potato-to-squash ratio favoured potato a little too much for my liking. On the ingredients it says 7% of both, but there was certainly a lot more potato than squash!

Overall, I would highly recommend these lovely pots of flavour-packed wholesome goodness. I think they would be a great purchase to supplement your own home-cooking as they are healthy, nutritious and overall taste fantastic! They are £3.49 per tub plus P&P to buy online, which is a little bit on the pricy side, but you get what you pay for, and these really do taste great and the ingredients are top notch. Use the discount code for 35% off your order, see below. 

All of their packaging is fully recyclable too, which is awesome.

As promised, please use code SCRAN35, for 35% off  your Soulful Food order, which is valid until the end of May 2015.

I was sent the Soulful Food One Pots on a free-of-charge basis, to taste and try and feature on my blog. All opinions above are my honest and actual thoughts on the products supplied.

The Handmade Ice Cream Company

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When Steve from The Handmade Ice Cream Company contacted Sophie’s Scran to see if we wanted to sample and review some of their ice creams I must admit, I was rather excited. However, getting the ice cream to me (from Cumbria- where it’s made, to Cheshire) during the week when I am at work in Manchester all day where we don’t have a freezer – did prove a bit of a challenge. So, I roped in my Grandparents to help, as they live in Cheshire, have a large freezer and are generally in the house all day. So Steve dropped it off with them – safe to say, they were more than happy to help, being true Ice Cream connoisseurs themselves…

Steve’s ethos is pretty simple – “the best products require the best ingredients,” so by sourcing the finest ingredients (and if he can’t find them – he makes them himself, having spent 15 years as a professional pastry chef) his ice creams are truly handcrafted. The final products are indulgent, naturally flavoursome and textured. It’s tricky to find a bad word to say…

Let the taste-test begin!

Flavour No. 1: WHITE CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY

As well as looking absolutely stunning, this flavour tastes fresh, indulgent and not overly sweet. The tangy raspberry balances so well with the white chocolate, cutting through the sweetness – a match made in heaven. My Grandma loved this – and that is saying something, as she is usually averse to raspberries after her mother used to crush up aspirin in raspberry jam when she was a little girl – in an attempt to make her take medicine when she was poorly! Steve and his team have helped her appreciate raspberries again for all their wonderfulness 🙂 The raspberry flavour and texture is there – but it’s delicate and not overpowering, with the white chocolatiness sweet and creamy, as expected.

Flavour No. 2: SALTED CARAMEL

Salted Caramel seems to be an evermore popular flavour nowadays, and this one is creamy, sweet with a sharp salty tinge that really packs a punch. The texture of this one is very smooth – almost more like a sorbet texture, which keeps it light, and rather too easy to have ‘just one more scoop’ – lovely. I would have preferred a slightly firmer texture to this flavour, however, I feel like this would go well with a dark chocolate torte or brownie dessert due to its softness. Perfect for an alternative Christmas day pud!

Flavour No. 3: CHOCOLATE

This is a chocoholics dream. A truly indulgent chocolate fix – it comes served with an extremely generous sprinkle of chunky dark chocolate shavings on top, and then them same laced throughout the ice cream itself. The added chocolate shavings add a wonderful texture – a sharp chocolate crunch every now and again really makes this one special. This was one of my Grandad’s favourites too.

Flavour No. 4: CARAMEL, FUDGE & HONEYCOMB

Another one my Grandad couldn’t get enough of – and it’s the same for me. I love honeycomb ice cream, and this one had plenty of perfectly sized honeycomb pieces throughout. The caramel and fudge add a whole other dimension, making this the sort of ice cream whereby all you need is the tub and a spoon. Very tempting just to polish the whole lot off, without sharing. The texture is creamy, the caramel running smoothly throughout with the odd sticky bit here and there where the flavour lingers for a while afterwards. The fudge pieces are small but add just the right amount of solid texture to compete with the honeycomb. Very yummy indeed.

Flavour No. 5: GINGERBREAD

This flavour is somewhat festive. It has a slight citrusy orange taste in the background, which compliments the small gingerbread pieces really well. The ice cream itself is smooth and light, and although it features tiny cakey pieces, they are so small and evenly distributed they come together perfectly. Much nicer than the brash efforts the likes of Ben & Jerry’s make to incorporate cake/biscuits into their ice creams. I feel like a scoop of this would go well with Christmas pud for a nice little twist on the Christmas day classic!

The full range of The Handmade Ice Cream Company’s flavours can be found here, and the great news is they are willing to create bespoke flavours for you – great if you run a restaurant and need the perfect ice cream to serve alongside your decadent desserts!

The Handmade Ice Cream Company allowed Sophie’s Scran to taste their delicious ice creams  for no cost – the review above is a true representation of how we feel about each of the flavours sampled.

You can also find The Handmade Ice Cream Company on Facebook and Twitter, and for any further information please contact: info@handmadeicecream.co.uk / 015395 31021.

The Handmade Ice Cream Company
The Handmade Ice Cream Company