Going away

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This blog is going to be neglected for the next couple of weeks – a very ungrateful action on my part when you consider that it’s partly this blog which has led to me being shortlisted for a major national award tomorrow.
I’ll be down in London to see who is crowned Digital Journalist of the Year 2007 at the Press Gazette awards as well as keeping my finger’s crossed the site I edit, www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk, will be named as Website of the Year and that my colleagues on the newspaper will return home triumphant.
After all that excitement, I’m taking a couple of weeks’ screen break but will be back soon with more foodie adventures.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with pictures, recipes, ideas for edible investigation or any other noshing news.
Thanks to ginadapooh at Flickr for the trophy picture – oh to have a haul which requires such transportation!

A pizza Italian style

Everyone knows it – pizza tastes best when eaten in Italy. It’s a bit like eating fish and chips by the sea, tucking into game in Scotland or patisserie in France. There’s something about the locations which adds to the experience. By bringing in additional senses to those of taste and smell, eating can be enhanced. Heston Blumenthal was onto this when he introduced the heightened experience of sound to his experimental dining and carried out research with Oxford university So when the Pizza Express announced that they’re doing now doing a pizza like they do in Rome I was sceptical.
It might look like a Roman pizza, it might smell like a pizza from Roma, it might even sound like a pizza from Rome – but would it taste like one?
Head chef Antonio Romani gave me this advice on how to spot a genuine Roman pizza.
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SEE: Look at the cheese-to-sauce ratio. The sauce on a Roman pizza should be visible. The toppings should not dominate the pizza and not take away from the flavour of the sauce, crust or cheese. The rim should be slightly blackened and the pizza surfaced slightly blistered.
SMELL: The crust should smell like good bread, and the sauce and cheese should smell fresh. The smell of dried herbs or garlic should not overwhelm the pizza.
TOUCH: First look to see if there is any lip, or rim, around the crust. Tear off a piece and look at the dough structure – there should be holes from the gasses caused during the dough’s rising period, and the dough should be cooked through. Then hold up a whole slice and take a good look at it from the side; the crust should be cooked through and stand up to the weight of the toppings. So perfect for eating with your fingers – just like we do in Rome .
TASTE: The crust should taste slightly yeasty and should ooze flavour. The perfect pizza will have a slight crunch and the tomato sauce will be vibrant, not sour or “cooked” tasting. The cheese will taste fresh, have character and blend appropriately with the toppings, which should be fresh, colourful and delicious.
Giving one a try at the restaurant in Lower King Street, the first noticeable thing was it looked larger than their normal offerings. “The same amount of dough” the waiter assured me, “just rolled thinner”.
Being a “thin and crispy” fan, this super-slim base suited me but I didn’t notice any particular blackening or blistering.
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The smell was good and fresh although I ‘m note sure I agree with Antonio’s suggestion on the herbs – I rather like a good fragrance of oregano.
The structure though was spot on – just look at this tear.
Verdict: It’s a welcome addition to the new summer menu. A pretty good effort but, however you look at it, eating one in a sunny Palazzo in Rome would always taste better than lunch in a rainy office lunch in Manchester.

Pizza Express, South King Street Old Colony House, Manchester, M2 6DQ. 0161 834 0145

Little Chef: A cure?

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Returning to one of my favourite blog grumbles, I was interested to see this ray of hope in the news yesterday;
Glamorous Benetton looking at dull old Little Chef .
What a tantalising idea! Will we have waiting staff dressed in fashionable, but completely understated, outfits?
Interiors designed and co-ordinated in an exciting contemporary palette? Food served in super quick time and served with go-faster stripes?
Ordering a fizzy drink might not be advisable if they can’t control the spray but perhaps the Italian influence would even stretch to providing fresh food.
Could we really be that lucky? Bring it on.
Fat Charlie will certainly need a make-over though – and we’re not just talking about losing a few pounds either in order to get that true Italian style. There’s the shades, the mobile, the well-cut suit, the looks, the…………….

@ Allports, Porthmadog

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Fish and chips by the sea! It’s one of life’s simple pleasures and an undoubted truth that the nation’s favourite dish tastes better eaten looking out to sea. But why is that? Is there a chemical reaction between vinegar and sea air or does the connection with the sea make the fish more fish like? Perhaps it’s the added danger of avoiding the gritty crunch of sand between your teeth or the thrill of snatching dinner from the jaws of hungry gulls that helps to make the whole experience so much more pleasurable.
Hidden in the back streets of Porthmadog this slice of cheese building always has a queue outside and for good reason – these award-winners are worth the wait.
Batter: The short drive from Porthmadog to Black Rock Sands did cause a little sogginess to occur in the middle but the crispy edges (and the view) more than made up for it.
Fish: Perfect piece of haddock, white flaky and enhanced by the sea air.
Peas: Nothing to shout about. Rather overly sweet and pretty much solidified. They were also colder than the short drive would have caused. Let the side down.
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Chips: A huge portion, good and crispy even with lashings of vinegar. These are the chips that holidays are made of.
Verdict: It doesn’t get better than this. The chip shop has the right look and feel, a simple menu, everything cooked to order and hot and tasty. If I had to make one criticism it’s the plasticy containers – how I long for paper wrappers but perhaps that’s just a bit of nostalgia.
Allports is at Snowdon Street Porthmadog Gwynedd LL49 9DF
(01766) 512589

Steaming muffins!

