Must. Try. Harder.

Well, it’s finally out there. I know I should be jumping for joy to see it, but alas, although I haven’t even read it yet, the public reaction tells me that the UK Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy doesn’t hit the mark.

govt_strategy

 

I’ve had an opportunity to pore over it now, and here’s what I think.

Reading the introduction inspires me to go out for a run; this is serious stuff that we can’t ignore. More needs to be done to get the facts into the public domain and reinforce the severity in the minds of those not inclined to read Government strategy papers.

There’s absolute sense in what they state about long-term, sustainable change only being achievable through the active engagement of schools, communities, families and individuals. This is the core objective for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. It follows the basic principles of change, as we must raise awareness, create the desire, and help people to understand what they can do to make a difference.

The sugar tax is a positive step, but is it enough? If I were a food manufacturer, I don’t think I’d be too worried about any of this..

I see a lot of wishy-washy wording that leaves plenty of room for localised interpretation. I would have liked to have seen some more decisive moves rather than merely ‘encouraging’ change with a limp carrot.

The plans around sport for schoolchildren are great, but I’m concerned that the mindset will become “I do lots of physical activity, so I can get away with eating whatever I want”. The balance is paramount, and if those affected don’t have a clear understanding, then what hope do they have?

In conclusion, I’m glad that we have this, but we had a real opportunity for transformational change, and I can’t help but feel terribly disappointed that we didn’t grab it with both hands and really capitalise on it.

As stated, the launch of this plan represents the start of a conversation, rather than the final word. I for one will be making sure that I’m involved in that conversation, will you?

 

French Onion Soup

For this year’s Food Revolution Day, Jamie Oliver shared ‘10 recipes to save your life‘ – learn how to master these dishes and you can successfully cook nutritious food for yourself and your family for the rest of your life.

As Ambassadors for the revolution, we’re all about inspiring others, sharing skills and knowledge, and helping people to build confidence in the kitchen.

My alternative to Jamie’s Minestrone Soup is the one and only French Onion Soup. It’s a fantastic example of how you can transform a humble ingredient by concentrating the flavour. You have a couple of options here: make a relatively quick and acceptable soup, or show it the love, give it the time and attention it deserves, and make a beautifully deep, complex and truly sensational bowl of joy.

brown onions

Ingredients:

  • 500g brown onions
  • 50g butter
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Splash of cognac or brandy (optional)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1.5 litres beef stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 150g Gruyere cheese
  • ½ baguette

 

Method:

Finely slice the onions and sweat them in a pan on a very low heat with the butter, sugar and a little olive oil for about an hour until beautifully soft, caramelised and almost melting.

sweating onions

Increase the heat, add the garlic and thyme and cook for a few minutes before carefully flambéing with the cognac/brandy if using.

Stir in the flour and cook it out for two of minutes.

Add the wine and let it bubble away and reduce by a third.

Add the beef stock, season and simmer for a further 30 minutes.

Serve the soup with Gruyere-topped croutons – they’re essential.

I like to make the croutons by frying garlic-rubbed slices of baguette in a pan with butter until golden, but you can just toast them or bake them in the oven to dry them out. Pop them onto the soup, grate Gruyere cheese over the top, and slide everything under the grill or into the oven until gorgeously molten.

Enjoy!

Onion Soup

Seabass with Samphire & Lemongrass Butter

Here’s my twist on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution fish recipe. Using very similar skills to his classic pan-fried salmon and vegetable dish, I’m mixing it up a little and showing how you can create incredible variations in flavour.

If you’re buying whole fish and filleting it yourself, make sure you look out for bright, clear eyes.  The brighter the eyes, the fresher the fish. My children are fascinated by the whole process and we’ve luckily avoided any squeamishness by making it the norm whilst they’re still young.

Samphire is the asparagus of the sea. Delicate, tender, delicious.

I’ve chosen to accompany the fish with Swedish Hasselback potatoes. They’re really easy to make, and I love how this little twist transforms the humble potato to make it super-crispy and delightfully moreish.

The lemongrass butter gives everything a clean and zingy lift. You can make it ahead and store it in the freezer for future use; it’s stunning on charred corn on the cob.

