I now do a Supper Club and private catering!

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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The arguments of AVocado lovers and lovers of Flavoursome Protein-Textured Polenta

  Among my friends, there is a lot of debating going on between lovers of AVocados and those who prefer Flavoursome Protein-Textured Polenta or FPTP. It just so happened to start in a salad bar we like to go to.

  It is a strange salad bar. It will only serve all seven of us one enormous salad. One time, the FPTP lovers among us decided we should just go with whatever salad we wanted the most. Three of us really wanted the green salad with grilled FPTP, and the rest of us hated that. Two of us wanted the tomato and mozzarella salad and the other two wanted a really crazy sea urchin and coffee salad. In fact when we asked one of the guys who said he wanted the green salad, he replied he didn't. He just really hated the idea of the sea urchin and coffee.

  Then an AVocado lover said 'how about the Cobb salad?'. The green salad voters said that while it had more calories than the green salad, it was still better than the sea urchin one. The sea urchin voters felt it wasn't pushing culinary boundaries, but it had bacon in it and everyone loves bacon. The other two guys shrugged and said they'd just eat the tomatoes and cheese sauce. In the end we didn't have a bad time. The next time they had a caesar salad or a McCain chip salad. So we all went for the caesar that time. The chip salad came with this apPalin' sauce, and none of us wanted that.

  I was never a big fan of AVocado's. They seemed quite expensive and fiddly. They're not really. Once you know how they work it's like any other salad fruit. And when you examine the factors, they're not really expensive. I knew that AVocado's are good for you, but now I know they are good for your brain. I like AVocado now. I'm voting YES to AVocado next time we go to the salad bar. On May 5th.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Random book review: FishWorks Seafood Café Cookbook

   There is no timely reason why I'm talking about this book. I bought it for a pound from a garage sale somewhere in the peak district. I'm telling you about it because I have now got round to reading it and it's rather good.

   You may have heard of Mitch Tonks. I first heard about him through a review of his Dartmouth restaurant The Seahorse. All you need to know about him is: he likes his fish. Boy does he like his fish. And fish, in return, has been good to him. He owns the FishWorks shop in Bath, the RockFish shops in Dartmouth and Bristol, the aforementioned brined equine and possibly other piscine-based ventures. He isn't a chef as such, but he knows how to cook a piece of sea-life. FSCC is devotional to underwater victuals. A constant mantra of simplicity and freshness. Fish needs to be sustainable and responsible. Smelling of sea and salty virtue. There is a counterintuitive argument in the book that diver-caught scallops are worse than their dredged equivalent. The contention being '...if we relied on diver caught scallops all the time the price would be prohibitive and that market would die and maybe never fished again'. No I don't get it either.

  The book's true value comes in the advice to 'set' a piece of fish. That is, cooking a piece of fish is not the same as cooking meat. You only cook it until you can feel its firmness has changed. This is why so much fish is 'pan-roasted'. You fry the skin side until crisp and golden, flip it, and put in the oven, checking every few minutes until its 'set'. This is very satisfying.

  The endearing quality of the book is its honesty and simplicity. I can almost imagine the publisher saying to Mitch 'Come on man! You've only written 300 words!' and Mitch replying 'There really isn't anything left to say. Can't we get a nice food photographer to bulk it out a bit?'. There are, after all, only a few ways of saying 'the fish has to be FRESH'.

  The book is on Amazon but you may want to buy one of his other books instead. Buy Jane Grigson's Fish Book while you're at it and you'll be away with the fishmongers.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The whole tax exemption thing revisited

   I have, as you would expect, done a lot of thinking about my VAT tax exemption idea. And my latest conclusion is: it is completely unworkable.

