7 February 2016

Lab Grown Meat, Dead Animals or a “Pile of Vegetables”?

I had a fabulous lunch with my friend Debbie at Archie Browns, a vegetarian café (and health food shop) in Truro last Thursday; we shared a tasting platter and it was wonderful.

Telling the chaps I “work” with about this the next day one guy said how could I be so pleased with “just a pile of vegetables?” Well really, just look at it …

Another of the guys, however, is a vegetarian and knows of Archie Browns so, of course, agreed with me.  He also made the important point that in a world of diminishing resources, a growing population, greenhouse emissions, climate change and what have we, it makes no sense to feed an animal much more food and water than we get out of it! This brings me to the second point of this post, have you seen this?

It’s Meat Jim – but not as we know it!

Scientists have been working on producing meat from stem cells rather than from dead animals and recently tested and tasted a lab-grown meatball.

This meatball was produced by Memphis Meats who grew animal muscle tissue using stem cells of cows and pigs fed with nutrients and oxygen. Based on the current price of lab-grown beef which is about $18,000 per pound it probably cost about $2,000 (plus, of course the trimmings!) but hopefully will become cheaper as they get better at it.

Some people apparently think the idea of growing lab-grown meat is yuk but then again some people don’t like the idea of eating dead animals and think that is yuk. What do you think?

If (a big if) this really works and has no hidden side effects – what a good idea! Watch a video about it here and see what you think.

Of course if you can’t wait for the price to come down but would just like to make yourself a delicious real beef burger see here. 

In Other News …

Having reviewed a lot of cook books over the last few years I was a little discombobulated to be sent a novel, “Fracture”by Clár Ní Chonghaile, to review as this is really not my normal style of reading matter. 

How wrong I was, as soon as I read the first page I was hooked. The story is of a journalist held hostage in Somalia told from his own perspective plus that of his mother and of Abdi, a young guy recruited by the terrorist group to “take care” of the prisoner. 

The book is topical, realistic and makes one look at Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism from a different perspective. It taught me a lot I didn’t know about Somalia. The writing is excellent the characters believable and I felt sympathetic towards them. I heartily recommend it.

And speaking of reviews ... just look at this a comment on my last post.
“Hi there, just like to say that I purchased your 4 genius books for kindle yesterday - ice cream, sorbet, scones and soup. They are great! Wonderful simple recipes and a delightful writing style that made me laugh out loud at times.”
Thank you Rikki!

Genius Recipes? see here.

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24 January 2016

“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”

Two things have happened in the last couple of days to prompt me to write this post.

The first thing was that I picked up a strange little book at “work” (see end of this post for details of my “job” and some wonderful bargains if you live near me!) …

Looking it up on Amazon I see that this booklet is basically the salient points from a far more comprehensive and attractively illustrated version but the points in the little book are good enough for me. 

Michael Pollan’s rules are very much the kind of thing I’ve been trying to say, for instance, and very apropos to this post …

“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”


“It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language (think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles …)”

The second thing is, I think, old news but I’ve just read it on Facebook – so called “Hamburger chef” Jamie Oliver successfully challenged McDonalds about the use of pink slime, ie. the fatty parts of the beef ‘washed’ in ammonium hydroxide, in their burgers. Apparently they no longer do this thanks, at least in part, to Jamie. I started looking into this but there was loads to read and I’m not really that interested. 

What I am interested in is …

Why, apart from convenience for people on the road and in a real hurry, why would anyone choose to have a takeaway (or eat in) burger (or other meal) from McDonalds or other fast food outlet?

Do you know how easy it is to make a burger? 

If not this is what you do …

~   Get some fresh but not too lean minced beef – you want your burger to be juicy.
~   Divide it into portions the size you would like your burgers but treat the meat gently as overworking it will toughen them. I have always made 225g/8oz burgers both at home for my real man and when cooking professionally. Allow me to go off on a small tangent here ...

According to McDonalds themselves their cooked beef patties in a Big Mac weigh approximately 66g/2.3 ounces each so that’s a little under 4.6g/5oz. Even allowing for shrinkage you can do way better than that! Anyhoo …

~   Make a small depression in the burger on one side. (I say this but have never done it - apparently it helps the burger cook evenly and stay flat).
~   Heat a frying pan and grease lightly.
~   Season your burgers on both sides with salt and black pepper. The salt is important because not only does make the burger tasty it helps form a good crust on the meat.
~   Cook your burger till perfect by browning over medium high heat according to the timings below on the first side without disturbing it. Flip onto the second side and finish cooking. Times may vary a little according to the thickness of the burgers.

