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Saturday 29 September 2012

True Snacks: Llama's Whole Wheat Baked Bites

Because, let's face it, calling the blog snacks & the single man and then not featuring many snacks is just foolish.

These turned up in my local Tesco quite recently and their striking packaging fulfilled its function perfectly. Two flavours - BBQ and Sweet Chilli - were on offer, and both mysteriously appeared in my basket at the checkout.


While the blurb proclaims that these are part of "one mammal's mission to rid the world of boring snacks", there's actually nothing really new about them other than the flavours. In their simplest form, these are nothing more than small, llama-shaped wheat crackers. Shaped crackers and/or biscuits have been a stable of the kids' snacks aisle since time immemorial so, straight away, they're not as original and ground-breaking as they might like to present. It's no surprised that the cheesy option wasn't available - other than size and shape, they'd be little different from any other cheesy cracker, and there are at least a billion varieties of those already on the market.

BBQ is probably my favourite of the other two flavours - it's not like the usual barbecue flavour you'd find on crisps and the like, but it is exceptionally moreish. Sweet Chilli is probably a bit too heavy on 'sweet' and a bit too light on 'chilli' for my liking - only very mildly spicy, really - but still quite pleasant.

Worth picking up for those occasions where you're getting together with mates for booze, bad movies and bar snacks... or for kids' parties.

And the website is fun...

Friday 28 September 2012

Another Version of the Truth Cupcake

OK, it's not as if I'm trying to prove a point here... I merely found myself with a bag of Wright's Chocolate Cake mix, and an intense desire to make cupcakes.

It could happen to anyone.

Of course, cake mix alone does not make a cupcake. I had to go shopping for the extras. This isn't going to be a proper recipe because everything was ready made - all I did was mix it together and stick it in the oven - but I shall nevertheless list the extras that were acquired specifically for this experiment:
  • Chocolate Chunks (I used Dr. Oetker milk chocolate - 100g bag, of which about half was added to the cake mix
  • Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Rich & Creamy Icing
  • Cupcake Cases (also Dr. Oetker, in my case)
  • Chocolate Pieces (for topping the cakes - I used Fiddes Payne Chocoholic's Delight - "a selection of chocolate and chocolate flavoured pieces for ice cream, cakes and desserts")
Essentially, this is just like any of my 7 Days of Baking challenges, such as the chocolate cake, but with the mix spooned into the cupcake cases, sitting in a muffin tray. Smaller cakes don't need the same time in the oven - I found a tray of six was nicely done in about half an hour... rather longer than expected, but since one bag of the Wright's cake mix is enough for approximately 12 decent-sized cakes, and I only have one tray of six, it evens out to an hour's cooking time for the whole lot... Coincidence, or another fine example of how precise things can be, when it comes to cooking?

Once each batch was done, I allowed them to cool for rather longer than necessary because I was distracted. Ahem. When I got back to it, the cakes had cooled sufficiently, and the icing was suitably soft and easy to apply with a knife. That done, I had to choose how to top the cakes.

The selection offered by Chocoholic's Delight is: milk chocolate drops, white chocolate drops, chocolate flavour flakes and chocolate flavour strands. Since the cakes all contained milk chocolate chunks, adding milk chocolate drops to the icing would seem like gratuitous cupcake-encapsulated tautology, so those remain unused (for the moment - chocolate rarely stays that way for long in my possession!). Throwing caution to the wind (and a few chocolate pieces all over my kitchen) I lined up the cakes on a baking tray and simply sprinkled the drops, flakes and strands each over a row of four cakes, then slapped the tray into my (hastily reorganised) fridge overnight.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are what one calls 'cupcakes':
Admit it, you feel your arteries clogging just looking at these puppies, don't you?

I must confess that the cake mix I used was five months beyond its Use By date, so it was rather past its prime... but the resultant cakes are nevertheless moist and tasty.

And also kind of chocolate overload.

I'd hoped to take some of these into work today, but I didn't have a clean container large enough to accommodate more than three... which is pretty crap... So, here I am, stuck with nine cupcakes (no, your eyes do not deceive you: the photo above was taken before dinner today), and no-one to share 'em with.

Oh, my the hardship...

Fear not, gentle reader... somehow, I shall manage...

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Last Course: The Fabulous Bakin' Boys Choccy Cupcakes & Triple Choccy King Cupcakes

I recently had a conversation with a friend about cupcakes. It had always been my understanding that 'cupcake' was a rather more neutral name for 'fairy cake'... Apparently this was an erroneous belief. 'Cupcakes', I learned, are defined by the extravagance of their topping. No mere plain icing, or chocolate, or fruit-slice-shaped jelly pieces. Cupcakes are larger than the average fairy cake (though not as large as the average muffin), and topped with positively opulent quantities of rich, buttercream icing and embellished with all kinds of interesting fancies... One look at a good cupcake should induce diabetes.

