Thursday 31 July 2014

Bret's Les Aromatisées Saveur Carbonara

Crisps tasting of spaghetti carbonara? Well, why not.

Travelling through France on our way to Switzerland we stopped at three service stations and I picked up a packet of crisps or two. Or, as it turns out, a packet of crisps or16. How could I possibly resist? After all, there were so many fascinating flavours to choose from.

So here we have carbonara flavour. The ingredients include milk, cream, cheese, onion, garlic and actual viande de porc (albeit in powder form). So not suitable for vegetarians. Real meat eh?

These crisps have a nice fine crinkle. The colour is a pale golden and they taste pretty much the same as they smell which is more unusual than you might suppose. And quite nice crunch.

I rather liked these crisps. I thought they had a pleasant light flavour; a crisp I would happily eat again. Another taste tester thought it a very heavy flavour. But tasty he said. He didn't think he would buy them again though. Which is fine because he didn't buy them in the first place!

Bret's is a Breton company very proud of its work force (200 agriculteurs breton) and its commitment to reduce its impact on the environment. The company is based in the Morhihan, which is in Southern Brittany. I looked it up on a map and the almost inland sea with all the little islands does look rather lovely.

I have more crisps from Bret's to try so we'll see how we go. But I think these are pretty good. Especially considering I'm not mad about spaghetti carbonara in the first place.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Walkers Deep Ridged Salt & Malt Vinegar

Wow! Salt and vinegar flavour or what?  This is the kind of flavour that leaps out and grabs you by the throat. Which is not necessarily a recommendation.

I've seen these Walkers deep ridged "ridges twice as deep" crisps before of course, but only in gigantic bags. So when I spotted this little bag at the services on the A2 I rushed to buy them. Gasp! I'm not sure that was a good thing. This is definitely the old fashioned take the roof off your mouth style of salt and vinegar. The packaging tells me the crisps are twice as deep (that'll be the ridges then but twice as deep as what exactly?) with a bold flavour for epic satisfaction. I think I prefer the more modern more delicate version of salt and vinegar. Perhaps epic is not for me. Perhaps these are man-crisps?
The crisps are certainly very ridged. And I like the way the crisp is pictured in front of a mountain range. It's a clever idea. I also very much like the little man who disposes of his rubbish responsibly; on this packet he is shown (actually I think in this case he may be a she, which is unusual) struggling up a hill to reach the bin.

I notice this exact style of crisp is available in France but under the Lays name instead of the British Walkers brand. The design of the bag seemed pretty much the same (as I glanced at it in the service station shop) only Lays don't have the little person throwing the bag in a bin. Maybe it is a legal obligation to have this sign on snack food packaging in Britain but not in France. It seems rather a shame to leave it off after Walkers/Lays have gone to the trouble of designing a new little person for each style of crisp.

I didn't like these crisps very much because although the ridgyness and the crunch are very good indeed, the flavour is much too harsh. Maybe if I tried them in another flavour? I imagine that the combination of the wonderful ridgyness with a less attacking flavour might be just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

M&S Summer of Flavour Hand Cooked Prawn Tom Yum

I don't usually eat seafood (although let's be honest, crisps don't really qualify as seafood do they?) but I wanted to know what these prawn tom yum crisps were like, so I bought a packet for the reluctant taste testers at work.

I put a bowl out at lunchtime and replenished it after lunch. And before I knew it there was nothing left beyond a few crumbs. So it seems everyone thought these were rather delicious.

Good crunchy (very crunchy - great sound effects) golden crisps they taste of lemongrass, ginger and a hint of chilli (or so says the packet). And that would be about right. There's coriander and lemon in the flavour too. It's a lovely spicy flavour. I couldn't detect prawns in the taste but others in the office did. Only the aroma reminds me of prawns in chinese restaurants.

I gather that tom yum is a spicy and sour soup. From Laos or Thailand or Malaysia or Singapore. Or all of them. As with so many recipes there seem to be a great many different versions but the version most popular with tourists is the one with the prawns. Or so Wikipedia tells me. So I guess that's what we have here.

Interestingly there is a bloc of information on the back of the packet explaining what lemongrass is. I would have thought anyone buying a packet of prawn tom yum crisps would probably know already. Probably anyone shopping at M&S.

