“Free from” Food

free range lemonade
Used courtesy http://somenamenottaken.com/comic/modern-lemonade/

I make no apologies for this, but it’s something that’s irritating me as we go round the supermarket. We mostly go around the edge, because that’s where the real food is to be found. The burgeoning of “free from” food is beginning to wind me up.

I’ve had my DNA tested by 23andme, I’ve lived a long time and I’m allergic or sensitive to nothing. All the foods I love are now coming under the gaze of the food police. So here’s a list of the things they want you to avoid and I think are awesome.

gluten freeGluten-Free

There are few things better than a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven, steaming and just smelling wonderful, or a naan bread out of the tandoor, slightly charred and just tasting of the high heat. Those glutens are what’s responsible for turning that flour into a slightly gooey, chewy mass that’s so good slathered in butter or waiting to be dipped into a curry. I’ll keep that, I’m not coeliac.

Low-Fat or Saturated Fat-Free

Physically, I’m medium build and not overweight. I have a slight belly from the beer, but which man doesn’t? So as a normal functioning human who doesn’t always have to put the pie in the pie hole, low-fat makes no sense. The fact that fat is saturated makes no difference to me, you need a degree of fat in your diet to function plus it makes everything taste better. I recently had my blood tested and I’m basically immortal.

Dairy-Free and Lactose-Free

This one makes no sense to me. I’m not lactose intolerant, I have no aversion to lactose and milk is full of nutrition. I was raised on full-fat Jersey milk, there was a Milk Marketing Board to make us “drinka pinta milka day”, and having a glass of milk straight out of the fridge was a delight. There was a time I drank semi-skimmed but looking back it was so watery as to be pointless. These days we use full-fat milk and I’ve been known to buy “gold top” style milk or even raw milk from the farmer’s market.

Nut-Free

I like nuts whether I’m shelling them at Christmas where they lurk at the bottom of the fruit bowl or whether they’re an ingredient in cakes or biscuits. They are also incredibly nutritious. Take pecans for example from https://ilovepecans.org.

atrificial additives

Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc.

Seafood-Free

I don’t get this one at all. I was raised on cockles and winkles and I love mussels, cockles, scallops and the rest. An oyster tried to kill me once so we’ll gloss over that. When they’re fresh out of the sea, they’re amazing, fresh and taste of the sea. Great stuff. Then we get on to the likes of crab and lobster which if served right are lovely. Lashings of butter in the case of lobster, by the seaside in the case of crab. Or, as we can get locally here, tempura soft-shell crab. The local lobsters are rather nice too.

organic cheeseYeast-Free

Supposedly, a compromised immune system, like having had a course of antibiotics, can lead an excess of yeast and give you candida. For me, I can’t imagine missing out on a class of foods like wine, beer, bread, soy sauce, vinegar and so on. I really hope I don’t ever suffer from this one.

Low-Sodium

Much modern food panic centres around salt in our diet. For me, salt is firmly in my “makes everything taste better” bucket along with butter. Don’t overdo it and certainly don’t eat processed food too often and you’ll be fine. I have a spouse who complains loudly if I under-salt things, so I need to keep on top of seasoning. As a supertaster, the salt in things like mayonnaise or ketchup are enough for me but not for mere muggles. Still, one batch of, say, potato chips/fries with lots of salt won’t kill you. Drink plenty of water and those fantastic detox organs the liver and kidneys will do the job for you. And you’ll live.

Non-GMO

Any time I hear someone talking against GMO, they go straight into the arse bucket. Genetic modification is something we’ve been doing for centuries. That lovely sweet corn slathered in butter? It started out as no more than a grass and we bred it to what it is today. The wheat that makes your lovely hipster sourdough loaf? A hundred years ago it was very different. Golden rice is going to provide vitamin A to developing countries an save thousands of lives if the anti-GMO woo-mongers get squashed as they should. So GMO, please.

Sugar-Free

Sugar, along with fat, is something we’ve evolved to crave. From sweets/candies to excellent patisserie to decadent desserts, we can’t get enough. Sugar is one of Jamie Oliver’s bugbears. If you live the life out of Shameless, your food will be loaded with sugar. Diabetes UK points out how much sugar is in what we drink and how it’s contributing to diabetes. The answer to this is quite simple: don’t drink sugar-laden fizzy drinks, only have desserts occasionally and eat fruit (“natural” sugar). Don’t get me started on sugar alternatives. Aspartame? Bleargh.vegan

Alcohol-Free

Sorry, you don’t get this one. If you’re addicted, fine, avoid alcohol. You could even go as far as avoiding soy sauce with 2% alcohol. I get it. But some of us just don’t have that addict gene. I smoked as a teen and stopped dead. My father smoked unfiltered cigarettes from the age of ten and stopped dead at sixty. No cancer. I just like wine, beer, whisky and most everything else. I want sherry in my trifle like I want real vanilla in my ice cream. Leave my booze alone!

