Garlic is a most important ingredient. It’s rare in our house we don’t use it. Whether it’s starting a tomato sauce by frying an onion or crushing into teryaki sauce it’s unthinkable to cook without it. You shouldn’t taste it in the dish, but it rounds out the finished product nicely.
The example above was acquired at the food festival in cardiff bay for a whopping £2.50. It’s from the Pyrenées and I’m sure it’ll be worth at as soon as we’ve eaten the garlic I got from the Italian deli. I blame the TV chefs of the ’80s who woke British cuisine up and stole everyone elses. Food in the UK is not streets ahead of where it used to be.
We also had Keralan fried chicken from Purple Poppadom for lunch which is always good.
Homemade pizza. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with this. The ingredients:
Pizza base. You can buy this pre-made from the supermarket. Please don’t, it’s awful. We have a sneaky trick to a good base. Get your bread maker to do the kneading cycle on either your own bread recipe or supermarket bread mix. So much better. And fresh. And you can claim homemade.
The tomato sauce. At its simplest level, this can be San Marzano tomatoes straight out of the tin, possiby warmed. Alternatively, my easy pasta sauce: heat a tin of tomatoes, a crushed garlic clove, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a small handful of chopped basil. Heat until the olive oil is blended in and the sauce is bubbling slightly.
Mozzarella. This can range from the supermarket’s own up to artisan burrata. There’s not much to choose here. It melts and is slightly burned. As long as it’s cheesy and stringy, you’re fine.
Toppings is where it gets really funky. My favourite place has the following toppings at the moment:
Margherita. As simple as it gets.
Goats cheese and chutney.
Pepperoni. A classic.
Laverbread, samphire, cockles, local artisan lardons. It’s Wales. What do you expect?
Nduja. A spicy, melty sausage. Very good.
A white, tomato-less one of some sort.
Equally, my favourite Pizza Express topping, the Veneziana:
Pine kernels, red onion, baby capers, black olives, sultanas. Such a lovely combination of sweet and savoury.
And finally on my list, the one that is the Marmite of pizza toppings:
Ham and pineapple. Do this with good artisan ham and the saltiness is offset by the slightly charred sweetness of the pineapple.
And there you have it. The werewithal to make your own pizza. For extra points, make a sourdough base!
Bay Leaves are funny things. Straight off the tree, they’re lovely and aromatic. Throw them into a beef casserole and RagÃ¹ and they disappear. But the weird thing is that even if they don’t have the up-front taste of dried, powdered cumin, or fresh coriander, you’d miss them if they were gone.
Essential recipes that use bay leaves are:
Beef stew. This is the jamie Oliver version and you can’t go far wrong with it. By all means add parsnips, swedes, turnips, more tomatoes, beer, some paprika. Very hard to mess this up.
Bolognese sauce. Another Jamie recipe that’s hard to get wrong. I like to add green pepper. I like the astringency. It’s just as good the day after, if not better.
I make no apologies for this, but it’s something that’s irritating me as we go round the supermarket. We mostly go around the edge, because that’s where the real food is to be found. The burgeoning of “free from” food is beginning to wind me up.
I’ve had my DNA tested by 23andme, I’ve lived a long time and I’m allergic or sensitive to nothing. All the foods I love are now coming under the gaze of the food police. So here’s a list of the things they want you to avoid and I think are awesome.
There are few things better than a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven, steaming and just smelling wonderful, or a naan bread out of the tandoor, slightly charred and just tasting of the high heat. Those glutens are what’s responsible for turning that flour into a slightly gooey, chewy mass that’s so good slathered in butter or waiting to be dipped into a curry. I’ll keep that, I’m not coeliac.
Low-Fat or Saturated Fat-Free
Physically, I’m medium build and not overweight. I have a slight belly from the beer, but which man doesn’t? So as a normal functioning human who doesn’t always have to put the pie in the pie hole, low-fat makes no sense. The fact that fat is saturated makes no difference to me, you need a degree of fat in your diet to function plus it makes everything taste better. I recently had my blood tested and I’m basically immortal.
Dairy-Free and Lactose-Free
This one makes no sense to me. I’m not lactose intolerant, I have no aversion to lactose and milk is full of nutrition. I was raised on full-fat Jersey milk, there was a Milk Marketing Board to make us “drinka pinta milka day”, and having a glass of milk straight out of the fridge was a delight. There was a time I drank semi-skimmed but looking back it was so watery as to be pointless. These days we use full-fat milk and I’ve been known to buy “gold top” style milk or even raw milk from the farmer’s market.
