Saturday, 14 January 2017
We’re not even halfway through January yet and if you are anything like me, you may already be experiencing a certain malaise, or discomfort, with regards to the boom of healthy eating and exercising that traditionally explodes during this barren month. Inboxes get filled with diet plans, celebrities in spandex suddenly appear everywhere and all those gym bunnies begin to whinge on social media, about the new influx of resolutioners clogging up the Stairmaster. It’s fairly awful really. I mean it only feels like yesterday, when I last legitimately hunkered down on a turkey, Twiglet and whole Camembert sandwich. I mean seriously, do we have to go through all this?
Gadgets that are supposed improve, slim down and tone our portly bodies are probably my biggest pet hate. Objects of pain and misery, such as the ‘Abdominator’, the ‘Buttotromaphon’ and the ‘Spiralizer’. Oh yes, I spent the best part of 2016 positively sneering at that last piece of kit and the suggestion that ribboned beetroot is a fine substitute for pasta. The accompanying vapid, beatified smiles, airbrushed skin and general nutritional mumbo jumbo also got to me too. However, that is an easy thing to do. Especially when you look in the mirror and see Phil Mitchell staring back at you; in his pants and dressing gown, holding a doner kebab, with extra chilli sauce.
Yes, I must do something about my breakfasting this year, at the very least.
Then, during the Christmas break, I bought a spiralizer on a whim. And reader, it changed my life. Well, it changed an afternoon really, as I sort of plummeted into a frenzy, spiralizing whatever I could get my hands on. Carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, salami, the lot. My wife walked into the kitchen after getting home from work and saw mounds and mounds of twizzles and noodles everywhere. She was carrying a Christmas pudding, a gift from her boss, and I spiralized that too. It didn’t work very well but I was thoroughly turned on by the limitless opportunities a spiralizer could bring.
As an aside, I do get the whole deal behind them. Spiralizers volumise, giving the impression on plates that you are eating a big portion, when really it’s quite small. A useful aid when you are trying to lose weight, although small is not the word I’d use to describe the bowl of julienned potato I had leftover. You could reach the ceiling with just four spuds and after realising that I was making a wasteful mess of everything, I finally got down to doing some cooking, frying the potato off with some curly wurly onion and garlic. I then thought about adding some eggs, to bind everything together, with a dash of herbs and suddenly, we were heading into ‘frittata’ territory; that Italian go-to for fixing up (and quite often using up) something quick.
Up until that point, it was all looking quite healthy actually. But then I went and spoilt it all by doing something stupid like adding pepperoni and mozzarella. And lo, the Spirafrizzata was born. An open omelette, with noodled vegetables inside and spicy meat and oozing cheese on top.
It has become quite a hit in our house and if you are looking for an antidote to lift you out of the January blues, I am sure it will go down well in yours too.
And if you are trying to be good but getting peeved by those gym bunnies, tutting impatiently behind you, as you struggle to dismount the ‘Glutifaxicator’, just remind them that they were more than happy to use your pub in December. Before smiling and walking off with your tupperware box; full of spiralized radishes, spiralized bean sprouts and spiralized Toblerone.
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.
2 large potatoes, approximately 400g in weight, peeled
1 white onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 free-range eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
5 slices of pepperoni
100g of mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
3 tbsp of olive oil
First, you need to have a merry old time spiralizing your vegetables. So whizz your potatoes, courgette and onion through whatever spiralizing contraption you can get your hands on. You could always use a julienne blade on a mandoline, but you won’t have half as much fun.
After doing the potato ribbons, give them a quick soak in a bowl of cold water to remove excess starch. They will stick together when you come to cook them otherwise. Rinse, drain and dry in a colander or give the potatoes a spin in a salad spinner.
Next, place a non-stick frying pan on the hob over a medium heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and warm up before adding the onion. Gently stir for about 5 minutes, before adding the chopped garlic. Fry for another 2 minutes.
Scrape the onion and garlic out and place in a small bowl. Place the pan back on the hob, add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil then add the potato.
