30 September 2010

Jamie Oliver - Pork & Ham Sausages {by @NLi10} (Asda)

I hate Jamie Oliver.

It's been a long standing thing, from his very first TV cookery programs as an up and coming star, through his rise and the mockery of sites like b3ta.com and onwards to his international stardom. I'm only telling you this in the interests of full disclosure you understand - to put this review into some kind of context.

The full name of this product is “Jamie Oliver, Keep It Simple, Beautiful Coarse-Textured Italian Style Sausages”. Presumably the keeping it simple doesn't apply to the box & marketing, just the ingredients because not only has it got two brands (the Chef himself and the new Asda food range) but three adjectives before you get to the word sausages. To find out what kind of sausages you have to keep reading the sub-text ...with British pork, herbs, red wine and Italian prosciutto... to me and in the interests of keeping it simple these are Pork & Ham sausages and the review title reflects that.

Due to the shape of the box with the divide in the middle cunningly hidden by the sleeve this package only contains 6 sausages, when at first glance it looks like it may contain more. This isn't to say that there isn't enough sausage in the package though. On cooking these not only do you get the intense smells of every ingredient that has been used, but you also get no shrinkage - the size you start with is pretty much the size on your plate. Also the quality of the product shows in that any tears in the skin during cooking don't result in all the sausage meat escaping as the texture of them keeps them well stuck together. Jamie is a big fan of good causes and reminds us that not only is this outdoor bred British pork, but the RSPCA approve of the methods used on the farm - so your dinner was probably better looked after in its time outside than your average rambling society would be.

As Jamie is a chef there is also sensible suggestions of what to eat the product with, and for this it was essentially tomato based so I went with sun-dried tomatoes and pasta. On cutting into the sausages they stay in slices and don't fall to pieces without some serious effort. The taste is strong and satisfying and three sausages is more than ample per person - you could probably get away with two. Review cat was on high alert for a taste to a degree that I haven't seen since the early Pieminister days and practically had his head on my plate. I gave him his smaller share afterwards. I genuinely enjoyed eating these sausages and was already trying to remember what the rest of the range had been.

And this is essentially the problem with Jamie Oliver - I hate him because he is brilliant.

While he should be just another jumped up tradesman-come-tv-star he's good at what he does and on some subconscious level I respect what he does. He makes school and hospital food better, improves the life for the animals and then goes over to America and points out why some of them are fat. He releases ranges of food that he's probably actually had a hand in making, and then TV shows and books that show us how we can do it too. Even the suggestions on the eco-friendly packaging are good ones. He then opens a large restaurant in the centre of Birmingham and brings jobs and tourism to my home town. There isn't a Nobel Cooking prize, but if there was it would probably be called an Oliver.

These are the best sausages I ever remember cooking at home, and if you like sausages you'd have to be mad not to buy them at least once.
by @NLi10

29 September 2010

Somerset Ale Chutney [By Spectre] (thebaytree.co.uk)

There are quite a few ale chutneys on the market, but this one from The Bay Tree struck me as one worth writing about. It has a mix of real ale, Bramley apples and cider vinegar that is recommended on the jar to go well with a good cheddar. Spread thickly on a beef salad sandwich this chutney ended up on a plate with Cinabar’s Worcester Sauce flavoured Twiglets, a selection of pickles and olives and a large chunk of Marmite Cheddar. As recommended I also put a dollop of chutney on the side of the plate to eat primarily with the cheese. We sat down to enjoy an episode of Burn Notice. You can definitely taste the sweet apples in the chutney, and there is a sour edge of cider vinegar to tease the palette. The ale in the chutney complemented the beef in the sandwich well, but the best part of the lunchtime feast was each piece of cheddar I popped in my mouth went down with a helping of chutney. This was a heavenly combination that was akin to the Food of the Gods. The strong cheese, the apple and cider vinegar, the meaty Marmite flavour and the ale all mixed together lovingly in my mouth. And of course, watching Fiona flouncing around on the screen made it a double treat!
By Spectre

28 September 2010

Design Your Own Chocolate (@chocri_UK www.chocri.co.uk)

Chocri have been selling customisable chocolate bars in America for a while now, but have only just recently launched the UK site. The concept being Chocri chocolate is that you choose a base chocolate, and then select a variety of toppings. There is a huge range, included herbs and spices, through to sweets and flower petals. I found it quite hard to pick a bar, but did eventually make my mind up on one combination. Chocri were also kind enough to send me one of their choosing too.

Milk chocolate with Cookie and Rice Crispies (as chosen by Chocri)
The chocolate base is a milk chocolate, which is full of flavour, wonderfully sweet, but with a rich cocoa taste mixed in too. It is clearly a decent quality chocolate with a good flavour, a nice thick melt, and a glossy finish. The topping looks pretty on the bar, and is a generous portion. The Rice Crispies add the necessary crunch, and the biscuit adds to the texture and delivers a sweet delicate biscuit flavour. The topping combination is nice, but not dramatic, I think it is a very safe and tasty choice, but for my bar I decided to be a little more adventurous.

Dark Chocolate with Sour Cherries and Peanut Butter Drops (my choice)
Regular readers of this blog will know about my obsession with peanut butter and chocolate, the combination just really works for me. I was very excited to find peanut butter available to the UK market, as it does seem to be something we miss out on. I decided to add the cherries in to for a tang of flavour and to mix things up.
The chocolate is of a similarly consistency to the milk chocolate, but with a stronger darker richer cocoa taste. The cherries really wowed me, I know they claimed to be sour but I was still never expecting the fabulous flavour they contained. They have a lovely strong zingy taste that was just wonderfully sharp and had a beautiful contrast to the dark chocolate. The peanut butter was a lovely additional taste, adding a salty nutty aspect. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but I think I created a pretty fine combination, and one I would certainly purchases again!

