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Saturday, 18 December 2010


Earlier this year we were invited to provide some recipes for a regional cookery book.Always one to keep his head down and get on with the job in hand(i.e cooking some decent food and making some cash),Chef greeted the news with dubious enthusiasm verging on outright contempt. When he discovered Id already committed to do it,I was greeted with an infeasibly highly raised eyebrow which momentarily faded into his hairline(and that's quite high BTW.....)followed by a nervous twitching around the corners of his mouth,obviously stifling a smirk; it wasn't long before I realised why.
Though we cook everything from scratch we never measure anything,which clearly is a fundamental problem when you're writing a recipe..Listing the ingredients was straightforward,but breaking this all down into an coherent written instruction with exact measurements, isn't as simple as it sounds.Not wishing to embarrass myself by providing the readers with a mouthwateringly tasty recipe which in practice didn't actually work(my pet hate), I spent bloody ages perfecting the recipes we eventually contributed(thankfully only three).Hence I have major respect for those recipe testers who do get it right.
Though we have a vast collection of cookery books which we dip into daily,making any savoury dish will rarely involve following the precise recipe but using simply as a reference for the ingredients.Most dishes are cooked and tasted with seasoning/ingredients adjusted as we think necessary.
Obviously baking (being a science) of course is the exception. Whereas cooking is an art......
Of the sleb chefs, in my experience a significant proportion of their cake/pudding recipes are pants just don't work.I have a theory that some of them sabotage their recipes by planting a minor booby trap adjustment just so that you cant recreate their perfect pudding at home,thus safeguarding their position of hierarchy.Culinary sheisters.Yes its you I'm talking to,YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!
(NB One of the exceptions is Gary Rhodes,I know he may be a tad annoying to watch on telly, but his pudding/cake recipes ALWAYS WORK)
If we're looking for a traditional pudding recipe we tend to look to the older books.If you're using one of these, its best to follow the imperial measurements as the conversion to metric can sometimes alter the finished result.
This is one of my favourites,I found it a few years ago in a second hand book store.

Its a signed first edition copy by Maura Laverty who was an Irish author and playwright.
This is the old gal herself in a 1960 news cutting folded carefully into the cover of the book.

As a preface to each chapter there's an amusing little anecdote of old Ireland, from which I have gleaned almost as much pleasure as trying out the recipes:

'The Foley's were married nearly a year before Sheila discovered that a wife's first duty to her husband is to cook him the kind of meals he likes,and that no marriage can really be happy unless a man is happy with his table treatment..'

table treatment????,the mind triplicate....

He finished his pint.'Aye Indeed' he said 'A woman wont ever be happy till you let her see who's boss.'

Ahem...Cough....I think we'll just draw a veil over that..

I came across this recipe for Brawn in her book. My Grandma was partial to a  bit of pigs cheek and used to make this when we were very young, we would never tire of the sight of the pigs ears sticking out of the stock pot which always solicited prolonged sniggering.
Pigs Ears are one of those things that are just inherently very funny.A while back Chef had the bright idea that he would include crispy pigs ears on our bar snacks menu.I stumbled unexpectedly upon a surreal but very serious conversation he was having with the butcher on the lines of; ' many ears can you keep me in per week??'
Butcher 'well I can do you at least 60 pairs a week..'
I wondered WTF was going on..
Next day the sample ears duly arrived,each pair intriguingly connected by a thin strip of skin much like a pair of ear muffs.As soon as I clapped eyes on them I commented that there was no doubt in my mind that Chef would be wearing a pair before the morning was out.
He didn't let me down...

The ingredients in this recipe are few,lots of versions include carrots,celery, parsley and the like, I've made many different versions and have found this one to be actually very effective made in this way.Authentic,simple and true to its roots.
Its really the old version of ham hock terrine isn't it?

Maura Laverty's Brawn

1 Pigs Head
1/2 oz salt
1 wine glass cider
2 bay leaves
1/2 oz peppercorns
6 whole cloves
(That's cloves..talking of making a recipe idiot proof,a friend of mine once spotted this ingredient in a recipe and added 6 whole heads of garlic to the dish..)
Prepare the head by cutting off the cheeks and ears.Put all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and add sufficient cold water to barely cover.Simmer for 2 hours or until the flesh falls away from the bones.Strain off the liqour into another saucepan and boil rapidly until it is reduced to 1 pint.Pick the meat from the bones,discarding any fat and gristle.Pack the meat into a bowl and pour over the reduced liquor.Leave to set.When cold and firm,scrape off any fat which may have settled and turn out.

