Monday, 26 November 2012

Product Review : Prosciutto di San Daniel and Formaggio Grana Padano


The authentic taste of Prosciutto di San Daniele and Formaggio Grana Padano can be traced back to traditional Italian recipes handed down from generation to generation and to meticulous quality control


The location of Friuli in the Northern Italian Province of Udine, where cold northern winds from the Alps and warm breezes from the Adriatic Sea meet, is the home of the air-cured Prosciutto di San Daniele.

In a tradition that can be traced back to ancient times, only pigs from ten Italian regions are used for the production of Prosciutto di San Daniele, being carefully selected by pedigree and weight.

The thighs are carefully chosen, and the meat salted by hand with coarse salt.  It is pressed giving it its elongated violin shape with the weight of the prosciutto's.  After resting for three months the prosciutto is washed, brushed off and left to dry.

This is when the micro-climate of San Daniele comes into play, with the breezes from the Adriatic Sea travelling up along the rivers and mixing with the cold Alpine mountain air in creating a fairly dry climate with gentle winds ideal for ageing meat.  It then takes 13 months of this meticulous air-curing before the prosciutto is finally considered worthy of being controlled and then branded with the San Daniele mark.

Only now Prosciutto di San Daniele will be allowed to take its place in some of the finest food halls and discerning high street outlets in the world.  Its creamy texture and sweet taste making it a delicious antipasto, a succulent companion to fruit, or even fresh spring vegetable.

Take a look at these two websites:   and


Nearly 1000 years ago, the Cistercian monks from the fertile Po Valley, in Northern Italy, developed an original recipe to use the excess milk produced in the area.  It is thought to have been first made in the Abbey of Chiarvalle in 1135.  Due to the grainy structure, so different from all other cheeses, it was given the name "GRANA".

Today the production method has hardly changed.

Strict dairy farming practices, including a special cattle diet, results in a milk of unique flavour and nutritional value.  Only raw semi-skimmed milk from the Grana Padano production area can be used.  After natural separation of the cream, the milk is poured into traditional copper vats and then processed: a natural whey started, deriving from the previous day cheese-making, is added along with pure calf rennet.  Once the coagulation has occurred, the curd is chopped into small grains by the aid of a manual instrument called "spino", Heating to 53ºC follows and then, after a resting period of around an hour, the twin fresh wheels of cheese are collected, wrapped in linen cloths and placed into moulds.  Finally, before the ageing process begins, the wheels are soaked in brine for around 23 days.

The ageing process lasts for a minimum of 9 to over 24 months.  At 9 months, each wheel is carefully tested for appearance, aroma and texture.  This important step is carried out exclusively by the impartial expertise of the Consorzio Tutela Grana Padana (Protection Consortium) technicians.  Only the best wheels receive the fire-branded logo officially grading them "GRANA PADANO" PDO Cheese.

Rich in nutrients and very digestible, it is an excellent and healthy choice for the whole family. Grana Padano possesses unique nutritional features such as quality proteins, vitamins, minerals, salts and especially calcium.

The website for Grana Padano:


Both Prociutto di San Daniele and Formaggio Grana Padano bear the PDO (Protected Designationof Origin) status awarded to them by the European Union.

When you see the PDO logo on the packaging you can be sure the production, processing and preparation of the food you are buying, has been certified and is of the highest quality.  Do, don't just take my word for the authenticity of Prosciutto di San Daniele and FormaggionGrana Padano, look for the PDO logo, and enjoy some of the finest food Italy can produce.

Source: Fine Food Digest

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Review : Longbridge Mill Vintage Inns (Sherfield on Loddon, Hampshire)

Date of visit: 24 November 2012

On a typical rainy British day what one longs for is a country pub with rural charm and oozing with rustic character.   Longbridge Mill at Sherfield on Loddon in Hampshire ticks all those boxes included in the mix is a working mill dating back to the 15th Century.  The pub is set in picturesque grounds with a lovely river running alongside the pub. It has a child friendly garden and plenty of outside seating.  The pub itself has changed hands on numerous occasions since we have been going there over the last ten years, and is currently part of thee Vintage Inns group.  

Went there on a Saturday with our family from Basingstoke to celebrate my Mum-in-Laws Birthday.  I have always found this pub to be warm and welcoming which is exactly what we needed on a cold damp day.  The décor is traditional and yet does not look hundreds of years old and is very clean.  As in any British Pub you order your food and drinks at the bar (lets just say that the men order for us girls).  Our drinks orders came very quickly and after a while instead of us having to go and place our food order a lovely waiter came and took it from us.  What amazed me that for a pub waiter he wrote nothing down, bear in mind we were a table of six who likes to change things on the menu to suit our own tastes, he remembered it all.  

