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We eat with our eyes…   

Mmm… I instantly think ‘yum’ with this delicious rich coloured dish of risotto, the pretty addition of nuts, mushrooms and herbs scattered on top is the finishing touch.

We eat with our eyes… That may sound bizarre but it is true! I think most of us recognise that a bland plate of something a bit beige or white isn’t very appetising, so we add a garnish of parsley or lettuce and tomato. Today’s chefs are taking ‘decorating’ to new heights – did you see any of the Great British Menu on TV recently – I mean, wow! Theatre as much as dinner!

Well apparently, there is scientific proof that food that looks good tasted better. Really. There is an emerging new science called ‘gastrophysics’ – sound like an area of science I might actually be interested in LOL – and Oxford University has been looking into how the appearance of food affects how we react to it. Not only does a beautifully arranged plate ‘taste better’, we are also likely to be happy to pay more for a dish laid out artistically than one just plonked on the plate.

Even more strangely, where things are on the plate matters too. While turning the plate around to a different angle can’t possibly affect the flavour, it does influence our appreciation of it.

We also like things prettily laid out on a plate. The current foodie trend to lay out a dish on one side of the plate is, so the researchers have found, not popular with diners!

Left: A fun and interestingly presented portion of fish and chips that you can’t wait to bite into… or (right) a pile of mushy stuff plonked on a plate. Which would you choose?

So, you are thinking, what has all this stuff got to do with me and my day to day cooking? Well, the same principles apply to what you produce at home. So if you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to produce something delicious, ensure maximum appreciation from your friends and family by taking a moment to make it look interesting on the plate. Even if you are producing something ‘bog standard’, like spag bol or a simple salad, pause to pretty it up a bit and it will, apparently, go down better with your diners!

If you are cooking a special meal for family and friends, you might want to think about what you serve your food on and eat it with as this also makes a difference. White plates and bowls seem to make people rate dishes as being ‘more tasty’, and using heavy cutlery as opposed to light, plastic handled designs also makes people enjoy their food more. What a funny lot we humans are!

What can I say? Seven artfully placed dots and a white pud on a black plate… all wrong surely? Well, I’d still like to eat it though, especially given all the strawberries!

And having said all that… here’s one design idea that you DON’T need to worry about. When I am planting in the garden, or arranging flowers etc. I always go for odd numbers of things (I’ve written about this before), so a cluster of three, five or seven, and so on, it looks more natural and attractive. So, you would think that three, five or seven strawberries or potatoes or whatever would be best on a plate… but no! Gluttony will out and research shows people simply opt for the plate with the most on it! That made me smile :o)

 

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The sands of time…

Copyright Wikipedia

Rummaging around at the back of a kitchen drawer last week, I was puzzled to find my fingers covered in sand! On closer inspection, I found that an old egg timer had given up the ghost and leaked its contents everywhere. This caused an instant attack of nostalgia and set me thinking about old-fashioned gadgets, as opposed to the new ones, like spiralizers and omelette makers, that I have been writing about lately.

I think it’s fair to say you would find an hourglass egg timer in most people’s kitchens until a few years ago. Boiled eggs were a staple for breakfast and hard-boiled eggs regularly appeared in packed lunches and afternoon tea and party sandwiches. Whether you like your boiled egg runny, soft or like a bullet is a very personal thing and using a three-minute egg timer produced a slightly runny egg. Egg timers, or hourglasses as I should really call them, came from a much slower era. You had to pause and keep your eye on the sand as it trickled gently down – none of this multi-tasking, rushing around and waiting for an ear-shattering bleeping to tell you your egg is cooked.

As a child, I found the hourglass my Mother had quite fascinating. I loved the shape and can remember watching it intently, convinced it would stop flowing if I took my eyes off it! The design is simple – two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck that allows a regulated trickle of material (often sand) from the upper bulb to the lower one. What period of time the glass measures is defined by sand quantity, sand coarseness, bulb size, and neck width. So you can buy three-minute, or four-minute and so on, egg-timers to suit your tastes.

Copyright www.eggrecipes.co.uk

The origin of the hourglass is unclear, but the use of the marine sandglass has been recorded since the 14th century. Marine sandglasses were very popular on board ships, as they were the most dependable measurement of time while at sea as the motion of the ship while sailing did not affect the hourglass. Sailors used the hourglass to help them determine longitude, distance east or west from a certain point, with reasonable accuracy which was of vital importance when you are trying to sail around the world or make accurate maps!

The hourglass also found popularity on land as it was relatively inexpensive, as they required no rare technology to make and their contents were not hard to come by, and their uses became more practical. Hourglasses were commonly seen in use in churches, homes, and work places to measure sermons, cooking time, and time spent on breaks from work.

The sandglass is still widely used as the kitchen egg timer – for cooking eggs, a three-minute timer is typical, hence the name ‘egg timer’ for three-minute hourglasses. We still often use sand timers when we play games such as Pictionary and Boggle.

Rather wonderfully… unlike most other methods of measuring time, the hourglass represents the ‘present’ as being between the past and the future, and this has made it an enduring symbol of time itself. The hourglass, sometimes with the addition of little wings, is often depicted as a symbol that human existence is fleeting and that the ‘sands of time’ will run out for every human life. And that’s a fact that none of us can dispute.

 

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Vegetable spiralizer fun!

Continuing with my little series of kitchen gadgets – I thought I would show you my vegetable spiralizer.

I am quite new to this particular gadget, so I’m sure there’s an awful lot still to discover. However I am having fun with the bits I have played with so far, especially courgettes. My dear neighbour grows courgettes and I suspect is trying for the ‘who can produce more courgettes than all the neighbours combined’ prize again this year! It was so kind to be given so much produce and I want to be prepared this year as he gleefully shows me some amazingly strong looking little seedlings!