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I see that Little Chef hasn’t improved any. Finding the stop start traffic on the way to North Wales too much we pulled over on the A55 to see if anything has changed at the small cook’s house since I last blogged on the subject.
Well, there didn’t seem to be any smoking allowed – but you still had to queue to get seated in an almost empty establishment.
The new menu didn’t offer anything exciting although all the eggs are now free-range which is one good thing.
Tucking into a hunt-the-bluberry muffin and a cup of we-don’t-do-herbal tea, Himself suddenly stopped in his tracks.

“It’s frozen!”. A large, solid and icy part of the mufin was returned to the surly waiter and two minutes later a new and smokin muffin’ arrived. Too hot to handle it was positively steaming.

It will be many. many months before we try a Little Chef again but surely someone will make a difference some day. Here’s hoping and while we’re into the realms of fantasy why can’t someone open a decent stopping place on the A55? The weekly exodus from Manchester into North Wales of 4X4s and Mercedes would surely sustain a great roadside establishment.

The clip that’s banned – Go to Work on an Egg

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Yes it’s the video they didn’t want you to see. The shocking tale of eggs for breakfast.
Watch it here .
Risque or what? I do hope I haven’t corrupted you in any way by exposing you to such images over the internet.
I nearly choked on my scrambled egg (free range of course) this morning when I heard that this clip featuring comedy icon Tony Hancock is not being allowed on our screens as part of a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the British Lion mark.
Apparently the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) has said the ads cannot be repeated because the concept of eating eggs every day goes against the principle of eating a varied diet.
Author Fay Weldon, who headed the team which came up with the famous slogan in 1957, branded the decision “absurd” and I have to agree.
When this campaign was run in the 1950s, wasn’t heart disease, obesity and diabetes less common than it is now?
All those ailments and conditions have skyrocketed since then and expert opinion seems to agree that its thanks to trans fats and a lack of home-cooked nutritious meal – not egg consumption.
Cool Hand Luke aside, we all know that eating scores of eggs isn’t either healthy or enjoyable but what can beat a perfect boiled egg or a freshly cooked omelette now and again?
It’s not just work – you can go anywhere on an egg these days.

Lentils, lentils everywhere

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A mixed day in the kitchen – still picking lentils out of the plug sockets but have also discovered a new taste sensation.
First up the lentils. It took just one blast of the ‘on’ button but it’s amazing what havoc a slightly loose blender lid can wreak.
I was onto it as soon as it happened but – too late. Lentils from the lentil and ginger soup for lunch everywhere.
Thankfully enough stayed put to be eaten but I think we’ll be finding the little orange discs in everything consumed for the next month or see – not an attractive addition to hair, clothes or eyebrows either!
So to a new taste – preserved lemons. I bought a big jar of them from the supermarket and popped a couple into a chicken casserole. Wow – what a flavour. It’s almost essence of lemon. The recipe said they would add a flavour of Middle East cooking and they certainly do, its not sweet but has a fullness and depth of flavour.
But are you supposed to eat them? Or are they more like a Bay leaf – just for the cooking? Neither the recipe or jar made it clear and I’d love to know. Any other recpie suggestions for preserved lemons would also be appreciated.

Fat kids – here we go again

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CHILD obesity has raised its chubby cheeks again with today’s suggestion that fat kids should be treated as neglect cases.
OK, on the face of it sounds ideal.
Sights such as the one pictured on this page or six-year-old Dzhambulat Khatokhov, who stands 4ft 7in (1.4m) tall and weighs 15 stone (95kg) repulse us all so someone must be to blame.
Surely their parents should be punished for allowing them to get into this state? After all there is some of childhood being robbed if being unable to take part in games, no doubt being ridiculed and bullied at school and having a butt which is, well the butt, of all jokes is not something anyone would surely want for their little darling.

So fine, lock up the pasty munching, chip stuffing excuses for poor parenting who slouch around the streets dragging wailing ADHD offspring in their wake.

One of those behind this latest report Dr Tabitha Randell, a consultant paediatrician from Nottingham, strangely believes some parents are killing their children with kindness.
What’s kind about treating youngsters like foie gras geese?
But perhaps here in the real world there’s a bit more to it that wanton force-feeding or mis-placed kindness.
Do those parents really know any better? Are they obese themselves and why are the healthy choices also the most costly?
Until those questions can be answered then those that can afford to care about what they eat (and who have the wherewithall to understand nutrition) will have presumably have lean, well-focused children and those who can’t will start out on a lifetime of preventable illness.
Seeing as we’ll all pay for higher levels of disease and sick pay in the end, isn’t it about time the welfare system provided some education and incentives or the tax system provided some sort of disincentive for destructive behaviour?

Nobody here but us chickens

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Last night’s expose of organic chicken which is not all it seems was shocking indeed. Tonight with Trevor McDonald revealed high levels of risky bacteria but also claimed that chickens were being kept in conditions which we average consumers would see as far from “organic” or “free range”.
Eaten alive by vermin or crushed into small cages, the footage shown was a world away from the dust-bathing, roaming hens which we expect for paying triple the price in the supermarket.
But what Trevor’s programme failed to reveal was how we as consumers are supposed to safeguard ourselves (and the chickens) from this practice.
The body responsible for organic standards, The Soil Association, welcomed the investigation but in a long statement claimed that all “Soil Association poultry must have access to outdoor pasture, with suitable vegetation and enough cover to imitate their natural habitat (wooded/scrubland). Research shows large flocks do reduce outdoor access, as more dominant chickens block the shed’s ‘pop-holes’; so many birds may never go outside. Soil Association standards set a minimum pop-hole requirement of 4m for every 100m2 of housing, sufficient to enable all birds to gain access to the outdoor range.”
Nice words, but who exactly is checking up on this? How do we know the truth about that expensive cling-wrapped supermarket portion?
Thanks to Jack Eye at Flickr for this great close up picture.