A Driving Instructor's Blog

Food

A while back, I bought some stuff from the Marr Green farm shop in Burbage, down in Wiltshire. I often do this to stock up the freezer – not just from Marr Green, but also Red Down farm shop near Highworth/Swindon (I get my eggs from them).

Beef On The Rib

Beef On The Rib

Most of Marr Green’s meat is locally produced, and one item I bought some time last year was a large piece of beef on the rib. I’ve never cooked this cut of meat before, and that is probably why it spent so long in the freezer! But the weather-related food poisoning epidemic my pupils have encountered the last two days meant that I was going to cook a decent meal tonight.

I wouldn’t have bothered posting this if it wasn’t for the fact that it was the tenderest, best flavoured beef I have ever eaten.

Cooking was easy – I just rubbed sea salt into it to season it, seared it on all sides in a little olive oil, then cooked it for 30 minutes in the oven on gas mark 9, reducing to gas mark 4 for 20 minutes per half kg. I let it rest in foil for 30 minutes before carving – it was like cutting butter with a hot knife!

I don’t know if it was the fact that it was from Marr Green’s herd, or just that this cut of meat is so good. But it was delicious.

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I recently posted a recipe for Pilau Rice which had been submitted by a reader (Peter, from Devon). Having tried it, it really does work well – much, much better than the method I’ve been using, and extremely close to what you buy from the takeaway.

Peter has also submitted another tip. I haven’t tried this one, but this is what he says:

I just came upon a great new marinade for a curry by accident – instead of using plain yoghurt as the “liquid” part of a spice/chilli/onion/ginger/garlic marinade…  I used a big splash of green ginger wine – result was fantastic.

The only drawbacks I can see to not using yoghurt is that the meat won’t be tenderised – that’s one of the purposes of yoghurt in marinades – in the same way, and the essential fat will be missing (so the meat might be drier). However, I would imagine ginger wine is still acidic enough to have some effect as a marinade, and if it tastes good who cares if it is the ‘classic’ way or not?

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Well, more of a new method rather than a new recipe – contributed by Peter, who sent me this via the Contact Form.

I tried this tonight and it really does work. It’s much quicker than the one I’ve been using, and it definitely produces the fluffiest rice I have ever made – none of the grains are stuck together.

You’ll need a colander that can withstand being held over boiling water, so a metal one is pretty much essential ( Morrisons is selling stainless steel ones for £2 each at the moment). If you use a plastic one, be careful!

Step 1: Keep the kettle boiling – you need quite a bit of hot water.

Step 2: In a large saucepan or stockpot, place a little oil and carefully fry 3-4 green cardamoms, 2-3 cloves, a medium-sized piece of Cassia Bark, a Bay Leaf, and about a teaspoon of garlic/ginger puree for about 30 seconds to release the flavours. The add about 1 teaspoon to half a tablespoon of salt.

Step 3: Add one large cup or mug full of Basmati rice, and stir until the grains are coated. Then add TWO cup or mug fulls (depending on what you used) of boiling water. Stir once or twice, then leave to simmer on a low heat for exactly 3 minutes.

Step 4: Pour the entire contents into the colander in the sink. Use boiling water to flush out the saucepan or stockpot. When this is clean, fill to about 4-5cm with boiling water and set on the cooker again.

Step 5: Let the rice drain in the sink. When no more cloudy water ruins out, rinse it thouroughly with more boiling water.

Step 6: Set the colander over the boiling water in the pan or stockpot and cover. Allow to steam gently until the rice is ready – mine took about 5-7 minutes. It overcooks easily, so keep an eye on it.

Step 2 is my addition – I like the rice to be flavoured, hence this sort of tarka I use. You’ll also need to experiment with the amount of salt (hence the range I gave), because since the rice does not absorb all the water you find less of the salt stays in the grains.

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The Daily Mail is off on one, again. It’s about salt in top brand foods this time.

Supermarkets’ ‘own-label’ foods contain less salt than the leading brands, the food watchdog reveals today.

