Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Weird and Wonderful - Adventures with the Jerusalem Artichoke

The wonky Jerusalem Artichoke waiting to be peeled
The 'Britain in our Kitchen' Bible (Grown in Britain) told us specifically that it was the end of the season of the Jerusalem Artichoke. What? We did not even see a pack in the aisles of our local supermarket, where are they hiding? This was British seasonal food that we needed to find - and therefore should be available. Where we live, near London, apparently only Waitrose seems to stock them (we tried Tesco and Sainsbury's). 

To be honest you spend a lot of time looking for them everywhere, and all you get in the pack look like ... small wonky potatoes - or so it seems.And it is not obvious how you should cook this thing.  Does it even get peeled?  

Wikipedia tells us that this has nothing to do with Jerusalem, right... and that it is not a type of artichoke... - the plot thickens. At the end of the day, it just blames it on the French (at least their taste buds) ... 'The artichoke part of the Jerusalem artichoke's name comes from the taste of its edible tuber. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, sent the first samples of the plant to France, noting that its taste was similar to an artichoke'. 

So here you are it is not an artichoke that tastes like an artichoke, and basically this is what you need to expect, because this is what you are going to get. 

The way we cooked it is as follows, and if anyone else has some tips please send them over: peel it like a wonky potato, boil it like a wonky potato and mash it or make a gratin out of it... like a wonky potato. Except that it totally tastes like an artichoke. 
Our best recipe yet is the celeriac and Jerusalem gratin (like a Gratin Dauphinois, but using one layer of Celeriac slices and one of Jerusalem artichoke slices) - one word: WONDERFUL!

We tried to bake crisps out of it, it was nice but really shrank in the oven - so not quite there yet, but it would totally work!

PS: In French it is called Topinambour, and said like that Mrs Britain in our Kitchen has actually heard of it... Her French is clearly not as good as it used to be then!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Who needs risotto rice?

So of course rice is out of the question in our kitchen. To be fair, we did not eat a lot of it before, but every so often we cooked a risotto - it allowed us to get rid of some things in the fridge and be still really nice. We bought a pack of pearl barley during our first 'Britain in our Kitchen' shopping trip only on the basis that it was British - and that will work out what to do with it at some point.  

Picture via

So 2 'risottos' later (leek and bacon - delicious) using pearl barley in risottos is definitely a great substitute. Of course now that we googled it everyone has been talking about it, and there are many very good recipe online. We cook it like risotto rice, by adding gradually vegetable stock. And it reacts much like Risotto Rice and absorbs all the liquid. 

Just a note, it is really filling - much more than risotto, so it is probably good to go 3/4 of the rice proportions, unless you are starving of course! 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Les basiques - Crackers for Cheese Eaters

Cheese is important to us, the stronger the better. We could have stuck to bread and cheese - and ended up with an overdose of carbs. But what we really wanted were crackers. The recipe is our fourth (and best) variation on the BBC Good Food Sea Salt Water Biscuits recipe

To make 55 (using pasta maker)

150g Plain Flour (Sainsbury's own brand)
50g Rye Flour (Dove Farms)
tsp baking powder (Dove Farms)
50g butter (Sainsbury's own brand)
Table Salt  (1/2 tsp)
Sea (Maldon)
Linseeds (Sainsbury's own brand)

Flour, butter and Baking Powder, and table salt


Admiring the dough

Make them thin (pasta maker at 5)

Cut them

Before cooking (add salt, pepper and linseeds) and try to look sideways..

A new jar of crackers
To enjoy with British cheese!

NB: for the Weight Watchers programme: 2 crackers is 1 WW point.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Rapeseed Oil, the new Olive Oil?

Back in October when we first started talking about the ‘Britain in our Kitchen’ project, we quickly realised that Olive Oil would not be part of our diet. We actually left it at that until January came and our first shopping trip made us realise what the project actually meant (we spent 2 hours and a half food shopping for two people – we had to read all the labels). But the solution presented itself very quickly – olive oil could be easily replaced by Rapeseed Oil – and apparently it was even healthier for us!

The “Mellow Yellow“ from Farrington Oils Ltd  is the first “Seed to Bottle” cold pressed rapeseed oil in the UK (we bought ours in Sainsbury’s, but we saw it at Tesco and Waitrose). All the rapeseed is grown on Bottom Farm and then pressed and bottled on site by a local team. All Farrington Oils are made from the highest grade rapeseed which is GM free.

The how facts?

Cold pressing is the traditional and natural way to produce oil. Oil is simply gently squeezed out of the seed at temperatures below 40°C which ensures that the full essence and character of the oil is preserved. This careful process means that all the natural goodness within the seeds is preserved. Once the oil has settled, it is filtered to guarantee its purity, and then bottled. The whole process is natural which means that slight variations in character and appearance in the oil can be seen from season to season.

The taste test

We are basically using Rapeseed Oil instead of  Olive Oil for everyday cooking. The taste is not as strong as Olive Oil, but stronger than an average vegetable oil. We use much less of it in our cooking, and it seems to work (maybe we were using too much Olive Oil?). The website refers to a ‘subtle nutty taste’ – maybe. We have not tried it in mayonnaise yet, but it may be a very good addition – depending on the proportions.  It is brilliant for our salad dressing (with mustard and English apple Cider Vinegar).

This was a great find as far as our cooking is concerned. We were quite concerned about oil – and did not want to have to cook everything with butter.

Weight Watchers Note: Unfortunately Rapeseed Oil whilst being healthier is not in fact better than Olive Oil in terms of points – but on the positive side, it is not worse either. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

First post

So here is our first post. I suppose we should tell you a bit more about who we are and our ‘Britain in our kitchen’ challenge for 2012 (we have already started but have not had time to post about it).

So we are M and N – a thirty-something couple living in Herts, with pretty normal jobs, a mortgage, no dog and no kid. May be worth saying that N is French (brought up in France in her Grandma’s kitchen) and M is half French, half British (brought up in Britain). In our working lives we don’t go near a kitchen, or talk cuisine. We are no chefs, we are in fact average cooks although getting better through the challenge).

So what is ‘Britain in our kitchen’? This is a project we have been discussing since last October. It is pretty easy really, we intend to live on food coming from Britain at home (so not at our work canteen for instance) the whole of 2012. So yes, that means no chocolate for a year, no olive oil, dry pasta, mangoes, bananas, and nothing out of season. Oh and ready-made meals are now officially banned.

There a few exceptions. First of all, we can finish the food that we have bought in 2011 – no we did not stock it up, but that may have helped. Secondly we are allowed herbs and spices from outside Britain – although if there is a British version we will obviously use it. Oh, and we are allowed coffee and tea – so we are not totally miserable for a year. We are also allowing processed foods that are made up of British products – and make a strong statement about it (so crisps are officially allowed – some not all of them).

So in this blog you will be able to follow us on our food adventures – or disasters. We will share recipes, substitutes, highlight some obscure products that we would not even have looked at before (rapeseed oil or Jerusalem artichoke anyone?) – and maybe some restaurants that try to reduce food miles as well (that will be good, cooking everyday can become tiresome).

We would love to hear from you in the comment box, your tips – the recipes you think we should try, or the products we may not have seen.

Expect a lot of excitement when we find produce that we have been craving (like rhubarb a couple of weeks ago). This is our journey to learn about food again.