Archives for October 2010

A very British Halloween

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Andrew Webb Andrew Webb | 10:05 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

Such is the current dominance of American-style Halloween festivities in Britain: it could almost be the result of a marketing pact sealed at midnight between America’s pumpkin, fancy dress and candy industries as a way to increase their global sales. Indeed in the USA today, Halloween is third only to New Year’s Eve and the Superbowl final as an occasion to eat, drink and be merry. But look a little deeper, beyond the pumpkin pie, jelly and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video, and you’ll find the much older traditions, customs and recipes native to the British Isles and Ireland. 

Pumpkin pie

 

For the Celts, just as for us now, late October saw the end of the harvest and the onset of winter. The festivities associated with this marked the passage of one year to the next. Sacred plants and foodstuffs like acorns, nuts and apples were not only eaten, but also used for divination and fortune telling. Most of these folk customs centered around determining potential spouses and remained in use in the more remote parts of Britain until the late eighteenth century. It was said that the peel of an apple thrown over your left shoulder, for example, would curve into the initial of the one you will marry. Or that a girl who cut an apple into nine slices and held each on the point of her knife before her mirror at midnight, might see the face of her future lover behind her, who would ask for the last slice. (You can see why the Church opted for an apple as the fruit that tempted Eve.)

Perhaps the ultimate food fortune teller however was the Irish bread called Barmbrack. This yeast-leavened bread was enriched with dried fruit, and when made at Halloween contained various symbolic additions. Find a ring in your slice, and you were to marry within the year; a dried pea meanwhile meant poverty and loss; while a bean or coin indicated good fortune. It’s still made today and commercial versions contain a plastic ring.

Beverages also got the apple treatment. Lamb’s wool is a drink made from the pulp of roasted apples mixed with milk and seasoned with spices. Many believe the name comes from its white frothy appearance, but it’s more likely to be a corruption of a Celtic phrase indicating the first day of November. This day was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits and seeds and was called La Mas Ubhal (pronounced 'lamasool'), that is 'the day of the apple fruit'. In English this was corrupted to lamb’s wool.  The drink - often made with ale or cider rather than milk - was also drunk over Christmas and into January in Britain. Indeed such was the glut of apples at this time of year they were also put to use in probably the only folk custom many of us still enact today, namely bobbing for apples. And so we don’t leave out the Welsh and their Halloween food habits, amongst other things they believed that a crust of dry bread eaten before going to bed on Halloween would lead to wishes being fulfilled.

Nowadays of course we use dating websites algorithms rather than apple peel or nuts to find future spouses, but if you’re going to have a party on Halloween, why not feature a few ancient customs and foods of our forefathers? With the right atmosphere, ancient druids, fruits, fairies and imps can be a lot more macabre than rubber-faced B-Movie monsters.

Toffee apples

 

What are the Halloween traditions in your house? And what will be cooking this Halloween?

Andrew Webb is a writer and food journalist.

How do I make my food photography look professional?

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Nicky Evans Nicky Evans | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010

From drooling over that oozing M&S chocolate pudding to regularly seeking gastronomic titillation on the internet, at some point we’ve all got hot under the collar about a delectable dish that’s been primped and preened for our pleasure. That’s why the pastime has the slightly unsavoury label of food porn.

Sticky toffee pudding by James Martin.

 

Despite what you might think, food can be quite the diva to photograph: it doesn’t strike a pose and it never smiles. Step forward food stylists: the people who work the magic behind the scenes on photoshoots.

Now, we’ve all heard rumours about the black arts of home economy: varnished tomatoes, mashed potato scooped into ice cream cones, and micro-waved sanitary products steaming from behind painted turkeys or popped into stone-cold pies. However, contrary to popular belief, good stylists now coax the best out of their subjects without resorting to subterfuge – which is heartening news for us amateurs. These days, the stylist’s wand is no more than a pair of tweezers, a spritz of water, a steady hand… and the nous that comes from experience.

So what can us mortals do to make our food photographs cut the mustard? I’ve directed many photoshoots for the site – a tough job, I know, but somebody has to do it – and have asked the experts for some tips.

