Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Canapes

Monday, June 19th, 2017 | Books, Food

A lot of my cooking revolves around main courses. It is easy to slip into this pattern: I only do a three-course meal once or twice per week. Therefore, a lot of the starter, lunch and dessert recipes get forgotten about.

However, I have been making a conscious effort to expand this. Adding some new canapes to my repertoire seemed a good direction to go.

A lot of the recipes in this book were too fiddly for me to bother. However, there are some firm favours. The Asian pork balls, for example. And the mini-burgers were not that difficult either.

Pancetta and tomato with basil pesto crostini, and a citrus avocado puree crostino.

Filo tartlets with beef.

All in all, I’ll give this the thumbs up. It has provided me with some great little recipes.

Chocolate soufflé

Monday, May 29th, 2017 | Food

My first batch didn’t rise much and collapsed quickly when I took them out of the oven.

It wasn’t a lack of time because I baked this one to death.

For attempt three, I used Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. It was tediously complex. There were so many stages. But, as you can see above, it did produce better results.

Mushroom town: how a tiny corner shop beat Sainsbury’s

Saturday, May 27th, 2017 | Food

Unless you are from Yorkshire, you have probably never heard of Pateley Bridge. Why should you? It has a population of 2,000 people and a single high street that, if made any steeper, would be a vertical drop.

If you want to buy groceries, it’s a drive to the nearest supermarket. Or, you could try one of the two local stores located in the town.

This is a far stretch from my home city of Leeds. It has a population of over 600,000, and that is just the city itself. The wider metropolitan area makes up the biggest population outside of London.

So, you would think that the product ranges available would be incompatible. And, for the most part, they are. But, on a recent trip to Pateley Bridge, one store threw up a pleasant surprise.

Where to buy mushrooms in Leeds

If you want to buy mushrooms, a supermarket seems the obvious place. They sell food, after all. If you want to buy any mushroom more interesting than the standard varieties, you can find them at Sainsbury’s.

In a box called “speciality mushrooms”.

Which includes a selection from the following list:

“Shiitake, Buna-Shimeji, Shiro-Shimeji, Eryngii, Oyster mushrooms, Enoki, Golden Enoki, Maitake”

So, while you will end up with something more interesting, there is no way to know what you will get or in want quantities. There is no way to plan a meal, for example. And even if there was, because you get a selection, you never have enough of what you actually want.

Unless you buy a lot of boxes and throw most of the mushrooms away. Which, again, you can’t, because you do not know what you are going to get.

And there are no chanterelles anywhere to be found. Nor can they be found in Ocado’s spacious warehouse.

A surprising find in Pateley Bridge

Last month, we visited Pateley Bridge. On returning from our walk, we wanted to buy some bread and had a choice of the two convenience stores located in the town.

One of them advertised it was selling “paninis”. This quickly ruled the store out: as a pedant (yes, despite my awful spelling), I couldn’t possibly buy from a store that did not understand that “panini” was already the plural of “panino”.

By process of elimination, we entered the other store. And found this sitting on the shelves.

Despite never having seen chanterelle mushrooms in any supermarket in Leeds, nor at Kirkgate market of street stalls, here in this small town of 2,000 people, they were on sale.

Sure, they are dried. The store wasn’t having fresh chanterelles shipped in every few days. But that makes it even more inexplicable as to why you cannot buy them anywhere else.

Conclusion

There probably is an obscure shop somewhere in Leeds that sells them. If you know of it, let me know.

Until then, as I don’t fancy the hour’s drive to Pateley Bridge every time I want some mushrooms, it may be time to follow the adage “if you want a mushroom done right, you have to grow it yourself.”

Baskin Robbins: a review

Friday, May 26th, 2017 | Food

Baskin Robbins have a store in the Merrion Centre. We went in to try their wares: it would have been rude not to, really. I love Joe Deluccio’s in Trinity, so that was our main basis for comparison.

I had the chocolate mud and the mint chocolate chip. It’s not quite as smooth as Deluccio’s, but is still tasted great. The cone was a mixed bag: it was big, so contained the ice cream very well. However, it was a bit difficult to get to the ice cream and it collapsed towards the end.

On our second visit, they had no chocolate ice cream. No regular chocolate, no Mississippi mud, not even a mint chocolate chip.

The staff were surly both times. In fairness, they weren’t overly unfriendly, but they definitely are not pleased to see you. Which seems strange given they have so few other customers. Service at Joe Deluccio’s is also unfriendly, though.

The 4-Hour Chef

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 | Books, Food

Tim Ferriss is a super-star. Jeff Goins nailed it when he said that people didn’t love Tim Ferriss for the message he brings, but just because he’s such a cool person that you want to me like him.

Since rising to fame with The Four-Hour Work Week, he has gone on to push the franchise with The Four-Hour Body and this, The Four-Hour Chef.

It’s quite clever the way he sells it (or sneaky). He sends you the audiobook for free when you join his mailing list. But there are no recipes in it: every 5 minutes the narrator says “please refer to the print or eBook edition for recipe steps and sidebars”.

Ferriss suggests that cookbooks are written for those who can already cook. They are arranged by category and don’t explain what is going on. Instead, this book is arranged by technique, starting from the basics and building up.

It is arranged into five sections: meta, domestic, wild, science and pro. In meta-learning, he talks about how to learn faster and more efficiently. He then takes you through the building blocks of cookery in dom.

In wild, we are treated to a narrative of Tim’s adventures. How to survive a disaster and catch a pigeon, for example. Science is similar: there is some science in it, but also plenty of stories: the time he attempted Ben & Jerry’s Vermonster, for example, or his food marathon: 26.2 dishes in 24 hours. Something I would love to try.

Finally, in pro, he rounds off with talking to some of the best chefs in the world about how they do what they do.

I tried a lot of the recipes in domestic. They’re fun. None have made my regular rotation, but I made the Vietnamese burgers more than once.

I also really enjoyed a lot of the explanations. Why do you need to brown meat? I knew why already, but no cookbook ever takes the time to explain it: it’s more folk knowledge. Why do you need mustard in a vinaigrette? Why do you rest steak? It’s all in here.

The science is a mixed bag. It’s really interesting to learn about all of the different aspects of the cooking process, gels, emulsions, etc. However, I struggled to follow along with the theory. I more felt like I was getting starter points to learn about it on my own. And some of the science in here is a little dubious. Like his original book, I suspect Ferriss doesn’t let the truth ruin a good story.

If you’re a Tim Ferriss fan, this is a no-brainer. Get the hardback: it’s a monster.

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.