Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Chocolate Mousse

To those of you with a vague understanding of scientific principles, this will probably make sense.

For those in the opposite camp (and I put myself firmly in this bracket), this will probably seem a little bit like sorcery.

If this technique had been demonstrated by an enterprising 16th century chef, he would probably have been burnt at the stake for dancing with the devil and engaging in nefarious culinary exploits.

This is a chocolate mousse made entirely out of chocolate and water.

There is nothing else involved. No binders, no emulsifiers, no eggs, no eye of newt or bollock of bat. Nada. Zilch.

Chocolate and water.

It is one of the few ‘experiments’ I’ve attempted from Hervé This’ book Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour (Columbia University Press, 2006).

Despite references to ‘metabotropic glutamate’ and ‘sugar chains forming molecular skeletons to carry carboxylic acid’ much of the book remains within the grasp of the average home cook and offers some valuable material to those looking to improve their cooking, or at least seeking a more thorough understanding of what goes on when frying pan meets egg.

When I read about the possibility of making a chocolate mousse within seconds and only two elements, I had to try it.

The lack of any extra ingredients in this chocolate mousse enables the purity of the chocolate to really shine, important if you’re working with high quality produce or single estate chocolate, for example.

The flavours aren’t dulled and there is an intensity of flavour I’ve not experienced before. It also opens up all sorts of possibilities for adding additional flavours, if you so wanted.

Perhaps a drop of chilli or a little vanilla extract.

So, how do you go about making this magic mousse?

Melt equal parts (by weight) of chocolate and water together in a double boiler. Remove the bowl, place it in some iced water and, using a good old fashioned balloon whisk, start beating the liquid.

You should notice a change in the texture almost immediately.

Keep whisking and then remove the bowl from the water to stop it from cooling too much and solidifying again.

Stop whisking once the ‘mousse’ is at the required consistency. If you go too far, don’t worry – just re-melt the chocolate and keep trying until you get the texture you want.

For my ‘cauliflower cheese’ I kept going until I had a slightly grainy texture but for a dessert you probably want something a little lighter.

Food sorcery at its finest, and most simple. Now all I have to do is avoid visiting Salem.

I’m on Twitter…

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cauliflower Cheese

One of the challenges facing molecular gastronomy is knowing where to draw the line between innovation and tradition.

Some dishes have become classic for good reason – they taste really good just the way they are. As such, alterations can be seen as pointless frippery. Experimentation for the sake of change.

Why ‘deconstruct’ a guacamole when regular guacamole is pretty close to perfection?

For culinary innovation to be successful, the resultant dish must maintain the integrity of the inspiration, or else the point has been missed and all that remains on the plate, and on the palate, is the bitter taste of disappointment and a hunger for the original.

Even Ferran Adria et al accept that not all dishes are a success. Granted, he scores more hits than misses but I’m sure his team have an awful lot of fun along the way.

And much of what this is about is having fun.

Eating (and cooking) is one of only two pan-sensory activities in which we, as humans, engage. Why shouldn’t it delight, amuse, surprise, tease or even arouse rather than just fuel?

Balancing these twin objectives – integrity and amusement against innovation and satisfaction – is a real challenge. But one that is enormously satisfying when it works. This was my first effort

Cauliflower Cheese

Cauliflower cheese is one of those big classics. Done right it is like being wrapped in a warm duvet and watching a Frank Capra film. Bite-sized florets of cauliflower, still carrying some bite, covered in a cheesey white sauce and topped with even more melty cheese, just turning that slightly crispy/chewy shade of brown. Give me the dish and a fork. No plates or napkins necessary.

Stripped down it has three main elements – the sauce, the cheese and the cauliflower. It also has three textures – soft, chewy and slightly crunchy. Finally, there are three flavours – saltiness from the cheese, caulifloweryness from the cauliflower and a slight bitterness from the topping.

The challenge was to keep all these fundamentals in place without compromising the flavour or satisfying nature of the inspiration.

After much head scratching, musing and mulling, this is what I came up with:

Mozzarella spheres with deep-fried cauliflower and bitter chocolate and a cauliflower and Parmesan puree with Parmesan crisps.