I can’t emphasise how much fun it is to design your own chocolate bar, but if you’re indecisive like me you might be a bit stumped because of the large selection! I do heartily recommend it though, let me know if you come up with one better than Sour Cherries and Peanut Butter, because I thought that was the bee’s knees!

27 September 2010

Fru Fruity Puds: Key Lime Pie (Sainsbury’s)

Key Lime Pie isn’t something we really get here in the UK, but I do know of the dessert from watching American TV shows. There was even one particular episode of Dexter in which he was trying to find the ‘perfect’ Key Lime Pie, although his final result was a little different from what you might expect.
From that and a little research I’m not sure these puddings live up to the American dessert, firstly there is no pie crust and there is no meringue topping either. These desserts from Fru simply have a crushed biscuit base, a layer of lime and a topping similar to that of a cheese-cake. In fact, one could argue that these are in fact just lime cheese cakes, under the guise of being a traditional American pudding.
But if you accept these Fru puds for what they are, all the negative thoughts suddenly disappear, because they really do taste out of this world. The biscuit base, is wholesome sweet and has a lovely taste. The creamy topping has a fantastic light and delicate flavour that complements the layer of zingy lime that refreshes the taste buds. Just when you think the taste experience is ending there is final gentle warmth of ginger that crosses the palate. Each spoonful just makes you want another, these desserts are absolutely beautiful, and a complete pleasure to eat (even if they are a bit of a side step from the traditional Key Lime Pie).

26 September 2010

Wanchai Ferry, Kung Pao Chicken Recipe Kit {by @Nli10} (Asda)

Way back in Feb 2010 I tried out the Bo Luo Pork kit in the Wanchai Ferry range and said that while it was fantastically tasty I'd only buy them as a luxury item instead of a takeaway. I picked this Kung Pao chicken kit up fairly recently and then wondered who I would eat it with. The main person I try these meat based recipes out on is my sister as Ms. NLi10 is a Vegetarian but she isn't a big fan of nuts or spicy food. Instead of replacing the chicken with Quorn I decided that my sister could eat around the peanuts.

The roasting of the peanuts stage of the recipe was probably my favourite part - this is something that I'd never really thought of and another example of the 'recipe book on the box' approach that these Wanchai Ferry meals embody. I'm going to try this with own brand peanuts and other recipes and see how it goes - the texture it added to the meal was both unexpected and great. The smell when cooking was fantastic as well. I continued with the recipe and added my own types of veg instead of those suggested, but it seemed to be a success. The noodles were light and the sauce smelt nicely tangy.

Unfortunately when selecting my audience for the meal I hadn't expected the 'medium' heat sauce to be quite as explosive as it was. My sister is not a fan of hot food, but this was beyond that. I'm happy to eat a nice Madrass curry and have had Szechwan sauces before but this exceeded my expectations and really put the Pow into Kung Pao. My sister managed to eat some of the chicken out of hers and I just about finished mine, but suffered for the experience and could not enjoy as many of the peanuts as I'd have liked before it got the better of me.

I really didn't expect the heat, and it wasn't a great meal as a result, especially not for my 'mild' preferring sister. It won't put me off trying others in the range, but this is firmly a 'hot' and not a 'medium' in my eyes...

By Nli10

25 September 2010

Competition to Win CyberCandy Vouchers!!!

CyberCandy is one of our favourite shops , and has been a source of quite a few goodies found on this website. They have very kindly sent two £10 vouchers to give away!

If you want to be one of the two lucky winners, each winning £10 to spend in their fantastic shops all you have to do is send me an email and tell me out of all Cybercandy goodies reviewed on this site, which one would you buy first if you won?

Email your answer to the question above to admin@foodstufffinds.co.uk and mark the subject line ‘Comp

The prize
The prize consists of a £10 voucher for Cybercandy, and there will be two available.
CyberCandy have stores in Birmingham, Covent Garden - London and Brighton. If you are a winner and are unable to visit one of the shops, I would be happy to send you a £10 selection of goodies from Cybercandy as chosen by me (it's okay I have good taste). :-)

• Any personal data will only be used for processing of this competition.
• Two winners will be chosen at random from the answers.
• UK residents only (as vouchers are for a UK shop).
• Competition closes 8pm on 9th October 2010.
• If I can’t get in touch with the winner in a reasonable amount of time to obtain an address another winner will be selected.
• If you have any questions about this competition, please send me an email or leave a comment below.

[Chestnut Beer] Pietra Biera Corsa [By Spectre] (Waitrose)

Corsica is a small island off the south of France in the Mediterranean Sea. My reliable source (Wikipedia) tells me that in 1584 the Chestnut King (governor) ordered all farmers to plant four trees a year; a chestnut tree, a fig tree, an olive tree and a mulberry-tree. It seems the chestnut trees took over and there are great forests of the damn things everywhere. Not that I’ve been to Corsica, and the photos look nice, but I hate chestnuts. I don’t like them roasted on an open fire at Christmas time or served up with sprouts and gravy. I hate sprouts too. Corsican cuisine appears to be a mix of French and Italian, mixed with chestnuts. I’m sure their restaurant menus look a bit like; starter; Roasted Chestnut Salad, main course; Stuffed Chestnuts with Chestnut Sauce, followed by; Chestnut Cake with Cream of Chestnut, and a good Chestnut Coffee to wash it down with. Apparently their chestnut bread lasts up to three weeks, probably because no one likes it. They also have chestnut beer; for the simple reason, I’m sure, they couldn’t think of any other way to use up all those chestnuts. I can just imagine every year the Chestnut Council meets in a great chestnut decked hall to brainstorm how they’ll use up all their chestnuts. An idea might be to roast the chestnuts whilst they are still on the trees. On opening the beer I was unsurprisingly struck by the whiff of chestnuts. I reluctantly took a swig and was surprised at how much I liked the strong tasting beer. The smell aside, the beer has a sweet creamy taste not dissimilar to a Milky Bar with a bite at the back of the tongue that makes you sit up and take notice. This beer might be good to wake up to with the hair of the dog or at the end of a long day to help you stay up a little longer to watch the end of a (boring) atmospheric film.

