August 2014 Foodie Penpal

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Because of work travels and vacation travels, I had to withdraw from the Foodie Penpal group for June and July. So I couldn’t wait for August to come around to get back into the swing of things.

This month, I was happy to break-in a ‘newbie’ to the group. This was the first month Bex has participated, so we exchanged a couple of pep talk emails, and when I knew she was ready, I cut her loose! And she did a grand job! I hope the first package she received was just as wonderful.

So here’s what I got.

The first thing I pulled out of my box was some tofu.

Tofu

What can I do with this?

And I have to hang my head in shame and admit now that I’ve never tasted tofu, but it’s in my house now, and Bex gave me several great ideas. I’d be happy to hear your ideas, too, if you’d like to drop me a note.

The next thing that I grabbed is one of my all-time favourites – cous cous.

Cous Cous

One of my very favourites!

And I love the Ainsley Harriet range, and this flavour in particular. So well done, Bex.

Next out of the box came an old friend. Chocolate truffles. I have to say that I read Bex’s note first, which explained everything she chose. I read that she sent me truffles, and my heart sank because I don’t like mushrooms . . ..

chocolate

The BEST type of truffles!

So I was really happy to see she sent me really the only thing that should be called truffles .. . chocolate! I can’t wait to tuck into those.

As Bex lives in Wales, she wanted to send something with a Welsh accent, so I was happy to find oatcakes with laverbread.

Oatcakes

Welsh oatcakes with laverbread

I know these are going to go well with some lovely cheese and a glass of red wine. I’ve got the weekend targeted to try those babies.

With two in-laws that were born and raised in India, you’d like I’d have made Gulab Jamun before. I’ve eaten it for sure, but never tried making it.

Gulab Jamun

These should melt in your mouth

Bex says she’s never made them either, so we’re going to compare notes after we’ve made them. My sweet tooth is going to love them.

Bex sent me some cornmeal, which I’m very familiar with, but I am always curious about the recent (past 10 years) interest in polenta, and how it seems that very few people realise they are one and the same.

Cornmeal

Cornmeal or Polenta????

I have a friend who won’t eat polenta because he doesn’t like the word ‘polenta’, but he’s fine eating cornmeal. Go figure!

And finally, breadsticks. Breadsticks really need no adornment. But when you go ahead and stick sun-dried tomatoes and olives in them, it doesn’t get much better.

Breadsticks

Fantastic breadsticks

And now that the weather’s just starting to brighten up a bit, I even have dreams that we can sit outside under the grapevine covered pergola, eating these breadsticks and chewing on a couple of gin and tonics. I might even turn the heat off in the house! Good heavens!

All in all, Bex should be very proud of her first efforts. It took me several months to really get the hang of knowing what to choose to send out. She seemed to nail it first time. Well done, Bex!
If you are interested in joining a Foodie Penpal club, please visit http://www.thisisrocksalt.com if you are European based, or http://www.theleangreenbean.com if you are based in the US.

May 2014 Foodie Penpal

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I love when my Foodie Penpal writes to me just after the lists have been sent out, and Jaye did not disappoint. Despite being in the middle of her sister’s wedding plans, I still received a very interested email (and subsequent response). And how she ever found time to shop and post everything in the middle of all that, I’ll never know. But Jaye did a great job!

Not only did she shop, but she took the time to hand-write this note, which really puts me to shame with the (much shorter) notes I usually send out.

Jaye's note

Jaye’s note

Now it’s not surprising if you read Jaye’s blog, that tea would be included in the package.

Tea

Tea

But don’t think this is just ordinary tea. This is delicious, thirst-quenching tea. I’ve had both of them already. I liked the green tea a lot – it was quite smooth. And the English breakfast was the perfect way to start my Bank Holiday weekend.

The next thing I pulled out of the package was this Rum Raisin Fudge.

Rum Raisin Fudge

Rum Raisin Fudge

I’ve tried rum raisin ice cream before, so I was anxious to get to the fudge. And it was SO tasty. I love that it came from Cardiff, too (where Jaye’s living, by the way). I am rationing this so that I don’t go through the entire (rather large) piece of fudge in one sitting of Grey’s Anatomy . . .

Out next came the chilli almonds. Wow – this is a taste you don’t want to miss.

Chilli almonds

Chilli almonds

These almonds are dusted with a smoked chilli powder – just enough to give you a bit of heat when you’re eating them, but not too much as to blow your head off. I never would have put chilli with almonds – but thank goodness someone did.

