So, I had a long, hard deliberation about what I could talk about for the letter I. I asked for suggestions and to be honest, there wasn’t many forthcoming. This could be down to the fact that the letter I is limited in the cooking department.
‘Iceberg’ lettuce (usable - but not a favourite)
Ink Squid (ok but, again, not a favourite)
Icing Sugar (Not sure if it's technically an I?)
. . . or even Irish Stout (maybe a bit dubious for I)
However, two occurrences happening almost simultaneously lead me to my choice for this letter. Firstly, a suggestion came in from an old University friend. This was then followed by a day in the kitchen making cakes, that made me realise how his suggestion was even more poignant.
In my A-Z of ingredients, I feel that “I” should represent the Ingredients themselves. Specifically, the importance of using the best ingredients when and where you can. It is easy, in this money conscious day and age, to want to buy the cheapest ingredients. Now in some cases, this will make little difference to the finished product. Take the example of a cucumber. To me there is little to no difference between a 39p cucumber and a 99p cucumber when you are blending it up and using the juice. However, let me take you back to my cake making adventure.
My brief was to make 2 Victoria Sponge Cakes. They had to be of equal size, so I chose to make 2 separate mixes rather than making a single mix and splitting it in half. Off I went to shop for ingredients. Where I brought two different types of butter. One was an expensive named brand and the other was the supermarket’s own brand. I’m not sure quite what possessed me to do this, but I feel it may have been some kind of subliminal fate casting its spell over me!
In the interest of fairness, I should point out that both makes of butter were treated in exactly the same manner. Both went into the same bag, both were out of the fridge the same period of time and both were diced and place into the bowl for the same period of time. So one wasn’t treated more favourably than the other.
The recipe I followed for the Victoria sponge required mixing together equal amounts of butter and sugar until they become light and fluffy. In the case of the more expensive butter, this was exactly what happened. It whipped up perfectly, eggs and flour were added and the mix was smooth, light and ‘cake like’. This is where things got interesting. I proceeded with the same method for the second cake with the cheaper butter. Rather than becoming light and fluffy, the butter split (or as some may call it, curdled). Now this mixture can still be baked and eaten, but the result is nowhere near as light as when it is made with a perfect batter.
So, I did some research on the reasons this may have happened. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the temperature of the ingredients were wrong. However, knowing that I did exactly the same for each cake, that doesn’t give me any answers. The only difference was the butter used. I looked at what they contained and saw there was a slight difference between them. Therefore, this led me to thinking about other ingredients. Why does cost make a difference?
Chickens are a classic example. Have you ever wondered why it cost less than 3 pounds for a chicken? Isn’t is a little odd that it costs so little for something that has been grown, killed, processed, packed and transported? There must be a reason that it’s so cheap – and quite possibly tasteless. Compare that to a free range, organically reared chicken. The price is definitely more, but the end result and flavour is so much greater. If you choose to cook a chicken dish with the latter, you will clearly notice the difference.
In my Honey blog, I referenced Manuka Honey. At one point, more of it was sold in a year than was actually produced. This was allegedly because certain countries were selling regular Honey and Sugar mix with a Manuka Honey label on it. Why, when we produce so much of something in this country, do we feel the need to import from these less than auspicious countries who are out to make a fast buck? Check the labels of what you buy. Be wary of imported goods and ask yourself why would it need to come from there?
Also, ask yourself why something is so cheap? I recently shopped with my daughter for Peanut Butter. I was horrified at what I discovered. Peanut Butter should be simply Peanuts and sometimes salt. I found makes of Peanut Butter with 8-10 ingredients on them. There is no reason for this, other than filling out a product with cheap ingredients, and perhaps giving it a slightly longer shelf life.
I don’t want to sit here and say that everyone should use organic, free range and extremely expensive ingredients in their cooking. I don’t believe that should be the case. But I do believe that we should think about where our ingredients are coming from and not buy products from afar that we can buy locally for near enough the same price. I believe that when you cook, spending a little bit extra on better ingredients can make the difference between a good dish and an excellent dish.