By Spectre

And the winners are...

The winners of the Jelly Belly competition are:

Geoff D from Blackburn
Nigel H from Essex

The winner of the Sweet Cred Red Hot Toxic Extreme Sour Candy Twitter comp is:


Your prizes are on their way to you, and should be with you shortly. Do hope you enjoy them.

24 September 2010

New Mr Kipling Blackcurrant Oatibakes (Sainsbury’s)

We have reviewed a fair few ‘Mr Kipling’ products here at Foodstuff Finds, and pretty much enjoyed all of them. I love blackcurrants so I thought the combination of a decent brand and a yummy fruit couldn’t go wrong.
These cakes came individually wrapped, which is quite useful for those people who pop such things in a lunch box, spectre didn’t moan so the plastic tray must have been recyclable too! Each cake looks like it is somewhere between a sponge and a flapjack, it is golden baked and has a layer of blackcurrant jam through the middle.
I found the taste to be a bit of an anti climax. The cake is mild in flavour, and seems mainly to taste of flour. I thought that the blackcurrant adds just a vague fruitiness, and doesn’t have that zingy or sweet blackcurrant taste that some jams have. The texture was complex, but the oat bits meant it felt a little lumpy to me, although I realise that the oats were there to create that heavier texture.
In conclusion these are not unpleasant by any means, they just seem a little average, and are not my favourite product in the Mr Kipling range.

172 Calories per cake
Suitable for vegetarians

23 September 2010

Make Mine A Builders Tea {by @NLi10}

This is a review in two parts:

1. Builders Tea - standard review

Every so often a product comes along where the 'gimmick' or 'concept' behind the product is so amazingly obvious you struggle to understand why it has never been done before. This is the case with Make Mine A Builders Tea, in the UK at least strong tea is often referred to as builders tea, so why not make a product that capitalises on this and has strong flavoured tea that people buy as a joke for people doing DIY or if they just like stronger tea.

Only here's the thing - this product isn't a joke product. Not only do proceeds from the tea go to help train the next generation of young builders, but the tea is covered with relevant content like builder’s tips and manly contests to blow up buildings (now finished). It's also a damn good cup of tea! I'd expected some cheap, naff teabags inside and that they would be targeting people buying for others but this is not the case. The flavours are strong like you'd expect but never harsh, and there is a real blend of flavours. Also it doesn't seem to be massively high in caffeine like some teas can be - important to someone like me who tries to cut down on these things.

It's like popping into your favourite English road-side Cafe for a cup of tea and an escape from the chaos of the real world, and that is a really good feeling. So good that I decided to take half of the box into work leading me to the second part of this review.

2. Builders Tea - 'Good enough for Work tea?' review

It's taken me a while to get around to this review because of all the event reviews I've had to do (Halo potions & Pirates etc.) but mainly because I wanted to give it a fair trial at work. I must be about half was through the packet I took in now and the results have been surprising.

It's easy to make a good cup of tea at home - boiling water and all the supplies like sugar and real, non sachet milk are there ready. At work we have a pathetic water heater (which is perfect for coffee but rubbish for tea) and sachet milk & cheap sugar *acquired* from the canteen when paying too much for lunch there. The challenge was to taste as good as my existing stash of PG Decaf teabags, given these sub-optimal conditions.

I have to say that Make Mine A Builders rose to the challenge admirably. Sure it's not as nice as at home, and it requires a bit longer in the cup, but it makes a good cup of afternoon thinking tea for sitting at my desk with. I'd say I still need the decaf for when I'm thirsty but not in need of the boost that the caffeine inevitably brings, but I've decided that I can certainly make space in my draw for this alongside the PG and the biscuit tin - especially as it makes a perfect visitors tea. I'm not sure what they would call a decaf version (interior decorators tea?) but I'd certainly be tempted to try other variants should they try branching out.

As it stands it's a great tea and one of the products I'll probably end up buying most out of the ones I've tried.

22 September 2010

Encona West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauce [By Spectre] (Nisa)

I'm a fan of hot sauces, especially with cheese on toast, so when I saw this West Indian Hot Pepper sauce in a local supermarket I found myself dying to try it. This sauce is supposed to give you a classic taste of the Caribbean. It has been made with the same recipe of Scotch Bonnet and Habanero peppers for over forty years. It claims to have "a deliciously fiery and fruity flavour for a true taste of the tropics". The red chilli on the front of the bottle says "Hot", but just how hot can this sauce be?
Just before we headed out to see the hilarious play "Murdered to Death" starring Norman Pace and some other nutty actors, Cinabar prepared me some cheese on toast and I cracked open the sauce bottle. The thick orange sauce oozed onto the plate looking much like liquid fire with chilli seeds sparking against each other. The slices of cheese on toast seemed to visibly back away from the sauce in blind terror. I dumbly started carving up my cheesy portions and dipped the first piece into the fiery fluid that was trying its best to melt through the plate. The sauce had a wonderful hot chilli sweet smell to it as I raised the fork filled molten morsel to my mouth. The heat hit me almost straight away making my lips and tongue tingle disturbingly. After a few more mouthfuls I noticed all I could taste was fire, rather than the "fruity flavour" as promised. This sauce is super hot, in fact a little too hot for me, a full uncomfortable fiery heat in a sweating running nose type way. I switched to Worcester Sauce to cool myself down (I know... Wuss!) and then my usual Cholula sauce and Tabasco sauce. I'm sure I'll brave this Encona sauce again at some point, but next time I'll not forget to call the local fire station just in case.
By Spectre

