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Posts posted by britcook

  1. The BBC (God bless 'em) made a series (possibly two?) in the early 90's based upon French Cooking in 10 minutes, very well done and quite amusing. The general tone was that he was entertaining a lady and he had better things to do than waste time in the kitchen so everything was pared to the minimum necessary to produce a reasonable meal. I've cooked a few things from it and they certainly do work.

  2. In my experience the proportion is a little higher than 5% and it much higher if you include bottles that are just 'not right'. While there are certainly problems with other faults, the advancements in technology have made these increasingly rare. In particular the wines of large firms almost never have technical faults - other than being boring to drink. Corkyness in wines is the number one problem that I encounter by a long shot. The distant second would be brett (which is a whole different debate!).

    I firmly believe there should not be a wine under $10.00 using natural corks.

    Just to clarify your word "corkyness". To me a corked wine is one that has the taint of TCA, the smell and taste of dirty wet cardboard, you can't miss it, the wine is undrinkable and does not get better if you let it stand or decant it. My experience of these is definitely rare, less than 1%. Then there is the general off taste, which is sometimes called bottle reek but decanting or exposure to air in the glass and leaving for 5 or 10 minutes will dispel that. It may be "corky", but it isn't "corked", and yes this may take the percentage up to around 5%.

  3. Percentages for corked wines seem to vary, the figure that my wine merchant gives is 5% (1 in 20), but personal experience says that it is less than this. One of the problems is that there are many wine faults but nearly all of them are classed as "cork problems". Just by replacing natural cork by synthetic will not of itself remove those problems, although it might draw attention to the fact that a lot of wine is not in the condition it ought to be. At the moment it is far to easy for anybody in the supply chain from grower to retailer to blame any fault at all on the cork, it's a convenient scapegoat and absolves them of any responsibility for wine that is less than it should be. What with tastings, events and personal consumption I probably get to try the contents of around 500 bottles a year and maybe come across two or three that are truly corked (the taint of TCA really is unmistakeable), but sadly come across rather more that have faults which can be attributed elsewhere - anything from lack of hygiene in the bottling process to poor storage.

    The only think I have against synthetic corks is that they're usually an absolute b****** to get out, I've ruined several corkscrews and risked multiple hernias just to get at the contents of a bottle.

  4. There was a saying in the wine trade, "Buy on an apple, sell on cheese". This was because an apple will bring out the deficiencies in a wine, cheese will mask them. Not all cheese/wine pairings are ideal but I'm of the "bad combinations are the exception" school.

  5. Not in the 6th but in the 7th I would highly recommend Le Clos des Gourmets, 16 Avenue Rapp, Fixed price menu 30 Euros for 3 courses. Open Saturday night, quite small so you will need to book in advance. Wine list is reasonable and fairly short. Report based on last Saturday night, Arnaud Pitrois is definitely on top form, catch him now before he gets too big and too expensive.

  6. In East Kent (end of the world!) we have an excellent little wine merchant at The Bottleneck, not the world's most extensive selection but some interesting choices. They do mail order but it's not web enabled so you'll have to ring/e-mail them.

  7. A slight difference in approach from me. Make the cuts in the fat about 2 -3 mm apart (about the depth of a pound coin), then heat 1 taplespoon of oil in a very hot skillet/ frying pan until smoking hot then cook two minutes each side (fat side first). Place these in an oven pre-heated to maximum (240 C/ 475 F) on a rack, fat side up, over a pan to catch the drippings, for 8 minutes. Remove and cover (or wrap loosely) with foil for at least 15 minutes. Slice to your liking and server with your choice of sauce which you can make while the breasts are resting. Not for the timid as it tends to generate clouds of smoke, but the duck is always succulent.

