I don’t wish to write many posts that are in some way negative. But sometimes you come across something so bad it would be a disservice to mankind not to mention it for fear that somebody else might succumb to the same horrific fate.
In a rash moment of ‘what’s for dinner’ blindness Jo bought some take out curry from one of the leading supermarkets. Amongst the odds and sods were a perfectly serviceable onion bhaji and a vegetable samosa. But there was also something else. Something, described without irony, as a chicken pakora… A cursory glance indicated nothing untoward, it looked like a decent chunk of chicken deep fried in a golden spicy batter (see picture, you’d be mislead too right?). A more prolonged examination revealed something else. Bread. Not Naan, not paratha, not chapati or any other unleavened Asian breads, but two pieces of nasty white loaf cut into triangles and deep fried (admittedly in a golden spicy batter!). In between the bread was what I can only assume is the legal minimum amount of chicken required for it to be classified as a chicken dish.
At first I thought this may have been a more authentic rendition of a pakora. If it is I cannot find any reference to it online. I can only assume this is an austerity pakora designed to be entered into the filthiest Indian sundry category of the misleadingly labelled food awards 2012. It should win. No contest. It had the chance to redeem itself by being one of those things that sounds terrible but is in fact good in bad kind of way (it may have been better marketed as a deep fried chicken tikka club sandwhich). It didn’t and will never be one of those things.
It went on the bin. For a man who hates to throw food away this was perhaps the most damning thing of all.
When the food namers of yore got together for their annual meat dish naming shindig I can only assume ‘Brawn’ was discussed late in the evening after the consumption of much ale. How about Brawn? Yeah, that’ll do… It’s a name that doesn’t inspire much confidence. The alternative, ‘head cheese’ isn’t much better! As a result it has faired badly over the years with rumours of it’s horrendous contents including brains and eyes. It has had no one to champion its cause, until now that is. I hereby announce myself as Brawn’s champion!
Firstly may i dispense with the myths. It does not contain brain or eyes! Sometimes it might contain tongue. In fact it is very much a terrine. So why is it not called so? We have ham hock terrine, why not another ham related terrine? I think principally this is because the majority of the meat is taken from the pigs head (hence the belief that it’s brain) and ‘Pig face terrine’ doesn’t sound so appetising and certainly wouldn’t make it’s way on to many restaurant menus!
It’s essentially a spiced terrine, and from the variety I picked up in Morrisons (that champion of cheap cuts) nutmeg being the main one (often it’s allspice or bay). And it’s cheap, £1.50 for a pot and a good alternative to ham. So that’s pretty much how I treated it. Sliced on bread, sliced on crackers. I also attempted a brawn broth which was OK but not worthy of a post (some modifications required first). Then one day Jo (my other half) was having a cheese toastie and I thought let’s add some sliced brawn! And thus the Brawn toastie was born!
Take two slices of good thick white bread. Toast one side. Turn over and lightly toast the other and then butter the edges so they don’t catch. layer slices of brawn and cheese on one half. Return to the grill until the cheese has melted (the jelly will melt too). Construct toastie and then gloat about the fact that your toastie is considerably better than your other half’s!
Not content with providing affordable, stylish furniture to the masses IKEA also do awesome meatballs! And when Jo and I take our monthly trip (this isn’t planned we just seem to gravitate towards it once a month for our scandinavian fix) we always have them, with gravy of course!
The key ingredients that give the two elements their distinctive flavour are all spice (meatballs) and soy sauce (gravy). The sauce is so simple you can knock it up in no time and with the meatballs made ahead (also very easy) this makes a quick and tasty dinner. Firstly, the meatballs:
1lb mince pork
1lb mince beef
1 onion (finely chopped)
1lb floury potatoes (peeled, boiled and mashed)
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp all spice
1/2 tbsp white pepper
Good pinch of salt
Glug of olive oil
Mix everything bar the potato and oil together in a large bowl. Once fully mixed stir in the potato and oil. Using the palms of your hands roll into approx 50 small balls and place in an oven proof dish and cook at 180 °C for 30 – 35 mins. Freeze in batches for future use. These meatballs also go well with the idiot proof make ahead tomato sauce that I’ve mentioned in previous posts for another quick and simple meal.
