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Monday, 20 June 2016

No longer an oyster virgin.

In May 2016 my German friend Markus generously gave me two lenses that work with my Nikon camera whilst I was in Karlsruhe. Today I went out in the rain with one of the lenses for a fun photographic walk around Nottingham and enjoyed capturing some of the wet sights around town.

It was much busier than this online picture shows

As it came to lunchtime I decided to go to Loch Fyne on King Street Nottingham to sample some their delicious rope grown mussels and a small bottle of Hoegaarden beer. This 'borrowed' online photo shows the business without customers but it was quite busy for a Monday lunchtime. My visit was a treat to myself as going out for a lunch isn't something I can normally afford to do. The mussels were a calling and the ones I had at Loch Fyne were plump and delicious. I started with a few olives and the mussels came with French fries and two hunks of bread for mopping up the creamy sauce. For a dessert I chose the crème brulee.

After paying for a very enjoyable lunch I asked the waitress (Pearl) if Loch Fyne ever did any oyster tasting for beginners because although I sell them at work I have never actually tried one. She said I could try one for free and so I sat down and enjoyed my very first oyster with Tequila and lime. Thanks very much Loch Fyne!

How did it taste?

Oysters on ice with lime segment and sprig of dill.

Well before I go all eccentric foodie on you in my description (like... well... stables next to the sea on a windy day. Part shoe leather and wet grass and salty skin mixed with nutshells and old browning newspaper) it was none of these things. Thank goodness.

Oysters have a high saline content so naturally there was a not unpleasant salty edge to the chewy and slippery taste experience. Because the oyster (singular) had been anointed in Tequila the liquor was the prominent note. However, eating the oyster I did get a hint of the nutty, sweet, slightly earthy nature of this raw bivalve mollusc. It would be great to go back to Loch Fyne again and try a platter with chopped shallots. I do love mussels and scallops so I may well be developing a bit of a sea food craze here. Oh well, back to the umbrellas in the rain.

Umbrella failure.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A milestone 100 likes on Facebook today

This food blog attracts over 5000 hits a month and although I don't get so many online comments I do get lots of personal feedback and people really seem to enjoy the varied interesting content and the humour that I build into my writing. Sometimes I get the occasional customer at work who surprises me and often inspires me with the knowledge that they have been following and reading this blog for a lengthy period of time. All to the good.  What many may not be aware of is that I have a Facebook site that the recent blog posts are copied to and the stats show that a lot of my traffic comes via Facebook.

Although the blog likes are tiny on the Facebook site compared to the hit counts this blog has just reached a 100 'Likes' today. If you are reading this and are a Facebook user then Mugofstrongtea would really appreciate it if you helped these 'Likes' grow by adding yours. Thank you.


Don't forget too that if you shop at Tesco online you can use the link at the top of the blog page to do your shopping.

Phil Lowe

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Do you recall how a salad looked and tasted in the 1960s?

My personal memory of salads at our working class home in Chaddesden on the outskirts of Derby in the 60s and 70s  is they may have been simple compared with what we eat today but they were darned tasty! Very little of the products came from a supermarket too.

Mr Disney the sweet old chap neighbour with his greenhouse chock full of tomatoes in the background.

Me aged ten by my Dad's cold frame.

A typical salad would have been composed of Coss lettuce, home-grown (donated by a kindly neighbour - Mr Disney)  deliciously fragrant on the vine tomatoes, home grown spring onions, home grown cress, cucumber slices and some crunchy sticks of celery to dip into a pile of salt or dollop of unctuous sexy salad cream. I have tried to recreate below how this aspect looked using products purchased yesterday from the village greengrocer in Ruddington.

We would also have had radishes - yes - once again a home grown food - and beetroot that we purchased most probably in a jar. In reality there wouldn't have been so much vegetable matter on our plates but there were other ingredients to a typical salad of that period. I will come to those in a second.

Vintage lovers would love the kind of gadget my mother would use to slice cold pre-boiled eggs to add to the salad. My sisters and my brother also used to play with it as a kind of kitchen harp twanging the wires with a strange kind of pleasure gained in the noise they made.

