Category Archives: Food

Giving It Rice

Twenty years ago if you offered the ma and da a nice bowl of rice when they came round to Sunday tea they’d be as astonished, nay, dismayed as if you’d quit your religion. How times have changed. Today’s parents drag their toddlers kicking and screaming to the Chinese or the curry shop soon as they’re old enough to grasp a fork.

Here’s the lowdown on rice:

Basmati: king of accompaniment rices, firm-textured, full-flavoured and, cooked properly, every grain rolling. Buy basmati in 10kg sacks if you have somewhere to store them. It’s no exaggeration to say that the flavour of basmati matures, like good wine.

Thai fragrant: Softer, stickier, fluffier when cooked than basmati. So much so that it’s easy to overcook. It’s unique flavour makes Thai fragrant rice the perfect accompaniment to Thai or Chinese food.

Italian rice: Abrorio superfino and carnaroli are the most commonly available varieties, though there are others. Essential in risotti. The distinctive, rugby-ball shaped grains absorb liquids and flavours from anything that’s cooked with it. Cook with the minimum of water, topping up as necessary. Stir constantly and don’t take your eyes of the pan or it will stick and burn.

Spanish rice: Used for paella and other dishes. The best comes from Calasparra in Murcia. The most frequently seen variety (though hard to find here) is bomba which, like its Italian equivalents, is capable of absorbing enormous amounts of water.

Short grain ‘pudding rice’: My mum made exquisite rice pudding but the secret died with her. Mine are woeful so I’ve given up on fluffy, sticky sweet rice concoctions until I have time to experiment (watch this space). Don’t under any circumstances be tempted to use it as a basmati substitute. The resulting congealed mass will do nothing to enhance your chicken balti.

Brown rice: You don’t need a PhD in nutrition to know that this must be a hell of a sight better for you than the huskless, polished white varieties. Fine. For my part I hate the muddy flavour and the coarse texture. It reminds me of vegetarian food from the era when it was really dire. Sorry.

Wild rice: Not actually rice at all, but an aquatic grass with slightly less taste than a Bernard Manning joke. Deepest black in colour, a small quantity mixed through white rice can heighten the visual appeal. Overused, it’s a total cliché. And it’s expensive.

Dirty rice: New Orleans dish of rice cooked with chicken gizzards. Not for the faint-hearted.

If you cook any amount of rice, get yourself a rice kettle, they simplify rice cookery a treat. This is my favourite rice recipe. Try it with grilled or roasted meats, mild curries, or on its own with Greek yoghurt and chutney.

RISO ERNESTO
1 tbsp vegetable, corn or peanut oil
1 small knob butter
1/2 tsp powdered allspice
1/4 tsp salt
tiny pinch turmeric
1 medium-sized onion, chopped fine
2 cups basmati rice
zest of an orange
1 tbsp flaked almonds
1 tbsp dried apricots, chopped or yellow sultanas
Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan, until the butter melts. Add the spices, salt and onion and cook just until the onion turns yellow. Lower the heat and add the other ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir round in the oil for a further minute. If you have a rice kettle, transfer the rice to it and follow the instructions. Otherwise add enough boiling water to the saucepan to cover the rice by about an inch. Cover and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until the water is absorbed and the rice ‘al dente’.Giving It Rice

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So you wannabe a restaurant reviewer???

Got to be the best job in the world? People actually pay you to go out and eat and drink, lucky beggar! But before you fill in the application form, consider…

You arrive at the restaurant on time and spend twenty frustrating minutes in reception while they find you a table. This means the restaurant has overbooked.

Eventually they find you a table, but it’s ‘smoking’ when you requested a non-smoking one. The table is also perilously near the kitchen door, waiters rush past carrying laden trays and the smell of everyone else’s dinner wafts through your nostrils before you get yours.

No one comes near you for twenty minutes. Eventually a waiter ambles up and says “Hi guys, everyone here?” This seems pretty obvious as you are only two people seated at a table for two. Anyhow, before you can reply the waiter disappears and you have to shout after him to get the menu and wine list.

