5 Reasons Why I Drink Tap Water

I know I talk a lot about food.  It is a particular passion of mine.  But today I’d like to talk about water.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an article in London’s Time Out magazine for a new organisation called Give Me Tap.  Give Me Tap sells reusable stainless steel water bottles for rehydrating on the go, encourages local restaurants and shops to fill them for free (there’s even a phone app to find your closest water source), and donates proceeds from the sales of the bottles to help communities in Africa gain better access to safe water. That’s a win-win-win situation!

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In case you still need to be convinced, here are my five top reasons for drinking tap water:

  1. It’s free.  Well practically.  And in these days of economic austerity, why on earth would we pay good money for a resource that is virtually free?  That’s a no brainer.
  2. It’s good for you.  We all need to be hydrated and most of us drink a lot more water now than we did years ago, because we know it’s good for us.  But tap water is especially good for us, versus fancy bottled water, because tap water is tested regularly by the government bodies who regulate it, and who ensure it is safe and healthy to drink.  Municipal water testing happens around the clock, 365 days a year. Bottled water doesn’t have the same regulations.
  3. Bottled water is wasteful.  In this day and age, we all know why food and drink in disposable containers is bad for the environment.  All that plastic has to go somewhere, and we’re running out of room.  If you’re already saying no to that unnecessary plastic bag, start saying no to other unnecessary plastic in your life.  A reusable water bottle just makes sense.
  4. Most of us are privileged to live in places with such healthy water.  My uncle is a civil engineer who specializes in water systems, and he has been saying this for years. People in other parts of the world would very much like to have as much access to the safe abundant water we can take for granted.
  5. Tap water is fashionable.  Restaurants are starting to get on this bandwagon and proudly offer tap water to their guests.  And with a wide range of beautiful water bottles from Give Me Tap, and other great companies, available on the market in a wide variety of colours and patterns, you can join the ranks of eco-conscious fashionistas by toting the new must have accessory of the year!
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Pasta 2.0

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I think there are some basic kitchen rules that everyone should know. They are some of my tenements of cooking, rules to live by. They include:

  1. Never put anything sharp in a sink full of soapy water.
  2. Always have butter and Parmesan in your house. They can turn anything (potato, pasta, rice, veg, bread) into a meal.
  3. When in doubt, or short of time, toasted bread with whatever foodstuff you have put on top usually makes a great appetizer – try cooked, mashed frozen peas with some olive oil, crushed garlic and Parmesan. Easy peasy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
  4. Not many people can really tell if you’ve used stock cubes rather than fresh. Save yourself the trouble.
  5. Always cook pasta in loads of boiling, heavily salted water. And not some silly pinch of salt. Heavy. It should taste like salty water from the sea.

Rules #5 is quite an important one in my books. Nothing worse than when someone cooks pasta in a small pot of water with a meagre amount of salt. Ick. Bland. Boring. Awful.

Hold on a minute.

One weekend this summer, as I sat happily by the seaside, indulging in a favourite pastime of flipping through food and cooking magazines, I came upon a pasta recipe that was so crazy, so contrary to everything I had ever been taught, and so against all the rules of pasta cooking that it shocked me to my core. It couldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work. But there it was, staring up at me, taunting me from the hallowed pages of Martha Stewart magazine, a tome held by some as almost biblical in the world of home and garden magazines. How could Martha recommend something that was this wrong??

The pasta was cooked in a saucepan with a fixed amount of water and tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili and basil that would become the sauce. The water would become the sauce. No draining, no shaking, no tossing in olive oil. Pasta, water and other ingredients become one. Absurd right? Totally. Or maybe, maybe it might just work.

We decided to test out this recipe while visiting our friends in France this past August. The night was warm, the kids were in bed, and frankly if the meal completely failed I knew we had bread (please see tip #3 above) and enough wine to make up for any dinner disasters.

Well. What can I say except wow. It worked. Pasta tossed in simmering water, water reducing while tomatoes and aromatics are softly poaching in the starchy flavoursome water, all fusing together into the one pot meal to end all one pot meals. Shocking. “Kind of like risotto but with pasta”, my friend remarked. And she was right. And it was delicious. Pasta 2.0 – the way forward.

One-Pan Pasta – from Martha Stewart Living, June 2013

Serves 4

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  • 12 oz linguine
  • 12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.

