17 December 2018

Advent Day 17

More calendars and more cats!

Hot Caramel Drink (Costa) By @Cinabar

I went Christmas shopping on Saturday and Wolverhampton city had gone all out setting up a Victorian market and fair. The weather fought back, and delivered heavy rain and wind, such a shame. I did feel for all the store holders, but still managed to pick up a few items for gifts, but I was drenched and cold by the end of it. The hood on my rain coat kept catching in the breeze and my hair well  I could feel the frizz springing into action. I decided to warm up in Costa and see if there was anything on their winter menu I hadn’t yet tried. I was thinking soothing and I was also thinking hot chocolate, but my eyes were drawn to Hot Caramel. A curious idea, and it sounded like just what I needed.
This drink only comes in a small size, which makes sense when you try it as it is very sweet. It has a lovely taste, somewhere between butterscotch and liquid custard. The texture isn’t too thick though, it is easy to drink but I was content by the end of my cup. Any more would have been too rich. It was the perfect pick me up after my shopping in what was traditional British weather, and once warmed up I headed back out. This is a lovely alternative to a hot chocolate, and perfect for a cold day. As a chocoholic I added a Lindt Lindor truffle to the side just for good measure, this probably wasn’t needed, but Christmas shopping is hard work!

16 December 2018

Box-Setting for Jesus - Days 1 through 10 of the missing advent calendar (@NLi10)

In the post Dec 1st sales I managed to get a lovely religious themed calendar for 50p instead of £6.99 - complete with festive story book.  As I first opened it on the 11th Dec here are the first 10 days.

I tried doing it by candlelight at first but it was very hard to read, so the candle is mostly there for atmosphere.

Advent Day 16 (@NLi10)

Some more door opening action for those following along at home.

15 December 2018

Advent 15... (by @NLi10)

A short late post for those following our advent adventures.

Wholesome Stout (Waitrose) By @SpectreUK

So what can I say about Wholesome Stout? Admittedly it's not the most interesting name the Wye Valley Brewery, in Herefordshire, could have come up with. I don't want to sound pretentious (although I probably do), but I almost didn't write about this stout because of its name. It just sounds like something that's been mass produced, quick as you like it, off the shelf or something like that. Not that mass produced stout isn't any good or anything. I have a Guinness every time I have a big steak meal, whether it's at home or in a restaurant (and trust me, I rarely eat anything else in restaurants).

Ignoring the front label and it's quite frankly dull name and having a read of the back and the Wye Brewery sell this Wholesome Stout like nobody's business. However, it's the front of the bottle and the eye-catching name that often sells a beer from all the others lined up by the shelf load in every supermarket. I know there's plenty of chocolate and coffee stouts out there, but at least they make me think; "Oh, interesting…" Perhaps Wye Brewery put all their efforts into brewing this Wholesome Stout, rather than coming up with a classic name as the back of the label eludes to?

On opening this 4.6% volume Wholesome Stout, there was initially an usually strong smell of herbal hops, followed by a little sweetness from the malted barley. Then there were undertones of malted chocolate barley and that roasted coffee aroma that often comes with it. The sheer amount of flavours just in this Wholesome Stout's smell made me stand back and think. The name of this stout clearly understates it. This stout pours like a deep black hole in a pint glass. And there is that "Mmm…" on first taste. There is an initial herbaceous hoppy bitterness from the Northdown hops to this beer that almost instantly mixes with the menagerie of malted barleys. I could taste them all jumbling playfully over my palate. There is pale malt here, flaked barley, roasted barley, the sweetness from the crystal malt, and lip-smacking chocolate malt followed by that classic roasted coffee flavour. I've certainly learned something here. Never be put off by a boring name like Wholesome Stout, as it can often do what it says on the label!

