Heist: the London anti-gallery involving food, music, cushy sofas, and more Friday, Aug 1 2014 

2014-06-12 19.05.20-1Hidden in a quiet corner of Notting Hill, women with plumage milled around a white-fronted house; flanked by security guards, paparazzi and bohemians, sipping lavender lemonade and mingling. This might have appeared to be like any other gathering of arty celebrities and socialites, but this was the much-awaited launch of Heist, “London’s first anti-gallery”, billed as an immersive experience for lovers of fine art photography.

The aim of Heist is to smash down the barriers that many contemporary fine art photographers face when attempting to bring their work to the public, whether new to the scene or well-established. By collaborating with Heist’s founders (Mashael Al-Rushaid, J. Harry Edmiston and Anna Pia Lubinus) and displaying their work in this beautiful space, artists can bridge the divide between artists and collectors by selling their work directly as exclusive Heist prints and ultimately making their creations more accessible.

The inception of Heist was online. Edmiston and Lubinus (a couple, both with a strong background in business, photography and fine art investment) created heist-online in 2013, hand-picking artworks based on their photographic merit rather than reputation. Joining forces with Al-Rushaid, they focused on creating an “offline” counterpart in Linden Gardens featuring the most appreciated artworks from its online sister, where people could experience something a little out of the ordinary.

In addition to exhibitions from new and exciting international photographers, Heist wants the viewer to interact with their surroundings by experiencing performance art within the open space of the gallery, as well as tasting fine cuisine inspired by the artists and the exhibition itself.

Walking up the stairs of this beautiful residential property (clutching a glass of bubbly or lemony cocktail), you are surrounded by staggeringly powerful photographs, beautifully scented candles and roses. To the untrained eye, Heist is…well… a gallery. It’s not some parallel dimension where you experience vaporised art inhaled through your eyeballs (anti-gallery is a therefore somewhat pretentious term) – it is a series of actual rooms with actual photographs in heist cakethem. However, there are also cosy bar areas and lounges, secret corners and balconies within this place; it’s as much built for socialising as it is for art appreciation. Heist is trying to step as far away from being a ‘white-cube gallery’ as it can. The house itself was buzzing and shimmering with people. In the spirit of Heist, various musicians such as Jackson Scott & Into the Moon were performing live, and samples of the food inspired by images and artists were shared around; cuts of pork garnished with flowers, miniature burgers, sea bass and pumpkin ravioli are just some examples.

heist artSurroundings aside, Heist is excellently curated. There is an enormous variety of work on show: a man having a woollen brain haemorrhage; urban kaleidoscopes; 90s Kate Moss; a crown of nude women; striking neon angular architecture contrasted with ethereal Alaskan landscapes and hyper-real close-ups of everything from feathers to Bibles to skin. The selection is inspiring, original and invigorating, and can veer from disturbing to delicate from one photograph to the next. Even for non-collectors, it is a fantastic array of work. This is a place for eating, laughing, listening, discussion and debate.

The current exhibition can be viewed online at http://www.heist-online.com/store-exhibition/ as well as in person at the anti-gallery in Linden Gardens. In terms of purchasing, the prices range from approximately £400- £20,000 and beyond. This may put it beyond the reach of ‘accessible’ for some. Heist (as it was portrayed at the launch) was strongly impressive, but without visiting on a quieter afternoon, it remains to be seen how this translates into an anti-gallery experience for the casual passerby who is not a potential buyer. I however encourage you to take a look and discover Heist for yourself.

Gemma Summons


Ferret food from…Senegal Saturday, Aug 31 2013 

This post is about food from West Africa. But the story actually begins in the market in Les Vans, in south-east France.

This is a huge market that snakes into all corners of the town, and it includes an epic spice stall. (So epic that I forgot to photograph it. DOH. Next time, people, next time.)

Straight away, I couldn’t resist buying some sumac – it’s a meaty, umami-flavoured sort of spice that is nigh on impossible to find in French supermarkets and which goes brilliantly with tomatoes. But then I spotted that they also had some long peppers, which I’d recently seen Rick Stein using in his Indian odyssey. Finally, I spotted some yassa – which I’d never heard of before, and so bought out of sheer curiosity. Once home, I looked it up online to try to find out how on earth to use it.

Yassa is not a spice itself, but is a spice mix originating in Senegal, and it’s particularly popular in the area immediately south of Dakar. It can be bought pre-mixed online, or you can mix your own, but sources differ as to what exactly it contains. At its simplest, it must contain onions, lemon and garlic, and the lemon flavour seems particularly important. However, the Guardian’s recipe contains peppers and chillies too, and the UKTV Food version omits the red pepper, using thyme instead. A possibly more authentic spice mix comes from French spice retailer Ile Aux Epices, with their blend containing not just the traditional onions, lemon, garlic and red pepper, but also black pepper, ginger, thyme and bay.

