31 October 2012

Croglin Vampire Doppelbock (Westmorland Service Station) [By @SpectreUK]

At 8% volume this Croglin Vampire Doppelbock really did have a bite (pun intended). Legend has it that in 1685 a vampire attacked a woman asleep in her house in Croglin, in north east Cumbria. Her screams alerted her brothers who chased the vampire away. The vampire returned a year later only to be hunted to a local crypt and burnt to death by the brothers (or second death, as vampires are already classed as dead, or undead?). Doppelbock is a traditional rich malty beer from Munich. This beer lent to that tradition and was brewed at the Old Hall Brewery, in the Lake District. It contained gluten and was brewed using Cumbrian fell water, with English malted barley, a variety of hops from all over the world, and also lager yeast. There was a heavy fruity raisin like aroma on opening this beer, with an almost spirit like pungency. I could certainly smell the strength from the beer, and I could well imagine the vampire had wished he’d had a few of these before he’d tackled the brothers for the second time around. On pouring the beer I was a little disappointed not to find it to be a blood red colour. Although that would mean that it had unnatural colouring added, or some awful red berry or even the blood of some poor virgin added to it. This beer was a dark brown colour and it made my beer mug yelp a little from its strength. The aroma of this beer transferred to the flavour, as it had a strong fruity raisin like quality to it in the initial taste. This was followed by an almost spiritual liquor kick, like a tot of whisky, which made me gasp a little until I’d drunk a few more mouthfuls and got used to the strength. There was a malty twist behind the warming fruity liquor taste of this beer, leaving a raisin wine like aftertaste. Once I’d finished the 330ml bottle I instantly wanted another. This beer would be good to drink in a dark stormy castle, with the freezing rain lashing outside and the wind howling an unearthly mournful cry around the cold stone corridors. Then the old Scotch butler exclaims; “We’re doomed, doomed I tell ye!” So you’d better watch out, there’s a vampire about, though he may be a little tipsy if he’s drunk more than one of these beers!
By Spectre

Spooky Dip (Swizzels Matlow) [By @SpectreUK]

This Spooky Dip was produced by Swizzels Matlow, in Derby. I loved the images of the freaky monsters on the packaging and the frightening photograph Swizzels Matlow took for us. They also sent us a large sweet tub for Trick or Treaters (see the photograph below) and some Scooby sweets. There are three terrifying sherbet flavours (okay, so I’m trying to scare it up a little...), and a tongue colour changing blackcurrant flavoured Swizzelstick. The first flavour I tried was Orange flavour, which was a lovely sour orange flavour. I was surprised at how the blackcurrant Swizzelstick added to the taste, but was gentle enough not to overpower the sherbet, which I thought was a good idea. Blackcurrant can be an overpowering flavour, especially in sweets, so I had been a little worried to start with. The next flavour I tried was Strawberry sherbet dip. This had a sour strawberry lace flavour which was as tongue twisty as it was refreshing. I had a moment’s apprehension regarding the Mixed Fruit sherbet dip, as I was fully expecting an overpowering cherry explosion when I tore open the top of the compartment. I was surprised to see an orange coloured sherbet dip. It tasted like sour tropical fruits, with a definite pineapple flavour mixed with mango and other fruits. Thankfully no cherry! I enjoyed this mixed tropical fruits the most out of all the three delicious sour flavours. I even had a black tongue after munching down the remainder of the Swizzelstick. I do hope Swizzels Matlow keep these flavours in their sherbet dips, as it would be a shame to have them just for Halloween!
By Spectre

30 October 2012

Pom-Bear Pickled Onion [Halloween Pack] (Waitrose) [By @Cinabar]

Having been recently introduced to the wonders of Pom-Bear crisps I have been hungrily eating up any new and interesting flavours I can get me paws on. I was pleased to see that Pom-Bear has a new variety out for the spooky season. The multipacks of these crisps were all round the tills at Waitrose promoting the special Halloween theming, so obviously I picked up a couple of multipacks to try out. I like the fact that Pom-Bear crisps aren’t too high in calories either, and this new flavour comes in at under 100 calories per bag, so it’s perfect for lunch boxes.
The packaging is perfect for Halloween, with a smart dark purple and green background adorned with witches, bats and other appropriate characters. Even Pom-Bear himself is sporting vampire teeth on the picture on the bag! The bears inside are a different story and are the usual cute Pom-Bear shape without any ghostly additions at all. It would have been nice if there was the odd potato shaped ghostly figure thrown in, or even bears wearing witches hats.
I’m also not sure how ‘pickled onion’ fits into the Halloween theme as a flavour, but don’t let that put you off as they are super tasty. I love the light crunch, the texture makes them very moreish, and it’s crispy but still fluffy so they dissolve really easily. The flavour has a good sour twang of vinegar, followed by a rich onion taste and a hint of salt. The flavour is just right with these, well balanced, full but not overpowering. They certainly recreated the pickled onion flavour well, with the sharpness from the vinegar. They make a good alternative to cheese and onion and are a flavour I’d like to see maintained by Pom-Bear. They are a bit different and they could easily get away with releasing the variety throughout the year. As it is, I may have to stock up after Halloween when these hopefully go on special offer!
By Cinabar

Mr Kipling’s Frankenstein Fancies (Waitrose @mrs_kipling) [By @cinabar]

