What’s In A Name?

Risotto – pronounced [ɾiˈzɔtːo]

a classic Italian dish of rice cooked in wine and stock to a naturally creamy consistency; traditionally made with high-starch, short grain rice varieties; the grains are usually toasted in butter and oil before liquid is added gradually; to finish finely grated parmesan cheese is stirred in

Rice is the key to risotto really; it’s in the name and everything…

Riso is rice. And -tto is, well, the rest of it!

But recently we made a delicious risotto-like dish using pearl spelt. Can’t call that risotto!

Sharpham Park call their pearl spelt products speltotto but I like the idea of sticking to an Italianate name and have plumped for farrotto.

 

About Spelt

When Sharpham Park asked me if we’d like to try their spelt products, it was initially the spelt flour that drew me to say yes. Pete is a great baker and has been baking ever better bread since we went on the Tom Herbert course earlier this year. The first spelt bread he made on receiving the Sharpham Park samples was a little heavy but with nice flavour.

Some people who have coeliac disease or a gluten allergy or intolerance, have found they can digest spelt with less difficulty than regular wheat. This is not because spelt has less gluten but is down to the molecular structure of the protein within spelt; it is shorter than in other cultivated wheat species and that’s what makes it easier for the human digestive system to break down. (Do get advice from your doctor or professional dietician before trying spelt, if other forms of flour are a problem for you).

Those same properties mean you can’t knead it as hard nor create as stretchy a dough. And it also has a lower absorption rate, meaning it needs less water to be added to achieve a workable dough. All this means that bakers must work differently when baking with spelt. Since his first attempt, Pete’s been working on adapting his recipes, kneading and proving times to suit spelt flour.

Spelt is an ancient species of wheat. During the bronze age, it spread widely across Europe and was an important staple through to medieval times.

Reading about the evolution of spelt is fascinating, not least because of a parallel speciation theory that the hybridisation between domesticated wheat and wild goatgrasses that created spelt may have happened not once but twice, independently in Asia and in Europe. Alternate theory states that spelt developed just once in the Middle East and was spread East and West to Europe and Asia by human cultivation.

Spelt fell out of favour because it has a tough, thick husk surrounding the kernel which makes it harder to separate the husk from the grain. It also has a lower yield per acre than newer varieties.

But it survived as a relict crop in northern Spain and central Europe (and also in the wild, I would imagine).

More recently, there has been a renewed interest in spelt for a number of different reasons.

I’ve already mentioned the increased market for spelt amongst some sufferers of coeliac disease. This is not the only segment of the health food market to show interest. Nutritionists claim that the nutrients in spelt are more “bioavailable”, that is more readily accessed and absorbed by the body during digestion, than in other wheats. Spelt is higher in protein than regular wheat, and is also a good source of zinc, complex B vitamins and riboflavin, the latter considered to reduce the frequency of migraines in sufferers.

The Romans referred to spelt as “Marching Grain” because of its high energy content.

There are also advantages for the farmer. Unlike modern varieties, spelt can grow well on poor soil – sandy or with poor drainage. It also requires less fertiliser than other varieties as its tough husk protects it from insects, which makes it particularly popular with organic farmers. That same tough husk also makes spelt grain more resistant to storage problems.

 

Chicken & Pea Farrotto With Braised Gem Lettuce

Spelt has a lovely nutty flavour, a little like wild rice. It works really well in a risotto-like dish and the cooking method is the same.

Ingredients (Farrotto)
Large knob of butter
120 grams pearled spelt per person
1 generous handful leftover roast chicken meat per person, chopped
1 small handful of peas, chopped mangetouts and/ or chopped sugarsnaps, per person
500 ml chicken stock per person
Ingredients (Braised Gem Lettuce)
Half a gem lettuce per person
Chicken stock to braise (see below)

Note: Amounts are approximate and can be varied by quite a large amount, according to what you have available. We used a selection of peas, harvested from the garden and leftover meat and stock from the previous night’s meal. The lettuce was also home-grown. Add water to the stock, if you don’t have enough.

Method

  • Wash the lettuce, chop the peas and leftover chicken and set aside.

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  • Put the stock on to heat.

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  • Fry the dry pearled spelt in butter for a couple of minutes, then add the warm stock bit by bit, letting it absorb into the grains before adding more.
  • Whilst the farrotto is cooking, cut the gem lettuces in half along their length, and place in a shallow baking dish. Add stock to come up about half way up the sides of the lettuce and bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes.

