Saturday, 16 August 2008

The end?

Well, it has now been a year since I started the Eating British project! I can't believe how quickly the time seems to have gone either. My blogging has taken a bit of a nose-dive of late - the pressure has been piling up at work a bit, so I haven't really had as much time for the blog as I would have liked.

Actually, I would say that is probably true for the whole project - I simply haven't had enough time to be able to do everything I initially hoped to do. Still, it's been an interesting experience and one that has lead me to realise that it is actually quite easy to have a British produced diet, for most things. I must admit, there were some things I never quite got sorted. Snack food was perhaps the main one! I probably should have taken carrot sticks or something with me to work, but I'm really not the most organised of people, so that was never going to happen! :-)

In recent news, I have started trying to grow some of my own produce. At the moment, I'm limited to what I can get away with growing in my flat, so it's just chillies and mint at the moment, but it's a start! I have been using the mint to make mint tea in the mornings, rather then my usual coffee, so that's something else locally produced! The chili plants have started flowering, so I'm hoping they will give some fruit soon.

Of course, all this seems a bit late now that my 'official' year is over. With the rising costs of food, it almost seems as if this project is over just as things were starting to get interesting! For the near future, I'm going to have other priorities, but I hope that once things settle down again to be able to restart this project. I will continue to try buy British where I can and to encourage all of my friends to do the same.

Actually, that has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this project - that people come up to me to tell me about the last meal they cooked with all British (or nearly all!) ingredients, or how they decided to use a British cheese in place of the one they would regularly buy. That really was my main objective right from the beginning - to get the people around me to think a little bit more about the food they are buying and where it comes from. And, of course, to try to promote British food to them as much as possible! Somewhat disappointingly, this is perhaps the area where I have achieved the least, mostly because I haven't been able to put enough time in to it.

So, what was the conclusion? Is it possible to live for a whole year, only eating food produce in Britain? Well, I now feel qualified to say that the answer is "Yes!" it certainly is. I have learned though that it does require a bit more organisation and this has proved to be my weakness on more then one occasion. It seems to me that most of the major supermarkets are getting into the 'local food' thing now, so I imagine that it will just get easier and easier. An example of this was sweet peppers - this summer I was able to buy British sweet peppers in Sainsburys, but this was certainly not the case last summer. Rising food prices may pose a threat to this though. As supermarkets strive to offer the best deals for consumers, the temptation to go for cheaper, imported products will be strong. These will be cheaper on the shelves as well, so they may well be more attractive to consumers. Some people have commented that this poses a very serious threat to farming in Britain - so I will certainly be keeping an eye on this situation.

I still have quite a few pictures to post, so I shall do that as soon as I can - watch this space!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Summer vegetables

I can't believe it's been a month since my last post already! Things are getting fairly busy at work at the moment, so I haven't had too much time to give to this project. However, I have still been trying to eat British wherever possible.

One thing of note is that Sainsburys now stock British sweet peppers! These certainly weren't available last summer, so this would appear to be an indication of a shift towards increased local food production. Well, by local, I mean within the UK.

Actually, I have really noticed a difference between this summer and last summer. It is now almost a year since I started this project and although it has never been as challenging as I thought it would be, it has definitely got easier as time has gone on. It seems to be becoming really fashionable to eat locally produced food now, which it certainly wasn't just a couple of years ago. This is an interesting shift and I will be watching to see how it pans out over the next few years.

The biggest challenges have been with things like snacks. Some brands of crisps boast about being made from British potatoes, but I can't go round eating crisps all the time! :-) Also, I tend to eat meals at work quite often. I usually have a baked potato with cheese for lunch, which is very likely to be produced from British potatoes and cheese. Actually, eating out in general presents the biggest challenge and I regret that I haven't had more time to research what position most restaurants take on using local ingredients.

Anyway, I shall post a more thorough review nearer the time!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Royal highland show

Last week saw the 168th Royal Highland Show, which ran from Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd of June. With it's promise of a wealth of local produce and producers, I could hardly turn down the opportunity, so I went along on the Thursday.

