Thursday, 28 April 2011

Happy Birthday Blog - 1 Year of Fraîche Food


Doesn't time fly when you're having fun. One year later and here we are; I'm still at it. In many ways it doesn't feel like a whole year has passed since I set up this pokey blog, on the 22nd of April 2010. Since then, some things have changed and some things have stayed the same.


In some ways I still feel the shaky and unsure newbie blogger that I was twelve months ago: I still worry when I post a recipe that if anyone tries it, they won't like it. I still wonder whether the opinion posts are an over-cooked and under-seasoned risotto of dull ramblings. I still feel, despite a whole year of trying new recipes (from books and my own grey matter), that I have mountains to learn.


Thankfully though, from the (roughly) three people who read this blog, and the two who have tried any of the recipes, the feedback has been positive.


Some things have changed though – in many ways this blog has become more selfish. When I set it up, one of the main aims was 'to get you [students/anyone who doesn't cook] cooking'. Whilst that is still one of the main goals, cooking for me has become a personal journey, a journey in which every new recipe, every new ingredient, every new restaurant visit, has become something of a voyage of discovery. Having to invent dishes also, both for this blog and the student newspaper, has been a great challenge in many ways, especially for someone with as little background knowledge or experience as me.


Food for me has now become this great fascination and curiosity, from the irresistibly captivating world of molecular gastronomy and kitchen science, through to the immense joy and satisfaction of growing your own food at home, there is just so much to learn and discover. And let's not forget the of the great joys of cooking: sharing.


Cooking for friends and family is a great way to show you care, and it is a great way to enjoy the company of one another. The dinner table is this great forum for conversation, for debate, for sharing stories and experiences, and for simple idle chit-chat. When you cook for those around you, you cannot help but find yourself imbued with a joy at being able to give something back to those around you; I thoroughly recommend it. Find a recipe that you really like, practice it on yourself, and then invite some friends round and enjoy. It's well worth it.


I often find it amusing when I talk to people about food or about this blog – they sometimes assume that I know a lot about food and/or am a good cook. But this couldn't be further from the truth: I can follow a simple recipe, I am passionate and I am intrigued. But should you need any more to enjoy food and cooking?


Go on, get your apron on (or alternatively your stain removal primed and ready), get into that kitchen, and get cooking. You won't regret it.


Statistics


I am a bloke, and therefore I like statistics. So below are some statistics from one year of Fraîche Food.


Visitor Statistics


According to Google Analytics, over the course of the year:


  • The site had 253 visits (not very much)

  • 157 of those were absolute unique visitors (even less)

  • The blog had 557 page views (slightly better)

  • 00:02:24 was the average time spent on the site by any visitor

  • The average amount of visitors has increased over the year, beginning with 0 views in the month of May 2010 and peaking with 46 in February 2011

  • The most viewed individual blog post was the review of Wallace and Co.

  • The biggest source of traffic was from Facebook

  • The majority of visitors came from the UK, with the US in second place out of 8 countries including Russia and Turkey.


    Blog Post Statistics

  • Over the year, Fraîche Food has had 18 blog posts, which works out on average as 1.5 per month

  • Of those 18 posts, only 8 were recipes

  • The total word count comes to over 12,100 words.


Speaking of words, here's a nice little Wordle image to finish, displaying the frequency of words in this blog (larger = more recurrent):




Oh, and one more thing: I do appreciate feedback, so if you've tried a recipe, like or dislike the blog, or even if you simply think it's all a pointless waste of e-space, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets

A P/review of the book & a lesson on learning to love the French.

To say that the English and the French have had an interesting relationship over the years is somewhat of an understatement. Even today, there is a certain amount of rivalry and plenty of jokes between the two nations.

Now I don't particularly dislike the French (A humongous French flag currently hangs in my flat Kitchen due to my French flat mate), but I have always had a smidgen of resentment for French cooking and secretly tried to deny its greatness. This is probably due to the fact that the British, until the last decade or so, have had a particularly poor name in the culinary world whilst the French have excelled. Not only have they excelled but they have somewhat scorned at us for our poor culinary habits (and probably rightly so) – ask James Martin for his experiences in French kitchens to see what I mean (or just read his autobiography).

Anyway, the point of all this is that I am proud to announce that any murky feelings of discomfort at the praise of French cuisine have now gone. 'But why?', I hear you cry; 'Surely a touch of resentment is the essence of any great soufflé?' I hate to break it to you, but it's not. The reason is simply this: Raymond Blanc.



His French charm, his passion and pure excitement for food are simply infectious. When you see him you know that this is how Frenchmen are supposed to be. What's more, as well as containing these fine ingredients, his Kitchen Secrets series has some wonderful recipes, ranging from the simplistic (the ones I might try) to the simply extraordinary (the ones that are simply awe-inspiring and an entertainment to watch).

