Thursday, 13 November 2008

Credit Crunch Cook

I’ve just come across some recent sales figures released by online supermarket Ocado and they’re so encouraging that I felt I had to share them. The year-on-year figures for 2007-2008 tell a very interesting story about how the credit crunch is affecting people’s shopping, cooking and eating habits. With an increase in sales of basic cooking ingredients, it seems that the credit crunch may finally have shown its silver lining as people move back into the kitchen and start to cook in order to save money. It seems that, whatever their budget, everyone is feeling their purse strings tighten – and it’s putting them more in touch with what they’re eating as a result. Sales of ‘from-scratch’ style ingredients such as flour and onions are up 15% across-the-board suggesting that those who would buy pre-prepared products are starting to make their own. Cheap, convenient and versatile; it’s not surprising that sales of tinned tomatoes have shot up but the increase of 129% that Ocado are reporting is still impressive. The news that sales of premium meat cuts have also seen a surge in sales is harder to understand. It seems, though, that people are realising that buying and cooking luxury, high-end ingredients can still end up much cheaper than going out. Steaks are the biggest risers, with sirloin up by 50%, whilst veal escallops have gained an impressive 30%. A 15% increase in customers paying £10-15 per bottle of wine shows that these premium products are being washed down by some premium plonk whilst similar increases in sales of luxury ice-creams and desserts suggest that people are bringing the restaurant to them and creating a dining-out at home experience which is high on extravagance and lower on expense. As a real advocate of home-cooking, I find this downturn in ready-meal sales and increase in the ingredients to make them from scratch very encouraging. It is particularly uplifting to see something so positive come out of something as negative as the current financial climate. Sympathy must be had for struggling restaurants, though. They may well turn out to be one of the credit crunch’s worst victims. On the bright side, though, perhaps an increased fight for profit could lead to more creative cooking. Many restaurants still rely too heavily on expensive ingredients as a sign of luxury. Cooked right, liver can be just as indulgent as lobster at a fraction of the price...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Recipe Nightmares - Ramsay Has A Spring In His Step

Gordon Ramsay’s Cookalong Live is getting into its stride and seems to be proving very popular. People aren’t just watching, either. Sales of ingredients for his recipes have been through-the-roof, with many supermarkets selling out. Such is the demand that Ocado have even set-up a special Gordon Ramsay aisle on their website so that shoppers can buy all the week’s ingredients together. With the apparent intention of getting those who wouldn’t normally cook into the kitchen – something which seems to be rather fashionable at the moment – the programme would appear to be achieving good results. Gordon’s book sales probably aren’t doing badly, either. Cynicism aside, though, the premise is a good one – showing just how quick and easy cooking can be. As long as you don’t mind a little light-hearted verbal abuse, it might even prove to be fun. As for the recipes – what on earth is Gordon thinking? Seasonality clearly isn’t a concern, and even in these credit-crunch days, budget certainly isn’t of upmost importance either – regardless of what the show’s publicity states. Though you wouldn’t know it from their originality (or lack of it), Gordon must have been working on the recipes for a while. About six months, in fact. Surely that would be the only explanation for such unseasonal, spring-themed menus. Week one’s late autumn menu started with warm goat’s cheese salad with an apple and walnut vinaigrette. Salmon encroute with herbed new potatoes and garlic sautéed broccoli followed, and then caramelised rhubarb and ginger crumble with clotted cream finished it all off. As if goat’s cheese wasn’t springy enough, not to mention pricey, just try buying rhubarb in October. The big supermarkets will be your only chance and its unseasonality will mean it has a premium price. It may not even be British and is unlikely to be of particularly good quality. It’s a similar story for New Potatoes. They’ll be available alright, but will have travelled half way around the world to get there. Expensive ingredients. Check. Unseasonal produce. Check. Uninspiring menu. Check. If possible, Friday’s second menu was even worse. Gordon did find a way to make some slightly less boring dishes, though – just give them a pretentious foreign name. First up was minted pea and watercress veloute (come on, it’s soup!). That will be frozen peas and foreign watercress, then. Considering the show was broadcast on Halloween, would pumpkin not have been a more obvious choice? The main course was lasagne al forno (as if lasagne can ever not be al forno!). A baked pasta dish seems a strange choice for such a fast-paced menu – at least it’s slightly more appropriate for the time of year, though. Lemon and lime syllabub (you fool!) rounded things off in an appropriately summery way. A mixture of double cream, sugar, ginger biscuits and the lemon and lime; health clearly wasn’t high on the agenda either. And as for grating a ginger biscuit – Gordon blimey! Week three’s menu still isn’t out yet – rather inconvenient if you were planning to buy the ingredients with your weekly shop – so who knows what’s in store. It must be coming up to summer now, though, so expect strawberry tarts and gazpacho. There may even be time for asparagus yet... What do you think of Gordon’s menus? Have you cooked along? Let us know what you think. Alternatively, maybe you could suggest some more appropriate recipes, or try and predict what will be coming in the future.