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Pairing Whines With Food

by Patrick on September 9th, 2014 2 Comments ·

In every blogger’s life there comes a time when your positive approach to your chosen subject matter just runs out of steam; when every time you sit down at your battered old typewriter (who am I kidding? your battered old pc), the joy and inspiration you’re supposed to feel just isn’t there. It’s not necessarily that you having nothing to say, but really just that you have nothing nice, or at least positive  or constructive to say.

So sometimes you wait until that feeling- or lack thereof- passes. But if you’re not paying attention, that feeling can last for much longer than you might think, and you eventually find that you haven’t written anything for months, all because you felt you had to sugar whatever pill you were going to serve up. Of course that not good for either a blogger or a blog.

Sometimes you just have to accept that you’ll be writing in the negative – with squid ink, so to speak. At least that will get any food-related grizzles and gristle off your chest, and who knows? You might find that there’s a world of people out there who agree with you. So in that spirit of complaint and ventilation, I am now going to whine about this foodie’s current pet peeves in the culinary world:

1. THE PEJORATIVE USE OF THE TERM “FOODIE”

Of course “foodies” can be “snobs”, and of course “foodies” are meant to be “knowledgeable” about “food”. But we ain’t all  “It’s farmer’s market organic bio-dynamically grown or you can stick it in the bin and that’s the wrong wine for that course” meanies. Personally, I take the term “foodie” to mean “someone who has an enthusiastic interest in food as a hobby”.

I make no claims to high-flown tastes (I loathe caviar, and even if I didn’t, the tub of Strawberry Nesquik in my cupboard would give the lie to that) but I am just fascinated by food, from taste and texture to origin and history and just why we eat and like what we do. But most importantly for me, IT’S FUN.

Of course like most foodies I believe in certain rules, such as “If you want your steak well done, cook something else.” But I completely accept that many of these rules are actually personal, such as “If you want to serve me fish pie and then have sex, serve something else.”

2. BEETROOT

beetroot1This wouldn’t have made my current pet peeve list if it weren’t “The Vegetable That Will Not Die”. It seems like a decade ago that I first wrote about the current British cheffy obsession with the beet, but unlike goat’s cheese and rocket, both of which have settled into a less pervasive culinary sphere, this taproot is stubbornly sticking – like  a blood stain – to British TV and restaurant kitchens.

Its “vibrant colour” and “earthy flavour” are still being touted to this day, and contestants on shows like “Masterchef” are still presenting  dishes called “Roast venison with textures of beetroot.” I don’t want beetroot one way, let alone five. And that whole “sneak beetroot into chocolate cakes and brownies so kids won’t know they’re eating a vegetable” thing? I can only refer you back to that “earthy flavour”. I’m not personally a big fan of chocolate, but I’m even less a fan of chocolate that tastes like mud.

3. TEXTURES OF …

There is no current cheffy restaurant trend that annoys me more than “four ways to serve you a side of onions”. I adore onions. I like most vegetables (aside from broccoli and the one listed above), but I don’t want endless variations on one vegetable theme on my plate.  It’s even found its annoying way into desserts. Just imagine “Clotted Cream With Textures Of Strawberry”. And anyway, the very term “textures of” is distastefully reminiscent of sifting through carpet samples.

4. THE CURRENT STATE OF BRITISH TV COOKERY

Things just ain’t good this year in the British TV Kitchen. Yes, of course there’s the annual “Great British Bake-Off” treat, but even that show just ain’t rising to its previous fluffy heights for me. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc remain fabulous hosts, and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry judge as astutely as ever, so it’s probably just that I’m not really warming to any of the contestants this year- with the possible exception of Martha The Scary Teen, who has a rather fetching habit of staring at her competitors’ bakes like she’s working on her  Stephen King style “Carrie” skills.

But other shows are faring much worse for this foodie’s palate. The UK version of “The Taste“, whilst being much better than its US predecessor, still fundamentally failed to connect with either the contestants or- more importantly- the food. Tom Kerridge’s “Proper Pub Food” may improve with a second series as he’s an affable presenter (though not yet comfortable with lifting scripted bits off the page), but  proper pub food is something for which people go to a proper pub, not something they want to cook at home.

