#NaNoWriMo day four – the noble bay leaf

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

Day four of my challenge to write a blog a day throughout #NaNaWriMo and my thoughts turn to a commonly used – but much underestimated – evergreen herb. The common or garden bay leaf.

bay leavesThe bay leaf didn’t always have such an inconsequential role in society. It’s Greek name Daphne is a nod to an ancient myth in which a river nymph must be transformed into a bay tree to protect her from the lusty pursuits of the God Apollo. This association with nobility is the reason for the use of bay to adorn the heads of early Olympian athletes and later, Roman emperors.

History also sees bay used for its many medicinal benefits. In his publication The Complete Herbal  (1663) Nicholas Culpeper lists it as being “singularly good” for use by women to treat difficulties in the womb, bowl and bladder. 

The flavour of bay can be tricky to pin down and is rarely experienced alone. Presence of eugonol gives it a similiar note to clove and makes it an excellent partner to warm earthy spices, beans and tomatoes. In addition to bay’s typical use in soups and stews it can also be a flavourful addition to puddings and sweet dishes. One of the most effective ways to acheive this is to create a milk infusion which can then be used for custard, ice-cream or even a sharp lemon tart. I encourage to try the recipe below and give the not so humble bay greater consideration in your cooking repertoire.

Ingredients

  • 450ml milk
  • 5 bay leaves
  • two centimetre long piece of lemon peel, white pith removed.

Method

  1. Place all of your ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and warm gently.
  2. Bring carefully to the boil and simmer for five minutes before removing from the heat.
  3. Set aside for half an hour before removing the bay leaves and using the milk as required.

My #NaNoWriMo day three – How much soy are you eating?

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

As my food writers version of #NaNoWriMo enters day three I thought that it would be good to take a breath from the recipes and consider a question of diet. Well, two questions. How much soy are you eating? Why?

First, the issue of how much. Health experts are often reminding us about the hidden dangers of certain foods. As someone who likes to be mindful about how and what I eat, I regularly check labels for concealed ingredients such as salt, sugar, trans fats and palm oils. I am not alone in this. But have you considered looking for soy before putting that food item in your shopping basket?

I recently met a friend for lunch in one of the larger coffee shops. The reason for this departure from my usual cosy, local cafe is that said friend has a moderately large number of food allergies and needs to be extremely careful about what she eats away from home. She knew that the establishment in which we had arranged to meet had a wide choice of options that didn’t contain one particular added ingredient – soy.

As one of the 14 allergens included on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, soy must be clearly labelled as an ingredient on food packaging. But how often is it seen as an added ingredient and why? My experiences of eating out and cooking with my friend is that it turns up more often than you may expect. Here are some of the foodstuffs that may contain soy as listed by Allergy Uk

  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cakes and biscuits (confectionery with a biscuit base)
  • Canned and tinned soup
  • Chocolate
  • Commercial fruit products
  • Crackers
  • Crisps
  • Flavoured crisps
  • Frozen dessert
  • Ice cream
  • Meat products: cold cuts, beef burgers, meat paste/pies, minced beef, sausages, and hotdogs
  • Milk (coffee whiteners) or cream replacers
  • Pancake and waffle mixes
  • Pasta/pizza bases
  • Ready – meals (convenience meals)
  • Sauces (including Worcester sauce, sweet and sour sauce, Teriyaki sauce, stock cubes, gravy powders and some cook-in sauces)
  • Seasoned salt
  • Snack bars

This list goes some way to explain why my aforementioned friend struggles to eat anything she hasn’t carefully sourced herself. So why are manufacturers adding it to our every day shopping list? Allergen Uk give this explanation –

Soya can also be used in foods as a texturiser (texturised vegetable protein), emulsifier (soya lecithin) or protein filler. Soya flour is widely used in foods including; breads, cakes, processed foods (ready meals, burgers and sausages) and baby foods.

Let’s take a look at one of the examples from Allergy Uk and break it down. As one of the most commonly consumed foodstuffs world-wide, we can’t ignore the use of soy in bread. Firstly, it comes in the form of soy flour. This offers a bleaching effect on the wheat flour and smooths the kneading process by changing the texture and water absorption of the loaf before baking. It also creates a softer, more voluminous loaf. (Independent.co.uk, 2011) Sometimes it is also added as an emulsifier in the form of soy lecithin, giving the bake an apparent – but rather artificial – appearance of the ‘ideal’ loaf and slowing the rate at which it goes stale.

