Category Archives: Food and Drink

SM reviews… Pizza Express Vegan Pizza Making Party

Pizza Express launched their vegan menu back in June – since then they have had over 200,000 orders. The menu – which was a few years in the making, mostly down to sourcing the right kind of cheese, was created by Pizza’s Express’ team of chefs with both taste and nutrition in mind.

a humble ball of dough…

You may or may not be aware that Pizza Express offers ‘pizza making parties’ as an alternative to – well, ya know – sitting there and getting a waiter to bring your food over as you plough through the prosecco. So – we made some vegan pizzas!

Our evening began with some nibbles and delicious organic wine from their wine list. I’m a sucker for olives and sundried tomatoes, but we were also served plates of their trademark doughballs without the garlic butter you might associate them with, but instead with olive oil/balsamic and a tomato tapenade, which made them taste positively guilt free!

Next step; we were presented with aprons, hats and balls of dough. Alex, the chipper chef (who has obviously done this a few times before) gave his dough a few nimble-fingered prods before tossing it in the air, spinning it, deftly catching and laying it in a pizza pan.

some lovely nibbly bits…

We weren’t quite so proficient. It is actually quite tricky to stretch dough as thinly as per the Pizza Express house standard (they’re not being mean btw – it’s all to do with the ratio of heat and creating the perfect crust) – mine sort of ended up looking like Sigourney Weaver’s belly before the alien pops out – but Alex fixed it with his pizza-ninja skills.

Then came the toppings; on Pizza Express’ vegan menu you might see – for example – the Giardiniera, which is made with artichokes, mushrooms, onions and parsley. But Alex just let us freestyle it, so mine had loads of jalapenos, red peppers, chilli oil – everything spicy, basically!

Then out came the cheese – that one which Pizza Express had so long deliberated. They keep it frozen (as it gets a little sticky) and in exact serving sizes (so those counting calories won’t miss the mark). A regular pizza needs two of these servings (honestly, I could have happily put four on but rules is rules!)

Seemingly around 30 seconds later (I think it was really 6 mins) our creations were served to us. Critically, I’d have given myself about 6 out of ten, as less would have been more on the caramelised onion jam! But nevertheless, it was delicious.

You could book a pizza making party at Pizza Express for a group of two upwards (so it’s a ‘party’ at least) and they are a wonderful thing to do for a kids’ birthday party also (it’s £11.95 a head for this and worth every penny).

Obviously, you could also just rock up to any one of their restaurants and order a delicious vegan pizza (200,000 others have done this already!) and have a ninja-fingered professional cook it for you. It will probably be lighter, crisper and not have a soggy puddle of jam in the middle. But I feel like I learned something…

BTW – even if you weren’t vegan, it is worth checking out the specialist menu (you might be aware Pizza Express also offer gluten-free) as honestly, you won’t notice the difference one smidge with their excellent dairy-free cheese. And an interesting fact; all the vegan pizzas have half a cherry tomato at their edge – a sign that they are authentic and have not come into contact with any animal-based ingredients.

If you’re wondering about dessert (of course you are) there are some delicious dairy-free sorbet options at around 200 calories.

a really really good looking vegan pizza – made by a pro…

Apparently, Pizza Express make a big deal about ‘not making a big deal’ when it comes to allergens, intolerances and food preferences. In other words, if you need something special, just ask (or call ahead) and it will be seamlessly dealt with. Translation: there won’t be a huge kerfuffle as a red-faced manager yells ‘why the fork did you come for pizza if you can’t eat bread or cheese?!’

Find out more about pizza making parties, events and of course the vegan menu here.  

SM would like to thank the staff at Pizza Express, Gloucester Road.

 

Our pick of After School Snacks…

Maybe it’s those frosty playing fields, or endlessly kicking those leaf piles that renders kids more ravenous than usual in the Autumn Term, but here’s our latest pick of after-school snacks to fill those tummies.

Whitworth’s Bright Little Nuts are little bags of almonds, hazelnuts and cashews, providing protein, energy and good fats for your little squirrels. Obviously, check your school’s policy before popping them in a lunchbox, but for an allergy free child, nuts are wonder-fuel.

We all love Organix, but now many of the much-loved snacks now come in multipack sizes. Ideal for big families, impromptu sleepover feasts and when you’ve basically forgotten to buy anything for breakfast.

