Archive for February, 2011

It’s A Mad World, Sometimes

Monday, February 28th, 2011

We are developing a vanilla paste to complement Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, rose water etc. 

However, today I was sent the Specification and Material Safety Data Sheet by the guys who are going to do “the making it into a paste bit” for us.  Within this, it stated that “If Ingested: Induce Vomiting”.  On thinking this a bit extreme for a product that is already sold for human consumption to the public in shops and restaurants around Europe and the USA, I queried this statement.  The response was simple that if you ingested too much then this might be bad for you and then you should induce vomiting. 

I suspect that eating/ drinking too much Divine Orange Chocolate or smoked salmon or Mrs Kirkham’s delicious Lancahsire cheese or Coca-Cola or even our teas and so on and so on might be bad for the health and one should then induce vomiting, if it has not already started of its own accord; so why not then put health warnings on all foodstuffs that you eat this at your own risk.

It is just another symptom of our form-filling world where it is more important to tick some boxes rather than engage the brain and really think things through, i.e. businesses and bureaucrats are becoming ever more interested in covering their legal backsides than actually adding any real value.  So I am now going to buy a product that I am being told might cause “nausea and dizziness” if ingested specifically to sell to the public to ingest, so now the risk has shifted from the manufacturer to me, so it is lucky that my shoulders are broad enough to take on a bit more theoretical business risk.

Go On Enjoy A Bowl Of Bitter Organic Matcha Tea

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

“A bitter pill to swallow” is a classic idiom of the english language that implies that medicine often comes in the form of a bitter pill, but that it is worth suffering that taste for the benefits that should flow.  Life has changed and many bitter pills nowadays have a sweet sugar coating.  This underlies an obsession with sweetness and sweet things, from sweets through to fizzy drinks.  Our life and nutrition is almost obsessed with indulging ourselves in sugar.  All-in-all I don’t think we eat enough that is bitter anymore, except perhaps for bittersweet chocolates or mints or gin & tonic or angostura bitters.  But tea is a great way to get that flavour sensation, or spices like amchur, sumach and tamarind that are acidic-bitter, or even cooking with angostura bitters.

I have been fiddling around with our tea selection and the tea part of Steenbergs for some time now.  We relaunched our packaging style in 2010 and since then have been expanding the specialist teas in that range, with more changes still to be made over the next couple of years (slowly but surely at our own pace is the way we move).  As part of these changes, we have increased our selection of Japanese teas and one of the revelations for me has been Steenbergs Organic Matcha Tea, which is deliciously bitter, energising and yet contemplative.

Matcha Tea Looking Like Green Paint

Little Pot Of Green Matcha Tea

Matcha is a Japanese green tea that has been ground down to a very fine powder, so that you can drink the whole of the green tea leaves, suspended in hot water.  Other origins of matcha tea are now available, but Japan remains the real and best place of origin.  Matcha tea forms the centre of the Japanese tea ceremony, which revolves around the preparation of matcha tea in a calm, conducive and contemplative space in the home.  It is a peaceful environment that is full of ceremonial forms that brings a little bit of peace into our ever chaotic and dynamic world.

I took my matcha tea as follows: using an old tea spoon that I found lurking in a drawer I put a level spoon into the bottom of a rustic looking Japanese matcha bowl.  Onto this, I poured about 1 inch of just-boiled freshly drawn water, then using a bamboo matcha whisk gave it all a vigorous stir in a fgure of eight motion until it was well suspended into an emulsion of organic green tea particles in the hot water.  For a more expert go at this, here’s a Youtube link on making matcha tea (actually I was not much different in the method I used).

A Spoon Of Green Matcha Tea

A Spoon Of Green Matcha Tea

Place The Matcha Tea Into The Tea Bowl

Place The Matcha Tea Into The Tea Bowl

Whisk The Matcha Tea In Figure Of 8 Motion

Whisk The Matcha Tea In Figure Of 8 Motion

Then I sipped the tea quietly and thoughfully.  The first time I found the tea really quite bitter and acrid, but with practise my whisking is getting better and the tea is beginning to develop a more herbal, grassy freshness after the bitterness of those first few shots.

Drinking A Bowl Of Organic Matcha Tea

Drinking A Bowl Of Organic Matcha Tea

What does it feel like?  You get a energising buzz from the tea rather like drinking 5 or 6 cups of tea rather than just the one smallish bowl.  And the whole rigmarole of preparing the tea, with concentrating on the mixing it up and so on, is remarkably calming.

And then there are the benefits of drinking matcha tea. 

There is evidence that suggests that green teas are full of antioxidants that are good for you and that matcha tea is chock-full of these, with some 137 times more antioxidants and catechins than normal green tea (the researchers used Starbucks Green Tips as comparator) and more antioxidants than fruits like blueberries, goji berries, orange juice (70x more) and spinach.  Matcha also has high levels of important amino acids, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients.  Matcha is great for your energy levels, being full of theophylline and l-theanine (sold as an anti-stress treatment in Japan), which can work together to give your body an energy kick of up to 6 hours.  There’s, also, a report that suggests that green tea aids your general metabolism with matcha tea boosting it by 30-40%. 

