Saturday 30 May 2015

M&S Mature Cheddar & Red Onion Hand Cooked Crisps

Now I am confused. Early in May I reviewed a packet of crisps from M&S called Hand Cooked Mature Cheddar Cheese & Red Onion British Potato Crisps.

And now I have a packet of crisps (in a very different packet) also bought in May and called Mature Cheddar & Red Onion Hand Cooked Crisps. Which is part of the Tastes of the British Isles range. Which the first packet wasn't.

As the packets seem to be sold simultaneously, and none of the other Tastes of the British Isles flavours appear in different packaging (at least I don't think they do) I will choose to treat them differently.

This is a lovely packet of crisps. Lots of flavour dust, nice gentle and genuinely cheesy flavour (as opposed to the completely pretend cheesy yumminess you get with puffed maize snacks), and a very mild onion taste. Really very good.

The only complaint I have is that the smart mature cheddar of the packet looks uncommonly like cauliflower cheese if you glance at it rather than look properly. And the handsome red onions might be taken for beetroot. Or even dark red apples. Cauliflower cheese and beetroot crisps anyone?

Are they the same or not? With almost the same name but back to front? This is a conundrum sent to confuse crisp fans.

Could be the same recipe. Might not be. Who knows except for the crisp technology team at M&S? Either way this is a top quality tasty crisp and we'll leave it at that. The Chef liked them too.

Friday 29 May 2015

Mega Monster Munch Flamin' Hot

I went to the Co-op shop at the local petrol station on my way to work because the weather forecast for lunchtime was horrible and I thought I'd better pick up a sandwich before it started to rain. And along with a not half bad cheese ploughmans I grabbed this tiny (22g) bag of Monster Munch.

It was only when I got to the office that I realised it says "multipack bag, not for resale". So what the Co-op was doing selling me this is anyone's guess. However, they did and here's what we thought.

Mighty bites of Flamin' Hot flavour baked corn snack. Bigger than they used to be. Ah ha? And, vitally important; aimed squarely at children.

Hmn... there are a lot of chemicals in the ingredients. MSG, Disodium 5'ribonucleotide, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, plus Fructose, Lactose and sugar. Not super healthy for a product aimed at the under 10s.

The contents of this bag smelled horrible. But tasted somewhat better than horrible. Although to be honest we were not mad keen. Quite hot and chilli-ish but also curry-ish. The texture is a bit dry. This tiny bag only had a few Mega Monsters in it (the photo shows the entire contents) and it was all morning before the last one was eaten.

Noble friend called them big curry paws and that's about right. One of the archivists tried taste testing and he wasn't mad for this crispy snack either.

Suitable for monsters and vegetarians. And there is a little monster disposing of his rubbish responsibly on the back of the packet. Which is probably the best thing about this snack.

Thursday 28 May 2015

KP The Real McCoy's Ridge Cut Mexican Chilli

I had quite forgotten that McCoy's call themselves "MAN CRISPS" and have an online pub with online darts.

But the packaging designer knows that these are man crisps and designs the packets accordingly. Mexican Chilli flavour has a rich brown packet. The Flame Grilled Steak flavour is a darker brown with grill marks on it. This is not a style of crisps for girlies.

However, being a girl myself (OK, grown up woman), I am interested to see what exactly makes these crisps MAN CRISPS.

The flavours are Thai Sweet Chicken, Sizzling King Prawns, Salted and BBQ Ribs, Flame Grilled Steak, Cheddar & Onion, and Salt & Malt Vinegar. I admit I'm not particularly attracted to most of these crisp flavours, but is this because I'm not a man? Are these especially manly flavours? I am a picky eater and don't fancy Thai food, and won't eat prawns. But I know plenty of girls who have a broader idea of tasty food than I do.

It's a bit odd. And the deep ridges don't put me off either. Yes, they may be ridgier crisps than others but this difference is as nothing compared with the difference between ordinary chocolate and the Yorkie Bar which was marketed as a chocolate bar for men. Or even lorry drivers (obviously stronger and manlier than mere company director or premiership footballer style men). It had such thick chocolate you had to have teeth like a hippopotamus to bite thorough it, never mind the teeth of man.

These crisps have a lovely dark golden colour and loads of tasty flavour dust. The ridges are deep and the crunch is good. Some of the reluctant taste testers told me they thought the chilli flavour would be too strong - but it wasn't. One of the least enthusiastic testers told me enthusiastically that she rather liked them. Which is a pretty strong endorsement.

