PeteCake

I just can’t resist sharing the cartoon Pete made me this morning, over on Facebook!

(Hey, cake is food; this is a food blog!)

 

As you may have gathered from my enthusiasm about visiting the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale recently, I am a big fan of apples and love to enjoy British apples in season.

We planted a Cox’ Orange Pippin in our back garden a few years ago, and inherited a Bramley (cooking) apple and what we think is a Charles Ross (eating) apple tree when we took on our allotment plot a couple of years back. Last year’s harvest was so enormous I made batches and batches of apple chutneys and jellies (including herb, ginger and chilli variations) and learned how to can apple pie filling too.

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So when Waitrose asked me to help them celebrate British-grown apples, now in store, I was happy to say yes.

They sent me a few packs of Estivale, a variety also known as Delbard Estivale and listed by the NFC as Delcorf. This is an early to mid-season variety, originating in France in the 1960s and the fruits are large and brightly coloured with bright red patches amid yellow-green. The flavour is excellent, and pleasantly sweet with just a little balancing sharpness. These apples don’t keep well in the fruit bowl, so should be eaten within a week but you can preserve them in a chutney or combine them with blackberries, also in season, for a quick crumble.

To celebrate this year’s apple season, I’ve shared my recipe for a simple apple and ginger chutney, on Waitrose’s website. You might also be interested in their Facebook competition, where you can submit your own apple recipes to win Waitrose vouchers.

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Alternatively, if you have any favourite recipes for apples, please share them here. It’s harvest time on the allotment already, and the garden ones will be ready soon too. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy them!

 

Kavey Eats was sent samples of apples for review and given vouchers for the Waitrose Cookery School as a thank you for providing a recipe.

 

Even before our guide Mike Roser took us through the origins and history of apple cultivation, I had it in my head that the National Fruit Collection (NFC) at Brogdale was about collecting and preserving traditional British varieties of apples, alongside other fruits such as pears, plums and cherries.

I was wrong on at least two counts, the first being my understanding of the purpose of the NFC and the second being that the collection is international, not national, in scope.

Not only is it a living museum but it is also a genetic bank and that’s where the importance of the collection lies”, explained Mike, before walking us through pear, apple and plum collections and telling us about the origins of the NFC.

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The Origins of The NFC

The NFC grew out of fruit trials created by the Royal Horticultural Society in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in Chiswick and later at Wisley in Surrey. The original intent of the trials was to collect, categorise and agree nomenclature for the assembled varieties, but they were soon expanded to include research on horticultural methods and cultivation of new varieties. After WW2, when increasing food production was a national priority, the collection was taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (now DEFRA) who relocated it to a larger site in Kent, where it is today. It is curated for DEFRA by the University of Reading and they’ve appointed FAST (Farm Advisory Services Team) to perform the day to day management. A charity called Brogdale Collections promotes and organises public access to the collection, providing daily tours such as the one we enjoyed.

Today, the NFC is the largest living collection of temperate fruits on one site in the world, conserving over 2,000 cultivars (cultivated varieties) of apples, around 500 pears, over 300 each of plums and cherries alongside collections of currants, gooseberries, grapes, nuts, medlars, quinces and apricots. It is run on behalf of the nation as a resource for scientific research and provides a much-valued gene bank for fruit breeders developing new cultivars. It is also the UK’s contribution to an international programme to protect genetic diversity of crop plants and future food security. (Read more about The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, here). Working with East Malling Research, the entire pear and apple collections have now been DNA finger printed, and work continues on analysing the other fruit collections.

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A Living Collection

As Pete and I tour the apple, pear and plum orchards with Mike, we learn that the collection must be maintained as living trees because such fruits do not “come true” from seed. (The most common way for propagating apples is to graft a short branch of the desired variety, known as the scion, onto suitable rootstock. As the name suggests, the rootstock produces the roots of the tree, governing how large the tree grows overall, and the scion grows into the branches, leaves and fruits of the tree.) At Brogdale, each orchard contains two trees of each cultivar, and the orchards themselves are mirrored every few decades – Mike shows us how much larger the trees in the older apple orchard are than those in the recently planted mirror. He explains that both were grafted to the same dwarf root stock, but the trees in the new orchard also have an interstock that sits between rootstock and scion and inhibits the final tree size and shape even more. Mike adds that much of the creation of different rootstocks and grafting techniques has been carried out by East Malling Research, with a view to increase resistance to pests and disease, control tolerance to different climates or terrains and to shape the ultimate size of the trees.

