Chlorination Chicken

Chlorine_Tile

Before we go any further I must thank dozens of witty social media types who came up with this easily hijacked pun about the latest Brexit related horror that is the possibility of US chlorine washed chicken ending up on your Sunday roast plate in the UK. Well done you.

The table-top impact of Brexit has been doing the media rounds recently as our glorious leaders start to chat about that pesky EU divorce and the resulting impact on the import/export market in the UK. Cut to Liam Fox, half witted Trade Secretary who threw out a casual remark about the possibility of importing American chicken to our fair shores. Cut to someone pointing out that it is common practice across the pond to wash chicken carcasses in a chlorine solution to remove all those pesky food bugs that have accumulated over the sad, short and filthy life of a mass farmed yankee chicken. Cut to general outcry about why we don’t want any of that over here thank you very bloody much.

It’s a bit sad really, because in this blogger’s opinion yes, chlorine washed chicken is a vile and horrid idea but not for the reasons you might immediately think. For clarity, chlorine is an element, a halogen, atomic no 17. It is both complex and common stuff you know, found in plastics and mustard gas and, er, table salt. Yes, table salt. The kind you put on your chips. Before you get upset about chemicals in or on your dinner, it is important to understand them. Breathe in some nice elemental chlorine gas and you are likely to die in a really unpleasant fashion. Treat some water with it and you have yourself a nice, clean pool to swim in. React it in the right conditions with explosive alkaline-metal sodium and you can pair it with some limes and tequila to liven up a Saturday night. OK so the last one will give you a headache but its not the health disaster that various panic artists might have you believe. There is chlorine in your tap water and in your own stomach acid and although having your breaded nuggets pre dipped in thin bleach might not be very palatable in theory, it isn’t something one should really worry about too much.

So should we happily accept a US trade deal which will bring chlorine treated chicken to our supermarket shelves?

Hell no!!!!!!!!!!!

In a darkly comic echo of the circumstances that lead us to the Brexit vote itself, a lot of people are missing the point behind what they think they are angry about. Don’t ask if you should eat chlorine. Ask why it is that anyone would wash their chicken in chlorine in the first place, because I can assure that your average drumstick does not need to be protected from algal bloom.  I could direct you to many wordy and horrifying sources that will tell you all about intensive farming methods and chemical interventions in the UK, and they may well tug on your heart strings and curl your toes and push you further towards almond milk in your latte and Meat Free Monday.  The short follow up to this is that it is worse across the Atlantic. Widespread use of antibiotic poultry feed in America keeps their chickens arguably protected against disease and free to spend their average 47 days of life doing nothing but eat and grow fat. This is good news for the accountants as they get bigger birds and a smaller waste margin. It is also good news for those wonderful singled celled genetic freaks that are Drug Resistant Bacteria. These are all that is left once all that nice medicine has done its work on those chickens- superbugs that medicine can’t treat. If these superbugs get into the food chain, buffalo wing fans everywhere are in for a world of hurt. In the EU, we have some very tight regulations about what it is and isn’t OK to feed farm animals because no one wants an MRSA epidemic. In the states, they just bleach those superbugs away after slaughter. But is this a big deal really? The end result is surely the same and that is safe meat on your plate and no fear that a chicken jalfreezi today will lead to an untreatable case of gastroenteritis tomorrow.

Maybe.

Be in no doubt, the need for chlorinating chicken carcasses comes from filthy, filthy living conditions rife with ever evolving superbugs and seriously unhappy chickens. I remember being an emotionally charged vegetarian for some years and being told by my teenage bestie’s moron of a Godmother that I shouldn’t feel sad for chickens, because they don’t have brains. They do have brains, they do feel stress, don’t kid yourself that just because they don’t write dark suicidal poetry about it that any intensively farmed animal is just a happy bundle of awareness-free sandwich filling.

