Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Community Supported Agriculture - nice idea

As a supporter of farmers markets, farm shops, pick your own, I love sourcing my ingredients from the farmers, growers and creators of great local food. Whilst devouring the biography of Alice Waters, famed chef (although she never calls herself that) and restaurateur I read about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes. These are where local people invest in their local farm in some way in return for a share of the harvest. This gives the farmer a guaranteed income for produce, and reconnects the customer with the land, whilst giving the opportunity of some input into what is grown how. I totally love this idea - particular as you would learn so much about animal husbandry, growing and running a farm whilst supporting the local economy. So I was thrilled just now to read that the Soil Association is running a project to develop and fund CSA's and organic buying groups. Where do I sign up???? Does this appeal to you....the chance to really know where your food comes from or is a little too close to home? Personally, I can't wait... although I imagine London will not be the most logical place for them to start!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Grocery shopping in these hard times

Ok - let's make one thing clear. No matter how hard the credit crunch bites, no matter what else has to go, I will never, ever - ever - cut back on food and wine. What else is left to us? Now - as may be clearly evident - we're all about the local shopping, the farmers markets, the small producers, but sometimes, just sometimes, it's really hard to avoid the supermarket - especially when you've been away for the weekend and missed the market, there's barely anything in the freezer, and before you know it, you're in sainburys (there are other supermarkets out for our money out there too) stocking up on a week's worth of veg, meat and other 'essentials'. Get to the checkout and suddenly you've spent £40 or £50 on a week's shopping. And somewhow you're still ordering pizza on Friday night. Well the penny has finally dropped. Hallelujah. On Tuesday, after a weekend at the BBC Good Food Show, and with a weekend away again coming up, I droppped by Portobello Road. I'm now forced to give you my entire shopping list, because my jaw still drops in disbelief at the converse ratio of produce/cost as opposed to the supermarket shop. I went to Kingsland Butchers and bought 2 huge free-range organic chicken legs and 2 good size Welsh salt-marsh lamb chump chops - total just over £9. I went to my personal favourite market stall and bought 1 head of chicory 1 aubergine 1 big bag of tiny plum tomatoes 1 head of english lettuce 2 bunches of spinach 4 small courgettes 2 onions 2 lemons Total just under £7. I then dropped by the fishmongers on Golborne Road and bought 2 very large tuna steaks and a bag of samphire (superfluous but it is lovely) for another £9. So a shopping total, with more veg than we can eat before next week, of £25. I bought British-labelled where i could and chose only the perkiest fruit and veg. See I knew all this - I love my farmers market, I hate the fact there are no independent shops where i live (Crystal Palace - Croydon Council take note), but only now have i really grasped that financial difference. And it's quite a big one.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Demijohn aka heaven in a bottle!

Whilst manning our FoodLovers stand at the BBC Good Food Summer Show I came across what I am now referring to as heaven in a bottle... Demijohn. Launched a couple of years ago by Angus and his family, Demijohn as they refer to it is "the liquid deli where you can taste the origin". True to their word, you really can taste the origin and they encourage you to as well - brilliant! After sampling the range Angus and his trusty assistant Amelia brought to the show, which included a wonderfully fruity Bramble Scotch Whisky (made in East Lothian), a refreshing Rhubarb Vodka (who knew vodka could be this way) and Tipsage Seville Orange Gin (the fact that I hate Gin but loved this must say something) I eagerly purchased two 100ml bottles. What makes Angus' business so special is the fact that you can select which size bottle you want and personlise it with your own message to the recipient (or yourself if it's a moment of blissful indulgence). Demijohn is located in both Glasgow and Edinburgh but you can order online. What's more, they actively promote recycling and invite you or anyone who owns a Demijohn bottle to return and have it refilled for the cost of the refill only.
So if you are looking for a present to mark a special day this really is the gift a la mode!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The perfect brownie...

After a bit of a rubbish day yesterday, my better half came and met me after work to take me for a cup of tea and a cuddle.

