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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

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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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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Food is Culture

I think about food a lot. But it occurred to me the other day – what is it that actually makes us like food for enjoyment and not just simply eat for the sake of filling ourselves with some kind of sustenance? I mean, I did not come from a background which entitled me to dinner in an exclusive establishment once a week with foams and terrines and yet, here I find myself, 21 years after birth, forging a career with food as the main backbone, as if eating it at least three times a day is not enough. Yes I like to eat it, but I think it is more than that. Food is interesting, and is an integral part of culture. For some parts of the world, food is what keeps a community spirit alive, and gives hope to those who have none. I realise that last sentence sounds a little philosophical, but in a more modern sense of rambling, I can see how food keeps people together, whether in the form of a family sit down meal in the evening, or on a lazy afternoon on the grass with a few friends and a picnic hamper.

So in regards this, it makes me wonder where society went wrong with good food with little money. My mum was (and is.) able to make a meal for very little money but with a punch load of taste and nutrition yet the media surrounding food of those on low income suggests the opposite is more common. But really can you blame them, when a frozen chicken Kiev and chips works out a lot cheaper than a salad and a few new potatoes? It is true that as a nation, we are lacking the apparent skills to cook as we did when we had less money in general, but maybe to blame lies somewhere in the food industry who make it so easy for us not to cook?

Saying this, there has been a recent resurgent in home cooking, and for that I applaud the industry with simple to prepare, not quite home cooking, not quite ready meal solutions to help those English folk on their way to enjoying food properly again. And maybe, just maybe, it will be a home baked cupcake next week smelling out the kitchen!

Lemon & poppyseed cupcakes

(That last sentence concerning the trend for baking cupcakes could create a whole blog rant of it’s own..)

“We are indeed much more then what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are” Adelle Davis (1904-1974)

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Last night, I was presented with a dilemma. Walking into the kitchen after work, there before me, happily sat on the cooker top was a Polenta Flan. Now, I have no problem in trying new things. In fact, as my wonderful Nan likes to exclaim at any family meal (and please excuse the language – it’s not mine…), ill “eat shit sugared given half a chance”. However, on the top of the flan sat a mixture of sundried tomatoes, caramelised onions and, gulp, wait for it… olives. Olives have never ever been my speciality. They are just so pickle-tastic, if that is a word (?) I could use for the occasion, and just simply unpleasant as I can recall from any of the vague memories I have of previous attempts at eating them. These, combined with the polenta, which until then I had never tried but for some reason imagined to be something of a semolina type thing (why? I have no idea…), did not give me hope for the looming dinner.

The flan lay in wait on my plate. I glared at those evil olives and hopes for the best. They gained entry to my fork, and then my mouth. Then, surprise. It was actually rather tasty. My sensory organs were in defence mode for this object of previous detest, but then suddenly a change of mood. Which got me thinking, how is it possible to hate something so strongly, and yet try it maybe a year, two years down the line and find it be not half as bad, if even good to eat. 

 I read somewhere that sensory taste buds are ever evolving in preference to different tastes we experience, and I now have firsthand knowledge of how right this is….

Last week I ate baked beans. I haven’t even attempted to eat baked beans since I was about six. Conclusion: not half bad, but sorry Heinz, no loyal customer here.

n.b. Gherkins still need to be banished from the planet, and I shall stick rigidly to this view. This vinegar infested slimy creature is a slow death to the once handsome cucumber. That is all I have to say on the matter.

