I am always on the look out for new ideas, new ventures, new tastes. I come from a world which is all about invention and reinvention, the world of turning creativity into a product.
The problem with such a world is that finding people to back an idea with cash, even a great idea, is taking a crash course in futility. Enter the world of crowdfunding, where for little financial risk, hundreds or even thousands of people can look at a project and decide that these people deserve that rare chance.
Such a couple are two, young-ish designers in the north of Portugal.
The Muesli Café
“She came up with the idea,” says Diogo Olivera, a talented web designer with a love of muesli – eating it, that is.
Erika Göbel, the German half of this enterprising duo, and the one with the cooking flare, explains why opening the Muesli Cafe in Porto is such a wonderful idea.
“It totally fits into the modern diet! Muesli is so easy to prepare and you can take it to the office or school. It’s a light meal, it boosts your energy and keeps you satisfied for a long time. You can use any ingredients you like, even if you are vegan, just use (home-made) almond milk instead of dairy products.”
But the philosophy is probably better explained by the photos on their website. If ever a dish deserved to have a colour palette named after it, muesli, or at least Diogo and Erika’s take on muesli, certainly does.
The idea is to open a small breakfast cafe in the vibrant, beautiful and cosmopolitan city of Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. This city of colourful and historic buildings already has a café culture ripe for the picking and ready to try something new. “Muesli is not for any specific age,” Diogo explains, “and we want to create a place that doesn’t leave anyone out, although we understand that younger people will probably be more open to try something as new as muesli will be in Porto.”
The locals only taste of Muesli up until now has been the usual industrialised box loads in the supermarkets. “We will try to communicate that our muesli is much tastier than the industrial versions. People already connect muesli to something that is healthy, which is good, but now we have to show them that it is not a boring healthy thing, but the contrary!”
Crowdfunding in Portugal
Raising the money through crowdfunding, if they succeed, could give them more than just the cash they need to rent a property, get it looking they way they want, get staff in and get their message out to the locals.
“In our opinion, the advantage of crowdfunding is that the business happens only if there is interest. This dilutes the risk of failure after opening. We also get the opportunity of making great marketing even before the café exists.” It is a very good point. Another friend who has crowdfunded a games book knows he has a fan base waiting – they have just invested in him.
The crowdfunding site they are using is Portuguese venture website, PPL. This is probably a good move – they want investors who are not just interested in them, but want to come and gorge themselves on the product and then go away and tell more people.
Both Diogo and Erika are designers by trade and develop serious business websites. Diogo is also an accomplished illustrator and has put his skills to good use on their cheerful promotional video for the venture. The proposal is certainly both flavour and design lead, and that is important in food. People don’t just want a feast for the stomach, it must be for the eyes too and if they can get as much colour and flavour into the final venture as they have into their photographs, then surely they will make an impression on Porto society.
But, of course, one has to ask, do they eat Muesli themselves? I mean, every day?
“YES!” Erika shouts into my inbox, adding that her current seasonal favourite is Pomegranate muesli with Roasted Almonds.
“Well, sometimes I eat a typical Portuguese breakfast,” Diogo admits. I am not exactly sure what that is, but I am sure Erika will educate him in the error of his ways…..
There is a reason why this blog is not stuffed with Restaurant reviews, well a couple actually. Firstly, I find the restaurant food available within a normal budget is often disappointing, so I simply do not eat out often. The other reason is when I do I am very rarely surprised, at least nicely.
The other week I had the opportunity to visit the China Brasserie in a new district of Aylesbury. Aylesbury has a large and diverse community from many parts of the world, which opens up the opportunity for some interesting food. Despite that, my experience of other similar communities has shown that much ethnic food is in the hands of the opportunist and the best of it is still to be found in their home countries. Indian restaurants are a prime example and however much people in the UK might enjoy popping out for “an Indian,” trust me – that is not how great food from the Indian Subcontinent is meant to taste!