We are literally addicted to Hippeas; the feel good, tastes good scrunchy-crunchy nibble that actually *is* good – being made from FairTrade, organic, Vegan chickpeas. Amazing flavours include Cheese and Love or Far Out Fajita. Available on Amazon.

Cawston’s Hungry Caterpillar Apple Juice has such adorable packaging that your kids won’t notice it is diluted 50/50 with water (‘thank god,’ cry mums and dentists!)

SM chats to… Mark Salter, Founder of for aisha

Not only are for aisha’s halal baby food pouches loved by over two million tiny tummies but also (sssh – top tip) they make wonderful seasoning for grown-up dishes too! They recently launched their Stage 3 meals (for 10+ months) and we caught up with Founder and Recipe Developer Mark Salter to find out what makes the brand so special.

Was there a ‘lightbulb moment’ when you came up with the brand concept?

MS: Yes. I have over 20 years experience of working in the UK food and drinks industry for larger companies and managing the UK supermarket chains. I love exotic food and travel so when I was interviewed for a position with Plum Baby Food, I realised that there was a need to add some flair into the baby foods that were on offer. Many brands were doing the same thing; offering pasta and fish dishes that could be easily cooked by parents themselves. So I set about creating recipes that were more complex, time-consuming and ultimately more expensive for parents to make. Thereby offering a healthy wide variety of exotic ingredients in a convenient pouch format.

The ‘research’ sounds like the best adventure holiday ever! Was there a favourite place you visited to source recipe ideas?

MS: Well, there were several trips over several years. We just visited France last month and took some inspiration for our new Lamb Ragout. My favourite destination was certainly Cambodia because it was our honeymoon – our new Cambodian Fish & Coconut Curry launches in early 2018. We’ve been testing it all year! It’s the best.

What was the first for aisha recipe created?

MS: The first recipe that we decided to take to production was Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Mango. We were tasting some early ideas at our local nursery schools and noticed that the next day on their menu was a Jerk Chicken. I was surprised that nurseries were cooking such exotic dishes and that little one’s loved them. It was mainly tapioca puddings when we were younger! The Jerk Chicken is one of our best selling pouch meals now.

Was it difficult to find a meat supplier that complied with your brand values?

MS: It took some time as we wanted the best we are proud to say all our meat is Red Tractor and from leading British farms. Baby food production is very closely monitored and highly regulated (and rightly so) from start to finish.

Which are your best selling products?

MS: We’ve already sold 2 million meals in the UK and Chicken & Sweet Potato Curry is the clear leader. It’s an Indian inspired recipe with red lentils and a wide range of herbs specially created for little tummies. Ingredients such as sweet potato and turmeric are becoming more relevant for parents because of their proven health benefits and it’s lovely to know that we’re pioneering that development.

And which is your ‘post paddle boarding fave’ snack?

MS: We did always take the pouches with us on the paddle boards but since we brought out the new Stage3 Date & Apricot Tagine with Lamb, I eat those from the tray. It’s my personal favourite and so we’ve decided to taste them with parents at the Baby Show Olympia later this month. We’ll have a few thousand samples for parents to try which is really exciting – parents should always try the food first in my opinion.

What considerations went into developing the Stage 3 range?

MS: We’d been asked to create bigger meals for some time with more texture and ‘chunks’ for bigger infants. It’s important part of the weaning process to aid the development of chewing and swallowing and chewing is even thought to help with speech development. The meals were designed to be different from all others on the market so I wanted to work with exotic ingredients such as dates, quinoa, fenugreek and cumin. The dishes are always mild for little ones but they are so certainly different, exotic and exciting, still offering the ‘world of variety’ and adventure that is at the heart of the for aisha range.

It must be a wonderful achievement to supply Great Ormond St… How did this partnership come about?

MS: The head dietitian of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children wrote to us and said that she loved our recipes. We get lovely letters from parents but it was exceptional to receive such high praise that day. We now supply their wards and also their shops with our healthy natural for aisha pouches.

Any advice for a parent who might be worried that the for aisha range might be ‘too adventurous’ for their child’s palate?

