Sticky Sticky. Clarks Maple Syrup & Honey.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013
I am a huge maple syrup fan so was delighted when Clarks contacted me with the offer of a selection of their syrups and honey to try. To be honest I didn't even know they had a range of honey's or that there was more than one kind of Maple Syrup. Neither myself of Foodie Loon like honey but boy and girl are huge fans. I do use it in cooking and baking but really don't enjoy it on its own or on bread/toast.
My official taste team were straight on the job and put all the products to the test in a most scientific fashion. I had to rely on them for the honey feedback but both the Clear Lavender and the Acacia got a huge thumbs up even although they looked and tasted very different. Of the three Maple Syrups I received the one I usually buy is the Original version. I had always assumed that this was pure syrup but it is actually blended with Carob Fruit Syrup. Upon tasting it in comparison with No1 and No2 I found it overly sweet. No 1 is considered by Canadians to be the real Maple Syrup whilst No 2 is harvested later in the season and is darker and richer.
With an abundant supply in the pantry it was time to get cooking. First up Eggy Bread (French Toast) with Bacon & Maple Syrup. This is a firm favourite in our house for breakfast, brunch or a quick supper. If its not something you've eaten for a while do give it a go. It must be eaten quickly before your bread goes cold and soggy. Next I used some Acacia Honey and Fruit Sweet to make a selection of Rainforest Smoothies with a class of P7 pupils. 
Aother of my regular uses is Maple Syrup and Grainy Mustard Marinade. This is delicious on Salmon fillets which can then be grilled/oven baked or done al fresco on the BBQ. The same combo goes well with ribs but I add Smoked Sweet Paprika to the mix to give a stronger flavour.
If you have the BBQ out and are looking for a salad to accompany I've devised my own Pimm's Summer Salad. I've blogged the recipe on a previous BBQ Time post and it includes Acacia Honey. Its a real taste of summer and can surely be classed as one, if not two, of your five a day.
Grainy Mustard required again for my next idea. This is a very simple but oh so tasty dip. Only three ingredients Mayonnaise. Grainy Mustard. Maple Syrup. Combine them to your own taste and enjoy. Here we had them with potato wedges and crisp coated chicken goujons.
The final use is literally hot off the press this morning. Boy turns 11 today and for his Birthday Breakfast I made him Waffles, Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup. Happy Birthday Kyle! Go wash that sticky syrup off your face.


S'more Camping than Glamping

Monday, 29 July 2013
We've had three glamping expeditions so far this year, High Seas Hobbit, Gypsy Caravans and a return visit to the Hobbit. The end of July should be safe enough weather wise to give some old style camping a go surely? The sun was shining and the temperature was hot, hot, hot when we headed to Aden Country Park at Mintlaw to spend a Saturday night camping with friends. 
After discovering Rhubarb Vodka on our last glamping trip I'd set about making my own plus some Rhubarb Gin. Strictly speaking neither had been left long enough to infuse but I took the risk of decanting a wee bottle of the Gin to bring along as camping juice. Oh my days it is good. Even better than the vodka version. Goes down far too easy straight and absolutely perfect with tonic and ice.
Base camp established in the glorious sunshine it was time to head off and explore our surroundings. But not before we were suitably refreshed with a glass of Pimm's. Alas we forgot the mint and our foraging couldn't source any. So much to do at Aden. Huge play area with zip slide, treehouse, ruined mansion house, lake, gardens and woodland. The 5 kids were charged with collecting kindling for the campfire on the way back to our tents. Boy went one better and fashioned a rope from grasses to tie up his bundle. 
As per usual we had brought along enough food between us to feed the entire campsite. I had filled up my trusty Tiffin Box with an assortment of salady bits including a tuna and sweetcorn pasta made with some funky coloured bows brought back from Italy. There seemed to be much hilarity with regards to 'Carry On Camping' and my Tiffin Box. Must be some sort of in joke. 
Our meaty goodies included chicken kebabs, vegetable kebabs, sausages, mojito chicken fillets, burgers and ribs. The ribs were a big success. What they lacked in meatiness they more than made up for in flavour. I'd marinaded them the night before in Olive Oil, Maple Syrup, Sweet Smoked Paprika, Grainy Mustard and S&P.
The kids were very excited about the prospect of S'mores cones. This was our first try at making these and would have been much more successful if I hadn't stood on the box of cones in the tent...