  This is not to say it is a bad idea (I would never admit to having one of those) and there are many restaurants and cafés that would effortlessly qualify. It all falls apart when it comes to the subject of regulation. It is all very well for a restaurant to say 'we bought 75% of our produce from people within a thirty mile radius' but this doesn't mean those people in the radius got it from the local area. If, for example, a local butcher got his hands on some bayonne ham, then the restaurant could buy it and it would go towards the 75%. In fact there would be nothing to stop the butcher buying huge sides of finest Limousin beef and passing it off as local. Now you could then place an onus on the butcher to prove the provenance of what he sells, but this would only create further bureaucracy that could easily be circumvented. To take another example, near to where I live there is the excellent Severn & Wye Smokery that produces superlative smoked eel. It isn't local eel, nor I imagine it to be wild (you wouldn't want it to be while eel is endangered). So while supporting this local producer, as one definitely should, you are tacitly supporting the possible importing of foreign fish that you were hoping to avoid happening in the first place. I should add that Severn and Wye are a model of sustainability and best environmental practice.

   In so many ways restaurants and takeaways are dreadful things. They are wasteful, stingy, mostly devious and often plain rude forms of business. But they are certainly not going anywhere and are bound to multiply in years to come. And while there are lazy or busy or inept or affluent people in the world we have to support them, and so should the government. So maybe just let them off the VAT altogether.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A good G and T

   There is an anecdote about a flight stewardess worth relating. As she is wheeling her trolley through first class she enquires to a lady what she'd like to drink 'A G and T please. That's gin and tonic to YOU'. Quick as a flash she asked 'and would you like ice and a slice? That's frozen water and a bit of fruit to YOU'.

  A gin and tonic, well made, is a wonderful thing. Like a fizzy brain ablution. It douses the worst excesses of stress from the day's labour. Very often it is found to be a weekday ritual beginning around 5:30pm. The workday has ended, the kids are watching blue peter, the olives are opened and dinner is on its way. The complement to the favourite chair and evening news.

   Its origins lie in the colonies of the British empire, when the anti-malarial quinine tonic was made palatable with mother's ruin. Now while I am not an award-winning mixologist (the word used by barmen to make themselves look like skilled labour) I have some praise from womenfolk for my adding together of juniper and botanical-flavoured alcohol and a fizzy bitter liquid from a bottle. I can certainly assure that the following of simple instructions ensures a memorable aperitif.

  Firstly, everything must be quality. I will let you off if you don't use good-quality mineral water to make your ice cubes but the gin and tonic water need to be of a standard. I am happy to use Gordon's but would recommend Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick's, Whitley Neill or Tanqueray Rangpur. The tonic water has to be Fever Tree I'm afraid. Waitrose do a good home-brand tonic and schweppes is passable, but for it to be proper good you have to use Fever Tree. I would also never advocate the choice of slimline as it has a strong flavour of saccharine. In any case it'll never help you lose weight. As a citrus flavour, I use a dash of Sicilian lemon juice but a couple of thin slices of lemon or lime is elegant and delicious.

 Secondly, everything must be cold cold cold. Keep your gin in the freezer. You could go hog wild and keep your glasses in there but frankly, who has the space? The tonic water should be kept in neat rows in the door of your fridge next to the lemon juice. Plus, you want to be generous with the ice.

  It is my belief that a gin and tonic needs to be a large one otherwise it's not worth having. Use a tall glass and add plenty of ice. Pour the gin slowly over the ice and add slightly more than seems sensible. An equal ratio of gin to tonic is not unacceptable. Bear in mind at this point the time between drinking and eating. Time equals gin in this equation. Top up with the tonic and you should be close to the brim. Add a splash of lemon or lime juice and a slice of either fruit.

  There is an awful lot of room for manouevre here. Whitley Neill lends itself to physalis, Hendrick's to a slice of cucumber, Gordon's (according to Ramsay) to lime. Gin itself is vastly underrated and the websites of all distillers will remind you of this and offer helpful recipes. Gordon's with fever tree and sicilian lemon juice is the path of least resistance in my view. Just keep it cold and naughty.