Thursday, September 24, 2009

Best Full English Breakfast Ever, Except Maybe for the Next Day's

Greetings, gentle readers.

I have been travelling recently, and my travels took me to the Ol' Dart. When in Rome, I like to eat cotechino, as the Romans do. So what else could I do in England but try the Full English Breakfast (FEB)? In the space of a week I managed 3 FEBs. All in the name of research (and for the make good of the glorious sausage empire back home) of course.

The first of these FEBs was at the Mountbatten Hotel in Monmouth St, Covent Garden. It just happened to be free, in compensation for my room not being ready when it was supposed to be. And just as well it was free. A feeble buffet jobby, barely kept warm and with black pudding that had the taste and consistency of sawdust, so the less said the better.

The second and third were from the same venue, Brown Betty's in St James Street, Nottingham. You see the first one was SO good, I had to go back the next day to see if I had just managed to fluke a good result - a flash in the pan, if you will.

But the second was a carbon copy. The only difference was that I asked the chef to make the black pudding a little crispier and he happily obliged. That and it came with a bit of lip after the night before's cricket result at Trent Bridge.

Imagine my surprise when I checked out the BB website to find that the sample pic of their FEB looked EXACTLY like the meal I had. It wasn't put together by a stylist, but a good ol' fashioned English cook who really knows what he's doing and doesn't mind obliging travelling Aussie cricket fans who like their black pudding bronto crisp.

Anyway, the FEB consists of toast, bacon, sausages (a nice English pork variety), black pud, stewed tomatoes, baked beans with onions and more bacon, fried potatoes and mushrooms. Plus tea or coffee for all of a FIVER. A FIVER, I tells ya!

And it is HUGE. In fact, if you are heading off to Trent Bridge for the cricket, I STRONGLY recommend that you load up with a Brown Betty's FEB before heading off, to save yourself getting bent over the table for a GBP 6 grotty roast pork roll!

And if you're really lucky, the motherly proprietor of Brown Betty's (I'm guessing her name is Betty but I didn't ask) and her two sons will keep you entertained with their friendly bickering and impromptu singing and dancing to the radio. They told me the Aussie cricketers eat there too, so it must be good, although I didn't see any of them on my two visits. And they were staying around the corner from all reports. (Betty's Boys thought I must have been a fan of Merv Hughes, given my moustache was an obvious homage. Right again.)

So when next in Nottingham, take a short stroll from the main square towards Maid Marian Way along St James Street and tell 'em Kevin sent you.

(They kept calling me "Kevin" as I was wearing my KEVIN 70,000,000,000 t-shirt. I tried explaining, but it didn't really work, so I agreed that Kevin was my name and that 70,000,000,000 was my popularity rating.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Quick And Dirty Dessert

Desserts, so far as I'm concerned, serve one major purpose: they are used to bribe small children into eating properly.

Not every dinner needs to have a dessert, no. And most nights, if they're pining for some post-dinner treat, you can either tell 'em that they should have eaten more of their nasi goreng if they're still hungry, or offer 'em a piece of fruit.

But it pays to keep the little bastards off balance, so a repertoire of easy, tasty desserts that you can pull out of your sleeve at short notice is incredibly valuable. Once, maybe twice a week, you listen to the inevitable barrage of complaints about whatever you've put on the table... then you arch an eyebrow, shrug, and say "Oh, well. I suppose you won't be wanting any dessert, either."

Heh. I admit it. I love watching the conflict on their faces at that point.

Anyway, last night was one of those nights. We had another long day of rain and fog, kids trapped indoors. They were pretty well behaved on the whole. We put up some insulation in the shed. There was practice of musical instruments. There was extensive dishwashing and laundry. There was Wii gaming, and reading of books. And come dinner, Elder Son asked about dessert.

Well, I hadn't planned anything. But I did have a few croissants, and some dark cooking chocolate.

The French do this thing they like to call petite pain aux chocolat. The Yanks call it a chocolate-filled croissant. I like to use the nancified French label just to see my kids try to wrap their heads around it. But the truth is that it's so quick and so deadly simple to do that it's almost an embarrassment -- except that it tastes marvellous.

You slit your croissants. You stuff in three or four squares of good dark chocolate. You wrap the pastries in foil to prevent burning, and put 'em in a moderate oven for about five to eight minutes.

When they come out, the croissants are soft and moist, and the chocolate has melted into a divinely gooey mess. It's absolutely fantastic -- and the kids will line up and jump through flaming hoops for it. You could probably get creative, pair it up with some sliced fruit and whipped cream or whatever... but why bother?

Melted chocolate. Warm puff pastry. It doesn't get better than this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mission tart

MISSION - to make a dessert to use the following ingredients. Duck eggs (I have heaps at the moment). Half a tin of caramelised condenced milk that I had left over.

THE PLAN - make a caramel, choc and walnut tart.

As has been mentioned before, I have not the temperement for cakes and desserts. Too half arsed. So I approached this a little scientifically, not what The Wife would call scientifically, I didn't go out and sample a whole bunch of people who have my half arsed approach to measure cooking. No, I read a few different recipes to try and get a feel for the chemistry involved. I then made some of Maggie Beers most fantastic sour cream shortcrust pastry. Then I washed up. The bloody kitchen was a mess from the dinner prep and The Wife gets testy if I leave it ALL for her.

