Tuesday, 22 December 2009

China eating/travel diary part two. Chinglish.

Sometimes in China the bizarre translations get too much and you collapse into a fit of snorting clammed up laughter. Then you make stupid jokes about it for the next 3 days with your travel companion.

So it was with the 'Tuckahoe pie' Was it smut? Or our dirty minds corrupting an innocent Chinglish mistake? Who's to say? Sadly the 'Tuckahoe' didn't really live up to its controversial name, and was just a rubbish synthetic-y sweet. That innuendo did, however, provide enough mirth to see us through an all night train journey that probably could've seemed a whole lot worse otherwise.

Chinese train journeys, if you ever end up on the hard seats, are pretty much Gehenna on wheels, rammed full of people, saliva and smoke everywhere, and probably no sleep and maybe a few screaming babies on top of that if you're lucky. Obviously everyone needs to get somewhere, and there are lot of people in China, and probably not many trains, we shouldn't complain. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Literally.

Incidentally, we were headed to Taiyuan, one of China's heavy industry cities, and one of the most polluted built up areas in the world. There wasn't much of a brightside to our journey.

A lot of people who've been traveling round China are heard to grumble on return 'but the food was actually rubbish, much better at my local takeaway'. Now that's definitely not true, but we can easily see how you could get bogged down eating nasty, greasy sweet'n'sour pork or fried rice for every meal. We ate that stuff a lot too, mainly because all the menus are in Chinese characters outside very touristy areas. Luckily in Taiyuan we had a local friend. Either that or praps Taiyuan is the fine dining capital of the middle country, who knows?

Whatever the reason, both meal's eaten in Taiyuan were amazing. Basically everything you'd want Chinese food to be. Deep fried potatoes & been sprouts, charred charcoaled up aubergines and seriously awesome fresh noodles. Apparently Marco Polo stole the concept of noodles all the way home to Italy and called it tagliatelle.

The second meal in Taiyuan was at a place that specialises in dumplings and that was even better - there were some fried up tempura style mushrooms with chilli dipping sauce, (like Marco Polo, apparently the Japs stole this one), also chili and chicken spicy (very) soup and about 3 different types of dumpling including amazing egg and spring onion ones. Without a doubt the two best meals of the trip so far. Good eating!

Our reconnaissance mission then ended up in Xi'an, one of China's ancient capitals. Everything there has more of an Arab slant than the rest of China; this is 'cause ages ago lots of Arabs used to trade here, they fooled around with some local girls, got them pregnant and hundreds of years later their descendants now get called the Hui people.

Most cool of all to a western food starved stomach is the fact that they make Chinese hamburgers in Xi'an. For about 30p you get a awesomely unctuous scraping of chicken, leaves and chilli sauce in a bun. So good! Sadly, no one tried to explain to me how China invented the burger too..

Apart from all this I'm not sure what I've learnt about Chinese food so far, that they like a hamburger as much as anyone else? That people have been stealing their culinary inventions left, right and centre for centuries?




More importantly than all this hot air though, Liu Xiaobo, a prominent Chinese human right's activist was jailed for 11 years yesterday. He was found guilty of subversion, a pretty vaguely defined notion, that basically let's the Communist Party of China imprison who they like. Mainly anyone who criticises them a bit too loudly.

Liu Xiaobo is most widely known for founding the Charter 08 campaign, a manifesto signed by 300 leading Chinese bods to demand political reform and democratisation in China.

I've got no idea if these things help at all, but it's worth a try, so click here for an online petition to free Liu Xiaobo.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Courgette Cake Recipe

What is cake?
Much academic discourse centers around cake's shape, decoration and it's unusual presence at ceremonial events, but its precise definition still remains elusive. Clear examples between a bread and a cake are so easy to mention that any fool can, yet could you look me in the eye and tell me that banana bread is not cake? I would hope not.

The moniker cake has also been employed for such varied uses as a rock band and a fictional drug in the satirical spoof documentary series Brass Eye, thus further adding confusion.

Here we present to you another blurring of the cake and bread lines; a courgette cake.

1. Oil a loaf pan and preheat yer oven to 170oC.
2. Mix up 3 eggs, sugar (1 and a quarter cups), olive oil (half a cup), yogurt (half a cup), Cocoa (half a cup) and vanilla (a teaspoon).
3. Fold in 2 grated courgettes.
4. In another bowl mix 3 cups of wholegrain flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate, some seeds, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder.
5. Mix everything together and slap in the loaf pan.
6. Bake for an hour.


(notice no icing, is it this very fact that makes it courgette bread?)

For those looking for a reference point think banana bread; without the banana's and with a slight chocolate tang. If you share an interest in gender confused (or some would say bread-curious) cakes stay tuned for an upcoming chili cake recipe!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Feeding the 5000

Food waste annoys me. A lot. I briefly temped in a high profile organic yogurt companies factory last year and was dismayed at how much perfectly edible stuff was just chucked out. This problem is a global one, and to prove it we'll throw two brief facts at you; firstly, that UK households waste 25% of all the food they buy and secondly, that ten percent of rich countries greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten.

