Last day in the UK for a couple of weeks – me and the missus are off to Floridia for some theme park action, a marketing conference and some serious lying on beaches. And food, obviously. Lots of food.
Its the first time we have been Stateside without the kids, so its a bit poignant in some ways but at the same time its going to be nice to be able to do adult things. Which in our case means food, since neither of us drink or take drugs!
Lots and lots of food. I will be mentioning food a lot over the next couple of weeks. Theme park food, good ol’ American diner-type home-cooked food, if this is to be found, and maybe the occasional airline meal, who knows?
(* this carries a No McDonalds guarantee *)
But before we go, one last proper English meal. See, the Americans don’t do chips. Not proper, deep-fried, thick-cut (or at least medium-cut) chips. They do these horrible thin things called Fries which seem to have taken over the world. These are deeply, deeply depressing pieces of reconstituted yuck that sully the memory of the poor potato from whence they came.
Fortunately, I live in the town of Barnstaple, North Devon – a holiday area near the coast. And we have at least two certified classic chip shops here. And there is only one choice for the final meal before heading Stateside.
Woody’s. Stop snickering at the back.
This is an absolute little gem of a chippie, with takeaway facilities but – crucially today – also with a restaurant. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten here – freshly-cooked haddock and cod, steak and kidney pie – but I have settled on the full breakfast and I’m not keen to try anything else any time soon.
“Would you like chips with that?” says the waitress. She’s new. Or having a laugh. Course I want chips with that. Why else come to the best chippy in North Devon?
The food arrives. You know that impending moment when you are about to eat something really tasty but not especially good for you? And you realise you don’t care? That.
Its not technically a FULL English breakfast if there’s no chips.
Chips. Perfectly cooked, slightly yellow (its a myth that they should be golden-brown. This implies overcooking)
Beans. Relatively recent American addition, most welcome.
Fried bread – not quite the stuff slathered in bacon fat but ’twill suffice.
Fried egg – again, poifect. Nice runny yolk.
Sausages, bacon. Nuff said.
America. The standard has been set. Are you up to the challenge?
Spain won. Inevitably. They were the best team and completely marmalised poor old Italy in the final. Four-nil. Even more embarrassing than when the Azzurri lost the 1970 World Cup Final to Pele’s Brazil – but at least they managed a goal then.
In anticipation of this inevitable outcome, I cook paella for the very first time.
Its a bit of a red-letter day in more than the footballing sense, because Number #2 Daughter (below) is home for the weekend (hurrah!). Mum’s coming over too, she likes to see the grandchildren. And eat my food. Or so she says.
She only comes home to sleep and eat
Sal isn’t a fan of our aquatic friends, so I look for a recipe without prawns. It seems there are some who say this is in fact a more authentic version of the classic Spanish dish, and who am I to argue?
Hopefully this will give it a bit of the flavour sadly lacking in the other paellas I have sampled – in London and in Germany. Both times it filled a gap, but no more.
This looks promising though.
The Spanish First Eleven
The more attentive will notice two things about this photograph.
First, it represents Spain lining up in their classic 4-6-0 formation. The garlic represents Cesc Fabregas.
Second, there are in fact twelve ingredients if you include the mango which represents Fernando Torres on the subs bench.
I was going to include an excellent line about how the mango had more chance of getting in my paella than Torres had of getting on the pitch in the final, but then he went and spoilt it by not only coming on, but scoring a goal.
Typical. Too late to affect the photograph, so the mango stays in.
Chop the chorizo into good chunky chunks, and heat in a saucepan. There’s plenty of oil comes out, so you don’t really need to add any.
Remove the chorizo and cook the chicken in the lovely red chorizo juices, then remove the chicken.
Sweat the onions in a bit of oil, add garlic and paprika, put in the uncooked rice and simmer in chicken stock for around 10 minutes.
Then put the chicken back in with chopped red peppers, frozen peas and tinned tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes, stir in the chorizo and serve.
Sal persuaded me not to put the mango in, which on reflection was the best policy.
God that looks nice!
Here it is, simmering away ready to be served.
Its simple, like tika-taka football. Its delicious, like Iniesta’s passing. And its comforting, like the knowledge that Euro 2012 has been won by probably the best football team the world has ever seen.