This was my first visit to the Highland show, though I have been to other agricultural shows before, most notably the Lincolnshire show which was the destination of a few school trips when I was growing up.

My first destination on arrival was, of course, the food and local produce area. This was crammed full of stalls, some from familiar names and many that were unfamiliar. But, the best bit was that nearly all of these stalls were giving away free samples, which given the number of them, meant that it was almost (but not quite) unnecessary to buy lunch.

The first stall we came to was an Orkney Cheese stall. Here, I learned that there are no less then 2600 diary cows in Orkney. Not bad for a population of just under 20,000. I am told that there are many more sheep, but I don't know how many. Of course, I had to sample some of the cheese, which was actually one of the brands that featured in my cheese tasting back in February. I sampled both the mild and the mature versions and both were very good.

Next, we came across Fletcher's of Auchtermuchty, who were there promoting their Fletcher's Game and in particular their venison. Now, as I've mentioned once or twice before, I'm quite a fan of venison. I got chatting to the guy on the stall and he told me that deer have never been domesticated, which is something I'd never thought of before. Unfortunately, there were no free samples here! :-(

Actually there seemed to be a lot of cheese stalls. We visited the stall from the Snowdonia Cheese Company next. They had a number of what I would call 'special' cheeses, which were a basic cheese mixed with herbs or fruit. Two in particular stood out in my opinion, which were the Green Thunder, made with a mix of garlic and herbs and the Red Devil. The later, as the name might suggest, was made with chili pepper combined with Red Leicester cheese. Both were delicious, but I think my favourite was the Green Thunder.

Also present were Rowan Glen, which also featured in my last cheese tasting and one I hadn't heard of before; McLelland, who had some strange names for their cheese, such as "Seriously farmy Cheddar". Now, it was very good, but what on earth does 'seriously farmy' mean? How can a cheese be 'farmy'? Even after several free samples, I still didn't get it.

It wasn't all cheese however. I also spoke to people from Scarlett's (Scotland) Honey, who currently have around 1000 hives. I thought that sounded quite a lot, but when the lady explained to me that they also have to move the hives around during the season so that the bees get more variety, it occur ed to me that this must be seriously hard work! By moving the hives, the bees are exposed to a greater variety of flowers, which makes for a different flavour to the honey then if they were simply left in the one place.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was a company called Mash Direct, who are making and selling ready mashed vegetables. Now, normally I am deeply sceptical of such things and always tend to give the pre-chopped salad, pre-grated cheese and pre-mashed vegetables a wide berth at the supermarket. However, whilst working my way through my free sample of mashed potato and turnip (which was very nice, I have to say), I got talking to the guy running the stall. He explained that their thinking was that by pre-mashing the vegetables, the appearance was no longer so important. We've all heard about supermarkets being so fussy about what vegetables have to look like before they can be placed on the shelves. Apparently, by cunningly avoiding this problem, Mash Direct are able to use older and more flavoursome varieties of vegetable. To be honest, I didn't buy it, I think the real issue is that we need to move away from this idea that every vegetable has to look a certain way, rather then resorting to pre-mashing our vegetables so that no one has to see how ugly they are.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Pork pies

I heard on Saturday Kitchen this morning that Melton Mowbray pork pies have recently been awarded 'Protected Geographical Indication'. This means that they have legal protection against imitation products across the EU! Champagne has famously enjoyed similar status for many years now.

Check out the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association website for more details:

I think this is exactly what British food needs because it will hopefully lead to increased recognition of quality, regional produce. All to often, when people think of British food, or try to name some classic British dishes, they can only think of the bog standard 'fish and chips'. Fish and chips can be great, but British food has so much more to offer then that! Think of Stilton cheese, Lincolnshire sausages, Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pastie, I could go on and on. I think it is a real shame that we seem to have almost completely forgotten that we have so much regional variation and that 'British food' isn't a single genre.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Tomato chutney

I mentioned a few posts ago that the tomato chutney had turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I have to say that it tasted amazing, it was really fresh and crisp and went really well with sausages. Oddly enough, after having been left to mature for 3 months in the stainless steel container, everything was fine. But, once it had been open for a few weeks I noticed that the container had begun to leak. Closer inspection revealed that the side was beginning to split and it was obvious from the inside that some form of reaction was going on between the tomato chutney and the steel. As you can see, it didn't look good:
So, I decided it was probably best not to eat any more of it :-(

Well, I shall just have to make some more, which I can do now that British tomatoes are back in season. This time, however, I shall use some glass jars to store it!