A salad wouldn't have been a salad without cold sliced egg. Any accompanying cold cooked meats would have likely been ox tongue in aspic, or some shiny looking cooked ham or if the family was feeling wealthy some ham off the bone. Both of these would have been purchased from the local butcher at Top Shops at the top of Perth Street in Chaddesden. The Co-Operative store had a butchers and fishmongers slab too! A Melton Mowbray pork pie with the salad would have meant it was Sunday evening as this was a real treat. My Dad particularly enjoyed screwing his eyes up whilst crunching on pickled onions.  Maybe if it was summer and we had some cold chicken left over from the Sunday roast the remnants could have been another meat option to have with a salad.

A nice crusty pork pie with plenty of jelly inside.

Tinned pink salmon or tinned sardines in tomato sauce would sometimes be included in our salads if we were feeling particularly exotic.

The varieties of cheese available in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s wasn't anything like what we enjoy today and so our salad options would have been fairly limited. I recall having Lancashire and Gloucester cheese as well as a honey coloured Derby cheese and a mild and flaky Leicester cheese, Cheshire and Cheddar cheeses. My Dad Bob delighted in stinking the house out with 'Old Socks Cheese' that was probably either Stilton of Blue Cheshire. It might also have been one of the imported cheeses like a Danish Blue. White sliced Hovis  bread and butter was always a filler if the salad hadn't been enough to gorge on.

Mum and Dad still gardening in the 1980s.

To accompany the salad it had to be Heinz Salad Cream and maybe some bright yellow Piccalilli or crunchy brown 'Bring Out The Branston' Branston original pickle. There were no salad dressings as there are today and olive oil was only to be got at the chemist for use with earache.  Happy days. Sometimes we would even take a salad picnic out on to our back lawn to eat Al Fresco. Radical!

The modern salad plateful of accompaniments would have seemed very alien to our 1960s taste buds unless you happened to be Elizabeth David the woman who almost single handedly introduced Mediterranean foods into the 'often stuck in the mud' British cuisine of the time.

If you have any fond memories of 1960s salads at your homes please do leave a comment.

Phil Lowe

Monday, 13 June 2016

The grey mullet - a flexible fish popular the world over but perhaps underrated in the UK.

The grey mullet (whole fish) is a new visitor to the icy shores of the Tesco fish counter. It is a fairly large fish with equally large scales and very popular with our Chinese customers. It appears to be a popular part of their cuisine where fish is involved. This is where most of our sales have come from – with an occasional sale to the English customers. It looks similar to a larger version of our £3 sea bass – with a softer belly- and on average our grey mullet have been costing the customers somewhere between £5 and £6. Tesco source their grey mullet as a wild fish caught by trawler, gill nets or similar nets.

I purchased one the other day and decided to get out the barbecue. Crazy I know! Just for once it was sunny weather and the thin dried branches from some local pine trees smelled great as I got the BBQ fired up. I cut the fish into chunky bone in steaks to be cooked flesh down. They took about ten minutes on the barbecue and I turned them three or four times – always keeping the skin away from the direct heat and bars. Being so thin the skin on any fish will burn if sat directly on the bbq.

As it turned out I cooked it alongside some lamb cutlets cut from a French trimmed rack of lamb. In the end I decided to eat the delicious mullet with a few mixed olives and feta cheese and the lamb chops with a few cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese that I happened to have in the fridge.

The cooked grey mullet had a distinctive almost earthy flavour that I personally liked but I have read that it is not universally loved. The BBC Food website claims that the earthy taste of the fish can be can be reduced by 'the addition of robust and lightly acidulated sauces, dressings and marinades featuring lemon, white wine, vinegar, capers and garlic.' It also adds that grey mullet roe is a delicacy smoked and is traditionally used in taramasalata.

The chef Raymond Blanc is a keen advocate of using this fish to make an excellent fish soup. He includes a pinch of saffron powder, five bruised garlic cloves, five sprigs of fresh thyme, carrot, a fennel bulb and some black pepper in his recipe. Chef Simon Rimmer loves grey mullet with yoghurt potatoes. My mates the Si and Dave – The Hairy Bikers – suggest the usage of grey mullet fillets as an ingredient in their recipe for a seafood pearl barley paella.