Mr Kipling’s French Fancies are a classic cake treat, and in previous years they had a Halloween makeover, becoming Mr Kipling’s Fiendish Fancies. This year I am happy to announce that the transformation continues, and we have Mr Kipling Frankenstein Fancies. Last year the spooky makeover only went as far as packaging and icing colour, and that appears the same this year, but swapping from orange to green.
I thought that the cakes did look lovely in the box, the green Fancies had lines of chocolate icing and even spooky shapes on the paper cases. I don’t want to say anything bad about these, because they were delicious; it’s just that they were pretty much identical to the regular French Fancies in flavour. The sponge was lovely and golden, the fondant icing soft and sweet and the crème adding a creamy dollop on top of each cake. Perhaps next year Mr Kipling will venture one step further and add a seasonal flavour too. Fingers crossed for a pumpkin edition!
By Cinabar

Mr Kipling’s Shock & Orange Slices (Waitrose @mrs_kipling) [By @cinabar]

I could resist a bit of a mini post of these cake slices. Yes they are a chocolate and orange slice, which has had a seasonal transformation into ‘Shock & Orange’. On top of this is also a rather lovely raspberry layer to give a further fruity blast to the flavour. The chocolate chunks are really quite huge for the size of the cake slice and add loads of flavour. The orange taste is zesty, and complimented by the bright orange coloured sponge. The flavours work well together with the fruit and chocolate flavours.
The clever thing with these cakes though is that they are individually wrapped so you could easily give them out to Trick or Treaters. The wrappers are covered in spider drawings too, so anyone that receives them will know they are a special Halloween edition.
They are a simple Halloween treat, but thoroughly tasty. It’s the kind of thing you buy with Trick or Treaters in mind, but secretly hope that there will be some left at the end of the day!
By Cinabar

29 October 2012

Chocolate Coffin and Halloween Bar - The Chocolate Box (Whitby) [By @cinabar]

This year we had an autumnal trip to Whitby, aka the home of Bram Stoker's Dracula. It’s a beautiful seaside town on the Yorkshire coast, but the influences from Dracula can be spotted about the place. While we were there we naturally had Halloween on our minds and wanted to find something a little bit special for our seasonal reviews.
Not far from the sea stood a sweet little chocolate shop, with a window full of tempting goodies. Naturally we wandered in, and loved looking at all the brilliant moulded chocolate novelties, and of course the Halloween items caught my eye.

We picked up a chocolate coffin and a Halloween bar to try. Both items had the same style of decorations on them which I thought at the time was some sort of sweets. It turned out the dark bat and ghostly gravestone were actually made of really dark chocolate decorated with a hint of black and gold. I love that these decoration were made of such fine quality chocolate, it really added to the overall effect. The base chocolate in both items was thick and sumptuous milk chocolate. It was fairly soft, and had a soothing texture that made it feel like a proper treat. Although there was plenty of cocoa in it, there was a good sweet creamy tone that made it feel a little bit luxury too.
Both items were made of the same chocolates and decorations, but were very smartly put together for the season. When we purchased the milk chocolate coffin we had no idea that lurking inside would be the decals of the white chocolate skeleton, which was a wonderful spooky touch.
The Chocolate Box in Whitby is just one of those shops that makes you smile. If you are going there for Halloween, or indeed at any other time, do remember to check it out. There are some wonderful goodies to fulfil any sweet tooth, and some beautifully moulded chocolates perfect for gifts.
By Cinabar

McVities Spooky Cake Bars (Sainsburys) [By @Cinabar]

There are a series of additional mini posts this week, just to help us cram in extra details of some of the fab Halloween goodies we’ve seen. First up are Spooky Cake bars from McVities. The cakes came in a multipack, and I thought at first that they wouldn’t be that exciting, but how wrong was I?
The rolls are blackcurrant flavoured, and have a chocolate coating. The sponge was a seasonal purple in colour and the jam above was a darker shade. What’s amazing about these is the flavour. The jam section was really strong. The blackcurrant was zingy and zesty to the max, it delivered a super sour blackcurrant hit. The sweet chocolate coating helped mellow it and added contrast to the flavour, but didn’t spoil the tang.
These are just a bit wow. The sponge colouring may be novelty, but the flavour creates a perfect blackcurrant zingy treat. If you like blackcurrant, you really need to hunt these down!
By Cinabar

28 October 2012

The Gobstopper - Halloween Sweeties (by @NLi10)

The Gobstopper - Halloween Sweeties (by @NLi10)

Funky new sweet website 'The Gobstopper' sent me an e-mail asking if I'd like some sweets to review (YES!) and what I would like.  I suggested that they send some Halloween surprises and this is what I got!

What a little box of loveliness this is!  Putting them out on the table means you can get a better look at everything.  

Right at the front left we have Atomic Fireblast. I've had the Ferrara Pan super sour candy before and that is a test of endurance in a little green box (my boss once decided to have one off my desk and regretted it) but one that brightens up the afternoon.  This is a little yellow box of cinnamon flavoured misery!  It starts hot, goes quite nice in the middle and then burns up again towards the centre.  I didn't enjoy it.  This leaves a whole selection of these for the trick-or-treaters and for people at work.  Teenagers seem to like eating these on YouTube and making bad videos... Not for me.

Next up was the Fizz Wis super loud popping candy.  I wasn't allowed this as a child as my mom had read somewhere that it caused all kinds of maladies. I'm presuming this was not true.  This tastes pretty good, and is much more of a Treat than the Trick that the hot sweets were.  I will happily finish all this off, but in the spirit of the season shall donate to the younger Trick or Treaters that appear at the door.  One side note though is I had to stop eating it in front of Ms. NLi10 as it was freaking her out and caused her to try to leave the room.  Also - swallowing it doesn't stop the sound - it just moves further down - an odd sensation indeed.  Liked this a lot.