I like nuts whether I’m shelling them at Christmas where they lurk at the bottom of the fruit bowl or whether they’re an ingredient in cakes or biscuits. They are also incredibly nutritious. Take pecans for example from https://ilovepecans.org.
Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals â€“ including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc.
I don’t get this one at all. I was raised on cockles and winkles and I love mussels, cockles, scallops and the rest. An oyster tried to kill me once so we’ll gloss over that. When they’re fresh out of the sea, they’re amazing, fresh and taste of the sea. Great stuff. Then we get on to the likes of crab and lobster which if served right are lovely. Lashings of butter in the case of lobster, by the seaside in the case of crab. Or, as we can get locally here, tempura soft-shell crab. The local lobsters are rather nice too.
Supposedly, a compromised immune system, like having had a course of antibiotics, can lead an excess of yeast and give you candida. For me, I can’t imagine missing out on a class of foods like wine, beer, bread, soy sauce, vinegar and so on. I really hope I don’t ever suffer from this one.
Much modern food panic centres around salt in our diet. For me, salt is firmly in my “makes everything taste better” bucket along with butter. Don’t overdo it and certainly don’t eat processed food too often and you’ll be fine. I have a spouse who complains loudly if I under-salt things, so I need to keep on top of seasoning. As a supertaster, the salt in things like mayonnaise or ketchup are enough for me but not for mere muggles. Still, one batch of, say, potato chips/fries with lots of salt won’t kill you. Drink plenty of water and those fantastic detox organs the liver and kidneys will do the job for you. And you’ll live.
Any time I hear someone talking against GMO, they go straight into the arse bucket. Genetic modification is something we’ve been doing for centuries. That lovely sweet corn slathered in butter? It started out as no more than a grass and we bred it to what it is today. The wheat that makes your lovely hipster sourdough loaf? A hundred years ago it was very different. Golden rice is going to provide vitamin A to developing countries an save thousands of lives if the anti-GMO woo-mongers get squashed as they should. So GMO, please.
Sugar, along with fat, is something we’ve evolved to crave. From sweets/candies to excellent patisserie to decadent desserts, we can’t get enough. Sugar is one of Jamie Oliver’s bugbears. If you live the life out of Shameless, your food will be loaded with sugar. Diabetes UK points out how much sugar is in what we drink and how it’s contributing to diabetes. The answer to this is quite simple: don’t drink sugar-laden fizzy drinks, only have desserts occasionally and eat fruit (“natural” sugar). Don’t get me started on sugar alternatives. Aspartame? Bleargh.
Sorry, you don’t get this one. If you’re addicted, fine, avoid alcohol. You could even go as far as avoiding soy sauce with 2% alcohol. I get it. But some of us just don’t have that addict gene. I smoked as a teen and stopped dead. My father smoked unfiltered cigarettes from the age of ten and stopped dead at sixty. No cancer. I just like wine, beer, whisky and most everything else. I want sherry in my trifle like I want real vanilla in my ice cream. Leave my booze alone!
I can understand this one. It’s part and parcel of the “ethically raised” meme and should lead to more wholesomely raised meat. However, The American Meat Science website reckons there’s not a lot in it:
All meat should be free of antibiotic residues, so it should all be â€œantibiotic free.â€
Farmers may choose to use antibiotics to treat or prevent sickness in animals. Even if an animal is given an antibiotic, farmers and processors must allow a specific amount of time to pass before that animal is legal to slaughter. This â€œwithdrawal periodâ€ allows time for the animalâ€™s body to metabolize the antibiotic and the residues to exit the animalâ€™s system before it is harvested.
Organic is one of my bugbears. First up it’s not “pesticide-free”. There is a small armoury that’s allowed to be used. The Independent said in 2008:
For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil forever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans â€“ exposure can cause Parkinson’s disease. But none of these “natural” chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming.
If there is a “cocktail effect” it would first show up in farmers, but they have among the lowest cancer rates of any group. Carcinogenic effects of pesticides could show up as stomach cancer, but stomach cancer rates have fallen faster than any other. Sixty years ago, all Britain’s food was organic; we lived only until our early sixties, malnutrition and food poisoning were rife. Now, modern agriculture (including the careful use of well-tested chemicals) makes food cheap and safe and we live into our eighties.
