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Is it a bird, is it a plane, no.. it’s a pineberry

10 Apr

Will you pine for them?

If there is one thing that I love, that makes me part with my readies, then it’s a gimmick.  If there are two things I love it’s a gimmick and a freebie – oh for the pro bono gimmick! – and so despite these pineberries being priced at a rather hefty £3.99 for a teeny 125g, when I popped into Waitrose on the Kings Road the other day, I kind of HAD to invest.

Last summer I fell for that other berry gimmick – the strasberry – and enjoyed the silly splicing of two berries, the strawberry and the raspberry, for a fleeting and surprising experience.  The pineberry is a produced by the Dutch and is a “new” fruit – a hybrid of Fragaria chiloensis, originating in South American, and Fragaria virginiana, originating in North America.  The wikipedia page on the pineberry informs me that it has the same genetic make-up as a common strawberry and indeed it looks rather like a strawberry that has been inverted – the pips red and the flesh white.

So whilst looking like an inside-out strawberry, the pineberry is said to smell and taste like a pineapple. Such wizardry!  Well, the first thing I noticed upon eating a pineberry, was how very watery and mushy it was. It did have a nice summery, tropical whiff about it, but very nearly collapsed in my fingers.  There was none of that juicy tautness that you get when you pop a summer’s strawberry between your teeth.

Don't believe the hype?

The taste was a huge let-down.  Saccharine with none of the sweetness of strawberry and none of the punch of a pineapple.  Watery and insubstantial.  It was nearly not there.  Except it was there and was very nearly as expensive, pound for pound, as rocket fuel.  I had been hoodwinked.  This is the problem with loving gimmicks as I do.  Rather then plumping for a sweet and succulent strawberry or a tart and juicy pineapple – the perfect flavours for this early summer sun – I had been distracted by the showy, jazzy, empty pineberry.  Even if this gimmick had turned out to be free, I would have been unimpressed.  Certainly, this ingredient of the week is a cautionary tale.  Just say no kids, just say no.

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Ingredient of the Week: Taste Number Five – Umami Paste

6 Dec

Drop the flavour bomb

Hurrah hurrah! It’s that time again, that wonderful moment that comes around once every few months when I publish a post on my ingredient of the “week”… ummmm, yeah, we’ll gloss over that shall we… anyway this time, wow, what an ingredient. Little tubes, almost Alice in Wonderland-like in appearance,  that promise to contain a “powerful natural flavour bomb” to satisfy our innate lust for savoury delicousness.

You see, over 100 years ago a new taste was discovered – umami (which I grant you sounds a bit Vic and Bob) – which is that sort of meaty, powerful lipsmackingly tasty savouriness that gives certain food a depth and punchiness.  It’s found often in bacon and certain cheeses and also breast-milk, strangely enough, which may explain why it’s a taste that feels so familiar.

Laura Santtini has squeezed a number of flavours (tomato purée, garlic, anchovy paste, porcini mushrooms, black olives, balsamic vinegar, parmesan and olive oil) into a teeny tube of umami-ness, which I managed to pick up for about £3 in Waitrose and which, squirted, in modest amounts, promises to add deep new depths to stir-fries, soups and stews.

On Sunday night I slowly cooked a beef  and potato stew – with sage and butter, garlic and shallots, huge glugs of red wine, stock  and a smidgen of tomato purée – to which I added a dinky squeeze of this umami paste.  I was sceptical, could it really make much of a difference? Would it overpower the meal? Do I like anchovies in anything? Well, well well well.

Beef and tatty stew

What was I worried about? After a few hours bubbling on the stove, I served up the stew with buttery, crusty baguettes and watched as my fiancé (who my lovely father-in-law-to-be helpfully pointed out I foolishly referred to as my mere “boyfriend” in my last blog, tsk tsk) tucked in.  At the same time I got to scoffing, naturally, and was impressed. The meat was tender and gravy had a savoury “brothiness” which very nearly knocked my socks off. Him-indoors declared it delicious and our plates were polished clean (mine with my tongue, whoops) in minutes.  I had been considering buying this for yonks and am glad I have. I can’t wait to experiment more with it and see when it does and doesn’t work. Does anyone have any cool ideas of what I should try?

Have you tried this and found it wanting? Are you hooked on these teeny tubes? Let me know if so..

