Words

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid



Those were the days. Back in the 70s and 80s my sister and I would at times go on little excursions with our Mum, either to Maidstone or Ashford, usually on the bus. Usually these trips involved lots of tromping around shops and were quite tiring. I think these little shopping trips were the genesis of my and Sis's great dislike of shopping in general. However there was always light at the end of the tunnel - there was usually food to be had at some point. In both Ashford and Maidstone there were (and are, still) plenty of eateries, but the one that endures in the memory for me at least is the Wimpy. Nice burgers, breakfasts, chips etc. and a wonderful dessert menu that included such decadent delights as the Banana Boat (a version of the banana split), the Knickerbocker Glory (sadly no longer available) and my favourite, the fiendishly simple, er, sinful Brown Derby, a fresh doughnut topped with Tastee-Freez ice cream and chocolate sauce, and a sprinkle of nuts.
You may now drool.
Well, on Saturday Laura and I went to Maidstone and I was craving Wimpy before we even got off the bus. I knew what I wanted. But let us flash back a little in time...

The Wimpy brand was created in the 1930s. The name was inspired by the character of J. Wellington Wimpy, the perpetually hungry "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" character from the Popeye cartoons created by E. C. Segar. Eddie Gold was running 12 restaurants by the early 1950s, when the concept of fast food came to the attention of the directors of J. Lyons and Co. Lyons licensed the brand for use in the United Kingdom and in 1954 the first "Wimpy Bar" Lyons was established at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London. Originally the bar was a special fast-food section within the more traditional Corner House restaurants, but the success soon led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger based meals. By 1970 the business had expanded to over a thousand restaurants in 23 countries.

In 1974 McDonalds opened their first UK restaurant, and by the late 70s Wimpy was beginning to feel the pinch. United Biscuits acquired them in 1977, and so began the conversion of some of the 'table service' restaurants to counter service. In 1988 Grand Metropolitan acquired Burger King and Wimpy was acquired the following year. After a couple of management buy-outs, Famous Brands, the owners of the South African franchise, acquired the UK restaurants in 2007 and thus began another re-branding. However, a lot of the old favourites are still there as well as some new classics.

A few weeks back I went to the Wimpy in Tufton Street, Ashford, and it was like being ten years old again.

Ketchup and vinegar on the table at all times!

The Country Breakfast. I must go for that sometime.

A new dessert entitled the Eskimo Waffle. Read the description.


Laura in burger heaven.

My Spicy Bean Burger, which is fab. Wimpy is the only  UK fast food franchise that serves Quorn burgers.
So there we were in Maidstone yesterday, and we entered the Wimpy on Gabriels Hill, and here are the resulting pictures...

Very light and airy, not like some other fast food places we could mention.

Americano!

One thing I like is that you get to see the food being cooked to order in front of you.

The Wimpy Club - a new twist on an old classic. Burger, cheese, lettuce and relish on the bottom half, bacon and egg on the top half. Mm mm mm.

I also love that 'wheatmeal' bun on the regular burgers. 
So it was that we left Wimpy with a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that here was still in existence a burger joint in the traditional, non-fast food sense of the word, a place that was around long before Ray Kroc and his clown-burger emporium, a place that still knows how to do justice to a circular slab of minced beef (and their coffee's not too shabby either). We would have stayed for dessert, but we were stuffed to the gills. Maybe next time. Maybe we're just too wimpy.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kohl's Law

Hey guys, how about I give you the answer to the Name This Food! food?

As you might recall, last time I asked what this was...


And surprisingly, I thought, nobody was able to supply me with the answer, which was

Kohl Rabi!

So naturally I was concerned. Kohl Rabi (or kohlrabi) was one of those veggies in the 70s and 80s on telly that they kept trying to introduce to the British palate in TV cooking shows and programmes like Blue Peter and Magpie, and we all thought it sounded decidedly foreign and weird and it was expensive to buy in the stores and so nobody bought it unless they were a hippie type that knitted their own yogurt and had hessian wallpaper.

So what the heck is it?

Well the name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rübe ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip"), because the swollen stem resembles the latter, hence its Austrian name Kohlrübe. Actually it's nothing to do with turnips, and is a cultivar of the cabbage. And it'll grow almost anywhere.

It was artificially created to look like that. Yes! Kohlrabi has been created by artificial selection for lateral meristem growth (a swollen, nearly spherical shape); its origin in nature is the same as that of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts: They are all bred from, and are the same species as, the wild cabbage plant (Brassica oleracea).
The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet.