The bag is actually a much softer, prettier, coral red than the scan shows. I don't know why it has come out quite so bright; the scanner is usually more accurate than this.

Rather good spicy-tasting crisps. With a terrific crunch. Very popular at work.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Corkers Pork Sausage and English Mustard

Road trip!

We went to Cambridge yesterday where we saw a beautiful albizzia tree in full flower, a fabulous C18th clock sitting on the back of a rhinoceros, and the Batmobile being driven past on a car carrier. And we found these crisps, new to us, in the Courtyard Cafe at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Wow! These sausage flavour crisps really seem to be made with genuine sausage flavour. Although the ingredients list is not specific it does say natural flavourings. Also spices, herbs and onion. And of course, mustard which you can also taste. However, they are suitable for vegetarians so no actual sausage.

It's odd. Some crisps have a wonderful aroma and a less good taste. These just smell of crisps but taste amazing. Personally I could manage with a little less mustard in the mix but I have never been a fan of mustard.

These crisps are made near Ely in Cambridgeshire from East Anglian spuds; a variety called Naturolo. They have no artificial flavourings or MSG and are hand cooked in sunflower oil. This is a Natural British Crunch.

A lovely crunch, nice dark golden brown colour, lots of tasty flavour dust. A genuinely good crisp. And in a 40g packet which as you know I always find a plus.

I never heard of the Corkers crisp company before but it seems to be run by two guys called Rod Garnham and Ross Taylor who have themselves photographed wearing black tie and red wellies. And they have also redesigned the little guy who disposes responsibly of his crisp packet. This little guy is wearing a suit and tie and has just taken off his bowler hat. Very British.

The Corkers Crisps website is a little slow to open but very very British in theme.  Lots of fun photos. Clearly these East Anglian chaps are very keen on their crisps. And cricket.

Also spotted in Cambridge; this E-Type Jaguar parked in Trumpington Street just near the museum. Every single man who walked past just had to stop and admire it. I was lucky to get this man-free shot. Man-free, woman-free, bicycle-free, traffic-free: Cambridge is very busy on a Saturday in July. It's a shame I couldn't fit the tops of the gables in too but I didn't have time to get a better angle.

Friday 25 July 2014

Walkers French Fries Ready Salted

For ages I've been wondering what Walkers French Fries would be like but I've only ever seen them in packs of six or more and who buys a pack of six somethings not having any idea if they are going to be nice or not. So when I saw this little bag in the Post Office I thought why not? And then the guy behind the counter gave them to me for nothing because the packet was past its sell-by date.

So I didn't know what to expect: some past their sell-by crisps are absolutely fine while others are not so nice.  So I was pleasantly surprised because these seemed perfectly fine and tasted delicious.

You know those shiny little expanded polystyrene packaging peanuts? French Fries have a very similar silky feel to them and also a similar foamy texture. Because they are made of potato granules and not slices of potato. Whatever it is that Walkers do to turn potato granules and starch into a tasty snack via some sort of extruding machine gives them an amazing shiny feel. Although if you bit into a polystyrene peanut I imagine it wouldn't have a yummy salty taste. Or a satisfying crunch either.

French Fries are not so long and spindly as shown on the packet, but they are still fairly long. A little bit (but not too) thin. And a little bit curvy. And really and truly they are delicious. This is a great traditional ready salted flavour.

OK, so one of the ingredients is MSG (surprise!) but as I'm not intending to eat these crispy crunchy tasty snacks every day I don't really care. Moderation is everything. I would like to try French Fries in another flavour though.

Once again the design department at Walkers has played with the little guy who disposes of his rubbish responsibly. And to go with the spindly thin design of this snack the little guy is now terribly thin and spindly. And it looks as though he's throwing away several French Fries.

I really enjoy these little guys and (perhaps a little sadly) I've started to look out for different designs. It's a harmless pursuit I suppose. But all credit to Walkers for going to the trouble because they don't need to.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Tesco Finest Hand Cooked Sweet Chilli Crisps

Classic fragrant spices for a real taste of Asia it says here.

