Marmite chocolate

28 May

Weird food: Marmite chocolate

What food has a statue dedicated to it, is smeared on bald men’s heads to promote hair growth and has been banned in Denmark? The answer of course is Marmite.

Created from the by-product of beer-brewing – containing yeast, flavourings and rich in vitamin – the viscous, black stuff recently hit the headlines after a Queen’s Jubilee edition of the cleverly named Maa’mite was launched.

Ma'amite

Ma’amite: Yeast-based spread fit for a Queen

Dividing the nation since its creation in 1902, while some balk at the umami flavour, an elite group of Marmite fans, the Marmarati, hold it in such high esteem they’re charged with creating new Marmite-related products including Marmite flavoured crisps, breadsticks, cheese, cashew nuts and cereal bars. Their latest offering is Marmite chocolate.

Very Peculiar Marmite chocolate

Love it or hate it? Marmite chocolate

It’s not unheard of to mix Marmite with sweet foods. In August 2006 celebrity chef Gary Rhodes created a dessert consisting of coffee ice cream topped with chocolate sauce with a dash of Marmite.

But how would the gooey spread that looks like crude oil, fare encased in milk chocolate?

We all know the moniker: Marmite – you either love it or hate it. I’m firmly in the ‘love it’ camp but prefer mine on hot buttered toast. Still, with just two per cent of Marmite flavouring, the chocolate can’t taste that strong…

How wrong can one woman be? The packet’s warning ‘Very peculiar’ and the promise to ‘bewilder the tastebuds,’ should’ve been a clue. Clearly, I’m more the Hastings than the Poirot of the food world.

Despite being vegetarian, the first sniff smacks of caramelised beef and the taste is even worse. It’s so salty, like consuming an ocean, and as I swallow an unpleasant aftertaste sneaks in. It’s that cloying taste, the dehydrated feeling when you’ve woken up after one too many and it feels like something’s died in your mouth.

So what are the saving graces? Well, here comes the science bit. Jampacked with nutritional benefits, marmite’s good for liver and kidney function and protects the nervous system. One serving provides 36 per cent of your RDA of Vitamin B3, 50 per cent of folic acid.

Coupled with chocolate that is proven to lower blood pressure, it’s practically a superfood. Wheatgrass and blueberries, you’re out on your ear.

Not sure those health benefits are enough to entice me to have another square though. I’ll leave it to the true fans!

Nine things you never knew about Marmite:

  1. It was used in WW1 ration packs and sent to British peacekeeping forces in Kosovo to boost morale in 1999.
  2. It’s named after petite marmite, a French stew, hence the cooking pot shape of the jar and the picture on the front.
  3. Marmite held traffic at a standstill when a tanker carrying more than 20 tonnes of the yeast extract overturned on the M1 in November last year.
  4. Sculptor Jeremy Fattorini has created Rodin’s The Kiss sculpture using Marmite in February 2008 in London’s Greenwich Park. The 7ft statue took nearly two and a half weeks to create and was coated in 420  jars of limited edition I Love You Champagne Marmite.
Rodin's The Kiss Marmite sculpture

Sealed with a (Marmite) Kiss – Marmite sculptur

5.Missouri is the proud home of the Marmite museum

6. 50 million jars of marmite are produced each year.

7. The biggest export market for Marmite is Sri Lank

8. George Lambert from Hackney was the first marmite sarniologist. He made a 12 ft tall stack containing 500 slices of bread, 20 lettuces, 65 tomatoes, 30 bananas, 25 carrots,1500g of cheese and, of an unstated quantity of Squeezy Marmite in 2008.

Largest Marmite sandwich

Tower of horror? Largest Marmite sandwich

9. Marmite repels mosquitos. Maybe that’s why 14 per cent of Brits take it on holiday with them.

ENDS

Watch out for another chocolate with a twist in my next post on Wasabi chocolate


Mini blog: Insect snacks – the new pub grubs

10 May

Weird food: Curry flavoured crickets and barbecue meal worms

Pint of lager? Check. G&T? Check. Bags of Doritos? Check. Insect snacks?

OK, so crunchy baked crickets (acheta domestica) in a thai green curry seasoning and baked, barbecue meal worms (Tenebrio Molitor) aren’t your average pub snack but that’s what I’ve brought with me to Westow House in Crystal Palace, London to be sampled by my team of tasters.

It’s a great venue with draping curtains, wrought iron shelves and orange papered feature walls but, as usual, it’s pouring with rain outside so I’ve brought the exotic with me.

