My wonderful mum in law’s shortbread recipe

Some recipes can be a “blank canvas”, ready for you to add your personal touch and experiment.

It is World Kindness Day today, so I thought what better random act of kindness than to share a recipe that is very dear to me for three reasons:
A. it is my Scottish mum in law’s, who was a person that was always so kind to everyone
B. it is so incredibly easy to make and more importantly, to remember by heart
C. it tastes great

So here it is, just remember 200, 200, 100, 100 the magic weight in grams of flour, butter (of course, none of this margarine stuff), sugar (caster), corn flour. These quantities will make about 40 small pieces.

That’s it. Only four ingredients ! Well actually …if you feel a bit adventurous…

Put all ingredients in one bowl and gently rub them together. It’s very quick and you don’t need any utensils, just your hands. It is very therapeutic having all these ingredients going through your fingers. Gradually, as if by magic they turn from a crumble into a lovely soft dough. DO NOT work the dough , you are not making bread. The gluten needs to stay as underdeveloped as possible.

At this point you can take this very old recipe spread it in a baking tray and make shortbread.
But what is the fun in that? The role of any product developer is to try a few what if’s (see a previous post of mine with an extract from a great food film).
This recipe is like a blank canvas. So “what if these ingredients were also added” :

I added one tsp of fennel seeds and the same of ground cardamom and half a tsp of caraway seeds.
Gently press the dough in a baking tin, about 1 cm thick, then use a fork to open some ventilation holes for the steam and bake for at least 40min, I go for 140C in the middle of a fan assisted oven.
When you take it out of the oven, cut it into pieces while still in the tin and sprinkle with some caster sugar, or apply the “what if” principle and use sugar infused with spice.

Cut into 2.5 x 2.5 cm pieces

The role of any product developer is to try a few “what if’s“. Some recipes lend themselves for experimentation.

#shortbread #worldkindnessday #productdevelopment #foodtechnology

Best Food Films: Haute Cuisine

The best food is simple and authentic and good enough for the highest office.

What a week this has been! Talk about an election thriller! Who would have thought that three days after the US Election Day we would still not have a winner.
In this presidential election state of mind, I remembered “Haute Cuisine” a.k.a.“Les saveurs du Palais” , a lovely French film that tells the story of Daniele Delpeuch, a self taught provincial cook, who in the late 80’s was asked by President Mitterrand of France to be his personal cook at the Élysée Palace.
After 7 years in the helm of the country and at the start of his second term, the President has had enough of pretentious and over complicated food.

“I need to rediscover the taste of simple and authentic food”

What the President is after is simple and authentic food made with the best that France has to offer.

Local, fresh, simple and authentic food will allow you to have an “Anton Ego from Ratatouille” moment (see past blog ), or simply help you relax, refresh and enjoy, getting you ready to go back to your busy life even if you are the President. A great product developer will start with a simple recipe and then build on it, adding only what adds value (functional or emotional) for the recipient.

I don’t know who prepares Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s meals, but I hope their food provides not only sustenance, but also helps them relax and think calmly.

A great product developer will start with a simple recipe and then build on it, adding only what adds value (functional or emotional) for the recipient.

#hautecuisine #lessaveursdupalais #productdevelopement #bestfoodfilm

Happy Halloween 🎃

Remembering loved ones through their recipes

All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Hallows’ day. A day dedicated to remembering the dead, including all saints.
How better to remember those loved ones that have left us, than by cooking favourite recipes. My godmother used to make a fabulous pumpkin pie with filo pastry. Talk about getting your five a day…well with a good dose of sugar at the same time!

My nona’s filo pumpkin pie

Crispy filo rolls with sweet and cinnamony (is there such a word?) pumpkin filling, drizzled with a cinnamon and clove syrup. Very easy to make and you can also freeze it before you bake it, ready to bake another day.

Let me know if you want the recipe.
#halloween #productdevelopment #recipes

Halloween is a good time to remember loved ones through their recipes.

Lesson#2: Birds are not the only ones to migrate.

Moisture migration in composite products can pose challenges

You may learn about moisture migration at uni, but it’s not until you experience what it can do to a lovely chocolate covered snack that you say “Respect!”, or like a old colleague of mine used to say “Ignore it at your peril”.

So here is the thing, take a lovely, crunchy, crispy biscuit. Put a dollop (this is a technical term, LOL!) of real freshly prepared oozing caramel. Then cover the whole thing in shiny, snappy (when set of course) chocolate 🍫. We are talking real chocolate here, not chocolate flavoured coating. You won’t have to wait long to see what happens next. Within a few days it will start to crack.

“But I did not see this on the samples I made in the lab!” I remember saying and scratching my head. Then my colleague reminder me that I had built up biscuit and caramel one day and put the chocolate on a day later…All this lovely moisture moving around and settling before putting on the chocolate.

There are things one can do to avoid it of course, answers on a postcard please, but best to consider all this early in a project, before factory trials.

#MoistureMigration #FoodTechnology #ProductDevelopment

There are things that can be done to manage or even avoid moisture migration, but best to consider them early in a project’s life

Best food films: 100 Foot Journey

“…200 years is long enough…” or what makes a good product developer !

Every time I was asked to talk about what makes a good product developer I would either start or end with a clip from this great food film “The 100 Foot Journey”. The young chef working in the kitchen of a French Michelin start restaurant “dares” to experiment with a two hundred year old recipe…

There is no such thing as a sacred cow, or for that mater a sacred recipe. A product developer needs to be a lot of things, passionate, knowledgeable, skilful, hard working… but if they are not curious and experimental, then that great tasting multi million pound new product, will stay forever illusive.