Mum and Lucy loved it. Hopefully they will both be back.
Next up, Sweden. Yes, I know Euro 2012 has finished but I still have quite a few countries to get through, and a promise is a promise, if not to you then to my stomach.
Shame the Germans went out of Euro 2012 the other night. Clutching at straws from an English POV, we did better than they did against Italy, since we conceded no goals throughout the whole game and only went out on penalties. And Italy’s goals were both scored by honorary Englishman(!) Mario Balotelli (left).
I love the Germans. Working in Germany for a few months will cure you of all the crap prejudices that we in England are brought up with.
The people, the football team, the sense of humour – oh yes, English dullards, they have a very dry sense of humour which isn’t the same as ours, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
And they love the English. So you can take your stereotypes and shove them.
That said, they do like a sausage, do the Germans.
Bratwurst – the classic sausage in a bun
Knackworst – short, stubby and flavoured with garlic
Weisswurst. You don’t want to know.
And they do like a schnitzel also. Trouble is, schnitzel is traditionally made from veal.
“Do you know how they make veal? They get a little baby calf, and they hang him upside down, and then they slit his throat, and then all the blood drains out. That’s an interesting fact” (from the film “Gregory’s Girl”)
I have a bit of a moral objection to eating veal. Even though I did eat it once, in Germany, without actually knowing that it was veal. I was mortified when I found out afterwards, but I have to admit it was lovely.
That’s the thing about veal, lobster, pate de foie gras and so on. They’re so exquisitely tasty that people find a way to justify the cruelty involved.
But there are other ways to enjoy schnitzel. The word refers not so much to the veal but to the method of cooking. And I found a recipe for chicken schnitzel. Hoorah!
The olive oil is now demanding image rights
You take the chicken breasts and give them a good pounding. I put them in a plastic food bag and beat them to within an inch of their life with a rolling pin, in the absence of a meat hammer. It felt good.
For the coating, beat a couple of eggs and mix in garlic, thyme, salt and black pepper. Variations on this theme are legion.
Dip each chicken cutlet in the mixture and coat it all over – this is what is going to allegedly make the breadcrumb mixture stick to the meat. Get each cutlet as sopping with liquid as you can, then roll it in the breadcrumb / cheese mixture. I used cheddar instead of parmesan, for the superior texture and flavour.
We can’t really claim too many gold medals in the food word, we British. But we do have more varieties of cheese than any other country. And I never met one I didn’t like.
Fry the chicken cutlets in a shallow frying pan – and this is the hard bit – making sure the coating doesn’t completely come to pieces.
I failed (see final picture below)
Your Schnitzel – and you know you are
Served this with German style oven-baked chipped potatoes, a very rich accompaniment consisting of sliced potatoes in melted butter and oil in an oven dish, with shallots fried in butter and chicken stock poured over them, then topped with grated cheddar and cooked until the cheese melts.
Not the healthiest of dishes but what the heck, life’s too short.
Well, it would be if you ate that every day, that’s for sure.
The dish has taken longer to cook than I thought it would. I serve it up to a very hungry Sal. She is salivating. Heh heh. I made a funny.
Salivating? Tough internet…
The meal is good, the chicken is cooked (just about) but there are no vegetables because someone who shall remain nameless forgot to get any. She knows who she is…
Next up – Spain. What could I possibly cook from the myriad delights that country’s cuisine has to offer? Difficult choice…
The Netherlands are not known for great food. I feel I speak from knowledge here, having lived and worked there for a year. The country is terrific, the people are great, but much of the best food in the Netherlands is borrowed from other people’s cuisines.
Rijstaffel (“Rice Table”
The best restaurant meal I had was Rijstaffel (“rice table”) which is based on Nasi Padang from Indonesia.
Rijstaffel consists of lots and lots of side dishes such as satay, egg rolls, pork in sweet soy sauce, duck roasted in banana leaves, with various different kinds of rice.
Recognisable instantly to Brits as what you would find in a typical Chinese restaurant back home, but maybe a little spicier.
Eating in the pubs and bars is a little cheaper. This tends to be Belgian, French or German but there was this one indigenous Dutch dish…
Studio Dependance, Breda.
This is where I discovered Varkenshaas. I spent a lot of time drinking here.
