2008 Christmas magazine roundup

I always get a good selection of the foodie magazines at this time of year, and look at what the trends are. This year was fascinating. Although a lot of these feature spreads are planned months ago, the credit crunch was obviously in the air already. There's a definite seventies feel about the recipes – retro without being fashionable, just what 50-year-olds remember as being celebration food without expensive frills. There is no new exotic cuisine – some Thai noodle salads but those are almost domestic standards now. Lots of cheap and seasonal fruit and vegetables, fish and meat. The treats use classic Christmas treat foods – glace fruit, chocolate, smoked salmon, booze.

The main recipes were almost all:

  • Smoked salmon parcels for starters (the one that bucked the trend had prawn and avocado cocktail)
  • Plain turkey with plain veg – roast potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, red cabbage
  • Celeriac gratin
  • Jerusalem artichoke soup
  • Roast root veg with different spices and coatings
  • Roast pork as the alternative big joint
  • Nut roasts for vegetarians, especially en croute
  • Old fashioned desserts – date pudding, fruit crumble, ginger sponge, apple tart
  • Yule logs / sweet roulades – mostly chocolate, some with cherries (Black Forest, yay!)
  • Baked Alaskas – especially individual ones, or with special fillings (orange and chocolate)
  • Cocktails
  • Home made things – including a recipe for home-made "Irish Cream Liqueur", haven't seen one of those for about thirty years

There were some minor things that seemed to pop up whenever the opportunity arose:

  • Parsnip crisps – bought (M&S, Waitrose), or home-made – for soup garnishes, mostly
  • White chocolate / cranberry mix – cookies, squares, cheesecakes, even trifle
  • Leeks (in soups, pies, stews, and risottos)
  • Hot griddled slices of pear – with pate, as a soup garnish, with sauce as dessert

The winner of the chef who's everywhere is Anjum Anand – and the recipes are simple and homely. We're trying her spiced lambshank with chestnuts tonight, although with rice rather than the official side of parsnip mash.


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The Fifth Quarter – an offal cookbook

I borrowed this from the library, hoping to find some recession-proof recipes. It's not brilliant for that, a bit too esoteric (Anissa Helou, the author, mentions her good friend Arabella Boxer which is a Big Clue, not to mention the foreword by Hugh Fearney-Wittingstall.). A lot of the offal is of academic interest as it's difficult to get, and many of the recipes are so ethnic they're virtually impossible. Brains and lamb tripe are not easy to find, but goose feet and abalone (at least one of which is endangered) are in the You're Just Avin A Larf category. As is Singapore Fish Head Curry. There were some good hints and tips buried in it though.

I had always thought of heart as a long-cooking casserole meat (although I've had cold smoked moose heart, which was gorgeous), but apparently lamb heart and liver make a good mix and can go on a bbq kebab or be grilled briefly. Lots of yummy Moroccan flavours.

You can hollow out a giant potato, bury a well-seasoned lamb kidney in it, and bake it. We're trying that one this week.

Kidney can feature in Chinese dishes, stir-fried and with a sweet and sour sauce. Liver salad with a Chinese sesame and garlic dressing.

There was also a recipe for Little Pots of Curried Kidneys which is basically a very mild extra-creamy curry sauce, with kidneys and onions fried in butter mixed in, topped with breadcrumbs and briefly flash-baked. Looks like a good breakfast, or starter, or lunch with kedgeree.

A Spanish recipe for pig's trotters simmered with onion, tomato, garlic, with added prunes and pine nuts, thickened with ground almonds and crushed biscuit. That would do for a belly pork or lamb breast as well, I would think.

It was an interesting book to read, difficult because there is a lot of text on darkly coloured pages. I wasn't sure whether the aim of it was to enthuse me or gross me out (tripe makes me heave at the best of times, but fish tripe?), but it's certainly given me a few ideas. I certainly wouldn't buy my own copy, though.

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Restaurant Review – Sakushi

Yesterday four of us went for a late lunch to Sakushi, Sheffield's first sushi bar. Yum.

It is a very elegant space, almost opposite the Wig and Pen on Campo Lane. The conveyor belt travels in a loop from the kitchen, past the edges of a handful of white leather booths, around a stone water feature, and back along a bar where you can sit on a stool. Away from the belt is a normal seating area, where you can do pukka restaurant stuff if you don't fancy the belt.

We didn't get there till just after 2, and they close at 3. So there was a limited selection on the belt, but they were happy to make anything to order. The belt concentrates on sushi and side dishes such as gyoza, pickles, deep-fried bits of meat, salads. There were also a few desserts randomly scattered – chocolate fondant and a mousse thing. You can have sashimi, which is always cut fresh to order, and a selection of soup or fried ramen dishes. There's not a wide range of drinks, but there is Asahi beer, a large wine list, sake, juice and fizzy water. He's quite proud of having Asahi Black, which is apparently a bit rare round here.

