Pub Food – Good Food?

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On a long journey back from wherever I was last week in deepest Wiltshire, I was reminded once again on the rather inane choice of food advertising outside our pubs along the byways and highways of this green and over drizzled land.

The most common appeared to be ‘Good Food’. Surely one would not stop if it were anything less? I have yet to see a sign reading –Mediocre Food’ – which frankly would often be more honest and appropriate given some of the fare I have had thrown in front of me at some establishments.

Then there is ‘Delicious Food.’ According to whom I would like to know? 8 out of ten cats think our food is ‘delicious’ for example. Then there were pub signs advertising ‘Home Cooked Food’. For some people this might be a real turn off. If the poor chap or chappess passing by has a spouse who cannot cook to save their lives and most of what they have to eat comes by way of a microwave in their home, then ‘Home Cooked’ may not be too appealing! Of course we live in a society that says advertising home cooked food has to mean it is cooked on the premises. The word we need to be wary of here, therefore, is simply ‘cooked’. Has it been cooked? Or simply reheated? Popped in a deep fryer maybe? Poured from a tin into a pan? So this sign tells us little…. and is of as much use to lure a customer in as saying… our cook is called Mabel. We are simply none the wiser as to what we will be getting.

The signs I like to see are ones that tell me either simply that the pub sells food – I can make my own mind up whether I think it is ‘delicious’ or ‘good’ or even ‘excellent’ as some pubs advertise. Or ones that actually say briefly what they serve – ‘Fresh Locally Caught Seafood’, ‘Today’s special – Mutton Stew’ etc etc.

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And there are ones that simply go for self-deprecating humour.

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Finally, one pub we passed advertised ‘Real Ale and Real Food’. This is interesting – as it presupposes other local hostelries were selling fake beer and fake food! This sounds scary. I get where they are coming from – real ale – made hopefully by a local brewer – not mass produced on some vast plant in gigantic metallic containers. Real food? I guess I hope they mean it is fresh, not processed or out of a freezer. That it is not ‘formed’ – or worse – reformed – meat pieces – the thought is gruesome. That it is prepared with love and,yes, care.

 Anyways, we did find a pub that did serve fabulous food – and all they said outside was that food was served here and at what times. I will go back to that establishment. Honest and down to earth and getting customers by reputation and word of mouth.

I know it is not easy in this competitive landscape to get customers in to each pub – but I just wish that before they put their signs up that they thought about what they really wanted to say about the food they serve – not just that is is ‘good’ or ‘delicious’ or ‘Home cooked’.

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HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

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Just a BIG THANK YOU to all of you lovely people out there who bother to pop over here and read my blog posts from time to time…. or even just once…and some of you who even leave lovely comments or just tick the like box on a recipe. 

You are all special and all make this little corner of Blogdom worthwhile.

To all of you, a very Happy Christmas and I wish you all a peaceful, joyful and rewarding New year.

Love and Best Wishes,

Keith 

xxx

Catching my breath…

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It has been a strange and hectic couple of weeks as the end of term approached. Busy wasn’t even close. Anyway, my feet are now just touching the floor and I have spent the last few days trying to be lazy – but it takes me a while to throw off work mode – still, I have enjoyed some very nice glasses of various wines and some simple but delicious meals including the cold rare roast beef sliced from the previous days topside joint cooked Brazilian style – see recipe from a few blog posts ago…and this time I had it with some simple home made pan fried chips, pepper sauce and a light salad.

The day before we had enjoyed the beef off the barbecue with lots of salads and a simple ratatouille I cooked up – using just pan fried cubed aubergine, home grown cubed courgette, shallots, san marzano tomatoes pan fried and lots of fresh basil and oregano – a dash of red wine vinegar and a splash of olive oil with seasoning.

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And it is unctuous cold the next day too!

I had to have several drinks to get per the shock of watching Brazil get trounced by Germany 7-1. I thought it was something I’d eaten!

I also have sent a few hours with a guy who is hot into SEO stuff and I think I learnt something We will see! I now have time to focus on writing some posts inspired by Bonnie Lalley‘s art work and on our proposed book. A week to relax now, several folk round for lunches and sleep overs and then on the 20th we are off to Valencia…can’t wait!

A stunning French red to start the holidays...

A stunning French red to start the holidays…

An Italian fizz to fire me into the festivities of July!

An Italian fizz to fire me into the festivities of July!

Home made ratatouille

Home made ratatouille

A Catalan beauty that saw me through the despondency of Germany beating brazil.

A Catalan beauty that saw me through the despondency of Germany beating brazil.

