You are what you eat & drink

Posts tagged “Britain

The Bingers

Stay sober? No thanks – I’m British

There’s understandable panic over binge-drinking culture, but our history, weather and the effects of British reserve mean we’ll probably carry on regardless

‘No law is a match for the centuries-old need for a few hours of joyful, rebellious oblivion.’ Photograph: Alamy

Mine is shaping up to be a varied and illustrious binge-drinking career. From the first time I got drunk, at 14 – having boldly decided that a two-litre bottle of White Lightning cider was the best way to get over a breakup (and land me in hospital) – to guzzling beer through a funnel while at university, to present-day bouts of getting hammered in the kitchen, it’s been a bumpy, sick-making ride. And, despite the fact my hangovers have begun to transmogrify from tolerable annoyances into day-long periods of apocalyptic torture, I’m still doing it. Like many others, I ignore the health risks and the horror stories, because, in all honesty, I love drinking.

It hardly needs stating that the UK and Ireland have a binge-drinking problem with the potential for fatal consequences. A 19-year-old, Jonny Byrne, died on Saturday, after downing a pint and jumping into a river as part of a game called NekNomination. The game, from what I can gather, is imported from Australia, another country that struggles with moderation (this week a young woman there inexplicably swallowed a goldfish while playing the same game). And police suspect that Megan Roberts, a teenager who went missing in York in late January, may have fallen into the river Ouse after a night of drinking.

Understandably, tragic stories such as these tend to provoke moral panic. While ministers have dropped minimum alcohol pricing proposals, the Home Office is still intending to use existing licensing regulations in order to prevent supermarkets selling alcohol at below cost. Not only are these measures likely to have an impact only on a mere 1.3% of sales, they also ignore several underlying factors. Alcohol is dirt cheap elsewhere in Europe, but in countries such as France and Italy – where alcohol is consumed regularly but in a leisurely, aperitif fashion, often while smoking and looking out on to a piazza – there is no “binge-drinking epidemic”. France (a nation that, according to World Health Organisation statistics, actually drinks more than us) points and laughs at le binge drinking across the Channel. We have an issue with so-called drinking urgency that extending pub opening times hasn’t tackled.

I have a theory about Britain’s bingeing but it is, admittedly, one that I came up with in the pub. I’ve come to believe that our small island has a unique combination of factors that results in our seemingly indefatigable urge to get wasted. It has roots in our class system, which has seen the rich stockpile wealth and the poor go from the medieval alehouses that flourished in the wake of the Black Death to Wetherspoons, via Hogarth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane.

The industrial revolution gave birth to the modern pattern of alternating monotonous, silent work with noisy, drunken piss-ups. Now we work more hours than any other country in Europe. By contrast, many French people still take two hours at lunch.

It’s the crappy weather, too, the atavistic lure of a roaring fire and the warmth of the pub on dark winter afternoons. Historically pubs gave the overcrowded, urban poor a surrogate home away from the slums, which is perhaps why so many of them still feel like someone’s living room. We’re losing some of that now, but the need for a short, sharp burst of comfort remains, and can be seen echoed in modern, competitive drinking games.

It’s also, I think, a nationwide lack of confidence, an emotional reserve. This is a cliche, but one that’s undeniable in the face of all those boozed-up first kisses and late-night street rows between red-faced people rattling with repressed anger, like pressure cookers. Combine that with the lure of the taboo created by a society that tells parents not to let their children see them drink, and you end up with a country of bloated drunkards (myself included) whose habits are impossible to legislate away.

No law is a match for the centuries-old need for a few hours of joyful, rebellious oblivion. How a government could ever go about sobering us up effectively is anyone’s guess, but I do know one thing: we’ll drink whatever the cost.

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Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

French name, restaurant in Oxfordshire, Britain.

So what’s so special about Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons?

Reportedly, it’s Britain’s most expensive restaurant set in a 15th-century stone manor house.

