The point of Thai Food

20 10 2009

Over on the For Forks’ Sake blog, the author poses a bit of a conundrum, what’s the point of Thai food, and he compares it to a popular weekend prime-time goggle-box viewing Strictly Come Dancing.

In many respects I see where 4FS is coming from. Thai food is more often defined in terms of what it’s not, than what it is. Thai food isn’t Indian, though it can be spicy and the Thais and Indians share a passion for herbs, spices and fresh flavours that give exotic undertones to their food. Thai food isn’t Japanese, though both cuisines use much more fish than many others. Thai isn’t as niche as Vietnamese or Malay whose restaurants have yet to penetrate much further than odd pockets outside the metropolis. And finally it’s not Chinese, though they both make use of the same styles of cooking such as steaming, deep frying and stir frying which make them closer than we might imagine.

It’s easy to see then, how 4FS feels ill at ease with Thai food. Given the ubiquity of food from the part of the globe east of Europe, and how ingrained it is into our collective psyche, it’s clear we’re more comfortable with things that have a definite provenance. In their own ways India, China and to some extent Japan have been a part of British culture for approaching a couple of hundred years. In the Fusion Food post yesterday, I discussed some cuisines that had adapted themselves to the Western palate. The Balti and the Tikka Massala being examples of Anglo-Indian (subcontinent) food: similarly chow mein (although invented in the USA rather than Europe) is an example if Westernisation of techniques and ingredients from the Far East.

And this is perhaps the point. Who cannot enter a Chinese or Indian restaurant and choose the evening’s feast with much more than a cursory glance at the dishes. Words such as aloo, dhal, saag, Kung Po, wonton and the like are utterly familiar. The average Briton probably knows upwards of fifty words from the Indian subcontinent without realising (aside of course from borrowings such as khaki) through avid study of restaurant menus. On the other hand Thai can seem completely removed from one’s experience, who can argue that for most people, taeng kva, thua ngork, or tod mun are as familiar as a rogan josh or sweet and sour dish.

To return (finally!) to 4FS’s analogy, Thai food is indeed somewhat like Strictly Come Dancing, in other ways not. Latterly we have seen the muscular and overpowering contender voted off, and unlike Calzaghe, Thai food should be delicate and considered. The archetypal safe and ultimately mundane oxo-mum has similarly left the building. Unlike what Bellingham represents Thai food should be exciting, intriguing, and offer a window into the sort of exotica with which we are unfamiliar. With the departure of Grande Dame Arlene, Thai cuisine is a departure from the old and comfy.

OK, so I’ve laboured and stretched a point probably beyond recognition; I agree with 4FS that sometimes it’s hard to see the point. Luckily around these parts we are spoiled by several good Thai restaurants, and each time I go to one it evokes the same frisson that I felt the first time I went to a “foreign” eatery. Each time I discover another unlikely confluence of consonants that translates into an exciting taste experience.

For me, that’s the point.

Thanks to the For Forks’ Sake for giving me the idea, and you gentle reader for putting up with my drivel!

Advertisements




On fusion food through the medium of frittata

19 10 2009

Now you see fusion food… it’s enough to strike fear into even the most steely-hearted of chefs. Mention the F word, and you can see their brows bead with cold sweat and their eyes dart to scope out the nearest exit. “Lemon grass in your beef rogan josh inspired cottage pie? Well that sounds different, excusemeIvejustseensomeoneIhavetotalktomustbegoingnowbye”. It turns out, with a little rational thought, the fusion food is all around us, it’s just a question of degrees of separation: like the game six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but this is more like six degrees of Sweetcure Bacon. Fish and Chips, that quintessential of British Staples couldn’t have existed prior to 1536 when the humble spud was introduced thanks to the Spanish. In fact, potatoes are relative newcomers to many parts of the world. Chicken Tikka Massala and Baltis – fusion food. Indian spices and techniques adapted to the European palate. Why the wordy introduction? It’s a form of apology for what I’m about to tell you. I mixed Italian and English food tonight. Worse than that, I mixed Asian and European. And it turned out OK! In fact, it turned out to be rather interesting and pretty nice!

It all started because I had leeks to use up. I had bought them in a frenzy at the veg market the Saturday before last and they were prodigious in their stature! Having been left in the vegetable rack for a week and a bit however, it was time to make use of them. Some sort of frittata or tortilla beckoned – most of the recipes I found had potato in them and whilst leek and potato soup is a nonpareille, and potato is clearly a staple in the frittata/tortilla world, it just wasn’t doing it for me. I had my pith helmet on and my adventurer’s backpack and I was going to climb mount Cookery.

