Tartiflette a la Dungeekin

I promised a full report on the tartiflette and here it is – from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you TransAtlantic Towers’ star cook – dungeekin.


Let’s be honest – Deb is right*. We all waste MASSES of food, and I’m as much of an offender as anyone else.

So when she suggested doing a series of pieces on using leftovers I of course applied Rule 3** and turned my culinary mind to how I could use those little bits of things from other meals that would otherwise head into Banbury’s composting bin. It also appealed to one of my personal peccadilloes – this ridiculous belief that you can’t eat well cheaply. More on that, I hope, in another series.

Last night, then, having produced triple-cooked chips (a triumph from Heston and one I urge you to try yourselves) with a mushroom, brandy & peppercorn cream, I was left with a bit of a dilemma – how to use up the potato offcuts from the chips and the leftover cream sitting in the fridge?

We were idly discussing it when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall came to my rescue in the form of River Cottage on the TV – and a simple tartiflette.

A BRIEF DIGRESSION INTO PEASANT FOOD

As with so many good dishes, tartiflette is French peasant food – taking what’s left and making something salivatingly good from it. And it’s all the better for it.

Even if we’re not committing the sin of ready-meals (urgh), we have all forgotten how much good stuff there is that we normally waste. We do our shop, buy this bag of veg or that punnet of mushrooms, make one dish then forget about them – and by the time we need them again, they’re sludge in the bottom of the fridge. And when we make our Sunday roasts, we might remember to save the carcass for stocks but how often do we use the leftover meat? Other than Christmas, I find that too often the leftover meat just sits there, drying out, until it’s thrown away while I’m prepping for the next weekend’s Sunday lunch.

That’s wrong on a couple of really fundamental levels. I’m not going to go all ‘waste not want not’ – I hate that phrase anyway – and neither am I going green-wonk ecological on intensive farming and all that. But think about it. We liked that meat or those veggies when we cooked the first batch. If we used the second in a different way, why wouldn’t we like them again?

And secondly – if you look on any restaurant menu, you will see things that, historically, were designed to re-purpose leftovers into something filling and enjoyable. Cassoulet, carbonara, hotpot, frittata – all were designed to eke out the mileage of those precious little remaining bits of protein in the peasant diet, and do so in an enjoyable way. We’d eat it in a restaurant – why have we lost the skill of peasant food at home?

But I digress.  Back to dinner.

TARTIFLETTE A LA DUNGEEKIN

A quick squint in Transatlantic Fridge #1 showed that I had plenty to make a good supper. I added a couple of extra potatoes to bulk out the leftovers, but my only purchases for the whole dish were the two cheese & mustard scones we bought from this morning’s trip to the wondrous BakerGirl.

So the ingredients were:

  • about 4 cold cooked potatoes (boiled in this instance), chopped into bite-size chunks;
  • 2 leftover bacon rashers from yesterday’s bacon sandwiches;
  • a big handful of oddments of smoked ham;
  • 4 cloves of garlic (if you don’t ALWAYS have garlic in your kitchen, we can’t be friends any more);
  • half an onion (I keep part-used onions in a bag in the fridge and sometimes get around to reusing them);
  • 200ml double cream;
  • a big handful of grated cheese (Cheddar in this instance, but anything would work).

And the steps are:

stir_tart

  • Preheat the oven to 200C and put a heavy pan (ideally one that can go straight into the oven) on the hob on medium heat, with a splash of oil in it.
  • Fry off the bacon and once it’s coloured a little and sizzling, turn the heat down a smidge and add the onion, the ham and the garlic. I just halved the garlic cloves but you could press or sliver them if you don’t like huge chunks of sweet cooked garlic…
  • Let it all sweat for a couple of minutes, then add the ham and the potatoes and turn the heat back up to medium, letting it all cook together. Watch for the garlic and potatoes to just start to ‘catch’ on the pan a little and start to brown and maybe break up a bit, moving everything round the pan occasionally. If it sticks a little bit that’s fine, it all adds flavour!
  • simmer_tartOnce it’s all cooked through, turn the heat down to low and add your cream, stirring until everything is coated and covered. Then bring the heat back up to medium. At this point I added the leftover mushroom sauce I had, just to add another note – but unless you have a brandy & mushroom sauce left in the fridge, you can skip that bit.
  • Once the cream is starting to bubble and the meat juices are colouring the cream, add a small amount of the grated cheese and stir through.
  • Top the dish with the rest of the cheese, and pop the whole dish straight into the oven for about ten minutes until it’s browned on top and bubbling all over.
  • Serve on crusty bread (or Bakergirl savoury scones if you live near me) to soak up that rich, unctuous, bacony-cheesy cream – and marvel at a dish that cost you next to nothing that you’d smilingly pay ten quid for in a French bistro.

tartiflette2

Leftovers. You know they make sense.


