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Saturday, 20 June 2015

Beginner's guide to not cremating burgers on the bbq.

How do I cook a burger? Well that sounds an easy thing to answer doesn't it? Grill it, fry it or simply turn it into a vastly reduced piece of circular blackened charcoal that once resembled meat. This skill is best done on the barbecue. As German barbeque enthusiast and writer Johan Wolfgang 'pass me the mustard' Goethe once said. 'Flames licking the meat on the barbecue doth not a good juicy burger make'. This is a broad approximation of his advice taken from Old German circa 1811. He was a Meisterburger at the time. This was clearly an honour bestowed on him due to his cooking prowess on das Barbecue.

So, as summer approaches, (stifles laugh) here is some simplistic advice on cooking burgers on a charcoal barbecue. We all know that men love to feel in charge of the barbecue and lots of people have one of those self assembly ranges that come cheap and wobbly from stores like Wilkinson.

First of all do not lose your temper and pour petrol on any reluctant ambers but slowly build the 'fire' with levels of thin dry wood or kindling and tightly wrapped newspaper plus the essential paraffin soaked white cubes of flame inducement. Add a few more larger pieces of dry wood and put the rest aside for when the flames start to rise after being set alight with long safety matches. Sage advice following from one who has suffered. Don't mess with the regular diddy size matches - go for the long 'uns - or fingers will undoubtedly get burnt. Plus, hang fire on the bbq briquettes for now. I know you are as keen as a nervous pyromaniac but be patient - big boy.

Once the wood is burning nicely carefully add a few briquettes then some more. Watch out for those rogue flames! Find something like a bit of strong cardboard to fan the flames from a safe distance away. A sense of smug Neanderthal satisfaction should come over the wafting person as things seem to be progressing much better than last summer when the shed burnt down plus the neighbour's newly creosoted panelled fence and everyone went home smoky but hungry. Yes we know the firemen enjoyed the salad but that was offered out of sobbing gratitude not communal generosity.

Right, do not cook anything until all the flames have died down which may take up to thirty minutes. Grab a cool beer at this stage. There are hundreds of them in the bath and more in the fridge. Drink responsibly.

What you should be seeing now is glowing coals with a grey-white dusting on them. Carefully place the grid on the barbecue and put on your first burger. As it starts to cook fat will drip into the coals and spark off fatty flames. There will also be wisps of grey smoke and hissing sounds. At this stage it is very exciting and appeals to the would-be Michelin starred restaurant owner in us. “Look at me! In charge of food!” we cry. If you get too much hissing check to see if the cat is attempting to nick the cooking burger from the barbecue.

Use meat tongues to turn the burgers over not your bare hands nor a soil encrusted trowel retrieved in haste from the shed. Try not to pierce or prod the cooking burgers as the meat juices will escape and the burger will end up tough and dry. Always cook burgers until any meat juices run clear with no pink areas present in the centre. If you are posh enough to have a digital thermometer the internal temperatures should be; Beef and veal : 80º C, lamb: 75-80ºC.

As properly cooked burger after properly cooked burger are easily prised from the saintéd barbecue, wolfed down and admired by all and sundry do not become over confident and start trying to cook whole chickens. Nor such you delve naively into the specialist master butcher world of hog roasts. Leave those to the professionals. Sausages are a good next step and maybe kebabs or even chops. Fish is a whole new kettle of fish. For a beginner barbecuing steak can be an expensive mistake. There is a joke in the last sentence.

Note: a few chilled beers or glasses of wine can make the overall bbq experience a good one – falling over pissed as a fart next to or on top of a hot bbq – not good unless you have a fetish for the nurses in the local hospital severe burns unit.

Away from the glamour of the outdoor barbecue I have some grilling and frying advice for those luscious burgers you are now aching to cook.


Always ensure that the burgers are cooked under a pre-heated moderate grill. If the grill appears not to be functioning but the oven space is heating up you have turned the dial the wrong way. Use tongs to turn the burgers unless you like raw and singed finger tips as part of the eating experience.

Pan -frying:

To prevent burgers from sticking always use a non-stick frying or griddle pan. The clue is in the term 'non-stick'. If using cooking oil lightly brush both sides of your burgers rather than heating the oil in the pan. This too is a healthier way of eating and boarders on the erotic. Should food porn passions ignite between you and your loved one in the kitchen whilst cooking your burgers please do turn off any hot appliances before retiring upstairs or down to the garden shed. Love making venue up to your discretion.

