Sunday, 22 December 2013

Funky Fairtrade sugar meringues

This week I chose Fairtrade sugar as my main ingredient (hence the sugar post a few  days ago) and it was partly because I caught a few minutes of a Paul Hollywood (baking god in the UK) programme where he introduced the 'Meringue Girls', who are (very successfully), making meringues 'cool' and becoming quite famous in the UK... here is a link to their website:

Anyway, what really struck me, was their technique to colour the inside of the piping bag in order to create the most beautiful coloured meringues... and so I decided to give it a go... here goes my experiment:

- 3 egg whites
- 175 grs. of Fairtrade caster sugar
- pink and purple food colouring gel
(cream and berries optional!)

1) Heat the sugar under the grill until it is just about to start melting (starts to turn slightly brown). This is also part of the Meringue Girl's technique.

2) Beat the eggs (in a clean and dry bowl) until partly stiff.

3) Add the sugar, a spoonful at the time, and beat again until very stiff.

4) Prepare your piping bag, by turning it inside out and colouring lines with a small paint brush (I used pink and purple food colouring gel)

 5) Insert the beaten egg-whites and start piping!

6) Bake in the oven at 120C for 1 1/2 hrs, until they can be lifted easily from the bottom without sticking. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and leave them in there until cold.  Enjoy!

The verdict:

Well, they were actually quite easy and fun to make... and they offer so many 'funky' possibilities (no wonder the 'meringue girls' are doing so well) and certainly deliver on the 'Wow factor'... but, for me, the problem is that meringues are simply too sweet.... and after 1-2 small  bites, I just didn't want any more...
In the summer we often have them with Greek yogurt and fresh berries... and that works well... so perhaps I will try them again then... but I don't think they delivered what I was hoping for in terms of a winter dessert!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

In support of all visionaries out there!

Now, I know that this blog is about Fairtrade Food... but I just have to include a little paragraph about this company that I am in awe of ... it's called Visionary Soap, and it sells a wide range of Fairtrade bath & body care products manufactured here in the UK.

All their products are handmade using natural ingredients from producer groups in Palestine, India, Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and South Africa and they use a very high percentage of Fairtrade ingredients in all of their formulations, which is fantastic already, but what makes them even more special is that all their products are made through a job training programme within marginalised communities in southern England ,offering opportunities to individuals that are in need here in the UK too. WOW!

They are now trying to develop a Fairtrade certified, organic liquid soap range using coconut oil from Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) in India (remember them from my cashew posts?), and need out help! they are trying to raise £10,000 to fund the first production run, through a crowd-funding campaign.

Please check out the details of how you can get involved, and also their website where there is much more information!

We need more of this type of visionaries in this world, and I for one have contributed my bit... hope they can achieve this, and MUCH MORE!!!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

About Fairtrade Sugar and early forms of fairtrade campaigning

This week I will talk about Fairtrade Sugar.

Sugar, like coffee and cocoa, is one of the most successful Fairtrade products sold in the UK.  I clearly remember how in 2008 the Fairtrade world was rocked when the giant Tate & Lyle announced its commitment to convert 100% of its retail branded sugar to Fairtrade.This was one of the biggest switches ever to be made to Fairtrade, and according to the Fairtrade Foundation website, the increase in the total volumes  of Fairtrade sugar sold in comparison to the previous year as a result was around tenfold! Now that is significant.

But, of course, sugar as a commodity has an enormous amount of history and the bit that really interests me is the sugar boycotts of the late 1700s when , thousands of pamphlets were printed both in the UK and the USA which encouraged people to boycott sugar produced by slaves. According to the BBC's History website around 300,000 people abandoned sugar resulting in sales dropping by a third to a half.

Hundreds of thousands of people also signed petitions calling for the abolition of the slave trade. Many even supported the campaign against their own interests.  The size and strength of feeling demonstrated by these popular protests made even pro-slavery politicians consider the consequences of ignoring public opinion.

Mobilisation of the public remains an essential tool in achieving political change, and it's certainly at the core of the Fairtrade movement.  The sugar boycott is one of the earliest examples of consumers using their purchasing power to reject the trade in goods that had not been ethically produced.

I have the greatest admiration to all of those activist around the world, who in most circumstances, lobby for or against something they believe in and dont just  ignore the great challenges out there and who are not to wrapped in their own lives to see all the major things that still need changing in the world.

I love some of the images of labels at the time:

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Fairtrade Walnut Panettone... disaster

So, I was feeling all christmassy and reminiscing about being back home (in Bolivia where I'm from) where it's not Christmas until someone has given you a huge panettone, you didn't want and probably don't like very much!

