Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Monday 30th

The last of the assignments is in, much to my relief. A weekend of working solidly and socialising a fair bit has meant a rather ropey diet of hungover fry-ups and bits and bobs on the hoof.

This week I’m going to get back in the kitchen and do some proper cooking. Given the cold weather I’m in the mood for serious traditional British comfort food. On the way back home form Salford I work out that I could knock out a sausage and mash combo in about 20mins at a push, but would end up with a completely different meal to what I would have after an hour of cooking.

If French cooking is an art (well that’s what they say…) and Italian cooking is a craft, then British cooking is a science. Its all about the timing and temperature. They even called it ‘domestic science’ at school as well…

Anyhow, enough jiffle: Proper Sausage and Mash

Only good quality sausages will do it. Nice fat ones. Use whatever Wall’s bangers should really just be thrown directly in the bin. Today I’m using some organic pork sausages that have a bit of a herby hint to them. The trick with the sausages is slow, slow cooking. In the pan with some butter on a low heat for minimum 40 minutes. I never prick them, the flavour needs to stay inside the sausage.

I find that red onions or shallots make the best onion gravy for sausage and mash. In this case I chop up a handful of shallots and throw them in the butter with the sausages. Over this low heat they will slowly collapse and become sticky and sweet.

Spuds have to be the white floury ones, mine still have Lincolnshire earth on them. I’ve paid good money in expensive (i.e. overpriced) London restaurants for mash made with waxy spuds and too much butter, and they just sit there looking cheap in the middle of a puddle of gravy.

I bring the spuds to the boil in the water with a bit of fresh parsley, and boil them until you can crush them with a fork. Drain, and get ready to mash. I have a little mashing ritual which goes like this:

pour a splash of milk in with the spuds and put it back on the hob until the milk is hot, then throw in a few knobs of butter, a teaspoon of mustard (Colemans English – nothing else will do!) and some torn (not chopped) fresh parsley. Mix this together with a fork – then get mashing.

I use a metal masher, somehow I don’t feel comfortable with plastic ones, they lack a certain… weight… Anyhow, the consistency of the mash is a personal thing, I like mine fairly solid, but ready to yield to the gravy… ah yes – the gravy

When the sausages have had their 4 hours or so on the hob, and the shallots look ready to disintegrate, I throw in a healthy slosh of marsala, and stir round the pan with a wooden spoon to mix in all the sticky bits. It’ll take a minute or so for the boozy whiff of the marsala to pass, and then the gravy is ready. No cornflour here, this is not wetherspoons.

My mash mountain looks too big, and I dither about whether I should put some aside for bubble and squeak. To hell with it, I have the lot, four sausages on top, and that sweet gravy…
Black sheep ale to accompany. Well I wouldn’t want to spoil my bangers and mash by drinking wine with it…

Friday 27th

Field trip today to Stamford Bridge to look at flood defences. I don’t make a packed lunch up as there is the promise of a lunchtime pint and grub at the Kings Arms in York. This pub’s main claim to fame is that it floods whenever the River Ouse bursts its banks. It’s the one you see on TV where they are serving pints of Sam Smiths out of the upstairs windows in some sort of comedy manner.

Anyhow, the food is typical British pub rubbish, A chicken sandwich and chips really fails to press the buttons, but an open fire and a large sleepy dog makes up for things somewhat.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thursday 26th

Essay hell once again. I decide to repeat last weeks stir-fry since it is perfect essay writing food. When you’re in essay writing mode a stir fry is ideal as it is quick and pretty healthy, and provides just enough mindless chopping and stirring distraction for 20 minutes or so to take your mind off things (compared to say, bunging a pizza into the oven). This time I throw in some pak choi from the stall up the road. Good pak choi always look kind of velvety, before turning the deep green colour of mature rice paddy when its in the pan. I’m glad I’m not in the pub tonight with the Corduroy Boy though, as the pak choi has induced some serious farting.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has pondered ‘ I wonder what the Smurfs are up to’. You rarely see them on the TV these days, and it would be nice to find out how they’re getting on.

