Wonky Veg Blogger Challenge with Asda

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As a youngest of four children to parents who turned virtually all of their large garden over the growing of vegetables, I grew up knowing and appreciating the hours of hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears that goes into producing a harvest of fine fruit and vegetables for the table, not to mention knowing the provenance of my food.  Dad didn’t grown food because it would come out of the ground looking pretty, but because he wanted his family to eat wholesome food that mum would then turn into the most amazing meals for us to eat (IF we left it there long enough to get to the kitchen table that is.  Pods of peas were generally found empty and carrots were pulled and sneakily consumed straight from the garden but us all; including mum and dad!) We didn’t have much of a lawn in our large garden, because dad said “you can’t eat grass!” Our playground was the playing fields, tennis courts and running tracks of the school 2 minutes away at the back of the houses opposite my parents’.

This time last year, after a campaign my Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty on their Friday Night Feast programme, Asda was one of the supermarkets to launch wonky fruit and veg for sale at discounted prices in their stores in a bid to help reduce this abhorrent food waste.  The public embraced this common sense approach and continues to do so today and Asda are now the first major UK supermarket to sell the Wonky Veg Box.  You may even have seen that Jamie and Jimmy featured this on Friday night (5th February) on their Channel 4 Programme highlighting the success of this trial.   Therefore, when I was approached to take part in the Wonky Veg Blogger Challenge in association with the launch of the Wonky Veg Box by Asda, that is being trialled in 128 of their stores I just couldn’t refuse!

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Having been sent a box of vegetables, which Asda say “could feed a family of 4 for a week”, which they’re selling for the bargain price of £3.50, along with a selection of food prep goodies, including a spiralizer, and a gift voucher with which to buy any additional ingredients to compliment my vegetables, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in with my challenge.

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Saturday being a non work day should have equalled a lay in, but oh no, not in my house when I have good food to prepare! At 8:30am I was already in my kitchen, my hair was tied up and my apron was on preparing to cook up a storm!

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Using less than half of the potatoes and a couple of the leeks, along with two onions, I set to making a simple but tasty potato and leek soup for lunch.  Simply chop the onions finely and sauté off in a little bit of butter, to soften, without colouring.

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Sliced the leeks and cube your potatoes and add them to the pan.  Cook out gently for another 6-8 minutes, until the potatoes start to soften too.

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Pour in about 500ml milk and bring to a simmer. Don’t boil it as you can split the milk.  Continue to cook until the potatoes are cooked through.

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Using a stick blender or a food processor, blend the soup until you get the desired consistency; be that with chunks or smooth.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste, and adjust the thickness if necessary with some boiling water.  Serve, with a little bit of sprinkled paprika over the top and some crusty bread. (You can even cube and fry some stale bread into croutons.  Don’t throw that stale bread away; it’s great for making croutons or for blitzing into breadcrumbs, you know).

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Dinner was next on my thought trail, so for this I decided I’d go for a hearty casserole.  The weather this weekend was wet, cold and blustery, so what would be better later than battening down the hatches, and tucking into some delicious and comforting food?  To go with the Wonky Veg from my box, I bought 3 sirloin steaks and a bottle of Merlot red wine, some chopped tomatoes, double cream, Thyme and gruyere cheese.

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Cut the steak into bite sized cubes.  Add to a hot frying pan to which you’ve added a splash of oil and sear all over to colour the outside for that added ‘oompf’ of flavour.

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Remove the browned steak to a casserole dish and set aside.

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Meanwhile cut your carrots, leeks, parsnip, red and green peppers and a couple more onions into even sized pieces and add to the pan that you’ve just removed your steak from (don’t let those amazing pan flavours go to waste!).  Add half a bottle of red wine and cook out for 5 minutes to remove the alcohol, scraping the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon to release those unctuous meat juices from the bottom.

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Pour in a tin/carton of chopped tomatoes and a generous pinch of thyme which you need to have chopped.  Bring to a simmer.

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Pour the tomatoes and vegetables over the steak pieces in your casserole dish and stir together.

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Put the lid on and cook slowly about 150℃ for 3-3½ hours.  (You could even put this into a slow cooker and let it (as my mum would say) ‘chuggle’ away all day while you get on with whatever you have to get on with.

For my veg accompaniment, I chose to make a take on a potato dauphinoise using the addition of one of the two Savoy cabbages from my box to the equation.

In a large saucepan, add about 300ml double cream, 100ml milk, some grated nutmeg and a clove of garlic (that you’ve bashed open, rather than crushed).  Bring this to a gentle simmer whilst you prepare the potatoes and cabbage.

Peel and slice the potatoes thinly (I use a hand held Oxo Good Grips Mandoline on setting 2 for this) remove the central stalk and and finely shred the cabbage.  Butter the inside of a dish that you’ll be using and add a layer of potatoes, overlapping each slice to create ‘swirls’.  Top this with the shredded cabbage and another layer of the potato slices.  Press down to compress to form a potato/cabbage ‘cake’.