I came across this recipe from Rachel Ray. This could be a goer. Most of the ingredients were storecupboard staples, so minimal outlay, and I can have it cold for lunch tomorrow too (and the next day… and the next… til I never want to see another leek again mostly likely). I had Grana Padano in the fridge, but I wanted to break out – push the envelope – stretch the boundaries – make real cooks and chefs break out into a cold sweat. Hands up! I confess! I used Stilton in the polenta crust. And a touch of chopped sage – just a hint mind you as I have been seduced by Old Mother Sage once too often in the past to give in and put too many of the glorious, finely-haired leaves into anything. Sage is at least a possible, being a native of the part of the world that gives us the word Polenta. Stilton not. And it worked. According to my taste, that is… but it worked.

Now, you’ll excuse the crappy photography please – I’m only just dragging myself into the digital age being a Mediaevalist by training, and a Marketer largely by accident and I’ve only got an old cameraphone to take pictures with.

Strengths: Tasty polenta crust – polenta is notoriously tasteless, hence the addition of industrial quantities of black pepper and cheese in most recipes.

Weaknesses: The Stilton has a different consistency to Parmesan that I failed to take into account sufficiently. The polenta ‘crust’ was only just done and could have stood being a little more firm. I think it will be fine for lunch tomorrow having spent the night in the fridge. Adjust the polenta up, or the stock down, for the next run. I wanted to use half stock and half wine, but I didn’t have any in that I was willing to sacrifice to the altar of experimentation. And I think that might have been overkill. If there’s two things I’m guilty of being, it’s an inveterate tinkerer-with-things and over-adder of ingredients. Also the polenta needs to cool a little before trying to shape it into a crust otherwise it just gets sloppy; this meant that some parts of the crust were thicker than others, while not a problem for me, might be a bit unsatisfactory if I was cooking it for people.

Learnings: Ignore the injunction to put little bits of cold butter in with your eggs. I ended up with buttery pools on top of the thing. Cook the leeks in the butter instead of the EVOO (!) and add the juices with them when you pour into the poleta crust. I under-seasoned the leeks too, thinking that the Stilton would be sufficiently salt to carry the leeks. I was trying to make the Stilton work too hard on that score.

Serve with: This was my second fusion moment of the meal I had nashi pears in the fridge, and some chicory. Ignoring the recipe’s suggestion of a tomato and rocket salad, I went for a pear, chicory and walnut salad, dressed with walnut oil and a little white wine vinegar. Pears and chicory is fairly standard, the nashi pear added a crispness and sweetness that worked well with the chicory. Nuts added texture, and the walnut oil gave a nice backnote of walnutty warmth.

Fusion food: not all bad…. pass me the lemongrass anyone?

And if you’re at all inspired to have a go at this travesty – you can find the recipe HERE which also contains a link to the original, courtesy of Ms Rachel Ray





*That* Logo

11 10 2009
New Dr Who Logo

New Dr Who Logo

Well, it might grow on me. Or not. Or it might grow on me like the blue-green algae that grows on a sloth’s back. I hope they don’t change the music too much to go with this new logo.

UPDATE: According to this week’s Marketing Magazine (can’t find it on their website though: Marketing Magazine) this new logo is supposed to resemble the logos of Star Trek and other science fiction shows and reflect a change in Doctor. Oh. Because Dr Who is supposed to be like Star Trek isn’t it. *facepalm*





Recipule for mini-meatloaves

11 10 2009

This is mostly in American as it’s adapted from an American site http://www.myrecipes.com (http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=1160601).

Servings

From this mixture I made 12 mini loaves, and had enough left to freeze a batch of the mixture to make another six. So 18 in total – which is about enough for nine people, or six hungry lumberjacks.

Ingrediments

  • glug olive oil (isn’t that scientific!)
  • 1 cup onion (I want to use leeks or spring onions next time… or a mixture)
  • 1/2 cup carrot (parsnip would add too much sweetness I think, swede would give it an earthiness)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or what you have, herbes de provence would be nice, thyme would be good, but use only half a teaspoon as dried thyme is potent)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (or more, or less to taste – I happened to have three to use up)
  • 2 x 1/2 cups of Tommy K
  • 1 1/2 pounds finest lean steak mince
  • Enough matzoh crackers to make one cup of cracker crumb (or cream crackers, I just happened to have matzoh – next time I have some salt and cracked black pepper crackers that I think might be rather nice – or the new Jacobs chilli crackers might add a bit of a punch – be relaxed about this step!)
  • 2 tablespoons poupon wholegrain mustard – use an English or French mustard for this – American ‘mustard’ would push it over the edge of being too sweet with the ketchup you’ll be using later.
  • 1 teaspoon mushroom ketchup (I’m going to try anchovy ketchup next time though out of a spirit of adventure)
  • oodles (another technical term) of Maldon salt and black pepper to season
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-3 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley chopped finely
  • bit of olive oil on some kitchen roll for greasing

Method

Preheat oven to 180.

