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Monday, 28 March 2011

Waitrose Tarte Selection

Oh, Waitrose... how you amuse me. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Higgidy should surely feel flattered by your 'Tartes'. And I'm fairly sure they're called quiches, by the way...

But seriously, here we have a couple of their offerings from a range that has very basic packaging, using mainly scripty fonts to describe the contents. Had they added adorable cartoons all over the box, this could not have been a clearer homage to that little company in Shoreham-by-Sea, because it's obviously designed to look hand-written. Shame I worked in Publishing long enough to differentiate between a script font and hand-written lettering...

These are all good-sized quiches, for serving up to four with a good-sized slice (my own estimate - the packaging refrains from offering any opinion) and, while the pastry is not completely consistent between each product, all seem to be 'butter enriched'.

Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar TARTE
The full description for this is "Butter enriched cheese shortcrust pastry, blind baked for crispness. Filled with a smooth blend of cream, egg and mature Somerset Cheddar. Hand finished with sweet balsamic onions."

I must confess, I had no idea what 'balsamic onion' is when I ate this quiche... though, going by the colour, I suspected it was marinated in balsamic vinegar. Having now looked into the matter I see this is more or less the case. Sadly however, Waitrose must have done something to remove the flavour - by which I mean all of it - because there's precious little onion and certainly no balsamic-vinegariness to the casually-strewn onion pieces. The onion is noticeably sweet, but otherwise quite neutral.

That pretty much set the standard for the rest of the quiche, in fact... because not only did the onion lack flavour, but it was quite gooey in texture, almost completely liquefied in places. I would concede that the Somerset Cheddar's flavour was somewhat more distinctive than yer-average cheese additive in quiche, but the overall impression made by the filling was that it was slimy and stodgy - rather typical for a supermarket ready-made quiche, in fact.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I would have thought that a 'Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar' quiche would have a nice balance between sharp-yet-sweet, tangy onion and sharp-yet-creamy cheese. That, and specifying Somerset Cheddar tends to suggest a stronger, more distinctive flavour should be present. I should note that I ate this one cold, and it may have been better served warm... but I'm not sure it would have elevated it out of the 'bland' zone.

The cheese shortcrust pastry was quite nice, though I'm not sure blind baking (a practice by which the pastry is baked before the filling is added) really helped a great deal. Whether it was the enrichment-by-butter or the addition of largely fluid fillings when it was prepared, I cannot know... but the pastry was soft rather than crisp. It tasted nice enough - sad to say even the pastry had more flavour than the onion - but, unlike the pastry of a certain south coast competitor, it was nothing special.

Goat's Cheese and Red Pepper Tarte
Here's where we get something that comes close to rivalling those other quiches... "Butter enriched pastry, blind baked for crispness. Filled with tangy goats cheese, peppery watercress & a hint of red chilli. Hand finished with chargrilled red peppers."

That description alone suggests a good deal more imagination has gone into making this quiche. Goat's cheese (or goats cheese - the packaging does punctuate it both ways) rather than boring old Cheddar, watercress - surely an extravagance? - and chilli... then chargrilled peppers on top. It almost reads like something Higgidy would do... Almost.

For starters, I cooked this one rather than serving it cold... but only because I fancied a hot meal when I ate it. Again, I'm not sure what difference it would/should make, so this is based entirely on my experience of eating this particular quiche... And what an experience it was.

As an aside, there was one point while I was noshing away, that I was hit by something very spicy. I'm not sure if it was a richer vein of watercress or red chilli (more likely the latter), but it was a very pleasant surprise in the middle of my meal. Sadly, it was not repeated... but it certainly livened things up briefly.

But even ignoring that gratifying anomaly, this quiche was far superior to the cheese and onion one described above. Even if it had just been 'goats cheese and red pepper', I suspect the standard of flavour and texture would have been preferable to the other quiche, but the added embellishments really bring out the flavour. The cheese is slightly bitter (or is that what they mean by 'tangy'?) but incredibly creamy and smooth. The grilling of the red pepper was very well judged, resulting in it being soft, sweet, yet still firm enough to feel like red pepper, rather than just being the sweet organic splodge it could so easily have become.

The bulk of the filling, too, was lighter and fluffier than the previous quiche, almost as if it was a completely different recipe (difficult to tell, because the ingredients breakdown is less specific on this one than on the cheese and onion quiche), as I doubt the act of cooking it changed its consistency so dramatically.

So far, it's sounding like a valid challenge from Waitrose to Higgidy... which is why it's a real shame that the pastry lets it down. It's a similarly smooth and buttery base to the cheese and onion quiche, but without the cheese component. Having been in the oven before serving, this one was crisp, so it's possible that these are really intended to be served hot, with the preparation optimised for that eventuality but, while Waitrose are saying these can be served hot or cold, I wonder if the blind-baking could have been taken a little further.

