British snacks (and booze too!)

One thing I like to do when I go to a foreign country is snoop around and test out some snacks that you might not find out at home. Here are a few from my stopover in London.

The 99 Flake – a soft ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake chocolate bar stuck in it. I actually didn’t have any this trip (was too cold at the time), but I still remember the first time I had one. It was while on a day tour of the Scottish Highlands and I spotted a little stand selling them in a little Scottish town we stopped in for a quick potty break. The cold of the ice cream makes the thin layers of the Flake a little brittle, and you can use the Flake to scoop up your quickly melting ice cream. This photo was of a stand that was just outside of Hampton Court Palace. The poor guy inside must have been freezing!

99 Flake

99 Flake

I don’t drink a lot of alcohol, but I’ve really become attached to hard ciders. While it’s harder to find a quality cider here are home, over in England they are everywhere. I was told that I should try Bulmers because they were better than Strongbow, so I picked up a bottle of apple cider and another one of pear cider. They were crisp without being overly sweet and I enjoyed them, but I was a little let down by the pear cider because it didn’t taste of pears at all and was almost indistinguishable from the apple cider.

Bulmers ciders

Bulmers ciders

When you go to another country, you gotta learn the snack lingo. Over there, chips = French fries and crisps = potato chips. I think my favourite so far is still the Walkers Worcester Sauce crisps, but I tried a few other ones this time. Also in the photo is an orange Fanta. I love drinking Fanta over there because it tastes more like Orangina than orange soda. And I was intrigued by finding a Fanta Zero, so I bought it to see if the flavour changed a lot due to the artificial sweeteners (wasn’t bad but the real thing is still better). The crisps pictured here are Quavers (cheese flavoured potato chips in a corn chip shape), Walkers Max Paprika (ripple chips) and Wotsits (cheese puffs). The Quavers were kind of salty and bland. The Wotsits weren’t as cheesy-tasting as my favourite Hawkin’s Cheezies and they weren’t as crunchy either. The paprika crisps were good and did taste exactly like paprika.

Fanta Zero and crisps

Fanta Zero and crisps

As a treat one evening, our hosts made us some apple crumble topped with THE best non-dairy ice cream that I have ever had. Lactose, cholesterol and gluten-free, Swedish Glace tasted no different from a regular ice cream and had a creamy texture. I really, really wish you could buy it here!

Swedish Glace

Swedish Glace

While I was in London they launched these new Marmite cereal bars. I managed to snag a sample (and coupon) as I passed by on my way to the Tube. Interesting marketing campaign, huh?

Marmite cereal bar

Marmite cereal bar

Marmite, in case you don’t know what it is, is a yeast extract that is often spread on toast.

Marmite coupon

Marmite coupon

If you’ve ever tried Marmite (or the Australian version Vegemite), then you will know exactly how this thing tastes like. NASTY. I took a bite of the bar and then spit it back out. One of our local hosts insisted that “real” Marmite on toast was much, much better, and I didn’t like that either. It’s definitely an acquired taste.

bar close up

bar close up

I’m almost done the London posts! There are a few more to come, and then I’m moving on to Morocco.

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Pandan Agar Agar recipe

I am going to a potluck dinner today! (More on that another day.) I wanted to bring something a little different that some people may not have tried before. This is a South-East Asian vegetarian and dairy-free gelatin dessert that uses a couple of ingredients that may seem exotic to people unfamiliar with food from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia.

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan leaves (also known as pandanus or screw pine leaves) are a plant that is often used in South-East Asian cooking and appears in desserts, flavoured rice, curries, etc. The taste and smell of pandan is uniquely floral and slightly grassy. It is often paired with coconut; in fact, if you buy something that is coconut flavoured and it is green coloured, it probably has some pandan in it as well. People sometimes say that pandan leaves are as important to South-East Asian cooking as vanilla is to Western cooking. In Edmonton, you can purchase pandan leaves frozen from Asian grocery stores like T&T Supermarket and 99 Supermarket. I picked up pandan extract at 99 Supermarket.

pandan extract

pandan extract

Agar agar is a derived from an algae and is often used as a substitute for gelatin. It is most commonly used in South-East Asian and Japanese desserts, but sometimes gets used as a general thickener for food. You can sometimes find them in Asian grocery stores as long, dried strips, flakes or as a powder.

I originally was going to use a recipe that I found on the Internet or from a cookbook, but all of the ones I found weren’t quite what I was looking for. I ended up doing a test run and finally settled on these measurements as my preferred recipe.

Pandan Agar Agar

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup water
400 ml (approx 2 cups) thick coconut milk (use a higher fat milk – the one I used had 17 g of fat per 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tsp powdered agar agar
approx 1/2 tsp pandan (also known as screw pine) extract (also sometimes called essence or paste)

Directions
Place the water, coconut milk and sugar into a pot and bring to a low boil.

Sprinkle the agar agar powder into the pot slowly while continuously stirring the mixture. Be careful because the powder can easily clump in the liquid if you add it too quickly. If it does clump, then break it up as much as you can and keep slowly stirring until the lumps dissolve in the liquid.