Now, ‘leading brands’ are called that because they sell more than other (non-leading) brands. Hasn’t it occurred to anyone that ‘leading brands’ hold that position because in spite of costing more, they actually taste better?

Kingsmill White tastes better than Tesco Wholemeal (although comparing white bread and wholemeal is a bit pointless).

Kelloggs Cornflakes taste better than Tesco’s own brand.

Kelloggs Rice Krispies taste better than Sainsbury’s own-brand version of puffed rice cereal.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup tastes better than Asda’s Smart Price version.

Why? Because they all contain more salt. And salt makes food taste good. It’s also why so-called ‘junk food’ also tastes good – or it used to, until they started taking salt out. As an aside, Heinz Baked Beans taste better than any other baked beans on the planet, yet even Heinz has screwed up by removing most of the salt. I just put it back in when I cook them.

Furthermore, the Food Standards Agency recommends bread should contain a target level of 1.1g of salt. Kingsmill bread only contains 0.08g more, but Tesco’s offering contains 0.4g less. Does it actually need to contain this much less?

This is the problem: people have got it into their heads that salt should be eliminated completely – or as near to completely as possible – from our food. The only reason bread still has it in is that it won’t rise properly if they take it out altogether. It would also taste totally crap, but that doesn’t bother them.

The human body needs salt – a totally salt-free diet would be unhealthy. But worse than that, a totally salt free diet would lead to the blandest food imaginable. And that reminds me of that Goodness Gracious Me sketch and ‘going for an English’:

Around here, takeaway Chinese meals often taste rubbish because the salt is gone (egg-fried rice made with rice cooked without salt is awful). I even had a pizza last week and I didn’t know they made salt-free tomato paste and pepperoni until now. Thank God most Indian takeaways haven’t succumbed yet.

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If you, too, are sick and tired of going to KFC branches – only to end up waiting for ages as the one person serving deals with the spotty-faced berk in front who insists on having something complicated that isn’t on the menu – try this recipe. I found it on the Internet and it actually tastes better than KFC and is much more crispy (and that’s something else: they claim KFC is crispy, but it is always soggy).

No one is saying this is how they make it in KFC branches. KFC use pressure fryers to cook their chicken, and these are expensive (and big). The purpose here is to cook something that tastes good.

  • 300g Plain Flour
  • 2 tsp Garlic Salt
  • ½tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1tbsp Dried Parsley
  • ½tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ½tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1tbsp Celery Salt
  • ½tsp Dried Sage
  • ½tsp Dried Rosemary
  • 3tbsp Monosodium Glutamate

You can leave out the last item (MSG) if it worries you. Put all the items in a clean, dry box or polythene bag and mix together by shaking. If you have the ingredients to hand, it takes less than 5 minutes to make the dry mix.

Now, take your chicken pieces (it works with chicken breast or chicken portions – just make sure they aren’t huge otherwise they won’t cook properly). The best thing to do is marinate them overnight in buttermilk, but you can also dip them in beaten egg. Then roll them in the dry mix. (do them in small batches otherwise the coating powder gets all wet). If you want, you can dip them in buttermilk or egg wash again and coat them a second time.

Deep fry at 180ºC until golden brown.

Try it! It really is good. It isn’t like authentic Southern Fried Chicken – but neither is KFC. But it does taste very much like KFC.

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I don’t know why I bother! KFC has to be the most badly run outfit on the planet. I’ve had repeated problems getting served in various local branches, but his is what happened in one branch over the last 7 days.

Visit #1

I went in and, since there was only one person there, I decided to try and order something (if there is a queue of any length then you’re looking at a 30 minute wait at best). I stood and waited. The primate serving stood in front of the hot trays and fiddled with something. Then she waddled over to the till and pushed something. Then she waddled back to the hot trays… and immediately waddled all the way back around the other side of the hot trays. Then she waddled back to the front. All this time not one item of food was touched or ended up in the box that was presumably assembled for the customer’s order. Meanwhile, in the background, the half dozen acne collections around the back were busy staring up at screens and merrily serving the constant flow of pratmobiles that frequent the drive-thru. After several minutes I just walked out.

