Monthly Archives: August 2014

Good Eatin’: The Indecisive Foodie

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

The morning of writing this I was given carte blanche over what we were going to have for lunch and dinner. Now I know this is pretty much what I do for the weekly shop but for that it is online and I don’t have the option of using the fresh counters. Needless to say that I spent between 30-40 minutes wondering around the nearby Tesco and later 10 minutes in the Lidl trying to decide what to get.

Food Item: Watercress and Finocchiona Salami

For lunch I knew that we had some rye bread in the cupboard so wanted to go a bit ‘make your own open faced sandwich’ route. I picked up some Light Boursin and watercress from Tesco and some German meat salad and fennel salami from Lidl.

Watercress is up there with rocket and lamb’s lettuce as some of my favourite salad leaves since they pull their weight in terms of flavour, for watercress this is a peppery taste that tastes delicious when wilted over gnocchi in a tomato and garlic sauce. The special salami that I got was delicious. It wasn’t overpowering but the presence of fennel in the salami was very much present, at times delicate and at others rather dominant (it really depended on the slice).

IMG_0882Food item: Hake and Walnut Oil

For the first time ever I actually cooked something from a fish counter. I actually went to Tesco with the hope of octopus. Due to the absence of this tentacled beauty (one day) I instead went for a fish that I had not heard of before and is apparently a rather ugly relative of cod.

IMG_0883With all of this cooking fish that I have started doing this is probably the best looking one I have done so far. It was very simple too. Lightly coated in flour season with lemon-pepper and fried in walnut oil for five minutes per side. The oil gave the fish a delicate nutty after-taste whilst the fish itself was very much like cod but did not have as strong a flavour and did not flake as neatly. Served alongside were some air-fried sweet potato in a walnut oil and smoked paprika coating.

Progress: 106/500

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Good Eatin’: Cooking With Pomelo

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Today’s post is an example of a happy food accident. I am semi-regularly going to my favourite store in Chinatown and gradually sampling all of the more unusual (meaning not usually available in my local Morrison’s) fruit and vegetables.

Whilst I was there I saw large a cheap packs of rambutan and mangosteen which annoyed me seeing how I paid for them when I went to Borough Market (lesson learnt). I actually went there to get green mango… and it looks like that’s going to be a bit of a non-starter now.

Instead I purchased the focus of today’s post. Maybe next time I’ll have the cash to buy the £40 pack of bird’s nest they keep behind the counter.

Food item: Pomelo

Pomelo is the largest citrus fruit out there meaning that it more than earns its Latin name of Citrus maxima. It is also, interestingly (at least to me), one of the rarer examples of a citrus fruit that is a species in its own right and not a hybrid. It’s one of those things I randomly picked up after an evening perusing Wikipedia (and if it’s on the internet it must be true) but pomelo is one of the originators of many of the citrus fruits we know and love including grapefruit, lemons and sweet oranges.

According to the book it is more normal to have a pomelo be white-pale green on the inside with pink being a rarer colour, so I consider this to be a lucky pomelo. The weird thing about eating it is how much like grape fruit it tastes like but with little-to-no of the bitterness. It was really like a cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit.

So after using my tongue and teeth to eat the segments I had a whole lot of peel left and for some reason got it into my head that I should try to make candied peel… and then I saw it was a list item.

Food item: Candied Citrus Peel

After boiling the peel of the pomelo in fresh boiling water three times and then reducing it down in equal parts peel, water and sugar I was left with the above. The peel had gone from a green-yellow to orange and become sticky and translucent. Most of the bitterness was gone and it was now very sweet.

All of this happened the weekend before a friend of mine celebrated her birthday so I thought what better than to turn this peel into something nice (since I also know she likes grapefruit). So I’ve baked them into dark chocolate and candied pomelo cookies.

Progress: 102/500

Ebert’s Greats: My Darling Clementine

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 174/409

Title: My Darling Clementine
Director: John Ford
Year: 1946
Country: USA

If I had thought about it a bit more I would have probably ventured into other filmatic territory before going for another film by John Ford (since I looked at The Searchers not too long ago) but I came across this and remembered a vivid image of Linda Darnell looking rather melancholy whilst wearing a sombrero. I had to find out what the context of this image was.

If you know even the smallest possible amount about the American West you will have heard of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It is one of those events in American history like the Alamo which has had many romanticisms and false histories written about it. My Darling Clementine takes inspiration from the, now widely considered fictional, biography of Marshal Wyatt Earp and takes its own route towards the explanation towards the gunslinging conclusion.

The thing is, that for an event so infamous, the film does not dwell for too long on the gunfight. In fact you could probably cut it out and you would still have a really good western. This is mainly due to the leading three of Henry Ford, Victor Mature and Linda Darnell. It is hard to think of a film where Henry Ford has been anything other than great, his turn in The Ox-Bow Incident helped to shape it into one of my favourite films, and his pick for the lead of Wyatt Earp serves the perfect contrast to other members of the town of Tombstone, Arizona.

