Thumbs up for…

April Collage

With only a few days left until Easter, here’s a quick round-up of some of the top products my family have been taste-testing recently, in case you’re on the look out for a few last minute shopping ideas.

M&S Easter Cracking Dessert

MS egg dessertThis ‘Cracking Dessert’ from M&S received a very definite thumbs up from my two girls. It’s a crunchy crumb layered with milk chocolate cheesecake and vanilla mousse, topped with orange and lemon curd.

Usually I find these types of pudding too sickly sweet but this is just the right combination of fruity tang and creamy sweetness.

£1.30 for a 95g single pot.

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Extra Thick Egg

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggAnother sweet treat that really made my children smile was this luxurious extra thick chocolate egg with its assortment of humorous mini chocolate creations from that wonderful British chocolatier, Hotel Chocolat.

At £28 you might argue this is simply too good for little people but I’d definitely recommend buying them just this one egg and  it’ll keep them going for quite a while. My girls wrote their own review, which you can read here.

thorntons eggThornton’s Masterpiece Easter Egg

If you want good chocolate but Hotel Chocolat is a little out of your price range, then how about this 70% dark chocolate Masterpiece egg from Thornton’s?

The seductively rich and dark chocolate egg comes surrounded by pretty mini masterpieces – chocolate art creations in delicious flavours including toffee, fudge, orange and raspberry. £9.99 for 270g.

Waitrose Ginger Truffle Mini Eggs

ginger eggsGinger and dark chocolate is one of my all-time favourite combinations and when I saw these ginger truffle mini eggs on the shelves at my local Waitrose I couldn’t resist picking up a box. At £3.50 for a 100g they make for an affordable naughty treat.

The truffle centre is gorgeously soft and smooth with a warming hint of soft ginger spice, covered in deep dark chocolate. Perfect as an after dinner chocolate with a cup of strong espresso.

Heston from Waitrose Acacia Honey and Ginger Hot Cross Buns

heston hot cross bunsAnother recent impulse buy from a lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose were these acacia honey and ginger hot cross buns from their Heston Blumenthal range. Beautifully spiced and not too sweet, I think I might be copying this flavour combination the next time I bake my own.

At £1.69 for two, they are much more than I’d normally pay for hot cross buns but they are very good, although possibly more of cake than a tea cake and just fabulous served with thickly spread with butter and a strong cup of tea.

Unearthed Chorizo de Leon

chorizo de leonAuthentically produced in the mountains of northern Spain, with an earthy, spicy and smoky flavour, Chorizo de Leon from Unearthed is great served as part of a selection of Spanish meats and cheeses for cold tapas.

It is also equally good as a cooking ingredient, as in the fantastic chorizo stuffing my husband prepared recently to serve with roast chicken for my Mother’s Day feast.

Available from Waitrose and Ocado, £3.79 for 220g.

Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning

cool chileThis seasoning pack from the Cool Chile Co is a simple way to create your own wonderfully spicy, tangy Mexican chorizo meat. The kit provides you with chile ancho, chile guajillo, chile chipotle as well as a Mexican chorizo spice mix containing achiote powder, Mexican oregano, thyme, cinnamon, bay leaf and clove. £2.60 for 46g.

I was sent a kit recently to review and was a little dubious as to why I’d bother making my own chorizo meat rather than just buying it ready-made. But I am now completely sold.

I used the seasoning to create a beautifully flavoursome spiced pork mince which I then served as part of a queso fundido – essentially a Mexican take on a cheese fondu – and it was one of the most moreishly delicious dishes I’ve tasted recently.

I’ll bring you the full recipe on the blog very soon, I promise.

Loyd Grossman Lasagne Sauces

grossmanI don’t use packed or jars of sauces very often but this offering from Loyd Grossman is one I think I’ll use again.

My family loves lasagne but while it’s particularly not difficult, it’s not the quickest dish in the world to make either, and so if you’re looking to cut corners but still achieve that proper homemade taste, these sauces are the way to go.

The tomato sauce is rich and full of herbs, while the white sauce is creamy, with a lovely hint of nutmeg, and it isn’t too sweet, which is so often the case with these ready-made sauces. £1.69 per pack.

Bart Mediterranean Mixed Herbs in Sunflower Oil

bart herbsI actually first bought these Bart herbs in oil by accident when I was doing an online supermarket shop. I thought I was buying dried mixed herbs but these arrived instead. And I’ve been a fan ever since.

It’s delicious spooned onto homemade pizzas, stirred into pasta sauces and roast vegetables, and I also rather like mixing it through boiled rice. £1.79 for 85g.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Hotel Chocolat and Thornton’s Easter eggs, M&S Easter Cracking Dessert, Unearthed Chorizo de Leon, Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning and Loyd Grossman’s lasagne sauces for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

You Crack Me Up review

Hotel Chocolat Collage

Hotel Chocolat Easter egg review by Jessie age 9 and Mia age 6

When I told my daughters that Hotel Chocolat had offered to send me one of their Easter eggs to review but that I thought I’d have to turn it down because I was just too busy, you can imagine the look of devastating disappointment on their faces. Then it occurred to us, since many of their chocolate eggs are targeted at little ones, why not get the little ones to do the review? And that’s exactly what we did.

So without further ado, I have great pleasure in handing you over to Jessie…

hotel chocolat

When I was told by my mum that Hotel Chocolat had asked me to do a review, I was thrilled. It would mean tasting delicious chocolate. Yum!!!

