Monthly Archives: April 2015

Blog 30 April 2015 – Coffee Festival

Happy Coffee
Festival Day!

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Coffee Festival

Today is the start of Brick Lane’s London Coffee Festival, featuring 250+ artisan coffee and gourmet food stalls, plus a whole slew of further entertainments.

Coffee Festival Turning once more to our favourite Companion, courtesy of Oxford University Press, we find that coffee is a beverage made from the roasted beans of Coffea arabica (plus a couple of its lesser relatives). But have you ever wondered how coffee gets decaffeinated? It doesn’t sound as bad as we’ve assumed (what we have assumed, is some dreadful chemical process). It seems it is possible to draw virtually all the caffeine out of green coffee berries by soaking them for hours in hot water. A solvent is then used to remove the caffeine from the water and is itself removed, and the caffeine-free water returned to rehydrate the berries. The Companion assures us that the solvent is easily separable from the water. (The Taster wonders whether it wouldn’t be simpler just to use fresh water to rehydrate the berries, but presumably there is a reason.) So: not as bad as we thought. Slurp away.

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Here’s the latest from our YouTube channel. One for the wine connoisseurs:

Have a great Thursday,

The Taster

Blog 29 April 2015 – Prawn cocktail recipe

Prawn Cocktail Recipe

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Prawn cocktail recipe

After writing about 1970s treats yesterday, a strange hunger overtook The Taster for prawn cocktail. It’s a very Spring starter, to our minds; seafood and salad recalling both days at the beach and picnics in the country.

Predictably, The Mists (The Mists!) have returned and Slave #42 is currently wrestling with the boiler (we said it was too early to turn the central heating off).

Anyway, here’s our top recipe for prawn cocktail. Dig it out when it gets sunny again.

Ψ Shredded iceberg lettuce
Ψ Maybe a few micro-leaves
Ψ Prawns (find sustainable varieties at FishOnline.org)
Ψ Marie-Rose sauce

Clearly, the Marie-Rose sauce is an essential component. It is basically a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. Be careful with the ketchup; the sauce needs to be the colour of pale poached salmon (not pillar-box red). Then – it is up to you – add any or all of the following:

Ψ Salt & pepper
Ψ Lemon juice
Ψ Cayenne pepper (or paprika, in emergencies)
Ψ Chopped parsley, dill or coriander
Ψ Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce
Ψ Brandy
Ψ Sherry/Madeira/Marsala

Further options (some of which sound better than others) include horseradish, chilli, garlic leaves and even apricot jam. For more general stuff about prawns, click HERE.
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If you should serve up prawns to guests or friends which transpire to be, perhaps, not the very freshest, here is how not to handle the situation:

Find more on our “Funny” playlist on our our YouTube channel. Have a great Wednesday,

The Taster

Blog 28 April 2015 – Fawlty Towers Menu

Fawlty Tuesday!

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Fawlty Towers Menu

Fawlty Towers menuA long time ago, far far away, someone once gave The Taster a copy of  the Complete Fawlty Towers TV scripts. Perfectly hilarious. And given that much of the action took place in the hotel’s kitchen and restaurant, a nostalgic reminder of what was considered posh cuisine in the 1970s. Anyone remember choosing an Orange Juice, not to accompany the first course, but as the first course? Thoughtfully presented, on a doily on a small silver plate. Sometimes with cutlery.

When Chef Terry insists on his credentials (having been to catering school), he lists paella, gazpacho, chicken Andaluse, eggplant espagnole and Franco fritters as the pinnacle of posh cookery. (That actually sounds like quite a good list.) The second tier of products to emerge from the kitchen include:
Amuse bouche: cheese footballs.
Starters: melon, prawn cocktail, half a grapefruit with a glacé cherry on top, pâté.
Mains: grilled plaice, cold meat salad, steak, lamb casserole with sprouts or carrots.
Puddings: tinned fruit salad (although even Basil’s guests looked a little askance at this) or trifle.

For his gourmet dinner, Basil proposed salmon mousse, lobster tournedos, mullet with mustard sauce, or duck with orange or cherries, washed down with Chablis. (That definitely sounds like a good list.) He also despised baked beans and salad cream.

