Archives for June 2012

Tour de France: a mountain of calories

Suzy Mckeever Suzy Mckeever | 14:11 UK time, Friday, 29 June 2012

It’s the Tour! On Saturday the world will watch as teams of wiry men start three weeks of cycling at ridiculous speeds over ridiculous numbers of kilometres, up ridiculously high mountains. One thought springs to mind here at BBC Food – what do they eat?

Team Sky cyclists snacking during training

Team Sky cyclists snacking during training. Image: Team Sky

Tour cyclists need at least 6000 calories a day, three times as much as a normal person, and getting that much food is difficult. Either they don’t feel like eating after such massive exertions, or they get bored of eating so much (remember Eddie Izzard struggling to eat massive quantities of potatoes during his multi-marathon epic run).

Søren Kristiansen is chef for Team Sky throughout the Tour, and he’s determined to make sure the riders “are still smiling when they are having healthy food.” He’s influenced by classic Nordic food, “I like to work with vegetables that are not hard for the body to digest, but... that are working slow in the body and a lot of raw food.” Beetroots are a favourite, and crop up in fresh beetroot, carrot and cucumber juice. Pumpkin risotto, barley and quinoa also feature frequently. He makes “old-fashioned foods made in a new way.”


Dishes made by Soren Kristiansen for Team Sky

Søren Kristiansen's dishes for the Team Sky Tour de France riders

Søren works closely with Team Sky’s nutritionist, Nigel Mitchell, his ‘chief’. The team’s food is planned not only nutritionally, but to match each Tour stage. “On the hard mountain days we don’t make porridge [for breakfast] because it’s too heavy on the stomach. We have some flat stages in the first week. I have more chance of giving [the riders] red meat. In the second and third week we go into the mountains.” Then he’ll cook more chicken and turkey as it’s easier to digest.  There is always a lot of fish on the menu. He does concede though that “once in a while they will have some, how shall I say - unhealthy dessert – with some heavy chocolate.”


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No-diet diets

Suzy Mckeever Suzy Mckeever | 11:56 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Who’s feeling like they need to lose maybe half a stone? Me. And probably you too. On TV this week we have The Men Who Made Us Fat, reminding us (thanks) that we are larger than we used to be. Yesterday we were informed that ‘More than half of British women's waists are 'too big'’, by Nuffield Health, the health charity.

We all know that we have weight issues, and as a foodie this poses something of a quandary. What we eat is healthy right? All this cooking from scratch (most of the time) is good for us, right? Right. But the issues being raised now go beyond us as individuals and our dinner plates, and remind us that there are greater forces at work, that affect our choices and best intentions.

Bombarded by confectionery?

Think of your daily commute. Go through any train station at home time and survey the snack options: chocolate and crisps from vending machines is the majority of the choice. Stop in at the petrol station kiosk – a wall of confectionery will greet you amongst the petrol fumes.  No wonder cyclists are fit, bike routes don’t have kerb side confectionery outlets – yet.

Being bombarded with high-sugar, high-fat foods is a fact of our lives, and god knows we all like a chocolate bar once in a while. But what to do when it begins to creep up on you? Well, no-diet diets are quietly taking hold. The concept was captured in the 2005 book of the same name, and has been broadly influential. The idea is not about following a prescriptive food plan, but rather gradually altering your habits to help out your waistline.

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Syllabub: The first Frappuccino?

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 13:31 UK time, Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On Friday kids from Cape Corwall school presented their Diamond Jubilee dishes to the Queen the royal nibbles.  On the menu are traditional kids’ favourites like mini-quiches and fish and chips. But one dish that stood out was the King Charles II syllabub from the Cape Cornwall school. They chose this dish for its royal connections, saying King Charles was so fond of it that he used to keep cows in nearby St James Park.


A classic trifle complete with modern syllabub topping.

Today’s syllabub is a very easy affair, combining whipped cream with fruit juice, sugar and wine or spirits. But the texture of a traditional syllabub is very different. Served in a double handled glass, the syllabub King Charles would have supped consists of a bubbly, frothy head of milk and cream atop a clear, boozy syrup flavoured with lemon peel, mace or rosemary. Milky, sweet and frothy, was this the seventeenth century equivalent of a Frappuccino?

Presumably Cape Cornwall school did not make their syllabub "under the cow" as described in Sir Kenelm Digby’s The Closet Opened, 1669: "Take a pint of verjuice (crab apple or unripe grape juice) in a bowl, milk the cow to the verjuice..." Yes, milk the cow straight into a bucket of juice. Then drink it. (Not one to shy from extremes, this is the same cook who advocates whipping cream for an hour and a half.)