I think it ticks all the boxes. And you’re going to want the recipe aren’t you? I shall make it so…

For more little nibbles, follow me on Twitter

Monday, 27 April 2009

Salt & Vinegar Crisps

With the intro out of the way, we can crack on. Let’s begin with air. Or maybe foam. Anyone know when an air becomes a foam? Answers below please.

For the uninitiated, and those without access to liquid nitrogen, vacuum packaging devices, Large Hydron Colliders and other assorted machinery, airs and foams seem to be an excellent point of entry into the seemingly murky (and achingly complex) world of molecular gastronomy.

They are also relatively easy to create and apparently hard to fuck up (although, as expected, I did manage. You shan’t be seeing my ‘poached egg with paprika foam and roasted chickpeas’ because it looked like something from low budget Korean horror movie, circa 1983).

Airs and foams have come in for a bit of stick recently with some chefs apparently desperate to adorn all their dishes with a garnish that looks like gargled frog spawn. This is a bad thing.

But they do have their uses. They are light, delicate and carry flavours in a completely unexpected way. They’re also tremendous fun.

If you think you’ve never experienced such a level of gastronomy, think again. Unless, of course, you’ve never had a cappuccino – foam at its most famous. Or Foamous. *Sigh*

Using milk is one way to create the effect. Another is to use a chemical derived from soya beans or egg yolks called lecithin.

Although predominantly used in food production as an emulsifier (a go-between that helps the combining of fats and water – as in a béarnaise sauce), lecithin can also be added to virtually any liquid then whizzed up to create delicate bubbles of flavour.

Not wanting to ruin another perfectly good egg (see above), I thought about other possibilities and came round to the idea of using an air to flavour homemade crisps – something I first encountered at Midsummer House in Cambridge where we had crisps with a sweet balsamic foam as a pre-lunch nibble.

It was a neat twist on olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so often a satisfying starter when served with crusty bread. Time to get experimental.

With this in mind, instead of deep-frying the thin slices of potato, they were brushed on both sides with extra virgin olive oil and put into a hot oven.

Meanwhile, I mixed 75g of balsamic vinegar (not the good stuff) with the same amount of water, added 0.5g of lecithin and let it dissolve into the liquid.

Using a ‘wide mouthed container’, as recommended by another blogger, I then applied a hand blender to the surface of the liquid in an effort to create the small, stable, bubbles that form the ‘air.’


There are still dots of balsamic vinegar on the ceiling, the fridge, the kettle and, probably, my hair.

Panicking, I plunged the blender deeper into the dark liquid.

Oops. Again.

The blade managed to cut cleanly through a small raised nipple in the base of the plastic tub and all I could do was watch as foamy (hooray!) vinegar and water slowly leached out onto the surface and down onto my socks.

Sometimes all you can do is watch as the horror unfolds. So that’s what I did.

Two towels later I remembered the potatoes, now a slightly darker shade of brown than I’d anticipated.

Oops thrice. Time for coffee.

Composure and cool regained I forgot everything that had gone before and started again.

Peel potato. Slice thinly on mandolin (carefully avoiding the cutting off of fingertips). Brush lightly with EVOO and bake in a slightly cooler oven for about four minutes on either side. Salt with Malden sea salt on emergence and leave to cool on something slightly absorbent. Like David Guest’s face. Or some kitchen paper. I tend to use the latter.

Meanwhile: mix vinegar and water with weird yellow powder and blitz carefully with a hand mixer. Leave for five minutes then collect the resultant bubbles into a small receptacle. A shot glass or small espresso cup will suffice.


Dip each crisp into the foam and then shove it into your expectant mouth. Prepare yourself for a flavour explosion and a melding of textures so wondrous you’ll want to streak naked through the streets. Or at least have another. And then keep going until they are all gone.

For more delicate morsels, follow me on Twitter.

What Might Have Been...(an introduction to 'Molecular Gastronomy')

Between the ages of about 12 and 16 we spent, as a family, three summers in a tiny coastal town on Spain’s northern Costa Brava.

