Food Review of Christmas 2016

Well, the decorations should now be stuffed back into the loft, the ‘good’ cutlery should have returned to hibernation and the last scraps of turkey should have been consumed. Christmas 2016 is done.

So I want to take this opportunity to look back at my personal Christmas and some of the brilliant food discoveries I made…

Preparation is Everything 

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If you speak to Mrs Munkee, she’ll tell you that I can get quite stressed in the kitchen. If there’s ever a moment when I run out of workspace it’s just not worth being in the vicinity for fear of a passive aggressive torrent of abuse. So, this year, as a pre-emptive strike, I sought advice from Master Chef DGH on how to reduce the work on the big day.

I already do the majority of the vegetable preparations the day before but the gem I will keep with me for life is freezing roast potatoes. As well as being a god-send for timing on the day these were the best spuds I’ve ever tasted; a brilliant sweet, crispy and fluffy tatty!

Here’s DGH’s recipe.

Your Turkey Needs Good Friends 

If you’re like me you’ll see the benefit of investing in a quality bird however if you’re going to surround it with sub-standard accompaniments then you might as well pluck and roast a sparrow.

I would always recommend making as much as you can manage from scratch however, we all know that a little help in December is welcomed. So here are a couple of fantastic products that did my meal proud:

Mr Crumb Stuffing

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I can understand if you’re offended by the idea of buying in stuffing, I get it; but you’d be wrong.

This stuffing is superb. It is light, multi-textured, fresh and, best of all, very easy to do. Having this on my Christmas table offered a great sweet, spicy juxtaposition to juicy turkey.

Heck Festive Baubles

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I first came across this company on an Alex Polizzi (check spelling) documentary and, it I’m honest, the show didn’t put them in the best light. If you take that as you’re only interaction with Heck then I feel sorry for you because their meat is phenomenal.

Heck produced a fresh meat selection just for Christmas called Baubles. These are little meatballs of high quality, high meat, high flavour greatness! One of my favourite elements of the Christmas meal are the pigs in blankets but I didn’t need them this year!

Merry Twixmas 

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t look forward to Twixmas, that joyous period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when the world is still sleepy and we believe that we’re obliged to eat ALL the food in the house!

The question is, though, how do we make that Twixmas period extra special without completing the unthinkable task of leaving the house? This is what I did…

Just the Jelly 

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I love these little pots and I’ll tell you for why: their versatility. If you haven’t experienced this concept before they’re a rich jelly infusion with fantastically concentrated flavours. This year I used them as a meat accompaniment, a cheese accompaniment, a soup enhancer and a gravy enhancer!

Casa de Mont 

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I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve salivated over these beauties and done nothing about it; but I decided this year I was going all out!

Not only is this ham incredibly tasty and last forever (slight exaggeration) but it also makes an impressive centre piece. I think I’ve started a new Twixmas tradition!

So, that’s enough turkey and tinsel reminiscing for one year. I love hearing from you all so leave me a comment below and let me know your fantastic festive food finds!

Northern Munkee.

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Gluten-Free BBQ Times!

BBQ Mini-Series: The Black Farmer

So, it’s officially the British summer and it’s that time when we fellas refuse to wear sun cream, go an offensive shade of puce and revert back to our Neanderthal instincts by making a fire to burn meat on.

I love BBQ season but living in the UK makes it tough to predict and event more difficult for retailers, producers and eateries to plan for. However each year the offering keeps on getting better and better and the categories that the BBQ occasion spans is ever increasing. We would now happily shop the meat aisles, bakery, salad section, spices, oils, condiments and, of course, the booze aisle. BBQ is much more than a category in retail; it’s an occasion, a mood, an ambience and something that the whole nation, nay the world, goes crazy for.

BBQ has increased in popularity over the last few years with the explosion of street food trucks and festivals that have shown the common household cook what is possible with a fire, a hotplate and a bit of food soul. If we get invited round to a friends for a Saturday afternoon Barbie it’s no longer acceptable to serve salmonella sausages or botulism burgers. Now we expect brioche buns, sliders, low and slow briskets, sliders, kofte, shawarmas and a fabulous infusion of world flavours and tastes all on an undersized paper plate.

Now, I’m good with a pair of tongs and a hotplate but I don’t profess to being an expert by any stretch so I’d recommend you check out the BBQ Geeks for some absolutely top tips and the perfect BBQ.