Your pre-prandial Martini has OD’d on sweet vermouth. Your companion’s Campari “Ice, no soda” comes with orange juice.

You scan the wine list. It is small and disappointingly mainstream. You would like to drink New Zealand Sauvignon blanc but the only bottle on offer is a ’98 and you know it will be knackered. The only other half-decent white is a bog-standard Chablis, for which they have the nerve to charge 42 euro.

Above your head is a loudspeaker playing ‘foreground music’, a medley of 70s hits. Requests to have it turned down are ignored.

Your starter arrives. The scallops are queens, overcooked, shrunk to the size of frozen peas and tough as rubber bullets. Your companion’s starter is a Caesar salad in name only.

The main course comes . The Chablis is actually not bad, so you order a second bottle. It turns out to be from a different vintage. The sommelier does not ask you to taste but pours it into your glass, which is still half full of wine from the first bottle.

The concasse that surrounded your scallops reappears as the ‘sauce’ for your companion’s osso buco which, when tasted you find is made with beef, not veal. The ‘caviar’ accompanying your black sole is actually salmon roe. The waiter says “I’ll go and ask the chef.” He never returns.

Your original waiter has gone off shift between courses and a stranger is now attending on you. Vegetables arrive. They are the ubiquitous “Irish flag” of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the microwaveable dentist’s dish. Amazingly, the broccoli is near-raw yet the cauliflower is cooked to a mush.

You search in vain for a second grape in the fresh food salad, which is 99% comprised of apples and oranges. The cheeseboard’s total offering is chalky under-ripe brie and ‘mousetrap’ cheddar. With stale cream crackers.

Your cappuccino tastes like water has been passed through the grouts of the previous coffee. The petit fours advertised on the menu do not arrive.

Your dining companion has OD’d on the wine. She insists you have a second coffee, pours it from her cafetière. Alas she misses your cup and pours boiling coffee over your wrist.

You tell the waiter “no your meal wasn’t really very good” and he brings you a free sambucca. You actually bloody hate sambucca!

Service is added to the bill – at 14.5 per cent. You pay by credit card. They have thoughtfully left the total blank so you can add a tip. You ask the restaurant to call a taxi. They forget and you ask again. It takes 45 minutes to arrive.

Next day you are violently ill…

In 20-odd years of reviewing restaurants all the above has happened to me. Though not necessarily on the same night.

Culinary Terms Explained Part 1

EVER READ A WORD IN A RECIPE INSTRUCTION AND NOT KNOWN WHAT IT MEANT?
RELAX, HERE’S THE LOWDOWN

aioli
The garlic-flavoured mayonnaise known as the ‘butter of Provence’ which is an essential accompaniment to many of the fish and vegetable dishes from that region.

a l’anglaise
Vegetables, meat and fish prepared in a plain, straightforward way. Reflects the traditional French view of English cooking.

al dente
Italian for ‘to the tooth’, this describes food which has been cooked just to the point where it gives slight resistance to the bite. Often misinterpreted by cooks to mean ‘a chalky consistency’. Properly reserved for dried pasta and rice, but now commonly used to refer to vegetables.

antipasto/antipasti
An Italian term for cold hors d’oeuvres. Usually an assortment of hams, salami, cheeses and marinated or dressed vegetables.

aspic
Savoury jelly made from clarified stock used to coat meats, poultry, fish and vegetables

bain marie
A deep tray of hot water into which dishes requiring cooking at a low even temperature are placed prior to being put in the oven. In a professional kitchen the term is also used to describe a large water tray on top of the stove for keeping sauces stable and warm.

baking blind
Cooking a pasty case or shell for a tart before adding the filling (if there is to be little or no further cooking). It is normal to line the case first with baking paper and weight it with beans, either kidney beans kept for the purpose or ceramic ones.