Finally, one I approve of. To my wife’s chagrin, we lurk at the local farmer’s markets. Get to know the local suppliers of food. Here, we are well served by local fruit and vegetable growers, meat suppliers, apiarists, cheese and dairy supplier and so on. OK, so they’re organic but I won’t hold that against them. I love the yellow and purple carrots that actually taste as carrots should. The local quinces are nice when they’re in season too. Raw milk is so tasty. OK, so we don’t get local peaches or olives but the celeriac and the Celtic Pride beef more than make up for that.
This blog post was written with the assistance of Grammarly. Aside from criticising my normal writing technique, it had many other suggestions on what to improve. If you write in Traditional English or Simplified English it has you covered. It’s free to start and there’s an app for your desktop or Firefox.
Tofu in itself isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But that doesn’t stop a billion or more Chinese, Japanese and vegetarians around the world eating it. It comes in many textures from silky to solid. The one we pick up is solid and once it has the liquid drained from it, is a good dish for everything from this panko tofu, to ma po tofu, to adding to soup. Even if it’s bland in itself, it absorbs flavours from the sauces around it.
We cook this when we’re going through a non-meat phase. The leftovers made a good lunch in a wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, cucmber, hoummous and chilli sauce, like you would with falafel.
Ingredients, serves 2
200 g tofu, drained and cubed
2-3 tbsp oil.
Drain the tofu. Press it with kitchen rolls until the liquid is gone then cut into chopstick-sized cubes.
Prepare your flour. It could be plain, with salt and pepper or as I like it with paprika and dried garlic, the two herbs and spices I use most of in my kitchen.
Crack one or two eggs in a bowl and beat.
Prepare your panko for coating.
Fry in the oil until brown and crispy.
Serve with the vegetable of choice. Last night we had al-dente broccoli with sesame oil and sesame seeds, a combination I like. Spinach works just as well. Wilt spinach with a kettle full of boiling water and again, give it some sesame oil and sesame seeds.
The crispy cubes of tofu go well with dips such as sweet chilli sauce and oyster sauce.
This recipe works just as well with slabs of pork for tonkatsu, or even pork chops. With chops, being thicker, give them 5 minutes in the oven at 200C to finish off and cook properly through the middle.
So there you have one of our meat-free dishes. This will certainly be in the cookbook!
This Japanese Flaked Mackerel with Vegetables a variation of this dish which has become one of our staples since mackerel turns up often on the supermarket last day shelf and freezes so well. This dish thrives on the basis that “soy/mirin/sake makes everything better”.
We originally got our recipe from [easyazon_link identifier=”1840917431″ locale=”UK” tag=”thenomr03-21″]Everyday Harumi: Simple Japanese food for family and friends[/easyazon_link] which is a great repository of Japanese recipes. Panko pork, oh yes.
I have to say though, that chopping the vegetables is a royal pain in the neck. It’s fiddly and time consuming. Fine if you get into the zone and don’t worry about time.
Chop the ginger and with a teaspoon scrape the flesh off the mackerel.
Put the skins to simmer in a pint of water with soy, miso, salt and so on for a nice fishy miso soup to go with the mackerel.
Chop the carrots, onions and mushrooms.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the mackerel and ginger and fry until the mackerel is opaque.
Side note, stainless steel frying pans can be pretty non-stick. The trick is to heat the pan before adding the oil. Something about the pits in the steel. You can see from our frying pan that is gets a lot of use!
Add the vegetables and simmer until they start softening. Then add all the liquids and miso and simmer gently, stirring, until the sauce is mostly absorbed.
Serve on the Japanese rice that’s been in your [easyazon_link identifier=”B00ABYI0IE” locale=”UK” tag=”thenomr03-21″]Rice Cooker[/easyazon_link]. You DO have a rice cooker, right? That and the [easyazon_link identifier=”B01HMITHY2″ locale=”UK” tag=”thenomr03-21″]bread machine 23620, 600 W – Black[/easyazon_link]are the two devices that get use in our house.
