fpb: (Default)
Today I visited two places who sell meat (I am being careful not to call them by the professional name of butchers, for reasons that will become clear) to see if, expecting not to find shin of beef on display, I could at least order it. First, I went to the local Sainsbury's, a leading supermarket chain, which, like most English supermarkets, has a pretty meat counter with staff in nice-looking white aprons, for all the world like professional butchers. There I was informed not only that the resources of mighty Sainsbury's were not up to the simple task of ordering an unusual cut of beef if a client wanted one, but that the employee who answered me had never heard of Ossobuco OR of shin of beef, and was only trained to set up the limited amount of cuts that Sainsbury's were willing to sell. To give an idea, the only beef on bone he had ever seen was the T-bone steak, and that, if you please, only for Christmas. With all his white apron and cap and the shiny glass of his display cabinets, he was - God forgive his employers - no more than a shelf-stacker specializing in meat, and had got no more skills than that for the work he did.

Then I went to the nearest independent butcher shop - not very near (more than a mile away), but then this is a suburban district and not densely populated. From the moment I entered I got a seriously weird vibe about the place: apart from being altogether too neat and polished for what is, after all, a bit of a messy trade - especially late in the day as it was - I felt the owner looking at me with a surly, suspicious and certainly unwelcoming stare. I started explaining what I wanted.
"We call it Ossobuco in Italy..."
"I know what you mean."(One relieved Italian, after the incredible experience at Sainsbury's)
"Would you buy the whole part?"(I thought: I must have got him wrong.)
"The whole part - you mean the whole leg?"
"Yes."
"Well - no, I only wanted a Christmas dinner."
"Then it's no good for me, I couldn't sell the rest."

And now tell me again, boys and girls, how and why it is so wicked that Poles and Romanians should come in and take all your jobs. This man, who was rather old, had a store that relied so much on the local clientele that he was startled and looked suspicious when someone unknown walked in. And yet, in front of the problem of disposing of a single leg of beef, he expected me, the customer, to make life easy for him by taking it all myself. Apart from anything else, I am not a butcher, but I can think myself of ways to not only dispose of at least enough of it not to make a loss, but also to do so while brightening the experience of your own clients; and so can any of you who has spent even a little time in business. Exhibit it as a novelty and a rare opportunity. Print out little leaflets with the recipe for Ossobuco alla Milanese, assuring your clients - and it is true - that this is the most admired meat dish in Italy, where people know a thing or two about good food. Assure them - and it is true - that it is easy and inexpensive to make, all that it requires is time and occasional attention. You could even make little packets of herbs and lemon zest to go with each portion; the price would be next to nothing, and it would impress your clients with the thought you'd put in. Talk personally to all those you know to favour casseroles and brisket, cheap stewing cuts, and/or fancy foreign dishes. And price it to sell; shin of beef is not the most expensive cut by a long way. Is that too tough? It's elementary salesmanship. But this man, who had been in his business long enough to know what "ossobuco" was - that is, he was not a glorified shelf-stacker like his unhappy contemporary at Sainsbury's - literally reacted with hostility to a new client, and expected the client to pay a fortune and saddle himself with a years' worth of ossibuchi, rather than do his goddamn job as a butcher. AND NOW TELL ME AGAIN, BOYS AND GIRLS, HOW AND WHY IT IS SO WICKED THAT POLES AND ROMANIANS SHOULD COME IN AND TAKE ALL YOUR JOBS.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Today I visited two places who sell meat (I am being careful not to call them by the professional name of butchers, for reasons that will become clear) to see if, expecting not to find shin of beef on display, I could at least order it. First, I went to the local Sainsbury's, a leading supermarket chain, which, like most English supermarkets, has a pretty meat counter with staff in nice-looking white aprons, for all the world like professional butchers. There I was informed not only that the resources of mighty Sainsbury's were not up to the simple task of ordering an unusual cut of beef if a client wanted one, but that the employee who answered me had never heard of Ossobuco OR of shin of beef, and was only trained to set up the limited amount of cuts that Sainsbury's were willing to sell. To give an idea, the only beef on bone he had ever seen was the T-bone steak, and that, if you please, only for Christmas. With all his white apron and cap and the shiny glass of his display cabinets, he was - God forgive his employers - no more than a shelf-stacker specializing in meat, and had got no more skills than that for the work he did.

