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Archive for July, 2011

Many readers will know that much of my earlier life was spent working in the catering industry. I have worked in hospitals, hotels, and restaurants. I have been self-employed as a function/event caterer and I taught professional chefs for many years. During all of that time one thing has puzzled me. Fish knives – why?

I believe that Bill Bryson agreed with my point of view in a Daily Mail article last year: “Curiously, one of the few survivors […] is one that is most difficult to understand: the fish knife. No one has ever identified a single advantage conferred by its odd scalloped shape or worked out the original thinking behind it. From: http://bit.ly/pZSf5c

It is indeed an odd shape and unlike a knife’s usual Raison d’être – blunt!

I sort of ‘get’ why it is that particular shape and so blunt, because on the traditional ‘French’ menus enjoyed by Victorian gentry, the fish would have been served separately and often on the bone. The flesh of fish (myomeres – http://bit.ly/qscLe9) is always very soft and flaky and as such doesn’t need the full-on power of a real knife. Someone then, back in the mists of time must have thought it was more gentile, possibly more sensible (given all the alcohol flowing during that period) and probably more extravagant; to have a blunt knife, shaped something like the larger fish-slice-knife used by professional waiters of the time.

Fair enough. But, why then, do we persist in using them in modern dining situations?

If you sit down to a traditional meal with over five courses (often more than ten), and one of them is a tiny bit of gently poached fish (Sole Veronique springs to mind) – I concede – the knife is fit for purpose. However when the entrée; the main course, is fish (let’s say a piece of wild scotch salmon, pan fried and served with caramelised shallots, minted new potatoes and verdantly al dente broccoli) the knife loses all sense of purpose. Minted new potatoes fly across the table and shallots are tipped off the plate as Madame tries valiantly to use her fish knife to cut through the more than al dente stem of broccoli.

There’s no need for this implement on the modern table.

Let us teach students about fish knives and about when to use them – but more importantly, when not to use them?

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Today’s news that Elaine McDonald has had her care package altered by the local council (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14042703) comes as no shock, but it should be a warning to us all. Cash strapped councils are looking for any way they can to save money as their resources dwindle – and the easiest targets are those who need any kind of social care, no matter what cost to that person’s dignity or what contribution that person has made to society itself.

Just last week, the best part of a million public service workers went on strike to protest about the way in which hard earned pension contributions are becoming ever worthless and mismanaged. Remember that although teachers took part in this strike, it was NOT a teacher’s strike, it was a strike to raise awareness of the pension plight of anyone working today. Even those in the private sector.

But let us remember why these occurrences are necessary. It is not generally through any mismanagment by the councils themselves, who have become more and more accountable for the way in which they spend our money and it is not that the government have only just realised that we are getting older and healthier; they have known for forty years that I know of – they might just have got over the hump had it not been for the downright, criminal recklessness of banks and that fear that if they (the government) didn’t give our money to the banking system, the world as we know it would collapse.

Well, when the supreme court rules that a non-incontinent stroke victim has to have incontinence pads instead of someone to help her to the toilet – it has collapsed and we’re all lost. Blame the banks for that.

Lest we forget.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arimoore/408920461/in/photostream/

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Working away from home always presents me with the dilemma of what to eat. At home, I know what I’m eating and what’s gone into the meal. When I’m away I’ve learned to be very wary about what I eat.

This week, whilst working in Cheltenham, my hotel was next to a TGI Friday – hell on earth for me and my digestive system! Most Premier Inns are next to a pub/restaurant where I can usually find a dish or two I don’t mind eating or at the very least, a decent pint. But TGI? No chance – huge slabs of meat with sticky, chemical ridden sauces scare me, and therefore have to be avoided.

I solved this problem on my way down to Cheltenham last Sunday by buying a sandwich at a service station. It wasn’t Marks and Spencer, which would have been my first choice, but it was OK and with a packet of crisps and the bottle of beer I’d packed in ice and brought with me, it sufficed.

On Monday evening, James and I went into Cheltenham and settled for eatng at the Brasserie Blanc. James tells me that this is one of Raymond Blanc’s small chain of restaurants – but I’ve not seen one anywhere else. The food was recognisably French, as was the draught beer (1664) – but for whatever reason, the bottled beers were not French. My first course was Mamman Blanc’s mixed salad starter, which was fine and I followed this with the Tartiflette. This was disappointing. I knew that I was ordering ‘blind’ inasmuch as I’ve seen it served in a number of ways, but this was, well – as I say – disappointing. We then shared a cheese plate. We were first asked to guess which cheese on the board wasn’t French. Er! That’d be the Shropshire Blue then! The young waiter was aghast, really surprised that we knew. He then proceeded to tell us exactly what I’d put in #sugsnip 73b (Click here to learn more about #sugsnip)

[#SugSnip BONUS Shropshire Blue cheese was invented in Scotland, is now made in the east Midlands but never in Shropshire! http://fur.ly/59i1]

I found a ‘local’ pub in the estate behind the hotel on Tuesday evening and had a wonderful Rump Steak (with a pint) for less than £8.00. Fair enough, it had the usual peas and onion ring accompaniment and my 50p upgrade from chips to wedges was a mistake, but compare that to the £27.50 each we paid on the previous night! Well done The National Hunt.

picture of a butter pat from Netherend FarmOn Wednesday night James and I searched out the Royal Well Tavern and had the most enjoyable meal of the week. It’s not the sort of place where you don’t notice the prices (visit the site and look at the steaks!) but we had some good stuff. James had Sautéed Lambs Kidneys with peas and pancetta and I had a Clam and Mussel Chowder, which was splendid. We also ordered a portion of Pork Rillettes to share! This was the only disappointment and didn’t get finished. The texture was too tight and too ‘potted meat’ ish. However this didn’t spoil the other dishes, which were themselves supplemented throughout with warm, fresh and tasty home-made bread – with Netherend Farm unsalted butter.

For mains we both had the ‘before 7.00pm special’ beefburger, which was delightful, a real pleasure to eat. It was served on a breadboard (which led to some discussion) with a pile of fries and a grilled tomato. I liked the flavour and the texture (slightly pink): essentially everything about the burger was good except the bread bun – but that’s my own peculiarity, I don’t like sweet white rolls (even if they’re home made, which they may have been). Well done Royal Well Tavern.

During my long trip back home (delayed for the best part of an hour around Worcester) I stopped off at a Marks and Sparks for a proper sandwich. Their Pastrami and whatever is fabulous and with a £1.00 pack of grapes was a real pleasure.

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