Next up we have the odd bag of what I first presumed to be toffees and then on opening was horified to discover it may be liquorice which I hate!  Fortunately I had a hunt on the website and found it was treacle toffee - a horribly deformed and burnt smelling oddity which they assure me tastes seasonal and isn't repulsive.  And they were right! After sampling the tiniest of bits to check for stealth-licourice I shoved a whole one in and enjoyed it to the end.  This is more of an adult thing than something kids would enjoy so I think that I may take these into work and may share them, and may not.

The big round intimidating thing in the background of the photo is a monster-gobstopper which would be perfect for shoving int the mouth of some undead horror before running away screaming.  I however do not have a flip-top head, and am at a loss on how to eat this without just hitting it with a hammer.  As a monster sized gobstopper is probably a once in a lifetime thing I've decided not to lick it just yet and to think about it.  I may donate it to one of our junior reviewers...

Overall I like the site, the parcel came fast and full of the pretend packing straw that works so well.  I think I possibly should have been more greedy and named things I wanted off the site, but if you look at the A-Z of sweets then I'm sure you'll see the same as me - loads of things that you just don't bump into anymore that cry out to be nommed.  I recommend any Halloween orders are placed pretty sharpish though as noon-monday is their deadline!

Review update:

As predicted I finally got a picture of the cat in the hamper from last week.

I think she's sailing off somewhere tropical, slightly transfixed by the fireplace...

27 October 2012

Maple Moon (Waitrose) [By @SpectreUK]

Especially around this time of the year many a nightmare may begin with finding yourself alone in a dark forest with unseen growling and groaning creatures watching you from the shadows, then suddenly you see a blinding fearful light. Is it an apparition, or sanctuary from the monsters in the dark perhaps or just a new terrible enemy that wishes to blind you and then consume you in one of its many toothed gaping mouths? The spooky glowing maple tree on this 500ml bottle’s label reminded me of such feverish dreams. Maple Moon was produced by the Joseph Holt Brewery, in Manchester, which was founded in 1849 and has stayed in the family for five generations. This 4.8% volume amber ale won the silver medal at the 2005 International Brewing Awards. Brewed with amber malts, cascade aroma hops and a drizzle of tantalizing Canadian Maple, there was certainly a hoppy smell on opening the bottle, as well as a hint of sweetness to this ale. Cinabar gave me a lesson on maple syrup before I tasted the ale. Apparently maple syrup is made from xylem sap that comes from red and black maple trees. Canada is the largest exporter of maple syrup with 75% of the world’s output, generating $145 million a year for their economy. Anyway, I digress… The aroma of sweetness transferred to the taste of Maple Moon. There was an initial smooth malt and hoppy taste, with a mild sweetness from the maple, finished by a noticeable bitterness. This was a beautifully crafted moreish treat of an ale and certainly deserved a gold medal in my books. Although not spooky in any way, it had a warming, sweet and charming quality that would sooth any fearful nightmare and let you slip away into a restful sleep.
By Spectre

26 October 2012

Penn State Limited Edition Pretzels – Devil’s Flame Roasted Chipotle Chilli (Waitrose) [By @cinabar]

Oh gosh the Halloween treats this year have even made it to pretzels! I have a bit of a weakness for novelty products, so I am lapping up Halloween right now, and these pretzels are something a bit different. Although the flavour is a decent tie in for the season, devil’s chilli, Penn State have gone one stage further and shaped their finest pretzels in the shape of seasonal spider’s webs.
Have you seen how fab these look? Once poured out they do really look the part. I could imagine that these would be ideal party nibbles, or poured to into a big bowl to share while watching a scary movie, depending on how you spend your Halloween. Spectre has lined up a viewing of the film The Fog for us, hope it’s good and suitably creepy.
The pretzels themselves have a good texture and a moreish crunch. The flavour is quite different from what I was expecting, as they didn’t have a killer heat to them. I thought from the warning of it being Devil’s Chilli that it was going to set my mouth on fire, but the flavour wasn’t that scary at all. The chilli is mild, with a gentle tang of heat, but nothing off putting. They are however quite flavoursome and the base flavour of the spices is quite well developed. The stand out taste is pepper and plenty of seasonings but not too much heat.
They are however a good seasonal treat, that’ll go down well on the night. Everyone will love the shape too, I wonder if they’ll bring out Christmas trees when the time comes?
By Cinabar

25 October 2012

Milky Way Magic Star Ice Cream (by @NLi10)

Milky Way Magic Star Ice Cream (by @NLi10)

I was out this week watching the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers (from near Glasgow) at the Bromsgrove Artrix this week with a very sore throat.  I'd been looking for some little things to slot in as reviews and hadn't seen one of these before and thought that it would be worth a look.

Essentially it's a chocolate ice-cream on a stick, with vanilla ice-cream on a stick in the middle.

While this is a relatively simplistic treat (and quite cheap) I found it very enjoyable.  It soothed the aching throat (and stopped any second half coughing fits) and also had a very good flavour.  You really can't go wrong with chocolate or vanilla ice-cream and both together is just all kinds of good.

It got me to thinking - how odd would it be to give people ice-cream (i scream!) when they came trick or treating?  Granted, they'd pretty much have to eat it as soon as they got home - sooner if it was a warm cloudy night, but it'd be a little bit more interesting than the normal bits and bobs.  One year I gave out snack size chocolate bars and had most of the street come back with each other's masks on until I turned out the pumpkin light so I could eat the rest myself.  I blame that year's exuberance on the trick-or-treat sim Costume Quest.

