All 8 entries tagged Food

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January 27, 2009

Pluck off, Tesco.

Not everything about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Chicken Out” campaign is perfect.

Getting people to pay more for the same amount of food is a tough ask, especially in a recession.

And he’s only ever persuaded the ‘working class’ to swap to better quality chickens by showing them the inside of a chicken shed.

But last night’s one-off update on his campaign made me pretty angry at my own supermarket-of-choice, Tesco.

Anyone who watched the original series will know they were less than helpful in providing an on-screen interview.

Last night, he finally got one, but it was with Tesco PR woman Darshini David. A former BBC business presenter, she came across abysmally. I suspect her job is mostly to be Tesco’s TV ‘face’, and if last night was anything to go on, she’s rubbish at it.

She claimed Tesco are ‘leading the way’ on chicken welfare.

No, they clearly are not. Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Waitrose are light-years ahead of them, and it’s clear for anyone to see.

Why won’t Tesco admit on its packaging that chickens are grown indoors (instead of using subtle, yet blatant, marketing speak to imply otherwise)? Darshini: “We don’t want to patronise them”.

Is the nutritional information section patronising? No.

Is it patronising to give us a choice between ‘Free Range Eggs’ and ‘Barn Eggs’? Apparently not.

Is Darshini David patronising? You betcha.

The point Hugh F-W should have made in the interview (but sadly didn’t) is that many people are only aware of Britain’s chicken welfare standards because they’ve seen his show or read newspaper articles related to it.

Unfortunately that’s a very small majority of the British population. Only 2.5 million people watched last night’s show. I would imagine more than half of last night’s viewers were middle-class people who probably read The Guardian or The Independent.

So what of the other 57.5m people in the UK? Tesco doesn’t want to patronise them, but they don’t mind if they’re in complete ignorance either.

I’m seriously tempted to shop elsewhere having seen last night’s arrogant and disgraceful performance.

October 31, 2008

Another reason why I love being a Brit

Yep, spreadable bacon. And just to reassure you even more, it’s 100% meat-free!

Sadly only available in the U.S.. And long may that continue.

May 15, 2007

Cow products don't belong in Mars Bars

Mars BarsI’m not a vegetarian. I LOVE meat. I could eat steak every night of the week if it didn’t cripple my wallet and give me a heart attack.

But the decision by Masterfoods to start using the products of calves’ stomach lining in its Mars, Snickers, Twix and Maltesers brands is completely ridiculous.

Now I know what you’re going to say. We’ve been eating gelatine in our sweets for years. And you’d be right. We have been eating gelatine for years. But what’s the point of adding even more animal products to foods that have been perfectly satisfactory for decades?

Simple. It has to be cost-cutting.

But it’s also mindless arrogance and stupidity from a food manufacturer who must realise they’re swimming against the tide. Just as organic, well-sourced foods are on the up, they start selling something which (unbeknownst to the consumer, as it’s not listed on the packet) turns out to be from a baby cow.

Masterfoods said:

If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate.

So you’ve just told a few % of the population to go screw themselves and eat something else. These guys aren’t going to be challenging Google’s business skills any time soon.

January 24, 2007

How much Tescofication are you willing to take?

Go on, you know you’re feeling guilty. Every time you go under the strip lighting there’s a tug on your moral conscience. You’re screwing with African farmers, filling the ozone layer with food miles and making small businesses go bust.

And yet you can’t stop yourself.

Don’t worry, neither can I. Our society’s changed so that convenience matters more to us than conscientiousness.

The supermarkets even bitch about each other. Sainsbury’s reckon their rivals Tesco will have 43% of the market by 2010, and that something should be done to stop them. They don’t mention the fact that, while smaller, they are as guilty as anyone else.

Only around 15% of the cost of a loaf of bread goes back to the farmer who grew the wheat. It’s about 30% for eggs and 40% for carrots. Few goods offer more than half of their store price to the producer.

