Tag Archives: shopping

The George Foreman Grill “Evolves”

This week a student became an internet sensation after being snapped using a George Foreman grill to make a bacon sandwich in the front row of a university lecture.

The last time I encountered a George Foreman I was also a student, which was more years ago than I care to admit. In those days, the student halls had a greasy, squalid kitchen shared by over twenty freshers who would rather spend their pennies on snakebite than washing up liquid. The communal “George” was the high point of the place; the only reliable appliance and the maker of many late night cheese toasties. Even the culinarily challenged (one guy genuinely used to eat dry Supanoodles straight out of the packet) could whip up something hot and nutritious on our trusty George.

Coincidentally, in the same week that the brazen student’s antics went viral, the nice people at George Foreman invited a group of bloggers to try out the latest model.

Like those early Noughties students, the George Foreman has grown up; the new “Evolve” model is described as “the next generation”. New features such as a deep bake pan mean you can easily create so much more than the toasties, paninis and grilled meats associated with the earlier versions. It’s now possible to cook small stews, casseroles and even pizzas using the grill.

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The main draw of the original models was the angle of the grill which meant excess fat drained away. The Evolve still has this feature, but as people are gradually coming around to the idea that fat isn’t something to be afraid of, this model lets you adjust the angle as you wish.

Another snazzy new addition is the sear function, which gives a blast of intense heat before returning to normal cooking temperature.

To put all of these features through their paces, we prepared a menu of seared tuna with salad, a beetroot and broccoli pizza, finishing with grilled plums on rosemary skewers with a hot buttery citrus sauce.

Some of the dishes were more successful than others – all of our tuna steaks ended up overcooked despite following the instructions to the letter. The sear function did not seem to deliver on its promises. The pizza was decent but the base was so crisp it was difficult to cut through – a far cry from the pillowy soft Napoli style pizzas. The best dish was the grilled fruit dessert recipe which didn’t require such precision timing and temperature control.

The George Foreman Evolve grill certainly looks impressively shiny and is easy to use; the dual LED display has a digital timer and variable temperature. The ceramic coated grill plates are simple to remove and clean (even for lazy students) and are dishwasher safe which is a bonus.

Although the appliance is touted as space-saving as it combines several features in one, it is a fairly bulky bit of kit to keep on your kitchen counter, particularly if you already have a hob and oven/grill. It’s not for everyone; I struggled to think when I would prefer to plug in the George instead of using a normal pan or oven dish. Even our famous student would have struggled to set this up in class.

However, the George Foreman Evolve is great solution in many situations; it would be fantastic in a setting with limited cooking facilities such as an office, student accommodation or for taking on self-catered holidays. And let’s not forget those hangover saving cheese toasties. I may not keep one on my kitchen counter 24/7, but I dare say I’ll dig out the George Foreman Evolve next time I feel nostalgic for my student days.

George Foreman Evolve grills are available from Argos, £149.99. Find out more at georgeforeman.co.uk.

I was invited to review the George Foreman Evolve as a guest and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris.

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Ecuador: home of “Panama” hats

We couldn’t help but feel a little blue after leaving the glorious Galápagos Islands. A spot of retail therapy was just the thing to raise our spirits.

Luckily, our next stop was Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city and a place famous for its Panama hats.

Pardon my ignorance, but I had always thought it safe to assume that Panama hats came from Panama.

How wrong I was: the classic white, black banded, wide brimmed headgear favoured by everyone from Roosevelt to Clarke Gable to Keira Knightley originates from Ecuador.

The confusion came when the hats were exported from Ecuador to other countries via Panama, so people incorrectly assumed they were also made in Panama. This misconception was encouraged when workers on the Panama Canal were issued with the practical sun hat.

In Ecuador this style of hat is known as “sombrero de paja toquilla“. Paja toquilla is the palm-like plant which produces the natural fibres used to make the hats. Ecuador’s coastal region has perfect conditions for these plants to grow.

We visited a renowned hat shop, Barranco, in the river bank neighbourhood of Cuenca. This place has been making and exporting hats for generations; they even supply Christy’s in Kensington.

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Attached to the workshop is a small museum with antique hat making tools.

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Amusingly, Mark has a tiny pin head while I’ve got a massive loaf, two sizes bigger than his. But then I have more brains to carry around, haha…

My brother had especially requested I get him a Panama hat while I was in South America (he’s a stylish fellow who knows one gets Panama hats from Ecuador).

They didn’t have a classic fine weave in his size in stock (like me, his head size is bigger than average). But the lovely Barranco staff insisted it would be no problem to make us the hat we desired that very afternoon. Even better, we were welcome to stick around and see how it was done.

The quality of the weave used is important. Not only does a finer weave have a more attractive finish, it is less likely to become misshapen or develop small holes.

Also, a finer weave is softer and more flexible, meaning you can roll it up in a slim box like below without worrying that it will lose its shape: ideal for travelling.

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Obviously a finer weave costs more to account for the extra labour (working this precisely requires extra skill and time) but you get what you pay for.

The cheapest hats are around $10-25 but they feel cheap, stiff and plasticky. When you spend upwards of $80 you get a weave that is guaranteed to last and can be rolled.

A cheaper weave on the left, a finer quality on the right:

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Super fine weaves are $150 – 200 (this is what we went for; my brother would expect nothing less and anyway, this is still around half what you would spend in the UK for the same quality).

However the finest, most expensive quality costs around $1,000 for the finished hat. I asked to see one and was flabbergasted – the fibres looked like they had been woven by microscopic elves:

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It takes five months for a mere mortal to make a hat of this quality, which explains and justifies the price tag.

The “raw” hats are woven by ladies on Ecuador’s coast, who learn the skill from as young as 8 years old. Barranco and other reputable hat makers buy directly from the weavers to ensure they get a fair price for their labour.

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Once in the workshop, the hats need to be trimmed, pressed into shape and finished.

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My brother’s hat was pressed five times in total, with water and natural glues used to coax the hat into the best shape during this process.

The brim was measured and traced before the excess was carefully trimmed away and the edges stitched.

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Finishing touches – internal and external bands, and the made to measure hats are ready to be worn.

Mark got one made for himself at the same time – he chose a natural finish with a brown band while I picked a bleached white hat and black band for my brother (it’s a fraction too big for me but I’m modelling the best I can!)

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What do you think?