Thursday, 28 June 2007

Are Jaffa Cakes Biscuits?

I have just come across a brilliant 'scientific paper' on the cladistics of biscuits, investigating the evolutionary lineage and classification of the Jaffa Cake. Check it out here. The whole site is hilarious actually, I especially like the gallery depicting each dinosaur with their biscuit.

I happened upon it whilst researching our latest project to pimp a snack - hopefully to be published on but absolutely definitely to be published here at least. Top secret pimping project is still in planning stages currently, but I will reveal all as we start to put it together. I'm planning a lab analysis of the original snack to give us a better idea of the components and their proportions, I'm really stuck on the filling right now. Meanwhile, check out the other pimped snack on the site and give me a shout if you have any bright ideas! We need Wingate back again for this kind of thing!

Monday, 25 June 2007

TASTE part 4: River Cottage Seaweed

Just home from Taste London – once again there’s plenty of stuff to tell, and I’m going to kick off with a River Cottage themed post. No sausages this time, but instead we had really interesting demos from their wild food man John Wright. He had brought along a good selection of mushrooms and seaweed and did a very interesting session explaining them all. Although I got to listen to what was happening, I didn’t see too much because I was behind the stage getting ready for the next demo.
On Sunday, however, Chris did a disappearing act and I hastily graduated to sous chef, joining John on stage to make carrageen pudding. It’s something I’ve always wondered about trying, but I never imagined that my first attempt would be on stage watched by paying festival-goers!! I put on my best ‘I do this all the time’ face and got stuck in while John talked about the other plants he’d brought along. Thankfully it all came together exactly as John had described to me in the minutes before we started the demo – BIG relief! I didn’t put enough sugar in the mixture, but apart from that it was fine, and my main worry over non-setting was proved unfounded.
Since it was his last demo John let me take home some of the unused carrageen and I’ve just emerged from the kitchen where carrageen pud mark II is now setting ready for this evening’s dessert. I combined John’s technique with lemon and basil in the style of the yummy panna cotta we had in Edinburgh. I think it probably would have worked with plenty less seaweed, to give them a gentle custardy wobble rather than a firm jellyish one, and I really must buy a finer sieve for this sort of thing, but here’s what I did…

Lemon and Basil Carrageen Pots

15g dried carrageen
300ml water
250ml milk
50g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Vanilla pod, split
Small handful of basil stalks
250ml double cream

Heat the water and seaweed in a covered bowl above a simmering pan for half an hour.
Meanwhile, gently heat the milk with the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and basil until just reaching boiling point.
Using a spatula, push the seaweed liquid through a fine sieve into a chilled bowl (it should be fairly think and gelatinous).
Quickly mix the cream with the milk mixture, strain, and whisk into the seaweed goo.
Pour into 6 ramekins and chill until firm.

I don’t have a photo of John at work unfortunately, but here’s Hugh F-W himself doing a scallop demo with me in the background looking very serious. For his second demo he did a reading from his book ‘Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All’ followed by a question and answer session.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Tayside raspberry season is here, hurrah!

I really wish we had a proper fruit and veg shop on Perth Road, but until then I will rejoice in the fact that Londis sells local soft fruit in the summer. Best raspberries ever. Actually this is nothing to do with Taste, but is suitably Scottish to be included amongst the Taste Edinburgh bits. Brought this along for dessert when we went round to Kirsty’s for lasagne on Sunday – Cranachan. 500g raspberries, layered between a liter of double cream, whipped together with honey, 180g toasted oats and 16tbsp whisky. The boys were horrified that I used Tallisker for such a purpose but I think its taste came through and made it special. Mmm peaty.

Must crack on and finish last year's jam mountain so we can go fruit picking then cook up some more!

Monday, 18 June 2007

TASTE part 3: pics

Some more pics from Taste Edinburgh

The enormous scallops and tasty salt cured salmon left over from the day’s demonstrations were eagerly awaited by hungry theatre goers. The usual suspects were virtually already seated around the dining table with cutlery in hand as we arrived home at midnight on Saturday.

Jean-Cristophe Novelli’s Vanilla Pod! I promise you it is!

Ray Smith with Cleere making our sausages – a whole carrier bag of them disappeared within minutes when the boys cooked them up for dinner. I have to say that the chorizo-style ones (containing garlic chopped by my own fair hand!) did smell very good even to my vegetarian nose. Amazing smoked paprika.

