North Northamptonshire based food blogger who is obsessed with good food and proper cooking. I'm part of the Midlands Blogging team for the BBC Good Food Shows. This is where I share my own recipes and carry out recipe development and product reviews for brands, including food and wines. Please contact me using the link below.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Wine Review - Central Co-Operative - Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc

My wine review this month for the Central England Co-Operative We Like Wine blog is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Villa Maria.

The Villa Maria vineyard started in 1961 when George Fistonich, at the age of 21, leased 5 acres of land from his father in Auckland, New Zealand.  His first harvest of grapes the following year, in 1962, saw him produce his first wine under the Villa Maria name. In the 1980s, Villa Maria instigated the first grape grower bonus where grapes were no longer paid for based on quantity but on the quality of the grape. Export began in 1988 and the winery became an accredited member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) in 1995.  The new Marlborough winery opened in 2000 and the following year, Villa Maria decided to move 100% to screw caps and became a cork-free zone.  In 2009, George Fistonich was awarded the country's first Knighthood for services to the New Zealand wine industry.  The brand has continued to evolve since that day in 1961, from that single handed business, to a company that operates from three sites in Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, employs over 250 personnel and exports wine to over 50 countries worldwide, whilst still remaining a family owned business.

This 2014 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc produced from grapes sourced from vineyards across the Marlborough region has a beautiful, very pale straw colour and an incredibly fresh smell.  Close your eyes and inhale the citrus undertones of the acidic fruits.  Raise the glass to your mouth and savour the sharpness of the gooseberries, the citrus notes and the balance of melon and passionfruit. It's the perfect accompaniment to white meat and fish so we chose to serve it with my Chicken and Leek Stroganoff.  They say that you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn't drink.  Well, in reply to that, I say buy two bottles of this so there's plenty left to drink and enjoy before, during and after you've cooked and eaten.

I wish 2015 to be happy, healthy and prosperous for you all.  I raise my glass to you all. Cheers!

I was sent a voucher with which to purchase a bottle of white wine. I chose the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc currently priced at £11.25 (Price as at 15/12/2014).

Monday, 29 December 2014

Chicken and Leek Stroganoff

I've previously reviewed Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food book that I bought for my husband.  There are several recipes in there that have become firm family favourites and that my husband often cooks for us; this recipe being one of them as it's quick, tasty and very easy to prepare. Leeks give a wonderful flavour to a meal - coming from the Allium family which includes the onion and garlic, their flavour is much more subtle and delicate.

This recipe is based on Jamie's from his book.

2 Large leeks
4 Chicken breasts
2tbs Olive oil
20g Butter
250ml White wine (if it's not good enough to drink, it's not good enough to cook with)
100ml Water
15ml Wholegrain mustard
300g Basmati Rice
Bunch fresh, flat leaved parsley
300ml Single cream
1/2 Lemon
Salt & pepper

1. Put a large pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
2. Wash your leeks then cut them lengthways into quarters, from top to bottom, then slice across the stems (whites and greens) into 1cm thicknesses.

3. Cut the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces, approx. 1cm x 2cm .
4. Heat a large frying pan and add the olive oil and butter.  Heat until melted.
5. Add the leeks, wine, water, mustard, salt and pepper.
6. Stir together then bring to the boil and cover loosely with a lid or foil.
7. Put your rice in your boiling water, stir once and return to the boil.  Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes (according to packet instructions).
8. Chop the parsley, leaves and stalks, finely.
9. Add the chicken, parsley and the cream to the frying pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

10. Drain the cooked rice.
11. Add the juice of your lemon half to the stroganoff and stir just before serving.
12. Place a pile of rice on your plate and add a generous couple of spoons of the stroganoff.

Serve with a perfectly chilled glass of the white wine that you used to cook this dish with.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Book Giveaway - Holly Bell's Recipes from a Normal Mum

The competition entry deadline has passed to win a copy of Holly Bell's 'Recipes from a Normal Mum' book.  Of the entries received, 25 had the correct answers to all three questions.

All correct entries were numbered in the order that they were received, between 1 and 25 and Holly was asked to pick a number in this range as the winner.

