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A Day at Seasoned Cookery School with Sara Danesin

Sara Danesin and I
A few weeks ago, I was invited to Seasoned Cookery School, at Catton Hall in Derbyshire for an Italian Masterclass with Sara Danesin (a finalist in Masterchef 2011). We were warmed greeted by the Seasoned staff, and Sara herself with hot drinks and a freshly baked chocolate and peanut creation. It was delicious!
Sara Danesin
The Masterclass started with Sara showing us how to make her mango panacotta as it needed time to set. We were then sent off in twos to make our own. Sara’s instructions were simple and easy to follow and the Seasoned cookery team were on hand too if you got stuck doing anything. Next we learnt how to make a seafood stock and how to prepare the seafood going into our risotto.  We had to prepare the seafood on our own. This was a new experience for me as although I like some fish and shellfish, preparing it as always put me off. The cleaning of the squid was actually quite enjoyable and I got the hang of it after the first one. I did chicken out of preparing the prawns though. I do not know exactly why but I dislike them greatly.
Seafood risotto
For our next lesson, Sara taught us how to make the perfect risotto using Carnaroli rice. Carnaroli rice keeps it’s shape better than Arborio rice which I have mainly used before. You do not need to keep stirring it as many chefs will tell you too. Just a stir every couple of minutes is fine. The homemade fish stock was very flavourful and really brought the risotto alive.
Lunch at Seasoned
Once we had finished making our risotto, it was time to eat it for our lunch. Lunch was very civilised and we were offered a glass of wine to accompany our meal. It was lovely to chat to Sara and the other members of the group over a glass of wine. Before long, it was time to get back to it and start making our own pasta.
Sara making pasta using a machine
Next Sara showed us how to make homemade pasta. I have made pasta a few times before but have never rolled it using a machine so this was a new experience for me. We made our pasta then let it rest while we watched Sara demonstrate aubergine alla parmigiana with pesto. I am not a great fan of aubergine but if Sara will make it for me every time, then I am a fan! I have always thought of aubergines has been rubbery and bland tasting. Sara’s were crisp and delicious with her homemade tomato sauce and cheese sauce. It was amazing!
Aubergine alla parmigiana
Next, Sara demonstrated her wild mushroom, pancetta and thyme cream sauce to accompany the tagliatelle . With a bit of assistance from Sara, I was able to get to grips with the pasta machine and was soon onto making my sauce. Once we had finished our dish, we ate our homemade pasta with wild mushroom, pancetta and thyme cream sauce with the rest of the group and another glass of wine! (Pasta and risotto in one day – I was stuffed!) Sara told us about her Masterchef experience and her week in Masterchef pop up restaurant in London which she had just finished her stint in, the night before heading up to Derbyshire to teach the course on the morning.
tagliatelle with wild mushroom, pancetta and thyme sauce
For the last activity of the day, Sara showed us how to make a black olive caramel and passion fruit glaze to accompany the panacotta. It may sound strange but the black olive caramel really worked and helped cut through the richness of the panacotta. I do not like black olives either! It was a really simple and impressive dessert that I will be making for a dinner party soon.
Mango passion fruit with black olive caramel
I had a wonderful day at Seasoned and am already planning which course I am going to go on next. Sara was lovely and I really enjoyed talking to her. She made real Italian food a possibility as opposed to an inspiration that I had before. All the staff were very friendly and could not do enough for you. I highly recommend a course at Seasoned. I hope I will see you at a course there soon!
Disclosure: I attended as a guest of Seasoned Cookery School. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review

 

 

Spooky Carrot Soup and Soup Maker Review

This post is slightly belated but this recipe will be great if you are having a bonfire night party this coming weekend or you can make it at anytime of year without the spooky bit! Pumpkins are the main source of everyone’s enthusiasm at this time of year and although they look great as lanterns, they are quite fiddly to prepare and there are only so many ’50 ways to use up leftover pumpkin’ posts that I can read.

