Shooting the Cook

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“Shooting the Cook” is a memoir written by TV producer, director and, alongside Keith Floyd, legendary maker of television food programmes. I suppose the most well-known quote from the book is this,

“Cooks on television,” Keith pronounced “could be as famous as rock musicians and racing car drivers”

Here’s another quote which I particularly like,

“they” (television producers) “come in to my restaurant pissed out of their heads, promising me the earth with my very own series. I break open my very best brandy, then they piss off and I never see them again”.

Fortunately for us they did see each other again. Amongst other things this book wonderfully describes the behind the scenes story of the 1985 TV series ‘Floyd on Fish’ often regarded as the one which kicked down the door on the subsequent cult of the celebrity TV chef in the years that followed. The best part of this story is that its success was all an accident! For people like me who are addicted to TV food programmes and occasionally dabble in the kitchen or maybe even have the pretentions to maintain a food blog this is a must read. It is a must read because this is where it all started.

Until Floyd and Pritchard the stereotype TV cooking show was a very stayed, studio based, educational, domestic science, type of affair. The stereotype isn’t true of course. Even Pritchard admits the Floyd programmes were heavily influenced by the Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr, “the James Bond of cooking”). Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Fanny Craddock the only TV cook to have played the Albert Hall? Complete with evening dress and husband Johnny in tuxedo? Still, however you look at it what they did was extraordinary for its time. They took cooking out of the TV studio and into the real world. They smashed the mystique of the restaurant kitchen. They went out on the trawlers. They went to the farms. They showed us were the ingredients come from. They showed us organic and free range. Food and cooking became a fun and exciting adventure. In short, “Floyd made it OK for blokes in pubs to have conversations about chillies and coriander”. Here is one last quote from the book which, for me, sums up the whole phenomenon.

“Forget about exact ingredients, pour yourself a glass of wine and relax. Peel a couple of cloves of garlic and make the whole cooking experience far more enjoyable than going out to a restaurant.”

Bon appetit.

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Limoncello is a strong, Italian liqueur made from the zest of sfusato lemons. This spirit is mostly associated with the southern part of the gulf of Naples and the Amalfi coast where the sfusato lemon is a common crop. Limoncello can be either clear or opaque.

I recently went on a short break to the town of Sorrento which sits high on the cliffs on the southern coast of the bay of Naples, Italy. This wonderful little town has a lot to offer the tourist looking for a chill out. Including this place.

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This great little shop sells Limoncello everything. Even limoncello soap, apparently. Inside this alladin’s cave of yellow with its vast array of all kinds of shapes and sizes of bottles, boxes of sweets the staff eagerly ply visitors with small samples.

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It is one of those places where one really has to buy something. Why? Because I can think of no where outside of this part of the world like it. So I did.

Having bought my bottle I then, as is my habit, retired to a street side bar/café for a beer to ponder my new purchase and announce my latest adventure on Facebook.

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Cue my good friend and culinary genius Chef Instructor Terri Dien.

Mike: “Hey Terri, look what I just bought. This stuff is quite potent! I think this stuff has potential for dilution in soda water or tonic water”.

Terri: “Lovely, Mike! Yes, drink it straight and you might not be able to stand up straight… but added to soda is a great way to enjoy it….. over a scoop of ice cream or sorbet…. Yum. I also add some to buttercream when I’m making special occasion cakes ”.

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Terri: “Limoncello (from Italy) is available here (California) in most stores… we can also make it, too! Paul and I made a batch years ago that’s still in our freezer. But I’m sure it tastes even better where you’re sitting!”

Mike: “Can I quote you in a blog post?”

Terri: “Of course!”

Mozzarella and Tomato Toasties

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I’ve been indulging in one of my favourite stress busters. Playing in the kitchen. I’m not going to tell you what it is I’ve been playing with because that could, potentially, spoil a future blog. Although, I suspect, you could give it a good guess……

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I just happen to have some left over tomato sauce and some Mozzarella cheese. The sauce is made from a reduction of roughly 50/50 fresh (just off the vine) and tinned tomatoes well reduced. No onion, no garlic, just tomato and nothing else. It is this sauce base that really makes this very modest little toastie so brilliantly and wonderfully fantastic that I just had to tell you about it.

Spread the sauce over slices of bread. Dot with mozzarella and add a little ripped up basil (By the time I got around to making images I ran out of basil and used parsley, but you get the idea).

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Add another slice on top and toast any way you like. I imagine this would be just as good as an open sandwich too. Serve with a simple green salad.

I love cooks treats don’t you?

Beef and Guinness Pie

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It’s St Patrick’s day today. Seems like a good day to make a beef and Guinness pie. As we all know, this is one of those great pub classics. Something I really love to order at my local. When it comes to pies I reckon this country is definitely where it’s at! Having said that, I don’t make them very often.

We all know about Guinness of course. That fine Irish stout of legend. Apparently, it was first brewed in 1759. I have never been to Ireland. I have always understood that the Guinness in Ireland was quite different to that which we get here. However, my Irish friend says that is not such the situation these days. Such is modern beer production, I suppose. Anyhow, it’s a damn fine drink and is really good in cooking.