 * (editor’s note: You are ALL witnesses)

** Rule 3, according to my father-in-law: “if in doubt, say ‘yes dear'”. Words to live by.

Musings on Transatlantic Kitchen …

When I decided that I was going to marry Deb, my prospective father-in-law took me to one side, handed me a bourbon* and shared with me his rules for a long and happy marriage. Chief among these rules was Rule Three, which was, “if in doubt, say ‘yes dear'”.

Good advice and, as we approach our first Second Anniversary (long story, don’t ask), so far highly successful.

So when Deb insisted, on pain of pain, that I actually start writing about the Transatlantic Kitchen, I figured it was best to apply Rule Three, say ‘yes dear’ and make a start on explaining about my kitchen, my food, and the pleasure it brings.

The Transatlantic Kitchen is my ‘happy place,’ a refuge. It’s where I get away from long working hours and nights away from home. It’s a place where all that matters is concentrating on what I’m doing, where the stresses melt away and are replaced by the zing of citrus on the tongue and the scent of garlic in the air. The Transatlantic Kitchen was one of the biggest reasons we bought Transatlantic Towers; it’s big enough to be a social space, is well laid-out and has plenty of working room for an experimental cook to spend many happy hours fiddling with his dishes and massaging his meat.

TK_shot2

garlic features heavily at Transatlantic Kitchen

Facebook followers will know that Transatlantic Kitchen is open mostly at weekends, when I’ll spend whole days prepping, marinating and experimenting to fill the fridge and freezer for the coming week**, as well as providing the meals for the whole family (Deb, Sprog and I) during the weekend itself. And I adore it. It’s a passion bordering on obsession – not to primp and fuss and produce esoteric artworks that wouldn’t be out of place at ‘El Bulli’, but to make good food from all over the world, strong on flavour and taste while working on a reasonably low budget and minimising waste. Oh, and taking ENDLESS photographs of what I make, to make me smile when I can’t be at home at the stove.

Eating is pleasure. Making something to eat should be too. For me at least, slaving over a hot stove feels more like freedom than servitude.

So I shall follow orders, and write about Transatlantic Kitchen. I’ll try and detail the recipes that come out of the Kitchen regularly (harder than it sounds, as I cook by touch and instinct and tend to forget to write anything down). I’ll try and describe what I’ve learned from almost twenty years of faffing about with food, what works for my pantry and, most of all, how much sheer joy there is in just messing about with food. I’ll also try to cover what works for us with pre-preparation (and no, I don’t plan meals a week ahead) and hopefully Deb can cover the science and research bit. I’m no good at that bit – I just never grew out of playing with my food.

I’ve promised Deb that I’ll post weekly, and I hope that reading about the food that comes out of Transatlantic Kitchen is as much of a sensory pleasure as making it can be.


*Several bourbons, actually. Large ones. I’ll spare you the details – those who know the gentleman know what I mean.

**Or month. As of today, there are 19 fully pre-prepared dishes sitting in the freezer.

Linguine Alla ‘Damn, That’s GOOD’

The more observant of you may have noticed that I tend to cook the same way I write – chucking things around until something comes out that seems about right.

And that’s a great way of cooking, because you get the idea of a taste in your head and put things in a pan, and people eat it – and mostly it’s a good result. But it does have its downside – it means that the recipes are a bit like dreams. Once they’re done, and the plate is empty in front of me I can’t remember the absolute specifics of what I did – which makes replicating it for Deb a touch difficult.

But this time, with the lemon, garlic, fish and chilli flavours still fresh and bursting on my tongue, I resolved to write it down straight away. THIS, dear reader, is one that I wish to repeat – and so should you.