All of this feels rather unnecessary and goes a long way to explaining why many food lovers feel that white, supermarket bread has lost it’s soul. But does it really matter that they are adding such ingredients to our regular diet? The jury seems to be out. My own instinct tells me that it can’t be good to be consuming something on a daily basis without total awareness on behalf of the consumer.

An online search quickly reveals numerous articles expressing concern and outrage about the dangers of soy and soya phytoestrogens in the diet. Some believe that it can cause problems with thyroid function, even complicate the sexual development of infants. Advice from the governmental bodies seems scarce. The most balanced article that arose during my search is delivered courtesy of Scientific American, 2009. I will leave you with their conclusion and encourage you to carry out your own research before reaching any decision of your own.

Some researchers believe that waiting for proof from long-term human data may come at a price. “The current scientific evidence isn’t enough to say that exposure to these compounds is toxic, but we also can’t say with certainty that there is no effect,” he (Akingbemi) said. Some researchers believe that waiting for proof from long-term human data may come at a price…

…Patisaul compares the effects of genistein to Bisphenol A, or BPA, the estrogenic compound found in plastic bottles that many scientists suspect can harm brain and reproductive development. “Genistein does the same thing and yet we are supposed to be eating tons of it because it’s supposedly healthy—it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Do you have a food issue that you would like highlighted by The Greedy Wordsmith? What are your concerns about preservatives and additives in food today? Please comment in the box below.

#NaNoWriMo Day Two – Fruit gin for Christmas

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

image

This morning I received a request for a post on sloe gin. As the season for sloes – and therefore – sloe gin, is almost passed I have chosen to concentrate day two of #NaNoWriMo on the more generic fruit gin.

Autumn is the perfect time to get ahead with gifts for Christmas by getting busy in the kitchen and putting all that seasonal produce to good use. On top of the array of jam and chutney recipes an online search will reveal many preserves of the more liquid variety in the form of cordial, vinegar and alcohol.

The beauty of fruit gin is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to create excellent results. Whilst I don’t choose the supermarket value gin it’s not necessary to shell out for a luxury brand name either. Add to that the opportunity for picking fruits – such as sloes or blackberries – for free and it is a relatively inexpensive gift for the grown-ups in your circle.

Ingredients

A large clip down jar
350g – 450g of fruits such as sloes, plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackcurrants.
1 litre of gin
200g of caster sugar

Method

1. If you have a hard fruit like plums or sloes prick all over with a fork. Soft fruits can be simply dropped into your jar and ‘puddled’ with the end of a wooden spoon.

2. Tip in your sugar, seal the lid and shake well.

3. Cover the fruit/sugar combination with your gin, seal the lid a second time and shake again gently.

4. Leave to mature. Whilst sloe gin generally requires twelve months to develop, most of the others only need a couple of months. Remember to go back to the concoction every so often and give it a good swirl around.

Simply decant into small bottles to give your fruit gin as a gift or stash in a secret place for private use in times of emergency.

Do you have a hot topic that you would like to see discussed during my food writers nod to #NaNoWriMo? Please add in the comments below.

My #NaNoWriMo day one – World Vegan Day

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

As 1st November also marks World Vegan Day there was a certain inevitability about my first post. Please excuse the photographs as they weren’t intended for public consumption.

As a food writer passionate about our history, the medieval area is a joyous era to begin. You may wonder why I would start a post for World Vegan Day with a time period renowned for its heavy consumption of meat? Despite this carnivorous revelery amongst the rich, it is also true that in the early medieval period at least three out of seven days a week were considered fast days. On these times devout members of the community would abstain from eating meat, dairy and eggs.

