Jamie Oliver Green Olive and Fennel Bruschetta Topping

It’s been some time since I wrote about Jamie Oliver. It’s not because he has a lack of products, it’s more a lack of interesting products. I’m not bothered by lasagne sheets or balsamic vinegar but as I was scouring the aisles of B&M Bargain I spotted some bruschetta topping and I thought that had to be worth a try.

Jamie gets a lot of stick and has the piss taken out of him. People use him as a hate figure as they can’t seem to reconcile the fact that he is outrageously rich with the fact he has a moral purpose. Personally I think that’s admirable and it’s a goal I would happily aspire to. I’ve spent my life working in the charity sector grafting away for causes I believe passionately in, I’m very happy to keep doing so, but if I could simultaneously get myself onto the rich list and make a big impact at a national/governmental level then I would happily sign on the dotted line.

Having said that all that I’m not blind to the fact that watching Jamie can set off my internal cringeometer. Similarly the fact that Jamie brings topical issues to the fore doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be criticised if he opens a crap restaurant, or unleashes a grim product onto the supermarket shelves. So with that in mind I set about tasting his bruschetta topping.

Bruschetta topping jar

The jar is not particularly helpful in describing how to use the stuff. There are instructions for storing it, warnings that it was produced in a factory that may contain nuts but nothing about how to actually use the product. Jamie’s message to his customers reads “I think… this is great, its (sic) packed with ripe green olives, fennel and aromatic thyme, this jar is bursting with flavour – a little goes a long way. Made with love. Jamie”. I’m slightly worried about Jamie’s lack of confidence in his own product – he won’t confidently state that it’s great – he just thinks it is. Then there are those three dots after the “I think” making me wonder if he just doesn’t know what to say next. Maybe he was going to say “I think… this stuff is disgusting, but my marketing team are confident it can turn a profit” or “I think… I know what’s in it but some development chefs I’ve never met came up with it so fingers crossed”. Either way I was ready to take the plunge.

I toasted a slice of my prized home made sourdough and hoped it wouldn’t suffer an undignified death. I opened the jar and was hit with a waft of olive and some oily green lumps that I gently spread onto the the toasted bread. It tasted overwhelmingly of olives, a flavour I’m not that keen on at the best of times. It was salty, lumpy and slimy and I got hardly any flavour apart from olives and oil. I couldn’t detect the fennel and I couldn’t detect the aromatic thyme. The lack of complexity could be due to my sensitivity to olive, but equally I did try hard to savour the topping to see if I could tune into other flavours but to no avail. In my quest to give this a fair chance I then did something I will never forget. I set aside the toast, dipped in a spoon and ate the topping all by itself. The cold lumpen mush hit my palate and I instantly recalled a passage from Dave Eggers A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius where he talks about his terminally ill mother and a plastic receptacle she holds into which she hacks up and spits out putrid green fluid. The memory of this caused me to retch and whatever hope there might have been for Jamie’s bruschetta topping was now banished in my mind, irreconcilably entwined with Dave Eggers mother’s sputum.

Bruschetta on toast

I appreciate that this review is skewed by my feelings towards both olives and Dave Eggers, vivid writing style but even so I can’t imagine this bruschetta holding pride of place in any kitchen cupboard.

Jamie Oliver Green Olive and Fennel Bruschetta Topping – about £1 for a 180g jar


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Mary Berry – Bread and Butter Pudding

This is the third time I’ve featured a Mary Berry product on my blog and the previous products didn’t do too well. In fact the most popular post I’ve ever written was about Mary Berry’s Carrot Cake back in 2012. As we move towards the business end of Great British Bake Off it feels like a good time to pick up on Mary’s products and I’ve got some Paul Hollywood things waiting in the wings too.

