Great ways to learn new skills – classes, books and demonstrations.

 

It’s funny what can upset you, isn’t it? Funny odd not funny ha ha.

The attachments we form to inanimate – and frankly insignificant – objects can verge on the ridiculous.

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Like many kids, my sister and I helped mum in the kitchen and developed a love of food and cooking from an early age. Mostly, we cooked from mum’s collection of cookery books but when I was 12, my interest was re-galvanised by cookery lessons at school and I decided I wanted to learn more about baking. I bought my very first cookery book, one of the Marks & Spencer’s St Michael series; Good Home Baking by Mary Cadogan was newly published in 1983 and I loved cooking from it. I have strong and quite distinct memories of making the individually shaped Vienna bread rolls and some of the biscuit recipes many times, as I strove to improve my skills.

Fast forward a few years and I left for university, but failed to take the book with me. When I next came home and tried to find it I discovered, to my enormous upset, that mum had given it away! Had it been any of the other books we cooked from, it wouldn’t have been a big deal but this was my book, my first cookery book and I wanted it back! It was one I had learned and loved cooking from and I felt its loss far more keenly than my rather chagrined mum had anticipated. Of course, she offered to buy me another copy but it was no longer readily available and eventually I stopped sulking and let it go.

But actually, several times in the years since then, I’ve found myself thinking about that one cookery book and wistfully wishing I still had it. It’s not that I feel I need those recipes to make bread rolls or biscuits. Maybe it’s just nostalgia? For years, I’ve browsed charity shop shelves in the hope of spotting it. Others in the St Michael series have popped up now and then and I’ve bought all kinds of other fabulous finds. But I never spotted my book.

Of course, there’s one thing we have at our fingertips now that we didn’t have back when mum gave my precious book away: the internet! A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly decided to try and track down the book on the web. To my delight, it took all of ten minutes to find several second-hand copies on sale via Amazon Marketplace and a few days later my “used very good” copy arrived.

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As soon as I started flicking through the pages, I recognised many of the photographs.

But what to make first? Should it be Coffee Kisses or Glazed Nut Loaf or Tea Brack or Sticky Gingerbread, all of which I remember making?

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In the end, the decision was easy. I cast my eye over the box of product samples waiting to be reviewed and settled quickly on a selection of Nutural World Nut Butters. Made by the delightfully named Mordechai Chachamu (I genuinely think his might be the single most charming name I’ve ever encountered), these nut and seed butters are 100% natural with just one ingredient each. Mordechai gently roasts the nuts and seeds to bring out their flavour, then processes them to smooth or crunchy. The regular jars hold 170 grams and range in price from just £1.98 for the Sunflower Butter to £5.60 for the Macadamia Nut Butter. Also in the range are Cashew Nut, Pumpkin Seed, Hazelnut, Brazil Nut, White and Brown Almond, Pecan and Pistachio.

You can buy these from the Nutural World website, at Broadway and Camden markets and on eBay and I urge you to give them a try. They’re absolutely delicious and a wonderful alternative to their better known cousin, peanut butter.

Which is why I chose a classic peanut butter recipe from Good Home Baking to put some of Nutural World’s nut butters to the test – Peanut Biscuits.

Because I wanted to try three different variations, we first mixed up the biscuit dough without any nut butter, divided it into three and then added a different nut butter to each portion. Of course, you can make a single batch and add whichever nut butter you choose to your mix.

As we’re not fans of margarine, we also switched margarine to butter and we adapted the method to use our food processor. Of course, you can mix by hand.

These biscuits are what I’d call old fashioned in style – they’re crunchy and crumbly rather than soft and chewy and the flavours are subtle rather than smack-in-the-face. They’re perfect with a big mug of tea.

Old Fashioned Nut Butter Biscuits

Adapted from Mary Cadogan’s Peanut Biscuits
Makes about 24 biscuits

Ingredients
275 grams plain flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100 grams butter
225 grams soft light brown sugar
100 grams crunchy nut butter of your choice
2 eggs

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 °C (fan).
  • Process flour, baking powder, salt, bicarbonate of soda and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Add the sugar and eggs. If using a single nut butter, add this in too.
  • Process until the mixture comes together as soft sticky dough, with the ingredients thoroughly combined.

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Our dough divided into three portions; adding Nutural World Macadamia Nut, Cashew and Brazil Nut butters

  • If making a variety of nut butter biscuits, scrape the dough out of the processor, divide into portions, add nut butter and beat in thoroughly using a fork or spoon.

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  • On a baking tray lined with either a silicon mat or baking paper, spoon out dollops of biscuit dough and use a fork to pat each dollop down and create criss-cross lines on the surface.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

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  • Leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely.

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Kavey Eats received nut butter samples from Nutural World.

 

Four years ago a course at Billingsgate Seafood Training School changed my life.

If that seems like it might be an exaggeration, rest assured that it really isn’t because, in a roundabout kind of way, it lead to me finally making it to Japan, a country I’d long yearned to visit. That’s a story for another time, but probably goes some way to explaining why I was so keen to accept the school’s invitation to attend one of their newer evening classes.

Known as Every Which Way Techniques, there are a range of courses to choose from, each one based around a seasonal fish or seafood.  In July, crab was on the menu. In September, the theme was scallops. In October the focus will be on Lemon Sole and in November, on Seabass. Our August class was based on mackerel, a fish that’s at its best in late summer.

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Classes are £55 per person for a group of up to 12 people and start at 6.30 pm. During the next 2.5 hours you will learn a variety of skills to prepare and cook the chosen fish. At the end you have time to grab a stool and tuck in to your efforts.

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During the class, our tutor Eithne taught us how to gut and clean out our mackerels, how to fillet  them and what to do if we wanted to cook them whole. With her patient guidance, this seemed very straightforward and all of us mastered the techniques.

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The cooking focused on smoking using wood chip shavings and specialist domestic smokers, but Eithne made clear that we could adapt equipment we would likely already have in our kitchens just as well.

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We smoked fillets of salmon and whole mackerel and also oven cooked fillets of mackerel with a delicious marinade applied, which we mixed from recipes and ingredients provided.

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As an added bonus, when I removed the innards of one of my mackerel, I spotted an intact liver. Asking Eithne if she’d ever cooked one (she hadn’t) I decided to give it a go and see what it was like. Turns out it was delicious, so there’s a top tip for you – mackerel livers for the win!

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We also learned a simple smoked fish pate recipe that Pete and I made the next day with the whole smoked mackerel we brought home with us. It was simple, delicious and I shall definitely make it again.

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Kavey Eats attended the Smoked Mackerel Every Which Way Techniques class as a guest of Billingsgate Seafood Training School.

News: The school have just introduced gift vouchers. Wouldn’t these make a great Christmas gift? The lucky recipient recipient could book onto a course of their choice, on a date that works for them.

 

TomCoxMini

Guest Post by Tom Cox.

 

 

 

A while ago now Kavey invited me to review a cook book on her blog. Me and my girlfriend Nat often do our share of the cooking in the household (currently living with her parents and brother) and I decided this would be a great opportunity to try something new. So after reeling over the dozens of cook books available on the list Kavey provided me, with it being world cup time and my particular penchant towards the new and interesting, I eventually decided on the extremely colourful Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho.

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First impressions were great, it had loads of really interesting looking chapters with really rich interesting pictures and a short excerpt from a review by Michael Palin (a personal favourite of mine). I decided we were definitely onto a winner.

The one thing that I really liked about the book is that it’s not just a cook book, it’s a tome on Brazilian cooking and culture with tidbits of history about Brazilian cuisine and history, quotes from anthropologists and all in all you really get a taste of the culture that cultivated this cuisine. However, this blessing is also a bit of a curse as it’s not the most accommodating of cook books with a lot of ingredients you’d struggle to find at your local supermarket and although there are a couple of tips about visiting an African/ Asian food shop there is some stuff I’m pretty sure has simply never made it to our shores (a bold claim I know but seriously try and find annatto oil). Some of the recipes had some pretty advanced cooking skills and weren’t altogether clear at times.

In short unless you’re a professional chef or some sort of super foodie (I consider myself a pretty good cook) then I reckon you’ll struggle with quite a few of the recipes.