Have a look at the official smurfs website:
www.smurf.com - I’m really pleased to see that the little blue chaps are still working hard, mostly on continental Europe. They are particularly popular in Belgium, where they are worshipped like gods. A recent Unicef campaign raising funds to help child-soldiers in Burundi featured the normally peaceful Smurf village being bombed. Apparently this was supposed to make an impact on today’s adults who grew up with the Smurfs. I shit thee not…

Another good read is ‘Socio-political themes in the smurfs’ (
http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Cinema/3117/sociosmurf2.htm), where some gimp discusses the issues of Marxism, feminism, and homosexuality in the smurfs.

I wonder who would win in a fight between a smurf and a womble…

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tuesday 24th - Sorting out the Artichokes

Lets sort out these artichoke hearts then. The can says they are the produce of Spain, which prompts happy memories of eating tortilla de patatas made with the addition of salt cod in a cider house in Pamplona. I’ll try and get some photos of that place for the blog, I think they are on Mrs Jiffler’s computer.

Anyhow, the tortilla forms the basis of how I’m going to use some of these artichoke hearts. They’re kept in brine in the tin, so I give them a good rinse. The hearts will substitute most of the potatoes (I finely dice a small one for good measure), along with flakes of two smoked mackerel and a handful of chopped red pepper and spring onion for some colour.

The bit I most enjoy about making a fat tortilla is using a plate to flip it over in the pan, it adds a bit of physicality to the whole experience, and if you get it wrong then there isn’t really any going back. The omelette will be on the floor or down the front of your trousers…

The fish combination works. Texture-wise the fish and the eggs soften and harden respectively and meet the artichokes in the middle. The fish’s strong flavour permeates the egg and the oil nicely, but thankfully doesn’t overpower the artichokes.

I’m reliably informed that I shouldn’t use the term ‘Spanish Omlette’ to describe anything other than the spuds and eggs variety. I don’t care much for the semantics, but I won’t piss in the gazpacho, I’ll name this dish: Mackerel and Artichoke Jiffle.

I picked up some figs from the stall. I’m not sure where they have come from at this time of year, probably North Africa. They are the greenish variety with the pale grey dust on the skins. Unfortunately they are disappointing, lacking sweetness despite being well ripened. I leave two in the bowl and resolve to hide them in tomorrow’s breakfast so as not to let them go to waste.

There are still some artichokes left over in a tub in the fridge. Experimental salad for lunch tomorrow I reckon…

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday 23rd

An hour of hard cycling this morning provides me with the appetite and excuse I've been looking for to have a lunchtime curry. Penultimate on my Northern Quarter list is Aladdin's off High Street, so I pop in on the way back from picking up the new Arctic Monkeys Album in Fopp.

A medium-spiced Chicken Karahi with Naan and Roti comes to £4.90, and I eat it straight out of the carton in the living room, and end up with orange stained fingers. A proper set of reviews of these restaurants is due next month, but for the time being I thnk its fair to say that Aladdin's won't be the winner of the MAnchester Curry Cafe Award.

My tea involves warming up last nights soup. Boring eh? Follow that with plain yoghurt with bits of chopped up banana and crushed up digestive biscuit crumbs... better than a muller 'crunch corner' any day.

Bloody tinned artichokes are still lingering on top of the cupboard. They cost about a quid-fifty as well. I could have had about thirty satsumas for that.

I've got a plan though...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday 22nd - Soup

Traipsing round Manchester looking for new shoes. I’m thinking of going for the full on cuban heels, rock and roll, cowboy thing, but I don’t have the bottle once I get in the shop. Is this a sign of aging?

On the way home I nip into Chinatown for a nosey around. One of my favourite things about living in the city centre is the proximity to Chinatown. I love the great, cheap supermarkets and the chintzy restaurant signs. My favourite place is Ho’s Bakery on Faulkner Street – If you haven’t been here I thoroughly recommend checking it out.

