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.