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Mini blog: Tasty Pasty? A homemade Pie Floater

26 Apr

Weird food: Pie floater

RUPERT Murdoch might balk at the thought of pies, following a certain the shaving foam pie incident in parliament last July, but he has more in common with them than you might imagine.

Because the newspaper behemoth forged his career in Adelaide, also home to the pie floater.

If you’re wondering what a pie floater is, I should begin by reassuring you that it isn’t something you’ll find in a train loo, but a meat pie, turned upside down in a slurry of pea soup and topped with a slash of ketchup.

Pie Floater

Pie Floater

Pie carts serving pies and a variety of soups were prevalent in Adelaide in the 1870s and though no-one knows how the first pie ended up in the pea soup, I’m guessing a pie-eyed (sorry, it had to be done) passer-by dropped it in by accident, then had a ‘eureka’ moment.

Adelaideans are proud of this stodgy, carb-laden treat, a fast food dish so famous it was recognised in 2003 as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia.

To construct my masterpiece, I heat up a Sainsburys’ steak and kidney pie and a saucepan of Baxter’s pea soup. This is the Brit version, innit?

My plate looks like it’s covered in the liquidised remains of a frog and the sad truth is that the crispy pie crust (my favourite part of the pie) is a soggy mess. That said, the minty flavour of the pea soup and tangy ketchup complement the meaty pie.

So with David Cameron’s plans to tax hot pasties and sausage rolls imminent you might want to consider making your own. After soaking up the authentic Aussie atmosphere and a pint at the Redback or Walkabout, head home and construct this tasty treat!

ENDS

Have you tried a pie floater? What did you think? What other weird food combinations have you tried? Leave your comments below.

Rotten shark anyone?

12 Apr

Weird food: Hakarl (putrified shark)

THE PEOPLE of Iceland have a lot to be proud of: Bjork (apart from that dodgy swan outfit she wore), eye-crampingly awesome volcanos, gushing geysers and the Northern lights – swirls of pinks and greens streaking across the sky like something from a Disney film. But its most famous dish of Hakarl, otherwise known as putrified shark? Not so much.

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Jelly Salad

7 Mar

Weird food: Jelly salad

FISH and chips, bangers and mash, jelly and er salad. It’s an unlikely combination but Jello Salad (salad or veg encased in fruit flavoured jellies) is a popular dish in Utah and the other Bible states in America. Served with hot meats, the concept is to combine the dressing with the salad, so that as it melts the flavours ooze onto the meat. Think it sounds a bit weird? Wondering what it tastes like? Read on…

Using a recipe for ‘Grandma’s Pineapple Cucumber Lime Jello Salad’ from Simply Recipes  the ingredients don’t sound too wacky – lime green jelly, onion, cucumber, pineapple, horseradish, salt and vinegar. It starts off well. Adding hot and cold water to the jelly, I pour it into a mould, adding cucumber and pineapple, and it looks like a refreshing summer dessert.

Key ingredients: The makings of Jelly Salad

Then I add the horseradish sauce and it begins to go horribly wrong as the luminous, green gunge curdles. It looks like the vomit of a cucumber addict who’s binged on vodka and limeade.

Jello salad

Green gunge: The jelly before it’s set

Unfazed, I leave the mixture to congeal, I mean set, overnight, before it’s time for the grand reveal and…

Oh God. It looks like Slimer, the green blob from Ghostbusters, in his death throes. A thick layer of yellowish, cottage-cheese-like sauce covers the top and chunks of pineapple and cucumber fight their way to the surface through the murky mixture.

The finished product: Lamb with Jelly Salad

Serving it with lamb chops and veg, I spear a piece of meat and a lump of green gunge and have my first taste of Jello Salad. The flavours are nice – zesty lime and pineapple, soothing cucumber and a zing of horseradish – and the grainy horseradish dissolves when you eat the jelly. What I find hard to stomach is eating the cold jelly with the hot meat, which makes me think I’m eating the raw rind from my chop.

Eating cold, gelatinous, sugary slivers of cucumber as one of my five a day doesn’t appeal.. I’ll leave Jelly Salad to the Americans – it’s a trifle too weird for me.

One lump or two?

20 Feb

Weird food: Bubble tea

FIZZING flasks of luminous green liquid, a blackboard covered with scientific squiggles and two men in white coats hunched over a bubbling pot…

Welcome to Bubbleology!  This isn’t a science lab but a cool café in a cobbled Soho street that specialises in Bubble Tea, a Taiwanese speciality of milk and fruit teas filled with tapioca or jelly balls.