Today’s growers benefit not just from the genetic diversity of the NFC, which allows them to cross existing varieties to create new ones, but also from this kind of horticultural research that helps farmers take control over their orchards, improve harvesting methods, increase yields and tempt consumers with new and exciting fruits.

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Quince and Medlar, both part of the enormous Rosaceae family, which includes rosa (roses), rubus (raspberries, blackberries), prunus (stone fruits, almonds) plus apples, pears and many more

The History of Apples

The history of apple cultivation is fascinating: wild apple trees (Malus sieversii) originated in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China) and have been cultivated there for millennia, certainly the apple is likely the earliest tree to be cultivated for domestic use. Recent genetic analysis confirms that our modern day domesticated apples (Malus domestica) descended from these wild Asian ancestors, with some (limited) introgression of genes from European crabapples (Malus sylvestris). Domesticated apples spread out from Central Asia many thousands of years ago.

Although it’s been suggested that the Romans bought apples to Britain, apples had reached our shores long before that, though they were not grown here in large numbers. The Romans introduced sweeter varieties, organised cultivation and created our first apple orchards, though many were abandoned in the centuries after the fall of Roman rule. Apple agriculture was revived by the Norman invasion, who brought with them new varieties and cultivation methods and certainly improved our cider-making skills. Yet, a few hundred years later, production was in decline once again. In the 1530s, Henry VIII was responsible for a change in the apple’s fortune, instructing his fruiterer to identify, introduce and grow new varieties – this resulted in the creation of expansive new apple orchards in Kent.

For the next couple of hundred years there was little innovation or ordered methodology to apple cultivation, but this period soon gave way to the era of botanical exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whilst most of us are familiar with the names of Charles Darwin and Joseph Banks (Captain Cook’s botanist), most of the scientific flora and fauna collectors of that period are little known now. But their impact on the horticulture and agriculture of Britain was profound; many of the species of plants we grow in our parks and gardens today were brought back to Britain by these explorers. There was huge interest and research into which species were and were not related, how they had evolved and from which ancestors, how they should most accurately be categorised and named (the current binominal nomenclature Latin naming conventions were formally accepted during this period) and how best to propagate and grow both native and introduced plant species. It was in this climate that the The Horticultural Society of London was founded in 1804 (by Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood), later becoming the Royal Horticultural Society when granted a royal charter by Prince Albert in 1861.

I talked above about the origins of the NFC. The background to the early fruit trials was a prevalent confusion at the time over the multiple different names many fruit cultivars acquired as they were propagated and distributed from country to country and region to region, especially true of apples. Often, breeders would give existing cultivars new names to boost their sales or based on a local nickname. The plan was that all cultivars in the collection would be verified as correct against published and agreed descriptions and this would then form a living reference library to clearly identify synonyms, unknown varieties and new cultivars.

The first edition of Hogg’s Herefordshire Pomona, a catalogue of apple and pear varieties grown across the county, was published in 1878. In 1883 the National Apple Congress provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine and compare varieties grown across the entire country. Cox’ Orange Pippin was voted the best apple of Southern England that year, and Bramley’s Seedling also came to prominence at the congress.

In the late 1800s, commercial growers were feeling the pressure, forced to compete with imports not only from mainland Europe but also from Canada, the USA, South Africa and even Australasia. In fact, there was even a Fruit Crusade, during which the RHS put its weight behind a campaign to encourage consumers to choose British produce over imported fruit such as “Yankee” apples. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Today, I often find myself discussing the merits of foregoing fruit when it’s out of season in the UK, and the resultant joy of eating locally grown British varieties when their time rolls around again.

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Visiting and Buying from Brogdale

Brogdale is open to visitors throughout the year but tours are offered from March to October only. Entry on a normal day is £7.50 for adults, £2.50 for children or £20 for a family ticket. When a special event or festival is on, those prices are £8, £4 and £20. Alternatively you can buy an annual pass for £22 per adult, including festivals, or £10 per adult, excluding them. Check the Brogdale Collections website for the latest information.

