The Bread Baby

Does anyone remember that craze back in the 90’s, where people gave each other little pocket sized computer thingies that you had to ” feed” and “bathe”, or they pinged in an annoyingly loud manner? Or that episode in “Frasier” where Niles attempted to simulate fatherhood by looking after an eight pound sack of flour for a week? No?

I had forgotten them too – but they all came rushing back to me in the early hours of the morning about a month ago, when I found myself under the glare of my kitchen lights, giving it the full Colin Clive and screaming, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!

itsalive
That’s Dr. Frankenstein to you, thank you very much.

I was making my own sourdough bread.

Moreover, I was learning – all too painfully – that making your own sourdough bread is not about the baking the bread, but rather about making the “starter.” And making a sourdough starter is uncomfortably like looking after a small baby for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of feeding and changing, quite a bit of gas, the regular disposal of beige goop, some malodorous smells, and far too much fretting and crying.

How did I get to that darkly cinematic moment in my kitchen in those wee small hours? Not naturally or easily actually. I have always considered myself more of a “cook” than a “baker” but my confidence in baking had truly grown in the last few years. Continue reading “The Bread Baby”

Spatchcock Psycho

It started a few weeks, back, under the cover of night.  I’d been aching to try it for a while, but it seemed so difficult and dangerous that I was nervous about an actual attempt. I’d read about it of course, and even seen a few videos on one of those specialty YouTube channels. They made it look so easy, but still I was afraid I’d wind up with a mangled corpse and a kitchen saturated with blood.

A Decision Made

Finally I plucked up the courage to try my hand.

I waited until I knew there would be no witnesses to catch me should I fail. I brought my victim home, put on my apron and sharpened my largest, heaviest knife. Then, with a drink to steady my nerves, I sneaked up behind my victim, and set to work.

The relief and pride as the job was done were immense. And later, as   I gazed down at my victim lying spread-eagled before me and sampled the juicy morsels of tender flesh, I knew I would do it again. And again and again. This was not some dark adventure to try only when the moon was full or when I could hold out no longer against my dark desires. This would happen regularly, perhaps once a week if I was lucky and could find people to share my new compulsion – and if my freezer could hold the rising tide of body parts. I had become a man obsessed.

cleaver

Yes. Spatchcocking chicken had changed me forever.  You may have heard of Spatchocking as “butterflying,” but that’s far too pretty a term for what this process involves. Continue reading “Spatchcock Psycho”

Pickled And Baked

It’s not what you think.  I’m not wallowing in wine or whacked out on weed. (At least not right now.) I do, however, have homemade bread baking in the oven, and I’ve just put up a bunch of pickles. Again, it’s not what you may think.

I haven’t joined a commune in Vermont, delved too far into the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or taken up extreme right-wing ideologies and moved into a nuclear bunker in Tennessee. I’m just trying to stay hip. And for once, I’ve found I haven’t already aged out of the latest trends. Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years.

mary-berry

Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years. Continue reading “Pickled And Baked”

Spaghetti: Dressed For Dinner

We recently celebrated Spaghetti Day here at Fabulous Foodie. Deborah’s fabulous post about the various forms of- and sauces for- spaghetti got me to thinking about what a large part spaghetti has played in my culinary life.

I remember being a child watching my dad make his spaghetti Bolognese sauce, and how – though it’s certainly my own sauce now – mine is based on his. Yes, I know that sauce is actually called a ragu, and that in Italy it’s never served with spaghetti (except perhaps resignedly to tourists) because spaghetti is the wrong shape and texture to properly hold the sauce, but like everyone who didn’t grow up in Italy, that’s the way I first ate it. And it’s still how I prefer to eat it to this day.

bolognese-sauce

As a teen, I learned how to eat spaghetti properly, instead of cutting it into childishly spoon-able lengths; how you gather a few strands on the tines of your fork, and twirl the fork against the side of the bowl or a spoon until they’re neatly twined around your fork. And how it’s actually okay to slurp a bit , just to get those few recalcitrant straggly ends into your mouth. (At least it is in my house.)

Then I remember how I learned to cook spaghetti (and all pasta) properly:

Continue reading “Spaghetti: Dressed For Dinner”

Kitchen Disasters R Us

It occurred to me the other night – as I frantically scoured out one of my favorite saucepans while flapping at the smoke alarm with a tea towel – that things in the kitchen don’t always go to plan.

burningkitchen
Please note – no kitchens were harmed in the making of this stock photo.