Ingredient of the Week: Pumppernikkeli

26 Sep

Pretty pink biscuits

So, this latest edition of the perennially wonderful ‘Ingredient of the Week’ section of my blog is about something that is not an ingredient and also a few weeks, natch months, overdue. However, it is pink and pretty and the absolute essence of Christmas. Ta-da!… did I distract you?

Bought back from Finland by a lovely friend, Pumppernikkelis are sweet gingerbread cookies, soft and chewy, oval-shaped and glazed in pink sugary icing.  They are spicy and warm in a way that reminds me of Christmas and of the first time I tried German biscuits when a teacher in school bought them into class for everyone to try. They taste gorgeous and sweet and I have been hankering after them and big mugs of tea for days on end now. It is miserable and damp outside so it’s sort-of my duty to curl up on the couch and binge eat in my jim-jams. Right?

Furthermore, they have got me to thinking about two distinct and equally silly topics.

1. What is the best pink food? I go weak at the knees for Turkish delight and have been eating a dangerous amount of angel delight recently. Although I prefer butterscotch to strawberry. Raspberry sorbet is always a tart way to finish an indecent meal when you can’t squeeze a cake or ice-cream in, and I find myself opting for rose an awful lot, although I get tipsy after just a whiff of booze these days. But am I missing the best pink food and drink that there is? Is pink food something to be avoided? Too girly and chintzy? At least it’s better than eating a plate full of beige

Bowl full of foreign goodies

2. Is there anything, and I do mean anything, better than receiving amazing foodie gifts from people’s holidays? Or squeezing pastas and chocolates and coffee and booze into your case as you head home from the sun or the snow? I am going roadtripping round the States in a few weeks and to Copenhagen over the new year. Is there anything I should be looking out for? Are there any culinary specialities that I should be sure to avoid? Is there anything you’d like me to bring you back?… x

Ingredient of the Week: Strasberry

4 May

Half strawberry - Half raspberry. All yummy.

One of my awesome housemates at uni developed a thing called “a pembonym”. It related to the splicing of two words to create a new one, saving time and causing mirth. So, souvenirs bought at the zoo were rendered “zoovenirs”, a spare ariel becomes a “spariel” and brilliantly, you no longer need to order fresh vegetables at dinner, just “freshtables”.

It is silly and wonderful and I still find myself making my own pembonyms from time to time. Try creating one yourself! (and let me know what you come up with in the comments…) and really as time is money, yah yah yah, you’ll save bags of cash in the process.

Now, this pembonym just wrote itself. Shopping in Waitrose on the Kings Road today, on the way home from work, I spied these little blighters. A punnet of teeny strasberries. A quick google reveals that the strasberry was “born” in South America in the 1900s but virtually disappeared for the last half century until some Dutch growers rediscovered it. On sale in certain shops, like Waitrose for a couple of quid over summer months, they come marked “limited edition speciality berries” – how thoroughly exciting.

They are tiny, with deeply imbedded dark seeds and an aromatic sweet smell. They taste like a juicier, sweeter version of strawberries and are quite lovely. Nothing, just nothing, can beat fresh English strawberries – the best ones are those illicitly popped into your mouth when you’re Picking-Your-Own but these were gorgeous sweet little poppets, which I smothered in ice-cream and scoffed. Lovely.

p.s. you may have noticed that this blog was born 4 months ago, and yet this is only the second of my much trumpeted “ingredients of the week” posts. I have decided only to feature an ingredient when it catches my eye and clearly this is only once in a blue moon, so even though this category isn’t called “ingredient of the every-so-often” I hope you get the gist, yeah?

Ingredient of the Week: Medlar Jelly

17 Jan

                    A few weeks back I read an article by Nigel Slater in the Observer on Medlar fruit. About how the “fruit…smells of rancid wine and resembles nothing so much as a cat’s bottom”. Well, a fruit that looks like a cat’s bum? I was intrigued. Like a child hoping for snow on a school morning I had great anticipation that I would soon see some medlar jam or jelly and get to taste this bizarre confection. For a long time though… nothing. Then, last week I happened to pop into Partridges on my way home. Amongst the astronomically priced curiosities and American candy I saw a jar and snaffled it up immediately. And so to taste.

Well… it tastes good! And did not conjure up images of a cat’s bum, pheeeew! The texture was silky and smooth. It was gentle on my tounge, sweet and quietly rich. Need to read up on how to use it well now… but mmm, scrummy.