MS: Try a little for yourselves and you’ll see that they are very mild. It’s all about introducing a wide variety of tastes. We don’t use ingredients like chilli so they’re not hot at all. With 2 million meals sold, lots of food awards and lovely reviews from bloggers and parents, you can be well assured that they’re just right for little ones. Our full range is dairy free, low in salt, dietitian-approved and many recipes are also gluten free which is why parents, as well as hospitals, love them.

And finally…We could spend hours looking at Nargisse’s Instagram feed… Are there any plans to create meals (or preserved lemons!) for grown-ups?

MS: I love Nargisse’s grown up recipes. She’s an amazing chef. At for aisha, we love making recipes especially for little ones to take them on a ‘taste adventure’ during their early years. We have many more recipes planned and introducing fun grown-up tastes are a big part of that.

Find your nearest for aisha stockist here.

Soil Association and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reveal best and worst children’s menus at UK restaurant chains

A new league table ranking children’s food in 25 of the UK’s most popular restaurant chains is published today (11 October), on World Obesity Day, by the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign. Two years since the last league table, several chains have significantly improved their children’s menu, but the Soil Association, working in collaboration with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and with an army of secret diner families, has uncovered continuing widespread poor practice with a number of chains failing to serve fresh food or healthy choices.

  • The campaign found restaurants serving oversized children’s puddings – one pudding at Hungry Horse was found to include 78g of sugar, over 400% of a child’s daily sugar allowance.
  • Chains could do more to support British farmers – the campaign found that restaurants serving potatoes grown in Egypt, apples grown in Canada, and a side salad containing ingredients sourced from 32 countries, including Madagascar, Russia, Malaysia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Turkey, India and Peru.
  • Children’s meals were found to include additives linked to hyperactivity (E133 Brilliant Blue FCF), additives made from insects (E120 cochineal), and flavour-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate).
  • Wetherspoons and Beefeater scored in the top 5, while family favourites Prezzo and Nando’s have fallen into the bottom 5. Jamie’s Italian topped the table and Burger King came last.
  • Meal price does not determine where chains are scoring in the league table. The average meal price at the top 5 chains is cheaper than at the bottom 5 chains.

Despite continuing poor practice, the Out to Lunch league table shows that children’s food on the high street has undergone notable improvement since the campaign launched in 2013. Working with secret diner families, Out to Lunch has improved over 70 million meals served to children this year. There are now 13 chains now serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal (up from 6 chains in 2013) and 12 chains that include organic ingredients on the menu (up from 4 chains in 2013).

Rob Percival from the Soil Association said: “Thanks to our secret diner families, Out to Lunch is transforming children’s food on the high street – many restaurants are now prioritising child health and investing in healthier and more creative meal options. But there is still a national scandal unfolding in plain sight: 75% of UK parents say they are worried by the portion size of children’s puddings when they eat out6 We found that renegade chains are ignoring parent concerns by dishing up super-sized calorific junk, undermining national efforts to tackle childhood obesity.”

Restaurants have a big role to play in influencing what children think good food looks like – going out used to be seen as a treat, but research shows it’s more common now with 40% of parents eating out with their kids at least once a fortnight. Meanwhile, 66% of parents say they don’t think kids’ food in restaurants is good enough.

This year Out to Lunch joined forces with TV chef and campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is filming a new BBC One series on obesity. Fearnley-Whittingstall and Out to Lunch urged chains to take action to offer puddings and drinks in a healthier portion size and to include calorie information on the menu. In response, Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays have committed to discontinuing free refills of sugary drinks throughout their restaurants by March 2018; both chains have also committed to including calorie information on the children’s menu. Harvester, Café Rouge and TGI Fridays have committed to offering puddings in a healthier portion size by March 2018.

Jamie’s Italian topped the table with a score of 75 out of 90, and Strada was the biggest climber, moving an impressive 16 places to 3rd position. Since 2015 Strada has introduced a salad with every main meal, a fresh fruit pudding, and the option of choosing smaller portions of adult meals; Strada also offers organic juice, higher welfare RSPCA chicken, and sustainable fish.

An interactive league table featuring a profile of each chain can be viewed at www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch 

Love or Hate Marmite? It’s genetic…

In a landmark scientific study, Marmite has discovered the reason why we love it or hate it – proving that the answer is in our genes. Over the past 12 months, Marmite has worked with one of the UK’s leading genetic testing centres – DNAFit – to conduct a clinical trial to determine whether there is a biological link to people’s taste preference for loving or hating Marmite.

