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community/ Feature/ food/ healthy/ initiative/ Renfrew/ suppliers

Supplier spotlight: Something good in da hood!

"Food in da Hood" food van.
From this van will come great scran.

Good food doesn’t have to cost the earth. Some of the best things I have eaten have been put together using simple, healthy and economic ingredients. When many of us in the UK continue to feel a significant pinch on our finances – thanks to the global economic crash – and the prices of many foodstuffs are rocketing, it’s more important than ever that people have access to nutritious food that is not expensive.

Unfortunately, for far too many people in Scotland there remains a direct link between poor health and a poor diet: three quarters of the population consumes more than the recommended daily level of salt; and less than 25% of Scots consume the recommend five portions of fruit and vegetables each day (more info here). Part of the problem with Scotland’s diet stems from the fact that, whether as a result of time poverty or financial poverty, a significant proportion of the food we consume is pre-prepared and contains high levels of fat, sugar and salt. But things might soon be set to change in the Scottish region of Renfrewshire, thanks to a novel food project.

Food in the Hood is a mobile food initiative that aims to prepare, cook and sell home-style meals at tea time, to communities throughout Renfrewshire, using a converted van. The not-just-for-profit company hopes to take a share of the traditional takeaway market, by offering the same convenient service, but with a better product. Food in the Hood will prepare a menu consisting of favourite dishes – such as steak pie, chilli and vegetable curry – but cooked in the best possible way and using as little salt, fat and sugar as taste allows.

The initiative also intends to do more than just sell great food; it also hopes to change the eating habits of the communities it will serve as well as delivering other benefits. Not only will any profits be invested back into community projects, Food in the Hood is also intending to source much of its produce locally – from individuals, allotments and Renfrewshire organisations – and encourage “people in the community to grow for the community”. And of key importance, the intention is to keep the prices of the meals that are served as affordable as possible in order to ensure everyone can have access to good, healthy food.

The driving force behind Food in the Hood is Annette Currie, who has used her own money and cash borrowed from relatives to purchase a van and most of the equipment the initiative needs to get up and running. However, Food in the Hood still requires £3000 to complete the fit out and to market the project, and has turned to Crowdfunder in order to raise the remaining start-up funds by 13 June 2013.

Speaking about what has driven her to establish Food in the Hood, Annette commented:

“I enjoy cooking and after a camping/festival trip last September, where I cooked for 25 people for the weekend, I realised how much cheaper it is to cook for many. A few weeks later, after a chat in the kitchen with friends about the poor quality of takeaway food in our area and how sometimes you just want a home cooked meal (but can’t be bothered cooking), I looked into the viability of opening a takeaway.”

“The initial outlay and running costs of this approach were too high and it just seemed too risky – especially since a home-style takeaway has never been done before. So, my sister-in-law suggested using a van – which has lower overheads, less risk and means we can go out and find business.”

“The ethical basis on which Food in the Hood is built comes from my belief that businesses can make a profit AND benefit the communities they serve – effectively Conscious Capitalism. I really hope we can spread this message and get others to set up similar initiatives that provide healthy food and benefit communities across Scotland and even further afield.”

More information on supporting Food in the Hood through and the benefits associated with this can be found at:

Feature/ fish/ Musselburgh/ shellfish/ suppliers

Supplier spotlight – Clark Brothers: A delicious kettle of fish…

Clark Bros, Musselburgh.
Clark Bros, Musselburgh.

Of all the ingredients with which I love to both cook and to eat, fish and shellfish have to rate amongst my favourite. The different tastes and textures to be had from the bounty dwelling in our seas, lochs and rivers are immense. And if properly fished or farmed – and increasingly these days, that is a big “if” – fish and shellfish must count amongst the most sustainable and natural food products to be had.

I’m always a little surprised when some people seem to be a bit squeamish about buying and preparing seafood – but then I was a marine biologist in a previous incarnation. Maybe such trepidation has to do with the alien-like form it can exhibit; all tentacles, shells, antennae and/or bulging eyes. Or possibly it is because people struggle to differentiate between what is fresh and what has exceeded its “shelf life”.

For those nervous about preparing seafood there are some great guides available. In terms of ensuing that what you are buying is good, fresh fish and shellfish just turn detective and use your instincts. Do the eyes and skin of the fish look bright and moist as opposed to dull and dry? Lift the flaps around the neck of the fish and inspect the gills – they should be bright red and not greying. If you pick a fish up it should be stiff and not floppy. Does your fish have a sweet, salty “fresh out of the sea” smell as opposed to a strong ammoniacal odour? Similar rules apply to shellfish, and never buy any bivalves – clams, mussels, scallops – that don’t close their shells tightly when tapped.

And whilst not wishing to be dismissive of supermarkets entirely – some have reasonable fish counters – I would recommend buying your aquatic produce somewhere local, independent, and with staff that can hopefully inform you of exactly when and where that monkfish you have your eye on was caught, and that he’s called Burt… Seriously though, a good local fishmonger will be able to tell you which wholesale market each batch of fish or shellfish has originated from, and if the produce is locally derived, or has been sourced from further afield.

Residing in Scotland, I am fortunate to live in one of the best fish and shellfish-producing countries in the world. Scottish coastal waters are bountiful with a great range of seafood. However, in common with many other countries, not all our fisheries – of fish farms – can be considered sustainable, with certain stocks coming under pressure and some production methods resulting in environmental damage. If you want to ensure the fish or shellfish you are buying is sustainable, be sure to visit the Marine Conservation Society’s online Good Fish Guide

Dover sole & turbot.
Dover sole & turbot.

