Category Archives: Writing

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

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Being Judgemental Again

Badge awarded to judges at the 2010 World Cheese Awards

I’ve confirmed that I’ll be judging at the World Cheese Awards again this year, on 28th November at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC. For 2012 there are almost 3,000 cheeses from 300 countries. If you want to come and watch tickets can be had from the BBC – there’s all sorts going on and proper foodie slebs like James Martin and Paul Hollywood as well, not just cheesy old farts like me. This will be my third outing, you can read about the first one here.

“Tea, dinner, or supper?” asks The Guardian

You can’t have a blog with a name like mine and not re-post this excellent article from yesterday’s Guardian!

Grayson Perry
photo © The Guardian

Personally I eat tea, dinner, and supper – though not usually all at the one sitting.

  • Tea is for when I’m flaunting my northern roots to annoy the Shopkeeper, who is so London-centric he’d have had Hadrian build his wall along the northern edge of Hyde Park.
  • Dinner is something I’ll eat when I’m invited to, or when I’m in a restaurant.
  • Supper is what I’ll be most likely to invite you to, precisely so that you’ll know it’ll be an informal affair where it’s more important that the food tastes good than whether it could be put on display in the V&A. And whilst I might add the word ‘garden’ to indicate that we’ll be outside and you should probably bring a cardigan and maybe an umbrella, you can feel free to shoot me if I start to call them ‘kitchen’ or ‘country’ suppers.

So what do you call yours…?

Tea with Grayson Perry. Or is it dinner, or supper? | Life and style | The Guardian.

Homemade Mozzarella

Not my worst disaster, not my finest hour…

Homemade Mozzarella with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and Parma ham

After four years of selling cheese, frankly it felt like high time I tried my hand at making some. I had been warned, by no less an authority than writer, columnist, restaurateur, TV chef, fish fight champion, and all round food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that “making mozzarella is more difficult than today’s other cheeses”. Pah! What does he know? I’ve read the recipe, and I once saw a short video of skilled Campania artisans with decades of know how making the stuff. So what that I’ve never made so much as a simple strained curd before – how hard can it be…?

The vegetarian rennet had been sitting in the cupboard for a while, glaring at me with the resentment born of neglect every time I reached for the sea salt, and the award-winning Laverstoke Park have just opened a butchers in Twickenham which means ready access to buffalo milk. The only thing missing was citric acid, which my dad always had hanging around at home for his wine making, so I guessed it couldn’t be that hard to come by. 

What I’d missed in the follow-up correspondence from Hugh’s article, until the Anthropologist pointed it out to me, was that most household name chemists now refuse to stock the stuff because it’s used by dealers to ‘cut’ cocaine. And so it proved in my local Boots who “haven’t had that here for some time”, but who recommended, in hushed tones, and with much furtive sideways glancing, that I might try the small independent chemist round the corner. 

WFTTD: “But I only want it for making cheese.”
Chemist: “Yes sir, I’m sure you do.”

Bloody hell! I felt like a criminal already, and by the time I got to the little local shop I was in a cold sweat. I’d stayed outside to finish my fag – had they been watching me from behind the counter and wondering why I was loitering? Was I plucking up the courage for my clandestine purchase? I blurted out my request [why was my voice so high-pitched?] and then came “Certainly sir, how many packets would you like?” 

Yikes! Was this a cunning test? Could I ask for two, ‘one for a friend’? Or would that be classed as intent to supply?! I left with just the one, the suspicion that my name was already being placed on some sort of register, and nagging doubts about what my dad had been up to all those nights in the kitchen with his demijohns. If you have trouble tracking any down it might be easier just to ask your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer. 

Back in my crack den – sorry, kitchen – I got out another toy I’ve been dying to play with, my electronic food thermometer probe thingy, which would have been used for long slow roasts by now if my oven could be relied on to maintain an even low temperature [It can’t]. Happily the device is just as handy for measuring the precise milk and whey temperatures needed for this task, which by now was starting to feel more like a chemistry experiment than the production of food. And I was rubbish at chemistry at school. I’m rubbish at seeing blindingly obvious omens too. 