Tasty certainly. And surprisingly good. We liked this little 50g packet. And thanks to the (not actually on a corner) corner shop in Oxford next to the (on the corner) pub where I had lunch on Saturday for selling them.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Seabrook Lattice Hand Cooked Crisps Natural Sea Salt

I seem to have corrupted the office. Most of the taste testers are nothing like so reluctant these days and several have brought in interesting crispy offerings. Today the Senior taste tester brought in this packet of Lattice crisps from Seabrook.

I discovered that Morrisons sell Seabrook crisps which have been heartily recommended by a friend, and I've tried their Sea Salt crisps which I thought were wonderful and have made it to my Favourites list. I had determined to make a foray  to stock up on Seabrook's products but Senior taste tester beat me to it with this one.

This is a lovely old fashioned (basically ready salted) flavour crisp but with the modern lattice texture. A very nice crunch, and just the right amount of salt.

But where most crisps might be ready salted or sea salt flavour, this packet is Sun Drenched Natural Sea Salt. So I suppose the salt is naturally dried in the sunshine. Which is great, but as the packet emphasises the natural process I wonder if most salt is dried in some nasty chemical process. In which case: what a pity. Because I'd so much rather have something natural.

The taste testers rather enjoyed this packet of crisps. It is a testament to their enthusiasm that this 120g packet was all finished by lunchtime. Just gentle grazing on the way to and from the photocopier can finish a bowlful (or several bowlsful) rather quickly.

And the packaging design is beautifully subtle. Very nice. I especially like the little string bow.

And here are a few images of the National Collection of Euphorbias in the University of Oxford Botanic Garden.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Walkers French Fries Worcester Sauce

Another little packet of crisps found at Paddington Station. And another packet with the number of calories: 93. This packet has 21 g of crispy snack in it and 93 kcal. I've never studied calories so I have no idea if this is good or not. But I'm guessing it probably is.

I've tried Walkers French Fries before but only Ready Salted. So finding a little bag of the Worcester Sauce flavour is something of a triumph. This seems to be the sort of crispy snack found at airports and railway stations, or in little corner shops.

As we don't have many of any of these near where I live I stock up when and where I can.

So what do the Chef and I think? Pretty good actually. There's a lovely sharp something or other that contributes to the Worcester Sauce flavour: it's a secret recipe I'm sure so we have to go with ingredients like "Worcester Sauce flavour", "Flavour Enhancer" (that's MSG to you and me), dried garlic and tomato, and... so on. It's not a very clear recipe. But it certainly is a tasty recipe and there's a great after taste.

The French Fries still remind me of very long thin packaging peanuts or whatever they call themselves but luckily this snack is not made from expanded polystyrene. The sharpness of the flavour - maybe the umaminess (probably not a word) - seems to work very well with the texture.

The packaging includes an image of that little guy throwing his rubbish away responsibly. But if you want to see him you will have to click on the Ready Salted link above because it's the same design. He's a lot thinner than usual.

The Chef & I rather liked this little packet of crispy snacks. We managed to eat the whole tasty (rather small) packet without really noticing. Which is surely an encouraging sign.

Actually, we liked the small size of the packet very much. It's good to have a small packet to try. I'm so fed up of having to buy gigantic bags of crispy snacks without knowing whether I'm going to like them or not. This is fine if you like what you've got, but if this is a taste test then a small packet is miles better.

I am including some photographs I took in the Oxford University Botanic Gardens which were looking beautiful this weekend. I read that this is one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world; founded in 1621 for "the glorification of the works of God and for the furtherance of learning". What a wonderful reason to found a garden, and how very nice to see such old gardens looking so pretty. Really, what more can you ask?

Saturday 23 May 2015

Metcalfe's Charity Topcorn Sea Salt

I took the train to Oxford to visit my friends the Professor and her husband the other Professor and found this bag of popcorn at Paddington Station.

I hadn't seen either of them in years so it was lovely to catch up. And it was also very nice to be able to take a look at Oxford which I don't know at all well. At at this time of year the Parks and the Botanical Gardens are looking lovely which was very pleasing for a tree fan like me. Also the vast mass of tourists following guides with umbrellas like flocks of sheep with cameras don't seem to invade the green spaces they way they do everywhere else.

The Professor had this vague idea that I write about breakfast cereal which made me laugh a lot. But why not, after all? Writing about crispy snacks is just as silly although I suspect there is more choice. I don't expect the Professor to remember this sort of nonsense: her mind is on much higher things. And that's not just me being facetious.

So after dinner at high table we went for a gentle walk around the college garden and then sat down to watch an episode of Lewis. As you do when you're in Oxford. And I opened this packet of Charity Topcorn.