Today I’m drawn in by habit. I just fancy a roast pork crisp – that is a kind of sweet pork-filled pastry rolled in sesame seeds. Probably my favourite of the savoury selection. I’m just about to hand over my money when a new tray of fresh honey buns comes out of the oven. They must have seen me coming. Fortunately I only have two quid in change in my pocket which prevents me from buying the whole tray. I exit the shop grinning from ear to ear and relishing the warmth and softness of the honey bun straight out of the bag as I walk up Portland Street back to the flat.

Couldn’t find any decent chorizo in town today which is a disappointment as I was going to make a soup with the sausage and some parsnips that are starting to look flabby and forlorn in the veg box.

Instead I decide to substitute the chorizo for a big spoonful of smoked paprika that I bought from the delightful Hay Wholefoods Deli in Hay on Wye, a couple of cloves of Garlic and some chilli. The soup is a fairly seasonal mix of spuds, carrots, parsnips (a great match for the paprika), butter beans out of a tin, mini bowtie farfalline pasta, onion a bits of every other leftovers. A good quality chicken stock from the freezer, and the rind of the spent parmesan lift add real depth of flavour beyond the initial spicy hit. The deep fox-like red-orange colour reminds me of the soil in South East Kenya, where I first learned to make my own soup.

For me, using good chicken stock really makes for a great soup. So here’s a ‘proper recipe’…

Chicken Stock.
For ages I used to get put off by recipes asking for chicken stock. Making my own always seemed a hassle, and the packet stuff doesn’t taste like stock, in the same way that prawn cocktail crisps taste nothing like prawns.

Since getting over my stock fear I’ve discovered how satisfying it is too have some stock in. More importantly it has taught me to pay a bit extra for good chicken. When you boil up a chicken’s carcass you get to see exactly what comes out, and a lot less fatty sludge comes out of the happy free range organic chuck than the steroid-pumped Schwarzenegger-chickens that come at three quid a pop.

Anyhow, here’s what you need:
Roast chicken carcass, all the bones and knobbly bits. Drumsticks or wings, or whatever you have will do if you don’t have a whole carcass.
Half a big onion
Bits of celery
Other leftover veg – e.g. bits of spring onion, pepper, carrot etc.
Bay leaf, or any other herbs you fancy putting in. A bouquet garni if you can be bothered fiddling about with the string. A large, thoroughly bashed up piece of lemon grass gives a lovely fresh finish that I like for South-East Asian style soups.

Put all this into a big heavy bottomed pan. The tomato and the onion half should be intact, and the other veg as they come. Fill the pan with enough water to pretty much cover the carcass, and put on a medium to low heat until it starts to gently simmer. Turn down the heat and let the stock bubble very, very softly and slowly for one to two hours. Leave the lid off the pan and the kitchen will smell great.

After letting the stock bubble away for as long as you have patience, take it off the heat and let it cool a little. Strain in to a container and throw away the solids. Let the liquid cool further and skim off any fat you don’t like the look of.

It’ll keep a couple of days in the fridge or longer in the freezer so you don’t have to use it up right away.


Fishy pics... from previous blog... Still haven't got the hang of this thing...

A few days of kitchen action - with photos!

Wednesday 18th January

I was rather pleased with the 15 satsumas for a pound deal. Despite being advertised as seedless, they even came with free seeds. A bargain.

I need to sort out the trout in my fridge before it starts to lose its sparkle. For some reason there is quite a bit of cheap fennel about on the stalls, despite it not being in season in the UK for another six months. January is usually all about carrots, turnips, leeks, and pears. I have some hanging around the kitchen so decide to use the green stems to flavour the trout along with a few slices of lemon and some parsley. The whole lot goes into a foil envelope with a glug of marsala (the most useful single ingredient in my kitchen at the moment) and into the oven.

I can’t remember the last time I used my bamboo steamer so I dig it out from the back of the cupboard and steam whats left of my carrots and mangetout. Fish and veg doesn’t seem enough somehow, and I don’t feel like carbs so I poach a sneaky egg egg in my ‘egg-shaped’ poacher from Heal’s.