Grilled salmon fillet

I've mentioned grilled salmon fillets a few times now, so it seem about time to put up a bit more information! I usually cook my salmon using the following method:

Step 1: Lightly season the fillets with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides, including the skin side. Then add finely chopped Dill to the side without the skin, as shown:

Step 2: Next heat some oil in a pan. Notice that I'm using the Oleffra cold-pressed rape-seed oil here, this isn't strictly necessary, but it is at least British!
Step 3: Get the pan nice and hot and then fry the fillets, starting skin side down. You can tell when they are ready to turn by looking at the side, once it has turned pale pink up to about the middle, it's time to turn it over. I prefer not to over cook the salmon, but at the same time, you don't want it raw in the middle either. I have found that it takes a bit of practice to get this right and, of course, depends on the size of the fillets. However, it generally takes about 10 - 15 minutes to get them just right. You can always make sure by cutting into one to see how it's doing on the inside. This spoils the presentation a bit, but at least you know it's done! :-)

Step 4: Serve with boiled potatoes and peas, as shown:

Step 5: Enjoy!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

In season...

Many interesting things are coming back into season now! I noticed last week that British tomatoes are back on the shelves in Sainsburys. Although, I got a punnet or British grown, yellow tomatoes from the farmers market a few weeks before that. My tomato chutney turned out to be a bit of a disaster, but I'll say more of the that once I'm able to put the photos online... So, this gives me the chance to try making some more.

Asparagus is back in season, so I expect to be cooking one of my many classic dishes - grilled salmon fillet on a bed of lightly steamed asparagus. Super.

Local strawberries and raspberries seem to be big at the moment. I don't actually eat all that much fruit, but if I'm going to have either strawberries or raspberries, I only ever get British ones in season, simply because they taste so much better then the imported ones you can get at any time of the year.

Edinburgh taste festival

Well, it has been a long time since my last post again! I must say, however, that the eating British thing is still going on, I've just been far too busy with work and stuff to be able to update the blog for a while.

Anyway, this weekend saw the Channel 4 Taste Festival come to Edinburgh again. Since I missed it last year, I figured that I really should make the effort to go this year. I only went to the evening session, on Saturday, but I think that was enough.

It was quite expensive, I paid £25.00 for a premium ticket, which included £15 worth of 'crowns'. For some reason, none of the stall inside accept (real) money or plastic, so they use their own, internal 'currency'. Strange, but fair enough. I was a bit annoyed that from the outside, there was no way of knowing how much things were going to cost once you got in, so it was quite difficult to work out whether it was worth buying the premium ticket for £25.00, or simple getting a regular ticket for £12.50. Still, that's only a small complain really.

Once inside, the event had a really nice, festival type of atmosphere. There were stands there representing many of the more exclusive restaurants in Edinburgh, such as David Bann, Fourth Floor at Harvey Nichols and Tigerlily, to give just three examples. I suppose the great thing about this festival is that you get the chance to sample the food from such restaurants, for somewhat less then it would cost to actually go there (I assume, I don't think I've been to any of the restaurants that were there). This isn't for free however, the cost of the 'meals' varies from 6 crowns, up to 10 crowns. Many of the main courses cost 10 crowns. I have to say that the portion sizes were extremely disappointing and I heard many people around the festival complaining about that. I guess that it's only supposed to be a taste, but when you've forked out 10 crowns (equivalent to £5) for a dish and you get only two or three spoonfuls, it does rather feel like your being ripped off a bit.