And you may or may not believe this, but as I was walking to the front door to greet the postman who handed me my Foodie parcel this month, I was thinking that I really had a taste for popcorn, and I wondered if I actually had any in my larder. I quickly forgot that thought when I saw what the postman was handing me, but I couldn’t believe what I saw next in my parcel when I opened it.

Popcorn

Popcorn

Really? Is this how it works now? I only have to think of things and the postie will deliver it to my front door? (** George Clooney . . . George Clooney . . . George Clooney). So how clever was Jaye to think to put this into my parcel? (The popcorn . . . not George Clooney 😦 )

I then started getting a whiff of what might be coming out next.

Dried chillis

Dried chillis

I mentioned in my introductory email to Jaye that I liked spicy things, so in my parcel were two different types of dried chilli. One is a smoked Naga Ghost chilli, and one is a Chipotle Meco Chilli. I already soaked and sliced up most of the Chipotle chilli for one of my weekend dishes, and it really added quite a bit of depth. I am saving the Naga chilli for one of my braver days. It was the ‘smoke’ scent that I could smell as I was opening up the parcel. These also came from Cardiff – looks like from a place called Clancys.

I then pulled out a package of Welch cakes from one of Jaye’s local, independent deli’s called Wally’s.

Welch cakes

Welch cakes

I’ve never tasted Welch cakes before, but I put these away till breakfast the next day, warmed them up and plied them with lashings of butter. I had to try two of them, just to make sure I liked them (I did). But before I could get at the rest, other family members piled in. So – those were a very distant memory all too quickly.

And finally, I pulled these out of the parcel.

Savoury powders

Savoury powders

These are powders that I am going to experiment with on my aforementioned popcorn, although the Spice of Life curry powder already made a small debut in one of my dinners last weekend. But I think the horseradish, beetroot and chilli powder will make spectacularly interesting popcorn flavours.

Jaye – you outdid yourself with my parcel. You listened to what I said I liked, and you ticked every box. You’ve made me very happy. Thank you very much for a wonderful bounty of goodies!

April 2014 Foodie Penpal Reveal

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A day late, but still just as sincere, I wanted to tell you about my Foodie Penpal package that came to me this month from Giles.

Giles is one of three founder members of the “Our Honest Foods” company, and I sincerely urge you to visit their website by clicking here. It’s a most entertaining and valuable site, and I think perhaps many of you might benefit from their wares. I couldn’t possibly give them a better write up than they have done themselves, so I’ll let them do the talking, but please – visit them – even if it’s just to laugh at their antics.

But here is my package. The box it came in was neat and tidy.

The Box

The Box


But not only that, every single side of it had value. It even had a special Easter greeting! How cool is that?

So the front is as functional as you’d expect. But look . . .

Side 2

Their mission

How nice to have a mission you can print on your boxes!

But it’s not over yet. On the opposite side of their mission is this –

Their story

Their story

And if that wasn’t enough – just look what’s on the back!

The back

Games on the back!

I loved this box before I even opened it. And that’s really what you want in a foodie penpal box, right?

Nevertheless, and as entertained as I was by just the box, I did open it. And here’s what I found . . .

The contents

The best contents

I grabbed the corn nuts first as it was later in the day, and I needed something for my gin and tonic to wash down. They were fantastic.

The chocolate Cheeky Chunk was next. I have to be honest and say that my expectations were fairly low, as I’ve tasted some rank chocolate in my time. But this was excellent quality chocolate. I mean it was really, really good.

After that, the dark chocolate and ginger cookies bit the dust. It was a perfect size for munching with a cup of tea (clearly on a different day from the aforementioned gin and tonic.)

I then tried the Super-Seedy Sustain squares. Now these are goooooooooooooooood. These are really good. They’re a nutritional treat that don’t taste like they should be good for you. But they are.

Since plowing through the first handful of items so quickly, I’m saving the Rocky Road gluten free bar, and the fruity apple and pear snack.

The handful of Uncle Joe’s mint balls (which keep you all aglow) have been a big success after our meals. A real fresh take on the after-dinner mint.

All in all – this was a most excellent month for the Foodie Penpal for me. I love this company and I wish them all the best for their future, which I think will be big and bright.

Good luck, lads and thanks for the treats!

IF you are interested in learning more about joining the Foodie Penpal monthly event, and you live in Europe, find out more about us here. If you are in the USA, please check it out here.