14 December 2018

Mr Kipling Candy Cane Slices (Asda) By @Cinabar

I have no doubt in Mr Kipling’s ability to make tasty cake slices, but these Mr Kipling Candy Cane Slices have confused me. Candy Cane’s have two significant identifiable elements, one they are cane shaped, and two they taste of peppermint. These two signifiant factors are not included in the new Raspberry and Vanilla Candy cane slices. There is some striped icing, but at Mr Kipling’s cake’s usually have striped icing this isn’t especially new or special. As a Christmas tie in product, having some linking to the minty candy cane on the tree would have been nice, especially as they went with Candy Cane in the name. I can’t quite get passed it to be honest.
I did like the fact that these are individually wrapped cakes and as such they all stay fresh if you only want one, it also means that they can go into my lunch box for work and can be a treat at this time of year. The icing is soft and the sponge fluffy, there is a raspberry taste but it isn’t too strong. The cake flavour is still very much present, emphases with the vanilla, and they are tasty. As I stated I don’t think I’ve had a bad cake slice from Mr Kipling. Based on flavour and decoration alone these get their usual top marks. However as a Christmas tie in to candy canes I can’t really award many points at all. It is an opportunity lost, I would love to give some minty flavoured cakes a try, perhaps with a cute candy cane design on the icing?

Advent calendars day 14 (@NLi10)

hey look - it’s a wild advent calendar! Lots of gingerbread men today...

13 December 2018

Rubicon Street Drinks - Nimbu Pani (@NLi10)

Just a quick one to talk about a lovely little new range that has appeared from Rubicon.  This is the Nimbu Pani flavour which is basically minty and lemony.

There are a range of other ones to try too

This one is really refreshing and something I’d have again, I think it would work well as a base for a cocktail.

Advent Calendars 2018 - Day 13

More fun with advent calendars!

12 December 2018

Indie BaySpelt Pretzel Bites Smokin' BBQ (@DegustaboxUK) By @SpectreUK

Always on the lookout for alternatives to nuts and crisps, these Spelt Pretzel Bites Smokin' BBQ from Indie Bay seemed to fit the bill. There was a lot of information on the little packet. For instance these spelt and wheat pretzel bites are an all natural source of fibre and protein, being GMO (genetically modified) free, they have no trans fats (so good for your heart) and are vegan friendly. Vegans are pretty strict, I'm slowly learning, so it should mean that definitely no animals were even slightly put out of sorts during the production of these pretzel bites!

On opening these Spelt Pretzel Bites Smokin' BBQ had a pretty smoky sweet barbecue smell to them. As you can see from the photograph, they were spherical balls around one centimetre in diameter. The bag was a good shape for tipping as many pretzel balls into my mouth as possible, so these would be good for a gaming snack between death-matches or Battle Royale or races or whatever you may like to play. They do taste of a smoky salty sweet barbecue sauce to start with, until you bite in and then they taste of pretzels, with a touch of onion, garlic and paprika in the aftertaste. They can be a little dry whilst eating, so I would recommend some sort of beverage be close at hand, or alternatively one of those beer hats if you have one! I just filled my beer mug with a dark ruby ale to wash them down with. They went very well together!

Information on the packet:
The 26g bag contains 99 calories, with 1.2g of fat, 1.2g of sugar, and 0.6g of salt. Please see photograph for ingredients.

Advent Calendars Day 12 - with story (@NLi10)

Today I remembered to read out the story from the book that came with the new advent calendar.  There is a lot less of it than I expected!

11 December 2018

Advent Calendars Day 11, feat Baby Jesus (@NLi10)

Behold - a new calendar approaches!  I found a more religious advent calendar on sale for 50p instead of £7 and added it to the burden.

