Thursday, 29 September 2016

In a Pickle - Get Preserving for Christmas with Sarson's and Kilner Jars

It's Boxing Day, you are having cold meats and salad and you open the cupboard to get the chutneys and pickles - and horror there isn't any left!  Well if you start now you will have a well stocked cupboard in time for the festivities coming soon.

There is a definite trend towards home pickling and Sarson's are the UK's number one vinegar brand with their vinegar sales up 2.1% year on year and rising. People are also looking on line more for information about pickling including a new generation of picklers. You can search for recipes and hints & tips here.

I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Sarson's Vinegar and my two friends Manjiri and Nayna were there too.
Everything was ready for us to get started,
There were four pickling stations each fully ready to make a different pickle and we were then split into small groups.

Sarson's have a new pickling blend to add to their collection - this vinegar does not require the addition of sugar or any other seasonings and has been especially designed for home pickling.
Nayna and I went to the pickled cucumber station,
whilst Manjiri decided to make pickled peppers (Peter Piper and his pecks of pickled peppers were brought to mind!).
The hardest part of the whole operation is peeling and slicing the shallots or little onions without tears running down your face!

Armed with my jar of pickled cucumbers I made my way home all the time thinking what I could pickle next - courgettes maybe or how about pickled peaches!!
Have you tried making pickles of any type? Tell me and other readers in the comments section below what is your favourite.

I was an invited guest of the Sarson's Pickling Workshop. As usual all photos and opinions are my own.

Click Here for Nayna's account of her pickling session with Sarson's!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Book Review:- Raised Bed Revolution by Tara Nolan

I was sent a copy of the book Raised Bed Revolution by Tara Nolan to review.  This book came to me at just the perfect time!

We have an allotment where we can grow a large part of our food during the UK growing season.  We have had this plot for about four years and it is a constant battle to keep the vegetable beds in shape and not allowing the borders to shrink due to grass encroachment.  Although this plot is now pretty much organised it is still a lot of work.

This April we were given the plot adjoining ours which is just an overgrown piece of land, pretty much needing us to start from scratch.  I vowed that this plot would be populated with raised beds right from the start so this book arrived just in time.

There is enough information for the beginner gardener to set up a raised bed as well as hints, tips and ideas for the more accomplished gardener to get the best out of their raised beds and ultimately their produce.

Tara Nolan writes in a very easy to follow tone of voice with great explanations and instructions to make your own raised beds.

I do love a raised bed and have taken some photos of some I have come across .......
Grow Rings I used on the allotment for my beetroot this year - very good yield!
Raised bed kits from WoodBlocX
A raised bed in a courtyard at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight
Asparagus bed in a brick raised bed - it doesn't always have to be made of wood!
Any material can be used to make a raised bed
Even something to be discarded and past it's original use
Whether you have a small space available
Or a larger space - you can always fit in some raised beds somewhere!
This book is published by Cool Springs Press RRP £20.00

I was sent a copy of this book without being required to write a positive review.  All photos and opinions are my own.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

London: Chakra - Contemporary Indian Dining

I was invited to review Chakra's second restaurant which is on Holland Street near High Street Kensington (Their original restaurant is in Notting Hill).
The restaurant is a short walk from High Street Kensington underground station.  Outside they have about four tables to sit and eat at however this time of the year it was a bit too chilly but I could imagine sitting out there on a warm evening enjoying superb food and a few drinks with family and friends!

The food is based on the traditions of the Royal Maharaja Kitchen with traditional recipes from Punjab and the Northwest Frontier of India with some specialties from the Indian sub-continent.

What I love about Indian cuisine is the marriage of spices and flavours to create a sensual and mindful experience of the places the dishes come from.  What I do not like is food that is too hot and spicy that you cannot taste anything but fire!  Chakra comes from the first point - a really enjoyable foodie experience.

Individual portions of mini papads and a lovely dipping sauce greeted us as we sat down to browse through the menu with a list of dishes I had certainly never heard of before.
We picked a selection of starters so we could share between three - Manjiri, Nayna and myself.
Sweet Potato & Pea Open Samosas & Tamarind Chutney
Spinach Galouti, Baby Spinach Fritters, Radish & Spinach Salad
Tandoori Paneer, Basil & Mint Chutney
Chicken Tikka, Mint & Coriander Spices & Chilli Chutney
We were really taken with the presentation of the starters and the tastes were delicious, fresh and innovative.