I burst the foil bag and poke my nose in to take in the sweet smelling steam. The fish looks marvellous with the fennel poking out like ribs. I’ve just got a digital camera so take a couple of quick pics.

Thursday 19th January

Essay stress at the moment… lunch is a cobbled together experiment. Cheese on toast with sundried tomato pesto is straightforward enough, but doesn’t fill me up, so I line a ramekin with some roasted ham and crack an egg into it for baking in the oven. The results were tasty, have a look at the photo. Next time I’d use moister ham and might get better results from a muffin tray.

Friday 20th January

The essay is finished by midday and so I stop by Loaf on Oldham Street for a club sandwich. The same price as M&S and far superior. Loaf are being brave by slipping a bit of stuffing into the sandwich. As surprises in club sandwiches go this actually works in some way.
I think after I’ve finished my Manchester curry café project I might start a search for the perfect club sandwich. I do enjoy a club sandwich, it is the quintessential hotel bar sandwich.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kitchen Blog - Tuesday 17th January

Working from home again. Roast ham butties and baggy skinned satsumas fail to distract me at lunchtime so I fancy something colourful for tea. Despite the presence of two shiny whole trout, there is a glut of fresh and crunchy vegetables in the fridge so I make a chicken stir-fry, throwing in red peppers, carrots, mange-tout, garlic, ginger, chilli, spring onion, mushrooms, celery and even a few peas from the freezer. Some soy sauce and a splash of marsala adds a touch of the sweet and sour and some fragrance.

In the bowl with egg noodles the rainbow of colours leap out, while the crisp veg is best savoured piece by piece using bamboo chopsticks. A banana and a bottle of French lager round things off.

Still haven’t worked out what to do with those artichokes…

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday 6th

Monday 16th

Mrs Jiffler was busy yesterday evening baking so my journey back to Manchester on the Pendolino is made more bearable by a bag of baked confections. Smarties cookies have a crunchy bite to the crust, while the inside is a more yielding treacly texture. Two rich slices of Honey Cake leave a pleasing smell in my bag. Honey always reminds me of being a child, even though I was always more of a marmalade fan.

On the train I resolve to do a ‘big shop’ in the evening. I haven’t done a ‘big shop’ since Christmas, and it seems worthwhile since I’m in Manchester for at least three weeks. The basil plant on my windowsill finally expired over the Christmas break so that is replaced and some parsley added for good measure.

With a fully stocked fridge the evening meal options are many. I had some lean lamb put through the mincer at the butchers with the intention of making burgers tonight. I make three mini burgers with bits of spring onion, fresh coriander, and garlic in and they go down a treat inside warm pitta bread.

In a moment of supermarket impulse buying I bought a tin of artichoke hearts. What the hell am I going to do with them?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A few days of kitchen action...

Wednesday 11th January

Working at home all day today so nipping out for lunch and some food shopping seems like a good idea to get away from the PC.

A sandwich from the ‘Quality Sandwich Shop’ downstairs makes up for this week’s earlier M&S disappointment. One day I’ll finally comprehend the peculiar rule of economics that means a small sandwich shop in an expensive location off Piccadilly can sell me a lovely fresh sandwich, made in front of me to my specifications using quality bread and ingredients, and still charge 45p less than M&S…

Dinner has to be something that takes the minimum of effort to make while I’m working, but will give me maximum distraction and satisfaction while I’m eating. The butcher is selling a massive box of chicken wings for £2.50 so I go for some of those. At the fruit and veg stall the box of Lollo Rosso looks cheerful, and dense looking fennel bulbs are cheap, so I buy both and spend the rest of my lunchbreak wondering what to do with them.

I decide to roast a dozen or so chicken wings for tea. This involves getting my hands dirty rubbing the wings with olive oil and the juice of a lemon. I arrange them in a roasting tin with most of the fennel sliced up and tucked in between the poultry pieces.

