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Soulfood Food Co OnePot British Free Range British Pulled Pork Stew review – @soulfoodfoodco

Whilst technically this isn’t in keeping with the ‘soup’ reviews, it’s not that far off and so – judge rules, in it goes.

soulfulpulledporkDescription: The full name of this soup is “Free Range British Pulled Pork Stew with Chorizo, Beans & Spelt.” The official description reads: “Hearty and rustic, with smoky British chorizo & nutty grains of finest Somerset spelt.” All of these things are true; suspended in a light, tomato-based stew/soup, with chunks of red pepper adding extra depth and a faint hit of spice coming through the sweet tomato and pork soup.

Health: 319 calories would be a lot for a soup this size, but isn’t that much for a super-hearty stew that really doesn’t need any bread to go with it to keep you full up. Despite the ‘Flagelot’ beans (small, tic-tac shaped, green and surprisingly crisp beans despite stewing, but without a particularly strong beany taste), the stew is low in fibre (1.9g),  but high in protein (30g), carbs (26.1g), fat (9.9g) and ridiculously high on the salt front (2.96g). Healthy-ish at best, I suspect, but the taste…

Taste: …absolutely makes up for it. A heady aroma of meat from the pulled pork and generous amounts of chorizo, coupled with the sweetness of the tomato-based stew and veg, the chewy, salty moreishness of the meat itself, the a faint Cayenne & paprika-induced heat makes this an easy pot to devour. Not much sign of the ‘nutty spelt’ but, y’know, who cares? Yum.

Full-o-meter: Pretty good. Lots of meat and beans in every mouthful makes for a pleasantly full tummy.

Make it yourself?: No, not for me. The ingredients list over at the Soulfoul Food Co’s website makes clear that this is one for IMMENSE batch cooking only as it’s clearly a complicated dish

Verdict: 4.5/5. Loses minor 1/2 point for high salt, low fibre.

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Pret Sag Aloo soup review – @pret

1509316_10155428493145224_7912898807842365845_nDescription: “Red chilli, ginger and garlic, gently sautéed with finely diced onions and curry spice. Simmered with potato, tomato, leaf spinach and thick creamy labneh yoghurt.” Hrm, ‘curry spice’, eh? No sign of thickness or creaminess to this somewhat watery, generically curry-y (how do you adverb curry?) soup. But it’s not all bad.

Health: I’ve no idea how this soup gets up to 244 calories a pot, thin as it seems on substance. It’s low on salt, low on fibre, does OK on the protein front (5.9g) and surprisingly high on fat (11.4g… perhaps from the labneh?). Pretty low in fibre. So a mixed bag, leaning towards healthy, if insubstantial.

Taste: A pungent aroma and a decent heat on first tasting was promising… but it degenerated a bit as the grittiness of chilli powder came through, I suspect a sign of overzealous spicing in the initial fry-off. The soup was watery, though the potato was done perfectly and the spinach somehow retained structural integrity despite being ‘souped’ – this gave substance to what was otherwise little more than a brothy stew. I tend to think these sorts of soup do better if they are at least partially blended; this would have helped the watery texture and probably contended with some of the spices’ grittiness. Perhaps the labneh was meant to serve to thicken and smooth over the taste… but in this it failed like a thing that fails unspectacularly and unobtrusively (like so many culinary mishaps).

Full-o-meter: Poor. Even with the (typically indulgent) artisan bread I can feel myself getting hungry again and I’ve only just eaten lunch.

Verdict: 3/5. Despite my somewhat damning criticism above, it’s not all bad. It has a certain salty moreishness that is not unpleasant, it feels quite healthy and the gentle heat makes it at least slightly interesting. But It’s not the best soup I’ve had in recent days, and it bears very little resemblance to its North Indian vegetable side-dish namesake.

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Eat Malaysian Beef Rendang soup review – Big Bold @eat_news

RendangDescription: “A rich coconut curry with slow cooked beef and potato, flavoured with ginger, lemongrass and cinnamon. Garnished with coriander. Less than 5% fat.” OMG this is on the money. So much meat. So little potato. I’m not complaining.