There’s that gap of basic accessibility at play there, much as there is with Rachel Khoo’s  “My Pretentious Paris Kitchen”, or the new-found BBC oeuvre of “Former Models Cook For You” – Sophie Dahl? Lorraine Pascale? Though Ms Pascale certainly makes for a more convincing cook. It’s just that she has no viewpoint other than “My cooking is slightly less bland than me.” Over on Channel 4, the indefatigable Ms Perkins does her level best to liven up “Cook’s Questions“, but not even Perkins Power can  make charmless professional chefs teaching overwrought recipes to a roomful of “foodies” who look like they’re waiting for jury duty down at the municipal court feel at all inclusive for your average  (or even true “foodie”) viewer.

S_MFor my money, the only British cookery show of real note in the last year or so has been “The Incredible Spice Men” on BBC2, which took fantastic chefs Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh, and set them on a journey across Britain, bringing Asian techniques, spices and flavours to traditional British food. It was funny, it was inspiring, and most of all, it had personality and a true point of view. It tackled this country’s traditional attitudes to  foods, and therefore said a lot about this country. Yes, it was “Two Fat Ladies” recast with two Asian gentlemen, but that in itself is a genius idea, and it remains the only cookery show of recent years that has made me want to buy the book, and cook from that book.

5. CLAFOUTIS

Never mind that the very name on paper reads like the kind of physical infection that affect one’s personal bits and cause an unpleasant discharge (“I see you have a nasty case of Clafoutis”), there’s something neither here nor there about the Clafoutis. To me it’s not quite a pastry and not quite a pie and not quite a quiche. It may be that I’ve never sampled one that was cooked correctly, but I’ve always found it to be either soggy or a flan with the texture (there’s that word again) of flannel. And that name! I refer you to the Wikipedia article on the subject, in which one sentence reads: “Clafoutis apparently spread throughout France during the 19th century.”

6. BRITISH BREASTS

chickenbreastsI am not referring here to the mammarian state of British womanhood, but rather the near quixotic-ness of going to a British supermarket in the hopes of purchasing a chicken breast that still retains either its skin or its bone or both. It truly is seemingly impossible. You can buy thighs, drumsticks, and even the full legs with all their flavor-giving skin and bones intact, but Julia Child help you if you’re looking for the same in breasts.

Personally, I blame it on the advent of the “skinless chicken breast as a way to get low calorie though almost certainly flavourless protein into your diet because you’d only eat this if you were trying to lose weight” school of dietary propaganda. One can blame supermarkets and food halls all one likes, but the depressing fact is that market forces prevail.  White chicken meat is so separated from dark in the current UK  culinary world that you either have to adapt a recipe to such extents that it no longer resembles ( or tastes like) what you wanted to achieve in the first place, or you have to make the extra effort to find an actual butcher who sells actual bone-in skin-on chicken breasts.  For which you will pay a hefty premium. Does this same problem exist in the US?

So those are my current foodie whines. Agree? Disagree? What’s been getting your culinary goat lately?  Other than the cheese, please. That is so eight years ago. NB. I whine about the UK  in foodie terms only because I live, shop, cook, watch tv and eat here. Were I to live in the US,  I would no doubt have other (or possibly the same) gripes. Possibly in larger portions.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Notes and Passing Fancies

Sept is Rice and Breakfast Month

by Deb on September 7th, 2014 No Comments ·

Yesterday was Coffee Ice Cream day – one of my favs. Now, I didn’t make any ice cream as I am trying to be good. But I have delved into the coffee ice cream depths previously and can recommend it as a great and rewarding task. Maybe you’re more a white chocolate fan. If that’s the case, we need to have a talk – because that isn’t chocolate. But we’ll do it on Sept 22, White Chocolate Day. In the mean time, there are some wider culinary issues to ponder this month since September is Rice Month. And if that weren’t impressive enough, it is also Breakfast Month.*

SEPTEMBER IS RICE MONTH
Let’s talk about rice first, since as I you can see, we have a lot to say about rice. And why not – flexible, fantastic foodstuff that it is.

?????????????? Rice is one of the most widely eaten foods in the world – and has been for thousands of years. It is a staple food across Asia (where domestication of rice began and where it provides the majority of the caloric intake in those countries), is grown more widely across the globe than any other crop except corn and is one of those foods used in almost every way and in every cuisine you can imagine – and possibly in some ways you haven’t imagined. Rice is used in the production of beer and wine, in dog food and baby food, used at weddings and in many other ways.

Why is rice useful as a staple? It’s easy to grow in a variety of soils and conditions, stores for a very long time, cooks up to 3 times its original weight and there are over 40,000 varieties of rice to choose from.

We touch upon rice an awful lot here on Fabulous Foodie – rice salads, risottos, quickie way to boost and bulk out leftovers. Check out some of our earlier rice-tastic work.

