Cooking back through time

One of the best things about Christmas is getting a new supply of cookbooks.
It’s a safe bet for anyone not sure what to get me because I appreciate new or old, traditional or exotic – there’s always space on my bookshelf for more recipe inspiration.
This year’s generous haul is no exception with Turkish cuisine and a world of curries among the treats waiting to be cooked up but nestling there I also found a Masterchef book from 1993.
I’m not sure I’d realised the BBC cook off programme had been going for quite so long and flicking back through this volume is like looking into a domestic history annul as the chef Loyd Grossman notes in the forward to the book.
“I “modestly” feel that MasterChef is the best and most entertaining programme about food that’s ever been broadcast in Britain, but I also have a hunch that in the future it will be prized as a social document and a witness to the years when Great Britain fell in love with food, “ he says.
“I’ve always liked to think that MasterChef has tried to break down some of the misconceptions about food that exist in Britain, including ideas that good food has anything to do with class, money. Pretention or, indeed, gender”.
And despite being 15 years old, the menus featured still have a fresh feel to them with dishes you’d certainly find familiar in neighbourhood restaurants up and down the country.
Unusually one of the northern finalists, Juliette Forden from Durham, created a vegetarian feast, the centre piece of which was a celebration nut roast en croute.
The regional section was eventually won by Sheffield nurse Rachel Southall with her medley of mushrooms in filo pastry, halibut escalopes and pears sauternes.
The final northerner Timothy Stokes from Harrogate did what sounded like a sumptuous roast lamb with garlic and redcurrant.
And the 1993 programme was the first time the contest had been won by a man with Derek Johns being judged by Michel Roux and Sir John Harvey-Jones as having the winning dishes with pasta with globe artichoke, rosettes of turbot and thin crust apple and mango tart.
The judges noted that they hoped this would be the first of many male winners and looked forward to seeing many more vegetarian offerings in future programmes.
So did 1993 mark the time “Britain fell in love with food” with menus becoming more health conscious and men battling their way into the kitchen?
Or are we still having the same health, quality, gender debates today?

What! No dip?

You can’t have missed the traditional Christmas festivities that have occurred over the last few days, if the adverts on telly and decorations in the Arndale weren’t enough to convince you of course. Indeed, there are some of us that try to bury our heads in a bucket of festive sand over this time of year and pretend it doesn’t exist, while others use it as an opportunity to eat far more food than their stomachs actually have capacity for.
Different people have different foods that really put them in the Christmas mood. For some, it’s the spiciness of Mulled Wine and Mince Pies that does it. Others look to the Turkey as being the one thing that spells C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S for them. Over the last few years, my focus has changed; I’ve developed a longing and passion for packets of dip, such as those ones found in the chiller cabinet in Tesco’s that typically contain four varieties such as sour cream and chive, thousand island, a garlicky one, and another containing at least one cheese. And this year, for the first time ever, there was not a drop of dip to be found anywhere in the family home.
My mother had a small procedure before Christmas, meaning my sister stepped up to the plate (geddit?) and gathered all the various bits required to make the dinner table and fridge “festive”. At 10pm on Christmas Eve, I was sat in front of the fire, tucking into a couple of festive beers, when the need for pretzels and breadsticks hit with a need something like that need for a post-pub kebab. Alas, when requiring something to moisten the bready dryness, there was no dip to be found. At all. I was distraught.
Do any of you have certain items aside from the traditional favourites that are an absolute requirement during festive times? Were any of you left disappointed by their absence this year? Let us know in the comments below!

So many Christmas dinners!

It seems as if everyone’s indulgences of the past few days have been well documented online across the world.
Amazing to see the pictures and comments going across the internet as so many people enjoy the Christmas holidays.
So I’ve picked out some pictures from the sharing site Twitpic which show the range of celebration meals enjoyed on the 25th – as you’ll see its not all turkey and trimmings.
If you had a really unusual Christmas lunch – let me know, or even better send in a picture.
A rice-based dinner from Happea artist
just made myself a late lunch of fried rice... on TwitPic
Flaming puddings from The Guardian’s KevGlobal (Kevin Anderson)
We not only set the Christmas pudding alight but the raisins ... on TwitPic
Lovely looking roast spuds from blogger Adders
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Unusual selection ftrom EnriqueRLopez
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Decorative table from Dave Mendez
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
A shot of shoes to show how large a family attending is from Mike Lightman in New York
Xmas lunch at the in-laws. I present everyone's shoes, just t... on TwitPic
Cornet beef sandwich from Carlos Slim
Central only serves this for lunch. The corned beef is like t... on TwitPic
Lunch from the ski slopes from London’s Jayne Hilditch
Christmas lunch on the slopes... on TwitPic
A banquet which Megan Rose says was attacked like a plaque of locusts.
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
and finally……….. a traditional turkey dinner from WN Greenway
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
And what did I do? Well I had a fairly traditional dinner with chicken instead of turkey. My sister attempted to make custard for the pudding but, even so…. a lovely time was had by all 😉
my sister cant make custard on TwitPic
Next year, however, will be mine. The planning has already started………..