Health: 350 calories comprising 16.9g of fat (<5%… really? 12.1g saturated), relatively modest 4.4g of fibre and 16.9g of protein. Although I reckon there must have been more in my portion. A relatively modest (for Eat) 2g of salt.I’m not entirely clear how the “coriander garnish” takes the calorie count of this soup from 261 to 350 (according to the information on Eat’s website) so am guessing that’s a mistake.

Taste: Nom nom nom… Snarf, gobble… chomp chomp… erm, maybe I should have another pot just to be sure? This is a new favourite – the soup is thick and well spiced (it doesn’t compare to a real beef rendang for chilli-hotness but that’s just as well, as that would be inedibly spicy). There were only a few bizarrely uniform cubes of potato in my helping; a good chunk of beef in every mouthful surrounded by tasty vegetables in a thick, creamy soup. A taste-explosion in every mouthful.

Full-o-meter: Eaten with that delicious bread roll (ode to that to follow at some point – a world improved from the dry, crusty pan-bread pieces Eat used to serve with its bread), there’s been no need for further snacking this afternoon. It’s a hefty one.

Make it yourself?: Sure, but it probably won’t be as good. Eat does coconut based soups well.

Verdict: 5/5. Saturated fats be damned.

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Eat Jerk chicken soup review – Big Bold/Hero @eat_news

So – confession. I had no idea what “jerking a chicken” involves, and whilst it has always sounded HILARIOUS, growing up in the cultural hotpot that is Malaysia, Caribbean cooking unfortunately didn’t feature (unlike most other cuisines).

I had a piece of Jerk Chicken at the Notting Hill Carnival one year, and wasn’t impressed – it was dry and bitter. I’m told this is the risk of buying food at Carnival – you have to know where the good places are.

In any event, my colleague V is a massive Jerk Chicken fan, so I decided to give it another go, EAT style. And, well, you’ll see the result. For those, like me, who need a starting point, this is how you jerk a chicken:

The jerk sauce is actually traditionally a dry rub that is famous for being extremely spicy. At a minimum, the spicing includes scotch bonnet peppers, among the hottest in the world, and allspice. Most cooks also include shallots, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, pepper, and a variety of other ingredients to taste.

Deatjerkchickensoupescription: “Our homage to the fantastic Jerk chicken. A coconut soup with shredded chicken and black eyed beans flavoured with all spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and plenty of chilli. Garnished with rice.” This is a fair description of what was in the dish. Read on for taste.

Health: 436 calories including a phenomenal 18g of fat (the Coconut’s fault?), this thing is high on everything – carbs (nearly 50g), protein (21g), sugars (10g), and thanks to the beans does OK on the fibre front too (4g). As with all Eat soups, salt is applied liberally – 2.2g.

Taste: Well, it tastes good and helped me recover from my experience at Carnival. BUT… it’s not particularly spicy (“plenty of chilli” my shiny metal ass…), the creamy saltiness dominates and – in a blind taste test you’d be excused for confusing it with the other Bold soup on sale today, Chicken pot pie. But that’s being excessively critical – the end result is very eatable, chock full of big chunks of perfectly stewed chicken, potatoes and beans, the mild heat is pleasant and the texture and consistency is moreish and filling.

Full-o-meter: Oh y eah, with rice as a garnish and my (unnnecessary but still delicious) accompanying roll, I should be full up for the afternoon.

Make it yourself?: I gather making jerk chicken is messy and time consuming, but maybe if V brings in leftovers one day…

Verdict: 4/5.

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Heinz big chicken & veg soup review – @HeinzUK

heinzchickenvegDescription: From website: “A deliciously hearty Chicken & Vegetable soup made with tender pieces of chicken, chunky potatoes, carrots and garden peas. This great tasting soup is packed full of chunky ingredients creating the perfect meal or snack.” My take? It’s definitely chunky, with generous pieces of meat in and amongst the copious veg. But the meat has that slightly preserved taste you get from all tinned meat, including dog food (or so I imagine, it certainly smells a bit like it). And my wife was less than generous about what chunky-ness it resembled…

Health: 200 kCal for the tin, lots more protein and fibre than the other Heinz soups I’ve had, so good for it. Again, 2g of salt though.