Turn the heat up a touch and briskly stir-fry the potato ribbons so they begin to soften and colour. Once they do, add the courgette and stir to combine. This can be tricky, so it helps to employ a fork to mix the two together.
After a couple of minutes, add the onion and garlic and again, stir through to combine, using a fork if necessary. Turn the heat down and leave to cook for another 2 minutes.
Crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk together. Add the oregano and season with some salt and pepper before giving the eggs another good mix.
Next preheat the grill in your oven to 200°C.
Pour the eggs all over the softened vegetables, giving the pan a gentle shake to make sure you get a nice even distribution. Leave to cook through from the bottom upwards – this takes about 10 minutes.
The top will still be a little bit runny after this time, so place the pan under to grill to firm up and finish cooking. Keep an eye on it though, as you don’t want it to brown too much.
To finish, place your pepperoni on top and dot the spaces in between with mozzarella. Give it one last blast under the grill, until the meat crisps and the cheese bubbles up.
When done, leave to cool in the pan until warm and then flip out onto a board. You may need to run a spatula around the edges. Serve with salad leaves and tomatoes. Or chips.
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
The one thing that I really love about this marvellous world of food of ours, is that it is always full of surprises. Surprises that can be found around the corner, down alleyways, up trees and well, everywhere really. My gob is perpetually smacked and I am forever learning, and I suspect that I will never ever stop. But nothing is more surprising than when you commit what seems to be a regular and fairly innocuous act and discover that for some, it amounts to some new culinary daring, a revelatory tick in the box, or eureka moment.
'Really?' I think to myself when it happens. 'I thought everyone did this?' But of course, we are not all the same, sadly. We all have different backgrounds, viewpoints, foibles and stupid, idiot opinions. Which is not to say that we shouldn't all try to get along though. The greatest challenge of the 2017 will be for us to unite, as a human race and put aside the inequity that casts a gloomy shadow over us, once and for all.
And now I am detracting, as per usual. Let's get back to the matter in hand. Namely crumpets and what you should put on them.
So yes, it all started with my slightly boastful, and not to mention greedy, shout over social media, that I was dining on toasted crumpets. With Captain America, at 10 in the evening. I also went the extra mile by grilling some cheddar on top and spritzing with Worcestershire sauce. Because eating late in day wasn't bad enough, I had to ensure that the nightmares would descend once I'd gone to bed.
After hitting send, immediately a chorus of 'Cheese on crumpets?' appeared. Yes, for a large number (roughly three people) this was apparently unusual in the extreme. Crumpets should only have a sweet sort of condiment as a topping by all accounts. Such as jam, or honey, or jam. The notion of popping on a savoury crown simply hadn't occurred to them. At the risk of sounding like a shill, I very nearly suggested to all three that they should head down to Dirty Bones in Shoreditch and try their frigging amazing crumpets, topped with slow cooked short rib, hollandaise and poached egg. Further education wouldn't even begin to describe this wonderful dish.
But I didn't. I simply went to bed and woke up several hours later, screaming in sweat-soaked sheets. Because Gordon Ramsay was chasing after me, around the cobbled streets of York, with a large satsuma in one hand and a leather paddle in the other.
It did prompt me to think deeply the next day though - what is the strangest thing that you can put on a crumpet? Were there any boundaries or no-no's to consider when it came to dressing this pitted patty of joy? Or could options indeed be limitless?
In the spirit of investigative and serious food journalism, I decided to ask Twitter and as a result, I've thrown together the following montage; a Buzzfeed-lite breakdown of opinions. You know, the sort of stuff that gets considered as serious, investigative food journalism these days.
Here are my findings, with accompanying annotations, insights and appendices, in no particular order:
Chris Pople, prominent restaurant blogger and self-proclaimed time waster, who responded first, with a proclivity for Bovril. Showing that a) he was from the North and b) has an unhealthy interest in beef. But as starters go, it was a fairly tame start, to start things off.
KBfoodphotos, or Katie as she is also known. At least she agreed with me and upped the ante with the suggestion of Marmite AND a poached egg. I am not sure if we can get away with using the word 'crumps' though. Far too blaady middle clarse.
