Tag: FOOD!

Review: The Angry Chef

Anthony Warner’s The Angry Chef has its origins in his science blog of the same name: a site dedicated to the sweary, rage-filled mythbusting of fad diets and food-related pseudoscience. This book, subtitled, clickbait-ily, “Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating”, is more of the same: a look at some of the most harmful and ill-founded modern diets, from GAPS to paleo, an examination of a few of the most pervasive myths about food (“evil sugar” features prominently), a handy guide to spotting bullshit in the world of food and a hard-hitting conclusion discussing some of the abuses perpetrated in the name of food pseudoscience. Young autistic children being put on heavily restricted diets in the hope they’ll be “cured”; cancer patients turning away from Western medicine, only to die in agony having put their trust in unscientific diets; these, Warner argues, are the eventual end point of the detox salad you choose for lunch.

Which seems a slight exaggeration, and indeed that’s the biggest flaw in the book. Warner isn’t a scientist – in fact he’s a development chef, which I’ll get to in a minute – but his whole schtick revolves around the Power of Science, and particularly of the scientific method. The pseudonymous Captain Science (who I believe is a real scientist who doesn’t want her name splashed all over the internet) is a regular visitor to his blog, supplying neat precis of scientific papers – an approach that’s carried over into the book, which is meticulously referenced. Warner also covers common psychological fallacies like regression to the mean, confirmation bias and mistaking correlation for causation – all things the scientific method can protect us from. In other words, a lot of the material in this book is valuable and well-sourced; it’s just a few eyebrow-raising arguments that let it down. Such as Warner’s assertion that looking down on convenience food is sexist, because convenience food has freed women in particular from hours of labour preparing meals from scratch.

There’s a good point in there somewhere. It’s true that, pre-convenience food, people spent A Lot of time preserving, baking, boiling, salting, chopping, pickling, churning and generally making sure their households had enough food throughout the year. And that those people were mostly women. It’s also true that convenience food has made many, many people’s lives easier and more viable: pre-chopped vegetables and ready meals are lifesavers for disabled people, people working three jobs so they can feed their families, carers, busy professionals and the like. But none of this addresses the actual problem at hand, which is that convenience food – by which I mean Dolmio’s sauces, ready meals, supermarket cakes and the like, not relatively innocuous things like tinned tomatoes and diced carrots – generally contains vast amounts of fat and salt and sugar, all of which have been shown to be bad for you in large quantities, and all of which are addictive when they’re present in large quantities, especially together. No, demonising convenience food is not the answer. But saying it’s specifically sexist to do so is a distraction.

A distraction from what? This is where Warner’s own biases come in. You’d think the answer to making convenience foods healthier and better for the people who rely on them would be to regulate the food industry. As a development chef working for a large food manufacturer (presumably looking at ways to make convenience foods more delicious and more addictive), this would, I suppose, make Warner’s life a bit more difficult. So: sexism!

I dwell on this example not because it’s a hugely important part of Warner’s argument (his general stance is that people should feel free to enjoy food without guilt or unnecessary restriction, which I am in wholehearted agreement with) but because it’s representative of the book’s overall pro-industry bias and the odd leaps of logic Warner tends to take when he’s straying outside the realms of scientific evidence. It is not by any means a bad book: I’d recommend it to anyone who likes food unashamedly, and anyone who’s thinking about dipping a toe in the dieting pool. If you’ve already a reader of the Angry Chef blog, though, I don’t think you’ll find anything new here.

Review: The Reading Cure

TW: eating disorder.

The Reading Cure is journalist Laura Freeman’s account of how reading helped her recover from anorexia. Although there are a couple of harrowing chapters, the book as a whole is far more positive than I think I expected, as Freeman finds the courage through reading to change her attitude to food, bit by bit.