  • Risottos For Rumination (from 2014): Some people meditate with bells and incense. Others use yoga, or swimming, or quiet places in the woods to find the quiet places in their minds. I stir rice.
  • From Mom’s Notes: Easy Jambalya (from 2013): Nothing make a winter evening better than this huge hug of a dish. And it keeps well too. Lunch the next day? Oh yes. Almost better than dinner the night before.
  • Stocking up on Staples (from 2012): several varieties of rice feature here – white, brown, short grain, long grain.
  • A Plethora of Paella (from 2009): At the moment, all I can think about is paella. Why? Because apparently it is what a lot of people online are thinking about, Googling, and searching for.
  • Gone To Earth – A Summer Rice Salad (from 2008): To celebrate my first batch of soaked and boiled chickpeas and my lovely fresh thyme, I decided to make a great big bowl of my Summer Rice Salad. It’s vaguely Mediterranean in intent, and great for barbecues or lunch boxes.
  • Another Rice Salad While I’m At ‘Em (from 2008): It’s ersatz Middle-Eastern, but quite light, very simple, and a great veggie lunch salad, or side dish for grilled lamb or chicken. There are very few ingredients, and neither the onion nor the garlic wind up being at all over-powering.

SEPTEMBER IS BREAKFAST MONTH
Don’t skip breakfast, we are told. Most important meal of the day, we are reminded. It’s said so often and so matter-of-factly, you might assume it was always thus. And you’d be wrong. 

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs with Redskin  Potatoes and Sausage Breakfast is, in the larger scheme of things, a relatively new invention. In ancient Rome, people ate one meal a day – around mid-day – with an occasional snack at other times depending on supply and circumstances. The word “breakfast” appeared long before the meal we understand as breakfast today. The word – simply put – means to break the night’s fast – and as life in the monasteries forbade eating before morning Mass, this breaking of the fast most likely occurred – you guessed it – mid-day.

This mid-day meal situation continued until about the 1600s when coffee and tea, scrambled eggs and other things we think about as breakfast food start appearing in the historical records.

Of course nowadays, we very often don’t have time – or think we don’t have time – to have breakfast. Not a decent one anyway. Which is what Need Breakfast Quick. Want Breakfast Edible is all about.


 

* Yes, it’s also chicken month and, as I have said elsewhere, since nearly everything tastes like chicken you might be surprised to hear there’s room for anything else this month. But there is. It is also Honey Month, Mushroom Month, Papaya Month, Potato Month. September is full to the brim with culinary observances.

→ No CommentsTags: History and Holidays

The Magna Cater

by Patrick on August 26th, 2014 5 Comments ·

I was attending a christening celebration recently, when a great realization struck me. There I was, stood before an abundant buffet of tasty finger foods and tiny sandwiches, and yet something seemed wrong, jarring, out of balance. The smoked salmon sandwiches looked too corally bright next to the somber umber of the glazed chicken wings. The miniature vegetable spring rolls seemed pallid and listless placed right by the breaded fish goujons and the platter of chips. And at the center of the table stood a lonely little pot of English mustard, purposeless and  obsolete. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong, but this bountiful buffet was clearly adrift in some essential manner.

sauasgerollsIt was only as a waitress nudged me aside so that she could place the final platter on the buffet that I realized what had been missing. For that platter was piled high with little golden bite-sized sausage rolls.

And suddenly, that buffet was complete, at least for me. Not only because I happen to adore sausage rolls, but really because I don’t think I’ve ever attended a major social event in Britain at which sausage rolls have not been served. There seems to be some unwritten law here that any birth, marriage, death, or in fact any gathering of more than four people, must be accompanied by a healthy portion of these tasty savoury morsels of flaky pastry rolled around ground meat.

Well this got me to thinking: what are the other unwritten laws of British Cookery? What are the quirks and traditions so ingrained in the British culinary character that they have become canonical in the kitchen?  Across classes and generations, what are the laws that still hold true in the British larder? If it were inscribed and notarized, what would the Magna Carta of British Cookery be?

Having pondered, and sampled, and asked around, and pondered some more, here’s what I imagine what I like to call the “Magna Cater” might be:

1. Thou Shalt Serve Sausage Rolls

The British, when faced with any major life event that requires celebration or commiseration, immediately whip up (seemingly from out of nowhere) a tray of sausage rolls. They are the biggest seller during the holiday season party-supplying spree, and are the only standard hors d’oeuvre that remain on food hall shelves throughout even the hottest of summers. Ideally served warm from the oven, they remain satisfying at room temperature, and even in the scrag end of a party or a wake, even though the grease from the sausage has long since deflated the flakiness of the pastry. That said, they are usually the first consumable to be consumed. They are not- in Britain- to be confused with “pigs in blankets”, which here refer to cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, or just well tended pigs.

