Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Luscious liver pate

Let's make one thing clear - I am generally not a fan of liver.  Indeed organs in general are a problem for me, despite lots of people telling me how marvellous they are for me I can't get past the texture or the smell.

However I love this liver pate!  It's smooth, delicious and versatile - working with almond crackers, sourdough or oatcakes.

It's also very easy to make.  I had the fear with this dish for quite a while as my husband had always prepared liver in our house.  Now I quite enjoy making it in the evenings when the children are in bed and I can watch something on Netflix whilst I cook!

Liver is a fantastic source of nutrients such as iron, folate and B vitamins (especially B12).  It is also high in Vitamin A.  In theory our bodies can make vitamin A from plant sources by converting beta carotene but in practice our bodies are often very poor at this (especially if you have any digestive issues) so it's good to eat foods that are a direct source.

This recipe will make enough pate for 1 large or 4 small terrines.  I tend to go for small and then I can freeze three, thus having enough pate for around a month.  Or a standby starter dish if I decide to have some friends round to eat!

I would go for the very best livers you can find.  It cost me around £5 for the organic liver needed to make this recipe so it goes quite a long way.  (I bought mine from Graig Farm)


450-500g organic chicken livers (rinsed and chopped in half)
160g of butter 
1 onion 
1 clove of garlic 
1 medium chilli 
Salt and pepper to taste
Bay leaves and peppercorns to garnish


- Add 2/3 of the butter to a large frying pan and gently fry the onions in the butter until they are translucent 
- Add in the chicken livers, garlic and chilli and fry until cooked through - should take around 10-15 minutes 
- Blend the mixture in a food processor and then spoon into containers leaving at least 1cm clear 
on the top. Press down with the back if the spoon to get a flattish surface 
- In a clean pan melt the remaining butter then pour it over the pate (I find this easiest to do it with a large dessert spoon)
- Garnish (if you care to!) with bay leaves and peppercorns
- Leave to cool and then cover and keep in the fridge

Friday, 26 June 2015

Video - Why we should buy free-range meat

So MRSA has been discovered in supermarket pork.  Is anyone really that surprised?  How long was it going to be before we had a problem with superbugs given that these animals are routinely given antibiotics as a preventive measure - in the cramped conditions they are reared disease could kill a whole herd (and a whole lot of profit) very quickly.

It looks as if this will be the tip of the iceberg - other countries such as Denmark and China have been grappling with this issue for years but ultimately whilst the demand for cheap pork continues we will not get rid of the problem.

What is the alternative?  It's pretty simple.  We stop buying imported pork from supermarkets and start buying home-grown free-range pork. The pigs from farms like this are exposed to no or minimal antibiotics as Paul White, from one such farm explains in this clip.

Watch this short video Why we should eat free-range to find out the other reasons why I choose free-range meat for my family and to find out where you can buy it from.    

Monday, 22 June 2015

Lamb lollipops (kofta for kids)

One of my most popular recipes ever!

We eat a lot of organic mince in our house as it is versatile and relatively inexpensive.  Having recently decided to clear the freezer (for its once a decade defrost) we have all seen enough of spaghetti bolognese, meatballs and cottage pie and I needed to do something a bit different with the kilo of mince that was hanging around.  I am also on a mission to get my youngest to try some more spicy food.  So I was inspired by the koftas in my local butchers and thought I would try and make my own.

These are so easy to make.  They really don't take any longer than burgers but the fact you  eat them off a stick somehow makes them about fifty times more attractive to the children!

They taste good cold as well so they are great if the family can't all eat together.  I served them to the kids with rice, green veg and a garnish of onion, cucumber and mint.  My husband and I had them later with a salad and some hot chilli sauce - recipe coming soon!  

These would also be delicious with some finely chopped onion added to the mix.