If, when we leave the EU, we agree to import US raised chicken produce we will have to drop current food safety and animal welfare regulations considerably- you can’t allow imports of foodstuffs not subject to the same governance of those we produce in the UK. We won’t stop the chlorination in the US, so we will have to allow it here and thus the door opens to dozens of shady, cruel and questionable practices that won’t stop at dirty chickens and hormone jacked cows. For a bit of context, it is currently acceptable in the EU to keep a caged hen as long as it has its own floor space equivalent to one sheet of A4 paper. That is the minimum accepted standard. If you give them an extra inch or so of communal space for a scratch and a peck this becomes an ‘enriched’environment for them. That is the bare minimum, and that is considered one of the higher poultry welfare standards found in the world. I don’t think you need to be a militant vegan to agree that this is not the way to treat a living being, even if it is only living for a few weeks until it goes in your oven. I’m not a militant vegan, and I’m not blind or squeamish to the fact that I eat dead things. I’m happy with eating dead things, because I’m picky about the dead things that I eat both for my own health and theirs before they become my dead dinner and I am not alone in this. Infact I’m pretty low intensity on my animal rights activism when it comes to it. I shop free range and use vegan cosmetics when I can and feel guilty about it when I can’t. The more I educate myself on these matters, the more I learn and the more it becomes clear that there are other options on all menus.

I believe and hope beyond hope that the chlorination chicken question will remain eternally rhetorical. We cannot go backwards. In all likelihood, we won’t ever see it here, but we will see increasing pressure on our farmers with reduced subsidies and resulting legislative pressure to make it easier for them to survive against cheaper and lower quality imports from whatever desperate trade agreements we have to cling to when we are done limping out of Brussels. Unless what?

Unless you, the consumer, you the voter and you the person with internet access and a a bank account start to act now because you actually have a huge amount of power in the process of both saving our responsible farmers and improving the existence of livestock in this country.

Ask how your meat is farmed. Ask what kind of hens the eggs in that bit of cake in your local cafe came from. Find out where your local farmers are, how they run their show and buy from them as directly as you can. If your preferred mass supermarket of choice cannot easily and willingly provide clear and evidenced information about the welfare standards on the farms they are in business with then don’t shop there. We vote with our money every single day and it can be politically much more effective than that tick in the box in the polling booth every couple of years (or months as it seems recently).  And while we’re talking about money, stop being so bloody tight. You can’t expect a grass fed, free range, wagu massaged organic rump steak to cost you  less than a bus fare to Mc Donalds.

By supporting farmers who go above the minimum welfare standards we set a precedent and justify a fair market price. If enough people refuse to buy eggs from caged hens, then the market will have to adjust and the politicians will have to encourage and, more importantly, support reform in production because the only way to really ensure better methods is to ensure that as many people as possible are making money out of it. If you buy quality, welfare farmed British meat then your shop will sell out of it, and it will buy in more from those farmers. I you refuse to buy meat that isn’t clearly free range, then it stays on the self, and the supermarkets have to account for that waste in their profits and think about how much they want to source.

Demand quality, demand higher welfare standards and be prepared to pay for it.

Seek out direct purchasing opportunities, support good producers and for heavens sake shout about it rather than crying over chlorinated dinner crises that only exist in the tabloids.

Or carry on with your 99p burgers and enjoy your canned roast chicken. It’s up to you.

canned chicken

Whole. Canned. Chicken. Horrors.

Some further reading on the subject here:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/25/chlorinated-chicken-trade-britain-us-food-standards-globalisation

https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235306/The-life-of-Broiler-chickens.pdf

https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/farmanimals/standards

 

Advertisements

Are You Going To Eat……Flowers?

 

 

squash flower long

Courgette flowers are popular in season, especially stuffed and fried

A while ago I was blessed with a trug full of garden-centric gifts from the parental units, including some ultra glam gloves and several packets of seeds. I was especially delighted with a pack of nasturtiums and my Step Mum was equally delighted to point out to me that as well as being pretty, you could also eat them. This roused many unconvinced grumbles from two and a half generations of blokes in the room at the time which were not abated when I pointed out that Duck and Waffle Chef and personal fave social media type Tom Cenci does dishes with nasturtiums all the time. Unfortunately, a plate of lentils and green bits is never going to make my Father convinced of anything other than that he’ll have the steak, please, so we left that conversation there.

Until now.

