I now do a Supper Club and private catering!

Visit rodboroughsupperclub.blogspot.com/ for details or email: heidiandfranks@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Things that annoy me: part 4 million

1. People who put a teaspoon in a bottle of champagne to keep the bubbles in. This has been scientifically-proven to be completely pointless. Apart from appearing smug in front of your friends.

2. Cheap chicken breasts that have been injected with a water and xanthan gum solution.

3. People who turn their nose up at offal. Does that need explaining?

4. Sophie Dahl, obviously and continuously. Reliably and consistently.

5. Useless kitchen gadgets. Yes you can live your life without a lettuce knife. Ditto an egg-separater.

6. The inventors of useless kitchen gadgets. Look, no one is interested in your new, easy way to prick a hole in an egg. Stop cluttering up pretentious housewives' kitchen drawers and go back to being a vicar you stupid Dragons Den reject.

7. Long menus. Four starters, five mains and four desserts is ample.

8. Rachel Allen. Mostly for her collection of teaspoons.

9. Hells Kitchen USA. Gordon, your act is old and silly.

10. People who don't take care of their knives. Especially when they've just got a new set of Globals. Remember, sharpen a little and often and don't put them in the dishwasher. You know who you are.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Spotting a really bad recipe

  What makes a bad recipe? It is very simple. A recipe where a point is reached where it can all go tits up but the recipe doesn't TELL you it could.

   Possibly the worst recipe ever known to exist was 'Chocolate Nemesis' from The River Café Cookbook. It possesses a cunning unintended by its authors by appearing simple yet fatally flawed. If you have a bad recipe for meringue, maybe Italian meringue where you poor hot sugar syrup into still beating egg whites, then at the end of the day you've lost some egg whites and some sugar. Choc Nem loses you delicious chocolate. Maybe a couple of bars of expensive Green and Blacks. Your cho-cow pat will taunt you afterwards 'Why didn't you stick to Delia? You're not cut out for this trendy Italian stuff' (not that RC is trendy anymore).

  So what about recipes by big name chefs? A cursory glance at Heston Blumenthal's foie gras recipe from 'The Big Fat Duck Cookbook' is all that is needed to assure one that this is impossible outside a massive kitchen with a vast range of industrial equipment and an army of chefs. Yet we cannot judge it bad because we don't have evidence of people trying it and it going wrong over and over again. Most recipes from these chefs are just impractical and far too expensive. But they aren't...dishonest.

  Elizabeth David (no stranger to bad recipes J'accuse!) once gestured to a recipe in 'Ulster Fare' by The Belfast Women's Institute Club for 'Italian Salad' writing 'Sounds just about the most revolting dish ever devised'. This recipe had a spelling error that listed 'pears, tinned or fresh' instead of peas. Yet note the wording. 'Sounds' means she hasn't taken the time out of her day to make this revolting concoction (peas or pears it's still grim).

   A really bad recipe is so much worse than a merely disgusting sounding or overcomplicated one. A poisonous mushroom with a red top and speckles is far less dangerous than one almost identical to an edible cep. Because a really bad recipe convinces you to give it a go. So the Nemesis wins since it has few ingredients, all familiar and begins 'probably the best chocolate cake in the world'. Bastard.

NB: honourable mention must go to 'Nature's Harvest'. A collection of recipes all involving semen.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Things you should not take camping with you

Beside the obvious, a cheap tent from tesco, a sleeping mat that offers no resistance to the cold, hard ground, and a prissy girlfriend who grumbles the whole time (something I have never had experience of), the following things are annoying deadweight:

 A Coleman Dual-fuel Stove. This SOUNDS like a really good idea. And it is, for the four occasions you use it before it stops working. In theory, it safely burns clean liquid fuel in a windproof box and gives an insane amount of heat well beyond a gas ring at home can supply. The trouble is the design. Just as the Aerobie Aeropress is a masterpiece of practicality and simplicity, this is pure idiocy. So prone to failure, so easy to not turn a certain lever at a certain time after such a thing has happened. I hate this product on every level. Someday Coleman will horsewhip its inventor and order a redesign by someone at Aerobie. In my mind, that WILL happen.