Extra Special Mince Pie Cookies (Asda) By @Cinabar

We have had a few mince pies as treats already this year, and always have a box in the cupboard for seasonal emergencies; ie the idea of something christmassy on the telly and a need for something to snack on whilst watching it. Asda have taken all the wonderful flavours of the mince pie and turned them into a cookie combination. These Extra Special Mince Pie Cookies are technically dunk-able mince pies, or as close as you would want to get before it gets messy.
There are eight cookies in the pack and each one has a generous helping of fruit embedded within it. They are also pleasingly thick, and one os a generous portion. I gave one a try and was impressed with the strong seasonal flavours, there were all my favourite Christmas spices like cinnamon and nutmeg adding a warming touch. There was fruit which added a lovely texture and even a juiciness to the biscuit. The mince pie taste was rich, but still balanced enough to allow the buttery goodness of the main biscuit shine through. I think if you were given a brief to make the best Mince Pie flavour Cookie, I’m not sure you could do much better than this. If you are into dunking your biscuits, my pairing would be a spicy cup of Chai tea, just to keep the wintery flavours coming together. Add a Christmas movie on the tv to complete the experience. ;-)

10 December 2018

Festive Feast Pizza (Papa Johns) By @Cinabar

Christmas is all about the pizza. Well I think I meant that the other way around, this pizza is all about Christmas. It might not be the most obvious pairing, but top a pizza with turkey, bacon, some stuffing and a drizzle of cranberry sauce and how can you not be on to a winner.
I am a big fan of cheese in general but I wasn’t sure how that would go with turkey, but putting this aside I ordered the pizza as a stuffed crust too! I have to admit it did work rather well, the stuffing flavour was mainly sage and added a good herby taste, similar to that of a heavily seasoned sausage. The turkey pieces were meaty and flavoursome and there was plenty of topping. The cranberry sauce was a nice different touch too, the flavour was sweet but also sharp, and this brought the whole pizza together, as it worked well with the cheese and the meaty tastes. I enjoyed dipping the stuffed crust into the pot of garlic sauce that came with it too, there aren’t any calories at Christmas right?
One thing is for sure though this pizza won’t be on the menu for long, so I need to work in another order into my schedule before it has gone and Christmas has arrived. Turkey, cheese and cranberry turns out to be a winning combination!

Advent Calendars Day 10 !! (by @NLi10)

Another Monday, another set of doors to be unlocked.  What will we find!

9 December 2018

BCPS Garlic Challenge - with added coffee! (@BCPathology) by @NLi10

A short while ago, the lab I work for rebranded and sent out three cloves of garlic to everyone that wanted them to try their hand in the Garlic Challenge.  For your typical non gardener the challenge is actually putting the garlic into the ground - and in this aspect I have succeeded!  Granted, I've just missed out on a lot of the unseasonal warmness, and light showers, but there's plenty more to come (It's Only Four Degrees etc...)!

As interesting as it would be to fill this with pictures of my garden I figured that it would make a nice three part video as the garlic grows (or more likely my cats dig up and desecrate the pots) and take us neatly into spring - so here is part one!

For those less inclined towards YouTube, here is a rough summary of what I've done.  As there were three cloves of garlic I decided to randomly allocate these (via the method of tipping them out) to the following growth mediums:

  • Starbucks waste coffee grounds (mixed with soil after Siri basically said pure coffee would be pointless)
  • Mulch from our compost heap that is basically all avocado skins and left over leafy greens.
  • Regular cat infested soil from under one of the shadier bushes

Three pots, three cloves, 6 months to grow.  Lets see what happens!

Advent Calendars Day 9! (by @NLi10)

We got our first comment - truly I am an influencer now and will soon be on Strictly Come Dancing (at least the Para-version).

Actually decent stuff today too - things you might actually buy!

8 December 2018

Brains Brewery Dark Matters Beer (Aldi) By @SpectreUK

So… er… Dark Matter then. I looked it up on Google (of course) and it came up with a form of hypothetical subatomic particles that is thought to account for roughly 85% of the universe… I stopped reading about there scratching my head. "But it's right in front of me!?" I thought… It's good that Brains Brewery, in Cardiff, found it before the scientists did, because I bet it would be stuck in a test tube in some laboratory deep underground about now, rather than just about to be poured into my waiting beer glass.

