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Category Archives: Food

My Top 10 Top 10s of 2007

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I’m afraid I’m lying to you all… this is not a list of my top 10 top 10s of 2007: one of these lists has 19 items on them and one even has 7. I’m sorry. Oh, and some of them don’t even have ’2007′ in the title. I’m a bad person – I know I am – and for that I apologise.

Regardless, below are my top 10 lists of 2007. You know the ones – they proclaim to contain the best 10-or-so of something from the 12 months that have just passed? Come, soak up the nostalgia:

As a bonus, have the following too:

In Praise of Good Design

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Commonly made of wood or plastic, these everyday items also come in stone or glass varieties. You undoubtedly own one, as do the majority of households in the developed world. They’re simple and easy to use, but how can we improve them? I’m talking about the simple, seldom elegant, chopping board. And as for improving upon them, who would even think about it? What more can you do to a chopping board?

Chop2PotThat’s what I thought before I visited Dublin’s Urban Outfitters store and came across the Chop2Pot designed by Joseph Joseph and invented by Mark Sanders of MAS Design. This ingenious reinvention of a household staple was simple but effective – allow a rigid board to bend into a tapering shape to direct chopped food into a pan.

While it’s very easy to use (you just squeeze the handle), there are things you need to take into consideration. A small quibble of mine is that plastic just isn’t as hygienic as wood, but I suppose that’s the compromise you have to make, as you can’t make one of these out of wood, can you? But how about the longevity of the board? The continual bending of the plastic hinge will eventually cause it to break, meaning you’ll have to go out and buy another one, even if the board was still ‘usable’ in its ‘complete’ state. Regarding bacteria and discolouration? I currently replace my plastic chopping boards every year or so as with the variety of foods I use it for it gets discoloured quickly, becomes ‘messy’ due to the countless grooves cut into it, and builds up a cavalry of bacteria – the Chop2Pot will almost certainly be no exception.

But then again, it comes with a three year guarantee and costs only £10 ($20.10 haha!), so if it breaks you get your money back, and when it becomes too unhygienic or grooved to use (or too smelly if you’re a student) you can afford to throw it away and get another.

I won’t be getting one though, as a good quality butcher’s block – for three times the price – will, with proper care, last a lifetime. Plus, let’s face it: it’ll look a lot better in your kitchen.

Just like all the items on Don Norman’s ‘In Praise of Good Design’ page, the Chop2Pot is a mundane, commonplace commodity that’s been improved. “Hurrah for those who look at old things in a new light.” Indeed.

Why I Love Niche Blogs/Websites

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They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day – that it kick-starts your body’s metabolism, stabilising your blood-sugar levels to regulate appetite and energy for many hours. I eat breakfast because I just like it!

My favourite breakfasts have, for a long time, been a combination of fresh fruit, frozen berries, yoghurt and something like natural peanut butter or honey which adds a bit of sweetness. Stick all of this in a blender and you’ve got yourself a ‘smoothie’ that’s healthy, fast and above all else, really tasty – a godsend of a combination when you’ve only got a few minutes in the mornings for breakfast. It’s easy to see why smoothies have become a multi-million pound industry in the last couple of years.

However I’ve been without a blender for about 6 months now and as a consequence my breakfasts have been quite boring (and my soups thin). At one point I did experiment with a homemade muesli/porridge creation but, whilst tasty, it just took too long to make – it was soon confined to the recipe book in my head. Tonight I am determined to fall asleep as the proud owner of a new blender.

What’s this got to do with niche blogs and websites? Well you see, I’m one of those people who will do their research on all prospective purchases – no matter how mundane the product – and these little recesses of the Internet are invaluable when it comes to this. Here, people who know what they’re talking about discuss and compare products on the features that actually matter and make choosing a reliable product that you have no idea about a breeze.

Much to my dismay I cannot find a blender-dedicated website, and I am very upset. Is there a make of blender that is far superior? Are there any features I should avoid or demand for my blender? What’s the minimum price I should spend on a blender to guarantee a fair degree of quality? Maybe buying it today is a bit ambitious after all.

This is my call to all blender-enthusiasts and all others who have a niche website inside of them: find an outlet for your knowledge online… we’re waiting for you.

