Mapped: Welcome to The Crispy Crouton

crispycroutonIt’s time to give a warm welcome to The Crispy Crouton which becomes the latest northern food blog to join my ongoing map.

The Crispy Crouton is the creation of Helen Brass in Northumberland and is a hands-on set of recipes and observations.

It’s been running since February and started when Helen found she had some time on her hands between jobs. What better way is there to spend free time than eating and blogging?

She explains her foodie activity:

It’s fair to say that I’ve had a few cooking disasters over the years and I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s the only way to learn. We cook from scratch just about every night but I don’t want to spend too much time in my kitchen, which is why most of the recipes and ideas on my blog are really quick and straightforward – even if sometimes they look like they’re not!

Although I enjoy food a lot I don’t profess to be a food expert or indeed an expert on anything else but I know what I like and I like what I know!

Welcome!

* If you belong on the Northern Food Bloggers map, please let me know via the comments below or twitter @foodiesarah or email foodiesarahATme.com.

Mapped: What the food inspectors found in Richmondshire

Dirty chopping boards, cheese on sale past its best before date and warm fridges – just some of the things food inspectors unearthed when they did their latest routine checks on restaurants, pubs, shops and other food premises in Richmondshire.

Those on the map below scored at the lower end of the food inspection scale and were ranked two or less by inspectors. The information was revealed after a Freedom of Information request from a Mr Perry using the public transparency website What Do They Know.

* This map is crossposted from the Richmond Noticeboard which has more detailed information on the information. Read it in full here.

Making dough and baking bread: Artisan bakeries doing social good

The article below first appeared on the community funded collaborative journalism platform that I work on called Contributoria.com. The articles produced there are released on a creative commons non-commercial licence which means I can share it with you here, confident that the writer has already been paid for his work. The writer is, Rich McEachran who is a freelance writer specialising in sustainability, global development and the role of business in society. I wanted to share his work here because I think it’s a good read, I hope you enjoy it too.

Making dough and baking bread: Artisan bakeries doing social good by Rich McEachran
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They say baking is cathartic and that the process of making bread can be good for mental wellbeing. Inspired by a passion for baking and social change, a number of artisan bakeries have been set up to prove just this. There’s the Better Health Bakery in Hackney, and the Yorkshire-based Veterans’ Artisan Bakery, which is supported by celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager and is helping ex-service men to rebuild their lives.

Measuring, mixing, whisking and kneading – there is something pleasurable about the process. I have a bit of experience in this area myself; a part-time job in a supermarket used to involve piping jam into doughnuts and then coating them in sugar. It may not have helped me through a difficult time, but the creative and sensual act of making the doughnuts gave me focus during long and early shifts.

“There is a mass of research to show that working with your hands in this way is therapeutic,” says Matt Fountain, founder of the Freedom Bakery in Glasgow, a social enterprise that will train and employ ex-offenders.

Fountain is currently developing his social business model and plans to open later this year. He gave up a funded doctorate at the University of Oxford so he could pursue a more socially conscientious career. But why bread? The beauty of it, Fountain says, is that it can connect people from all walks of life.

“Let’s get back to basics,” exclaims Fountain, who is currently based at the Centre for Drugs Misuse Research. “We are talking about bread: a staple food with quotidian (everyday), social, religious and philosophical significance. Cooking is different and people’s knowledge of recipes, cuisine, and even simple ingredients, will differ widely. [But] we can at least start with a uniform understanding of what bread is and how we eat it.”

Fountain wants the Freedom Bakery to pride itself on this philosophy. Its mission is to help those caught up in the vicious circle of prison and re-offending to turn away from crime, by recruiting them and using baking as part of their rehabilitation.

The boys, as Fountain likes to refer to them, are likely to come into the kitchen with few cooking skills and little knowledge of how to bake a loaf. Essentially though, bread is made from four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. The process is relatively simple and the impact immediate.

