Personal and undiluted views
cooking

2415 days ago

Off to Ireland for the Weekend – Ballymaloe beckons

I have never hidden my admiration for Darina Allen, the High Queen of Irish cooking. As a cook and as a person she is pretty amazing and has borne certain domestic issues with a remarkable stoicism. It is perhaps her photogenic daughter in law Rachael who is better known but it is Darina who is the real deal as a cook and as a late birthday present for the Mrs we are off to see her this weekend in Cork, in the “The Old Country”, that is to say Eire.

It was Darina’s mother in law Myrtle Allen who started the phenomena that is Ballymaloe. It is a stunning country house – now containing an amazing restaurant – near Cork. Up the road is the cooking school which is surrounded by acres of organic gardens in the style of an old Country house. The fish comes in fresh from the sea at nearby Ballycotton and Darina is a champion of all things organic and locally produced. Natch that brings her into conflict with the regulation mad Evil Empire – Brussels edicts are the death of the small scale producers of foods such as cheese.

I’ve done a couple of courses there and one day shall shock you all

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2755 days ago

Nigella Lawson – do I view her differently as a coke-fiend?

It is alleged that the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson is in fact a coke fiend. The allegations have cropped up in a rather tawdry court case involving two of her employees and have been fanned by her ex-husband Charles Saatchi.

Nigella’s slick PR machine urges us to get behind this poor woman, formerly married to a wife beater to tweet #teamnigella and to feel better by making a scrummy holiday hotcake with eggnog cream. Calories 5000. Royalties to Nigella’s bank account even more.

Hmmmm

As a foodie I always had a bit of a soft spot for Nigella.

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2797 days ago

It’s Hop-tu-Naa in Clerkenwell but Halloween here in Bristol: the two pumpkin recipe weekend

Up in London I will be celebrating Hop-tu-Naa on October 30th and 31st at Real Man Pizza. I am working on the exact pizza to celebrate the Celtic New Year – that is a job for next week. More details of the menu here

But back in Bristol it is a weekend to brush off my two pumpkin recipes. I cannot remember when this became part of my annual ritual but it now is. All went well. Normally this is a kid’s thing but the Mrs. Has never cooked pumpkin before and so, having done it ever year for longer than I can remember, she got to be the kid this time. Take two medium sized pumpkins…

Take the “hat off” and remove all the pips and the stringy orange stuff and throw it away. This being Bristol I made sure they were thrown away in the correct bin (brown – organic matter) to avoid a Halloween fine from the eco-fascist City Council. Then scrape out as much of the “flesh” as you can with a spoon. Make sure that you do not pierce the outer skin but try to get enough flesh out so that you can see your fingers move through the wall. And you get a pumpkin ready to be a lantern…hey presto.

So we now have two lanterns ready for use next weekend.

You will now have a mound of flesh. Separate into two halves.

Half One – a Creamy pumpkin soup.

Chop two onions finely and stock in a pan with a large knob of butter and cook until soft but not brown (say 5 minutes). Add in the pumpkin flesh

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3075 days ago

A good use of time leading by example?

My weekly (SME) small business tips column from 24n.biz focusses on a matter close to my heart… As you may know I am primarily a writer but my real love is my restaurant, the excellent Real Man Pizza Company in London’s Clerkenwell. And so while some of my colleagues are writers others are cooks and waiters. I have always taken the view that one can only lead in one way, by example. This if a writer is rather slow in his or her output you show how much can be produced and whether by inspiring or by shaming you write away and hope that your lead is followed. Since I have been writing for 25 years that is not hard for me to do. But a waiter or a cook?

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3079 days ago

No Blogging or Tweeting Saturday – It Is My 45th Birthday & I am having the Day Off

Having coped with staff sickness by stepping into the breach as a super chef yet again yesterday at Real Man Pizza Company ( I turned out a totally awesome Pennette con Gamberetti e Manannan Vodka) it is off West for the weekend.

On Saturday I turn 45. And to celebrate, if that is the right word, being closer to 50 than 40 I plan to take the day off and go walking in West Wales. I might just pen a couple of pieces on the train tonight and load them up before I leave on Saturday but that is it. My first day without writing for months.

Normal service, including the Tomogrpah, returns on Sunday evening. You can of course register HERE to receive that missive.
Over and out.