Hormone-Free

I can understand this one. It’s part and parcel of the “ethically raised” meme and should lead to more wholesomely raised meat. However, The American Meat Science website reckons there’s not a lot in it:

All meat should be free of antibiotic residues, so it should all be “antibiotic free.”

Farmers may choose to use antibiotics to treat or prevent sickness in animals. Even if an animal is given an antibiotic, farmers and processors must allow a specific amount of time to pass before that animal is legal to slaughter. This “withdrawal period” allows time for the animal’s body to metabolize the antibiotic and the residues to exit the animal’s system before it is harvested.

free fromOrganic

Organic is one of my bugbears. First up it’s not “pesticide-free”. There is a small armoury that’s allowed to be used. The Independent said in 2008:

For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil forever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans – exposure can cause Parkinson’s disease. But none of these “natural” chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming.

And:

If there is a “cocktail effect” it would first show up in farmers, but they have among the lowest cancer rates of any group. Carcinogenic effects of pesticides could show up as stomach cancer, but stomach cancer rates have fallen faster than any other. Sixty years ago, all Britain’s food was organic; we lived only until our early sixties, malnutrition and food poisoning were rife. Now, modern agriculture (including the careful use of well-tested chemicals) makes food cheap and safe and we live into our eighties.

Local

Finally, one I approve of. To my wife’s chagrin, we lurk at the local farmer’s markets. Get to know the local suppliers of food. Here, we are well served by local fruit and vegetable growers, meat suppliers, apiarists, cheese and dairy supplier and so on. OK, so they’re organic but I won’t hold that against them. I love the yellow and purple carrots that actually taste as carrots should. The local quinces are nice when they’re in season too. Raw milk is so tasty. OK, so we don’t get local peaches or olives but the celeriac and the Celtic Pride beef more than make up for that.

Credits

This blog post was written with the assistance of Grammarly. Aside from criticising my normal writing technique, it had many other suggestions on what to improve. If you write in Traditional English or Simplified English it has you covered. It’s free to start and there’s an app for your desktop or Firefox.

The Good Old Fashioned British Sunday Roast

Roast Chicken

Let’s talk about the Sunday roast. Funny thing about true indigenous British cuisine is how sparse and rare it is. Even that great traditional British dish of Fish and Chips is a Portuguese/Jewish import apparently.

We do other people’s cuisine like Indian and Cantonese pretty well and you won’t starve with Italian, French and so on restaurants abounding. There are some niche things: we do meat and fish really well. Lamb, beef, cod, haddock, mussels, lobster. We do some decent cheeses whether it’s Cheddar, Lancashire, Caerphilly and so on. We have some nice faux Bries and Stilton or similar of course.

I think the one dish that’s survived the centuries is the Sunday Roast. Take a slab of meat, chicken or duck, throw it in the oven, cook roast potatoes, some vegetables, probably carrots, some greens like cabbage or Brussels sprouts and something like celeriac, swede or parsnips. Chicken skin I like powdered with paprika, dried garlic, salt and pepper. Pork crackling with just salt. If your crackling doesn’t crisp up, at the end, separate it from the meat, crank up the oven to 230C, put on a tray and roast some more. Beef might be dusted with salt and dry mustard.

Don’t forget stuffing. You can get really creative with this.

The second most important part is roast potatoes. I’ve wrestled with many minor variations. First up, choose a potato variety. I favour King Edwards. They have a lovely flavour. Pretty much any variety will do though. Maris Piper, Rudolph, some random Welsh white or red should be fine. Peel and parboil for 10-15 minutes. While that’s going on, put fat into a roasting tray and pre-warm in the oven at 200C.

A big question is what fat to use. Recently I’ve been using a mix of butter and olive oil, but you can just as easily use duck or goose fat or rapeseed oil. After the potatoes are par-boiled, drain them and let them dry. Give them a good shake to fluff up the edges. Take the roasting tray out of the oven, add the potatoes, cover with oil and put back in the oven. They should take between 45 minutes to an hour to emerge as fluffy, golden goodness awaiting sea salt.

THE most important part is the gravy. Hopefully you’ve made the stock yourself with onion, garlic, carrots, celery and any other vegetable trimmings. Or just use a good quality stock cube or stock pot. Add wine of course, and some soy sauce for umami. Take the tray you roasted your meat in, hopefully there’s lots of fat that escaped the meat while cooking. Add flour to make a roux. Cook that a little, then slowly add possibly more wine, then the stock you made until you have nice thick gravy oozing with flavour.