A couple of weeks ago the bombshell that Bake Off was leaving the BBC for the richer climes of Channel 4 landed, this sent the nation into a frenzy of speculation and despair about what happens next. First up Mel and Sue announced that they would not go with the show and their loyalties were firmly rooted with the Beeb. Then Mary joined them in solidarity in an announcement that elicited much praise for the female contingent. Next, blue eyes Hollywood decided the money was too good to pass and he released a statement saying he was sticking with the Bake Off crew and heading to Channel 4. Lots of people were unsurprised at this as they had long suspected he was a money grabbing sleaze. Social media, online news outlets and newspapers erupted with people all making the same joke “Channel 4 have spent £75m on one judge and a tent full of ovens.”. Right now Bake Off fans are confused and don’t know where their loyalties lie, there are rumours the BBC will create a rival show keeping Mel, Sue and Mary with the possible addition of charisma bypass James Martin in the mix. Meanwhile Channel 4 are hoping French and Saunders will present their version, but then French and Saunders denied it on Twitter. There are rumours that Paul could be joined by Austalian Bake Off judge and personal hero of mine Dan Lepard or 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain. Nadiya is the greatest thing to ever come out of bake off and her presenting style is natural, open and fun, her involvement would certainly secure me as a viewer. It’s all to play for and I suspect the airwaves are big enough to handle two baking competitions, certainly my tolerance levels for watching people knead dough is pretty high.

Mary Berry Bread and Butter Pack

Anyway I digress I’m here to reflect on Mary Berry’s Bread and Butter Pudding which is one of a number of desserts that Mary has developed recently under the brand Mary Berry Queen of Puddings. I suspect sales are high during Bake Off season. The bread and butter pudding is based on Mary’s Mother’s recipe but with a bit of extra luxury as Mary tells us “I’ve updated my mother’s recipe with brioche”. The packaging describes the pudding as “An indulgent bread and butter pudding sprinkled with spiced sultanas and currants, soaked in double cream custard and finished with demerara sugar” which sounds suitably rich and delicious.

The pudding looks attractive in it’s silver tray and is heated up for 20 mins before being served. The box claims the pudding serves five but I think Mary is having a laugh, we halved it and ate it between two. To be fair this was gluttony on our part and nobody really needs that much pudding but sharing it between five people would be very stingy.

Bread and Butter pudding cooked

After my previous encounters with Mary’s products I wasn’t particularly hopeful but it was very good. The rich creamy brioche was delicious and the sultanas were as fat as Paul Hollywood’s bank account. The pudding was not overly sweet and the nutmeg and cinnamon flavours were subtle enough to not overpower but still let their presence be known. The ingredients list says that there is some coriander in there, I didn’t taste any but that may well be a good thing. I can imagine Mary’s face if someone made a bread and butter pudding on Bake Off and said they were adding coriander – it would not approve. Still here she is adding it to her own, but whatever part it played, the pudding tasted great.

I’m pleased I’ve finally eaten a Mary Berry product that I enjoyed. I’ve always wanted to like her stuff but until now it’s been a struggle. I look forward to experiencing more of this range.

Mary Berry – Bread and Butter Pudding £3.50 for 495g pudding



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Peter Andre Opa Opa Sauce

When you write a blog that focuses on celebrity endorsed food products you are occasionally sent a gift from the Gods. This week my God is Peter Andre and his Opa Opa Sauce. I don’t know if it was Iceland or Peter himself that came up with the insania idea of him creating a range of sauces but I sure am glad he did.

Peter went from one hit wonder and writer of Mysterious Girl, to marrying one of the least mysterious girls ever to grace the planet, to national treasure. With that kind of career trajectory it was only a matter of time before he became the face of Iceland and revealed his skills as a chef. For Peter to take on the Iceland advertising deal he must have needed a lot of courage, Kerry Katona is a hard act to follow and not everyone would be up to the job. Peter had to make his mark and take Iceland into the future. It wouldn’t be enough to smile, look pretty and talk about how you can get 50 mini eclairs for a £1, Peter had to do things differently and he did. Peter made sauce. At least he calls it sauce, but when you look into it a little deeper it is more versatile than it first appears as it can be used as “a marinade/dip for meat and fish, a dressing for salad or a sauce for pasta.”. I was torn about how best to apply this miracle liquid.

Andre Sauce cans

I bought two varieties of the sauce; Hot Chilli & Herb and Original Mediterranean. Now Hot Chilli and Herb I can understand and have a good guess what that would taste of, but Original Mediterranean was not a flavour I could easily describe. I had a look at the back of the tin and it simply said “Original Greek style flavour” which didn’t get me much further so I thought it was time to get stuck in.