Then I went to the nearest independent butcher shop - not very near (more than a mile away), but then this is a suburban district and not densely populated. From the moment I entered I got a seriously weird vibe about the place: apart from being altogether too neat and polished for what is, after all, a bit of a messy trade - especially late in the day as it was - I felt the owner looking at me with a surly, suspicious and certainly unwelcoming stare. I started explaining what I wanted.
"We call it Ossobuco in Italy..."
"I know what you mean."(One relieved Italian, after the incredible experience at Sainsbury's)
"Would you buy the whole part?"(I thought: I must have got him wrong.)
"The whole part - you mean the whole leg?"
"Yes."
"Well - no, I only wanted a Christmas dinner."
"Then it's no good for me, I couldn't sell the rest."

And now tell me again, boys and girls, how and why it is so wicked that Poles and Romanians should come in and take all your jobs. This man, who was rather old, had a store that relied so much on the local clientele that he was startled and looked suspicious when someone unknown walked in. And yet, in front of the problem of disposing of a single leg of beef, he expected me, the customer, to make life easy for him by taking it all myself. Apart from anything else, I am not a butcher, but I can think myself of ways to not only dispose of at least enough of it not to make a loss, but also to do so while brightening the experience of your own clients; and so can any of you who has spent even a little time in business. Exhibit it as a novelty and a rare opportunity. Print out little leaflets with the recipe for Ossobuco alla Milanese, assuring your clients - and it is true - that this is the most admired meat dish in Italy, where people know a thing or two about good food. Assure them - and it is true - that it is easy and inexpensive to make, all that it requires is time and occasional attention. You could even make little packets of herbs and lemon zest to go with each portion; the price would be next to nothing, and it would impress your clients with the thought you'd put in. Talk personally to all those you know to favour casseroles and brisket, cheap stewing cuts, and/or fancy foreign dishes. And price it to sell; shin of beef is not the most expensive cut by a long way. Is that too tough? It's elementary salesmanship. But this man, who had been in his business long enough to know what "ossobuco" was - that is, he was not a glorified shelf-stacker like his unhappy contemporary at Sainsbury's - literally reacted with hostility to a new client, and expected the client to pay a fortune and saddle himself with a years' worth of ossibuchi, rather than do his goddamn job as a butcher. AND NOW TELL ME AGAIN, BOYS AND GIRLS, HOW AND WHY IT IS SO WICKED THAT POLES AND ROMANIANS SHOULD COME IN AND TAKE ALL YOUR JOBS.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
As a child I must have been one of those fussy eaters. I have an idea, indeed, that very early on I did not even like potatoes. I cannot say I have altogether grown out of the tendency. Some foods I reconciled myself with over time – gorgonzola and blue cheese; sauerkraut; fish; potatoes, of course – if I ever did dislike them at all, and if that is not a false feeling (it is barely articulate enough to be a memory). But some foods I still can't face; I react badly to many kinds of seafood, especially octopus; snails (although I used to go on snail-hunting expeditions with my grandmother); black olives; beetroot and rhubarb; and grapefruit. Most things with bitter in it I dislike. But there is one thing I have only recently rediscovered, and which yet did more than any other foodstuff to darken my early life.

There is a kind of leaf cabbage that grows, it seems, only in Italy, or that at least is only eaten there. It has no head, growing out in great, grim, very dark green leaves with an ugly bubbly surface. The person who first tried to eat it must have been very hungry. But it is an important plant in north and central Italian cuisine, the secret ingredient in two of the most popular and beloved soups, Ribollita and Minestrone.

Now black cabbage must be more dear to the good Lord than any other plant, because the punishment He has placed for anyone who overcooks it is something that has to be felt to be believed. There honestly is magic in it. It is not enough to say that it tastes awful, not even that it tastes like poison. Overcooked black cabbage tastes like the cry of the Nazgûl; there is no other way I can describe it. It tastes as if you will never again be able to remember anything good and pleasant.

My childhood is a long time gone, and there are a lot of things I only remember if I go back and find them. I always remembered, of course, that as a child I hated minestrone – I enjoy it mightily now – and I thought it was just one of those childish fads of mine, that I grew out of. But last year I bought a batch of black cabbage from the local supermarket, as a curiosity; and inevitably I made a mess of the cooking. And I remembered.