Nonetheless it was wonderful to watch everyone leave their offices on Christmas Eve with the customary (and dare I say almost obligatory) box of panettone, a pretty dodgy bottle of wine and a whole chicken. I have lived abroad for too long to know if this still happens... but I certainly have very fond memories of this... especially when I proudly received them for the first time and my mum used them to make our family's traditional Picana (a Christmas soup with several meats and several bottles of wine!) and so, I decided to give it a go.... how hard could it be?

I guess the fact that all the recipes and websites I came across almost encouraged you to opt for something else should have been a clue... but off I went and purchased my special panettone baking cases on line, some lovely Fairtrade walnuts from Traidcraft and I chose the easiest recipe I could find (with only one rising period) certain i would be able to pull it off.

Well... I don't think I need words to describe what happened next... I'll just show you.
Complete sticky mess.

Which I somehow managed to get into the (very expensive by the way) cases, and which simply failed to rise... AT ALL.. after 4 hours in the warm airing cupboard:
Still holding on to my optimism and thinking it couldn't be that bad... after all -I had added loads of Amaretto to the recipe - so it could only taste great... I decided to still go ahead and bake them.

And when they came out... they didn't look that bad...

But... don't be fooled. The were foul. We all had a couple of mouthfuls of the weird sweet bready mess that could not be called a panettone... and to the bin the went.

What went wrong? well... I think I may have accidentally used 4 eggs and 3 extra yolks, rather than 3 eggs and 4 yolks... I guessed that 15 teaspoons of butter it would be half a pack...and finally because of all the flour I added while trying to knead the dough (sticky mess)... and Chris thinks that my addition of walnuts and amaretto might have had an effect as well... perhaps the alcohol killed the yeast?

Oh well... I guess I've learned my lesson... and after all, I admit it, I am one of many Bolivians, that don't actually like it anyway!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Fairtrade coffee bean chocolate bark

The key ingredient for this recipe is Fairtrade coffee beans (whole). Coffee is another one of the most successful Fairtrade products in the UK. Most big brands and supermarkets have their own Fairtrade lines and there are also many specialised and boutique brands.

I love coffee.I wish I could drink more of it! but I can only handle 1 cup a day before I have trouble sleeping at night... but I do cherish and look forward to my 10:00 a.m. cup, once Lucas goes down for his morning nap.

Like wine or tea or beer I suppose, I find that coffee has such a culture around it, from how anyone prefers to drink it, to its origin, all it's tasting notes and the snobbery around 'ruining it' by adding milk or sugar.

I wanted to find a recipe where coffee was not just another ingredient, like in many of the cake ones I came across... but where it was king! and so I remembered a Cafe back home, where instead of crisps, they would offer you a small bowl of chocolate covered coffee beans and how divine it was to crunch the beans and get the sweetness and creaminess of the chocolate. It was then that I stumbled upon the concept of chocolate 'bark' (looks like tree bark, as in the picture above) which is a popular handmade gift in the US... so with the festive period approaching (and a Xmas party around the corner) I decided to give it a go.

It's actually very simple... and I warn you... I'm not sure I can really call it cooking... but in any case here it goes:

- 150 grs of dark chocolate
- 150 grs of white chocolate
- 1/4 cup of fairtrade coffee beans (whole)


1) Prepare a sheet of non-stick baking paper.

2) Grind the coffee beans a bit, but so that some of them are still whole.

3) Break the chocolate into small squares and melt it. I  just used the microwave, but you need to remember to only blast it for 30 seconds at the time, then stir and repeat until it's all melted.
Do the same with the white chocolate.

4) Spread it on the paper, sprinkle the ground coffee and then using a spoon, spread the white chocolate on top making lines for the bark 'look''.

5) Or you could spread the white chocolate and just sprinkle the coffee on top.

5) Pop them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours until they become solid again and you can peel them off the paper.

6) That's it, simply break them into pieces and enjoy!

The verdict

Well, they were nice, but I think you have to really like coffee to love them... it could easily be too strong a flavour for some. I also thought they would make great handmade gifts, but because they were quite delicate and prone to melting... it could be difficult to either wrap them or get them to their destination intact. 

I also felt that actually they needed to be part of something else, like perhaps to sit on top of the coffee cake i didn't make!

The best part for me was how fun it was for my daughter to make her own version...

Will I make them again? I don't think so... but I still want to experiment with coffee, so I'll continue researching ideas, especially since I've had a mysterious anonymous delivery of Fairtrade coffee, which I plan to use next time!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Week 2 - Fairtrade Dark Chocolate Souffle

What I am learning in this journey is that in cooking it's all about the method and that the tricks that chefs and bakers know is what distinguishes them from us common amateurs. It may seem obvious to you, but it's a bit of a revelation to me!