In his quest to find superb cooking, Jay is prepared to go where most of us can’t afford to – Britain’s priciest restaurant

Up the garden path: the famous restaurant in its bucolic setting. Photograph: John Lawrence

Meal for two, including wine and service £400 (yes, really)

I once claimed I ate in lousy restaurants so you wouldn’t have to. The circumstances today are subtly different. I ate at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons because you never will. Granted, that’s less selfless, but it is realistic. Look at the price: £400 for two. And that’s without shaking down the excruciating wine list – we had a few by the glass – or choosing the nine-course tasting menu at £154. Add the premium wine flight to that at £299, plus 10% service and – bingo! – it’s a grand for two. Is Le Manoir the most expensive restaurant in Britain? How about “yeah”? I think “yeah” covers it nicely.

Cue outbreaks of words like “obscenity” and “shameless”, and that’s from my own family. To which I can only say go get angry about something that really matters, which does not include the way those lucky enough to have the surplus income choose to spend it. At this level Le Manoir’s customers are buying memories, not a cure for rickets. The memories they are buying may not be those that you seek, but they suit others. Nobody chastises the bloke who, say, spends £500 on a weekend in Paris merely to watch the rugby. This is no different.

All of which is, of course, an endless apologia for one fact. I was gagging to eat at Le Manoir. I have been in this gig for nearly 15 years and yet I had never been there – which is like being a trainspotter who’s never been to Crewe. I’m also a big fan of late-career television-friendly Blanc. It’s not just that he punctuates his BBC2 series by barking “Ooh la la” like it’s normal (it isn’t). It’s also his refusal to compromise. Many TV cooks try to claim that preparing great food is a piece of piss. That’s a big filthy lie. Blanc doesn’t pretend. He shows you that great cooking isn’t easy. It’s complicated and takes not just great taste, but oceans of experience and hard graft. Plus, killer ingredients, which is the point of Le Manoir’s kitchen, led these days by head chef Gary Jones, with Blanc never far away. To understand it you need, before dinner, to take a stroll across lawns which haven’t so much been manicured as trimmed with nail clippers, through the doorway in the old red-brick wall, and into the glorious Narnia of the kitchen garden beyond.

Pitch perfect: roasted scallop and langoustine. Photograph: John Lawrence

Pitch perfect: roasted scallop and langoustine. Photograph: John Lawrence

Many restaurants big up garden plots which rarely amount to more than an old bath planted with some knackered chives and rocket that bolted three weeks ago. Le Manoir’s is a Kitchen Garden with a capital K and G. Here are artichokes and fennel, beans and salad leaves many and various. There is a mushroom valley, a plot of micro herbs and a brass scarecrow modelled on Blanc himself. Why, of course. Here is everything any serious cook could ever want and a bunch of other stuff they never knew they needed.

The food served in the honey-coloured stone house with its thick-carpeted, softly lit dining room, is an expression of this garden. No single dish will astonish you through inventiveness. The food at Le Manoir isn’t clever. It’s just bloody nice. Nothing is gelled or squirted through a nitrous gun to look like fairy spit or dehydrated and reformed into the shape of the Ruins of Antioch. The killer ingredients are simply allowed to be themselves.

So we take our seats, along with the extended family celebrating a milestone and the gay couple and the elderly pair from Yorkshire, he with his napkin suspended on a gold chain and clip affair that I covet.

We start with a pitch-perfect terrine of humble beetroot with a quenelle of horseradish sorbet. It tastes like that Jewish condiment, chrain. It is indeed that flavour, but re-presented in bespoke Armani. It is both itself and so much more. It is earth and sweet and a hint of fire. There is a risotto of summer vegetables with the lightest of chervil creams, that herb hinged deftly between tarragon and parsley. Of course the rice is bang on, each grain separate but clinging to its neighbour. What matters is the crunch and sweetness of the vegetables within. The garden returns to the table once more in a salad accompanying roasted scallops and langoustine. Both dishes are riffs on Le Manoir’s horticulture.

Veal kidneys, a blush of taffeta pink at their heart, come with half the contents of the allium section – baby leeks roasted just so, the soft hit of onion so many ways – all brought together by a red-wine sauce that has me mopping (with their own sour dough) at the plate until the glaze risks wearing thin. Sea bass and more langoustine turn up with lightly smoked mashed potatoes that have you tapping your wrists to check the blood can still push through the narrowed arteries.

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British pizza

…from bone marrow to Thai curry

Boundary-pushing pizzerias are serving toppings that would make a Neapolitan swoon – and not in a good way. But some of them are delicious. Would you order a doner kebab pizza?

Lamb doner kebab pizza from Artisan.