Fortunately taking place this Wednesday in Trafalgar Square is an event designed to highlight this very problem. A free lunch made from ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted will be prepared for 5000 people. The event has been organised in conjunction with charities such as Save the Children and Act!onaid. Click here if you fancy perusing some more info.

On a similar note check back soon for a coupla articles on foraging and an attempt at freeganism.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A Curry for Curry Week

Last week, as some of you may know, was national curry week. National Curry Week is, in its essence, a two pronged attack; designed to both promote the cuisine and culture of India and to raise money for the less advantaged around the world. What makes this year's national curry week extra special is that it's the two hundredth anniversary of the opening of Britain's first Indian restaurant, by Sake Dean Mahomed; he named his joint Hindoostanee Coffee House.

Clearly we had to celebrate this most auspicious of occasions; it's right there below Remembrance Sunday and Guy Fawkes as the third best special time cycle in November in our books (we decidedly prefer it to world toilet day and anti-bullying week, also both in November..). So, in order to commemorate this special week we invited a bunch of friends round and and cooked two different curries - one of these curries was supposed to be spicy and one wasn't in order to cater to all tastes.

As a stupid white male I obviously felt a need to make the spicy one very hot. I put two chillis into the cooking and a second chilli was cut up for garnish, alongside plentiful vindaloo curry paste and extra chilli powder. Weirdly it ended up virtually identical to the supposedly non-spicy curry. Rubbish to that i say.

Anyhow, here's how we knocked up the spicy one...
1. Firstly soften some garlic in olive oil, then add a well chopped onion. Saute.
2. Add mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower and swede (already softened up a by a spot of steaming in the microwave) to the mix and fry for quite a while; ten minutes or so.
3. Add some vindaloo paste and fry it all up for a bit longer.
4. Add two cups of hot water, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and some tomato puree.
5. Put a lid on the pan and let it simmer away for approx half an hour, adding water or tomato puree depending on if it looks too watery or too thick.

If you'd like to donate to The Curry Tree charitable fund (the main driving force behind curry week), then click here. The Curry Tree distributes what riches it gets to worthwhile charities doing crucial work for the malnourished, starving and poor (charities like Oxfam and Action Against Hunger). You even get posted a free curry recipe book if you donate too...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Two Decent Articles on World Food Production and One I Wrote For University Ages Ago...

Thankfully everyone's stopped worrying quite so much about the West's financial crisis and attention seems to be turning back to the BIG problem we seem to have feeding the world's population. The economist has had two awesome articles up on their website this week; one titled 'If words were food, nobody would go hungry' and another debating whether Monsanto is a corporate sinner or saint.

We thought we'd throw in our two cents worth with an old uni essay on why GM agriculture shouldn't be ignored...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Experiments in Vegetarianism

If I had to sum up my dietary habits I think I'd like to be designated a 'lazy meat eater'. I generally try to stick to a vegetarian regime, but i like meat a lot too, so quite often I'll eat animal. In an attempt to justify what in all probability is quite a flaky ethical stance I do make an effort to ensure the beast in question's at least had a decent life.

Much like Kobe beef needs a daily massage, I would for instance, if the animal in question were a chicken, require at least a semi-detached coop, a limitless diet of African Nightcrawler Worms and a four-part course of counseling to help the poor fowl accept the inevitable. So, in the interests of this blog, my wallet, and my conscience, I decided to investigate what, if anything, could make a respectable meat substitute.

My first port of call were Quorn sausages. Lincolnshire Quorn sausages to be precise, although I'm not sure if many Lincolnshire butchers would be very accepting of these lumpen excuses for bangers. I grilled them and had them with some greens; but sadly they tasted very plain, a bit like a rubbish mushroom (as you would expect, it being mycoprotein and all) and nothing like a real Lincolnshire sausage. My first let down.

I had a bit of a breakthrough next with some fake Scotch Eggs though. I'd just finished a mammoth cycle from University to my house and was bloody hungry, so stopped at Sainsbury's on the way home to pick up some groceries. Before I was even out the shop door I sampled the eggs and was pleasantly surprised and slightly satiated (they're quite small). I'm not sure if they don't even taste better than the real thing, and definitely less greasy which is a decided plus; tasty stuff!

Later on in the week a quorn steak was perhaps the most disappointing exercise in vegetarianism of the whole experiment. The principle letdown factor was that I bought two steaks in a quite sizable pack; my main line of thought was, 'well, even if it doesn't taste good, at least there's a lot of it'. Turns out the steak only took up half the pack. I'm not sure of the logic of that (unless it's to hoodwink us, the poor downtrodden consumers). It's especially bad when you consider all these environmental types warning us off meat consumption and whatnot. You'd hope Quorn, the alleged sensible alternative, would be setting a good example and not including lots of excess packaging. Anyhow the steak, like the sausages was as plain as a mouthful of the Sahara.

The only real triumph of my dabbling in vegetarianism was the discovery of Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah apparently, I'm not sure why). Personally, I like cous-cous a lot, but i have one big problem with it; and that's the fact that it's just semolina shaped into a grain like shape. A blatant fraud basically. Quinoa, however, tastes just like cous-cous but actually is a grain. It also, unlike many grains, contains a balanced set of most of the essential amino acids you'd want to make the proteins your body needs, making it an ideal component of many vegi meals. The pre-history Native Americans hanging around the Andes were big fans apparently and that's a good enough recommendation for me.

