Undercooked: the three types of food TV

Cookery shows have very little to do with the fine art of gastronomy. They’re aspirational, set in the kitchens that we want, in the houses we dream about. If you try making a dish out of the recipes shown on these shows, you’re pretty much guaranteed to come a cropper. Either that, or the washing up afterwards will be of biblical proportions.

I reckon there are three different kinds of cookery shows. First, there’s the celebrity chef show, which is as close as you get to a standard cooking sketch these days. They take all their cues from the master of the form, dear old Keith Floyd. Four or five dishes will be prepped in a modicum of detail. If there is shopping to be done beforehand, the chef will go to a picturesque deli in an upmarket street, and definitely not Asda.

There will be very little chopping. Some of the ingredients will be in bowls, in tiny dice. Everything will be impeccable. There will be no limp mushrooms or half open packs of bacon here. The kitchen will be spotless, and the size of an aircraft hanger. The chef will waft through it all, airily informing you what a simple mid-week supper a samphire and duck liver souffle can make. Oh, and the word supper gets used a lot. The only supper I’ve ever been interested in is the one that comes out of a chippy.

Then we have the travelogue, where the chef goes on holiday and cooks a few meals along the way. Wacky transport will be involved here – giant RVs, motorbikes, barges, specially adapted VW campers. Inevitably, the cooking sketches are either on a beach, a harbour or in a town square. The food will be cooked on a tinpot gas range, and there will be tame locals on hand to taste whatever comes off that grill and mildly insult it. There will be lots of shots of very pretty scenery. it will be very nice, but faintly dull.

At the bottom of the barrel there are the reality shows. These attempt to redefine cookery as combat, pitting one chef against another in an orgy of ego, tantrum and spilt dairy. There will be lots of fast cutting and sweaty closeups. The host will frown a lot.
The music will be better suited to an action movie, and there will be a pause before the winner of the show is announced that lasts for the length of the last ice age. They have as much to do with cookery as The Weakest Link, and are about as entertaining. Except Iron Chef. That’s so lunatic that it’s crossed over into genius.

Delia is the exception to the rule, but she’s more of a national institution than a cook these days.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll discuss whether it is actually possible to get decent cooking tips from a TV show. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of grub has made me a bit peckish. I’m off for a zebra carpaccio with smoked green tea foam on rye. So easy to make, you know.

New Culinary Definitions: SMOZZ

Smozz is the stuff added to food to make it extra perfect. Vinegar on chips. Parmesan. Ketchup. Sweet chili sauce. It’s an embellishment. A grace note, but one without which a meal can be perfectly fine, yet not …quite …there.

Smozz is dependent on the tastes and proclivities of the individual. Most people like a dollop of ketchup with their chips, which to me is a culinary crime. Mayo, on the other hand, is a must. Those crazy Dutch really hit on something there.
Smozz is not just a savoury addition. Sweet smozz can include marshmallows on hot chocolate, or a snappy, plasticy Flake shoved at a jaunty angle into an ice cream. A grating of chocolate on your cappuccino is the very essence of smozz.

Origin: the word was first seen on a bill at an Italian restaurant, where TLC and I had ordered a small garlic bread with extra mozzarella. Garlic bread does not need a blanket of sizzling, string-melty cheese on top, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The bread was itemised on the bill as s.mozz. A new culinary term was born.

Love And The Pot

Film critic Roger Ebert has one, and loves it so much that he wrote a book about it. My friend Rev Sherlock has one, and claims it’s the heart of his kitchen. After months of whining and pewling from yours truly, TLC caved in and bought me one for Christmas.

I’m talking about rice cookers, Readership. And I think it’s going to radicalise the way I do things in the kitchen.

My proudest new possession is a Tefal, with four functions. (Ebert frowns on this, but I don’t really care). It’s a steamer and slow cooker as well as a rice cooker. It also has a porridge function, which made for the creamiest, most unctuous podge I’ve ever made.

