The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ is one that has become firmly established in describing that breed of national treasure renowned for being great at cooking, owning a string of restaurants (usually in the South of England) and having a personality suited to the multi-tasking requirements of being able to engage a TV audience in bon homie while creating a mouth-watering dish against a backdrop of rolling hills, lolling lagoons or a sweeping moutainscape. The current trend for well known chefs and restauranteurs to travel the globe while sampling the local cuisine and then conjuring up their own representations of the same food which might also appeal to the English palette began in the 1980s with the seminal series Floyd On France where the late Keith Floyd travelled seemingly haphazardly through the French landscape begging, stealing and borrowing, as he put it, kitchens and kitchen equipment and this style of ‘on the road’ cooking captured the imagination of the British Public who enjoyed the mix of food, travel and personality as millions tuned into the series and the accompanying book sold in bucketloads. Since then, other chefs have continued the trend as they seemingly attempt to outdo each other in visiting more and more out of the way and off the beaten track places to find the sort of food which would appeal to our travel and food lust; Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein being the most adventurous in traveling the world with seemingly nothing more than a collection of shirts, hats and TV crew.
The formula shows no sign of abating. About 6 weeks ago, Rick Stein’s new book, Rick Stein’s India appeared on our bookshelves without fanfare and caused some murmuring as to where was the accompanying TV series. Then, 3 weeks ago the first episode of the series of the same name began on BBC2 with Rick beginning his latest Odyssey in a region of the sub-continent seeing him visiting back streets and slums in search of the perfect curry. Apart from the great food we see being cooked in back street kitchens one of the main talking points is Ricks perspiration which sees him bedecked in long-sleeved Ralph Lauren linen shirts which at certain points of the episodes look as if he’s just been caught in a flash monsoon but the drying air has yet to reach his back and arm-pits. Nevertheless, the series is engaging and the food he discovers and cooks himself looks amazing. The enduring popularity of the travelling TV celebrity chef is evinced by the immediate disappearance following the first episode (and to this day) of Rick Stein’s accompanying book from our local book shop shelves. Luckily C managed to track down and buy a copy last weekend to add further filler to our already overflowing shelves of cokkery books and writing.
Here’s Rick, the genial restaurateur on the cover of his latest book who made his name with his famous seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall and his subsequent TV series extolling his passion for fish and seafood.
It’s a great series too; part food programme, part travel programme and Rick definitely strays off the beaten path, usually finding a local English speaking guide and then tramping his way through the slums of India which, we learn are home to many of the city elite who choose to live relatively cheaply in a shack where they can be close to their job rather than pay exorbitant local city centre property prices. It all reminds me of Vikram Seth’s amazing novel A Suitable Boy which took me a year to read and describes life in post war India for all classes and castes.
So to the recipes…we chose as our initial effort a squid curry and ended up buying frozen squid tubes from a fish monger (it was all he had) whereas we could’ve bought the fresh stuff from a supermarket had we visited there first. Rick clearly likes his chillies so we made the paste with 2 red ones and the sauce with 3 green ones making it pretty hot. We bought fresh coconut and I used a hammer to get to the flesh which needed to be grated into the dish. I have packets and jars of whole spices which in some cases I’ve had for years but they still have their individual aromas so in went cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, funugreek, cumin and garam masala. It was hot, spicy and sweet but overall delicious. I would have preferred to use fresh squid but the result was still excellent, served with steamed basmati rice.
There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.
The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.
I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.
I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).
So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.
The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.
I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!
I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).
We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.
We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?
After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.
We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.
I’ve been involved with Lytham St Annes And Fylde YMCA Football Club (let’s just call it the YM) for 6 years now as a parent of an under 8 to current coach and parent of the Under 13. The YM has a history of producing good quality football teams in the Fylde area competing in the Poulton & District Primary League and Blackpool & District Junior Football League. Our side has just won the under 13 league and this weekend over the 25th and 26th competed in the Bolton Wanderers Junior Football tournament Under 13s.
Over the years I’ve been involved in several of these tournaments and managed the team to success in 2 of them. This weekend, our manager Duncan, stayed firmly in charge but for once also we were lucky with the weather as the sun shone for the duration of the tournament with something of a northerly breeze providing just enough freshness to stop the atmosphere becoming unbearable. In our under 13 age group 10 teams were split into 2 groups of 5 with the top 4 teams assured of entering the knock out stages the following day with other reduced trophies still to compete for amongst teams eliminated along the way. All the group matches on day 1 and knock-out games up to the semi final were played at Wanderers’s Academy training complex in Lostock, not far from their Home Ground Reebock Stadium. And very impressive it was too with pristine pitches cut like billiard tables with barely a worn patch to be seen.
