Thursday, 19 July 2018

New foodie discoveries - Dairy edition

In the last few years dairy has been getting a bad rap. Celebs and health food gurus proclaim dairy is not good for you and wear their plant-based credentials as a badge of honour.
The research on dairy is constantly going back and forth, with theories in favour of dairy or against it. I respect anyone's decision to stop drinking and eating dairy for whatever reason (health or ethical), but I am against virtue signalling and psychological manipulation that comes from certain quarters of the so called clean eaters.
The plant-based business is exploding with choices, and kudos to everyone who makes it happen.

Yet the dairy farming has been part of agriculture for more than 7,000 years, and won't disappear any time soon. If anything, the selection of dairy products is expanding.
I'm particularly impressed with the latest additions from around the world, and wanted to show some of the best new dairy products on the market.

Danone Lassi (inspired by India) (£1.50 in Ocado) is a sweet and refreshing drink. It's not as sour as kefir. Quite high in sugar - 19.8g per pot. Made with skimmed milk, water, sugar (5%), cream, natural flavouring and live cultures, it tastes lovely, but I do wish there was less sugar.
In fact my favourite lassi is a salty variety.

dairy products

Indian dairy products

Danone Ayran (inspired by Turkey) (£1.50 in Ocado) is a savoury fermented milk drink. Perfect for hot weather, it is refreshing, with a clean taste. It is like a mix of yogurt and buttermilk, with a mild level of acidity.
It is made with milk, water, cream, salt, live cultures, and that's it. There is a subtle hint of salt, which gives it a unique flavour. Add a sprig of mint, or a slice of lemon, for a tasty aperitif on a hot summer day. You can enjoy it with any meal.
88kcal and 7.3g of sugar per 250ml pot.

fermented milk drink

And my top favourite from The Danone of the world range is Straggisto (inspired by Greece) (£1 in Ocado). It is a wonderfully creamy thick yogurt. It's a mix of milk, cream and live cultures.  130kcal per 140g pot.
Very moreish, it is great on its own, or with a drizzle of dark Greek honey.

It is perfect for breakfast, or as an afternoon treat. A little gem.

I believe there are other products in the Danone of the World range, but I haven't tried them.

Granarolo Formaggio Croccante Cotto al Forno (96p in Waitrose) or Oven Baked Cheese Snack - are crispy bites of mature hard cheese for snacking and eating in salads, and soups.
Made with 100% Italian aged cheese, this snack has a high protein content - 11g per 24g bag.
Nutritional values: 572kcal per 100g or 137kcal per bag
These snacks are gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian.

Italian cheese snacks, healthy snacks, lunchbox ideas

Italian cheese snacks

Granarolo Oven Baked Cheese Snack Pizza (96p in Waitrose) is made with 100% Italian aged cheese. It's gluten free, lactose free and vegetarian, great for snacking, in salads and soups.
These crunchy cheese snacks are so good, it's hard to stop at one or two pieces.
A small 24g bag comes at 140.6kcal. High protein content - 11g per bag.

Italian cheese snacks

I opened a small bag just to sample it, and haven't even noticed that I ate the cheese bites all on my own, oups.

lunchbox snack ideas

Another Italian brand which produces quality dairy products is Galbani. Its mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone and other cheeses are a big part of the Italian diet. I often buy Galbani products, and was pleased to see the latest addition to its range - Galbani Freschetto Classico with olive oil (found in Waitrose recently for £1.50).

Italian soft cheese

This medium fat soft cheese with olive oil is delicious. It's great on crackers or fresh crusty bread, and will be lovely added to any cheese pasta sauce. This soft cheese is actually produced in France, which was a surprise, as I thought all Galbani products were Italian.
Nutritional values: 280kcal per 100g

best soft cheese, Italian soft cheese

Nestle La Laitiѐre le Petit Pot de Crѐme Saveur Pistache (4 pots x 100g at £2.80 in Waitrose) is a baked milk dessert with eggs and pistachio flavour. Made in France.
Nutritional info: 184kcal per portion.
Very delicate, and not too sweet, lovely flavour.

French dessert

Jazz it up with roasted and crushed pistachios and serve as a dessert for a posh dinner.

