24 August 2011

Sell Out? No, Cook Out

As many people will be aware, me and Tesco don't generally get on. Back in the day we did: there's a huge Tesco between the station and home, and we'd often pop in for some basics. Then I had a problem and a 30 minute wait at the till one Bank Holiday morning, a row that ended up with me chasing a manager around the aisles as they tried to dodge my questions. It wasn't Tesco's - or my - proudest moment, to be frank. 

After that, we started walking the other way to our local Waitrose: that's the thing about Finchley, we're spoiled for choice. There's a Sainsburys a few hundred yards past Waitrose, an Aldi in between them (should we ever need to buy a wetsuit, a calculator AND a pint of milk), as well as 20 or so small, independent food places representing pretty much every continent, and it''s all in walking distance.

It was that latter group we were thinking of when we joined the campaign to stop a Tesco Metro moving in to the disused petrol station opposite. It was all a little underhand frankly, with mysterious shell companies, misquoted planning regulations and a bizarre logic that it would only affect the footfall from the big supermarkets. That seemed unlikely and, given that a father and son team from Romania had just spent their life-savings on a convenience store four doors away from the proposed Tesco site, we joined the protest. Not only did "we" win - the first time Tesco had been refused permission in London, apparently - the father and son are still trading AND the site became a Majestic Wine warehouse.

All of  this is a long way of building up to the fact that... I'm taking part in the Tesco BBQ Challenge. Yeah, that's got you spluttering, hasn't it? Nah, I know it hasn't. I'm grateful if anyone reads this, and I very much doubt anyone's hanging on my every word or - Gawd help 'em - is looking to me for advice, moral guidance and life lessons. 

The thing is... I like barbecue. I like anything that gives me an excuse to build fires (or shove a can up a chicken's bottom). I like a good, old-fashioned, battle of the sexes. And, while I might rant after a pint or three and tilt at corporate windmills, I can appreciate that supermarkets have a part to play in modern life. Also, having judged at the Quality Food Awards for the last five years, I know there are some blooming good supermarket products out there.

Most of all though, with the annual show approaching at our allotment, we needed a new barbecue so, when Tesco came knocking offering a new grill in exchange for a few ideas and recipes, I wasn't going to say no. Cheap? Maybe, but I much prefer to think of it as "practical"

So, in the coming weeks, I shall be researching marinades, testing some recipes, making a LOT of spicy, sticky sauces and, let's face it, eating a lot of sausages. My, that will make a change, won't it?

If you've got any suggestions, ideas or killer recipes, feel free to send 'em across. Or, of course, join the challenge yourself...

12 August 2011

Broadcast (Old) News


With an ever growing list of outstanding blogposts to write, I'm trying to pull my finger out a little. There's a slight concern that I'm going to look somewhat piggy: quite frankly, it's going to look like I'm the sort of person who eats like Michael Winner every day when, actually, I only do that about, er, every other day. Oh well. If the cap fits... it's doing better than the trousers. Obviously. 

First though, a little self-blowing of brass instruments, and a long overdue post. Back in May, I was invited on to the Hawksbee & Jacobs show on Talksport to chat about the life of the food writer. Andy Jacobs referred to me at one point as a food enthusiast which could be a euphemism for fat but is probably the closest anyone's come to describing what I do.

Apart from the top of my head appearing on TV during an old Mary Whitehouse Experience ("see the back of that head? That's you, that is") and offering drunken approval of a Giancarlo Caldesi cookery course on an episode of Return To Tuscany, I've not done anything remotely like this before, so the nerves were chirping away as I got the to the studio. However Andy and colleague Paul Hawksbee put me at ease and the planned 15 minutes or so flew - to the extent that the actual tasting bit at the end was a bit of a rush. 

Still, a big thank you to the chaps at Mooli's for the full collection of wraps, Gelupo Gelato for the six flavours of ice cream and Petra at WEST for a few bottles of the excellent St Mungo. Judging by the expression, Andy seemed to enjoy the chicken Mooli.

Should you be interested, the show's still online and I'm on just after 3pm... A brilliant experience. Cheers gents.

4 August 2011

Grillers In The Mist

There is something about a barbecue, isn't there? From the strange allure it has over all men, to the inevitable over-ordering of food, via the increased chances of rain, the barbecue casts an undoubted spell. I'm sure someone can throw some psychological light on the subject - man come, make fire, etc., - but that's not important right now. What is important is to say yes when somebody e mails and says would you like some steaks and red wine? Is this  trick question? You do know me, right? What do YOU think? 

The offer came from the lovely people of Septima, makers of a warm and peppery, dangerously drinkable Malbec, who were offering large chunks of Agentinean beef and bottles of their ruby-coloured elixir in return for a bit of a blogpost and a few Tweets as we were cooking. In other words, it was free meat and booze to do exactly what I would have done anyway. 

As a flat-dweller, with only limited access to a garden, I decided the grilling would be a little wasted in the normal run of things and so arranged it for a weekend I'd be in Stoke, where Adam and I could enjoy a drink or two, kick start proceedings with some bacon-stuffed oatcakes, put some proper music on, prep a load of food and then borrow his parents' garden for a cook-out. And that's exactly what we did. Obviously the weather didn't play ball - in fact, it slung it down for the best part of 24 hours - so the views of the surrounding countryside were somewhat restricted but the grilling area was sheltered, the Septima warmed and, in fact, the only real difference was we ate inside instead of in the garden.

A few days before heading to Stoke, I'd read a line about the true difference between men and women being that men can't cater for small numbers. I was reminded of that as Ad and I stepped back from the kitchen after an afternoon of shopping and prepping. Over there, the beer can chicken. Here a pork loin, happily marinating away in red wine and spices. Besides that, a couple of plates of enormous homemade burgers. Next to them, a couple of packs of sausages, a platter of ribs, a huge bowl of guacamole, a dish of feisty Asian-style coleslaw (cheers Sabrina) and, last but definitely not least, six fist sized lumps of excellent South American cow. "How many are we cooking for again?" I asked. "Eight adults, four kids," came the reply. "Although my mum will have sorted stuff for the kids." Score one then for whoever came up with that above mentioned quote - unless a sensible daily intake involves a massive piece of fillet, a lump of pork tenderloin, three burgers, several slices of chicken, half a pig's worth of ribs and two-and-a-bit sausages per head.

I shall let Ad discuss the joys of his excellent, oh-so-moist beer can chicken - after all, it was his nephews and nieces most likely to be traumatised by the sight of their uncle shoving a can of lager up a chicken's bottom - and I'll get to the tenderloin and Niamh's excellent ribs another time, because the main event - certainly as far as the chaps were concerned - was the steak, and damned fine it was too. 

 Wet aged, they cooked beautifully for both the requested rare and medium / well, developing a nice, even crust but retaining a soft pink centre, even after 15-20 minutes on the grill. With a few minutes rest, they sliced with ease, and the flavour was excellent, with the beef taste backed up with a delicious hint of iron / slight gaminess. Unsurprisingly, the Malbec - well, the little bit we'd managed to save - was a fine match, ditto the beetroot and horseradish sauce kindly donated by the chaps at The Kitchens at Horsley. It was a very good day.