This mini-series explores some of the new and great products and recipes that I’ve foraged and found this year to make Britain’s BBQ season great. So, even if we need to turn to supplements rather than the sun for our vitamin D, we can always enjoy well-cooked, well-seasoned and well-complimented meat.

The Black Farmer Gluten Free Meats

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Rating: 9/10

Packaging

The packaging employed by The Black Farmer is simple, on trend and effective. I do believe the front of the packaging could do more to inform the shopper some of the products’ biggest selling points: Wilfred’s heritage, the quality of meat used and the fact it is a free-from. These are all called out but, in my opinion, should make more a bang than a sly whistle.

Price

£2.00 – for the size and quality of this products this is a steal and could certainly demand a higher price point if The Black Farmer chose to. There has been a great influx of premium meats into the chiller from smaller suppliers and therefore the market is challenging and the bun fight over shelf-tickets is getting more vicious.

Delivery

Premium Pork Sausages

These sausages were phenomenal. The skin was soft and just burst on first bite releasing fantastically seasoned, juicy sausage meat. The absence of oats in the recipe produced a brilliant flavour profile surpassing any banger I’ve had before!

Beef Burgers

This is a really simple product but it really delivers. The meat is light and floral without grease and fat overpowering.

Beef and Cheese Burgers

Now these bovine beauties were the best of the bunch. The mature cheddar cheese added a delicate layer of delicousness beneath the brilliant quality meat. Perfect!

Verdict – in a word, juicy! As a gluten-evader (I don’t completely cut it out although I should) I think The Black Farmer has done an awesome job, certainly in terms of producing great quality meat. This review has been a very apt way to close my BBQ mini-series, thank you to Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones.

Details: www.theblackfarmer.com

So all that leaves me is to ask: what’s your favourite BBQ recipe, tip or trick? Come on folks, leave me a comment below because sharing is caring.

Also, before you go take a look at my blog on a fantastic condiment I reviewed earlier in the year; it’s the perfect accompaniment to any pork dish.

Northern Munkee.

BBQ with Chocolate!

BBQ Mini-Series: Xocolat Spice Fusions by Coeur de Xocolat

So, it’s officially the British summer and it’s that time when we fellas refuse to wear sun cream, go an offensive shade of puce and revert back to our Neanderthal instincts by making a fire to burn meat on.

I love BBQ season but living in the UK makes it tough to predict and event more difficult for retailers, producers and eateries to plan for. However each year the offering keeps on getting better and better and the categories that the BBQ occasion spans is ever increasing. We would now happily shop the meat aisles, bakery, salad section, spices, oils, condiments and, of course, the booze aisle. BBQ is much more than a category in retail; it’s an occasion, a mood, an ambience and something that the whole nation, nay the world, goes crazy for.

BBQ has increased in popularity over the last few years with the explosion of street food trucks and festivals that have shown the common household cook what is possible with a fire, a hotplate and a bit of food soul. If we get invited round to a friends for a Saturday afternoon Barbie it’s no longer acceptable to serve salmonella sausages or botulism burgers. Now we expect brioche buns, sliders, low and slow briskets, sliders, kofte, shawarmas and a fabulous infusion of world flavours and tastes all on an undersized paper plate.

Now, I’m good with a pair of tongs and a hotplate but I don’t profess to being an expert by any stretch so I’d recommend you check out the BBQ Geeks for some absolutely top tips and the perfect BBQ.

This mini-series explores some of the new and great products and recipes that I’ve foraged and found this year to make Britain’s BBQ season great. So, even if we need to turn to supplements rather than the sun for our vitamin D, we can always enjoy well-cooked, well-seasoned and well-complimented meat.

Xocolat Spice Fusions

Rating: 9.8/10

Appeals to: a true Food Adventurer and someone that demands more from their BBQ. If you love meat, BBQs and chocolate you’re in for a right treat!

Packaging

This product is hot off the press and was only just made available a couple of weeks ago. The packaging is simple but on trend with the chalk and chalkboard effect. My only criticism of the packaging is that there is a lot of text on the back and it’s quite small but other than that I’m a fan. I especially like the personal touch from David (@dghchocolatier) who is the creator of the range.

Price

£4.00 – for the category and size of the jar it’s absolutely spot on. You get a lot out of the jars which range from 70g-90g so £4 for a few meals is quite good.

Delivery

Chocolate as part of a savoury dish is something that is still quite alien to a Western palate but it’s slowly creeping into common usage with dark chocolate in a chilli con carne or a Mole sauce being widely accepted. However chocolate was a savoury ingredient for 3000 years before it became a sweet treat so it actually works really well. The chocolate in all of the flavours isn’t too prominent, instead it works with the ingredients of the rub to enhance and change the overall delivery slightly as opposed to usurp any of the other elements.