They sent us an Extra Thick Egg called ‘You Crack Me Up’ which we thought was a funny name. Inside the thick egg were lots of little chocolates in different shapes and sizes.

hotel chocolat

The first thing I tried was a white soldier. Because there was two of everything, my sister had one too. It was delicious white chocolate on the outside with a mouth-watering scoop of chocolate like Nutella inside. It looked a bit like a piece of toast dipped into runny egg yolk. It was simply decorated but looked good. My rating:9/10.

This is what my sister said: “It was really tasty and delicious and nice. I loved the taste of the yellow bit.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

hotel chocolat

The next thing I tried was the chocolate brownie. Although its name is chocolate brownie, to Mia and I it did not taste a bit like one. It looked amazing, but funny as well because of its sweet face. Also, it is amazingly smooth on the outside and filled with crunchy nut in the inside. This is my idea of a cute piece of chocolate. My rating: 7/10.

This is what Mia said: “It was really crunchy and sweet, I loved the taste. It was really yummy and nice. I liked the look the best.” Mia’s rating: 9/10.

The third thing I tried was an amazing looking chocolate chick. It looked spectacular, but turned out to be very rich. I loved the taste, but wouldn’t be able to eat too many! My rating: 7/10.

Mia thought: “The chick looks fluffy and looks so tasty and yummy. It was so delicious.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

Next, we had a taste of the thick chocolate shell. I thought it was a gorgeously tasty smooth, hard shell. It tasted spectacular and was amazing. My rating: 10/10! This was my favourite bit!

Mia said:“The shell looks so yummy and delicious. I love it. It’s so scrummy and yummy.” Mia’s rating: 10/10!

Soon we came to eating the white chocolate fried egg. It was nearly as good as the shell. It looks amazing, tastes amazing, is amazing. My rating: 9/10.

Mia said: “Looks very fried, looks very tasty, it is very good to eat. It is yummy!” Rating: 8/10.

Now we were onto the chocolate rabbit. I loved it, especially the detailed decoration. Also it has a beautifully soft layer of chocolate. Yum, yum, yum!!! My rating: 8/10.

My sister adored it even more than me (as much as the egg shell). “It looks yummy and it looks really tasty and is tasty,” Mia said. Rating: 10/10!

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggNow we come to the final piece of chocolate. The crunchy praline – another cute, smiley face very similar to the chocolate brownie. It had a crispy outside and a spoonful of ‘Nutella’ inside. My rating: 9/10.

Here is what Mia thought: “It looks really crunchy and nice. It looks so tasty I loved it. Rating: 11/10!!! As you can see, this was Mia’s overall favourite!

After tasting this spectacular chocolate, Mia and I are pleased to say we thoroughly recommend this as a posh Easter egg. Enjoy!

Final note from Mum

At £28, you might think this is rather on the expensive side for a children’s Easter egg and I must admit I would certainly think twice about spending so much on chocolate. But a little goes a very long way with this egg. My children absolutely loved it (as you can tell from the frequent uses of spectacular and amazing in their review) but it has actually taken them a fortnight to get through it so I would say it represents good value for money.

Since my girls were kind enough to let me try a tiny nibble, I can confirm that the chocolate is ruddy good too and so much more delicious and attractive than those cheap as chips eggs you can buy in bulk in supermarkets.

Disclosure: Hotel Chocolat provided me with a complimentary You Crack Me Up chocolate egg for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own (or my daughters’).

 

 

 

Thumbs up for…

Thumbs Up March Collage

It’s high time I brought you another selection of thumbs ups - my regular round up of favourite food and drink products I’ve either discovered myself or been sent to try out. In case any PRs are reading this, it’s probably worth pointing out that only products I really like are featured here; simply sending free samples doesn’t lead to automatic inclusion.

Sally’s Sizzling Sausages

sallys sizzling sausagesWith my family’s love of bangers, you can imagine how excited we all were to be sent a large box of sausages and burgers from Sally’s Sizzling Sausage Co the other week. And even more excited on serving up the Cumberland sausages with lots of lovely mashed potato to discover they are as delicious and gorgeously meaty as I’d been promised. We tried their 100% beefburgers a few days later and were equally impressed.

All products from Sally’s Sizzling Sausages are ideal for those with food intolerances as they are free from wheat, soya, dairy, egg, yeast, gluten and lactose. The company is based at Smithfield Meat Market in London and was set up by Tim Hixson, who himself has food allergies.

“Over the years I have been dismayed at the quality of some foods to the point where I decided to do something about it,” Hixson explains.

Sally’s range includes a wide variety of pork and chicken sausages, meatballs, burgers, continental meats, and kebabs. Vegetarians will be pleased to hear that they plan to introduce a vegetarian range in June 2014. Find out more at www.sallyssizzlers.com.

Cornish Sea Salt

cornish sea saltThis Cornish Sea Salt is so tasty you could almost eat it on its own, although a much better idea would be to sprinkle it over a fresh tomato salad. I’m also rather taken by the idea of trying it in chocolate brownies or some salted chocolate pretzels.

Cornish Sea Salt began trading in 2008 and was set up by Tony Fraser who discovered there had once been an Iron Age salt works near Porthkerris on the Lizard Peninsula, and his idea for a new business took hold.

Sadly, Fraser passed away in 2012, but the company continues to go from strength to strength and their delicious salt appears on the tables of some top restaurants and hotels.

If you haven’t tried it already, I’d definitely recommend you get hold of some. It’s available in most supermarkets and you can also buy online at www.cornishseasalt.co.uk.