In general though, even after all this dabbling (and this is sad news for british livestock everywhere) I'm still unfortunately of the opinion that most fake meat products on the market are fairly bollocks. What my problem all boils down to, really, is that I'm a traditional man, and I like things to be as they appear. I'm pretty sure I can now safely say I'll pass on each and every variety of fungus dressed up as meat, in contrast i would, however, pay good money for one of my old housemates spicy bean-burgers...

Yum. Animal. (A Mongolian roast goat). See last week's post...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Chinese Food Reconnaissance, Part One.

Charlie and Rory's Food has recently been informed that Britain's prime takeaway choice has controversially switched over from ex-crown colony India's to China's. Intrigued we sent a correspondent on a fact-finding mission to the motherland of this tantalising chow. Our intrepid journalist criss-crossed throughout the entire, vast swathes of land occupied by this great, ancient civilisation - not in search of the perfect sweet & sour pork dish, but the very heart and soul of Chinese cuisine.
Touching down in Beijing and despairing of the crappy (and a bit expensive) tourist trap restaurants crowding our hostel's vicinity (a favourite was one with a big billboard outside offering "Nice Food. Nice Price", the price's weren't cheap, but we never found out about the food) we immediately ventured further afield.

Luckily we didn't have far to go. Wandering down a local Hutong (Mandarin for alley..) we stumbled upon an innovation in dining; one jolly Chinese lady offering pick'n'mix stew in her front room. For 3RMB or about 30p you could choose a bunch of ingredients such as bamboo, fish balls, dog treats and Chinese cabbage and then have it all knocked up into a spicy peanut-y stew. Maybe this'll catch on in Britain?
Our second meal of note was the obligatory Peking duck. Now, I'm not really sure if its possible to make crispy duck, pancakes and Hoisin sauce taste bad. Anything that crispy, fatty and sweet is as much of a shoe-in for deliciousness as a pickled pigs trotter isn't. So, already the benchmark was fairly high. Sadly our bona fide Peking duck didn't live up to the hype. It wasn't really any better than anything you can buy at a supermarket in Britain and roast yourself; quite disappointing!
Following a quick relocation we found ourselves in Inner Mongolia. Regaled with tales of mare's milk wine, hot pot boiled up in soldier's helmets and yak butter tea, all from readings of Marco Polo's memoirs, expectations were high.
Almost as soon as we got to dusty, run-down regional capital Hohhot we decided to make tracks on to the flabbergasting hectare upon hectare of nothingness, dubbed the 'grasslands'. We went there to watch 'Nadaam', a festival dedicated to the three manly sports of horse-riding, archery and wrestling.
Immediately on arriving the massive popularity of 'meat on a stick' became apparent (we thought the concept might just be a 'Beijing thing'). In the snack shop near the venue were absolutely tons of shrink wrapped meat parcels, all tastefully skewered, and horrible tasting. In an effort to ingratiate myself with new friends I found an abandoned barbecue and set up shop, using my terrible Mandarin to pass on my wares. If my medicine degree falls through I now at least know I'm perfectly capable of opening a moderately successful kebab joint in China..
Aside from this adventure in genorosity and altruism, we managed to bag an invitation to a corporate feast and booze up with the Inner Mongolian police force. Sergeant Wong, who somewhat worryingly illustrated his job by miming gunfire, noticed a couple of nervous and scrawny looking gweilos (foreigner or ghost people, in, i think, Cantonese) and sorted us out with a pity invite.
And we were happy. And hungry. And we ate so heartily that we were almost embarrassed. Whilst everyone else picked at the food like spoonbills on a barren beach, but seemed far more keen on declaring toasts of bajiao, (a fairly opprobrious clear rice liquor), we were there vigorously stuffing our faces.

At one point they brought out a whole roasted goat and had a nice little ritual involving the first cut, but pretty soon everyone just got back to knocking back the fiery booze. The actual food was phenomenal though - mellow roast goat (including the guts and liver and everything), cheese-meaty-croutons, numerous stir-fried vegetable dishes and lots of other stuff too.
Later on i attempt to munch on some leaves arranged as a garnish on the side of one plate of food. My hand was quickly slapped and i was told; "those aren't supposed to be eaten!!". 'Perhaps the Chinese attitude to salad is what makes their cuisine so beloved' i jot down in my notepad...

to be continued...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Why Plumpy'nut may be the best invention since sliced bread (even if it's brand name is grammatically incorrect...)

Often you might've heard the axiom "that's the best invention since sliced bread". It was probably used to designate an item in question as well though out: a great idea. Rarely is the idea another food item, but recently Plumpy'nut has been receiving such exuberant accolades.

Plumpy'nut is a foil packaged peanut-based paste and it's lately proved to be about as revolutionary as the idea of planting stuff in the ground in terms of treating severe hunger.

One of the key things making it great is that to get your high-energy-high-nutrient fix all you need to do is cut the corner of the pack and swallow. Repeat this with a severely malnourished kid two to three times a day and in roughly forty days they'll be up about (hopefully). It's believed Plumpy'nut will help bring mortality due to malnutrition down by about 50%.

