Archive for June, 2005

Durian Fruit

A very big welcome if you’re visiting blogjam for the first time today, drawn here by Stephen Jelbert’s mouth-watering meat exposé in the Independent. Please take a look around – and if you’re after the dishes mentioned in the piece, follow these links:

Anyway, on with normal service. Blogjam reader Ant writes:

…for your next food-related post, I’d be very impressed if you were to try some durian fruit. Apparently it’s delicious, if you can get past the horrendous smell. Which in itself is interesting, as most things tend to taste and smell the same, or at least very similar.

Indeed they do, Ant, indeed they do. Even the processes themselves are broadly similar – the direct chemoreceptors of the taste buds, those cells that allow us to distinguish between the five basic flavours (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami), work along the same lines as the distance chemoreceptors of the nasal channel that control our sense of smell. The major difference is that taste requires actual contact with the item in question, whereas smell doesn’t.

And so to the durian. Native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, the fruit can now be found all over Southeast Asia. It’s known as both the world’s most dangerous fruit (weighing up to 6KG and covered in laceration-inducing spikes, it can easily crush an unwary tourist’s skull on its short journey to Earth) and as the ‘King Of Fruits’, a term used throughout the region.

What it’s most famous for, however, is its smell. Top food scientist Harold McGhee reveals in his brilliant encyclopedia how the fruit uses this aroma to attract elephants, tigers, pigs and other jungle creatures (in order that they might eat the pulp and further spread its seed), and how some of the sulphuric compounds found in the durian are also present in onions, garlic, overripe cheese, skunk spray and rotten eggs. Some quick research on the web revealed the following, less scientific, descriptions of the scent of this most odour-ridden of foods:

  • a backed up toilet
  • carrion in custard
  • rotting fish
  • unwashed socks
  • a city dump on a hot summers day
  • clogged drains in August
  • the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction
  • the diapers of a baby that had diarrhea two weeks ago and was not looked after

You get the idea. This stuff has a reputation. Even the nice checkout lady at Colindale’s excellent Oriental City supermarket, where I procured my example, raised her eyebrows and asked if I knew how bad the smell could be, telling me that it could “stink like dead cow”.

Price is also an issue of concern to the UK buyer. Esteemed Saigon-based streetfood blogger Noodlepie says the durian fruit costs about 12,000 Vietnamese Dong locally – less than 50 British pence – while my imported and defrosted version is 1500% more expensive – about the same price as half a kilo of organic sirloin steak in London.

As you can see from the picture below, in which I’ve placed the fruit next to an appropriate CD by the Thai Elephant Orchestra, it’s a bit of a monster, but it doesn’t smell too explosive, giving off nothing more than a faint whiff of burnt rubber fermenting in parmesan.

Cutting it isn’t easy. I’m forced to use an old snowboarding glove to prevent the fruit’s spikes from carving tattoos into my hands, but pretty soon I’ve split the beast asunder and am able to inhale deeply.

It doesn’t smell quite as strongly as I thought it would (I expect that the stench from fresh examples is far more potent), but the blocked drain comparison is pretty apt. Gagging only slightly, I scoop out the flesh, which has the texture of slightly stringy mud, and take a mouthful.

The 19th century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace described his first taste of durian as being “flavored with almonds, but intermingled with wafts of flavor that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry and other incongruities.” I think Wallace got lucky. My example tastes like decomposing apple soaked in garlic and, while it’s not completely unpleasant, it’s a little disconcerting to find this in a fruit, and it’s not nearly as sweet as I’d like. Ice cream is the answer.

I quickly rustle up a custard of milk, cream, sugar and egg yolk, add a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract, slowly heat the liquid, then combine with the durian pulp. After a few hours in the freezer (stirring occasionally to prevent the formation of ice crystals), I have my ice cream.

It’s not bad. The sugar and vanilla have taken the edge off the garlicky tang, and while the smell is still slightly off-putting, the taste and texture are much improved. It’s another triumph for the blogjam kitchen.

Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be testing durian flavoured condoms.

Live 8 Swap Shop

I’m not a big fan of Live 8, for a whole host of reasons, none of which I’m going to bother listing here, although I can reveal that the words ‘sanctimonious’, ‘arse’, ‘megalomania’ and ‘UBfuckingForty’ would feature prominently in my rant, were I to write one.

So who wants my tickets?