...Or at least, that's the general idea.

I must confess my complete ignorance of The Fabulous Bakin' Boys before seeing these two boxes on the shelves at my local Tesco. The packaging is certainly eye-catching, decked out largely in purple with magenta and white accents, and photos depicting what look to be fairly large chocolate cakes with an incredibly deep layer of chocolate-flavoured topping (Triple Choccy King Cupcakes), and light, fluffy plain sponge cakes with a suitable depth of the same chocolate-flavoured topping (Choccy Cupcakes). They both look really good in the package.

Then you open the box...

...And realise that the photos on the outside are basically 'actual size'.

The so-called 'King Cupcakes' are barely larger than the standard cupcakes, and those are pretty small. Closer, in fact, to the size of a traditional, modest fairy cake. Perhaps a little wider at the base, but otherwise nothing special. The depth of the topping doesn't compare favourably either - it may look deep (not as deep as the photos, but still acceptable), but the tops of the cakes have a shallow taper, so it's actually only deep around the circumference.

If that weren't disappointing enough, there's really nothing special about the sponges. The plain sponge easily lives up to its description, but the chocolate sponge is either similarly bland, or just not chocolatey enough to stand out against the topping.

To be honest, I'm a little confused by these products... They're 'cupcake' neither in terms of size nor presentation, almost as if they're just intended as a foundation on which one should build, rather than being a finished product in their own right. The packaging also spends a fair amount of ink expounding about its "new & improved design"... Really, who gives a monkeys about the packaging (other than the designers and the folks who paid them to design it)? OK, fine, trumpet about the cakes being packaged in a "recyclable carton"... but surely even that's redundant in this day and age..? Doesn't everyone know that cardboard is recyclable now, whether they make use of that feature or not?

Sadly this is one product whose only triumph is making me consider using my muffin tin to bake something sweet...

Saturday 22 September 2012

The Saucy Fish Co. Sea Bass Fillet with Beurre Blanc & Dill Sauce

When I picked up a couple of The Saucy Fish Co. options at my local supermarket, I managed to write up the smoked haddock fairly quickly. It had always been my intention to write about this one soon after but, for whatever reason, I kept putting it off. So long, in fact, that I had to buy another just to remind myself what it actually tasted like... and even then, I've left it a good two or three weeks after eating it before buckling down... I wonder if that's a subconscious review, in itself...

What you get for your money in this package is a decent portion of sea bass and a fairly large sachet of the Beurre Blanc and sill sauce. This sauce, says the packaging, can be served hot or cold... though, since it's being added to hot fish, it's not as if it's going to stay cold for long, even if you choose not to actively heat it (1 minute in a cup of boiling water) beforehand.

Interestingly, this particular product can be pan fried, oven baked or grilled, making it a very adaptable bit of fish. Even better, the slowest method - oven baking - still only takes about 15 minutes at most, so you're assured of a very quick meal. However you choose to cook it, the fish is light and tasty.

The sauce was rather a surprise to me... since it's called 'beurre blanc', I was expecting something plain and buttery, with the dill adding most of the flavour. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the ingredients list... What I actually got was a piquant sauce that very much had a flavour of its own - so much so, that I barely noticed the presence of dill. Most of the sharpness, I'd guess, came from the combination of white wine vinegar and lemon juice. Definitely a pleasant surprise, when one is expecting a mouthful fish and mostly bland, creamy sauce.

The only significant downside is that, considering the three suggested preparation methods, and The Saucy Fish Co.'s raison d'être - matching fish to its most complementary sauce - it's somewhat disappointing that they don't also offer serving suggestions. By default, I tend to add mixed (frozen) veg and either chips or potato waffles to my dinners to round them out... somehow that just didn't seem appropriate to this fish, though, and couldn't be bothered to trawl though the interwebs for ideas (tip: new potatoes, mash, roasted tomatoes and/or green beans seem to be popular choices).

Around my area, The Saucy Fish Co.'s products tend to be on a permanent '2 for £5' offer, when I can actually find them, so I tend to pick up one of these and one of the haddock option every time I see them. They're a good product, well-priced and those I've seen tend to be of a reasonable size for the money (except the salmon - that really is miserly!)

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Iceland Rising Dough Double Pepperoni Pizza

Call me cynical, but when it comes to shop-bought pizzas, I rarely believe the claims of the packaging beyond the description of the topping, and even that's often subject to some lively internal debate.

