Every week my husband and I do a “takeaway” dinner where we make our own takeaway-style food at home – and for the last couple of weeks this has been to try to perfect the gourmet burger experience at home. We are both rather partial to onion rings and we’ve gone through several recipes already, none of which worked particularly well, which we put down to the fact that we don’t have a deep fat fryer (and so were using a wok filled with about 1.5 inches of oil). However, I think we’ve now found a great onion ring recipe here.
The main recommendation arising would be to use half an onion – even though we love onion rings a lot, one onion serves many more than just us two! The rest of the onion can go into whatever mince mix is done for the burgers. Secondly, when draining them on kitchen roll, don’t stack them as the ones underneath will get soggy. That’s it, no more recommendations – the recipe is a winner!
Christmas is now 5 days away – and if you’ve been super organised you’re all set! However, many online retailers now don’t guarantee delivery by Christmas unless you upgrade to next-day delivery. If you don’t want to face the high street, or pay over the odds for delivery (which may still fail – the number of stories I’ve heard!), or if you’re reading this on Christmas Eve itself, you still have options for Christmas gifts for the foodies in your life.
Get to a supermarket for your ingredients and spend an afternoon making some presents (here are some suggestions from another post). This year the hamper for my immediate family is going to consist of:
- Pru Leith’s Gingerbread (a staple every year),
- Ginger & Lemon Cordial,
- Triple Choc Chip Cookies,
- foie gras (this year I’m doing this spiced recipe which goes well with toasted slices of gingerbread, as well as doing my staple fig and port version – recipe to come),
- and possibly… nougat (I’ve heard it is a tricky thing to make, so we’ll see if it makes it in to the hamper!).
The other alternative is to buy a voucher – the bonus here is that these can frequently be printed immediately so you can get these right up to the last minute. This also means that the recipient can not only choose their preferred things, but can generally take advantage of the January sales, so making your money go further! Some ideas especially for foodies include:
Non-organic methods of farming are a recent invention – for millennia, humans have been farming and producing crops using natural pesticides and fertilisers, and have not traditionally given antibiotics to cattle. However, in the drive to increase yields and maximise profits, as well as to avoid famines, non-organic methods have become the norm. Organic foods cost more than non-organic foods – it is a simple equation that organic farms have lower yields than non-organic farms and higher labour costs, so have to sell at a higher price. In our recent tough times paying over the odds is particularly difficult to stomach (puns always intended!). While there is little scientific evidence to support the nutritional benefits of only eating organic foods (2010 review study), I think it is just common sense that we should try to avoid exposure to various chemicals which aren’t strictly necessary. This is why the USA Environmental Working Group’s annual list of dirty dozen foods is rather important (as well as their two extra “plus” foods which are nearly at the level for inclusion). You can therefore hedge your bets a bit if your budget allows a little leeway.
Foods on the Dirty Dozen list
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Hot Peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Red peppers (bell peppers)
and on the plus list:
- Kale/Collard Greens
However, this is a list on foods for sale in the USA and should be taken with caution by those in the UK (like I am). Since the UK imports 95% of its organic foods, mostly from Europe (BBC news article from 2010), this is still therefore relevant to the debate, as you then get into the carbon footprint issues of food miles. Organic foods are not necessarily local after all. If you’re more concerned with your own personal intake of chemicals and less about the environmental impact of transportation, then this list can be argued to be relevant still due to the likelihood that the major pests these particular crops are susceptible to are quite universal, especially when taking into account that some of these foods have skins which tend towards absorbing the chemicals more readily.
What particularly shocked me about the UK rules for organic produce is that they’re so vague – there is no guarantee that only organic methods have been used at all. Until as recently as 2011, chicken feed was allowed to include some (5%) non-organic feed, which had been reduced from a higher number of 20% in previous years (same BBC news article as above). Antibiotics are still allowed to be used when an animal is ill – although I couldn’t find information about how that ill animal would be treated after they’d had their antibiotics on the Soil Association Website (Would they be segregated from the rest to prevent spread of infection? If they are a dairy cow, would they still be milked? If so, how would that milk be treated/labelled? If they were shortly to be slaughtered, would they be kept to the side and labelled as non-organic? Or would they keep their organic label?). There is also a list of allowed non-organic items which can make up 5% of a supposedly organic product – is it just me, or does that sound like a cop out?
