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ASDA Extra Special Slow Cooked Pork Shanks in Wholegrain Mustard Sauce

20 Feb

ASDA extra special slow cooked pork shankI see it as my mission to bring you not only exciting tales from the culinary front line, but also sordid tales of corner-cutting and laziness.

You’ll remember that for me, Saturday night is ready-meal night. The most recent experiment was billed as a notch up on the traditional microwaveable curry. Following a rare outing by Mrs Gastronome down to ASDA in an effort to find a PE kit before the end of half term, the kitchen was blessed with their Extra Special Slow Cooked Pork Shanks in Wholegrain Mustard Sauce.

Excitingly for someone who watches with envy as Masterchef contestants seal just about everything they cook in plastic and dump it into a bath of hot water, this meal was pre-prepared sous vide. In fact you could even carry on the deception by co0king the pork shanks in a pan of boiling water, rather like an exceptionally posh boil-in-the-bag pig.

Foolishly I decided to go for the microwave option which involved cutting a couple of holes into the sealed bags containing the shanks and 6 minutes at full power. Alas, this seemed to result in the sauce exiting the bags under high pressure and what came out of the microwave was indeed a slow cooked pork shank in wholegrain mustard sauce, but unfortunately the shank was still inside a plastic bag which was now sitting in a bath of slightly watery looking liquid.

Removing it from the bag was now a life and death experience as it was super heated and dripping, but remove it I did and presented it with some seared asparagus.

I can’t deny it tasted great. The pork fell off the bone.The sauce would have been good, but most of it was in the microwave, on the kitchen table and conclusively not on the pork so I can’t tell for sure.

I would buy again, but this time going for the boil-in-the-bag cooking option. If you are looking for a quick, but slightly upmarket option for a weekend meal, this is one to look out for.


What I love about…Fondue

15 Feb

Cheese fondueIf I ever had to choose a final meal, there would not be any competition.

It would be cheese fondue.

Nothing can compare to it. It resonates emotionally, for reasons I’ll go into shortly, tastes fantastic (cheese and booze – what is there not to like?) and preparation is lightning fast to  boot.

Let me dig a little more into the ‘prepare’ part of that statement. It’s a cheat, but cheese fondue is one of those dishes where the version you get out of the packet is so good, so authentic, so easy to work with, that I have never, ever seen the reason to start from scratch.

There is a ritual to the fondue preparation.

You chunk up the bread. The purists say it should be a stale baguette. I say, why stale? Yes, it needs some solidity to hold the gorgeous, gooey cheese, but it doesn’t need to threaten your fillings.

Chunked bread, ready for dipping

When this is complete, you remove the fondue from its box. At this point it will still be in its foil vacuum-packed sheath. It will feel colder than it has any right to and when you squeeze the packet you can feel the cheese giving slightly under your fingers like an edible stress relieving toy.

Taking a pair of scissors you snip the top off the packet. Immediately your senses are caressed by the aroma of cheese – Emmental and Gruyère –  and Kirsch. The fondue slips out of the pack easily, dropping into the fondue pot and immediately settling into the bottom of the pan, assuming its shape and waiting to be brought to life.

Fill the fondue burner with your fuel of choice and light, gently warming the fondue through. It takes time. The anticipation becomes almost unbearable, but it’s worth the wait. Half-melted fondue is no one’s idea of a good time.

When it starts to bubble the fun begins. Dipping your bread into the pot you remove as much of the cheese in one go as you possibly can. The strings extend from pot to bread becoming impossibly long as they stretch down to the plate. You spin the bread on your fork, twirling the cheese around and around until suddenly it snaps and you hurriedly scope it up onto to your plate to avoid losing any of it.

Cheese fondue, on the fork

Then the eating. It’s like the best cheese you have ever tasted, but with a kick of alcohol that sends your tastebuds into a spiral. You immediately want more, but in your haste you fumble the bread onto your fork and then into the pot. It sinks below the surface like a man in quicksand and you think “what a way to go!” You scrabble to find it, accompanied by chants of “into the lake with weights tied to his feet” from your fellow diners. And when you do fish it out, it is coated. Fully. It cannot be topped.