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Ultimately I decided to go for one of the simpler looking recipes Galinha Caipira, or for those of us who’s Brazilian Portugese is a little rusty, Braised Chicken. This recipe, Thiago notes, was one of his grandmother’s and I hoped it would give us a good example of real wholesome Brazilian cooking. This recipe had very few of the really difficult to source ingredients apart from annatto oil, annatto now being a plant that I’ve developed somewhat of a disliking for after trying desperately to find in every random foodie looking shop I could find. I did discover that annatto oil is also known as achiote oil, but in the end I substituted oil, paprika and turmeric.

The recipe was quite simple but the picture was somewhat misleading and had a few ingredients in the picture that weren’t present. Although it called for both red and white onion in the ingredients, it made no mention of when to use one or the other in the method of so I went with my best judgement.

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We decided to serve this with Coconut rice (as opposed to the serving suggestion of Brazilian-style white rice) which I think was a fantastic choice in the end as what the main lacked in flavour the coconut rice made up for by being a real treat! The taste of the chicken dish was a little dull and didn’t really have anything distinctive about it; this should have been pretty predictable from the list of ingredients but I thought I’d give the book the benefit of the doubt, somewhat to our disappointment.

In summary if you have a good couple of days to source, prepare and cook a meal then I’d say go for it this book is a real visual treat and gives you bucket loads of really great insight into the vibrant country in which the food was developed.

I’m sure if I’d had the time to dedicate to one of the more complicated recipes I’d have enjoyed it more but for the average cook I’m not so sure it suits. It’ll stay on my book shelf more as an interesting insight into Brazilian food and culture as opposed to something I’ll be trying to cook from again.

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Brazilian Food from Octopus Books. Brazilian Food is currently (at time of writing) available on Amazon for £20.40 (RRP £30).

 

This month, Kavey Eats has joined forces with Belleau Kitchen for a Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream – Random Recipes mashup.

Which means that I had to follow instructions to randomly pick one of my cookery books and then randomly pick an ice cream (or sorbet, froyo or other frozen treat) recipe. Rather than trying to make a single pile of all my books so I could pick a book with my eyes closed, I asked Pete to grab a book at random (because, unlike me he, doesn’t know by heart the colours, fonts and titles of most of the collection).

The first two books didn’t have a single ice cream recipe to offer but third time lucky he picked Divine Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with a Heart by Linda Collister. The recipe we ended up with is definitely more to Pete’s taste than mine but that seems fair, since there’s still a little matcha ice cream and yuzu ice cream in the freezer, both of which are much more to my taste!

Although we followed the recipe ingredients as per the book, we changed the technique to use my new Optimum 9400 Blender by Froothie, which I mentioned in my recent Jungle Juice Sorbet post.

It’s a gorgeous, incredibly smooth and creamy ice cream with a really fantastic mouth feel but, as you can imagine, the white chocolate makes it rather sweet. I grabbed my pot of raspberry powder to give it a little fruity tartness plus instant visual bling. Perfect!

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Scroll down for recipe.

Making Custard in an Optimum 9400 Power Blender

I’d already seen custard made in a blender, when my friend Monica made some in her Vitamix. I was really impressed with the speed and simplicity, but put off by the Vitamix Pro 500’s £600 price tag. I had also been bowled over by the Thermomix I was loaned for a couple of months – it has a much wider range of functions including an internal weighing scale and cooking element but is twice the price of the Vitamix! Australian brand Froothie have recently launched in the UK and their Optimum 9400 blender is £329 – still a hefty price tag but significantly less than the alternatives.

In terms of performance, it compares well with Vitamix Pro 500 – the motor is 50% more powerful (2,238 watts against 1,492 watts) which powers the blade to 44,000 rpm against 37,000 rpm. Froothie don’t claim their product is superior – they simply provide a side by side comparison of key specifications. Because I’ve not owned a Vitamix I can’t offer a practical comparison. However, Helen from Fuss Free Flavours is a former die hard Vitamix fan who seems to have been converted after a few weeks playing with her Optimax 9400.

The reason power blenders such as Vitamix and Froothie’s Optimum 9400 are great for making custard is that you can throw all the ingredients in to the blender jug, switch on and gradually ramp up the speed to its highest setting. Simply leave the blender running for several minutes; the speed of the powerful blades generates enough heat to cook the custard. Believe me, after 7 minutes, our custard was steaming hot! And because we had confidence in the power of the blades, we dropped the solid pieces of white chocolate straight into the hot custard and blended again. The Optimum 9400 blades broke the chocolate down quickly and the heat melted and combined it thoroughly into the custard base.

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After that, we left the custard to cool down before churning it in our new Sage Smart Scoop ice cream machine – review coming soon.

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White Chocolate Vanilla Ice Cream, Served with Powdered Raspberry

Adapted from Divine Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with a Heart to use the power blender method of making custard

Ingredients
225 ml milk
225 ml double cream
4 large eggs
60 grams caster sugar
Vanilla beans scraped from 1 pod, or 1-2 teaspoons good quality vanilla bean paste
140 grams white chocolate, in pieces
Optional: Freeze-dried raspberry powder, to serve

Method

  • Place milk, cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla beans into a power blender. Switch on and increase speed to full, then leave running for 6-7 minutes. This will create a steaming hot cooked custard.
  • Carefully drop in the white chocolate and blend again briefly to melt and combine chocolate into the custard.
  • Leave custard to cool.
  • Once cool, churn in an ice cream machine until ready or transfer to freezer container and freeze until required.
  • To serve, a sprinkle of freeze-dried raspberry powder really lifts the white chocolate vanilla ice cream, visually and on the palate.

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This is my entry into August’s #BSFIC #RandomRecipes mashup co-hosted with Dom at Belleau Kitchen.

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Check out the challenge and join in!

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I used beans scraped from fresh vanilla pods provided by Panifolia, a retailer of high quality Mexican vanilla.
The freeze-dried natural powdered raspberries are from Sous Chef, a specialist online food and equipment retailer.

 

Kavey Eats received vanilla pods from Etienne Besse at Panifolia, freeze-dried raspberry powder from Sous Chef, a Heston Blumenthal Smart Scoop review machine from Sage Appliances and an Optimum 9400 blender from Froothie. Kavey Eats is a member of the Froothie brand ambassador programme, but under no obligation to share positive reviews. All opinions published on Kavey Eats are 100% honest feedback.

Special Offer: For an additional 2 years warranty free of charge on any Optimum appliance purchased, follow this link, choose your Optimum product and enter coupon code “Special Ambassador Offer” on checkout.

 

I’ve shared three Potato Dauphinoise posts on Kavey Eats over the years – the easy recipe I learned at the Waitrose cookery school, a caramelised onion version and a sweet potato and ham Dauphinoise. The original easy recipe also includes a variation substituting chicken stock for the milk, so I guess that’s actually four versions – yes I really do love potato Dauphinoise!

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To celebrate the launch of Rosie Ramsden’s new book The Recipe Wheel her publishers have sent me one of the book’s recipe wheels to share. As you can see, it includes a number of Rosie’s potato gratin dishes – an exploration of how one can adapt a core dish extensively.

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 I thought it would be helpful for to share all my variation recipes in a single place:

Easy Potato Dauphinoise Recipe

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
200 ml double cream
200 ml full fat milk
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper
500-600 grams large waxy potato such as Desiree, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm

Note: A mandolin makes slicing the potatoes thinly and evenly very easy, but it’s not difficult by hand.

Method

  • In a large sauce pan place the double cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper on a gentle heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.
  • Add the potato slices into the hot cream and milk and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potato slices have softened a little.
  • Use a slatted spoon to transfer the potatoes into an oven dish, so that the slices are reasonably flat. You don’t need to worry about being very neat, but it’s best to get an even height to the top layer, so everything bakes evenly.
  • Pour or spoon the remainder of the thickened cream and milk over the potatoes.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Check if done by inserting a knife into the dish; the potatoes should feel soft all the way through.
  • The dish will stay hot for several minutes before serving, if you need time to finish other elements of the dish.

 

Easy Cream & Chicken Stock Potato Dauphinoise Recipe

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
200 ml double cream
200 ml chicken stock
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper
500-600 grams large waxy potato such as Desiree, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm

Note: A mandolin makes slicing the potatoes thinly and evenly very easy, but it’s not difficult by hand.

Method

  • As above, substituting the chicken stock for the milk.

 

Easy Caramelised Onion & Potato Dauphinoise Recipe

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
200 ml double cream
200 ml full fat milk
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper
500-600 grams large waxy potato such as Desiree, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm
3-4 tablespoons sweet and sticky well-caramelised onions (I use ready made)

Note: A mandolin makes slicing the potatoes thinly and evenly very easy, but it’s not difficult by hand.

