Huel: the sample

A while ago I posted an article named It’s not people, but is it palatable? The article was about Soylent, the powder that you could mix with water and take instead of eating. I expressed interest, scepticism, and ultimately disappointment that I couldn’t try it myself. For a while I checked every so often to see if they had expanded operations to the UK, which they still haven’t.

A year and a half later, I’d forgotten about it, but then happened to come across something else: Huel. It’s a very similar concept (down to the minimalist website with an athletic-looking guy pouring beige liquid into a glass), and it was not just available, but originated in the UK. In fact, the two main players as far as I can see are currently Huel and Joylent, the latter of which not only comes from the Netherlands, but rather daringly posts their last three reviews on the front page of their website, which at the time of writing are not all positive. (more…)

What’s so Great about the Great British Bake Off?

I’ve got a confession to make: this is only the third series of GBBO that I have watched. I’ve known about it from the start, in fact a friend even sent me an application for the first ever series (this was before anyone had any idea of the crazy high skill levels of the bakers!), and I’d watched bits and pieces of the occasional episode here and there but I hadn’t got in to it. I didn’t know the bakers. I didn’t love the bakers. It all seemed, quite frankly, a bit dull. I just didn’t really get it. But two years ago I started watching from the start of the series and became absolutely hooked. I think ‘knowing’ the bakers from the start really helped. As I was driving to work this morning, already looking forward to tonight’s show, I was thinking to myself ‘what is it that makes the GBBO so great?’ So, in no particular order, here are ten of the reasons I love it so:

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Three simple kitchen gadgets that have improved my life

At the risk of sounding incompetent, lazy and paranoid (although I am, in fact, all of those things) I would like to share with you 3 simple kitchen gadgets that have improved my life.

In third place:

The Rice Cooker

No more over-cooked or undercooked rice; no more soggy or dry rice. We have a small 2 person rice cooker which makes cooking rice a breeze. I’d used them in the past when cooking for large quantities, but it’s just as effective for 1 or 2. Make sure you rinse and soak and rinse and soak and rinse and soak and rinse the rice well before hand for the ultimate rice experience.

Coming in at number 2:

The Tea Tongs

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So simple, yet so effective. No more burnt fingers (come on, we’ve all done it – taken the tea bag out with our fingers. trying to grab that little bit that’s floating up above the surface, only to have the bag keep sinking under the hot tea. Why am I so lazy as to not just go and get a tea spoon?!); or having to squeeze the tea bag between the cup edge and back of the tea spoon; or dripping tea across the floor as you carry the tea bag to the bin. Not with these nifty little tea tongs. Simply use them to pick up the tea bag, squeeze it out and then carry it to the bin. I know it might sound a bit ridiculous. I thought it was at first, but I am thoroughly converted.

And, in first place:

The Meat Thermometer

 

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After years of dry chicken and chewy pork; overly cooked sausages and other unidentifiable meat; all driven by an irrational paranoia of poisoning my friends, we got a meat thermometer. Such a simple little device and what a difference it’s made! Now, instead of waiting until the juices definitely run clear; and there is no hint of pink; and the meat is therefore rather dry, I just pop in the thermometer and check the temperature. Once it’s hit the right temperature (generally about 74 degrees C – but look this up – it varies from meat to meat) in the middle it’s ready. And the result is much tastier, less dry and much better meat, which isn’t going to cause me to lose sleep, wondering if I might have poisoned people.

Taste Test: Try Using Chopsticks

Chopsticks

I’ve always been interested in understanding and experiencing food from other cultures in an as authentic a way as possible (albeit no doubt through the heavily filtered/hampered(?) lens of a British set of tastebuds). So when, a few years ago, I was given a nice set of Chinese chopsticks, I decided to learn how to use them and attempt make the action as intuitive to me as using a knife and fork. Why not make it second nature to eat eastern dishes with eastern cutlery?

Five reasons as to why I decided to take on the chopstickery way of life:

 

1. Pragmatics and practicalities: It’s a good skill to have

From a Chinese friend’s New Year party to a pre-cinema pit stop at Wagamama, from time to time we’re issued with chopsticks, or at least the choice of sticks or forks. Facing this question and swaying by natural tendency toward the knife and fork, can generate within me a feeling of slight embarrassment or even apology. Maybe it shouldn’t and I ought to confidently and unashamedly opt for the western approach to eating. Rightly or wrongly, not choosing chopsticks conjures unease and forces me to sheepishly justify my selection of cutlery to the (probably totally ambivalent) waiter. Maybe the positive way of phrasing it is that choosing chopsticks (if only to myself) shows that I’m making the effort to join in with the culture, the cuisine of which I’m consuming.