Don’t forget salt. Salt makes everything better. And let the meat rest! 10-15 minutes will let the meat relax and reabsorb some juice. Or emit more juice you can put in the gravy.

Serve everything up, drown in tasty gravy and enjoy! Give credit to Maillard where it’s due and enjoy the tastiness.

The flexibility of a chicken

Roast chickenSometimes you’re walking past the last day shelf in Tesco and a chicken for £2.50 just leaps out at you, you just can’t avoid it!

You think “I can get at least four meals out of it for the two of us!” And you do! As an example meal plan:

  1. A proper Sunday roast. Beautiful crispy roast potatoes, some fresh seasonal vegetables or two. I still haven’t cracked the secret to lovely crunchy potatoes here, but given a variety like King Edwards, they will still be tasty. It’s summer so we just picked up some broad beans from the farmer’s market. Don’t forget the gravy! I should pontificate at length on gravy at another point.Leftover chicken
  2. Then do something with the leftovers. In this case a chicken pie but I was too lazy to make the lid ? This one had some frozen peas, and chopped red pepper in. And obviously, that thing that makes everything better, sweetcorn. You can put in pretty much anything you like. Chop up a leek or throw in left over vegetables. Swede on the side is a nice touch, and fry up left over roast potatoes. Obviously, with the bones, you’ll get between a pint and a litre of stock. You can either just boil the bones or throw in some garlic, chopped onion, carrots, celery, herbs and so on.
  3. Then, with that stock, make soup! Possibly with some leftover gravy added for extra flavour. This soup has noodles, an egg mixed in, some veggies and a soft boiled egg. We get through the eggs in this house! Cantonese chicken and sweetcorn has been perpetrated in this house and that’s good too,
  4. Last but not least, you’ll probably have a chicken breast left over. That’s easy to dispose of: a chicken sandwich. Me, I like nice fresh bread and mango chutney. That’s the right combination of solid and savoury. The other option is to load it up with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise. Either way.On the bread note, we mostly make our own. Either from the components or supermarket mix, and throw it in the bread maker. Good fresh bread for half the price.

And that’s how you get four meals out of some discounted chicken!

Some good links out there:

There’s plenty you can do with a chicken: lemons, put vegetables in the roasting tin. Me, I put smoked paprika and garlic salt on the skin before rubbing with olive oil. The skin is the best bit. Or just buy the thighs and roast them!

Pi day

beef and ale pieYesterday we celebrated the perverse American pi day with pie. Perverse because Americans do their dates wrong. The real pi day is obviously 31/4/15 9:26:53 etc. Also, in celebration of Weebl and Bob. Never mind. I made a beef and ale pie. Easy enough. For two with leftovers:

  • Fry one medium or two small onions with a clove or two of garlic in olive oil until softening.
  • Dry a pound of diced beef of some sort then dust with flour, add to the onions and fry until browned. (There’s argument as to whether there’s any point to browning beef but I’l let that slide).
  • Add a chopped carrot, half a dozen small mushrooms and maybe some shallots.
  • Add seasonings to taste: salt (which I always forget!), pepper, maybe some paprika, Worcestershire sauce and herbs (I have Greek mountain oregano!). It was missing something until I added about a dessertspoon of soy sauce.
  • Add an ale such as Guinness or a nice bitter until the beef is covered.
  • Simmer VERY gently on the stove for a couple of hours, or put in a casserole in a 170C oven for the same time.
  • When that’s done, put into a pie dish, put 100g grated cheddar on top, throw on an egged covering of pastry and bake at 190C for 40 minutes or so until the pastry is browned.
  • Eat!

From Asparagus to Jersey Royals! Spring food in England.

English asparagusAutumn is like lady bountiful, great food every where. But for me, spring is the one, when we’re emerging from an impossibly long winter, blinking into nice light evenings, sitting outside the pub or cafe, maybe, and enjoying the coming of the summer. Oh, and the seeds for autumnal bounty are sprouting. For me, the joy of spring was reflected partly in the bounty from this week’s farmers market and partly from the greengrocer:

  • English asparagus. Early in the season, costing maybe £3.50 from the farmers market, later on, £1 from the supermarket for a bunch
  • Jersey Royal potatoes. Those creamy, earthy nuggets slathered in butter
  • Rhubarb. Preferably the slim, forced type, cook to a compote and then put in a crumble

Then, the usual farmer’s market bounty:

  • A chicken!
  • Cavolo Nero, kale, purple sprouting broccoli
  • Carrots
  • 3-seed brown bread like a brick
  • Eggs. Always better than anything you can get from a supermarket
  • Sausages and bacon, the same
  • The butter was disappointing!

So, 2-3 days locavore-ish eating, for not much more than we’d pay in the supermarket. Score!

Do you use a farmer’s market? What do you like to get? Share your thoughts in the comments below!