There aren’t any esoteric ingredients – it’s store-cupboard stuff – but the prep, while not complicated, has more steps than my normal ‘chuck stuff around’ method, for which I apologise. But once you try this pasta dish you’ll realise that the extra prep and washing-up (unless, like me, you’re lucky enough to have someone to do it for you) was totally worthwhile. And your mouth will be smiling and singing with the flavours all the way through the cleanup.

Linguine alla ‘Damn, That’s GOOD’

seafoodpasta

Ingredients

  • 250-odd grams of Sainsburys* Lightly-Smoked Salmon fillets;
  • 220g of small shelled prawns;
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon;
  • 5 cloves of garlic;
  • A third of a pat of slightly salted butter, cut into four chunks;
  • 200-odd grams of dried linguine;
  • A small pinch of dried chilli flakes, dependent on how much kick you want;
  • a double pub measure of vodka;
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Phase 1: Prep

  • Seriously, don’t skip this phase and try to do stuff on the fly. This is one of those times when it’s best to get everything prepared before you start, as there’s going to be a lot happening.
  • Take the prawns from their pack, drain them, then gently dry them between a half-dozen sheets of kitchen paper.
  • Zest the whole lemon, and chop the zest finely, then cut the lemon in half. You’ll be using each half at different times.
  • Finely chop three cloves of garlic, and pop them in a heavy-based sauté pan with half the butter, half the lemon zest and the pinch of chilli flakes. Melt the butter over a low heat and allow all the flavours to infuse together without allowing the butter to fizz or burn.
  • FInely chop the remaining garlic and mix it with the remaining lemon zest.
  • Fill a LARGE pasta pan with water, add salt and put on a high heat.

Phase 2: Prawns Part One

  • Turn the heat up under your sauté pan, and as the butter starts to foam throw in your prawns. Toss them in the scented butter, getting them coated and covered. Squeeze half the lemon into the pan.They’ll start to cook fast, but they won’t colour much as they’ll exude liquid (this is a good thing) and start to boil a little. Give them about three minutes, then take the pan off the heat and strain the cooking liquid off, through a sieve, into a suitable receptacle. Put the prawns back into the pan and return to the heat.

Phase 3: Prawns Part Two

  • Act fast here! Grab your double measure of vodka and pour it into the pan. If you’re confident (and competent) to do so, light the vodka on the gas and flambé the alcohol off – there’s quite a lot in there so it takes a while. Keep the pan moving around to free up pockets of alcohol and stop the prawns burning. If, on the other hand, you’re the sort of person who writes blog comments in crayon or who still has to use safety scissors, either let the alcohol steam off naturally (or get your Mum to do this bit).
  • Once the flames are gone, you’ll have a little bit of prawny liqueur in the bottom of the pan – strain this through a sieve into the liqueur from Phase 2. Set the prawns aside – I leave them in their pan, off the heat, and grab another one for Phase 4. You’ll be back to them soon enough.

Photo 13-10-2012 18 24 18

Phase 4: The Salmon

  • Still with me? Good. I promise it’s worth it – if you doubt me, just taste a prawn and have a teensy taste of that butter sauce you’ve just made with the cooking liqueurs, and keep going!
  • Pop your next pan on a medium-low heat, and add half the remaining butter. As soon as it’s melted, carefully add your salmon fillets and cook for 5-7 minutes until they’re cooked just over half-way through, then turn (carefully) and cook for another three minutes. Don’t let them burn or dry out – remember, they’ll have more cooking later.
  • Clockwise from front left: the lemon butter sauce, the prepped prawns, the pasta pan and the cooking salmon.
  • Remove the salmon to a plate, and THROW AWAY the butter you cooked it in. Don’t be tempted to add it to your butter sauce – it’ll be overcooked and taste burned.
  • With a couple of forks, gently flake the salmon into large chunks and add them into the cool pan with the prawns. Stir them together gently.

Phase 5: Pasta Time

  • Easy. The water will be boiling now – take your linguine, put it into the pasta pot and gently stir so it’s under the surface. Set your timer for about 7 minutes.

Phase 6: Bringing it together!