Note the name of the bar. Alannis? THAT’S ironic.
I only ordered Varkenshaas the first time because it came with “pfepfersaus” which I correctly identified as “pepper sauce” and thus reasoned that anything covered in pepper sauce would be fine.
I wasn’t prepared for how damn nice something so simple could taste.
I ate it pretty much every day for a week, with different sauces. In the end, the barmaid refused to serve it me and insisted I had a pizza instead.
It wasn’t the same. The next day, I went back to Varkenshaas.
In the end I decided the coconut milk wouldn’t “go”.
Today I’m cooking Varkenshaas from a recipe, which I adjust a little bit.
Basically, I put some oil and butter in a baking tray, and jack the temperature up to nuclear.
The pork tenderloin goes for five minutes, turning so its brown on all sides. Then turn the heat down a little and cook it for fifteen minutes or so while doing the sauce.
Start the sauce off in a frying pan with the butter and juices from the pork, not forgetting to scrape the loverly meaty bits up.
More butter and minced shallots, white wine, chicken stock, mustard and basil and – out of necessity – no cream since Sal had a slight reaction to it yesterday.
Okay, maybe I forgot to buy any and only remembered after Sainsbury’s shut.
Accompaniments – mashed potato (with butter and pepper but no milk, obviously), petits pois and apple sauce (aka stewed apple – is there a difference?)
Simple but delicious.
This was delicious and voted by my hard-to-please audience as the best meal so far of the Euros.
Unfortunately for the Dutch, their usually reliable football team dropped a massive bollock this time and lost all three group games, going home with their tails between their legs.
Not going to bother with the cream any more for this sauce, as its great the way it is. And I am very glad that I didn’t use coconut milk. It wouldn’t have “gone”.
Recipe courtesy of the excellent Beautiful Frugal Life blog. Will definitely check out other recipes from here. And so should you.
Tomorrow night (Sunday), Denmark’s footballers have the unenviable task of defeating an exciting German team in order to be certain of progressing to the quarter-final stage.
Denmark's winger on a streaky run down the wing
The Danish eat the most pork per head in the world. Hence the deserved popularity of their excellent bacon. I was very tempted to go for bacon butties as the Denmark entry in the Euro 2012 food blog, but this would be lazy – also, I am cooking pork tomorrow.
I don’t just throw these blogs together you know.
Now, for lunch today I fancy some bacon, but I can’t be bothered to cook it. So I cunningly plant the idea of bacon in Sal’s head by telling her some seemingly innocent facts about Danish bacon, which are as follows:
The historical reason Denmark is so famous for its bacon lies with the expansion of the United States of America’s agriculture in the late nineteenth century. They had more land than they had people to work it, and therefore did not need to let fields lie fallow on a rotation basis.
This meant Europe was flooded with cheap American grain, and all the nations of the Old World had to adapt into other markets.
For the farmers of Denmark this meant bacon. They had already recognized a huge market in the industrial towns of Britain, and had managed to produce a pig that gave them a bacon of a consistent quality – just as the British liked it.
So the ultimate reason for the Danish bacon we know and love today is the British love of a bacon buttie!
And after that lot, there is only one thing we are going to have for lunch. And I play the “I’m cooking tea” card. So I get bacon (Danish), eggs and mushrooms for lunch and I don’t have to cook it.
Tonight I am cooking salmon, with a nod to Denmark’s seafaring past and delicious gravad laks. This is going to be fairly simple, a “traditional yet elegant grilled salmon recipe”. No Dane lives further than 30 miles from the sea, apparently. Apart from the ones who have emigrated, of course.
I’m going to do broccoli with it, since there were ructions from my audience at the lack of green vegetables last week. Broccoli and sweetcorn. And roasted butternut squash, mainly because we bought one a few weeks ago and it has just been sitting there looking at me with its strange comedy shape.
So here are the raw ingredients. To be honest, I think the rest of them are a bit intimidated by the butternut squash.
Butternut Squash. God
“Are you doing butternut squash?” calls Sal from the next room.
“Yes”, say I.
“Then make sure you use the big fuck-off knife”.
