A USA Road Trip”

We are on a Road Trip in the USA. We started out in Phoenix at Golf Boot Camp, and as such the hotel was maybe not what we might have chosen, but it was where the golf camp was held. It was fine, convenient and actually it worked well.

I have decided to keep a pictoral record of meals we have eaten.

For starters, Breakfast. I chose the same thing for 5 days, yogurt, with granola, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. For me it was perfect. Himself, little piggy that he can be ( think 3 Krispy Kreme doughnuts whilst watching rugby) decided to go native and try the more substantial foods that were on offer.

Day one, Huevos Rancheros, which came on a kind of fried bread with beans, salsa and eggs ( over easy). In Mexico, they are very different, tortillas, salsa, refried beans, avocado and of course the eggs. Sonora the area of Arizona,in which we found ourselves , served them a piece of fried bread which was actually plate size. The verdict, not bad!

Day two had, himself trying out the Chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles, are very popular in Mexico, it is yet another way of using up day old tortillas . Served with a salsa, red or free, with sour cream, maybe avocado or guacamole, maybe refried beans and of course eggs! Scrambled or fried. The verdict, ? Umm a bit soft, but they are meant to be soft!

Day three he took the buffet, and am not sure what he ended up with !

Day four, it had to be the short stack pancakes, along with crispy bacon and tons of Maple Syrup, and if it were only maple syrup and not just sugar filled sauce. However, he seems to enjoy them!

Day five, umm he didn’t fancy the breakfast Burritos. Actually a bit like Chop Suey and American Chinese invention, Burritos are an American invention and not at all Mexican. But never mind, they were not fancied and so it was back to the Huevos Ramcheros! Oh what a shame! Not as good as on day one, and he actually left some!

And now we have left Phoenix and have headed on to Sedona, beautiful red Mesas all around and it is cold Negative degrees!

We warmed ourselves up with giant Margaritas ( me) and. Triple Mezcal ( him) I can only blame this on the server not have having a clue to the size of a Mezcal shot and to Son Inlaw for introducing Himself to the joys of Mezcal! My memories of being in Oxaxca at a Mezcal tasting, willowy blond I were not so impressed, so passed along our tastings to the boys, who seemed to manage ours and theirs with ease!

This little Piggy went to Market.

A couple of months ago, for whatever reason, I was tempted to buy a suckling pig. Costco the big American owned Super Store, would deliver, and so it was one Saturday morning early December, that said Piggy arrived on my doorstep. He was much bigger and heavier than I had thought him to be. The next question, was, what to do with him. So off came his hind quarters, cut into two, well almost, one bit still had the tail, whilst the other did not. Wrapped those and stuffed them into a freezer. Next the front half, which of course still had the ears and snout. Again wrapped and stuffed into the freezer. Now, when on earth was this little pig going to be eaten?

The lovely little Amelia Rose and her parents were visiting for the weekend and although she is only eating deluxe baby mush  ( pear and ginger?) an opportunity had arisen at least for part of pig to be eaten by her parents.

I decided to use the wonderful Sous Vide machine and started googling, Sous Vide, Pork Leg. Not much joy there, I m afraid, most of the recipes submitted are by amateur cooks like myself, so actually did not find pork leg at all, but at least found pork shoulder. The instructions varied from 12 hours to 48, so it was a matter of take your pick. So I opted for 20, as that fitted in nicely with my schedule! ( on reflection, maybe a tad too long, it was a very young pig, after all!)

Twenty hours on, Piggy pings and is ready to be finished in the oven, again, I’m not sure how long this will take, but at first glance the meat already seems very tender. Skin is scored and initially put into a fairly hot oven to start the crackling process.

Our Sunday dinner timing was to be determined by young Amelia, and so it was that after she had eaten her supper, had her bath and her milk and had gone to bed, we sat down for ours. I started with some Arancini( can you see I’m feeling better? First time in the kitchen for about 7 weeks!) More on Arancini another time. Onto the pork, it was tender and crackling, crackled. Along with some rosemary potatoes, green beans sautéed with garlic, piquilino peppers and almonds, it was indeed very nice. Son, who dissected piggy commented that his bones were very tender and rather than trying to carve, ended up “Pulling” in an attempt to avoid small bone fragments.