Yes, fondue is beyond compare.

It’s become the food background to so many special evenings – skiing trips, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas Eve – whenever I want it.

I never mix it up. Chocolate and meat fondue are OK (and I had a fantastic meat fondue in New Jersey a couple of years ago) but they are not the same.

Cheese fondue is special and it always will be.

Charlie Bigham’s Thai Green Chicken Curry

12 Feb

Charlie Bigham Thai Green Chicken CurryI rarely cook a full meal on Saturdays. A few years ago we got into the habit of Saturday night being ‘takeaway night’, and when finances started to dictate that this didn’t fit into the weekly budget, that mutated into ‘ready meal’ night.

The sad thing is that in the space of two years I’ve ploughed my way through just about every meal that Waitrose and Tesco have to offer. I’m not spurning other supermarkets, they just don’t exist in my town.

Ready meal aficionados know that they fall into two distinct categories.

Chuck it into the microwave / oven – minimal effort.

Chuck it into the frying pan and do a bit of mild stirring – tiny bit of effort.

Charlie Bigham’s range falls into the latter category and sits at the premium end of the market, with trendy, quirky packaging (think Innocent smoothies and you won’t be far away) and that ‘pay more, but do more of the hard work yourself’ approach that encourages a feeling of quality. This particular pack costs just shy of £6 for which you get a pre-mixed pack of chicken and vegetables and some thai green curry sauce. What it doesn’t come with is any kind of accompaniment, so whether you prefer rice or bread with your curry, you’ll have to make or buy it separately. Although this is not a huge hassle it does add to the cost.

Cooking the curry could hardly be easier. You fry the chicken mix for around ten minutes and add the sauce for a final two. Hey presto – thai green chicken curry. Of course, you need to juggle the preparation of the rice (if that’s your call) but in my case I took the easy route and dug out a frozen egg fried rice.

Charlie Bigham Thai Green Chicken Curry in the pan with the sauceThe resulting meal was pretty tasty, although my immediate reaction to Mrs G was that could have made it myself. This is, on reflection, probably still the case, but as the meal went on I became more and more impressed with the multi-layered flavours in the dish. This is not something I’m ever aware of having created myself, and certainly not out of a jar.

Ready meals are often let down by the quality of the meat, but the chicken breast in my pack was excellent – the perfect texture.

The acid test is whether I would buy the same meal again. The answer is probably not. The price-point is just high enough to make me either plump for the home-made option as an alternative for the same cost, or to economise and go for an out of the jar option next time.

Charlie Bigham’s Thai Green Chicken Curry is an excellent option for an easy meal, but doesn’t quite stand out enough to warrant the extra effort and cost to its cheaper alternatives.

Swedish almond tarta

31 Jan

Almondy Swedish tartaI was shopping in Tesco the other day for a suitable post-Sunday lunch dessert, and to be honest was feeling completely bored with the usual ‘Finest’ range. Lemon tart, American cheesecake – we’ve had them all…a lot.

I tried the freezer section, but it was the same products, just at -18ºC. It looked as though I might have to resort to actually making something, when an interesting package caught my eye. I was an unusual brand, one I didn’t recognise.

Daim Almondy authentic Swedish almond tarta was what I ended up purchasing. Very nice it was too – like a particularly dense almond cheescake.

The story on the back of the packet is that two young Swedish men (this is not going where you might think) had a dream of building a boat and sailing the world together (OK, perhaps it is). But fate conspired against them, in the form of a secret recipe from 1890 for the Almondy tarta which for some unknown reason decided them against having the adventure of the lifetime and instead into a life of producing frozen goods for the UK market. It’s hardly a modern fairy tale, but if there is a scrap of truth in it I have to thank them for their decision, because Daim Almondy tarta is well worth seeking out in your local Tesco.