Connie, of Connie Consumes, then came flying in, echoing the use of Marmite but it had to be New Zealand Marmite and not Austalian Vegemite. She took great pains to stress this and heaven forbid anyone who confuses this.
The whole Marmite/Bovril/Vegemite conflab then got a touch ugly, with Oliver Denton stating that Bovril led you onto murkier paths and like Zammo, we should 'Just Say No'. Either that or he was stating that Bovril was readily available at a now defunct supermarket chain. Perhaps he should lay off the stuff.
Soon, the quality of the crumpet itself was brought back into question, and food writer and proofreader Andrew Stevenson had much to say for Greenhalghs. Who by all accounts are crumpet royalty, offering crumpets that are twice the height of normal crumpets, offering maximum butter soak-up-ability. This was important but where could you get them from?
Thankfully, my good friend Cookwitch then interjected, saving me having to use my podgy fingers on the keyboard and actually having to Google something. One day, I shall try these hallowed crumpets.
Christina McDermott, a woman of excellent and rather saucy taste and I was rather taken with her application of fiery pepper sauce to crumps. I mean crumpets. Apparently, this can be eaten 24/7 and without any reasonably harsh side effects, Useful to consider in place of cheese then.
And then more and more suggestions came pouring in, like this one from Nilanjani. Another spice-led effort maybe but slowly but surely, the true universal appeal of crumpets and ubiquitous application of toppings began to shine through.
Although I get the impression that by this point, some people were simply jumping on the bandwagon and copying. Like Garlic Confit. I am surprised that he didn't mention aubergine really.
Seemingly not wanting to let go of the Marmite/Bovril/Vegemite debate that was also now ensuing, Chris Pople then put his head back in the room and came up with a way of pissing off Australians by pronouncing Vegemite like 'Yosemite'. It detracted from the main line of inquiry but it was very funny.
And it worked.
Lest we forget another savoury paste, Gavin Baxter came up with the notion of Gentlemen's Relish and given that, in a way, this is supposed to be a celebration of all the good things that you can put on crumpets, this was a fantastic suggestion. But only if you like a hefty whack of anchovy on the tongue.
This idea from Gem, or Tattooed Truffle, was also innovative. Yes, it moved things back into sweeter territory but this alerted me to the concept that crumpets could, if fancied, be dunked into tea. Which would represent a brave new step for mankind.
And the march of progress continued with Leyla's confession that her 'other half' liked to make pizzas with crumpets. At last, we were getting somewhere. Revolution and vicissitude suddenly came bounding into the horizon. A new dawn, a new era for the humble crumpet was beginning to break.
But then the nihilists arrived.food stylists, clutching swathes of furry string.
It didn't take long for the depraved and perverted to poke their noses into my crumpet business either.cider wurzels, who had wandered into the wrong room altogether, looking for the loo.
But it was when the traitors started arrive, it was then that I knew my quest of discovery was over. I have no truck with these inferior pancakes, these skinny and pocked adolescent upstarts. A packet of six crumpets constitutes as fine and filling meal. But six pikelets? Pah, I'd breathe them in.
Richard got (phew).
And I did do my bit for crumpet marketing in the UK, enticing Jenni into having this fine and healthy breakfast, based largely on white bread, butter and sugar. Which prompts me to ask: Warburtons, do you want to give me a job?
As investigations go and under the guise of SnGs, the whole episode was informative, I suppose. It certainly showed that we have quite the love affair with crumpets in this country. No wonder the industry is worth £88m. That's a lorra lorra crumpets.
But I have to admit, I did feel slightly deflated at the end. Surely we could stretch our imaginations just that little bit further than this? I am not sniffing around or pitching a book based on crumpets by the way (well, maybe I am). It would just be good to see a touch more originality and ingenuity when it comes to the treatment of the humble crumpet. At least with the toppings.
However, all is not lost. When the chips are down, fate often has a habit of shining a light into the darkest corners, to deliver hope and faith. Am I using crumpets as a metaphor for the current state of the world here?