After inspecting all of the restaurant stands, I was quite hungry. I went for three main course options; the braised shin of Ross-shire beef, pearl barley and root vegetables from Martin Wishart. I also had the confit breast of Borders lamb with Ayrshire potatoes and nicoise garnish from Number One at The Balmoral and, for something a bit different, I went for the spicy Thai smoked tofu fritters, with homemade mango chutney, plum sauce and mustard leaf from David Bann. I have to say that they were all very good, although the shin of beef wasn't really anything special. I tried to have a burger from Malmaison, but the queue for these was huge. They were clearly very popular, but I suspect that this was more because people had figured out that they represented the nearest thing to a proper meal at the whole festival, rather then there being something amazing about the burgers themselves.

As well as the restaurant stands, there were also three or four live theatres, where they were holding regular shows on various food topics. I went along to a talk titled "Discover the secrets of Scotland's natural larder" which was given by Sue Lawrence. From the title, I was expecting to learn about great local food, particularly local delicacies that grow here in Scotland. Sadly, the talk itself fell rather short on this front. She cooked (live) a creamy chicken risotto (not exactly a traditional Scottish dish), smocked haddock and black pudding done in the over (I'm not sure what she called this now) and an Orkney fudge cheese cake. They all looked amazing, but guess what? No one got to try them out! This really surprised me, she had easily made enough of each one that everyone who was watching could have had a taste, so I really don't understand why they didn't do that. In terms of the risotto, she added chopped up Ayrshire bacon. Interestingly, she explain that Scotland has only one local cure of bacon, which is the Ayrshire bacon. England, in contrast has many different ones. She finally served the risotto with Parmesan cheese, again, hardly from Scotland's natural larder... But, she did point out that it worked very well with Isle of Mull Cheddar.

The smoked haddock and black pudding was rather more interesting. She was using uncoloured smoked haddock, so not the bright yellow, high visibility variety. She placed these on a baking tray, rolled up slightly and stacked a slice of Stornoway black pudding on top of each one, so at least this was local. She then wrapped each of these in a rasher of Ayrshire bacon. This then went into a hot over, along with some cherry tomatoes, at 230C for around 10 minutes.

The cheese cake was simply made from grated Orkney fudge, mixed with cream cheese and lightly whipped double cream. When left over night, the fudge apparently melts into the other ingredients, making it all smooth and creamy. For the base, she recommended either an oaty biscuit, or a shortbread biscuit. I will have to try this one out next time it's my turn to make cake at work! In conclusion, it was all very interesting, but I felt slightly cheated by the title of the talk!

I also went to a talk by Clare MacDonald, who replaced Antony Worral Thompson. Apparently, he couldn't be there because it was his wife's birthday. Honestly, I'm sure I would have been able to come up with a better excuse then that! :-) Clare talked and talked and talked. Eventually it became clear that she wasn't going to be doing any cooking at all, so people started to drift away. Before I succumbed to the temptation to find something more interesting, she talked about how she considered food to be the central core of family life - a point of communication, and how important it was for everyone to sit down and eat together. She also argued that there are so much 'myth and misery' about food at the moment. We're constantly being told that we mustn't eat this and we mustn't eat that. She pointed out that moderation is the key and that it's much better to enjoy the food you like, but not to eat too much of it, then to eat it and feel guilty. The phrase 'no s**t, Sherlock' sprang to mind. She did, however, also stick up for local food. Interestingly, it was at this point that a noticeable number of people got up and left. She argued that it is vital to support the local economy, something I completely agree with. She particularly mentioned British pork, something that I have written about here already. Now, of course, the people who left at this point may well have simply hit their boredom threshold, but there do seem to be quite a number of people who find this idea of supporting local farmers to be something quite offensive. It's almost as if they consider farming to be something dirty and unclean, which should be done far away in other counties where we can't see it. Strange.

Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, especially since the weather was amazing! Typically, there were plenty of lobster pink people by the time I left.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

New local food outlet in Edinburgh

I've started trying to do my weekly shopping in different places, to try to get an idea of which might be the best. Up until now, I've done nearly all my shopping in Sainsbury's and it's been fairly easy going. They are quite good at labelling their produce with country of origin information, so finding the British items hasn't been difficult.