I’ve made that mistake before. The butternut squash is a beast with a tough hide. Last time I ruined a bread-knife. Only THIS knife will do for cutting it…
The Big Fuck-Off Knife
17:50 – Cut the squash up. Narrowly miss adding Tony’s Fingers to the recipe thanks to the Big Fuck-Off Knife.
18:10 – Butternut squash roasting in the oven in extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkling of thyme. No salt, controversially, as I reckon it would upset what is essentially quite a sweet flavor.
18:35 The salmon is really simple, as ever, but its also easy to overcook or undercook, just because it takes so little time to cook. The trick is to grill it on a high heat, and not for very long. Oh, and do the skin up side first so you end up with a nice seared skinless side.
18:50 Now for the sauce. I’m going for a basic white wine sauce but I’m not 100% happy with this. For one thing, its almost identical to the sauce for tomorrow’s recipe. I suppose that means I have two goes at getting it right.
The sauce comprises diced shallots mixed with thyme sweated in melted butter.
(A word about herbs – you will notice that thyme pops up twice in this recipe. Now when I first discovered herbs, I stupidly figured, the more different kinds the better. I think this dates from student days where you can only really afford one little Schwartz pot of herbs, so you go for the “mixed herbs” obviously. Thus is the idea born that herbs are interchangeable, and the important thing is putting a few different ones in.
I wish I had worked out how wrong that is years ago – bleeding obvious really, but its hard to go against your deeply held beliefs)
Then add some white wine and reduce by 50%. Finally mix in some double cream and pepper and warm thoroughly. The recipe says to strain this into a jug. I say “and lose all that shalotty goodness? Hah!”
Add some broccoli and a tin of sweetcorn (to replace the fresh baby sweetcorn which unfortunately pulled a hamstring in the warmup) and there you go .
Salmon with white wine and shallot sauce. But no lemon.
I’m a bit dubious about how this meal will taste, not least because I’ve managed to forget to buy any lemons, which in an ideal world would be in with the sauce and also squeezed onto the salmon.
But the extra sourness actually works quite well. Pleased with this. Next time – lemons!
Next – The Netherlands. A country not noted for its food, to be fair. We shall see …
I don’t quite know why Spain were such hot favourites to beat Italy the other night. Sure, Italy have had some so-so results in the build-up to Euro 2012, but anyone who has followed football down the years knows that the Azzurri never really bother to turn up in matches unless its for real.
So the 1-1 draw with the World and European champions – and if they had taken their chances they would have scored three or four – should have come as no surprise, even though the country is currently embroiled in yet another match-fixing scandal.
Paolo Rossi, among others, was banned for three years for match-fixing in 1982, and went on to become the hero of the 1982 World Cup Final victory over Germany. More recently, in 2006 Juventus were demoted for two years and two of their championships were removed from the record books owing to allegations of bribing referees. The national team’s response was to lift the World Cup again. Who knows what they will do in 2012 in response to some pretty damning allegations flying around?
I’ve always held Italian cooking in high esteem.
Spaghetti Bolognese was the first vaguely posh meal I ever cooked as a student – from scratch, mind you, none of your fancy Dolmio sauces back then – and around the same time, pizzerias were beginning their long march to colonisation of the high streets of the UK.
When Sal and I first met we pretty much bonded over a love of food, and Italian food in particular. She used to do a fantastic home-made pizza, but we lost the recipe in the pre-home computer days, and she is reluctant to try a different one in case it doesn’t match up. I’m hoping that if I mention her enough in this blog, she may give in and cook it again.
I’ve only been to Italy once, to Florence on business for a couple of days, and I didn’t get to see much of the place. But the food I DID eat – fast food pizza at the mall, basic no-frills pasta in a cafe – was so far ahead of its equivalent in the UK. Note to self – holiday in Italy. Soon.
However, I thought I’d go for something other than pasta or pizza.
I’m cooking it slightly differently (hey, did anybody ever follow a recipe to the letter?). I’m using proscuttio instead of parma ham for a start. Here are the raw ingredients
My Mum’s coming over for lunch today. I normally do roast chicken, but that takes forever and although its very nice, when all’s said and done, there are plenty of other dishes to explore.