24 October 2012

Milkybar Ghost (Sainsburys) [By @SpectreUK]

There was something familiar about this product from Nestle, something I liked instantly as soon as I saw it on the shelf in the shop... I just couldn’t put my finger on it at first, and then of course, it struck me. I do rather like all things spectral, hence my nickname: Spectre. I was very impressed by the photograph that Cinabar concocted for these Milkybar Ghosts. They really do look like they are floating in a spooky fog. Whooo! These Milkybar Ghosts fit right in with my favourite theme: Halloween. I chided myself before unwrapping the metal foil around the white chocolate ghost, as I have to admit that I haven’t eaten a Milkybar for years and years. In fact I can’t remember eating one for such a long time that I simply can’t remember when I ate one last, although that could be my age!? I do remember how much I liked eating Milkybar’s when I was a child, and how much I wanted to be the Milkbar Kid. However, I’m not blond and I don’t wear spectacles. Nowadays whenever I find myself craving chocolate (probably too often, especially if you saw my oversized tummy), I always pick up a bar that is predominantly milk chocolate. Unwrapping the cheerful looking ghost I took in the sumptuous white chocolate odour for a second or more before viciously biting the smiling head off the Milkybar Ghost. Don’t worry; I’m sure he didn’t feel anything, as he was supposed to already be dead! The Milkybar Ghost had a hollow centre and the same milky luxurious white chocolate taste that I remember I used to so enjoy when I was a child. Next time I go into a shop with a chocolate craving, I’ll remember to check for Milkybars as they taste fantastic and they’re not just for kids! Whooo... Boo! Happy Halloween!
By Spectre

23 October 2012

Cadbury Screme Egg Minis (Waitrose) [By @Cinabar]

I have no hesitation in admitting I love Creme Eggs. I always used to get excited at the beginning of the New Year trying to find them on sale. The last few years we have seen Screme Eggs appear and increase in availability at Halloween. This is a good thing, any excuse for effectively bringing out Creme Eggs early is a positive move. This year has seen another (spin off) a new product, Mini Screme Eggs!
Now I’m not got to pretend that there is anything very different here to the usual Mini Creme Eggs you can buy at Easter, except for the packaging and the yolk. As with the regular sized Screme Eggs the yolk is a ghoulish green in colour, but there is no messing with the flavour. I actually like the proportion of the mini eggs as there is a fair amount of chocolate in relation to the filling. They are easy to munch on, but picking the tightly wrapped foil off each one ensures that you can’t scoff lots, unless you prepared! The other thing is as they are small the answer to the inevitable question “How Do You Eat Yours?” is simple – whole! I also think these would be ideal to add to the cauldron for the Trick or Treaters, but keep your fingers crossed that they don’t all disappear!
By cinabar

22 October 2012

Witches Warts and Halloween Bites Selection (Hotel Chocolat @HotelChocolat) [By @Cinabar]

One of the good things about Halloween is that in recent years confectionary companies are making quite an effort to launch new goodies. It is gaining in popularity here and even posh chocolatiers like Hotel Chocolat launch an exciting range of chocolates in the autumn. This year two of their products caught my eye, the Halloween Bites Selection and the bag of Witches Warts.

Halloween Bites

This selection box of chocolates has been introduced for the season as part of their H-Box range. It contains a lovely mix of chocolates all beautifully laid out for Halloween, and elegantly packaged. Inside the box were:

Praline Pumpkins – I just love the moulding of these chocolates, they do look absolutely wonderful. Inside the box there were four pumpkins two made with a milk chocolate coating and two with the orange coloured white chocolate. The filling was sweet and nutty, and very smooth. The chocolate shell was thick and added an impressive amount of flavour. I love chocolate and nuts, with praline being one of my favourite fillings so I was in absolute heaven.

Gianduja Bomb – So this one doesn’t have a Halloween name or themed design, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked! Gianduja is smooth, praline like, chocolate nut paste. I feel obliged to offer a fascinating fact at this point as it fits in; Nutella used to be called “Pasta Gianduja” so there you go. Anyway did I mention I like chocolate and nuts? The chocolate and nutty filling in the one is surprisingly dark and flavoursome. The textures is silky to the point that it just sorts of melts easily away on the tongue. The nuts flavour soft, but the chocolate strong. The chocolate is thick and a pleasure to crack into, and the dusting of cocoa powder just adds a hint of bitterness into the mix. This is a classy act, containing all my favourite ingredients.

Zombie Eye Truffle – This one takes us back to the Halloween theming, with a blood red eye looking up at us. Thankfully it is raspberry ganache hidden within a white chocolate shell! Hotel Chocolat white chocolate is one their best products. It’s creamy and sweet but still has a good underlying flavour of cocoa butter. It has been teamed brilliantly with the super sharp and fruity filling that contrasts it perfectly. I love the mix of creamy white chocolate and sharp fruit flavours; it makes a seriously well put together chocolate.

Dark Soft Caramel – This chocolate almost looks like a cone of shiny dark chocolate. The coating is a rich strong 70% cocoa, it has been paired with a sweet brown sugar flavoured caramel that complements it perfectly. I love the mix of sweet and dark in this chocolate, and how the chocolate shell cracks revealing the runny oozing filling. These may only be small compared to the pumpkins but they pack a good mix of tastes.

