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Monday, 20 April 2015

Italian inspired garlic and ginger prawns with spaghetti.

Today I got some real inspiration from two remarkably similar sources. Both were connected with Puglia in Italy. Last night I fished out an old DVD by Rick Stein about his own inspirations in the Mediterranean from a few years ago (Mediterranean Escapes) and I particularly enjoyed the section about Puglia. This is an area that doesn't have the luminous beauty or fame of Tuscany but one in which good honest Italian fare is cooked in homes and restaurants. Interestingly it has appeared to me once again today in my purchase of the BBC Food and Travel magazine (May 2015). The area has been described as Italy's bread basket and the region is famed for cucina povera (peasant food). I like the rustic approach and dynamic so to hear and read that a lot of the food comes from the wild automatically appealed. Only the other day I dressed a salad predominantly with leaves from dandelion leaves and nettles in the garden.




My meal tonight was an unctuous mini feast quite simple in the preparation. Firstly I made a chunky marinade out of chopped fresh garlic, a single hot chilli pepper and chopped fresh ginger. I used the eventual paste (ground down in a pestle and mortar) to flavour the freshly prepared king prawns purchased from the fishmonger in the Victoria Centre. They were a good price actually at nearly a fiver for eight. I also brought some peas in their pods and shucked these and added them to the spaghetti as it cooked to an al dente texture. The tomatoes and basil were simply lightly tossed together with a little Italian olive oil.





In this dish I didn't directly copy any recipe but just made up something I thought would work well together and hoped the garlic and ginger would go some way to helping cure my head cold. It certainly did. If I can get hold of some snapper or a similar fish I may well try something more authentic to the cuisine of Puglia next time.


The finished dish.

Friday, 17 April 2015

"Our Cafe in the mitte of our Strasse!"

Back in December 2014 I was in Karlsruhe in Germany performing a play at the Jakobus theatre with my good friend Emma Brown. When we weren't rehearsing, performing or knocking back a few drinks at the Café Bleu opposite the theatre we could often be found in 'our' café. People say that don't they? 'Our' café, like it exists just for them - a little haven away from the hassle of the crowds - somewhere to gently sip a cup of coffee or have a slice of cake or a tart and a read of the papers, even though they are in complex German. Well, perhaps a look at the pictures in the papers anyway and maybe some of the words - especially if they strike us a funny. "Look, they call XYZ Hinkelbonkel!"

Well Emma is my good friend and I like to show my friends places I have thought of as being particularly cosy or restful and to share that with them. Karlsruhe, is and was, in the unfortunate circumstance of being in the middle of a gigantic restructuring of their tram system in the city centre and beyond. The very centre of the city is a huge whole in the ground into which - one year soon - will fit a new underground metro system to compliment their already complex tram system - the Strassenbahn. Emma and I know all about the Strassenbahn. Don't we Emma? It featured rather heavily in my play!



One day I introduced her to Café Am Markt - café on the marketplace. This is quite an old fashioned resting spot for the some of the older people from Karlsruhe. It is a typical café of the region in it being very clean, compact and has great service with a smile. It mainly serves the German favourite - coffee and cakes (Kaffee und Kuchen) but will extend its menu to some hot food and other drinks. We went there a few times and it became 'our' café.



This is currently a café with a view to weep over. I'm not talking German Romanticism here. There are no snow peaked mountains outside with men and ladies in lederhosen rounding up friendly goats to glory over as you sip your hot beverage. You may well choke on your Mandeltorte, get the pip with your Apfelstrudel or lose it with the Pumpernickel Brownies as you turn in your wooden seat to see the view. Here it is: the view out across to the charming market place.


And from the other side we get this view.


So the windows steam up in Café Am Markt and another hot drink helps the minutes go by pleasantly. On returning from the loos we each spy the very serious looking lady from Berlin on the next table who freaks us out somewhat as she mentally sucks the sugary coated plums from my Pflaumenkuchen. I can almost see them floating in the air from my plate to her bitter lemon mouth leaving in their wake a fairy dust of fine dusting sugar dissolving in the air. I wolf it down so there is no chance of this happening! Then Emma gets out the pills we have just bought from one of the many thousand pharmacies on each strasse. These are for a sudden frozen shoulder complaint. The pills come with ten yards of toilet paper advice on what to take them with, what not to take them with, who to call if you die from them and how long they take dissolve if you go the rectal route. We love Café Am Markt!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Saving money shopping local.