This 4.4% volume coffee porter certainly has something about the night's sky about it, though it's literally pitch black in colour with not one shiny star in it. It has a deep roasted dark chocolate malt smell to it. There is an initial dark chocolate malt taste, followed by sweetness from the caramel malt, and a bitter touch of liquorice and raisins from the additional herbal hops. It then has a creamy smooth chocolate finish with the barest hint of roasted coffee in the aftertaste, mixed in well with the chocolate malt. I'm glad Cinabar finally found me a bottle of this Dark Matter in our local Aldi, as when she was on holiday last year in Cardiff she couldn't find one bottle of Brains beers in the shops! A bit like Dark Matter for the scientists then, I suppose?

Advent Calendars Day 8! (by @NLi10)

I can understand why people review the non-food ones now.  With no pictures it feels like i'm stuck in a loop.  At least Haribo and Tea are exciting still!

7 December 2018

Breakfast To Go Shreddies/Shredded Wheat (@DegustaboxUK) By @Cinabar

I received this pack of Breakfast To Go Shredded Wheat in one of the wonderful boxes from Degusta. A subscription service where they send you a monthly box of interesting products. I decided to have this for my breakfast at my desk, while catching up on work emails. The pack comes with a pot with Shredded Wheat, a carton of milk and a plastic spoon, everything you need for breakfast. The first thing I did was to try and pour the milk, and this was a struggle. The carton said tear here, but the carton wouldn’t tear by hand. Admittedly I’m not the strongest person in the world, but I’d put myself down as average and I could rip the carton. I’m in an office but I couldn’t find any scissors about (we are paperless, so don’t really have the need for that much stationery). I found a butter knife in the kitchen which I used to create a bit of weakness by sawing at the top and eventually I got it open, with some pulling, enough to get the milk out. It probably is reasonable to assume if you are in an office there are scissors about normally, but these on the go products are designed to be picked up and eaten anywhere, on a train for example, where I assume people will struggle too.

My next issue was my pack was labelled Shredded Wheat and the contents were clearly Shreddies. Not an issue for me as I’d be happy with either, but it is still nice to know what you are going to get.
The milk is long life and when poured over the cereal you can taste the difference from fresh in the flavour. I do from time to time use long life milk in tea or coffee and I can’t tell the difference, but that is for a small splash in a strong drink, on these cereals it stood out a lot more. The Shreddies were nice, but they regular Shreddies. I’m not sure this is something I’d buy to be honest, it is a good idea, but the milk carton was driving me mad!

Advent Calendars - Day 7!

I've made it to the end of the first week - should I keep going?!

6 December 2018

Nurses Cottage - Sparkling Blackcurrant & Elderflower Presse (@NLi10)

The farm-shop service stations are great as they stock lots of things I've not seen before. 

I spotted a little bottle of luxury soft drink, dressed up like a tiny wine and thought I'd give it a go.

It's fairly unassuming, but you don't see many blackcurrant flavoured adult drinks these days, and with an elderflower mix in this had to be the flavour of choice.

Sounds like a little local family started business, and although it's mostly water the flavour is rich and mighty!  This is possibly as close to red wine as I'll ever get while still enjoying the drink - this was two nights servings too so I got decent value out of the bottle.  It's certainly not a 'soft' drink and is perfect for socialising with other adults.  This is something that needs to appear in pubs and ideally be served in a wine glass for maximum effect.


Advent Calendars - Day 6 (@NLi10)

Today's update in the advent calendar opening bonanza!