She’s very clear that anorexia isn’t really a thing you “recover” from, that it’s taken her years to get as far as she has, and that she’ll probably never be comfortable with eating loads of food. It’s an honest, clear-eyed look not at anorexia itself, which has become sensationalised to some extent, but at what happens afterwards, the long and intensely less storyable process of eating healthily again.

There are setbacks: after Dickens’ cosy toast-and-tea suppers and treasured bars of chocolate with the war writers comes the clean eating movement, which sees Freeman restricting her flowering diet back down to “healthy”, “permitted” foods. There are delvings into darkness: her reading of Virginia Woolf, who similarly struggled with eating and with her mental health, leads Freeman to fear that she’ll meet the same lonely end as that writer; but, at the same time, she draws courage from Woolf’s determination.

One caveat: Freeman’s experience is very definitely middle-to-upper-class. Her parents are comfortably able to look after her for a year in their London townhouse; she’s able to afford books while early in her career as a freelance journalist; she goes on holiday to far-flung destinations. I’m not saying it’s, like, a jetsetting lifestyle, and she’s open about the privilege she has – but this is far from a universal account of recovery from anorexia.

As a book about food, food writing and our relationships with both – extreme or otherwise – it’s thoughtful and fascinating, and I found myself in tears more than once. I’m so glad I picked this up at the library.

The English Student Cooks: Souffle Cheese and Broccoli Pancakes

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Souffle Cheese and Broccoli Pancakes

Method: I started off by making the pancake batter in the usual way: making a well in 85g flour and adding one beaten egg and a bit of milk and mixing them together, and then adding 85ml milk and 85ml water and stirring. Then I put that aside to stand.

Next, the broccoli: 30g of tiny broccoli florets got boiled for a minute and drained and put aside.

The next thing was cheese sauce, which went horribly wrong the only other time I’ve made it, so I was justifiably nervous. I melted 10g butter (I was quartering all the measurements, which proved challenging – I dare you to measure out 10g of anything on analogue scales) and stirred in 10g plain flour and cooked this roux for a minute, and then added 75ml milk, slowly, so it was smooth; and then brought the mixture to the boil until it went all thick and lovely. It was a good moment, realising that it had actually worked!

The sauce came off the heat and I added 20g Cheddar and some mustard, and then about 20g more Cheddar because, frankly, I like my cheese sauce cheesy and not bland.

At this point I made two pancakes with the pancake batter, frying them in hot oil for a minute each side.

I separated an egg (just about – I tend to start doing things and then realise I haven’t thought them through at all, which is not good when you are wandering around with an eggshell full of yolk), and beat the yolk into the cheese sauce before whisking up the whites (with a handheld electronic beater, having tried whisking egg whites by hand before and not being foolish enough to try that twice) until they formed soft peaks – or, in practice, until I got bored.

The egg whites got folded into the cheese sauce mixture along with the broccoli, and the mixture went in the middle of the pancakes, which I’d put on a buttered baking tray. The pancakes were folded up, Parmesan was grated over them, and they went in the oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes.

Substitutions/alterations: As I’ve said, I quartered the recipe, not being in need of 8 pancakes.

Verdict: The pancakes came out of the oven all right, which was a miracle in itself, and they tasted approximately correct. I wanted them to be cheesier, though.

All in all, it was quite a satisfying recipe to cook – fiddly, but not overly so, and full of things that felt like little triumphs (white sauce, soufflé mixture). If I tried it again – which I won’t rule out – I’d cook them for more people than just me, and add more cheese.

Linkdump 21/11/16

I’m working hard on my novel for NaNoWriMo, as well as trying to complete my reading challenge for 2016 (I’ve got a good 10 books to go before the end of the year, which is…scary), so I’ve not had much time to watch or read new stuff.

So, today, just a linkdump of stuff that’s been distracting me on the Internet lately.

