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Archive for July, 2012

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Guest Blog – Jay’s Special birthday

Phil made a public promise that there would be an occasional guest blog from me – so here it is – the ramblings of a virgin blogger!

A few weeks ago I had a significant birthday – one of those ones that ends in zero, and having got over the disappointment that I have to wait another 3 years to get my bus pass, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday walking and camping in the sunshine in the Pyrenees.

A birthday bridge?

If you ever get the chance to go to Andorra – jump at it, it’s beautiful, clean and peaceful and while very few people speak English, they seemed content to let me rabbit on in sentences that mixed my vocabulary from my schoolboy French, German, Spanish and English. So with the help of arm waving and speaking slowly and loudly I assembled the ingredients for my birthday dinner – a superb piece of wild boar Serrano ham, a sheep’s milk hard cheese, some olives, and a few pickles for a starter, and a beautiful piece of steak, some new potatoes and selection of fresh vegetables. Yes you can imagine the gestures and noises to establish that the ham was from a wild boar, and the cheese from a sheep.

On B day minus 1, I found the perfect spot for the special dinner – about 30 minute’s walk from the head of the valley road, fantastic views, a small bridge over a babbling stream of snow melt water, space for a wild camp site and a barbecue base for an open fire – just the party I had imagined.

B day turned into the biggest low pressure system stuck over Andorra, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain – the vision was no longer realistic, the location at least would have to be changed – more arm waving and jumbled languages established that the sun was shining further south and east in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. So to a camp site run by Frau Grumpy – more of her special brand of customer service in another guest blog.

And to begin…

Well the location had changed but I still had the wild mint and thyme picked the day before, and I had my trusty Primus Eta Express – the best lightweight camp stove I’ve ever owned – boils enough water for a pint mug of tea in less than 2 minutes. But could I still recreate the vision, with a single burner stove and a one litre pot? Or should I take the easy but disappointing option of a one pot stew, or the even easier or more disappointing option from Frau Grumpy’ s camp site “restaurant” of sausage und salat. How did a miserable German end up running a camp site in a beautiful part of Spain?

I can still be a petulant 60 year old child – I had dreamed of steak, minted new potatoes, and roasted vegetables – and Frau Grumpy helped reinforce that desire.

Could the Eta Express deliver – well why would you ever doubt it, just a bit of creative thought required. First almost cook the potatoes with the fresh mountain mint, drain, plate up wrap in a T towel and stuff in the sleeping bag to finish cooking and keep warm. Then with an excellent Spanish olive oil blast the chopped onions, courgette, peppers and mushrooms with some fresh mountain thyme – crunchy and bronzed, and while they keep warm in the cooking pot use the lid to quickly fry off the perfect rare steak.

The main event

Now I was pretty pleased, but of course the 2004 Gran Reserva Rioja may have had something to do with that.

Eggs Florentine – a good egg!

It even sounds old-fashioned, doesn’t it?  But what if you’ve got one of those pillows of spinach just on its last day – you know the ones – they are like a big green cushion and the spinach is already washed and prepared, and you just have to stick a small hole in the corner and microwave the whole thing for a few minutes (and you end up with a large spoonful each).  So you look about for other bits….

The veggy dish…

It was back to good old Delia Smith for me.  Look – the recipe feels fun and old too. Here’s the ingredients: (for two)

  • 500g bag of spinach (or proper fresh stuff you have to wash first)
  • 4 eggs
  • Butter (for buttering the cooking dish and for making the cheese sauce)
  • Tablespoon of plain flour
  • Small (100g or so) of  grated cheese.  Usually people use Lancashire (harder to find) – but strong cheddar does the job too
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 2 tablespoons of double cream or creme fraiche (healthier!)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated nutmeg – a big pinch
  • A shaking of parmesan from one of those little pots you keep for spaghetti Bolognese…

(I’ve got this tiny little grater – about 1.5  inches high – just for nutmeg.  It is very sweet!)

