24 January 2016

“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”

Two things have happened in the last couple of days to prompt me to write this post.

The first thing was that I picked up a strange little book at “work” (see end of this post for details of my “job” and some wonderful bargains if you live near me!) …

food rules - michael pollan

an-eater's manual

Looking it up on Amazon I see that this booklet is basically the salient points from a far more comprehensive and attractively illustrated version but the points in the little book are good enough for me. 

Michael Pollan’s rules are very much the kind of thing I’ve been trying to say, for instance, and very apropos to this post …


“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”

and

“It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language (think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles …)”

The second thing is, I think, old news but I’ve just read it on Facebook – so called “Hamburger chef” Jamie Oliver successfully challenged McDonalds about the use of pink slime, ie. the fatty parts of the beef ‘washed’ in ammonium hydroxide, in their burgers. Apparently they no longer do this thanks, at least in part, to Jamie. I started looking into this but there was loads to read and I’m not really that interested. 

What I am interested in is …

Why, apart from convenience for people on the road and in a real hurry, why would anyone choose to have a takeaway (or eat in) burger (or other meal) from McDonalds or other fast food outlet?

Do you know how easy it is to make a burger? 

If not this is what you do …

~   Get some fresh but not too lean minced beef – you want your burger to be juicy.
~   Divide it into portions the size you would like your burgers but treat the meat gently as overworking it will toughen them. I have always made 225g/8oz burgers both at home for my real man and when cooking professionally. Allow me to go off on a small tangent here ...
According to McDonalds themselves their cooked beef patties in a Big Mac weigh approximately 66g/2.3 ounces each so that’s a little under 4.6g/5oz. Even allowing for shrinkage you can do way better than that! Anyhoo …
~   Make a small depression in the burger on one side. (I say this but have never done it - apparently it helps the burger cook evenly and stay flat).
~   Heat a frying pan and grease lightly. ~   Season your burgers on both sides with salt and black pepper. The salt is important because not only does make the burger tasty it helps form a good crust on the meat.
~   Cook your burger till perfect by browning over medium high heat according to the timings below on the first side without disturbing it. Flip onto the second side and finish cooking. Times may vary a little according to the thickness of the burgers.


Rare – 3 minutes per side, feels soft and juicy.
Medium – 4 minutes per side, feels springy.
Well Done –  5 minutes per side, feels firm.

~   If you top your burger with something eg. bacon, cheese etc. cover the pan briefly to heat and melt the topping or, better really if you can,  pop the burger into a hot oven or under a hot grill for just a minute to heat briefly.
~   Serve with a burger bun (toasted or not to your taste) with whatever you fancy eg. mayonnaise, bbq sauce etc. plus real cheese, bacon, onions and so on.

6 important points …

~   Don’t crowd the pan; if cooking more than one burger there must be space between them or they will steam rather than fry.~   DON'T press or flatten burgers during cooking because this squeezes out the juices, compresses the meats and really irritates me!
~   If the meat seems stuck to the pan when you want to turn it wait a little while; once a good crust has formed it will release itself from the pan, providing you dried the meat properly before cooking.
~   Only flip once.
~   Don't cut into the burger to see if it is done at this releases yummy juices.
~   As with all meat set aside to rest in a warm place for a few minutes before serving.

So, your choice …

Big Mac



Big Mac – £.2.69 comprising 132g ground beef (possibly and possibly not with additives), one white bun, some lettuce, a slice of processed cheese (or cheese product to be exact ie. not real cheese).





Or ...
how-to-make-the-perfect-burger


Homemade Burger - £1.80 approx comprising 225g ground beef, 2 rashers back bacon, a generous portion of lovely mature Cornish cheddar, a spoonful of freshly fried red onions, lettuce and baby plum tomatoes, white burger bun. 

This is one I made earlier for my real man.



Cooking your own burger takes about 10 minutes from taking the meat out of the packet (although longer if you also do chips), I’m sure you could easily wait that long in McDonalds!

This is just one example of why you should cook your own food – it is real and fresh, can be made exactly as you like it and is also cheaper.

My “Work”

I’ve written before about this – two days a week I help sort out vast amounts of books that have been donated to Cornwall Hospice Care.  They are divided into books that are good enough to sell on Amazon and those that can be sold in the many shops around Cornwall. Some books don’t make the mark and are sold for pulping – heartbreaking!

Naturally I am often tempted to buy a book (or ten) myself, so I do, hence the Michael Pollan book mentioned above.

Bargains – I volunteer at the warehouse at Holmbush which is behind their great shop selling pre-loved furniture and stuff. There is also a clearance outlet where phenomenal bargains are to be found including clothes for £1 and paperback books at five for a pound.  So if you are in the St. Austell area head over to St. Austell Furnish, their largest store  and get yourself some reading matter!

Speaking of books – I have just updated my book of cooking tips and hacks which is now considerably extended from 219 to over 500 seriously helpful tips. 


truly-useful-cooking-tips



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14 January 2016

Lamb – a surprisingly healthy choice!

Seemingly lamb has a bit of a reputation for being fatty and therefore may not be a first choice for healthy eating – what a shame and a misconception. The truth of the matter is that lamb provides high quality zinc, iron and protein which is especially important when losing weight as it not only curbs hunger but also speeds recovery after exercise and reduces muscle loss. This is certainly good news after the recent binge we've all been on!

I am the happy recipient of some lovely boneless leg of organic Welsh lamb from Rhug Estate Organic Farm  and am going to make some delicious dishes with it. Big headed or what!