Pork a tad on the dry side, should have done a sauce, but by this time, I had, had enough of being in the kitchen and handed over the role of beans to himself! Dessert ? A time old classic, mixed fruit crumble, I’m not a crumble fan, but son and daughter in law chose it as a dessert at their wedding and himself, will eat anything sweet! Think, 3 Krispy Kreme doughnuts at Twickenham! What a glutton! He doesn’t deserve to stay slim !

We only have two bits of little pig left, watch out you might just be invited to partake !

Domestic God Cook Book, Maybe??

As I have been kind of out of action for going on 6 weeks, himself has been in charge ( well at least he thinks he has). And has cooked so many meals that soon we shall have enough for our own cook book!

Many years ago, my son, who is severely dyslexic, found a love of cooking. The reading part proved difficult though, so made him his own cook book. Simple instructions, not long-winded ones. I find, even today when checking out  new recipes, either in  a magazine or a cook book, the instructions are way too long winded and complicated. I usually get out a marker pen, scrub out at least half of them and substitute, my way.

When living in Bruxelles and had my own cooking school, I also sought ways to make the instructions as easy as possible for my pupils, to encourage them, as normally faced with instructions as long as an arm, one can easily get discouraged! My pupils in this instance were on the whole American expat wives, who were suddenly expected to have dinner parties, Brussels style and not just hamburgers around a pool, so the emphasise of my classes were always, a three course dinner party, the order in which to prepare and cook, what coud be made ahead of time and what could be frozen. The class ended with them sitting and having lunch. Himself teases by saying that the local council had a bottle bank installed outside our house ! But on the other hand, said son would race up the drive from the school bus, saying ” Mommy Mommy can I have sausages and chips”?, but then his face would fall and groan “oh No. cooking class !! He had no choice but to become a very competent cook !!Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 19.23.12

So the latest offering in our house is Chicken Curry. No sooner had we returned from the mountains than the baby brother of himself and his lovely wife arrived.

Hunting around, through my various books, it was decided that a chicken curry would fit the bill, but which recipe. I have books by Atul Kocher, the Michelin starred chef, but maybe this would be throwing someone in at the deep end ( make a paste, make another paste, grind your spices, type of recipe) No, we needed something a little more straightforward! And along came Keith Floyd, he lately departed of TV fame, the forerunner, of, if you like Rick Stein ( though I think they did not like each other) et al. On his TV shows, even when in a boat he had a glass of something in his hand ( usually wine) and he dreamt of cooking for Gorbachev, so that they coud drink vodka together!!

And so it was to Floyd’s India that we found ourselves.

And  the cook in chief was asked yet again to perform. One night was the new star turn, the fish pie, but the second night the chicken curry. Not just any old chicken curry but, Murgh Tikka Makhani. There are of course as many variations of this recipe as there are of any other. Floyd went to India, mixed with some locals, ate their chicken and came up with this version> I saw on TV this week Rick Sten doing exactly the same, trying out Goulash in Vienna and then creating his own version)Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 19.23.41

And so onto our version.

  • 2lbs chicken ( use either thighs which have been boned and skinned, for a good flavour, or breasts, again skinned.
  • 2 Tablespoons of Ghee or unsalted butter ( ghee is better as it will not spit at you)
  • 150 mls double cream
  • 5 cloves of garlic crushed  and chopped
  • some fenugreek leaves, ( optional)
  • some vegetable oil to fry the chicken

For the tomato sauce

  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes ( you can use fresh but this is so much easier)
  • 3 red onions peeled and cut in 2
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 ” bit og ginger peeled
  •  5 fresh green chilies
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground coriander and ground cloves

Put all of the tomato sauce ingredients into a food processor or blender and process to make a puree.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the chicken in batches and stir fry until they are golden and cooked. Repeat until all is cooked.

Fry the garlic, taking care not to burn. Pour in the sauce, add the chicken and heat until heated through. Just before serving, stir in the cream and the butter/ghee.Taste and add salt and epper to taste. Decorate with a few prigs of fresh coriander and of course serve with rice of your choice, or how about some naan or other Indian bread. There is a good selection of frozen ones in most Indian stores.

 

 

The Rise and Rise of a domestic God or French Markets are alive and well !

It’s that time of year again, we are in the mountains, but to be honest this year has been snow ( along with several days of rain but higher up, there will be snow). Being mildly incapacitated, Himself has become, nursemaid, cook, housemaid, chief bottle washer, and in fact Uncle Tom Cobley and all !