First and foremost, all agree that buying the best digital camera you can afford is a worthwhile investment. But there’s no need for expensive lights, says food writer, stylist and blogger Jennifer Joyce – make the most of the sunniest room in your house and set up a temporary ‘studio’ there:

“As far as the set up goes, the best thing to do is to pick the best light in your house – a porch or back door where light floods in is perfect”, she says. “Get a table set up and use a tripod or lamp stand to put your camera on.

“Next, get some different coloured sheets of cardboard from stationery stores to use as backgrounds and use clamps from hardware stores to clip them to the table. You can also buy a reflector from photography specialists – it’s a simple screen that reflects whatever light you have back onto your food.”

Once you’re set up, visualise how you want your images to turn out.

“Think about what style you want the image to have – such as rustic, contemporary or minimal,” advises Joyce. “Think about whether to do an overhead shot or one at an angle. With an overhead shot you can get away with as little as possible props-wise.”

Baked Camembert by Richard Phillips.

 

Professional stylists hire their props – crockery, cutlery and linen – from specialist companies. However, there are always interesting pieces knocking around in charity shops and second-hand stores.

“Have fun with what you have in your house – chopping boards, tea towels, skewers and cups,” says Joyce. “For a rustic feel, try putting your dish on a wooden board and a very simple linen tea towel. For barbecued dishes or canapés you could present little skewers of food in glasses.”

Halloumi cheese

 

There are ways to lift an image without using more props. On a recent shoot for BBC Food, food writer and stylist Mari Williams used a stencil to add a cocoa snowflake to a picture of egg nog. “For a similar effect,” she said, “use the edge of a doily.”

Egg nog by Patrick Williams.

 

And what about the hero of the image – the food? Nine times out of ten your dish, however delicious, will need a little TLC in readiness for its close-up, and that’s where the food stylist shines. Joyce recommends using colours and textures to your advantage.

“If you’ve got a soup or curry the ingredients will look much better chopped up chunky and graphic,” she explains. “With a soup, chop everything up roughly and serve less liquid in the bowl than you normally would. That way, you see all the big stuff on the top.

“If you’re shooting something that doesn’t have bright colours of its own, like a brown stew, then you definitely need a bay leaf or some fresh herbs to make the image pop. For a curry you could use chopped spring onions, coriander or red chillies to bring it to life.”

Beef rendang by Merrilees Parker.

 

Williams agrees that judiciously placed greenery can do wonders for the finished image.

“You only need to add a few leaves and herbs to the plate,” she warns. “Less is more: if you pile a normal-sized portion of salad leaves next to the food, it will look much bigger on camera.”

Chef Peter Gordon, who writes and styles all of his cookery books, agrees:

“How the camera sees the food is a lot different to how your eye sees it. Sometimes you’ll have a beautiful fish like salmon with a lovely crispy skin, but it can look like a big mound on camera. In that case we might angle the food a bit differently or put fewer components on the plate. I roll my finger and thumb together to make a telescope and look at the shot through that.”

And have I picked up any tips from my time on photoshoots? While no expert, I’m always impressed by the way a little salt and pepper or a drizzle of olive oil can bring a shot together. I’ve also realised that it’s best to build up the components of an image gradually and keep it simple. But the most important rule? Never ever eat the food unless you’re sure that shot is a wrap…

Oatcakes before...

Oatcakes before...

...oatcakes after.

...oatcakes after.

Do you take photos of your dishes or do you salivate over other people’s? Share your favourite sites and your own tips for making food photos look fabulous.

Nicky Evans works on the BBC Food website.

Trick or treat: Extraordinary Halloween food for kids

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Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

Whether you see Halloween as an All Saints Day marketing spinoff or an insidious Celtic heresy, kids across the country generally couldn’t care less. For them it’s all about adult-sanctioned naughtiness and scoffing sweets at a perfect time to cause maximum orthodontic devastation. But hey, it’s tradition so wind yer neck in, grandad. Your job as an adult is merely to make it as spectacular as possible – at the very least, more spectacular than your immediate neighbours. The minimum requirement is to carve a jack-o-lantern out of an unsuspecting pumpkin (there are some great pumpkin templates here), but I think we can do better than that, so please send in your favourite ghoulish foods. Here are a few of mine.

