Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2018

This year I have written 35 blog posts.

Tenth post was over ten years old, Chorizo Frito al Vino which was my thoughts on cooking Chorizo sausage in wine.

Chorizo

Ninth place was also about Chorizo, this was about Sainsbury’s Cooking Chorizo. Having used cooking chorizo from Tesco, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury, I much prefer using the chorizo from Tesco or Marks and Spencers.

The eighth most popular post on the blog was about the Pret A Manger Italian Chicken Salad I had in 2013. I have had it quite few times since.

The number seven post was Beef and Mushroom Stew with Dumplings. The post had a lot of thoughts about mushrooms.

The sixth most popular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers Pork Medallions.

My fifth post was about retro chocolate. How many of these can you remember? Which were your favourites?

Retro Chocolate

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the fourth most read post on the blog.

Climbing two places, the third most popular post was Basil & pine nut margherite, a simple pasta recipe.

Second most popular blog, having been top for two years was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

In at number one Chilli Squid from Wagamama, maintaining it’s top position as the most popular post on the blog.. This post was one of the many on the blog about squid, however it is now quite old being from 2011.

So popularity appears to be dependent on older posts being found via Google searches.

Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2017

This year I have written 37 blog posts. In 2016 I wrote 28 posts.

In the Birdcage

The tenth most popular post on the blog was about the Pret A Manger Italian Chicken Salad I had in 2013. I have had it quite few times since.

Ninth place, was a reminder from 2013, that if I ever go to Frankie and Benny’s again, don’t order the pasta! I have never had pasta again at F&Bs.

The post as number eight was about Sainsbury’s Cooking Chorizo, Having used cooking chorizo from Tesco, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury, I much prefer using the chorizo from Tesco or Marks and Spencers.

The number seven post was from ten years ago, Pasta in Tomato Sauce. A recipe for a very quick and easy dish with a lovely piquant tomato sauce.

Pasta in Tomato Sauce

Sixth post was about the Wagamama Pork Ribs I had in 2011.

Post number five for last twelve months was Basil & pine nut margherite, a simple pasta recip.

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the fourth most read post on the blog.

The third most popular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers’ Pork Medallions.

Second most popular blog, having been top for two years was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

In at number one is Chilli Squid from Wagamama, climbing one place. This popular post was one of the many on the blog about squid, however it is now quite old being from 2011 and the visit was the same one that I had the ribs.

So popularity appears to be dependent on older posts being found via Google searches. Hopefully 2018 will see more posts and more people seeing those posts.

Four Bird Roasts

Over the last few years we have had our main Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.

There are many reasons for this, the main is that we have found it makes the meal so much more enjoyable. The children enjoy it more, it feels that Christmas lasts longer.

Last year we went with the four bird roast from Sainsburys, which I really enjoyed, it was easy to cook, looked great and was quite tasty. The Sainsbury’s version of the four bird roast is a goose stuffed with turkey, duck and guinea fowl. I will say that this is basically a stuffed goose; it’s 62% goose, 9% turkey and there is 8% duck and 8% guinea fowl. I really enjoyed the roast, it was what I wanted, though I would like to have more of the other meats alongside the goose.

Four Bird Roast, Goose, Turkey, Duck and Guinea Fowl

We had the four bird roast from Marks and Spencers in 2009, it was basically a stuffed turkey, the chicken, duck and goose only comprise 17%, but with 66% turkey it’s way too much turkey and at £120 is a little expensive for what is a stuffed turkey.

Though we enjoyed the roast, I did find that it contained a bit too much turkey, which is fine if you enjoy turkey, but as a result I do think at £120 it is a little expensive for what is basically a stuffed turkey. It isn’t a “proper” four bird roast, as in a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a duck and then a chicken. No, it’s a turkey stuffed with portions of the other birds.

According to my blog in 2010 we had a three bird roast, which to be honest I don’t remember.

So what are we doing this year? Well the plan is still to eat the main meal on Christmas Eve, but what will be the centrepiece? Haven’t yet made a decision.

What are you having?

Doughnut Bargain

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jam Doughnuts were on special at a Sainsbury Local.

Doughnut Bargain

They were 33p each or two for £1.20…

Doughnut Bargain

Bargain!

Seafood Platter

For New Year’s Eve we decided to have a fish and seafood platter. It was an opportunity to cook and eat some great food. However one problem, as you may recall New Year’s Eve is not only part of Christmas, it’s also a Monday. As a result it was virtually impossible to find any fresh fish or seafood. Generally the fishing fleets don’t go out at weekends and I suspect that they certainly wouldn’t go out over a weekend during the festive season. As a result we went with frozen seafood, not my first choice, but with what we wanted it was better than nothing.

We got some frozen king prawns, scallops and squid from Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range. One of the key things to do when using frozen seafood is to defrost and defrost safely. If you cook frozen seafood from frozen, generally what happens is that you overcook it and it becomes very rubbery. You need to take care when defrosting to avoid food poisoning. The best way to defost is in the fridge, but this takes time. If you do defrost at room temperature, make sure you move the seafood to the fridge once it has defrosted.