Being away from the temptation to shop at any Tesco store, I have been enjoying shopping locally in the village where we are particularly fortunate to have a range of independent shops including Thomas Glyn the greengrocer and The Ruddington Butcher. Glyn's greengrocers are very reasonable in price and the fruit and vegetables are always fresh. Plus if you happen to just want one potato and a couple of carrots it is no problem. Not that I often shop like that but the option is there. Like those at the butcher's round the corner the staff are always friendly and knowledgeable and the service is pleasant and quick.


I will give you an example of how I think I have saved money and time by shopping local. As I never set out to do a contrast and compare exercise I unfortunately I can't give a specific alternative example from a supermarket, but here goes. Firstly the shop is two minutes walk from my house so no brainer there. There are other alternatives a similar distance away for veg shopping and those are the local Co-operative store and a Sainsbury's Local store. The Sainsbury's is far too limited in choice and expensive and mainly the Co-operative store shopping gets a bit tempting to 'just get' something else whilst in store. Beer mainly.

So I had in mind a nice big chicken stew to try and beat this cold I have right now. Plenty of garlic and leeks. At Glyn's I sourced some ingredients based on the fact I only had ten pounds in my pocket in cash and a chicken needed to be bought too from that amount. The items below are what I purchased from Glyn's for the sum total of £2.94. The little bag of thyme was on offer at 45p and I had more than enough to flavour the chicken. I already had garlic in the house.



A medium sized fresh chicken cost me £6 from the local butcher. Interestingly I have brought very little meat since breaking up from work just over two weeks ago. The chicken has been my only meat purchase. I have been happy to do without it. Far too many food miles and time expenditure in going out to a large supermarket on the edge of town.


So far I have had three big bowls of flavoursome chicken stew and there is enough left for a few days more and it is the nicest tasting chicken I have had for while. In a large supermarket a chicken would probably about the same but I reckon double the amount on vegetables. One small step in saving for me and mankind. ;0)

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Pasta and Scottish rope grown mussels in a white wine sauce

The nearest place I could hope to get fresh mussels from is in the Victoria Centre market in Nottingham where they sell some excellent Shetland Isle mussels loose. So my intention to go to town this morning to get half a kilo to cook and adorn some pasta decorated with ripped basil leaves was slightly marred by the cost factor. Not that the mussels are expensive at £3.75 a kilo but the additional travel costs would be another £4 in bus fares. That plus the time going into town and back - one and half hours - put me off.

I thought about the alternatives and wondered if my local Co-Operative store might have a packet of cooked mussels without the shells. On looking I found a packet of reduced -in shells- cooked Scottish mussels in a white wine sauce for £1.09. Actually the white wine sauce that came with the small pack of mussels was quite nice with the pasta.


All in all a simple inexpensive lunch cooked under half an hour and served elegantly with a chilled glass of Chardonnay.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

To Biftek or not to Biftek. C'est la question.

It was another glorious sunny day yesterday here in Nottinghamshire and for most of the day I had the kitchen door open to let in some fresh air and to give me easy access to the bench outside. Why struggle at the door trying to open it with a chilled bottle of Warsteiner beer and food in your hands when the open door provides instant access? Besides, I don't want to be found crying over spilt beer. Do I?



For a complete change and inspired by a beautifully illustrated book 'French Food Safari' I went out to the shops to get some thin chips to cook in the oven and a bottle of Mayonnaise. I wanted to cook the classic French dish Biftek. Guillaume Brahini one of the authors of the pre-mentioned book suggests sirloin, rump or filet steaks. I happened to have some rump in the fridge.

Brahini describes Biftek et Pommes Frites as classic bistro cooking that takes no more than thirty minutes (assuming the chips are cooked at the recommended twenty minutes in the oven.)


My steak was done medium rare. You can tell it is done this way because it feels slightly springy when you press on it. It gives a little resistance maybe even French resistance! For your knowledge a rare steak would feel soft and yield to the touch whilst a well done steak feels firm. Brahini cooks his in olive oil but I find it to rich for my tastes and prefer a light sunflower oil.