So far, I have steamed broccoli for Xmas lunch and spuds for a fish pie in it. I have made blueberry and cream porridge. I have cooked a full chilli beef stew in it, and the meat was softly giving under light pressure from a spoon. I have even cooked rice in it.

This process has something of the magical about it. Rinsed rice and volume-and-a-half of liquid go into The Pot (after a while, you can’t help but go for the Ebert-style capitalisation). Press the cook rice button. It sits quietly on the counter, venting the occasional polite puff of fragrant steam. After about 15 minutes, it beeps gently. Your rice, sir. It will stay warm in the pot for an hour or so. Fluff it up and get stuck in. No muss, no fuss. The non-stick bowl washes clean in an instant. The simplicity and efficiency of the device has me filled with a profound, calm joy. I want to use this machine every day.

Something of a recipe, as spelled out to me by one of my work oppoes. It’s the perfect restorative after a night out, or indeed a long work day, and will withstand any manner of tweaking.

Tobias Clayton’s Back-From-The-Brink Rice.

Put the rice in The Pot and get it started. While it’s puttering away, finely chop a chili and a green onion. Once the rice has clicked over to stay warm, fluff it up, then throw in a glug of oil and the veg, and clap the lid back on. Give it five minutes. The veg will soften slightly in the heat. When you can’t stand it any more, throw in more soy sauce than you think you’re going to need, lob the whole lot in a bowl and bury your face in it.

If you want to gild the lily, some briefly cooked mushrooms, prawns or chicken would work well. Try flavoured oil stirred through the rice, or cook it in some stock. I’m going to try popping some fish in the steaming basket that comes with the pot next time, just to see how that’ll cook.

All of which sort of jibes with the elegant simplicity of the dish. The salty tang of the soy mixed with the crunch and zap of the chili, all bound with the nutty comforting rice. It’s pure cooking, all about flavour.

Look, I’m sorry, I know I’m gushing here. But this is a transformative moment for me. I’m spending more time than I ought thinking about what to cook in The Pot, and using it makes me grin like a gibbon. As my adventures in domesticity continue, this becomes yet another reason to get home, get comfy and cook.

Now, have I told you about my new pair of slippers?

Relish The Opportunity

As always, autumn has taken me by surprise. One minute, I’m hazing out in warm late summer sunshine, the next I’m slipping on wet leaves and trying to remember where I stashed my scarf. It always feels like a switch flip. There’s no buffer zone, no warning. Boom. It’s Halloween season. Time to put the heating on.

The bugger of it is that the cooler weather hit before the bulk of our tomatoes had a chance to fully ripen. This left me with four pounds of green toms. Well, you know how the saying goes. When life gives you green tomatoes, make relish.

So, yesterday’s rainy overcast gloom was cut by the bright sharp fug of cider vinegar, onions, peppers and apples cooking down with the toms to create a tart, fruity little number that will go down nicely with cold meats and cheeses. The remainder of the ripe toms were roasted with garlic, red onions and jalapenos from the garden to create a spicy roast tomato and chili sauce to warm our cockles. We had some of that with sausages for dinner, and it was just the ticket.

And that, oh Readership, is how you deal with a glut.

There’s plenty of relish if anyone wants a jar…

Front: roasted tomato and chili. All else: green tomato relish. A Sunday well spent!

The Simplest Of Lunches

Half an hour later we were eating these. After washing and cooking them, obvs...
This time of year always gets me thinking about food. I guess that’s because there’s so much of it coming out of the garden. The onions and garlic are safely gathered in, the chilis and tomatoes are ripening nicely. Beetroot this year was a bit of a disappointment, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I love it, but not enough to grow it and have half the crop rot away before I get round to eating it. I was slow planting salads this year, but we have an abundance of tender green leaves now.

On Sunday, I finally upended the potato bags, to be greeted with a trug full of treasure. Masses of beauties, dirt fresh and ready for the eating. TLC, as always, instantly came up with a quick idea for lunch. I love it when this happens. She gives me a shove in the right direction, and I roll off and make something good to eat.