I shook the can and the red sauce glooped out into the ramekin, it smelt of garlic and vinegar and was much thicker than I had anticipated. In my head I was picturing an oil based salad dressing but as Peter already told us it could be used as a dip or to marinade meat and coat pasta so that was my own projection. I decided to try the sauce as a dip and plunged in a bread stick, it was sharp, garlicky, vinegary and sweet, I suppose you could describe the layers as quite complex although definitely not subtle. It was a smack about the chops flavour wise, the issue being that the flavour wasn’t very nice, it tasted like a thick tomato soup that should be served warm but wasn’t. The abiding and lasting flavour was of vomit. My mouth lingered with that bitter, unpleasant aftertaste that’s only experienced after a few minutes gripping the porcelain following a session of emesis.

Andre sauce poured

So with that pleasant sensation in my mouth, I refreshed, drank some water and moved onto the chilli herb variety. Again I shook the can, again the red sauce glooped out and again the scent of garlic and vinegar hit me. To look at it was identical to the first sauce, I was just hoping that it would better. I grabbed the bread stick and went in. It tasted exactly the same as the previous one except it had a hot chilli kick, the heat of the chilli reduced the sicky aftertaste but it still wasn’t anything I’d like to try again.

I’m sorry Peter but whilst you might be good at making mums’ love you, a talent in the music studio and nice at tweeting old ladies your skills in the kitchen leave a lot to be desired.

Peter Andre Opa Opa Sauce £1 for 250ml


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Deliciously Ella Energy Balls

I know, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, this is partly as I’ve had some tricky stuff going on but also I was having a struggle finding new and interesting things to write about that didn’t come from the Heston stable.  I’ve been on a search since then and have come up with a few new and obscure things that I will write about in due course, but the thing that pulled me back to the keyboard was the arrival of some Deliciously Ella Energy Balls.

If you aren’t familiar with Deliciously Ella’s work I’ll enlighten you – she is a rich charlatan who has carved out a career cooking horrid recipes using overly expensive ingredients under the pretence that they are healthy. She is a forerunner of the obnoxious and damaging “clean eating” fad that spreads pseudo science, brings an element of guilt to eating and plays into the hands of wealthy, self righteous individuals who aren’t actually interested in a good meal. If you want to learn more about this in an excellently written article I direct you to this piece written by Ruby Tandoh in Vice.

Energy ball packets

The energy balls come in three flavours – cashew and ginger, cacao and almond and hazelnut and raisin. I tried the first two flavours. As you’d expect the energy balls are gluten free, dairy free and suitable for vegans. The packaging proudly boasts of the simplicity of the ingredients, the cashew and ginger one contains: 3 dates, 8 cashews, 1tsp oats, 1/4 tsp of ground ginger. The cacao and almond one contains: 3 dates, 8 almonds, 1tsp cacao, a touch of almond butter, a drop of coconut oil, a pinch of salt. Reading all that is proof of what a piss take these balls are considering Ella has the guts to charge £1.99 for just one.

So after that glowing introduction it was time for me to try them and see if my pre-conceived prejudice would be proved wrong. I pulled the balls out of the wrapper and they looked like something from the Bristol stool chart; solid, lumpen and unappetising. In spite of this I had paid £3.98 for these brown blobs so I wasn’t going to back out now.

Ginger and cashew

First up the cashew and ginger, I took a bite and was hit with a powerful spicy ginger kick. I was surprised at how strong the ginger flavour was, like a solidified ginger ale. The texture was stodgy, sticky and grainy a bit like uncooked flapjack but not majorly unpleasant. I quite enjoyed the flavour and I can appreciate why people could tolerate eating these if they had convinced themselves that gluten, dairy, refined sugar or animal products were likely to do them some harm.

Cacao energy ball

Next I tried the cacao and almond ball, the most fecal in appearance of the two. This ball was denser and firmer than the previous one. It tasted like something that had formed naturally over many years at the back of a cupboard or something you’d find in the bottom of your bag, sticky with hair and fluff attached but you decide to give it a try just to see. It stuck to my mouth and gums and I kept finding bits of it for hours afterwards. Considering this was all natural and included cacao it had a plasticky taste that would normally be associated with “chocolate flavouring” rather than the expensive raw product. I wouldn’t eat this again if it was the last chocolate product on earth.

