Blog Every Day in May: Food Glorious Food!

“Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!”

Whilst I was tempted to use this opportunity to share a recipe or restaurant recommendation, as I’ve been meaning to write about the way I eat for, like, ever, I thought I really ought to do just that! I touched on this yesterday in my Go Green post, but today I’m going to tell you all about my being (a rather ponsey sounding) Ethicurean.

I’ve always loved my food. I like to eat lots, eat well and then eat more. I used to be fussy as a child but my Mum did spoil me with really good home cooking (her roast dinners and pies are to die for!) but once I moved away from home I got to being more adventurous and now there’s hardly any type of food I won’t eat. If any. And Marmite isn’t a food by the way.

And whilst I toyed with the idea of vegetarianism as a teen, I’ve always happily enjoyed eating meat and animal products. Until about five years ago.

It was a TV show that changed my views on how I ate. Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Channel Four, and the associated Chicken Out campaign spearheaded by the marvelous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, offered an insight into the terrible standards in British chicken farming, and it alarmed me horribly. I very quickly decided that I would only eat free range chicken and free range eggs, as well as avoiding foods with eggs in (later it would become easier to find pasta which uses free range eggs, and when Hellman’s announced all their mayo was going to solely use free range eggs I think I cheered!). I was horrified how chickens were being treated, to get their eggs and to breed for their meat, and I just couldn’t stomach a meal that supported or encouraged that.

The following year there appeared another programme. Jamie was this time going to ‘Save our Bacon’ and in his TV show (also featuring the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) he revealed the desperately poor state of pig farming. I was beyond horrified this time. I remember crying and vowing never to eat meat again. I remember the cries and shrieks of pigs being pushed around between vile metal bars, and wondering how any person could do such a thing.

I very quickly went off my food entirely, and gave up meat altogether for a few months. I felt responsible for those poor suffering animals, and ashamed that I had supported an industry that could allow such abhorrent behaviour.

Once I’d had time to absorb all this though, I really did come to the decision that as a human being and born omnivore, I would like to try at eating meat again, and should be able to if I was mindful. Whilst the farming that I’d seen in the programmes disgusted me to the core, I knew that there were farms out there who care about their animals, and I wanted to support them. And at the end of the day, if we were all vegan there would be massive economic ramifications, not to mention a lack of lovely fields filled with sheep and cows and whatnot!

I knew though that if I was going to go back to eating animal products, that I had to be as sure as I possibly could be that I wasn’t eating any of those poorly treated animals. That meant an holistic approach…not just eating whatever free range meat I could find, but also being mindful of all the other animal products hiding in all manner of foods.

I personally don’t see the point in vegetarianism for this reason, unless you’re just veggie because you don’t *like* meat of course! I find pescetarianism even more baffling, not to mention people who call themselves vegetarian and eat fish! I know I won’t make any friends by being this opinionated, but I do feel very strongly about this….if you won’t eat meat because of the impact on animals and their environment, why will you eat animal products (I have known SO many veggies who will eat cheese with rennet, Worcestershire sauce, and sweets containing gelatin!!) that have probably come from just as bad a process of welfare, if not worse?! Loads of things contain animal products, and although it’s a bit of a minefield, I have certainly been able to adapt very well to this mantra.

The biggest impact it’s had is on the amount of meat I eat. Whilst I do believe humans should eat meat, I don’t believe we need it with every meal! A common excuse I hear for not eating more welfare conscious meat is ‘I can’t afford it.’ My simple answer is ‘eat less meat then’. I manage just fine on one or two meat meals a week (although sometimes less) and so having cut my meat bill in half, I can afford to spend twice as much on the meat I do buy. Simple! There are so many healthy, easy, quick and yummy dishes to make without using meat, so I just don’t buy that particular excuse!

Another big thing is eating out. Whilst ten years or so ago it was quite normal to be vegetarian, I rather feel that it’s gone out of fashion of late! I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve gone somewhere to eat out and been offered only one very poor vegetarian ‘choice’ (it’s not a choice if there’s only one!!). And often the veggie dishes are totally bland, not worth the money and incongruous with the rest of the menu…I feel like there ought to be a vegetarian and vegan module at catering college as most chefs clearly lack in imagination for such dishes!