So, it's not just about knowing a bit about the ingredients and how they go together and following (or trying to in my case!) a recipe... but it's all about the 'secrets of the kitchen', like for a souffle, after reading about many amateur's flops, I learnt that's it's crucial to never use a wooden spoon with the egg whites,to always have a dry clean bowl when beating the eggs and that one must ONLY use a metal spoon to fold the chocolate in... with these newly learnt tricks I am happy to say that my souffles didn't only rise, but they didn't collapse shortly after leaving the oven, and they were actually very delicious.

Here's is how you can do it.

135 grs of fairtrade dark chocolate

- 150 ml of double cream
- 3 eggs + 2 more egg withes
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-3 tablespoons of caster sugar (fairtrade of course)
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (for the African twist)
- Icing sugar for decoration


1) Warm up the oven to 220 degrees

2) Butter the ramekins and coat them with sugar. (Ramekins are basically small dishes that can go in the oven.)

3) Break up the chocolate and put it in a non-stick (a heavy pan if you have one) with the cream on a low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon, until it all melts and is combined together.

4) Take it off the heat and add the 3 egg yolks and the vanilla and cinnamon. 

5) On a clean and dry bowl, with clean and dry beaters, beat the eggs until stiff. Add the sugar slowly as you do.

6) Take 1/4 of the the egg whites and pour it on the chocolate. With a metal spoon, fold them in, just to loosen the chocolate mix.

7) Add the loosened chocolate to the rest of the egg whites, and fold, until it's all combined but still fluffy. DON'T stir... and don't over work it or you will lose all the air bubbles.

8) Quickly pour into the ramekins (almost the the top) and put into the oven, for 7 minutes. 

9) Take out from the oven, quickly dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Tadaaa... Pass the spoons and see the jaws drop. Enjoy.

The verdict

Well, once you know the tricks I mentioned above, it really is a very easy dessert to make, and one that has the potential to cause a bit of drama and high impact. It was really very tasty, although next time I will add a bit more chocolate of try a higher percentage cocoa, and forget the cinnamon, since it just got lost in there.

It's also important not to be tempted to leave it in the over for any longer than the 7 minutes, or you might get a squeaky, quiche like dessert instead of the light and fluffy almost gooey one.

Will I make it again? definitely, my daughter will see to it that I do!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Brief note about cocoa

Well, it is only today that I have the chance to sit down and talk about this week's challenge, and as I did last week, and intend to do so going forward, I'd like to start with a brief note about the chosen ingredient: fairtrade dark chocolate.

Cocoa is one of the commodities that has enjoyed most success in the fairtrade market in the UK, and it's really no surprise since I was reading that we have the highest amount of retail chocolate and are one of the biggest chocolate consumption countries per capita (I'm sure doing my bit there!).

There is a strong fairtrade chocolate brand called Divine (also set up by Twin) which has excellent products and a very appealing brand image, and which I'm sure I will use in future, but you can also find many fairtrade varieties of supermarket own brand products, and even giants such as Cadburys and  Kit Kat have now converted to fairtrade in recent years... in what we have been calling the 'mainstreaming of fairtrade', which again can give rise to much debate on whether is a good or a bad thing, with many alleging that it's just big bad brands jumping in the bandwagon for the marketing value, and diluting the principles that the label represents, but to me, as long as it offers better price and volumes to more producers and it helps consumers to find their well loved brands with the fairtrade mark...It can only be a good thing.

But back to cocoa. One of the things that I learnt about it when I worked with producers, is that its origin is really very important in relation to its taste and that even though that cocoa tree itself seems to have been native to the foothills of the Andes, most of its worldwide production nowadays comes from West Africa. The African cocoa certainly tastes very different to the Latin American varieties and the Europeans seem to favour the taste of the African beans, which is why even though many Latin American coffee producers would like to diversify into cocoa production (which makes sense for many agricultural reasons) they can often struggle to find European buyers for their cocoa's taste profile.

Even so, one can now see the emergence of many 'peruvian cocoa' chocolate bars in UK supermarkets, but  I have to say, that perhaps my palate has become European, because I do find myself preferring the African cocoa varieties too.

Which is why this week I chose a Ghanaian 70% dark fairtrade chocolate bar from the Co-operative's own brand range. The Co-op has been in the news a lot this week and seems to be in great trouble, which I find is a real shame, since it is one the most 'ethical' supermarkets, at least in discourse!