So how do you use it? According to our good friend the internet, it’s most popularly served with chicken, but can also be served with fish. I decided that the best way forward with this would be to marinade the chosen protein in the spice mix for a couple of hours, and then dry-fry it in a griddle or frying pan. You could, though, I suppose, make a more tomato-based or cream-based sauce and then proceed as if making a curry, which would taste good but not be very traditional. This time, though, we dry-fried the chicken breasts to give the dish colour, before braising in a little bit of wine to keep the meat moist. We then served it atop a couscous, pine nut and preserved lemon salad to complement the citric flavours of the yassa:

yassaI have to admit that before encountering yassa I knew NOTHING about West African food (a very different beast to North and South African foods, I can assure you). Now, though, there’s a whole host of dishes from this region that I want to try. Here’s my top five:

  • Funkaso. This dish from Nigeria is something I stand a chance of recreating at home easily. This is just pancakes made with millet flour, butter, and sugar. It can be served as an accompaniment to a main meal, or just as a snack with honey or chutney.
  • Jollof rice. Popular across the entirety of West Africa, this one’s appealing for its versatility. Its basic ingredients are rice, tomatoes, tomato purée, onion, salt and red pepper – but beyond that, any meat or vegetable can be served with it. Spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cumin and Scotch bonnet are also often added.
  • Kedjenou. Mainly cooked along the Ivory Coast, this is a spicy stew that leaves chicken or guinea fowl to cook in its own juices in a sealed pot along with a selection of vegetables. Again, methods and flavours will vary widely, but a classic base of tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and onions seems to be used frequently. Other spices – such as thyme, ginger and bay – may be added from there.
  • Thieboudienne. Also known as ceebu jen, this is a fish dish which, like yassa, also originates from Senegal. Rice, tomatoes and onions are major components of the dish, with carrots, cabbage and cassava also being important. Again, its versatility makes it popular – any vegetables or fish can be used (although smoked fish seems to be preferred) – as well as its convenience (it’s basically a one-pot wonder).
  • Suya. A kebab-like dish of Hausa origin, it’s also known as chichinga or agashe and consists of skewered beef, fish or chicken. The key to this is yet another spice mix named tankora, which must contain powdered peanuts, ginger, paprika, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. I could see next time I’m in Les Vans if they sell the spice mix required for this celebrated Hausa street food, but the beauty of this is that I reckon I could rustle up the spice mix myself too.

Got any West African favourites of your own? Feel free to comment below 🙂 And don’t forget you still have until September 14th to enter our Hairy Bikers competition 🙂 Spread the word!

Grazing with gousto Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

The BBC television series Dragons’ Den has seen a lot of wacky ideas pass through its doors, but some of its most successful have been food-related, including Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce and Kirsty Henshaw’s Worthenshaw’s (now named Kirsty’s). So it’s hardly surprising that organic food delivery service Gousto decided to try their luck on last night’s episode.

The premise is simple: people want the convenience of takeaway food without the unhealthy aspects, so Gousto lets you choose from 10 new recipes each week before sending you the organic ingredients for the meal(s) you want – already prepared into exact portion sizes labelled to identify each ingredient, so that you get all of the convenience and none of the fuss, as well as a deliciously healthy meal involving no wastage. Available nationwide, reluctant cooks (and those stuck within a 5-dish rut of a repertoire) now have another option that doesn’t involve fatty takeaways, or obscure vegetables in farm boxes that they don’t know what to do with. All dishes include a preparation time, difficulty level, five-a-day rating, and calorie information, allowing purchasers to pick recipes to suit their needs.

So why didn’t they get an investment? It’s just unfortunate that they went into the den with an investment already on the table, which they feared losing if the dragons were to offer something even more attractive. Ultimately, too, it’s still more expensive than shopping from scratch: at £4-£7 per person per meal, this is still more than the €5 per person per meal that I manage to shop at here in France (and that’s with eating meat three times in one week, which we don’t normally do, and at the most expensive supermarket brand in the country, meaning it’s not incomparable to what Brits might pay while shopping at more budget-friendly supermarchés). Saying this, though, discount code DRAGONSDEN does give you £15 off your first order if you want to give it a go.

Some people may also worry about being at home to receive the delivery of ingredients – but the founders say that their deliveries are 99% successful, so this concern may be baseless. New dragon Kelly Hoppen pointed out that this involves planning a week ahead, and that this could be a disadvantage for some – but to be honest, it’s a habit everyone should be getting into. We can’t all afford to make food decisions on a whim and waste perfectly good ingredients that we already have in. Maybe that’s not a concern if you’re a dragon, though.

Gousto should enjoy fighting its way onto the market – as well as having to contend with organic veg box services such as Riverford, and healthy snack delivery companies like Graze, there are plenty of other businesses already on the healthy food delivery scene. Here’s just a few that you may want to try out:

  • Raw food deliveries: Raw Fairies offer daily deliveries of raw food menus. The food sounds good – it includes cacao shakes, tahini noodles, and Russian root salad – but at a minimum of £29.50 a day, you’ve got to have some serious cash to burn.
  • Healthy snack bars: Natural Balance Foods sell healthy favourites, Trek and NAKD bars, at better value than in the supermarkets and with free UK delivery too. If you buy one of their mixed boxes, it can cost you as little as 83p a bar.
  • Graze’s biggest rival?: Nutribox offers a randomised healthy snack delivery service not dissimilar to Graze. Costs from £10.95 for 8 snacks a month, and offers a vegan option too.
  • Gousto’s biggest rival?: HelloFresh operates along the same lines as Gousto, allowing you to choose recipes and have the ingredients sent straight to your door. From £4.30.
  • For blowing the budget: When you don’t want to cook, and want to stay in the comfort of your own home, but the occasion demands more than just a takeaway, Banquet In A Box is there. Their £39 celebration banquet contains such delights as chicken liver and redcurrant parfait, beef wellington with mushroom and madeira sauce, and chocolate caramel soufflé.

