May 31, 2009

eat real butter.....

......not only because it's better for you than synthesised chemical margarines, but, also get to use a proper butter dish too, like this vintage 50's one!
How many people, I wonder, would enjoy those spreads that the manufacturers tell us are 'just like butter', and are so good for us because they will look after our hearts, if they really knew just how it's made! I've known about the process since being a Home Ec. student way back in the eighties, and I haven't touched the stuff since! Give me 'real' food any day. You know, the stuff that generally doesn't come with a list of 'ingredients' (or is that artificial chemicals masquerading as 'food'!)
Firstly the raw ingredients of margarine manufacturing must undergo a series of preparatory measures. The oil - maize, coconut, olive, cottonseed, and soybean - is treated with a caustic soda solution to remove unnecessary components known as free fatty acids. The oil is then washed by mixing it with hot water, separating it, and leaving it to dry under a vacuum.
Next, the oil is sometimes bleached with a mixture of bleaching earth and charcoal in another vacuum chamber. The bleaching earth and charcoal absorb any unwanted colorants, and are then filtered out from the oil.
The oil is then hydrogenated to ensure the correct consistency for margarine production, a state referred to as "plastic" for very good reason! The oil is subjected to extremely high temperatures (about 500ºF) and pressure, and hydrogen is forced into the molecular structure to harden it. This process requires toxic substances, such as nickel oxide. The oils are mixed with finely ground nickel, a highly toxic substance that serves as a catalyst for the chemical reaction during the hydrogenation process.
An unintended side-effect, however, can result from this hydrogenation process. If the oils are only partially hydrogenated, some will become trans fats, and these have long been identified as being harmful to health
The end result of this process is a lumpy, grey, greasy substance. This is then emulsified to get rid of the lumps and steam cleaned to remove the odor of chemicals, which again involves high temperature and pressure.
The oil now needs to be bleached, coloured, and artificially flavoured again to make it palatable - after all, who wants to spread tasteless grey gloop on their toast!
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I would much rather have a rich, golden totally 'natural' knob of real butter on my toast. After all, how can it be worse for our body than a totally artificially produced tub of chemically altered substances.
Although margarine has synthetic vitamins added to it to mimic the nutritional content of butter, and the manufacturers are working to reduce the amounts of harmful trans fats. Thereby, arguing that this product is more 'healthy' for us. I think this totally deflects from the whole argument that margarine is essentially an 'artificial' substance, stuffed full of, synthetic chemicals.
Butter only has one ingredient - milk. I'd rather eat a little less of this natural food, than risk the unknown effects to my body of a cocktail of synthetic chemicals.

May 29, 2009

the edible May garden

Inspired by Nic of Cherrapeno's lovely pictures, and the balmy spring sunshine, I ventured into the garden to capture some glimpses of the garden in May.

It's amazing really, when you stop and look there are so many wonderful things that nature gives us for free!

dainty white thyme flowers look beautiful sprinkled over salads

lemon thyme gives a wonderful aroma when used with lamb or chicken on the BBQ

coriander flowers to add a colourful touch of spice to Asian dishes

ripening figs will soon be ready to enjoy, plump and rich with tangy goats cheese and mellow honey

and who can resist cherries that later will be bursting with redolent juices, just right for summer puddings, clafouti, or cheesecake, or this intriguing Cherry Beet Cake by Dan Lepard

the lemon tree is doing well in it's first 'season' and those buds are a hopeful promise of the waxy yellow fruits to come

and......busy bees fussing over the palest pink blackberry flowers

It's so exciting; the whole garden in coming alive with a burgeoning bounty, most of which has already has found its way to the dinner table in one form or another. What could be more delicious than food picked and eaten fresh, just as it's meant to be.

May 23, 2009

'credit crunch' garden salad with herbs and flowers

Everyone has been affected by the so called 'credit crunch' that we all now find ourselves trying to navigate through. But, does this mean that we can no longer eat good, nutritious, elegant food? - no, of course not! It just means we have to get a little more 'creative'.

I love salad, but not usually the price. So, yesterday when I found huge dewy, crunchy salad greens at a local vegetable store for only 69p each I was ecstatic! You may smirk, but they truly were the best buy of my day, and I couldn't wait to get them home and wash and 'spin' them. I wasn't disappointed either, because, with using only half of each lettuce head I still had a HUGE bowl of the freshest, crispest, plump and mouth-watering greens you could ask for. A proud reminder that the sad, and very expensive, washed lettuce bags that we are fobbed off with by the supermarkets all winter in our attempt to produce a passable mixed plate of greenery, are now but a memory, as, once again - for a few months at least! - we can pile our plates high with magnificent drifts of locally grown frisee, raddicchio and lollo rossa.........hurrah for spring! Perhaps I should change this post title to 'ode to lettuce'!

Anyway, having extolled the virtues of the humble salad leaf, so often pushed around the plate to be left wilting in the remains of the dinner's main star - or even worse - used merely as a whimsical decor. I would like to encourage it's use as the main 'player', along with other overlooked treasures of our gardens. After all, the herbs and vegetables that we now take for granted were once little known wild 'weeds' themselves. 'Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is one of the oldest known vegetables, developed from prickly lettuce (L. serriola), a wild plant around the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions which was used as a medicinal herb. Some reports point back as far as the Egyptians in 4500 BC, but it was certainly cultivated by ancient Greeks and Romans. The Emperor Caesar Augustus even had a statute made memorializing the romaine-type lettuce he believed cured him from an illness.' Susan Mahr, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Now is the perfect time to look further than the end of the supermarket aisle, and explore the edible delights that can be found in our own back yards!

So, let's get to the salad in point. This is intrinsically such a basic dish - hard boiled eggs, salad greens, salty olives, herbs and flowers,and a tangy garlic and herb dressing - but, when put together it truly does show that basic eating doesn't have to be boring eating. You may have already noticed that I love 'pretty' food, as well as food with integrity; good wholesome, natural ingredients, and no artificial anything! Well, this simple, delicate salad is a feast not only for the taste-buds, but also for the eyes. Bright yellow just boiled eggs sprinkled with smoky paprika (I like M&S Smoked Paprika mix); strong earthy flavours cut through with the saltiness of black spanish olives, and the tang of a garlicky dressing. All complemented with the delicate herbs and flowers and the crisp, crunch of the salad leaves.

Garden egg, herb and flowers salad
(Alfie - Cabbage Roses and Cupcakes)

Hard boil two eggs per person for around 7-8 minutes, so that they are still a little soft. Meanwhile wash and arrange a colourful mixture of salad leaves on each plate.

When the eggs are done, put them under a running cold tap to quickly cool them down and prevent the dark sulphur ring forming. Then peel and halve and arrange on the salad leaves.

Finally finish off the salad with a sprinkling of paprika over the eggs, and then add the olives and a variety of whatever herbs and flowers you have to hand. I used chives, dill, parsley, and viola flowers.

Dress with a simple garlic, herb vinaigrette made from 1 part cider vinegar to three parts good olive oil, with a crushed clove of garlic and some chopped basil and parsley all whisked up together in a bowl or glass jar.

It's nutritious with protein and iron from the eggs, and a good helping of vitamins and minerals from the various herbs - so it just goes to show that just because money is a bit tight, we don't need to sacrifice good eating!