Give Away#13 : The Pampered Chef's Set of Glasses for Mothers' Day

This competition is now closed the winner is Jac with her lucky number 6
Moreover, the pampered chef is not in business any longer


Pebble Soup has teamed up with The Pampered Chef for Mothers' day. We are offering one lucky reader a chance to win this ever so cute set of four slim stems glasses worth £32.

"The Pampered Chef believes multi-functional, high quality tools are thecornerstone of an efficient kitchen. The catalogue boasts almost 200 products includingkitchen essentials, knives, al fresco entertaining, stoneware, cookware,bakeware, kitchen tools and gadgets."

So if you want to raise your glass to this Very Important Person in your life, here is how you can enter:
There are three chances, remember for every entry leave a comment or that entry will not be valid.

Entry 1: Browse The Pampered Chef website and leave a comment to say which is your favourite item.

Entry 2: Follow me on Twitter at Solange Web, it you are following re-tweet "for a chance to win a set of 4 glasses from The Pampered Chef go to Pebble Soup"

Entry 3: How are you going to spoil your mother on Mothers' day? leave a comment below.

Now for the rules :
Closing date: SUNDAY 11th March 2012 at midnight.
You can enter this competition via any or all of the three ways described above, No details of any of the entrants will be passed onto anyone else.
The winner will be chosen by an online randomiser. I will contact you if the winner and pass your land address to The Pampered Chef who will be dispatching your prize.
If the winner has not responded  within 7 days, another draw will take place
This giveaway is open to all UK readers only, there is no monetary alternative
Good Luck!

The Pampered Chef's products can be bought online at www.pamperedchef.co.uk or through in-home cooking shows and catalogue shows. Call 0800 9 555 888 to find a consultant in your area or become a consultant yourself.

Know Your Olive Oils- Part 2- The degustation

"Every year, a team of expert tasters gathers around a table at Fortnum & Mason to perform an important ritual – the tasting and selection of the new harvest of olive oil." To my amazement, I was kindly asked to join in. The process sounded intriguing so armed with a dose of courage I made my way to Fortnum & Mason's crypt.

I was told, "As with every other comestible that changes with the seasons, a crop of olive oil can taste entirely different from one year to the next, so a thorough tasting is essential to ensure that this year’s selection is the best that is available. This year more than 100 oils have been tasted by Fortnum’s savoury grocery buyer, Sam Rosen-Nash, some of Fortnum & Mason’s finest suppliers and a team of helpers."
Olive Oil is best tasted at ambient temperature which is around 28C so before tasting you warm your sample with one hand and cover it with the other to trap the smell in. Good oil should smell fresh, green and vegetable like.

At this stage my neighbour, a vicar and friend of one of the buyer, and I were feeling equally incomfortable, beside us two, there was only another layman, a journalist, the rest of the table were all professionally linked to Olive Oil. But it was surprisingly easy to detect the various olfactory notes

 Now for the flavour, the most common taste in young oils  is the grassiness, sweet almond in more mature oils. No oil is the same and there is a wide range of flavours from sweet to very bitter, all sorts of flavours come through things like lemons, artichoke, aniseed, melons even farmyard and tobacco. The traditional taste made from fully mature olives is soft and almondy.

We tasted 15 samples, I do not envy the buyer's job after about 10 samples, my sense of taste was shot to pieces.
However the most surprising element, for me, came on swallowing, I would dare you to try this at home. It is rather amazing, swirl and swallow a spoon of olive oil. It leaves a peppery taste in your throat sometimes so strong that it makes you cough. 

Know your Olive Oils: Part 1



 I never thought I would be invited to the Fortnum and Mason Crypt. On reading the invitation, my initial reaction was
 "What does one wears to a crypt? Should I get my Punk/Goth platform shoes out of their confinement?"
Then I read that the crypt's usage had change with times, it is now their cellar where bottles of wine are stored. Did that mean that I should wear my tastevin on a large silver chain around my neck? what a look that was going to be.
The  rest of the invitation, indicated the time and the purpose: "To help Fortnum and Mason's buyers to select the 2012 range of Olive oil"
-"Just wait a minute here, rewind, there must be a mistake, I have tested various kind of things but olive oil! never before."