Want to share your Christmas lunch with me?

xmaslunch.jpgNow I’m not sure there’s enough space for everyone round at my Mum’s……but how about sharing your seasonal indulgence interwebs style!
Wherever you are in the world, it would be great to see just what everyone cooks up on Christmas Day so how about taking a picture and posting it right here?
The mobile phone pic on this page is from my last year dinner – a very traditional affair with plenty of accompaniments.
I’m not sure what I’m in for this year but, listening to other people’s plans, I’m thinking turkey might not be the only dish in many households this winter.
So let everyone know what you do for the year’s big dinner – whether it’s beans on toast or all the trimmings. Your picture could be a thing of beauty or a quick mobile snap – it doesn’t matter, it’s your day.
Simply take a snap (or a video if you’re really going for it) and post it somewhere online with a tag @foodiesarah – Flickr, Twitpic, youTube, 12secondstv, etc. or email me or post it to the Life through Food group. I’ll have a go at rounding them all up when I get back online at the weekend. (Yes rather limited connectivity at non-geek family home!)
Until then, a very Merry Christmas to you all! Thanks for all your reading, comments, contributions and ideas for this blog throughout 2008. Appreciated.

New owner and new name for Love Saves the Day

An Outlet - four23 planningmeeting.jpg
There’s been much speculation online about the possible demise of Manchester deli Love Saves the day.
But I’m happy to exclusively reveal today that news of its Dale Street death has been greatly exaggerated and the New Year will see a new owner for what will now be called The Outlet.
While other parts of the New York style enterprise – the shuttered Deansgate branch pictured below and Thomas Street – are in liquidation, administrators Begbies Traynor last month sold the Dale Street business to Martin Stockley associate and creative agency four23.
And they will be opening up in the New Year with – An Outlet.
Warren Bramley, four23 Creative Director said: “After a few late night discussions, Martin [Stockley] and I decided to take the plunge and take over the outlet. We feel strongly that a building as special and as vibrant as Carver’s should have a great meeting place. We wanted to keep the independent spirit of the building so a coffee shop chain wouldn’t be right.
“Yes, we’ll be serving wonderful coffee, sandwiches and all those types of things,’ says joint partner Martin Stockley, “but what excites us most, however, is creating a spirit in the place. Yes we want good coffee but we also want it to be a place where things happen, where plots are hatched.”
Martin continues, “Neither myself or Warren has any experience in running a café/deli but we’re confident we’ll create something quite unique. Naivety can be a wonderful thing.”
It seems a long time ago that the “sexy food” neon flashed outside the original premises under the loft apartments of the Smithfield Building in the Northern Quarter’s Tib Street where I used to often call for a breakfast “to go”.
Manchester city centre always seemed to be the perfect location for this sort of venture so I wish it all the best – I’ll certainly be checking it out just as soon as its opens its doors.
An Outlet, Carver’s Warehouse, 77 Dale Street, Manchester, M1 2HG will open from 8am, Monday, January 12. General Opening Times: Monday to Friday: 8am – 7pm.

Lunch break: The Modern

Maybe there’s times when only a fish finger sandwich will do. But that’s not often when you’re at a swish city centre elevated eaterie such as The Modern .
Housed at the top of the landmark Urbis building, this restaurant has an unusual lunchtime menu which seems to specialise in favourite childhood and tea-time snacks – sausage rolls with piccalilli, cheese sandwich with walnut chutney, thick cut chips with garlic mayonnaise et al. (Check out the full menu here)
But it was the fish finger sandwich which caught my eye. Thick cut slices of soft, floury white bread enveloped the fingers of fish which were in truth more like goujons.
The exact sort of fish remains a mystery as the waitress wasn’t sure and even her visit to the kitchen to find out failed to reveal the answer. I’d guess pollack, which was unadulterated by potato, herbs or much seasoning of any kind and was, disappointingly, a bit dry.
He fared better with his selection of char grilled rib-eye steak sandwich with caramelised onions although the duck’s egg was somewhat wasted on his taste buds as he was unable to differentiate the perfectly cooked yolk from the standard chicken variety.
My verdict: The lunch menu is something a bit different from the usual pizza, panini and pasta offering available all around. It’s a light-hearted take on some home-made snacks and is a great location for a leisurely break from retail therapy.
Plus: Stylish surroundings and good service in one of the city’s most impressive buildings.
Minus: The décor has been made considerably less formal than the acres of white linen which used to adorn the previous restaurant housed in this location (Le Mont), but comes with the addition of, what can only be described as slightly tatty, carpet. I’m guessing it was installed for acoustic reasons but does let the stylish ambience down.
Value: On the pricey side. If it really had been a fish finger then the £5.50 price tag would have been laughable but what you actually receive is a cut above the humble.

Is being boxed up the most eco answer?

