Saturday 12 December 2015

Nothing beats a local cheese! (Adventures in Cheese)

OK I admit it, I'm a cheese-o-holic, as is my son!  I have a passion for cheese in the way others have a passion for chocolate or wine.  It's just so more-ish!  Not only that, but there is so much variety with cheese and there are so many things you can do with it, other than simply eat it as it is.

Imagine then my delight at meeting Clare Noblet from Whin Yeats Dairy at today's Christmas Fair in Burton-in-Kendal. Clare and husband Tom started making cheese in the Summer, and are selling it from their hilltop farm at Hutton Roof, almost on the Cumbria/Lancashire border.

Having "spoken" to Clare on Twitter previously it was lovely to meet her in person, along with her delightful children, and we had a chat about my son's current dairy intolerance which has prevented him eating cheese for several months. Whin Yeats cheese is made with unpasteurised milk, and Clare mentioned that it appears that the pasteurisation process can cause intolerance issues with some people, as it kills off the microbes that naturally occur in milk, and thus in cheese.

As my son's dairy intolerance began after a bout of food poisoning, and his GP said this is not uncommon as the good bacteria get washed out of the system with the bad bugs, it might be the case that unpasteurised cheese will help redress the balance in his gut.

An interesting story in the press includes an explanation of how this happens,
Traditional cheese is one of the richest sources of living healthy microbes and fungi. 
Unpasteurised cheeses and those with rinds contain even more species. Just a crumb of raw cheese contains over ten billion microbes containing bacteria and fungi. Studies show that people who eat cheese regularly have fewer heart problems despite the high fat content. As well as supplying new healthy microbes, eating cheese also encourages other microbe species to grow inside us.
With that in mind we are trying him with the Whin Yeats cheese to see if it helps.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying their cheese! I bought two types: a creamy farmhouse cheese and a wax-wrapped Wensleydale. Clare recommended keeping the latter for another week or so to let it finish properly, but the farmhouse was fine to eat now, so as soon as we arrived home after the Fair I tried it. It looks good, smells fab, and tastes amazing! It is, I have to say, one of the best tasting cheeses I have ever eaten!!!

The Whin Yeats Farmhouse Cheese. 

You'll have to wait a wee while to see the Wensleydale one as it's not unwrapped yet! 

Friday 20 November 2015

Home-made Chinese pork with vegetable rice

Making delicious Chinese pork at home is incredibly easy with this simple marinade.

Preparation and cooking time is around 30-35 minutes.

Following on from last week's post about how to mix up the Chinese marinade that we'd binned the instructions for,  we had need to do it again yesterday.  A trip into our local Tesco had produced 4 pork chops, reduced in price, so we added them to our trolley. Once home we cut the pork from the chop bones, and sliced the meat into thin strips, then laid them into a roasting tray. Mixing up our Flava-It Chinese marinade with the sweetened soya milk we poured it over the pork strips, covered the tray with foil and popped it into the fridge until this evening.

The first thing to do, before cooking the pork, was preparing the vegetable mix. A raid of the fridge produced some mushrooms, a handful of mangetout, red and yellow peppers, and a courgette, all of which were sliced into small pieces (around 2cm max). Adding 3 crushed garlic cloves and a small red bird's eye chili (deseeded and finely chopped), a small red onion chopped, a few green olives halved, and some small plum tomatoes cut into quarters, we were ready to start cooking.

Hubbie set to with the rice (we used Tesco own brand Arborio risotto rice - half a cup per person) and water (a pint and a half) with a couple of stock cubes and a sprinkle of mixed herbs added to make the stock for cooking the rice in the paella pan, whilst I plugged in the teppenyaki grill and cooked the marinaded pork on it. The pork cooked really quickly, and turning it over midway meant it was browned on all sides.  (A big plus was that, unlike when we cooked the marinaded ribs in the oven, the grill cleaned up very quickly afterwards. The oven tray from the ribs had to soak for almost 2 days before all the baked-on marinade finally came off!)

The vegetables were added into the rice once it was almost cooked (test the rice by tasting a small bit, if it's still chewy it needs a few minutes longer) along with the cooked pork. Mix well into the rice and add a bit more boiling water if needed (there should be a bit of liquid in the pan, rather than be very dry). Heat through until all the veg are hot through, and remove from the heat.

Serve in bowls whilst still very hot. Yummy!

Oh look, it's all gone! :)

Wednesday 18 November 2015

No need bread!

"What do you mean, no need bread? Of course we need bread!" was our response to this. It soon became apparent that it wasn't no need, but was in fact no-knead, bread!