I thought I'd give Tesco a try for a change, so I headed over to the Tesco's in Causewayside. However, on the way, I noticed a new food outlet called Earthy Foods & Goods (33-41 Ratcliffe Terrace).

I popped in to see what they were about. It turns out that they are a shop specifically aimed at selling organic, local produce. I've never really focused on the organic side of things, I must admit, but I was intrigued to see how much local food I'd be able to pick up there. I chatted with one of the guys working in the shop and he told me that it's a low point in the season for British food at the moment, since we're coming to the end of the root vegetable season and the other stuff hasn't started coming in yet. So, there wasn't too much to choose from which was British. There was plenty of food in the shop though and if I hadn't been sticking to the Eating British project, I'd have had an easy time picking up my weekly shop.

As it was, I think I've managed to get a weeks supply of food. I purchased two pork chops, 500g of minced beef, 4 leeks, some potatoes, a box of 6 eggs and some Serano ham (made in Britain, from Tamworth pigs, apparently!). I already had some bits and bobs left over from last week, but the total came to just over £20, which isn't too bad.

I had one of the pork chops for my dinner last night and it was really good. I'm usually fairly sceptical about organic food tasting better, but for some reason this really did - it was one of the tastiest pork chops I've had for some time!

More information on Earth Foods can be found here:

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Royal botanic gardens

I had my lunch at the Botanic Gardens today. There is a nice cafe there, where I have had tea and cake on many an occasion. I was pleased to notice today though, that there was sign advertising that they do their best to local, seasonal produce in their cooking, which is great! I had braised beef, which came with dumplings, potatoes, carrots and green beans and it was really tasty. I do wonder how much of it was locally produced, it was very busy so I decided not to ask them. But, it's good to see that they are at least supporting local producers on paper.


I have been prompted by an article in BBC CountryFile magazine to comment on the topic of biofuels. Of course, this doesn't directly fall under the heading of 'Eating British', but it would appear that the impact of the biofuel industry is already being felt by consumers here in the UK. It was never my intention to stray into this kind of area with this project, but I've begun to feel that it is unavoidable. It is no longer possible to have any kind of a complete discussion on the topic of British food without taking into account the wider, global picture, which includes things such as biofuels.

According to BBC CountryFile magazine, there are two types of biofuel - bioethanol which is produced by fermenting wheat or sugar cane and biodiesel which is made from oils extracted from plants such as oil seed rape.

Apparently, the European Environment Agency has calculated that in the short term, the UK has the capacity to grow enough fuel to meet 2.5% of our transport needs. Interestingly, as of April this year all fuel sold in Britain must have some biofuel mixed with it.

Of course, much of the biofuel that we'll be using will be imported, from countries such as Brazil. But, what impact will this new industry have on these countries? Will more forest be cut down to make way for biofuel production? If so, then it's hard to see how biofuel could possibly have an environmental benefit. What about the local economy in countries producing biofuel? On the face of it, one might expect that this new industry would be highly beneficial, bringing significant new income to otherwise poor areas. However, some people have apparently argued that this isn't necessarily the case. According to the article in BBC CountryFile magazine, it has been pointed out that in Swaziland, people are receiving food aid, but are also exporting their main crop, cassava, to be made into biofuel.

What impact does this have on us here in the UK? Well, according to the article, the National Farmers Union (NFU) are very much in favour of producing biofuels here. However, the link between biofuels and the rising cost of food has been pointed out by a number of people. I've certainly noticed that my weekly shop has become more expensive and these rises have been blamed on the world wide shortage of grain. This grain is often used for animal feed, so more expensive grain means more expensive meat.

In my humble opinion, I can't believe that this price rise is totally unrelated to biofuels, though I accept that there are many other factors, such as increased demand from countries such as China and India, as well as poor harvests across the world. Also, I would imagine that producers of biofuels will pay more for the raw ingredients then producers of food. Therefore, there will be an unavoidable pressure on farmers to sell their crops for biofuels rather then food.

At the end of the day, I can't help but feel that burning our food is, quite simply, stupid. Particularly when you consider how many starving people there are in the world. How much difference would it make if all of the products currently used to make biofuels were used to help feed the starving in the third world? I have no idea, but I doubt it would be an insignificant difference.

