Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seasons Message, kinda but not.

Tried to write a good intro for ages. Then I realised that in three and a half hours my alarm will be going off so I'll be on time for my 14hr shift, cooking Christmas lunch to people that are either too damn privledged or stupid to make it themselves. So I won't be having dinner today surrounded by friends and loved ones. But if you are and you're going anywhere near a Turkey, consider the following advice from the man himself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spiced Rice and Pea Pilau

So at last, something actually relating to food: my first recipe. It's in the vein of what I was talking about here. This recipe was devised out of necessity rather than desire. It comes from opening the fridge and seeing sweet FA staring back at you. It’s an attempt of making something out of nothing, so in that respect I feel it kinda succeeds. It's quick, easy and it tastes alright to boot. Here I’ve used basmati rice, but could be done with other grains such as cous cous or make it a dhal by using lentils. Just adjust the cooking times.

This amount got me two bowlfuls, so would do two people for a quick dinner.

1 red onion
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 whole cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
4-6 cardamom pods
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tbsp gara masala 
½ tbsp chilli powder
1 cup of basmati rice
½ cup frozen peas
1 spring onion

Finely slice the onion and garlic

Fill a kettle with about half a litre of water and put on to boil.

Heat the oil on a high heat in a saucepan.

Add seeds and pods to hot oil. Sometimes I crush them first with the bottom of a mug to release the flavour, but this isn’t necessary.

Turn down the heat and let the seeds fry for about thirty seconds before adding the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sweat for a few minutes until slightly softened.

Add the ground spices, then the tomatoe puree. Stir well and cook out for a minute or two.

Add rice and cover with the boiled water. Bring to a simmer and leave to cook uncovered for about fifteen minutes. Stirring occasionally and topping up with water if needed. But not too much, the idea is that by the time the rice is cooked the water should be nearly all evaporated.

When rice is tender, taste and add more spices if needed. Turn off the heat and add the peas and sliced spring onion. Stir through and leave for a minute and so. The heat from the rice will be enough to defrost and cook and peas.

Spoon into serving bowl and eat.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Soundbites: November Round-up

Procrastinating, the art of putting shit off by engaging in menial tasks and activities. Resulting in the main thing you were meant to be doing growing increasingly unappealing and its completion even more distant. Not exactly Webster’s definition, but in this scenario its good enough. Even as I write this I’m taking a break every few lines to find the answer to questions that simply will not wait until after. But at least now I continue knowing that the default web browser on an Android phone is apparently faster then Safari and has flash support, unlike the iphone. All I can say is thank God my leaving cert was done and dusted before Facebook hit the web.

I’ve always had a problem with procrastinating, big time. I guess that’s why I ended up staying a chef. This is because at it’s busiest, a kitchen is a workplace of pure concentration and unwavering focus. It’s simply an environment where putting stuff off is just not an option. At home however, I’m scrolling through the endless list of unopened mail in my account. A list of food and industry-related updates, newsletters and blog entries that have all sat in my inbox since they arrived and I said unto them, ‘I’ll check’em later.’ Lord help me this has been going on for nearly a month now. It’s gotten to the stage where my inbox became so crowded that I created a folder just for them. That folder now contains over 30 messages. Each message containing in it an average of 6 articles. In short, a lot of reading. Which, at the time when I was working tons and in the process of looking for a new flat, I just wasn’t up to.

Eventually I got through them, all of them. Or at least November’s stash. And it was when I was about half way through, while reading what felt like the Epi-Log’s 15,000th Thanksgiving tip that I thought, ‘I really wish there was someone to do this for me.’ However I didn’t. So I put the kettle on, hoped my roommate wasn’t stoned recently and ate all the Jaffa Cakes and proceeded to dredge the ocean floor of my inbox, hoping that it wouldn’t be all rusty cans and used jonnies.

As I went through them I found myself keeping the links for the pieces I dug. So here it is; TLOFRSIFIIMIFTPM or ‘The List Of Food-Related Stuff I’ve Found Interesting In My Inbox From The Past Month’ just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?