So even though I’ve got 3 huge carrier bags of healthy snacks to see me through this term already, I’ll definitely be looking ahead to January, when they’ll likely be standing forlornly empty.

A taste of Twitter Sunday, Aug 25 2013 

Just a quick heads up to say that you can follow Ferret Food and Wines on Twitter, using the handle @ferretfoodwines. FFW doesn’t actually have that many followers on Twitter right now, which is a little saddening 😦  We acknowledge, though, that all that tends to go on there is the link to our latest post…which, if you follow this blog via WordPress, you’ll already receive anyway by email. But follow us and we’ll try to make our feed more exciting, with a few more things that you won’t necessarily see on this blog – including cute food pictures, like this one:

Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter soon!

Packed lunches: yay or nay? Saturday, Jul 13 2013 

Is this what’s being served at your child’s school? BLECH.

Headteachers across the UK have recently been urged by a government-commissioned school food review to ban children from bringing in their own lunches. Parents are already beginning to bemoan this for several valid reasons – among them the current cost and quality of school dinners, and the power of the nanny state over parental choice. Others, however, see that this could be a good thing, given that packed lunches don’t always encourage communal eating in schools, some parents are not sending their child to school with a balanced meal, and schools are supposed to be reinforcing the precepts of healthy eating taught in class (which is in their best interests – after all, children do concentrate better in school if they eat properly). So as a teacher in a secondary school, what’s my view of it?

I have some very driven, athletic students who pride themselves upon eating well, choosing to go to the nearby supermarket at lunchtime for a salad and an apple. I also have some students who can be found glued to the vending machines at any opportunity (including between lessons, when they shouldn’t be there – not just at lunchtime) and who take themselves off to fast food outlets every lunchtime. My colleagues in the science department try very hard, I’m sure, when teaching nutrition, to educate the students about healthy food choices, and balanced school meals are provided (usually consisting of a protein, a carbohydrate, 1-2 vegetables, and something for afters, which is sometimes fruit and sometimes dessert).

However, is it really a school’s role to teach students about healthy eating, and to uphold this principle throughout the school day? This is where Britain and France diverge. Britain is the land where vending machines have been mostly banned in schools by now, and where students have the precepts of healthy eating drummed into them, not just in science lessons but also in personal and social education classes (PSE). The argument that schools should continue to do this by having students eat healthy lunches provided by the school therefore follows logically. In France, however, the choices and rights of the individual are highly prized (this is practically enshrined in their constitution). This seems to cover the students and their parents separately, therefore leaving no place for schools to tell students what they should or shouldn’t be eating, or to tell parents what they should or shouldn’t be feeding their children. It therefore makes logical sense in the light of this to allow students to eat what they want at lunchtime, whether it’s an apple or an apple pie. This is also a reason why you won’t find any PSE lessons in French schools, and why students in France are unlikely to be punished by their school for their behaviour outside of the premises, even if they happen to be wearing a school uniform at the time.

A school meal from Grenoble

The French view of it also assumes that parents are already teaching children to eat correctly, so for schools to do so would be redundant. This is perhaps not unfounded given that France hardly has a problem with obesity (go over a UK size 12 here and you’re practically considered plus-size). School dinners are also a matter of convenience, not health, and if children (or their parents) don’t want these, packed lunches are still practically unheard of, as children not taking school dinners tend to go home for lunch (hence the idea of school dinners being more to do with convenience). Plus, let’s be honest, there’s perhaps less of an issue in France with children refusing to eat something that resembles vulcanized lizard rocks from the moon (thanks, Dylan Moran!). Take this sample menu, for instance, from the secondary school nearest to where I live (NB not the one I work at):

STARTER: Soup, salami, or a white cabbage salad; MAIN: Roast veal with tomato and basil or tuna quiche, served with parsley potatoes or leek fondue; DAIRY: yoghurt or cheese; DESSERT: homemade fruit crumble or fresh fruit.

All ingredients are seasonal and they even recommend which options students should choose if they’re trying to watch their weight. Not a Turkey Twizzler or even a chip in sight. The cost? €220 a term, or €3,46 a meal (assuming they’ll be in school for 64 days the term commencing September 2013). That’s £2.99 at today’s exchange rate. There’s even a cheaper tariff available if you don’t want them to have all the meals each week. Costs also go down if you go to a cheaper area of France (living costs in the south of France, where the above picture came from, are far likelier to be lower than here, just outside of Paris). AND THIS IS A STATE SCHOOL WE’RE TALKING ABOUT. What’s the French for “blimey!”?

It’s therefore easy to see why this may be more of a problem in the UK – particularly if it’s really true that British parents are not sending their kids to school with a healthy lunch (not necessarily saying this has to rival the above, people). For some people this raises an ethical question: if significant numbers of parents are not doing this, then is it the school’s moral duty to do so?