Normal treatments for malnutrition would be something like a cup and a half of rice and a handful of lentils or beans, all seasoned with a tablespoon of oil and salt. That would be for otherwise okay adults; for the more severely malnourished (women and children mainly) high-energy milk formulas, called F100 and F75 respectively, would be used.

The real deal breaker with Plumpy'nut though, is that it's so simple to administer, meaning treatment can take place in the home. It doesn't even need water preparation or refrigeration and as it contains no water it can't be contaminated by bacteria - even milk spoils, thus foiling the idea of stay at home milk therapy. This is crucially why Plumpy'nut is so effective. Before Plumpy'nut the ideal would be for a malnourished child to stay in a therapeutic feeding centre for up to a month, being fed every two hours with milk formulas carefully diluted and measured up to to the kids weight. Other than the sheer labour intensity, this was a bad idea because malnutrition compromises the immune system, so having a bunch of kids, all liable to develop some kind of infection, in close proximity doesn't work terrifically well at all.

It even tastes good (at 28% sugar it should..), making the youths want to come back for more.

The only slight drawback we can see to Plumpy'nut is its unfortunate apostrophe (and the fact something so simple wasn't invented sooner). Maybe it's us, but we can't for the life of ourselves figure out it's use - even if it does look cute when it's illustrated on the pack by a peanut. Or does the Plumpy own the nut?

Bad punctuation falls by the wayside, I guess, when you're faced with statistics like every five seconds a child dies because of hunger. Infact I just read that starvation kills more people than Aids, Tb and malaria combined. Sadly too, if many analysts prove to be correct instances of malnutrition are only likely to increase in the future as the world's population grows, climates change and food gets scarer.

peanut paste
vegetable oil
milk powder
vitamins & minerals

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Restaurant review; Falafel Manchester

Falafel in Manchester will always have
a special place in my heart. I was introduced to this superlative defying (Although I'll probably try later on anyway..) café-slash-takeaway by an ex-girlfriend who at the time i liked, in all probability, far too much. Fortunately, these days, out of the two, i can safely say I prefer Falafel.

There are many things you can order in Falafel. Pizza, Middle-Eastern salads, Chicken's stuffed to their eyeballs with rice, etc. etc. But really, there's no reason to know of any of these options. For two pounds fifty you can buy yourself probably the tastiest humus-smothered-lettucey-chickpeaball-in-pitta creation going. Anywhere.

Since it was only a short stumble over the road from my old house it's served me terrifically well over the last twelve months or so. I'd even go as far as to stay it's been a bit of a cornerstone for many key moments in my Manchester life.

Perhaps the most satisfying meal i ever ate was at Falafel, and like all memorably appetising meals it had more to do with the timing than the taste. Shortly before Christmas last year, stumbling back in the very early evening (probably about 7pm), seriously incapacitated from an afternoon spent boozing with my friend James, I decided I needed falafel. Managing to navigate the bright lights and moronic drivers of Rusholme, I made it somehow, and purchased a terrific falafel (Falafel's falafels are always terrific). It sobered me up (a necessity) and I was well and ready for celebrations later in the evening. Never did falafel taste so good.

Falafel was my dinner on the day i finished the last exam of my degree.

Falafel was probably the first meal me and that ex-girlfriend ate together.

Falafel staff have been personally rude to me whilst i was trying to get some sponsorship cash for a charity thing I did. I still advocate the place.

Falafel was even my last ever meal in Manchester. The last supper you could say. I was meeting an old, dear friend, in fact this blog's french correspondent, Morgane Billy, in town to go see some bands. Some dinner was needed, so Morgane brought falafel along. With green chilli sauce. Goodbye Manchester!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Parsnip Cake,

When considering the similarities amidst the two most common root veg cakes (Carrot and Parsnsip!), clearly it is a logical jump to look to comparisons between the meeting of minds that took place between George Bush Jr and Tony Blair in the early 21st century. In this instance clearly the Carrot Cake can be seen as the Bush Jr type figure and Parnsip the Blair-ite.

Like Mr Blair, Parsnip Cake has often suffered lampooning by various types, many who regard the Carrot Cake's paler companion as weaker, less amiable and far too willing to acquiesce to the might and power of Carrot Cake. Often we have heard mutterings of 'lapdogs' as a metaphor in the relations between the two offshoots of this genre of root veg pudding...

But now, as with Tony Blair, it is Parnsip Cake's time! Ireland's just voted yes to the EU referendum thus setting up the possibilty of a Blair EU presidency and here, on a ubiquitous tastemaking food blog, is a saporous Parsnip Cake recipe for you all to try at home...

180g SR flour,
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda,
About 5 grated parsnips,
½ tsp caraway seed,
120g butter,
80g caster sugar,
2 eggs beaten,
Zest and juice 1 lemon

1. Heat the over to 180C
2. Sieve together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, parsnips and Carraway seeds.
3. Cream together the butter, eggs and sugar and then stir in the flour mix.
4. Finally add the lemon zest and juice and bake for 30 - 40 minutes.
5. If you fancy some topping (it really doesn't need it..) mix up some icing sugar, butter and lemon (juice and zest!) and spread it on top.
6. If you've got them crown the cake with walnuts!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

English food - point de vue à la française.