The forces of nature that are singer Chihuahua (Darnell) and Doc Holliday (Mature) exemplify those who we would typically find in a film of the Old West. They are strong-willed and ultimately dangerous people who keep their vulnerabilities close to their chest. Chihuaua has an intense fear of abandonment and Holliday is dying of tuberculosis; not that either of them would admit it out loud.

Then there is Earp and the titular Clementine (Cathy Downs). Neither of them fit in that well since they are clearly well-mannered outsiders who have found their way into the lawless West. There is no denying the strength of either character but they are able to get things done with their guns still in their holsters. As such this film is able to comment on the time where the West began to lose its title of wild as other more civilized people moved in from the East to live.

This collision which would eventually tame the West (exemplified by a humorous scene between Earp and the town barber who sprays him with the scent of desert flowers) is also shown through Ford’s direction. In the beginning many of the long shots focus on the untamed surroundings of Arizona but these contrast greatly with the images later on of a church construction which is the ultimate act of bringing law and order to the area.

Despite the focus on Clementine in the title there is the feeling that the events would have unfolded the way they did even without her presence. The gunfight was inevitable after the death of Earp’s brother. Chihuahua’s jealousy would have caught up with her in the end. Holliday’s tuberculosis in itself was a death sentence. Was the darling Clementine a catalyst for good, a catalyst for action or just someone who happened to be there? All I can say, is that she formed part of a great Western.

Music Monday: Graceland by Paul Simon

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 25/250Graceland_cover_-_Paul_SimonTitle: Graceland
Artist: Paul Simon
Year: 1986
Position: #74

In a very odd pattern of semi-random choice this is the fourth album in the row placed as #-8 on the acclaimed list (at least before the update  little while ago anyway). It has seen albums that encapsulate the rise of college radio, a turning point in female singer-songwriting and whatever superlative you want to attach to OdelayThe superlative that can be attached to Graceland is a rather interesting one, the album that brought African music into the Western music mainstream.

To put this into a historical musical context Graceland was recorded and released during the time of apartheid in South Africa, a time where boycotts existed against the cultural elements of the nation. As such, when Paul Simon crossed over the metaphorical picket line to work with South African musicians he had some explaining to do. Now  here’s the thing, the musicians he chose to work with were the ones being discriminated against under apartheid and he never showed any support towards the government so… all was good.

The fact that Paul Simon did this helped to introduce a wide audience to music of black origin that did not fall into the world of jazz or rhythm and blues. It was also the album that helped the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo crossover and gain world prominence. It is also the album that inspired the likes of Vampire Weekend, so my thanks to Paul Simon there.

The reason that this album works so well and became a classic (as well as one of the select few albums in this Top 250 lists that also won the Grammy for Best Album) is how well the seemingly disparate genres mesh. This is most evident, at two ends of the spectrum, on tracks ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’. On the one hand you have the latter, the closer of the first side of the album, where the stylings of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are very much at the forefront to make this a very atmospheric number. Then there is personal favourite ‘You Can Call Me Al’, a rather upbeat song about a man going through a midlife crisis (with a very memorable music video starring comedian Chevy Chase) where the fusion of genres is very much westward-leaning.

The rest of the album well accomplishes this meeting of musical worlds, just not as well as titular track ‘Graceland’ or the other two songs that I have previous mentioned. In the absence of Miriam Makeba’s eponymous album this may be the only time I get to listen to music with such obviously African elements. A pity really since it really helps an album to stand out.

Good Eatin’: Getting To 100

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

It didn’t take too long but I have managed to get to 100 foods from the list in a matter of months. Thing is, already I have begun to notice that this is getting harder and so we’ll see just how long it takes to make it to the next landmark.

Whilst the meat section technically got the landmark I was so proud for how my fish dish came out that I figured I would just combine the two of these into one.

Food item: Sea Bass

I’m getting to the end of the fish that I am able to get easily, and the book describes this as a fish highly-prized throughout Europe. I can’t disagree with this too much since it was part of Asda’s Extra Special range. Considering this, I found a recipe so it would be extra fancy.

The Good Food recipe I found paired the sea bass with anchovies, capers, lemon and broccoli. I never thought I would say that I like broccoli but now I know how to cook it it’s becoming part of the regular rotation. On the right there are parsnips and polenta cubes that I roasted in Korean chilli paste.  The whole thing took about an hour and a half to prepare but it was worth it. The sea bass was moist, flaky with a crisp skin having been fried in my trusty wok. Definitely a recipe worth repeating.