Ah, Mr. Anchovy! Do sit down.

As we continue on with my Jamie Oliver week theme, I am seriously considering renaming this “foods I used to be scared of and now love” week.  First lentils, and now anchovies.  I know.  Anchovies are delicious.  Who knew?

Well in fact, many people knew.  Like most of Italy.  And a lot of France.  And many other people in many other places I’m sure.  However let me clarify my new love of the anchovy for a moment.  I really don’t want to eat them on their own.  I think they’re too fishy and strong to sit on top of a salad or pizza.  Sorry to the Nicoise salad fans out there.  But when you saute them in a little olive oil and garlic and watch them just melt into nothingness, that’s when they are at their finest.  It’s kind of like Thai fish sauce in a way – on its own, it smells like feet.  But once you’ve cooked a Thai dish with fish sauce you couldn’t imagine pad thai without it.  Something about tiny fishy fish that just lend a great salty, savoury, umami quality to a dish.  Like magic.

Take today’s recipe as an example.  Broccoli and pasta.  Sounds nice enough, but just not very exciting.  And then BAM!  (Apologies for the Emeril Lagasse reference, I couldn’t think of a better explosive sound.)  You add some anchovies to the garlic and butter and chili flakes, let those anchovies melt away into nothingness, toss in some al dente pasta and broccoli florets, mix together and voila – you wind up, not with boring broccoli and pasta, but a fantastic dish that makes you a happy camper.  Amazing isn’t it?

Maybe you don’t believe me.  And that’s ok.  In fairness, I think I only tried a dish with anchovies the first time because somebody made me.  And we’re adults right?  We don’t need anyone telling us what to eat.  But if you’re a brave eater, I really encourage you to try the recipe below.  After all, it’s just a simple dish of pasta and broccoli right?  Nothing scary in sight!

Broccoli and Anchovy Orecchiette

Happy Days with the Naked Chef (2002)

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  • 2 large heads of broccoli
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 2-4 small dried red chillies, crumbled, to your taste
  • 4 good pats of butter
  • 1 lb dried orecchiette
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 good handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Using a small knife, trim round the broccoli to remove the dark green flowers from the main stalks and put them to one side.  Peel the stalk, trim off the dry end and throw this away.  Finely chop the stalk and put into a large pan with the garlic, anchovies, chillies and half the butter.  Cover with a lid and cook slowly for 8-10 minutes while you cook your pasta in salted boiling water.  This should take about the same length of time – check the package.  Something I like to do that is slightly different (but better, I’d like to think) is to cook the broccoli flowers with the pasta for the last 4 minutes – this makes them soft enough to eat but leaves them with great colour and texture.

Drain the pasta and broccoli, saving a little of the cooking water, then toss into the other pan.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, the rest of the butter and a large handful of Parmesan.  Mix well, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the pasta and make it shine.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with the rest of the Parmesan.

Telling Tasty Tales

I like to tell stories.  I also like listening to stories – funny one, sad ones, delicious ones, I am all ears!  Lately, food stories have been of particular interest to me, probably because in my attempts to write more for this blog, I find myself listening a bit more too and really searching for stories.

I read an editorial recently where the author was begging people to stop taking pictures of their food. The ease with which we can take photos these days, using cameras in phones and quickly uploading to email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram certainly does make it a lot easier to tell people what you’re doing, or eating, at any time.  Why do we feel the need to share this part of our life experience with others?  Is it sharing? Is it art?  Or is it just lazy-person storytelling?

I for one am an avid participant in what many call “food porn”.  I love to document the amazing meals and food experiences I’ve had and share them with others, just like I enjoy the voyage I get to take when people post pictures of their food adventures.  Recently I decided that it would be nice to have the skills to craft some images slightly nicer than my Blackberry can produce.

I took my second-hand DSLR and assortment of lenses one Saturday morning to a restaurant in Bermondsey and spent the day with food phog extraordinaire Paul Winch-Furness at #PhotoPopUp.  In addition to his professional work as a photographer, Paul runs small photography classes that focus on food in a variety of restaurants, cafes and markets and it had always been on my list of things to try out one day.

