Review: Flavour Box

I was rather excited to have a Flavour Box delivered the other week. It’s always fun to receive parcels by post, and even more so when they contain food – and artisan food at that.

Flavourly

Flavourly provides a monthly food subscription service costing £20. Their customers receive a monthly Flavour Box packed full of delicious, independently produced, artisan food products sourced from all parts of the UK. It costs less if you sign up for three or six months at a time.

According to Flavourly’s founder, Ryan O’Rorke, the company works closely with many niche producers and by featuring their products in the Flavour Box they provide them with a solid marketing channel, getting their foods directly into the hands of foodies, small shop owners and market traders. What’s more, for every Flavour Box bought, Flavourly donates a meal to some of the 250 food banks throughout the UK through the FareShare community food charity.

It sounded like a great concept to me. The idea of a surprise box of tasty foodie delights arriving each month certainly appeals and it could be a good way of discovering interesting new artisan products and producers. So of course I was up for receiving a box to try out.

In our sample box we received:

  • Cambrook Caramelized Almond and Blueberry Bar
  • Cambrook Sesame Peanuts
  • Trotter’s Mostarda
  • Bath Pig Well Hung Chorizo
  • Corn Again Chilli and Lime Popcorn
  • Cochrane Cottage Lime Salad Drizzle.

It was quite a novelty opening a delivery of food and having absolutely no idea what was in there. As you probably know, I’m a big advocate of meal planning and so pretty much everything we buy and eat has been planned with almost military precision. I won’t go into detail here about why I plan meals so carefully – suffice to say it saves us lots of money by doing so and you can read more here in my very first blog post. And so opening and going through the Flavour Box felt rather exciting and very indulgent.

Pretty much everything in the box got a thumbs up from my family.

FlavourlyCollageThe sesame peanuts from Cambrook were a particular favourite with both me and my youngest daughter. We devoured the packet between us in one sitting, although my husband and oldest thought they were a bit too sweet and could clearly take them or leave them. The children unfortunately didn’t get a look in on the scrumptious chilli and lime flavoured popcorn from Corn Again. The idea of chilli as a popcorn flavouring appealed but I wasn’t too sure about the lime, but it absolutely worked, giving a fresh zingy taste with a good chilli kick that grows gradually. My husband and I polished off the packet in no time, washed down with a cold bottle of beer when the kids were in bed. Lovely. We did leave them the almond and blueberry bar, again from Cambrook, which they thoroughly enjoyed as a snack while we watched the monkeys at Longleat during the Easter holidays.

Another favourite of mine is the Trotter’s Mostarda, a divine compote of fig, apricot, apple, prune and mustard seed. I am rapidly working my way through the jar, enjoying the contents whenever I eat cheese or cold meats. The Cochrane Cottage Lime Salad Drizzle is very good. It’s fresh and spicy and, at only six calories per serving, is proving a bit of God’s send on 5:2 diet days.

The Bath Pig is the only brand of all those featured in the box I was already familiar with. We tried the chorizo as part of a spread with other cold meats but it wasn’t all that popular. We all agreed it tasted much better cooked when I used it in a simple dish recently of Jerusalem artichokes with a chorizo breadcrumb topping. I love the way the chorizo turned the breadcrumbs bright orange!

jerusalem artichoke with chorizo

So all in all, the individual contents of the Flavour Box were extremely well received in the Bangers & Mash household. But the big question remains as to whether we’d ever consider signing up for the subscription service ourselves.

While I really like the concept and probably would have signed up like a shot say ten years ago, before we had children, I probably wouldn’t these days. We’re on an extremely tight budget and although I love the surprise element, I need to carefully plan how we spend our food budget and so a monthly box like this just wouldn’t work.

But for anyone in the fortunate position not to have to worry so much about their finances, I would highly recommend the Flavour Box as a fun and tasty way to have delicious and interesting new foods delivered to your doorstep. I’d also be  interested if Flavourly ever introduce the option to send a Flavour Box as a gift, and I’d be dropping very unsubtle hints to friends and relatives about the existence of such a service!