Ras-el-Hanout with Chocolate

I actually used this jar as a spice to flavour rice and it worked brilliantly. The familiar aromatic notes of the ras-el-hanout was met by a rich dark chocolate that brought out fruity tones and a lingering sweetness that played softly with my brown rice.

Jerk with Chocolate

This concept works brilliantly. Jerk is a fantastic spicy and smoky flavour on its own but when the cocoa is introduced it takes it a whole new level. Love it! I went simple with this one and marinated some chicken with some olive oil and then straight into a hot pan.

Smoky Paprika with Chocolate

This Spice Fusion is similar to the jerk but much sweeter with the chocolate reacting with the sweet peppers. I opted to use this jar as a dry crumb baked atop a beautiful Scottish salmon,

Steak Seasoning with Chocolate

This jar has to be used with red meat and left to marinade overnight. The chocolate adds a real depth and texture to the seasoning and really cuts through a good cut of meat. Perfect!

Verdict – in a word, sweet-fusion! I know that this concept is something that doesn’t necessarily sit right with all of us but believe me when I say you need to try this before you pass judgement. Chocolate and meat is a brilliant combination for any Food Adventurer to seek out.

Details: http://www.coeurdexocolat.co.uk or http://www.xocolatshop.com

So all that leaves me is to ask: what’s your favourite BBQ recipe, tip or trick? Come on folks, leave me a comment below because sharing is caring.

Also, before you go take a look at my blog on a fantastic condiment I reviewed earlier in the year; it’s the perfect accompaniment to any pork dish.

Northern Munkee.

Private & Exclusive!

Product Review: Privateer Jerky

So here we are again – another meat snack review and I love it! There is a whole world of outstanding meat snacks from the UK now and I won’t be happy until I’ve worked my way through the lot!

Once again this is a very different meat snack to anything I’ve tried before. We’re now into the realms of premium jerky…

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: meat snackers, jerky fans and those with a sophisticated palate

Packaging

The packaging is really simple. A well presented card detailing the premium branding sewn to a vacuum packed, meat pillow! And what more do you need?

Price

£4.00 (40g bag) – now this is the most expensive of the meat snacks I reviewed but £4.00  for a premium snack doesn’t break the bank and you can tell from the packaging the look of it that you won’t be disappointed!

Delivery

So what’s different about this meat snack? Well you get quality chunks of fantastic quality meat that has been cared for and smoked over Applewood to create a elegant undertone that permeates the whole snack.

Black Jack ‘The Mild One’

The smoked wood notes lay the foundations that are built on by a sweet black treacle which melts slowly into the soy flavours to leave a sweet, aniseed hint as the smoke creeps around your mouth. Enchanting!

Jolly Red ‘The Hot One’

This is fantastic! There is the familiar introduction of the smoke but then the sweet notes and the chilli heat begin to waltz with each other. The heat isn’t overpowering but it builds and sits on the tongue.

Verdict – in a word, exclusive! This is unlike any of the other meat snacks that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It is more premium, cared for and more exclusive. It’s the difference between a cigar and a great cigar. There are layers of subtle flavours that gang up on your taste buds and ambush them in a symphony of premium tastes. Great work Privateer!

Details: http://www.privateerjerky.com/

Northern Munkee.

Restaurant Review: Cabana Brasil, Manchester

Brazilian food is going to be big this year so Mrs Munkee and I thought we’d get a head start on the trend and say ‘Olá bela comida!’

I was fortunate enough to have toured South America with a rugby team in my younger and more active days so I have experienced the gaucho barbecue first-hand so I was exceptionally excited to visit Cabana Brasil and see how the Brazilian BBQ had translated across continents.

I know this is wrong of me but in my head I had set expectations around Bem Brasil, which I must add is a fantastic place to eat, however what I got was so much more than that…

 Rating: 9/10

First Impressions

I’m a big believer in the power of first impressions when I’m eating out; they set the mood for the whole experience. This is what I refer to as the MOFI (or moment of first impact). I don’t want someone falling over themselves to take my coat off my back or scoop Mrs Munkee up in a politely situated chair but I just want to be made to feel welcome and have the ambience set by my surroundings. Cabana Brasil really worked hard on their MOFI and superbly set the tone for the rest of the evening…

Imagine the scene: as the door swings open your greeted by an enthusiastic FOH against a backdrop of a lively carnival atmosphere. The décor is bright, vibrant and authentic and the music compliments it perfectly with a lively beat to raise pulses. The furnishings all add to the authentic feel with extracts from steel tap-taps, candleholders fashioned from bottletops and a wall of upturned milk crates. The centre piece of the carnival is, of course, the grill which periodically spits flames and aromas to excite the entire room.

