Archive for the 'me' Category

All change for 2011

Hello. Part of my ‘to do’ list over Christmas is to make a few changes around here.

As you may know www.foodjournalist.co.uk is my more work focused site, and most of my thoughts and rants go on twitter, consequently this ol’ place has gathered dust for much of 2010, indeed it never really got going again when I finished the Big British Food Map in 2008. I’ll be taking all the best food content from here and transferring it over to an archive.

Most of this blog will stay mind you, lest any GCSE media studies students or Mastermind Contestants want to look at ‘history of the BBC homepage 2003 – 2007’, though it’s a topic I can’t see being that popular. The rest will be deleted.

When I chose ‘eyedropper’ internet monikers and nom de plume were all the rage, now they’re rather passe.

Anyhoo, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and here’s to 2011. Merry Christmas.

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Damson jam, damn good

Damson Jam making

Big Bertha, my biggest pan, nearly comes a cropper with the bumper crop of damsons from my inlaw’s damson tree this year.

Damson Jam making

Molton hot jam, a baby crawling around the kitchen, what can possibly go wrong? It was like the start of Casualty before the ‘accident’ happens.

Damson Jam making

5 kg of fruit and 4kgs of sugar gave enough to fill 18 jars, two of them large Kilner jars. That’s Christmas sorted.

Food Britannia: Off cuts and left overs

My tome, over a year in the making, is nearly finished, you can pre-order a copy here (out Spring 2011)

Anyway, like self build furniture there’s always bits and bobs left over when writing a book. So some of them I’ve scrapped together here for your hopeful enjoyment.

When things go wrong

I’ve had to send things back, a very well done steak when I asked for it rare, a fondant potato that was rock solid in the centre, cold soup, funny tasting wine. I once found a small piece of cling film in a Eccles cake at a well respected London eatery, and in another pub restaurant run by a friend of a friend I broke a home-made biscuit from the cheese board in two to find a hair sticking out. A straight hair thankfully, if one can be thankful for finding a hair at all in ones food.
This happened again in a pizza restaurant in Islington, only this time I found out too late. I can’t tell you how gag inducing a pizza crust with a long hair in it is when wrapped around your back teeth like a dental floss.
In all these cases my default position is that kitchens and restaurants are staffed by human beings, and we all make mistakes. I find assuming a neutral matter-of-fact position rather than either a meek excuse me, or a booming Michael Winner style allows space for the staff to correct the error. Hectoring staff into a corner does no one any favours. However if you’ve given them ample chance to correct matters and you’re still not happy, vent your spleen before taking your stomach and wallet elsewhere. You should pay for what you’ve eaten and drunk up to that point however, excluding the offending article, but most resaturant managers at this point probably just want you out.
You should feed back to staff however. Diners do themselves and the venue a disservice by not voicing complaints, comments and observations at the time, only to screech invective into the internet when they get home , “We sat there for an hour” comments help no one, you’re not strapped into the chair. Someone once told me that Michael Winner takes his napkin in his hand (he only eats in the sort of places that have large cloth ones), raises his arm and twirls it around his head. You’d be amazed how quickly waiters come rushing.
Of course different rules apply when eating at friends or acquaintances homes. I’ve been to lunches that didn’t start till 5 pm due to ban planning, by which time everyone’s starving or drunk or both. Other times the food laid on has been ‘near’, as my mother-in-law would say, meaning a stop of at the chip shop on the way home. Maybe I’m just a glutton, but when you invite people over and they bring a bottle, at least send them home full.
I’ve not got a 100% record in the kitchen either mind. I’ve had chicken thighs not cook properly – a swift apology and back in the oven with them is the best response. And I once spent an age making falafels from scratch only for them to hit the hot oil and disintegrate leaving me with a chickpea silt at the bottom of the pan. When things like this happen, send out more bread. Good bread and butter is your dinner party safety net.
But without doubt the worse meal I ever had was years ago in Budapest.  The guidebook said something along the lines of ’see Budapest before it becomes just another capital city of a western European social democracy’. My advice would be give it a few more years… and go in the spring. I thought I’d be safe in a Belgian place, how wrong I was. Hungary being a landlocked country the mussels were always going to be a risk. Small, over cooked and nothing like the plump almost milky ones I’ve experienced in Brussels. But worse was the snail starter. Now I love snails, they’re great with loads of garlic butter, perhaps it’s a Walloon tradition, but snails don’t work so well in a mushroom sauce. Why? Well they’re both grey and a bit slimy, and the later ends up making the former taste tough by virtue of association. Worse was the hideous presentation though, carved nipples of raw carrot and strips of red onion forming some sort of semicolon on the plate, alternate lemon and red pepper slices held firm by some cold mashed swede, and the dusting of dry week-old parsley. I paid up, slithered out and didn’t leave a tip.