She chose number: 22
Which belonged to: Karen Moses from Ulverstone in Cumbria

The correct answers to the questions were:

1. What year was Holly a contestant and finalist on the Great British Bake Off? 2011
2. In Holly's recipe for Sweet Potato Chips on her blog, how long do you need to bake them in the oven for? 35-40 minutes
3. In Holly's recipe for Healthier Fish and Chips recipe on her blog, what fish does Holly recommend using? Coley

Congratulations to Karen, who wins a copy of Holly's book 'Recipes from a Normal Mum'.  If you email your address to I'll get your book in the post in the next day or two.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter, sadly only one person could win, but every entry was greatly appreciated.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Book Review & Giveaway - Holly Bell's Recipes from a Normal Mum

I'm a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off and even applied to take part in the series a couple of years back.  Obviously, you haven't seen me on it, as I didn't get accepted onto the show!  Nevertheless, I still watch it and admit that I do cringe at some of the 'creations' and mistakes that are made at times.

Holly Bell was a finalist on the Great British Bake off and runs her very successful blog Recipes from a Normal Mum.  Being relatively locally based to Holly in neighbouring counties, I attended one of her cupcake decorating classes a couple of years back, followed by her bread class too.  Being so local and getting on so well (same cheeky sense of humour), I also popped over to help her out and ease her burden by being her 'sous chef' on a few classes too.  I feel very lucky to have kept in contact with this lovely lady since that time as Holly is one of the most genuine (& naughtily funny) ladies that I know.

Based on the roaring success of Holly's blog and being a finalist on the Great British Bake Off, she has written a book of the same name as her blog that's jam pack full of fabulous recipes, amazing photographs and little snippets of stories telling where the recipes have come from and hints on how to demystify and simplify the art of baking 'Holly Style'.

I was recently invited to receive a copy of Holly's book to review.  Along with my review copy, I was kindly sent an additional copy that I could offer as a giveaway on my blog.

There's recipes in chapters such as 'The More the Merrier', 'Feeding Goldilocks and Baby Bear Too' as well as 'Recipes for Chefs in the Making' and 'Presents from the Heart'. The simplicity of some of Holly's recipes, along with the tasty, tried and tested recipes makes this every good cookery bookcase's staple addition.

With the busy Christmas season upon us and the New Year of 2015 only days behind, what better time to choose than now to win yourself a copy of Holly's book. Come January, you too could be baking like one of the best bakers that the Great British Bake Off has introduced us to, with the aid of Holly's fabulous book.

In order to win this copy of Holly's book, simply email me at with the answers to the following questions.

1. What year was Holly a contestant and finalist on the Great British Bake Off?
2. In Holly's recipe for Sweet Potato Chips on her blog, how long do you need to bake them in the oven for?
3. In Holly's recipe for Healthier Fish and Chips recipe on her blog, what fish does Holly recommend using?

All answers can be found on Holly's blog Recipes from a Normal Mum. The closing date for this giveaway is 6pm on Sunday 28th December 2014.  I will announce the winner shortly afterwards and will post out the winning book to reach the lucky recipient that week.  Due to the weight of the book, postage will be to the UK only.

I'm off to the kitchen to try out Holly's Hex Family Stollen recipe. Catch you later!

I was sent a review copy and an additional copy of Holly's to give away book free of charge.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Quark Winterberry Wobbly Cheesecake

I was invited to take part in a Mistletoe and Quark food blogger challenge to come up with a recipe using the Lake District Dairy Co. Quark.  Originally I intended to make a cheesecake but the final outcome is more like a pannecotta; with that hint of a wobble (a bit like my thighs, some may say!) and one which I'm very pleased with too.

As a lover of things tart and not too sweet, this is what I created:

150g Digestive biscuits
10ml Ground Cinnamon
90g   Butter
4       Gelatine leaves
60ml Orange juice
200g Light Philadephia
500g Quark
200g Icing sugar
5ml   Nielsen Massey Vanilla bean paste
250g Cranberries
1       Orange, grated zest and juice
75g   Caster sugar

1. Line a 20cm/8" spring form tin with baking parchment.
2. Crush the Digestive biscuits and add the ground cinnamon.
3. Melt the butter, pour onto the biscuits and cinnamon then mix thoroughly.
4. Tip the biscuit and butter mix into your prepared tin and press well down into an even layer.
5. Place into the 'fridge to chill.
6. Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for 5-6 minutes until softened.
7. Heat the orange juice in a small saucepan until warm.
8. Squeeze the water from the gelatine leaves and add to the warmed orange juice, then heat together gently until the gelatine has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
9. In a large bowl, whisk together the Philadelphia cheese, Quark, icing sugar and vanilla bean paste.
10. Gradually pour in the orange juice and gelatine mixture in a slow stream whilst continuing to whisk until combined.
11. Pour this Quark mixture over the chilled biscuit base, smooth the top and leave in the 'fridge to set overnight.
12. In a saucepan, place the cranberries, orange zest and juice with the sugar.
13. Bring to the boil then continue to cook on a simmer for 15-20 minutes until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thick.
14. Pour this cranberry sauce into a bowl, cover and leave until cold.
15. Remove the cheesecake from the 'fridge and pour over the cranberry sauce, spreading out to an even layer.