At the time, the resort of Roses was known for few things apart from the inevitable mini golf course, a go-karting track and perfectly serviceable stretch of beach. It was bustling enough in the evenings without feeling oppressive and enjoyed a steady trickle of tourists, predominantly from Germany and Britain.

How things change.

Sort of.

Roses’ most famous landmark is now a restaurant. But not just any restaurant: the best restaurant in the world. Officially. Ferran Adria’s El Bulli has once again been awarded the accolade of serving the best food of any establishment on the planet.

The restaurant’s name (meaning ‘bulldog’ in honour of the orginal owner’s pets) has become a by-word for culinary experimentation, as well as excellence, and Adria’s influence continues to make its mark on menus all over the world.

His, now notorious, style of cooking has been dubbed ‘molecular gastronomy’ but the name is considered to be something of a misnomer with even the founding fathers of this new cuisine trying to throw off the tenacious label to try and make it sound less inaccessible.

Where is all this going? Well, sadly, at the time I was holidaying there, El Bulli, despite having notched up two Michelin stars, was not the place of gastronomic pilgrimage it now is. It was known amongst the tightly knit fraternity of the foodie elite, but certainly didn’t feature on my culinary radar, nor that of my parents.

As a result, we never went.

It saddens me to know that at the time, there were some nights the restaurant would struggle to make ten bookings.

They now receive about two million requests a year with only a tiny handful – 8,000 – lucky enough to bag themselves a place during the six months it is open.

But, whilst I might not have direct experience, or even a reservation, I am in possession of the next best thing.

A while back I wrote about receiving the Texturas starter kit, the equivalent of a foodist’s chemistry set to allow budding ‘molecular gastronomists’ (since no better term has been invented I’ll struggle on with this one) to replicate some of the cutting edge techniques that have made Ferran Adria truly famous.

And I’ve finally got round to paying with it.

So, this is by way of introduction. And, hopefully a justification for the slightly – erm – unusual nature of the next few posts.

For more verbal foams, airs, spheres and purees, follow me on Twitter.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Here’s a question for you: what do Geert Wilders, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Straw Dogs and beef short ribs all have in common?

Any ideas? Yes, you at the back? Correct answer! They have all, at some point, been banned from Britain by the government.

Thanks to the BSE crisis – a result of abhorrent farming practices – for two years between 1997 and 1999, it was illegal to buy or sell beef on the bone.

Steaks were fine, burgers likewise, topside and rump all legal but a request for forerib or shin of beef would be met with sirens, a lock down and a near instantaneous crack SWAT team swooping in to make arrests.

Even after the ban was lifted, getting hold of beef short ribs was harder than quoting Darwin to a Jehovah’s Witness without being interrupted. As a result this dish has probably been on my ‘Must Cook’ list for longer than any other.

Short ribs have never managed to segue their way into the British collective culinary consciousness in the same way they have in France or the States. Ask for short ribs here and you are likely to walk away with pork rather than beef.

But that seems to be changing. Finally. Whilst it might still necessitate a special request to the butcher, you will likely to be able to source them rather leave empty handed. And this, I can now affirm, is a good thing. A great and wonderful thing.

Why? Because this is quite possibly the tastiest cut of beef imaginable, not to mention being one of the cheapest. For the price of a small piece of fillet, you could buy enough beef to feed at least eight. An entire slab of short ribs will set you back about 15 quid and that will feed a small platoon.

After some lengthy discussion (‘no, not rib of beef. No, not pork spare ribs.’ Et cetera et cetera) I finally managed to secure a good sized chunk with no clue as to what to do with it.

It was one of those trips to the butcher when I just went a little crazy and named all the pieces of meat I could think of that I’d never tried but always wanted to: Marrow bone, pork hand, lamb breast. They just kept coming. I’d only gone in for half a pound of mince.

But there it was. The biggest piece of beef I’d ever seen and no idea how to cook it. who to turn to in moments like this? Hugh? Gordon? Nigel? No. This was clearly a Keller moment.

For a cookbook that is notoriously complicated, there are moments of sublime simplicity in Keller’s The French Laundry book. His Parmesan Baskets with Goats’ Cheese Mousse is an exercise in near effortless minimalism. And a tasty one at that.