21 September 2010

Tyrrells Summer Barbecue Crisps (Sainsbury’s)

Well these crisps made me smile when I saw them on the shelf. Partly because they have the word ‘Summer’ in the title and the weather has clearly taken a dive, and partly because on closer inspection there is a photo on the front of people sheltering under a brolly! Okay, these are proper British Summer barbecue crisps then!
The flavour of them reminds me more of barbecue sauce rather barbecued meat or the flavours from a physical barbecue. Spectre confirmed this thought by saying that they reminded him of the rib sauce you get in Chiquito’s restaurants. The taste was sweet, rich with a good element of tomato and a tangy smokiness to finish. Part of the flavour was even a little like a spiced tomato ketchup, sweet and tangy. There was also an element of saltiness that came through at the very end that kept me reaching for more.
I thoroughly enjoyed these crisps, and thought these in conjunction with the Butter and Mint Crisps means we have seen some wonderful flavours coming from Tyrrells this summer. Really looking forward to finding out what they have in store for their Autumn flavours!

20 September 2010

House of Dorchester: Double Chocolate Slabs (Sainsbury’s)

These chocolates caught my eye in Sainsburys as they had a label saying just ‘75p Introductory Offer’ and I thought that sounded like excellent value for a decent slab of chocolate. I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I picked up the packet, as firstly the bars where bendy i.e. not a solid slab and also that they were so light. Still it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t purchase a new product!
When I got them home I found that each pack consisted of four ‘slabs’, each one beautifully decorated with its appropriate topping, but disappointingly concave on the underneath. To me the word slab has connotations of something big, chunky, meaty and solid so these bars felt like they were pushing the definition. Having the back of them hollowed out just made you feel like you were missing out on chocolate that really should have been there.

In fact I just looked ‘slab’ up in the dictionary (on the internet)!
1. a broad, flat, somewhat thick piece of stone, wood, or other solid material.

2. a thick slice of anything: a slab of bread.
" from dictionary.com

I would think that if these were ‘thick’ chocolates they really should be solid and not hollowed out on the back, and they really ought to be bigger in general. I have made my point now, and shall move on to eating them!

Double Chocolate With Mini Marshmallows
Well I really can’t complain on appearance, these choccies really do look the part. The base milk chocolate was flavoursome, and smooth and clearly of a decent quality. The dark chocolate decoration didn’t seem to add much in the way of flavour, but the mallow added a slight chewy texture dissolving quickly and adding an extra sweet buzz. I liked these chocolates, but was still left with a slightly unsatisfied feeling after eating them. Lucky for me I had another bar!

Double Chocolate with Caramel Fudge Pieces
This time I was at least expecting the mini pieces, which muted the disappointment a little. The chocolates were again really nicely decorated and did look very appetising. The base was the same good quality rich milk chocolate, but this time the topping let the product down. The ‘caramel fudge’ pieces had a poor texture as they were solid, and hard and oddly crunchy – they felt wrong to me. So wrong in fact I actually checked the sell by date to see if they were stale, they weren’t but I do wonder whether the ones on my bar were just a one of manufacturing fault? Although the base chocolate was pleasant the ‘caramel fudge’ pieces seemed to leave bits in my mouth, which ruined the smoothness of the chocolate and indeed the bar.

Has anybody else tried these bars? What did you think? I’d be particularly interested to know whether or not anyone else found the ‘caramel fudge’ pieces in the second bar to have such a strange texture, or whether or not I was just unlucky?

19 September 2010

Pepsi Raw [Yarr?] – (Asda) {by @NLi10}

Avast me hearties - it be International Talk Like A Pirate Day! September the 19th be the most important day in the Pirate calendar and to celebrate this year even the Pope has come to the UK to join in and will be just down the road from me this afternoon.

In honour of this wondrous day I have decided to review the most pirate like thing that I have left in the stores as I was unable to make it into town to buy more appropriate snacks. Raw sounds like the kind of thing a pirate may shout and while the intention of Pepsi Co was probably to appeal to hipsters and people who like to see themselves as fans of natural goodness I'm sure is some crossover.

The idea behind this product is to take all the artificial stuff out of the recipe and replace it with all natural goodness. It's like Pepsi saw how successful things like our beloved Fentiman's Curiosity Cola are and decided to return to their roots. It's been advertised by them as something to drink in clubs and bars too though which to me says they want the Red Bull & vodka customers back too.

It's a nice little drink though - it's certainly got a raw edge to the flavour and while you can tell that it's Pepsi it's a lot more earthy and natural in taste. I've been drinking it for a while but have only bought a couple since I rediscovered the Fentiman's brand. This is more expensive and not quite as refreshing, but when it's the only designer cola option in the bar it's the one I'm going to go for.