ballotine
Cushion or ball-shaped roll made from birds or cuts of meat that have been boned and stuffed.

béchamel
A white sauce made by combining hot flavoured or seasoned milk with a flour and butter roux

beurre manié
Equal proportions of butter and white flour worked to a paste and stirred in small pieces into a hot sauce or a stew at a late stage to thicken it. The flour does not taste raw even after brief cooking. See also ‘roux’

blanching
A brief preparatory cooking of food in copious quantities of boiling water (to fix colour, remove pungency or excess saltiness, or partially cook), followed by immediate refreshing in cold water

bouillon
Plain unclarified broth made by boiling meat and/or vegetables usually used for making soups and sauces.

bouquet garni
A small bunch of mixed fresh herbs, either tied with string or wrapped in a muslin or paper sachet and used to flavour soups, stews and stocks, then removed before serving.

braising
A method of cooking which involves browning meat (usually tough cuts) and/or vegetables then adding a small quantity of liquid before covering the pot and slowly simmering until tender.

brûlé
The French term means ‘burnt’. The process of caramelizing a sugar topping by applying heat with a blowtorch or placing the dish under a hot grill.

brunoise
Small dice of celery, carrot, onions and, sometimes, leeks used in soups and stews. The vegetables are usually consumed with the meat, not strained out.

carpaccio
Fifteenth-century Venetian painter! Alternatively, a dish invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice using thinly sliced raw beef accompanied by a yukky mayonnaise-based sauce. Now extended to mean thin slices of raw meat or fish, particularly salmon or tuna, with or without sauce.

caul, crépinette
The lacy lining of an animal’s stomach, used to line terrine moulds and to wrap patties, sausages, and, occasionally, stuffed joints of meat.

chiffonade
A preparation of salad leaves or herbs such as parsley made by cutting them into even shreds or strips

chowder
A soup of near stew-like consistency believed to be Breton in origin but re-imported into Europe from North America. Made with fish, clams and other seafood and often sweetcorn, the liquid content is usually milk and it is thickened with potatoes. From chaudière, the name of the vessel chowder was originally cooked in

clarifying
Expensive and time-consuming process whereby egg white, chopped vegetables and finely minced meat (or fish) are added to a cold stock, which is then slowly heated and simmered for one hour. The egg white attracts all the impurities in the stock, forming a thick crust on the surface. After careful straining, the result is crystal-clear consommé.

coating consistency
A liquid is said to have a coating consistency when it will coat the back of a metal spoon and a finger run across it will leave a clear channel. Mainly used when describing sauces and custards.

confit
Lightly salted duck or goose cooked slowly in its own fat and then preserved in that fat (originally a by-product of foie gras production). The term is now widely misapplied on restaurant menus to practically anything.

coulis
A puréed savoury or sweet sauce with one predominant ingredient, such as tomatoes or raspberries.

dashi
Japanese stock made from dried tuna, seaweed and soy sauce. It is the basis of many Japanese dishes and may be bought ready-made in packets. Many brands are high in MSG.

daube
French wine-enriched stew, almost always beef in red wine.

dauphinoise (à la)
A simple classic method of cooking potatoes where they are cut into taillons (round slices) and baked with single cream in a gratin dish that has been rubbed with garlic and butter. A variation, gratin dauphinoise is often made by pouring a mixture of eggs, milk and cream over the slices and sprinkling the dish with grated cheese. Not to be confused with

dauphine potatoes
Potatoes reduced to a purée, added to choux paste then rolled into balls and fried in very hot fat.

dariole
A small deep round mould with sloping sides, or the preparation cooked in such a mould.

deglazing
After sautéing, frying or roasting meat, poultry or fish, the cooked food is removed from the pan and a little wine, sherry, spirits or stock added to the juices. The residue is boiled vigorously while scraping the pan to incorporate the browned bits stuck to the base of the pan. The process produces a tasty sauce.

degorge, dégorger
A French term meaning to soak meat, poultry or offal in cold water to eliminate impurities and blood for ‘white dishes’ or, in the case of fish, to dispel muddy flavours

devilled
The name given to dishes with a piquant or hot marinade, spice mixture or sauce, usually based on mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne and paprika, Tabasco etc.