2. On The Seventh Day, Thou Shalt Roast

The Sunday Roast is perhaps the great bastion of British culinary tradition. Whether you spend your Sunday cooking it at home, or instead venture out to your local pub, no weekend in Britain is truly complete without a roast dinner (by which they really mean a late lunch) on the Sunday. And not only the meat must be roasted. Be it a chicken, a turkey, a leg of lamb or a rib of beef, said roast simply must be accompanied by roast potatoes. Other side dishes may vary, but those roast potatoes are non-negotiable. In fact, your average British cook is more likely to be judged by the crunchiness of the outside and the fluffiness of the center of their potatoes than by the quality of the roasted meat. Other rules also apply, such as Yorkshire Pudding only being served with beef. And say what you like about this nation’s culinary capabilities, nobody in the world roasts beef as well as the British.

3. Be It Not Buttered, ‘Tis Not A Sandwich

‘Tis true. The British, when faced with a slice of bread, are constitutionally incapable of not slathering it with butter. In this matter the actual sandwich filling is irrelevant. It could be a chicken tikka masala sandwich, or a Mexican three-bean wrap, still the bread involved would be buttered first. They would butter a BLT. At sandwich bars I have had to physically prevent the server from buttering my roast beef, lettuce and avocado sandwich. I’ve even known Brits who would  butter a peanut butter sandwich.

4. Deem It A Pie, And It Shall Suffice

The British love pies. They will put anything- sweet or savoury- into a pastry case.  This has been true of the British since time immemorial, or at least since eggs and butter were introduced to the hard pastry cases that were first used simply to contain the actual meal. From steak and kidney to cheese, leeks, eels, pilchards and oysters, the pie as a meal is another great British tradition. And beyond that, they love calling things pies. Outside of these sceptered isles, one might think a pie necessarily involved at least a pastry lid.Within these sceptered isles, that narrow delineation is utter tosh. Neither shepherd’s, cottage, nor the dreaded (to me at least) fish pie- or in fact any dish covered with a topping of mashed potato- are in any rational sense a pie. Except to the British.

5. Thy Condiments Shalt Be Caustic

It’s often be said of British cookery that it’s bland, and lacking in heat and spice. That’s a misunderstanding of the British culinary character. In fact the British adore hot and spicy flavours. It’s just that- their burgeoning love for fiery Asian and South American cuisines aside- they prefer them in condiment form. That famous British Sunday roast is pretty much always accompanied by some sort of hot and/or pungent condiment, from the vinegar-sharp mint sauce for lamb (none of that mimsy American mint jelly for the Brits), to the sinus-clearing heat of horseradish for beef, and the hottest mustard in Europe for, well, anything. A good sharp and hot pickle to accompany a ploughman’s lunch of bread and cheese is another British pub staple. And the traditional American cranberry sauce for turkey is a descendant of that great British sauce for game, Cumberland Sauce, in which red currants and orange zest are enlivened by a healthy dose of searing hot mustard powder.

6. Thou Shalt Douse, Ergo Thou Shalt Douse With Cream

If the British can’t face a sandwich without butter, neither can they face a dessert without cream. Cream is poured over every possible dessert dish aside from trifles, only because trifles are topped with cream. Cakes, pies, bread puddings, even jellies; almost no “sweet” is served without at least the offer of cream. The British will pour cream directly onto an acidly sharp fruit salad, which is testament to their digestive fortitude. In fact when Heinz developed a savoury salad dressing specifically for the British market in 1914, they had the sense to call it “Salad Cream.” They knew what the British like to pour.

7. Be It A Dish, There Shalt Be Chips

Fish and chips, steak and chips, gammon and chips, egg and chips, pie and chips, lasagne and chips, chips and chips. Liberally salted and soused with malt vinegar for the true purists, the British love for the deep-fried potato is a bottomless well. As with roast beef, find a good traditional British chippie and you’ll never countenance McDonald’s or the like again.

