Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Friday Night Plan #4

The Friday Night Plan #4


I can’t seem to help myself with Italian food. It's so hearty, warming and easy to make. This week we have a lasagne full of meaty, tomatoey flavour. The film is the second in the series following from last week's Rear Window. Enjoy.


The Food


Lasagne


Ingredients:


For the Ragu:

8 rashers of streaky, smoked bacon chopped into little lardons,

1 onion diced,

2 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped,

500g beef mince,

A few sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped,

A good sprinkling of dried oregano,

Salt,

Pepper,

About a glass of red wine,

A good dash of Worcestershire sauce,

2 heaped tbsps of tomato puree,

A tin of chopped tomatoes,

1 large carrot, diced,

4 stalks of celery, diced


For the white sauce:

1 onion, chopped in half,

6 peppercorns,

2 bay leaves,

A pint of milk,

40g of butter,

Enough flour to make a roux,

Nutmeg


Dried lasagne sheets,

Parmesan


Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C.


Make the ragu first:

Fry the bacon until a little crispy and put in a large bowl. Brown the beef in the same pan and put in the bowl with the bacon. Add a little olive oil to the pan and add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.


Soften the vegetables for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat. Return the meat and bacon to the pan with the rosemary, oregano, salt, pepper, wine, tomato puree, Worcester sauce and tomatoes. Stir well and bring to the boil. Once boiling turn down the heat to a simmer and leave to mature for about an hour.


Meanwhile make the white sauce:


Put the onion, peppercorns, bay leaves and milk in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Keep an eye on it. Just before it boils over, turn out the heat. Leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes.


Pour the infused milk through a sieve into a jug. Discard the onion, peppercorns and bay leaves. Melt the butter in the pan. Add flour little by little until you have made a roux with the consistency of cookie dough. Now add milk little by little incorporating everything before adding more. Do this until your sauce is the right consistency. You may need a little more fresh milk. Simmer the sauce for a couple of minutes to cook the flour. If necessary add a little more milk to thin it out. Finish with some grated nutmeg.


Assemble your lasagne in a large ceramic baking dish, layered as follows: a layer of meat, a layer of lasagne, a layer of sauce. Do this three times. Finish with plenty of grated parmesan. Put it in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until brown on top and bubbling. Serve with garlic bread or just a simple salad of watercress, rocket and cherry tomatoes.



The Wines


Budget Option:

Porcupine Ridge Merlot - £6.99 when you buy two or more South African bottles. Red fruit matches the rich tomatoey ragu, oak ageing will add light creaminess to complement the sauce, and smooth tannins go with the meat, Bingo!



Fine Wine Option:

Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Tommaso Bussola - £22. I had to pick an Italian for Lasagne and this is a great example, Tommaso Bussola ensures fantastic quality by hand sorting his grapes and ageing the wine in new oak. Delicious and intense cherry fruit will work with the tomatoey ragu, while the salty cheese will compliment the smooth, soft tannins. This is full-bodied enough to stand up to the meatiness of this dish, I think it will work brilliantly.



The Film


This week we have the next in our Rear Window series. This film is definitely inspired by Rear Window, so much so that Hitchcock’s family have sued the creators for a large sum of money. Directed by D.J. Caruso, the film is called Disturbia. The title puts a lot of people off, but it’s much more than the teen horror it appears at first to be. The premise is that a teenage boy is put under house arrest after punching his teacher. Stuck in his bedroom, the boy becomes bored and turns to spying on his neighbours for entertainment. Again that’s all I’ll tell you, but I really hope you like it. Watch this space for the next film in the series.

The Friday Night Plan #3

Earlier this week my colleague Will took me on my first fly fishing outing. In honour of this I'd like to share the way I cooked the delicious trout I caught. With fish so fresh I wanted to keep it simple. A good blend of textures and bang-on seasoning is what makes this dish. Hopefully my wine recommendations will be inspiring, and you'll have a good film to watch.


The Food


Serves 4.


Ingredients:
4 trout fillets (skin on),
Salt,
Pepper,
8 Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2 inch chunks,
1 bag of Chantenay carrots,
100g unsalted butter,
250ml double cream,
Sunflower/vegetable oil,
2 shallots sliced,
A bunch of parsley well chopped,
A glass of dry white wine or Vermouth,
Nutmeg.


Method:

Place the fish flesh-down on a chopping board. Score slits in the skin with a sharp knife by pinching the fish to push up the middle. Season the skin with salt and pepper. Heat a little sunflower/vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is really hot but not smoking, put the fillets in skin-side down. It might be quite loud and spitty. Take care and wear something with long sleeves. Put on the extractor fan. Fry until the skin is nice and crispy, which should take a couple of minutes. Try not to move the fish much or the skin won't crisp up and will fall apart. Once the skin is crisp, carefully place the fillets on a plate to one side.