Flowers are plants, people! And I’m willing to wager that you eat plants every single day, even if you don’t do so all that enthusiastically.  But where we all accept that we need to force down some greens to keep out innards clean and our calories down, the vast majority prefer to stick to peas and carrots and maybe a little pile of chopped parsley atop the casserole. All of these are good of course, and most of us will venture out into other more exotic fruit and veg options from time to time, or even every day but still shun the idea of chowing down on some petals. I think there are three main reasons for this.

basil flower

Basil flowers are a tasty, light addition to a salad

I don’t have time for all that faffing about. I must admit, when talking about eating flowers I immediately think of a TV Chef painstakingly placing a single nitrogren-frozen violet on to a pile of sheep’s milk ice cream with some very long tweezers and the expression of a movie hero about to snip the red wire and save the world.  It does not need to be like this. Whilst there is a hearty argument for using flowers for the wow-factor as garnishes or baking decorations, you don’t need to spend hours freeze drying or sugar dipping to make good use and enjoy them in your dinner.  Many herb flowers like dill or coriander can be snipped straight from the plant and used the same way as you would the usual herb to add some flavoursome prettiness to a salad or marinade. Basil flowers are particularly lovely picked, washed and chucked straight into a tomato salad.

Don’t they taste horrible? Taste and scent are very closely linked and the word ‘flower’ might send you back to memories of choking on your Great Aunt Edna’s rose perfume and you don’t need that kind of experience with your sponge cake. Think for a second how different a beetroot tastes to a sweet potato. Both root vegetables, though. It is the same with flowers, their range in taste is pretty massive and not always as you would expect from their aroma.

lavender

Lavender makes a wonderful cocktail syrup

Lavender, rose and citrus blossoms do however taste very much the way they smell but can be used sparingly to give an extra dimension of flavour to icings, pastries or sauces or alternatively try steeping theminto syrups to give a floral kick to cocktails or sweet dishes. There’s an easy lavender syrup recipe here  that will work very well in a martini or drizzled over ice cream.  Speaking of drinks, we’ve been making tea from flowers since the time of the dinosaurs, or something, so why not try some in your biscuits too? You aren’t restricted to sweet dishes with flowers though, who hasn’t seen those lovely bright courgette flowers being pimped all over the place by Masterchef contestants and gourmet Instagrammers everywhere? It is very on trend to stuff and fry all manner of squash blossoms, however if you do so you must expect for them to taste of deep-fried-whatever-you-stuffed-them-with and to my mind this is something of a mistake. I’ve been blessed with many pumpkin flowers from my triffid like vegetable patch this summer and they taste wonderful- light and only ever so slightly sweet they make a great last minute addition to a risotto (you can click here for a recipe ).
Many edible flowers like Hollyhocks don’t taste of all that much at all and are used purely for a show stopping garnish, where as borage flowers reportedly taste a lot like cucumber. Clover flowers have a distinct liquorice finish and marigolds have been reported to be quite spicy so quite like other fruit and veg, there is probably something out there for everyone if you are prepared to give them a try.

 

I wouldn’t know where to start.  I need to add the idiot disclaimer now and insist that not all flowers are edible, in fact some of them will really make you very unwell indeed so before you start foraging for some pretties to tart up your Saturday dinner plate please research this extensively and avoid eating something that may cause you to suffer stomach upsets, blindness and a drawn out case of being dead. You can start by clicking here for a list of flowers that are safe to try. You will see many common garden favourites on this lists and incorporating them into your menu is really a lot simpler than you might think, just follow the following rules:

  1. Don’t eat it unless you are 100% sure what it is, and that it is safe to eat. Here’s that link again: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=764
  2. Stick to plants from your own garden or certified sellers and avoid anything that has been treated with pesticides. Some pest-treated plants will be safe to eat after a specified amount of time (check your bottle label) however you are doing a massive wrong to the bees of this world if you use such sprays on anything that flowers.
  3. Avoid using flowers from a level where they might have been, erm, visited by a dog or cat. For obvious reasons.
  4. Harvest your flowers early in the day or after a reasonable rainfall for the best flavour and use them quickly. Most of them will cope in the fridge for a day but the fresher the better.
  5. Before use, wash the flowers thoroughly but gently in cold water, being careful to evict any insects that have hitched a ride within!
  6. Use a recipe. If you had never baked a scone in your entire life would you just wing it with a bowl and some butter? No. Spend ten minutes researching how best to incorporate your florals into your food. The food site on the BBC is a good starting point, especially if you have courgette flowers.

If all this hasn’t convinced you then how about the nutritional incentives? As you will probably expect, the calorie content of flowers is negligible (before crystalisation/deep frying etc) and they wont upset any of your fat or sugar goals either. They do, however, provide a wealth of micro nutrient action often in the form of vitamins C or A, iron and potassium. Obviously this depends on the flower in question, and like your other fruit and veg the best way to get the most from them is to look for a variety of brightly coloured options to pack in the goodness along with the pretty.