The British Pie Awards…

…and the mysterious dissappearace of Elisabeth Luard.

British Pie Awards 2010

I (and my fellow judges) ate all the pies

It is to Mrs Luard that I owe the slight queazy feeling in my stomach this evening. I was invited to be a judge at the second British Pie Awards sponsored by Colmans held in St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray. Upon arriving I was duly assigned to judge class 12, Football pies. My fellow judges were George Mount, Proprietor, Roots Farm Shop and Sean Hope Chef & proprietor, The Olive Branch at Clipsham and The Red Lion at Stathern as well as the elusive Mrs Luard who sadly didn’t show up.  Consequently instead of splitting into two teams of two and tackling 18 odd pies between us, the three of us had to tackle all 37 pies. That’s right today I’ve sampled 37 pies from football grounds around Britain.

This class was open to any baker or butcher supplying any football ground. The pie could me made up of any ingredients as long as the finished weight was under 600g. They were to be judged hot – Game on.

The tasting was all done blind, but our winner turned out to be a steak and potato pie made by J.W Mettrick and Sons for Glossop North End. It was a cracking pie, although there was a great chicken curry entry, and a fantastic steak and ale one in which you could really taste the booze but sadly let down by poor pastry.

A great day though, well organised and held again in St Mary’s Church in the centre of the town. This year all entries were judged in the church itself, will the pews cleared out. Though there’s not a religious bone in my body is was nice to see a church being put to use like this, smelling of warm pastry and festooned in bunting.

Supreme pie of pies went – again – to Walkers Charnwood Bakery, and Elisabeth owes me a pack of Rennie.

British Pie Awards 2010

Ian with the winner

The Sportsman Birthday Lunch

The plaudits for The Sportsman in Seasalter near Whitstable, are legion. In a nutshell it’s a pub doing simply brilliant food. Many a diner has booked a day return to Whitstable, or trundled down the A2 to enjoy it’s hospitality. And so if you’re interested in good British food, you’d be remiss not to pay it a visit. Consequently it seemed the natural choice for a birthday lunch.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

We got there early, and so with 20 mins to kill we introduced ourselves to the locals.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Once inside, seated and whistle whetted by a pint of Early Bird Spring Hop Ale the tasting menu began. First up, pork scratchings and herring on soda bread

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Next came smoked turbot roe with homemade cheese and nettle puree. This went down well with my 10 month old daughter.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

The ever wonderful breads and homemade butter put in an appearance

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

A Baked oyster with Jersey cream and rhubarb granita was brilliant, rhubarb taking the place of a squeeze of lemon in providing a citrus hit. And gentle baking oysters adds to their creaminess. Again, popular with the nipper.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

This was a delight, in the little tart was a curry style sauce that offered a little warmth.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

OMG a little Dover sole with smoked chilli butter – stunning

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

The Sportsman’s home cured ham, with explanatory note. (There was more when it arrived, but we set about it before I’d picked up the camera.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

The booze.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Brill, with a smoked herring sauce. “It’s not often you see nice grey food” said Kate.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Lamb breast, breadcrumbed with mint sauce. Which was rather sweet, in a good way.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Lamb three ways with horseraddish greens.

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Lemon posset, again popular with the little one

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Lemon tart and ice-cream

Birthday Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter. Kent

Happy birthday to me!  A nice final touch, and in all, a truly excellent lunch.

A tasting menu is an opportunity for a chef to tell you their story, to showcase their wares and take you on a bit of an adventure. Stephen does this and more I believe. He uses it as a medium for the conveying of happiness, that’s what this meal was to me, four hours of indulgence, laughter and enjoyment.

Pot Heston

In tonight’s episode of Heston’s Feasts things go back to the 70s. However that doesn’t mean a three day week, eating by candle lights, and the rubbish piled up in the street outside. Instead he’s concentrating on things such as Angel Delight, Smash, and Pot Noodle. Curry Flavour Pot Noodle was known as ‘Cuzzah Pot Noog’ in our house when I was a teenager, and formed part of a Friday night ritual. Of course eating pot noodle always left me looking like an Ood from Doctor Who, noodles all down my chin. Needless to say I’ve not had one for years, like acne and awkwardness with girls, Pot Noodles in my mind are a phase you go through. Unlike the rest of the series so far I’ve not seen a preview of this episode so it’ll be interesting to see what he does. (you can catch previous episodes on 4oD)

And next week, we’re in the 1980s, which to me means either nouvelle cuisine or the sexual chemistry of Anthony Head and a cup of Nescafe… But until then below are some PR shots of Heston’s 1970s Pot Heston.

