Monday, 31 May 2010

Food Writing Cliche Bingo

We've had Book Review Bingo I've seen wine review bingo so now it's time for Food Writing Cliche Bingo. The participating phrases have been gathered from different twitter requests for words in food writing that various bloggers and journos feel more than a slight antipathy towards, and can been seen as a collective effort of the wonderful hive mind that is twitter rather than any individual's taste.
Print out the PDF, choose your own word or phrase to fill in the blank space, select the food blogs, journals or magazines and begin. You can do this on your own or turn it into a group activity by selecting different articles and blogs and seeing who can score a line or the entire card first.
Be warned it may become addictive.
Please comment below if you feel any phrases are not of high enough cliche quality and please suggest alternatives and additions.
 Download Food Writing Cliche Bingo

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Scot in London on tour: Oman Part 1

My bosses in their infinite wisdom happened upon the idea that I would be the best candidate (or at least the best candidate who said yes) to go on a trip to Oman to train some clients. As I have never intended to get any closer to the Middle East than a trip to the Saudi Pavilion during the 1992 Expo in Seville I have spent the past couple of weeks fretting about what clothes I should wear and - most unusually for me – who I might offend.

Armed with ill fitting trousers and borrowed long sleeve tops I headed off on Sunday to Heathrow terminal 3 watching people en route to Lagos, Delhi and Bangkok wondering at my folly of being caught in a good mood and actually saying yes to this venture.

While all of the ladies at the Oman air check in desk wore very hats with strips of veil like material attached hanging down on in a strip over their shoulders, none of them were Omani or had ever been there. The cabin crew were all Filipino and the pilot English. None of the English speaking passengers could understand the cabin crew’s English announcements over the loud speaker while the pilot made no attempt to speak to the passengers in Arabic.

Oman also appears to be a mini-hub - a poor man’s shopless Dubai, and most of the young Australian and English passengers were transit passengers racing towards the next flight to Thailand or Melbourne. What I found fascinating about this mix of Arab and Anglo passengers was the totally different attitudes we have developed towards public space. On the overnight flight the young Anglos acted as if they were at home or on a friend’s sofa. They sprawled over each other in a desperate attempt to get comfortable, exposing limbs, feet, lower backs and muffin tops. They lay over friends and lovers with a total lack self-consciousness creating a mess of bodies, flesh and flip flops. The Arabs stayed in their seats, didn’t remove their shoes and many kept their jackets on. A woman may have rested her head gently on her companion’s shoulder but it never got further than that.

We also have greatly contrasting attitudes to dressing in heat. We seem to cover as little as possible while they cover as much. The desire to expose flesh in the face of the glaring sun is something that, as a Scot, I can strongly identify with. Sun is a most unusual experience for us and when it happens we discard tights, roll up sleeves and trousers, some of the more uncouth among us even expose hairy bellies and old tattoos. A quick survey of my own summer wardrobe last week to this trip proved that I had no suitable light long sleeved ankle length lightweight clothes and I do not regard myself as a naked sun worshipper of any shape or form. However for an Australian sun is as daily an event as for an Omani and a cursory glance at the Australian colony in Fulham , West London will show you that faced with tiniest hint of sun they wander around as if they haven’t quite managed to get out of their bed properly or put much more on than their underwear. Almost every Omani, man or woman, wears a full length robe. It has made me wonder what is the optimum number of years before a culture adapts its style of dress to a specific climate and if climate change makes Scotland warmer are we in for even more of the assault on our eyes that is the topless fat hairy pot bellied lobster coloured Old Firm supporter that my hometown is full of on a sunny day in June.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pork Dinner at Valentina's in Putney

At the begining of the year the Guardian sent the Gargantuan Tim Hayward to take part in the annual pig slaughter of the family Zoccola. The videos and estactic commentary from Tim can be seen here and then the susage making extravangaza here
If you are watch either of these films with your eyes popping out of your head and your mouth drooling then you should come along to the meal the Zuccola family are preparing on Tues 30th March and Tim Hayward is hosting ( he promises not to talk for too long and to focus on the pig) at Valentina's in Putney
The menu is and is £50 all inclusive:

Prosecco on arrival. Olives, Nuts, Luppini Beans Etc.
Cotechino on a bed of Lentils
Bucatini Pasta with Coratella Insaccati (Pig’s Pluck) in a tomato sauce
Salsiccia Con Patate e Peperni
Lemon/Orange Sorbet
½ Bottle Wine Per Head

Valentina's is at 75 Upper Richmnd Street, the nearest Tube is East Putney.
Please book by calling   (020) 8877 9906
I hasten to add that this has not been organised by me but by Andre Dang, but as he is, lucky bugger, on holiday in Vietnam I have posted it on my blog.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Dead Sheep Scandal

It’s been a strange week for food. Andrea Charman resigned as head teacher of Lydd Primary after a hate campaign waged against her due to her respecting the vote of the pupil council and allowing a lamb the school had kept to be sent for slaughter. One parent has claimed that her child needed psychiatric help due to the trauma suffered by knowing that the lamb had been sent to be killed. Others are furious at how upset their children are and the fact that some of them have decided to be become vegetarians.
Having worked as a teacher for quite a few years I would venture to postulate that a child who needs psychiatric help after finding out about the slaughter of the school lamb, in a rural farming area where he or she is surrounded by animals reared to be eaten, may not be the most well-adjusted child in the first place. Rather than waging a campaign of hate against a head teacher the parents in question would do far better to look at how best to equip their child with the tools to cope with life, with or without professional help.
That children became vegetarians after realising that meat does not miraculously appear wrapped in plastic on the shelf at Tesco is an issue which, to be honest, can be put down to bad parenting (and every parent is bad at something). Did these parents never tell their children that meat came from animals? Is it because they are unaware themselves?
My mother, the daughter of a butcher, did not realise that meat was a dead animal until the age of 8. As her Mother never bought meat and my Grandfather would always take the meat he brought home straight to the kitchen my Mother never saw raw meat and never made any connection until she was that age. When she first found out, she vowed never to eat it, much to my Grandparents’ consternation, ever again. The ‘ever again’ lasted all of a fortnight as my Grandmother wisely decide just to ignore it and only served her the 2 veg at each dinner until my Mother realised she was actually missing all the things she liked. To this day, however, she gets squeamish discussing the animal origin of her meat while eating it. My persistent childhood questions of which animal does this meat come for again were met with a sharp,” I am not prepared to discuss this at the dinner table.”
What really struck me about this story, though, was not how pampered the children are, how vicious the minority of parents are, but how cowardly we in Britain have become.
This hate campaign has all been waged virtually with personal insults against Mrs Charman and even death threats from extreme animal rights groups (being extremely pro animals is far more acceptable than being against Jews nowadays and every fascist has to find their cause). A real pro-animal rights group with an actual interest in animals would be brave enough to take on supermarkets and the pressures they apply on farmers to get their meat for the lowest price possible. A real pro-animal rights group would not simply issue death threats against a lone primary head teacher who has approved the decision of a pupil council.
Parents with traumatised newly vegetarian children rather than looking at their child and thinking ,’If this is the biggest trauma they have to face then they will have one of the easiest childhoods in the world’ are getting angry and vicious all from behind the safety of a Facebook group and virtual campaigns. They have no need to actually face the person that they have a disagreement with unless they form part of an angry mob. There is no consideration of Mrs Charman as a human being, it is simply vitriol and rage poured out from behind a computer screen. Many, if not most, of these people would not have the bravery or the decency to air their views in person in a calm and thought out manner. I imagine it would be, if they actually dared show their face, to quote Congressman Barney Frank ‘like arguing with my dining-room table’
The moral cowardice of hiding behind screens to attack people seems to be a feature of modern life. It as if we are constantly at the mercy of cowardly mob rule. Look at the comment sections of newspapers. A story about street food in LA gets turned into a diatribe against white racism, almost everything in The Telegraph turns into ‘this country is going to the dogs and we have too many immigrants’ People (real live human beings with emotions and feelings just like you) mercilessly attack others anonymously or even using their real names but from behind a screen because they can. Because it’s easy and because it gives them relief from their own bile and pent up frustration, albeit for a moment.
The interesting thing is when you meet most of these people in real life face to face, when they venture out without their PCs, it is completely shocking how insecure and inarticulate they actually are. Many of them would run a mile if you said boo to them too loudly (I used to be involved in the Reiki world and, aside from extreme animal rights activists , there is almost nothing as vitriolic and nasty as an aggrieved New Ager). Faced with a real live human being and away from the safety of the mob, they retreat into a stammering mumbling apology or say nothing at all for fear of being confronted with their actual words and having to present a proper a proper defence for their argument. The entire experience is rather like, to quote another politician, being savaged by a dead sheep.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