“In a day, we can train people to make a good, simple loaf of bread,” claims Fountain. “Making bread is all about the art of developing your dexterity, mixed with the science of formula and timing. The boys can see their successes instantly, and this does much for early self-esteem building.

“Our main objective is to always nurture their sensitivity to working with their hands, whilst improving their application to formula and timing. This repertoire is key to keeping the guys interested.”

The impact these artisan bakeries can have goes far beyond the playful repetition of cracking eggs, whisking and beating though. Baking is not just enjoyable; it’s labour intensive and helps acquire new transferable skills.

“It’s not just about allowing for creativity; it’s about using their own confidence and ideas to further develop their craft,” explains Fountain. “The more confidence, and dare I say it ‘conviction’ they gain, the more they learn from their work, and the more employable they will be.

“Like with any professional working in the food industry, my team will need food and hygiene qualifications, which will allow them to be certified to work in any kitchen,” he continues. He’s quick to point out that there is a difference between training people for accreditation and simply training people to tick a box and make your organisation look like it’s doing social good.

Artisan bakeries that operate as social enterprises need to sell a lot of bread (and make a lot of dough) to be commercially viable. To do this they need to deliver on their social outcomes and they also need the support of the local community – none more so than artisan bakeries that employ ex-offenders as their core staff. People may be wary of ex-offenders being rehabilitated into, and employed within, their community. In these instances, preconceptions need to broken down.

“We bring the public into contact with people they would not normally have interaction with, and through our product and service, leave them with a positive reflection on what [our boys] are achieving,” says Fountain. ”Changing opinion surrounding ex-offenders has massive impact; it serves a social purpose, as well as an economic one.”

The belief is that the more the public begin to accept ex-offenders being reintegrated into their communities, the more likely they are to stay in sustainable employment, rebuild their lives and be able to contribute to the local economy. And for every ex-offender that he manages to keep in employment, Fountain claims he’ll be able to “save the Scottish taxpayer £940,000 in associated criminal justice and social costs”.

So, is a loaf of bread baked by someone with a criminal past any different than one you can buy from a local shop or supermarket? Probably not. Are people more likely to buy from a bakery run by ex-offenders? Again, not necessarily. But with artisan bread becoming ever more popular, Fountain hopes to tap into the market and produce luxury bread and cakes (including modern twists on Scottish classics) which, first and foremost, can be competitive in Glasgow’s food industry. The Freedom Bakery’s selling point will not be who it employs, but what it bakes.

Fountain believes that seeing the bakery as a business with a social aim, and not simply as a charity that supports ex-offenders, makes it a worthy investment to interested parties. He is so confident, that it will also be grant free and will receive no public subsidy.

“The Freedom Bakery will do things differently,” concludes Fountain, referring to the bakery’s sustainability. “I believe it can make a real difference.”

Artisan bakeries can give people at risk from crime, drugs and mental health problems a focus. They can learn new skills and hone a craft. They can make dough, in both sense of the word, and have a social impact long after the doors open.

Video viewers twice as likely to visit fast food restaurant after seeing an ad

If you ever wondered whether advertising actually had an impact on the things people choose to eat then this piece of research might give you a surprise.

Research from Videology found that video viewers are twice as likely than the average respondent to visit a fast food restaurant or quick service restaurant (QSR) after seeing an advert or promotion.

Perhaps less surprising, the survey of 1,259 people in the UK suggested that the lead-up to lunch was the ‘best time’ (if you’re an advertiser) to target these video viewers, as the group is 75 per cent more likely to get lunch from a QSR than non-video viewers.

See the full findings in this infographic at The Drum here.

In praise of the American diner

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Sip and Bite, Baltimore

The all-American diner. A place were sustenance, company, warmth and companionship are available 24/7.

Or so the legend goes. The diner – complete with its booth seating and stark lighting – is an icon of movies and literature alike.