If these balls are the kind of thing that floats your boat or you have the misfortune of allergies that restrict your diet then go for it, but for my £1.99 I’ll be heading to Poundland and getting two Toblerones for my money.

Deliciously Ella Energy Balls – £1.99 each for 40g

Cashew and Ginger – 4/10

Cacao and Almond – 2/10

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Heston from Waitrose Cherry Bakewell Hot Cross Buns

It’s Easter, and that creates an opportunity for Heston to add a new product to his Waitrose range. This year he has eschewed the delicious Ginger and Acacia Honey Hot Cross Buns and also the tasty Earl Grey and Mandarin version which are so 2012 and has come up with a new non-sensical flavour – Cherry Bakewell. It is hard to see why anyone thought this was a good idea and when I discovered them, a phrase that I usually find immensely irritating sprang to mind – Go home Heston, you’re drunk. I mean what have hot cross buns and Cherry Bakewells got to do with each other? They are totally different entities and their paths should never cross. What I normally admire about Heston is how he finds unusual ingredients and uses them to enhance the everyday – think kombu to season a pie, or vanilla in savoury dishes, but with these hot cross buns he is tapping into the zeitgeist for cross contaminating dessert flavours for no good reason, you can see it in things like, lemon meringue pie sweets, strawberry cheesecake frappucinos, Eton Mess Easter Eggs etc etc. I thought Heston was bigger than this, I was wrong.

Cherry hot cross bun

So armed with prejudice and disgust and with my mind already made up, I set about trying Heston’s abominations.  I opened the packet and a strong waft of almond came firing out as though I’d just opened a bottle of amaretto and poured it over marzipan. The hot cross buns were tall, light and almost muffin like (the same as all his previous versions) I cut one in half and stuck it in the toaster. I slathered it in butter and it looked pretty good, it was the fact that it tasted gross that I had the problem with. It was so overwhelmingly almondy in a manufactured almond essence type way that nothing else really got a look in. If the fruit was cherry you would never know because it just tasted of almond, the hot cross bun could have been made with ground unicorn horn flour and baked in an angels oven but you would never know because it just tasted of almond. This was a terrible idea to start with and poor execution just made it even worse.

Hot cross buns are supposed to mark the end of Lent and should use the spices that embalmed Jesus’ body,  I’m no theologian but if Jesus was smothered in Cherry Bakewell in his final hours I’d be really surprised, as I’m sure would the people of Bakewell who didn’t invent it until a couple of thousand years later.  I’m sorry Heston but this years efforts were an epic fail. Please try harder next time.

Heston from Waitrose Cherry Bakewell Hot Cross Buns £1.39 for two


nb: the recipe includes palm oil – another fail!

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Heston From Waitrose Toffee Apple Mulled Cider

I’m writing about Heston’s mulled cider out of season, Waitrose brought this to the shelves at the latter end of 2015 in time for bonfire night and also to catch the Christmas crowd. I bought a bottle before Christmas but stuck it in the cupboard and haven’t had it since. That’s partly due to the fact I don’t drink so it’s not the most obvious thing for me to write about and partly because it sounded a bit horrid and I wasn’t sure I want to try it. I almost cracked it open when I had my work colleagues round for dinner but there was a greater interest in aperol spritz and wine so it stayed in the cupboard, then I took it back home for Christmas certain that someone would want it at some point, but the bottle just got funny looks and stayed on the shelf so it came back to London. So here we are on the cusp of March and the festive drink has not found it’s place so I thought I’d take the plunge and give it a go.

What is a bit confusing about this product is that I had always believed that mulled wine or cider should be served hot, but it isn’t clear from the bottle if it should be warmed before serving. Certainly the past tense terminology in the name suggests that the mulling has already happened and so if it is already mulled do I just pour it from the bottle and drink? Then I got to thinking that maybe I don’t even know what mulled means. Is the mulling process letting the drink infuse with spices and the warming up bit has nothing to do with the mulling process? I was so confused! The bottle wasn’t explicit on the matter and said the following things:

  • Toffee Apple Mulled Cider. Mulled cider enriched with the flavours of toffee & caramel for a lively, complex and irresistibly drinkable finish.
  • Refrigerate after opening and use within 5 days.
  • No need to mull it over – apple and dark caramel is a classic combination providing a cider with a refreshing depth of flavour.

