Dinner With The Omnivore

Kitchen essential. Possibly without 'Smeg' written on it though.

Had you ever had the temerity to suggest to your granny that you couldn’t possibly manage your culinary affairs without the benefit of a freezer, she would probably have hooted with laughter, told you you didn’t know you were born and regaled you with tales of such antiquated habits as daily shopping and having all your milk delivered.

Undoubtedly it’s possible to live without a freezer, but when you live next door to a supermarket which knocks its meat down to half price just before it goes out of date (and manages its stock badly) and a load of chalet staff whose stock control likewise leaves things to be desired, the initial investment pays dividends in cheap food.

On the other hand, this sort of blatant pikey scrounging does backfire and leave you with random gluts, which is why I am currently suffering from a surfeit of sausage.

Now, I like a nice length of sausage as much as the next woman, but you can get bored with the same old thing all the time. Bangers and mash is always a good bet, though I favour an English style sausage for this one. Sausage and bean casserole goes down well, and the ever-reliable one-pot sausage pasta is a welcome winter staple. But new sausage suggestions are required.

Which brings me once again to the BBC’s Good Food website, a culinary treasure trove despite its celebrity chef obsession and rather annoying habit of telling you to buy things which you could much better make for yourself.

A brief trawl turns up several meatball suggestions. I believe these used to be called faggots, back in the day, but no doubt you get arrested for using that sort of language in these modern times, which is probably why the BBC calls them meatballs.

Easy meatballs

You will need: a kilo each of beef mince and sausagemeat; an onion, finely chopped; a load of chopped parsley: 100g breadcrumbs; two eggs.

Get all the ingredients together in a big bowl, stick your hands in there and squish it around until it’s thoroughly mixed together (I love a picky precise recipe, me). Roll it into bits about the size of golf balls, then roast them in olive oil for about half an hour at 200°C.

Auntie’s website suggests several possible meatball sauces, which means you can knock up a whole load of these and then use them for a series of different meals. And/or just whack them straight back into the freezer, obviously.

Italian ...

Italian style: fry off some garlic, then add a can of tomatoes, splosh of red wine, teaspoon of sugar, meatballs . Simmer until the sauce is reduced, add some shredded basil leaves, serve with spaghetti and parmesan.

Spanish style: as above, but add chopped chorizo along with the garlic, leave out the basil and add paprika. Serve with roast potatoes.

Moroccan style: heat the oil and add chopped apricots, a diced onion, a cinnamon stick, a can of tomatoes, bit of liquid and the meatballs. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Serve with couscous and garnish with fresh coriander and flaked almonds.

.... and Moroccan

Eagle-eyed readers of the Beeb’s website will spot that their recipe is not precisely the same as mine – this is because I wanted a generic meatball, so I missed out the parmesan on the grounds that it was too Italian. I also did 50:50 beef to sausagemeat, because I have no idea how much meat there is in ‘eight good-quality pork sausages’. And I suspect Auntie hasn’t a clue either.

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Wood burner. Nice in theory, at any rate.

Resort is open (all right, it’s only for a week, but what do you want in October?), snow is forecast all the way down to the valley floor and once more I spend evenings wrestling with the woodstove in a bid to get it hot enough to reverse the gale howling down the chimney and filling the house with smoke. Winter, we love it.

One of the plus points of risking frostbite all through January by recklessly stepping out of the front door from time to time is that you can eat anything you like at any time of the day without resisting the temptations of cake or restraining yourself from snacking between meals, because if you didn’t you’d probably implode shortly after New Year. This is why traditional montagnard cuisine consists largely of cheese, lard, starch, lard and bacon. Garnished with lard.

Keeping yourself alive and adequately fuelled whilst actually out on the hill can present a challenge, especially if you wish to arrive at the bottom as a reasonably civilised human being and not a ravening beast in the throes of hyperphagy. I once got through most of an innocent-looking baguette before brain managed to wrest control from stomach and register desperate messages coming in from the taste buds that incoming fodder was actually a cold chicken nugget and pesto sandwich with cheapo engine-oil mayonnaise, and not a food substance at all.