Taste: I think I’m reaching my limits with tinned soup. The chicken is reminiscent of Fray Bentos pies and pet food, neither of which are things I tend to eat with any regularity. Like the other Heinz tinned soups, the vegetables are boiled/stewed to a point of generic, salty blandness. Needed pepping up with something; toast/croutons were necessary on the side.

Full-o-meter: As with all these 200kCal soups, you need some toast to make it a meal.

Make it yourself?: To be fair to Heinz, chicken soup is just *boring* unless you take a deliberately different take on it. I’m sure if I was feeling ill and needed something bland and comforting, this would fit the bill nicely. As it was… I may need to have a go at eating fresh soups for a while or I’ll struggle to maintain my soup diet mission.

Verdict: 3/5 on the tinned soup scale.

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Eat Italian Meatball ‘big hero’ soup review – big bold @eat_news

Eat soups fuelled my wedding diet back in 2009, so this is a true return to form…

Description: “A rustic Soup of meatballs and cannellini beans in a chunky tomato sauce with chilli, basil and oregano. Garnished with melting mozzarella.” AKA a salt-megabomb, tomato-based soup laden with meatballs (must have had 14 of the little beggars in there), topped with generic melty dollop of mozzarella it didn’t need. Is ‘rustic’ a euphemism for ‘chunky’ in this context?10963823_942520259112978_465652430_n

Health: That dollop of mozzarella adds a ridiculous 103 kCal! Otherwise it’s a moderately healthy soup; 18.9g of protein, 8g of fibre (counterbalanced with 10.3g of fat) and 328 calories of what felt like a wholesome culinary experience. That said, the salt levels (2g) are high, though comparable to its tinned soup cousins I’ve been eating lately.

Taste: Whilst heavily salty (I could probably have done without the garnish, and will do next time), the meatballs are tasty (if a bit over-tender), and the veg well-flavoured in the thick tomato stew/soup surrounding them. The chilli adds a relatively gentle, but very welcome background heat. I’d have it again; no wonder it’s not just a ‘Bold’ soup but also this week’s ‘Hero’ (available all week!)

Full-o-meter: Pretty good with one of the much improved Eat seeded rolls.

Make it yourself?: I’m sure you could, if you could be bothered to make up a lot of meatballs; alongside an easy mix of soup veg, chopped tomatoes, stock, herbs / spices & meat. Also salt. It may be worth a home try spoon!

Verdict: 4/5.

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Heinz Farmers’ market slow-cooked lamb and root vegetables soup review

11085064_1618177708394061_1264477083_nDescription: “Quality lamb is slow-cooked to perfection & partnered with wholesome chunks of root vegetables sourced from our favourite British farms. A touch of rosemary brings out the natural flavours for a delicious & wholesome soup. Packed full of vegetable goodness, this mouth-watering recipe has 2 of your 5 a day and contains absolutely no artificial colours flavours or preservatives.” My description? Tiny pieces of lamb in a salty, rosemary tomato-based soup are surrounded by generic, bland lumps of root vegetable. Don’t expect to be able to differentiate swede from carrot by taste alone.

Health: Like the other Heinz soup I reviewed, low on pretty much everything. 220 calories to a can, mostly in carbs, some limited fibre and protein. Bad on salt again – 2.2g for the can.

Taste: There’s certainly a fullness to the flavour of the lamb that adds a depth to the soup; however the aforementioned blandness of the root vegetables – anonymous lumps of mushy texture – do little but add mass to the soup. Salt predominates and I actually struggled to finish this one after the blandness overwhelmed me. I will need to wheel out the chiu chow chilli oil (my elixir for bland food – makes everything taste like chinese take-away) to deal with these soups in future.

Full-o-meter: Mediocre. More fibre or protein needed to make this one last. Toast/bread was essential; fortunately Amanda had picked up one of M&S’ finest french loaves to give much needed

Make it yourself?: Imagine this would be a relatively trivial soup to replicate and improve upon with the leftovers of a roast. I’d be inclined to add lentils for some better thickness and texture for the soup itself, and a hint of heat to add a bit more complexity to the soup.

Verdict: 2.5/5 on the tinned soup scale.

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Heinz Beef Broth Big Soup review

InstagramCapture_b162a8c7-be01-4f69-9d37-5bca87a620f7Description: Not ones to overstate things, Heinz simply says this is “Beef, barley and vegetable broth”  on the can. I concur.

