Saturday, 25 January 2014

Nick Griffin: A Far-right Foodie

An overlooked culinary genius?

As a food blogger, I feel it's my job to like food. And I do. But I'm not sure I'd claim that food is an effective cure for the side effects of bad government. Yet that is precisely what bankrupt BNP leader Nick Griffin does in a video cunningly entitled Recipe for beating the Tory blues for the far-right party’s TV channel. I suppose if you’ve got no chance of actually influencing policy, you might as well showcase your abject culinary skills on YouTube.

In what some homecooks might see as a clear affront to Jamie Oliver’s 15/30 Minute Meals output, Griffin takes up over half an hour of my time (surely no one else watched it in full?) to advise his viewers on how to cook what is a relatively simple meal: a beef stew. Judging by the looks of despair on his guests’ faces and their disingenuous feedback - one bloke merely laughs awkwardly rather than give any opinion at all - I don’t think he should quit his day j...oh wait, no I do.

So what’s in this dish, apart from diluted anti-Tory sentiment? It’s “traditional British fare” says Griffin, with such notable additions as onions (originated in central Asia), carrots (arose in the Mediterranean) and potatoes (they came from South America). Interestingly, etymologically, onion comes from the Latin for “oneness” or “unity”, unio, so could be crowned ‘least xenophobic of vegetables’. Of course, these ingredients were all grown in Britannia, that 'green & pleasant Land', but I guess the point I’m making is: what the hell does 'British' even mean, Nick?

With the vegetables I’m nitpicking, but Griffin’s decision to include Tabasco sauce seems like a undeniable slight on ‘Britishness’. Hot red pepper sauce in a beef stew. It’s like Nicolas Anelka 'quenelle-ing' Woody Allen. Perhaps Griffin got the idea from the local Mexican: “We’ve got a Mexican restaurant in a town not far from here. The place isn’t swamped with Mexicans,” he says. Not swamped, you say? Maybe because the Mexican population in Britian is miniscule.

All in all, the video shows that there’s really no need to undermine Nick Griffin; he does a good enough job of it on his own. He talks about scrimping and saving, making a stew with dog bones (that is to say, bones destined to be eaten by dogs) from the butchers if needs must, to a backdrop of what most would consider a plush kitchen, Aga and all. He advocates taking photos of recipes in bookshops rather than buying cookbooks. (I wonder whether only indigenous Brits are allowed to do this in Griffin’s mind? Maybe Muslim offenders would magnanimously be offered voluntary resettlement). He even goes so far as to deny the very existence of pork stock cubes. Knorr will be most displeased.

Just imagine if other politicians got in on the act. We could have Ian Duncan Smith telling us how it really is possible to cook affordable, nutritous meals on state benefits of £53 a week, but fail to show us how. George Osborne would teach us all the meaning of austerity: how to make a burger with shattered dreams while he jaunts off to Byron post-filming. David Cameron would charm us with recipes for the 'real' Eton Mess and street food Kolkata-style, while declaring GM-food to be the right way. Nick Clegg would make a cameo but not cook anything, like a guest judge on The Taste. And, as a sign of the coalition's manifest cruelty, Ed Miliband would be forced to eat the leftovers of all the aborted meals until he vomited.

Sound good? No? Exactly. Let's leave the cooking to the cooks and the politics to, um, Chomsky.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Drunken Butcher: goes posh with Sous Vide

Duck breast, confit duck leg, mash and cavolo nero
Whilst Iain Devine, aka Drunken Butcher, is well-known for his mammoth supper club feasts, encouraging a family style sharing of dinner, he's perhaps less known for 'poncy food'. Just because he doesn't often showcase it though, doesn't mean he isn't a dab hand at it.

Iain joined forces with Sous Vide tools to put on a night demonstrating the versatility of two of their key products: the Sous Vide water bath and the Polyscience smoking gun. Whilst this was obviously a sophisticated ploy to get us all thinking about purchasing the equipment, it didn't really work on Jamie and I: they were preaching to the converted. We already own and use both of these items; useful if you're cooking in large numbers or - let's be frank here - just really love making your own smokey old fashioneds!

