Work experience on BBC GoodFood magazine

Recently, I’ve been pondering the future with some uncertainty and much apprehension. Over halfway through my degree, it won’t be long until I’m waving goodbye to the comforting walls of the education sanctuary – but, with only a half-formed career goal in mind, a independent income seems a long, long journey away. (Owning my own house is an idea I don’t bother idly speculating about: reality confronts me squarely and laughs in my face.) It seemed wise, then, to combine the only two interests and skills I have – food, and writing.

Food writing, though, is just like journalism: a very difficult nut to crack. There are different forms, roles, and limited doors in. Yet, why not follow what you love? My dream job is on a food magazine, naturally for someone who loves anything to do with food: cooking, eating, writing, and reading about everything from aioli to novelty egg separators.

After months of drafting CVs, making fruitless emails, and tweaking covering letters, I finally succeeded in securing an actual work experience placement on a food magazine; and not just any magazine, but BBC GoodFood, at the very top of the game. I was overwhelmed to even hear back from them, especially as I’d sent off my application with no expectation whatsoever of receiving a response – so much so, that I almost didn’t send it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with BBC GoodFood: it’s the crème de la crème of food magazines, even with its own television channel. I consult its website often for recipes, ideas, and inspiration; spend hours combing through each edition; and have a backlog of editions at home. It’s my secret ambition to work there – or not so secret.

 

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I was extremely nervous on the morning of my first day, for pretty obvious reasons. I’ve never commuted to London before, but once I’d successfully made the two-train journey for the first time, every successive one felt like second nature. Needless to say, I felt quite small around the team: the editors, cookery writers and designers have years of skill and experience under their belts, degrees to which I aspire. What surprised me to begin with was the quietness of the office, and the sheer absorption of everyone in their work – but in reflection, that’s testament to the quality of the magazine and the dedication of everyone who works on it.

In my week of work (because of the short notice, I couldn’t make the whole two weeks), I had a go at range of different tasks. My first responsibility involved skimming a week’s worth of newspapers and selecting any snippets relating to food, which was great fun. Next, I helped out in preparing for and taking part in a strawberry jam taste test. Alongside putting together a Pinterest board on Father’s Day gift ideas, visiting a proper fishermonger’s, and getting lost in an Ideal Home show, I assisted in printing invoices and totalling receipts for the test kitchen’s finances, and reformatting GoodFood recipes for Easycook magazine.

Easycook’s editor was very generous in sitting down with me, taking an interest in my background and ambitions, and talking me through how to use software. Under his guidance, I even got to select recipes and think up a headline for a chipotle feature, to go in the October edition.

One considerable perk of the job was food brought out to the staff from the test kitchen. Sampling food I would happily pay for was my greedy stomach’s dream come true; I tried ice cream, tarts, blancmange, cakes… How nobody on the team is morbidly obese, I cannot fathom.

It was an all-round fantastic experience: travelling and getting to know central London by myself (and manipulating the Tube in a week of delays and a strike); seeing a group of talented people in their element; picking up new skills; and getting to grips with how a food magazine is produced. Work experience is so incredibly valuable to anyone considering a career in journalism – if you’re unsure as to whether you’re suited to it, or aren’t having much luck in getting responses, stick at it. It will be worth it in the end!

 

 

Cauliflower, potato, and spinach curry

The cauliflower is a neglected vegetable. Underneath its extensive leafy wrappings, it’s small, mild, and delicate: so why is it so often over-looked? Often inseparable from the memory of bland school-dinner cauliflower cheese, or an over-boiled, tasteless mess, cauliflower has suffered harshly in our hands.

So I decided to breathe some fresh life into my own use of this plant. As it has no particularly distinct flavour of its own, I thought the cauliflower would lend itself well to a curry: and this one from BBC GoodFood appealed to me with its range of spices. I added a few fistfuls of fresh spinach, and used plum tomatoes in place of tinned, to use up the sad-looking remnants of last week’s shop. Parboiling the potato and cauliflower beforehand significantly reduced the cooking time.

The overall result was a satisfying and healthy dinner. The lemon gave the ginger and chilli sauce a lift, and the combination of cauliflower and potato left me feeling happily full.

