Archives for August 2010

James Martin answers your questions

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James Martin James Martin | 16:50 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Thanks for all your questions on the Ask James thread on the Q&A messageboard this week. Check out my responses:

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I'll be doing this every week for this season of Saturday Kitchen, so please post your questions here.

And here are my versions of some of the recipes mentioned in the clip:

Fruit dripping cake

Homemade tomato ketchup

James Martin is the presenter of BBC One's Saturday Kitchen. Chefs Danny Millar and Daniel Galmiche joined him in the studio on Saturday 28 August.

How do I fit breadmaking into my busy schedule?

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Paul Hollywood Paul Hollywood | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 30 August 2010

Few people have the time to devote to making bread from scratch everyday, but I'm sure you'll agree that a fresh loaf of homemade bread made by your own hand takes some beating. So how can you make good-quality wholesome bread when you're pressed for time?

I would say that the minimum time required to make a decent loaf of bread is three hours in total, but in actual fact there is very little time of hard labour - just 12 minutes! It's a bit like making a casserole or stew, you can't get round the fact that there a number of different steps that need to be completed, but essentially you can slow down the breadmaking process so that you do a little bit of work, leave the dough overnight and then go back to it.

Using a breadmaker may speed up the process - you can use the breadmaker to knead your dough for example, and then remove it to cook in the oven. However, all you really need to prepare a loaf of bread is a large bowl and a pair of hands.

When it comes to cooking bread professionally, bakers will often use their own starter doughs - this is what I tend to do - but if you're short on time, use powdered instant yeast.

Instant yeast can also be called easy-blend or fast-action and can be bought in 7g sachets. This fast-working yeast is powdered and can be thrown straight into the flour.

If you want to slow down the breadmaking process to give you more time, try adding less yeast or putting the dough in the fridge. Mix the flour, salt, butter (or oil), cold water and just 5g of yeast together and place back in a bowl to leave in the fridge to rise overnight, ideally for about seven hours. In the morning, shape the dough into a ball and place on a lined baking tray to rise for the final time - this will take about 3-4 hours in total.

There's no need to make time in your busy schedule to eat this bread - it'll be gone in no time at all. For a full step-by-step traditional recipe try my homemade bread.

Do you have any suggestions about how you can make time to make bread? What are your top tips for homemade bread?

Breadmaking expert Paul Hollywood appears on BBC Two's Great British Bake Off, part of the Get Baking campaign. Get all the recipes from The Great British Bake Off.

What's the ultimate rum punch?

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Wayne Collins Wayne Collins | 14:34 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010

We're doing carnival cocktails to celebrate Notting Hill carnival on Something for the Weekend this week and I'll be making some rum cocktails. In the meantime, check out my ultimate rum punch formula:

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Get the full recipe here.

I'll be popping into the BBC Food Q&A blog from time to time with tips and techniques for making fabulous cocktails. In the meantime, have you made any rum cocktails that you'd like to share here? What carnival food and drink makes your party go with a swing?

Wayne Collins is Something for the Weekend's resident cocktail expert.

How do I make lovely jellies?

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Ramona Andrews Ramona Andrews | 17:30 UK time, Wednesday, 25 August 2010

This week's The Food Programme went wobbly about the wonderful world of jelly and celebrated its recent revival. Innovators like "jellymongers" Sam Bompas and Harry Parr have been showing off what a gelling agent, a computer-modelled mould and quite a few hours of setting time can create... slice of jellied St Paul's Cathedral anyone? Thanks to Greta Ilieva for the use of the image.


Jelly wasn't always about convenience foods in packets. In Victorian times jellies were an impressive centrepiece in all their slightly naff glory.  So now it's all about reclaiming the sophisticated side to jelly...

The student staple of super-strong vodka jelly in shot glasses is pretty grim, but go for barely boozy flavours and refined fruit suspended in jelly and you can't go wrong. Try Valentine Warner's seasonal sensation of sloe gin and blackberry jelly, Jamie Oliver's stunning summer fruit, elderflower and proscecco jelly, Bompas and Parr's Cognac and blackcurrant jelly or Antony Worrall Thompson's sparkling raspberry jelly.

sparklingjelly.jpgBe as inventive as you like with moulds - you can use ice cube trays, wine glasses and (clean!) buckets, or buy strange-shaped moulds online, like London Underground signs, rabbits or brains. Just stick to Bompas and Parr's simple sum of Liquid + Gelling Agent = Jelly.

