Saturday, 26 April 2014

RECIPE: Hazelnut scented spaetzle #MailleFlavours

When I was about 14, I visited the Czech Republic on a youth exchange. I had a fabulous time, although I really remember the first time that I saw the endless concrete tower blocks of post-Soviet states and started to understand the struggle that people were facing since the fall of Communism, although only dimly aware of what that actually meant. Although the town of Nove Mesto nad Metuji had some beautiful elements - not least its people - my overwhelming memory is of grey buildings, a run down cinema and families struggling to get by working at the local makeup factory, at that time at least one of the main employers in the town.

My other main memory is the kindness of the family that I stayed with, who opened their small apartment to me as if I was their own. I came home with a huge supply of lipsticks, lip glosses and various other treats that the father of the family brought home for me from the family. Although we could not really speak each other's languages, I remember sincerely bonding with the entire family during my stay. I would love to go back and augment those memories.

The only thing I can remember about the food there (apart from trying deep fried cheese for the first time in the Czech Republic and then obsessively ordering it at every subsequent opportunity) was a meal I was served which seemed to mainly consist of small, slightly grey worm-like entities. I had no idea what it was and it was with some trepidation that I tasted it, being a rather fussy eater at the time. It wasn't for at least another decade of that one single food memory staying with me that I learned that this surely must have been my first experience of spaetzle.

Spaetzle are a sort of cross between a pasta, noodle and dumpling and are found across the eastern side of Europe, as far east as Germany as far as I'm aware. I remember vividly the eureka moment about 3 or 4 years ago when I saw a TV cooking show featuring spaetzle and it came to me that was what I had eaten all those years earlier. I swore then that I would give it a go, but for some reason I just. haven't. Why do we put these fun things off?

Anyway, the #MailleFlavours competition seemed like an excellent time to resolve this. What better way to try a wonderful ingredient like the Maille Hazelnut oil than with a simple, homely classic like spaetle? Anyway, I've waffled on for far too long. On to the recipe. It was truly an experiemental experience!

Hazelnut Scented Spaetzle

Ingredients (serves 4, or more as a side)
250g plain flour
2 eggs
175ml water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp Maille Hazelnut Oil
Teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme
Teaspoon of chopped fresh oregano
Flavourless oil and butter mix for frying (or leftover fry up fat, as we used!)

 Method
  •  Weigh out your flour

  •  Add your salt and nutmeg


  • Throw in the eggs


  • Add your water and mix it all together. I was cautious at first and had planned for 150ml water, but then I added quite a lot more in order to make it to a dropping batter consistency. It may well have actually have been nearer 200ml that I used in the end. This stuff should be dropping in little worms into your pan, so it need to be a medium to thick batter.

Turned out this was still a bit thick
  • Choose your weapons. You can buy metal spaetzle makers, which are a bit like a thick potato ricer. People report equally decent results with a metal colander with large holes. I do not have either of these things, so I was looking at trying the slotted spoon first, then the sandwich-bag-with-the-corner-cut-off-it's-a-piping-bag-honest method of attack.
  • Have a big pan of salted water on the boil in which to cook the spaetzle. My batter was too thick. It just oozed through the spoon. I put the spoon down and used the sandwich bag with the corner cut off as an impromptu piping bag. I also covered my hands in batter and made The Boy take photos of me in action.
  • I know we're mid-recipe, but this has all gone a bit narrative anyway hasn't it? Would you like a proper action shot? Oh, you know you do.
Here I am!
  • Shortly after this was taken, the bag burst and I made big accidential humongous spaetzle. Do try and avoid that. Anyway, back to the cooking.
  •  
  • They only need a couple of minutes boiling and they'll float to the top and be all delicious and cooked. As I had so many massive bruisers in there I gave them a minute or two extra, just to be sure. Then drain them off well. You can eat them at this point if you like - you can just add a bit of seasoning, your Maille Hazelnut oil and herbs and off you go. But we had a pan of left over delicious fat from this mornings fry up, so I had to take it to the next level...