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Add salt and pepper to taste to your cream and milk mixture, then remove (discard) the ‘bashed’ garlic clove and pour this mixture over your potato and cabbage.  Sprinkle generously with some grated Gruyere cheese.  Butter the inside of some tin foil (to stop it sticking to the cheese) and place this over the top of your dauphinoise.

 

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Leaving the casserole in the oven, turn it up to 180℃, place the dauphinoise in the oven and cook for 35-40 minutes.  Remove the foil and allow to brown for another 10-15 minutes until the top is golden and the potatoes are cooked when poked with a knife blade.

Serve and enjoy!

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My box certainly won’t be feeding this family of 3 for a week (we’re one member of the family down as he is away at University), but we did get lunch and dinner out of the box, with leftovers of each dish to enjoy tomorrow night.

This is all I have left in my box:  One large and wonky cucumber, five onions, one red pepper and a savoy cabbage.  Not bad for £3.50 eh?  I’ll certainly be buying one in the future!

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I was invited to join the campaign and was sent the Wonky Veg box, along with the vegetable preparation tools and an Asda gift voucher to buy additional ingredients.

Maple, Coffee & Seed Traybake

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I was recently been sent some delicious Canadian Maple Syrup samples to try from We Love Maple. Quebec in Canada produces 90% of the country’s production, with Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia producing the remaining 10%.  Canada as a whole currently produces 71% of worldwide supply.

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Maple syrup has a lower GI than both corn syrup and honey and comes in at 50 cals/15ml. It’s 100% natural and is high in both antioxidants and minerals.  It generally comes on four main varieties:

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* Extra Light – which is extracted at the beginning of the season. Has a light colour and a sweet, delicate flavour.

* Light – is the second batch to be harvested, has a slightly darker appearance and has a pure and delicate taste. Perfect for use in both vinaigrettes and dressings.

* Medium – comes from the third harvesting and is the most commonly available.  It has a pronounced maple flavour and is ideal in cooking, for use in desserts and sauces.

* Amber – comes from the final harvest of the season, is darker in colour and has a rich, intense flavour.  This final harvest is perfect for use in sauces and glazes.

Using the samples I was sent, I came up with a variation on a coffee and walnut cake, adding both flavour and sweetness from the maple syrup as well as added nutrition, crunch and goodness from a mix of both pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

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To make it easier and quicker to make, I used the ‘all in one’ method and a disposable foil tray to bake it in. Ingredients and method to make the traybake are as follows:

Cake:

225g Butter

225g Light Muscovado sugar

275g Self raising flour

10g Baking powder

4 Large Eggs

45ml Canadian maple syrup

15ml Camp coffee essence

35g Pumpkin seeds

40g Sunflower seeds

Icing:

75g Butter

225g Icing sugar

15ml Canadian maple syrup

5ml Camp coffee essence

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan).

2. Add all the cake ingredients, apart from your seeds, into a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat them together for 4-5 minutes until light and very well mixed.

3. Stir in the seeds.

4. Pour the cake mix into the foil tray container and roughly level out.

5. Cook for 35-40 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned on top.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the foil dish.

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7. For the icing, bring your butter to room temperature and beat thoroughly with the icing sugar, maple syrup and Camp coffee essence until light and fluffy.

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8. Spread the icing over the cooled cake and sprinkle with lightly toasted sesame seeds to decorate.

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I was sent four 45ml sized bottles free of charge to review from the PR company. I was under no obligation to write a positive review or to devise a recipe using the product.

BBC Good Food Show Bloggers Day Out at Warner Edwards Gin

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A few weeks back I was invited, as one of the BBC Good Food Show bloggers, to visit Warner Edwards gin distillery in Northamptonshire.  As a local Northamptonshire girl and a fan of their gin already, there was no way I was going to pass this one up! So, with the day booked off work and the services of my husband employed as my chauffeur for the day, I went the 15 miles from my home to the beautiful little village of Harrington, where their distillery is based.

Tom (Warner) and Sion (Edwards) met at agricultural college and have been the best of friends ever since. They are both from farming backgrounds and the distillery is actually based in a converted barn on Tom’s parents’ family farm, where the water they use to manufacture the gin and cut the alcohol is taken from one of the many natural springs which emerge from the land on the terraced fields upon which the farm looks.

After arriving and being met by Sion, we were taken indoors to meet their beautiful copper Arnold Holstein Still called ‘Curiosity’. Why is she called Curiosity? Well, the story goes (and there are paw prints to prove it), that when they laid the concrete floor ready for the still, they came back the next morning to find cat paw prints embossed into the now dry concrete; so as the saying goes “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”.