In fact fans of the American version of House of Cards might spot something familiar about this one – although this is Baltimore Inner Harbour, for the Netflix series, it was made out to be in nearby centre of power, Washington we were told by our AirBnB host in the city.

It’s easy to see why the television bosses chose Sip & Bite. It’s perfect. From the impressive external appearance to the strangely contradictory internal experience of cosiness within mirrors, tiles and that particular shade of lighting which gives everyone the pallor of the early hours at whatever time of day. Yes this IS the American diner.

What about the food?

Sip & Bite menu

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Alongside the inevitable burgers, chicken, steak and the ever-present crabcakes, this diner offers a lot of Greek options with huge salads vying for your interest alongside the fried and grilled options. Sadly we had a limited experience of this immense menu having simply popped in for a snack after work.

Oh how I would have loved to sample the ‘eggs over-easy with famous fries’, or smother some homemade buttermilk pancakes or even the DDD Combination platter. What a mixture!

We ended up with a Greek salad and something with fries and the cooking was nothing out of the ordinary, but the whole atmosphere and experience made up for it.

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Greek salad

Unlike so many places in the UK, the staff aren’t surly teens starting out in the jobs market, the staff here are proper grown ups with rents and lives to pay for. And I know this because in the short time we were there, sitting under a Star Spangled Banner (another Maryland creation), I learned more about the waitresses love lives and domestic arrangements than I know about most friends.

This commenter on TripAdvisor sums up the experience of eating there at all times of day and night:

The Sip & Bite is a Baltimore tradition. I remember eating here with my parents as a kid, going there late nights as a college student and now taking my family there for a good meal. In fact, in all the times I have dined at the Sip & Bite, I have never had a bad meal. The staff is friendly and the service is always good. Everyone in our party very much enjoyed their meal. I got the seafood club special which was a three layer club sandwich with a crab cake and seafood salad on it. Wow, was it good. I strongly recommend the Sip & Bite for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After our hurried meal, we intended to try to repeat the experience for that other great US dining experience of a leisurely Sunday, brunch.

No chance. The queue along the building said it all.

Not just bringing home the bacon but …….making it?

baconSeriously, have you ever thought about making your own bacon? I can’t say I have, but apparently this level of home-made food production is gaining popularity.

According to Manchester journalist and food blogger at the wonderful Lone Gourmet, Louise Bolotin, it’s becoming something of a trend.

Writing at the new(ish) plaform for freelance journalists Contributoria, where I am editor, she says:

“Most people, when they fancy a full English, pick up their pack of bacon at the supermarket or from a local butcher if they have a good one nearby. But an increasing number of people are making their own, as well as more complex foods like pancetta and salami. Some are making kitchen table cheeses for their family too, and not from a commercial kit.”

Louise has already won backing from the members of Contributoria to investigate the topic more fully and will be starting work on it soon.

The way the site works means that other people can help with the article – if you’ve any knowledge of this type of produce, or perhaps you make similar things yourself – you are invited to get in touch there.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with and, once the article is complete, it will be issued under a non-commercial licence so I’ll share it with you here.

Of course I’m biased on this, but I think the Contributoria platform could be a good way to fund more food writing. There’s already been an article on a local food producer in Glasgow and there’s also currently a writer looking for backing to investigate local versus global food networks for next month.

If that story sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can back the writer by joining the site (membership is currently free) and you’ll be issued with 150 points to spend. Points are translated into real pounds and pence which is paid to the writers.

And if you’ve a food-based story you’d like to be paid to produce, pitch-in, we’re always recruiting! Sign up here.

Welcome to the Yorkshire Food Otter

copy-yfo-banner-check1The latest food blog to join our map of Northern Food Blogs is the Yorkshire Food Otter.

A relatively new blog, it’s all about the search for great ingredients as author Emma explains:

This blog is my search for quality ingredients produced or stocked by passionate individuals who want to encourage their customers to eat seasonally so as to taste the ingredients at their best and with confidence that their provenance can be traced. A natural path to follow on from these ideas is recommending places I have been to such as street stalls, pubs, restaurants, cafés or coffee houses, for example, that serve up glorious fare whilst also being advocates of eating and drinking knowledgeably.