Spooky glow-in-the-dark jellies

 

Glowing fluorescent jellies are brilliant. Make them with tonic water and place them on a UV light - the quinine that gives tonic water its pleasant bitterness lights up spookily. And for grown-ups, you can make them with gin too. Make up your jelly using leaf gelatine, using the instructions on the packet, but with about 25% higher concentration of gelatine than stated (to ensure it sets well). Use tonic as your liquid, add the juice of one lemon and 50g caster sugar per 500ml, and leave for 3-5 hours in a fridge. That way your jelly should still be fizzy, even though it’s set, and you should have bubbles ‘frozen’ in the middle.

For simple gruesome pleasure, you can buy a good (but sometimes pricey) range of edible insects from big department stores, and they are always fun to eat. Perhaps offer a dip into the pick-n-mix only after the kids have scoffed a fat-bottomed ant? But if you’re too squeamish for that, you can make food look like spiders, bleeding fingers, mummies or ghosts...

Chocolate cobweb cupcakes

 

You could serve a deep blood-red borscht or this simple (but quite similar) hot blood soup. Kids often find this pan-fried lambs testicles recipe from my CBBC Gastronuts series hilarious too. For adults, Bloody Mary soup is excellent – it’s basically just a huge Bloody Mary, but with more tomatoes and a bit less vodka. For simple, scary-looking food, you can make gruesome-looking gimlet eyeballs out of steamed Brussels sprouts rolled in beetroot red food colouring (add some concentrated blackcurrant juice for flavour and you may find your kids eating sprouts out of choice!). My kids love to eat delicious marinated grilled chicken heart kebabs (mainly because I present them as chicken nuggets!).

Food with a life of its own is fun too. Sprinkling popping candy crumbs onto their food (especially with thin slices of pineapple) is great fun, especially if you don’t tell the kids what you’re doing. There are lots of recipes around for ghoulish snacks. I also love to serve foods that scare the living daylights out of kids – nip down to your local Chinese shops for instant jellyfish salad, black fungus (great in salads), or seaweed for lots of squeals and giggles.

Of course, you can also take the whole gig a little more seriously too: after making a TV series about Feasts we now celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead (the day after Halloween) – it’s a great opportunity to talk about death and our lost family and friends in a relaxed, unthreatening way. It’s a very food-and-drink based affair, too, when you cook meals that your loved ones enjoyed when they were alive. It may sound odd, but it’s very therapeutic! Here are some classic Day of the Dead recipes.

What extraordinary foods do your kids love, or gave you a glorious fright when you were little? Because of course, no food scares you now you’re a grown-up, does it…? Sheep’s eyeball anyone?

Stefan Gates is a BBC presenter and food writer.

 

The global sandwich revolution

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Sheila Dillon Sheila Dillon | 14:50 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

We now spend three billion a year on sandwiches and sales are up six per cent this year. Not bad for an industry that’s only been going in its ready-made, packed-in-a-box format for just over 30 years. Our busy, 'grab it and run' meal culture has made the sandwich even more ubiquitous. It’s now something (and I find this hard to grasp) that we eat for breakfast and supper as well as lunch, but as Bee Wilson (author of Sandwich: A Global History) said on this week’s Food Programme, so many sandwiches are just plain boring. There’s a cornucopia of choice as you face the chill cabinet, but when you open up the cheese thingy on granary, the prawn thingy on white or the chicken thingy on wholewheat, all of them glooped-up with mayonnaise, so many taste depressingly similar.

Boy with sandwiches


However the sandwich world is changing. The cheap sandwich will probably always be with us on the high street, but now there’s a new wave of fresh, delicious, culturally rich sandwiches being made in the capital. This new wave is influencing the big manufacturers making sandwiches for the high street chains and the big retailers.