To begin, the dainty canapes of mackerel and apple were delicate and pretty, already alerting us to the fact that this wouldn't be a typical Drunken Butcher supper club!

Next up was a smoked salmon dish served in a kilner jar (to retain the smoke), followed by a take on bouillabaisse. Whilst these dishes were lovely, there's no denying the star of the night was the duck breast main. The confit duck leg was artery-destroying delicious, with a rich and perfectly balanced jus (see main photo). If you've been to one of Iain's supper clubs, you'll know that he is the bloody king of sauces (no pun intended!). Iain being who he is, couldn't resist the opportunity to feed and also brought out steak and triple cooked chips. The latter being one of my favourite items of food, I did well to keep the bowl near my side and managed to sneak the crunchy bits out at the end.

A pear cooked in red wine with ice cream came next, followed by another winner of the night: smoked cream cheese with shredded carrot. SMOKED CREAM CHEESE?! Who knew? Imagine, quite simply, eating smoked salmon and cream cheese together and that's what's happening in your mouth. If you're feeling like a pauper just before payday or are without our fishy friend (but handily have a smoking gun), it's a seriously tasty alternative.

As ever, all of the dishes were cooked beautifully, and Iain even managed to prove to us all that he can do poncey! Whilst sous vide machines are exceptionally handy if cooking in large numbers, they don't come cheap, so think carefully before investing. We probably wouldn't have bought ours if we didn't hold supper clubs - and find them much more useful for meat than fish: fish cooks quickly but cools down even quicker. Smoking guns are a good fun tool, and, priced considerably lower, would ultimately be a rather good present for any serious foodies! Our advice? Do your research, shop around, and if you buy one: use it!

Iain invited us over to showcase these products in partnership with Whilst we didn't 'pay' for our seats in the same way we would at a regular supper club, we were asked to make a contribution towards Iain's time. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Recipe: Bagels

My bosses live up in Prestwich. I can only assume they enjoy inflicting pain on others, as I regularly watch them eat, in envy, as they devour authentic, sturdy-looking bagels. They assure me I must partake in a bite should I ever venture north of the river. The River Irk, that is, of course.

For, living in Levenshulme as we do, great bagels are in short supply. Until the brilliant Trove get in on the act, it's either trusty old supermarket-shelf New York Bagel Co or make our own. So I decided to rise to the challenge, mainly with the aid of a Christmas present from my sister, Marc Grossman's New York Cult Recipes, and insight from a few twitter foodies (twoodies, anyone?).

Upon initial inspection, bagels look like they could be tricky to make. And, though baking bread has become quite fashionable of late (so much so that I can't count the number of people I've spoken to recently who keep their own sourdough starter), it's still rare to overhear a bagel-related discussion. Whatever apprehensions you might have, making a bagel is actually pretty damn similar to making bread, but with the added simmering stage to give them that classic chewy crust.

The following recipe is almost 100% Marc Grossman's with very small variations. Thanks to Eddie Shepherd for the bicarbonate of soda trick and to Ashley Clarke for an alternative to Grossman's shaping of the dough. Bicarb is great at accelerating Maillard reactions, which helps the dough to brown when baking; there's also great fun to be had spinning bagels on one's fingers to create a hole.

A couple of notes on ingredients: you can buy potato starch from Unicorn in Chorlton and online; malt syrup isn't the easiest thing to find but Unicorn again and Holland & Barrett are your best bets.


Dry Stuff
750g of strong (i.e. bread) flour
7.5g (1.5 tsp) dried yeast

Wet Stuff
375ml lukewarm water
15g (3 tsp) salt
30g (2 tbsp) malt syrup or sugar (not surprisingly, malt syrup gives a darker crumb and maltier flavour)
22.5g (1.5 tbsp) olive oil

For the poaching
3kg water
15g (3 tsp) potato starch
15g (3 tsp) malt syrup
5g (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda


  • Mix the dry stuff with the wet stuff to form a dough. Make sure to dissolve the salt and the malt syrup in the lukewarm water so they distribute throughout the dough more evenly.
  • If using a stand mixer, knead with the dough hook on a  medium speed until you get a smooth elastic dough which pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, flour or oil your work surface and work until you get the same effect.
  • Divide the resultant dough into 10 portions (weighing the whole thing, dividing by ten, then portioning out on a scale works well).
  • Shape the portions as per the following picture, rolling into a log and creating the hook:

  • Alternatively, make a ball of dough, poke a hole through the middle with a couple of fingers and spin it around carefully to get the same shape (as advised by one Mr. A. Clarke).
  • Now you're free to place the bagels on a sheet of baking paper or silicone mat and leave to rise for about 1 hour.

Bagels pre-rise

  • Roughly half an hour before you're ready to make the bagels, preheat your oven to 230 degrees celsius.
  • Blend the potato starch with about 250ml of the water and then mix with the remaining poaching ingredients and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. The bicarb might make the liquid foam wildly so keep an eye on it.
  • Lower the heat so the water is simmering and poach each bagel (I imagine cooking more than two at once will be impractical in most household pans) for around a minute on the first side and then flip over for 30 seconds on the other.

Poaching bagels

  • Remove bagels and place on your baking paper/silicone mat where you can top them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or anything you like (sprinkles?).

Sesame bagels

  • Place the bagels in the oven and lower the temperature to 210 degrees.
  • Cook until done and dark brown about 20-25 minutes.
  • Let cool for a while otherwise the crust will be a little too chewy (as we impatiently learnt!)

The finished article

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Baltic Bakehouse, Liverpool

Bread, it's simple stuff, isn't it? Well, it sort of is. It also sort of isn't. Ever tried making it? I'll be honest, I haven't - fortunately for me, Jamie is a dab hand at making it (see here). We're also rather lucky: living round the corner from Trove it's easy to get hold of a good loaf. We'll still travel for a well proved roll though - hence our recent journey to Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool.

I've been admiring them from afar for some time, on the ol' Twittersphere. Their cakes and bakes look completely delectable - so much so that when we found out they were still closed for the Christmas break on the Friday we planned to visit Liverpool, we delayed our visit until they were open again the next day!

We weren't to be disappointed - my only gripe being that bread is, of course, rather filling - and so we couldn't actually try as much as we would have liked to.

First up - a simply toasted mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich. Rich in its filling (no skimping on the cheese here, thankfully), the bread was thickly sliced, holding the lot together without seeping molten hot cheese lava onto my hands (like mine often do at home).

There was a reasonably sized selection of Chelsea buns, pear tarts, croissants, pain au chocolat - but this pretty little chocolate and walnut tart caught our eye. Rich without being overfacing (perhaps because we shared: January austerity was thinking of our waistlines), the pastry was Mary Poppins-esque (y'know, practically perfect in every way!).

There's no espresso machine here but they do serve up excellent HasBean cafetiere coffee - complete with timer, ensuring you're brewing it right. Served in camping mugs, my only complaint was that the enamel kept the heat so well, it was hard to drink for a while.

Everything we'd consumed thus far was so good, I couldn't resist leaving without trying one of their croissants. Much better than anything you'll get in a supermarket, Jamie (modest as ever) compared them to the ones he made for our brunch club supper club, a little while ago.

The menu is short but sweet: a changing daily selection of sandwiches, breakfast stuffs including bacon and sausage butties and granola. Oh, and toast of course - you can even DIY at the table. Located in the 'Baltic Triangle' it might seem a little out of the way, but it's en route to the Tate (and there's an intriguing looking antiques shop nearby) - a perfect stop off before an afternoon exhibition. We even spied another couple at both places who seemed to be making the same journey around Liverpool as us. Anyway, go eat bread. They sell loaves to take home with you too!

Baltic Bakehouse
46 Bridgewater street, Liverpool
L1 0AY

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Neon Jamon, Liverpool

Neon Jamon wasn't intended for my first blog post in 2014 - I've been meaning to write up a trip to the Clove Club since early December. It's failed to materialise thus far, and since Jamie kindly took my iPhone for a swim in my handbag, there's little chance I'll have photos to compliment the post, should I ever get round to writing the meal up.

