Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Middle Aged Sit Down - Ragu


Recently I went to a gig, now the word gig to me serves up connotations of finding a little unknown band playing in a dingy badly lit club, sweat dripping off the walls and throwing yourself into the middle of the mosh pit.

Well an old friend and me went to see James supported by Echo and The Bunnymen at the O2 in Leeds. Yes they’re hardly ground breaking but no less fantastic. We enjoyed a beer beforehand and to complete the middle aged experience arrived early enough to get a seat.

If you looked hard enough you may have seen me tap a foot, sway from side to side and even at one point sing along as I was temporarily transported back to my youth. I did wake up the next day knackered with a sore back from having to stand through some of the songs. Imagine the state I'd be in if I ventured anywhere near a bloody mosh pit.

Singing and dancing are a definite no no for me, you may have gathered I’m not one to readily let myself go. That is of course unless absolutely leathered at a wedding but the less said about that the better. It’s so bad that I don’t like people I’m with to dance either, Mrs. Vino could be jigging away happily to music in a shop, I’d walk out. I have a very low embarrassment threshold.

The venue was filled with lots of 30 and 40 somethings very similar to me reliving the heady days when they heard the songs for the first time. Everyone was dressed pretty much the same as they would have back then although everything seemed to have shrunk in the wash a little since the early 90’s. Trying to get the toothpaste back in the tube seems an apt way to describe how my fellow patrons were attired.



This experience got me thinking about getting old, well I say got me, the thought has been there for sometime but the gig kind of pushed it more to the forefront.

Don’t worry this isn’t going to be some long diatribe on the meaning of life. To me there isn’t one, you’re born and you die. The stuff in between is pretty much down to you; whatever works to get you through from a to b is ok by me.

I say that but please don’t take this as me advocating law breaking, I hardly think you could use The Vino Defence when the police find 350 stolen microwaves in your garage “but Vino said whatever works”. Sorry my friend you’re doing bird for that one and I'm not baking a cake with a file in it.

As Benjamin Franklin said there are two certainties in this life “death and taxes” not to be confused with “death and taxis”. Although for me there is a certain fatality to that as well, I’ll always get a driver who wants to talk to me for the entire journey and then bend me over to extract £30 for the fare.

No these thoughts of getting old are more to do with achievement rather than a fear of my own mortality. I find myself hurtling toward 40, which in itself doesn’t bother me, it’s more a question of what have I actually achieved in these 40 years?

Now the obvious answer is family, it’s good but it’s not right. So let’s address it.

Mrs. Vino is fantastic and I concede I wouldn’t have had the life experiences, such as moving to the US, without her. But an achievement? 

Granted I’ve definitely punched above my weight with her, short fat miserable northerner marries tall blonde boarding school educated doctor’s daughter from the south.

The girls, N & M achievements?

I love them to death although I do find myself thinking sometimes who the fuck are you? and how did you get into my house?

I don’t think I can count the girls as an achievement, in reality I had very little (stop making your own jokes up) to do with their creation. I was back downstairs before the kettle had time to boil on both occasions.

My main problem is that I’ve never had a clue what I’m doing with my life either at home or work, I generally just bumble along with a laissez faire attitude. Hoping that things turn out for the best  but generally fearing they won't.  If as predicted they don’t I deal with them with all the aptitude of King Canute.

I’ve always had a sense that I’m meant to be doing something of purpose with my life, almost like Clark Kent before the realisation he was actually Superman. Yes it has a slight delusion of grandeur about it but it stems from a dislike of and disdain for the general populous.

What makes achieving things harder is the fact I’m not good at sticking at things. I come up with ideas, plans, some would say fads and then throw myself in with zealous force. This momentum probably lasts for about a month, maybe slightly less and then it’s on to something else.

Therefore if anybody would like to buy any of the following they’re all available at a knock down price: -

5 String Banjo – given up after learning the opening to dueling banjos

Ukulele – given up after not learning any discernable tune

Kite – couldn’t get it to loop the loop

Telescope – couldn’t see in to no.33’s bedroom

In a few years there may be a Canal Boat available – don’t ask

The phrase jack-of-all-trades master of none springs to mind, I can get by in most situations. I do ok at work and can hold a conversation on a number of subjects, being a mine of absolutely mind numbingly useless trivia helps with that. Sport wise I don’t make a complete balls up playing football, tennis or golf, generally I can handle myself.

