Monday, 26 February 2007

Organic Box

Not long ago we started getting an organic vegetable box delivered from Riverford. The idea behind this was that it would provide

- less hassle
- interesting and seasonal vegetables
- fresher produce
- less food miles and packaging

It is something I now have a bit of a love hate relationship with. I love the produce (though have reached my parsnip limit- thank god for spring) but I can't help feeling a little smug and middle class. Its an issue I have about a lot of the more eco-friendly, ethical choices one can make. It often feels like I'm simply paying for them because they relieve a little middle class (student) guilt. And it doesn't seem fair that I get to feel morally superior to people who can't afford to eat differently. Although the organic box works out about the same as what I would spend in tescos on a similar amount of vegetables that is probably only because in tescos I tend to by vine tomatoes and charlotte potatoes. More to the point the price comparison does not come out well on, say, green and blacks chocolate, farmers market milk and butter, or free-range eggs. Once we get to organic ready meals the price issue has really got ridiculous, which is fine for me, because mostly I have the time to cook for myself. But that isn't true for everyone.

Its tempting to ask when food got so political, but its probably always been. More new is the idea that the food choices we make are moral choices. So buying organic equals good, not buying organic equals bad. The philosopher in me thinks that this is just too simplistic, and very confused from a moral point of view.

Organic produce from a supermarket may help you in that you aren't injesting pesticides and fertilisers on such a grand scale, but it doesn't guarentee less food miles, less packaging, or a fair price for the producer.
On the other hand non-organic produce from the famers market, or even the local grocer may well be less packaged, and have travelled less far, though its likely to have been sprayed. My point is that organic produce may well be a good choice from a self-centred point of view - I get to eat less pesticides - and may have some benefits in that land is not so intensively farmed. But it doesn't guarentee anything on what seem to me issues which affect everyone: food miles and packaging; much less guarentee a fair price for the farmer. These, it seems to me, are real moral issues, in that their outcomes affect others, not just myself. It seems to me that if we're going to get moral about food, we need to look at the complexity of the issues, because like most moral issues, it isn't simple. You only have to look at 'organic' salmon to see that.

Still, I think what makes me happiest about the veg box is not knowing what I'm going to get. I went to the farmers market yesterday and bought a big bunch of tightly packed purple sprouting. But it didn't make nearly as happy as the big box of surprises which arrived today. Lovely little tightly packed fennel, paper skinned shallots, brocolli, and leeks among the root vegetables.

And just like that all my doubts fell away...

Sunday, 25 February 2007


After three days of rain, grey skys and feeling ill the urge to bake has set in. A made a lovely roast of navarin of lamb with lots of garlic and rosemary for lunch, so after a couple of hours of lying on the sofa in a sophorific state it felt like theright kind of wet afternoon for gently playing in the kitchen.

The excuse of a friends house for dinner (hence no need to worry about consuming the whole batch ourselves) was enough. So, after a hellish trip to the shops in search of quantities of butter and green and blacks chocolate I settled into mixing up a heart attack for my nearest and dearest.

They came out all squidy and gooey, perfect in fact. And then, I'm still not quite sure how, I dropped one side of the pan. Volcanic streams of chocolate came gushing from underneath the crust, and began pooling onto the work surface. My precious brownies! Now, one thing is clear when this happens: you have got the timing just right, there is a nice chewy crust and a molten (but not uncooked) interior. You can tell this because the pools of gooeyness on the work surface are too hot to handle, and also to liquid to handle. I resorted to spooning. It was sort of sucessful, but I fear may have disturbed the lightness of my brownies.

I console myself with the thought that they were perfect, and they still taste fantastic.

A last word about nuts. I love them in brownies, but you can tend to divide a room into likes and dislikes. Happily I think their place is on top of the brownie, in the crispy chewy bit. I think the middle should be unadulterated chocolate. As well as making the contrast between crunchy edges with toasted nuts, and deep dark interior, this helpfully marks out brownies as nut containing, or not.
So, if you like them add them. Hazlenuts are my favourite.

