Thursday, 23 June 2016

How To Prepare & Cook Asparagus. PLUS recipes: Asparagus with Salmon, New Potatoes & Lemon Butter & Mushroom & Asparagus Pasta

One thing I know about asparagus which is interesting, if slightly gross, is that eating it can make some people's urine smell weird. The other thing I know is that some people are a bit unsure of how to prepare or cook it so I decided to share my top asparagus tips. (apologies for the terrible pun.)

Of course you can buy ready trimmed asparagus but it's so easy to trim yourself - you don't even need a knife!

You simply grasp each end of your asparagus stalk between forefinger and thumb and bend the stalk until it snaps. The asparagus will naturally snap at the point where the woodiness ends and the tender part begins.

how to prepare asparagus for cooking

So how do you cook it?

Well as a simple accompaniment to a meal I usually lay the asparagus into a microwaveable bowl, add about 1 tsp of water per 6 tips, cover and microwave for about 2 minutes. You can prepare in advance but if you do this immediately plunge the tips into cold water and refresh by pouring hot water from the kettle over when ready to serve. It's lovely cold though too!

You can steam them, boil them or pan fry them gently for a couple of minutes. You want to keep the crunchiness of them - soggy asparagus is not great.

It makes a great vegetable side dish, canap├ęs or accompaniment for a BBQ. It's readily available in most supermarkets (it's on offer in my local Tesco at the moment!) or you can even go and pick your own on some farms.

Asparagus is lovely wrapped in parma ham and fried gently and I like it on with a good steak with a naughty helping of salted butter.
steak, coleslaw and buttered asparagus

I recently ate it atop pasta with pan-fried mushrooms, diced garlic and finely diced red onion, half fat creme fraiche , salt and pepper. It was delicious (thanks Karen!)

mushroom pasta with asparagus

Earlier this week I incorporated asparagus into the menu for a dish I was cooking for friends I met at antenatal classes when I was having my first baby more than 22 years ago.

I poached fresh salmon, boiled new potatoes and blended fresh lemon juice, salt and lemon zest into butter. I put the butter onto greaseproof paper, twisted it to make a sort of sausage shape then put it into the fridge to harden to make it easier to slice into discs.

I microwaved the asparagus for 2 minutes then plated the cooked potatoes.  I gently crushed the potatoes using a chopping board. This creates a nice flat platform for placing fish or meat onto!

I topped the potatoes on each plate with a piece of poached salmon, then added a disc of lemon butter, then a slice of lemon. The asparagus can be served on top, or nestling next to this dish.

poached salmon with crushed new potatoes, asparagus and lemon butter

It made a lovely filling but light and healthy lunch then we completed our meal with lovely fresh strawberries, a lemon tart and fresh cream. It was a lovely meal (and a lovely afternoon!)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Beautiful Battersea -an iconic landmark revitalised.

Battersea Power Station is an iconic landmark - even growing up in the Midlands I recognised the huge building with four towers which is, incidentally, one of the largest brick buildings in the world.

The power station actually stopped producing electricity when I was a teen back in the '80's and is now Grade II listed.

As well as the impressive exterior the interior of the building features lavish Art Deco fittings and decor but was put on the Heritage At Risk Register by English Heritage as the years began to take their toll on the neglected landmark.

Thankfully the building and the area around it is getting a new lease of life thanks to developers who are creating a living community in Battersea, transforming the huge building by incorporating stylish apartments, shops and restaurants which are proving popular with young professionals and families.

Battersea Power Station redevelopment

 So why move to Battersea?

Apart from the growing influx of canny new residents hoping to grab a bargain while the area is still up and coming, many companies are opening offices there as work on the Northern Line extension to the London Underground progresses. The line is due to open in 2020 at which point I predict property prices will skyrocket!

Already residents enjoy fantastic leisure and arts facilities along with some amazing restaurants.

Battersea food/restaurants

Whether you fancy Cambodian, French, Thai or Korean, Battersea has it all plus posh fish and chips. Many of the venues are new branches of established restaurants who recognise that the discerning folk buying properties or staying in the hotels in Battersea want top quality nosh.

Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant in Royal Hospital Road.  Restaurant Gordon Ramsay has an Inspiration Table you can book for up to six people where you can experience the creativity of the chefs and learn about the science and art behind the food being created in front of you.

The area is getting a reputation for being attractive for creative types so there are some quirky restaurants and cafes, fascinating productions at Battersea Arts Centre and the world famous Affordable Arts Fair to look forward to.

