Archive for May, 2012

We check out the Leisuregrow 100 BBQ. Dragon’s Den’s loss is our gain

The beast in the publicity shot

Like many a male  I spent last weekend putting up a barbecue, driven to it by the rare sight of sun and a nagging family. Normally we just wheel out our trusty Weber charcoal BBQ but this this time we’d been persuaded to try a gas one supplied for testing –  the Leisuregrow Grillstream 100  and just in time for National Barbecue Week too.

Now like most food fans I’ve always rather looked down my nose at gas BBQs. If you’re going to cook on gas, you might as well cook in the kitchen, has been my argument. A gas BBQ won’t give you that unique flavour, nor can you smoke so well inside it .Food that is, not you and 20 Marlboro.

On the other hand, there is the fact that a charcoal BBQ can be a right pain to light and in any case needs lighting a good 45 minutes before cooking can commence, something which makes it all too much of a fuss for weekday cooking.

Enter the dragon

This particular gas BBQ also had something special to recommend it; Grillstream technology.It was this clever idea that won approval in Dragon’s Den and went on to win a licence for factory fitting to Leisuregrow BBQs. To survive the den and emerge not fatally holed below the waterline is rare, to come out with a bright future even rarer. Read more…

Windsor Burger. Fit for a Queen?

Now I am no burger nutcase, I mean I like a burger now and then just like most people, but I don’t go all weak at the knees or gabble uncontrollably when I hear of another ‘restaurant’ that intends to serve up minced meat in a bun. Maybe it’s my age, when I was a young man burgers were still the food of people who had crude tastebuds and saw food merely as fuel. Americans we tended to call them.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen were not, I think, the first to try and raise up the burger’s image in order that middle-class parents could surrender to their kids peer-fuelled cravings without having the shame of being seen in Maccy D, but they were among the first. Clean wholesome places with no anti-drug lighting in the loos and quality meat on the griddles and sourced from good, traceable places.

Today GBK don’t really figure on the burger foodies’ radar; too chain, too unhip, but they carry on feeding normal people and doing it very well. Getting in the spirit of Jubilee. they’ve partnered up with the Royal Farms in Windsor to create a limited edition burger available for a restricted time only across all GBK restaurants from May 28th.

The Royal Farms in Windsor produce some of the finest beef in the UK and The Windsor is the only burger to be made from The Royal Farm’s world famous Sussex cattle reared in the grounds of Windsor Castle, with the meat then hung and aged to get extra flavour and tenderness.

Only the best grade cattle are selected and the meat is  aged on the bone for the maximum allowable time. Each burger is fully traceable and made using a specific blend of chuck steak, short rib and brisket.

The Royal Farm’s beef is in finite supply, one doesn’t want all one’s cows going to the plebs obviously, and so The Windsor won’t be around forever unlike our dear dear Queen. It’s priced at £11.95 and available throughout the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics until they are all gone.

I tried a preview and it was certainly how I personally like a burger; not too rare in the centre, just blushing slightly, and with the outside pretty well sealed. The brioche bun was naked but for some mustard mayonnaise, and the lettuce and tomato were outside so you had the option of adding it or not. Personally I cannot stand burgers that have everything but the kitchen sink inside them, I want to taste the meat not a hodge podge of ingredients all mashing together in a gloopy mess that goes down my shirt sleeves. The Windsor is much more of a sandwich, simple and unadorned. Mind you I do like a gherkin.

GBK do a nice range of sauces/dips for your chips, although our skinny fries were so anorexic they hadn’t the strengh to survive dipping and we’d have been better off with the thicker options. GBK also serve Coke in original bottles, maybe it’s just me but I think Coke tastes better out of glass and the iconic bottle always makes me smile.

There are GBKs all over London, so if you’re in a royal mood tell the Queen to burger off in the nicest way.

North African Cooking by Arto der Haroutunian

What I like about Arto der Haroutunian’s new book is not the fact that I can’t spell his name correctly without at least three attempts, nor that every recipe is mouth-wateringly good. What’s great is that there are no pictures.

Pictures of course bump up a book’s price, but for me the real sin is that they dumb down a cookbook. Pictures serve to lure in the casual cook, the bookshop browser, but they lie.

Sometimes they clearly feature ingredients not mentioned in the recipe, other times they show the dish in a state of art-directed beauty no one but the photographer and stylist can ever achieve. They are about as honest as advertising

A good cookbook lets the aspiring chef see the dish in the mind’s eye and of course in practical terms, you get more recipes in when the photos are left out.

Arto’s book is of course not in fact new, he died in 1987, and this book was first published in 1985 at a time when food in the UK wasn’t such a big deal. There were only 4 TV channels, one food programme and in general food remained a middle class pastime and restaurants rather posh.

Few cookbooks today would risk a long and thoughtful intro discussing North African history, culture, literature, art and food. Reading it is an education into food origins and how dishes evolve as people take them to new lands; whether as conquerors or as conquered. The Muslims in Andalucía for example.

So here we have a collection of dishes in twelve chapters and 300 dishes. From chorbat (soups) through salads, the ubiquitous grilled meats, couscous and tajines, everyday dishes, pickles, pastries and desserts. Dishes from what are today Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

The ingredients are simple, short and generally easily obtainable, certainly more obtainable now in multicultural Britain than they would have been back in 1985. You can smell the spices coming off the page and revel in Arto’s descriptions of what you’re cooking and why.

Everything is a revelation and such a change from the ‘modern European’ style of cookbook which endlessly rehashes the same old things in the same old way. Outside of their homelands the majority of these dishes are barely known let alone served but are easily within the reach of the amateur cook.

It’s a generous book, like the people whose cooking it celebrates, it makes you long to take off for North Africa and revel in real food untainted by fashion or fad