Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

How to poach a pear

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 | Food

Recently, I’ve given in to the sheer volume of people telling me I should be watching MasterChef, and jumped it. I’m enjoying it. But it also really undermines my confidence in my cooking: how does everyone on there know how to make their own pasta?

For dessert, they’re always poaching pears. That doesn’t take that much skill, does it?

It does look impressive, though. So I thought I would dive in.

For this, I filled a pan with water and dissolved some sugar in it. I then used a dessert pair and poached them for around 15 minutes. Results were okay. It was served with a vanilla cream.

For attempt two, I poached the pears in red wine. This involved a bottle of merlot (because that is what I had to hand) and some conference pears. I poached them for an hour to get them really tender and allow the colour to sink in on all sides. Along with the sugar I dissolved in the red wine, I also added some cinnamon and star anise.

I served it with some lemon curd. The tartness adds some nice contrast to the sweetness of the pair. A few pomegranate seeds and a simple biscuit crumb finished the dish.

Amazing Malaysian

Friday, March 17th, 2017 | Books, Food

Malaysia is a cool country when it comes to culinary history. They have the Malay people, along with large minority populations of Indian and Chinese people. They also have colonial influences from the British and Portuguese. Their food is almost fusion in itself.

I also like that they do not worry too much about food being hot: it all gets served together. This is nice because serving scorching hot food is, quite frankly, a hassle. A hassle worth going to when the food calls for it, but in this case, it is fine to let rice steam for 15 minutes after cooking.

The narrator is Norman Musa. He hails from Penang, but is better known for Ning restaurant in Manchester.

Most of the recipes followed a set pattern. You would start by blitzing a mixture of ingredients: typically chilli, garlic, cinnamon, star anise and onion (or not, in my case) then mixing it with some ground cinnamon and a pandan leaf, before frying it and adding some meat.

It turns out that you can get pandan leaf in Leeds. Many of the other rare ingredients we were unable to procure. Musa also uses dried chilis in most of his recipes. We managed to pick up a bag of a few hundred at the international supermarket.

Fish pate. I have no idea if I was doing this correctly.

Indian lentil patties.

Spicy baked haddock.

Beef with pineapple.

Beef with tomatoes.

Aromatic chicken curry.

Beef with rice.

How to make fried rice

Sunday, March 5th, 2017 | Food

Want to turn a normally healthy food into something unhealthy and delicious, without having to go down to the local takeaway? Follow these instructions.

Fried rice is super-tasty and really simple to make. It works well as a side dish, or as the main event, especially if you are adding some protein into the mix.

Ingredients

  • Long-grain rice
  • Bean sprouts
  • Garden peas
  • Groundnut oil
  • Egg

Instructions

  1. Pre-cook the rice. The instructions on the packet will explain how to do this will be on the side of the packet. Typically it will involve bringing a pan of water to boil and dropping the rice in for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the rice and set aside.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok until it is nice and hot.
  4. Throw in the beansprouts and garden peas and stir fry them. By stir fry, I mean push around the pan a lot with a wooden spoon.
  5. Throw the rice in too and give it another two minutes.
  6. Make a hole in the centre of the pan, then crack and egg and drop the contents into the hole.
  7. Give the egg a minute or two to cook, then rough it up with a fork until it is lots of little pieces.
  8. Mix everything together and serve.

Is fresh yeast better than dried yeast?

Saturday, March 4th, 2017 | Food

Buying, storing and using fresh yeast can be rather time-consuming. But does it produce better bread?

Some cookbooks will insist that you simply cannot bake nice bread without making your own sourdough and using fresh yeast. Others, such as the River Cottage Handbook: Bread says that using fresh yeast is too much hassle most of the time. But what is the truth?

The biggest advantage of dried yeast is that it stays alive for a really long time. A packet may have a shelf live of 6 months or longer. In comparison, fresh yeast needs to be bought when you need it. It will stay alive a little while in the fridge, or you can freeze it, but then you need to remember to defrost it in advance of using it.

You also need to find it. None of the major supermarkets stocks it so you need to find a friendly baker or local health food shop and make an additional trip there to get it. The tried stuff just sits in your cupboard, ready to go.

How about the taste, though? Surely that makes it all worthwhile. Well, in reality, probably not. When I tried both, I could not tell the difference between the bread I had baked with fresh yeast and the bread I had baked with instant yeast.

This is surprising because you would think that I would get at least a placebo benefit from the fresh yeast. But there really is little to choose between the two, at least in bread, you make in your own kitchen.

Fresh yeast might be nice to try once in a while. However, it is unlikely you will notice any difference, and the additional complication makes it a lot of effort for little gain.

Is organic food better for you?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017 | Food, Science

Organic food sellers are constantly touting the superior taste and health benefits of their products. But can they back this up with any evidence?

Organic food can often cost far more than the “non-organic” alternative. But is it really worth paying more for it? Is it any better for you, or for the environment?

So far, the scientific consensus is clear: no. Organic food is not any more nutritious, does not taste any better, nor is any safer than traditionally grown crops. It does not seem to be any better for the environment either, especially compared to genetically engineered crops that, by design, require fewer pesticides that traditionally-grown or organic food.