We were all very hungry by the time we arrived at the Pub, we had also just driven all the way from Hertford in the rain and needed feeding and watering quickly.  So maybe we were in a bit of a hurry to get our food, which did take rather a long time to get to us, but when it did it was most welcome.  They have a pretty unusual menu which has a slightly different take on regular dishes.  Their prices are extremely competitive and one can afford to have a large celebratory meal there that will not break the bank.  As an added attraction a member of the Hampshire Group came in and invited all of us to join them after our meal to have a look at the mill and it was milling that day, an offer that we gladly took up.

I ordered the Beef and Merlot Pie at £10.95, slow-cooked diced British beef with shallots and roasted portobello mushrooms in a rich Merlot red wine sauce with buttered pea, broad and green bean medley and steak cut chips.  It was exactly what the Doctor ordered in this cold and wet day.  You might notice that there is no photo, after making everyone else wait before they could eat their food to take photo's, I completely forgot to take one of mine.  The vegetables where lovely and the meat in the pie was so tender and delicious.  The chips were nice and chunky, maybe a bit on the oily side, but who cares they tasted good.

Danielle ordered a Tuna Burger at £10.95, seared tuna steak, served with soft bun with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise, with dressed slaw, steak cut chips and tomato and pepper salsa.  She changed the chips to baby new potatoes, think I would have gone for the chips rather.  She was not very happy with her meal as she said that the tuna was very dry and I could see why it had been overcooked.  Tuna needs to just be seared if you cook it too much it dries out very quickly.  She said it did taste nice, just a pity about the dryness and it was not very filling.

David had the Whole Grilled Plaice at £12.45, with prawn butter, crispy baby potatoes and dressed mixed salad.  He said it that it was great and the salad was not your normal boring bit on garnish thrown on the side, the cucumber was sliced length ways and pickled.

My Mum-in-Law ordered Handmade Haddock and Wholegrain Mustard Fish-cakes at £8.95, served with dressed tomato, spring onion and watercress salad, seasoned chips and lemon and herb crème fraîche.  She also changed the chips for baby new potatoes.  She said that the fishcakes were delightful, nice a crispy on the outside and soft inside.

Janet ordered Grilled Sea bass  at £13.95,  butterflied and served with piedmont pepper, 
crispy baby potatoes, basil and tomato gazpacho. She enjoyed it (she must have as before one could blink she had beaten us all to the post).  Personally if I look at the picture they could have perhaps put a little green garnish on the fish. 

Philip ordered Char-grilled Gammon Steak  at £7.95, served with a fried egg, fresh pineapple  seasoned chips and garden peas.  They could have done with peeling the pineapple, not something that is edible and is difficult to cut off when you have a full plate of food.  Out of all the meals this one did not look very edible to me, he did say that it was tasty and he enjoyed it.

Overall Experience

One major complaint from everyone was that the food was a bit on the cold side.  We also had to chase up on a second cup of coffee that had been ordered.  The whole meal for six of us was £84.00, this only included one beer the rest of us had soft drinks or coffee.  But on the whole it was a great meal out in a lovely setting and good food.  As usual they will be seeing us again and I would recommend you give them a try.  

A little History about the Mill

There is evidence that a mill existed on this site 800 years ago, one of many on the river Loddon.  However the building you see now is more likely of 15th century origin and the granary, now incorporated in the inn, was added in the 16th century.  At the height of its success, 'Lodgridge Mill' at 'Shirefield-upon-Loddon,' was a major industry in the area with two water-wheels powering four sets of milling stones.  There is still a working mill on the site today. Take a look at The Hampshire Mills Group's website to read more about the mill:   Hampshire Mills Group

Sherfield on Loddon, Hook, Hampshire, RG27 0DL

Tel: 01256 883483

Rating Guide

5 Stars - Perfect
4.5 Stars - Exceptional
4 Stars - Excellent
3.5 Stars - Very good
3 Stars - Good
2.5 Stars - Average
2 Stars - Bad
1.5 Stars - Very bad
1 Star - Dire

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Review : Coast to Coast (Stevenage)

coast to coast
Star Rating:  Food : 3.5 Stars  Service : 4 Stars

Hygiene Rating: 5

Date of visit: 18 November 2012

For a couple of months now I have been following the Tweets of Ocean to Ocean based in Stevenage Leisure Park. They recently opened their doors and I have been trying to convince my husband to take me there.  They are an  American Style diner and when I looked on-line I loved the look of their menu.  The only sticking point was their prices, a couple of pounds more expensive then Frankie's & Bennies who are right next door to them and serve a similar style of food.  We went to the Stevenage Leisure Park on Sunday to see Skyfall and afterwards my husband surprised me and said we needed to eat so why not try Coast to Coast as I had dropped enough hints.  The outside looks very welcoming and the décor is delightful, typically what you would expect from an American dinner. The original US memorabilia showcased on the walls, provides a genuine talking point.  The music they play is an electric mix of Motown and American Rock. We were greeted at the door and shown to a table straight away.  