A guided tour will usually include an overview of some of the history above, as well as the chance to learn about and try some of the fruit in season during your visit. Our guide, Mike Roser, has been guiding at Brogdale for ten years, after nearly 40 years working in the fruit industry and supermarket retail management, so the depth and breadth of his knowledge was immense. We learned a huge amount about many varieties of apples, pears and plums and were able to taste some that were ready to harvest as we walked around the site with him.

Another aspect of our visit I particularly appreciated was the onsite shop which sells fruit harvested from the orchards. The harvests aren’t huge for any given variety, of course, but this is a great way to try unusual varieties you will not have encountered before, and to take some home and cook with them too. At the time of our visit, cherries were just coming to the end of their season and plums were at their peak, so I was able to bring back 5 different types of cherries and 12 different plums. I’ll share some notes and recipes with you in a future post.

There’s also a small marketplace with a number of local independent businesses including a lovely little bakery selling cakes and fruit pies, a butcher’s, a drinks shop and a couple of others.

A small garden centre sells fruit trees and other gardening supplies, though make sure you’ve checked first on best times of year to buy and plant fruit trees.

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Pears, harvested for sale in the Brogdale Collections shop

Fruit Identification Service

Brogdale also offer a fruit identification service, for just £20 per variety. This is great if you’ve bought a house (or inherited an allotment plot) and are uncertain about the variety of apple, pear or plum tree in the garden.

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Trailblazer plums (top), another variety (bottom)

 

Our visit to the Brogdale Collection was organised by Lusso Catering, who have partnered with the National Fruit Collection to launch “Forgotten Fruit”, an initiative to promote “the use of ancient and arcane varieties of fruit, most of which have fallen prey to the commercialisation of orchards where crop and fruit size, storability and pristine appearance is valued over character, texture and flavour nuance.” They have pledged to re-introduce forgotten varieties onto the menus they serve to corporate clients across the UK. Many thanks to them for facilitating our visit.

Although much information was provided by our guide Mike Roser, and by Brogdale Collections, I’ve also included  a lot of extra information gleaned from additional reading and research. As such, the blame for any errors is mine.

 

Although I find our Masterchef series has become dull and formulaic I really enjoy Masterchef Australia, hosted by Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston. Although the occasional over-the-top sycophancy of some of the contestants can be a little grating, mostly they are just exhuberant and gung-ho in a way we seldom embrace in the UK but ought to a little more; it’s energising! I like the range of challenges the Masterchef Australia contestants are given; so much more varied than our trio of stints in professional kitchen, random staff canteen and cooking for the judges. I also like the masterclasses given by the presenters and guest experts.

One recent evening, we ploughed through a few episodes stacked up on the DVR, including one featuring a masterclass by Matt Preston. I loved the simplicity of his recipe for “pumpkin soup with a twist”, and we made a further simplified version for lunch the very next day, using the organic butternut squash we had in the fridge.

I particularly liked his idea to garnish the soup with bacon and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) candied in brown sugar. Although I have, in the past, carefully saved the seeds from a squash, washed them clean of all the fruit clinging to them and roasted them in the oven, I decided to skip the pepitas this time. I also simplified the overall recipe quite a bit more, skipping the apples, onions, garlic in the soup and the fried sage leaves on top.

It was ridiculously easy and it was rather good; ideal for those who love sweet-savoury combinations.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Bacon

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
1 tub of home-made stock (beef, chicken or vegetable), approximately 1 litre
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
150 grams cubed pancetta, lardons or chopped streaky bacon
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Method

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  • While the oven preheated to 180 C, we cut the butternut squash into thirds, sprinkled a teaspoon of mixed spice and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over it and baked in its skin for approximately half an hour.
  • In the meantime, we defrosted a tub of home-made beef stock we had in the freezer.

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  • We fried the pancetta until cooked before adding 3 the brown sugar. We cooked these together for a minute or two until the sugar dissolved and darkened. We realised afterwards that it could have done with a minute or two longer in the pan to add a touch more crunch, and may also have benefited from draining some of the rendered bacon fat before adding the sugar. We poured the candied bacon onto a silicon baking sheet to cool.

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  • When the squash was roasted, we peeled the skin away and added it to the stock.

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  • When both were hot we blended the soup till smooth and then seasoned to taste.
  • We served the soup with candied bacon and fresh, soft white bread.