French dessert

Nestle La Laitière Crème aux Ouefs Saveur Vanille - Baked milk dessert with egg and vanilla flavour (£2.80 in Waitrose)- is made from whole milk, cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla.
Nutritional information: 174kcal and 17g of sugar per 100g pot.
Creamy, rich and delicate in texture, it tastes like creme brûlèe without the sugar crust.

baked egg dessert

French-style dessert

Kefir is very popular in Russia and many other Eastern European countries, and has been enjoyed around the world for over two thousand years. but until recently it was hardly known here, in the UK. In the last couple of years though it is gaining the recognition it deserves.
The Collective Great Dairy offers three flavours of kefir. Mango'n'turmeric Kefir (£2.50 in Sainsbury's) is a cultured milk drink, with 13 different strains of live cultures. It is quite similar to a mango lassi - sweet and refreshing, with a mild note of turmeric which also adds a beautiful colour.
Nutritional info: 129kcl and 15.2g of sugar per serve (250ml)
It is a source of protein, calcium, vitamins B2 and B12.

fermented milk drink

One more kefir which deserves a special mention is Bio-tiful Dairy Kefir/Honey & Mint.
I have already written about this brand in the past - see my posts Cultured milk drinks from Bio-tiful dairy and New Food discoveries (July 2017).

fermented milk products

Bio-tiful Dairy Ltd uses authentic natural recipes to create an excellent range of organic cultured milk drinks.
I often buy the produce of Bio-tiful Dairy Ltd, and can say that it is excellent. The quality of ingredients and sustainable production process speak for themselves.
Bio-tiful Kefir Honey & Mint (£1.60 in Sainsbury's) is a pure delight. Mildly sweet, with a crisp note of mint, it is very tasty and refreshing. I have tried most flavours of Bio-tiful kefir and smoothies, and I think I found my new favourite.
Nutritional values: 159kcal and 14.8g of sugar per 250ml bottle. It's a good source of vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.
I would also love to try a mint kefir with salt, as a base for summer soups.

best fermented milk products in UK

And that's it, my top ten dairy discoveries of the summer.

Is there a dairy product you have come across recently that you love and would recommend?

Monday, 16 July 2018

GraviTrax Starter Set from Ravensburger

best construction set

It is almost a miracle these days when a child leaves all his techie gadgets to play with a new construction set for hours and hours. That's exactly what's happened with our latest track set
- GraviTrax Starter Set, a new STEM track system from Ravensburger (RRP £49.99).

This is a truly splendiferous set which is both fun and educational. You will get hooked, whether you're a child or a parent.
Experience the power of gravity and use your imagination to build dazzling engineering constructions.
The STEM system - Science, Technology Engineering and Maths - is a super tool to teach children about gravity, magnetism, kinetic energy and fun.

Today we're showcasing just a GraviTrax Starter Set, but this set could be extended with extra track packs and add-ons (watch out this space for another review in August).
It is suitable for ages 8+, but a younger child will enjoy it as well, with an adult supervision (but not the preschoolers due to small parts).

construction set

This fantastic set comes with 18 different construction elements (120 pieces overall): a base plate in four big pieces with holes which hold the hexagonal tiles in place, three different lengths of track, small and large hexagonal tiles used for construction pillars and metal balls - these elements are called essentials.

construction set

Then come the Basics: a launch pad, curve pieces, basic tiles, landing and finish line.

construction set

Specials include junction tiles which allow balls to cross paths, 3-in-1 pieces which combine up to 3 tracks into 1, 2-in-1 pieces, switch which diverts the balls into different directions and magnetic cannons.

Level 2 includes a Vortex which funnels the ball from one level to the next. It is caught by the Catcher or the Splash, Freefall which drops the ball to the next level, Catcher which catches the ball after it drops through the Vortex of Freeball, Splash and Level for creating multiple elevations.

A construction plan booklet is enclosed, with 9 track system examples in 3 levels of difficulty.
The booklet helps understand the basics of construction.

We started with the easiest track A.

construction set

Here it is, shown in slow motion.

Moving onto the track B.

construction set

And track C which uses three balls:

construction set

Track D: as you can see the level of difficulty is increasing.

After trying the first four plans, Eddie asked me if he could try building his own track, without the booklet.
It was not the easiest task, as the balls wouldn't roll all the way, so he had to figure out how to place the correct heights to enable the ball to continue rolling. I loved how concentrated on the task he was, and how determined to solve the engineering problem.

construction set

Eddie was very proud of his freestyle track, and I agree, it is pretty cool.

That's another of his freestyle creations. He was much taken with this clever set.

I'm not going to show every single track from the booklet, but here is the most complicated level - track H. You have a step-by-step instructions booklet, but even with it, it's not that easy to align  all the tiles correctly. But it's totally worth it.

best construction sets

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, and with the extra track packs and add-ons the Gravitrax system could be extended indefinitely

The hot weather won't hold forever. If you're looking for a creative, imaginative play set for summer holidays and beyond, I can't recommend GraviTrax highly enough.

Disclosure: We received the construction set for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Photo diary: week 28, project 365

We had a carnival today in town. After spending half a day in the sun, I'm feeling totally shattered, so here is a very quick glimpse at our week.

Sunday: phloxes in our garden

Monday: I opened a carton of Swedish bilberry soup, which I discovered in Ocado online. It's a lovely berry soup/drink.

