Monday, 26 November 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

The answer is too obvious, the egg of course, because I have it for breakfast, the chicken is for dinner. The question that worries me more is, how and when we came by our poultry? We are told that they are originally jungle fowl from Asia and SE Asia, OK but we seem to have had them for ever, how did they spread all across Europe in earlier times? There was indeed a cock crowing in the Gospels! However this happened I don’t know, but I’m very glad we have them, not simply for their produce, but also because as animals to keep and care for, they are pretty good as domestic animals go. My Mam used to keep poultry when I was kid and it was my job, before school to take them the mash she’d made up, and collect the eggs. I remember reaching into the nest boxes feeling a warm hens bum as she softly clucked and, yes a lovely warm egg, and she allowed you to take it without demur, my breakfast!

You don’t even need to fence them in, if you have the space they will roam free and eat what they find, even mice, as it grows dark they will come home to roost. As part of my childhood education I was to learn the place in life of such bountiful and friendly little creatures, their purpose is truly fulfilled when they landed on our plate! My mother would involve me in discussions as to who was laying and who wasn’t, and as the chief collector of eggs I was the Judas who would point the finger and betray my little friends. Then she would demonstrate how to wring their necks, pluck and draw them and prepare them for the oven. Many a happy time was spent on a stool, watching all the innards being drawn and being told what each part was and the function it performed, to see the little miracle of the oviduct with a chain of eggs in gradually increasing stages of development, I was a keen student. When she chopped the feet off I would grab them and by yanking the hanging out tendons, I could make the claws grab stuff, and  then run around the house annoying people with them. We didn’t have many toys!

Chicken in those days was a luxury Sunday roast! We kept, I suppose about 20 hens and a cockerel, and raised the odd clutch, so it was an infrequent event to have roast chicken. In fact I was about 13 years old before we had turkey at Christmas prior to that it was always chickens.

At secondary school in the 3rd and 4th years we had a choice of Technical Drawing or Rural Science, the former were for lads earmarked for the factories the latter for lads earmarked for the farm. I, although headed for an apprenticeship in the broad category of engineering, stuck out to do Rural Science for the simple reason I enjoyed it so much, and they kept chucks! I look back now and feel, that if my life has lacked anything at all, it’s the fact that I never felt I had the time or the suitable place to keep hens!

Many people express concern regarding commercial poultry management, I have my concerns too, they need room to roam and peck at the soil. They need to breathe fresh air. They are living creatures, as we are, and a lot of improvements have been made in providing better living conditions for poultry in this country. We owe this to poultry, we have had a mutually beneficent  arrangement with them for thousands of years. They as a species have benefitted, in that not only has the species survived, but there possibly more poultry than people.  Please don’t buy cage eggs, barn eggs are no better. When you buy a whole chicken, look at its scaly leg joint, if it’s got a brown mark or ulcer, please don’t buy it, it hasn’t had room to move, it has been sat, in poo. We can do better for our chucks they deserve it.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gone Phishing

Cold calling used to be from real companies, many often from local firms. Things grew and call centres were built. Where is the proof that this marketing actually makes money? Is it, well, they’re doing, so we have to. Who in their right mind has ever bought from a cold call, they always get told to bugger off from me, I know that’s rude, but they started it! They called in the middle of dinner!  Now, however we’re into another phase, any odd bod with the right bit of kit can do it, but how is the money made?

Someone goes phishing, using spam emails, round robins (robbings) using jokes, smut or whatever, number crunching programs, run all these emails for profile details and extract phone numbers, the same thing is done with facebook with emo posts that make people react by clicking “like” They produce a list that can be sold to the next idiot, or the run all the numbers through an automated dialler, if you answer, the number is marked active, a list of active numbers has more value.

This sort of enterprise is a bubble, because there is no end product and no final profit. The Govt. will be unable to prevent it; most of this is done from abroad, but will ultimately implode.

We can help, get a landline call blocker, install a cell phone call blocker, don’t forward round robin emails,  however funny or whatever, don’t click like on Facebook crap posts that use; kittens, babies, cancer, injured soldiers, jokes and you name it crap, think, who posted this and why? Then spam it.

When spam calls start returning too many nulls, lists will diminish, when no-one can earn from it, the bubble will burst and we will breathe a sigh of relief, till the next scam!!!

Monday, 19 November 2012

How's Yer Foundations

Fonds de Cuisine, literally the foundation of the kitchen, one can imagine in the great French palaces, the mass catering to a very high standard, the peak of culinary art being served to hundreds. Service would require practically military scale planning and execution. A great deal of what was produced would be using a variety of stocks. These would be being produced at a dedicated station, a production line of bubbling pots, strained stocks being reduced to perfection, when they can be distributed among the other stations for soups, sauces, stews etc. These are, literally, the foundations of the kitchen.