I love that scene. If nothing else, it make me feel better every time my experimentation would yield unpalatable results (yes, there were some over the years, it happens to us all). “At least now I know!” was my standard line.
The rest of the film is very good, too. It is the story of a young Indian cook and his family that move to France for a better life and open a restaurant across the road from a Micheline start French restaurant in a small town . The two very different styles of cooking and dining clash at first, or rather the people clash until misconceptions and biases are disproven and the simple truth that Indian and French cuisine, each wonderful in its own right, can coexist and so can the people.
I do think that they have missed a trick though by not publishing a book with the recipes.
#ProductDevelopment #FoodFilms #FoodTechnology

A product developer needs to be a lot of things, passionate, knowledgeable, skilful, hard working… but if they are not curious and experimental, then that great tasting multi million pound new product, will stay forever illusive.

World Food Day – so what can I do ?

What can I do to help address food inequalities ?

OK here’s the thing, there are currently 690 million people that are going hungry in the world* (source FAO). The number has been going the wrong way, and unfortunately Covid-19 is estimated to add another 83 – 132 million to it. This is making the target the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) set, to eliminate hunger by 2030, more of a moonshot than a possibility.
So, happy world food day and blah blah blah. Let’s all pour another cup of coffee or glass of wine, depending on what time you are reading this, and have another bite of our all butter croissant or handful of crisps.
The end…

But the story can have a different ending. Each and every one of us can refuse to go with the first version of the story and choose a different ending. There is a lot we can do, as individuals, organisations and businesses.
Every one of us can
– Chose local
– Chose seasonal
– Chose healthy and diverse – your gut will love you, trust me
– Grow food at home – try it, what’s the worst that can happen ?
– Respect food and all those food heroes in these Covid-19 days – don’t waste food
– Support initiatives related to good nutrition, eg. school meals
– Volunteer at food related support initiatives such as food banks
– Be an influencer – you have social media, you have friends, you have a voice. Use it, talk about healthy food choices, ask decision makers to transform our food system
(The FAO website explains it better than me and has some great resources to engage kids, too. http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/take-action/en/)
Then a few years from now, in a Covid free world, with the number of those going hungry shrinking , we can pour ourselves another fare trade sustainable cup of coffee and say, with a cheeky little smile on our face, happy world food day!
The end…

NB and if you are lucky enough to be a product developer then you can do so much on so many levels.

But the story can have a different ending. Each and every one of us can refuse to go with the first version of the story and choose a different ending. There is a lot we can do, as individuals, organisations and businesses.


*Yes, this is the same world that also had 650 million obese people in 2016 (source World Health Organisation) and let’s not mention the number of overweight because it is eye watering! But this is a discussion for another time.

#worldfoodday #fao #localfood #seasonalfood #guthealth

Best food films: Ratatouille

Food has the magical power to bring back wonderful memories

Food has this magical power to transport you to a place and a time at first taste. It’s really magic! One bite or one sip can take you from a rainy London to a sunny beach. It can revive memories and emotions like this scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego, the feared critic, has one bite of Remy’s ratatouille and travels back to his childhood. He feels the same warmth and security as when he was with his mother.
This memory is enough to melt his heart and change his mood. This is the magic of food. This is why, in my humble opinion, this is the best food film scene ever. As a product developer, a chef or a home cook we have the power to transport people (hopefully to a good memory!).

Food has this magical power to transport you to a place and a time at first taste. It’s really magic!
As a product developer you need to try and create this experience.

Lesson #1 Shouldn’t always trust your nose

Do you ever have dreams about being on a train, plane or bus and suddenly you are the only one in the compartment ? Sounds like the start of a thriller “…the door to the compartment opens and a dark figure walks in. Takes a deep breath, turns around and RUNS away!”
Well this happened to me in real life. I was on a train returning home having worked in the test kitchen on a new mint flavour crisp piece. This was for the launch of a new variant of a chocolate biscuit bar. I remember I was pretty pleased with myself, for having achieved what I thought was the right texture, flavour profile and flavour strength. This was one of my very first projects, so stakes were high! At least that’s how I saw it.
There were a lot of people on the same carriage, but during the journey one by one would move to another carriage…”this is strange I thought”.
It all became clear when I got home and my husband said “Wow, you smell so strongly of mint!” It all made sense then, mint had impregnated my clothes and of course completely numbed my olfactory sensors. The next day I tried the samples I had produced and boy were they strong ! Fortunately for me I had kept some of the lower flavour dose samples. You know, the ones I thought were rejects, as they were not flavourful enough, which proved to be just perfect for the product.
Something similar happened again a few years later, when I was trialling on the factory line and an hour or so into the trial I was convinced that there was not enough flavour in the product and got the engineers checking the dosing pump, which was off course functioning perfectly well. Not believing that my senses could be playing a trick on me, I thought the flavour house had sent a weak flavour, so I decided that the right course of action, if I stood any chance of saving the trial, was to significantly increase the flavour level. You should have been there when a couple of weeks later (had to let the flavour settle first) I tried the samples…

Lesson 1: When working with volatile flavours be aware that your sense of smell can be affected. Follow your plan, don’t panic and never throw out any samples from your trials, at least until you’ve had the time to review them away from strong smells.

OLFACTORY fatigue

“It’s only biscuits…”

Stories, lessons learnt, and hopefully a bit of inspiration for product developers and anyone who is passionate about food.

I admit that I did not bake the biscuits in the picture, I chose this photo because having worked in the food industry as a food technologist, I have loved every minute of it. I have loved food, I have loved science, and I have loved the people and the work challenges.

I wish to pass on some of the things I have experienced and inspire people to enter a professional space that is fueled by passion, science, creativity and dedication.

It may be only biscuits to some, but to those of us lucky to be involved with food, it is a lot more…