Despite the melee Mrs Munkee and I were expertly guided to a dimly lit booth which seemed to paint the atmosphere into a subtle wallpaper rather than an intrusive floodlight.

Service

The service really was fantastic. Our waitress was enthusiastic, polite and offered sensible recommendations. I had that much confidence in the waitress that I allowed her to select my main course and sides for me. I believe that if you’re truly going to experience a restaurant you need to know what they’re famous for. Recommendations are a big thing for me and this was something Cabana Brasil is clearly adept at.

Feed

This is the crunch for any Food Adventure: how good was the food?

Menu

The menu was excellent. Despite being coined in the native language it was still easy to decipher and navigate so it wasn’t in anyway alienating.

First Course – Pulled Pork Sliders and Spicy Malagueta Chicken Doughnuts

Mrs Munkee and I opted to share a couple of starters between us. Both dishes looked amazing and were presented very well. There’s a danger with this type of cuisine, as with Bem Brasil, that it can appear quite glutinous and not feel special however Cabana Brasil displayed their food with a humble sophistication.

The sliders were inadequately named in my opinion. For me, sliders are an insignificant sandwich that offer little more sustenance than an amuse bouche but this dish was much more than that. Positioned delicately in the centre of the plate were three light cheese balls dissected by sweet shredded pork in a sticky BBQ glaze. The creamy cheese offered by the bread worked subtly with the sugary paprika and deep tomato marinade.

The Chicken Doughnuts were brilliant in their simplicity. The crispy coating encased a lightly spiced chicken with subtle cheese flavours.

Spicy Malagueta Chicken

Now for the main event! This  the dish selected, in it’s entirety, by my waitress – no pressure!

Well it was brilliant! The theatre created with the presentation of my grilled chicken on a metal skewer set the mood for an excellent feast. The farm assured chicken was incredible with a light smoky taste and singed edges that gave way to warm, soft meat that was still moist under my knife. My waitress had selected sweet potato fries, that showed evidence of the bubbling oil and melted in the mouth, and Rio Beans, which gave a rich and intense flavour, to accompany my grilled bird.

My only minor criticism was that I was expecting a bit more of a kick to the chicken. However, heat is in the eye of the beholder and Cabana Brasil had this covered with my own supply of Spicy Malagueta Sauce to intensify my experience. I’d like to take a moment just to pause on this because the sauce is outstanding! This smooth hot sauce is fashioned from rape seed oil which gives it a velvety texture and earthy undertones which are layered with sweet and spicy flavours to leave a sizzle on the lips. I could write an entire blog on the Cabana condiments!

Chocolate Raindrop Doughnuts

Finally, Mrs Munkee and I shared a dessert because my stomach had forgotten to tell my brain that I was already very full! This was the perfect way to end our meal with fluffy, sweet doughnuts hiding a molten chocolatey secret accompanied by an indulgent, not at all superfluous, hazelnut and chocolate dipping sauce.

Overall Experience

Brilliant! I definitely went in with expectations but I left thinking ‘Bem…what now?’ If I was to call-out one aspect of my dining experience that made it feel as special as it did then I would have to focus on the little things. In my opinion, Cabana Brasil works so well because the little things were done well. From the big band music and the Latin décor to the personal recommendations and the fantastic ingredients I was impressed.

Verdict – in a word, brasiliant! I was taken by the Brazilian charm and culture throughout the evening. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to visit Cabana Brasil but they’re going to get used to my Munkee face because I intend to be frequenting regularly – oh, and if anyone reading wants to know what I want for Christmas: a Cabana Cookbook and a range of their brilliant condiments will do just nicely thank you! So if you’re foraging in the North West I urge you to visit Cabana Brasil and to the restauranteurs  I say ‘Bem Feito!’ and bring on Rio 2016!

Details: http://cabana-brasil.com

Northern Munkee.

Meat without Feet!

Product Review: Barefoot Chilli Biltong

I’m starting to develop a keen palate for biltong and other meat snacks so it’s only right that I continue my quest to find the perfect on-the-go protein snack.

