Thursday, 13 December 2012

Working Lunch - Waitrose Sushi

Right, before we start I'd like to highlight I know nothing about sushi apart from the fact that I like the way it tastes. Most of the time. If you read this  post and decide that I am clearly a complete idiot for not knowing my sushi from my sashimi and you simply cannot continue indulging me when faced with my horrific inadequacies, then you are clearly the sort of person I would probably hate talking to as well. Jog on, no harm done.

OK, disclaimer out of the way, we'll start our sushi discussions with a nice little compact box of Taiko Sushi from Waitrose. This one contained three cucumber and two salmon rolls. Do you call the long thin ones with salmon on the top rolls? Not sure (see disclaimer above). Also in the box was a packet of wasabi, soy and another packet of pickled ginger.

The rice is really where pre-packed sushi is made or broken and the simple vegetable rolls were my favorite here because they let you taste the vinegary, sticky rice with just a hint of crunch. The seaweed was salty and forgiving but held the roll togeather well.

The salmon was good, soft and yealed well at each bite. The flavour was however, simply generically fishy and needed a good glug of soy to keep it from being overwhelming.

The wasabi and ginger were good to see, the wasabi was really quite powerful and even (dare I say) brough a tear to my eye. The ginger was a great and particularly in a small box like this quite an unusual addition. Soggy but still crunchy, it cleansed the palette well and had an amost medicinal taste of ginger.

The soy sauce was OK. But whoever produces these small fish shaped bottles must make a mint because there are in every single pack of sushi I've ever eaten, no matter where from or what brand. I am also proud to say that I have graduated from the soy souce acadamy. No longer do I stroll blindly down the Amoy path of salty stir-fry destruction, neither do I seek the Blue Dragon of unpleasent noodle aftertase. Instead, I Kikkoman my way through life and am a lot happier for it - handy tip, buy in bulk and avoid the small jars with the pouring spout on them; terrible value for money. One point of clarification though; Blue Dragon used to to a bottle of sweet soy which was absolutley fantastic. It used to be a Morrisons exclusive but sadly, I have not been able to find it for some time. Boo.

In conclusion, I would go back to Waitrose for more, this was a small pack and it would be nice to try some of the more exotic varieties. As sushi is a regular lunch option for me these days, it is a shame that Mrs. P. does not harbour the same desire as I do for a good slice of cold salmon. I am therefore relegated to sampling sushi where and when I can. I once pursuaded Mrs. P. to pander to my sushi whim and we attempted to enjoy a lunch at a nearby Yo! Sushi. It did not go well and she vowed never to return. And so, my attempt to eat on the road without giving in to the dreaded Ginsters monster continues...

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Work Lunches - An Introduction

Lunch is an awkward meal for me. Sometimes it’s early, sometimes late and while it’s true that I get quite grumpy if I don’t eat, sometimes I don’t manage lunch at all. My European colleagues always seem to eat later than I would hope, even though they are already an hour ahead of us. Lunch seems to be the meal that is most often compromised, passed over in favour of finishing that report or catching the next train. I often think to myself, ‘it’s OK, I’ll just have a big dinner’, but then I get home and haven’t got the energy to cook and end up stuffing my face with a Dirty Burger. Bad times.

So, when I do manage to get lunch, is life hunky-dory? Does the world swim into focus through a rainbow of love? Not quite. I hate to break it to you but motorway service stations are not nice places to eat on a regular basis. Looking past the standard pre-packed sandwich and Ginsters ensemble to the trays of canteen style piles of what I am legally forced to call bacon, eggs and *shudder* baked beans, do I think 'mmm, that looks tasty?' No. No, I do not.

So, instead I try to broaden my horizons. Recently I have dabbled in sushi. Tesco, Waitrose, M&S Food  And even Wasabi have all featured and I think that might be the subject of a future post. But today I want to talk about office food; the lunch meeting can be depressing at best and bloody depressing at worst. 