Laimon Fresh

laimon freshAvailable in most supermarkets, Laimon Fresh is a new lightly carbonated lemon, lime and mint flavoured drink which got the thumbs up in our house when we received samples the other week to try.

I did expect it to taste a little synthetic but it’s actually a very refreshing and natural-tasting drink.

Jessie drank hers as it came and wanted more, but alas the grown ups in the house had already turned the rest into super easy mojito cocktails by mixing with white rum and pouring over crushed ice. The mojitos could probably have benefited from a little more fresh mint, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Oh, and Jennifer Lopez has been spotted drinking it too, so it’s clearly a hit with the uber cool set too.

La Rochelle Salad Croutons

rochelle salad croutonsThese Meditteranean style herb croutons from La Rochelle are so good you can enjoy them as a snack on their own, rather than tossing into a salad, although that’s how I like to use mine.

I adore croutons in a fresh green salad but generally can’t be bothered to make my own, so these are very handy to have in the cupboard on standby.

Flavoured with oregano, basil, parsley and thyme, these light and crunchy croutons are deliciously moreish and completely ungreasy as so many shop-bought croutons quite often are.

Dr Oetker Chocolate Hearts

dr oetker chocolate heartsWe received some sweet tiny chocolate hearts in milk and white chocolate from Dr Oetker. They were a big hit with my daughters, who chose to use them to decorate the banana, chocolate and ginger tray bake we made last weekend.

As well as looking ever so pretty, they also taste good and chocolatey, and I had to work quite hard to stop my girls from eating the remainder of the packet.

And if you like the look of the cake, I plan to post the recipe in the coming days. My aim is to get it up in time for this month’s Spice Trail challenge, as the theme is ginger. But I’ve got a mad week ahead, so I’m not promising anything.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Dr Oetker’s Chocolate Hearts, Laimon Fresh and Sally’s Sizzling Sausages for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

‘Count on us’ Thai green curry

Thai Curry-Recipe Card

Photo courtesy of M&S

It hasn’t been particularly healthy here on the blog as of late; rather a lot of chocolate and cake and pizza about. I swear that’s not an honest reflection of my family’s dining habits in recent weeks, but it is true that my new year’s resolutions of eating more healthily have slipped somewhat.

So when M&S got in touch to see if I’d like to review one of their new healthy eating recipes, it sounded like a rather good idea. M&S have put together four easy recipe cards for under-400 calorie meals, which means they are particularly suited to anyone on the 5:2 diet.

I opted to test drive the Thai green curry recipe, which uses a jar of count on us Thai green curry sauce. Back in the days before I used to cook much, only about nine years ago before the children came along, I wouldn’t have though twice about opening a jar of shop-bought sauce when I was making a curry. But not these days. I find most jars lack any decent flavour and are never nearly hot enough for my taste. And Thai green curry is right up there at the top of my favourite curries list. The best one I’ve had recently was at the Pan Asia restaurant in Bath, where the bling decor is as fresh and zingy as their dishes.

So M&S would have to turn out something pretty tasty to impress my husband and me.

But do you know what? It was actually pretty good. I was about to continue that sentence with for a sauce from a jar. But no, I stop there. It was pretty good, full stop. OK, so it wasn’t as hot as I’d have probably made it myself if I was starting from scratch, but I do tend to like things hotter than most and the chilli flakes scattered on top took care of that. We were very liberal. It also needed the fresh lime and coriander to create those tingles on the taste buds you’re looking for when you have a green curry.  What I probably appreciated most though was how quick it was to make. We had it one evening after the children had gone to bed, and I really wasn’t in a cooking mood, and it took less than 20 minutes.

At just 385 calories per portion, it’s definitely a winner in my eyes. I’ve got my eye on their jalfrezi sauce to try out next.

Here’s the recipe or download the M&S recipe card as a PDF.

Thai green curry with chicken and vegetables

1 tsp sunflower oil or olive oil
250g skinless chicken breast (2 fillets), cut into strips
300g assorted vegetables, eg baby corn, sugar snap peas
1 small pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
350g jar M&S count on us Thai Green curry sauce
1tsp fish sauce
generous handful freshly chopped coriander
red chilli flakes & lime (to garnish)

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok and when very hot add the chicken. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the chicken is
lightly coloured. Remove to a plate.

Add your choice of vegetables, such as baby corn to the hot pan, stir-fry for 2-3 minutes before adding the more tender sugar snap peas and pepper; stir-frying for a further minute or two.

Stir in the count on us Thai Curry sauce. When bubbling, add back the chicken, heat through for 2-3 minute then stir in the fish
sauce and chopped coriander.

Serve with egg noodles. Garnish with chilli flakes and a wedge of lime.

Photo courtesy of M&S

Photo courtesy of M&S

Disclosure: M&S provided me with all the ingredients for this dish in return for trying out their recipe. All views expressed are completely my own and are 100% honest.

Thumbs up for…

Thumbs Up January Collage

Here’s a round-up of some my favourite new foods and drinks (mainly drinks to be honest) I’ve tried this month…

Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps

mr trotter crispsWe don’t buy all that many crisps in our house, as I’ve made a conscious effort to cut back in recent years. But on those occasions when I am in the mood for a salty potato snack, I will be reaching for a lovely big bag of Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps. Thickly cut and incredibly moreish, they are fried with the skin on and taste almost meaty, although they are suitable for vegetarians. I guess that comes from the yeast extract, listed as one of the ingredients in Mr Trotter’s ‘original seasoning’. My children loved them too but I reckon they are too good for little ones, and next time I’ll wait until they’re in bed before opening another packet.