The prawns I cooked on my griddle, whilst the scallops were cooked very quickly on a hot flat frying pan, as were the squid rings.

scallops, prawns and squid rings

The scallops were perfect and I was really pleased with how I cooked them. They were browned on each side, but were only just done on the inside. As a result they were melt in the mouth tender, and full of flavour. The prawns were very good, and served with some lemon were delicious. I was less impressed with the squid rings. In the past when I have cooked squid, I have bought frozen whole squid from Tesco and cut it into pieces of squid. I much prefer using this way of preparing squid, usually scoring one side to ensure even cooking and browing of the edges. The squid from Sainsbury’s comes ready sliced into rings. It cooked fine, but it lacked the depth of flavour I have had in the past with squid from Tesco. Why didn’t I get my squid from Tesco, well they’ve seemed to have stopped selling it.

Alongside this plate of seafood I also grilled some giant tiger prawns in their shells. These were placed under a really hot grill, after they were fully defrosted and brushed with some olive oil. The main reason for these prawns is twofold, one is the visual impact, secondly was flavour. They were delicious, though of course were quite messy to peel.

Taste the Difference Whole Giant King Tiger Prawns

We also had some dressed crab, these were small crab shells filled with a crab pate and white crab meat. They looked really nice, but lacked the depth of flavour I would liked to have. This was served with some fresh crusty bread.

Dressed Crab


Another successful dish was some clams. I got a pack of frozen Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company which I mananged to buy at Waitrose.

Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company

Again the key was to ensue they were properly defrosted before cooking, well they’re cooked already, all they really needed was heating up. I did this in a pan with some freshly chopped garlic and parsley. I thought they were delicious and very good value at £3.29. I think they would also work with linguine if wanted pasta and seafood.

We also cooked some salmon, this was roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

Overall this was a delicious meal, we served it with some fresh salad and I also made a paella.

So how was it then?

As you may be aware I decided to try another four bird roast for our Christmas dinner.

So how was it then?

Firstly it was very easy to cook, as instructed I cooked it in a deep roasting dish. I would certainly use a deep roasting dish as the stuffed goose does lose a fair amount of liquid. In addition the instructions recommend adding 500ml of water to the roasting dish, which I did.

I then covered the roast in foil and placed in a hot oven 220°C for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180°C for a further two and half hours. At this point I removed the foil, removed some of the excess liquid and basted the roast. It was then cooked for a further 30 minutes. It was then removed from the oven and allowed to rest for 40 minutes. During the resting period I finished off the other stuff that needed to cook in the oven.

Four Bird Roast, Goose, Turkey, Duck and Guinea Fowl

It was rather good, and a lot better than the Marks and Spencer one I had a few years ago. It seemed to work much better with the core of the dish been a goose over a turkey.

I was pleased with the roast potatoes, for which I used my regular recipe. Taking King Edward potatoes I cut them into smaller pieces than I normally would, so they would cook quicker. They were parboiled for eight minutes, drained and then roughened up. They were then placed in a pre-heated roasting tray with sunflower and olive oil. As I wanted them to cook quite quickly and there was a fair bit of other stuff in the oven, I dusted them with some plain flour. This helps to crispen them up when there is a lot in the oven or a lot of steam.

I also made my own stuffing. In the build up to Christmas I had tried a couple of fresh shop stuffings and wasn’t too impressed. What I found was that they were too meaty. I much prefer a more bread based stuffing and if it contains fruit or nuts, you can taste them. For our Christmas lunch I made two stuffings, one was pork and apple, the other was a fruit and nut. Using fresh breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, some decent pork sausagemeat, freshly chopped onion, egg to bind; and for one chopped apple, the other a handful of a festive fruit and nut assortment. These were then placed into a foil trays and baked in the oven.

We also had a nice mix of vegetables, parsnips, brussel sprouts, carrots and squash.

Overall I was very pleased with the meal, which was enjoyed by all.

…basically a stuffed turkey!

Three years ago I managed to get in time and order a four bird roast from Marks and Spencer.

It went down well, but I did reflect afterwards:

Not sure if I would get it again, there was too much turkey in comparison to the other meats stuffed in there, but still very nice to have a mix of meats. Stuffings were nice as well.

When you look at the ingredients you get an idea why I thought that.

Turkey (66%)  • Pork, Brandied Apricot & Cranberry Stuffing (8%)  • Goose Breast (7%)  • Chicken Breast (5%)  • Smoked Streaky Bacon (5%)  • Duck Breast (5%)  • Poultry Stock • Water • Orange Slice • Dried Apricots • Rosemary • Salt • Ground Black Pepper.

It’s basically a stuffed turkey, the chicken, duck and goose only comprise 17%, but with 66% turkey it’s way too much turkey and at £120 is a little expensive for what is a stuffed turkey.

So what am I doing this year then?

Well, another four bird roast, but this time from Sainsburys. I did consider going to my local butcher, but their’s were too similar to Marks and Spencer’s, basically a stuffed turkey!

