I LOVE a trip to London. There’s something about a visit to the capital that feels so special, so when I was invited to the Autumn/Winter Asda wine preview to sample some of their festive fizz, I decided to make a little mini trip out of it with an overnight stay at the gorgeous Capital Hotel, right in the heart of Knightsbridge.
Lovely Asda sent me a very festive hamper this weekend: not chocolates, or chutney, no, the best kind: MEAT!
Of course, not everyone wants to eat a traditional roast turkey at Christmas, and Asda’s Extra Special range has some stunning alternatives, including an Extra Special rack of venison, and a unique six bird roast, with British turkey, skinless duck fillet, chicken breast, wild pheasant, partridge and pigeon. The thought of these ‘bird within a bird’ roasts sometimes puts me off (how do you cut off the skin and inedible bits of each bird?) but Asda’s chefs have worked hard to create a dish with all the nice edible bits. It’s covered in a lattice of oak smoked streaky bacon and all you need to do is shove it in the oven. It serves 10 and costs £40 – in store now.
One of the best things about Autumn for me is leaving behind summer’s rosés and going back to a big glass of red by the fire. I adore a shiraz, and if I’m buying reds, I must admit to being a bit boring and focusing on the shiraz (or syrah – New World wines tend to be called Shiraz, but as you’ll see, it’s by no means a rule). I tend to go for new world as the wines are often a bit sweeter and juicier, which I like (not SWEET, sweet, obviously).
First up is a South African wine called Higgovale Heights (Shiraz 2011). It was a last-minute grab in Tesco and went fantastically well with our steaks in pepper sauce. Apparently there’s a violet aroma in there. I just couldn’t get it though.
This next one was recommended to me by my very clever wine-buff brother and I’ve bought it ever since and loved it: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz will set you back a bit more (about £15 in Majestic, but it’s sometimes on offer) but its deep fruity flavours (again there’s that hint of violet in there that I just can’t get – why won’t my nose work?!) are worth every penny. I know it sounds weird but I do get a hint of something ‘medicinal’ in the background of this that I love. It’s one of the few wines I reckon I could pick out of a blind tasting (maybe). Lush. Also in Waitrose at the moment is another Jim Barry wine, Clare Red Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon – it’s a gorgeous, full bodied fruity spicy hug in a glass – again it’s around the £15 mark but well, well worth it.
A big favourite of mine is Porcupine Ridge Syrah – I go back to it time and time again as it’s a real big, easy drinking red. This one often goes in the trolley if I’m in Waitrose and is currently on offer for £5.99 – bargainous as it’s usually £8. Grab a bottle or two.
Big Bro also recommends Italian Amarone wines if you’re into this sort of big red. Next on my list for tasting (when I’ve got a few quid – or I thought I might splash out for Christmas) is Amarone Ca Rose Le Arche 2008/9 recommended to me on Twitter by Oddbins. It’s another pricey one at £22 (Oddbins) but the description of it being like ‘liquid fruitcake’ has me intrigued!
I also still have my stash of Tesco Finest Cabernet Carmenere. I can’t help it. I bloody love this wine. My love is deepened by the fact that my lovely mate, Helen, she of the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club and now ALAN TITCHMARSH’S NEW WINE EXPERT!!! loves a good Carmenere too. And she should know, right?
On the downside, I tried a Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Carignan Syrah. An initial sip left me tasting blackberries – not unpleasant, but then I was left with a weirdly dry, furry mouth. On having a chat with Helen, it would seem that the furry ‘hangover mouth’ I got from it can be somewhat typical of Carignan. Better with dinner, I think.
I had a group of friends around for a little wine tasting and curry night. Here’s what we thought of some of the other big reds around this autumn:
Morrisons have been busy on the wine front recently. Following the launch of their online wine site morrisonscellar.com at the end of last year, they’re now reinventing their own brand wines. If you want to spend a bit more on a really fantastic bottle of wine, their Piccini Sasso Al Poggio £12.99 is a peppery Tuscan red that really packs a punch. We loved it.
I found the fabulous Jacktone Ranch Petite Sirah at Tesco on special offer at £5.99. Sadly now can’t find it on the shelves OR online there. It’s a big Californian red, deliciously dark and fruity and it got a unanimous YUM vote. I’ll be looking out for it from now on.
Other highlights included Asda’s Extra Special Valpolicella Ripasso £9.00 – a warm, full-bodied, fruity glassful of dark red fruity yumminess (technical term, that). If you’re looking for a bargain, also at Asda are a lovely ripe fruity The Wine Selection Corbieres £4.50 and the Busby Estate Shiraz £4.00 – both rich, fruity and blackberry-infused. And lastly, Asda’s Extra Special Barbera d’Asti, a bit more expensive at £8.00 – is full-bodied but also oaky. Yum.