Another difference between these own-brand products is that they're all labelled as suitable for freezing, meaning there's something in their preparation that is geared toward refrigeration, and this may affect other aspects of the product. As mass-produced foodstuffs go, the latter quiche is a real winner. It's packed with flavour, with each element remaining strong and distinct. With a bit more work in the pastry, the Goats Cheese and Red Pepper quiche would be awesome, but there is a more significant flaw in the Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar version that really needs to be addressed somehow.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Higgidy Little Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Quiche

Having ventured a little further afield than usual for some food shopping today, I am happy to report that I have found a branch of Waitrose that has a slightly wider selection of Higgidy products... So it seems that I should do my shopping in Ruislip, not South Harrow. I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, really, but it's strange that two stores of comparable size that are only a few stops apart on the train should have such disparity in their stock.

Still... Today's snacky lunch was their smaller-sized Quiche Lorraine analogue. Kind of a Quiche Camilla, I suppose. The blurb on the front describes it as "Seeded shortcrust pastry stuffed with mature cheddar & sautéed onions in a creamy free range egg filling, topped with smoked English bacon lardons". I have probably noted before that I am not a big fan of cheese (which is strange, considering how much pizza I consume), and when it comes to cheddar, I tend to avoid anything labelled 'mature'. However, Higgidy's pies and quiches have brought be a new appreciation of feta, so I felt confident in giving this one a try. Let's face it, any kind of cheese put into a quiche is going to end up milder than it would be as a brick of cheese.

Yet again, I must congratulate Higgidy on their detailed ingredients list. It's broken down into the filling, the pastry and the bacon (who knew bacon had ingredients? OK, being serious, they list the antioxidant, preservative and the additional salt), and it's all there for anyone who wants to risk making one themselves, or for those of us who gobble the quiche down and then wonder "how did they make it so tasty?"

Because, dear reader, as someone who will sample any quiche that features bacon amongst its constituents, I must say this one was remarkably smooth of filling. You know how quiche can sometimes have a texture that's actually not far off omelette or, at the opposite end of the scale, not that far off glue? Well, Higgidy's quiche filling - in the couple I've tried so far - has been, without fail, one of the finest, lightest and smoothest fillings I've yet experienced. A quick glance at the ingredients list allows one to deduce the method by which this is accomplished. Yer average Quiche Lorraine fillin' is made up of eggs, cheese, milk and cream, seasoned to taste. This fillin' is made with Béchamel sauce, eggs, cheese, butter and a whole host of other goodies. Considering the Béchamel sauce (ingredients listed separately!) contains cream and butter, one could be forgiven for expecting the end result to be a little greasy... and yet it isn't. It's just perfectly smooth.

The other thing that so often goes wrong in a quiche is that the filling has little or no flavour in and of itself, so the additional contents have a chance to shine through. No such trouble with this quiche - the egg, the cheese, even the hints of mustard have their own subtle notes in every bite. The onion adds a gently sweet-yet-savoury twist, and the bacon still manages to present a flavour of its own... and it's really good bacon, too. Normally, when I see the term 'lardons', I expect small morsels of meat with plenty of lard on (har har - see what I did there?), but this bacon is very well balanced, cooked to prefection, and only slightly salty. Very much in the 'just right' category.

The pastry is the usual Higgidy seeded shortcrust, which is nice and soft on a quiche when eaten cold, but crisps up perfectly when either quiche or pie is heated. And, as usual, the appropriate amount of pastry has been used - not too thick, not too thin.

And this one I ate cold, pretty much straight from the fridge... I'm very keen to find out what it tastes like when heated.

Convenient, then, that I bought two...

Addendum: Fresh from the oven, this quiche is even better than it is when served cold. The bacon crisps up nicely, and the filling virtually liquefies, retaining all its flavour and smoothness. Whenever I pick these up in future, I'm going to have to think very carefully about whether I want the instant gratification of an amazing quiche straight from the fridge, or whether I can stand to wait long enough to delight in the cooked version. I guess it's going to have to depend on (a) how much time I have to eat, (b) whether I'm having it on its own or as part of a larger meal and (c) what I have available to accompany it.

Excellent stuff, all round.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Iceland Tendercooked... Pork in Sweet Chilli Sauce

It has, at various points in my chequered past, been rumoured that I am vegetarian. It has further been suggested that I make an exception for chicken. This is not entirely accurate.