Chinese food has a similar problem. I suspect the majority of Chinese food in the UK is eaten via a take-away and that really is the worst possible punishment for the humble Chinese dish. Chinese food is distinctive in its freshness. The people of the various provinces of China enjoy very different approaches to their food, but they are united by both the wok and a love of steaming. Sadly, steaming is something we see far too little of in the West. The food in Beijing, both in the street and in their noisy, competitive restaurants, is cooked right there, right at the time you want it. It has lightness and subtlety and great love. In many of the takeaways in the UK, the food has the weight of a whale and probably most of it’s oil to boot. It is thick, sticky and every dish tastes pretty much the same.
The China Brasserie is, happily, trying to buck this trend and we had a thoroughly enjoyable meal the other night. Being midweek, and me being lazy, we chose a set menu. I admit this was completely unfair since the set menus were pretty much the same as you get every where else, and we ignored any original and inspiring unique dishes they might well serve. But then, I did not go in order to review; this was just a pleasant evening out!
This was a Wednesday and the restaurant was very quite, so the service, as you can imagine was prompt. The Thai lady that served us was friendly and chatty, yet polite and efficient. The food, when it arrived, was fresh, generous and quite delightful. It is rare I stop talking to mention something is nice, but I did several times.
It was made up of pretty predictable dishes including satay chicken, crispy seaweed (!) and crispy aromatic duck, but it was well cooked, properly seasoned, and had some subtlety, which was very much appreciated. Reading through the rest of the menu on their dreadful website (please contact me for a nice new one!) there is not a lot on there that cannot be found elsewhere and I would really like to see less dishes and more originality. But the chef, who I suspect might be Thai, can cook properly and I am sure if he or she decided to move away from the predictable and venture into interesting they would make a very good job of it.
The restaurant itself is very modern, large and sited on a new square in the Fairford Leys village, which is a new, well noted development within Aylesbury. Not actually a village then. Pricing is fairly typical for the menu style and is generally affordable. Checking through the public reviews, the restaurant is well liked and popular and I have no reason to disagree with any of those reviewers.
It is now up to other restaurants in Aylesbury to up their game and present their food, whether that is Asian, European, American or African with as much style and care as the China Brasserie.
Complete atheist, me, but given the chance to do some mass baking, I can be as hypocritical as the next atheist. So the local church is having a harvest shindig and I rolled up my sleeves and got baking.
I made three doughs today:
A French pain de campagne style dough with 20% rye and a good handful of oregano
A light basic dough for some small, soft cottage loaves
A low yeast white dough for making a harvest loaf and some mice.
Nothing very complicated, but quite a lot of fun. From the French dough I made some small pain sprinkled with the odd seed. I also made some buns with bran and a plaited round loaf – basically a long plat that is spiralled into a round loaf.
With the white dough I made a handful of egg washed soft cottage loaves. They actually lost much of their cottage shape, but smelt wonderful.
The harvest loaf and the mice were the most complicated. Harvest loaves are dead easy to make, but take ages and it can get boring doing all those ears of corn. The mice puffed up more than I expected so we have a pile of rather podgy mice. Normally I would use peppercorns for the eyes, but since these will be eaten by kids, we used chopped raisins instead. They don’t sink in quite as well, so the odd mouse has lost an eye. I wonder if there are three of them?
There is something gratifying about returning home on a blustery autumnal day and warming up your tunny with a big bowl of thick, spicy soup. The only let down is that this is still August and it is not meant to be autumnal at all!
But, through fair weather and foul, as they say….
This is an easy dish and low priced so there is precious little excuse. I have made this with red lentils since that was what was in the cupboard. Likewise, the vegetables chosen are what happened to be in the fridge. So, this is very much a larder recipe – vary it according to what you have in stock.
2 tablespoons ground nut oil
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
1 small lump ginger
1 cup red lentils
4 cups chicken stock (or veggie stock if you prefer)
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 large carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 cup peas
1 cup chopped coriander
Salt and black pepper
In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil and gently fry the spices. Make sure they do not burn!
Add finely chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chili and cook till the onion is just turning colour – do not brown it too much as that wont work as well.