Therefore, I would like to draw your attention to the humble carrot. In the UK, We produce 700,000 tons of carrots per year (source here) and I wonder how many of those get thrown in the bin? I used to buy a bag of carrots from the supermarket then use 3/4 out of the bag and throw the rest away. I am sure I am not the only one who has done this. Anyway, I have the solution to this problem, my simple carrot soup recipe. The recipe is below and my simple carrot soup recipe has been made even easier by being sent a VonShef Premium Digital Soup & Smoothie Maker 

VonShef Soup Maker

VonShef Soup Maker

Until I had one, I always thought that soup makers were a gadget too far. I mean how hard is it to make soup really? However, in the two weeks that I have had the soup maker, my views have been transformed. A soup maker is basically a blender that cooks. You add in all the ingredients, add the stock, turn on and 40 minutes later you have hot puréed soup ready to go. I have been using it to make soup for me to take to work and heat up in my Crockpot Food Warmer.  It is a great way of using leftover vegetables and saves money too.

The only downside I have found to soup maker is that when I fried onions and garlic in it before adding the other vegetables and stock (which it says it can do in the instructions), it fried them very fast and burnt them, leaving a nasty taste in the soup and tiny black specks in the soup. However I discovered the soup maker has enough power to cook everything, just by putting all the ingredients and the stock in and leaving it to cook. The soup maker blends as it cooks so you do not even have to touch it when it is has finished unless you want to purée it more.  The soup maker can cook eggs and rice too (although I have not tried these functions yet).

Tell me, what gadget did you think you could live without in the kitchen but then once you had it, you discovered it was the most useful appliance ever? I would love to know!

Spooky Carrot Soup

Ingredients (make 2 large or 3/4 smaller portions)

For the soup

  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 8-12 carrots (depending on size), peeled and finely chopped
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the spooky bit

  • 2 Babybel cheeses per soup bowl, packaging and red outer bit removed
  • 1 black edible ink pen

Method

  1. (In a soup maker) Add all the soup ingredients into the soup maker. Turn on to low heat mode and allow to cook for allotted time. Serve with the eyes, as described below
  2. (Without a soup maker) In 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, fry the onions and celery until softened then add carrots, vegetable stock and cook until the carrots are cooked through and soft. Season to taste then using a hand blender, blend until it reaches desired consistency.
  3. (For the spooky eyes) Draw a black eye in the middle of each Babybel cheese. The pen might stab into the cheese a bit so the do the best you can. Float cheeses on top of soup, eat and enjoy! Boo!!

Disclosure: I was sent a VonShef Premium Digital Soup & Smoothie Maker  for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review

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Discovering A Different Side To Chardonnay With Hardy’s

A little while ago, Hardys challenged me to lead a blind taste test with six different bottles of Chardonnay and discover really what it is all about. I am more of a Pinot Grigio drinker myself normally as I have always thought of Chardonnay has being a bit boring. However, Chardonnay is having a renaissance in the UK and is the number one selling white wine in the world. In 1990, the number of litres that were exported to the UK from Austrailia was 7.7m btts and this has now grown to 340.9m btts in 2012.

As I cannot taste test six bottles of Chardonnay by myself, (although I would give it a good go!) I invited my mom and stepdad along for dinner and the wine tasting. Stuart was given the job as chief wine pourer once I covered up the labels with tin foil so no one except for myself, knew which wine was which. I deliberately kept the food simple to allow the wine to be the star and because of having two young children, I do not really have the time for elaborate dinner parties anymore. We had rosemary and garlic focaccia to start, followed by roast chicken, new potatoes and salad and to finish, a mixed berry crumble and custard. I actually forgot to take pictures of the food (too much wine LOL!) so you will just have to cope with pictures of wine bottles instead.

The six bottles of Chardonnay are listed below in the order that we tasted them. I have included the our tasting comments for each bottle too.

Stamp Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir NV

They say: ‘house style of sparkling wine, showing complexity, flavour, softness and elegance.’

We say: ‘dry and crisp flavour’ ‘delicious – can I have some more please’

VR Chadonnay 2013

They say: ‘The Varietal Range (VR) is made up of uncomplicated, everyday wines that display true varietal character’

We say: ‘not too dry’ ‘most innocuous’ ‘rich and peachy’

Stamp Chardonnay/Semillon 2012

They say: ‘The Stamp range showcases the winemaker’s passion and skill for blending grape varieties from diverse regions’

We say: ‘very clear’ ‘not very exciting’ ‘a bit boring’ ‘floral’

Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2013

They say: ‘The range is known for its consistency, approachable style and balance’

We say: ‘excellent’ ‘very dry’ ‘my favourite so far’

William Hardy Chardonnay 2013

They say: ‘This range highlights Bill’s passion for blending wines. Bill is the chief winemaker and figurehead of Hardy’s today’

We say: ‘less dry and quite clear in colour’ ‘bland’ ‘not as good as previous one’

HRB Chardonnay 2010

They say: ‘It displays the typically vibrant characters of Pemberton combined with the with the wonderfully zesty, citrus flavours from the Yarra Valley to produce a fully flavoured yet restrained and elegent cool climate Chardonnay.’