  • Queers in Love at the End of the World – a powerful piece of interactive fiction that I honestly and truly cannot get out of my head. It takes just ten seconds to play, but I’d recommend going around a few times at least. A story about love and affirmation and queerness that made me cry.
  • Angry Chef – “exposing lies, pretension and stupidity in the world of food”. Says it all, really. This is a great blog to read if, like me, you’re bored of endless tales of people around you going on pointless diets when what they really need to be doing is eating a healthy balanced diet.
  • Ferretbrain, one of my perennial sources of procrastination, has been running a very detailed and well-researched series on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the first of which is here. I am in awe of how people with jobs have the time to do this sort of thing.
  • Strange Horizons has had a facelift! It now no longer looks like it was built in the 1990s. I do like the new look, but I miss the simplicity of the old one – it was much easier to tell with the simpler interface which things I hadn’t read yet. But then I am a grumpy person who does not like change that much.

Music:

  • Three Rows of Teeth – Tom Slatter. Described as Genesis meets Doctor Who, which seems pretty near the mark; it sounds like the idealised Doctor Who I have in my mind, the show that’s good at tragedy and adventure and epic stories of loss and time (as opposed to the real Doctor Who, which is frequently sexist and full of stupid ideas and wobbly sets). I particularly like “The Time Traveller Suite” – I am a sucker for prog-rock symphonies of its kind – especially the second song, “Rise Another Leaf”.
  • Crypts and Codes – Psyche Corporation. Gothic cyberpunk that’s full of machines and feminist revenge. Musically, it’s on the electronica side of rock (I think?? Musical terminology is not my thing), although “Lost My Love” almost sounds Tudor. My favourite track at the moment is “Oh”, which is as good an Angry Song as I can think of.
  • Counterpoint – Jason Webley. I have to be careful how much Jason Webley I listen to, because it has a tendency to make me cry. Anyway, Counterpoint, which features “twelve songs in twelve keys”, all sung in Webley’s husky dark-folk style, is catchy and heartbreaking all at once.

The English Student Cooks: Basil and Goat’s Cheese Pancakes

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Basil and Goat’s Cheese Pancakes

Method: I made pancake batter – one beaten egg added to a well in 60g flour, mix up until smooth, add 4oml water and 40ml milk, as well as a bit of dried basil, and mix – and left it to rest for half an hour while I frantically tried to up my NaNo word count. (I am terrible at word counts.) Then I fried the batter up into mini pancakes, cooked over a lower heat than usual for two minutes on each side, and topped with goat’s cheese and sprinkles of paprika. (I honestly think paprika is one of my favourite things.)

Alterations/substitutions: I only used a third of Mary’s quantities because I did not want 20 mini pancakes. Also, I used dried basil instead of fresh because I have no chance of using fresh basil outside of a specific recipe.

Verdict: This is a huge faff and you should not try it at home. I couldn’t really taste the basil (although this is possibly because I didn’t use fresh) or, for that matter, the paprika. And I remain at a loss as to why you would serve pancakes as a canapé: they are greasy and impossible to eat sophisticatedly.

Excuse me, I have to go try to write a science fiction novel.

Top Ten Topics that Will Make Me Read a Book

  1. Books. If your novel is about books? Or libraries? I WILL BUY IT.
  2. Postmodernism. I wrote about some problems with postmodernism in my review of The End of Mr. Y on Monday. I hold by those problems. I know it’s gimmicky, and pretty much imaginatively bankrupt by now. But I will still lap up anything that plays with textual form.
  3. Academia. OK, yes, I am still homesick for my university days, and I’m just drawn to the idea of living a life where all you have to do is read and write and think and theorise.
  4. Steampunk. This is a fairly new one – I’m on a bit of a steampunk kick at the moment, so anything that handles the aesthetic well works for me.
  5. Gothickry. I love big, sprawling, hypnotic novels full of melodrama; imperfect, raggedy around the edges, and all the more wonderful for that.
  6. Cats. I am moderately likely to read any book which prominently features cats. I live in rented accommodation; I have feline withdrawal.
  7. Faerieland/fairy tales. But, like, fairy tales with teeth. Fairy tales which aren’t just retold but reimagined; fairy tales which rage against the world that created them.
  8. Food. Especially chocolate. Or baking. Mmmmm.
  9. London. Or versions of London: New Crobuzon, Ankh-Morpork, Mandelion. Anything that features the city as a character, rambling and craggy and alive.
  10. Transient lifestyles. I’m fascinated by tales of people who live on spaceships (The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet); trains become homes (Railsea); long sea voyages. How do you adapt to the small space you have? What’s it like seeing a different place every time you wake up?

