The cooking Journal

Posts in 'Nutrition & Food Information'

Bread – the staff of life
Bread is one of the oldest manmade foods and is a key part of many cultures and religions.  It is shot through our language too, ‘to bring home the dough’ to refer to money, ‘breaking bread with others’ to represent hospitality, and ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ to signify a new idea.

Bread is part of our everyday life, from breakfast, to sandwiches at lunch, an accompaniment to a meal, a sneaky piece of toast to fill a hole between meals or a midnight snack.  It is a staple in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and countries influenced by European settlers such as Australia and the US.

The aroma of baking bread is so evocative that supermarkets pipe it to the front of the store to lure shoppers to the bakery department, and it is said that you have more chance of selling your house if there is the smell of fresh bread.

Bread at its most basic is made of three ingredients:  flour, water and salt.  It comes in many shapes and styles, using many types of flour and raising agents – flat bread, chapatti, unleavened breads, sourdough, rye breads, scones and enriched breads such as Brioche, Chelsea buns, and fruit breads.  The number of artisan bakeries is increasing and supermarkets are now stocking a wider range of breads.

Bread is one of the simplest things to make and it’s a good stress buster to knead dough!  It does need time to prove, it can be left to do its thing overnight and you can bake fresh bread in the morning.  You don’t need a bread making machine, but if you have one, why not dust it off and try some recipes.

However, bread does get a bad rap… as the cause of bloating, indigestion, contributing to obesity and gluten intolerance (gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley).  The increases in intolerance to bread are to my mind, and to various bread experts including Andrew Whitley of the Real Bread Campaign, are caused by the additives added to bread to speed up the manufacturing process and extend the shelf life.  This process, known as the Chorleywood Bread Process, was invented in the 1960s, and now accounts for over 80% of bread on sale.  The process involves adding various enzymes, emulsifiers and other “improvers” to the dough. These do not need to be listed on the ingredients and can include bleach, preservatives and reducing agents, which can be made from feathers or animal hair!  Coeliac Disease is the most extreme intolerance to gluten; it is an autoimmune condition, where the body identifies gluten as a threat and attacks it and damages the lower intestine in the process.

Bread when naturally fermented it is more digestible, nutritious and tasty.  There are an increasing number of ‘ancient’ grains coming on to the market such as Spelt, Einkorn and Khorasan which bring different flavours and textures to the breads.  The grains have been traced back thousands of years, so are less processed or modified than some of the more commercial flours.

Why not try making your own bread?  The simplest recipe is probably soda bread, which can be made quickly and needs no raising time – it’s delicious with cheese or a warming soup.

To read more about 'The Real Bread Campaign' click here
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Oils and fats… which are the best to use and why
When I am teaching I am often asked about oils and fats and which are healthiest to use when cooking or preparing food.  The answer is “it depends”.

There is a huge variety of oils on the market which can make it a challenge to decide what to use and when.  The TV chefs might be using a particular type of oil with gusto.  You may have tasted something delicious in a restaurant and want to replicate it at home.  Are roast potatoes cooked in duck fat a guilty pleasure?  I have a particular food memory from my childhood in Austria of the wonderfully oleaginous emerald green and nutty pumpkin seed oil drizzled on the orange pumpkin soup.

Having researched this topic, there are arguments raging on the various health benefits of oils, and the cooking uses.  The scientific research contributes a number of different interpretations around the world, which are often controlled by local legislation and health advice.

Firstly, what is the difference between oils and fats?  Oil is the melted form of a fat.  Some oils are better at cooking at high temperature than others and each oil or fat has a temperature at which it starts to smoke.  This varies depending on the oil, for example refined vegetable oils such as sunflower or rapeseed oils which have a smoke point of 205⁰C; animal fats such as duck fat are 190⁰C; and butter has a smoke point of 150⁰C, unless it is clarified (ie the milk solids are taken out) when the smoke point reaches 200⁰C.