I took the above to mean that all the work required had been done and Heston’s brew was ready to go straight from the bottle. Consequently I assumed that mulling refers to the infusion of flavour rather than the heating process which is good to know and the long wait to try the drink was proving educational.

Toffee apple cider

I poured out a glass and it was a satisfying golden colour, it looked crisp and fresh. The cider smelt of vanilla and candy floss which would be fine at a fairground but as a winter tipple it was incongruous. I took a sip and it was gross! It did have that farm like taste of cider but it was blasted away by sugary, butterscotchy, cream sodaish flavour that made for a horrible combination. I know the bottle stated that it was toffee apple so the sweetness was to be expected and I was happy to make a leap of faith and give it a go,  but sadly I wasn’t proved wrong. This was another fail for the Heston range and I’d be very surprised if it returned this year.

Heston From Waitrose Toffee Apple Mulled Cider – I think it was about £5 for a litre



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Maria Sharapova Bubblegum Balls

Maria Sharapova is a Russian lady, she’s famous for being beautiful and rich and for having boyfriends – at least that’s what Google would you have you believe. Type her name into Google and if you move past her official website, instagram and Twitter accounts you can see a lot of pictures of her looking fabulous in a bikini and lots of articles about her wealth and beauty. I clicked a link to an article in the Telegraph and learnt that she has a boyfriend who bought her a lot of roses, this boyfriend incidentally plays tennis, but the article neglected to mention what Maria does.

Being led by the internet, it appeared that the most important thing to do was look at pictures showing how sexy she was, so I did that. Handily Google categorised the images for me to help me further understand what was most important and looking from left to right I can exclusively reveal that this is the order they were in: 1st, Esquire magazine (lots of bikini photos); 2nd, Sports Illustrated – interesting maybe this beautiful lady has something to do with sport but the photos were all bikini shots; 3rd, Grigor Dimitrov – this is her boyfriend and the next category by which to define her; 4th, Tennis – it seems that as well as wearing a bikini and having a boyfriend she also plays tennis; 5th, Height – a vital topic and presumably only in 5th place because the photos show Maria in high heels rather than a bikini; 6th, Wimbledon – a pattern is emerging it looks as though there’s more to Maria than first meets the eye and it seems that beauty, wealth and boyfriends aren’t the whole story and Maria is actually the sixth best female tennis player in the world. Who knew?

Facetiousness aside it is alarming how the greatest achievements of one of the worlds best sports women are side stepped to focus on looks and boyfriends. Even when you dig a little deeper the articles start to talk about wealth and how she has been the highest paid female athlete in the world for the past ten years. I am not criticising this success, in fact that success is why I am writing this blog as Maria runs a side line in sweets under the brand Sugarpova. A portion of the profits from Sugarpova goes to the Maria Sharapova Foundation which is aimed at “… helping children across the world achieve their dreams.” which is a pretty noble endeavour.

Sugarpova bag

Sugarpova have a range of products including gummy sweets and chewing gum. I have a selection of chewing gum tennis balls called the sporty mix. They look great fun and are a mix of lurid colours and e numbers, the attention to detail on the tennis ball look is pretty good too.  I picked one up and got ready for a chew but was taken by surprise at the level of resistance the chewing balls had against my teeth – they were rock hard and took a fair bit of saliva before they yielded into a gummy chew. The packet suggested that they were fruit flavoured but this feels like a stretch as they just tasted sugary sweet which quickly waned to leave a flavourless rubbery lump in my mouth, like eating an elastic band. I persevered working my through a blue one, a green one, a yellow one and an orange one but they all had exactly the same effect and if fruit had been anywhere near this packet I’d be very surprised.

Sugarpova balls

So whilst the media ignores Maria’s sporting achievements I can’t ignore the fact that her chewing gum is horrible. It may be helping children achieve their dreams but it’s only helping me achieve a diagnosis of diabetes and despite what the packet may claim this is far from the “taste of victory”.

Maria Sharapova Bubblegum Balls $4.99 for a bag + $.30 tax + shipping = total cost of not worth bothering with.


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