Monthly Archives: May 2017

Ten real-life cooking challenges

Well done Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed on winning Masterchef 2017! Your cooking really inspired me, and I love the light, fresh, vibrant flavours you have brought to the table.

The winner of MasterChef 2017 has been announced

It must be daunting, as an untrained home cook, to be set loose in the professional kitchens of award-winning restaurants, and to produce exquisite platefuls for panels of exalted judges. Quite often, their accolade for a great plate of food was ‘I would be happy to pay for this in a top restaurant.’ This must be scary for other home cooks – it certainly is for me. The measure of your cooking likes in its suitability for fancy restaurants? Terrifying! And yet most home cooks rise to greater culinary challenges on a daily basis.

Which leads me to wonder – why doesn’t the BBC create a different kind of cookery competition? One in which home cooks are judged for extensive skills in all their normal tricky kitchen manoeuvres? In this kind of competition, we could have rounds on (disturbingly) real-life situations. Here are my ten top suggestions:

  1. A week’s worth of packed lunches for a family of five – creating and delivering the lunches, and responding to customer feedback
  2. Providing healthy post-match snacks for your son’s or daughter’s football team
  3. Laying on a celebration buffet for 20 people including your mother-in-law, three children, a vegan, and someone who is gluten-intolerant
  4. Three items for a fundraiser at the local school
  5. Menu for a street party
  6. Consolation supper for a failed driving test
  7. New resolution weekday suppers following a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes
  8. Birthday picnic for 12
  9. A meal which has to be prepared in advance and served within 30 minutes of arrival home, following a special event such as your stepdaughter’s first stage appearance
  10. Team challenge: a wedding breakfast for 50 people at a budget of £4 per head

2016-06-20 11.05.32.jpgWhy would this kind of approach make good viewing? Firstly, because everyone should have the enjoyment of good food as a regular part of life, and most of us can’t afford to pay for it outside the home. Secondly, because lots of people don’t know how to cook nowadays, and we need a bit of relevant inspiration. And thirdly, because it’s important to be in control of what we put into our bodies.

Finally though – because it’s a joy to get your sleeves up and lay on a bit of a spread, be it ever so modest; and it’s great to develop your skills and have them recognised.

Saliha, good luck with your ambition to combine your medical experience and training with the redesign of the British diet. It would be absolutely fantastic to breathe new vigour – drama, even – into the drive to reduce childhood (and other) obesity.

Ringing the Changes

The Cross Party Group on Food at the Scottish Parliament the other week was as usual very informative and particularly topical for me. The theme was ‘The Future of Reformulation’, with speakers from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. Dr Alan Rowe kicked off with a roundup of what’s been going on to date, and why we need to reach further. Everybody, he says, has been trying to reduce the fat, sugar and salt in their products (not sure I agree with that – there are extravagant claims for sugar reduction in the breakfast cereal sector which don’t bear much examination). However there are lots of challenges facing Scotland which need further reformulation efforts.He cited climate change, Brexit, ‘westernisation’ of diets in India and China which in turn have led to hugely increased incidences of diabetes and CVD in those countries; and ongoing famine in large tropical stretches of the world.

Dr Rowe’s colleague, Professor Baukje de Roos, continued with a range of possible developments, and gave brief accounts of three case studies for further discussion:

  • Farmed salmon have much less Omega 3 than theirImage result for images farmed salmon wild cousins. This is because they derive their Omega 3 from their own diet, which, in farms, has been largely based on rapeseed oil. There are other concerns about farmed salmon too; their Vitamin D content is lower; and they suffer from sea lice which are eaten by other fish. The Sunday Times last week ran a feature on the near-extinction of sea wrasse, which are being captured and put to work on the farmed salmon. According to a study at Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture, Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon have halved in five years; and as we all know, Omega 3 provides huge health benefits to humans. If something isn’t done, we might as well get our Omega 3 out of a bottle; and what a loss that would be.
  • Mussel farming has been described as the most sustainable form ofImage result for images mussel farming in Scotland meat production in the world – with no environmental impact at all, according to some sources. Mussels are extremely rich in Vitamin D, with a special metabolite that makes them as rich as Vitamin D supplements; and again, Vitamin D is a vital part of our diet in helping us absorb calcium. People who live in sunnier climes can get a lot of the Vitamin D requirement from sunshine; alas this is not the case in Scotland. Hence the desirability of increasing mussel production and consumption. However mussels are also very high in salt, which is a concern.
  • Plant-based protein sources, such as fava beans, hemp, buckwheat, lupin, and peas, are all grown in Scotland. They are high in protein, low in fat, high in fibre, rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals; anti-inflammatory; and high in satiety, giving you a great ‘fuller for longer’ result. Top 6 Plant Based ProteinsBut none of these foods enjoy much (if any) popularity, or have been developed by the food industry. And meantime Scotland has one of the worst records for obesity, diabetes and CVD in Europe. Could we develop a more popular food that increases protein and the above listed other benefits? Maybe a food that is currently perceived as unhealthy, such as a pie? Because of its satiating qualities, such a pie would be lower in calories and cheap to produce (just like the original Scotch pie!) I’m onto it! A good veggie pie? What’s not to like?

I mentioned that the theme for the meeting was very timely for me. That’s because, along with four colleagues on my Food Innovation Masters course, I was working up a presentation for examination via Dragon’s Den, based on our challenge to develop a reduced-sugar product for children (along with the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). Our group worked on a reduced-sugar granola which I may say was delicious and used completely natural ingredients, and achieved a 40% reduction in sugar over the industry standard. There were lots of very technical bits to the project which I may say were more the forte of the rest of the group. My best contribution came in the marketing recommendations … I don’t suppose Scott’s Porridge Oats will be knocking on our door anytime soon but here’s our product image, for your information/entertainment:

MUNGO’S MIGHTY GRANOLA is a reduced-sugar Scottish premium breakfast cereal, made with fantastic Scottish ingredients, including oats from Angus and raspberries from the Carse of Gowrie. Mungo’s granny was the one immortalised in Rabbie Burns’ famous poem ‘To a Mouse’ – there will be a free toy mouse in every package … well I don’t know if this is ever going to hit the supermarket Image result for images running miceshelves but let me tell you this – you can make it at home (I did, on Wednesday night) and it’s brilliant. The one thing that I know for certain went well at the Dragons’ Den presentation is that when we handed the bag round the Dragons for tasting, the whole lot was scoffed in minutes!