Mozzarella is a pasta filata or stretched-curd cheese. In other words the curd junket is heated in hot water or whey until elastic and pliable, and then stretched and folded. This creates long filaments of protein which when melted give the stringy cheese effect so beloved of pizza advertisers everywhere. But to achieve this you need a smooth, coagulated curd junket which I can now tell you won’t get if you don’t pay close attention to the instructions supplied with your rennet.

Hugh’s recipe stipulated a quarter teaspoon of rennet, and looking back it seems obvious that he was talking about powdered animal rennet. My liquid vegetable version says ten drops per pint of milk, but of course I hadn’t read that and ended up with about that amount in roughly four and a half pints. So the curds I needed to heat were not smooth but crumbly, and what should have been a gentle stretching and folding process was more akin to ‘pulling roughly apart and squashing hopefully back together’. 

Some white-ish, fairly bland balls of vaguely mozzarella like material were the result. But was it a complete disaster? My guests, who included the Shopkeeper’s Sister and her Spouse, made appreciative noises about the effort which had been gone to [though I made sure to serve some shop bought stuff on the side], and no one got sick or died, which is generally regarded as a plus when cooking. And it was a first attempt, and therefore a learning experience. 

My top learning tips for next time: 

  • Take recipe, or copy thereof, to shop to avoid repeated trips for more milk.
  • Find source of citric acid which doesn’t suggest criminal intent, or result in arrest.
  • READ INSTRUCTIONS on rennet!
  • Use more salt in the whey poaching bath.
  • Sprinkle with further salt once the cheese is cut. 

I’ll let you know how the next attempt turns out. In the meantime if you want to try this or one of Hugh’s other homemade cheese recipes you can find them here.

Pansy for a day

Jack Scott

Today I’m guesting over at my friend Jack Scott’s hugely succesful blog, Perking the Pansies, the everyday tale of “two openly gay, recently ‘married’ middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country [Turkey]”. Jack writes mainly about the ups and downs of expat life which set me wondering about the foods [and drinks] I’d miss from home if ever the Shopkeeper and I were to skip off for good – you can read the piece here.

Please note – if you enjoy your excursion to Pansy land the blog is set to spawn a book which is due out before Christmas.

One Year Older – Any The Wiser…?

Well blow me down, but a whole year has gone by since my first post on Independence Day 2010 [so Happy Birthday to America too while we’re about it]. I really had no idea what to expect when I started all this, but to the thousands of visitors I’ve now welcomed along the way I’d like to say a huge thank you for your support during my first year in the blogosphere.

Looking back I find that I’m clearly more interested in purple foods than I ever realised [I’m going to have to add that as a tag now!] and a quick glance at the tag cloud over to the right tells me that garlic, cream, eggs and butter are frequently featured. A quick glance at my waistline could probably have told me the same.

Looking forward, I see also that the tag ‘recipe’ has been the most used to date and so far these have mainly been my own. In future I think I’ll also tell you more about my experiences with other people’s, and maybe even include the odd review or opinion piece. Travel, too, will hopefully also feature more.

But for now, summer fruits are everywhere – so let’s have pudding!

To fill a 1.1 litre pudding basin

  • 6 or 7 slices day old white bread
  • About 1kg mixed summer fruit [I used strawberries, raspberries, black currants and blueberries, but vary according to what you fancy or is available]
  • 3 tbsps sweet fruit liqueur* [plus more to finish]
  • 3 tsps caster sugar [or vanilla sugar]

*I had some crème de framboises lurking in the drinks cabinet but I can highly recommend one of the offerings from Bramley and Gage if you’re shopping.

Put the fruit, liqueur and sugar into a pan and cook gently for about 5 minutes so that the fruit juices start to run but the fruits still retain some body and shape. Using a sweet fruit liqueur like this significantly cuts down on the amount of sugar you’d otherwise add.

Drain the fruit in a sieve into a bowl to catch all the juices. Cut a circle from the middle of one slice of bread. Remove the crusts from the other slices and cut through the middle at an angle, thus:

Shows the angle at which to cut bread slices for summer pudding.

Dip the circle of bread into the reserved juices and place in the bottom of the bowl. Do the same with the cut pieces and arrange in overlapping layers around the sides. Fill with fruit, and top with more juice-dipped pieces of bread, tucking the ends of the side pieces over this base. Sprinkle over a little more fruit liqueur if it’s for a grown-up party! Wrap with clingfilm, set the bowl into a shallow dish to catch any drips, place a saucer or small plate on top, and top this with a heavy weight [or a couple of tins of beans].

