Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Archive for January, 2013

The Inn, West End – 2

Coincidence?  It abounded last week.  As I said in the previous blog, I was meeting up with an old university chum, Steve.  The lunch was good enough to blog about, and I copied it to the owner )who shook hands before we left)

Next e mail:

Thanks for that – strangely I went to Uni at Newcastle too – studied Agriculture, can you tell!

See you soon,

Gerry

So I replied when we had been there – and I knew a Gerry, and and and – you can guess what is coming!

Yes – we had drunk together, sung together, partied and went to the same degree ceremony.

How strange is that?  We didn’t recognize each other (last seen in 1978…) and I suppose the context didn’t help recognition.  Of all the ale houses in all the world to choose as a meeting place…well, it felt wonderfully positive and a powerful coincidence to me – and fortuitous in the extreme.

 

(Sorry Gerry – splendid pub restaurant – not ale house….!)

The acquaintance now renewed will be continued, I am sure.

The Inn, West End near Guildford Surrey

I had one of those exciting re-meets yesterday.  I met up with an old University chum, who I hadn’t seen since 1987!  Yes, Christmas cards and occasional e-mails.  Nothing else.

We had decided on this pub, being equidistant (and believe it or not you can go to web-sites key in postcodes and it will tel you what is in the middle – and what pubs or restaurants are nearby.

I got there early (overestimating the distance) and Steve arrived on time.  The last time we had said goodbye was at a reunion of the old crew from Newcastle.  What was so good was it was as if the intervening period had not happened.

The Inn @ West End's Kitchen Team

The team at The Inn

We were meeting up to talk about my cookery adventures and Steve’s ambitions and ideas for his own adventure in similar areas.  There was a bit of catch up of course (how can his eldest daughter be 30.  That just isn’t right!).

We ordered from the one page bar menu – extensive enough, and very varied to cater for all appetites.  We chose a quite sumptuous Kedgeree, with an exquisitely just cooked poached egg on top.  The kedgeree was quite risotto in wetness, and the curry-ness was amplified with quite a lot of white pepper – which no-one uses since we all got black pepper grinders!  This is sad, I think because the flavour is deeper and more all-encompassing – and hotter.  It kept us quiet and happy, anyway, and was washed down well with something of a macrobiotic nature for Steve (Luscombes fruit juice from Devon) and some Aspall’s Suffolk cider for me.

What a great catch up – and it will be repeated now we have re-made acquaintance.  And what a splendid place to meet.  The Inn was packed on a January Wednesday lunchtime – which is no mean feat.  The place and the staff patently love food.  This won’t be the last time I visit!  They even got excited when the saw my “Can Men Cook?” business card – which always goes down well with me!

Horse Meat

European suppliers “deliberately use cheaper meat to cut their costs”.  OK. That was the Independent’s headline.  It reminds me of the “Man Bites Dog editorial jibe.  Yes, dog bites man is not news.  Neither, I suspect, is this news actually news to anyone at all.

Prime horse flesh o too dear for burgers!

Prime horse flesh – too dear for burgers!

 

Not cheap - but proper!

Not cheap – but proper!

 

But then we get the entirely spurious offset into is “horse meat good or bad?”  Well, a lot of chefs love it; it was a standard meat up to 1930s in the UK.  It is widely eaten ‘abroad’.  But this really is irrelevant.  The producers of processed meat are using it and bits of pig because beef is expensive.  If you make a burger yourself from butchers own mince it will cost you about 75p each. (our butchers has a mincing machine – does yours?)  (Or do you do it yourself?)  So why do we think buying value level stuff at 5 to 10p each means we will not be swindled?

Tesco’s shares dropped £300 million on the news breaking.  The meat processing companies, Dalepak Hambleton in Yorkshire, Silvercrest and Liffey Meats in Ireland are likely to have  a difficult time, I assume.

Like all the spokespeople have said, there is no danger to the public – it is all perfectly safe to eat.

It is just that we have been duped for profit.

This episode begs a lot of questions for me.  (This could get political – turn away now if you might be offended…)

  1. Why do we not make the supermarkets label their meat – all of it – by the country of origin of the meat?  Successive governments have been lobbied out of legislating for this, I believe.  The producers seem to get around it by labeling the final processing plant’s country as the producer – what a terrible cop-out
  2. This is even more disturbing in these days of bird flu, mad cow disease, TB, swine flu, and foot and mouth disease.  Where is the bio-security when the whole of the mechanically recovered meat industry seems to work in the shadows?  If they are going to hide 29% of horse meat in a burger, are they going to be serious about animal welfare in the original producing area?
  3. Can’t we consider being self sufficient in meat as a five year plan?  Maybe there is room for barn production of beef cattle to an extent.  (Look – I bet you all like Danish bacon.  Visit Denmark.  You never see a pig.  It’s because they are all indoors.  They are happy, warm and well fed.)
  4. Why can’t more people cook from scratch?  The demise of Home Economics is probably the biggest culprit in this whole story.  If we knew how to cook, and how to use up left-overs, we would be healthier, throw away less and not have to buy ‘cheap’ food.  Our food bills would be less.

I know I am biased – but Can Men Cook is a good read and shows you how to cook from scratch.  End of advert.  End of rant.

Food waste

The world wastes half it’s food, said a report from The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (Who would have thought they would do this?).  4 Billion tonnes produced.  Between 1.2 and 2 billion never eaten.