Rare – 3 minutes per side, feels soft and juicy.
Medium – 4 minutes per side, feels springy.
Well Done –  5 minutes per side, feels firm.

~   If you top your burger with something eg. bacon, cheese etc. cover the pan briefly to heat and melt the topping or, better really if you can,  pop the burger into a hot oven or under a hot grill for just a minute to heat briefly.
~   Serve with a burger bun (toasted or not to your taste) with whatever you fancy eg. mayonnaise, bbq sauce etc. plus real cheese, bacon, onions and so on.

6 important points …

~   Don’t crowd the pan; if cooking more than one burger there must be space between them or they will steam rather than fry.

~   DON'T press or flatten burgers during cooking because this squeezes out the juices, compresses the meats and really irritates me!
~   If the meat seems stuck to the pan when you want to turn it wait a little while; once a good crust has formed it will release itself from the pan, providing you dried the meat properly before cooking.
~   Only flip once.
~   Don't cut into the burger to see if it is done at this releases yummy juices.
~   As with all meat set aside to rest in a warm place for a few minutes before serving.

So, your choice …

Big Mac – £.2.69 comprising 132g ground beef (possibly and possibly not with additives), one white bun, some lettuce, a slice of processed cheese (or cheese product to be exact ie. not real cheese).

Or ...

Homemade Burger - £1.80 approx comprising 225g ground beef, 2 rashers back bacon, a generous portion of lovely mature Cornish cheddar, a spoonful of freshly fried red onions, lettuce and baby plum tomatoes, white burger bun. 

This is one I made earlier for my real man.

Cooking your own burger takes about 10 minutes from taking the meat out of the packet (although longer if you also do chips), I’m sure you could easily wait that long in McDonalds!

This is just one example of why you should cook your own food – it is real and fresh, can be made exactly as you like it and is also cheaper.

My “Work”

I’ve written before about this – two days a week I help sort out vast amounts of books that have been donated to Cornwall Hospice Care.  They are divided into books that are good enough to sell on Amazon and those that can be sold in the many shops around Cornwall. Some books don’t make the mark and are sold for pulping – heartbreakingly!

Naturally I am often tempted to buy a book (or ten) myself, so I do, hence the Michael Pollan book mentioned above.

Bargains – I volunteer at the warehouse at Holmbush which is behind their great shop selling pre-loved furniture and stuff. There is also a clearance outlet where phenomenal bargains are to be found including clothes for £1 and paperback books at five for a pound.  So if you are in the St. Austell area head over to St. Austell Furnish, their largest store  and get yourself some reading matter!

Speaking of books – I have just updated my ebook of cooking tips and hacks which now includes a little over 300 ideas which might be helpful.

Oh - and head over here for a quiz to see what you know about aphrodisiacs, might be helpful with Valentine's Day coming up!

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14 January 2016

Lamb – a surprisingly healthy choice!

Seemingly lamb has a bit of a reputation for being fatty and therefore may not be a first choice for healthy eating – what a shame and a misconception. The truth of the matter is that lamb provides high quality zinc, iron and protein which is especially important when losing weight as it not only curbs hunger but also speeds recovery after exercise and reduces muscle loss. This is certainly good news after the recent binge we've all been on!

I am the happy recipient of some lovely boneless leg of organic Welsh lamb from Rhug Estate Organic Farm  and am going to make some delicious dishes with it. Big headed or what!

I decided to cook my lamb four different ways and eat it all myself because as luck would have it my Real Man is not one for adventurous eating and in any case it’s my lamb!

Roast Lamb with Black Garlic

Firstly an idea I have been pondering for some while – how lamb would taste with black garlic.

4 lovely pieces of lean lamb meat – about 200g each
6 black garlic cloves
1 teaspoon (or more!) freshly and coarsely ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
~   Grind together the black garlic (which is very soft) and the black pepper using a pestle and mortar or a bowl and teaspoon.
~   Stir in the olive oil and slather this over the meat.
~   Cover and set aside in the fridge for several hours.
~   Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/170ºC fan/gas 5 and put an ovenproof dish in it.
~   Get the lamb out of the fridge.
~   When the oven is hot season the meat with a little salt and brown on all sides in a hot pan then transfer to the dish in the oven.
~   Roast for 15-20 minutes till to your liking.

The meat was superb; tender, tasty and juicy. I’m afraid I then did something a little fattening with the meat juices but you don’t have to – I set the lamb aside in a warm place to rest (all cooked meats benefit from a rest, as do I) and added a splash of port to the pan, simmered a minute then added a knob of butter. It all tasted wonderful but the sauce didn’t look so good in the photo!  Sorry about that!

