Making a milkshake out of yoghurt

I have been reading (and writing) about Mr. Oliver’s latest LA venture for some time now, but I didn’t get to *enjoy* the full spectacle of the first episode until last night. Late at night was a stupid time to watch, because it sent me to bed depressed.

Smite me with your bleeding heart if you must, but I am not depressed about the obesity “epidemic” in Los Angeles, America, or the rest of the world for that matter. Which is not to say I don’t find it sad that so many people get it wrong when it comes to feeding themselves and their families. Nor that I don’t find it sad that some children are made to eat something resembling airplane food on a mostly-daily basis. But getting depressed about these things would be a waste of my time and energy, a) because the reasons for this state of affairs are much more complex than even I dare to imagine that I fully comprehend, and b) because there is little I can do to change it.

Not so Mr. O. He’s depressed alright. And he also has the conceit to imagine that a) he understands everything about the system that he is taking on, and b) that it his responsibility – nay, his right – to take this system on. He keeps talking about how it is his “job” to do this and that: his “job” to try to force the LAUSD to let him into their schools (where he’s been banned from filming); his “job” to try to persuade Dino – the nice man who let Jamie into his burger joint Patra’s – to make his burgers with grass-fed Black Angus beef, and his milkshakes with yoghurt instead of ice cream. Dino really is a nice man. He lets Jamie mess about in his kitchen, and lets him fix a yoghurt smoothie, and then rightly responds: “I tried it, and it tasted good, but he missed the point. This is a great drink, but it’s not a milkshake.”

Here’s what Dino looks like when he’s explaining that Jamie is crazy for thinking that he can take burgers and fries off the menu at a burger joint:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s what Dino looks like when Jamie tells him that using grass-fed Black Angus beef for his burgers will make his burgers cost $4,89, instead of $2,69 (warning: picture of a scared man):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I nominate Dino as the Food Revolution hero, because Dino gets it right. He gets that Jamie is missing the point if he thinks that putting a smoothie on the menu of a burger joint is going to do a damn thing to curb obesity. I’ve never been to LA, but I’m also pretty sure that people who want smoothies can find them elsewhere. Dino gets that he is running a business, and servicing customers who come to his restaurant because there’s something on his menu that they want to eat. He gets that there is a difference between freedom of choice and responsibility.

What Jamie Oliver does not get is that saying, on leaving Patras, “I don’t know if I can work with Dino” is in fact a very stupid thing to say, because he does not have to “work with” Dino, and neither does Dino have to work with him. Just as the LA Unified Schools District has no mandate whatsoever to work with Jamie Oliver. (Which they did in fact offer to do, just not on camera. But that, as someone else put it summarily, ‘is not a TV show‘.)

But my case is not really with Jamie Oliver, just as my case, in another context, is not with quacks like Gillian McKeith. No, my case is with the many people who do listen to them, and who do not get that these people, who may even have their hearts and concerns in all the right places, are simply not the authorities that they make themselves out to be. What’s the harm, especially if *something* improves? The harm is that worshipping pseudo-authorities is a slippery gateway to compromising all our rational decision-making faculties, believing whatever scare stories and half-baked statistics they throw about, and soon everybody will be taking advice on how to live their lives from someone called Oprah. Oh wait…

(And oh, if do ever find yourself at Patra’s, don’t forget to try the new Jamie Oliver Revolution burger, made with grass-fed Black Angus beef. If you’ve got $4,95 to drop, that is:)

The fight to fight obesity

A few days ago the LA Weekly reported that Jamie Oliver’s latest US crusade was off to a bad start, because the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had banned the chef access to all their schools. He responded with this remarkable statement:

“Normally getting into schools isn’t a problem. We’ve never had a total shutdown. In my country, it would be illegal.”

I’m intrigued as to which part of this situation could be considered illegal in the UK. Not allowing a celebrity chef to film a documentary in schools? Not allowing a celebrity chef to interfere with issues of public health (if indeed school lunches are that)? Or perhaps not paying attention to Jamie Oliver?