A very tardy February Foodie Penpal reveal (sorry Helen!)

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I hang my head in shame for the tardiness of this post.  I want to blame it on the dog.  But I don’t have one, and it would take even longer to acquire one so I could assign blame elsewhere.  Sadly, the fault lies with me and a bit of ill-timed travel.  I hope to make it all right now though as I wish to lavish Helen, my most recent Foodie Penpal, with high praise for the package she sent me last month.  IF you are reading this right now and are wondering what this is about, please click here if you are located in the USA, or here if you are in Europe.

I was delighted to receive this parcel from Helen, my February Foodie Penpal. I feel like I’m already good friends with Helen, as I had the privilege of being her Foodie Penpal last year. So this was like getting a special gift from a friend.

The package

The package

As you can see, it was chock-full of goodies, and I couldn’t wait to delve in and investigate all my new goodies.

The first thing I came to were these Sweet Potato Crisps.

Sweet Potato Crisps

Sweet Potato Crisps

These did not last long, I can tell you! They were really, really good. Probably the best sweet potato crisps I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot!)

Then came the most unusual bottle of plum sesame seeds.

Plum Sesame Seeds

Plum Sesame Seeds

I’m sure I’ve not even scratched the surface with these, but I’ve tried them on a couple of things, and they really add such depth of flavour. I never would have thought to buy these, but this will be a staple in this house from now on.

I also got some Japanese 7 spice.

Japanese 7 Spice

Japanese 7 Spice

I tasted this, but haven’t used it yet. It’s ever so slightly different than it’s Chinese twin, and I think it’s going to be a nice addition to my spice rack.

As I work from home, I often am looking for a quick cup of . . something. I often don’t know what I want, but Helen sent the perfect solution.

Soup Packets

Soup Packets

These are little packets to make up soup with the simple addition of hot water. I’ve had two already – they are quick and easy, and really hit the spot.

In an effort to get me to convert to Vegen, Helen sent me some vegan chocolate.

Chocolate

Chocolate

Although it was never anything I’d reach for at the store, I have to say it was very, very nice chocolate. I might not convert to become a vegan this week, but I wouldn’t mind more of this chocolate.

And tea . . .

Apple and Cinnamon Tea

Apple and Cinnamon Tea

I’m sorry, but you really can’t go wrong in sending ANY kind of tea. But this was different. It’s apple and cinnamon, which is really lovely for chilly evenings, but also refreshing enough for a bright, sunny day (and I’ve had both over the last two weeks).

Helen also sent me some Tamarind.

Tamarind

Tamarind

I’ve been in love the idea of Tamarind ever since I saw the movie “The Tamarind Seed” with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif (Ok – so the movie’s 40 years old – don’t judge me). I’ve tasted things with tamarind in, but have never cooked with it. So now I’m going through all my recipe books to find the best recipe for this. I can’t wait to use it! I think I’ll pretend to be Julie Andrews while I’m making it . . .

And now – probably my best item of the pack. (Future) home grown chillis.

Chilli pot

Chilli pot

Growing chilli plants are SO my thing, and I just haven’t been out to get my chilli seeds yet. How did Helen know? I can tell you that these seeds have already been released from their little foil packet and are nestled in the little cup, sitting on my kitchen window ledge, where every real foodie starts all their chilli plants!

So, albeit very late, I thank you, Helen! You did such a good job. It was a delightful package, and I loved everything you sent. Well done!

January 2014 Foodie Penpal reveal

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With all the Christmas festivities behind us, I was so delighted to get the note from our Foodie Penpal fearless leader (and I DO mean she’s fearless!) reminding us that it was time to dust off our shopping skills and get cracking on the January Foodie penpal packages.  For those who aren’t familiar, please check it out.  It’s good stuff.

My penpal carer this month was Kate, and she did not disappoint.

Kate's card

Kate’s card

Kate sent me a great package that started with this card, which included this recipe for mini banana, pecan and cacao loaves.

The recipe

The recipe

 

Not only did she send the recipe, but she sent most of the ingredients as well.

 

Everything I need to make mini-loaves

Everything I need to make mini-loaves

 

And she sent the mini-loaves cases as well.

Mini loaf cases

Mini loaf cases

 

So there really is no excuse (unless, like me, you’ve eaten all the bananas).  But, unlike money, bananas DO grow on trees, so I know where I can get more.  I think this weekend will be the perfect time to try these babies out.