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With so few ingredients, the quality of the organic produce we used gave the finished dish wonderful flavours.

 

Kavey Eats was sent a selection of organic produce by Organic UK Food as part of the Organic Naturally Different campaign.

 

I had been looking forward to dinner with friends at Kirazu for weeks.

This tiny Soho restaurant describes itself as “Japanese Tapas” – a cross-cuisine shorthand (for the small dish menu) that is guaranteed to drive my friend Mr Noodles to near apoplexy. Reviews since its launch in April seemed positive and one of our group had been before, for the ramen, and deemed it good. The handful of dishes shown on their blog looked appealing.

But although much of the food was decent, the overall experience was hugely disappointing.

Our booking for seven was allocated a space suitable for five. When we pointed this out and suggested we’d need the two neighbouring places too, the staff were very put out and insistent that this was not possible, though they could clearly see that we could not physically squeeze any more people onto our given benches. All the more surprising, given that the restaurant was not fully occupied during the entirety of our visit; neither the two extra seats we requested (and ultimately used) nor the two next to them were taken.

I’m usually pretty sympathetic to staff for whom English isn’t a first language, as long as we can communicate eventually. When they are from the country of the cuisine being served, the language issues are balanced out by their helpful familiarity with the ingredients and dishes. But at Kirazu, language barriers made the process inordinately difficult. Even asking how many dishes we might need for our group size was challenging, and I gave up after a few attempts to explain the question in different ways. Asking for information about the actual dishes was impossible. And, despite there being more than enough waiting staff for the tiny number of customers, it was far harder than it should have been to catch their attention, perhaps because each interaction with customers was an ordeal for them too.

With just one chef, service was very slow. It took a long, long time for our food to come out, and when our two late-arrivals ordered a handful more dishes, some never turned up at all, despite chasing.

But most frustrating of all were the portions. While the use of the word “tapas” does give an indication, Kirazu made the diminutive size of its dishes an art form.

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Take a look at the picture of Sautéed Lotus Roots (£2.50) from their website (on the left), alongside mine (on the right), showing the portion we were actually served. The friend who’d been to Kirazu before commented that the serving had been twice as large on his previous visit.

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Agedashi Tofu4.50) was similarly minuscule; those cubes are small! It was a decent example of the dish but by no means among the best I’ve had in London.

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Chicken Karaage (£4.50) was hot, juicy and gone in a flash.

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Grilled Conger Eel & Cucumber (£4.50) was, once again, tiny; what was there was decent.

A Seaweed Salad with Sesame Dressing (not pictured) (£4) was OK, but uninspiring. The dressing was mediocre.

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Mini Rice Bowl, topped with seared roasted pork (£6) actually made us giggle – you know the kind of giggle that’s covering up utter disbelief? At the bottom of a normal-sized bowl was an inch of rice (come on, how cheap is rice, for goodness sake?), a trickle of sauce and 4 miserly bites of pork. And the pork wasn’t even very good; I found it dry and a little bland.

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One of the best dishes we ordered was Takoyaki3.50). These batter balls with octopus inside were served freshly made, meltingly soft and piping hot such that the heat caused the generous sprinkling of bonito flakes on top to swirl and wave like living organisms. Beautiful and delicious.

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The worst dish in our selection for me was the Grilled Aubergine with Sweet Miso Sauce4.50), usually one of my favourites. A small piece of aubergine with tough skin spread with a thin layer of rather bitter miso in place of the usual sweet-savoury miso marinade that marries so well with smoky aubergine flesh. It hadn’t been grilled long enough after the miso was added either, so the miso was dull and lifeless rather than charred and bubbling.

Having ordered tea to drink, I asked for more hot water in my cafetiere once I’d emptied it. Not only is refilling tea standard practice in Japanese restaurants, the second brew is often even better than the first. I was very haughtily informed that they don’t do this, and the waitress turned away before I could respond.

We ordered the dishes I’ve described as a first round, intending to order more as the evening went. But as the dishes slowly came to the table, and we realised how tiny they were, not to mention the lack of welcome in the service, we decided to draw a line under our visit and head elsewhere for something more filling, tasty and better value. Even then, our frustration wasn’t over. Again and again and again and again we asked for the bill. When we finally received it, we were not impressed to see it hadn’t been itemised, so no way to check whether it had been collated correctly.

We paid, we left.

