Archive for September, 2005

hurty

Things I learnt today:

1. If you’re chopping some extremely potent hot green chili peppers from Ghana, it’s not a good idea to pick your nose immediately afterwards.

And that was it, really. Everything else that happened today, I already knew.

Anyhow. Here’s a picture of one of my favourite dishes, the baked rhubarb and ginger cheesecake, which I quickly knocked up at chez blogjam this evening. I’d love to claim it as one of my own inventions, but the recipe comes direct from Waitrose.

My nose still hurts.

The Perfect Chip

After several months of experimentation in the blogjam kitchen, it is with great pride that I’m able to announce the creation of the perfect chip. The number of variables isn’t high, but they can make a huge difference to the end result.

  • The Potato: One of the things that annoys me about your common high street supermarket is that they never sell the varieties suitable for chipping loose. They’ll have some kind of cheap all-purpose mongrel spud available (avoid at all costs), but if you want a couple of Maris Pipers (my chipping potato of choice), you need to fork over a couple of quid for a large bag. This necessitates eating chips every night for some time which, although immeasurably pleasurable, can have debilitating side-effects.
  • The Oil. I recommend Lion and Globe peanut oil, manufactured in Hong Kong. Peanut oil is available from any decent Chinese supermarket, and is recommended firstly because it has a high flash point. This means it is safer to use than other oils, as it’s less likely to burn, the point at which point oil can a) become carcinogenic, and b) set your kitchen alight, killing your children while they sleep. Peanut oil also doesn’t retain flavours, so it can be re-used often. And it tastes nice. On the downside, the oil has much higher concentrations of saturated fatty acids and monosaturated fatty acids than nearly all other cooking oils: this may bother you – it doesn’t me.

First up, the cut. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference, but I prefer the traditional French Fry cut, offering an approximate 7mm square cross-section. This gives the end result a perfect balance of crisp golden exterior and fluffy white interior.

After cutting your chips, you should wash them to get rid of any excess starch. Dry them off carefully (I use a clean tea-towel) to lose as much surface moisture as you can. Then it’s into the oil. To obtain a nice crisp finish it’s important to initially fry the potato at a lower temperature, say 130° – use a thermometer – this allows any remaining starch in the surface cells to dissolve and form a glue with the outer cell walls, creating a thicker, crunchier coating. Five minutes at this temperature should be enough, or until you can squash one of the chips between your fingers but the surface hasn’t yet started to brown.

Next up, remove your frying basket from the heat and set aside. Continue heating the oil until it reaches a temperature of 180°, then return the chips to the pan. This quick, final burn will brown and crisp the exterior – it should only take two or three minutes.

Remove the chips from the pan one final time, shake loose any excess fat, then add salt, pepper and pie to taste.

See? Delicious.

To change tack slightly: The pie above is merely one of Tescos’ finest, but award-winning blogger Scaryduck has much bigger concerns. Alarmed at the absence of Breville’s historic Pie Magic machine from Britain’s department stores and cookware shops, he’s set up a petition to campaign for its reintroduction.

I urge you all to sign.

After all, as one of the signatories states, “There is one thing better than food, and that is food in a pie.”

Quite.

free stuff

I’ve discovered something about being an extremely minor web celebrity: you can get free stuff.

Although to tell the truth, there’s been only one example of this so far, but I suspect my initial foray into the murky world of online payola might just reap dividends off if I play my cards right.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from Workman Publishing in New York. They wanted to know if, in my capacity as kitten king of kilburn (my phrase, not theirs), I’d be interested in receiving a copy of their recent publication, Your Cat’s Just Not That Into You: What Part of Meow Don’t You Understand?. Naturally, I accepted their kind offer, and today the book arrived. Marvellous it is, too. Came in a jiffy bag. Possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Really.

Of course, I’ve not read it at all. But for a moment you thought I had, and that’s the point. I’m quite happy to praise whatever it I’m sent, provided I don’t have to pay for it. This seems fair – so PR companies take note. Got something you’d love me to rave about? Then get in touch. What are you waiting for?