Visit #2

I went in and there was no one in the queue at all. I know from experience this is no guarantee of being served quickly. Anyway, after about a minute a young girl came up. There was no verbal communication, but the eye contact suggested she wanted to take my order. I said :”Can I have a Bargain Bucket… “, but before I could finish she put her finger up and in broken English said “one minute… ” I said “Isn’t anything ready? “, and she said again “one minute… ” I just said “thanks ” and walked out.

Visit #3

I went in and there were two youths in front of me. One was eating a burger (there is a Burger King across the road) and sucking on a milkshake. The primate serving appeared to open one of those little envelopes for fries, then made some sort of gesture, then waddled all the way round the back of the hot trays, did something else with a paper envelope, looked around, then waddled round the front again. I said to the couple who had come in behind me: “this is going to take hours, again “, and walked out.

Visit #4

I finally got served almost immediately. Before I did, I asked the guy who was serving: “I want a 16 piece Bargain Bucket – is there enough food ready to have that immediately? ” He said “Yes “. I said: “OK. I’ll have one, and can I have three large beans instead of fries? ” “No problem “, he said, and took my £14.99. This was too easy… He filled the bucket, then a minute or two later came back and said “the beans are going to be about 5 minutes. Is that OK? ” Aaaargh! About 10 minutes later I finally got out with my food. While I was waiting I counted about 7 chavs in pratmobiles driving out of the drive-thru.

Seriously, KFC is a waste of space. It’s managed and run by idiots. The car park is a pig sty – bags, boxes, and food everywhere. It’s usually full of chavs in pratmobiles with there chavette girlfriends. One was there last night changing a wheel (and getting in the way of everyone else). There are broken Stella bottles everywhere. The “One Way” and “No Entry” lane markings are totally ignored. The speed limit in the car park must be the same as on the 40mph road outside judging by the way they drive in there. And so on.

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I like eggs!

In all the years I’ve been eating them I have never come across a bad one. Well, not until recently. Oh, I’d heard of them – but I’d never encountered one myself.

EggsFor the last few years I’ve been eating free-range eggs. And I mean proper free-range ones: bought from a farm shop down in Wiltshire. I must have bought tens of dozens, and I had still never encountered a bad one.

Then, a couple of months ago, I bought 2 dozen and as I’d got to the last few one of them turned out to be bad. It was green inside, and the smell was indescribable.

Not to be put off, the last time I went past the farm I bought another 3 dozen. Big mistake: about a quarter of them appear to be bad. In fact, the one I cracked last night had a noticeable flat side to the egg shell. I guessed it was going to be odd before I’d cracked it.

It doesn’t half put you off.

I’m down that way again this week, so I’ll nip in and find out if they have a problem with their hens. Seems weird that after so many hundreds there should all of a sudden be such a high rate of bad ones.

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There’s a new page (see the top button bar). I love curry, and it has been a lifelong ambition to be able to make them like they do in resturants and takeaways.

A lot of so-called ‘Indian’ restaurants are crap. They’re not ‘Indian’ (and by that I also mean they’re not ‘Bangladeshi’ or ‘Pakistani’, etc. either) and they don’t make their own food. The worst ones I’ve found are those which advertise ‘currys (sic), pizzas, SFC, kebabs, burgers’. The curry comes in a plastic tray with a heat-sealed plastic film, just like those you buy in the supermarket freezer chests, and it tastes like the stuff you get in works canteens – boiled and creamy. Other restaurants are genuine, but they just cook awful food. One of the problems is the stupid modern idea that any salt at all is bad for you – salt is a flavour enhancer and taking it out of food means the food tastes bland (Mini Cheddars – those little cheese biscuits – are a good example: taking the salt out means they taste horrible; and the same is true of crisps (potato chips), and McDonald’s fries).

