Thursday, 16 September 2010

It's cookery time again

Another night of iPlayer cookery fun. The great British bake off  and Gordon Ramsay's new best restaurants last night. Now I know not all of you consider 3 hours of food on the gogle box a thrill a minute telly, but I enjoy it immensely. My family certainly don't mind. Within a day of these things I'm the kitchen cooking my personal version of something I saw the night before.

Tonight I made mushroom and saffron risotto, because I can! tomorrow it's a chicken mushroom and leek pie. If we're lucky, there'll be enough pie to last us a few days.  Oh and a beef and barley soup from scratch.  Why do I mention these things? Am I boasting? Perhaps I want to torture some of you with food you can only buy from the frozen section. Honest truth?  Only a little bit. Mostly it's down to the knowledge that between myself and my wife, we can make the so called difficult dishes that pass for tests on the telly. Oh I haven't ever used suet in my life, but that doesn't mean I can't learn fast enough. We've come to the conclusion, while sharpening knives that were less cutting than an Oscar Wilde witicism, that just maybe we're beyond most of these cookery programmes and  it's time we took some classes. You know the feeling when you watch something and you're miles ahead of the presenter or reacting in the exact  same way as the expert? That's us these days. While I apprciate the fact that not all of us are on the same level at the same time, surely it's time the likes of Raymond Blanc and the cursing Scot were unleashed in some truly advanced cookery programmes. Blanc teased us with some secrets last Spring, but since then it's the same old same old.

Speaking of which, watched episodes 4 and 5 of the Great British Bake Off. That would be puddings and pastry. the remaining contestants without exception, get on my tit. Even the nice boy from Yorkshire is annoying. These contestants seem to revel in making as many base errors as possible. Posh southern lady thinks rules are for wimps, bald Ljunberg look alike flies by the seat of his pants, polite Asian lady is pretending to be 6th gen Norman and mostly ignores her Asian roots, Salford lady, one of two truly gifted bakers, is too afraid of her own talent, and accountant glasses boy ... it was baking or becoming a Lion tamer that kept him from going barking mad. So why do I watch? Simples as the Meercat would say, it's a personal competition to see if the challenges would make me break a sweat or not. The level of expertise required to complete the tasks is nothing to take lightly, but we're both up to it. If anything, simple basic mistakes we haven't made in years were routinely cropping up. Like what I hear you ask..... Well I'll tell you. Pie for example, you pre bake your pie bottoms for a few minutes ( 10 to 15 minutes depending) before you fill them. This avoids the old bogey man of the soggy bottom. But did these people do that? Of course not. They were all sweating till the last second never sure if the pie turned out well or not. Some were lucky  some were not. Had they taken the obvious step earlier on, there would have been no worry. Oh and minor complaint , but still worth noting, why did somebody present a history of puddings if she wasn't prepared to try the food from beginning to end? Hardly a ringing endorsement for her pallet. I'm supposed to trust her opinion on interesting and innovative combinations? Another thing, if those were Cornish pasties, I'm a Sunderland supporter. I watched the Hairy Bikers in Cornwall earlier in the year and they did it much better.

I will stick it out till the end as the presenters on the whole seems to know what they're doing. And despite my criticism, it's a friendly reminder that I may have neglected certain recipes. In fact I promise here and now to make a proper New York Deli cheese cake next week as my sponge is that tasty and light. In addition, it's been donkeys since I made a quiche Lorraine. Winter is coming and it's time to fill the freezer with tasty things we can eat later on.  Perhaps even a meringue that I'll whip by hand. I do consider myself lucky in one regard, my lovely wife affords me the opportunity to prepare feasts for her Holydays and she looks forward to mine. Between us we cover the gamut from Passover to Christmas with resulting occasions for mounds of Polish food to strain the molecular stability of our dinning table. Most recently Rosh Hashana ( a belated L'shana Tova to our Jewish friends) saw home made gefilte fish that was declared the best some had had in years. Particularly proud of that as it tasted the same as the deli stuff we used to get from the kosher counter years ago. Barscz or beet soup was another triumph that had us eschewing the jarred stuff from now on. As good as my Babcia's it was, and that's saying a lot. Next time the uszka ( mushroom filled dumpling you have with the soup) get made as well, but that will wait for Wigilia ( Christmas Eve) the most important meal in the Polish calendar outside of Easter Sunday. Those of you wondering if the food for Catholic and Jewish feast days is somehow different if you're Polish? Nope, as near as identical as to make no difference. The dates for the major occasions differ, but the food and the meanings are the same. These fine Polish dishes only find small echoes in UK cookery, but being a hearty northern cuisine, you find a lot of close relatives in Northern English cooking and baking. More on that in future blogs, 

Before I get carried away, Gordon Ramsay is back on C4 with what I fully expect to be an exciting new series of Ramsay's Best Restaurant. Last night was Italian night. Traditional cooking v Heston foam and dry ice . While the traditional restaurant had continued troubles with front of house, the Italian Hestons with a Michelin Star wowed a panel of cognoscenti and took the Italian title. While it may be a nice nod to an innovative take on Italian, as a relatively normal dinner, I would not choose to regularly drop large sums of money to see steam come out my wife's nostrils. If I'm tired of cooking, I want a nice lasagna, chicken alfredo or veal parmigiana.  I appreciate that Gordon Ramsay is trying to represent the  sometimes uncultured tastes of the average white Norman person raised on " not too much spice please". But I hope he allows for genuine ethnic cooking to rise and shine above the toned down "acceptable" chicken tiki places. Last night's ep was outstanding for one particular reason, the restaurants were both on a level of professionalism that led to greater expectations than anything you would get in a bog standard spag bol place. The first chef frankly was head an shoulders above the wet behind the ears lads flash freezing peas. He commanded his kitchen while holding the  respect of his sous chefs. A pity his waiters were more interested in big tips and less interested selling the full range of items on offer any given night.And how sweet is that gig if you're a GR coach party special dinner or even a secret tester. You get to be a bit of  prat and get paid to eat some truly outstanding food. I'll let you know when I find out just how you sign up for this kind of jury duty.

As good as Gordon gets up to at home, his latest US venture.... Master Chef USA, was a disappointment in sooo many ways. Most importantly, his final 2 hour special that crowned a frankly amateurish and pedestrian Southern girl as winner. The final featured recipes that Jaunty Road and Greg Wallace would have rejected in the quarter final stages as too simple or too flawed. Basic errors like potential raw chicken ( unchecked but still served) by the eventual winner and overcooking of simple dishes in the grand final were enough to make you feel bad for Gordon, who was sat there looking like he might not be able to find the strength to pretend that these 4 people were anywhere near as good as any of the top 10 finalist of the last UK Master Chef. Even Celebrity Master Chef  had more challenging dishes and better cooking than these four so called finalists were able to produce. Simply put, I would rather eat anything cooked by people who had to serve royalty and the WI to win, than this bunch who had only to impress two judges with no taste buds and Gordon Ramsay. If this is the future of Master Chef UK, then I'm not sure I'll be watching.

BTW, a massive thank you to Ivica Slavikova fans, you keep coming back every time that advert runs. Is it the peas or the way she says "Purr-verse"?  

Next blog will have the long promised top 10 baking tools we can't live without, and if I ask my wife real nice, one of her best cakes you to can try yourself at home. As always, this blog written to the tune of BBC Radio Newcastle's Beat Surrender. Great show Nick, nice to hear some new songs in the line up. Thanks for getting me through blog post number 42. Indeed food should be the answer to Life the Universe and Everything.

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