31 October 2015

Hellish Good Beer - Chocolate Limes (@brown_and_green) [By @spectreUK]

Well it's that special night of the year when mostly everyone gets a little bit freaky! Happy Halloween! Here is an offering from the Waen Brewery (not sure how to pronounce it!) in Powys. Apparently it's a chocolate stout with a decent punch of lime flavour through late hopping. It sounds like this 5.5% volume stout would be perfect for a dark stormy night, although it's still quite cool outside and I did rather enjoy a good swim outside at the gym this morning. Who knows, maybe it'll get spookier out there as it gets darker, but I can't see that we'll get any scary thunder a lightning! We are expecting lots of Trick or Treaters tonight and we have a big bowl of sweets for them to pick from. Yes, it’s that strange night of the year that adults encourage kids to talk to strangers and take sweets off them. Personally I'll be drinking off the rest of this Hellish sounding Chocolate Lime stout.

On opening the bottle there was a deep dark chocolate smell with a citrusy lime at the back of the aroma. Once poured I gazed at the black stout in my beer mug. It was like staring through the gates of hell into the shear blackness of oblivion. Rolling tides of nothingness threatened to envelope me as I raised my tankard to my mouth and took a tentative sip. I could almost feel dark devilish fingers grasping at my soul promising damnation. Scorn oozed from my mug as my lips met the black liquid and somewhere in the deep dark distance of the eternal depths (of my beer mug... I wish!) I'm certain I heard the grating of rusted chains and the most demonic evil laugh... Mwah... Hah hah haaaa... Heart thumping in my chest my tastebuds awash with rich dark chocolate malt and then the citrusy lime flavour scraped my senses like knife sharpened fingers across a black board. This is definitely a freaky brew made in the deep dark blackness of beyond. Not for the faint hearted. And for all those out there that love this time of year I have but one single word for you... Boo!
By Spectre

30 October 2015

New Cadbury Screme Egg Biscuits (Sainsburys) [By @Cinabar]

A few years back Cadbury decided to extend Cadbury Creme Egg season to start in the autumn with the introduction of the Halloween themed Screme Egg. No complaints there from me, I enjoy a Creme Egg whatever time of year and they tasted exactly the same only with a green coloured yolk.
Following on from that tradition Creme Egg biscuits have now been transformed for Halloween into Screme Egg biscuits. They follow the same formula, exactly the same as Creme Egg biscuits only with a green yolk instead of a yellow one.
The flavour is still spot on, plenty of biscuit and gooey fondant. There is enough taste of the fondant to shine through, but the biscuit flavour is there too. These are a nice seasonal treat and I'm looking forward to tucking into some more while watching a scary movie on Halloween night.
If they'd wrapped them in green foil they would have been perfect to give out to Trick Or Treaters too. The fact that they aren't individually packaged just makes it a bit more difficult to share out in that way. Of course if we have to eat them all ourselves, so be it. ;-)
Happy Halloween!
By Cinabar

29 October 2015

Halloween Blender Fun!! - #BlendActive [by @NLi10]

I recently acquired a blender - and halloween is the season for witches brews and odd concoctions so I decided to have some fun and make highly nutritious blended drinks that don't look at all appetising!

As you may have spotted - the theme is green

And as usual the star of the show is kale - super kale!

Here we have realised that the light stuff needs to go BELOW the heavy stuff to actually go near the blades.  I've been used to the old school drop-stuff-in blenders with the proxy pole so this is all backwards.  The apple goes in!

It looks like compost! The raspberries were supposed to add a ghoulish touch but they blended so much easier than the kale did so its a bit gardeny at this stage.

some vigorous shaking to put things in the right order and it starts to look smoother

it is however brown

the apple has decided to oxidise and without lemon-juice to prevent this the drink gradually got browner as time went on

I put this picture on Face Book and people were horrified.  It tasted great - kind of like a more liquid pudding and was like a really odd apple sauce.  It was drinkable but only just so I decided it was a Chooie (a chewy smoothie) 

Attempt two saw me put the grapes in first.  THEN the much lighter kale.

The Breville Blend-Active with gravity on it's side this time made a pleasing light green mush.  This tasted awesome and looked quite nice too. The brief was to make it Halloweeny though so 

in go the severed fingers (frozen raspberries)

This one has a lot more texture to it too, and does the wonderful odd clumping that blended fruit drinks do.  I took this to work and while no one offered to help drink it it was smooth enough and tasty enough to drink through the hole at the top.

A great result although not as scary as I'd hoped - I should have gone for beetroots,  pumpkin and other things to make a bright red and orange one! Maybe next time...