And so it is with his braised beef short ribs. The beauty of slow cooking is that you can let the ingredients – and the oven – work for you. People tend to avoid slow cooking because they see numbers like ‘4’ and ‘5’ followed by the word ‘hours’. In an era where we are time short, this seems like an extravagance.

But with slow-cooking the actual hands on time is close to zero. Some peeling, some chopping, some browning and then that’s it. You’re free to go.

And when the final result is so extraordinarily tasty it almost feels like cheating.

After separating the ribs along the natural lines they were seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, lightly dusted with flour and browned in a little vegetable oil closely followed by a crude mirepoix of leeks, carrots and red onion.

The whole lot went into the biggest pot I could find and was covered with red wine (choose a butch one, something with balls like a new world Shiraz or Cab Sauv), and half chicken and half beef stock (homemade beef, chicken from a cube).

Instead of a lid, Keller recommends a cartouche with a whole cut into the middle so that’s exactly what I did - a circle of greaseproof paper placed over the top of the bubbling mass which then went into a cool oven (125 degrees C) for four hours.

After twiddling my thumbs, doing a crossword, getting impatient and finally falling asleep, it was ready. Sort of. This being Keller there was still a fair amount to do. I’ll admit now I didn’t follow him to the letter. I went a little off road from here on in but it was getting late and I wasn’t trying to retain my Michelin Stars.

The meat was removed from it’s tasty bath and left to cool while the cooking liquid was drained and reduced by about three-quarters. While this was all going on I diced up some carrot, parsnip and swede and cooked them off in salted water.

‘Looks like school dinner vegetables,’ said the Girlfriend. I bet Thomas Keller doesn’t have to put up with those sort of comments. But she was sort of right.

The meat was cut into cubes fried off in a smidgen of butter and then added to the reduced sauce along with the veggies.

Anything rich, saucy and meaty, for me, shouts out for mashed potatoes (or pommes puree seen as we are going all haute cuisine) so we knocked up a swift batch of lazy-mash (put potato in microwave. Cook. Mash with butter, milk and seasoning) and then sautéed some spring greens.

The dish was topped off with a small disc of bone marrow, fried after being rolled in seasoned flour and then, finally, it was time to eat. And it was well worth the wait.

This is food so tasty that it makes you want to sing from high on the rooftops. It was revelationary in the finest and truest sense and all I can now do is urge, plead and beg you to go out immediately, find and cook some beef short ribs and then go forth and spread the word.

Fancy a few amuse bouches before the next installment? Follow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Nose to Tail Tuesday (N3T) - Bone Marrow

It’s been a while but you have been very patient, for which I am most grateful. So thank you.

There has been no slacking, I promise. But I have had a rather surreal couple of weeks.

I’ve taken part in a pilot for a new TV quiz show, been spoonfed sea urchin by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, spilled pink wine over a renowned stand-up comic and Radio 4 stalwart, listened to a restaurant critic talk about his masturbatory preferences, watched buffalo mozzarella being made and dined with a former F1 world champion in his rather palatial house.


I’ve also been snowed under with teaching, what with it being exam season and all. There’s a dichotomy for you – hob-nobbing with ‘slebs one minute and then trying to teach the finer points of the British constitutional settlement the next.

No wonder there’s been little time for writing. There’s been hardly enough time to eat, let alone trot out a few hundred words about each experience.

But on with the show.

Today Nose to Tail Tuesday makes its triumphant return with a genuine Fergus Henderson classic: roasted bone marrow (marrow also features in a braised beef dish which shall, hopefully, follow at around 12 noon British Summer Time tomorrow).

It’s thought that eating bone marrow was what contributed to one of our species’ great leaps forward, sometime around 750,000 years ago.

Nutritionally rich and inaccessible to non-tool wielding creatures, marrow enabled early hominids to lead lives less focussed on where the next meal was coming from, giving them time to develop such skills as conversation, sarcasm and perfecting the Cruyff turn.