But the main problem here is not really any of the above, but rather that first word: “Normally.” There is really nothing “normal” in the world of Jamie Oliver, or in the world of celebrity chefs saving the fat world from its fat self, because everything is made up as they go along. And luckily for Mr. O, they’ve been going along quite swimmingly, not least thanks to his “activist” endorsement by TED last year.

Until now, that is. Which also makes it hard to not actually feel sorry for the man when you see a headline like this:

“I’m finding it really hard to tell the truth in this country,” he apparently said – adding that he’s never been “so deflated” in his whole career. Now, say what you like about him – and I have plenty to say myself – but the only reason that he’s been able to get to the self-delusional position of believing that he is some sort of truthsayer is because no one has ever gotten in his way before (OK, a bit here and there, but they “normally” come round to his side and everyone comes out larfin’).

It’s all a very curious drama to watch – including the sideshow which features Michelle Obama hooking up with Walmart (not for the first time, mind you) to promote “healthy” eating: some say it rocks, while others think it’s doomed.

And while the celebrities sulk and the corporations flex their (friend’s) well-toned arms, most people will probably carry on chomping their Pop Tarts and not giving a crap how many calories they eat.

Bunny chow

First, catch your rabbit.

Or get your friendly German butcher to get someone to catch it for you, and then ask him to cut it into nice little pieces that in no way resemble the Easter bunny (meaning he can keep the ears, eyes, and everything else). Then arrange them in a roasting tin with a bit of olive oil, a lot of white wine, garlic and herbs. Cover up and braise until “tender” (that was about two hours at 180C for two wabbits).

Now put the fur back on: dip in flour, then egg (mixed with a bit of mustard for good measure), then a nice coat of fresh breadcrumbs, pecorino, herbs and lemon zest. Let that sit in the fridge to firm up for a couple of hours, and when you’ve plied your guests with a suitable amount of wine, whip out the wabbit and fry that sucker till golden delicious.

I confess I had trepidations, but I was ready to blame any catastrophes on Jamie Oliver. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, so I’ll instead take the credit myself and declare it a very fine way to chow bunny, and a delightfully crunchy way to celebrate (almost) three years of marriage. I have no doubt the next three will be even better – especially now that I no longer consider football to be a complete waste of time, which makes for a happier weekend household.

As another contribution to a happy household, I’ve also recently mastered the art of the Reuben sandwich, or at least our dear (and temporarily departed) Sailor’s version. It’s genius, really, to build a sandwich in a pan: put the rye, buttered-side down in the pan, then lay on your “Swiss” (aka Emmenthaler), followed by a lot of pastrami, followed by a lot of sauerkraut, followed by another piece of bread, buttered side up. When that’s done, it’s ready to turn and make golden brown on the other side. Serve with “Russian” sauce (mayo + ketchup), and maybe a gherkin on the side.

Of course when I say “mastered”, I really mean I understand the principle well enough to start tinkering with it. So pictured here is in fact not a Reuben, because it’s made with smoked turkey. (Wiki tells me this is in fact called a Rachel). And I think I added some sweet chilli to the “Russian” sauce. And mustard to the sandwich. Oh, and I think it’s a much better idea to put the sauerkraut on before the meat, so the bread doesn’t get soggy. I guess I’ll make a good Jewish wife yet.

Dinner for one

It is rare that I eat alone – and not at all ideal, I might add, simply because try as I might, I cannot by myself conjure up the delightful banter that the Philosophe (co-)provides on a daily basis. Not to mention that it is nowhere near as interesting trying to impress myself with delicious food as it is hoping to impress others. But sometimes that determined path of life leads you somewhere where inventiveness and sparkling conversation have no place, and the next best thing is a big old bowl of popcorn smothered in wasabi butter (no sharing!), and of course a good measure of whisky.