In Naples, there are militants who insist that there are only three truly authentic varieties of pizza: marinara, margherita and margherita extra, with buffalo mozzarella. Across wider Italy, the list of acceptable pizza toppings is tightly circumscribed. It’s a decent bet, therefore, that Italians will hate the coming trend in Britain’s pizzerias.

From Homeslice’s oxtail and bone marrow pizzas to the Welsh lamb and mint pesto slice at Baravin in Aberystwyth, a new wave of restaurants is slipping the shackles of Italian orthodoxy and getting creative with toppings. In Manchester, at Artisan, you can even order a lamb doner kebab pizza. Yes, really.

More remarkably, unlike their Hawaiian and peking duck predecessors, some of these experimental creations actually work. Dressed with a soy glaze, Homeslice’s mushroom, ricotta and pumpkin seed slice cleverly balances savoury depth, freshness and a nutty textural variety. “I’m not Italian, and I’ve never felt confined by the traditional toppings,” says the New Zealand chef and co-owner, Ryan Jessup. “I didn’t want any kind of gimmick, I just wanted to put flavours together that worked, using traditional processes and quality ingredients.”

America’s irreverent approach to “pie” was a key inspiration for Pizza East and Voodoo Ray’s gently innovative gourmet pizzas, both in London. The latter sells a savoy cabbage and bacon slice, which anglicises the cult brussels sprouts and pancetta pizza sold at Motorino in New York. Using local ingredients is a hallmark of these new, upstart British pizzerias.

For others, getting creative just seems to be a natural progression. As a nation, we’ve finally got to grips with the basics of real pizza (proper 00-flour doughs; wood-fired ovens); the next stage is to put our stamp on it. At Pizzaface in Brighton, which tops its pizzas with lamb proscuitto, smoked tuna and chipotle chillies, or the Crate Brewery in London, which serves a laksa chicken pizza, the approach is pretty radical. Lardo, also in London, represents a quieter shift to more sophisticated Italian ingredients (porchetta, lardo itself), which are unheard of as pizza toppings in Italy.

“We’re obsessed by food and we love playing around,” says Lisa Richards, co-owner of Great British Pizza Co in Margate, whose recent specials have included a Parma ham and nectarine pizza, and a take on Turkish lahmacun, topped with minced lamb, parsley and lemon juice. “And,” she adds, “our specials always sell out.”

As a co-owner of Pleb, a Lewes street food operation that serves authentic Roman pizza, Joe Lutrario doesn’t particularly like this trend. He and his business partner still argue over whether to use onions or not, never mind braised lamb: “It’s semantics, but at that point it probably stops being Italian pizza. Capers, olives and anchovies go really well with mozzarella and tomatoes and, in my opinion, there are probably only another 10 ingredients that do. We’re pretty conservative.”

However, in his other life as a senior reporter at Restaurant magazine, Lutrario predicts that “British” pizza could well take off: “Possibly at the expense of established places, such as Pizza Express. Local ingredients, local beers, pizza – it just works as a business model. Pizza is high-margin, relatively easy to knock out, and it doesn’t encourage people to stay for long.”

At Artisan, on a wood-fired pizza menu that also includes a (pretty awful) Thai curry number and a (pretty awesome) shaved potato and chorizo pizza topped with game crisps, the doner kebab is its biggest seller. It is a novelty dish, but a surprisingly effective one. After all, what is pizza but a flatbread? This is just an open doner kebab.

Artisan’s executive chef, John Branagan, actually wanted to call these pizzas flatbreads, but watched Jamie Oliver fail to communicate his topped British flatbreads concept at Union Jacks. “We were too chicken,” he says. “It’s been done before and people have reverted to using the word pizza.” Think of these new-wave pizzas as flatbreads, however (at Artisan, generally the ingredients aren’t cooked on the pizza, but added after), and it all begins to make more sense.

Branagan likes to retain a pizza look by including some sort of tomato sauce, but he plays around with it to make it suitable. For example, the pulled pork pizza uses a BBQ sauce. On certain Homeslice pizzas, Jessup has dispensed with tomato sauce altogether, using beurre blanc on his mackerel pizza and a kind of creamed corn soup on his corn and chorizo. Get over the necessity to start every pizza/flatbread with a tomato sauce, and suddenly the potential variations are endless. “The base is just a carrier,” says Branagan.