It has long been a fixture of French cuisine (in Bordelaise Sauce, par example) but has been largely ignored on this Fair Isle in favour of McTucky’s Fried Chicken and other such culinary abominations.

But no longer.

I have to admit, I was excited about this one. After Kidney-gate (not to mention the potential Great Tripe Ordeal of May 2009) I was keen to get back on track with something that appealed.

Anthony Bourdain is a man whose opinion I trust on just about everything. I blame him almost entirely for my food fixation. So, when he says that his last meal on earth would be roasted bone marrow on toast, I’m willing to bow to his judgement. I knew before I started that this would be delicious.

Getting hold of the necessary ingredients is easy and free. Yes, you heard me right: free. Your friendly neighbourhood butcher might just leap over the counter and plant a big meaty kiss on that pretty, or handsome, face of yours when you ask to relieve him of his bones.

Why? Because otherwise he has to pay the local council to have them taken away and disposed of. The less he has to put in those big black sacks, the better. Grab some pig skin and chicken carcasses whilst you’re at it. And don’t forget to actually buy something.

Walk out of there with nothing but a bag of freebies and that kiss might just be followed by a face full of spittle.

Having sourced the goods, have someone (maybe the butcher, maybe a carpenter or amiable tree surgeon) saw the bone into 2-3 inch chunks. Place them, standing up, in a roasting tray and then put the whole lot into an oven (let’s say 180 degrees C) for about 20 minutes.

And relax. You’re done (apart from toasting some bread).

Oh, the smells, the glorious meaty smells. The slightly disturbing shimmer of the now jelly-like marrow. The trepidation. The excitement. The…

…absolute, complete, wondrous deliciousness of the final product. Served on toast with a pinch of sea salt, this is something new, something fabulous.

If you poached a fresh egg in butter and then served it on toast, perfectly seasoned, you would have something similar to roasted bone marrow. But not quite as nice.

It is sweet and faintly meaty and soft and buttery and rich and salty and the crunch from the toast is the perfect foil to the texture of the marrow itself. It is one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling. Tony, once again, you are correct.

And all this for minimal effort and negligible cost.

N3T4 – Roasted Bone Marrow: a great big hunk of success.

Fancy a little more? Why not follow me on Twitter?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Smoked Mackerel Pâté

Sometimes speed and convenience are quite important. Throw taste in there as well and you have yourself a near perfect lunch.

If this isn’t the quickest, easiest, most delicious-ist pâté you’ve ever had then I’ll happily eat my trilby (proof required before hat-eating will commence).

Take a smoked mackerel fillet.

Remove the skin

Flake the fish into a bowl.

Mash it up with the back of a fork.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a tablespoon of mayonnaise (or plain yoghurt if you are feeling the pull of the health-side). Season with black pepper (go easy on the salt).

Stir the whole tasty lot together and serve with oatcakes, perhaps?

For more quick fixes, follow me on Twitter

Guest Blogger: Gordon Ramsay (!)

Wow. In something of a coup for Just Cook It, I’m delighted to launch a brand new feature with a very special guest indeed: none other than the star of Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen USA and numerous adverts: *** chef Gordon Ramsay.

Whilst clearing out the fridge the other day I came across what I thought was a shrivelled mushroom. ‘Hang on,’ said my girlfriend ‘let me take a closer look at that, I’m sure I recognise it from somewhere. It’s not…’

‘It is,’ I replied excitedly ‘it’s potty mouthed, walnut-faced superchef, Gordon Ramsay!’

‘’kin-ell,’ he said. ‘Call yourself a food blogger? F***ing disgrace. Two weeks I’ve been waiting here. Not even offered a menu. F***ing joke. At least get me a glass of water, I look like a f***ing prune.’

‘F***ing unbelievable. This guy. Doesn’t know what the f*** he’s doing. Supposed to be a professional writer, yes? Well then f***ing write something! Don’t leave me sitting here like a f***ing idiot. What you take me for? Some sort of f***ing w**ker?’

‘What’s all this Just Cook It b*llocks? You’ve got so much going on here that it’s all f***ing sh*t. Front of house are desperate for some f***ing leadership. Two chefs in the kitchen don’t know what the f**k they’re doing and a manager that smokes more than a f***ing smoking f***ing chimney. Always outside. F***ing disgrace.’