There’s something nice about getting a special delivery. Even something as mundane as the weekly groceries can be made a bit more exciting – especially if you don’t what’s on its way.
So when the organic suppliers Abel & Cole offered to drop off a week’s worth of tasties in return for me cooking them up and blogging about it – seemed too good an offer to miss.
Checking out the contents (totals listed below are for their standard mixed box) I found a good selection of seasonal veg including some lovely, muddy parsnips, cabbage and of course some Christmassy clementines.
So what to make? Well I could have created enough soups for the week or just accompanied meals but I wanted to make the vegetables the focal point of a meal.
I turned to Linda McCartney’s cookbook for inspiration and finished up adapting slightly the creamy potato and leek bake.

There is some feel good factor about getting all your veg organic and the accompanying roast parsnips from this box were the sweetest and tenderest I’ve tasted since I grew some myself.
But I wonder whether this scheme would make my regular shop anymore environmentally friendly? I normally buy fruit and veg from a shop half a mile from my home which I walk to. They don’t often supply anything organic but most of the seasonal produce is from Cheshire or Lancashire so there wouldn’t be many transport miles involved, it’s largely unpackaged plus I get the exercise of fetching and carrying it!
Abel & Cole doesn’t say where the produce originates – it could be down my road or it could be Kent for all I know. On the website they explain why they don’t provide that level of information saying;
“We often purchase the same item from several growers in a particular week. It enables us to take smaller harvests and to give you a more reliable supply. We may also bring in supplies from different growers at the last minute, dependent on the weather, crop problems or increased demand from customers. For this reason, it’s difficult for us to give full details of where each item in your box comes from. ”
This means it’s hard for me to compare the two experiences on possible transport impact but on a wider environmental point, having it delivered provided at least one driver with a job.
If we go down to a value comparison, pricewise, I would end up with more produce for the £15 but obviously we’re not comparing like-for-like being non-organic.

So how can anyone properly equate the options? Is transportation less environmentally harmful than pesticides? Jobs more important than a local shop? Questions are easy to come up with – answers less so. I’d love to hear how you juggle these issues
Here’s what came in the organic mixed box (£15.95):
3×2 types of apple.
5 Fairtrade bananas.
9 carrots.
8 clementines.
2 leeks.
250g mushrooms.
8 parsnips.
1.2kg potatoes.
1 small cabbage.
8 white onions.

Creamy potato and leek bake

I chose this recipe because I wanted to use several ingredients from my mixed box of organic vegetables and make them the main part of the meal. I served this with parsnips and squash roasted with fresh thyme. It made a filling winter’s supper plate. I’ve altered slightly a recipe which was in Linda’s Kitchen by Linda McCartney.
What you need
2 large crushed garlic cloves.
2 tbs olive oil.
Slug of truffle oil.
Large bunch chopped parsley.
Handful of fresh thyme.
250g mushrooms, sliced.
350g potatoes, peeled and sliced.
350g leeks.
Sea salt and black pepper.
Grated nutmeg.
175 ml creme fraiche.
5 tbs skimmed milk.
What you do
Saute the garlic in the two oils for a couple of minutes then add the mushrooms and chopped parsley. Cook gently for a few minutes until soft mixture.
Layer half the pots and leeks on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with nutmeg and fresh thyme.
Spoon the mushroom mixture on top of the first layer.
Add a second layer of potato, leeks, seasonings.
Spoon the creme fraiche over the top and add the milk.
Cover and cook at 190c for an hour.
Verdict: It is substantial enough to make the centrepiece of an informal meal. Meat lovers could use smaller servings as an accompaniement for lamb or chicken – the thyme on the leeks making it meaty.

What’s eating? Nigella

Just what is it with Nigella? Cheese, cheese and a bit more cheese judging by last night’s TV performance.
While much has been said elsewhere about her Christmas cleavage and wiggly wonderland of her particular seasonal presentational style,I watched last night’s mid-way episode of her BBC2 food porn fest agog – just how much stodge can the woman consume?
Firstly she passes off cheese on toast (OK it was a suitably posh version of that favourite after pub snack) as a supper treat for her guests.
Then she sets about a pitcher of espresso Martini’s which contained such generous measures they would delight even a 17-year-old binge-drinker.
Then she shovelled down buttery, sugary cake for afters and, as if that wasn’t enough, sat hogging a plate of FOUR “loaded” jackets (yet more full-strength cheese, crème fraiche and bacon) on her own in a seemingly private, quiet space after all the other guests had gone.
Loaded? I should cocoa!
Apart from fact the only presence of greenery for this fatty feast seemed to be some trimmings of chives, isn’t what’s on show here more like the behaviour of someone with an eating disorder than a festive treat?
I’m all for a Christmas pig out girl ,but this solo gorging seems at odds with sociable seasonal entertaining – and yes it has to be said that the less posh among us do often try a bit harder than stale baguette slathered in egg and cheese when we’ve got people round.
If you missed the episode and want to feel all cheesey, you can see it here. You won’t be alone as about 3m people are already at it. Remarkable.