Health: 180 calories for the can. Nutritionally relatively insubstantial – low protein and fibre scores, low in fat (it’s only 7% beef, so…), but pretty high on the salt front – 2.2g for the can. So, y’know, points down.

Taste: Like beefy, barley, stocky, salty, utterly generic soup. But it’s not insubstantial thanks to the chunky veg (which gives Heinz ‘big’ soup its name), and the barley gives it a good depth and texture. You have to play ‘Where’s Wally’ to find the beef.

Full-o-meter: As you can see from the pic, requires supplemental toast. So, y’know, not great, but thanks to low calorie count of the soup itself, this is acceptable.

Make it yourself?: Clearly home-made soup would be better, but this stuff was quick and convenient and would outlive a nuclear winter, so hey, points for that. It’s a heck of a lot more substantial than your average “tin o tomato” soup, or even the Oxtail soup I used to love when I was a kid.

Verdict: 3/5 on the tinned soup scale. This is *not* comparable to the scale I use for my other soup reviews! Fresh soup clearly is in a totally different league, but I’d pick it out of a line up of tinned soups. Not for a crime, obviously, but… y’know what I mean.

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Public commitment – soup reviews. Today’s edition: Pret Italian Meatballs, revisited

I was in a session led by a workplace psychologist this morning and did a self-assessment on how ‘stressed’ I am in different aspects of my life. Thanks to my compulsive running I scored pretty well on the exercise front, but I’ve been eating chips and biscuits lately so, y’know, not so well on the healthy eating front. So, in front of all my colleagues, when asked what I was doing to do about it, I said I’d start doing soup reviews again. It means (obvs) switching to soups for lunch which was a core part of my diet regimen way back when.

11081136_10155359190275224_1636800473120125993_nSo you have that to look forward to! Today’s soup, bought as a late lunch after a morning of meetings, was Pret’s Italian Metball soup. I gave it a fairly paltry 2/5 when I first reviewed it five years ago (!!), but whether it’s age, or the recipe has changed, I actually quite enjoyed today’s. Compared to the ‘watery ragu’ I experienced in 2010, today’s soup felt richer and more flavoursome, and certainly more filling. Though the primary flavouring is salt, there’s a hint of sage and thyme (I think) in there and the meatballs are a bit more sturdy than they were then. At least a 3.5/5 by my ranking system of old.

Anyway, as it’s a ‘repeat’ I won’t do a full review, but you have my commitment: more will follow.

Tomorrow: I will eat a can of Heinz soup for lunch. Watch this space.

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Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, & an Audible trial

So, like every other Amazon user I’ve been bombarded with ads for Audible for a little while. They’re tedious and overwhelming and I’ve generally ignored them. But since I’ve started listening to audiobooks whilst I run (or at least, using eBook apps like Kindle to read to me), I finally had cause to consider it more seriously. The free month trial sucked me in and I kicked off with Tigerman, the latest book from Nick Harkaway – an author I’ve respected and admired since the Gone Away World blew my mind a few years back.

It was a wonderful experience.

OK, listening to the audiobook whilst running wasn’t quite as relaxing as nodding off to it as I did as a child, but at least I didn’t have to rewind the tapes the next day to find where I’d dropped off so I could pick up the story again. But it’s amazing how you can lose yourself in a story in a way I’ve not been able to with music (not when exercising, anyway) for years. The voice acting by Matt Bates (this guy, I think) added a dimension to the reading I didn’t quite remember from the audiobooks of my youth… an additional pleasure, perhaps one I can appreciate more having grown accustomed to text-to-speech engines reading stuff to me in a robotic monotone (although Microsoft’s Cortana TTS engine is substantially better than Apple’s iPhone one).

It’s reawakened a love of the audiobook and – having planned to cancel the Audible trial, and gotten as far as hitting ‘cancel / due to the cost’ – I’ve found myself being sucked in by a three month at half price offer. We’ll see if I stick with it beyond that, but Mike Carey’s ‘Girl with all the gifts’ is next on my list and – as an added incentive, to make use of my one credit (audiobook) per month, I need to run through it over the weekends. With a run time of 13 hours, that means at least 120km clocked up on the roads in September…!

Also inspired to find the kids some good audiobooks to listen to…!

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