So when Iceland present me with a new pizza option - this so-called 'Rising Dough' product, with a photograph on the box which depicts something not dissimilar in appearance to any other Iceland pizza - I'm naturally going to be a little sceptical...

...and yet...
This is probably not the most effective photograph for demonstrating exactly how much this dough rose, but let me be clear:
This dough really rises. A lot.

Naturally, due to the vagaries of dough manufacture and cooking by fan assisted convection, to say it doesn't rise evenly would be a massive understatement. On the left of the photo, you may be able to discern a particularly mountainous region from which the toppings have toppled. Before the pizza went into the oven (straight from the freezer, for a mere 20-ish minutes), the toppings were fairly evenly distributed. Such was no longer the case when cooking had finished... in fact, it looked very much as though some of the toppings had simply disappeared. Obviously 2 different kinds of pepperoni don't just evaporate in the oven, so they've just collected into the troughs of the pizza.

What's rather impressive about this rising dough - aside from the extent to which it rises - is that it doesn't rise by creating massive bubbles. So... it rises unevenly without, yet evenly within. Just the kind of weirdness I like in my food. Or something. The base is, perhaps, a little excessive for my preference (very much a thin'n'crispy kinda guy), but the flavour is better than a lot of other shop-bought pizzas I've tried (and I've tried a lot).

In other respects, this is a pretty typical shop-bought pizza - scant cheese scattered unevenly, a stingy smear of tomato purée, greasy pepperoni that makes the experience of eating it slightly more acidic than it need be... weirdly, though, I didn't get that scuffing on the roof of my mouth that I usually get when I have a pepperoni pizza (seriously, folks, is that just me, or is it a common phenomenon?).

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised - yet another Iceland product for which my expectations were low, which turned out to actually be rather good... and all this for a mere £2. That may well be slightly more expensive than some of their other own-brand products, and largely for the sake of a gimmick, but it certainly makes a change from the usual soggy, slimy things that come out of cardboard boxes.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Tuna Melt (The Cheaty Way)

Yes, gentle reader, if there's one thing you can be sure of with this blog, it's that whenever you're in the kitchen, slaving over the simplest of dishes and thinking "there has to be an easier way of doing this!"...
I know that feel, bro

So when you get a hankering for a tuna melt, for example, but can't face the idea of cracking open a tin of tuna, risking that so-close-to-its-use-by-date mayonnaise, chucking it all together with some chopped veg, slapping it on some toast, and then chucking it under the grill, know that I have been there (apart from the mayonnaise bit - I never buy the stuff because I'd never get round to using it!)... and now I have a workable solution.

This might as well be a follow-up to my cheese'n'leftovers on toast post, because this is basically cheese'n'leftovers on toast... but with the added fun of shop-bought, ready-made tuna and sweetcorn sandwich filler separating the toasted slices of bread from that noble Cheddar.

I've been trying to think up a pun about capers, because I added some of them, but I guess I'm just too tired...

On with the 'recipe'...

  • 1 tub of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filler (of the sort that can be found in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Iceland, etc. Generally around 170g, permanently on special offer)
  • Half a Small Onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Capers (I used Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'A Spoonful of Nonparielle Capers in Brine', which I washed off prior to use)
  • A Decent Amount of Cheddar, sliced, diced or grated, as per your preference
  • Black Pepper, ground as a topping.
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Really?
  • Seriously, I cheated the hell out of this one
  • Erm, OK... How about... a Toaster? (or you can just toast the bread under the grill)
  • Small, Sharp Kitchen Knife
  • A Teaspoon maybe?
The Process:
First off, toast the bread to your preferred level of burnt. If you're using a grill to toast your bread, keep it going once it's done. If not, pre-heat the grill to about 150C. While that's happening, crack open the tub of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filler. Make ready your cheese by whatever method you prefer... for this experiment, since I had no ready-grated cheese, I decided to cut a few slices, then chop them up into little bricks - a knife is far easier to clean than a grater, after all. Chop up the half onion as per your preference, then dump into the tub and stir in. Take your teaspoon of capers (washing if necessary) and add them to the mix. By the time it's all churned up nicely, the toast should be done.

Spread the embellished sandwich filling upon your golden slices. Sprinkle your bits of Cheddar atop the melange, then grind some pepper on top of that before sticking it under the grill for five or so minutes.

Since you may wish to assume a bias in my writing herein, I must confess a particular fondness for two things related to the topic at hand:
  • Tuna Melts
  • Finding easier, more efficient ways of doing things
This satisfied on both counts and, additionally, in that it was a really tasty snack dinner this evening. I know onions are pretty much a mainstay in a good tuna melt, but I'd never have thought to add capers.