Except for the Gigante cultivar, spring-grown kohlrabi much over 5 cm in size tend to be woody, as do full-grown kohlrabi much over perhaps 10 cm in size; the Gigante cultivar can achieve great size while remaining of good eating quality. The plant matures in 55–60 days after sowing. Approximate weight is 150 g and has good standing ability for up to 30 days after maturity. It can be eaten raw as well as cooked, and there are several varieties commonly available, including White Vienna, Purple Vienna, Grand Duke, Gigante (also known as "Superschmelz"), Purple Danube, and White Danube. Coloration of the purple types is superficial: the edible parts are all pale yellow. The leafy greens can also be eaten.

The other reason you guys probably didn't get what it was is because of my choice of picture. By the time Kohlrabi gets to the shops the leafy stems have been removed, leaving it looking like this.



However, when growing on the garden, it looks like this...

This is obviously one of the purple varieties.
So, we need a recipe, don't we?

Try this for a nice bit of comfort food.

Kohl Rabi and Potato Gratin

Serve as a main, with salad and a dollop of tomato chutney or pasta sauce - or as a side to roasted meat. You can use other vegetables as well - like courgettes, mushrooms, beetroot, fennel, or parsnips. 
Serves 4-6

25g butter
3 medium onions (1 minced, 2 chopped)
3 tablespoons plain flour
350ml milk
1/2 teaspoon English mustard
Pinch of ground nutmeg (or to taste)
1 tablespoon oil
1 kohl rabi, peeled and chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
400g potatoes, chopped (peeled or unpeeled)
150g red lentils
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
420ml water
2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dried parsley
100g cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated
1-2 handfuls wholemeal breadcrumbs
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add 1 minced onion and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until just soft - about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir to form a paste, for 1 minute. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking or stirring constantly. Add in the mustard, and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the kohlrabi and 2 chopped onions, and sauté until just soft. Add the carrots, lentils, potatoes, garlic, and water. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 10-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Combine with the white sauce and parsley. Season to taste. Transfer the mixture to a large shallow oven dish. Combine the cheese and breadcrumbs, and sprinkle over the top. Bake 45-55 minutes, until the top is golden and the vegetables are soft.

Or how about a nice salad?

Kohlrabi, Apple and Creamy Mustard Salad

Try with slivered almonds or raw sunflower seeds sprinkled on top. Serves 4 as a side dish

60 ml double cream (for whipping)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain mustard
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and cut into julienne strips (keep the leaves to use in another recipe!)
1 apple, cored and diced
In a bowl whisk the cream until it holds soft peaks then whisk in the lemon juice, mustard and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the kohlrabi and apple, and serve.

OK, folks, what's the new Name This Food! food?



Memories Are Made Of... Beer

Tonight I took a trip back in time, all because of a bargain. Earlier today I ventured into the hated halls of Tesco, in order to purchase some household essentials - bread and the like. As is my wont, being as I am a born bargain hunter, I ventured toward the reduced-price section to see if there were any stellar offers I could not live without.

As it happened, there were. Among the few beverages (which usually get reduced because a can is missing from a 4-pack, or similar) was a box of Tesco's own brand of French lager, Bière Spéciale. They usually come 8 to a box and there were only six. No biggie. The reduced price was unbelievable. £1.22. You read that right. One pound and twenty two pee, for six bottles of beer. That, for my American friends, is about $1.90. And this is not weak beer either. It's 4.8% alc/vol. So I purchased said item.


Later, after dinner, I decided a cold beer might be just the ticket. So I cracked one open and drank thereof. Instantly I was transported, back to 1982.

Back in 1982, as I believe I may have mentioned before, I was in a dreadful rock n roll combo known as The Grass. One sunny summer afternoon we were rehearsing our 'set' and the day being terribly warm we hit upon the idea of rehearsing outside. We were at the house of my friend and our lead singer/guitarist Alastair, and in the back garden was a large caravan which was set up permanently as a spare bedroom-type affair. Trouble with rehearsing outside in the searing weather, other than the guitars constantly going out of tune, was that we were in need of liquid refreshment quite a bit of the time. (I promise I'll get to the point soon).

As it happened, there was a large quantity of a lovely French lager called '33' lying about, as someone in Alastair's family had recently been on a day trip to France and procured vast quantities of cheap liquor, which was the thing to do in the 70s and 80s. So we were all standing about and drinking this fine beverage to refresh our parched throats and other parts of our hormone-enraged teenage bodies. Here's some pictorial proof in the shape of our bass player Nigel...



Anyway, back to this evening and the Tesco beer. As I downed this amber liquid the flavour was so reminiscent of '33' that it triggered all these lovely memories of that sunny afternoon, playing shabby rock and roll and annoying the neighbours in between a caravan and an empty swimming pool, guitars sounding like shit and generally having a ball.