Waffle Ice Cream Cones
Mini Marshmallows
Chopped Fruit - Strawberries & Bananas
Chocolate Chips - Milk & White
Mini Fudge Chunks

Fill your cone (must be a waffle one) with you own preference of sweet and sticky ingredients  Anything goes but you really need some marshmallow and chocolate to melt and make everything stick together. Wrap in tinfoil and place on the BBQ. Depending on the heat it should take around 5 minutes for the contents to melt. Unwrap and enjoy.
Alas all good things must come to an end and that was certainly true of the weather on this occasion  Scorching Saturday turned to Soggy Sunday and it soon became apparent that our tent wasn't quite as weatherproof as it should be. Undaunted we still cooked up a hearty breakfast in the rain. Think I might stick to glamping in future. Hobbits and Gypsy Caravans don't leak.

Cookery Course in Tuscany. Pasta. Focaccia. Gnocchi.

Thursday, 25 July 2013
No sooner had we arrived at Norcenni Girasole Club for a fortnights holiday in Bella Italia than I spotted a sign that was impossible for me to resist. Tuscan Cookery Class. Even more interesting when I found it was to be held in a rather posh hotel next door to Sting's Italian home. What a glorious setting Villa La Pallagina was. No sign of the former Police frontman but a lucky 13 participants for our cookery course.
Our tutor for the day was Federico, or Chef Fred to his students. We were to be preparing our own lunch of Focaccia, Spaghetti, Gnocchi and Tortellini. It was a scorcher of a day but we were cooking al fresco in the shade of a canopy with plenty of chilled water and Prosecco on hand. Huge pan of tatties on to boil for the Gnocchi whilst we got stuck into making the Focaccia.

700g Plain Flour
450g Warm Water
15g Salt
25g Fresh Yeast
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Measure out all the ingredients, including weighing the water. (Something I have never seen done in a recipe before). Crumble in the fresh yeast (where do I buy this in the UK??) and a slug of olive oil. Combine in a large bowl and tip out onto a floured surface and kneed until elastic and shiny. Add more oil or flour if needed. Return to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. Knock back after the first proving and place on a very well Olive Oiled baking tray. Use your fingers to shape the dough whilst making dimple marks all over it but avoiding the edges. Cover with cling and prove for a second time. Drizzle with Oil and coarse salt before baking for 15-20 mins at 180 degrees.

300g Plain Flour
3 Eggs
1 spoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Next up pasta which I've made myself at home quite a few times now. Chef Fred showed us how to make it by hand and then we headed into the kitchen where he made a batch by machine. We used a Chitarra (pasta guitar) and rolling pin to cut the pasta into spaghetti strands. Albeit they were square rather than round.

With the other half for the fresh pasta we made Tortellini stuffed with Ricotta, Parmesan and Fresh Herbs. I've made my own ravioli stuffed with ricotta but the tortellini shapes looked more complex but under Fred's instruction we all got the hang of them. The best tip that I picked up was to use a plant water spray bottle to moisten the edges before sealing. I've been using a pastry brush and water but this gave much more control and less sogginess. 
1kg Boiled Potatoes
200g Plain Flour
2 eggs

Last on the menu was Gnocchi with Pesto. The tatties had been boiled and were mashed with a potato ricer before the flour, eggs, salt and Parmesan were added to make a dough. Basil was picked fresh from the garden to make the Pesto which contained only a tiny amount of pine nuts which I was surprised to see were not toasted. Fred said that would make it bitter. He also didn't add any Parmesan to the pesto but instead mixed it though at the last minute when serving up.
After all our hard work we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour over a late lunch accompanied with some Chianti from the hotel's own Vineyard. The food was excellent and we were well and truly stuffed with our carb loaded meal. Consensus was we'd done a great job and would all try and recreate the dishes at home.
Following a post lunch Espresso the majority of the course participants headed off but a few of us remained to try out the hotels two swimming pools. Soaking up the sunshine and cooling off in the infinity pool was the perfect conclusion to the day. The sky did however begin to darken around 4pm and a distant rumble of thunder soon turned to a torrential downpour. I may have been soggy but thanks to the Fred's plant spray bottle tip my tortellini won't be.


Foodie Parcels in the Post

Monday, 22 July 2013
Its always nice to get a parcel delivered. Even moreso if its edible (or drinkable). Today's blog post is a quick round up of what the postman has delivered of late that was worth eating. Bills and junk mail don't taste so good. 

I'm a big lover of Gazpacho and can't get enough of the stuff when on holiday in Spain. You can buy chilled cartons of it in supermarkets on the continent but it doesn't seem to have caught on here. Fingers crossed that might change thanks to Cho! I was really intrigued to hear about this drinking Gazpacho made exclusively in Andalucia, Spain. 
It comes in four flavours and quite literally brought sunshine to my door. Classic Gazpacho, Tomato & Strawberry, Beetroot & Apple, Almond & Raspberry. 

