Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Halloween

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Usually every Halloween, hubby and I have our nearest and dearest round for a horror film night.


Our guests always bring sweet treats for us - I'm poo at baking, but my brothers-in-law's girlfriends are extremely talented - see below ...


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I always decorate the house is a vaguely spooky way, but usually I don't bother dressing up myself.

This year however, I made an exception, for reasons I shall explain in
another post ...


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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

MasterChef The Professionals Final 2009 - Pt 2 (TV Review)

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This blog post is brought to you by the letter "P" for "pain" as I have just sliced open a knuckle on a can of corned beef (mmm mmm, aren't I fancy?).

MASTERCHEF! The extravaganza continues. I've even made you a Spotify Playlist to soundtrack this post so you can relive every mother-loving moment.

How much India Fisher can we take? 90 minutes as it turns out. So Steve, Daniel and Marianne have just delighted a roomful of Michelin stars and the opening chords of the most overused song in the TV world* means it's time for the final cook-off - they must produce the best three courses of their career so far.

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L-R: Dan, Marianne, Steve

But first, an interminable X Factor style recap on the lives of each of the contestants begins. I find this excruciating partly because hello! they should be judging them on the quality of their food and not their family background, and partly because I've been there - I was on University Challenge a few years back (no recording exists, so don't ask) and the BBC filmed a similar segment about me. It was so mortifying just thinking about it makes me teary, so I'm sure Steve, Marianne and Dan didn't enjoy doing it either.

However,
thankfully these flashbacks also deign to cover their culinary journey thus far.

Steve's greatest hits include his Smoky Egg, his Banana Cake with Guinness Ice Cream and his Sweet Shop on a Slate.

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Daniel's culinary highlights included his Beetroot and Curd Salad, his Tequila Dessert Trio and his Peach Melba.

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Marianne's story is soundtracked by the second most overused piece of music in TV**. If I hear that she's a private chef one more time I'll throw the remote at the telly. Her high notes included her Rhubarb Tarte Tatin, her High Tea Tower that Michel Roux Snr adored and her Mango Dessert Trio.

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Emotional recap over - Michel reminds us once more that Daniel, Steve and Marianne need to "cook out of their skins" and it's time for the MasterChef Showdown (cue shite remix of Morricone's The Ecstasy of Gold).

As they cook, Gregg and Michel roam around the MasterChef set like a pair of creepy uncles, alternating between trying to psyche out the finalists, and huddling together to whisper over-loud non sequiturs.

Marianne insists that there's no reason she shouldn't walk away with that crown - seriously dear, it's just a pseudo @ symbol - but she's the last to dish up when the crappy alarm that signals the end of their cooking time goes off.

Their menus in full:

Marianne
  • Skate Tartlet, Poached Gull's Egg, Plum Tomatoes, Caper Butter
  • Poached and Roasted Guinea Fowl Supreme, Garlic and Chervil Stuffed Ballotine of Guinea Fowl Leg, Baby Leeks, Creamy Mash, Truffle and Madeira Jus
  • Rhubarb and Raspberry Souffle, Pink Pralines, Rhubarb poached in Grand Marnier, Clotted Cream

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Steve
  • Roast Quail with Morels, Asparagus, Quail Scotch Egg
  • Venison Loin, Potato Rosti, Watercress Puree, Roasted Beetroot, Red Wine Game Jus
  • Millefeuille of Raspberries and Bitter Chocolate, Lavender and Honey Ice Cream

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Daniel
  • Grilled Asparagus, Iberico Ham, Poached Gull's Egg Dressing, Parmesan Foam, Pea Shoot Garnish
  • Turbot, Petits Pois Bonne Femme, Creamy Pea Bacon Veloute Sauce, Sauted Potatoes, Crispy Leeks
  • Warm Chocolate Fondant, Pistachio Ice Cream, Pistachio Tuile Biscuit

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VERDICTS:

Marianne's tart pastry's sublime and the egg perfect, but the butter's burnt. Her guinea fowl main course is a heavenly dream. Her use of pink pralines in the souffle is inspired (inspired by you, Michel, cos she nicked them off your chocolate creation dessert at the Michelin Star Dinner), but the clotted cream adds nothing. Oh, stop crying, love.

