October 2014 Foodie Penpal

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My October Foodie Penpal parcel arrived last week, and it was a bumper month. The lovely Dawn put together the most amazing box for me. It was a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag where she kept pulling things out of the bottom like a floor lamp and a pot of tea! This wasn’t far off.

The first thing I noticed was taped to the shoe box it was sent in, was a recipe and picture of Spiced New Potatoes.

Clever box wrapping

Clever box wrapping

It was like gift-wrapping that keeps on giving. Dawn is trying to shirk responsibility and claims she re-used the box (and idea) from her previous sender, but I’m giving the credit to Dawn for recycling it.

After reading through this recipe and deciding to make this dish that night, I opened up the box, and started pulling out item after item after item. It was borderline embarrassing, but I loved it!

First came some garlic and rosemary oatcakes. These are very delicately flavoured and are absolutely delicious with some really sharp cheddar cheese and a bit of red wine.

Garlic & Rosemary Oatcakes

Garlic & Rosemary Oatcakes

The garlic is not over-powering, and it’s a really delicious way to start off an evening.

Next came out some rice cakes, which I do like munching on, but these were covered in dark chocolate.

Chocolate covered rice cakes

Chocolate covered rice cakes

It was a real decadent feeling of mixing chocolate with rice cakes. And fairly guilt-free, which is always nice.

My next item was a lovely picture of Ainsley Harriott on one of his cous cous packages.

Who doesn't love Ainsley?

Who doesn’t love Ainsley?

I love this particular flavour of cous cous, and I almost always have a spare one of these to hand for ’emergencies’, but my cupboard was bare, so I was so happy to get another packet of cous cous, and especially this particular flavour.

Moving on into the box, I found this curry kit for making methi chicken, which I’ve seen on the menu every time I go out for a curry, but never tired. Well now I’ve tried it, and it was NOTHING like I thought was going to be.

Curry in a kit!

Curry in a kit!

So this little kit was mind-opening, and so easy to use.

And of course if you’re going to make an Indian meal, you need to have the proper ‘afters’. For some, that’s a little plate of After Eight mints.

For fresh breath . . .

For fresh breath . . .

But many Indian restaurants offer you a small plate or bowl of these little seeds, which is surprisingly refreshing.

I’m no stranger to teapigs, but I’ve never tried this flavour, which is creme caramel.

Dessert in a teacup

Dessert in a teacup

Well this was just dessert in a teacup, let me tell you. This was delightfully authentic, and I really enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. It went perfectly with my next item.

I know I’ve sent other people this ‘nakd’ brand of snacks before, but I’ve never tried one myself. So I was delighted to finally get one that I didn’t buy myself! This was really good.

Cashew cookie

Cashew cookie

Cashew’s got to be one of the best nut flavours anyway, and this, married with a cup of creme caramel tea was really gorgeous.

I really feel the next item needs no explanation at all. Green & Black’s. Dark chocolate. End of.

The best dark chocolate

The best dark chocolate

In all seriousness, though (and I never kid about dark chocolate), this is truly life’s best dark chocolate. This is what I would bring to Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision machine in so I could reproduce this in massive bars. I was grateful to get this bite-size bar though.

I am constantly making stews and casseroles, and truly the three herbs I use the most are rosemary (mostly on my potatoes), sage (mostly on pork), and thyme (mostly on . . well . . everything).

No parsley, but definitely the sage, rosemary and thyme!

No parsley, but definitely the sage, rosemary and thyme!

So getting this little stack of my three best herbs was brilliant.

My penultimate treat was this citrus lollipop. Actually, this barely made it down for the photoshoot. About 5 seconds after snapping this picture, this was being unwrapped.

Citrus lollipop!

Citrus lollipop!

It has been years and years since I’ve had a lollipop, so it was such a nice treat. I don’t know where this one came from, but it was gooooooooooooood . . .

And finally, my favourite part of the box was this jar of homemade apple butter. I love when I’m sent something homemade. It’s such a snapshot of the person behind the box.

Home made apple butter

Home made apple butter

This was delicious, and after a couple of email exchanges, Dawn shared the recipe with me. When I’m brave enough, I’ll give it a go.

So I’m sure you’ll agree that this was a magical box, full of lovely gifts of all shapes, sizes and influences. Dawn, you did such a great job with all your selections. Thank you so much.

If you are inspired by this parcel or even think you could do better (unlikely!), please visit http://thisisrocksalt.com/foodie-penpals/ if you living in Europe, or http://www.theleangreenbean.com/foodie-penpals/ if you are in the USA.

September 2014 Foodie Penpal

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As my September foodie penpal, Zoe, pointed out – it’s hard to believe it’s the end of September already. But the leaves are golden and deep red now, the air is much more crisp, and all of my husband’s cricket gear is put away. That’s always a sure sign that summer is over. Well that, and the fact that we’ve had the heat on for a couple of weeks. Sigh . . .

I got my September package early in the month, which was great. It also spurred me on to get my act together and get Sabine’s on it’s way to Germany, so thanks for that, Zoe! Here’s what Zoe sent –

This bottle of smoked paprika came at a perfect time. I’ve been trying a lot of recipes that call for smoked paprika over the last year, and my supply was running low. I had it on my shopping list, but I’m pleased I can take it off now.

Delicious on everything!

Delicious on everything!

Smoked paprika really gives a really rich flavour to so many dishes. I pretty much add a dash to almost everything I make now from eggs to casseroles.

I love these little kits. But oddly enough, although I see them in the shops, I never get them for myself. This is a Thai green curry kit.

Dinner made easy!

Dinner made easy!

I love going out for Thai food, but have seldom made it, so to have one so neatly delivered to my door is truly a sign. I can’t wait to try it.

Whoever invented a way to cook things in a bag should get a knighthood, or maybe something even higher (is there such a thing?). I think they’re brilliant.

Dinner in a bag!

Dinner in a bag!

Zoe sent me a lemon and dill packet for seasoning salmon cooked in a bag. What could be easier than this? And you don’t have to worry about basting or ensuring your food doesn’t dry out. The bag does all the work without any effort on your part. I’m all for that.

I also got this chips spice. I made oven-baked chips all the time, and I think I am most excited about this. I’ve never seen it, and I usually just try to hash something together with whatever spices I have to hand.

My oven's already heating up.

My oven’s already heating up.

I’m not sure this packet is going to see tomorrow, because I think there are some chips with my name (and this Smokey BBQ spice) on them. I’m thinking lunchtime . . .

And finally, Zoe sent me red lentils. I love lentils – red ones in particular. My in-laws were raised in India, and when I first moved to the UK, I learned quickly how to make tarka dhal. But Zoe sent me a recipe for a spiced lentil soup, which I can’t wait to try.

One of the best things to help get you through winter.

One of the best things to help get you through winter.

This is definitely the start of soup season, and I think I’ll kick it off with Zoe’s soup recipe.

Thank you, Zoe, for putting together such a thoughtful package. I love everything you sent, and I hope you were as fortunate as I was.

If any of you are interested in joining this fantastic group, please visit Carol Anne on http://thisisrocksalt.com/foodie-penpals. It’s way more fun than ironing. . . .

August 2014 Foodie Penpal


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.


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 . . ..


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.


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 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.


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


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.



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.



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.