A lapsed vegetarian

So, hard is it may to be believe (given my penchant to post on my love affair with meat) I am a lapsed vegetarian. OK, it was when I was supremely young and terribly impressionable and it started with a book loaned to me by my neighbour (who I thought was the coolest woman on the planet). The book was Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe.

So I had two reasons to become a vegetarian:
1. Save the planet – since it really isn’t big enough to support a diet that centres on meat
2. Be a rebellious teenager and insist on being different and a massive pain-in-the-ass at dinner (that said, I did happily cook meals for myself)

In the end it was bacon….a crisp piece of bacon on a Sunday morning, slightly covered with maple syrup, next to some fluffy pancakes…that brought my inner carnivore back out into the open. I still believe the planet isn’t big enough to sustain a meat-centric diet, and I don’t eat meat every day, but I do really really love….a rare steak, a luscious piece of lamb, a crispy bit of crackling…and well, I could go on.

Because I don’t eat meat every day, I happily pay a bit more for something that has been sourced locally (when possible) and ethically farmed: meaning not only good to the animals but respectful of the land the animals are reared on. The big question is: can this model be applied to the whole world, is it realistic to expect countries struggling with food supplies to spend the extra time and money….I suspect the answer is no, but for those of us who can support this…we should.

Healing properties of bread

Ok… a long absence and lots of craziness, but realised my lost mojo was in the kitchen. Have spent the last couple weeks cooking and eating entirely too much, but have discovered that bread making is not only tasty…but good for the soul and for slightly strained hands that have carried too much luggage. So..who needs prozac or ibuprofen…when you have bread.

Hurry up and wait….

Ok…so here I sit in Geneva….pondering the sunny day outside while I sit inside. I am here for work, and unfortunately the work is today separated by long spans of wait, so the day is creeping along. To kill time I am trying to decide what to have for dinner. Very important. Do I go for the traditional Swiss cheesy meal(both literally and figuratively), or something more ‘French’?

Madrid or Barcelona?

So…who is the winner? Most would probably say Barcelona and it really is a fun city and very tourist friendly. I just spent a few days in Madrid and it is a ‘quieter’ city, but somehow struck me as more “Spanish”. My last night there I had dinner with a woman from North Spain, and she made a strong argument for Madrid as a better representation of Spain, while Barcelona is a bit more contrived due to the Olympics. I’ll have to go back to both cities again and see for myself….I did like Madrid, it had a more traditional feel, which I guess could be seen as more Spanish…but the Boqueria in Barcelona is a pretty fabulous place.

Simple Sunday Pleasures….and a new cheese discovery

Scrambled eggs on toast. That’s it. OK….with a grating of a bit of hard cheese…and maybe a drizzle of truffle oil on a special Sunday, but really…two fresh eggs, scrambled (or scrumbled if you live in Germany and have a dodgy menu translation) and eaten on a bit of sourdough toast. Simple. Tasty.

This is often my Sunday brunch…especially if I have been to the farmers market where I usually pick up some fresh eggs and really good bread from a local London bakery, Born and Bread. Their 100% sourdough is my favourite, think Pain Poilane but with a better crust.

Today was definitely a day to pull out the truffle oil because I have a wonderful hard sheep’s cheese I brought back from my recent trip to Madrid. Payoyo Manteca….I had never heard of it before, but it is wonderful, consistency of pecorino but a bit more pungent and a good nuttiness. Yum.

….and new butcher

McKanna Meats at 21 Theobald’s Road….not quite a five minute walk from my new office and a meat-lovers dream! Recommended by a friend who works at the BBC. The first thing she said when I told her I would be at Chancery Lane was, ” ahhh…you will be very close to my favourite butcher!”

A window filled with hanging joints and a generous supply of game and freshly made sausages. I went to check it out and walked out with a nice hunk of pork belly, a couple wild boar and apple sausages and two chicken supremes. Ohh…this could be dangerous. Apparently if they don’t have the meat/cut you want you just give them a call and they will source it for you.

So, chicken supremes…..not the chicken dish made with a variation on a cream sauce (which I have to admit I did not know), but the butcher-cut of the boneless chicken breast with the skin on and a bit of the wing as a little handle. And what did I do with my lovely supreme…

Last-minute Caribbean chicken supreme
Juice of one lime and one clementine
One garlic clove, chopped
Two Thai chilies, halved
One generous teaspoon of Caribbean curry mix
One heaping teaspoon dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
Two tablespoons olive oil
One happy chicken supreme

Put everything together in a ziplock bag and let marinate for 15-20 minutes. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy bottom pan (I have a small cast iron pan that I use for these things). Put chicken in skin side down and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until skin has a nice colour. Turn so skin side is up and cook another minute or so and then put into a preheated 200C oven. Cook for a further 10 minutes, remove from oven, let rest a couple minutes then slice and eat! I had mine with some sliced avocado and a bit of mango chutney. It was juicy and fabulous.

