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Friday, 23 November 2012

It's a bit of an animal


I was watching Dara O'Brian's Science Club on television the other night where they covered the topic of lab-grown meat. This is not news to me as it is a subject that had been circulating in the press a few months previously, however it is still a hot topic.

We are now living in age where the consumption of meat has become so huge, to an extent where it is suggested that the demand is putting an immense strain on our planet.



As much as enjoy a good piece of meat, I am not someone who feels the need to eat it everyday but those that do and believe a meal is not complete without it are being encouraged to adopt at least one meat-free day each week.

Back to the subject of the laboratory, it requires just one small biopsy taken from a live cow. The cow remains unharmed and carries on with its life as usual while its cells in the lab are mixed with various growth cultures and with some scientific manipulation, muscle fibres grow.

It is indeed very clever science, something I marvel at, but I can't help but think that this is perhaps not the route to take to solve the world's meat production issues.
For starters, the lab meat is not like meat as we know it. The scientists demonstrating on the TV programme said it would be used to make hamburgers, so it looks like it is a long way off from being used to construct a nice juicy steak.

A small piece was even cooked after it had been seasoned with salt. The scientists sliced into the anaemic little piece of stuff and gave their verdict. What did it taste like? Chicken apparently. So to emulate the flavours of a hamburger I think it would require a fair amount of additional ingredients and additives to even resemble anything like beef. Already this lab meat is on its way to becoming a heavily processed foodstuff, something I'm not keen on.

No doubt this type of science is a spin off from growing human organs in a lab, which I can see has a valid application, but there must be other experiments and studies into solving the world’s food crises that warrant the time and money spent.

At this stage although growing meat in a lab – from the scientists point of view – has been largely successful, it has taken them years to get as far as they have and by their own admission they couldn't even produce enough yet to meet demand. In addition the current process takes so much energy it is hardly sustainable so perhaps we're still better off rearing real animals in the traditional way.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Food is life

It is very true to say that food feeds the soul as well as the body and I can vouch for the positive effects that the involvement with food can have on mental well being.

I began this blog some years ago as I am excited by food, not just eating, but cooking, the history, the culture and how it is so much part of our lives interests me. I wanted to share what I enjoyed, my knowledge and passion for all things edible, whether it be family recipes or those from my favourite cookery books to even venturing into relating my very much intuitive recipes to the page.

My blog's beginnings were a little sporadic at first as I discovered it takes a great deal of time to write a recipe and having a regular day job could be draining leaving me little time to indulge my passion. Then a couple of years ago something happened that left me in a very dark place indeed. I must have been heading into the dark days of depression well before I was put in a very awkward position that meant I could no longer stay in my job. Was it a nervous breakdown? I'm still not sure but I had been in denial of what was happening to me and then boom, I fell down the biggest and blackest metaphorical hole in the universe.

I find it hard, even now to express how I really felt back then, but my thoughts were often suicidal.
One of the things with depression is that you can lose the want to do the things that you once enjoyed. On the advice of my doctor I tried very hard to continue to pursue my hobbies, my blog being one of them.

I can honestly say that it was very good therapy. It gave me focus and purpose and still does although perhaps I'm not as prolific as I was. However there is a very good reason for this. My blog became a springboard for a business I set up with my husband, whose help has been absolutely invaluable and now my passion for all things food is directed into The Artisan Food Trail.

Could I say that food saved my life? It would have to be a resounding yes. Also without my husband's encouragement, support and steadfast faith in me and what I was capable of I wouldn't be sharing my story today.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Run run, as fast as you can…



…You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!

Well this time, the sly old fox was me, that got to eat the gingerbread man!

A recent trip took me to Ashbourne in Derbyshire, home to the longest pub sign in the world and the maddest and biggest football match held at Shrovetide. Ashbourne's proximity has earned it the title of Gateway to The Peak District.

Ashbourne is also famous for its gingerbread biscuits and as far as I know there are a couple of places that make and sell them in the town. I visited Birds which resides in a black and white timber framed building in St Johns Street – you can't miss it as there's a hanging sign on the outside clearly depicting a gingerbread man.