Okay, how about Soundbites instead? Anyway links to full story attached if my intro doesn’t adequately slate your thirst for knowledge, enjoy!

My Mother’s Thanksgiving
Eleven top New York chefs give their versions of their families Thanksgiving dishes. Chefs include Mario Batali (Apple Pie), Thomas Keller (Creamed Pearl Onions) and the god-like David Chang (soy-braised short-ribs). No pics but still worth a look.

Why Chefs love Rabbit
Since the time where my job was to butcher and cook several dozen rabbits a week, its always been a meat I’ve had great affection for. There’s just something about utilizing a whole animal in a variety of ways, getting the most out of each component. Like you do with chicken, but a lot cooler. Here six chefs give their praise and offer their own take on what they do with it.

Epi-Log’s Thanksgiving Round-up
So of the never-ending cluster fuck of thanksgiving advice that the Internet pumped out last month, here’s the only stories that caught my eye. Mainly about turkey and considering what’s going down in a few weeks, it’s all relevant.

First one is about something that I’m sure no-one in this isle does but is pretty commonplace in USA, brining turkey. Here the method of wet and dry brining are compared. Dry wins

Short piece about the dilemma of whether or not to stuff your turkey. In short, don’t. The cavity is full of bacteria ‘Going at it like your parents at Woodstock’ in the words of Anthony Bourdain. So by the time the stuffing is cooked to safe temp, the breast is cooked to hell.

Here a blogger gushes about their love of leftovers. As someone who enjoys the turkey, ham, gravy, bread sauce sandwich almost more then the main meal, I’m with them on this.

Less Corn, Saner Fishing and Soda on Fridays
Article by (Iron Chef) Mario Batali, talks briefly about the future of food. From the overuse of corn to industrial farming and the collapse of fisheries. Short and informative, bleak yet encouraging, if that makes any sense.

Chefs Look for Wild Ingredients That No One Else Has
Cool piece about the trend of chefs incorporating foraged foods into their menus. The appeal being that dishes containing ingredients that few people have encountered before, never mind tasted.

At the Chef’s Table
I’ve moved two weeks ago into my fourth flat in over two years. Since then I’ve fallen properly in love with my kitchen. Not even kidding, it’s awesome. The layout, the way the appliances are arranged, the way the worktop wraps around into the cooker top making one giant work surface. I love it in ways and for reasons that you mere muggles will never understand. Here, the Baltimore Sun takes a look inside a couple of local chefs home kitchen (including one Top Chef winner). Photos are in the ‘related’ box. Interesting to see the varieties of the sleek, showy and practical elements that the professionals incorporate into their home stove-space.

Paris Chefs go Underground
A group of top Paris chefs treated subway travelers to cooking demos. So Joe-Soaps going to work got to try stuff like duck with artichoke sauce, calamari risotto and fruit-filled crepes. Try doing that at
Pearse St

Star chef: Pay people what they're worth

“Chefs have set the example that consumers follow. So I want arugula now, or I want to to see a short rib or whatever it is. It's being written about. What's being produced in restaurants, people see it and say I want to get them. When I was a kid, how many varieties of lettuce did you see in the store? Iceberg lettuce! Now you have 12 different lettuces to choose from anywhere -- from arugula to endive to whatever. And it's because chefs have demanded those products in their restaurants” So says Thomas Keller in this interview where he points out why the $250 price tag at either of his 3-star restaurants is justified. Talks about the relationship with producers and the demand for quality over price. Insightful, but to be honest I’d say the same about a piece on how Thomas Keller puts his socks on.

35 Ways to Stretch Your Budget
Economy gastronomy piece from the Epi-Log. Exactly what it says on the tin but still worth a look.

Exploring the ‘Fifth Taste’ of Unami
Thanks to the likes of Heston, unami is something that has come more into the light of western cooking. Which is good, because we’re only a few thousand years behind the Japanese in that respect. Personally I found this pretty fascinating as it goes into what and why of what it is and lists the quantity of glutamates in foods such as seaweed, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes and soy sauce. If you haven’t a bean about anything I’ve just said then you owe it to yourself to follow the link below.

