Monday, 26 April 2010

Growing your own micro leaves - UPDATE 1

Speed salad mix on the left hand side colum taking Woking by storm... Garlic chives on the right are drunk and sprouting upside down. The wild rocket 2nd from right making a noteworthy worthy effort, and 2nd from the left, red veined sorrel is a non starter so far!

The leaves are taking a little longer to grow than I originally anticpiated. Although we have had some lovely 
weather over the last 6 days it has been a little on the cool side which I believe will inhibit the growth rate.  I have also moved the tray onto a window sill on the staircase where I won't forget about them.

Nonetheless there are signs of life with the “speedy salad mix” seeds living upto there name having pulled off a fantastic first leg. Not a huge distance behind is the wild rocket which is growing steadily and evenly across the two jobbies of soil. The garlic chives have just sprouted, however a few seem to be growing upside down at the moment... pissheads.

Over in the egg tray the Japanese Mizuna leaves are the only ones making

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Agar Clarification - Easy as pie and brings stocks to life!

The 'before' on the right and the 'after' on the left.  Pretty impressive hey!
When I tried 'gelatin filtration' way back at the start of the year it was with the aim of producing a full-flavoured clarified stock that would act as a consommé. Although it was a success, I was left wondering what the reduced liquid would be like if used in a reduction sauce (jus). What with all the gelatin being removed in the clarification process I couldn't help but feel the jus would lack the viscosity we all have come to know and love.

The answer it would seem is to use Agar (sometimes called “Agar Agar”?!?!!), a product derived from red algae. It can be found in most Asian shops and is known as “Falooda Powder” or a lot of supermarkets who brand it as “Vegetarian Gelatin".

Friday, 23 April 2010

You can see me... but now I can see you! YES YOU!!!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I use to keep tabs on how many vistors I get to my blog. It is for no other reason than to see if its actually a worthwhile task, if no one is reading it then there is no real reason for me to continue with it.

As fate would have it there are a few strange people out there who actually seem to enjoy my musings (I'm looking at you!), and it is astonishing to look at the maps provides to see where are you strange people are from.

The website only provides info about the last 500 visitors to the site, with a subscription needed to have a greater record size... 500 however is more than enough for my ego stroking... I mean my research into this being a worthwhile endeavour.

Click map for larger version

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Growing your own micro leaves

So a new and final term at Tante Marie began today after our very long, but eventful, five week Easter break. I have decided that a number of new challenges is on the cards in the next 11 weeks, one of which I have just begun.
I have decided to venture into the murky world of “micro-greens” or “micro-leaves” or “micro-herbs” depending on what I decide to grow and who you listen to as to what classification to give them.
You may know of these miniature green things from your excursions to fancy restaurants and/or seeing them on a myriad of cooking shows where they seem to adorn almost every dish. Not being green fingered in the slightest this could be an interesting challenge, Alan Titchmarsh or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will most probably not approve.

Into my little green house tray jobbie thing (a propagator for all you techno-green-fingerers) have gone a variety of seeds... all planted in the same haphazard manner, there will be no cries of favouritism from these seeds thats for sure.

The planted varieties include... Japanese Mizuna, Lemon Basil, Wild Rocket, Blood Veined Sorrel, Peas, Bulls Blood, Garlic Chives, Swiss Chard (yellow), Swiss Chard (bright lights?!?!) and a free packet of Assorted Leaves.

Will they sprout?

Will they survive long enough to be eaten?

Will they taste good?

All these questions and so much more will be answered in future instalments of my green fingered adventures... I can hear you crying out for more already!

But you will have to be patient my children, but not that patient some of these varieties can apparently be harvested within 10days... another reason I am giving it a go as I do love instant gratification, and this seems about as instant as gardening can get!

See you back here soon!


Monday, 19 April 2010

+++ S C A M +++


If only I had done a quick search for feedback about this company I would never have placed an order.  According to what I have experienced and what I have read from about other peoples experience, the people (David) at operate a fairly complex scam.  Here is how it works...