8. At The End Of Days There Shalt Be Tea.

Ah yes, tea. Though tea as a meal has moved and morphed from the traditional 4 o’clock repast to just what the British call dinner (excluding, of course, those amazing “High” teas still served at Fortnum and Mason’s, glamorous hotels, and Cornish tea houses), tea as a drink remains the blood that runs through British veins. In fact, if you accidentally opened a vein, the first thing a Brit would do would be to offer you a cup of tea. Given how many cups of tea they drink a day, it’s something of a wonder that the British don’t behave in a more overtly caffeinated manner. It is still possible to differentiate generations in Britain by whether or not they have succumbed to teabags, and the question of whether or not one adds the milk to the cup before or after the tea remains a matter of class-related debate. A historical note: contrary to popular belief, the British aren’t actually bitter about the United States winning the war of Independence. They do, however, resent the waste of all that good tea.

9. The Scepter And The Orbs, They Shall Be Verdant And Rule Over All

The British have a reputation for mistrusting green vegetables. Again, this is a common misconception. The British are highly enamoured of at least three: the asparagus spear, the Brussels sprout, and the garden pea. The arrival of fresh asparagus marks the true start of the British summer, and many Brits are so loyal to that tradition that they forsake the (admittedly vastly inferior) asparagus from Peru that is now available in UK supermarkets all year round. And if summer isn’t summer without the Asparagus spear, then Christmas isn’t Xmas without that tight little green ball of gassy goodness, the Brussels sprout. Even those who claim to detest this little brassica don’t feel their holiday meal is complete without having to ingest at least one. British children may loathe the taste, but they are highly amused by the methane-related results.  And the garden pea is served all year round, with almost any dinner. And that’s not just because the pea is such a freezer success story and cooks so quickly. Generations of Brits (and even half-Brits such as I) have  very fond memories of shelling peas in their grandmother’s kitchen.

10. The Fruit, It Shall Be Abundant. Dried, But Abundant

Given the frequent inclemency of British weather, they quite understandably have a long tradition of drying and candying fruit rather than relying upon its freshness. And they put that dried fruit into almost every dessert, biscuit or cake imaginable. There are many regional variations across the land, but the great British Sweet Christmas staples are the mincemeat pie (originally- and intriguingly- made with actual meat as well as the fruit), the Christmas pudding, and the fruit cake. All are filled with a variety of dried fruits and nuts. The fruit cake is also the traditional British wedding cake. A time-consuming labor of love to prepare- and almost as arduous to eat- the fruit cake is famous for its density and its exceedingly long shelf life. There’s a British tradition that if a bridesmaid takes a piece of the cake home and sleeps with it under her pillow, she will be married within the year. Regardless of any vermin infestations or neck aches  that may incur, she would also be provided with a handy blunt weapon should she be faced with an unwelcome intruder. If the fruit cake is now falling out of favor as a wedding cake, that’s only because in this day and age the cake seems to outlast the actual marriage.

11. Thou Shalt Not Trifle With The Trifle

Around since at least the 17th Century in its current form, the trifle is the most singular expression of the uniquely British love for sweet food that is also easy to chew. As such, it is also a catalytic ingredient in the admittedly bleak British dental history. The layers of sponge soaked in sweet booze, jam, or jelly, or jam AND jelly, custard and whipped cream create a dessert course centerpiece that can vary from the garish to the, well, garish. Traditionally, enough sweet sherry is used to render entire families incoherent, but in this modern age other sweet fruity liqueurs are equally acceptable. Before you scoff at the trifle, do bear in mind that the globally popular Italian dessert Tiramisu is in fact a direct take on trifle, which just goes to show that Italians can, on occasion, willingly accept outside culinary inspirations.

12. The Day Is Begun: Gird Thine Arteries

The last tenet of the British Magna Cater is the one that starts the day. The dreaded European “Continental” breakfast is entirely at odds with the British national character, as is the traditional American carbohydrate fiesta. Every day, in home kitchens and greasy caffs across the land, the day begins with what is known as a “fry up.” This repast generally consists of fried eggs (scrambled or otherwise), fried sausages, fried bacon, and fried mushrooms. As a nod to other culinary processes, grilled tomatoes and baked beans may also be present on the plate. This breakfast is of course served with tea, and bread, which is also often fried. Whilst contemplating the  arterial sclerosis-inducing properties of such a start to the day, take into account that there is no greater salve for a hangover on this earth. In fact, if one stays up late enough to end a boozy night with such a meal, the hangover may never even occur. Whether or not that would be due to a cataclysmic pulmonary event in one’s subsequent sleep is neither here nor there.