First up Germany; a meaty stew/soup with a (amusingly) French stick, along with gherkins and a variety of open finger sandwiches. Some with salami or smoked ham on a bed of lattice and a circle of horrid rye pulse type nastiness. Needless to say, I liked some of them better than others. The stew was great but the one thing you should know about German food is that it is crazy salty. Every bit is chock full of sodium, which isn't too bad but it means that I couldn't eat more than two bowls without my mouth puckering up like a ducks bum hole.

Next is Italy, a choice of two different pastas, a couple of plates of salad and beer or coke. Putting aside the very dubious nature of allowing factory workers unlimited free lager before operating heavy machinery, what we have is a plate of heavy carbotastic energy alongside some light leaves and the ubiquitous carrot shavings that seem to be the unfortunately constant mainstay of salad bars across Europe. When I sampled this particular meal, I looked at the menu for the week and I noticed that a day earlier, staff were being treated to Speck ham. Missed it by a day, damn it.

I round off the trilogy with the UK. I think this probably sums up my opinion about what is wrong with  the British attitude to food.

I rest my case.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chicken Soup

Chicken soup was one of the first things my mum taught me how to cook. There are so many different versions that it’s almost impossible to find one you don’t like (unless you have an irrational dislike of chicken, in which case, I’m afraid you and I can never be friends).

I believe that the best soups are made with left-overs. The bits that were just too much for the plate the first time around. They’ve been through the kitchen once already picking up all the extra bits of flavour that a plastic tray simply cannot impart and therefore you are forbidden to cook these recipes (both the original and my version) unless you double promise to use the scrag ends from the roast you had the day before. Understand? Right, on with it…

My mums Original chicken soup
Bits of at least day old roast chicken (you promised…). I think thigh/leg/wing meat is best for this because of the higher fat content but you can use breast if you are a crazy health freak.
2 medium or 1 big potato – cubed
Veg – anything you can find in the bottom of the fridge really, suitable items include (but are not limited to):
Chopped carrot
Chopped celery
Chicken stock

Fry the veg in a small bit of butter and throw in the chicken to heat up. Transfer to a saucepan and add the potato and stock. Simmer on a gentle heat for about 20 mins or until the potato is cooked. Serve with brown bread and butter.

My version of mums Origional chicken soup
Chicken – this version is a bit more forgiving with the type of chicken. Although I still maintain leg and thigh is the best
Veg – suitable items include (but are not limited to):
Chopped carrot
Chopped celery
Chilli – a little if you are rubbish, a lot if you like to feel the burn
Lemon grass – half a stalk chopped lengthways to make it easier to remove
Coriander – for the soup and garnish
1 Pack of instant noodles per two people
1 lime
Chicken stock

Fry the veg in a small bit of butter and throw in the chicken to heat up. Transfer to a saucepan and add the stock. Simmer on a gentle heat for about 10 mins remove from the heat and throw in the noodles.  Wait 5 minutes for the noodles to soften, serve but remember to pick out the lemon grass. Sprinkle to bowl with coriander and a squeeze of lime juice.

A small note on stock: – I like making my own stock because it also means you are sure to strip the carcass of all the meat which, if you are a tight bugger like me, means you get another meal out of it. But if you do use a stock cube, I always put in two per litre of water for good measure

I can’t tell you how much I love these soups. For me, they are literally a mouthful of childhood. For the time that it takes to eat a bowl (or perhaps seconds/thirds), nothing in the world matters. I hope you enjoy your bowl.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Pescara - Italy