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  • Once the spelt is cooked (soft but not mushy), with a little excess liquid in the pan, tip in the meat and peas and stir through until piping hot. The chicken will absorb the extra liquid and result in a thick, untuous finish.

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  • Serve with braised lettuce over each portion.

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We absolutely loved the pearled spelt in place of the usual risotto rice and will definitely be making this dish again, as well as other farrotto recipes.

 
Brunch

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One fine and sunny Saturday morning, earlier this month, I made my way to London Fields to enjoy a very fine brunch organised by Jordans Cereals and laid on by the lovely Uyen of the Fernandez & Leluu supper club.

The brunch was to introduce a group of us to the latest product from Jordans Cereals, their Creations Range. As well as trying the two new cereals, we were also treated to a huge selection of goodies from the most incredible lobster salad (with a genius passion fruit, lime and honey dressing) to home-made bacon and cheese pastry whirls, quiches and muffins and more, not to mention the tea, coffee, juices and prosecco – yes, prosecco in the morning! Oh and some fabulous panna cotta to finish…

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Conservation Grade

16 months ago I met some of the Jordans Cereal team, including one of the founders, Bill Jordan.

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I had lots and lots of fun using some of their Country Crisp cereal in a cake recipe, learning about how the product was developed and making up my own perfect combination of ingredients to take home in a box with my face on it!

I was particularly happy to learn, from Bill, that all the cereal used in Jordans Cereals is grown to Conservation Grade (by more than 50 farmers around Britain). What this means is that the farmers are paid a premium for their produce in return for creating nature-friendly habitats on 10% of their farmed land, thereby encouraging biodiversity – they plant wildflowers, clover and other plants to provide pollen, nectar and food for insects and birds, provide grassland habitat that will shelter spiders, beetles and small mammals and support wildlife by retaining hedges, ditches, old barns, ponds and woodland. As a very keen wildlife enthusiast and amateur wildlife photographer, wildlife and habitat conservation is a cause I’m passionate about, so this initiative is something that makes me very happy indeed. You can learn more at the Conservation Grade website.

Creations

Like their other products, the Creation range is made from Conservation Grade oats and all the other ingredients used also adhere to high environmental standards, with no artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or GMOs.

Whereas the original granola range is super crunchy (which I really love) and the Country Crisp range gives a much lighter, puffier crunch (which I like, but not as much as the original granola), the new Creations cereals are soft and chewy. The oats are toasted lightly, sweetened a little with honey, combined with a little oil (to soften and preserve without the aid of artificial preserving agents) and then just a small number of ingredients such as cranberries, apples, cinnamon are added.

Ruth Fergyson, Head of New Product Development, explained that some of their potential customers find some of their cereals, those with lots of added fruits and nuts, often have an ingredient they don’t like and which puts them off. With the simpler combinations in Creations, Jordans are offering something to those consumers. The range is also designed to appeal to those who want a softer cereal than the typical hard granolas.

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The two flavours in the range so far are Juicy Cranberry & Golden Honey and Baked Apple & a Hint of Cinnamon. Of the two, I prefer the cranberry one, which surprises me as I am not usually a cranberry fan, but these are soft and sweet with just a hint of sharp that contrasts with the honey.

Getting Inventive

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Between the cereal and Uyen’s enormous feast, Rachel Kerr, Jordans’ Head of Brand Communications, invited us to try our hand at coming up with the next Creations flavour combinations using lots of ingredients provided in bowls along the table as inspiration to kick start our imaginations.

Challenge

With a beautiful green KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer offered as a prize for the winner, I quickly got my thinking cap on to see if I might be the one to suggest that perfect combination of textures and flavours for the next Creations… something that would appeal to the development team at Jordans and, most importantly, to their consumers.

I came up with a few ideas… my first one was figs with vanilla (plus the honey mixed in with the oats), a combination I think would be particularly nice to eat with natural yoghurt… I then wondered whether one could combine natural yoghurt into the cereal itself, much like those yoghurt covered nuts and dried fruit one can buy from health shops.

The next combination that jumped out at me was sticky dates with chewy toffee, a duo which works so well in sticky toffee puddings…

Ever sweet toothed, I also wondered whether a mocha combination would be pounced on by breakfast cereal eaters, or left on the shelf as being too indulgent for the morning… it would depend if they were coffee and pain au chocolat kind of people! As a big fan of mocha drinks and of coffee chocolate, I know I’d enjoy it!