Mitch Tonks – in his excellent book 'Fish – the complete fish & seafood companion' has a great recipe for grey mullet with mussels, roasted garlic and oregano and a separate recipe for baked grey mullet with dill and brandy. He is not alone in his grey mullet enthusiasms and it seems that there are plenty of recipes out there to try. Mitch also enthuses on the website that his first experience of ginger with steamed fish (mullet) was in a local Chinese restaurant in his youth. He suggests that grey mullet is an underrated fish and can often be found at a very reasonable price on one's fishmonger's slab. He proposes that when buying grey mullet that you ask the fishmonger if the fish was sea caught or from an estuary. Estuarine fish have a slightly muddier flavour than those caught out at sea. Either way they are both good and not to be missed when in prime fresh condition.

In life the fish itself prefers brackish coastal waters and lagoons with varying salinity. The are common throughout the Mediterranean and along the northwestern coast of the Black Sea. They are also found in the eastern Atlantic, from Southern Norway to South Africa. They are a common summer visitor to southern British shores, sometimes extending into the North Sea.

For those interested the grey mullet has a variety of international names.

UK: Thin-lipped grey mullet (also thick-lipped)
France: Mulet porc
Greece: Mavráki
Portugal: Tainha
Spain: Morragute
Italy: (Cefalo) Botolo
Germany: Dünnlippige Meeräsche

Incidentally, the lamb rack cutlets were perfectly cooked and easily regulated on the gently heated periphery of the barbeque cooking rack. With both the grey mullet and the lamb chops there were some bones to negotiate (deal with) but that is part of the barbeque experience, non

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Some cut throat pork steaks like in Sweeney Todd, bitte

Whilst on my recent trip to Germany I needed to find (no – not a loo this time - that's another story) a place that sold newspapers. The Badische Neueste Nachrichten – a locally respected newspaper in Karlsruhe – had favourably published two theatre reviews of the Lace Market Theatre productions of Michael Frayn's Benefactors and W. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. From a few previous visits to Karlsruhe I remembered the location of what turned out to be a branch of the Cap chain of mini supermarkets and so I trekked down Kaiser Allée in search of this establishment and its excellent car parking facilities in front of the store. That's my sponsorship fee sorted.

It was easy enough to find. Once inside I found myself distracted by the dried Spätzle products and fascinated by the German names for the dried herbs on offer as well as the lip smacking abundance of delicious smoked meats to tempt the tongue and the senses. Maybe that should be lippen schmakking although my schpellchecker now alerts me to bad schpelling. Bad Schpelling? Now that sounds like a spa town in southern Bavaria. I move on... Los Geht's...

During my perusal of the mini-markt I happened to halt by the meat counter and asked the lady if I could take some photos. She looked a bit freaked out by my request and wasn't overly placated by my admittance/confession of being English and also a worker behind a similar counter at Tesco. Perhaps I should have pronounced my employers name as Teschco. After a few awkward moments there was a momentary concession to photos being taken. However, it was abundantly clear that Frau Cap did not want to appear in my blog post. In fact the middle aged lady pretty much ran away as soon as I whipped out my equipment! Such is the proverbial story of my life.

The counter looked very similar to any English supermarket meat counter with a few clear exceptions. There were recognisable cuts but also quite a big section of marinated meat products adding colour and interest and some of the bigger non-marinated joints showed darker elements of meat cutting and ageing that would be dismissed by many British customers buying meat in a supermarket. Sadly, at home there is still this ignorant illusion that meat is some kind of plastic product that looks perfectly pink/red all of the time and if there appears to be any sort of natural discolouration in the flesh then this is something to worry about or query about in terms of freshness.

Part of me wishes that my German language was a greater level and that I would have been able to have a lovely chat with Frau Cap on the supermarket meat counter. Not quite busman's holiday chit chat but something akin to this and perhaps something I could have gained knowledge from and shared it with my readers. Alas Frau Cap stayed hidden behind the scenes until the scary English nutcase had gone from sight and she was able to return to her job of fondling the Wurstle (little sausages).

