Archive for August, 2011

six bottle tops - all show Sam Adams awards around the worldAmerican beers do not get a good press over here in the UK do they?

Budweiser for example, comes in a variety of disguises (I’ve always wondered what the ‘Lite’ tag referred to – the colour, the calories, the taste maybe?) and have never really got the answer. http://www.budweiser.co.uk/ I’m not even convinced that it’s brewed in the States; after all, the eponymous French beer Stella Artois that we find available in the UK is brewed IN THE UK!

We see also Coors and Miller (Lite), over here but to be fair (luckily), they are not representative of the beers available in the USA. I’ve had some really tasty beers in America and have been lucky enough to find a couple locally this last two months.

Beer bottle label - Sierra Nevada, brewed in the USASam Adams [Boston Lager] – http://www.samueladams.com/enjoy-our-beer/boston-lager.aspx – could be found at Aldi during July, as part of their annual celebration of Independence Day (along with Sharon’s favourite – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!)

Sierra Nevada [Pale Ale] can be now seen at Tesco’s surprisingly and both are avaialble from a variety of online retailers – at a cost.

But it is worth spending a little extra to experience the taste of these fine American beers. Real beer drinkers will soon realise that the overwhelming organoleptic sensation with these beers is ‘taste’, rather than ‘wetness’. Try one, tell Uncle Sam I sent you 😉

Pages I found whilst researching this post:


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a butchered leg of lambToday I cooked Roast Leg of Lamb for Sunday lunch. Even Sharon liked it. I’d looked at Tescos for a full leg but only saw freezer burned imports at £16+. I finally settled for a local butcher jobbie at £20+, but it was fresh and as I’ve alluded, delicious.

The butcher  asked if I’d like the knuckle cutting/breaking and I declined, much to his surprise. The problem with a broken knuckle is that you have nothing to hold on to when it comes to carving time. (it’s a cheffy thing). Also, I’m much happier making sure that the membrane/sinew closest to the bone is removed, as this allows the meat to shrink naturally as it cooks and leaves the bone nice and clean after cooking. The picture shows this process (cutting the membrane) under way.

It was a big leg and I decided to slow cook it. With that in mind I prepared a trivet of aitch bone and root vegetables and covered these with water. I cut small holes in the leg and push tiny sprigs of rosemary into these (trimming them level with the flesh to stop them burning), then spread Dijon mustard all over before sprinkling the lot with Fleur de Sel de Guérande which we’d bought in France.

I then cooked the leg on a high/moderate (200°C) heat for about half an hour before checking the liquid and covering it all with foil. I then lowered the heat to 150°C for another four hours (checking now and again). Served with steamed haricots vert and Dauphinoise, it was tender, tasty and tremendous. (We also had, Feta Salad, poached Salmon, Apple Crumble [with bombe] and French cheeses – great meal).

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Whilst we’re on the theme of Saturday Walks, let me say that dues to holidays and the need to deposit the step daughter in East Anglia, there has not been a whole lot of walking done. I strolled around bits of France (when it wasn’t raining) on holiday but not enough to warrant the word ‘walk’. We did do a short walk however, last Sunday morning whilst staying over at Sharon’s sister Joanne’s place near Brandon in Norfolk. And what a rewarding walk it was!

Joanne had said that there were loads of plums ready for picking on our route and that we should take a carrier bag with us. We took two, and by the time we’d finished each was half full of ripe and juicy plums. I’m not sure what the variety was – the nearest I can find is Jubileum, which might be too young a variety for where we found them. However, if you search for the 1905 variety Jubilees – you will see that they are very similar.

Whatever they were, they are now plum jam!

Joanne gave us some blackberries she’d frozen and we stole a lot of her own apples, ready for picking in her garden; so the plan was to make apple and blackberry jam, and plum jam. Sharon achieved this feat yesterday – massively underestimating the amount of work required in removing the stones from the plums 🙂 The apple and blackberry has set as hard as we’ve become used to jam being these days and the plum jam is ok, but just a little softer.