Steve's quail starter is stunning and Michel is flabbergasted at the thought of a quail Scotch Egg. Christ Michel, that rivals Kevin Pietersen's astonishment at the egg/asparagus combo. His venison main has bags of flavour and Michel cannot find fault. Steve's millefeuille shows skill and precision, "the raspberries are all the same height", chocolate not too bitter and pastry perfectly crisp. However, Michel hates the lavender and honey ice cream and I think "good" cos it's a cheeky rip-off of our mate Mat's dessert, winner of this year's non-professional MasterChef.

According to Michel, Daniel's starter is dressed "beautifully and elegantly". According to me, it looks like a plate of sick. And apparently the parmesan foam is too strong which makes me heave even more. Michel's not bowled over, though Gregg thinks it light and well-flavoured. Dan's turbot main has a glaring mistake though - its bad-tasting dark skin has not been removed. The fish itself is spot on though, as are all the accompaniments. As for his dessert, the tuile also appears to be "inspired" by Michel's chocolate creation - moreover there's fon-DONT fail as its insides are only a bit gooey rather than runny. The star of the show is Dan's pistachio ice cream.

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Dan's starter - you can even see the natty bits

So the judges have digested, cogitated and deliberated ...

Who's going to win?
Who's the future culinary genius?
And who's got that little bit extra?


There can be only one - and it's Smoky Egg Steve!

Today This Could Be-e the Greatest Day of Steve's Li-ife - sing it with me!

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From the very start, Steve showed glimpses of rare and mad genius with his wood-smoked egg, his turbot with red wine bow tie in honour of Keith Floyd, his sweetshop on a plate.


I really think Gregg and Michel (pff, like Gregg had anything to do with it) made the right decision.

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And though this has no bearing on his cookery skills, Steve was modest and funny throughout the series.

He proved himself even more smish-able when during a live chat with MasterChef fans, his first message was "Dan, what's your favourite colour?" to which Daniel replied "Pink".

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Sigh, I love it when a nice guy wins (see further Mat Follas).

What Steve wins as MasterChef, apart from the delightful trophy, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I'd love for him to be able to open his own restaurant off the back of this.

However, Steve is currently a chef at Launceston Place with the equally lovely Tristan Welch, so I recommend
in the meantime we all go stalk the pair of them try his food there.


*Unfinished Sympathy (Massive Attack)
**Perpetuum Mobile (Penguin Cafe Orchestra)


Read Part 1 here

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Till we meet again ...

All screencaps/photos copyright BBC except the Q&A screengrab copyright The Times

Sunday, 25 October 2009

MasterChef The Professionals Final 2009 - Pt 1 (TV Review)

Professional MasterChef 2009 Finalists

Cooking doesn't get better than this!

And so we've reached the final of MasterChef the Professionals 2009. At the start, we saw such abominations as the girl who sliced butter on a board covered in rabbit blood, the lads who butchered chickens in the bad sense of the word, and people who seem to have never made a pancake in their lives. Thankfully, these so-called professionals were screened out by the marvellously terrifying Monica Galetti - Kiwi sous-chef to Michel Roux Jnr and a fab new addition to MasterChef.

However, now it's just down to Michel and Gregg to decide just who will take the coveted title and win a small plastic trophy that looks a bit like the @ symbol.

Voiceover lady intones "Steve, Marianne and Daniel have BATTLED their way through EXTREME competion to face their ULTIMATE tests. At the end of this show just one of these three will be CROWNED Professional MasterChef 2009".

Hyperbole aside, it will be tough since all three have shown signs of real talent throughout.

"Steve" is 28 year old Steve Groves, an emininently endearing Rowland Rivron lookalike with a cheeky smile and an eccentric touch who I'll always know as Smokey Egg Steve for his amazing poached egg concoction bathed in a cloche of smoke which made Gregg and Michel giggle like a pair of naughty schoolboys.

"Marianne" is pastry queen Marianne Lumb, a classical, private chef with a sweet manner, a slightly disconcerting grin, a pleading look in her eyes that says "Please don't make me cook for Bono again. Please", and an unfortunate tendency to undercook meat.

"Daniel" is 27 year old Newcastle lad Daniel Graham, again a fairly classical chef, producing beautiful food of consistently high quality, whilst looking like an extra in Emmerdale.

Michel's been impressed so far, but wants more from our finalists. "We know our finalists can cook. But today they're going to have to cook out of their skins". I'm wondering if that sounds less mad in French.

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Their first challenge is to cook Michel's own recipes for 30 specially invited guests who between them hold over 40 Michelin stars, including the great Albert Roux (Michel's papa and where he gets his boggly eyes from), and the equally illustrious Anton Mosimann.