"On ne peut pas faire confiance à des gens qui ont une cuisine aussi mauvaise. (…) Après la Finlande, c'est le pays où on mange le plus mal."

Jacques Chirac. Président francais entre 1995-2007

Eh bien voilà comment entretenir de bonnes vieilles querelles de voisinage... On connaissait Chirac, grand amateur de tête de veau, on sait maintenant qu'il n'est pas un grand fan du fameux english pudding. C'est assez étrange de voir à quel point les clichés sont ancrés dans nos sociétés; les anglais sont arrogants et leur nourriture est infecte, les Français sont prétentieux et excellent dans l'art de la grève,... mais qu'en est-il vraiment? Avant de partir pour Manchester, mes amis m'ont tous annoncé à quel point je mangerai mal, à quel point les aliments sont chers et la qualité vraiment inquiétante, mais après ces quelques mois passés là-bas, je pense qu'il est temps de remettre les pendules à l'heure!! Nous autres, français, avons une passion dévorante- c'est le cas de le dire- pour la nourriture, on en oublierait même parfois le conseil de Socrate: ''il faut manger pour vivre et non pas vivre pour manger''. Donc on mange bien en France, on a connu et possède encore certains des plus grands chefs au monde; il semble cependant que le succès nous ait un peu monté à la tête: on a voulu inscrire la gastronomie française au patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco. Ridicule. Et prétentieux. De même, on est persuadé que notre nourriture est la meilleure, la plus raffinée. Mais, soyons honnêtes la nourriture de tous les jours est bien loin des plats concoctés par un Ducasse ou un Robluchon.

Et pour en revenir à l'Angleterre et à sa nourriture de pub, pour l'avoir expérimentée, je m'en porte pas plus mal. En effet, si on jette plus qu'un coup d'œil dédaigneux, on découvre des plats qui n'ont rien à envier à notre fameux bœuf bourguignon.

Les plats anglais sont généralement d'une étonnante simplicité, et c'est bien là l'avantage qu'ils présentent; en effet, il est possible de réaliser ces recettes sans pour autant un chef étoilé. Prenez par exemple, le shepherd pie- le hachis parmentier local-, pour en avoir vu faire du début à la fin, ça ne requiert pas de talent particulier... désolée...mais d'un autre côté, cela permet d'utiliser sa créativité en accommodant des plats classiques par des condiments, des nouveaux ingrédients, et ainsi les rendre en quelque sens unique.

La simplicité à l'anglaise: le shepherd pie, ou le hachis parmentier local
Ensuite, les plats anglais sont peut-être classiques, mais il est facile de bien les accompagner, et ce par les sauces. Là où les Français aimons mettre de l'huile, du beurre et de la crème, vous mettez du vinaigre, vous poussez même le vice d'en mettre directement sur les frites; ce qui au début a été un peu difficile, mais finalement on s'en accommode très bien, tant bien même que j'ai ramené une bouteille avec moi... Mettons de côté l'horrible sauce gravy en granulé, shall we? Et pensons à la horseradish sauce, une pure merveille, un petit goût de wasabi sans pour autant avoir son exotique ; la bramley apple sauce: l'accompagnement idéal du rôti de porc; et enfin la Worcestershire sauce, qui je pense, devrait se mettre partout tellement elle est bonne, elle relèverait n'importe quel plat.
Les petits déjeuners anglais, les tourtes de viande aux pommes de terre, les saucisses avec purée, et autres baked beans sur toast... Ahh que tous ces plats ont l'air gras, lourd sur l'estomac, peu raffinée... oui, c'est vrai d'un premier abord, cependant, pensez un instant à l'expérience: un moment de douce et huileuse culpabilité, oui c'est gras et oui il vaut mieux ne pas en manger tout le temps, mais quel plaisir!
Donc, tout d'abord l'expérience, ensuite beaucoup de critiques vont mettre en avant le basique des recettes, cependant, lorsqu'on les compare à certains de nos plats comme la salade niçoise ou le gratin dauphinois, je ne vois pas de quoi les anglais devraient avoir honte. Certains plats comme le toad in the hole sont tout aussi techniques que notre sauté de veau marengo.

A toad in the hole, un bien bon crapaud dans un trou

Cependant, on mélange souvent technique, préparation et raffinement; ce n'est pas parce qu'un plat est sophistiqué qu'il est bon, au contraire, c'est parfois des recettes simples qui font le bonheur de nos papilles: par exemple, une galette bretonne complète, bien réalisée, ni trop sèche, ni gorgée de beurre: un vrai délice. Le même exemple revient au fameux English breakfast: des ingrédients de bonne qualité, une bonne cuisson: pour ça, je me paierai un billet Eurostar illico, encore faut-il avoir la bonne adresse... Et hélas, aussi bien en France qu'en Angleterre, seuls de petits bijoux se trouvent parmi une myriade de pubs se voulant être de la haute cuisine, et il est bien difficile et rare de les trouver. Dommage.
Voici donc une opinion assez originale, voire iconoclaste, vous me direz... Faire l'apologie de la cuisine anglaise, qu'elle soit haute ou pas, n'était pas mon leitmotiv; mais plutôt celui de rétablir une vérité face à laquelle de vieux clichés mènent la vie dure. Oui, la cuisine anglaise n'est peut-être pas la plus raffinée, ni la meilleure pour la santé, mais ce n'est pas la pire.