On picking up one the supermarket's free promotional leaflets I was marginally interested to see that they had pre-packed meat products just the same as in the UK but with regional differences like the mixed beef and pork stew pack (Gulasch-gemischt) for Goulash and the fatty pork shoulder steaks had the more prosaic and slightly Sweeney Todd description of Pig Throat Steaks. “Ja, I would like some of your cut throat pork steaks (Schweine Hals-Kotelett) please, Herr Todd. They are for a big juicy pie I am making.”

First dis-embowel your Sea Bream...

You would think I would have had enough of cleaning Sea Bream. 'Cleaning' is an all encompassing term that includes trimming the fins off, lightly scraping off the fish scales, slitting the fish belly with one deft flick of the sharp boning knife and then scraping out the fish's sloppy guts and yanking out the red gills. Hope I haven't put you off already. The cleaning process is completed by washing the gutted Bream under a cold running tap. These fish have been on offer for two weeks at Tesco and although I have only been around for just one of those weeks I have done my share for the eager customers. From a previous offer I purchased a Sea Bream and stored it away in my freezer guts intact. Someone once suggested that that is the best way to freeze whole fish so I have followed their lead in this matter.

Yesterday I defrosted it and cleaned it at home. I was quite busy doing other things so I oven baked it for an hour. At the same time I thinly sliced some new potatoes I happened to have in and layered them in a baking dish with thin cut onion and dotted the dish with black pitted olives. To cook the mix I added some vegetable stock – enough to reach the surface of the sliced potato and onion layers but not drown them in liquid. They cooked in the same oven for the same amount of time and both came out perfect.

Dish with added sun dried tomato antipasto.

The flesh just falls off the bone.

Mr Harris the cat highly recommends Phil's Sea Bream with roast potatoes, onion, antipasto and olives even though he never tried any of it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Spargel - German asparagus. Can't get enough of it!

I mentioned in a recent blog post about the German Spargel or asparagus and since then I have discovered some more interesting facts.

In Germany there are many local festivals to celebrate the harvest where you can eat asparagus prepared with great culinary creativity. Spargel and Flammkuchen and smoked ham are very popular as is eating the cooked item and having a cheesy dip or sauce with it, Hollandaise for example.
Many restaurants serve special Spargel dishes and it takes three years growing to produce. German asparagus in the most expensive in Europe. Some will be imported from France especially from the regions of Alsace neighbouring the German state of Baden Württemburg.

The white Spargel is the most popular and although the term still means asparagus it is more commonly used to refer to the white variation. The white asparagus is grown underground in knee high square banks of fine sandy earth. Thereby, no photosynthesis occurs, keeping the stalks from turning green and the white variation has a slightly softer, sweeter flavour.

It is still picked by hand in many regions. It is hard work and the vegetables are uncovered by hand and cut off at the stem with an asparagus knife. Broken tips fetch a lower price. A practised picker can harvest up to eight to ten pounds in an hours and most asparagus grown in Germany is from small family farms. It is known as 'the vegetable of kings' and once taken from the sandy soil the Spargel are sorted into size and quality and sent to the market that very day. The product's flavour and consistency are dependent on its freshness.
Spargel on Flammkuchen.
Whilst in Germany I was advised that the green asparagus is usually best when picked early because it gets woody and tough otherwise. Vitamin rich green asparagus has an even higher nutrient content than the bleached version. White asparagus can be grown for a while more and the thickness has no impact on the tenderness. One should always peel it before you prepare it. Fresh asparagus from a market can be pre-peeled but you have to eat it the same day. The straighter the stalk the higher the quality. You can even buy asparagus peelers in most super markets. They hang alongside all the other kitchen implements. I love looking around foreign supermarkets and could potentially spend hours jotting down all the 'alien' food products – but rarely do.

I had some delicious Spargel on a Flammkuchen at the Marktlücke café on Marktplatz in Karlsruhe. It was very tasty and the Flammkuchen is like a very thin pizza base. The view from their balcony isn't that interesting at the moment unless you like looking down on a big building site. The Pils was good too!

Spargel is also known as 'Joy of Spring' or 'Tender Ivory'. It is also part of the lily family and the botanical name is Asparagus officinalis. Eating it activates the kidneys and it has a diuretic effect from the aspartic acid saponin it contains. I.e. it makes your wee smell. Asparagus is 93% water. The things you learn on here!