Chicago Town Pizzas: Product tasting


Once in a while I lure our godson which is not difficult especially if  it involves pizza tasting. At the grand old age of 17, he is a "trained expert", he knows exactly what he likes, the perfect person for this review of Dr Oetker's Chicago Town pizza three ranges, Edge to Edge, Take Away, Deep Dish.

We have a routine, we taste, we mark, we comment, we taste some more and I report to you. On this occasion, another taster joined the usual crew: Godson's grand-mother, known as Grandi. The evening started to look like a Italian family affair, reinforced by the fact that the motto of the first pizza is, "This pizza isn't for sharing." 

First, on the menu: The Deep Dish, two Four Cheese Pizzas. Two, because there are two (160g pizzas) in a packet. Last year,  Which? published a report  on how healthy frozen pizza are. Chicago Town range was reported for its calories content. The companie retorked that the pizzas were more calorific as they have more ingredients than others. Each Four cheese contains 432Kcal.

I hope Dr Oetker will keep the offer price for a while, for you to try. I thought this pizza tasted nice.

20 minutes in the oven, then it comes out oozing with melted cheeses, it is not called deep dish for nothing. It also has a thin crust edge. One bémol came from Grandi, "The bottom is bready."


It was our top scorer for the evening with 6.5 out of 10.

Next Chicago Town Take Away Chicken BBQ Sauce Stuffed Crust Pizza. This has a very strong smoky taste. It is not pre-baked, has a fresh dough base which bakes and rises in the oven. The BBQ sauce in the rim is rather fun. Tastewise, it was not a great success and scored only 2.5

Last but not least I had chosen an Edge to Edge Deep Pan Miami Meaty Pizza. A pizza which claims to have more topping than any other pizza. It surely makes the most of the base as the topping really goes up to the edge. As you can imagine this was debated at length, everyone staying on their position.

Tastewise it was OK, a reliable choice which scored a respectable 5.5



Snapshots: The Ossuary in Kutna Ora

It is hard to believe only a couple of weeks ago, we were heading for Prague where we would contemplate snow and one of the weirdest "temple" ever made by man; giving a whole new meaning to the expression "man made".

Prior to Prague, we had decided on an overnight stay in Kutná Hora. A small provincial town, eastward from the capital, reached within an hour by train. It is easy to see why it is refered to as the little Prague. The historical center has lovely bonbon box facades, churches, cathedral or in proper touristic terms " an architectonic jewel of the European significance".  Like Paris intra-muros, it has its own vineyard.


In the morning, we headed for the Ossuary, a bus-ride away. Settle in your armchair here is a precis: in Seldec, in the mid 10th century there was a cisterician monastery. 100 years later the King sent Henry the abbot of Seldec to Jerusalem. Henry came back with a handful of earth from Golgotha which he sprinkled over the cemetery of Seldec.

The cemetery became famous and people from all over Europe wished to be buried there. Around 1400 space became sparce, therefore the current abbot had a church build with a chapel designed to host the bones from abolished graves. Seldec's fame and few wars meant that 40 000 squelettons had to be dealt with.

Cut a long story short, we are now, in 1870, enters a wood carver Frantisek Rint who somehow was given free reins to arrange the bones the way he saw fit and here is what he did:
Let's start the visit:


The fragility of life is put in perspective 


Left of the main altar and the coat of arms of a noble family


The Pièce de résistance is the chandelier.

Ile Flottante


In need of lightness, then Une Ile Flottante might be the answer. Fluffy soft egg white floating on a pool of light vanilla custard. Shall I go on, all right then, pay attention, here come the history lesson, the personal bit and the recipe.

Ile flottante is a very popular French dessert, universally served in canteens, bistros and restaurants chics. A classic dish of unknown origins (so much for the history bit) which requires only a few basic ingredients. Had my mother known that it is low in calories, she would have made me eat ile flottante for breakfast which is not a good option anyway. So at this stage, I should not be complaining about my mum's poor cooking abilities though she can burn water like nobody else does.