As it was Mother's Day just over a week ago, I thought it might be nice to buy mine a copy of Monsieur Blanc's Kitchen Secrets book (no vested interest there, of course). It turned out to be a good present indeed. Lavishly illustrated, littered with helpful hints and clearly and concisely organised, this beautiful tome is a gem of a cook book.



Starting with the humble egg, the book is organised into chapters based on the different ingredients that starred in each episode of Kitchen Secrets; from fish to lamb, to tomatoes and chocolate, there's a host of ingredient groups to suit every diet and palate. Each section features up to ten recipes, which are given a difficulty rating between one and three stars. As well as the usual servings, preparation and cooking times, the difficulty rating is accompanied by a helpful list of any specialist equipment that is required.

Before the ingredients list is a practical 'planning ahead' section and each step of each recipe is subtitled with a helpful heading, such as 'to make the sauce' and 'to finish and serve'. Let's not forget the briefly aforementioned tips too, which are extensive and rather useful. For example, the first tip for the Smoked Salmon Omelette says 'Don't use a whisk or break the eggs down too much because you want a contrast of textures, with a little unmixed white and yolk.'

Yes, that's right; there is an omelette recipe here. And that is precisely one of the things that appeals about this book – Although Raymond is a famous two-Michelin-starred chef, he doesn't put himself above something like the humble omelette, instead he shows a great appreciation for the joys and flavours of simple cooking. But that's not to say that he keeps it all simple – his Café Crème in a Chocolate Cup and Pièce Montée Croquembouche are astounding works of art (possibly better looked at than attempted, in my case at least!), and just two of many complex recipes.



It is interesting to note too, that there are hardly any pictures of the man himself throughout the book – Raymond doesn't seem interested in promoting himself as a celebrity chef much; from the start he makes it clear that he is all about the food. And that's what puts the icing on the cake of this recipe book. From the very soul warming intro, where he talks about 'those magical meals [that] turn strangers into the dearest of friends' and claims that 'this little book is... about sharing', right through to the grand finale that is the chapter on chocolate, Raymond's passion and French charm shine throughout. This, coupled with the gorgeous photography, make this a book as much for the coffee table as for the kitchen. Très Bien.

You can still catch the second series of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets on the IPlayer.

Note: I have not actually tried any of the recipes from the book yet, hence this is more of a preview than a review. I'm sure they'll taste great though!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Chicken, Mushroom and White Wine Soup

A vague recipe with some terrible puns.

It has been a whole month since we last spoke, so it's about time for a recipe or two. This one is a funny one: After making Jamie's Spaghetti Tetrazzini for some lovely friends of mine (I thoroughly recommend it), I had a couple of chicken thighs and some mushrooms left over. Normally, I like to be measured and careful when making food, but this time I really wasn't in the mood – so it was very much an Oliver-esque case of 'whack in' a bit of this, a lug of that, and a spaloosh of the other.


Happily enough, it worked out rather nicely, but due to my disposition of the moment, I hadn't written down any measurements and quantities, or taken any photos.


What I'm doing is going the long way round apologising for the vagueness of the following recipe. It is unscientific and less then academic, I know, but hopefully the proof of the pudding is in the eating.


Try it (don't be a chicken), and if it is anything less than souper (couldn't resist!), then feel free to send me an email of complaint. Let me know how mush-room for improvement there is. And have an egg-selent Easter too.


Enjoy!

(No more terrible yolks, I promise...)


Chicken, Mushroom and White Wine Soup


Time: 20 – 30 Mins

Serves: 3 – 4

Cost: £0.83 per serving (approx)


Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless

  • A good handful of closed cup mushrooms (or version of choice)

  • Half a white onion

  • ½ litre chicken stock

  • A splash of double cream (50-100ml?)

  • 200ml white wine (thereabouts)

  • Dried Rosemary and sage

  • Olive oil

  • A knob of butter

  • 1-2 tbsp plain flour

  • Salt and black pepper


Method:


  1. Roughly chop the onion into small pieces and chop your chicken thighs into small bite-sized pieces. Clean the mushrooms and tear into smaller pieces. Get a a good sized sauce pan on a medium heat. Add a lug of oil and a knob of butter.

  2. Add the chicken pieces to the pan, then season with salt, pepper, sage and rosemary. Stir it around a bit, and once the chicken is beginning to brown add the onion.

  3. Let the chicken and onion cook for around 5-10 minutes, until the chicken has browned and the onion has softened, and then add the mushrooms. Meanwhile, make up your chicken stock.

  4. Add 1 tbsp of flour, the white wine and the chicken stock to the sauce pan.

  5. Turn the heat up, add the cream, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to bring the soup to a simmer and then season well with salt and pepper.

  6. Allow to simmer for 15-20 mins. If the soup is still too watery at this stage, add more flour and mix it in well.

  7. Check the chicken is cooked through, taste the soup, and season if necessary. Serve and enjoy!