Monthly Archives: December 2012

Chimichanga: a spot of sunshine for a chilli, cheesy Christmas

Chimichanga: Unit 4 Xscape MK, 602 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9 3XA
Nothing like Mexican food on pre-Christmas Eve in chav-central, is there? Fortunately, Chimichanga in Xscape makes you forget all that. The staff at Chimichanga’s are from everywhere but Mexico but are friendly, pleasant and efficient in seating and providing you with menus. Our waitress also very kindly turned down the air conditioning unit so we didn’t freeze. The menu is wide ranging, though fairly stereotypical British-Mexican, including calamari, chicken wings and potato skins for starters, along with the more special chilli foccacia or pastry stuffed with chorizo and cheese. Mains include the classic burritos, fajitas, toastadas and tacos but also salads, paella, steaks and grilled fish, burgers and wraps.
To start, we shared the nachos with salsa and guacamole. While supposedly for one person, it was a generous portion and we fought our way through the little mountains of nachos. The salsa was spicy and chunky, the guacamole cool and creamy, though both came in less than adequate portions for the number of nachos.
The main course of chicken fajitas are some of the best chain Mexican food I’ve had. Served on a fiery slate skillet, tender strips of chargrilled chicken are accompanied with peppers and onions, all cooked perfectly. A stack of pillowy tortillas sat in the middle of the table, along with palm-size pots of salsa, guacamole and sour cream. All were delicious, especially together!
The dessert was less impressive. Coconut cream pie actually turned out to be a rather synthetic-looking coconut cheesecake, not the “silky coconut cream set in a biscuit crunchy shell” as the menu had promised. The biscuit base was chewy as opposed to crunchy and the only coconut we could taste was from the coconut shards on top. Not worth trying and certainly not worth £5.25.
Chimichanga’s main courses are value for money but by the time you’ve added starters, dessert (well, maybe) and drinks, you might find yourself questioning whether it was worth the price staring up at you from your bill. For the mains, I’d say it was. It doesn’t match up to some of the higher end Mexican or street food that you can fin (Chimichanga’s is blander and more predictable) but it’s a wonderfully casual, fresh and friendly place to enjoy and generous plate of food.
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Cafe Copia or Cafe Canine?

Cafe Copia: 77 High Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

 

Marlow in Bucks is home to many cafes and coffee shops, many claiming to be artisan or specialist, flanked by the popular chains of Starbucks, Zizzi’s and Costa.

Cafe Copia is a small, unassuming front with a plain but comfortable interior that rarely gets busier – not to put you off, but rather it provides a much quieter atmosphere than some of the busier places. The menu is extensive for a local cafe including paninis and toasted wraps, jacket potatoes, soups and salads as well as a range of tasty cookies, cakes and muffins, most of which are baked by suppliers though the pastries are made in-house.

The bar staff are friendly, though not the quickest. They offered to wipe our table and fetched a new fork without asking when ours dropped on the floor. One thing that put me off immediately is that the sandwiches/paninis are laid out in the counter without wrapping so you get the feeling they may have been left out a while, despite being freshly made each day. However, the taste proved me wrong. A BLT panini eventually came, served in a seeded toasted submarine roll with thick slices of juicy bacon, tomatoes and, surprise surprise, lettuce. A sprinkling of salad (undressed to suit all) finished the plate nicely. The Goat’s Cheese paniniwas generously filled with fat rounds of the cheese and a scattering of pine nuts added an earthy edge without overdoing it. The rest of the roll was stuffed with rocket and tomato and overall, very tasty.

A thick slice of the Bramley Apple Cake was delicious – a delicate sweetness matched by the tangy apples, the darkened outside topped with caramelised sugar providing texture. The butterscotch cookie was studded with three pecan halves – moist and crunchy, the texture was good though the taste a little confused in mixing butterscotch, raisins, oats and pecans.