In summary my fridge has regular Pepsi for everyday drinking, and Fentiman's for special occasions. It's a wonder I have any teeth left, but then pirates were never big on dental hygiene. Yarr!
by @NLi10

18 September 2010

Cofresh Mild and Tangy Chilli and Lemon flavour Potato Snack [By Spectre] (Sainsbury’s)

I’ve been a fan a Cofresh’s burning hot Balti Mix for some time so you can imagine my joy when I saw they’d brought out a range of big bag crunchy potato snacks. The first I will review are the least hot of the three. This Chilli and Lemon flavour are rated as Mild and Tangy. I must have been having a wussy moment, as I’m surprised I didn’t go for the crazy hot first and work my way back. I burst open the crisps and sat down to watch Jonathan Dimbleby’s adventures in Africa. The bag was packed full of crunchy shells that are a delight to bite, but you may have to turn the volume up on the TV if you want to hear everything. I thought the heat from the crisps would be appropriate to the country and the hour long programme should be enough to see off the big grab bag. Chomping away at the crisps I noticed there was a definite lemon taste with a tangy heat from the chilli. The more I chomped the stronger the heat became. I thought the lemon worked so well with the chilli heat that I just wanted to keep eating, not only because the heat was making me slightly afraid to stop, but because the taste was so moreish. There was still a burn in my mouth for a while after finishing the bag and I couldn’t tell whether I was being a bit of a wimp or Cofresh really are under exaggerating the “Mild and Tangy” on the bag. Although I’d like to think it’s the later, I am slightly apprehensive about trying the hotter flavours, having said that, I’ll definitely be buying the Mild and Tangy again.
By Spectre

17 September 2010

Dairy Milk Bliss [Cadbury]

I received this rather lovely bar in the post, so apologies that one corner of it is crushed. It seems the Jiffy bag covering it, wasn’t enough of a protection for our snappy letter box. Still the broken corner doesn’t affect the taste, and it does give us an excellent opportunity to get a closer look at the filling.
This new bar is in the Dairy Milk range. Its pretty packaging reminds me of the Apricot Crumble Crunch bar they released a couple of years ago, as they both have delicate cream patterns on their packet. The size of this bar is very different to the regular ones though, it consists simply of six larger chunkier pieces. I assume this is to leave more room for the new vanilla centre!
The coating is the usual Dairy Milk chocolate, but it is a decent amount and provides a good chocolate fix. The centre is thick, creamy, and rather silky. Sampled on its own (yes, I scooped a little out with my finger nail) it does have a lovely light sweet vanilla taste. However with the chocolate the delicate tones in the flavour of the filling are lost, and the rich sweetness of the dairy Milk takes over. It’s a little hard to distinguish the vanilla, but that’s not such a bad thing as it ends up tasting like a Dairy Milk with a creamy, sweet truffle filling which is still rather pleasant.

220 Calories per Bar
Suitable for Vegetarians

16 September 2010

Mana Potion Vs Sleep [feat. Halo Reach] [by @NLi10] (CyberCandy Birmingham)

When I reviewed the Harcos Labs Health Potion some time back I really enjoyed the flavour but had severely underestimated how strong it would be and drank it all in one go on a work night - it disrupted my sleep and gave me bags of energy but due to drinking it on an ordinary evening I had an abundance of energy an no use for it. I bought another health potion (which I used on an outward bounds activity day at GoApe Wire Forest some 40ft up in the air to great effect) and a Mana potion. The makers say that Mana potions are stronger than health potions, and from experience they are essentially 40ml of weaponised caffeine, so I put it away for a special occasion where its powers could be put to good use.
The launch of Halo Reach for the Xbox 360 seemed the perfect opportunity for trying out this concoction. The premise - go to the midnight launch and then come home and play until I was no longer capable. I even booked the day off work just for this. I shall attempt to recount the whole experience on an hour-by-hour basis, like Jack Bauer's weedy younger brother.

12:00 - I got to the launch a bit early, but there was already a large queue. At 12:45 I had picked up my new Halo 360 with the game, and got ample free things from the crew at GameStation New Street in Birmingham (thanks guys - you throw an excellent launch party!). I got a taxi home.

1:00 - got back just after 1 and set up the console and took a few pictures. While I was sorting everything out I transferred my old games using a larger USB stick and installed the game to the hard drive for more efficient playing. I also lined up my snacks which were a bunch of grapes - anything more snacky or sustaining may taint the science behind this experiment.

2:00 - Finally started playing on Heroic mode which is the game series equivalent of Hard (my GamerTag is nli10 - and I also tweeted for a lot of the night as @nli10 if you want to read as my sanity disappears). Grapes were eaten throughout the evening but not recorded. They were green ones.

3:00 - By this point I'd powered through the first proper level and got a couple of achievements. This is the point at which I would have ordinarily gone to bed as I was pretty tired - I also probably wouldn't have spent so long setting everything up. I took my first few sips of the mana potion. The flavour is sourer than the health potion, and tasted like a stronger version of the blue slush puppy. There are a few other flavours in there I'm sure too.

4:00 - I'd got over my sleepiness and got back into the groove and was starting to remember the controls a lot more. The third chapter was a lot harder than I'd expected and I died quite a lot. I took a celebratory swig of the potion to take it down to half when I finished the level. The same herbal undertones as the health potion were more noticeable this time and it gave the flavour a bigger zing. I'd need all the alertness I could get for the next part.

5:00 - After a brief comfort break I jumped into the multiplayer modes. Now I'm a fan of Halo but I wouldn't consider myself to be a great player, I loose pretty much all matches but have a great time. I decided on Rumble Pit as my playlist as this is all solo games and speedy, I took sips of the potion between rounds. Over the hour I came (out of 8) 8th, 8th, joint 3rd with 6 other people , 5th, 7th 5th, and then I stopped keeping track. My Halo online record thinks I won a match but I don't remember this! I was having fun but everyone else was clearly more skilled so I went back to single player.

