Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: food (page 2 of 3)

Review: Asda BBQ range

This is a review post.

Last week Asda approached me and asked if I’d be interested in trying their new BBQ range that has been developed after they competed in the world BBQ championships in Memphis.

Asda BBQ meatI was in 2 minds whether to accept this review post or not; on the one hand it’s free BBQ meat which is hard to say no to but on the other hand this kind of meat doesn’t really fit in with my buying principles does it? One of my biggest issues with buying supermarket meat is that it is generally very hard to figure out exactly where the meat has come from. Labels require some translation to understand what the various quality marks mean and therefore how the animals have been treated.

But having talked this through with Asda I decided to accept and see if I could be proved wrong. Asda’s approach to sourcing their meat is to buy British first, so doing well so far, they do however top up from abroad to meet demand. This means that around 99% of the beef is British, and their pork is 60% British and the rest from the Netherlands. Not so great and of course a very small amount of that meat is free range based on what they have on the shelves in store.

So they don’t score top marks ethically, what about taste which is probably what the majority of the British population pays attention to anyway. Well we tried a number of things from the range including the Butcher’s Selection sweet BBQ pulled pork, BBQ beef brisket, sticky glazed BBQ chicken drumsticks and cherrywood smoked ribs. Plus some BBQ classics in the form of Extra Special Scottish beef burgers and Extra Special pork sausages.

Asda BBQ meat 2All sounds delicious doesn’t it? Well judging by the mmm’s and ahhh’s coming from around the table I think everyone tended to agree. The ribs were a particular favourite with Henry with the meat being very soft and juicy just like a rib should be. Some of the marinades on the meat were a little too sugary for my test but then I’m not really a BBQ sauce fan so if you are you’d probably like them.

The chicken drumsticks were very tasty after cooking on the BBQ, even if my BBQ skills did mean they ended up a little blacker than they should have been. The pulled pork did indeed fall apart once cooked, although it’s a relatively small portion so don’t expect it to feed more than a couple of people.

My one frustration with the new range is that the pulled pork, brisket and ribs aren’t technically BBQ food in that you cook them in the oven not on the BBQ. They’ve already had the slow cook piece of the process done so you’re just doing the finishing touches in the oven, so for me that doesn’t sit quite right in a BBQ range.

So would I buy from this range with my own money? Most likely not and not because of the taste, there were no complaints there, but because my personal choice is to buy meat that is free range and also local. Buying this way doesn’t meet either of those 2 requirements, for example on the pulled pork box it only tells you that the meat is from the EU. For me that doesn’t work and I’m willing to pay more for my meat as a result.

A new approach to eating

I can talk a good talk about buying locally and eating ethically but it’s all too easy to get sucked in by the Tesco machine and find yourself buying strawberries imported from Chile. So when we moved home at the beginning of March the lady of the manor and I made a deliberate decision to do something about it.

Veg boxWe finally got our arses in gear and arrange a weekly veg box from a local supplier just outside of Swindon. We did look at the well known national suppliers but decided against them for a number of reasons, they seemed to contain imported vegetables fairly regularly and still generate food miles given where the main farms are based. There wasn’t any difference in price so buying from a local supplier felt like the obvious choice.

The objective of having a veg box is to force ourselves to both eat seasonally and also eat more variety of vegetables. When you buy from a supermarket it takes some work to check where the vegetables have come from and to see what’s in season with many vegetables available all year round. A veg box ensures you are eating whatever is available at that point of the year which will be a combination of freshly picked and taken from storage. This should of course also mean the veg is at its tastiest best!

July meat box contentsIt’s definitely been a learning curve to adapt our meal planning and eating habits to this new setup to avoid having lots of wastage at the end of the week. We’ve now got into the habit of planning our meals on a Tuesday night when the contents of the veg box is published on the suppliers website. We tick off each item from the list so that we know we’ve used them all, it challenges you to find new recipes to use them all up and not just make the same old things.