Kate also sent me coffee to have with the mini-loaves.  There really is no excuse now.  I love the name of Grumpy Mule for coffee.  It sums up so many mornings until that first cup hits home.

Coffee

Coffee

 

I mentioned to Kate that we like to do a bit of walking on the weekends, and she kindly threw in a couple of bars to tuck away into pockets to help get us up that last hill.  These were delicious.  They, unfortunately, didn’t make it past the first weekend.  And they were just what we needed.  Good choice, Kate.

Energy bars

Energy bars

Then I discovered a jar of Umami paste, which I can’t wait to try.  I’ve heard so many things about it, and now there’s no excuse not to get cracking with it. I will admit now that I had to google it, and I’ve got a couple of recipes I’m going to try it out in. However, if any of you have any suggestions, please feel free to drop me a line.  I’d be so happy to hear from you with your thoughts.

Unami paste

Unami paste

But here’s something that needs no extra flavour.  Kate sent me a chili kit for making a marvellous pot of chili – just right for this time of year.  I only need to add the ‘carne’ and let it simmer away.  Is there a better smell than this in your kitchen when you’ve been outside in the rainy cold?  I don’t think so.

 

Chili kit

Chili kit

 

And to take a break from having to make my own, Kate sent me this bag of popcorn, which I have to say barely hit the sides.  It was exceptionally good, and I shall be looking to get more of this for the next social gathering here.  But she had me a goats cheese.  I’d spread goats cheese on a rock and happily munch on that all day.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

 

Black Pepper Popcorn

Black Pepper Popcorn

 

And finally, I came to another something I’ve not seen before.  These chips are delicious, and perfect for dipping into hummus or cheese – anything really.  The beetroot flavour is very subtle and doesn’t hit your palate immediately.  The horseradish just warms it up a bit.  Absolutely a winner.  And also, the picture at the bottom of the box reminds me of Almira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz.  I’ll never be able to watch that movie again without picturing her bicycling down the road with Toto in her basket and a giant beetroot on her head!

 

Beetroot and Horseradish shards

Beetroot and Horseradish shards

 

So- thank you, Kate – I loved everything about this package.  It was so well put together, and I am grateful for the time you spent on selecting everything.  You did a great job!

October Foodie Penpal

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BOO!

Okay, okay . . . I know Halloween is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I happen to love it. I have so many fond memories of going Trick-or-Treating with my brothers in the freezing cold or pouring rain, but coming home with bags and bags of candy. Looking back, most of it was really cheap-o candy that you’d normally never buy, but still – the thrill was there.

My sender for October was Kim. I was very impressed when I got an email from Kim saying that the package was on it’s way, and it was only the middle of the month! When I got it and opened it, I wasn’t even thinking about Halloween that was still almost two weeks away.

Boy – was I in for a treat (and not a trick!)

Once I got through the postal packaging, I was greeted with this, and I could tell this was going to be a good one.

The complete package

The complete package

It was completely wrapped like a wonderful pressie under the tree at Christmas, but it was a Halloween themed wrapping paper, with a little note taped to the outside.

The Dare

The Dare

Who could resist that?

So I dared, and opened up the box, wondering if a black cat was going to come leaping out at me. . . But as much as I like cats, what I found was even better!

The box

The box


and it was full of cobwebs!
The Cobwebs

The Cobwebs


and spiders! EEEEEEEEK!
The Spider

The Spider


Every item was wrapped individually in either black or orange paper, just to keep the Halloween theme up. I got a lovely card inside the package, and I could hardly wait to delve in and unwrap everything like an excited 3 year old!

One of the first things I came to was a bottle of Vampire hot tomato relish.

Vampire Tomato Salsa

Vampire Tomato Salsa


Let me tell you what this is good on. EVERYTHING! It’s not burn-your-mouth-out hot – it’s just full of flavour and zing. You could have it on most things – it is delicious.

Then I grabbed this box of cheese thingies

The Cheese bits

The Cheese bits


Now you know by just looking at them that they’re going to be good. The kind of good that when you put them in your mouth, your eyes roll back in your head a bit. They are delightful.

Then I picked up the bag of gold. . . er . . . I mean honeycomb!