Serve chilled and enjoy the sharpness of my wobble!

I was sent a box of chilled Quark with which to create my low fat, tasty seasonal dessert to enable me to take part in the Food Blogger Challenge.  

Sunday, 30 November 2014

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.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Cake Pops with Rangemaster

When you get home from a long day at work and find this waiting for you, it can only put a big smile on your face, can't it?  Well.... what was inside? Do you want to see?

This is what was inside.  A recipe sheet from Rangemaster and pretty much all the ingredients needed to make a batch of cake pops, including butter, flour, vanilla extract, icing sugar, cocoa, cake pop sticks, chocolate and sprinkles. Just add egg, a bit of love and an oven.

Obviously (but sadly) the box wasn't big enough to fit a Rangemaster oven in, so my own kitchen one had to do! Although they did send me a brochure full of their ranges which I could only dream of buying. The brochure was strategically left open and marked at the relevant page for hubby.  Soon be Christmas, don't ha know! Haha!

The recipe sheet and instructions were easy to follow, so I stood back and allowed my daughter and her friend to create these fabulous looking cake pops.  They didn't last long, and I'm lucky that I actually managed to photograph four of them before they were devoured!

Thanks to Rangemaster for sending me the box of ingredients, not to mention giving me green eyed envy at what my kitchen NEEDS to continue to help me create plates of amazing (but easy) food. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

BBC Good Food Show Ticket Winners

What a fabulous amount of entries for my ticket giveaway to the BBC Good Food Show, Winter 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham. Thanks to everyone that took the time to find the answers and send them to me.  I'm delighted to announce that a pair of tickets for the show will be going to each the following three winners (chosen from the 'hat' by my lovely daughter):

Helen Bailey
David Burke
Zoe Goodwin

The tickets will be sent directly to you using the address you provided in your emails.

Enjoy the show!


Wine Review - Central Co-Operative - Bio Bio Valley Malbec

It’s Saturday evening, the oven is on and the smells of a rich & spiced Lamb Tagine is filling the kitchen.  The red wine I’ve chosen to go with tonight’s dinner is the Bio Bio Valley Malbec from Chile.  Specially selected and imported by the Co-Operative, it’s a dark, dense and robust wine, perfect with tomato based meals such as casseroles, quality burgers, sausages and red meats.

The Malbec grape wines sit between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot.  It’s detailed as having a mix of sweet blackberry and boysenberry fruits laced with incense and cigar box.  We found it to be dark in colour with ample tannins, smooth on the palate and silky in texture.  It complemented the flavours and spices of the tagine and certainly wasn’t intimidated by the bold meal with which it was served and was equally enjoyable on it’s own with a second glass after dinner was finished.

This review was carried out on behalf of the Central England Co-Operative.  You can find other wine reviews on the We Like Wine Blog and by following them on Twitter @we_like_wine.

I was sent a voucher with which to purchase the wine and was allowed free choice of the bottle that I chose and meal that I paired it with.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Produce Review - OXO Soft Works Y Peeler

Being an avid cook, you can imagine I have a few bits of equipment that I love to use.  For many years I had the most amazing potato peeler which was comfortable to hold and use in my small hand, remained incredibly sharp and so a pleasure to use.  That was until my husband decided to throw it away with the peelings (although he still denies doing that to this day!) Since that fateful day, I've been through about 8 different ones in search of the holy grail of peelers, only to be disappointed with every purchase and resigning them to the bin as a waste of money.

A true dilemma of a cook in the kitchen, indeed!

Well, that was until I bought myself an OXO Soft Works Y Peeler a few weeks back.  OMG! What a tool!!!!! It's comfortable to hold, speedy to use and incredibly sharp. So good in fact, that I actually don't mind peeling the potatoes and other veg again now.  It's the first time I'd tried a Y Peeler and I'm glad that I did.  I won't be looking back and going to a 'stick' peeler again.

So here's my top tip: go and buy yourself one. Like me, I'm sure, you won't be disappointed.

I'm so impressed with the quality, that I'll be buying their tin opener as that's the next essential tool that drives me insane due to inefficiency! 