I’ll accept pretty much anything for ‘review’, but things I’d particularly like to get for free include the following:

  1. Some foie gras
  2. A Kitchenaid food mixer
  3. A Real Doll
  4. Holidays

And that’s about it. It’s not much to ask. I’m not greedy. Anyone? ANYONE?

blowtorch action

I hardly ever check my technorati links cosmos – maybe once every couple of months, that’s all. Today I did. And here’s what people have been saying about me:

1. “That Fraser keeps on getting weirder and weirder.”

2. “This guy is crazy in an interesting way. The kind of guy you always want to visit but are too chicken to live with.”

3. “I’m in love with Fraser from Blogjam… He can come and run his blowtorch over by beef anytime.”

I think I like one of these testimonials slightly more than the other two.

Anyway, today I made chicken murgh makhani with a courgette and green pepper sabzi. I can’t be bothered to reproduce the recipes verbatim (and if I did, HFW’s and Madhur Jaffrey’s publishers might come after me with their highy paid legal lawyer folk), so here’s a complete set of ingredients displayed in cunningly random fashion, plus a couple of pictures.

Olive oil. Groundnut oil. Asefetida. Mustard seeds. Cumin seeds. Ground cumin. Courgette. Green pepper. Green chillies. Chilli powder. Natural yoghurt. Honey. Double cream. Water. Butter. Coriander. Salt. Garam masala. Chaat masala. Lime juice. Fenugreek. Ginger root. Garlic. Chicken. Tomatos. Tomato purée. Cloves. Black Pepper.


The first stage.


The final stage.

Go on then, you’ve seen how it’s done. You know what’s in it. Now go make your own.

save mona

A couple of years back I wrote about the ASCII characters that inhabit 2-Channel, the Japanese bulletin board often considered to be the World’s largest.

It got plenty of favourable reaction from Japan, including some press coverage. Then all went quiet, until the last couple of days, when I’ve been inundated with mail from 2-Channelers.

MonaIt seems that the most prominent of the ASCII characters, Mona (you’ll be familiar with this figure if you’ve ever seen any of the hundreds of flash animations made by the 2-Channel community), has been ‘appropriated’ by Japanese record company Avex, who are using a likeness of Mona to sell records by Moldavian band O-Zone.

The label are apparently claiming ownership of the copyright, and are even selling merchandise featuring Mona (renamed ‘Noma’).

The 2-Channel community don’t seem to be happy about this. Several pages explaining the situation in English have been set up:

http://www011.upp.so-net.ne.jp/storage/nomaneko_probs/
http://blog.livedoor.jp/monarmonarmonar/
http://moon.ap.teacup.com/mishima/460.html
http://blog.livedoor.jp/noma_neko/archives/50066730.html
http://monseurmonar.tripod.com/saveourbelovedmonar/

One of my corespondents writes:

One music company in Japan had started to sale this ASCII Art originated characters product. They are trying to get an exclusive right of this ASCII Art originated characters. The name of the company is called AVEX.

This company is now planing to get exclusive rights to sell ASCII Art related items, and sell them to World Wide market. ASCII Art have been developed in General users of the Internet around the World. Of course, it is our, all internet users property. There is no national boundaries.

This AVEX\’s project will blaspheme the rights of general users in the internet. If it became a bad precedent, this terrible idea will spread to worldwide markets.

We really want you to join this project. Let\’s unite and protest AVEX related projects.

If you interested in, please check this website (sorry, right now English language is not available).

If you agree with us, please use this message for your Blog or any other purposes. We need your help.

Sorry for poor English language.

Well, I’m not sure what blogjam can do, but I certainly support the cause. Mona, Giko and the other ASCII figures who inhabit 2-Channel should be protected from commercial exploitation, and those who originally developed the character (the community) be allowed to continue doing so.