  8. Like Professor Shesgreen I deplore the excessive use of superlatives, the example from Parker is typical of the pointless talking up of wine. In the UK there is less of this over-praising of any product, particularly wine, our view tends to be more realistic, although not always lacking in hyperbole. One must remember though that positive thought is deeply embedded in the American psyche, to be anything less than 100% in favour is considered to be negative or counter productive, the British, with their rather more objective (some would say cynical) approach are often considered to be too negative by our friends across the pond. It may be that Mr Parker and his ilk only get to taste good wines, if not then the charitable might offer the view that he only reports on the better ones and simply ignores the rest. Only if he reports on everything and still finds no serious fault might we become suspicious of grade inflation.

    On a simpler note there may be another cause for the explosion of pastoral descriptions and that is the changing styles of winemaking. The traditional wines of Europe were often surprisingly dull and certainly were not immediately accessible to the uneducated palate and, in spite of high prices and a certain cachet, were not at all well made. The vocabulary needed to describe these was indeed limited, how many ways can you say closed, overextracted, over-tannic, poor (as ever with honourable exceptions). The arrival of the Australians (and some Californians) in a big way in the late 60s and early 70s with their clean, fruit-driven wines meant that the traditional vocabulary was no longer adequate. Through the alchemy of new methods of viticulture and vinification wines started to display all manner of characteristics that had not been widely present before. My view, although I'm prepared to discuss the point, is that this, more than anything else widened the lexicon of wine tasting.

    As for the definition of tastes and aromas, well that is always going to be personal, like the enjoyment of a piece of music or art work. "Sweat" to me has certain connotations of smell, whether mine or somebody else's. Now that particular aroma to somebody else may be redolent of "wet dog" or "saddle". What matters to me (and others serious about wine) is a consistency of approach so that all other things being equal I (or the wine writer) will describe that wine in the same way each time it is approached. Thus one gets to match ones personal language with that of the writer. I think (over-use of superlatives aside) Robert Parker is a model in this respect in that once you have learnt his style it is a very reliable guide to the wine he is writing about. As it happens my preferences differ from his, so if he really likes it I probably won't, but if I study his descriptions in advance I will have a pretty good idea of what I will be tasting which, in the end, is what it is all about.

  9. Yes, some precious writers and broadcasters try to use a vocabulary that is inappropriate but that is not confined to wine, it features in any field that could be loosely termed arts. Even Professor Shesgreen is not immune to purple prose

    Such descriptions focus on produce with a romantic, idyllic, and halcyon aura.

    Wine tasting is difficult because wine IS notoriously difficult to describe, the UC Davis Aroma wheel, or the even more extensive Laithwaite's Taste Prompter show the range of unlikely and improbable words used to describe fermented grape juice because the last thing it usually tastes or smells of is grape. But as unlikely or improbable as these descriptions are those of us who have tasted wine seriously know that the apparently bizarre words actually do give the most accurate description of the experience, and the vocabulary tends towards fruit and green vegetables because these are the aroma/taste cues that crop up most often when tasting wine.

    His statement

    Banished are parsnips, onions, carrots, potatoes, and other roots with lowly ties. Wine writing recoils from vegetables that make gas or blight the breath, like beans and garlic. Naturally, it shuns brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other vegetables forced upon us as children.
    is merely playing to the gallery, basically because those aromas/tastes do not normally occur in well-made wine, although I have heard broccoli mentioned in tastings.

    Overall I fail to see his point, to describe wine accurately you have to draw upon a superficially strange vocabulary, and some words are now out of favour. So big deal. Would he have us limit our descriptions to the merely mundane, or put our faith in some "expert's" scoring system? I think not.

  10. ...but the fact is that human beings can survive very nicely on just vegetable matter, and it seems like I'm much more tolerant of vegetarians than you. Live and let live.

    Well yes, if that's your choice of food then I'm fine with it too. Views expressed in the post were not necessarily personal, just an explanation of what might be the reasoning behind some of the things happening. On the sandwich issue I'm broadly in agreement, if you order specific items then that should be all you get, and if they want to add stuff they should ask. OTOH if you just order a "turkey sandwich" then you get the dressings and accompaniments they think suitable, unless you tell what you don't want.

