BBQ Bananas

nanas done

As the late May Bank Holiday draws to a close I’m sitting back to enjoy the plethora of expected instagram shots of late night pub selfies, painful sunburn shots and of course BBQ updates.

BBQ season is officially open and personally I’m thrilled to see so many people throwing themselves into the annual outdoor cooking tradition of our forefathers dating as far back as the mid sixties, too-short shorts and golf umbrellas included.

But there is more to BBQ these days than a charred sausage and tupperware box of salad served after May 1st in a suburban garden regardless of weather conditions. The American BBQ trend has well and truly landed bringing home smokers, hot sauces and complex cookery books to DIY stores and Amazon baskets alike. A slow rack of ribs is as likely as a blackened quarter pounder on the coals these days. Did I say coals? Let us not neglect the possibilities of gas, hot plates, whisky soaked wood chips, pizza stones and the like. You can be a stalwart traditionalist or an avant garde chef of the outdoors as you choose but you need to be there, the BBQ is back back and it is a full on event in these food happy times. And food events need desserts.

I don’t remember a time in my life when we didn’t have bananas on a BBQ. Yes, bananas, they are actually really good to consume hot and compliment all kinds of other wonderful things like chocolate and biscuits and bourbon. They provide a sweet, squashy treat to round off the ordeal of all that standing and turning and sweating over the grill- you’ll need to replenish your potassium levels after all of that. Also a lovely little sugar rush to give the kids before you send them home with the inlaws as payback for the murder they have wreacked on your begonias, what’s not to like?

I can’t in good conscience give credit to the creator of this as I don’t know but I should acknowledge both parental units for instructing me in this art, with a side note to the Older Male Sibling for coming up with the chocolate button technique. Get grilling.

BBQ Bananas

You will need one banana per person, lots of strong foil and a good sharp knife. I would personally recommend a build-your-own approach with optional toppings of the crunchy and chocolatey variety- as an example chocolate fingers, cadbury flakes and a box of smashed up good quality cookies.

Before any cooking commences take your unpeeled bananas and slice off the ends. Using a very sharp knife run a cut down the length of the banana on the inside curve of the fruit, running to about halfway through. For the under 18s and designated drivers, carefully press some chocolate buttons into this slit, alternating milk and white if you feel particularly artistic. Wrap it up in foil, leaving nothing exposed and set aside at room temperature.

nanas raw

chocolate button version ready to be wrapped and slung on the barbie

For the grown ups, put the banana over your piece of foil and gently pull back the edges of the cut skin before giving it a good dousing with the booze of your choice- bourbon or Jack Daniel’s work very well or try a slug of Grand Marnier for a fruitier finish. Wrap it up very quickly and make sure all the edges are sealed before cooking.
Finally if you like the purer things in life you might just go for a squeeze of lime juice applied before cooking or stay plain.

They should go on the BBQ just as you are sitting down to the meat feast when the coals are still at a low cooking heat but not at the power of a searing blast. Turn them every few minutes to keep the cooking even. They will take from 10-20 minutes depending how much heat is left on the BBQ, to test un-wrap the foil slightly, the skins should just be starting to blacken.

Turn them out to serve over icecream or simply scooped out of the skins to be topped with the aforementioned goodies- try to get a good mix of oozy chocolate and crunchy bits. If you have any leftovers, refridgerate and stick them in a smoothie the next day!

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The Perfect Fishfinger Sandwich Hunt: Three Wise Monkeys

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Some time ago I said some pretty good things about Three Wise Monkeys in Colchester. I fear I won’t be repeating many of them here.
It isn’t an easy decision to reverse a recommendation but I can’t help feeling that TWM has overlooked quality for quantity and in expanding the menu this far have stretched their commitment too thinly. To paraphrase a recent Michelin starred twitter conversation- sometimes the trick with a menu is to know where to stop.
Recent visits have shown that TWM serve some mean brisket and a decent sausage, but also a bland, if crunchy, Po boy sub. I’ve eaten excellent ribs here and also ones resembling antique shoe leather in sauce. The hotwings these days are a sour and abrasive experience and this is not me being chilliphobic- I love a good hot sauce, they have just stopped serving one. The TWM onion rings surpass any others I have ever eaten (sorry Pops) and they probably run the best modern beer menu in and around Colchester. A satisfactory customer experience is so much more than a decent pint with a mediocre meal and their fish finger sub (not a sub, BTW) is consistent with the Po Boy and boot strap ribs.

One should certainly abbreviate to FFS.

