Better Bites: Black Bean Brownies

My poor long suffering colleagues had another disrupted break time today as I walked around the office with my latest brownies in the line of experiments. ‘Eat this’; ‘Give me honest feedback’; ‘No, I won’t tell you what’s in it’; ‘Guess what’s in it’, ‘Stop having important conversations and pay me more attention!’

They are very obliging so I got lots of useful feedback. And lots of guesses as to the ingredients. Carrot. No. Beetroot. No. Courgette. No. Porridge oats. Yes, actually. Fig. No. Sweet Potato. Not this time. Potato. Again, been there, done that, no. In the end they got bored and we all got back to work.

Now the difference between these brownies and the last batch is that these ones actually tasted quite good. And they tasted of chocolate too. Result. They, like the last batch, were still gluten free, egg free, and added sugar free. They did have a bit of dairy in them, but that could easily be substituted. In case you haven’t read the title of this post (and who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration?) the ‘secret ingredient’ was black beans.

I’m not going to share the recipe just yet as I want to try out a few tweaks, but I will seek to do so soon. But I am very excited about my (late) discovery of black beans in baking produce. I feel like a whole world of baking opportunity and gluten free joy has opened up to me.

Watch out, colleagues, more black bean baked goods coming your way!

How not to sell me whisky

Now, I love a good whisky. In fact, it was one of the things that gave me the idea that starting a blog about food’s finest things might be fun.

I was therefore amused by the way that someone tried to sell me whisky the other day.

I was in a big warehouse store where you tend to buy things in bulk. Not whisky, though; you buy it by the bottle. And on this particular day they were giving out free (tiny) samples of a whisky that was on sale. I honestly can’t remember the name and I’m not interested in commenting on it here. Because it was the sales pitch that was the most fun.

“This whisky is really good! It doesn’t taste too strong.” Hardly an appeal to the senses, then. So I tried a bit, and sure enough, it didn’t taste strong. In fact, it didn’t taste of much. It was slightly sweet and alcoholic. But the trump card had not yet been played.

“You see, sir, this is a fine whisky. It is endorsed by David Beckham!” His hand rose with a flourish to point out the large poster of Sir Beckham himself, with an expression that certainly looked like he was being paid to endorse something.

At this point I carefully placed the half empty sample cup in the bin. The assistant looked at me with incredulity. “You didn’t like it? It’s only £22!”

Perhaps I’m not the target market, but neither celebrity endorsement nor lack of strong taste nor a low price point are the main things I look for in a whisky. And they shouldn’t be for anyone.

Image: “A Glass of Whiskey on the Rocks” by Benjamin Thompson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

‘Come on you…ooo cake’

Sometimes I bake without using food colouring. This, however, was not one of those times. Lionel supports Harlequins rugby team so for his birthday I decided to make him a Harlequins themed Battenberg style cake. Fortunately, the Quins have a checkerboard with their colours in. Unfortunately these colours include brown and grey. Mmmm, grey cake.

I got hold of my tried and tested Battenberg recipe (adapted from BBC Good Food), along with some pink, blue and black (for the grey) food colouring, and some cocoa for the brown section. (If one needs to eat brown cake then it should at least be chocolate flavoured).

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Breakfast Challenge Day 2: UP&GO

So the second day into my challenge, it was time to shake things up. It was inconceivable that a decent breakfast would fit into something so small, but here is a picture of my proposed breakfast for day 2:

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Once again, I stuck to the rules from the start of the challenge. At 09.20 I opened up (with a straw) and tasted my breakfast.

The first thing that hit me was incredible sweetness to the flavour. I don’t mind sweet things too much but this was…too much. And it was incredibly artificial, with a vanilla taste that doesn’t really exist in normal food.

After that, it started tasting of oats – and in fact, there was an oat texture to it. At this point it felt a bit like a watery porridge, but not in a bad way. To be honest, it took a fair amount of time to finish the breakfast (4 minutes or so), mostly because it wasn’t entirely appealing to drink. The fact that it was through a straw also slowed things down.

As for initial feelings, apart from the overwhelming sweetness and vanilla taste, I was fairly satisfied by this carton of breakfast. I was actually pleasantly surprised that it filled me up a fair bit.

Later on, I started to feel a bit hungry a bit earlier, but not terribly so. Once again I was able to resist the temptation to buy anything more for my lunch without much difficulty.

Nutrition

Ingredients: Skimmed Milk (reconstituted) (43%), Water, Wholegrain Oat Flour (3.2%), Sugar, Fructose, Inulin, Soy Protein, Maize Starch, Milk Protein Concentrate, Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Rapeseed), Minerals (Tricalcium Phosphate, Sodium Polyphosphate), Acidity Regulator (E332), Stabilisers (E460, E466, E407), Flavouring, Dried Cream Extract, Salt, Vitamins (D, C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, Folic Acid, B12)

Now, this ingredients list is slightly worrying. My suspicion is that it’s long because it needs to have a certain consistency and longevity given that it is in liquid form in a carton, but I am the kind of person for whom the longer the ingredients list, the more worried I get. It just doesn’t feel right.