Yes, yes maybe I am. Because this morning, I bore witness to a crumpet topped with Marmite beans, cheese and Twiglet crumbs. Totally amazing.
The future can be great folks. We just need to open our minds. And eat more crumpets.
Tuesday, 3 January 2017
So, as per usual, much eating and drinking was done over the festive period. Too much maybe? Most definitely but it is a holiday dedicated to feasting after all. One of the highlights was the rib of beef we had on New Years Day, over at our friends' place in Hereford. It was amazing. So much depth of flavour and with a glorious amount of wibbling fat coursing through, that kept the meat so succulent, I very nearly cried whilst continuously eating slices and slices. It was that good.
However, it also cemented my belief, that in 2017, I should focus on eating perhaps a little less meat this year. For environmental reasons, health reasons and this reason. I mean c'mon, just look at him.
My 2016 Best Nine (basically your top 9 instagram pics of the year, and 9, because 9 is square) was the main eye opener though. They were all incredibly carnivorous in nature. Apart from the fish finger sandwich, which curiously, was the number one favourite in terms of 'likes'. People can't get enough of fish finger sandwiches, so it seems, and I have to admit, I am rather looking forward to judging at the Fish Finger Sandwich Awards in February. With this man.
Coming back to the meat consumption though, I think I definitely need to start adopting some sort of flexitarian approach. Which simply sounds like eating in moderation to me and a much sounder approach. Less but better. Saving the weekend for the big treat, that sort of thing. I've been thinking and talking about it for years. I am getting on a bit. I can't delay any longer.
This is not a resolution by the way. Perish the thought. Resolutions are a complete load of horlicks. God. NO.
Nor will the display of animal based dishes disappear from my feed. Just that in the spaces in between, you will find me eating a lot more fruit, vegetables, pulses and seeds. Farting as quietly as I can.
On that note, I would like to wish you Happy New Year. I hope that 2017 is much bigger and brighter for all of us. With more chickpeas, courgettes and *gulp* quinoa on the horizon.
Thursday, 22 December 2016
It's probably a bit late for Christmas present buying now but I have finally entered my top ten cookbooks for 1000 Cookbooks; a project and app that aims to collect and compile recommendations from hundreds of chefs, authors, bloggers and food professionals to generate a ranking of the 1000 most essential English language cookbooks of all time.
Yes, I just stole that last bit of copy.
Still, I am glad that I have jumped on board and given my thrupence worth. It took some agonising over, I can tell you that and even now, there are plenty of other books jumping around in the kitchen, flapping and nipping around at my ankles, asking why they weren't included.
Do have a look at my choices and let me know what you think though. Perhaps next year I can get a proper shopping list/post done for Christmas 2017. Like in early November. When these lists seem come out.
I've heard on the grapevine that it promises to be a bumper year.
I just need to drag myself away from these books first.
Monday, 19 December 2016
Like a lot of self-appointed and self-important gourmands, when the annual festivities come speeding around the corner, my list for Father Christmas usually contains a whole host of things food-related. Cookbooks, kitchen gadgets and equipment are often the order of the day. Which is great. There is nothing better than getting all choked up after unwrapping a temperature probe and burger making kit. ‘Thank you Nan,’ I’ll whisper into her ear, whilst administering a hug. ‘Thank you for getting me this and not the usual socks and pants.’ That never quite fit.
I have come unstuck before though, after putting in some more prosaic requests that seemed sensible at the time. Too sensible really. I remember clearly, sitting in the living room one year and when all the frenzy died down, feeling quite empty after seeing fellow family members dance about, each of them with snazzy clothes, DVD’s, perfume and whatnot. We do secret Santa in our family you see, with a strict budget. The person buying my present chose to blow the whole lot on a huge, expensive stock pot; ignoring a lot of smaller bric-a-brac that I was after. So I was sat there afterwards, with it perched on lap, thinking ‘Bloody hell Mum, you could have got a cheap one in IKEA.’ Revealing that even at the age of 33, I could still be a most ungrateful and spoilt brat.
