Horses for Courses: How the horsemeat scandal rescued my home cooking…

It’s just gone 7 pm in the newsroom.  The team draws breath after a busy live show. Some button their coats to leave. The late crew, including me, prepares to tuck into standard ‘ready meal’ fare and chew over the next bulletin.  It’s then that the international horsemeat scandal gallops full speed into Wales.  Positive tests for horse in processed beef products made here.

The tests, you could say, are an example of shutting the stable door once the crisis has bolted.  But, nonetheless, UK officials had chased the horse round the food chain and across Europe to be brought home to their own backyard.  Cue jokes about ‘getting the trots’ from ‘a stable diet’ and suddenly, my microwaveable lasagne was infinitely less appealing.

Remember though, the horse scare is not a health scare. In France, where my husband plays rugby, le cheval is a menu regular and recent ‘publicity’ has, in fact, boosted sales there.  The question for the consumer here is not a medical one, but one of trust.  Many of us may not necessarily be so bothered about eating horse.  We’re more concerned about how it got there and what else might have snuck in along with it.

But, unfortunately, the price we pay for cut-price food, quick to our plates, is a food chain, which has morphed into a food maze.  So many cooks spoiling the broth that it’s hard to find where the ingredients began their journey.  Surely time for us to find the exit, bypass the convenience aisle, and move straight to the kitchen.

Considering my culinary form, this is a rash reaction.  Being a career girl, I’m no domestic goddess. My cookies crumble and my crumble burns.  The first time I cooked for my husband Lee, I was proudly sliding my homemade lasagne in the oven when my hands slipped.  Every layer ended up not in the oven, but instead covering the oven door.  Lee saved the day by piling it back in the dish and disguising the resulting mess with grated cheese.  Since, he’s admitted his rescue had less to do with chivalry and more to do with starvation (he said he could have ‘eaten a horse’… sorry!).

So, with my track record, I’m not proposing keeping chickens and growing a vegetable patch – one step at a time. I’m just suggesting less processed convenience and more raw ingredients.  And at the risk of stretching my ‘too many cooks’ metaphor a little too far, I thought what better place to start than with a broth.

And so my recipe revival began armed with a blender, a pile of veg and a few spices.  Mulligatawny was followed by Pea & Crispy Bacon (quite a hit with mum), was followed by cauliflower and sweet pepper (not such a hit with anyone).  It was only when a friend on twitter referred to me as ‘Blender Byrne’ that I thought I’d best add some solids to my repertoire.  It wasn’t long before I checked the ‘mains’ box with Grilled Chicken with Rocket & Mascarpone Pasta and attempted Bara Brith for dessert – twice actually.  I managed to skip an essential step in the recipe first time. Nobody was poisoned.

Pea Soup

I can’t promise this phase will last long.  Convenience food will always have its place in this pressure cooker of a world in which we live.  But, if time does ever permit, there is something very satisfying about knowing what’s gone into your dinner.   And as frozen filly meals are whipped off the shelves faster than the 2.20 at Chepstow, it seems I’m not the only one being tempted back to basics.  One supermarket chain has already reported an eighteen per cent rise in sales of traditional cuts of meat, for instance.

Dusting off Delia can only be good thing for food standards here – and for domestic goddesses – everywhere.  For me (for now at least) ready meals are a non-runner.  You’ll find me horsing around in the kitchen.

From my Cardiff Life column. 

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