What had gone wrong? Well, I had been making mashed potatoes for myself in my new favorite manner, which is to simmer them in a bit of milk, and then use that milk for the mashing liquid. It takes a bit longer for the potatoes to cook but you lose none of the potato flavor to water, and you’ve already got hot potato-rich milk for the mashing.  Add butter, and it’s a great no-draining method for mash just so long as you don’t get distracted by the TV as they’re simmering.

Which, of course, I did.

Continue reading “Kitchen Disasters R Us”

Thyme And Thyme Again

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…”

So begins one of the loveliest and headiest passages of poetry William Shakespeare ever wrote.  It hails, of course, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and is spoken by Oberon, King of the Fairies.

thyme_pestle

It’s absolutely right and proper that such an intoxicating speech should begin with a reference to thyme. This evergreen herb has almost magical properties in the kitchen, and a fair number of medicinal uses as well. Continue reading “Thyme And Thyme Again”

Feeding Your Feelings In The Lonely Kitchen

Okay, so my name is Patrick and I’m a single foodie. By which I don’t mean I’m one single foodie among thousands (or millions if we’re talking about social media – I’m looking at you, Instagrammers), but rather that I’m a foodie and single.

And most of the time that’s a delicious way to live.  I can eat what I like when I like in whatever combination or volume strikes my fancy. I don’t have to watch my weight for some theoretical partner because their opinions about my weight or shape are also purely theoretical. As the old song goes, I don’t have to share a pair of pork chops when I crave champagne and cheese.

And I never, ever, have to cook broccoli.

Broccoli Continue reading “Feeding Your Feelings In The Lonely Kitchen”

Summer Time Is Sexy Food Time

Summer has well and truly arrived here in London. The temperatures have soared into the 90s (Fahrenheit)  then not backing down much and the humidity levels have been keeping pace. It’s that hot and sweaty time of year when you know who’s wearing deodorant and who isn’t, and when the commute to work can become a battle for breath.

sumemr_coupleBut it’s also PLAY time.  Sex is everywhere in the summer.

It’s right on front of you when couples are canoodling in the park. It reveals itself in the flash of sexy white skin that denotes a hot summer tan line. It confronts you in the stifling, airless night when you desperately need something, something, to completely exhaust and deplete you and bring sleep.

And finally – let me tell you, food is also at its sexiest in summer.

Summer food is lighter, fresher, and much more playful.

summer_grill Three-course dinner parties become informal barbeques; sit-down meals are replaced with street food on the go; and the flavours? Well they’re suddenly all about freshness and smoke, salt and tang and heat. All of which set you up nicely for Summertime Sexy Time.

Now there are a great many summer foods one can might think of as being sexy:

  • There’s ice cream, of which I am not personally a fan (I don’t like claggy creamy things in summer, although there’s certainly something to be said for licking that little puddle of good vanilla ice cream from the hollow at the base of your lover’s throat).
  • Or there are peaches and nectarines in their full juicy yielding tangy sweetness in the height of summer.
  • Or there’s a good steak, flame-grilled for mere moments until it’s as black and blue as I’d hope to be after a good summer night session.

But sexy as they are, none of the above are the foods that really equate- or inspire- summer sex for me. So here, in ascending order, are my favourite Summertime Sexy foods:

Number 5: Asparagus

asparagusIs there a more obvious summer sex food than asparagus? Probably not, but there’s a damn good reason for that. Loaded as it is with iron and other sexy nutrients, asparagus would be damn sexy already. But it’s also blessed with that fabulously phallic form.  And this positively priapic pillar of veg has its glorious season in the British summer.  You can boil it (if you must), but get steamy and steam it instead, or just grill it, with a brushing of olive oil and chilies. Or saute in butter, or have a foaming Hollandaise on hand to take the imagery even further.

Eat it with your hands. Asparagus shouldn’t be surgically attacked with a knife and fork (unless you have issues). It should be picked up, and inserted lovingly-head first-into your mouth. Then nibble or suck as lovingly as you please. One final note? Don’t go for those fiddly little strands of “fine asparagus” that will wilt away to stringy nothingness the minute they hit heat. Go for the full-size meaty heads, and let them cook just long enough to lose crunch but retain a meaty bite. When it comes to asparagus, it’s more than okay to be a size queen.

Number 4: Noodles

You might think there’d be no place for something as carb-heavy as pasta on this sexy list, but you’d be wrong. You’re gonna need some carbs to keep you going for the hot sweaty session that awaits…

Noodles are sexy; anything you slurp into your mouth is sexy. And who says noodles must be hot, or covered in a thick, claggy sauce. Cold Udon or Soba noodles with a chili-sharp sesame dressing, manipulated with a pair of sexily skinny chopsticks? Hot in mood but not temperature – perfect to share on a hot summer night.  Or a simple spaghetti aglio olio et pepperoncino shared in bed – a pleasurable break from more strenuous pleasurable activities. Or  that Italian classic; linguine with crab and chili – oil-slicked , fresh and fiery, slithering down your throat.