But in the end, I chose to think about the adage that “what grows together goes together” and tested my favourite suggestion for a new Creations flavour:

What Grows Together Goes Together
Kavey’s Apricot & Pistachio Creation

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Pistachios are what are referred to as “culinary nuts” – not actually nuts, botanically speaking, but classified as such by our culinary usage. They likely originated in Western Asia/ the Middle East, and the region remains the main producer of pistachios today, with Iran growing more than any other nation. Their shells remind me of cupped hands, clasping the nut in a tight grasp. Cracking them open one after the other, to reveal their pretty purple-red skins and the pale green flesh inside, is part of what makes eating them so enjoyable. Pistachios taste a little like almonds, but with a softer texture and more subtle yet distinct flavour.

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Apricots are also thought to have originated in Western Asia, most likely in Armenia, though they’ve been cultivated so long, this is not altogether certain. These days, the largest producers are Turkey, Iran and Italy. Part of the prunus genus, which also includes plums, cherries, peaches and almonds, the soft amber-coloured fruits are a lovely balance of sweet and tart. Surprisingly, for a lover of fresh fruit, I adore dried apricots even more than fresh ones, particularly the meltingly soft, dark brown ones with their subtle caramel flavour and sweetness.

Interestingly, apricot kernels are widely used too – often so sweet they are substituted for almonds, and forming a key ingredient in amaretto liqueurs. Perhaps, edible apricot kernels might also be mixed into the cereal as well, for a little added crunch?

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Trying out my combination

Of course, I couldn’t propose my creation without testing it first, so I improvised. Using the cereal from my box of Juicy Cranberry & Golden Honey Creations, I discarded the cranberries (to be eaten later!) and mixed it with the Turkish apricots and Iranian pistachios I purchased especially.

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I thought the combination worked wonderfully well, both visually and in terms of taste and texture.

A lovely thought to leave you with:

The Turkish have an idiom “bundan iyisi Şam’da kayısı” the meaning of which is “it doesn’t get any better than this“. The literal translation, “the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus” tells you all you need to know – for something that is the very best it can be is a delicious apricot from Damascus!

Chocolate Weetabix Winners

24 Aug 2010  Comments Off
Aug 242010
 

The 2 winners of the Chocolate Weetabix giveaway are Leila Dukes (eggs royale, soft boiled eggs with marmite soldiers, bacon roll…) and Katie A (cinnamon hot buns with melted butter and bacon butties).
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Loved your answers, ladies!

Please email me your postal addresses (email link is at the left of my blog) and I’ll get the boxes posted out to you!

Aug 152010
 

I love my cereal but I’m a bit of a kid about it. I like Lucky Charms, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Cinnamon Grahams (Curiously Cinnamon is stupid name and I’ve stopped buying them in protest), Coco Pops Mega Munchers and my own Jordans Country Crisp into which I put at least as much chocolate and fruit and nuts as cereal.

Taste is important to me and, when it comes to cereal, as with so much else, I have a sweet tooth.

(I’d have to be brain dead before I’d voluntarily eat the cardboard that is Bran Flakes – I don’t care how good for me they might be! )

But even I am not stupid enough to think it’s a good idea for me to eat a bowl full of sugar each and every morning.

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So I was intrigued when I heard about the new Weetabix Chocolate described as “a healthier chocolate cereal”. launching this month.

What’s it like?

It’s exactly like regular Weetabix but with a subtle chocolate taste. It isn’t massively sweet – the chocolate just lends a flavour. It’s sweeter than it’s Plain Jane sibling but not jarringly so and certainly significantly less sweet than the candy concoctions I mention above.

I like it, and I feel I’m having a (comparitively) virtuous breakfast at the same time.

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I have two boxes to give away. Leave me a comment about your favourite breakfast – cereal or otherwise – and I’ll send one box each to two of you picked from comments left by the deadline – midnight GMT 23 August 2010. Open to UK residents only.

Dec 182009
 

Serial Cereal Eater!

When it comes to cereal I’m a creature of habit! I flit between three favourites like a serial trigamist!

My sister and I developed such an addiction to General Mills Lucky Charms, during frequent childhood visits to family in Florida, that we would bring back boxes upon boxes in our suitcases. And woebetide any Florida relative who dared to visit us in the UK without bringing some over! “Magically delicious”, says the Lucky Charms leprechaun. It certainly is! Of course, I don’t get to enjoy this American cereal very often, here in the UK.