Three points go out for the prescribed sides of well executed chips in a bucket, house slaw and the TWM standard tiny pile of tiny pickle slices as served on a tin-plate-tray thing. We want more pickles, dammit! A kilo jar of Mrs Elswood wouldn’t have saved the sandwich though. White bread that was either old or had sat under a too hot heat lamp for some time- it was positively dessicated and tasted only of its own powdery texture. Disappointing.
Inside the bun a reasonable smear of punchy tartare sauce, so they can still make a sauce and get a point for that. Expected salad addition of lettuce. Then, the fish fingers.
Wow.
Life note- always fear a woman who takes a meaningful pause then says ‘wow’.
The fishfingers,  and the person who cooked them, can fuck off. It is entirely possible that they did actually fuck off to check their emails, take a smoke break and run a cheeky half marathon while the fishfingers were in the fryer. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve lived in Scotland. Shrunken, blackened and over cooked to the point of requiring two hands to get a knife through one. The general taste impression of fine, fatty gravel with a soft inner layer that had separated into sad, compressed flakes of white something that sticks to your teeth.
Ghastly. Just bloody ghastly, and I paid nine quid for it. Thank God for the beer.
I should add at this point that my co diners spoke highly of the portobello mushroom burger and southern fried chicken sub but that somehow makes this Fishfinger Sandwich fail worse.
It is not hard to make a Fishfinger Sandwich. It’s ridiculously bloody easy to cook a fish finger and keep fresh bread available. I wasted more calories than I had to spare on that meal and as I sit here now I can’t quite belive I didn’t send it back. Call it my inner Britishness and national desire to not cause a scene. I might have mentioned the mass over cookery had anyone actually asked us how our meals were but the first floor staff have clearly learned it’s is better to just enquire if the punters are finished, rather than if they enjoyed everything.

Three and a half out of ten for the sides and tartare and I think that’s generous. Get it together,  TWM. It’s not like we don’t know you can do it better.

The Breakfast Club- Galvin Hop

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Location- Spitalfields
Cost- well under £5 for pastries/£10 for hot breakfast plus coffee.
Highlight- a perfectly poached egg
Lowlight- not really
Overall- 9/10

You may remember Cafe a Vin, a pleasantly pokey bar and brasserie at the back of the Galvin brothers’ triumph that is La Chapelle in Spitalfields. You may not remember any such thing if you aren’t a city of London type, and that’s ok.
The days of Cafe a Vin came to an end last year to make way for the posh-beer-trendy, shimmery copper pipe boasting ‘Galvin Hop’- a pub. A very nice pub, serving proper and unpasteurised beers with a suitably meat-and-fried-stuff menu accompaniment which is less far removed from the usual Galvin signature than you might think. It is city casual and reasonably priced with a blokey slant and mild sprinkling of Americanisms around the edges- not least of all in the concept of serving breakfast (and later in the day hotdogs) from a To-Go window.

20160512_202109.jpgWe took breakfast at Hop to warm up for a day watching the London Marathon in April. It was cold and it was early and it was a blessing that their coffee was excellent, as we arrived unfashionably too early to meet the rest of our party. Also excellent is the warmth of their front of house team but this is what I have now come to expect from projects ala Galvin-fresh and well executed food and drink with shining but unobtrusive service. Yes the menus and themes differ across their growing locations but the core is the same: Simple Quality.
The breakfast menu at Hop is brief but ample at the same time, ideal for their core target customer nipping past on the way to the office. It is also beyond acceptable if you are in the area and feel like sitting in from 9ish on a weekend to break your fast slowly with the papers. You can expect builder and hangover friendly classics in their maplecured bacon roll (get a fried egg on that too, trust me) and also foodier options involving poached eggs and spinach, smoked salmon or crushed avocado.
I’m going to take a moment here to offer my intense thanks for those poached eggs with their warm flowing yolks, spilling forth in rich loveliness. So many, many places that offer breakfast totally toss up a poached egg, by which I mostly mean overcook it. A solid egg yolk is something of a sadness in almost all manifestations but none moreso than when poached. These were utterly perfect.

I don’t really feel a need to go on, or indeed to have much more to say on this. To rattle off further praise seems both obvious and unnecessary- if you’ve had the Galvin pleasure before you know what to expect. If you haven’t then I’ll wager that a visit to Hop at any time won’t dissapoint you. It’s a good breakfast at what is a very reasonable price given the geography. Give them a go.

Grow Your Own! Pests, plagues and pretties.

*reader warning- more bad language than usual

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It’s all kicking off in the Boomboom garden, please admire the newly painted shed.

I’ve got a few days off the day job this week and today was always aside for completing my tax return so obviously, here we are with some garden updates!