Method

  • In a large sauce pan place the double cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper on a gentle heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.
  • Add the potato slices into the hot cream and milk and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potato slices have softened a little.
  • Use a slatted spoon to transfer about a third of the potatoes into an oven dish, arranging them so they’re reasonably flat.
  • Spread the caramelised onions evenly across the potatoes.
  • Cover with the remaining slices of potatoes.
  • Pour or spoon the remainder of the thickened cream and milk over the potatoes. You don’t need to worry about being very neat, but it’s best to get an even height to the top layer, so everything bakes evenly.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Check if done by inserting a knife into the dish; the potatoes should feel soft all the way through.
  • The dish will stay hot for several minutes before serving, if you need time to finish other elements of the dish.

 

Sweet Potato & Ham Dauphinoise Recipe

Serves 2-3

Ingredients
200 ml double cream
200 ml full fat milk
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper
350 grams sweet potato, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm
150-200 grams regular potato, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm
100-150 grams thick sliced ham, cut into small pieces
Optional: handful of grated cheese

Note: A mandolin makes slicing the potatoes thinly and evenly very easy, but it’s not difficult by hand.

Method

  • In a large sauce pan place the double cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper on a gentle heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.
  • Add the potato and sweet potato slices into the hot cream and milk and simmer for 15 minutes, until they have softened a little.
  • Use a slatted spoon to transfer some of the (mixed) potatoes into an oven dish, so that the slices are reasonably flat.
  • Scatter some of the ham pieces across them before adding another layer, and continue till all the potatoes and ham are in the oven dish. You don’t need to worry about being very neat, but it’s best to get an even height to the top layer, so everything bakes evenly.
  • Pour or spoon the remainder of the thickened cream and milk over the potatoes.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Check if done by inserting a knife into the dish; the potatoes should feel soft all the way through.
  • Serve hot.

 

Other recipes you may enjoy:

Creamy Potato, Bacon & Brie Tartiflette on Greedy Gourmet
‘Nduja Gratin on Fuss Free Flavours

 

Kavey Eats received a copy of The Recipe Wheel from Random House.

 

 

Traditionally, the key ingredients in the Japanese dish shira-ae are white – white tofu, white miso and white sesame seeds; shiro means white in Japanese and the ae suffix denotes a vegetable dish with dressing. What’s unusual from my European perspective is the low amount of liquid ingredients in the dressing; the silken tofu provides both additional moisture and the body of the sauce.

This can be also used with other greens such as spinach or seaweed, or your own selection of vegetables.

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Here’s the recipe. To learn more about the ingredients, keep reading.

Saya Ingen Shira-ae | Green Beans with a Tofu, Miso & Sesame Dressing

Serves 2-3 as a side dish

Ingredients
300 grams green beans (French beans)
100 grams silken tofu (pressed tofu is not suitable for this recipe)
50 grams lightly toasted white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons miso paste *
2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons mirin (rice wine)

* Shira-ae traditionally uses white miso paste, the mildest and sweetest miso. I prefer the saltier and more pungent flavour of red miso, so it’s the type I most commonly have in the fridge. Red miso gives my shira-ae dressing a darker colour than it would have if I used white miso.

Note: I have used Clearspring organic tofu, a long life firm silken tofu made with organic soy beans, spring water from Mount Fuji and nigari, a naturally occurring mineral rich coagulant derived from sea water. See below for my tofu lowdown.

Method

  • Prepare and cook the green beans as you like them. My preference is that they have a little crunch left in them.
  • Once cooked, drain and tip into a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking further.
  • In the meantime, grind the sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle, food processor or spice grinder.

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  • Mix the ground sesame seeds with the miso paste, sugar, mirin and tofu. Silken tofu is so soft and moist it will easily break up and combine with the other ingredients.

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  • Drain the beans well and mix with the dressing.

Tofu, Miso and Sesame Seeds

Tofu

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Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk (itself made by soaking, grinding and heating soy beans and water) and straining the resulting curd. Originating in China about 2000 years ago, the technique spread to Korea and then Japan in the 8th century, coinciding with the spread of Buddhism – tofu is an important source of protein in a Buddhist vegetarian diet.

Incidentally, if you ever wondered about the English-language name, it’s taken directly from the Japanese, which is itself taken from the Chinese dòufu. Dòufu translates as “bean” “curdled”, giving us the name that is more prevalent in the United States – bean curd.

The variety of tofu available in East Asia is amazing!

Broadly speaking, tofu products divide into fresh and processed.

Fresh tofu comes in many different textures, the result of a range of different coagulants used to make it as well as differing production techniques.

Silken tofu is the softest kind and, because it’s not curdled, strained or pressed after coagulation, it has a really high moisture content. You can find both soft and firm silken tofu, but both are far softer and wetter than pressed tofu.

Firm tofu does retain a fair amount of moisture, but not as much as silken tofu. Its surface often retains the pattern of the muslin or mould used to strain and press it. The firmest tofu is pressed rigorously and has an almost rubbery texture, a little like paneer or halloumi.

There are also a number of processed tofu products included fermented, pickled and dried tofu. These include stinky tofu, which smells much like a very ripe soft European cheese. Just like cheese, it tastes far better than it smells!

Dried tofu is very light, does not need to be refrigerated and is usually rehydrated before use. There are many shapes and textures available.

Another type is frozen tofu. Large ice crystals, which form on freezing, leave cavities when the tofu is defrosted, creating a spongy texture. This type of tofu is often sold cubed and freeze dried.

Tofu can also be deep fried, usually after being cut into cubes or triangles, or into thinner pieces to create pouches for inari-zushi. Obviously, the firmer and drier types of tofu are better for frying.

These days, tofu is readily available in the UK, though you won’t find the sheer variety available in Asia!

It is often associated in the West with a vegetarian or vegan diet, with detractors dismissing it as bland and unappetising. Personally, I love the stuff. Yes, the flavour is subtle but it’s a very versatile ingredient. It’s also very healthy as it’s high in protein but relatively low in calories and fat. Depending on the coagulating agent used, it can also be high in calcium and magnesium.

Miso

Miso is made by fermenting soybeans, and sometimes additional grains such as rice or barley, with a fungus known in Japanese as kōjikin. The resulting paste is used as a seasoning throughout Japanese cooking. There are many, many different varieties available in Japan, often broadly divided by their colour. White is the mildest and sweetest. Red, aged for longer, is stronger and saltier and darkens with age through red into brown.

Sesame seeds

Green-Bean-Shiraae-KaveyEats-KFavelle-4 Green-Bean-Shiraae-KaveyEats-KFavelle-6657

Sesame seed is oldest known oilseed crop, with archeological evidence suggesting it was already being cultivated 3500 years ago. Sesame seeds have a very high oil content and the oil itself is very stable with a long shelf life, making it easy to store in hot climates. Once the oil has been extracted from the seeds, the protein-rich remaining meal can be used as animal feed.

Most wild species are native to sub-Saharan Africa, where the genus originated, but the cultivated type, Sesame Indicum, originated in India. A hardy, drought-tolerant crop, sesame is now grown in tropical regions around the world with Burma, India and China the biggest producers (in 2010).

Of course, the seeds are popular in seed form too; they feature in many cuisines around the world, far too many dishes to list here.

Pale straw-coloured “white” seeds are the most common, but black varieties can be very striking, especially when combined with the white. I loved the jin doy spheres I enjoyed at A Wong a few months ago.

I love this tidbit from Wiki’s page on sesame seeds: “Upon ripening, sesame fruit capsules split, releasing the seeds with a pop. It has been suggested that this is root of the phrase “Open Sesame” in the historic fable of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in One Thousand and One Nights. The opening of the capsule releases the treasure of sesame seeds.”

Suribachi & Surikogi

One of my favourite purchases from our last visit to Japan was a beautiful suribachi (grinding bowl) and surikogi (wooden grinder). This very Japanese mortar and pestle is perfect for grinding sesame seeds, which are quickly pulverised against the ridged inner surface of the bowl.

Did you know that Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi was named for this humble kitchen tool?

Green-Bean-Shiraae-KaveyEats-KFavelle-3

 

This dish is such a quick and easy one to make and is both healthy and utterly delicious. I hope you enjoy it and do please leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

Kavey Eats received product samples courtesy of Clearspring.

 

I have too many cookery books. There, I’ve said it.