We had two beginners with us, including a fisheating vegetarian, so we decided to go with what was on the belt and not get into the really exciting stuff on the menu. Although we did get four orders of sashimi – two salmon and two hamachi (yellow tail). The belt moved slowly enough to get stuff off it easily, but fast enough to provide an interesting show. The table was stocked with soy sauce and some excellent pickled ginger slices, and freshly-prepared wasabi arrived with the drinks.

I can't remember everything we had, but it included: California, Philadelphia and Ebi Ten Uramaki, Edamame Beans, Japanese Pickled Vegetables, Chicken Gyosa, Kushi-Age, Vegetable Croquettes, Spring Roll, Tonkatsu, random nigiri and maki, and some little fried nibbles that we couldn't identify. With a beer for John and soft drinks for the rest of us, it came to £20 per head.

Sushi is one of those things, especially with the belts, where you could go on grazing for ages nages, and we did rather overdo it on quantity. But it was great fun, if you took something and didn't like it there were three other people to take it off your hands. And we tried all sorts of new stuff.

I'd definitely go again – you could do it a lot cheaper if you were careful what you had, or you could really splash out for a special occasion. There were a few things I spotted on the menu that I'd really like to try, as well …

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Discoveries – Spring 08

My grandfather didn't smoke and didn't drink (until after his militantly temperance wife died), but had his own ideas about what constituted an illicit treat. He and my dad used to let me stay up late with them watching old films on the telly – Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre -  raiding the pantry for snacks of strong cheese and crunchy pickled onions.  People now can't understand why that was such a treat, the spread of the Ploughman's Lunch and supermarket Snack Box has created a terrible acceptance of plastic cheese and bland pickles. We put that right yesterday with a crusty brown loaf, a wedge of Collier's cheddar and some Barry Norman Pickled Onions. The cheese has that slightly gritty mouthfeel, strong and salty flavour, and not too crumbly but definitely not plasticine texture. The onions are magnificent, the closest to home-made I think I've bought (in a regular store, anyway). Dark brown, spicy, crunchy, those little green flecks that look like some poisonous metallic deposit. Brilliant. Just the thing to eat with a classic movie. Barry Norman understands.

Champagne Marmite – not sure about this. The Guinness one is yummy, quite sweet. This one is sourer, and sharper, like dry white wine left open for a day or two. Pleasant enough, but not one to search out.

The iron_trash community over on LiveJournal.

Konnyaku noodles, little bundles with appendages, boingy and springy.

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Last night I went to the Momtaz restaurant on Chesterfield Road, with Doug and Julia. It's practically at the end of our street, and I haven't been for years. Before this incarnation it was an Italian restaurant for a while, and a different Indian before that, which was probably the last time I've been in there. We've had fliers for their takeaway / delivery service, and I have wondered about trying them, but got no further than that. There is a surfeit of Indian restaurants and takeaways in our area, even a dedicated web-based delivery-only place, and you always tend to ignore the one right next door.

Well, not any more. It was completely empty, not unexpected for 8:30 on a Tuesday, especially with a match on at Bramall Lane. They have a wide-screen TV on the wall above the bar, which was playing mostly Asian music videos, not too loud. A joss-stick was burning on the bar, which I suppose is nicer than cigarette smoke but got a bit overpowering. The furniture is all decked out in a red and white livery, a bit too grubby for elegance but smarter than normal – showing willing, at least. The two wait-staff were attentive and cheerful – they told us later they'd just had a letter from the Good Food guide putting them Top, but Top for What and Where we don't yet know. I'm sure a certificate will materialise in the fullness of time.

The menu was yer bog standard, with some very rich Northern Indian additions. The terminology was bit unusual for round here, I ordered a starter called a Nababi Murgi Stick, and it turned out to be tandoori chicken on the bone – which I wouldn't normally have, still, my fault for experimenting. And not saying it wasn't good, because it was.

We started off with poppadums and pickles – no lime pickle, boo, but there was mango chutney (thin, no lumps), onion salad, and yellow yoghourt which was Very Sweet. Sweet was definitely the theme of the evening. Doug and I had Tiger beer, they've got Cobra in bottles too, nothing unusual.

Starters were the aforementioned Stick, which still had a lot of marinade/paste clinging to it, not just dried out red chicken. Julia had a puri, again it was called something else (which I forget), and Doug went for the sizzling Cox Bazaar Prawns, which were very very sizzly and had potato mixed in. Wolfed down in short order, we moved onto mains.

Lamb and aubergine for me, not too hot, lovely smoky taste from the aubergines. Julia had a chicken karhai "delight", which was their version of a korma, and came in a mini-copper-clad bucket. Incredibly creamy and sweet, with cardamom and shreds rather than lumps of chicken. Doug scored top, though, with the tandoori butter chicken – not only sweet and rich, you could smell the butter from across the table, but with added topping of aerosol whipped cream. Sides were a couple of garlic and coriander nan, which were smallish, but enough – crisp on the bottom and soft and puffy at the edges, and a keema rice which was well-flavoured but quite fatty from the minced meat.

