Not long now…..sorting out that Christmas dinner meat order


How do you select your meat for the Christmas feast? The signs are up in the shops; ‘order now to be in time for the big day’, ‘one free elf if you buy 2,000 sausage rolls’ you know the sort of thing………

And then there’s the scramble at the supermarkets and the gnawing fear of finding the shelves as empty as the bagged sugar aisle after a news flash about a potential power cut.

Are you ready? Picture: Kevin Dooley

No way, the thought of seeing those sharp elbows heading into the chipolatas means I’m going to be clicking my way to the dinner table this year.

Buying food online is nothing new and during this year particularly I’ve discovered all manner of services and products where the convenience of having stuff delivered has not only freed up some precious time but also reduced the amount of cash handed over to the faceless supermarket chains. It’s also made me a more adventurous cook – having to find something to create with what arrives in the general veg box often means thinking out new things and, when suppliers have something new to offer, it seems much easier to hear about it.

Whether it’s the weekly basics box or something a bit special for a dinner party (and yes OK, I admit it, I have served up the occasional dish that’s come through the post) the lure of the hassle-free choice of clickable food is now an everyday experience.

So I was interested to hear from the people at Farmer’s Choice. Not only is one of their producers (Yorkshire Game) just down the road from me, which adds a local dimension to the whole shopping on the Internet thing, they’ve been operating online for many years and there’s a couple of things that make them a bit different.

Everything they sell is free range and traceable plus they cater for exactly what you want because they cut the meat to order. As their spokesman told me:

“We cut to requirements to order in exactly the same as what you’d get from over the counter at a butchers..if you just want two lamb chops, then we’ll just cut you two lamb chops.”

I think Christmas calls for a bit more than that but……you take the point.
Taking a look at the Christmas dinner offer , it’s not just the turkey.

There are the free range traditional birds there but also more exotic fare including a couple of extra special three bird roasts like goose, chicken and pheasant, all rolled together for an indulgent feast. And if you really can’t face any of the shopping, just order in the veg as well for the whole experience direct.

There’s not enough of a family for us to get stuck into the specialist hamper – but even if your household does resemble something like The Waltons, it doesn’t look like they’d go hungry with that lot arriving.

Doing the traditional annual thing seems to suit cooks who have a highly-organised sense of timing. I once met a women who had a printed list of every task timed down to the last minute and it started the night before with exact times for each thing to be done……imagine;

– 9am – wash Brussels sprouts
– 9.15 – peel carrots
Etc. etc.
I jest not, this list was even laminated for easy to clean re-use each year!

While I admire the dedication, my approach tends to be a bit more, erm, approximate and this Farmer’s Choice site got me clicking round to see what else is in store and thinking about conjuring up something a bit different.

Curry goat for Boxing Day anyone? Great looking recipe from north west chef Simon Rimmer here.

Holland’s Pies new range tried and tasted

Louise Bolotin from the Lone Gourmet blog gets to grips with the latest pie range from Holland’s.

HollandsA pie and a pint are a match made in heaven – comfort food and traditional thirst-quencher. What’s not to like? So when an invitation from Holland’s Pies turned up, inviting me to taste their new range, how could I resist?

Holland’s consultant chef Tom Bridge was on hand to talk us through the pies, while the beers, each matched to a pie, were provided by JW Lees. First up for tasting was the new chicken and ham hock pie – the filling had a good creamy texture and the meat was pleasingly chunky, but alas I couldn’t taste the ham hock. This cut of pig usually has a very pronounced flavour from its prolonged simmering then roasting but it was undetectable here. Nevertheless, overall it was a tasty pie that went down well with the glass of bitter. We also got to try the beef and vegetable pasty, a Holland’s staple, which smelled good and had plenty of vegetables, but not much meat although I may just have had an unlucky scoop of filling.

Of the meat pies the clear winner was the peppered steak pie – fabulously meaty and peppery, with a good after-tingle on the palate. I’m often wary of beef in pies as it’s usually from the cheapest cuts and lumps of gristle tend to turn up every bite. Not here though. Just steak and umami all the way, washed down with Lees’ gold award-winning The Governor.