Coined ‘The Marmite Gene Project’, the ground-breaking study has scientifically shown that people are born genetically more likely to be lovers or more likely to be haters of Marmite and conclusively shows that there is a genetic foundation to Marmite taste preference.

Cementing its reputation as the most loved and hated product of our generation, the genetic study recruited more than 260 healthy adults, with an equal split of men and women taking part across the UK.

Study participants were first asked to taste a 2g serving of Marmite on their tongue for 10 seconds, filling out a questionnaire to identify their assumed ‘love or hate’ Marmite taste preference and their reaction to Marmite once tasted.

Saliva cheek swabs were then taken from each participant to obtain DNA samples that were sent for genetic analysis to identify SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) associated with Marmite taste preference. More commonly known as ‘snips’, SNPs are single DNA building blocks that have an impact on specific traits.

A whopping 8,760 hours were spent swabbing, analysing and interpreting results. The Marmite Gene Project has identified 15 candidate SNPs that are linked to Marmite taste preference.

Thomas Roos (MSc Biology & MSc Clinical Research, Stanford University), Principal Investigator of The Marmite Gene Project at DNAFit, said: “Our research indicates that Marmite taste preference can in large parts be attributed to our genetic blueprint, which shows that each of us is born with a tendency to be either a ‘lover’ or a ‘hater’. Our data reveals that there are multiple genes that contribute towards this, and it is a really exciting discovery.”

However, Roos also offers hope for all Marmite lovers hoping to convert friends and families to the ‘love’ side of the spectrum.

 “Like anything in genetics, taste preference is dictated by both nature and nurture. Our environment can impact our taste preference as much as the genes we are born with.”

A scientific White Paper is available from today detailing the full findings. Gene Test Kits will be available to buy from https://social.marmite.co.uk so people can discover for themselves whether they were born Marmite lovers or haters.

Philippa Atkinson, Marmite Brand Manager, said: “For over a century we too have been questioning why the nation is so clearly divided between love or hate for Marmite. Finally, we have the answers. The DNA data provides a glimpse into our taste preferences. While it’s fascinating looking at the data on this scale, the fun really starts when you test your own DNA and begin to delve into your own genetic make-up and see if you were born a lover or hater of Marmite.”

Avi Lasarow, CEO of DNAFit, said: “Advancing technology means we live in a world of increased appetite for highly personalised food and fitness information. These fascinating findings show again how each day we are understanding more and more about the role that genetics play in our daily lives. The mystery around Marmite is one of the great British food debates, and we are proud to have led this exciting research project.”

Join the conversation using #MarmiteGene.

SM reviews… I Sea Pasta from Seamore food

I Sea Pasta looks like tagliatelle but is 100% wild, handpicked and organic seaweed from Connomara, Ireland. It is a fresh sea vegetable ready to be used as pasta, veggies or anything in between.

SM tester writes: “If pasta made from seaweed sounds super-duper healthy to you also, then like me, you’ll probably leave it at the back of the cupboard for a while whilst pondering how to cook it. But it is actually super versatile; you can do more or less anything you’d do with regular pasta (although maybe not carbonara!) I played it safe with cherry tomatoes and a bit of seafood… 

I’ll warn you, whilst this stuff is cooking your kitchen will smell like a fishing boat coming in to harbour – but this fades by the time it has drained and you’ve served. 

The taste is (predictably) quite salty; but nice (assuming you like samphire, oysters or other sea-fare. It looks great on a plate so is definitely a talking point – and packed with iron, iodine, potassium and protein.

And btw, if you think seaweed pasta is weird, Seamore food also make seaweed bacon!”

Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc surveys BBQ trends

Bring a bottle or you won’t be invited back…

Dark Horse suggests avoiding BBQ’s in Nottingham unless you want sausages and -unsurprisingly- that we Brits wouldn’t invite a guest back if they showed up empty handed to an alfresco blaze-up. 