(Maybe if gherkins looked like these Japanese origin cucumbers …)

Oh yes, and in other news, of actual substance. (Yes, substance, no heckling needed thank you!) …

Nestle are to jump on the Fairtrade bandwagon I hear? I say bandwagon as if it is a bad thing, but I simply mean it in terms of following other large manufacturers, namely Cadbury’s who have also adopted Fairtrade practises. In fact, I congratulate them on making such a move, despite likely criticism (not directly from me..) that it is probably for their own gains – i.e. to further enhance brand image after disasters such as the baby milk crisis in the 1970s. The first product to go Fairtrade is the Kit Kat, Britain’s most popular chocolate bar, which alone will help 6,000 Africans receive a much fairer price for their cocoa. It has been reported that this move by Cadbury’s and now Nestle will increase the Fairtrade share in the overall market from just 1% to a much more positive looking 10%. Claims are that the decreased margins will not be passed onto the consumer, and so, does it matter if Nestle actually truly do have good intentions or are just doing it for a boost in consumer loyalty. I don’t personally think so, or particularly care if I be brutally honest.

All I can say is; well done Nestle in finally taking a step in the right direction. Fairtrade should be the norm in the industry, not just a label to profit from.

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So, I enter the world of blogging. An actual blog, a blank space to write, a living piece of modern literature. Not living in terms of it has 100 scurrying legs like a centipede of course though. Considering I intend to write about my culinary delights, that may be a little off-putting to find a little centipede’s shoe in between these words of wisdom. Anyway, where was I. Already I find myself waffling (Bird’s Eye, naturally) about nothing in particular. Welcome to my brain.

Food. It’s a passion, a commitment, a chore, a dedication to eating. And that is most certainly what I do best. Of course with eating comes cooking. Baking, Stewing, Steaming, Boiling, Roasting. Mashing! Most of all I like to bake; yesterday evening, for example, I set about the task of creating some raspberry and orange fairy cakes. And most delicious they were (/are) too. I agree, not entirely the best use of seasonal produce, seeing as it’s now December and there is frost of the ground. It is the climate to which most raspberries would shout a big chilly no, pull on a big mound of dirt and bury themselves in it, lost forever. However, I could not resist the big bad wolf of a supermarket’s half priced Spanish red beauties yesterday and so off I out the store I marched, swinging a bag of summery(ish…) goodness homeward bound.  And I’m not short in admitting, it was a good choice. Soft buttery sponge embedded with plump, slightly crushed raspberries and once removed from the oven and left to cool just ever so slightly, drizzled with a orange juice and sugar mixture. As Mr Kipling would say (and I am in no way endorsing this Mr Manufacturer Kipling – bake your own!); Exceedingly Good Cakes. Although I say so myself.

…5 minutes later, chomping another little cake… gone… http://wwwbbcgoodfood..com/recipes/2210/warm-raspberry-cupcakes-with-orange-sugar-drizzle TASTY!  … I would add my own photo but well, they are rather diminishing in quantity, and I feel it would be rather pointless. Maybe next time, because there’s always a next time as far as cakes are concerned in my life.

Warm raspberry cupcakes with orange sugar drizzle

Photo courtesy of GoodFood, sorry folks, I cannot claim it to be my own…

In other news. Nigel Slater. I’m 20, and I am not at all ashamed to admit, were he available (yes, and I mean in every sense of the word) he could happily come and cook me dinner…and stay for afterwards. Ahem, move on quickly Alex. As it is, I contend happily with his cookbooks for company instead. Tonight, I half cooked (to be finished off in due course with a splash of cream in true Nig styley)  a Root Vegetable Korma in preparation for a feast of eating 5-a-day on a plate tomorrow. Now, I have never actually made a curry from scratch until today, but with a trusty hard book, about it did I set grinding spices; coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom pods, and mixing in a teaspoon or two of chilli flakes, turmeric and cinnamon powder (the cupboard essentials didn’t stretch as far as sticks, whatever!). The result was really worth skipping past the curry paste isle in favour of combining these brilliant flavours by hand. That is what makes cooking worthwhile, smelling every component before its hit the plate and seeing exactly how it’s made. Brilliant. Root vegetables chopped, combined with spices and simmered (Gordon Ramsay, anyone?!).

Dear Nigel, Feed Me.

Story To be continued. Tales to be followed, sometime, somewhere, someplace. Watch this, now less of a, blank place.

Goodnight!

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