  • While draining, heat up a frying pan with some flavourless oil and butter (or in our case, left over bacon and sausage fat - mmmm, heartattackalicious). Once the pan is hot, add the spaetzle. Don't worry, they will stick a bit at first while they seal up.
  •  
  • Once you've started to get a nice bit of crisp and colour, they're done. Add a couple of tablespoons of Maille Hazelnut oil and your chopped herbs. I also added another pinch of salt to taste.




  • Serve it up, add a twist of fresh black pepper and ta daaaa! You are done! I thought for a first effort my spaetzle didn't look too bad and most importantly they were absolutely delicious!



The spaetzel are soft, yet chewy - sort of like a thinner and more textured gnocchi. The crispy bits are heavenly. The hazelnut oil added an incredible depth of flavour which was really complemented by the fresh herbs.  The hazelnut oil lends such a delicate note, I was glad I had kept it really simple. I wouldn't cook it for too long either, although I have read that it can take a high heat.

You could certainly have this as a side dish, but it is fabulous on its own. I believe some nations add bacon during the frying process, this would be awesome. I meant to add spring onions, but in my excitment, I forgot. It's flexible basically. Think of it as your very own exciting new not-pasta.

So thank you to Maille for sending me their wonderful, fragrant Hazelnut Oil. Without it, I may well have never got around to trying to make my own spaetzle recipe. And I would truly have been missing out. 

Only Motley Crue can hear you scream

I've just been looking through some old videos of our trip round the world in 2009. I just found this and it made me laugh. Frankly I'm surprised I've not put this on the internet before. Best bar ever.

It had the friendliest bouncer on earth (literally, we've tested this theory many times.


It had random Michael Jackson on the walls and then in the ladies toilets, there was this....


Friday, 25 April 2014

Extreme Housewifery Worldwide!

Here's me eating incredibly expensive food in Bordeaux!
I've been having a little look at my blog stats. I find it quite amazing that I've nearly had 350,000 page views, although judging by the amount of spammy comments I delete every day, a lot of those may well just be crazy bots, trawling the net.*

I've noticed that I get a lot of hits from different countries, so I thought it would be nice to leave a little note to all of you from foreign climes - whether you are real people or not. So, after the USA and the UK, which countries pop by for a dose of Extreme Housewifery the most?

*Warning* The following translations are done using free translation apps online, and so therefore probably bear little resemblance to what I want to say. It's all a bit of fun though!

3. Russia - 13,233 views
Здравствуйте. Спасибо за то, что посещать мой блог. Я никогда не был к России, но я хотел бы посетить. Что делает Вы любите приблизительно мой блог?

4. France - 11,595 views
Bonjour. Merci de visiter mon blog. J'ai visité la France dans beaucoup d'occasions. J'aime particulièrement boire du vin français! Comment est le temps en France aujourd'hui ?

5. Germany - 9365 views
Hallo. Vielen Dank dafür, meinen blog zu besuchen. Ich lebte in Deutschland seit achtzehn Monaten, als ich wenig war. Bevor ich Europa verließ, war es mein Lieblingsland in der Welt. Ich denke, dass mein Lieblingsplatz der Schwarzwald ist. Wo in Deutschland würden Sie empfehlen zu besuchen und warum?

And now for the benefit of my English speaking readers, thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I will now back translate all of the above. Presumably with hilarious results.

3. Russia
Hello. Thanks what to visit my blog. I never was to Russia, but I would like to visit. What does you love approximately my blog?

Hmm, that's not too bad. I am vaguely disappointed.

4. France
Good morning. Thank you for visiting my blog. I visited France in a lot of opportunities. I particularly like to drink some French wine! How is the time in France today?

Wow, internet translations have got a lot better than they used to be. Admittedly I did ask about the weather at the end originally, but still... My hopes for hilarity are pinned on the German translation then.

5. Germany
Hello. To visit many thanks for it, mine blog. I lived in Germany since eighteen months when I was a little. Before I left Europe, it was my favorite land in the world. I think that my favorite place is the Black Forest. Where in Germany you would recommend to visit and why?