Beef at its best...

Beef at its best…

Shhh…I’m cooking…

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Shhh…I'm cooking...

I’m kidding. Silence in the kitchen is impossible, My kitchen makes its own sounds anyway for a start. From the kettle rumbling to a pot bubbling, the gas gently whispering to the extractor fan humming. Cupboards opening and closing like an off beat percussion section, taps burbling away into the sink or a pan, and the cat moaning she has not been fed for at least ten minutes. I love sound in my kitchen. If it is after 7pm it will be music, from either my Spotify account on my laptop or from my i pod in its rather monolithic-looking dock. Before then, I often cook to the radio – often the news – though once it becomes cyclical it goes off.

So what do I listen to? Oddly I like the music to not to be too fast if I am concentrating – it is a little like when I drive – the faster the music, the faster I seem to drive. Not great when you are wielding a razor sharp knife! Sometimes, when I am cooking a new dish or trying to create one, then I have something familiar, often Chet Baker (what a sound!), especially later at night. Or the Spanish band Mana, or Sinatra. I don’t think it is a conscious choice but I have noted they are what what I turn to. If I am feeling confident and want a buzz I always turn to Morrissey. I feel alive when he comes on and I just love chopping and slicing, whisking and mixing, sizzling and stirring to Moz. I also find that a slice of Dylan mellows me as I cook. I also like putting the i pod on shuffle whilst I prepare dishes – though I find it hilarious when it suddenly turns up a Christmas tune and I can’t get to the machine to change it in time – bright sunshine outside and the kitchen suddenly filled with Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I also have afternoons – seems to be usually afternoons rather than evenings – when I fancy sautéing to a little classical music – especially Mozart – or maybe a little Pavarotti or Bocelli, even some Il Divo to hum along to.

I like background music too. I very rarely have no radio or music playing. I adore foreign music – I often have not a whit of a clue what they are singing about – in an odd way maybe I concentrate more when I don’t always know the meaning! – nonetheless I adore music by the Gypsy Kings, Stromae. Grand Corps Malade (good for very mellow, dramatic food!) Pablo Alboran and a real favourite for those electric tango lovers out there (there must be some!) the Gotan Project. I swear I move better, more ergonomically, around the kitchen to their music!

Hey, I love all kinds of music – the above I go back to regularly but I can happily cook to the late great and much missed Amy Winehouse, the pictured above and beautifully coiffured Mr Bowie, Mumford and Sons ( I have to have them on loud ), Lou Reed or Dire Straits. If I need instantly chivvying into action, I need an audio adrenaline boost of Roxy Music – that does the trick. Do I think about what I am putting on? Yes, sometimes – but often I just go with the mood. I couldn’t listen to indiscriminate music radio whilst I cook – I am not a fan of waffling DJs or adverts. And their choice of music is invariably not mine. I also get distracted if I have current affairs radio progs on – as I find myself stopping to listen to what is being discussed. Not helpful if things are boiling over around me whilst I argue the toss with an opinionated radio presenter who cannot hear me anyway (it doesn’t stop me) or I am engrossed in the plight of some disembodied tragic soul who is on a radio phone in. But as I said earlier , the news is ok for half an hour.

I have placed a few tracks on the Music to Cook To widget on the left hand side below my food photos – just for fun. I may add more in time.

I also love having folk in the kitchen whilst I cook – as well as the music – I love the banter of my kids, catching up what their day has been like, or when friends are around having a drink together whilst I prepare / finish off dishes. Their presence doesn’t phase me. The kitchen is a little like a stage set for me – actors entering and leaving, lots of action, moments of pathos and angst, moments of magic, a place to laugh a lot and get steamed up. A place to create dreams and a place to get audience participation and reaction in the best way possible – some helping to prepare occasionally ,and all, ultimately, centre stage as they dig in to the dish of the day!

The kitchen is my favourite place.

But it is rarely, if ever, silent! Music may be the food of love….but it also helps with the love of food!

IMG_5053I’m just off to Alfredo’s!

IMG_4524Sorry, Lady Gaga, tonight I am in the kitchen..but you can come and sing to me if you like!

 

Colcannon…a classic….

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Colcannon…a classic….

“Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?

Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry.
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.”

So goes the traditional Irish song about this wonderful potato dish – there cannot be many food stuffs that have their own song ! – and I guess there are many takes on this classic potato and cabbage dish. Its Irish name is cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”, and it is a traditional dish mainly consisting of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage.

It is similar to the Irish dish Champ which is a dish of mashed potatoes, moistened with milk and butter and flavoured with chopped onions or scallions or even nettle tops (much underused veg! See my Nettle Frittata).

