Don’t look now: ugly food!

OK, that was a ruse. I will not show you pictures of ugly food, but if you’d like to see some, you can head on over to the Daily Mail, who today are featuring this ridiculous piece:

Just take a moment to read paragraphs two and three of this “story” again, and behold a wonderful example of non-evidence-based argumentation. I’ll summarise:

Fact 1: Nigella tweets some pictures of ugly food/ugly pictures of food

Fact 2: More than 250,000 followers regularly “gobble” up her recipe posts, including these pictures of ugly food/ugly pictures of food.

Conclusion: She could be in danger of losing followers.

What’s missing here? What sort of thing might indicate that there is an actual danger of her losing followers, and that this might be in any way related to ugly pictures of food/pictures of ugly food?


Yes, maybe some facts and figures about how she actually is losing followers would do it.

Continue reading “Don’t look now: ugly food!”

On food porn and pseudoscience

Here’s Steven Poole’s response to the inevitable “food porn” talk that Nigella’s caramel-covered face generated in December last year:

‘The fact that food-talk slips so easily these days into sex-talk might be interpreted as part of the more generalised pornification of everything; but I think it represents a different trend: the foodification of everything. Food is the vehicle through which we are now invited to take not only our erotic thrills but also our spiritual nourishment (count the number of cookbook “bibles” and purple paeans to the personal-growth aspects of stuffing yourself in memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love), and even our education in history (the fad for food “archaeology”, cooking peculiar dishes from centuries-old recipes) or science (which Jamie Oliver says pupils can learn about through enforced cooking lessons). Food is now the grease-smeared lens through which we want to view the world. It’s an infantile ambition. A baby learns about the environment by putting things in its mouth. Are we all babies now?’

He concludes by asking ‘What if we began to care a little more about what we put into our minds than what we put into our mouths?’

Good question. And speaking of which, here is Poole more recently in the New Statesman withYour brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks’:

‘An intellectual pestilence is upon us. Shop shelves groan with books purporting to explain, through snazzy brain-imaging studies, not only how thoughts and emotions function, but how politics and religion work, and what the correct answers are to age-old philosophical controversies. The dazzling real achievements of brain research are routinely pressed into service for questions they were never designed to answer. This is the plague of neuroscientism – aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash – and it’s everywhere.

… Happily, a new branch of the neuroscienceexplains everything genre may be created at any time by the simple expedient of adding the prefix “neuro” to whatever you are talking about. Thus, “neuroeconomics” is the latest in a long line of rhetorical attempts to sell the dismal science as a hard one; “molecular gastronomy” has now been trumped in the scientised gluttony stakes by “neurogastronomy”; students of Republican and Democratic brains are doing “neuropolitics”; literature academics practise “neurocriticism”. There is “neurotheology”, “neuromagic” (according to Sleights of Mind, an amusing book about how conjurors exploit perceptual bias) and even “neuromarketing”. Hoping it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon, I have decided to announce that I, too, am skilled in the newly minted fields of neuroprocrastination and neuroflâneurship.’

It’s a good rant. I’ll look forward to reading his forthcoming You Aren’t What You Eat.


Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

Kenwood brings you… the exploding brownie!

Today is my honorary birthday. Which means today is the day that I acquired my first-ever (!!!) stand-mixer (!!!), which is a very early birthday present from my darling Philosophe (and to all those who think kitchen appliances are not cool birthday gifts: you are just wrong. They bring joy to all).

I admit I’ve coveted the KitchenAid ever since I saw it as a wee lass on Nigella’s counter on the telly. But after careful consideration, much research (including much eye-popping at the outrageous prices of those things in this part of the world), I settled on this little sexy number:

There are only a few things I hate doing in the kitchen. The first is making short-crust pastry (by hand), so that was the first item on the appliance-christening list. It worked like a charm (like, it works!!). We’ll see how it tastes later on a chicken pie, but so far so good. The second is being stuck in one place when you have to beat things like eggs and sugar till thick and pale (old-school, with a hand-held mixer). So much activity lost in those 3-5 minutes!