Stir in the lentils, carrots, celery and stock. Bring to the boil and turn down to simmer till the lentils are properly cooked. You might need to add more stock if it is too thick.
Add the peas and the coriander and cook for a couple of minutes more.
Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
If you want it spicier, increase the spice levels and you might want to drizzel some chili oil over the bowls of soup.
With the August Bank Holiday approaching, the Food Services Agency in the UK is warning people to take care when using the BBQ to reduce the chance of food poisoning, including telling people to pre-cook food in the oven first.
Although this is probably safe advice, for people who really enjoy BBQ food precooking is also a really good way to spoil the great taste of freshly barbecued food. So, what to do?
Pick your ingredients!
There are certain food which are more prone to cause problems than others. For instance, British sausages and BBQs are a bad mix! Often very fatty (which is what makes them nice) they burn easily on the outside, make the old charcoal go up in flames, and can be difficult to cook all the way through properly. To be honest, they fry better, so either avoid them completely or put an old frying pan on the BBQ and cook them in that properly. Note – don’t use a pan with a plastic handle!
Pork can be an issue and must be cooked properly. If you are not confident in getting it right, don’t use cuts that are on the bone, like large chops, as it can be harder to get the meat cooked properly that is closest to the bone.
Likewise, chicken on the bone is also problematical – again, if you are not confident, go for boneless thighs and breasts and do something different with them.
By the way, while you are choosing ingredients, don’t forget to BBQ veggies – they can be really nice!
Remember the good old Kebab
Cooking meet on a metal skewer is wonderful for several reasons – it looks nice, the meat is not on the bone (er, normally) and the metal helps transmit heat into the middle of the meat.
Meat can be in cubes if you have a good sized BBQ that will stay at a good temperature, but if you using a disposable that will not keep its heat, try threading thinner strips of meat onto the skewer instead. Pork makes good kebabs too, by the way, which often gets forgotten. Mince squeezed onto a skewer as a kofta is also a good alternative – again, go for a thin one if using a disposable and make sure your hands are spotless before squeezing!
Get a cooking thermometer
This is a real essential item – don’t leave home without it, as they used to say. You should be using this in the kitchen at home anyway, to be honest. Get yourself a list of common internal cooking temperatures (here is one from Knorr) and STICK TO IT!
This is the best way to get things right. I strongly suggest you invest in a good one and use it for years. Not only will it help make sure you are safe, but when you want to get things intentionally rare (like that amazing T-Bone you just spent your week’s pocket money on) then you will get that right too.
The one shown here is a professional SuperFast Thermapen and can be expensive – anything from £35 to £60 depending on where you get it. But there are cheaper ones, though they work more slowly and you must give them time to react properly. If you can treat yourself, go for this one – I love mine.
Pick the right BBQ and Temperature
Okay, I don’t like gas BBQs. For me the entire point of a barbecue is to get that charcoal, smokey flavour, and you don’t get that with gas without adding rubbish. But gas BBQs do have advantages – the main one from our point of view is consistent temperature over a long period of time. This makes the cooking process more predictable and therefore potentially safer. But you can achieve this with charcoal too, if you do not try and burn all your charcoal all at once, and refuel in very small amounts as you go instead (refuel with charcoal, that is, do not throw petrol on the damned thing, idiot!)
Temperature is also worth thinking about – you really do not want it too hot! For many foods, a slightly lower heat and longer cooking time will be safer and will cook better. You need to think about this especially on hot sunny days when your BBQ will heat up quicker and hotter and that can be a problem.
Cooking outside also causes a temperature contrast on cooler days – the top of the food (facing away from the grill) can cool down quickly if you have a cool breeze, so you may want to lay a clean small metal tray on top of some of the food as it cooks to help trap the heat above the kebab or whatever. The better Turkish restaurants in London like Efes in Great Tichfield Street do this all the time – worth just watching them to pick up great techniques.