As expected I absolutely loved the classic version. Very surprised to find that I enjoyed the Tomato and Strawberry even more. Unusual combination but oh so good. I reckon there are definitely potential cocktail opportunities with this one with a sneaky addition of something alcoholic. Unfortunately the other two varieties were not my cup of Gazpacho at all. I guess I'm more of a traditionalist. Alas Cho! is not widely available as yet but hopefully that will change. The Gazpacho revolution is underway.

Packet mixes are not usually my thing although I do swear by Schwartz Creamy Mild Peppercorn Sauce on my steak and their Grill Mates Mojito Lime Marinade on chicken. As part of the Britmums 'What's for dinner tonight?' challenge I received a couple of packs from the new Schwartz 2 in 1 range to try. The Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Cheese Crumb Topping was simple to use but I didn't really feel it added much to what I could have easily done myself with standard storecupboard herbs and spices. It was however duly devoured by the troops.

I used the Garlic & Thyme Roast Chicken and Crispy Roast Potatoes mix to spice up a Sunday Roast Chook. Really good. Especially the potatoes. We could not get enough of them. The secret to their crispiness seemed to be semolina and there was also a subtle Rosemary flavour. The chicken was tasty too but I was a bit unsure if the mix should be applied on top of the skin. I went for a half way option and removed the skin from the breast meat. Will definitely be adding this packet to my storecupboard essentials list.

This post is an entry for BritMums ‘What’s for Dinner Tonight?’ sponsored by Schwartz. Find out more about the new 2 in 1 mixes here
I'm a huge fan of Kikkoman soy sauce. So much so that I normally buy the catering size 1.9 litre bottle from Costco. (which I refill the iconic small bottle from) I use it in everything not just Chinese/Japanese dishes. A splash really livens up soups, stews and casseroles and makes a fantastic basis for salad dressings. I hadn't previously come across the less salt version (43% less salt) but should really take a closer look as I know I overdo it with salt. One of my vices. Their Teriyaki marinade is also a staple of mine. Fantastic at this time of year to enhance al fresco steak and chicken. I've got a very exciting one week BBQ challenge coming up in conjunction with John Lewis so watch this space as I'll definitely be utilising some umami flavours.

Disclosure : Thanks to Cho!, Schwartz and Kikkoman for providing the above products. I was not obliged to review positively in return. All views expressed are my own.

A Fortnight of Food & Drink in Bella Italia

Sunday, 21 July 2013
Did you miss me? Just got back yesterday from a fortnights holiday in Tuscany. Had a fantastic time staying at Norcenni Girasole Club. Wifi access was somewhat limited so didn't manage to blog (with the exception of a couple of pre-scheduled posts) but shared our Italian adventures in food on my Facebook page. If you'd like to like me there you'll keep up to date with all of my foodie blethers Foodie Quine on FacebookI'll be blogging in depth about various aspects of our trip in due course, but meanwhile here's a pictorial summary of what I've already shared with my Facebook likers. 
Awesome first meal in Italy

Toasting Mr Murray's Wimbledon win with Chianti and BBQ

Like a kid in a Sweetie Shop in Florence

Lunch in Florence at Le Antiche Carrozze

Awesome setting for my Tuscan Cookery Course at Villa La Palagina

Tortoleni stuffed with Ricotta, Parmesan and Herbs



Gnocchi with Pesto

Lunch in Siena

Tuscan wine tasting night at Villa Norcinni Cellar with wines from il Colombaio di Cencio

Why do UK supermarkets look nothing like this?

Girl thought she'd died and gone to heaven with the Italian answer to deep fried Mars Bar. Nutella Pizza.

This is the way to drink late night coffee. With Amaretto, Baileys and Cream.

Lunch in San Gimignano. Risotto with Truffle for me at Hotel La Cisterna

Foodie temptation

Developed a serious Ice Cream habit. I'm blaming a combination of the heat and the fact that Italian gelato can not be beaten. Favourite flavours so far have been Raspberry & Rosemary and Pink Grapefruit & Prosecco.

Pizza in Pisa.

Wonderful visit to an organic vineyard at Podere Luisa

Complete opposite in the afternoon at an International Wine Cellar. Lamole di Lamole

The biggest and tastiest steak ever. Steak Florentine.

Reward for many stairs climbed. Chip pizza. Even more of a food sin than Nutella Pizza?!

Sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Florence Market. The jury is still out on the Tripe Sandwiches...

The last supper in Bella Italia
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