  • Right – you’ve got seven minutes before you eat, and I guarantee by now you’ll be salivating. So it’s time for the final steps.
  • Put the pan containing the prawns and salmon over a medium heat and add the remaining butter, garlic and lemon zest. As the butter melts, GENTLY turn the seafood over in the mix, allowing it all to reheat and cook. Be as gentle as you can, as you don’t want to break up the fish flakes too much.
  • Gently with the prawns and salmon….

Photo 13-10-2012 18 32 22

  • Pour in the reserved liqueur, add a good grind of black pepper, and squeeze over the remaining half lemon, and let it bubble for a couple of minutes, moving the seafood GENTLY around the pan.
  • As soon as the timer goes off, turn off the heat under both pans and drain your pasta, returning it to the big pasta pan. Tip your seafood and sauce over the pasta and GENTLY turn them together, coating the pasta in the lemony butter and mixing the seafood through it.
  • Serve in big bowls.

Chicken a la Fridge-Clearout

Sometimes you’ve just got to clear out what’s in the fridge.

Here at Transatlantic Kitchen, there are frequently small amounts of stuff left-over from previous meals – not so much cooked stuff, which tends to be eaten for lunch the following day, but the veggies from a bag that was just too big for two people, the leftover lardons from a previous recipe and various other bits. And rather than throw them out, it’s better to use them when you can.

So last night was one of those nights – chuck stuff at a pan and make it work. It occurred to me afterward that it was similar to Nigella Lawson’s ‘Coq Au Riesling’ recipe, but with the addition of some asparagus I had in the fridge.

I would’ve taken some photos, but there was no time – it tasted SO good that Deb and I inhaled it long before I could reach for the camera!  Therefore, this isn’t so much a recipe as a breakdown of what was lurking in the fridge, and how we used that to make something that turned out very, very good indeed.

Chicken a la Fridge-Clearout

Ingredients

  • 500g chicken thighs and breast, chopped into smallish chunks
  • Bacon lardons
  • A handful of closed-cup mushrooms
  • A handful of asparagus spears
  • 1 largish onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • White wine
  • Single cream*
  • A big handful of fresh tarragon, finely-chopped
  • Salt & pepper (of course)

Directions

  • Pop a large, heavy-based saucepan onto a low heat and pour in a small slug of vegetable oil. Finely chop the onion and garlic and pop them in the pan to sweat down. After a couple of minutes, once they’re starting to sweat, throw in your lardons and let them start to render down a bit. Take the tips off the garlic spears and set aside. Chop the top half of the stalk into small chunks, and throw them in the pot. Throw away the woody lower part. Finely slice half a dozen mushrooms and put them in as well. Stir everything around in the bacon fat that’s starting to exude.
  • Once everything’s sweated nicely and the onions are translucent, throw in about two-thirds of the chopped tarragon, add the chicken and turn up the heat to medium. You’re not trying to fry it off, just colour it a bit. Let it all cook for five or ten minutes, swooshing it around occasionally, until the chicken is white overall. Turn the heat up to high and after about two minutes, chuck in a glass or so of white wine and stir, then once the alcohol has cooked off turn the heat back down to low and leave it for a minute or two.
  • Slowly add the single cream, stirring all the time.
  • Turn up the heat a little, until the sauce is just bubbling occasionally, and cook uncovered until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce reduced to a nice thick consistency. Five minutes or so before you plan to eat, taste and add seasoning (you probably won’t need more salt) and add the asparagus tips, a couple more sliced mushrooms and the last of the tarragon and stir well. Serve with something mashy to soak up the sauce, and some lightly-cooked green beans to add texture.

*note: the cream wasn’t ‘lurking in the fridge, but bought fresh. Don’t mess about with leftover dairy products!

I Can Haz Cheezeburger?

So there have been many changes in The Life Of Dungeekin in recent months, including marriage (thanks in large part to a roast chicken recipe) and moving to Transatlantic Towers, our new family home. And it has a MUCH larger kitchen than Vitriol Towers ever did, which has meant much more space for ingredients – and better still, much more space for experimentation. I dubbed it Transatlantic Kitchen.