‘Grow some f***ing b*llocks, yes? You’re the owner, yes? Then f***ing tell them what to do! I’m wasted here. I don’t think even I can f***ing save this f***ing place.’

After much begging he promised to stay until the blog was fulfilling its potential. So now he watches from a vantage point, surveying the kitchen from high upon the windowsill.

The best f***ing motivation I’ve ever had.

For more from me (and Chef Ramsay) follow me on Twitter.

Butcher's Apprentice [Part Two]

Last month I wrote a short blog piece about spending the day with a butcher.

Here is the full article from Home Farmer magazine whose ethos is simple, effective and close to my own heart:

‘Not everyone can keep a cow, but everyone can make cheese. Not everyone has a field of wheat but we can all make our own bread.’

Click here to subscribe.

The Butcher’s Apprentice

‘Right, I’ve got one final job for you,’ says Miles Nicholas, head butcher at Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop, just south of Cambridge. ‘The butcher’s block needs sanding down.’ Although an apparently unglamorous job, it’s one that is deeply pleasing.

There’s something wonderfully symbolic about tossing a few handfuls of sawdust over the wood and cleansing it of the day’s detritus. In an age where technology rules, these small constants that have endured for so long are not just important, they are essential.

I was lucky enough to spend the day with Miles and the Bradford family who have been selling locally sourced produce from their farm for almost half a century.

For a long time ‘butchery’ was used as a byword for a job done badly but surely this isn’t a fair summation? Indeed, learning the skills necessary to turn an animal carcass into parts that the consumer will recognise, and buy, can take a lifetime.

‘You’re always learning something new,’ Miles tells me. ‘Different butchers do things in different ways and I find it fascinating to spend time with butchers who’ve developed their own methods. You can never know everything but you can always learn something.’

This passion and interest is keenly apparent when watching him work. It appears effortless, with an ease and fluidity that only comes with years of practice.

‘I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen. I started as a butcher’s apprentice on the bike and haven’t stopped. It was this or become a builder.’

I ask him if he has noticed a change in the attitude towards butchery. ‘Oh yes,’ he replies earnestly. ‘I used to be embarrassed to tell people what I did. Now I’m proud of it.’

And understandably so. The more time I spend watching, the more the skill and dexterity required became evident. The more it became obvious that this is an art form in itself. But couldn’t a machine do this?

‘A machine doesn’t have a sense of smell or a pair of eyes. All animals are different and we’re not just cutting them up. It’s important to touch the meat, to smell it and to look at it to make sure nothing is wrong. We are constantly checking it every step of the way.’

This is reassuring, especially considering the quality of the meat that is being dealt with here: free range, rare breed high welfare animals.

What sort of problems are they looking for?

‘Any abnormalities at all, anything that means the meat is less than perfect. Arthritis for example, or an abscess. I can see these immediately and the meat goes back. We won’t sell it to our customers because it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s essential that it’s spotted.’

I see this firsthand when I am entrusted with a boning knife of my own and an entire leg of Gloucester Old Spot pork. Any mistakes made here can cost money.

Following Miles’ lead, I follow the leg bone up until I feel a noticeable indentation - where the point of the knife is to go in. Just before I make the first cut I’m offered some valuable, and sobering, advice: ‘Follow the bone as closely as you can. Keep your fingers well out of the way. And don’t cut towards yourself.’

Having only just recovered from nearly losing a fingertip at Christmas, it was advice that went heeded.

Once the leg had been divided, the ‘H’ –or hip – bone has to come out, a fiddly task for the beginner thanks to its awkward shape. Only after five minutes of making deft little cuts, and a little help from my mentor, was it possible to get underneath it and start using the weight of the meat to ease it out.

But it wasn’t to be.

‘You see there?’ says Miles, pointing to a slight discoloration in the meat that I would never have noticed. ‘That’s what I was talking about earlier, that’s what I’m looking for. I’ll send that back.’