28 October 2015

Starburst Trick or Treat Scare Edition (WH Smiths) [By @SpectreUK]

I've always loved Starburst, apart from the wrapping as they can be a little fiddly when desperate for a sugar fix. These sweet or sour fruit chews come in three spine tingling flavours. On opening the bag I was faced with the wrapped fruit chews, although Starburst are traditionally not as sticky as other fruit chews. I have to admit that I just wanted at them like a rapid monster on Halloween night. The were four colours; Orange Ghoul had a nice tangy orange flavour with some more sour than others. The dark pink was Raging Raspberry and had a really tasty sour raspberry flavour. The Evil Apple came in two colours. There was a good sour apple flavour in the green packet, whilst in the bright red packet there was a light fruity apple chew. I'd certainly recommend sharing these out at Halloween parties and to Trick or Treaters. Just make sure they have nails and patience for the fiddly wrappers.
Information on the packet;
165g bag with 182 calories per 45g serving, having 3.3g of fat and 37g of sugar. Ingredients (see photograph) have 5% fruit juice, with no artificial colours or flavours, and are suitable for vegetarians.
By Spectre

27 October 2015

Reese's Pumpkin (Tesco) [By @Cinabar]

Peanut Butter and chocolate are a combination that was just meant to be. Reese's is one of the biggest American provider of chocolate and peanut butter goodness, but not the easiest brand to find here in the UK. They are in import shops and some big some of there products are filtering down to more mainstream shops. In Tesco, mixed in with all their Halloween treats, not only did I find a Reese's product, I found a seasonal Halloween edition.

The packet shows that the chocolate is going to be a pumpkin shape, all perfect for the season. I eagerly ripped into the bright orange packet and looked at my chocolate pumpkin. It wasn't that impressive sadly, it was vaguely pumpkin shaped, but not that well defined. Think oval with a bit of notch on top. With a bit of imagination, or a squint of the eye, they could almost have sold it as a bat, or anything else similar really.
There is no additional pumpkin to the flavour, just the usual milk chocolate and peanut butter combination, which does work perfectly. Salty, nutty goodness mixed in with the sweet soothing chocolate, it was absolutely gorgeous to eat. I do love Reese’s products, so there were no surprises there. Just a shame the Halloween theming was a bit basic.
By Cinabar

26 October 2015

New Darkside Skittles (WH Smiths) [By @Cinabar]

I’m a big fan of Skittles and can’t pass up a Limited Edition. These Skittles are part of a Halloween special here in the UK, and have a dark twist on the flavours, hence the name Darkside Skittles. Well thats what they promised, but if I’m totally honest when I started reading what the flavours were I was a bit disappointed:

Midnight Lime
A green coloured lime flavoured Skittle did not blow my mind. It was fresh with a nice citrus burst, but I’m not sure what made it “Midnight” Lime. To be perfectly honest it tasted like a Lime Skittle. Nothing new here.

Blood Orange
Ok this dark orange coloured sweet does have a hint of Halloween, but again is essentially an Orange flavoured Skittle. The taste is a bit different from the regular Orange Skittle, it has a slightly zestier flavour, and a smoothness that is nice. I’m still not scared though.

Wicked Pomegranate
Ok these Dark Pink Skittles actually are a completely new flavour! I like juicy pomegranate seeds, regularly having them as a lunch time snack, so I thought I was quite familiar with the flavour. This Skittle didn’t quite have that taste, there was a hint of that flavour but also a soft berry taste, like it was mixed with a hint of strawberry.

Dark Berry
These Skittle are blue and berry flavoured, so it won’t surprise you that the dominant flavour seems to be blueberry. These are quite sweet, and have a nice mix of something like tangy blackberry in the flavour. This is a lovely edition to the range.

Sweet Strawberry
These sweets are dark purple in colour, but Strawberry flavoured. In the unofficial, but universal, rules of colour coordination strawberry sweets are red or pink. These are dark purple. That rule has been broken, and that is the most scary thing about these sweets. Yes Darkside Skittles you scared me. Having said I did like the flavour, they are very sweet, and the strawberry taste is soft and pleasing, but did I mention the colour, or the fact I’ve had strawberry flavour Skittles tons of times before.
By Cinabar

25 October 2015

Breville Smoothie Maker - #BlendActive [by @NLi10]

This week has been a great one for parcels and things in the post - we also got a blender!  Long time readers will remember that during the Fuhrman weeks that I couldn't do some of the recipies as they called for a lot of blending - well now I can thanks to the nice people at Breville and their promotins for #BlendActive.  This changes nothing if it's a load of rubbish though - so lets get it out!

The box is well set up and everything is in its place.

..and it all looks quite professional in the kitchen.  The foot print is tiny too - it all stacks up out of the way.

So here we go - lets make a (reasonably) healthy smoothie!

So first we throw a load of Blueberries in the tub

Add some left over cream - and a bit of milk for good measure

Whack it on the blender and brace yourself for the loud noise ... that never comes! Back in my days blenders were a massive racket - but isn't much louder than a can opener.  That's progress!