You’ll find Mr Trotter’s range of crisps and pork crackling in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Masons, Chatsworth House and a growing number of pubs, farm shops, delis and garden centres. You can also buy them in bulk online.

Korean Ginseng Drink

korean ginseng drinkThis Korean ginseng drink arrived in a recent food box from Kitchen Nomad celebrating Korean cuisine. This was one of my favourite products in the box, along with a jar of delicious Kimchi, a traditional fermented vegetable side dish.

I haven’t actually tried drinking ginseng since I was a child and I recall being rather unimpressed back then. This time I wasn’t sure at first. It smelled a little like boiled parsnip. But when you get past that, it tastes ever so good. Sweet and honey-like, almost like a non-alcoholic mead. What’s more, ginseng is apparently very good for you and a brilliant energiser.

Available from Tradewinds Oriental Shop and all good oriental supermarkets.

Elements for Life Spiced Raw Hot Chocolate

raw hot chocolate spicedThis spiced hot chocolate from Elements for Life is quite simply divine. Featuring cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, it gives just the right hit of spices without overpowering the luxuriously creamy chocolate.

I make mine with warm milk but the chaps at Elements for Life recommend using oat milk for the ultimate thick and creamy hot chocolate. And since it contains low GI/GL coconut palm sugar, it is also ideal for diabetics due to the slow release of energy from the sugar, unlike most hot chocolates that contain refined cane sugar.

Admittedly it’s not cheap, coming in at £6.75 for a 175g tins but I reckon it’s worth it for an occasional treat.

Elements for Life products are available from a growing number of health food shops, farmers markets and delis across the country (see the list online) and you can also order direct from their website.

Mere Fish Farm Smoked Trout Terrine

mere fish farm smoked trout terrineThis delicious smoked trout terrine is one of the specialties of Mere Fish Farm in Wiltshire, and I think I might be addicted to it. I bought it last week from their stall at Wells Market and had it with a jacket potato that evening for supper, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. All the next day I kept eating more of it on hot buttered toast, and my daughter Jessie insisted of having some in a roll for her school packed lunch. Honestly, it’s just too good for words.

The terrine is mixed to Mere Fish Farm’s own special recipe, using trimmings from their cold smoked trout, unsalted butter, low fat natural yogurt, lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices. It tastes rich and indulgent without being at all heavy.

If you are based in the West Country, or visiting this part of the world anytime soon, I thoroughly recommend you try to get hold of some. For details of stockists, visit their website. I’ll be back to their stall next week, I think, to sample more of their products and, of course, to pick up some more of this terrine.

Pixley Berries Cranberry & Apple Cordial

pixley berries apple and cranberry cordialThis gorgeous cranberry and apple cordial from Pixley Berries is as good to drink as it looks. It boasts more than 60% fruit, none of which come from concentrates, and not a single artificial ingredient either. It’s a wonderfully refreshing cordial, soft and sweet yet with a marvellous twang from the cranberry.

My children loved it too, but while they liked drinking theirs with chilled water, their Daddy and I rather liked ours poured over iced vodka once they were safely tucked up in bed.

You can find Pixley Berries range of cordials at Waitrose, Ocado and other independent retailers – full details on their website.

Yumchaa Chilli Chilli Bang Bang

chilli chilli bang bang rooibos teaThis rooibos tea from London-based Yumchaa is the perfect cuppa when you need a bit of a pick-me-up. Caffeine-free, Chilli Chilli Bang Bang not only has a fantastic name but delivers a fantastic punch of flavour from cinnamon, ginger, red thistle, sweet red pepper corns, and chilli flakes. It isn’t a fiery brew but it does deliver packs of taste, yet manages to be a lovely soothing tea at the same time.

You can pick up a bag of this, or any of Yumchaa’s fine teas and tisanes, from one of their London shops or market stalls. Full details on their website.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps and Pixley Berries Cranberry and Apple Cordial for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Seville orange marmalade

seville orange marmalade

“But whatever did you do for food?” asked Mr Brown. “You must be starving.”

Bending down, the bear unlocked the suitcase with a small key, which it also had round its neck and brought out an almost empty glass jar. “I ate marmalade,” he said, rather proudly. “Bears like marmalade. And I lived in a lifeboat.”

From A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

Is there anything more British than the Paddington stories? And is there anything more British than marmalade for breakfast?

We are well into Seville orange season and everyone seems to be making marmalade, so I thought it was about time I had a go myself. I’ve made lots of jams and preserves but never for some reason got around to trying my hand at marmalade.

riverford marmalade kit

I received a marmalade kit from Riverford, which contains organic Seville oranges and lemons, and a recipe card. You just add your own sugar and jars. And they said on the website there’s no need to have made marmalade before; the Riverford recipe is pretty foolproof and you can cook along with Guy Watson (Riverford founder) in their YouTube video. Perfect.

Unfortunately the day I’d set aside to make marmalade I was absolutely full of cold and didn’t want to go anywhere near the kitchen. My husband Jason leaped to my aid and volunteered to make it instead. Result. Marmalade making is just the kind of thing he’s good at too. Any activity with lots of steps, where you need to follow detailed instructions and be a bit measured and scientific – that’s the sort of job he’s good at. And yes, our kitchen resembled a science laboratory while he was at it.

seville orange marmalade

And I can report that the final result was very good indeed. Perhaps the shredded peel was a little on the chunky side for my liking and he possibly boiled the marmalade a little too long, so it ended up rather dark, but a good first effort I’d say.