I won’t be back.

Kirazu on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

I love home-made ketchup, and it’s even more satisfying making it from home-grown tomatoes.

In the past, I’ve made several batches with red tomatoes and a couple of batches with green ones but this is the first batch I’ve made with beautiful orange sungold tomatoes, a variety we’ve been growing for the last few years. Sungold is a cherry tomato variety and naturally super sweet, so a lot of the harvest doesn’t even make it indoors, or last long if it does. But our plants are giving us plenty this year, both those in the greenhouse and the ones outside. I was keen to see if I could preserve the vibrant colour in a ketchup to enjoy once the growing season is over.

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I used my maternal grandfather’s Spicy Tomato Ketchup recipe – the same one I’ve used before. I had 940 grams of tomatoes, so I halved the recipe and made some minor adjustments to spices as well.

 

Spicy Sungold Tomato Ketchup

Ingredients
1 kg ripe sungold tomatoes
Half a small onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Whole spices in fabric bag *
5-6 cloves
2 black cardamoms, cracked open to release flavours
Half teaspoon whole black peppers, cracked open to release flavours
Half teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 small pieces of cinnamon or cassia bark
Ground Spices
Half teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
2 level teaspoons mustard powder
40 grams sugar (with extra available to adjust to taste)
50 ml cider vinegar (with extra available to adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon salt

* Instead of wrapping my whole spices in muslin tied with string, I use fill-your-own teabags for speed. These are easy to fish back out of the pot and throw away once used.

Method

  • Sterilise your jars and lids. I boil my lids in a pan on the stove for 20 minutes before laying them out to dry on a clean tea towel. I sterilise my glass jars in the oven, leaving them in until I’m ready to fill them.
  • If you like, you can cut the tomatoes in half, or just slash each one, which makes it easier for them to break down more quickly, but as the sungolds are small, I put them in the pan whole and squish occasionally with a wooden spoon as they cooked.
  • Place tomatoes, onion, garlic and bag of whole spices into a large pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to stop the tomatoes catching at the bottom before they release their own juices.
  • Cook until soft.
  • Allow to cool a little. Remove spice bag.
  • Blend into as smooth a puree as you can.
  • Press through a sieve to remove skin and seed residue.
  • Place the sieved liquid into a pan with the nutmeg, chilli powder and mustard powder and bring to the boil.
  • If your liquid is quite thin, boil longer to thicken. The time this takes can vary wildly. In the past it’s taken half an hour. This time, I found the liquid was reasonably thick after 5 minutes boiling.
  • Add the vinegar and sugar and continue to cook until the sauce reaches ketchup consistency.
  • Add salt.
  • Taste and add additional vinegar or sugar, if needed.
  • Remove the sterilised jars from the oven and pour the ketchup into them while both ketchup and bottles are still hot.
  • Seal immediately.
  • Once cooled, you can label and store in a dark cupboard.

Please note: As this recipe has only a small volume of sugar and vinegar (both of which are preserving agents), you may prefer to store the ketchup in your fridge and use within a few weeks. We have stored it in a dark cupboard, eaten it many, many months after making, and found it fine. However, we are not experts in preserving or food safety, so please do your own research and decide for yourself.

 

How have you been preserving your garden or allotment harvests? I’d love to hear your recipes and ideas for tomatoes, apples and potatoes in particular!

 

In the current economic climate, the easiest thing to say about organic food is that it’s expensive; there’s no getting around it – organic food is universally more expensive than its non-organic equivalents. (And there are good reasons for that, which I’ll come to later). But that’s not all there is to say about organic by a long shot and properly understanding the benefits may persuade more of us to incorporate a little more organic produce into our weekly shops, even if we can’t afford to make our whole shop organic.

Organic. Naturally Different’ is an EU funded campaign to help consumers understand more about organic food so they can make informed choices when they shop.

Usually, evangelists for Organic lose my support is when they insist that everything organic tastes far superior to non-organic versions or that it is more nutritious.

The latter claim has been debunked by researchers at Stanford University, who found very little difference in nutritional content overall.

On the first point, my experience simply doesn’t bear it out. Of course, if I compare (high welfare, non-intensive, carefully regulated) organic produce with the results of lowest end, intensive farming methods, I can taste the difference, yes! But if I buy high quality non-organic produce from farms with equally high welfare standards and non-intensive farming methods as their organic colleagues, I am simply unable to taste the difference.

