North east business to deliver More More More food at home

More More More is making a move into the online home delivery market with range of homemade style everyday dishes.

Earlier this week the entrepreneurial owners of Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms invited some of us food bloggers over to show us their ambitious new venture and give us a taste of what’s on offer.

To get a proper feel for what’s cooking,we went into the kitchen to see the chefs cooking up a starter – lime leaf chicken with sweet chili sauce .

Then it was time to sample the mains – a shepherd’s pie and a lasagne and compare to some similar products from Waitrose.

The idea is to provide a different experience to the supermarket ready meal. The dishes are made fresh to order by the chef in the kitchens and sent out in simple packaging in portions of four so the helpings can be eaten or frozen.

It puts the north east company into a national market with surprisingly few competitors – the most well known being Forman and Field (which we’ve blogged about before here) – and taps into the same home dining trend all the supermarkets seem to be targeting with their starter-main-desert eat-in offers.

So how does it compare?

Price: At first glance, the prices might look steep but don’t forget the price given is for four portions. At £3.94 per person, the generous size chicken starter for example sounds more sensible.

Fantastic cheesecake

Appearance: The containers looked very familiar – and they are. The quality kilner jars and trays are from the same supplier as Forman and Field and both more pleasant to use and more attractive than the plastic and film supermarket versions.

Taste: Of the dishes we sampled, the chicken starter had great fresh, summery taste, the shepherd’s pie was nothing special but the standout star of the evening had to be the dessert of blueberry and mascarpone cheesecake bursting with fruit and perfectly balanced.

Verdict: Looking through the selection online there’s some great dishes on show. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever order up a shepherd’s pie – it just seems a bit too everyday and easy to bother with. But some of the other dishes and products offer something a bit different and more exciting and I wouldn’t overlook the dessert based on this week’s experience.

Having the added advantage of seeing where the food’s produced, ordering up something that’s more homemade than assembly line could be a handy backstop for a busy week.

One I made earlier – sort of

Product trail: Dash 4-in-1 measuring spoon

Yes it’s a spoon – but not as you know it.

dashMy old set battered set of of measuring spoons, within spoons that are nested on a ring like a jailer’s key fob looked positively outdated when this rubbery Dash 4-in-1 measuring spoon arrived for review.

The idea is an all-in-one spoon for the different measures a cook needs for both wet and dry ingredients.

The handy thing about it is that the measures are given in both, what I think of as traditional i.e. ‘1 TBSP’ as well as proper recipe book standard eg. ’15 ml’.

If you’re more of a chuck-a-bit-in-and-hope-for-the-best-person, maybe digging the Dash into your spices might not appeal but, for those moments when you’re not quite sure, this would be something easy to spoon from.

It’s featured in a design demo video (see below) and the full specifications are here.

* The Dash was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are happily accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section says it as it finds it.

Some gadget eggs-periments for Easter

JohnLewisGadgetsEaster. Eggs. Obviously. I’ve been lucky enough to receive these egg related goodies from John Lewis through the post which, as well as some of the expected chocolate variety, also includes two gadgets – one for boiling an egg, the other for poaching.

Here in six seconds is demo of how they work using the video app Vine:

Well it said it was a soft boiled and so it was. Onto the poached variety with the packet of bags called Poachies.

As you see, they create an un-eggshaped final item but each one was perfectly cooked and a lot less messy than my usual method of just breaking them into the pan and hoping for the best.

chickThere’s more egg gadgets here, who knew the humble egg would inspire so much invention?

Making bread not war

vetsartisanCome on…just look at that bread. With it’s crisp cheesy topping and soft, soft , springy and fresh white middle that’s surely enough to push any January dieter off the wagon.

And yes it was as good as it looks. This was the cheese bread from the The Veterans’ Artisan Bakery at Catterick Garrison, which opened last year after winning the support of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White .

It’s set up as a social enterprise and provides accredited qualifications to help those suffering from post-traumatic stress or who are vulnerable to homelessness with new skills and insight into running a business.

I hadn’t sampled their products before but now a local shop (Jefferson’s) stocks some lines, and can order many others from the handy catalogue of breads, I’ll certainly be finding out more about what soldiers can do when they lay down their arms and get in the kitchen.