He has cooked very well, under instructions, not allowing me up to the cooking floor but keeping me well supplied on the lower level with wine, recharging my glass and asking instructions! Out of all of the meals, whether it be Tarte Abondance , Cheese Soufflé, or Cauliflower Cheese, he has absolutely surpassed himself, except on two occasions. The first was when he did not realise that there are several types of rice, hence ham and egg fried rice made with Carnoli rice ( Risotto) was a a trifle on the sticky side. The sauté de Veau, was however not his fault but the meat! Tough it was ! Too bad as the mixture of assorted sautéed peppers was great! And not mention the Moules ( Mussels) Provençal. Made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and of course white wine!And the piece de resistance was the fish pie.

Long standing friends arrived-from Brussels, Dinner on the night of their arrival was none other than Raclette! Aka heart attack central, but oh so good and cook your own is the way forward. But, the following night Fish Pie. He did go a bit off script, showing some independence in his new found freedom in the kitchen. We had bought, salmon, cod and large shrimp, but let loose in the supermarket came home with scallops as well! The result, was outstanding, enjoyed by all.

We ventured out one day to Le Marché in Thonon Les Bains. It is about a 30 minute drive from our Mountain abode, on a road, that I would be less than keen on driving at night, twisty and turning, gorges on one side, mountains on the other, still on a sunny day, not too bad!

The market is busy year round, even when the temperatures are below freezing. In the summer of course, there are many 0more traders and many many more shoppers. Summertime, means usually having to park by the lake, upper parking is always full but also very claustrophobic. Down by the lake is usually not a problem and there is a funicular to take one up the rather steep mountainside. One could easily walk down, but of course by then one has shopping! So maybe not such a good idea!

The market encompasses the whole spectrum, meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruits, plants, flowers, clothes, old clothes and general junk.

My interest is always with the food stalls. There is always a queue for fish, and I am amazed at the cost. I realise that cod has become endangered so become more expensive, but at €39-€45 a Kilo ! Wow, that is expensive! Cheese ( well we are in the middle of a cheese producing region) is always good value, and always a good selection of fruit and vegetables, usually more so and of a better quality than in the local supermarket.The one stand that is always popular is the cooked chicken stand, people stand in line, waiting for the perfectly cooked chicken. The only thing I can compare it to is either Marks and Spencer or Waitrose, both my local stores offer bbq cooked chickens, but not on a rack like these, but then also considerably cheaper, about £6.00 a chicken and in the market they are €10 upwards.

One vegetable that I was on the lookout for was Cardoons! They are not really well known in the UK. They are part of the Thistle family, the same family that includes artichokes. Whereas, it is the globe of the artichoke that is eaten, here is the stalk and leaves. I have only tried once to cook these, very much with mixed results. Himself declared “don’t bother, and not sure that I will but having found that they are now pre-prepared I might not give them another trial, not anticipating too much as even then, they do not look very enticing!

So back to fish pie, simplicity itself, but oh so good, made ahead of time and then baked to a golden crust, served with a green vegetable or a salad, what could be better?

Actually, although one could give an exact recipe, just winging it also works. In my house, or when I am cooking, it just depends on what I have in the freezer, so no two pies are ever exactly the same.

Take a quantity of fish, ( use, salmon, cod, Coley Shrimps, Scallops, haddock or smoked haddock) maybe for 2 people about a pound ( if any left over, it will keep or freeze for another day.) take some fish or vegetable stock or even better half bottle of white wine and poach the fish gently until cooked. Drain and pat dry but keep the cooking liquid. Boil 2 eggs so that they are hard boiled, peel and cut into 1/4’s. Then I always make my white sauce by the all in one method, in the microwave, into a microwave container put an oz of butter, along with an oz of cornflour, a pinch of salt and about a cup of milk, mix, put into the microwave and microwave for. Minute on high, stir and repeat, repeat this until you have a sauce, If it should go lumpy never fear, just beat and it will go smooth. If a trifle thick, thin using the fish liquid. Cook a couple of potatoes, again I cook then in the microwave, 1 large baking potato takes about a minute on high. Mash the potatoes with some butter and some milk. Now it is time to assemble, mix the fish mixture carefully with the sauce, so as not to mash the fish to smithereens, add the eggs. Pour into an oven proof dish and top with the mashed potatoes, this can be done by simply adding on top of the sauce and fluff it up with a fork, or try being posh and use a piping bag and a large nozzle and make the potato look a little more Sophisticated. Over this sprinkle some Panko Breadcrumbs and some Parmesan cheese.