Enjoy the sunshine.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Stomping on my food. Vegetable Stoemp.

No I'm not having a hissy fit with a failed dish but the Belgian word Stoemp surely must have it origins in our word 'stomp' meaning to tread or stamp heavily. Actually I had a go at making a very popular dish from Belgium and other European countries like The Netherlands and Germany.

This popular dish comes in a range of colours dependent on the root vegetable that gets mashed. The general colours are green, yellow and white. White is made with potato mixed with celeriac, parsnip, swede or salsify. The yellow stoemp is made with carrot or pumpkin and the green can contain broccoli, leaks, cabbage, peas, courgettes, spinach or sprouts. As with many Belgian dishes like this it can be enriched with cream and butter.

I used potatoes, a whole steamed broccoli and peas in my Stoemp. The sausages were fried but you can also barbeque or grill them if you want less fat.

The consistency is somewhere between a stew and a smooth mash. I guess you could add any sausages but I tried to add something Germanic within the restrictions of what you can buy in a UK supermarket. I went for a pack of Bavarian Bratwurst from Waitrose - part of their unearthed range.

I have to say it was all very nice and a great change from bangers and mash. There are plenty of recipes on the net but this is one I would recommend.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My last day at Tesco - well for eight weeks at least

A few Sundays ago I was inspired to take some pictures of the ice truck and the setting up process on a Tesco fish counter. I thought they might be of interest to you readers. As Sunday 29th March was the last working day for me before my eight week sabbatical (boy was I excited!) I thought about this proposal and took a few more. Here is how it is before the fish get taken from the fridge and placed attractively on the iced up counter.

The ice is created by an ice making machine in the corner of the fish counter. Two trucks are filled during a working day and stored in a cold store at the back of the shop. It can take from 7.30am to 3.30pm to fill both trucks approximately. The following morning the fishmonger tips the separate buckets on to the metal display area and creates a depth of about four inches across the counter. A plastic separator keeps the smoked fish away from the fresh and prevents cross contamination.



This picture below is the fully iced counter before the ice is compacted down using a cutting board as a weight. The smoked area is then lined with finoplas (like cellophane) to prevent the smoked element leaking through into the fresh and to keep the smoked fish from getting ice burns.



Other skinless fish like salmon portions and tuna steaks also sit on sections of finoplas for the same reason as the smoked. As a live product the bags of mussels must also be placed on finoplas otherwise they could freeze and die. Similarly, any products like fish pie mix and fresh squid and raw prawns that are contained in small square metal bowls must be buried up to the rim in ice to keep a constant temperature throughout the day. We don't have many cooked items on the fish counter but things like the cooked crabs must be kept completely separate from the raw products.


The fish is then arranged attractively on the counter and various duties like date checks, delivery records, safe and legal records and daily reductions are carried out. During the day the whole fresh fish such as the whole salmon, sea bream, sea bass, mackerel, sardines as well as the fresh oysters and mussels are sprayed with ice water every twenty minutes to keep them moist.

Of course the fishmongers, Paul, Cherie and myself help the customers in their fish choices through our knowledge and training. We all have the ability to clean the fish (take scales off, fins off, take guts out and wash) and to fillet the fish if needed. Alan our other butcher helps out too when needed. During the working day we work hard keeping the preparation area hygienic and clean. This can be hard when certain messy fish are on offer! Salmon scales are the worst. They get everywhere!

At the end of the working day whoever is on the fish counter will pack all the remaining fish away in the fridges behind the counter, get rid of waste, clean up and remove all the ice from the display unit by dumping it in the sink with hot running water to dissolve the ice. There is also a water tap on the counter which releases a fountain of cold water on to the empty ice. The metal and plastic dividers all get scrubbed with hot soapy water and rinsed clean.

Children seem to find the fish counter fascinating and one night a small boy asked if the water streaming done the almost empty counter was coming from the sea! Bless.


As Sunday evening arrived I did my usual professional job, got cleaned down and clocked off at 5.15pm. As I went out of the side door of Tesco I let out a little yelp of freedom and grinned all the way home. Already this week I have been working at my writing and have four plays to see and review this week alone. Plus I have been coming up with some great ideas for this food blog. See you in eight weeks maybe Tesco safety shoes and hat. Enjoy your own relaxing time in my locker.