I don't exactly flash my carnivorous credentials at every opportunity, and I do have a tendency toward vegetarian options when dining out... I have been known to tuck into the products offered by KFC with alarming regularity, but regular readers of this 'ere blog will know by now that I am perfectly capable of consuming meats other than the common farm fowl.

Beef is a different matter, however. It is highly unlikely that beef will ever be covered in this blog simply because it seems to make me physically sick (though, upon reflection, that could easily be more to do with an issue I have with my stomach rather than the meat itself...).

Pork, on the other hand, and like lamb, is one of those meats that I used to eat quite regularly when I lived with my folks, but which I slowly grew to dislike with a passion. Not quite sure what it was that precipitated this change, but it had been many years since I'd last eaten pork (except perhaps in sausage form) before I was introduced to the wonderful restaurant Bodean's, which specialises in pork dishes. They also serve root beer, which is always a winner in my books.

I have yet to sample their take-away BBQ packs but, whilst perusing my local Iceland, I happened to see that the pork entry in their own 'Tendercooked...' line (and, yes, it really has those three dots) came in a sweet chilli sauce, and couldn't resist. As is normally the case, the image on the packaging is exceptionally appetising, with a tender, moist looking chunk of pork slathered with a rich, chunky sauce...

...And then, there's the reality.

I have to say, I'm half tempted to put up a photo of my 'leftovers' from this meal... I cooked it as directed, served it with chunky, oven-cooked chips and, while it was reasonably tender and quite moist, it also came with a large dose of rind and a good clump of vascular tissue.

Now, anyone who knows me will happily confirm that I can be a fussy little bugger when it comes to my food. I will often leave something on the side of the plate just because it doesn't look right. I don't even attempt to eat gristle. If meat is served on the bone, there is frequently still some meat on the bone when I pronounce myself 'finished'. My fussiness has diminished somewhat since I've been living on my own but, when it comes to bloody great arteries in my food, I have to fight my gag reflex just looking at it, let alone considering putting it in my mouth.

Yes, gentle reader, I'll eat meat... but I'd rather not be reminded that it was once a living creature.

So when I found this conglomeration of blood vessels, nestled in with a huge strip of rind, I very nearly decided to tip the whole thing away and head out for some takeaway.

I know, I know, for a whole £2 I shouldn't be expecting the choicest cuts of fine pork... and perhaps this is just me being terribly fussy about my food... but, equally, a 'pork steak' in my books is a chunk of meat... not a chunk of meat, fat and capillaries.

The meat that was there and palatable was nice enough, but nothing special. It had that slightly crunchy texture of roast pork that I would not normally associate with the term 'tendercooked', and the flavour of the meat was edging toward blandness. The sweet chilli sauce, as far as flavour goes, was this meal's saving grace, and tasted excellent... but it was remarkably thin, with none of the richness suggested by the photography.

Overall, this is one for the individual to weigh up in their own heart and mind. It's a decent-sized hunk of pork in a nice, spicy - if thin - sauce and it only costs a couple of quid... but that pricepoint offers no guarantee of quality.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Last Course: Sainsbury's Tiramisu (2-pack)

Bizarrely, despite my sweet tooth and propensity toward multiple desserts when eating out, or even when visiting friends or family, it's remarkably rare that I bother with dessert at home.


When I first moved into my flat, I used to ensure I had at least one tub of ice cream on the go in the fridge... and normally have some Activia yoghurts tucked away somewhere... but, frankly, after sorting out my dinner, I rarely have the inclination to think about pudding. Currently, my fridge contains only a few things that could be considered to be a Last Course submission, and at least a couple of them have been in the freezer compartment for about a year. I'm not kidding.

OK, if it's something that requires oven time, it's almost understandable, but if all it takes is thawing, or taking out of a cardboard box, or pulling off the plastic lid... what's the problem?

I know, it's unfathomable.

So anyway. I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was going to start wittering on about desserts, and even mentioned that I was eating one when the idea hit me. I've also been emailed a nice, simple dessert recipe (which, coincidentally, involved booze as well), so I've really got no excuse for delaying this part of the whole foodie-blogging project any longer...

Sainsbury's 2-pack Tiramisu is a miniature - supposedly single-serving, though I'd argue that - version of a full-size Tiramisu, described thusly: "2 Pots with Savoiardo biscuits soaked with coffee topped with a mascarpone and Marsala wine cream and decorated with cocoa dusting". Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I'd always assumed that the base (biscuit? Really, Sainsbury's? Looks like cake to me...) had been soaked in booze because that's where the alcohol seemed most prominent to the taste. Perhaps it was a coffee liqueur..? I hadn't suspected for a moment that the liquid component - ever present in even the finest Tiramisu slices I've been served in restaurants - was coffee, based on nothing more than its colour. It's surely a very anaemic brew if it barely discolours the base.