At this stage it can be refrigerated even for a couple of days and then reheated until golden brown and hot.

Going To Prison?

You could be forgiven, for thinking that I only eat in amazing restaurants, as I seem to do so, on a regular basis. Actually, it could be a burger bar, or street food as in Bangkok or Mexico City, or a noodle bar in a remote village in Japan,or freshly cooked egg fried rice, as in a bus station , somewhere in Yunnan, as long as the food is good, then I am happy. But if they put themselves out there as being High End or todays by word”Fine Dining”, then they had better be.

So it might be a surprise to you, that we recently ate in one of Her Majesties Prisons, and we were very pleasantly surprised .

There are indeed several of theses establishments, well 4 to be precise, one in Surrey, one in Cardiff, one in Brixton ( London) and Styal in Cheshire, as well as a farm that serves the Surrey restaurant in a village called Send.

The idea of having a restaurant within a prison was the brain child of Alberto Crisci in 2009, and is now run as a charity . The aim is to give prisoners during their final months of incarceration professional job and life skills. It has been so successful that the re-offending rate has dropped right down, with 87% of graduates, managing to not re offend, but hold down a regular job.

Nowadays, inmates can apply to go on any of the courses that the Clink offer and they are always oversubscribed.

They learn professional skills, either in the kitchen, or the restaurant itself as wait staff, bar staff or as receptionist/hostess skills, they follow the GNVQ, NVQ and City and Guilds courses, so it is a recognised skill. However, it is a prison, rules and regulations apply. One has to register beforehand, then check in with a photo ID, along with having finger print taken, photo checked ( a bit like going though US immigration), diners have to arrive at an allocated time, no stragglers allowed. When every one has been checked, then we were allowed to go though security doors, etc into the restaurant itself. However all mobile phones, tablets, most of your money has to be checked beforehand, not allowed! The restaurant itself is very smart, nice tables and comfortable chairs.

We went with a group of people and the restaurant was almost full. There were separate tables for staff and as it was a Friday apparently Friday is extremely popular, Fish and Chips Friday!

Two very smart young men came to take ur drinks order, they all had spoof names, which made you believe you were really drinking something alcoholic, but no, no alcohol allowed, but at least the pretence means that staff learn the race, albeit, pretending to serve cocktails!

We had preordered our lunch, not sure if this is the normal process or not, but we had a very enjoyable three course lunch.

Our waiters were very professional, smartly dressed and very polite. I could not bring myself to believe that these young men were criminals, they could have been my son! The feeling left me deeply shocked.

Our menu was for a three course lunch, all of it beautifully cooked and served. I can thoroughly recommend a day trip to one of these restaurants. Not only will you have an excellent lunch but you will be helping an extremely worthwhile charity.

The graduates, are supported upon release by an extension of the charity, with help towards finding a placement as well as accommodation and setting up bank accounts. Many notable establishments give their support to this endeavour including The Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall, where they have even given kitchen equipment to help get the charity up and running.

Christmas is here, Best Time of Year!

So another Christmas has come and has almost gone. For the first time in about 10 years we have been in London for Christmas. Despite all of our offspring being in the UK no-one was heading to France.

Actually I have been a bit incapacitated, ( slight problem with a knee ) so I have not even been out and about to enjoy any of the wonderful markets nor the Christmas decorations, only those I could see by being in the back of a Cab. On a little outing, Marylebone Station was suitably adorned, along with a band and a choir! So not all doom and gloom!

Himself and I have decided that for the two of us, no more presents, buying something for the sake of buying something. What do we need? Nothing. Presents are allowed when they are spontaneous and thoughtful, but just not for Christmas. ( for example, himself leapt out to a smart pharmacy today and bought me an electronic zapper/stimulator for the difficult knee). I have to say in a Macabre way, having this thing clicking away is quiet soothing !

I had a friend once, ( sadly since passed away ) whose husband dutifully went to one of the best jewelers in town and presented her each Christmas morning with a wonderful piece of Bling! And the next day , she packed it back up and took it back and got something else, and this went on for years! And what did she give him? Either a cheque or a gift voucher!!! Where did the romance go ??

