Dinner With The Omnivore

Posts Tagged ‘food

Peace, love and meusli. Man.

Meusli has always had a rather beardy left wing vibe about it, the sort of worthy breakfast sandal-wearing vegan types might eat while reading Guardian supplement articles about women’s fair trade goat-weaving cooperatives in the Congo. Pity really, because if you believe what Wikipedia has to say about it, regular meusli consumption will probably make you immortal. Unfortunately Wikipedia is blatantly talking complete tosh on this occasion – “the presence of manganese in Muesli along with low saturated fats keeps your heart safe” indeed, what on earth is that supposed to mean? My heart will somehow turn aside large serrated knives just because I’ve had my meusli this morning? Excuse me if I don’t put that one to the test.

Meusli has moved gradually in from the health food fringe over the past 40 years or so with commercial brands like Alpen and Country Store and the rise of some kind of toasted crunchy cousin called granola. Which is all well and good but for the fact that they all seem to have more sugar in them than a packet of chocolate Frosties. I’m not about to get all paranoid about sugar consumption, but the fact is that I’m just not a big fan of the stuff, and I definitely don’t want it by the tablespoonful at breakfast.

So having sampled various over-sweetened cereal-and-seed combos, I am reduced to making my own meusli. Now how embarrassingly middle class hippie Guardianista is that? No, I’m not sitting here wearing eco-friendly Nepalese cotton trousers and a beard you could hide an endangered species in, honestly. We’ve even got one of those chavtastic huge flatscreen telly contraptions at the moment, though admittedly it’s not actually ours and for my money it could go back in its box and live in the attic until its owner reclaims it next winter. But it seems churlish to deny convalescing man the pleasures of Playstation, so I suppose it’s destined to dominate the living room all summer.

The big advantage of custom meusli making is that you can have exactly what you want in the stuff. Home meusli evangelists are inclined to bang on about how much cheaper it is, but I suspect they’re eating really very dull and politically correct breakfasts indeed and rejecting all the nice bits as being too bourgeois.

Wholefoods with a sense of humour - that's new.

The starting point for DIY meusli is either the cereal mix which health food shops sell as ‘meusli base’ or (my preferred option) uber-cheap supermarket own-brand meusli. This stuff has none of the luxury nice bits, but it does have a few extra odds and ends over the basic cereal mix and (where I get it from anyway) it’s actually cheaper. Start by emptying it into a big bowl.

You are now ready to embark on the customisation process. Add whatever you like in whichever proportions you please. Herewith a few suggestions:

Nuts: personally I really don’t like nuts in my meusli, though I’ll make an exception for flaked almonds. But nuts are definitely traditional, and remain popular. You mught want to look for pre-chopped ones though.

Pumpkin seeds: tasty addition, and one which livens up the appearance of your meusli, the rest of which tends to look a bit bland and generally oat-coloured. Mainly because it’s full of oats.

Sunflower seeds: also rather oat coloured, but another tasty addition. Get shelled ones, or you’ll be picking bits of shell out of your teeth all day and people will think you’ve been at the gerbil mix.

Linseeds: ‘good for you’ apparently (whatever that means) though they don’t taste of anything much. I’m told they have a laxative effect, so I wouldn’t go overboard with them if I were you. Not if you have to go anywhere after breakfast anyway.

Sesame seeds: lots of taste in these, especially the toasted ones, so you don’t want to add too many of them either or your whole brekkie will taste of burger bun.

Raisins: I know a lot of people aren’t big fans of raisins in meusli, but I think they’re essential. Any old raisins will do, but those fancy packets of mixed ones are nicest.

Tropical fruits: not that keen, I have to say, as I find it a bit chewy, but I can see the appeal. Mixed fruit bags usually give you pineapple, papaya, banana and coconut, along with a few more raisins for good measure.

Cranberries: very sour, but an interesting extra if used frugally.