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

The English Student Cooks: Mushroom Triangles

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Mushroom Triangles

I actually cooked this on Sunday but was too lazy to write it up. So, serendipitous midweek post!

Method: Easy peasy: I made pancake batter (85g plain flour, 85ml milk, one egg, a bit of water, whisk it all up, then add 85ml water) and left it to stand for half an hour, during which time I diced six mushrooms very very tiny indeed and grated down 125g (or so) mature Cheddar cheese. I mixed the mushrooms up with the cheese, added some dried tarragon, and then made pancakes!

Next came the tricky part: I cut the pancakes into quarters, put some mushroom mixture on each quarter and tried to wrap them up so they looked vaguely like triangles. (Very vaguely.) Then I put the sort-of triangles back in the pan to cook.

Substitutions/alterations: Mary’s pancake recipe uses oil in the batter, but I did that once and they were far too greasy, so I just left it out. It seemed to work OK nonetheless. Also, I know there’s no hope of my using up leftover fresh herbs, so I used dried tarragon instead.

Verdict: Too fiddly to be worth it. The ones that worked were quite nice (I did like the hint of tarragon at the back of the mushroom mixture), but the sum total of the ones that worked was about three out of twelve, which is not a fantastic ratio. Even as a canapé I don’t think they’re terrific: I would have thought pancakes are a bit greasy to serve as finger food, besides which all the filling wanted to fall out anyway.

Also, Mary’s recipe makes a vast amount of cheese and mushroom mixture. As well as filling twelve pancake quarters I had enough to make a very cheesy omelette indeed this evening and I still have some left over (which I will probably use for some very odd cheese on toast).

The English Student Cooks: Blue Cheese Cornucopia

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Blue Cheese Cornucopia

Method: That’s a very fancy name for a very simple recipe. Basically, I made pancakes (one egg, 85g plain flour, 85ml milk and 85ml cold water whisked together any old how and left to stand for half an hour before frying) and spread them with a mixture of 125g Danish blue cheese and 60g (or thereabouts) butter. Mary wanted me to cut them into eight and fold them up but life is too damn short.

Substitutions/alterations: I didn’t do the pancake mixing thing with the well in the flour and whisking the liquid in gradually because, honestly, the liquid had already overflowed the well so it sort of seemed redundant. I also did not add the basil or walnut garnish because, really?

Verdict: Mmmmm. Salty and pancake-y and a bit greasy. Obviously you don’t want to eat them all at once, but in small amounts they are great.

The English Student Cooks: Chicken and Dill Parcels

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Chicken and Dill Parcels

Method: I started by boiling a chicken breast (it had been in the freezer for about a year, so we’ll see whether I’m still alive in the morning). While that was happening, I made pancake batter (!): I made a well in 85g of plain flour, added a lightly beaten egg and a little milk and combined that into a stiff mixture, then added 85ml of milk and 85ml of cold water and stirred again. That rested for half an hour in a glamorous Pyrex jug, alongside the chicken, which was cooling under a tea towel.

Meanwhile, I washed up. And then did some internetting.

When the pancake batter was feeling nice and snoozy (I know, because I asked it, a tip I learned from Val of this year’s Great British Bake Off), I made pancakes in a hot frying pan with sunflower oil. I’m still getting the hang of pancakes, so a couple of them were quite thick and the first one was a write-off because I tried to flip it before it was cooked properly. (I ate it anyway.)