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3080 days ago

Norovirus bug a real pain – it meant a day in the kitchen at Real Man Pizza

It seems that the whole of Britain has the Norovirus. Well not quite everyone. I do not have it. Robert Sutherland Smith says he has it but being an old trooper he is still filing articles anyway – another one is imminent. My two senior staff at Real Man Pizza do not have it but being over 45 they are the sort of fellows who would come into work if their right leg fell off.

Thankfully none of our regular customers at Real Man Pizza in Clerkenwell have it, business is where it should be. But, bugger me the two younger members of staff are both stricken. That is the sort of thing that happens to you if you do not drink or smoke and go to the gym. You get sick. It is God’s judgement on you for being such a health bore. The net result, cometh the day, cometh the man and I have done two shifts in the kitchen today. It has not stopped me writing or chatting to folk in between creating a fettuccine ragu with an extra chilli twist or a cracking penne with a creamy mushroom and bacon sauce. There is some technical Italian term for that dish too but I am so cream crackered that I cannot remember what it is.

Anyhow, no customer complaints about my cooking and the new Curious Brew beer offering is going down a storm. Only two more articles to polish off and then a pre bedtime prayer that our younger more health conscious staff get well soon. I appreciate that the boards of Sefton Resources, Range Resources, Vialogy etc and a handful of Bulletin Board morons would love me to stick to the kitchen full time but it is not going to happen.

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3084 days ago

All Year Round Hot Cross Buns?

Wandering around the Co-op on the 11th day of Christmas I noticed that the store was selling Hot Cross Buns (a simple bun with a cross on its front). Frankly the Co-op can sell what it wants and I gather that it sells this item all year round not just at….er…Christmas. But there is something not quite right about this.

When I was a boy my mum used to make Hot Cross Buns as a special treat for Good Friday. That was when, historically, we in Britain ate them. The cross signifies the cross on which Jesus met his end on Good Friday. The buns taste great so if folks want to eat them all year round that is their call. I just wonder how many kids growing up today actually realise how this dish came into being and what its significance is. I have a sneaking suspicion that if you polled 100 eleven year olds in Britain today very few of them could actually tell you the day of the year when we celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus.

I wonder how many could tell you what Advent means and why they have an Advent calendar. What Easter Sunday represents and why they have a chocolate egg on that day? Or indeed why we give each other presents at Christmas. I wonder if any at all could explain why they get even more chocolates at Halloween?

Though I am not a believer (I struggle to be one but just do not have faith), I do find the idea that the Christian festivals are now blurred into one great mish-mash of chocolate and consumerism as rather sad. That kids today have no idea why they celebrate as long as they can celebrate is all rather depressing. If it’s Christmas/Easter/Halloween all year round, the actual days themselves become less and less special.

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3088 days ago

As Requested by Blog Readers: Oakley Update

Forget the fiscal cliff, my share tips of the year or why Fat Sam should be sacked as West Ham manager in May. Forget my pilgrimage to Margaret Thatcher’s birthplace, my Christmas culinary triumphs or my witterings about music – I am currently listening to Lene Lovich in case you were wondering. Judging by tweets, postings ion the blog and emails what folks want to know about is Oakley, my eleven year old cat who as of the week before Christmas has only three legs. Quite right… first things first.

He is not quite himself but the trend is positive. No longer does he have to wear the collar of shame to stop him scratching where his leg used to be before it was removed to deal with the tumour. He can scuttle around the place at quite a rate when he wants to. Which is not often. He can now jump up onto a bed. Rather frighteningly he was also able to jump out through a window and onto a slippery ledge four stories high. I panicked (being someone who suffers from chronic vertigo). He waited until I had left the room screaming and then hopped back through the window and sat there calmly grinning at me as I rushed back in.

Tara, my other eleven year old cat, is now sleeping alongside him and seems to have come to terms with his new shape. Indeed she rather enjoys the fact that Oakley demands to be carried to food since she can nick most of his meal before he realises it is there. In some ways he is back to his old self, crawling up the bed so that he can look directly into your face all night. In other ways there is still a bit of hesitation. There is a tendency to hide away most of the time under a bed or behind a door waiting to be fetched to be plonked onto a sofa.

He seems to be slowly coming to terms with what has happened although the poor creature will never understand. It is only two or three weeks ago that his leg was removed and so I am not surprised that he has not fully adjusted mentally. But the trend is positive. Thank you for all your kind wishes. I shall endeavour to post a couple of new photos next week.