The thing about pies is that they are filling and even arriving hungry and cold after a long day at work, I was starting to feel rather full. But there was still one more to try – the cheese pie. Chef Tom explained it was made with real cheddar, not factory cheese. Cutting into it there was a good strong smell of cheese and a subtle undernote of onion, and it had a good runny melted texture, although I felt the flavours were slightly overwhelmed by the pastry. This came with a small schooner of ruby port that spoiled the experience – the port was sickly sweet and coated my palate, destroying the lingering taste of cheese and making me feel a little nauseous.

I was pleased that Tom took the time to talk about the pie shells as well as the fillings. Holland’s use a secret hot water pastry recipe dating back to wartime. This kind of shortcrust pastry stays crispy, which is important for pie – you don’t want a soggy base or a collapsing shell that spills piping hot filling over you. No chance of that here – Holland’s know their stuff. Tom also emphasised the need to reheat in an oven as microwaving will soften the pastry. There’s a reason why bought pies come in a foil tray…

I was stunned to learn they make a million pies a week at their Lancashire factory. In the absence of homemade pie, which can be time-consuming and fiddly to make (especially if you struggle to get pastry right), for a mass-produced product this is about as good as gets. I doubt I’d buy the new chicken and ham hock but the peppered steak definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

Cheap cuts on the menu. But is that a bad thing?

The idea of ‘cheap food’ doesn’t sell that well with foodies.

Cheap = fast= nasty.

Huge glutinous plates of all-you-can-gorge buffets and buckets of trans fat glow in the dark bonelessness spring to mind.

But it seems there’s a growing desire to get more out of the produce we buy and it’s interesting to start to see this currently being reflected back at us in the latest wave of TV food shows.

This week, Channel 4s new Food show kicked off. OK the ‘investigation’ into the cost of supermarket baskets was almost insultingly obvious (Waitrose pricey, Asda cheaper. Fancy that!) but it is also highlighting so called cheap cuts such as this recipe for pork cheek ragu.

It was also interesting to hear food writer Diana Henry talking about the same issue on today’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. She made the point that cheap cuts are often seen as less popular things such as offal but that actually many were the traditional cuts of meat which have been overlooked. During the interview she also makes the point that meat doesn’t have to be the main focus of the meal and suggested listeners find more interesting things to do with the veg.

Maybe it’s the start of a new austerity brought about by necessity.

Possibly it’s got a lot to do with commissioning editors not wanting to push content which seems extravagant or overly indulgent

Either way, rediscovering some of the dishes from our past and seeking out ingredients available close to home sounds like a good way to reconnect with food and worth some experimentation.

What’s your favourite cheap cut? Let me know how you cook it below.

Five New Year’s resolutions for foodies

New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. Everyone knows so and last week a study proved it . But, as I reflect on the fact that another year has started and I’m still unable to speak Mandarin (or Italian, or Spanish), I’m thinking that maybe the failure rate is in part because resolutions are very personally focused, made around our own inadequacies or based on those niggling guilty areas – exercise, sensible diet, drinking, smoking etc.

Perhaps it’s time for change in the approach, so in the spirit of the new decade, how about resolutions which are based around collective effort?

Here’s five resolutions around food which are easily achievable on an individual basis, but which would have a far greater impact if adopted by a group.

  1. Grow something edible.
    Anything really. Even growing a pot of herbs in the kitchen means one less trip to the shops and a better taste than dried.
  2. Cut down on meat.
    Not just for the sake of personal health, but also because a reduced demand would go some way towards cutting the UK’s carbon emissions, according to the latest reports on this issue.
  3. Support the free range movement.
    If meat becomes a weekly treat, the cost of free-range or organic is less prohibitive. The Chicken Out campaign  started following the television series of the same name has already got almost 17,000 supporters and sends out regular newsletters about the cause.
  4. Get fussy about fish.
    According to the UNFAO, about 70 per cent of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity. – The Earth’s Carrying Capacity – Bruce Sundquist.Find out if your fillet is sustainable via the website http://endoftheline.com which also rates fish restaurants on their sustainability
  5. Cut down on waste.
    Throwing away a third of the food we buy is clearly a waste of time and money. Making tasty meals with leftovers and buying less to start with are a start but the website http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ has plenty of inspiring ways to help cut waste too.

What do you think, of this list? Any more resolutions that should be on it? Let me know through the comments below , and here’s to a happy, foodie 2010!