Reviewing stuff

I’ve been reviewing stuff here since the early days of the blog in some shape or form. Usually stuff rather than eating out experiences, there are plenty of people doing eating out reviews way better than I ever could hope to. I’ve also done mini reviews on both of my posterous blogs.

Sometimes the stuff I review has been sent to me for free, sometimes I’ve paid for it with hard cash, sometimes its been an exchange or barter of a truly old fashioned type – some of my help in return for food.

Just as I don’t review every single thing I buy I don’t review everything I get sent.

But somewhere along the line I thought it might be fun to have a rating system for the reviews.

So today I bring you…. (drumroll, trumpet fanfare)…..

…..Oh yes its…the…..

goodshoeday ‘shoe’ rating system (TM) ….gsdR(TM) for short

The reviews will be totally honest and the rating will be a genuine reflection of what I think but its also a little bit of fun, shoes instead of stars.

If you want to read my review ‘policy’ check here

If you want to understand how the gsdR(TM) system works then take a look here

And keep a look out for that gsd X shoe rated item stamp….I just know you’ll be seeing on slapped on rated products across the land very soon (once I’ve ironed out a few minor legal points that is…)

Oh and you can find my posterous blogs via the side bar links over there on the right >>>>>>

Eggs-eptionally seasonal

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in April 2010.

We’ve just had Easter eggs, egg-decorating competitions at school and the hens are laying well again. With year round supplies of eggs in the shops we forget they are seasonal. We forget that when we talk of eggs we mean hen’s eggs. Anyone who keeps a few hens knows that during the winter they hardly lay at all and it takes until spring for them to get back to producing an egg a day. Jane Grigson talks of eggs as a rarity in the winter months and preserving them in late summer in isinglass to last through the autumn. Others cite coating eggs in wax to preserve them. Modern hen breeds produce up to 250 eggs per year but that’s still 165 days when they don’t lay, earlier breeds produced as few as 50 eggs.

Its not just hens eggs that are seasonal, now is the time to track down something different. It’s relatively easy to find duck and quails eggs in farm shops and markets, goose eggs are a bit more difficult to come by. Other eggs are harder to find. You need a good local source and then you might be able to try bantam, guinea fowl (not until June), gulls or pheasant and even turkey eggs. Friends and neighbours with a surfeit of eggs from now through until summer will be happy to share. Be sure to offer something in return, bird feed isn’t cheap even if the grass they have foraged on is free.

With this in mind I decided to collect a selection of eggs and do a little comparative taste test. I was able to get bantam and different hens’ eggs from friends. Duck, goose and quail I spotted at the farm shop but when I went back to get them someone had come in and snapped up 6 lots of 24 quail eggs, and all the duck eggs, that’s a lot of eggs. I bought a goose egg and then found Clarence Court sell duck and quail eggs via Ocado so I bagged some from there. On the ever-fascinating Twitter, I saw Sarah of Brays Cottage having scrambled turkey eggs for breakfast (as part of her Norfolk Diet) and she kindly got some more from her neighbour and sent them by post.

With my collection of eggs ready I pondered how to cook them for the taste test. Both old and new books listed a huge number of recipes and ways of cooking eggs. Treatises on egg farming, the science of cooking eggs, and eggs in different cuisines diverted me. I was reminded that Grimod de la Reynière says ‘The egg is …such an indispensable necessity that the most skilful cook will renounce his art if he is forbidden to use them’. After all the searching I decided simple was best. I planned a grand breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, then recalling how full I was last time I had goose egg for breakfast I decided hard-boiled was better as I could sample a slice of each and then save the rest for later.

But how best to boil an egg? Something so simple the British public was offended when Delia Smith promised to teach us. A little background reading of Harold McGee and Hervé This on the science of cooking eggs made me realise that it wasn’t quite as simple as it seemed. Hervé This investigates how to cook the perfect hard-boiled egg to ensure that: the shell doesn’t crack, the shell peels easily, the white isn’t rubbery, the yolk isn’t sandy, the egg isn’t sulphury and the yolk is centred!

