DKN UK

Goodbye from the BBC Food blog

The chocolate mints have been passed, the brandies have been quaffed and now it’s time to say goodbye to the BBC Food blog.

The blog is closing and will no longer be updated after this post closes for comments in two weeks.

Thank you to those that have read the blog, shared it and posted comments. We’ve really enjoyed discussing your kitchen conundrums and reading your recipe ideas.

But now we are making an adjustment to the way we publish. We are using a different (more flexible) article template to publish stories where we’ll continue to explore the way we eat now: investigating new (and old) ingredients, interviewing chefs and food producers, and examining the science and history of food.

In the future, comment and analysis articles, similar to those posted in the BBC Food blog, will be published in these templates, and can be found from the BBC Food homepage.

This change will enable us to do what the BBC Food blog has always set out to do, but more effectively.
We’re still available for a natter on Twitter (@BBCFood) and on Pinterest.

Thank you again for all your contributions,

Emily

BBC Food producer

Confessions of a gadget junkie

The other day I was given a bean slicer by a kind friend who couldn’t believe I still sliced my runner beans by hand. I bought some and eagerly set to work only to find that most of the beans were too big to fit into it. Which left me with a gadget that will slice thin beans which don’t really need slicing anyway.

It’s not the only gadget I’ve got that doesn’t earn its keep. There’s an egg separator, a hard-boiled egg slicer and a musical egg-timer you pop in the boiling water which plays 'Killing me softly' when the eggs are soft-boiled. My husband inexplicably loves that.

Slow cooker beef

Gadget proof? Would your slow cooker come out of the cupboard for this beef brisket ?

I have a gravy de-greaser and a cherry and olive stoner that I use once a year, if that. A lemon zester (what’s wrong with the small holes on the grater?) and a gadget for stamping out ravioli that I bought on an Italian trip when I went mad in a local hardware store. And this I haven’t ever used - along with a gnocchi roller.

At least they don’t take up much room. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about the larger gadgets that clutter my cupboards and unit tops.

The breadmaker I haven’t used for five years. The juicer I used every day until I got fed up with carrot juice - and with cleaning the filter. The ice cream maker whose bowl I always forget to freeze so I end up using a plastic box. Two, yes, two pressure cookers neither of which I use but which thrifty friends tell me will slash my fuel bills if I can overcome my terror of them.

The slow cooker which does, yes, do a very good poached chicken but to be honest I prefer them roasted. And even my flashy and very beautiful mixer rarely gets a workout. I’m more likely to use the rather battered food processor I bought for a song at Woolies. Or my 15 year old hand-held electric beaters.

Maybe I’m in a minority because some companies seem to base whole businesses on selling gadgets to the gadget-obsessed. Avocado slicers, pasta timers, egg toppers (for taking the tops of your eggs, believe it or not), hot and cold mousse/sauce dispensers and giant cupcake pans (er, isn’t that called a cake tin?)  Obviously I haven’t even scratched the surface of kitchen gadgetry.

Sometimes I think I should get rid of the lot and start again, seeing how long it took me to really, really miss a machine or a gadget and how difficult it was to do the task without it.

So what about you? Which kitchen gadgets do you find indispensable and which could you live without?

Why don't we eat more cauliflower?

If there’s one dish that reminds me of childhood home, it’s cauliflower cheese. My mum was a reluctant cook so cauliflower cheese became our staple diet – every day for high tea. We washed it down with weak tea and Women’s Institute cake. Actually, mum did a pretty good job: unlike the cooks at school who turned cauliflower into grey mush, she never overcooked it. And she lavished the magical tree-like florets with generous amounts of cheese-rich sauce.

So I’m sad to hear that we Brits no longer want to eat this wonderfully eccentric-looking vegetable. Sales have dropped around 35% over the past decade, and last year, nearly half of British households didn’t buy a single cauliflower. In short, if we don’t start buying this snowy brassica again, growers are now warning it could soon become extinct.

Cauliflower cheese

 

The reason I’m fighting to keep cauliflower on our tables - apart from bringing back tender childhood memories – is its sheer versatility. It’s crunchily delicious eaten raw in a salad with plenty of lemon, in fritters, or as a pretty crudité to dunk into delicious dips. It combines brilliantly with spices, green beans, cucumbers and courgettes to make a piccalilli, and is amazing in a curry. Cauli is nice roasted too. And few things pair better with fresh scallops than a silky smooth cauliflower purée.

