21st April 2018
Yorkie - It's not for Chocolate Lovers

You know how chocolate is supposed to melt smoothly in your mouth? Well apparently Nestlé don't!

I remember when Yorkies were thick, rich, pleasant chocolatey bars - pretty good value for a quid.
No longer though; following Public Health England's hectoring demands that the UK's food industries reduce the pleasantness of their products by 20% it seems Nestlé have lined up eagerly like a good little collaborator and consequently their chocolate now has an unpleasantly oily taste, and a disturbingly gritty texture rather like the grainy feel of a heroin baby's excrement or anal sex. Good luck getting that image out of your head!

Public Health England's ideology is as simple as it is stupid: that if you make popular food sufficiently horrible, or sufficiently expensive, people will simply stop eating it. These people are fuckwits. The kind of dim bulb, sanctimonious authoritarians who brought prohibition to America (yep, that really worked) and the never-ending drug war to the entire western world.

This year I've been working my way around the infinitely fractal coastline of Western Ireland and the above, I'm sad to say, is the depressing reality of grocery shopping here.
As magnificent as the landscape is, the peoplescape appears to be completely aboard the health fascism, low-fat, non-alcoholic, meat-free-gravy train.
This is Ireland for fuck's sake.
Land of milk and Guinness no more.
It's now impossible buy a bottle of wine for less than €7, their beer costs twice the price in England (and their Guinness really isn't that much better) and hunting down full-fat cream, yoghurt or meat a continual battle. Never have I been less impressed with a country's food culture: I expected to enjoy coastal village shops bursting with locally made produce only to find butchers selling only commercially produced packets of sausages or bacon identical to those in the bloody supermarkets™, greengrocers whose wares seemed to consist solely of plastic bags of potatoes, onions and over-priced cabbage, and fishmongers absolutely nowhere to be found (which given the overwhelming number of lobster pots to be avoided is simply incomprehensible).
In fact Ireland's only decent neighbourhood vendor is the bakery, which every town and village still boasts and which do in fact produce some fine local bread and cakes.
I'd blame the EU, except that I've been to France. Which really leaves no-one to blame but the Irish themselves.
What a disappointment.

In the meantime out of culinary nostalgia (and comestible necessity) I've been mostly cooking with dumplings...

Tapioca Flour Dumplings
side ingredient fish
Just nope.
I thought I might use tapioca flour and chopped prawns to make some half-decent dumplings to go with an oriental-style chicken and sweetcorn soup.
But nope.

The dumplings come out like a cross between glue and a particularly flavourless chewing gum, though I think I made them from pure tapioca flour, with no wheat flour, which might not have helped.

Look, you're not going to make this 'cos it sucks, but if you were you would mix flour and tapioca flour (up to 50/50?) with some chopped prawns, some fat (I think I used sunflower oil), and cut in enough water to make a dough, form into balls and drop in your soup. Or the bin.

Chickpea Flour Dumplings
side ingredient veg
Some more dumplings you probably don't want to add to your stewed beef in milk. But they do go well with a chicken, leek and sweetcorn soup, and at least these are tastier than the tapioca dumplings.
Really tastier!

Makes about a half dozen dumplings.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, then gradually dribble in cold water, cutting in with a knife, until the mixture clumps up and holds together. Form into balls with a couple of tablespoons and drop into a soup or stew. Cover and cook for 20 minutes until risen (fluffy, if you're lucky) and cooked through.
These chickpea dumplings are edible but really very dense. They might be improved by making the mixture a lot more runny, rather than as for the more usual dumpling recipe above.
Oh, and remembering to add the baking powder.
Yep, I made these again, but I didn't have any suet so I just added enough peanut oil to the dry mixture to get it to start to clump a little. I also remembered the baking powder, and used more water so the mixture was like a thick, gloopy, wallpaper paste.
The result was much better - light and fluffy dumplings.
So there!

Milk Braised Beef Casserole
main meat stew crockpot
I've had a go at stewing beef in milk before, with sickening results, so I thought I'd just keep going.
After all, it does seem like the height of gastronomic irony - cooking a cow in its own juice.

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark ½/120°C.
Cut the beef into 1½" cubes, put in a plastic bag with a couple of tablespoons of seasoned flour and mustard powder. Shake to coat, heat olive oil in a frying pan and brown the pieces in batches decanting to a casserole dish as you go.

Refresh the olive oil in the frying pan, fry the cassia bark until it sizzles, thinly slice an onion and fry until soft, but not too browned. Add everything to the casserole.
Clean and thickly slice the mushrooms and fry, in batches if necessary, in the freshly (and generously) oiled frying pan until golden.
Add to the casserole dish.

Fry about 2 tblsps flour in the same volume of butter in a small pan (though you can re-use the frying pan) until it smells biscuity. Gradually add the milk, whisking, to make a thin white sauce. Whisk in the meat juices from the casserole dish too. Season and add a teaspoon or two of mustard to taste (as you like), then pour into the casserole dish to cover the meat.

Cover and cook in a very low oven for 2 hours, then uncovered for another hour.

Serve with mashed potatoes or pasta, and a nice cavolo nero. Or possibly a different cavolo nero
OK, so waaaay better than my first attempt - at least the white sauce didn't curdle up the way the milk on its own did, and became actually quite delicious.
But still the beef was a little on the tough side, it would have been better cooked for longer, or a perhaps using a more tender cut of steak?
I'd have added some potato too, but the casserole was too small. It might have worked.
Though you technically can add dumplings to this stew, I wouldn't. They don't really go.

Cavolo Nero with Onion Seeds
veg vegan side
A vaguely Indian-inspired side dish that goes with any kind of British food.

Serves 4

Heat olive oil in a large pan and fry about 3 tsps onion seeds until they sizzle and release their odour. Add a thinly sliced onion and fry until just starting to soften. Cut any thick stalks away from the kale, slice, and add to the pan. Keep moving while the kale fries and collapses, then cook gently until tender (you may need to cover).
Season and serve.

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