Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Not-so-Secret Weapon

OK - I'll admit it. I don't really want to review this product. Why? Well, every now and again I find a product that becomes a secret weapon. I whip it out at parties, add it to soups, gravies, use in pie fillings or just on it's own and then sit back and smile as everyone comments on how delicious the food is. You know what I'm talking about... that spice or oil or stock or whatever that adds a secret punch to food that results in a sort of signature dish.

And my current weapon is Chilli Jam - but not just any Chilli Jam - Pig 'n' Pickles Chilli Jam.

As we were exiting the New Forest, we stopped off at Longdown Farm Shop. It was recommended to us by locals as a good source of locally produced food (which it is!). As luck would have it, when we entered, there were three people discussing the weekend produce market - who better to ask for a recommendation. Unanimously, they all suggested Pig 'n' Pickles jams. How could I resist.

Armed with a pot of Caramelised Red Onion Chutney and Chilli Jam, we headed back to London where I stashed them in the cupboard to be tried later in the week. Later in the week ended up being the following day when I added a teaspoon of the Chilli Jam to roasted vegetables.

So - here are my thoughts. If you leave the New Forest with only one purchase - make it a pot of Chilli Jam.! I've had it on vegetables, added it to salad dressing, spooned it onto scrambled eggs and smothered a pork pie with this hot and sweet concoction.

The beauty in this jam is that it is so well balanced. I'm (strangely enough) not a huge fan of chilli - too often I find it overpowers a dish. Not this - Pig 'n' Pickles have the balance of sweet, hot, sour and salt so finely tuned that I battle to classify it as savoury or sweet. (This may sound crazy, but I'm considering adding a teaspoon to vanilla ice-cream - I'll try it and let you know).

The Caramelised Red Onion Chutney didn't disappoint either! It's less sweet than many of the other brands on the market - which I found to be new and refreshing (it is a chutney after all and not a jam!). It also seems to contain more onion than most - again a positive in my eye. I paired it with a bottle of Toasted Garlic Mayo from The Garlic Farm and used them as a base for stuffed pitas for lunch yesterday. I knew it was a success when my husband leaned over and took a mouthful without asking!

Prices on the Pig 'n' Pickles website range from £2.75 to £3.75 per pot. They also sell gift bags, which I think is a great idea - perfect as an alternative to a bottle of wine or flowers at a dinner party.

In short - as much as it pains me to share my 'secret weapon,' I cannot speak highly enough of these products. They deserve every compliment they receive!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

New Forest Java

I love surprises! I don't even mind what type - parties, gifts, planned, unplanned - it doesn't really matter. And I enjoy planning surprises as much as I enjoy receiving them. At a company I used to work for, we used to have 'Surprise Monday.' Each Monday, we'd take in in turn to bring in a little surprise for everyone in the office - it didn't matter what as long as it was a surprise. I arrived to receive chocolates, make-up samples, home-baked cupcakes, even hand-decorated pencils from one woman's daughter (we all agreed that was the best). 

So this weekend, I planned a surprise day away for my husband (for no other reason than to just 'get-outta-town.' We woke up early and set off for the secret location. I get into the whole experience of it - taking wrong turns, pretending to head north when we are actually going south etc. Juvenile? Probably. Do I care? Nope! I love it!

Our secret location was the New Forest. It's in easy driving distance from London and there's loads to do (and eat). 

We started our tour with a stroll through Lyndhurst and it was here that we happened upon our first culinary find of the day. Located in the centre of town is Pages of Lyndhurst. As we walked past this seemingly inconspicuous store, we were both overwhelmed by the smell of Caramel and Honey. We stopped in our tracks. This sweet, rich aroma was coming from just inside the store. There, waiting for us at the entrance, was a large ice-cream cabinet. We approached, curious. 
In an instant, we were both babbling to the shop assistant about how delicious the smell was and what flavour could it be and how many scoops should we try and could we sample at least two flavours - each. The shop assistant smiled and calmly said it wasn't the ice-cream that we could smell - it was coffee. Er... what?

'Coffee,' she said, 'in the back.'
'No - that's not coffee. I know coffee and that's not coffee.'
'It is,' she rebutted, 'go look.'

