Garlic

Hipster garlic

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.

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves are funny things. Straight off the tree, they’re lovely and aromatic. Throw them into a beef casserole and Ragù 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.

The BBC would have us try sole wrapped in prosciutto with bay leaf sauce.I’m not convinced how that would work out.

As an alternative, a bay seasoning to leek and potato soup. That’s more normal.

In the Guardian Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a few ideas. These involve mackerel, lentils and burnt cream. Two out of three isn’t bad.

Great British Chefs hasn’t got anything featuring bay. Likewise Delia Smith.

Again, the BBC recommends bay-infused olive oil. I like that. Might give it a stab next time the tree gets trimmed.

So there you have it. Very little that features bay, but lots of recipes that include it.

“Free from” Food

free range lemonade
Used courtesy http://somenamenottaken.com/comic/modern-lemonade/

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.

gluten freeGluten-Free

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.

Nut-Free

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.

atrificial additives

Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc.

Seafood-Free

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.

organic cheeseYeast-Free

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.

Low-Sodium

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.

Non-GMO

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-Free

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.vegan

Alcohol-Free

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!

Hormone-Free

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 “antibiotic free.”

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 “withdrawal period” allows time for the animal’s body to metabolize the antibiotic and the residues to exit the animal’s system before it is harvested.

free fromOrganic

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 – 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.

And:

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.

Local

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.

Credits

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.

Felafel

Felafel

Felafel

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 فلافل‎.

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.

Felafel

  • 1 400g tin Chickpeas
  • 1 Onion (chopped)
  • Handful Parsley
  • Handful Coriander
  • 4 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Chilli
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 6 tbsp Flour

Fillings

  • Hoummous
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Pickled Chilli, Cornichon
  1. 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.

Classic Bolognese/Ragù/Tomato Sauce

It was decided we would have a vegetarian dinner since we’d been having meat just a little too often, despite my O- blood group being allegedly quite meat oriented. It’s bullshit, but what the heck.

Fried Onions

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 Ragù and this leans more to the Ragù since it has a tin of tomatoes thrown in.

Method

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.

Tomato Sauce

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.

The flexibility of a chicken

Roast chickenSometimes you’re walking past the last day shelf in Tesco and a chicken for £2.50 just leaps out at you, you just can’t avoid it!

You think “I can get at least four meals out of it for the two of us!” And you do! As an example meal plan:

  1. A proper Sunday roast. Beautiful crispy roast potatoes, some fresh seasonal vegetables or two. I still haven’t cracked the secret to lovely crunchy potatoes here, but given a variety like King Edwards, they will still be tasty. It’s summer so we just picked up some broad beans from the farmer’s market. Don’t forget the gravy! I should pontificate at length on gravy at another point.Leftover chicken
  2. Then do something with the leftovers. In this case a chicken pie but I was too lazy to make the lid ? This one had some frozen peas, and chopped red pepper in. And obviously, that thing that makes everything better, sweetcorn. You can put in pretty much anything you like. Chop up a leek or throw in left over vegetables. Swede on the side is a nice touch, and fry up left over roast potatoes. Obviously, with the bones, you’ll get between a pint and a litre of stock. You can either just boil the bones or throw in some garlic, chopped onion, carrots, celery, herbs and so on.
  3. Then, with that stock, make soup! Possibly with some leftover gravy added for extra flavour. This soup has noodles, an egg mixed in, some veggies and a soft boiled egg. We get through the eggs in this house! Cantonese chicken and sweetcorn has been perpetrated in this house and that’s good too,
  4. Last but not least, you’ll probably have a chicken breast left over. That’s easy to dispose of: a chicken sandwich. Me, I like nice fresh bread and mango chutney. That’s the right combination of solid and savoury. The other option is to load it up with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise. Either way.On the bread note, we mostly make our own. Either from the components or supermarket mix, and throw it in the bread maker. Good fresh bread for half the price.

And that’s how you get four meals out of some discounted chicken!

Some good links out there:

There’s plenty you can do with a chicken: lemons, put vegetables in the roasting tin. Me, I put smoked paprika and garlic salt on the skin before rubbing with olive oil. The skin is the best bit. Or just buy the thighs and roast them!

HelloFresh recipe box – review, tasty

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 21.14.54There was a half price bargain to be had, so we took the plunge and got a couple of HelloFresh boxes at half price. Tuesday morning they arrived by truck incredibly well packed. The refrigerables packeded in insulated bags and all the other ingredients portioned into little boxes of a size appropriate to the recipes, or in some case more.

