Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

It’s Strawberry Season!

There is something extraordinarily British about strawberry season. I start remembering again that I’m quintessentially English when the PYO adverts begin arriving on the side of the countryside lanes and I am once more happy!
Actually, I happen to have a strawberry patch in my garden. The first year, we got two strawberries. I was delighted! Then they send out a few sneaky runners… This year, a few years down the line, and we have dozens upon hundreds, and that is no exaggeration. However, I have not been defeated – after all strawberry season doesn’t go on forever, just a tiny 6 weeks so I thought I best make the most of it. And with this I set about researching. Why, how much you can do with a few little strawberries (and actually by this point it was more a case of which recipes used up the greatest selection of strawberries!).

So firstly I made some Strawberry Jelly – No Hartleys involved, just a recipe provided by architect and fellow Wibble Wobble lover Bompas & Parr in a new Jelly Mould I acquired from leaving my last job (they knew me well). Following on from this, the leftover strawberry pulp I made into a delicious sorbet (by hand, whisking every few hours – now I know why they invented the ice cream machine…).

So what next? Aha! Cheesecake – I used a recipe from the second Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook which involved simmering the strawberries with lemon and sugar and stirring into the base cheesecake mixture and then baking. Before this I had never made a baked cheesecake, but success was given. The sister’s fiancée was most grateful and compliments were profound.

But alas, a few days later and two more colanders worth are picked again. Which calls for JAM. Wham Bam, off I toodled to Sainsbury’s to pick up some pectin sugar and I had a cauldron of bubbling, ‘I may go require A+E assistance soon’, Jam! Why does nobody ever tell you the dangers of cooking such things? Luckily, I survived, and the dreaded setting test gave me absolutely no indication of whether it actually would set. Fortunately, the fact it was sticking to every implement, cooker and worktop it had touched proved sufficient for a lovely soft set Jam. Lots of it. And I dont even like Jam – I do like Jammy Dodgers though so I guess that will be going on my project list.

Next, a refreshment. Good old fashioned lemonade. Loads of Lemons, a good slug of sugar syrup (make sure its cold!!) and water with strawberries pureed down to a pulp = strawberry lemonade. Tasty Tasty.

And lastly, meringue nests with a good whack of cream whipped to soft peaks (or a little more if you forget how strong your mixer is like me.) and a load of strawberries arranged in whatever manner your artistic side allows for. Actually these were going to be baskets until I’d already pipped the meringue out as a nest. Oops. Meringue is also useful in the strawberry cause in Eton Mess, Roulade, and sundae type devices. Just don’t leave them out overnight like I did, it doesn’t make for a good texture.

The rest of the strawberries (continually) I’m freezing. I know people say don’t but personally if you wash them after freezing so they have as little water on them as possible, they can be used in a huge variety of desserts – cheesecake, mousse, lemonade, stewed rhubarb and strawberry crumble. Basically anything which requires the strawberries to be pureed or cooked and they are still just as delicious. And after that you still have Jam – for biscuits, scones, toast and roulade!

This is where this post ends, however the strawberries are still flowering so it looks like I’ll be eating them in December too!

P.S. Next post I’m sticking to the rule ‘a cook never lets in on her cooking flaws’…..


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London is the biggest city in the UK. It also has the most restaurants, and the most people reviewing these restaurants. However, this is not alot of good to me having lived in (or very near) Birmingham for the best part of three years now. So I thought I would do something about this for others who are feeling the same way and write a blog review of my favourite eating spots in the city with the biggest canal network in the UK instead – see, London does not hold to power to everything!