The resident Asian in our house is quite picky about her rice. Obviously Taiwanese rice is amazing (it is) but a close second is Japanese short-grain rice which in Europe can be grown in Italy, California or Texas or anywhere suitable. Our preferred brand is NishikiÂ (in a 10kg bag, thank you Amazon) but we’ve also used Yakuta. Basmati rice is a dirty secret here.
Have you ever wondered how to make felafel? Felafel is one of those things you don’t think too much about, especially after a night on the tiles.
Being British, it probably came to the UK both with our adventures in the Middle East and also with immigration. Certainly it didn’t enter the English language until 1941. In Arabic, it’s ÙÙ„Ø§ÙÙ„â€Ž.
I’ve had really nice felafel wraps on the Edgware Road in London and elsewhere. Wikipedia says the origin is shrouded in the mists of history, and is not “owned” by any one country: it’s disputed by Egypt, Israel, the Lebanon and so on.
This recipe turned out quite “rough” in my kitchen but was no worse for that. My food processor, whilst being pretty rubbish did a passable job.
The one recipe I’ve made a slightly coarse version of was from Epicurious.
1 400g tin Chickpeas
1 Onion (chopped)
4 Cloves Garlic
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Chilli
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Baking Powder
6 tbsp Flour
Pickled Chilli, Cornichon
Throw that lot except the flour into a food processor, blend until it’s a slightly lumpy paste and add the flour. Form into balls. I got 15 or so out of mine. Deep fry in batches in 2″-3″ hot oil until golden and crispy on the outside.
Then this is where I diverge from the Epicurious recipe. First of all, I think a wrap is better than a pita. Then the content inside the wrap will be hoummous, shredded iceberg or Romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato. If you can summon a pickled chilli like you get with a kebab, so much the better. A gherkin if not.
You should end up with a nicely wrapped thing with the crisp of the felafel inside. Lovely!
After Googling, I’m none the wiser wheere felafel came from. Any idea how such a disputed dish ended up in the UK? I’m going with our Middle Eastern adventures.
We had some Quorn mince in the freezer. Quorn is not the worst thing in the world. We survived on it when my daughter went through the obligatory vegetarian phase in her teens.
I have entered arguments about what constitutes a Bolognese vs. a RagÃ¹ and this leans more to the RagÃ¹ since it has a tin of tomatoes thrown in.
We start by chopping a couple of cloves of garlic and a couple of small onions. Or one large one. Fry them in olve oil until they are translucent. At this point I also like to add a chopped green pepper sometimes, I find the flavour contrast quite nice. Once that’s all done, throw in half a cup of red wine and some tomato paste and let that reduce.
Finally, throw in 1tbsp of “Italian Seasoning” herbs, a tin of chopped tomatoes and as much Quorn (100g-200g?) as you want and 1tsp of salt and pepper.
A 1/4 tsp of chilli is quite contentious in my house. I find a little heat sets off the flavour of the tomatoes quite nicely. 1tbsp of sugar is a little less contraversial.
Let this simmer for at least half an hour to reduce some of the juice from the tomatoes. What you may find is that the Quorn is a little glutinous and made the sauce a little thicker all on its own.
The next big question is which pasta to serve it with. My answer is: it doesn’t matter. If you serve it with any of spaghetti, penne or tagliatelle, no-one is going to come after you. Just make sure it’s good pasta. Allegedly Barilla brand is the best with Napolina More importantly, apparently, is to save a couple of tbsp of the cooking water and add it back to the pasta. The gluten in the water helps the sauce stick to the pasta. I have no evidence for this!
When serving, top with fresh basil and some grated parmesan. Serve with a nice Chianti and a side salad of choice, maybe some garlic bread.
There you have it! One of my store cupboard staples.
I’m British. I love sweet and sour. Bite me. Last night we had chicken in the fridge, and a small can of pineapple chunks in the cupboard so what better to do but sweet and sour chicken? Actually, sweet and sour pork would have been marginally better, but whatever.
Dinner was actually a mashup of two recipes. This one gave lovely, crispy, chicken balls:
I was quite surprised at how good they actually where. The combination of self-raising flour, cornflour, garlic powder, salt, pepper, sugar and bicarb made for a really crunchy exterior. Definitely keep the sauce apart from the chicken otherwise it’ll go soggy.