The Crystal Skull – Finally, but certainly not least we have the neatly moulded chocolate skull. I love the detail on this, and it is the stand out item in the box. It has been made with Hotel Chocolat’s rich milk chocolate, but mixed in it are loads of small cherry crystals. The flavour of these is quite delicate and adds just a gentle fruity hint to the overall block of chocolate. The best part of them is the texture that they add, giving the skull a satisfying crunch as you munch it. The only problem I foresee with this fine chocolate is that there is only one of them, so I think if you are sharing they may be arguments over it. ;-)

I can’t imagine that there is a more perfect after dinner selection of chocolates on the market for Halloween. These would also make a wonderful thank you gift for the host of any Halloween parties you might be attending.

Witches Warts

Now the phrase Witches Warts might not sound that appealing, but I would like to assure you that the ingredients here consist mainly of nuts, chocolate and popcorn, so there is nothing to worry about!
Inside the bag are oddly shaped chunks of chocolate covering popcorn pieces that have been rolled in chopped pecans. The chocolates do vary in size, from the epic huge stuck together chunks to the smaller individual bits. Each delivers a different ratio of ingredients but all taste rather superb. I love Hotel Chocolat’s milk chocolate as it packs quote a punch with the cocoa element, but still delivers a sweet and creamy aftertaste. The addition of the nuts in with the popcorn do give a good depth to the flavour, and as pecan nuts are quite distinct it made the product just a bit different. The popcorn and nuts have wonderful texture even underneath that generous coating of milk chocolate, and the toffee flavour shone through too. Some of the bites even had a slight hint of salt which made them all rather moreish.
I really love the novelty of this bag of Witches Warts but as it is Hotel Chocolat there is simply no cutting back on quality either. This is the ideal gift for any junior Halloween visitors you might get, but it’s a bit too nice to give away to random Trick or Treaters.
By Cinabar

21 October 2012

Forman & Field Luxury Hamper (by @NLi10)

Forman & Field Luxury Hamper (by @NLi10)

We often get requests to review odd products that don't really fit under the 'snack food' umbrella, but there is usually one of the three of us that is willing to try it.  I have a tendency to gravitate towards the convenience foods - proper nutrition in convenient forms - than the others, mainly because this is where my shopping list takes me.  I love finding new and exciting ways to make meal times fast but tasty.  When the team at FoodStuffFinds got asked by www.FormanandField.com if we'd like a hamper to review it seemed more up my street.

After-all, what could be more convenient than a little wicker basket arriving on the doorstep full of food!  The problem with this is that there is such a variety in one of these that it's not really possible for one person to offer a detailed opinion on all these things - especially when the hamper contains both fish and cheese, two things I'm not usually inclined to eat voluntarily.  The best reviews look at the situations you are most likely to need the products in - so today we are holding a virtual diner party!  I carefully selected the people in my life who would make a b-line to the specific sections of the table with those foods on and got them to either give me mini reviews or let me watch them eat them.  Like most dinner parties this review goes on a bit longer than usual.

I think I've always secretly been jealous of the people who get hampers for Christmas.  I've seen them in the back of the catalogues for various shops & societies growing up, but have been convinced by more frugal members of my family that it's just cheaper to source the individual things.  I think the problem with this approach is that it's fine if you just want 'some ham and a pork pie', but if you want a treat for a specific event and want the best ham and the best pork pie then these hampers could be then next step up from my now traditional Ocado delivery.  The hamper we received was a 'taster' hamper and is both a scaled-down in terms of the portion sizes, but ramped up in terms of the variety of the items included compared to the versions on the website.  This is perfect as giving someone 100g of salmon to try is a nice gesture, but 400g may come across as a bit odd!  Opening it up was certainly a wow moment, and you keep finding extra stuff in the straw - like the ham down the side & the cheese hiding underneath the packing.

So without further ado - the contents!

Mrs King's Melton Mowbray Pork Pie (Eaten by me)


If at any point a large selection of food is placed in front of me at a family social gathering I'm probably going to go straight for the Pork Pie.  Granted, I'm probably going to start piling small deserts such as profiteroles around it, but the pie is the priority.  I'm not a massive expert on them, I've reviewed a few on here over the years but it's more of a special occasion thing than a normal purchase.  And this pork pie certainly is special - I mean look at the meat in this!

The thickness of the pastry is making me hungry just typing this up.  I took it in to work - expecting to be able to eat it in one sitting for lunch.  I managed just under half!  I did share little bits of that half with other colleagues who said that they really liked it.  The second half was consumed on the following day, a similarly filling experience.  The flavours were a little spicy, but overall well balanced.  I don't think it was designed to be eaten in a single sitting and a sixth of this with a buffet lunch of left-over turkey on boxing day would be amazing.  If I see these in the regular shops I'm almost certainly getting one.

Potted Lobster (eaten by Jon) & Lemon Curd (eaten by me)

With our friend the pork pie for scale we now find two little taster-jars in the hamper, one of lobster & one of lemon curd.  I had absolutely zero desire to eat the lobster so my good buddy Jon volunteered to eat this.  Lemon curd is great stuff, but I really didn't know what to do with it!  It's a bit lower than the lobster as it leaked in transit, but the straw-like paper seemed to help mop it up.

As part of a healthy work lunch Jon said the best way to try this would be on some cracked black pepper Ryvita.  The big Fentiman's D&B was deemed too overpowering compared to the nicely delicate lobster and so saved for later on.

The moment of truth!

A success! The lobster crumbled with ease and didn't fill the canteen with that fishy smell you sometimes get.  It was a delicate flavour and well balanced with the crackers.  The whole pot was finished in one sitting, but the ones that you get in the normal hamper are much larger so I think this was a single serving.  Lobster isn't something I tend to see served at dinner parties, so I think that this would be a big hit and definitely count towards the luxury quota of the package.