So why the benefit?  Firstly, it may be that matcha tea is grown in 90% shade unlike other teas that are grown in more direct sunlight.  Secondly, it is that the whole green leaf is ingested rather than just the liquor from it, i.e. you get the whole benefit.  You could eat other green teas perhaps and get the same benefit: teas do make a good flavour component for cooking and all you need to do is grind down the leaves in a coffee grinder and then you can get the colour and flavour distributed through your foods, so it does not just need to matcha.  There’s a good introductory recipe for cooking with matcha at Fuss Free Flavours for Vegan Matcha Muffins.

Some references on matcha tea:

“Using a mg catechin/g of dry leaf comparison, results indicate that the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.” (Weiss, D.J. and Anderton, C. R, Journal of Chromatography A; Sep 2003, Vol. 1011 Issue 1/2, p173, 8p)

“One of the most intriguing properties of green tea has been its proposed chemo-preventative effects.  For example, Imai and co-authors studies 8552 Japanese men and women and found a negative relationship between green tea consumption and cancer incidence.  Tea drinking has also been found to decrease the concentration of biuomarkers for oxidative stress after smoking.  One possible explanation for this effect is that polyphenolic compounds show good inhibition of proteolytic enzymes such as urokinase which cancers need to invade cells and form metastases.  More recently, Fujiki and co-authors demonstrated the inhibition of tmour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) by epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea. This cytokine is required for tumour development and the inhibition of TNF-α is believed to be one of the most important activities of EGCG in green tea.” (Weiss, D.J. and Anderton, C. R, Journal of Chromatography A; Sep 2003, Vol. 1011 Issue 1/2, p173, 8p)

“The researchers found that samples of matcha had 200 times the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate in the common U.S. tea.” (Science News, 12/04/2003, Vol. 163 Issue 15, p238, 1/4p)

Health benefits: With its extremely high levels of the cat-echin epigallocatechin-3-gallate, green tea may help prevent practically everything from sleep apnea and psoriasis to breast cancer, recent studies suggest. Researchers in Japan recently concluded that drinking five or more cups of green tea per day could lower your mortality rate by up to 16 percent.” (Kadey, M.G., Natural Health, 01/12/2008, Vol. 39 Issue 1, p39-46, 6p)

Brussels Sprouts And Chestnuts With Maple Glaze – A Recipe

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I have never liked brussels sprouts, feeling they were the devil’s food rather than the fairy cabbages that friends have sought to con their children with.  I have always dreaded Christmas lunch with the obligatory brussels sprouts or as in my case sprout.  So it was with great interest that Sophie told me about a recipe for brussels sprouts that even haters seemed to like.

Brussels Sprouts With Chestnuts And Maple Syrup Glaze

Brussels Sprouts With Chestnuts And Maple Syrup Glaze

It comes from a great little cook book “The Boxing Clever Cookbook” by Jacqui Jones and Joan Wilmot, which is full of recipes to liven up the repetitive dullness that seems to creep into your veg from a box scheme over the months, especially in the depths of winter.  You know what it’s like: week after week of struggling to liven up turnip or cabbage, or even what to do with brussels sprouts. 

Brussels Sprouts Ready For Cooking

Brussels Sprouts Ready For Cooking

The recipe that we liked is brussels sprouts with chestnuts and maple syrup, which basically masks the bitter, cabbagy flavour of brussels sprouts by mixing it with the nuttiness of chestnuts and loads of butter and maple syrup.  Could I still taste the brussels sprouts? Yes, but when diluted with the other flavours, it was actually quite pleasant, so while I won’t be eating brussels sprouts on their own, this is not at all bad.

Brussels Sprouts And Chestnuts With Maple Glaze

Adapted from “The Boxing Clever Cookbook” by Jacqui Jones & Joan Wilmot

90g / 3oz / ⅓ cup cooked, peeled chestnuts, chopped into small dice
225g / ½ lb / 1 cup brussels sprouts, trimmed with outer leaves removed and X on base
3tbsp maple syrup
20g / 1oz butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Boil the sprouts for about 10 minutes until they are tender.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Set aside.  Quarter them if you want or keep whole as I did.

2.  Put the maple syrup into a pan and warm.  Add the butter and chestnuts and stir as the butter melts.  Add the sprouts and stir.  Season with salt and pepper.

Mixing Chestnuts In With Maple Syrup And Butter

Mixing Chestnuts In With Maple Syrup And Butter

3.  Enjoy.

My Dilemma With The Alternative Vote System

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

With the impending referendum on the Alternative Vote System, it seemed appropriate to rehash my thoughts on this area.  I had my first foray into considering the election system during the General Election in May 2010, and having favoured the first-past-the-post system was roundly criticised for my lack of real thought, which was harsh but perhaps fair.  I followed this up with a couple of blogs in August on different voting systems in the first and a discussion of the key issues relating to electoral systems in the second.  Since then I have continued to mull over the issues in my mind and it leaves me with a dilemma.

