Friday, 24 July 2015

Hendrick's Gin - Mobile Masterclass at The Wicked Lady Wheathampstead

One for the road as they say, shaken and not stirred!  The traditional Martini and favourite of the legendary character James Bond 007 is a drink featuring gin and vermouth and garnished with a couple of pimento stuffed olives on a cocktail stick.

Gin is made from vodka and must have juniper berries as one of the ingredients (51% of the world's juniper harvest goes into gin making)

Hendrick's Gin is distilled and bottled in Scotland and is unbelievably only 16 years old.  The concept was created at the home of a family of Scottish distillers for generations when a chance conversation revolved around an old still they found in the attic and what they could do with it that was different.  Let's make a gin! 
Gin itself has been around for centuries, at one time being better to drink than the local water!  It was possible for anyone to make gin but without any regulations some of it was indeed a dark drink and often responsible for injury and death amongst the drinkers.  Gin was used in the Dutch wars when the soldiers full of gin would just go head long into battle - Dutch Courage!
Regulations requiring a licence to distill gin helped to clean up the product and to create four main categories of gin:
1. London Dry (a particular process that denotes how it is made not that it needs to be made in London)
2. Gin (can have different herbs and spices as long as juniper is involved - Hendrick's is in this category)
3. Batched (M&S and Sainsburys have a good example of batched gin)
4. Location (Plymouth Gin - must be made inside the walls of Plymouth and with water from a local reservoir).
The tasting and masterclass were held in Hendrick's mobile and converted bus in the grounds of The Wicked Lady Pub and fine dining on the main road from St Albans to Wheathampstead.

Mr R, myself and two other bloggers that attended were treated to a lovely lunch afterwards sitting in the spacious and child friendly garden of The Wicked Lady on a beautiful summer afternoon.  The pub had some live music, face painting and Pimm's special bar along with a unique seating place for a bit of peace and quiet - an extra large teepee which will stay up all trough to the end of the decent weather.

We feasted on a variety of starters and main courses which included:-
A slice of brie covered in a pumpkin seed crust and deep fried with a sticky chutney and pea shoot garnish
I ordered a House Burger with added bacon and Stilton cheese. I don't often have a burger in a restaurant as it often falls short of expectation but this was a really lovely, fresh lean meat burger with a lot of garnish and fresh bun.  I had to deconstruct it to eat it, even my mouth wasn't big enough to take a bite!!
The was no choice in the matter of drinks on such a lovely hot summer day - Pimms!
By the way Hendrick's recipe for a Hendrick's Martini is:-

60ml Hendrick's Gin
10ml Dry Vermouth
Dash of Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir until the desired dilution and temperature is reached.  Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy!

I was a guest of Hendrick's Gin and The Wicked Lady Pub. All photos and opinions are my own.

Putting on the Ritz - Win the latest selection here too.

When someone says 'Putting on the Ritz' do you think of a top hat, tails and a cane or a new product from Ritz.

The makers of Ritz Crackers have a new crispy, crunchy snack on the market which is proving to be really popular.

I was invited to preview the collection and to try some simple but really tasty dips to go with the new Ritz Crisps but really anything you like dipping into will work really well.

There are four flavours, Sour Cream, Sweet Chilli, Sea Salt and Black Pepper and Salt-n-Vinegar.

Here are some photos to give you some style ideas if you are entertaining - the Ritz Crisps fit into any entertaining scenario.

I was a guest of Ritz and all photos and opinions are my own.

If you would like to win a selection of the new Ritz Crisps you can enter here by following the Rafflecopter below:-
a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is only open to UK residents. 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Marley Spoon - Dinner in a Box

Marley Spoon – dinner in a box.  But don’t worry it’s not a box of processed food but instead everything that you need to create a meal including the meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and spices and as in our case the yoghurt.

All I had to provide was the salt & pepper and a little bit of cooking oil.  The instructions were on an A4 size card and really clear with pictures and good descriptions of each step.
We received the Chicken Tikka with Sweet Potato Salad to try.  It arrived well packed and labelled and was still cool when I got home from work even though it had been delivered in the day.