Nevertheless, the packaging proudly trumpets its authentically Italian origins (again making me wonder why most Pizza seems to be made in Austria these days) so one must assume its preparation is equally authentic... But then, the briefest of research suggests Sainsburys have made a small mistake in their short description - they are Savoiardi biscuits, also known as Ladyfingers. The suggestion that these things are soaked in coffee, though, still confuses me. Some recipes even call for espresso. I'm not a fan of coffee - smells nice, tastes foul - and I'd always put my tolerance for Tiramisu down to a very limited use of weak coffee... Shows what I know, eh? Or at least, that what I don't know won't offend me...

But, getting back to the point... What I tend to like about Tiramisu is the counterpointing between the bitterness of the coffee, the creaminess of the topping and the sharp note of the alcohol. It's very easy to get it wrong, however, if the balance between components is off. In the worst cases, this results in a very artificial-seeming sugary irritation at the back of the throat that can ruin the whole meal, not just dessert.

Happily, I can report that this Sainsbury's 2-pack version does not suffer this particular malady, and turned out to be quite well balanced. It's not quite layered as one might expect - it seems to have two Savoiardi biscuits stacked at the bottom, with none of the topping in between, almost making it like a trifle without the jelly layer... but such oversights in preparation can probably be overlooked when one is simply trying to stuff one's face with a creamy, sweet dessert.

Shame the pots are so small, though...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Ginger-Glazed Salmon & Wasabi Mash

No idea from whence this idea was sprung, but it occurred to me only today. Naturally, the Wasabi mash part is a previously documented idea, and I'm no stranger to sticking a salmon steak in the oven so, really, the defining element is the ginger 'glaze'.

I should possibly mention that, when I prepared the Sparky Onion Gravy at my parents' house recently, there were several differences in the ingredients and the process - namely, normal onion, mild chilli powder, cornflour and a ready-made ginger paste. The end result was an entirely different gravy (normal onions being far sweeter, mild chilli powder kinda defeating the object of the recipe), but it turned out rather well, and the recipe will now stand as a milder variation on the original, for those times when a head-explodingly spicy onion gravy is not wholly appropriate.

But I digress.

The ginger paste is really what got the ball rolling on this idea. I have a stack of salmon steaks in the freezer compartment of my fridge and, since they're no use for sushi or the Teriyaki stir-fry due to being heavily waterlogged, I tend to bake them. While I was last out food shopping, I saw all these pre-prepared 'such-and-such with thingumy glaze' main courses, and thought to myself that the ginger paste should be able to make a no-brainer ginger glaze for salmon... But was I right..?

Ingredients:
  • Instant Mash (Sainsbury's - half a sachet per person)
  • Clearspring Wasabi powder (2 teaspoons should be sufficient, possibly per serving)
  • Salmon steak (1 per person)
  • 'Very Lazy' Ginger Paste (1 sachet per steak)
Preparation Time: About 10-12 minutes

Tools Required:
  • Bowl
  • Stirring Implement
  • Baking Tray
  • Foil
  • Kettle

The Process:
Preheat your oven to something in the region of 180degrees Centigrade. Open the sachet(s) of ginger paste and spread the contents over the top of the salmon steak(s). Wrap loosely in foil, place on a baking tray and into the oven for about 10 minutes. Towards the end of this time, stir the Wasabi powder into the instant mash powder, ensuring it's all lump-free before adding the appropriate amount of hot water. Stir until the instant mash is ready.

By this point, the salmon steak(s) should also be ready, so serve everything up... and enjoy...

The Results:
Well... Try to enjoy, anyway. This was not a roaring success, except inasmuch as the Wasabi mash was pretty good (probably far better suited to the sausage and mash idea, frankly), and the salmon was not half bad, considering how soggy it was when thawed (seriously, I had to wring it out before I could even think about slapping that thing in the oven!). The failures were that the ginger didn't glaze - I suspect grilling would have been the better option, and it's certainly what I shall try next time - and the salmon and ginger just didn't connect with the Wasabi mash... in fact, it clashed quite horribly.

It wasn't completely inedible - far from it - but, rather than being "a party on my tongue" (yes, sorry, I like those jokes almost as much as the S&M 'pun'), it was more like a 3am brawl in the pouring rain outside a club in west London. The mash was creamy, but bitter and spicy. The ginger-topped salmon was cooked to perfection (if I do say so myself - moist, but not soggy, and it came apart delightfully) and the sweet, ginger kick would probably have been truly awesome if it had actually turned into the glaze I was hoping for. Maybe grilling would do it, maybe I'd need to add something to the ginger paste to help it along... Who knows?

Further experimentation is called for...
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