Just keep the portions light. Otherwise sleep may come a BIT too soon.

Number 3: Strawberries

You might think strawberries are as innocent as an an Eton Mess. If so, you probably have no idea of what goes on at Eton. The very act of eating a strawberry correctly  -holding it by the stem and caressing its puckered nether end with your lips, is just like that first exploratory kiss that’s about to turn into a full-on snog. Or, better, it’s like starting a pleasingly nasty round of mouth-on-nipple play.

But like those lips – or that nipple- that strawberry must be warm from the sun. Do not, for the love of all that is fruity, allow your strawberries to get anywhere near a refrigerator. Like tomatoes, they are hot weather fruits, and only give out their full treasures under the heat of a summer sun. Think of an afternoon in the park on a blanket with your lover, with cold white wine, and warm strawberries, and a conveniently close thicket for some impromptu entanglements…

Number 2: Shellfish

Ya gotta have some protein, right? And shellfish is the way to go in the hot summer months. Light, fresh with an ocean-side ozone tang, what’s sexier than that?  And the pure animal pleasure of tearing those hard shells off a lobster claw, or a crab leg, or the just ripping of  the entire carapace off a juicily plump shrimp or crayfish? Especially when it’s already been blackened with hot and spicy seasoning, or when there’s a sexy pot of drawn butter near by? Or both?  It’s the smoky salty hit of a night on a summer beach.

And anything you eat with your hands and makes you lick your fingers is damn sexy.

Or better yet, oysters that you hit with a dash of mignonette, or a squeeze of lemon, or a spike of chili ( if you hit them with anything at all- going nude for oysters is more than okay by me), and then just allow to make their briny way down your gullet with a caress from your tongue as they go.

Number 1: Chilies

chilies_summerChilies? Did I say chilies? You bet I did. Because when that big old summer sun is turning your world into a furnace – baby, it’s time to fight fire with fire. Now, I’m not talking “blow your head off” chili heat here. For my money, food should never be, regardless of season, some macho endurance contest. And you certainly don’t want to spend the next morning mournfully humming the tune to “Ring Of Fire.” But spiking your food with just enough chili to tingle your mouth and plump your lips, to wake up your senses and get your blood pumping, is the best dietary path to a summer full of sexy awareness.

Did you ever wonder why the people who live in the hottest climates eat the hottest food? Because it does two great things. First, it actually cools you down. Sure, eating chili-spiced food will initially make your head sweat. It’s a phenomenon called “gustatory facial sweating,” (which is quite a mouthful, especially if your mouth is already full). It means your body is is heating up to match the outside temperature, which will actually make you feel cooler as you sweat.  Second, and best for our topic today, sweating ups pheromone excretion and that’s something – knowingly or unknowingly – we all react to. And  in the heat of summer – we react with blazing abandon.

There are lots of many ways to add a little chili heat to your food and your life.

  • Sprinkle some Tabasco sauce on your morning eggs (which I actually do throughout the year)
  • add a pinch of chili flakes to any bbq marinade
  • eat your dang chocolate with chili!

After all, it’s Summer!  we’re all going to sweat so we might as well have fun while we’re doing it. And we should all be doing it.

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What American Food Means To Me

Earlier today, on the eve of that Birthday of the United States of America, the 4th of July, Deborah posed a real, well, poser of a question:   “What is American food?”

On the surface, this was a very easy question to answer. “Hamburgers!” “Hot dogs!” “Apple pie!” “Chop suey!” “Barbeque!” “Pizza!” were amongst the most vociferously voiced suggestions. And despite the fact that each of those originated in another continent (if not country), I completely agree.

americanfood

But as an amateur food historian, I could counter those with “Popcorn!””Peanut butter!” “Turkey!” “Cranberries!” as each of those foods are actually native to the USA. Well, … Okay, so peanuts are actually native to South America, and the peanut butter we eat today was possibly loosely based on a Cuban culinary practice-but it became peanut butter in the USA. And no, it was not invented by George Washington Carver, but I’ve covered that story here.)

peanutbutter

And anyway, I started to think about the question in a different, more personal, way. I thought about:

  • how I’m half American and have a deeply British side;
  • how-visits aside- I’ve only lived 4 of my 48 years in the USA; how I drink tea rather than coffee;
  • how I have a deeply emotional connection to Marmite and find the idea of mint or cranberry jelly rather than sauce unspeakable;
  • how I can be a tad snooty about the difference between Italian and Italian-American cuisine;
  • and how the only apple pie I’ve ever actually liked is made by my fully Irish aunt.