If you’d like to have a go yourself, you’ll need to move quickly as Seville orange season finishes in late February. Kits are available from Riverford and you’ll also find the recipe on their website. And do watch Guy’s video too. He gives lots of useful tips like…

  1. Make sure your pan is big enough. If the pan is too full, the marmalade will boil over and with all that sugar it’s a complete nightmare to clean off your hob.
  2. When you dissolve the sugar, don’t do it too vigorously, otherwise it all sticks to the bottom and you’ll end up with burned marmalade which tastes hideous.
  3. Don’t boil the marmalade for too long. If you go beyond the setting point, your marmalade will set hard like concrete.

So now we have a cupboard full of marmalade, I’m looking forward to very civilised breakfasts of marmalade on toast with a pot of tea, reading the newspaper. While my children throw their crusts at each other and moan about having to brush their hair before school…

And with some of that marmalade I plan to have a go at this gorgeous looking honey, ginger and marmalade cake recipe from Belleau Kitchen, as well as Riverford’s Seville orange marmalade pudding.

Do you have any other good recipes to share that use marmalade?

seville orange marmalade

Disclosure: Riverford provided me with a complimentary Seville Orange Marmalade Kit for this post. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.

Food shopping: how do you do yours?

trolley1

A few years ago, I would never have thought there’d be a time when I’d find the topic of grocery shopping even remotely interesting, but these days it seems I can talk for hours on the subject.

Food and cooking have become major aspects of my life, which means by default that shopping has too. It’s intriguing to me that people tackle this task so differently. I’m endlessly curious about where people shop for food, when and how often. Do they fill their baskets online or in store? Are they loyal to one of the big supermarkets or do they try instead to support high street independents? How much do people spend, do they plan meals in advance and write shopping lists, or do they purchase on a whim or according to what looks good or is on offer?

I was asked recently by mySupermarket if I’d give their website a whirl to do my grocery shop. I had thought about giving them a try several times over the last year or so but to be honest I’d just never got around to it. I’d fallen into a routine that worked for me, and it was never the right time to try something new. So when I was asked to review what mySupermarket has to offer, I was interested in seeing if it would be enough to make me change my routine, and this seemed like a good excuse to ask others about their shopping routines.

tweet

So I posed a few questions on Twitter the other night. It would appear there are others out there who like talking about shopping as much as me.

Talking shop

Becky at The Ar-Blog does her grocery shop online “every week and a half ish”. She plans all the family’s meals and comes up with a shopping list for ingredients, after checking what they already have in the cupboard. “Plus we always have £5 for treats or posh nosh,” she adds. I do like that.

Laura from Strawberries and Facecream prefers to do her shopping online too, once a week. “Can’t bear taking the toddler to the supermarket!” My sentiments exactly. Laura’s a fan of Ocado where she says “the customer service is second to none and the food is always soopa fresh.” She also tries to meal plan to save money. “I watched some @jamieoliver Save programmes and it really inspired me.”

Likewise Emily from A Mummy Too does her shop online. “I do weekly after food planning and always from Asda as we invest in the regular delivery pass.”

But shopping online isn’t popular with everyone.

Lizzie aka @Mrs_Gaffer likes to do her shop at Tesco, or perhaps Asda if she’s nipping out to pick up extra bits in her lunch hour. She says she “tried online but prefer to choose my own veg etc. Sadly we’re creatures of habit.”

Sian from Fishfingers for Tea always used to do her food shopping online but she now finds “going to Aldi saves us so much money that I struggle to justify doing it online now!” Sian shops once a week with “milk top ups in between.” While most of the groceries comes from Aldi, she doesn’t mind a bit of shopping around, either at the market or places like Home Bargains, when she knows she can get certain things cheaper.

It sounds to me like Sian has got grocery shopping down to something of a fine art. She does her Aldi shop in about 20 minutes and the rest of her shopping takes no more than half an hour across the week. Of course, it probably helps that she produces a meal plan first, which takes around 45 minutes.

And many of us combine online with ‘real’ shopping, like The Ginger Gourmand: “Ocado for store cupboard stuff every 10-14 days. Fishmongers, markets, greengrocer etc at weekend.”

Some people are verging on the regimental when it comes to their shopping…

Ruby aka @RubyKnickers says, “Always Tesco, always online, always delivered on the same day at a similar time.”

While others are a little more laid back or, dare I say, haphazard…

Kirsty from Eeh Bah Mum says, “Ideally: weekly. Realistically: when I need stuff. In all honesty: halfway through cooking it.”

When Michelle from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families took me through her shopping routine, it sounded uncannily similar to mine. “We shop weekly with Asda, we’ve got a delivery pass,” explains Michelle. “I’ve got the menu planning and online shopping down to 1 hour maximum. I always do a stock take first too, so I don’t over-buy and look at our schedule for the week – work, school stuff, meetings etc. I dump stuff in the basket midweek to secure a slot, then amend once I have planned.” Other than the fact I tend to use Ocado or Sainsbury’s, this could be a description of how I do my weekly shop.

We all have our own ways of filling our cupboards and fridges with food, designed around all kinds of individual factors – from work and family to the fact that the shop on the other side of town has an amazing offer on pickled herring or our heads cave in if we are forced to spend more than five minutes in a supermarket with small children. But something that seems to unite most of us is cost. We are all looking to save money and pick up a bargain.