There are five big sandwich manufacturers in the UK. We went to Buckingham Foods in Milton Keynes, owned, in a sign of the times, by the private equity firm Adelei Foods Group, to find out how they turn out a million sandwiches a week for Sainsbury’s. It’s a science: the sandwiches are made from precisely engineered (not GM!) tomatoes with the minimum of moisture, lollo rosso bred to develop small circles of leaves so that there’s nothing to chop, and enzyme-enhanced bread to retain freshness for up to three days. But beyond the lab and the production line the company's scouts are always on the prowl for new taste sensations they can adapt for the mass market.

And we don’t have to look far for inspiration. In the programme, Daniel Young of food blog Young and Foodish visited Broadway Market in East London to sample what many people think is the best Vietnamese Bánh mì in the UK.  Bánh mì (pronounced Bang Mee) is a relic of the French occupation of Vietnam – traditional baguettes filled with slow-cooked pork, herbs and pâté that had Daniel and food writer Richard Johnson in taste heaven. It’s sold by two city workers Anh and Van who were finalists in last month’s British Street Food Awards.
 
Plus there’s Sam Singh (another City boy in search of a new life through sandwiches) in Soho making moolis - Indian street-food sarnies based on rotis, which are made fresh every day in their roti-maker. Long-cooked goat is the big seller. Just a couple of tube stops toward the City brought Daniel to the Moo Grill, which turns out authentic lomitos from Argentina: a rich but not overwhelming mix of steak, egg, lettuce, tomato and ham in a soft, grilled bun. If I were going to eat sandwiches three times a day that’s the way to go. 

What’s your idea of the perfect sandwich filling? Are you a traditionalist or are you starting a revolution in your own lunchbox?

Shelia Dillon is the presenter of Radio 4’s The Food Programme.

Mad Men food and drink

Will Dean Will Dean | 11:59 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

In the 1960s portrayed in BBC Four’s multi-award winning US drama Mad Men, the booze and grub is almost as important as the suits and smoking. As befits greedy men with expense accounts to burn, it’s rare that an episode doesn’t see some of the ad men drop into Manhattan’s power eateries like La Grenouille and Lutece to entertain a client or a mistress.

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in Mad Men

 

Food is an important part of creating the reality of the Mad Men world. Indeed, prop-master Ellen Freund hires a professional chef to get things right. It can make for light moments when the audience, with 21st century hindsight, can laugh at the fads: “They make you wear a bib!” says Roger Sterling with glee as he sends Don Draper off on a date to Jimmy’s La Grange for chicken Kiev.

Steaks and fatty foods from places like Jim Downey's Steak House are the main order of the day - even if it means multiple heart attacks for the likes of Roger. One of the first times we see him, he’s having a raw egg cracked over his steak tartare and a few episodes later he’s marvelling over his room service: "We've got oysters Rockefeller, beef Wellington, Napoleons... we leave this lunch alone it'll take over Europe." Main man Don, who grew up poor and eating horsemeat, isn’t such a glutton, in fact in the latest series it’s been noted that he hardly eats at all. The suspicion being that his stomach can’t handle it because of his drinking.

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in Mad Men

 

Booze in Mad Men is key to the characters’ lives - for better or, usually, for worse. When we first met Don he was drinking classic whiskey cocktail the Old-Fashioned in Harlem’s Lenox Lounge. It’s a favourite of his, but by the current season he’s necking back whiskey like apple juice and not always the good stuff either. When his English colleague Lane Price (Jared Harris) shared a bottle of vintage Scotch with him, he was amazed by the lack of bite.

Roger, meanwhile, is more of a Martini man. Indeed, when Don wanted to get revenge on Roger for making a move on his wife Betty, he tricked him into drinking far too many Martinis (with oysters, naturally) at lunch and made him climb the stairs to the top of their Madison Avenue office. Betty herself favours a glass or three of burgundy, especially for the days moping around the house, while the office drones are content with sipping beer and cocktails at swinging bars like PJ Clarke’s.