You can see from the picture above, that they have already been put to good use. Rock on free(ish) food!

We’d bought those neat little jam jars on the right of the bottom picture in France – for next to nothing. We wish now that we’d bought more. Also for sale there, which we didn’t think we’d use (but …) were little paraffin wax pellets, designed to be melted and poured onto the finished jars to create a seal. You live and learn.

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And then of course there was the crumble for dessert!

Earlier this month, we’d been lucky enough to have been allowed the use of our friend’s Billy and Angela’s house in France for our holiday. In the back garden there (in Roussines) they have a magnificent apple tree, which was dripping with tasty red apples. I can’t be sure of the variety, but ‘Discovery’ is the nearest I can find. Their skin is quite tough, which is something I remember from my younger days – people used to peel the skin away in those days – but the flesh is pure white with just a hint of pink tinge. The flavour is tart with a nice depth of sweetness.

So we brought a bagful home.

As we’ve been back for almost a week, I thought it was time I started doing something with them. I peeled half the bag and cut them up into chunks and placed them in a large pan with just a little sugar and about an eggcup full of water. I then brought the small amount of water to the boil, covered the pan with a lid, lowered the heat and allowed them to cook for about 5-10 minutes. This allowed the apples to steam and when I lifted the lid the pan’s content looked like cotton wool was cooking away inside. Perfect.

A good stir with a wooden spoon and they were ready to make pies and crumbles or to be used as an accompaniment for roast pork. I decided to freeze mine for later use. The taste of the cooked apples is quite subtle, almost (Chardonnay) wine-like, rich and well worth the (very little) effort.

Then I made the apple crumble.

For this, I peeled the apples and sliced them into a small baking dish. These were raw, uncooked. I sprinkled them with a little sugar and set them aside for a couple of moments (not too long or they would go brown), whilst I made the crumble. I’ve always followed my old friend Cameron’s rules for crumble [3:2:1]

  • 3 parts plain flour
  • 2 parts sugar
  • 1 part butter/margarine

I blitz these together in the whizzer and then add a good handful of oats – which are then mixed in by hand. I added the crumble to the top of my apples, tapping the dish as I did so to settle the mix right down. Don’t put the crumble on too thickly.

Then I cooked it in the oven at about 180 degrees for about 30 minutes (but you know your own oven – just make sure it’s cooked).

Eaten with vanilla ice cream. Delightful.

Now, I need to concoct something for Billy and Angela by way of thanks. Apple Mousse?

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I’ve thought about writing a food preparation blog for students for a while now, but have never got around to it. I’m not sure that I’m ready to start now, but having posted my blog about fresh peas recently, I feel encouraged to write about today’s evening meal.I’d bought some fairly expensive, but good quality steak mince from the local farm shop for £2.95 per lb. Just a pound of mince can go a long long way, even if you have to buy the cheaper stuff from a supermarket. With my pound of meat I managed to eke out four good portions of SpagBol and a further seven portions of lasagne! How tight is that? Eleven portions from a pound of mince; eleven nutritious portions at that!

Of course, I used more than just the meat, so the cost per portion is way over the 27.5p we see at first glance. However, no more than 50-60p when we’ve finished.

I used a fairly large carrot, a couple of celery sticks and a medium onion – all minced together with some garlic and fried these with the mince. Nice and steady, not too fast – beating all the lumps out of the meat as it cooked. This lumpiness of mince is caused by the proteins coagulating/denaturing as they heat up – so they need breaking up. I then add salt and pepper, oregano, paprika and cumin (all powdered) – the amount is down to experience, don’t be scared to experiment. Next is a good half a tube of tomato purée and two tins of chopped tomatoes. Some soy sauce and lea and perrins for colour rather than flavour and we’re almost there. I also add some red lentils at this stage: half a cupful ish. tonight I only had brown lentils – so the cooking took a little longer. Give it at least half an hour – more won’t kill it!