500g lamb mince
1 egg  (beaten)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp of ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste 


  • Preheat the oven to 200c fan / 220
  • Soak some small wooden skewers.  They will be ready by the time you have seasoned the meat
  • Mix together the egg, mince, herbs and seasoning. I like to do this by hand.  
  • Take golf ball size chunks of the mixture and shape into a sausage (I find it easiest to make a ball in-between my palms and then squash it down by rolling hands over it)
  • Insert the skewer though the middle 
  • Place the skewers onto a roasting dish (you can put them on top of a wire tray if you want the fat to drip through)
  • Cook for approximately 20 minutes, dependent on the size of your kofta.  I like mine to have a good colour on the outside and can be slightly pink on the outside 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

MRSA found in pork. Should my family stop eating it?

A Guardian investigation has found a strain of MRSA in pork sold at various supermarkets.  Click here  to read the articles.  

It's concerning especially as the problem is widespread in Denmark which supplies a lot of pork to Britain.  There are bound to be lots of parents who will now worry about buying pork. 

The reality is that this is a problem stemming from excessive antibiotic use within intensive farming (geared to supply supermarkets) and not all pork. 

I headed to East Lancashire yesterday to interview Paul White from Roaming Roosters who supply free range pork to find out more about the difference between intensive and outdoor reared meat - video coming very soon.  

I saw where the pigs breed, live and are butchered.  This kind of access would be unthinkable in intensive farming. There are farms like Roaming Roosters all over the country and and they often have online shops making higher welfare meat more accessible even if you don't live locally.

I am happy to continue buying my bacon and sausages from farms like these and hope that the MRSA scare encourages more shoppers to stop buying meat from supermarkets and source it instead from smaller, more responsible suppliers. 

How to buy 'clean' food. Q&A with award-winning food journalist Joanna Blythman

In my recent post Think you can eat clean by checking food labels? ... I wrote about the revelations in Joanna Blythman’s latest book SwallowThis about the processing aids, enzymes, additives and other substances that are added to our food.

The food manufacturers argue that we cannot make a definitive link between these processing techniques and health problems.  However, is this because there are no risks or because we haven’t had time to establish them yet?  It took decades for people to prove the link between tobacco and cancer, now pesticides are in the frame – WHO have declared Roundup a possible carcinogenic thirty years after its approval.  Lots of the products used in the food industry have not been around very long so how can we tell what the long term effects will be? Given we don’t know how often we are ingesting these additives, aids and enzymes how can the industry ensure our exposure is ‘low-level’ and non-problematic? 

The industry is not going to change anytime soon so what we can do to today, to try to eat clean?  

Joanna’s advice is simple -  we need to cook from scratch as often as we can and choose the best ingredients we can afford. I agree, however once you start reading about what the food industry are allowed to do with ‘whole’ foods such as meat, dairy, vegetables etc, buying food for a family can still seem like a minefield.  Add in cost and time pressure and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed. 

So I was keen to ask Joanna some further questions about how and where she shops and how we can make the best choices, whether we are in a supermarket or shopping online. 

Read her answers below for some great advice – and some surprising information about frozen and organic food!

Should families go shopping at Waitrose or Sainsbury’s instead of Asda or Aldi?  Is this about expensive versus cheap food?
Joanna: My policy is to avoid shopping in supermarkets as much as possible. That’s partly because I find supermarket shopping a soul-destroying experience, but also because I want to spend as much of my food costs as possible with independent traders: markets, farm shops, proper butchers/fishmongers, small bakeries and so on. I do shop in supermarkets some times, but I feel that nowadays, the thing is to shop around a bit. All the market signals suggest that the one-stop, once-a-week supermarket shopping expedition is last century’s shopping model. 

Are shoppers better off going to the cheese and meat counters in the supermarket rather than choosing items off a shelf?
Joanna: Basically they sell the same stuff. On the counters products are sold unwrapped, which looks different, but it’s the same stuff from the same suppliers. I particularly avoid the fish counters: everything looks so old. They can’t compare with a proper fishmonger.

Parents often buy frozen fruit and vegetables because they are a great back up and we are told they may even have more nutrients than fresh ones. Is there anything in the manufacturing process that we should be aware of?
Joanna: In general, I’m quite in favour of frozen food. I freeze a lot of fresh meat that I buy, and get through a vast amount of frozen raspberries and peas! What I have found out is that many fruits and vegetables are soaked in water containing enzymes before freezing to firm them up. This doesn’t appear on the label; yet another “processing aid”.