Slowly add the pandan extract until the desired green colour is achieved. I added 1/2 tsp, but really the amount added depends on your preference.

Place the mixture into molds or a casserole dish and let cool. Agar agar will become solid at room temperature, but it will solidify faster in cold temperatures. I generally let the agar agar cool down a little bit, and then pop them into the fridge. I recommend making your layer about 1/2 inch tall or less; once you get much bigger than that the mixture will settle toward the bottom and the top part of the agar agar will become translucent. The flavour will fall to the bottom as well.

Once cool, unmold or cut the agar agar into squares, rectangles, parallelograms. I used a small cookie cutter to create fun shapes.

N.B. Alternatively you can use pandan leaves and make a pandan juice instead of using the extract. To create the juice you take about 8 long leaves and rinse them. Chiffonade the leaves if you can, or at least try to slice them into as small pieces as possible. Place them into a blender with 2/3 a cup of water and puree. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth. If you substitute the juice for the pandan extract, remember to reduce the amount of the water in the above recipe to 1 cup.

This dessert can be made vegan if vegan sugar is used. It is Celiac-friendly as well, but you probably need to use the juice instead as I am not 100% sure the extract is gluten-free.

S&M Café, London

It’s not everyday that you get to eat at a place called S&M. And then you have to explain to people that it’s not as kinky as it sounds, as it actually stands for sausage and mash. S&M Café is a local chain in London that specializes in “great British grub,” and we were there specifically for one of their breakfasts. More specifically, a Full English Breakfast.

S&M Café

S&M Café

I’m told that you can usually get the full English breakfast experience at most pubs, but this restaurant was recommended to us by a friend and their Spitalfields location was near where we were staying, so it made a great spot for us to grab some food before heading off for sightseeing for the day. Customer service was fast and extremely friendly – our waiter joked around with us every time he came around to our table.

We were there in the morning so we only saw the breakfast menu, but a quick glance at their regular menu posted on their website shows that they have a number of other traditional British fare available, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The menu

The menu

Of course, the first thing that we ordered was the Great British All Day Breakfast for those in the group who were new to the experience. Toast, bacon, sausage, bubble and squeak, egg, baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes filled the plate to bursting.

Great British All Day Breakfast

Great British All Day Breakfast

Now, I have eaten full English breakfasts before (although then it was called full Scottish breakfast because it was in Edinburgh, and those ones had the option of adding haggis, vegetarian haggis, and/or black pudding), and I knew how greasy those plates can get, so I was more than happy to try something different. I opted for the Vegetarian All Day Breakfast, which included all the same items except that it replaced the bacon and sausage with Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages. (I think it was the cheese that convinced me that it was the right way to go.)

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

I have to say that although the regular sausages and the bacon were good, my Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages were spectacular. Crunchy on the outside, they had the texture of cornbread on the inside and great mix of leek and quite mild cheese flavours.

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

The bubble and squeak was a mixture of mashed potatoes and vegetables, including squash blossoms.

bubble and squeak

bubble and squeak

We stuffed ourselves silly, and rolled out of the restaurant while complaining that we were too full to walk.

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

S&M Café
various locations in London, England
www.sandmcafe.co.uk

S & M Café on Urbanspoon

Gluten-free pizza party

I’ve been wanting to give GF Patissiere‘s baking a try for a while now. Luckily, I managed to have a small order tagged onto a regular delivery to Edmonton and, after meeting Peter (delivery man, husband to GF Patissiere’s owner and baker Victoria, and the guy behind The Celiac Husband blog) and his lovely daughter, I had the goodies in my hands.

And then I had to promptly stick them all in the freezer for two weeks because I was saving them all for a get-together with friends. It was pure torture, let me tell you. But I was a good girl, and didn’t even open the box to peek inside. Who knew I had so much willpower?

The box that called out "open me!"

The box that called out "open me!"

In addition to dessert, I also ordered some gluten-free pizza shells so that we could assemble our own Celiac friendly pizzas. I took everything out of the freezer the day before, and I am happy to say that freezing didn’t affect the quality of the food at all.

GF Patisserie pizza shells

GF Patisserie pizza shells

We added a little cheese, a little tomato sauce, some yellow, orange and green bell peppers, some Mastro extra lean hot capocollo, and some Harvest Meats bison sausage before popping the shells into the oven. A couple of different side salads rounded off the meal.

my beautiful pizza

my beautiful pizza

The crust browned perfectly in the oven and took no time at all to make. If you like thin crust pizza, I would highly recommend these. And all of us agreed that you couldn’t tell they were made from special gluten-free dough, which is high praise because most gluten-free products do taste at least slightly different from the originals due to the mix of alternative flours.

one of the other pizzas

one of the other pizzas

And some sangria to go with the meal didn’t hurt either.

Yes we were lazy and didn't make it from scratch.

Yes we were lazy and didn't make it from scratch.