Not long now…..sorting out that Christmas dinner meat order

How do you select your meat for the Christmas feast? The signs are up in the shops; ‘order now to be in time for the big day’, ‘one free elf if you buy 2,000 sausage rolls’ you know the sort of thing………

And then there’s the scramble at the supermarkets and the gnawing fear of finding the shelves as empty as the bagged sugar aisle after a news flash about a potential power cut.

Are you ready? Picture: Kevin Dooley

No way, the thought of seeing those sharp elbows heading into the chipolatas means I’m going to be clicking my way to the dinner table this year.

Buying food online is nothing new and during this year particularly I’ve discovered all manner of services and products where the convenience of having stuff delivered has not only freed up some precious time but also reduced the amount of cash handed over to the faceless supermarket chains. It’s also made me a more adventurous cook – having to find something to create with what arrives in the general veg box often means thinking out new things and, when suppliers have something new to offer, it seems much easier to hear about it.

Whether it’s the weekly basics box or something a bit special for a dinner party (and yes OK, I admit it, I have served up the occasional dish that’s come through the post) the lure of the hassle-free choice of clickable food is now an everyday experience.

So I was interested to hear from the people at Farmer’s Choice. Not only is one of their producers (Yorkshire Game) just down the road from me, which adds a local dimension to the whole shopping on the Internet thing, they’ve been operating online for many years and there’s a couple of things that make them a bit different.

Everything they sell is free range and traceable plus they cater for exactly what you want because they cut the meat to order. As their spokesman told me:

“We cut to requirements to order in exactly the same as what you’d get from over the counter at a butchers..if you just want two lamb chops, then we’ll just cut you two lamb chops.”

I think Christmas calls for a bit more than that but……you take the point.
Taking a look at the Christmas dinner offer , it’s not just the turkey.

There are the free range traditional birds there but also more exotic fare including a couple of extra special three bird roasts like goose, chicken and pheasant, all rolled together for an indulgent feast. And if you really can’t face any of the shopping, just order in the veg as well for the whole experience direct.

There’s not enough of a family for us to get stuck into the specialist hamper – but even if your household does resemble something like The Waltons, it doesn’t look like they’d go hungry with that lot arriving.

Doing the traditional annual thing seems to suit cooks who have a highly-organised sense of timing. I once met a women who had a printed list of every task timed down to the last minute and it started the night before with exact times for each thing to be done……imagine;

– 9am – wash Brussels sprouts
– 9.15 – peel carrots
Etc. etc.
I jest not, this list was even laminated for easy to clean re-use each year!

While I admire the dedication, my approach tends to be a bit more, erm, approximate and this Farmer’s Choice site got me clicking round to see what else is in store and thinking about conjuring up something a bit different.

Curry goat for Boxing Day anyone? Great looking recipe from north west chef Simon Rimmer here.

Holland’s Pies new range tried and tasted

Louise Bolotin from the Lone Gourmet blog gets to grips with the latest pie range from Holland’s.

HollandsA pie and a pint are a match made in heaven – comfort food and traditional thirst-quencher. What’s not to like? So when an invitation from Holland’s Pies turned up, inviting me to taste their new range, how could I resist?

Holland’s consultant chef Tom Bridge was on hand to talk us through the pies, while the beers, each matched to a pie, were provided by JW Lees. First up for tasting was the new chicken and ham hock pie – the filling had a good creamy texture and the meat was pleasingly chunky, but alas I couldn’t taste the ham hock. This cut of pig usually has a very pronounced flavour from its prolonged simmering then roasting but it was undetectable here. Nevertheless, overall it was a tasty pie that went down well with the glass of bitter. We also got to try the beef and vegetable pasty, a Holland’s staple, which smelled good and had plenty of vegetables, but not much meat although I may just have had an unlucky scoop of filling.

Of the meat pies the clear winner was the peppered steak pie – fabulously meaty and peppery, with a good after-tingle on the palate. I’m often wary of beef in pies as it’s usually from the cheapest cuts and lumps of gristle tend to turn up every bite. Not here though. Just steak and umami all the way, washed down with Lees’ gold award-winning The Governor.

