Arcimboldo’s Summer

Arcimboldo’s Summer
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was the master of these pre-surrealist paintings of figures formed of grouped objects (not always food).

Monday 7 January 2019

Opal Apples

I bought a pack of these simply because (a) I've been on an apple-eating kick lately and (b) they were a bargain price at Waitrose.

I just ate one out of the fruit bowl, and I'm so delighted I had to write about it and spread the word.

The problem with supermarket apples, as I'm sure you know, is that they tend to look decorative but have no flavour — or about as much flavour as wet Kleenex.

Absolutely not the case here. I'd never heard of Opal apples before. They look like a smaller version of Golden Delicious, but the taste is entirely different (not that there's anything wrong with Golden Delicious).

The Opal is agreeably sweet, but it also has a wonderful background hint of spiciness. Almost a touch of cinnamon.

In fact, think of mulled wine — but not in any kind of overpowering way. Just a subtle suggestion, which makes this apple deliciously distinctive.

I'm going to buy more. 

And I may have to dig another one out of the fridge.

(Image credits: pack shot from Waitrose, where, as I mentioned, I bought these.)

Sunday 30 December 2018

Soup Quest: Yorkshire Provender Mushroom

Cold weather has now arrived – both in the sense of ambient temperature and annoying minor ailments. 

That means it's time for soup. And I am on a quest for soups that are (a) delicious (b) do not contain ludicrous quantities of salt and (c) preferably can be stored for long periods of time — so I can always have them on hand and just pull them out on a whim, or when a cold has made me too miserable to venture to the shops.

Well, Yorkshire Provender Mushroom Soup isn't really designed for long term storage. You can freeze it and keep it for a month... but then that's true for just about everything.

But it's not too high in salt (about half a gram per 100 grams, which is pretty standard for non-canned soups).

And it really is delicious.

And I'm not just saying so because it makes that boast on the carton. 

It also boasts the addition of "wholegrain black rice". I wasn't sure what the rice would bring to the party, but in fact it's an inspired addition, giving the soup a meaty density and good depth of flavour. Also, perhaps not surprisingly, a kind of pleasant risotto aftertaste.
I'm including a photo of the carton and also the soup on my table — tarted up with a bit of rosemary from my garden (he boasted) and a splash of milk...

As with all the other soups in this tasting, it was served up with Poilane sourdough toast liberally slathered with organic unsalted butter.

And a glass of water.

With a slice of lemon in it.

This is a terrific soup (well done, Yorkshire Provender) and I will definitely buy it again.

I just wish it could be stored for many months in a cupboard, like the Duchy Organic soups I wrote about before.

I'll be trying their own mushroom concoction as soon as I can get hold of it.

Stay tuned.

(Image credits: The pack shot is from Waitrose. The served-up shot is from my own fair camera.)

Sunday 23 December 2018

Soup Quest: Duchy Organic Chicken Mulligatawny

As I explained in a previous post, I always like to have some good quality soup in the store cupboard (I don't literally have a store cupboard, but you know what I mean). 

And when winter arrived this year, with its grim weather, early darkness and annoying colds, my cupboard was bare.

So I went on a quest for some really nice soups which can be stored for long periods.

I was attracted by the new range of Duchy soups at Waitrose. These can be stored at room temperature for a year or more, so that was a big point in their favour.

And they're organic.

I was mostly looking for vegetarian soups, but the only two Duchy long-life soups available at my local store were chicken and ox cheek.

I went for this chicken one, as the lesser of two evils.

And, I have to say, it was really great. It's a small portion, just right for an agreeable bowl for one person, and the flavour was first rate. Complex and rather mouthwatering.

I'm going to stock up on these Duchy soups. Half a dozen stashed in a cupboard will prove very useful indeed. 

And, thanks to a bit of internet research, I find they do produce a vegetarian option — mushroom.

I can't wait to try it.

(Image credits: The pic is from Waitrose.)

Sunday 16 December 2018

Soup Quest: New Covent Garden Leek & Potato

I love soup and I always order it when I'm in a promising-looking restaurant.

I am, however, not organised enough to make it for myself at home. And, since I regard it as the ultimate comfort food for when I'm in a hurry or under the weather, I am very much on the lookout for good quality soup that can be stored for long periods and served up at short notice.

