All posts by helenwelsh18

It’s in the bag

Sometimes little coincidences happen which are very satisfying. We’re doing a module food packaging: 3D collection of packaged food isolated on white background Stock Photothis semester entitled ‘Food Packaging and Sustainability’, which you might think is one huge yawn. But actually I’m quite gripped by it. Anyway, we have to write an essay on one aspect of food packaging, and the options include some ‘proper science’ alongside some of the softer stuff. Naturally I have chosen one of the latter – ‘food packaging and consumers’. The other day I narrowed my topic down to ‘Older consumers and food packaging’, and found a wee collection of articles that had been written about difficulties in getting into the package in the first place, reading the tiny print instructions, etc.

DSCN0037.JPGWhen I got home, the Troubadour was enthusiastically engaged in making the tea. He had drawn up his dream menu of veggie sausages, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings; and acquiesced to my suggested addition of peas and onion gravy. You can see how gourmet we are midweek! Anyway I was diddling around, finding my slippers and oozing into the night when from the kitchen issued the Troubadour’s second most expressive commentary: ‘Bollocks! Bollocks! BOLLOCKS!’ His dinner plans were in jeopardy. There on the corner of the frozen roast potato bag was a symbol which in the purchasing, he had misread. Can you spot it?

It seems he had looked for the well-known green V for Vegetarian symbol on the bottom of the pack, and grabbed the bag sure that all was well. However if he haDSCN0036d looked more closely, he would have spotted the diagonal line through the symbol, and the clear message, ‘NOT suitable for vegetarians’. At least the message is clear if you get your magnifying glass out. Or if your eyes are a bit younger, perhaps. On closer inspection, it seems the potatoes include 6% beef dripping. So I guess I’ll eat them on one of the days when I’m asserting my meat-eating preferences. On this occasion, the Troub did a quick trip downstairs to the Co-op and came back with a packet of hash browns instead. Crisis averted. But my essay title feels like it has been validated. Let’s hear it for bigger print and easier opening packets! Even in the case of junk, sorry, convenience foods …

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Well Oiled

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This photo may have you guessing … I couldn’t get quite the right perspective on it but let me explain … you’re looking upwards to a roof. Below you, there’s a hopper collecting the stuff in the next picture. Those round things that look as if they have wire cables coming out of them are in fact extruders, squeezing out waste products, like toothpaste maybe. As the ‘cord’ lengthens, it drops off, leaving this:

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Any guesses? Clue: it’s not generally used for human consumption, although I believe it would be safe to eat. Instead, it’s fed to the dairy cows in the next door farm, as a rich supplement to their normal feed. These contented cows have recently won a contract with Graham’s, one of the biggest milk businesses in Scotland, so clearly their diet works for them. But what is it?

Last week I had a fascinating visit with my friend Kate to Carrington Barns Farm in Midlothian, near Gorebridge. This is the home of Supernature rapeseed oils, and since visiting their stall at the Cupar Farmers Market several months back, I’d been intending to pay them a call. So – a lovely lunch with Kate, and off we went.

Image result for rapeseed growingThere’s been a lot of investment and innovation in the Scottish rapeseed farming industry over the last ten years or so. Many chefs have begun to recognise the good provenance of the cold-pressed versions of the oils, and are using it where in the past, olive oil would have reigned supreme. My young Greek and Italian friends on the Food Innovation course look aghast at the mere suggestion of substituting their beloved homeland oils and I guess I’d be the same if I were far from home. But hey – food miles and all that; Scottish jobs; sustainability … we have to think about these things.

Lynn and Chris Mann launched Supernature in 2011 and have already won a number of awards. Follow this link to see them pictured with Jay Rayner, no less. Chris showed us round last week and explained that they are tenant farmers and were looking for a bit of an edge in a difficult era for farmers. They were already rotating their barley/wheat crops with Spring Rapeseed, selling the rapeseed on for mass production; and thought they would have a go at doing it themselves. However they are doing it the gourmet way.

So – back to the top picture which as you will now have realised, is the machine which crushes the little black seeds (between peppercorns and mustard seeds in size), feeds the oil through a filtering process, and squeezes out the remaining sediment which is used as cattle cake. It smells nice and cakey and fresh. The filtered oils are blended with natural flavours to produce a wide range of delicious oils for use either raw or cooked (rapeseed has a much higher boiling point than olive oil so doesn’t spoil at high temperatures).

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The prices above, if you can make them out, are discounted if you go to the farm; I usually pay an extra pound or two at the farmers’ market. They’re pretty good value in my view.