Black garlic maybe an unfamiliar ingredient but is well worth investigating – it is sweet and rich and reminiscent of molasses and balsamic vinegar.

My second dish was ...

Souvlaki – for 4

You need metal or wooden skewers for this Greek dish.

750g lovely lean lamb leg meat – cut into 2½ cm/1” ish dice
5 tablespoons olive oil
the juice of one lemon
1 red onion – finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, finely chopped, if you have it)
freshly ground black pepper

~   Basically mix together all the ingredients except the lamb and then stir in the lamb.
~   Cover and leave to marinate for at least 5 hours but considerably longer, eg overnight, if you can.
~   If you are using wooden skewers soak them in water as they are much less likely to char or catch fire that way.
~   Preheat the grill or pan.
~   Thread the lamb chunks on the skewers and season with salt.
~   Cook for 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally till just how you like them. 
A bit of char on the meat can be pleasant!

Serve with flatbread plus Tzatziki and Horiatiki or in other words minty cucumber and yogurt dip and Greek salad.

Thirdly out of respect to the Welshness of the meat …

Lamb & Leek Hotpot – serves 4

400g fresh leeks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
750g boneless leg of lamb – diced
another 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of flour
600ml hot vegetable or lamb stock
800g potatoes
salt and pepper
a little butter - optional

~   Cut off the root end of the leeks, remove the outer layer, cut in half lengthways and then slice. Wash according to the useful instructions here. 
~   Cook the leeks in the 3 tablespoons of oil in accordance with the instructions which are on the same page. 
~   Season the lamb and in a separate pot brown them, a few pieces at a time, in the other two tablespoons of olive oil.  Getting a good colour on the meat is important for the flavour of the finished dish.
~   When the leeks are buttery tender stir in the garlic and the flour over low heat a few seconds.
~   Stir in the stock, bring to the boil stirring, turn off the heat and add the lamb to the pot.
~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Peel and thinly slice the potatoes.
~   Arrange half the potato slices to cover the base of an ovenproof dish and season with a little salt and pepper.
~   Pour the lamb and its gravy over the potatoes.
~   Top with the rest of the potato slices and season.
~   Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours although check after an hour and a half to see how it is going and add a little more stock if it is drying out.
~   When all is tender remove the foil (dot with a little butter if you are not being too abstemious) and return the dish to the oven to brown the potatoes.

 On second thoughts I think my real man would like this if I left out the garlic! Perfect for the sort of weather we are having.

And finally another warming winter dish and one of my favourites …

Lamb Braised in Red Wine – serves 4

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
750g lean lamb leg meat – diced
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
½ tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
600ml red wine
a little stock

~   Heat the oil in a large saucepan and carefully brown the meat, a few pieces at a time so as not to overcrowd the pan, in it.  Set aside.
~   Add the onions and cook, stirring often, till softening and just starting to take colour.
~   Stir in the garlic and cook a minute.
~   Stir in the tomato paste and cook another minute.
~   Stir in the flour and, yes, cook another minute.
~   Add the red wine and bring to the boil.
~   Return the meat to the pan and if necessary add a little stock or water to bring the liquid just to the level of the top of the meat.
~   Cover with foil and then the lid, turn the heat to low and simmer for a couple of hours or so till very, very, very tender and wonderful.
~   If the sauce is a little runny for your taste remove the lamb and set aside whilst you boil the gravy down a little.

The meat cooked this way is rich, silky, tender, sticky and utterly delicious!

I usually do this with lamb shanks, the long slow cooks means that any fat melts and as it cools rises to the surface of the gravy. One chilled the fat can be lifted off before reheating which, as these sort of dishes always taste better the day after making, is the best thing to do.  Using the leg of lamb there was no fat on the gravy!

A Note on Welsh Lamb

Lamb is a lovely meat and Welsh Lamb is extra special; it has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status certifying the integrity of the meat, that it has been traditionally reared and butchered to a very high standard or to put it another way, is some of the best lamb in the world. This was certainly true of what I have been eating this last week.

So if you love lamb but would like to eat healthily and maybe lose weight then no worries – just buy some of the leaner lamb cuts and cook mindfully.  

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29 December 2015

The best ways to cook eggs plus a daft one!

I am a bit confused.

I have never, in the UK, stored eggs in the fridge, they have always been absolutely fine and so far as I know this has always been the norm here, indeed chicken shaped baskets for storing eggs attractively on the counter are readily available.

In the States eggs are kept in the fridge and I understand that European and American eggs are treated so differently that our eggs would be illegal in the States and American eggs would actually be illegal anywhere in the EU. Read more here if you don't believe me!