On Monkfish Liver

About two years ago I aquired a small tri-lingual pamphlet entitled 'Five Recipes with Monkfish liver' At the 6 Euros it cost me that works out 2 Euros per language, or 1.2 Euros a recipe. At face value not the best deal in the world but where else do you find 5 recipes for monkfish liver easily and in a tri-lingual edition?
It is part of a small range of pamphlet like 'books for misanthropists' written by Victor Nubla. Other books in his range include 'An Essay Against the Wheel' and 'A Study of Breaks' I don't know if they are also in Catalan, Spanish and English but you can ask him yourself by using the contact section of his website here
Mr Nubla comes from the neighbourhood of Gracia in Barcelona. Once home to unrepentent anarchists it is now becoming increasingly gentrified; the anarchists utter disgust at this was recently expressed to me by a few of them over foie gras and very good port. Mr Nubla, it seems from his internet presence, forms part of the old vanguard holding onto the ways of pluralism, defence of culture, excellent food for pleasure over pretense, and a strong desire to do things primarily for fun rather than money. I have number 360 of 500 of the first edition of 'Five Recipes With Monkfish' and I don't imagine the author is planning on retiring on the royalties anytime in the near future.
In his introduction he explains that while the taste is not very diferent to other fish the size of the liver means that it can be used for a whole dish and that his book is a result of the "romance" he has had with this foodstuff for the past few years. He also warns the reader that his book is not suitable for
"1. Those who don't eat animals
2. Those who eat animals providing the orginal taste goes unnoticed or the taste is not overpowering."

In idiosyncratic, albeit correct, English he takes you by the hand and guides you through his recipes giving you a new found respect for liver, offal, fish, food writing and almost all that is good about life. I say almost all as he doesn't mention wine, except in passing, or any carnal activity that is generally conducted in private .
Below is one of his recipes, with a couple of notes in brackets. His website is

Roasted Monkfish Liver
"The wintery feeling about this recipe has probably to do with its austerity and its rich-resulting colours. It was a total event to discover that monkfish liver endured a test like this one.
We will stick to the claypot and this time will be generous with the oil [he's a Gracia Anarchist. He means Extra Virign olive oil. There is no other kind for him] in which we will allow for two unpeeled cloves of garlic per person, to which we have made a slit with a knife, so they don't pop, and a teaspoonful of paprika [if you can get nyora pepper ground one of them instead as it's nyora in the recipe in Catalan]. We'll also add some sprigs of thyme and, when the oil is smoking hot carefully place the fillets of liver and discover that they don't stick. Such a magnificent experience will bring back our self-confidence and tempt us to add a small glass of white wine. The flame should be moderate and it's a good idea to flip the fillets over so they roast thoroughly. We will allow for the wine to evaporate and will serve the fillets together with the garlic.
One day we accompanied these roasted fillets with wine and a dense reduction of tomato and carrot that Lo Casino prepared and that, I'm told, is used for 'ossobucco'. It was a great success."