The BBC CountryFile article mentions that second generation biofuels will be made from the non-food part of the plant, such as the stalk, or perhaps from algae. This sounds like a much more sensible idea to me, but these products are not yet on the market.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Local food at the Flotterstone

I went walking in the Pentland hills yesterday, while the weather was good. It was good to get out and get some fresh air! Anyway, after the walk, we stopped by the Flotterstone Inn for some dinner. A quick glance over the menu revealed that they serve lamb from Kirkton Farm, which is literally just down the road from the pub (we passed it on our walk). I think it's great to find a place that serves not only British food, but British food from just down the road! This really is what 'eating local' should mean.

The Flotterstone appear to do two dishes with Kirtkton lamb - a rack of lamb, or the Kirkton Navarin of lamb, which is basically a stew of marinated lamb. I went for the Navarin of lamb and I have to say that it was excellent! I have eaten at the Flottersone a few times and have always enjoyed it, but the fact that they serve such local produce is really excellent. If you want more information on the Flotterstone Inn, their website may be found here:

If time allows, it is my intention to review some more of the restaurants of Edinburgh in terms of how much local produce they use, so watch this space!

Friday, 29 February 2008

Cheese tasting

Whilst shopping the other day I noticed that Sainsbury's had a larger then usual selection of Cheddar, from different parts of Scotland. So, I thought it might be interesting to buy a selection and have a 'cheese tasting' session in the office at work.

I bought three different cheeses to start with: Rowan Glen mature cheddar (A), Isle of Bute mature coloured cheddar (B) and Orkney mature Scottish island cheddar (C). Here's a picture of the three cheeses:
After some discussion, we found the Isle of Bute cheddar to be very mild, while the Rowan Glen had a nice, creamy texture. The Orkney cheddar had quite a different texture, more waxy then the other two. In terms of taste, the Isle of Bute and the Rowan Glen were both quite similar. The Orkney cheddar had quite a distinctive flavour. Overall, the votes were as follows:

Rowan Glen: 3
Isle of Bute: 1
Orkney: 2

So, the Rowan Glen was the winner by a small margin.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Pig farming

It was with some dismay that I read an article in the Friday edition of the Scotsman which outlined the possible future (or lack of) for pig farming in Scotland. According to the article, there were 70,000 breeding sows in Scotland in the mid-1990s and this has now been reduced to only 45,000. It seems that the problem is the rising cost of animal feed, while the cost of the bacon on the supermarket shelves hasn't changed. The article puts this into context with the example of a 12 acre farm which has to buy about 100 tonnes of barley a month to feed just over 300 pigs. This time last year, the cost was around £80 per tonne, but that has now risen to £174 per tonne.

I have commented previously that the predicted rises in food costs due to the increased cost of feeding the animals don't seem to have happened. I am now wondering how much of this is simply because as the costs incurred by the farmers increase, the supermarkets simply squeeze them harder by refusing to pay the extra. According to the article, it has been suggested that if there isn't enough pork produced in the UK, the supermarkets will simply look elsewhere in Europe.

In one sense, maybe this is fair enough. Farming is, after all, a business and as such should be subject to the same elements of competition as other sectors. However, from the reading I've been doing it might not be that simple. I don't in any sense claim to be an expert here! I'm learning about this just as much as anyone else, but it seems that one of the reasons pork can be produced so much more cheaply elsewhere is that the required welfare standards for the animals are much lower. This would, naturally, make the process of farming them cheaper.

So, it comes down to the question of how much the consumer cares about animal welfare. An identical argument has recently been raised and publicised relating to free range chickens - which is more important, that the chicken be allowed to grow and develop in a natural environment, or that the consumer be able to buy as much cheap chicken as they want? I appreciate that it isn't always going to be that simple and I will try to find the time to explore the issue a bit further.