By Morgane Billy
(Charlie and Rory's Food's French correspondent)

English food, a French standpoint (English translation)

'' We cannot trust these people, their food is way too bad. (…) Beside Finland, it is worst country for food.''
Jacques Chirac, French President between 1995-2007

Well, this is obviously a good way to maintain good relationships between neighbours! We knew that Chirac was a food lover, especially for the calf's head recipe; however, we now also know that he isn't particularly keen on English pudding.

It is pretty amazing how stereotypes are still so established in our societies; in France English people are seen as arrogant and their food as simply disgusting; for the rest of the world, French people are pretentious and masters of the art of striking... but is this all true?

Before leaving France for Manchester, my friends told me to beware of the food, apparently prices were ridiculously high and quality very low, however, after a few months there, I think it's time to set things right! We, French people, have such a passion for food that we even sometimes forget Socrates's quote: ''You should eat to live; not live to eat''. Then, yes we have good food and some of the best head-cooks; however, it seems like we started to have a swollen head: we wanted to write down the French gastronomy in UNESCO's World heritage.

Ridiculous. And Pretentious. Moreover, we are sure our food is way better than any other, way more elaborated. But let's be honest, the courses we are eating in the everyday life are pretty far from the ones cooked by some of our rewarded chefs.

Let's come back to England, and what we could call its Pub-gastronomy; to have tasted it, well it seems that all those clichés weren't true after all... Maybe it's time paying attention rather than scornfully glancing at English food and discovering recipes that have nothing to be ashamed of.

English courses are normally quite simple, and this represents the main advantage of such cuisine. Indeed, it is possible to cook oneself good recipes without being a grand chef. For instance, the shepherd pie, to have witnessed the preparation from scratch, well it does not require any specific talent... sorry about that.. but the point is that its simplicity allows to enhance such basic meals thanks to creativity. Using seasoning, new ingredients, it is possible to transform a random course into a unique experience; in an easier way because the cooking doesn't need a strict follow-up of the recipe.

Then, English meals might be classic, but at least, it is easy to accompany them well, thanks to sauces mainly. To create dressing, we like to use oil, butter and cream, while you seem to use with no restriction malt vinegar- you even put some on chips, which at the beginning was a little bit disturbing, but finally I ended loving it, and so bad that I brought a bottle back home. Anyhow, let's forget the granulated gravy sauce, s'il vous plaît?

And think about horseradish sauce, amazing, a little air of wasabi without all the exotic aspect brought with; then the bramley apple one, absolutely delicious in any roast pork dish; and finally, the ultimate must-have, the Worcestershire sauce, it can spice up any recipe.

The full English breakfast, meat potatoes pies, an hand-made hamburger, mash potatoes and sausages, baked beans on toast... Ahh, all of these courses seem fat, heavy, and not really sophisticated; and at first sight yes they are; however, let's think for a while about the experience: enjoying them brings up a mass of guilt-feeling, because, yes it is unhealthy and, yes we rather not eat them every single day, but what a pleasure!

Then, a lot of criticisms are made about the simplicity of recipes. However, when we start a comparison with some national dishes like salade niçoise or gratin dauphinois, well they seem easy to create as well. Certain courses, such as the toad in the hole, need as much technique as our sauté de veau marengo (a special sautéed veal).
A sidenote: quite an interesting name for a dish: a toad in the hole... Food for thoughts please

However, we frequently mix up between preparation, technique and refinement. It's not because a course is sophisticated that it is good, it is even often the contrary that happens. For instance, a savoury buckwheat pancake might be the simplest meal ever, but well cooked, it is a wonder. Same for an English breakfast with quality ingredients and a good cooking; I would pay for a Eurostar ticket right away. The problem is, as much in UK than in France, to find the good place; and it's most of the time hard and rare to do so. A shame.

Well this is an iconoclast point of view, you might say. Praising English cuisine, whether it is haute or not, was not really the leitmotiv here, but rather to restore the heckled truth. Yes, English food is not the most refined one, neither the healthiest, however, it is not the worst one.
Morgane Billy

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Dictator's Diets

From Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, to Gaddafi in Libya, to Lord Voldermort in a certain, recent blockbusting book/film conglomerate, dictators and their hokum are ubiquitous and hard to escape from, even in our supposedly advanced, modern times.

Luckily most of us (or at least most of our readers..) live in relatively democratic countries free from the repression and human rights abuses characteristic of autocratic set-ups. In keeping with our blog’s topical nature and spirit we have decided to analyse whether it's possible to find a correlation between the diets of notorious despots and their general levels of derangement. Additionally we shall interpret the underlying causes and meanings behind our dictator's dietary choices.