After a week on the mantle piece in all its shiny glory, the lovely Alessi beast was put to work transforming a load of wrinkly veg into a monster casserole. It swallowed up almost everything I could salvage from the fridge and still was only half full. I love it I love it I love it. Truly a thing of beauty.

TASTE part 2: Fun with sausages

For the next instalment of the Taste adventure, I’ve decided to tell you about the sausage making demos. We helped out with at least 3 demos done by Ray Smith, Hugh F-W’s River Cottage butcher. He did a fascinating session describing how to make the sausage mixture with minced pork, soaked rusk and seasonings – you mix the seasoning and rusk together first to avoid getting pockets of dry seasoning in the meat, and then put it all back through the mincer and into the sausage machine. At this point it was my job to spring forward with a lighter and get a pan all set up on the hob ready for Ray to cook a bit of the mixture to check the seasoning – very important!

He also had all different kinds of entrails to show the audience what kinds of sausages get made in each casing, right up to the ‘nora batty stocking’ ox intestine which was enormous. I have to say that they looked like tape worms and smelled like dead starfish or some other salty dried dead thing picked up on the beach, but the magic was yet to come. You always need to leave the end of the tube hanging over the side of the dish so you don’t loose it, and then the whole thing gets fed onto the nozzle at the bottom of the sausage machine, which is like a big cylindrical container with a press on top and the nozzle at the bottom. Wind the handle, press goes down, sausage meat comes out of nozzle into casing. I’m sure it’s actually very difficult but Ray made it look effortless.

Another thing which is famously tricky (and a popular challenge on the generation game I seem to remember), is linking the sausages into their classic chains. As I was watching him form the chains of sausages on stage it struck me that it’s EXACTLY the same as making a crochet foundation chain. Make a loop, pull the free strand through it to form the next loop, then pull it through that loop and so on and so on. Who’d have thought the crazy worlds of crochet and sausage making had such a common ‘link’ (groan). Incidentally I also have to note the striking similarity between a knitting needle roll and a chef’s roll of knives. I'm sure there's an essay in there on the parallels to be drawn between yarncraft and foodcraft.

Sausages have to rest overnight before they can be cooked to help prevent them splitting. That meant that the crew had an ample supply to cook for breakfast each morning from the previous day’s demos, and they were very much enjoyed. Jane and I took home a mountain of them (see far R in the pic of our haul from the first Taste entry) on the last day. We had a sausage cook-off on Tues night last week and amazingly shifted all of them. There were cocktail sausages, some big ones with sage in, and some Spanish style ones containing garlic chopped with my own fair hand! There was also a good amount of fantastic-smelling smoked paprika in there. Then we had Gu puddings, sticky toffee pudding and some yummy lemon and basil panna cotta (it works, honest!) for dessert, thus making a further dent in our spoils from the last day. I gave a few packs to Jean as well, and she was very pleased with them.

will add some sausagey pictures from home later…

Friday, 15 June 2007

Merino stripes shawl? Done!

Actually finished a little while ago now, but here it is - I'm quite pleased with it, it's nice and soft too...
The pattern can be found here. (Good luck with yours Cony - I challenge you to a two week deadline for the project!) The diagram actually seems to be a mirror image of what's described in the text, but it worked out fine just by following the writing. It wasn't too complicated.

TASTE part 1: we love Alessi

(..not the MRC kind by the way!)

I am pretty useless at this blogging lark – nearly a week has gone by and I have still not managed to get camera, computer and internet connection all together in the same place at the same time. Still not got the photos on the computer but in the mean time I thought I’d start telling the Taste story. Here’s the first instalment anyway…

It was so much fun! A bit smaller than I’d imagined, but lots of good stuff was there. The site was lined with stalls for restaurants and vendors, and then there was a bandstand in the middle plus a few bars etc. 15 restaurants in total, selling 3 dishes each, and lots of free samples from the other stalls including our cheesemongering friends from Mellis (whose stall was continuously mobbed the entire time). There was also a ‘gourmet kitchen’ where they were doing wine tasting sessions and talks, the VIP enclosure, and the Alessi Chef’s Theatre for demos.