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and put a well-oiled roasting tray in the oven. Top and tail your carrots. Par boil them in a pan of well-salted water for a couple of minutes. Drain and season them. Put the carrots on the preheated tray in the oven to roast for 25 minutes or until caramelising. Give the tray a little shake half way through to ensure even cooking.


Make the mash. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and carefully put in your potatoes. Boil for about 10 minutes or until soft enough to easily take a knife. Drain well in a colander. It's best to mash with a potato ricer, but if you really can't get one just use a hand held masher or a fork, but don't put them in a food processor. Once your potatoes are mashed add 50g of your butter chopped up into cubes, and beat in. Now add enough cream to get the consistency right for you. I like it just firm enough to hold it's shape. Season well to taste and grate in a shed load of nutmeg because it's delicious.


Now finish off the fish. Make sure there's still some oil in the frying pan and that it's hot. Throw in your shallots and fry until slightly coloured. Add in your wine or vermouth to deglaze the pan. Boil to reduce slightly. Next is a good few lugs of cream and stir well. Reduce slightly again and throw in the remaining butter. Again, reduce slightly and throw in your parsley and some seasoning. Stir to incorporate. Return the fish to the pan flesh-side down for barely any time at all until the fish is just cooked through.


To serve, dollop a big spoon of mash on a plate. Carefully lay the trout over the mash. Divide the carrots between the plates in little piles. Finish by spooning the sauce over the trout and around the mash...


...Et Voila.


The Wine


Budget Option:
Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc - £8.79 when you buy two bottles from South Africa. After the long, manic Christmas period the thing I was looking forward to the most was South Africa coming on offer. Now that it is, I'm going to make the most of it. This is a favorite from South Africa, and I know it has a large fan base. Lovely creaminess will complement the rich potatoes and the sauce, and the confected fruit will go well with the roasted carrots. Crisp acidity and a slight citrus note goes great with the fish.


Fine Wine Option:
Chapoutier Invitaire Condrieu - £30.00. From one of the most popular, forward thinking and passionate winemakers of the Rhone Valley comes this Condrieu. Michel Chapoutier has produced a superb Condrieu with crisp acidity, and round, soft, stone fruit. This should go fantastically well. Oak ageing lends creaminess to pick up on the mash and sauce. The herbaceous notes will go well with the parsley in the sauce, while the crisp minerality goes with the fish.

The Film


This week is the first in a series of films all linked to this one, which will be announced as the series continues. When you think of great directors, probably the first that comes to mind is Alfred Hitchcock. I’m recommending my favourite Hitchcock film, which is Rear Window. Here’s the premise. The film is Set almost entirely in a single room. A man has broken his leg and is bound to this room. Becoming bitter and curmudgeonly he turns his attention to the flats he can see out his window. That’s all I want to tell you. If you haven’t seen it before I want the rest to be a surprise. Simply the fact that this film compels you to watch, and keeps building tension despite being constrained to one room is impressive. For that alone this film deserves to be seen. I think you’ll really enjoy it, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the films I’ll be recommending in the subsequent weeks that I think have been inspired by this Hitchcock masterpiece.

The Friday Night Plan #2

This week we're going Italian with my personal pizza recipe. You'll even be making your own base, which—trust me—isn't as daunting as it sounds. Deviating slightly, the wines will not all be Italian. We've also got a corker of a Mafia film. I mean, c'mon, we kinda have to with pizza don't we?


Food


Makes 4 pizzas


Ingredients:

For the base:

500g plain white bread flour,

300ml tepid water,

25ml olive oil,

1½ tsp yeast,

2 tsp caster sugar,

2 tsp salt.

Extra flour and oil for kneading.

For the toppings:

A 400g tin of chopped tomatoes,

1 tsp Dried Oregano,

A pinch of salt,

1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar,

A pinch of freshly ground black pepper,

A ball of mozzarella,

200g Cheddar,

150g Parmesan.

Any other toppings of your choice, cured meats, peppers, olives, whatever you like.

(optional: a pinch of smoked paprika)


Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius, or 180 for a fan oven.

First of all prepare the dough for the bases. Measure out the water and add the oil, yeast and sugar. Give it a good whisk to get stuff happening. Leave this in a warm place for 10 minutes, like next to the boiler or in the airing cupboard.

Weigh out the flour and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and mix it together with your fingers. Make a well in the middle. Once the yeasty water has foamed up a bit pour it into the well.