The heating of an oil or fat will change its chemical structure and this is where health advice will apply as mono/poly, un/saturated fats and antioxidants are converted or damaged by heat, which in some types can result in carcinogenic properties.  It’s best to use oils once only for frying, as it becomes unhealthier the more times you heat it.  You must dispose of large quantities of cooking oil responsibly; most local recycling/waste disposal sites will have provision for cooking oil.

Flavour comes into the discussion too.  Fat is flavouring; it is not just for cooking with, so think about what you are using the oil or fat for.  Meats contain levels of fat, think of the beautiful marbling of fat in a piece of lamb, which will baste the meat as it cooks.  If you see a recipe that calls for both oil and butter, the butter is there to enhance the flavour.  If you have an extra virgin olive oil, which will have a distinct flavour of grass and pepper, you may not want that affected by the cooking process and a salad dressing or drizzle of this oil is the best use.  You wouldn’t use olive oil to cook an Asian dish as the flavours will not complement the other ingredients and a neutral oil is a better option.

Olive oil has been used for millennia with uses ranging from medicinal to cooking and religious rites; it is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and other ancient texts.  It continues to be the main cooking oil of the Mediterranean diet.  Elizabeth David, the famous cookery writer, introduced it to the UK in the 1960s, however it was not readily available outside an Italian deli or a chemist until the ‘80s.   Olive oil is very healthy.  It contains more mono-saturated fat than any other oil at 15%.  This is the type of unsaturated fat that lowers LDL the “bad” cholesterol and raises the HDL the “good” cholesterol.  The polyphenols in the oil act as antioxidants.  It has a low smoke point which affects the quality, the flavour and the health benefits of the oil.

Rapeseed oil is becoming more popular in the UK and can be found in supermarkets rather than at health food shops or delis.   Those sulphurous yellow coloured fields that we see in the summer are full of the plant which gets transformed in to rapeseed oil.  It is very low in saturated fats (only 7.5%), high in vitamin E, and high mono-unsaturated fats.  It is the only unblended oil that can be heated to a high frying temperature without affecting its flavour or the antioxidants.

Coconut oil has been promoted as a healthier fat; however there have been some strong counter claims.  It has a high smoke point, and can be used as a substitute for butter which makes it popular with those following a vegan or lactose free diet.  However, it has one of the highest levels of saturated fat at 86% (compared with butter around 52%) which means 2 tablespoons of coconut oil represents 19g of saturated fat.  The daily recommended amount of saturated fat is 20g for a woman and 30g for a man.

Goose or duck fat are a real treat and should not be used for everyday cooking as it is high in unsaturated fat.  We generally only use it for roast potatoes and parsnips at Christmas as the fat adds flavour to the vegetables.  It is also used, if you’re brave enough, to make a confit dish, which involves cooking meat very slowly, submerged in lots of duck fat.

Delicious oils such as walnut, truffle and pumpkin seed are best used for drizzling or dressings.  Sesame seed oil can be used for dressings and stir fries, but add it at the end of the cooking process as it burns easily.  Truffle oils can vary in strength and can overwhelm a dish if used too liberally.

Despite the main health benefits of oils and their delicious flavours, unfortunately they are all high in calories, so choose wisely!
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Eating the Seasons
Seasonal eating is really easy as well as being more economical.  Because of the abundance of produce available in supermarkets we have got out of the habit of knowing when fruit and veg are in season.  If you think eating seasonally is all about endless root vegetables in winter, you may be surprised with what is available.

Fruit and veg are not the only ingredients that are affected by seasonality.  Some ingredients such as game are controlled by law.  It is not possible to buy game such as pheasant, grouse or deer at certain times of the year.  Fish has its season too and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has a helpful guide to what fish is available at certain times of the year and what alternatives there are.  As with game, the fish will breed at certain times of the year, and need time to grow and develop.

You might have to be a bit more adventurous with your cooking but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  There are a number of websites that give you information on the produce that is available in certain seasons, including Eat Seasonably and the Vegetarian Society.

