First up is the brand spanking new teapigs matcha drinks. I took part in the teapigs matcha challenge recently and when they launched their new drinks they very kindly sent me a selection. There are 3 flavours to choose from: apple, grapefruit or elderflower and each 330ml carton contains a 1g serving of matcha mixed with spring water and fruit juice from concentrate and the best thing for me is that there is no added sugar or sweeteners as I don't like overly sweet drinks. Once chilled, I found these drinks very refreshing on hot afternoons and the matcha gave me the boost I needed to carry on working. The matcha flavour is definitely present and it works well with the fruit juice, a good way to try matcha if you're not normally a green tea drinker. My favourite flavour was the apple closely followed by the elderflower, the grapefruit was too sharp for me but I'm not keen on grapefruit anyway. I ended up using the grapefruit drink as the base for breakfast smoothies 2 mornings in a row so I could mask the sharpness with other fruits. The cartons have a long shelf life though once opened, teapigs recommend they should be consumed within 24 hours. The matcha drinks retail at £1.89 each and are currently available from the teapigs website, Harvey Nichols, Whole Foods and Planet Organic. This is something that I would pick up when out and about even though I think it is a little expensive and if it were available in shops near me, however the majority of stockists appear to be in London.
We don't really buy ready meals with the exception of pizzas and the occasional quiche but as I seem to be spending more time at my desk (final deadline not far away now) and less time in the kitchen I'm keen to get us fed quickly. I was asked by Charlie Bigham's if I'd like to try some of their new range of World Ready Meals designed for 2 to share. My first response was ' they sound nice but we don't have a microwave!' However it turns out that their meals are oven friendly so I thought that we could give them a go to have a couple of easy meals organised as we're both working long hours at the moment. I headed off to Waitrose with my vouchers and I chose the chicken tikka masala and the chicken breasts with white wine sauce and mash. We were impressed with the portion sizes and both meals filled us up. The chicken tikka masala had plenty of nice big chunks of chicken breast and lots of sauce which was well spiced and had a good flavour to it. The rice stayed fluffy even after 30 minutes in the oven, I was a bit worried it might dry out even with the handy piece of foil supplied to cover the rice, but it was just right. The chicken in white wine sauce stayed lovely and moist and again there was lots of sauce which had lardons in it and had a good wine flavour. The mash was good too though overall the whole dish was a little too salty for my tastes. We both liked the meals and I was surprised at how nice they were (I confess I may have been a bit snobby about similar ready meals in the past) but at £7 each we thought they were expensive even though they feed 2 people and as neither Waitrose or Sainsbury's are on our routes to and from work/uni it's unlikely that we'd buy them again.
Finally I was sent a small sample of Van Dotsch speculaas spice mix from The Speculaas Spice Company. This is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and 6 other spices. At first glance it seems very similar to the speculoos blend that I have made myself following a recipe from a French book, but from tasting and smelling it there appears to be a higher proportion of clove in this blend. I used it to make some frosted shortbread by slightly adapting a recipe for Ginger Crunch from Three Sisters Bake book that was printed in the June 2014 issue of BBC Good Food magazine (I halved the quantities as the original recipe makes a lot of shortbread and swapped the ground ginger for the speculaas). The result was nice and tasted good though overall I think the clove in this blend was just a little overpowering and I prefer the blend I make myself.
Thanks to all the brands who sent me samples and products to try, as always all opinions in this post are mine. If you would like to see your brand featured in a future round up post then please feel free to email me.