Butter a baking dish.  This means to thinly spread butter al over the inside of the shallow lasagne style dish.  This is impossible with a knife.  It just won’t go into the corners at all.  So put a few lumps into the dish from your knife, then use a teaspoon to spread it about.  The small outer surface of the spoon is perfect for spreading a thin layer.  While doing that cook the spinach for about 3/4 of its full cook time in the microwave.  You need to have it reduced in size.  In a perfect world it would cook in the dish in the oven, but spinach is just too enormous uncooked!  You need to squeeze the excess water out of the spinach.  Best to do this in a metal colander. If you use a plastic mesh one, loads of bits of the leaves stick in the holes and will annoy you for hours when washing it…Use the back of a wooden spoon to spread the spinach out and press the excess out of the leaves.  Lovely green brightness should adorn your sink now.

Spread the spinach around the bottom of the dish, evenly.  Dot a few bits (about 2 dessert spoons plus) of the cream or creme over it.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and some grated nutmeg.  Stick it in the lower part of the oven at 170 if you are fanned.  Make up the cheese sauce – a roux first (melt butter – about dessert spoon, and put in 25g of plain flour, mix into a ball, reduce heat to minimum), then very slowly, a teaspoon at a time to start with, add the milk.  Keep stirring.  You can increase to a bigger splash after each stirring in.  Eventually you get fed up and pour the last 1/4 pint in, and stir furiously, swear at the lumps and get the whisk in there to save the day. Let it simmer while you grate the cheese, then melt it in.  Pull the dish out of the oven.  Now realise you should have put an oven glove on.  Start again.  Make four little craters in the spinach.  Crack each of the eggs into the craters.  Don’t worry if the whites flow into each other.  Stir a bit more of the cream into your cheese sauce, and pour it over the eggs so it all gets covered.  Sprinkle the top with parmesan and a bit more nutmeg.  Then into the oven for 15 mins.  The eggs poach in the mixture.  the parmesan makes the top go brown, beautifully.  And no one will realise I have snuck in with a vegetarian dish without realising it.  And neither will you.  This really is splendid and fun.  Feels tasty and a bit healthy, but has a lot of protein in it too.  I’d never cooked it before, but this will not be the last time.  Have a go and enjoy.

Served!

Just cooling…

Eggs Florentine?  Who would have thought it?  I ruined the vegginess though by frying up some bacon lardons, with tomatoes and mushrooms to sprinkle on top.  It added a lot of oomph and colour.  Tomatoes would have been enough!

Beans on toast

The evening after the extravaganza that was Old Bull and Bush training day was a tired but happy occasion.  A beer, then thinking about food for us at home.  The cooking team had not used the venison steaks, so they were available.  But I really couldn’t face any more cooking or fine dining after the spread created by the team.  It’s a bit like when you have been on holidays and had meals out a lot, or been on one of my training courses at a hotel – which tend to be eat-athons.

You just want something simple.  And quick.  And tasty.

And in that situation nothing gets close to beans on toast.  Nothing compares or competes.

Naturally, I faff about a bit, adding some lemon juice to the already fine Branston Low Sugar and Low Fat beans (with no added sweeteners – which just seems daft to add fake sweet instead of sugar).

RANT:  When you buy ‘low fat’ anything, just check the labels.  You will often find the tasty and quite healthy fat has been replaced with corn syrup or other sugar.  I firmly believe that sugar and sugar addiction makes us more obese than dietary fat.  Cheap groundnut oil, often grown in plantations that used to be Amazonian rain forests not only contribute to global warming, but also make us more likely to be fat.  The easiest thing to do is buy less convenience stuff – which they can adulterate – and make more of your dinners from scratch.  You then have control.  You can find a lot of advice in my book, “Can Men Cook?”  You will also find stories and jokes.  I think it may be the first cook book you can read like a novel!

But beans are good.  Three minutes from tin-opener to gob.  What’s not to love?

Old Bull and Bush – training day!