Iet's begin with Stalin, a paranoid megalomaniac responsible for numerous purges and the deaths of millions of Soviets.

It has jokingly been said that one of Stalin’s favourite modern gameshows would be "meal or no meal"; in reference to his presiding over the USSR during a time of starvation for many – Holodomor, a drastic Ukrainian famine that took place in the early 30s is mentioned particularly often. Holodomor resulted from a USSR policy on collective farms leading to famines starving millions to death. Importantly there were no natural causes for this starvation, and unlike other Soviet Republics of 1932, Ukraine infact enjoyed a bumper wheat crop. Last year this act was recognised by the governments of twenty countries as genocide.

Cuisine wise it’s fair to say Stalin liked the finer things in life, however his diet was fairly conventional. The moustachioed megalomaniac was a proud champion of Soviet dishes and in-fact even requested that a cookbook be written documenting the best Georgian, Russian and Ukrainian meals.

Recipes included in the book were such Soviet staples as a Russian Winter Salad (a salad composed of diced potato, vegetables and sometimes meats bound in mayonnaise.), Kotlety (Russian mince cakes) and Harcho (a spicy Georgian meat soup). Perhaps at some sub-conscious level these choices were due to a need to be loved and a desperate wish to be a ‘man of the people’.


Similarly Chairman Mao of the People’s Republic of China shared Stalin’s taste for uncomplicated, patriotic dishes, with his favourite being red roasted pork and bitter melon. Simple psychoanalysis can clarify this choice – the red roasted pork clearly represents communism in Mao’s mind, as shown by the red pigment, whilst the green must unequivocally represent capitalism (the colour of the US dollar, no less!). Is it any coincidence the red roasted pork tastes sweet and the green bitter melon sour? We sincerely doubt it…

Luckily if we press on in history, dictators with slightly more outlandish diets are easier to stumble upon. For examply let’s move the focus of our attentions to a more modern day fellow, Sadaam. Now, mention Sadaam Hussein and food and he'll probably mostly be remembered for potentially scamming billions of dollars from the UN food for oil program. However, interestingly, rumour has it Sadaam's last meal may have in fact been hamburgers and fries.

Now we're unsure how to interpret this move, perhaps a somewhat deliberated acceptance of the American occupation of his old country? A can’t beat ‘em join ‘em gesture? Whatever reasons behind his decision, if true, it was a particularly unusual meal for such a devout champion of Arab nationalism.

Moving further East, we get to Kim Jong-Il, who incidentally should probably take the award for most accurate caricature of an evil villain ever! (short stature - check, stupid haircut - check, massive germ phobia - check, vast harems of Swedish models - double check), so perhaps its unsurprising his diet matches up.

Whilst 22 million in his drought-ravaged country are starving and slurping gruel made from boiled grass Kim sips vintage Cognac and eats pizza.

Infact Kim Jong is Hennesy cognac's biggest customer, annually importing nearly half a million pounds worth of vintage Brandy each year. He has also gone to ridiculous lengths to create North Korea's first Italian restaurant, sending cooks to Naples and Rome for training after they made "errors", making you wonder exactly how hard it is to make a pasta sauce?

Kim Jong Il has been on record offering this simple, infuriating comment on the Pyongyang restaurant; "the people should also be allowed access to the world's famous dishes". Hmmmm.

Finally, to round off this happy family we'd be churlish not to include possibly the twentieth centuries most notorious dictator, the staunch champion of racial purity (and obviously complete idiocy), Adolf Hitler.

In relation to food, firstly it is interesting to record that "The Poison Kitchen" was the nickname Hitler dubbed a group of journalists at Bavarian newspaper, The Munich Post. These journalists were highly critical of Hitler and ran a series of negative investigative exposés in the 20s and 30s. They were one of only a few early dissenting voices on the rise of the Nazi party…

When Hitler finally came to power in 1933, The Munich Post offices were subject to a vicious ransacking by Sturmabteilung (stormtroopers) and each and every member of staff went "missing". For ever. The very street address was wiped of the map. It's enlightening to note that Hitler chose a food related nickname in this instance.

Most interestingly however, Hitler was a vegetarian. Or at least a self-described vegetarian; rumours abound of his hit and miss devotion to a meat free diet. Apparently his decision was based on the composer Richard Wagner's anti-semitic diet theories. These are pretty long and convoluted, but essentially boil down to a belief that 'man's historic fall' - was initially triggered by a move by vegetarian people driven by famine to renounce their natural diet and consume flesh.

To even our slowest readers, we hope a trend is beginning to emerge. Admittedly we realise that our data set may have been small, but our methods were precise; clearly it is this that has allowed such flawless analysis and quick conclusion. It seems obvious that there are infact only two extremes evident in most dictator’s diets. That of either staunch patriotic nationalism or avant-garde idiocy.

Write in and let us know which choice your countries dictator favours!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Spit Roast Lamb - Spit Roasting DIY

A week or so ago I had a hand in spit roasting two lambs over an open fire. 

Oddly I have a little bit of experience in doing such things.. Going back a few years, I invited a big group of friends round for a pig / hog roast. Good fun, lots of things learnt. We bought in a barrel of Stowfords Press (export which was abbout 6%).. Lethal.

