Category Archives: Meaty

Szechuan peppercorns

Szechuan chicken wings

I’ve been shopping for spices again, but this time I think I went a little overboard. When I ordered 1kg of Szechuan peppercorns and 500g of curry leaves, I thought I’d have enough to keep me going for a while, but It turns out that spices are lighter than I thought. A lot lighter than I thought. And as a result, I now have a bag of curry leaves the size of a decent pillow and enough Szechuan peppercorns to last me and everyone I have ever met for at least a decade.

Yep – I’m really not sure what I’m going to do with those leaves, but if you’d like some let me know and I’ll have them shipped to you… 

 

Curry leaves

Szechuan peppercorns though – they are unbelievably  good. So good in fact that I’m annoyed it’s taken me so long to discover them for myself. They’ve always been there of course – providing the basis for that incredible mouth-numbing/tingling feeling you get with a really beautiful extra spicy szechuan pork and noodle soup (go to the New China restaurant on Gerard street if you haven’t experienced it. You can hardly see the soup for the chillies, I promise you won’t forget it).

Anyway, the good news is that you can create that same mouth numbing feeling at home by introducing a generous heap of ground szechuan peppercorns (along with loads of chilli, garlic and ginger) to your wok as you cook. You really must try it.

Chicken wings with Szechaun pepper

These are perfect for a sunday afternoon hangover. Hot, crispy, oily and spicy.

Get your wok nice and hot and pour in a generous amount of cooking oil (I use rapeseed oil). When it’s smoking, add your chicken wings (they should be half covered in the oil) and cook them through on all sides until golden brown.

In the meantime, roughly chop a large thumb of ginger and about 10 cloves of garlic, a red chilli and a few spring onions.

When the chicken wings are cooked, drain off the oil and throw in the chilli, garlic and ginger with the wings, along with a heaped tablespoon of ground szechuan peppercorns plenty of sea salt (I know that’s probably wrong but it really works) and a small tablespoon of Chiu Chow chilli oil.

Toss it all together in the wok for a couple of minutes until the garlic and ginger start to crisp up a little and then turn it all out into a bowl and throw in the spring onions.

That’s it – all done in less than ten minutes, spicy as hell and the most exciting thing you’ll have put in your mouth for months. And make sure you eat all the garlic and ginger bits.

(and there they are, the little beauties – in the jar on the right next to the turmeric)

Szechuan peppercorns

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Flying and eating, two chickens

Roast chicken

I’m about to get on a plane and I already know that I am going eat too much. Worse still, I know that I am going to eat too much stuff that should never, under any circumstance, have ever passed my lips. It’s totally and utterly inevitable. We all do it – we can have a beautiful meal no more than a couple of hours before we get on a flight, with the promise of another, excitingly exotic culinary adventure in a strange city waiting for us just minutes after we land and yet, when faced with an (unexpectedly) wet, plastic tray of largely unidentifiable and almost totally inedible fodder, we feel compelled to consume it.

And why do we do this? Why do we have this unshakable need to eat anything put in front of us when we’re on a plane, regardless of its (dubious) nutritional merit? Perhaps it’s some sort of innate survival instinct that we still posses from times where famine was commonplace – we’re held captive in this overcrowded bus in the sky and we’re suddenly coming on all “hoardy” and searching out the only source of nutrition immediately available. Or maybe it’s simply driven by a misguided attempt to derive the maximum value from the arse-clenchingly huge sums of cash that we’ve already piled into making the journey., despite the fact that the food served on the flight probably accounts for less than 1% of the cost of the ticket. And yet, knowing the fallacy of my actions, in just a few hours time, I’ll be sitting in my designed-for-discomfort, baby vomit-stained, dog-eared faux leather seat with a full belly and a deep sense of regret.

And what’s worse, it’s equally inevitable that just a few hours later and an hour before we land, they’ll pass by one more time with a soggy cheese and tomato sandwich sitting uncomfortably beside a diminutive KitKat and it will take all my strength to turn it down (by the way, why is it that everything on a plane is half the size it should be? Cans of coke – of which they always give you two – pretzels, nuts, the aforementioned KitKats, cutlery, pillows, vodka – they all seem to come in dwarf-like sizes. All evidence, (as so eloquently argued in this very post), is that we eat more on a plane so why on earth is the only good stuff presented to us in minuscule portions?)