I grabbed a double handful of small spuds, and set them to steam with some dried mint that we’d harvested a few weeks earlier. While the kitchen filled with subtly minty fog (the steamer lid don’t fit so good) I chopped a couple of tomatoes, fresh off the vine, and mixed a tin of tuna with some mayo. When the spuds were tender (about ten minutes, like I said, these were small) I let them cool slightly, before mixing them with the tuna and tomatoes. A last minute spark of inspiration lit up, and I chopped some fresh parsley into the mix. Into bowls. Out into the sunshine.

It was simple but really nice. The spuds were lovely all by themselves, but the mix really brought everything together. Look, I know it’s barely a recipe, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s so vague that you can really open it up to your own interpretation. Some capers would be nice to add a salty twang. Replace the parsley with mint or rosemary. If you’re veggie, try some mushrooms cut into chunks fried up in a bit of garlic butter. Carnivore? I reckon some corned beef would go nicely, turning the whole thing into a de-constructed hash. Actually, some beetroot would go nicely with that too. Hmm, there’s a thought…

 

(Photo credit: TLC)

Collaboracooking

It’s funny how you get inspired sometimes. We’ve grown some herb fennel this year, which has grown to about a Rob in a single season (1 Rob = a smidge under six foot). TLC decided the time had come to prune it. “Hang on to some of that,” I said. “I’ll do something with it.”

Which of course meant I had to do something with it. There was a pack of fish chunks in the freezer (sold as a fish pie mix) which would go admirably. So, the rough sketch of dinner started scribbling into being.

At dinnertime, then, I started with one of our (small, red) onions, and three cloves from a decent head of our garlic, a stick of celery, some past-their-best baby corns and at TLCs insistence, one of the house chillies, green and sparkling fresh. All finely chopped. That was fried off in a ping-pong ball sized lump of butter and a little olive oil.

When that panful was fragrant and sizzly, I chucked in whatever white wine was left in my glass at the time (guesstimate: just under half a glass), and a couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche. Once that was bubbling, the fish went in. The mix had white fish, salmon and smoked haddock in it, but anything seafoody would do. Prawns and scallops would be nice. About 300g is enough for 2. At the same time, I lobbed in a couple of good handfuls of chopped fennel, and about the same of parsley, as it’s been going nuts in a pot all summer and I have to keep using it.

I clapped a lid over the lot, and let it burble for five minutes or so until the fish was cooked, while I warmed up some soft ribbon noodles and yelled at TLC to get some knives and forks out.

Noodles on plates, followed by heaped ladlefuls of the fish stew. Lime wedges on the side to squeeze over at the table.

It was as you’d expect. Creamy, spicy, fishy, unctuous, hot, sweet, sour and utterly delicious. Most of the base flavours came out of the garden. I couldn’t be happier with this one. It tasted French Indo-Chinese, with the chilli creaminess playing with the delicacy of the herbs.

And it was all TLC’s idea.

Festivale

Earl’s Court is home this week to The Great British Beer Festival, making it the one time in the year that it’s actually acceptable to drink round there. Beer festivals are enormous fun, and if you play it right you can get nicely sozzed while still keeping hold of the niceties of social behaviour. Here are the tips that I and my partners in ale, the Beeranauts, have come up with over the years.

1) Food. As important as a beer glass. There’s a mass of food stalls in the central area, and you can even get a salad if you’re some kind of girly wuss. I would recommend a decent cooked breakfast before you even start. There are plenty of cafes and pubs that open early to serve food on the Earl’s Court Road. Don’t enter the Exhibition Hall without a well and truly lined stomach.

2) Get your bearings. The programme is vital to planning out your day. It tells you plenty about all the beer on offer, the itinerary of bands on the music stage, and where you can find the award-winners. If you’re a bit of a ticker like me, this is essential. Also, if you’re a civilised type, now’s the time to find a table and set camp for the day. We tend not to, which leads to tired legs after a few hours. Some people brought fold-out picnic chairs this year, which seems like a smart idea.

3) Freebies. Keep your eyes open. The Bombardier stand was giving away free t-shirts, and beer mats and other goodies are always up for grabs. Plenty of good merchandising at curiously affordable prices here as well. Don’t just be thinking all your money for the day is going on beer.

