I love a curry and believe it should definitely be a weekly meal of every household. With so many varieties of curry to choose from, from a wealth of different countries and regions, it’s no wonder it is one of Britain’s favourite dishes. Besides, the legendary dish of chicken tikka masala was born in Glasgow. Don’t you just love a random food fact? The kind of fact that could win you a pub quiz, in a time when we are allowed to quiz in our local pubs once more. Imagine that.
An authentic curry can take hours of care and attention to bring wonderful spices and fragrants together. It is totally worth it when you have the time, but not always. Sometimes all you want is for the oven to do all the work for you and I am all for that! The most important thing? It has to taste like the real deal and fill you with all the goodness a freshly homemade meal does. I rarely purchase “ready meals” as they can sometimes contain additional ingredients or “man made” additives. It is also because I just really love getting in my green tiled kitchen to cook myself and can be very health conscious, but offer me a slab of cake and I am all yours! That was until local super cyclist, Nick, from Blights Motors Limited, reached out to me in late November regarding the UK based, award winning frozen ready meal company, Cook, they had recently started to stock in their Spar store and whether I would be interested in sampling and reviewing some of the wholesome products. The fact I am sat here now typing away gives a clue into how I responded to Nick’s outreach. He basically threw a slab of carrot cake at me (my favourite cake flavour, along with victoria sponge for future reference to everyone).
Childhood Memories of a Family Run Store
Blights Motors Limited and Spar is located on Clovelly Road, Bideford, a wonderful part of town where I spent my childhood, alongside my now beanpole of a younger brother. Many a Sunday were eagerly anticipated as the day we asked Mum and Dad for a pound to scurry off to purchase a packet of sweets each; always fruit gums for me and fruit pastilles for Adam (fruit gums are obviously the superior choice). Blights always delivered the sweet goods as it was located just around the corner from home. At one point, many years later, Adam worked in the Blights Spar store, a job he thoroughly enjoyed, probably because he gave as good a banter as he got from Store Manageress, Teresa, Nick’s mother.
Always a family affair since day dot in 1933, Blights have expanded their offerings to include a wealth of food and drink options within their Spar store. As well as being the only store locally and one of 90 stores nationally to stock Cook frozen ready meals in four, yes four, specially designed large freezers to keep the products as fresh and nutritious as the day they were made, they also offer shopping delivery. Not having to leave your house and your oven does all the hard cooking work for you? Sounds like a good business investment to me.
On a side note, you will be pleased to know that on the day I met Nick at the store, socially distanced and with masks on, of course (to quote Greg James), Teresa was still giving an outpouring of friendly banter to regular local customers and of course, Nick. What are mothers for!
Ready, Steady, (Oven) Cook!
If you didn’t read that in the voice of the legendary chef, Ainsley Harriott, then please open another internet tab for YouTube. You can thank me later. Like Ready, Steady, Cook! the choice of Cooks meals offered by Blights was vast, making for a difficult decision of what to shovel into my reusable shopping bag. With the help of Nick, who has indulged in many of the Cooks offerings, and why wouldn’t you (business perks), my favourite planet hugging shopping bag was filled with two Thai inspired curries, two Indian inspired curries and two sides of flavoured rice, ready to be stored in my very un-specialised home freezer.
Reading the Cook’s leaflet and viewing their website for some background information on what myself and my fiancé, Rob, would be tucking into over the coming weeks (I do share food, sometimes), it was obvious that Cook are all about utilising fresh and sustainable produce to create delicious and nutritious meals to fill our ever hungry appetites. From the vibrant smells during the cooking to the physical eating of the meals themselves, their philosophy came steaming through right onto our taste buds.
Thailand in no Time
It’s a Wednesday evening in early November during lockdown 2.0, so what better reason to have an evening off standing over the stove to indulge in a Thai inspired feast that was ready and raring to go in half an hour. Disclaimer: it is hard to make even the most delicious curry look pretty at home, in a bowl, when all you want to do is get stuck in before it starts to cool down. My photography on these particular oven meal evenings may not do the dishes a tonne of favours, but I hope what is coming next will make you want to scurry over to the popular local family store to pick up your own curries in a hurry, like a ten year old me and eight year old Adam excitedly grabbing our packet of sweets (a polite reminder that fruit gums are the superior sweet).
Peeling back the speared film protecting the mellow yellow tinged Thai curry, a plume of steam fragrant with the scents of lemongrass, lime leaf and coconut rose through the air before being whisked away by the extractor fan and my nose. Stirred and plated with my spoon and knife primed (yes, you did read spoon), the chunky pieces of sustainably sourced chicken were soft and moreish, swimming in the creamy coconut and nut based sauce. Unlike the traditional satay that uses peanuts, Cook’s embellished its paler, creamier cousin, the cashew nut. Genius. It provided a texture that was smooth, but still had texture from the inspired inclusion of cashew nuts that coated the back of my chosen spoon. Contrasting the velvety sauce and moist chicken pieces, gnawing down on easily disguised cashew nut pieces, and vibrant slices of green beans, added a welcomed crunch every so often, that also broke the silence between Rob and I. Silence is the sound of food enjoyment. Throw onto that spoonful a small hint of spice heat and fresh fragrance of the lemongrass and lime leaf, along with the savoury seasoning of fish sauce, it is a satay you could continually enjoy on any evening other than a Wednesday.