And whilst you’d expect by now that lots of restaurants would have taken on board a free range and/or organic animal product policy, even the likes of Jamie Oliver himself seem reluctant to commit! (NB. I can find no evidence that Jamie’s Italian restaurants for example serve free range meat….I have contacted them though to check and will update when I get a response!)

The result of this is that we don’t often eat out, which is a shame as we’d like to support our local restaurants, but when my choices are limited so pitifully and I’m asked to subsidise meat eaters by paying the same for my curry with no meat in it as someone’s exact same curry but packed with lamb, I’m afraid I’d just rather eat at home!

Another thing that’s been tricky is actually knowing when a product meets my decided standards. I’ve spent hours researching all the criteria that give a product free range or organic status, and whilst I can rest relatively easy if something is marked as such, there are so many other confusing labels that it becomes a real pain! Most of our friends and family  know that we eat this way, but unfortunately they are very often taken in by the sneaky marketing the supermarkets have come up with to make people feel better about buying certain things, whilst still remaining competitively priced.

I am often told (when I ask politely in a restaurant if the dish is free range and/or organic) ‘yes, it’s British’. ‘Aaaand???’ I’ll say….that’s just where it comes from!!! Unfortunately ‘British’ doesn’t mean the same as free range or organic…and neither does ‘Freedom Foods’, ‘RSPCA Monitored’, ‘Red Tractor’, ‘Outdoor Bred’ or ‘Outdoor Reared’. And whilst Waitrose and Sainsburys are fairly good, just buying any meat from them doesn’t mean it’s free range either! I’m often unsure as to whether I’m more cross with people for being sucked in by these labels (if it was Organic, don’t you just think they’d call it that rather than coming up with a new name for it?!) or with the people who make them up to try and fool us. Either way, I would certainly welcome some legislation to stop this misleading rubbish!

Probably the best impact this has had on me though is my health. Too much meat isn’t good for you, and ensuring you have a well balanced diet (which I’m now more mindful of) is the best anyone can really be expected to do for themselves. Because I have to think about all animal products, I don’t eat a lot of processed food because I can’t be sure where the animal products in them come from, and we now eat organic dairy products to have the best chance of supporting the right kind of farming in that respect (it’s not all about meat!).

I now appreciate where all my food comes from, I’m knowledgeable about it and I care.

Now you’re either thinking ‘what a goody bloody two shoes’ about here, or ‘she can’t possibly stick to that!’ And you’re possibly right on either count….I do feel a bit smug that I put so much thought into my food, especially because I have given up things that I really love to eat (if someone opened an all free range KFC tomorrow I would eat nothing else for a month…don’t judge me!)….and I don’t want to mislead anyone by claiming that I am 100% virtuous. I do slip up from time to time, eating sweets offered to me without checking what’s in them, and allowing myself a little leeway when on holiday for example. I’m no Saint, but I do try bally hard!

I hope I’ve not come across as too aggressive in this…I’m aware this is not my usual happy post about bunting or glittery shoes…but I do feel extremely passionately about animal welfare and I’ve been very glad to have this push to finally get me to talk about it!

Now, at risk of tipping over the aggressive line, I’m going to share a video that I personally think it’s important for anyone who eats non-free range meat to watch, in order to understand where their food can come from. I can appreciate that this is very extreme and that it will more than likely upset people, but I just feel that one shouldn’t eat something they don’t know the possible origins of. Needless to say, this comes with a personal warning and I’d ask anyone particularly sensitive or anyone vegan not to watch it. I’m not sharing this because I want to upset anyone or preach to them. That said, I think it’s jolly important that such reports are made and that people are aware:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TFdHAnpTYI

Ems x

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Made with Love…… Chicken Tikka Biryani

Ems' Chicken Tikka Biryani

I am feeling rather smug with myself just now. I’ve just made the most amazing chicken tikka biryani I’ve had in aaaages. OK, so I had a biryani this weekend, and good it was too. But it wasn’t chickeny and I’ve had a craving for this for aaaaages.

I should probably explain a couple of things before I tell you about my recipe. First, I’m not a vegetarian as perhaps some of my posts may suggest. I do eat, and LOVE all kinds of meat, but I only eat free range meat and sustainably sourced, line-caught fish. Adam eats the same, and I have called our dietary preference ‘Ethicureanism’.

The other thing is that Adam is intolerant to chicken.

Cue major lack of chicken eating opportunities.