The earliest reference i can find to it is by one William Bulkely from Anglesey who in his diary of 31st October 1735 made two journeys to Dublin and recorded that he:

‘Dined and supped upon a shoulder of mutton roasted and what they call Coel Callan, which is cabbage boiled, potatoes, and parsnips, all this mixed together. They eat well enough and this is a dish always had on this kingdom on this night.’

Apparently, colcannon was used on All Hallow’s Eve for marriage divination. Charms hidden in the bowls of colcannon were portents of a marriage proposal should a lucky unmarried girl find one. One other marvellously bizarre tradition was for a young girl to stuff a sock with colcannon and hang it on the handle of their front door. They believed that the first man through the door would become their husband. Could have led to some interesting situations and possible intermarriages….also must have ruined the socks!

The dish came over to English shores in the 18th century and oddly became a favourite of the upper classes. In time the English version morphed into bubble and squeak, which is more of a fry up of left overs rather than this purpose built spud dish.

It is a very hearty and warming dish and you can twiddle with it to your hearts content – but this is a version I particularly like – I had it the other night with a honey and mustard glazed hock of ham and it brought out the Irish in me! (My great grandparents were form Derry). I am sure you must have tried this or something like it but if not, give it a whirl. It is a delicious way to eat potatoes and greens.

And versatile… and it can accompany all sorts – and ’tis just as gorgeous on its lonesome!

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely sliced
250g mashed potato (I used about 6 to 8 potatoes so play it by ear)
50g unsalted butter
30ml double cream
250g Savoy cabbage, blanched and sliced (or you can used greens or kale)
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 8-10 minutes, or until softened and golden-brown.
In a large bowl, mix together the mashed potato, butter, cream, blanched cabbage and mustard until well combined and season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.
Transfer the potato mixture to the frying pan with the onions in and press down to form a large potato ‘cake’. Fry for 4-5 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown on one side. Turn over, using a plate if necessary to help you, and fry on the other side for a further 4-5 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown on both sides. (This last bit is tricky – in the end if it does break up, it will taste just as good even if it doesn’t look as pretty!)

As I said before I used it to accompany a hock of ham- and i also made a taleggio cheese sauce which really, really went well with the ham and colcannon. I just popped 450 ml of double cream and a clove of garlic into a small pan with a bay leaf. I brought it to a simmer then added a 100 gm slice of taleggio and let it melt. A stunning sauce to go with a stunning and simple potato dish!

Up the Irish!

Sneak peep into Alfredo’s….

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Sneek peep into Alfredo's....

I have been asked recently to show a little more of my in-house Italian restaurant where my family and friends eat, drink, gather chatter. So here are a few shots of Alfredo’s in all its evening glory and a few of me, blush, taken by my wonderful daughter, Hannah, cooking one of my favourite dishes, Penne con Sugo di Salsicce. Anyway, this is me in my kitchen..doing what I do best and doing what I love…cooking. And you get to look into where we eat too! It’s always open…please drop by sometime!

I want to put some videos on here in the coming months of me cooking some of the most popular dishes on this blog. If you have any in partciular that you would like a video of – let me know!

Right..back to the stove and another glass of vino….

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The root of beauty…

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The root of beauty...

This wonderful rendition of the oft overlooked beetroot is by Bonnie Lalley and is the second in a series of joint ventures between us. I was brought up on pickled beetroot and it accompanied so many dishes in our house, from my mother’s succulent steak and mushroom pie to Lancashire Hot Pot to more frugal suppers of cheese or pork pie. It added an often much needed splash of colour to some otherwise overcast meals. Its deep scarlet hue always made me feel that here was something exotic in deepest, darkest Manchester – and yet it grew on all the allotments around without me then realising.

It is related to the splendidly named mangel-wurzel, used for animal feed, and the flavoursome veg, chard. And this root of joy has been around since the Greeks – Theophrastus referred to the cultivation of it 300 years before the birth of Christ in his botanical writings. It is descended from sea beet, a wild seashore plant, which grows around the shores of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa.

In the 16th century it was referred to as Beta Roman in cookery writing. In 1699, it was said that thin red slices of the boiled red beetroot were ‘ a grateful winter Sallet.’ In the same tome, by John Evelyn – ‘A Discourse on Sallets’, he noted that it was ‘by the French and Italians contriv’d into curious figures to adorn their Sallets.‘  Now there’s a challenge for you all!