I’ve been working for about a year on a project with a friend called Jay Dodson.  I set up the menu – cooking a three course meal in a normal modern kitchen.  I then challenge my colleague, Jay to reproduce the same dishes – but outside, armed with his self dug fire-pits, some different ways of creating an oven, and slow cooking facilities, and axes and bush knives. We’ve called it “Old Bull & Bush”.  We have done a pilot show, and are looking for partners and production companies.  Watch this space!

But both of us are trainers in our day jobs.  We help teams and leaders perform at the highest level they can.

So here’s the brilliant idea Jay had.  Why not link the two?  I had already done this a number of times with a conference presentation (“What can organisations learn from cooking in a restaurant”).  I had interviewed some local restaurant owners and got some really powerful ideas that were instantly transferrable to other environments. Here’s an example:  “If it all goes wrong, shut the kitchen for 10 minutes and let them catch up”.  Normally people just throw more resource at a log jam – people or money.  Stop, re-group and refresh was a different idea – and really hit home for people.

Smoking!

Anyway – we took this one step further with our Old Bull & Bush idea.  We went to a scout camp that Jay uses (he is also a leading light in the Baden Powell Scout association – the original and traditional type).  We split the teams in two, gave them ingredients and equipment.  They then had to come up with a 3 course menu, work out how to share it with the other team, and then get on with it!  This was either in the indoor kitchen (which was a full catering kitchen) or outside with the three sites jay had set up.  He had a straight firepit, with griddle ability, a wonderful charcoal fired tagine from Morrocco, and a small dustbin oven.  Like 40% of the world’s population, our guinea pigs were cooking over wood.  All participants have the opportunity to experience both types of cooking.

Bush cooking kit!

It worked.  What was really lovely though was sampling the food as an entire team, even as the rain started to drizzle.  There were some fantastically inventive dishes – and all food tastes were covered.  We had one vegetarian who was happy to prep and cook other types of food, but wanted to have proper veggie food, not (quote) “a standard meat dish without the meat!”  It seems us omnivores often force that on vegetarians.  I apologise on behalf of my kind…

Here’s what we got:

  • Butter bean puree with chilli and Aioli ( wonderfully garlicky)
  • Chorizo and chick pea salad, with mayonnaise
  • Cheese straws
  • Bruschetta with olive oil and tomato with basil and lemon
  • Chicken thigh, chick pea, cumin, lemon, chorizo and mushroom tagine in cider – cooked outside in the incredibly efficient charcoal fired tagine
  • Vegetarian quiche – mushrooms, basil tomato and cheese, in a whole wheat flour base
  • Marinated Chicken thigh kebabs (we had one member on no carbs diet – this was his bit)
  • Green salad – with some leaves gathered from fields around about (sorrel, dandelion and loads more…and a few bits of little gem lettuce we had there already)
  • Eton Mess (the meringues overcooked a little in the outside oven, but were really tasty, if a bit smokey!)
  • Lemon Shortbread
  • Lemon Posset pudding

The table was laid with wild flowers collected by our resident forager, Nicki (every team should have one!)

Inside – and safe?

Look – there were probably more dishes, but I couldn’t keep up with it all!  We even managed to get our film crew (Colin) fed – which he told us is very rare!  (Even when working with Heston Blumenthal or Gordon Ramsey….).  The sharing and caring between each team and each team member was quite moving.

And to think Jay and I had designed the food buying around a venison burger starter, chicken tagine main and Eton Mess pud.  This team went wild in their creativity – and what hugely tasty and exciting results.

We loved it.  And if you have a team who could get excited doing this, we think they would love it too.   Not everyone was a keen cook, or even an occasional cook – but they all helped, cared for each other and shared their skills and abilities beautifully.  And we (Jay and I) learnt a lot.  Not only that this idea has got real legs, but that you can whip cream into a solid lump in 40 seconds by shaking it in a jam jar!  Who knew?

Thanks to Colin, Steve, Nicki, Karen, Jack, Stella and David.

“Old Bull and Bush” has a separate web site – you can visit on www.oldbullandbush.co.uk . Enjoy!

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