Going back to cauliflower cheese, there are plenty of things you can do to pep it up. Add mustard and use a tasty British cheese such as a Lincolnshire Poacher, as in the cauli cheese that James Martin serves up with griddled pork chops and cabbage. Or sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs, mixed with a hard cheese like Parmesan, to form a crunchy crust. Or adorn your dish with a few crispy bacon rashers.

The awful weather has made life extra difficult for farmers cultivating cauliflower, devilish to grow at the best of times. But in its favour, it’s one of the few vegetables that can be grown in Britain all year round, and unlike veg such as tomatoes, doesn’t need greenhouses or polytunnels to flourish. By eating cauliflower rather than imported veg, we help British farmers and save food miles. Before the last struggling growers throw in the trowel, I reckon it’s time to give cauliflower another chance. Do you agree?

Championing cauliflower

Try turning cauli florets into fritters, as in this simple cauliflower fritters starter from The Hairy Bikers. Serve with roast garlic and paprika aioli.

Raw florets are perfect dipped into a Bagna cauda of garlic and anchovies.

Use cauliflower in Rick Stein's piccalilli, guaranteed to spice up cold meats.

Cauliflower and scallops are a marriage made in heaven, as in John Burton Race’s Pan-fried scallops with cauliflower chips, cauliflower purée and gremolata dressing.

Or try the Hairy Bikers’ take on the same partnering in seared scallops with pancetta and cauliflower pureé.

How do you like your cauliflower?

Cake: man v machine

As part of our on-going series on the kitchen gadgets that really count, this time our eye turns to cakes. Discussions in the office pit me against the rest of the team who believe an electric hand whisk is an essential piece of kit when making cakes. I remonstrate that people were making cakes long before we had electricity in our houses, but they insist: cakes are just better when an electric whisk is used. Time to find out…

 
Mary Berry's Victoria sponge cake

Mary Berry's Victoria sandwich is a baking classic and highly rated by users of BBC Food. 

The set up
A basic sponge recipe is needed so that we can easily assess any differences in texture, taste and appearance. Moist cakes such as fudgy chocolate cake and carrot cake have more tolerance for slip-ups than simple sponges, so I decide to plump for the classic Victoria sponge. Mary Berry’s perfect Victoria sandwich is our highest-rated sponge cake recipe so, knowing the recipe works, it seems a sensible choice.

The electric hand whisked method
This method has one step: tip everything into a bowl and go at it with an electric whisk. I can’t believe it’s going to work, but it does. It really does. I made cakes for years without an electric whisk, so it is ingrained in my consciousness that making cakes means beating the living daylights out the butter, furiously whisking eggs in individually and carefully folding in flour. But in just a couple of minutes, the batter is as smooth, glossy and aerated as it would have been after half an hour’s elbow grease.

The hand mixed method
Dare I disobey the doyenne of baking? The rules of the test are that we following the same recipe method exactly with precisely the same ingredients, but I know for certain that the tip it all in and mix method will not work well without the oomph of an electric whisk. I decide to cheat ever-so-slightly and cream the butter and sugar together before adding everything else. Working this way really doesn’t take very long either. The mixing time is double that of the electric method but when you’re only talking about a couple of minutes, that hardly matters. And the batter looks the same, but the purpose of mixing the ingredients isn’t just to incorporate them – it’s to add the air bubbles which vastly improve the texture of the cake. 

The finshed cakes side-by-side.
 

Spot the difference: the hand-made cake (left) and the one made using an electric whisk (right).

Results
In the bake, both cakes rise well (though the hand-beaten sponge rises a little inconsistently) and before they are cut you can’t spot the difference. When you cut into it that all changes: the crumb is obviously softer in the cake made using the electric whisk and, on eating, the texture is far superior. It just melts in your mouth the way a good cake really should and the flavour is better, just a touch more buttery.

I’m genuinely impressed at the results you can achieve by throwing all the ingredients into a bowl and mixing with an electric hand whisk. Even after I invested in one I continued to beat, whisk and fold because I thought that was necessary to get the best result – but there’s really no need. In fact, the only disadvantage of using an electric hand whisk is that it is possible to overbeat the batter resulting in a flat cake, which is highly unlikely to happen when mixing by hand.

 
slices of cake

A piece of cake: the cake made with the electric whisk (left) has a much lighter texture.