If you have a large BBQ area, try going for a hot and less hot areas – you may want to char the outside of the meat first, then move it to the less hot area to cook through properly. Or, if you have different height grills, move stuff up to a cooler grill to finish cooking, but be careful of it not being cooled down by that British north easterly wind!
Follow obvious hygiene rules
Some people think some of the hygiene rules get in the way, but getting them right it very easy. Though it does get more complicated if you are cooking away from home.
Don’t mix raw and cooked
Get yourself two large containers, with lids, and use one to keep the uncooked food in and the other to put the food when it is cooked. Make sure both are spotlessly clean and keep putting the lids back on to help protect the food from flies, dust and anything you cant see.
Where you have food that will be served uncooked like salads and cold meats, keep them all separate from each other and away from the cooked and raw foods. If you think about it, you have four areas:
Raw to be cooked
Raw to be eaten raw (salad, for instance)
Previously cooked (ham, pork pies…)
Keeping those away from each other is a good rule of thumb.
Don’t put your tongs in the raw meat and then immediately in the cooked meat pile!
Again, obvious stuff. Once you have stopped cooking it, your dish will start to cool down. If you use tongs that have been in contact with raw meat that may be covered in bacteria (er, WILL be covered), then the cooked food will no longer be hot enough to kill it. So, keep separate tools for serving and so on. Easy.
Wash your hands
Make sure you have hand washing stuff available at all times. You can also buy antibacterial hand spray at loads of places, though if your hands are greasy, you should wash them. It is not just if you go to the toilet, being outside means you will inevitably pick up bacteria all over the place, so take extra care (and keep the kids away from uncooked ingredients, so they don’t put their grubby paws all over it)
Don’t trust your own hands either. Always use clean utensils to handle food – it just takes away one problem area.
Keep Utensils and Dishes Clean
Make sure you have clean plates (keep them wrapped up till you actually need them on picnics), clean utensils and clean everything. You do in your kitchen, it is equally as possible outside. Also, make sure any cloths you are using are clean – make sure you have some spares and never touch food with cloths. Packs of disposable cloths are a good idea.
It is worth having spares sometimes of things like tongs and fish slices and so on. So don’t go and buy stupid expensive BBQ kits, just go and get good catering stuff that will last for years and is nowhere near as expensive. Your BBQ is probably not big enough to justify something with a ten foot handle! But if you have two, when you drop one, you can use the other while some kind person goes and cleans the one that has landed in the cow pat. I buy stuff from Nisbets through Amazon – good for proper sized aprons too!
Get your techniques and planning right
Don’t assume you know how to cook everything properly – go and look things up!
Different foods take different amounts of time and thicknesses play a big part. Plan your time. Think about your BBQ – if it is a disposable, it wont last long, so do not try and cook half a sheep on it – go for thinner cuts.
Marinate in advance, but don’t use huge amounts of oil – it will drip and flame up, charring the meat too quickly without cooking the middle properly.
Don’t cook too hot – be patient. You will look more professional and the food will taste better. Remember, you want to flavour your food gently with smoke and wood tastes, not make it taste like a lump of coal!
Make sure you are not rushed or make things over complicated. If you are going for a picnic, choose just one or two items to BBQ and make stunning salads and pies to go with it that are eaten cold. Leave the complicated stuff for home where you can use your cooker as a backup.
Small is better – great fat lumps do not cook well on BBQs. BBQs are very direct, close heat and your choice of cooking should reflect that.
Reduce flareups – if they do happen, don’t spray them with water, move the food out of the way till it subsides.
Let food cook. So many people continually poke at the food. I am not sure what they are trying to achieve; looking more pro, probably. If you get the temperature right, you can put the food on the grill, let it cook one side and then gently turn it over for the other and so on. Prodding it continually won’t do anything for it and may actually cause you problems.
Okay, that is enough. None of this is rocket science (you can tell because no rockets have been launched as a result), but a little bit of thought goes a long way. Getting it right will not only keep your family safe, but your food will taste much, much, much better and your reputation will soar. What is more, you wont have to pre-cook everything to death and then kill it again over the coals (unless your recipe says so, of course).