  11. So everytime a person orders the turkey sandwich, the waiter is expected to tell them it has bacon on it

    Yep. The point is that when you order a turkey sandwich, you don't expect other types of meat in it. I think the same thing is true in regard to a fish dish with caul fat, though perhaps a bit less so, since it sounds like it's part of a somewhat more intricate cooked dish, rather than a simple sandwich. If I ask for a "turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and provolone cheese," I didn't ask for bacon, and no-one should include bacon without asking me if that's OK (and I'd probably say "No"). I think it's completely ridiculous to expect someone ordering a turkey sandwich to think s/he has any reason to say "I don't want any bacon with that." 99.99999% of the time, someone saying that would be considered a total weirdo: "What?! Didn't you ask for a turkey sandwich? There's no bacon in that!"

    If you order a turkey sandwich what you should get is a sandwich in which the main ingredient is turkey. Now turkey on its own can be fairly bland and I often add a little "extra something" to kick it up a bit, which may be chutney or condiments, but may well be a slice of ham or some crumbled bacon. It's the addition of these little extras (along with decent basic quality) which make some eateries more attractive than others. If you have the server describe the individual components where do you stop? What's in the dressing, what's in the bread, what went into the stock, is it organic, is it local?

    Now if you have a health problem with some kinds of food then you're perfectly entitled to ask for the exact composition of your dish. If you're lucky and everything is made from scratch on the premises (or is from fully informed suppliers) then you should be given a complete and honest answer, but in some cases you're just going to have to do without because commercially sourced ingredients do not have the necessary provenance.

    On to the vegetarian thing, and why vegetarians seem to come in for more than their fair share of abuse. On the basis that man has evolved to be an omnivore there are two (and a half) good reasons for being a vegetarian, the first is that your religion forbids meat, the second is that you have some medical problem with it (and the half is that you actually dislike the taste and/or texture of meat). As far as I can tell (at least in the US and Europe) these form the minority of declared vegetarians. It seems that most people are vegetarian as a lifestyle choice based upon some kind of misplaced anthropomorphism or over-sensitivity to the realities of the food chain - "Meat is murder". Well yes, to eat meat we have to kill animals, but so do many other carnivores and omnivores in nature "red in tooth and claw". Our responsibility as higher beings is to do this as ethically, painlessly and humanely as possible, not to throw up our hands up in horror and declare the process "barbaric". Thus people who adopt this lifestyle attitude (many with deeply held moral beliefs about it) are seen by omnivores as "not quite right, out of touch with reality" and as people who can resist the siren call of bacon being cooked, have no ideas about some of the real pleasures of life.

  12. Sunday breakfast.

    Cereal, usually Weetabix.

    Fresh citrus salad (home-cut segments of 1 regular grapefruit, 1 pink grapefruit, 3 oranges, 3 satsumas or manadarins, chilled overnight)

    Toast with Tiptree preserves or Marmite

    Cafetiere of Kenyan coffee.

  13. Keep clippings and loose stuff in those clear plastic sleeves that are punched so they fit in a ring binder. To cook from them just take it out of the ring binder and use the sleeve. Anything I want to keep longer term I scan it in and then use OCR to get it into a word document. Depending on how much you use it you can also put it in a plastic sleeve or just use it as it is and reprint it when the old one gets too messed up. Individual recipes are filed under their name in a separate "recipes" directory and you can do a search for key words. Some I have got filed in my own "cookbook" and I use the indexing in Word. You can also scan recipes in and just keep the image to print out when you want but these files (usually TIFF) make heavy demands on storage but useful if you've got colour illustrations.

  14. I keep Framboise out of the refrigerator for quite a while, although maybe not a year, and it doesn't seem to suffer much. Use it in desserts, especially those using red/black/blue fruits, although a teaspoon or so in apple pie doesn't hurt (although the colour may be a little strange). Not bad in chocolate desserts either, say a chocolate mousse. A teaspoon or less in one of the more acidic white wines makes a pleasant drink, not unlike a Kir.