Right, for the following restaurant I would like to make clear I am not vegetarian, nor am I thinking about become a vegan; I like cheese too much for that. However The Warehouse Cafe, located on Allison Street, round the back end of the Bullring, and above Friends of The Earth (As far as I am aware the two are not connected) really does do a splendidly all veggie fare for very reasonable prices . I had the pleasure to visit this runner up in Best Ethical Restaurant (Observer Food Magazine, March 2009) yesterday, which prompted this blog in the first place. If you did not know it was there, you probably would never come across it. The restaurant is rather simple in its dining surroundings (and you have to ring a doorbell to be let in by the chef as it is located in upstairs premises) but this is something I actually admire. No flounces, just honest, good quality, filling food. So filling I fact I couldn’t squeeze in a chocolate brownie and homemade raspberry ice-cream. Oh well, it makes for an excuse to go back. As If I need one…

Ok, Wagamama. I hear a groan. I know. It’s a chain. You have to sit with other people on the same table (gasp, whatever next) and it is probably not truly authentic Japanese Ramen but I have to say I like the Birmingham branch. Alot. In fact so much I am still trying to master the art of using chopsticks without flinging my noodles into the eye of the person unlucky enough to be shouldering me. Sadly, western me still finds a fork so much quicker when I am starving, as I usually find myself in here (at the beginning of the meal at least). The service is quick and reliable, the food is delicious (I don’t really need to go into detail, I guess it is pretty well known) and the portions are huge. It is a perfect combination in my eyes, and the reason why it has become so successful. Well done Alan Yau I say.

On the subject of starvation, Urban Pie is great for a student budget. This was pretty much my eating out place for my first year in Birmingham as after 5pm Monday-Friday they do a great ‘Bake Sale’ deal – which means all pies half price – working out at roughly £3/4 (with extras) for a very filling (and tasty) meal.  If parents come to visit, or you are looking to impress someone, it is worth checking out The Mash House in Brindley Place which has a larger selection of meals besides pie and mash. For anyone in the vicinity it may be of interest that Urban Pie also has a store located in Leicester. Yum.

Last, but definitely not least, if you have a car, or feel like you can last on a rumbling belly by trekking it out from the centre, I recommend visiting Great British Eatery (located on Broadway Plaza, kind of the other side of Ladywood Middleway) for some absolutely stunning Fish and Chips. Oh, just fish and chips? No, they are not JUST fish and chips. I guarantee they are the best.  Cooked in beef dripping they are not particularly healthy, but then when were chips ever?  However they certainly are crispy and delicious for it. Oh, and did I mention they have just been voted best Fish and Chip shop in England and third best in the UK. It’s a done deal.

I realise I have recommended alot of comfort food, but surely that’s just what is needed most of the time when you cannot be bothered to pick up a saucepan yourself. Try them out. Birmingham tastes good too.

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On a much less serious note than yesterday, It occurred to me that I had not yet blogged on the wonders of Bompas and Parr improving festival goers health – who on their word did indeed turn up at The Big Chill (Festival) a few weeks back in the form of a stripy black and white pyramid situated at the top of a very big hill…. and when I say very, I am not exaggerating. One needed to be determined that they were going to get one of their five a day by getting there in the first place, I can tell you.

The venture proved hugely popular with us festy people, as having not seen a carrot stick or broccoli floret for days (I speak only for myself, although I am pretty sure the problem was widespread) were more than willing to enter a world of breathable fruit. However the genius Jelly mongers were also was there to spread the word on the variety and benefits of Fairtrade fruit now available to buy in supermarkets.

On entrance of the pyramid, Bompas (or maybe it was Parr? I am not sure which is which to be quite truthful…) asked our group to name fruits which were now available under the Fairtrade mark –  I managed about eight which I thought pretty impressive considering the amount of apples in the form of cider consumed the previous night. For the record there are now actually nineteen Fairtrade fruits readily available on shelves near you, an inspiring result of Fairtrade promotion and consumer uptake regarding the mark. See, some British folk are good people with ethics too.

(Yep, that is me up there, I felt like a little kid sitting at the top of that slide)

We also got given a scratch and sniff card* when stepping off from the slide – possibly a reminder of what fruit is and which came in handy to wave in front of sufferers nostrils in any emergency scurvy scares for the remainder of the festival camping period…

Sadly, the fruit power is with us no more, but with us in spirit.

*A scratch and sniff talk was also provided by the pair as part of the festival line-up, but unluckily as I was working in another field at the time, I could not sneak off and attend. For more information on all things fruity breath, and for a video of the inside of breathing chamber (maybe I should not call it this, it sounds a little morbid), here you go instead.