Enjoy your burgers!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Back to Bordeaux!!!

So many of my readers have asked me to put all the links to my recent Bordeaux based blog posts into one blog that I have. In chronological order we have the first five: Bordeaux bound, a trip to a superb Sunday food market on the quayside (with video), an exciting visit to the indoor market of Marché de Capucines where I visited the butcher's counter, the day I ate two steaks in one day and the Saturday evening I had moules frites with a lot of broken shells.

The following five are: who has stolen my Bordeaux Brasserie?, roast sea bass and sex on the street,  Yes Mum the Bordeaux fish and chip shop, lamb chops and limp chips for dinner, Spanish hams worth about 600€ each! and finally, Goodbye to Bordeaux. Just click on the lighter coloured links to enjoy the other Bordeaux blog posts listed here.

Well, except it is not quite au revoir just yet. I still have a lot of fond memories of this trip even though, four out of the five days, my feet were suffering badly from blisters. So as I sit dreaming of soft fresh brioche with steaming cups of coffee and people watching on the rue Ste Catherine back home here in Ruddington England I reflect with amusement on some of my observations and experiences.

Cow Street!

I wanted to have the experience of travelling on the Bordeaux buses as well as the trams and on the Tuesday my dream came true in quite an unexpected way. To save my feet I took the tram on line C from the city centre in the direction of the railway station (a former tram terminus) and stayed on for the ride as it appeared that the line had been considerably extended since March 2015. The route took me and a thousand school kids out into the suburbs and it was very interesting to see the various forms of houses and estates that the French live in. After about a half hour journey the tram stopped at the new small terminus called Vaklav Havel and everyone left got off.

At this stop a young woman asked me something in French and I replied that I didn't understand. It turned out that she was actually American and was going to meet a friend who lived near the city. We got chatting and boarded the tram. I told her of my holiday experiences including the blisters. The tram started off with more school kids on board and after five minutes it broke down. We were now miles and miles from the city centre and the thought of walking all the way back was nightmarish. It was a hot day and about four o'clock in the afternoon.

Luckily, Maya (eventually she told me her name) spoke very good French and she asked a couple of people in the street about where the best place to catch a bus into town would be. It turned out that if we turned left and away from the tram lines we would reach a main road where buses ran and one of them, the number 24, would take us to a periphery road where we should change and get the number 2 in the direction of the main square (place Quinconces) in Bordeaux. So, I got my bus rides and used the tram ticket as payment as they work on both modes of transport. I was in no mad rush to get into the centre of the city and this was fortunate as the bus seemed to go a very long (but interesting) circuitous route back. If I go back to Bordeaux I will plan to use the bus system more as it can show you many sides and sights of Bordeaux life away from the centre. Maya got off near the main police station and I enjoyed her company on the journeys and am grateful for her ability to speak proper French! Whilst I was in Bordeaux I made this short video to reminder myself of many a less dramatic journey on the trams.

Previously I have enjoyed going into the media store FNAC and almost on autopilot I went in for a browse a few times during this visit. Keen to get some more French music I listened to and purchased Blanc by the ethereally beautiful Julie Zenatti, ZAZ Paris by the artiste ZAZ and Amélie-les Crayons' new album jusqu'a la mer. The myriad titles of the graphic novels didn't grab me and my wallet this time but in the Monoprix supermarket I did purchase some hand made soaps for my bathroom.

Early one evening I went into a bar on the trendy place lafargue for a sit down and a beer and waited five minutes to be served. There were no other people waiting at the bar just me. The big beardy guy behind the bar saw me but just continued to talk to his mate. As I don't know the French slang for “Oy mate! Am I fucking invisible here?” nor wished to get into a sweaty tussle with giant haystacks I left him to his very important conversation and found a better place where I enjoyed a 50cl Affligem beer or two.

As always I took plenty of photos whilst I was there. I tried not to replicate pictures I had taken on my previous visits to Bordeaux and still found plenty to amuse my eyes and document my visit. Sometimes, like in this picture of a café chalk board, it was an easy way to remind myself as I continue to learn French of the names of the various hot drinks on offer. Pretty young ladies on bikes were keenly photographed by me but I missed a great chance to take a picture of a cyclist whose bike suddenly went from underneath her. There was a loud crack as she hit the shiny pavement and another clatter and shout as a male cyclist tried to avoid the three bike pile up but didn't.