I have fond memories of New Covent Garden soups, and they can be frozen for long term storage, so this leek and potato concoction was a natural choice when I recently was on a quest for soup at Waitrose.

However, Mr Potato & Leek proved disappointingly lacking in flavour. I ended up adding all sorts of things in an attempt to jazz it up, but it still fell short.

It also contains a lot of salt (I don't buy canned soup because they're basically tins of salt with a touch of added soup) — so this managed the paradoxical achievement of being both too bland and too salty.

I haven't given up on New Covent Garden, but this one gets a thumbs down. With regret.

(Image credits: The pack shot is taken from the company's own website.)

Saturday 2 April 2016

Bargain Comté Alert (the Green Bell Tolls)

I love the French Alpine cheese Comté — you can impress your friends by pronouncing correctly: "con-tay"... yes, as if it was spelled with an "n" not an "m". It has a nutty sweetness and a very agreeable texture somewhere between hard and soft. (I'm trying to avoid the word "rubbery".)

Comté is a form of Gruyere. Indeed, the lowest grade is just sold as Gruyere. But the superior stuff is called Comté, and the top quality is indicated by a green bell on the label. Always look for the green bell!

Until recently, the best deal on green bell Comté I'd encountered was available at Waitrose. Their mature Comté normally sells at £16 per kilo. But if you have a "My Waitrose" and you make it one of your regular picks — yes, if you're willing to jump through all those hoops — you can get 20% off, bringing the price down to £12.80 a kilo. Not bad at all, for the real stuff.

As I say, Waitrose was reigning champion. But today I was in Lidl, snooping around (one of my vices) and I discovered, trembling with cheese-hunter's excitement, that they had a Comté, also green bell, which was on special at £1.69 per pack. The packs are 170 grams, so my advanced command of mathematics tells me it's just a shade under ten quid per kilo.

And you may well want to buy a kilo. The Lidl Comté is just excellent. It has a lovely blend of sweetness and citrus sharpness which gives it almost a lemon curd flavour. I recommend it highly, and at that price it's unbeatable. Buy now.

Even when the price goes back up, to £1.99 a pack, that still puts it ahead of Waitrose, at under £12 per kilo.

(The Lidl image is from here. The Waitrose image is from there.)

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Heston's Chocolate Christmas Cake

Appealingly packaged, this cake looks like it’s going to deliver a mind blowing (and waistline bursting) blast of pure chocolate. In fact, it’s a fruit cake covered with a layer of chocolate icing. 

The chocolate icing is perfectly okay, though nothing to write home about, while the fruit cake is boring. It has some unusual spicy notes, which are neither pleasant nor unpleasant — and which don’t save the fruit cake from dullness. Altogether, this festive dessert is ho-hum rather than ho-ho-ho, especially given its enticing packaging. 

I bought this as a post-Christmas markdown, for a quarter of its original price, and I was very disappointed. If I’d paid the full price (£15) I would have been seething, and indeed would probably have demanded a refund. Given that this is the "Improved Recipe" gawd knows what the original was like.

Once again, Heston at Waitrose proves hit and miss.

(Image credits: The pack shot is from Ocado. The shot outside the pack is also from there.)

Saturday 5 December 2015

Heston's Prawn Cocktail

Aha. Another offering from the mad scientist of the gourmet kitchen. An old fashioned prawn cocktail made using Canadian cold water Pandalus borealis prawns. 

Well, it tastes like a prawn cocktail all right. And it really is old fashioned — in the best sense — and honest. Very traditional. Notably sweet, but it’s a fresh creamy sweetness and not cloying. A nice residual tang of spice. I’m increasingly impressed. But then I did get it for 79p instead of £3.99...

I guess the main thing I'd say about it is that it doesn't have that nasty downturn in taste which you get from something made with artificial ingredients, like a synthetic sweetener.

It is like a good home made prawn cocktail. Which leads us to the inevitable question. It costs four quid, so why not make it yourself? (Assuming you have the time.) You can even use Heston's own recipe, which is available here

Incidentally, the prawns are caught using what is called a Demersal otter trawl. There are certain environmental problems with this kind of fishing, which you can read about here.

On the whole, from now on I don't think I'll be buying prawns caught in this way, if I can avoid it. Sorry, Heston.

(Image credit: the pack shot is, of course, from Waitrose's website.)