Tag Archives: food

i’ve never loved Chipotle and Wahaca so much

Bandidos: 31-33 Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP20 2JA

Bandidos is an independent Mexican restaurant in the heart of Aylesbury. Stairs lead straight down from the cheap, unattractive outside front to a leafy and warm interior. So far, so good.

The menu compromises a mix of Mexican and American-Mexican dishes from chicken wings to enchiladas, lamb shank to nachos and everything in between. It took an extraordinarily long time to order our drinks, so long in fact that we were ready to order our food as well. The waitress confessed she didn’t know most of the wines and, when she did bring the house wine (a Sauvignon Blanc apparently) she told us it wasn’t that but she didn’t know what it was. We didn’t like it. Exploring the wine list, the waitress mentioned we could have something not on the menu. As we cracked the joke of running to the nearest off-license she nodded, seriously.

The starters arrived fairly soon. Bandidos Nachos appeared in a small bowl, more akin to cat sick than layer after layer of Montery jack cheese and jalapenos. The accompanying sour cream, guacamole and salsa never materialised. It didn’t taste great either. Grilled tiger prawns on a bed of roast red peppers actually compromised 4 prawns on a bed of lettuce with a scattering of shrivelled red peppers. The chicken wings were small, though tasty, but the chilli mayo dip was far too hot, even for spice-fantics. By now we were feeling rather misled by the appetising menu.

But it was too late to back out now. The mains were on their way. While waiting, we ordered more drinks and I’ve never been served by someone so apathetic about their work. I asked for a second lime and soda, a pint this time. A half accordingly arrived and the waitress asked “did you ask me for something else there?” It was becoming painful.

My two dining partners chose the Mexican Grill: what looked on the menu like a meaty feast of lamb, chicken, steak, sausage along with rice, chips and salad. The chicken was suitably spicy and juicy; the minced lamb kebab was unappetising and equally disappointing. The beef tasted like it was out of a packet: dry, luke-warm and chewy. The rice was scattered with cubes of onion and pepper though lacked seasoning, while the chips, well, let’s just say the Aunt Bessie had done a good job! Chicken tacos were served with three rectangular baskets, about the length of your wrist to halfway up your forefinger. They were dry, greasy and tasted stale. The chicken was served in a bowl with heaps of bland fried onions and peppers, the rice similarly bland and lacking in any kind of texture. Again, it came without the promised salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. The second waitress was more attentive and apologetic, rushing to get the condiments. Unfortunately, the sour cream was thick, like a sticky meringue, the guacamole rather more successful though not fresh and the grated cheese was rather useless to melt over the now cold food.

Side orders of garlic mushrooms and coleslaw were average. The mushrooms, coated in overcooked breadcrumbs were greasy and oily but had a wonderful garlic flavour. The coleslaw was, well go down to Sainsbury’s or Tesco and try it yourself.

The service was abysmal throughout, and not to just to our table. The couple next to us complained at how long their drinks were taking, the staff seemed more interested in lolling behind the bar and we saw one waitress discuss a problem with a customer as she lounged over the back of a nearby chair. Yes it’s a casual, fun and friendly restaurant but there should be a difference between who’s relaxing and who’s working. The bill came to £67 for three, including one bottle of wine. We weren’t satisfied, didn’t enjoy the food and weren’t placated by the service. If, as the waitress told us, they do plan to open a second restaurant in wealthy Chiltern town of Beaconsfield, they’re going to need to do better than this.

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i ate a kit kat

Yep, I ate a Kit Kat Chunky today at 3.19pm. It was pretty tasty and considering I don’t usually eat chocolate bars like that I quite enjoyed it too. I was using chocolate as a visual aid for a presentation so, rather surprisingly, there were a couple left over from the multipack of 4 that I bought from Sainsburys for £1, down from £1.55.