Our waitress was friendly and welcoming, not too overboard.  We were made to feel at home from the start.  Our drinks orders where taken, three large pints of Diet Coke.  This is when the excitement of the afternoon started, the poor assistant waitress who delivered our drinks, looked a bit unsure of herself when carrying the tray and the next thing poor Danielle was completely drenched as one of the drinks landed on her.  Her face was priceless, a look of slow motion shock, David and I were more worried about her mobile then our poor child.  The waitress was also in a state of shock, and all apologetic.  These things happen and the staff and management all rallied around us and Danielle to sort things out.  We moved to another table and returned to enjoying our lunch.  The manager then said that our meal was on the house.  

David ordered a medium 8oz Casterbridge steak for £21.95 a lean rump (scary price for a tiny piece of meat) .  It was cooked to perfection, according to their menu it is the best steak they do. It’s a 28 day, dry aged steak from the West Country.  Served with fresh rocket, roasted tomatoes on the vine, home-made coleslaw and your choice of straw fries or sweet potato chips. He did enjoy it but did state that should he have paid for it he would have felt cheated as it was not a lot for the price. 

 I ordered a Black & Blue Burger for £11.95.  A Cajun spiced burger glazed with melted blue cheese, topped with rocket, mayonnaise, fresh tomato, dill pickle, battered onion rings and blue cheese dressing.  It was a lovely tasting burger, much better then the disaster that I had the week before at John Gilpin.  Although to date my best burger ever is the one I had a Loch Fyne in Hertford. 

Danielle had a Calzone New York Style Meatball Special £10.45 loaded with chunky beef and pork meatballs, beef bolognese, mozzarella and spicy pepperoni.  She had never had a calzone before and really enjoyed it, I must say it did look yummy. 

Of course desserts where in order as it was a Sunday I had my usual Profiteroles with ice cream and cream, it was presented beautifully and tasted very nice, I can definitely recommend it.  But my oh my do I wish I had ordered what David and Danielle ordered a delectable brownie smothered in chocolate sauce and served with cream and ice-cream.  I was allowed a tiny taste from David and it was pure heaven.

Overall Experience

The restaurant was buzzing and we sat near the kitchen and serving hatch which is open plan.  It was nice to see how professionally it was being run by the manager handling the pass.  The service was excellent and the food very tasty and enjoyable.  The only negative would be there prices, but I must say I would choose them over Frankie's & Bennies any day. Coast to Coast definitely gets a thumbs up from me and my family.

Six Hills Way, Stevenage, SG1 2UA

Tel: 01438 318137

Coast to Coast on Urbanspoon

Rating Guide

5 Stars - Perfect
4.5 Stars - Exceptional
4 Stars - Excellent
3.5 Stars - Very good
3 Stars - Good
2.5 Stars - Average
2 Stars - Bad
1.5 Stars - Very bad
1 Star - Dire

Monday, 19 November 2012

Review : Taste of Raj (Stanstead Abbotts)

Date of visit: 17 November 2012

We decided to give Taste of Raj in Stanstead Abbotts a try with our usual dinning guests.  They had previously had takeaways from them and their son has eaten there on a couple of occasions.  We had made a booking and were taken to our table straight away, the staff were very friendly and welcoming.  The restaurant was full, which is always a good sign.  One issue I had was that, as you all know I am not the smallest of people and it was quite embarrassing when I could not get between two tables to get to ours tuck in the far corner and the guests at those tables had to move their chairs in.  Once we got to our table there was barely any room for manover and the table was very small and right next to a poor couple that looked like they were on a romantic date that had just been gate crashed.  David and I sat next to each other and could barely move.  There was no going to the toilet, as the last thing I needed was to create another scene.  Sometimes I think restaurants try to hard to make that extra buck by cramming in the tables.  As you all know when ordering Indian food you need lots of room on the table as they bring the heating racks and everything is served in separate bowls.  We also had a wine cooler and other glasses fighting for space.  
The service was prompt and friendly and our drinks and poppadoms were served quickly.  There onion Onion Bhaji had nothing on the Raj of Hertford they were the usual flat one's.  For starters we ordered Chicken Pakoras, pieces of spicy tender chicken, marinated in lemon then coated in batter and deep fried in mustard oil.  We got four per portion (if you notice onbly two in the picture that is two had already been consumed) at a cost of £2.95.  I could have had a plate full of them, yummy is the only way to describe them.