Twitter is your  best friend here, the greatest cook book you can ever have, a simple tweet of ‘how can I use this’ and within a few minutes you will have at least 5 suggestions!

The final addition to this new approach is we now also get a monthly meat box from the same supplier. At the beginning of each month we get a box full of meaty goodness delivered that we pop in the freezer. It’s great quality organic and free range meat that is mainly from their own farm so again ticking the local box. The box changes our eating habits in the same way as the veg box, we are forced to eat more variety and think of ways to use up each item brings new dishes to our repertoire each week.

Matilda inspecting the meat delivery

So far we’re loving it, sure we may have too many potatoes sometimes but the box we’ve chosen includes a good variety without too many of the more exotic things that never get eaten. Cost wise I don’t think it’s any more than we were spending before; the veg box is £15 a week and the meat box £80 a month. A reasonable price for the standard of food you get and something we’re happy to pay, preferring to sacrifice elsewhere to ensure we eat well.

It’s also fun getting Matilda involved in food (and Henry soon), whenever it’s delivered she helps unpack and asks us what every item is. So we tell her and try to link it to what she see’s in the fields etc. I want her to know that she’s eating a chicken, the same ones she feeds grass to down the road and what it looks like once it’s been plucked. Then she can see that we choose to buy meat from animals that have been treated well and what a piece of meat looks like.

Has anyone else made a change in this way or have any top tips for eating seasonally?

Sourdough Sunday

You all know that I have had an obsession with the king of bread, the sourdough, for some time now. Last time I blogged about it (and yes my obsession is sufficient to have written more than one post already) I talked about the routine and the enjoyment of having fresh bread every weekend.

Since then I have taken things up a level. Upped my game. Moved into the big leagues. When once I was happy with a loaf that looked like this.

Sourdough tin

I now consider this the very minimum that is required.

Sourdough loaf

As with a lot of cooking it’s part science and part art and the art is what was missing. The first big change has been taking the starter out of the fridge permanently rather than keeping it in there between bakes. This has made those awesome little natural yeasts so much more active and as a result the bread is much lighter and full of bubbles.

It does mean you have to feed it every day, but actually if you’re making more than one loaf a week you need to do this anyway really to have sufficient volume of starter to use. You do need to remember to do it though otherwise you risk killing your starter for ever.

The second big change is that I finally bought a proving basket. A very simple wooden bowl that you use to prove the dough overnight in. It gives that amazing patter on the top and seems to give a really nice and consistent rise.

What I also like about sourdough is that it doesn’t give you that bloated feeling that bread can, while I have no scientific research to prove it I think the natural yeasts and slow rise are better for your digestion. Maybe I’m just making excuses for baking more bread, but I certainly notice the difference if I eat supermarket bread now.

The next challenge is getting myself a sharp enough knife to slash the top before baking and start getting some even better shapes. I’m always worried that cutting it will mean it collapses and all that time is wasted, but the last few loaves have had a big air bubble near the top which the cutting should help alleviate. But for now Sunday’s are always sourdough days and will soon also be sourdough sausage sandwich days.

Oh yes! Get in my belly!

P.S. If you want to know how to get started in making sourdough then you’ll need this post.

French lifestyle – best in the world?

This may not be a ground breaking revelation but I think the French may have been first in the queue when God was giving out lifestyles. i have no doubt that I am not the first Englishman to come home from a holiday there and be more than a little envious that after I return home the locals are going to carry on buying their bread from THAT Boulangerie and eating amazing fresh mussels from the supermarket for only €3 a kilo and choosing whether to have fresh peaches or figs from the market today and and and. The list goes on and with it my wallet gets lighter and my stomach bigger.

There was of course the casual looking in estate agent windows and half hearted discussions of “you know it wouldn’t cost that much to get a holiday home here, we could share it”. But realistically would we ever do it? Can we really afford to buy a place here as well own a house in the UK? Probably not but who doesn’t like a holiday romance, even if the lady in question is rustic (i.e. falling down) farm house in the countryside rather than a tanned French woman?