I am trying to find the "right" cake for Eddie's birthday later this month, and took a few pictures of different cakes for him to choose. He did like the T-Rex cake, but after long deliberations opted for the Pokemon design.

I love watching bees in the garden, they are always gathering nectar on the lavender.

We were reading at bedtime as usual, and I snapped my tired boy, as he snuggled next to me.

The clouds were fluffy on Friday, and this one looked like a dragon poking its head out of the white.
Or a seahorse.

After the carnival procession we looked at all the stalls and attractions on The Leys, and Eddie loved jumping on the Flight simulator. He had a go on it last year, and kept asking me to do it again.

Murmuration by Robert Lock #blogtour

Murmuration by Robert Lock (Legend Press, published on 12 July 2018) is a historical novel set on the Blackpool Pier.
This beautiful book will take you on a journey through history. It is a completely absorbing and thoroughly intelligent read.

It begins with a description of the starlings gathering on the pier roof only to take off in the air and settle into a shifting cloud: the murmuration. The birds dance above the pier for one hundred and fifty years, and many stories have passed beneath them.
"Men and women, their children, their children's children; lives so brief and fragile when compared to the enduring strength of the pier, but possessing a depth of feeling that iron and timber would exchange theie immutability for in an instant. Only the ephemeral can truly appreciate the infinite".

We move back in time to the beginning of the pier, to 1865, when it's starting to take shape above the sea. We meet Georgie Parr, a music hall comic, looking at the pier with his wife.
Georgie builds his career on lewd jokes and smutty innuendos which delight the working class public and enrage the middle class' conventionality and conformity. He revels in his scandalous reputation.
His personal life is full of loss and sadness. His wife dies in childbirth, and his only beloved child follows her nine years later, dying of scarlet fever. He drowns his sorrows in drink and frequents the prostitutes for snatched moments of relief and intimacy.
One such encounter, with a prostitute, young enough to be his daughter, ends in a horrid tragedy.

In 1941 a local boy, Mickey Braithwaite, watches the starlings from the roof of the theatre on the pier. He is a proud member of the Observer Corps. Nowadays he would be called as having special needs. Having watched the starlings, Mickey is convinced they have given him a message to save his Mum, and he runs through the dark town to the Salvation Army building to rescue her. His Mum is saved, but almost everyone else who stayed in the building, is buried under the bombed ruins.

In 1965 the fortune-teller Bella Kaminska is cynically telling fibs to the punters who visit her booth. She is good at reading people and has no scruples in deceiving them, "dispensing her bogus prognostications", that is until she has an unpleasant encounter with a threatening young man.

Then we are in 1989, with the local pier archivist Colin Draper. He's a loner, who lives with his disabled mother. He comes across Georgie's scandalous story and tries to discover what has really happened a hundred years before. As his mother's only carer, he relishes and resents the part in equal measure.

And then there is Sammy Samuels. Another comedian who builds his career on lecherous dirty jokes.
His repertoire is dated and he's relying on the former glories. He lives alone, in a drab flat, and treats everyone with scorn and derision. Women are objects for him. Just like in Georgie's case a young prostitute would be his undoing.
Will the history repeat itself and end up in a tragedy and complete ruination?

Times change, characters come and disappear into oblivion, deficient and wanting.
But it's the deckchair attendant Mickey who's most fulfilled in his life.
"Mickey appeared to inhabit a different world, a place of wonder and infinite possibility, hidden from most people's view behind the theatre scenery of the tangible..."

Humans and starlings aside, this is also a book about the sea resort, and its pier.
"Where once restraint and optimism had proclaimed the town's vigour, now there was only garishness and despondency. The resort, like every other in the country, had been abandoned by all those thousands that once thronged its beach in favour of sun and sangria..."

Murmuration is like a Bayeux Tapestry, with one story embroidered on a cloth after another, scenes changing from the past to the present and lined smoothly at the joins. The pier and eternal starlings provide the connecting thread and background.

"It was then that the archivist realised the pier was the perfect metaphor for civilisation and everything it represented, lifting humanity above the chaos which boiled and churned not so far beneath. And the pier was also a bridge, linking solid ground, the prosaic and understandable, to an entirely different realm, one of delicacy and magic..."

This review is one of the steps of the blog tour. If you fancy reading what the other bloggers thought about this novel, check out the following route:

Disclosure: I received a proof copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Degustabox BBQ Box (June 2018)

The heatwave is upon us, and the forecast is for another month of misery sunny weather. I'm not a big fan of the hot weather, and feel rather grouchy. While the sun is out, many of our neighbours have already enjoyed their BBQs. The smell of the burnt meat is not very appetising, but there's no avoiding it. The supermarkets are offering all kinds of BBQ products.