Rustic (Sweet) Potato and Leek Soup

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It seems the theme for this weekend is ‘food‘. After my earlier Tesco-related post I’ve decided to give a quick hashed-up recipe for my rustic sweet potato and leek soup. I made this earlier today and it tasted great – a welcome lunch when we’re having temperatures hovering around the 0-5°C mark. Plus, who better to make leek soup than a Welshman, right? It is our national symbol, after all!

Ingredients (per person) (Photo 1)

  • One large leek
  • One small (or 1/2 large) onion
  • One small sweet potato (can use normal potatoes, obviously)
  • One cup (250ml – just under half a pint) vegetable stock
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper (and spice if required) for seasoning

Prepare the leek. Remove the outermost layer and cut off the majority of the green leaves, leaving just a hint of green on the main leek body. Retain the leaves for the stock and wash them thoroughly along with the main leek body.
Slice the leek. (Photo 2)

Slice the onion. (Photo 3)

Fry the onion and leek on a low heat along with a tablespoon or two of Olive Oil, a pinch of salt and a lot of pepper. Do not let any of it burn as it will totally destroy the flavour. (Photo 4)

Dice the sweet potato into small pieces and boil for 10 minutes on a medium-high heat. Don’t worry about it going soft and mushy; this is fine. In fact, it’s desired… soft, but still retaining its shape. As a guide, I used half the potato you can see in the first photo. (Photo 5)

Prepare your vegetable stock. (Photo 6)

After 10 minutes or so your leek and onion should be soft and the sweet potato should be boiled well. Drain the sweet potato and add to the leek and onion. Stir well, adding more seasoning if required (I usually add a bit of extra pepper).

Add the stock to the pan containing the onion, leek and sweet potato, and stir. You may optionally add the retained leek leaves to add flavour, but do not stir them in. (Photo 7)

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes on a low heat.

Enjoy, with bread (some people add an optional spice/herb or add some extra pepper before eating. I had some chilli ready but decided against it). (Photo 8)


Tesco: Friend or Foe?

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By spending a few pennies more in Tesco when I last went food shopping there I picked up this pack of Cherry Tomatoes:

Tesco's Cherry Tomatoes

Why am I telling you this? For 8 pence less I could have bought the regular pack that had, maybe, 5 more tomatoes in. These cheaper tomatoes were a less vibrant red and were obviously not as juicy. That wasn’t why.

The reason was a simple one: this packet was produced from completely biodegradable and compostable organic materials. The paper label with the barcode and nutritional information, the biodegradable polymer wrap and the container itself all would degrade on your household compost heap. As they are made from organic materials too, that means that there would be no net gain in emissions when the gases created during decomposition are released.

I then read the following; an excerpt from the front page of the Financial Times:

Tesco will become the world’s first supermarket chain to assign a “carbon label” to every product on its shelves. The UK’s biggest chain said it would make the labels by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production, transportation and consumption of the 70,000 products it sells. “The market is ready… We have to make sustainability a significant, mainstream driver of consumption,” Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive, said last night.

Coming from a company that takes £1 of every £8 spent in the whole UK retail sector, this is promising news. Or so you would think. As the Guardian puts it:

The company sells more DVDs than HMV, more shampoo than Boots, and its £4 jeans outsell Levis, Wrangler and Gap put together.

These are the figures Tesco wants us to remember, but there are other, less palatable statistics. For every £1 spent on bananas at Tesco, for instance, only 1p goes back to the plantation growers in developing countries – far less than they need to feed their families. Indeed, the company makes a profit of £1m per week purely from the sale of bananas – enough to employ 30,000 plantation workers full-time and pay them a proper wage.

Indeed, the globalisation of food production – buying it from the cheapest source rather than the closest – has been taken to ridiculous extremes. In a typical year, 126m litres of milk are imported into Britain while 270m are exported.

It continues this furore into the classic ‘food miles’ argument quoting statistics from the lobbying group Sustain. They estimate that the average UK Sunday lunch travels 26,234 miles.

It also states the statistic that an average of one sixth of the money spent in Tesco goes on packaging. In fact, “only 26 per cent of the cost is accounted for by food; the rest is packaging, processing, transport, store overheads, advertising and the mark-up”.

It’s a good start Tesco, but there’s still a hell of a lot more that you need to do.

FT: Tesco to ‘carbon label’ its products | Guardian: Why supermarkets are getting bigger and bigger