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3089 days ago

Experimental New Year’s Eve Cooking – A Triumph

Just a quick note for the folk who expressed concern that New Year’s Eve might prove a culinary disaster after my article of yesterday. Fear not. The one let down is that the Afterburner cheese was not actually included in my bag by the butcher. I shall have words later this week. However on the upside the colcannon worked a treat. And the white beans and 3 pig meats soaked up the chillies so that the Iberian stew had a good kick but was more than edible. Overall: a triumph. Perhaps dishes to put on the menu at Real Man Pizza Company at some stage?

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3090 days ago

New Year’s Eve Experimental Cooking Going Awry & Chilli festivals

For some reason some folks think that as a restaurant owner i am a professional chef. I have tried to disillusion them and I enjoy cooking but there are limits. Those limits will be exposed in about 90 minutes time as I have tried to recreate a Spanish/Portuguese dish but things are going awry. I thought I remembered the recipe but it slowly dawned on me as the process started that this was not the case.

Put it this way, I hope folks like their food spicey as I think I overdid it a bit on the chillies. I have now tried to offset that with a bit of red wine (heck the Spanish cook with sherry, but I could not find any of that) but as you balance and counterbalance earlier errors with items retrieved from cupboards you just seem to find additional errors creeping in. At this stage I can just hope that as the sauce reduces the chillies reduce with it and that the white beans and meats soak up whatever horrors I have injected. At least with a side dish of colcannon (well, as it happens, a slightly experimental version of that traditional Irish mainstay) I cannot go too wrong.

As for the cheeseboard, I have discovered a new West Country cheese (Afterburn) made with garlic and er…chilli. I am amazed to discover that there is an annual chilli festival held in Dorset each year and that this country has a thriving chilli production and products industry. I sense that a New Year resolution is to discover more about this and I may well be heading off to Wimborne St Giles (details here) for the next annual Chilli festival. It looks a hoot.

Now back to the unfolding culinary adventure.

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3095 days ago

Experimental Christmas Pudding Report

As you may remember, my Christmas rituals start in November with the cooking of a Christmas pudding. The day I eat a Jamie/Delia/Hugh. Heston Christmas pudding is the day I have given up on life. This year’s recipe was somewhat experimental. And yesterday it was steamed and served up and …if I say so myself it was a triumph.

The pudding slipped from the bowl in perfect shape. The texture was spot on, smooth with a firm layer on the outside and soft, moist and alcohol charged on the inside. The decision to drop candied peel and replace with a range of dried fruits including apricots worked well and swapping breadcrumbs for oats was a winner. It meant that the pudding was a slightly lighter shade of dark brown than normal but it actually have it just a bit more texture.

Combined with homemade brandy butter ( the simplest thing to make and anyone who buys that in a store deserves to be shot), chilled in the fridge for twenty four hours, it was – if I say so myself – a triumph. This year’s experiment becomes next year’s recipe. 10 out of 10.

The main course: goose, excellent, honey glazed carrots, worked a treat as did the sprouts ( are sprouts getting bigger or am I imagining that?). Roast potatoes and parsnips could have been a tad crispier. With a sweet chilli side sauce: 8.5 out of 10. Let down by the neeps and spuds.

Overall, not bad. Think I might need to do a few shifts in Real Man Pizza’s kitchen to get those spuds right for next year.

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3124 days ago

Cooking my Christmas Pudding – Damn the celebrity chefs it should not be that Hobson's choice

Today has been a day interrupted by my Christmas pudding. Last night I made it. There was stirring and making of wishes and today it has been steaming away happily for six and a half hours. In thirty minutes the heat gets switched off and it will be put in a cold dark place until I celebrate Christmas which this year, will be on Boxing day. I have always made Christmas puddings. I am a bit late this year but it is something my late mum used to do and it is great fun. For me Christmas sort of starts when I mix up a recipe.

This year’s recipe is a tad unusual in that instead of breadcrumbs I have a few oats in there. It tasted great when I scooped out the mixing bowl last night. It means the pudding is a slightly lighter brown than normal. I do not expect a crunch on Boxing day just the usual fruity taste (raisins, currants, apricots, apples, cherries with zest of orange and lemon) and obviously vast quantities of brandy. And then there will be a high octane brandy butter to go with it. I hope my cats like brandy.

But I read in the newspapers that for most folks the choice is not what to wish for as they stir but whether to buy the pudding of Delia, Jamie, Hugh or that loathsome man who advertises stock cubes like he really uses them in his 5 star restaurant.

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