Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tassimo Vivy Review

I've been toying with the idea of getting a capsule espresso machine for a while, so when Tassimo offered to send me a Vivy machine to review, I jumped at the chance.

The Tassimo Vivy is a neat, compact machine that fits easily into my kitchen cupboard, keeping it out of the way when it's not in use. It's small enough and light enough that it's no hassle to get it out when we need it and then put it away. Since I have a worrying tendency to fill my worktops with gadgets, this is a definite plus.

At 20-30p per drink, the capsules compare very favourably to coffee shop prices, and there's a significant range to choose from. Well-known brands like Costa, Kenco, and Carte Noire are all getting in on the act, as well as hot chocolate from Oreo or Suchard, and teas from Twinings.

The coffee discs have an Intellibrew chip that tells the machine what's being made, affecting the temperature, brewing time, and amount of water (so your espresso automatically comes out short, and your longer drinks). Packaging design seems to be left largely at the discretion of individual brands, but the sensible ones list the volume of the resulting drink so you can pick an appropriately-sized cup. (You can also override the settings to make a longer drink, for example extending an espresso into an americano.)

There are a few other features that make this a particularly good design. The drip tray has two positions, which is really handy for making espresso in a smaller cup.

The capsule process does feel quite wasteful compared to spooning loose coffee into a pot: every time you make a drink, you're throwing away a fairly hefty chunk of plastic. As such, I'd feel guilty if I used this machine daily to feed my (extensive) caffeine addiction. But for an occasional treat, it's ideal, and as each capsule is sealed you can keep a range of different drinks in stock without them going off.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Courgette & Mushroom Pesto Pie

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

Higgidy - who make some of my favourite individual-serving pies - are running a competition for the public to design their next guest pie. The Higgidy Recipe Hunt is open to anyone in the UK (well, subject to various terms & conditions, which you can find on their site), and you can win a year's supply of pie, so get your thinking caps on! It doesn't even have to be a whole recipe, you could win by just suggesting a combination of flavours. It'd be great to see more veggie pies in the range, so I'll definitely be entering an idea or two. The deadline is October 26th.

To celebrate, Higgidy founder Camilla sent me a gorgeous enamel pie dish (you can see it in the photos) and some pie-making tips. One of Camilla's top tips is not to be afraid of using shortcuts (like ready-made pastry) if you're short on time, something I really took to heart this time as I'd been feeling under the weather all weekend and still wanted to knock up something impressive and tasty to feed my friends.

I happened to have a load of courgettes in the fridge, and half a jar of pesto, so this pie filling came together very easily. It worked really well, and really only took a few minutes to prepare, so I'll definitely be doing something like this again.

This recipe is vegan, just as long as you use vegan pesto and check the ingredients on your pastry.

Courgette, Mushroom & Pesto Pie
Serves 4

320g (11oz) courgettes (zucchini), approx. 2 large
200g (7oz) chestnut mushrooms
160g (5½oz) baby sweetcorn
1 large leek
1 large onion
1tbsp sunflower oil
2tbsp pesto
1x 320g (11oz) puff pastry sheet
  1. Chop the courgettes, mushrooms, and baby corn into bite-sized pieces. Finely chop the leek and onion.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan.
  3. Fry the vegetables until soft, then set aside to cool.
  4. Stir the pesto into the vegetable mixture.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  6. Tip the vegetables into an oven-proof pie dish.
  7. Top with the puff pastry sheet, trimming the edges to fit, and press down the edges to seal.
  8. Brush the top with a little milk or water.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, until the surface is golden-brown.

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

Monday, 13 October 2014

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie (Secret Recipe Club)

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

One of my favourite things about blogging is the opportunity to learn new recipes from around the world. You know, those foods that are taken for granted in faraway places you've never been to. (Or nearby places you've never been to, for that matter.)

Case in point: I'd never heard of a sugar cream pie, but apparently this is big in Indiana. I've never been to Indiana, either, but one day I'm sure I'll get there, to try a slice of this sticky goodness in its hometown.

Diana from A Spoonful of Luxe is my assigned blog for Secret Recipe Club this month, and this recipe just leapt out at me as I was paging through her dessert collection.

The filling is, indeed, basically made from cream and sugar. (Health food, it is not.) I'm sometimes nervous about trying a recipe when I haven't

Diana topped her pie with cranberries, which sounds wonderful, but I happened to have some late summer blueberries so I switched those in instead. Of course, I've also converted the recipe to metric, and added in quantities for anyone who wants to make their own pastry rather than buying a ready-made crust.

