A spring in our step!

February seems to be running away from us this year and before we know it March will be here, the days will be longer and hopefully brighter!

Reasons we love this season!

  • ‘Spring fever’ – an increase in energy, motivation and vitality for life!
  • Asparagus season is just around the corner. It takes three years to grow asparagus from seed to harvest which is one of the reasons the spears are so highly prized.
  • Spring lamb – the quintessential meat of the season.
  • Delicious leafy herbs and baby greens begin to sprout.
  • Public holidays – lazy, sunny mornings reading the papers and enjoying brunch with the family.
  • Spring weddings – a classic time of year to tie-the-knot – beautiful spring flowers, bright colours and local, seasonal produce. With the weather cooler than in the height of summer, everyone stays comfortable during the day!
  • Farmers’ Markets – highlighting the best of the season and perhaps even the best of the year.
This season is also a great time of year to kick those bad habits and spring clean your diet.  Whether you have given up something for Lent or are embarking on a no sugar, gluten or dairy diet for health reasons, the range of ‘free-from’ foods and recipes has exploded over the last couple of years.
The number of people who identify as having a food allergy or a food intolerance (which as we know, is not the same thing) has increased dramatically in the last twenty or so years. There are lots of theories as to why this might be – a rise in the use of antibiotics, the use of pesticides in farming, the growth of heavily processed foods or increase in the amount of sugar in the diet to name a few. Certainly people are, on the whole, more nutritionally aware and many have discovered that their health has been improved by excluding or limiting certain foods/ingredients in their diet.

Last year, we expanded our range of ‘free-from’ food. We are always happy to discuss specific dietary requirements and provide alternative menu options to cater for our clients and their guests.

Below are a few ingredients which we’ve been experimenting with in the ffO kitchen – sometimes using them as substitutes or alternatives although, of course, they are all great ingredients in their own right!

  • Goat, sheep or buffalo milk – some people find their tolerance to these milks is better than to cow and there are other products such as cream, butter, yoghurt and cheese to consider which are much more readily available these days.
  • Quinoa – now available as ‘rolled quinoa’, it can be used to make gluten-free porridge or in place of oats in other recipes and is high in protein and rich in minerals.
  • Honey – long been used as an alternative to refined sugar, it also contains numerous nutrients and is heralded as having several health benefits including antibacterial properties. Honey works well in some baking, helping keeping cakes moist.
  • Coconut oil – an excellent alternative to butter (you can buy a refined version if you don’t want the taste of coconut and although it is more refined/processed than virgin coconut oil, it still retains many of the health benefits).
  • Stevia – a natural sweetener made from the Stevia plant from South America.
  • Chia seeds – containing protein, antioxidants, fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients. Also a useful thickener in desserts and in vegan baking in place of egg.
  • Vegetable ‘pastas’ or ‘noodles’ – many kitchens now contain a spiralizer. A great way to reduce your carbohydrate intake or replace wheat-based products. Use a food processor to turn raw cauliflower into a really good ‘cous cous’ – no need to cook.
  • Alternative ‘flours’ – buckwheat (not a wheat at all but a seed), rice flour, coconut and chestnut flour which are both grain free  –  the latter is especially good for cakes but it does go stale quite quickly so buy in small quantities and teff, a very small grain for a type of grass providing large amounts of iron, calcium and potassium.

Finally, a recipe for spring morning coffee breaks! This delicious lemon and pistachio cake is dairy and gluten free.

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Spring forward!

Spring forward!

Time must surely be speeding up; it’s already March and it hardly feels like we’ve had time to adjust to the fact that it’s a new year.  What a start it’s been too; snow drifts, icy winds, lingering coughs and colds, more depressing news about the state of the economy…at least there are a few signs around that spring is just around the corner to give us a little lift! 

Thinking of springtime, new life, renewed energy (we hope!) etc. we’ve been making a few goals for the new season (much better than resolutions which often seem to be about depriving yourself of some of the few pleasures in life!).  They are all food related of course; well, what else would we be talking about?!             

  • Bake more bread – we’ve been making our own bread at home for many years now but we’re interested in trying out some of the alternatives to wheat, particularly as the number of people with intolerances seems to be on the rise.  We’ve already had good results with spelt but have yet to try khorasan wheat.  Although both are closely related to wheat and not gluten-free they are possibly more easily digested and certainly nutritious substitutes.  For gluten-free alternatives we know buckwheat flour makes good blini but it would be good to look into using it in other ways.  Amaranth and quinoa flours are also gluten-free, high-protein possibilities; does anyone have any experience of using them in baking?   
  • A proper cup of coffee in a proper coffee pot – well ok, the coffee pot’s not strictly necessary but we really think we should go to the trouble of making a cup of decent coffee if we want a drink.
    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

     Trying different types of bean and from different countries for example or a new blend; on this note, there are 2 local roasteries we can recommend: Coffee Real and Beanberry who now roast on demand for the coffee house Pinnock’s in Ripley (the UK’s first drip coffee bar).

