Wednesday, 31 October 2012

FPP October!

Hello again! It's time to report on Foodie Pen Pals for October, and as ever it's been a great month. My generous sender this time was Helen Walsh, who writes NomzNHolz, a blog about food, travel and, as she puts it, general ramblings about London and other climes. 

In answer to Helen's questions about the kinds of foods I like, I told her that I was trying to get back on the healthy eating wagon, and she very kindly responded with some lovely, thoughtful little items in my parcel. Here's the whole lot - well, what was left of it after a fit of the muchies pre-photo session:
Ooh, what a lovely haul it is. At the top there is a wee box of gluten-free pecan crusted coffee cakes - oddly named, as they don't contain any coffee! Moist, chewy but not too heavy; deliciously nutty and oh, so satisfying. The recipe for them includes quinoa, dates, cinnamon, coconut oil, almonds and agave nectar, and you can see the whole thing here. I'll definitely be trying them for myself. 

Here's a closer picture, although it certainly does not do them the  justice they deserve: 

In the middle of the first pic we have a sweet little portion of what I think is pomegranate jelly / jam but it's all written in foreign, so if anyone knows for sure what 'geleia de goiaba' is, feel free to let me know! There are also a couple of sachets of de-toxifying nettle tea, a little sachet of (40 calorie) Options Belgian Chocolate hot chocolate; a pack of olives (yum) and a teeny weeny bar of salted dark chocolate. Well, if I'm honest, that's actually only the wrapper, cause I scoffed the chocolate some time ago, and can positively verify that it was 136 calories of extreme yumminess. Also in there is the wrapper for a delicious pomegranate, blueberry and oat bar, which really was lovely and represents one of that famous five a day, so also healthy-eating friendly! And last, but not least...

... a teeny weeny pumpkin! Would you LOOK at how adorable this wee thing is? It's about the size of a large clementine, just the cutest thing I ever saw. It made me smile so much, it's so perfect, and especially for a Hallowe'en reveal!! As it happens, there's a recipe for pumpkin muffins I want to try, so this might be the very fella I've been looking for. Or I might just try to carve it into a teeny weeny jack-o-lantern, because that would be so much fun! It's just another example of how thoughtful Helen's parcel was. She offered to supply festive goodies, however since I tend not to begin celebrations for the 'C-word' until after my brother's birthday on 14 December, she very cleverly went for October festive instead. 

The last thing in the photo is a fab-looking recipe for Miso Dengaku, a Japanese aubergine dish I'm very much looking forward to trying.

My wonderful parcel also contained a big bag of giant corn nuts, which were demolished almost before I'd got the rest of the wrapping off the box, and a shot-glass-sized measuring cup which will most definitely come in handy, especially since my scales are broken at the moment!

So to sum up, thank you Helen for a really fantastic parcel, it was just full of lovely things and I'm still working my way through them. The fact that you took the time to consider healthier options or calorie contents and still managed to come up with such delicious things made it very special and I can honestly say that every single thing in the box made me smile from ear to ear!

I shall leave you with another picture of my teeny pumpkin. Awwww. 

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved! 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Dear Tesco...

Today I thought I would have a treat for lunch, in the shape of your 'New York Deli Pastrami on rye bread' sandwich, which I will henceforth refer to as the NYDPR. “Ooh, look,” I thought. “It’s been ‘developed by dedicated sandwich chefs with peppery pastrami, fresh crunchy creamy slaw, hot mustard and gherkin mayo and thick slices of light rye bread’. How delicious, I love all those things, even if I question the place of slaw on a NYDPR. But let us overlook that, perhaps it is the ‘modern twist’ to which you refer. I shall sample this sandwich, it may well be the very treat I am after.”

Sadly, one bite was enough to put paid to such ideas. Let us first examine the bread. ‘Light rye’ you say. Is it possible you meant ‘extra thick white bread with the merest possible hint of rye, just enough to make it unpleasantly dry in texture?’ Because that would have prepared me better. Just so you know.