Over the last couple of months I’ve been to four Nottingham restaurants which in the past have provided good food: The Curry Lounge, Sapna, the Mogal e-Azam, and The Laguna.

The Curry Lounge was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (a UK TV series about failing restaurants, which Ramsay was trying to help). I’d not been before until about a month ago (my friend had, and reported that it was good), and I will never go again. Apart from being stupidly overpriced the curry was completely tasteless. It was just as if the chef had forgotten to put any curry powder/spices in (and I’m not exaggerating). We mentioned it to the waiter and he said: “I can see you know about curry. Next time you are in just ask for it to be made a little more tasty. Some people don’t like it too spicy” . Well, let them go and buy fish & chips, then. And don’t get me started on the Gulab Jamun – you got two Gulabs, a scoop of ice-cream about the size of a walnut, and an extra £5 on the bill!

I’ve been to the Sapna a lot of times. It’s cheap and cheerful – plastic tablecloths, peeling plaster and wallpaper in the corners (well, it is in a basement) – but the food has always been good enough for after a concert or few drinks. The added benefit is that it is open until around 4am (one year we’d been out celebrating New Year and we went for a curry in here at about 3am on New Years Day morning). This time is was awful, though. My friend had Mulligatawny Soup as a starter and it was like a mousse rather than a soup. He commented that they appeared to have used their basic curry gravy to make everything. His daughter’s Vindaloo looked and tasted like my Chicken Methi. Both were creamy.

The Mogal e-Azam always seems to be hit and miss. It’s right next to Rock City, so it is convenient, but I find that if there aren’t many people in the food is rubbish. Last time we went in my mate, who’d come down from Leeds, eventually (I could kill him over how long it takes him to decide to order something which usually isn’t on the menu) went for a tandoori lamb starter. It was basically several lamb chops coated in tandoori spices and cooked, presumably, in a Tandoor – although I think a more appropriate description would have been geriatric mutton coated in Superglue, dipped in tandoori spices bought at Tesco, and incinerated using an industrial blowtorch. It was tough.

I used to know someone who was almost violently of the opinion that The Laguna was the best Indian restaurant in Nottingham. Well, I’ve been in a few times and although it has not been what you would call bad, it certainly isn’t the best one I’ve been to. This time was no exception. The first thing that struck me was that you couldn’t smell anything that reminded you you were in a curry house – and there were quite a few people in. The lack of smell, combined with the fact that the waiter who greeted us was Oriental, made me think it wasn’t an Indian any more! The curry was passable, though definitely lacking a bit in flavour. But the naan breads were a joke – my garlic naan was only slightly larger than a DVD disk, and you know how much you pay for sundries when you are eating-in.

Although I haven’t been in for ages, one which used to be excellent was The Jewel In The Crown in West Bridgford (now called The Jewel). It used to be classic: subdued lighting, flock wallpaper, Indian music in the background, heavy wooden chairs, and great food. But they ruined it by trying to go ‘contemporary’. You need sunglasses even walking past it. EDIT 01/04/2010: The Jewel has closed down as of the last month or so. Not sure why, but if I was guessing I’d say it went to far with its change of image. A bog-standard Indian restaurant which serves great food will always survive – a poncey one which messes with the food too much and creates ridiculous overheads it has to pay for probably won’t.

As far as takeaways go two of the best around here have to be Curry2Night (West Bridgford: telephone 0115 981 1712 ) and New Everest Tandoori (Ruddington: telephone 0115 984 8358 ). I added the phone numbers because of the hits this page keeps getting – I suspect people are wanting to order takeaways and finding this blog!

But as I said right at the start, it has always been my ambition to be able to make curries like they do in restaurants. The Bangladeshi guy who used to own Curry2Night – and he and his wife had to have been the best chefs ever – promised me he would show me before he retired, but he never did. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying out different things, some of which has been given to me by pupils, whilst others I’ve picked up off the Internet and trialled/modified as needed.

The result  (so far – it’s always a work in progress) can be found in the Curry Recipe section (that new button at the top of the page).

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