Dutch oven
A large heavy cooking pot with a close fitting lid, authentically made of cast iron.

emulsion
A preparation obtained by dispersing one kind of liquid in another with which it will not mix – oil and vinegar being the common case. These will only blend chemically with the use of an emulsifier such as egg yolk.

entrée
An oft misunderstood term, many people think it’s the ‘starter’. Today it is usually the main course of a meal but in a full French menu it is the third course, following the hors d’oeuvre or soup and the fish course and preceding the roast.

escalope
A thin slice of meat or fish, usually cut across the grain. Originally referred to veal, now extended.

fond
Literally ‘base’, this is the French word for any stock.

ganache
A flavoured cream made with chocolate and fresh cream, sometimes with butter added. Used for desserts and in truffle making. Created in Paris, circa 1850.

gratin
One of the most misunderstood of culinary terms and nothing to do with ‘grating’. It is food cooked in a sauce in a shallow dish and finished in the oven or under a grill to produce a crust. The process usually involves the use of breadcrumbs or grated cheese.

gremolata
A flavouring mixture consisting of finely chopped garlic and parsley combined with grated lemon zest.

gribiche
A cold sauce based on mayonnaise in which the raw egg yolk is replaced by hard-boiled egg yolk. Capers, fines gherbes and chopped cooked egg white is often added.

julienne
Any food cut into matchstick-sized strips, most usually vegetables or citrus peel, and then used as a flavouring or garnish.

jus
Short for jus de viande (meat juices), this term is used for a dressing that is halfway between a gravy and a sauce. It offers the speed of the former with the complex flavours of the latter. In recent years this simple graphic term has been sorely abused and such monstrosities as ‘garlic’ jus, ‘aubergine jus’ appear on restaurant menus everywhere.

kneading
The process by which a dough is made smoother. A firm pressing, turning and stretching with the handdevelopes the gluten in the flour and traps gas released by fermenting yeast, making the dough lighter. But over-kneading can toughen dough.

knocking back
Briefly kneading, folding or punching down a yeast dough after the first proving or rising.

lardons
Strips of bacon, salt pork or pancetta which are usually blanched to remove excessive salt then either sautéed until crisp for salads or added to casseroles.

macédoine
Cubed vegetables or fruit), most often seen as a salad. Also used to describe a bigger version of brunoise.

marinating
Immersing food in a liquid (usually wine or oil/vinegar, seasonings and herbs) to flavour, tenderize and prevent food drying out when it is cooked. Occasionally marinades are used to ‘cook’ raw food like ceviche or gravlax.

mille feuille
Literally ‘thousand leaves’ – a pastry consisting of thin layers of puff pastry separated by layers of cream or other fillings, sweet or savoury. Now frequently distorted by chefs to embrace any layered preparation.

Culinary Terms Explained Part 2

minestrone
A substantial Italian vegetable soup. Again, a word debased by menu writers – we’ve even seen ‘minestrone of white, light and dark chocolate’, a total nonsense.

mignonette pepper
Very coarsely ground black pepper used in dishes such as steak au poivre. The simplest way to achieve the correct texture is to loosen the nut on top of a pepper mill.

mirepoix
Small dice of aromatic vegetables like celery, carrot and onions, used in stocks and stews to be sieved and discarded after the flavours have been absorbed into the cooking liquid. Sometimes confused on menus with brunoise.

parboiling
The process of partly cooking food by boiling it before applying some other form of cooking, such as potatoes for roasting.