Spring has truly sprung now on the Essex coast which basically means regular rain and mildly chilly evenings punctuated by the odd Express-headline-grabbing 48 hour freak hot spell. And the garden loves it, we have growth in abundance and all kinds of wonderful activity best observed on a Friday evening in the shade with a huge glass of vino blanco. That sounds lovely and glamourous doesn’t it, who doesn’t fancy a cheeky glass of wine ‘neath the leafy boughs to mark the start of the weekend? Unfortunately the more regular evening activity is my daily stern faced walk around, stooping to strip out the weedlings or curse at the arthropods to then lay in bed at night contemplating the karmic value of preserving life in all forms vs the fact that I really hate bloody snails- the slimy greedy bastards.

snail

Shelled slime demon

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a real snail problem. There are hundreds of the buggers, and I am not inflating this figure for dramatic impact. Various credible sources have predicted a creepy crawly boom this year due to the bug friendly combo of 2015’s wet summer and warm winter. They have stayed awake, eating and breeding for longer than usual in conditions more favourable to the success of their gluttonous, oozing offspring. They are going to be everywhere, eating everything, and something needs to be done. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The obvious answer is of course pellets, little blue bombs of death to fizz up their glubby bodies and bring a none too swift death by dehydration. I have several issues with this, and although it is low on the list the bubbly salty death is one of them. Bigger is the issue of the introduction of chemical nastiness into our soil, particularly in my veg areas where I want to eat what is growing at some point. So, ok, maybe just use pellets to protect the shrubs and lillies then? Works in theory however will this not drive all of them up the garden away from the blue pellets of doom and toward the less protected lettuces? A slow moving tide of destruction by moonlight, worthy of a three movie straight-to-NowTV horror franchise. I shiver in my seat at the thought. Much as I have been kidding myself that I don’t want to kill dozens of snails for the debatable crime of Snailing I must admit that I found a monster sneaking towards one of my equally monstrous onions last night and after a brief battle that fucker is now resigned to the history books. They have to go. In the short term, anything found north of the fig tree will be physically picked off and chucked into the compost bin to think about itself/feast to extinction on grass cuttings. I will be watching the Schwarzenegger back files to inspire some suitable parting one-liners as I rain down this destruction. Longer term, I have a three point plan:

  1. Sand borders for the veg patch to scratch their fat, sticky bodies so they go away
  2. Beer traps for mass murder which we can pretend isn’t such a bad way to go and doesn’t leave behind any toxicity
  3. Excessive reading on snail identification that I might be able to preserve the yellow shelled carnivorous breed that will eat the common garden ones. I think I found a dead one the other day…..
  4. More bird encouraging behaviour- in particular scorning our crappy tree hung feeders for scraps out on the scummy garden table we haven’t skipped yet as they seem to notice this more. Hopefully if they keep coming back they will notice the dessert lurking in the Erysimum and do for a few of those too. I shall now rejoycfully document the daily return of our resident Great Tit pair who are both affectionately known as ‘Titty’.
  5. Tossing the really big ones gently over the fence where my wisteria murdering neighbour may enjoy their presence. At least my snails won’t ‘damage’ her fence. Humph.
  6. Executing stage one of The Pond plan as a few toads would have these buggers under control in no time. Plus, who doesn’t want toads?

I would gladly love to hear your snail control successes as I refuse to believe I am the only person so obsessed in these matters.

Moving on now to the plants, everything now seems to be patience and maintenance. Lawn mowing, border trimming and the like. We have had some fairly brutal cutting back of the shrubs in particular the unruly buddlejas and purple splotch bush.
Weeds are a constant source of perfectly balanced stress and relaxation as my panic stricken evening rounds of plucking them from the soil is most mentally relaxing in other ways.
It is also a pretty wonderful time for discovering the other resident perennials as they transform enough to be identified. We have a rather thrilling yellow tree peony, a glut of wild geraniums, a potentially majestic foxglove and some maybe-lilly-of-the-valley patches waking up. After being forced at gunpoint to go to Barn Plants yesterday I shall soon be adding some lovely monochrome petunias and other such pretties to break up the dominant green and purple motif we currently have in place. These will be going out later today before after I get to grips with that cursed tax return.

To close, the edible update.

Cabbages: January King variety, planted out at the weekend after much soil improvement with forking and compost addition. Shoots should be seen in a few weeks to lead to theoretical early winter harvest.

onion field

gallivanting onion growth

Onions.  Red Karmen variety planted from bulb in ground and in pot. Absolutely storming effort here, doing really well in the patch though I think I might have to thin out the ones in the pot as they seem to not be growing so quickly. Absolutely recommend these for low maintenance gardeners or if you want to get kids into it with quick, visible growth results. Expect chutney and pickling recipes to come.

