Archives for January 2012

La belle France: Can we fall in love again?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 13:05 UK time, Tuesday, 31 January 2012

I’m sure I’m not alone in eagerly looking forward to Raymond Blanc’s new series The Very Hungry Frenchman. And goodness me, doesn’t French food needs a dose of his Gallic charm? As has been well-documented by books such as Michael Steinberger’s Au Revoir to All That: the Rise and Fall of French Cuisine French cooking is in crisis, something that deeply saddens me as a lifelong francophile.

Keith Floyd from TV programme,

Where did it go wrong? Keith Floyd promoting French cuisine in 1988.

Not so long ago you used to be able to turn up in any small town at lunchtime and find a family restaurant crammed with contented locals. Now you’re lucky to find a pizzeria. The most authentic meal I had last year in rural France was cooked by an expat Englishman.

In Provence a couple of years ago the chefs seemed more in thrall to molecular gastronomy than they were about the amazing produce on their doorstep. Teetering towers of ingredients, squiggles and foams, now abandoned as dated by most British chefs, still dominate the plates of posher provincial restaurants. In cheaper ones the desserts, once one of the great glories of French cuisine, are simply bought in.

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How to pair food and beer - part one

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Nigel Sadler | 09:25 UK time, Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Food and beer matching is relatively new to many people. Real ale sales are increasing in pubs against big commercial lagers, showing an appetite for more complex flavours, but restaurants are still less likely to stock or to recommend beers to accompany their food. As a Beer Sommelier, it’s one of my jobs to promote beer as a complement to food. You’ll be amazed at how often a beer works better than a wine with certain dishes.



But where to start? Over a few posts, I want to guide you through some of the basics, introduce you to a few beer styles and the foods to pair with them.  And if you really get the bug then there are many courses for both complete novice and the aspiring Beer Sommelier and everyone in-between.

Often regarded as the poor relation to wine, beer is actually a very complex drink involving up to 12 ingredients. The principle components are: malts (that’s the sweet, part-germinated barley grains) which give both colour and flavour; wonderfully aromatic hops, the herbs and spices if you like; and finally, yeast and water, which also contribute to the flavour. All of these add differing depths and dimensions to the flavour of beer.  There are now over 130 recognised beer styles today- plenty of room to create some interesting flavour pairings.

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Dumplings: little parcels of luck for Chinese New Year

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Charmaine Mok Charmaine Mok | 11:10 UK time, Wednesday, 18 January 2012

This month, the 23rd will be marking the arrival of Chinese New Year, not long after the gluttonous excesses of Christmas. But why stop the feast?

I, for one, will be putting any detox plans on hold. After all, the Spring Festival (as it is commonly known in China) is all about great food to ring in the new year. Auspicious dishes such as whole steamed fish are stalwarts in my family of Cantonese eaters, but we also adore the northern Chinese tradition of eating dumplings (called jiaozi in Mandarin) to ensure a plentiful and prosperous year ahead. In a time of austerity, I can’t think of anything better – or more economical – to eat and make than dumplings; not only do most recipes manage to feed the five thousand, their traditional shape akin to gold ingots is said to bring great fortune to the eater.

Pork potsticker dumplings 

The classic jiaozi recipe consists of a simple plain flour and hot water dough, rolled out and usually filled with a deliciously juicy minced pork and Chinese cabbage filling flavoured with soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, though prawns, chicken, beef or vegetarian versions (think firm tofu, shiitake mushrooms, glass noodles and water chestnuts) are all delicious variations.

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Marmalade: oranges are not the only fruit

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 11:30 UK time, Friday, 13 January 2012

It's that time of year when the world falls in love with marmalade. Pupils dilate with excitement when the word goes round that the Seville oranges are in the shops.  Jars are scavenged from the back of the fridge, washed free of mouldy pesto and soaked to remove the labels. The largest pot is hauled from the back of the cupboard and the house is filled with the citrus smell that I equate with perfect happiness.