This post was not sponsored in any way by OXO. The Y Peeler was purchased personally.  I just wanted to share a positive product review with you.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Restaurant Review - Castle Inn, Caldecott, Leics

One Friday evening a short while ago, just before my son left home to start his studies at the University of Nottingham, we, as a family, went to a pub/restaurant that my husband and I have been frequenting since we first met in 1984.  Since then it's changed hands several times and the restaurant has gone through a whole range of food styles over the 30 years we've been going there.  Actually - typing that last sentence has just made me feel incredibly old!  Did I really meet my husband 30 years ago?! WOW!!!!

Anyway, back to the restaurant review.  We went to the Castle Inn in Caldecott set in the heart of the country in the beautiful Welland Valley on the borders of Northamptonshire/Rutland/Leicestershire where the restaurant can be found in the shadow of Rockingham Castle and serves food in an Italian theme.  You walk in the door to find the old fashioned flagstone tiles on the floor, the oak beamed ceilings and a friendly smile from the staff.  To the right you'll see the impressive stone baked pizza oven.  The smells that welcome you are evocative of any Italian Trattoria - garlic, tomatoes and stone baked pizza dough; truly delightful!

There's nothing nicer than a crusty based pizza, stone baked to perfection and topped with tomatoes, cheese and herbs.  My daughter chose a Margarita pizza, whilst my son went for a Hawaiian.  These both came in immense portions - a whole dinner plate full and I did wonder if my daughter would be able to eat more than half.  Her brother, on the other hand, was more likely to eat his and then devour the remainder on her plate!

I went for the beef Lasagne and salad, whilst my husband chose the Pollo Alla Castle; chicken wrapped in parma ham and stuffed with mozzarella, garlic and tomato sauce served with gratin potatoes.  Both of these meals were very generous in portion size and tasted delicious.

How any of us had room for dessert, I really don't know, but the kids and my husband did!  I had to settle for a coffee as there's no way I could have moved if I'd had dessert too. My daughter enjoyed the chocolate brownie and ice cream, my son had tiramisu and my husband the creamy pannacotta. Again these came in generous portion sizes and were tasty (yes, I did have a little taste of each of them - purely for review purposes, you understand!)

With drinks, our meal came to £81.20.  None of us were disappointed with our meals or the service we received or the atmosphere. We'll certainly be back again!

The meal was paid for personally by ourselves.  We were not invited to dine at the restaurant nor did we receive any compensation for our visit.  All views are personal to myself and my family.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Venison Tagine

We love venison as its such a rich and lean meat that's full of flavour and I was lucky to have been given a 3kg haunch of venison a while back by a colleague in exchange for making her daughter's Christening cake. Her husband shot and butchered the venison, so I can be sure of it's provenance.

After boning the joint of meat, I divided it and used one portion to make a tagine in my slow cooker as follows:

500g Venison, cubed (you can use beef or lamb if you prefer)
30ml Rapeseed oil
2 Onions, sliced
2 Cloves of garlic, crushed
1tbs Ground coriander
1tbs Ground cumin
2tsp Ground ginger
1tsp Ground cinnamon
250ml Beef stock
400g tin Plum tomatoes
100g Dried apricots, chopped
2tbs Ground almonds
400g tin Chick peas, drained and rinsed

1. Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan and fry the venison in batches until browned.
2. Transfer the venison into the base of your slow cooker.
3. Gently fry the onion & garlic in the pan for 5 minutes until softened, then add the ground coriander, cumin, ginger and cinnamon and fry gently for 2 minutes.
4. Add this onion & spice mixture to your venison in the slow cooker.
5. Pour your stock into your frying pan to deglaze and heat until just boiling.
6. Pour this stock mixture over your meat and spice mixture.
7. Add the plum tomatoes, chopped apricots, ground almonds and chick peas.
8. Stir well then place the lid on top.
9. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 12 hours or on medium for 8 hours.

Serve with cous cous and a little fresh, chopped coriander to garnish.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

BBC Good Food Show, Winter, 27-30th November 2014 - NEC Birmingham

As an official BBC Good Food Show Blogger, I have three pairs of tickets to give away for the Show at the NEC in a few weeks time.

To enter is simple.  What I want you to tell me is three things from this blog post reviewing the BBC Good Food Show in Summer 2014:

1. What date did I go to the Summer 2014 show?
2. What is Paul Hollywood's favourite 'dirty food'?
3. Who arranged for myself and the other bloggers to meet Mary Berry?

Answers must NOT be posted in comments here, but should be emailed to:

The closing date is 5pm on Sunday 16th November 2014.  Winners will be chosen at random from all entries received and tickets will be posted to home addresses.