The lemon curd was an odd one.  I'd no idea how to sample it!  Cassie, A friend from work, suggested that I should have it on toast - so I did!  This worked pretty well, it was runnier than I expected and had a very natural lemon flavour and went well as a kind of lemon marmalade experience.  I shall have to think how best to use the rest of the pot as it didn't require much to give it a lovely flavour.

And now we move on to the meat section of the hamper - with two kinds of salmon and one kind of ham.  As the reviews for the fish would have been 'it tastes like fish' and probably involved me grilling or frying it as I really don't have a clue I gave these to other people to eat (I kept the ham.  I love ham).

H. Forman & Son Scottish Wild Salmon (eaten by my neighbours)

My elderly neighbours two doors down are a very British, elderly couple.  I've tried to give them foods that I've had in the post before, but they tend to eat very traditional things and most of the selections I'm sent are a little too exotic!  As they are often the people receiving the food sampling parcels for me when I am out at work I was very tempted to let them have the whole hamper - but that would make for a very short review!  As a nice compromise I discussed the contents with them and the lady of the house said that she does like a good bit of salmon.  I chose the unsmoked as I already had a person in mind for the smoked variety.

About a week later I caught up with them to see what they thought and she had shared it with her son on one of his visits and they had really enjoyed it.  She suggested that it was much posher than the usual salmon she had (co-op I think) and that it was a nice treat.  The official tasting notes for the salmon suggest that its flavour is gamey and its texture creamy - I'm sure these are good things.

The smoked salmon went to my boss Nick, who has spoken on many occasions in our office about his love for these things.  Here are his thoughts on it:

H. Forman & Son Scottish Smoked Salmon (eaten by Nick)

"It had been hoped, in reviewing this product, to make a direct comparison with a budget smoked salmon from a well-known ‘pile-it-high’. Until, that is, examination of the fridge revealed the budget salmon was no longer there. “Gone off” was the reason given by the lady of the house “and that cheese”. This was Tuesday, the fish had been purchased on Monday and half of it consumed immediately, along with a nice bit of brie. Apparently and allegedly, the intervening day spent at four domestic-fridge degrees centigrade had caused a spontaneous decomposition of both which resulted in the need for immediate black-bag burial in the outside bin.  I felt sorry for the salmon (and brie) and jealous of the neighbourhood fox who, unlike his forbears who were pursued by smoked salmon eating aristocrats,  was pigging my smoked salmon watched by the ally-cats.
In fact, this episode reflects the great conundrums of smoked salmon consumption. Smoked Salmon is still regarded as a ‘posh food’ ; despite thirty years of intense aquiculture resulting in a relatively cheap product,  us plebeians still have the idea that smoked salmon is the slivery alternative to prawn cocktail that you have with brown bread before a sirloin (medium), chips and seasonable vegetable followed by a choice of ice-cream.  Furthermore, and hence my previous purchase's hasty demise, it smells like fish so, ergo, it must be ‘off’.  These social anthropological circumstances combined to cause myself to only eat half of the first sample (too good to eat in one go) and my better half to throw this out (it smells like fish).  This despite the fact that the salmon, cheese and indeed some nice brown-bread rolls, from the pile-it-high, cost less than a salmonella kebab. Thus are ones proletarian origins revealed, and thus I resolved to scoff the new smoked salmon sample in one (so I imagined) Edward the Seventhish sitting; the budget comparison meanwhile being a mental one.
Verdict – this is the way to eat salmon and this salmon is the way to go. And the difference between Forman & Son and pile-it-high is...water. Yes, OK, so salmon and water do posses a kind-of go together inevitability; but the difference here was that Forman & Son's salmon felt as though it contained only such water as the salmon itself had found conducive to its own watery well being before its smoky demise, whereas the other had, by comparison, apparently ended the smoking process via a good dousing from the local fire brigade. Its’ good; and my advice for those who are lucky enough to be first to open a Forman & Son's hamper is to snaffle the smoked salmon and consume the contents directly, in one go, and without reference to matters of class consciousness. Though, of course, you will smell of fish (and bonfires).
And finally for the meats we have the ham.

Hand Carved Alderton Ham (eaten by me)

I'm not sure what it is about ham that's so deeply ingrained into my psyche.  I know of tales from my family of me sitting in the pushchair being pushed around supermarkets happily eating the ham brought seconds ago from the butcher's resulting in my mom paying for the empty pack at the checkout - like other mothers do with chocolate or sweets. This is essentially the sample size portion of a full leg of ham that is in some of the super-deluxe hampers , and was perfect for a cold meat supper with some pasta (and a solitary leafy green).

I think that I've been spoilt with hams before as this was merely very good ham.  It wasn't salty at all which was a very nice surprise, but was otherwise like top quality butcher's ham should be.  It was suitably crumbly, and had the right balance of fat to meat.  I'd happily eat this on a daily basis (probably not wise) but it didn't feel quite as luxury as some of the other items.  I guess if the whole ham was sitting on the table and I could carve it myself then that would be the pinnacle for this particular item, and possibly it's main selling point.

A Selection of Neal's Yard Dairy Cheeses (eaten by Ms. NLi10 and her dad)


Buried under all the straw in the main picture was this little box of cheese.  I'm not an expert on cheese, and am more than a little repulsed by the stuff so I passed it on to my partner who assured me that it was 'very good cheese'

I think that some of the varieties of cheese were a little too strong for her so we are taking some of those this evening for her dad - who likes the kind of cheese that you have to keep in the out-house or garage to prevent the house from smelling like some kind of mouse party.  I'll see if I can get a few comments on these to add in later.

