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...

Ingredients
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

Instructions
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!
Grand!

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’.

Kotlety

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!