Food item: Serrano Ham

So, here we are reaching 100 food items with a recipe that could have counted for six if the other five hadn’t been done already. I did a little bit of research into serrano ham and found that it is apparently on a list of four quality Spanish hams… and it occupies the lowest ranking on the list. Salty and sweet it was delicious just out of the pack. In a sandwich though the ham took on a better supporting role.

So, a hot sandwich with Serrano ham, manchego cheese and apple is where I chomped on item 100 of this list. Something delicious, and a lot better than the samphire I can tell you.

Progress: 100/500

Good Eatin’: Samphire and Salad

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

I’m getting incredibly close to the one hundred mark and seeing how I am low on the cheese, fish and meat I guess I should get one of those in as my 100th since it is a bit of a landmark after all. Last post, I was a fair bit away but this is a bit of a 4-in-1.

IMG_0857Food Item: Cider Vinegar and Moutarde de Dijon

I had already earmarked these two ingredients as part of a glaze for roast pork but since I couldn’t really taste them I thought better of it. Instead they are now being to make salad dressing for some left over bacon and halloumi.

A very simple recipe (found here) but I don’t have any canola oil at my disposal so used groundnut oil instead. Also, just to make it easier, I put all the ingredients into a cheap sports bottle and shaked the living tar out of it. Made for a well combined salad dressing.

Food Item: Romaine Lettuce

It’s in the book as cos lettuce but I barely see it called that (even if it says on Wikipedia that it’s called cos lettuce in the UK).  Unlike regular iceberg lettuce this lettuce actually has a taste and if I have any left over I tend to stir-fry it with other things. In terms of taste it is fresh, crisp and a level of bitterness and sweetness that varied upon how deep into the lettuce you get.

Food Item: Marsh Samphire

And so we reach the first ingredient on my journey where I probably won’t go out of my way to have it again. Then again it may not have helped that I cooked it on it’s own (mind you with some butter and ground black pepper) and it would be better eaten with something else.

The best way to describe this food would be as ‘asparagus of the sea’. It’s a bit of an acquired taste which is salty and… well salty. When it’s briefly boiled the samphire becomes tender and can be stripped from it’s woody centre using the tips of your teeth. I can imagine that with a proper sauce and some meat or fish accompanying it that I would have enjoyed the samphire a lot more, but not by itself.

Progress: 98/500

Level One: The Elder Scrolls and Monkey Island

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 59/100

Oblivion 1 Title: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (representing the The Elder Scrolls series)
Developer: Bethseda Games Studios
Platform: PC/Xbox 360/PS3
Year: 2006
Position: #54

The Elder Scrolls is really one of those series that I just wanted to give some more time to. Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim are all such major games in the realm of the Western RPG. Earlier in our Pong and Beyond blog we covered Morrowind but I knew that for Before I Kick I wanted to focus more on Oblivion since it was the game that I bought for personal gaming before even starting on that gaming blog.

I was basically sold on the premise of a game by the makers of Fallout 3 that was set in the world of elves and dragons. Now whilst this game doesn’t quite boast the dragons or the arrow-in-the-kneeness of Skyrim this is still pretty fantastical.

Thing is, after having played and fallen for Fallout 3 about 6 years ago it was weird to go to a game which shared so many hallmarks but did not feel as polished (although to call Fallout 3 in all its glitchy beauty ‘polished’ may be taking it a little far). The feature that Oblivion had which kept me playing, however, was the freedom. Not the fake freedom that exists in most games but the fact that you could happily play this game for hours and hours and have only done the first few main quests.

On the other hand, the adaptive difficulty of the game is remarkably broken if you are unaware of how it works. The fact that it becomes incredibly difficult if you level up certain stats too quickly makes this annoying, especially if you go for a magical class and over level-up your sneaking. Still, a strategically placed save point eliminates a number of these difficulties.

The_Secret_of_Monkey_Island_artworkTitle: The Secret Of Monkey Island (representing the Monkey Island series)
Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Platform: Various
Year: 1990
Position: #58

The version of The Secret of Monkey Island we actually played (to completion) was one with updated graphics and voice acting (there was an option to play it as the original game… but opted to stick with the revamp out of sheer increase in accessibility).

In many ways it plays like a good Monty Python sketch, in fact I could imagine this being a Monty Python movie when it comes down to the humour. As someone who is not a particular fan of the group this could read as an insult but I loved The Life of Brian so… take from this as you will. I’m just glad that for the gaming blog I will be playing the sequel. Squee.

Music Monday: Blue by Joni Mitchell

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 24/250blue-jonimitchellTitle: Blue
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1971
Position: #49

This week’s album is the second highest ranked album by a woman. I am in danger of using up all the albums with female singers before I reach 100 listened to if I continue to liberally pepper my blog with these albums but… I prefer to listen to women over men. In fact in the last week of my casual listening I’ve had an anomaly with scandi-pop group Donkeyboy receiving a large number of listens (as well as some residual R.E.M.). Still, the point stands.