I’m given another on which to hone my skills and finally manage to completely bone out the leg. Pleased, I look across at Miles. He’s done four in the same time, and the bones have considerably less meat on them. Mine seems to have about a dozen sausages’ worth still left on it. ‘Don’t think I’ll be giving you a job,’ he jokes. At least, I think it was a joke.

After the pork, it’s time to move onto the beef – a colossal hind quarter that dwarfs the leg of lamb it’s next to, making it appear no bigger than a chicken leg. Intimidated by the size, it was surprising to learn that the process is almost identical.

‘The anatomy of lambs, pigs and cows is virtually the same, the only difference is the size and the number of cuts you get off each.’ Only when I see the bones in comparison is it possible to truly grasp this fact.

Feeling less confident, I stand clear and watch the expert turn this huge primary cut into joints of meat, the shapes of which gradually became familiar.

Silverside, rump, topside and leg are all neatly cut, rolled and tied with the famous butcher’s knot, another skill that appears to take much practice to master: ‘I was given a milk bottle to practice on,’ he says.

Seeing my own cack-handed efforts on the pork, I wonder if I should have done the same.

By the end of the day, I’m tired. My wrist and feet hurt and I’m in awe of the skill I’ve witnessed first hand.

With the ever-present march of the supermarkets and industrialisation of meat production constantly threatening to swallow up small, independent business, it can be a depressing thought that we might lose these expertise for good.

But as long as there are a few experts out there, and a growing army of consumers unwilling to accept pre-packaged, sub-standard meat, happy to think more closely about where their produce comes from and take advice from people like Miles, we might just be able to preserve these skills and allow them to flourish once again.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Not so Innocent?

Oh dear. Innocent Smoothies - the ethical fruit concoction company - have sold out.

To global behemoth Coca Cola.

To be a little more precise they've flogged a £30 million wedge to the US giant and they claim that the three founders will retain a controlling stake in the company, famed for its ethical and cutesy business ethos.

For the full press release, see the Innocent website.


Friday, 3 April 2009

Latest Article

If you fancy reading some more about my experience spending the day as a butcher, pick up the May issue of Home Farmer, out today (April 3rd) and available from WH Smith's, Borders and all good newsagents.

For those unable to get hold of a copy, a pdf will be available soon.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

In mourning [and the most awesome vending machine ever]

Apparently my mother dough has died.

I've not been able to verify this fact due to being 150 miles away but according to the GF it has taken on the appearance of paint and the smell of something rotten.

'I think I've killed your sourdough,' she said.

I tried to stop the disappointment registering in my voice but am unsure as to the extent of my success.

'That's, erm OK,' I replied blearily this morning. 'I'll just make another one and then nurture it for weeks.'

Which, in a way is good, because it means I can write about it in real time. As it happens. Stir for Stir, bubble for bubble.

Sympathy is both accepted and encouraged either here or via Twitter. I shall now go and don a black cape and a look of sadness.

Also this - A street vending machine that makes pizza. Cool.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Nose to Tail Tuesday (N3T) - Kidney

You can be so cruel. I was worried for this one.

Kidney has been my bête noire for quite some years.

Fifteen years ago, I made a solemn vow never to knowingly eat it ever again. Ever.

When I was twelve I stayed over at a friend’s house. For dinner, his mother (an excellent cook) pulled a stunning looking pie from the oven. The golden suet pastry glistened and the gravy inside was rich and dark.

It looked great.

One mouthful in was enough to put me off kidney forever. The strong uric smell. The faint ammonia tang. I gipped uncontrollably – not ideal behaviour for a house guest - and decided that some things were not meant to be consumed.

Kidney rapidly moved into second place on the list (tinned tuna still resides proudly and unwaveringly at the list’s summit).

I knew that it was a grim inevitability that this particular piece of offal would grace N3T at some point. I didn’t expect it to be so early on but thanks to a request from Tiramisu, here it is. In week four of the project.

‘Would you like me to take the fat off for you?’ asked the butcher. Each dark brown conker-like organ was surrounded by a dense covering of cream fat.

‘No thanks,’ I replied, wanting to experience the entire process and also hoping to acquire a large quantity of dripping, perfect for roasting potatoes.