We headed to Westbourne Grove and stumbled upon Ottolenghi

J will tell you how long I can take on deciding where to have a bite to eat – but I was immediately taken by the stacks and stacks of cakes in the window and made an instant decision that I wanted to try every one of them.

I ummed and aaahed for an age about which cake to try. J very generously gave in and said I could buy two cakes. It still didn’t help the decision but in the end I settled on a chocolate brownie and coffee and walnut cake. J selected a large chunk of pear tart and we perched outside in the sunshine to enjoy our treats.

I have long been on the look out for my ideal brownie. The one from the Tate Modern came close, but that didn’t have nuts and was very rich. Others I’ve tried have been over cooked or just simply boring.

But this brownie was the most amazing brownie I have ever eaten. I mused that it must have just been shown the oven and put on the stand – it was so gooey and fudgey. It wasn’t cloying and it definitely wasn’t sickly – I could have eaten two or three.

The pear tart was a little dry on the outside for me, but full of flavour and the coffee cake, which I devoured after supper, was beautifully moist and had the perfect balance of cake to icing.

So while my hunt for my perfect brownie is now over, I still have a multitude of sinful treats to try at Ottolenghi.

FarmShops - the beginnings of support?

By the way, I have my first recruit for farm shop what should they sell tirade - who knows if it gets more support, we could start a campaign? Anyway last night a friend was sounding off at his farm shop in Somerset - it's been done up, looks great, very smart but is stocked with foods from all over the world - nothing local - and still persists in calling itself a farm shop as it's on the farm........any more examples?

Hake with Onion, Fennel and Tomatoes

Last night, the weather was perfect for a quiet supper in the garden. I cooked hake - an over-looked fish but in my farmers market - and here's how. It's the sort of cooking I like - low maintenance - it doesn't mean the cooking's quick, just the amount of time preparing - then you can leave it to get on by itself. I sliced one large onion and crushed a few (probably about 4-5) garlic cloves and softened them in olive oil. Then I added a couple of thinly sliced potatoes (it would have been better if they'd been waxier), a similarly cut fennel bulb and about 6 quartered tomoates, pour over a glug of white wine and left the whole thing to simmer for about 30 minutes, then I added a couple of hefty hake steaks (well seasoned with sea salt) sprinkled a genenrous handful of finely chopped parsley (the english curly kind, it's more gutsy) and left it to soft. After about 10-ish minutes, it was done and all that was need was a green salad. I gather the weather is holding today but I'm out tonight - at Quo Vadis, I hope. I'll let you know about that - meanwhile any other simple supper recipes in the low maintenance mode? I'd like to hear............

Friday, 6 June 2008

Is it time to call time on main courses..?

Yet another extraordinary FoodScoop... Apparently, the end of the main course/the a la carte menu is nigh. Heston Blumenthal is withdrawing his a la carte menu. No longer do we have the attention span, the time, the money to spend on that essential middle course - no, we'd much rather graze our way through a tasting menu or - horror - just have a starter and a dessert. Who are these tapas fascists? Naturally there's precedent. Is there barely a restaurant left, in London certainly, without a grazing/tasting menu option? Is anyone else bored to fork-stabbing death of having to share their hard-won food? Does everyone really want to go home hungry? It doesn't help i'm not a pudding-lover (the idea of a meal without a main course makes me actually want to cry). But do we really lack the concentration, the desire to revel in the sheer unbridled indulgent deliciousness of a three-course meal, perhaps book-ended with canapes and cheese, or even a light savoury, these days. I feel the argument might be won by a look at Jason Atherton of Maze: one day the uber chef of the grazing menu; the next he has just opened his Maze grill - a paean to the bloody delights of a really good steak main course. Surely he would disagree. I have a distinct feeling we are doing ourselves out of the restaurant experience... i am somewhat discombobulated.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Do we need a Kitchen Revolution...?