Actually come to think of it handling myself is something I do excel at, not to blow my own trumpet (you can’t I’ve tried, how do you think I slipped two discs?) Apologies this is probably a digression too far, I don’t want to put my 3 readers off (sorry Mum).

So I suppose the one thing that keeps me from a complete midlife meaning of life meltdown is cooking. I love it and given the choice would spend days on end in the kitchen. Cooking for people and having them enjoy what I make gives me that sense of achievement. Maybe this is my purpose? The kitchen could be my fortress of solitude, wooden spoon in hand, listening to music making a difference one recipe at a time.

This week’s recipe is probably the first thing I ever learnt to cook watching my Dad make it. It’s not radical but it’s good. It isn’t quick either, giving me an excuse to spend more time in the kitchen.

Ragu, Bolognaise, Meat Sauce, Whatever you want to bloody call it.

There are hundreds of recipes for ragu all of which will do the job. I’ve settled on this one, it’s an amalgamation of many and the little twists to it can be attributed to my Genoese sister in law.

Ingredients

500g Beef Mince

500g Pork Mince – for my readers with certain dietary requirements use all beef

200g Cubed Pancetta – once again optional

2 Carrots – chopped

2 Onions – chopped

2 Sticks of Celery – chopped

500ml Stock – Chicken, Beef, Vegetable – whatever you’ve got in the cupboard

Full Fat Milk – a glug (How annoying is that?! A glug what the buggery is a glug?)

2 Tins Chopped Tomatoes

Tomato Puree – about a tablespoon

Tablespoon of Sugar

2 Bay Leaves

Salt and Pepper

Olive Oil

Method

You need a massive frying pan, biggest you’ve got.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the pan.

Add the Onion, Carrot and Celery. Cook over a low to medium heat until the vegetables have softened, this could take 10-15 minutes.

Once softened put the veg on to a plate or a bowl with a slotted spoon so you don’t remove all the oil, leave to one side.

Turn up the heat adding more oil if the pan looks like it needs it.

Add the pancetta, fry for a minute or so and then add the minces.

These need to be fried over a high heat until the meat breaks down and starts to brown.

At this point I tend to pour off the fat, this is entirely up to you and the amount that builds up will depend on the quality of the beef mince you use.

Add the vegetables back to the pan and stir.

Pour in the tins of tomatoes and stir.

Now you put in the stock and milk. The amounts are a little wooly, as you want to fully immerse the mixture with liquid. So about 500ml of stock first. Give it a stir and then add approx. 200ml of milk.

Next put in the tomato puree and stir in, this will help to thicken the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper and add sugar, I always add sugar as it helps with the acidity of the tomatoes. I sprinkle an ad hoc amount, probably a couple of teaspoons. It’s up to you if you want to add the sugar or not.

Finally add the bay leaves and give it a good stir.

Turn the heat down to a really low simmer and leave it for as long as you’ve got. I usually go for 2 hours minimum but more like 3.

This allows the sauce to reduce and the meat to soften.

The recipe makes a shit load (this is actually a culinary term).

Serve it with Spaghetti as standard or whatever pasta, rice, potato accompaniment you wish.

Last week I made a b├ęchamel and did lasagna with it. If you want the b├ęchamel recipe leave a comment and I’ll blog it.

Enjoy.

A

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Parties, Purgatory & Birthday cake


Lately there has been a glut of birthdays in both N and M’s classes. I’m not sure if this time of year marks the anniversary of any special events that led to increased coital activity but there does seem to be a lot of kids born at this time of year. I know they’re expecting a baby boom 9 months after the Olympics.

Personally Mo Farrah didn’t do it for me. It’s the Masters in 2005 that holds special significance for me, I vividly remember a well struck 8 Iron by Tiger inspiring my own performance and Christmas Eve that year N was born.

Now it has been said that I have a negative outlook on things, mainly by people who’ve spent more than ten minutes in my company. Yes I may have a slightly downbeat view of the world and on occasion I may embrace misery like an old friend. So you’re probably asking how I could possibly take no joy from a child’s birthday party?