6:00 - back on the campaign mode as the sun started to rise I found that the multiplayer had knocked some of the ring rust off my skills - I was back on form. Despite this burst at 6:30 I was really starting to flag again so I finished the remains of the blue potion and almost immediately was more alert. I was on Chapter 4 and progress was slow as there were new things to contend with (no spoilers from me!)

7:00 - Still on chapter 4 I was very physically awake but my brain was flagging - I was losing in some odd places and suspect my mind was wandering. At 7:30 I finally passed it and much air punching and celebrating was done. This seemed to kick my brain back into gear and I decided to play around with the other modes and get some of the easier achievements.

8:00 - I had decided before starting that I'd have breakfast at my (roughly) normal time of 8 O'clock so had cereal and Builders Tea (to be reviewed soon) which added to my feeling of normality. I decided to go back to chapter 2 to get a simple achievement for doing the level in a very specific way on an easier difficulty. I chose the easiest possible (in my sleep addled state not reading that you can't earn anything on that mode) and started. As I wandered around the level it seemed like I was going in circles and my eyes began to get blinky. At one point I found myself waking up as the controller started to slip out of my hands and I decided this was the end point of the experiment. By the time I'd switched off and made it to bed it was 9:15 meaning that a mana potion adds about 6 hours to my ability to concentrate and stay awake.

After 4 hours sleep I got up and resumed play - something I'd have never done without the aid of the stimulants in my system. While due to my tiredness I found it really hard to think tactically or shoot straight towards the end I think it's a thumbs up for the mana potion. While the health potion would still be my favourite I think that mana is great for situations where you need that bit more enthusiasm or awakeness. It'd be perfect for late night clubbing, and playing on the normal difficulty I'd have got a lot further than I did on Heroic. The flavour is unusual, but nice enough that you are happy to drink it, and sipping it over the evening was a much better way to take it than all-in-one, although the lovely glugging noise the bottle makes was less noticeable. I'll probably buy these again.
by @NLi10

15 September 2010

Cup Noodles - Spicy Seafood Flavour [By Spectre] (Indoor Market, Birmingham)

Cup Noodles were first released in 1958 by the Japanese food company, Nissin. They are available in places such as Brazil, China, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico and the USA. I picked up this Spicy Seafood flavour in a Chinese store in the Indoor Market in Birmingham. After my recent discovery that I like some of the hotter flavours of Pot Noodles (Donner Kebab and Bombay Bad Boy), I was keen to try this original Cup Noodles brand. On peeling back the lid I was slightly concerned to see a solid wall of noodles. Concerned, partly as the cup was almost full already and adding boiling water, I believed, would make a horrific boiling mess all over the kitchen surface, and also concerned that even if I managed to get some boiling water into the plastic cup, how I would stir it and eventually eat it. These concerns were all a complete waste of time, as soon as I added boiling water the noodles softened and the brew mixed very easily. I also noticed there was no irritating sachet in the Cup Noodles that comes in Pot Noodles. This Spicy Seafood sauce was straight; no ripping and pouring and more stirring. After a while I plonked in a fork and started to twiddle the long thin noodles around. I have found Pot Noodles to be very noisy and messy, constantly slurping and having to wipe my chin. I was surprised that I didn't have to do that with this Cup Noodles. The orange coloured soup had a lovely seafood smell and spicy taste to it. There were clearly diced red chilli, sweet corn and fishy bits bobbing happily around in there. The noodles seemed quite cool to my lips when removed from the hot liquid and only when I came to the last few noodles did I have to wipe my chin a few times. The noodles were so long that I managed the 'have I got anything stuck in my teeth?' gag on Cinabar quite a few times before I got told off. I drank off the rest of the soup and chewed the small amount of bits of food that were still in the cup. This is a most refreshing quick starter or late night snack; I can heartily recommend Cup Noodles as a great alternative to Pot Noodles. They definitely show that experience is everything in the noodle pot / cup market!
By Spectre

14 September 2010

Cupcakes In A Jar (gdesserts.com)

Yes, you read that right, these are cupcakes served in a jar! When I first heard about these cakes I was absolutely desperate to try them as they are such a neat idea. Not only are they really pretty to look at, but the jar keeps them fresh and enables them to be posted too, so it’s not just a novelty, its rather clever too.

The lovely people at GDesserts sent me both the Chocolate Nutter cupcake and the Red Velvet version to try. The smaller jar is the ‘taster’ size and the larger jar their ‘regular’. The cupcakes were well packaged for their trip in the post, and even had cold packs in with them to ensure they were fresh.

Red Velvet
I was really intrigued by this flavour, as I know my American friends often talk about having Red Velvet cake. The flavour is somewhere between chocolate and vanilla, and I am pleased to say that the fabulous vibrant colour is all natural. The icing is a sweet and creamy cheese flavour mixed with sugar and vanilla and a lovely rich after taste of white chocolate. There is a gentle hint of cocoa in the red sponge, and all the delicate but sweet flavours work well together. Although delicious, it seemed such a shame to eat such a pretty cake! Glad I did though, it was a real treat.

Chocolate Nutter
Gosh I do love chocolate and nut flavours mixed together, so I think it is fair to say I had high expectations for this cupcake, and I was not disappointed. The icing is soft and moist, and the flavours of cocoa, butter and nut just melt on the tongue. The sponge underneath is so fluffy and light and brings the most wonderful rich dark chocolate and hazelnut flavours. There was even a hazelnut hiding in the centre of this cake. This little cupcake is a jar filled with absolutely heaven, chocolate, creaminess, butter, hazelnut and a beautiful moist sponge – a complete pleasure to eat.

I was delighted to discover that these wonderful cakes more than lived up to the expectations I had when I first heard about them. Beautiful to look at, and baked to perfection too.