Happily, ‘Organic. Naturally Different’ is not trying to make either of the two tired arguments above.

  • The first point is that organic is better for nature. Using fewer pesticides protects the environment and encourages wildlife. Insects, birds and animals thrive on organic farms, where farmers keep soil healthy by using crop rotation and natural feeds to make soil fertile. This in turn produces healthy crops with a natural resistance to pests and diseases. A (commercial) downside to this is more labour intensive farming and lower yields, both of which contribute to higher end costs for the consumer.
  • Secondly, we are reminded that organic means higher welfare standards. You can buy free-range that isn’t organic but organic is always free-range. And feed and drug use are strictly regulated too. Again, specified feeds and fewer animals reared per acre of land means higher end costs for the consumer.
  • Organic contains less pesticide residues. In the same study I link to above, the Stanford University researchers discovered that non-organic food contained approximately 30% less pesticide residues than organic (though do note that organic food is not 100% residue free).
  • Organic is natural food. What the campaign means by this is that genetically modified crops are banned as are hydrogenated fats, artificial pesticides, aspartame and a variety of artificial colourings and flavourings.
  • Lastly, they remind us that organic food tastes great. And that, I’m happy to agree with. Like all low-intensity, carefully farmed and reared produce, organic produce tastes like food should.

Organic Food UK, who are organising the campaign, recently sent me a delivery of organic food and asked me to think about ideas to make these items go farther, with ideas to stretch whatever organic produce a consumer could afford to include in their shop.

Here are some thoughts and recipe ideas on some of the items I received:

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Whole Organic Chicken

At Waitrose, Essentials range chickens cost £3.28 a kilo, free-range ones are £4.34 a kilo and Duchy organic chickens are £7.09 a kilo. At Tesco those prices are £2.48 a kilo for Value chickens, £4.50 a kilo for corn-fed free range chickens (currently on offer, usually £6) and £7 a kilo for organic chickens.

That’s a hefty premium for organic but let’s put it in perspective:

Tesco (non-organic, non-free-range) chicken breast fillets are £11.43 a kilo and thigh fillets are £8 a kilo. Waitrose charge more for breast fillets which are £13.78 a kilo but less for thigh fillets at £6.99 a kilo.

Buying a whole chicken (and jointing it into portions yourself or cooking it whole and stretching it for multiple meals) is still much cheaper than buying ready-portioned chicken meat and perhaps that saving is enough to let you choose organic now and again?

We have two main methods of cooking whole chickens:

Most commonly, we roast them plain and simple with butter, occasionally adding lemon and herbs. Sometimes we poach a whole chicken in the slow cooker, in water with onions, carrots, leeks and a bay leaf thrown in, if we have them to hand. The second method has the added advantage of producing a delicious portion of stock during the cooking process.

In both cases, we serve a reasonable portion for the first meal and then I carefully pick every last scrap of meat from the carcass, to be used in other recipes.

In both cases, once the carcass is stripped of meat, the bones, soggy skin and cartilage go into the slow cooker with nothing but water, and cook overnight to produce more stock. (Yes, we put the carcass in to make stock even when we’ve poached the bird originally, and this still produces a second stock that is full of flavour).

Oh and when we roast the bird, we always pour the fat from the roasting dish into a pot and use it to cook the roast potatoes for our next roast dinner. Delicious!

Chicken recipes we enjoy and which can help make your chicken stretch further:

Organic Sausages

Quality sausages really are miles better than the cheapest ones. It’s one of those products where spending more nearly always pays off in terms of what you get.

Sausages work very well in hearty casseroles, such as the bangers and Boston baked beans below, or Pete’s beer and sausage casserole (which you can make look more attractive by skinning the sausages and forming into balls before cooking, if you prefer). Allowing the sausage meat to flavour other ingredients is a great way of feeding more people with a single pack.

Cheese

If you buy extra mature cheese, with a really good and strong flavour, you can use it to flavour dishes rather than as the main ingredient.

Potatoes

Yes, they can be roasted, boiled, mashed and baked but they can also be so much more.

Eggs

Eggs are wildly undervalued as a budget ingredient, in my opinion and, like potatoes, there is so much more to them than different cooking techniques such as boiled, fried or poached. Once again, eggs are an ingredient where you do get what you pay for – the flavour of great eggs is just so fantastic.