First blitz the crackers til you’ve got cracker dust – about 15-25 crackers should yield enough. Set aside.

Grease an 18-hole muffin tin with a little olive oil on some kitchen paper and set aside.

Blitz the onion, carrot and garlic in the food processor until finely chopped and well mixed. Then heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté with the dried herbs and loads of salt and pepper for a couple of minutes, remove from heat and leave to cool somewhat.

Meanwhile throw one of the half cups of Tommy K you’ve got, and the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Season to within an inch of its life. Add in the onion, garlic, carrot and oregano mix once it’s cool enough not to scramble your eggs and mix again.

Take your mix and put in the 18-hole muffin tin once all the holes are filled – take the other 1/2 cup of TK and spread a little on each of the mini loaves (you might need a bit more than 1/2 cup – but do it to taste).

Bake at 180° for 25-30 minutes or until your meat thermometer registers 71°. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes before serving to allow the loaves to firm up slightly.

To serve: A head of braised chicory & potato wedges, or boiled potatoes and sautéed leeks. Crisp white wine I think, as although it’s beef, the TK can sweeten things up a little (which is why plenty of pepper is essential) and so something achingly dry and cold is more than welcome. If you’re looking for that all-American touch.. have a few bottles of Bud with it.





Cooking, Grand Designs and Randomness…

11 10 2009

Well blogosphere… the mini meatloaves went down a storm, and made tasty leftovers AND left over enough raw mix to freeze to have nearly the same again at a later date! Three meals out of a bit of onion, carrot and beef – bargayno! Of course in true stewpot stylee I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe a little… maybe check it out in another post!

It’s been a funny old week – in between bouts of cooking and kicking back, it’s been conference/budget/2010 preparation for work too, which has been in turns, arduous, boring, irritating and fun – in unequal and somewhat random measures. Caught up with a few field-based colleagues I’d not spoken to in a while, reminisced about the “good old days” (though nostalgia isn’t what it used to be you know), and had a drunken chat with my manager (he was drunk, me not so).

Visit to Grand Designs Birmingham on Friday – very disappointing unfortunately. More and more like a Sunday market with people trying to flog the cheese graters, mandolines, juicers and all the other gadgetry that you sometimes find in those irritating five-minute “infomercials”. I think that Grand Designs has really lost its way this year – maybe due to the financial climate, maybe due to underpolicing of the entry criteria. Sadly ironic was having the Jean-Christophe Novelli restaurant (very swish!) right next to some barker yelling “it chops, it grates, it slices – 123 and the flap comes off for easy washing. I’m not going to charge you twenty quid, I won’t charge you a tenner.. if you bought this off the telly it would cost you…. ” and so forth. Just seems a little wrong.

Also wrong was the cookery demo stand – bright shiny Gaggenau appliances (hard to imagine any more expensive and luxury brand of appliances for the UK) bang next to the “Discount Appliance Centre” replete in all its glory with tacky sticky-on letters of the type you use on wheelie bins (and all of them not quite in line with each other). Looking down the list of demos, only one name that I recognised, John Burton Race – all the rest were from various restaurants in Brum – have to say the one I watched while my colleague dipped off to the ladies’ room was uninspiring – any passion he used to have in food had clearly evaporated.

Quo vadis Grand Designs? The paramedics are working hard on the defibrilator to try and pull you round… but it seems to me you’re getting drawn to the light at the end of the dark tunnel and it could be wings and a harp for you if things don’t change. Just a hint, if you get there, don’t try and tell St Peter that a mock tudor portico would add a few grand to the value of his property if he just got rid of those démodé pearly gates.. eternity is a long time you know…





It’s been a while…

8 10 2009

Well blogfans (if you have reached plural numbers reading this!)… It’s been a while since stewpot’s bloggy thing had the champers broken on its pointy end and the old gel slid down the greasy ironwork into the virgin sea to start its life. Have I had any particular insights since then? Er… Nope. Has anything monumental happened (apart from the ritual humiliation of sales conference time) er… Nope. Have I partaken of any fine Cava and export strength gin? Er.. Well actually yes… I have also been cooking miniature meatloaves and soufflés (not miniature soufflés) and am currently experimenting with brining as a marinade for Saturday’s evening feast. More of all these when I’m back at the laptop not trying to rewrite War and Peace on an iPod touchpad.





On resting, and thinking and humming to myself

5 10 2009

So having spent an evening and a bottle of Chardonnay setting up the blog, how’s it going? Well I think… it only took me an hour to decide on the look of it, which is an improvement! Got the Twitter feed and RSS up and running which is good. Now all I need is something witty, trenchant
and incisive to say.. I may have to think about that…