So this is what I imagine the British Magna Cater to be. Had I a scroll to hand, or indeed the calligraphic ability, I would nail it to the doors of town halls and kitchens across the land. Except I really wouldn’t need to. Those laws are already in place.  But what do you think? Have I neglected one? Are there more British culinary traditions so entrenched that they belong in the Magna Cater? Answers on a postcard please.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Notes and Passing Fancies

Waste Not .. and Enjoy!

by Deb on August 10th, 2014 No Comments ·

I’ve been thinking a lot about leftovers recently. This isn’t new. I’ve written before about the love we have for leftovers here at TransAtlantic Kitchen. But I’ve been thinking again about them – this time in a much broader sense and not just as a shortcut when I don’t want to cook.

leftovers2There are really two reasons for this – first, I’m trying to be better about bringing my lunch to work and leftovers are very often a part of that and second I’ve been doing research for work about various ways to use up leftovers.

Leftovers in both cases being either extra from previous meals or the bits and bobs we all end up with in the fridge when we have half a pack of this and only a slice of that.

I found a few things I already knew – leftover bread is excellent for breadcrumbs and french toast, for example. But I also found some facts and figures I found really shocking about consumer food waste.

  • 40% of the food purchased in the US is thrown away. Now, some of that is the “scraping the plates off at the end of dinner” type of waste but a lot of it is not
  • Bread is the most wasted food in both the UK and the US. We also place a fairly low value on grains so rice and pasta get tossed in vast quantities
  • The single most wasted vegetable is potatoes – which, in the context of what people buy, sounded quite likely but what I didn’t know was that 47% of the potatoes that are wasted in the UK (thrown away either after cooking or before) are thrown away having never come out of the packaging. 47%!
  • 40% of the apples purchased in the UK are thrown away untouched.

There are lots of other numbers I could toss out telling us that bread is wasted in gargantuan amounts. So are apples, milk, and packaged salad. But I have decided that the more productive thing to do is collect tips and tricks to address the issue and hopefully help us all make the more from the money we apparently throwing away.

A few ideas to get started (and to give me time to organize what I plan to be a series of posts n- broken down by specific food stuff):

bread_frenchBREAD:  bread puddings, french toast, eggy breads, strata, panzanella, croutons and of course, breadcrumbs.

Now, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Yes, Deborah – we are well aware that we can make breadcrumbs. All well and good but for crying out loud – we can only USE so many breadcrumbs. What do you expect us to do with all of them?”

And to that I say – a) they freeze well and b) you can use them as toppings on casseroles, meatballs, meatloaf, and plant food. Yes, I said plant food! Some suggest that 1 part breadcrumbs or cubed bread, 1 part water and a tablespoon of plant food thrown into a mixer and voila, more plants get extra enriched food. Don’t fancy using plant food in your mixer? Can’t say I blame you and frankly the idea of having an extra one out in the garden seems silly. So I suggest this – swap used coffee grinds for the plant food. Coffee grinds are like plant growing magic. Your plants will thank you.

HERBS: as is often this case this time of year, TransAtlantic Towers is full of basil – Italian basil and Greek. It makes the kitchen smell divine but it does create rather a challenge. How to use it all. Now, obviously we don’t HAVE to use it all but it seems a shame to waste it just because basil does better when regularly harvested. So in addition to @dungeekin using the basil in a lot of the Big Weekend Cook standards, we make pesto, freeze it in a bit of cooking oil (we have quite a few handy dandy ice cube trays full of fresh herbs for using all winter) and since we’re eating more salads these days, we’ll throw it into store bought greens.

LEMONS: I’ve already put together a few thoughts on using up lemons, in the kitchen and throughout the house

CHEESE: I have saved the best for last. Iam a cheese fan. Many of you are cheese fans. Do you know of fromage fort? If yes, then you never have cheese going to waste in your fridge. If you do not know of it – behold.

FROMAGE FORT

cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of cheese – any bits and pieces in any combination
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine – any white wine works here except (in my opinion) very sweet wines
  • 3 tbsps unsalted butter, softened – unsalted is key especially if there is Parmesan going into this mix
  • 1 small clove garlic – or if you’re me, a bit more garlic
  • Herbs to taste. Start with parsley or chives. Or parsley and chives.

Preparation

  • Remove rinds from hard cheeses and grate them.
  • Cut the softer cheese cubes – 1/2 inch ought to do it.
  • Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with crackers or bread of choice (the crustier the bread the better, if you ask me) or refrigerate for an hour if you like a firmer feel. Stores well covered in the fridge for up to 1 week.

A few notes for fromage fort:

  • If you don’t have a pound worth of cheese, adjust the rest of the ingredients to proportionally what you do have.
  • The herbs you use are very much a matter of taste and whatever cheese you’re using
  • This will almost never be the same twice because the cheeses will be different. Exciting, no?