And of course, you can make home-made custard (and ice cream), home-made mayonnaise or Bearnaise sauce.

Mushrooms

I adore mushrooms! They feature frequently in our cooking, sometimes as secondary ingredients and sometimes as the stars of the show. They’re a great alternative to meat, because of their deeply savoury flavour.

Rice

We make risotto all the time, usually with chicken stock we’ve made after enjoying a roast or poached chicken.

 

Also in the delivery were flour, couscous, carrots, butter, milk, cream and fruit. Fruit was mostly eaten fresh, but when the last apples got a little wrinkly, we made a simple fruit crumble with them.

 

Do you buy organic for some or all of your shop? What are the most compelling arguments for and against organic, in your opinion? Do you have any tips to share about making good quality but pricier ingredients stretch further? I’d love to hear from you…

 

Kavey Eats was sent a selection of organic produce by Organic UK Food.

 

Flavoured salts, also known as finishing salts, are a great way of adding flavour during cooking and, of course, when finishing a dish.

Whilst it’s true that salt is salt, most commercially sold salt contains about 2% of something else and that 2% is enough to make a huge difference to flavour (not to mention texture). Table salt contains anti-caking agents, and may also contain iodide, and whilst these aren’t really detectable (to me) when it’s used in cooking, they certainly can be when salt is used to finish a dish. Even for reasons of texture alone, it’s nicer to sprinkle some crystallised salt over freshly sliced tomatoes than table salt.

Some natural salts contain traces of the earth from which they were mined, which can give earthy mineral flavours as well as affect their texture. Likewise, sea salt often retains other elements that were dissolved in the water.

It’s also becoming increasingly popular to mix in additional flavourings such as herbs, citrus peel, mushrooms, chilli and other spices. Smoked salt is also widely available.

Steenbergs Organic is a North Yorkshire-based family-run business committed to “providing organic spices and organic cooking ingredients packed with flavour, aroma and provenance”.

SteenbergsSalts-1226

Steenbergs sell a range of salts including (naturally occuring) coloured salts, sea salts and finishing salts and salt blends.

They sent me a selection of their range to try and are also offering these same seven salts (pictured above) as a prize to a Kavey Eats reader.

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So far I’ve tried the Happy Hippy Flower Salt, which looks beautiful sprinkled over a plate of fresh, sliced tomatoes. It also gives a lovely crunch and a delightful floral flavour.

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The Smoked Sea Salt is gorgeous for anything you think would benefit from a hint of smoke. I like it sprinkled over courgettes grilled on the barbecue or onto a tasty steak after it’s cooked and rested.

SteenbergChicken-1477 SteenbergChicken-1481

The Salt & Herbs For Poultry brought our most recent roast chicken dinner to life. The mix is 83% salt with the balance made up of black pepper, chives, parsley and tarragon; a quick and delicious way to add a touch of flavour.

 

Of course, you can make your own salt blends, as many food bloggers have shown, and they also give great ideas for how to use such finishing salts in your kitchen.

Here are a selection of tips that particularly appeal to me:

  • Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums suggests sprinkling on chips and steamed vegetables, and incorporating in spreads, dips, sauces and dressings.
  • Jaden from Steamy Kitchen likes using colourful finishing salt not only on the food but also on the plate, where it’s shown off beautifully against white crockery.
  • Shaheen from Purple Foodie reckons they can be used to spruce up just about anything – soups, sandwiches, vegetables, seafood, side dishes, grilled meats and chips!
  • She Knows recommend using flavoured salts to season and finish grilled vegetables and meat.
  • Heidi from 101 Cookbooks agrees that flavoured salts are super on heirloom tomatoes. She also suggests using a citrus salt on home made sea salt caramels.
  • Lacey from Thyme On My Side likes to use flavoured salts to rim cocktail glasses. She also sprinkles her rosemary salt on fruit such as watermelon and on homemade chocolate truffles.
  • Ann from Eat Simply Eat Well uses her flavoured salts mixed with olive oil to flavour popcorn and also suggests using them in place of regular salt in chocolate chip cookies.
  • Debi from Life Currents sprinkles chilli salt over corn on the cob or over avocados for a simple and quick guacamole. She also likes it on fruit and sprinkled on eggs for breakfast.
  • Sue from The View From Great Island thinks finishing salts would be great on homemade focaccia bread. She also points out that using salt at the end means you may need less as you’ll taste it more directly.