Next up, the gravy:
Heaped tbsp butter
Heaped tbsp flour
200ml beef stock
100 ml Cream/Milk
2 tsp soya sauce
Salt and white pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour to make a roux. Fry for a few minutes. Add the beef stock and bring to the boil, add the soy sauce and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Take off the heat and stir in the cream/milk. Add salt and white pepper to taste but be careful with the white pepper! As I discovered on my first batch it can quickly over power. Pour over the meatballs, close your eyes and imagine you are in a Birstall retail park situated just of junction 27 of the M62. Bliss.
One of life’s greatest disappointments is to bite into a hot crumpet only to discover that it’s been adorned with lashings of unsalted butter by mistake. When it comes to all things toasted it has to be the salted stuff. However, the decision whether to use salted or unsalted in cooking is a more contentious affair. My method has always been salted for spreading, unsalted for cooking. An approach which I’ve picked up subconsciously over the years. But why is that? I thought I’d better find out…
Salt was originally added to butter as a preservative and to hide impurities. Probably born out of the fact that if you leave unsalted butter out for too long (as you need to do when spreading butter on bread/toast etc) it goes rancid. And It would seem the addition is one we’ve grown to like. However this enthusiasm is not shared on the continent. In Italy, France and Spain they think it a culinary abomination the we spread butter on sandwiches! But then why wouldn’t they? Their butter has a higher fat content. Which means whilst turning wonderfully sweet and nutty when cooked in a hot pan it doesn’t fair so well spread on cold bread! It would be like spreading lard on your BLT! In reality British salted butter is often used as a condiment. Added after the cooking process (toast, scones, jacket spuds mash potato asparagus etc etc) when you know that adding extra salt won’t ruin the dish.
Unsalted is generally considered preferable for cooking (especially in baking) for a few reasons. First is practicality. Most chefs use unsalted butter as they can control the salt levels. It doesn’t matter at what stage you add the salt (just as long as you add it!) and it’s easier to add salt at the end than take it away. Second is it’s considered to be better quality, also known as ‘sweet butter’ it takes on a sweeter and nuttier taste when cooked. However, I’m not sure if this is entirely true of modern, commercial butter making practices. I can’t imagine lurpack making two different batches of butter. More likely they make exactly the same product and add salt to one (supposedly a good test is to fry a knob of salted and unsalted butter together and see how much rubbish comes off the salted). So in the end it probably comes down to personal preference (and what you’ve got left in the fridge!). I know how I like my bread buttered and that’s with salted butter. But when it comes to cooking, I’m sticking with the sweet stuff.
There was once a time, many years ago, when I had a massive chip on my shoulder. No, let’s be honest, it was more like a whole king Edward, perhaps even a bag of king Edwards. I was a massive, inverse snob. Over the years I’ve managed to whittle it down to perhaps the size of a french fry and I’m still working on it. Maybe it’s my working class upbringing, maybe it’s because I’m from Yorkshire, maybe it’s because I’m a malcontent, angry at the world! Whatever the reason, from time to time it will notify me of it’s presence like some sort of potato based ponce alarm…
Recently, my brother and my good friend Rob have extolled the virtues of decanting red wine. At the very notion of such a thing the french fry lodged on my shoulder goes into high alert, quivers and starts dancing around shouting ponce, ponce, ponce! However, once I start to absorb what I’ve been told it starts to calm down. There must be something in it. People have been doing it for years and I’m sure it wasn’t something they did just to show off how posh they were, decanting wine in the street over the poor in the gutter! My brother works in the bar trade so knows a thing or two about booze and Rob, who likes the finer things in life, has been watching a Christmas DVD about wine.