So my summary point is that yes, I’m going to eat flowers, I already have, and maybe you should too. It’s a great time of year to try if you are in the UK it isn’t too late to spring some primroses or violets in the garden or head to your local greengrocers or farmers markets for flowering courgettes.

marigolds

marigolds can have a strong, peppery taste as well as being stunning in the flower beds!

 

Squash Blossom Risotto

pumpkin blossoms

Early pumpkin blossoms are light and delicately tasty

Despite recent radish issues and an out and out potato fail, my garden is currently offering up some really wonderful pumpkin and courgette flowers which have been going into our new favourite summer evening dinner. I do love a risotto, and weirdly I forget how much I love a risotto quite frequently and hadn’t made one in months until I was faced with coming up with something that was nice enough to warrant Birthday Dinner status without doing any further hurt to a serious toothache issue I wont bore you with now (it really hurts BTW).

Squash blossoms abound at this time of year and tend to provide a good amount of vitamins C and A.  This is a quick, vegetarian friendly recipe once you sort your prep out and perfect for an indulgent summery dinner at home. You can simply garnish with a whole flower or go all out with the fried stuffed version depending on how much time you have. It will work equally well with courgette flowers, though they are slightly smaller and differ in taste from the pumpkin flowers. Harvest your flowers with as much of the stalk as you can, ideally first thing in the morning or after some good rainfall. The un-opened ones will be easier to stuff if you are going for the fried-garnish option.

Boomboom Blossom Risotto.

stuffed blossome

soft cheese stuffed pumpkin blossoms ready to fry

Serves Two.

160g risotto rice
4 fresh pumpkin blossoms or 6 courgette flowers (or a mix of both)
1 tbspn rapeseed oil
1 white onion
15 button or 8 chestnut mushrooms
1 courgette
3 cloves garlic
2 tbspns soft cheese
1 glass dry white wine
500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

For fried flower garnish:
More rapeseed oil
3  tbspns soft cheese
1 egg
2 tbspns sifted plain flour

You do need a little bit of prep on this one if you are going with the fried flower garnish so get organised early by making up your stock, finely dicing your onions, garlic, mushrooms and courgettes and gently but thoroughly washing the flowers in cold water.

Take out the two largest (or most aesthetically pleasing) blooms and set aside for using as the garnish. De-stalk and finely shred the rest of them.  Beat the egg and sift the flour then be ready with a tea strainer or fine sieve.  Season the soft cheese with salt and pepper and beat it well then very carefully spoon this into the flowers. I find this most easy to do with the handle of a teaspoon, don’t over fill them! Put these aside for now.

This is the point in proceedings to take any kind of break that you need be it to go for a pee, make yourself a drink or talk to your dinner guest because once you start a risotto YOU MUST NOT LEAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!

Put plenty of rapeseed oil into a heavy bottomed frying pan and put this aside. In another large pan (that you have a lid for) heat 1 tbspns of oil and fry off the onions and garlic, adding the courgettes and mushrooms once the onion is translucent. Cook through for 3 minutes then add the risotto rice to your pan and stir well to combine. Add the wine now and stir gently but continuously until the wine is absorbed by the rice. As always, don’t use horrible cheap ‘cooking’ wine, go with something you can stand to drink. Co-op do a lovely English Bacchus at the moment which does nicely with this dish.
Add the vegetable stock a cup at a time, stirring all the time until the liquid is absorbed and continue to add until the rice is al dente  or soft with a tiny bit of bite left. Basically just cooked but not soggy. You might not need all of the stock for this.
Take this pan off the heat now and stir in the soft cheese plus some sea salt and black pepper, put the lid on and leave to one side.
Turn the heat on now on to your other pan and dip your garnish flowers into the egg. Use a fine sieve or a tea strainer to thoroughly dust the flour onto flowers (ha!) rather than dipping them as this tends to have an unfortunately claggy result. You only want a fine layer of flour over everything. When the oil is hot, fry the flowers quickly for only a minute or so on each side or until you see only the slightest colour  developing. Drain them on some kitchen paper.
Quickly now stir the shredded flowers into your risotto then plate immediately with the stuffed blossom on top and some parmesan cheese. I find this best served with a plain green salad and a big glass of dry white wine in a sunny garden!