BBQ is an inspiration for this month's food selection from Degustabox.
This food box arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in the June Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

Fyre Fruit Drinks are an exciting combination of fruit and spice. There are two inspiring flavours -
Fruit & Spice All Natural sparkling drink in lemon & ginger and Blueberry, Blackcurrant, Peppers and Chilli.
Lemon & Ginger flavour was ultra-gingery.
0 fat, 4.8g sugar and 19.2kcal per 100ml
Lemon and ginger are a lovely combination of refreshing zingy flavours and a robust heat.  I like ginger in drinks, but that was the dominant flavour.

I was a bit worried about trying the Blueberry, blackcurrant, peppers and chilli, expecting the punch of heat, but was pleasantly surprised. Here the flavours are balanced nicely, and the chilli is not the most supreme note.

summer drinks

Rosie's Pig Raspberry Roller (4% alc) (£2) is a sparkling cloudy cider with raspberry juice and cucumber
Made with fresh pressed Herefordshire apples, this sweet and well balanced cider is slowly matured and left unfiltered to create an uncompromising flavour.
It looks pretty, and has a unique taste of apples and raspberries, with a mild aftertaste of cucumber.

Orangina (original and light) (£1.20) makes a lovely summer refresher. With its unmistakable orange flavour, sparkle and real citrus pulp, they come in amusing-shaped bottles.
Drink them on their own, straight from the fridge, with ice or without, or use as a base for cocktails and mocktails.

No & More Raspberry & Blueberry (£1.29) is a spring water with a hint of raspberry and blueberry. It contains no sugar, no sweeteners, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and is pH neutral.
You can find it in Boots and Waitrose.

I was most excited about Frylight Avocado Oil Cooking Spray (£2.99).  I find the Frylight range of oil very useful for baking, as you can coat the inside of any cake tin evenly. They are particularly great for fancy bundt cake tins.
It is also useful for shallow frying, roasting and baking. The avocado oil can be used at higher temperatures than most cooking sprays due to the more resilient nature of the oil.

I baked a Curd cheese cake with vanilla chips, using the avocado oil spray.

Idahoan Gratin Bake (£2.30) is an ingredient for a super easy potato bake. Prep time takes just 3 minutes, mix the contents of the bag with hot water, milk and butter, add to the casserole dish and cook for half an hour for a creamy potato dish.
I haven't tried it yet. It's being too hot for any proper casserole.

Capsicana Cook Sauces (£1.99) have already appeared in Degustabox food boxes in the past.
We have tried Brazilian Chilli & Coconut sauce before and found it pretty hot. I'm passing it on one of our fire-eating friends who enjoy hot meals.
It is made with tomato paste, coconut milk, white wine vinegar, ginger puree, onion puree, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, spices - more pepper like black pepper and frutescens chilli etc. It says "hot", and it doesn't disappoint if you're after the heat kick.

Capsicana Cuban Chilli & Lime Cook Sauce is featuring Habanero chillies. This sauce is based on Cuba's famous Mojo sauce. Ingredients include orange juice concentrate, honey, garlic puree, white wine vinegar, olive oil, corn flour, lime juice, salt, spices - cumin, habanero chilli, black pepper - and parsley.

I used this sauce to cook a roast chicken. No photos of the chicken but I used the leftovers to make a salad next day, with assorted beans, cucumber, olives and cheese.

I also used a little bit to make a brioche sandwich.

Brioche Pasquier Pains au Lait (£1.75) make a tasty base for little sandwiches, with whatever filling you fancy. Above you see a brioche with cold salmon, cucumber and a bit of butter, as well as cream cheese with leftover chicken and parsley.
Pains au lait are free from preservatives, artificial flavours and hydrogenated fats. They are soft and have a mild sweet note.

Peckish BBQ Rice Crackers Multi-pack (£1.79) are a thin, light and crispy snack made of rice. Baked not fried, they are gluten free and are under 100kcal per portion. Nice munchies, while you're waiting for those sausages on the BBQ.

The Jelly Belly Bean Factory Faitrade Box (£1.25) are filled with 36 fruity flavours and made with Fairtrade sugar. My guys love jelly beans, but I have to ration them, or the box will be empty in one go.
They look pretty and make great and easy decorations for any bakes.

Mighty Fine Salted Caramel Honeycomb Bar (£1) is the finest handcrafted honeycomb made with the best natural ingredients. This light, crisp honeycomb is covered in a creamy Belgian milk chocolate.

Great British Biscotti Co (£1.30) are a tasty combination of Belgian white chocolate, zingy cranberries and crunchy pistachios inside the buttery crumbly biscotti. There are 20 flavours altogether (very impressive). These delicious biscotti are made in Dorset, and will soon be available in Ocado and Amazon.

Disclosure: We receive a monthly food box for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.