I wanted to take a few selfies particularly one that had me with a café or restaurant in the background but not cluttered with other diners. Eventually I found my picture at an expensive looking gaff close to the place Quinconces. I also took another in front of an old alley in the historic district around the rue de la rouselle a stone's throw from the river Garonne.

Just around the corner from my hotel in the Golden Triangle area I found a small butcher's shop close to the small shopping centre Marché des Grands Hommes. The young man serving was happy for me to take a picture of his cabinet display and I was amazed to see salads and cheese and meat with shredded cheese on top mixed in with all the other meats and ready to cook kebabs. Did look very nice though.

On the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of my break I learnt to have a nap in the afternoon on my very comfortable bed. On went the 'do not disturb' sign on the bedroom door, I had a nice refreshing shower and lay on the bed with my poorly feet blessing every second of respite!

Wednesday, it was time to return to the UK and I used the number one bus service to get to the airport at Merignac. Considering I was well ripped off on the airport bus on arrival (18€ for a single trip to the railway station!) I got the number 1 bus from next to the tourist office and the return journey cost me a mere €1.70. It took another fifteen minutes extra to get to the airport but I had allowed for plenty of time and actually the journey back took me through some very attractive suburbs. Au revoir Bordeaux and perhaps I shall see you again for the wine festival next year!

Get this bus and save a fortune

#Bordeaux #BordeauxFrance

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Grilled sardines - full of irony. How to make a cheap meal taste wonderful.

Last night we had a downpour of rain in Nottingham - really heavy rain. This morning it was still raining albeit not so much. As I walked around my local Co-operative store the tannoy system proclaimed "It is a perfect weekend for a bbq so why not get in the garden and enjoy the glorious weather." I have a feeling it might well be pre-recorded or the Co-operative company have a strong sense of irony.

I was supposed to be going to a food festival in Leicester but it got cancelled due to flooding and so I stayed at home and cooked a really simple nutritious meal out of cheap to buy ingredients. This was inspired by the wonderful fish stands in Bordeaux but purchased from my own fish counter at Tesco.

First of all there were the eight sardines at £3 per kilo, then a generous handful of fresh mussels at £3.70 per kilo and three cans of  chopped tomatoes at 47p each. I already had garlic and fresh basil in and a bottle of white Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge.

I gutted and gently washed the sardines and speared them with two metal brochettes and then grilled them for ten minutes (rough timing where the end of the grilling is better indicated by the fish fat flames appearing on the roof of the grill!). Then I took them out of the grill and left them to cool down. Next I steamed the mussels in a saucepan with some garlic and white wine. I hated throwing the liquor away but I had no need for it in this dish. Once cooked I strainer the mussel shells and plump orange coloured inhabitants in a strainer.

Then I emptied the three tins of chopped tomatoes into a deep casserole dish, took the grilled fish of the skewers and laid them out in the casserole dish. Lastly, I artistically added in the mussels in their shells and tore some basil leaves to scatter on the surface and added a couple of coarsely chopped bulbs of garlic. This arrangement looked delicious as it was but now needed to be warmed through. I did this in the oven on gas mark six for three quarters of an hour.

 I ate the meal with some Mediterranean style bread brought from the Co-operative, where the sun always shines. Back at home the rain was still persisting but I was more than happy with my cheap and nutritious meal.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Trying out Rachel Khoo's yummy Provencal style chicken.

Yesterday, inspired by Rachel Khoo's new DVD I stuffed the breasts of a whole chicken with a mix of roast peppers and roast leeks (cooled off and chopped finely) and finely chopped black olives. Pre-cooking, I rested the bird on an arrangement of chunks of cooking onions and fennel after rubbing the whole chicken over with French salted butter. I was broadly following her Provence style recipe (pages 104 and 105 of Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook) and Rachel recommends keeping the skin intact when sliding the stuffing right the way under the breast skin.

See Rachel Khoo link above for my review of her new DVD
Covering the bird over with silver foil I roasted it in my oven on gas mark 6 for ninety minutes, removing the foil for the last half hour. Then I basted the cooking chicken with the delicious smelling juices formed from the melted butter and now cooked onion and fennel trivet. Lastly I threw in a few slices of chorizo simply because I like it so much!