Savoury jelly also has a history in British kitchens - and we're not just talking the edges of pork pies or 70s-style aspic-set fish, meat or poultry dishes. Take this rather retro jellied eggs recipe by Mark Hix.

The French traditionally enjoy jellied consommé, while the Japanese use konjak for sweet and savoury jellies. Speaking of veggie versions, if you don't want bones in your jelly, seaweed is the way to go: look out for agar-agar and carageenan. I've used agar-agar and found you can get a rather delicate effect if you're not too generous with the gelling agent.

Have you embraced the wobbly revival or have you always had a belly for jelly?

Ramona Andrews is the host of the BBC Food Q&A blog and messageboard.

Are E numbers really bad for you?

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Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 17:26 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

I may have just committed professional suicide, and I'd like to know if you think I'm right or wrong. You see, I've written and presented a new TV series all about E numbers, the 319 additives approved for use in the EU and probably the most controversial, hated and feared ingredients in our food. The series is called E Numbers: An Edible Adventure, and the reason I'm wondering if I'll have a career after it airs on BBC Two is doesn't take the view you'd expect a food writer to take on the subject.

In fact the series turned out to be, in many ways, a celebration of E numbers. Despite what you might think, when you research them in detail you find that most E numbers are good for you. There, I've said it. I'm sorry if this upsets or offends, and I know that it goes against the grain for a food writer to say something so counter-intuitive (heaven knows, I love artisan foods, conscientious producers and healthy meals cooked using fresh ingredients). But before you sharpen your knives and wield your tenderising mallet in my general direction, I'd like to give you a bit of detail.

Well, let's start with a short explanation of what E numbers are. E stands for Europe, and the E number code relates to a set of EU rules about which foods can contain them and how much you should be able to consume in a day. For instance E284 boric acid can only be used in caviar, and E252 potassium nitrate (used in bacon and salami) has an acceptable level of daily intake (ADI) of 0-3.7% mg/Kg body weight. Many E numbers are very familiar and important to good food and nutrition: for instance E300 is vitamin C, E101 is vitamin B2, E948 is oxygen and E160c is paprika.

The rules were developed to regulate additives (rather than encourage their use), so that dangerous substances like toxic lead tetroxide could be banned from use in children's sweets, for instance. In the past, food adulteration was a deadly problem.

But what about the bad E numbers? E621 monosodium glutamate is anecdotally blamed for an extraordinary range of symptoms, but in fact if you grate parmesan on your pasta you are likely to be adding more glutamate to your meal than you'd ever find in an MSG-laden ready meal. There's a group of food colours called the 'Southampton Six' that have a small but proven association with hyperactivity in children, and which you might want to avoid. Sulphur dioxide (E220) can exacerbate asthma, although without it wine usually tastes foul and in any case it's been used in pretty much every bottle of wine produced since Roman times.

But the leading causes of food allergies and intolerances are entirely natural: milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, fish, soya, celery... And of course every single food or drink on the planet, whether it contains E numbers or not, is toxic at some level - apples contain cyanide, people have died from water intoxication, cabbage contains goitrogens, potatoes contain toxic solanine and broccoli contains carcinogens. But, as with E numbers, the amounts of these toxic substances are minute, and the benefits of consuming these foods and drinks invariably far outweigh the risks. The difference with E numbers is that they have been extensively tested and analysed to ascertain safe levels.

The reality is that all foods are a combination of chemicals, whether added by man or not, and just because a food is organic doesn't necessarily make it better for you. The worst nutritional problems are caused by substances that come in purely organic form: salt, fat and sugar, none of which are E numbers.

The argument in favour of Es is that they make food healthier, safer, cheaper, better tasting and more attractive. Of course, many horrible and unhealthy foods also contain E numbers, but invariably it's not the Es that make them unhealthy - it's the salt, fat and sugar.