I did think this story might be suitable for the wonderful BoingBoing, but my submission didn’t seem to pass master. Let’s hope some others pick up the thread.

asia carrera’s cats

These patchy scribblings at the blogjam empire have led to some exciting places – being a runner-up in the inaugural Guardian weblog competition, being named one of the World’s best weblogs by Web User magazine, and being offered free sex (almost) are just three examples.

But all this near-success pales into shoddy insignificance when compared to my latest coup – getting fan-mail from the very lovely former adult film star Asia Carrera. Asia, it turns out, is a cat lover. Not only has she submitted a picture to kittenwar, (an image which is scoring very nicely, thank you very much for asking – currently topping the kittenwar chart), but she’s uploaded a couple of shots to my most recent venture, the wildly successful Cats In Sinks. Asia wrote to me asking how many kittens were competing at kittenwar (as I write it’s 18,607), which led to a short exchange of e-mails. I complimented her on the high standard of photographs uploaded, and she responded by saying:

There’s nothing wrong with being obsessed with cats – I’ve had many, and I’ve shot 10,000 pictures of every one of ‘em, so I have a mega-arsenal of adorable kitty pics to submit! I spent 10 years of my life being shot from every angle, so it’s only fair I subjected my cats to the same scrutiny.

Marvellous stuff. Not only is Asia the only Carnegie Hall-playing member of Mensa to have carved out a bewilderingly successful career in pornography, and an obvious cat lover, but she’s also the only adult star to have written to me. Personally. What a nice lady.


Two of Asia’s cats, Tigger and Kitten Little.

You can read Asia’s bulletin page (post dated 9/11) for her take on kittenwar.

pukka posters

Today I received a package from Pukka Pies containing not one, but FIVE (count ‘em) posters advertising their delicious provisions, every one laminated with a sensible wipe-clean plastic coating and featuring a sturdy adhesive patch in each corner. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do customer service. Here are my favourites:

It’s not all been puff-pastry excitement round here, however. I also made Heston Blumenthal’s slow-cooked roast wing rib of beef. As with much of Heston’s output, the recipe combines great theatrics (you need a blowtorch) with innovative thinking (you cook the meat for twenty hours at a very low temperature).

Here’s the source material. As you can see, I’ve placed the joint next to Gorse’s west-country classic, ‘Let The Gorse Be With You‘, so you get a true idea as to the size of my meat.

Next up, it’s time to flame the fucker. Heston recommends a quick hit using a professional welders’ blowtorch, but as I’ve only got the much weedier chefs’ variety, I use that and spend several minutes browning the beast. Apologies for the shaky nature of the picture, but it’s not easy to seal a joint in this fashion whilst taking a photograph, especially when you’re dealing with a 1400°C flame. Attentive readers may notice Simon, my albino goldfish, keeping a careful eye on the situation from his tank in the background.

And into the oven it goes. I’m able to watch episodes five to 24 of Lost while the meat is cooking, and can reveal (if you want to read a spoiler, highlight the next sentence) that the capsule Locke and Boone find covers a vertical tunnel leading down to who-knows-where, and that’s where series one ends. Boone himself dies in Episode 20 after making a distress call from the cockpit of a crashed drug-smuggler’s plane. So there.

And here we have it. Cooking at such a low temperature (just 70°C) means that all the juices are retained in the meat – there’s no evaporation, no liquid escapes at all, and therefore there’s no gravy.

It carves beautifully, and pretty soon a couple of slices find their way to one of my more attractive plates, where they nestle gently next to some baby leeks and a healthy dollop of carrot and swede mash. The meat is still slightly pink, but succulent and quite delicious, with none of that drab-grey toughness that afflicts many lesser roasts.

Yummy.

pukka pies

Even the regular blogjam reader could be forgiven for assuming two things:

  1. That I only eat fancy food
  2. That I’m happy to complain about things, but am less forthcoming when it comes to handing out praise

Well, I’m happy to say that neither is quite true. Often (typically following the consumption of several pints of lager), I’m tempted to head to the chip shop for the kind of chemically imbalanced, peppered-with-additives treat that only fast food will provide, comfort grub for the alcohol-addled. Even here, though, I have standards. More specifically, I’m on the lookout for one thing: a sign advertising the presence of Pukka Pies.