What is mySupermarket?

mysupermarket46_460

The primary aim of the mySupermarket website is to help shoppers save both time and money by comparing prices from all the main supermarkets. There are three main ways people use the site: you can order your basket online, print your basket as a shopping list and take it with you to your local supermarket, or simply use it to compare different supermarket prices online. They’ve also launched a new mobile app, mySuperlist, which gives you another way to ‘shop on the go’.

I don’t really know why I hadn’t thought of trying them before because, when I think about it, the whole concept fits beautifully with how I shop already.

My routine is to do an online shop once a week, quite often with a glass of wine in hand, after first putting together a meal plan (I’m a huge advocate of the meal plan – take a look at my very first blog post), and after checking what supplies we already have in and what we’ve got coming up in the diary.

I tend to switch between Ocado and Sainsbury’s. Why? Well, because I haven’t worked out which is cheaper, and because only Ocado offers certain products we like, while other things I can only get at Sainsbury’s. Ocado, for instance, sells the perfect kabanos sausages for hiding a tablet in to feed to the cat. Don’t ask.

Switch and save

I was vaguely aware that mySupermarket allowed you to compare prices, but I assumed it would only really be helpful for comparing individual items. I didn’t fancy the idea of going to several different stores to get the cheapest deals on different products. It turns out the beauty of mySupermarket is it allows you to do an entire shop, all the while providing a running total of how much your basket would cost at both your chosen store and each of the others available in your area.

screenshot final cost comparison and savings

The price comparison above was from our Christmas shop. I’d never spend this much normally, but it was to last us nearly a fortnight and there were a fair few luxury items in there.

I was worried it would prove difficult learning my way around a new site, but I was pleased to find mySupermarket is extremely easy to use.

I started off by importing all my favourites from my Sainbury’s online account. Discovering I could do this was a huge relief, as I really couldn’t face the idea of starting over again from scratch. I then did my shopping as I usually would; first of all going through the things I needed for the meal plan I’d prepared for the Christmas and New Year period, and then going through my list of favourites for all the usual household items we get through, such as loo paper and washing up liquid.

And all the time, the tally in the right sidebar was showing me the total cost at Sainsbury’s compared with the other stores. I found it quite exciting to see how the totals varied –  the store in ‘first place’ switched frequently between Sainsbury’s and Asda. Ocado (my other usual online store) sat resolutely in bottom position pretty much from the start. The final difference between Sainsbury’s and Asda wasn’t huge, but I was shocked at the difference between Sainsbury’s and Ocado which was almost £30. I’m now not sure if those kabanos sausages are special enough to persuade me to do my entire shop there in future.

Swap and save

The other element I was rather impressed by was the way in which mySupermarket suggests smart swaps and replacements while you shop to help you save even more money – either by trading down or buying more to make a bulk saving.

swap and save

Finding the best deals can take a lot of time and effort when you are shopping online normally, and so I found I used this function quite a bit. There were times though when I didn’t like the cheaper alternatives provided, generally when I was looking at meat for instance and the swap and save items would not be free range. But probably seven times out of ten, I went with the cheaper option and ended up saving a fair whack.

Shopping list

I also liked the shopping list function. Rather than searching for items individually, one after the other, you can simply type in a long list – ideal when you’re going through the ingredients needed for your meal plan or a particular dish, and then mySupermarket searches for them all at once.

screenshot shopping list

Savvy buys

‘Savvy Buys’ is another useful offering from mySupermarket. This brings up any products that are more than 30% off their average price at that store. You’ll never find this kind of information promoted by individual supermarkets. Quite often I discovered they’re not actually promoted by the supermarket as special offers, so they would otherwise be incredibly easy to miss.

screenshot savvy buys

All in all I was extremely impressed with mySupermarket. I successfully saved £34 on my first shop, which is definitely not a sum to be sniffed at. I have since shopped using mySupermarket again; the next time I saved £13 but this was a much smaller shop, and again Sainsbury’s came out cheapest and Ocado most expensive.

The only slight issue I have with mySupermarket is that you must complete your full shop when you book a delivery slot. What I usually do, just like Michelle from Utterly Scrummy above, is to grab the slot I want and bung any old items in the basket to secure it. I then come back nearer to the delivery date, once I’ve prepared my meal plan, to do the shop properly. You can’t do this with mySupermarket at the moment, but when I mentioned this they said they’re aware that many people shop like this and their developers are working on ways to incorporate this functionality in the future. So that sounds promising.

I plan on sticking with mySupermarket for my weekly online shop. It turns out that what they have to offer is enough to make me change my usual routine, but to be honest that really isn’t a massive change as it fits so neatly. I genuinely look forward to using mySupermarket so that I can continue to find the best deals easily and saving lots of lovely dosh.

Have you used mySupermarket? Has it saved you money on your grocery shopping?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. mySupermarket paid £50 towards my first shop using their website in return for a review. All views expressed are completely my own and are 100% honest.

Thumbs up for…

decorations

With only nine sleeps until the big day, it’s feeling ever so Christmassy here at Banger Heights. The decorations are up, I’ve shed a tear watching my youngest in the school nativity play and I’m enjoying choir rehearsals for the staff carol service in Wells Cathedral later this week – although I might need to mime the bit when I’m supposed to hit a high G.