Among all of those saying “hands off my children, nanny state!” there are people like me who feel that since schools and teachers are often considered in loco parentis, we are obliged to fulfil these duties where the parents fail. This comes from someone like me who works in a school which at times actively facilitates poor eating: even though (as mentioned above) the establishment I work at does provide balanced meals for students at lunchtime, it resembles airline food more than anything else and is probably of limited nutritional value even if they aren’t serving the kids Mars Bars for dessert. Takeup is consequently very low as the meals are widely thought by the students to be disgusting, and word of mouth is a powerful thing. It’s also worth noting that I work in a private school that’s crammed to the rafters with the children of diplomats, oil magnates, film-makers, and so on. Money is not an issue for the vast majority, so having to pay a little bit more for their children to eat outside the premises typically doesn’t bother the parents. On top of this, students are permitted unfettered access to vending machines within the school building, virtually regardless of age or time of day. This would be fine if the machines contained cereal bars, dried fruit, and water. But they don’t, which means kids can often be seen strolling the corridors at 9.00 in the morning cradling a can of full-fat Coke or chomping on a Twix for breakfast (yes, really, often our students’ excuse for this is that they didn’t eat breakfast this morning). It’s perhaps easy to see, then, why I feel that some schools overstep the mark.

Perhaps that’s where the difficulty lies. SOME schools overstep the mark. SOME parents don’t send their children to school with a healthy lunch. NOT ALL of them do. So how can you legislate against those who aren’t up to scratch without victimizing those who are? Parents in Britain particularly resent their children’s meals being policed in this way. So the best approach is probably a multi-pronged attack, as suggested elsewhere in the School Food Plan report. Firstly, tackle the cost: state schools’ meals at the very least should be heavily subsidised to ensure that they are healthy and affordable in the hope of increasing uptake. Perhaps a day where parents and children can come and sample the food for free will also persuade them to sign up for the meals long-term. As more children choose school meals, other children may not want to feel left out and to have the chance to eat similar food, meaning that peer pressure can play a positive role. The report strongly recommends continuing the free school meals scheme for disadvantaged families too.

Secondly, schools should be continuing to set a good example, even if this is not through making school dinners compulsory for all pupils. Nutrition is already covered in science lessons and should be covered in PSE as well. Only healthy foods – such as carefully chosen brands of smoothies, cereal bars, and dried fruit – should be sold in school vending machines. Equally, positive food-based activities can be encouraged through events such as after-school cookery classes, international food days, and cooking in school with fruits and vegetables the students have grown themselves (OK, so this is more easily facilitated in the countryside, but plenty of vegetables can be grown indoors, including tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. And don’t forget the fresh herbs!). If all students have a chance to partake in activities like these then it could help the principles of healthy eating to become something applicable to their own lives. There’s also little to stop schools from involving parents in these activities, in the hope that some may lead by example.

Finally, schools will hopefully take this opportunity to implement rules that fit their establishment. Our school lets students over the age of 13 out at lunchtime due to a lack of on-site outdoor space for them to eat, socialize and get fresh air – but some schools may consider that they can do away with letting students out to feast on the delights of fast food if they improve their school meals. Equally, some schools may feel that they can monitor parents and students more closely, by watching what children eat at lunchtime in person (thanks to school supervisors) and via technology (students can already ‘touch in’ to the school canteen or ‘pay’ for their purchases using a swipe card or even a fingerprint – so the notion that their ‘purchases’ could also be recorded and relayed to parents as a written or e-report is perhaps not outside the realms of possibility). However, this would be up to individual schools to decide, and is perhaps not something that can be legislated by government as a blanket policy for all schools, whose students come from very different backgrounds and have different needs.

In short, an overall ban on packed lunches is probably not the way forward. Improvement of school meals is imperative in terms of both cost and quality, and if schools focus on this, as well as their approach to food in general and the impression that this gives to students, they may well find that they get the result that they want without the outright ban. As for me, this has even made me look more seriously at my own lunches (hey, you didn’t think that teachers always managed to make it into school with a healthier lunch than the kids, did you? More often than not I end up with instant soup or noodles…) – you’ll find me planning some seriously luxurious (and don’t forget healthy!) lunches for September.

The Breakfast Bible (Seb Emina et al) Wednesday, Jul 10 2013 

–The blurb–

“When it comes to the most important meal of the day, this is the book to end all books, a delectable selection of recipes, advice, illustrations and miscellany. The recipes in the robust volume begin with the iconic full English – which can mean anything as long as there are eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, bread, potatoes and beans involved – before moving confidently on to more exotic fare such as kedgeree, omelette Arnold Bennett, waffles, American muffins, porridge, roast peaches, channa masala from India, borek from the Balkans and pães de queijo from South America. There are also useful tips like the top songs for boiling an egg to, and how to store mushrooms. Interspersing the practicalities of putting a good breakfast together are essays and miscellanies from a crack team of eggsperts. Among them are H.P. Seuss, Blake Pudding, Poppy Tartt and Malcolm Eggs, who offer their musings on such varied topics as forgotten breakfast cereals of the 1980s, famous last breakfasts and Freud’s famous Breakfast Dream. Whether you are a cereal purist, a dedicated fan of eggs and bacon or a breakfast-aficionado with a world view, The Breakfast Bible is the most important book of the day.”

–The review–

My husband often jokes that he did well to marry a Brit, as the breakfasts in other countries are rubbish. He says this while being French (so no “but what about croissants?” will change his mind) and while travelling extensively around Europe for work (so he has had plenty of time to be won over by other countries’ dubious displays of selections of ham and cheese). However, even he has to admit that the brilliantly-researched Breakfast Bible, by Seb Emina and co, will open up any reader’s eyes to a range of culinary possibilities from around the world.