I guess some people would say that I’m fairly lucky when it comes to my job. Take last week for example, I spent almost the whole working week in Pescara, one of the (many) seafood meccas of Italy. In-between the meetings, training sessions and more meetings, I managed to sneak in quite a bit of decent scran.
Squid and octopus are always high on the menu here, so warm salads piled with the stuff just seemed to materialise out of the kitchen with alarming regularity. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bit of baby octopus, but at every single freaking meal?
We ate on the sea front, in the mountains and round the bay at restaurants with names I cannot remember through the haze of red wine. But they all had something in common; a lot of food. And by ‘a lot’ I mean stomach bulging, will breaking amounts. Seven courses seemed to be minimum and did not include coffee or aperitif so we often didn’t get back to the hotel before 12:30am. Tough, I know you will agree.
But on to the food! Menu construction was classic Italian and if you have already had the pleasure of such things then I welcome you as a culinary brother or sister. If not, then let me explain. Drinks come with various nibbles; bruschetta or olives. You know, something to just start you off.
Then starters come in two forms; cold followed by warm. If you are lucky and in a good restaurant, there are sometimes several dishes of both. 

Cold starters - top left was a sardine, monk fish, octopus (again) and stuffed mussels

Swordfish and pickled veg

Scampi - Italiano style
Cold starters - ham carpaccio with orange, langoustine, two types of fish and my personal favourite: fresh anchovy

 Pasta, or sometimes risotto, can depend on the number of guests at the table. Usually only one choice in a posh place or up to three if you are going native.

Secondi follows and it is only now that you get what we would hesitantly call a main course. This is the dish which is probably the most complicated in terms of ingredients. I much prefer simple Italian cooking to the more fancy so for me, by the time we get here I am usually already done in!

The chard was an interesting addition but most diners left theirs!

Posh nosh? Well, you can't have it every day...

Dessert, of course, and then sorbet. Again, you can tell how posh you are eating by the presentation but rest assured, the taste is usually fantastic  if you are eating out of a champagne flute or plastic cup!

The custard creme inside was mmmmm

Finally coffee and digestif.  If I can remember through the copious amounts of local wine I would have consumed by this point, I always ask for Lemoncello. Good Lemoncello should be served straight from the freezer with the glasses only seconds behind. Warm Lemoncello should be sent away with a look of disgust and a warning to the waiter that his mother would be ashamed of him.
Genuine, authentic Italian food is one of my absolute favourite ways to waste an afternoon and possibly even an evening too. But be warned, just because you are in Italy, on the coast and starting to wind down with a bottle or three of very reasonably priced local wine, does not mean that you can relax. Chewy, unpleasantly overcooked langoustines are still being unwittingly coaxed onto plates by chefs who think foreigners won’t notice, exactly when you least expect it. Still, the sauce was nice.

Thought I wouldn't notice eh? But the pasta was cooked perfectly and the reduced sauce was delicious

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Fat Duck - Bray

Well, well. After 18 months of trying (off and on) to get a table at Hestons 'piece de la resistance', Mrs P. and I finally managed to shoehorn ourselves into a two seater at the back. It was a meal that we've been looking forward to for ages and we were seriously wondering if the hype would be matched with a skill that has catapulted the Blumenthal brand to the forefront of British culinary expertise.

So, what was it like? Before we even got there, we were treated to a sensory experience that we learnt is the hallmark of Hestons cooking. I won't spoil it but I have to say that we were sceptical at first but by the end, I was converted. So, with the anticipation at a significant high, we stepped through the doors of a rather unassuming house on the high street in Bray.

I'm afraid there are few photos because we were told that no phones were permitted and we thought that to start snapping with our digital camera might come across just a little chavvy. However, part way through, we noticed other diners didn't seem to have our same reservations and were busy taking as many pictures as was humanly possible! 

First of all, the service was a thing of beauty. Slick as you would expect and more staff per diner than a catering college. I opted for the wine tasting menu as well so I could really give it a go, but I could only go with the cheapest of the three choices in that menu at £125. Even for what we had justified to ourselves as birthday and christmas presents all rolled into one, I still couldn't justify the £995 per person the high rollers were asked for.

The courses were interesting, challenging and delicious, just not all at the same time! As there were 12 courses, and in the interest of time (not to mention the fact that I didn't take many pictures), I'll describe my high and low lights.

