Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Recommended Reads

Pepper by Christine McFadden
“A whole book on Pepper! Are you mad?” you might think wondering the mileage of that all purpose seasoning sitting in your mill.
Well, at times I may be a bit mad but I found this book fascinating. Of course, it’s not just about that stuff in your mill, though. The part of the book which I found most enlightening was Christine’s listing and explaining of the many different types of pepper. Black, white, pink, red and green peppercorns are literally the tip of the iceberg. Long, Cubec, Szechwan and Sansyo are all included along with numerous others which, though I was mostly familiar with (I’m a bit of a spice junkie), I would never have categorized as pepper. Admittedly, many are completely unrelated and so a little bit of a cheat on Christine’s part, but still the botanical family is extensive.
The confusion of terms was another point of interest. I now know, for example, that whilst proper green peppercorns are a totally separate, though related, variety to the black we are so familiar with; others labeled as ‘green’ may be the under-ripe versions of the black.
Christine also goes into great depth about the history of pepper, the sheer quantity of this detail is initially slightly daunting but once you start reading it, I guarantee you’ll be fascinated to learn the huge impact the spice has had on the world, playing a considerable part in deciding which countries are rich and which are poor, even to this day.
There’s so much knowledge in the book, that you could almost forget there are also 100 recipes. Though some are fairly standard, others are extremely interesting. Paradise Cake, for example, which uses ‘grains of paradise’ in a syrupy sponge-cake, or peppered figs, which are made by pressing layers of dried figs and black peppercorns together and leaving to mature.
All in all, it’s a fascinating book for both reference and recipes, and is well worth a place on your bookcase – though it’s unlikely to be one that just sits there.

Monday, 2 February 2009

We Are The Champions

Food Inc's How To Be A Better Foodie quiz at Whitleys shopping centre on Thursday set the scene for FoodLovers Britain's monumental victory and proved once and for all that our foodie knowledge is second-to-none. Not to mention our modesty, of course.
Eventful from the start, the quiz seemed blighted by various unavoidables. Thanks to quiz master Sudi Pigott's shaky and flu ridden voice, her equally shaky understanding of her megaphone, and a group of noisy onlookers, actually hearing the questions was the first hurdle to overcome. In honesty, our rather boisterous team probably didn't help much either.
A mixture of table shuffling, careful listening and can you repeat that's got us through, and anyway the growing risk of pneumonia was slightly more pressing. Although we didn't manage to beat the air conditioning, which had the upper hand throughout, we did manage to remain focused on the job in hand. We named obscure kitchen paraphernalia, we identified restaurants and we solved foodie riddles before being crowned (not literally, unfortunately) the winners.
In retrospect, the quirks of the evening probably made it all the more fun and, volume aside, Sudi was great. May I say, though, that I do hold doubts about the validity of the question "Cassia, Star Anise, Cloves, Fennel and which other ingredient makes up Chinese 5 Spice?".
The recipe varies enormously and actually tends to include more like 6 or 7 spices. My (ever so slightly obsessive) label reading over the last few days has revealed mixtures including Coriander, Ginger, Szechwan Pepper, Black Pepper, White Pepper, Cinnamon and even Dill. Since we won, I'll let it drop but I would be interested to hear what you think. Are some Chinese 5 Spice recipes more authentic than others? which ingredients do you think should be included?