*We line a terrine with cling film and wrap the brawn up,its easier to turn out and you can place a weight on top to compact,which also makes it easier to slice into portions.

P.S. This week I'm pleased to report the addition of a new word to my vocabulary.The word 'nu'(pronounced 'noo') is a teenage colloquialism usually employed as a greeting and can be paired with the word 'son' to form the greeting 'nu son'.
Definition: 'hi how are you/hows it going'.
I've witnessed three of my teenagers demonstrating this particular linguistic nuance when answering the telephone over the past week.I wonder if its exclusive to the Northern dialect..Have you heard of it???

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Bah Humbug

This time of year brings out the worst in people.

Or perhaps its only this time of year that these particular people come out of the woodwork.Gawd knows what they do the for rest of the year,most probably sit in front of the telly planning the intricacies of  next years festive excursion.
We had the pleasure of the first exceptionally demanding Christmas diner today.With a party of five who by chance happened to be acquainted with another table of six people who were booked in at the same time.It was his idea the two groups should come together in the spirit of the season and dine together.Admirable.We asked if they wanted separate bills.'No' says the instigator 'just put it all on the tab and we'll sort it out at the end.'

During the meal he repeatedly made himself known and not in a good way.The type of person who asks for things when they're already on their way.Looking for problems and all the while feeling important because HE KNOWS YOUR JOB MUCH BETTER THAN YOU DO.
Towards the end of the meal he committed the ultimate blasphemy.He stuck his hand in the air and waved it around flag like until he caught someone's eye, then rudely gestured them over.This is tantamount to knocking on the bar for service but unlike the person who taps rudely on the bar for attention you cant pretend not to notice this particular performance.
'Can we order some coffees?' Note the absence of any polite P word.
Perchance,I happened to be out front on this occasion and had the personal pleasure of the summons.I was a bit peeved that the waiting staff hadn't offered coffees already.But they had.Two minutes prior to this.He didnt want them then, but now he did.
Quite an assortment of coffees,espressos, cappuccinos(all decaffeinated)lattes and for HIM a Macchiato,which I'm sure he only ordered because he thought we wouldn't know what it was.
(BTW Can someone please explain to me the point of a decaff espresso??)
I sent the first of the batch of coffees over,the cappuccinos and lattes.As the waitress put them down on the table HE piped up 'I ordered a decaff Machiato??'
'Well as you can see we only have one bloody coffee machine so we can only make 4 bleeping coffees at a time,so stop being so bloody impatient' 'Yes, its on its way' replied waitress.
I could hear this exchange from the coffee machine.For some strange reason I made the Macchiato last....
As his coffee was put down he asked 'is it decaff??'
Waitress: 'Yes its decaff'
Him : 'are you sure???'
Waitress:'yes its decaff'

Will someone just tell him to STFU?

When the bill was presented HE came swanking over to the till requesting that the bill be spilt into:
Food only, then split into 5/11 and 6/11,with the wine being added to the 5/11 and all other drinks added to the 6/11.Then (wonders never cease)a tip of 10% added to each.
So what he actually wanted was two separate bills,as discussed previously.

He stood over the girl who was trying to make this calculation,chipping in with the odd sarcastic 'is there a problem???'
If you've ever been in this situation you will know that even a simple calculation can become problematic in these circumstances.
He continued to invigilate over her then proceeded to instruct her as to how best to make the calculation,finally resulting with two separate bills.'Are you happy with that??'he said smugly.
A simple mental calculation on my part told me that the two revised bills did not add up to the amount on the original bill.
It was naughty but I kept schtum.
I knew he had erred in our favour, proferring a far more generous tip than anticipated.
There is a God..
I may refrain from posting on here over the festive period as I seem to have a dearth of Christmas cheer.

You see the trouble with customers is they are exactly like meals,sadly the bad ones are far more memorable...

Friday, 10 December 2010

The debacle of the Green Beef

I'm uncommonly disgusted and angry tonight.Probably due to a combination of unrelated but intrinsically linked incidents which culminated into one big time meltdown today.
I'm not normally tired.I don't need much sleep,I can manage on 5 hours per night with no ill effects.Having twins who were never in synch(still aren't)but woke alternately every two hours for the first two years of their lives was the perfect training ground to cope with my current status.
Once you get into a profession like this its all about the routine.Every good Chef has a routine which must be adhered to at all costs.Having a routine and being organised helps to keep the pressure from boiling over,if the routine is broken, devastation and chaos will undoubtedly follow.The routine is the constant which guards the fort from invasion from the enemy,the stuff you have no control over.The diners.
The routine means that even when you're tired you can function  because you know what to do without really thinking.
This last couple of weeks I've been off the treadmill due to the snow,the usual 16-18hour days have dwindled due to the shortage of customers. I've been lucky to have worked a 9 hour day never mind the usual.The routine has been unexpectedly broken so getting back into the usual flow feels a bit odd,in that I'm a teensy bit uncharacteristically tired.
So today, an incident which would normally have only effected a momentarily raised eyebrow, a heavy sigh and a despairing shake of the head had us both fizzing.