Making a cake without an electric mixer? I know from experience that great cakes can be made without an electric whisk, but you’ll need plenty of time and a strong arm. There are no shortcuts if you’re working by hand. Here are some tips:

  • Choose your recipe carefully (you need one that makes the batter in stages) and make sure your butter is really soft before you start (according to McGee on Food & Cooking the optimum temperature is 18C/65F, but for the sake of your arm muscles aim to get it as soft as possible without it being melted).
  • For the best results, you’ll need a hand whisk of some description for mixing in the eggs (a cheap balloon whisk is perfectly adequate) though you can use a wooden spoon if that’s all you have.
  • If possible use a heavy bowl to help prevent it slipping around while you’re working (alternatively place a damp cloth under the bowl).
  • Cream the butter and sugar together for as long as you can manage. Old cookery books tell tales of this taking up to 30 minutes, though it’s not necessary to take it quite so far, it does prove a point.
  • Whisk in your eggs individually, taking a good few minutes over each one. Add a little flour if the batter starts to split.
  • Finally, carefully fold the sifted flour into the batter in a few batches.

Try these recipes and be prepared to put your back into it:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/victoriasponge_13555
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/victoriaspongewithst_90309
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/lemon_drizzle_cake_with_90476

Outdoor entertaining Moro-style

With hopefully a few weeks of summer to eke out, I got thinking about how to manage outdoor cooking and eating in a more effortless and stylish way than I have in the past.

When the sun suddenly shines and I decide to throw an impromptu barbecue, it's often the same food that I reach for – sausages, whole mackerel, courgettes halved lengthways and brushed with olive oil; all fine food but it's time for something new.

Barbecue food

So who better to ask than Sam and Sam Clark of award-winning restaurant Moro in London? They will be cooking at this weekend’s Wilderness Festival where food is arguably the headlining act (the line-up of chefs also includes Yottam Ottolenghi, Fergus Henderson and Valentine Warner).

Not only are they facing the challenge of cooking for around a thousand hungry and discerning festival-goers on barbecues, they also have a vast experience of outdoor cooking from a three-month culinary honeymoon spent driving their campervan through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara, to the numerous feasts they cooked on their allotment immortalised in their third book, Moro East.

Cooking outdoors
Sam(antha) Clark shared her tips for eating in the great outdoors as inspired by their travels. "Food seems to taste better outside,” she says. "On Sunday in Spain there is a great tradition of driving to the countryside (campo) to have a picnic. Most natural parks provide permanent barbecues to cook on."

"Keep it seasonal and simple but with fresh, bold flavours. We often cook paella outside for large parties; there is a bit of theatre involved that is a talking point of the party and when ready, it looks stunning."

The Moro team will be using two simple drum barbecues to recreate the flavours of Moro in the wilds of Oxfordshire; but they've even been known to use an old wheelbarrow. After stumbling upon an abandoned one with a flat tyre at their allotment, they couldn't resist turning it into an impromptu grill to prepare Mechouia, a Tunisian dish of smoky-grilled vegetables scented with spices.

 
Tunisian smoky-grilled vegetables

So whether you have a barbecue, fire pit, or even an old wheelbarrow, you're halfway there. Sam says: "marinated lamb chops on a barbecue work brilliantly. Finish with ground cumin and paprika and a wedge of lemon like we serve at our tapas bar Morito".

If you have time, marinate the lamb for up to 24 hours. Moro's classic marinade for lamb and chicken is a potent mixture of garlic, lemon, hot and sweet smoked paprikas, ground cumin and olive oil. The smoky notes of the paprika mingle with smoke from the barbecue to give an intense flavour.

Cook in/eat out
Another approach is to prepare as much as you can in advance, using the reliable and controlled environment of your kitchen. Choose dishes that will hold well, such as a selection of mezze or tapas; perhaps white bean or beetroot hummus, or roasted vegetable salad served at room temperature.

Sam Clark is a little more ambitious: "the food I would most like to eat at an outdoor party would be a whole sea trout or sea bass baked in salt with new potatoes, green mayonnaise, young broad beans from the garden and samphire."

If podding broad beans seems like too much work, pile them up in the centre of the table and empower guests to pod their own. Add a young pecorino cheese for a Tuscan touch, or some slices of Iberico ham the way the Clarks encountered it in Spain. "We can't think of any better early-summer lunch than chatting while podding the sweet young beans and eating them with mouthfuls and jamon and a glass of cold fino," they wrote in Moro East.