For my final thought, I will leave you with the ingredient - crab. We live on the doorstep of some of the best Crab available in the country. Restaurants in London pay to bring up Portland Crab, such is the quality of it. Compare that to a tin of Crab meat imported from abroad. There can be no contest when it comes to an ingredient like that.
Again, as is always the case, I feel I could talk for hours and hours about this subject. I could give a million examples. But again, time (and internet space), is limited.
Take stock, next time you go shopping. Have a look at what you buy and maybe spend a few extra pennies on that better quality ingredient.
Thanks for taking the time to read this again. I decided against pictures in this one as I couldn’t decide on what would be best for this one. The next blog is on the letter “J”. I was wondering if Jellied Eel was an ingredient or not? But whatever it is, I will have a few photos for you (and a bit more humour)
‘Harry Potter’ was the first suggestion. But sadly, although it comes under many guises, an ingredient is not one of them. So I deliberated, cogitated and pondered, thinking long and hard about my choice for ‘H’.
There are many ingredients that I frequently use, that fall under this letter. I love to spice up my food with Habenero; Hake and Haddock are both amazing fish and let’s not forget Hare, Hazelnuts and Harissa. I could go on, but I settled on a more versatile ingredient. It is one that we have all probably eaten at some point. But one, when I was younger, I thought was disgusting!
I remember going to a family wedding at the age of about 5 or 6. We were staying with an elderly couple who enticed me with a helping of warm toast. However, much to my disgust, upon it was a certain ingredient that seriously offended my young taste buds - and I hated it. I was used to Jam and Marmite (ironically not to everyone’s taste). But so abhorrent was this flavour to my young self that I do believe I made it perfectly clear to all in the neighbourhood! To this day, I cannot put my finger on what it was that I didn’t like, but it is one of those memories that sticks with me still.
Now - fast forward 32 years and here I am about to espouse how amazing it is. If you haven’t guessed it yet by the toast reference – this week’s ingredient is Honey, the product of Bees.
For example, Manuka honey is a very prized form of honey. It is alleged to have multiple health benefits above and beyond just keeping allergies at bay . However, on a depressing side note, it was reported that more was sold in one year than was actually produced. It shows that what you buy isn't always as it seems. We noticed a lot, when living in America, that often although a product was branded “Honey” it could also contain sugar or cane syrup, just to bulk it out. Its always a shame when something so simple needs to be messed with. (and actually hints towards what I have written about for the letter “I”).
So, after much digression, I get on to discussing Honey as an ingredient. Then I realise there is little time to actually do so. However I can offer a small amount of my 2 cents worth. Great on Porridge. Awesome on toast. It’s a lot sweeter than regular sugar which means that often less of it can be used in place of more sugar (ideal for those cutting down). Its myriad of different types can add distinct and different flavors to a variety of dishes. Toss a few figs in honey and then roast them. Use a honey with a distinct flavour (thinking Honey Blossom), and you can add an extra depth to the dish.
So I thought I’d leave you with a simple recipe for honeycomb. Well, simple is definitely subjective in this case. It isn’t something you can do off the cuff and has a tendency to go wrong more often than when it goes right! it is one of the few recipes that you need to follow properly. But, it’s a simple recipe
120g Glucose Syrup
400g Caster Sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp Baking Soda
1. Be ready. Line a tray with Baking Parchment (At least 12inx12in)
2. Put all the ingredients, with the exception of the Baking Soda, into a thick bottom pan
3. Start on low until all the ingredients have dissolved then turn up the heat to medium high
4. Allow the mixture to begin boiling, then when it starts to turn a golden colour, remove from the heat
5. Immediately add the baking soda and mix quickly then immediately pour onto the baking parchment (At this point the mix will increase in size dramatically. It may even look like it's about to pour over the top so make sure you are working near the tray). The mix will also be extremely hot so avoid getting fingers in it
6. Allow to stand for at least an hour before trying
So what can go wrong?
a. If you cook it too quickly you can burn the mix and it will taste foul. Make sure to dissolve the mix before turning up the heat.
