European Food Porn

IMG_6877Of course, the really sexy hero of my recent trip to Europe was the food.

If you’re a pig foodie like me, you wouldn’t automatically think of the UK as a foodie haven, but France would certainly be up there, pretty close to the top of your list.

Let me tell you, though, the Brits are catching on. Gone are the days when a steak and kidney pie is considered gourmet dining; I discovered a new wealth of fresh and healthy food on offer, even though the weakness of the Australian dollar made eating out seem much more expensive than my previous trip.

But even better news, (because although j’adore French food, my middle-aged stomach has developed an annoying intolerance to rich sauces these days), French food has finally evolved. Not one creamy sauce passed my lips on a mission to further constrict my arteries. The French still love their gross food, though, although it felt almost sentimental to see snails, intestines and brains on the menu.

European Food Porn
Fresh, plump oysters, dripping with lemon juice.

But the most orgasmic foreplay of the trip had to be the plump, fresh oysters dripping in lemon juice that slid so easily down my throat at the Brasserie Gare Du Nord in Paris, alongside several memorable chicken liver parfaits and my all-time favourite, Foie Gras. Yes, I know Foie Gras gets a well-deserved bad press due to the way it’s produced, but it still remains a personal delicacy.

I snacked on the best pork scratchings in London and prayed that my statins would over-ride the extra cholesterol or that perhaps the wonderful selection of exotic salads I found would serve as penance. It’s not so easy to find good, creative salads in a chilly climate but the Market Superfood Salad I had during my first visit to one of Jamie Oliver‘s Italian’s, which I topped with the freshest, creamiest Buffalo mozzarella (instead of the Cottage Cheese) was healthy comfort food at its finest.

Onto mains, and although I try to steer clear of red meat these days, two lamb dishes were the equivalent of the missionary, which, although not the wildest of positions, at times can be strangely comforting – the first, a crisp, green salad with hummus and goats cheese, and the second, traditional cutlets in a rich, red wine gravy. In both plates, the meat was served perfectly rare and oozing flavour. As for fish, I experienced my first pave de saumon in Paris served on a simple bed of petits pois, several unfancy but flavoursome grilled sea bream and a hearty seared tuna.

European Food Porn
Perfectly rare lamb with goats cheese and hummus.

As for fromages et desserts, there were far too many to count or own up to; as my new-and-improved waistline will testify. I always pick cheese over dessert, particularly in France, where the creamy Bries, bitter goats and mature Stiltons all fight for my affection, so the only two desserts to compete seriously with them were a Café Gourmand in Paris, which was delectable in its simplicity and included a rich chocolate brownie, salted caramel ice-cream and the most heavenly tapioca-type-thing I’ve ever tasted, and a rich vanilla Panna cotta, with a gentle velvet texture that was balanced perfectly by tart red berries on the top.

European Food Porn
Cafe Gourmand!

And if that seriously wasn’t enough to get your juices in a twist, did I mention my beautiful sister-in-law’s Easter roast?

 

European Food Porn
The perfect roast!

Feeling hot and sticky yet?

Outed By An Asian Salad

I might be wrong, but I suspect a bit of a cooking conspiracy in our social circle; foul play in the kitchen. And I only discovered this conspiracy a few weekends ago when my culinary fraudulence was finally ‘outed’ by an Asian Salad.

As a number of you are probably already aware, I am a huge advocate of the ‘faking it’ method of living your life, so I suppose that I knew that it was only a matter of time before I f*cked up somewhere in my careful camouflaging of shop-bought delicacies that I passed off as my own creations. Nevertheless, it is still mortifying to be caught out.

The family has obviously known about my general uselessness anywhere near a gas ring for some time; luckily for them (and me), they ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘live to eat’.

But I still thought that I had managed to conceal my ineptitude in the kitchen from my friends. So when we were recently invited to a friend’s house, it was a huge error of judgement on my part (in spite of a full risk assessment), to ‘make’ something, rather than bring the suggested cheese plate.

This close friend makes Donna Hay look like an amateur. So much so that I have been forced to ban my daughter from afternoon tea at her house on the grounds that my self-esteem can’t cope.  Her house smells of the Woolworths bakery section, ALL THE TIME; it is that intimidating. Freshly baked cupcakes, raspberry and white chocolate scones and fresh fruit smoothies are all on offer in her in-house café; my daughter gets a choice of cereal or toast in mine (and that’s if the bread isn’t green). This friend is such a domestic goddess that when invited to my house, I plan my whole menu around what I ask her to bring. Truth be told, she’s another one of my girl-crushes, but in a healthy, symbiotic kind of way; she loves cooking, so I let her do it and then she lets me eat it.

I have worked out why she only ever asks me to bring anything beyond a cheese plate to her house, of course, whilst our other mates are encouraged to bring those ‘every-f*cking-herb-in-the-garden’ salads or tantalizing desserts with asterisked ingredients that you can only source in Outer Mongolia.

So when she invited us recently, I foolishly decided, as a kind of friendship offering/coming-of-age in the kitchen ritual, to digress beyond the Brie and Camenbert. To give something back.

I mean, how hard could an Asian Salad be?

Bloody hard, as it turns out. The old man later described it as ‘special’; and I would probably agree. It  was ‘special’. And it seems that I probably do have some special needs in the kitchen, and probably require some sort of culinary IEP if it’s available.

And cooking is a potentially dangerous pastime, I discovered. Those matchstick carrots were bitches to chop and I almost decapitated my best nail several times. (Who knew that cutting a carrot required Samurai skills?). I also virtually blinded myself with several squirts of lime juice to my left eye and then followed suit with the right eye by rubbing it  manically with chili-coated fingers.

It’s not that I don’t have the best intentions when it comes to cooking, but recipes may as well be in Sanskrit for all the sense they make to me. My brain simply shuts down when either a stirring or blending technique is mentioned; and then I begin to improvise. Dangerously. And for some reason, my improvisations never quite turn out to be as creatively delicious as Jamie Oliver’s.

I do blame the family for part of my innate fear of new recipes. ‘Mum’s tried a new recipe,’ is speedily transmitted around the dining table in a panicked Chinese whisper, as I dish up anything new, and even the ADHDer is uncharacteristically silenced.

Which is why I generally stick to what I know, and what they know.

But occasionally, the stars align in just the right way, (like if Donna Hay’s magazine drops into my mailbox at exactly the same time as we receive a ‘bring a dish’ lunch invitation), and I ‘go boldly where I haven’t gone before’ and attempt to discover the untapped culinary genius that I know MUST lurk somewhere deep within me.

And a special Asian Salad is created.

The problem with the recipe was that, unfortunately, it required a few minor alterations from the outset, when I realized that I had forgotten a few minor ingredients. I could only find quite small red chilies in Woolies, for example, so I thought that doubling the quantities might work; and I thought that I had some lime juice in the cupboard but when I looked, it was in fact lemon.

And that chili proved to be a bit of a surprise to the palate, apparently, and the lemon was decidedly a little over-tart. Nevertheless, on the whole I thought that I had got away with it, even though no-one apart from my gorgeous friend, the hostess, ate the portion of MY salad that was on their plate. And surprisingly, a Niagara Falls of water was consumed, even though it was unusually chilly for October.

I was obviously a little concerned when my friend became very flushed at one point (almost to the point of hyperventilation), but I assumed that the stress of hosting was to blame; and she put it down to menopause.

It was indeed a very ‘special’ Asian Salad. And I had officially been outed.

‘I’m not saying my wife’s a bad cook but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer’. Bob Monkhouse

Coleslaw with Gingered 3-Seed Dressing courtesy of britton618 at www.flickr.com