In America it is law that eggs be washed before being sold commercially, in the UK it is the law that they must not be washed!  The reasoning behind these different laws are thus ...

~   The Americans’ take on the issue is that washing eggs makes them cleaner, which in principal one can’t argue with. The downside is that after washing the eggs must be dried very thoroughly indeed as any dampness will promote bacterial growth. Furthermore, because their natural protection has been washed off eggs in America are stored in the fridge and there is the danger that eggs may sweat when removed from the fridge, especially on the journey home from the shop, and bacteria will grow.

~   In the UK we prefer not to wash our eggs for the above reasons, careless cleaning being more dangerous than no cleaning. Washing also removes the cuticle which protects from contamination, it is because we leave the cuticle on that we do not need to refrigerate eggs in the UK.

Another point in our favour is that since the 1990s our farmers have been routinely inoculating hens against salmonella and it’s really worked. In the US eggs are kept below 40oF to stop salmonella developing.

Why then, I ask myself, and you, does my box of eggs from Tesco have “best kept refrigerated” on it?

What a surprise, have things changed and no-one has told me? 

Apart from freeing up space in your fridge storing them un-chilled is a boon when cooking as for best results they should always be cooked from room temperature.

Speaking of eggs I just tried something interesting-ish ...

Hard “Boiled” Eggs in the Oven

~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Put 1 whole raw egg in each individual cup in a muffin tray.
~   Bake for 30 minutes.
~   Immediately immerse in a large dish of ice cold water.
~   When completely cold (about 10 minutes) peel and do with them what you will.

When I saw this I wondered to myself “is this another of those daft hacks I’ve been seeing recently?” but tried it anyway.  And the answer to my question? 

In short – a definite yes; daft and pointless. In more detail ...

~   Preheating the oven and keeping it on for 30 minutes is time consuming and costly compared to just boiling the buggers. If you have the oven on already I suppose it might be economical but not many things cook at such a low temperature.
~   The egg whites were discoloured, their texture was rubbery and they tasted strongly metallic/sulphurous.
~   The yolks tasted fine but seemed to have migrated to one side of the egg so not good for pretty presentation.
~   I noticed a distinct and long lasting eggy pong about the house which is not the case when boiling.

Don’t try this at home – or anywhere else!

Why are such peculiar ideas becoming rife when there are easier, pleasanter, safer, quicker, deliciouser ways to do things?  For some more irritating “hacks” see here.   

Eggs are incredibly useful and versatile so  here’s some actually useful info, tips and opinions about the most usual ways of cooking them.

Boiled Eggs

"Put fresh eggs into cold water and allow them to boil for the duration of a Paternoster or a little longer"
Aldo Buzzi

A Paternoster is the Lord’s Prayer which, hang on a minute … took me 21.36 seconds of slow praying (I am always very thorough in my research for this blog) and, that being the case, I think Mr. Buzzi is very much in error. *** More information on this matter at the end of the post.

I do agree with him, however, that although eggs can be boiled by plunging them into boiling water it is easier to do them well from cold, like this ...

~   If you are in America bring your eggs to room temperature for two good reasons; they can be timed more accurately and they are less likely to crack.
~   Put them in a small pan and add enough cold water to cover by about 1cm/½".
~   Bring to a boil over high heat then turn down the heat and simmer for the following times.

Very soft boiled with a still runny white – 3 minutes
Soft boiled with a runny yolk but a set white– 4 minutes
Semi firm yolks – 5 minutes
Hard boiled with a tender yolk– 8 minutes.
Really hard boiled – 10 minutes

Scrambled Eggs

I have never, ever whisked milk or cream into eggs for scrambling, they are perfect just cooked with butter.

It is absolutely essential than any intended additions or accompaniments are ready before you start scrambling.

~   Melt a generous knob of butter (about 15g/½oz) over medium heat in a small pan – non-stick preferably for washing up reasons.
~   Break two or three eggs directly into the partly melted butter and immediately stir the two together.
~   Season and stir constantly over a low-ish heat.
~   As the eggs start to solidify fold them into the uncooked egg till you have a pan of softly cooked eggs.
~   Immediately stir in a little more cold butter or some cream simply because this will stop the eggs continuing to cook, any added deliciousness is purely incidental.
~   Serve absolutely immediately.

Using a goodly amount of butter makes the eggs rich and creamy both in taste and texture.

Fried Eggs

To fry an egg ...