Many thanks to my loyal tasting crew who powered through a significant amount of red wine without even flinching. That’s devotion to the cause that is.
It’s often pointed out to me that I get up to some pretty weird stuff, which is true, but it’s generally for good reason. In this vein, there’s nothing quite as weird as Asda’s Christmas in July event which I pootled along to yesterday at the beautiful Vinopolis, just by Borough Market.
Asda had decked the whole place out with decorations, fake snow and twinkly lights, and it really did look rather beautiful. Of course, the big supermarkets have to showcase their stuff early due to magazine publication deadlines, but it also provides nosy people like me the opportunity to pop along and have a look at what’s going to be on the supermarket shelves coming up to Christmas 2013.
Asda have impressed again this year with some top ideas, especially in their Extra Special and Butcher’s Selection ranges. On the fish counter, I chatted to Jill Skipsey, Asda’s fish counter buyer. Whole salmons are one of the stars of the Christmas fish selection. If you’re feeling brave, you can take it home as is, or the in-store fishmongers will fillet it for you. I also tried some delicious little new starters: Extra Special hot smoked salmon with beetroot and horseradish was particularly delicious. They’re served in little clear pots, ready to pop straight onto the table. Also in this range of pots is Extra Special Potted Crab, and another one with smoked salmon. So easy when you’re busy faffing around with the Christmas dinner.
Talking of Christmas dinner, one of the most important purchases you’ll make is the turkey. This year, Asda have pushed the boat out with not one but two new free range offerings, one a heritage breed called Slate, which is ready for you to prepare yourself, and the other is already stuffed and layered with British Cherrywood-smoked bacon. They’re also introducing colour coding so you can choose the right size bird for your needs.
As usual, my buddy ‘Asda Jim’ (Head of Meat Quality, Jim Viggars) has made sure that the beef, lamb (yes, it’s not just for Easter – there’s a delicious boned stuffed shoulder on offer with a Christmassy apricot stuffing) and pork on offer is top drawer. There is a lovely 28 day matured beef rolled sirloin with mushroom stuffing, and a really interesting outdoor bred porchetta belly joint, stuffed with garlic, rosemary and thyme with lovely skin for crispy crackling.
I was really impressed with the amount of outdoor bred, outdoor reared and free range offerings generally, including in the pork pies and sausage rolls in the chilled party section.
Onto puds, then. Some special ones to look out for are the spectacular Chosen By You frozen chocolate and Coitreau bombe, a beautiful, glossy dome filled with Cointreau soaked sponge layered with orange liqueur chocolate cream. It looked amazing. I also liked the look of the enormous profiterole gateaux: chocolate sponge and whipped cream topped with chocolate covered fresh cream profiteroles. There are also some lovely individual serving boozy jellies that look beautiful.
Starting to feel slightly full, I moved onto the cheese section. I was rather wowed by a delicious Extra Special oak smoked Wensleydale, a scrummy nutty, sweet Comté and of course, creamy tangy Stilton. Asda have also introduced a really good cheese board with Extra Special cheeses: Wookey Hole, Manchego, Bleu d’Auvergne and Cornish Camembert (which I tried and is seriously good). Great for a pressie, it also contains Extra Special quince jelly. I think it was around £10 – what a great pressie to take to someone’s house this Christmas (hint hint, relatives…).
For sweeties and stocking fillers, look out for giant candy canes, gingerbread men and jazzies, rocky road snowmen on sticks and a seriously cute Santa beard lolly.
The wines are particularly good this year (the champers has won awards by the bucketload and is under £20) but I’m going to give them a proper test later on in the year and report back to you with full reviews.
And then, stuffed with cheese, mince pies and candy canes, I popped my sunglasses on and wandered back into the sunshine.