And so, this month’s Thumbs Up brings you some top recommendations for last-minute festive foodie gifts, nibbles, treats and ingredients…

Hotel Chocolat Collage

Hotel Chocolat – The Signature Christmas Collection

When you receive a box of chocolates from Hotel Chocolat you expect something special and this luxury Christmas collection did not disappoint. As well as looking visually stunning, the flavour combinations are surprising and masterful; flavours that mustn’t be rushed but savoured slowly. If it takes a few days for my husband and me to consume a box of chocolates, that’s a good sign. We can only stuff our faces with cheap chocolate! And at £25 this is a fairly expensive box of chocolates, but if you’ve got the budget I’d say it’s well worth it.

My personal favourites were the dark chocolate Christmas Stars with rich marzipan infused with orange liqueur, the Nutmeg and Almond Pralines, the Mulled Ports bringing together port, bitter orange and spices, and the delicately perfumey Pistachio Praline Crunch with its hint of rose. Just beautiful. More please!

heston blumenthall chocolate box

Heston from Waitrose – Chocolate Box

More delicious chocolates, this time from Heston Blumenthal’s range for Waitrose. Heston’s Chocolate Box is also full of exciting and unusual flavour combinations, but at £10 is a little more affordable. I adored the Thyme and Rosemary chocolates and the BFGs were rather fun too – transforming the classic 1970s gateaux into chocolate form.

Waitrose have hidden a special ticket in five of Heston’s Chocolate Boxes, and five lucky winners and their guests will be invited to join him for an unforgettable food experience. A sixth ticket is also up for grabs on the Waitrose Facebook page.

meaningful chocolate tree decorations

Meaningful Chocolate Tree Decorations

My children were rather taken with these chocolate tree decorations from the Meaningful Chocolate Company. The box contains five Fairtrade chocolates onto which you place five illustrated stickers, as well as a copy of the Christmas story. The idea is you read the story as you hang your decorations on the tree. A donation from every sale goes to the charity Traidcraft. A lovely concept and the chocolate is good too.

Wonderful Pisachios Almonds

Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Almonds

These Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Almonds are extremely good and perfect nibbles for festive get-togethers. In a range of delicious flavours, they are very, very moreish and pretty healthy too, as they are dry roasted without any extra oil. The salted almonds were just divine, while my husband and I practically inhaled the sweet chilli pistachios in a single sitting!

heston blumenthall mince pie

Heston from Waitrose – Spiced Shortcrust Mince Pies

There’s only one word for these bad boys – yum! I know we should really be making our own mince pies this Christmas, as they are stupidly easy, but if you want to spoil yourself, these pies from Heston Blumenthal’s range for Waitrose are very good. The pastry is deliciously light, short and crisp and the mincemeat is rich and beautifully spiced but not overly sweet like so many other shop-bought mince pies.

hellmans colmans Collage

Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Colman’s Sauces

Unilever Kitchen sent me a range of products to try – perfect accompaniments to the Christmas meal itself and for the best bits, the leftovers. I’m rather partial to Hellman’s mayonnaise, but I’ve never tried any of their other flavoured mayonnaises. To be honest, they’ve never really appealed but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve tried so far.

The other day my children had their Christmas lunch at school, and so that my husband and I weren’t left out, I made us turkey sandwiches at home. I squeezed lots of the mayo with a ‘hint of lemon’ on mine (as well as a good dollop of Colman’s cranberry sauce), and it was absolutely scrummy. My husband tried the garlic mayonnaise on his sandwich, and devoured it in seconds. We also tried the garlic mayonnaise in jacket potatoes later that evening, which were very tasty, and I imagine it would be perfect with chips too. Since my first trip to Amsterdam as a kid I’ve had a thing for chips with garlic mayo.

As well as making a classic mint sauce, I can also recommend the Colman’s mint concentrate as a cooking ingredient. I rubbed it all over a shoulder of lamb before slow roasting it for an Ottolenghi-inspired dish at the weekend (recipe coming soon), which worked very well. I imagine the mint concentrate would be perfect in a dressing for a Greek salad too.

port and cheese

Aldi cheese and wine pairing

Aldi has recently teamed up with Master of Wine Sarah Jane Evans to create some Christmas drinks and cheese matches, perfect for entertaining this festive season. They sent me this Fletcher’s Fine Ruby Port NV to sample, along with a truckle of Wensleydale cheese. Sarah Jane Evans says: “Ruby Port is a great partner for Wensleydale with cranberries: the Port matches the colour of the fruit, and brings a round softness to the creamy crumbly cheese.”

Fletcher’s Fine Ruby Port is a fairly light, easy drinking port, which I’d say is perfect for dinner parties when you don’t want to end on anything too heavy. The Wensleydale has a soft, creamy tanginess with lovely fruity bursts. So each get a thumbs up from me individually. But in my opinion, I don’t think they actually go all that well together. I’d say the port would work much better with a mature Cheddar or a good salty blue cheese. And the Wensleydale needs a dry, crisp white wine. But that’s only me, and I’m no wine expert!

thai green Collage

Kent’s Kitchen – Thai Green Stir In Flavor Shots

Finally, if you’re looking for quick and easy ways to transform turkey leftovers, I recommend you have some of these Thai Green Flavour Shots in your store cupboard. Containing all natural ingredients, these little gel concentrates add an authentic flavour kick to your meat and vegetables; I’ve used them in a butternut squash and spinach curry, as well as a chicken Thai green curry. They can also be used with rice, salad, couscous, jacket potatoes or in wrap.