Dairy farmers have been particularly badly hit. In 1995 they got around 59% of the retail price of milk. Today it’s just 35%. The supermarket’s share has risen from 3% to 30%. So it’s pretty clear who’s winning that battle1.

And there’s been a double-whammy for farmers. Because while most products have seen inflation of 48% since 1990, food prices have risen just 27%. It means farmers’ incomes have been plummeting in relation to everyone else’s.

So at what point do we stop praising the international success of a British business and start telling them to get their house in order? Do we expect them to start closing stores? Would a greater variety of supermarket owners make any difference to producers? Are we happy with the inevitable situation where there are only four or five food retailers in the UK?

I spoke to a greengrocer today who was annoyed not just with Tesco’s attitude to producers and small rivals, but with the people who accept it and only shop there. He works alone, in the cold, for ten hours a day, starting very early. He pours blood, sweat and tears into his job.

Is it about time Tesco and others started being put under the same pressure as him by consumers and government? Or are we happy with the convenient monopoly which makes life easy for the big supermarkets?

1. National Farmers’ Union figures

December 11, 2006

Televisual gastronomy

I’ve been enjoying Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection, which has recently finished on BBC Two. In it, he perfects some classic dishes using his unique blend of cookery and science, but tries to make them relatively accessible to the home cook.

Take for instance his Black Forest Gateau, which requires chocolate spray paint and vacuum-packed chocolate bubbles. It’s highly impractical yet brilliant at the same time.

The most recent episode I watched – for I’m watching them out of order – was on fish and chips. Not only did he slave over the fish, but the batter itself required reinvention. Beer-battered cod might be well-known but he proved using science that you need to batter it in Vodka to get the mix right.

My only quibble with the series is that he sometimes makes things too accessible. I quite like the ridiculousness of the recipes. The deep-fried chicken for instance. Yes, it required a metal dustbin in a car park, but I was disappointed that Heston felt the need to apologise for the stupidity of it.

Surely his greatest quality as a chef is that he doesn’t give a sh*t how over-the-top it all is, just so long as it tastes great. He is the anti-Delia, and I love him for that.

May 17, 2006

The ultimate method of procrastinating…

Fruit cake and banana loaf

A fruit cake [L] and a banana loaf [R].

Recipe: Banana Loaf

250g butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
250g plain flour
2 tablespoons of rum
3 medium–large bananas

Cream the butter and sugar, then do the same with the eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour and add the rum (although be careful that it doesn't make the consistency too runny). Then mash two–three bananas before mixing that into the rest. I found that the bananas also made the mixture a little too runny, so you might want to add a little flour to make it more cakey.

Then grease a loaf–tin, and set the oven to 190c. I can't really give you a very accurate cooking time because my oven is useless. It probably should have taken about 30–45mins, but took more like 120! Best to keep an eye on it every 15mins.

If you really want it to rise, then add a teaspoon of baking powder as well.

Recipe: Fruit cake
Exactly the same as the banana loaf, except add 200g of currants, raisins and sultanas (that's 200g total, not each!) instead of banana. Might take a little longer to cook than the banana loaf depending on the size of the tin.

April 04, 2006

Recipe: Chicken with onions

  • 25g butter
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • chicken legs or thighs
  • one onion
  • salt, pepper, chicken seasoning
  • one lemon
  • one chicken stock cube
  • one clove of garlic (optional)

Chicken might not be that expensive, but if you're on a student budget (and if you're not then boo you) then this is a great, tasty meal, and it's dirt cheap. Firstly, heat up the butter and oil until it's just about boiling.

Put the chicken thighs or chicken legs into the pot (doesn't matter if they're frozen) and brown all over on the hob (full power). Once brown, add the juice of one lemon and the chopped onion.

Leave for ten minutes, and then add one stock cube and about 100–200ml of water. Throw in a bit of salt and some pepper, and some chicken seasoning if you've got any.

Turn the hob down to halfway and put the lid on the pot. Leave for 30–40mins, or about 70mins if the chicken isn't defrosted.