The Guild of Fine Food awards (3 stars for their Black Truffle; 2 stars for their Dill and their Chilli; 1 star for most of the others) led to Supernature Cold-Pressed Rapeseed Oils being sold in Harrods Food Hall. This in turn has led to important contracts with leading stores in Dubai and Hong Kong; and foreign sales are now as important to the business as home sales. And all this in six years of trading?

Anyway, impressive as this record is, I just want to say – I haven’t tasted all the oils yet but intend to do so. I have used lemongrass, ginger and basil and they are all absolutely delicious. I especially like the lemongrass, as using the fresh ingredient is a bit of a footer – not always available or easy to obtain, and you can’t use it all at once. So a prize-winning oil with lemongrass already infused in it is a handy thing indeed.

I’m not being sponsored for any of this, in case you’re wondering! And there are lots of other farmers doing great oils. But if you’re still hesitating over the rapeseed vs. olive question, I urge you to give this one a try.

 

Cooking your way home

Food has a potent impact on our remembered experiences. Certain smells, tastes and visuals can take us back in an instant to events we thought we’d forgotten. The jelly mould your mother used for blancmange, when you came home from hospital after having your tonsils out. The gherkin on the side of a dish of pate that reminds you of a friend of a friend who came on to you in France, oh – eeek – 35 years ago!

Sanjeev Kohli, Parduman Kohli, Arif Mir and Aasmah Mir discuss partition

Right now we’re remembering the partition of India and Pakistan, in 1947; there was a good account of it on BBC2 Scotland last night, hosted by Sanjeev Singh Kohli and Aasmah Mir, a Sikh and Muslim respectively, whose families came and settled in Scotland 70 years ago, after fleeing the riots. I had recently read a great book by Hardeep Singh Kohli, Sanjeev’s older brother: ‘Indian Takeaway: One man’s attempt to cook his way home. In this he explained how he had travelled to India a number of times to visit relatives; but never been a ‘tourist’ in the way that many of his Scottish friends, without Indian connections, had been. They came home raving about India, its spirituality and beauty and he thought he should try to see it with different eyes. Essentially, he wanted to figure out his personal identity: was he more Scottish than Indian, or the other way round?

Product DetailsBeing a big food lover, and coming from a strong Sikh food tradition, he hit on a novel way of exploring his roots: he would travel round India, cooking Scottish food for Indians! This is actually quite hilarious – you know from the start that he’s onto a loser – lack of equipment and ingredients being only the start of it. One of the running themes from a 1990s sitcom features an aspirational Indian family living in the UK, trying to cultivate a taste for ‘Bland’. So Hardeep’s attempts to ‘sell’ Scottish staples like Shepherd’s Pie and fish and chips to his Indian companions is full of pathos and self-deprecation. He’s a journalist, and writes like a stand-up comic; so there’s a steady stream of things to smile and laugh about.

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With a wonderfully truthful sense of childhood influences, he recounts the evolution of his mother’s Glenryck Mackerel (tinned of course) Curry on white rice … a creative cook’s attempt to make the most of cheaply available foods to feed her ever-hungry family. Yes it sounds dire but he assures us it was devoured with delight; and he counterposes it with a poignant account of eating fish curry in a tsunami-ravaged beach café in Mamallapuram.

Hardeep Singh Kohli honours both his parents in their strenuous, determined efforts to survive and prosper as refugees in a strange land; it is especially lovely to see his mother’s sterling efforts so lovingly catalogued. This a great read; do try and get hold of it.

 

 

July in Scotland

Gallagher and Lyle 290717.jpgGreat concert last night: Gallagher and Lyle at ‘The Byre in the Botanics’, in St Andrews – ie the Byre Theatre organising an open-air event. Wet and cold. Extra clothing precautions of vest, long-sleeved tee shirt, jumper, raincoat, socks, long trousers, proper shoes and woolly scarf all proved woefully inadequate. We were in the front row of the polytunnel/marquee and the wind hit us but the rain didn’t. At one point, Gallagher interrupted Lyle’s introductory comments to ‘Fifteen Summers’ to point out a particularly fine rainbow. ‘Just like a hippy festival, intit?’ said Lyle. Anyway it was still a great concert.

Less impressive was our £25 picnic basket – the veggie option – too much bread and cheese and not much imagination otherwise. Also, for the scone, a small jar of Tiptree jam was provided. Tiptree jam is very nice but hey- St Andrews is right in the heart of Scottish berry country! No attempt in our fancy wicker basket to reflect the great culinary offerings in our own neighbourhood. So that was a bit of a shame. I could have taken them some of my own jammy offerings of the last week: blackcurrant jelly and Tayberry-Strawberry conserve. Impressed? Me too!