Asda’s Fishmonger, Darren Wrend has created some recipes to give you a bit of inspiration for how to cook a whole salmon. They asked me if I’d like to have a go and have kindly allowed me to publish their recipes (and turned a blind eye while I fiddled with them too, bless ’em):
Salmon en croute filled with parsley, lemon and lemon and pepper butter
Our verdict: delicious, easy to do and really attractive to look at – would make a perfect dinner party dish. The boys absolutely loved this and have begged me to make it again – the combination of crisp, flaky pastry and soft lemony salmon is a winner. I did think the oven temperature was slightly too hot though (see note below):
Recipe will serve 6 people
- 2 skinless salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 1 lemon
- 3 lemon and pepper butter ovals (available from the fish counter – I didn’t have these so I used butter with a squeeze of lemon and a grinding of pepper)
- Cracked black pepper
- Sea salt
- Cup of milk
- 2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
- 1 sheet of baking paper
- Pre-heat the oven to 230C/ gas mark 8 (I found 200C/gas 6 was enough here)
- Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on a oven dish/tray, and on top of this lay flat one sheet of rolled out pastry
- Place one salmon fillet on top of the pastry, skin down (if the fillet is too long for the pastry tuck the tail under to fit)
- Along the middle of the fillet place sprigs of flat leaf parsley, then finely grate the lemon over the parsley, along with some cracked black pepper
- Crumble on the lemon and pepper butter ovals for additional flavour
- Place the second salmon fillet skin side down on a chopping board and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Once seasoned place the second fillet on top of the other fillet skinless side down
- Brush the visible edge of the pastry with milk, then lay the second sheet of pastry on top of the salmon
- Using the side of your hand go around the edge of the fillet and seal the pastry together, cutting off any excess pastry
- Using the excess pastry decorate the top of the en croute and brush the top layer of pastry with milk
- Place the salmon en croute on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry has gone a light golden brown colour
Salmon Fillets Stuffed with Cod Our verdict: I won’t lie, this was tricky for me, but I’m not tremendously dexterous and trying to tie up slippery fish wasn’t easy. I managed it, but my offering was slightly less attractive than Asda’s photo! The taste, however was delicious and fabulously healthy too. This recipe will serve 8 people Ingredients needed:
- 2 skin-on salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
- Approx. 300g skinless cod loin
- 2 lemons
- Sprig of dill
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C /Gas mark 5
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
- Cut six pieces of string (measure from hand to elbow) and lay along the width of the baking tray
- Place one fillet in the middle of the string, skin side down
- Season well with cracked black pepper and sea salt, then place five wedges of lemon across the salmon fillet
- Place a layer of cod in the middle of the salmon (about three fillets), and squeeze the juice of one lemon over the cod
- Lay the second fillet on the work surface, skin side down, season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Place the second fillet on top of the first fillet so the skin is upwards. To secure the fish take both ends of string wrap around the salmon and tie in little bows, finally season with sea salt and cracked black pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil
- Place the salmon filled with cod in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until the skin has gone crispy
Well, it was a mental weekend, what with the boy’s 18th birthday party, then dinner out with friends on Saturday followed by waiting up until 1am to pick Sam up from doing the bar at a local event. Knackered doesn’t even cover it. Sunday dinner, then, was a chilled affair – luckily I’d remembered to defrost the racks of lamb that I took home from the Asda meat masterclass so we had roast rack of lamb, rubbed with a little garlic, just served simply with some veggies and some little rosemary roasted potatoes.
Rack of lamb is the easiest thing ever. The butcher will trim it all up for you, then it’s just a case of scoring the skin in a criss cross pattern, then squishing some garlic with a pestle and mortar and adding whatever you’ve got handy: rosemary, mint, parsley, anchovies, capers, etc in with a glug of olive oil to make a thick paste. Rub this all over the meat and whack it into a really hot oven. Turn it down to 200/gas 6 and leave it for about 20 minutes if you like your meat pink, 30 if you like it more well done. (If you’re less lazy then me, you can crisp that skin up by pressing it into a hot pan before it goes in the oven, but we don’t eat it, so I don’t bother).
If you’re clever, you can boil some cubed potatoes (about ten minutes is enough), toss them in olive oil and rosemary while they’re still hot and chuck them in at the same time as the lamb. It will all be ready by the time the lamb’s had a little rest. Easy peasy. Now for a nice quiet week…
Ocado have a lovely selection of eggs out this year with all budgets catered for. While I was on my cruise, my very helpful family opened and ‘reviewed’ the selection for me (for reviewed please read scoffed), but very kindly took a picture of them. They tried (from L to R)
Montezumas milk chocolate with salted peanut butter mini eggs (declared by English Dad to be ‘The Best Thing I Have Ever Eaten. Ever’)
Montezumas organic dark chocolate chunky egg – this dark chocolate was a bit too intense for the teenagers. Might be worth choosing for a proper dark chocolate connoisseur though.
Talking of Montezumas – they’ve also brought out a rather quirky half dark chocolate half milk chocolate egg, for those of us who are undecided (or, indeed, who like to share).
Sadly it’s sold out online, so you’ll have to seek it out instore. I’ve also got rather a soft spot for their white chocolate bunnies too. Their white chocolate is lush – not sickly like some can be and with a very nice texture.