I didn't need to measure or weigh the spices, they were already the correct amount and quickly mixed the spices with the Greek Style yoghurt and made the marinade.  
Adding the chicken pieces they were mixed really well in the tikka marinade then put in the fridge while I got on with the salad.

I peeled the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes, boiling them in salted water for about 8 minutes until fork soft.
When the sweet potatoes were almost ready I placed the marinated chicken pieces on a foil lined baking tray and popped into a hot oven for about 10-12 minutes.  The recipe card did say 8 minutes but I felt a few more were needed.
After the first 12 minutes I turned the pieces over and placed them under a hot grill and continued to cook until they were looking crispy and brown.
The sweet potatoes were mixed in a large bowl with the tomatoes, mint, coriander and lemon juice (all supplied by the way) and tossed with 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil and set aside.  Just before serving I sprinkled a bit of the mango powder also supplied.
We served them with the rest of the lemon cut into wedges.
The flavour was really authentic (Mr R did admit to not thinking he would like the chicken however really enjoyed it) and the sweet potato salad was quite refreshing.

There were three of us for dinner (the meal should feed 4) however there was just enough chicken for three – we would have struggled to feed one more on the amount of chicken supplied.  There was enough salad left for us both to take some to work the following day to add to some lettuce for a quick lunch. 
I would certainly have a look at the website next time I know I have a busy few days and get a box ordered.

We were sent the food box from Marly Spoon and all opinions and photos are my own.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Family BBQ in the sunshine!

My son moved into a new house following a change of job a few months ago.  Due to his busy schedule and mine this weekend was the first time we could visit his new house.  My 7 year old granddaughter thought a BBQ would be a good idea.

The morning didn't start out that bright however by the time we arrived the clouds were slowly moving away and the BBQ coals were lit.
Ed had worked in the pub industry for many, many years which took away his weekends, summer being over before he realised it.  Now following a change of job he has a more normal life with weekends with his family.
It is really lovely to see my son having a normal weekend Sunday sitting in his own garden in the sunshine.
On of the people getting loads out of having a normal home with a private garden is my 7 year old granddaughter.  She had lived in a pub since birth only enjoying some garden time when she visited me or her other grandparents.
Father and daughter enjoying some sunshine. This used to be a rare treat however nowadays is common place.
Beefburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and pasta salad kept everyone full along with endless pitchers of Pimms!
Nanny's best girl does love a hot dog and she discovered apple juice and lemonade which has become her favourite 'mocktail'.  We even managed to find the ice cream man before he drove off for a quick ice cream!

Our food was served on a selection of disposable plates and cups looking absolutely perfect in the summer sunshine.

This is a sponsored post but all photos and opinions are my own.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Grenada: Crayfish Bay - Cocoa Farmer for a Day (Bean to Bar)

On my recent trip to Grenada I was able to participate in a variety of events and activities to celebrate the 2nd Annual Grenada Chocolate Festival.  Although I really enjoyed the whole experience I think what really made my trip was the opportunity to be a chocolate farmer for the day.

The growers of the cacao who do all the work and hard labour to bring you the ingredient to make your lives immensly enjoyable do their job more as a labour of love than to get rich.  The cacao grower receives a low payment for their product which then makes its journey to far flung places to be made into the chocolate treats we know and love and which make a lot of profit for the manufacturers.

There are three main cacao farmers on the island of Grenada who produce fine, single estate chocolate and I was really thrilled to spend the day on one of these.  Crayfish Bay is run by English born Kim Russell and his wife.  Kim has formed a co-operative with his workers ensuring that they get 90% of the money he makes from the chocolate production which enables his workers to provide more than the basics for their family such as schooling and medical treatment but this wasn't always the case.  It took a vision and a lot of hard work bring together the local farmers and to build up the three main chocolate companies on the island; The Grenada Chocolate Company, Crayfish Bay and the Diamond Chocolate Company.

We arrived at Crayfish Bay early one morning during our second week on the island, equipped with bottles of water, hats and sunscreen, long trousers to keep the bugs off our legs and plenty of mosquito repellent.  Kim with his casual personality that hides a deep commitment to the island and the cocoa trade enthralled us with the history of Crayfish Bay, the work needed to look after the cocoa trees and the hard work that goes into the whole process.