I was going to say that I've not been to Asia so I can't comment. Well, that's not quite true. I spent a stinky and very hot 3 hours or so at the old Hong Kong airport in 1994. If you ever flew in there you'll remember the incredibly scary sight out of the plane windows: apartment blocks apparently only 20 feet away.... and I never ate anything there (it was much too stinky).

And I also spent the night in the Japanese version of a hotel at Stansted Airport. Which was part and parcel of my flight home from Sydney to London Heathrow with Japanese Airlines in 1999. Wow. Breakfast was amazing. I never saw such an astonishing collection of food: breakfast cereals, the usual eggs and bacon etc, stewed fruits and so on; you know the style of thing. But also stewed lotus (which I should have tried but didn't), bowls full of miniature fish: heads and tails and all, tinned spaghetti bolognaise, and chips. It was great. I think I had bacon, scrambled eggs and chips. Well why not?

Anyhow, none of that qualifies me to comment on whether these crisps are a classic taste of Asia or not.

So what have we here? Hermes potatoes grown in Devon. Each potato is peeled, sliced and fried in small batches under the watchful eye of specially trained fryers. No artificial flavours, colour or MSG. Suitable for vegetarians.And the flavour is made up of sugar, salt, onion owner, yeast extract, spices (unspecified), garlic, coconut, bell pepper, flavouring (again unspecified), herbs (no idea which herbs), chilli extract, paprika and lemon grass. Another amazingly complicated recipe.

Not a bad taste. Quite a good chilli zing and a good chilli aroma when you open the bag. Good chilli aftertaste too but not too hot. Lots of flavour dust and a fine reddish orange colour which doesn't really show in the photo. Thick cut crisps. Mostly larger than average. No too many breakages.

It's a good quality crisp. But with all those different ingredients jumbled up together to make the flavour I'm not sure what I should expect. And I do wonder what Tesco was aiming for. Are they looking for a future classic? I think this is too complicated.

Not a bad taste. We quite like it but we're not certain we want to try again. I think maybe some of the very complicated flavours are fun to try but not something you want to go back to again and again. I think the answer is that this is quite a nice flavour but we'd rather stick with something simpler that we know and love like cheese & onion or salt & vinegar. Even though I try loads of different flavours all the time I'm not sure most people are ready to move to something more fancy on a regular basis.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Mega Monster Munch Roast Beef Flavour

Oh boy! Massive hunks of roast beef flavour baked corn snack. Yes, this 85g bag of crunchy corn snackiness is fairly mega. However, it is not made of roast beef. No: these monstrous snacks are suitable for monsters and vegetarians. I've got to say though, that if I were a vegetarian I would probably not be tempted by a crispy snack allegedly flavoured with roast beef.

However, to be honest they don't really taste of roast beef and no wonder considering the flavour is made up of wheat rusk, hydrolysed soya protein. lactose, "flavourings" (whatever that means) and flavour enhancers.

The flavour is sort of beef in a spicy sauce. Or possibly Oxo. The reluctant taste testers ate quite a lot of these but were baffled to learn they weren't eating curry flavour crispy snacks. Or as one of them put it, you know, that curry sauce you get abroad that isn't really very like curry at all.

Each individual monster foot-shaped snack has quite a lot of crunchy flavour dust which comes off on your fingers and transfers the taste to your fingers too. OK if you are a 10 year old boy but not so good for a grown-up food writer (that's me).

Quite tasty (I liked them better than the Pickled Onion version) but oh so completely not a real food. Yes, yes, I know they're made with maize and wheat flour and stuff but this is a majorly processed food.

Obviously this is another snack aimed at 10 year olds. Or possibly even younger children. I am quite horrified how many children in pushchairs seem to be eating crisps while they are wheeled along. I think if you are old enough for crisps you are old enough to walk. Not to mention when I was a child crispy snacks were a huge treat, for weekends or parties only.

I know. It seems like double standards to complain about children eating crisps as I eat so many. But actually I don't. I try hard never to finish a packet on my own and always share when I can. And anyway, I know that crispy snacks are bad for me and try to eat healthy food like salads when I sit down to dinner. What are the children in the pushchairs given for their dinners I wonder? Maybe they're not even eating dinner but grazing on junk food all day long.
This bag is quite large but in fact contains a relatively small number of Monster Munches simply because each individual Munch is so big. If I put one in my mouth that's it. I can't speak. No room for more than one. They are massive.