Which more than adequately illustrates the pressing need for a portable on-piste fuel supply. There’s always the mountain restaurant option, of course, but at 7€ for a handful of chips it’s well out of reach of a seasonnaire on £200 a month. Besides, there’s no point in wasting good ski time sitting on a terrace and stuffing your face when you can multi-task and do it on the chairlifts.

That's why they tell you to take it off, fool.

Unless you want to carry a backpack around all day, the key considerations in piste food are size, convenience,  resistance to freezing and general wear and tear, and calorie content. Not that there’s anything wrong with backpacks, but I can’t be bothered with the faff of taking it off on the lifts and I’ve seen too many people suspended from chairlifts by their backpack straps to risk leaving it on and suffering the resultant ridicule. Besides, they tend to make me fall over backwards, which is irritating.

The seasonnaire sandwich: probably the most popular munch out there, mainly because it’s free and you just nab one from the kitchen before you leave (free is a big plus for the seasonnaire). Resistant and filling, but doesn’t score too well on the size criterion in my opinion, unless you’re rocking one of those tent arrangements favoured by the park rats.

Kendal Mint Cake: a good high-calorie portable snackette, performs well in extreme conditions, and comes recommended by the likes of Edmund Hillary and Ernest Shackleton, both of whom took stacks of it with them. Invented in 1869 and still going strong. How could you go wrong? Well, there’s the fact that it tastes horrible even at -10°C when most food tastes of nothing at all, and the residual mintiness makes you feel as though your tonsils are about to freeze solid every time you inhale. But top marks if you don’t mind the mint thing.

Another Scottish contribution to haute cuisine

Scottish butter tablet: passes almost every test with flying colours. A sort of fudge arrangement, for those sassenachs amongst you unfamiliar with this nectar in solid form. Compact, impervious to the elements and basically made of sugar stuck together with butter. Half a day’s calorie allowance in every bite. The drawback is a) I’ve never seen it for sale outside Scotland and b) the commercial stuff is a mere ghostlike imitation of the true tablet. Realistically you’d have to make it yourself, an activity fraught with peril as in its liquid form it could be used as napalm. Falls down a bit on the convenience front.

Haribo crocodiles: this recommendation from a friend who used to be a competition rower and is consequently a bit of a connoisseur of energy foods. I was sceptical initially, but actually the crocodiles score well across the board, particularly on convenience, as thanks to the Baltic temperatures involved they can be eaten directly from the jacket pocket without leaving residual stickiness. Fried eggs, smurfs and gummi bears preform equally well.

Mars Bars: not bad on the calorie front, and reasonably convenient and cost-effective, but let down badly by its performance in the cold. Unacceptably high tooth-resistance quotient initially, and when warmed up turns into a tar-like substance liable to ruin any expensive dental work you may have. Avoid.

Fruit: pants. Sorry, I know it’s healthy and good for your teeth and all that, but it’s an awkward shape, it leaves you with pockets full of soggy cores and peelings, and you probably use more energy eating the stuff than you get out of it in return.

Token vitamin

Fruit compote: this stuff, on the other hand, scores quite well on convenience with its handy stick-the-nozzle-in-the-gob-and-squeeze system and while its calorie count is still a bit low it’s small enough to stuff in a pocket along with a second more heavy-duty snack. Allows you to feel virtuous about eating at least one vitamin during the course of the day.

Twix: probably the best all-round compromise, in my opinion. Good low-temperature performance despite the toffee, which somehow manages to avoid becoming rock solid. The twin-biscuit arrangement allows for convenient stashing of half your snackette for later in the day, and the Twix has the advantage of being weight for weight the cheapest thing in its class. Yes, I am the sort of sad obsessive who checks the per kilo price on the chocolate bars.

And the winner is ...!

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If you won't eat the fish, I'm going home to mother.

 

Once again I find myself having to live with the consequences of rushing blindly into marriage with someone who turns his nose up at perfectly acceptable run-of-the-mill foodstuffs. And while refusing to eat anchovies isn’t too restricting – what with them being very small and quite expensive – rejecting cheap and tasty dinner on the flimsy grounds that you didn’t like what your mother did with liver when you were five is just ridiculous.