Good luck!

Food Review - PG Tips 'The Rich One'

Have you seen the new teas from PG?  Did you take the quiz to see if you're 'Mellow', 'Rich', 'Fresh' or 'Strong'?  I did and apparently I'm RICH!  Er.... hello, have you seen my bank account, not yours, Monkey?! LOL!!

Well, a little while passed after I took the quiz and I came home to find this 'tea chest' in my hallway, waiting my arrival.

Now, if you're like me, you get straight in there, none of this delicately unwrapping the goodness that's contained inside; No siree, I just jump straight in!  Not very 'Mellow', nor in the sophisticated realms of being 'Rich', but I found myself more of the 'Strong' type as I ripped the tape off and opened up the box to see the contents with a pair of 'Fresh' and excited eyes.

And greeting me was this lot of goodies:  A silky, smooth and decadent dressing gown in which to relax after using my Molten Brown shower gel, whilst my feet slip into my Marks & Spencer Per Una slippers as I sip my PG Tips 'Rich' tea from my delicate Royal Albert cup and saucer whilst waiting for my sparkly Essie nail polish to dry on my finger nails.

Not content to allow me to drink my tea in peace, this little cheeky chimp, Monkey, decided to have fun with the boxes of tea, initially being very well behaved and sitting nicely to have his photo taken.

He rapidly decided that that was too much effort and was soon found laying down on the job.

Before hiding behind the boxes, threatening to knock down the tower of tea and create mayhem!  Cheeky boy!

Thanks to Unilever and PG Tips for sending me my 'Rich' box; it's very much appreciated, by me (and Monkey!)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Brown Banana Muffins

Having bought a couple of packs of reduced price bananas (20p for 5!) recently and not wanting them to go to waste, I've slightly changed my Banana and Choccie Chunkie Muffin recipe, which incidentally was the first ever post on my blog back in May 2011, to produce these:

Instead of using butter, I've substituted it 80% for Farrington's Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil and 20% milk.

280g Plain flour
5ml Baking powder
5ml Bicarbonate of soda
2.5ml salt
125g Soft brown sugar
3 large, over-ripened bananas (about 450g peeled weight)
1 egg, beaten
90ml Rapeseed oil
60m Milk

Fan oven: 170°C.

1. Line a deep, 12 cup, muffin tin with tulip paper cases.
2. In a large bowl place the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar.  Mix these together thoroughly with a fork to get some air into the dry mixture.
3. In another bowl mix together the mashed bananas, beaten egg, rapeseed oil and milk.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add all of the wet mixture.  Mix both together quickly for no longer than 20-30 seconds until just combined.  Make sure that you scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl properly to incorporate all of the dry mixture but DO NOT BEAT the mixture or worry about small lumps.
5. Fill each muffin cup to about 3/4 full.  This will then make 12 muffins.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops are slightly browned and spring back when touched.
7. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack until cool.

I also made up a batch of blueberry muffins using oil and milk as the butter substitute, so I'll share the recipe shortly for those too.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Event - Unilever Kitchen

I was one of 12 food bloggers to attend a rather special event at the Unilever headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey on 13th October.

After an early morning start, 2 trains, the Underground and 3 hours later, myself, along with the other bloggers, were met by minibus at a very wet and rainy Leatherhead station for the short transfer to their impressive building.  The atrium at Unilever opens to reveal a light and airy space complete with hairdressers, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream lounge and Unilever staff shop which you can't fail to be impressed with.  We were met by the Clarion Communications team and taken into the kitchen where pastries, tea and coffee awaited our arrival as we dried out from the rain.

We were treated to a talk on the history of Tea by Jane Pettigrew. Who knew that servants were paid in tea as part of their wages as it was so expensive originally?!  I'll write up a few of these interesting facts of tea in a separate post for you soon.

We were taught to taste tea, which teas should be served with or without milk, what temperature your water should be at for the various types of tea, and where the teas come from in the world.  We were also given the history of PG Tips from inception in the 1930's through to today and what we see on our supermarket shelves to buy and enjoy.

Next came an exciting introduction to seasonings and flavourings in a masterclass by Marco Pierre White.  We were treated to two tastes of fillet steak; one with only salt used as the seasoning, the other with a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot rubbed on as the flavouring.  The taste is more rounded with the stock pot as it contains a blend of herbs as well as the meat seasoning.  We were then shown how to cook the perfect fillet steak with a wonderful, rich and creamy 3 Peppercorn Knorr Flavour Pot sauce (not for those dieting as it did contain a fair bit of double cream and a whole bottle of Worcester Sauce, but nevertheless, it did taste fantastic!)