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To serve one, you’ll need:

  • a third of a stripped cauliflower, in florets
  • a small baking potato, or a few handfuls of small potatoes
  •  half a tin of chopped tomatoes / seven or eight plum or cherry tomatoes / two salad tomatoes
  • spinach
  • third of a small red onion
  • a clove of garlic
  • a small piece of ginger
  • half a green chilli
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • juice of a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • natural yoghurt and coriander, to serve

 

Unclothe the cauliflower (how else can I put this?), and chop the inner vegetable in half. Roughly dice the potato. Blanch the two together for five minutes in boiling water.

Finely chop the onion, garlic, chilli, and ginger. Heat a lug of oil in a pan, and gently cook the onions until soft. Add the spices all together and fry while you roughly chop the tomatoes, before putting in the pan with the drained cauliflower and potato.

Stir well to incorporate the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, then pop a lid on to simmer for around twenty-five minutes, or until the potato is soft.

Squeeze in a generous amount of lemon juice before dishing up: serve with coriander and natural yoghurt.

I’d love to know how this can be improved in terms of flavour: the potato and cauliflower, being a tad bland, are blank canvases to taste. It’s a dry curry, but perhaps a little sauce would add some real richness of flavour.

 

 

Butternut squash chilli

 

 

Sometimes, investing the time and energy into a meal really pays its dividends. I know that for many people, time and effort are insurmountable barriers to recipes such as this one: but, honestly, if you just set aside the time for it, or enlist a little extra help, the satisfaction will merit its labour.

This recipe for butternut squash chilli is from BBC GoodFood, and makes four portions – although as always, I chopped and changed a few ingredients. You’ll need:

  • 600g medium vine tomatoes, or 400g can of chopped tomatoes (I used the latter)
  • two onions (I used a small brown one, and a bit of red)
  • two large garlic cloves
  • one red bird’s-eye chilli (I used one ordinary red chilli, and found it sufficiently hot)
  • a tsp cayenne pepper
  • a tsp oregano
  • one bay leaf
  • 600g butternut squash, cut into cubes (about two-thirds of an average plant)
  • twelve pitted green olives
  • 150ml red wine (I took the risk of using 90ml of red wine vinegar instead…)
  • 1/2 vegetable stock cube, or 3/4 tsp stock powder
  • 200g jar piquilio pimentio peppers, or 2 large roasted Romano peppers (or normal peppers!)
  • 400g black beans (or kidney)
  • small bunch of chives
  • soured cream

It’s tempting to buy pre-prepared butternut squash – but I can testify that going for a whole plant is much better value: a 400g pack at Asda costs £1.50, in place of just 75p for the whole thing. You won’t need the whole squash – but save the leftovers for a curry later on.

Start by peeling and dicing the butternut squash. Mary Berry’s advice on this was to use a regular peeler if the skin of the fruit is ripe enough: but if you struggle to remove it, protect your digits by cutting the squash into rounds, and peeling it in parts. (I wish I’d read this sooner – I spent a laborious fifteen minutes removing the peel with a knife.) Make sure the squash cubes aren’t too chunky; they’ll take even longer to cook otherwise.

Finely chop the onion, garlic, and chilli.  If you’re opting for fresh tomatoes, pour boiling water over them and leave for thirty seconds, before chopping in half, removing the skins, and roughly chopping the insides.

Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions and garlic gently until soft. Add the chilli, oregano, cayenne and bay leaf, stir-fry for a minute, then add the red wine. (I didn’t have red wine, so experimented with red wine vinegar: it gave the sauce a good sweetness, but I’d be interested to know how it was supposed to taste!) Mix in the olives and the squash.

Simmer for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, with 200ml water. Crumble or stir in the stock. Pop the lid on the pan and simmer for another thirty minutes, stirring every now and then.

Add the peppers when the thirty minutes are up. I used one green pepper in place of the fancy ones stipulated in the recipe; but I can imagine that they would have added a real sweet depth of flavour to the squash and beans. Season the chilli with salt and pepper, and leave for another twenty minutes, or until the squash is soft. Add the drained and rinsed beans, and stir through.

Serve with brown rice, snipped chives or coriander, and soured cream.

This was very satisfying and rich in flavour; the olives, in my opinion, gave it a special something. And it tasted even better reheated the next day.

 

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