Whole lot of Honeycomb

Whole lot of Honeycomb


To my knowledge, we do not have this readily available in the USA where I grew up. So I find this particular sweet very appealing. I like it’s simplicity. I guess it kind of reminds me of Cotton Candy (Candy Floss), which IS readily available in the US. In any case, I love it and my dentist loves Kim for sending it, as it will keep her in business!

The next thing I reached for was this Chili making kit.

The Chilli-making kit

The Chili-making kit


Chili is one of our favourite household dinners, especially in the cooler weather, so this could not have come at a better time. I have seen these little kits in the shops, but have never had the nerve to try them. I have this one ear-marked for next Wednesday night. I can’t wait!

Next, I came to this very large, very smoked garlic.

Smoked Garlic

Smoked Garlic


Probably out of all the things in the box, this was one of my favourites because I have sent smoked garlic bulbs very similar to this in the past, but never had the nerve to try it myself. Now I get to! Maybe I’ll squish some in to the chili next week!

After that, I grabbed this ghostly character.

Ghostly Gingerbread

Ghostly Gingerbread


It was a lovely piece of gingerbread – still a bit soft and bendy, and the perfect gingerbread cookie – even if it was a bit scary!

Now came the surprise of the package.

Cheese and Onion Chocolate!

Cheese and Onion Chocolate!


This is a chocolate bar with little bits of cheese and onion crisps in it. Now before you turn your nose up at this and decide it sounds dreadful (which it does), you MUST try it. It is a case of the sweet chocolate being the perfect compliment to the salty crisps. This shouldn’t work together, but it does. I recommend every tries this once. Or maybe even twice.

And finally, I fished out these three little treats.

Little Treats!

Little Treats!


These are the perfect little pick-me-ups during my work day when I just need a little something sweet to wake me up a bit.

Kim, you did a fantastic job and should be commended on the amount of thought and effort that clearly went into this package. It was a delight to have from the very first layer to the last little item in the box. It was the most appropriate Halloween package, and I thank you. Well done!

September Foodie Penpal

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What a fantastic month September was. Hard to believe it’s almost over and we’re nearing the time where I start to panic to ensure all my holiday shopping has been done.  But it was a bumper month for my Foodie Penpal activity.  If you are interested in joining this group (and it’s really big fun), get in touch with Carol Anne – she’ll sort you out!

My foodie package came from Greece this month.  Lovely Evangelia sent me a huge package of goodies. And it arrived here about a week after the spreadsheet was sent out, so I think she must have gone out right away and selected everything so it would get here in time.  So thoughtful . . . .

The whole package

The whole package

I got the most delicious crackers – they are rich and buttery, and no matter if I pile lots of good things on them, or just eat them plain, they are fantastic.  I especially like the packaging where the writing is all in Greek (of course) with the occasional English word stuck in there.

Basil and Tomato Crackers

Basil and Tomato Crackers

Although I didn’t mention it to Evangelia, one of my favourite flavours is cinnamon, so you can imagine my delighted surprise when I found she had included this round tub of little cinnamon candies.  They are small, but they pack a fabulous punch.

Cinnamon pastilles

Cinnamon pastilles

I then got to the nougat, which is a household favourite here.  This one, in particular, is really tasty, and I’ve had to hide it so there would be some left for me.

Nougat

Nougat

And she sent chocolate!  But not just any chocolate – the best bitter sweet chocolate ever.  It was so good, so rich, and now so gone!  But it was very good.

Bitter Sweet Chocolate

Bitter Sweet Chocolate

This sesame bar with honey has always been a favourite of mine.  It makes me think I’m eating something healthy!  And that’s always a very good thing.

Sesame Honey bar

Sesame Honey bar

This is a bag of what I can only describe as pretzel-like biscuits covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’ve never tasted anything like them, but I’m wondering now if I can figure out how to make them.  They were SOOOOO good.

Cinnamon Sugar 'pretzel'

Cinnamon Sugar ‘pretzel’

Then, being American, gum is always welcome!  I like that I have real Greek gum.  I like that I can offer it around and people are impressed that I import my gum!  Makes me feel very important!  Ha!  It’s very nice gum!

Chewing gum

Chewing gum

But finally – and probably my favourite part – the Greek Trachanas.  I think I like this the best because Evangelia sent a couple of recipes as well.  I made up one batch already, and it was delicious, and I can’t wait to experiment with the rest.

Trachanas

Trachanas

Thank you so much, Evangelia, for your thoughtful gifts this month.  You do the Foodie Penpal club, and your country, proud!