Archive for June, 2009

A walk on the River Ure

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

 

Yesterday evening (Saturday), I went for a quick 1 hour walk by the River Ure near Boroughbridge.  It was a warm evening and the sky was blue.  The swallows were flying high in the sky and the kine were busy chomping on the grass on the river bank.  I met only a few other groups walking as I suspect the attractions of Robin Hood in the TV or a happy barbecue were more enticing than a wander by the river.  A family was having a barbecue on the lock with their lovely canal boat moored beside them.

 

As I looked around at the young cattle, the delicate greeny-white heads on the elder trees and the wheat growing like soldiers standing to attention in the fields, I had the sense of the earth sighing a delighted, gentle breath out at the end of a glorious day.  I also had the sense of a much deeper, longer breath of the earth as the planet breathed in replenishing itself after the winter. 

 

It is important to feel these longer rhythms of the earth as it moves through the seasons, breathing in and out, refreshing itself in Spring, renewing itself through the Summer, preparing itself for Winter during Autumn and then cleaning itself and using up the fruits of the Summer/ Autumn during the Winter, then starting the cycle again as the snowdrops reappear in early Spring.

 

The earth must be allowed to go through these rhythms.  It lets the earth rest, clean itself and then refresh itself before creating the bounty of the soil over the summer months.  Without these periods of rest to cleanse itself, it starts to build up toxins and the soil, water and air become enervated, losing its power to nurture life.

 

As we lose our connections to the soil, we forget these natural rhythms of the planet and force it to operate at full speed without the time to rest and recuperate.  We must simply slow down or the productivity of our planet will be eked away.

Recipe for Chinese Salt Buried Chicken

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

 

Here is another salty recipe.  It’s a traditional way of cooking in China and strangely is really delicious, even though it sounds far to salty.  While it seems a waste of salt, you can re-use the salt for similar meals – perhaps cook this first then the salt buried red snapper later.  

 

1.5kg                Whole chicken

1½tbsp             Fruit-flavoured brandy

1½tbsp             Soy sauce

4 slices             Fresh ginger

1                      Large onion, finely sliced

1tbsp                Steenbergs China 5 spice powder

2.75kg              Coarse sea salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

 

Mix together the brandy and soy sauce and use this to rub the chicken inside and outside.  Mix together the ginger, onion and China 5 spice and place this inside the chicken.  Leave to stand in a cool, well ventilated place for 2 hours to dry out.

 

Place the salt in a deep casserole dish and warm it through in the oven, stirring it once or twice to ensure that it is evenly heated through.  Make a well in the salt and bury the chicken, covering it completely.  Cover the casserole and warm it over a low heat for 10 minutes to warm through.  Transfer it into the preheated oven and cook for 1½ hours.

 

To serve, lift the chicken out of the casserole and brush it free of salt.  Chop it through the bone into 20 pieces and arrange on a double platter.  Serve hot, with rice or noodles, together with stir-fried vegetables.

Get Some Peace, A Quiet Early Morning

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I woke up really early this morning and was downstairs by 5am.  The house was quiet and the world was asleep, yet outside was suffused with a beautiful warm yellow light. 

The birds were hard at work doing their morning things – a thrush was plucking worms from our lawn, while 2 pigeons were hunting for seeds and grain within the grass.  I watched a robin singing merrily away in the midst of our cherry tree, proudly huffing out his chest.  While inside I cradled a warm cup of tea, smiled and was at peace. 

I didn’t do much else really for an hour or so, yet the time glided by and I ended out having a really productive day at work sorting out loads of things that I should have tackled ages ago. 

Perhaps we should take more time out in our days simply to be, relax and do nothing.  This unpicks the various tensions in our brains and bodies, and let’s us reposition ourselves.  The problem is most of us try to fill those precious moments of peace with some activity or TV or whatever else. 

I say just relax and be at peace.