For the sauce, it’s basically a sweeter, more vinegary version of a barbecue sauce. It’s similar in the sense it excites my taste buds just as much, and we go to the great BBC for this one, which was on point:
I have fond memories of taking a walk in the evening with my then girlfriend and future first wife, passing the Chinese takeaway, getting a couple of spring rolls and a cup of sweet and sour sauce. Good times.
Taiwanese Sweet and Sour
My new wife doesn’t regard Cantonese as “proper” Chinese, it’s just some regional thing and nowhere near as good as Taiwanese cooking. I beg to differ. I’ve also had sweet and sour in Taiwan and that was REALLY good. Less sweet and LOADS of garlic in the sauce. So maybe I’m agreeing.
This is the legendary Taiwan Duck’s Taiwanese take on it:
I cook a lot. I also eat a lot and I even have a cookbook coming out as soon as I can persuade the illustrator to put some pretty pictures in. The big question is, which web sites do I go for recipes to cook whatever I just got from the supermarket?
9/10 times I got to the internet, even though I have a fair fewÂ books on my shelves. The exception being a few recipes that are now standards.
http://bbcgoodfood.com/ – My go-to sites are the BBC, obviously. Auntie permeates British culture so much, it’s hard to avoid. It also has great google-fu so it tends to come high up in searches.
Ken Hom – Introduced us to cooking Cantonese. Which we all know is a British cuisine.
Madhur Jaffrey -Â for Indian food, the other British cuisine. She doesn’t appear to have her own web site. How retro.
Linda McCartney – Introduced me to living without meat, thanks teenage daughter. Until I got Asian girlfriends, then it wasnâ€™t a goer. The Japanese made me eat fish, the Taiwanese made me eat meat again!
Let’s talk about the Sunday roast. Funny thing about true indigenous British cuisine is how sparse and rare it is. Even that great traditional British dish of Fish and Chips is a Portuguese/Jewish import apparently.
We do other people’s cuisine like Indian and Cantonese pretty well and you won’t starve with Italian, French and so on restaurants abounding. There are some niche things: we do meat and fish really well. Lamb, beef, cod, haddock, mussels, lobster. We do some decent cheeses whether it’s Cheddar, Lancashire, Caerphilly and so on. We have some nice faux Bries and Stilton or similar of course.
I think the one dish that’s survived the centuries is the Sunday Roast. Take a slab of meat, chicken or duck, throw it in the oven, cook roast potatoes, some vegetables, probably carrots, some greens like cabbage or Brussels sprouts and something like celeriac, swede or parsnips. Chicken skin I like powdered with paprika, dried garlic, salt and pepper. Pork crackling with just salt. If your crackling doesn’t crisp up, at the end, separate it from the meat, crank up the oven to 230C, put on a tray and roast some more. Beef might be dusted with salt and dry mustard.
Don’t forget stuffing. You can get really creative with this.
The second most important part is roast potatoes. I’ve wrestled with many minor variations. First up, choose a potato variety. I favour King Edwards. They have a lovely flavour. Pretty much any variety will do though. Maris Piper, Rudolph, some random Welsh white or red should be fine. Peel and parboil for 10-15 minutes. While that’s going on, put fat into a roasting tray and pre-warm in the oven at 200C.
A big question is what fat to use. Recently I’ve been using a mix of butter and olive oil, but you can just as easily use duck or goose fat or rapeseed oil. After the potatoes are par-boiled, drain them and let them dry. Give them a good shake to fluff up the edges. Take the roasting tray out of the oven, add the potatoes, cover with oil and put back in the oven. They should take between 45 minutes to an hour to emerge as fluffy, golden goodness awaiting sea salt.
THE most important part is the gravy. Hopefully you’ve made the stock yourself with onion, garlic, carrots, celery and any other vegetable trimmings. Or just use a good quality stock cube or stock pot. Add wine of course, and some soy sauce for umami. Take the tray you roasted your meat in, hopefully there’s lots of fat that escaped the meat while cooking. Add flour to make a roux. Cook that a little, then slowly add possibly more wine, then the stock you made until you have nice thick gravy oozing with flavour.
Don’t forget salt. Salt makes everything better. And let the meat rest! 10-15 minutes will let the meat relax and reabsorb some juice. Or emit more juice you can put in the gravy.
Serve everything up, drown in tasty gravy and enjoy! Give credit to Maillard where it’s due and enjoy the tastiness.