4) The half-in-a-pint-glass trick. This has served us well. The first thing you do once you’re in the hall is to buy a glass, £3 deposit, a nice souvenir for the day. It comes in pint, half and third sizes. The Beeranauts always buy pint glasses, and order halves. This way, you can fit in more brews through the day. More importantly, the volunteers behind the pumps always err on  the generous side on servings. You always get a bit more than a half, which can add up to almost a full pint over the course of a day.

5) Keep an eye on your glass. If you don’t, some thieving tyke will have it away. That means you have to spend out another £3 if you want to keep going. This happened to me at the end of the day, which I would like to think is the action of some higher power telling me that I needed to stop drinking, and that I didn’t need another commerative pint glass. Shame though. I was enjoying that cider.

6) People-watch. All human life is here, and it’s all getting nicely tweaked on the finest ales known to man. With a camera, or even a notebook and pen, the artist has character material to last for years. The Beeranaut’s personal favourite was the guy in the greasy leather stetson, body warmer and sand-camo combat strides, with no shirt and a wild spill of white hair. King Of The Show. Also, don’t assume this is a man-only thing. Plenty of girls at the show, and they seemed to be on the dark ales too.

7) Move outside your comfort zone. You will never get another opportunity to try different and interesting beers from all over the globe, so try a glass of something you would’t normally. Lager drinkers, try a stout. Bitter boys, get a perry down you. If you think all American beer is watery froth, there’s a stall full of craft brewers ready to prove you wrong with some of the strongest ales of the show. My tastes have changed radically over the past year or so, and that’s down to trying and enjoying new stuff at beerfests in Battersea, Reading and Earl’s Court.

8. Do the day shift. The halls get intolerably crowded in the evenings, so if you can, do a day shift and leave early. I tend to find six hours does it for me anyway, so we’re normally done and heading home by 6ish. Can’t say that I’m really good for anything when I get back, but at least I’m normally in one piece, and happy after a fun, woozy day out.

My recommendations? Well, the Beeranauts did a tour of each other’s home counties, which led to some interesting choices. The treat for us was probably Wood’s Shropshire Lass, which was recommended as a good alternative to the 2010 Champion Ale, Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale. But I also loved Tunnel’s Late OTT from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and the dark and complex Felstar Crix Forest from the heart of Essex. I don’t think we had a duff beer all day.

I tweeted everything I drank, so you can see the full list by checking out the hashtag #gbbfun.

Me and Rev Sherlock in our Beer Pride t-shirts

Food Hell

Let’s start with a song, shall we?

Amanda Palmer has, I think, nailed the experience of food hate. We all have one. That foodstuff that you don’t just dislike (sprouts), or refuse to have on your plate (sprouts) but will actively force you out of the room. Marmite have built an entire advertising strategy out of this, positioning their product as one that neatly divides the nation. I fall into the hater camp, I’m afraid. I will, on occasion, use it in a stew or casserole to give some of the deep, rich umami tang for which it’s rightly known. But spreading it on toast seems such a ridiculous concept to me. You may as well dollop gravy browning on your morning slice. Or a turd.

Marmite are now trying it on a bit, I think, by launching the Marmite Bar. This is a cereal bar, one of those sticky, oaty slabs that can sometimes do the job if you’re up late and don’t have time to put milk onto a bowl of cereal in the morning. Most cereal bars have some manner of fruit in them to lighten the mix. Marmite Bars, and my gorge is actively rising as I write this, remove the fruit, and replace it it with Marmite. It’s a savoury cereal bar. Just what you need to smack your tonsils awake on a Tuesday morning. It’s a product that Marmite are actually pitching as a dare. “Have we gone too far?”, the posters cry. It’s a bold move, but I can see it backfiring. I know I’m not the target market (probably the opposite, in fact) but I can’t see anyone wanting to buy the horrid things. I have trouble conjuring up a more revolting prospect.

Oh, who am I kidding? Let’s talk about my own personal food hell.