I’m not precisely sure what it is about these parcels of dietary delight that mark them out as the pinnacle of popularly-priced pie perfection, but they are head and shoulders above other brands. Perhaps it’s the puff pastry crust, which never seems to suffer from the sogginess that afflicts the produce of lesser imprints. Perhaps it’s the filling. I really don’t know.

Anyway. In order to prove that point 2) above is also not typical, I decided to write to Pukka to congratulate them on their fare. And, of course, to try and blag some free stuff.

Hello.

I am a fan the Pukka Pie.

Indeed, I will not enter a chip shop unless the Pukka brand is advertised on its walls. This is the result of years of pie research – I have tried many other varieties, but only Pukka truly satisfies.

My local chippie currently features a splendid poster featuring a pie cleverly disguised as London’s Millennium Dome, under the delightful heading ‘Millenni-Yum’. It’s fantastic.

I wondered if you had a spare copy of this poster you could send me. I would very much like one to adorn the wall of my kitchen.

I’d be really grateful if you could help out with this one – I know it’s an odd request, but I really like the poster, and I love your pies.

Especially the chicken & mushroom one.

All the best,

Fraser

Within minutes, I’d received a response:

Dear Fraser

Thank you for your recent e-mail. Unfortunately we no longer produce the Millenni-Yum poster and we don’t have any stocks left. If you would like me to send you a couple of our new posters please forward me your address.

Kind regards

Chrissie Beaver
Receptionist
Pukka Pies Ltd

Tremendous. Not only did I get a rapid, positive response (Rollover Hot Dogs of Slough, please take note), but it came from the gloriously-named Chrissie Beaver. She is my new hero.

Hooray for Pukka Pies.

The Highbury Library

I went to see Arsenal play Fulham last week. It was a good game. Pascal Cygan came within 180-odd goals of breaking Ian Wright’s club scoring record, and some flashy French fella also bagged a brace. It was a nice evening out, and a pleasure to see the Arse play a game at the old stadium before they move up the road to their new home, where the crowd will hopefully be able to generate the kind of atmosphere one normally associates with a game of football.

List of grounds where I’ve experienced a livlier atmosphere than last week’s:

  • San Siro, Milan
  • Camp Nou, Barcelona
  • Bernabau, Madrid
  • Giants Stadium, New York
  • Three Com Park, San Fransisco
  • The Basin Reserve, Wellington
  • Sixfields Stadium, Northampton
  • Manor Park, Nuneaton
  • Just about everywhere else I’ve ever watched sport

But more importantly, what was the food like?

In a word, rubbish. This unfortunate half-time faire was manufactured by Rollover Hot Dogs of Slough, who claim great things for their product.

They really shouldn’t.

So I wrote to them.

To whom it may concern,

I sampled one of your hot dogs last week at Highbury, tempted by your claim boasting of “the best hot dog in the World”.

Sir, this is misleading. Any street vendor in New York City will serve up a dog superior to your miserable alchemy of taste and texture, the blandest item to have passed my lips in some considerable time. It troubles me that you feel able to label the flaccid, tasteless dough surrounding the equally sorry bockwurst a ‘fresh French baguette’, when it quite clearly bears no passing resemblance to the delightful, crusty, golden-brown wonders served up by any half-decent Parisienne patisserie.

As for the sausage itself, may I take a wild guess and suggest that the ‘unique recipe’ you claim to adhere to is nothing of the sort, unless its unholy litany of ingredients features a liberal amount of stale cardboard?

A more accurate name for this so-called food would be a ‘Not So Hot Dog’.

Yours in deep disgust,

Fraser

I await their response with near-feverish anticipation.

Thor

On 18 November 2003, Thor lost his battle with Lymphoma. He was just ten years old, and it appears he may have been the original cat in the sink.