Admittedly, mothers do have an odd habit of buying ox liver and then frying the living shit out of it for some reason. I know it’s possible to eat shoe leather, but you’d usually wait until you were very much in extremis before you tried it. But succulent and delicious chicken liver cooked in brandy with a dash of cream is hardly comparable, is it?

Anyway, liver remains firmly off the menu, which is annoying when it costs pennies and tastes like something you’d pay 6€ a tub for.

But having seen him eat paté on several occasions, I formulate a cunning plan …

Chicken Liver Paté

You will need: 225g chicken livers; 150g butter; 2 tblsp brandy; spot of mustard; 2 cloves garlic; thyme.

Fry off the livers in a bit of the butter, then put them in a blender. Melt the rest of the butter and pour that into the blender as well. Deglaze the pan with the brandy and pour that in as well. Add all the rest of the ingredients and whizz the whole lot to a smooth paste. Chill in the fridge for a few hours before eating.

Result! Not only does he pig the lot, he asks when we can have it again. You can use this as some kind of fancy starter with salad stuff or you can just plaster it all over buttered toast and scoff it (we went for option 2, needless to say). It gets more alarmingly garlicky the longer it sits in the fridge.

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Innuendo. Fnar, etc.

At the risk of being accused of innuendo, I have to admit to being fond of a nice bit of hot crumpet. Well, who isn’t. (Apart from JC, apparently, though he confesses to a weakness for buttered muffins. And that’s all the double entendre I can muster for the moment.)

But while you can buy (frankly rather nasty and overpriced) muffins in the supermarket here, crumpets are off. I had thoughts of buying a load whilst on our annual Blighty outing last week, but for some reason I didn’t bother. We did come home with a big box of Rice Krispies and a year’s supply of  Golden Syrup, but completely failed to get decent loose-leaf tea for the parents, a result of going to a distinctly low-rent branch of  Tesco rather than shopping in Lewes as usual. This also meant we ended up with some rather average cheeses, as we didn’t get round to going to the cheese shop either, and on top of that we forgot to stop off at Middle Farm for scrumpy, so we ended up with a case of Dry Blackthorn, which turns out to be rubbish. I’m sure it used to taste of something back in the day, but maybe I’m imagining that. Clearly we need to raise our game on the shopping front.

On the plus side, I did manage to acquire a couple of crumpet rings, the better to promote self-sufficiency on the baked goods front.

What do you mean, cooking? Get lost.

Delia maintains that crumpet-making is an ideal activity for a cold snowy day, a ridiculous assertion if I ever heard one. What the bloody hell would I be doing in the house on a cold snowy day? Mind you, Delia is a self-confessed footy fan and clearly wots not of skiing, so presumably that explains it. Strange woman.

Crumpets

You will need: 276ml milk; 55ml water; teaspoon caster sugar; tablespoon dried yeast; 225g strong flour; teaspoon salt; butter

Heat the milk and water until hand-hot, add the yeast and sugar and leave in the warm for 10-15 minutes until it goes frothy. Add to the flour and salt to make a smooth batter, then cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes, by which tim the batter will be light and frothy. Grease the crumpet rings and put them in a frying pan over a medium heat. Put a tablespoon of batterinto each ring and cook for 4-5 minutes until bubbles appear and burst, leaving those little holes you get on crumpets. Then lift out the rings, turn the crumpets over and cook for another minute.

Unfortunately I fell at the first hurdle here – when she says hand-hot, the Goddess means lukewarm, not hot. Hot will kill the yeast, resulting in a definite absence of froth. But the addition of an extra yeast sachet to the now rather cooler milk mixture sorted that out, and froth was duly forthcoming.

The next bit went quite well, and the batter came out of its warm place looking more than adequately risen and smelling reassuringly yeasty.

Unfortunately though, things proceeded to go somewhat Pete Tong in the final stages. First of all the bubbles which are supposed to lead to that all-important holey butter-trap effect were conspicuous by their absence. Then the dough mixture stuck like glue to the crumpet rings, resulting in a wrestling match with knife, oven gloves and red-hot rings.

I abandoned this whole ring strategy for subsequent batches, which wasn’t too bad as the dough was thick enough not to spread all over the place, but once again the entire thing with the bubbles just wasn’t happening.