Hervé This’ Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs – as interpreted by me:

  1. Take one or more egg
  2. Prick egg on the wide end with a pin to make a small hole, this prevents cracking.
  3. Place egg in water that’s is between 70-90C i.e. not boiling.
  4. Cook at below 90C for the usual time for the type of egg; this cooks with no rubberyness, no sandyness or sulphur smells.
  5. During the cooking keep rolling egg over in the water, this keeps the yolk centred.
  6. Lift egg from the water and place in cold water, this stops the cooking.
  7. Place egg in vinegar for several hours, the shell will dissolve. I find that eggs that are slightly older peel more easily.

And the taste test. The main differences are in yolk and white colour and ratio. The tastes were almost indistinguishable. Good fun to try the different eggs though.

A chocolate super hero


Ka-boom. Wowzer. Bam. Pow. OMG.

Wonderful. Amazing. My taste buds and brain are in overload.

I’m at Paul A Young. I’m tasting chocolate. Beautiful chocolate. I’m riding on taste sensation after taste sensation. I thought I knew chocolate but I didn’t know all of this. It’s a whole new set of experiences. How to convey it all to you?

Its passion, its craftsmanship, its huge knowledge. It’s wanting to save the world from bad chocolate and show everyone the way of good chocolate. Its superhero time. Okay so as far as I know Paul doesn’t zoom about wearing a cape and mask, or his pants over his trousers, but like Desperate Dan has his cow pie, Paul has his sea salted caramel. Like Batman he has his underground cave and his estimable sidekick. Like, erm, well lets just get on with it shall we. But be certain, very certain, he’s going to try to save as many as he can from the evil of things masquerading as chocolate that are merely confectionary.

Paul takes us on a journey through chocolate. We start by tasting different chocolate bases and bars as a route the greater understanding of the bean, the terroir, the blending and the nuances of the taste and aroma. We go from raw cacao beans, through malty milk chocolate via milk chocolate some would shun as dark to a range of every increasing cocoa content choices (11 different samples in all). We end at 100% Valrhona Manjari pate. Mind blowing. Delicious, fruity, intense. Mind blowing. Oh I already said that. There’s lots of opinion in the room about which is the best moment and everybody finds out something new about their chocolate tastes. We are educated and excited about really good chocolate. We are slightly frightened by the prices of some bars but we know there’s probably no turning back, in a short time our palates have experienced the wonders to truly beautiful chocolate from some of the worlds finest makers (Amedei, Cluizel, Valhrona). And really we could stop there and go home happy. But we don’t. Oh no there is more to come.

Paul, and his business partner James, tell us about a new brand from America they are stocking (currently they are the only UK stockist). Tcho has a Silicon Valley high tech start up approach to top quality chocolate. It’s a blend of science, art and craftsmanship. They have analysed chocolate’s components and characteristic flavours and built bars to accentuate some of these. Their commitment to sourcing fairly purchased beans is admirable. Paul and James are animated and enthusiastic about the products. We sample each of the “Chocolatey”, “Fruity”, “Nutty” and “Citrus” bars and admire their rather lovely packaging. I’m somewhat underwhelmed. The chocolate is good but it doesn’t seem startling, the key characteristic comes through well in each but I think my head, heart and stomach are still with the Valrhona Manjari hit. As part of our end of evening goodie bags we each get a bar of Tcho. Mine turns out to be the “Citrus’ bar, which I good because I’ve just established a love affair with Madagascan citrusy chocolate. When I try it over the next few days I like it much more and can see why Paul is excited about the product. I guess on the night it was overwhelmed by the preceding wonderful sensory overload.

And still we aren’t finished. Its time to bring on the truffle type things. Paul doesn’t make chocolate from raw cocoa beans he takes some of the worlds finest chocolate and then blends some of his own bars and also crafts beautiful looking truffles and filled chocolates.

Now a confession. When I was a kid I recall I loved the filled chocolate selections at Christmas. Roses. Quality Street. After Eight. I’d fight anyone for the last caramel barrel. But as time has marched on I’ve become a bit a chocolate purist. I like my chocolate dark and in bars, fillings and truffles are mostly not my thing. You can’t beat a good bar of chocolate; the joy of the snap as you break off a few squares, the taste of simply the chocolate. Unadulterated pleasure. When people buy me filled chocolates, even good ones I mostly pass them on to my husband. I make exceptions for delicately flavoured bars but that’s about it. Give me a bar any day and others can fight over the filled chocolates.