Probably the best way food was used to illustrate an understanding of the characters happened back in series two when Betty hosted a dinner party for some Heineken executives. Don used this as an opportunity to demonstrate the appeal of the beer for upmarket housewives. Betty made a fabulous gazpacho from Spain, hors d'oeuvre of rumaki "from Japan", a leg of lamb from Dutchess County with mint jelly and egg noodles the way Grandma Hofstadt made them in Germany; all served with a choice of burgundy and the Heineken that Don had strategically placed in their suburban grocery store. Betty helped to highlight a marketing opportunity without even realising it. For more about Mad Men home-cooking, take a peek at the mainly food-focussed Welcome to the Drapers blog.

Even with recipes that have stood the test of time like chicken Kiev and Martinis, Mad Men’s dietary habits still seem a world away. If you remember the 60s, was your diet anything like the spirits and mignonette sauce-drenched one of the Mad Men?

Will Dean writes an episode by episode Mad Men blog for the Guardian. He has also featured as a guest blogger on the BBC TV blog writing about why Mad Men needs no hard sell.

Apples - lost and found

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Simon Parkes Simon Parkes | 11:56 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

While making this week’s edition of The Food Programme, I found myself walking across a patch of land in Husthwaite, a village nestling on the southern slopes of the North Yorkshire Moors. The reason for the trudge was to look at an old, gnarled apple tree that had toppled over due to its weight and age. But, even with its roots exposed, each year it blossoms in the spring, then fruits in the autumn. And having looked at the tree, and its apples, no apple experts currently have any idea what variety it is.

Apples

 

Our great national apple varieties often started as random acts of nature.  Apples are either diploids - requiring fertilisation by pollen from two other apple trees - or triploids - requiring three - which means when you plant a pip, you're taking genetic pot luck. And that's a truly wonderful thing for lovers of apples as infinite varieties are possible. The towering Bramley Apple began life as a tree grown from pips in the Nottinghamshire town of Southwell, and many other well known apples started life as chance seedlings and benefited from a mixture of care, science and good luck: Granny Smith, Braeburn, even the Cox's Orange Pippin.

Husthwaite is now trying to revive its status as an orchard village, one of the few such villages in the north that grew specifically for the market. They've replanted a lot of land with fruit trees and now produce their own juice and cider. This is light years away from the commercial apple orchards of Kent, where serried rows of dwarf trees allow for high yields, uniformity and easy picking - perfect fruit for the supermarket shelf.

So, should we allow the sad specimen in Husthwaite to die anonymous? The villagers don't think so - grafts have been taken, and experts are working away at finding out once and for all if this is a newly discovered local variety that ought to be catalogued and its characteristics listed for posterity. Who knows what tomorrow's apple growers will need to cope with, and to date it's the chance seedlings that have had a better strike rate in making it big than the research stations. Maybe this broken down tree holds the genes to something we just might need in future? After all, it clearly knows a thing or two about disease resistance and climate change to have got this far.

As for apple-lovers in the Capital, inspired by the idea of flash mobs, we've now got flash harvests - the mobilising of groups of growers and pickers to improve London’s wastelands with orchards. Organised groups get together to harvest fruit trees on public ground and split the bounty. Get involved in time for apple day.

Apple crumble

 

Have you found any interesting varieties growing in surprising places? And what's cooking? Is a Bramley apple tart your windfall gain or do other varieties make you crumble?

Simon Parkes is presenter of Radio 4's The Food Programme this week.

What's in your shopping basket?

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Nicky Evans Nicky Evans | 13:32 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

It’s the law of supermarket shopping: prepare to be judged on anything you put in your basket. At the final reckoning (aka the checkout queue), you can be sure that your fellow man will give the constituent parts of your weekly shop the once-over and assess you accordingly ...no matter who you are.

There’s no need to feign ignorance about this: no one can resist a quick appraisal of another’s groceries, if only to while away the time in the queue. Whether it’s the bumper pack of nappies shunting along the conveyor next to a litre of vodka that raises eyebrows, or the numerous blocks of butter, two dozen eggs and litre of cream (that’ll be one of Nigella’s recipes then), at no other time are the components of an individual’s lifestyle laid bare in such an itemised manner for all to see.