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut is, as their marketing slogan so insistently declares, “ludicrously tasty”! Crunchy nuts and sweet honey adhering to corn flakes of deliciousness. Even the most lacklustre of hotel breakfast buffets can redeem themselves by having some Crunchy Nut on offer! I love the taste of the cold milk, towards the bottom of the bowl, after the flavours of the cereal has infused into it!

After a night of strange alcoholic concoctions at a friend’s party a few years ago, I raided his kitchen cupboards for breakfast and discovered a bag of Jordan’s Original (now called Crunchy Oats). I was immediately hooked and can’t begin to tell you how many bags of the comfortingly solid clusters of sweet, crunchy, generously raisined cereal I’ve munched my way through since then! As this cereal makes a good snack without milk it’s doubly handy to have in the cupboard!

Occasionally I’ll philander with other options – a generously-fruited muesli, a thick, warming porridge or naughty Cinammon Grahams (now called Curiously Cinammon) but these flirtations seldom last long and I quickly return to my true loves.

Leith’s Cookery School

So when I was invited to the Jordan’s Country Crisp Appreciation Society food bloggers event, to be held at Leith’s Cookery School, organised by PR company Wild Card, I could not resist! How would their Crispy Crunch compare to their Original/ Crunchy Oats?!

The team preparing ingredients for the cookery session

The pounding head, bloodshot eyes and woolly thinking hangover symptoms from the previous night’s work Christmas party could not dampen my enthusiasm. Despite the early start, I was the first to arrive at the cookery school (what a shame that Leith’s have moved away from central London and out into the boonies, west of Shepherd’s Bush). With a very welcome coffee in hand (and headache pills quickly swallowed) I watched the Wild Card and Jordan’s team prepare for the event, weighing out ingredients for the recipe we’d be making together and arranging each blogger’s cooking station with everything we’d need.

A quiet moment; the film maker

I also took the opportunity to take some early photos (including one of the guy filming the event) and soon enough, my fellow bloggers arrived.

Food Urchin

Jordan’s Cereal – Past and Present

After an introduction from Rachel, Jordans’ Brand Communications Manager, we heard from Bill Jordan who told us a little about this family business and how they came to develop their original Crunchy Oats cereals and, more recently, the Country Crisp range.

Bill Jordan’s talk

The family had been in the milling business for over 150 years but it wasn’t until 1972 that they branched out into the world of cereal. Having spent some years travelling the world and playing in a rock & blues band, Bill finally made it home and asked his brother David to join with him to launch the cereal business. Looking West for inspiration they brought what the Americans call granola to the UK market. That was their first cereal and it went down well; the range has expanded considerably since then.

Happy with the popularity of the early products, Jordan’s have kept a careful eye on the changing tastes of the consumer which has lead to their Country Crisp range, a lighter cereal than the orginal granola. They’ve also introduced lots of new ingredients from morello cherries to pumpkin seeds, from mango and papaya to flame raisins, from cashew nuts to pecans.

Talking about new flavours, Bill pointed out that sometimes the ingredients you think will work well, such as peaches, really don’t! So it’s a huge amount of trial and error and fine tuning for each product.

Referring to the Chocolate Country Crisp, “I’m a bit of a luddite” he exclaimed, and found the idea of chocolate in cereal quite strange! But went on to explain that chocolate is a popular breakfast ingredient in France and repeated requests from their French customers, who account for 25% of the company’s sales, encouraged Jordans to bring out this Country Crisp flavour.

Conservation Grade

Bill also told us that the cereal itself is all grown to Conservation Grade which means that all 50,000 acres, farmed by more than 50 farmers, are managed to encourage biodiversity – planting wildflowers, clover and other plants to provide pollen, nectar and food for insects and birds, providing grassland habitat that will shelter spiders, beetles and small mammals and supporting wildlife by retaining hedges, ditches, old barns, ponds and woodland. I’m very supportive of any initiatives that encourage the conservation and protection of wildlife so was particularly pleased to learn about this (and have visited the Conservation Grade website to learn more).

Cereal Cakes

Before too long we each took our place at one of the cooking stations and got to work on making the pear cake recipe we’d been provided. All the ingredients had been weighed out ready and Nishita from Wild Card even buttered our cake tins for us, as we got to peeling and slicing our pears.

Bloggers at work

I looked on enviously as Ginger Gourmand quickly produced thin, even slices of pear whilst my pear slid an unceremonious dance around my chopping board – luckily she showed me what I was doing wrong and my pears were quickly reduced to (messy) slivers.