Not that Italians will be persuaded. “My father-in-law is Italian, a retired chef,” says Branagan, “and he would pass out [at this].”

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How stupid are McDonald’s?

Apparently very stupid.

They can’t tell the difference between this…

A meat pie

And this…

A pasty

Blissful American ignorance has upset a lot of people in Britain, particularly those in Cornwall and Devon.

Check this story


Cider – Much Under-rated

55 BC and the Romans arrived in Britain to find the people of Kent drinking cider. The invading Romans found the drink to rather pleasant and by the 9th century cider drinking was widely established in Europe.

What is cider?

Simple, cider is made from apples, any apples, but some produce better cider than others.

Cider is one of the drinks that is popular as ‘homemade.’

Many companies make cider.

While cider is popular throught Britain and Europe it was also transported to the USA by early immigrants.

“The flavour of cider varies. Ciders can be classified from dry to sweet. Their appearance ranges from cloudy with sediment to completely clear, and their colour ranges from light yellow through orange to brown.” – Wikipedia.

“Apple based juices with cranberry also make fine ciders; and many other fruit purées or flavourings can be used, such as grape, cherry, and raspberry.” – Wikipedia.

Calvados Reserve

Calvados

Made throughout Normandy, France. It is the double distillation of cider.

Suggestions for Calvados:

– Storage: very long, bottles upright without special precautions.
– As an Aperitif: on its own, over ice, or with a drop or two of water to let it release its aromas.
– For cooking: to flambé, and for sorbets and granités.
– As a digestive: Drinking temperature 20-22°C (68 to 72°F). – Domaine Dupont

Health

Cider, being made from apples has a relatively high concentration of phenolics and is therefore considered to be helpful for preventing heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.

Cooking & Cocktails

Cider can be used instead of wine in recipes and many cocktails contain cider, or are based on cider as well as mulled wine made from cider.

Check here for some cider recipes.

Or here for cocktail & drink recipes.


That Awful Black Pudding is Making a Come Back

Quite coincidental, but news of black pudding making a come back appeared the day after my first post on Awful Offal Foods.

It seems that black pudding is returning, at least in Britain.

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Black pudding is back on the menu, thanks to austerity and celebrity chefs

TV recipes and hard times bring new boom in sales of traditional sausage described in some quarters as ‘Lancashire viagra’

Black pudding customers near Chadwick's Original Bury Black Puddings stall on Bury market. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Black pudding may be as integral to British culinary culture as fish and chips, spotted dick and the Sunday roast, but – perhaps due to queasiness over its main ingredient – it has languished at the bottom of the nation’s collective shopping list for years.

But now, through a combination of celebrity chef endorsements and economic austerity the “blood sausage” is enjoying a sales boom. Producers of traditional black puddings, from the Outer Hebrides to the rolling foothills around the Lancashire valleys, say demand for their product has soared by up to 25% over the past year.

Duncan Haigh, owner of Arthur Haigh, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, which makes the award-winning Doreen’s Black Pudding, had to build an extension to his premises in order to cope with demand.

“Black pudding is not just for breakfast any more,” Haigh said. “A lot of chefs are using it because they realise it brings richness to a dish. It’s now found in starters and main courses.”

Depending on the regional variation, black puddings contain a mix of dried blood, salt and rusk.

Some producers prefer ox or sheep blood to that of pigs while others employ suet and oatmeal in their recipes. But whatever the outcome, traditional black pudding makers keep their exact contents a closely guarded secret.

Chadwick’s Original Bury Black Pudding has been making its distinctive puddings since 1865. The firm’s stall on Bury market, Greater Manchester, is a local tourist attraction.

Source: The Guardian Read more

Black pudding is not new, in fact it can be traced back to the time of Homer – ‘The first known written mention of black pudding was as early as 800 BC when it appeared in Homer’s classic The Odyssey.  In book twenty of his great canon, Homer wrote “As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted…”.’ – Blackpudding.org

Black pudding, or its various forms have been used by nearly every race on Earth at one time or another; from the ancient Romans and Greeks to the Mongols of Genghis Khan. and beyond.

It has featured in royal banquets, been a staple of the poor, it has raised religious argument and featured in literature and television.

You want to know more, then try Wikipedia and the .org link above.