We kicked off our 1st match at 10am against a team called Shootstar Academy from somewhere from the North West and found ourselves a goal down after only a few minutes. The matches only lasted 25 minutes so it was important for us to hit back quickly and we managed to forge an equaliser before the break and scoring a second in the 2nd half to win the match quite comfortably 2-1. Similarly our 2nd match was against a team called Real Sports from the Stockport area who we again beat quite comfortably 2-0. At 12 noon we were pitted against a team called Hearts who as we suspected were the under 13 Academy side of Scottish Premier League side Heart Of Midlothian. This was our 3rd game of the day and Hearts’s 2nd and after we conceded a late goal in the 1st half to go 1-0 down at the break our opponents rather ran rings round our tired looking players in the 2nd half scoring another 3 to give us quite a rude awakening and a 0-4 defeat. The players suddenly looked flushed and jaded and looked like they were struggling against a pacy and well drilled professional outfit. Afterwards we chatted with the friendly Hearts coaches who were clearly better qualified than we were, trained 3 to 4 times a week for 2 hours at a time against our 1 hour a week on half a football court and had all the facilities, back up and coaching that our amateur club simply doesn’t have the resources to match. But, we picked ourselves up to play our final match of the day to beat a side called Woodbank from Bury who we beat with some aplomb, 5-0. Our 3 wins and 1 defeat at least guaranteed us 2nd place in the group which would assure us of a place in the knock-out stages to play the team finishing third in the other group in the quarter final.
After a good night’s sleep we returned to Lostock the following day for our 1st match at 11am against a team called FFPC (I think). We really took the game to them and should have won more comfortably than the 1-0 score line suggested but it set us up for a semi-final tie against Bridport from Wales with the incentive of a place in the final to be played at Bolton Wanderers’s Reebock Stadium. We seemed to be improving with every game and saw off Bridport 3-0 to set up a final tie at the Reebock against the team which trounced us yesterday; Hearts.
There was a good 3 hours before the final, scheduled for kick of at 5.30pm so we grabbed something to eat from the burger van and sat with the other parents and players chatting in the sunshine. We drove the short distance to the Reebock and had another drink at KFC at the shopping plaza adjacent to the stadium before making our way inside. The 26,000 seater stadium looked more magnificent from the inside than Blackpool FC’s Bloomfield Road Ground where we have played twice previously but we lost the toss which meant we were given the ‘away’ changing room. I had heard that Bolton’s changing room for the away team is designed to have a psychologically negative impact on the team using it because it is drab and has the treatment table right in the middle in view of the players. No matter, our players readied themselves and Dunc, Jon and I gave them as rousing a team talk as we could. We had already seen the Hearts team walking round the stadium in their track suits and Beats headphones slung round their necks, a lot like the pros do but we were still in our shirts but really ready to give it all.
We had time to go outside for a stretch and a warm up before returning to the changing room and re-emerge on to the pitch to the cheers of the parents and families who had come to watch. I had had to return to my car because I forgot H’s football boots but touched them against my lucky stones that had belonged to his mother which he wore for the match.
We got off to a great start taking a 1-0 lead in the early minutes which helped settle the players’s nerves and we began to play some superb football threatening with pace down the flanks, moving the ball swiftly along the length and breadth of the pitch and showed a solidity in defence. We had made some changes to the team from yesterday and some of the players who weren’t at their best on Saturday were in top form for the final. Before the game I thought it was unfair that a professional academy side should be allowed to compete against our amateur sides with all the resources at their disposal but in the final our players peaked at just the right time and went into the half time break with our deserved one goal lead intact.
We started the 2nd half as we ended the first and doubled our lead following another attack down the flanks and a deft flick from our leading scorer to put us 2-0 up. Wow! This was going better than we had dared to imagine but we were soon brought back to Earth as Hearts pulled a goal back within seconds to set the nerves jangling again. But we needn’t have worried as our players redoubled their efforts and we were in dreamland again as we cleared a Hearts corner and set off on the attack for our striker to score a third goal for us with a superb lob over the stranded keeper and put us in dreamland. We restricted Hearts to some long range shots but as the referee’s final whistle blown we celebrated wildly what was one of the most amazing sporting triumphs any of us had ever had the privilege of being involved with.
For my son and me, we haven’t missed a game with the YM since our very first under 8s match and although we have won at least one trophy every season this victory in a game we very much felt the underdogs in was amongst the most satisfying. The Hearts coaches and players were gracious in defeat but after a glorious weekend and 2 days of football it was our honour to celebrate again on what was a day none of us involved shall ever forget.