I’m not going to sell them, as this kind of free market behaviour is apparently despised by greasy-haired hero Dr Bob Geldof, even though he insists on the presence of freedom of trade as a necessary condition of the assistance to Africa that he advocates. It’s all too confusing, and my head hurts.

So I’m going to swap them. What for? Well, that bit’s up to you. I’ll consider anything.


  • Got something to offer? Then leave a comment – be sure to leave your e-mail address. I won’t publish this online, but I will need it to contact you if you’re the lucky winner
  • Nothing illegal, please
  • I retain the right to ignore all suggestions and attend the event with an attractive lady, should I ever meet one who can bear my company

On your marks, get set, go.

29.06.05: And the winner is… Well, this is going to be a great disappointment to everyone, but the tickets are going to my friend Julie, who will now be spending (along with her partner) 24 hours (or the best part of a day, at least), walking the South West Coastal path in Cornwall to raise money for Water Aid this September. Both could certainly do with the exercise.

Apologies to everyone else, especially to Pink, Sarah and Michelle who offered to personally accompany me to the gig. You’re either very brave or have ludicrously good taste. I’m not sure which.

me on threadless

I like the threadless t-shirt site a lot. The standard of design is generally very high, submissions are often extremely witty, and with the exchange rate being what it is at the moment, it’s possible to order several items and have them shipped to the UK without breaking the bank. I also like the idea of anyone being able to upload their own design and, if reaction is positive enough, that image being made into a shirt that people can actually buy. It’s a great community, and it’s fun.

Which is where you come in. I have no artistic ability, of course, but that hasn’t stopped me trying to muscle in on this hot clothing action. You can see a sneak preview of my feeble, childish, retarded brushwork above, and by following this link here, yes, this one right here, you can vote for my submission, which is something I suggest you do straight away. You will have to register, but it’ll be worth it to see geeky teens across the globe dressed in my handiwork, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Update: After 100 votes, the average score for my design was 1.49, just a tenth of a point off where I needed to be to carry on in the competition. Instead, I’ve been consigned to the archive. Binned. Rejected. Eliminated. Forgotten. Discarded. Shunned. Cast aside. Jilted.

I’m devastated.

more celebrity sperm bank

Some time ago, I had an idea for a TV programme. I wrote about it here, but no-one really took any notice. Commissioning editors didn’t beat a frantic path to my door, not even those from Granada Men & Motors and Living TV. So today, I changed tack. If they’re not coming to me, then I’ll take it to them. Channel 5, home of quality scheduling, seemed a good place to start. I wrote to Ben Frow, the Controller of Features and Entertainment, partly because he seemed an appropriate contact, but mainly because he looks like a rather distinguished character actor begrudgingly forced into playing embarrassing yet lucrative roles on Star Trek.

Hi Ben,

I have an idea for a TV programme. It’ll make you millions.

It’s called Celebrity Sperm Bank.

What happens is this: you get ten celebrity males – I’m thinking Keith Chegwin, John Leslie, John Fashanu, Richard Bacon, that kind of thing. The men compete in a series of contents, both athletic and academic, to decide who is the most suitable father. Meanwhile, ten women from various British council estates take part in a parallel contest to decide who would make the best recipient of said celebrity sperm, wherever it may come from. At no stage are any of the participants aware of how the other contest is proceeding. At the end of the selection process, the winning woman is inseminated, and cameras closely document her pregnancy over the following nine months. Upon giving birth, the new mother is given five minutes to decide which of the celebrities is the father, based purely on the look of the newborn child. Guess correctly, and the father is forced to pay a handsome amount of child support until the boy or girl reaches the age of eighteen. Choose incorrectly, and the child is taken away from the mother and placed into the permanent care of Social Services. These final, dramatic scenes are played out live, prime-time, Saturday night – Davina McCall cries, and some guy from Big Brother performs his new single, a UK Garage version ‘This Corrosion’ by The Sisters Of Mercy. Programme ends.

Please let me know what you think – I’m looking forward to your response.

Kind regards,


Much to my surprise, he responded almost immediately.

Thanks for this but I’m afraid I’m fully commissioned at the moment and am not looking for anything new right now. I also am not interested in celebrity based shows. Sorry to be blunt, but I don’t want to waste your time.