I think that we shouldn't be afraid of food: we should understand it. But I also know that there are many angles to this issue, not least that many believe the concept of cheap food is gruesome in itself. I'm not so sure - the people who spend most of their income on food are usually already nutritionally vulnerable: the poor, the sick and the old, who may well lack the knowledge or ability to cook fresh food. These are the people who are most dependent on cheap food - not the middle classes, who enjoy fine wines (with E220), fine hams (with E252) and caviar (with E284).

Do you have a different view of E numbers? Do you have an allergy or intolerance to either E numbers or natural foods? Let us know what do you think.

Stefan Gates is the presenter of E Numbers: An Edible Adventure. Read about the day he ate as many E numbers as possible.

How do I make the most of courgettes and marrows?

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Ramona Andrews Ramona Andrews | 16:13 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

There's no denying how delicious baby courgettes are and if you're growing your own it's a good idea to pick them nice and early. But life doesn't always go the way we want it to, and nor do our vegetable-picking habits - like this gardener from south Wales whose nearly record-breaking marrow broke his heart when it split. But where were we? Yes, if you're stuck with a glut of massive marrows this year or have been given a big 'un (or three), look no further for inspiration...

OK marrows are sometimes more water than flavour, but they can replace courgettes in many recipes. First up are those recipes that I think fit into the 'come again?' category, like this marrow cake and raisin-flecked courgette cake. Then there's the 'you what?' of courgette chocolate cake - apparently a good way to get kids to eat their greens (by way of lots of chocolate...hmmm...).

Marrow fritters are another great way to squash marrow into dishes. If that doesn't tempt you, there's always soup - chill it and serve with goats' milk yoghurt or try a heartier soup like this creamy marrow concoction. Delia suggests either baking or frying her courgette and potato cakes, while the NotDelia site recommends more things to do with courgettes - though not as silly as these five things to do with a marrow!

There was talk of marrow chutney on the messageboard this week. Ginger marrow jam is one way to go. Or what about courgette pickle?

Stuffing is another option - I've stuffed two marrows so far this summer. Hollow out the middle, bake the marrow halves for a bit, then stuff them. I used a homemade tomato sauce, sprinkled polenta and parmesan on top of mine and baked them some more - lovely. A spiced lamb or beef mince stuffing also does the trick - I like Nigel Slater's twist on this classic. Antony Worrall Thompson has two suggestions for stuffing marrow in one recipe. And I've just been salivating over this stunning-looking vegetarian Koussa mehshi (Lebanese stuffed marrow).

And if all that isn't enough to keep you entertained, perhaps Kenneth William's marrow song will do the trick!

Ramona Andrews is the host of the BBC Food Q&A blog and messageboard.

How do I make great cakes for a cake stall?

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Mary Berry Mary Berry | 13:50 UK time, Tuesday, 17 August 2010


fairy cakes


Raise money for charity with a cake sale and check out the BBC's Get Baking website for recipes and advice. If you want to sell cakes, it's important to make cakes that people recognise, want and enjoy. Don't make anything too obscure. Lemon drizzle cake, fruit cake, chocolate cake, coffee cake, scones, flapjacks, muffins, fruit scones and biscuits will all go down a treat. Present them well, carefully wrapped and beautifully displayed. Mark them clearly with the price and with what they are, and be sure to state if they contain nuts.

Cupcakes are always popular. Sell them in fours covered with cellophane - not cling film as this doesn't look as nice. You can buy a roll of it, or you can buy bags made with cellophane on one side and a white paper back from department stores and online suppliers. That way the cake is well displayed and people know which way up it goes while carrying it! Have a few carrier bags ready too.

Make shallow cakes as these are cheaper and take less time in the oven than those great, deep cakes that are often made at home to cut and come again. However, they need to look good. Remember things like fruit cakes take a while to cook so you can't do too many at once.

Tray bakes are a great idea for cake stalls - use either a tray bake tin or just a roasting tin. If you're baking in bulk, you'll find that they make good use of oven space. Cut the tray bake into squares. Put four on a paper plate and carefully wrap it - people like to buy cake slices in fours and sixes. You'll also make more money that way.