Actually feeling hungry now. But we’ve just had breakfast. Kippers, that was the other thing Basil liked. Mmm. Kippers. Mmm.

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Still on the 1970s theme, anyone even remotely alive back then will remember the Flake Song (the music accompanying TV adverts for Cadbury’s Flake bar. Here’s the original version, actually a rather lovely and romantic choon. Enjoy; find more on our YouTube channel.

The Taster

Blog 27 April 2015 – Bhaji Man

Happy Monday!

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Bhaji Man

The Taster is recovering from Sunday lunch and, in particular, the excitement of using some of the new home-cook kits. Our latest discovery is Bhaji Man. So, for a starter, we went exotic with prawns and broccoli in tempura batter, and onion bhajis.Bhaji Man

Now, The Taster is primarily interested in eating, not cooking. Bhajis and tempura have always seemed to him like something only a pro could produce. But the packets were there, with instructions; the slaves had washed the broccoli, defrosted the prawns and sliced the onions.

And . . .

It was easy! The trickiest bit was ensuring the onions were sliced as thinly as humanly possible, to allow them to be moulded into bhajis. But once this is done, the chef then simply adds the bhaji spice mix. The idea is that the water in the onions then transforms the dry spice mix powder into a sticky paste, which coats the onions and allows them to be shaped into little balls. (It seemed that our onions were particularly watery, so The Taster squeezed the excess out with his hands before dropping the bhajis into a frying pan.)

Bhaji Man
Tempura batter. Click to jump to Bhaji Man’s recipes

The tempura was even easier — literally mixing the spicy batter powder with water, again creating a sticky paste, dropping the florets and prawns into it, then frying them in sunflower oil. The broccoli came out looking particularly impressive.

It all tasted excellent. Which just goes to show — a little daring sometimes is well worth it. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Just realise we haven’t yet featured The Taster’s very own video in our YouTube channel. Try this:

Have a great Monday,

The Taster

UK Food Festivals This Weekend

UK Food Festivals This Weekend The Taster Magazine Daily Update

Food Festivals This Weekend UK
Shrewsbury Food Festival last summer

The drizzle has set in so the weekend must be near . . . fingers crossed for better weather soon! Below are all the food festivals and events we could find for this weekend. Quite a few ale events, we note (excellent). Click on red titles for the official festival websites.

Today sees the start of Exeter Festival of SouthWest Food & Drink around the castle and Northernhay Gardens: continues all weekend, as does the Real Ale Fest in Paisley and the Food & Music Festival in Porthleven.

Saturday brings a feast for St George to London’s Trafalgar Square, an Ale and Cider Fair to Merthyr Tydfil and a real ale trail to Flintshire.

Finally, Norwich is hosting the East Anglia Game & Country Fair all weekend.

Looking ahead to next week, Thursday is the start of the Coffee Festival in London’s Brick Lane (continues till Sunday, 3 May).

That’s your lot – have a good one!

Blog 24 April 2015 – Planning Weekend Meals

Happy Friday!

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Planning Weekend Meals

Ah, Friday — the day for planning Friday dinner, Saturday supper and Sunday lunch. Since it’s started raining again we’re thinking that tonight we’re going to ditch the salad, dig out the lower strata in the freezer and have steak for once (can’t remember the last time we had red meat). Rare, on toast, with Bearnaise sauce and a warming red wine.

Saturday night — restaurant.

Sunday lunch — something seasonal. We’re having a few friends round, but not quite sure how many, so will have to be flexible. Maybe a tureen of watercress soup followed by a large baked salmon, plus a spinach & tomato tart for the veggies. Or indeed anyone who fancies spinach & tomato tart. And lots and lots of potatoes dauphinoise, which we’ll make tomorrow (like bolognese sauce or patatas bravas, dauph is always better the next day).

RECIPES (should you be tempted by our plans): this recipe for Spinach Tart looks good, with feta cheese. We’ve always liked Nigel Slater’s dauph and for the soup, it has to be Delia.

Right, that’s that sorted. Now. Breakfast . . .

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Still having fun finding foodie vids for our YouTube channel. Since it’s Friday we’re in a flippant, insouciant mood. Try this, by Mitchell & Webb:

Have a great Friday,

The Taster

Blog 23 April 2015 – St George Recipes

St George RecipesHappy
St George Day!