There is a busy cottage industry that dedicates itself to denouncing the cruelty of the Catholic Church to children and other living things. By the work people put in it, there must be money in the business. So here is my contribution to it. Most of my years at junior schools were spent in private nuns' schools. I cannot say that those nuns were cruel, or stupid, or bigoted, or nasty, or bullying, or uneducated. (Sorry!) In fact, some of them I remember as wonderful people. But they bloody well overcooked their black cabbage. As I recall it, they overcooked it every time, and their minestrone – which was served most days of the week, especially in winter – came out correspondingly awful. The very first mouthful I took of my own torturously overcooked black cabbage, I remembered. I remembered all I had suffered every winter day that I went to lunch and found minestrone on my plate; and I remembered why there would be merry Hell at home every time mother tried to introduce the idea. My poor mother, she never knew.

So here is my contribution to the “The Catholic Church is a vicious child-abusing torture cult” industry. I have had bad luck; I never met a vicious or savage nun of the kind that other people remember so well, nor even an abusive priest (though I know that such people exist). The priests and nuns of my childhood were decent people and they tried their best. But good God, did they overcook their black cabbage.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Dedicated to Wemyss because this uses a highly English roster of ingredients - bacon, onions, apples, vegetable stock, carrots and beans. The carrots are the main ingredient, but I have a suspicion it would go just as well with parsnips.

Separately, cook the beans (unless you are using the tinned variety) and steam some carrots till they are soft and tasty (30 to 45 minutes in a steamer). Take a good few bacon offcuts, with lots of fat but enough meat as well, cut them small, and slow-cook them till much of the fat is sweated and the meat is cooked and crisp. Add chopped onion - one large or two small ones - and a couple of chopped apples, and slow cook till the onions are transparent and the apple so soft you can squash it. Add the stock, mix to a soup-like consistency, and boil till it is reduced; a few minutes before the end, add the carrots and the beans. Serve quite warm.
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Do any of my friends like cabbage? I've come up with rather a good recipe for Savoy cabbage and I'd like to dedicate it to someone.

EDITED IN: Sour and sweet Savoy cabbage Eliskimo

Separately, prepare a decent amount of mashed potatoes, on which you will eventually place the cabbage once cooked.

I used frozen cabbage. If you buy it fresh, get rid of the tough outer leaves and chop the rest small. Take one smallish apple, an onion, and a red or yellow pepper, and chop them fine. Place the onion, apple and pepper in a frying pan with some fat and fry them till the apple and pepper are softened and the onion coloured. Add the cabbage, salt, add half a teaspoonful of honey, some fennel seeds, paprika, and cinnamom, and cook together. When the liquid made by the vegetables has nearly evaporated, add some balsamic vinegar, and when that is also nearly dried, pour over the bed of mashed potatoes. Serve warm.
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Just invented by myself, and dedicated to [profile] sanscouronne, just because. The next time I think of something really nice, I'll dedicate it to another friend.

Ingredients: lettuce, currants, bacon, tinned tuna, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt.
Cook a few strips of bacon over a very slow fire; try to avoid altogether the frying effect, which will be easier if you have an electric hob. Take them out of the pan, get rid of the excess fat with some kitchen paper, and cut into small bits. Chop the salad and mix with currants, tuna and bacon (mix energetically, and mix again as you are about to serve the salad, because the currants tend to settle at the bottom of the dish.) Garnish with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt to taste.
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Does anyone know a way to make parsnips not taste nasty?
Likewise, what is the best (as in tastiest and most enjoyable) way to cook cabbage? Or should I take my mother's advice and just have it raw in salad?
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What do I do with half a dozen limes? It's not an Italian fruit, I never had it before, and I have no idea whether it can even be eaten as it is.
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I miscalculated the starting amount of chickpeas and ended up with an absolutely COLOSSAL amount of humus. Just as well that I love the stuff and that eating it is never a chore. In fact, what with humus, chestnuts to be roasted, and fresh tomato for salad, this is going to be a very pleasant couple of food days.