Well, there you go. I didn't use Babelfish, as I normally would, because it doesn't do Russian, so instead I used this Free Translation online instead. And it turns out I would recommend it highly. It does a fine job. What an unexpected end to this blog.


* I don't really know what bots are, or why they want to come to my blog and leave weird comments, but there you go. The magic of technology means I don't really need to know.

Warhol style portraits

Moi
I've just discovered that Fiverr exists. It's a great concept. Sell your service or product to the internet, for $5. There are proof readers, silly messages, music production - pretty much anything you can think of. It got me to thinking, what can I do that I enjoy, that won't take up too much time, but will be worth someones five clams?

 Based on some of my previous artworks, I came up with the idea of trying to hand make digital Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn' style portraits. They are handmade because I don't have Photoshop, so it is essentially (I imagine) a lot more of a painstaking process. There's probably an app for it somewhere.

Anyway, I've spent an hour on it and here are my first three attempts? What do you reckon? I thought I'd do my friends' rat, Brenda, since I happened to have a photo of her. They love Leicester City Football Club, so I've tried to replicate the Foxes colours for her portrait. I hope they like it.

Brenda, for El and Chelle
I also did one of The Boy, my third attempt, which is perhaps a little more true to Warhol's style, but particularly unflattering! It made me giggle and he'll probably tell me to take it down, but I like it. I've made it small though, so as not to increase the agony.

So what do you think, Internet? Would you pay $5 - that's £2.97 according to the current exchange rate - on a portrait of a loved one like this? I could even do multiple colourways...


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Green Fingers and Plant Swapping

Hey everyone - how is your garden getting on? Our borders are a little bare at the moment, but that's because I am being super cautious with my seedlings this year. I always get over excited, plant them out while they're still small and then - NOM! - they get eaten by slugs during the next rainfall.

I am excited about the garden this year though. We were so lucky with a relatively mild (although windy!) winter and Spring has really treated us nicely so far as well, although it doesn't always feel like it we've had quite a lot of consistent sunshine.

My enthusiasm to grow an aubergine has overspilled a little this year - I now have about 40 strong, healthy aubergine seedlings - I do not have a garden big enough for this many aubergine plants! I'd definitely like to get into plant swapping with people locally, do any of you do that? I think it's such a positive community action, to formulate an exchange economy, supporting neighbours to grow their own food, and perhaps try things they haven't tried before.

My pumpkins and squashes are also looking awesome. I think these are my favourite things to grow, but I think this weekend I am going to have to get some growbags in as we simply do not have enough bed space for them all. A little over enthusiastic with the seeds!

Other things we've got on the go include:
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Sweetcorn (although they are somewhat stunted as the cats decided to nibble their tops!)
  • Coriander
  • Carrots
  • Butternut Squash
  • Courgettes
  • Sunflowers
  • Spring Onions
  • And I'm even having a crack at celariac for the first time.

I've also put some flower seeds in - but they don't appear to be getting anywhere at the moment... Will I ever be able to grow flowers? Probably not, but I love my edible crops so I am not complaining!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Pilgrim's Choice Cheese

I have become a VIP (Very Important Pilgrim) so this week we've been trying lots of delicious things with Pilgims Choice cheeses. And best of all they sent them to me for free!

We paired the cranberry and wensleydale pick n mix with our home wine tasting session, and it went down a storm because of its creamy taste, punctuated with sharp sweetness.We had the smokey cheese pick and mix grated over an omelette. I absolutely adore smoked cheese, so this is a real favourite for me. I think that added depth of flavour is just delicious, especially when paired up with chorizo in the omelette. Bliss.

The Boy made a simple tuna and tomato pasta bake, which had the Extra Mature Cheddar Crumbles with breadcrumbs and herbs as an instant topping. The breadcrumbs make it go lovely and crunchy, so this is a great standby in the fridge. It makes a basic dinner into something a bit more special. We ate the whole thing!