Monster Munch is of course owned by Walkers, and the Walkers design team is running true to form; the little man who disposes of his rubbish responsibly has been transformed into a roast beef monster. And the sell by date says monsters are here forever; this snack is best before... A little bit too cute perhaps. But as I said before, these are obviously aimed at 10 year old boys (and girls) and not grown up food writers.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Waitrose Crunchy & Savoury Sea Salt Pretzel Sticks

Waitrose pretzel sticks come in a beautiful sea green bag that subtly changes from light to dark (or vice versa) as you move from right to left (or vice versa). Looking at the front I didn't even realise; ah, but then I looked at the back and it's obvious.

There's not very much to say about pretzel sticks. You get a stick. It's crunchy. With a light pretzel taste. And there are little chunks of sea salt. Not very tasty - you can't say that because the taste is light and not too strong - but pleasant and moreish.

The reluctant taste testers made away with most of the 100g packet without really noticing. You can get from the main body of the office into the filing room or the meeting room by walking along the passage, or you can duck through the kitchen. And I think a fair amount of grazing goes on as everyone takes the kitchen route. It doesn't save any time: it just goes past the handy bowl of crispy snacks.

Slightly weirdly someone thought these were Twiglets. Which they're definitely not because Twiglets have a much stronger and completely different taste. And look quite different too.

Not a bad crispy snack. Probably very good with dips, and possibly excellent with a little dab of butter!

Monday 14 July 2014

San Carlo Virtual Coni di Mais dal Gusto Deciso

Sounds glamorous doesn't it? But what does it mean? Basically, according to Google Translate, it means San Carlo crisps (we knew that), in a style mysteriously called "virtual" (meaning "virtual"), and the flavour is corn flavour cones.

Corn flavour cones? Well, maize flavour cones. Which is interesting because the flavour is a little bit barbecue (sorry, obviously that should be BBQ) and not really very maize. Or that's the aroma when the packet is opened. But the cones bit is right. Slightly ridgy cones of extruded maize crunchiness.

In the list of ingredients (under the heading "Snack di Mais") we have the giveaway aroma di affumicatura: smoky flavour. Well, yes, But why hide the flavour away in the small print?
Maybe Italians expect virtual crispy snacks to taste smoky. Who knows? Obviously not me. The flavour seems to be a mix of "smoky flavour", salt, sugar, paprika, mustard and rosemary. But what you get is a quite tasty mild BBQ taste.

Since 1936, San Carlo crisps have been singing the same song, genuine as ever and always fresh says the website , but isn't at all helpful as to why these crispy snacks are called virtual. But then if you take a look at the list of their other snacks they are called dixi, rodeo, cross and b.bacon. Well, if I ever get back to Italy again I will look out for dixi, rodeo et al. The cross snack (incredibilimente gustoso) looks rather fun; but I don't suppose I will ever discover why the San Carlo popcorn is called pony pop.

I tried these out on the reluctant taste testers at work, who are I have to say, a lot less reluctant than they used to be. Anyway, they rather enjoyed these softly BBQ flavoured cones. One tester said she was thrilled because they reminded her so much of the crispy snacks she ate so much of (so many of?) when she visited Thailand.

I thought these tasted OK but a little bit greasy. It seems everyone else liked them rather a lot.

Saturday 12 July 2014

M&S Full on Flavour Salt & Vinegar Twists

I've been walking past these twisty snacks in Marks and Spencer for months. Possibly years. And I finally decided I might given them a chance to be better than I thought they would be. And you know what? They were right and I was wrong.

I'm always a little bit cautious about salt and vinegar. It can be a terribly harsh flavour, even to the point of taking the skin off the roof of your mouth. But these are quite mild. Very tasty in fact. Sort of... just right.

Nice smooth texture, not a lot of flavour dust. Very easy to eat a lot more than you thought you were going to.

And then, they do look just like pasta twists or fusilli for all you Italian speakers out there. I don't know about you, but when I cook pasta twists I always end up with the edges just right and the core of the twist still not quite cooked enough. So I never buy fusilli any more, and that's why I walked past these crispy snacks for so long.