Using a big fork, gradually incorporate the flour to the water. It will start looking a bit porridgey and stodgy. This is normal. Once the mixture becomes more solid and hard to stir, dust your hands in flour, scrape off the fork and continue mixing with your hands.

Once it comes a way from the sides of the bowl, tip onto a clean surface. It's time to assess the state of your dough. If it's ridiculously wet then you can add flour little by little to get it to a manageable state, but you want it as wet as you dare.

Instead of using flour to prevent the dough sticking while kneading, use olive oil. Just a little drizzle at a time. This is important as it helps create a nice texture in the base. Knead by stretching the dough and folding it back on itself. It's a good stress reliever, but will take 5 – 10 minutes.

Once you have a silky dough that bounces back when you prod it, oil the mixing bowl lightly and return the dough. Cover with cling film and a tea towel and put in that warm place you had the yeast. You want the dough to double in size, which usually takes around an hour.

While this is happening you can prepare the toppings. First grate your Cheddar. Now make the passata, put the tomatoes, oregano, vinegar, salt, pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil (this is where to add your paprika if you want a spice kick) in a food processor and whizz up until passata-like. Admittedly this is not the method the Italians use, but it works.

If you're having marinated chicken—or something similar—as a topping, then cook this now, and chop up your veg. You want everything ready for your lovely bases.

Once the dough has doubled, tip it onto a clean surface and give it a squish and a light knead. Make it into a ball and divide it into 4 equal pieces (unless you want to make a bigger one for yourself). Again, shape these pieces into balls.

Lightly oil four baking sheets. Place a dough ball on each one. Flatten out the balls. Carefully, using a rolling pin and your hands, push and pull the dough into as thick or thin a base as you like. Personally I like mine thin and crispy.

Put a couple of tablespoons of your passata on each base, and spread out leaving a half-centimetre crust. Tear up your mozzarella into small chunks and divide equally and evenly between the bases. Put on your extra toppings. Sprinkle each pizza liberally with Cheddar, and grate over some Parmesan to give an extra tang. Drizzle each base with a little olive oil and crack over some pepper.

Put the pizzas in the oven for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, and once the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling you can take them out, slice them up and serve with a simple salad of watercress and rocket.

Wine


Budget Option:

La Posta Bonarda - £9.99. Just one look at this rustic Mediterranean-style bottle - http://majw.co/xekbTc - and you know this is going to be perfect with pizza. Bonarda is originally an Italian varietal. This example comes from the ever-reliable producer La Posta. Rich but soft black and red fruit meets oak-influenced spice and cedar. It's well rounded, but meaty enough to deal with a hearty pizza.


Fine Wine Option: Ok, it's pizza, so no matter how nice it is, you can't go overboard on the wine, or all the complexity will be lost. We're going for aCrozes-Hermitage, in particular Yann Chave's excellent example. It's £14.99 a bottle when you buy two or more bottles from the Rhone Valley. Crozes-Hermitage is made exclusively from Syrah. This one shows some of the caramel notes of classic Rhone wine along with polished black fruit and some of that great, quintessential, Syrah pepperiness. Make sure the seasoning is right on the pizza, as you will need the saltiness and the cheese to soften the taut tannins which provide impeccable structure.

Film


Goodfellas! This film is a Martin Scorsese classic. As usual with Scorsese the central theme is betrayal. While Robert DeNiro is one of the main characters and gives an admirable performance, in my opinion he is completely outshone by Joe Pesci. He's just on the edge throughout the entire film. At any second he could snap, and actually does a couple of times (I'd finish your dinner before these scenes!). The film has a great twisting plot where you're never sure of anybody's motivation until the end of the film. If you haven't seen it before then definitely watch it. If you have seen it before then pizza is a great excuse to watch it again.

The Friday Night Plan #1

I've started writing a weekly article for my work website. It's called, The Friday Night Plan. It's a recipe a wine match and a film to enjoy together on a Friday night in. I don't know any rules saying I can't post it on here too, so I will, and sometimes you may even get it before the work website! I'll start with a retrospective, I'll post the first 4 I've done in succession, so here's #1:

Welcome to the first edition of our new weekly feature; The Friday Night Plan. Times are tough and one can't always afford to go out to a restaurant. More and more, people want to bring the fine dining experience to the home, at Majestic we're all for this. So we want to help out. Each week we will give you a recipe, a wine to match with it and a film to watch after the meal (because we love films).