A friend over on Facebook was explaining that her hubbie had become smitten with bread-making after finding the no-knead bread method, so we decided we had to check this out for ourselves. Armed with the link we watched the video tutorial on TimesVideo and then wrote out the basic recipe and headed for the kitchen... the recipe comes from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan (USA) and uses just flour, water, yeast and salt... and no kneading!

Here is the basic recipe we used:

3 cups plain flour (not strong or bread flour, just normal plain flour)
¼ teaspoon of dried yeast (ours is The Pantry own brand from ALDI)
1¼ teaspoons salt
1½ cups tepid water

Put the flour, yeast and salt in large bowl, mix together. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix, pour in the water, mix the dry stuff into the water until it makes a dough. In the video Jim used his hands for this, but we found it was a claggy sticky process, so experimented a bit and found a flat bladed dinner knife worked best as a mixing tool.  It only took a minute or two to mix, so not too onerous.

Once the dough was well mixed, we put the bowl into a warm spot - we set ours on a chair next to the radiator - with a towel wrapped round the bowl, and a clean tea towel over the top, then to keep in the heat we spread 3 or 4 more thick hand towels over the top of the bowl so the top and sides were well-covered.

We left the covered bowl in its warm spot for around 14 hours, then cautiously lifted the covers and peered inside. The dough was beautifully bigger! At least twice the size, heading for three times the size of the original dough.

Next we pre-heated the baking tin. We used a very heavy 10" diameter Le Creuset casserole pan with lid, a gentle wipe round the inside of the pan with a bit of olive oil on some kitchen roll just to prevent sticking, then we popped the pan (without its lid) into the oven and let it heat up. The oven was on maximum - the video says 500F degrees, but ours only goes to Gas Mark 8 which is around 450F degrees but what the heck! We left the pan to heat up for around 15 minutes.

Meanwhile the dough was lifted from the bowl and put onto a floured board and made into a ball shape, then flattened a bit, folded over, dusted with flour, turned upside down and dusted again with flour, then dropped into the pre-heated oven pan, and the lid popped on.

Back into the oven it went, still on full, for around 55 minutes. In fact we should have lifted the lid after about 30 minutes and finished it off open topped, but we forgot to do that! It obviously didn't do any harm, as when we lifted the pan from the oven and removed its lid, the bread looked amazing!

After letting it cool enough so the heat didn't fog the camera lens, we took photos, and then sampled it. What wonderful bread! It would be fab with home-made soup, but very enjoyable as I had it, just smeared with butter.

Our next attempt will involve a double quantity, a much larger baking pan, and possibly sun-dried tomatoes and olives... watch this space!

 Edited to add for clarity: Gas Mark 8 equates to 450 degrees Fahrenheit or 230 degrees Celsius

Sunday 8 November 2015

Oops! No instructions... how do I mix this marinade?

You know that moment when you decide you are going to use something from your pantry and then realise that you have no instructions as to how to use it? Well I had one of those a couple of days ago... in my case it was with some Flava-It Chinese Marinade packets which my son and I had happily emptied from packets into a airtight storage jar on the spice shelf whilst sorting out said pantry a week ago.

It's been a while since I'd used the Marinade last, and I had a vague memory that it used something like yoghurt to mix with the marinade powder to make the coating, but I wasn't sure. Another problem is that said son is currently on a dairy free diet for a couple of months, so yoghurt as a mixer was out of the question. So what to use instead? Water would be too thin, so I tried ALDI's Acti Leaf sweetened soya milk instead. Mixing a couple of tablespoons of the marinade powder into a cup of soya milk, and then poured into a plastic tray into which I popped the pork ribs to be marinaded, wrapped the whole tray in foil, put it in the fridge overnight, and forgot about it!

We had intended to have the ribs the following night, but we were sidetracked by some gorgeous smoked river cobbler and some chilli, ginger and lime mackerel, which soon became a rather delicious rice and fish dish. Meanwhile our ribs were still happily marinading in the fridge. Realising it was a use it or lose it moment tonight, I brought out the tray, removed the foil, not sure how the soya milk would have worked, and was astonished to find the ribs looked really well marinaded. The smell was good too, so I transferred them to a rack over a deep tray and into the oven they went, on Gas mark 6 for around 35 minutes, turned after 20 minutes so both sides cooked evenly.

I have to say that they were gorgeous when cooked. Leaving them to marinade for that bit longer really helped the flavour to infuse through all of the meat, and it proved that sweetened soya milk is a perfectly good substitute for yoghurt, or whatever it was I was supposed to have used!

Moral of the tale is: don't be afraid to experiment!