Snail Porridge
Mmm, yes. Yes please. It was delicious, totally in balance and a true wonder to behold. The porridge was smooth, creamy, salty and delicious. The snail was a true pleasure to eat, the Mrs even seemed to enjoy it!

Mad Hatters Tea Party
Mrs P. loved this, a stock gel shaped into a pocket watch, dissolved into a teapot and pored into the cup with various some lovely micro herbs and other stuff.

The Sound of the Sea
Didn't work for me, this one. I love seafood but I clearly like it less Hestonified. Catch it, steam or grill it and serve = no more talk required. Tapioca sand, some dodgy foam and a few pieces of, admittedly expertly prepared, fish does not, for me, make three Michelin stars.

Pleasant if a little cold. In fact, everything was a little cold. Not something I was expecting. The duck was really nice, I liked the black pudding and the pickled onion was a great surprise. But the blood sauce? I still shudder at the memory of the texture.

Black Forrest Gateaux
Oh mama. I don't really appreciate puddings (give me a decent cheeseboard any day), but this? This was a chocolate hit of pure, unadulterated smiles. the ice-cream, the cherry, the cake, the ganache, the sauce and the chocolate crumb. I've just come over all unnecessary again.

Iced and hot tea
Hot and cold tea at the same time. A gimmick? Sure. A clever gimmick? Absolutely. Loved it.

Whiskey gums
These were great. Each one flavoured with a very distinctive whiskey. Not much more to say really!

So a the end of the day, was it worth it? Well, that's not really a question I can answer. To drop the best part of 600 quid on lunch requires a specific mindset anyway. It was an experience like no other and for that, you have to pay. Theatrics were certainly the theme of the day and I have to say that, for me, less faff and more honesty wouldn't have gone amiss.

I suspect that most people wouldn't like the food, you have to engage with the meal in a way that day-to-day eating, or even a good dinner out, does not require. But open your mind, open your senses and you will be rewarded!

My biggest problem with it was the fact that I just felt that the food was so prepared, so prepped that it lost some heart. The cooking and eating are both linked and while undeniably clever, The Fat Duck represents the over emphasis of the process rather than the outcome. I'll not be going back, unless that is, someone else is paying!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Kicking Off

Hi and welcome,

This is my online food diary, in which I hope to keep a record of interesting things I've eaten, places I've gone to to eat those interesting things and possibly a few other bits and pieces along the way. With any luck, it might be a laugh, raise a few eyebrows but at the very least I hope we'll have some fun.

I should say at this point, I'm surprised you are even here, reading this. It is entirely an on-line diary between me and you. You, who will be ostensibly be me as I am the only one who will be reading you. Or me. I think.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Every now and then, with frightening irregularity, I will post food diaries along with a few recipes which I would otherwise forget, but in the meantime, I should say a little about my culinary tendencies and eating history. My mum taught me to cook but I was never what you could describe as an avid culinary adventurer. I became competent in the kitchen at an early age but it took dropping to the depths of my University digs kitchen before I really understood why cooking was so important. Looking back, I must have subconsciously had an understanding that good food was something that had to be sought out, even when all other options are exhausted. I remember living on a single jar of lemongrass paste for a weekend after I had literally eaten everything else in the house. How distressingly middle-class, you might think. Poor lad, just lemongrass to eat? Oh no, how did he cope. However, I have to explain that I went to University in Middlesborough where it's cheaper to buy a takeaway pizza than a bag of spuds and that that jar of lemongrass paste cost me the privilege of eating meat for over two weeks. And I goddam love meat.

It was worth it though. But it should have been my first clue that food, and the pleasure of eating was going to take over my life. I've been hooked ever since, food holds endless interest to me. New flavours, classic combinations or simply seeking out the best in class; I hope it never leaves me.

Well, I'm glad you've decided to come along for the ride. I know I'm going to love it and I hope I can share a little of that with you too.