Recipe – Make Your Own Burger

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

 

It’s summer and the time of barbecues is upon us.  We love making burgers, or, as my father insists on calling them, rissoles.  However, there is nothing more disappointing than a shop-bought burger whether from a local butcher or one of the multiples.  They are full of promise, but when cooked, have the texture of rubber or those plastic burgers that come in young kids’ toy shopping sets.  I am not quite sure how they manage to get that rubbery feel from perfectly decent mince, but I suppose it is a chemical binder that’s been added to glue everything together.

 

500g     Beef mince (the best quality that you can buy and ideally organic)

1          Medium onion, finely chopped

1          Handful of breadcrumbs

1          Lightly whisked free range organic egg (optional)

½ tsp    Freshly ground Steenbergs black pepper

½ tsp    Good sea salt

Pinch    Ground cumin (ideally Steenbergs)

Pinch    Cayenne pepper (ideally Steenbergs)

Soft cheese, ideally a creamy blue cheese like Yorkshire Blue

 

Firstly, heat up a heavy bottomed frying pan and add a small amount of sunflower oil.  Gently fry the onions until they are clear; this will take about 5 minutes and then leave them to cool down a bit. 

 

Secondly, prepare the breadcrumbs.  You can do this in 2 ways: either make them in your food processor using a good bread that is a couple of days old, or take some dried organic breadcrumbs and rehydrate with some warm water for a few minutes.  I think slightly old bread is better than fresh bread, plus it means you can use stuff that’s hanging about rather than buying it anew.

 

Now put the mince into a clean, large mixing bowl and then add the chopped onion and the breadcrumbs.  Then, making sure your hands are washed clean, mix these together thoroughly with your hands.  Now add the seasonings and once again mix with your clean hands.  If you want to, you can add a free range egg at this stage; it does add some extra richness and helps to bind the meat together.  Now cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, to let the flavours flood through.

 

You can play around with the seasonings to suit your taste, so for example in the height of summer you might pick some fresh parsley or chives from the garden and chop these up and add them to the mix, or in the depths of winter you could add a ½ teaspoon of organic baharat or ras al-hanut to spice it all up.  But remember that the better the beef you use, the more subtle your seasonings should be, so that the flavour of the beautiful beef is enhanced rather than blasted out; on the other hand if the meat is tasteless, then you will need to do everything you can to make it taste good.

 

Now, it’s time to make the burgers.  Get a clean plate ready and wash you hands again.  Take a small handful of the meat mixture and roll these into a ball and put them on the plate.

 

I know it’s a horribly bad habit, but I have for many years added mild, creamy cheese into the centre of the burger.  I like to use the wonderful Yorkshire Blue from Shepherd’s Purse as they are local cheesemaker’s but other cheese will do – even Boursin.  It means that you don’t have to cook the burger right through, plus it gives the burger an extra edge.  To add the blue cheese, make a small hole in the centre of the meat ball and scoop in some cheese with a spoon; now close over the hole and reform the meat ball.

 

With the palm of your hand, gently squash the balls flat.

 

Heat up a heavy bottomed frying pan and add a small amount of sunflower oil.  Place the burgers in the pan and fry slowly until lightly browned; this will take 5 or so minutes, then flip over carefully and fry the other side.  Serve immediately.

 

Serve with potatoes, tomato salsa and a green salad. 

 

If you want to put them in a bun, make sure that it is really good bread.  To me, massed produced burger buns has always been one of the worst food crimes ever; you go to a farmer’s market or food show and a farmer is selling the most beautifully reared organic beef and selling artisan made burgers from this meat, then beside the stand they are frying off burgers to eat then and there and plonking these burger perfections into a cheap Morrisons burger bun.

Recipe: Coronation Chicken

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

In Saturday’s The Daily Telegraph (6 June 2009), one of our great fans, Rose Prince, explains how to make a real Coronation Chicken.  I must admit that I hadn’t realised that it was invented by Constance Spry for our Queen’s Coronation in 1953 to feed 300 Royal invitees.  Rose Prince explains how to make Coronation chicken that doesn’t look (and taste) like gloop and links Steenbergs Madras curry powder as the curry powder of choice – perhaps we should rename it Coronation curry powder.