  • Buy fresh, buy seasonal, buy local – yes, we’ve said it before but it’s always worth reminding ourselves of it, particularly as the horse meat scandal still persists in the press.  This is in no way an excuse for false labelling but isn’t it true that you get what you pay for?  Anyone who has bought meat from an independent butcher knows this is true and is prepared to fork out a bit more to guarantee the quality of the food we eat.  Buy it local, buy it fresh and from known and trusted sources; what more is there to say?! 
  • Make more time to read and follow other people’s blogs – there are some amazing people, doing amazing things with food out there and the best part is they’re willing to share their ideas with us.  The least we can do is show some support!   
  • Spring clean the pantry – it seems a good time of year to check through our dried goods and have a bit of a clear out, particularly the spices and dried herbs.  Although they might not ‘go off’ in the way fresh produce does, their strength, taste and aroma does deteriorate over time.  We know most dried products should be kept away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight but we’ve been reading recently that chilli powder, paprika etc. are actually best kept in the fridge to maintain their colour (although this advice does seem to come from countries with considerably hotter climates than ours!).      
  • Get out and about – there’s nothing better than finding a hidden gastronomic gem.  A delicatessen, café, farmer’s market, specialist producer, ingredient etc. it’s exciting to discover something new for the first time, only trouble is they don’t stay hidden for long!     

Tell us about your goals for this spring!

 

 

 

A taste of the season!

We’re still in time for a couple of highlights of the late spring/early summer growing season and two firm favourites with the ffO team.

Asparagus spears!

Asparagus has always been a prized ingredient mostly because it’s in season for such a short time in the year.  Coveted by the Romans, the spears usually make an appearance in early May and for around eight weeks they are pared and trimmed, steamed and grilled and enjoyed by people all over the country (here we’re talking about the green variety rather than the white that is favoured on the continent).  This year, the prolonged wet weather earlier in the season meant that the asparagus has been a bit later in making a show but that does mean we’ve still got time to savour the taste!  (The heavy rain has had another, rather unfortunate, effect on the crop, kicking sand and grit up into the tips resulting in the need for lots of rinsing…sigh!)           

Here in the ffO Kitchen we use asparagus in many different ways across our menus but at home we think British asparagus should be enjoyed simply; lightly steamed and then drizzled with melted butter and seasoned with salt and black pepper.  We might also char grill a few spears on the barbecue (if we get a break between showers!) and serve drizzled with olive oil and shavings of pecorino.    

Rhubarb & Ginger Ice Cream

Another favourite of ours, (although a bit like Marmite for some!) and in season for a bit longer than asparagus (hurrah!) is rhubarb.  Some of you might have been enjoying forced rhubarb for some time already this year but field grown rhubarb is being harvested now and should be available for the next couple of months.  For some, forced rhubarb is superior with its tender stems and delicate flavour.  Field rhubarb generally has a more robust texture and taste and often needs more sugar to counter the acidity.  To be honest though, we really can’t get enough of either so the longer the season the better in our mind! 

We always make a few batches of rhubarb and ginger ice-cream at this time of year, experimenting with quantities of sugar, ginger and ginger syrup to get the perfect result!  Remember; when making ice cream some of the flavour is ‘lost’ in the freezing so make sure you achieve a good strong taste before you turn it to ice!  We start with a custard base and add puréed rhubarb and small chunks of stem ginger and extra syrup to taste before churning in an ice cream maker.  Delicious!

Incidentally, experimenting with ice cream flavours is not a new trend.  According to food historian Jeri Quinzio, we’ve been trying different ingredient combination since the 17th and 18th centuries, including brown or rye bread, cheese, rose petals, foie gras and… asparagus!  (Jeri Quinzio in the essay ‘Asparagus Ice Cream, Anyone?’ from the Spring 2002 edition of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol.2 No.2)  http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2002.2.2.63

What’s good to cook and eat now.

Among other ingredients in season and at their best at this time of year, look out for the following over the next few weeks: 

  • Asparagus (cook and eat it as soon as you can after buying but watch out for gritty tips after all the rain!)
  • Rhubarb (ice cream, crumble, compote, fool, stewed, with custard… also excellent with oily fish such as mackerel, don’t just think desserts!)
  • New Potatoes (particularly Jersey Royals)
  • Wild Nettles (pick and cook when young as they will be tender and less bitter than older plants)
  • Herbs & Salad Leaves (particularly Chervil, Parsley, Chives, Mint, Chicory, Rocket & Sorrel)
  • Elderflowers (around and ready to pick now for cordials and fritters!)