A Campingaz Electric 12V Coolbox. I can particularly dis-recommend buying some French cheese, such as Pont l'Eveque, and putting it in one of these coolboxes and then plugging it in while driving along. A little fan will disperse the vile stench all around your car. Other than the awkward shape, the shiteness of the electric cooling function, and the stupid way you have to poke the lead into the lid is the fact you either choose to have the lead dragging everywhere or to not get the lid open at all.

 The special reason to single out these items is because within them there is the germ of a real fantastic product. A reliable liquid fuel stove that is simple to use and easy to maintain would be the first thing I'd recommend to anyone, whether they were camping or not. You could run it on paint thinner. And a highly portable coolbox that could keep things really cold would be great if you can't stand UHT milk or Marvel. In the meantime I'll keep checking the MSR website until they've got round to making these things.

Things to take camping with you part two

Beside the very obvious things, such as a tent, sleeping bag and girlfriend with a high flatulence tolerance, the following things prove themselves to be very useful (possibly even more than the girlfriend but we won't go there):

 An MSR Pocket Rocket and kettle. This little thing costs thirty quid and screws into any small gas cylinder. Once lit, you gingerly turn it to full roar and boil your water in the time it takes you to get the mugs, tea or coffee, and milk out. If it isn't roaring it means you have to warm the cylinder up. So maybe hold it between your legs or under your armpit until its a bit warmer. This is best done when it's unlit.

An Aerobie Aeropress. I bought this on impulse at Tebay services. It is more or less a filter coffee maker crossed with an espresso maker where you supply the pressure with the heel of your hand. The real beauty of this thing is not how easy it is to use, but how at the end you pop out all the ground coffee into the bin. Easy to clean, lovely coffee, and quite handy when you come back.

A Stanley Mobile Toolbox. If you plan on doing a lot of cooking, this is ideal for storing all your stuff. Think of it more as a pan/crockery drawer and a cutlery/utensil drawer. It makes more sense than rummaging through your knives and corkscrews for a mouli grater (not really worth packing if I'm honest).

   Other random things that spring to mind but not strictly essential are a large opinel (the blade folds away), a full hip flask, a small jar of tarragon, a tin of Illy coffee, and a porcelain mug that you don't mind getting chipped or broken. 

   I must state here that for reasons unknown, the food you cook outdoors will taste ten times better than anything you cook at home.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Things to take camping with you...part one. Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my Cobb

Having just spent a fortnight camping in continental Europe I have a few recommendations of things to take with should you choose to do the same. The first and foremost is the Cobb Oven.

  You may have heard about the Cobb. If you have, it was probably a high-pitched fluid of superlatives and spittle. I can confirm that it is good. But it's good when you know how to uuuse it. The thing to remember is it's basically a barbecue with a very little heat source that is also nothing like a barbecue. You use either barbecue briquettes or the bespoke 'cobblestones'. The latter are not cheap but are very good and very quick. If using the former, you'll need firelighters, patience, a blowing device of some description or more saintly patience. For the latter, you need a long match and a spendthrift state of mind.

   Here is why everyone who owns a Cobb adores it like a shiny round baby. You can fry with it. You can casserole with it. You can smoke with it. You can steam with it (like whatevah). You can take a piece of pork belly, sear it, then roast it, then smoke it, and have it with potatoes that have roasted in the dripping fat. You can then cut off the fat, put it back in, forget about it, remember it, take it out, discard most of it because it's too burnt, and eat the remaining bit of crackling.

   Before you go anywhere with it, practice a couple of times. If you want to eat for, say, half past seven. Start lighting it around five o' clock. Whatever you do, don't light it when you feel hungry because you'll get desperate and do something stupid. Start it outside and once the smoke has gone, bring it inside (you can lift it with your bare hands). If you're having anything like steaks, put as much fuel into it as possible. Make sure you've got at least eight grey briquettes of fierce heat.

   Honestly you should get one. It lends itself so well to experimentation. Why not half-inch some thyme from your neighbour, pour a can of lager in the moat, add the thyme, and do some chicken on a bed of lemon slices? It isn't great for large groups of people (unless you've got one between three) but I can heartily recommend one.