Variations- If you don’t want to stuff the flowers and go through all that you can just lightly fry or even bake the flowers on their own. If you have a deep fat fryer try a tempura style batter on the whole flowers or even on the shredded rings for a crunchier topping.
You can leave the wine out if you wish just use more stock.
If you swap the veg stock for chicken stock this will work but I would dilute it slightly as chicken stock tends to taste a little stronger.
Vegans/weight watchers or the dairy intolerant can forgo the soft cheese however I would suggest finishing it instead with a nice glug of extra virgin olive oil to keep it rich and luxuriant as all risottos should be!

Grow Your Own! 5 Easy Home Crops

 

seedlings

The first green shoots of life for your vegetable harvest!

Believe it or not you don’t need several acres of allotment and hours of daily toiling to achieve a decent edible production line direct to your kitchen- it needn’t be an exercise in endless soil turning and Alan Titchmarsh tomes. You don’t even need that much ground if you have space for some decent sized pots and the muscle to heft a couple of bags of compost home from the garden centre.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do get it wrong with my fruit and veg efforts and it is not possible to make every garden work for every kind of crop but if you want to try out fruit and veg growing for the first time or have been unsuccessful in the past try any or all of the below for low-effort, high yield starters.

 

1- Lettuce:

lettuce

Lettuce will do well in pots and can suffer less from slug invasion when grown this way

Lettuce is never going to be sexy but it is always going to have a place at the table through the summer months, be it for your bikini diet or a BBQ side. Maybe it is just a trick of my own pride but I have found that the varieties I’ve grown in my garden hold a lot more flavour than a supermarket buy and because you can trim leaves off the growing plant as required you don’t end up with that horror-movie slime accumulation that can come of keeping a whole one in the fridge for too long.
You can start these on a windowsill or in a greenhouse/conservatory if you have particularly cold weather or numerous pests but they will usually grow well if you chuck the seeds straight into the soil once the chance of a frost has gone. I have found them to suffer less from pests if grown in pots and you will need to up your anti-slug game to protect them if they are in the ground (try beer traps if you don’t want to use pellets).
I love the Salad Bowl variety available from Mr Fothergill’s which grow quickly and do well in partial shade as well as full sun.

Extra tip: If you get on with lettuces try chard too as they seem to thrive in similar conditions. 

 

2- Carrots:

carrots

A wonky carrot crop from my garden

There is something wonderful about yanking up a homegrown carrot with that cartoon-esque crown of spiky green leaves! If you want an early crop, start these on a windowsill or in the conservatory in late March to plant out in April and harvest from late June. Otherwise plant seeds directly into soil after the regional frost risk is gone. If you are OCD on appearances try planting them in a large pot for straighter results- they will grow much bigger in the ground but can be quite twisted and unattractive! They need little care beyond the expected watering but will benefit from occasional feed if you are inclined to do so. Mice or squirrels might take nibbles from the tops as they begin to emerge so cover any emerging orange flesh up with soil from time to time.

Extra tip: You can increase your carrot yield and put off their main pest (the imaginatively titled carrot fly) but planting sage, rosemary or onions nearby and some people suggest that sharing the ground with some chive plants will improve the flavour. 

3- Parsley

parsley

Potted parsley grows easily outside or on a windowsill

Parsley really is the easiest go-to green herb to grow yourself and I keep my kitchen stocked from one 10cm pot on our patio that come in for the winter. Parsley will do equally well on a window sill that sees an good amount of daylight. Keep it watered and do not be tempted to leave in a greenhouse/conservatory much past the seedling stage as this plant will suffer from drying out too regularly- I have seen an entire plant go from healthy in the morning to yellow, curled and decimated by mid afternoon on a particularly sunny day in our conservatory. Parsley will be harvest ready in a few weeks, simply snip as required from the plant and add to garlic butter, soups and sauces or just use to pretty up your plates as a garnish.

Extra tip: You can buy parsley seeds all over the place so look for budget steals like your local bargain/pound shop where you can often get three garden seed packets for a quid. 

 

4- Gooseberries

gooseberries

Hinnomaki Red gooseberries grown this spring. Much sweeter than expected and soon to go into jam.