We manage to eat plenty of meat at home because Waitrose is so wonderful in providing us with Ems-approved products. And we even get to eat meat out someimes too, as great places like Smiths of Smithfield only serve free range meat. But I hardly ever get to eat chicken because it’s not what I’d go for first on a menu, and it’s not really worth the bother for one.

But I’ve been craving a chicken biryani for so long now, that this evening I decided enough was enough! And so, I got myself a nice free range chicken breast, and Adam a nice free range pork steak, and made one myself! Here is how……

Ingredients (to make enough for two)……

  • 1 chicken breast or pork steak per person, cut into 2cm chunks (ish)
  • 6 tbspn tikka curry paste (or whatever curry paste you like)
  • 1 large potato, cut into 1.5cm cubes (ish)
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1.5cm cubes (ish)
  • 2 tbspn rapeseed oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 small chunk of ginger (about as big as your thumb), chopped finely
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped finely
  • 2 cups of basmati rice (I actually used Tilda’s basmati and wild rice mix, which I love)
  • 4 cups hot chicken stock
  • 1 tspn coriander seeds, ground together with…..
  • 1 tspn vanilla salt (or 1/2 tspn of rock salt if you can’t get it)
  • 1 tspn cumin seeds
  • 1 tspn dried parsley
  • 1/2 tspn chilli flakes
  • 4 cardomom pods, broken with the blade of a knife (carefully!)
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 small bay leaves
  • handful of flaked almonds (and/or sultanas)
  • a little creme fraiche to serve

How to make it……

  1. Marinade your meat in the curry paste for at least an hour. I used 1 chicken breast (for me) and 1 pork steak (for Adam), which I marinaded and cooked separately
  2. Boil the potatoes and carrots so that they are half cooked, then drain and set aside
  3. Heat half the oil in a large sauce pan and fry the onion, garlic and ginger
  4. Add the part cooked carrots and potato, and stir in, adding the pepper too
  5. Stir in the rice, adding a little oil if the mixture is a dry
  6. Pour over the hot stock and stir well, keeping the pan on a medium heat so that it simmers
  7. Add the salt and spices, stirring through and ensuring that the mix doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan
  8. Whilst the rice cooks, heat a shallow pan with a little more oil and cook the chicken or pork, keeping the marinade with it. I had two pans on the go to cook both my chicken and Adam’s pork
  9. The rice will take about 15 to 20 minutes, but keep stirring occasionally and checking to see if the rice and potatoes are tender. You may need to add a little extra water to ensure it’s all cooked
  10. Once the rice is cooked and the stock has all boiled away, tip the rice mixture into the shallow pan with the cooked meat
  11. Keep this on a medium heat whilst you stir, and until the rice starts to golden
  12. Mix in the almonds (and/or sultanas if you like) and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche

Enjoy!

Ems x

Something from a pie-filled weekend…..

Good morning and a happy Monday! How was your weekend?

I’m feeling the effects of a weekend filled with pie…that is, I feel a bit like a pie myself! Still, it was fun…..

If you read my post on Friday you’ll know that I was looking forward to a weekend celebrating British Pie Week. On Thursday, we started the weekend early with a trip to Apples and Pears for pie and cocktails. As such, Friday evening was a quiet one…..

After a little early-evening shopping we settled down to watch David Lynch’s Inland Empire, with a pizza and wedges for supper. The film had us both utterly confounded, and we spent much of it staring at the screen in disbelief or laughing nervously. It’s not at all a film with a linear plot, and nor do you get a nice rounded off ending…. but the basic idea behind the film (I think) is that an actress takes on a new role in a film, which is expected to do very well and get her very noticed….. but the screenplay is based on another film, which was started but was never completed because the story was said to be cursed, and the male and female leads were murdered during the filming. Beyond that, I understand very little (although reading some reviews on it since, I don’t think you’re supposed to) but the film certainly kept us entertained (with characters’ heads turning into rabbit heads, and big scary faces all up in the screen). I don’t know that I’ve seen anything more bizarre in my life…. and the whole reason we were so keen to watch it was how much we’d enjoyed the utterly crackers Twin Peaks. But as Adam said, Inland Empire rather makes Twin Peaks look like neighbours!