Amazing that, isn’t it? A chocolate bar for £25p. It’s the price of the increase for the living wage in the UK, so rising to £8.55 in London and £7.45 for workers outside the capital. 25p is also the price Starbucks pay their staff per hour at their new store in India, according to News Desk. Coincidentally the chain is worth £25 billion. But with 400 million below the poverty line, a job is a job for many Indians.

So where does the money go here? Well, a study examining Nestle’s share of the coffee market found that, on a scale of 0 – 1 (1 being the supermarket having full bargaining power) Nestle averaged 0.35 between 2005 and 2007 while non-Nestle brands fluctuated much more but averaged around 0.6, illustrating the greater level of bargaining power the supermarket holds in terms of prices, offers and marketing etc. Now, Nestle supports Fairtrade; they’re investing $1.5m in 20 communities in Cote D’Ivoire constructing 40 new schools and providing 50 communities clean water and sanitation. They have countless schemes to train farmers and enhance production in Kenya, Pakistan, Cote D’Ivoire and many more.

Our consumer attitude to these schemes is clear from rises in Faitrade and Rainforest Alliance sales. But how much are companies and supermarkets’ commitments to these projects a reality, and how much are they a tool to reign consumers in? We already know that they use marketing and “offers” aggressively to pull consumers in, so why not do it this way too? Yes, it’s cynical, but in reality these companies can afford to do exactly that.

According to Banana Link, bananas are the world’s most traded fruit and a “Known Value Item”, meaning that when one supermarket drops the price, the others often follow. In 2003, the UK Food Group reported “banana wars” in 2002-2003 with supermarkets lowering margins themselves and demanding deeper cuts at the supplier end. And that is where our 25p comes in. When that is reduced, who’s really benefitting? 10p doesn’t make a difference to me, and in the long-term, training and education in the developing world is what is needed to ensure productivity and sustainability. With the banana wars, a grower in Costa Rica could not get the minimum wage if the retail price in the UK was £0.81/kg. Yet, in 2003 the price fell further to £0.79/kg. From field to supermarket, the retailer roughly takes 40%, transport 23%, the growers 20% and the workers 4%. The remaining 24% is between the distributor/EU tariffs etc. So if we go back to our £1 a pack Kit Kats that’s 40p to Sainsburys but under 5p to the workers.

You’re probably not surprised. We’ve all heard of the terribly unequal commercial world and, after all, we have a competitive market that allows supermarkets to strive for our customer loyalty. It would be a brave authority that sought to intervene in the millions of transactions that are part of the supermarket buying process. As prices are cut, for consumer demand, so manufacturers seek lower production costs and growers/workers have to get costs down for an even lower wage. Fairtrade, after all, only ensures that producers’s wages are “agreed to be a fairer price.” It is, however, stable.

I’m not saying never buy a non-Fairtrade item; I don’t want you to starve. But if you have the option, it is only by using and furthering our consumer power that we will be able to demand Fairtrade products, or at least, better wages for developing countries, in every supermarket and in every product that we can. But next time you see an offer, maybe check how much value you’re actually getting and just spare a thought for where that chocolate, honey, banana has come from, and where your 25p is going. Because, as we’ve seen in India, it can actually be worth an awful lot.

 

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that’s the way the cookie crumbles…or is it?

 

what’s your bread and butter? and don’t say jam.

That doesn’t cut the mustard. We were talking about the 20th century Russian peasantry at the time but a student in one of my classes today asked where the phrase came from; we decided to look it up but could find only vague ideas and speculations on the origins and it got me thinking about how many food idioms us Brits employ in our language today.I have to admit that I consider it a typically English thing – the food idiom – it’s a way of concealing what we really want to say behind sadonic, insulting or comical disguises. It’s estimated that we have 25,000 idioms in our language but it appears they’re common in all cultures from the Norwegians’ put your slippers on to the Germans’ bite into the grass there are different layers of meanings and differing degrees to how figurative and how literal the sayings are. Brazil’s to kick the bucket is slightly more literal than ours, for example; over there it means to give up on a difficult task when one might kick a bucket over in frustration…well, I suppose life can often be considered a difficult task.But why are so many centred around food? One idea is that as food is our basic to survival over the years it has intertwined with something of growing importance: language. Another speculation is that items of food and cooking methods are recognisable to most people, so making idioms easier to understand and remember.