Refrigerate for 24 hours, and when ready to serve unwrap, place a plate over the bowl and invert. A couple of sharp taps or a good shake should see the pudding break free from the bowl, usually with a satisfying ‘schlurping’ sound.

If you have juices remaining reduce them in a pan to a syrupy sauce and pour this over the pud. And if you’re in the mood add another sprinkle of the fruit liqueur too. All you need now is some clotted cream. And a spoon.

Wal-Slaw and PFC

 A coleslaw salad including celery and apple

Whilst to some of my younger readers this will clearly mark me out as some sort of antediluvian anachronism, I can actually remember a Britain before McDonalds. The golden arches didn’t make it to our sceptred isle until 1974, fully 6 years after I first landed, and it would be many years more before Ronald showed his face in the provincial backwater that was my childhood home.

Colonel Sanders on the other hand was quicker off the mark and KFC opened its first UK outlet in Preston in 1965. I don’t think the one I remember, a roadhouse style takeaway on Preston New Road, was the ground-breaker but it seemed always to have been there. We didn’t use it often – it was enough of a drive for the food to get cold before we got home, and being ‘foreign’ was clearly not intended for everyday consumption – but it was my first real introduction to the then exotic world of the fast food takeaway.

Perhaps because of this childhood association fried chicken still holds a special place in my arteries, and is one of the few fast food staples that I might still crave before 2:00 a.m. and whilst stone cold sober. The colonel’s spice mix is of course as secret as the recipe for Coca Cola [apparently not even the factories who make it know the exact proportions, which I would have thought could prove to be a tad awkward, manufacturing-wise?] but it’s not actually that difficult to cook up a reasonable facsimile at home. Many of the myriad American recipes available online use frankly frightening amounts of MSG but even if this did figure in the Colonel’s own mysterious mix you don’t need it. Plenty of good old fashioned salt and pepper does the trick.

Of course you can’t have fried chicken without some sort of slaw. When making this I had crunchy celery and apple to hand [as in a Waldorf Salad] and hey presto, Wal-Slaw was born! The sweet-corn is another classic fried chicken accompaniment so into the salad it went. A buttered baked potato finished off the finger lickin’ feast.

Wal-Slaw

  • Half a small red cabbage, finely shredded
  • Half an apple, diced
  • A shallot, finely diced
  • One carrot, grated
  • A small tin of sweet-corn kernels (not Colonels!)
  • Two sticks of celery, finely sliced
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • A splash of malt vinegar
  • Sufficient mayonnaise to bind

First dice the apple and toss in the lemon juice and vinegar. Then just throw everything else in and stir in the mayonnaise to your liking. Season and chill.

Philip’s Fried Chicken [PFC]

  • 6 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 4 tbsps plain flour
  • 1 soupspoon cornflour [optional]
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 2 tsps ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 stick of celery broken into four [optional]
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Soak the chicken thighs in the beaten egg and allow them to wallow for a while. Place the flour [and cornflour if using], seasoning and spices into a zip-lock plastic bag and shake well to combine. Throw the chicken pieces into the spiced flour, zip up the bag and shake well to coat them evenly. Rest the whole lot in the fridge for a few minutes whilst you heat up the oil and shake again.

In a heavy, lidded skillet or frying pan heat about half an inch of vegetable oil. The depth needs to be such that once the chicken is in the oil will not reach higher than half way up the side of the pan. To see when the oil is hot enough for frying insert the handle of a wooden spoon – when the oil forms lively bubbles around the handle you’re ready to go [NB very vigorous bubbling means the oil is too hot, allow it to cool a little and try again]. Using tongs gently place the chicken pieces into the oil, skin side down, and add the celery pieces if using – it may be an old wives’ tale but this is supposed to help to crisp the chicken.

Cover and cook for nine to ten minutes, checking from time to time that the underside isn’t browning too quickly – if it is, lower the heat. Again using tongs turn the pieces and cook for another nine to ten minutes but this time without the lid. When all the chicken pieces are beautifully golden brown all over remove from the oil and drain. Some say this is best done on brown paper such as a grocer’s bag but kitchen roll will do too. Let the chicken cool for a few minutes before you dig in to avoid southern fried lips, a less appealing dish by far.