It looked a bit like creamy blueberries so I decided to wack in  a banana - perfectly ripe and ready to spin.

The blade got a bit dirty and here we see the banana ready to go

And here we see the finished smoothie - ready to enjoy

and it's not bad! Its possibly a bit on the creamy side but I like that it's basically a fresh fruit milkshake.

The blade rinsed straight off - another worry of mine was just how much time I'd spend cleaning this.  Effortless cleaning means I can use this before work and take the cup with me.

Experiemnt number two was to just use fruit and see how it goes.

Note the red Clarkes sauce as a secret ingredient!  The plan here is two bananas and the rest of a box of raspberries.

its all looks quite healthy - but will it work?

Of course it does - this time its a very pleasing red colour after one banana and turns pink after the second is added.

I tried to add a little decorative touch with the sauce on top - I'm not sure it looked amazing, but it added a sweetness to the flavour at the top which was a nice touch.  I'd probably just save a few of the raspberries to make it look more presentable.

This one was a bit thick really - but a spoon helped get to the bottom.  The flavour was fantastic, but I think I may need to add some juicier fruit like grapes to make it into a drink.

Join us agin Thursday when I try something a bit more extreme...

Yakinori Noodle & Bento - Grand Central [by @NLi10]

October 17th 2015 has been a long anticipated day. Since the original branch of Woktastic closed down due to the building site that is our old library we have been without express Japanese food.

Well that's a little bit of a lie - we will always have the lovely Mt. Fuji tucked round the back of the bullring and Yakinori themselves have opened a parallel branch in Selly Oak opposite a pub I frequent.  Neither of these have the night out atmosphere of the Woktastic restaurant - or the sushi-go-round seating arrangement.

While the Selly Oak store has made the wait easier (and Tuesdays a lot tastier) I decided that I should only do the review once the new Grand Central store opened, and that I should go on opening day.

As you can see they do a decent range of things - and believe me it took a well timed picture to get empty window seats - the place was packed!

I was tucked away round a corner with this sumo guy, but I was happy to be seated - it was VERY busy. If not there is always the take away bento box option which seemed really popular.

I went with the classic chicken Katsu (and a bottle of Aloe drink).

The reason for this was that it's always been my Woktastic/Yakinori go-to dish, being the meal that swapped me from being someone who agreed to go to Woktastic to someone who suggested we go.  It certainly didn't hurt that the staff have been fantastic over the years to several younger members of my family with specific health needs - making sure they get the food they can eat and never leave disapointed.  I guess it's this level of customer service that keeps people coming back - I am always amazed by just how many people who have made a special effort to go to the Selly Oak branch and today I've overheard several conversations with people saying they've been planning for opening day.

Sure - it's not the biggest of places, but I think it's got that important independant spirit that a lot of the eateries in Grand Central lack.  

If you need somewhere to hide away from the chaos then this possibly isn't it, but if you are looking for a quick meal at the station that will fill you up then have a look at the menu.

Yakinori is very personal, very Birmingham, and very good value for money.  Highly recomended.

24 October 2015

Butchered Beer (@Brown_and_Green, Trentham) [By @spectreUK]

The crazy looking ‘John the Butcher’ on the front of the bottle reminds me of my barber, although you wouldn’t call him ‘John the barber’ to his face. Mainly because his name is Mary… okay, no he really is called John. When I first called him a barber over fifteen years ago he gave me a sinister glance through open scissors and tufts of freshly cut dark brown hair (okay, okay… so I was grey then too, even more grey now!). Good old John said to me, and I’ll never forget it; “I am not a barber, I can style women’s hair perfectly well!” and he pointed out his array of ‘hair stylist’ (barber) awards on the wall of his very traditional looking barber shop, before he started even more vigorously snipping at my hair making me more than slightly worried about my ears. Personally through all those years I’ve never seen a woman in his shop, or even one walk passed it. At the end of every cut John delights in producing his cutthroat razor to shave the back of my neck. It never fails to give me a shiver just before a deep breath and I stay as still as I possibly can…

The Wincle Beer Company in Cheshire produced this brown ale. At 4.3% volume this ale was brewed with Carafa Huskless and Crystal malts giving it an initial sweet creaminess on first taste. Lightly hopped with Northdown gives a bitter nutty character to the rich maltiness in the following flavour. I haven’t had the pleasure of drinking a pint of brown ale for quite a while. I usually have a habit of heading straight towards pale ales in the supermarket. This is a traditional flavoursome full-bodied brown ale that reminded me that there are other ales available on the market, and that I shouldn’t get too comfortable with just the one. Food wise John the Butcher would recommend you drink his brown ale, well rather one that he offers you as just taking his would result in you becoming his next victim… anyway a good hearty steak and chips would be wise to have this ale washed down with. And preferably sit at a table with your back against the wall closest the door...
By Spectre