pâté
This word has 3 meanings:
1. Pie. Strictly speaking, a pâté is a pastry shell filled with meat, vegetables or fruit, baked in the oven and eaten hot or cold.
2. A game, meat, fish or, nowadays, vegetable preparation put into a dish (sometimes lined with bacon) and always served cold. The correct term for this is a terrine but pâté is now in common usage .
3. A rich game, meat or fish mixture cooked in a pastry crust is called pâté en croute.

pâté sucrée
Sweet short-crust pastry, used for tarts.

pilaf
Persian in origin, this term describes a rice dish which involves all liquids and flavourings being added together, the rice then being covered and cooked until tender.

reducing
The process of boiling down a sauce, stock or gravy to concentrate the flavour Impurities are thrown to the surface and can be skimmed off

refreshing
Plunging any cooked foods briefly into very cold water to arrest the cooking process. Do not leave food more than a minute in the water or flavours will be leached out

risotto
Italian dish of Arborio (or similar) rice: the rice is first sautéed in butter or oil and then hot stock is added a ladleful at a time until the rice is cooked al dente. Other flavouring and garnishing ingredients (such as mushrooms, saffron and cheese) are added at various stages during the process.

roux
Briefly, flour and fat cooked together before the addition of hot liquid. Used primarily as the thickening agent in sauces, any roux must be cooked with the liquid for a relatively long period to eliminate the flavour of the raw flour

rub in
To mix fat, including butter or margarine into dry ingredients, usually flour, using the fingertips to achieve a breadcrumb-like consistency

sabayon
French name for zabaglione, a light foamy dessert made by whsiking egg yolks, fortified wine and sugar together over gentle heat. Extended by chefs to include flavoured sweet sauces made in the same manner. There are also savoury sabayons.

salamander
Term used in a professional kitchen for a grill where the heat comes from above

salmis
Classic French way of cooking duck and other game birds whereby the bird is first roasted whole and then jointed for subsequent stewing in a rich sauce. The rare breast is sometimes served first without any further cooking as a separate dish. A contraction of an old word ‘salmigondis.’

saltimbocca
Meaning ‘jump in the mouth’, presumably because the Italians found it so tasty, this traditional Roman dish consists of a veal escalope topped with a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf, briefly sautéed and finished with a simple Marsala sauce.

sashimi
Japanese raw fish preparation usually served with soy sauce, wasabi and various vegetables.

sauté
From the French for ‘to jump’, this means the shallow frying of (usually smallish pieces of) food in an open pan with fat to brown and cook until done. The food is usually turned regularly to ensure uniform browning and the process may be brief or lengthy, depending on the tenderness of the food. Liquid should only be added after the primary ingredient is finished and removed from the pan.

short pastry
Basic pie dough. Pastry most used for pastry cases or pies, with a high ratio of fat to flour and a low moisture content.

singeing
Rotating poultry and game over a gas flame or blowtorch to remove the last vestige of feather or fur before cooking

soubise
A name given to dishes containing an onion sauce – usually a béchamel into which lightly fried onions have been incorporated.

soufflé
A hot preparation, sweet or savoury, served straight from the oven so that it is risen well above the height of the mould in which it is cooked.

spatchcocking
Technique of splitting a small bird in half down the back, flattening it out, skewering and cooking on a spit, grill or barbecue

steaming
The cooking of food over boiling water or aromatic stock with no direct contact other than with the generated steam. Suitable for fish and other delicate food. The current appeal of steaming vegetables is a mystery since the more rapid process of blanching is vastly preferable from every point of view (including nutritional).

stewing
The slow simmering of food in liquid with or without initial browning.

stir-frying
Chinese technique whereby small pieces of food are rapidly fried over a high heat with a small amount of (often flavoured) oil while tossing and stirring. A wok is not essential,

supreme
The skinless breast and wing bone of a fowl. (The term is sometimes also used to glamourize fish fillets on restaurant menus.)

sushi
Japanese stick-rice rolls, usually with fish or other seafood in the middle

sweating
Preliminary slow cooking (usually onions and other vegetables) in oil or fat to extract moisture and flavour, normally without browning. An essential first step in making vegetable soups.

tenderizing
Beating meat with a steak mallet to make it more tender. Alternatively, meat can be tenderized by marinating.

terrine
An ovenproof, deep loaf shaped, dish made of glazed earthenware ware or porcelain. Also often used to facilitate the assembly of chopped raw (and sometimes cooked) food. Dishes cooked in this container are also called terrines.

thinning
Adding a liquid such a milk, stock, or consommé to a sauce to render it less thick.