 Over the years we've both seen quite a lot of unsavoury practices in hotels and restaurants that would put you off dining out for life.Lots of them a result of pressurised situations.
Want to hear a few?
About 15 years ago I was offered a job in a 5 star country house hotel.I was a duty manager.Some of the practices I saw there were cringeworthy.There was a swanky cocktail bar where diners were taken to peruse menus and have a quiet drink or cocktail pre dinner.There was a pianist in the corner,thats the type of place it was.Every table had a silver plated nibbles receptacle containing peanuts,olives and cocktail onions.The diners would enjoy their nibbles then swan off to the restaurant for their meal.The nibbles would be left out on the tables till the end of the night.This was a place where the bar didn't close until the last guest went to bed,often 3 or 4am.Last thing at night the receptacles were collected in and the remaining contents scooped out and returned to large containers in the still room ready for recycling the next night.By the end of the night they looked sweaty and obviously you will know about men and peanuts..God knows how many times the bloody things were in and out of those containers.If you stayed there for a week chances are you hand your hands in the same peanuts every night.

In the same establishment old fashioned afternoon tea was served in the cocktail bar,one of the those posh treats that people bring their maiden aunts out for on Mothers Day.Served on a three tier stand.Dinky cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off,home made cream cakes, scones and preserves served with FRESH CREAM.All the stock was brought up from the kitchen on a trolley and stored in the still room at the side of the bar until required.The cream was in a sealed container and was portioned into individual ramekins as needed.The first day I was there I noticed the cream was being served the way you prepare a soufflĂ© for the oven.You know when you flatten the surface with a palette knife then run your finger around the rim of the ramekin to help the soufflĂ© look tidy as it rises.I strolled into the still room to see who was responsible for this unusual presentation style.The perpetrator was a chap who had originally began training as a chef then had decided Front of House was his forte.He was a barman.I watched him slowly run his index finger around the rim of the ramekin,then stick his finger (practically down to the knuckle) into his mouth lasciviously licking to remove any excess cream, prior to moving directly on to the preparation of the next unfortunate ramekin....Nooooooooo.Obviously I stopped him,but he'd being performing this procedure every afternoon for 6 months...

Then there was the place I worked where the Chef was filthy,an alcoholic and smelled of death permanently,his Sous Chef was a nice enough lad but sweated profusely, probably due to the increased workload he endured as a result of the Head Chefs permanent dysfunctional hangover.When he was under pressure there were always unfettered beads of sweat running down his forehead following the outline of  his nose and slowly plinking, slow motion into the dish he was preparing.It was hypnotising.I never ate anything there in the two years I worked there.
The diners never needed any additional salt on their meals either...

On another occasion at a very good hotel as I was waiting at the pass to take some meals, something in my peripheral vision caught my eye.I saw the Chef de Partie who was doing starters drop a cooked Quail on the floor,glance furtively sideways, then pick it up,dust if off with his oven cloth,then go ahead and compile the finished dish.The Head Chef clocked this at the same time that I did.It was a Saturday night,the kitchen were up the wall, checks were piling on and tempers were frazzled.The proverbial wire was about to snap.Cooking another dish would have meant discarding the rest of the starters(which were ready to go) and the main courses which had already been put on to cook to coincide with the starters being finished.This restaurant had 2 rosettes.The Head Chef knew Id seen it.It was face off at the pass.He held my gaze steadily and through gritted teeth,lips unmoving in a straight, thin white line hissed 'if you don't take it they'll have to wait another 20 minutes and the whole of the rest of the night will be a total f**k up and it'll be your fault and YOU'RE THE ONE WHO WILL TAKE THE FLACK'
I took the quail to the customer.The only defence I have is I would rather have eaten the quail than the cream with optional extras...