The actual roasting was a great success. I used a scaffold pole as a spit. I made a "fire box" from an old 45 gallon oil barrel sliced in half with an angle grinder. Very Heath-Robinson.. but totally ace. It was such an effective construction that a good friend of mine bought it off me as he wanted it for himself!

The second time I spit roasted a pig was a couple of years later. I organised a small Music festival. The tickets were free - I hoped to raise money to pay for the event through selling roast pork / pork rolls. We had the worlds largest tray of sage and onion stuffing. The music festival was a success. The pork, apple sauce, and stuffing rolls sold like hot-cakes!

I used a scaffolding pole as a spit, and also some threaded bar - used as bolts to securely hold the pig onto the spit. (very frankenstein)

Below are the lamb photos..

Confusion .. "which end in first?"

Below you can see the hammering of a scaffold pole up the rear end of a lamb! It seems to be traditional to shout amusing phrases like "can you see it going in?"  when doing such a task..

The beady-eyed amongst you will notice the magnificent scaffolding structure that I devised to keep the English rain off our roasting. A simple A-Frame combined with an old barn door.

Below you can see the lambs with the threaded bars to secure them on the spit. good stuff!

Post- Roast. Removing the grill / bolts for carving in the marquee. Tasty Tasty!

big smiles all round.

ps. If you need a free-lance spit roaster - I'm your man!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Food Related Photos

A few we like..

Coming soon: Evil dictators and what their diets say about them...
And also Parsnip Cake!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Yeast in the Middle East?

On numerous occasions (well, two..) this blog has championed the many merits of that dark, gooey, yeasty confection dubbed 'Marmite'. Great on toast, with roast potatoes or even possibly used as a deodorant, clearly Marmite is a genius invention.

Bearing this in mind, whilst it may be quite late news to many (the concept is nine years old!), we feel it's important to share Marmite's proposed role in the Middle East peace process with you, our intellectual, well-informed readership. One creative chap advising the foreign office has been particularly keen on the idea of our favourite half-crude-oil/half-sandwich-spread mix being promoted for sale round this troubled region. The logic behind this being a lack of zinc makes men irritable and belligerent. Zinc comes in yeast. No-one in the Middle East makes bread with yeast. So obviously give them Marmite!

Sadly despite this profound breakthrough (who could ever need two states, if you've got two slices of toast and some marmite?) the UN have yet to start dropping parcels of Marmite food aid...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ask The Rabbi?

Like much of mankind's recorded past the origin of the sandwich is clouded in myth. Controversially, in common with a large portion of modern history, the sandwich may too have been a victim of poisonous anti-Semitic actions and denials.

We found it illuminating to discover a comprehensive and convincing body of evidence behind the invention, in-fact, being a creation of Rabbi Hillel the Elder, rather than the conceited Englishman the Earl Of Sandwich. Interestingly this would have been well over fifteen hundred years before the grand earl arrogantly added his title to the mix!

Evidence uncovered stems from a part of the Passover Seder, (the annual commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt), in the section of Korech, where the Haggadah, the ancient liturgy, instructs participants to take the matzo and wrap it around the bitter herbs and eat them together whilst saying in Hebrew: "This is a remembrance of Hillel in Temple times — This is what Hillel did when the Temple existed: he used to enwrap the Paschal lamb, the matzo and the bitter herbs and eat them as one."

Rabbi Hillel is also famous for once having been asked to explain the Jewish religon whilst standing on one foot, he is said to have quickly replied "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn". Pretty much all you need to know right?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Free Rice!

Free Rice is seriously cool. Three mega things about it,
1. you learn stuff,
2. you donate rice to countries that need it most,
3. Bob Geldof's not involved anywhere,

It's also highly addictive. Not recommended if you should be studying for exams..

Sunday, 31 May 2009

jerk my goat - bbq

In light of the 'el-sorchio' weather, we fired up the rickety old bbq. I've wanted to cook goat ever since the butcher across the road from my house put up a sign in his window saying "we now stock goat".

I had a a quick browse on the internet for some goat related inspiration - of which there was plenty.

I quite fancied giving 'jerk' a bit of a go. Apparently, a traditional Jamaican style of cooking goat.

Key ingredients of jerk:

allspice (pimento)

scotch bonnet peppers





all smashed and bashed together. Its supposed to be a 'dry rub'.

The jerk seasoning was made up, then rubbed well onto the goat. I left it for a couple of hours to do its business while the bbq built up heat. I did drizzle a little olive oil over the goat before cooking.

The butcher told me to cook it slowly. I used tin foil on the bbq to slow the cooking down.

Whilst other more regular bbq items (burgers, kebabs etc) were cooked, the goat slowly, but surely did its thing.

Whilst I'm talking about kebabs - I'll let you in on a top tip: old bicycle spokes make excellent kebab skewers! I cut 10 spokes from an old bicycle wheel, cleaned them up thoroughly.. They did an excellent job. (and were free!)

Moving back to the goat.

It was great! Very tasty.

I'll cook goat again no doubt. I have plans for both curried goat, and also a roast goat leg.

Get a goat on your bbq!

goat links:

Goat Leg Roulade - Smoked