You discuss ‘ protective packaging’ and meat being filled with water. Is this an issue just with ‘processed meat’ such as ham and sausage or could it be an issue with any meat product bought off a supermarket shelf?
Joanna: More or less all supermarket meat is packed in MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) these days, whether a whole intact bit of meat, or processed. So it’s quite different from a traditional butcher. Imported chicken is often pre-injected with added water, sometimes with salt and starch in it. This is mainly used in processed ready meals, so check if your “chicken” has ingredients added by looking at the label.

Are there any issues with whole fruit and vegetables that one would buy from a supermarket grocery section or is it only pre-prepared items?
Joanna: Not really. Obviously, I always try to buy organic when it is affordable (things like potatoes, carrots, celery, lettuce and so on) as I try to avoid pesticide residues. Some fruits and vegetables, both organic and non-organic, are covered in wax to make them last longer, and on non-organic produce, these waxes can contain fungicides. So I always buy organic or unwaxed (eg citrus) if I’m going to use the zest. My last book What To Eat covers this in more depth.

In your book you talk about the use of enzymes to ‘mature’ food faster: is this only use to create flavourings or in whole foods as well?  For example is it just used to create mature cheddar cheese flavouring or in blocks of cheese too? 
Joanna: No, some GM enzymes are used in the production of whole cheeses, particularly vegetarian ones, and lots of salamis/charcuterie products use enzymes.

Is buying organic food the solution or can manufacturers still use ingredients / enzymes as processing aids and not declare them?
Joanna: Organic guarantees higher standards of animal welfare, no GM ingredients or animal feed, environmental and wildlife benefits, and fewer additives. But processing aids are indeed used behind the scenes to manufacture organic processed foods, and not declared on the label.

If you had a young family and were shopping at a supermarket what guidelines would you use when choosing food?
Joanna: Buy food in its whole, unprocessed form and cook it yourself from scratch. Bring your children up to eat the same as the adults, and sit down at the table together to eat meals. Don’t keep anything in the house that you don’t what the kids to eat. I don’t believe its good to use junk food as “treats”; it sends out the wrong message.

Sensible advice – it’s not about buying chia seeds or getting up at 6am to make acai berry smoothies every morning.  It’s about preparing proper meals, with real ingredients and trying to shop as locally as you can. It's about supporting our local fishmongers and butchers, (even more important following the revelations last week about MRSA in intensively reared pork). 

If we all use our (considerable) spending power wisely we can make changes for the better!

Read more of Joanna’s articles and get details of her books at http://www.joannablythmanwriting.com

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Cheeky chicken wings

I love these at lunchtime alongside a bowl of soup or salad.  The kids devour them (alongside a portion of greens or peas).  

They are super easy and having tried them you will never want to have a shop bought one again! The list of ingredients is quite long but is really just a case of making a spice mix and you could always mulitply the amounts and make up a jar.  This is a bit of a store cupboard recipe so it uses all dried spices rather than fresh. 

These also taste great cold and can be made in advance and used for packed lunches / picnics etc.


1/2 tsp of garlic powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika 
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary 
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper 
1 kg of chicken wings 


Preheat the oven to 180c fan / 200c 
Mix together all the spices 
Rub the spice mix all over the chicken wings 
Place the chicken wings on a metal rack over a baking tray so they can get crispy all over
Cook for twenty minutes and turn 
Cook for another twenty minutes and check to see if they are cooked through 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Think you can eat clean by checking food labels? Think again

‘The finest trick of the the Devil is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist’
 (Charles Baudelaire)

Is the food industry guilty of a similar trick with their ‘clean label campaign? In Joanna Blythman’s new book, ‘Swallow This’ (a read that is fascinating and scary in equal measure) she looks at whether the food industry is improving or simply rebranding.