As a result of this regular abstention, cookbooks of the period are scattered with receipts suitable for the modern vegan. Many include instructions for making an alternative to milk with almonds, a popular ingredient in a medieval gentry kitchen.

take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed; and take very clean fair water and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue which is fair and clean

Website reference – Medieval Cookery

Ingredientsalmond milk 1

  • 150g almonds
  • hot water for soaking
  • 450ml fresh water
  • sea salt

Method

  1. Place the almonds in a large bowl and cover well with plenty of just boiled water. Note: the almonds in my photographs are blanched, but I now know that you gain a much rounder flavour with almonds still in their skins.
  2. Leave the nuts to soak overnight. Don’t miss out this stage otherwise your almond milk will have an unpleasant bitter flavour.
  3. The following day drain and rinse the almonds clean. Place half of the almonds, a pinch of sea salt and 200ml  fresh water in your blender. Pulse until you have a white emulsification. Pour into a large jug.almond milk 3
  4. Take the second half of your almonds and fresh water and repeat the process, replacing the salt with two teaspoons of honey.
  5. Whisk the two batches together with a fork. If you have time, I find that leaving the milk for another day before straining through a fine sieve can improve the taste even further. Otherwise, strain immediately.

The resulting milk in this recipe is lighter, less cloying than many shop bought versions. However, with no artificial emulsifiers it will seperate over time. This is fine, simply shake before use. It can be applied in exactly the same way; to drink, in puddings or tarts, even savoury dishes. For extra interest, try adding flavours such as cinnamon, saffron or raw cacao powder.

 Do you have a favourite flavouring for your almond milk? Is there a topic that you would like to see covered by The Greedy Wordsmith? Help me find inspiration as I blog every day throughout November.

Is eating meat as harmful as smoking?

This weekend the world awoke to hear that the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) had classified processed meat as carcinogenic. The media worked themselves into a frenzy in their attempts to bring readers the shocking headlines.

“Claims by world health chiefs that processed meats can give you cancer and are as bad for you as smoking cigarettes” – Daily Mail Online

“Processed meats do cause cancer” – WHO – BBC News

It all makes good headline but what is the truth behind this most recent decision from the International Advisory Committee? Can the press release from the International Agency for Research on Cancer shine a light on the nuance of these findings?
On red meat

“…the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence..limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”

The World Health Organisation (W.H.O) acknowledges that evidence is inconclusive. Do these findings mean that we should give up red meat entirely? Probably not. We may want to consider just how much red meat we consume. Recommendations from British cancer charities and the NHS have long stood at 70g per person per day. Whilst it is an important source of protein, B vitamins and heme iron – particularly for those amongst us who are anaemic and struggle to absorb the nonheme iron in plants – 12st century consumers eat more red meat than our ancestors did. Often in direct correlation with a decrease in the amount of vegetables, beans and pulses found on our plates.

 

On processed meat. This is where the IARC classification gets a little more unnerving. In this case, the statement is unwavering in its certainty.

“Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

Group 1 also contains tobacco and asbestos substances, the origin of many claims made in current news headlines.

“Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.”

What does this classification really mean to the man on the street? The statement goes on to say that eating 50g of processed meat can increase the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Figures from the Cancer Research UK state “In 2010, lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer in the UK was 1 in 14 for men and 1 in 19 for women.” Therefore consuming processed meat must increase this figure by one fifth. It is only through understanding the original level of risk that we can comprehend the true dangers of our bacon sandwich.

The press release from the IARC and W.H.O goes on to conclude that the study of data and recent classification was important “because many people worldwide eat meat and meat consumption is increasing in low and middle income countries.” They also recognise that eating small amounts of red meat as part of a balanced diet “has nutritional benefits” and “these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

So what shall I be cooking for myself, family and friends in the future? I honestly don’t believe that much will change in my regular eating habits. Bacon and sausage are a rare treat already, though ham may feature less in my lunchtime sandwiches. My husband and I often pad out meat dishes with vegetables, lentils or chickpeas for extra fibre. As for red meat vs other sources of nutrition, I think that the last word should go to one of my favourite food writers, Micheal Pollan and his book ‘Defence of Food’.
Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”

The New Black – rosehips and honey

There is nothing new except that which is forgotten.

Marie Antoinette

Autumn is the perfect season for foraging as the hedgerows burst forth with elder, bramble and sloes. Amongst these sit an often forgotten bounty of ruby-red wild rose hips, once a very popular crop for those seeking winter nutrition. This member of the Rosaceae family is a relative of apples, quince and the ancient medlar – with many similiar qualities.

rosehips
Rose hips washed, topped and tailed.

From the marauding vikings of the 9th century to school children in World War Two; generations have long been aware of the benefits of consuming the fruits of Rosa Canina. Famously high in Vitamin C they are also an excellent source of Vitamin A, with additional research suggesting that they may deliver beneficial anti-inflammatory properties useful in the treatment of arthritis and heart disease.