Despite two major clear outs in the last couple of years, when lots and lots of cookery books were given away to charity shops and fundraisers, the assigned shelves are overflowing. Books are stacked two deep, with extra ones squeezed on their side above the others. Others sit in stacks on the dining room floor, living room coffee table, and even lost amongst the papers on my desk.

I’m aware my collection is tiny compared to some, numbering at only 150 or so against the many hundreds some of my friends and acquaintances report.

And yet there is still an argument to be made that I have too many. There are many that I’ve cooked from only once or twice; some that I’ve never cooked from at all. Often, I don’t even remember that I have a particular title, only to exclaim in excitement at its rediscovery during yet another session of tidying. Surely, a cookery book exists to cook from – or at the very least, to inspire and inform one’s cooking? If I consistently forget about the book, do I really need it at all?

Of course, that’s my rational head talking rather than my emotional heart, which clutches these books to itself with all the fervour of an addict, wild-eyed in distress at the thought of parting with favourite tomes, regardless of their practical use (or not) in my life.

My emotional heart says I certainly do not have too many cookery books, thank you very much!

Still, it’s true that I haven’t been making great use of my collection.

Eat Your Books

So…

  • What if there were a way of making my collection more accessible to me?
  • What if there were a way of reminding me easily about all the books that I have, and better still, of all the recipes contained within them?
  • What if there were a way of flicking through recipes by book, author or ingredient without the need to pull every single book off the shelf?

That was just the kind of thinking that occurred to sisters Jane and Fiona a few years ago. Jane came up with the core idea for Eat Your Books after realising that, despite owning a lot of cookbooks, she would go online when she wanted to find a recipe quickly. She goes on to explain, “It made me wish I had a searchable index of all my cookbooks.  I seriously considered creating my own database then realised there must be lots of people like me around the world who feel they don’t use their cookbooks enough as it takes so long to find recipes.” So she talked through her idea with sister Fiona, who has a technology background and the pair decided they had the makings of a good business.

So that is Eat Your Books: a fantastic online service offering exactly what I describe above – a way of making my collection of cookery books more accessible and therefore more useful to me.

Bookshelf

Launched in 2010, Eat Your Books is already hugely popular with many tens of thousands of users around the world. It’s particularly successful in US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and is growing its user base here in the UK.

Eat Your Books allows you to create a virtual bookshelf of all the (English-language) cookery books you own.

Once that’s been created, it’s a matter of a few clicks to search through all the recipes in all the books on your virtual bookshelf by whatever keyword you like. All the matching recipes are listed, and when you find one you like, you know exactly which book to retrieve from your real bookshelf in order to read the recipe.

In order for the search tool to be useful, every book must be indexed by hand so that recipes are keyworded only for the ingredients, techniques and descriptions that are key to each recipe and likely to be used to find them. Auto-index tools tend to list too many false positives in their search results – a search on chicken might include every recipe that uses chicken stock, for example – and are therefore not an option when creating a truly user-friendly database.

New books are being added all the time, with a focus on adding the big sellers as quickly as possible.

OlderTitles

Although I first joined a couple of years ago, it was only a couple of months ago that I finally invested the time to go through my entire real life bookshelf and add the titles to my personal Eat Your Books account. I had expected to find many of my titles missing from Eat Your Books’ database, but actually there were only a tiny handful that I couldn’t find, and they are pretty obscure titles. Judging from my collection, the database seems pretty comprehensive for books released during the last 30 to 40 years, at least.

Search

When building your bookshelf, searching can be a little tricky for some titles but most are very easy to find. For some books, searching by author or title works best; for others, I entered the book’s ISBN. For certain books, Eat Your Books lists multiple editions, so you might need to check the front cover image or ISBN number of those listed in the search results, to make sure you add the right one.

There’s also an Import Books feature (available to paid members only) which lets you enter a list of up to 500 ISBN codes in one step. You can generate this list by way of a barcode scanner app on your smartphone.


cod potatoes 1
cod potatoes 2

After populating my own bookshelf, I was keen to start searching through my recipes.

You might remember a recipe post (for cod baked with chorizo and potatoes) in which I mentioned an error that resulted a delivery of 4 kilos (rather than 4 small pieces) of beautiful Norwegian cod, much of which is still sitting in my freezer. After entering all my books onto My Bookshelf, I was delighted to discover that I have 78 recipes for cod contained within the cookery books I own, many of which I’d never have thought to turn to when seeking a recipe.

Results can be sorted by title, author, publication date and user rating. To see whether a recipe suits what you’re looking for, click the title to see a list of the main ingredients and any notes that have been added.

The more books you have, the more recipes will be listed but you can filter your search results by ingredient (very handy if you have an allergy to cater for), recipe type or course and ethnicity. I’ve filtered below to exclude salt cod, baby food, sauces and dips, and pies and pastries, to bring my list of cod recipes down from 78 to 31.

Additionally, you can also create your own bookmarks with which to tag books and recipes, to help you further categorise them above and beyond the filter definitions. I’ve created a “Made” bookmark to record recipes I’ve already cooked and another called “Shortlist” to identify those I’m keen to make soon.

Filtered search

Just this service alone would, quite frankly, be worthwhile –  for me and for anyone who owns an unwieldy collection of cookery books which they don’t make the best use of.

There are also a number of other services on Eat Your Books which are deserving of mention.

There are currently 73 food blogs (of which I’m delighted to be one) listed, with recipes indexed and searchable in exactly the same way as published cookbooks.

If you subscribe to a popular food magazine, the title can be added to your bookshelf too, giving you a quick way to search through the recipes in each issue. New issues will automatically be included in your future searches and you can add any past issues you’ve kept too.

In addition, there is a huge library of online recipes you can access, even if you don’t own the books. These are recipes that publishers and authors have officially permitted to be published online, and Eat Your Books indexes them and provides a direct link to the content.

On the rare occasions you own a book that isn’t already indexed, you can index it yourself. Though this is quite a big task, it does make your virtual bookshelf more complete, and also benefits the wider Eat Your Books community.

There is a shopping list function, but it’s not currently advanced enough to be useful as recipe indexing doesn’t currently list amounts. If developed further, I can see this becoming a valuable tool within the site.

So the next big question is how much does it cost?

The answer depends on how much of the functionality you want to access.

Some some parts of the site can be accessed without registering and if you create a non-paying account you can access quite a lot of the site.

Full functionality is reserved for those who buy premium membership, which is priced at US$25 a year or US$2.50 a month; (at today’s exchange rates that’s £15 / £1.50). Before you dismiss the idea of paying for an online service, let’s just pause to put that into perspective – £15 is the cost of a single cookery book a year and if you make proper use of the service, will help you maximise the benefit of owning all the books you already have.

  • Anyone can search the recipe database. Don’t forget that, for books and magazines, the actual recipes are not reproduced on the site – rather Eat Your Books is a sophisticated personal catalogue and search system. But users can filter the results to show only those recipes which are fully available online, linked via the site.
  • Anyone can read the blog, and subscribe to it using RSS.
  • Non-paying members can add up to five books and five magazines to their bookshelves (and self index as many additional books as they like, provided the titles are not already available on the site).
  • Paid members can add as many books and magazines as they like (and self index as well). Paid members may also use the Import Book function to add large collections of books more quickly.
  • All members can add unlimited blogs and online recipes to their bookshelves.
  • All members can upload their personal recipes to the site.
  • All members can create bookmarks (with which to tag items on their bookshelves) and can add notes to recipes and books (including personal notes).
  • All members can make use of the EYB discussion forum.
  • Paid members will not be shown advertising when visiting the site. These adverts are a way for EYB to subsidise the cost of non-paying users.

I asked Jane to tell me a little about the first few years of creating Eat Your Books and what they are planning for the service, next.

It has been a huge amount of work but we feel we now have a really valuable website.  We have indexed over a million recipes from cookbooks, magazines and blogs.  Members can add any online recipe they see and also index their own personal recipes.  There is no other place in the world where you can have a searchable index of all your recipes.  I think for anyone who loves cooking, EYB is the best tool for organizing your recipe collection.  For the future, there are lots of new features we plan to add.  We also want to improve our mobile site and add an app.  Our biggest issue, as a small company, is getting ourselves better known – so thank you Kavey for spreading the word.

 

COMPETITION

Eat Your Books are offering a truly fantastic prize to one of my readers – a lifetime premium membership to Eat Your Books. That’s right, not just a single year’s subscription but an account that lasts a lifetime.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me which cookery book is your favourite and why.

