Thursday, 24 January 2013

In Defence of Food

Hello everyone! I have recently been made funemployed after my short stint working in retail over Christmas and as I currently look for my dream job or wait for my next big adventure abroad I have been using my free time to enjoy things I usually don't t get the time to do like read! This week I decided to read Michael Pollan's 'In Defence of Food'. It is an amazing book so well written and it just makes so much sense. Through reading the book and through recently becoming more involved with like minded people I have become genuinely inspired to change my eating patterns for the best. For the past few years I have suffered with stomach problems, I have had various blood tests done, had an ultrasound and nothing worked. While reading the book I realised maybe its just because so much of what I consume isn't really food. I try to eat healthy and well but realistically I could do a lot better. Also last night I went to a screening of a documentary  called 'Best before'. the documentary showed how people were taking control back from supermarkets about their food and I am going to do the same, screw you Tesco! So, I am setting myself a challenge to follow Michael Pollan's rules, they are:

'Eat food.Not too much. Mostly Plants.'

Now that may seem easy but as he rightly points out a lot of the 'food' on the shelves today isn't really food more of a combination of chemicals that tricks our mind into thinking its food and leaves us overweight and under-nourished. So here are some of the stricter guidelines I will try to follow:

  • Only eat food that your great grandmother would recognise
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar b) unpronounceable (try  get your tongue around 'azodicarbonamide')  c) more than 5 in number or d) contain high fructose corn syrup
For example would you consider a bread with this many ingredients to be a 'whole' food? (Second half of the page is the ingredient list and it continues over the page....)

  • Get out of the supermarkets whenever possible. As it happens I love farmers markets and also am discovering that they aren't as expensive as you think. Today I got a beautiful bunch of Kale at a farmers market for just €1! Just look at how pretty it is?

  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Did you not see the pretty Kale? I am going to try eat at least one portion of leaves a day and eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat wild foods when you can. I have made nettle soup before and I can do it again. I also really want to go foraging for mushrooms.
  • Eat more like the French, the Italians or really any nation that truly appreciates food. There really is truth to this I have spent lots of time in France and they really love their food and their nutella yet them seem to get the balance right. Also I spent a month travelling around Italy primarily eating pizza and gelato and actually lost weight!
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner-one thing I don't have to worry about!
  • Eat less meat-I am going to restrict myself to three portions of meat a week which is quite a challenge for me as oftentimes I eat three portions of meat a day. But I love fish so eating more of that will be good.
There are more rules which I will post as I go but I think that's enough thus far. If anyone has any advice that would be great!

Christina :)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Dinner Party Fun

How to host a dinner party for fifteen people without wasting food (or losing your mind).

I love to host dinner parties. I also love going to dinner parties but one thing I have noticed the more dinner parties I attended was the amount of food wasted at them. Some parties I have been to had double the amount of food needed. I think this is in part an Irish problem, it's as if Irish people could not face the absolute mortification of not having enough food that we prepare way beyond what is necessary which would be fine except oftentimes the excess food gets thrown in the bin. A recent report by the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers shows that as much as half of the food produced in the world is wasted. Obviously there is more to the problem than people throwing food out at home but that doesn't mean that we all can't do something to help reduce food waste.

Therefore just before Christmas I set myself a challenge to cook up a fancy dinner party for fifteen people and waste as little food as possible. This was going to be a particular challenge as the people I had coming to the party were primarily students who are infamous for being extremely flaky. I was worried I would cook enough food for fifteen people and end up with just five (hopefully extremely hungry) people. So what to do?

I'll start at the very beginning with the starter. At first I was planning on cooking a 'papilotte' which involves cooking food in a paper parcel to seal in flavour. I had made a fish one using a Rachel Khoo recipe and I thought it was great and also there was something extremely festive and party like about opening up a parcel at the dinner table. But then I realised I knew at least one person coming who was allergic to fish and also despite my love of fish a lot of people can be quite picky about it. So in reducing food waste that would be my first tip cook what most people want, not what you want or what you wish your guests would like. However this doesn't mean you have to cook something dull and boring, for example at first I was going to cook soup but all I could think was that soup is just so over-done. Then it came to me I would make a sorbet but not just any sorbet a basil and raspberry sorbet. It was the perfect starter, the unusual combination of the two ingredients meant that my guests found it interesting and different, it was a light start to the meal and most importantly for my food waste goal if everyone bailed on me I could just eat the sorbet myself as it could simply be kept in the freezer!

  So on to the main, this was kind of easier for me as I have just recently started cooking using Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and had become obsessed with making 'Coq Au Vin'. It worked really well as most students like chicken and all students love wine. Also regarding food waste, it is a dish that can keep for a good few days and I wouldn't have minded having it for dinner for a few days. So that's another tip; cook things that can will last for a few days. 

 Finally, the dessert. For this I cooked my favourite dessert a chocolate fondant. There is just something so decadent about digging into the middle of the chocolate cake of joy and finding oozing warm chocolate. Why is a chocolate fondant so good at reducing food waste? Well firstly it is so unbelievable delicious that very few people will leave it behind and also you only have to cook them right before you serve them for ten minute and the uncooked mixture will last for about 5 days if kept in the fridge. I topped my fondants off with white chocolate and orange ice cream that was a spectacular victory in the battle against food waste as I rescued cream from the reduced to clear section in Tesco and it was reduced from €4.00 to 11 cents! Sure this meant I had a lot of ice cream left over but no one at my house complained about having leftover white chocolate ice cream to eat. 

So in summary the main tips for less waste at a dinner party:

  • Cook something that you think most people will eat, you may love razor clams but if most of your guests don't you are likely to be left with a lot of waste.
  • Cook food that can last for a while, sorbet can be put back in the freezer, Coq au Vin or other stew like dishes can be re-heated to make amazing meals for a few days after.
  • Don't cook too much, be wary of portion sizes! I know it may be daunting cooking for a large group of people and most of us would tend to scale up but try to realistically think of how much people will eat and use serving suggestions for things like rice and pasta.
  • See what things you have that may be going out of date in your house. For example I made a smoked salmon pate as I had salmon that was almost gone off. I also made croutons for the pate with stale bread that I broke into pieces and but in the oven.
  • Don't try to cater for every possible thing that someone may want. You don't  have to have every type of sort drink or every type of beer. Think of it this way, when was the last time you went to someone's house and when asked what drink you wanted replied with something extremely specific like 'Captain Morgans and a diet coke'. 
  • Don't take it too seriously! Your friends won't care if everything isn't perfect, as long as there's enough wine and good conversation it will all be grand :)