Ashbourne gingerbread is not what you'd might expect, being much lighter in colour than the more familiar recipes. It is rather like a firm shortbread biscuit flavoured with ground ginger.
Its history is fascinating and the recipe is said to have been brought to the town by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars. The personal chef of a captured French general reputedly made it in 1805 and his recipe was copied and used locally.

I just love the gingerbread men which are so traditional with their currant eyes and buttons and glacé cherry mouth – it makes a change from some of the over iced, grotty-looking ones covered with Smarties you often see.

For those who no longer indulge their inner child, 'knobs' can also be bought. Mind your teeth though as the thickness and hardness can be tricky to bite into!

Photos: © childsdesign

Friday, 4 May 2012

Wild Garlic and How to Get It



I don't get out much. I am not a hermit though and I do enjoy going out, providing the circumstances are right. A day of fresh air and countryside is preferable to traipsing around the shops as I would rather dodge insects and tree branches than hapless retail enthusiasts.

I've been very busy lately running a business which has kept me indoors probably too much, but as it revolves around food, I've not been unhappy, but I would have liked to have gone out and foraged for some wild garlic.
As part of my work entails much use of social media I was lucky enough to encounter a generous person on Twitter who offered to post me some wild garlic after seeing my tweet asking if anyone knew of good foraging sites in North Herts.

A packet arrived promptly and intact from Bere Marsh Farm. I was initially concerned that the fresh-picked leaves might not make the journey from Dorset, but Royal Mail had been careful not to squash them.
Fiona Gerardin sells packs of her organic wild garlic on eBay, which is a good thing to know, if you want to try it, but can't get to somewhere to collect it yourself.

From my quick research I know that wild garlic (latin name: allium ursinum) also known as ramsoms, grows in moist woodland areas and flowers in the spring before most trees have regained their leaves.
Many experienced foragers will tell you that you can follow your nose to a patch. The strong garlic scent is a dead giveaway and fortunately for this reason, makes for reliable identification. Be careful though, not to confuse it with lily of the valley which is highly toxic. Take a leaf, crush it, smell it. Smells of garlic? Than you have the right one. No smell, then best leave it.



I should point out that if you do decide to collect food plants from the wild, you should get permission from the landowner and only carefully pick what you need and never uproot plants. Nature and the environment need respect, also you would want to return the following year to the same flourishing patch, wouldn't you?

Much like bulb garlic, wild garlic can be used the same way in cooking. I made a pesto with it which had a strong garlic flavour and the added fresh green flavour from the juicy leaves. The risotto, I made was good too. The leaves I added towards the end of cooking to preserve their colour. They were jolly good in Chinese stir-fries as well.

What seemed to be a small packet contained more than it first appeared and I discovered that wild garlic leaves store well in the salad drawer of the fridge.

Maybe next year I'll be able to get out into the woods and go wild garlic hunting for myself or failing that, I'll just have to grow it in the garden.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Welsh Cakes

Photo: © childsdesign

There's been a slight crisis in my kitchen for the past week. My oven has decided to become non-operational, that is, the gas will light but it won't stay on. This is very frustrating and means I can no longer bake, roast or stew until it's fixed.
Actually it isn't really a major crisis, but I've realised how much I've taken that poor oven for granted and now it has forced me to think of other ways I can assuage a craving for home baking.

In honour of the Welsh patron saint, St David, – which as I write, his day is tomorrow – I made some Welsh Cakes. These are cooked on a griddle so need for Mr Oven. Sorry mate but you won't get me down that easily!

Ingredients
225g plain flour
100g butter
75g caster sugar
50g currants
½tsp baking powder
¼tsp mixed spice
1 egg, beaten
pinch salt
a little milk to bind

Method
Sift together the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a mixing bowl. Add the salt.
Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the bowl and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and currants, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, if the mixture seems a bit dry add some milk.
Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about 5mm thick. Cut the dough into rounds using a pastry cutter.
To cook the cakes, heat a flat griddle or cast iron pan, grease it with a little butter and place on the cakes and cook until golden. Try not to have the heat too high as the cakes will cook too quickly on the outside before the centre is done. Also it is best to turn them frequently to prevent burning.
When the cakes are cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve warm with butter.
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