I think this is designed as a cold dessert, but we also tried it hot (it melts into a gooey mess when you warm it up, but it's still tasty).

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie with Blueberries
Serves 8

For the crust:
100g (1 stick) butter
200g (1⅔cups) plain flour
Ice-cold water

For the filling:
115g (½ cup) granulated sugar
60g (¼ cup) soft brown sugar
40g (⅓ cup) plain flour
¼tsp salt
¼tsp freshly ground nutmeg
360ml (1½ cups) double cream
25g (2tbsp) butter
1tsp vanilla

For the topping:
320g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
  1. First, make the pastry: rub the butter into the flour until it has the texture of breadcrumbs, and add cold water a little at a time until you have a stiff dough.
  2. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).
  3. Combine the sugars with the flour, salt, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Heat the cream in a small saucepan, until it bubbles.
  5. Stir the butter and vanilla into the warm cream, to melt the butter.
  6. Pour the cream over the sugar mixture, and whisk until combined.
  7. Roll out the pastry and line a deep, loose-based pie dish.
  8. Pour in the sugar cream filling.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set, but still with a slight wobble. The topping should be golden brown.
  10. Serve with fresh blueberries.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mushroom Miso Soup

Miso soup is one of those ridiculously healthy, almost-calorie-free foods that nonetheless fills you right up, especially if you include a decent amount of tofu.

I've had instant packets of miso soup, now and then, but when Yukata offered to send me a jar of their organic miso paste to try out, I decided it might be fun to have a go at making it myself.

And honestly, it's so straightforward that I'm not sure I'd ever buy the packets again. This hardly even deserves a recipe: dissolve miso in stock, maybe add a few bits and bobs to liven it up a bit, and drink it while it's hot.

Mushroom miso soup

Traditionally, miso soup has seaweed in it, but seaweed isn't exactly a staple of mine so I didn't have any in the cupboard. What I did have was a handful of mushrooms, and some mushroom stock cubes that I'd never tried out before. For my second miso soup experiment, equally tasty but less photographed, I added some asparagus to the mix. The mushroom version was my favourite, as the mushroom flavours are robust enough not to get overwhelmed by the miso, but I'll continue to experiment. You might also want to try adding more of the miso paste, but it's quite salty, so I prefer to keep it quite light.

Mushroom Miso Soup
Serves 1

500ml (2 cups) mushroom stock
1tbsp miso paste
100g tofu
4 small chestnut mushrooms
2 spring onions (scallions/green onions)
  1. Heat the mushroom stock and dissolve in the miso paste.
  2. Chop the tofu and mushrooms into small bite-sized pieces, and slice the spring onions.
  3. Add the tofu and vegetables to the broth, and simmer for five minutes until heated through.
  4. Serve immediately.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Switzerland #NoFilter

I've only ever visited Switzerland for one of two reasons. When I was studying physics in college, and we took a couple of trips to CERN - where the most exciting stuff is deep underground. And to ski, where the excitement happens on the side of a mountain.

No question which my mind went to when I heard about the Switzerland #NoFilter Challenge being organised by London City Airport this month.

The goal is to share photos which haven't been pushed through smartphone filters, to highlight how beautiful the world can be without digital enhancement.

This was easy for me since I haven't been skiing in a few years (thanks to injury), and I'd never even heard of a 'filter' last time I was on the slopes. It was before I had a smartphone, and definitely before I had an Instagram account... I didn't even have a great camera, although I was starting to think I needed one.

To be honest, I seldom do much filtering in post-processing anyway. It's much better that way: time spent in front of the computer tweaking pictures is time I could be spending out and about, doing something else. If I remember to do proper white-balancing on my camera before taking photos, then I can generally get away with just a bit of cropping and straightening.

I've never taken masses of photos on ski trips, either, because I was too busy doing actual skiing. But even the couple of pictures I've managed to dig out really make me want to hike straight up into the mountains and get lost amongst the snowy fir trees.

In theory this is a competition (judged by Becky and Gray from Global Grasshoppers), but I'm not really entering to win anything. I'm just indulging in a little nostalgia, and remembering why I really, really want to get back out in the snow this year. I'm also looking forward to seeing others' photos, especially anyone who's been to these same mountains in the summer, because I bet it's just as beautiful in a very different way.

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