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 love cookery books! So I’d love to win a lifetime subscription to @
EatYourBooks from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/RTA24E #KaveyEatsEYB
(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 Saturday 6th July 2014.
  • 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 winner 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 lifetime premium membership subscription to Eat Your Books.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Eat Your Books.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but do not have to do so 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 from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats received a complimentary subscription from Eat Your Books.

 

Today is Kavey Eats’ 5th Birthday! Where did the time go? Over 800 posts shared, and I’m still learning, still bubbling with ideas, still enjoying the process and still feeling like a newbie in so many ways. Thank you for visiting, for reading, for commenting and for sharing my content with your friends. I am so grateful!

To celebrate, I thought I’d share some Favourite Fives with you. Click on the links to go straight to any section or settle in for a long scroll down!

Five Favourite Kavey Eats Recipes
Five Favourite Travel Posts
Five Favourite Cookery Book Reviews
Five Favourite Lessons on the History of Food
Five Favourite Recipes by Pete
Five Favourite Hotel Stays
Five Favourite Random Lessons
Five Favourite Restaurant Reviews
Five Favourite Gardening & Allotment Moments
Five Favourite Cookery Classes
Three Favourite History Lessons

 

Five Favourite Kavey Eats Recipes

Many of the recipes I blog are by way of reviewing a cookery book, but here are five of my own that I’m particularly proud of:

ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0160

A chicken tarragon pasta bake that turns leftover roast or poached chicken into something special.

LemonPossetCandiedClementine-0815 ConfitBabyTangerines-0993

Candying (confit) clementines is surprisingly easy, as is making rich, sharp-sweet lemon posset.

BangersBostonBakedBeans-0664 BangersBostonBakedBeans-9545

Although I love boston baked beans, Pete was never keen on the belly pork that is a common accompaniment. I created a culinary handshake between America and Britain with these British Bangers & Boston Baked Beans. Leave soupy or cook longer to reduce to a thicker, stickier mass.

AppleDateGingerChutney-0076 AppleDateGingerChutney-0080

I won first prize for chutneys in our local allotment show with this apple, date, ginger and chilli chutney so I’m very proud of it, especially as I had to be encouraged to enter by an allotment friend!

BeerandNutsIceCream-9355 BeerandNutsIceCream-9361

I adored my stout (beer) and salty roasted peanut ice cream – the representation of a pub in a sweet frozen treat. I wrote this as a guest post for my husband’s blog, Pete Drinks.

Other recipes I really like are my chicken liver and port pâté, these fun bacon pancakes, coffee and rum walnut brittle ice cream featuring home made walnut brittle, and a home made strawberry vodka liqueur that turned out wonderfully thick, sweet and fruity.

 

Five Favourite Travel Posts

I love to travel, especially when there’s also great food involved!

Lebanon AbuKasem-7454 Lebanon AbuKasem-7493

The day we spent talking za’atar with Abu Kassem was a highlight of our trip to Lebanon.

Amsterdam-0208 Amsterdam-0460

We had great fun spending a weekend eating and drinking our way around Amsterdam. There was so much to eat, so little time!

KVEats Falklands-1653 KVEats Falklands-2219

I can’t pretend the Falklands Islands are a dream foodie destination but we ate well and spent lots of time appreciating the local wildlife.

IslaySeafoodShack-134808

Our latest visit to Islay for the Islay Whisky Festival 2013 saw me eating fabulous fresh seafood as often as I could, which turned out to be every day!

Japan2012-3084

It’s been so hard to pick just one of my many Japan posts to include here, but I’ve chosen a little place in Kyoto selling Japanese specialities, amazake and warabi mochi.

Also in my shortlist was a really old introduction to eating in Morocco, that I originally wrote for a short-lived travel blog I abandoned almost as soon as I started!

 

Five Favourite Cookery Book Reviews

I own far far far too many cookery books!

LeonBook4-3751 LeonBook4-3756

The book I was probably the most excited to see was Leon Book 4, featuring three of mum’s recipes, photos of mum with her parents and with baby me, and an explanation of how Mamta’s Kitchen came into existence.

SarabanBook-6259 SarabanBook-6266

Saraban, by Greg and Lucy Malouf, is enchantingly beautiful. The recipe I shared, Tahcheen-e morgh, proved very popular, and more recently it inspired my Persian Peri Peri Fusion version.

NilsenQuicheLorraine-4700

I’m a big fan of Angela Nilsen’s approach of taking a classic recipe, researching it, sourcing tips from a range of experts and then creating the ultimate recipe and she shares 50 such recipes in this book. Here, I make her Ultimate Quiche Lorraine.

OC-Feb2014-6045

My friend Uyen Luu’s book is a visual feast, full of beautiful images, evocative writing and delicious recipes. We made several recipes, including her Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water.

Vareniki-6136 Vareniki-6140

My last choice is a book I wish I had on my own shelves, the wonderfully named Please To The Table, full of Russian recipes. Pete made Cheese Vareniki and Meat Pelmeni and they were mighty fine!

A few that didn’t quite make the top five but offer tasty treats include a fabulous smoked cheese gnocchi from The Amalfi Coast, Gastrogeek’s Roasted Aubergine Macarone Cheese and Billy Law’s Coca Cola Chicken.

 

Five Favourite Lessons On The History of Food

Sometimes a topic really catches my attention; when that happens, I love to read as much as I can to learn all about it and then pull everything together into an essay-like post!

BrogdaleNFC-1482 BrogdaleNFC-1506

Our visit to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale last year was fascinating. We learned a great deal about the history of the collections from our super guide, Mike, and I was inspired to do more research about the history of the apple in the UK, when I got home.

KellyBronze-3995 KellyBronze-4013

These days, turkey is relegated to little more than a Christmas staple, but a visit to the Kelly Bronze farm prompted me to look more closely into the history of turkey eating and breeding in the UK.

Japan2013-3234 Japan2013-3226

This post had been simmering for several months, the majority of it written after our first trip to Japan in autumn 2012 but not completed until after our second trip in 2013. I only just got round to posting it! It gives a history of yakiniku in Japanese cuisine.

Parma-8226 Parma-8499

A press trip to Parma allowed me to discover the origins and methods of making parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan cheese) and prosciutto de Parma (Parma ham).

 

Five Favourite Recipes by Pete

Pete does so much of the cooking in our house. Here are five of my favourite recipes he’s created.

PeteCake-0424

I’m always begging Pete to make his Chocolate & Porter Cake. Most recently, he made it for an afternoon tea, and it went down very well!

CheeseyBake-1949

Pete’s Cheesey Potato Bake is simplicity itself but so very tasty. It’s also a great way of using up the remnants of a varied cheeseboard.

CobnutBread-1145 CobnutBread-1170

Home made bread is one of Pete’s fortes and I loved this Cobnut Bread he made using British cobnuts and oil.

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I dubbed this invention of Pete’s Courgette-Saka, in a reference to Moussaka, though I’ve come across similar dishes called courgette lasagne. It’s made by layering ragu, slices of courgette and bechamel before baking.

PeteCrumpets-0334 PeteCrumpets-0339

Pete’s Crumpet recipe is a winner. Nothing like hot, freshly made crumpets oozing with melted butter for a fantastic weekend breakfast!

 

Five Favourite Hotel Stays

I guess this could come under travel, but in these posts I’m focusing on the beautiful places we stayed.

Japan2012-2600 Japan2012-2527

We stayed in Ryokan Kankaso in Nara on our first trip to Japan and it remains one of my favourite experiences in Japan. They served us an amazing kaiseki ryori feast.

ScarletHotel-4828 ScarletHotel-6336

Sometimes when you visit a place, it seems to have been designed with your personal tastes in mind. So it was at The Scarlet in Cornwall.

SyonPark-8616 SyonPark-8639 SyonPark-8670

London’s Syon Park Hotel is shiny and new, and the exterior isn’t particularly attractive, but I really appreciated what it offers inside.

Sweden2012--11 Sweden2012--16 Sweden2012--34

I didn’t particularly love our hotel in Abisko in Sweden’s Lappland but its location and the surrounding views were spectacular!

Japan2012-2533 Japan2012-3001

Yes, two ryokans make it into the list – we also had a wonderful stay at Shiraume Ryokan in Kyoto’s historic Gion district.

 

Five Favourite Random Lessons

A little mix-bag of miscellaneous topics!