Best wishes

Ben Frow

What a nice man! He apologised for not wanting to waste my time, even though I had quite obviously just wasted his by submitting my frankly ludicrous pitch. And hooray for Channel 5. I wish them every success, and hope that the current series of ‘World’s Wildest Police Videos’ not only sees the channel triumph in the ratings war, but prompts all manner of journalistic accolades.

blog-jam sham

It’s been a while since I found another blogjam, but today I stumbled across one featuring “Irreverent Reveries” by “award-winning journalist, historian and progressive activist” Jamakaya. Blog-jam (note the clever hyphenation) appears to be a rather short-lived affair, starting in March 2005 and most recently posted to just over a month later. That’s the problem with these activists, you see. No bloody commitment.

One day I’ll hold a convention, where all these charlatan blogjams will be forced to wrestle each other in suet. I’ll sit on a golden throne watching the competition unfold. You can all come. It’ll be ace.

cute pet wars

Tabloid newspapers and magazines in this country have a peculiar relationship with the web, often lifting ideas wholesale for features without ever bothering to credit the source. It’s as if the original idea isn’t worthy of recognition because it ‘only’ appeared online, a medium they must see as inferior to print. A perfect example is Rob Manuel’s Classical Look-a-likes feature, which made at least two appearances in various guises in real-world publications after appearing online, in each case as if it were the newspaper’s own idea. I’ve even been a victim of this myself, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

So what am I to make of the Daily Mirror yesterday, who published a double-page (warning: 400k file) cute cat competition feature little more than a month after the successful launch of my own successful Kittenwar service? It’s certainly not a direct rip-off, but I suspect that there’s a connection, even if it’s via synthesis. What’s more, they’re making piles of tele-cash via the premium rate phone lines they’ve set up.

I demand my cut.

steak tartare

The Tartars are the Turkic-speaking people of Europe and Asia, who mostly live in the central and southern parts of Russia, Ukraine, Poland and in Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Most are direct descendants from the Volga Bulgars, who were conquered by the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. What the Tartars are most famous for, however, is their steak.

Being a hard-working, somewhat sturdy race, with little time to spare after a hard morning’s cattle ranching, the Tartars of old liked to eat on the move. In preparation for this mobile munching, they’d tenderise chunks of beef by placing them for several hours beneath their horse’s saddles, then eat the meat raw, adding a few spicy elements to brighten the flavour and (presumably) disguise the malodorous scent of nag sweat.

This culinary innovation became known over time as Steak Tartare, a meal loved and loathed in equal measure for its joyous disregard for health and safety – consumption of tartare made with contaminated ingredients can cause serious illness or death, while cooking will rid flesh of such harmful bacteria. It’s a lottery, and I’m about to buy a ticket. Once again I’m using Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall’s exemplary bible of meat for guidance, so I’m in good hands.

First up, the steak. It’s important to buy the highest quality beef, so I settle for a piece of organically-reared sirloin from my supermarket of choice, the excellent branch of Waitrose on Finchley Road, North London. Look: here it is.


First job is to trim the steak of fat and sinew, until I’m left with a piquant slab of splendidly lean cow.


In the absence of steed or saddle, I opt for my trusty Molineux, and a couple of seconds processing provide me with precisely the kind of texture required by the recipe.


Next up, I add the seasoning; salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, chopped parsley and shallot. I shape the results into a patty, make a dip in the middle, slip a raw egg yolk into it, and serve with home-made chips.


If I’m allowed to be self-congratulatory here, then I will – it’s my website, after all. The results are quite magnificent, a luscious fusion of flesh and fragrance, culinary black art on a cheap porcelain plate. What’s more, I’m writing this piece more than 24 hours after devouring every last morsel, and have experienced no ill-effects. If I’m to suffer permanent damage, it’ll be the long, agonising slide into insanity via Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease rather than the rapid contamination of the intestinal tract caused by the E. coli bacteria. Personally, however, I think I’ll be OK.

Ooh, and for desert I created my new culinary masterpiece: the hexagonal Eccles Cake.

eccles cake


cricklewood conundrum

There’s a golden rule you should follow if, like me, you’re a wildly unsuccessful blogger. It’s simple: DON’T POST WHEN YOU’RE DRUNK. Not for the first time, I’m going to break that rule.

Tonight was spent at The Crown Hotel, North London’s premier luxury Irish hotel. It’s a lovely place, and on Mondays they hold a quiz. Me and the boy Bowers entered, and won. I’m not sure how, precisely, but our squad of two held off a number of larger teams and romped home (by a single point) in first place. So far, so good.