Dinky Eggs

2017-07-21 10.41.15.jpgRecently I was gifted half a dozen quails’ eggs, by my friend Anne who is on bartering terms with the quailkeeper. They’re such pretty wee things and remind me of The Borrowers. About 25 years ago, my friend Marian and I took our collective Wunderkinder to the Cottiers Theatre in Glasgow to see a staged production of this lovely 1952 children’s story by Mary Norton. It features a family of tiny people who live in the rafters and crannies of an ordinary house, and ‘borrow’ things for their daily use. Anyway, as you can see from my photos2017-07-21 11.33.40.jpg (that’s a cherry tomato in the second one, to give a sense of perspective), quails eggs are dinky but just one would probably feed a whole Borrowers family handsomely. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I ate all six myself at one go, the Troubadour having declined. They taste just like hen eggs.

I had a look online to see how quails are produced. It seems they are quite nervous, flighty birds and according to the Farmers Weekly, there is only one intensive quail farm in the UK.  Those quails selected for egg-laying are kept on a ‘free to fly’ basis which I guess means free range. Lots of quails and their eggs are imported so I don’t know what the animal welfare concerns might be there. As usual, I would look for UK or even Scottish birds and eggs, if I were in a shop.

However I haTheBorrowers.jpgve the joy of knowing that mine were produced by a cheerful wee flock pecking around among the backwoods of Newburgh. Thank you ladies, I enjoyed your eggs very much, and also the Borrowers memory they invoked. And thank you Anne, happy bartering!

 

 

Worth a Thousand Words

2017-07-13 13.13.45.jpgToday I attended a Food Photography class run by Caroline Trotter, at Upper Largo. There were four of us – all more accomplished than me but it was great to hear their stories. (For instance, could you have guessed that being a chef on a cruise ship is as regimented as being in the Army? That was Vas’s experience.) Caroline showed us some things which were mysteries to me and rather more familiar to the others – one button for focus/blur, one for speed, and one for letting light into the camera. There are of course technical terms for each of these but that’s what I might manage to learn in homework!2017-07-13 11.05.25

Abi brought cupcakes, Vas brought mozzarella sticks, Andrew brought his keen eye for a fabulous shot, and I brought my general hamfisted but enthusiastic curiosity. Caroline gave us a great day of trying different shots using the basic three buttons mentioned above, setting up beautiful foodie arrangements in her studio and garden. And her husband, chef Christopher Trotter, made us a lovely lunch (which we first had to shoot… another similarity with the Army?)

2017-07-13 11.41.37.jpgCaroline is a past finalist of the prestigious Pink Lady Food photography competition and it was a real joy to leaf through some of her great work. I especially liked a book she put together with Christopher, on fishermen from the East Neuk of Fife, along with their recipes. The black and white portraits of the fishermen were wonderful – craggy with character and luminous with life experience. I wish I’d bought a copy but I got distracted with so many other things to look at. No doubt there will be another opportunity. 2017-07-13 13.36.52

Here are some of my efforts from the day. The others will have better results! But hey, I’m on a journey. And I definitely think my own photos of today are better than the ones I took yesterday. So that’s a result!

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How to eat a cricket

Yesterday I attended a focus group at Abertay on insect protein. The theme for the discussion was customer acceptability – as in, would we as consumers be able to get over any squeamishness about eating insects? If so, how?

We were asked if we’d ever eaten insects before and I was busily denying the charge when, halfway through the discussion, I remembered I’d eaten snails in France, more than once. They were good, or at least the garlic butter made them seem delicious. Another member of the group had eaten crickets in China, as street food. He said the only bit that he didn’t like was the legs – especially the little short ones. They got stuck in his mouth, a bit like getting a hair in your soup. That reminded me of trying to create recipes for dagaa, when I was in Zanzibar. Dagaa are tiny little needle-like fish which are caught and dried and sold in huge loose piles in the market. You had to soak them for ever to reconstitute them, and I remember that I couldn’t get used to the pointy needle-ends, which completely resisted softening in the soaking.

This whole discussion about insect protein is of interest to me because (a) I’ll be doing my own Masters research study before long, and it might be on the same theme. Abertay has an active presence in the worldwide debate on insects as a human food source, and it would be good to get immersed in it. Also (b) how on earth are we going to feed the world’s population if all we’ll eat is cows, pigs, sheep and chickens?

Here are two photos of what I ate yesterday: both contained insect protein.2017-07-11 13.29.05.jpg2017-07-11 13.12.24

 

 

 

 

 

Ha! Got you there! No they don’t – I lied! The photo on the left contains ‘cricket flour’ -three types of chocolate biscuit flavoured with nothing else; with mint; and with orange. I liked them all, probably the orange one the most. You couldn’t (in my opinion – others differed) have told they were made of crickets if you hadn’t been told. There was no apparent difference in flavour when mixed with chocolate etc, but the texture was a little coarser than wheat flour. Maybe more like cornmeal or oatmeal. The other biscuits around the edge of the photo were provided in case anyone couldn’t face the crickets!