But then I thought about:

  • how whenever I move to a new neighborhood in London my first field trip is all about locating the nearest source of American peanut butter (the British version is at best tolerable);
  • how, about every three months, I have to have a Big Mac, or at least a good burger (it really doesn’t matter which);
  • how both sodas and beers to me are somewhat depressing unless they are ice cold;
  • how, for all their ingenuity in finding new flavors for crisps (potato chips, natch), the British have yet match the so-wrong-it’s-right deliciousness of the Cool Ranch Dorito;
  • and how I firmly believe that no party is complete without California Dip.

So what what then is American food to me? Is it just burgers and chips rather than crisps?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized  that for me American food is not just about examples of given foodstuffs, but rather about context. It’s about the experience; how eating (or drinking-what’s a better example of epicurean Americana than root beer?) makes me feel American when I’m not there, or makes me absolutely certain I’m in the right place when I am. It’s about combinations of food and drink, and most certainly all about the situations too.

Because culturally (and personally) all food is more than the sum of its ingredients. It becomes cultural because of when we eat it, when we share it, and who we share it with. Food becomes cultural because of how we feel about it.

So, with that realization in mind,  let me dish up some examples of what American food means to me:

  • It means sharing a big tub of over-buttered popcorn  for a Hollywood blockbuster, but nursing an iced coffee for an arthouse film.
  • It means a plain beef burger cooked at a friend’s backyard barbeque, with my choice of toppings.
  • It means being asked to bring a potato salad for that barbeque.
  • It means turkey at Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
  • It means eating cold Chinese food- with chopsticks- out of a cardboard takeout carton the morning after a heavy night.

  • It also means cold pizza the morning after a heavy night.
  • It means peanuts and popcorn on the bar to keep me thirsty, that heavy night before.
  • It means pumpkin, not apple, pie, damn it.
  • It means ordering a starter as a main course, because the portions are too big for me.
  • It means having a big old baked potato and sour cream with my steak, instead of “frites”.
  • It means pancakes with maple syrup, not sugar and lemon.
  • It means having those pancakes with maple syrup at a diner at 3am.
  • It means a near stranger telling me to sit down and stay for dinner when I’m one more than they had cooked for.
  • It means them Cool Ranch Doritos and a big glass of Hawaiian Punch over ice while I spend an afternoon watching American soaps.
  • It means donuts doused in powdered sugar.
  • It means at least two bowls of Apple Jacks while I’m watching old Looney Tunes cartoons.
  • It means the big smile on a host’s face when I ask for second helpings.
  • It means tearing corn off the cob with my teeth and not caring how much butter drips down my chin, or how many niblets are wedged in my gums.
  • It means arguing vehemently about what makes the perfect tuna salad sandwich and tt means having that tuna salad sandwich with a chocolate milkshake.
  • It means hot dogs that taste best outside on a chilly night, and bought on the street from some guy with a cart.
  • It means that singular chilly smell when you step into an American supermarket on a hot summer’s day.
  • It means iced tea on a hot summer afternoon and Long Island Iced Tea on a hot summer night.
  • It means piling all the junk food I can manage into the car when I’m off on a road trip with friends.
  • It means stopping off on that road trip for a roast beef sandwich with extra onions at the first Roy Rogers Restaurant I see.
  • It means lemonade so sour my stomach puckers.
  • It means tearing a lobster apart at a beach side shack while I’m wearing a plastic bib.
  • It means egg nog at Christmas parties.
  • It means having too much when I’m there and missing too much when I’m not.

I’m feeling quite American homesick now. But that’s okay. Because American food does on occasion still manage to be a moveable feast even outside its borders. I may not be spending the 4th of July eating junk food on a road trip to a shack where I can get lobster. And I won’t be having iced tea of either variety. But though I am here in the UK, I am going to an American barbeque, so that burger- just the way I want it, with my choice of toppings- is in my future. And yes, I’m bringing a potato salad.

Happy 4th of July folks! And if you’ve got a minute between mouthfuls, what does American food mean to you?

Make Mine Marinara

As I’ve stated many times before, I’m a big believer in “Big Batch Cooking”. Few things in life comfort me as much as the knowledge that-come what may, I have a big batch of my ragu, or my mother’s Poor Man’s Stroganoff, or just chicken stock, filling up my freezer, just waiting to be either heated and eaten, or turned into something else to be heated and eaten.