The new buzz around town seems to be The Kitchen Revolution, published by Ebury soon. It claims that you can save money, reduce your food miles and basically rescue your slightly tarnished halo by learning to live with leftovers. The basic premise is it gives you a menu plan that starts with your big Sunday roast, then gives you menus to follow throughout the week to use up the leftovers, interspersed with the odd seasonal recipe, a bit of (no doubt well-stocked) larder raiding and bulk-cooking. Sorry, but does any of this sound terribly familiar? Haven't people been banging on on this theme for some time now and isn't it what might be known as 'common sense'? And have we really become so far removed from our kitchens that no-one even has leftovers any more.. (ready meals don't leave a lot, i grant you, but are we really just throwing that food away - it seems so). I suspect that, for a lot of people who only buy neat and tidy chicken breasts, lamb chops, pork fillet, etc, the idea of using leftovers from the shoulder of pork might send them into a flat spin, but have we really forgotten how to make bubble and squeak, soup, hash, sandwiches, for God's sake? (I'm quite cross now - people are happy to rant food prices are climbing, but apparently they can't quite see their way clear to reducing their own food waste). Anyway, if you have any great leftover ideas, not only for all those people out there who are au fait with frying up leftover roast potatoes, but for those who do need a kick-start, let me know. I, for one, love Elizabeth David's favourite recipe for leftover roast lamb with rice - Suleiman's Special, I think - but I always struggle with roast pork.

Farm Shops -what should they sell

Yesterday I received an interesting piece of research from Speciality Food Magazine's news alert. Farm shops - according to the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society - are growing at 15 to 20% over the past year, the fastest rise of all sectors. Now I suspected this to be true if for no other reason than farm shops are one of the highly searched for terms on my website and of course I'm jolly pleased. But it does raise the question - What is a farm shop? Is it just a shop on a farm (in other words it could be anywhere) or must it offer some connection to the land and sell produce from that farm? Sometimes when I visit a farm shop it has nothing to do with where it is, it could be anywhere - in fact no difference from a corner shop, it just happens to be on a farm. This I think isnt on - our expectations are that a farm shop should offer own produce, then some local and some from the area - otherwise why bother. What do you think? Is it important? And when you come across these farm shops do they put you off the real thing?

Monday, 2 June 2008 sweet as.......

Just reeling from a honey tasting courtesy of Rowse Honey. I have, literally, gone into sugar overload but in spite of that, it was an interesting experience. I learnt two things in particular that I want to "share". One that honey is a mixture of fructose and glucose and the more glucose a honey contains, the more likely it is to crystallise (i.e. set). Secondly that as bees travel a certain distance - some say a radius of two, others up to six miles from the hive - I thought it it was where the hive was placed that determined what the honey was called. So if it's put in an orchard, it's a blossom honey; in other words a bit of hit-and-miss guesswork but, apparently not so. Pollen has a different shape according to the fruit or flower or crop it comes from and it shows under a microscope - so you can actually tell scientificially. Interesting huh.......

Pick Your Own

This weekend I spent a happy, bright Sunday afternoon picking my own fruit and vegetables for the week from a Pick Your Own in Worthing, West Sussex with my family. Our intention was just to pick strawberries for jam making, but with fresh peas, broad beans and onions ready for harvesting, it was impossible to walk away. Searching through the tumbling pea plants for pods plump with peas, I secretly popped some. My first experience of freshly picked peas was a massive surprise, their sweetness never experienced before... and one to be repeated before the season is out. Making our way from the fields, laden with an abundance of strawberries, peas, spinach, and onions I spotted a sign for rhubarb. It's the only polarising food in our house, but I love rhubarb and could not miss the opportunity pick it straight from the field. Pulling the long red stalks from the plant, the popping sound gave an indication of how stringy it could be. A thoroughly satisfying time resulted in a more bountiful crop than planned prooving a somewhat over ambitious amount for breakfast. So, I am currently planning the next trip to a PYO to coincide with some of my seasonal favourites, and I am particularly looking forward to the blackcurrants coming later this month!