Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Turner & George Preserved Bone Marrow

There is no doubt about it. Since buying a jar of preserved bone marrow from Islington based butchers Turner & George, breakfast time in my house has been transformed. For a period it was looking quite souless. Grey mornings sucked up by dried flakes and clusters. Dusty nuts and morose seeds upon which sat iddy-biddy bits of rabbit poo, all floating around in watery, dank milk. Staring into that bowl was totally depressing and how I managed to move on and drag on a fresh pair of pants and socks afterwards is beyond me. Some days, I would just turn everything inside out and carry on getting dressed. It was that hard.

But the bone marrow has come along and suddenly, everything has changed. No matter how dark it is outside, no matter how much the rain batters or however much the wind howls, knowing that a pot of glutenous joy is waiting downstairs does wonders for stretching that foot out from beneath the covers. I have been dancing down the stairs lately and once in the kitchen, when I fling open the fridge door, the rays that burst out and illuminate my beaming face seem to blast with the full power of an orchestra. Centre stage stands that jar and it croons, in sweet melody a simple song:

"Good morning, good morning, we've danced the whole night through. Good morning, good morning to you."

I reply "Good morning, good morning, I am going to make some toast and then I am going to take a lovely scoop of you and smother you all over my toast and bite down into your lovely beef richness and most likely get a glistening slick of fat all over my chin as a result."

Which doesn't really scan but it doesn't really matter.

Even less edifying is the image of yours truly dancing around the place with bone marrow quivering atop a knife as I sing in a holey, manky dressing gown but the fact remains, I have sort of fallen in love with this stuff.

And when you are in love, you don't really care.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wine Urchin #3 - Côtes du Rhône for Chinese New Year

Decisions, decisions
So, Chinese New Year celebrations for 2014 are now slowly but surely coming to an end and I for one will be very happy to see the back of them because if I have to be honest, the festivities have been particularly challenging this time around. Now before you sit back and marvel at the suggestion that every year, there is this bald white man from the depths of Essex who leaps into a frenzy of family gatherings, fireworks and lion dancing, I should probably make things clearer. I don't normally celebrate Chinese New Year per se. Sure I'll salute with the odd cursory "Kung hei fat choi" here and there, wincing at my own pronunciation (and spelling). We'll order takeaway with cheer, happy to have some excuse other than, well it's a Friday night and we really can't be bothered to cook. One year we did take a trip down to Chinatown in London, to soak up the bustle, noise and colour. But ordinarily, I don't take things too seriously and why should I? After all, I am not a Chineser. I am using a colloquial term here by the way. It's out there, on the internets.

One person who has been taking the whole Chinese New Year thing seriously though is my son. Lapping up all the extra-curricular activity encouraged at school, he has been making dragon masks aplenty and inquiring inquisitively about red envelopes. He also constantly keeps banging on about the Chinese Zodiac, apparently disapproving that he was born in the wrong year.

"Why was I born in the year of the rat Daddy? I don't like it."

"Well, you just were Fin. Mummy and Daddy really didn't think too much about things at the...um time when we thought about having you."

"But rats are horrible."

"No they're not. They are wily, cunning and resourceful. Very clever in some ways. A bit like you eh Fin?"

"Rats caused the plague millions of years ago and killed millions of people."

"Yes Fin, yes they did. But let's not worry about that."

Like I said, things have been challenging and the sooner we get the whole notion of Chinese New Year out of the collective consciousness in our house, the smoother things will be.

Speaking of testing times though, I did recently undertake a task of pairing wine with Chinese takeaway food as part of a challenge set by Côtes du Rhône, which was also a bit of a minefield. For one, whenever I've picked up the phone on a Friday night, I have never really considered whether the plonk in the fridge will go with chicken chow mein. However, compared to juggling with a five year old's searching questions about self-identity based on animal personalities, it was a walk in the park really.

Two bottles were sent to us, namely a Côtes du Rhône 2011 Vidal-Fleury and a Domain Maby Tavel Prima Donna Rosé. Both a bit of mouthful to hammer out in one sentence at the off-licence sure but both the bottles are gentle on the pocket, with a price range of £8-£10. As always, the tasting was the easy part and about half an hour prior the golden hour of 5 o'clock, which is when our local Chinese takeaway opens, I undertook a couple sniffs and gargles with Mrs FU whilst scanning the menu. The Vidal-Fleury was quite well rounded, medium in body with spice and hints of red berries whereas the Prima Donna had quite an acidic kick with notes of strawberry. For a rosé it was also fairly alcofrolic and heavy and quite unlike any rosé we had tried before. It was very punchy in fact.

Normally we never really agree on these things but after perusing the standard Cantonese menu that is offered to people throughout the country, we both decided to go full on with the meat as they were both pretty gutsy wines. The phone was picked up and we ordered some grilled pork dumplings, some sweet and sour ribs, a portion of beef in sea spicy sauce and a thwack of roast duck and yes, more pork. There was some capitulation to vegetables in the form of spring rolls and chow mein but we didn't want to go too crazy on sundries because we wanted banana fritters for afters. Chinese takeaways don't normally do much in the way of desserts but they do do banana fritters. And sometimes lychees.

"10 minutes," said Su on the other end of the line. Our orders always take 10 minutes. Never more, never less. Apart this one time when Su gave me 15 minutes. "Ooh that make's a change Su, you busy tonight then?" 

"Nah," she replied. "Bloody cook is late innit."