Being Edinburgh-based, I’m lucky to have some great independent fishmongers a beach pebble’s throw away from where I live. One of my favourites is Clark Brothers. Situated just outside Edinburgh’s city limits on the edge of Musselburgh’s harbour (220 New Street, EH21 6DJ), this fantastic fish merchant has been selling quality produce for nearly 100 years.

The shop is always packed with a fantastically good range of produce, and is constantly busy with customers eager to purchase it. Traditional fish varieties – such as Scottish cod and haddock – rub fins with more exotic specimens, including John Dory, organically farmed seat trout and monkfish cheeks.

John Dory, clams & prawns.
John Dory, clams & prawns.

There is also a great range of shellfish – mussels, langoustines, scallops and oysters of course, but also spoots (or razor shells, to non-Scots speakers) and surf clams. Shellfish commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking is also available, as well as both live and cooked Scottish crab and lobster.

And for anyone needing a little culinary inspiration, Clark Brothers also sell their own, pre-prepared dishes, such as smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes, and rainbow trout fillets marinated in orange and dill.

Sea trout, oysters & squid.
Sea trout, oysters & squid.

The Clark Brothers staff are both knowledgeable and helpful, so don’t be afraid to quiz them if you need advice on buying or preparing your fish or shellfish. It’s also great to see the fishmongers at work processing and filleting produce as it arrives from the market – the prep area is visible through large windows behind the shop floor. And finally, if you like your fish smoked Clark Brothers cater for this with their own small, onsite smokery.

Watch out for my next blog post, where I shall be cooking with some great seafood purchased at Clark Brothers.

Edinburgh Farmers' Market/ Feature/ suppliers

Supplier spotlight – Edinburgh Farmers’ Market

Busy Edinburgh Farmers' Market.
Busy Saturday at Edinburgh Farmers’ Market.

No matter how skilled or inventive a cook is, unless they use quality ingredients it is very difficult to produce really great food. Wherever possible when cooking, I like to know exactly where the produce I use has come from, and ideally it should be as local as possible. That way, it’s much more likely that I can be sure they are consistently of great quality.

In my grandparents’ era meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, bread etc. would all have been purchased from specialist retailers, in the days when our high streets were home to butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers, instead of phone shops and bargain basement clothes emporiums. But times have changed, and now the vast majority of us get our food at the supermarket. And whilst not all supermarkets are totally villainous in terms of how and where they source their produce, their massive buying power means that some of their suppliers might not receive the fairest price for their produce.

I, for one, am not keen on purchasing ‘fresh’ food which has travelled many hundreds – if not thousands – of miles and is ‘out of season’ in the UK, just because supermarkets now have the ability to fill their vegetable aisles year round with Peruvian asparagus or Kenyan fine beans. The provenance of ingredients is also important to me. The recent scandal of horsemeat being passed off as beef provides a stark warning of the risks associated with a food supply chain where goods pass through multiple suppliers (and potentially a multitude of countries), with the result that big retailers cannot always be totally certain of where particular products have originated, nor indeed can they guarantee that they are as described.

All is not doom and gloom, however. Thankfully, the last decade has seen a resurgence in independent suppliers and retailers providing great quality produce and products, and Scotland is home to an impressive selection of these. I will be dedicating occasional blog posts to highlight some of those Scottish-based suppliers I often turn to when sourcing the ingredients I cook with, starting with Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market.

Taking place every Saturday in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, on the aptly-named Castle Terrace, Edinburgh Farmers’ Market has been running since 2000. Regularly attracting over 50 specialist food producers, it has been voted the best farmers’ market in Britain. The majority of stallholders are “primary producers” growing what they bring to market. As you might expect from a Scottish market, there is an excellent range of stalls selling top quality meat, including pork, lamb, chicken and beef as well as venison and even locally-reared buffalo. Depending on the season, there is often a good range of locally-sourced game on offer.

Edinburgh Farmers’ Market isn’t only about meat, however. There are a number of stalls providing a terrific array of seasonal fruit and vegetables (including organic veg). Free range eggs and cheese are also to be had, as well as fresh fish from around the Scottish coast. And in addition to the primary producers, there are also stallholders who prepare their own products, including bread and cakes, honey, chutneys and jams, and drinks (of both the soft and alcoholic variety). Is anyone else’s mouth watering, yet?

By way of an illustration of how great and diverse a range of products on offer, I’ll walk you through my shop last Saturday to obtain ingredients for cooking a crab and asparagus tart, (details of which will be posted in my next blog update).

Basket of garlic.

First port of call was Phantassie Food (organic fruit and veg) to pick up some wild garlic (just out of shot), with which to give the salad, accompanying the tart, a bit of a kick. Mushrooms looked tempting, too!

Basket of asparagus.

Onwards, to Tay Valley Fruits for the asparagus, and very nearly some rhubarb – maybe next time. Half a dozen lovely organic eggs were then purchased at Brewsters.

Fish on a market stall.

Picked up the dressed crab for the tart from Eyemouth-based fishmongers, A&D Patterson.

Beef on a market stall.

And finally, a smashing tray of Aberdeen Angus beef sausages from Well Hung and Tender – nothing to do with the crab and asparagus tart, but everything to do with Sunday breakfast!

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