Archives for April 2012

Are we too keen on quick and easy?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 12:43 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The new crop of spring cookery books is out and as usual publishers seem to be convinced they’re onto a winner with titles featuring the words ‘quick’, ‘easy’ and ‘simple’. (‘Slimming World’s Extra Easy All-in-One’ must tick every box going.)

It’s the same with cookery mags and even estimable cookery sites such as this one have endless links for 'quick and easy' recipes of every type. The implication being that . . . well . .  cooking is really a terrible drag, to be got through, like housework, as quickly as possible.

OK, there are some people who loathe cooking and - to my eternal bewilderment - prefer swabbing their work surfaces, but what are the rest of us saving time for? Ironically, it seems, to watch cookery programmes like Masterchef or Come Dine with Me where contestants take a lot more time and trouble making a meal than the viewers are prepared to.

Baked pappardelle with porcini and pancetta

Simon Hopkinson's Baked pappardelle with pancetta and porcini defers gratification by all of forty minutes - too long to wait?

Maybe we’re just too ambitious: overawed by the clever creations we see on telly we just give up. When I was brought up, my mother - not a great cook, admittedly - had a limited repertoire. Monday and Tuesday used up leftovers from the roast. There would be macaroni cheese another night (my favourite), mince another. If it was Friday we knew it would be fish - grilled plaice usually. It wasn’t too demanding because they were all familiar friends.

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Peruvian cuisine is the next big thing - but what is it?

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Louisa Carter Louisa Carter | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

When you ask a Peruvian to define their cuisine, it's never a quick answer. It seems to take, on average, quite a few minutes to clarify the matter. They're a passionate nation and give the Italians a run for their money when it comes to time spent talking about, shopping for, or planning the next meal or snack.

I found this out the long way round, by going to Peru and asking. I admit that I arrived in Lima with little more than a vague knowledge of quinoa, ceviche and avocados, plus a few enthusiastic emails and 'must eat' lists from Peruvian and non-Peruvian friends-of-friends.

Black corn


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Crystal tops: spring flower cupcake toppers

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 10:23 UK time, Tuesday, 17 April 2012

This year’s warm weather has brought a bevy of beautiful blossom to our trees and hedgerows much earlier than usual. It’s a great opportunity use wild flowers to add a bright and breezy bit of colour to your baking that’s as springy as a frolicking lamb. Though it’s too early for the usual rose petals, don’t miss out on early spring beauties.

Crystallised flowers are a bit old-fashioned, but in a totally gorgeous way. And as the early blossoms don’t, for the most part, have as strong a scent or flavour as the later summer flowers, it’s all about the look. These are decorations you won’t find in your kitchen shop as they’re too delicate to transport. But make use of the flowers now, and they’ll keep in an airtight box for weeks.

Crystallised primrose cupcake toppers


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Let the GastrOlympics begin

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Matthew Fort Matthew Fort | 10:22 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

It's back again. The new series of Great British Menu is faster, bigger, higher, better, more brilliant than ever before.

The contestants' brief has been to take their lead from our Olympic athletes, and to push the bounds of gastronomy to the limits and beyond. This may seem stretching the Olympic ideal a bit, to take in cooking, but if you think about it, cooking is all about performance, about beating your personal best, driving up standards.

And that applies to us at home just as much as it does to the Great British Menu chefs, not to mention Britain’s Olympic heroes. Go on, be inspired, try a new recipe that you’ve never tried before, experiment with a new ingredient, get out of your culinary comfort zone, push through the kitchen pain barrier. Forget the bit about the pain barrier, but you know what I mean.

Alan Murchison uses his espuma gun.

Stand back. He's got an espuma gun.

It takes serious training to get to the top of the restaurant world. You can’t succeed at the highest level in the modern kitchen without being fiercely ambitious and rigorously disciplined. The only limits are those posed by the chefs’ own imaginations, creativity and technical skill. This year the chefs have been encouraged to bring the full battery of modern technical gadgetry to bear on their dishes, serious fancy gear - spherification, liquid gels, hot gels, thermomixes, liquid nitrogen, PacoJet, water baths, centrifuges, desiccators – as well as source some extraordinary ingredients - to produce their culinary marvels.

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How to pair food and beer - part four

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Nigel Sadler | 10:24 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Well, here we are at the final blog post in this short series, and where better to end up than at the end of the meal. Yes, it’s time to look at puddings and cheeses. Many of you will no doubt think, “Beer with puddings? Ridiculous!” But once again the versatility of beer shines through. With cheese in particular it certainly proves to be a more amiable companion than the traditional red wine accompaniment. Fruit beers, honey beers, heather beers and even stouts will all pair a wide range of desserts exceptionally well.

Let’s take a look at cheese first of all - a traditional farmhouse product with a whole range of flavours and textures.  Creamy, salty, nutty and earthy are just some of the characteristics of cheese but there are some easy guidelines to follow:

  • Pair delicate beers such as a heather ale with young, fresh cheeses.
  • Pair malty beers with nutty, aged cheeses.
  • Pair highly hopped, bitter beers such as IPAs with tart, sharp cheeses, especially mature cheddars.
  • Pair strong, sweet beers, a barley wine for instance, with blue cheeses.

Now let’s move on to consider some classic desserts. In general anything rich and creamy, like trifle, tiramisu, or even apple pie and cream, will go with a rich Baltic or milk stout, the rich sweetness and smooth texture of the beer complementing the dishes well. There are also strong chocolate notes in these beers and both stouts and porters work well with any chocolate flavoured pudding. Look out for chocolate porter, which has gained popularity in recent months.

Stout goes well with apple pie


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Are we just too blasé about eggs these days?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 17:01 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

I’ve just spent the last few days in Istria, the northern part of Croatia where they’re currently celebrating the wild asparagus season. It’s served every way imaginable but most popularly with scrambled eggs which form part of many local restaurants seasonal tasting menus.

You’d be lucky to find such a humble dish here. Apart from breakfast dishes and scotch eggs I rarely spot eggs on a menu - a far cry from their heyday in the fifties and sixties.

Whatever happened to hard-boiled eggs with a glistening dollop of rich golden, homemade mayonnaise or blanketed in a comforting cheesy sauce, the classic oeufs mornay? What about omelettes or, if you want to pull out the stops, soufflés? You’d think in these tough recessionary times restaurants would leap at the chance to cut their ingredient bills but it appears not. Are we just too blasé about eggs these days?


Tortilla, hollandaise sauce, bearnaise sauce and pavlova

How can you resist?

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