However, these work just fine. Somehow the core of the twist has just the same crunch as the edges. Pretty clever, eh?

Suitable for vegetarians and vegans. No artificial colours or flavourings and no MSG. But you can't recycle the metallic blue and silver packaging.

The blue and silver really reminds me of one of my late 1960s Barbie's best outfits called Zokko #1820. And huge thanks to the Fashion Doll Guide which has posted a great photo of the exact outfit I am thinking of. A little disco dress with silver knitted top and metallic blue skirt, and a silver belt with orange stripe. It came with silver boots. How space age and modern Barbie was in 1969. Amazing.

I still have all my Barbie outfits (and my Barbie too), although all packed away just now. And in storage so I can't get at it to photograph the dress, or check to see if I still have the all important matching orange earrings. I expect it came with an orange coathanger too; everything came with a coathanger. But I am fascinated to see how much I could sell all the bits for. If I wanted to.

Back to the crispy snack. Pretty good.

Friday 11 July 2014

Essential Waitrose Cheese Puffs

Another variation on the ever popular cheesy puff; much delicious extruded maize goodness. Yes, I know, these kinds of snacks are 100% pretence food but I find them irresistible.

Actually, I bought these by mistake for a friend. I say by mistake because I failed to notice that these stunningly good crispy snacks are made with wheat flour (who knows why) and I should have bought the M&S version (also sublime, in fact possibly even better) which is not made with wheat. And disappointed friend cannot eat wheat so I ate them myself.

Really good!

I recently reviewed the original (in this country anyway) cheese puff; the cheesy wotsit. Not terribly impressed as you can read for yourself if you wish. And until now my favourite cheesy puff was the M&S Full on Flavour version. But I think the essential Waitrose version is a pretty good contender.

Nice light crunch - as it should be, good bubbly texture, lots of tasty flavour dust but not to the extent of turning your fingers orange. And a lovely cheesy taste with a slight citrusy note which lifts the taste. As I said: really good.

I don't know if these are baked or fried as the packaging doesn't tell me. Whatever Mr Waitrose or his suppliers are doing it's definitely the right thing.

Suitable for vegetarians. No artificial colours or flavourings.
The packaging is nothing exciting but this is the essential range from Waitrose.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Market Deli Potato Chips with Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Market Deli crisps come in a fancy cream and purple gussetted bag (the technical term is block-bottomed bag), with sharing suggestions: great paired with a crisp white wine and your favourite people
and tasting notes: discover the authentic flavours of Europe's finest markets and delis with these delicious deli potato chips, cut thicker and cooked for longer for that perfect bite. The delicate sweetness of aged "Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI", creates a rich, velvety and smooth flavour, that has to be tasted to be believed.
 Real ingredients, authentic taste it says on the peel and re-close sticker. Very nice too. But this does rather give the impression that other crisps are made with pretence ingredients. Which perhaps they are.

Market Deli is the new premium range of crisps and other crispy snacks from Walkers. The range was only launched in June this year so for once we are really at the forefront of crisp innovation. And while they are perfectly good potato chips (we usually say crisps in the UK but perhaps potato chip is thought to be more upmarket), I'm not sure they are particularly fabulous or different in any way.

Except the packaging which I really like. It feels really sturdy and looks smart. This packet has travelled to and fro to work several times this week by bus and car and feels just as good as ever. And not as crumpled as a normal packet would get. The crisps too have not suffered from all the travel. I think the packet definitely qualifies as upmarket.

In a blind tasting we thought they were crispy. "Not bad, I can taste the vinegar" said the chef. Well, yes, so can I. But although it's not malt vinegar I can taste I'm not convinced that I can taste Balsamic vinegar.  A good strong crunch, certainly thicker than the average Walkers crisp. Quite a lot of flavour dust. The packet doesn't say but it would be interesting to know whether these crisps are fried or baked. They seem fried to me.

And the lovely people at Walkers have again pimped the little man who encourages you to throw your rubbish away responsibly. The one on this packet is sporting a smart apron. It's not upmarket to chuck your rubbish just anywhere: use a bin.