Archive for the ‘fast food’ Category

Cured meats, two of our favourite convenience foods: sitting on the left side of our slate roof tile we have saucisson with pimento and mustard seeds and on the right,  prosciutto crudo – home-carved from the boneless joint I scooped at Lidl just before Christmas…

£14 at Sainsbury's March 2009
….add rosé Champagne, one of my favourite things to drink, and we had the raw ingredients for a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  This Taittinger was an unusual tawny-orange, possibly from the extra year’s bottle age and meatier than most, possibly from the Pinot Noir, maybe the terroir: whatever the reason, it stood its ground with the charcuterie.  Sighing with satisfaction I could only hope everyone was having such a lovely, lazy afternoon last Sunday: everything came up roses.

Valentine’s Day luxuries without spending a fortune

  • Saucisson with pimento and mustard seed £3.99 new at Waitrose (paid £1.49 on sell-by date)
  • Prosciutto crudo joint £11.74 at Lidl (about £8 a kilo as far as I recall)
  • Taittinger Prestige Rosé £14-ish on the sale shelf in Sainsbury last Spring – total bargain! – now £36 approx.

btw: it was quite something to see the bunfight at the steak counter in M&S on Saturday – don’t these people have any imagination?

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Sorry for not being in touch lately – been hanging out and about in Nice.  Here’s my photo to prove it!


After a long, hot and frustrating trudge west along the Promenade des Anglais checking out various beachside establishments we descended on the Blue Beach Bar & Restaurant and were more than pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.  Although our waiter resembled Peter Stringfellow‘s simple cousin he was adequately dressed (thank God) and brought us our reasonably priced, reasonably tasty food and wine in reasonable time: amazing, and in stark contrast to Lido Plage.  For me, the filets de rouget (red mullet) au thym:


et pour lui, les tagliatelles au basilic (do you really need a translation?), toothsome albeit tepid, which was actually ok on such a warm afternoon:


plus, of course, the de rigeur bottle of Côtes de Provence rosé.  All at not-so-shocking-after-all prices, at least for the Côte d’Azur….

… and that old devil Nicolas Sarkozy lurking in the underground area only added to the charm of the afternoon.

sarkozyBlue Beach bar & restaurant, 31 Promenade des Anglais, Nice 06000 – opposite the Negresco



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One of my all-time favourite dishes is brandade de morue – salt cod whipped up with olive oil and mashed potato plus a wee hint or more of garlic and a scatter of parsley.  Much as I adore the taste, though, I’m not about to pack in my suitcase a whiffy hunk of dried North Atlantic cod just so I can then rehydrate it under a running cold tap for a couple of days before cooking.

pureeAuthenticity be damned in this instance and come to think of it, I don’t remember when I last peeled a potato to make mash – certainly not since discovering this wonder-product from Lidl: 99p for a four-pouch box.  If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a packet of Smash and its ilk, the relative purity of this product will come as some surprise, for it reads thus: Dehydrated potatoes (97%), salt, emulsifier (E471), nutmeg, spices, stabiliser (E450i), preservative: sodium metabisuphite (E223), antioxidant (E304), Acid (E330).  May contain traces of milk: that’s it. 

And before you start squealing in horror at the E numbers allow me to enlighten:

  • E330 = ascorbic acid = Vitamin C
  • E304 = ascorbic acid ester = Vitamin C+palmitic acid

The others are arguably possibly slightly dodgy, in that:

  • E223 can be an allergen, not recommended for consumption by children
  • E450i = disodium diphosphate, high intakes of which may upset the body’s calcium/phosphate equilibrium, so excessive use may lead to imbalance of mineral levels, which could potentially lead to damage to bone density and osteoporosis (drinking too much fizzy anything destroys your bones too)
  • E471 = mono and diglycerides of fatty acids; could be animal in origin or from genetically modified soya.