You will need to poach egg whites and make a light and full of flagrance custard from scratch or from the "packet," the latter is advised, life is too short and remember : "lightness" goes for lightness of preparation too. Then you need to assemble: eggs on top of custard. Et voila, Tonton Bob.

Ile Flottante
Ingredients

for the Islands
4egg whites
enough water or milk to poach the egg whites
3 tablespoon of sugar
good quality vanilla pods
Use a ready mix custard powder or make it from scratch here is Delia's recipe

Make the 'islands':
Method

Beat the egg whites to  firm peaks, using the food processor or a clean dry bowl and a whisk, add 3 tablespoon of sugar slowly when the eggs are almost firm.

Boil water or milk, drop big dollops of egg white in, leave for 2 minutes, fish them out and let them to cool on plate. No fridge, they need to be served at room temperature

Make the custard
using the instructions on the packet or Delia's recipe bare in mind that you need a light custard flavoured with vanilla served warm

Assemble

Put the custard in deep plates or soup bowls and float the egg white on the top. If you want something snazzy dribble caramel and add decoration.



Soup Sunday: Yorkshire Provender Soups


There are days when cooking dinner proves too taxing, same goes for lunch at work, though soups are possibly the easiest meals to prepare, sometimes it is simply handier and all together more pleasant, to call upon a third party to do the work for you.
Having tried a multitude of ready made soup brands, I have never been able to call any of them "proper soup" until now. Some I use as sauces, others as virtual punch bags in conversation when the issues of salt or products that pretend to be home-made come up.

Curious as ever, I noticed a new company, Yorkshire Provender, on the supermarket shelves, so I decided to embark on a tasting adventure for Pebble Soup readers. I was sent five flavours. Considering this is a small company producing from a North Yorkshire home, this was very generous and I was going to make sure that my review would be thorough and impartial therefore I involved others in the tasting.  

Each pot is 600g, makes two very generous portions or three normal size bowls.
I like the clear plastic, the colours are vibrant and inviting. 
All the ingredients are seasonal resulting in  two delicious collections a winter and a summer, each made of seven soups.
The fat content starts at 49 kcal, 0.4g fat per 100g. A winner when it comes to boosting these fading new-year's resolutions.

On opening the pots, the first thing you notice is the smell, wow, it is almost possible to identify each of the ingredients, Yorkshire Provender has potted a feast for the nose. Here is what my neighbour and taster for the day says about it, "A bouquet of thyme and bay literally filled my office.  I used the work microwave and had envious stares as I walked back past the rows of office desks."

It is rare to find soups with enough texture or "epais" as he calls it and since anything looking too liquid is banned from the table, I was a bit of a concern but 4 out of my 5 passed the stringent thickness test.

And then there is the marriage of flavours, these are original enough for the consumer to want to try them out but not too wacky that the end result tastes odd.

Yorkshire Provender is available in a wide range of supermarkets from the Co-op to Waitrose via the giants of retails and independent providers.
 Pebble Soup overall verdict is 9/10.

Butternut squash Soup with Orange and Ginger came top. it is full of flavour and extremely well balanced which is always a bit difficult when ginger is involved. Ginger is a difficult ingredient which can easily be over-powering but here at 0.1%. There are also loads of other spices,celery seed, tumeric, pepper, garlic, mace, lovage, nutmeg which add roundness to this lovely soup.


AC our now famous forager-neigbourg reviewed Winter Soup with Roast Vegetables and British Beef. Here is what he says, " The quality was excellent, chunky vegetables, a rich velvety base and a black pepper and chilli after kick.  Very flavoursome combination of chunky vegetables married together with a good choice of herbs and a picquant beef and tomato sauce.  If I had made it at home, I would have been proud." before adding that on the minus side it was a little oily.

Pea & Fresh Spinach with Coriander is my personal favorite. It is fresh, silky and the colour made me smile. I would eat it cold too, in fact, I partly did, it is how good this is.