Fruit cakes and biscuits keep particularly well if you're baking in advance. You can make Victoria sandwiches and fruit cakes way in advance and freeze them. Indeed most cakes freeze well, though the icing can lose its bloom. I think it's a good idea to freeze a cake before you've iced it and then ice it when it's fully defrosted. You should always tell people if you've frozen a cake.

Fill Victoria sandwiches with just jam, or jam and buttercream for a sale, not cream. You should avoid cakes filled with cream, particularly on a hot day - though buttercream can be tricky in the sun too. Ice the cakes on the morning of the sale or the night before. Cakes filled with jam are best filled on the morning as the jam can seep into the cake.

Loaf-shaped cakes are useful. Bake a lemon drizzle or a mincemeat cake in a 1lb loaf tin; you can bake several in the oven at once and they sell well. They're also easy to slice and a nice shape to take home. You can buy reusable, non-stick silicone paper from specialist cake stores that are the right shape for a loaf tin; reusable discs for the bottom of a Victoria sandwich tin are also available. Simply wipe them clean and reuse them - the finished cakes will look much tidier.

Simple decorations such as a dusting of icing sugar or a sprinkle of caster sugar will lift a cake - avoid piping buttercream icing onto cakes as they'll only get damaged while you transport them. Decorate cupcakes with glacé icing (icing sugar mixed with water and/or lemon juice) or, if it's a cold day, use buttercream icing.

My ultimate tip is to go for scones. They're the cheapest thing you can make and they sell well.

Do you have any nice ideas for a bake sale? Share your cake-selling successes (and disasters) with us. How might you make your cakes look good enough to buy?

Download a Get Baking poster, bake sale poster and get Get Baking bunting for your cake-selling events.

Mary Berry was a judge on the Great British Bake Off series. She was also interviewed about judging The Great British Bake Off for the BBC TV blog. Get all the recipes from The Great British Bake Off.

Starting from scratch: how do you make pork scratchings at home?

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Charles Campion Charles Campion | 10:03 UK time, Monday, 16 August 2010

You could say that every bit of roast pork is only as good as its crackling, and there are certainly enough wives' tales about how to get the crackling really crisp, but the glory of a good pork scratching lies in its wickedness. Pork scratchings should be fatty, greasy, salty and satisfying. A taste bomb - that's why it's so at home in pubs that sell good beer.

The commercial scratching producers start with sheets of pigskin with the fat attached (they insist that the skin from the top of the leg is best); it should be 19mm thick. They chop it up and fry it. After a single frying the pork scratching is delicious and tooth-breakingly crisp, but for the "pork crackling" (a relative newcomer to the marketplace) the method is to fry it a second time which gives a lighter, crisper snack. Fry the rind for a third time and you end up with a puffy, porky mouthful that is very like the Spanish and Mexican versions known as chicharrones.

Here are a few guidelines for making scratchings at home:
  • Unless you're a fanatic, don't use a deep fat fryer. Your oven at its highest setting will do the job.
  • I prefer belly pork, only you can decide how much fat you leave under the skin. Ask your butcher for something suitable.
  • Be sure to cut the pieces into narrow strips - much easier on the teeth.
  • Both pork crackling and pork scratchings derive from very "dry" pigskin being subjected to an awesome blast of heat. My best tip for conventional, shrapnel-crisp roast pork crackling is to rub the skin over with white wine vinegar before roasting. In his excellent book Hix Oyster & Chop House, Mark Hix recommends cooking the pork in boiling water for 15 minutes before roasting. Chinese restaurants routinely pour a kettle of boiling water over pork before roasting it. All these techniques work, but in my opinion the vinegar trick works best of all.
  • Set your oven as high as it will go (warp factor 7?), rub the pork with vinegar, cut it into strips, then roast it on a rack in the hottest part of the oven. The rest is down to vigilance. You want pork scratchings, not a burnt offering.
  • When it has cooled down, add unhealthy amounts of salt - that's what makes this public bar delicacy so more-ish.
  • Use celery salt, old-fashioned but savoury and magnificent.
  • Accompany your scratchings with a pint of bitter beer.