That experimentation has recently been focused on the dark art of the cheeseburger. Having uprooted Deb from the burger-rich hunting grounds of the Upper East Side to the drizzling, McDonalds-dominated wasteland of Oxfordshire, it was essential that I got the hang of cheeseburgers. If you’ve ever been to NYC and eaten at JG Melon, Shake Shack or any of the other dedicated burger places in the city, you’ll understand how what we Brits think of as a dry, bland alternative to an M&S sandwich is, over there, a juicy*, flavoursome thing of wonder from beef to bun.

And you know what? Recreating that proved to be bloody difficult. Attempt after attempt came up short, with mushy meat, disintegrating burgers or charred exteriors concealing raw mince inside. Thankfully the majority of these experiments were done while Deb was still in the States, so I was spared the disapproval of a cheeseburger connoisseur. It became clear that the trick is to keep the meat as cool as possible and be as gentle as possible putting it together. I can’t stress those points enough – cool and gentle, cool and gentle!

But now, I think I’ve finally come up with the recipe and cooking method that works and will give that proper New York cheeseburger experience at home.

Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeseburgers

(makes two burgers)

Neil Cheeseburger 1
Ingredients:

  • 500 grams of GOOD steak mince. Don’t get ‘extra-lean’, as you need some fat;
  • 2 good burger buns. If you’ve a baker and can find a range, all the better. Supermarket ‘baps’ are often too dry and break up;
  • ‘American’ processed-cheese slices (these are the canonical burger cheese, substitute your preference if you wish;
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon;
  • Granulated onion;
  • TABLE salt (one of the rare occasions when I don’t use Maldon Sea Salt);
  • Black pepper.

Preparation:

  • Take the mince from its pack, and put into a large bowl. Gently run your fingers through it to separate it all out, then pop it back into the fridge to cool back down.
  • After 30-odd minutes chilling, take the mince and add granulated onion, salt and black pepper to taste, gently mixing it through with your fingers. Don’t be too harsh or use utensils, as that will over-work the meat and make it go sloppy and clump. I use granulated onion to get a good flavour without compromising ‘structural integrity’ – even fine-chopped onion has a tendency to make the burgers fall apart during cooking. Granulated onion and table salt also work better as they can be worked more fully through the meat than sea salt and chopped onion, so you get completely even seasoning.
  • Place the seasoned meat back in the fridge for another 20 minutes or so, to recover from your ministrations.
  • Once it’s cooled again, separate the meat into 4 equal portions. Roll them (gently) into balls, then slowly flatten them out until they’re about 1/2″ thick at the edge, with a bit of an indentation in the middle of each one.
  • Take two slices of American cheese, and fold each in half twice. Place them into the indentations on two of your patties. Take the two patties without cheese and gently place them, indentation-side down, on top of the two with cheese on, creating a beef’n’cheese sandwich. Gently (note how everything has to be gentle!) squeeze the edges together to make a partial seal. Back into the fridge – Don’t cover or wrap them, as that seems to make them sweat a bit and go mushy – and leave them there for a good couple of hours.

Cooking:

  • Take two frying pans – one with a lid, and one without. Put a small amount of oil in the pan with the lid, and wipe it around the pan, then put the pan on a low heat. Keep the other pan to one side – that one will be getting HOT later.
  • Gently put the burgers into the oiled pan, and put the lid on. The object here is not to fry them, as they’ll fall apart. Instead, let them steam gently in their own juices. It takes a lot longer to cook them this way but they stay together and retain much more moisture. They can take as long as 25-30 minutes to cook, gently turning once or twice. They won’t take on much colour, but you will know they’re cooking from the sound and smell.
  • Heat the other frying pan, without oil this time, and get it nice and hot. Cut the bacon rashers in half, and put them in the hot pan to cook until crispy, then remove and keep in a warm oven. Wipe out any excess bacon fat, and put the pan back on the heat.
  • Prepare your buns with any dressings you want to add, but don’t go overboard as the moisture from the burger and dressings will cause the bun to collapse. Toast the bun if you wish, but I’ve never found that works for me.
  • When the cheese in the middle of the burgers starts to leak from the edges, you’re ready to go. Remove them from the pan, and finish with 30 seconds per side in your hot frying pan to colour them up.
  • Place your burger on the bottom of the bun, add another slice of cheese on top (to help it all stick together), pop two half-rashers of bacon on top of that and top with the bun.
  • Eat. Don’t forget napkins!