There’s seems to be some debate out there around the merits of the two main reasons for doing it. Sediment and aeration. Some say that decanting for aeration isn’t advisable on delicate wines such as Pinot Noir but is fine for heavier wines such as Barolo. Others say that the effect of aeration is negligible. The case for decanting for sediment is similar with some wine experts saying it’s not necessary on modern wines. However, Rob had a fine bottle of Chianti he wanted to try it on and I was only too willing to help him out!
This decant was for sediment. We weren’t leaving it long for aeration (which actually turns out to be a good thing as Chianti is considered one of the wines too delicate for aeration), we just wanted to separate the good stuff from the sediment. But what should one decant into? Turns out you don’t need to be too proud about that one, we decanted straight into a glass measuring jug! Rob poured slowly so not to disturb the sediment and leave as much in the bottom as possible. From the measuring jug we poured one glass and from the bottle (with sediment) we poured another. Visually you could instantly see a difference, quite a lot of sediment was sitting in the bottom of the glass from the bottle and the wine looked darker and harder to see through. Taste wise I initially struggled to tell the difference but then I tried it with my eyes shut. A blind taste test. This time I could tell instantly which had the sediment in and it wasn’t pleasant! So I spent the remainder of the evening drinking wine out of a measuring jug and who would have thought that was more sophisticated than drinking out of the bottle?!
This is another reason why I love Italian food. This is so simple yet the results so fabuous; a dish greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of those dishes you want to keep eating. Not because it’s exquisite technical cooking but because it’s comforting and delicious. And what’s ‘proper’ about it you might ask? Well, there’s no cream, just a sauce made from eggs and cheese.
It’s also a great end of month dish. Long month January, especially when you get paid before Christmas and especially when your other half has been bemoaning the lack of interesting food left in the house for the past two weeks! Thankfully this ticks the box of being both interesting and using up stuff you’ve probably got lying around.
So first off, drop your pasta shape of choice into a pan of boiling salted water (I used macaroni this time because it was all we had in! I’m sure this is probably considered a bit plebby in some parts!). Whilst it’s cooking fry a clove of garlic and some cubed pancetta in some butter (prefferably unsalted European butter French or Italian) until the garlic goes brown. Discard the garlic. Once cooked add the pasta to the pancetta then add 40g of grated parmesan and 40g of grated pecorino. Make sure the pan is off the heat and cooled slightly and add the beaten egg. Be careful not to scramble it. Add black pepper and mix well to form a sauce. Serve. Eat. Enjoy.
You may think this post absolutely disgraceful, that somebody who professes to love food so much could do something so downright filthy! And it is filthy! Utterly filthy! I’m sure over the coming months/years/millenia you’ll get to know my unhealthy obsession with all things Reese’s, to the extent that I’ve literally bought the t-shirt! It’s the combination of sweet and salt that I really adore which I initially discovered my liking for in chocolate covered pretzels. Alas, they are much harder to come by these days.
I play football every week and part of my pre-football ritual is to consume porridge 2 hrs before I play. It’s an exact science. 1hr before is too late and it sits heavy in my stomach giving me sports heartburn! 3hrs before and the energy boost it gives comes too early and I’m hopeless (well, more hopeless). Porridge is a worthy substance, pretty bland, pretty stodgy so I’m always looking at ways to spruce it up.
In the past I’ve tried a few different things but the best so far has been banana, honey, a good peanut butter and salt. So surely a broken up Reese’s peanut butter cup could top this off? Well yes it could. It looked several shades of wrong (and I’ve not photographed it because of that) but with a little extra honey and extra salt (yes, more salt) it was cracking! A fine use of a Reese’s peanut butter cup!