I invested in a couple of young Hinnomaki Red gooseberry plants on a whim this spring to take up some space in a bare patch where I had recently dug out a useless/ugly Red Robin. Opting for plugs or juvenile plants might seem like cheating a bit versus growing from seed, but when you have weed or pest issues or are late in the season getting started sometimes it is the best option. It certainly takes a lot less maintenance as long as you prep the ground well by throwing in some bonemeal and giving them a really good soak immediately after planting. I’ve done next to nothing for those gooseberry bushes and they have roughly tripled in size over the last three months and produced a really lovely crop of juicy, sweet red gooseberries last week (end June). Some smaller cheeky birds might nip at the flowers in early spring but otherwise they don’t seem to be bothered by pests.

5-Onions:

onions flowering

Onions are easy to grow, make great companion plants to repel some pests and produce really striking flowers

Green Fingered legend has it that you can’t kill an onion! They will take frost. They will take shade. They will take days of blazing sunshine. They will take all the cats and slugs and flea beetles and other buggers in your garden with little to no impact! They are also mega easy to plant from bulbs and available in good number from all garden centres. Don’t be tempted to plant them too shallow and if you allow 1 or 2 to bolt they produce quite stunning flowers! Plant them straight into the ground in the early spring or if you are restricted to pots try shallots rather than full sized onions and give them plenty of space. For the ultra lazy, research the more hardy varieties and plant them in the autumn once you have cleared out everything else and they will survive the winter and crop from the following Spring.

Extra tip: I have found that the darling/evil cats that visit my garden never make their toilet area near the patch where I grow onions, possibly due to the strong smell so if you are troubled by felines try planting a border line of onions to put them off. 

Grow Your Own! A Painful Lesson in Tuber Betrayal.

The offending spuds, with a bonus onion in the back

Education abounds in the Boomboom garden and I find myself once more starting to draft in some mental lines of change for the end of this summer.

Gardening is hard, and some plants are right gits. My potatoes, for example, are absolute gits. Having taken over the majority of my veg patch and grown so high and thick that it has made it impossible to get around them to prune the unruly hazel bushes, it became apparent a couple of weeks ago that they needed to start coming out of the ground and into a saucepan. I thought I had an impressive initial harvest, taking about a half meter strip of the earthy bumps out of the ground to fill my trug for the purposes of a spud salad to take to Her-In-Law’s house warming BBQ. Thankfully the Mr decided to taste test this offering, and declare that there’s “Quite a nasty aftertaste there.” Once I had finished breaking all his fingers cursing his very existence for having the nerve to criticise my culinary skills, I tried some myself and had to begrudgingly agree.

I will now introduce you to Solanine- a chemical found abundantly in growing potatoes which by happy coincidence is very good at deflecting attacks by pests both animal and microbiological in nature. How does it deflect these attacks? Oh, it’s a glycoalkaloid poison- which is exactly as nasty as it sounds and my spuds are brimming with it. Hooray.

In real and less dramatic terms, I would probably have to eat a couple of kilos of solanine-high spuds to experience the ill effects of cellular membrane failure in a meaningful way- like stomach cramps or nausea or nightmares or that kind of thing. However even without those fun symptoms this jolly bio-chemical will make a technically safe portion of potatoes taste like crap. Sour, cloying crap that remains with you for a good ten minutes after that first regretful swallow. The pain is so much worse for the fact that they appear on the surface to be REALLY good potatoes. Firm, pleasingly round,  so new and tender that it took little more than a rinse under the tap to skin them and none of the tell tale green tinge that would usually indicate that they were not good to go. They even taste good- a textbook creamy and carby comfort in the mouth until that horrid toxic after-tang materialises. Think about following up a perfect fork full of tagliatelle with a shot of sour metal. So near, and yet so vile.  I’m sure there are words for the levels of disappointment felt from this bitter harvest but I am still too sore on the subject to find them. Is this how it feels to love and nurture your child only for them to leave home at 18 and join a murder cult or get tattoos or something? Perhaps so. It is a palpable disappointment to have nurtured such evil, to be so betrayed by one’s babies.

So what can we do to avoid this foul occurrence in our home grown tubers of choice? What wisdom am I to pass to you from my unpalatable recent experience? Well, nothing and none, except maybe that boring old chestnut Patience. Solanine levels in potatoes drop over time. That’s it. You can’t wash it out, you can’t cook it out, you can smother it in mayonnaise and hope it’s a non leatal dose. There may be hope later in the year that the yuk levels in my Charlottes will begin to dwindle once they get a little further along but I have to say we have been put off somewhat and definitely won’t be sampling them again for another month or so.

Such sadness. I love a potato salad.