The great thing about popcorn is that it (generally) lasts longer than a plate of food, which makes it ideal if you find yourself watching two hour-long episodes of food competition (basically cues for hedonic hunger). I caught the first episode of Top Chef “Just Desserts” , which is entertaining enough if you enjoy imagining yourself as one of a bunch of hopefuls (each of whom is, gringo-style, *certain* they “have what it takes” to be the best) running around looking for ingredients to make their signature dessert, only to be told 5 minutes into prep that they have to reconfigure it as a … cupcake. (What the hell is it with Americans and cupcakes?). Their next task is to conjure up the “most decadent” chocolate dessert ever, and for a few seconds I felt cold sweat on my neck as I imagined what I would come up with and couldn’t think of anything fantastic. But then I remembered that I will thankfully never be in such a silly contrived circumstance, so I relaxed and carried on chomping my popcorn.

Then I chomped my way through Masterchef USA, which reliably delivers good verbal abuse with Ramsay at the helm (and given that they did their silly cupcake challenge three weeks ago, was fortunately focused on real food again).

Tonight – alone again, alas – I’ll watch the Masterchef season finale, even though Gordon-bloody-Ramsay couldn’t stop himself from tweeting the bloody winner this morning. Sometimes social media sucks (like, when people use it stupidly and spoil the surprise for the rest of us. Or when *some* people apparently can’t refrain from producing ever-more offspring, and must announce it to the whole world).

But I think I”ll head down delicious lane again and do something righteous with a couple of eggs. Because all afternoon I’ve had to deal with the goodness of a kitchen smelling of Ottolenghi’s apple-olive oil-maple syrup (and cinnamon) cake, which promises to be a delicious mess:

I’ll be sticking to Mr. O’s advice to leave it to “mature” for a couple of days before tucking in. Which means this evening, just an omelette and a glass of wine with my Masterchef. And only one more sleep till I can start cooking for two again. As it should be.

Strawberries soaked in vodka fail to impress

So after my recent bold declaration that this Doctor’s brownie adventures are officially over, I was naturally confronted with all sorts of Facebook banter offering yet more tips and tricks for that thing I had just renounced. The most evil of these was a recipe which calls for cocoa powder dissolved in hot water (rather than melting chocolate), along with the suggestion that the water be replaced by booze (Nina, you know who you are).

Talk of booze in food often takes the turn of trying to discover how best to keep it in there. If you dissolve cocoa in a cup of bourbon, won’t it all just evaporate during baking (for instance)? In other words, how does one maintain the integrity of a truly boozy brownie?

Well since brownies were out, and I had recently spotted a recipe for white-chocolate-raspberry blondies, things quickly spiralled downhill. In the fridge: raspberries, no; dried strawberries, yes. In the freezer: vodka, yes. The strawberries looked very pretty in their vodka bath, and the vodka looked very pretty when I removed the strawberries a few hours later (it was, in fact, bright red, which leads me to seriously doubt the naturalness of the dried strawberries. But hey, colourful vodka cocktail coming up soon).

Worse: the blondies were dry, and not boozy at all. Had they been presented at tea time as what old Danish aunties call “sandkage” (this one you can work out for yourself), they would have been a hit. But as blondies, they were dismal failures.

I’ve made blondies before, and they were yummy and chewy and more-ish, so I blame the recipe. But I should have known better – it came from a British magazine, and what do the Brits know about blondies? Like, who would actually follow a Jamie Oliver recipe for brownies? (Don’t bother, I already did.)

Speaking of which, I believe Mr. O is now doing his very own 30-minute meals. This is amazing. Because that is exactly what Rachael Ray has built an entire empire on. He was even on her show earlier this year. So it’s not like they don’t know each other. Couldn’t he have called it “29-minute Meals”? Or, “Dinner In A Jiffy”? Or, “Pukka Nosh in Half a Tick”? Really. Anything but “I’m Just Going To Take Someone Else’s Idea And Hope That No One Notices”.