I really wanted to add a Ghanaian twist to the souffle, but another thing that I found is often the case is that many cocoa producers never get a chance to try chocolate!, it seems that sadly it's mainly exported for our enjoyment... so, i couldn't find any recipes of Ghanaian desserts containing chocolate, the only thing I found was a version of hot chocolate with lots of cinnamon and ginger. Therefore I decided to add cinnamon to the souffle... it's not much of a twist this time I'm afraid.

But, enough of that, get your pen an paper ready for this super easy recipe, that can generate great drama and impact!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Week 2: Ingredient and Recipe chosen

Still riding high on last week's success.I have now decided that the ingredient for this week will be fairtrade dark chocolate, which I'm sure I will be able to find in abundance!

I haven't decided  whether to go for a chocolate with Ghanaian or Peruvian cocoa yet... I think I'll do a bit more research into the recipe and method before I do.

And... just because I'm feeling invincible... I will risk it and aim to make a chocolate souffle! I've never made one before... and know that they are notoriously difficult to make since they have a tendency not to rise... or to collapse as soon as they leave the oven. But hey, it's supposed to be a challenge right?

Depending on the origin of the cocoa, I'll try to add either a Peruvian or Ghanaian twist as either and ingredient or accompaniment.

So.. I've got my ramekins at the ready.... but will they rise????

Here's what they should look like!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Week 1, the results!

KAJU KATLI using Fairtrade Cashew Nuts 

So, Lucas (my 1year old) is down for a nap and I'm sipping some coffee and nibbling some delicious Kaju Katli sweet (yes, they were delicious!) and I'm very excited about telling you about this week's experience.

Well, we had a bumpy start because on Saturday after Chris and I visited our favourite 'Exotic Food Shop' and a couple of supermarkets on the quest to find the ingredients...we just couldn't find the cashews we needed! When I chose the recipe I knew i would have no problem finding baked cashew nuts, (because I know Liberation sells them) but I thought that I would surely be able to find raw fairtrade cashews in supermarkets under their own label products... but I was wrong! there were loads of conventional and organic cashews but no raw Fairtrade ones!!!... so, I had a bit of a panic and even thought about baking something else etc... but I had done so much research into the recipe and to the method that I really didn't want to start again... so I just decided to go ahead using organic raw nuts for the paste, but since I would use Fairtrade sugar and the Fairtrade baked cashews to decorate them...I could just about get by calling them Fairtrade! This will serve me as a lesson for planing and preparation in future and it also made me think that there is perhaps a gap in the market!

Now, to the recipe and preparation method.

My best friend (through thick and thin as she says.. thick being 2 pregnancies and thin... the bits in between!) Sandra always laughs whenever I mention a recipe I've tried, because she knows that I am simply unable to follow a recipe 100%... I always think that there is too much of this, or not enough of that and that surely it would be better to add this... so in this case it's no different!

The basic ingredients for Kaju Katlis are:

1 cup of raw cashews
1/2 cup of Faitrade sugar
1/4 water

But I saw many variations that also added, either Rose Essence, or Cardamon. So I decided to add both and some coconut rum!, so in my version I also used:

1/2 teaspoon of Rose Essence
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grounded Cardamon Seeds
1 teaspoon of Caribbean coconut Rum

Cardamon is I think one of my all time favourite spices, and the smell that most reminds me of India... and reading up about it I found that India is not the main producer and exporter of it... but Guatemala! how random.... especially because I really can't think of any Latin American food that would have  it... but that's something to research in future!

On spices, I should say that I was also kind of hoping to find fairtrade spices... but only saw a ridiculously expensive bottle of vanilla essence (more than £5 for a tiny bottle!) in my quest... again gap in the market?

To the method itself... which was very simple... but had a couple of sticky steps  (literally) that could go wrong:
1) Grind the raw cashew nuts to a fine powder. Now, this is one of the tricky bits. I read I could use a coffee bean grinder... but that was a disaster, because the nuts just became a paste and clogged the whole internal mechanisms of the grinder. So, I then just used a normal food processor, which was fine, but the other tip I read about, was to be careful to grind in just one go, rather than stopping and starting, because if you do, the oil from the nuts starts to cluster in small balls and then you will never get smooth Kajus. Also it's important to use nuts at room temperature, and never from the fridge.

2) Boil the sugar and water on a pan to get a syrup (don't ask why I used sugar cubes... picked up the wring box!). Use a low heat and keep stirring . This is the other sticky point... because you don't want the sugar to burn... in which case you will get caramel. A good tip I found was that if you keep dropping a few drops of water, when they don't dissolve and instead just sit on top, you are there.

3) Add the Rose Essence, Ground Cardamon and Rum. and stir.

