Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?

I’ve recently confessed my confusion about how to make sense of the case of the homophobic baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (because it’s obviously wrong. Unless it’s not, because one could grudgingly respect an asshole who’s willing to forego money for the sake of sticking to his (wrong) beliefs?). Apart from the philosophical conundrum it presents, I was intrigued by the legal implications of the case, which seemed to rely on whether the (non-existent) cake in question could be considered a work of art, in which case it would magically be protected by the rights to freedom of speech. Or not baking. Whatever floats your homophobic boat. Continue reading “Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?”

Burger schmurger

Two weeks or so ago the Philosophe asked if I would consent to being all ‘Capetonian’ and hitting the Loading Bay for a burger.

The Loading Bay, for all non-Capetonians (and that includes some of you who actually live in the city but who – like ourselves – roll on different wheels), is a clothing-accessory ‘luxury apparel’-coffee-food-shop. They serve food all day (including a burger), but Thursday nights they stay open just for burgers. ‘Capetonians’ know about this, and there are enough of them to make booking a necessity. This is how they describe their burger (veggie available too, but who cares):

Looks good enough, no? So we booked (accepting a rather early slot, which was the only one available), we went, and I got so Capetonian on that burger that I even ate the whole thing with my hands.

Yes, so I’m one of those irritating people who usually leaves the bread and tucks into the patty with a knife and fork (technical term: going Danish on a burger). It’s not that I don’t like bread. I like bread. A lot. It’s just that usually burger rolls turn into these soggy, useless discs of starch that add no value to the meal, except as useless, soggy starch. A bit like mashed potatoes, come to think of it.

But eating the Loading Bay burger was one of those rare experiences when the whole package just worked: good patty, righteous bun (lightly toasted, as I recall, and dense enough to serve a palatable function), good cheese, condiments, etcetera. Being a Capetonian is rather delicious, it turns out.

Then the Capetonian in me got greedy, and decided that we needed to search out the best burgers in town (which is a) yawn, and b) why bother when you’ve found something that works?, as my brother-in-law pointedly remarked of the venture). We have been impressively committed to the task, hitting some most of the spots people bother to talk and blog about in the burgerverse.

The results, in a word: Meh. With the exception, of course, of the glorious bacon and blue cheese numbers that the Philosophe himself conjured on the braai just the other night (coming a close second to another home-experiment involving hand-chopped meat and duck fat). And then there was this morning, when we found ourselves in the decidedly un-Capetonian hinterland of Somerset West Mall. Look, no-one forced us there. We happened to be driving past, and decided on the spur of the moment to watch a movie in the middle of the day (because that’s the sort of thing you can do when the only creatures you have to look after are yourselves, and three cats).

11am, an hour to kill. What to do? Spur of the moment indeed:

See that processed cheese? Now imagine some crispy bacon on there, and a good puddle of Spur’s secret BBQ sauce. And no, I didn’t eat the bread. But I had a bloody mary with it, and on a Sunday morning in Somerset West, it was the very best brunch to be had. Lessons learned (attention Heston Blumenthal!): why mess with something that works?

Pop that in your corn and smoke it

So Heston Blumenthal has been entertaining his viewers (me) with some more fascinatingly cringe-worthy television with his/Channel 4’s latest Mission Impossible (or as someone else puts it, his Michelin Impossible). Brief: take world’s UK’s quackiest chef, put him in places where he does not belong, turn on liquid nitrogen, watch.

That is, watch him try to feed hay-smoked mackerel paired with blueberries to a naval submarine crew who normally subsist on a full fry-up and something ‘comforting’, like steak and yorkshire pudding, followed by shortbread and custard (or some such) – every day. (This is HB trying to regenerate their tired, overfed, brain cells.)

Watch him get BA passengers to begin their in-flight meals with a nasal spray, which causes much nasal gunk to drip in the general direction of gravity, which is also in the general direction of their actual food trays: not pretty television. (This is HB trying to rehydrate their dehydrated noses so they can taste their food better.)

Generally he ends up looking like a tosser for the first 38 minutes of each 45 minute episode, until he finally cottons on to the (big) difference between the world inside his restaurants and the world the rest of us live in. Like that a naval submarine crew don’t have time, space, money, or any bloody interest in on-site hay-smoked mackerel and blueberries, but they respond very well to a good ol’ Irish stew (sous-vided for a couple of months, naturally). Or that BA passengers quite like to eat something they can recognise as food while they are hurtling through the air, like a good ol’ shepherd’s pie (taste-powered by the secret addition of seaweed, since umami is the only flavour that doesn’t get lost in the sky. Naturally.)