The Menu: One EntrĂ©e. That’s It
A few months ago I was in Las Vegas where on the obsessive urging of our friend we took a cab off the strip to a joint called In n’Out Burger. The menu was either a burger, a double burger, fries and well, that was it. Been used to the usual fast food paradigm of a menu of items that runs into triple figures, this was kinda jarring but the queue was nearly out the door. Be it meatballs, fired chicken, mac and cheese or even rice pudding, this piece is about small New York restaurants that focus on just doing one thing. But doing it brilliantly. I queued for my burger, I ate it. It was amazing, I came back.

Coast Guard Chef Gets ‘A’ Grade For His Sea Fare
Article about Barry Wildman, a chef who turned the coast guard base in San Pedro into a destination restaurant turning the galley into a vegetable and herb garden. At the same time training and feeding armed service recruits.

So what’s it like to be on Iron Chef?
I KNEW it! I knew there was no way that when the cover came off that table in a cloud of  dry ice that there was no way the contestants didn’t know what was underneath. This article just confirms the worst-kept secret in food television. For anyone familiar with the show Iron Chef America, you’ll be interested to know that not only are the challenging team told what the secret ingredient is, they given a Goddamn choice! I always had a feeling this was the case, but it’s still interesting to hear what it’s like to enter kitchen stadium. As someone who thinks it’s one of the best shows on TV, I was one happy camper when I clicked onto this sucker.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bad Eats

Let me just begin by saying something. Because you know, this is my first ‘real’ post and I think we should be honest with each other. And well, if we start hiding things at the start then there really is no hope for us. So what I feel I need to tell you is this; I eat really, really badly. Something which, I’m sure inspires you to no end. Now I’m not the traditional form of ‘bad eating’. Not the ‘America’s Biggest Loser’ or ‘You Are What You Eat’ bad eater, with a diet consisting mostly of beige. My problem is not that I eat bad things; it’s that I eat at bad times and when I do it’s often not nearly enough. It’s a curious result of laziness, adrenaline and exhaustion. All brought about by work. While most of you lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky) people enjoy the working day of 9-5. Mine is not so much. Mine has been seemingly custom made to ensure that any time I do have to eat I’m either not in the mood, too busy, or simply too wrecked to rustle up anything more imaginative then toast. Or a Crunch Corner.
            Let me explain. I work from 3-11 on a weekday and anything from 12-11 or 1-12 on a weekend. So I leave the bed post-morning and return to it late. Mainly because by the time I get back from work and have sufficiently wound down enough for sleep to become a possibility, it’s nudging the 3am mark. So when you come home from a 10 hour day to a house that has three sleeping housemates, all of which are up in the morning, there is simply nothing you want to do less than a) make noise, or b) anything that doesn’t involve making a bum-shaped dent in sofa cushion. Unfortunately cooking falls into both those categories. Which is why, during those life-draining, nerve-tearing busy weekends, the cooker top is left as pristine and untouched as a salad bar in Pizza Hut.
          As for breakfast, forget about it. That’s something that has defected from daily staple to something of a whimsical ideal. Like world peace. . . .or reversing climate change. On the outset it may seem like I’ve more then ample time to get something solid into me before work (that’s what she said!!) but really here’s what happens. I get up about , shower and I spend a fleeting moment considering eating something before I head off to work. Then I think of work and in my mind’s eye I see that list I left last night. I think of what’s on it and the time I have to box off the tasks laid out by it. I then have one of those chills when I imagine what could be the result if they aren’t completed in time. I shudder and suddenly feel that omitting a bowl of muesli and a slice of toast from my morning is a small price to pay for getting a 20 min head start on the day ahead. I hurriedly dress and run to my car. Occasionally I do leave myself time to eat, pre-work. Only to find that my carton that says ‘milk’ can no longer be legally classified a such and the bread I bought on my last day off has turned green and is probably 13 hours away from becoming self-aware. Then I get into work and from then on the only opportunity for a break is a brief 15 minute window between 5 and 6. Sometimes there just isn’t the time, then that window will close and I’ll have worked through it. I’ll leave work that night having spent 10 hours on my feet without rest or food. It can and does happen that I go anywhere from 15-24 hours without what could be described as a proper meal. This is made all the more ironic by the fact that, for me, ‘work’ and ‘food’ are one and the same. So in case you haven’t worked it out by now, may I present to you the big third act reveal: I am a chef.
          And with that I feel any sympathy I’ve built up over these past few hundred words dissipate instantly. That and any nutritionists that were reading this are currently being placed in the recovery position as they lay on the kitchen floor, while puddles of spilt wheatgrass are being wiped from the kitchen table. Because, you might say, for me the task of making food that is edible is of no real challenge. Would coming home from work and spending 20 minutes on something as vital as feeding yourself really be that much of a stretch? Well you may have a point. But let me respond with this story my sous chef told me.
          One day his roommate asked him why he never cooked at home and instead relied on an endless supply of ready-meals. To which, my 6ft German boss replied, ‘You work on building sites. Would you go into the garden after work and start digging a fucking hole?’