While first-past-the-post (FPTP) is not a fair system, however (in my opinion) the alternative vote system (AV) is not much advance on it in terms of fairness.  In fact, although AV is arguably fairer than FPTP, it is perhaps not worth the effort in changing from the devil you know for a new system unless it is palpably better and AV really is not good enough.

Conversely, we do need a fairer voting system in England and proportional representation is the only sensible system, with the single transferable vote method (STV) being the best.  I like the proportionality in STV and the idea of multiple members for enlarged constituencies.

So what to do?  Can AV be regarded as a good stepping stone that moves the electoral debate a smidgeon forward? Or is it a sop that will legitimise a new status quo centred on either AV or even worse FPTP, without the argument moving into the territory of proportionality and a fairer voting system?

In the end it is a gamble, or at least a game of tactics, in which I remain undecided and perhaps worse relatively unexcited. 

I feel there are bigger issues than the voting system: is the “old” Western world losing out to the new and rising stars in the East? Has Britain wasted its capital by investing its wealth in non-productive assets and putting itself in hock with its creditors who all sit in the Middle East, India and China?  Are we wasting our intellectual capital by letting them get involved with consultancy and investment banking rather than building the UK into something great?  Does the taxation system force Britons to focus on short term returns rather than investing for the longer term to build/rebuild equity and productive assets?  And so on…or should we fiddle like Nero as Rome burns.

How To Make Spicy King Prawns And Then A King Prawn Salad

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Steenbergs Salt And Pickling Spice For Cooking Shrimp

Steenbergs Salt And Pickling Spice For Cooking Shrimp

I have been struggling recently to get motivated.  I reckon that the long nights and cold weather have finally got deep into my bones, and as Christmas was literally a wash-out, I really should be going for some winter sun to get some solar heat into the marrow of my bones and throw away this lethargy.  Dream on… so in a break from my principles of only cooking for the season, I have created a gorgeous king prawn recipe that really should be enjoyed on a beach somewhere on the Caribbean with an ice cold beer.  On a more on message bit of cooking, I also made a chicken casserole laced with loads of haricot and pinto beans to give that winter vitamin kick.

King Prawn With Rocket, Spinach And Watercress Salad

King Prawn With Rocket, Spinach And Watercress Salad

This recipe was inspired by a chat with one of the chefs at the Big Easy restaurant on the Kings Road in London.  The Big Easy is based on the idea of barbecue and crab-shacks diners in Southern USA.  It is basically deveined prawns cooked in boiling salt water that has been infused with my own Pickling Spice blend, cooled then eaten with coleslaw, a rocket salad and a chilli style dip.  Also, the photo that came out of the sea salt and pickling spice as above looks pretty cool, so I like the aesthetics of this blog more than sometimes.

For the prawns:

2 dessertspoon pickling spice
3 stamens saffron
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 litre / 1¾ pints / 4¼ cups water
450g / 1lb raw king prawns

1.  Put the pickling spice in some muslin.  Put the water into a pan; add the sea salt, pickling spice and saffron to the water and bring to the boil with the lid on the pan.

Put The Pickling Spices And Saffron Into The Water

Put The Pickling Spices And Saffron Into The Water

2.  When the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and the water to a gentle simmer.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

3.  Add the raw king prawns to the water and return to the boil.  Cook for 2 minutes, then drain.

Raw Prawns Ready For Cooking

Raw Prawns Ready For Cooking

Prawns After Broiling In Water Infused With Pickling Spice

Prawns After Broiling In Water Infused With Pickling Spice

4.  Cool overnight in a fridge.

Salad With King Prawns

100g / 3½ oz rocket, watercress and spinach leaves (roughly equal proportions)
1 red pepper, sliced and cut into small pieces
10 mangetout, cut into 1cm / ½ inch lengths
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Pinch truffle salt
Pinch Herbes de Provence
Pinch sumach

1.  Add 1 tbsp sunflower oil to a wok and stir fry the red pepper and mange tout until cooked but still crisp.  Drain off oil.  Leave to cool.

Stir Fry The Red Pepper And Mangetout

Stir Fry The Red Pepper And Mangetout

2.  Wash salad leaves.  Drain and let dry, then place into a salad bowl.

3.  Add the cooked (cooled) red pepper  and mangetout to the salad and mix. 

Mix Together The Salad Leaves, Red Pepper And Mangetout

Mix Together The Salad Leaves, Red Pepper And Mangetout

4.  Add the king prawns cooked as above.  Sprinkle all over with a pinch of sumach, then toss into the salad.

5.  Make the dressing by mixing together the white wine vinegar, olive oil, truffle salt and Herbes de Provence.  Pour over the salad and toss thoroughly.

King Prawn With Rocket, Spinach And Watercress Salad

King Prawn With Rocket, Spinach And Watercress Salad

6.  Eat, enjoy and think of summery weather.