BordBia A Set-8147 BordBia A Set 700 (c)-8128 BordBia A Set 700 (c)-8132

I had a great time attending a food styling photography workshop by one of the best in the business, Alastair Hendy. I’ve shared lots of his tips in my post.

KaveyHeartMapProject-0819 KaveyHeartMapProject-0825

In a rare departure from the food and travel content I usually post, I created a framed artwork of heart shaped maps of places that hold special meaning to Pete and I. Here’s the tutorial on how to make your own digital heart maps collage.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0026 ApplePieFillingCanning-0034

I’ve been happily making jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and ketchups and storing them long term in sterilised jam jars and glass bottles. But before I embarked on my first canning project (where the food is heat treated inside the jar) I did some research on the various methods of preserving food at home. This post shares what I learned and was followed by my instructions on how to can apple pie filling.

Japan2012-2154 Japan2012-3168

I found the temples and shrines in Kyoto and across Japan utterly fascinating and wrote this article to help visitors to identify a Buddhist temple from a Shinto shrine and to understand and appreciate what they are seeing. Here too are 6 earlier posts in which I shared information and images from several shrines and temples we visited.

UKFBA stall-9582 UKFBA stall-9573

This one isn’t so much a lesson as our experiences running a food market stall for just one day, in Covent Garden’s Real Food Market.

 

Five Favourite Restaurant Reviews

I love to eat in and I love to eat out. Here are restaurants I particularly enjoyed.

FatDuck-9003

It’s probably not a huge surprise that one of the most memorable meals I’ve written about is Heston’s Fat Duck. My sister took me there for my 40th (and her 37th) and it was a great experience.

ClubGascon-9976 ClubGascon-9955

Given the distinction of being the only place I’ve written about where we ordered one of the dishes a second time during one meal, I must mention Club Gascon, which we visited when they were offering a special menu to celebrate their thirteenth birthday.

LauncPlaceTasting-3909 LauncPlaceTasting-3928

Tristan Welch is no longer at the helm of Launceston Place, but he and his team made another birthday very special for me and my friend Chaundra

Dishoom-3455 Dishoom-3465 Dishoom-3470

History was always one of my favourite subjects at school (and indeed I studied it at uni too) so I was happy that my added content covering the history of Bombay Cafes and Thums Up Cola were of such interest to readers in my post about Dishoom.

TheSportsmanKent-1964 TheSportsmanKent-1985

The Sportsman in Kent reminds me of myself, but is altogether far tastier!

This was probably the hardest category to narrow down to five! I wanted to share Hida Beef, Tempura, Yuba and Yakiniku from Japan, enjoying a Nutter Genius’ kitchen table, crying over the loss of the Oriental City Food Court, my addiction to Kookoo Sabzi, the wonderous oddity of mac’n’cheese sushi style and a most wondrous meal at Pierre Koffmann’s rooftop popup.

 

Five Favourite Gardening & Allotment Moments

We’ve been growing our own fruit and vegetables in the back garden and, for the last three years, at a nearby allotment too.

GardenFox-5165

We spotted this fox fast asleep one morning, nestled amongst the tomatillos and gourds in the back garden. He woke after we’d admired him for a while.

FirstPSB-5523

I’ve never been a fan of regular broccoli but discovered that I do really like purple sprouting broccoli varieties.

FruitTart-9846

Wanting to make the most of the yellow raspberries and blackberries from our allotment, I made a fruit tart. It features my homemade plum jelly, made from allotment plums, too!

RedcurrantPortJelly-0758

Some confusion on my part lead me to make this redcurrant and port jelly but it turned out so well (despite being a little runny because of too much port) that I’ve since been eking out the remainder!

SungoldTomatoKetchup- SungoldTomatoKetchup-2

Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to grow. I adore the sweet taste and beautiful colour of Sungolds, and decided to preserve some in this lovely spicy yellow tomato ketchup.

 

Five Favourite Cookery Classes

It’s always a pleasure to learn new skills.

Billingsgate-7513 Billingsgate-7573

The impact of our single cookery class at Billingsgate Seafood Training School cannot be underestimated! Not so much in the frequency with which we cook fish at home, but in the way it’s helped to change Pete’s eating habits to the extent he will now happily eat fish on the bone! That increase in his fish eating habits helped give me the confidence to finally book our first trip to Japan!

HerbertBread-6732 HerbertBread-6557 HerbertBread-6598

Pete’s the bread baker in our house but we both hugely enjoyed this comprehensive two day course from Master Baker Tom Herbert, held at the Bethruthan Steps Hotel in Cornwall.

Foodat52Italian-0460 Foodat52Italian-0508 Foodat52Italian-0562

I love the warm, friendly and very hands on nature of cookery classes at Food at 52, and this Flavours of Italy class was no exception.

MKClass14May2011-8177 MKClass14May2011-8204

To celebrate ten years of running Mamta’s Kitchen (back in 2011), we decided to run some Mamta’s Kitchen Cookery Classes, to raise funds for various charities. Feedback was super and the experience was very rewarding.

HashiCooking-1544 HashiCooking-1585 HashiCooking-1632

I’ve grown ever more interested in Japanese food over the last few years and have now attended a few of Reiko’s Japanese sessions, which showcase traditional dishes with a modern twist.

 

Just Three Favourite History Lessons

I always loved studying history, and with these three posts, I took a little step back to my academic days.

bob 1[2]

At school, college and university I studied history, with a focus on the 20th century. For Remembrance Day 2010, I shared a history of the Battle of Britain.

650 pixTitanicpostcard

More history, this time in the sinking of the Titanic, and the stories of some of those aboard.

eic-logo eastindia

When The East India Company name was resurrected, I wrote a piece explaining the history of the original East India Company.

 

Oh and for those eagle-eyed readers who’ve noticed that the archive dates back to 2006; after I started the blog in 2009 I copied across bits and pieces I’d written and shared via email and online discussion boards in the previous few years. That’s the time I describe as my “stealth blogging” period – I had the enthusiasm you’d expect from a blogger to record my thoughts about food, cooking, restaurants, equipment but no actual blog!

Thanks for joining me on my slow stroll down memory lane!

 

I read a blog post recently where the writer had just eaten their first – their very first – ready meal. I think the blogger was in his or her thirties.

I was utterly flabbergasted!

For some reason, I’ve never spent much time wondering whether other people do or don’t use ready meals. I naively assumed that most home cooks are like us.

SainsburysBistro-4577 SainsburysBistro-4590
SainsburysBistro-5224 SainsburysBistro-5262

Our Cooking Habits

Pete and I have some kind of ready meal about once a week. I include in this number the meals where one or more main component is ready-made, even if we serve it with home made vegetables or sides. We usually pick things like oven bake chicken Kiev, fresh ready-made lasagne or a chicken or steak pie. And oven chips! We quickly discovered that the higher end supermarket ranges are very good at these kind of dishes and they’re close enough to home made in quality and taste. We also buy ready-made fresh pasta such as tortelloni and ravioli, which we’ll either have with a home made sauce or a fresh ready-made one. And we love sausages – they’re ready-made, of course, since we don’t make our own.

The rest of the time we cook from scratch and we really appreciate how easy it is to make great food ourselves. And we’re enthusiastic about widening our repertoire via ideas and recipes from cookery books, food blogs and friends. The meals we cook are a mix of tried and tested favourites and things we’ve never made before. Cooking from scratch allows us to tweak recipes to our tastes, substitute ingredients according to availability and personal preference and have control over the provenance of our ingredients. And, even if we spend more on higher quality ingredients, it’s still much cheaper than eating out or getting a takeaway.

Some recipes lend themselves well to being made in larger quantities, meaning we can easily make two or three meals in one go, refrigerating or freezing portions. Other recipes provide leftovers that are perfect for turning into something else – roast dinners are the most obvious example of this in our house.

But we’re also susceptible to feeling tired, lazy or just not in the mood to cook. And that’s when we’ll turn to ready meals or the occasional takeaway.

 

How I Came To Do A Survey

My surprise at the statement I came across made me think a lot more about the eating and cooking habits of others, and I started to wonder what the norm is (if there is even such a thing), and most especially, what the norm is amongst my friends.

So I sent some questions to a few friends, talking to non-foodies and non-bloggers as well as foodies and bloggers, and making sure to include families as well as couples and singles friends.

My focus was on evening meals eaten at home rather than lunch, since lunch is more dependent on one’s work situation.