1. You pay for your selected items by your selected method (I choose debit card).
2. You wait for your items to arrive.
3. The items never arrive.

Now I know this is quite difficult to get your head around what with the level of complexity involved but try going through it again and see if you can work it out.

Needless to say I tried calling and emailing them many times over the last 3 months and have received absolutely no response... which again matches perfectly with other people experiences.  Having contacted Natwest about what I could do, I was told I and they couldn't do anything as I cant prove I didn't receive the items. What a load of bullshit!  Can they prove they sent it recorded delivery as they were supposed to?  Surely the fact that you cant make contact with them is enough  set alarm bells ringing???

I guess I am glad that my order with was quite small, just a few new jackets and replacement buttons... I have read about a guy who placed a huge order for new clothing for his whole restaurant and has received nothing...

Hope you don't fall foul to these muppets!

Dylan thefunkychef  the funky chef funky chef scam funky chef scam scam been scammed by the funky chef?  David funky chef scammer

Monday, 12 April 2010

A day in a Michelin 2 Star restaurant

My phone rang out at 5:15am and that was the signal, after just 4 hours sleep, to get up get showered, get some Coco Pops down my face and get in the car. My journey was to be 171 miles, and according to the good people over at Google Maps, would take 3hrs 25mins.... TomTom however informed me it would take 3hrs 11mins... who would be right??? I swear you could cut the tension with a knife at this point.

Highlights of this early morning journey were of course the beautiful country side on route to one of the countries top hotels winner of “Hotel Of The Year” in 2009, as well as the unexpected delight of passing Stonehenge at dawn, complete with a few hippies whom were probably wearing all manner of hemp based clothing whilst smoking copious amounts of its illegal cousin no doubt. There was however another reason to be visiting this hotel, and it was mainly due to the awards bestowed upon the restaurant that resides there by a certain tire company that had peaked my interest.

I was on route for a day in the kitchen of Gidleigh Park, where Executive Chef Michael Caines MBE and Head Chef Ian Webber work to impress diners with their well renowned, modern and innovative cuisine. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Having spent a week in a Michelin 1 Star restaurant during the previous month and been blown away by what I saw, the sense of anticipation of stepping into the kitchen of a Michelin 2 Star kitchen accounted for my paltry amount of sleep the previous night.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Meat Lecture - What is that smell?