23 October 2015

Covent Garden Scream of Pumpkin Soup (Sainsburys) [By @Cinabar]

As Halloween is coming we thought we'd try out the new seasonal soup from Covent Garden; Scream of Pumpkin. Loving the name! Just for good measure the other main ingredient other than pumpkin is blood orange, just to keep things up with the theme.
The soup is a lovely orange colour and although the there aren't pieces of pumpkin in it, it is still quite a hearty thickness. The taste wasn't what I was expecting at all. The dominant taste was that of curry and spices, it isn't hot with chilli, but the warm of Indian style spices shone through. The next taste to appear was a citrus twang, not sweet like you might expect from the aforementioned blood orange, but sour and bitey. The autumnal taste of pumpkin only came through as a bit of an aftertaste, hidden because of all the complex flavours.
The first spoon I had of this didn't work for me. I was expecting that wholesome pumpkin flavour and it didn't appear and I was left trying to work out what my taste buds were interpreting. By the end of the bowl I had grown accustomed to the spices and sour taste and was really enjoying it. Strange I know, I did really like the soup, it just didn't taste at all like I was expecting. I would happily have this again, despite my initial reaction. It would probably be fun to have this on Halloween night, it might not be aimed at children's tastebuds, but adults could have some fun with the theming and trying to guess the flavour.
By Cinabar

22 October 2015

Giovanni Rana - Butter & Sage sauce - with mushrooms [by @NLi10]

It's always nice to get a big box in the post. Even if the couriers have cracked the box and then had a peek inside to check its not broken! Luckily it was all in tact and fine.

So what goodies do we have here then?

Oh dear. It's mushrooms. The one food that I'm slightly afraid of! Well it is Halloween week, and I have a partner who absolutely adores them so it should go fine. I think I must have had a traumatic experience with a mushroom as a child, it isn't a rational fear. It's how I presume other people think of spiders and heights and clowns, it's my body trying to protect me from something harmless and covered in horrible fins and oddness.

For the first attempt we needed something quick and easy. The review request called for recipes, but with a quick and easy sauce you want a quick and easy recipe to go with it. 

This recipie called for good quality farm shop cheese (the really strong stuff), lots of fresh herbs, pine nuts, and the two biggest mushrooms in the box which my partner prepared and cooked.

I was in charge of the real focus of the review - butter and sage sauce by Giovanni Rana.  Regular readers will know how ridiculously evangelical I got about the meaty stuffed pastas when they first came on the market - being that they actually had soft runny centres when cooked perfectly and a wonderful flavour. They are a great lunch or part of dinner. I'd assumed that these sauces were to go with those too, but we can get to that later.

This is the wonderful creation that resulted. I heated the sauce separately as per instructions and attempted to drizzle it over the mushrooms in a Masterchef style.  

And the verdict was good, my partner praised the way the deep, creamy flavour of the sauce complemented the mushrooms. She said that it made a filling meal (with a few bits from below) and that it was definitely something she'd consider making again.

I however declined the frilly cheesy monstrosities and opted to make something more refined.  Usually we cook two meals as one is for the veggie and one for me, this time it was two veggie meals - but one completely mushroom free.

I went for the simple option of heating the sauce up and then pouring over (admittedly quite generic) pasta. I wanted to challenge the sauce to see exactly what it tasted like without all the extras.

I did however take the focaccia bread out of the parcel, heat it up and have a rather generous helping with my meal.

I sprinkled with a few scissor cut sun-dried tomatoes and ate away! 

I agreed that the sauce was a lot darker in flavour than I'd expected, not so carbonara and more strong herbs. It clung to the pasta well and was a great consistancy neither being to thick nor too runny. I'm glad I added the tomatoes for a little pizzaz as it didn't have enough chunky bits to vary the flavour, but I guess that's why we are using it as an ingredient and not the final sauce.  With the bread to mop up the remaining bits it was a pleasure to eat and something I'd actively look out for in future - and probably look for the other flavour which is the Creamy Carbonara - but I wouldn't be able to share that one.

Through out the rest of the week we progressed through the food parcel - that is to say my partner and her friends ate a lot of mushrooms, and I enjoyed the bread pasta and sauce.

She used a selection of the button mushrooms chopped up small and heated in the sauce to make an accompanyment to pasta.

This gave the mushrooms a nice texture and the sauces herby nature really got a chance to shine.

I however opted to try the new sauce with the old favourite of the Giovanni Rana filled pasta.

Sauce in the microwave, 1 min boiling pasta, instant gourmet meal for one.

Yes - my service skills aren't up to par here, but you get the idea. This is Italian elegance simplified so that even I can get all the flavours and textures I love at home.  Well worth picking up.