Welcome to 2015. It’s taken me a while to crank up my mojo but here I am. Christmas was a whirlwind of rocky road and truffles and cellophane and curling ribbon and I came out the other side of December needing a little break from the kitchen and indeed the temptations of the festive season. This year I’m looking for recipes to freshen up my tired old culinary repertoires, and more importantly recipes that will help me fit into my black jeans again.
Just before Christmas I had the pleasure of being a judge for the in-house staff food competition for RH Amar . The family run business distributes food to supermarkets all over the UK, including brands like Starbucks instant coffee, Kikoman, Cirio, Carbonel, Mary Berry’s, Sacla, Geeta’s, Nando’s and Thorntons – to name a few. As a team-building exercise, each department from the distribution company was asked to submit a recipe for their Ready Steady Cooks & Co competition. Using a selection of products from the company’s own line of larder products called Cooks & Co, the competitors were asked to create a dish or meal utilising some or all of these ingredients which included brown lentils, Borlotti beans, anchovies, capers, roasted red peppers, pitted green olives, sliced black olives, tinned green figs, sun-dried tomatoes and grape seed oil. Of course they didn’t have to use of those ingredients – although some tenacious competitors did try!
The first part of the competition was to select the two best entrants from the group of 5, but due to busy schedules and illness some of the departments couldn’t take part. It was so lovely to see the effort that had gone in on all accounts. There was a white fish stew that had utilised many of the ingredients, and a chorizo and Borlotti bean casserole with a selection of starters but the two stand-out dishes were a pizza cake and a three-course meal featuring home-made tapenade and a lasagne. These two entrants showed the best understanding of the ingredients which were all rather strong in flavour, requiring a deft hand to get the best out of them.
When the planets aligned and everyone’s schedule was locked in, I visited the offices of RH Amar in High Wycombe to taste the dishes of the two finalists. I walked into their staff kitchen to some great smells and again, it was so pleasing to see the effort that had been made. I was blown away by the quality of both recipes and it was really very difficult to choose a winner.
The pizza cake showed a fearlessness in the kitchen, the cook made the dough from scratch and got points for trying out something new and challenging. The flavours all worked really well and the dish presented very nicely with lots of colours and texture. The home-made olive tapenade and the use of the figs with cream cheese showed a sophisticated understanding of the ingredients. The lasagne won points for being so well executed and again, demonstrated a fine appreciation of flavour and texture with rich pork and beef layers combined with mushrooms, roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes.
It didn’t seem right that one of the contestants should miss out, after seeing the huge effort and skill they both displayed. So it was decided that they both win and the prize was split between them. For my efforts I took home a lovely hamper of Cooks and Co goodies which were promptly used and enjoyed.
Congratulations to all the entrants of the Ready Steady Cooks & Co cooking competition. Winner or not – I hope you all came away from the experience a little more enlightened about the products you sell and perhaps a bit more inclined to try something new in the kitchen.