Friday 6 November 2015

Hugh's Food Waste Campaign takes the fight to the supermarkets

Yesterday's blog has a swift follow up, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's BBC Magazine column shows, in the setting up of his new website to highlight and campaign against food waste.

Pledge to support his campaign and help put a stop to this senseless waste of good food!

The new website has lots of tips about recycling as well as about reducing waste, a handy guide to food date labelling and some nifty recipes for using up leftovers! 

Wednesday 4 November 2015

One-third of food produced in the UK is never eaten!

Today's post is something very dear to my heart... waste! And waste on a massive scale!!!
Tonnes of perfectly good food are thrown away in the UK every year. Why, asks Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. 
That's a jolly good question... why does it happen, and are we as consumers at fault or is there something else going on?

Apparently the supermarkets demand of growers that their produce conforms to a certain standard laid down by the supermarkets themselves. Now you might reasonably think that means it needs to be damage free and disease free, but no, apparently it is more than that. Each item has to pass their cosmetic test - how it looks, what size it is, shape, colour etc... all appear to be expected to be standardised.  Which is, as anyone who has grown their own produce will tell you, just plain barmy! Vegetables reflect their growing conditions, so even in the same field (or garden) adjacent plants can (and do) produce different results. With root vegetables it is even more variable than crops above ground, as stones, pests and dry patches can all affect the final product.

So if we as consumers understand that not every carrot or potato or beetroot can be identical to every other one, why do supermarkets decide that otherwise perfectly good sound crops fail their tests and reject them?  If there is no valid reason for rejecting the crop on the grounds of usability, and having inspected part of it Hugh F-W says he would gladly have used them, then what other reason could there be for the rejection?

Are supermarkets playing fast and loose with the livelihoods of growers?  Do they contract with more growers than they have a need for, as insurance in case some fail?  Or is there another, as yet undiscovered, reason for this? If so, what?

Hugh F-W went on to say that, "Approximately one-third of the food we produce in the UK is never eaten." That is a shocking statistic and one which should stop us in our tracks. One-third of all produce is wasted, rejected, or binned yet we have people in this country who cannot afford to buy food and who have to rely on food banks for essentials!

So why does it matter?  
Apart from our natural outrage at such profligate waste, there is the effect that the rejection has on the livelihood of the grower. If a grower is losing sales of up to 40% of their annual crop they will not be able to stay in business. A loss of that amount of income simply makes the business unsustainable, and if growers stop growing then we will end up either having to import more food from outside the UK or pay higher prices as the amount of products on sale decreases (basic supply and demand.)

So what can we do about it? 
Well we could make our feelings known to supermarkets. They need to get the message from us that we don't mind if parsnips have variations in thickness, if some carrots are longer than others, if beetroot or cauli's don't all look identical, that so long as vegetables are usable we are happy. They are vegetables to be eaten, not entrants into a beauty pageant! We also need to tell them that we don''t like the waste that their cosmetic selection causes. And we need them to understand that they don't have the right to drive growers to the brink of insolvency just so they can ensure a stock of fresh veg!

OK, so here's an idea...
How about writing a letter or sending an email to the Head Office of each supermarket chain in the UK, setting out your concern about this issue and asking what their policy is on the cosmetic selection of fruit and vegetables? Tell them that you feel it is a step too far and that you are quite happy to buy products which have natural variations. And make the point that you do not expect their cosmetic buying policies to result in the demise of British growers!

You can find a list of current UK supermarkets on Wikipedia and as they mostly have websites, your friendly search engine will be able to supply the contact addresses to write to.  If you get a response why not let me know via the Comments box below?

A sugar tax - would it work?

Over the past two years I have read in the news the suggestion to have a sugar tax on sugary drinks in an attempt to control obesity, and my initial thought was, "What a load of rubbish!" Taxing something to make it unattractive does not work. Look at the history of tobacco sales in this country as an example of how well (or not!) taxing a product works. For years the government added a tax (duty) onto the sales of tobacco products, and it did nothing to reduce consumption. Both my parents were smokers and they just grumbled about the ever increasing costs and carried on puffing away!  There was no significant change until other things happened: the ban on advertising on TV, the ban on sponsorship of sporting events, banning smoking on public transport and in public buildings, and the carrying of a health warning on all packets. Finally, we saw fewer people smoking and that must be a good thing.

So how do we learn lessons from tobacco and apply them to sugar consumption? A straw poll round the family produced incredulity that anyone would think that a sugar tax would work. So what would make them stop and think about sugar in drinks and in other foods? The unanimous verdict was information. If every can of soft drink, every packet of sweets, every cake, had on it - in a prominent place - the information about how much sugar it contains, in an easy to understand format then that would make them stop and think!  So if a can of soda contains, for example, the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, then say so. Use a teaspoon graphic and the number in the bowl so it is simple to understand, and easy to compare against other products.