I decided to cook my lamb four different ways and eat it all myself because as luck would have it my Real Man is not one for adventurous eating and in any case it’s my lamb!


Roast Lamb with Black Garlic


Firstly an idea I have been pondering for some while – how lamb would taste with black garlic.

4 lovely pieces of lean lamb meat – about 200g each
6 black garlic cloves
1 teaspoon (or more!) freshly and coarsely ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt
~   Grind together the black garlic (which is very soft) and the black pepper using a pestle and mortar or a bowl and teaspoon.
~   Stir in the olive oil and slather this over the meat.
~   Cover and set aside in the fridge for several hours.
~   Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/170ºC fan/gas 5 and put an ovenproof dish in it.
~   Get the lamb out of the fridge.
~   When the oven is hot season the meat with a little salt and brown on all sides in a hot pan then transfer to the dish in the oven.
~   Roast for 15-20 minutes till to your liking.

The meat was superb; tender, tasty and juicy. I’m afraid I then did something a little fattening with the meat juices but you don’t have to – I set the lamb aside in a warm place to rest (all cooked meats benefit from a rest, as do I) and added a splash of port to the pan, simmered a minute then added a knob of butter. It all tasted wonderful but the sauce didn’t look so good in the photo!  Sorry about that!

roast-lamb-with-black-garlic

Black garlic maybe an unfamiliar ingredient but is well worth investigating – it is sweet and rich and reminiscent of molasses and balsamic vinegar.

My second dish was ...

Souvlaki – for 4


You need metal or wooden skewers for this Greek dish.

750g lovely lean lamb leg meat – cut into 2½ cm/1” ish dice
5 tablespoons olive oil
the juice of one lemon
1 red onion – finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, finely chopped, if you have it)
freshly ground black pepper

~   Basically mix together all the ingredients except the lamb and then stir in the lamb.
~   Cover and leave to marinate for at least 5 hours but considerably longer, eg overnight, if you can.
~   If you are using wooden skewers soak them in water as they are much less likely to char or catch fire that way.
~   Preheat the grill or pan.
~   Thread the lamb chunks on the skewers and season with salt.
~   Cook for 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally till just how you like them. 
A bit of char on the meat can be pleasant!

Serve with flatbread plus Tzatziki and Horiatiki or in other words minty cucumber and yogurt dip and Greek salad.

souvlaki-recipe

Thirdly out of respect to the Welshness of the meat …


Lamb & Leek Hotpot – serves 4


400g fresh leeks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
750g boneless leg of lamb – diced
another 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of flour
600ml hot vegetable or lamb stock
800g potatoes
salt and pepper
a little butter - optional

~   Cut off the root end of the leeks, remove the outer layer, cut in half lengthways and then slice. Wash leeks according to the useful instructions here. 
~   Cook the leeks in the 3 tablespoons of oil in accordance with the instructions for cooking leeks are on the same page. 
~   Season the lamb and in a separate pot brown them, a few pieces at a time, in the other two tablespoons of olive oil.  Getting a good colour on the meat is important for the flavour of the finished dish.
~   When the leeks are buttery tender stir in the garlic and the flour over low heat a few seconds.
~   Stir in the stock, bring to the boil stirring, turn off the heat and add the lamb to the pot.
~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Peel and thinly slice the potatoes.
~   Arrange half the potato slices to cover the base of an ovenproof dish and season with a little salt and pepper.
~   Pour the lamb and its gravy over the potatoes.
~   Top with the rest of the potato slices and season.
~   Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours although check after an hour and a half to see how it is going and add a little more stock if it is drying out.
~   When all is tender remove the foil (dot with a little butter if you are not being too abstemious) and return the dish to the oven to brown the potatoes.

lamb-hotpot

 On second thoughts I think my real man would like this if I left out the garlic! Perfect for the sort of weather we are having.

And finally another warming winter dish and one of my favourites …


Lamb Braised in Red Wine – serves 4


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
750g lean lamb leg meat – diced
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
½ tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
600ml red wine
a little stock

~   Heat the oil in a large saucepan and carefully brown the meat, a few pieces at a time so as not to overcrowd the pan, in it.  Set aside.
~   Add the onions and cook, stirring often, till softening and just starting to take colour.
~   Stir in the garlic and cook a minute.
~   Stir in the tomato paste and cook another minute.
~   Stir in the flour and, yes, cook another minute.
~   Add the red wine and bring to the boil.
~   Return the meat to the pan and if necessary add a little stock or water to bring the liquid just to the level of the top of the meat.
~   Cover with foil and then the lid, turn the heat to low and simmer for a couple of hours or so till very, very, very tender and wonderful.
~   If the sauce is a little runny for your taste remove the lamb and set aside whilst you boil the gravy down a little.

The meat cooked this way is rich, silky, tender, sticky and utterly delicious!

wine-braised-lamb

I usually do this with lamb shanks, the long slow cooks means that any fat melts and as it cools rises to the surface of the gravy. One chilled the fat can be lifted off before reheating which, as these sort of dishes always taste better the day after making, is the best thing to do.  Using the leg of lamb there was no fat on the gravy!

A Note on Welsh Lamb


Lamb is a lovely meat and Welsh Lamb is extra special; it has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status certifying the integrity of the meat, that it has been traditionally reared and butchered to a very high standard or to put it another way, is some of the best lamb in the world. This was certainly true of what I have been eating this last week.


So if you love lamb but would like to eat healthily and maybe lose weight then no worries – just buy some of the leaner lamb cuts and cook mindfully.  

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