Summary

On the whole I was impressed by how full I felt from this breakfast in a bottle. It was quick (though not that enjoyable) to eat (drink?), and it didn’t involve any faff or cleaning up. And it kept me full, even if I felt a little light-headed from the sugar rush.

However, at £1.39 per day, this isn’t great value for money. Perhaps buying it in bulk would be better, but unless it got down to about 70 or 80p, I don’t think I could do this long term – not unless flavour and satisfaction were improved.

Scores

  • Convenience: 10/10
  • Taste: 6/10
  • Immediate satisfaction: 7/10
  • Long term satisfaction: 7/10
  • Value for money: 6/10

Breakfast Challenge: Day 1 – Oatso Simple Cuppa Porridge

As any scientist would tell you, if you’re going to change things, it’s best to have a benchmark for comparison – a control result. And so with my Breakfast Challenge I have started with the trusty, dependable Cuppa Porridge to give me something to compare against others.

porr

The concept is simple: you put the porridge into a mug, and you add hot water, and stir, and hopefully you get tasty porridge in a mug which is easy to eat and clean (you eat it with a spoon).

As ever, I prepared it at 09.20, the reason for which I mention in my other post. And, as predicted, it was easy to prepare – just 2 minutes and I was ready to eat my porridge.

The flavour I went for was apple and blueberry – again a tried and tested flavour. They’ve done well to go for these flavours – they’re sweet and appealing but quite easy to get into a pre-prepared breakfast without tasting artificial. So the aroma coming off the porridge was already great, and I must say the initial feelings on eating it were of satisfaction. It was a nice, hot breakfast to have and really hit the spot when I was getting a little hungry.

In terms of consistency, the feeling wasn’t so much of thick, oaty porridge which you’d have to chew – it felt more like ready brek (does that still exist?). It was almost smooth but had an oaty taste to it. Not unappealing at all, and I suppose you have to make do with the fact that you’re not cooking rolled oats for 15 minutes.

I was able to eat it while working pretty easily in about 5 minutes, and was on the whole just right for my hunger at that point. Within a couple of hours, I was starting to feel hungry but I didn’t feel the need to buy anything additional to my veg box at 11.30 and my lunch at 12.30. Perhaps later on, I was feeling a bit hungry again, but not to the point of having to supplement the meals of the day.

Nutrition

Ingredients: Quaker Wholegrain Rolled Oats (63%), Semi Skimmed Milk Powder, Sugar, Natural Flavouring

Summary

On the whole  it was a great way to start the day. And at £2.59 for 5 packs, it works out at 52p per pack, which is pretty good value. And the great thing here is that I can have this breakfast wherever I am, as long as there is hot water and a mug. The only real downside was washing up the mug afterwards, which was a little tricky (especially if you leave it for an hour – the porridge formed a crust which was surprisingly hard).

Scores

  • Convenience: 7/10
  • Taste: 9/10
  • Immediate satisfaction: 8/10
  • Long term satisfaction: 8/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Nutrition:

Breakfast challenge: Introduction

Breakfast is always a challenge for me. My stomach wants something big, filling and greasy with a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee. My brain, however, is telling me to get on with it and go out the door and get on with the day. My, er, sleep gland is saying “whatever, as long as it doesn’t take too long”.

Growing up (there’s that phrase again – how much our attitudes to food are driven by how we grew up!) it would usually be some sort of healthy cereal like Weetabix or muesli. At university I ate in the college canteen – toast, sausage, egg, bacon each day all in a sandwich. Most days, anyway. And more recently I’ve been bouncing around different options – breakfast bars, cereals, porridge, toast, and…yes, McDonalds and even KFC breakfast.

So it was high time to get another one of my challenges underway. As my friend Mark would say, “it’s not a challenge if no-one is making you do it,” but ‘challenge’ sounds better than ‘series of reviews’, so I’ll stick with that.

What I’m looking for is a combination of:

  • How full I feel after eating it
  • How full I feel later on in the morning
  • How much it costs
  • How it tastes
  • How quick it is to make
  • Nutritional information (i.e. what it’s likely to do to my insides in the long term)

My default breakfast at the moment is Oatso Simple Porridge (either in microwave or cuppa porridge form), so I’ll start with that and compare it.