250g green and blacks chocolate
300g light muscovado sugar
250g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
60g cocoa powder
50g flour
2 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to 180oc. Grease baking tins. I use little silicone heart moulds mainly as they give the right ratio of gooey middle to chewy outside, but if baking in a large flat tin line the base with foil or greased paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together, meanwhile melt 200g of the chocolate in a bain marie and chop the rest finely. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar once it has become light and fluffy. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly then beat into the butter mixture. Fold in the flour, cocoa and baking powder.

Spoon into moulds or tin and bake. The time will depend on the size of the tin, but check after 15 minutes for muffin size tins. The edges should be crisp, and the brownie will have risen slightly, but the middle should still be gooey, with definite wobble, but should not be raw.

Leave to cool slightly in tins or the will fall apart, but best eaten slightly warm from the oven.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


Doesn't it look like beautiful! It was bitterly and unexpectedly cold. The plan was ill-conceived, being formulated the day after a heavy bout of Caparinah drinking courtesy of my brother. Nursing our heads, groggy and fed up of Oxford we planned our escape to Laprade. 'Won't it be freezing?' asks bleery eyed me, but A is adamant that he was there two weeks ago and it was a balmy 15 -17 degrees (his description of this as 't-shirt' weather should have set of alarm bells). Looking outside at the permanent rain engulfing Oxford this seems like a fantastic idea, we plan days of cycling off the foie gras, and nights of fires, duvets and confit.

Well, the food part goes according to plan, but, as swathes of France are covered with snow, schools and roads close and the temperature drops cycling, trips go out the window. I can't complain though, I get like a toddler in snow. As soon as it started I was out in the garden endangering my toes and fingers and snapping away. I even attempted a snowman but it was too powdery. A was defiant to the last and spent much of the holiday trying to convince me that table tennis was a winter sport, while shovelling snow out of the way of his cricket net so he could practise bowling. The passing french population greeted this with bemusment.

Mostly though, we stayed in, slept, cooked, ate, and made daily excursions to Aubeterre to stock up on bagettes, steak and confit. We cooked lots: seared duck breasts with grilled chicory and pan fried apple; confit de canard with petit pois; steak with shallots; beef bourgignon left gently simmering during a 15 km walk; goats cheese salads with chicory, pear and walnuts; sausage cassarole; rillettes with cornichons.

In short it was a fabulous, wintery and much needed break. Crisp walks and woollen socks made it perfect.

Blood Orange Jelly

I had been waiting with anticipation for weeks when A finally made the discovery of blood oranges I was away. He left me but one lingering orange, a red bruise smack on the side of it, and a blush interior. And of course then they had all gone from the shops, and I sat there day dreaming of recipes when I should have been working.

I was picturing a tower of blood oranges bedecked with caramel and indecently oozing sticky juice.

Maybe a little passionfruit icecream on the side, little langues de chat, a crown spun sugar. Ahh, you see the flights of fancy? I cannot even make spun sugar...

Well, I've tinkered since last I daydreamed, and made a couple of little blood orange jellies for A and I to test drive. They were beautiful, light, sharp and vibrant red, with a little wiggle and wobble which was very endearing. But they needed a partner in crime, something creamy to soothe, and maybe even something cake-like for a delicate buttery bite.

So here is the culmination of much day dreaming, planning and juicing.

A blood orange jelly, caramelsed blood orange, almond madelines, and a slick of cream.

If I was more Delia I'd rant and rave about the do ahead preparation and slimming advantages of these recipes that make it a perfect dinner party dessert. But I just like it because its red, fun and tasty.

Blood Orange Jelly

I was going to go with the blood orange jelly recipe in Gordon Ramsey's 'Just Desserts', and just reduce the sugar, but annoyingly it didn't set first time, and had to up the leaf geletine count a little. Here is my somewhat adapted recipe:

400ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
zest of one blood orange
2 tablespoons of caster sugar (or to taste, my oranges were tart and I like it that way)
3 sheets of leaf geletine

Moisten the geletine with a little water. Heat, but do not boil, the juice, zest, and sugar until it is warm and the sugar has dissolved. Bring off the heat and dissolve the geletine in this thoroughly. Strain into jelly moulds or pretty glasses. Put in the fridge (covered) to set. Unmould with the help of a hot damp cloth or bath of water just before serving