I am trying, as part of my healthy living/slimming campaign, to keep carbs under control and making courgette spaghetti or spirals certainly does that. The main key to it all I suggest is not overcooking the courgette. The instructions I read on a recipe suggested 30 seconds and it sounds ridiculous but if the spirals are put into already boiling water that is bubbling away – then yes 30 seconds can be enough – make it two minutes and they are soggy and ‘orrible!

There are many vegetable spiralizers on the market and I spotted this one in Good Food magazine so decided to give it a try. It’s a bit cumbersome but works pretty well. You ‘stick’ it to the worktop with its suction cup feet, choose which of three blades you want and then feed in the courgettes. It comes with pretty good instructions.

There are many different fruit and vegetables you can experiment with. I think on balance my favourites are butternut squash “noodles”. You can use fruit, like apples and firm pears, root veg such as carrot and potato (ordinary and sweet) and parsnips. Finally you could try veg such as squash, peppers and even cabbage.

There are some recipe books out there too – but I just lightly boil the veg and, in this case, added a savoury mince made with homemade stock, baked beans and lean mince. But any pasta type sauces work well whether tomato based or creamy. My next experiment I think might be apples and pears with some nice Greek yoghurt!

 

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Remember rosemary…

I think most of us tend to think of the herb rosemary alongside roast lamb, I know I certainly do! But there’s much more to this zingy Mediterranean herb than you might think…

Its Latin name means ‘dew of the sea’, possibly because in its natural habitat it often grows on the sea cliffs of the Mediterranean. It is a hardy evergreen shrub and, once established, will chug on happily in most gardens throughout the year. It comes in compact and trailing varieties and really is a bit of a gem.

It is a plant I love to have in my garden, not just to because it is so wonderfully pungent and fresh when picked, but because of its delicate lilac-blue flowers that appear in winter to bring cheer. Brush against it on the coldest of days and the fragrance transports you to warmer climes… The flowers are edible and give a sweeter, lighter flavour than the leaves. What could make a prettier addition to a winter salad?

Rosemary planted as a hedge outside a local school… lovely for little hands to brush against.

Fresh or dried leaves can be used to flavour meat, soups and many other dishes, while sprigs steeped in olive oil give it a distinctive flavour. It’s becoming more common to see recipes for fish using rosemary and, given where it grows in the Mediterranean, that’s really no surprise. I think it works really well.

It is also surprisingly good in some sweet recipes – add a teaspoon of dried rosemary to an ice cream mix before making it. It’s particularly good with peach, strawberry, and lemon flavours. Or, why not try making this simple syrup and add it to summer drinks:

Rosemary syrup

  • 250ml of water
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 2 good sprigs of rosemary
  1. Put all the ingredients into a pan, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Leave it to cool and then pour it into a jar, rosemary sprigs and all, and store in the fridge. Simply add a splash of rosemary syrup to cold drinks, such as orange juice, lemonade… or even a gin and tonic!

Tea made by infusing chopped leaves in boiling water helps digestion, so it’s no surprise to learn that rosemary belongs to the same family as mint, also a great choice for aiding digestion.

In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headdress, while the groom and wedding guests would wear a sprig of rosemary. I went to a wedding last year where the corsages included rosemary, they looked (and smelled) wonderful!

Rosemary has a reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol of remembrance during war commemorations and funerals. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. And in case we were left in any doubt, even The Bard mentions it. In Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

 

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Handy omelettes!

I thought I might do a little series of reviews/articles on kitchen gadgets that I love – some may feature gadgets you already know, some may introduce something that may or may not be handy for you in the kitchen. This week I thought I would show you my trusty omelette maker.

Now I know we can all make stunning omelettes using a standard omelette sized frying pan and a little butter to fry the eggs in etc. etc. Well, I am rubbish at flipping and often end up with far more scrambled egg than omelette looking results. So I invested in one of these little omelette gadgets and I have to say I just LOVE it.

The main bonus for me is that you pop your egg mixture in, close the lid and WALK AWAY … yay love the freedom of not standing over a pan and messing up! I bought this particular omelette maker in Aldi and it was only £12.99 – but there are dozens on Amazon at this sort of price or slightly more. I bought a second one for a friend from Amazon (as Aldi appeared to have sold out) and it was £17 or so including postage.

You can add anything you like to the mix. Leftovers are hugely common ingredients for me as I love the idea that I get an interesting omelette for breakfast and/or lunch and am not wasting a thing. Here’s the omelette I made for our lunch today:

Prawn and veg omelette

  • 2 large eggs (if they aren’t large use 3)
  • Few jumbo prawns, best to chop them
  • Leftover cooked carrot and broccoli
  • 1-2 oz of grated cheese (I used mozzarella)
  • Dried parsley (better yet use fresh!) salt and pepper

The method is ridiculously easy – take a bowl, crack eggs into it, whisk a bit to mix yolks and whites. Add seasonings and then all the remaining ingredients. I use a large pyrex measuring jug as this is easier to pour mix into the gadget.

Take your mixture, pour half into each of the two compartments. Shut lid. Set your kitchen timer for 8 minutes, then check if you think they are sufficiently cooked – if not, close lid for another minute or two and check again.

You can serve hot – or leave to get cold. They are VERY easily transported for work lunches and taste like the filling of a quiche when cold and the list of possible ingredients is huge. Curried leftovers, pizza flavoured ingredients, ham, bacon, mushroom, fish or just cheese… you choose!

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