Red fruits mix: haven’t tried this yet as I only spotted it in Casino this morning, but I will certainly be experimenting with it in the next batch. Looks promising.

Prunes: to be avoided. I tried this once and having chopped up a whole pack of the things I had to pick them all out again because the net effect just looked way too much like the contents of the cats’ litter tray. Too sticky and a bit of a faff.

A Yak. Bloody long walk from Tibet.

Goji berries: a ‘superfood’ allegedly, though I’m not likely to find out what’s super about them because they cost about 50€ for half a dozen. I assume this is because they are transported all the way from the Himalaya by yak pannier.

So there you have it. The original Swiss meusli was served with water or fruit juice, but as this sounds frankly minging I generally eat it with plain yoghurt or fromage blanc and possibly a bit of honey. I did experiment with fruit yoghurts and various flavours of drinking yoghurt, but for some reason both of them were quite horrible, so I went back to the fromage blanc thing.

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That'd be me then, clearly

Which tells you all what an old biddy I am. Grants, what are they, eh? Ah the golden age of university education, when degrees were difficult, beer was cheap and a bus ride across Sheffield cost tuppence.

Students are still poor though, on the whole, and among the useful things the experience taught us was that a) you can’t live on steaks and takeaway and still have enough money for beer even if it is cheap and b) it’s possible to eat perfectly well on a fiver a week. Or it was then at any rate – it’s probably more like £20 these days, but you get the general idea.

Actually I’m told that modern parents do their student offsprings’ shopping online at Ocado and have it all delivered to their immaculate flats, likewise purchased for them at parental expense. Either that or they pay a fortune for canteen swipe cards so that their delicate little babies can eat in residence cafés all term at hugely unnecessary expense. Where was I when the parents were handed out that I failed to get my paws on one of these drooling idiots with the bottomless pockets, I ask myself? Probably at the front of the queue I suppose, if I’m honest.

I take such stories with a pinch of salt really, since I can’t think of any reason why the average parent should have let its brains run out through its ears all of a sudden. Besides, they can’t all have an MP’s expense account, surely?

... or food? Hmmm, close call.

JC’s experience of student life was the standard one of prioritising beer over food and consequently his culinary specialities run to stodge, potatoes and substances chosen on a maximum calories for cash basis. He is the only person I know who makes bubble and squeak from scratch rather than leftovers (what leftovers?).

But there’s nothing wrong with basic student stodge. Baked spud and beans, spag bol and assorted things on toast still feature largely on the menu even today, mainly towards the end of interseason when things get a bit thin and the arrival of the party season at the most financially inconvenient time possible means that once again we’re all making that food vs beer calculation and at the same time trying to stuff 3000 calories a day just to maintain a sensible body temperature.

And thanks to higher education and our cruel and Scrooge-like parents, we manage it every year. God knows what the seasonnaires of the future are going to do – I don’t think Ocado deliver up here.

Tuna Pasta Thing

You will need: a can of tuna; a small tin of sweetcorn; a spring onion; some mayo; pasta of your choice (though it doesn’t work too well with spaghetti)

Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, mix everything else together in a bowl. Drain the pasta, return to the pan and add the contents of the bowl. Stir everything until the pasta is well coated with the tuna mixture.

If you’re feeling posh you can heat the bowls before you serve it. Alternatively, you could save on washing up and eat it straight from the pan, though I never stooped than low even as a student. I’d be prepared to bet JC did though – every time.

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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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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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This month's pay packet. Best hope you're not allergic.

One of the excuses given by ski tour operators for paying their staff a monthly sum which wouldn’t motivate a ten-year-old to get out of bed in the morning is that they also provide bed and board. In order to satisfy local regulations regarding the legal definition of people-trafficking, they quote an almost reasonable looking wage but then promptly smack you for an eye-watering amount of something they like to call ‘provision of services’ or other such HR marketing waffle, thereby bringing your income down to the £180 a month they intended to pay you in the first place.