* If you belong on the Northern Food Bloggers map, please let me know via the comments below or twitter @foodiesarah or email foodiesarahATme.com.

Honours, fish and chips and investigations – hello 2014

A very Happy New Year to all!

Getting 2014 started here at the food blog with heartfelt congratulations to Manchester’s amazing Tse sisters, Lisa and Helen.

The twins, who operate the Sweet Mandarin restaurant, were each awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.

While they are probably best known to many for the Dragon’s Den appearance below, I shall personally remain in Lisa’s debt for teaching me some wok moves all those years ago when the pair of us tweeting our cookery lesson became a first for a UK restaurant. Wow, how times have moved on.

Cheers to you both for your well-deserved recognition.

A haddock fillet with light and non-soggy batter, mahogany edges protruding from the soft embrace of a scantly buttered bap. Fried in dripping, not sunflower oil. Always with scraps, those delectable leftover fragments, the pain perdu of the fryer.

This, what I can only call an ‘ode to fish and chips’ was published earlier this week on my latest project, Contributria.com – a community-funded writing platform. It was written by Kate Feld, the writer behind the enduring Manchizzle blog and is a delicious piece of food writing. If you fancy doing something similar for a future issue, the site is now open to writers to propose submissions for commission and membership is currently free. Further details on that here.

Finally, I happened to catch, briefly, some trashy TV programme over the break about how the food and health industries make us unhealthy. Before I switched over, a startling claim was made – that industrially produced bread is padded out with chicken feathers. Now whether this is true or not I haven’t had time to properly investigate – I’m guessing there’ll be many a complaint from the food lobby to Ofcom if it’s not – but it struck me that many edible products now seem to contain what can only be described as byproducts from other parts of the food industry.

I’m hoping to look at this more at some point this year and would very much like to hear from anyone who has first-hand knowledge about any such activity. Please feel free to contact me in confidence foodiesarahATme.com.

Zomato’s Manchester ambitions continue apace

zomatoI recently caught up with the team behind the food discovery website and app Zomato to see how their Manchester launch was going.

Regular readers of this blog might remember we revealed how the Indian operation had started work in the city back in July.

Since then, there’s been a lot happening behind the scenes which I’ve reported on for the Prolific North website here.

Here’s hoping Newcastle Eats gets its mojo back

newcastleeatsIt looks like I’m welcoming the Newcastle Eats blog to the northern food bloggers map precisely at a time when its authors might be suffering that regular affliction among us bloggers – loss of mojo.

The latest blog post which starts ‘I’ve been a bad blogger’ includes criticism of those journalists with no passion for food who get paid to write reviews and wonders where what they call the whole ‘armchair journalism’ practice is going.

“It’s a bit of disillusion all round really. Maybe it’s working in digital marketing and using it every day, but I’ve grown tired of Twitter, and lost the inspiration to do much blogging recently. Twitter has lost it’s charm for me, with, oh so much arse-kissing, @reply-please-RTing and general marketing spiel, though yes, this is governed by the people you follow. And see recent posts/rants here and here, that summarise my feelings on recent local blogging pretty well. ”Please invite me to your press launch so I can get some free bait”…”I need 7 more followers to hit 1200!”…”My blog had 42 hits today.”

Yes, yes, yes! I seriously hope the bloggers, Jeff and Kate, can find their way back to the dinner table. The reviews are thoughtful and put the experience into context well, the pictures are clear and informative and I particularly liked their use of map links to venues and the inclusion of food hygiene ratings in the reviews.

Please, can we have some more?

* If you belong on the map – drop me a line in the comments or by email to foodiesarahATme.com and tell me a little about your blog. A link back to the map would be appreciated as well.