Try a Flavour Box yourself with a £10 discount code

Flavourly is giving Bangers & Mash readers the chance to test drive a Flavour Box themselves by offering them £10 of their first box. Simply use the redemption code FLAVOURLY10 at their website checkout.

Disclosure: Flavourly sent me a complimentary Flavour Box  for review purposes. No money exchanged hands.

March’s Recipes for Life challenge: what can you do with beetroot, carrot and cheese?

Take part in the Recipes for Life food bloggers challenge for your chance to see your recipe featured in a new charity cookbook!

With such a great response to the first Recipes for Life challenge, I really can’t wait to see what dishes come in this month.

Your mission for March – should you choose to accept it – is to show us what tasty and tempting dishes you can create using beetroot, carrot and cheese.

As you’ll recall from last month, this challenge is run in conjunction with a fantastic charity called SWALLOW, which supports adults with learning disabilities to lead more independent lives. SWALLOW is looking for new recipes for its members to make in their cookery lessons, and ultimately to include in its new cookbook coming out later this year. Therefore it’s important entries to Recipes for Life focus as much as possible on the three key ingredients and aren’t too complicated to make.

This month your dishes featuring beetroot, carrot and cheese can be either savoury or sweet, raw or cooked and you can use any kind of soft or hard cheese you like, just so long as it’s widely available.

Recipes for Life: how to enter

  1. Display the Recipes for Life badge (shown above) on your recipe post, and link back to this challenge post.
  2. You may enter as many recipe links as you like, so long as they are based on the three main ingredients selected for this month and accompanied only by basic store cupboard items.
  3. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Tuesday 26 March 2013.
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #recipesforlife, @BangerMashChat and @SWALLOWcharity in your tweet and we will retweet each one we see.
  5. Feel free to republish old recipe posts, but please add the information about this challenge and the Recipes for Life badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. SWALLOW staff and members will choose their favourite recipe at the end of each month, and the winner will receive a small prize.
  8. A selection of recipes entered each month will be featured in the SWALLOW cookbook to be published later this year, helping the charity to raise much needed funds for its ongoing work.

Any questions, please feel free to email or tweet me and best of luck with your dishes!

March’s entries

  1. Carrot and Beetroot Soup with Cheesy Croutons from The Garden Deli
  2. Beetroot and Carrot Pancakes with Herby Mascarpone from Bangers & Mash
  3. Roasted Roots and an Easy Roasted Roots Pizza from Chez Foti
  4. Baked Cheesy Meatballs with Beetroot Sauce from The Crazy Kitchen
  5. Roasted Vegetable and Goat’s Cheese Risotto from Under The Blue Gum Tree
  6. Two-of-your-five-a-day Chocolate Cake from The Crazy Kitchen
  7. Beetroot, Carrot and Cottage Cheese Salad from The Crazy Kitchen
  8. Beetroot, Carrot and Goat’s Cheese Tatin from Martin at The Tempest Arms
  9. Beetroot, Carrot and Goat’s Cheese Muffins from Chocolate Log Blog
  10. Beetroot, Carrot and Feta Cheese Salad from Bangers & Mash
  11. Carrot and beetroot cake with a cream cheese topping from Lucy at The Bell Inn

Guests for dinner

I’ve had the honour of being asked to write guest posts for a number of other food blogs recently. So I thought you might like to see what I’ve been up to and to take a look around their excellent blogs at the same time.

At the end of October, the insanely talented Thinly Spread featured my Thyme for Soup guest post. I shared a car with Chris from Thinly Spread to get to the MAD Blog Awards in September, and I used those hours to pick her poor brain raw on anything and everything about blogging. If there’s anything you want to know about blogging, Chris is your woman!

I love Thinly Spread. It’s a lovely collection of delicious vegetarian recipes the whole family will love, ingenious arts and craft activities, as well as gardening projects and advice, all of which Chris posts when she’s not got her hands full with her four gorgeous children.

Last month my Simple Fish Pie was featured on a fabulous family food blog I’ve only recently discovered called The Good Stuff.