Once it was chilled down, rolled out and in the dish I blind baked it for a bit. Then I tipped in the tin of caramel and scattered the walnuts in and returned it to the oven. Now for the experimental bit. I creamed equal parts of sugar and butter. While that was happening I melted some old dark cooking choclate I had in a cup of milk. I then slowly beat in three duck eggs to the butter/sugar mix, then a tablespoon of corn flour and about half a cup of plain flour. This was followed by the melted chocolate mixture. I was going for that texture that's between a cake and a cheesecake, with the layer of sticky caramel and nuts between that and the crunch and crumble of the shortcrust.

I pulled out the tart base, the caramel had bubbled and spread over the base and slowly poured in the choc mixture. Dropped the heat in the oven and baked for about ten minutes until firm.

Unbloodybeliveable. It came out perfect, just like I had imagined it. I thought all this cake stuff was all perfection and ratios. Maybe I just got lucky but I would have to check, check and check again to achieve that result normally.


MF from the iPhone

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Something without numbers

Girlclumsy had a little rant today on Twitter about News Ltd (evil TM.) and Fairfax both running fairly tabloid headlines regarding women on their websites. The News one dealt with the rise of the "bigger" model and whether this was actually an unhealthy role model as well, the gist of it being "see, she's big I don't need to exercise I can sit on the couch and eat another pie." It lead to a bit of a chat about BMI ( body mass index) and whether it's a useful measurement for what's healthy, compared to using the dress size method of healthiness.

It also allowed me to complain that exercising six days a week and a ten month absitence from hungry jacks ( I gave up on all the other chain takeaways a decade ago, but couldn't kick the HJ habit) had not dropped a ounce of weight off my body. Sure I've changed shape but no weight loss. The Wife looks at me with the moral superiority of a doctorate and tells me that it's my diet. To which I reply, bullshit. You see The Wife is a child of science, tempered in the long, long fire of university and thus she places faith in that witchcraft they call dietetics. I however take a different veiwing of science and in particular the way dieticians peddle their beliefs. (if you ever meet my wife, aak her about the patented apple test for randomization of a sample into two groups.)

Take tonights dinner. Pasta with pesto, feta and mushrooms. If you bought all that from the shop it would differ wildly from the meal we had tonight. Why? Because my meal had no numbers. I made the pasta. I made the pesto. The ingredients were all whole foods with no preservatives or emulsifers or stabilizers. People have been eating whole foods for years but most of the chemicals that replace fat or sugar or increase shelf life have been around a very short time and we really don't know what they'll do to our health in the long term. Yet a dietician would veiw my pasta no differently to a pasta and pesto frozen lean cuisine.


Another mate of mine reckons I'm not getting enough numbers. He's currently living off fitness supplements and is dropping weight like breadcrumbs in a fairytale with a wicked stepmother.

The Wife might have a small point on my diet though. My dad was passing through on the weekend and being Fathers Day I made him this in honour of his love of sweets. Lime and caramel tart. Only 100g of sugar, but 8 eggs and butter and cream and mmmmmmmmm.

Lantanaland from the iPhone

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ginger Beer Trick

The Wife has entered me in the Masterchef thingy. Which is cool, despite me despising reality TV in general and having watched about 20 minutes of Masterchef this year in particular. The chance to accelerate my learning in the kitchen and get exposure for the possible commercial future of Lantanaland is not one to pass up for simple snobbery,

The Wife did all the entry forms and they questions they asked and the bit I did watch this year leads me to believe that I would struggle in one key area – accuracy. I mean that in presentation and in recipes that require minute accuracy and attention to detail I just fall over. This is why the beer brewing kit that The Wife bought me has sat there unused for four years, because beer requires accuracy and attention to detail to be any good. It is just chemistry.

This early summer weather though has wakened a desire from the last year of high school. No I’m not chasing anything that moves in a short skirt and knee high socks, but if The Wife wants to dress that way I won’t complain. In the last year of school my mate Motts and I brewed the most fantastic ginger beer you will have ever tasted.

We used the traditional bug method, which as I found works off a different bacteria than a yeast based brew, using lactobacillus cultured from leaving some fruit free of pesticides in water out in the sun for a few days. You then add sugar and ginger every day for a week to create the liquid gold for your flavour base. When we made it in high school we loved experimenting. More lemon, less sugar, opening the bottles half way through brewing and adding a shot of rum, we tried it all. Of course we had the explosions that anyone who brews ginger beer experiences. The last bottle that we left behind was opened by Motts dad, it exploded across the yard behind the bottle top and in true loony tunes fashion he tipped the bottle upside down and a single drop came out. I shudder to think what might have happened to Gladstone’s best surgeon if the bottle had succumbed to the pressure before he knocked the top off.

In keeping to form though, I am going to replace the sugar in the recipe with Lantanaland Gold honey, and will balance that with limes instead of lemons. There is nothing better than a mildly alcoholic ginger beer on a hot day and this bloke even has a few tricks for getting round the exploding bottle problem. Read his tips here and I’ll report back with the results!