When we arrived on Weds we were put to work in the corporate hospitality area setting up tables and getting the drinks in. The highlight of the setting up was when we were asked to go to the chef’s theatre to help unpack the Alessi stuff for the demonstration area and the corresponding display. There was LOADS of it. All brand new and shiny in lots of smart boxes. Better than Christmas! I think the the Alessi people were quite amused at the level of excitement this job had stirred up in us. Incidentally I hadn’t realised that the iconic Phillippe Starck ‘alien’ juicer was an Alessi product until I unpacked a couple of them. Very sleek indeed. There must have been thousands of pounds worth of lovely lovely kitchen hardware there. I have a very big shopping list!

Most of the first day and some of the second was spent serving drinks in the corporate hospitality area however, which was less exciting, especially since the weather was bad and the guests were in there a lot. On Thurs I spent some time clearing away and setting up for the talks in the gourmet kitchen. Mostly picking up glasses and changing the linen, but I got to hear some interesting talks, especially the one from the Scotch Whisky Society. Washing the glasses wasn’t quite so fun but at least we got a few as souvenirs at the end of the festival (SHH!)

On Saturday and Sunday we went up in the world and were allowed to assist Cleere the floor manager of the chef’s theatre. Excellent!! More about that in a separate post, but I have to rant some more about how amazing and lovely all the Alessi kit was. It’s not so common for functional items to be so well designed, hardwearing, and also good to look at. For some of the tablewear perhaps I’ll concede that the money goes into the name and the trendy design, but for the down to earth pots and pans kind of stuff I think you gets what you pays for. And this stuff is good!

It took me until Saturday to realise that the man in charge of the sponsors stand was actually Mr Matteo Alessi of the Alessi family. He also had another Alessi employee working with him, and his wife was also there at the weekend. They were all very nice, and Matteo even used one of the display pasta pots to cook us a tasty lunch in between sessions which was pretty impressive. As we were packing up and preparing to go home after the final session on Sunday, Matteo gave us one of their big shiny casserole pots as a thankyou present which was a fantastic surprise. I got him to sign the box too. It is an impressive oval shaped stainless steel beast with handles on the sides and a fitted lid, dislayed in the pic along with some of the rest of our haul to be detailed at another time. Hob to oven to table once it begins its working life – but for now it’s still on display on the mantlepiece in the lounge like a fine trophy!! I have been trying to find it online, I think it’s the mami stockpot.

Here are a few of my favourite Alessi classics…

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Who needs bobbins?

I have SO much fun to write about after our long weekend working at Taste Edinburgh, it was brilliant. We finished late-ish on Sunday night and yesterday I was good for nothing at all, absolutely knackered. Tonight we're having a bunch of people over to help eat up some of the food we brought back with us, but hopefully after that I'll have a chance to sit down and put into words all the exciting things that have happened.

In the mean time, I've discovered a handy little trick on the internet this lunchtime whilst reading about how to change colour when knitting. After seeing Andrea's lovely baby blanket at borders knitting group last week I'm thinking of trying a similar thing myself with concentric squares.

Need to learn how to change colours properly in the middle of a row, which seems to be an awful lot more tricky than you might first imagine. Some people suggest just leaving long strands of yarn dangling to pick up/put down when you get to the right point, whereas most say to wind small balls of yarn onto bobbins to hold them neatly in the right place. I rather like this idea though: use a wooden peg as the bobbin, winding the yarn around the centre area and gripping the working end with the peg to stop it unravelling when it's not being used. Genius! And costs nothing, even better! I'll get down to testing it out asap and report back on how it goes...

Sunday, 3 June 2007

TASTE: 4 days to go!

ooh getting very excited! On Thursday Jane and I will be popping off to Edinburgh to work at the Taste Festival on the meadows for 4 days. It's not entirely clear yet but we'll either be in the corporate hospitality area serving drinks and looking after guests etc, or in the food theatre pre-preparation area, hopefully there'll be a chance to do a bit of both. I can see myself weighing out all the ingredients into nice little bowls ready for the celebrity chefs to do their demos... 'here's your onions Anthony'...'let me pass you the parsely Gordon'...'Jean-Christophe, I'll wipe that chopping board for you'. COOOLLL! In reality it'll probably be more like picking up empty glasses and taking the bins out but in my mind I'm seeing the launch of my food career starting right here :) Must be mad taking 2 days holiday to go and be an unpaid slave but should be good fun. And hopefully we'll get a bit of time to have a look round the event for free, which was the whole point to start with! Will be reporting back once we've started...