How could this deeply rich caramelly aroma be coming from coffee when I couldn't smell coffee at all? You see, coffee and I have a relationship - but it's relationship based on it being tongue curling-ly bitter and dark and me being able to rely on it being that way. Flavoured coffee isn't a new concept, but even with potent syrups like Mint and Hazelnut, the coffee is still at least 5 notes of the aroma spectrum? I could smell caramel, yes, but coffee, no. I went to investigate.

What awaited me around the back of the ice-cream cabinet was a dessert coffee dream. Bags and bags of toasted, shiny beans with labels like 'Death By Chocolate,' 'Mocha Orange Liqueur,' and 'Maple Walnut' all lined up to be scooped, ground and poured. Hmmmmm.

The concept of flavoured coffees goes back as far as coffee does. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, has a traditional ceremony that sees spices like cinnamon and cardamom being added to the beans as they are ground. This, was nothing like that.

What makes the coffees at Pages of Lyndhurst  different is the intense aromas associated with the beans. Strong oils seem to coat each bean like the candy on an M&M. I was a little sceptical of this as I thought the flavours may be overwhelming and disrupt what to many is a sacred coffee experience. Pages of Lyndhurst only sell beans (whole or ground), so I had to wait to get home to try the samples I bought. 

The good news is that the coffee still tastes like coffee - so me 'friend' hadn't been replaced after all! I was nervous that the balance of flavours would be too far in the 'flavour' direction. It isn't. The surprising aspect is that the combination is fairly mild. It seems as though a LOT of flavour is required to give it a desserty taste. I started with a one-shot espresso but added a second to get the full body I like. Not a problem for a mid-afternoon java, but if you're nervous of caffeine after 5pm, be aware!

Which brings me to the question of when to drink the coffee. What I like about Pages of Lyndhurst is that the coffee does not have that coffee+syrup sweet kick that many of us have come to know. It's more subtle. Yes, the smell is there, but the taste is more natural. It's something that adds to an event, but is not the event itself. My recommendation is to pair it with an afternoon super-indulgent tea. Think Mocha Orange Liqueur with a dark chocolate ganache cake. Or how about Creamy Hazelnut with home-baked chocolate brownies. Or even Amaretto with Merinques.

Chatting to the Beanista (as mentioned, they don't serve on site), we heard that despite the enticing aromas wafting onto the street, the most popular product is their Blue Mountain blend. We didn't buy any (as I'd just ran a kilo of various flavours to our basket and didn't want to overdo it - ha!), but based on the whole experience, we'll be back for more!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Oh My Foodness!

Crazy dancing lady!

I've just been interrupted by my husband who came to check that I am ok. I'd been jumping up and down and doing the 'crazy' dance I do when I'm too excited to sit still. I generally start by flagellating my arms around for a while, whilst scrunching up my face in concentration - ending in a uncoordinated twirl of legs, arms and body. Think of the Skype dancing man - but horribly out of time. Although slightly bemused, my husband confirmed that I am indeed ok, just very, very excited.

Reason being? Well - you're reading it. Today, 21 February 2012, marks the launch of a project that I've been dreaming about for years. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't start it sooner. It all seems so simple now, like something standing next to me - but just out of site in a blind spot. No matter - it's here now.

And here is OhMyFoodness.

For years, I've loved food. (I know that everyone 'loves' food, but I fall into the category of people who luuuurv food.) Ever since I was a little girl, tastes, textures, aromas and the sight of food has delighted me. From Garlic Snails eaten in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg to Cheese covered Curly Fries on Liberty Island, New York, my love affair with food has been like a best-buddy who has travelled with me for years.

I've been the butt of jokes as I try something new and audibly 'ooh,' 'mmmm,' and 'hmm mm mm' over a burst of flavour.  I'm not conscious of these sounds, but I am told that the they are there - often when there is a lull in conversation! But, as much as I may laugh at audibly showing my appreciation, there is a hint of seriousness behind it all - you see, I like that I get asked for restaurant recommendations and which EVOO to use. I like even more the feeling I get when I find a new food product that I just have to have at home or the office.

Oh My Foodness! That is Delicious!

So following the advice of many a magazine article on finding 'one's true passion' and turning the love of something into work, I am tackling this project in the best way I know how... one bite at a time. Over the next few months, I plan to scour out food that makes me go 'Oh my Foodness - that is Delicious!' I'll report back to you on where, when and how to eat it - and if it makes me smile - I'll show you how to get it too!