Sadly Tomato and Red Pepper soup with Wensleydale Cheese & Rosemary was a little disappointing, the cheese does not come through enough, it is still a nice soup but slightly watery so it hasn't got the depth of the others.


Chunky Vegetable & Ham Soup with Winter Greens and Lentils is full of taste and since March is not yet spring we might need earthy tasting ready soup in the fridge ready for the evening meal.


 Price and disclaimer
Yorkshire Provender soups retail at £2.39, I was provided with complimentary soups for the purpose of this blog-post, all opinions are my own ...and my neighbourg:)

Curious Ingredient: Sea Kale - Rosti

Last week, I found out that my neighbour is a forager and spends most of his week-ends with friends by the sea-side where they proudly grow all sorts. We have been living in good neighbourly harmony for the pass ten years. I pick his parcels up, he returns the favour and we smile nicely at one another. 

Once, he invited us to his new-year's fancy dress party themed around London tube lines. I think we were a bit of a disappointment. We both arrived dressed in black pretending to be the Northern line, looking like misery, in the midst of dancing angels and Seven Sisters.

Lately, we have been exchanging a series of brief e-mails about a local issue. I guess he picked up on my signature. Realising that he lived next door to an author and a food writer, his overture lengthened, "There you are! there is so much I'd like to talk to you about" he said the last time we bumped into one another.

 
Next thing I knew, we were exchanging tips about restaurants, cheeses, local markets and looking at his Mark Hix's books collection; suddenly we were talking ten to the dozen as if we had known each other for.......a decade.

I left his company with a sense of bewilderment, clutching a bag full of sea kale, his friends had worked hard to grow from seeds. It occurred to me that I did not have a clue who my neighbourg really was but moreover I didn't know to how to cook sea kale without Him looking suspiciously at yet another curious ingredient.

Sea kale grows on shingle beaches but be aware, for the past 30 years, crops have been under specific protection under the wildlife and countryside act,  making collection without the landowners permission illegal.  It is sold on farmers market in February and March.
In culinary terms, it goes way back, 500 years or so, at one point it was a popular garden plant. Taste-wise it could be chard's cousin only more pungent, its most common use is as a blanched vegetable.

Blanching is best know associated with rhubarb. Blanched vegetables have a more delicate flavour as they are grown deprived of light which produces chlorophyll and gives colour. In crude term, they are forced to grow in the dark, in special enclosed environments or with a bucket over their head.
 
 
If you wonder what I did with my gift, here is the recipe I chose rostis slightly boring as you sea-kale makes for a weird and wonderful addition to so much more but nevertheless delicious.

Sea Kale Rostis

Ingredients
  • sea kale steamed and chopped
  • a couple of potatoes boiled and mashed
  • oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • salt & pepper
Method

Prepare the vegetables
In a bowl mix the chopped sea Kale, potatoes together, beat in the egg, add flour and seasoning.
Make little ball with the mixture, flatten them slightly and fry them in hot oil.

If you wanted to know more about foraging, do take a look at Galloway Wild Foods, Mark Williams' great site.







Sunday Soup : Green Pea Soup with 3 variations

Soups are so satisfying. For me, they are synonymous to "perfect comfort food". They also pass muster under the "fat watch" scrutiny. Even if the recipe requires cream. In which case, cheating is always an option: cut the cream with milk.

One day, I would like to be explained why soups have got such a bad reputation. I have an inkling that dehydrated soups, or watery, tasteless tin-soups could be the guilty party.

Another great advantage is their simplicity, most soups can be made from scratch in no time. Never more so then in the case of Pea Soup which requires a bag of peas and cream. However, there is a secret ingredient and that is the kind of bouillon used. I know I tend to bang on about bouillon but truly in a dish which contains a couple of ingredients only, these have to be good.

In the Sunday Soup series, I try to give a basic soup with a few variations but here I am going to deviate a little since after the basic and the variations, I would like to also talked to you about a brand I have been curious to taste so fall asleep in your plate just yet.