We say: ‘very strong smell and taste’ ‘very overpowering’ ‘don’t like this at all’

 

Overall, we were all very surprised at how different one bottle was from the next. Who knew that bottles of Chardonnay could taste so diffrerent? Bar from the first sparkling bottle, the bottles were drank in price order from low to high with the lowest price bottle starting at £6.49 with the most expensive one at £16. I had already guessed from the label that the last one was the most expensive one and I thought I would love it. However, it was our least favourite and the most overpowering in flavour. It just goes to show that price is not everything! I will definitely look at Chardonnay now and will not always go to my default choice of Pinot Grigio every time I want to order or buy white wine.

Why don’t you try a few different bottles of Chardonnay and see if you look at it differently too?

If you would like to cook with white wine (and not just drink it!) then check out these amazing recipes:

French onion soup with comte cheese toasts

Pasta in a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce

Lemon and Basil Chicken

Pan fried John Dory with creamy mushroom and white wine sauce

Spaghetti Vongole

Disclosure: I received 7 bottles of Hardy’s Chardonnay for the purpose of this post. All opinions are my own or my fellow tasters.

 

 

It’s Cheaper To Be A #MorrisonsMum!


I have a confession to make, despite doing most of my food shopping at a major supermarket beginning with a 'T', my favourite supermarket is actually Morrisons. However, I have about five of the 'T' supermarkets (Express and Extra branches) within 10 minutes drive of my house while my nearest Morrisons is 20 minutes away, therefore you can guess who mostly gets my business. I was very happy when Morrisons started doing home delivery recently and I am trying to do most of shopping through them that way.
I was very happy recently when Morrisons in partnership with BritMums sent me some vouchers so we could try out their new 'I'm Cheaper' promise. Morrisons have cut prices on over 1000 products and if it says 'I'm Cheaper' then it is staying cheaper forever. We loaded Thomas and Daniel in the car and went shopping on the Saturday morning of Bank Holiday weekend to our nearest large Morrisons in Rubery, South Birmingham.
The Shopping Experience

We started our shopping trip with a trip to the store cafe and a Full English Breakfast (the hubby and I had been out the night before!!) and were amazed at how fresh and delicious the breakfast was. We will go back there again for a meal that's for sure!
As ever at Morrisons, I was very happy with their large range of seasonal vegetables and the excellent way the fruit and vegetables are kept fresh by a water sprayer. On our way round the store, we saw fresh bread being baked and cakes being finished and packed in store too. The 'I'm Cheaper' shelf labels were everywhere too. All the staff were polite, helpful and very friendly. The baby changing area was very clean and the parent & toddler spaces were well signposted.
The Food
The meals we had were (cost per serving in brackets):
Sausage Sandwich (£1.60)
Chicken Noodle Stir Fry (£2.50)
Roast Chicken Sunday Dinner (approx £3)
Salmon, New Potatoes & Salad (approx £3)
Asparagus and Poached Eggs (£2.23 – I used the entire bunch in 1 serving)
Chocolate Brownie Tart (£1)
Overall, we were very impressed with all of our shopping. Everything was fresh and delicious. The roast chicken, salmon and chicken breasts were all purchased as part of the 3 for £10 deal. This means that if you have a meat-free night and used leftovers for a couple of nights then you could get all your families meat for a week for £10. A bargain!! The salmon portions were slightly small but the chicken (both types) was fine. Our total shopping bill came to £98 and that included a couple of bottles of wine, some store cupboard essentials and some steak for the freezer. I would love to go back to Morrisons when we have a big meal planned as I am sure we would save loads! The last bank holiday weekend was spent doing DIY so hence the lack of interesting meals!
Shopping is exhausting for some!!

Disclosure: I was sent vouchers to pay for my shop. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review

 

Product Review: Knorr Gravy Pots

I love Sunday dinner but sometimes the cooking of it can cause great stress to many people. For some reason, gravy can sometimes be hard or stressful to make as you make it last and you are worrying about keeping everything else warm while you are doing it. However, Knorr have come up with the answer to reduce stress in the kitchen and still have a great tasting gravy to go with your dinner.