The thing about pies is that they are filling and even arriving hungry and cold after a long day at work, I was starting to feel rather full. But there was still one more to try – the cheese pie. Chef Tom explained it was made with real cheddar, not factory cheese. Cutting into it there was a good strong smell of cheese and a subtle undernote of onion, and it had a good runny melted texture, although I felt the flavours were slightly overwhelmed by the pastry. This came with a small schooner of ruby port that spoiled the experience – the port was sickly sweet and coated my palate, destroying the lingering taste of cheese and making me feel a little nauseous.

I was pleased that Tom took the time to talk about the pie shells as well as the fillings. Holland’s use a secret hot water pastry recipe dating back to wartime. This kind of shortcrust pastry stays crispy, which is important for pie – you don’t want a soggy base or a collapsing shell that spills piping hot filling over you. No chance of that here – Holland’s know their stuff. Tom also emphasised the need to reheat in an oven as microwaving will soften the pastry. There’s a reason why bought pies come in a foil tray…

I was stunned to learn they make a million pies a week at their Lancashire factory. In the absence of homemade pie, which can be time-consuming and fiddly to make (especially if you struggle to get pastry right), for a mass-produced product this is about as good as gets. I doubt I’d buy the new chicken and ham hock but the peppered steak definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

Marmite V squeezy version – no differences detected during blind tasting say its makers.

Picture: Green Dinosaur.

Regular readers of this blog will know this is an issue that’s been rumbling on for yeas. Five years, eight months to be exact and is the longest running conversation held here at

And it’s not just been idle gossip, over the years I’ve been in contact with various representatives of makers Unilever and their PR bods – each time I’ve requested some more information but little has been forthcoming.

This time though – they agreed!

But there were limitations – I wasn’t granted a telephone or face-to-face interview but instead could submit some email questions. The answers are below.

Thanks to the ‘William’ whose comments are mentioned below for getting back to me. I should explain that he is called The Marmarati and appears to be a rather odd character created to deal with the promotion of the latest Marmite incarnation. I can only assume the style of language and communication is used to create a mysterious air around the new product. Aaaah, marketeers……..*sigh*


Dearest Sarah,

I have interrogated the entire Inner Sanctum for you (The Master Blender, assorted food technicians and those who wield the Brand) and they have shared the following answers with me:

1. What was the reason for introducing the squeezy Marmite?

Squeezy Marmite was introduced to answer customer feedback raised by using the standard jar. It’s aim is to aid our customers by delivering the same condiment we know and love by a more ‘friendly’ method (squeezing directly onto your food of choice) as many Marmite fans prefer this to the action of spreading. As such, it is also perceived as being less messy and thus being more portable for those who like to take Marmite wherever they go.

2. What changes were made to the original recipe to make it ‘squeezy’?

The answer to this also helps answer point 3 – we’ve made no changes whatsoever to the recipe, the ingredients or the proportions of the ingredients. The only change is that the product is evaporated for slightly less time to give it a runnier consistency.

3. Many readers of my blog believe it to be sweeter, less salty and less flavoursome – can you tell us how the proportions of ingredients has been changed?

As mentioned above, the proportion of ingredients has not changed at all. Internally we undertook a taste test not so long ago with Squeezy vs. standard and nobody could tell the difference – perhaps you could to challenge the readers of your blog to do the same? We’d be interested to see if the results continue to differ!

4. What happened to sales of Marmite after the introduction of squeezy ie. did they rise, fall or stay roughly the same? A month-by-month breakdown of total UK sales in a digital format such as a spreadsheet would be appreciated.

Ah. I did ask the Inner Sanctum this question but they cannot – for a vast variety of reasons – share sales figures outside the gates of Unilever, makers of Marmite. I do hope you understand – William.

5. Can you comment on the criticism that the launch of the XO range actually simply a return to the original recipe with a price rise to boot?

Marmite XO is an entirely different spread to your standard Marmite. It is created with four specially selected yeast sources and matured for four times longer than our standard spread to create stronger, more full-bodied taste for the most devoted of Marmite lovers. Indeed, as it was created with these very people in mind we activated the Marmarati to track down some of the most passionate Marmite fans in the country and invited them to a tasting event in London, where they chose the paste that is now better known as XO from a selection of 3 blends. As such the taste itself was selected those who care about it most, the Marmarati, purveyors of fine taste indeed! You can see how this unfolded at:

And so there we are – I do hope you have found these answers satisfactory and I look forward to you sharing them with your readers if you see fit. I remain at your disposal should you have any further queries.