 

lettuce

happy lettuces, soon to harvest

Lettuce. Red and Green Salad Bowl variety planted from seed in ground and pot also progressing wonderfully. I plan a tentative first harvest of a few leaves next week if current growth continues. I mention now that these are doing really well in the most shady patch of my veg area so well worth trying these if you aren’t south facing or have unused lower light areas in the garden.

 

pots

carrot pot with more onions behind

Carrots. Nantes 5 variety planted in the last week of March in ground and pot. Seeing sprouts now though they aren’t doing very well in the ground. I expect this has something to do with the big, fluffy, grey horrible bastard cat which particularly likes this quadrant of my patch to crap and scratch in. I call him Moby Dick and have purchased some stinky green plants with a complicated latin name which I am assured will make him take his toilet breaks somewhere else. I really hope they do because I am losing faith in myself as a lover of all animals and feel the constant hate waves are leading me closer to the Darkside with every passing hour.

Rosemary: Seedlings abandoned after zero growth activity, probably due to not having a stable enough warm temperature to sprout in.

Established Herbs: Oregano and Rosemary now in bigger pots and doing well both growing nicely and covering the crappy rotten bits of the low conservatory wall.

Hazelnuts: Treeing away without notable change.

Fig Tree: Bigger leaves. Pretty boring.

WTF Trees: Blossomed and shed already, expect confirmation soon as apples, tiny buds starting to show.

Chilli Plant: Not looking too happy and showing no further fruit. In fairness he has lasted much longer than he should have but may sadly have to be put to death as we don’t have anywhere light in the house where a bigger pot will fit.

Lemon tree: Having a lovely time in the conservatory.

mint pot

Pot up your mint or it will run riot

Mint: Just when you thought I was done ranting, Mint! Gah!
It. Is. Everywhere.
And sadly seems to be something the bloody snails don’t want to eat. I would say it is growing like a weed but it is much worse than this, it is a herbal zombie apocalypse. It is in the beds, it is in the lawn, it is in the veg and under the trees and poking round the sides of the shed. On the advice of garden guru Auntie P I have harvested two pots worth for culinary usage as it has wonderful flavour and now dedicate some time on my daily walk round to ripping the rest of it out. Gardeners note- you can be seriously brutal when propagating mint it seems it will bounce back from anything and grow in sun, shade, wet, dry and wind battered spots.

 

So there we are, despite the bad language, I love my garden and never expected to, and I’m going to go and have my second coffee out there now whilst hexing the snails and throwing stuff at cats. Soft stuff. I actually quite like them when they aren’t pooing.

bloody cats

Related links:

if you fancy some chilling scientific viewing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36166774 

and seriously, if you live near me and love your garden go to Barn Plants in Stanway http://www.barnplantsgardencentre.co.uk/ 

Food Hero: Peanut Butter

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The pure stuff- 100% peanut butter from Myprotein.

Peanut butter is something I had to grow into as I remember despising it as a child mainly due to the cloying consistency over the roof of my mouth which somehow is one of the biggest appeals now. Definitely one to join coffee, onions, beer and sea vegetables as tastes worth acquiring and I’m not the only one to think so as sales have been steadily soaring in the UK since 2012, moreso with recent workout nutrition trends. Our American cousins put away on average a staggering 3lb of PB a year each but they also voted GWBII in twice so perhaps we will rely on other associations for this Food Hero status.

In its truest form, suspected to have been around since the time of the Aztecs, our beloved Peanut Butter is quite simply smooshed peanuts- roasted then ground into goo. Original patent holder Marcellus Edson added sugar to improve the consistency. I will take this mention of consistency to cast my vote for Crunchy rather than Smooth. Give it some time and technology and the glorious PB is now everywhere in spaceage and organic forms alike. In jars, in breakfasts, in sports supplements, in cheap chocolate bars and filthy desserts- google The Full Elvis from Duck & Waffle exec Chef Dan Doherty if you haven’t come across such things. It comes in protein bars for cyclists and readily mixed with jam or chocolate spread for the kids/childish. You can make cookies from it or add it to curries, it really is incredibly versatile stuff. But just because you can eat something in a million ways, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Does it?