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Firing the First Shot

So here it is, another fuppin’ food blog. Another addition to the influx of stay-home cooks, gourmets and foodies who, not fulfilled by talking the ear off their respective spouse/partner/flatmate/cat, feel that now the whole world shall benefit from every sweaty and intimate detail of their stove-lives. (And what they think is best to do with leftover roast chicken.) So yes, I’m under no illusion or pretence that what I’m doing counts as something new and innovative. Now pardon me while I bleat like a grumpy old ewe and dive aboard the trendy, overcrowded bandwagon. As Donal Skehan turns around in the driver’s seat and cheerfully asks, ‘Where to now guys? And while you’re thinking about that, here’s a dinner recipe for a family of four using just potatoes and leftover air.’

Now if this was a morning business pitch meeting and presuming you hadn’t already thrown out your lukewarm coffee, spat out your stale Danish and stormed out of the board room on the way to the nearest line to security. This’d usually be the juncture in which you inquire, ‘Alright Farlo J (if that is your real name), what’s the deal here? Why should us busy-busy people spare a moment of our time to survey over your secluded hermit shed of web-space? What are you going to offer that’ll make the arduous task of clicking a mouse worth it?’
           ‘Why potential reader,’ I should reply, ‘let me list off all the features and ways that’ll make my blog the bestest blog of them all.’
            I say that’s what I should do, but I won’t. And that’s not me trying to appear cocky or arrogant or in some weird flirty way attempting to play hard to get. But how many blogs have you read and it’s like, ‘Hello! My name is, I dunno, Annie Aga-lover and this is my blog!! This is where I’ll give daily updates, postings about what I’m cooking, photos, recipes, kitchen tips, essays, interviews with purveyors and organic growers, household cleaning advice, DIY instructions, basic marriage counselling, psychological profiling and a complete set of online fitness videos’ Last posted: two years, eight months ago.

I’m saying that when you begin by stating what should specifically be there, you’re kinda obliged to provide it. You're restrained, too preoccupied about what you said you'd do rather then what you want. And when you don’t provide the mantra of your mission statement you get self-important twats ‘tut-tutting’ and mentally blacklisting you as ‘promising so much yet simply unable to deliver.’ (Rumour has it my ex-girlfriends have set up a Facebook group of the same name.) In a strange way when you say you’ll do X, Y and Z on your blog, it’s almost a promise. You’ve stated an intention, raised an expectation and people expect you to follow through with it. That’s the irritating thing about promises; you kinda need to keep them.

The description says it best in all its eloquent vagueness. So as long as whatever I post falls into that category, then happy days. No ones let down. No ones ‘tut-tutting’ from their home study. And most importantly of all, no ones in a position to agree with my exes.