(Digression. I’m a fan of the BBC cookery show Saturday Kitchen Live, which shows archive food shows alongside live cookery skits and a spectacularly pointless omelette race. One silly feature is Food Heaven, Food Hell, in which the token celebrity of the day is quizzed on their favourite and least favourite food, and then subjected to a vote in which they will eat a dish based on either. No-one yet has dared to pull the bullshit alarm on this trite concept:

“So, (B-list celebrity with something to plug) , what is your Food Hell?”
“Well, (avuncular host) , my Food Hell is prawns.”
“Oh, really? (initiate flirt/banter mode, dependent on gender of guest) And why, pray tell, is that?”
“Because I’m violently allergic to them, and if I eat one I will go into toxic shock and die.”

It’d be nice to see that once. Don’t you think?)

Aaaanyway. My food hell. The humble egg is a cornerstone of world cuisine, a foodstuff as versatile as it is loved. Millions of people go to work on one every morning. They are cheap, nutritious and the foundation of the Great British Full English Breakfast.

Put a fried or lightly scrambled egg in front of me, and I will run out of the door. My lovely wife, my deary darling, will sometimes indulge in a breakfast of scrambled eggs soused in ketchup, which will send me to the bottom of the garden with my hand clamped firmly over my mouth. I have a friend that will send me photos of any particularly runny fried egg sandwiches he manages to get hold of. I’m not kidding here, the thought of it is making me feel a bit sick.

It’s partially a texture thing, partially a smell thing. I do have a problem with gelid foods, which I think is a common problem with Food Hell in general. Many people I know will cite tomatoes or mushrooms in their spit list, because of the squishy, half-set texture. It’s notable, I think, that I don’t have a problem with eggs per se. I’ll happily cook with them. I make a mean pancake, will happily eat a quiche or even a Spanish omelette, and will even whip a just cracked egg into fried rice. But the concept of runny yolk does not fit well in my gut. And I honestly have no idea where it’s come from. As far as I know, I have always hated eggs. There must be a memory I’ve blanked out somewhere, of a particularly runny soft-boiled egg and soldiers that just flipped a switch in my tiny head. In his memoir Toast, Nigel Slater writes of how his mother’s insistence of forcing him to eat runny egg put him off them for life. I think I’m the same.

This made me a particularly miserable vegetarian, of course. In fact, it was eggs that turned me away from the righteous path. On a driving holiday through France, it soon became clear that the only thing that was available for salad-huggers like me and TLC was omelettes. Even the salads had hard-boiled egg in them, which tainted them completely. I tried to man up, and ordered a cheese omelette one night. I managed one bite, and that tiny morsel ended up back on the plate. I spent a week eating bread and cheese, and the occasional bowl of frites. It was horrible.

Finally, on the last night of the trip, I cracked. We went to a seafood restaurant in Le Havre, and I ate cod with puy lentils. It was a magnificent, Proustian moment. I can still taste the meal now. It was back down the slippery slope for me from there. I lasted barely a year as a vegequarian, and am now a rabid, unapologetic carnivore.

Some years after that trip TLC and I went to Paris, and found a decent vegetarian restaurant. it was fantastic. The food was simple, pure and delicious. If there had been more places like that in Brittany in the spring of 1992, I’d probably still be a courgette-muncher today. (I still am, but not exclusively.)

So, let me know, Readership. I’m intrigued. What foods really don’t do it for you? Are you a Marmite lover or a hater? More to the point: would you eat a Marmite Bar?

Hail To The Ale

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Ah, beer. Stuff of life. One of the first foods. Made from pretty much the same simple ingredients as bread, and it’s been with us for just as long. Grains, yeast, flavourings and time. That’s all there is to it. There is an argument in ecumenical circles that if Jesus Christ truly was of the working-class, then he would never have touched wine, and the Blood of Christ at Holy Communion should be a nice drop of IPA instead.