I’m not about to go into the Rackmanesque economics of stuffing six people into a damp basement room with no window and charging each of them an amount which could cover the rent on quite a decent studio apartment. Or not today, at any rate.

The ‘board’ part of the deal is variable. Staff in chalets – with easy access to cake, fancy starters, meat bought from a butcher and (most importantly) their own budgets – can even fare quite well. Hotel teams, on the other hand, get what they’re given and are supposed to think themselves lucky.

Sausages. Hold the blue plastic.

Bangers and mash looked like a good hearty option after a day’s skiing and before the evening shift, until someone spotted the chef mixing powdered potato up with water. And the sausages, which looked slightly alarming in the first place, became positively terrifying when we cut one in half and found a lump of blue plastic in it. Add to that the bits of metal chain in the cheap ‘fish’ fingers and you can see why people might be forgiven for requesting emergency food parcels from home.

And it didn’t stop there. Frozen cordon bleus and chicken nuggets, both of them made of the same nameless spongy substance but each laced with a slightly different cocktail of chemicals. Five different kinds of frozen deep-fried potato-related products designed to fool the consumer that he wasn’t just getting chips yet again, honest. And rarely a vegetable to be seen unless it was a bit of limp lettuce leaf or a bit of previously frozen green sponge. (Actually I think that might have been broccoli, though it’s hard to tell.)

In fact, the lunchtime sandwich was the culinary high point of the day, although chefs did occasionally try to ambush the unsuspecting by experimenting unneccessarily with fillings. Bolognese sandwich was memorable, and the chicken nugget with pesto mayonnaise was frankly traumatising.

But the classic seasonnaire sandwich contains:

Mayonnaise: usually out of a cheapo five-litre catering bucket of the stuff, but you can’t have everything, and the buckets come in handy later on.

Sliced ham: and by this I mean ham and not epaule. Known to staff as ‘scary ham’ this stuff consists of unmentionable offcuts of pig stirred up with a load of fat and salt and then squashed until it all sticks together in a square shape. I once worked for a tour op whose policy it was to buy it for school groups – don’t you love the British attitude that it’s fine to feed your kids stuff you wouldn’t give the dog?

Sliced Edam: usually left over from breakfast, and therefore a tad curly at the edges. And why is it always rectangular when we all know Edam comes in a ball? Best not to dwell on that one, I imagine.

Salad: ie more of the above mentioned limp lettuce. Come on, it’s hard enough to persuade the chefs to put even that amount of effort into a staff sanger. You can’t expect cucumber and tomato as well.

Is that a sandwich in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

Serving suggestions usually involve clingfilm, followed by stuffing the sandwich into a pocket slightly too small for it, falling on it at least twice while doing something ‘gnarly’, partially freezing it and then showing off by eating it two-handed on a draglift while riding a snowboard.

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It’s a frequent grumble amongst misplaced Brits that they can’t get their hands on a decent curry. Indian restaurants do exist in France (several in Grenoble, for example) but in general the food is frankly rubbish, having been dumbed down beyond all recognition in order to suit the French, who are paranoidly suspicious of anything which could be described as even slightly spicy.

Frenchman

A Frenchman - not keen on spicy food

But it rarely occurs to anyone that it’s perfectly possible to make curry (what do you think the whole population of India is doing – sending out for takeaway?). And when I suggest that it could be feasible to construct a decent curry at home, I’m usually met with the objection that you can’t get curry paste/curry sauce here. (Actually you can, if you look in the right places, but since it all tastes like sauce-in-a-jar, why would you bother?)

fresh chili

A chili. Not likely to taste of sauce-in-a-jar

The answer is that Indians, who eat curry all the time, are neither lining up round the block for carry out nor buying jars of Sharwood’s sauces. They are using spices and chili. I know this sounds bafflingly simple, but it’s true. What’s more, the spices concerned aren’t particularly exotic or unobtainable – even in France I manage to construct authentic curries using spices bought from mass-market supermarket chains. The only things I’ve had to go elsewhere for were garam masala, fenugreek and asafoetida (all right, I haven’t found that at all, but I don’t care because I only have one recipe which uses it and even there it’s listed as optional).