Cadbury’s have gone a bit mad this year and brought out Egg ‘n’ Spoon. Sold in a purple egg box, there are four individual eggs inside filled with either chocolate mousse or milky mousse. The pack contains a spoon so you can crack open the eggs and scoop out the mousse. Yummers.
And lastly, but not leastly: when we were at Asda House recently, we spotted their giant Extra Special Easter eggs. Sadly they are far too large to slip into one’s handbag (not that I would, obviously, if anyone from Asda is watching), but seek them out for your somebody special. There’s an Extra Special Belgian milk and white chocolate egg, and an Extra Special Belgian milk chocolate egg, both weighing in at a whopping 1kg and both at the very reasonable price of £10.
So that’s my testing done. I’m so helpful aren’t I? Saving you all that annoying and, frankly, fattening chocolate eating?
I am loving Asda’s Extra Special range again this year. Last year, if you remember, I travelled to Leith’s to see (and taste) a little of the Extra Special Christmas range they’d developed in association with Asda, and this year, they sent me a few of their wines to try. I don’t have an Asda near me, sadly, but I’ll be having a drive to stock up. Here are my top picks:
Chardonnay La Maison Elyse £7.17 – don’t be put off because it says Chardonnay – hey, it’s what makes Champagne, remember? This isn’t oaky AT ALL and is deliciously creamy. I ate it with salmon and pasta so I reckon it would be a winner with your smoked salmon starter.
Asda Extra Special Falanghina 2011 £5.00 – I cannot believe this wine is only a fiver… peachy, fruity and rich but still crisp, I LOVED it. I’ve never had Falanghina before but will be seeking it out. We had it with halloumi, rocket and pancetta wraps, but I it would be a delightful party wine, to be sipped with friends and nibbles. Yum scrum.
Asda Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2011 £5.00 – I don’t usually buy Pinot, but we both thought this was delicious, so I’m kind of changing my mind now – light, crisp and appley, but not so acidic that you can’t drink it on its own. Which I did. All of it.
Asda Extra Special Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 £5.00 – gorgeously fruity, full of ripe berries and – I’m not very good at this, but – chocolate? Raspberries? Whatever, it’s delicious and if you come across it, stuff your trolley. You’ll thank me.
Wine Selection Cava Rosado £3.78 – A beautifully soft, crisp and fruity rosé sparkler that’s bursting with lovely strawberry flavours – perfect for all festive celebrations and SUCH a bargain! I’ll be drinking this on Christmas morning and I’m not even sorry.
Thank you to the lovely team at Asda for sending me the wines. I love you all xx
Recently, Charlie, our very own Death Wish Dude, was invited by Asda to come and test out their new school uniforms on an army assault course: the best casting ever, as far as we were concerned. Asda have put their new uniforms through 3000 days of testing with 100 kids, and this assault course day was going to put it to the test in the worst conditions possible.
Sadly, the boy and his skates did their usual thing and after a front flip gone wrong, he ended up laid on the sofa with ice packs on his knees instead. Still, some other kids tested the uniform and here’s the result. I think: ‘chosen by mums, tested by kids and guaranteed by George’ just about sums it up, don’t you?
So yesterday saw me tootling off into London in the Spring sunshine. We had such an amazing time at Leith’s last time, cooking the Extra Special Christmas range, I was delighted to be asked back to try out their Easter range. Once again, Leith’s have been hard at work testing (and eating!) loads of new products that they feel are good enough quality to be called ‘extra special’ and go into the new range at Asda. I actually felt quite sorry for lovely Camilla, the MD of Leith’s School of Food and Wine when she was talking about the sheer amount of chocolate they’d tested (who’d have thought there was such a thing as eating too much chocolate?!).
Like last time, we were lucky enough to be allowed into the famous Leith’s kitchens to cook with the new ingredients. Our starter was a delicious mixture of fresh green samphire (yes, you can get it at Asda!) and young asparagus, topped with a poached egg and some strips of parmesan. As you can see, our table slightly failed on the runniness of the poached egg (we might have been gasbagging a bit too much to be paying attention), but the finished dish was delicious, and so elegant:
Next up was an amazing rack of lamb (it comes ready trimmed), which we adorned with a herb crust:
And our desserts were gorgeous strawberry tarts, with a crisp (ready made, but ‘extra special’) buttery pastry case, filled with a delicious mixture of mascarpone, double cream, vanilla and icing sugar and topped with strawberries which we then glazed with Extra Special strawberry jam. Droolworthy. And a ‘top tip’ we learned here, if you’re going to be making the tarts in advance, line them with a thin coating of melted chocolate before filling – it keeps them crisp):
We had such an amazing day and sadly, once again, I just about managed to hoover up my starter and main course (and plenty of the very freely flowing wine) before I had to leg it off to catch my train.