I can live with that, especially when pretty much all you have to do is scald 250ml milk with 500ml water and sprinkle one sachet over the top for some pretty good pommes purées.  It’s definitely French-style though so don’t even think of using this stuff for fishcakes – for that you need the real McCoy! The consistency is purrrfect however, for a creamy brandade. I take a few fillets of smoked fish – here I was fortunate enough to have hot-smoked sea bass and cold-smoked haddock cruising around the freezer – and poach them in the milk & water with finely sliced garlic, a strip of lemon peel, bay leaf and a pinch of saffron.  I then remove the fillets, skin and flake them hot in the few minutes while the potato flakes do their magic in the hot liquid, then stir the fish back in with a fork to blend. Sometimes I shred them finely and actually whisk the mix to more closely approximate brandade but it’s not strictly necessary by any means.

Piled into a ceramic dish and finished off in a hot oven it’s a fantastically hearty meal for two on a cold night, accompanied by a woodcutter’s pile of steamed carrots and courgettes and a lightly oaked chardonnay.  Somehow winter doesn’t seem so bad after all…

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Now here’s one thing over which Canadians and Americans do see eye to eye: a mini toaster oven.  It’s the tops.  And now, in the UK, it’s here at long last.  As with the best things in life, it’s a study in brilliant simplicity: just look at those nuclear-bunker knobs. Gasp at the no-nonsense controls: 2 elements with 3 cooking combinations plus a clockwork 15-minute timer  – ping!  – I use it all the time, she cooed.Hinari table top oven

Brother didn’t want so it’s my mini-oven now: and sure, it can crisp up a croissant,  toast a teacake, gratinate a – well, gratin, but it has huge potential, limited only by the rather less than huge capacity.  So no, I will not be roasting the turkey within its cute confines, but it did cook a hunk of topside to rare perfection – dark & crusted without, juicy red within – a feat achieved never by that cavernous and fatuously fan-assisted Neff.table top toaster oven
Popular with North American students for its portable economy, if not snappy retro styling, it’s surprising this darling device hasn’t caught on before in Britain but, with the cost of fuel spiralling to the heavens and the ever-dwindling dimensions of a modern household, it’s about time it did.

Here it is taking care of tapas; no doubt it’ll knock the socks off a microwave for reheats and ready meals.  And before you ask, my entire smug-parade of stuffed olive oil flatbreads was baked in this 280C furnace (an inconceivable temperature in the iNeffectual one) on its own little oven tray.  This latest: a prosciutto, rosemary and sage fouace ready to go.

parma ham and rosemary fougasse

So if you’re not constantly cooking for a crowd, take a tip from American collegiate culture and get hold of a table top toaster oven.  I paid an unbelievably paltry £12 at – whisper it – Poundstretcher.  With a fortune saved on the leccy and wide new avenues of experiment opening up, not to mention the odd old-fashioned baked potato, I just need to work out how to clean it…

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chinese takeaway

Something to cheer up a wet, wild and windy Bank Holiday Monday: lurid splashes of colour in a plateful of home counties Chinese food hot-footed to the door. This Kandinskyesque car crash of a palette is Menu A, consisting of (clockwise from top): Kung Po Pork, Chicken with Mixed Vegetables, Beef with Oyster sauce and Special Fried Rice (I’ll never understand what’s so special about it) and at 10 o’clock we see an extra of my perennial fave: Singapore Fried Noodles.

My truly favourite dish, on which I could gladly subsist, is to be found only at the wonderful Wong Kei on Wardour Street in London’s Soho: Fried Kwai Du. Made with fresh wide rice noodles and lots of chillies, for £3.80 it puts all those timidly spiced and overly oily vermicelli wannabes to shame. Only the Wong Kei doesn’t deliver to Kent – or anywhere for that matter.

Missing from the picture are the comet-like Crispy Fried Won Tons (too quickly snarfed) and a battering ram of a Spring Roll which I wisely passed to Mr T: it rendered him prostrate for the remainder of the day.  It’s nice that complimentary prawn crackers and fortune cookies are becoming de rigeur, but whatever happened to the pithy motto?  This has to be the wordiest ever:

fortune cookie motto
The delivery boy was our only visitor and hardly unexpected, but I do like chillies.

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