Brownies, then. Which was opportune, as I had just picked up some cheapo “panned almonds” from Woolies with no clear intent except to buy them before someone else did, seeing as they were half-price (it’s the old rule: only buy chocolate after Easter). And seeing as these “panned almonds” had some sort of white-chocolate-strawberry coating (who knows), I thought it would be clever to introduce a bit of “French” nougat into the mix for some more sweet-berry/nutty goodness (the Sailor lately informed me, by the way, that he has never seen “French” nougat in France. He’s French):

So far, so better. Until I pulled the pan out the oven and discovered that those Frenchies don’t like being in the brownie mix one bit:

This almost takes the cup(cake) for the ugliest thing I have pulled out the oven. Ah well, who says it has to be pretty. Besides, exploding things have a tendency to be rather damn tasty, isn’t that right, little piggy?

Happy birthday to me. Now committed to making bigger and better mistakes in the kitchen, so you don’t have to.


Plan for leftovers

Well I’m going to get ahead of the curve and tell you right now what to do with your leftover Christmas cake, and why you should make sure you have leftovers. (Doctoral advisory: if you don’t like Christmas cake or cheesecake, or fruits and nuts in your cake, or marzipan, or any of the good things in life because you think it’s more fun to be grumpy, then you should look away now.)

You see, I’ve been (w)racking my brain for something clever to do with last year’s Christmas cake, which I’ve been plying with booze for an entire year. Of course there’s nothing wrong with just eating a slice now and then (my favourite way to enjoy it is actually with a piece of nice, sharp cheese), or making truffles, or “rum”balls, or indeed cake pops. But in truth I was a little worried about poisoning people (myself included). I know the whole point of feeding the cake is that it should last forever, but just how long is forever? Google how long to keep a Christmas cake, and you find a bunch of useless information about how people make it a couple of weeks or months in advance (duh!). Clearly in this world of instant twitterfication the idea of actually preserving a cake for 12 long months is not a popular one.

Anyway, it looked fine, it smelled damn fine (very Scottish), and in the interests of health and safety, I did subject both the Philosophe and myself to eating a tiny sliver, neat. It was still delicious, and we did not die.

But I had a tub of mascarpone, and a bit of orange-scented dulche de leche left over from birthday cake adventures, so it was clear that this cake was destined to be reborn as a cheesecake.

Now if you Google “Christmas cake cheesecake” you will encounter my problem: no one out there has had a similarly hairbrained brilliant idea. What to do? Put it in the cheese mix? Build a crust out of it like they do with sponge cake for this tiramisu cheesecake? What if the raisins get charred?

I’ll spare you the entire creative process from confusion to beautiful, inspired clarity, but I must thank the Philosophe for delivering the final lightbulb. Without him, it may just have been a disaster.

So, find your favourite baked cheesecake recipe, and prepare to violate it thoroughly. For instance:

– Make a base of crushed, homemade biscotti and melted butter

– Cover that with a thin, expertly rolled disc of marzipan (NOT the horrid white stuff they use for wedding cakes. The real stuff: almonds + egg white + sugar)

– Cover that with a layer of Christmas cake (use thin slices to cover what you can, and then patchwork/smush/squash/fill the gaps with bits and pieces till you cannot see the marzipan)

– Now add your filling (which is where a cheesecake recipe actually comes in handy: this one is top secret, but does contain mascarpone, yoghurt, cream, and dulce de leche instead of sugar. Oh, and 3 eggs).


I wish I had been a better blogger and taken a picture of the lovely layers in every slice. But it was late, and dark, and there was cheesecake to be eaten. It tastes of marzipan and spice, with little hidden nuggets of fruits and nuts, all enrobed in a silky creamy decadent uplifting pillowy willowy angels-are-singing cheesy robe. (Oops, sorry, I just got an email telling me to embrace my inner Nigella this Christmas.)

So now you know. You can thank me next year.