However, out visit was marred by the entry of another diner with their pet terrier. They took the table by the door, making a joke that “they don’t allow dogs here, but he’s an exception so I’ll hide him under the table.” Apparently we were meant to find that funny; unfortunately, we don’t find dogs and eating places mix. We told the manager politely that we had thoroughly enjoyed our meal though we wouldn’t be back due to allowing a dog, especially an exception for one, into the cafe – after all, who knows where else a dog, or their hair, might have been? What made the whole matter worse was that the manager couldn’t care less. She attempted to justify the decision by saying the dog was only allowed at the table by the door – right next to our table where we were still eating and 2m away from the food counter – and her manner was one of complete indifference.

I commend the food (though the prices are staggering, even in Marlow) but until they revise their dog law, and for some, their attitudes, unfortunately we’ll be looking for lunch elsewhere. But let me know – what are your thoughts on dogs in cafes/restaurants?

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i ate a kit kat

Yep, I ate a Kit Kat Chunky today at 3.19pm. It was pretty tasty and considering I don’t usually eat chocolate bars like that I quite enjoyed it too. I was using chocolate as a visual aid for a presentation so, rather surprisingly, there were a couple left over from the multipack of 4 that I bought from Sainsburys for £1, down from £1.55.

Amazing that, isn’t it? A chocolate bar for £25p. It’s the price of the increase for the living wage in the UK, so rising to £8.55 in London and £7.45 for workers outside the capital. 25p is also the price Starbucks pay their staff per hour at their new store in India, according to News Desk. Coincidentally the chain is worth £25 billion. But with 400 million below the poverty line, a job is a job for many Indians.

So where does the money go here? Well, a study examining Nestle’s share of the coffee market found that, on a scale of 0 – 1 (1 being the supermarket having full bargaining power) Nestle averaged 0.35 between 2005 and 2007 while non-Nestle brands fluctuated much more but averaged around 0.6, illustrating the greater level of bargaining power the supermarket holds in terms of prices, offers and marketing etc. Now, Nestle supports Fairtrade; they’re investing $1.5m in 20 communities in Cote D’Ivoire constructing 40 new schools and providing 50 communities clean water and sanitation. They have countless schemes to train farmers and enhance production in Kenya, Pakistan, Cote D’Ivoire and many more.

Our consumer attitude to these schemes is clear from rises in Faitrade and Rainforest Alliance sales. But how much are companies and supermarkets’ commitments to these projects a reality, and how much are they a tool to reign consumers in? We already know that they use marketing and “offers” aggressively to pull consumers in, so why not do it this way too? Yes, it’s cynical, but in reality these companies can afford to do exactly that.

According to Banana Link, bananas are the world’s most traded fruit and a “Known Value Item”, meaning that when one supermarket drops the price, the others often follow. In 2003, the UK Food Group reported “banana wars” in 2002-2003 with supermarkets lowering margins themselves and demanding deeper cuts at the supplier end. And that is where our 25p comes in. When that is reduced, who’s really benefitting? 10p doesn’t make a difference to me, and in the long-term, training and education in the developing world is what is needed to ensure productivity and sustainability. With the banana wars, a grower in Costa Rica could not get the minimum wage if the retail price in the UK was £0.81/kg. Yet, in 2003 the price fell further to £0.79/kg. From field to supermarket, the retailer roughly takes 40%, transport 23%, the growers 20% and the workers 4%. The remaining 24% is between the distributor/EU tariffs etc. So if we go back to our £1 a pack Kit Kats that’s 40p to Sainsburys but under 5p to the workers.

You’re probably not surprised. We’ve all heard of the terribly unequal commercial world and, after all, we have a competitive market that allows supermarkets to strive for our customer loyalty. It would be a brave authority that sought to intervene in the millions of transactions that are part of the supermarket buying process. As prices are cut, for consumer demand, so manufacturers seek lower production costs and growers/workers have to get costs down for an even lower wage. Fairtrade, after all, only ensures that producers’s wages are “agreed to be a fairer price.” It is, however, stable.