So the upshot of the afternoon’s activity has been a load of  alleged crumpets which look more like scotch pancakes only more rubbery. They don’t taste bad, and are quite nice when smothered in butter and forest fruit jam (though let’s face it, what isn’t?), but they’re not what they should be. So it’s back to Tesco for crumpet again, much to my disappointment. Maybe I’ll try hot cross buns instead.

That's more like it. Pass the jam, someone.

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Following my recent cheesecake post, I suddenly found that I could barely leave the house without bumping into further cheese dessert related recipes. A bit like buses, evidently – wait for ages and then three turn up at once. Though admittedly the resemblance between buses and cheescake begins and ends there.

http://www.lefrancophoney.com/

The Franco Phoney - Antipodean in the Alps.

One of the best of these Johnny-come-lately upstart pudding recipes was supplied by the Franco Phoney, an Aussie journalist and blogger who lives in La Clusaz and writes about cheese for a living. And let’s face it, if you’re going to do that at all you might as well do it in France.

All things considered, I think Audrile’s baked cheesecake pips this one to first prize, but having said that, the second one makes a much better summer dessert, as the lack of egg and addition of lemon juice give it a much lighter and fresher taste. It also has the significant advantage that it needs no cooking, a boon when you’re already dealing with temperatures heading for the 30s and have no need to go getting involved with ovens.

Janelle’s vegie-friendly cheesecake

You will need: can condensed milk; 550g cream cheese; 140ml lemon juice; 2 drops vanilla essence; 150g cheapo butter biscuits; 50g butter.

Crush the biscuits, add melted butter and squish the misture into the bottom of a baking tray. Whisk all the other ingredients together and pour over the base. Chill in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight.

There, how easy was that? I might try it with a ginger biscuit base at some point – could be good with the lemon.

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Cheeeeese, Gromit!

One of the quirks of alpine eating (apart from the wall to wall pigs ‘n’ cheese) is the communal DIY element. Restaurant diners paying good money for a meal would usually expect a) to get their own dinner which they don’t have to share with the rest of the table and b) to have their food cooked for them.

But this isn’t necessarily the case in your montagnard eatery, where fondue and pierrade are billed as being for minimum two people (the clear implication being that if you’re the sort of weirdo hermit who wants solitary dinner you should probably stay at home with beans on toast).

Fondue has had something of a bad press in the UK since the seventies, when it enjoyed a bit a vogue, with fondue sets making a regular appearance on the Generation Game’s  end-of-show conveyer belt along with teasmaids and cuddly toys. Eventually it all got a bit naff in a Margo and Jerry black forest gateau kind of a way (along with most of the rest of the 70s) and has never quite managed to muster up a renaissance.

Look, just get up and make the bloody tea, will you?

This is a shame, since despite the fact that involves nothing more gastronomical than sitting round a pot dipping stale bread into melted cheese, fondue is actually pretty fabulous. Unless you’re the person doing the washing up, in which case it becomes a total nightmare, since congealed cheese fondue could probably be used to surface motorways when we start running out of oil and its derivatives.

Pierrade, on the other hand,  never really made it over to Blighty as far as I know. This is not only a communal dinner but seriously DIY as well – the diner is presented with a hot stone and a pile of raw delicacies, which he and his companions proceed to cook for themselves on the aforementioned stone. You’d think this would be a cheap option given that all the chef has to do is whack a few chips in the fryer, knock up a salad and put out some dips, but for some reason it usually costs more than the steak.

We used to do pierrade as a resort ‘theme night’ back in the mists of time, using the old fashioned stones which had to be heated up all day in the oven, removed at peril to life and limb, and which promptly went cold on the table before the guest had cooked so much as a prawn. (I say we used to do this – I think we actually did it once, decided it was a bloody silly idea and then spent the rest of the season feeding people lasagne while telling management that of course we were giving regular pierrade evenings.)

Electric stones, definitely the way forward

Fortunately things have moved on somewhat, and electric pierrade stones with properly controllable heat have become the norm, thus avoiding both the risk of suffering full thickness burns while getting them out of the oven and the possibility of poisoning your customers with half cooked seafood.

