Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Tesco: A Cake Fit For A Queen

At a recent event Tesco launched their special new cake designed by the award winning patissier Eric Lanlard and crafted in time for the Queen's 90th birthday next month. It is truly a 'Cake Fit For A Queen'.
The cake is a moist sponge layer cake with one layer of chocolate
and two pink velvet sponge layers which pair perfectly. the layers are filled with a raspberry conserve.
The cake is then coated with a vanilla white chocolate buttercream and crowned (like the Queen) with prosecco flavoured buttercream roses. To finish a light dusting of edible lustre - perfect for summer celebrations.  It is my birthday soon and I would love to have one of these cakes to serve to my guests!

At the Tesco launch event Eric Lanlard promised to teach us how to decorate our own 'cake fit for a Queen'! My friend Nayna was at the event too so off we set to see what we could do!
We watched Eric decorate a plain sponge and then we tried to replicate what he had shown us.

Two techniques, one on each half of the cake.
Then we had a go after we were told there was a little competition!  This is my finished piece!  It tasted great. Although I liked mine it didn't win the competition but we all got to take our cakes home which was a prize in itself.
Tesco's limited edition finest 'Cake Fit for a Queen' will be available in 532 Tesco stores nationwide from 3rd to 16th June 2016 at £10.00 and it serves 14.  Don't miss out on this delicious cake.

Thanks to Tesco for a really fun evening and Eric Lanlard for teaching us some useful icing tricks.  As usual all opinions and photos are my own.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

North Carolina: The Pit BBQ in Raleigh

The Southern states of America are known for their fried food and their range of and love of BBQ. Most early settlers to North Carolina could afford a pig and having let it roam fairly freely they would cook it over a large open pit of smoldering wood coals.  They used a sort of vinegar, salt, hot pepper and occasionally a dash of oyster juice sauce to baste the roasting meats.  Tomatoes were not used at the time which is why a North Carolina BBQ is quite vinegary! 

The Pit BBQ restaurant still carries on the tradition of wood fire, free range and vinegar based sauce roasting a whole pig from local farmers.  The kitchen team cook the pigs round the clock every day to make sure there is enough meat available whenever it's needed or wanted.

The Pit is usually so busy on weekends that you need a reservation however we were there mid-week and earlyish and they had plenty of spaces at that time.
The bar was well located with loads of tables near it if you only wanted a drink and sharing platter this would be an ideal location.
We were seated in a large and comfortable table space with a good view of the whole place.
Our waiter told us we should have a look at 'the BBQ' pit as there was a whole side of pig currently being roasted.  All of the meat is smoked and roasted on the premises daily ensuring the meat is tender and tasty.
There was also a load of chickens roasting alongside the pig.
The wine rack was massive with a wide selection of wines from around the world.  Being lunchtime I settled for an ice tea although the wine selection was tempting - better saved for an evening visit! There us also a range of local craft beers available.
We shared two Pit Platters between us which were loaded with mouth watering items such as:-
pit-smoked wings, BBQ soul rolls, devilled eggs and potato fritters.
For my main course it had to be Carolina Style Ribs - what else would you get in a North Carolina BBQ restaurant!!
The ribs were so tender they just fell off the bone with huge chunks of tender meat for eating with fingers! They provide cutlery but I just couldn't resist.

The Pit Bacon Cheeseburgers were huge with a choice of ordinary fries or sweet potato fries.
The Pit's Southern Fried Chicken big enough to feed a crowd and probably the best in town!
You can eat 'family style' or 'a la carte' including the famous 'Pit Signature Carving Cart' which is the Chef's selection of pit cooked local beef, carved tableside and served with your choice of two side dishes.

Side dishes are traditionally Southern such as heirloom Cabbage Collards, Black Eyed Peas, Candied Yams and Fried Okra to name a few.

By the time we had finished our meal the restaurant had filled up with local business people and workers in busy Raleigh. Had we left it any later we would have had a very long wait for a table.

We were not guests of The Pit. However we were given our platters on the house but were not required to write a positive review. All photographs and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Grenada: Cinnamon Rolls

Last year when I visited Grenada (the Spice Islands) I had a goal to pick my own nutmeg.  I was able to fulfil this dream, to learn so much about nutmeg and to bring loads home with me. 

This year I was hoping to be able to see how cinnamon is grown and harvested as last year we ran out of time to achieve this.

Our hotel owner was asking me what I wanted to see that was different this year so I told him about my cinnamon quest.  He went and made a phone call and within a few minutes was back with the news that he had arranged for a gentleman called Mr MacDonald to collect us and take us up to his family plantation which included cinnamon trees!  I was really excited and even the prospect of getting up early on the arranged morning didn't dampen my excitement!