The very same Mr Edson to copyright peanut butter was a chemist, able to spot the spanking nutritional profile which lead to PB becoming a medical supplement to those with little/no chewing ability. Pure peanut butter packs a good and reasonably clean hit of protein at 25% by weight plus 6% dietary fibre by weight. The protein profile in particular has made it popular as a sports supplement and recovery food for athletes and gains seekers everywhere. Vitamins E and B6, manganese, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous also occur in reasonable amounts per serving. Before you get too excited peanut butter is also around 50% by weight fat which should be viewed cautiously by the calorie conscious however certainly not avoided on this basis as that fat content includes arguable ‘good’ fats oleic and linoleic acids which are essential fatty acids- you need these in your diet.
The high nutrition and calorie wallop packed by peanut butter has lead to its use in military and astronaut foodstuff and, perhaps more importantly, in the development of low volume high goodness foodstuffs with a long shelf life suitable for transporting to famine stricken areas- a serious win in the food science backhistory.

So peanut butter is awesome, right? Weeeeell, yes and no. Like so many wonderful and pure things it is easily dirtied down. A measured tablespoon of organic NAS peanut butter is in a different universe to a half inch smear of Sunpat crunchy over your bagel. I recently came into possession of a tub of 100% peanut butter and it is weird, sticky, ultra nutty stuff very far removed from the jarred crunchy mass brand that I too am guilty of spreading half an inch thick over a bagel. 100% PB is much cleaner on the profile than more standard brands and as such less addictive on the palate. It is still great for cooking and sports nuts, though it may not yeild usual results if you use it in baking as average recipes will assume use of a bigger brand PB. Commercial peanut butter has all kinds of additions- most commonly salt, sugar and palm oil (I don’t have time to take a palm oil rant here please just try to avoid it if you or your offspring intend to enjoy this planet for any great amount of time). And this is just your ‘plain’ peanut butters. The ingredients list gets smaller and smaller in print when you start adding your swirls or flavours so please, please don’t kid yourself into thinking that anything with peanut butter in it is good for you. Read the ingredients list and portion it accordingly and as always seek out organic and lower sugar options if you can. Chances are if you need all the jam, sugar, sweetener, soy lethicin, palm oil, gums and stabilisers then you don’t actually like peanut butter at all. So why spend money on it?

pbcuc

Ah my very bestest- crackers, crunchy and cucumber.

Hopefully we agree now that peanut butter has important stuff that your body needs in it and tastes good, so how best to eat it? I might argue the answer to this is in a dark corner of the kitchen, straight from the jar while no-one is looking. This is completely legitimate practice, however you might want to break out into other serving suggestions. Fitness site The Running Bug suggests a breakfast of wholemeal toast and PB is the perfect start to an active day for the health nuts and my own running bugger older male sibling votes for a bagel spread with peanut butter then topped with sliced banana as a weekend breakfast. It makes a good addition to cookies or fudge and is involved in my new favourite smoothie. You could add a dollop to your porridge or overnight oats or naughty it up in some peanut butter cups mixing the PB with white chocolate and a touch of vanilla to make the filling (Sweet Things by Annie Rigg has the best recipe I have used). Away from breakfast you could, and should, investigate the joys of mixing with lime and chilli for a simple satay sauce or  chuck some in a vegan curry or make no end of protein balls and granola bar things just head to google for a million options but my favourite and hotly debated serving has to be, quite simply, with cucumber.

What?

Yes, with cucumber. Wholemeal base of choice, crunchy peanut butter, thick slices of cucumber. I think the freshness of the cucumber cuts through the fatty cloy quite nicely and makes for a filling snack or breakfast without activating your sweet tooth. In my current diet efforts I will often have a big wedge of cucumber with a modest spreading of peanut butter as a snack when I’m overly hungry or approaching the end of my carb allowance for the day. It could be worse.

So dig in to some peanut butter, it’s not just for vegans or bad American sandwich ideas.

Smoothie #8

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Monkey Magic.
This was a quick fix breakfast to counterbalance the horror of an early start on a Sunday morning which I think we can all agree should be illegal. Sweet and easy on the stomach this felt like a childhood throwback to milkshakes and foam bananas and eating Chunky Monkey Ben & Jerry’s on holiday, most comforting. Good protein hit too.

Boomboom Smoothie No 8

< 400 calories
Up to 20g protein
Up to 6g fibre

1 medium, ripe banana
4 tablespoons Greek style low fat yoghurt
1 tablespoon peanut butter – no added sugar high peanut content if you can
1/2 tsp good quality cocoa powder
Drop of vanilla extract
Semi skimmed milk to bring up to volume

Good for treat times, sick days, early starts or exercise recovery.

Skinny it- go for normal non fat natural yoghurt or reduce peanut butter amount, swap milk for ice cubes to loosen and bring up to volume

Splurge it- swap the cocoa for a slug of chocolate syrup.