Stuart's Roasted Bonanza


Serves 4


Ingredients:

4 chicken breasts and 24 slices of pancetta/ a medium chicken and 12 slices of pancetta or smoked back bacon for those on a budget,

1 pack of Chanteray Carrots/ 2 regular carrots,

1 pack of salad onions,

4 large maris piper potatoes,

a small glass of Extra Dry Martini,

a shallot,

125ml double cream,

a large knob of butter,

Sunflower/Vegetable oil,

Goose Fat (no compromise here, it really does make the best roasties).


Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius/ 180 for a fan oven

If using a whole chicken, first joint it, keep the carcass to make stock with.

Wrap the breasts in the pancetta/bacon. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add a small drizzle of sunflower/vegetable oil to a large roasting tray and pop this in the oven to heat up.

In a large frying pan heat a couple of tablespoons of sunflower or vegetable oil over a medium heat. Next brown the joints and breasts in the pan

Put the browned meat into the preheated roasting tray and return to the oven for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through, turning half way through cooking.

Peel and chop the potatoes into mouthsize chunks, par-boil in well salted water for 5 minutes, drain well. In the pan, with the lid on bash the potatoes around to fluff up the edges. This will create crispy bits later. Season well with salt and pepper.

Take the tops off the Chanteray carrots, or peel and chop the regular carrots into batons. Par-boil the carrots in well salted water for 5 minutes. Season well.

In another roasting tray put enough sunflower/vegetable oil to coat the bottom, and in yet another put a heaped tablespoon of Goose fat. Put both in the oven to heat up.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the oven and place on a warmed plate, covered in foil and a tea-towel to rest and keep warm.

Turn the oven up by 20 degrees, and once up to temperature put your spuds on the goose fat tray, and your carrots on the oiled tray, be careful of splashing oil here!

Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes or until well browned, turning half way through. In the last 10 minutes of cooking scatter the salad onions in with the carrots.

To cook the sauce, heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Finely slice the shallot into rings. Cook the shallot in the pan to get a little colour and soften for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the Martini and simmer to cook off some of the alcohol. Add the cream and stir well, leave to reduce for a minute. Tip in the residual juices from the rested chicken, and finish with a large knob of butter, stir well.

To serve, slice the chicken breasts at a slant and fight over the legs if using. Add the veg and finish with the sauce on the chicken.

Enjoy!


Wines


Fine Wine Option: Planeta Chardonnay - £25 a bottle, this wine has undergone Malo-lactic-fermentation, which involves converting the harsh appley malic acids in the wine into creamy, buttery lactic acids. The resulting butteriness complements the sauce. Oak characteristics go well with the bacon and the peachy almost syrupy fruit works well with the roasted vegetables. Don't be fooled by the fruit though, this is bone dry with greast refreshing acidity.


Budget Option: Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay - £8.49 when you buy two bottles or more. Again syrupy, peach fruit, which goes well with the roasted veg. Creamy vanilla imparted by the oak complements the sauce. This one is ridiculously popular so I promise you will want two bottles anyway.


The Film

To go with the first edition of the Friday Night Plan, I'm reccomending my favourite film; Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This film features a great performance from Matthew Broderick in the lead role. He is at his best as the charismatic Ferris Bueller. This is a teen coming of age classic, directed by the late, great John Hughes and a great introduction to his oeuvre. It definitely holds up well with age, both of the film and the viewer. Endlessly quotable and with a great soundtrack, this is a great way to start your weekend.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Diggnation

Most people in my circle of friends have never heard of Digg or Diggnation. That kinda sucks, but it means I have something to share with those nearest and dearest to me. I've watched and loved Diggnation for several years now, and I am certainly gonna feel a void when it finishes at the end of the year. It's a bit like the last Harry Potter book/film, you just wish there was more.

Here's a few reasons why it completely sucks that Diggnation will soon be over:

1) Alex and Kevin are actually really good friends. It's not often that you find this combo, two people that really get on with each other and can bounce off each other in a creative and fun way. If nothing else, I'm going to be upset that they won't see each other as often as they would've by continuing Diggnation. As a person who really appreciates the plutonic relationships he has with his fellow man, I know how much this will suck.

Note to self: must stop using the word, 'suck' so much, it's kind of perverse.

2)Kevin and Alex really know what they're talking about when it comes to the internet and social media etcetera. I love getting there insight on the latest goings on in the tech industry. Not only do they have inside knowledge of the plots and schemes but they have experience which is incredibly valuable.

3) Alex and Kevin know absolutely nothing about anything else. Seriously sometimes I wonder if they went to school at all. But I don't care, it's hilarious that they are so ignorant regarding so many topics.