By the time I got them home, I’d formulated a dish in my head: kidneys fried in their own fat and served with mustard mash, wilted greens, glazed shallots, slow roasted lamb breast and parsley and mint sauce. A red wine, lamb and rosemary jus would hopefully mask the flavour of the centre-piece enough to repress the gag reflex.

The lamb breast was there to ensure a decent meal even if the kidney proved to be totally inedible. A substitute already in play.

After the kidneys had been peeled (peeled!) I cut them in half bracing myself for the smell of men’s nightclub toilet at one am…

…but it wasn’t to be. Cue surprise one.

The niff was gentle, not unpleasant. Very faintly uric, of course, but no where near as pungent as I was expecting.

The centre of each was cut out and they were soaked in a water/vinegar bath (3:1) for about fifteen minutes (to neutralise the alkalinity) before being dried. For the cooking, they were seasoned with salt and pepper and fried over a high heat in some of the rendered suet fat.

The lamb breast was braised then slow roasted before being fried in olive oil just before serving (more on this wonderful cut next week) and the whole lot piled onto a plate in a faintly ordered fashion with the potatoes, onion, greens and sauces.

Cue surprise two: the kidney was good.

Let’s not get carried away, however. In this sense ‘good’ means ‘didn’t make me dry heave into a napkin until my stomach muscles ached.’

But it was perfectly edible. Tasty even. The richness of the sauce proved sufficient in masking the flavour I was so scared of and although half a kidney was more than enough and I won’t be making any efforts to cook them again, I was pleasantly surprised.

As were my guinea pigs. This week due to location it was my younger brother and his girlfriend. Both cleared their plates. Bruv even went back for more. A good sign indeed.

So, another success for N3T, albeit a partial one. But at 50p each (the same price as the hearts) you can’t really complain.

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[Note on the photos - no DSLR this week so had to wrestle with a compact. More difficult than I remembered.]

Miele Experience Centre: The Kitchen of the Future?

There is an episode of The Simpsons where the eponymous family grow tired of their old kitchen and purchase a state of the art culinary behemoth voiced by Pierce Brosnan.

It turns out to be so advanced that Marge, the familial matriarch, is left with almost nothing to do: the kitchen prepares and cooks by itself and even clears away the detritus and dirty dishes.

No doubt owing more than a mere nod to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, the kitchen develops an awareness of its own consciousness and power and begins to take over, leaving the Simpsons with little choice other than foist the technology onto Patty and Selma, Marge’s sisters, and revert back to their old appliances.

I couldn’t help thinking back to this episode when cooking at the Miele Experience Centre, a futuristic temple to cooking just outside of Oxford.

I’d been invited, along with four like-minded bloggers who’s lives revolve around food as much as mine, to test out some of the gadgetry and cook up an Irish themed feast in honour of St. Patrick’s Day.

[Beef ready to be cooked in Guinness]

And the gadgetry is certainly impressive: ovens with a seemingly endless selection of pre-set programmes, indoor barbecues complete with lava rocks, self-opening dishwashers and pressure ovens that appeared more intelligent than some of the lecturers I had at Cambridge.

But I learnt to cook on an AGA. I learnt by instinct, about why things happen, how they happen and how they can be improved. I’ve burnt and ruined and undercooked countless dishes and each one has made me a better cook.

I love the hands on aspect of cookery. The trials and tribulations of the kitchen, the ongoing process of creation. Put too much faith in technology and, for me, as a committed foodie of the old school, this link is lost.

There is no doubting the quality of the appliances, the professionalism, friendliness and sheer knowledge of the Miele team or the potential fun to be had in the test kitchen.

[Veggies on the indoor barbie]

But as to whether you want a kitchen that gives NASA a run for its money in terms of technology, that’s up to you to decide.

Fancy having a crack at playing in the kitchen of the future? Sign up for a Miele ‘Let’s Do Lunch’ day and you can. See here for more info.

For other bloggers take on the experience see Joanna's Food, the Cycling Cook, Princess and the Recipe and Almanzo’s Belly.

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