And that’s it – done! Bolognese sauce. A pack of fresh lasagne sheets and half a litre of bechamel (I made that too) completed the lasagne’s (for the freezer) and some £1 noodles from Tesco sufficed for the Spaghetti part of the SpagBol.  We also had apple crumble, but that’s another story.

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I went downstairs today to make a cup of coffee and half an hour later, there I was shelling peas!

I’d bought a kilo of peas in their pods on Leeds Market on Tuesday and didn’t even think about when we’d eat them, what with or indeed how long it takes to carry out the shelling/podding.

But it’s quite therapeutic. I remember as a child, sitting at the kitchen table with my mum or my grandma (who me and brothers called ‘mam’ – ‘cos that’s what our mum called her) shelling lots of peas for tea. Seasonally, the same used to happen with broad beans too.

Back in those days there were no frozen peas, just tinned or dried. The tinned versions were either ‘garden peas’ or ‘processed peas’ and the dried were ‘marrowfat‘, used purely for the mushy peas that were eaten with pork pie or fish and chips. Sometimes we’d have one of the tinned varieties with our meal, but as the season came around we’d look forward to fresh, podded peas. There was no faffing around with mange tout back then either!

I’ve just seen peas at our local farm shop @ £1.75 per kilo – I paid £1.00 in Leeds Market. You would probably get around four good portions for that.  I’ve put some into tonight’s rice and the rest has been blanched and refreshed (dropped into boiling salted water, brought back to the boil for about 10-15 seconds then drained before plunging into ice cold water and re-draining) for freezing.

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I always bow to the French and their (feeling of) superiority in all things related to cooking, cookery and their ‘cuisine’. Really, I do – I taught catering for 17 years and know the heights that French Cuisine can reach. At its best there is no other country on earth to match French cookery, but you have to search high and low for its best and pay through the nose when you find it. I’ve learned what to expect when holidaying in France and will eat out when needed and where possible will self-cater.

Today in Limoges, we stopped to eat lunch at the Café Central – in the square right outside Monoprix.  Their ‘menu de jour’ choices were: Quiche or Croque (Monsieur) + Salad + Dessert (ou) Tartine + Salad + Dessert (ou) Sandwich + Boisson (as long as it is water based) + Dessert. I knew Sharon would have a sandwich, as would I on other occasions, but today I felt adventurous and as I’d never had a Tartine before (it was beyond my comprehension, despite having it described to me many times) I ordered the Jambon Bleu Tartine (I could have had Lardon Reblouchone!)

I’ve always thought that there was only so many things that you could do with bread, ham (Jambon) and cheese (fromage, gruyere, emmental, etc.) but the French never cease to amaze me. You can have Sandwiches au: Fromage (cheese!); Jambon Beurre (ham on buttered baguette); Jambon (no butter); Jambon fromage (your guess which); Jambon gruyere (with gruyere cheese); Jambon emmental (are you with me?); Jambon Crudites (with a bit of lettuce and tomato, perhaps some gherkin too) – and that’s just the cold stuff. One of their favourite lunchtime dishes is Croque Monsieur, basically a cheese and ham toasty, but if you’re lucky (I’ve not been so lucky in France – yet) it could be one of the best taste sensations you’ve ever had! We used to get our students to shallow fry one side of bread discs in clarified butter and then make a sandwich of ham and cheese with the fried side on the inside. The whole sandwich would then be shallow fried (again, in clarified butter) until the cheese melted and the whole sandwich was golden brown. Super fattening – but super tasty.

All the Tartine turned out to be was a Croque Monsieur with no top on! Like a topless bikini, a bourbon biscuit with just one piece of biscuit … you get the idea. The bread was nice (wholemeal; not usually seen on French menus), the ham was … ham, and the blue cheese was gorgeous.

Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, no more, no less than I’d expected but I do wonder why it was €2 dearer than the Croque Monseiur – which did have a top on it!

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