Beautiful photographs are interspersed with witty (yes, really) puns, historical tidbits, food quizzes, culinary horoscopes and amusing diversionary lists (including songs to eat while cooking/eating breakfast – although somehow they forgot the blindingly obvious Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something). This, of course, does not stop the range of reliable and easy-to-follow recipes from being centre stage. As well as expanding on one’s knowledge of the full English breakfast (who would have thought that a mixture of oats, yeast and water would lift bacon and sausages to even greater heights?), other breakfast foodstuffs enter stage left to mix up our breakfasts throughout the week (for example, Persian eggs, made with saffron and halloumi, make a nice change).

So the book expands horizons, makes us laugh, and fills our bellies in even more ways than before. So what? What makes The Breakfast Bible different to other food books?

Seb Emina’s accessible and drily humorous style, along with that of his co-writers, is clearly part of it. However, it can’t be the only reason that this book never gets put back on the shelf, taking up permanent residency on our breakfast table to be consulted regularly. On the practical side, it also deals with cooking techniques, such as how to buy your raw ingredients to ensure you’re always getting food to fit your requirements. However, it’s Emina’s unique take on this that makes the book memorable: who else would tell you to not use an egg timer, but instead to cook along with a song, meaning that by the time it’s over your egg will be cooked just how you like it? Short essays on certain aspects of our British breakfasting history (such as class at the breakfast table) also help to give an even rounder and fuller understanding and impression of the meaning behind the meal. All of this takes place without ever feeling chaotic or losing readability. All tastes are also catered for, whether you’re on a health kick or throwing caution to the wind, whether you’re refined or trashy (Pac-Man cereal, anyone?), and whether you’re traditional or adventurous.

Perhaps more important, though, is the non-politically-correct yet inclusive view of breakfast presented by this diverse collection. Perhaps even in time it will help to draw my husband back to his own homeland’s breakfasts thanks to Emina’s recipes for pains au chocolat, croissants, and French toast. Meanwhile, him indoors is just grateful to have been steered clear of the Glamorgan sausage (suffice it to say that hard-core meat-eaters will be very disappointed by what sounds initially like a carnivore’s dream) – and as I sink back into a tea-induced stupor (tea from China, for what it’s worth), I’ll send you on your way with a simple bon dégustation – and a recommendation to buy this book.

cross-posted to Bianca’s Book Blog

Food TV Review: Masterchef series 9 (episode 2) Thursday, Mar 14 2013 

At the start of episode 2 of Masterchef series 9, we are confronted by four new contestants: Jez, Rob, Ingrid, and James. This is despite there being 50 contestants in this round, of which 5 already played yesterday, making us wonder how the show’s producers plan on spreading them out evenly over the initial stages.

The show began with a somewhat tricky invention test thanks to the inclusion of tofu, which is a bit of a beast to work with, and no meat. This somewhat fazed Jez, a flat-cap-wearing “meat and two veg” man, but pleased Ingrid, who was vegetarian for ten years and knew how to use it. She and Rob were able to use it successfully, with Jez’s attempt produced a blander result. James, on the other hand, bypassed the tofu completely and opted for a mushroom crêpe dish.

Middle Eastern magic from Ingrid

Middle Eastern magic from Ingrid

One element, however, that characterised all of the contestants’ dishes in this episode was the serious effort with presentation by all accounts. Presentation skills cannot, though, override the basics of cooking, as the palate test (which required them to make a pigeon wellington) proved: some contenders still needed further work on the importance of tasting, seasoning, the ability to make basic sauces, and the ability to cook meat well. It was this that got Rob sent home, while the others were sent to a professional restaurant to cook during the lunchtime service. This having gone well, they were then left to make their own dishes for Gregg Wallace and John Torode. The vast majority of them came up with exciting and original flavours and dishes, with Ingrid’s Middle Eastern dumplings with radish salad and beetroot raita being just one example of this. Jez fell behind in this respect, with results revealing that he, like Rob, also lacks basic skills in terms of cooking times and balance of seasoning, and his eviction was another good decision by the judges. However, as previous series have proven, they aren’t always right, so I won’t be holding my breath for consistently good decisions throughout the series. I’m also not holding my breath regarding the voiceover: India Fisher is in the unfortunate position of having to read out a sloppily-written script, with “lentil dhal” being today’s error. What other kind of dhal is there?!

Emily and Dale (from the previous show) then rejoined Ingrid and James to cook for three previous Masterchef champions – Steven Wallace, James Nathan, and Shelina Permalloo. This task was to be the decider for the semi-final, with each contestant cooking two courses. I’m not sure it’s right that entrance to the semi-final should be decided at this stage, as this means contenders are only competing within a very narrow group of people – it seems wrong to have 50 people in the running but to only compete against three of them for a semi-final place.

Nevertheless, this did not stop the contestants from rising to the challenge, with the two boys keeping it classic. Dale decided on a salmon fillet with butter bean cassoulet and Iberico ham, followed by a traditional tarte tatin with crème anglaise; meanwhile, James cooked a chocolate fondant with honey and chocolate chip cream for dessert, preceding this with a deconstructed fish pie (pollock with pollock mash and mussel cream). Neither lost their cool and it was this measured approach and skilful cooking that won them their places in the semi-final. Both attracted rave reviews from the three Masterchef winners as well as from Wallace and Torode. On screen, the dishes looked inspiring, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stop my husband from trying to make that deconstructed fish pie at home.