Here's a simple one I made earlier to demonstrate the concept:

I am sure that manufacturers will not like it, as it will surely affect their sales of sugary products, but maybe that is necessary in order to encourage them to create new drinks or foods which are healthier and contain less sugar. The way to change people's behaviour is not by taxing it (that just raises money for government!)  but by information and education. If consumers have the information they can make informed choices about products, and they will do so. But they need that information to be provided in a simple user-friendly manner, unlike the amount per 100g info that much food packaging currently carries, which actually does not help a consumer understand how much sugar is in a product in a way they can easily relate to.

Further reading: 
Sugar: Five foods surprisingly high in sugar 

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Dairy free garlic bread!

Yeah we know, it sounds like a contradiction, how can you have dairy free garlic bread?!  By using a dairy free spread, of course!  My son has to avoid all dairy products for at least 2 months, but he loves garlic bread (as do we!) but we can't eat it when he isn't able to, so we decided to find a way to get round this.

We've been trying out different breads as garlic bread bases for a while now, but recently in Tesco we picked up some Hovis Good Inside flat breads which do not contain milk (that they were reduced from £1/pack to 20p/pack as they were short-dated was even better - they freeze! - so we bought the lot and popped them into the freezer until we need them.)  There are 5 flat breads to a pack, so cut into halves they make 10 reasonable sized garlic bread slices.

We mixed about a quarter of a tub of Pure dairy free sunflower spread into a bowl with 2 large crushed garlic cloves, a dessert spoonful of Grape Tree Italian seasoning, a pinch of ALDI Sea Salt with Italian Herbs, and a dessert spoonful of ALDI Bacon Sprinkles. Once mixed well we spread it across the flat breads, popped them onto a metal tray and into the over on Gas Mark 6 for about 8 - 10 minutes.

If you leave off the bacons sprinkles or substitute crispy onions for them the garlic bread is vegetarian too.

The result was a really tasty dairy free garlic bread and one very happy son!

Wednesday 30 September 2015

On my soapbox!

On Facebook one of my cousins linked to a post by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, about the need for all kids to do sport to combat childhood obesity. This is something I fundamentally disagree with:  kids being forced to do sport as a method of weight control. More relevant would be for parents to teach their kids about food, about healthy eating choices and exercise. Note that I said exercise not sport!

As someone who hated sport at school, as a total waste of the time that I could use for reading, I do so disagree with this. I still hate sport, even more so probably as a result of being forced to do it at school.

Exercise is a different thing. Walking yes, I enjoy very much, and we do need to encourage kids to walk more - walking to school - like I did as a child a mile each way - it is good exercise! But the whole sport thing, that leaves me cold.  Instead of forcing kids to "do sport" we need to explore other options. Not everyone is interested, so why force it down our kids' throats?

Those who want to do it will do so out of choice, in the same way as those who want to do art or ballet or music will do so, those who don't should not be made to do so!

Claiming that school sport is the only way to address childhood obesity is totally wrong. What would be more sensible to to address nutrition, education about healthy eating, about all the additives etc that go into prepared foods that affect the way our bodies process foods.

We are omnivores, which mean we are designed to eat meat and vegetables and fruit. We are not designed to eat E-numbers, artificial colours, flavours, chemicals, preservatives, processed fats like margarines and butter substitutes and cooking oils, GMO foods, etc etc etc.

All the artificial sweeteners which are now being used instead of sugar actually worsen the problem, as they interfere with the way your body handles sugars and the cravings for sugar, and have adverse effects on your brain's functions.  Yet try and find drinks without Aspartame or acesulfame K and you will struggle!

Bring back domestic science in schools so that kids learn about healthy eating. If parents and kids learn how to cook from scratch using proper ingredients, not eating fast food from McBurgers or ready meals from the supermarket, it will help. It takes little more time to cook a meal from scratch than it does to heat up a ready meal, and more importantly, you know what goes into it.

If you are serious about healthy food, do away with your chips, your ice cream, scrap your sweets, cakes, biscuits, crisps, all those other snacks. Eat fruit, eat fresh vegetables - eat 'em raw where you can, they taste great and do you far more good! Limit potatoes and pasta to a couple of times a week. Try rice instead. Eat good quality meat, raised organically or ethically. Choose low fat options, check the % of fat in it. Minced beef at 23% fat isn't a good option!

Balance your diet, don't over eat, walk every day, play sport if you choose to, but as a choice not as a requirement!