The problem seems to be in two arenas.  Firstly, much of what is harvested or stored is eaten or goes off before it reaches people in the non-western world.  And if it is not cosmetically perfect or is 3 seconds past a dubious sell by date, the west (USA and Europe cited) tends to throw stuff away.  I read Agricultural Botany at Univ, and the third world stuff was well documented even then – the biggest culprits pre-harvest were Pigeons, and the biggest in storage were rats.  I am sure that has improved a little over the years, but may just be an inescapable part of life’s balances.

Not the cosmetic perfection though.  This just makes me madly angry.  It does remind me of The Jam song – Going Underground, with the scary line:

“The Public wants what the Public gets”

Have we become so controlled by the supermarkets that 30% of good produce never darkens their doors because it is misshapen or all the mushrooms aren’t the same size in that packet or that orange is not orangey enough?  They will say that we don’t  want it – but is that really true?  I tend to shop for most veg and meat in a local butchers and greengrocers.  There is more choice and it is cheaper than supermarket fare – and tastes better. Use them or lose them.

 _(A super campaign from Winchester local council.)

Sell by dates don’t make sense a lot of the time either.  I use the sniff test, and the taste test, not the sell by date namby pamby ness!

We have to start rejecting the idea that we reject any food unless it is picture perfect.

And as for left-overs – that’s what they are, the ultimate in greenness and recycling.

I read an article late last year bemoaning the fact that no one knows how to cook from scratch, and recipe books have no sections any more on how to work with leftovers.  I’m sorry, he hadn’t read my book.  The four day chicken is a wondrous thing.  We finished the soup from Sunday Roast last  night!  Check out the web site: www.canmencook.com

Three Ducks and you’re out!

We had duck three times in a day and a half.  Let me explain.

Duck and Hoi Sin wraps from M&S while travelling to Liverpool.  That was the first duck.  This was our last Christmas adventure (a motorway Christmas…).  We were visiting friends in Formby, Merseyside.

“Hi, L…” “Oh, hi Phil”.  “We are on the M62 – should be with you in half an hour”.  “Sorry – missed that last bit”.  “On M62 – about 30 minutes away”.  “But you are coming next weekend!…  No – that’s OK – we can sort it out”

She did sound calm.  We slowed down and left them to the panic.  I am sure we have all done this at some point in our lives.  As receivers of the news, or as givers.  It was astonishing – we arrived 40 minutes later (amazing how slowly one can go if you put your mind to it) and you just would not know that we were 7 days and 30 minutes early.  Welcomed with open arms, apologies all round (no blame…) and G&T in hand within 3 minutes.

There had been a mad 30 minutes that was completely indiscernible, but we were truly embarrassed.

There was a lot of dog fuss to contend with.  Our friends had recently lost their eldest dog – Molly, who was only 4 and a bit, so desperately unfair to have such an aggressive cancer.  She was lovely.  Their other dog, Flossie was now the adult (having been the playful puppy in the hierarchy up to recently , and the new addition is a cockapoo – cross between a poodle and cocker spaniel.  Maisie is only 10 and a half weeks old, but already feels pretty adult in outlook (apart from the usual puppy incontinence).

Maisie with flossie behind

Maisie with flossie behind

A second duck had been purchased from Waitrose, and was ready about an hour later.  It was amazing, really.  And Tony makes the worlds best roast potatoes.  It was a feast of fine proportions. Cheese (Tony’s choice) and Bakewell tart (the rest of us) filled us to overflowing.  As did the wines, whisky and quite different  and unusual Ginger Liqueur.  A splendid evening.

We followed this with a Chinese banquet at my sisters  for her birthday.  All bought in, and centre stage was the worlds most enticing starter – crispy duck pancakes!

As ever, we had ordered a little too much – not excessive  but we were all pretty full.  M&S do make it really easy, don’t they?  It does feel so simple that I am sure they have made huge in-roads into the Chinese take away market?

Celebrations all round.  It didn’t feel like duck had dominated – although it does read so.  I think I could get used to that level of duck-ness anyway – they were all very different (and had lots of other things alongside them) to feel like quite different experiences anyway.  So final apologies to our friends ,  Happy Birthday to my sister (and we had great Christmas presents too – one of which was Larousse Gastronomique – more later) – and a Happy New Year to all, once more!

 

New Year’s Eve

The Rock Inn, Haytor, Devon.  It does sound old fashioned and rather romantic, doesn’t it?  Their advertising by-line is “steadfastly traditional”.  Not a bad summary!  (See more at www.rock-inn.co.uk ) . And you can see Haytor on the way.  What more could you want?

Going out on a feast day is often ruinously expensive and often bad for the palate as well as the pocket.  Not at The Rock.  Mid November they changed their web page saying there were no rooms at the inn (heard that before around Christmas time?) – but they were still taking bookings for tables.  We jumped at it – and I had already decided my order! Seared Scallops on celeriac  puree and crispy pancetta for starter, followed by roasted lamb rump (with roasted root vegetables and rosemary fondant potato, with a red wine sauce). Jane had Balsamic Poached fig with parma ham, followed by pan fried sirloin of beef medallions.  They were served on wilted spinach, roasted tomatoes, peppercorn sauce and hand cut chips.  As you can tell, it was modern British – the holistic approach to the plate, where all the items complement one another.  Well cooked, served with chat and a smile, and not even ruined by the bill!  The main dishes were really quite exciting – and not worryingly big (satisfied but not over full).  The starters, especially the scallops were simply orgasmic !  Steamed marmalade pudding with whisky creme Anglaise  and a chocolate Cointreau Tart completed the proceedings, and quite finished us off.

Hope you had a great evening too.  Happy New Year to you all!

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