A quick fact about barley - According to, Britain produces around 6.5 million tonnes of Barley per year, 1.5 million of which are exported, 2 million are used in the brewing industry and the remaining 3 million tonnes are used for animal feed.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Poached fish

I hadn't realised it had been so long since I last posted! Things have been really hectic at work and I've had some trouble with my heating at home, but I havn't forgotten about my Eating British project! I have eaten out a few more times, since it's cold in my flat! But, I've done my best to stick with the British food where I can.

I've recently tried a new recipe for the trout, which I've pr
eviously always seasoned with salt, pepper and dill and then fried. This time, I tried poaching it in milk and butter and the results were excellent! What's more, it didn't take any extra time, so this is still a dish that's at least as quick as most ready meals. To poach the trout, first melt some butter in some milk in a frying pan and while that's happening, rinse the trout fillets (farmed in Scotland, apparently) and pat them dry with some kitchen paper. Lightly season the fish and once the butter has melted completely, place it in the pan:
As it's cooking the fish will turn a different shade of pink. Once it looks like it's cooked about half way, gently turn the fish over and let it cook on the other side. When it's done, the fish will be falling off the skin as you handle it, so be careful if presentation is important! Remove the fish from the pan and then add dill and any other herbs you like to the remaining liquid to make a sauce.
I like to keep this kind of dish simple, so I simply served it with boiled potatoes and peas. That's it!

As far as I can tell, unless you grow your own herbs it's impossible to get hold of British grown ones. At least at my local supermarket none of the herbs they sell have been produced in Britain. Maybe someone knows of a more local source of herbs? I'm not sure I've even seen them at the Farmer's Market, but I will have a look next time I'm there.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Rapeseed oil

Shopping at the Farmers Market certainly seems to provide opportunities to try new things! Whilst shopping there yesterday, I got talking to one of the stall holders who was selling a product called "Oleifera Rapeseed Oil", which is a cooking oil made from locally grown rapeseed. As I have mentioned previously, I have been using hemp seed oil for my cooking (where butter doesn't suffice). This has worked really well, although the smoke point of this oil is quite low, which really makes it unsuitable for the more 'aggressive' cooking styles, such as stir-frying. The Oleifera product has a much higher smoke point (about 230 C, according to the website), which means that it can be used for a wider range of cooking styles. I tried some of the oil, soaked into a small cube of bread at the stall and it tasted great, even on it's own, so I decided that I would have to buy a bottle so that I could try it out.

Today provided the perfect opportunity to do that on my Sunday dinner, which consisted of honey-glazed pork chop with potatoes, peas and carrots. Sure enough, I was able to sear the meat in a hot pan without the oil starting to burn, which was great. The pork tasted great, but how much of that was down to the meat and the honey and how much was because of the oil, I'm not sure. I will have to conduct some further tests. There is plenty more information about the rapeseed oil on the website:

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Tomato chutney and frozen vegetables

I have finally tried the tomato chutney that I made back in the summer when British tomatoes were still available! I made some mini beef burgers, so I thought that it was the perfect time to try the chutney. The burgers were simply made from minced beef, mixed up with a pinch of salt, some black pepper, some chopped basil and a finely chopped, small onion. I then added one egg and mixed it all together. Then, simply use a spoon dipped in cold water to form suitable size portions of the mixture into small beef burger shapes and fry them gently for about 15 - 20 minutes, turning over about half way through.

Anyway, the chutney was really, really tasty, so that is definitely a recipe I could recommend! My only concern now is that I might not have enough of it to last until the tomatoes are back. Also, I'm not sure how long it will last now that I've opened the container and broken the seal. I'm keeping it in the fridge, so hopefully it will last a good six weeks or so, but we'll see how it goes.

I think I was quite wrong to be so concerned about getting enough vitamins through the winter months as there was one source that I hadn't considered at all; frozen vegetables. I've noticed that in my local supermarket at least, there is a good supply of British grown frozen vegetables, such as peas, broad beans and green beans. Although when I was doing my shopping last week, there weren't any broad beans, but hopefully this is just temporary. I don't know why I hadn't considered this option before, I think people often tend to forget the frozen vegetable section, but I have heard (I don't remember where from, but I will try to find a source for this information) that because the frozen vegetables are often frozen within a couple of hours of being picked, they actually contain more of the original vitamins and minerals then 'fresh' vegetables which have been imported from other countries. The reason for this is that as soon as a vegetable is picked from the plant, the vitamins it contains start to break down, so if it is frozen almost straight away it should retain far more of these substances then the same vegetable which was picked a few days ago and flown over from another country. Well, that's how I understand it anyway.