4) Add the ground cashews and stir for about 3-4 minutes, until the mixture thickens up. You will know when it's ready when you can take a little bit and roll a tiny ball between your fingers, and becomes a little dough ball.

5) Whilst still hot, you need to transfer it to an oiled work surface. I  used baking  paper.You also need to grease your hands. You can use Ghee (the Indian clarified butter) if you can find it, but I just used sunflower oil, and it was fine.When it's cool enough to handle, you need to knead the dough for a few minutes, and at this point it will lose its grainy texture and become quite smooth.

6) Grease your roller pin as well, and roll the dough to a thin layer. I rolled mine to the thickness of about a pound coin, but I think when I do it again, I'll roll them a bit thicker and perhaps cut them smaller... so that they sit nicely next to a cup of coffee. Then using a knife, draw lines and cut out diamonds. At this point I also added that Fairtrade cashew nuts for decoration.

7) Leave them to cool and ferment, for at least 15 minutes, and then you can remove them and place them in a serving plate. etc. I spent ages trying to arrange mine in the India Star fashion!

Now to the judges for the results!

While I cooked, my lovely husband Chris and (master chef extraordinaire of the Minter family) and mum in law Peter entertained the kids by making individual score boards for us to use every week.

So, what was their verdict (from 1 -5 fingers)

Big smiles from Lucas and desperate attempts to eat them (he tried a little bit of the sweet bit) and Emilia had stuffed her face with 3 before the others got to them... so i think she liked them too!

Chris really liked them, but would add more cardamon next time and Pete wasn't sure she liked the saltiness of the baked nuts on top.

My verdict? To be honest, I've had Indian sweets in the past and have never been able to finish them because they were simply too sweet for me, however that is not the case with them. They reminded me a lot of Baklava... they are sweet, but nutty most of all and yes next time I will add more cardamon and will forget the Rose Essence and Rum, since they just got lost in the mix.

The real test is whether I will make them again... and the answer is YES... I think they were very easy and are fantastic with a cup of coffee... and since they don't have any milk or eggs, they have a great shelf life, so would make excellent homemade food gifts, perhaps for Christmas maybe in a lovely jar or box (there a millions of ideas in Pinterest!).

So 5 from me too!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

About Liberation and FTAK

Before I tell you about the cooking experience, I want to say a little bit about the product I chose for this week's cooking experience: Fairtrade Cashew Nuts, especially because the 2 organisations I will mention are very dear to me.
During my work with a charity called Twin Trading , where I leaned everything I know about Fair Trade and where I met and worked with the most committed, intelligent and wonderful people I could have ever hoped for, I was fortunate to work  closely with smallholder nut producers from all over the world who sell their nuts in the UK marked via a company that Twin and other committed organisations established  in 2007 called Liberation Foods . Liberation is not only special because it's one of the biggest (if not the main) fairtrade nuts importer in the UK, but also because it's mainly owned by nut producers themselves.
The other organisation I want to mention is Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK), which is a cooperative from Southern India which supplies its cashews to Liberation, and which hosted us in 2008. In particular I want to mention my dear friend Tomy Mathews from FTAK, who is one of my Fair Trade heroes. Tomy has served in several boards (including the Fairtrade Foundation one) over the past few years and I'm wouldn't be surprised if he ended up taking the role of Head of the United Nations!

So, this week it was easy to choose the ingredient, because I am a confessed nut-aholic, who  had the pleasure of working with many other committed fairtrade nutters from all over the world!.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Momories of India

So, I hinted at our trip to India a couple of posts ago, and since then I have been reminiscing about the amazing time we had and about how much the Indian culture and amazing people we met there touched us and I guess in a way changed our outlook ever since.
I remember reading a passage in my favourite book 'Shantaram' just before travelling, where the author said that one has to 'surrender' to India... and I guess I didn’t know what he meant until we got there... I certainly had to surrender my London notion of personal space very quickly and get used to crowds of people having no reservations about touching you!... but more importantly to completely surrender to their genuine smiles and amazing warmness and generosity... I can’t count how many people we met along the way to couldn’t be more hospitable and in one case even kidnapped us to their home and offered us their own beds just so that we could get up early enough to go to their Hindi temple drumming celebration and dressing of the elephants the next dawn.
I also often think about the yoga sessions we had at dawn on the rooftop of the monastery where we were staying with, a ‘real’ Yogi instructor... and sometimes when I am doing my morning Pilates my mind wanders to that place and looks for that sense of calm and well being.
And don’t even get me started on the backwaters and the tea plantations of Munnar... but the list is long and I wont bore you anymore... I’ll just make a quiet promise to return one day.