The pie. The basic strategy is to do the pastry first as the dough needs to chill in the fridge for a while before it’s rolled out (I have no idea why). Whilst the pastry is chilling the filling can be put together. The pastry is dead easy. Flour, butter (or part lard if you prefer), water. As I’m not the best baker on the planet so I’ve had to resort to my Good Housekeeping Cookbook (where I’d be without it I don’t know…)

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Using your fingers, mix the butter into the flour. Really work it. You should end up with something quite crumbly. You don’t really want any lumps of butter in there so put the kitchen telly on or watch some Dearmartini video’s to pass the time. Next, add in cold water a bit at a time until a dough forms. Eventually, it gets to the point at which you can start kneading. To knead it I like to fold it between my hands (I do small quantities) until I can easily chuck it from one hand to the other. As you do this you can adjust the flour content if the mix should be too sticky. You adjust by sprinkling a little at a time on to the ball as you knead it. When done wrap it in cling film and bung it in the fridge. Apparently the chilling bit is really important.

Then move on to the filling. If you look at the recipes on the internet for this pie the filling does vary quite a bit. It’s like all of this kind of cooking. No strict rules. Although, obviously, beef and Guinness are essential.

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Guinness, casserole steak, onion, leek, tomato, celery, salt, pepper, dried herbs, butter.

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Brown the meat in a banging hot pan and remove to a colander to drain. This kind of supermarket beef seems to produce quite a lot of yukky gunk that I like to get rid of. While that is going on, soften up the other ingredients in the same pan. Turn the pan down for this. Throw the meat and veg in to the pie dish. Add the Guinness and some butter to the pan and get out a wooden spatula. keep the pan on a low-ish heat and use the spatula to get all those lovely crispy bits off the bottom and stirred in to the reducing liquid. Pour the liquid in to the pie dish. If you want to know how much, say 2/3 way up the dish? Something like that.

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Roll out the pastry and pop it on top to form the lid. Get it well sealed down and trim off the excess.

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If you should end up with the odd gap, hole, tear or whatever use the trimmings to plug them. After that, use the excess trimmings to make decoration on the top. Waste not, want not. Brush the top with beaten egg. Ideally, you should use one of those pie chimney type things. At the very least, make two or three steam vents with a knife. This is very important so don’t forget to do it (ahem…) 🙂

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Put it in to a hot oven. Gas mark 6 should do it. Because the filling is partially cooked, once the top is done the pie is done. Generally you can smell it, but check every twenty or ten minutes or so. About 40 minutes, something like that. It certainly shouldn’t take longer than an hour. What you end up with is a beautifully made pie with no breakages or boil outs (ahem…) 🙂

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Fantastic. Why not serve it with some colcannon?

Arroz Con Pollo

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“Of all the combinations of rice and other ingredients found in Latin cooking, everyone’s favourite is arroz con pollo, rice and chicken. There is something deeply satisfying about this one pot meal, the golden rice bursting with flavour, the succulent chicken juices giving moisture and backbone to the rice. Everywhere in Latin America, this is the food that anchors Sunday lunch when extended families get together, and that is served to a special guest as a gesture of appreciation.” Maricel E Presilla, Gran Cocina Latina 2012. ISBN 978-0-393-05069-1 (hardcover).

I couldn’t say it any better. In my days as a student and in bedsit land this was a regular staple. Easy, cheap, makes a little go a long way and incredibly tasty. It is these things that also make it a great outdoor and campsite food too.

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I’ve made life easy for myself and prepared as much as possible in advance. It does help. On this excursion I was getting some imagery for another project so I needed to be efficient. I could of course been even more efficient and opened a tin or used a freeze dry packet. But, well, one has one’s standards. I have nothing against those freeze-dried things. They have their place and I do use them. But generally I prefer not too. Even in a location as exposed as this one was!

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There are many, many variations on how this thing comes together. You could sweat down the onion, garlic etc. first and then add chicken and chorizo. Fry the meat and then add the onion garlic etc. Or put everything in together at the same time. Trust me on this, however you choose to do it, it all works, although the subtle dimensions of flavour are quite different. In this case I’ve chosen to do the meat first and then add in the onion, garlic and bell pepper.

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Having fried off the chicken and chorizo and softened down the onion etc. I then added a slug of plain water to kind of free everything up. Into this I added a packet of golden vegetable rice and got everything well mixed together. Then, into that mix, I added a tin of chopped tomatoes.

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Then the easy bit. Sitting back and letting it cook down. How far you want to take this is a matter of personal taste and judgement. Some people like it very dry, some people like it quite soupy. Classically speaking, when it comes to reducing this down it should not be stirred. The idea being to reduce and steam the liquid through the rice mixture leaving a nice crunchy base to the bottom. Personally, I think a gentle loosening of the mix to move the reducing around a bit works very well. In this case I chose to leave the mixture quite wet. As 2/3rds of this is going into a food jar for later, I rekon a wet mix will keep better and re-heat better.

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Oh wow! This is good. Next time your out camping or caravanning this is a really good one. For simple ease, simplicity and taste this is hard to beat. Especially if you are cooking for a group. You really can’t make too much as it is very re-heatable and makes a great breakfast for the next day! Whatever, if you’ve never done this you are really missing out. Give it a try.

