Thursday, 30 May 2013

Chocolate and know where I'm going with this

A few months ago, I was reading about France's plans to increase taxes on palm oil, a key ingredient of Nutella and the fury this was causing among the citoyens. It's enough to bring them all out on strike, I shouldn't wonder. During the Olympics, the glorious Daily Mash ran a funny story about how European athletes in the Olympic Village were rioting because of a Nutella shortage. The articles made me think about a couple of things.

 Most of these big global brands have managed to cross boundaries fairly seamlessly, but there are a few, such as Nutella, that have maintained a kind of foreignness on UK supermarket shelves. Kinder eggs are another. And Hershey's. M&Ms used to seem terribly exotic and American when they first arrived here, but they've managed to blend into the confectionary counter now, whereas Reece's Pieces still scream 'U.S.A! U.S.A!' to me. Nutella makes me think of children with sharp bobs who don't have to wear school uniforms eating a tartine and a big bowl of hot chocolate before they trot off in the dark to their 11-hour school day.

Branding is a strange old business.

The article also reveals that the same people that make Nutella also make Ferrero Rocher. So now we know. Wafer balls filled with nutella. That's it. Not really spoiling us at all, Monsieur.

And more soberly, it got me thinking about palm oil. So, for the past few months I've been buying an alternative palm oil-free hazelnut-chocolate spread that I found in Whole Foods Market. It actually tastes much better, more hazelnutty, and the breakfastboys didn't put up any resistance, so I've been happy to spend a little more for something that I think is probably a little better for them. But imagine my delight when I saw a link to this recipe today for a home-made version. Me and the biggest b-boy hot-footed it up to Sainsbos to acquire the necessaries and within 30 minutes, here it is, a great big pot of chocolate-hazelnut goo, whizzed up in the Magimix. Frankly, it takes quite a lot to persuade me to haul the food processor out of its cave and faff about with all the putting together and subsequent washing up of bits. Does anybody actually use food processors in the way that cookery programmes suggest they do - 'oh, I 'll just whizz this up in the food processor'? No, they do not.

A couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil and a great big pile of Green & Blacks' finest. I know, I know, really, for something the children will eat, I should have gone for regular cheapo chocolate, but, well, you know. It apparently lasts two weeks (and good luck with that), so may not prove to be an economically sustainable breakfast item in the long run, but for now, hurrah.

I'll bring you the verdict once the minibeasts have taste-tested it, because obviously I haven't licked the processor blade clean. Obviously. I'll also post a picture when MrB gets back from his Iron John weekend wild camping and drinking whisky on Jura with my camera.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Mostly about greens, part 2

You'd think that seaweed I mentioned the other week would be a pile of green slime by now, wouldn't you? Well, no, turns out it's preserved in salt and good until July, thereby giving me weeks to get round to deciding what to do with it.

A few months ago I went to visit the lovely people at Breadshare in West Lothian, and they showed me a packet of their new product - seaweed oatcakes. The baker explained that they are great for cooking in a cooling bread oven, once your day's baking is over, thereby using the energy you've already paid for - canny Scottish bakers (actually, he wasn't Scottish, but never mind)!

 Last weekend, a new shop opened in Glasgow called Locavore. It's a great place: they sell veg bags of seasonal produce, as well as locally-sourced produce, and aim to be a hub for local food production, with cookery classes, community gardening etc. And as my beady eye scanned the shelves, what should I spot but a basket of Breadshare oatcakes. So I snapped them up, and have hardly stopped eating them since. They are deliciously crumbly, with a hint of seaweed. Yum. Oats and fish have a long association in Scottish cooking - oatmeal-coated mackerel and herring is still a popular dish. So the addition of seaweed seems perfectly natural. And an oatcake topped with smoked mackerel pate or a sliver of smoked salmon is a fine thing indeed.

Interesting (if somewhat revolting) fact: in the days when the herring fleet used to follow the migration of herring round the British coast, teams of fishwives (and fishgirls) used to follow the fleet round the coast from Shetland right down as far as Yarmouth, spending time in the different ports, gutting and packing the herring in barrels of salt. The salt used to eat away at the webbed bit of skin between their fingers, and they would stuff the resulting holes with oatmeal, which is often still used to help skin complaints such as eczema.#truefact I admit it's not terribly appetizing, as facts go, but I kind of love the fish and oatmeal and sea connection, as applied to healing - there is a completeness to it that appeals to my inner organiser. I must also declare a slight obsession with the lives of the fisherfolk of Scotland. It must be my Aberdonian genes. If you look at old photos of the herring 'quines', they all look as if they are having the time of their lives, despite the fact that it must have been back-breaking work for little financial reward. See here for example:

or here:

What a hoot!