4) They actually make me want to drink. I work in an industry where drinking is sort of encouraged anyway (to a reasonable degree). But sometimes I need a little motivation. I can't put on an episode of Diggnation, whether they're drinking tea, beer, spirits or nothing without cracking open a beer, cider or a bottle of scotch. It's a reflex.

The simple fact is though that you don't need a well laid out, concise list of reasons to not want Diggnation to finish. If you've never seen it, download a random episode, watch it with a bottle of beer and I guarantee you'll be hooked.

This is their website. Alex also does this, among other things. Kevin is constantly coming up with new ideas for web start ups and is a big time angel investor, the best place to learn about him is by following him on twitter here.

I love them, and will miss them like a loved one who has passed away, as I'm sure I'll never be lucky enough to meet them. I wish I had the money to get flights to LA for their last show but alas no.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

DRS and KERS in the new F1 season

I'm a massive F1 fan, it's such an exciting sport, it competes with Rugby as my favourite. With the new season just underway, I thought I'd give my two cents regarding the new DRS and KERS on the cars.

Lets start with DRS. First of all a quick introduction, DRS stands for Drag Reduction System, which basically means that the drivers have a button they can press which will flip up the top half of the rear wing. This reduces aerodynamic drag giving the car a slight but none-the-less significant speed advantage.

There are however some complex rules regarding its use. In qualifying it can be used whenever to decrease lap time. But it has to be used carefully by the drivers, if they flip it on or off at the wrong moment in a turn, it can potentially cause a massive imbalance of drag which will spin the car. This has the power to ruin a flying lap.

In the race proper it becomes a little more complicated. It is purely a tool to assist in overtaking. Once a driver is within one second of the driver in front, the DRS light flashes, indicating to the driver that they can switch it on to increase their speed and give them a better chance of overtaking. But crucially the driver being overtaken cannot use the DRS to comeback, they just have to sit back, take it and do their best to defend their line. This makes—in my eyes—overtaking, massively artificial.

David Coulthard is arguing on the BBC that the car itself is an overtaking device, but, to my knowledge there is no other device that essentially gives the drivers an overtake button, and that is the crucial difference between DRS and the rest of the car.

Whether or not this is the way the DRS is currently working in practice is moot, because based on the rules this is the way it is clearly intended to be used.

Next KERS, which stands for Kinetic Energy Replacement System. I'm not going to pretend to know exactly how it works, but as I understand it, it's an electrical boost to speed. The rules state that in contrast to the DRS, it is up to the teams whether or not they have a KERS in place.

In the coverage you will see a little battery icon when following a driver which shows the state of the KERS. It has a limited use per lap, and has a 'recharge zone' which doesn't actually mean it recharges it simply becomes available to the driver again. Before the season started I assumed that KERS was an obligation to all teams. Sometimes the press coverage of rule changes and such on can be very ambiguous. KERS weighs a fair amount and takes up space in the car which can cause performance reduction and compromise car and engine design.

Red Bull, last week in Melbourne, did not have KERS in their car, which reduced the weight in the car and allowed Adrian Newey; the car's designer to not compromise his clever designs and gave them a big advantage in both qualifying and the race.

I don't think the DRS is a good idea, or at least in the way it is currently regulated. But is there another device in the car that creates a similar overtaking advantage, that has been around for several previous seasons? If KERS is in the sport at all then it should be compulsory for every team.

I'd love to know what you think, thoughts in the comments.

*UPDATE* 8th May 2011

It's since been clarified that all teams have to have a KERS system in place in the car. The difference with the first race and Red Bull is that they did not activate their KERS, because they couldn't figure out how to make it work and are still having trouble with it. So they were still carrying the weight and design compromise of KERS without the extra performance. That is in all honesty, quite impressive, though I understand Adrian Newey is still hating on KERS.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Me, My Hair and I

I'm sure you've all heard stories about people who don't use soap to clean their hair. Here's another one. I only use hot water to wash my hair. The only time I wash it is when I get it cut. This is not because my hair is greasy and horrific smelling. I don't know what it smells like to other people, to me it smells nice, but everyone likes their own brew as any fart expert will tell you. However I don't want to expose a pretty hairdresser to my unknown hair qualities. What if it was greasy and bad smelling, she'd think I was some sort of tramp.

Far from getting strange looks at my hair and disparaging comments, I actually receive compliments, no joke, it's got volume, it's easy to style, what shampoo do you use. When I say none, some people are disgusted, others look a little confused and then are intrigued. No one has been willing to smell or feel my hair though and I don't have a girlfriend to test it on but I'm confident that there's nothing wrong with it.

I love it, it saves me time and money and anxiety, and it really does look good even if I do say so myself.

Any questions in the comments section or on a postcard.