Daniel's making one of Le Gavroche's signature starters of Beef Tartare served on Brioche Toast topped with poached Gull's Egg, dressed with Mayonnaise, Truffle Dressing and Truffle Slices and served with Asparagus and Potato Crisps.

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Steve is tasked with making Roast Duck Breast, Towers of Macaroni Discs layered with Confit Duck, Butternut Squash and Amaretti finished with a Parmesan Gratin, Carrots and Turnips served two ways and a Duck and Port Jus.

To hold its shape, the macaroni is first roasted in butter and then simmered in veal stock till al dente. Once cooked, the macaroni is covered in reduced stock glaze to squidge them into corrugated sheets and then cut into perfect discs. Not sure I'll be adding that to my macaroni cheese recipe any time soon.

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Marianne's making Chocolate Truffle Mousse on a Crispy Praline Base served with a Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, three perfect blocks of Rum Jelly and a Pink Praline Tuile, a favourite at Le Gavroche.

The praline are rice crispie cakes with an "unexpected sensory twist" which will "elevate them to Michelin standards". What magic is this? Well, Michel calls them "crackle crystals" - popping candy to you and me. Old hat, Michel - they're even using it on Come Dine with Me. Marianne muffs it up anyway by mixing the stuff with warm liquid, thus getting a premature snap, crackle and pop.

The jelly doesn't set properly either, but Marianne declares she won't let anything come between her and "that tiara" (eh? Wrong show, love). She shoves it in the freezer for 90 minutes but it's still too loose, leading Michel to stare at it and say "Weird, isn't it?". Maybe chucking in a whole bottle of rum has something to do with it? Nope, apparently it's because she hasn't followed his recipe to the letter.

Meanwhile Steve has spent 4 hours just making the components for his macaroni towers - now he has to assemble them. And roast 18 ducks at the same time.

Back to Daniel - his brioche dough is pronounced "dreadful" by Michel, and the resultant bread is "a brick".

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But never mind that - Daniel's also completely ballsed up the crisps. The charred little cinders make Michel go "Ohhhhh, dear oh dear oh dear. Oooh pfffffffffffff" and wobble his cheeks like some kind of patronising policeman.

I then get weird Mighty Boosh flashbacks when Michel jeers at Daniel:

"You're going down like a tonne of bricks. I don't want to have to take my jacket off yet. I don't want to roll up my sleeves and get mucky".

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By the way, where the feck is Gregg during all this? I am missing his shiny head.

Meanwhile the culinary giants are arriving en masse, including Antonin Bonnet, Anthony Demetre, Martin Burge, Alain Roux (Michel's cousin), Pierre Koffman, Tom Kitchin (my favourite Hobbit), Jason Atherton, Sat Bains (the Chief!), Claude Bosi, Derek Brown, Simon Parkes, Chris Miller, Monica!, John Campbell, Jean-Christophe Ansanany-Alex (I could swim in his French accent), Philip Brown and Alexis Gaultier.

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Time is ticking away, so Daniel has to enlist Marianne to help him finish the starter. And finally out it goes, sadly sans potato crisp topping.

The Michelin Man thinks the beef lacks flavour, the Roussillon dude thinks the toast is soggy. My favourite Hobbit is impressed by the perfect eggs. Michael Caines thinks it well executed and Michel's pop just wants seconds. Strangely sad music plays as if Daniel should just get his coat and leave right now.

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Steve's main course is next and he also ends up calling in the cavalry but at least it goes out on time.

Michael Caines says he can see an additional element of expertise that's made it very special. Andrew Fairlie is awed by the macaroni construction. Jean-Christophe Ansanany-Alex says something that I don't really understand, but I don't care because his voice is like French chocolate. Jason Atherton thinks it fantastic. And then back to Michael Caines again (I think the cameraman is confused and thinks he's actually Michael Caine). More sad music.

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Pudding time! The rum jelly still isn't right and can't be sliced into perfect lozenges, so Michel suggests Marianne scoop it into quenelles. Nice idea, Michel, although what ends up on the plates looks more like dirty brown sample booger (you know, the crappy glue which attaches a free sachet of shampoo to a magazine page). I'm even more grossed out by the chocolate skidmarks used to cement each praline to the plate.

Out the pudding goes - and immediately someone pushes their praline to one side thus revealing the skanky cocoa smears.