12.30 – Collect Mum, stick her in front of the television. What time’s lunch, she says? It’ll be about an hour, say I. So she has a couple of pieces of bread and butter “while she’s waiting”. Now the tables are turned from when I was growing up I realise how irritating this is from the cook’s point of view. Okay Mum, you’ve made your point 8=)
12.45 – OK. Cut a pocket into the chicken breasts, then open them out into a butterfly. A giant mutant butterfly, in this case. Spread garlic oregano butter over them then fold them back over again. Wrap a couple of slices of proscuttio round each one and hold in place with cocktail sticks. Well, that kind of works (see below – I took a picture of the middle-sized one, where the proscuttio fitted just right)
Now, put them in an oven and pour over some chicken stock. Cover with tinfoil and bake for 35 minutes, removing the foil with ten minutes to go and giving it a blast of heat to make the ham nice and crispy.
Meantime, I located the biggest sweet potato you ever did see, cut it up into “cubes” (hah!) and boil for ten to fifteen minutes, then mash it up with butter and a TINY bit of salt.
Over-salting is my cardinal cooking sin. If I ever cook for you, on no account should you “auto-condiment” until you have tasted the food. You know auto-condimentors. No matter what the dish is and what the company is, they plaster their food with salt, pepper, tomato sauce, relish, mustard, Lea and Perrins sauce and anything else that may be sitting around on the table minding its own business. Its an insult to the cook and more pertinently, I’ve probably already over-salted so its your loss. Just saying.
The final component is puy lentils. (pronounce like you’re doing the drum sound in Ring My Bell by Anita Ward)
She even sings about washing the dishes here. Thanks for the offer, Anita, but I think Sal’s got it covered.
Apparently, much like champagne or Melton Mowbray pork pies, for example, Puy Lentils are one of those Protected Designation Of Origin foods where the EU has ruled that nobody outside the designated region (the Le Puy region of France) can market them by that name.
I can see why they want to protect them, they taste marvellous with a lovely peppery tinge to them. Heat ‘em up with just a LITTLE salt (!) and some more of tonight’s featured herb, oregano.
The dish went down very well with both Sal and Mum (although Mum failed to finish her modest portion – can’t get too cross with her for spoiling her appetite though since it means I get more. Heh heh heh!)
Next time, maybe something green to go with it – broccoli or peas, as there is some debate about whether potatoes, sweet or otherwise, qualify as a vegetable.
All in all, a success though.
Poland next – only ever eaten Polish a few times before and it was great, so can’t wait! But I’ll be leaving this to professionals and eating at a proper Polish cafe. I deserve a day off.
The first day of my Euro 2012 food adventure features Portugal, who suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Germany tonight.
We had a great holiday in Portugal in 2006.
The beach at Albufeira
We got off to a sad start to the holiday, at least in football terms. We headed out to Portugal on the day of England’s doomed quarter-final – against Portugal, as luck would have it.
As we flew over the Channel, the pre-match buildup began. Somewhere over France, Rooney got himself sent off and Cristiano Ronaldo passed into legend as the latest pantomime villain. As we passed over Spain, the game finished in deadlock and went into extra time.
And as we waited for our baggage to appear on the carousel at the airport we could clearly see the Portugese security guards in a little booth with a small television going crazy as David Beckham slipped and ballooned his penalty so high that the pilot of the next plane out to Faro had to swerve to avoid it.
The courtesy coach stopped at all the other hotels in the Algarve before ours. In each village, there were people waving the Portugese flag at us and smiling and laughing. What a friendly bunch the Portugese are, to be sure. And what a long two hours that ride was.
We got over that disappointment as the week progressed though. The Portugese do genuinely seem to love the British and vice versa – came back with plenty of happy memories.
So, today I’m cooking
These are the ingredients :
Ingredients - too much chicken for two people, obviously
I went for Hot Piri Piri Flakes as I couldn’t find any Hot Chilli Flakes. I also went for a large pack of chicken breasts so I could do half for tomorrow’s Italian recipe.
12pm – Prepare marinade. Wife pops head round to remind me not to grate the lemon pith with the lemon rind. There’s a difference, apparently. Can’t see the harm myself. Its all lemony goodness, isn’t it? Well, if she doesn’t rind then I won’t take the pith.
12.30 – Marinade done. Fingers smell of lemon and chilli. Eyes stinging a bit. Resist temptation to wipe eyes with chilli hands. You only do THAT once, believe me. Or, as in my case, three or four times. Five, tops.