So how did the food from the East fare against the wine from the West then? Well by and large, it was the Tavel that seemed to compliment everything. In our minds we sort of felt that the rosé would lead us through the starters of dumplings and ribs, using that acidity to cut through the rich and sweet. Then the Vidal-Fleury with it's warmth and spice would match the heat of the chilli in the beef and compliment the fatty duck and pork. And then the idea was to switch back to the rosé to marry up with the battered banana. But as we had taken the decision to keep two separate glasses topped up throughout the meal, the Prima Donna, like it's namesake, seemed to hug all the limelight. It sort of went with all the food, particularly the beef, which was a surprise.

I mean if Côtes du Rhône are using this challenge to get bloggers to weasel out the best wine from their region, as the partner for Chinese food, then I would say that they should champion the Tavel Prima Donna Rosé most definitely. Although perhaps I should try some more wines the Massif Central first before coming to a foregone conclusion.

If that sounds opportunistic, brave and perhaps even egotistical, don't blame me, blame my wife. She had the most to say during this tasting and she was born in the year of the Tiger.

Pork dumplings and sweet and sour ribs

Tavel and starters
Vidal-Fleury and Sea spicy beef (what is 'sea spicy' anyway?)
Photo proving that I can use chop sticks
Banana fritters!!
Red and rosé (but is it rosé?)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Cod and Mackerel Burgers for Tiny Food Critics

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs blog.

In the early days, when my children were still wee and cute (and they still are cute by the way but not so wee) we were very lucky when it came to feeding them, insofar that they would eat pretty much anything that was put in front of them. For a lot of parents however, mealtimes can be a veritable minefield and I have heard horror stories where dinner simply becomes a battleground, littered with tantrums and unwanted vegetables, half-chewed and expunged violently onto plates. Reports of stains on walls and ceilings in the kitchen were fairly commonplace too and fully recognised as acts of defiance and refusal. Some tiny jaws apparently always remained clenched and shut tight, despite the soft choo-chooing of imaginary food trains. The admission of tears would soon follow, spilt down the cheeks of Mums and Dads who finally broke down, smashed to pieces by an unrelenting wave of stubbornness and true grit. Such is the power of the child that simply won't eat their greens.

After listening to some of these tales on the playground, I must admit I always felt a smug glee. I would take everything in, nodding with sympathy and understanding, but the devil inside would always blurt out an occasional "Oh Finlay loves his grub, especially ox cheek ragu." Or "You wouldn't believe what Isla did the other day, she ate a whole tub of marinated anchovies straight out of the fridge!" Which probably wasn't the best thing really. No-one like a braggart. The returning glares always suggested that I was something else beginning with 'B' anyway.

However, I must admit, I'm starting to worry that this early one-upmanship is beginning to backfire on me. My insufferable food snobbery has now passed down the family line and as they grow older, even when rustling up the most simple of meals, the expectation is quite high. Take the other morning, on the way to school, my daughter piped up from the back seat and asked what was on the menu for that evening. So I countered with "Er, fish and chips sound good?" Straight away Fin fired back with "That's boring Daddy, I thought you were a GB Chef." The assumption being that because I often talk in the house about writing and testing recipes for Great British Chefs, I must therefore be a proper chef or something. Which couldn't be further from the truth. Passionate epicurean oik is probably a better description.

"Leave it with me," I told them, "Daddy will think of something."

And I did. By the curious and divine intervention of looking through Tom Kerridge's'Proper Pub Food', I came up with the notion of making some fish burgers. Now OK, the recipe that follows is certainly similar to the one that appears in Mr Kerridge's book but I don't really subscribe to the notion of salting fish to draw out extra moisture, especially if you are throwing mackerel into the mix. In the past, I have found that there is more than enough oil in this lovely cheap fish to help bind things together. I am in agreement with slipping a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the mix though, to lighten the overall texture of the patty. Vietnamese cook and food writer Uyen Luu taught me that trick. 

Flavoured with a dash of smoked paprika and a zing of lime juice, I am pleased to say that these easy to make and rather healthy burgers were a resounding success with the kids when they came home. They never knew that you could turn fish into burgers and so they were pretty impressed. Although later on in the evening and obviously after some thought, Fin did query with me about their status as 'burgers'.

"Daddy, you know, I thought they were more like fish cakes, rather than actual burgers."

And you know what? I think he is right. Ha, what a precocious little chap my boy is. I am surprised he didn't start whining about the fact the accompanying tartar sauce came from a jar and wasn't home made as well!

The little s..........sausage.

Cod and Mackerel Burgers - serves 4


250 gms cod fillet, skinned (or any other white fish)
250 gms mackerel fillets, de-boned and skinned
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp of smoked paprika
Juice from 1 lime
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to season
Sunflower oil
Burger buns and tartar sauce to serve (shop bought is fine, honestly, I won’t judge)


Using a large sharp knife, chop both the cod and mackerel fillets into a fine dice and mix together in a bowl. Try not to go overboard with the chopping, you don’t want to turn the fish into mush but don’t want the dice to be too large either, otherwise it won’t bind. Add the garlic, bicarbonate of soda, paprika, parsley and lime, along with a touch of seasoning and mix in some more.

At this stage, it’s always a good idea to test a small teaspoon and quickly fry in a pan, just to make sure you haven’t over-seasoned (keep it light for the kids remember!)

Divide the mix equally and shape into round patties (or into two large-ish patties and two small-ish patties). Place on a plate and cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for an hour.

When ready to cook, place a frying pan on the hob and heat some oil over a medium heat. Place the patties into the pan and gently fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness.

Serve on a toasted bun with a healthy dollop of tartar sauce.