Anyway, surely it's nicer to start the year with a restaurant I love - not one I mildly despise (sorry, CC). Neon Jamon had been recommended a little while ago by Pedro, a beer and food lover we met at Liverpool Food and Drink festival. Regularly pining for the little dishes I've enjoyed on several trips to Barcelona, a day trip to the 'Pool to dissipate January blues seemed the perfect excuse to visit.

A little way from the city centre, a black cab journey took about 15 minutes and was under a tenner. We arrived early, around half 6, as there's a no bookings policy - except for larger parties (I'd like to think in a very Spanish way, rather than in a 'that London' way). It's a narrow space, with tables over two floors. A convivial atmosphere, complemented by an excellent playlist (Joy Division, Elvis Costello, the Black Keys), if tables weren't so in demand, I'd have happily stayed there all night - I know: I'm selfless, right?

In true Spanish style, all four Cavas are served by the glass - not a one over four quid. A lovely aperitif - accompanied by a generous portion of plump boquerones nardin (anchovies in olive oil, garlic and parsley). Seeing huge plates of pan con tomate drift past made it hard to resist the beloved staple - but I knew I'd be hard pushed to eat everything I wanted to if I filled up on dough first.

We could easily have spent the evening devouring the charcuterie and cheese platters - and I'm fairly certain we'll be back to do just that - though on this occasion we chose a small plate of the Trevelez IGP jamon. The menu explains the meat is cured at altitudes of over 1,200m; I'm no curing - or altitude - expert, so can't quite tell you why this is done - but it has a sweet depth of flavour which left Jamie and I fighting over the last pieces.

L-R: bravas, padron peppers, ribs
Padron peppers and patatas bravas practically order themselves as soon as we step foot in a Spanish restaurant - and the latter are usually a good judge of the kitchen's standards. For the first time in my life, we both finally experienced a flippin' spicy Padron. They say eating these fried capsicums is a bit like Russian roulette, as supposedly around 1 in 5 should blow your head off. On this ratio, I feel sorry for the folks who've been eating my mouth-burning share, as the meal at Neon Jamon was the first time I'd ever tried a truly hot one. I think I preferred life mild.

Patatas bravas were crisp and salty, topped with a rich, smokey tomato sauce. Lemon alioli was served on the side and eaten so indulgently one would have thought we'd been starved of decadence over the Christmas period. The Malaga style little squids were perfect little fishy bites, used to mop up the garlicky mayonnaise as if gravy at the end of a roast.

Malaga style little squids with lemon alioli
The only dud dish was the left-field ordering of Iberico pork ribs in membrillo & sherry vinegar. Though not unpleasant, some proved tough to eat and the sauce tasted too heavy on rosemary for my liking. A slower cooking time and using smoked ribs could improve the dish tenfold, I reckon.

There was also a specials menu, which we were saving for the end. I tried to persuade Jamie to share the cheese platter (I'm tempted to resort to veganism as an escape route for my affair with dairy), but he sensibly suggested choosing only the semi-hard goats cheese (name forgotten, possibly La Flor de la Hiniesta), accompanied by a Moorish chutney (raisins, apricots, spices, you know the score). Possibly the star of the meal, the waitress's suggestion of a Manzanilla La Goya, a dry, light and nutty sherry complimented the cheese wonderfully and served to ensure the meal ended as perfectly as it begun.

The service at Neon Jamon is friendly and knowledgeable. Despite our visit taking place on the first weekend in January the restaurant was heaving, demonstrating the popularity of this place. Prices are reasonable - though certainly not as inexpensive as tapas bars in Spain - and their wine list shows real attention to detail. I drank a beautiful Catalunyan white with my meal, which I'm desperate to seek out again! From my sole dining experience here, I'd suggest Neon Jamon is as authentic as they come in the UK. If you're used to the tapas of La Tasca or - at the other end of the spectrum - Tickets, this place might not be for you, but if simple and well executed floats your boat, then get eating.

Neon Jamon on Urbanspoon