There's an awful lot of pleasures to be enjoyed in life, even if you are poor.
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Dear Sirs/Madams,
in Italian, "pasta all'arrabbiata" means pasta in the angry fashion - with reference to the generous use of chilli in the sauce. The so-called arrabbiata sauce I bought from you did not even frown convincingly.
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Just invented, and it does not have a name yet. First person who successfully duplicates it - and likes it - can have it dedicated to them.

For two persons:
One large aubergine (eggplant)
some stale bread
two raw eggs
half a cup of rice
Double concentrated tomato
Ginger, star aniseed, feugreek, paprika or chilli powder, salt

Cook the rice. Take the fresh aubergine, scoop out the flesh, and place it in a blender together with the bread, rice, eggs, salt and spices. Blend it into a paste. Smear the inside of the scooped aubergines with double concentrated tomato, and place the paste over it into them. Bake in a fairly hot oven for some forty minutes.
EDITED IN: I forgot the fenugreek! There is also some fenugreek among the spices. Anyway, where spices/herbs are concerned you can experiment.
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A few days ago I bought a mountain of tomatoes at the local market. They were discounted and very cheap, and I just love tomato salad (olive oil, salt and Worcestershire sauce or ground garlic).

I decided that, in order to lessen the risk of their going moldy (it is summer, and my fridge is rather inefficient), I would cut and garnish them immediately and then place them at the back of the fridge, in the coldest possible spot, in a sealed plastic Tupperware-type container.

It worked - in a way. The tomato salad did not get moldy. Every day I had the pleasure of some cool tomato salad, in the midst of summer, fresh from the fridge.

Yes, the tomatoes did not get moldy. But four or so days after I'd made the giant salad, I found that they had started fermenting. I could actually taste the increasing acidity and the alcohol. Soon the tomatoes that were left would be inedible.

At that point, I had a brainwave. Among my most treasured possession is a breadmaker. My mind associated the concepts of fermentation and alcohol (which are what makes bread rise) with the fermenting tomatoes, and I came to the conclusion that I could use the tomatoes and their liquid instead of ordinary water and salt, to mix in bread dough. And as it turned out, the amount of liquid was just about compatible with the amount of water required in the recipe for bread. So I mixed them all in.

At first all seemed to go well. But an hour or so ago, as I was sitting here reading some website, I started smelling burned bread. I went to check - and I found that the dough had risen miles beyond its usual habit. The fermentation in the tomatoes must have added itself to that of yeast. As a result, the dought had overflowed its tin and fallen right on top of the incandescent tube that heats the breadmaker. I had to turn it off in a hurry and clean all the spillage, because dough on the incandescent tube is a fire hazard. And now I suspect I may have kissed the bread goodbye, because the sudden loss of head and process when I had to turn the breadmaker off seems to have stopped it growing and left it damp and over-soft.

Ah, the things that happen in an ordinary kitchen!
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...I can recommend you a place to eat. Of course, Rome is full of good restaurants - if you are lucky; and equally full of bad, rip-off places meant to exploit careless or ignorant foreign visitors. However, I can speak for the quality of this one. The name is Emilia Romana, and as the name suggests, it is untypical of Italian restaurants in that it draws on not one but two regional traditions - that of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, and that of Rome itself. That is because the owner - a forceful yet charming lady in her thirties who presides over the service herself - is from Romagna, while the chef is Roman, allowing for successful cross-pollination. The place is tiny and quite new, only established, I think, since last year. The food is very good indeed, traditional rather than inventive, and well made; the prices are moderate, designed for the local office workers, and the service is excellent. In spite of never having been abroad, the owner speaks decent and confident English - I was able to compliment her on it, although some of you may struggle with her accent. And as everyone knows, you judge a public place on the quality of its toilets; I had occasion to use them, and they sparkled. It is near St.Paul's Gate and the Ostiense train and underground stations, a frequent tourist destination, so you will not struggle to find it; and it has its own website - www.emiliaromana.com, featuring a map showing the exact location.

If you visit Rome, go try it. I feel sure you will not be let down.

CRUNCH!!