I let the cooked chicken rest for ten minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the most tender and most moist chicken I believe I have ever cooked! I will definitely be cooking that style again! That stuffing mix was to die for!

To go with the chicken I steamed some fresh asparagus and ate it with that and the cooked onions and fennel.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Rachel Khoo 'Europa in Meiner Küche' DVD review (in English)

Rachel Khoo  'Europa in Meiner Küche' DVD review

Should the title in German put you off, fear not. I purchased this fabulous DVD a few weeks ago and the English language version is available on the DVD as well as the dubbed version in German. It was produced by BBC Germany and is a sumptuous food fest across Europe and is supported by Rachel's most recent book Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook. All you need to do on slipping the DVD into your player is choose 'English' from the two options on the opening screen where you will see 'sprachauswahl' on the right hand side. It is so easy and then you will have Rachel and her fantastic colourful foodie travels all to yourself in English. In my opinion the English language version is the much better version. I did watch an episode in the dubbed German version and 'ja' it is OK but at times you can still hear Rachel speaking English under the dubbing.


The DVD has two DVDs each with five half hour episodes on. The places in which Rachel seeks out new recipe ideas and tries them out on her very grateful London friends are: Istanbul, the Amalfi Coast, the Costa Brava, Provence, Stockholm, Naples, Barcelona, Turkey's Princes Islands, Sweden and elegant Nice in the South of France. They are all beautifully filmed and gorgeously colourful and with Rachel Khoo on hand to offer her Khooky versions of Continental Khookery one episode watched simply isn't enough! I found my own viewing becoming a back to back 'just one more' evening of foodie delights.


Each episode features at least two recipes but also offers some great insights into the people and the cookery of each individual country, city, town or region. Even a random recollection of the whole series (yes I have watched them all twice so far!) recalls her finger licking lemon lava cakes, pistachio and pomegranate cake, courgette linguine, sweet tasting burnt leaks and burnt peppers, seafood paella nests and honey- roasted peach crema catalana. Just some of the mouth watering dishes she cooks on the DVD and makes it all seem so easy.


During each episode Rachel draws and paints with her water colour palate to illustrate her charming companion book Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook (over 100 recipes) and laughs continually at her own pun filled sense of humour. As she makes her own version of a tasty lamb kebab baked on a stick in pastry who cannot fail to be charmed as she calls it her “very own Khoobap!”

This DVD is a must for any fan of Ms Khoo. My copy came via Switzerland and took just under two weeks to reach me. It was worth very second of the wait. Highly recommended! I only wish the Little Paris Kitchen series was on DVD too. I for one would be Khooing with delight!


Both the DVD and book above (retail price of book £20) can be ordered through the Amazon links on this page.

Goodbye Bordeaux and hello to the world of food.

I don't think my ten previous informative, and I hope 'witty', blog posts about Bordeaux food are the end of my trip and my interests in the French way of eating, far from it. Whilst I have written about all of my meals out in Bordeaux and of the markets and some food shops there are still plenty of subjects for me to continue writing about on this exciting personal journey through food.

I don't mean just in Bordeaux of course, but through future trips to Europe/France and through research and sharing my experiences and interests through blogging and other publications. I have several in mind already and have been cooking some new dishes for myself whilst being engaged in creating ideas for new blog posts for you to enjoy. The kitchen has been alive with the smells and sounds of merguez lamb meat sausages frying and reluctant English chickens being stuffed Provence style! Harris the cat is now in a chorizo addicts home for wacky cats.

I want to copy you all in on something I wrote for my personal facebook page about my eight week sabbatical that was meant to encourage me to follow my writing dreams. Here it is. It is meant to be a summary of all that I have done. Invariably I will have accidentally omitted something or other along the way. C'est la vie.

Well, this is my last day of my eight week sabbatical and I'm looking back with great pride in all the writing projects that I've achieved over that period. Most of these projects weren't planned except for a few theatre reviews and a London event already in the diary. I have done my best to fulfil my hopes of improving my already good writing and making new and exciting contacts in the worlds of professional theatre and continental foods. I like to be diverse.

Because I have been free of my day job and free at the weekends I have been able to attend events that I would never get the chance to. Equally my freedom to write in the daytime without dashing off to work at 6.30am has meant that I have been able to engage myself totally in the writing be it a theatre review or a food blog post. The improvement has been noticed by those that matter and certainly by me. It has been fun work.