Either way, here are some interesting origins of idioms that I thought I might spill the beans on….(sorry):

  • butter someone up – apparently from the Indian tradition of throwing balls of ghee (clarified butter) at statues of Gods to earn favour
  • chew the fat – ever stumbled upon a nice tough piece of gristle? Mmm, me too. Probably from the comparison of chewing and talking.
  • piece of cake – perhaps deriving from the cakewalk (a promenade contest of the late 19th century in America) where the couple displaying the best walk won a cake as a prize. Some also cite the RAF in the 1930s as the founders. Either way, it often symbolises how easy it is to eat cake, and we all know how easy that is, don’t we?
  • take the biscuit – one of my favourite; perhaps stemming from the Roman period when meat was substituted with biscuits for travelling food, much to the soldiers’ disappointment no doubt though evidence has cited it as originating in Ancient Greece when a biscuit was given to the most vigilante man on night watch.
  • bringing home the bacon – strangely enough it’s associated with breadwinning, perhaps from the wonderful combination of bacon on bread but the saying itself was originally a reference to the winner of a marital fidelity contest who was awarded a side of bacon in the 12th century in Great Dunmow. Now it refers to the family breadwinner.
  • bread and butter – well, if you don’t have bacon, you have butter. The basics in life, though its archaic meaning is to ward off bad luck (remember that on your Monday mornings at breakfast). Note the link to the Bread and Butter pudding – the original bread pudding was first made in the 12th century to use up stale bread.
  • spilling the beans – oh, my awful pun. Well it probably came from the Greek method of voting where black and white beans were placed in a jar. If the beans were spilt then the election result would be known prematurely. Now where was this option on the referendum?

and if you’re still thinking about why you started reading this, or even why I started writing it then you might like to know that to cut the mustard could either link to the spice of the mustard seed, so adding zest or vigour to a situation, or from another idiom “to pass muster” – an expression to describe troops assembling for inspection. A soldier with outstanding performance could “cut” or skip, the formal inspection.

Food for thought eh?

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pancake of the week: street food

yes, it’s all the rage this week, so much so that it’s our first pancake of the week.

Bangkok street stall selling grilled bananas – try it at home with caramelised sugar

From the launch of KERBside street food on the 6th October to M&S’ modern Asian range, us Brits are going mad for food with a bit of gutter glamour.So what’s it all about?

Well, street food was widely found in Ancient Rome and China; the former for poor urban citizens with no kitchens while in the latter, servants would scurry down to the stalls to collect meals for their masters. African emmigrants in America sold coffee, biscuits, fruit and cakes while even in the Aztec marketplaces one could find a doughy gruel or grilled beef. Even the infamous French frie began it’s life as a street food speciality in 1840s Paris, while life in our own Victorian London saw tripe, pea soups and jellied eels; oh, weren’t we the foodie centre of the world?

Currently, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day. Whether it be for the cheap prices, the ethnicity and often quirky cuisines, or to meet the unstoppable rush of our locomotive lives, street food is one the rise; by 1970 in Thailand, it had displaced home-cooking. Today it is an artisan market; not the greasy chicken shop that is most-frequented by Brits, or even the burger van that does the midnight rounds, no, today, street food is innovative in its methods and ingredients but it’s also aspiring in quality.

So what’s the street serving up?

The great thing about street food is it’s global, fresh and forever-changing. In New York the business high-fliers swing from hot-dog stalls to jerk chicken to chunky Belgian waffles as easily as they navigate the morning rush. For something fiery and fishy you want to visit the Thai vendors while even in Hawaii you can see Japanese influences of the bento box in their plate lunch – rice, meat and macaroni salad.

