Everything Foodie

Random thoughts and musings on all things foodie.



The Creative Art Of Condiment Display

- By James Delaney

Displaying condiments in a creative way can be an art form - I insist on this when I dress a table for a conference or social gathering.  Condiments are probably the item most overlooked when it comes to display - this seems like a crazy missed opportunity when creating ambience - as they are so inextricably linked to a convivial atmosphere when people come together.

"Pass the salt" 

"Can you give me some of that jam"

As they become the focal point quite often during a business meeting, or a nice lunch - it can be a great idea to think of creative ways to display them when preparing to feed the masses or when decorating a table.  Hoteliers understand the value of creative condiment display - think of that lovely moment when you enter your hotel room and find everything you need - coffee, tea, sugar - beautifully arranged and right there at your fingertips.  In fact, with just a little creative thought - the way that you display these foodie essentials can even become a conversational piece for your guests or conference attendees.

Instead of simply placing the items on the table - the first step is to consider a nice condiment holder or a series of small holders, so that diners can easily access what they need and appreciate the attractiveness of the display.

Using the manufacturers' bottles might be necessary in some cases, for convenience, however you could use glass bottles or jars, or place jam sachets in nice wooden cases.

Once you have decided on your casing of choice - glass, wood, stainless steel or crystal - you can then put thought and effort into adding some personalised touches - for example ribbons, napkins, flowers, candles - perhaps little cards with interesting messages written across them - or small wooden statues. Depending on the venue you could use crystals and glitter!  For ease of access and deliver consider a nice tray, decorated and themed out - so that you can easily replace the condiments when they have been used, or when your guests finish eating.

It is the little touches that can often create the most beautiful dining atmosphere - I take condiments very seriously indeed, and suggest that they should never be overlooked - because they really do lie at the heart of every great dining experience.

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Sugar - Why We Love It & Where It Came From

By James Delaney

Let's face it - we love sugar.  To the foodie, sugar is one of the most magnificent and marvellous ingredients imaginable.  We love it in tea, in dishes, in sweets and treats - sugar has the ability to transform a meal - to add layers of complexity, to add a little taste of the extrordinary - to elevate the ordinary.

Sugar - as a word in the English language - has such positive and delightful connotations that we use it as a frame of reference for people we love - as in 'sugar pie honey bunch - you know that I love you'. The colloquial 'sweeeet' is used by teenagers all over the place to define something wonderful or exceedingly awesome.

Sugar is a primary source of energy for everything on the Earth.  As a compound (think glucose, sucrose, fructose) is found in every single plant - it is, in fact, the primary product of photosynthesis - so sugar literally does come from the sun and is infused on a molecular level in all living things - it is no wonder that this chemical holds a special place in our hearts.  When we eat sugar - in a way we are eating the sun!

Humans need energy to survive.  At a purely instinctual level - our bodies recognise that sugar is the fastest way to get energy.  So those cravings that you feel for a sweet treat are in fact, linked to your primordial survival instincts.  Of course, moderation in all things - and with the average western person consuming 22 teaspoons per day - looking at sweeteners as an alterative to sugar could be beneficial to your waistline and your overall health.

You might be curious to know where and how sugar in its refined form came from.  I traced the history of sugar in order to find out how this brilliant and amazing commodity first emerged in its refined form to tempt us all.

A Brief History Of Sugar

Sugar has a long and complex history - it is inexorably linked to trade, industry, technology and even religion.  Sugar first emerged onto the foodie scene in antiquity - the first evidence of this sweet delight can be traced back to 8000 B.C in New Guinea.  Sugar in the form that we would recognise was apparent in India from 500 A.D. 

India worked out the process of how to crystallize sugar in 350 A. D.  Buddhist monks visiting India brought back samples to China and introduced the sweet to an entirely new culture.  It is recorded that Emperor Tang fell in love and swiftly sent an envoy on an exploratory mission to India in order to glean the secrets of the refining process - from that point sugar became a staple in Chinese deserts and cooking methods.

As the popularity of sugar spread through China, Indochina and beyond, Muslim traders and conquerors began to export this product and ultimately the commodity moved to Europe.  In the 15th Century, Columbus took sugar cane to the New World and it seeped through the Americas.

By the 18th century consumers in the West had latched on to the product initially using it in their tea and then before long, in sweets and chocolate. Sugar was used as an excellent preservative and fruit could be kept for long periods when transformed into jam. In the past suppliers sold sugar in the form of sugar loaves and it was necessary to be equipped with sugar nips, a bit like pliers, to break off an appropriate amount.

Sugar In Australia

The first sugar refinery was built in Australia in 1855 in Sydney.  Massive demand for this sweet treat led to refineries being established throughout the country, first in Melbourne, then Queensland and ultimately partnerships were formed with New Zealand.

Sugar is a monumentally important economic commodity throughout the Asia Pacific region - and Australia is the second largest exporter of raw sugar globally.  Key markets include Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.



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How To Make The Perfect Cup Of Tea

By V Neale

Sales of teapots are 40% down! I’m not sure whether that will make a front page headline but it does say something about our contemporary tea drinking habits. The ubiquitous tea bag seems to have conquered all with its ease and availability. But are we doing a disservice to the commodity which has such a complex history and can be considered almost sacred?

Tea brewing can engender enormous debate and it is quite a compliment when someone says, ’Ooh that’s a lovely cup of tea.’ At that point everything really does appear to be well in the world. But what’s the consensus about putting milk in first or last, or in fact, taking milk at all? I can sense some of you bristling already as you read. That too might be a tea bag thing, as an older person, and especially one who favours tea leaves, will tend to add milk first. Then of course we could have a useful debate about what biscuit to dunk, but that will take a blog all of its own!

Scientists (always worrying) have concluded patience is the art to the perfect cuppa and tea should be allowed to steep for six minutes before putting the nectar to your lips. The reason for this is the tea has reached 60 degrees, the perfect temperature to unlock all the flavours. However beyond 17 minutes and 30 seconds the tea is spoiled as you are probably aware when you return to it after becoming lost in a phone call or email exchange. Is there anything more unpleasant than cold, stewed tea?

In a recent study, a team from a university research team asked a panel to drink 285 cups of tea and the following results were noted: • The best method for the perfect cup was achieved by adding boiling water to a tea bag in a mug and then leave it for 2 minutes (I have already left the building; my tea bag belongs to the ‘show it and throw it’ movement!) • Remove the bag, add the milk and leave to stand for 6 minutes. How is this possible I ask? Mine is gone the minute it is cool enough to drink!

If you wish to be professional about this it seems tea’s complex taste is the thing which makes it so addictive. Taste testers have accented various flavour notes such as wood and grass when tea is over- brewed and lemon, rose and geranium. Adding milk achieves a profound change and suddenly grass is replaced by vanilla and toffee; the more milk the sweeter the product appears. Fresh water is a must and should not be over-boiled as the amount of oxygen present is reduced, thus explaining why re-boiled water always makes very flat tasting tea.

So now you know, this delicate leaf should be treated with respect and even if you are dunking a teabag it’s time to reinstate a sense of ceremony to the everyday.

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