My enthusiasm for the holy brew knows no boundaries. A decent beer is one of life’s finest ingredients. It speaks to me of community, of friendship, of good times. Too much will give you problems, but that is an argument that can be levelled at … well, anything. If I was forced to choose, I mean, really gun-to-the-head-of-a-loved-one choose, I believe I would rather drink beer than anything else. OK, it’s not going to replace the first cup of tea in the morning, or the flat white served with a smile from one of the AMT girls at Reading station, but on the whole… Well, let’s just say I look at historical records that tell us that everyone drank beer instead of water up until the mid-nineteenth century because it was safer, and wish vaguely that I was a time-traveller.

Before this turns into the confessions of an alcoholic, a little bit of focus. My love of the saintly sup has turned me into an activist. I am a member of CAMRA, and have signed petitions and written to my local MP regarding the perilous state of Britain’s pubs. The pub should be a cornerstone of British society, up there with the red phone box and the double-decker bus.

Of course, both of those are extinct, and the humble British boozer is going the same way. A pub a day is closing. These are terrible times for a vital part of English culture, and I try in my little way to support and encourage the public house and everything about it.

Which leads to my arrival at Clapham Junction yesterday, to meet some friends and enjoy the Battersea Beer Festival. This was our second attempt. Last year we were unable to gain admittance, faced with massive queues that refused to subside even in the face of a vicious snowstorm blasting down Lavender Hill. That night we ended up in The Falcon on St John’s Hill, just down the way from the station. This is a beautiful pub-in-the-round, with a lovely long bar, a couple of snugs, pretty decent food and a fabulous selection of beers. We had our own mini-festival that night, and The Falcon seemed the ideal place for our little group to form before heading up to the BAC, home of the festival.

This was a very wise move. There was a CAMRA stall, and kegs had been set up in the back room to entice punters into trying some slightly more esoteric brews. That, along with the food that Nicholson’s pubs like the Falcon specialise in (very good pies and sausages, ideal for soaking up booze) meant that we headed up Lavender Hill in high spirits, and in the mood for more.

We got into the venue without problems, issues or any kind of a wait. A token entry fee and £2 dropped for a commemorative beer glass, and we were in.

Now, a word on the beer glasses. You buy one at the door, and hang onto it through the session. You can buy half and pint glasses, and these are oversized and lined in third, half and pint measures. We always drink halves in beer festivals. It seems pointless to bloat out with a full pint of something you might not like. Plus with halves, you get to try more over the course of a session. One trick is to order halves in a pint glass. Inevitably, you will get more than the measure, especially as the day wears on and the worthies behind the bar, volunteers and enthusiasts all, become more and more tipsy and loose-wristed at the kegs. For the most part, we were getting tooths (two-thirds of a pint) for the price of a half. At £1.50ish a shot, this represents VERY GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY.

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The venue is pretty impressive. The Great Hall at the BAC is a big old woody church hall, complete with high stained glass windows, and the booming echo of a decently crafted acoustic. That room, which must have been fifty feet long, is filled with a central, double-sided bar stacked high with kegs. By 6pm, that room will be stuffed to the gills with drinkers of all shapes, sizes and levels of beardiness. And that’s just the girls, kathudTISH.

I’m always surprised by how many females of the lady-type persuasion turn up to these gigs. Although the day is normally heavy on rotund hairy gentlemen of a certain age and the occasional dashing handsome interloper such as me and my crew, come hometime and whoops look out, it’s like a Boots advert in the Great Hall. Here come the girls, and they’re all after a half of insanely strong Belgian lambic, or a decent porter. They go for the strong dark stuff, ales with flavour, body and character. None of your cheap lager here. These are classy birds. Although they’d whop you one for telling them that. I am far too much of a gent/coward to try.

Eventually, we felt the urge for something different, and ventured downstairs to the cider and perry hall. This, we decide later, was a Big Mistake. The room is dingy and airless, and entirely populated by twats in stupid hats, urging each other on to ever more foolish feats of stunt alcoholism to the strains of (this is the godshonest truth) the refrain of Gary Glitter’s You Wanna Be In My Gang. We have a glass of something (Newton’s Hereford Perry, very nice) and do a runner before things turn nasty. C’mon, C’mon? No, f’anks.