  15. I've tried the Wither Hills 2002 (from Waitrose IIRC) and it was excellent. Certainly comparable to the Villa Maria, screw top and all. If you're into Kiwi-style SBs Virgin wine do (or at least did) a fine tasting case which included a Cloudy Bay - allowed me to taste it in advance of my usual half case allotment.

  16. In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king. There is little doubt that the arrival of Starbucks (or even the threat of their arrival) in the UK certainly improved the awareness of coffee and we realised that the s**t we used to drink could be improved quite a lot. It's just a shame that having raised awareness their products are definitely on the low side of acceptable. And even halfway decent coffee does not need the addition of anything other than milk (on occasions) and sweetening (if we must). Caramel? What were you thinking?

  17. ... I am quite certain that no resident of any country (including mine and including yours) likes it when residents of another country start telling them what is wrong with them...

    How very true, but it happens. I suspect the residents of Iraq feel the same way too.

  18. Britcook - I understand that you're trying to make the argument that American portion sizes are too large, but it seems to me that you've somewhat eliminated relativity from the discussion.

    Well yes and er, no. Portions in the US always seemed to be geared to the active weight lifter rather than the 83 year old granny. I remember a meal in Buckhead, Atlanta when one of the dishes on offer which looked attractive consisted of "two 6 ounce filets" with some kind of sauce. I thought that at half the size it would just suit me (it's not that I'm a great steak fan, but all the other dishes looked too huge) and as it was two steaks I asked the waiter if I could just have a single 6 ounce steak. He thought I was from a different planet. I pointed out that I would only eat one and it would be a waste of good food to cook and serve two when one would be returned untouched (and I was flying out the following day on business so a doggie bag was out of the question). After a long discussion he finally agreed and I ate the single steak with pleasure, just enough with the rest of the meal to make a satisfying experience. Now that's my point, as it normally stands you have very little choice but to take the mega portion. Fine if that's what you want but it wouldn't hurt to at least have the option of smaller portions when the dish gave the opportunity. European portions? I've dined in most European countries and even in Germany, which seems to have the most generous servings, they were still smaller than their American counterparts.

    As for leaving it to the diner to know when they are satiated, well the figures for obesity in the US tell their own story, and I'm far from a skinny person so I know how easy it is to overeat, even with smaller portions.

    And back to doggie bags, we still find the habit amusing, but if you're all happy with it who are we to criticise, enjoy!

  19. My point was, and still is, restaurants put too much food on the plate. For a normal appetite doggie bags should not be necessary.

    define "normal" in the context of an appetite at a restaurant.

    If it's your regular mealtime and you've not been starving yourself or snacking (again!) then if you can eat all that is put in front of you and go away feeling comfortable, not stuffed and not hungry then that's normal. If the diners round you are doing much the same then you can figure the restaurant and you have got it right. This is not a "Plotnicki - esque" venture into definition to the nth degree, it may be difficult to place precisely but most people will have a fair idea of where we're at.

  20. I have no idea where these numbers come from-- 3000 calories for a man and slightly less for a woman-- but unless the man and woman are extremely active, (or have the food-lover's dream metabolism) they will both gain weight eating that much.

    I did assume that the weights were higher and rounded up for simplicity. All the rest of your post I agree with, personally I tend to go for a 5 - 6 ounce filet as part of a meal and split a 10 - 12 ounce sirloin. My point was, and still is, restaurants put too much food on the plate. For a normal appetite doggie bags should not be necessary.

  21. As we all know there is no "correct" size for everybody, but in the steak example if you wanted to build something close to a balanced meal around a sirloin, 12 ounces would pretty much be as big as you should go. Many US restaurants I've been to don't serve a steak of any kind that weighs under 12 ounces. Unless you're on some kind of high protein kick a 24 ounce steak is clearly too big. I don't think anybody is disputing that in general US portions are, how shall we say this, over generous.

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