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: St George Recipes

We know it’s only Thursday — but for us, it has to be roast beef and roast potatoes. Some may prefer regional English specialities — Lancashire hotpot, Cumberland sausages, Yorkshire puddings and Bakewell Tart spring to mind; and there is an argument to be made for fish & chips.

Our Cunning Trick with roast beef is this:
♦ Take your beef, give it a quick wash and pat dry with kitchen paper
♦ Mix steak spice (shop-bought is fine) with olive oil and a little crushed garlic
♦ Massage the mixture well into the beef. Do rub it into any little cracks or crannies
♦ Roast for 15 minutes per pound (450g) plus 15 minutes at 240°C/Gas 9. That generally makes a medium roast; take 20 minutes off if you like it pink (take a bit more off if you have a real monster beef)
♦ The most important bit: when you take the beef out of the oven, cover it in a clean tea-towel, put in a warm place and let it rest for at least 20 minutes

Serve with Yorkshire puddings by all means, and/or roast potatoes and carrots, and a good bottle of ale.

For more traditional and much-loved English dishes, take a look at Foods Of England (which we understand began as someone’s part-time hobby, but is becoming a phenomenally popular new website).

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Do you sometimes feel shy at dinner parties? Try this (the latest addition to The Taster’s YouTube selection):

Have a wonderful day,

The Taster

St George Recipes

Blog 22 April 2015 – Tesco Job Losses

Tesco Job Losses

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: Tesco Job Losses

WE DON’T usually write about supermarkets, but signs from the USA have hinted of — hopefully — a sea change in the way people shop for food. When even Americans turn away from cheap packaged foods, you know something’s up. Significant ripples were caused when ConAgra (giant US food-packaging company) reduced its profit forecast in February. Reuters commented: “ConAgra, like other processed food companies, has been cutting costs as consumers shift to foods that are perceived as healthier, such as organic products.” Kellogs and Kraft also reported falling profits. In contrast, Mother Jones has reported that sales of fresh foods farmers’ markets and local food distribution schemes are all booming in the US. Imagine!

In the past at least, Americans have famously been more comfortable with junk food than the Brits. Spray-on cheese and the Candwich (a canned sandwich, designed to fit soda vending machines) could only ever have originated from across the pond. Over here, we know that Tesco et al have faced significant competition from Aldi and Lidl; but The Taster very much hopes that, as in the US, it’s not simply a case of people switching supermarkets. Consider this:

♦ Sales of organic fruit & veg boxes, delivered to customers’ homes, have nearly doubled over the past decade. This, of course, is not counting similar schemes which, although not certified organic, employ small-scale low-intervention farming methods.

♦ Around 750 farmers’ markets have set up since the Bath market paved the way in 1997. (To put that into perspective, Waitrose took 90 years to build up 300 UK branches.)

♦ Dedicated food & drink festivals now number hundreds and routinely attract tens of thousands of visitors.

♦ Increasing numbers of speciality food producers are selling direct to the public online, no longer tied to the necessity to buy a shop or find a distributor. (Our upcoming summer issue includes a taste test of several gourmet curry Spice Mixes, all available online.)

♦ The streetfood revolution is going great guns in London, reflecting and being fuelled by several social trends as well as gourmandism.

The above reflects a lot of money spent on non-supermarket foods. Which means a lot of money spent on small food producers and vendors, small farms, their employees, and their employees’ families.

One thing works against the perceived success of these ventures: their quantifiability. It’s difficult to establish whether 200 people ate burgers at a streetfood market, and subsequently failed to stock up on burgers in the supermarket. But it’s easy for a supermarket to announce a drop in burger sales. That doesn’t mean several streetfood burger vendors aren’t doing a roaring trade, and thinking of branching out into Speciality Sliders.

The cry now is that Tesco’s decline has led to the loss of hundreds of potential jobs in Wolverhampton. Because Tesco is a single entity, this is very easy to present as a stark loss. But, while we feel sorry for anyone directly affected, we hope very much that Wolverhampton finds a better way forward than relying on a giant supermarket for its rescue. As an alternative, how about local businesspeople creating jobs for themselves, employing their friends and being supported by their own community? We think they’ll find there is all the difference in the world between stacking shelves for yourself, and stacking shelves for Tesco.