I don't think I have seen this product before. I'm fairly sure I would remember a charity popcorn. I wondered, since the Sea Salt flavour sponsors CLIC Sargent for children with cancer, what charities the other flavours mentioned on the back of the packet were sponsoring. But it seems that they don't. it is only by chance that I picked up a sponsoring flavour. This one is called Charity Topcorn. The others are called Skinny Topcorn. Although why "topcorn" I can't quite make out.

Not a very exciting bag of popcorn. Just a gentle saltiness and (mysteriously because there is no butter in the ingredients) a faint almost butteriness which together make a pleasant slightly squeaky snack (I'm sure you must have noticed that popcorn does squeak.) And, as the Professor pointed out with approval, only 108 calories.

So, despite the lack of crispy snack excitement we rather enjoyed this bag of popcorn: sometimes one doesn't need excitement. And indeed, sometimes one goes to sleep while watching Lewis.

Metcalfe's have pledged to give at least £30,000 to their chosen charity between 2014 and 2017. A delicious donation for a great cause says the packet (I think that's my money paying for this packet), and congratulations & thanks for helping.

There are other flavours of Metcalfe's Topcorn available but only Sea Salt make a charitable donation so you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Oh yes, and let's not forget the little guy throwing his rubbish away responsibly. Because here we have a totally new design. Well done Metcalfe's.

Thursday 21 May 2015

7Days Bake Rolls Tomato Olive & Oregano

So here we have the third packet of Bake Rolls bought by the tall taste tester from his local corner shop (which used to sell fish and reptiles). This was kind of him because he is currently on sabbatical and not able to take part in the taste testing.

And I can report that the reluctant taste testers loved this crispy snack. We (all of us that I talked to) just loved it. Very tasty. And the bowlful didn't last very long. So those who said they would try one at the end of the day were disappointed.

The tomato (as so often) isn't so much a taste of tomato but more a tomato sauce or soup or something, but the addition of the olive gives a wonderful hit of umami. I am sure there is oregano in there somewhere but it doesn't leap out and grab you.

The combination of these flavours is extremely good. And together with the fabulous crunch of the Bake Roll you get a great crispy snack.

Yes, we have a success.

The senior taste tester liked them so much he is planning a raid on the ex-fish and reptile shop to stock up on this crispy snack. And possibly check to see if there is another flavour to try...
And here we have a few more photographs of rhododendrons. Because they looked so wonderful and I took a lot of pictures.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Portlebay Popcorn Wasabi & Sweet Ginger

This scary-looking packet of popcorn was pounced on by noble friend when she went to Kenwood House in North London to see their lovely display of rhododendrons. Which was kind and thoughtful of her.

The reluctant taste testers and I looked at the packet in stunned amazement. What sort of a frightening taste would this popcorn have?

Pop sushi! says the packet. But it looks nothing like the bowl of sushi by Utagawa Hiroshige (I cropped his original a bit I'm afraid). After all... it is popcorn.

Actually this popcorn was nothing like as alarming as we thought. Some of it tasted of ginger, and some of wasabai (although more likely horseradish as most of the 'wasabi' in this country is in fact horseradish) with a good hit of heat. And some of it a bit plainer in taste.

I've had Portlebay Popcorn before. I found their Crispy Bacon & Maple Syrup in East Finchley and loved it so much I ate a whole packet all by myself. But I'm not sure if I would have bought this flavour.

Another lesson in not judging a book (or indeed a packet of popcorn) by its cover.

Much to our surprise we rather liked this popcorn. And despite there not being very many people in the office we finished this (smartly designed) packet without any trouble.

So give it a go. Because I find this is the crispy snack flavour du jour.

And here are some of the rhododendrons at Kenwood. They really are looking fantastic this year and as we visited after work, and on a day when the weather was slightly dodgy, there was hardly anyone there. Very nice to see the gardens looking lovely and with almost no other visitors. Except other people photographing the rhododendrons. Like us.

Friday 15 May 2015

M&S Pork, Sage & Scrumpy Cider Hand Cooked

What an amazing flavour from a packet of crisps!

We know that M&S make extremely good crisps but you might suppose that pork flavour wouldn't work very well. Well, you'd be quite wrong. And so was I.

What we have here is roast pork, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing, and apple sauce. All packed into a bag of crisps using Taurus potatoes and the very highest in crisp flavour technology.

The crisps are a light golden colour with lots of tasty flavour dust showing salt and sugar crystals and tiny herby bits. Despite the lovely apple sauce flavour there are no apples in the recipe so I must suppose all this comes from the scrumpy cider. The hand cooking shows in the bubbles and the folds; these crisps do not look factory made (although obviously they must be).