For UK residents, here is a round up of  the filling for this week’s pancake.  There’s the Flying Burrito Brothers at Whitecross Street, Londonserving up slow cooked pork carnitas with full Latin-American flavours while at the Treacle Market, Macclesfield you can stock up on sweet and savoury scones by The Lonely Scone. At the Tobacco Market, Bristol Pieminister will be dishing out their mouth-watering selection of pies, including the new Free Ranger Pie – stuffed with chicken, ham hock, leek and cheese this is one you have to try! If London’s more your scene then why not get down to Eat Street, Kings Cross, to sample simple smoked delicacies from The Red Herring Smokehouse or for a real treat try You Doughnut’s original bite-sized doughtnuts with salted caramel sauce and toasted pecans – sweet, salty and suitably nutty!

Why is street food this week’s pancake?

Recently we’ve seen Britain embrace street-food. Autumn is a wonderful time to try out those spicy, sweet and warming international flavours, as well as savouring our own native dishes that street vendors often pull off with their own funky twists. We’re demanding little morsels of this and thin slices of that, no longer is the 3-course set meal in fashion; street food is sociable in a more casual and dynamic way. I’d even go so far as to say there’s something sexy about it, something so slightly dirty about those polystyrene trays, bursting burritos and juices that can’t be contained.

M&S’ modern Asian range attempts to capture what we love about street food with 26 dishes revolving around noodles, bento boxes, dim sum and curries; Waitrose has inspired it’s Good To Go range with flavours from Jamaica, Turkey, Vietnam and Morocco. Supermarkets are trying to capitalise not only the street food craze but on the pairings and combinations that street food vendors are throwing under our noses on every city corner we stumble around.

Are you a fan?

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vanillia ice-cream huh? don’t tell me it doesn’t grow on trees

Brussel Sprout Vines

So with 1 in 5 of Britons believing that parsnips grow on trees, here are some root-facts (sorry) that you might want to brush up on:

  1. Fig – grown on trees in the Middle East and Mediterranean – try eating fresh as a snack or top your cereal with the chopped dried variety
  2. Guava – found on flowery plants native to Mexico and South America – typically dipped in soy sauce or vinegar but fantastic for marmalades, jellies and preserves because of its high pectin levels.
  3. Kiwi – grown on vines around support structures that require vigorous pruning – chop up in a fruit salad for a refreshing tang
  4. Rhubarb – believe it or not, it comes from the ground with the reddish stalk above the soil – try substituting it for apple in your next autumn crumble
  5. Vanilla – yep, that stuff in your cupcakes, ice-cream and flavoured lattes is grown on a vine and comes in pods, from which the seeds are scraped out – can compliment chocolate, caramel and coffee flavours
  6. Cashew nut – actually an accessory fruit on the tree of the cashew apple – delicious roasted or try topping your stir fry with them
  7. Brussel Sprouts – grow on thick stalks off of a central root to anywhere between 60-120cm high – the perfect roast dinner side-dish, salted and not overcooked!
  8. Avocado – the fatty vegetable also known as the alligator pear comes from a tree in Mexico – cut up for salads or as a base for that delicious dip of guacamole
  9. Bell Peppers – grown on a large perennial shrub with whitish flowers – cheap, strong-flavoured and colourful you can pretty much do anything with these babies
  10. Lentils – found on a bushy plant about 40cm high and the lens-shaped seeds are two to a pod usually – a flavoursome and textural alternative to rice or pasta

any surprises? or maybe you’ve got one to share?

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Back to school Britain! Or maybe just the kitchen?

Remember your domestic science teacher? The bubbly, voluptuous woman with cauliflower hair who cooed over your fruit scones and brushed over your kitchen uncleanliness with that red lip-sticked smile. No? Maybe you had one like mine then; middle-aged and ratty with a frame that suggested she’d never tasted home-cooking in her life. Or perhaps you are one of the food technology breed; I remember quitting it at year 9, leaving behind with some sorrow the two hours a week dedicated to making victoria sponges, fruit salads and um, eating our uncooked cookie batter.

