NYC: Red Velvet

25 February 2010

Red Velvet cupcakes ARE New York.

Cup Cakes are ‘en-vogue’ in NYC right now. Stores selling them are everywhere, more varieties than you’d ever imagine existed (except for one store in Williamsburg I visited where a lady was selling just five types. She also had the door locked and had to buzz me in to enter. I never realised cupcakes were so precious). Although of course, like everything in America, they’re certainly bigger than their European cup cake cousins.

Red Velvet, I understand, is a favourite. They’re a cup cake based on the Red Velvet cake that became an NYC legend through the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. How they make the chocolate flavor cupcake red I really don’t want to know – never been a food colouring fan. But it is brilliantly done, smooth, choccy, sweet but not too sweet, with a cream cheese topping. Amazing.

Here’s one I ate earlier:

And here’s a recipe should you wish to make them.

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Resolutions on food

4 January 2010

So I’ve already spouted my wisdom on New Year’s Resolutions: nothing too much, relative, bit by bit. I might even be keeping them already (if I can tell). I’ve certainly been working harder, today anyway. And going to the gym has caused me muscle pain, so that one’s working too.

So I thought I’d share something written by a food-blogging Twitter friend of mine (the same one I debated the killing, eating, skinning and general murder of animals with. Like me, he’s the resolution, not revolution kind of guy. And I’m a great believer in his theory about diets “Weight lost on rigid diets invariably returns like a boomerang. ‘Detox’ is bunk”.

“We should be wary of overhauling the way we eat just because we’ve started a new Dilbert calendar. Stripping fat from our food and leaving the sugar tongs unpinched won’t, in themselves, bring us happiness”.

Which is why, despite over-indulging on the stilton and mince pies (there’s still loads of Christmas chocolate, mince pies, panetone and cheese left in my flat if anyone would like to help out), I’m not dieting. Just eating a little more sensible. Sure I’ll cut down on the cheese and fat, maybe out half a sugar in me double espresso in the mornings, rather than a whole one. But I’m not a dogmatic-dieter.

A varied diet is key (OK so I’m vegetarian out of choice, but still have a wide range of culinary delights within that constraint). Not too much fat, not too much low-fat. Whatever makes me happy – holistically (the stuff going in my mouth, the impact it has on my body, my mind and my spirit).

As my food-blogging friend says:

“Tweaking a few manageable things in our food will likely help us more than puritan upheavals, with their threadbare misery, disappointed relapse and bitter stabs of regret”.


Take off the blinkers and see the broader view of Organic food

31 July 2009

Yesterdays newspapers were full of it:

“Organic food is no healthier and provides no significant nutritional benefit compared with conventionally produced food”, it contains “no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers” reported the Guardian & the Times.

How different to the headlines in 2007 reporting that the biggest study into organic food found it to be more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people’s lives.

Shortcomings of the new study

Before I move on to my main argument, about taking a broad view of the benefits of Organic, I think it’s worthwhile pointing out some of the shortcomings of the new study. The Executive summary of the study outlines it’s narrow scope: “This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices.”

It’s not only limited in scope but also, although based on 50,000 studies, limited in it’s evidence base. Looking at the articles excluded from the study one could easily conclude that “only Western studies focused strictly on nutrient comparison were reviewed. That would seem to overlook many studies which might show organic food to be a much healthier option” – and how many of those were undertaken by the food industry themselves? It seems to me as though the evidence chosen, to fit the narrow scope of the study, and the headlines which emitted from the study’s findings presented a very blinkered view of “health” and benefits of organic food.

PPP have also noted that this desktop study, as is the usual way of doing things, was outsourced by the Food Standards Agency to a group within the University of London’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who work regularly and closely together. This group includes Dr Ricardo Uauy who has been a paid advisor to Unilever, Wyeth, Danone, DSM, Kellogg, Knowles and Bolton, Roche Vitamins Europe Ltd., and the International Copper Association.