After a lot of photo taking of our starters and actually eating them our main courses arrived.  Although we had each picked one we shared (Nayna is vegetarian so was unable to taste what Manjiri and I had ordered but she was more than full with her main course:-
Purple Potato, Ivy Gourd, Red Onions and Baby Tomatoes (We all also shared Basmati Rice and Meloni Daal)
I ordered the Seafood Biryani, Shrimp, Squid, Clams, Octopodi with a side of Sweet Potato with Mustard Seed). It was really full of flavours, the sweet potato was little cubes of crispyness.
A platter of Peshwari Naan and Paratha for the table
Manjiri ordered the Tandoori Poussin with Red Onion and Lemon.  As with many of the other dishes it was adorned with a beautiful edible flower!
Another side dish of Okra, Red Onions, Chilli & Lime.  I have often found okra to be a bit slimy or starchy for me however these were little pieces of savory crispiness!
Even though we were all full and satisfied we did find room for pudding - well it would be rude not to!!
The Mango Kulfi, Fresh mango, Mango Sauce was really not what I was expecting. Usually you get a sort of cone of ice cream, this was like a plate of crafts, each essential part of the whole.
Manjiri had Gulab Jamun Caviar, Pistachio Toast & Cardamom Creme:- really tiny little crunchy and sticky sweet balls in a cute caviar tin
Finishing with a coffee we left feeling full and satisfied, talking about the meal all the way to the underground station where we went our separate ways. I would be up for a re-visit anytime!

I was a guest of Chakra London but was not expected to write a positive review.  As usual all opinions and photos are my own.

Click here to see what Nayna thought of the experience too.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Great British Bake Off - Batter Week with Rachels Organic Yogurt

If you have been watching the great British bake off you will know this week was batter week Rachel's organic yogurt have asked me to use their pancake recipe with yogurt as an ingredient. I have never put yogurt in my pancake batter before.

I followed the recipe that Rachel's organic yogurt sent me and I used their plain yogurt with vanilla in the batter. The batter was not any thicker then other batters I have made before without yogurt.
The waffles were cooked in my waffle maker and they came out perfectly as you can see.
I have topped them with Rachel's organic yogurt with coconut and fresh blueberries with a sprinkle of cinnamon. They tasted delicious and were the perfect brunch

Rachel's has launched a brand new page to link to the local farmers that help make all of the organic produce that goes into Rachel's Organic products. You can find out all about the farmers' page here. 

Waffles with Blueberries & Greek Style Yogurt
250g self raising flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
2tbsp caster sugar
2 egg, separated
80g unsalted butter
200ml milk
180g Rachel’s Organic Low Fat Vanilla Yogurt
A few drops of vanilla extract

To Serve: Rachel’s Greek Style Honey Yogurt Berries of your choice

Makes: 8 waffles serves 4 Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes

1.Mix the flour with the salt and caster sugar in a bowl.
2.Add the egg yolk, melted butter, milk and yogurt and vanilla extract and beat to a smooth batter.
3.Whisk the egg white until stiff and then fold into the batter.
4.Heat the waffle iron until very hot and pour enough batter to cover the surface.
5.Close the waffle iron and cook for a couple of minutes each side. When cooked the waffle should be golden brown, crisp and easily removed from the iron.
6.Serve with fresh (I used blueberries) berries and a large serving of Rachel’s Greek Style honey (I used coconut) yogurt.
This is a sponsored post - I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions and photographs are my own.

I am linking this to this week's Great British Bake Off Blogger's Challenge presented by MummyMishaps

Mummy Mishaps

Travel Tip 7 - Travel Essentials to Travel in Comfort

There are a few items that just help make travel a bit more comfortable.  Whether you travel by car, train or plane these little 'helpers' will be worth their weight in gold!

Travel Pillow:
I have a Tempur travel pillow that I take with me either in the car, plane  or on the train.  It comes in a little plastic case to keep it from getting dirty and if space is short I can just loop the case over the back of my hand luggage case. Sometimes I don't particularly like hotel pillows or just want something a bit softer next to my face and this little gem does the trick.
Mr R has one of those half circle travel pillows for his air travel. These keep your head from lopping from side to side and with a handy clip can attach to the outside of a bag or backpack to be at hand whenever you might need it.

I have just bought a new 'J' shaped travel pillow that has another 'arm' that rests under your chin.  I am going to give this a try on my next trip. This is a great one for children and I will be letting the 'Little People' give it a try on the next car journey.
I wouldn't consider leaving home without a travel pillow.