And while I’m at it, why do we consume an order of magnitude more tomato juice on planes than we do in real life? How often do you ask for tomato juice when you’re not on a plane, except when you’re hung over and there’s half a bottle of vodka in the glass with it? So why do we invariably ask for it when we’re flying? It makes no sense to me, and yet I play along happily…

I’m going to be strong. I’m going to make a stand and beat these urges once and for all. Well I’m going to try (mind you, there is something so magical about peeling off that wet foil to unveil the greasy wonders within…)

Anyway – to business: chicken seems to play a major role in this little blog of mine, and no less so today as I come at you with two wonderful ways of cooking our feathery friends, both requiring a little basic butchery skill, but nothing that should scare you…

Roast chicken with lemon and onions

Take a whole chicken and cut it into pieces: two legs, two thighs, two breasts and two wings, leaving the top part of the wing attached to the breast – in posh circles this is called a supreme.

Now take the pieces and put them in a large roasting tin with a quartered onion, a bulb of garlic roughly crushed, a quartered lemon and lots of salt, pepper, olive oil and white wine. Roast it in an oven at 220c for about 40 mins, turning twice throughout, but making sure you finish cooking with the skin side up so that it gets nice and crispy. Perfect with mashed spuds and some green stuff.

Roast chicken pieces with a spicy dry rub

Get another chicken, and chop it up in the same way as above, then rub generously with olive oil and a mixture of the following: two cardamom pods, two star anise, two tablespoons each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sea salt, one tablespoon each of peppercorns, fennel seeds, and half a cinnamon stick, all ground into a powder. Stick them on a baking tray (on oiled tinfoil if you want to avoid the worst washing up session of your life) and cook in an oven at 220c for about 40 mins, turning twice throughout, but making sure you finish etc etc..

Serve with lots of chips. To be honest it’s pretty much the same as KFC. But in an edible way.

Roast rubbed chicken

Postscript:
I’ve just landed. I peeled the foil and ate the meal – every last bit of it. I had tomato juice. I awoke to find the devious bastards had placed one of those breakfast boxes right in front of my face but I DID NOT SURRENDER…

Camping, with asparagus

Asparagus

Camping. The great divider. It’s a bit like liver, in that as many people hate it as love it (and it’s best not overdone). But either way, If you’re going to do it, then there’s really only one way to do it (apart from briefly) and that’s to steer totally clear of organised campsites, teepees, yurts and any other half-arsed modern equivalent of the form.
A tent, a fire, food and drink – that’s really all you need.

In la la land.

Sadly, in the real world and with three kids you need a car full of crap including, but not limited to, iPods, iPads, iPhones, chargers, crisps, chocolates, books, magazines, pillows, sleeping bags, bags full of clothes (enough for a week in my daughter’s case), a barbeque, coals, lighter fluid, torches, kitchen roll, about four plastic bags (the ones that take 1,000 years to decompose) of food from the supermarket, waterproofs and plenty of beer, wine and any other alcohol you can get your hands on to get you through hour upon hour of cold, dark nighttime.

And if that doesn’t put you off, and you still plan on doing it, at least make sure you eat well when you’re sitting in your fold-up chairs that you picked up at the service station and that will just about last the weekend if you’re lucky. Here are a few ideas that seemed to go down pretty well:

Char grilled asparagus

Get a bunch of asparagus, rub generously with salt, pepper and lots of olive oil. Stick it on the barbeque. Cook it.

Spicy chicken

Get a load of chicken pieces, rub generously with a mixture of the following (that you can make in advance and bring with you in a jar): three cardamom pods, two star anise, two tablespoons of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sea salt, one tablespoon of peppercorns, fennel seeds, and half a cinnamon stick, all ground into a powder. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Grilled pineapple

Get a pineapple. Peel it and cut it into thick slices. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Eynsham Lock

Summer hits Enfield in the face

Enfield

The first day of summer finally decides to announce itself on the 30th of June, ten days after midsummer and with it, the glorious borough of Enfield bursts into colourful life: pitbulls and pasty white bodies parading themselves through the town with their packs of smokey bacon crisps and cans of cider. You can’t help but smile on a day like this though – we’re finally getting our first little bit of summer joy, and by god we’re going to make the most of it (he says, while sitting inside at the computer writing a blog. To be fair though, we’ve been up since six am and we’ve been outside for most of the day so I don’t feel at all guilty. Not one little bit. Ok, maybe a little, but I’ll pop outside in a while I promise).