I ordered the same as what I had had at Raj of Hertford and that was Chicken Malaya at a cost of £5.25.  It was very bland and the chunks of pineapple were too large and too few.  I had to add a lot of salt to make it palatable.  Think I need to become more adventurous next time and try a Dansak.

David had Chicken Saslick, pieces of spring chicken lightly spiced and cooked with green pepper, onion, tomato and grilled over charcoal at a cost of £6.95.  He said it tasted very nice, but was also not the best he had eaten.  If I compare the photo's of the same dish with other places I have reviewed, I must agree.

Dee had the Chicken Dansak, a hot, sweet and sour dish cooked with lentils (she asked for hers to be mild) at a cost of £5.25.  I had a taste and must say I will be trying a Dansak next time I order Indian food.  It did along with my dish look a bit on the runny side.

Paul had a Chicken Madras, fairly hot dish cooked with plenty of sauce at a price of £4.95.  I had a taste of this as well, it is lovely, just leaves a killer of an after burn.  

Overall Experience

Taste of Raj is Stanstead Abbotts oldest Indian restaurant, Established in 1983.  They are a family run restaurant and offer traditional and modern fusion Indian food at very reasonable prices.  It's set in a really old building and feels so cosy and homely with all the beams. 

Overall the whole evening with two bottles of wine, coffees, beers, and other liquors cost £105.30.  Would I go back, yes, but not my first choice for an Indian meal, that is still Raj of Hertford for me.

11 High Street, Stanstead Abbotts, Ware, Hertfordshire, SG12 8AA

Tel: 01920 871333

Rating Guide

5 Stars - Perfect
4.5 Stars - Exceptional
4 Stars - Excellent
3.5 Stars - Very good
3 Stars - Good
2.5 Stars - Average
2 Stars - Bad
1.5 Stars - Very bad
1 Star - Dire

Taste of Raj on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Product review : Wine tasting at Majestic Wine

Wine tasting at Majestic Wine 


Date of visit: 14 November 2012

Some would say that there is something slightly eccentric about wine tasting - all that sniffing and slurping, let alone spitting (not by me I must add, there is no way I waste any wine)!  However the truth is that wine tasting is great fun and everyone can do it.  The key is to let your mind wander.  Provided you follow the basic steps you can't go wrong - after all the answer is sitting in the glass.  

David and I were invited to a wine tasting at Majestic Wine in Stevenage on Wednesday evening.  We had recently discovered them when we were shopping for school stationary for Danielle at Staples across the road.  We happened to look across the road and just had to investigative.  Being a wine mad couple we were in wine heaven and best of all discovered South African wines that we had not seen since leaving SA.  We had no problem purchasing the required six bottles, it consisted of wines that had good memories for us.  We had spent our honeymoon nearly nineteen years ago touring the wine farms around Cape Town and one of the most memorable farms was Groot Constantia and yes we bought some of this wonderful wine.

We were greeted at the door on Wednesday evening by friendly staff and given a list of the wines that we would be tasting that evening, and shown where everything was as well as the snacks that had provided for their guests.  The first wine that we tasted was a lovely sparkling wine from Austria, Codorniu Reina Christina, Blanc de Noirs 2008.  Truly one of the nicest sparkling wines I have ever had.  The grape is Pinot Noir.  This Cave Brut was launched in honour of the Regent Queen Maria Cristina of Austria who in 1897 granted Codorniu with the title of "Official Provider of the Royal House".  With fine bubbles and persistent beading, this deliciously dry Cave has fresh, light, floral aromas with delcately rounded, well-balanced pear and brioche flavours.  It is currently on special offer for £9.99

The one wine that truly stood out for both David and myself was McGuigan The Semillon Blanc 2011 from Australia.  The grape is Semillon.  Neil McGuigan and his multi-award-winning winery have taken this white Bordeaux grape, already established as a classic varietal in certain parts of Australia, and used it to create a lighter, fresher, alternative to Aussie white.  It is also currently on special for £5.99.