Picnics or camping
"If it's for a picnic, or to take camping, a tortilla works really well," says Sam, "try a simple one with caramelised onions and potato, or be more seasonal with courgettes and a bit of fresh mint." This also goes well served with a few slices of jamón, or make it go further by serving thick slices in white country-style bread or a baguette. An impromptu pudding of fresh strawberries doused in sweet wine such as Moscatel makes a transportable yet decadent dessert.

And finally, don't forget the setting. Moro will be serving their feasts in a "glorious technicolour berber marquee". If this sounds a little beyond your own one-man tent then you can still add a pinch of Moorish magic. Burn tealights in Moroccan glasses, dump the paper plates in favour of some good china and proper cutlery, or forget plates altogether and use flatbreads warmed over the coals instead. Serve chilled glasses of dry sherry or fresh mint tea made with water from your camping kettle, stare into the dying embers of your portable barbecue and allow the scent of burning coals to transport you to distant lands. 

What do you make for al fresco dining? Any great tips on recipes, table settings or camping strategies?

In praise of British butter

When it comes to dairy, the French are commonly considered the best producers in the world, with some regions being given the protection of AOP status. And when we’re looking for something special to smear on our bread we reach out for French products, because they’re the best. Right? Well, maybe not.

As the Isigny AOP butter website puts it “How do we explain the fact that gourmets favour Isigny butter? It is simple! The Isigny terroir has the advantage of a mild, damp climate”. Mmm, remind you of anything? The British climate is nothing if not mild and damp - so why aren’t our dairy products held in equally high esteem?

Butter

British: you can't put a better bit of butter on your knife.

There are lots of fabulous butters available in the UK and you don’t have to look far to find them: most supermarkets stock butter from small, local producers and typically the price will be less than that of the big-brand butters. So you can support small businesses and dairies, pay less and most probably get a better tasting product – what’s not to like?

The UK’s mild summers punctuated with frequent bouts of drizzle produce green and pleasant lands that are perfect for dairy production. The best cream comes from dairy cows grazed in meadows, so climate is crucial because it affects what will grow in the fields and therefore what the cow eats. And a cow’s diet has a marked effect on the flavour of butter.

Industrial scale butter production involves extracting small amounts of cream from whey, a by-product of cheese-making, and cultures are then added to the cream to improve longevity. Continuous churns are used, with the capacity to produce 22,000 lb of butter per hour. It results in a consistent if perhaps uninspiring product, but there are still companies around making butter the old fashioned way.

 “[Large manufactures] add cultures to the cream to make it last longer. But ours doesn’t have any of that in it because it’s good quality milk so it lasts anyway,” says Linda Weeks, who’s been running Netherend Farm Butter in Gloucestershire with her husband, Wyndham, for over 30 years. They are one of many licensed organic producers in the UK, all seeking to provide high quality products in what has become a difficult market.

Their butter is made in small batches using a churn. “There’s an art to it,” says Wyndham “you know when it’s ready because it starts banging in the churn”. They’ve won many accolades from chefs and food writers in recent years, but seem slightly bemused by the attention their product is garnering, having always made it the same way. “A few years ago more chefs started wanting to use English produce and it gained in popularity,” says Wyndham. Netherend Farm's success proves that excellent butter is produced in this country, just as it always has been.

pastry, scones, sponge cake and buttercream icing

 

What to look for in a butter
If you are making flaky pastry a high fat content (or, more specifically, a low moisture content) is considered an advantage. However, any butter you buy in the UK will have a fat content of between 80-83% - so the difference really is incremental. This is why spreads cannot be used in place of butter in baking but margarine can be – the fat content of spread is usually around 70% fat, whereas margarine has a fat content similar to butter. 

Flavour, however, does vary. Butter is undoubtedly best when made from the milk of free-range cows. Organic definitely pays dividends. And the fresher the cream, the better the butter. But it all boils down to taste, so try different butters and see what you prefer. There’s definitely no need to rely on mass-produced, imported butters.

Make it at home
Butter is made from pasteurised cream with a fat content of around 40%. This is agitated or churned to separate the liquid from the fat. Prills of fat are formed in a liquid (buttermilk) which is then drained off.  The remaining prills of fat are then thoroughly washed (to improve the taste and extend the shelf life of the butter) and worked to create a smooth texture before salt is added and the butter is shaped.