Being the food sharing person that I am (unless it is a takeaway where I turn into Smithy from that iconic Gavin and Stacey episode), Rob and I had half of each curry to make a full curry amount, that was my logic anyway. If I am honest, I wanted all of the chicken panang curry as it was totally delicious! Do not get me wrong, the satay was on point with all its tastes and textures, but the panang was bursting with sweetness and I am all for satisfying my carrot cake loving sweet tooth from any form of meal. Contrasting the satay with its golden colour, it was sweet with coconut cream, as well as coconut milk, along with even more sweetness courtesy of tomatoes. Cubed pieces of our favourite red friend added pops of extra sweetness in some lucky mouthfuls. Flecks of the crowding splitting herb, coriander, cut through the rich sweetness of the dish with a hit of freshness that only coriander can brilliantly provide, whether you like it or not. The only time I will ever willingly betray my tastebuds with coriander is if it is discretely added to a flavoursome curry, like this Cook kitchen classic.
Coconut and Lime Leaf Rice
No curry is complete without a side of rice, especially a flavoursome rice that can be heated in our other ‘let’s make cooking easy’ friend, the microwave. Plus, as the main oven meals are recommended to be rested for a couple minutes, it is perfect timing to pop the round rice containing receptacle into the oven’s little brother. I am a huge fan of microwavable rice for days when convenience outweighs effort and this Thai inspired grain would definitely feature in future Wednesday evening endeavours. Each grain of rice held its own, unlike some varieties where you definitely get a bit of hugging between grains, and held onto a texture like it had just been drained from a large pan of salted, simmering water. The flavours of coconut and lime were subtle, but bold enough to make a potentially very boring white grain into a side worthy of a fragrant feast.
India in the Oven
Making a detour from Thailand to India on the flight in my imagination, it was now the following Friday in lockdown 2.0 and nothing screams curry night like a Friday. Equipped with our additional freezer staples of onion bhajis and vegetable samosas to complete every curry evening in our house, expectations were high and, thankfully, not brought back down to earth.
Deep and rich in colour, this take on an Indian classic was thankfully less spicy than your average madras curry *wipes sweat from brow in relief*. Opening the oven door once more, the air was filled with the aroma of an Indian banquet my controversial spoon and knife duo was ready for. The intense, deep red colour of the sauce was filled with soft and sweet onions and tomatoes, spiked with the gentle heat of chilli and smokiness of cumin contained in the base of the madras. Thickened with ground almonds, the nutty addition added a comforting texture to the sauce and a welcoming earthy taste only almonds can bring to the plate. The star of the show, however, were the melting pieces of beef. Not normally a meat utilised within Indian cooking, this adaptation was a triumph as it the beef stood up to the bold flavours of the brilliant sauce on its hind legs. My choice of cutlery cemented the triumphant meat choice as you could literally cut it with a spoon. Soft to cut and soft on the palate, the sign of a well looked after piece of protein.
Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Curry
From the hearty and robust combination of madras and beef, comes the simplicity of pulses, vegetables and spices. I love vegetarian food and vegetables are the star of many, if not all, meals in my eyes along with a token side of veg always. Full to the brim with roasted peppers, onions and cauliflower, each vegetable in this plant friendly curry was soft, but still with a bite to keep our texture sensors happy. As with all Cook’s curries thus far, the sauce was thick with the powerhouse of lentils, with pops of nude chickpeas amongst the vibrant orange colour created by sweet tomatoes. The al dente chickpeas matched the earthy taste of spinach that mingled its way into each spoonful. Warm spices in the background of each mouthful rounded off a light, but super filling bowl of goodness.
Just call me Ainsley on this Friday November night as I ‘plated’ the golden side dish using a small bowl to create a mound of carbohydrate filled comfort in the middle of the two fantastic curries above *applause fades*. Strong with the undeniable flavour of cardamom and cloves, this pilau was the perfect accompaniment. Peas-a-plenty provided freshness and glorious colour that jumped out of the plate, dazzling the eyes. As with the Thai rice, there was no breaking of social distancing rules between grains, each keeping themselves to themselves.
Please Blights, I Want Some More
If it wasn’t for Nick sending a simple message about the offering his family business had for locals like me, I would probably have missed out on two lazier than normal curry evenings during my birthday month of November. I also wouldn’t have discovered the no-nonsense ready meal providers of Cook. This range of frozen ready meals are at the higher end of the cost scale, but they are totally worth that extra pound because even though you are not cooking it per se yourself, you know that the ingredients that have gone into making your meal are what you would choose yourself.
All in all, Blights will be making my next essential lockdown 3.0 food shop a little more expensive, but I am more than okay with that and so is my freezer.
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