According to the survey Brits have revealed that:
  • We will spend an average 11 hours at BBQs this year- and 400 million hours as a nation
  • We’ll consume 570 million bottles of beer, 410 million glasses of white wine and 55 million tablespoons of ketchup at BBQs this year
  • On average, the UK’s favourite meat option to serve is burgers– with only Nottingham choosing sausages at their meat of choice
  • White wine, beer and cider came top as the alcoholic beverages Brits would most like to consume at a BBQ
  • On average, we would prefer to see at least 3 different types of drinks and 3 different types of meat at a BBQ
  • 9 per cent of Brits would not invite you again if you turn up to a BBQ empty handed, hosts would most like to receive bottles of beer, a bottle of wine or snacks such as crisps from their guests
image: getty

Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc is available from Ocado.

(guest post)

Get Free Prosecco from the Freixenet Van tonight

The happiest two words in the English language? ‘Free Prosecco’ might surely be a contender.

The difficult to pronounce Freixenet brand is generously offering Londoners the chance to sample a glass of their new fizz tonight – details below.

Where: Freixenet van, London Wine Week (Devonshire Square, EC2M)

When: 9th June, 5-10pm

With the weather getting warmer and the days becoming longer, global renowned sparkling wine brand Freixenet is giving Londoners a reason to raise a glass to ‘al-freixco’ drinking and more time spent outdoors with friends, by offering a complimentary glass of its new Prosecco at London Wine Week.

Presented in a striking cut-glass bottle and set to be the most ‘Instagrammable’ bubbly of the season, Freixenet is offering Londoners a first sip of its new Prosecco – simply by posting a selfie by the Freixenet van at Devonshire Square on Instagram or Twitter, using the handle @FreixenetUK and the hashtag #SummerAlFreixco, and showing the photo to the Freixenet stand to claim a complimentary glass of fizz.

With celebration at the heart of Freixenet’s brand mission, the offer is designed to help Londoners enjoy all of life’s special moments – whether big or small – with a glass of the new Freixenet Prosecco in hand.

Terms & Conditions

18+ only. Maximum – one reward per person. 

To claim: on Friday 9th June 2017 show your Instagram or Twitter post to staff at the Freixenet van that includes @FreixenetUK and #SummerAlFreixco.

Reward: 1 x 125ml glass of Freixenet wine of your choice.  Subject to availability.

The Freixenet van will also be showcasing its premium and award-winning range of Cavas: Cordon NegroCordon Rosado,ICE Cava and ICE Rose.

Our pick of… Picnic Baskets

Nothing quite says ‘English Summer’ than loading up a picnic hamper with a spread and scoffing it al fresco. Obviously the right kit is crucial (unless you like scooping up waterlogged cheese and crackers from the bottom of your bag) – here are a few options we love:

Hadleigh’s Wicker 4-person basket (£49.95) has a curved lid so is much easier to close when you’ve over catered (or want to put a bottle of wine in there) and the neutral inlay makes it look much classier and more expensive than it really is.

Willow & Avon’s 4-person Tweed basket (£99.99) comes with a blanket and napkins as well as plates, cutlery, wine glasses, salt and pepper pots and a corkscrew. In fact, everything but the kitchen sink.

Going hiking (or need your hands free to push a buggy)? Try the chic grey VonShef Ash 4-person picnic backpack (£49.95) for size. The outer pocket has a chiller feature to keep your prosecco ‘party ready’.

 

 Feeling too lazy to cut the crusts off your cucumber sarnies? Check out The Little Picnic Company, who – as the name suggests – will do it all for you and deliver…

Your food comes either in their signature blue cardboard carrier box or pay a bit more and they’ll pack it into a wicker basket.

Snack Time: Nairn’s Astro Bites

Nairn’s (the makers of those lovely oatcakes you keep in the cupboard telling yourself you’ll eat for pre-gym energy but end up loading up with cheese for a late night snack when you’ve forgotten to eat all day…) have a range of fun mini bites for kids in the shape of space stuff.

We tested the Berry flavour (they also come in choc chip and cheese) on some hungry after-schoolers.

Foodista’s caramel cream cheese

“Nairn’s Astrobites are gluten free and have barely any sugar when compared to other kids’ snacks, but none of that will be in any way on your child’s radar because – essentially – they look like space ships. The Berry variety isn’t too sweet – one tip is to put them out with a round bowl of hummus or a cream cheese dip and let the kids pretend they are ‘landing on the moon’…”

Available from most supermarkets incl Ocado. For more info and stockists click here.