Seville oranges

Taking the pith: Are Seville oranges necessary for marmalade? 

Or not. There has always been an underground scene of alternative marmalade: partly for novelty, partly because of the limited availability of Sevilles.  Quite often because the tongue-numbing tang of bitter orange marmalade is just too strong.

Of course, bitter orange was itself once an alternative marmalade – the spread was originally made in Portugal with quinces. The story is that a merchant’s wife, faced with a shipment of inedible bitter oranges, tried to make the best of things by dousing them in sugar and a long slow cooking. (What was that first breakfast like? Did they make endless rounds of toast, deliriously excited?)

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Chowder power

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Katharine Reeve Katharine Reeve | 09:25 UK time, Tuesday, 10 January 2012

For centuries people living along chilly northern coastlines of North America and Europe have relied on a tasty and nourishing way to combat the long winters: somewhere between a soup and a stew, thick and creamy chowder has always been a satisfying, flavourful, all-in-one comfort supper.

Smoked haddock chowder

Nigel Slater's smoked haddock chowder

The key ingredients: fish, cream, potatoes, form the basis of many variations on the chowder theme. What’s important is that it packs a punch in terms of flavour and sustenance. This can be a great budget choice using a smaller quantity and/or cheaper fish and more vegetables. Alternatively, you can luxe it up with shellfish and saffron. For me, the main thing is that it is infinitely adaptable, quick and easy to cook, and utterly delicious – not bad for an ancient recipe. Children seem to like it too, which is always a bonus for parents attempting to get their little darlings to eat something nutritious.

New England Clam Chowder combines tasty tiny clams with pieces of salt pork, potatoes, parsley and milk into a much-loved creamy-white, warming concoction. It is a big deal in the US, with cook-offs, jealously-guarded secret recipes, and debates over ingredients (some used lobster or tomatoes). It appears to have originated as a result of east-coast Native American Indians fondness for Atlantic clams – forage food easily dug up along the shoreline – and the arrival of European settlers with their iron cooking pots (the word ‘chowder’ derives from the Latin for cauldron). The recipe for fish chowder first appeared in the Boston Evening Post in 1751 with early versions specifying the layering of ingredients, including crackers. The first mention of clam chowder was in the bestselling American Frugal Housewife (1832) and by the mid-1800s, it was a firm favourite on the eastern seaboard. I have made it with canned clams and without the pork – not authentic, but still tasty.

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Cheap eats without austerity

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 14:32 UK time, Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Now that the splurge is over and the last Christmas chocolates have been scoffed, it’s time to redress the balance with dinners that minimise our debts and waistlines – just for a little while, mind – maybe until Pancake Day.

Setting a snug food budget shouldn’t mean we feel hard done by - I'm just not up for any toast sandwiches. There are a few favourite meals that use inexpensive ingredients and taste so good that no one thinks of them as austerity dinners. Some of the recipes below I avidly look forward to!

Of course, talking about how much food costs always brings us back to your supplier – from organic deli to cash-and-carry, there’s of course a wide margin. There’s also a slight stigma among foodies about buying cheap food – with producers often bearing the consequences of our more-for-less demands. But I suspect even the most earnest food campaigner’s got a few dishes that they resort to in the week before payday. There are classic ways to do this that everyone knows – I’m hoping you’ll share some of your favourites below.

Vegetarian chilli

Beans rather than beef in a chilli cuts costs down tremendously.

Let’s get it out of the way first- pulses. They really do fill a hole in your stomach without eating a hole in your wallet. Black beans, great for the slow cooker, fill flat breads or top rice and feel a teeny bit exotic – like you’ve brought them back from holiday. Dress them simply with plain yoghurt, shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Pinto beans have an equally creamy texture and make the classic refried beans for burritos. And no self-respecting chilli is complete without kidney beans. We have a motto in our house – though not yet stitched on a sampler - you can never cook too many beans. Leftovers go on jacket potatoes or in quesadillas, stuck together with a little grated cheese.

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