But as the days lengthen and the temperature warms up I generally turn away from slightly heavier fare. I don’t necessarily want a creamy stew, or even a meaty spag bol. I start to crave lighter meals. But I do still want to be prepared; to have something other than that trusty chicken stock on standby for either a quick pasta supper, or maybe just a flavoursome sauce for fish.

And that’s when I feel the urge to make a big batch of marinara sauce.

Marinara sauce, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, and herbs,” is one of the best possible standbys to have in your fridge or freezer. It is of course your almost basic tomato sauce. Marinara sauces are much lighter and fresher than you might think – at least when made at home and not laden with extra sugar and preservatives etc (no, I don’t believe in a store-bought pasta sauce).

pizza_sauce As such, it’s the perfect sauce for summer. It’s not only brilliant on pasta, but is also the perfect base for topping homemade pizzas, a delicious accompaniment to a grilled piece of chicken, fish, pork, or even steak.  What’s more, since it’s more of a staple of Italian-American rather than Italian cuisine (trust me, there’s a difference), it leaves you a lot more room to experiment since you won’t be hindered by the strictures of tradition.

Marinara is incredibly easy to make, and all from easily obtainable kitchen staples. I don’t use fresh basil in my marinara, for one very simple reason: I like my marinara to be a base, a starting point. From that base sauce, when I’m reheating a portion of it for whatever purpose, I can add that basil (which only works when fresh, and is assertive when used in any sauce), capers, dried chilies or black olives (though I almost never use black olives as I loathe them- no Putta in the kitchen, I), vodka, or cream!

sauce_makingOnce you have this basic sauce as that starting point it will save you loads of time –in the future. A good marinara does take a bit of time to make. Tomatoes, whether you use canned or fresh, take a good couple of hours to cook down properly and lose that potentially sour raw edge.

But a lot of time does not equal a lot of effort and there’s not much actual effort here. Just the odd bit of pot-watching, stirring, and some deeply pleasurable squishing. The squishing may in fact be my favorite stage. If you’ve got kids (with clean hands) this is actually a great sauce to get them to help you with.

So here’s my recipe for a good all-round Marinara (Italian culinary purists, look away now):

Marinara Sauce
(makes 6-8 servings)

You will need:

  • A couple of good glugs of olive oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional. I like my Marinara to have a little bit of a kick, but then the older I get, the more I get my kicks where I can)
  • 1 20 cl mini bottle (or a big glass) of good dry white wine- you can use red,and in winter that’s what I use- but I like the lightness of white in the summer months
  • 6 400g cans of peeled Italian plum tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  • In a large deep, lidded saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium low flame until it’s fragrant. Then throw in the chopped onions and a good sprinkle of salt (the salt will stop the onions from catching). Let the onions saute until they soften and turn translucent. This will take a good ten minutes.
  • Once the onions are like mushy window panes, toss in the garlic, the oregano, and the chili flakes (if using), stir, and let them cook for just a minute or two. Then raise the heat just slightly, and pour in the white wine. Let the wine simmer until it’s reduced by at least half.
  • While the wine is reducing, it’s time for the fun part! Place a colander (ideally plastic or enamel) over a large bowl, then tip in the six cans of plum tomatoes. Then with absolutely clean hands, start squishing the tomatoes between your hands until they are a messy pulp in the colander. Give them a stir with a wooden spoon to send any juice they’re holding down into the bowl.
  • Once that wine is reduced by half (the onion/garlic/oregano mixture should look like a distinctly wet slurry), tip in the tomatoes from the colander. Give them a stir in the saucepan, then add the juice from the bowl and the tomato puree. Stir vigorously for a minute to mix in the puree then let  it come to a steady low simmer.
  • Season with one more sprinkling of salt and a good grind of pepper then just put the lid almost but not quite entirely over the pot, and let it simmer away for about 2 1/2 hours, giving it the occasional stir and taste.
  • After 2 1/2 hours, the sauce should have reduced by about a third, and have a good, thickish and slightly chunky consistency, as well as a deep cooked tomato flavor spiked with just that note of onions, garlic, wine and herbs.
  • At this point I personally let the sauce cool down a bit, then puree it with an immersion blender. That’s because I find the sauce is more versatile if it’s smooth and velvety (which it so deliciously is). If you like the more “artisan” nature of a slightly chunky sauce, buon gusto!

And as I mentioned above, don’t just think of a Marinara as being a sauce for pasta or pizza; remember that grilled fish! Or that steak Pizziaola! Or go fabulously 80s retro and use it as a dipping sauce for deep-fried mozzarella!

mozz_sticks


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