I make stock sometimes, but I have one pot, limited rings and limited storage, very often I need to make gravy and have no stock! There are granules, if you are partial to chemical flavours. But there are reasonably good stock cubes out there, and with due thanks to Julia Child, she offers a “correction” which gives a good approximation for a stock.

I’ve forgotten exactly what she prescribed, but this is how I do it. For three quarters of a pint of stock, in a saucepan, finely slice and dice half a shallot, half a small carrot, half a celery stick, herbs (fresh if you’ve got them or a teabag of bouquet garni) one of your chosen stock cubes and optional, but I urge you to try, a splash of Maggi Liquid Seasoning, (mainly MSG but it isn’t a dreaded chemical. It’s extracted from seaweed, mono-sodium-glutamate, Chinese have been making and using this for yonks, just don’t use too much!) In a jug measure a quarter of pint of wine (red or white depending on the meat) Julia uses vermouth, Noilly Prat, yes it’s good but expensive! I won the Euro millions last week, I won £2.80 so I’ll stick with wine. Make up the wine to a pint, add to the saucepan and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes, then strain. You should have ¾ pint, either make-up with boiling water or reduce on a fast boil to3/4. Make this up to a sauce with the usual roux of 1oz of fat and 1 oz. of plain flour.

Other tips are if you are sautéing meat; use the strained stock to deglaze the pan, added flavour. If you roasting meat, use a roasting tin with a grill rack, put all the stock ingredients in the roasting tray except the stock cube, meat goes on the grill rack. The advantage is the joint roasts well, pork still has crackling, but the steam in the oven keeps the meat moist. If you roast without water the meat juices burn and produce bitterness. The juices left in the roasting tin are strained into a fat separating jug. Again make up or reduce to ¾ pint (enough for two), the fat can be used for your roux, flavour conservation!

                                             Bon Appetit

Friday, 16 November 2012

A Nice Pair - Er


A paring knife doesn’t fulfil many tasks in my kitchen, the reason being, to be useful knives should be so sharp, that if you merely touch the edge, you’re nicked. A paring knife, as the name suggests is used to peel or take small slices off, say apples. This is done by holding the knife in the crook of your fingers with your thumb against the apple and bringing the knife onto your thumb. This is immediately followed by kitchen paper being applied with firm pressure to the ball of the thumb whilst being driven to hospital for stitches. I eat apples with my teeth, I peel veg with a peeler, the rule of “thumb” is you never cut towards your hand (except 2-3 cuts on half an onion to begin the dicing operation, but that’s another story)

The only task I use a parer for is scraping new potatoes, something that seems to have gone out of fashion. So many times they are served unpeeled, I find that gross, I can eat them, but that’s because I’ll eat anything, I’m such a pig. However, potato peel goes into the pig swill, it merely means the chef is lazy. If you have the correct parer and a good technique new potatoes can be scraped lickety spit. Exactly what constitutes a good parer? Below are two, top one is years old, a Boots Sabatier el Cheapo Nasty, not forged, and it’s been so long since the Sabatier family made very good knives that there is no trademark, anyone can call their knives Sabatier, Boots don’t even make knives.

The degree of sharpness of knives is of prime importance not just in the butchers or fishmongers, but in the kitchen too. Blunt knives cause accidents, too much force applied and the veggie moves and whoops; it’s a finger end in the stew. Someone said a knife is sharp enough if it can slice through a soft tomato without squashing it. The true test is to lay the knife on the tomato and holding the handle with thumb and one finger gently draw the knife back, if it slices the tomato, the knife is sharp enough.

The bottom knife is an Analon, high quality, fully forged high carbon, tempered and ice hardened, easy grip, Costa Lotto Mucho. A very good knife, but for what, the blade is too long for a parer, the blade is curved, why?  The point is too high; to get that point into a potato eye it has turn through 90 degrees. The Analon knife is a very good knife for opening packaging, not much else! One day, with the Boots knife I foolishly tried to prize something or other, knives ain’t tyre levers, and the point broke off. I searched high and low for a similar blade, but they were all as per the Analon. So, out came the angle grinder and I dressed a new point, actually improving the knife by shortening the blade. Many manufactures of high quality knives clearly lack a designer who actually knows how to use the damn things.