b. The baking soda doesn't mix properly. The first few times I made this I got scared of how quickly it increased in size, so I stopped mixing. If you have a long enough spoon you can stir it in thoroughly and not get burnt by the mix
c. The mix is too soft. Normally this is because the mix has been pulled too quickly and hasn't got to the golden state that you require
d. Mix is extremely hard and not crunchy. This is probably down to the fact you have over worked the mix when adding the baking soda. If you don't move to the baking parchment quick enough the air bubbles will break and the mix will lose its lightness
e. You have a burnt mouth. Probably it looked so delicious that you tried eating it from the spoon..... Please don't. Let it cool
Hopefully you take the time to make this. I really love it. We make it at home and dip it in white chocolate. It tastes so good..
Thanks to those of you that have taken the time again to read through this. A bit long this week so my apologies and also for the occasional "Americanism" that may sneak in. I spent 5 great years out there so a few do crop up
Have a great week
So, with this big hole in my knowledge of culinary history, I duly packed my bags and headed off to the Internet to find myself a plethora of ginger information. Safe in the knowledge that it would take some time to sift through fact and fiction, I was hopeful that I would get to the roots!!!
The use of Ginger can be traced back almost 5000 years. It has also been suggested that it may have even been used before history began being recorded - somewhat of a paradox that my mind cannot fathom! Many cultures in Asia consider it as a cure for a series of ailments (allegedly one of the best hangover cures; but this has yet to prove successful for me!)
Although predominantly cultivated in Asia, ginger found itself transported to other continents very early on. This was mainly due to the belief in its medicinal properties (particularly good for digestion) as well as its flavour in cooking. It appears that the Romans first brought it to Europe 2000 years ago and it’s never really left. Although still mainly produced in the Asian region, we are major consumers of this adaptable ingredient. On a side note, I discovered that Queen Elizabeth I was the inventor of the Gingerbread Man. However, as this little nugget of information comes from the Internet, I would probably take it with a pinch of salt…..
What I love most about Ginger is the heat that comes from it as well as the flavor. It has an almost spicy quality which is definitely evident when it’s dried and ground up. But served fresh, Ginger is an absolute delight. You need to take a small amount and dice it up finely then mix it with some diced chilli, shallots, coriander, lemon juice and olive oil. (I wouldn’t recommend biting into a whole piece as it will bring tears to your eyes!) You then season it and use it as a dressing for a spinach salad or toss it with cooked pak choi. Make sure you use fresh though as the crystalized ginger we often see is great for cake baking but not as an accompaniment for your main course. Similarly, slices of pickled ginger are great for cleaning the palate when eating sushi but not as good for making stir fry.
When cooking at home, we have ginger in our food at least twice a week. I like to include it into at least one dish on my menus – and even sneak the odd ginger snap into my tea now and then . . .
Well, here endeth the lesson on G for the week. We are starting to look busy over the coming months in Weymouth and Dorchester. If you are interested in using us to host a dinner party or wedding event, then be sure to contact us. We also offer excellent private chef services for the whole of Dorset and even into Somerset and Hampshire. Check out the rest of our website
Another simple use of fennel is in a stir fry. It can also be braised and used as a base for salmon or trout. You can chargrill it and serve alongside other vegetables such as peppers and aubergine. Or one of my favourite uses of fennel is to turn it into a sorbet. Yes, you read that right. A sorbet! There is just the right amount of sweetness already in the fennel and sugar really brings out the aniseed flavor. It never ceases to amuse me when I watch people taste fennel sorbet and they struggle to determine where the flavour is from. If you have time to experiment with ice cream and sorbet then I would highly recommend it!
The good news is that Fennel is available year round in every supermarket, so there’s no excuse to not go and buy one to try if you haven't already. When you shop for fennel, you need to make sure that you select nice firm bulbs that show no signs of bruising. You may be able to find baby fennel which are much sweeter cooked than fennel but I don’t find as tasty eaten raw.