The flower stall entrance at Liberty

On Saturday morning it was a breakfast of cheese omelette to set us up for a busy day….. we started by giving the flat a quick clean before I headed into town, leaving Adam playing Playstation. I had a very important rendezvous with Siobhan at Liberty….. I was going along for her first wedding dress fitting!!!! Arriving a little early, I got off the bus next to H&M and had a quick look at their Marni collection, before heading over to Liberty to dribble over the Manolo Blahnik window displays.

Marni at H&M

Manolo Blahnik at Liberty

Manolo Blahnik at Liberty

Bursting with excitement to see the dress (and to have the excuse to potter about Liberty) I arrived to the lovely flowery entrance, and we went up to the fitting rooms (oohing and ahhing at lots on our way). Of course everything regarding the dress is top secret, but I will say that Siobhan looks absolutely stunning! We rounded off our visit with a little browsing…. I tried on the lovely new Liberty print lined Barbour jackets (really have my eye on the navy one!)…. and we couldn’t help but linger a while in the handbag department and around the incredible vintage costume jewellery (want it all!).

Fitting rooms at Liberty

Next, it was back on the bus to head over to Spitalfields and meet the boys. The market was hosting a Women’s Fair to celebrate International Women’s Day, and we enjoyed a root about the lovely stalls of jewellery and gifts etc. Favourite though was the East London Women’s Institute stand, from which we purchased several delicious slices of cake! By the time we’d eaten those though, we needed a rest before heading over the road to Poppies for our supper, and so we tootled back to the flat for a sit down.

Adam and I have been experimenting with lots of different home-flavoured vodkas, and with a new rose vodka to try, we had Siobhan and Matthew as guinea pigs. This flavour is probably one of our favourites now….it goes incredibly well with lemonade (I garnished with a slice of lemon and a dried rose bud) and was well-recieved all round. Next up, we sampled our cardamom vodka with lemonade, bitters and lime (another favourite of mine) and then our jasmine tea vodka with lemonade and lime. I think I’ll post a bit more about our vodka flavouring soon.

Rose vodka with lemonade all round

Suitably rested, we went back over to Spitalfields to have supper at one of our local favourites, Poppies Fish and Chips. It was the first time Matthew and Siobhan had been, and we were a little bothered to have to wait a while for a table (I didn’t know before, but you can book!)…. still, we chatted away the wait and it wasn’t long before they’d made up a table for us and we were yumming up our supper. It being pie week, I opted for the veggie pie…. Poppies take great pride in where their ingredients come from (the sustainable fish is from Billingsgate, the potatoes from Turnips in Borough Market, the chicken is free range…) and I was delighted to see on a previous visit that their pies are supplied by non other than Wrights Pies of my home town Stoke on Trent! In Stoke, we have pie shops dedicated to their wonderful products and I really do miss them! With Poppies chips, mushy peas and gravy though it was a real treat and I devoured the lot along with my pot of tea! The others enjoyed the lemon sole and rock, as well as some of the wonderful Meantime beer they stock. And so we practically rolled out of Poppies and back to the flat for a flavoured vodka night cap, before Siobhan and Matthew headed home.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows (photo courtesy of Adam)

By Sunday morning we were in much need of a lie in, and so it was a lazy start to the day we enjoyed. For breakfast, Adam made amazing hot chocolates from especially thick Jersey milk, with little marshmallows on top. Then after a bit more faffing about, we popped to Waitrose for groceries (and Duchy Originals hot cross buns for tea!). When home, we completed the crossword as tradition dictates, before we began preparing an early dinner…. We couldn’t end pie week with anything other than pie, and I’ve been meaning to make my (Savoury) Sweet Potato Pie for Adam for ages. And so Adam grated the potatoes whilst I made the almond-rich pastry….and an hour later it was ready to serve up warm with a yummy fresh slaw (grated carrot, thinly sliced onion and red cabbage, mixed with olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkles of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) and a dollop of creme fraiche. Lush!

My sweet potato pie with slaw and creme fraiche

We finished up a relatively restful day slobbing out in front of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World…. I’ve not seen it since the cinema although we’ve had it on Bluray for ages, and I’d forgotten how truly awesome it is. If you’ve not seen it I would really highly recommend it to any Edgar Wright fans, comic book fans, computer gamers and musos. I still can’t decide if I want to be Ramona or Knives more!

Anyway, hope you had a great weekend….do share any pie-based adventures!

Ems x