So I left them to cool while I made the filling: I diced the chicken, sliced three spring onions and defrosted a couple of tablespoons of frozen peas by sticking them in a mug and pouring a small amount of boiling water over them. (This tip I learned from the Circumlocutor.) Chicken, spring onions and peas went into a bowl together with 2 tbsp Asda own-brand mayonnaise and 1 tsp English mustard that has been at the back of my fridge for about a year (again, we’ll see whether I’m still alive in the morning!). Oh, and some dried dill – I don’t know exactly how much because I just shook it at random from the jar.

I cut the cooled pancakes in four, spooned some chicken mixture on each and wrapped it up anyhow (Mary’s instructions didn’t work fantastically, but conceivably this is because I am spatially challenged and as soon as you start gabbling on about short edges and long edges my brain shuts down). Then I ate them.

Substitutions/alterations: I left the sunflower oil out of Mary’s pancake recipe, because I made them last weekend and they seemed very greasy and not, you know, fantastically healthy. I also used dried dill instead of fresh because I know I won’t use it this week and I didn’t want to buy a whole packet just for this meal.

Verdict: There was too much mustard: it coated everything and was just exhausting to eat. I also wonder about how tidy these are given they are supposed to be served as part of a buffet spread: though they’re quite easy to assemble wrapping them up so they don’t fall apart is tricky and even so they have a propensity to fall apart. I didn’t enjoy these enough to make them again, but if for any reason I did I would definitely reduce the amount of mustard in the recipe.

The English Student Cooks: Creamy Seafood Pancakes

I’m currently cooking my way through Mary Berry’s Complete Cook Book, which the Pragmatist gave/lent to me when I moved out for my first full-time job. I wanted to document the experience as a kind of cooking diary, and so “The English Student Cooks” was born. This will be an irregular feature, as I only cook when I’m home on my days off, which is Not That Often.

Creamy Seafood Pancakes

Method: First, I made the pancake batter: I made a well in 125g plain flour (in a bowl, obviously) and added one egg and the yolk of another as well as a little milk, and beat it all up to make a smooth and quite stiff batter. Then I added 300ml milk and left it to stand while I made the pancake filling.

I cut up one cod fillet into smallish cubes before frying half an onion and a small clove of garlic till the onion was soft. Then I remembered that I still had to go through the tremendous faff of peeling a couple of salad tomatoes (core, score an X on the base, plunge into boiling water for 15 seconds, plunge immediately into cold water, peel), so I did that rather hurriedly. Then I had to take the seeds out (which is another quite fiddly and messy job) and chop the flesh really small. Finally, I added the tomatoes, the cod and some dill to the onion and garlic (by this time slightly beyond soft) and cooked down for ten minutes, by which point the tomatoes had disintegrated and made a kind of thick sauce with the cod juices. Next, a 180g packet of cooked prawns and one and a half tablespoons of single cream went in, got heated for a bit and then just kept warm while I made the pancakes.

I hadn’t made pancakes before, and found the whole experience quite fun. It took a while to get the technique just right: how much of the batter to pour into the pan (enough to cover the bottom), how long to cook each side (about a minute), how hot the pan needs to be (quite hot). The last couple of pancakes were pretty good, though.

By this time I couldn’t be bothered with wrapping the filling in the pancakes, so I just dumped it on top of them (there were quite a few).

Substitutions/alterations: I kept the pancake batter quantities the same (it being quite difficult to use only half an egg), but halved the filling.

Verdict: The fish mixture, by some alchemy, comes out really rich and delicious; however, next time, I might take the prawns out, or reduce the quantity I use, as they tend to overwhelm the cod.

The pancakes were awesome. I don’t think you can really go wrong with a pancake short of burning it to a crisp.

This is one of the recipes I’m most likely to make again, I think – and the filling would even work separately from the pancakes.