Blue is one of those albums that I have always really liked but rarely have a time where I feel it suits my listening patterns. If I could drive it would make for the perfect road album (and not just because of the scene in Practical Magic where Nicole Kidman sings along to ‘A Case of You’ in a key that is… not of the song). I have Cat Power’s cover of ‘Blue’ to thank for me giving this album a go back in 2008.

What makes Blue an exceptional album is just how raw it is. Being just Joni and her guitar or piano it is very intimate and feels very much like a confessional. ‘River’ starts off with a tune that resembles ‘Jingle Bells’ and transforms into a song about someone having broken up near Christmas time and wishing to get away from the past. ‘A Case Of You’ tells a story of being so in love with someone that you just want to drink it all up until you explode. ‘Little Green’ is a nice enough song until you find out it is about the daughter she gave up for adoption, then the song becomes heartbreaking.

In many ways Blue is an album that is exactly that; blue. In other ways it is the album that helped to define to many future artists what a singer-songwriter album should be. Brutal, lyrically complex and, above all, honest. It isn’t all down in the dumps. In many ways it’s an album of rebirth and picking yourself up again. The break-up of a major relationship hurts like hell but, as demonstrated in ‘Carey’, there is always the other end of the tunnel.

At just over 35 minutes this album is compact and, in the words of my partner, verbose. A strum of the guitar is not wasted and it makes for a near-impossible act for any artist to follow. The fact that she seems to have almost equalled this in terms of kudos two albums later is nothing less than extraordinary.

Good Eatin’: Some German Food (and Croissants)

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Since I have German roots I am very drawn to German foods. I am a huge sausage fan (yes, I know, ha ha) and I love dumplings (stop it!). Today we bought too much food (all with a German twist) for lunch and ended up having the rest of it for dinner, whilst watching old episodes of Comedy Bang Bang.

img_0854Food Item: Pumpernickel, Pumpkin Seeds, Black Forest Ham

Before I get to the items on the food list I am going to talk about the cheese we had that is not on the list; cambozola. This German cheese (the name of which is a portmanteau of Camembert and Gorgonzola) is basically a blue Brie and I was happy enough with a wedge of this and some bread… so this meal became a bit of a taste overload.

The Black Forest Ham came from the local Lidl and was a balance of smoky and salty, in a way it tasted like how I would imagine raw smoked bacon tasting. The flavour was complex but not too intense as to overpower the cambozola. In fact they were a perfect pairing.

Then there is the bread. Now I have had pumpernickel on a visit to Germany many years ago and the bread that Morrison’s offer isn’t exactly like the German bread… but if you get lucky they DO have a bread box with a lot of rye breads in it. Still, this pumpkin seed studded loaf still had that rich rye taste I know and love, but not  the density.

Food Item: Croissant

 What is there to say about the croissant? It’s one of those pastries that it so globally recognized and with so many variations available that even lead to the infamous cronut (which I am still yet to taste). So many people put butter on their croissant (in itself made essentially of sugar, flour and a knob of butter) which is fine I guess. My partner just eats them as they are with black coffee whilst I prefer to fill it with a nutty cheese like emmental or a smoked ham.

Progress: 94/500

Good Eatin’: My Carbonara

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

I enjoy cooking for friends. So when I had a friend staying around who loved pasta I knew that I had to make my carbonara. I usually make it with turkey bacon but I figured I would try and milk it for some more food list items so went for more regular smoked back bacon. One day I hope to make this with guanciale as is traditional.

Food Item: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Oak-Smoked Bacon, Durum Wheat Spaghetti

Ingredients (serves 3):

  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 4 tbsp white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • 15g low-fat spread (preferably olive oil based)
  • 6 slices smoked bacon, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan), grated
  • low-fat oil spray

Firstly mix the egg yolks together with the parmesan and set aside. Then heat a few sprays in a large frying pan (or wok) and cook the garlic halves for 2-3 minutes, just don’t let them burn. Then add the bacon pieces and cook them for 5 minutes, continually stirring them so (again) they don’t burn. Then add the wine, stir it in and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the wine has fully evaporated. Then take the bacon off the heat and set aside.

Cook the spaghetti as per instructions then strain (keeping a mug of the water) and then add the spaghetti to the bacon mix and toss. Follow this with the butter and cheese mix. If the sauce is a little bit dry then add some of the discarded pasta water.

This is one of my favourite things that I make so I am surprised that I haven’t made it for months… I won’t be making that mistake again. I know I am biased but I don’t think you can beat bacon from Europe. Especially the smoked variety. Sorry America but it’s true, your bacon sucks.

Progress: 90/500