Knorr's new Gravy Pots are little shots of flavour that when mixed with some water and/or meat juices gives you great tasting gravy without the fuss. They have recently been voted Product of the Year in the Gravy & Stock category. Product of the Year is the world's largest consumer-voted award for product innovation.
We tried the beef gravy with our roast dinner (pictured above) and we very impressed with the flavour. With added extra roasting juice from the beef, it tasted completely homemade and very yummy. The only issue I had with it was that it did not seem to make that much gravy for the three of us. I was very tired when I was cooking due to being up half the night with Daniel so I might have read the package wrong for how much water to add. I will try again and make I triple check the instructions for the right amount of water this time!!
Disclosure: I was a sent a roast dinner hamper and some Knorr Gravy Pots in order to do this review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Product Review: Christmas Hamper from hampergifts.co.uk

Hamper 1

A short while ago, I was sent a Christmas hamper from hampergifts.co.uk. As I am pregnant I decided to try a non-alcoholic hamper called The Noël. We were very impressed by the speed of delivery (via courier) and how well packaged and presented the hamper was. Everything is held in place with cellophane and there is a large bow on top suggesting that there are lots of treats inside.

Hamper 2

The hamper contained:

  • Olives Et Al Chilli & Garlic Olives 150g
  • Dark Chocolate Coated Marzipan Loaf 100g
  • Cottage Delight Spicy Mango and Ginger Chutney 340g
  • Edinburgh Tea & Coffee Co. Fresh Ground Breakfast Coffee 56g
  • Large Christmas Fruit Cake 500g
  • Milk Chocolate Coated Almonds 150g
  • Alice McPherson's Petticoat Tails Shortbread 150g
  • Olive and Sesame Savoury Breadsticks 100g
  • Triple Chocolate Gourmet Cookies 100g
  • The Wooden Spoon Cranberry and Orange Sauce 113g
  • Walkers of London Milk Chocolate Fruit & Nut 240g
  • Buchanan's Chocolate Russian Caramels 100g
  • English Breakfast Tea x 10

hamper 3

Overall, we were very impressed with the hamper. There are lots of well known quality brands inside and the contents was very varied so there is something that everyone will like in it. The free teddy bear that came with the hamper is a nice touch especially for a younger member of the family. I have not sampled every product that came in the hamper yet but I can confirm the triple chocolate cookies, shortbread and Russian Caramels are divine! This would make an ideal present for a family who likes foodie things but who you are unsure what to get them.

Disclosure: I received a hamper to review. All views are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

 

Willy Wonka For The Day!

Me with my Finished Truffles

A little while ago, I was invited by Experience Days to try out one of their experiences in my local area. After much debate, I decided to do a chocolate truffle making workshop held in a hotel in Birmingham. The workshop lasted 2 1/2 hours and was led by Simon from Experience Chocolate. I have made truffles in the past but have never had 100% success with them so I was keen to learn some tricks of the trade.

Piped Truffle Mixture

We started by melting Belgian dark chocolate and mixing it with cold double cream. This instantly brought down the temperature of the chocolate and meant that a good truffle piping consistency was achieved almost instantly as opposed to way, I have made truffles before, where it is left in the fridge for hours to set. We then piped the mixture in long lines onto trays and then left them to set up a bit.

Simon temperaring chocolate

While the truffles set, Simon gave us a lesson in chocolate tempering so that the chocolate maintains its shine once set. Simon tempered a massive amount of chocolate on a cold slab using tools that you would normally find in your local hardware store. It was amazing to watch. I wish I had recorded it now!

Truffles ready for chocolate coating

After the truffles had set, we cut up our sausages of truffle mix and rolled them into balls ready for dipping into the tempered chocolate. Next up came the very messy stage where we had to dip them into the chocolate and various toppings. The toppings were caster sugar, icing sugar, cocoa and coconut.

