A couple of weeks ago, I was invited back to the iconic London cookery school, Leiths School of Food and Wine along with a group of fellow food bloggers, for an evening of cooking with ASDA’s Extra Special food range. The menu may have looked ambitious at first glance, but it was actually easy to prepare as well as being super-tasty. It has definitely given me lots of ideas for Easter. After a brief introduction to the exclusive Leiths ASDA partnership by Camilla Schneideman, the Managing Director of Leiths, we were quickly put to work to prepare our own Easter supper!
This was my first introduction to the range and so I was keen to get to work, as well as to have a good natter and enjoy an evening packed with Easter treats. We were split into teams of four and were each given an individual part of the menu to prepare. The menu showcased some of the best spring ingredients, such as Extra Special Samphire and asparagus with freshly made soda bread, Extra Special Lamb Racks with a mustard and breadcrumb crust, fresh strawberry tartlettes with Extra Special Channel Island double cream, as well as some really tasty Easter truffle cupcakes.
Leiths have been working very closely with ASDA since last autumn in order to taste and develop new lines for the Extra Special range. What I didn’t realise was quite how many products Leith’s were testing and approving – over 800! The partnership was created in able to tap into Leiths expertise and to make sure that the Extra Special range is focused on quality ingredients. This partnership reflects the fact that the Extra Special range is more than just a collection of higher-end supermarket products; the Leiths stamp of approval is not given out lightly and Leiths have set up a whole team to scrutinise every product in the range and develop recipes for ASDA.
All of the recipes we tried had been specially created by Leiths chefs. The range itself includes fresh meat, cheese (we also tried the Extra Special Somerset Vintage Cheddar), vegetables and fruit, as well as convenience products, such as the tartlet cases we tried, conserves, oils and ready meals.
I have to admit that the samphire was a new one for me to try. It is just about to come into season in the UK and you can usually find it at the fresh fish counter. I was warned it was salty, and because of what I thought it would taste like, was reluctant to try it. In fact, having been very lightly blanched with the fresh asparagus spears, I didn’t find it salty at all. It was quite crunchy and went really well with the asparagus, egg and Parmesan cheese. I would definitely try it again, perhaps with fish, such as poached salmon or again, with asparagus. I was so busy trimming my own racks of lamb and making the mustard, fresh herb and breadcrumb crust that I actually missed the soda bread being made by Penny, but it seemed very quick to pull together – just wholemeal flour, plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, butter and buttermilk, mixed together and shaped directly on the tray with no kneading at all required!
We were helped out a little bit with the preparation (and with the washing up!) by the lovely Leiths chefs, who helped us with timings as we were so busy chatting, and with the sides – crushed new potatoes with chives and broccoli and french beans with citrus butter. The rest, I’m quite pleased to say, was down to team work and I think we can all be quite proud of our efforts in pulling off three courses and an extra box of cupcakes to take home and nibble on. Of course, our meal was washed down with a glass or two of some of the wine’s in the Extra Special collection, selected by Asda’s wine selection manager and Master of Wine, Philippa Carr.
The fresh strawberry tartlets deserve a special mention, too. The tartlet cases were crispy and crumbly and would make a great store-cupboard emergency standby ingredient. Or, if you need to make a dessert in advance, you can also brush the cases with a little melted chocolate (to prevent them from going soggy) and then fill them with whipped cream and berries.
All in all, this was a great evening at Leiths and I really enjoyed trying the ASDA Extra Special range. You can find most of the Easter recipes we cooked on the ASDA website. Here’s the perfect spring/Easter menu for you to try at home –
Extra Special Easter Menu
Asparagus and Samphire with Parmesan Cheese and Soft Boiled Eggs (Easter Starters)
Roast Lamb with Vine Tomatoes, Broccoli and Beans with Citrus Butter, Crushed Potatoes with Chives (Easter Mains and Accompaniments)
All the Extra Special range recipes on the ASDA website have been created by Leiths chefs.
With thanks to Lucie and ASDA’s PR team for the invitation, Camilla and all her chefs and students at Leiths and to my fellow food bloggers Becky (English Mum), Michelle (Utterly Scrummy) and Penny (Penelope’s Pantry) for buddying up. Thank you to ASDA for providing a hamper to giveaway to one of my readers (winner: Deborah Davies) and for my Extra Special goodie bag to try some of the products at home. I received the products for free to sample and/or giveaway and was not paid to write this post or attend the cookery evening.
What treats have you got planned for Easter?