New Year, New job, New Lunch

A new year and I have started a new job…in a great location, a Grade II listed building (the former patent office). Fabulous, but apparently a microwave isn’t allowed in the building, which means I need to rethink lunch. I don’t want to fall into the expensive habit of buying my lunch everyday. So I think I will dive into Bento! I gave a preliminary go last week with some grilled tofu, brown rice Onigiri and a tomato and avocado salad. Good stuff. Now I am surfing the net for inspiration and will post some of my successes (and not-so-successes) here. Bring on the Bento!

Vegas Baby!

Disneyland for grown-ups…..or maybe in the spirit of Hunter S Thompson, Disney on acid. Either way Las Vegas is a very surreal place. Smack in the middle of a desert…..a bizarre oasis of global ‘replicas’ and fantasies. For some strange reason I like the place. I wouldn’t stay more than a few days…I think the sparkle and glint might begin to tarnish when your brain begins to question the reality of your surroundings.

And what about the food…well for this trip I was actually working so food wasn’t at the top of the activities (in fact I didn’t even gamble….Shock!). On previous trips I have been lucky enough to indulge in some over-the-top cuisine and pretty much every single celebrity chef on the planet has at least one over-the-top restaurant. You just don’t do things quietly in Vegas….you shout.

An ode to “happy”meat….

So why is it if an animal is considered ‘cute’ then it shouldn’t be eaten?  I pose this question after receiving a startling number of very negative comments over my leftover rabbit stew I was eating for lunch in the office.  As soon as the word rabbit left my mouth at least half the lunchroom squealed.  One person asked where I found rabbit (at my farmers market of course) and how I prepared it; I made the mistake of actually answering the question (which included a brief description on how I jointed the rabbit).  I tried to convince everyone it was really just a skinny, tasty chicken with fur but they weren’t buying it, one person even commented they may just become a vegetarian!

Now……how is it that people can be so shocked at eating a wild rabbit yet happily eat battery chicken….it is no secret battery chickens are raised in their own feces and their muscles are atrophied from lack of use…and I won’t even begin to go into intensive pig or cattle farming, lets just say disgusting about sums it up.

I very happily eat meat and I know exactly where my meat came from.  I do realise it is a luxury to be in a position to buy nearly all my meat from my farmers market, local butchers or online.  I know the animals were humanely reared and I recognise all my meat came from living animals. I think most meat animals are ‘cute’ in their own way, even chickens. (anyone interested in humane farming should check out Compassion in World Farming: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/)

Sheep in Dartmoor
Sheep in Dartmoor

Happy pig in Gloucestershire
Happy pig in Gloucestershire

I do love meat…I certainly don’t eat it every day, but a good rare steak…roasted goose…venison stew….and the fabulous smell of cooking bacon, ahhhh!

Drool-worthy steak at Gibson's in Chicago
Drool-worthy steak at Gibson's in Chicago

OK, before I fully step off my soap box I need to add that if you haven’t had salt marsh lamb (L’agneau de pré-salé in France) you must hunt some down and try it! I ordered some Welsh salt marsh lamb a couple weeks ago and had a final BBQ. Just a bit of seasoning and olive oil on some neck and leg steaks…grilled to medium. So fabulously full of flavour and tender. I served it up with some cannelini beans with rosemary, mint and olive oil, a bit of cavalo nero and a fresh tomato salad. Delish.

Moving with the seasons

Coming back from the sun in Barcelona to the chilled air and pissing down rain of London put me into a bit of a funk.  My plane touched down to an absolute downpour.  Home by 10pm and then back in to the office the next day.  I probably wasn’t in the best of moods. The rubbish, over-salted lasagna in the canteen didn’t help.

Luckily a couple days later a visit to my local farmers market reminded me of the benefits of the chill air (and a sunny day didn’t hurt either). Late summer fresh corn, fabulous lamb (personally I think that late summer/autumn lamb has more flavour than spring lamb)….and the tomato man is still around so things aren’t so bad.

So..what to do with my gorgeous 1/2 shoulder of lamb….