If you’ve ever over-whipped cream when making a desert, then you were well on your way to making butter. Though breaking the fat molecules from the water is easy, you still need to strain the buttermilk and clean the remaining butter effectively, and that’s what is difficult to do at home. Any buttermilk lingering in the fat runs the risk of producing a ‘cheesy’ taste. It’s a fun experiment to do with children though, and you need nothing more than a whisk and a tub of cream.

Have you ever tried to make butter at home? What do you look for in a butter?

Bread: man v machine

Set up

I set out to test the results of making bread at home, with a bread machine and by hand. These are the rules of engagement. I start with the “baker’s percentage” as my recipe for making bread by hand and using a bread machine: 100% flour, 60% water, 2% salt, 2% yeast (in this case: 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast for 500g flour). No milk powder, no fat, no wholemeal. Just good quality organic strong white bread flour.
 

Bread machine and hand-made loaf

Bread machine v handmade: Pamela Anderson v Pam Ayres

 

Round 1

I place all the ingredients, in the right order, in the bread machine. Make my option selections: basic bread, large size, regular bake. The machine is silent and shows me the four hour countdown. Unnervingly it sits there. Silent. I decide to get on with making the other dough.

I quickly realise when making dough by hand that the 300ml (to 500g flour) I’d measured out for my loaf isn’t quite enough; the dough is dry and in danger of being knotty. I must be all of 10ml short, but it matters. This is impossible to gauge for the bread machine, as I never get my hands on the dough, but I assume its mechanical arms will cope with a stiffer dough. Nevertheless I chuck in an extra 10ml to be safe.
I knead the dough by hand and feel as it slowly becomes smoother, more elastic and springier to the touch. I work the dough for 20 minutes, and am left unconvinced that I’ve done enough; it’s not the silken, stretchy piece of lycra you’re told to expect. It’s more porridge-y. But I successfully apply the window test (stretching the dough as thinly as possible, without it tearing, so you can clearly see light through it), and figure it’s had enough (as much as I’m willing to give it). It looks beautiful, bouncy, and has a baby’s bum quality to it. I leave it alone for its first prove.
Meanwhile, the taciturn machine has started making sounds. Soft washing sounds as the machine kneads the dough. It’s surprisingly quiet, and makes a surprisingly nice sound. I leave the kitchen to its soft swooshing and the rising of the hand-made dough.
One and a half hours later, the hand-made dough has risen well. I knock it back and shape it. I haven’t used any excess flour when kneading, and the loaf is quite dry, not sticky at all. I shape it and place it in a tin for the second prove, but wonder about the dryness, shaping to dough has left folds in the underside of the loaf, rather than it amalgamating. We’ll just have to see when it’s risen and baked.

The read-out on the machine says 2hrs 20min remaining. Taciturn.

The second prove on the hand-made bread takes another 1½ hours, so we are level-pegging in time with the bread machine. I place the proved loaf in the oven and bake for 10 minutes at 220C/425F/Gas 7 then lower the temperature to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and bake for a further 40 minutes. By this time the kitchen is filled with the competing smells of the baking loaves.

Beep, beep, beep, beep. Bread machine done. Bip, bip, bip, bip. Oven timer clocking off. Both loaves come out. And the results are in.
Hand-made loaf: looks like a hand-made loaf.
Bread machine: loaf looks like an orc.

Disappointing hand-made loaf and misshapen bread machine loaf

Hand-made (left), bread machine orc loaf (right)

 After cooling and cutting it becomes even more apparent that something is amiss in both camps. Hand-made loaf has not had enough time in the oven, it’s too doughy and dense.  I’m haunted by its earlier dryness. For the orc loaf, I cast my eye over the ‘troubleshooting guide’ in the bread machine manual. ‘Uneven surface?’ You betcha. Possible explanation: too dry. So the extra mechanical dough kneading arms didn’t sort out an even more fundamental problem that this dough was just too dry. This is not food fit to feed our loved ones.

 

Round 2

With the ‘control’ out of the way, it’s time to work out how to get some decent results. I deploy the timer device on the bread machine, to bake the bread overnight. This is genius. I pop in all the ingredients, moving swiftly away from baker’s percentages and following the recipe in the manual to the gram. There’s a greater percentage of water (360ml water to 550g flour). And some fat, and some sugar, but nothing to scare the horses.
I rework a hand-made loaf, with fresh flour and more water, and steel myself during the second prove so there is more rise in the dough before baking it. It’s almost lolling over the edges of the tin. The results are better.
The bread machine version however has gone hyper. Mega-puffed, super bouncy, Pamela Anderson in a loaf! It’s like commercial bread, without the additives.