Picking and processing the cocoa is a long and laborious process and one that cannot be factory mechanised and done in mass production.

There no neat paths to walk or pavements in the cocoa forest but gullies to jump over and uneven footing.
Kim explained the role of the banana plants to the cocoa. You see banana plants throughout and the reason is two-fold.  Firstly when the cocoa plants are young their roots don't go down deep enough to tap into a water supply so they use the banana plant roots to tap water from and then the banana is a faster growing plant and provides shade for the young cocoa plant until it is able to grow strong and tall.
A fresh water spring and a bit of shade, scent of nutmeg trees growing around you and the thought of the chocolate delights you will be making all add to the sense of tranquility and ideal life around you.
The cocoa pods vary in colour and are fairly large.  Mostly they are split open with a machete and then the inside white beans are pulled out and collected in large buckets.
The white covering of the beans is a flavour inhibitor and must be removed by putting in large bins to ferment for several days, leaving the cocoa beans to be dried and roasted.
Cocoa beans roasting.
A larger enterprise might roast them in stainless steel roasters but at Crayfish Bay the beans are roasted in small quantities and then laid out to dry in the sun
The cocoa beans dry in the sun. To keep them moving and to ensure they dry evenly workers 'walk the cocoa' with their bare feet expertly turning the beans without crushing the.
Crayfish Bay don't spend money on large industrial machines but in fact adapt existing machines to do a job.
Rumbling and shaking and suddenly the cocoa beans poured into the hoppa start coming out as a velvety, dark chocolate river.
On the day I was part of the picking team we picked twelve buckets of 'wet' cocoa and below you can see five of the twelve buckets that the two teams had picked. We really thought we had done well as our haul weighed 475 lbs and we were like rung out washing.  Kim quickly brought us down to earth with a bump - on a typical day his crew would pick approx 2,000-3,000 lbs of wet cocoa!  Nevertheless we felt proud of our achievement.
When we finished our 'work' we sat down on the open living room and drank freshly squeezed sweet seville orange juice which was followed by a huge bowl of Kim's signature Callaloo Soup with Dumplings and a fine buffet to help replace all the lost energy.
Crayfish Bay do not make any of their chocolate into bars for sale but instead ship their chocolate to a small, out of the way village in Suffolk to the home of Pump Street Bakery.
Set in the idyllic Suffolk country village of Orford Pump Street sell a selection of single bean, organic estate chocolates one of which is from Crayfish Bay in Grenada.
I made the journey to Orford to buy my chocolate last weekend to visit my daughter who lives in Ipswich which is a short drive away and I wanted to treat the grandchildren to a cup of hot chocolate and tell them the story of 'Nanny and the Chocolate Factory'!
Although Pump Street sell their chocolate online and offer a next day delivery service of their freshly baked breads and pastries I wanted to visit them personally and tell them how I picked some of the chocolate they would be selling in their bakery!
Once home the cocoa forests of Grenada seemed a long way away but the memory of picking, emptying the cocoa pods, traipsing up and down the steep hills, eating fresh mangoes and grapefruits will, along with the rest of the memories, stay in my mind forever!

I was a guest of Crayfish Bay Chocolate Plantation and want to thank them for a life-changing experience.  All opinions and photos are my own.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Bamboo Tableware from Premier Housewares

Premier Housewares have a great new range of plates, bowls and serving bowls out this summer.  They are made from bamboo (don't crack or retain odours) and come in three great colours, perfect for summer entertaining and perfect to match with their recent Green Leaf dinnerware collection.
The 'Eden' Bamboo is perfect for entertaining inside as well as outside being good looking enough for the dining room and robust enough for the BBQ food.

I was sent a selection which included the serving bowl in cream and in green, a small bowl in cream and in green, plate in cream and green and a tumbler. 
The large bowls were perfect for serving coleslaw

and potato salad and the small bowls for olives and nuts.
I used the plates to serve the cooked meat from the BBQ grill.
My table looked stylish, my food was presented well and I wasn't worried that the children would break anything.

For a BBQ I had last week I put sliced celery in the tumbler on the table, stylish and practical.

I was sent a selection to review.  All opinions and photos are my own.