Finally, looking at the shortcomings of the study, the hype and headlines forget that there are plenty of other studies that say very different things. The Guardian pointed out that Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University and the co-ordinator of a major EU-funded study which recently found nutrient levels were higher in organic foods, said the conclusions of the study were selective. He said: “I’m worried about the conclusions. The ballpark figures they have come up with are similar to ours. I don’t understand why the FSA are not going away and saying, ‘Right, there’s something you can do on a farm to improve food.’ But they are so blocked by not wanting to say positive things about organic farming.”

The broader view

I’m not a scientist, I haven’t undertaken any of these studies, but I am a consumer and I know what I prefer. So let’s take a look at the broader view of organic:

First, let’s look at what other people say: Leo Hickman in the Guardian points out people choose organic for many reasons: environmental stewardship (supporting the natural environment growing our food rather than obliterating it with chemical compounds to push it beyond its limits), the avoidance of pesticide residues, better animal welfare, taste. It’s a system of growing food which conserves soils, encourages biodiversity, eliminates greenhouse gas-intensive nitrogen inputs, conserves genetic diversity, and brings more income to the grower. There have been many studies about the biodiversity benefits of organic farms. And there are health benefits beyond the narrow view of the FSA study such as higher levels of omega-3 and beneficial fatty acids in milk, meat and eggs.

So the narrow, blinkered view of “health” benefits, or not, of the FSA study is misleading. There are far more things that affect human health and well-being, whether it’s in the food or not.

It could be the pesticide residues I don’t want to eat, or the higher levels of omega three and animal welfare in the eggs in my vegetarian diet.

It could also be the fact that I’d like to support natural ecosystems (plant and wildlife that have to co-exist with our farming of the land), see skylarks, butterflies and all those aspects of nature which organic farming helps retain and which add to my general feeling of wellbeing. It could also be that I don’t want to see the environmental destruction of soil compounds (caused by non-organic chemicals), for example, which lead to increased run-off of rainwater into rivers (rather than soaking into the soil) which has proven to exacerbate the speed and intensity of flooding.

I’m not an organic-dogmatic: if there’s a choice that’s not excessively higher in price, I’ll tend to buy it. Why? Because all those things above cross my mind, and, because – physically and metaphorically – organic food leaves a much better taste in my mouth.


Valentines Day Economics

15 February 2009

So, Saturday was Valentines day. You know, that day when you spend crazy amounts on overpriced roses, dinner out with other couples all trying to compete as to how in love they are, and then end up too full of food to do anything romantic on arrival home.

Maybe it’s OK to hate Valentines Day, I mean we’re in a CREDIT CRUNCH people! Maybe forget the overpriced flowers (by the way, it’s not the florists fault their suppliers increase prices) and drop a fifty pound note in a card instead.

Or perhaps there’s more to it, a rational approach to Valentines day:

  • The peacock tail effect. Peacocks elaborate tails prove their genetic fitness. Similarly, a man who spends money on Vally day is signalling his ability as a provider: “look, I can offer you so much that I can afford to fritter money away on gestures.”
  • Investment in commitment. Dinner together is an investment in the other person.
  • A man who rejects the social norm of Vally day increases uncertainty about who he is. The partner thinks: “if he rejects this cultural norm, what other norms does he reject. What sort of guy is this?”
  • If your partner is looking for commitment, they’d not want a the kind of guy who is so rational that he’d economically reject Vally day: such a man will leave you the moment a better offer comes along, surely.

Or perhaps, it’s just romantic…

I took my partner to our favourite local tapas bar – somewhere we both like where sharing food (romantic, hint) is part of the deal, but not so overly-candled and over-priced that you’d feel compelled to pull out the diamond ring.

Stuff the ignorant, economic or rational approaches to Valentines day, and go for the romantic – the one you and our partner will love, because you know them and you know what they like… surely that’s the most romantic gesture of all…


Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race! (Burns Night)

25 January 2009

25 January is Burns Night, the celebration of Scottish poet Rabbie Burns. The “king of sentimental doggerel” wrote such famous odes as A Red Red Rose, To A Mouse and Johnie Lad, Cock Up Your Beaver (which apparently is about Johnie wearing a hat). Arguably though he’s most well known for tonight’s Address to a Haggis.