Anyway, I digress (as usual). I decided that I would try to replicate the seaweed oatcake in my own oven, and here is the result:

My recipe is based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe here, with a few tweaks. I used rapeseed oil rather than olive oil in an attempt to keep my recipe local in the spirit of Breadshare and Locavore. I also used slightly more oats and oatmeal (150g of each), as I was going to be adding in the wet seaweed. I've reduced the amount of salt in the recipe too, on account of the seaweed. I just added a handful of seaweed (what my Scottish mother would refer to as 'a goupinfae'. I've no idea how one goes about spelling that, but it means something like 'oh you know how much, as much as you need, a sort of dollopsworth'), which I had rinsed, squeezed out and chopped fairly finely. Finally, I didn't use flour for dusting the worksurface as I wanted these to be wheat-free. I'm really pleased with them. Next stop cheesy oatcakes. How I LOVE a cheesy oatcake!

Oatcakes are so easy-peasy, so very good for you (esp if made, as here, with rapeseed oil), and very quick - you can rustle these up in about 45 minutes start to finish.

Turns out also that once you start rinsing the salt of it sort of expands into long gloopy strands, so I actually still have loads left. Watch this space. Seaweed, it's the new kale.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Mostly about greens

My mum was visiting last weekend and Saturday dawned bright and breezy, so we decided on a whim to take the breakfastboys over to the Isle of Bute for a day on the beach. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of the west of Scotland, Bute is a small island at the mouth of the Clyde. That perhaps sounds pretty grim, if your image of the Clyde is of welders and shipyards and rusty old cranes. Well, let me put you right. The Kyles of Bute (the name for the bit of the Forth of Clyde where Bute sits) look like this: Lower reaches of the Clyde. It's kinda pretty. Admittedly, most of the year you can't actually see Arran (that's Arran in the background, with the hills) for the drizzle, or the clouds of midges, but on a good day, it's heaven. And it's less than an hour down the road to Wemyss Bay, and a short hop on the CalMac ferry to Rothesay. In the olden days, Bute was a popular spot for holidaying Glaswegians, who would travel 'Doon the Water' on the Waverley paddle steamer to Rothesay, on Bute. You can, in fact still make the trip, but I have it on good authority that unless your idea of fun is being trapped on a slow-moving boat with hundreds of very drunk Glaswegians, it is an excursion to be avoided at all costs. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Nearly empty mile-long beaches are my idea of a good day out, and the one we visited was particularly good for beachcombing, so while MrB and the breakfastboys were busy building things out of sand and stones, The Dowager Breakfastlady and I collected sea urchin shells and razor clams. The spring green of the fields was exactly like that lovely green in the Glasgow Boys' paintings:

 I'm probably making it sound a leeeetle bit more idyllic than it really was - smallest breakfastboy was in one of those moods, and the weather, whilst sunny, was not exactly balmy, but still. Retrospect and a pair of rose-tinted glasses are fine things.

All this talk of beaches is really by way of a preamble to the subject of seaweed. I bought a carton of seaweed at the supermarket the other day. Well, Whole Foods Market, not Tesco, you know. Not only do they sell seaweed, they sell different kinds of seaweed. Yeah. It's supposed to be very good for you, seaweed. It looks good for you, and it smells like the sea, and the sea's good for you, (sharks and riptides notwithstanding), and let's face it, you just know that if the Japanese are eating it, it's going to make you live to 115. Well, my research with the Great God Google tells me that it is the best source of hard-to-come-by-yet-essential iodine, has more calcium than broccoli, is high in vitamin B12 and vitamin A, and is rich in soluble fibre and protein. Hurrah. Now, what am I going to do with it? I'm going to make bread, obviously. I make little else these days. There is a recipe in Richard Bertinet's Dough, but I'm thinking that a beer bread with a briny hint of seaweed might be good. Guinness and seaweed bread, maybe? Or Oats and seaweed? Or Guinness and oats and seaweed? Hmmmm. I'll get back to you when I'm done. In the meantime, here is a picture of my beachcombed sea urchin.

The Japanese eat them as well, I believe, but this one was already uninhabited by the time I picked it up, so you'll have to make do with seaweed.