And for the first time in a long time, the kids finally allow me to cook them something new. I don’t know if it’s because I only have the boys and that they are more easily persuaded when they’re without Immie, or that they finally trust that very little of the food I cook is poisonous, or maybe it’s just because I did it without telling them – either way, I get to have a play.

Fried pork fillets with spaghetti

I think this is called Escalope Milanese in Italy, although strictly that is made with veal rather than pork. Take a pork chop and remove any bone and fat, then bash it into a thin fillet, about 2mm thick. Next, dip it in egg and then cover with seasoned breadcrumbs. Set aside ready to fry. Now simply make my Friday Night Pasta, but this time with Spaghetti. As it is cooking, fry the fillets and serve them with a squeeze of lemon, next to the spaghetti with a splash of olive oil and a handful of fresh oregano.

Pretty simple stuff…

Pork fillet and spahetthi

From Beijing to Hangzhou (via Changsha)

Tea picking

I suspect many westerners have a handful of preconceptions about China, primarily driven by what we see on the news and read in the papers, and all coloured by the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the terrible government backlash that ensued.

But if you visit, I think you’ll see a very different place to the one you are expecting. People are more enthusiastic, more intelligent, more energetic, more interesting, more opinionated and enjoying life more than most people I meet in London. Everywhere you look, people are going about their daily business in the same way people do here in the UK. Of course the press is controlled by the government, and Twitter and Facebook are blocked and replaced by Chinese versions that are automatically monitored and censored (mainly through keyword searches), and of course there are serious human rights issues that are a real concern. But despite all that I think it’s fair to say that for the vast majority of people, life over there is just as it is over here. Business is booming, people have good jobs, eat good food (far better than we do), drink lots of beer, go to bars, drink more beer, play dice, drink more beer and fall down. Oh and they smoke a lot. Really, all the time. Remember when you used to have an intercourse fag at the dinner table? (about 20 years ago…) They still do that in China. I hesitate in saying this for fear of my own little backlash, but that’s pretty cool…

And so to the food. Wonderful. Fantastic. Unbelievably good. And not at all like the british Chinese food we get to eat over here (mainly I think, because we generally eat Cantonese food here in the UK, rather than Mandarin). Every meal feels like a banquet, and rice is rarely served. Normally about 20-30 dishes, all shared and all perfectly balanced with each other: pork (Chairman Mao style is the best), steamed fish, fried fish, soup, noodles, pak choi, beef, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, beans, prawns, snails, duck (although the tongues are not my faves) and tofu. Always tofu. What is so perfect is that everyone helps themselves from the centre of the table and takes only what they enjoy and only what they need.

So rather than trying to describe how it was all prepared (I have no clue), I’ll just leave you with a little peek at some of the dishes (with a few of the more challenging ones thrown in for fun – there were very few of them, but they have to be included for balance) – oh and the odd funny sign. No photo album is complete without a photo of a funny sign…

Thanks Fan, Jacqueline and Watson…

Wheat-free me

Or fad at the weekend perhaps? I hope not…

Thanks for the photo Sally

Those of you who know me will be familiar with a florid range of rather unattractive nasal challenges that I seem to have to deal with on an almost daily basis. It’s always been like this, from waking up every morning as a teenager at school adorned with other people’s pillows, shoes, books, porn mags (in fact, anything to hand that they could throw at me in the middle of the night to curtail my incessant snorting), to (as I found out recently) whole swathes of staff and colleagues at EMI and News International over the last 10 years firmly believing I had a nasty habit (I don’t. I mean, I do have plenty of nasty habits, but none that make me sniff incessantly).

And without getting into too much detail, I have, from time to time over the course of my life, taken a variety steps to try to do something about this socially debilitating affliction but to no avail – making me slowly but surely come to the conclusion that I must accept my fate as a terminally snotty man.

So, while chatting to a friend of mine a few days ago and answering the question that I get asked on a pretty regular basis: “why do you seem to have a constant cold?”, it dawned on me that I really needed to sort this once and for all. And as luck would have it, it turned out that she had an approach that could indeed help me. Not with surgery or medication, but by removing certain things from my diet and making a few other simple life changes. Never one to shy away from a challenge I thought I’d give it a go – and as I journey through the process, I’m going to bore you lot with all the details – a problem shared and all that…

These are the instructions that she gave me:

1.       Nutrition – no grains, no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar. So for 2 weeks your diet will be made up of good wholesome natural foods: meat, fish, eggs, veg, seeds, nuts and limited fruit (1 piece a day max) Make sure you have protein with every meal (protein shakes are a good snack) and try to get your carbs from green veg (kale is amazing as is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts) Sweet potato is a great source of starchy carbs and as you’re burning lots of calories cycling you might want to make sure you add these to your diet.