Oh, and guess who got caught taking a sneaky photo of Chef? Yep, me!

His reaction?  'Madam, if you're going to take a photo, let's do it properly and do a selfie!'  What a gent!

We were then split into pairs to prepare lunch under the guidance and critique of Marco.  Teams cooked Risotto al Funghi, Curried Parsnip Soup, Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Herbs, whilst my team-mate Layla and I cooked a simple bolognese sauce.

Our afternoon was completed with a talk and demonstration by Sue Batty, the Stork expert.  We were then invited to choose our flavourings and make our own batch of cupcakes to take home with us.  the 7 of us on the train back to London had a bit of a cake swap!

My fellow bloggers were Kirsty (Hijacked by Twins), Lucy (Supergolden Bakes), Amy (She Cooks She Eats), Leyla (Motherhood Diaries), Dominic (Belleau Kitchen), Agata (Barktime), Fiona (London Unattached), @GlutieBaker, Jack (koukouvaya), Manjiri (Slice Of Me) and Heidi (Heidi Roberts Kitchen Talk).

Thank you to the Unilever Kitchen, Jane Pettigrew, Marco Pierre White, Sue Batty and to Clarion Communications and all my fellow bloggers for a fantastic event.  A very long day for me with 6 hours spent travelling but a lovely day too.  Thank goodness for the trains so I could sit and chill out on my journey home with Monkey to keep me company!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Food Review - Whittards Hot Chocolates

The nights are drawing in, the temperatures are dropping and the leaves are turning colour. We wake in the morning to find our cars wet with condensation. Autumn is well on the way and winter won't be far behind.

Long walks with the dog; returning home to the warmth of the family and a centrally heated house.  Remove those outdoor clothes and shoes, slide your feet in your slippers and pop on the kettle. Grab yourself a mug, a spoon, some milk and a tub of a Whittards Luxury Hot Chocolate. Add a few marshmallows to the top of your drink, curl up on the sofa, cuddle your mug to warm your hands up and enjoy!

For that added luxury treat, why not heat up your milk and mix that with the hot chocolate powder in place of boiling water.

In recognition of Chocolate Week, Whittards recently sent me some tubs of their Hot Chocolates in variations of Luxury White, Mint and Chilli flavours along with a tub of mini marshmallows to sprinkle on the top.  My favourite is the Mint, but for an added warmth the Chilli is certainly the way to go. My daughter's favourite is by far the white chocolate variation. 

I was sent the tubs of Hot Chocolate and Marshmallows free of charge from Whittards. I was under no obligation to write a blog post as part of receiving these.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Chicken a la King

An old recipe I copied down from a magazine in the late 1980's when I first got married was for the very 'exotic' Chicken a la King.  We thought we were so sophisticated when we sat down to our meal in our first house and it's something we've enjoyed eating every so often since then.  My apologies for not being able to give credit to the original recipe writer, but it's been with me for over 25 years on a scrappy piece of paper.  I've changed it slightly as I really don't like mushrooms, so they're no longer in my own version of this recipe, but please feel free to 'add the fungus' if you so wish!

4 Chicken breasts, skinned
40g Butter
10ml Oil
1 Onion, diced
100g Mushroom, sliced (not on my plate!)
2tbs Cornflour
60ml cold Water
20ml Tomato purée
Black Pepper to taste
250ml Chicken stock
1tsp dried Basil
2 Tomatoes, skinned & sliced
150ml Single cream
1/2 Green Pepper, sliced
1/2 Red Pepper, sliced

1. Heat the oven to 180C.
2. Heat the butter & oil in a frying pan.
3. Fry the chicken on both sides until golden.
4. Remove the chicken breasts to a casserole dish and set to one side.
5. Fry the onions and mushrooms (if using) until softened, but not coloured.
6. Mix the cornflour and water together until smooth.
7. To the pan, add the tomato purée, black pepper, stock and cornflour/water and bring to the boil, continuously stirring until thickened, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
8. Add the basil, sliced tomatoes, cream and sliced peppers and stir through.
9. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts and cover with the lid.

10. Place your casserole dish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve with roasted potato and sweet potato wedges with broccoli and cauliflower.

I'm entering this 'old favourite' in to the Community Cooks Competition with the Central Co-Op.

I received a gift voucher from the Central Co-Op with which to purchase ingredients for my competition entry. 
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