Three words – SOFT PLAY CENTRE

Ok I’ll concede it isn’t all bad, N is old enough to be dropped off. Unless there is some major emergency, loss of limb, electrocution, you know something really extreme, it’s a couple of childfree hours. I tend to run in and run out at lightning speed doing my best Mel Gibson impression as I leave, obviously going for a Braveheart exclamation of “Freedom” rather than a drunk Anti-Semitic rant.

My problem is when it’s a party for M, at four years old she can’t be abandoned. I’ve tried but she’s like a homing pigeon.

So the invitation came home from playgroup –

“Dear M, Come and have a Wacky Time with us to celebrate Chardonnay’s 4th Birthday at the Crazy Warehouse.”

To me it actually reads –

“Dear M, Come and see how many germs you can catch from the 500 filth mongering kids who’ve not washed their hands today at Crazy Larry’s Fucking Nuthouse.
PS we know our children have never spoken let alone played together but we want more presents.”

Naturally M wants to go, she doesn’t share her father's disposition nor understand that I don’t really want her associating with children with faux names or naughty girl/boy names.

Mrs. Vino is a teacher and has encountered many a naughty child over the years and it seems to me that there is a direct correlation between the name given and their behaviour. I use the word naughty to save from using another expletive.

The question of names became a real problem when we were choosing for ourselves. I would suggest a name I liked and Mrs. Vino would veto it having taught a little ‘darling’ with that name.

As I’m digressing I might as well tell you I liked Angus for a boy but there was the issue of someone adding “me coat up” to the end of it. Then there was Ophelia for a girl, I’m not educated enough to know she’s a tragic Shakespearean character I just liked the name. We didn’t go with it ultimately when it was pointed out that she’d probably get “Can I have a feel a ya”.

Anyway back to the party, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure or misfortune of visiting a soft play centre let me describe them to you.

They’re vile, pure and simple. Dante would have placed them as the 6th Circle of Hell, in between Anger and Violence, had they existed when he wrote his Inferno.

There are literally hundreds of bloody children running around screeching, crying, sneezing and farting as you sit there nursing your hang over, invariably the parties are on a Sunday morning. 

I should add that I’m not great with children, let’s face it I struggle with my own. So you can only imagine how I am with hundreds of them that I don’t know tearing around.

You pay £3 for a shite coffee and then run the gauntlet of making eye contact with other parents you may have met in the playground at pick up or drop off time. Ideally I don’t want to speak to anyone never mind getting saddled with them for two hours, two hours! I don’t speak to my closest friends that much.

The soft play area consists of a series of tunnels, slides and ball pits constructed from disused scaffolding made safe with a bit of bubble wrap and sellotape. It’s a neurotic parents nightmare constantly having to check if little Jonny has done himself a mischief. My nightmare is holding myself back from throttling the brat who’s terrorising the other kids or throwing balls at me from the pit. The parents will be stood idly by adopting an anything goes attitude. If this is you let me tell you just paying your entry fee doesn’t admonish your responsibility of teaching your child right and wrong.

The only redeeming feature in these pits of despair is the food. The children get fed something with beans and chips, generally fish fingers or sausages. I love fish fingers, beans and chips.

Generally speaking a visit to one of these places is two hours of your life you’re never getting back. I’m not looking down my nose at those who choose the option of having their parties there. (I am really, hold your heads in shame.)

You pay per attending child and everything is done for you. There’s no cooking or clearing up after, they turf you out when the time’s up with one final kick in the nuts of a party bag full of sugar just to ensure your child leaves in the most hyper state possible.

It was M’s birthday last week and you won’t be surprised to know we made our own party, although the sadistic part of me wanted to do soft play if only to inflict the pain I go through on others.

Instead we hired a children’s entertainer, an old magician who M absolutely loved and was in hysterics. Now I did write a joke about not seeing his CRB check and being slightly concerned when he started to turn out his trouser pockets to do his ‘elephant’ impression. Mrs.Vino said I couldn’t include it, oh well.

The poor old fella was last seen heading to his van mumbling “I just wish they’d sit down, why won’t they bloody sit down, 25 years I’ve been doing this and they’ve never sat down.”

Food wise I refused to make anything nice for the little buggers to throw at each other and trample into the floor, so it was sandwiches, crisps and sausage rolls. I did bake some buns (fairy cakes to you southerners) and flapjack I couldn’t help myself.

