The Party’s over

The politicos have packed their bags, the journalists have downed their pints and the hangers-on have presumably hung on all the way home now that the Labour Party Conference has made its exit from the city.
And while they no doubt enjoyed their share of Kobe beef at the Radisson , plates of pasta at Stock or beer and sandwiches at some smokey outpost, I’ts a shame us city folk haven’t been offered any party political food items.
You can usually rely on Merv’s in Bridge Street to get into the spirit of major news events with specially created sandwiches and snacks. But when I tripped down there looking for a treat – nothing new on the menu.
I’m so disappointed that I’ve come up with my own suggestions of what could have been offered.

How about a Precott Pesto Punch? It’s an egg sandwich of course with the additional weight of some pesto served on a large, white, doughy bap. Or then there’s Cherie’s Leek in Time Soup – add some disgruntlement, a little mischief, mix well and serve by the ladleful. And of course you would need to finish it all with a Clinton’s Surprise. This sweet, cigar-shaped confection would see a brandy snap, drizzled with treacle and sprinkled with just the right amount of aged cheese.

But then again perhaps our fine sandwich shops were as bored with the conference as the rest of the country – bar us in the media – seemed to be.

Sunday roast is tops

THE nation’s favourite home produced meal is a traditional Sunday roast with all the trimmings, according to a survey out this week.
The serach for the UK’s favourite British meal was carried out during August in support of British Food Fortnight which is going on right now.
The idea of the two weeks is to celebrate the variety and breadth of food produced here and includes events and information as well as the backing of the Prince of Wales.
As part of this activity, the Pyrex Cooking Challenge survey asked website visitors to vote from a list of possible dishes that included regional favourites such as Scotch Broth, Cornish pasties, Irish stew, faggots and black pudding.
It’s not clear whether Lancashire hotpot or Manchester Tart was offered but whatever the options the Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding was a clear winner with 30% more votes than fish and chips which claimed second place.
An English cooked breakfast took third place with bangers and mash and shepherds pie in fourth and fifth place respectively.
British Food Fortnight runs until October 8.

Pretty as plastic

This attractive display of juicy, fresh fruit greeted us last night as we settled in to celebrate a birthday with a slap-up meal in North Wales.
But all is not as it seemed. After failing to read the “mind your head” warning, written only in Welsh, on the low ceiling of The Square in Tremadoc, we dropped to our seats to see that these plastic pretenders had made it into the fruit bowl.
What a shame, an overflowing vessel of real fruit always adds to a feeling of decadence and plenty which simply can’t be replicated with models.
Thankfully the rest of the meal was far more real.

Chocs away for indulgence

Sometimes this job is such a hardship. As an example. Not only did I have to venture out of our stuffy offices into the lovely autumn sunlight, but I had to try hand-made chocolates, plus the most indulgent gateau I’ve ever eaten and wash it all down with some exquisite tea. I know, it’s a tough job but, someone has to do it.
I was lucky enough to be invited along to Manchester’s newest home for indulgence Plaisir du Chocolat.
These creators of exquisite hand-crafted chocolate have opened what they call a Salon du Thé on the ground floor of Harvey Nichols.
MD Peter Holden told me that he and his partner Sarah got into the chocolate business when they fell in love with these particular posh chocs during a trip to Edinburgh.
Not content with buying a few to bring home, they decided to set up in Manchester to share their new found obsession.
And now they are now marching north into Harrogate, York and Newcastle and even setting up overseas in Istanbul and the Middle East.
So what’s so special? Well just look at this for cake. cake.jpg
Apparently each slice contains the equivalent of about 15 individual chocolates. This raspberry and chocolate gateau is their best seller and you can take it from me that it’s a chocoholics idea of heaven. There was no way I could get through the whole slice – and I challenge anyone else to – but at £5 a go, why not share it. The chocolate ganache really is rich but the sponge is truly light. It’s a winning concoction.
And the chocs? chocs.jpg
Well the most striking thing to notice is the fine designs on each individual bonbon. This is created by lying an ultra-thin sheet of cocoa butter on to the chocolates. But then look a little closer at the offerings on the menu of individual chocolates.
There’s chocolates infused with orchid flowers, there’s star anise and even liquorice and lavender.
I tried out the Ronsard – a dark chocolate infused with the fragrant petals of the Eden Rose which also goes to make the perfumed but delicate Eden Rose tea (£2).
Then it was the more robust flavours of the chili choc Espelette, which like so many of their offerings was inspired by a French city.
By this time I was I’m afraid all chocced out but one thing’s for sure, these indulgencies will be visited again at some future date.
Sadly their enthusiasm for the dark stuff didn’t extend to the Plaisir du Chocolate people furnishing me with some goodies to share with my family and friends, but at least they were able to produce this list of fascinating facts which I can share with you.

Ten interesting chocolatey facts

1. The scientific name for the Cocoa Tree is ‘Theobroma Cacao’, which means ‘Food for the Gods’ in Greek.
2. In the UK, around 10kg of chocolate is consumed per person per year.
3. The origins of chocolate can be traced back to the ancient Maya Indians and Aztec civilisations in Central America as long ago as 600 AD.
4. The precious Cocoa Beans were used as a currency and as a unit of calculation in the Mayan and Aztec Cultures.
5. Emperor Montezuma of Mexico is purported to have had a Chocolate drink before entering his harem – which may have given rise to the notion of Chocolate having aphrodisiac properties.
6. According to scientists at Japan’s Osaka University, the husks of the cocoa beans from which chocolate is made contain an antibacterial agent that fights plaque.
7. Dark chocolate can help to increase levels of HDL in the body, a type of cholesterol that helps prevent fat clogging up arteries.
8. The largest cocoa producing countries are the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia.
9. Chocolate can help you concentrate as it contains a caffeine-like stimulant called theobromine.
10. Cocoa butter, which is the fat extract from roasted and crushed Cocoa Beans, is often used as a massage cream.