Timbale
Originally a small metal drinking vessel, today the word has been adapted to refer to a small high-sided mould and, by extension, the food cooked in it.

tournedos
A small round steak cut from the thickest part of the fillet
weighing 120-170g and trimmed of all sinew and fat
A luxurious and expensive beef cut

unmould
To turn out a dish from a tin or mould, often a delicate operation.

velouté
Basic white sauce made with a white veal or chicken stock or fish fumet and thickened with a white or golden roux.

vanning, vanner (van-nay)
Stirring a hot sauce back and forth with a wooden spatula until cold. The object is to keep the sauce smooth and prevent a skin forming. Alternatively shaking the pan gently back and forth during the cooking process to help thicken a sauce.

vert-cuit
A French culinary term used when food is cooked very lightly and served almost raw. Usually vegetables but occasionally used for feathered game, particularly duck and woodcock cooked in this manner.

Onion Soup

Once upon a time I owned a café. wholesale nba jerseys I bought a going – well, limping – business in a street where swanky Dublin 2 glares at iffy Dublin 1, separated only by the murky Liffey and by differing aspirations. The connecting bridge is named after a religious fanatic who enjoyed the peculiar hobby of hanging himself in chains and, boy, do I know how he felt. With the benefit of hindsight, before I bought I should have wholesale jerseys China set out a folding chair and a sleeping bag on the pavement across the road, the better to observe the passing trade but life’s not like that. Not for a catering Quasimodo, handicapped by the hump of optimism.
The cheap jerseys kitchen equipment listed in the schedule of fixtures and fittings wouldn’t have found a buyer off the back of Del Boy’s van. The deep fat fryer was a death trap, its innards a well of congealed oil only a spark short of a bonfire. I paid well over the odds for the good, I mean ill-will.

The previous owner was a storyteller, in the J.K.Rowling league. He told me he’d MuhmadEmad built up a prosperous business from scratch. Now he wanted to take a year off and breed tropical fish before launching an operation that would make McDonald’s look like a backstreet chipper. Yeah, right. The sub-text went something like this: “I’m working longer and longer hours just in case someone rocks up. My libido is wrecked; wholesale nba jerseys my wife has shacked up with the guy who installed the sprinkler system. Only person who eats here is my bank manager – to make sure I don’t do a runner.”
Still, location, location, location and all that. I glowed with self-approval as one of the world’s largest accounting firms and a substantial bank moved Boston into palatial headquarters round the corner. I re-equipped and refurbished. Alas, I hadn’t reckoned with the proximity of the heroin treatment clinic and the fact that we were on the natural route between the run-down tenements and shoplifters’ Valhalla, Grafton Street. Teapots, condiment sets, even the odd chair walked out the door. We had to resort to drilling minute holes in the teaspoons so the ‘brass monkeys’ wouldn’t nick them for fettling coke – and I don’t mean cola. Knowing as much as I do now, I’d run a marathon before I’d sign the lease again. Still, I’m glad I had the courage to put my foodie money where my foodie mouth was. As the song (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered) says “I burned a lot and learned a lot.” I still meet a few of my old testz customers who relished my quixotic attempt to make the chargrilled aubergine Ireland’s national dish; cheap mlb jerseys who loved my bespoke breakfasts; who sussed my cappuccino was the best in town. These same aficionados usually ask for the recipe for my onion soup. I always demur…

Ah, what the hell. I’ve put the recipe up.