But even if buying a holiday home isn’t realistic perhaps we can hold on to our French romance a little while longer by taking a piece of the lifestyle home with us? I’d love to take the 2 hour lunch breaks or the fresh bread being baked in every town and village but I might need a Jamie Oliver lead revolution to do that.

I can however embrace the attitude of the French, who are willing to spend money on good quality ingredients and shun sub standard food with questionable nutritious qualities. A simple comparison of an Inter-Marche to Tesco or Asda will tell you that. It may not be possible to buy that kind of food 100% from UK supermarkets but farm shops and small independent shops will offer it.

I can also embrace the simplicity of eating, expensive French food may be massively complicated and contain 100’s of ingredients but everyday French cooking isn’t like that it. It’s about a few simple ingredients prepared with care and shared with friends and a family. I would quite happily eat fresh bread, seafood, salad and wine every night outside in the evening sun until the day I die. Such pleasure from shelling prawns before devouring them with a squeeze of lemon while drinking wine and chatting with family.  Even better if the prawns have been gently warmed and smoked on the BBQ firsts.

That is pretty much how we have eaten for the whole time here, with the exception of a couple of nights where we had pasta or pizza for a change. Not that we tired of the seafood but rather felt we ought to change. We didn’t drink expensive wine, less than €6 most of the time, but carefully chosen by my wine industry working brother to maximise the value. To be honest though a €3 bottle of Muscadet was my favourite, perfect companion for the food and weather.

Returning home to autumn in the UK means the stomach begins to yearn for stews and casseroles to keep warm in the dark evenings. Not quite the same but if you apply the principles of French food it means buying a good quality piece of meat (not the same as prime cuts though) and accompanying it with a few simple but fresh ingredients and of course a nice hunk of bread on the side.

I’m also resolved to try to make a pain rustique just like the Boulangerie down the road, a great new challenge for this wannabe baker. The lady of the manor has valiantly volunteered to be chief taster, can’t think why.

P.S. If anyones interested in a chipping in for a holiday home let me know, maybe we could do a crowd sourced purchase via Twitter?

Baby weaning

My daughter has seemingly inherited an awful lot of genes from me from her hair and eye colour to her happy and positive nature. However there are a couple of characteristics that the lady of the manor might have wished she hadn’t inherited, at least when it comes to meal times. You see Matilda is fiercely independent and wants to do everything herself, including feeding herself.

DSC_0053So while her friends were taking spoonfuls of puree from spoons she wanted to use her fingers to feed herself. It was like she didn’t trust what we were putting on the spoon and wanted to feel with her own hands first. So the idea of starting with puree’s was quickly abandoned in favour of baby led weaning. We have a freezer full of lovingly made cubes of puree as evidence of that.

Baby led weaning seems to have worked well though, it’s a slow starter and requires a heck of a lot of patience but once they get it they really get it. I love watching Matilda explore food and get to know what things look and feel like as well as taste rather than just a coloured puree on a spoon. As a bona fide foodie I was desperate to make sure that Matilda didn’t end up as a child that wouldn’t eat or even try things. Touch wood it seems to be going well so far.

Plus feeding this way means we know exactly what she is eating, we value eating organic dairy products and high quality meat and vegetables. So why would we give our children anything else? There are always Yeo Valley yoghurt’s and milk in the fridge and if we need snacks for when out we choose Ella’s Kitchen or Plum.

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Her favourite foods now are smoked mackerel, cheese, sausage casserole and Shepherd’s pie (although not all at the same time). She’ll eat a whole fillet of mackerel if you give her chance and bounces in her chair when she spots food she likes on her plate. She’s just learned to use a spoon and can pretty much eat a whole yoghurt by herself, even if she uses the handle to eat off some of the time. We can take her to a restaurant and she’ll happily sit in her high chair and eat part of our meals (especially if it’s Wagamamma’s!).