 

COMPETITION

Steenbergs Organic is offering a set of seven salts to one Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite idea for using one of the Steenbergs Organic salts.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the
Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a set of beautiful @Steenbergs Organics salts from Kavey
Eats! http://goo.gl/P65WHE #KaveyEatsSteenbergs
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4th October 2013.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a set of seven Steenbergs Organic salts, as shown above, with free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Steenbergs Organics.
  • If one or more of the salts is out of stock, Steenbergs reserve the right to substitute another salt from their range, of same or higher value.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample set of salts from Steenbergs Organic.

 

Quite a few recipes call for tying up flavouring ingredients such as herbs and whole spices inside muslin to add to the pot during cooking; this makes them easier to fish out once the flavours have infused, ensuring no one bites down on a clove, cardamom pod or piece of cinnamon stick when the dish is served.

teabagspice (1 of 1)

For years, I’ve been using a shortcut – instead of faffing about with muslin and string, I just pop my spices and herbs into little single-use pouches intended as home-made teabags.

I first found these in a Chinese grocery store but they are readily available from many suppliers, in a variety of different designs. Of course, I also use them to make handy teabags from my favourite loose leaf teas for taking in to work or when travelling.

The ones I usually buy are most like these pouches, with a lip that folds back over to seal them, much like a pillow case.

cropped-diyteabag1 cropped-diyteabag3
1, 2

1)  Tea Bag Filters 2) Tea Pockets

There are also several in this drawstring style:

cropped-diyteabag2 cropped-diyteabag4
cropped-diyteabag5
3, 4, 5

3) DIY Teabags 4) Tea Pockets 5) Fill Your Own Tea Bags

 

The ones I’ve shared above are all for sale on Amazon, either sold directly by Amazon or from one of the many other sellers with online shops there. I recommend checking delivery charges when comparing prices, as they vary wildly between products.

 

Greg Malouf’s recipe for Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh), within a review of his book Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia, remains a popular post on the blog, and it has been lovely to see how many readers have given the recipe a go and enjoyed it as much as we did.

Of course, many of us immediately started thinking about variations – using the basic recipe for a baked rice cake with a filling of yoghurt-marinated chicken but ringing the changes by changing that marinade. It’s not that we were dissatisfied with Greg’s original recipe as it stands, but that it was so good it inspired us to take it further.

One idea I had back then, but still haven’t got around to trying, is to use the yoghurt-based marinade from my mum’s Tandoori chicken or lamb recipe to make an Indian-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh.

Another idea, which we tried and very much enjoyed, was to mix African Volcano Peri Peri marinade with yoghurt to make a Mozambique-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh. Because producer Grant Hawthorne has already done all the work in creating a beautifully balanced blend of flavours, using his Peri Peri makes this variation super quick and easy, though you will still benefit from giving the chicken plenty of time in the marinade before assembling the dish and baking it.

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African Volcano Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken)

Ingredients
Marinated Chicken
350 grams thick natural yoghurt (full fat)
4 tablespoons African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade
3 egg yolks
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500 grams boneless free-range chicken thighs, skin removed, in 2 cm cubes
Rice
200 grams basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
80 grams butter plus extra for greasing

Method

  • Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
  • Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  • Preheat the oven to 190 C (fan).
  • Butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Add a circle of baking parchment to the bottom of the dish and butter over it again.
  • Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade, retaining both. Use your fingers to wipe lots of the marinade from the chicken, so only a small amount remains on the meat.
  • Mix the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon half of the mixture into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice out over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken in the well. Spoon the rest of the rice over it to cover, and smooth the surface flat.
  • Press a sheet of lightly buttered foil down onto the surface of the rice, put the lid onto the dish and bake for 1.5 hours.
  • Remove the dish from the oven, lift the foil away and dot the surface of the rice with generous knobs of butter. Replace the foil, put the lid back on and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter and peel away the parchment paper.
  • Serve with a bowl of creamy full fat yoghurt and fresh mixed green herbs.

AVBakedRice-4397 AVBakedRice-4396

Do have a go and let me know what you think of my variation on the classic Persian Tahcheen-e Morgh!

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