This round did not go so well for Ingrid and Emily, though. While Ingrid’s menu proved innovative and appealing, thanks to a combination of Indian flavours, there ultimately proved to be just too many mistakes for all of the judges. She lost her nerve slightly when preparing, and it ultimately showed. Even though her dhal was given the thumbs-up for consistency, it lacked a layering of spices, and her cumin lamb was verging on overcooked. Her chai masala tarte tatin was judged too wet and too sweet, and lacked the stick darkness of Dale’s. Her rosewater kulfi was also overly perfumed, and it seems a shame that such an inspiring menu appears to have fallen by the wayside in this manner.

The biggest disaster, though, belonged to Emily: her timing was way off, meaning she initially had to tell the judges her lamb would be late before then deciding she didn’t want to serve it after undercooking it and thinking she would not have time to recover. The judges are given her sauce to try, but even this doesn’t do well: the sauce was flavourful, but the rice was undercooked. Equally undercooked was her lime and chilli chocolate pot, which was also unbalanced in terms of flavour.

This in the end meant that the writing was on the wall. Emily was the first to be asked to leave the show, and unfortunately, due to her sequence of mistakes, Ingrid followed. I felt this to be slightly unfair, and believe that if Ingrid had been judged against a wider selection of the 50 contestants she would have gone through on this occasion. Her creative ideas mean that to my mind, she didn’t deserve to leave so early. Her strong personality and distinctive style mean that she would have been a unique new face on the celebrity chef scene, and hope that she does still manage to achieve some success in the field of food.

Ferret Food Monthly (February 2013) Thursday, Feb 28 2013 

Come fly with me

Aer Lingus has announced its new premium three course meal choice, ‘Sky Dine’, available to pre-order now for customers travelling in economy class on transatlantic flights between Dublin, Shannon and the USA. The first meals were delivered on board on the 14th February. The meals, created by Aer Lingus Head Chef James Keaveney in close partnership with Sean Cotter from Catering, North America, are each complemented by a choice of red or white wine. The Steak House meal consists of fillet of beef, sautéed potatoes with onion, spinach topped with tomato tartar, mushrooms and served with peppercorn sauce. Dessert consists of cheesecake chocolate mousse. The Cod with Salsa Verde meal option is a fillet of cod topped with salsa verde crust, served with baby potatoes and steamed fresh vegetables. Dessert is a delicious seasonal fruit salad. A third option is chicken stuffed with Irish black pudding, wrapped in bacon, served with colcannon and steamed root vegetables. Chocolate mousse or cheesecake is served for dessert. I really think that luxury meal choices should be available on all flights – even if you have to pay more!

Come fly with me – Twinings style

British Airways and Twinings are promising to transform tea in the air with an innovative new blend of the nation’s favourite drink, specifically designed to work at altitude. The British Airways signature blend tea took to the skies on February 1, 2013 for customers in all cabins. With research to prove that taste can be reduced by up to 30 per cent at 35,000 feet, the airline commissioned Twinings to come up with a teabag that would taste as good in the sky as it does on the ground. Water in an aircraft boils at around 89°C, which is less than the ideal 100°C for black tea. Reduced air pressure and humidity also affect our taste buds – so there’s plenty of mileage in the development of new blends for high fliers. The airline conducted tastings on the ground and in the air with a panel of customers, cabin crew and experts, including Twinings senior buyer Mike Wright, before coming up with the new tea – a blend of Assam, Kenyan and Ceylon tea for body, strength, flavour and colour. In First Class, customers are also being treated to a selection of unique speciality teas from the Twinings Whole Leaf Silky Pyramids range which includes Mint Humbug and Honeycomb Camomile as well as classics such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey. While I’m not sure when I’ll next fly BA, I look forward to trying this new blend – but look forward to hearing about it from you before that.

Come cook with me – Japanese style

SOZAI – meaning both ”household dishes” and “ingredients” in Japanese – is a brand new concept and the first Japanese cooking school in the UK. All classes will be available to book singly, typically running for 90 – 120 minutes, with no need to sign up for a course. SOZAI works with Japanese chefs as well as celebrity guest chefs – many Michelin starred – such as Nuno Mendes of Viajante, Daisuke Hayashi of Crysan and Anton Edelmann. The chefs will show students how to make dishes ranging from sushi and tempura to authentic kaiseki and street food such as ramen and okonomiyaki. The interactive website at www.sozai.co.uk also allows you to post suggestions for classes based on dishes you have enjoyed. These will then be voted on by other viewers by simply pressing a “like” button. The most popular dishes will become the subject of new classes. Classes will be held at two kitchens in central London: SOZAI, 5 Middlesex Street, London E1 7AA (Liverpool Street) and SO Restaurant, 3-4 Warwick Street, London W1B 5LS (Soho). However, here’s hoping the concept will spread across the UK soon.