Pot Heston

Heston making Pot Heston

Iron Chef UK

Culinary Super Heroes ready to take on all comers

Iron chef, the hit Japanese → US culinary cage fight is finally coming to Channel 4 on April 26th. This is a foodie ‘Battle Royale’ with pride -as well as £1000 – at stake. The format, for those of you that don’t know is thus. The four resident Iron Chefs – Tom Aikens, Martin Blunos, Judy Joo and Sanjay Dwivedi – take on challengers from kitchens all over the UK to create dishes that will impress ‘The Chairman’ and a table of judges. Ringmaster to the whole event is Olly Smith who does a commentary aided by Nick Nairn. This is food as sport.

Each hour-long bout has a main ingredient that must feature in the dishes, and whereas the four challengers create two starters and two mains, the Iron Chef has to create all four. From the preview episode I saw there’s tension and drama mixed with some Banzi style interjections from the chairman and Olly which offer some comic relief. It’s fun to watch, and will hopefully do well in that early evening slot.

To find out a bit more I had at chat with Iron Chef Sanjay Dwivedi about the show and his cooking. It’s obvious from the start that he really loved the challenge of Iron Chef. “What was amazing, and I think better than the American version, was the set. When I first saw it I was shocked. …. it looks sexy”.More than that though he hopes people will not only enjoy the contest, but also attempt the dishes at home. “It’s a fun cooking programme, where people can learn a lot as well”. I ask him what was the hardest challenge. “One of the secret ingredients I got was eggs, it was a tough one that one, I steamed a poached egg, and served it with truffles” And it seems the more mundane ingredients needed that something extra from the Iron Chefs. In one episode, Tom Aikens gets minced beef as his secret ingredient and his heart sinks, he does however rise to the challenge.

We move on to talk about Sanjay’s cooking. “I came from a strict French background, and my palatte was very European” He tells me that he didn’t really have a lot of indian friends, and that his partner is French. It’s a happy union of two food lovers “Food is such a big thing for us, it’s a big part of out spending money. Before we had the kids, what ever money I earned I spent on food.”

Sanjay Dwivedi at Zaika

Sanjay started in a consultancy role at Zaika when it opened in 1999, in 2005 he became head chef/patron. “I’d never cooked Indian food as a professional basis until I came here. So for example, I was the first the Indian restaurant to introduce a tasting menu, and I’ll do it with wine.  But because I came from that classical background I said why fucking not.  Now it’s the done thing, but think about it 12 years ago, it was a big risk”  Today he has a nine course gourmet menu, and a seven course tasting menu, and now it accounts for nearly 50% of orders.

On the unique history of Indian food in the UK Sanjay says this. “Why did Indian food become popular? Simply because it was cheap, it was edible, you could abuse the waiters, and it was the only place that would serve you [booze] after 11 o’clock apart from Chinatown! Now why was it cheap? Because they used the cheapest cuts of meat – battery chicken – with some red colouring and lots of spices so you’re not tasting anything, you’re just eating.”

He acknowledges however and businessmen behind the endevour. “The thing is they’re the clever ones, who at the end of the day saw a niche in the market, all these owners, uneducated, who perhaps couldn’t speak much English, but with their hard work, drive a Mercedes everyday and buy another house.”

It’s an sterotypical flock wallpapered image we’re all familiar with, and a world away from a restaurant like Sanjay’s “you need to taste what you pay for, you pay for your scallops, your chicken, your lamb, You don’t pay for your fucking spices, because believe me, for £17.50 you’ll have a bag of spice that’ll last you a year!”

Naan at Zaika

We move into the kitchen where the staff are getting ready for the evening’s service, It’s a fantastically mixed bunch of Nepalese, Chinese, and Indian. On a low hob there’s a massive cauldron of chicken stock reducing. The usual bird carcasses and veg are joined by cardamon pods and other spices.  I pause to admire the tandoori ovens while one of the staff makes me a naan flavoured with goats cheese. I’m forever impressed at the skill of the tandoori oven, getting bread to stick on the sides without falling off or getting stuck takes real skill. Sanjay and I have just enough time for a whistle stop tour of his stores and fridges before the printer spurts out the first cheque of the evening and the staff step it up a notch. I jokingly ask for my naan to takeaway, and the staff kindly wrap it for me, brilliant.

If you’re a fan of ‘contest’ style cookery shows with a table spoon of Japanese oddity, then Iron Chef UK will hit you square between the eyes.

Iron Chef starts on the 26th April 2010 on Channel 4. If you missed it you can catch it on 4oD


This blog is no longer being updated

I've left it here for historical purposes. Please visit my new blog at www.foodjournalist.co.uk

DISCLAIMER

These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
November 2017
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