Thank you for taking the time again to read my musings. I have already written the next few letters, but am currently stuck on the letter 'I' . Any suggestions for that would be greatly received
All you need is the following:
6 Medium Eggs
2 Tbsp Full fat mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
½ Shallot finely diced
1 tsp Paprika
Have a go and let me know what you think. And if you find another way you like to serve them, then let me know. I’m always up for new ideas
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog again. It wont be as long between this one and the next. Our gourmet dinner went off really well. Thank you to everyone who came and ate. We are looking at the possibility of doing it again in the near future.
Looking back, I struggle to recall a time when I have disliked eating, or cooking with it.
The beauty of duck is the fact that it can transcend so many types of cuisine. Whether you prefer the Confit Duck Leg from a traditional French menu, or enjoy a taste of Peking Duck from Chinese cuisine, the potential uses of duck is so varied. One of my particular favourite recipes involves smoking the duck breast and serving it with an orange and hazelnut salad. Duck has a real gamey flavor which is enhanced by the addition of smoking. However, you need to be aware that it needs to be smoked to no more than a medium or the meat becomes too tough. When cooked correctly, the meat should literally melt in your mouth!
At that time, the ducks were migratory birds and therefore what was served depended very much on the time of year. As ducks began to be bred specifically for eating, the range available significantly slimmed down. As I’m sure you will recognise, a large amount of duck is consumed in the Chinese market. Within Europe, it is not as popular due to the demise in duck farming during the war - and can be noted from the proportions of duck available compared to other meats in the supermarket!
If you haven’t noticed already, we are running a pop up restaurant night at the Palm House in Weymouth. For £35 you get canapes, free glass of prosecco, 5 course meal and petit fours to follow. This is an absolute steal for what you receive and well worth it. Click here to view the menu and visit our Facebook page to purchase tickets
So, if you ever get the opportunity to try some beef or pork cheeks, I implore you to do so. Unfortunately, beef cheek has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the last few years and therefore are not as cheap as they used to be. However, they are still a much cheaper alternative to the more expensive cuts of meat that most of us are familiar with.
As a small catering company, we have the ability to source our ingredients specifically to fit each function we do. If you are thinking of having a Birthday or Dinner Party in the Weymouth, Portland, Dorchester or surrounding area then please contact us. Your guests would be sure to enjoy a dish of soft melting pork cheeks with celeriac (another awesome C ingredient!) and caramelised apple.
Click here to visit our home page.
I’m going to leave you with a simple recipe this week. You can buy butternut squash whole or you can buy it ready prepared. In this day and age, the reality is that a lot of us don’t have the time to peel and dice a butternut along with all the other things that need preparing. So, if you have the time, then get one whole, but if not, there is no harm in buying it ready diced (thought you wont get the seeds which are great when roasted in a little olive oil and salt)
500g diced Butternut Squash
1 Tbsp Paprika
1 Tbsp Cayenne
2 Tbsp Dried Mixed Herbs
2 Cloves Garlic Finely Chopped
30ml Olive Oil
Turn the oven to 190°C. Get a non-stick tray and have it heating in the oven. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Cover with a plate or a lid and shake the bowl for 10-15 seconds to make sure all the butternut becomes covered. Pour the contents of the bowl onto the hot tray in the oven and shake to distribute evenly (avoid having too small a tray or the Butternut becomes Squashed!!)
Every 5-7 minutes turn the butternut using a thin fish slice. After about 25 minutes, it should be soft in the middle and brown around the edges. Remove and enjoy as a side dish, on its own or tossed into a salad.
Hopefully you have enjoyed this weeks ingredient. I am still deciding on C as there are a few ingredients that begin with that letter. Have a good week and don’t forget to check out the rest of our website
One of those ingredients that you either love or you hate.
When I grew up, I was definitely in the latter group. To me, they were tiny little packets of salty, fishy nastiness that seemed to appear on my pizza. One of my earliest memories of the food is being given a slice of pizza that was overpowered by the smell of anchovy. Like so many before me, I was put off before I even tucked in.
This opportunity also allowed me to develop an understanding for the salted anchovies. I discovered that they weren’t all processed as badly as the ones I experienced when I was younger. Over the years, I have found that salted anchovies could go well with dishes like Roast Lamb. And the possibilities for working with fresh anchovies are endless . . . But maybe I should save that for another time!
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