Nowadays, having more than enough kitchen junk and books than I can cope with, I think I would be happier to receive edible goods and the odd alcoholic treat this year. I am not thinking about the usual collection of beer flavoured pickles or plastic grinders filled with vivid red peppercorns here, as seen on supermarket shelves, next to shower gel sets and luminous singing rubber ducks. (Who really wants that sort of present anyway?) No, I’d like something that was delicious to eat, properly nourishing and possibly homemade; with love, care and attention. Something like a big jar of goose confit.
Confit, if you are not aware, is a simple process that involves cooking lightly-cured meat in melted fat, at a low temperature, for a long time. The meat and fat is then left to cool together so that everything solidifies, providing a protective barrier against bacteria, which results in a technique of preservation that has been around for centuries. Duck legs are usually associated with this peculiar practise of cooking and the curious thing for me, is that this method actually draws fat out whilst tenderising the meat. A piece of confit duck leg is actually healthier than say, plain roasted! Or at least that’s what I like to keep telling myself.
Seeing as it is Christmas though, why not up the ante and use goose legs instead, another popular, albeit slightly more expensive bird that suits confit. Buying up enough goose fat to cover the legs can have a knock on that budget but you can get just as good results by replacing half the amount needed with vegetable oil or plain lard. I also find that fitting the legs into a smaller snug space, like a medium-sized casserole, helps to cut down on the amount of fat needed. Adding few herbs here and there is another good idea, along with some cloves of garlic but make sure that you clean off the salt properly before cooking. The rich meat benefits from a decent period of curing but if you leave too much salt behind, the legs will have you reaching for pints and pints of water afterwards.
The biggest key though is making sure that you have a jar large enough to stick them in afterwards, for visual impact, if anything else. I know if I were to unwrap something like this on Christmas Day, I wouldn’t be that bothered if there was nothing else for me under the tree.
But you wouldn’t catch me sharing it. Oh no. You can just run off and play with your miniature Connect 4, VW Camper Van speakers or whatever else you got.
4 goose legs
100g of rock salt, lightly ground
800g of goose fat
5 sprigs of thyme
10 black peppercorns
8 garlic cloves
1 First, place the goose legs in a deep tray and liberally sprinkle with the rock salt to evenly coat. Cover with cling film and leave the tray in the fridge for 6 hours, coming back to turn them over halfway through.
2 Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mark 1.
3 When ready to cook or confit, brush off all of the salt with some kitchen towel. Don’t rinse the legs in water.
4 Place your casserole dish on the hob and add the goose fat. Heat gently so that it melts completely then place your goose legs in the fat. Depending on the size of the legs, you may have to add more fat – if so, just top up with vegetable oil. Add the aromatics by sprinkling over the peppercorns and press the garlic and thyme into all the nooks and crannies. Bring up to a very light simmer.
6 Leave to cool to room temperature then lift the goose legs out. Place in a large, sterilised jar. Don’t worry, the legs will be quite pliable and should fit with some encouragement.
7 Ladle the remaining fat over, along with the cooked aromatics, making sure you completely submerge the legs. If this is a struggle, take a leg out and keep one for yourself.
8 Place in the fridge – overnight the fats will solidify completely.
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Friday, 2 December 2016
|Three stages of garlic|
So yes, this method is best and if I were to cast my mind back to when I first heard of it or saw it in action, then I would have to mention my father-in-law here and I have to be careful, because he wasn't too fond of the way I described him last time around. A loud and gregarious man, whose head all often hits the ceiling, Pete has what I'd call a quiet and understated passion for cooking. I say quiet, he moans about having to do it. But secretly, I believe he loves it. Whenever we pop over to the house, I am often quickly ushered into the kitchen to check out a new jar of something he's found along the way. Offered usually, after he's dipped one of his huge digits in first to taste. Or there will be a new cheese to try, a strange pickle to sniff or some curiously alcoholic to sip. And if he is cooking, especially řízek, there will be a large, if not mountainous mound of pale yellow garlic on the side; that has been pounded with salt, using the back of that butter knife.