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

This year, 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth, the Scottish First Minister has instigated homecoming year, encouraging people to “come home, to the ‘birthplace of valour, the country of worth’“. I have an unexplored Scots heritage: my Grandmother, who died in 2007, was a Fraser. Maybe I’ll take up the challenge and go to Scotland for the first time since a short trip I took to Glasgow over ten years ago.

Tonight is a night for celebration of everything Scotch. Being a vegetarian, though, Haggis doesn’t have quite the same appeal (despite vegetarian immitations being available) as for those meat eaters.

For those who don’t know, the Haggis, of course, is a small four legged creature found in the Highlands of Scotland. The legs on one side of the creature are smaller than those on the other, which means they can only run one way around a hill. One species has longer left legs, the other longer right legs: so while one goes clockwise around hills the other goes anticlockwise around them. The two species coexist peacefully, but cannot interbreed. Over time, therefore, the leg-length differences have become more marked. Haggis are hunted in the wild, particularly during Haggis season, culminating in Burns Night tonight.

To all those who will celebrate Burns tonight, in whatever way, enjoy the Haggis, the Whisky and maybe I’ll see you in Scotland this year.

Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!


Food: London Tapas

16 August 2008

We finally got around to checking out a Tapas Bar just a short walk from our flat last night, and were very impressed. In some ways I don’t want to post about it as it would be great to say “i know this little tucked away place”. From the outside El Parador doesn’t look like anything very special. Time Out said that it doesn’t look like the kind of restaurant you’d travel across town for, until you try the food, and I agree. Located round the back of Mornington Crescent station, it’s small restaurant interior hides a much bigger outdoor patio. Seeing as it’s “summer” (erm) we ate inside. It’s a good quality family run tapas restaurant – although they wouldn’t book tables for two booking’s not a bad idea for bigger groups.

A wide selection of vegetarian tapas gave me a lot of choice (plenty of meat and fish too). Especially notable was the resfreshing Arroz con Guisantes y Puerros (Risotto style rice with peas, mint, leek, butter and manchengo peas) and Alcachfas al Argelino (Chargrilled artichoke hearts with broad beans, caramelised red onions, garlic & Harissa oil – for a bit of spice). Being used to Spanish prices when I eat Tapas this seemed a little pricey – but not compared to any other decent restaurant in London – the portions were sufficient for four tapas between two people. In fact, eating Spanish Tapas on a cold August Friday evening gave me a feeling of a bit of summer – Cost del Camden!


holiday food: blog 1

29 July 2008

So a step into food blogging. Other than a blow by blow account of a wonderful holiday by train between Paris and Italy how else could I blog a trip like this?

With first stop Paris, and an inability to get seated in our restaurant of choice we ended up at a meat-dominated grill. I say meat, but to a vegetarian this meat was almost walking off my partner’s plate. Or just swimming in blood. They did, however, cook a fabulous Omlette for me. The following day however, we managed to make a reservation at a restaurant recommended to me by a masseur – (!). Le Petit Prince de Paris, pretty hidden away in the Latin quarter with very rich food and flirtatious Garçons, I was very impressed. They made a vegetarian plate for me and the Pistachio Crème brûlée, lit at the table, was probably the most memorable part of any holiday meal…

One of the days in Rome a transport strike meant getting between our accommodation and the city was difficult. We were unsure where to go and ended up at what we think may be a chain restaurant. However unlike the feeling you get when going to Little Chef or Nandos and similar, you realise that Italian chain restaurants cook fresh pasta and use fresh ingredients. And there I tried Trofie for the first time. A short and relatively dense gnocchi type pasta (cooked with saffron and courgette/zucchini) I was so impressed I simply needed to buy a box before returning.

[More food related blogs to come]


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