The lemon won't greatly affect the chicken, but it'll make the onions nice and sweet, so that even onion-haters will like them.

Tip: There's a great butchers just off the parade, on the road which Thorntons chocolates corners, and opposite the big building site on the parade. They were doing huge bits of chicken for 50p each recently, so this meal cost us about £1.40 for two people. Bonanza!

October 25, 2005

Review: The Leamington Bar and Grill

Leamington’s newest bar and restaurant opened last night, and Rachel and I happened to stumble upon it, not realising it was the first night of opening.

We weren’t sure what to expect, although the menu on the door looked fantastic. The Leamington Bar and Grill is on the bottom floor of the new Travelodge hotel right in the centre of Leamington. Apparently, when built, it was the largest hotel in Europe! Unbelievably, it’s been virtually derelict for the last seven years, so it’s no wonder it’s taken this long to rebuild it.

You enter through one of those plush revolving doors – like Tesco used to have, albeit wooden rather than glass and metal – into the wood-panelled reception room. Only now can you see the decor, which is possibly one of the best bits about the place. From the outside, you can’t really see very much at all!

The bar is probably the most diverse I’ve ever come across, with the menu lasting for pages and pages. Eight vodkas, for instance!

I’d recommend having a drink first, as it’s a great room and the prices aren’t too bad, considering it’s a restaurant bar.

Next, into the restaurant, which is the biggest I’ve ever seen, without feeling too large. I reckon there’s probably seating for 150+ in the restaurant alone.

Rachel described it as being like eating in a Monte Carlo casino, and she’s not far wrong. Half of it used to be a ballroom, so imagine that doubled. Again, the decoration is amazing, and if you ate on your own, you’d probably spend most of your time finding a mirror, arch or even a bar that you hadn’t spotted already.

So, to the best bit of the night – luckily for the chef – the food!

I had mussels to start, and Rachel had smoked salmon with a mustard vinaigrette. The mussels were fantastic, with a really rich white wine sauce, and some amazing ‘rustic’ bread which had a hint of ginger in, that really worked.

For the main course, I had best rump steak, on the nicest salad I’ve tried, with mushrooms, olives, peppers, rocket, vine tomatoes and chilled new potatoes. The steak was perfectly cooked (medium rare, thankyou very much), and the whole dish was just superb.

Rachel had corn-fed chicken with potatoes and a red-wine gravy. All I can say is I wish I had their gravy recipe, as it was brilliant. Almost required a doggy bag!

The puddings were a bit more modest. I had apple crumble, with a layer of real vanilla custard (none of that Bird’s muck, thank goodness), which was good except I’d have preferred the apples to have been a bit softer. The crumble was very good though.

Rachel didn’t really want one, but I forced her to have ice cream, which wasn’t anything special, but then didn’t need to be either.

We drank the Beaujolais, which managed to taste light and dark at the same time – probably saying more about my knowledge of wine than the drink itself. It was £14, probably the second or third cheapest of the reds, but very good. Would have been interesting to try the Lebanese red, although it was a bit out of our price range.

Then we went back into the bar, had a couple of drinks and went home feeling pretty full up!

The service was very friendly, and the waiters had clearly been trained to ask the right questions. They also sounded like they knew what they were talking about, and had probably tried all of the dishes themselves. They were a bit nervous though, probably because it’s the first night.

The meal and drinks came to £65 for two, which isn’t bad at all. The main meals averaged about £12. I’d suspect a similar quality meal from a similarly grand restaurant in London would cost between £100 and £130, and it may be that prices rise as the restaurant’s reputation grows.

There’s also a bar menu, so you can eat there almost any time of day.

So I’d say this: if you’re going out for a posh meal any time soon, do it at this place, while it’s still quiet and hasn’t attracted the attention of the real food critics.

P.S. Looking for the restaurant on the web, the only thing I found was this: “the Ask restuarant chain will operate an upmarket bar and grill in the former ballroom of the Regent Hotel”, written earlier this year. Ask? Doesn’t seem like any Ask I’ve ever been to.

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