Ps. Just in case anyone wants to know the location was on the north side of the Kirkstone pass in the English lake District.

A Stall in Borough Market, Southwark.

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I was flicking through my picture library the other day and came across this. Is this not a fantastic pan of food? To be honest I’m not sure when it was imaged, must have been a couple of years ago maybe more, but I do know where it was imaged. It was imaged at a stall in London’s Borough Market which can be found on the south bank of the Thames behind Southwark Cathedral partly underneath London bridge. For many foodies in the UK this is the ultimate Farmers Market. A mecca of produce from all over the UK that just has to be visited.

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However this posting is not about the market. I suspect the internet is probably full of blog postings and imagery of this place. If that is what you want then stop reading this and go google.

This was what grabbed my attention. Big time.

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Turning a corner and seeing this sight was stunning. This is the kind of thing that really gets the adrenaline flowing and my heart pumping.

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Coming across something like this makes my heart sing. It’s what I live for. I do. There was a time I lived to throw myself out of perfectly good airplanes or haul myself up bits of rock for no good reason. But now it’s finding something like this. This is both wonderful and sad at the same time.

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It’s wonderful because it exists at all and it’s sad because it’s so rare. Why are our streets full of those fast food McTucky King Burger type places and not these? I’m serious. The queue for this went around the corner and people were coming back for more!

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Just look at this. I want all of it. I want it now. I want it everyday until I die. It’s that good. So good I chose it to banner this blog. I hope it’s still there.

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Morecambe Bay and Potted Shrimp

Potted Shrimp (1) This is “Lancaster Sands” painted by JMW Turner in circa 1826. This place can be found in the Northwest of England. Prior to the extension of the railway to Windermere in the 1840’s if you wanted to take three days off the long, painful and expensive coach journey to and from Westmoreland then taking this hazardous crossing of the sands was what you did. For a price, skilled guides would navigate travellers through the various hazards and quick sands of the bay. Not least, timing the short interval of low tide was everything. No Doubt the hotels and guesthouses either side of the crossing would be full of ever exaggerating tales of “there I was, I thought I was going to die!”. Here is the bay imaged from Morecambe as it is today. If you look closely you can just about make out the fells of the English Lake District through the mixture of haze and rain. Potted Shrimp (2) However, this is food blog not a history blog and I’m in Morecambe for a reason. The reason started when I came across a wonderful book in my shelves. The Seafood Lovers Guide by Rick Stein. For me if you want to understand the seafood around the British coastline then this has to be the go-to book along with the go-to tv series. In my mind this is probably the best tv series and the best book of seafood ever written. Whilst flicking through the pages I came across this. Potted Shrimp (3) This was one of those “I had forgotten all about that” moments. A moment when distant memories of a forgotten part of child hood are sharply brought back in to focus. Morecambe bay is rightly famous, amongst other things, for its seafood. Amongst which are flooks and Cockles. But the star, rightly or wrongly, are brown shrimp. In the above passage Stein gives a nice little insight into Morecambe, the bay and a local shrimp fisherman Raymond Edmondson. This is his shop. Potted Shrimp (4) Inside I found that childhood favourite that I had almost forgotten about. Potted Shrimps. Potted Shrimp (5) As a snack with a large, steaming mug of tea or with a small glass of cider this is nothing other than complete joy. There are some things in my food life that I struggle to understand. Why are there people who will go out of their way to spend hundreds of pounds on a miserably small jar of mediocre caviar and ignore something as fantastic and as brilliant as this which costs, I don’t know (I don’t care) something like £2/3? I don’t get it. The best part though it that it is so simple too make. This is all you need: Potted Shrimp (6) Brown shrimp (preferably from Morecambe Bay), unsalted butter, cayenne pepper and nutmeg (the image has paprika, I grabbed the wrong jar). That’s it. Nothing else. Most recipes will tell you that the nutmeg is essential and the cayenne is optional. To my mind it is the other way around. The bite from the cayenne really lifts this. The quality of the shrimp is everything with this so it is worth going out of your way to find good ones. Potted Shrimp (8) Wash and dry the shrimp. Take time to get the shrimp properly dried off. Then get them properly covered in the nutmeg and the cayenne. In the mean time, make up some clarified butter in the usual way. That is slowly melted down in a pan on very low heat so that the yukky, fatty stuff ends up at the bottom and the clear stuff ends up at the top (take your time and be patient). Potted Shrimp (9) Fill up a small, sterilised, jar with the shrimp and pour in the clarified butter and leave to set. First on the counter to loose most of the heat and then to the fridge. It’s a good idea to pour on a little more of the butter as it sets to make sure the shrimp is properly covered. That is all there is to it. Easy, simple, cheap and wonderful. The end result should look something like this. Potted Shrimp Imagine what a great starter something like this could be or an original finger food or tapas of some kind. Personally, I love it spread on a nice piece of toast. Or how about this, melted over a nice piece of fish simply served with potatoes and green beans. Enjoy. Potted Shrimp (10)