My initial plan was to summarise all the responses in just a paragraph or two but I found myself so fascinated by the similarities and differences in our cooking and eating habits and even more in the reasons and opinions my friends generously shared with me. I decided to share their responses in more detail.

I’ve categorised the responses into two main groups – those who cook virtually all their meals from scratch, and those who eat a combination of ready meals and home cooked, to varying ratios. None of my friends fit into the third potential group of 100% ready meals. Note that I don’t claim that my survey is in any way representative of Britain as a whole, or that my friends’s answers are typical of British cooking and eating habits.

 

100% Home Cooking

Diana, Jennie, Jow and Martine cook all their meals from scratch and do not make use of any ready meals.

Diana explains that she finds it “quite easy to cook meals that are just as or more delicious than ready-made meals” and finds that ready-made sauces are not as tasty as what she makes herself. She is also keen to avoid “chemical additives in processed foods”. She says that although cooking good food doesn’t require much time or effort, it “does require planning”.

For Jennie cooking everything herself is “mainly to do with habit”, as she’s simply never had much exposure to ready meals. She describes herself as “a wee bit fussy about food being seasonal and ethical” and likes to know what goes into her food. Another point she raises is the ability to control diabetes, carb counting, etc. In reference to the common opinion that ready meals are quicker, she says that when she has no time or little energy, she’ll just have some vegetables and an egg. Her husband, on the other hand, will often turn to instant noodles or frozen pizza if he’s eating dinner at home alone.

Jow used to buy more ready-made sauces and food in the past but health issues lead her to re-evaluate her diet, and ultimately that of the whole family. Today, 99% of meals are home cooked, with the remaining percent “accounting for when I cock up and burn something”! She mentions a number of advantages to cooking everything herself including knowing what the family are eating and that the ingredients are fresh. As Jow cooks more and “makes sure to use all leftovers”, “the food bill is less” and she has discovered that she really enjoys cooking. In addition, her “girls are taking an interest in what’s going on in the kitchen and like to come and help”; their increased awareness of what’s going into their dinner and how the meal is made means they are “so much more enthusiastic about eating it”. Jow also points out that she is more aware of the cost of food and has learned to “plan meals in advance to utilise all the produce bought and plan  meals  around leftovers if they haven’t already been frozen for future use”.

For Martine being able to control the content of her and her partner’s meals, in terms of the “level of sugar, fats etc.” is really important and home cooking also means they can ensure the flavours (and spiciness) are to their personal tastes.

Some of my friends make mention of using ingredients like tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, soy sauce, oyster sauce and ketchup, but these are simply part of many normal recipes, and are not what I mean when I talk about ready-made sauces and pastes.

 

Some Home Cooking With Ready-Made Sauces or Pastes, Ready-Made Elements or Ready Meals

The rest of my friends use ready meals, ready-made elements of meals or ready-made sauces and pastes on occasion, with the frequency varying from rarely to regularly.

Helen likes to cook in larger quantities so she can “make and freeze [her] own ready meals”, that can quickly be reheated when needed. She is happy to use ready-made pesto, mayonnaise, stock cubes and Thai curry pastes. She feels that “ready meals are expensive”, skimp on taste and are too salty. But she does appreciate a “supermarket curry from time to time”, suggesting the supermarket meal deals as good value.

Like Helen, Lisa cooks most of her own meals, relegating both ready meals and takeaways to “last minute can’t be botheredness”. Because much of her cooking is during the week after work and she also finds it difficult to stand up for long periods, time is a key factor for her. She appreciates “the speed of a ready made stock or spice mixture” but has found that “ready made sauces always taste odd”.

Danny says that although the family cooks from scratch most of the time, they “don’t shun ready meals”, and will buy them once every few weeks when caught on the hop, popping into M&S on the way home from visiting his Nan, for example. They do use ready-made curry sauces a lot, because when Danny makes curry from scratch, he “always bugger things up by making them too hot”! He says that premium end ready meals “can be quite nice to eat” but he doesn’t think he’s every found one “absolutely amazing”, though wonders if that’s partly psychological. He does “wrinkle [his] nose” at the really cheap ready meals “that come in a plastic tray that costs £1” because he “sincerely believe[s] that they are full of shite and shite to eat”.

Dave doesn’t buy ready meals either and cooks all his evening meals himself. However, he prefers to keep cooking time on weeknights to no more than 20-40 minutes, and is happy to use shortcuts such as curry pastes, spice mixes, stir fry sauces and stock cubes. On the weekend, he has more time available and is happy to try recipes that need advanced preparation.

Matt is much the same, and it’s rare for him to buy a ready meal. He cooks most meals himself, estimating that about 40% are from scratch and 60% use ready-made elements such as stir fry or pasta sauces. One of the key motivations for him in avoiding ready meals is his preference to avoid “food where there’s packaging that doesn’t seem to need to be there”. He likes to buy “veg at the local grocer where [he] can buy it unpackaged off the shelf and straight into the one carrier bag”; he’s not a fan of supermarkets individually wrapping fresh produce. “Unnecessary packaging makes [him] sad”, especially as Bristol doesn’t recycle black plastic or cellophane, meaning most of it is headed for landfill. Of course, he doesn’t always manage to stick to this – it depends on “energy levels, how much shopping time I’ve had recently, how well I’ve planned it, and how much washing up I can face doing”. Another factor for him in buying shop-bought sauces is that it “doesn’t feel worth making that kind of stuff up when I’m mostly just cooking for me”. He adds that he also has “no idea how you actually make sweet-and-sour sauce”. Lastly, he likes to “keep packs of microwave rice around for those moments when I realise the main meal is ready but I’ve forgotten to put rice on. Or, as happened last time, turned on the rice cooker without actually putting water in it…

Linda and her husband eat ready meals two or three times a month, and likewise for their use of ready-made sauces. The main constraints for them are the time they get in from work, which can sometimes be quite late. Ready meals and ready-made sauces are “quick & easy to use so very convenient” but they try not to use too many “because of the high salt & fat content”.

Tamsin cooks most of the time, especially for her children, though says that she and her husband eat a ready meal “very occasionally for speed”. During the week she will occasionally use ready-made pesto (though says her husband’s home made is better) but has started to make pasta sauces herself “because [she] was a bit shocked how much salt and sugar is in a lot of them, and also they don’t taste as nice”. About once a week, meals will include a ready-made element such as “ready made fishcakes or chicken in crispy breadcrumbs”. On the weekend, it’s “much more about cooking a whole meal from scratch – the kids have school dinners so don’t need a big meal on weekdays”. In terms of motivation, she says “it’s mostly health factors affecting me making stuff from scratch- only something I have started recently” but adds that she is also getting increasingly “fussier about taste too, and just don’t like the taste of a lot of ready made stuff”. She observes that she’d really struggle to cook from scratch as much if she worked full time, as “horrible work days” are when she’s mostly likely to “reach for the ready made stuff in a jar”.

MiMi’s ratio of home cooking to ready meals and takeaways is probably closest to ours. She estimates that 70% of meals are home cooked, with the remainder divided between ready meals and takeaways. Home cooked meals are most commonly from scratch, with ready-made sauces used only occasionally. For MiMi, “time and energy and lack of both are the biggest factors” and she also cites curiosity “when trying a ready-made sauce or meal”. She also points out that one of the “benefits of a ready meal is it can be cheaper than buying all ingredients separately and is definitely easier”. It’s also a good way to try new stuff without investing too much time and energy and if she likes the idea, she often ends up making it from scratch in the future. One of the big impacts on cooking and eating patterns for MiMI has been the birth of her little girl a year ago. She and her husband usually take turns to eat so “the food usually has to be or ends up cold because the boglin needs so much attention”. The “food budget has gone up” because MiMi buys “a lot more ready to eat ingredients that can be assembled quickly, such as ham or mackerel for salads” and she now buys “organic fish, meat, fruits and veg” which she may not have bothered with before, along with “baby-safe biscuits and snacks” that are sugar and salt free.

Chaundra definitely finds time is her biggest enemy, as she doesn’t finish work till 7 and gets home at 8. She reckons half the meals she and her husband eat during the week are therefore ready-made, and she relies heavily on ready-made sauces and pastes, taking care to source ones that deliver on taste. However, on the weekend, she has more time and really relishes “making a good meal, in quantities” that allow for leftovers to be eaten as future meals. She prefers home made because she takes “pride in [her] cooking and associate[s] homemade food as being an expression of love and affection”.