Anyway – this is just my way of saying that I’m working on a larger effort – both in life and on this blog – to be aware or and better use the leftovers in the kitchen. I hope, at the same time, to find useful ideas to share and hear some of your ideas as well.

→ No CommentsTags: Leftovers · Notes and Passing Fancies · Recipes

The Mango And Me

by Patrick on August 1st, 2014 No Comments ·

madeleinesEach of us has our Madeleine. It can be Proust’s sweet little cake, or a handful of tart-sweet blackberries, a slice of warm apple pie, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a spoonful fiery hot curry, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a big plateful of meaty lasagne, but we all have one.

I’m talking of course about Memory Food, the mouthful that goes beyond comfort food of the moment and takes us back to our childhoods, that nourishes us as much with memories as it does with physical nutrients. We all probably have more than one. But if pressed, if we had to name just one foodstuff that represents our childhood, what would it be?

mangosMy Madeleine is a mango, eaten perhaps a day before the fruit could fully ripen, when the flesh is a toothsome buttercup yellow, and the sugars within haven’t yet taken control of all the flavour the fruit has to offer. Now it may seem odd, but I eat my mango seasoned with a light sprinkling of salt. One bite into this, and I have a direct connection to myself as a little boy, and to heat, and thunderstorms, and blue sky through palm trees.  Because that was the happiest part of my childhood. Because that’s how, as a little boy, I was taught to eat a mango.

When I was five years old, my family moved from La Paz, high on the dusty and arid Bolivian Altiplano, to San Jose, capital of balmy and lush Costa Rica.  Although I had been born in Kenya, the only memories I had then (and now) were of the snowy blasts of a Polish winter before we moved to Bolivia, and in La Paz then the thin air that kept an oxygen canister by my father’s side, and the acrid chill coming off the Andes. Seemingly having spent my scant five years in a least a bulky sweater, I remember to this day how the air in Costa Rica seemed to brush my skin all the time, how the humidity would constrict and then explode into shocking cloudbursts almost every afternoon (or so it seemed), cloudbursts that you could outrun if you were fast enough.

I have so many happy memories of our time in Costa Rica, and many of them involve our housekeeper, a wonderful woman named Balbina. She was a strict but kind woman  who had two great loves that are indelibly marked on my memory. Every night, after my  bath, Balbina would take me into her room and sit me down in front of a photograph of John F Kennedy she had pinned to the wall. There I would  sit while she combed my damp hair to look just like his, all the while telling me what a great man he was and all the wonderful things he had done for Costa Rica. And every afternoon she would take a mango from the tree in the garden, carefully picking one that was not yet quite ripe, and cut it into slices. She would lay the slices of yellow mango out on a plate and sprinkle them with salt and chili powder. If I was home, and she considered me sufficiently well-behaved that day to be worthy of a treat, she would set aside a few slices for me, omitting the chili powder she considered too fiery for my young palate, but retaining that sprinkle of salt that brought out both the sweetness and the profound sourness of the fruit. I may not remember the very first bite I took of that firm yellow flesh, but in a way I remember the flavour of every bite of mango I shared with Balbina,  tangy and salty and just a little bit sweet.

So began my love affair with the mango; a love affair that has lasted all my life. It hasn’t always been an easy love affair to sustain. Although my parent’s peripatetic occupations took us from Costa Rica to Nigeria, where mangoes were also abundant, we eventually traveled to points north, where mangoes were in exceedingly short supply, if available at all. I doubt the Soviets had ever encountered a mango, and the Greeks had fruits of their own.

During this period of my life, I would have to wait for trips to the US to get even a sniff of a mango, so it could be years between one salted mango and another. While you might think this would make the mango love fade from a little boy’s heart, in fact each mango I did get to eat was a bright and shiny treat, so delicious that I would often consume the whole fruit in one sitting, which would often upset my stomach but always enthrall my budding foodie soul.

At other times, more wisely aware that it would be a long while before I would experience such delicious joy again, I would  stretch out my delectation of the mango for as long as I could bear, allowing myself just a few bites or slices each day, until I could convince myself that the rest had to be eaten now, right now, before it was thrown out by somebody else. In between those trips to the US, and those fleeting chances to season my favourite fruit, I was forced to experiment with other fruits in a vain effort to find a suitable substitute.

peachesThe flesh of peaches and nectarines and even plums, caught at that same moment when they were just on the cusp of full ripeness and also sprinkled with salt, was just tangy enough to temporarily sate my yearning for my fruity childhood friend.  Pineapples and oranges also served that purpose from time to time. In fact I experimented with just about any fruit I encountered, but almost always met with disappointment. Salted bananas? Abhorrent. Salted berries? Not so much. And nothing, but nothing, can improve the dreaded apricot.