Afternote: I read this after publishing this post about the event –

“The Ziggurat of Flavour draws inspiration from 18th Century Cuccagna monuments. These formed the centerpieces for the most spectacular public celebrations in history.  They were vast architectural structures made of food based on the peasant tale of the Land of Cockaigne; a mythical place with mountains of cheese, rainstorms of cake and where all wildlife was pre-cooked and waiting to be eaten.  ”

Wow, this place sounds like the stuff my dreams are made of. I can wish…

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Food Waste. It’s an interesting topic, and one that needs more awareness by not only those in the Food Industry but also by the general consumer in order to be dealt with more effectively. So of course I have been happy in seeing the topic being highlighted much more by the media in the last year or so. It is something which I would really like to get involved in supporting in my last year of uni with an organisation called FoodCycle, and in fact I am even considering writing my dissertation on the subject, but I’m sure I will blog on that should and when it happens in due course.

Which leads me onto the programme which was broadcast by BBC1 yesterday called “Great British Waste Food “modelled on the much loved (by myself at least) Great British Food series. However, I am writing this in a bit of a rant over certain gripes I found myself having whilst watching the programme, as informative and mostly well researched as it was.

Firstly, the programme was quick in labelling consumers as the biggest percentage that waste food. However in the same sentence also named farmers / processing plants and supermarkets as big wasters; yet it surprised me that it didn’t mention those who are much more in denial of their problem – food manufacturers – who from experience I would say are definitely at the top of Food Waste percentage chain overall (although of course some are now starting to try and do their bit – usually as a cost cutting exercise but hooray anyway). I am aware this was a programme aimed at consumers but I think a generalised thought (not fact) should not be reported as such on a programme highlighting the issue – however much consumers do of course need to do their bit and more awareness is needed that just because their fridge contents have gone past the best before, does not mean they must slam the bin lid down on it.

Secondly, why was the programme used to cater for a group of 50 or so food journalists and others from a elite type world who can buy as much food as they want whenever they want, when instead it could have been used to fed some of those in this country who are living on the poverty line, which would have further illustrated just how food waste could be turned into something hugely positive. I will applaud Fareshare on this instead then…

And lastly, the programme seemed to suggest that the produce that was rejected from the processing line deemed for supermarkets would instead be dumped or sent for animal feed because it was not perfect shape or was blemished – which I found hugely misleading as ultimately it is not true. I understand that it was highlighting how consumers contribute to food waste just by (apparently) demanding perfect looking fruit and veg to buy. However, such produce that does not make it to supermarket shelves would instead be graded as a lower class and would go to food manufacturers to use in products such as Jam or soup where the actual visual aspects are irrelevant. Animal food tends to be the very last resort.

As for the use of offal in dog food – well if it wasn’t made with these cuts, it would still be made with something animal related and there is not much left after the meat and offal has been used up for us. Would you rather offal on your plate and sirloin for the pedigree? Your choice.

Nevertheless, the huge amounts of waste are being highlighted, and important people are sitting up and taking notice. Maybe it is the start of a food revolution. I hope so at least. I will gladly support a change in attitudes surrounding our food we put on the table.

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I am a great fan of the whole ethical eating thing, don’t get me wrong, but as with many people find it hard to follow their diet plan, I find it hard to live up to my own food shopping expectations.

I really want that warm fuzzy feeling that we all know we get from buying products direct from the farmer, and seeing the grass from which our meat has fed. Its just, is it really viable? I for one do not have a car to get to many farm shops, nor the money to pay for the higher priced produce on a regular basis (however worthwhile it is). Seeing as the local butchers’ is shut after I finish work, my current lifestyle means that I am often left with no other option but to hope that the free range chicken is actually as such, and didn’t get muddled up with the battery farmed alternative which I am well aware are processed within the same factory walls.