Mr MacDonald arrived on time and suggested we go in our hire car but that he would drive - the roads are really steep and windy in Grenada.  Mr R and I had to agree this sounded a good idea.  It took us about an hour to arrive at the family 'plantation', relieved to get out of the car really.  I usually sit in the front passenger seat which means being on the side of the edge of the road, usually without any barrier to stop the car rolling all the way down!
Mr Mac Donald, who wished us to call him Chris, introduced us to his family.  The first brother was called 'Serious' or 'Seriously'! 
He had a small charcoal fire going and was cooking fried chicken in a large pot of oil. 
Locals from the surrounding homes would walk down and buy some chicken from him at lunchtime.
Sure smelled like it was going to be good! 

Serious said next time I came to come and cook lunch with him - this is an opportunity I will take up next time!

The house was a simple set of rooms on the ground floor pretty much open plan with a huge rock in the entrance, painted a sort of electric turquoise with a great saying painted on it.  Imagine waking up to this every morning!
Another brother, whose name I didn't really hear kept telling us that next time we came to Grenada we should stay with them in the house as family, that Jesus loved everyone and that he didn't have any money.  I spotted about a dozen large bottles of rum by the fridge so I guess that is why he never had any money!

Chris pointed out the tell take pink leaves of the cinnamon tree which of course we spotted many times later - once you know what you are looking for it is much easier.
Chris and his brothers cut off a branch of the cinnamon tree at the back of the house. 
I really had no idea how they got the cinnamon so was very attentive during the process. 
If you cut a branch off the tree you scrape the thin layer of bark off sort of like scraping Jersey Royal potatoes. 
Then after scoring around the circumference of the branch you gradually slide the knife under the bark and gently lift it off of the branch.
The pieces look like bamboo and smell really fresh with just a faint smell of cinnamon. 
You can burn the piece of wood once you have finished and your BBQ or fire will have a sweet, faint smell to it. The rolls were placed in a basket whilst the rest of the bark was removed.

The little girl that lived in the house was called Akita and kept looking at me with huge eyes and sometimes a little smile!
Whilst this was happening Chris took us out back to see the tree and some of the other natural spices and goodies his land provided.  There was a couple of cacao trees with pods ripening in the sun.  They grown only for their own consumption but of course must do all the steps themselves like the roasting of the fermented beans.
And grinding the beans into a paste.
He had plenty of mango trees and pineapples growing wild.
And unexpected lemongrass
Chris asked if I liked turmeric and promptly unearthed a tuber from which he broke off several pieces.  The tuber with the roots was replaced in the soil to keep on producing edible buds or pods.  This really was fresh turmeric. 
I didn't take it home because of the restrictions on bringing back fresh produce.

The family was so keen to show us around and all of the lovely produce they have there.  As we were leaving Chris's brother's wife handed me a bag of turmeric she had dried and grated as well as some cocoa balls she had made.  She also gave me a bag of the cinnamon rolls with instructions to leave them out in the sun during the day until we went home and this would help them dry out and the rolls would tighten up leaving us with one of my favourite spices - cinnamon!

I followed instructions and by the time we were leaving my fresh cinnamon rolls had dried out and curled into the darker and tighter cinnamon rolls that I knew.

As well as our cinnamon experience Chris was a great tour guide as we made our way pointing out loads of interesting places and houses on the way with a stop at a great place to view St Georges' harbour.

The following day when we got back to our apartment there were three nutmegs on the table still in their protective fruit outer. I questioned where they had come from and apparently Chris had dropped the off for me earlier that morning. How kind!
This was just one of the amazing experiences I had this year on our trip to Grenada for the 3rd Annual Grenada Chocolate Festival. I will be writing up many more posts in the next weeks.  Please leave a comment below what you would like to tick off your 'to see/to do' list.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Aldi: Simple Sensational Spring offers

Aldi have come out with a fantastic Spring range of products with are currently in store (available whilst stocks last). Some of the products in this range (different stores may carry different items in the range) are:

Professional Style Frying Pan by Crofton's Chef's Collection. I really like this pan which doesn't require any fats or oils, is non stick and with a stainless steel handle is safe to use in the oven up to 220oC. (RRP £12.99)
I cooked some bacon for a potato salad which I needed really crispy.  This was really easy in this professional style frying pan.
I cooked some fried eggs after draining the bacon fat into a small dish and they didn't stick at all, just lovely fried eggs.
The 3 piece knife set is also by Crofton (RRP £7.99). Each piece has it's own protective cover to keep your fingers safe when you reach into the knife drawer or you can add them to your favourite knife block.
Knives are a very personal thing which I find hard to buy without trying. These were a pleasant surprise - very sharp and each one fit for the individual job. This set:- chef knife, slicing knife and bread knife are all marble ILAG non stick coated encouraging your slices to slide right off.
The only thing I would have liked to see differently is the inclusion of a smaller utility knife instead of the bread knife which for me would have been the perfect combination.