Over two boxes, the recipes we got were:

  • Paprikás Csirke – a Hungarian paprika chicken dish. A dash of honey and soy sauce at the end, lifted the dish somewhat.
  • Beef Enchiladas – There were enough tortillas left over, we had this again for lunch again the following day. Probably my favourite.
  • Pan Fried Chicken with tarragon sauce – a simple sauce of tarragon simmered in crème fraîche.
  • Honey mustard sausages with read onion gravy – the sausages were tiny and the gravy a cheaty version of the one I do, but the real revelation here was cabbage that was quartered, fried lightly then baked in the oven in stock. This I will cook again!
  • Jamie’s grilled chicken with green bean salad – fairly classic, lemony Jamie.
  • Salmon baked on a bed of walnut-herby mushrooms with cerleriac fries. Sorry, there’s nothing to commend celeriac, it’s a vegetable of winter desperation. The mushrooms however, were awesome.  The texture of the nuts and the flavour of lots of fresh herbs. Amazing.

So there we have it. Would I do it again? Probably not. The recipes were easy enough but nothing you couldn’t do with a recipe book and a supermarket. I think my expectations were for more umami and more exotic flavours. Good enough though and if I were a busy executive with a career, wife and mistress, it might be tempting. 3/5.

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From Asparagus to Jersey Royals! Spring food in England.

English asparagusAutumn is like lady bountiful, great food every where. But for me, spring is the one, when we’re emerging from an impossibly long winter, blinking into nice light evenings, sitting outside the pub or cafe, maybe, and enjoying the coming of the summer. Oh, and the seeds for autumnal bounty are sprouting. For me, the joy of spring was reflected partly in the bounty from this week’s farmers market and partly from the greengrocer:

  • English asparagus. Early in the season, costing maybe £3.50 from the farmers market, later on, £1 from the supermarket for a bunch
  • Jersey Royal potatoes. Those creamy, earthy nuggets slathered in butter
  • Rhubarb. Preferably the slim, forced type, cook to a compote and then put in a crumble

Then, the usual farmer’s market bounty:

  • A chicken!
  • Cavolo Nero, kale, purple sprouting broccoli
  • Carrots
  • 3-seed brown bread like a brick
  • Eggs. Always better than anything you can get from a supermarket
  • Sausages and bacon, the same
  • The butter was disappointing!

So, 2-3 days locavore-ish eating, for not much more than we’d pay in the supermarket. Score!

Do you use a farmer’s market? What do you like to get? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Goulash London style and a heresy

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A friend said he was cooking this which immediately gave me a yearning.

First thing was that my paprika was supermarket and stale, so I ventured to the Spice Shop in Brighton, purveyor of all things herby, spicy and tasty.

Then it starts getting religious: is it a soup or a stew? Sour cream or not? Served with potatoes, rice, pasta, dumpling or some form of bread? Whose grandmother is the one true queen of goulash?

Ultimately, it seems to me at least, it boils down to distinguishing it from any other beef stew and that means NO WINE and NO tomatoes, however tempting that may be. The guardian recipe recommends faffing with green peppers, I didn’t and they were fine. Use lots of onions, they cook right down to the volume doesn’t matter. For a pound of meat, at least three, fried gently. IMG_1332

Hungarian joke: “what do you want for dinner tonight to go with your sour cream?”

Having stocked up on shiny new paprika it was disappointing to find that my caraway was dead. The end result was good enough but we both thought “needed mushrooms”.

Last night I did it again my way:

  • Put in a bunch of quartered button mushrooms
  • Used most of a bottle of red wine (Hungarian! Undrinkable!)
  • Use a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Threw in a handful of pearl barley just because
  • Bought fresh caraway seeds
  • Scored beef shin from Morrisons which was fatty, marbled and so tender.
  • I threw in some garlic at the onion frying stage
  • I put a tablespoon of flour in with three of the paprika when coating before frying. Threw the unused in anyway
  • I made herby (with Greek oregano!) dumplings

I liked mine better.

Scones – Jam or Cream First?

SconesA rather unexpected kerfuffle blew up on my Facebook today after my wife put cream on the scone first and then followed it with jam. This, it seemed to me to be heresy. Jam gets much better traction on the dough and the cream sits on top. Images on flickr seem to be about 50/50 on the subject.

There was some talk of it being a Devon vs. Cornwall thing. Can these things really be that regional?