I have only recently started buying some organic fruit and veg – mostly due to finding out about the Dirty Dozen List last year. However, with meat I have always tended to go more for the food miles and free range issues – although I’m now considering going organic with them as well, but won’t until I hear either some stronger evidence supporting organic food, or some stronger rules ensuring organic actually means organic.
- The Organic Food Shopper’s Guide (Amazon.co.uk link; Amazon.com link)
- The Organic Cook’s Bible (Amazon.co.uk link; Amazon.com link)
I’ve been planning my Christmas food this last week – and having concerns over how much high-calorie food there will be in the house which may prove disastrous to my weight management goals. However, in the interests of preventing the average weight gain of 2kg (or 5lbs in old money), I’ve put together a list of my top tips to help bolster your intentions.
- Use smaller plates – studies have found that eating from a smaller plate makes us feel more satisfied than the same amount on a larger one. Coming from a generation of children who were taught to clean the plate otherwise there would be no pudding, I’m very used to getting through everything on the plate I’m given.
- Don’t pile things high – especially when there is a buffet! I’m guilty of piling things high on occasion – and mostly it is because I didn’t look at all the things available when I’m serving myself – so completely misjudging how much space there is on the plate and how many dishes there are to try out. Start small, then go back for seconds if there are any left… (or you can do what some people do and have a good look at everything on display before joining the queue so you know what you want to save some space for).
- Plan ahead – try to plan in some lighter meals amongst the overly rich meals that may be on offer this season. I’ve got some hot winter salads planned around the necessary ham, goose and beef days… (I’m also thinking about doing some Gazpacho – my version is effectively an intense salad puree which I seem to crave to offset all the fat and starch around this time of year).
- Exercise – if all else fails, find some high-intensity workouts (at your appropriate fitness level of course) to offset the intake. I am fond of kickboxing workouts as they seem to work well for me, but there is an interesting trend of 1000 calorie workouts – here’s one on youtube which I might try – which would make you feel all saintly again!
- Watch the booze – empty calories and hangovers! I tend to volunteer to be the driver so I don’t look like a wimp because I don’t want to drink very much – I resent the wasted calories and get horrendous hangovers these days so feel rubbish the entire next day. I also think that when I’m not allowed very much (perhaps one glass with lunch) I enjoy it more.
The meringues before they all went wrong – I used a new brand of greaseproof paper which wasn’t particularly greaseproof and they stuck!
When meringues go wrong Eton Mess is the usual “save”. This happened to me recently, but I have found a new recipe that makes it look like it was deliberate to have chunks of broken meringue.
The Chocolate Meringue Semifreddo from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is easy, delicious and makes a lovely change from Eton Mess. Just remember to pretend it was deliberate…
I’ve just opened the first window on my first advent calendar since I was at school – I saw the Montezuma’s Advent Calendar on sale on Ocado and went for it! (although I see it is out of stock at the time of writing, it is available on Montezuma’s website at 25% off). I am definitely in favour of calendars with quality chocolate in them – I don’t see the point in wasting calories on chocolate which is lower in quality!
The Lindt Milk Calendar looked interesting – but I prefer dark chocolate if at all possible, so the entirely milk chocolate selection didn’t quite tempt me enough. The Lindt Dark Calendar tempted me a lot until I saw the price! It is cheaper on the Lindt website, but you then have to add nearly £4 shipping and having to be in for the postal delivery (as opposed to being able to pick a slot with online shopping).
I very much like the idea (next year) of getting a reusable advent calendar and filling it myself with Dark Lindor Truffles or Dark Ferrero Rocher (I am still in mourning that these don’t come in their own box anymore, and you have to get the milk and white ones too).
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to be organised, you end up with more produce than you can get through before it goes off. Today, that happened to be bananas that ripened faster than usual – I had 9 bananas needing to be eaten immediately. Here is what I did with them:
- two were immediately blended with 400ml milk for two banana milkshakes
- two were sliced and frozen in a freezer bag for a frozen smoothie at some point in the future
- the remaining five were sliced thinly and baked in the oven at 100 degrees C for three hours to be banana chips for snacks