However I would like to point out that fair-trade produce is something which I have grown to value. It supports farmers in developing communities and product lines are ever expanding – in recent years supermarkets have been good (whether to line their pockets or not is irrelevant) in increasing fourfold the fair trade products they stock. I just wonder, maybe such a scheme should be rolled out for farmers in the UK which isn’t solely on an organic basis.
Until the time when I am able to live with a limitless budget, I will continue to support fair-trade as a basis of my ethical eating ‘ethos’

Nevertheless I did make an amazing (other people’s words, not mine) free range victoria sponge* last week using a River Cottage recipe (I’m starting to love this man nearly as much as dear Nigel) – 7 eggs produced great results from the chickens in the back garden (they are still young and their eggs are a little tiny). Yum. I finish a year work placement next week – think it will be a lemon curd variety as my leaving cake to those who I have worked with 😉 I have to make sure I am missed eh?
*How to make friends…

Cake, how I love thee. Nearly as much as cheese. And Spag Bol (tsk tsk I am well aware no such thing actually exists in Italy but it is still top of my list).
I think I will sign off now before I start disintegrating this post into a meaningless ramble..…

(This isn’t my cake, mine was yummier…)

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Urban agriculture is on the rise – demand for allotments in London has become huge in recent years, but how about this; a new revolutionary way to feed the masses, but without the need for vast expanses of land?

Forum for the Future yesterday published a document proposing the notion of Vertical Farming – high standing buildings built in urban areas with limited plot space, filled with stack upon stack of food and energy crops, generated using hydroponic technology. On one hand it makes sense – food grown in such buildings could be deemed local to the community it is grown in, which of course means a reduced carbon footprint. The obvious advantage is the lack of space needed, and the hydroponic system’s water could be recycled to minimise waste. Proposed energy consumption would also be much lower due to the lack of traditional farming methods – i.e. no big tractors dependant on fossil fuels.

Artist impression: vertical farming

I particularly like the idea of farm ‘pods’ designed to sit on people’s rooftops to capture maximum sun rays – much like a rooftop greenhouse and I think this is a concept which could easily catch on were the funding from the government available. However, on a more commercial scale, I think a wide scale rollout operation may be risky. It is currently not a widely known system, and therefore if anything were to fail, our whole food system of this country may become extremely unstable with us falling back on imported goods to sustain the people.

Additionally, I would like to know exactly where and how these ‘nutrient rich solutions’ on which the plants would be feed are coming from – it is all well and good the building minimising waste but are these supplies upon which it relies also sustainable?

It sounds like something from science fiction and an exciting one at that, but is it a good idea the future for our food industry? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

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The combination of food and art used is a fascinating one. Perusing (Oh how I love that word) The Telegraph online the other day, I stumbled across this amazing artist named Carl Warner who is famous for creating Foodscapes, and his work really is incredible. Whole scenes with spectacular visual impact are created using layers upon layer of food phototography – “don’t play with your food” goes right out the window here, and so rightly it should. I was intrigued by the creativity and sheer quality of his pieces, and if I had the money (and a house) I would literally buy his entire print collection to decorate my walls. I can wish. I think I will have to console myself with his book when it is released in october instead.

Carl Warners Food Landscapes or Foodscapes

Carl Warners Food Landscapes or Foodscapes

Carl Warners Food Landscapes or Foodscapes

Foodscapes: Carl Warner (He can even make bacon look good!?!)

In more literal food terms, I also read recently about the launch of the man vs food programme, for which a giant picnic had been created by a 10 chefs over a period of a week. Although perhaps not something you would want on your walls, food used in advertising is commonplace; which as much as you may hate ads, are ia skilled art form in themselves. Take for example the 2007 Skoda advert – a whole car made entirely from cake components. How I would have liked to be there for the aftermass of that one.
Food and art go hand in hand. Chefs often claim artistic licenses over their plates but it is even more exciting to discover food used in much more obsure and interesting art forms.

Further Food Art viewing:

Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle (beautiful models involving food)

Prudence Emma Staite (created pieces for the Smartie Art exhibition to promote the return of the all natural blue smartie!)

Bompas and Parr (Wibble wobble wibble wobble jelly art on a plate… Exhibiting at The Big Chill festival next week – I will make sure to seek out their work whilst I am there)

Jason Mecier (Celebrity Portraits made from sweets and junk food – I wonder if they aprove of all this food in their faces…)

Cossimo Cavallaro (Excellent sculptures made from various food materials – chocolate,cheese, ham. You name it, he has probably created a sculture from it)

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