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