The Good Stuff is written by two dads, Matt and Corpy, who like me live in the wonderful West Country. The blog charts their cooking adventures with their young kids, which they describe as a “swap shop for new parents with a passion for good, healthy food” – the blog that is, not their kids!

And finally, my Cooking with the Kids post was one of the first to feature on the new Appliances Online blog, which aims to build a community of people interested in all things interior, crafty, family orientated, foodie and  fun. In this post I give some tips on how to involve your children in the kitchen so that you hopefully don’t lose your mind in the process, as cooking with children can sometimes be a rather stressful affair! Or is that just me and my kids?

So there you go. I’ll be back soon with a recipe on my own blog and in the meantime, if you’re on Facebook, perhaps you might want to head over to my new(ish) page for Bangers & Mash? See you soon!

Sausage, cranberry and apple plait

Here is another entry for Action for Children’s Festive Food for a Fiver contest – my very easy sausage, cranberry and apple plait. Costing around £5.70 to make and feeding a family of six, this tasty dish works out at only 95p a head; even less if you were to make your own pastry from scratch.

The charity Action for Children is asking people to support their emergency appeal: No child should wish for food this Christmas.

As more families are finding it increasingly difficult to put regular meals on the table, they’d like people to put their creativity to work for a good cause and learn new cooking and money management skills from others, by sharing frugal recipes ideas (less than £1.25 a head) on Facebook and Twitter. The two best recipes will be rewarded with a lovely family cookbook, full of many useful tips, kindly provided by Giraffe Restaurant.

Visit the Action for Children website for more details on how you can get involved.

Sausage, cranberry and apple plait

Filled with sausage meat, this plait is essentially a big, posh sausage roll but much yummier. The cranberries and apple provide those lovely festive flavours. You can also do a sweet version by switching the sausage for marzipan or maybe mincemeat.

4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
knob of butter
50g dried cranberries
320g ready rolled puff pastry
6 pork sausages
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 190°C / gas mark 5.

Put the apples in a saucepan with the knob of butter and cook gently until they begin to soften. Stir in the cranberries and cook for a few minutes. Then leave to cool.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment and lay the puff pastry on top.

Slice open the sausage skins and squeeze out the sausage meat down the centre of the puff pastry. Top with the cooled apple and cranberry mixture. With a sharp knife, cut stripes almost from the filling out to the edge.

Brush some beaten egg onto the pastry and then carefully fold in alternate sides of the pastry to overlap on top of the filling.

Keep going until the filling is covered. Fold over the pastry at the top and the bottom. You may need to trim of some excess pastry if it looks a little too bulky.

Brush the pastry with more egg. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is cooked through.

Carefully slice the sausage plait and serve with a simple salad. Delicious!

Birthday bangers

This time last year I had absolutely no idea what I was about to launch myself head first into.

Yes, it’s a year ago to the very day that I summoned the courage to hit the Publish button for the first time and with it created Bangers & Mash, complete with hand drawn pictures and dubious photography. (I do cringe a little when I look back at those early food shots.)

So I would like to take this opportunity to wish Bangers & Mash a very happy first birthday! I hope you like my little cake in honour of the occasion.

In my first post, I attempted to justify why we need another food blog? If you’re interested, and I haven’t already bored you senseless on the subject, you’ll find this post lays out my ethos of cooking wholesome, family food using good quality, seasonal ingredients, without it costing you a fortune. I also talk at length, as I am prone to do in a verging on obsessive way about meal planning, particularly how it has helped dramatically reduce our shopping bills and food waste and encouraged us to eat a much more varied, healthy and adventurous diet.

The first recipe I posted on Bangers & Mash wasn’t actually one of mine. It was my husband’s fabulous carrot cake. But in a way, that’s very appropriate, as I hadn’t a clue about cooking until I moved in with my other half. It’s funny to think back to my early 20s when I had no idea how to cook anything really and no inclination to really bother. How things change!

While I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a fully fledged food blogger quite yet, I do believe I have come a long way over the last 12 months.

My recipes and photography are improving all the time. The main reason for that is the feedback and support I get from friends and family, but perhaps most importantly other bloggers. That’s what has surprised and impressed me most – the support network provided by the enormous blogging community out there, through both our blogs and Twitter (a platform I avoided like the plague for quite a long time).

When I started out, I pictured blogging as a rather solitary pastime, sitting alone at a PC and broadcasting thoughts and ideas to an invisible audience. But what I’ve discovered I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction and conversation. I didn’t realise just how much I would learn from others as a result of writing a blog.

But that’s enough of that. The children will be getting up soon – as usual, I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning when the house is still and quiet – and my day must start properly. I’ll be back soon with my latest concoction. And I look forward to hearing about yours!

Around the world in six suppers

… my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them…

If I’m honest, the idea of a ‘staycation’ has never appealed much to me. For a holiday to be a proper holiday you really need to get away from it all, don’t you?

I adore exploring new destinations as well as returning to much loved haunts; sampling the local cuisine, relaxing by a pool with a good book or acting like a Japanese tourist and fitting in as many sights as I can in a single day.

On holiday in France with Jess and Mia

Admittedly, holidays have changed quite a bit since having children. We’ve been forced to slow down and plan ahead much more carefully.

I remember our first holiday abroad with Jessie when she was just learning to walk. With another couple and their young daughter we rented a beautiful villa in Tuscany. It would have been amazing, if it hadn’t been for the unfenced pool and marble staircases and sheer drop down what seemed like a mini cliff face at the bottom of the garden, oh and all the prickly rose bushes scattered around the stunning garden. Nansi and I were having near heart attacks every five minutes as our plucky girls explored and stumbled their way around the place. Not a relaxing holiday. But a massive lesson learned on the need to check out how family-friendly your holiday accommodation will be.

Sadly it looks increasingly likely we won’t be having a family holiday this year. My husband has quit his job and is retraining in IT, and I’m freelancing part-time on a couple of projects but the income is very up-and-down. And we’ve just been stung by some rather steep vets’ bills. So a staycation it might just have to be.

But I’m not going to let that get me down. Oh no, not me. So while I might read about other’s plans to fly off to far-flung foreign destinations, I won’t get jealous. We live in lovely Somerset after all. There’s so much to do right here on our doorstep, isn’t there? How many tourists flock to this part of the world every year to get away from it all, and here we are already!

And if I can’t go off to see the world this year, well I’ll just have to bring the world to our corner of Somerset.

Over the six weeks of the school holidays, my big plan is to cook six meals inspired by some of my favourite holiday destinations from years gone by, and share those recipes with you here on the blog. I have some ideas already for dishes I’d like to cook, but if  you have any suggestions for recipes I should try I would love to hear them. Even better if they appear on your blog as then I can easily link up with them too.

In no particular order, the places I’ll be visiting on my culinary world tour are:

Barcelona: when I went inter-railing with my best friend Ruth after our A-levels, this had to be my favourite city. The food, the beer, the Gaudi, the boys…

New York: I have very fond memories of visiting New York with my Mum and sister Elly when I was about 12 years old. I remember Mum bartering with a bloke on a street corner selling bangles and an Italian waiter chasing us down the street as we hadn’t left a tip!

Northumberland: I spent some of my childhood just outside Newcastle and enjoyed many an idyllic day out playing on the beautiful beaches, visiting the spooky castles and wandering along Hadrian’s Wall. I can’t wait to take my husband and children there sometime soon.

Penang: My Mum was born on the Malaysian island of Penang and I think it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And the food isn’t bad either!

Rio de Janeiro: one of my jammiest PR jollies ever was to take a group of journalists to Brazil for a tour of an aircraft factory. The tour lasted half a day but we had to stay a week because of flight availability. What a shame! We had a fantastic time in Rio and Sao Paulo and I’m desperate to get back there again one day.

Mystery destination: I haven’t quite decided on my final destination. I’ve been considering Turkey and Italy, or perhaps Bordeaux or Greece. Or how about Norway or Sweden? I’ve had wonderful times in each of these countries but whose food should I try to recreate in the final week of my staycation? Please let me know where you think I should head to!

Food Glorious Food!

This pretty much sums up how I feel about food…

Oliver! is one of my all-time favourite films. I love musicals almost as much as I love food. I’ve always wanted to be in one, but it doesn’t really help that I can’t sing or dance.

But now my seven-year-old daughter Jessie is learning lots of the songs from Oliver! in her Musical Youth club. So this song is heard a lot in the Bangers & Mash house at the moment. Very tuneful, I’m sure…

Anyway, thought I’d share it with you – enjoy! And do sing along!

The art of shopping

How do you shop? Until recently I’d never given the way I shop for food and groceries a second thought. I never thought there might be different ways to shop, or any skill involved.

Shopping had always simply been one of those necessary chores I had to do on a frequent albeit ad hoc basis, whenever the fridge and cupboards started looking a bit empty.

Ever since leaving home at the age of 18 for university, I’ve shopped when I thought I needed to and bought what I thought I needed, generally the same items every time.

Perhaps it’s because I’d never been shown how to cook or shop. I rarely went food shopping with my parents and I never showed much interest in what was happening in the kitchen. Do we need to be shown? Did your parents teach you these things? Or I am simply trying to blame others for my inadequacies? Is shopping really a matter of common sense?

Well, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my husband and I had to cut our budgets last year. Analysing our bank statements, we realised that this ‘finger in the air’ approach had resulted in massive over-spending, a hideous amount of food waste, and – what probably upsets me most – fairly mediocre meals.

When it finally dawned on me that a little simple planning each week would make life easier, it felt like a huge revelation. Silly isn’t it? I’m feeling quite foolish as I write this. It’s all so blindingly obvious when you think about it.

But when you’re rushing around in your twenties balancing work and a hectic social life, and then in your thirties balancing work and an even more hectic family life (with a bit of social life squeezed in when you can), you don’t really step back and think about how you do things. You just do. Or at least that was my problem anyway.

So the glaringly simple solution is to work out first what you’re going to eat and then you shop only for what you need. Easy, eh? Well maybe not. So many of my friends have been fascinated by my meal plans, curious about how I create them and intrigued about how long I’ll be able to keep it up for. Although I’ve come across many people out in the webisphere who make meal plans, I’m the only one out of all the people I actually know who does this.

The meal plan takes pride of place on our fridge

I don’t want to be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs. So if all this is too basic, I really won’t be offended if you quit here. But in case you are interested here is what I do…

My Sunday night ritual

Every Sunday evening, once the children are in bed, I sit down at my computer with a glass of wine and work out our family meals for the week ahead. I found it quite hard work at first. I’d much rather be sat on the sofa watching telly but I now rather enjoy surrounding myself with recipe books and checking out different blogs and websites to get ideas.

Supermarkets

I order the bulk of my week’s groceries online from one of the big supermarket chains. While of course I’d prefer to buy all our food from local shops and markets, the simple truth is that a) as a working mum I don’t have the time and b) I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

The beauty of shopping online is that I avoid actually having to step foot into a supermarket. They are not my favourite places. Although the real advantage of shopping online is avoiding temptation. Whenever I go into a supermarket, I always come out with more than I intended.

Veg boxes and butchers

But I don’t buy everything from the supermarket. I also get a weekly organic vegetable box delivered the same day as my supermarket shop and I buy most of our meat from the local butcher or farm shop, while fish comes from the Saturday market.

I might not have a massive budget but I like to eat good food. In my opinion organic vegetables taste so much better and are worth paying a bit more for, while meat from supermarkets very rarely compares with the local meat your butcher can supply. When you plan your meals carefully, you find you can afford to use good ingredients because you are wasting so much less.  And it’s worth eating meat less often in order to be able to eat better, tastier meat. Since shopping this way, I have succeeded in halving the amount I spend on groceries.

So on a Sunday evening, I’ll check to see what veggies will be included in our veg box and I’ll look at the family calendar to see when we’re busy and need easy meals and when we’re home so can spend more time in the kitchen. And our menu materializes magically from there.

Some days will see us feasting like kings on big roast dinners, while on others we’re eating beans on toast like paupers. It’s all about balance and moderation.

Once I’ve worked out our meal plan, I then get online and do the supermarket shop, highlighting in the diary what meat or fish I need to pick up during the week, preferably on days when I’m already out and about.

All in all, this will probably take me about two hours each Sunday evening. This might sound like quite a long a time but it really saves so much time and hassle later in the week.

There you have it. That’s how I shop. Now back to my original question. How do you shop? I’d love to compare notes.

PS I’m about to start posting my weekly meal plans – so watch this space!

What’s in my fridge?

This blog is in response to the question posed by Charlotte in her Kitchen Diary earlier in the week.

Just like Charlotte I’m always fascinated by what other people have in their fridges and cupboards. What luxuries do people enjoy? When do people buy own brand? What are their guilty pleasures?

And visitors to my home always seem to like a peak in ours too. So here are the contents of our fridge as of this morning:

It’s looking pretty well stocked at the moment. On Tuesdays we get our weekly veg box and supermarket delivery so there are still lots of goodies in there. By next Monday it’ll be looking rather more sparse. And come the weekend there will rather more alcohol in there too.

But in general, you’ll always find in our fridge:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • cheese (lots and lots)
  • fruit juice (the children get through gallons of the stuff)
  • salad and vegetables
  • pickles and chutnies
  • ham
  • olives
  • hummus
  • leftovers

So there you have it. And now I’ll pass the question on. What’s in your fridge?

Why another food blog?

Earlier this year I realised I had to make some serious changes to how I shop for food and cook for my family.

My husband had changed jobs and starting a new career in a primary school, while I was in the process of cutting my work hours to spend more time with our children. Our monthly income had taken a severe nosedive.

One evening we sat down to work out where we could reduce our outgoings. We were shocked, nay disgusted, at how much we’d been spending on groceries. I’d always thought I was pretty organised with our food shopping, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What made it worse was how blissfully ignorant we were of what a hash we’d been making of things.

On top of the fortnightly deliveries from Sainsbury’s Online, our bank statements told a sorry tale of frequent pops to the local corner shop to top up on things we’d run out of (and of course those emergency bottles of wine required after stressful days) and buying impulse items at markets and farm shops, doing our bit to support local producers naturally.

Despite spending an astronomic amount on food and drink, it occurred to us that we hadn’t really been eating well for our money. All too often we’d go to our (full) fridge but be lost for what to cook for supper. None of the lovely ingredients would quite add up to a meal. So we’d end up resorting to a basic staple (like spaghetti with sauce) or, I’m sorry to say, ordering a takeaway.

Then there’s the food waste. The amount going in the food bin each week as a result of this haphazard approach to food shopping was shameful.

Now I know it’s not rocket science but when the idea of a weekly meal plan occurred to me it felt like a major revelation. My Nana and mother-in-law think I’m hilarious because this is how they always cooked for their families; simply sitting down once a week to decide on meals for the coming week and then shopping accordingly.

These days it’s not how most of us shop or eat. Not the people I know anyway. We decide what we fancy on the day, which means eating out lots, shopping every day or having a fridge full of ‘just in case’ ingredients that end up rotting to a squishy pulp somewhere at the back.

Because life is hectic we think we don’t have time to plan ahead. But I’ve learned over the last few months that spending an hour or so on a Sunday evening planning meals saves so much time later in the week. There are far fewer trips to the corner shop and I love having the freezer stocked with meals for those days when I know I’m going to be too busy to cook, never mind even think about food.

As well as massively reducing the amount of food getting chucked out and slashing our food bills by about half, the simple act of planning our meals has also led to us eating a much more varied, interesting and health diet.

Because I’ve been raving about the benefits of meal planning to anyone who’ll listen, friends have suggested I start a blog to share my experiences. So here it is. Notes from my kitchen for anyone like me trying to feed their family good, tasty, wholesome food on a limited budget, without compromising on quality of ingredients.

So watch this space for recipe suggestions, weekly meal plans and ways to save money as well as details of my culinary successes and failures. I just want to share what works for me and my family in case any of it’s useful, and I’d love to hear from you on what works for you and yours!