Another wine that stood out for us was Luis Felipe Edwards Selection Especial Malbec 2011, Cochagua Valley, 14% at just £5.99, this one of the nicest reds I have had in a long time.  Although Argentina claims much of the Malbec related limelight, neighbouring Chile’s unique climate and terrain allows it to grow great Malbec of its own.  Persistent sea breezes moderate temperatures, meaning Chile is less reliant on altitude for cool growing conditions.  This wine has an intense violet colour with a nose of blackberries, plums and blueberries, accompanied by a subtle touch of vanilla.  Juicy and smooth, the palate is satisfyingly weight and long.

Here are a list of the other wines that we tasted:

The last two wines that we tasted were the worst and yet they were the most expensive.  The whole group that we were with agreed and a couple of them had to spit them out.  They were Château Musar, 2004/5, Lebanon 14% at £17.99 and Hochar Pere et Fils, 2007 Lebanon 14% at £10.49.  I would rather go thirsty the drink these two wines.

Here is a simple breakdown on how to taste wine 


No great rocket science here.  All wine should be clear and bright.  Note the colour - white wines get richer and more golden with age whereas reds mature from purple in their youth to ruby red and then develop "brick red" tones as they age further.

Swirl and Sniff

Plunge your nose in and take a good sniff.  What does it remind you of?  A particular fruit?  Wet stones?  Cinnamon or other spices?  Each wine has its own special bouquet.  A musty 'wet cardboard' smell is characteristic of a corked wine.  Add a few terms to your 'dictionary of smells' each time you taste and soon you will be able to swirl and sniff with the best of them.


Next - the eccentric bit - take a sip and draw some air into your mouth through slightly closed lips (try and make a slurping noise, that is if you don't mind sounding like an idiot), then roll around your mouth.  Your taste buds will burst into action and detect:

  • sweetness on the tip of the tongue
  • acidity on the sides of the tongue - that mouth watering effect
  • tannin on the gums - the drying sensation with red wines
  • body - texture and concentration of flavours
  • flavour characteristics - this can give an indication of grape variety
Finally, the length - how long do the flavours linger in the mouth?  Good length is an indication of quality.

Overall Experience

We had a brilliant night out and would recommend that you get yourself onto their mailing list.  They also offer a FREE 90 minute Wine Course, these free evening sessions are an introduction to wine - from grape to glass.

Fairlands View, Stevenage, SG1 1FZ

Tel: 01438 367896

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Review : John Gilpin (Ware)

Date of visit: 15 November 2012

Well what can one say, OH dear!  Really wish that we had not decided to try a new 2 for 1 on Thursday evening.  We normally go to The Anchor in Thundering, which never disapoint's.  You should take it as a sign that when you pull into the car park your car is the best one there, and it is not as if we drive an overly flash car.  Also on entering the pub the sign on the door said that any hooligans (or something in that line) will be thrown out, bearing in mind we were going with our 16 year daughter, makes you wonder if you should enter at all.  The décor is very tired and looks a little on the grubby side. I must say who I think was the landlady did greet us on our arrival, but the rest of the few patrons sort of glared at us, as if we were from out of space.   We chose a table with a chair in front of a door that we thought was a fire escape, guess what, it was not and from the moment we sat down the door was being opened and I kept having to move out of the way and got a cold blast hitting me.  We then decided to up and move.

Danielle and I both decided on a Beefburger, described in the menu as being served with chips and salad garnish at a cost of £7.25 for the two.  Not a bad price, but really they could have given it to us for free and I still will not want to eat it again.  The burger arrived with no butter, just a burger patty in it, we had to drench it in tomato sauce to make it palatable.  The salad garnish was old brown looking lettuce, the chips were not too bad.

Being a 2 for 1 David was really in the mood for a big rump steak and being from South Africa we like our meat and an 8oz steak just not big enough, so he ordered two rumps to make up the fourth meal.  This was served with peas and three tiny little onion rings, chips and tomato. He said it was ok, bit chewy, in fact just edible.  This cost £9.95 for the two, also not badly priced but I would rather eat at home then go back to the John Gilpin in Ware.  


Overall Experience

Overall the whole evening with three drinks cost £27.10, not bad a suppose for four meals.  But unless you really do not have any money and you can't cook, I would not recommend that go here.

London Road, Ware, Hertfordshire, SG12 9LX

Tel: 01920 462321

Rating Guide

5 Stars - Perfect
4.5 Stars - Exceptional
4 Stars - Excellent
3.5 Stars - Very good
3 Stars - Good
2.5 Stars - Average
2 Stars - Bad
1.5 Stars - Very bad
1 Star - Dire