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One of the first thing that hits you as you enter the distillery, along with the warmth, is the distinctive smell of the juniper and the other ten botanicals that they use in their distilling process, which includes coriander and nutmeg. The beautiful patina on the copper is produced by the heat of the process within creates some gorgeous colours.

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The gin distillation process takes approximately 7 hours, with the spring water, barley, grains and botanicals being added to the gleaming 500 litre pot.  The copper in the pot natrurally absorbs the acids, cyanides and carbonates that the botanicals add to the sprit.  From there, the spirit is distilled through the 4.3m high column of 8 bubble plates, a defleginator and a catalyser to produce the spirit which is then cut down to 44% ABV using the natural spring water from the farm.

Their first batch was brewed in November 2012 as a Harrington Dry Gin. From there, in 2013 they introduced their light and fragrant Elderflower Gin, made from locally picked elderflowers near both Tom & Sion’s family farms in Northamptonshire and Wales. Their limited edition of 2000 bottles sold out in next to no time and surprised them with it’s popularity! Next to be introduced into the Warner Edwards gin family came their Sloe Gin in December 2013, followed by their latest creation of Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin in September 2014. The rhubarb used to create this gin has firm roots and history traceable to the Buckingham Palace garden of Queen Victoria herself.

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imageThe intital aim from Tom and Sion was to produce a spirit that you were able to drink both neat as well as with a mixer, and they have certainly achieved this with their current range of 4 delicious gins. They had to perform their initial research (carried out in the local pub) twice, because by the end of the first night and the end of the glasses of lots of different gins, they realised they hadn’t taken any notes.  So off home to sober up and start the process anew WITH note taking this time!

In 2013, within 6 months of their launch, Warner Edwards won a Silver in the prestigious San Francisco World Spirit Awards, followed by a very impressive Double Gold Award in 2014.

Currently you can buy Warner Edwards award winning gin directly from them, or from Fortnum & Masons, Marks & Spencer as well as Waitrose and independant retailers.

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Thanks to the BBC Good Food Show organisers, River Street Events, for the invitation, and to Warner Edwards for their hospitality. Together, with the lovely Alex From Gingey Bites Blog, we raise our glasses to your continued sucess, and join you in becoming ‘United in Sprit’. Cheers!

 

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Product Review – OXO Good Grips Hand Held Mandoline

After posting a review recently of the OXO Good Grips Y Peeler that I’d bought, I was contacted by OXO and asked if I’d like to review their Hand Held Mandoline Slicer.  As this was something on my wish list of quick and easy kitchen gadgets that I wanted, I said yes and duly received one a few days later.  Along with this, they also kindly sent me a Jar Opener too.  As I had had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome a few years back and have slightly less grip in my right hand than I’d had prior to my operation, this was a perfect thing for me to be sent as a little bonus product to try.  My hubby will now no longer be pestered to open jars for me, and I will no longer destroy one rubber glove trying to get into them when he’s not about. (As well as previously knocking on the door of a neighbour to ask for their assistance!)


Preparing tonight’s dinner, I set my Mandoline to setting no.2 then peeled and halved my onion, ready to slice. This stainless steel blade is so incredibly sharp, that relatively little effort is required to cut through the onion with ease and in no time at all my onion was prepared and ready to cook.  I found that you need to be continuous in your movement and fairly quick in speed to get the best cut from it.  The small ridges on the surface ensure that your food doesn’t stick to the Mandoline as it creates a slight air gap to raise the food up. 


Not content with preparing the onion for dinner, I hunted in the fridge to see what else I could slice, and test how good this Mandoline really was with harder vegetables.

Firstly a courgette. Again no worries to be had with this, and as you can see from the photo below, it was sliced so beautifully thinly on setting no.1 that your can see through the flesh.


Ok, so it can handle relatively soft onions and courgettes with ease, but now let’s see what it can do with a carrot, shall we? 

Well what can I say that the photograph below can’t say for itself? So perfectly and evenly sliced on setting no.1 that, when held up to the light, it’s like a stained glass window of the vegetable world.


It had no trouble dealing with the carrot on any of the settings and I can imagine that preparing dinner is going to get a whole lot quicker when food needs slicing from now on, don’t you? I have to mention how glad I am that this has a finger guard to hold the food securely when slicing, as I can imagine the damage it could cause if you were daft enough to slice without it.  Flesh is softer than veg (and more painful when run across a blade this sharp!)


The Mandoline slicer has a soft grip handle and foot to prevent it slipping in your hand (even if wet) whilst you slice.  It also has a groove on the back so, that you can pop it over a bowl to slice directly into it.  It retails currently at £15.00.  The Jar Opener currently retails at £7.50 and both can be bought both online directly from OXO, or from good cook shops /stockists.

The OXO Good Grips Mandoline Slicer and the OXO Good Grips Jar Opener were sent to me free of charge to review. I was under no obligation, however, to provide a positive review. The comments above are my own personal and honest opinion of the items sent to me.