The downside to converting your haul into a syrup is the high sugar content required to balance the natural tartness of the hips. In an attempt to address this I have used the less processed (but still a sugar of course) honey. You may question the true content of vitamin C after boiling – my own research shows that the cooking process only destroys around 15%. A lower sugar preserve will not last as long but can be frozen; a process which also has no discernible impact on the vitamin C.

Notes on picking – wait until the hips are dark red in colour and soft enough to pull off the plant easily. Make sure that they are not in a spot that is regularly sprayed with weedkiller and wash them thoroughly before use.

wpid-imag1005.jpg
Roughly chopped hips ready for boiling.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of foraged rosehips
  • 1 1/2 litres of water
  • 340g jar of honey

Method

  1. Wash your rose hips well and pinch off the top and bottom with your fingers. Rinse again. Rough chop with a sharp knife. (See picture above.)
  2. Place the hips and water in a large pan. Bring to the boil and reduce to a slow simmer for approximately 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside for about an hour.
  3. After an hour sieve the juice into a large jug and discard the rose hips.
  4. Strain the juice again through a piece of muslin or an old tea towel. Repeat to ensure that the tiny little hairs from inside the rose hips are thoroughly removed.
  5. Clean your pan and return the orange pink juice with around 100g of the honey. Warm through, stirring continously until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste.
syrups
From left to right; damson cordial, hedgerow cordial and rose hip syrup.

6. If the syrup is still too sharp add more honey and continue until you are happy with the flavour. I find that about 150g – 170g of honey will usually suffice. Decant the finished syrup into bottles whilst still hot.

Add your rose hip syrup to hot water and lemon; dilute with sparkling water for a refreshing long drink or drizzle onto porridge an a cold, frosty morning.

Save

Unchained – Local Food delivered with passion.

The passion for food often starts at a young age and this can certainly be said of Louise Brogan Hewitt, owner of Love to Eat and Brownie Mail. Whilst many of us hold fond memories of childhood baking with Mum and Dad, few can say they made their own 8th birthday cake.

This enthusiasm led Louise to a degree in Hospitality and Business Management. After working in the field for a few years and taking a year out to travel abroad she began to feel limited in her role as an employee. In 2008 support from The Princes trust enabled her to set out independently, so the first incarnation of Love to Eat was born.

“Initially Love to Eat was an outside catering company. I wanted to develop a business where I could express my own values, not be tied into that of my employer. It was about moving away from a few sandwiches on silver trays and offering a more exciting choice.”

Louise happily ran her new enterprise alongside working part time until personal circumstances created an abrupt change in living arrangements and – as a home run business – the base for Love to Eat. After spotting the premises that would go on to be the home Love to Eat customers love, Louise approached the bank for a business loan and nervously signed the lease for five years.

lovetoeatteamThis July saw the renewal of the lease and the opportunity to move the business up a notch. Louise has seen a great response to their ethos of good food, locally sourced and at an affordable price. The friendly team give the cafe a relaxed atmosphere where nearby residents can relax and socialise.

“I want to show that local, seasonal and even organic food doesn’t have to be expensive. We aim to be approachable, no food snobbery.”

So what next for this thriving local cafe? Louise has recently engaged with a scheme called Entrepreneurial Spark; a Leeds based idea offering structured mentorship and support for business both in the start-up and growth stages of development.

brownie pic 2“It is time for a more grown up version of Love to Eat. We still offer outside catering services and I am in the process of developing a new way of getting our popular brownies to customers who are further afield.” (Brownie Mail) “I would like to see Love to Eat become further involved in helping the community which supports it.”

If you would like to hear more about Love to Eat or are interested in engaging any of their services you can contact the team at info@lovetoeat.co.uk. Catch them on social media at the links below.

Twitter   Facebook   Website

Do you live in the Acomb, Dringhouses or Woodthorpe areas of York? Are you a regular customer at Love to Eat? Perhaps you have a favourite cafe hiding in your side of the city? I am always interested to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.

Product review – A cleaner, better world?