Taste test

Bread machine: light airy crumb, crisp thin crust. Consensus (with colleagues) was that there was a sweetness to the crust (from the sugar) and we liked the sheen on the crumb from the fat. Taste-wise it was less flavourful than the handmade, which might be a good thing for children. Soft texture when eaten. Ideal spread with jam.
Hand-made: reasonably airy crumb, sweet chewy crust. Denser and more matte crumb than the bread machine, but a better aroma and fuller taste. Quintessentially tasted like bread, with a toasty scent from the crust. Brilliant for sandwiches, would provide a good counterpart for other flavours without dominating the flavour nor getting lost. Firm texture when eaten.

Conclusions

I was completely won over with the ease of the bread machine, but its aesthetics aren’t great. Loaves with large imprints on the sides and holes where the kneading paddles have been, takes some of the joy out of a loaf. But if you’ve got a bread-hungry household (packed lunches, sandwiches, etc.) then the ease of the bread machine wins hands down over kneading, proving and baking by hand.
The bread machine also lays down the laws. Deviating from its specific measurements will result in weird loaves that are hard even for their creator to love. But stick to the given recipes and it’ll reward you in fluffy spades.
The time to complete both methods is the same (four hours), but the bread machine needs no attention whatsoever beyond loading it up and selecting the right options. And it will give you a lofty airy loaf, the kind a hand baker could never come near.
Hand-baking is an aesthetic pleasure from start to finish. The sensory pleasure derived from handling fresh dough is incomparable. You can shape the dough any way you want, and watching it bloom in the oven is truly a joy. All of which is missed in the bread machine.
But to feed a family, you’ve got to concede there are easier ways of getting a healthy ‘homemade’ loaf than making it entirely by hand.

Malted brown bread loaves

Hand-made loaf winning the aesthetics challenge

 

Do you love your bread machine? Got any tips to share on home baking, by hand or otherwise?

The hot dog goes posh

The hot dog, beloved by American baseball fans, is probably not your idea of high-end gastronomy. But now a brave band of British charcutiers are taking the hot dog by the ears and shaking it about to unleash an artisan frankfurter that’s delicious, ethical and even healthy.

One charcutier poshing up the dog is Graham Waddington who works from his Gloucestershire workshop. He combines meat, herbs and spices into a machine known as a bowl cutter which produces the frankfurter’s characteristic silky smooth texture. “Using a bowl cutter you don’t need to add stabilisers and emulsifiers,” he says.

Gourmet hot dog

Is the dog about to have its gourmet day? Image: Bubbledogs

Unlike industrially made hot dogs which often contain as little as 30% meat, Graham’s are around 90% meat. To make his classic smoked ‘Weiner’ (Viennese sausage) he mixes rose veal with native breed pork and beef and smokes it all over beech and apple wood. Other items in his posh dog repertoire are a Strasbourg “Knack” and a truffle and porcini frankfurter. Incidentally, he prefers to call his products British frankfurters rather than hot dogs. “Hot dog denotes all manner of atrocious things,” he laughs.

Whatever you call them, Graham’s dogs have already strayed as far as London and are now being served in high-end bowling alleys and sold in department stores, enabling customers to recreate the quintessential American snack vibe at home.

Posh dogs are finding their way into smart restaurants too. This autumn a restaurant called Bubbledogs is opening in London selling just champagne and hot dogs - homemade buns, ten types of hot dog and a range of dressings that includes truffle mayonnaise. If that all sounds like gastronomic gimmickry think again. Bubbledog’s chef-owner James Knappett knows his sausages – his CV includes not only Per Se in New York, but also Noma in Copenhagen, and Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley.
“It’s about turning upside down our idea of what’s high-brow and what’s low-brow,” says Graham. “If a frankfurter is made from proper ingredients there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a great food. We’ve seen the gourmet burger hit the street and restaurants. Now it’s the dog’s turn.”

The posh dog is equally comfortable at home, whether in the kitchen or on the barbie. After you’ve boiled your frankfurters brown them in a frying pan (or on the barbecue), then add the dressing of your choice. The classic accompaniment is sauerkraut. Douse your dog with some kraut and a dollop of mild mustard and you could be in Vienna. Or clothe it with fried onions and ketchup. For a jazzed-up ketchup, make a dressing of sun-dried tomato pesto mixed with Greek yoghurt, lemon zest, chilli, garlic and olive oil.