Still at work

We cooked the pear in butter and sugar on the cookers around the edge of the room before returning to our stations and making up our cake mixes. Failing to achieve smoothness whether I employed the electric whisk or a wooden spoon, I decided not to worry too much the lumps in my cake batter! I poured it into the cake tin, scattered over some Country Crisp cereal, topped it messily with the pear slices (eating a few as I went) and then threw on more cereal (as per the recipe). Another glance over to Ginger Gourmand’s beautifully fanned pear layer, Greedy Diva‘s smooth batter and Food Urchin‘s artistic cereal scattering made me realise I’d never win any awards for baking finesse! Still, I did find some extra chocolate curls to sprinkle over mine, so at least it would have the honour of being the most chocolatey!



Cakes, before and after baking

As we cooked, Bill Jordan hopped around the room, gleefully shouting out how much time we had remaining à la Ready Steady Cook! Sadly, he had to leave before the cakes were cooked, so didn’t get to taste them!

Product Development

Cakes into the oven, we gathered around to learn about the complexities of developing the Country Crisp range from Kirsten Hoskisson, the Head of Taste at Jordans Cereals.

Kirsten’s talk

Having developed and delivered training for a food product development tool used by one of the main supermarket chains a few years ago, I had a good idea of how much effort goes into perfecting a recipe – lots of trial and error, refinement after refinement, taste test after taste test. But still it was interesting to listen to Kirsten’s explanations of how they developed Country Crisp.

The aim was to produce a much lighter cereal than the traditional granola range. She included different varieties and sizes of oats from powdery small ones that help the cereal to bind, to larger ones that provide crispness. She experimented with cluster size, deciding that a combination of sizes gives the best eating experience – they sieve to ensure the specified mix of cluster sizes in each batch. She threw in rice flour which puffs up into sticky crescent shapes to which the oats bind and added some barley which helps give a creamy texture as well as a little astringency to balance the sweetness. Eventually, Kirsten created three different bases that are used across the Country Crisp range – known as nutty, vanilla and honey. All three include hazelnut and coconut plus the addition of almond, vanilla and honey, respectively.

Of course, as well as ensuring the crispy base was just right, it took a lot of experimentation to decide on the extra ingredients from freeze dried fruits to chopped nuts to seeds to chocolate. And not just a matter of finding the right tastes but chopping them into different sizes and shapes to create the correct balance – the chocolate is in curls, for example, because this melts quickly in the mouth whereas chips would give a hard bite. On a similar note to Bill’s comment about peaches, she said they’d been sure they were on to a winner with dried banana, and the taste tests went well. But the final feedback was that, whilst consumers liked the taste, they’d probably not buy it given how easy it is to slice fresh bananas into their cereal bowls!

Country Crisp ingredients

As Kirsten talked bowls of the various Country Crisp cereals were passed around for us to munch and we darted forward to taste the ingredients in the various bowls in front of her.

Kavey Country Crisp

And then the bit I’d most been looking forward to – making my own cereal mix! With a large stainless steel bowl in our hands, first we scooped up generous servings of the base clusters before adding in our personal choices of fruit, nuts and seeds. I am a greedy, greedy glutton so mine had an exceedingly generous amount of dried strawberries, dried raspberries, dark chocolate curls and huge, delicious Chilean flame raisins!


Making our own cereal mixes

We proudly transferred our creations into sealable plastic baggies before being presented with our personalised Country Crisp cereal boxes to put them into! Fantastic!


Kavey Country Crisp


And some of the others…

Finally, it was time to taste the cereals, a very welcome breakfast as the cooking smells had made us all hungry!


Breakfast time!

All to soon, the session came to an end and it was time to make our way home, weighed down with our steaming hot cakes (popped out of the oven, allowed to cool for a few minutes and transferred into takeaway boxes), our personalised cereal plus a few other cereals from the Country Crisp range! A huge thank you to Jordans and Wild Card for such a fun morning!

Competition

So what did it say on my cereal box? “Kavey Favelle is a chunky nutster with a warm heart and juicy fruit clusters!”

Cringe-worthy and embarassing, yes, but you try and come up with a short character description of yourself that ties in to the Country Crisp cereal range! It’s harder than it looks!

I’ll send a box of Country Crisp Chocolate out (mainland UK only) to the best Country Crisp character description (of yourself) left as a comment by midnight December 31st. (Note: this will be a regular box, not a special edition one).

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