Why under the cow? The risk of cow-induced spillage and the potential for cow hairs (or worse) in your drink is bad enough. But milking the cow directly into the acidic liquid has a strange effect – the warm milk immediately curdles into think stringy clumps.

Food Historian (and syllabub obsessive) Ivan Day has tried it several times – demonstrating it for Heston Blummenthal in the 2006 series, In Search of Perfection.

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Can the Food and Farming Awards change the way we cook?

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 14:33 UK time, Wednesday, 13 June 2012

This week nominations open for the Food and Farming Awards. It’s the 13th year that the awards have been going and they already feel like an institution. Each year the programme tells amazing stories of food producers and advocates. I always find myself welling up when I listen to the awards. I’m not ashamed.

There are a lot of food awards about: taste medals, ethical awards, writing awards. But the Food and Farming awards are important in improving our food culture at its roots – where and how ordinary people shop and eat. “They’re one of the most credible awards, because it’s from the listeners,” says judge and Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett. “This is not a niche exercise for people who just call themselves foodies.” 

Last year’s winner of the Best Local Food Retailer award, The Brockweir and Hewelsfield Village Shop, is a project that started when the village shop was closing as a commercial concern. The villagers kept it going, staffed by volunteers. They not only kept it going, but made it into the kind of shop that’s enjoyable to shop in frequently.

Brockweir and Hewelsfield village shop

The local alternative to the supermarket - Brockweir and Hewelsfield village shop near Chepstow.

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How to decorate cakes - easy fancy finishes

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Deborah Reddihough Deborah Reddihough | 15:51 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

After last week’s blog discussing alternative ways to get a smooth finish on cakes without using fondant, here’s a round-up of alternative fancy finishes that are different to a traditionally iced cake.

There are many incredible ways of decorating cakes that don’t rely upon icing, as any French patisserie window will prove. However, most of them are also extremely difficult to make at home. If you’re a skilled baker you might like to try a fraisier, a typical French birthday cake that deserves a special mention for being both outrageously edible and exceptionally pretty. But sometimes you’re under pressure, so here are some ideas for when you need to produce something special quickly.
Chocolate cigarillo cake 

Chocolate cigarillos

Cigarillos are ready-made columns of rolled chocolate that are used to dramatic effect in Lorraine Pascale’s ‘I can’t believe you made that cake’ recipe. You can buy them online or from cake decorating shops and, although they can be expensive, they’re also extremely easy and quick to use - making them an excellent option if you’re short on confidence or time.

If you’re tempted, firstly cover your cake in a generous layer of buttercream. Next apply the cigarillos vertically to completely cover the sides of your cake. Pile soft fruit, chocolate curls or edible flowers on the top, and hey presto you have a stunning cake in next to no time.

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Would you buy meat from a tweet?

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Anna-Louise Taylor Anna-Louise Taylor | 16:25 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

It’s Friday afternoon in the office. You’re watching the clock tick down to five o’clock, skimming  through your Twitter feed. And there it is, “The goats have arrived!” With a quick flurry of messages you’ve booked yourself a whole goat. A couple of hours later and a man with a van slaps the carcass down on your kitchen table. How did this happen?

But this is exactly what my friend Hannah did, ordering a goat via the social networking site Twitter.

Goat on the table

Get your goat: Cabrito's product shortly after delivery.

Post-delivery she did have to enlist help to cut it up and turn it in to a roast, mince and chops, but being that close to the provenance of food I think is a joy for most cooks.

Buying your meat online is nothing new – top butchers and farmers have been sending boxes of vac-packed meat by post for years. And you can source almost any culinary delight on Twitter, but ordering meat on Twitter is, I think, a bespoke service, putting you and me, the customer on a pedestal – a rare find for the average Joe in the mass market world.

When you’re surrounded by the polystyrene, shrinkwrapped world of supermarket meat, making contact with characterful and quality producers combined with the convenience of door-to-door delivery and the excitement of a limited time offer is compelling.

Of course there’s the question of trust. Is it safe to buy something you’ve never seen? Are there the same proven hygiene standards that you’d have in a shop? And how do you compare the quality to other offerings?

These aren’t fly-by-night cowboy operators. They’re proper businesses with reputations on the line. And the great thing about social networks is that you can see exactly who’s buying or who isn’t.

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