 Pea Soup
Ingredients 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 500g frozen peas
  • 100ml/2fl oz double cream
  •  250 ml vegetable stock ( I use Marigold)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method 
In a large saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion gently until soft but not brown
Add the bouillon and bring to boil 
Add the peas, lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes. 
Add the cream, lower the heat again and cook for another 3 minutes stirring occasionally. 
Leave to cool and transfer to the food processor and Blitz until smooth

Variations

Pea Soup and Cress or Rocket (to be added with the cream)
Peas Soup and Ham (add 1/2 the ham in the food processor, dice the other 1/2 add it when serving)
Pea soup and mint (to be added instead of the cream)

Yorkshire Provender Pea Soup and Spinach

I have been trying out commercial brands of soups for ages and never found anything to write home about until now. I will post about Yorkshire Provender soups in details soon. At present, I can tell you that I have been very, very impressed byYorkshire Provender Pea Soup and Spinach and indeed by the the whole range.

Pea & Fresh Spinach with Coriander taste definitely as good as a home made soup with the depth which characterise the use of fresh ingredients.

Smoked Salmon Parfait


What is the difference between a parfait and a pâté? This is typically the kind of question, I will ask myself at the most inappropriate of moments, eg: I am in scintillating company, in a great restaurant, the menu is enticing and suddenly a word jumps out.

In that case "parfait", I have cooked parfaits, I have prepared pâtés but until this very moment, I never asked myself what the difference was between the two, and of course the question is going to niggle me until I find the answer.
Back home, I refer to Stephane Reynaud's book "Terrine". The glossary offers a definition of parfait: "....a dish similar to pâté." It is now obvious, that the answer is not going to be easy to find.

The Internet doesn't propose a better description. So after a game of deductions, my personal definition is: "A parfait is a smooth pâté, sometimes pushed through a sieve to give it its typical silky texture"

Now that this is cleared for a lovely recipe created in Pebble Soup HQ, strongly inspired by the salmon parfait I had the pleasure to taste at Odette's.

Salmon Parfait

Ingredients: 
100 g smoked salmon
100ml of creme fraiche or thick cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon mustard
pepper
chives

Method:
No cooking is required
In a food processor, add the smoked salmon, the lemon juice, mustard, a few chives. Mix until smooth

Tansfer to a bowl with a fork whip  the cream lightly, add the pepper

Fill in individual serving glasses or ramekins with the mixture or use two spoons to make quenelles, decorate as you wish. Put in the fridge for a couple of hours or until ready to serve. Serve chilled. chilled.

My lunch companion were @VanessaKimbell  @FionaMaclean @KarenBurnsBooth @atriflerushed @turquoiselemons @FussFreeFlavour   @RenBehan @GoFreeCakes

Hotel Chocolat Valentine's Day Love Notes


Is it really true that, "Valentine's day is lovely and everybody should have one?" I wonder, I am rather torn, I am not a fan of behaving like everyone else so mass celebrations are not really my cup of tea. On the other end, love is my driving force, I have learnt to recognise its beauty and fragility. Its very own existence is something to celebrate.

And celebrations warrant a token but you don't want to feel that you are being exploited buying overpriced roses and what is the point of booking a table for two when everybody else will have book one too. Expensive gadgets, are for mysterious reasons not associated with romance but chocolates are.

In the current buoyant chocolates market, Hotel Chocolat is doing very well. I was asked to pick any product I liked in their Valentine range to review. After much consideration and deliberation. Love Notes came up trump.

Aptly named Love Notes as hidden under each heart shaped chocolates there is a quote from Virgil to Eva Gabor. I could not help it every time somebody picked a chocolates, I wanted to know what the box said for me that was the best part + the strawberry, black pepper combo which is nice. Of course there was a romantic hidden message for this very blog, provided by the bard himself, "They do not love that do not show their love."


Description and acknowledgment
Love Notes box contains a blank card and envelop, 12  chocolate hearts and romantic hidden messages – selection  included smooth truffles with mellow vanilla and raspberry, comforting chocolate brownie and velvety praline, strawberry & black pepper and super soft caramels with mouth-warming chilli. RRP: £14

I received a free box to review, opinions contained in this post are my own.


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