So could Mr Young convince me otherwise? His chocolates are award winning. The sea salted caramel is renowned as a thing of beauty, a multi award winning one at that and his marmite truffle is reputed to be an amazing umami-lovers nirvana. So we proceed to the chocolates as opposed to the chocolate.

First the sea salted caramel. It’s domed, its very glossy. I think food porn may have been in someone’s mind when they designed it. I pop it in my mouth. It explodes in, well a sea salty caramel type way. Its sweet, very sweet. Its good. If you like caramel then this is likely to be the best you’ll ever eat. But for someone who left behind the sweet side of chocolate at age 12 there is no turning back. Its good but I’ll generously leave it to others to oooo and aaaaa over.

So to the marmite truffle. Now I’ve never knowingly eaten marmite before. Ever. No really, never ever. Its brown, its gloopy, its smells bleugh. But I’m being offered a marmite truffle in a very upmarket chocolate shop, now is not the time to do an eight-year old style tantrum. In it goes. Oh and actually it’s rather nice. Chocolatey and erm well sort of rich and savoury all at once. I’m not sure you’d know it was marmite if you hadn’t been told. This of course, any real marmite lover will inform you is the true genius of marmite, its adaptability, its umami-ness, its ability to not taste of itself. Anyway I’d eat this one again, I might even shove someone out of the way to get one. But I’d still prefer a big bar of Madagascan chocolate.

Finally on the chocolates front we have the port and Stilton truffle. This is a seasonal special for the autumn and Christmas. Paul’s quite keen on doing specials as it gives him chance to play with new flavours and push the boundaries of the regular collection. He’s not a man who wants to stick with the known and the easy. Last year he did a Stilton only version but it dried out to much so the addition of port is partly to capture that classic English combination and partly to try to make the chocolate work better. Its pretty good though the port seems to lead a little too much.

Finally we nip down to the underground den and see where the chocolates are crafted. The marble slabs, the raw cocoa butter, bag loads of Valrhona, handmade moulds. It’s tiny and brightly light. I don’t spy a batmobile but I do think I catch a glimpse of the cape and face mask, or maybe the theobromine has got to me and I’m hallucinating.

A big thank you to Paul, James and Kate for inviting me to experience the chocolates (for free) with a group of other food bloggers.

Paul A Young regularly does tutored tastings at his Camden Passage store (price £45/head).

Tasting notes: Suffolk cheeses

Early in May I took up the #livelocal challenge. I learnt lots in the first week some of which I’ve already blogged about. A big part of taking up the challenge was not just to do it for a week but try to think more about what I ate, where it came from and so explore food options closer to home. And so to one of my favourite foods – CHEESE.

England has a great history of cheese making, we came a bit unstuck in the Milk Marketing Board post-war era with many cheeses being lost and production becoming very industrialised. Things have moved on, particularly from the 1980’s onwards when the likes of Patrick Rance and Randolph Hodgson started championing and supporting small cheese producers. So we are now in a position where it’s not that hard to find great cheese; wonderful examples of classics such as Cheddar, Cheshire and Lancashire and newer varieties that draw on French, Italian and Spanish styles of cheese (such as brie and soft goats cheeses).

Now I LOVE cheese in pretty much all its guises and I’m certainly not intending to give up all time favourites like Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire just because its outside the area I defined for #livelocal. I thought it might be interesting to see what cheeses are produced more locally. It transpires that the counties in my ‘local’ area are not really renowned as dairy farming areas (neither now or historically) and so there isn’t a plethora of cheeses to choose from. There’s some scathing comments in Patrick Rance’s book from 17C on Suffolk ‘flet’ cheese are being ‘mean’ – it was made with skimmed milk so probably wasn’t very rich in flavour. Undeterred I decided I’d take it county by county and see what I could find.

First up is Suffolk, mainly because I already knew of some cheeses I really love and I wanted to find more. On a recent short break in Suffolk I did a bit of cheese exploring and I came up with a cheese board of five contrasting cheeses and I’m hoping there are others I’ve still to try.

The cheeses are (L-R on the board):

Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue
Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue

Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue.

So what were they like?