The Skinny Thing: Oven Fried Chicken

fried chicn

Not-really-fried chicken, a great treat night dinner without the calorie concerns.

It’s been a bit of a week on the diet front, where various employment obligations and personal weaknesses have meant living off of a staple feed of severely low effort food that was either cooked by someone else or merely assembled then covered with cheese in my kitchen. I’ve been busy and knackered and in no mood to cook. The trouble is that endless late nights and refined carbohydrates do nothing to improve one’s energy levels or motivation to rustle up a salad.

Having punctuated various takeaways and pizza based entities with too many pints of real ale and a tub of brownie bites since Monday, this blogger kicked off the weekend with something of a delayed and cumulative food hangover. It is a weird thing to crave cucumber and peaches on a Saturday morning, and a disheartening thing to be bloated to the point of your fail safe summer shorts almost refusing to do up.

It is still the weekend, however, and a Saturday dinner was required and here was a perfect opportunity to fall back on what is basically fake Southern Fried Chicken as a treat for tea that wasn’t going to require any further damage control on the waistline. By removing that whole pesky deep frying issue and swapping out the buttermilk soak one can seriously bring the fat content down without losing too much satisfaction. It also lends itself very nicely to being dished up with a big pile of veg to replenish one’s mass lack of fibre after a week of gastro pubs and Just Eat clicks. It doesn’t taste even remotely Diety either so will work well if you have guests who aren’t on the same low calorie wagon as you. In fact, this is a good recipe for those who don’t have a deep fat fryer, or hate cleaning it.

Weight Watchers can see a chicken breast done in this method coming in at a maximum 4  smartpoints, vs 7 or 8 for a traditionally done Southern Fried portion. It is relatively speedy and fuss free to cook and lends itself very well to slimming friendly sides, by which I mostly mean vegetables. Dear God, I need the vegetables!!!!

Boomboom Fake Fried Chicken

frying

brief frying time in a small amount of oil makes this much lower fat that traditional recipes

4 chicken breasts
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons hot sauce
75 ml unsweetened almond milk
3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
Garlic powder, celery salt, ground coriander, paprika, chilli powder, black pepper, salt
Oil/cooking spray for frying

Start by beating the egg with the almond milk, hot sauce and a pinch of salt then pour this over the chicken breasts and leave to marinate for 2-4 hours, covered in the fridge.

When ready to cook, put the oven on at 190 degrees C and line a sturdy baking tray with some greaseproof paper. Mix the flour and spices well and put into a large, flat dish. You will want to play with the spice mix to your own taste but I find a flat mix of 1/2 a tsp of all the listed spices works well enough to please most diners without being too hot. I must admit that if it just me and the Mr I go considerably heavier on the chilli powder and also the hot sauce in the marinade too.
Remove the chicken from the egg mix and roll well in the flour and spices to cover the entire surface. You only need to do this once, even if you are used to layering up when making this recipe traditionally.
Heat a shallow saucepan with a small amount of oil (your choice, I like rapeseed) and fry the chicken for about 90 seconds on each side. The pan needs to be hot enough to sizzle as soon as the meat goes in and you cook it just long enough to seal the meat and see the flour coating to start to colour. Transfer the meat then to the baking tray and cook in the oven, it should take roughly 25 minutes.

It’s that simple, just serve! For a southern style feast I like to dish it up with more hot sauce, corn on the cob and a good number of pickles.

Variations- play with heat levels by adding more chilli and paprika to the spice mix or add some oats or linseeds to the dry mix for some texture. You could use legs/thighs etc however if you are points or calorie counting then you need to account for this due to higher fat content. The coating also works really well on cauliflower for the veggies amoung us-just cut up the florets and dip in the egg mix (don’t marinate) then roll in flour and bake at 180 for about 20 minutes.

A Little Plug- Kovalam Restaurant

kovalam

What: South Indian Cuisine

Where: 27 Waterside , Brightlingsea, CO7 0AY

How Much: £20-£25 a head

Overall: 9/10

When it comes to memories of a town, so many people associate my little corner of the world on the Essex Coast with that brilliant little Indian near the water. It’s called Kovalam, it was on my list of dinner resolutions for this year and it is certainly brilliant enough to warrant tacking the long and winding road into Brightlingsea for a curry night.