Yours, as ever,



Product trial: Guinness gourmet peanuts and cashews


Nuts and beer. Beer and nuts. Go together like …..well beer and nuts. So some bright spark has decided to put them together and come up with beery nuts.

Packaging: Being Guinness branded, they’re in quality packaging with the black wrapping and distinctive gold harp. They look pricey – and they are £1.49 for 90g.

Taste: The packaging says they are “seasoned with the flavours of Guinness and Steak”. They have a deep flavour and fairly sweet. A bit more-ish but given them blind I would have been hard pushed to identify the flavour as Guinness I think.

Verdict: They’re something a bit different – a lot less harsh and bitty than a standard dry roast. Why not try them with beer?

* The goods were provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section says it as it finds it.

Product trial: Gift hamper from Forman and Field

The hamper revealed!

I’m a bit of a sucker for hampers, to be honest, not least because you end up with a lovely storage box for your trouble but also it’s exciting opening it up to find out what’s inside.

So when asked if I’d like to try one of their popular gift hampers, it was time to clear some space in the fridge.

It’s not a company I’ve come across before, based in London, and specialising in British food – so what’s in the box?

Packaging: Didn’t disappoint. A lovely wicker hamper stuffed with goodies carefully packed and protected. Delving in was a bit like a lucky dip….a small glass of potted lobster, a pork pie….. a box of luxury chocs……what would be unearthed next?

Contents: A great selection of luxury goods. Sometimes hampers look better than the sum of what’s inside and I’ve been disappointed in the past to encounter some really ordinary biscuits or a relish which you could buy anywhere, but this selection was very much aimed at us foodies.

The smoked salmon from H Forman and Son was especially good – thick and with their hallmark ‘London cure’ which is lighter and less salty than a traditional Scottish smokery.

The selection of cheese was also very interesting – even if the one did manage to overwhelm the fridge with its ‘fragrance’! I could be wrong, but I believe that was the Innes Log, described on the website as ‘a nutty, goaty delight’. One for adventurous cheese lovers only!

The others, a blue and two hard cheeses, were unfamiliar to me but well worth exploring and are featured in greater detail here.

Away from the meat, cheese and fish there were some sweet treats too. I loved the little pot of sharp lemon curd, the tea infused chocolate truffles and the cakes were….well, gone too soon! The chances of them reaching the seven day ‘eat before’ date needed because of the fresh ingredients in the chocolate brownie and banana cake are pretty slim.

Verdict: It was a treat in a box and, while not cheap – the smallest hamper retails at £34.95 and the most expensive a whacking £219.95 – the quality of the produce and its British pedigree would make it a great gift choice for the foodie in your life.

* The goods from the hamper gift baskets were provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section says it as it finds it.

Taste test: Saffron Gin

Updated 21 March: The experts at Gabriel Boudier have been in touch to confirm that Saffron gin does contain juniper. Happy to put the record straight.

Now here’s an interesting prospect – the delicately elusive and exotically expensive spice saffron, coupled with that refreshing taste of summer, gin.

Apparently this French colonial recipe of eight natural botanicals has been rediscovered by France’s leading micro-distiller Gabriel Boudier of Dijon and is being promoted as  a Mother’s Day gift for something a bit different

Gabriel Boudier is a leading micro-distiller in Dijon France with a reputation for fine spirits since 1874.

When the producers of this gin got in touch to see if I’d like to taste it, I was intrigued. And when I got a look at the contents of the bottle it was clear this is no ordinary tipple – it’s orange in colour.

To my mind, drinks that are orange are generally reserved for children, or the sick – think squash or lucozade -or even everyone’s favoured hangover cure, Irn-Bru.

But don’t be fooled, this is a far more delicate shade of orange and just as delicate and sophisticated in flavour.

Tweeting about this taste test prompted some discussion about whether a distilled drink without juniper can rightly be called a gin.

That’s a point the wikipedia entry for gin also supports, suggesting the tipple should have a predominently ‘juniper’ flavour. As noted above, the gin does contain juniper even if the flavour isn’t dominant.

Verdict: This tipple definitely doesn’t have that dominant flavour, or aroma, but is instead an unusual and light taste, an extremely dry drink and an interesting alternative.

* You can buy it online at priced at £27.39.