The photo on the right is my delicious sandwich with coronation chicken at the McManus Gallery. I decided to treat myself after the focus group; all the moreso since we were interrupted by a fire alarm and had to hurriedly abandon ship. If you’re ever in Dundee, do visit the McManus. The social history exhibits are my favourite, they really bring an insight into the culture and history of Dundee. And if you’re ever visiting Abertay University, do call in and ask about the cricket biscuits; I’m sure there will be someone glad to talk.

 

 

Cheese and … Jelly ???

gooseberries clamshell 1.jpgI know this sounds odd, at least to a local audience. But bear with me. Brie and Cranberry has become a standard sandwich offering on Scottish menus, hasn’t it? I don’t actually like it very much – too sweet. And there are all those fruit ‘cheeses’ you can make instead of jelly or chutney – like the famous Spanish membrillo. Last year I made something called Apple Butter, and it was good, but very rich and I didn’t know how to use it up.

P1030244.JPGSo this year I’ve made normal gooseberry jelly, sharply sweet and quite delicious. And it so happens that I’ve got a Connage Clava Highland Brie in the fridge, opened yesterday and won’t last beyond today because it’s so GOOD. Bries outside France are a bit of a mixed bunch in my experience – but this one is light and freshly acidic with a creamy texture.

I put the cheese and jelly together in my sandwich last night – and it was completely delicious. That’s all I’m saying. No strings of adjectives. Try it; use whatever sharpish, not-too-sweet jelly you have. Or make your own gooseberry, it’s very easy (boil the fruit in a little water; strain it out; measure and allow 1lb sugar for every pint of juice; boil together for about 20 mins, till setting point reached (115 degrees); pot into sterilised jars and seal). It’s great to see Scottish cheesemakers persevering despite a harsh regulatory climate, and producing such gems. Power to your elbows, all of you.

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Bon Voyage Cake

I made this cake at the weekend, by way of saying fare thee well to the Wunderkind as he goes off on his next adventure. There was no flour in the recipe; but dP1030229.JPGon’t be fooled into thinking it was in any way healthy …

250g each of butter, chocolate and walnuts, six large free range eggs … you get the picture. And a smidgeon of home-made strawberry jam, to make it stick; and a pile of crème fraiche and two punnets of beautifully firm yet juicy local raspberries, purchased from a butcher’s shop in St Andrews. I like cakes where nuts replace flour – you end up with a lovely squidgy texture. The sort you could fall into face-first.

It was an indulgent weekend in more ways than one. You know how it is when someone’s going away, and you have to cram in all those things you might miss too much? So we also had fish suppers in Anstruther, sitting on the harbourside on a sunny-but-not-exactly-balmy Saturday afternoon, with the seagulls squawking around hopefully. And then a few beers later on. As the Dundonians among us would say, ‘It’s rerr to be alive, izzit?’

Bon Voyage, son, looking forward to your safe return. Proud of you always.

Wagons Roll!

P1030225.JPGI met an ex-oilrig worker yesterday, clad not in greasy overalls, hard hat and life vest, but in leather apron with giant fork. Ross Lamb told me that he celebrated his 34th birthday recently by taking delivery of a very special piece of kit which haunted his dreams during the last three years of his offshore life. I asked him what was special about his kit and he gave me a pile of techy info which means absolutely nothing to me. However I know some of you love this sort of thing, so here it is.

P1030222.JPGRoss’s pride and joy is a Reverse Flow Offset Smoker, made by Barbecue Mates. It is mounted on its own wheels, as a commercial barbecue trailer, and Ross believes his big investment is the only one of its kind in Scotland at present. To tow it, he bought a massive truck, otherwise known as a Landrover Overland Prep Defender, which will soon be kitted out as a drinks bar. He plans to develop his business as an informal catering operation. Er, isn’t it a bit seasonal? I asked. Yes, it is – but that poses no problems, as Ross will be out in the Highlands, a-chasing the wild deer and following the roe … join in if you know the words.

This big beastie – a combined smoker and oven – was demonstrating its prowess yesterday at a Fathers’ Day Barbecue being held at the newly-opened Lindores Abbey Distillery. I’d taken the Troubadour along (I’m learning to be a roadie but I still fold the music stands up all wrong …) to croon to the crowds. Not often you get great BBQ, brilliant music, lovely surroundings AND Scottish sunshine all in the same place, at the same time – but yesterday it happened. And it isn’t even midsummer yet, so there’s hope for lots more.