I’m handed a plastic cup filled with a murky, mushroom-coloured concoction. Tiny, black balls that look like frogspawn lurk at the bottom and I eye it warily…

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Rudolph on toast

22 Dec

DASHER, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donna, Blitzen and… sorry Santa but Rudolph won’t be leading your sleigh this year.

He’s been pulverized, mixed with spices and garlic to create a delicious pate. Mmm, Rudolph on toast.

Reindeer pate

If you’re worried about piling on the pounds over Christmas, reindeer has one of the lowest fat contents of red meat – a mere two per cent – so it could be the answer. And you can rest assured that you’re not eating an endangered species – the reindeer are farmed in Sweden by Sami herdsmen and fed a diet of moss and lichen.

The packaging of my tin of reindeer pate looked innocuous. A white label announced an arctic delicacy, ‘an indulgent Christmas treat’ and claimed Rudolph’s relative was inside. When I opened it the pate didn’t look very appetising – dark, plummy meat clumped together so it resembled cat food – but it was surprisingly tasty.

I didn’t have any Knackebrod (Swedish crisp bread) so I slathered it onto some toasted not-very-authentic ciabatta.

Smoother than Michael Buble singing Christmas classics, the pate tasted rich and gamey but not overpowering. It  wasn’t as greasy as pork-based pates and was infused with spicy cognac – it definitely had sparkle.

So if you want to treat your family to something exotic, festive and tasty this Christmas, shelve the turkey. Buck the trend and treat them to some reindeer pate instead.

Reindeer pate is available from www.firebox.com

Corny but tasty

16 Dec

Weird food: Mince pie flavoured popcorn

I HAVE a Christmas confession.  I hate mince pies. The stodgy pastry and spiced, gloopy mixture sends shivers down my spine. A bit unfortunate really as it is only thanks to the pesky pastries that I reached the heady heights of being a  Guinness World Record Breaker. 

I write ‘heady heights’ with a massive dollop of sarcasm because the record I hold, along with former colleagues Luke Chilton and Michael Xuereb, is for eating the most mince pies in a minute. And we achieved…two.

I can hear you snorting with laughter. You’d think wolfing down two mince pies in a minute would be a piece of, er pie. After all, most people manage to shovel a few down at Christmas, along with endless turkey, chocolate log and trifle.

But the pastry dried out my mouth then combined with the mincemeat to create a sticky glue that stuck my jaw together. The tactic was to take small, delicate bites then gulp them down, but it took me at least 30 mince pies to work this out.

Despite being red-faced from the mince pie sweats and  green about the gills (at least I was sticking to a festive colour scheme!) I managed to secure the record. But it left me scarred and the thought of even the tiniest morsel of mince pie passing my lips made me shudder.

So it was with trepidation that I tested Joe and Seph’s Mince Pie flavoured popcorn.  Continue reading

Ghastly Garlic Puddings

11 Dec

Garlic Tiramisu: A bitter end to the meal

NOTHING tastes quite as divine as Tiramisu. Rich, coffee-soaked sponge, fluffy cloud-like Italian cream, curls of chocolate sprinkled on top. Unless, that is, you lace it with pungent garlic.

And that is what you’re letting yourself in for if you eat at Garlic and Shots, a restaurant in London’s trendy Soho where everything, including puddings, comes with lashings of the abominable bulb.

This tar-like chocolate gloop, doesn’t taste of coffee, is topped with thick, tasteless cream and has the overpowering aftertaste of garlic. A bitter end to a disappointing meal.

With branches in Palma and Stockholm, Garlic and Shots, founded by the Swedish Olsson brothers, is aimed at the hairy biker, Ozzy Osbourne fan or heavy metal head-banger.

Mounted stag’s heads, photos of skeletons and a papier-mache Michelin man adorn the walls. It’s trying to be edgy but with the wipe-clean, laminated menus and toilet facilities featuring peeling paint and graffiti, it’s just a bit, well, dirty.

As rock classics blare from the stereo, our pink-haired waitress brought me a garlic and honey vodka shot. Sweet at first, it hit the back of my throat and made me shudder. It was like hearing ragged fingernails scratching across a blackboard.

I tried to console myself by thinking of the health benefits of garlic. A member of the onion family and closely related to the chive and the leek, it can prevent heart disease and cancer –  and of course it wards off vampires.

Amateur: Steak with a garlic cross

The main course fared slightly better. The ‘Transylvanian vampire steak’ melted like butter when I cut into it, but was ruined by tomato and peppercorn sauce that tasted like something a hard-up student had knocked up from a tin of tomatoes and far too many peppercorns. Topped with a ‘garlic cross’, literally two shreds of garlic in the shape of a cross, it looked amateur.