January and February may seem bleak months to be thinking about fresh vegetables however there is a wide variety available.  Including parsnips, leeks, onions, butternut squash, purple sprouting broccoli and a range of cabbages.  You can make some really tasty dishes from these vegetables such as leek gratin, a stir fry with the broccoli, a butternut squash tagine.

Apples and pears, although harvested in autumn, store well and can be kept for a year in the right conditions and are available at this time of year.  Try and buy English varieties so that you’re not using up the air miles of apples flown in from New Zealand or South Africa.

As the year goes by you can consider preserving vegetables.  You could pickle them or if you have the capacity, keeping them in the deep freeze.  By blanching green vegetables such as green, runner or French beans in hot water for a few minutes and then chilling quickly in cold water, you will be able freeze them without them losing too many nutrients or colour.

Eating seasonally means things taste better.  If you are picking the veg at the time it is ripe/ready for harvesting it will taste better.

Click here for more details on what foods are in season

For details from the vegetarian society

For details about the MSC

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Pink Peppercorns
What are they

Contrary to popular belief pink peppercorns are not related to the black peppercorn (piper nigrum) in anyway.  Pink peppercorns come from the Peruvian peppertree (Schinus molle) and are known as baie rose in French.  They got their name because they look similar to black peppercorns and they do have a peppery taste with some sweetness and also have a somewhat fragrant perfume scent.

Pink peppercorns are part of the cashew family so people with an allergy to tree nuts may need to avoid them, and generally don’t go overboard with them as they can be toxic in large quantities.

How to cook with pink peppercorns

They are delicate and can be crushed with a knife rather than needing to use a pepper mill.

They have a delicate taste and go well with fish, pork and are a substitute for black pepper in sauces.  They can be used in a Thai curry or stir fry.  Try them as a garnish for soup, in ice cream, or instead of capers in a sauce or salad, nibble them with your cheese and crackers.

Where to get them

Pink peppercorns are available on the spice rack in most large supermarkets or online.
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Food Innovation & Consumer Insights
In a world where we are bombarded by all sorts of ideas, going back to basics is often a good call.  This is relevant in the food world as much as anywhere else. There are regularly all sorts of new, strange and sometimes frankly baffling flavour combinations. How about Brussels Sprout flavoured crisps (it is the run up to Christmas), or Jalapeno and Tequila crisps?

At The Cooking Academy our ethos is to go back to basics on herbs and spices, exploring flavours and getting inspiration for delicious, healthy and nutritious foods.

We hold events for food and drinks companies who are looking to ‘go back to basics’ in terms of flavour.  The events focus on how nutritional eating and well-being is vital to peak performance, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.  The link between health and success is increasingly recognised as a key factor in workplace and lifetime productivity.

A plentiful display of herbs and spices is the focus and catalyst for the presentations and subsequent discussions.   Ranging from herbs such as parsley and sage to the benefits of garlic, turmeric and chillies, the presentations are a wide ranging journey around the world in herbs and spices, covering their history, flavour, medicinal and nutritional value.  Our presentations are interactive and so the audience will participate by tasting the various herbs and spices in their raw state – some are familiar others not so! We have a number of workshops that explore the use of ingredients in various forms and combinations.

‘The Science of Food’ presentation is a non-jargon analytical evaluation of the relationship between the chemistry in everyday ingredients, its functionality and effects on the human body.  The presentations are highly engaging and thought provoking sessions with audience participation to start the engagement process of why we eat what we eat, how food has evolved and what has influenced our food habits over the millennia.

The objective is to create awareness of the effects of food on our well-being and behaviour, as well as providing a valuable insight into the nutritional benefits of eating certain types of food and why certain ingredients are paired together.  Most importantly we looked at how to incorporate them into everyday diet and snack plans.

Our customer insights programmes are designed to be inspiring presentations aimed at improving understanding of our food choices and make informed decisions when developing products.

Sprout flavoured crisp for anyone…?



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