I’m not saying never buy a non-Fairtrade item; I don’t want you to starve. But if you have the option, it is only by using and furthering our consumer power that we will be able to demand Fairtrade products, or at least, better wages for developing countries, in every supermarket and in every product that we can. But next time you see an offer, maybe check how much value you’re actually getting and just spare a thought for where that chocolate, honey, banana has come from, and where your 25p is going. Because, as we’ve seen in India, it can actually be worth an awful lot.

 

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ok, ok, it’s almost here. but not yet. anyone for biscuits?

Yes, alright, Christmas is 14 days away. And yes I will begin a 12-day count down full of exciting recipes and ideas for you to follow as you bah-humbug your way through the last week of school or work that sees you trudging home in the pitch black, laughed at by various contortions of fairy lights before you stamp and sneeze your way into a house that is decorated (or half perhaps) for the festive season. Just me? Heh, I joke. No, even I admit that I find the morning frost sunbathing on the rooftops in the pink-yellow sun at least a little beautiful. But onto the content!

Christmas is almost here but we still have 2 weeks to go so here is a delightful recipe for Lebkuchen – a traditional German gingerbread-style biscuit. Their name comes from life or favourite food and the earlier “honey cake” can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They’ve got that Christmas-market feel without making you think you’ve already overdone it before the big day. Wrap them up in cellophane and tie with some straw or a ribbon for a wonderful gift!

You Will Need:

  • 200ml clear honey
  • 85g butter
  • 250g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • sprinkle of ground nutmeg and black pepper

Get Baking!:

  1. Heat the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat. While the butter is melting place the flour, almonds, spices, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
  2. When the butter is melted, pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture. Mix well (ideally with your hands or a wooden spoon) until the dough is combined and fairly solid.
  3. Cover and leave to cool.
  4. Heat oven to 180C/fan160C/gas 4. Use your hands to roll the dough into about 16 balls (I find this works best if you half the dough into 2 lumps, half again and again, and so on until you get 2 batches of 8.) Place each dough-ball on a baking tray (lined with parchment) and flatten each one slightly into a disk. Leave a slight gap between the biscuits so they can expand.
  5. Bake for 15 mins (roughly – they should be a golden-brown colour) then cool on a wire rack.

If you like – place some icing sugar in a sieve and delicately sprinkle over the top. Alternatively, try the following:

  • Sweet tooth? – melt a large bar of milk/dark chocolate on the stove before half submerging each biscuit and place in the fridge.
  • Spice it up? – dust over with a little more cinnamon and nutmeg for that autumnal kick!
  • With the kids? –  ice the biscuits by mixing together 100g icing sugar, 1 egg white and 1-2 tbsp water to form a smooth, runny icing. Dip the top of each biscuit in the icing and spread with the back of a knife. On top you can stick smarties, chocolate drops or coloured sprinkles.
  • Get Creative! – use star-shaped or christmas-style cutters to make different shaped Lebkuchen for your friends and family.

 

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Albums: the good, the bad and the ugly of 2012

Top 10 Albums 2012:

  1. Crazy Lixx – Riot Avenue – they claim they don’t like the term, but this is all glam. Layered backing vocals, catchy melodies and lyrics revolving around girls, partying and hard rock all rolled into the raw stadium sound.
  2. Slash – Apocalyptic Love – I admit, I never thought I’d like it. Fantastic vocals lead the way through distorted racing tracks to emotive but steel-hearted love songs. A great mix of hard rock, Slash’s distinct sound and a touch of the sexy street glam.
  3. Gotthard – Firebirth – Uplifting and melodic, it’s a little different to its neighbours above and below. The band stays true to their AOR roots while moving forward with tight production and songs you’ll just want to shake your hair too.
  4. Fatal Smile – 21st Century Freaks – The band have tightened up their image and their sound. It’s theatrical and fun but highly professional at the same time. Metal fans, it’s one for you, with dark melodies and gothic themes but man do they do it well.
  5. LA Guns – Hollywood Forever – Ok, it’s got classic LA Guns stamped all over it, but isn’t that the sound they do best? For new and old fans alike and though there’s a couple of borderline tracks they melt away underneath the gritty rasping quality of the rest of the album.
  6. Hardline – Danger Zone – We’re back to the dreams and limitless skies with Hardline’s easy-listening rock album. Powerful and richly melodic it’ll keep all you softer fans happy!
  7. Sister Sin – Now and Forever – Eagerly anticipated after Sister Sin’s self-imposed delay to reproduce, this hardcore album delivers on all levels from powerful female vocals to unexpected rhythms and structures in the songs. A modern take on rock and metal.
  8. Jettblack – Raining Rock – It’s always nice to see a local band doing well and this album lets Jettblack do just that. Ok, some of it’s a little silly but the tracks are catchy and classically rock so no funny surprises. Oh, and they’re pretty good musicians too.
  9. Kiss – Monster – The album disappointed me which is why it sits so far down. They retain the rebellious attitude but there’s no change to the Kiss style, that’s for sure, so if you’re looking for something new then don’t go here. Quality wise though, it’s competent and definitely not un-enjoyable.
  10. Baby Jane – in The Spotlight – they made it onto the list, but only just. Tough competition against the likes of Tyketto and Trixter but Baby Jane’s guts and all-goes-to-hell attitude won it for them with this thrash-esque album.

 

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TNT: Dynamite gig

TNT – Camden Underworld – 30/11/12

It’s never easy opening at 6.45pm on a Friday night, but since the Underworld had a club at 11pm, NeonFly, Stampede and TNT were on a tight schedule to finish by 10.15pm.

Credit has to go to NeonFly for the show they produced. The crowd topped 50, which, for a band that has toured with Magnum was perhaps a little deflating but they never gave that impression. Vocalist Willy was dynamic and engaging with a fantastically powerful and emotive voice. The synchronised head-banging looked at times rather silly but at least it came across as rehearsed and part of the show. There were no airs, graces or unnecessary arrogance – this was a band that plays for their enjoyment as well as the crowd’s. Unfortunately the sound was rather cluttered. I would attribute this to the Underworld’s system rather than the band’s performance; though the band’s recorded backing tracks didn’t help. They crammed a lot into 30 minutes, including their latest video track A Gift To Remember – a moving power-metal track that NeonFly performed to a T. A band that is great live with a raw and edgy sound.

Stampede is a British rock band that have been around for as long as headliners TNT. Vocalist Reuben Archer showed what a great voice he has, making me wish I’d heard him in his heyday, and the band gave a tight performance. The sound was clear and definitive, thanks in part to guitarist Laurence Archer’s characteristic sound. They had a friendly rapport with the crowd and put in lots of effort to make the performance one to remember. The songs weren’t all to my liking; Missing You, Humble Pie and Moving On were just some of the tracks from the band’s repertoire but I almost felt like the songs weren’t up to the performance. They’re enjoyable and talented band and while you won’t exactly be raving to your friends if I saw them on a bill I’d get there in time to see them.

Wow. TNT. If I said they were all they’re cracked up to be I still feel I wouldn’t be doing them justice. Guitarist Ronni Le Tekro, the only original member, played with a passion and zeal that almost seemed to control his fervent performance. And he is one heck of a guitarist. His instrumental was short enough to be sweet while cramming in technique that still allowed the solo to flow coherently. It was great to see a live keyboardist instead of silly recorded backing tracks. Vocalist Tony Mills proved he still has the lungs of his Shy days though maybe not as enduring or as powerful. Still, he was taken aback by the loyalty of the fans and how many knew the words. Hits like 10,000 Lovers, Intuition and Caught between the Tigers took the Underworld by storm while the band’s later tracks were received well. On the whole, a very warm and energetic appearance by a band that is clearly gifted both in musicianship and performance. Don’t miss out if you get the chance.

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