Then again, maybe it’s all the same anyway. As Michael Ruhlman put it not long ago,

‘Part of the problem is the magazine editors and television producers drumming us over the head with fast and easy meal solutions at home. It’s the wrong message to send. These editors and producers and publishers are backing the processed food industry, propelling their message. What I say to you magazine editors and producers, to you Rachael Ray and you Jamie Oliver and your 20 minutes meals: God bless you, but you are advertising and marketing on behalf of the processed food industry.’

Well, I don’t know about the God bless you part. And hey, I’m all for knocking things up in a hurry, and if the Ray and the Oliver can make that happen, then good for them. But when it panders to a public that (apparently) hasn’t got the attention span to realise that what Sir O. says is nothing new, then I’m off that bus.

Those people they create would probably even say my blondies were delicious.

PS. To clarify, when I first heard about the 30-minute meal venture, I tweeted the man himself to ask if RR hadn’t been doing the same thing for years. His response:

I guess we don’t all interpret “potential problem?” equally.

If I were a TV cook…

(or a cookbook author for that matter), I could imagine myself delivering all number of clever little tips and tricks – as they do – to give people the idea that I sit around and think hard and long about what works and what doesn’t.

For my (to die for) “caramelized brussel sprouts with pecan nuts and blue cheese”, for instance, I would tell you that the secret is to add the garlic at the last minute of pan-time. That way you get a kick of fresh garlic to temper the sweetness of the sugar and nuts, but without the harshness of actual fresh garlic. (Because don’t you also find that if you add garlic too early, it loses its oomph?) You want garlic. But you want it just right. This is how, trust me.

(Excuse the photograph. My stylist is away watching Argentina getting thrashed by Germany).

If I were Jamie Oliver, I would tell you that this goes fantastically with small, crumbed pork cutlets (and a nice dollop of horseradish on the side), and then tell you how easy crumbed pork is to throw together. (Like this: bish bash bosh).

If I were Rachael Ray, I would tell you not to bother with the bish bash bosh, because I don’t have the time, and you don’t have the time or money to hop on your scooter, head down to your friendly (organic) butcher, have a chat about the missus, get some beautiful hand-reared, grass-fed, acupuncture-tenderised local pork, and neither do you have half a loaf of day-old sourdough lying around waiting to be whizzed into crumbs in the KitchenAid (which you don’t have either).

Continue reading “If I were a TV cook…”

Thoughts on televising the revolution

Talking about the surprising popular success in 1988 of a near-700 page book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000, Francis Wheen cites the New Republic’s comment that ‘When a serious work of history with more than a 1000 footnotes starts selling in Stephen King-like quantities, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’ (you’ll find this in Wheen’s very amusing – and sometimes scary – How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, p.66).

Let’s edit that a bit and apply it to Jamie Oliver’s American “Food Revolution” for a near-perfect description of what’s going on – ‘When a smutty work of Reality TV about a very serious issue gets the world talking ad nauseum, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’.

The ambiguity of “something in the public mood” is apt too, because even the fast-talking public can’t seem to figure out what exactly the issue is. The series is about “fighting obesity”. But the gamut of responses gives the lie to the possibility that it is about any one thing, which is exactly what most commentators seem to miss.

Continue reading “Thoughts on televising the revolution”

That’s Reality…wang.

Talking about the surprising popular success in 1988 of a near-700 page book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000, Francis Wheen cites the New Republic‘s comment that ‘When a serious work of history with more than a 1000 footnotes starts selling in Stephen King-like quantities, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’ (you’ll find this in Wheen’s very amusing – and sometimes scary – How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, p.66).

Let’s edit that a bit and apply it to Jamie Oliver’s American “Food Revolution” for a near-perfect description of what’s going on – ‘When a smutty work of Reality TV about a very serious issue gets the world talking ad nauseum, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’.

Continue reading “That’s Reality…wang.”

Gotcha!

I was so annoyed when I blogged about Killer At Large last night that I forgot to mention one of my main irritations during the film. That was probably as it should be, because I needed to do a little research to confirm my suspicions, and now I have. Continue reading “Gotcha!”