5 December 2018

Supermalt Ginger Beer (@DegustaboxUK) By @SpectreUK

It's amazing how much time I have on my hands whilst I'm laid up after an operation on my knee… I recently found out a fascinating fact that ginger beer and ginger ale are two separate things. I always thought the 'ale' and 'beer' where ginger is concerned were interchangeable. I've talked to a few people since and they thought the same thing. Apparently ginger ale is carbonated water flavoured with ginger, whereas ginger beer is fermented and that's why it generally has a much more fiery taste than its counterpart. So you can imagine my surprise when this Ginger Beer, presented by Supermalt in Denmark, stated on the back of the label that this is "330ml carbonated soft drink with taste of ginger" Is the entirety of Google wrong or is the description on the back of the bottle wrong? Hmm… only one way to find out…

On opening the bottle the ginger smell from the off-transparent slightly yellowish beverage wasn't hugely nose tingling like I'd expect from an actual ginger beer. There was plenty of fizz on pouring though. There followed the mild sweet taste of ginger 'ale', rather than the fermented 'beer' variety. It's a pity in a way that I did the experiment and found out the difference between the two, but we live and learn, and it should be a good thing to expand our knowledge on all things. Perhaps Supermalt need to do some searching on Google too, before they produce anything else that's not what it seems? One thing I did notice from this drink was that the ginger was a pretty much overshadowed by the sheer amount of sugar. 16g of sugar per 100ml of liquid is quite a lot, especially as it was mostly all I could taste, asides a heavy touch of caramel syrup to add even more sweetness… wouldn't want any of that fiery ginger flavour to worry anyone now, would we?

Advent Calendars 2018 - Day 5 (@NLi10)

Two new calendars to explore - can anyone eat this much jelly?

4 December 2018

Winter Spice Hot Chocolate (Caffe Nero) By @Cinabar

I am still working my way through the interesting seasonal drinks at high street cafes. Today I opted not for a Christmas coffee but a Christmas hot chocolate, and I found Ione that sounded appealing in Caffe Nero. Their seasonal drink is called Winter Spice Hot Chocolate, and promises a taste of all my favourite warming flavours. I love cinnamon and the flavours of Christmas. The drink also comes topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon which was where I started, it was also the best part of the drink!
The hot chocolate itself is sweet, and yes I know it is a hot chocolate with an additional syrup, but it was overly sweet. I have a sweet tooth too. The chocolate was present, but the main flavour was that of simply sugar. I could pick up on the Winter Spice syrup, there was some cinnamon and some cloves, and the flavour was warming, but it was under the umbrella of an overall sweetness. I like syrups in coffee, but I’m not sure hot chocolate needs anything additional. It might just be that the person who made this was heavy on the syrup and it changed the balance of the flavours, but I’m not sure I’d want to try another. I think I will try a Caffe Nero Christmas latte next, I think coffee is better at holding a sweet syrup.

Advent Calendars - Day 4 (@NLi10)

It's all change today as new calendars replace the most disappointing one!

Advent Calendar Day 3 (@NLi10)

The festivity continues!

3 December 2018

Smash Salty Corn Coated In Chocolate (Norwegian Import) By @Cinabar

I was on the train back from a meeting in London with some colleagues, and the subject of this blog came up. It is bizarre really, it isn’t something I usually talk about at work, two separate worlds if you like, despite us writing it (daily) for more than 10 years. Anyway the point is I would have put us down as snack experts, so when I was asked; “but why haven’t you written about Smash”, my first thought was the instant potato. I really couldn’t believe there is a chocolate based snack that hasn’t crossed my path… but I was to be enlightened on this train journey. It came highly recommended. After a bit of a search it turns out you can import Smash via Amazon, or it is available on Ocado.
Smash is a Norwegian product that mixes sweet and savoury. It consists of a hollow cone of salted corn snack dipped in chocolate. I love sweet and salty popcorn, and this looks like it will be similar in concept for the taste. The Smash pieces are very light and crispy. The corn taste is unmissable, with this and the salt and thick sweet milk chocolate my tastebuds were over moon with the combination. The texture is very light and crispy and each one of these Smash nuggets sort of disappears and leaves you wanting another. It is very easy to munch through an entire bag. The salt and sugar combination worked, teasing the taste buds with what might come next. I am hooked, and have already ordered another bag of Smash. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is how and why the Norwegians are keeping this Smash chocolate to themselves? This deserves to be far more readily available and known about in the UK.