The number of people you can cook for is of course completely dependent on the size of the liver and as monkfish vary greatly in size you need to get it first to decide. The point of Mr Nubla's book is to extend his passion for monkfish liver to the reader and encourage him/her to cook and eat it rather than to be a slave to his recipe and his ideas. So please go forth and get thy monkfish liver.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Announcing the Girls' Steak Club

There is a very strange thing in Anglo-Saxon culture that would be worthy of in depth anthropological study and that is the gender assignation given to food. If you are not sure what I mean then look at the number of food reviews describing food as macho, separating men from boys, butch, etc etc. Almost everyone writing in English is at it.
Personally I blame Anthony Bourdain and the like. At some point chefs decided they were pirates and that cutting meat was akin to hoisting petards. Well I’m sorry boys you don’t swash buckles, you chop onions and last time I looked it wasn’t the same thing.
The losers in this, as always, are the women, as anything a man decided he liked became macho. So it is with steak
We – me and a few n’er do wells on twitter- have decided it was time that this imbalance in our culture was redressed and that a new phenomenon of women meeting for steak and martini, as opposed to afternoon tea and cakes, needs to be created.
The inauguration of the London Chapter of the Girls' Steak Club will take place on Tuesday 2nd Feb Hawksmoor Steakhouse 157 Commercial Street E1
The meat Hawksmoor serves is the reason men made steak macho.
The menu is below and is £40 per head with a sitting at 7pm and another one at 7.30pm
Apart from an initial martini, drinks are separate leaving you free to have your choice of cocktail, wine or anything else.



Tamworth Belly Ribs
Chargrilled squid with capers, shallots and watercress

Rib-eye (400g)
Bone-in Sirloin

Selection of sides

Please e-mail info@hawksmoor to book mentioning you are booking for The Girls' Steak Club.
If you are a disgruntled envious man reading this you are catered for in style the night before at a Boys Eat Beef organised by Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos. Please contact him for details via his website

The Girls' Steak Club. All the meat you can eat.

Update: Some not very frequently asked questions

I've been asked some questions on twitter and in person regarding the girls steak club so here are some of the questions and answers:
Why are there two sittings?
It's steak not stew so the restaurant can only do a certain number at a time. If there are too many of us for one sitting we will get served better in two. In reality some of you will arrive early, some late so we'll see what happens. All of you will get martini.
Is this an exclusive event?
If you are in posession of a XX chromosome, are over 18, and have sufficient social skills to be able to eat in a restauarant with cutlery you are welcome to come. Contact saying you would like to book for girls steak club. There isn't a particular limit on numbers, if you can book you can come. The more the merrier. The idea is to meet other women, have fun, and eat steak.
Can I come with friends?
Yes. If you would specifically like a separate table with your friends please let Hawksmoor know when you book. If you wouldn't, just e-mail them with the number of people that you are coming with.
Can I come alone?
Yes. Most of us know each other through twitter as opposed to real life (which is fast becoming an illusion for me at least). If you come by yourself there will be plenty of people able to hold a conversation with you. if you can't find any of them then come and talk to me. e-mail Hawksmoor and book a place for one at the girls steak club.
I can't come that night, when will there be another girl's steak club?
When you decide to organise one. Seriously. It's not been trademarked. Pick your restaurant, organise a menu with them and ask women to come. You can ask them on twitter, on Facebook at work or wherever. Just make sure the place you go to has good steak. You can make the numbers as inclusive or as exclusive as you like.
When will there be another one with a different cut of steak/different menu/in Manchester/ Glasgow/Bristol?
See above.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

What the Hip and Single do on a Saturday in London in the Rain

Read Blogs, twitter, read blogs, twitter.
I have been procrastinating for over 30 years and have no intention of giving up now. I'll blog the list of things I should be doing to acheive my 'life goals' another time.
Oh and eat leftover pigeon and polenta made by very kind flatmate the night before. Her parents brought her polenta from their village in Piedmonte and it was the best polenta I have ever tasted in my entire life. I had pigeon in the freezer.