Slightly to my surprise I really like these. Oh, you know. I'm never really quite sure about meat flavour crisps. Although I've found a few that work very well I have tried others which I thought quite unpleasant, not to say nasty.

The Chef thought they were "weird" and "odd" and didn't approve. The Chef's brother thought the taste seemed familiar but wasn't at all sure about it. I don't think he was very impressed either.

I still think this is a great crisp. And I ate too many of them.

Not suitable for vegetarians or anyone who doesn't want to eat pork.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Tesco Snowmen Tortilla Chips

Oh dear. What a shame. And oh dear again, how annoying, because it's now May 2015. And I started writing this post at the end of May 2014.

I don't quite know why these crisps got lost (as it were) in the post.

Not once but twice. But you know, these things happen.

Back to 2014: this packet of Tesco Christmas special crisps fell down to the bottom of my pending bag and now they're five months past their sell-by date. Oops!

So the snowman shape is a tiny bit odd. For one thing, he (presumably he because he doesn't look like a snowgirl and I've seen a showgirl and she didn't look like this) is very wide. Like a shape cut by a child from folded paper, the proportions are all wrong. And really he kind of makes me think of a Dalek. Sort of. Or maybe one of the Doonesbury characters: they have such strange square noses. And yes, I realise the strange square nose is actually the brim of the snowman's hat. And of course I am being really picky here, because it is recognisably a snowman.

These crisps also came in Christmas tree shape if I remember correctly, and I think there was a further festive shape but I can't recall what it was. A holly leaf perhaps? Sadly I can't remember what the other flavours/shapes were.

I can tell you why they kept slipping to the bottom of the pile though. They got broken. All my other purchases (all crisps of course) survived the 10 minute bus journey home from Tesco unscathed. The snowmen really suffered even though they were at the top of my shopping bag and hardly any of the shapes were left intact. And this really put me off.

Stupid me. What a wasted opportunity. Because despite the massive out-of-date-ness of these crisps they do seem to be rather good. And really and truly breakages do not affect flavour.

Despite (again) the out-of-date-ness, these crisps smell great. And the taste seems pretty good too; not all rancid and sinister or anything. To be honest, the packaging seemed just fine and most crisps are made with so much salt, which is a preservative after all, that if they had gone rancid it would be a bit of a surprise.

And returning to 2015: for some reason although I took a photograph of these snowman-shaped crisps I completely failed to scan the packet (which I think was quite plain). Or make a note of the flavour. But I am fairly sure it was a kind of Tortilla Chip, possibly a Cool Tortilla Chip.

Despite this post being somewhat lacking in information for the true crisp fan I'm going to post it anyway. Because otherwise I shall feel that these crisps were born to blush unseen (which is some bit of poetry my mother used to quote). and that would be a pity.

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

There we are. My mother used to quote this all the time. And despite having studied Grey's Elegy in A Country Churchyard at school I somehow never connected it with what my mother used to say.

So I apologise for the lack of pack shot. And now we all know a little more poetry. Which can only be a good thing.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Jacob's Cheesonal Mini Cheddars Original

Cheesonal? Yes, I'm afraid so.

I found this tub of Cheesonal Mini Cheddars in the crisp cupboard left over from last Christmas. Don't worry. Christmas snacks always last for at least 6 months so trying this cheesy snack won't kill me or the reluctant taste testers. But still I thought we had better try them sooner rather than later.

Last Christmas (that's 2014) was all about shape in the world of crispy snacks. Cheeselets (usually square) turned into tree-shaped Treeselets, and Mini Cheddars (usually round) suddenly became bell- and snowman-shaped. There were also KP Cheese & Tomato Christmas Crackers in tree, bell and star shapes.

I am not fully convinced that bells and snowmen are the correct shapes to signify Christmas. After all, you get bells all year round. And in this country at least, you are more likely to build a snowman in January or February than at Christmas time. However, both bells and snowmen feature on endless greetings cards so I suppose that's that.

The Christmas Tree-shaped Treeselets seem more Christmassy but pondering other potential Christmassy shapes; perhaps Cheesonal Mini Cheddars in the shape of the baby Jesus wouldn't be very... tasteful?

The reluctant taste testers didn't have much to say but they finished a large bowl of these with no trouble at all. So I deduce that they were well received.

And I liked them. Pretty much just like the usual cheesy Mini Cheddar taste. Which is very tasty. But probably better if eaten in December in a more festive spirit.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Roger's Hand Cooked Sea Salt

Here's another Belgian crisp from Switzerland. Apparently Belgium is the world's fastest growing potato producer, and these crisps are made with the best potatoes Belgian soil has to offer (somehow I cannot imagine a British crisp producer phrasing it quite like that). Anyway, the packet offers us a delicious all-natural flavour and a golden yellow colour. Enjoy!