Years ago when I first got married we had a Russell Hobbs electric kettle in the funny old fashioned, round shape which seems a million years ago!

Now Aldi have a Russell Hobbs matching kettle and toaster set in a range of colours including black and bright red.  My kitchen has tiles of black, red and cream allowing me to have my appliances in any of those colours. (Kettle RRP £14.99 & Toaster RRP £14.00)

I was especially please to receive the Canterbury range in the bright red which will fit into my colorur scheme perfectly.  The kettle is cordless which means it lifts off the stand which is plugged in allowing you to move to the other part of the counter to pour without having the cord problem.
The toaster, equally bright red, has wide toast slots which accommodate crumpets and muffins as well as the thicker slices of bread, you can even toast bread straight from the freezer.

Now one item I was particularly interested in is the single induction hob (by Ambiano) (RRP £29.99).  I have always thought this would be a great asset when having a BBQ and you wanted to boil potatoes or keep beans hot.
This hob has cooking program buttons available to heat milk, stew, stir fry, deep fry and boil water along with a time function.
Occasionally I am cooking for a crowd and the cooker is full so having an extra hob will be really helpful.  I think I am going to use this a lot in my entertaining future!

Aldi have a long list of other 'must have' products in store and are constantly adding new ones.  They are all available while stocks last so don't leave it it there is something you especially want to purchase.

I was sent a selection of Aldi products but was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions and photos are my own.

Monday, 9 May 2016

April Tongue Teasers

1. Cirio brand tomatoes
There are tinned tomatoes and there are tinned tomatoes! Some of the lower priced tins are mostly a thin, watery liquid with one large plum tomato or a small amount of chopped tomatoes in this liquid.

Cirio are authentic Italian tinned tomatoes which are thick, packed tightly with tomatoes.
They are full of flavour giving any dish that you are cooking that real Italian, sun packed tomato flavour.
Of course your normal range of tinned tomatoes will contain  plum tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and one or two brands will have a cherry tomato. Cirio have Cherry Tomatoes, Peeled Plum Tomatoes, Baby Plum Tomatoes, Finely Chopped Tomatoes, Tomato Fillets and Chopped Tuscan and not to forget the super double concentrated tomato puree.
If you want more information as well as loads of recipes click here.

2. Lavazza Prontissimo - new instant coffee from Lavazza, Italy's favourite coffee.

It seems these days that everyone is coming out with an instant version of their ground coffee and Lavazza has done just that.  You can now get an authentic Italian coffee experience ‘in an instant’ with their new instant coffee called ‘Prontissimo!’  

Lavazza has been roasting coffee since 1895 and through four generations of family however still has its passion for great coffee as well as providing education and information to help people living in the coffee growing countries.

Prontissimo! Is available in two varieties: Prontissimo! Medio, a medium roast, sweet and round bodied with low acidity and Prontissimo! Intenso a dark roast which is well balanced with notes of roast and caramel.  Both are made using 100% Arabica beans sourced from Columbia.

Mr R is especially pleased with these two new blends – he loves his Lavazza espresso and can now have it ‘in an instant’!

Prontissimo! Is now available in a range of Sainsbury, Waitrose and Tesco stores with a RRP of £4.70 for the 95g tin and £3.75 for the pouch.

3. The Fine Cheese Company - Bath

And of course the evening wouldn’t have been complete without The Fine Cheese Company from Bath who treated us to some of their finest cheeses and wines to pair with them at the GBSCC judging last year!  This year they brought a selection of new buffalo milk cheese (which is rich and delicious but easier to digest) with them, my favourite being the Penny Bu, a lovely and creamy brie like cheese.
We also tried their two other buffalo milk cheeses as well as a goat’s cheese.  The exciting news is that The Fine Cheese Company is opening a new shop in London on Motcombe Street on the 12th May 2016!  I think I will be a regular visitor getting my fix of all the outstanding cheeses they will have.

When I have been in France one of my favourite drinks is Champagne.  The French love to add a small amount of their wonderful black currant liqueur called Cassis to a dry white wine and they call it 'Kir' however adding this dark purple liquid gem to Champagne it become 'Kir Royale'.

Now there is a British company producing a special black current liqueur on the market.  I was able to taste this at a recent event, appropriately in a glass of Champagne!  It is a drier product giving your drink a more 'any time' quality rather than just an aperitif.
British Cassis works really well neat with an ice cube or as an ingredient in fine chocolates.
I am hoping to be able to travel to Herefordshire where British Cassis is grown and produced and to get to know the process of growing, harvesting and producing and I will of course follow up with a blog post.

These are just a few of the products I was sent or given to try last month.  There will be further 'Tongue Teaser' posts coming up soon.

I was not paid to review the above products and as usual all photos and opinions are my own.