~   Heat a tablespoon of oil or equivalent in butter (the egg will be more tender if cooked in butter, more inclined to "puntillitas" or slightly crisp browned edges in oil) in the middle of a preheated non-stick or well-seasoned frying pan.
~   Gently break the egg into the centre of the oil
~   Cook over medium heat for about a minute till the white is actually white and then do one of the following:

~   For sunny side up either serve as is or briefly cover the pan with a lid so that the top of the yolk sets lightly in the steam.
~   For slightly more set yolks, when the white looks pretty well cooked splash the hot fat over the yolk till it assumes a glazed look.
~   For over easy carefully flip the egg yolk side down and cook for about five seconds.
~   Over hard are the same as above but cooked till the yolk is firm.


Omelettes are not as difficult as we have been led to believe; in fact they are quite easy. This is how to make an omelette for one person and as you should always make an omelette for just one person this is all the info you need. For additional people make additional omelettes, they only take a minute or two and work out much better than trying to double up ingredients.

~   Break 2 or 3 eggs into a bowl.
~   Season and lightly beat together just to break the whites into the yolks, there is no need to whisk till fully amalgamated.
~   Melt a knob of butter in a 24cm or thereabouts non-stick pan.
~   When the butter has melted and starts to foam swirl it about the pan and pour in the eggs.
~   Allow to sit over the heat for a few seconds and when you see the edges start to solidify gently lift them with a spatula, tilt the pan towards the spatula and encourage the runny egg on top to flow to the side of the pan and under the cooked egg.
~   Keep doing this till the top of the omelette is merely moist.
~   Add any fillings and fold one half of the omelette over the other.
~   Slide onto a warm plate.

You can add pretty well anything to the middle of an omelette remembering to pre-warm most fillings first (not cheese) as it will only be over the heat for a few seconds. I like to add crunchy croutons for a lovely texture contrast.

Baked Eggs – real ones that are actually good to eat!

A simple way to bake eggs ...

~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Butter one ovenproof ramekin per egg and break said egg into the ramekin.
~   Season to taste.
~   Pour over a tablespoon of double cream.
~   Bake the egg(s) for 15-20 minutes till the white is set and the yolk isn’t.
~   Serve with crisp hot toast for dipping purposes.

You can bake eggs in other things too – eg. a tart case, half a avocado, a bacon lined muffin cup or, as here, in a tortilla lined ramekin.

In Other News …

~   I hope you had an absolutely gorgeous Christmas full of good food!

~   I’m updating my writer website – have a look here and see what you think.

~   *** Some years ago a reader wrote to the Daily Telegraph as follows …

If you boil an egg while singing all five verses and chorus of the hymn, 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' it will be cooked perfectly when you come to Amen.

I think this may be a more reliable method that the Lord’s Prayer.

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6 December 2015

Christmas Food Quiz – with some Really Useful Answers!

Hello and I'm so sorry I haven't written for a while.  I've no idea why, I just seem to have been busy.  I am planning to write about parsnips soon – I know, fascinating – but in the meantime here is a little Christmas Quiz I devised. 

Questions ...

1.   Which alcoholic drink (a perfect accompaniment to Christmas pud, incidentally) may have formed a crust called beeswing?

2.   Moose Milk – which of these is NOT Moose Milk

a)  A hot rum drink
b)  Liquid that comes out of a mummy moose’s nipples
c)  Ice cream with rum and Kahlua

3   What can be added to brandy to make Christmas Pud burn even more spectacularly?

4.  Which fruit is sometimes known as bounceberry?

5.  In which classic 19th century book were a poor family served

"ice cream – actually two dishes of it, pink and white – and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons"?

6.  What Christmas food should only be eaten between and including Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night? (Tell that to Tesco!)

7.   Which fruit will keep  Christmas cake moist if stored alongside the cake?

8.   Which spice is traditionally used to flavour Bread Sauce?

9.   What was formed into the shape of a “husband” and baked in the hope of attracting the real thing?

10.   Senior Wrangler Sauce is a traditional Christmas sauce at Cambridge University, is it …

a)      Bread Sauce
     b)     Cranberry Sauce
     c)      Brandy Butter
     d)     Custard

11.  Which traditional Christmas food can be traced back to a cookbook written in Roman times?

12.  The Old Norse phrase "ves heill" evolved into which tradition and beverage in Britain?

One Last Question ...

Here is another question, not particularly Christmassy but I really want to know.

What is it with Oreos?

When I lived abroad I tried these a couple of times and was unimpressed and now here they are in the UK when we have so many much better biscuits available.  In fact and American friend of mine who owns a supermarket, when visiting us was very, very impressed with our selection of biscuits (and lots of other things – butters, creams, cheese, jams etc.)

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