Follow the link to: 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/5428598/The-real…-Coronation-Chicken.html.

and for the Steenbergs organic Madras curry powder…

https://steenbergs.co.uk/product/169/madras-curry-powder-organic

The Independent’s 50 Best Food Websites

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

 

We’re in at number 39 in “The Top 50 Food Websites” in today’s The Independent.  Greg Atkins says “if you want to marinade some chicken or cook a curry from scratch, then you need these little pots of gold in your larder.”  Also, for Greg’s sake, I’ll let him into a secret Steenbergs packs the expensive pots from the lifestyle farm in Gloucestershire, which we assume is Dayelsford Organic, but we couldn’t afford to buy them ourselves.

If you missed the article, you can get it online at http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/food-drink/the-50-best-food-websites-1696793.html?action=Popup&ino=39.

Recipes for Salt Baked Fish and Tomato Salad

Friday, June 5th, 2009

 

 

What to do on a miserable summer’s day in Northern England?  Well we made these 2 meals that let us dream that it was summery weather outside.  You could imagine that the you were on a glorious beach in the Bahamas and the red snapper had been roasted on a barbecue, rather than in the oven.  Perhaps you could even drink a can of Red Stripe to make it feel even more like the Caribbean and turn on the heating for a few minutes to complete the pretence.

 

 

Salt-baked fish

 

4                     400g red snapper, gutted

Pinch    Coarse ground black pepper (ideally Steenbergs)

12                 Sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley

5kg       Traditional sea salt (not normal table salt)

 

Pre-heat the oven to 220oC.  Wash the fish and pat dry.  Sprinkle the inside cavities of the fish well with the Steenbergs black pepper and stuff with parsley.

 

Spread on 2 baking trays with half the sea salt.  Place the fish on the baking trays and cover with the remaining sea salt.  Press the salt firmly around the fish and sprinkle with a little water.  Bake for 15 minutes, then let the fish settle for 5 minutes.

 

To serve, remove the salt in large pieces and place the fish on plates.  Serve with lemon wedges and new potatoes, tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

 

Just before serving the new potatoes, season with sea salt and black pepper and pour on 1tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.

 

Tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette

 

4                     Fresh, ripe tomatoes

5                     Fresh basil leaves

2tsp      Balsamic vinegar

2tbsp    Extra virgin olive oil

Pinch    Coarse ground Steenbergs black pepper

Pinch    Fleur de sel

 

Slice the tomatoes and place into a shallow salad bowl.  Roughly chop the basil leaves (or tear with fingers) and place on top of the tomatoes.  Sprinkle with the fleur de sel (or Maldon Sea Salt) and some of Steenbergs organic black pepper, coarsely ground.  Mix the balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a jug and pour over the salad.

Natural Sea Salt

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Salt is important – for health and our culture.  Loyalty, friendship and bargains are sealed with salt in the Middle East.  Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans included salt in sacrifices and offerings.

 

Carrying salt to a new home is a British tradition – in 1789, when Robert Burns moved to a new house in Ellisland, he was escorted there by his relatives carrying a bowl of salt.

 

Salt in history

 

The Chinese started making salt in Sichuan from 3000BC; Li Bing ordered the drilling of the first brine wells in 252BC.  The Ancient Egyptians made salt by evapourating seawater from the Nile Delta, using it for preserving fish and birds and in mummification.

 

The word “salary” comes from the Roman word for salt, “salarium”.  However, while no-one quite knows the origin of this, Pliny The Elder wrote in Naturalis Historia that “[i]n Rome. . .the soldier’s pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it. . .” (finished in AD 77).

 

But it is the Celts or Gauls who were the first “salt people”.  They founded the first salt towns – Halle sits on an East German salt bed, while Hallein and Swäbish Hall and Hallstatt in Austria have the same linguistic root as Galicia in Spain and Portugal.  The Celtic society was founded on salt mining, trading it to the far ends of Europe at the same time as spreading Celtic culture.