Buxlow Paigle: This is a relatively firm textured off white cheese. Its smooth, with a nice mild tang, its quite moist and a bit like (although less crumbly than) a very mild Wenslydale. It’s made from pasteurised cow’s milk on a small farm in Friston near Aldeburgh. There is also an apple wood smoked version; I didn’t taste it this time but it worked well on a wonderful rarebit I had recently.

Buxlow Wonmil: Okay lets be honest here, this is one of my all time favourite cheeses and part of my inspiration for doing this tasting. Anyway it is quite a soft cheese, a little in texture like goats cheese but not as crumbly. It’s very young and therefore soft, fresh and tangy with a lovely lemony-ness. It’s very white in colour and is sold at only two days old. It’s a classic fresh cheese that you don’t find that much in the UK. I love it in frittata but its great on the cheese board too providing a nice contrast to harder cheeses. Again it’s a cow’s milk cheese and in case you couldn’t guess from the name it’s made on the same farm in Friston as the paigle. As you can see I love it.

Hawkston: Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and matured for 3-5 months this is slightly crumbly and quite tangy. It’s rather like the cheeses of Cheshire, Lancashire or Wenslydale in style. It’s quite white in colour and a refreshing hard cheese. It’s made at Rodwell Farm, which is near Needham Market.

Shipcord: This is made by the same dairy as the Hawston, again from unpasteurised cow’s milk. It’s matured for longer (about 6 months) and is made by a different method. It’s much firmer and yellower. Its rather like a mild cheddar or Lincolnshire Poacher. The dairy suggest its akin to some alpine cheeses and there is a sweet nuttiness to the flavour. There is also an extra matured and a smoked version available which I’ve yet to try.

Suffolk Blue: This is a blue version of Suffolk Gold. It’s made from Guernsey milk so is very creamy and rich yellow in colour. It’s a soft cheese like a firm rich brie in texture. It’s very buttery, a little earthy and has a mild blue tang with undertones of salt. It’s made by The Suffolk Cheese Company again near Needham Market.

Overall I enjoyed testing out some new cheeses that are local to me. I think my favourite of the new finds was the Hawkston but since I grew up in Lancashire maybe that’s no surprise. I’ll be adding them all to my repertoire but expect the Wonmil and Hawkston to the be the two I buy most often.

If anyone knows of any Suffolk cheeses I’ve missed then I’d love to hear about them so I can give then a try. I also need to decide which county from my ‘local’ definition to tackle next; basically there’s Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to choose from, suggestions welcome.

I found all the by just looking out what was available cheeses in farm shops in Suffolk but a useful book for English cheese spotting is ‘Great British Cheeses’ by Jenny Lindford. Its pretty up to date as it was published in 2008. It’s got good pictures and some background and tasting notes on each cheese. Unfortunately it doesn’t have an index by county!

An English twist on kir royale

Those who know me well know that a kir of any kind is one of my favourite drinks. When I, occasionally, run out of cassis I am at rather a loss. I’ve made it with the classic white burgundy, with any dry white wine I can get my hands on, with red wine (first tasted in Paris and known as kir communard, its good in the winter) and of course with champagne (or other dry sparkling wine) as a kir royale. It’s probably my first choice of cocktail. I love it.

So what to make of Peronelle’s Blush, made by Aspall’s of Suffolk, a Suffolk cyder with a dash of blackberry liqueur ready mixed? Sounded interesting, and in my quest for eating and drinking locally whilst at the Suffolk coast I thought it deserved a try.

It comes in 500ml bottles and is 5.4% abv – against what I’d guess to be about 14% for a kir/kir royale.

Apples and blackberries are such classic English ingredients (think autumn crumbles after collecting blackberries in the local lanes, of such are childhood memories made), so I’m expecting it to work well. It gives a pleasant hiss of bubbles when I open the bottle and is a delicate pinky/red when poured. The aroma of fresh apples is predominant but with a subtle hint of the blackberry underneath. It’s fizzing nicely but not madly in the glass and its time to take my first sip.

It’s very refreshing, not as strong as I make my own kirs but I suspect I go rather heavy on the cassis compared to the classic mix. The blackberry gives it a subtle sweetness and smooth berry flavour. Its good. I like it. I can see it becoming a good summer alternative to kir.