In 2012, a study by Stanford University confirmed what the rest of the scientific community had already been saying. There is just no evidence that organic is better.

So why do some people swear by it? The most obvious reason is the placebo effect. Because the branding will typically make claims about it tasting better, and because people will almost certainly have paid more for it, they are likely to receive some placebo effect from expecting it to be better.

However, when it comes down to the option of buying a luxury brand or an organic brand, the choice is clear. Even if the luxury brand is no better either, the placebo will probably be even bigger. For the rest of us, it is time to save some money guilt free.

To the wine guzzlers hoarding that one special bottle

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017 | Food

Let’s face facts: you have already waited too long to drink that bottle.

You know the one. The expensive looking red that was a year or two old when you got it. You put it aside for a special occasion. That makes sense. You might as well chug cheap plonk until you have someone to share it with.

But now it is five years later. Ten years later. It is still sitting there in your kitchen. You have moved house since then. The bottle came with you. You keep telling yourself that you are just waiting for an occasional special enough. But that occasion never comes. You have had major changes in your life since then and the bottle is still sitting there.

It’s not getting any better. You’re not even sure it has a cork in it, and even if it does, you have had it stood upright all of this time. All you are doing is building up expectations that it is going to be great. It cannot possibly live up to that hype anymore.

So, do yourself a favour. Crack it open tonight. This week at the latest. The next time someone suggests wine, reach straight for it. The poor thing has waited long enough.

Spring rolls

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 | Food

Have you ever tried to make your own spring rolls?

I have tried several times, from several different cookbooks. It is difficult. First, you have to get the rice paper in a bowl of water. Th is hard because it does not bend much without cracking. I usually manage to crack it on the way in. Then, once it’s in, god help you if you put it near another spring roll because they stick together like crazy.

Then you add the filling and try to roll it. I was told to tightly roll it, so I did. The filling squirted out the end. This happens every time, even though I never manage to get it that tight.

Finally, you have to cook them. Keeping your oil at the correct temperature and preventing them from sticking together, leaking filling or exploding all at the same time is an art.

It could be that spring rolls happen to be a weakness for me. However, I suspect it might be that the subtle art of making spring rolls is difficult to communicate in a cookbook.

Does anyone have a more positive experience? What are the secrets?

Baconated kale recipe

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Food

Have you ever thought to yourself “I wish I could eat more kale, which genuinely is a super food, but it just tastes so boring”? If so, never fear. I have found a solution that will have you eating kale until it comes out of your ears.

The solution: combine it with a second super food. In this case, bacon.

Everyone knows bacon is a super food, of course. It cures hangovers. It comes from a magical animal, one that produces chops, ribs, gammon and much, much more. Best of all is the unmistakable smell that comes down the corridor as soon as someone starts frying it.

I used pancetta, but any type of bacon will do. Start by cutting it up into small pieces. Next, fry it in a pan until crispy. While you are doing this, steam the kale. When they are both cooked, toss to mix.

Or, if you want to get more of the bacon flavour into the kale, cook the bacon first and then toss it with the kale. If you have the bacon crispy before it goes in, it should not go soggy during steaming.

Tapas Revolution

Friday, January 27th, 2017 | Books, Food

Tapas Revolution is a cookbook by Omar Allibhoy. Omar hails from Spain and previously worked at elBulli, which, between 2006 and 2009, was voted the best restaurant in the world four times running. Now he runs a chain of UK-based restaurants by the same name as his cookbook.

Tapas is usually associated with small dishes. However, most of the recipes Omar includes are big meals. Typically, the dishes involve frying a lot of garlic, throwing in some chorizo, and then maybe adding a few more ingredients. We are pretty sure we set a new chorizo-eating record somewhere towards the end of tapas month.

Some of the recipes were a bit lacking on the instructions. A bit of filling in the blanks, and adjusting the quantities to something more sensible. Other dishes were beautifully simple to implement. My favourite recipe in the book is the still lemonade.

Prawns with chorizo, black pudding and fried bread.

Clams with ham.

Chicken paella. I only put half the amount of water in that the recipe indicated. Even then, I was incredulous. “This is never going to work”. But it did; it all came together at the very end.

Creme caramel. The instructions for making the caramel are very unclear, but it turned out edible.

Blackberry cheesecake.

It was a fun book. Most of the recipes were quick to cook. Those that were not, could be left unattended while you did something else. Some of the instructions were frustrating, but there are definitely recipes in here that I will be going back to. If nothing else, it provides simple recipes to cook things like prawns and chorizo in a tasty and uncomplicated way.

Lunch at Bird and Beast

Monday, December 12th, 2016 | Food, Reviews

bird-and-beast

We were not in love with Bird & Beast, Leeds the first time we visited. It was just chicken, and we can go to Nando’s for that.

However, I visited for lunch a few weeks ago and I am pleased to report that they have really upped their game. The chicken now comes with a variety of delicious sauces and toppings, and they have expanded their menu too. I assumed I was the beast on their original menu, but now they have options for red meat-lovers and vegetarians alike.