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Still having fun finding favourite foodie vids for our YouTube channel. Try Bill Bailey’s thoughts upon kebab photography:

Have a great Wednesday,

The Taster

For links to Reuters reports on ConAgra, click HERE and HERE

Blog 21 April 2015 – Real Captain Birdseye

Tuesday Trundle
Through My Thoughts

The Taster Magazine Daily Update: The Real Captain Birdseye

Writing out some food ideas for hake (fish fingers, mmm) we happened upon the tale of Captain Birdseye. We’d assumed the Bird’s Eye was something to do with seagulls, given they are notoriously good at spotting fish. But no, the old Cap’n was a real person: resourceful, entrepreneurial and scientifically inventive.

In 1912, the US Biological Survey (now the US Fish & Wildlife Service) posted one of its biologists, Clarence Robert Birdseye, to the chilly outpost of Labrador. There, he observed the Inuits freezing fish in winter. He also noted how good it tasted when defrosted. In 1922, he formed Birdseye Seafood Inc, which offered chilled fish to the public. Sadly, this went bankrupt.

Two years and a lot of experimentation later, Birdseye founded the General Seafoods Corporation in Massachussets. The focus was on fully-frozen, rather than chilled, fish; and this time luck was on his side. The company was not only a huge success. A scant few months before the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Birdseye sold the company out for $22 million to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Cereal Company. (For timely selling, this must surely Real Captain Birdseyerank up there with Jon Hunt selling Foxtons for £375 million just before the 2008 property crash). Birdseye died in 1956, aged 70 and the proud owner of nearly 300 patents. He is generally regarded as the founder of today’s frozen foods industry.

Many thanks to Oxford University Press for furnishing us with the facts. For the full story of the Real Captain Birdseye, and many other fascinating tales and accounts besides, do take a look at their excellent Companion to Food.
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Still adding funny vids to our YouTube channel. Here’s today’s (and how true it is, how true!):

Have a great Tuesday,

The Taster


Real Captain Birdseye

Taurus Food Horoscope 20.4.15

Taurus Food Horoscope

The 20th of April sees the end of Aries and the start of Taurus, the bull.

The Taster provides a frank, occasionally rude, outline of Taurus’s relationship with food, cookery, hospitality and digestion. Sorry (see disclaimer below). For specific predictions, subscribe to the mag (still only £6 for four issues) – our current Spring issue reveals this season’s culinary future in no-nonsense terms for Pisces, Aries and Taurus. We hope you enjoy the below more general insights.

TAURUS: THE BULL
Chef rating: 6/10
Favourite foods: pies, treble whiskies

If you are a Bull
Well, you certainly love food. You may well be overweight. You present yourself as a gourmet but secretly have no idea what the culinarati are whittering about. At home, you can just about knock up tinned soup or a baked potato. Faced with the average taster menu, you go to pieces because there’s no chips. You can’t envisage fish without batter and even then, it’s fish – eurgh – there might be a vitamin crying to itself in there somewhere, better have a pie instead. Never, ever waste your money on innovative dining experiences – you won’t appreciate them and you’ll ruin the meal for everyone else by droning on about chips. Your spiritual home is Yorkshire and your taste is as boring as its  Puddings. Fatty.

If you know a Bull
Although they make a song and dance about food, don’t bother making anything special for a Bull. They will only peer at it suspiciously, poke it with a fork and hate it before they’ve even tried it. Stick to the hog-whimperingly obvious – meat and two veg on schooldays; soup, steak and icecream for a treat. A cheap Chablis or Malbec will make their day – if it doesn’t taste that great, they won’t notice; but they will enjoy bragging about the fine label and relishing the frugality. If they cook for you, be ready to diet the next day.

Horrorscopes disclaimer

We’ll be building up our tough-talking horrorscope series throughout 2015. Click here for Aquarius, Pisces or Aries, and come back to us in future for other star signs. Check back on 21 May for a discussion of Gemini in the kitchen.

Taurus Food Horoscope