Ingredients:

(serves 2)

  • 2 Seabass fillets
  • 150g Samphire
  • 100g Butter, softened
  • 1 Lemongrass stalk
  • 1cm Ginger
  • 1 Parsely sprig
  • 1 Tbsp Ponzu
  • 6 Small waxy potatoes (you may wish you’d cooked more though…)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive Oil

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

To make the butter, remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass and finely slice the core with the parsley leaves. Peel and grate the ginger into a bowl and mix it together thoroughly with the lemongrass, ponzu, butter, parsley and pepper. Tip the butter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and form it into a log shape. Wrap it up like a Christmas cracker and pop it into the fridge so that it firms up.

The potatoes need to be evenly sliced without cutting all of the way through, so that they fan out when cooked. The more slices, the crispier the results. I use a wooden spoon as a jig to hold the potato in place and stop the blade. You’ll find it easiest with a very sharp, thin bladed knife.

wooden spoon jig

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a roasting tray with a knob of butter and then carefully add the potatoes, making sure that they’re nicely coated. Roast for about 50 minutes until beautifully golden and crispy.

Slash the skin of your fish. This will help the heat to penetrate the thickest part so that you have evenly cooked fish.

Seabass fillet

Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a little oil just to coat the surface. Season the fish before placing it skin-side down into the pan, pressing it down for the first few seconds to prevent it from curling up. Cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes without touching it or moving it around. Once the skin is golden and crispy, gently turn it over and cook for a further minute.

seabass

Steam the samphire for just 3 minutes and dress it with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Rock Samphire

Assemble your dish, topping with a slice of the lemongrass butter. Don’t place the butter directly onto the skin as I have done below if you want to keep it nice and crispy.

seabass with samphire and lemongrass butter

As always, recipes are merely guides; mix it up a little, adapt to your tastes and build on the foundations to satisfy your soul. The next time I cook this dish I’m going to focus on the Swedish angle and switch the lemongrass for some form of dill sauce.

 

 

Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry

Pad Kra Pao Gai (ผัดกระเพราไก่); this is one of the most memorable dishes we acquired for the repertoire during our stint in Australia. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s my wife’s absolute favourite – it makes a regular appearance on our table.

You’ll notice that Thai basil (bai horapha) has beautifully deep purple stalks. The wonderful aniseed flavour of this variety is so distinctive, yet rather than being overpowering, it’s delicate and fragrant.

Fresh Thai Basil

This recipe introduced us to ‘garlic shoots’ which unfortunately we’ve never seen since leaving Australia, other than chopped up and frozen in mixed vegetable bags at Waitrose. Garlic shoots are so special to us that I’ll admit to buying numerous bags and picking through! Like long, perfectly straight green beans, garlic shoots have a mild flavour and provide a slightly squeaky, crunchy texture to the dish.

You could always have a go at growing them yourself as they’re just garlic scapes with the flower bud removed. If you can’t get your hands on any, fine green beans will suffice.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Chicken breasts
  • 4 Garlic cloves
  • 3cm Galangal (or Ginger)
  • 1/2 Chilli
  • 1/2 Red Pepper
  • Small bunch of Asparagus
  • Small bunch of Spring Onions
  • Small bunch or Garlic Shoots or Green Beans
  • Bunch of Thai Basil
  • 3 tbsp Oyster Sauce
  • Splash of Fish Sauce (optional)

Ingredients

Method:

Cut the chicken breasts into thin slices.

Blend the garlic, chilli and galangal into a paste using a mortar and pestle or roughly chop it all together. Marinate the chicken in a covered dish or bag in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Slice the vegetables into roughly the same size and set aside. Do make sure that you have everything ready to go and within reach before you start cooking as it’s going to be quick quick quick.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil.

Stirring as you go, first fry the marinated chicken for a couple of minutes.

Add the vegetables and fry for a further minute.

Add the oyster sauce and a splash of fish sauce (or water if it’s not your thing), cooking for another couple of minutes.

Finally, add the Thai basil for just 30 seconds so that it wilts and releases its beautiful aroma.

So in total, the stir fry should take you about five and a half minutes to cook.

Serve with white rice or cauliflower rice for a healthier option.

Thai Basil