Usually you would have to fork out a small fortune on a ski holiday in some nouveau riche ghetto full of armed Russian oligarchs if you wanted to sample the delights of classic alpine fare (unless you want to do your own post-fondue washing up, which believe me is not preferable), but the Omnivore just happens to know that it will be available to the select few this very week on the Isle of Wight, of all places.

Sam and Susie Mackay, former seasonnaires and current business empire-builders, will be serving pierrade at the Roadside Inn in Nettlestone, an unusual venue for this sort of thing, but why not. Nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. And since I believe that between the two of them they are currently working several jobs, running two pubs and bringing up a pair of toddlers I would urge anyone in the vicinity to get over there and make a success of the project, because there’s a limit to how long you can carry on doing that sort of thing without dropping dead from exhaustion.

Odd place for a fondue. But much better than doing your own washing up.

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pope benedict

Sexual naughtiness is right out, OK? Oh, except for us, obviously.

The Catholic church, that bastion of sexual integrity ( errrrr ……….. let’s not go there, shall we?) tells us that in order to marry, a couple must meet stringent criteria. They should be free to marry, which sounds uncharacteristically sane and sensible, considering where the advice is coming from. They should be baptised Christians, not too closely related, ‘in good standing with the church’, and definitely not homosexual in any way. (This last criterion doesn’t apply to the priest doing the marrying, naturally. Or possibly unnaturally.)

Surprisingly the church’s guidelines do not at any point mention fish. When you consider the central part played by seafood in the Gospels and the lives of the apostles (several of whom were genuine fishermen rather than the metaphorical sort), this becomes suspicious to the point of conspiracy theory.

Had I taken proper account of the whole fish issue, I might easily still be single. I have to confess that I rushed irresponsibly into matrimony without sober consideration of the consequences of shackling myself to a man for whom prawns are poisonous, anchovies anathema and mussels frankly ming.

A fish. I'd think twice about this one, actually.

Unfortunately, having made my bed I now have to lie in it, and I either lead a fish-free existence or have to make two dinners. Being a lazy slattern, I end up fishless, though I have been known to make prawn salad to take to work for lunch.

So the good news that JC had managed to walk (or possibly limp) straight off sick pay and into a job for the rest of the summer got even better when it transpired that in addition to being paid for his efforts he gets fed both lunch and dinner. Which means that a) I can probably cut the food bill by two thirds for the rest of the summer and b) I can eat whatever I like. Fish, ahoy.

Getting served at Casino’s fish counter can be a bit of a project, since it doesn’t have a dedicated member of staff, and you have to rely on catching the eye of whoever happens to be manning the deli counter. For this reason I was about to succumb to the temptation of raiding the fresh fish fridge for the ready-to-grill sardine fillets with marinade (6,50€ and enough to feed four, but guaranteed I could scoff the lot in a oner as I happen to know they’re delicious), but fortunately for both waistline and wallet the

Dutch tourist. Yes, of course they all wear clogs.

Dutch tourists in front of me managed to reel in a deli operative, so I ended up with a trout at a much more sensible size and less than half the price.

Since I didn’t fancy plain grilled trout and am never that impressed with the local truite aux amandes thing, I opted for winging it with whatever was in the fridge. And the result, though I say so myself, was particularly spiffing. All it needs is a posh name and it could go in a book. Unfortunately I have Leonard of Quirm’s talent for snappy names, so it’s probably destined to lurk in my personal recipe collection before disappearing back into the ether whence it came when I get round to hopping off the twig.

Trout For Women Who Rushed Into Marriage With Culinarily Unsuitable Men.

You will need: a trout; some capers: the green bits of a spring onion: olive oil: squirt of lemon juice; some cherry tomatoes.

Rinse the trout and put it on a baking tray. Chop the capers and the spring onion, add olive oil and lemon juice, season and spread over the fish. Cut the tomatoes in half and scatter around the trout. Grill until the fish is cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Trout prior to grilling. Looking promising already.

This should give you a trout slightly charred and crisp on one side but succulent and juicy underneath. Serve with whatever you like – I had green salad, but new potatoes could be good as well.

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Food for thought

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

Food by e-mail - takeaway for the modern age.

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