Largely, this is because I have no idea how to use capers in cooking, and only bought them in the first place because they're listed in a recipe in that Rachel Khoo book I got for my birthday.

Not quite sure what they added to this... their flavour is noticeable... kind of like a very mild olive, only not. Whatever it was, the capers and the pepper added a certain amount of bite, and the overall effect was a nice change from my usual cheese on toast. It'd be just as easy to do this as a 'proper' tuna melt - that is, a toasted sandwich - but I fancied the 'two-halves' approach on this occasion.

What's really good about this is that it's another, slightly off-the-wall use for those tubs of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwich filling, which tend to have ridiculously short shelf-lives, even refrigerated. The furthest Use By date I've ever seen was only about two days from the date of purchase, which seems even more strange when you consider that the Egg and Bacon sandwich fillings are labelled as lasting anything up to a full week.

Time for some cheesy, fishy capers, I'll warrant...
(got there in the end...)

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Tesco Grill BBQ Glazed Succulent Slow Cooked Pork Rib Rack

I've already mentioned that ribs and I don't have a particularly good relationship (in the UK, at least - in the US, bring 'em on!), so this will have to be put down to "one of my whims". Just to make this seem even more bizarre, I've frequently been warned off Tesco for any meat products with various horror stories. Personally, my experience has been pretty good thusfar, so perhaps that contributed to my decision to pick up this box.

Also, hey, let's face it, we've had a bit of a late summer this year, and what's summer without a barbecue?

Pardon me, not quite sure what came over me just then... I don't even like barbecue.

What I do like, though, is the freakishly delightful concoction that is 'barbecue flavour'. I don't know what it really is, but it tickles my tastebuds in just the right way so, even on those all-too-frequent occasions where the meat on ribs fails to impress, a good, flavoursome barbecue sauce can make all the difference. Shame that doesn't happen very often either...

So, when Tesco tells you you're picking up "a full rack of slow cooked pork ribs smothered in a sticky BBQ sauce" that's "great for sharing", what can one expect?

Well, this product by Tesco was a surprise to me on three counts:
  • The meat actually lived up to the description
  • The ratio of meat-to-bone came out in favour of the meat, just for a change
  • The barbecue sauce was pretty phenomenal
To expand upon these points, in the posting linked above, I described succulent and tender meat that fell off the bone, but Tesco's version surpasses Waitrose's easily. It may not have separated from the bone quite so readily - and, to be honest, in some cases it was rather reluctant to part - but most of the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The very ends were slightly tougher (not to mention a little burnt), but that's to be expected. It was far tastier than the ribs from Waitrose, though that's not saying much. To be specific, the meat had a flavour, and it tasted like good pork. Score one to Tesco.

The most common problem with shop-bought ribs is that they seem to be more bone than meat. Considering it's basically a chunk of a pig's ribcage, that probably shouldn't be surprising - the whole point of a ribcage is to protect the delicate organs housed within. Large bones with small gaps between are the most efficient way to accomplish this. Nevertheless, these Tesco ribs actually had a decent span of meat between each rib and, even more unusually, the meat extended quite a way above and below the bones. Each rib probably only had about one mouthful of meat to it, but that's at least half a mouthful more than Waitrose. Score two to Tesco. And I'm not even going to dock points for the slimy, fatty, tissue on the underside because I just have to learn to expect that 'meat on the bone' is going to include some of the icky stuff that I'd rather not stuff into my gob. Nor am I going to dock points for the gristly bits or the bone fragments because (a) they merely prove that this was actually once part of an animal, and that it took some effort to remove and (b) they were few and far between.

The sauce is where even the best meat products can sometimes disappoint, but this so-called "BBQ sauce" should have a "+1 of awsomesauce" appended. It wasn't just barbecue sauce - that sweet, smoky flavour that properly barbecued food rarely attains - it was pleasantly spicy. Not eye-watering by any means, but far more appealing than the average barbecue sauce, and that's coming from someone who really likes the average barbecue sauce. Score three for Tesco.

What really impresses me, though, is that Tesco aren't claiming this is something it's not - they're not even trumpeting it as something special, and it's my considered opinion that they probably should. Then again, it's fairly common for supermarkets to undersell their own brands. Sure, they have their extra special, 'premium' own brands but, more often than not, it's those that disappoint and the 'standard' products that shine. This is one such case.

If I had to quibble anything, it's that Tesco, too, are referring to something as "a full rack" which, in the US, would be "a half rack" (so I had no trouble polishing it off by myself), and that this product is labelled as part of the Tesco Grill line, but it's either for barbecues (which would be very messy, given that the sauce is covering the ribs in the package, and would probably end up mostly dripping off) or for oven baking.

But surely that's just being pedantic?