A good few weeks ago we had 'The Meat Lecture” at Tante Marie. I had been looking forward to it since before the fish lecture... and with the fish lecture being so damn entertaining, my expectations were raised somewhat for the meaty version.
I was not disappointed.
Upon entering the demonstration room we were greeted by the sight of a whole lamb and a quarter of a cow. That's still a whole lot of cow. Of the two I was drawn to the beef as it was an amazing looking thing, dark and firm looking with a lovely goey ozziness coating the cut ends of the carcass... the kind that would make 99% of the population recoil believing that the mere sight may indeed kill them. Alas its only food spoilage bacteria and constitutes a very very small risk to human health... besides to me it looks like Mmmmmmmm!
 Would you eat it?  
Our butcher, whos name unfortunately evades me after all this time, excitedly talked to us about how this was the best piece of beef that he had seen in years... was probably of Angus breed due to its marbling and muscle size and had been aged for 5-6 weeks judging by its appearance. Now when we go to the supermarket we are all wooed by the claims of 14 day, 21 day or even the heady heights of 28 day hung beef.... which is all good. Now I am a meat eater, I dare say that I am in fact quite a good one. I have eaten plenty of beef in my time, and even some 28day rib-eye steaks upon occasion as well as fillets of Wagyu beef imported from Japan while working on my first yacht.
Easy when you know how!   
This beef according to the butcher was different to what any supermarket would sell, and not just because of the previously mentioned 'goey ozziness'. His point was made after about 20minutes of him expertly breaking down the carcass, a smell wafted across the lecture room and tickled my nostrils. Was someone cooking some steak for us to try in the adjoining kitchen? Had I failed to notice a joint of beef go into the oven and is now roasting away giving off that amazing succulent sweet roast beef aroma we all know and love?
Lovely looking Sirloin steaks... Mmmmmm
What I could smell was the beef on the table. Raw beef. Beef that had been hung for around 5-6 weeks.... it was truly amazing. It smelt ready to eat...I would happily have gnawed on some scraps if I would have been given half a chance when the man with the big knives wasn't looking. It was a smell I truly believe will stay with me for a long long time, the mere thought of it is making me dribble on my keyboard right now!
Fabulous Rib-eye Steaks... may fave steak... and look at that marbling of fat!!!!!!!    
Despite the outside appearance of the beef once taken apart into various joints it was bright red, just like the stuff you buy in cellophane packets... at least it was a few minutes after being exposed to the air. When first cut the meat was very dark, it then changed to bright red as the myoglobin (I think it was) reacts with the oxygen in the air.... and gives us meat the average UK punter would happily now eat.
 A lovely lamb... the butcher demonstrates a famous break dancing move, a favourite of lambs the country over.  
Next came the Lamb, a lovely lamb in the butchers account, though nothing to write home about in comparison to the beef. He once again took the carcass apart with such ease that would suggest a butchers job is an easy one. However as with most thinks in life that look easy, look that way because of the experience and expertise of the person whom you are watching.
 Various joints of lamb, with the Valentines Chops being in teh bottom right of the picture...if you squint really hard they may begin to look like a heart if you have drunk enough wine before hand!  
We were shown a few new and a few old cuts of meat... one of the old ones was quite apt as it was just a few days before Valentines day so he showed us the “Valentine Chop”. A more modern cut was the “cushion” which if memory serves me correctly was made from a de-boned shoulder that was then folded and stitched into a cushion like shape ready for roasting.... I have a feeling it would look better once cooked.
Of course we were given more information about how to properly store meat, the effects of acidic and alcoholic marinades, the slaughter process and other such things. One of the most interesting for me was the info about something called “cold shortening” which like most, had never heard of.
The lamb shoulder cushion thing... doesn't look all that comfortable to me.    
Immediately after slaughter, many changes take place in muscle tissue that convert the muscle to what we would call meat. One of the changes is the contraction and stiffening of muscle known as rigor mortis. Muscle is very tender at the time of slaughter. However, as rigor mortis begins, muscle becomes progressively less tender until rigor mortis is complete. In the case of beef 6-12 hours are required for the completion of rigor mortis, whereas in the case of pork, only 1-6 hours are required.
So... what's any of this got to do with anything you maybe interested in? Well... if the carcass is chilled before rigor mortis is complete you will have tough meat, and if its then frozen you will have something called “thaw rigor” which is incredibly tough meat.... upto 5x tougher than it should be. So if you have ever cooked a piece of meat and had your teeth bounce off it like you were chewing a rubber ball... chances are if you cooked it well, you are witnessing the effects of cold shortening.
How can you tell if meat has this problem... you cant... until you cook it! As you can guess this is a bit of a problem and so large abattoirs now electrocute their carcasses once slaughtered and butchered. The electrocution causes the muscles to contract, this uses up the left over fuel supply in the muscles (glycogen) to power the contraction of the muscles. Now that the glycogen has been used, there is nothing left for the muscles to use for rigor mortis meaning that problems with cold shortening can be avoided... very useful in these massive abattoirs that deal with huge amounts of animals on a daily basis. Also the ageing process (the hanging can) be brought forward a couple of days as some other processes are made redundant through this process. Follow this link for something that makes sense if you didn't follow ;-)  
All very interesting stuff if you are into that sort of stuff, and explained to me why a lamb curry I made for the crew last summer was just ridiculously chewy after being slow cooked at 120c for 5 hours.... redemption is better late than never!!!
Have you ever experienced cold shortening? Or are you now going to use it as an excuse when you cook something badly????