 

Nowadays, most salt is made industrially by injecting water into rock salt deposits, which dissolves the salt, or by taking sea-water.  These brines are then filtered and evapourated by boiling.  The resultant salt may then be bleached to remove any yellow/grey colour in the salt crystals.  Anti-caking chemicals are then added to the salt to make it free-flowing.  These industrial salts have an uncomplicated salt (or pure sodium chloride) taste.

 

Salt & Health

 

Salt is responsible for maintaining water balance, blood pressure and is essential for muscle and nerve activity – sodium is needed to transport nutrients and oxygen, transmit nerve impulses and move muscles.  An adult human contains around 250g of salt, but is constantly losing it through natural bodily functions.  In fact, it’s as if we (together with all animals) have brought the sea with us to enable us all to survive on land.

 

But too much may increase the chances of high blood pressure, heart disorders and kidney disease – the average UK adult eats 8 – 15kg of salt per day.

 

Nowadays, salt (even sea salt) is refined – bleached to change its colour from yellow to white and made free-running through anti-caking agents (such as magnesium carbonate, calcium silicate or sodium hexacyanoferrate II).  Anti-caking agents cloud brines and distort flavours – we notice this especially in bread and pastry.

 

So if like us, you feel that our daily food is already pretty unnatural and overprocessed without your salt also being tampered with, you should go for old-fashioned, slow-harvested sea salt.

 

Portuguese sea salts

 

In the Algarve in the middle of the Nature Reserve Ria Formosa, there is still a tradition of salt harvesting.  While not as well known as that from Britanny, perhaps, we feel that it produces whiter crystals and a mellower flavour, with a wonderful bouquet of trace elements lacking in other sea salts.  Ria Formosa is home to flamingos, storks and other salt birds as well as brine shrimp and microalgae.

 

Traditional salt is produced in salinas (salt marshes and salt-pans).  After being submerged all winter, the salina is reborn in April when it is filled with concentrated sea water (at 150g of salts per litre), which still contains all trace minerals.

 

In mid-May, as the sun heats up the salina, the seawater concentration rises to 250g of salts per litre and our sea salt starts to crystallise.  As soon as this starts, the salt pan is topped up with more seawater to keep the process going.

 

By June, the salt-pans are ready for harvesting.  This is done with real care to avoid mixing the bottom clay with the salt and so keeping the sea salts naturally white.  After being hand-harvested, this traditional sea salt is sun-dried for 5 days maximising its magnesium and iodine content.

 

The Fleur de Sel – the gourmet product favoured in France – is collected from the surface of the pan like cream from milk.  The salt-workers gently harvest this thin layer of salt as it crystallizes on the surface of the water before sun-drying.  Fleur de sel has a trace element bouquet that highlights food flavours and crumbles easily between the fingers.

 

 

We have done chemical analysis of our salts (see below for details) to show the levels of minerals retained through sun drying.

 

Other great salts

 

In Britain, there is a choice of wonderful sea salts that have been produced through small-scale industrial evapouration.  Maldon Sea Salt is without a doubt one of the culinary icons in the world, and is still being produced by a family run business in Essex and they are lovely people.  Newer contenders include Anglesey Sea Salt and Cornish Sea Salt. 

 

I know I am a Luddite but there is something much more beautiful about sun-dried salt that has been slowly cared for and dried, rather than industrially evapourated sea salts made in stainless steel vats.

 

Chemical analysis of Steenbergs natural sea salt

 

 

 

Branded sea

salt

Branded low salt

Steenbergs fleur de sel

Steenbergs sea salt

 

 

 

 

 

Overview analysis

 

 

 

 

NaCl

98.5%

32.6%

84.8%

91.0%

Water

0.1%

0.1%

6.3%

4.5%

 

 

 

 

 

Detailed analysis

 

 

 

 