Come cook with me – Delia style

With the news that Delia Smith is leaving our television screens comes the question of what she’ll be doing next. It’s perhaps unsurprising that she’s moving on to helping the nation to shape up their kitchens, after often becoming frustrated about tin sizes changing or being discontinued right after she’s recommended them in her recipes. This problem should soon be solved thanks to the development of her own line of baking tins and other equipment. Joining forces with Alan Silverwood and Falcon Products, she hopes to provide all budding bakers with kit to last a lifetime. They will also be launched in independent outlets, with a view to encouraging fans to buy British and support the country’s small businesses. Items can be purchased individually or as a whole set, which make it perfect for setting any person or couple up for life in the kitchen. We’ve already started the process here at the Ferret homestead of replacing a few of our pots and pans with top quality products, and we’re sure the new Delia range will help too.

Not before tea

How many of us remember our parents saying “not before tea” or “you’ll spoil your dinner” when asking for sweets as children? Based on this all-too-common response, Nine-year-old Henry Patterson has opened his very own online sweetshop, named Not Before Tea. On the basis that “sweets must be as fun as toys and do stuff”, the brand’s unique selling point is undoubtedly the inclusion of glass-writing pens with each of the jars that holds the sweets ordered. Another innovative addition comes in the form of reward stickers to ensure that tiny teeth get cleaned after sweet consumption. I love the entrepreneuralism involved here, and am sure that Henry will definitely beecome a shining star in the food world as an adult (and perhaps even before then). Now, how many Double Dips should I order?

Gourmet giftsIn my family, gift-giving is all about April: not only does my birthday fall then, but so do those of my two grandmothers, my mother, and my aunt. Easter often comes in April too (although it’s not the case this year, unless you count Easter Monday). So in the run-up to this period of intense gifting, these gifts from Terra Rossa should help me to choose, and maybe even help you too if you’re in a similar boat. The Jordanian sweets seem tempting, presenting sugared almonds, assorted nougat and ‘manna from heaven’ in a traditional gift bag. Equally tantalising is the authentic dipping kit, which, like the sweets, comes in at under £20. The chilli-infused olive oil comes with its own hand-made dipping bowls, and you can also use the accompanying Zaatar herb mix (made from thyme, sesame seeds and sumac) to spice up your evenings. Add your own fresh crusty bread and you have one successful gift that’s perfect for sharing.

Find your food in Yorkshire

The Yorkshire Food Finder is back for 2013, with events including charcuterie and butchery skills classes, the chance to pair food with Yorkshire ciders and ales, and learning more about fresh cheese making. It sounds to me like a great chance to taste seasonal specialities and meet the county’s top chefs. There are more than 30 trails available this year already, with more in development, which also give foodies the opportunities to explore Yorkshire’s coast and moors while experiencing the produce of more than 25 artisans. I can’t be there to enjoy the mouthwatering behind-the-scenes access to farms, creameries, cellars, country estates and quaysides, or to sample the regional products on offer, but I hope you can be. There’s nothing like celebrating a place’s traditions of craft, taste, landscapes and livelihoods, and I hope more areas of the UK will follow the Yorkshire Food Finder’s example.

Ferret Food Monthly (January 2013) Thursday, Jan 31 2013 

A juicy start

We’re all told about how good fruit juice is for us, and how it can count as one of our five a day. Now you can widen the circle of varieties you’ve tried thanks to Neal’s Yard’s latest venture, the Wild Juicery. Offering nutrient-rich smoothies and snacks (for example, the High Energy Trail Mix contains mulberries, cacao nibs, pau d’arco, and Incan berries, to name just a few ingredients) alongside fresh juices, it sounds like a one-stop shop for Londoners’ health, with guidance on foraging, nutrition, and superfoods also available. The juices available are definitely more creative than any you’ll find in your local supermarket, and include Electrified (which contains, among other things, apple, lime, and aloe vera), and various teas and tinctures are also available (such as rosehip, nettle, hawthorn and honey). While not cheap, with juices starting at £3.20, more valuable is arguably the opportunities this presents to get people off on their own juicing journey and eventually a healthier lifestyle overall. Its location at 16a Neal’s Yard (postcode WC2H 9DP) also means I’ll definitely be visiting soon – it’s just a stone’s throw away from the London hotel that I’ll be staying at in both March and April.

All you need is Love Hearts

Swizzels Matlow are already well-known for their impressive and affordable seasonal collections, and they’ve been equally quick to jump on the Valentine’s bandwagon with their Love Hearts packages. The company has produced 100,000 vintage-style collectable tins that are stuffed to the brim with Love Hearts, at a price of £2.49 for 100g. Giant 108g tubes of the classic sweet are also available for £1, with a bumper pack of 30 standard size tubes on sale for £3. This is just the tip of the iceberg – and those purchasing from http://www.lovehearts.com can claim an additional 15% discount by entering the code LOVE15 at the checkout. I already know who I’ll be sending some to…

Provence (2)On the road again

Here at FFW we’re already planning our year’s holidays, and it looks to us like BestWineRoutes’ mobile phone app could really help us in fine-tuning the details. Covering wineries worldwide, it also integrates directly with the iPhone’s mapping system to take you straight to your chosen vineyard. With information about over 20,000 wineries, there’s bound to be something for every wine lover, with reviews, pictures and videos really helping you to decide which one(s) to visit. It’s also easy to share your visit with friends thanks to integration with your favourite social networks, and all of this comes for a mere £2.49 – which seems like a bargain to me.