If you’re anything as nosey as me, you play a mental game of Ready Steady Cook with the contents of other people’s baskets. Mince + tomatoes + spaghetti = student cooking for housemates. Scallops + Parma ham + white wine = someone’s got a date they want to impress. Four loaves of bread + four litres of milk + four boxes of cereal + four blocks of cheese (+ a box of Valium) = a house of hungry teenagers and a lot of packed lunches.

Perhaps because of where I live or the time of day I shop, I find that most people my age are buying the same sort of thing. Invariably, lurking somewhere in their basket, will be the usual suspects: egg noodles, pre-chopped vegetables and a jar of ready-made sauce. No need for Ainsley and co here. That basket tells me one of two things: either that person wants a night off cooking, or they’re on a health kick. Either way, they’re making a stir-fry.

Jo Pratt's Simple sweet and sour chicken

Not that there’s anything wrong with stir-fries. They’re quick, easy, healthy and tasty and you can fill them with your favourite foods – what’s not to like? It’s just that when you pull back and look at the bigger picture, and you contemplate the idea of most of the people in most of the supermarkets in most of the country buying the same packs of vegetables and noodles and sauce… well, it’s a waste of a good recipe database, isn’t it? Like the bootcut jean or the ‘Rachel’ hairdo, stir-fries became big in the 90s and never really went away. Nice as all of the above are, from time to time it pays to shake things up a bit.

It’s easy to give the quick-fix midday evening meal a makeover. If easy, healthy dishes are your thing, an Asian-inspired soup or steamed fish dish are good ways to go. If you’re a sucker for noodles, try making this noodle salad for a change. Or if you’re a fan of Far-Eastern cuisine, then recipes such as Asian lettuce wraps or vegetarian Malaysian-style noodles will endear you even more to the Orient. And even if you stick to stir-fries, you could have a go at a homemade sauce.

Do you like to have a butchers at people’s baskets? And what do you think they make of yours?

Nicky Evans works on the BBC Food website.

James Martin answers your questions with Jose Pizarro and Lawrence Keogh

James Martin James Martin | 14:47 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Jose Pizarro and Lawrence Keogh joined me last week to answer your questions on curd cheese, ostrich steaks and crumpets. I'll be back in the Saturday Kitchen studio after a brief break for the Commonwealth Games. Go to the BBC Food Q&A messageboard to ask me a question

 

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Here's a summary of the questions answered in the video clip:

dawn_in_qatar: How do you make sun-dried tomatoes at home?
James Martin: I presume she means how do you make them in the oven. You could do them outside in Qatar!
Lawrence Keogh: I would cut them in half, lay them seed-side up on a wire rack, add a touch of rock salt, pepper, thyme leaves and a thin slice of garlic and then leave them in a low oven.
James Martin: If you’ve got one of those warming ovens for plates, it’s ideal to do in there.
Lawrence Keogh: You could add a pinch of sugar if you want to get them slightly sweet, but if you’ve got a nice ripe tomato, you don’t really need the sugar.
James Martin: Often you get them sun-blushed like that - not completely dry as they still retain a bit of moisture.
Lawrence Keogh: And store them in some olive oil.

lizzyla: Can I substitute curd cheese with ricotta in a recipe? I can't get Yorkshire curd cheese in New Zealand.
Lawrence Keogh: Ricotta should be fine.
James Martin: But making a Yorkshire curd tart using ricotta is a bit… [shakes his head]
Lawrence Keogh: For a Yorkshire curd tart you’re supposed to use liquid rennet to set it, but ricotta would be fine. What you can do with ricotta is spread it on greaseproof paper and put it in a low oven. This helps it dry out a bit more to become more crumbly.