The lamb shank was tender and juicy, accompanied by a garlic and malt whisky butter, red wine jus, and trees of asparagus wrapped in bacon. But the lamb and steak, as well as all the other main courses – chilli con carne, bangers and mash, seafood stew or burgers –   are dishes you’d expect to contain garlic. Nothing special.

Another dessert, Swedish radio cake, was a tarted up Rich Tea chocolate biscuit cake. The chocolate tasted cheap and the garlic hit left a bitter aftertaste.

I thought the chef would caramelise the garlic to make it sweeter,then expertly combine it with other ingredients to enable    the flavours to marry. No such luck.

The restaurant felt like a gimmick. Like paying to meet Dracula, and then discovering it’s your dad’s mate wearing a pair of fake fangs.

The tin pots full of parsley on the table did little to dampen my garlic, death breath. Leaving my half-eaten dessert I couldn’t get out of the rock-style restaurant fast enough – like a bat out of hell.

Garlic and Shots, 14 Frith Street, London, W1D 4RD, 0207 734 9505

Jelly (beans) and I scream

29 Nov

Weird foods: Dog food, vomit, rotten egg, mouldy cheese, nappies, baby wipes, centipede and bogey flavoured jelly beans

THE EXPRESSION on my face says it all; eyes bulging and mouth foaming like a rabid dog. My taste buds are being assaulted and I’m not talking a gentle happy slapping. More the brutal, set-upon-by-thugs wielding razor blades in an alley type beating.

Bean Boozled: A Game of Chance

First there’s the sour tang, a punch of pepper, a waft of cheese then the noxious taste of rotten egg. All these flavours have been hidden in a tiny sweet – a yellow bullet that can make you gag with one shot.

But for Jelly Belly, this rotten-egg-flavoured bean is a success. The California-based company prides itself on creating authentic-tasting sweets. So the weird flavours that make up Bean Boozled – mouldy cheese, centipede, nappies and dog food – are no exception.

Bean Boozled is more than just a box of sweets, it’s a game. Players must spin the wheel to choose which coloured sweet they must eat. But for each delicious-tasting bean there’s a disgusting counterpart. Will the green bean taste of pear or bogies? Is the maroon bean Centipede or Strawberry Jam?

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Death by chocolate – almost!

21 Nov

Weird foods: Locusts, crickets, gnu, ostrich, zebra, crocodile, scorpion

THERE aren’t many restaurants where the first words you say to the waiter are ‘Golden Monkey.’ But then there aren’t many restaurants that boast an exotic menu of crocodile, zebra, wildebeest –  and chocolate-covered scorpion for dessert.

Archipelago, a tiny restaurant in North London, has been serving up gastronomica exotica for eleven years. Set up by South African Bruce Alexander, who wanted to move away from London’s ‘samey’ restaurants, it sources its food from all over the world – crocodile from Zimbabwe, Kangaroo from Australia, Gnu from South Africa and locusts and crickets from the rather less exotic Isle of Wight!

A locust dish

“We only use farm-reared animals and of course we’d never use endangered species,” says Head Chef Danny Creedon, who trained as a classical French chef at the Room of Fine Dining. “The meat is often a by-product of other trades, like crocodiles that are farmed for their skins.”

Phew! Conscience clear, we’re free to enjoy the food and the unusual atmosphere. ‘Golden Monkey,’ our secret password to confirm our booking, is all part of the fun – along with the bizarre décor.

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Pigeon: Anything but fowl

3 May

Weird food: Pigeon

I’M WALKING through Trafalgar Square as flocks of pigeons swoop onto unsuspecting tourists, flapping their green-grey tinged wings as though they’re auditioning for a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Defecating on the cobbled streets with gusto or sitting on the fourth plinth like ugly bits of found art, these flying pests are associated with London as much as red buses, the royal family or rain.

Pigeons in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square: A haven for pigeons

While I don’t bear these feathered rascals a grudge, I don’t hold them in affection either so when I’m given the opportunity to sample pigeon at The Hayward, the restaurant at The Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury, I jump at the chance. Weird food number 16, here I come.  Continue reading

Guillemot and whale

19 Apr Northern Lights 2

THE CLOSEST I’d come to a Guillemot was listening to the Avant-Gard Indie rock band with the same name, so when I saw it on the menu at Prir Frakkar , a tiny restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland, it piqued my curiosity.

Keen to try weird foods, I draw the line at cannibalism, so it was a relief to discover that a Guillemot was a black seabird with a white belly, thick beak and bright red feet, native to Iceland.

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