In total, during this sabbatical, I have written 21 food blog posts and 22 theatre reviews, been to London to review a graduate show there; Leicester to attend a series of New Theatre Writing events and Bordeaux to learn all about charcuterie and French butchery styles.

On top of this I have written a big interview I undertook with a top well known playwright, Mike Kenny, for Sardines magazine. Lastly (I think - I may well have missed something) I have entered a competition to be able to be a theatre critic for The Stage newspaper. Was it all worth it? Of course. Many thanks to Tesco for the opportunity and many thanks to all my supporters for your encouragement.” My blogs are Mugofstrongtea and Phil Lowe Actor and Theatre Writer

Phil Lowe

As well as all the blog writing I have written a REVIEW for my hotel, the Best Western,  in Bordeaux which comes under a childhood nick name of mine – Figgy.

Did you know that you can also follow this foodblog on facebook? Check it out and please 'like' if you like it. HERE.

The next blog post will a review of the fabulous new Rachel Khoo DVD which I  totally loved watching last week and am sure I will be watching again and again. Although the title is in German it is perfectly possible to watch in English. I will explain, in the next blog a very simple way of doing that!

Finally, the observant amongst you will have noticed that there are now links to Waitrose and Waterstones online services on my blog. Do enjoy the shopping facilities on these links if you choose. Must fly - food to cook!

Phil Lowe

#Bordeaux #BordeauxFrance

Monday, 1 June 2015

Discovering some delicious but bank breakingly expensive Spanish ham

At the time I visited the Bordeaux  St Jean railway station I had this fantasy of getting a train to Bayonne in the very south of south west France the following day. This was so that I could check out the famous cured hams there. It would be a two hour journey each way by train. The pain from my blisters put paid to that notion. So I stayed in Bordeaux and resigned myself to visiting Bayonne some other time.

Then, the very next day, as I was hobbling around the city, in a part that was very attractive but which I had rarely explored in detail, despite four previous visits to Bordeaux,  I found myself struck almost dumb on the rue des trois conils.

Like the story of the young girl at Lourdes an overwhelming vision appeared before my eyes that was almost religious. If there is a saint of hams (must look that one up) he or she manifested themselves in a vision of sixty iberico hams hanging in a gleaming shop window. Well actually they don't call themselves a 'shop'. They exist in higher realms than that. The Viandas De Salamanca – Jambon Pata Negra et Charcuteres is known as a boutique.

During my 'tongue hanging out' observations I discovered that they do jamón bellota, recebo, cebo, salchichon, chorizo, lomito and lomo iberques. All these products are from the black nailed pigs (pata negra) from south west Spain. Most other pigs have whiter coloured nails on their hoofs. As it happens the boutique also does cheese and wines from the same region to match the cured meats. The French call them les spécialities de charcuteries iberiques.

The finest they offer is the jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). The ham is from free range pigs that roam extensively through oak forest. These are called dehesas and are situated along the border between Spain and Portugal. The hams are labelled according to the pigs' diets and their exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavour of the meat. For the last three months of their lives the pigs gorge heartily on the acorn diet. They love it and this rich nutty diet adds around 20% more fat on them. The subsequent meat is oily and fatty and when the hind leg is hung to dry a little cup is attached below the leg to catch the dripping oil. The ham is cured for up to 36 months and claims a very high price but is very sought after and beloved.

The next grade is called jamón ibérico de recebo. It is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain. Jamón ibérico de cebo is from pigs that are fed only on grain and their ham is cured for 24 months. All of the hams are prized for their smooth texture and rich savoury taste plus the moistness given by the intramuscular fat. It is a delicious but very expensive product. These types of ham represent about 10% of hams sold in Spain.

According to their promotional leaflet the Spanish company also have boutiques in Toulouse and Bayonne so maybe whilst I didn't get to see French Bayonne hams in their city I did get wowed by the products on show here.

Voila! The patron saint of charcutiers is Saint Antoine. He was born around 250AD and lived much of his life as a hermit in the Egyptian desert practising an extremely monastic and disciplined lifestyle. Across France many charcuterie establishments name themselves after him.
Saint Antoine with a piggy friend.
#Bordeaux #BordeauxFrance