I’m a big fan of Tyrell’s, probably my favorite crisps. It’s that hearty thick crunch that, unlike some brands, makes you feel you are still eating something that was once a potato! Plus I’m a sucker for their approach to design and quirky brand exemplified in their lovely website. However, last week we bought a packet of Mature Cheddar and Chive flavour only to discover upon opening it that a third of the contents were missing! What to do? We couldn’t return it to where we bought it as there was no reason to believe we hadn’t just scoffed the missing third! So, armed with what I though was a batch number, in the hope that they had realised a large swathe of their products were missing a third of their contents I e-mailed Tyrell’s and explained the situation. They said they hadn’t had a nationwide production meltdown and my semi-bag was likely a one off. They offered, as an apology, a box of samples. That’s generous I thought until that box turned up and it was in fact 4 full sized bags with a shop value of nearly £10. Very generous, considering they had absolutely no reason to believe me! So thank you Tyrell’s. You’re excellent customer service has kept us in crisps for a couple of weeks and introduced me to your Stilton & Grape flavour which is far better than I could ever have imagined!
I thought I knew the egg, I though I knew how to boil it. All my life I’ve been doing it one way – bring to the boil then simmer for 2-3 mins. Never any complaints always the same result, runny yoke, firm white. But it seems there are alternative ways of doing it. Recently the egg has been cavorting with a few Michelin star types and has allowed itself to be cooked in different ways. There’s the latent heatmethod from the pseudo-science egg schmoozer Heston Blumenthal and the (vicious) drop into boiling water method from Catalan egg lothario, Ferran Adria (taken from the wonderful Family Meal). Considering I’m so out of touch I should try them, if only to show the egg that I am willing to try new things…
OK, Firstly Ferran Adria’s method, no bringing the egg up to the boil, just drop it straight into the boiling water. Ouch! Results: runny white. Secondly Heston Blumenthal, as soon as it boils take the pan off the hob and let the latent heat to do it’s magic (6 minutes). Result: hard boiled. Although I think with some time adjustments this could achieve life changing results (well he does have a few Michelin stars so he might know what he’s talking about). He was at it again the other night telling the WI that they couldn’t cook scrambled eggs when in fact all he was doing was cooking scrambled eggs French style in a double boiler. Nothing wrong with how the WI did it as The Cook’s Book (my favorite and much thumbed cookery book, more of which in later posts) says, ‘There’s more than one way to make great scrambled eggs. The method you choose depends on how you like your scrambled egg curds – large (as Jo and I do), small, or, in the French manner, totally blended to make a luscious cream.’
But it seems they are all doing it when it comes to eggs. The latest egg fibbers are the Fabulous Baker Brothers. In one episode they dropped an egg into water for poaching that clearly dispersed all over the pan. I’ve cooked enough poached eggs to know that once this has happened it’s beyond salvation. However, a cut shot later and, low and behold, one of them spoons out a poached egg so perfect it looks like it’s been coddled. More fibulous than fabulous Tom & Henry.
OK, so poaching eggs is tricky and they are fickle, but it really is important that they’re as fresh as possible. If an egg is fresh it doesn’t need much assistance, merely drop it into plenty of simmering water (the key is to get it to start forming before it crashes against the bottom of the pan and dissipates all over) and then gently turn over a few times with a spoon so that the yoke is enclosed. If it isn’t fresh there’s a couple of options. You can do the vortex method which works but isn’t that practical if cooking two or more eggs at a time, unless you want to have three or four pans on the go like some demented vortex maker. The other method is one Jamie Oliver advocates – lining a ramekin with a little oil and clingfilm then dropping the egg in making a little egg bag to hang over the side of the pan. Added advantage of this is the ability to add herbs or other seasoning to the bag. It’s OK but it can be a faff to get the egg out of the clingfilm. Or there’s the method I’ve come to use, and that’s the two pan method. One pan with a tablespoon of vinegar (preferably white wine) in and one with salted water. Use the first pan as you would for a fresh egg and then transfer the egg to the salted simmering water pan to finish the cooking. Make sure you drain the egg of water as it will collect in the nooks and crannies and seep out later to make soggy your chosen poached egg vehicle of choice. This method works almost every time, I say almost because the egg can be a fickle mistress indeed.