Neil Cheeseburger 2


*This is in no small part due to being able to choose how done your burger is, whereas here they tend to be served one way only – overdone – and even in places like GBK it can be a struggle to persuade them to cook your burger medium. Dang ‘Health & Safety’ rules.

Roasting For One: Crazy or Crazy Delicious?

To do justice to food as the most wide-ranging and personal of subjects, I needed additional voices to chime in. I asked dungeekin so he would make me one of the fabulous roasts he discusses below. My plan is working ’cause I’ve been eating awfully well as a result.  — Deb.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The topic of solo activities has been weighing upon my mind recently, given that it will be another nine days before I am back again at the dining-table of my beloved. And by ‘solo activities’, for the more earthily-minded among you, I am of course referring to cooking for one.

Specifically, Sunday roasts when cooking for one.

Sunday roasts, with all the trimmings, are of course a British tradition. They’re as much a part of the English way of life as the Queen, substandard dentistry and constant drizzle. Yet when I mentioned on Twitter that I was planning to treat myself to a Sunday roast – alone – the news was met with a degree of surprise.

It seems that many people view cooking a roast (especially if they’re on their own) as hard work – a great deal of effort on a day of rest. And this surprises me, because it isn’t. Really, honestly, it isn’t hard work at all.

A tempting roast dinner – with all the glorious kitchen smells that brings, and the dopey satedness that follows its eating – is actually staggeringly simple. It’s ‘fire and forget’ food – with a few minutes thought and pre-planning, you can have a juicy roast on the table with luscious accompaniments in two hours – of which, despite impressions, you’ve only had to do about 30 minutes’ work.

It’s true, honest.

I wrote a roast chicken recipe some time ago which outlines the concept, however in order to prove my point I’m going to tell you what I cooked for myself tonight. It was good. More importantly, it was easy, which is a priority when cooking alone. And if you follow this, you’ll have a juicy roast on the table inside two hours, with less work than you’d need to cook a risotto.

Roast Pork, Roast Potatoes, Broccoli, Fried Leeks & Mushrooms.

This will serve one with leftovers (if, like me, you like raiding the fridge for a cold roast potato) or two easily enough.

You’ll need:

  • 1kg pork shoulder with the skin on (for crackling);
  • Either 4 large or 8 smaller potatoes (floury King Edwards are good for roasting, but you can use whatever);
  • 1 head of broccoli;
  • 2 large leeks;
  • Butter, sea salt, olive oil, black pepper;
  • Onion gravy granules (remember, this is a quick job, so it’s not cheating).

Put the oven on. HIGH (250C is good). Boil the kettle. Chuck a good lug of olive oil into a roasting dish.

Once the oven’s up to temperature, put the pork on a plate in the sink. Pour the boiling water over the skin, and watch it start to crinkle. Pat it dry (carefully), drizzle it with a little olive oil and season with lots of salt and black pepper. Pop it in the roasting dish, skin up, and chuck it in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes – this is the initial ‘sizzle’.

Peel and chop (if necessary) your potatoes, and pop them in a saucepan of salted water to parboil.

Go and watch TV for 20 minutes, there’s nothing you can do right now.

When the timer goes, go and turn the heat on the oven down to 170-180C, and reset the timer for 30 minutes. Carefully take the potatoes out of their boiling water, set them aside and turn off the heat on the saucepan – you’ll need that water later, so keep hold of it. Go back to the TV for the remaining time.

Thirty minutes later, when the oven goes ‘ping’ – take out the roasting dish, pop in the potatoes, and give them a careful flip or two to cover them in the oil and meat fat. Back in the oven – set the timer again, this time for 40 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of wine, and return to your scheduled afternoon viewing….

Seriously, you’ve done maybe ten minutes work and there’s now nothing else you can do for almost an hour. Leave everything alone.

Once the 40 minutes is up, you have 15 minutes of business ahead (ish). First, take the pork out of the oven, then carefully remove the skin, and wrap the pork in foil to relax while you finish your meal. Pop the crackling back on a shelf in the oven, so it carries on drying and crisping up.

Turn on the heat under the saucepan you used earlier, and heat some butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Put some gravy granules in a jug.