The Flavour Shots are available exclusively from Ocado. Other flavours are available, although I haven’t tried these out yet: BBQ, Hot & Spicy, Fajita, and Garlic & Coriander. If you’ve tried any of the others, do let me know what you think.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Hotel Chocolat’s Signature Christmas Collection, Heston from Waitrose’s  Chocolate Box and Spiced Shortcrust Mince Pies, Wonderful Almonds, Wonderful Pistachios, Hellman’s mayonnaise and Colman’s sauces and the Aldi cheese and wine pairing for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thumbs up for…

Here’s a round-up of some of the tasty titbits I’ve been sent recently and marvellous morsels I’ve discovered for myself.

Mr Trotters Collage

Mr Trotter’s Great British Pork Crackling

I’m prone to tutting when we’re down our local and my husband buys a bag of pork scratchings. While I might surreptitiously steal one or two, they’re not usually the most pleasant experience – unless munching on deep-fried hunks of grease is your thing. However the pork crackling from Mr Trotter’s is in quite a different league and unlike anything you’d find on offer in your average pub.

Mr Trotter’s ‘revolutionary’ British pork snack was the brainchild of food writer Tom Parker Bowles, Great British Menu judge Matthew Fort, and Cotswold farmer Rupert Ponsonby. Unlike most scratchings made from imported Danish rind, it is cooked from 100% British pork, and uses no added MSG. Mr Trotter’s are triple-cooked for a fantastic crunch, and seasoned with natural yeast and sea salt. The Original variety is pretty good, but it’s the Jalapeno Chilli version that really floated my boat and I reckon it’s the perfect accompaniment to a pint of lager. Not too greasy, they’re light and crunchy, and very, very tasty. Not the healthiest snack in the world either but ruddy lovely nonetheless.

Gran Luchito Honey

gran luchito honey

You might have gathered I’m something of a chilli-head and so I was rather intrigued and quite excited to discover this pot of Gran Luchito Honey flavoured with smoked Mexican chillies in my latest recipe box from Kitchen Nomad.

I only had a small pot and all of it was used in a Chilli Honey Crumble, which was absolutely delicious, but I do wish I had some more as I think it would be wonderful simply spread on hot buttered toast. Fellow blogger Kelly Anderson mentioned recently on Instagram that she likes hers “drizzled over chocolate croissants” and I can imagine that working too.

It has a heavenly smoky sweet flavour, spiked with occasional bursts of intense chilli heat.

I must get my hands on more of this stuff. And soon.

Tomato Paste Collage

Olive Branch – Sun Dried Tomato Paste

I received a pot of this sun dried tomato paste from Olive Branch in my goody bag at Food Bloggers Connect back in the summer. Featuring sun dried tomatoes mixed with garlic, fresh basil and oregano, the paste packs a tasty punch and is bursting with flavour. We’ve been enjoying it smeared on bruschetta and it’s the perfect way to create a simple pasta bake, with the addition of black olives and mozzarella, for a quick and easy supper.

French’s & Frank’s RedHot recipe books

franks

While I’ve yet to buy a single Christmas present (and I plan to spend as little as I can this year by making as many gifts as possible), I think these neat little cookbooks would make fun stocking fillers for the fellow foodie in your life.

I haven’t tried the BBQ sauce, but I am rather partial to Frank’s RedHot sauce and, although French’s Classic Yellow Mustard isn’t a patch on our own very fine English mustard, it is a must when you’re enjoying American-style hot dogs.

Available from newsagents and most supermarkets, these pocket-sized cookbooks are just £2.99 each and provide a wide range of recipe ideas based on these three sauce brands. The recipes are pretty simple and while they won’t revolutionise your cooking, there are some good ideas for spicing up everyday meals. In particular I’m looking forward to trying Frank’s spicy cheese toasts and French’s easy peasy ribs.

Cool Chile Co – Diced Chile Ancho

Cool chile co - chile ancho

I think I might be addicted to this ancho chilli from the Cool Chile Co. It is a fairly mild chilli but one that gives a full-flavoured, smoky and fruity intensity to your Mexican dishes.

Apparently it’s an indispensable ingredient in Mole Poblano (a rich chilli, nut and cocoa sauce), although I’ve been using it in black bean soup and rajas tacos, two more recipes from this month’s Mexican Kitchen Nomad box.

But to be honest I think I could eat practically any dish if it comes with a handful of toasted ancho chillies sprinkled on top!

Disclosure: I was sent Mr Trotter’s Great British Pork Crackling and French’s & Frank’s Red Hot recipe books for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Wells Food Festival in pictures

wells food festivalFinally, after weeks of my banging on about it on the blog, the Wells Food Festival took place last Sunday, and what a fantastic event it was too. Despite the miserable weather, the crowds descended on England’s smallest city in their droves. And what a great array of wonderful regional food and drink there was on offer; I was like a pig in mud. Shame we’re so blinking broke at the moment, otherwise I’d probably have purchased something from every single stall. Although that’s possibly a good thing for the waistline.

Here’s the event in pictures. Words will follow later in the week when I’ll be reporting on the cake competition and vintage tea party…

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wells food festival

Matthew Fort was checking at the Lievito Bakery stall just before I took this shot. Pity I didn’t get him in too, but I have a silly tendency to go super shy around famous people.

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wells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalFiona Cairns at the Vintage Tea Party in the Fountain Inn, giving a talk about the making of the Royal Wedding Cake.

wells food festival

wells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalwells food festivalFashion designer Pearl Lowe, the host of the Vintage Tea Party.

wells food festival