Dipping truffles in chocolate

Dipping truffles in caster sugar

Dipped Truffles setting on the tray

Finally, once all our truffles were dipped and set, we put them into bags and tied them up with the ribbon. In total, I think I made about 40 truffles of various sizes. I had an amazing time at the truffle workshop and I would do something similar again with my friends. Many thanks to Simon and Experience Days for a wonderful time :-)

Disclosure: Experience Days provided me with a chocolate truffle workshop experience free of charge in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Product Review: Press 81 Cider

 

Stuart and I are both cider drinkers so when I was to try new Press 81 cider from Aston Manor cider makers in Malvern, Worcester I jumped at the chance. My first impression was of how modern and interesting the bottles were. It is the first cider to ever be sold in an aluminium bottle and has cold activation technology in it which tells the drinker when is the perfect time to drink it. As cider is considered a traditional drink, I think the bottle design will go a long way into making it trendy and appealing to a younger generation of drinkers.

We tried both the apple and pear varieties and were very impressed with the flavour of both. The flavour was crisp and sharp. Stuart and I both agreed we could enjoy a few of these on a warm summer's day in a pub beer garden. I shall be seeking them out when I go out in the future and I recommend that you do too!

Disclosure: I was sent 4 bottles of Press 81 cider for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Supermarket Review: Midlands Cooperative

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to review my shopping experience at my local Midlands Cooperative supermarket in Dibdale Road, Dudley, West Midlands. I planned an entire week of dishes purchased when we went shopping there. Now we have tried all the food, I am now ready to give you my verdict on our entire experience.

Shopping Experience: We arrived at the store at about 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. The store car park was quiet and we were able to get a parent and child car parking space with ease. We went in and got a trolley and put Thomas in it. Unfortunately, we discovered that the trolleys did not have a lap strap to hold Thomas in so all the round the shop, he was able to move about quite easily. I did not think he would fall out but I was a bit on edge as he was moving about quite a bit.

The store was well laid out and despite not being as large as some other supermarkets in the wider area, it had a good selection of products which were all easy to find and logically laid out. I was impressed to find Iberico Chorizo and some Dorset Cereals porridge which I have been looking for a while. The baby area was small but had everything you needed. The fruit and vegetables had some empty areas but staff were refilling the shelves as we went round the store. When we got to the till to pay, there was only one person on. We did not have to queue for long but the people behind us did. (We had a trolley load!!) I think they should of brought someone else onto the till to assist the people behind us quicker.

Food Experience: For a week, we ate every dinner and some bits in between from the store (see meal plan) and I have to say, we were generally very impressed. We loved the Hot and Spicy chicken breasts and the tear & share garlic bread. All the meat and fish was of the highest quality. We were slightly disappointed by the steak and ale pie and the chilli con carne sauce as they were lacked in flavour and slightly bland. They both have the potential to be improved and I am sure with a few minor tweaks they would be amazing. The fajitas were from Discovery and were are on offer at the time of our visit. They were gorgeous and we will have them again in the future.

Overall Experience: We were very impressed with our overall experience. The store had a wide ranging selection of products, was well laid out and all the food sold there was of the highest quality. I wish we lived closer to this supermarket as I would probably go there quite a bit if I did not need to do a big shop but needed more than a corner shop range offered. I am going to keep my fingers crossed that they open one nearer to me soon!

Disclosure: I recieved a £10 gift voucher to put towards my shopping at the Cooperative. I have told them about the shopping trolley issue and they are looking into it. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review

 

Product Review: Sauteuse Pan From Palmers

I was recently contacted by Palmers and asked if I would like to try out one of their products. I have been trying to find a decent sauté pan for ages, so when I saw the Stellar 7000 Sauteuse Pan on their site I jumped at the chance.

I love my cast iron casserole pot but do find that it struggles with cooking things like paella and risotto as the high sides prevent the liquid evaporating off quickly enough.  I was hoping the low sided sauté pan would stop this problem happening. The pan arrived very well packed with very clear care instructions. I took it out of the box and immediately loved the look and feel of it. It felt strong and the stainless steel looked stunning.  I immediately put it work making two of may favourite dishes; Chicken, Chorizo and Seafood Paella (recipe to appear soon) and Chorizo, Red Wine and Pea Risotto. I was impressed with the speed it heated up and how non stick it was. I have had apparent non stick pans before but this is the first one I have seen to work properly. After use, I washed it quickly and then put it in the dishwasher. It came out perfectly clean and ready for its next use. I am very impressed with the pan and am already planning what I am going to cook in it next! :-)

Many thanks to Liam for sending me the saute pan to review. It is much appreciated :-)

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