Chop as much broccoli as you need, and chuck it into the saucepan. Chop the leeks and mushrooms, and put them in the frying pan Cook until the leek and mushroom mix, and the broccoli, are both tender, then simply turn the heat off under both pans, and drain the water from the broccoli straight into the gravy mix, and stir.

Unwrap your meat, carve. Turn off the oven, take out the potatoes and the crackling. Add everything to the plate. Serve. Eat.

Now, seriously, how hard was that? You have a perfect Sunday roast, leftovers to nibble on, and the sense of replete achievement that comes with a meal most people seem to think is ‘hard work’.

Though of course if you’re on your own, you do have to do the washing-up .  .  .

Coffee Conundrum, Caffeine Continuum

To do justice to food as the most wide-ranging and personal of subjects, I needed additional voices to chime in. Result? A series of fabulous foodie guest posters including dungeekin, who offers this surrealist and somehow scientific sounding examination of coffee physics. — Deb.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Physics Of Coffee Mugs Explained


When you need it most it’s in the smallest mug….

So I noticed today that the lovely Gotham Girl was asking one of those deep philosophical questions that go to the very heart of our existence here in the Universe:

“Why are all coffee mugs so small?
or do they just feel that way when one hasn’t had enough coffee?”

Well, it’s been a long time since my PhD in Applied & Theoretical Caffeination, but I can still recall the basics and so, in the interest of Bringing Science To The Masses, permit me to explain the phenomenon.

It’s a noted scientific fact that the mug size decreases in inverse proportion to the need for coffee, due to quantum irregularities. The phenomenon was first noted by Isaac Newton, in fact, who was in dire need of a triple espresso after an unfortunate apple-related incident left him lying flat on his front for three weeks. However, while his work on mug size led directly to both his Laws of Bowel Motions and a severe case of caffeine withdrawal, he was unable to explain the reason for the events he observed.

Many people believe that the breakthrough in understanding the coffee/cup/need relationship was best postulated in Folger’s Caffeine Uncertainty Principle, which reputedly came to the great man after a heavy night on the Jack Daniels. The Principle states that because the act of needing coffee changes the quantum state of the coffee itself simply by being present, we can either know how much coffee is in the mug or how good it tastes – but not both. A purist would, of course, note the fundamental contradiction inherent within the Caffeine Uncertainty Principle, though lack of space prevents me explaining it here. However, many in the field now agree that Folger would have produced a better Principle had he not been hungover when he postulated all over the page.

However, some caffeticians believe that this Universal question can better be explained by the groundbreaking work of none other than Albert Einstein in his 1918 General Theory Of Javativity, which states that:

where c= cup size, N= need for a brew and e= The Eurgh Constant*, brought about by not having coffee and believed to be the largest ‘real number in existence**.

Now clearly, I don’t have to tell you that Einstein’s theory leaves significant gaps for the thinking caffetician. The theorem makes no allowance, for example, for the significant effects of spacetime on the surface area of a cappuccino, for example, which many believe was Einstein’s greatest error (after his choice of hairdresser).

That said, Einstein could not have been expected to predict the later work of Professor Maxwell House of Princeton, who proved that coffee exists in multiple quantum states, acting like both a wave, a particle and a good smack around the ears at the same time, and whose seminal work (thankfully just missing his mocha when he released it) on Latte Theory is still being studied for both insight and any sense at all.

So you can see from just this simple primer that the question has taxed some of the finest minds in history, and we still have much to learn about the physics of the coffee mug. However, mine is now empty so I shall refill it before it reduces to subatomic size. Join me next week, when we’ll be investigating the theological schisms caused by Marmite sandwiches through history.

* This footnote intentionally left blank.

** The Eurgh Constant is defined as the square of the cube of the likelihood of you getting a kick in the teeth if you don’t bring me a double espresso right now, multiplied by the Fine Structure Constant and divided by the number you first thought of. Plus 42, obviously. The equation is ç?2E2. You’re welcome.

Dun Geekin is Syphilitus Professor of Coffee Sciences at St Arbucks University. He holds a PhD in Pure and Applied Caffeinetics from Javard, a BArista in Theoretical Wiredness from Costa College, and a 10-yard swimming certificate.