Master Chef, PastyearChef

Celebrity MasterChef. Now there’s a show which shouldn’t have got past the fifth bottle of Merlot during the wine bar discussion in which it was dreamt up. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if the celebrities were just a little more up-to-date. Take last night’s episode; Paul (wherever he lays his hat) Young, Marie (of risqué yesteryear photoshoot fame) Helvin, and some bloke who teaches singing for a living.

Hardly household names these days area they? The announcers seem to want to keep reminding us that they “are celebrities, but can they cook”.
By the look of what’s on offer, “they can cook but are they celebrities?” would be more accurate.

Perhaps I’m just bitter and twisted because I would actually love to be in BBC MasterChef. So how about it Beeb bosses? Lets have Food Critics MasterChef next. Just think how much payback every professional chef in the country would get watching helpless hacks mess up in the kitchen. But one small tip, try taking the programme out of London for bit, if only so that I can enter.
Celebrity MasterChef is on at 7pm every evening this week up with the winner from each heat competing in the quarter-final on Friday.

Sharon’s chicken enchilada pie

This isn’t really a pie – not in the encased sense of the word. More of a bake but a tasty way to use up any chicken left over from Sunday lunch. Also easy to serve up for groups of hungry party guests which is the way the gregarious Sharon who supplied this recipe usually serves it..
What you need:
Left over cooked chicken
Cooked broccoli (roughly chopped)
A jar of Mexican or Enchilada Sauce
Packet of Chilli Doritos
Grated Cheese
Sour Cream
If you cannot get soured cream you can you use a small jar of double cream and mix with some lemon juice. leave it in the fridge for 30 mins to congeal !!
What you do:
Place a layer of broccoli, a layer of chicken, a layer of Doritos in a dish
Cover with half the jar of sauce.
Repeat the above
Place in the oven on 180 degrees for 15mins
Remove from oven and cover with grated cheese an place blobs of sour cream on.
Return to oven until cheese has melted
Serve with Salad
My verdict:
This is one of those moreish recipes that once you’ve tried, you’ll want to have it again just to make sure it really was as tasty as you thought it was.
Have you got a recipe for me? If so send it with a photo of yourself and tell me who you are. If it looks tasty enough, I’ll try it out.

Shoppers have Hobson’s Choice

British shoppers have more confidence in the safety of the food they buy than consumers in any other country in Europe, according to one of our local scholars.
Dr Mark Harvey, from the University of Manchester, has come to the conclusion that we have recovered from fears of BSE, Salmonella and bird flu and now buy food with confidence.
He’s widely quoted as crediting the supermarkets for helping bring about this turnaround and adds: “The UK was a food desert a few years ago.
“But now, partly thanks to the supermarkets, we have a more cosmopolitan and varied diet.
“It is quite astonishing that, despite past problems in Britain, consumers remain confident in the price, quality and safety of the food.”
Researchers apparently compared opinions on food safety standards between different European countries – and the UK came out on top.
But there could be another explanation for this showing – we don’t have a lot of choice. While our European neighbours often treasure their neighbourhood markets, shops and farms, here in Britain the supermarket is king.
Confident or unconfident, all too often we simply don’t have an viable alternative.

The rot set in with domestic science

What a sad state of affairs we must be in when cookery is now treated as a “life skill” to be practiced in after schools clubs.
Today’s announcement that all children will be offered some form of cookery lessons might sound like a good move in the right direction at first glance.
But looking past the headline it’s easy to see the problem area – just look at the language. “design and technology” and “licence to cook”.
I blame it all on the arrival of domestic science. Shopping, cooking and eating isn’t a a science – a necessity, yes, a pleasure, often, and an art form, occasionally but a science, never. There was a time when cooking at school was about weighing out ingredients, rubbing in butter and mashing up spuds as well as, most importantly, burning sponge cakes or destroying eggs.
There were the endless supplies of rock cakes to take home to broken toothed parents and masses of cheese and onion pie to be reheated for tea after proudly carrying the created offerings home on the school bus in little baskets more usually seen in a nursery rhymes.

What has this to do with science and the saleability of food products, health and safety and marketing?

Just look at this extract from the curriculum which relates to secondary school lessons where pupils are asked to “design” a soup or a salad leading me to wonder what exactly is wrong with really making one and serving it up for lunch?
* classify foods by their sources, eg animals, crops and plants produced organically, grown locally or imported, by commodity groups and by the plate model in The balance of good health (HEA, 1994)
* consider nutritional information, eg healthy eating guidelines
* mix ingredients with different functional properties and measure and consider the effects of varying ingredients, eg proportion, ratio
* carry out sensory tests to evaluate food products
Ignoring for a minute the “plate model”, just what is involved in the “sensory tests to evaluate food”? Perhaps that would be looking at, smelling and even eating some food.
What an amazing life skill.