The restaurant itself is easy to miss, nestled in a previously residential building near the industrial/posh marina end of town depending on which direction you choose to look. It is pretty unremarkable in terms of Indian restaurants you find in the UK, with straight back chairs and impeccable place settings but is thankfully devoid of the seeming trend of weird blue neon strips and bubble lines around the bar. What is remarkable is the food here, which does veer away from the expected offerings one might assume of a standard curry house. Yes, you can have an onion bhaji and a chicken korma if you really need to, but they offer a proper range of vegetarian dishes as well as fish and seafood which (I am reliably informed) are indicative of the cooking traditional to the region of their namesake. I can’t comment much on the great nuances of South Indian cuisine, but I can tell you that at Kovalam I have never had a duff serving of anything at all. The food is obviously fresh and presented proudly, always aromatic and enticing if not necessarily beautiful. One of the greatest charms there is their glorious laminated menu books complete with kitsch educational snap shots of info on the ingredients used and what to expect from them. It might seem a bit funny and patronising at first but I like to think I learn something new whenever we go there, although the Mr insists I say the same thing about not knowing what tamarind actually was every time……….

squid

Koonthal Roast at Kovalam: an exceptionally executed but simple squid dish.

A lot of the dishes favour mild, sweeter flavours with coconut and mango bases, making this an easy crowd pleaser if you have spice-phobics in your group. The Malabar range, cooked in a mild but complexly flavoursome roasted coconut sauce is incredibly tasty and easy eating if you don’t feel up to risking something with a bit more kick. And I say that as someone who usually hates coconut.  The chicken Makhani is nothing short of lush, buttery indulgence and also very friendly for those of a chili sensitive palate. I would invite the heat seekers among us to join me further down the menu, however. The Koonthal Roast- a pretty simple dish of stir fried squid (yes I know it says roast) with lots of green chilli and curry leaves is well worth venturing away from the Curry Madras for. It is hot, but it is also clean and sharp with a genuinely belly warming finish that doesn’t burn your tastebuds out. Divine. Bulk it up with a Kerala Paratha which is  basically a hefty dough pancake which is utter filth on your calroie load but so much tastier than your garden variety naan or chapati. If you have to go garden variety, at last upgrade it to their garlic naan here which is second to none. Low carbers might steer towards the frankly enormous mixed grill of kebab and tandoori meats (The Mr needs a doggy bag for this one). Weight Watchers will also be glad to see a shashlick on the menu too, which is very good and served with a really sharp and punchy salad packed with lemon and herbs. On lazy nights when it’s too far to walk the half mile down there (or put on a clean t-shirt) we have been know to order up their whole tandoori chicken for delivery which is always wonderful, tender and deeply satisfying. Especially if you eat it straight out of the bag infront of House of Cards!  One should also take the time to have a good look through their sides and venture into something new. Although my mother, the daal afficionado, was not desperately thrilled with their lentil sides I think it’s nice enough, as are the expected popadums and spicy spuds but the mushroom bhaji is off the bloody scales: again simple and not fussy, just stir fried with a good amount of green chilli and tomatoes is it absolutely perfect. The vegetable menu at Kovalam is wide on the whole and you really don’t need to worry about bringing a vegan or two along with you as their is more than enough animal-free action here and it is sometimes better than the meat dishes.

cobra

The only infallible side dish to any curry.

 

The prices at Kovalam are always surprising reasonable and the portions although not dauntingly huge (other than the mixed grill) are more than enough to prompt taking your belt down a notch for the walk home. Like any restaurant the sundries and drinks can tot up a little if you let them but never to the point of pain. The wine list is not always reliable in terms of the menu being up to date but it is beyond me how most people can resist a pint of cobra with a curry, which is of course available.  I’ve never made it with enough room for dessert there but a full meal with drinks and popadums has rarely gone over twenty quid a head on my watch, and if you are in the catchment for their takeaway service you can eat very well for about a ten to twelve quid each without any decrease in the quality of the food that is served in house.

Of all our local eateries, Kovalam gets the most of our local monies because you really can’t go wrong, it works for everything.  Home late with house guests? Kovalam. Impromptu cheeky week-night-date-night on a budget? Kovalam. Step-dad’s birthday blow out dinner with wine aplenty? Kovalam. Lads’ night curry with extra Kingfishers all round? Kovalam.  Pretending to be on a diet with a shashlick and a foot long fried dosa pancake? You know where to go.

You won’t find them online (other than the Just Eat site) but can call 01206 305555 to book.