We didn't investigate dessert, due to strawberries lurking at home. No idea on the total bill, as I was a Guest, but the menu said the Stick was about four quid, the lamb six, with a nan at two.

I picked up an up-to-date takeway menu, which says free delivery, 15% discount on collection and 10% on delivery. Think I'll add it to the favoured supplier list.

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The Cookery of England, by Elisabeth Ayrton

Book review – The Cookery of England, by Elisabeth Ayrton, paperback from Penguin 1977.

I think I've had this book since it first came out in paperback: I can certainly remember cooking recipes from it during the late seventies. It's one of my favourite sorts of cookery book – the recipes work, and there's lots of background historical material which is interesting in its own right. Ayrton worked with Special Ops in World War Two, where she might have run into Julia Child, and was married to Michael Ayrton the sculptor. I've seen his Minotaur at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it's very powerful and erotic. She wrote fiction, non-fiction centred on her academic specialism (archaeology) and some other cookery / food history books, although this is the only one I own. I see from Amazon that some of the others were reprinted in the mid-80s, and they would deffo be worth a look.

This one is subtitled "a collection of recipes for traditional dishes of all kinds, from the fifteenth century to the present day, with notes of their social and culinary background". The chapters are organised well, it starts with meat, then veers off through savoury pies (a chapter to themselves), and back via potted meats, brawns, galantines etc to poultry and game, fish, sauces, stuffings and forcemeats before even thinking about soup and veg. Desserts are split into hot puddings, cold sweets, and "banqueting stuff", then, of course, the savouries. Bread and cakes are a bit of an afterthought, and you're better off with Elizabeth David's Bread and Yeast Cookery for a fuller account. But the seed cake recipe is simple and excellent. I prefer this to the David Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, the recipes have been made more user-friendly and the text is more general.

Throughout there are easy recipes for things you thought either long gone or that you had to buy ready-made – crumpets, brawn, cheese straws. She's stuffed it with loads of recipes from long gone cooks, that we know more of in the 21st century than we did in the late 20th – the likes of Hannah Glasse and Eliza Acton are much more in the common pool of knowledge now. Back in the seventies some of the recipes seemed radical or at least trendy, and looking through it again there are some that fit well with today's sorts of menus. Iced beetroot soup, syllabubs and flummeries, salmon roast with cloves, rosemary and orange, a gooseberry and ginger sauce for mackerel or pork. There's a recipe for stuffed vine leaves from the seventeenth century, and a chicken stew with pineapple from the eighteenth. She doesn't try to hide the appalling stuff – Sky Blue and Sinkers, the Cornish soup for children when times were hard: mix a little flour and skimmed milk to a paste, add as much boiling water as you need and cook for a minute or two. Give each child a bowl with a single piece of barley bread in it, and pour on your "soup". The bread will rise to the surface and gradually sink into the pale blue of the thin liquid. Hours of endless fun for the little ones.

Most of the recipes have been restructured to serve 4 – 6, or 10 – 12 where they are big dishes more suitable for buffet celebrations or Christmas. It's great retro-dinner party or holiday cooking. I remember causing a stir nearly 30 years ago with her duck in port – you soak cherries in port for 24 hours, then roast the duck, basting constantly with the port and adding the cherries for the last half hour. And there's another duck recipe with a sauce made from onions and cucumber macerated and stewed in claret.

Some of the material has not dated well, though, although it's authentic enough! The mini-chapter (about two pages) on curry lists a selection of accompaniments such as mango chutney and bombay duck (fine) then goes on to the classic set of little dishes you got with curry at home in the seventies – sliced banana, chopped apple, cucumber, tomatoes. We used to have dessicated coconut, and grated cheese, as well. But no mention of yoghourt, mint, garlic, or fresh chillies, even though all of these were available – maybe not easily.

Best of all are the instructions for plain baked meat – she's at pains to explain this isn't really roast meat, but without an open fire it's the best we're likely to get. Dredge the meat with highly seasoned flour or a special mixture for specific joints, put into a roasting tray on top of a bit of the appropriate fat, put a pat of fat on top, stick in a hot oven (Gas Mark 6) for 10 minutes, turn the oven down to Gas Mark 4, and cook according to weight. Rareish beef takes 17 – 20 minutes per pound, a four pound chicken takes about an hour. Given that the meat needs to sit anyway before carving, timings don't need to be precise as you can continue to keep it warm while you finish the veg. You get the crisp outside and pink inside on the beef, the chicken is golden but moist – it's never failed.


The Cookery of England (Penguin Handbooks)
Elisabeth Ayrton

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