Review of progress so far

Since it's now the start of 2008, I thought it was about time for a review of my 'eating British' progress so far. The first thing that springs to mind is that it really hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be, well so far anyway!

Of course, I have to be honest and admit that I haven't managed the switch to British food by 100%, there are some things, such as black pepper and lemon juice for example, that I don't think will ever be available from British producers. This is probably the way it should be really, since even though I'm sure it would be technically possible to grow these foods in Britain using heated green houses and other similar technology, it just doesn't make sense to do that when they could be produced a lot more efficiently elsewhere. Also, I have to say that despite this project, I do still eat out occasionally and of course, I can't guarantee the origin of the food I eat at restaurants and I don't force my friends who are kind enough to invite me round for dinner occasionally to cook with only British food. Though that said, I have noticed that those who are aware of my project have probably put more thought to the origins of the produce they are using then they would have done otherwise. One of the main goals of this project was to raise exactly this kind of awareness, so I consider this a positive result!

Before I began this project, I hadn't really paid all that much attention to where the food I was buying at my local supermarket had been produced, so I had no idea of how difficult it would be to only buy food from Britain. However, once I started paying more attention to the source of my food, I began to realise that a significant amount of what I would have bought anyway was already British. I think things have been made easier by the fact that eating locally produce seems to be quite fashionable at the moment, which means that it makes sense to the supermarkets to sell more British produce.

Looking back, I can say that against many expectations, my diet as actually become more varied. I've experimented with cooking venison for example and have adapted my cooking to the range of vegetables available from Britain. I always used to make stir fry with sweet peppers for example, but I've yet to find a British source for these, so I've been using more carrots, peas and broad-beans instead.

Bread proved to be perhaps one of the more interesting items on my shopping lists. I haven't yet found any of the more common brands of loaves which states a country of origin, my guess is that this is because the ingredients are sourced from all over the place. So, since sandwiches are an easy way of making lunch from British ingredients, I quickly realised that I would have to make my own bread. Luckily, I was able to source all of the ingredients for bread from British suppliers, except perhaps for the yeast. Of course, making bread is quite hard work. I was able to put up with this to start with, riding on a wave of initial enthusiasm for the venture! However, I quickly tired of this and found it difficult to be organised enough to make bread in advance. Luckily, I acquired a bread maker, kindly donated by my ex-girlfriend (of pasta making fame). This has made the world of difference to my bread making! Now all I have to do is put all the ingredients into the machine and press the go button. Then, three hours later I have a really tasty loaf of bread. It's awesome.

Early on, I was worried about being able to get enough vitamins through the winter, so I experimented with making fruit leather from hawthorn berries. This was quite fun, although I didn't manage to dry the fruit leather properly, so it went moldy after only a few days. I will have to try this again once the berries are back.

I also found the time to make some tomato chutney, which I haven't actually tried yet. I notice that British tomatoes are no longer available, which is no surprise really, so my stock of chutney will be a good stock of vitamin C and tomato goodness until British tomatoes are back on the shelves.

Fears about the rising cost of food because of the worldwide grain shortage didn't really seem to come to much in the end. I have heard that a lot of grain farmers in Britain have done very well on the back of the higher grain price, but of course this has made things much more difficult for livestock farmers who have to buy in grain to feed the animals. According to Country File on the BBC, many livestock farmers are considering switching to crops, such as grain, because it simply doesn't pay to rear animals at the moment. It will be interesting to watch what happens on this front over the remaining 9 months of this project.

At some point in the not too distant future, I would like to try to review the main supermarkets to see which are selling the most locally produced food. So far, it seems to me that Sainsbury's are one of the best, although since I've been down in Lincolnshire I've been shopping at Tesco's and they seem to be equally good.