I never thought I could fall in love with the hot dog. But I reckon the posh dog has legs. Have you tried one yet?

Hot dog round-up
Make hot dogs the centrepiece of a tasty hotpot, as in Allegra McEvedy’s recipe Hot dog hotpot.
Or try Simon Rimmer’s Corn dogs recipe for hot dogs the American way - wrapped in corn, then deep fried. 
For a fantastic dressing try barbecuing onions, beer and mustard as in this recipe for Hot hounds.

How do you dig your dogs?

Seafood on a budget - can you have great quality for less?

On my way to Port Eliot festival in Cornwall last weekend, I had one thing on my mind. Seafood. The annual literary festival, which takes place on the historic site of Port Eliot in St Germans, is best known as a celebration of words but food is becoming an increasingly popular part of the event.
 

Raymond Blanc's fresh grilled mackerel with soy and lime dressing

“You won’t find any greasy burger vans here,” explained chef and local resident Chris Sherville who was running the festival’s hugely popular seafood café. “Just use your nose for navigation and you’ll find your way around.”
 
Fresh mussels

Nathan Outlaw's fresh mussels at this year's Port Eliot Festival

Sure enough I soon found my way to Port Eliot’s Victorian walled garden where hordes of hungry punters were queuing up to sample the seafood café’s lobster with saffron aioli and oysters from Bigbury Bay. It was all delicious, but at around £10 a throw, it’s not exactly my idea of budget seafood. 

If like Chris you’re lucky enough to live a short distance from the coast, it’s easy to lay your hands on fresh and affordable fish all year round. You could develop a good relationship with a fisherman or fishmonger, or you can always catch your own. But if you’re landlocked, you might have to cast your net a bit wider, explains Chris.
 
“As long as you’re willing to try something new, there are many alternatives out there that are tasty and affordable. Take for instance dab, gurnard, clams and squid – all widely available in supermarkets,” says Chris, who also gives fish cookery demonstrations at the festival. “Gurnard may look peculiar, but if you season [a fillet] well then panfry it in olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon, a few capers, some lemon zest and fresh parsley, it’s absolutely delicious.” 
Shellfish such as clams and mussels are also a good budget option as they are widely available and offer good value for money. Chris likes to cook clams with pasta, making a sauce out of cream, chorizo and garlic, topped off with some sherry or brandy. “It’s an inexpensive meal that feeds a lot of people,” he says. He also recommends squid for experimenting with strong flavours. “I use squid all the time as it takes on all the wonderful flavours from South East Asia to Mexican spices.”
Eating fish regularly also has clear health benefits. The Department of Health recommends eating two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and can help prevent heart disease. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are also a good source of vitamins A and D.

A good way of incorporating mackerel into your diet is to buy it smoked or to cure it yourself, says Michélin-award winning chef, Nathan Outlaw. He was demonstrating simple mackerel and oyster recipes at the festival’s bowling green. “I wouldn’t bother with mackerel if it’s more than two days old, but curing is a great way to make it last longer.” Curing and smoking also brings out the superb flavour of the fish such as this mackerel and horseradish recipe with oyster sauce

If you’re looking to save money without compromising on quality you could always do as Nathan does and adopt a less-is-more approach. ‘You risk ending up with something that’s not very nice if you try and save money when it comes to quality fish,” he says. “I would rather have fish one day of the week and meat another and then eat vegetables or risottos the rest of the week – so I can afford good quality fish.”
 
You can also make your seafood go further by making curries, soups and stews, explains Nathan. “Take a fish like grey mullet. It’s a nice chunky fish, very similar to sea bass so it can handle big flavours. So if you’re into curries or pastas with strong sauces it’s ideal.” As a sustainable and affordable alternative to cod, you could also opt for a fish such as pollack which works well in a stew such as this Cornish salt pollack, squid and mussel stew recipe.  

If you live away from the coast and can afford to pay a little more, you could consider buying from an online fish merchant. “It’s great because you can see what you’re buying in advance and you can guarantee it has come fresh from the market that morning and will be with you the next day,” says Nathan.  You have to factor in a delivery costs but if you’re able to split an order between friends, it can become more cost effective. Some suppliers also offer online seasonality charts so that you can see when fish stocks are in abundance and therefore more affordable.