Wow - what a long review you are thinking!  And you'd be right - but it isn't over yet as they also sent us puddings!

On the left we have banana loaf which was very, very nice, but not especially interesting so I shall focus on the other two.  On the right we have:

Forman & Field Chocolate Brownie Loaf (eaten by me and Ms NLi10)

Note the grown-up plates.  We are so classy!

The brownie looked really posh in it's little wooden box (that you can reuse to bake your own) and has a great texture which is both smooth and has crunch to it in places.  As any brownie aficionado knows you should take one of them (or a slice in this case) and pop it into the microwave for a 10 count to return it to it's former squidgy glory.  When you do this it elevates this to being an amazing brownie.  A little more interesting than it's Gu counterpart, but I suspect harder to get hold of (although F&F do have a big patisserie section online).  We'd have this again in a heartbeat!

Paul Wayne Gregory Pure Indulgence Chocolates (me & Ms NLi10)

The final thing to eat at the end of the diner party is the little chocolates.  These are rectangular and decently sized with a soft centre which is tea flavoured - result!  There are better pictures here as I didn't really capture the elegance of the little guys.

The flavours vary by chocolate and neither of us were sure which one we had eaten, despite being tea aficionados.  They were very nice, but I think the chocolate is stronger than the delicate tea interiors.  This heightens the indulgence factor, but at the expense of the flavour.  The tea is the stronger of the two aftertastes - but if you are eating this at the end of a meal you are likely to have a tea already. Better stashed away for a secret nibble late at night I think (this is what happened to the third one :D )

This leaves us with one remaining thing - the hamper itself!

Once I figured out that the straw-like paper was very off-putting for them and replaced it with a blanket this has become a very classy cat bed.  Unfortunately they are still in the 'shy phase' and keep getting out of it whenever we approach.  If you frequently had picnics then this is certainly robust enough to be reused, but buying a hamper for someone with cats really does add value to the deal as it's perfectly sized for them.  When I get a picture I will add it.

Thanks go to Forman & Field for sending this out.  We've had a great time trying it all, and really must now sleep it all off.  If you want to see pictures of their food being used in it's intended environment (and pictures of the cheese still on it's wheels) then their Blog is pretty good.

20 October 2012

Cadbury Crunchy Spiders (Waitrose) [By @SpectreUK]

Cadbury’s have always been a favourite brand of mine. I generally home in on one of their bars on the shop shelf when I have the odd chocolate craving. I was admittedly very worried when Kraft Foods took over Cadburys fairly recently. There were plenty of horror stories bandied around that Kraft would minimise Cadbury’s product line and eventually close them down altogether. So I have not only been very impressed by the amount of innovation and diversity of new products that have come out of the takeover, but also rather relieved.

These Cadbury’s Crunchy Spiders were another innovation for the Halloween confectionery market. The milk chocolate piece was shaped like a spider’s furry abdomen and was crammed with green crisped rice balls coloured with stinging nettle and spinach, but don’t worry as there was no taste transference from either ingredient. These Crunchy Spiders were both crunchy and very tasty indeed with lashings of Cadbury’s finest milk chocolate. I expect the stinging nettles were harvested from Birmingham city’s many miles of canal towpaths and the spinach was stolen from Popeye’s shack whilst he was out fishing one day? Okay, most probably neither, but I kind of like the imagery of a Cadbury’s employee feigning a chocolate delivery to keep Olive Oyl busy at the front door whilst another dodges in through the back door to pinch the spinach cans. For Halloween further imagery would have a Cadbury’s chocolate haunted house infested with Cadbury’s Crunchy Spiders, running up the chocolate walls, underneath the chocolate floor boards and creeping into chocolate beds to frighten the people sleeping there before being devoured themselves. After all, that’s what’s Cadbury’s chocolate has always been for; to be devoured and enjoyed by one and all. So happy Halloween and happy spidery chocolate crunching!
By Spectre

19 October 2012

Pumpkin Doughnut (Greggs) [by @cinabar]

This fiendish doughnut is part if the new Halloween range at Greggs, and is shaped like a traditional jack-o'-lantern. I loved its spooky face, pale orange icing with the dark decals, and was rather looking forward to a pumpkin flavoured treat. Bizarrely though it turns out this doughnut is orange flavoured! Pumpkin is a great autumnal flavour, it works well with mixed spices and sugar or savoury as a soup, but here in the UK we seem to avoid it. It’s a shame really this doughnut could have had the comforting tones of sweetened pumpkin, cinnamon and ginger all creating a proper traditional seasonal treat.
Don’t get me wrong the citrus zest of the orange is nice, and as an orange doughnut it works well. The soft sponge has nice vanilla tones, the icing adds a light orange flavour and the jam in the centre has a good zesty jaffa hit that does taste strong and good. The doughnut also totally looks the part. I just can’t help thinking that Greggs missed an opportunity to bring out something a bit different and special. I think the UK market would actually embrace the flavour of pumpkin, if only somewhere would give it a chance.
By Cinabar

18 October 2012

Goblin - meat & gravy pudding (by @NLi10)

Goblin - meat & gravy pudding (by @NLi10)

Note - this product doesn't contain goblin meat - that's just the manufacturer's name.

Once in a while I spot a product so disturbingly unlikely that I have to try it.  This is essentially a pie, that you microwave, that comes in a little plastic pot with a far-away BBE date.  It's a convenience lunch for sure, but it it one that any sane person should be bothering with.  

Pies usually have advice on them saying not to microwave as the pastry goes wrong.  This actively encourages it, and describes itself as a pudding instead to point out that it's squishy and almost suety instead of crispy and nice like a Pieminister should be.  It also seems to contain the smallest particles of meat instead of the big lovely chunks and luxurious flavours we all love.

To the microwave!

It required a bit of *persuasion* to get it out of the little pot - maybe this is our dodgy old microwave that has a dial instead of digital buttons.  The smell was actually pretty appetising, my primal brain wanted to eat this - whatever it was!

Gingerly with a knife and fork I tore off small chunks and had a taste...

Aside: If you ever had school meals in the 80s in the UK then you will be familiar with certain odd flavours and textures that we just don't get any more.  Some days these went horribly wrong - maybe you were on first sitting and they were undercooked, maybe you got there late and it was brown mush. Once in a blue moon the dinner-ladies were in alignment and the light streamed in from the high, victorian windows at the correct angle and the unthinkable happened - your school meal was edible and enjoyable.  This happened more in the 90s due to prepackaged stuff (and as schools pretended that optional healthy food was enough of an excuse to let you eat fish-fingers, chips and beans every day of secondary school like I did), but at infants and junior school it was a moment to savour.

This funny little pot is like the best school dinner you ever ate.

The flavour is all meat and no fuss, and yet still tastes like the olden-days.  The texture of the pudding bit is completely wrong, it doesn't tear apart like good food should. Its a bit rubbery and its probably not that nutritionally valuable, but you will eat the whole thing and you will smile.

Now don't get me wrong - this isn't even slightly good food! It's less than a pound for one of these little guys and even as a lunch I was hungry shortly after.  And anyone who is offered the choice between this and a PieMinister and chooses the Goblin should probably be sent back for a second try at school.

This is something you will buy and then forget you own.  It will sit there in the cupboard until you need a lunch, or a snack that takes no mental or physical effort.  You will microwave it, and then free it from its little red pot, and with one bite you will be 8 years old again.

17 October 2012

Cocori - Korean Spicy Cuttlefish Flavour (Pinoy Foods, Birmingham Indoor Market) [By @SpectreUK]

Manufactured by the SPR Food Industry, in Thailand, these Spicy Cuttlefish Flavoured rice corn snacks were shaped in the fashion of crispy balls. Their ingredients included; rice (36%), corn (32%), Sugar (20%), Seasoning (6%), Cuttlefish (4%), Seaweed (1%), Salt (0.8%) and Spice (0.2%). On opening the bag there was an overpowering smell of fish, and something else... like stinky feet! Believe me, if fish had feet, they would smell like these rice corn snacks. With somewhat dulled enthusiasm I popped one of the spherical stinky fishy feet balls in my mouth. It had a good crunch with a serious fishy kick to start with that made me immediately say “Oh, yuck!” This taste was quickly followed by a dry corn flavour, then a second later back to fish and ending on a mega hot spice that almost forced steam out of ears! Even after my initial reaction I strangely wanted to try another to see if the same series of tastes would be repeated, and in fact it was. The following rice corn snack had the same morbidly moreish aspect. It was then that I noticed my nose was running from the heat and my mouth and tongue were on fire. After a glass of water and Cinabar trying to convince me to eat something else, I managed to finish the packet, firstly because I was too afraid to stop eating these Spicy Cuttlefish rice corn bombs, and secondly because I had become fascinated by how bad / good these strange snacks tasted. I was even a little disappointed when I finished the packet, although mostly relieved. I don’t think I’ll buy these Korean Spicy Cuttlefish Flavoured rice corn snacks again, but I did enjoy them in a rather odd masochistic way. These snacks also seemed to complement the crazy Predators movie that I was watching at the time of munching, and believe me; I could have probably knocked out a Predator just with my breath after eating them!
By Spectre

16 October 2012

Lyons Coffee Bags [Smooth All-Day Coffee] (Waitrose) [By @Cinabar]

Apparently the idea of this product is a bit of an old one, and it used to be a classic product from Lyons. I have never seen them before, but when as I heard the brand was having a bit of a re-launch I searched them out and picked up a box.
Sometimes you just want a quick and easy fresh coffee hit. It’s not always that simple, particularly if you are at work and are limited to a kettle and a mug. Lyons Coffee bags are essentially tea bags for coffee. Inside the box the bags are individually wrapped for freshness, this did make them a bit fiddly to open as a firm rip could easily tear the bag within. Once the outer layer is open there is a fab coffee aroma released. The coffee bags may be like a tea bag in principle, but they are a lot bigger, mine needed slightly folding in order to fit into my mug.
Once in the mug I poured on boiling water, which released again released a lovely dark aroma. I allowed the coffee bag to brew for 4minutes before removing it and adding the milk. It was a very simple, clean and easy process to make the coffee, but the flavour was remarkably good. It is a drink that is far superior to any instant coffee I’ve tried. The flavour was fresh, full bodied but with a nice mellow finish and no bitterness. It made a very quick hassle free tasty cup. There was no messy cafetiere to clean, and no special coffee making equipment required, just fast good tasting coffee. I think I might be buying a box of these to take to work, as the idea is absolute genius and so simple to make.
Also as Lyons is having a bit of a re-launch, it seems there are lots of excellent goodies on the way back from the brand. Keep an eye out for Toffypops and various scrummy cakes too! Do let me know what you try.
By Cinabar