 

2. Authentics: Eating with chopsticks provides undeniably a more bona fide experience

Okay, arguably at some less than authentic oriental eateries, I’m not really taking part in a faithful cultural experience, rather flavour that is tampered with and diluted for a British audience, so here I’m really talking about your more bespoke, less mainstream establishments. Wouldn’t it be a great, and would not my experience be enriched, when eating at a small family run Japanese restaurant, if I were to learn a few Japanese phrases, ask to eat something a little more unusual and eat with chopsticks? Taking a positive engaged approach to eating like this, leaves me feeling pretty good and the chopsticks played their part.

 

3. Speed of Eating: Very practically, chopsticks mean eating fractionally slower

Again there’s a caveat: lifting the bowl to the mouth and shovelling probably speeds up the process and although rather ungainly, is not a culturally illegitimate way of using chopsticks. However, I’m assuming that most of us would at least start with bowl fixed to the table, politely using chopsticks delicately and independently as ‘pincers’ rather than a ‘shovel’. When adopting this technique, the capacity (in comparison to that of a fork) is small and so I find myself eating at a slightly slower rate, particularly if I’m eating something like noodles or rice. There are a number of reasons pro eating slowly but from a purely experiential perspective, eating more deliberately in this way means I actually tend to enjoy the food more.

 

4. Taste: Using chopsticks makes food taste better

Does it really? Yes. Eat the same Chinese dish twice, once with chopsticks and once with knife and fork, and I’m convinced that the former approach tastes better. Everything else may remain consistent; ingredients, method of preparation, your tastebuds etc. but as the experience is different, at the very least chopsticks provide an enhanced taste experience. Part of it is a confidence/mindset thing, ie if you haven’t bought into using chopsticks regularly and stick to using knives and forks, then you might not be able to gain the experiential benefit and feel only the unfortunate sense of inconvenience when using sticks. Make using them habitual and I’m convinced you’re taste experience will be enhanced.

 

5. The bigger picture: Chopsticks are not merely cutlery, it’s what they represent 

An enhanced experience doesn’t necessarily mean a better taste you might argue. This is where I want to touch on a philosophy or theory which I’m convinced of by virtue of experience (if not via biological fact or by chemical formulaic reasoning):

Taste provides experience and experience affects taste

Few would argue with the first half; if something tastes good it follows that the experience of eating it is enjoyable. However the second part of the sentence is perhaps not so easy to accept, surely unless I’ve burnt my tongue or have the ‘flu taste is fairly absolute so how can it vary depending on what is essentially a feeling or state of mind? I see the reverse engineering behind this equation: I propose that my experience of or associated to a meal will feedback to the tastebuds almost physically affecting the taste.

Picture the scene; you’re at a dinner party, good conversation with friends, it’s Friday after a long week at work, your host cooked a range of tapas dishes to dig in and share. It tastes good right? Unless they’re a shocking cook or I’m being ultra critical. Conversely, I’ve had a rotten Monday, it’s raining and I’m by myself; the food is pretty tasteless, I certainly wouldn’t remember how good it tasted a week later. Surely that’s just an extension of what we already know about taste: it looks and smells great, so it tastes great. It’s coloured blue and usually it’s reddy orange; it tastes weird.

Good experience leads to better taste. Or at the very least the perception of taste is enhanced if I enjoy the experience more.

It’s quack medicine and at best and based on the musings of an experimentalist but embrace the chopsticks and eastern culture as you eat; enjoy learning how to use this form of cutlery, eat slow, enjoy the authenticity of the experience, ditch the knife and fork and you will tangibly taste the difference.

I have now got to a point where I am possibly using chopsticks as often as I would a knife a fork, or there abouts and although it has become a distinctly utilitarian part of my life, I genuinely believe that through the medium of chopsticks and what they represent, my food exploration has become much more varied, enriched and hopefully more authentic experience.

Sense-sational

Yesterday I was cooking with garlic (not unusual – I cook with garlic most days – I love garlic) and I was thinking how great garlic smells when it’s cooking. (It also tastes amazing, but that’s not so much what this is about.) It got me on to thinking about smell, and how powerful it can be. The smell of something can have a huge influence on how you feel about it, and is also one of the most powerful memory evokers. (As an aside – I often want to wear suncream as a perfume during the winter months, to remind me of happy sunny summer days.) And then I started thinking about all the senses, all involved in the culinary experience. Food is so much more than just taste. I decided to come up with a list of my favourite sights, sounds, smells and textures to do with food (and drink). This is definitely a work in progress, but here goes…

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Eating and drinking because It’s The Rules

Last week it was St George’s day. So as I usually do on St George’s day, I bought some English ale and had one. Not because I’m fanatically a proud Englishman, but because it’s a bit of fun. (I sometimes have a Guinness on St Patrick’s day.)

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That got me thinking about the fact that there are so many little excuses to eat or drink something for a certain day because “it’s tradition”. Off the top of my head:

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