The party bags were filled with crappy sweets and a piece of cake I didn’t make. Mrs. Vinos teacher instincts took over as the obligatory toy was replaced with a book. “You WILL bloody read.”

So in honour of M turning 4 this week’s recipe is the birthday cake I made her but didn’t give to any of the children at the party.

I’ve made lots of birthday cakes and have to say this is the best, it’s simple but looks and tastes bloody good. I no longer do requests after getting caught out with an Elmer cake for M’s 3rd. I spent hours and hours baking and decorating but it never had a prayer of looking like a multi coloured elephant.



Nigella’s Birthday Custard Sponge - (From Feast)


Ingredients – I’ve broken it down into each element

Sponges

200g Plain Flour
3 Tablespoons Custard Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
4 Eggs
225g Soft Butter
200g Caster Sugar
2-3 Tablespoons Milk

Buttercream

125g Icing Sugar
4 Teaspoons Custard Powder
75g Soft Butter
1 ½ Teaspoons Boiling Water

Chocolate Icing

60ml Water
2 Tablespoons Golden syrup
125g Caster Sugar – Only 50g needed if you use Milk Chocolate
175g Dark Chocolate – broken into pieces

Decorations

I use Stars & Hundreds and Thousands

Yes I know it looks a lot of ingredients and yes it probably is cheaper to buy a cake but I like baking and once you’ve made it the ingredients are in the cupboard to make again.

Method - Sponge

Preheat the oven to 180c and butter the bottom and sides of 2 x 20cm tins then line the bottoms with greaseproof paper.

Put everything, minus the milk, into a processor and blitz until it’s smooth – make sure the butter is soft or it’s a nightmare and you’ll end up with a lumpy batter.

Add the milk so you get a consistency that it easily drops off the spoon.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 20 minutes, the cakes will have risen and be nicely golden on top. I use a wooden skewer to test if they’re ready, if it comes out clean they’re done.

Let them cool a little in the tin and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, remember to take off the greaseproof paper.

Method – Buttercream

Process the icing sugar and custard powder first.

Add the butter and process, it’ll start to form a ball.

With the motor still running add the boiling water to loosen the buttercream up.

Method - Chocolate Icing

Put everything in a saucepan except the chocolate and heat until the syrup and sugar have dissolved.

Take off the heat and add the chocolate, swirling it around to cover in the hot liquid.

Once it’s melted whisk to make it smooth.

Assembly

Once the sponges are completely cold place one on a plate.

Put all the buttercream in the middle and spread it out evenly.

Put the other sponge on top.

Do this before you make the chocolate icing. (Now I tell you – sorry)

Pour the now made chocolate icing over the top, it’ll run down on to the plate just spoon it back over making sure you cover the sides completely.

Decorate before the icing sets.


Enjoy.

A

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Cooking gets much tougher than they think - Pork Chops


Over the years I’ve had favourite TV Chefs and cookery programmes then pretty much fallen out with all of them. I revel in shouting abuse at the box as Nigel ponces around his kitchen garden knocking up ‘something simple’ from leftovers that the majority of us can’t afford to buy in the first place.

I have a problem with chefs, celebrity or otherwise being held in a position far outweighing their status. They’re not surgeons, scientists or superheroes.

When all is said and done, they show us how to cook our tea. (It’s tea, not dinner. I’m from Yorkshire.)

The only thing the Great British Menu recently taught us was that chefs can’t muster a funny thought between them, they’d have struggled even if one had marched into the kitchen singing “funny thoughts are here again.”

It leads me to believe the collective noun for chefs is a moribund.

Serving essence of food while adorning oneself with a silly hat or red nose doesn’t constitute humour. To steal from Black Adder again, they should have served a Turnip shaped like a Thingy and be done with it. Weeks of toe curling viewing could have been avoided.

What really irked was the seriousness with which the chefs approached the ‘competition’. Really what are they competing for, a ten minute slot on Saturday Kitchen where they can watch Mr. Martin chat up anything with a pulse? A friend on Twitter dared to comment on the questionable behaviour of one of the chefs only to have his followers and ultimately the chef himself, berate him for expressing an opinion. What an absolute dick.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learnt many things, stolen good ideas and favourite recipes from these programmes. My main problem, yes I’m a grumpy bastard most of the time and so have problems with many things, is the crusades celebrity chefs go on. The curly haired one telling us which chicken we can feed our family, the mockney one what food our children can eat at school. Yes I know these are just causes, we should consider the welfare of the poor chickens and the fat kids and no I don’t want N & M to eat twizzlers but please fuck off, it’s not your job to sort it. Just entertain me you dancing monkeys, is that too much to ask?