The resealable packs mean that the Mature Cheddar Crumbles are really convenient to take with you for work lunches. I have some bread in the freezer at work so I was able to make some microwave cheese on toast. I added a layer of pesto hummus underneath for some added flavour. I'm the first to admit that it wasn't much to look at - cheese on toast in the microwave is never the best, but it did taste good.

This did get me in the mood for some proper, crunchy cheese on toast though, and so it wasn't long before I treated myself to some for breakfast. It was everything I was hoping for. The crumbles contain quite a lot of potato starch, presumably to keep the crumble texture and stop it all from sticking together. This means that it isn't that great to eat as it is, you really do need to melt it, but it is a convenient thing to have in.


The Firecracker pick and mix was a great option for livening up a vegetable chilli that we knocked up one evening. Gave it a real extra kick, which was flavourful rather than unbearably spicy. And finally I made some little sausagemeat tartlets last night as friends were coming over. A little sprinkle of the Crumbles with herbs and breadcrumbs finished them off really nicely, so they were better than the homemade sausage rolls which had no cheese!



As you can see, we've had quite a cheesy time, all things considered. I hope I continue to be a Pilgrim's Choice VIP for a long time to come - I quite like getting sent cheese in the post.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Campaign for Real Salad: Tesco Creamy Herb Pasta

We picked up a couple of Tesco Creamy Herb Pasta from Tesco's 'Deli Salad' range from the reduced aisle the other day, in the interests of research for the Campaign for Real Salad (don't forget to sign the petition!) Since writing about the Great Product Labelling Swindle six months ago, I thought the situation might be getting better with these pre-packaged deli salads, but not so!

I took one of these salads to work, with a tub of salad leaves to accompany it, since it has no vegetable content (apart from oregano and garlic puree, if you think that counts). It was very heavy, sauce laden and extremely rich. I also felt there was too much vinegar, but that's probably just my palette, I'm not in to vinegar. There was, as I have observed previously with these packaged pasta salads, way too much sauce. I think you could comfortably reduce the amount of dressing by 75% and still get the same flavour but significantly more enjoyment. I spent the whole meal trying to wipe excess sauce from the pasta before I ate it, as you can see from my plate. About half way through I was absolutely full of it, and feeling a bit sick because there was so much fatty sauce.

My leftovers - note the thick layer of sauce on the plate.

And not eating too much of this 'deli salad' is definitely the best way to go. Looking at the ingredients list, you can see that the cooked pasta composes 50% of the total, so this pot is 160g, 50% dressing. It's not indulgent and delicious as you might expect. It's greasy and overwhelming. Even the Boy felt sick after trying to eat some. 

Further to this, Tesco have now reverted to their old trick of labelling the dish with 100g and 'heaped tablespoon' quantities. On the actual packet, it doesn't tell you how much is in a heaped tablespoon, but happily at least it is mentioned on the website as 50g. That means there are just over 6 servings per pot perhaps?

The nutritional info of this item is truly shocking.


At 310g per tub, that means if you (with amazing superhuman powers) manage to eat the whole, single-serving sized tub without vomiting forcibly and copiously, you will have consumed 810 calories and a staggering 60.14g of fat. That's 86% of you daily recommended 70g fat intake.

Awesome, thanks Tesco. What a great meal option this is. Even if you just eat one heaped tablespoon of this pasta salad you will have had only fractionally less fat and calories than eating an entire Cadbury's Flake (170 calories and 9.9g fat). And received about the same nutritional value given that neither have any vegetable, fruit or general goodness in them whatsoever.

If you think this is stupid, sign the petition, comment below and generally kick up a fuss. Let's get our office lunchtimes back on an even keel.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Chocolate Banana Loaf

You know what you need on a Sunday morning?


Cake. That's what you need. I made a chocolate banana loaf yesterday and we ate it with custard. It's got walnuts in and I even tried to make it a marble cake, but I didn't reserve enough of the mixture to keep plain and so you couldn't see much of the marbeling.