While this is in the oven I dress a salad of leftover tomatoes, yellow pepper, fennel bits, and the lollo rosso with EV Olive Oil and white wine vinegar and munch in the lounge with my flatmate. We discuss Iran’s nuclear capability, and how the old Simpson’s cartoons look a bit primitive these days. After an hour or so the chicken is ready and the fennel is blackening satisfyingly. I eat the lot out of a bowl with sticky fingers.

Thursday 12th January

Submitting work and having a couple of jars… well more of an almighty bender with friends means that food is pretty much for fuel purposes only today… pizza and wine with a couple of friends is the highlight.

Friday 13th January

A serious hangover. Luckily there is a giant pear left in the fruitbowl and this helps provide enough sugar to get me to the train station to catch the Pendolino down to London.

A friend of mine from work is moving on to a new job so we’re off out celebrating. Dinner is at Oscar’s Italian Restaurant / Pizzeria in Kings Langley. This is probably my favourite casual eatery in Hertfordshire, and the ‘Oscar’s famous pizza’ is up to scratch. I always seem to come over with a graving for gorgonzola and artichokes in this restaurant, and this pizza comes with both.

Saturday 14th January

A lazy morning leads to a stroll down Upper Street in Islington in search of lunch. Ken Hom’s restaurant ‘The Yellow River’ is celebrating its eighth birthday. Apparently 8 is a lucky number according to Chinese custom so they’re knocking out two courses for eight quid. This is enough to convince us…

The restaurant is a mix of oriental styles, so we order Jasmine tea and mix and match Cantonese with Thai. My variation on Tom Yam Gai soup is a revelation. Hot enough to clear the most stubborn hangover, with a unexpected blast of tomato flavour it’s easily the best thing that I’ve eaten since this year. The Cantonese Sweet and Sour Chicken (I wanted to see how Ken Hom likes it) was good too. Definitely on a par with Sweet Mandarin in Manchester.

My fortune cookie tells me that I am ‘Radiating Ideas’. I’m certainly inspired by the Tom Yam Gai and I’ll be in Chinatown next week rummaging through Kim’s Thai Supermarket…

We pick up some meaty salmon steaks from a cracking fishmongers on Essex road and head home via the Hen and Chickens pub near Highbury Corner. They look after their beer there and I have a beautifully kept pint of Deuchar’s IPA.

For tea, I throw the salmon steaks in the oven with a bit of lemon and serve them whole with baked mushrooms and ripe goat’s cheese (apparently from a goat called Ethel). The fish was expensive, but the meat flakes up gently under the fork and tastes clean and rich. I contemplate using the shiny skins and strong bones to make up some fishy stock, but its not my kitchen, and not everyone will tolerate a fishy scent wafting up the stairs. We share a ripe and fragrant mango for desert and I pick the skin clean with my teeth. I’m worried about the stringy bits of mango that are still stuck there…

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kitchen Blog 10th January

Muesli and assorted bran, nuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds with milk makes up my usual breakfast. Wolfed down with orange juice in the kitchen with one eye half shut and brain in neutral. The only way to enjoy a healthy breakfast I guess. Leftover single cream in my coffee is the first of today’s guilty pleasures.

Pick up some fresh fruit from the stall on the corner of Kendall’s on my way into Salford. Juicy clementines, couple of braeburn apples, a fat and fragrant pear (get one of these if you’re passing the stall, they’re massive and on form), and a punnet of blueberries as a treat for working hard. Seems to be a lot of cheap blueberries around at the moment, mostly from Argentina. That’s a long way to come on a plane, but I’ll have this guilty pleasure since I mostly drink beer made in Manchester…

The stallholder tells me the best way to eat the blueberries is to sprinkle brown sugar over the top, add a dash of brandy, and microwave for 30 seconds. Then spoon the resulting sticky mess over vanilla ice cream. For now I’m just going to give them a rinse and pick at them as I work.

Lunch is a chicken biryani with a chapatti on the side at the Shalimar restaurant in the Northern Quarter, followed by yoghurt. I’ve almost finished sampling all of the Northern Quarter’s ‘Curry Cafes’, so there will be a review on the blog in about February I would imagine. Who will be the winner of the prestigious ‘Experimental Jifflings Best Curry Café’ award? It’s a close run contest at the moment. I might have to have second helpings.