So not forgetting the wonderful feast that eldest daughter conjured up in her miniscule kitchen and the presents galore under the tree, what did we do? Well the gift to us, was to go out for dinner on Christmas Eve. Himself gave himself the task of finding the right place and of course it being a Sunday and Christmas Eve, the task was harder than he thought it could be! But succeed he did, not only succeed, but excelled!

We went to ANGLER, a  Michelin Star restaurant on the 7th floor of a hotel in the city. It certainly did not feel like a hotel restaurant but felt and looked like a stand alone. From the moment we arrived the service excelled. We were seated at an interior table with armchair type chairs, but at once I felt this would be uncomfortable for me, a little low.  Without, asking, a window table had become free and we were moved there and I was given a cushion, which made things much better. We had looked online and had seen,  a 9 course tasting menu as well as a smaller 6 course. However, when we were given the menus, the smaller one was not listed. Hopefully, we asked about it and immediately someone went to the chef and he created our own mini tasting menu. What Service!!!

Neither of us could fault the service nor  the room was festive but not overly so and the food was perfect. The restaurant specialise in Seafood, well I guess with a name like Angler, why not ? but there are options on the main menu for Carnivores. But we were delighted with what we ate.

Above is the reduced Tasting Menu, the freshly made sourdough bread, with caramalised butter, assorted nibbles and a view of the room.

Above there are three pictures of the crab ravioli, naked, with a light sauce and cut open to reveal some slivers of seaweed. The cod on the lower left was divine, the only fault, the tiny bit of squid was way too small as it was excellent.

The delicious desserts, , Savarin Cream, Gingerbread, dates followed by Banana, salted caramel with Guanaja chocolate. What could be better?

We finished the whole thing off with memories of years gone by. Calvados. of course.

The finale to our Christmas day was playing Pie Face. well some of us did ( not me). Alfie was given this by an uncle ( brother of Alfie’s Mom, who else). I had never seen this before, but using whipped cream from an Aerosol, it is spread on a plate thing, a bit like being in the STocks in former times. Dial the wrong number and watch out, you will get hit in the face, with a load of Cream!! Well Done Alfie!IMG_0402

Pantomime Time! Go to the Kings Head Pub!

This has nothing to do with food, but with Pantomime fun! An absolute gem!

We often go to the Kings Head Pub on Upper Street Islington, for us it is a relatively easy to get to, the lovely number 30 bus! They put on shows and operas to such a great standard I often wonder why bother with the Royal Opera House! These are all professional singers and actors and perform to such a high standard, that why are they here and not in the ROH! I’m glad they are here!

We saw today King Tut, a Pyramid Panto! It is the craziest, wackiest Panto in town! Yes, pantos are formulaic, as my eldest grandson told me, that men play girls the ugly sisters are men, the leading boy is always a girl etc etc! Well fast forward to King Tut and this formula goes straight out of the window!

The setting, the theatre is a fairly small space behind the Pub , with maybe maximum 100 seats depending on the configuration as sometimes it is set ” in the round”. Today I would have said that it was about the 100 mark and the performance was for young kids. The place was packed,with mums and dads, grandpas, grandmas, kids and grandkids in fact over packed as we were all asked to shove up a bit to make room for a few more.

There were only 5 performers and two hidden musicians, Lord Conniving ( in theory Lord Carnavon), who was the

Bad Guy, where we all booed and booed, Carter, the archaeologist, Emily the love interest, King Tut as a 9 year old who doubled up as a young Egyptian , her Dad, who doubled up as Clive the Camel and as Bruce Forsyth! Yes we had a game show as well, and Brucey was there, with contestants pre chosen ( not that they knew) from the audience! We all shouted and screamed the answers. And on top of that we had a singing competition, between the sides of the room, ours belonged to Clive, who had been reincarnated ( he had been poisoned by the evil Conniving) the other side belonged to the evil Conniving! Oh what a hoot it all was. It lasted for two hours and our two did not have a hint of a sleepy eye, in fact at the interval they had ice creams, a choice of 11, yes, Eleven different flavours!

So all I can say is ” Google ” Kings Head Theatre and see for yourself what is on and do go and see them ! Just and amazing professional performance!