Correct grip for scraping taters, held in the crook of the index finger, flat of the blade towards the thumb, the first bit of the blade has to be blunted, the rest very sharp. With the left hand twirling the tater, the right hand flapping like a baby wave bye bye without opening the fingers, and the right thumb on the bottom of the tater, any stubborn eye or blemish is dealt with by a slight movement of the blade to the right to bring the point into play. New potatoes really are a lot better scraped, is there really an excuse not to!!!



Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Get A Grip Lad


This is the grip that along with superior intelligence, separated us from our less able though bigger and stronger earlier cousins. This grip enabled us through fine dexterity to make superior tools and weapons and get ahead. Through our history this grip could hold a pen, a paint brush, write Shakespeare paint the Mona Lisa and now twiddles the knobs that make the world run, this grip took us to the moon.
Every sport has it's particular grip for it's particular bit of apparatus, golf club, fly rod and so on. What about a 23cm cooks knife?
Recognise the grip, it's not immediately obvious to a novice and has to be demonstrated by a professional, like a golf grip. But this grip gives immediate control and allows the knife to feel like an extension of your arm and hand. NOT for Chopping, use a cleaver, a knife slices.

This is the grip for the article to be cut, the knife works butted up to the knuckles, as the blade slices, the fingers "crawl" back along the food, perfect control with blade and never cutting toward your hand.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Go nuts why dontcha


Nuts, I love them, so should you, unless of course you go into anaphylactic shock and die? Nuts are regarded as a luxury and charged VAT, unless they are raw, I’m sensitive to this since I shop in Costco, which is nominally wholesale, prices are displayed ex VAT in big characters and VAT inc in small. So I buy raw nuts, but raw nuts are bland. I add butter to the wok, throw in my mixed raw nuts and a good grinding of sea salt, fry until they are smelling delicious and turning colour. These are an anytime snack, feeling peckish, grab a handful. Apparently they are good nutritionally because they contain trace elements like selenium ‘n stuff that’s hard to get elsewhere. I don’t give a shit about that I just like ‘em. People say “Oh, too many calories” “Too much fat” I’ve never heard of anybody getting too fat to wipe, on nuts, DONUTS! Yes. Nuts don’t make you fat. There will soon be a good selection of raw shelled nuts in the supermarket, let’s get Wokking.



Thursday, 1 November 2012

Is it Chilli? Or is it Me?

Is it Chilli? Or is it Me?


Chilli con Carne, still a favourite for me, in English, chilli with meat, so is it Spanish? Or is it Tex/Mex? In my house it’s an English dish! Chillies, tomatoes and for my dish, chocolate, are all South American. Something like 3 thousand years of Mayan history involved in chocolate and chillies, chocolate was only ever made into a drink, and was flavoured in various ways but mainly with chillies. The conquistadors brought chocolate, chillies, peppers and tomatoes back to Spain. Most prized was chocolate, worth its own weight in gold and was kept secret in Europe for 200 years. Confusingly the beans were called cacao, the rest of the world still calls it this. We English misheard or misspelt this and called it cocoa. There is a record of an English privateer (pirate ship really) hauling in a Spanish Galleon, killing all the crew for the gold, but all the holds were full of black beans, mystified they could only imagine it was worthless ballast and scuttled the ship! Chocolate as we know it didn’t actually appear till the late 19th century, and rose to fashion in the early 20th

Chillies, the bad boys of the fresh produce and spice rack, they should be given an ASBO. I wouldn’t mess with the real thing, I would lose. I stick to mild chilli powder, and use it carefully, I know some like it hot, but if I wanted my head blown off, I would suck on a 12 bore, it would be a lot less painful.  Chillies cause pain, because the molecules of the active ingredient are the chemical equivalent of barbed arrow heads, they enter the taste buds and stay, causing irritation, water or lager only causes more irritation, fat will soothe it. After a while they dissolve.

So, why would I consider my chilli to be English, some years ago I was making some while drinking lager and I thought a can or two in the pot would improve the flavour, and it did. I’ve tried various beers and the very best for this is Black Sheep, second best is Old Peculiar. It doesn’t get more English than good Masham Ale lad.

 My Chilli con Carne

In a large pot fry off 6 diced onion, in small batches fry off in a sauté pan 3 kg of mince beef, add 2 dsps of plain flour and stir pot, drain 6 cans of red kidney beans and add to pot, add 2 bottles of Black Sheep or Old Peculiar, add a whole tube of tomato puree, add 4 cans of chopped tomatoes, add a head of garlic skinned and crushed with salt, add 2 by 100g bars of chocolate 72% or more cocoa solids, Chilli is up to you, but I use half a pot of Swartz mild chilli powder, bang in the oven for at least3 hours.


There you go, 16 portions for the freezer, two in the small pan for today, served with saffron basmati rice and home done garlic bread, and it was good.