Our forays into curry-from-scratch so far have mainly been courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey, the Delia of Indian cooking (click on the ‘books’ tab above), whose recipes are clear, practical, and do exactly what they say on the tin.

This one, for curried eggs, was one of Ms Jaffrey’s to start with, but I’ve messed with it because I didn’t fancy using cream in the sauce. The result is a very tasty but quite light curry dish, which promises to become a summer evening staple. Assuming we ever have a summer, that is. I blame that bloody volcano.

eggs

Some eggs. A change from chickpeas.

Curried Eggs

You will need: 1 onion; about 2cm fresh ginger; 1 chili; 1 large tomato; 3-4 tblsp yogurt; 150ml chicken stock; 1 tblsp lemon juice; 1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds; 1/2 tsp garam masala; 4 hard boiled eggs.

Chop the onions and fry until soft. Grate and finely chop the ginger and add to the pan along with the chopped chili and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Dice the tomato then add it and everything else except the yogurt and bring it all to a simmer. Add the yogurt a spoonful at a time and mix thoroughly. Leave the sauce to simmer until everything is cooked and it has become fairly thick. Halve the eggs and put them cut side up into the pan. Spoon the sauce over them and leave to cook gently for a further five minutes or so. Serves two, with rice or flat bread.

The vegetarians in your life will thank you for this, as they are bound to be bored witless with chickpea/lentil/potato concoctions – I like a chickpea as much as the next person, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

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I was going to leave any discussion of pig-and-lard meals until next winter, but having found an abominable perversion of our beloved tartiflette on an otherwise rather good food blog by James Ramsden I feel the need to post a proper recipe just in case people are bamboozled into thinking it’s just any old cheesy piggy thing.

I can forgive young James for using mere streaky bacon, and it should indeed be much the same as lardons, what with it being basically the same substance, but inexplicably it really isn’t. I have no idea why. But it’s damn difficult to get your paws on lardons in the UK, for some reason (though these people will sell you some if you ask nicely and the French chef down the road hasn’t bagsied them all again).

However, I do feel I should take issue with the brie. You cannot possibly think of putting brie in a tartiflette. I mean the dish was invented by the makers of reblochon and passed off  to tourists as some age-old local speciality in a bid to boost sales, how can you put brie in it and still call it tartiflette? It’s a potato bake, James. In fact if you cook it in a saucepan as suggested it’s more like that classic student dish Tasty Slop (not that there’s anything wrong with Tasty Slop, but it’s not tartiflette).

So in the interests of culinary clarity, here’s how you make tartiflette.

Tartiflette

You will need: 2 large potatoes; an onion; 2 cloves garlic; 100g lardons; creme fraiche; white wine; a reblochon.

Slice or dice the potatoes and parboil them. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them up with the lardons until the onions soften. Layer the potatoes with the onion/garlic/bacon mix in a baking dish. Spoon over about four dessert spoons of the creme fraiche and one spoon of white wine. Chop the reblochon in half and then slice each half in two horizontally. Put the cheese rind side up on top of the potatoes then cook for about 40 minutes at 180°C.

The cheese rind will make a crunchy crust on top of the potatoes while the cheese melts into the rest of the dish. I’ve seen veggie versions using mushrooms rather than bacon, and some restaurants offer tartichevre, which is the same thing made with goat cheese, though to my mind there are far better things to do with a nice bit of goat.

This recipe makes enough for four sensible people or two to three gluttons using the excuse of having been out skiing all day to gorge on neat cholesterol.

Culinary/sartorial fusion - all the rage at altitude.

Pig-and-lard enthusiasts and former seasonnaires missing the mountains can show their appreciation with a tartiflette T-shirt from skipass.com. They used to do car stickers as well, which you can see on old bangers all over Savoie and Isere.

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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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