Like Chaundra, Gary works long days. He estimates that in any given week about 4 out of seven evening meals “have a prepared element”, which could be oven chips, a frozen meat dish (such as a pie) or frozen vegetables. One meal in seven is entirely made up of ready-made elements. But he very rarely eats the kind of ready meals that come in a “little black plastic tray with clingfilm over the top” because he “find[s] the cost prohibitive”. On the weekends, Gary tends to cook more often from scratch, though on some weeknights too. He seldom uses ready-made sauces, though he might use a ready-made paste in an Indian dish. Despite the late nights, cost rather than time is the major factor and he’s noticed that “supermarkets are dramatically more expensive across various ranges” in the last 18 months.

Ruth tells me she and her family “probably have one or two ready meals per week, and one or two takeaways/meals out per week” and the rest is home cooked. Home cooked meals are virtually always made from scratch, though she likes to “buy a Waitrose ‘from scratch’ kit per week which makes [her] feel like [she’s] home cooking with the convenience of having it all prepared for [her]”. She is “most inclined to cook from scratch when making a meal for the whole family” and believes it’s “hugely important that the kids see me cook and that we sit down and eat home cooked food together”. When she and her husband eat after the kids are in bed, they’re “hungry and we just want something fast and easy”.

 

Can I Draw Any Conclusions?

The group of friends I’ve spoken to is neither large enough nor random enough to be representative of the general population of Britain, but the friends who’ve so kindly shared their thoughts with me have certainly given me plenty of food for thought and opened my eyes to how people cook and eat. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the many varied factors which influence their choices, which are as varied as the people themselves.

I don’t think there are any real conclusions to be drawn but certainly the use of complete ready meals is lower than I imagined. That said, a fair few of our friends use ready-made elements of a meal such as fish cakes, breaded chicken, pies or oven chips within a meal that also features home-cooked elements. A fair few use ready-made sauces and pastes in their cooking.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a clearly perceived difference between cheap ready meals and premium ones; this matches my own findings, having tried quite a variety. These days we stick to the premium ranges, though these are significantly more expensive than the budget ranges.

 

What about you?

Do you identify with one or more of my friends above?

What is the balance in your home and what are the key decision-making factors for you?

Please let me know by leaving a comment below. And I’d really love to get a wider range of responses, so please invite your friends to weigh in too.

Let me know what proportion of evening meals in your home are cooked from scratch, home cooked using ready-made sauces or pastes, feature a ready-made element alongside home cooking or are wholly ready-made items or a ready meal.

Share your opinions about these various choices and tell me why you cook and eat as you do, and how you feel about it.

 

Many thanks to those who join in and thanks again to all my friends for so generously sharing their habits and opinions.

Mar 072014
 

In China, Taiwan and North America, yakinuku (literally “grilled meat” *) is often referred to as Japanese barbeque but in Japan itself, it’s very much considered a Korean import. In the UK, it’s not well known at all.

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Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka

What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku is DIY dining at its finest! Diners gather around a charcoal or wood burner, usually placed in the centre of the table, and cook their own meal, piece by piece and at their own pace.

Many specialist restaurants have yakiniku grills built right into the tables, with extractor systems to whip away smoke and smells. Others bring portable grills to the table, quickly switching them with a hotter replacement should the coals die down during your meal.

Most commonly, thin slivers of raw meat are ordered according to the cut. A variety of vegetable accompaniments is usually available, though the choice is sometimes limited, and the vegetables are clearly secondary to the meat! Most restaurants also offer a range of side dishes (such as rice, noodles and salads) which don’t need to be cooked on the grill. Again, these are simply a supporting act to the meat.

Yakiniku is perfect for 2 to 4 diners (any more than that and you’ll need multiple grills so everyone can reach). Sit down, check the menu, order your favourites and cook them just as you like them.

Some of the raw meat will come plain – thinly sliced and ready to grill; some will come marinated in a sticky tare (sauce); you may also be given raw egg or other sauces in which to dip pieces of meat once they have been cooked.

Beef and pork are the most common choices. Some yakiniku restaurants specialise in horuman (offal), their menus listing more different types of offal than I ever imagined existed! My first choice is the fattiest and most tender cuts of beef, which work well when flash grilled for mere moments until the fat starts to melt. I’m also addicted to thin slices of fatty belly pork, cooked a little longer until the fat starts to bubble and brown.

* Yaki most commonly refers to cooking on a grill, but can also mean frying or tempering.

The History of Yakiniku in Japan

According to most web resources, including Wikipedia, yakiniku originated in Korea.

The Meiji Restoration (the revival of Imperial rule) gave rise to a burgeoning interest in western culture, including foreign food. In 1872 The Emperor broke a 1,200 year ban on meat eating, though it took some time for long-ingrained cultural taboos to dissipate. ~

Korean food became popular in Japan during the 20th century, especially in the years following World War Two. Korean restaurants advertised themselves as offering chōsen cuisine; the term came from Joseon, the name of the old, individed Korea but when Korea split into two North and South nations following the Korean War, Joseon was appropriated by the North. Businesses in Japan, more sympathetic to the South, removed all chōsen references and instead labelled their food as kankoku (South Korean).

Restaurants serving bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and galbi (grilled ribs) were known as horumonyaki (offal grills).

Although this is the history trotted out whenever the origins of yakiniku are discussed, isn’t it a little simplistic not to take into account the fact that grilling meat was already prevalent in Japan before the influx of Korean cooking, even though beef was not widely eaten until the late 19th Century?

Perhaps it is the use of the wonderfully-flavoured marinades that mark yakiniku as a Korean-influenced cuisine? But yakiniku, as it is enjoyed in Japan today, is not wholly Korean either – the prevalence of offal and the use of dipping sauces (in which the meat is dipped after cooking, rather than before) are, apparently not common in Korea.

Regardless of the exact origins, the association between yakiniku and Korean food is a strong one and many yakiniku restaurants in Japan commonly offer a range of Korean dishes including kimchi and spicy tofu.

I’m not sure when the general yakiniku (grilled meat) term came widely into use for this kind of cooking but the All Japan Yakiniku Association was established in 1992 and proclaimed August 29 as an annual Yakiniku Day in 1993. The date is described as goroawase (numerical wordplay) because the numbers 8, 2 and 9 can be read as ya-tsu-ni-ku, an approximation of yakiniku.

Yakiniku has seen its fortunes rise and fall according to a variety of influences. In the 1980s, the introduction of modern ventilated systems, which allowed restaurants to easily eliminate smoke and cooking smells, gave open grill restaurants a big boost. So too did the easing of beef import restrictions in 1991, which resulted in a drop in the price of beef. However, the 2001 occurrence of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in Japan was a set back.

Today, yakiniku is hugely popular and that popularity is still growing. ^

~ This (PDF) article on The Meat Eating Culture of Japan gives a fascinating, detailed history of ancient meat-eating customs, the prohibition of meat and the lifting of restrictions.
^ Here’s an entertaining article from Japan Today with a theory on why and how diners may be forming an addition to meat!

Our Yakiniku Feasts

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The best beef we had in Japan was also our first yakiniku experience, at Maruaki, a Hida Beef restaurant in Takayama in 2012.

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On that same trip, we came across this restaurant in department store restaurant floor. A sign outside invited overseas customers to tell the restaurant manager he was handsome in return for a free beer. We did, he giggled, we received our free beers!

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Gyu-Kaku is a large Korean yakiniku chain with several hundred branches across Japan (and quite a few internationally too). Many of the meats come marinated and there are various dipping sauces, including raw egg ones, to dip the cooked meat into before eating. We really liked the spicy tofu with mince meat side dish as well.

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Another visit to a different branch of Gyu-Kaku, on our second trip.

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We chose Showa Taishu Horumon in Osaka’s Dotonbori district for a number of reasons – specialising in horuman (offal), but with regular cuts also on the menu, it gave me the opportunity to try cuts I’d never normally try; I found the retro ‘50s vibe to the decor rather appealing; I liked the bucket barbecue grills; everyone inside looked happy; staff were welcoming. By the way, Showa Taishu Horumon has a a few branches in the area, this one is located at Dotonbori 1-5-9 1F, on the area’s main street. We had a great meal – I discovered that oesophagus is definitely not for me but confirmed I’m happy to eat cheek and tongue. I chose not to explore the extensive tripe menu! And the regular beef and pork cuts were delicious!

 

Next, Pete and I bring yakiniku into our kitchen for a home made Korean-Japanese BBQ. Coming soon!

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