What an experience!  After a few hours of chatting with my classmates and going over the basics – and getting reacquainted with those pesky F-stops that one tends to forget when the fully automatic settings are so darn easy to use – Paul ordered a variety of dishes from the menu, pulled out some brightly coloured accessories for dressing the tables, and away we went.

Having the chance to photograph beautifully plated dishes that I didn’t have to slave over in the first place was a real treat – it was a nice change from being exhausted and hungry as I usually am during these types of photo shoots.  Anyone seeking to pimp their food photos should take one of Paul’s fantastic classes.  A couple of my best pics from that day are below.

Is food photography a bit of a cheat when it comes to telling food stories?  I think I’ll have to disagree.  Should we spend more time talking about food, telling others about our experiences, sharing our food stories?  Absolutely.  Stories can take any number of forms, from a quick pic on a camera phone to a handwritten recipe passed down from a family member.  The key is to keep telling those stories, in as many ways as possible, as often as possible.  The history of what we like to eat is a story worth telling, in any way you choose to do so.

Going the Whole Hog

“You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise!” – Blur, Parklife

There are so many jokes you can make about a pig. Cop jokes, bacon jokes, swine jokes, fat jokes. But pork is no laughing matter in my adopted home of Britain. Never did I realise that the love of pork went so deep into the hearts and arteries of the British public. Not until I moved here and married one (a Brit – not a pig – just to be clear).

Now I come from what I thought was a bacon country – Canadians love bacon. In North America, we even have a type of bacon named after us (which was also the title of a 90s John Candy movie). But until your first visit to the bacon section of a British supermarket, where you can see the outstanding range and depth of available bacon products, do you begin to understand what’s going on here. Smoked. Unsmoked. Oak smoked. Applewood smoked. Streaky. Back. Top. Side. Economy. Posh. British. Danish. You get the point I’m sure. In Canada it’s much simpler to choose your bacon – regular, low-salt, maple syrup-infused, or turkey. And if you’re in a fancy market or butcher there’s peameal or back bacon.

But enough about bacon – what about the rest of the pig? It never fails to make me smile at how many ways the British have managed to get pork in all its forms into as many special occasions as possible. My first Christmas was an eye-opening experience – these people not only use minced pork to stuff the turkey, then bacon to wrap the turkey, but they serve the poor pork-drenched turkey with a side of bacon-wrapped sausages. For our London wedding reception, my husband found a pub that would do a hog roast. A hog roast. In the pub garden. In a city like London, not some rambling countryside. I was amazed. What a place. Pork is big here.

Last night N and I attended a pop-up restaurant event called @PorkLife at the Bull in Highgate, a great brewpub and restaurant not far from where we live in North London. This event was the brainchild of two pork-enthusiast chefs, Tim Anderson and Tom Whitaker. Some of you may remember them from a little show called MasterChef in 2011 – Tom was a finalist and Tim the glorious champion (I like Tim, I must admit – if it had been X-Factor, I would have voted for Tim every week and totally run up our phone bill). As true pork-lovers, Tim and Tom decided to host a meal where their guests ate a variety of dishes from every part of a single rare-breed pig, scary bits and all. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to convince N that we should grab a couple of tickets before they sold out.

What a menu and what a fantastic night!  I won’t go into too many porky details, but needless to say the food was outstanding and I won’t be forgetting that meal for a long time.  A couple of dim photos for your viewing pleasure are attached below, with my apologies if they don’t capture the true porky essence of the dishes.  I was particularly fond of the nugget of brawn (headcheese to those in North America) that was breaded in panko crumbs, deep-fried and served with Korean chilli mayonnaise.  Kind of like a grown-up chicken nugget.  And of course the salad of romaine lettuce, watermelon, chilli, peanuts in fish sauce vinaigrette topped with crackling, trotters and pig’s ears.  Because bacon bits on a salad are old news it seems – you need a piece of crispy ear.  Who knew?

I truly admire Tim and Tom’s ability to make delicious, gourmet fare from parts of an animal that are not always popular.  It really is time for meat-eaters everywhere to realise that it is wasteful if we don’t try to use every part of the animal available.  Nose-to-tail eating shouldn’t just be the latest trend, but the way forward in responsible meat consumption.

On another note, I think I may have witnessed the tipping point of pork consumption for my pork-enthusiast husband – tonight I think we’re having chicken!