Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Barbados - 50th Anniversary of Independence - Film Premier

This year, 2016, is the 50th anniversary of independence for the Caribbean island of Barbados. I have been to Barbados half a dozen times, each time reliving the hospitality and friendliness of the local people.

Over 50 years ago Barbados was finding the sugar cane that had once sustained them was a dying industry and tourists seemed to be coming to the island paradise for their holidays.  Tourism is now the major industry on the island as well as many other Caribbean islands.  The Barbadian people have embraced this life however it was not always the case.  Their life was difficult, many people not being able to afford medicine or send their children to school.

Errol Walton Barrow was a key player in the push for independence ending up as the first Prime Minister of an Independent Barbados.  Step by Step Productions, spearheaded by Dave and Marcia Weeks has made a film called 'Barrow: Freedom Fighter' telling the story of Errol W  Barrow leading up to the independence.

The aim of this film is to entertain and inform both children at home in Barbados and people worldwide about the struggles and triumphs facing the country and how the nation was born.
I was invited to the launch of the film recently at an intimate screening room in central London.  I felt like a film star having my photo taken and being interviewed after the film as well.
Hey there was even pop corn on offer - every great film needs popcorn!!
Sir Garfield Sobers, a hero to the people of Barbados, gaining fame and a knighthood from the UK through his life as a major player on the international cricket scene was there.  Affectionately known by those who know him as 'Sir G', he was featured in the film and is a great supporter to his homeland.
Following on from the film launch I was pleased to see the Barbados team at the World Travel Market at the beginning of November where the atmosphere was charged with excitement and emotion as a testament to the 50th year of independence.  Sir Garfield Sobers was there as well to pass on his enthusiasm for his homeland with visitors.
The music was enthusiastic and the smiles welcoming and happy. Just like being on the island - I can't wait to go back!
The people of Barbados are rightly proud of their island and their independence and I am really looking forward to visiting again soon!!

I was a guest of the film premier of 'Barrow: Freedom Fighter' and was not required to write a positive review.  As usual all opinions and photos are my own.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

What I am drinking this Christmas

Christmas time is for kicking back, enjoying the time with family and friends (after the frantic food and present shopping is done) eating and of course drinking products that are after all that little bit more special.

My drinks this holiday will include the following as well as many other interesting bottles I have acquired over the past twelve months.  My children and grandchildren will be joining us this year for a big Christmas Day meal and I will want to have loads of white wine, red wine and beer for the adults and of course a variety of soft drinks for the little people.

I recently met the winemakers  Zonin from Italy who have been making award winning wines since 1821 and have a very impressive wine list now available in the UK and was thrilled when they sent me a mixed case to sample over the holidays. I am hoping to visit the vineyards next year and bring you the stories of the people behind the wines including their families and their lives.
My Christmas Day sparkling wine will be Prosecco from Famiglia Zonin, crisp with lovely small bubbles, not too sweet and certainly refreshing and the perfect drink to get the holidays started. (Don't tell anyone I may have to start a bottle on Christmas Eve to get the last food prep done!!).
I mostly drink white wine but Mr R is more a red wine drinker however there are a few red wines I really, really love and a good Chianti is one of them.  I had the opportunity to taste this Chianti at an Italian dinner event and was really impressed.  There were no sharp notes or corners to this wine just a smoothness and taste that really got my attention.  Castello de Albola Chianti Classico 2013 is a real winner as far as I am concerned.  I am thinking of saving this one for a creamy turkey pasta or maybe a tomato based pasta during the week between Christmas and New Year.
 Mr R will certainly be opening the Zonin Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2014 at the Christmas table though, a rich red wine lovely to drink on its own or with a rich food like turkey - perfect for the occasion!

The visiting men will have a treat for them in the shape of craft beer from Beer52.  There seems to be a plethora of subscription services popping up so that now you can have a regular monthly delivery from everything from socks to cheese (not cheesey socks) and a new player is Beer52 where you are able to tailor your boxes to your own taste..
The Christmas box that arrived contained some really interesting looking bottles with labels that made Mr R make delighted squealing noises (really!!)
And with each case you get a copy of their magazine Ferment packed with loads of info on the month's selection along with recipes to get the most out of  your selection!
Each box will contain 8 different craft beers changing each month.  You can pay monthly, every three months, 6 months or every 12 months with prices starting from £24.00 per box.  You can also send a box to a beer loving friend as a one off gift.

You have a chance to get the freshest beer around and it's like having 50,000 drinking buddies!
If you want to see what Beer52 is all about click here and if you sign up for their service you will get £10.00 of your first box if you enter the code HEIDI10 at the website prompt.

Another wine that will be offered to our visiting diners this holiday is the Australian wine I discovered recently from the Bird in Hand winery.
They say a Bird in Hand is worth Two in the Bush - this wine certainly says it is the truth!  Bird in Hand is a multi award winning Australian winery and is now available in the UK from Frontier Wines.

The white is a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 from the Adelaide Hills.  It's elegant and crisp with tropical flavours and quite citrussy.  Easy drinking chilled however pairs perfectly with cheeses and cured hams and salami. I tasted this wine at the official UK launch in London recently.
The red wine is a Shiraz 2014 with a slight oakiness with aromas of blackberry and pepper with a hint of chocolate. It's full bodied, it's complex and elegant pairing perfectly well with winter stews of beef or venison.
After dinner I will be treating adult visitors to a little Grappa served in tiny little chocolate cups a treat from Carluccio's.
And of course there will be some lovely little things to nibble with some of the drinks above such as a selection of cured meats from Woodall's - The home of British charcuterie! They sent me a selection from their extensive range of salamis, sausages, hams and bacon.
Also from Carluccio's I will offer Baci de Dama (ladies' kisses), mouthwatering one bite hazelnut biscuits with a chocolate hazelnut filling - each one easy to pop into your mouth and made with butter and so slowly melts in your mouth.  Follow up with a strong Italian coffee or glass of Italian Prosecco (see above) for a taste of Christmas paradise!
With an impressive list like this one I guess I will be pretty chilled out by New Year's Day!  What are you drinking this holiday season - leave a comment below and share.

I was sent the drinks and other featured products for review but was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions and photos are my own.

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.