Now, as previously mentioned, I had some doubts about the presence of coleslaw. A NYDPR should contain, in my opinion and no particular order: gherkins, mustard, mayo, swiss cheese and pastrami. Coleslaw is outwith the realms of my experience but hey, I was prepared to go with it. Give it a whirl. Try something new.

Grated carrot is not coleslaw, Tesco. No matter how much bland mayonnaise you stir through it, it remains grated carrot. There is nothing wrong with grated carrot, per se. Many a dish may be enlivened by its presence. But it is not coleslaw. Even in countries where cabbages do not grow, people know that grated carrot is not coleslaw. At this point, I suggest, you should be looking at your ‘dedicated sandwich chef’ with some concern, and perhaps rifling through the personnel files to double-check that CV.

While you’re about it, perhaps you could question said chef on his or her understanding of the word ‘hot’. As in ‘hot mustard’. Anyone who has ever eaten the fabulously fiery French’s mustard from the interestingly yellow pointy bottles will tell you, hot means ‘with a kick’. As in ‘spicy’. ‘Nippy’, as we say North of the Border. There should be, at the very least, a tingling sensation on the palate. What there should not be, Tesco, is no trace of mustard whatsoever. I suspect the carrot juice and the bland mayonnaise entirely overwhelmed it and sent it back to New York to consider its behaviour and not come back until it has learned how to behave. I miss it. Pastrami and mustard is an excellent combination. Pastrami and grated carrot is failing to ring my chimes.

A touch of gherkin might have made a difference. Had there been one. Again, any gherkin actually present had been frightened into abject submission by the overly-aggressive carrot mayonnaise. Now, perhaps – just perhaps – you could get away with a NYDPR with added coleslaw. It is within the realms of possibility that you could even reduce the mustard to the faintest of flavours. But you cannot, I repeat cannot, have a NYDPR without gherkins. That, Tesco, is just a cured beef sandwich. With grated carrot. It’s really not the same, no matter what kind of bread you put it on.

I won’t even talk about the lack of cheese. Given the foregoing, a slice of cheese, even of the best Swiss cheese there has ever been, would have made very little difference.

To your credit, however, the pastrami certainly was peppery. Oh yes. Very much so. Almost to the complete exclusion of anything else, in fact. It was nearly enough to disguise the fact the distressingly corned-beef texture of the meat itself. I can’t fault you on that, however. Peppery pastrami you promised, peppery pastrami you most certainly delivered. Sadly, a profusion of pepper is not a replacement for cabbage, or mustard, or gherkins, or cheese. Extra pepper is not enough to convince me that your sandwich chef is as dedicated as you seem to think.

You know, what made the whole thing even more disappointing was the foregoing anticipation, which was heightened in no small measure by the ten-minute struggle I had to get the sandwich out of the packet. Sweetly designed, no doubt, in that rather cute ‘brown paper bag’ style, but when one attempts to open the top of the bag one finds it attached, extremely firmly, to the other side. Even when the two sides of the ‘bag’ separate, the layer of plastic that makes up the ‘window’ clings obstinately to the opposite side in a manner that suggests the glue may be made of boiled limpets. I was unable to break this seal. Instead I created a hole right across the top, through which my sandwich could be broken free.

Alas, to no avail. I managed to reach into the top of the now-ruined bag and grasp the little plastic tray within. I pulled gently. To my alarm, the tray gave a mighty wobble in the middle, threatening to collapse and precipitate my long-awaited lunchtime treat either right into my lap or even deeper into the bag, from where I was fairly certain it would never be retrieved. I shall not continue with a full account of my struggles. Let me just say encapsulating a rectangular-shaped sandwich inside a little plastic tray hinged lengthwise into two little triangles does not make for easy extraction of said sandwich from its outer covering.