Apr. 10th, 2007 09:27 pm
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So I had some cabbage left over from making stuffed cabbage a while back; a lot of onions; and some leeks that really needed to be used before they wilted. So I decided to try and use all the natural flavours of the stuff. I melted some chopped bacon fat (good for extra flavour) over a very slow fire; added the chopped onions, sliced leeks, and cabbage; cooked it very slowly; then added some chickpeas and vegetable stock and kept it cooking till the moisture had shrunk. I looked forward to a really pleasant main course.

So I placed the first spoonful in my mouth.

CRUNNCCCCHH!!

I had forgotten to wash the earth out of the leeks.
fpb: (Default)
- to post about food. I would like to pass along an idea for a soup which I managed almost by chance by chucking in a number of disparate ingrendients. The doses are not very exact, so this is really more an idea than a recipe

Boil something like a pound of asparagus in vegetable stock over a slow fire, till even the stalks are softened. Separately, boil a couple of small sweet potatoes and cook one (regular) or two (small) red or yellow peppers. Take the asparagus from the stock, put them in a blender, and liquidize them very thoroughly - at least two minutes, because some of the fibres in the stalks can be quite stubborn. Add the sweet potatoes and peppers, blend further, mix the liquidized vegetables back into the stock, heat, and serve. The result is, I can assure you, delicious.
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...who loves to post about food, and once or twice has more or less asked me to. Well, I do not have much to say about food except that I enjoy it; but recently I have made myself what my parents used to call "wartime fish", and I thought, perhaps JD might like to know about this.

Read more... )
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Yesterday I was visiting the local Tesco's, and, as I suppose most people do, I moseyed over to the Discounted Fresh Food counter to look for bargains. I found a couple of nice items - and more than twenty Mozzarelle di Bufala.

I suppose everyone knows a thing called Mozzarella, at least as a main ingredient of pizza. Most people will have seen the vacuum-packed kind, usually made in Denmark and good for nothing except melting - if that. Those of you who care about food, and the Italians, will know the real kind, sold floating in its own whey; produced mostly in Italy, although the Germans have now learned to do it quite well and cheaply. However, the really knowledgeable gourmets, and most Italians, will have heard of this kind: made partly with buffalo rather than cow milk, and coming from a restricted part of southern Italy (from where the very best tomatoes and pasta also come). Mozzarella di Bufala is scarce, often counterfeited (with cow milk alone) and hard to find outside Italy, or even in many parts of it. You will not be surprised to hear that it is bleedin' expensive, too.

The packaged items on the discounted counter certainly answered this description. Even discounted, they cost twice what a normal decent mozzarella package with its whey would have set me back in Tesco's, and three times the German-made version in Aldi or Lidl. I stood there for a while, making my mind up; then I decided - what the Heck, you will not have this opportunity again! - if indeed it is an opportunity and not a rip-off - and, for once, I did actually have money to spend. So I bought the lot; but I was prepared to be disappointed.

I was not. My God, was I not. When I finally tasted one, I could not believe what was in my mouth. I have not eaten anything like that for decades. It was not only the real thing, but excellent even by the standards of Mozzarella di Bufala: so soft and moist they almost literally melted in the mouth, and as for the flavour... there are things that language, at least mine, simply cannot render. A taste both forceful and delicate, stronger than that of any normal cow-milk mozzarella however good, yet neither overpowering nor distorted; quite simply the best thing that can be made with milk.

Now my main problem is to hope they do not go off. I have frozen some - less than I would have liked, because my freezer was already half full - and placed the rest in the fridge, hoping that their condition remains as it is; but really top-quality Mozzarella di Bufala is a very fresh kind of food, and apt to go acidic and unpleasant in a few days - in which case I will have blown some money. Even so, I really and truly thanked the Lord, after that first bite, from the bottom of my heart. Experiences such as this are among the kind of things that make you grateful to be alive.

I was also a bit worried. To have so many expensive Mozzarelle di Bufala discounted for quick sale suggests that they have not succeeded as Tesco's was hoping, at least in this particular store. And I was thinking: Tesco's must have employed a really brilliant buyer, who seems to have gone for the very best product that could be found. If this line bombs, it is a slap in the face for quality, and possibly a loss for the producer. And the producer deserves to succeed; however pleasant it may have been to me, to find product of such quality discounted is not fit reward for work done to such high standards. I hope I am wrong, and frankly I cannot believe that such fine product could not find a market.

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