But that didn't matter, it tastes lush. And now you can enjoy looking at it and perhaps go and make up your own random cake recipe. Why not? It's Sunday, the weather's a bit pants and your family will thank you if you do.


Ahhhh, it's kind of liberating posting about food without bothering to add in the whole recipe.




Saturday, 5 April 2014

REVIEW: Home wine tasting with Smeda Wines

corks, wine, tasting, reviewWe received a home wine tasting voucher for Christmas and finally got it booked in and underway this week. I was looking forward to seeing how it compared to the wine tastings we have done at wineries and also venues like the Saatchi Gallery.


We didn't really know what to expect, then our rep turned up with cases of wine for my friends and I to try. The company was Smeda Wines, a wine wholesaler from Northampton. We'd put out some cheese and biscuits and all our glasses ready and it was nice to have some recommendations of when, and which cheeses to try with various wines. We tried about 10 wines in all and received a complimentary bottle of a sparkling German red to keep.

Our favourites were:
Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand 2011
This was really full of fruity and complex flavours. Really well rounded with nicely balanced sweetness. Even though we're red drinkers, we really liked it.

Chateau Bladinieres Cahors la Preference 2009
This is a 70/30 Malbec/Merlot blend (not 93/7 as our rep told us!) which is really French tasting - it's got that smell and flavour of barrels and cellars. The Merlot comes through nicely to balance the wine, stopping the overall flavour from being too heavy.

Kuehn Gewurztraminer Alsace 2012
A beautiful, light and floral wine with fabulous hints of rose and soft lychee fruit. Really drinkable.

Spier Shiraz Western Cape
A lovely smoky full bodied red with no discernible fruit flavours. Quite a hefty 14.5%, but really worth it.

rose, wine, glass, review, hand, tastingSo we tried some nice new wines and were all happy. I wouldn't, however, bother with a home wine tasting again. The Smeda website shows that the usual price without a Wowcher would be £99 - it's definitely not worth that. The tastings poured were far too small - you were lucky to get one decent sip in a glass and there was clearly no scope to re-taste any of the more complex wines.

The rep also seemed hurried, and rarely introduced a wine with winery, varietal and vintage. She mainly just told us whether a wine was sweet or dry and gave some simple tasting notes in each case. She asked us to mark a price list with our marks out of 10, but then didn't say which wine was which so sometimes it was hard to find them on the list.

When we didn't want to commit to buying a case of wine at the end, she quickly packed up and left with hardly a goodbye. I know that these companies are running wine tastings to get you to purchase, but at £99 a session I think you'd be rightfully expecting a little more banter, much more coherent information about each wine, a fun experience and a no-pressure attitude to sales. I also noticed, as I was googling around for links to each of the wines, that Smeda's website is quite light on information and the prices are significantly higher than what you can find elsewhere - so if you fancy trying any of these wines I'd recommend shopping around.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

REVIEW: Moo! Penrith

We had a nice little trip out to Penrith. I had a conference so had to be there the night before to get there in time. That evening we spotted super sweet little craft ale pub, Moo. The Boy loved it, with its great selection of American craft ales at a reasonable price.


They also had a wide range of other Belgian, World and European brews and a couple of local Cumbrian ales thrown in for good measure. It wasn't the cheapest, yet for the quality and diversity on display they weren't pricing out the market. Pints were around £3.50 to £4.40 and a glass of wine around the £4 mark. 


It is a tiny little place, with rustic tables and barrels for furniture as well as a fetching trophy cow head on the wall. It was visited by a steady stream of regulars while we were there and the bar guy said it gets really paled on a weekend. I thought it was worth visiting for the cow print toilet seats, but that's just me.


They are partnered up with a nearby restaurant so don't really offer food. the restaurants menus were on the table and it looked high end, bit still relatovrly reasonable.

This was definitely my top pick in Penrith. Welcoming and friendly, the bar staff were knowledgeable but in no way snobbish or superior. They even gave us a couple of the moo stickers which adorn their pint pots. I can only recommend you stop by if you're in the area.
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