The luxuriant deep purply red colour is due to the mixture of a purple pigment, betacyanin, and a yellow one, betaxanthin. And it stains incredibly well, as my mother used to remind me over and over again, lest I ever spilt any on her newly ironed tablecloth!

The leaves of this root – beetroot tops – are also now used more and more in salads and they are both a thing of beauty and also very, very tasty. They are also stuffed full of marvellous minerals and vitamins. Beetroot is a great source of fibre and folic acid. Olympians drink gallons of beetroot juice I am told.

This is truly one adorable vegetable. And Bonnie’s painting captures the royalty wrapped up in this remarkable root.

And so to finish – a recipe that shows it off to its best.

Roast Beetroot with Goat’s Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar

For 4

12 baby beetroots or 6 larger chaps
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil – the best you have
Balsamic vinegar
175 gm goat’s cheese
Handful of beetroot leaves – small ones
A good portion of rocket leaves

Bring your oven up to 230c. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about 45 minutes to an hour for large ones – or 30 minutes for baby beets. In any case they need to be soft enough for a knife to go through them easily.

Once they have cooled rub the skins off and either keep whole if small or halve then or quarter the big ones if using. Toss in the olive oil.

Scatter your rocket and beetroot leaves on a serving plate.
Arrange the warmed beetroot on the leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil. Pop a slice of goat’s cheese by each piece of beetroot and grind over some sea salt and black pepper.

Serve with more balsamic vinegar to taste and warm crusty bread.

Nothing vulgar about beta vulgaris.

It is the Queen of the root world.

Roast veg has the edge…

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Roast veg has the edge...

Sleepy sort of a Sunday today. A simple roast chicken stuffed with butter, basil, lemons and garlic on a bed of red onion slices accompanied by nothing more than a rainbow of roasted veg flavours. One aubergine, halved and sliced, one courgette sliced, 6 baby new potatoes thinly sliced, 6 cloves of garlic left whole – though I did split one or two to get the flavours going- 4 baby red chillies, 2 red onions quartered – all roasted for 45 minutes in olive oil, fresh thyme, rosemary, sea salt and black pepper. For the last 15 minutes, I added 4 gorgeously ripe tomatoes quartered and about 250 gm of haricot verts which I had pre steamed. Then a handful of fresh basil – just because I adore the aroma.

Everyone makes this dish and it probably needs more of a shout out. It makes me feel like I am sitting by the coast near Sorrento watching the sun dip lazily over the isle of Capri – instead of being rain bound in the dampness of a cabbage and cauliflower ridden England.

Food transports. This one certainly does for me. A simple flight of culinary fancy that makes a sodden southern Sunday seem sunnier. I am replete now and off to cuddle up by the fire with a good book and a glass of something frightfully fruity.

Have a good week.

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A fire in my hand…

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A fire in my hand...

I am excited today…excited at the prospect of a new venture and a new partnership…a partnership with a wonderful artist and illustrator called Bonnie Lalley from the States. I feel,just like the painting, that I have fire in my hands! We have both been inspired by each others work – so much so that Bonnie will send me a painting inspired by my recipes or I will write… inspired by a painting she has sent me. So here we go….

When I first set eyes on this piece of work by Bonnie I was suddenly transported to Spain. I am heading out to Valencia in the summer – land of the late harvesting princely Valencian Orange. Sweet, juicy and warm in every sense, This hand is holding on tight to this precious cargo and no wonder…it is one of the demi gods of the citrus world.

I was put in mind of a salad I had a few years ago out in Northern Spain….a simple yet satisfying and sensual salad centred around the Valencian Orange.

Valencian Orange and Walnut Salad with Olive Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
10 finely chopped small black olives – kalamata or hojiblanca would be ideal
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 garlic clove – skinned and crushed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A grind or two of sea salt
Chopped walnuts or almonds or both!
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Salad:
3 Valencian oranges – or any good juicy types
1 seriously large handful baby of rocket
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Right, for the vinaigrette pop all the ingredients into a small bowl. Whisk well and set to one side.
Peel the oranges. Cut each orange in half, remove the pith and cut crosswise into 8 segments. Set aside.
Divide the rocket onto four plates. Top with the orange slices. Add a few sprinklings of the chopped nuts-you could toast them too. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Finish with freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Oranges are a gift from God and a fruit we take for granted. We must not. We must hold them close and cherish them.

And I want to end with a truly beautiful poem…a favourite of mine..and one that goes so well with this painting.

Oranges
By Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

I hope you enjoy our collaboration…who knows where it will take us!

Thank you ,Bonnie..here’s to a good year. Please, please visit her site…she is on my blogroll..(No 40 on those I follow.)