2 December 2018

Continued Adventures in Advent (by @NLi10)

So as many of you will have seen, our advent calendar videos have gone up and are slowly getting better as I figure out how to actually use all those media apps on my phone.

At the moment the most disappointing calendar is the £4 Holland & Barrett Vegan Chocolate one, seen here on the right.  

I think I'd be OK with the terrible aftertaste if there were pictures or sayings inside the doors, and the picture on the chocolate was ever sharp enough to see.  It's become the epitome of a ration box, it's just a portion of not quite chocolate every day, which is exactly what I was hoping to avoid.  I'm giving it one more day to redeem itself and may open it in the background to check it doesn't get better.

Dark choc which was more naturally dairy free would have avoided this.

I'm actually enjoying the childishness of the £1 elf calendar, and the McVitties biscuit bars are a nice benchmark for the other calendars to aim for.  The cats calendar is exciting to them and not to me.  The Pukka teabags are leading the way with their style and variety.

This is a majestic festive decoration, and even if you don't care about following the days or Christmas at all then it's a pretty fun thing to have available.  It's going to take a lot of bad teas for this not to just walk away with the whole thing - even at 42p a cup!

At the good farm-shop services I found some much more competitive advent calendars, ones where the contents would be a joy every day and thus probably very boring to film.  Above we have the Montezuma calendar, which had a variety of chocolates, simple designs on the doors and generally looks like the kind of thing I'd be happy to open.  I forgot to note the price but I'm seeing it online for £8.99 which is pretty fair.

I'm not really familiar with Holdsworth chocolates, but at £20 this looked like a luxury assortment of hand-made truffle style things that I'd love to have included.  You can't have all the advent calendars though - right?

Well - lets see what the early Dec sales bring.  Maybe the Ocado man can be persuaded to drop something extra off this week too!

1 December 2018

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Cider (DegustaboxUK) By @SpectreUK

This could be one of those moments in life when I try something I didn't like many years before, and suddenly find out that my tastebuds have changed and I like it now. The last time was with Earl Grey Tea, which was quite a long while ago. Degusta kindly sent me this Jack Daniel's Tennessee Cider to try. Little do they know that when I used to drink "chasers" when I was a young lad (late teens, I guess) to try to get drunk as quickly as possible… I know… probably stupid, but you're only young once… It didn't take many chasers though and usually involved me being ill before the night was through, so I stopped doing it pretty early on. Besides, it was really expensive! Anyway, I tried all manners of spirits after each beer and liked Jack Daniel's the very least. I always thought it smelt like the liquid my dad used to clean paint brushes in…

Anyway, this Jack Daniel's Tennessee Cider is described as a "crisp apple cider blended with Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whisky." A description that made me hope that "crisp" meant really strong! I was hoping this cider would scream "apples!" at me on opening the bottle and on first taste. The aroma after the fizz didn't disappointment me. There was definitely a crisp cider apple smell, and only the merest hint of Jack Daniel's. In fact if it didn't have Jack Daniel's on the front of the bottle I probably wouldn't have noticed. "What's the point?" I may hear you say… "I don't know, someone sent it to me, I didn't buy it, I just figured I'd blog about it though…"

On taste the Jack Daniel's was much more prominent. There's Jack Daniel's on first taste and biting away at the back of the cider apples all the way through the flavour. There is also that Jack Daniel's fairly heavy whisky flavour right into the aftertaste. However, the cider apples bite the Jack Daniel's right back all the way through each mouthful, so there's a battle of flavours here no-one seems to win, asides the drinker maybe. On a cold, damp and dreary day like this, it's certainly warming and doesn't taste that bad at all. I don't think I'll switch back to spirits anytime soon, but I wouldn't mind another one of these on a dark stormy night to blast the chills away!

Advent Day One (by @NLi10) #NaughtyElf #Pukka

It's December the first, so that means it's advent calendars day!