Prizes were handed out, and we were presented with two bottles of wine, a red and a white from the Broken Rock vineyards in South Africa. Not bad at all.

Except that the posters on the wall advertise something different altogether. The posters on the wall proclaim that the prizes will include “a meal at the King Sitric’s restaurant” (part of the hotel complex) and “champagne” (a sparkling wine produced by inducing the secondary fermentation of wine and named after the Champagne region of France). None of this is mentioned on the night, so I decide to complain via the medium of e-mail. I’m turning into a right pain in the ass.

To whom it may concern,

I just spent a most enjoyable evening in your establishment, which included a testing general knowledge quiz. My friend and I were lucky enough to triumph, and took home a couple of bottles of South African Broken Rock for coming in first.

I have no wish to appear greedy, but all the posters in your bar advertising the event proclaimed that prizes would include “a meal at the King Sitric\’s restaurant” as well as “champagne” and “wine”. I’m curious, therefore, why we only received two bottles of plonk rather than a meal in the no-doubt fine restaurant attached to your hotel.

Curiously yours,


I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update: I got a reply from the bar manager. He said:

First of all, congratulations on winning the quiz, I hope you had an enjoyable evening. I would like to clarify our procedure with prizes distribution with you. On the poster it gives a list of the prizes you could win. For example one week we will give out two bottles of wine and the next will be dinner at the restaurant.

I apologise for any confusion caused and hope to see you at the quiz this Monday.

Well, I don’t believe that clarifies things at all. The poster doesn’t say which prizes are available on which dates, leading me to wonder if the more expensive prizes are ever genuinely on offer or if, as I suspect, they’re holding back on the bigger prizes until the quiz is attracting a larger audience.

So, to the management of the Crown (I doubt they read blogjam, but you never know): I will be drinking in your establishment again. I like your array of fine lagers, your comfortable armchairs and your attractive Australian and Eastern European barmaids. But I shall not be entering your quiz again, until I know precisely what it is that I’m playing for.


Can you tell what it is yet?

I had a rather splendid plan. I was going to make marshmallows, and share their spongy magnificence with you, my devoted reader. I’d tracked down a recipe and translated it into Queen’s English from the original American (cornstarch = cornflour, confectioners sugar = icing sugar). I’d done my research, discovering that while the marshmallow was a mid-nineteenth century invention, the sweet really only came into its own with the introduction of Alex Doumak’s patented extrusion process in 1948, a technique which helped popularise the now-familiar cylindrical shape.

I’d even found some corn syrup. This stuff is nasty, death in a bottle. The FBI probably look out for it as they test packages for Riacin. The high-fructose variety, when tested on some willing rats, caused anemia, high cholesterol and hypertrophy. In other words, their little hearts inflated until they popped. It’s been cited as a major possible cause of obesity amongst Americans who, in 2001, consumed a whopping great 62.6 pounds of the stuff. Each. It’s nigh-impossible to obtain in this country.

Luckily, I’d tracked down a rare example of ‘light’ corn syrup reaching UK shores on the shelves of the excellent Rosslyn Delicatessen in London’s posh Hampstead district. Rather less fortunately, I was perturbed to discover that the second largest ingredient in this healthy alternative is, in fact, high-fructose corn syrup. It’s like buying lo-fat milk to find that it contains added fat.

I even had a dry run. I combined the ingredients in the manner prescribed by the recipe and dusted off my ancient Molineux Masterchef 470 food processor or, as they probably say at the French Culinary Institute, my centrifugeuse et presse agrumes. I whizzed and whirred and churned the mix for a good 15 minutes and, once the dust had settled, was left with a thin layer of white sponge the texture of carpet rubber. The taste was fine but the bounce factor, that international standard by which all marshmallows are measured, was sorely lacking. In short, it was marshmallow meltdown.

So I went back to the web in search of alternative recipes. And what did I find? That acclaimed food blog Cooking For Engineers had produced successful marshmallows less than one month ago. And because I don’t want to be seen as following in anyone else’s foodsteps (see what I did there?), and because I’m really jealous of the fact that the site’s author owns a Kitchenaid food mixer and I don’t, and because I can be a right contrary bastard when the mood strikes, I called a halt to my plans and made a quite wonderful organic pear pie from an ancient Piedmontese recipe instead. One day I might even share it with you.