An eventual move to London in my early twenties brought me back into contact with the occasional mango. Initially disappointing, of course, as the British have never taken to the mango the way they did the pineapple. The mangoes I first encountered here were hard and flavourless, or woefully overripe and cloyingly sweet. But eventually I learned two important facts about the mango, facts that have allowed me a new pathway back to the intensely tangy tropical taste of my youth.

The first fact is that with mangoes, as with avocados, one should- as Nigella Lawson once said- buy early and use late. What she meant was that you should buy your mango at least two days before you intend to eat it. Leave it somewhere as warm and sunny as Britain allows, and let it ripen just that little bit, so that it feels in your hand like a firm, supple, buttock. That warmth magically allows flavour back into the mango, and cupping it in your hand without giving in to the temptation to squeeze, but instead just gently sensing its texture, lets you know when it has reached that optimal point of firm yet tender juiciness. Only then should you consider slicing that mango open.  It doesn’t- for me- take me the whole way back to the taste I remember; the refrigeration on the journey and the artificially chill air in the supermarket will always deny a mango here its full flavour potential. But it takes me just close enough. A spritz of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt and leaving it for a bit before I dive in, and I’m almost there. That first fact applies specifically to mangoes purchase from a large supermarket or food hall.

The second fact is- to me- even more glorious and rewarding. Because although I would have been forgiven for thinking as a child that mangoes came from Costa Rica, or then from Nigeria, I would have been totally wrong. Mangoes are native to India and Southeast Asia. And it has been the influx of people from that part of the world into Britain that has allowed my love affair with the mango to come full circle.

tangychutneyMangoes are an intrinsic ingredient in Indian and Southeast Asian culinary culture, and so they are utilised in a dazzling variety of ways, from being celebrated for their life-affirming sweetness to having that same intensely tangy quality I adore equally celebrated in chutneys, pickles, and fiery and sour salads.

And as Asian communities grow and take root here in Britain, they wisely ensure that the foods they celebrate come with them. And so these communities open their own shops in their own neighborhoods, and import the foodstuffs they need, the ones that can’t really be substituted or faked from vast chains that cater for a largely Anglo Saxon population. A wonderful aspect of eating (and cooking) in Britain these days is that Asian cuisine is becoming more palpably authentic, rather than less, if you know where to shop.

That’s where I’ve learned to shop for my mangoes now. I settle for a supermarket mango if I must, but wherever I move to on my travels in London, I seek out the nearest Southeast Asian neighborhood, and the accompanying unassuming little shops crammed next to each other, selling cigarettes and soft drinks at the front, but offering a treasure trove of whole spices and fragrant herbs and exotic fruits and vegetables once you step further in.

It was in one of these shops on the Kilburn High Road that I discovered tiny green mangoes, maybe a fifth of the size one might expect of a fully grown ripe fruit. They were still attached to bits of stem, and the moment I picked one up and snapped it free of that stem, and instantly caught the uniquely sharp resin scent that only the stem of a mango can give, I knew I had found my own culinary time machine. I knew that once I got that mango home, sliced, salted it, and let it make contact with my tongue I would be transported right back to that table with Balbina, to those delicately sweet and perfumed yet deeply, profoundly sour flavours all happening in my mouth at the same time. To rain smacking down on the tin roof, to the thrilling tremors that shook the house from time to time, to picking a mango from a tree. And I was right.

I am grateful- every time- I have my first bite of one of those little Asian mangoes. Grateful for the taste, of course, and very grateful too for the passport it provides back to that simpler time in my life. But most grateful really, for the world-and the life- that has allowed that bite to happen. Because here I am, having been born on one side of the world, and then being introduced to mangoes on another side of the world, and then finally finding the taste I yearned for on another side of the world, from a mango that came from yet another side of the world, a side thousands upon thousands of miles away from anywhere I’ve ever been, brought here by people very different from me and yet who share a very personal love, even if it’s just for a singular fruit.

And the last wonderful thing about that is that now I can have that mouthful of childhood mind-trip pretty much whenever I want. Which, surprisingly, doesn’t make that mouthful mean any less. Instead, it means that I don’t have to yearn for it, or to eke it out when I get it. I can just appreciate my childhood when I’m in the mood to do so, just like the mango.

As love affairs go, I think that’s a damn happy ending.

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