Each of these institutions has supposedly recognised that the food they deliver is shite, and each is genuinely (supposedly) looking for a real-life solution to that problem. And in the end, food-mentalist HB ends up being a totally wasted commodity, because the solutions he creates that can actually be implemented are totally pedestrian. And by pedestrian I mean the kind of ideas that anyone with a food-brain who can also cross a street would be capable of coming up with. Problem: Fresh ingredients take up too much space on a submarine, and too much time to cook? Solution: Cook them on-shore and vacuum pack them for easy on-board storage in the fridge or freezer. I can’t decided if Channel 4 is taking the piss out of HB, or out of its viewers.

Then there’s his popcorn ice cream in cinemas. (This is HB trying to get people to stop eating popcorn.)

Well, ok, that sounds pretty cool actually. Genius Heston strikes again!

Except that if he spent a bit more time on Google, and less time in his science books, he would also have discovered that that’s hardly an *original* idea (WTF Heston?). I bookmarked a recipe for that AGES ago (last year) already – not to mention that in 0.14 seconds, Google comes up with 7,400,000 hits on it.

Well I finally made it the other day. It goes against all my popcorn instincts. You have to soak the things (in cream, sugar and milk), which means you have to listen to all their delicious crunchy airiness die a slow pffffft into a soggy mess. Then when you’ve really drowned them good and dead (30 mins to an hour), you have to sieve them and mash the life force out of them.

Then you turn that creamy, popcorny goodness into a silky smooth custard (with an egg and mild heat). Churn that custard when it’s nice and chilled (not forgetting a good slosh of vodka to prevent it from freezing too hard), and there you have perhaps some of the most deliciously counter-intuitive ice cream. Go ahead and serve that with some salted caramel sauce, as recommended, and also a fudgy ginger brownie, if you have one to hand. It’s so delightfully wrong it’s almost like having HB in your kitchen.

(Disclaimer: Sorry, Heston. I’m just grumpy because the Philosophe recently ate a piece of pork belly that was cooked in one of your kitchens for 52 hours. I really should have been there. But you are welcome to come and try my popcorn ice cream – if you can handle defeat.)

Alton Brown-ies (or, glutton for punishment?)

Being an honorary South African (or Swazi, or Dane), I am a relative latecomer to the phenomenon of Alton Brown – who, as per above, has apparently been teaching (American) geeks how to cook since 1999. He’s entertaining and whacky in a Heston Blumenthal sort of way, except the comparison stops at invention: they’re both mad scientists, but Blumenthal is definitely one up on the Willy Wonka factor (never mind snail porridge: how many people can actually get their dinner guests to lick the wallpaper?). Alton Brown is fun to watch because he explains how stuff works, in a way that you could actually try at home (I once mimicked his recipe for mint juleps: they was good).

So it only made sense that I should break my latest vow never to make brownies again with Alton Brown’s recipe. I like it because it only uses cocoa (no faffing about with melting chocolate), and it contains four eggs, which should produce some nice thick, chewy brownies.

And I planned to follow it exactly to the letter, so I could only blame Alton if they didn’t work. Except for one minor alteration, which was to add an entire box of Dalla Cia grappa chocolates. How beautiful it promises to be in execution:

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I wish I could say the above picture (of the brownie) came out of my own kitchen, but alas, my brownies are still cooling in the pan, so I borrowed this picture from someone who actually got it right (click on the image to visit that baker). And I may as well add right now that I didn’t have enough butter and couldn’t be arsed to go to the shop again, so I supplemented with a little oil. Oh, and I added some espresso powder too.

In theory, these will be the perfect ode to something the Philosophe and I call our cap-grap routine: cappuccino and grappa after lunch (which ideally includes a glass of some nice cold riesling for these hot summer days). But I fear that I – unlike Alton Brown – am a crap scientist in the kitchen. My last batch of brownies contained two whole boxes of Lindor chocolate balls. They should have been superb. Instead the whole lot ended in the bin.

Let’s hope the garbage trolls don’t get lucky again.