Yes we all have memories of cooking at school. But how many of us actually learned anything useful? According to a recent survey, 20% of Britons think that parsnips grow on trees and that melons are grown in the ground. Worrying stuff. Perhaps more excusable is that the same amount have never heard of a King Edward or Marris Piper potato; to anyone who loves a good goose-fat roastie (yes, that’s all of you eat Christmas dinner or Sunday roasts) that is shocking but nevertheless, perhaps less fundamental than wrongly believing one can find an Granny Smith apple in the potato aisle…yes, 1 in 20 of our nation think you can.

So where did it all go wrong? Is it the international variety of our supermarkets have left our own parents flummoxed as to what food grows where and how? Was it our parents, not teaching us that carrots are a root vegetable and that oranges aren’t grown in the UK? Or was it our schooling, using food technology as a lesson designed to enhance our nutritional and culinary awareness but that in fact left us without the basics? Maybe even to blame are organisations like the Potato Council who believe us so dumbed down that they have come up with signs including “fluffy” and “salad” to help consumers pick the right potato. Surely it is a race to the bottom from here?

I remember friends taking their GCSE Food Technology exam; it was the only paper I recall reading “colouring pencils” under the you will need header. Ok, there may have been chopping boards to identify for different types of food but prior to GCSE, I’m not sure I actually learned anything useful. We did topics on cakes, healthy eating and general care and hygiene in the kitchen. Could I fry an egg by the end of year 9? Or plan and cook a family meal of spaghetti bolognese? Well yes, actually, because I learned at home. Knowing how to prevent the sinking of a victoria sponge or what kind of my healthy meal my school could serve for lunch is all very well but those tips don’t set you up well for home-cooking or living alone. Clearly, they don’t go very far in teaching us basic facts about food knowledge either.

Maybe it was just my school. I know of many very good cookery courses and I’m sure there are lots of schools offering informative and relevant programmes. The National Curriculum states that students should be aware of a nutritious and balanced diet; well that’s all very well if they can identify an apple from a potato and a parsnip from a shoe someone’s got stuck in a tree. What we need is not only more cooking in schools, but more culinary involvement for children from an early age, from helping them identify and enjoy their lunches to learning to bake and cook for enjoyment. Jamie Oliver has advocated for compulsory cooking and Let’s Get Cooking runs healthy cooking clubs across the country. It is not entirely our fault alone that British children are more distanced from food origin than perhaps developing countries where children are often involved in farming, agriculture and cooking. What is so frustrating is that we have the means to put it right. Food is not just a means of living but if we’re going to treat it as such, let’s at least try getting the facts right.

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a quickie for a picnic: apricot and ginger chutney

this fruity, sticky chutney makes roughly 310g and takes less than 30 minutes to make! Perfect for a picnic side or at home on your toast

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp flora cuisine or oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 175g dried apricots
  • 50g sultanas
  • 1tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 150ml orange & lime juice – i used lime because I like how it gives the chutney a tang and stops it from becoming too sweet. Normal orange juice would work fine too though
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar

Get Baking!:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan.
  2. Chop the onion – the finer you chop, the less chunky your chutney will be so chop to your tastes. Cook the onion and the garlic gently until soft – be careful not to have the pan too hot as the garlic will burn and give off a pungent smell.
  3. Chop the apricots (same applies as for the onion) and if the sultanas are big, halve or quarter those. Stir the apricots, sultanas, ginger, orange juice and vinegar into the pan.
  4. Bubble the contents gently until most of the liquid has been absorbed. If you let all the liquids disappear, your chutney may become too dry and thick. This should take approx 2-3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the sugar and cook for a couple more minutes until the chutney is sticky.
  6. Taste to season, adding a little more ginger or sugar if neccessary. Leave to cool.

The chutney should be stored in a jar or pot with a lid and, if keeping, keep in the fridge. Otherwise, spoon out, spread and enjoy!

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