Sleep, don’t weep

In spite of our enjoyment of (nearly) all things alcoholic here at FFW, we all know that alcohol makes us tired and emotional when consumed in excess, but it appears that it can also affect our sleep. Even if a cheeky nightcap helps you to drift off more quickly, it can disturb your slumber later in the night according to the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal. Alcohol reduces rapid eye movement sleep, which is important for concentration, memory and motor skills. The loss of REM sleep also results in you waking during the second half of the night, meaning you get a poorer night’s sleep overall. However, it’s also worth checking into other aspects of your sleep environment, such as the room temperature, the presence of technology and pets, noise levels, bedding quality, and your regular nightly routine (such as what time you go to bed). Look at these things again, and hopefully those who suffer with trying to sleep could be well on the way to wellbeing.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Treat your loved one (all year round…not just on Valentine’s Day!) with tea at Fortnum and Mason’s in their Diamond Jubilee Tea room with their latest tea, the Adam and Eve Afternoon Tea. As you’d expect, it’s replete with luxury, from the rosé champagne and black forest fondant to the oysters and goat’s cheese cone. However, it also isn’t cheap at £60 per person: but for the right person, and a very special occasion, who knows?

bcHave a break, have a biscuit (cushion)

We all love biscuits, but we don’t all love the calories involved. A biscuit cushion by FunkyHoney.co.uk could go some way to giving us the best of both worlds thanks to their stuffed replicas of popular favourites, such as Jammy Dodgers and Custard Creams. My fave is the Party Ring for its most realistic likeness to the real thing. Priced at £17 each, they make a great gift for any biscuit lover, and a sweet treat for yourself. I’m also eyeing up the purse shaped like a Bourbon, and other craftier readers may also enjoy the biscuit-shaped tape-measures. Warning: not suitable for dunking purposes.

Fabulous food in February

Foodies should be looking to hot-foot it to Westfield (London and Stratford City branches) this February to celebrate Food Explorer Month, where lucky shoppers will be treated to demonstrations, competitions, food safaris and special offers. Upload a photo of you enjoying a meal at one of the centres to Instagram, tagging it #FoodExplorer followed by either #WestfieldLondon or #WestfieldStratfordCity. You could win a complimentary meal for two for your next visit. Wahaca is also running an even bigger competition: all visitors to Thomasina Miers’ restaurant could win a culinary trip for two to Mexico! There’s also Kids In The Kitchen workshops for families, and Gennaro Contaldo will be holding demonstrations at Jamie’s Italian at Westfield London. Cocktail masterclasses will be taking place every Wednesday evening at 6.30pm too, proving that there’s really something for everyone. I’d be there if I could 🙂

Just like a pill Monday, Jan 21 2013 

So, I’ve been at home today feeling like crap thanks to a mammoth cold (and this is a momentous occasion for me: the way I was raised, you have to be dying before you stay home from school/work). Luckily, this coincided with a snow day, so I don’t feel *too* bad that I stayed in instead of braving the 1.5-hour commute that I normally face each morning.

Building up over the weekend and culminating this morning has been all of the usual: sore throat, hacking cough, intense headaches, profuse sweating, extreme tiredness (thanks to no sleep last night I suspect; I tried to make up for that with an extra three hours’ sleep this morning), and decreased appetite. However, I can’t be that ill, as I was quite happy to eat a little piece of chocolate cake with a cup of echinacea tea at 4pm. I also could have quite easily sneaked a piece of toffee from the box on the table (but didn’t). So this got me wondering: why DO we crave junk food when we’re unwell, rather than craving all of the things that could make us better more quickly (soups, water, vegetables etc)?

Just based on my own educated guesses, here are a few theories: when we’re ill, we crave comfort, and so it’s only natural that traditional ‘comfort’ (read: junk) foods would come into this. Secondly, we are often drawn to things that make sense when we’re sick. Surely it’s not unreasonable that someone with a raging sore throat would want to eat ice cream or something similarly soothing? And thirdly, think of all the normal reasons why we usually crave junk food: we’re frequently attracted to it when stressed (and illness can at times feel a bit trying), and the high levels of salt and sugar in these foods are also renowned for their ability to give a quick rush of energy – just what we feel we need at a time when we’re feeling a bit depleted.

However, I’m no medical professional, and figured there must be more to this. So here are some other ideas from Dr Internet (which perhaps some real doctors reading this may be able to substantiate):

  1. Your body craves salt so that it can hold in water for longer, which is needed to flush out the toxins of illness. This seems slightly odd: doesn’t salt cause you to lose water, seeing as you get very thirsty once you’ve had salty food?
  2. Your body craves calories to replenish fat stores (i.e. our sources of emergency energy). This is in spite of the fact that we all live in a world now where we have immediate access to everything we could possibly want to eat; our “programming” is still something along the lines of “if you can catch it, then kill it and eat it”.
  3. When we’re ill, we’re often tired, and when that happens, our bodies and subconscious have the edge over our conscious minds (which is what allows us to resist these foods at other times).
  4. The textures of processed foods are easy for us to chew and swallow – plus, the flavours of processed food can be more heightened, and so easier to taste while congested.

If nothing else is clear, it’s that I’m definitely not imagining this. Google abounds with people asking the very same question, along with people asking why they crave junk food when pregnant, on their period, or hungover – all other forms of “sickness” in the sense that you definitely feel rubbish at this time.

So what’s your go-to food when you’re ill? Come on, help me feel less bad :p

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