Sunday, 20 May 2012

Larder larks no. 2

The more I think about it, the more I realise that food parcels are a jewel in any lone gourmet's crown. One of the downsides of living alone is not having others to cook for, unless you invite friends round to dine. And while as a solo foodie you can run riot buying unusual new ingredients to try, secure in the knowledge there are no housemates to object to your culinary or financial profligacy, if you don't like them they lurk in the back of the cupboard gathering dust and making you feel guilty each time you open the door.

Subscribing to a taster box scheme is a cheap way to try new foods, as they come in small quantities. My third Larder Box arrived earlier this month, containing coffee, a curry kit, a glut of chocolate, salt and a condiment.

Most of it has been consumed already - the dinky little bag of handmade chocolate caramels was delicious enough to make up for it being a late substitute for the promised passionfruit marshmallows, while the bar of chocolate was a surprise extra. I'm a heavy coffee drinker, but I didn't actually like the packet of high-end coffee included here - brewed in my filter machine it produced a thin and bitter drink that I abandoned after two mouthfuls. I poured the rest of the pot down the sink and made a fresh one with my regular blend. Luckily the pack was small enough for only one pot so I didn't feel bad about throwing it away - I suspect it would produce a better cup in an espresso machine, though.

The Goan curry kit was fabulous - two packs of spices plus fresh garlic and ginger and some nifty instructions. I'm not confident making curry - I tend to rely on using bought pastes - but I knocked up a tasty prawn curry with it and it was good enough that I could see me buying more of these kits either for myself or as a gift. The smoked sea salt is a welcome addition to my spice cupboard. The real revelation was the spicy banana ketchup. It sounds wrong and it doesn't look appetising - a thick, brown sludge of slurry in a bottle. But it tastes divine. It was perfect with some breaded chicken goujons and brought a new dimension to a breakfast bacon sarnie - less harsh than brown sauce, less sweet than a chutney, just a great balance of fruit and spice.

Then this arrived:

A few weeks ago I signed up to Foodie Penpals, a great idea for food lovers to send and receive a parcel every month, then blog about it. The box can contain homemade treats or bought goodies, up to the modest value of £10. The twist is that the box you receive comes from someone else than the person you send yours too. This beautifully wrapped box came from @Mellymeepmeep, who has a quirky blog about cakes and frocks.

Inside it was crammed with goodies - not only has Mel set the bar very high, I was worried she'd exceeded the £10 limit! As my benefactor lives in Yorkshire, she'd put together a box showcasing some of the great foods from her county.

The locally made pork pie was delicious - crisp pastry encasing a firm pork filling with not too much jelly (just as I like it) - and the artisan cheese is perfectly crumbly with a good balance of salty moistness and underlying sweetness. When it's gone I'll be keeping an eye out for more. Rough oatcakes to accompany the cheese came in a silver foil pack and there was also a tiny taster pot of strawberry jam, heretically matched with the cheese. The Divine chocolate also vanished quickly, but I brewed the Italian hand-blended coffee for breakfast today and it was satisfying in a way that the Larder Box pack was never going to be. So far, so very happy.

What put an extra smile on my face was the very thoughtful inclusion of a vintage cookbook full of recipes for one person as I regularly pick up old recipe books from charity shops. I've only dipped into Goode for One, an early 1980s BBC title, so far and not cooked anything from it yet, but I've already spotted a couple of ideas that are ripe for testing, updating and tweaking 30 years on. Thanks, Mel!

I wonder what June will bring?