Micky Most: Whenever I cook a stew in my cast iron pot I get a slightly bitter aftertaste. When I do the same stew in my stainless steel pots it’s fine. Any ideas what causes this bitter taste?
James Martin: The problem with a cast iron pan is that it gets really hot and it retains the heat, so you can end up burning your food and tainting it. Personally I’d just use it as a flower pot then!

Stuart McKenzie: My local butcher is selling ostrich steak. Could you please tell me the best way to serve them?
James Martin: I’ve just been to South African recently and ate everything from ostrich to kudu to impala to this giant beaver-looking-rat-thing! I had giraffe… Do you get much use of ostrich steaks in Spain?
Jose Pizarro: Not at all! We just eat pork in Spain!
Lawrence Keogh: Ostrich steak is very much like venison. I’d treat it the same. It’s low in cholesterol too. Lightly grill it with rosemary and garlic...
James Martin: The secret is don’t over-cook it.
Jose Pizarro: I would do a marinade with some paprika, pimento and garlic. Pan-fry it and it’ll be lovely.
James Martin: Just don’t overcook it as it dries out!

Dream: Crumpets - I just can't do them. The mixture looks perfect, the outsides look great, but the insides are just a battery, yeasty, sticky mess, no matter how long they are left to cook.
Lawrence Keogh:
You’re probably cooking them too fast.
James Martin:
The idea is that it’s a wet batter and it should be bubbling. Cook it in a ring with a little bit of butter. Make sure it’s butter - you can use clarified butter, but it’s better off with plain butter. The secret is long, slow cooking. They do take about five minutes on each side, so it needs time to set in the ring. Cut around it with a little knife and turn it over. This stops the crumpet from falling over.
Lawrence Keogh:
Don’t wash the rings; just put them in a pot of oil.
James Martin:
I went to a factory where they make crumpets. They make 20 million crumpets a week. Not by hand of course. Quite fascinating really. Pointless information, but there you go!

James Martin is the presenter of BBC One's Saturday Kitchen. Chefs Jose Pizarro and Lawrence Keogh joined him in the studio on Saturday 2 October.

 

From plane awful to first class, is airline food changing?

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Sheila Dillon Sheila Dillon | 13:24 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

Airline food

 

I came to the subject of airline food with a lot of prejudices. These were undermined last month at the Fine Food Fair in Olympia when I tasted some seriously good ice cream from Beckleberry’s, a family-run company in Tyne and Wear. I was astounded to find out from the father and son duo that run the company that they were making ice cream for Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy passengers. 

Around the corner I met Keith Gill, a co-founder of the business that created Phileas Fogg crisps, a brand that helped start the posh crisp phenomenon. The business was sold for squillions (only to have the corporate buyers almost abandon the brand) and Keith and his partner Roger McKechnie set up the Tanfield Food Company. They make high-quality ready meals and soups that don’t need to be refrigerated (ambient foods), made from ingredients sourced from farmers in Northumbria. He too is making mile high food for the budget airlines.

Airline food is changing. No surprise given the recession, the losses that resulted from the volcano-induced shut down, widespread concerns about the environmental effects of flying, and the long backwash of effects from 9/11 that now make getting through an airport so unpleasant.  All those conditions demand cutbacks and food is always frontline there - but that’s not, on the whole, the way things are going at 30,000 feet.  Microwave panini a-go-go are just not going to take off.

  • There’s a small but growing wave of artisan producers being brought into the business. New technology is making supply chains to airline caterers much simpler and more flexible than in the past. 
  • Passengers are a lot more savvy about food and are demanding something decent to eat - even if they have to pay for it. 
  • New businesses are coming into airline catering, giving the long-established giants a run for their money. Earlier this year Northern Foods, with decades of experience producing high-quality ready meals, won BA’s short-haul contract. DHL has also got in on the business - though their cooking skills are perhaps not so well known. 
  • Easyjet and its clones have taught passengers that paying for food might be a better way to eat in the air if you’re travelling economy. Business and first class are a different proposition as airline catering specialist Ian Rutter told us on The Food Programme. Even the classy airlines are probably only spending a pound on the entire economy meal - that’s the same budget a prison caterer would get per prisoner. 
  • Waste has become a big issue in airline catering; better quality means less to chuck out. 