And especially for you, I’ve got a hamper with loads of the new Asda Extra Special Easter products to give away:
Just comment to enter!
Competition finishes midnight Tuesday 27th March. The winner will be chosen at random. No cash alternatives. The judge’s decision is final.
This competition is now closed. Well done to Jo Bryan who won the hamper 🙂
So last week I headed up to London to Leith’s Cookery School to check out Asda’s new Extra Special Christmas range. There’s a new train service which goes straight from my local station to Shepherd’s Bush. You literally step out onto the very threshold of Westfield Shopping Centre. I nearly died happy right there and then. It was actually really lovely to be in London and I enjoyed all the hustly bustly and twinkly lights. And then it started to rain and I was quite pleased to find my taxi driver and get to Leith’s.
It’s an amazing place. All sparkly stainless steel, stark white and wood. It looks really clean and professional – I SO fancy doing a course there (not the £18,000 Diploma in Food and Wine, you understand, just one of the smaller ones!). First of all we had a glass of champers and listened to lovely Camilla, Managing Director of Leith’s (you might have seen her in the new adverts for the Extra Special Christmas range) tell us why Leith’s decided to team up with Asda to develop the range. I have to say, I was really impressed. Basically she said that everyone needs a cheap supermarket, especially at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that we all can’t indulge a little at Christmas:
“We have a shared passion with Asda that good food should be accessible to everyone, whatever their budget. We believe, like Asda, that good quality ingredients are at the heart of great cooking which is why we’ve chosen to collaborate with Asda Extra Special for our first ever supermarket partnership. We’ve been really impressed with the quality of Asda’s Extra Special food and wine and we’ve had great fun creating some wonderful Christmas recipes and tips using the delicious ingredients which really will help make this festive season extra special for everyone.”
She also said, and I totally agree, that there’s a snobbery about food that – now, more than ever – shouldn’t exist. What better than good food, simply made?
I was quite surprised to learn that we’d actually be in the kitchen cooking. It was enormous fun – and such a privilege to be cooking in a real working kitchen. They set us working in teams of four on a menu using lots of the Asda Extra Special ingredients (do email me if you want any of the recipes):
Hot smoked salmon pate crostini
Goat’s cheese, walnut and honey crostini
Cocktail sausages four ways (sweet chilli, mango chutney and greek yoghurt, harissa, honey and mustard)
Warm seasonal salad of butternut squash, tenderstem broccoli and feta
Venison rack with parsnip and creme fraiche mash
Brussels sprouts and chorizo
I was really impressed with the ingredients. The whole rack of venison was all trimmed and ready to cook – you can crust it with breadcrumbs, rosemary, mustard and thyme, etc, or just roast is as is, and it serves 8. Absolutely amazing. And some of the cheeses were out of this world as well. Here’s some photos from the evening. I know I’ve said it before but honestly, food bloggers are just the nicest people. I met up with Katie, Kavey and Helen again after meeting them before at Jimmy’s Farm, and Sarah from Maison Cupcake too. We’re planning a boozy blogger’s lunch in L0ndon. Wehay!
Oh and the best news of all? I’ve got a mahoosive hamper of the Asda Extra Special range to give away, including brandy-soaked rich fruit cake, smoked Scottish salmon and vintage Champagne as a competition prize. Just comment to enter (sorry, forgot that bit!) x
Competition finishes midnight Friday 9th December 2011. No cash alternatives. The judge’s decision is final.
THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR ENTRIES. CONGRATULATIONS TO SARAH BROADHURST WHO WON THE HAMPER 🙂
So it’s National Baking Week (17th to 23rd October) and to celebrate, lovely Asda sent me a big, mahoosive parcel packed with all sorts of lovely baking kits. There were chocolate tray bakes, white chocolate chip cookies, toffee cookies, vanilla tray bakes and blueberry muffins and iced cookies (I hid the cheesecake brownie kit – that’s obviously just for grown ups).
When the slaves -sorry, cough, of course I mean children – came home from school, I set them to work in the kitchen to make me some cookies while I lolled around on the sofa drinking gin.
Here are the results. Impressive.
Look at his little face.
Slovenly motherhood result! Now they’ve proved they can cook, I am herewith giving up all my motherly duties to spend more time concentrating on gin consumption and sofa lolling.
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