The Affordable Arts Fair is held at the impressive Battersea's Evolution event venue and attracts thousands of people from all over the world attracted by the art, the easy approach to viewing and buying art and the prices!

The regeneration is also bringing thousands of new jobs to the area. The US embassy is relocating there and word is other embassies are set to follow.

Outdoor space is exceptional with the wonderful 200 acre Battersea Park on the doorstep offering rowing on the lake, a lakeside cafe, pagoda, children's zoo, sports facilities, changing exhibitions and some notable tree specimens.

Battersea Park Pagoda

You can watch the magnificent fountain display between 10am and 6pm every day between early March and late November and the crystal display on the hour every hour between 10am and 6pm during the same period.

Children will love the impressive playground and fitness lovers can make use of trim trails while walkers will enjoy the picturesque 1 kilometre long lakeside promenade.

All in all Battersea is a bit of a gem - a rough diamond being transformed into a proper jewel in London's crown.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Skylanders Superchargers- supercharged fun! Review of thePlayStation®4 version.

My children love gaming but we have never played any of the Skylanders games. I must admit I thought it was maybe a bit of a gimmick forcing parents to part with extra cash for the solid characters but after just a week reviewing the new Superchargers not only are the children hooked but I am too!
Skylanders figure

I had spotted Skylanders whilst queuing to pay for other games but didn't really understand how they worked or how they would add anything to gameplay.

I was eager to learn more at a Skylander's event we had been invited to but my youngest developed what I can only describe as an "arm of grimness" after a couple of spots on his arm got badly infected. We had to draw a line around the red area spreading up his arm and keep everything crossed for the antibiotics to work quickly. Our trip to London had to be cancelled.

We were all so disappointed but just a few days later a parcel arrived in the post containing a Skylander's starter set and some extra Skylanders figures for our PlayStation 4. I was really touched by such kindness from PR people who could have just been irritated by my late cancellation and crossed me off their list forever.

Skylanders Superchargers Starter Set for PS4

I still thought the toys you place on the beautifully named "Portal of Power" might be a bit gimmicky but  as soon as I saw them I fell in love with the vehicles and Skylanders (the characters come from Skylands) which you can team up to supercharge your game.

The children quickly set up the game and I was delighted to realise it's one the whole family can play from it's PEGI rating - suitable for age 7 upwards.

There are more than 40 Skylanders and vehicles to collect with the vehicles being divided into land, sea and sky types.

So what's the point of the game?

Well Skylands is apparently in peril. Kaos has unleashed his most evil weapon yet - the Doomstation of Ultimate Doomstruction. Yep. I know. Awesome name for a weapon!

A special team called the Superchargers has been assembled to pilot an unstoppable fleet of incredible vehicles to stop Kaos and save Skylands.

The great news for those of you who already own Skylanders is that all Skylanders Spyros Adventure, Skylanders Giants, Skylanders Swap Force, Skylanders Trap Team and Skylanders Superchargers toys work in the Skylanders Superchargers game.
Skylanders Superchargers Portal of Power

My youngest son (aged 7) likes to play with the characters and vehicles without the game being on. I do urge him to be gentle with them as I guess they aren't designed to be driven along the carpet.

The game can be played as a one or two player game and you can network play with up to four players if you have a Playstation Plus subscription.

The bonus of having the physical characters to buy is that they are perfect for gifts, especially for people like Grandparents who want something more interesting than a game case to wrap up for Christmas and birthdays.

Skylanders Superchargers
They are also very portable so they can take their favourite figures along to friends to play with. Characters can be locked to one player with the "ownership" button or left open for anyone in the household to play with.

My children have already made a wish-list of characters for all birthdays and Christmas's for the foreseeable future. Luckily they are not expensive- you can pick up single characters for around £5 so children can quickly save up pocket money to add to their collection.

And for those of you like me who worry about what their children are playing, the game is exciting and the Skylanders do have weapons but it's not gory or scary.

Skylanders Superchargers

The Superchargers starter set includes everything you need to start playing including the portal of power, three Skylanders figures, the game and a collection poster which shows which characters and vehicles to team up.

Skylanders Superchargers starter sets are available for Playstation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Wii and Wii U. There's even a Nintendo 3DS version. Shop around to find the best price- I had a quick look and found prices could vary by up to as much as £10 so worth the effort to search.

All in all I think it's one of the nicest games we have in our collection, mainly because it seems to suit all ages and my boys and girls like it equally making it a lovely game for siblings to play together.

Disclaimer: I was sent a Skylanders Superchargers starter pack free for the purpose of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.