My lunchtime treat, Tesco, turned into a lunchtime trauma. Perhaps it was karma’s way of telling me to stick with my diet; perhaps I was simply unfortunate enough to select the only sandwich in the shop created in such a manner. Whatever the case may be, Tesco, I leave you with a recommendation: do not continue with this range of sandwiches. Sainsbury’s does it better.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Foodie Pen Pals No. 3!

Hello! It's been a while since I've been on, largely due to a certain amount of what you might call positive turmoil - finishing an old job, starting a new one; it all takes a bit of getting used to and doesn't leave a lot of mental energy for blogging. However, here I am and what better way to return than by revealing the contents of September's Foodie Pen Pal parcel?

This month's little box of treasures came from Emma, who lives very near me on the South Side of Glasgow. That being the case, you might imagine a lot of the things in the box would be from familiar sources, but no! Emma asked me (among other things) what kinds of flavours I liked, and what one foodstuff could I not live without? The former was relatively simple, because it's all about listing all the things I like, and I highlighted ginger as a particular favourite. The latter, on the other hand, caused some consternation, because there are a lot of foodstuffs I would find it very difficult to live without. I finally narrowed it down to either cheese or chocolate, and while it was a close-run thing, chocolate just edged into the top spot with little to spare. So in the end we had ginger and chocolate, and oh my goodness did Emma take me at my word. Check this out:

That is some chocolatey, gingery goodness right there. L - R at the front: dark chocolate covered ginger, crystallised ginger, fiery ginger sweeties; and at the back there, for a wee change, a box of hazelnut and coconut turkish delight and a beautiful tin of white drinking chocolate from kshocolat. Posh!

Let's have a closer look:

I haven't tried this chocolate-covered ginger before, and it is quite the taste sensation: fiery, sweet and bitter all at once. Maybe not something I could eat a lot of on its own, but I have some plans to incorporate it into some baking recipes, where I think it will really stand out. It'll make an outstanding addition to my chocolate brownies, for example, and I've been trying out a new ginger biscuit recipe that I'm pretty sure would benefit from chunks of this stuff added in. 

In fact, I've already used some of the crystallised ginger in the cookies and I can tell you, it was absolutely delicious. Exactly what was missing from the original recipe; soft, sticky, sweet and spicy little chunks of this made them a whole different biscuit experience and one I will be repeating at an early opportunity.
I haven't tried the ginger sweeties yet, but Emma tells me they're great for fighting off colds so as winter gets set in, I'm sure they'll be coming in handy. Again, I have some vague ideas about crushing some and maybe using them as a topping for the biscuits, we shall see how that goes  - I'll keep you posted.

Since I seem to be somewhat obsessed with the ginger biscuit recipe, it's just as well I also have the lovely hot chocolate, I can't think of anything nicer to dunk them in. A cold night, a good book, a stash of choccy ginger biscuits and a lovely hot mug of rich, sweet, creamy and comforting white chocolate goodness - what could be better?

So finally, Turkish Delight. This is a sweet I can be fussy about. I cannot bear, for example, the stuff  you get in chocolates. It's weird, people. Squishy and overly rose-flavoured, it's like chocolate-covered perfume jelly and that is just Wrong. Bad And Wrong. Proper Turkish Delight, on the other hand, I enjoy in small doses. I prefer the lemon to the rosewater, but I can happily munch it whatever the flavour. The stuff Emma sent, however, is a whole other ball game. Coconut coated with a big fat hazelnut in the middle - it is nothing short of an absolute joy. I'd have taken a pic of the inside of the box, but since I've already made a considerable dent in the contents, I decided you'd just have to make do with the picture on the cover:

I made it really big though. Just for fun. 

So, to sum up: thank you, Emma, for a fabulous FPP parcel. I have already enjoyed a lot of it and, as you can see, I have Plans to enjoy a lot more. I really hope you liked your parcel as much as I liked mine. 

One last word: thank you to Rock Salt for the time and trouble you take to run this scheme. It's an absolute pleasure to be part of it and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who isn't already on board. People send you lovely food. Why wouldn't you be part of it?

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved!