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.

Virgin Bloody Mary soup – a recipe for Live Below the Line

virgin bloody mary soup

When Save the Children first invited me to contribute some frugal recipes for the Live Below the Line challenge, I knew immediately I had to get involved. Trying to eat good food on a budget is what I’m all about after all. But as soon as I started pulling together possible recipe ideas, it dawned on me this was going to be really rather difficult.

People taking part in Live Below the Line are getting sponsored to live below the poverty line on a measly £1 a day for five days from Monday 29 April to Friday 3 May. That’s just £1 for all their food and drink. No foraging or gifts allowed. £1 wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee in your average cafe. It’s harsh, but it’s also the reality 1.4 billion people around the world wake up to each and every day.

Everyone taking part in Live Below the Line for Save the Children will be doing their bit to raise awareness of the plight of people facing extreme food poverty, while raising vital funds to help change the lives of vulnerable children everywhere.

Save the Children has challenged food bloggers to devise dishes that cost less than 40p to make from scratch. Every single ingredient has to be costed; every grind of salt and every splash of oil.

As I was thinking up ideas, it quickly became painfully clear just how difficult it is to eat well on such a low budget. Fresh vegetables and meat are practically out of reach, making tinned and frozen foods so much more attractive. While sliced, white bread might offer virtually no nutritional value, it does has the advantage of being cheap, and fills you up for a short time at least.

If you’re going to try to eat anything vaguely tasty or interesting while on the Live Below the Line challenge, as opposed to surviving solely on beans on toast, it pays to cook in bulk to get your money’s worth. Team up with others as it’s pretty much impossible to cook cheaply for one. And plan your meals. For instance, to get the cheapest onions you need to buy a big bag of them. So then you need to plan a whole list of meals to make sure you get your money’s worth. That’s why the three dishes I’ve come up with for Live Below the Line all revolve around onions, oil, garlic and spices to make sure I made the most of them.

Coming in at just under 34p a serving, the first of my dishes is a spicy tomato and red pepper soup, flavoured with celery, Worcester sauce and hot pepper sauce rather like a Bloody Mary, but alas without the Vodka. You really couldn’t sneak that in on this budget! I did intend to use Tabasco but found I couldn’t afford that either, so had to find a cheaper alternative. The soup is served with crispy garlic croutons, which I reckon is a pretty good use of cheap white bread, and helps bulk it out.

virgin bloody mary soup

Virgin Bloody Mary soup with garlic croutons

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil (15ml)
ASDA sunflower oil £3 for 3 litres = 1.5p

1 onion, chopped (around 100g)
ASDA Smartprice brown onions £1.16 for 2kg = 5.8p

1 celery stick, sliced (around 35g)
ASDA celery sticks £1 for 350g = 10p

1 red pepper, chopped
ASDA red pepper = 40p

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
ASDA Smartprice chopped tomatoes 400g = 31p

500ml vegetable stock (made from one stock cube)
ASDA Chosen By You vegetable stock cubes 12 for 78p = 6.5p

Dash Worcester sauce (5ml)
ASDA Lea & Perrins £2.16 for 290ml = 3.72p

Dash hot pepper sauce (5ml)
Tesco Frank’s Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce Original 148ml for £1.00 = 3.37p

Salt (2g)
ASDA Table Salt 29p for 750g = 0.07p

Pepper (1g)
ASDA Smartprice Ground Black Pepper 25g for 20p = 0.8p

2 tbsp olive / vegetable oil (30ml)
ASDA olive oil £1.98 for 500ml = 11.88p

4 slices white bread, cubed
ASDA Smartprice medium sliced white bread 50p for 22 slices = 9.09p

3 cloves garlic, crushed
ASDA loose garlic 30p for approx. 8 cloves = 11.25p

Total cost = £1.35. Cost per serving = 34p.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and cook the onion, celery and red pepper until soft. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock. Add a dash of Worcester sauce and hot pepper sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave to simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes while you get on with the croutons.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic until it has just turned golden. Throw in the cubed bread and stir well so all the pieces are coated in oil. Turn the bread out onto a baking tray and cook in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. When the croutons are looking crispy on the top, use a spatula to turn them over and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes depending on how just how dry and crunchy you like them.

When the soup is cooked, blend in a liquidiser until you achieve a fairly smooth consistency but not completely – it’s good to have a little texture. Serve in bowls and sprinkle a handful of garlic croutons on each. Grub’s up!

virgin bloody mary soup

As this dish is so utterly cheap and cheerful, I’m entering it into April’s Credit Crunch Munch, a wonderful blog challenge celebrating the very best in fantastically frugal food. This month it is co-hosted by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla from Fab Food 4 All.

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