Then there’s Nigella, how I used to love Nigella. I’ve fantasised about whole weekends spent in various carnal states with her. Obviously she cooks me something tasty after I have satiated her every desire. Unfortunately these days she reminds me of some poor old dear with dementia, dressed up to the nines dripping with pearls hanging around the fridge door at midnight trying to get in to what I can only hazard a guess she believes to be Claridges.

My personal favourite, if by favourite you mean the programme that makes you spew expletives at your screen above all others, is Masterchef.

I don’t have issues with the contestants per se. Oh who am I kidding I sit watching in slack jawed amazement at the ineptitude of these ‘master chefs’, surely the clue is in the title of the show, if you can’t fucking boil water, don’t apply.

Then we have John & Gregg re-enacting their own Brokeback Mountain in front of the nation, the sexual chemistry makes me a little uneasy if I’m being honest, why don’t they just get a room?

I’d love John to do a palette test involving Beans, Bread & Butter, while Gregg bounces uncontrollably from foot to foot fawning over this masterpiece of culinary art.

Gregg’s metaphors are simply stunning. I can’t wait for the day when he delivers the ultimate line. Picture the scene, someone has dared make a Sticky Toffee pudding with plenty of sauce and topped with custard. John as usual doesn’t really give a shit but Gregg, he’s in pudding heaven. He manages to suck the silver off the spoon as he savours every morsel, then he utters the words “that pudding it, it, it…. takes my cock and balls out of my trousers puts them on the table and BANG hits them with a massive sledgehammer it’s that good” John stands there looking longingly into his eyes.

However the phrases that really make my blood boil are “Cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this” and “Pressure Test.”

You know what I’ll give you a bloody pressure test. It takes place in kitchens up and down the country every night. Children waiting for their dinner from 5 o’clock and parents trying to make them something tasty and nutritious while not finishing work 'til 6. Try bending the Space Time Continuum Gregg & John, that’s definitely cooking at it’s toughest.

So here’s a quick and simple recipe for a family tea, Pork Chops although you can adapt to use chicken breasts and make homemade nuggets. I’m claiming it as my own basically because I can’t remember where it originated.

Breaded Pork Chops

4 Pork Loin Chops or Steaks, something without a bone - 1 per person

Breadcrumbs

Grated Parmesan

Eggs

Seasoned Plain Flour

Method

The Pork needs flattening out, I ask the butcher to do this for me.

I sometimes bash my own pork (sorry couldn’t resist), so if you have a proclivity for violence lay a big sheet of cling film out put a piece of pork on top lay another sheet of cling film on top and knock the crap out of it with a rolling pin.

Ideally the meat should flatten to a thickness of about a centimetre.

Pre Heat the oven to 180c

Next you need 3 large bowls to bread the pork, the production line method works well.

In the first bowl pour in plain flour, enough to coat the pork. Season well with salt and pepper.

In the second bowl crack two eggs and beat.
In the third bowl put the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan and mix well. Ideally you should use stale bread whizzed up in a processor to create the crumbs, in reality I use whatever’s in the house.

Take a piece of pork and coat in the flour making sure it’s completely covered. Knock off any excess.

Place the coated pork in the egg mixture once again making sure it’s coated.

Lastly place in the breadcrumbs and press down so the pork is encased in the Parmesan breadcrumbs.

Place on a plate and repeat each step with the remaining pieces.

You can prepare the pork in advance and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook it.

Heat a large frying pan preferably one big enough to hold all 4 steaks and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom (I like to use groundnut but whatever you have is fine).

When the oil is nice and hot carefully place the pork in and cook for 2 minutes each side, the breadcrumb coating she be nicely golden and have crisped up.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 8 minutes. Please make sure the pan is oven proof I don’t want anyone to have a melted mess in the oven.

The best way to tell if they’re done is to simply cut into one, if doesn’t look like it would kill you eat it.
Serve with whatever you want, mash and vegetables or Spaghetti and a tomato sauce works well.

Enjoy.