Obviously this isn’t a scientific study. The sample size is 1, and there are a lot of factors that could influence how I’m feeling breakfast wise: how much food I had the previous day; how active I was (and am); how much fluid I drink; how tired I am. But I’ll do my best to keep things as consistent as possible: I’ll eat my breakfast at 09.20 am, and then take ‘measurements’ until lunch.

Why 09.20 am? I get up and start work much earlier, but I found that if I eat when I get up I invariably get incredibly hungry around 10.30/11.00, and then end up supplementing my lunch because I think I’ll be hungry. I find that I can push through until 09.20 and then eat then as a kind of early morning break. Weird? Yeah, but it’s a psychological trick that seems to work.

Taste Test: Try Using a Teaspoon

Taste with a Teaspoon

The last time I followed a recipe was 3 years ago. My teaspoon is my recipe book. A reactive recipe book where ingredients and method vary greatly depending on how I feel. Depending on the day.

I might have a good idea as to what I want to achieve as I wok up my stir fry this evening, but I don’t want it to be limited to Nigel Slater’s Thai slant or Rick Stein’s Oriental perspective. Today it’s pork and noodles and I want it to meet the need of my taste buds. Today’s taste buds.

The meat is on the heat and I’m kicking it off with a little sesame oil. Once it’s sealed it’s time to add the first layer of flavour. Cumin, cinnamon, all spice and fresh ginger presiding over cayenne today. Like I said, I have today’s preferences in mind, and the order of the day is warmth and not heat.  One minute and the veg goes into the wok. I’m now thinking about sauce and the second layer of flavour: honey and light soy (that’s my stock). But I need to check that I’m following today’s ‘recipe’; I need my teaspoon. Stir and taste. I’m looking for sweetness, richness and the limited warmth of ginger and cinnamon (I don’t really need to taste the cumin, it’s serving a greater purpose, subservient to and supporting of the ginger).

I’ve only been adding a little at a time so I know that I’ll be in the right flavour ball park, but the balance isn’t there yet. The salt from the soy is permeating too strongly, more honey necessary. Stir and taste again. Good, better, it’s balancing out.

The noodles need to be added now, I’m conscious of time, the veg doesn’t need long. I haven’t added any more flavour since the last taste test but I’ve given it time to blend and develop so I’ll taste again.

Today is all about encouraging the warmth of ginger and it’s not coming through, so I’ll add a little more (I chopped it finely to give it a fighting chance of finding its way through the dish in a minute or two). Taste. That’s Layer Two complete.

Now a splash of rice wine vinegar, just a dash, enough to deglaze and add slight edge of sharpness (not too much or I’ll overpower the dish with acid). Taste. Dark soy for colour. Taste. Honey to re-balance. Taste. Perfect.

A stir fry like this will take around 7 minutes, typically I’d use my ‘recipe book’, around ten times. Probably around the same number of times a BBC Good Food website would be consulted and checked. Ok so my teaspoon is reactionary, experimental and maybe even a slightly risky approach to creating a dish but it was all the direction I needed and it’s given me the flavour of the moment.

I’m not advocating tearing up your “I’m Jamie Oliver and this is how I cook a three course meal in two minutes”. I’m not saying that the “Hairy Bikers’ guide to cooking in Geordie” can’t inspire. What I am saying is that the smallest of spoons can help generate the most exciting of dishes and create the fullest of flavours.

Next time you sizzle a stir fry, cook a casserole or prep a pasta sauce, try closing the recipe book and arm yourself with the humble teaspoon.

Brownies: the real result

Katherine posted a few days ago about an experiment she did in attempting to create a ‘healthy brownie’. I just felt that I wanted to give a little bit of real-person feedback on the results of this experiment.

Here are our friends Jo and Cliff, when asked to do a ‘thumbs-up/thumbs-down’ rating:

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I think their expressions say it all.

And here are our friends Mark and Maddy:

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So, as you can see, we weren’t that impressed. I do like healthy food, on the whole. But these weren’t pleasant, I’m afraid – nothing to do with the technique or the maker, but everything to do with the concept of trying to put a potato into a cake.

food.matsuya.co.uk – bringing you the truth, no matter how hard it is to stomach.

Fancy Food Friday: The Modern Pantry

Jo and I lead a fairly modest lifestyle, so it’s not all that often we go out for a meal – and even less frequently that we eat somewhere that is a little bit more fancy. I’m not sure if most people would describe The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell as Fancy, but at £40 for a bottle of wine which is (as I understand it) red wine with “a little bit of white” (but not rosé), there’s only one word that comes to mind: fancy. Read More

Luncheon problems, Part I

I need to admit something: I’m terrible at lunches. I really don’t know why, but I struggle to put something together myself that I find satisfying and tasty while being fairly healthy. And I’d far rather go and buy lunch each day than make it myself, although even buying stuff I get muddled with what I like.

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