Or Guten Appetit! Bon Appétit. Smakelijk! I wonder if it is an accident that the French exhortation doesn't have an exclamation mark?

This Sea Salt flavour of premium Belgian potato chips is rather old fashioned. The crisps have the skin left on and a good crunch, and there's no denying they do have a more natural taste than many modern crisps. Perhaps that's because the ingredients are potatoes, sunflower oil, and sea salt. What? No sugar? Apparently not. And just the right amount of salt.

Old fashioned in their lack of superfluous ingredients. And none the worse for that.

Monday 11 May 2015

7Days Bake Rolls Pizza

Another packet of crispy Bake Rolls contributed by the tall taste tester who is now on a short sabbatical (probably weeding his garden even as we speak), and thus missing the opportunity to taste test.

I have to admit I find Pizza a difficult flavour for a packet of crisps or crispy snacks. I've now tried several pizza flavours and I'm not sure that any of them seemed completely convincing.

As before these Bake Rolls are extremely crispy, and unfortunately somewhat broken so you don't get very many that look like the photograph. I suppose with such crispiness you get a brittle quality; and thus a snack more likely to break.

We felt that the taste was perhaps akin to a mass produced pizza from the freezer cabinet in the supermarket. Something about that not quite right tomato sauce.

On the other hand the not quite right tomato sauce is quite moreish. And we rather felt that having another Bake Roll (or piece of same) wouldn't be such a bad idea. And possibly another one. So in fact we finished the packet with no difficulty.

Not (in my view) as nice as the Garlic flavour which we tried earlier this month, but not bad either.

You might perhaps like to see what I had to say about other pizza flavour crispy snacks: Bret's Pizza au Feu de Bois from France, Calbee Pizza Chips from Japan, Pai d'Oro Anellini Gusto Pizza from Itlay, and Bissli Pizza flavoured Wheat Snacks from Israel.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Roger's Hand Cooked Sour Cream & Onion

Let's step away from M&S for a moment (even though they do make a lovely range of crisps) and try a brand which is new to the Chef and me.

We found these Belgian crisps from Roger's in the wonderful basement food department at Globus in Bern. I could have gone quite mad and bought up half the shop but had to restrict myself slightly as we were going home by train. As it turned out, the train was very crowded with both commuters and people taking their families away for the weekend and there wasn't really much room for such limited shopping as we had.

Anyway, it was interesting to find Belgian crisps. I'm sure I've not tried any before. And interesting to find that the front of the packaging is all in English.

But on the back. Oh my goodness. The ingredients are in 23 different languages. Including Finnish, Czech and Hungarian. Another great way to learn a language. Who knew that brambůrky was Czech for potato crisp?

On to the crisps... which are a pale golden, slightly strewn with tiny herbs, and with the skin left on. Rather a hard crunch but not in a bad way. A good lot of tasty flavour dust and a very nice way of looking hand cooked with many of the crisps folded over or featuring a large bubble.

The onion is not too harsh and the sour cream works extremely well. All in all a very nice crisp. I liked them a lot, and the Chef (always more reserved in his opinions) agreed that they are quite nice.

But really! My predictive text has gone a little mad today. I typed onion. The computer thought lion would be better. I typed pale golden. I got apple golden. Which could be a good description but not in this case.

So I thought you'd like know we rather liked these lion and sour cream crisps.

Saturday 9 May 2015

M&S Hand Cooked Mature Cheddar Cheese & Red Onion

Another crisp flavour chosen by the Dutch taste tester for the small event we had at work this week.

And I looked at the packet and thought that I had tried these crisps and written about them some time ago. How annoying it is, I thought, when they change the packaging to confuse you into buying something again.

But no. In fact I'd not tried this particularly flavoursome mature cheddar crisp before.  I think I got muddled up with Kettle Chips Mature Cheddar & Red Onion (the packaging is a very similar colour and you ought to check my post just to see the amazing wood carving Kettle used to advertise this flavour). Or maybe I was thinking of Pret Mature Cheddar & Red Onion or even M&S Red Leicester & Spring Onion (not exactly the same thing but is an M&S flavour).

Which explains why I didn't photograph these lovely golden crisps before a flock of gannets (or perhaps a swarm of locusts) had descended.

And what lovely golden crisps they are. Lots and lots of amazingly cheesy cheddar flavour dust, the red onion is just a gentle touch, and a good crunch. Delicious.