In the meantime let me tell you about a superb Portugese cafe I visited last week in Bristol. Its called something like “A Taste Of Portugal” and its in St Nicholas’ Market.
They only serve about four different dishes but they all look and smell wonderful. I knew I was making the piri piri chicken today so I didn’t want to order that – yeah, I WAS afraid mine wouldn’t measure up, thank you for asking.
I decided to go for Feijoada, a lovely dish of Brazilian origin made with pork and beans, served with rice and a can of a Portugese soft drink called Sumol. I went for the Passion Fruit flavour.
Pure Portugese soul food. And a portion so large even I had difficulty finishing it. But I did. I heard one chap apologise as he took back his only half-empty plate – “I DID like it, it was just a little too much at lunchtime”. Wuss. Although he had a point, I didn’t feel like eating again for a while. Going back there to sample the meatballs next week.
17:45 – Half-time with the Netherlands surprisingly a goal down against Denmark. Time to start the actual cooking. For the accompaniments, I’m going to go for sweet potato wedges and a green salad with tomatoes and chopped onion (without the olive oil accompaniment, the merits of which I have yet to be convinced of).
18:00 – Wedges in the oven in a shallow pan with salt and thyme. An invention of my lovely wife Sally, who is a far better cook than I will ever be, but annoyingly doesn’t like cooking much.
18:05 – OK, chicken just gone under the grill. Smells lovely but have I put too much lemon in in and not enough chilli? Nervous now …
18:42 – Starting to look like a final product
19:00 – Done! Served up – looks quite nice.
Tasted as nice as it looks
Well, this was pronounced a success. It was a bit dry for our tastes perhaps, but next time some kind of salsa may improve this. Have to be better than previous attempts at salsa though, which always turn out on the watery side.
Okay, one nation down, fifteen to go. Tomorrow it’s Italy – and no, I won’t be cooking pasta or eating a takeaway pizza.
My name is Tony, and I am a foodaholic. I love seeking out and cooking recipes and sampling new taste experiences.
I also love football, which is where the idea for this blog first came about.
Every two years around this time of year a major football tournament comes round, either the World Cup or the European Championships (or the Euros for short, though I personally think that title devalues them). Since 2002, June in an even-numbered year has been the cue for me to “start cooking like a beast” to quote Number Two daughter.
The aim was to try a new recipe for the family from each of the participating countries – some I cook myself, others I try from restaurants and cafes. I never quite achieved this, but I did find get some excellent recipes out of it which are still family favourites to this day – including…
Gallo Pinto, literally “Spotted Rooster” although it contains no meat, is considered the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast across much of central America. I cooked it in 2002 in honour of Costa Rica’s last appearance in the World Cup finals (so far). They beat Scotland in 1990, which many English people laughed at, although the Scots have had plenty of chances to get their own back down the years.
Coq Au Vin
This coq au vin, while a lovely recipe based on a warming French peasant classic, is forever tinged with memories of England outplaying France for 90 minutes in 2004 only to concede a goal late on from a free-kick just outside the penalty area. A happier French memory is the fantastic French Onion Soup recipe I made for the 2002 World Cup – both because it’s a great meal and also because that was when the holders France were beaten by Senegal in the first match. I had a tenner on it at 9-1, which remains my most successful bet ever. I was THIS happy :
Tony Feb 2012
Senegalese chicken with peanuts. Mine didn't look quite as nice as this.
Emboldened by this and regarding it as an omen I then, later in the tournament, went on to cook Senegalese chicken with peanuts. It was horrible. No reflection on the recipe or the country, more my cack-handed attempt to reproduce it, but a major disappointment.
Finally, Trinidadian chicken with chilli and lime – served with rice and peas, this is in the top five best meals I have ever cooked. But I’ve lost the recipe! I’ve searched that internet many, many times and come up with alternatives that aren’t quite right… sigh…
So, Euro 2012 is upon us and it’s the last tournament to feature 16 teams before expanding to 24 in four years’ time, so this is probably my best chance of covering each of the nations involved. I’ll try and include a bit more for each country than just the recipe though – and if anyone has any suggestions or potential improvements or additions, then I’d love to hear them.