So,when we opened our own business we made a promise to each other that we would never compromise or send any food which didn't meet our required standard or more importantly that we wouldn't eat ourselves.
Over the years we've stuck to this despite the problems it can cause with delays etc if anything goes wrong.
As I've mentioned before I'm a bit Howard Hughes about hygiene anyway,probably because of all the stuff I've seen in the past.
Anyway,today a couple came in for lunch and ordered the only dish which we always have on the menu.Its a Cotes de Boeuf.A beef rib served with chips,watercress and Bearnaise sauce.Quite a standard really but its one of our most popular dishes.
When the waitress took their order they said they wanted to inspect the raw piece of beef first to "see if it was marbled to their satisfaction."
'WTF is going on' said chef...Begrudgingly he cut the single rib from the joint and sent it out into the dining room on a silver platter for the diners to inspect.

At this point my Howard Hughes tendencies kicked in..'what if they decide they don't want it and send it back after THEY'VE BREATHED on it????'
A couple of minutes later waitress returned with the affirmative nod to go ahead and cook.It met their meticulous standard.
We both trundled around for a while muttering in unison about the audacity of it all.
When the beef was ready to be served we vented our frustrations by standing in front of it and repeatedly giving it the 'V' sign until the waitress collected it.It was a lovely bit of beef and didn't deserve this, but it made us feel better.

When the dishes were cleared the exacting couple were surprisingly complimentary about their meal.It was proclaimed delicious..'Much better than the last one we had here which was GREEN..'
When this information filtered back to the kitchen we were livid.
'That's the last bleeping time I'm sending raw bloody meat out there to be inspected..what the heck do they think they we're doing..this isn't one of those places where there's half dead lobsters swimming around in a bleeping tank slowly eating themselves from inside, waiting for some unfortunate diner to save them from a fate worse than the slow death they're currently suffering...' said Chef..
(Not sure what the relevance of that was...)

Sometimes you have to draw the line.Availing raw ingredients for inspection by ones diners prior to it being cooked isn't really a feasible option.At the end of the day we are a pub,not a bloody zoo.

There's only one question Id like to ask. If you'd been served a piece of GREEN meat would you really want to return to that establishment for a second helping??

I'm so bloody disgusted I might actually move to Tunbridge Wells.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Chestnuts roasting on a open fire,Jack Frost nipping at your... nether regions.

We've been busy despite the snow.Though not with customers.Christmas decorations are up,the place is nipping clean,to be frank,you could eat your dinner off the floor if you were so inclined.

I had a vision of the beams becoming a starry sky,well stay with me here,yes I know they're red,maybe in practice a starry Mars sky.Working on the premise of course,that one can never have too many fairy lights.

We've battled constantly with frozen water-pipes in the kitchen,which has kind of hampered progress, problem finally solved by placing blow heaters strategically in front of the of affected areas and impatiently waiting for the thaw.

There's another seasonal problem which has been giving me far more cause for consternation this week.
The Gents loos.Actually the title 'Gents' is flattering in the extreme,the sign on the door boldly decrees MEN.It takes stoicism to persevere with these but they're a bit of a feature now and they've served well since 1850(I know that because some thoughtful brickie carved his initials and date in the pointing).Besides,I have another far more important reason to retain them...
The man from Michelin paid us his first visit only a couple of months after we arrived here three years ago.In his post repast 'chat' he sneeringly suggested that we might want to do something about the unconventional toilet facilities.In fact he wasn't complimentary at all.He actually told us that the only reason people would come here was for the food .What a bloody cheek,I mean I thought that's what they were meant to be inspecting??So much for surroundings and other associated luxuries only coming into play at 3 Michelin star standard.
Chef smiled through gritted teeth...'I suppose he prefers to inspect the swankier places down the big smoke..Knob'.
So since then we've been determined to hang onto the Thomas Crappers and retain our entry in the Red book.

Known locally as Ice Station Zebra,you have to be a hardy sort to avail yourself of these conveniences during a Northumberland winter.Last year, I decided to give the lads a bit of a treat,we installed a heater and attractively tiled the walls and floors.I confess I did have an ulterior motive,the floor being concrete and concrete by its very nature being an absorbent material and men being inclined to leave their calling cards on the floor, you can imagine during warmer climes the place did generate quite an odoriferous whiff.

Anyway back to the thing which has been narking me somewhat.
The chaps have been leaving the toilet door open,which kind of defeats the object of the heater.I mean were they born in a field??Yes probably.
So,last Friday I pinned the following cheeky but(I thought) humorous notice on the door in the hope it would grab their attention invoking the desired result, ie a closed door and a welcome absence of pee on the floor.

But no, the door is still left wide open,and to add insult to injury tonight I found this note pinned underneath my notice.

Some people just have no respect.....

PS Couldn't resist showing you this picture of the shed during last weeks blizzards.I wont be going in there for a while..


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