The story on the bottle (and website) is rather lovely, it’s apparently named Peronelle after the rosy glowing cheeks of the grandmother of the current generation of the Chevalier family (who’ve been making Aspall’s for eight generations since 1728). She sounds pretty amazing lady living to 102, running the business for 30 years and then travelling the world in later life. I’d say that the current Aspall family have created a lovely tribute to her with this drink and an excellent English take on a classic French drink.

There’ll be some supplies in my larder again soon.

I think you can find it across the UK in branches of Waitrose, Sainsburys and Tesco as well as locally across Suffolk.

PS: the bottle of organic cyder in the picture was drunk by my husband, its one of his regular cyder/cider choices. He declined to provide tasting notes – sorry.

Easter chocolate selection

Everyday is a great day for eating chocolate as far as I’m concerned but today there is the extra opportunity for a sneaky bit of chocolate if the Easter bunny has dropped off some chocolate eggs whilst on his/her rounds. I haven’t found any so far but I did try out a different chocolate bar as a special treat.

Today’s chocolate is “The Co-operative truly irresistible Fairtrade dark chocolate with spices and orange oil”. Sounds interesting, and with Fairtrade ethics to boot to ease my conscience while I’m munching away. I’m quite a fan of Green & Blacks Maya Gold which is also based on orange and spices so it will be interesting to see how I like the Co-op product.

Like most ‘luxury’ bars of chocolate it only weighs it at 100g but priced at £1.25 (currently with 20% off its £1.00) it’s a lot cheaper than a lot of other options. Its split up into 8 big squares – that’s it – but actually psychologically this works – you can kid yourself you are only having just 1 square not the 4 its probably equivalent to in a Maya Gold bar. 


Taste wise how did I get on? 

I really really like it. Its smooth, got a nice dark chocolateyness, a zing of orange and a nice hint of warm spiciness (when I checked on the back its got cardamom, cinnamon and ginger). Plus it snaps in that really pleasing manner (Green & Blacks doesn’t quite snap right for my liking as the bar is quite thick, this is more like a Rococo snap but at about 1/3 the price).

Overall a bit of a winner – I think it’s the cardamom that does it.

Another coffee and chocolate pairing

For those of you who haven’t guessed yet I’m a big fan of both coffee and chocolate and one of the highlights of each day is sitting down mid morning for a little bit of both. I like to try different pairings to see what works and what doesn’t. Mostly I like my coffee and chocolate pretty strong and intensely flavoured so some of my favourites won’t be for the faint hearted. I usually have my coffee made in a cafetiere and drink it black no sugar, occasionally I go for the extra hit of an espresso made in a lovely little Bialetti Moka Express stove top pot – wonderful but watch for the hit.

Today’s pairing was:

Coffee: “Paddy and Scott’s” All Day Coffee sourced from the North West Andes and roasted here in the UK by Paddy and Scott themselves. 

Chocolate: The Wicked Fruit Co, Wicked Lavender chocolates (a Great Taste 2007 gold winner).

So how was it for me?

Well the coffee is a good easy drinking one, a little tangy and slightly smokey. It’s a strength 3 and for me it’s a little on the weak side for mid morning but for those who’d rather not blow their head off with caffeine at 11am then it’s a great choice. Basically I’m a one coffee a day girl as a rule so I’d rather have something startling (in all respects) than drink several cups of a milder blend. I’ve also had Paddy and Scott’s After Dinner Blend before (though rarely actually after dinner!) and that’s more up my street – intense, spicy yet still smooth.

And the chocolate? Well this was the first time I’d tried anything from Wicked Fruit Co and when I saw they did lavender ones I knew I had to give then a go. I just love lavender in cooking, check out my Lavender Biscuits post, and I’m also a fan of lavender jelly with roast lamb (The Bay Tree Food Company is my current choice). The chocolate lived up to expectations (which were very high I must say). The chocolate itself was smooth with the lavender adding a rich yet delicate note. It’s quite an acquired taste in many ways, very unusual. Of course I just had to have a second sample to check my thoughts and again the chocolate delivered with the lavender seeming more intense – at this point I thought it best to stop before I hit overload (plus, like many a good thing in life, its quite pricey so you have to ration yourself or go for bankrupt). Definitely worth the price though as a treat for someone who likes the unusual.

The pairing of the coffee and the chocolate was okay but not outstanding, the chocolate was too unusual for the coffee but each on their own were very good.