Sainsbury's Four Bird Roast

The Sainsbury’s version is different in that it is a goose stuffed with turkey, duck and guinea fowl. I will say that this is basically a stuffed goose; it’s 62% goose, 9% turkey and there is 8% duck and 8% guinea fowl. However as I have been meaning to have goose for a few years now, for me this is an ideal choice. It’s only 3.7kg, smaller than the 4.5Kg of the M&S version. It was also a lot cheaper at £80. I thought this was good value for money when you consider how more expensive goose is than turkey.

I am looking forward to cooking and eating it. As is now traditional in our house we will be cooking and eating our main festive meal on Christmas Eve.

So do you like salt, or do you like eating?

French Fries

I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but now and again it does. What is that you may ask? Well the blog post title is a bit of a giveaway, the answer is salt, or more specifically the amount of salt in both processed foods and in restaurant meals too.

I recently bought a chocolate cake from Sainsbury’s, what astounded me was that the salt content per 100g was higher than Ready Salted Pringles! I know people complain about the amount of sugar in savoury foods (I am looking at you Duchy) but this was a sweet thing. There I was thinking that supermarkets were trying to reduce the amount of salt they use in their products.

I am finding a fair few restaurants are not just adding salt to cooking, I kind of expect that level of seasoning, but then “garnish” the dish with even more salt. I recently had some sweet and sour squid, over the salt and pepper squid and was disappointed to find that the squid had been garnished with sea salt. Similarly the number of places that “garnish” their fries with salt, yes, I’m looking at you Café Rouge!

I am now pretty sensitive to the amount of salt I find in foods and I do find now that when used excessively detracts rather than enhances the flavour of the food I eat. So do you like salt, or do you like eating?

Sainsbury’s Bistro Tuscan Chicken

Getting back late last night, and not feeling 100%, decided to pop into the local supermarket and get something. Sainsbury had their £10 meal deal from their Taste the Difference range.

Their “deal” isn’t as “good” as similar deals you get from Marks and Spencers or Waitrose, you get to choose one main course, one desert and a bottle of wine.

Of course it has to be said that these aren’t really “deals” as the listed prices are over-inflated to make you just think you are getting a good deal. You look at the shelf price and you are expected to “say” wow, this dish costs £7, the desert is £3.50 and the wine is £6.99 that means if I buy all three I am saving £7.49!!!

Come on, really? Well the truth is that though we as consumers like to think of ourselves as rational and see through such promotions, the reality is very different. Consumers like these deals, they work for the supermarket and we buy them.

I recall seeing the similar deal in Marks and Spencers, what I then did was go round and l found similar products on the non-offer shelves for less money than the deal.

We’ve not saved any money on this “deal”, it’s actually cost you £10. A common misconception is that “deals” save you money. They only do this if you were intent on buying those products in the first place. For example if you went out to buy one loaf of bread at £1.20 and there was a multibuy, two for £2. If you buy two loaves of bread the “deal” hasn’t saved you 40p it has cost you 80p as you were only going into buy a single loaf, not two. I know some out there may say, “but you have another loaf” well yes, but will you eat it? It has to be said that with some offers, even like my example, you do save money if it offsets a future purchase, however if you buy something you hadn’t planned to, then that deal hasn’t saved you money.

Of course what happens with a lot of these deals is that people buy too much of something and in the end they throw it away… that means that deal didn’t save you money!

Sainsbury's Bistro Tuscan Chicken So why did I buy the deal then?

Well I didn’t  buy the deal to save £7.49, what I did was buy three things for £10 that I felt was value for money at £10. I went for a white win, a chocolate soufflé and the Tuscan Chicken.

The Bistro Tuscan Chicken instructions were a little complicated (for a ready meal), place the orzo pasta in the dish, bake in the oven, part way through add some water and continue cooking.

I was trying to be quick, so what I did was part cook the orzo pasta, as I was heating up the chicken, and then add this to the chicken before finishing off in the oven. This reduced the cooking time by about 15 minutes!

I really did enjoy this dish, the tomato sauce, combined with the fresh yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes and spinach was very refreshing. The chicken had flavour, well it was thigh meat and not breast which does make a difference. I also liked the orzo pasta which resembles rice, but has a different taste and texture. The olives and spices added depth to the dish and there was enough in the dish for two people. A fresh flavoursome dish that was quick and easy to prepare.

I think next time I will make it myself from ingredients, but if you don’t have the time then this ready meal wasn’t half bad.

Burger at the Sainsbury Cafe

Whilst getting a quick lunch at the cafe in Sainsbury, what I wanted was off the menu, so needing to make a quick decision I decided to go for a burger.

It came with chips, coleslaw and some salad. The chips were double cooked, which means they were cooked properly, went cold and were cooked again. Places do that because it is quicker and they can get food out faster to the customer. Personally I don’t like it, as the chips can be quite greasy and over cooked.

I did like the fact that they had used real cheese and not the plastic cheese you get on most burgers you can buy from fast food joints. It was quite a nice burger and had a reasonably good flavour. Didn’t think too much of the burger bun though.

Overall it wasn’t that bad, quite nice in fact, however not sure if I would get it again.