13 September 2010

Twiglets Worcestershire Sauce (Waitrose)

As far as I’m aware ‘flavoured’ Twiglets don’t come out very often, in fact I think this might be their first appearance on the blog! Standard Twiglets consist of a baked snack coated in a yummy, yeasty Marmitey tasting coating. Like Marmite, people tend to love or hate them!

These new Limited Edition Worcestershire Sauce variety do look quite similar to regular Twiglets as they are the usual chunky nobly baked pieces, but the pattern on them isn’t quite as dark. Despite similar appearances the flavour was very different. Instead of the salty yeast taste there is the wonderful warm sweet spicy flavour of Worcestershire Sauce shining through. They are crunchy and moreish, and the new flavour works wonderfully on them. Worcestershire sauce is a favourite flavour of mine, love it on cheese and toast, and as such this zingy meaty flavour really works for me as a Twiglet flavouring.

It is a shame that those (crazy) people who aren’t usually a fan of the regular Twiglets taste probably won’t pick these up because of the assumption that the flavour with still have an aspect of yeastiness. Instead these have a totally new flavour – they are absolutely fab, and should have a much wider appeal. Worcestershire Sauce on that crunchy crispy base just makes for a heavenly snack!

12 September 2010

Pieminister - Moo Pie {by @NLi10} (Ocado)

Welcome back to the Pieminister & Fentimans portion of this blog where I get to try other products in the ranges that I like because technically they are new finds.

This time round though I've made it to the beef end of the pie section, where traditional pies tend to be found. It's not that I don't like beef pies, prior to my Pieminister addiction I was very fond of Asda's Beef pie with puff pastry and always had one of those next to the chicken version in my freezer for when playing on Xbox Live seemed more important than cooking did.

Compared to a lot of the other flavours though this one does seem a little tame - the real ale being the only unfamiliar ingredient, but ale pie is a popular pub favourite. Saying that, this is pretty much a pub Sunday lunch in a pie. Sure you don't get the Yorkshire puddings, but the gravy is there in abundance as can be seen by the mini volcano that came out of the top when I spiked it to check it was cooked through.

As with all the Pieminister varieties you can taste the individual ingredients and there are distinct chunks of everything, especially the meat. If I was out in a pub and got this with chunky chips I wouldn't be disappointed, but sitting at home I think I prefer the previous Pieminister pies I’ve tried. I'm not a massive fan of pub Sunday lunches, and while this recreates the flavours well I'd just be happier with something that did something a little more exciting with the beef.

Saying this is my least favourite Pieminister pie so far is like saying that £10 is my least favourite amount to win on the lottery, it's still an excellent pie that is worth the money and one I will probably eat again.
by @NLi10

11 September 2010

Sweet Cred Red Hot Toxic Extreme Sour Candy [By Spectre] (Selfridges)

I like the packaging of these sour sweets. The recyclable plastic toxic waste can has a certain irony. “Red Hot Toxic” in a fire red font on the side of the can, with warnings such as “If you dare” and “Extreme Sour Candy” certainly seemed a challenge. The can also states if you can take one sweet for a minute then you’re an “Extreme Sourhead”, anything below that and apparently you’re a bit of a wimp. So I decided to take up the challenge. I’ve had pretty sour face twisting sweets in the past. These claim to be the “sourest candy on the planet”. Popping open the plastic can I noticed there were four flavours wrapped in various colours. Green for apple flavour, yellow for lemon flavour, red for watermelon flavour (huzzah! No cherry flavour! Regular readers will know I hate cherry flavoured sweets), and blue for blueberry flavour. There was four of each flavour meaning someone somewhere counted them out. I prefer that then having one of one flavour and many of another or missing out on one flavour all together. The colours made sense in my head, which is so often not the case with different flavours of sweets (such as Maynard’s Duos).

Apple flavour
On ripping open the little green packet I noticed that it had another warning on the back “Caution taste buds Extreme Sour Candy”. I laugh in the face of danger. Hah! I popped the sticky green tablet into my mouth and instantly regretted it. Pow! I sat squirming at my desk trying not to swear. There really is an extreme sour hit right from the start with this sweet. It’s like Rita Queen of Speed at Alton Towers; a super fast start turning into a pleasant rollercoaster ride. When the sourness goes the sweet turns into a nice apple experience, but when your teeth break through to the centre of the sweet the sourness returns, not as bad as the first punch in the face, but maybe a couple of loop the loops.

Lemon flavour
Geez! Okay this one really is sour! Gah! Having trouble typing… Unlike the pleasant apple in the background this sweet makes full use of the lemon flavour straight away. I swear I almost fell off my chair. As soon as the Rita sensation hits you it’s gone and you can rest easy for a while to a nice lemon flavour. Then you bite through the crusty outer layer of the sweet and have a decent punch again from the sour centre.

Watermelon flavour
Okay, so I thought the lemon flavour was the sourest, but the watermelon clearly beats it. There is a definite watermelon taste, which I was pleased about. It actually tasted of watermelon, not some dodgy flavouring that some geek in a lab thought might taste like watermelon. On this sweet though, I noticed my tongue was getting sore and the roof of my mouth a little tender. I hastily bit through the outer layer and felt the full force of the watermelon sour. Definitely more sour on the outside and inside than the other two flavours. Roll(er coaster) on the last sweet!