 

So with a bit of planning and a willingness to eat a variety of fish and shellfish, there are ways of making seafood work on a budget. Here are some suggestions of how to make your seafood go further…

Spaghetti with clams, garlic and parsley

How do you make your seafood go further? Would you buy from an online fish merchant? Is the supermarket failing you when it comes to seafood?

Olympic lunchboxes that pass muster - and security

If you’ve managed to bag tickets for the forthcoming games but don’t want to pay the high prices for food and drinks when you arrive, what are your options? With prices as high as £1.60 for a small bottle of water and £5.90 for a tuna salad, taking a packed lunch seems an appealing alternative. And then there’s the inevitable queues to consider…

To be fair, despite the headlines about junk food’s dominance at the games, there will be a wide variety of food available at most venues, so, even if it is pricey, you’re unlikely to be cornered into eating junk food. The organisers have taken pains to ensure special diets are also catered for, meaning gluten-free, vegetarian, halal and kosher food will all be on sale.

Gold millionaire shortbread

Gold medal millionaire shortbreads: a guaranteed winner.

For those who prefer homemade food or want to save money take note: security at the games is going to be very tight – the gate policy will be similar to that of an international flight. This means you need to take a few things into account when planning your picnic:

  • No liquids over 100ml/3½fl oz allowed (which includes yoghurts and ice packs).
  • No alcohol.
  • Food must be for personal consumption (I wouldn’t recommend one person carrying a picnic for the whole family).
  • Only one soft-sided bag allowed per person (of 25 litre capacity or less – approximately the size of a small rucksack). Crucially, it must be small and flexible enough to squash under your seat in the venue – so no picnic baskets or cool boxes!
  • No glass bottles (except for medication).
  • Cutlery should be considered carefully – make it disposable and, obviously, leave the knives at home.
  • Baby food, baby milk and sterilised water are allowed into venues but must be carried in containers with a maximum capacity of 1 litre per baby.
  • The security measures at football games are tighter than the rest of the events, so if you have tickets for a game it’s strongly advised that you do not take any bags with you.

If you’re one of the people who thinks a picnic just isn’t a picnic without a trestle table and deck chairs then you’re probably best passing on this one, but if like me you love the simple pleasures of tasty homemade sandwiches, a hunk of pie and maybe a slice of cake then there’s plenty to be enjoyed without coming a cropper at security.

Firstly, a few tip offs. Taking drinks in with you is out of the question, but free water is available from drinking fountains inside the venues and you’re allowed to take an empty plastic bottle with you.  Queues are expected and all bags will be thoroughly searched. To make the process as smooth as possible, ensure all your belongings are easy to check and store any food in clear plastic bags or cling film - tin foil is a definite no-no as it’s likely to set off the metal detectors.

When it comes to the actual food, think about the perishability of your picnic. You won’t be able to take a cool box with you, unless you have a small freezable cool bag, so any food you take needs to keep well when stored at room temperature (or even warmer if the sun decides to come out of hiding).

Ever popular couscous and pasta salads are an obvious choice with myriad variations available, our Feta, rocket and olive pasta salad is super tasty and can be made in a flash. And pasties, sausage rolls and pork pies are a real winner being so easily portable and satisfying, no matter what the weather brings.

If you want to try something different from the usual sandwiches, savoury cakes are a French picnic favourite and travel very well. Try Rachel Khoo’s Cheese, pistachio and prune cake or Antonio Carluccio’s delicious Beetroot layer cake.  And don’t forget the British picnic classics of Game pie and quiche.

Treats are literally a piece of cake. Avoid anything filled with cream but beyond that the choices are endless. Simple, unadorned cakes work best of all, such as Banana cake, Orange and almond cake or Parkin, but most cakes, fairy cakes and biscuits will be fine. If you’re keen to get into the Olympic spirit, try our Gold medal millionaire shortbreads or a slice of Velodrome coffee cake. For less-sugary snacks, nuts, granola bars and savoury muffins all fit the bill.

And if you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets, you can always join in the fun by throwing an Olympics party at home.

Did you manage to get tickets for the Olympics and, if so, are you planning on taking a packed lunch with you? Is price a factor or do you just prefer homemade food? Is anyone protesting about the sponsors by refusing to buy the food on sale in the Olympic venues?

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