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For a more step-by-step recipe for pork scratchings, check out this blog post on homemade pork scratchings. Have you made your own scratchings, or are you tempted after reading this blog post? Tell us all about it...

Charles Campion appears on this week's Food Programme indulging his love of pork scratchings.

Welcome to the BBC Food Q&A blog

Ramona Andrews Ramona Andrews | 08:41 UK time, Monday, 16 August 2010

Welcome to the sparkling new BBC Food Q&A blog. I'm your host and I'm looking forward to helping you find answers to your cookery conundrums. We've been running our messageboard for donkey's years now and love the discussion and debate around recipes, cooking methods, curious (and ordinary) ingredients and foodie finds. Now we're keen to get more chefs and presenters from BBC TV and radio programmes involved in what we do, while keeping up the lively discussion. Hence our brand new blog...

Right, so let's get down to the business of this Q&A and give you an A to the very first Q...

Ok, so what's the big idea?

We want this blog to work closely with the Food messageboard. From breadmaking, to slow cooker ideas, to kitchen gadgetry, cooking with children, sustainable food, regional cuisine, vegan cookery...the list goes on... you've been sharing advice and tips for ages... From now on, we'll be on the look-out for questions and topics that are popular/intriguing/downright baffling, then putting them to our chefs, journalists and presenters.

Saturday Kitchen's James Martin, Something for the Weekend's Simon Rimmer and The Food Programme's Sheila Dillon are decidedly in and will be responding to some of your queries (once they're back from holidays!). And if that's not enough for your delectation, there'll be video treats answering your culinary queries. We're hoping our faithful team of non-celebrity experts - many of you! - will continue to step in to offer your guidance.

Plus, each week one of the BBC Food team will do a round-up of notable websites and blogs around a theme. We're hoping you'll contribute by sharing what you've found and perhaps making suggestions on things you'd like us to cover. Leave a comment below with your ideas. If you have a cookery question that needs answering, get stuck into our messageboard.

Blog FAQs

24/08/10 - I've had quite a few questions about the new blog and messageboard, so have decided to put them all in one place...

Why have you started a blog?

We value the enthusiastic community of people who come online to offer advice and share food problems on our popular messageboard. We've decided to focus the combined blog and the new Q&A messageboard around what's most popular with our audience: the sharing of tips, knowledge and expertise.

The combined messageboard and blog gives you the chance to get to the heart of some of the food issues and cookery questions touched on in BBC programmes. We want to get you closer to chefs, presenters, food writers and food industry insiders and the issues that concern them.

What should I expect?

If you need a quick response to your question, we plan to post at least three times a week. Posts will include regular video blogs from chefs such as Simon Rimmer and James Martin and posts from the presenter of Radio 4's The Food Programme, Sheila Dillon. Other experts will also pop onto the blog from time to time to discuss the issues raised in their programmes.

How can I ask a question?

If you need a quick response to your question, get onto the messageboard to hear from other members of the community. The messageboard is also the place to go if you're planning ahead and need help and advice, or if you want to discuss an interesting food issue.

From time to time chefs, presenters and other food experts will host specific threads on the messageboard around a particular issue. We'll let you know in advance about their visit so that you can send in questions. We'd advise against you starting a new thread on the messageboard to ask a chef a question, as the messageboard moves so quickly that it's unlikely to be seen. We can't guarantee your question will be asked and answered, but we'll do our best. However please feel free to comment on any of the issues raised by our contributors on the blog.

Will the contributors answer my question if I comment on a blog post?

We'll be letting the contributors know if their post generates a lot of interest and we'll encourage them to respond to queries when they can, but we can't guarantee that they'll respond directly to your comment.

Why has my post been removed?

Contributions to our messageboard and blog are checked by a team of trained moderators to make it a safe and enjoyable place to be. Contributions need to meet the House Rules, the BBC's editorial guidelines and UK law. Moderators do not post to the messageboard. Find out more about how we check messages.

If you have any other questions about how the blog and messageboard will work, please comment on this post and we'll do our best to answer.

Ramona Andrews is the host of the BBC Food Q&A blog and messageboard.

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