When consumers became fidgety about e-numbers, additives and food colourings the industry decided they needed to react to this pressure.  But have they really improved our food?  On the face of it yes.  Shoppers are reassured by ‘no artificial colours or flavourings’, ‘no added sugar’ etc.  Even the most conscientious consumer who reads the small print on the back will no longer find a long list of e-numbers or the dreaded trans fats listed, instead there is the more palatable ‘modified starch’, ‘natural colourings’ etc.

However what is behind this change, according to Joanna, is not a more natural approach to food production but closer to a PR exercise. In reality there is now just a different set of industrially produced ingredients, processing aids and enzymes that are potentially no safer than the E-numbers that they replaced.  Manufacturers do not appear interested in the nutritional qualities of the food they produce.  Everything is about initial look or taste, of ‘appearing natural’ or ‘fresh-like’. 

Even if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using these ingredients their existence is to make the process cheaper and means there is lot less of real and nutritious ingredients like butter, nuts, flour, dairy and meat. Processed food is not ‘food’ anymore but  ‘complex constructions of high-tech ingredients’.  

Unfortunately there is no reassurance for those of us who like to think we have escaped the problem by avoiding the obviously heavily processed foods such as cheap biscuits and cakes, ready meals and packet sauces.  Joanna’s research covers food that even the most diligent parent would have in their shopping basket – bread, premium yoghurts, frozen vegetables, chicken, sliced meats and ready prepared fruit and vegetables.

‘You might even boycott the most obvious forms of nutritionally compromised, blatantly degraded offerings, and yet you will still find it hard to avoid the 6,000 food additives – flavourings, glazing agents, improvers, anti-caking agents, solvents, preservatives, colourings, acids, emulsifiers, releasing agents, antioxidants, thickeners, bleaching agents, sweeteners, chelators – and the undisclosed ‘processing aids’, that are routinely employed behind the scenes of contemporary food manufacture.’

Take yoghurts for example.   Low fat yoghurts are incredibly popular with families but how does a manufacturer make low fat yoghurt have the creamy goodness we associate with full fat food?  Step forward ‘modified starch’.  It sounds innocent enough – we know there is starch in rice and potatoes? However the industrial process used to create this ingredient mean it is far removed from any starch you would find in natural food.  It is a manufacturer’s dream - a cheap, bland ingredient that sticks to the inside of your mouth tricking your brain into thinking you have ingested fat.   (I happened to mention it to a friend whose husband works in the food industry – little did I know that he was a starch technologist and she confirmed it is a growing area of research precisely because it can be a great ‘filler’ in so many foods)

What surprised me the most was what manufacturers are allowed to use as a ‘processing aid’ and not include on the label. How often have you picked up some ready prepped vegetables or a fruit salad, assuming that they are in their natural state?  Would you think that they had been treated with enzymes to look fresher and firmer in their pack?  

  How about when you consciously avoid all the pre-packaged biscuits and decide instead to treat yourself to something from an in-store bakery, would you dream that it might have been pre-prepared months before and then left frozen on shelf waiting to be finished off on site?

  So why isn’t there more transparency in the industry?  During a Radio 4 discussion Alice Cadman from Leatherhead Food Research was asked about the processes involved in food production and here is what she thinks of consumer’s concerns:

  “...it’s the food industry’s job to make high quality very safe food and it’s a complicated area…I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the ingredients, I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the regulatory framework but I would expect them to trust the people who are making the food for them because that’s what they do”

  Hearing that I didn’t feel reassured I felt patronised. Unfortunately for the food industry the age of people trusting large institutions to serve their interests is long gone!

We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking we shouldn’t ask tough questions about the food industry because we are not clever or scientific enough to understand the answer.  The whole point of regulatory bodies and labels should be to make information accessible. We also shouldn’t be made to feel like we are being ‘difficult’ for wanting to know what is in our food! 

More on this subject and practical advice for families wanting to eat clean in further posts, coming next week.  

In the meantime check out Joanna’s book, which is on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007548338) and in the shops (possibly not being stocked at supermarkets though!!)