<puts soapbox away>

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Bacon and vegetable rice - all in one recipe!

We recently bought a Paella pan from ALDI, and it is the most useful piece of kit!  It's quite big at 39cm diameter, and makes a meal large enough for 4 people. It's now in regular use, several times a week, and we are loving the results. Despite its size it cooks nicely over one gas ring, but would work just as well on an electric hob.  

Tonight's meal is shown above and was made as follows:

Bacon and vegetable rice

250g of Arborio rice
1 litre of vegetable stock (1 litre water and 2 veg stock cubes and 1 green OXO)
1 200g pack ALDI Smoked Bacon Lardons 
1 onion chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 or 4 sticks of celery, cut small - we used the middle part with the leaves still on
1 courgette, sliced into 4 lengthwise and then each length cut into 1cm pieces
1 small orange pepper, deseeded
1/2 red pointed pepper, deseeded
handful of frozen sweetcorn
small handful of mangetout and fine French beans, chopped into 1cm lengths
1 finely sliced lemon grass stick
a few green olives, halved
1 small green bird's eye chilli, finely sliced
sprinkle of herbs (we used Herbes de Provence) 
6 cherry tomatoes, halved

Put rice into paella pan, add stock, sweetcorn and bacon lardons, and stir using a non-scratching spatula (wood or silicon), heat through until rice is almost cooked, adding more boiling water as the stock is absorbed so the rice does not start to stick to the pan.  Cooking the bacon lardons with the rice and stock gives the rice a lovely bacon flavour too. 

Add the rest of vegetables except tomatoes, mixing well and cook for further 5 minutes until all is hot through. Add the tomatoes and heat for another minute. 
Serve in bowls, enjoy! 

It takes about half an hour to make (including preparation) and makes hardly any washing up too, win! win! :)

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The best grapefruit marmalade recipe

Whilst sorting out a drawer I came across various recipes scribbled on bits of paper, so decided to add some of them here for future reference.

I love grapefruit marmalade. There is something about the tangy flavour which is so much nicer than orange marmalade, and one of the recipes I found was this one, which makes amazing grapefruit marmalade!  Sorry that it's in Imperial measurements as it's an older recipe - you will have to convert it to Metric if you don't do Imperial.

Grapefruit Marmalade
2 medium sized grapefruit
2¼ pints water
2¼ lb sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Cut the grapefruit finely, removing all the pips as you do.

Put the pips into a piece of muslin or a (non-paper) teabag/coffee filter type thing.

Soak peel and pulp overnight in the water with the pip bag in a large plastic or ceramic bowl, cover with clean tea-towel to keep it clean.

Next day transfer all the fruit, water and the pips into a large covered pan  and simmer slowly until peel is quite soft. This should take about 1½ hours, but may be a little longer if you have cut the peel thicker.

Take the pip bag out of the pan.

Stir into the pan the sugar and the lemon juice. It helps the sugar dissolve if it's a little warm rather than really cold, room temperature is fine.

Bring the mixture to the boil, and boil rapidly in an uncovered pan until setting point is reached. This usually takes around 20 minutes. Start testing for setting with small quantities after 10-15 minutes. Setting temp is c. 220°F. If you don't have a sugar thermometer then a cold saucer/plate does the job just as well. Pop it in the fridge to make it really cold, then spread a teaspoon of marmalade into a level splodge  onto it and leave it for a minute or two, then push your finger across the surface of the marmalade. If it's at the right temp then your finger will leave a trail across the marmalade. If it's not ready keep boiling and re-test at 5 minute intervals till setting point is reached.

Transfer into hot sterile jars, add a wax paper disc and seal the jar. Label and date. Leave till completely cold, then enjoy! Store opened marmalade in the fridge to prevent mould growth.

Takes 1½ - 2 hours

Friday 24 July 2015

So why a food blog?

Why a food blog? Aren't there enough of them online anyhow? Well yes, there probably are, but they are not ours, and we like cooking and making things!

So, here we are, with a host of ideas for sharing, things we have tried that worked, things we have tried that didn't work so well, and things we are trying out right now.  We will also talk about the types of equipment we use for cooking and where we found it, as well as the great ingredients we use in our food.

Our focus is on healthy, interesting and tasty food, and that doesn't mean we'll talk about lettuce all the time! It does mean that we'll share with you what we use and where we find it, and show you what we grow ourselves once our garden is sorted and production.

It also means we can keep a record of what we make, and how we make it, that any of the family can access from anywhere. The best thing about cooking is the sharing of it - sharing the making as well as sharing the eating.

We hope you'll come and enjoy this food blog with us too.