Jason Atherton praises the ganache but he, the Michelin Man and Andrew Fairlie says the jelly is so boozy it's inedible - Michel's dad even thanks God he doesn't need to drive afterwards lest he be arrested. Alexis Gaultier and Atul Kochhar are clearly made of stronger stuff though as they love it. As for Raymond Blanc, he's in chocolate ecstasy.

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More sad music, which swells into joyful music as Michel tells us "They have given their all and you could taste it on the plate." So on this slightly unsettling note, both part 1 of the Final and this blog post come to a close.

Part 2 is here!


All screencaps copyright BBC
Photo at top copyright Shine Limited

Monday, 19 October 2009

Excuse Me While I Ptooch

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AN ENTREPRENEUR'S THOUGHT PROCESS: I'm going to set up an amazing new health food cafe. It's going to serve alfafa and falafel and other foodstuffs with the letters L, A and F in them. It's going to be delicious and nutritious and organic and take the world by storm. I've even got the perfect name - it's going to be called "Ptooch". Yeah.

MEEMALEE'S THOUGHT PROCESS: Do not call a restaurant any word which evokes hawking up and releasing a massive ball of mucussy phlegm. Just don't.


Friday, 16 October 2009

Kushiage - Japan's Most Dangerous Meal ...

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I expect you think this will be a post on fugu aka Japan's notorious poison puffer fish. Well, despite the fact that Mr Fugu sits happily on my banner, I've never tried fugu nor am I in the least bit inclined to do so. God knows I love food - but not quite enough to risk death or even paralysis. I know, what a killjoy.

However, I have tried Japan's most dangerous (rather than deadliest) meal and blow me if it wasn't the best experience I've ever had in terms of both taste and fun.

What am I talking about? All-you-can-eat DIY Kushikatsu aka Kushiage.

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My mate Sati (bib optional)

Just plain old kushikatsu is a fantastic thing in itself - you pick various sticks of panko-breaded eats and they're fried to order in front of you - nothing beats the flavour of a freshly-frittered king prawn.

DIY kushikatsu means you fry the kebabs yourself, at your table, with next to no safeguards.

All-you-can-eat DIY kushikatsu means you're trying to deep-fry as many of the buggers as you can in a set time limit - an awesome combination of health and safety nightmare and purest joy.


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Kushimaru is one such joint in Tempozan Harbour Village in Osaka Bay.

As we sat down, the waiter instructed us to dip each skewer into eggwash and then into panko breadcrumbs before sticking them
to frazzle away in the deep fat fry pits recessed into our table.

And then, for a mere ¥2100 per head (about £15/$20) we were let loose to rampage for an hour and a half.

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The choice of kebabs was truly epic.

Meat included wagyu beef, pork belly, chicken, scallops, clams, squid, kamaboko and prawns.

Veg options included new potatoes, okra, bamboo shoot, quail eggs, shiitake mushroom, kabocha squash, baby corn, aubergine.

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They even had takoyaki and gyoza on sticks, just in case you felt one crispy-fried coating wasn't enough.

As well as foods to fry, there were side dishes of pickles, hiyayakko tofu, miso and other soups, rice and various seaweeds, and even chips.


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Our all-you-can-eat pass also covered unlimited soft drinks (nomihodai) - lurid green melon soda, Calpis Water and Calpis Soda, iced and hot coffee - as well as dessert comprising Mr Whippy style ice cream and kakigori.

Oh kakigori. I could sing songs about kakigori.

Sure, it's just shaved ice and syrup, but its fleeting kiss is one I yearn for even in the depths of winter.

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Anyway, by the end we were spattered with eggwash, hot oil and crumbs (my mate Sati suffered minor burns which made some potential diners think twice and scurry off), but nevertheless we were so very happy.

Oh, and if you think there's an age limit, we saw lots of tiny tots frying away - and just look at the pictorial guide:

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"If your child survives, reward him with an ice cream"

Kushimaru is now my favourite restaurant in the world - I can't think of anywhere I've had so much fun and good food at the same time - and the real risk of getting third degree burns just adds to the excitement.

Of course there's no way such a place would ever be okayed in the UK, which makes me kinda sad.

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The Japanese symbol for Kushikatsu even looks like a kebab

Kushimaru Kushikatsu Dining
Tempozan Plaza

Tempozan Harbour Village
Osaka Bay
Japan

Directions - Go to Osakako station and head for the largest Ferris Wheel in the world - Tempozan Harbour Village is next to it and the restaurant is upstairs. There's also an enormous aquarium there called Kaiyukan where you can watch sea otters eating food off their bellies.

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