Wet wipes and tissues:
One of my pet hates is to use the toilet when travelling and there is no 'paper' available so a small packet of tissues is always in my handbag.  I usually take one pack for every day I will be away - there are always noses to wipe as well.

Wet wipes are now available to clean most things now and often come in smaller travel packs.  Baby wipes double up as adult wipes for sticky fingers

Bandana (scarf, face cloth & more):
On a trip I usually buy a new one of those 'cowboy' style hankies or bandannas.  I have a whole collection of colours and once home they become serviettes for BBQs and outdoor parties because they wash so well.
However on holiday they are so useful for many things.  As soon as I get a new one I will hand wash it to remove the protective coating.  Then it becomes a scarf, bandanna, cloth to wet to keep cool, face cover if the sun get too intense, something to wipe hands on if eating outside and so many more things.
I also take a really light but large scarf which can act as a bit of warmth around your shoulders or cover up if you arrive and it is chilly or need something a bit more elegant to add to an outfit whilst travelling.
These little tips just keep me feeling a bit more comfortable when travelling thus keeping me a bit happier which is a good thing!!

As usual all photos and opinions are my own. I was not paid to review any of the items in this post.

Giveaway: - Chocolate and Love and who doesn't love chocolate!!

When Richard O'Connor's daughter became old enough to eat chocolate he wanted to make sure she ate only the best!

Richard and his partner struggled to find quality, organic chocolate so they decided to make their own. They sourced excellent great quality chocolate and committed to pay a fair price to the growers sourcing their ingredients for their chocolate from certified Fairtrade co-operatives, as well as the cane sugar, vanilla and coffee (their Coffee Bar - 55% dark chocolate with coffee was in fact my favourite).  Their cacao comes from Peru, The Dominican Republic - rich with notes of red berries and Panama - decadent and incredibly smooth. With the support of Fairtrade Premium the farmers can invest in their own communities including ensuring a supply of clean water.

Chocolate and Love has won Great Taste awards - 15 so far and they are confident of more in the future.
When I met Richard O/Connor he challenged me to taste his chocolate and not find it incredible. He was right - this chocolate is a rare treat.
This is not only a delicious collection but visually eye 'candy' as well! Richard and his partner Birgitte worked with designers in New York to produce the beautiful wrappers for their chocolate bars. The lovely floral wrappers are a delight with their cacao pods, cacao flowers, orange flowers, mint leaves, cocoa beans and so many other beautiful designs.

If you would like to win a box like the one above with four x 100g bars - one of each of Sea Salt (55% dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt), Filthy Rich (71% dark chocolate), Orange (65% dark chocolate with orange) and Creamy Dark (55% creamy dark chocolate and cacao nibs) then complete the Rafflecopter option below:-

I was sent a 4 bar selection box but was not required to write a positive review.  All photos and opinions are my own. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Isle of Wight: A Weekend Away - Dog Friendly too

We have had a brilliant summer so far and with that I was really looking forward to our weekend visit to the Isle of Wight.  I haven’t been there for years and really fancied visiting for the same weekend that the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival was on.
Whenever we plan to go away our little dog Jonty gives us the big eyed look as soon as he sees any kind of suitcase or travel bag because usually he gets left with his babysitter or a family member.  You should have seen his face when we told him he was coming with us! Happy dog! 

The reason we were taking him was to check out how ‘dog friendly’ the Isle of Wight really was.  We were booked on the Red Funnel ferry crossing from Southampton to East Cowes.  Red Funnel are really dog friendly and instead of having to leave Jonty in the car during the crossing they have a lounge where dogs (and children) are made to feel right at home.  
There were 13 dogs on our outward crossing all sitting on the floor near their owners and not one caused any trouble or looked for attention.  Jonty was as good as gold sitting with Mr R!
I was advised that the bacon sandwiches on board were amazing however we had just had our breakfast and were too full up to try them – maybe next time!

Red Funnel Ferries make the 1 hour crossing to East Cowes with great precision resulting in a comfortable journey – unloading an incoming ferry and immediately loading us on even though the weather was really wet and foul.  My little mascot ‘Red Ted’ was so unimpressed with the weather he even put his hood up!
We disembarked with the same precision as we got on and headed towards the West of the island where we had booked into Sentry Mead hotel for our two night break.