However the classiest meal I have ever had on an aeroplane was in the economy section of Air New Zealand in the 70s flying from Auckland to LA: one huge game pie was brought out on a trolley and each passenger was offered a slice. It was wonderful. Why can’t we have more of that? A great cheddar, some chutney and a tasty bread roll?  Cumbrian ham, mustard and bread…

Have you had a first class food experience lately or have you been served-up something plane awful in economy?

Sheila Dillon is the presenter of Radio 4’s The Food Programme.

Where do you get your ideas for recipes?

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Edd Kimber Edd Kimber | 16:21 UK time, Friday, 1 October 2010

Competing in The Great British Bake Off was the best experience I have ever had. If I think back a year, I would never have imagined where I'd be today. I wouldn't ever have considered applying for a TV show, never mind winning it!

Edd Kimber winning The Great British Bake Off

 

I was inspired to start baking mainly because of my mum. I had always baked with her as a child, especially at Christmas when I would help to make mince pies, and my passion grew out of that. I got more serious about baking as I left university and one of the books that I started out with was Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”, an excellent encyclopaedic book bursting with ideas. While I have many other baking books now, it is still the one I refer back to.

I found out about the first audition only a day before it happened, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time to come up with new ideas. I had been playing around with a recipe for Bakewell tart for a while and I thought making something traditional might be a good idea. I also made a mint and chocolate cake, which was similar to the one I ended up doing on the show. The idea for that was based on something I had made from one of my favourite recent baking books "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking". I decided to keep the flavour idea, but went with a mint Italian meringue frosting in the middle and a ganache coating on the outside.

During the filming of the programme I was working full-time, so my evenings - and some very late nights - were spent practicing and coming up with new ideas. This really was a challenge. I should probably apologise to my old boss because I spent a bit too much time at work thinking about new ideas and looking up recipes!

When I had my recipe idea, I tested it in the evening and, if there was something to change, that could result in a very late night. Sometimes there just wasn’t enough time for multiple testing. In the first week I wanted to make a good first impression, so I started with something a little different, a caramel and cinnamon cake. I love salted caramel and wanted to put this in the cake somehow. I had heard of cinnamon and dulce de leche cakes, so my cake was a play on that idea.

'Bread week' was more daunting. I’d actually had a nightmare about Paul criticising what I made, so I decided to play it a bit simpler that week. Adding seeds to a loaf was (in my head at least) the simplest way of adding flavour without making the recipe too complex. All I wanted to do was get through another week so that I could make something I was more comfortable with, and that strategy seemed to work well.

It was challenging getting inspired and coming up with ideas for each show. Sometimes I went for more traditional flavours, such as the curd tart or combinations like chocolate and mint. Other times I tried to be more creative. Whatever the recipe I always approached it in the same way. I thought it best to make something that I love because I think we bake best when we do it with love and passion. Whenever I was stuck for an idea I just thought "what would I want to eat?” and I think that worked well.

Not all of my ideas for the show worked out though. In episode two I made oatmeal and raisin cookies using milk powder and white chocolate to add a creaminess, and glucose to give a chewiness. I took them a step further by adding a dessert wine to soak the raisins, inspired by a trip to France where I had eaten raisins soaked in dessert wine and coated in chocolate. Paul wasn’t a fan. He said the flavour wasn't discernible and the recipe really didn’t need the wine. I guess sometimes it’s best to keep it simple.

I absolutely loved the whole competition process even though there were a few stressful moments! In the future I'll look abroad for ideas, as well as trying to be inspired by the people around me. If the show taught me one thing, it’s that the people around you can have great ideas too.

So over to you... How do you get your ideas for recipes, what inspired you to cook and have you ever had any completely off-the-wall recipes that somehow worked? (And go on, admit to those that didn’t.)

Edd Kimber was the winner of BBC Two series The Great British Bake Off.

Read judge Paul Hollywood’s tips about baking and Mary Berry’s advice on buying utensils for baking.

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