Iron

6mg/kg

641mg/kg

30mg/kg

5mg/kg

Calcium

138mg/kg

293mg/kg

837mg/kg

1,585mg/kg

Magnesium

1,828mg/kg

90mg/kg

5,116mg/kg

5,071mg/kg

Iodide

23mg/kg

23mg/kg

21mg/kg

22mg/kg

Potassium

463mg/kg

141mg/kg

2,014mg/kg

1,719mg/kg

Sulphate

57mg/kg

852mg/kg

7,645mg/kg

10,027mg/kg

Nitrates

2,348mg/kg

2,527mg/kg

1,867mg/kg

2,422mg/kg

Nitrites

1.4mg/kg

1.4mg/kg

1.6mg/kg

1.6mg/kg

Chlorides

985g/kg

992g/kg

847g/kg

910g/kg

Anti-caking agents

Yes(i)

Yes(ii)

No

No

 

 

 

 

 

(i)                   Magnesium carbonate and sodium hexacyanoferrate II

(ii)                 Magnesium carbonate

Mulling Wine – Recipes For Mulled Wine Syrup and a Medieval Hippocras

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

 

I know it seems a bit early in the year, especially as the weather outside is absolutely gorgeous – no wind and the sky is a beautiful azure. 

 

So on a beautiful summer’s day, here I am trying to design a new mulling wine product which is probably for Christmas 2010 as most buyers for shops have already worked out their purchases for Christmas 2009.

 

One really great idea that I have decided not to do any more with is mulled wine syrup.  It’s something I made last Christmas, but we only deal with dry products at Steenbergs so working out how to make this syrup just became too complicated.

 

Mulled wine syrup

 

½ tsp    Whole allspice berries

1tsp      Whole cloves, or coarse ground

½ tsp    Ground nutmeg, ideally quite coarse, so use a nutmeg grater

2tsp      Ground cinnamon (Sri Lankan cinnamon is much nicer than Chinese cinnamon or cassia from China, Indonesia or Vietnam)

½         Orange

½         Lemon

125g     Sugar

600ml   Water

 

Chop up the orange and lemon, leaving the peel on.  Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 1 hour with the lid on the pan (don’t evapourate off as this is really precious).  Strain through a fine sieve and bottle.

 

To use, take 1 measure of syrup to 2 measures of wine.  Heat to just below boiling point and serve in glasses.

 

Whatever you do, don’t buy the pre-mixed mulled wine that’s available in some shops at Christmas.  It tastes horrible and is full of chemicals trying to mimic the taste of spices. 

 

Fairtrade mulled wine

Fairtrade mulled wine

 

Medieval hippocras 

Making your own mulled wine is really simple – you could use the above syrup, or how about trying a medieval style flavouring called a hippocras.

 

2          75cl bottles red wine

200ml   Water

6tbsp    Sugar

2tsp      Cinnamon powder

1tsp      Cassia powder (cinnamon powder from China, Indonesia, Vietnam)

½tsp     Ginger powder

½tsp     Grains of paradise

Pinch    Nutmeg powder

Pinch    Galangal

 

Put the spices, sugar and water into a saucepan.  Bring this to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.  Now add the wine and heat up to just below boiling point and stir gently for 5 minutes, making sure that it does not boil as all the alcohol will evapourate.  Serve warm in mugs or wine glasses.

 

For anyone interested, the above recipe has been adapted from the following recipe from Le Viandier de Taillevent from about 1375, but I’ve tweaked in amounts to be more practical to how you could make it at home and reduced the sugar level as the original is horribly sweet.  You’re welcome to up the sugar if you want to.

 

8 oz      Sugar

1 quart Wine

½oz      Spice mixture

 

The spice mixture is:

 

4oz       Cinnamon

1oz       Mecca ginger

1/12oz Nutmeg

1oz       Grains of paradise

2oz       Cassia flowers

1/12oz Galingale

 

Take four ounces of very fine cinnamon, 2 ounces of fine cassia flowers, an ounce of selected Mecca ginger, an ounce of grains of paradise, and a sixth of an ounce of nutmeg and galingale combined. Crush them all together. Take a good half ounce of this powder and eight ounces of sugar, and mix it with a quart of wine.

Hope for British democracy?

Monday, June 1st, 2009
 
 


Behind all the excitement of the MPs expenses scandal, there lies a kernel of hope for the British democratic system. 