So thank you, hated Tesco, for at least doing one thing that I like. And if you happen to shop in Tesco, and you need some good beer, but money's too tight to mention, try Bière Spéciale. It won't break the bank and it might just send you on a trip down memory lane to those heady days of cross-channel ferry trips to the Calais hypermarché.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seasonal Rant

Apparently even though British supermarket giant Tesco have had their worst sales in 20 years, they still managed to rack up £1.9 billion profit. This is why I hate supermarkets. There is something fundamentally wrong with supermarkets and people's attitudes towards them.

We haven't always been as enamoured with them as we are now, but the supermarket companies created the mentality by providing consumers with the ability to get produce from around the globe, so you could always get asparagus or plums whenever you wanted them. Sounds like a great idea, huh?

"Oh," says Joe Consumer (who, generally speaking, is a bit of a thickie), "that's brilliant, I can get whatever I want whenever I feel like it, just by not going to my local farmer or greengrocer and going to Sainsbury's instead. How convenient!"

That's the key word right there. Convenient. See, human beings are essentially a bunch of lazy bums at heart, and if Joe can avoid all those tricky extra steps to get what he wants, he will. This is why drive-thrus are so popular. Automatic car washes. Microwaves. It's all bullshit.

Because in order for those things to work, the companies behind them have to know they are on to a winner before they even start. Which they do, because they are human too, and as I said, humans are essentially lazy creatures.

But what then happens is that these things become popular - supermarkets, fast food, car washes, microwaves - and the things that were there before them - locally based food producers, mom and pop restaurants, home cooking, washing the car by hand - slowly but surely get eased out and disappear.

There is a commercial on TV here in the UK at the moment, for some supermarket chain or another, I'm not sure which one it is, in which a little girl holds up an apple and asks the kindly supermarket employee, "what's this?" to which the genial man replies, "That's a delicious British Cox's apple!". And we're all supposed to think, "That's great! they have British apples in their store! How wonderful! Save the British apple!" but the harsh reality is they also stock apples that have come from far-flung corners of the world like China and Japan, and they're probably cheaper than the Cox's Orange Pippin, to give it its full monicker.

The trouble with all this convenience is that it has stopped us humans from doing what we used to do which was eating with the seasons. Back in the day people knew that it was impossible to get plums in the depths of winter, and they ate what was locally and seasonally available. Which was good for them, good for the local farmers and gardeners, and nutritionally sound.

What happens to food after it's picked? The quality of the nutrients packed therein slowly begins to degrade. The further an item has come to get to your dinner plate, the less nourishing it will be. Some plants, like broccoli, asparagus and spinach degrade very quickly so the health benefits can almost completely disappear over time.

'Modified atmosphere' packaging, used to help fresh veg travel further, has been shown to degrade the nutrients in salads. Seasonal creatures such as lamb, wild game or some wild fish will have eaten a natural diet and thus be more wholesome.  'Food miles', such as those used in air-freighting out-of-season produce, are a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.  Glasshouses and polytunnels heated to provide out-of-season produce also add to global warming.
Lambs that are bred and raised in their natural season do not need the same amount of specialised feed and housing as those bred early for Easter eating.
Salmon aquaculture has contributed to a devastation of the wild, seasonal stocks of salmon and sea trout.
Seasonal food has also been shown to be gastronomically superior.  Produce that is designed to have a long season and withstand packaging and transporting is always inferior, e.g. strawberries and tomatoes.  Most fruit and veg picked and eaten close to the source will taste better: the shorter the season (asparagus, plums, strawberries) the more important this is.  Seasonal creatures such as lamb, wild game or some wild fish will have eaten a natural diet and thus be more tasty.
Eating seasonally means maintaining a sustainable food chain.  You remember the food chain, right? High school Biology? Well...

The supermarket-driven insistence on predictability of supply and 'permanent global summertime' has made Britain's food chain very oil-dependent and has radically reduced our self-sufficiency. Producing and eating seasonally insulates the food chain against fuel shocks and works towards guaranteeing a sustainable food supply.
Producing food seasonally reduces the need for artificial, resource-intensive inputs such as shelter, heating and special feed.

Back in the day, as I said, folks knew what was in season without the need for enormous reference tomes, but the supermarket, and before that The Industrial Revolution, changed all that. We became a mechanized society, things started inexorably to speed up, and we lost touch with nature. So where can one go in this day and age to find out about eating with the seasons?

http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/ is a good place to start. Don't worry, it has a North American site as well!
There's also the Center for Urban Education about sustainable Agriculture, who have a seasonal chart at http://cuesa.org/page/seasonality-chart-vegetables

Also, I'm not sure that many of you even paid attention, but for at least a year, my Name This Food! section has been based on things that are in season. Just sayin'.

So what do we need to do? Avoid supermarkets wherever possible. Grow your own fruit and veg. Support your local farmers market, your local greengrocer. And ...

Kooshti sante!

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