After that, we took the advice of the marvellous Ciaran, who lives just round the corner from the BAC, and headed to another pub, The Eagle. This regularly wins awards, and no wonder. It’s a warm, cosy place, filled with locals, and the beer is clearly sourced, stored and served with care and pride. It’s a perfect place to finish the evening before the long drag home, and the pint of Loddon Hoppit that I sip is a clarion call back to the West. But I shall return.

So, recommendations. The Twitter stream I generated through the day is here. Yes, I tweeted the beer I drank. I’m 21st century, me. The hit of the fest for me was Black Hole Brewery’s RED DWARF, an unbelievably moreish toffee-flavoured treat. I was generally in the mood for milds, porters, stouts and other dark beers, so the list is by definition skewed that way. The Falcon is here. I’m not telling you where the Eagle is. I’d like to keep that one a little bit secret.

Food For Thought

I love flicking through cookery books. I’m a complete sucker for them, always have been. I’m a curious cook (that is, someone that enjoys playing and investigating in the kitchen, not someone that’s a bit odd when he puts on an apron (although that accusation has also been quite fairly laid in front of me. That does not necessarily mean I have to eat it)). I believe in reading round the subject. Post-austerity cookery books of the 50’s are especially good value, their garish colour schemes never quite disguising the fact that the lovingly photographed spam fritter is just that, and therefore in-flippin-edible.

I enjoy cookery books that bring something more than recipes to the table. My enthusiasm for Nigel Slater knows no bounds, and it’s not just because his relaxed and improvisational way with a meal perfectly suits my own. He brings so much of himself to the page that the process of cooking becomes more… conversational, I suppose. Plus, he has a way of slipping dirty jokes and innuendo into the recipes, in a way that just adds a certain naughty charm to proceedings. Anyone that doesn’t believe that cooking is all about sex should try reading some of his dessert ideas.

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is another book that I go back to time and again for inspiration, although it doesn’t actually contain any recipes at all. Rather, it’s the passion and the attitude that he slathers across the page that I sometimes crave. Part autobiography, part cautionary tale (it is thanks to Bourdain that I will never order fish in a restaurant on a Monday), part business plan, part manifesto – all great. He writes crime books too, with the same elan and skill. The book was transferred to a lacklustre TV show, that failed in my mind because there wasn’t half enough Bourdain in it. His greedy enthusiasm for everything edible renders the book almost lickably good.

However, if cornered, my favourite food book comes from the mighty, and sadly missed, Keith Floyd. He was the first TV chef I took seriously, and certainly the one that inspired me to cook with a glass in hand. One for the pot, one for me. His American Pie is an extraordinary travelogue. Floyd tears across the States in a big red Caddy with a crazy blonde PA in tow telling a story that is in equal parts crazed, elegiac, evocative and drop-the-book funny. It’s a bonus that it just happens to have an addendum filled with some extraordinarily good recipes. I will admit to not being brave enough to try to make chitlins or collard greens his way (offal and I have never seen eye to orifice) but his small section on the great American slumgullion has informed my cooking from it’s formative stages. Again, it’s that slightly experimental approach. I like all these ingredients. Let’s chuck ’em all in a pan together, and see what comes out. It’s worked so far. Well, I haven’t poisoned anyone yet…

I’ve found a couple of pieces online recently that have nourished me in a similar way. Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic, has posted a wonderful piece on his recollections of food. It’s a piece that’s Proustian in it’s detail, and heartbreaking in it’s central conceit – following a series of operations, Ebert can no longer eat or drink. The memory of food is all he has left. Although there is a wonderful moment where he talks the doctors into putting some coke into his IV…

Then there’s this, from Stuart Ian Burns, AKA Feeling Listless. Slipped into the middle of his musings on frozen pizza and Costco steak, there’s a moment where he talks about a Pan du Chocolat he ate …well, half-ate, at the Musee d’Orsay Café in Paris. It’s beautiful and frankly … heartbreaking.

There’s plenty more food for the soul out there. Any suggestions?