The weather continued to be bleak however the weather forecast promised it would let up around 15:00 that afternoon.  We called into the New Inn pub in Shalfleet because they allowed dogs inside the pub.  We had wanted a light-ish lunch, Mr R ordered a Ploughman's
 and I had a Chicken Bacon Sandwich.
 They were anything but small!  Other plates coming out of the kitchen looked equally ample.

Upon reaching Sentry Meal hotel the sun had come out and the rain had stopped. There is ample parking out front.  We were welcomed by Sarah, who along with her husband Jean Pierre, has run this establishment for around 11 years.  The place is welcoming and spotlessly clean and Sarah wanted us to know nothing would be too much trouble.
Our room was one of 10, five on the first floor and five on the second.  We were on the first floor in Allum Room which is one of the largest because Sarah thought we would be more comfortable with the dog.  I will be telling you more about Sentry Mead in a forthcoming post so keep your eyes open for this.
The Isle of Wight has loads and loads of activities and places to visit for all of the family.  Some that we visited were …….

Farmer Jacks Farm Shop at Allerton Farms, Tapnell Farm which is also home to The Cow Co restaurant.  We were initially going to eat there but as Jonty wasn't very well on the trip we cut our stay short and got an earlier ferry crossing home Sunday afternoon.  

Tapnell Farm was once the home of the biggest dairy herd of cows on the Isle of Wight but is now home to the first and only 'Art Herd' in the UK.  The #Wightherd is a collection of live-sized and very colourful cows all designed by local businesses, groups and collectives.

The restaurant is definitely on my list for the next visit though.

We drove through Ryde to Bembridge to visit the famous "Best Dressed Crab" seafood cafĂ©.  
We bought crab sandwiches to take away and eat in the car.  They were fantastic, thick with loads of crab and a salad as well.  Whilst I was waiting someone ordered the lobster plate which was a whole lobster on a bed of salad with a side of chips at £26.00 and someone had the full seafood platter which consisted of a full lobster split in half, two dressed crabs, mussels, shrimps, prawns and more for the reasonable price of £46.00.
We could have sat outside on this little floating barge with the dog but they were full which was why we got take-aways!

Despite the weather we visited the Garlic Festival on Saturday.  
I stocked up on products from The Garlic Farm which is located on the island and passionate as well as pioneering the growth of garlic and making garlic products.  
There was a garlic beer which I was advised not to drink but to make a lovely beef stew or casserole for a cold winter's eve! Think I will take the advice!
I also bought growing garlic bulbs and with the help of the sales person and a booklet on growing garlic hope to have a successful harvest next summer.

I was really fortunate to visit The Tomato Stall, part of Wight Salads.  They only produce tomatoes now but what a range.  
They have the science down to a fine art and along with a fantastic growing position (in a valley surrounded by the Downs which shelters them) and being so close to the seaside which reflects the light giving the plants extra light source they are practically self sufficient and ecologically producing plump, tasty and beautiful sizes and varieties of tomato!
I was on a mission to find some island honey and was directed to visit Quarr Abbey (pronounced kor) near Ryde. I am not a particularly religious person however as I got closer to the abbey it felt weirdly serene and calm.  

Quarr Abbey is a Catholic Benedictine Monastery. There is a gorgeous brick wall (I do love a brick wall) surrounding their cafe, kitchen garden and apiaries.  Unfortunately the bees were working and not available for interview!
I was especially drawn to their impressive asparagus bed, which I think I will replicate at our allotment!
Some other places we want to visit on a future trip (probably early summer next year) are ……

As the weather was really windy we were unable to get the cable car down to the beach at Alum Bay, famous for it's multi-coloured sands. A minor disappointment but definitely on the list.

There are quite a few wine and cider making places to visit like Rosemary Vineyard, Sharon Orchard, cider press shop & coffee house, Adgestone Vineyard.

West Wight Alpacas and Llamas (I love alpaca!), Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary - very popular with families.

There are many, many fun and interesting places to visit including Chessell Pottery Barns and for the really brave House of Chilli will tickle your taste buds!

As we drove around the island we discovered that it was much larger than we had previously expected and very, very rural in all but the most touristy places like Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor.  We would be driving around windy roads up hill and down dale and would suddenly come upon one of the attractions or places of interest.

There really was too much to try to do and see in a weekend but it gave us a taste and flavour of some of the attractions for a future trip.
Many thanks to Red Funnel Ferries for our ticket, The Garlic Festival and Sentry Mead.  I was not required to write a positive review and as usual all photos and opinions are my own.