2.       Probiotic – healing the gut is key to good health. Here’s one I recommend. http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/shop/for-daily-wellbeing.html Its great value.

There are other things I have to do, but they are less relevant to a food blog, and to be honest, they will probably put you off eating for a good day or two, so I shall omit them for now.

Day one started badly, as I nipped into the supermarket to grab some provisions for breakfast and lunch, and went to pick up things that I might normally grab for a quick bite at work:

  • porridge – nope
  • yoghurt – naha
  • bacon sarnie – nein
  • falafel wrap – non
  • pasta salad – no way
  • bean salad – no
  • croissant – no
  • bagel – no
  • cappucino – no

and on and on and on.

So I end up with a bag of apples, dried mango, fruit juice, a bag of nuts and a crappy salmon salad. Feels like I need more practice…(oh and it cost ten times as much as the croissant)

I had a better start this morning – a cup of coffee and half a smoked mackerel. Most painful though is that I baked this for the kids and can’t even have a mouthful – it’s a sight that I am going to see far less off for some time…

More to come (and I might even post some new recipes up here too – that would be novel).

Bread I'm not allowed to eat

Thanks to Caroline, who’s training to be a nutritionist and who pointed me in the right direction…
(and thanks for the photo Sally)

Down I say, Pork Pie

In fact it’s a pork and venison pie, but my copy fitting urges overcame me.

As I look back at the goings-on of the last two weeks, it’s hard to remember a period in recent times where there was more happening in the world (or at least the world that I consciously inhabit). New York was turned upside down by Sandy, turning the lights out on businesses right across Manhattan and effectively shutting down the city for over a week, and yet this, which in a quiet week would have been a major news event here in the UK, was largely relegated to a few shots of floating cars and reporters being blown over by the wind. The world held its breath as Obama managed to cling on to power, leaving 48% of Americans unhappy but 99% of the rest of the planet extremely relieved. But the story that seems to have gripped our nation, and that threatens to turn one of our greatest institutions upside down, is that of a grubby little man who died just over a year ago, and who during his life, horribly exploited countless children supposedly in his care. But what stands out for me in all of this, is not so much the ever growing list of accounts that are being surfaced, but more, the way in which (as often seems to have been the case in recent news stories – hacking, expenses for example) the story so quickly transcended the individual that it centred around and exploded with such force that it impacted so many peoples’ lives who were in no way implicated in or impacted by the events at the time. And today, we have reached the point where Lord McAlpine has been wrongly accused of being a paedophile, Newsnight has twice in two weeks been threatened with immediate extinction, The director general of the BBC, (only in his post for 54 days) is forced to resign and now Andrew Marr is debating with the home secretary whether the institution of the BBC itself is now under threat.

What I find sad is the fact that our capacity as a culture to accept honest mistakes seems to have diminished to the point where we simply can’t do anything any more (and to be clear, I’m talking about Entwistle here, not the grubby little man). The cynicism of british journalism is for me, one of the most depressing things about living in this country. What makes it worse is that it seems to have rubbed off on the rest of us to the extent that it’s now become a stubborn stain on the fingers of our national psyche. And you can see it everywhere – we complain about everything. Everything. “But that’s nothing new!” I hear you exclaim. I have to disagree – it may have always been there, but the noise-level of discontent has risen steadily in the past decade to the point where everyone expects everything and everyone expects perfection. At all times. It’s unrealistic folks – get real and start being more accepting of an imperfect world. It will probably make you happier. And of course we should question things, and we should investigate when things go wrong and work out how to make them right, but please – just a little perpective.

I only write these things so that when in a few years time I’m looking for a pork pie recipe, I’ll have a little context to put it in (or I’ll simply scan past the first two paragraphs like you probably just did).

So here goes – Pork and Venison Pie

Just found the gallery feature on here, so click on an image below to see a step by step guide on how I got there…

Recipe coming soon when I have the energy to write it down…