As I journey deeper into my quest I am realising that the hunger for meat snacks is growing amongst the early adopters; biltong and jerky are replacing hairy pork scratchings in bars in trendy spots up and down the country.

Rating: 7/10

Appeals to: meat snackers and protein junkies!

Packaging

The packaging is great – it’s simple and let’s the product do most of the selling. The labelling is really simple but effective with the right cues contained within the background. I did find the packaging quite tough to get into, which as a 6ft 2′ former rugby player did mean that I lost man points! My only other criticism on the packaging is the branding itself. As a consumer it’s unclear who’s biltong you’re eating and you could be forgiven for thinking the brand was ‘Spiced ‘n’ Sliced’ as it is much bigger than ‘Barefoot Biltong’. This is only a minor point in terms of product delivery but in terms of brand building it’s a bit of a faux pas.

Price

£3.90 – this is what I’d expect to pay for 100g of good quality biltong. It doesn’t come cheap but it’s well worth it!

Delivery

The first thing that hit me when I eventually got through the packaging was the different smell that this biltong carried over other brands – it was very light and floral and not necessarily what you’d expect.

This is another dry biltong, which isn’t my favourite. However, I did learn from their website that you can specify how you want your biltong (from wet to dry) which I think is a great touch. Not only does it enhance the experience and quality elements but it gives the product a personal touch and leaves you thinking that ‘this pack was made just for me’.

Despite this particular pack not being my preference it was a vast improvement on the Raging Bull brand I blogged about which was dry all the way through the eat. This biltong just needed a few chews to release the flavours and the juices. The heat was quite gentle but it was enough to enhance the quality meat.

Verdict – in a word, wetdry! Meat snacking in the UK is still far more infantile than its counterpart on the continent and unfortunately, as a nation, we are allowing Peperami to lead the way in terms of market share. However, if we band together as a merry artisanal army we can resist low quality meat snacks and feast on quality biltong until we can’t chew any more.

Details: http://www.barefootbiltong.co.uk

Northern Munkee.

This cow’s got a kick!

Product Review: Gloucester Biltong

I’ve reviewed a couple of different meat snacks now and I think I’m developing a keen taste for it, if I do say so myself!

Everywhere I go I see brilliant biltong in different guises whether it be seasoned within an inch of its life or packaged to appeal to the body building masses it’s a trend that’s not going away.

This review was a recommendation from one of my Twitter following. I love Twitter for lead marketing communications. It acts as a brilliant dipstick into the food world. Everyone’s a critic and the Twittersphere isn’t polite or bashful. It says what it likes and likes what it says. So, if you’re a tasty Twitter treat then I’ll take that as a good measure.

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Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: the more discerning meat snacker, a connoisseurs snack

Packaging

Now in my opinion packaging needs to be appropriate for its surroundings. Imagine this product sat proudly on a shelf in a deli, farm shop or fine food hall – it looks perfect. The labelling effectively calls out the products key features and shouts provenance. The silver foil used for the 40g packs is suggestive of how fresh the product is. Another thing the packaging does do is make it look a lot more appealing than its competitors in terms of portion size.

Price

£2.50 – this price point puts the product at a premium versus the high volume competition such as Jack Links and The Jerky Group but it’s a realistic price when appealing to the hardened meat snacker.

Delivery

Original

The smell of well cared for meat hits you as soon as you open the packet and you know you’re £2.50 was money well spent! The slices of biltong are thick but soft so you’re not left chewing for 30 minutes. The seasoning wasn’t overpowering but left a nice peppery aftertaste. Although the beef isn’t fatty you get a smooth velvety texture as you dissect the meat and release the wonderful juices.

Naga Chilli

This portion looks the same in terms of thick slices but it was speckled with golden coriander seeds. It looks inviting and smells incredible. The taste is outstanding. The first flavour you get has fruity notes which makes way for the release of the velvety caramel of the beef and then finally a heat builds to engulf the back of the throat and tongue. It’s not offensively hot but it’s also not one of these products where you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about. This is a brilliant product and in fact I’m still eating the pack as I’m writing these words!

Verdict – in a word, outstanding. I have sampled a lot of biltong and my preference is normally ‘the wetter the better’ but I may have to reassess that assertion. This isn’t a wet snack but it is amazing. £2.50 might seem a lot for 40g worth of snacks but go and spend £1.25 (twice) on a Cruga Biltong and you won’t think twice about spending £2.50!

Details: http://www.gloucesterbiltong.co.uk

Northern Munkee.