 

Michael Martin had requested that the Metropolitan Police investigate the leaking of the MPs expenses to The Daily Telegraph, however the Metropolitan Police declined to investigate further as there was little likelihood of prosecution.

 

The police spokesman said: “The assessment was informed by a recent published decision from the Director of Public Prosecutions that was, in part, applicable to this case. From this the Met believes the public interest defence would be likely to prove a significant hurdle, in particular the “high threshold” for criminal proceedings in misconduct in public office cases.

“Whilst the unauthorised disclosure of information would appear to breach public duty, the leaked documents do not relate to national security and much of the information was in the process of being prepared and suitably redacted for release under the Freedom of Information Act.”

The “recent published decision” related to the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”) regarding leaks by the MP, Damian Green, and the Home Office civil servant, Christopher Galley.  Within that statement, the DPP also stated that “some of the information leaked undoubtedly touched on matters of legitimate public interest, which were reported in the press.”

 

I believe, and I cannot believe that many people would believe otherwise, that the information regarding MPs’ expenses, also, touches on matters of legitimate public interest even if the Metropolitan Police did not allude to that.

 

For democracy to work and for the electorate to believe in it, the power of the central governing body has to be controlled and monitored.  In part, this is done via elections, however these are a relatively blunt tool (after all General Elections are only every 5 years and the last 2 Governments have actually hung around for around 15 years each) and have become rather too predictable – two parties competing for power in a mock Machiavellian dance over policy documents that they then ignore and fail to meet.  If politicians were directors of a publicly listed company, they would potentially have been prosecuted for misrepresentation within their Manifestoes.

 

But in this instance, the press has been allowed by the police to carry out genuine, legitimate investigative journalism and expose the electorate to the gross behaviour of their representatives.  And as a result, some MPs are having, or will have, their careers terminated or drastically set back, and it may even bounce the Government into calling a General Election.  After all what democratic legitimacy does the current Parliament have to sort out the current mess over expenses when they have patently failed to get it right in the first place.  The upcoming European and Council Elections will certainly impact the political landscape significantly for all parties with the potential upswing for some minor parties.

 

For me, the most worrying trends within New Labour have been their attempts – in the name of modernisation – to remove some of the checks and balances that have evolved within the Democratic system, and so increase the power of “Parliament”, or at least a small group of people surrounding the Prime Minister (many of whom are unelected). 

 

Gordon Brown believes he is the saviour of the British political system (as well as the economic system), however it is his belligerent belief in his own intellectual ability (perhaps even intellectual superiority) and that it is his right and duty radically to change our constitution that is dangerously arrogant.  Gordon Brown is not Britain and his belief that “I am Britain” (or perhaps in the words of Louis XIV “Je suis l’etat.  L’etat c’est moi” which seemed to be what Gordon Brown was saying on his Radio 4 interview this morning) is the vanity of power before a revolution, and this all looks similar to the build-up to the French Revolution that eventually overthrew Louis XVI, but was actually precipitated by the financial crisis in France after the 7 years war and the American Revolution.  And just like Louis XVI, Gordon Brown was not elected by the people to serve the people as their leader.

 

It is fundamental for the integrity of democracy that the centralising power of the Prime Minister is rolled back.  It is important that external institutions, such as the legal system, the Civil Service, Local Councils and the Press, can be enabled to scrutinise and moderate the natural inclination for the central power to over-reach its mandate.  But this Government does not have the moral mandate to make these changes and this Prime Minister does not have the moral mandate to lead Britain.

 

Overall, I am a great believer in the fact that it is often the small things in life that have a greater impact than the big, so (for example) the quiet word in the ear of a Minister that something within a Bill is not quite right may be more important than the discussion of that Bill in the House of Commons.  Moreover, the House of Commons failed to moderate Tony Blair and stop New Labour waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the House of Commons has been unable to get a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty which impacts questions of British sovereignty.  More press activity and power in the regions might serve to clip the wings of an arrogant House of Commons and expose the limp acquiescence of Backbenchers and the Opposition to anything the Government and the Leaders of the Parties propose.