Mentioning řízek, which is the Czech version of schnitzel, that virtuous pounded meat coated in breadcrumb affair, was a deliberate ploy; as I've been thinking of ways on how to link to the title of this post. Pete, though born in this country, is of Czech stock and the garlic schmooshing technique was one that was passed down by his father, another man also who apparently loved his food and ahem, slivovitz.
What follows then is a video and a recipe, which shows how to make the perfect Brewer's Goulash. Originating in Hungary, goulash is another dish that has many interpretations but in this case, it gets the special treatment from a chef called Luděk Hauser, who was born and bred in Budweis, South Bohemia. The recipe is simple enough, asking just for an element of patience and time and the principle ingredients are beef, paprika and beer, in the shape of Budweiser Budvar ‘B:Original’. I supposed it wouldn't be a 'Brewers' goulash otherwise.
On first watching the video, which is part of a series of Czech Stories commissioned by Budvar, a few on-screen moments resonated. Pictures of cobbled streets and squares lined with grand Baroque buildings brought back memories of my own visits to the Czech Republic. Well by that, I mean Prague. I have been a few times now and despite the encroaching wave of tourism and all that comes with it, I still think that it is one of the prettiest capitals in Europe.
Cuts to glasses of beer being poured, a familiar pale golden Pilsner with the requisite frothy head, reminded me of particular visit to a bar in Prague with Mrs FU; complete with Oompa band (yes, tourism) and an afternoon filled with laughter. The waiter pencilled down I don't know how many strikes on our paper tablecloth - large ones for beer, small ones for shots of this strange looking brown stuff - but I do remember wandering out into the dark, cold night, feeling extremely...happy. We looked up to the stars, then kissed and staggered off to somewhere else, totally in love.
Then Luděk started doing that schmooshing thing with the garlic, which sort of brought me back full circle. 'Oh yeah, that's exactly what Pete does,' I thought to myself. 'It really must be a Czech thing.' Which it's not. But it's funny how a short narrative and a flash of images can ping up memories and random thought processes. He says, whimsically.
I suppose what I am trying to put across is that in watching the film because of the treatment, especially with the garlic (I won't say schmooshing any more) and my own personal connections to it, I was like "Ah yes! This is the real deal. This is authentic. This should taste good."
And it does. You do have to be careful with the fresh horseradish though. Too much can blow your mind. More so than the chilli. But give it a fair grating, as the punchy hit of of this root marries well with the depth and richness of the meat and thickened, slightly velvet sauce that clings to it.
Of course, the final dish is to be enjoyed with a Budvar too.
Perhaps just the one though, Otherwise your brain may get too...schmooshy.
|Beer and goulash|
For the goulash
Beef neck 800g (I used shin!)
Pork and duck fat 80g
Tomato puree 80g
Budweiser Budvar ‘B:Original’ 200ml
Sweet paprika 24g
Ground cumin 4g
Chilli powder 4g
Garlic 4 cloves
Salt and pepper
Beef stock 800ml
Dry sourdough finely grated 12g
|Paprika, onions, horseradish|
Big pinch of grated fresh horseradish
A whole red chilli
Few slices of red onion
Sprinkle of rough-chopped parsley
Peel and dice the onion into medium sized cubes, and sweat down gently in the fat until golden brown. Don’t let it catch or burn. Slice the meat into 4cm cubes and season with salt and pepper.
Add the beef to the pan, and turn until the beef is light brown on all sides.
Then add the tomato puree and – after a moment – the sweet paprika and stir, being careful not to overheat or burn the paprika.
Pour in the stock and the beer, stirring well. Then slice the garlic and crush it together with the salt to make a paste, releasing the oils. Add half of this to the pan before shaking in the cumin and chilli powder.
Bring everything to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at least two hours. Check the tenderness regularly by hand and, when the meat starts to soften and become tender, you are almost ready to serve.
|Budvar, dreamy beef, chillies!|
Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with grated horseradish, finely sliced red onion, a whole chilli pepper and the parsley.
Serve with steamed bacon dumplings and/or thick slices of good sourdough bread.
|The Perfect Brewers Goulash|
This post was commissioned and sponsored by Budweiser Budvar