To end the meal we cracked open the box and devoured brownies made from Barry Callebaut chocolate and cream cheese. (To be perfectly honest some of us couldn’t hold out anymore and we had some of these before eating our pizza!) They were like biting into a piece of rich, thick cheese cake and were heavenly to eat. One friend said — and keep in mind that I quote her exactly — that they were “fucking glorious.”

Callebaut and cream cheese brownies

Callebaut and cream cheese brownies

If you want to learn more about GF Patisserie, make sure you check out their website, Peter’s blog, and also this profile on Victoria that Chris did a little while ago.

GF Patisserie
122 – 3rd Ave West
Cochrane, Alberta
www.gfpatisserie.com

Free bread from Silver Hills, and a review too

Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery, a company that specializes in organic bread made with sprouted grain instead of flour, recently gave me the opportunity to try a few samples of their bread. Their grain is sprouted in a 36 hour process from an Alberta farm run on wind energy, and all the bread is packed in biodegradable bags. Silver Hills says that the use of sprouted grain increases overall nutrition, triples the amount of fibre, and improves digestibility. It is sold within most of Canada and in parts of the United States.

For my test, I picked out a loaf each of the Squirrelly and Steady Eddie breads (I would have gotten one more type, but that was all that the grocery store had left in stock at the time). Each loaf has 5g of fibre per slice – quite a big number for a slice of bread.

Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery loaves

Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery loaves

The Squirrelly bread is made with sunflower and sesame seeds, and is a very thick, hearty bread. It reminded me quite a bit of the Cape Seed bread you can find at Cobs. The Steady Eddie is a plainer bread, but is still quite a dense loaf. It is also very lightly sweetened with apples. If I hadn’t known this already, I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess why the bread was just a touch sweet. The photo below shows slices of both loaves – the Squirrelly is on the left and the Steady Eddie is on the right.

Squirrelly and Steady Eddie

Squirrelly and Steady Eddie

While I think I prefer a less dense bread for daily eating (my usual brand is Country Harvest whole grain), I think these do make a nice change and is a great alternative if you are looking for bread with high fibre and more nutrition. I hope I see one of the other kinds in the stores soon as I’d like to give another flavour a try. They even have a gluten-free Chia bread now, but it is made in a non-dedicated facility so they do not guarantee that the bread does not have traces of gluten.

types of bread available

types of bread available

So how do you get a hold of your own free loaf to try? Well, there’s a couple of ways.

Free stuff method #1
Enter my contest! To win five coupons for free loaves and two t-shirts from Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery, simply:

1. Post a comment here. And make sure to include your e-mail address in the e-mail address line so that I can tell them who the winner is! If you don’t want to post a comment, feel free to send me an e-mail instead at bruleeblog@{no-spamming}gmail.com (remove the stuff between and including the fancy brackets).

2. Talk about this contest on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and post a link to it here in an additional comment. No limits as to how many of these you do.

3. E-mail your friends and have them mention your name when they post their comment.

This contest closes at end of day June 5th and is open to anyone, but please only enter if you can purchase Silver Hills bread in your area as otherwise the coupons will be useless to you.

Free stuff method #2
Get one free bread coupon when you fill out a short survey over at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SGL6KLL.

Disclaimer: I have not been paid anything to promote this product, merely given a sample to review.

Update: As of 2011 I have switched to using Silver Hills bread almost exclusively… my go-to loaf is the Big 16, although I will occasionally pick up some Mack’s Flax. I haven’t been able to try all the options due to lack of available variety in my area.

News and links

To start, three gluten-free links:

And now, the non-gluten-free links:

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Everyone I’ve ever told about this recipe have raved about its taste. It’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, only uses one pot and it tastes damn good. I discovered it one day when watching Good Deal with Dave Lieberman on TV.

“Wow, that looks simple and delicious,” I thought. And so I immediately went looking for the recipe on the US Food Network website. I’ve made it enough times now that I’ve adjusted some ingredients to fit my own personal taste.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup
Adapted from Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
Makes approximately 4-6 large servings.

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 large onion, roughly diced
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (original recipe asks for just 1 tsp but I like the additional cinnamon taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz, original recipe used half of this amount though)
2 cans chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz per can), rinsed and drained
1 carton (900 mL) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth… or use your own stock of course)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-washed baby spinach

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent (lower the heat if browning starts to occur). Add all your spices spices and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and approximately 10 grinds of fresh pepper.

Don’t forget to stir as you add each ingredient. The chickpeas should be just covered with liquid; if you don’t have enough liquid add some water.

Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower heat to low and gently simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Basically, you want the chickpeas to soften enough so that there is no bite.

Remove the soup from the heat and use a potato masher to mash up some of the chickpeas (but not all of them) right there in the pot. Spoon out your soup and add plenty of spinach to each bowl, stirring until the heat just starts to wilt the leaves. If you’re serving the entire pot, go ahead and add your spinach to the pot instead of into individual bowls. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve the soup lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.