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It’s been pretty damn frustrating and times and also very messy which is where having a dog to clean up is ideal. But it’s also been a lot of fun, even if it’s just for the face she pulls when she eats something she doesn’t like. The next challenge is to get her using a knife and fork.

This post is my entry for the Plum Cookery school competition on the Tots 100 site, Plum is just launching a cookery school to help mums learn about weaning and give them advice on what to feed their children. Chef Rachel Allen is working with Plum to develop recipes and help answer any questions from parents.

The fools food heroes – March

For March’s installment of food heroes I have 3 more fine food companies for you, as ever these are companies that are a regular feature in our household and ones that you really do have to check out.

Box Steam Brewery

Tunnel Vision 9 Gallon Cask

You may notice a theme starting in these food posts – beer. The UK really does have some great small breweries and thankfully have become fashionable again. We really should celebrate them and there is nothing I enjoy more than discovering a new one. When we moved to Wiltshire last year we came across these guys based in the pretty village of Box, famous for its rather long tunnel. The beer is sold in a few of our favourite pubs that are conveniently placed on good dog walks. The Golden Bolt is a perfect light, summer beer with citrus flavours, while Funnel Blower is a much darker malty beer. The beer can be ordered from their website in bottles or casks.

The Real Olive Company

I have to be honest, this one isn’t a favourite of mine, but rather the lady of the manor. She LOVES olives and this company based in Bristol sell some of the best. They have a regular market stall in St. Nicholas market in Bristol and also attend some of the farmers markets. They also have a shop and a very nice restaurant that has a fabulous location right on the harbour in Bristol. They sell every type of Olive you could ever wish for along with other tapas style delicacies such as stuffed vine leaves. If you’re a real addict you can also order them wholesale….

Yeo Valley

Ok, I know these aren’t exactly a small, unknown company but I love them. They are in fact local to me and represent everything that a good food company should be. They produce fabulous tasting products, they care about how the food is produced and they try to give something back to the community. My favourite are the Greek Style yoghurt with honey, in fact I have one every day on muesli in the morning.  They also have a rather fab website so go check it out!

The Fools Food Heroes – February

So my new regular feature started in December has been so regular that I missed January! Oh well I’m sure no one noticed. So here is my February food heroes, 3 great companies who are firm favourites in this household. Please go and take a look and try something new, if you do try them I’d love to hear your feedback.

Godminster

The lady of the manor and I first tried cheddar from the lovely folk at Godminster when visiting the Soil Association Organic Food fair in Bristol. I often struggle to find a cheddar that isn’t so strong that it’s sour and tastes like vegetables, but also isn’t bland and lifeless. Their vintage cheddar fits the bill perfectly, it comes in beautiful purple wax and is aged for 12 months before being selected by Godminster. Plus if you have a cheese obsessed partner then they also do the cheese in a heart shape, perfect for the upcoming valentines day! Their website has lots more information about how the cheese’s are made if you’re interested and you can order online if there isn’t a stockist near you.

St. Peter’s Brewery

My brother introduced me to this beer, the wine merchants he worked for were one of the first places to stock it, although you can now find it in most supermarkets. I love the unusual shape of the bottles, nothing else is like this and the contents certainly match expectations. My personal favourite is the golden ale, a perfect light beer for a summer’s evening, especially when combined with barbequed pork steaks! The beer is brewed using British malt and hops and water drawn from chalk below the brewery in Suffolk. I buy mixed cases from Majestic Wine whenever I visit which is good way to get a variety to try and they often have deals on as a bonus.

The Bath Pig

Chorizo? From England? Surely not?! But yes, fabulous chorizo at that, love the spicy one, a few chunks gently fried and added to a tomato sauce and pasta is just yummy! The Bath Pig sell a few different flavours of chorizo, in both cured and semi cured depending on your preference and desired use. The chorizo is of course made with 100% British pork and the finest natural ingredients. I have seen it for a sale in farm shops and the like but check out their website for more info on stockists.

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