A portion of Sunday night’s spag bol is still lingering in the fridge in a blue plastic box. Sadly not enough to justify a quick-and-dirty lasagne.

Its a good spag bol, benefiting from a couple of days resting in the fridge, although using lamb mince instead of usual beef hasn’t really made the impression I thought it would. A very tomato-y spag bol this one, with plenty of sweetness from the cream and the rather healthy slosh of marsala I recklessly chucked in when I realised there was no red wine left.

Can’t face much more pasta so I just bung the whole lot on brown bread toast. Pick out the bay leaves, then apply a clumsy dash of Tabasco to lift things a bit and clear my sinuses. Total student comfort food, eaten in front of the Simpsons… Tomorrow I’ll cook something proper.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Kitchen Blogs

Righto. New Year so I’d better get blogging properly. Thought I’d try to come up with a kind of theme to encourage regular blogging, rather than just occasional ranting.

My girlfriend’s Dad bought me a Nigel Slater’s latest recipe book for Christmas. If you don’t know who Nigel Slater is try visiting http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/microsites/nigelslater/ He does a column in the Observer and has written several fantastic books. He’s not the finest chef in the country but his fuss free food is a breath of fresh air from the Islington dinner party pretension on a plate served up by Jamie et al (although I think Nigel lives in Islington…).

I enjoy Nigel Slater’s writing as much as I enjoy trying his recipes. He’s the sort of cook who can’t keep his fingers out of the bowl, and he’s always talking about how food feels to eat.

Anyhow, his latest book – ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ is a diary of what he has cooked over a year. It’s a great idea, with lots of seasonal recipes. So I’ve decided to pinch the idea and do my own ‘Kitchen Blog’. Starting today.

Monday 9th January.

Overpriced M&S so-called ‘Club Sandwich’ today. Not nice, but I was in the big shop on Market Street in Manchester and I noticed that they’ve started packaging the butties in cardboard instead of those horrid little plastic triangular boxes that will sit in the landfill for the next 80 years. To encourage Britain’s favourite shop in to continue in this manner I bought a revolting sandwich. Still tastes bad in cardboard, but I guess it’s a start.

Dinner involved some fridge rummaging. Some panchetta from last nights spag bol go with four softening mushrooms, a lonely egg and a dollop of single cream, and I have a perfectly edible Spag Carbonara. The parmesan is nearly down to its rind and I resolve to chuck it whole into some soup for a bit of a cheesy kick sometime soon.

The spaghetti is this multicoloured organic stuff that I bought from the weird anarchist place around the corner. Organic stuff is still too expensive wherever you buy it so I’ve been slipping to odd thing into my shopping basket now and then to see if they really do taste better. I’m not sure but I think this stuff might taste better than non-organic spag. It might go on my list of organic ‘must haves’, which currently looks like:

Avocados (especially hass variety)
British Apples
British Tomatoes
Peanut butter
(But not the supermarket own branded filth)

Currently on my organic ‘Can’t tell the difference’ list:

Salt: OK, I tend to go posh with salt anyway and go for Halen Mon or Maldon because they don’t have weird additives that make you wee and give you the fear, and you don’t need to use as much to get a good seasoning. But for goodness sake, salt is an INORGANIC substance. There is no such thing as organic salt, it’s a marketing swizz.
: Yeah, yeah, green & blacks dahling. How did we ever live without it? Yak yak. Marketing con, we’re back in Islington dinner party territory. Blindfold I can’t tell the difference between G&B and the 20% cheaper, good quality Lindt. Go to Belgium and eat the chocolate there, it makes G&B taste like the stuff you use to make rice crispy cakes for children, and the Belgians aren’t arsed if its organic or not, they just know its good.
Imported apples from New Zealand (who cares if its organic – they came from New Zealand in an aeroplane! Organic jet fuel?)
Supermarket own brand peanut butter (Evil Filth)

Right. I'm off for an avocado.