Blueberry flavour
Blueberry is another of those sweet flavours that sweet manufacturers seem to always get wrong. Sweet Cred had done such a good job on the watermelon flavour that I was strangely looking forward to tasting this sweet. However my mouth was sadly not looking forward to it. My tongue was feeling sore in several places and the roof of my mouth raw. I winced a little opening the little blue packet. I couldn’t help thinking this would have made good TV or a You Tube clip for people to giggle at. I stared at the sticky sky blue sweet for a while and finally succumbed to temptation and quashed the fear. Yaaaah! There is a definite blueberry taste, although a little exaggerated. The sourness is definitely extreme, but not as bad (good) as the watermelon flavour. I started to feel the sourness on my lips with this flavour which were slowly going numb. My tongue and inner mouth had given up at this point, and hiding under my desk like a twisty faced moron from my colleagues seemed not to be working anymore either. I bit into the outer coating of the sweet for the final loop the loop and was glad my super sour tasting session was over.
By Spectre

Anyone for a sweet? I have three sweets left of each Red Hot Toxic flavour. Follow us on Twitter for a competition to win them – coming very soon.

10 September 2010

Cadbury Wishes [Make-A-Wish]

I would very much like to believe that this is not an early sighting of a Christmas product. The only reason I suspect it might be is because of its shape, and I will try to believe that something star shaped doesn’t necessarily have to be seasonal. Heck we haven’t even had Halloween yet!
Some of the profits from this chocolate star go to the Make A Wish charity, which give this chocolate a feel good factor. If you needed further uplifting, each chocolate is also inscribed with a Fortune Cookie style positive phrase, which is quite sweet too.
Inside this pretty but solid feeling chocolate star are two layers, one of bubbly aerated dairy milk and one of a smooth chocolate truffle. The shape of the star make it a little difficult to approach, but once you do bite it, the shape and textures make it feel really substantial and fun to eat. The two layers make it seem quite filling and it certainly supplies a very decent chocolate hit. I love Aero / Wispa etc, and this too has that lovely feeling of biting into something solid, that ‘just gives’ when your teeth sink in. The truffle is quite cool and silky but tastes practically identical to the rest of the product, but the mix in textures works really well. Essentially if you like Dairy Milk you will love this, it’s a bit different both in terms of shape and filling but will more than satisfy any chocolate craving!

9 September 2010

Fentimans Dandelion & Burdock {by @NLi10} (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Edwardian Tea Room)

I like museums. I'm a recovering Archaeologist, having done my degree in that subject but moved away from this into areas that actually enable me to afford food. On a recent summer trip to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (or as all the cool kids call it BMAG) I dragged my other half into the cafe with the promise of tea and a taste of their legendary carrot cake. The options for drinks were quite varied, but I fancied a Fentimans and I decided to try one of the flavours that I hadn't been brave enough to try before. Out of Ginger Beer and Dandelion & Burdock I chose the latter.

I'm not sure on the history of this particular taste combination - in fact I wasn't that sure what a burdock is. Wiki tells me that it's a kind of thistle, which in hindsight may have pushed me towards the ginger beer. Dandelions are also a plant that is considered a weed by most people, so I was curious to find out exactly why us mad English people decided to drink this. Turns out (wiki again) that the drink is made from the roots of the plant, and when fermented is naturally fizzy - which would have been quite exciting in the late 13th Century when it was said to have been first drunk.

Taste wise the biggest shock is that it's really similar to Dr. Pepper. It's a lot less sweet, but I think that may be the difference between Fentimans and Coca Cola as their respective flagship colas are different in sweetness too. After the initial shock that it actually does taste like plants it's pretty drinkable. There is a certain medicinal quality to the flavour and I don't think that this is as widely appealing as most of the other flavours. As the taste is quite strong it’s not really one to drink with a hot meal but as part of a packed lunch or a picnic hamper I think it would go quite well.

After lunch we left the cafe and wondered off to explore more of the BMAG which currently houses most of the Saxon Gold exhibit, a Steve McCurry photo exhibition and lots of other exciting things like Pre-Raphelite paintings. Worth popping in just for the cafe anyway (free entry) if you happen to fancy a break from the chaos of Birmingham city centre and the temptations of the Cyber-Candy store, but be warned you probably will end up having a quick look round.
by @NLi10

8 September 2010

Stockholm - Fine Festival Beer [By Spectre] (IKEA)

I must admit I do enjoy a trip to IKEA. It has a wide variation of products with tables, cupboards, sofa-beds, chairs, rugs and... okay, okay... you got me, I'm lying, it's for the meatballs! Those sauce covered meaty balls of love are simply to die for. I always have to have the large portion, with sauce, jam and chips to dip. The second best part is leaving IKEA. I know that sounds cruel, but the shop is a winding maze of stuff that doesn't quite fit together properly and you'd either never want, never make, never be able to make or wouldn't have a place in the house to put it in. After piling a flat packed super heavy desk and a wardrobe on a trolley and muddling through the self checkout we came across my third favourite part - the food shop. I always like to pick up a few beers there and noticed this nice little can of Swedish brew. Fine Festival Beer sounded like a treat. The beer is from the Krönleins Brewery, which was founded in 1836 by Anders Julius Appeltofft and was taken over by Anders Krönlein in 1920. It has been a family business ever since and has famous exports such as Three Hearts beer. On opening the 330ml can I poured the golden liquid into a glass and took a good swig. This lager has a sweet taste to start with, which is light on the taste buds, moving to a refreshing bite and bitter aftertaste on the back of the tongue. You can taste the strength in the beer, but it's pleasurable to drink and at 5.3% volume, one after another could creep up on you pretty quickly. You revel in the beer as you drink it; it's not too bubbly like some lagers and you just want more and more. I can certainly understand why the Swedish would want to celebrate festivals with this beer and I instantly regretted buying just the one. Next time I go to IKEA for meatballs and try to avoid getting lost in the maze of miscellanea, I'll definitely have to pick up some more of these cans.
By Spectre