Pollo al Andaluz - Andalusian-style chicken

As an icebreaker at the beginning of the birthing classes we took in preparation for the arrival of our first-born, participants were divided into male and female groups and invited to sit together and discuss their greatest hopes and apprehensions for impending parenthood. The biggest concern of our fellow soon-to-be-parents turned out to be making sure their birth plan was followed to the letter and that on no account should their spouse be somehow duped into accepting analgesics against her wishes by velvet-tongued medical professionals offering relief from the agony. We were surprised to be the only ones looking beyond the birth and confessing their concerns about actually raising said child. Continue Reading »

Peruvian-style Pulpo al Olivo
For much of what we are accustomed to seeing around Christmas, the candles, trees, the mistletoe, the decorations, and many of the songs, we need to thank the Germans. Not specifically those residents of the modern nation state of Germany, but the historic Germanic-speaking peoples of central Europe, for whom the birth of our Lord and Savior was a thinly-veiled opportunity to get out there into the frosty air, bedeck conifers with a variety of junk, quaff heavily-spiced glühwein, and bellow carols in to the night in return for sweetmeats. I would wager that among the English-speaking peoples, certainly the British, the willingness to credit to our Franconian-speaking brethren for these festive trappings is reluctant at best, primarily for, you know, historical reasons. Continue Reading »

Duck Liver in Brandy Cream Sauce with Pomegranate Seeds

Since we defected to the suburbs, started going to bed at 9.30 and became generally boring and matronly, one aspect of the luxury of space afforded by our new location that we have enjoyed particularly is having two fridge-freezers. The second appliance has not only allowed us to give free-reign to our kleptomaniacal tendencies — with leftovers and other scraps of barely edible, semi-discarded flotsam now littering our principal fridge like turds on a cat hoarder’s parlor floor — it has also meant that our collection of frozen comestibles keeps growing and growing. Continue Reading »

Vietnamese Market Cookbook: Spicy Sour Sweet by Tran and Vu

If the path from high finance executive to cookbook author isn’t a well-beaten one, then the path from stock-broker to market stall-holder is even more poorly trod. But, for Oxford-educated former bankers turned Banh Mi vendors-cum-restaurateurs, Van Tran and Anh Vu, that was their peregrination. They certainly don’t say so in the book, but it’s the kind of riches to rags to riches (kind of) story that I’m sure fills the day-dreams of many of us who feel trapped in the limits of our corporate lives, straining at the virtual leash as we break rocks for the man. Continue Reading »

Classic Peruvian Potato dish - Papas a la Huancaina

Of all the miracles of modern science that we have witnessed over recent years, few have received as little attention as the 2009 announcement by the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, that it had successfully sequenced the potato genome. It is a sad reflection on the state of our priorities as a species that this seminal discovery was overshadowed by other, flashier technological breakthroughs that year – including Apple’s launch of Siri, the utterly humorless, and mostly useless, personal assistant on the iPhone 3GS – because after rice, potatoes are the most important foodstuff on planet Earth. Continue Reading »

Argentine-style Faína with Chorizo

“There are more pizzerias in Buenos Aires than in Naples and Rome combined.”
Ernesto Sabato, Heroés y Tumbas

In his book “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” travel-writer Bill Bryson, in an attempt to defeat insomnia, describes making a lonely evening among the anodyne IKEA fittings of a Stockholm hotel even more excruciating by tallying the variety of surnames in the local telephone directory. In an exercise that was clearly not soporific enough, he counted more than 2,000 each of Eriksson, Svensson, Nilsson and Larsson — Swedish inventiveness evidently lying in self-assembly homewares rather than last names. I was reminded of this episode when in conversation with our hotelier in Buenos Aires a few years ago. Continue Reading »

Yellow gazpacho with head-on shrimp al ajillo

The longer we live, the more we understand that our lives, especially now that we have two children, are about compromises. These are often in the form of compromising what we want to do, more or less completely, because our children are either unwilling or unable to do it. Recently though, a new kind of compromise hoved into view after 10 days of excessive eating and drinking while we hosted family from the west coast: namely, that we needed to compromise our caloric intake in order to fit into our clothes. Continue Reading »

Duck Foie Gras with Bacon and Juniper Cabbage and Blackberry-Mustard Seed gastrique
The cuisines, if you call them that, of Northern Europe have been maligned, and fairly, in many cases, for years. The food having been considered by some commentators to be so bad that it was posited as a contributing factor to the higher rates of suicide in those areas. Indeed, anyone who grew up on the same sad, grey school lunches as I might be forgiven for contemplating throwing in the towel rather than facing another plate of limp, farty cabbage and gristly stewed mutton. That we were also forced to wear shorts year-round except when there was snow on the ground, a memory that brings a shiver out of me even now, helped make life feel grimmer than it might otherwise have. This dress-code paired with the inevitable childhood tumbles from kicking a ball around the crumbling asphalt schoolyard and the scarcely-believable application of witch hazel to open wounds and grazes left me, literally, scarred for life. Continue Reading »

Oaxacan-style enfrijoladas

“Waiter! What is this?”
“Um, it’s bean soup, sir.”
“I don’t care what it’s been. What is it now?”

– bad English joke

Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, has the highest proportion of native peoples in the country, and traditional culture is alive to such an extent that an estimated 50% of indigenous people are unable to speak Spanish. The state’s unique geography and multiple climatic zones have allowed pre-Columbian practices to persist largely undisturbed into the modern day making it a veritable living ark both for biodiversity and for those wanting to understand Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Continue Reading »

Aneletti alla Palermitana

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all,
for Sicily is the clue to everything.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sicily sits apart from mainland Italy, like a rock ready to receive a swift kick from the instep of the Italian boot. Indeed, many Italians would tell you that this is precisely what the unruly, volcanic island needs. Throughout its diverse and textured history, Sicily has always been set apart somehow, having been in turn either at the very center of things or at their very periphery. Perhaps this wild oscillation of stature has had as much of an influence on the outlook and behavior of the Sicilians, their dialects and cuisine, as the people and cultures that have passed through the island over the past two and half millennia. Continue Reading »

Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads with warm dandelion, parsley and mint salad
Talk to someone about thymus glands and they will either tell you about their brutal exercise regimen designed to tackle the effects of an under-active one*, or if you’re mentioning them in a culinary context, they’ll usually make an appalled face, purse their lips, fan their hands and look away, indicating you’ve just gone one step too far towards the frightful foods classed under “I couldn’t possibly eat that, it’s gross!” Even the marketing man’s brave attempt to rebrand the humble thymus as sweetbreads hasn’t exactly seen them leaping off supermarket shelves. In part, this is because it is a recherché supermarket indeed that stocks them, but it’s also because of the incipient confusion between sweetbreads and sweetmeats that makes consumers fearful they may be about to munch on a lamb’s or calf’s balls. If you witnessed pained faces previously, you’re likely to elicit both inadvertent wincing and cupping of hands over groins at this point. Continue Reading »

zaatar-spiced horse meat kebabs
Last year there was unprecedented outrage when the news broke that the meatballs being sold by more than one European grocery chain were “contaminated” with horse meat. This was big news this side of the Atlantic for two main reasons: a) the horses in question are likely to have been American horses, and b) because eating horses is disgusting and unfathomably cruel. Animal loving organizations, like the one I used to work for, were up in arms, seething at the abject slaughter of our mighty chargers by those filthy, snaggle-toothed Europeans. After all, what truly civilized country would consider carving up their noble steeds when there are so many dumber, slower and less attractive creatures on the farm who don’t let you ride on their backs to stick a knife into? Continue Reading »

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