Please note: I never accept payment for reviews given on The Greedy Wordsmith blog, allowing me to provide you with an honest and unbiased opinion.

wpid-imag1009.jpgOccasionally I receive an invitation to carry out a review on behalf of a local business. These are usually for cafes or festivals and I always insist they be done without financial incentive so that I can maintain the integrity of any given opinion. Last week I was approached by Gideon Innovations to write a review of their latest cleaning product, bravely named One Off. Armed with the knowledge that I can’t be paid for a positive critique they handed me a bottle and instructed me to do my worst.

Now, as a food writer my kitchen requires regular cleaning. I often wing my way through an emerging recipe with feverish passion and little practical thought; leaving a chaotic scene behind me. Once the creative moment has passed reality sets in and I am left with the grinding task of tidying up. On top of this I have a real bee in my hair net about the ridiculous marketing tactics used by many companies in this field. I hate the way we are made to feel that our houses and, in fact we, are dirty and dangerous without the latest bacteria killing formula.

There are no such claims on the bottle of One Off – in my opinion – a good start. One Off is normally provided in concentrated form, allowing the user to dilute according to the task in hand. The website advises that I can use it on everything from carpets to the car bonnet with kitchen surfaces and the bathroom suite in between. My sample comes in ready diluted form, to what strength I am unsure.

I choose to begin in the bathroom. Most bathroom cleaners offer a comforting foamy consistency and a bright, ‘cleaning product’ scent. The One Off is clear in colour with no lather which is initially disconcerting. This lack of body is not representative of its abilities however and I quickly run through the usual tasks of bath, sink and floor. I also noted that it seemed particularly effective on the taps and shower head.

wpid-imag1005.jpg
Rosehips ready for boiling, straining and mixing with honey. A typically messy job.

With no emergency stains on the carpet to attack, I move to the kitchen hob and recently stained sink. After a weekend of jam and chutney making the area is definitely in need of a good scrub. I spray the hob top in anticipation of a mammoth task before turning my attention to the fruit stained sink. It quickly removed the stains and once again I am impressed with the shine on the taps. One Off also makes short work of the baked on detritus on the hob top with only a little scrubbing, leaving a kitchen friendly scent that is not overpowering.

So how does all of this help you save the world? The development of One Off is motivated by more than simply introducing yet another cleaning product onto the market. Gideon Innovations hope to persuade you that this is the only product you require. By designing a solution that comes in concentrated form – to be diluted according to requirements – they aim to prevent the number of plastic bottles in circulation and change the way we think about cleaning our homes. The website claims that using One Off will “help the end user to retrain or reset the concept of domestic chemical use” in its multi purpose application.

In summary, this is a product that I would recommend, not only because of its performance but because of the care and consideration demonstrated in the company message.

Rating out of ****

  • Value for money ***
  • Performance ****
  • Smell/Appearance ****
  • Overall****

Unchained – A quick lunch with the man

Looking forward to the chance to cook and relax this weekend, the man and I popped by Bishopthorpe road and the excellent M and K butchers. The quest for game complete (partridge and rabbit to be exact) we decided to drop in for a cup of tea at the much celebrated Puddin & Pie.

Despite hearing a lot about this Bishy road stalwart I had not yet taken the opportunity to sample from their menu. We had hardly stepped through the door when the man realised the meaning behind the name. Pie. Mash. Gravy.

wpid-imag0900.jpgWe didn’t really need persuading to stay for more than a pot of Yorkshire builders. I opted for the tempting lamb, chickpea and chorizo whilst the man plumped for the more traditional chicken and leek. There is a choice of mash, peas and gravy in all it’s combinations and two vegetarian options for committed herbivores.

Our waitress told us that the pies were all sourced from Toms Pies in Devon. The menu informs diners that additional ingredients are sourced nearby and the whole cafe has a comfortable feel of a place catering to a local community. Our meal was tasty, satisfying and just the right size for a day time meal; leaving you full but not overwhelmed. With prices around the £5.00 to £7.00 mark Puddin & Pie offer an excellent value lunch that will not dissapoint.

Gingerbread spice and all things nice….

In the last of this trinity of York Food and Drink festival updates I share my favourite spice mix for adding a touch of the medieval to your baking. Whilst it is fantastic applied to a modern gingerbread biscuit like the one mentioned in my Christmas 2014 History Girls blog, feel free to throw it into a traditional shortbread, apple pie or even rub all over your favourite roasting joint before popping it in the oven.wpid-wp-1437388669949.jpeg

1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 tablepoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves