Search This Blog

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cheese Dreams

When I was little, we often used to have melted cheese on toast, which we called Cheese Dreams. There is a smidgin of truth in the theory that cheese gives you nightmares: apparently eating cheese just before going to sleep can increase your amount of REM sleep, during which you dream. This does not alter the proportions of normal dreams to nightmares, but if you are prone to bad dreams, they are presumably more likely to happen after eating cheese. If you usually have harmless or enjoyable dreams, eating cheese before bed seems like a good idea.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The secret ingredient

There were two secret ingredients that made this evening's cottage pie delicious. Having put some potatoes on to boil, I set to work to make comfort food.
I chopped and fried an onion and a carrot in beef dripping from Sunday's roast. When they were soft, I added a couple of chopped portobella mushrooms, and put some salt and black pepper in the mix.
Then I ground the leftover beef, mixed it in with the vegetables and moistened it with the leftover gravy and some red wine. Now it's time for the secret ingredients. Freshly ground white pepper and tomato ketchup add spice and sweetness.
When the potatoes were done, I mashed them roughly with some butter and salt, then built my cottage pie, slathered on some more butter and shoved it in the oven.
When the mashed potato was golden and crispy, I served it with peas cooked with butter and basil.
I never eat shepherd's pie, because I grew up around shepherds and think it's cruel to eat them.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Farinaceous update

Remember my search for Israeli couscous? I finally found a good source: the Sainsbury in the Kingsland shopping centre. It has a Jewish foods section (about two feet of shelving, but it counts), and when I went to buy noodles for savoury kugel, I discovered Israeli couscous on special offer.
I hope that doesn't mean they were discontinuing the line. It went remarkably well with mutton chops and gravy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

In the dark

Do you eat with your eyes? Does the appearance of the food matter more than the flavour, and can you tell the difference? This is the question posed by Clerkenwell restaurant, Dans le Noir, where diners eat in a blacked out dining room, served by blind waiters. Not an original concept – there are similar establishments in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin – it is nonetheless intriguing.

And not a little intimidating, at least in prospect. It took me several years to gather the courage and the foodie companions to make it to the sixty seater, where you are greeted in a rather offputtingly large and empty foyer with a small bar and a wall of lockers. Customers are asked to put anything that might emit light, such as mobile phones, into the lockers, and then asked to choose whether they want a menu that includes meat, fish, seafood or none of the above.

Having chosen, each party is assigned a blind waiter, who leads a mini-conga line into the dark. Already you are unsettled by how different it is from a normal restaurant, where they may control you just as much, but they pretend they are offering choices.

Once in the dark room, I struggled not to burst into nervous giggles, as it was borne in on me how odd the situation was, but deep breathing calmed me. One benefit of having your restaurant in the dark is that you can seat the guests extraordinarily close together, on the basis that this will make it easier for them to communicate, or pour each other’s wine.

This does work, although it could go disastrously wrong if the stranger seated next to you were not as pleasant as the Iranian boy whose perfect manners made him a delightful neighbour.

Place settings were fairly simple: knife, fork, napkin. For glasses, two solid tumblers – “Please use the larger one for water,” said the waiter, before putting water and wine bottles down for us to serve ourselves. Although that seemed simple enough, I’m fairly sure I drank indiscriminately from my own wine glass and that of the lady sitting opposite me, the mother of the polite lad next me.

Most people struggled with knife and fork, but I dived straight in to use my fingers. The starter was clearly designed as a tease, challenging you to work out what you were eating. A tiger prawn wrapped in bacon, chorizo in some kind of sauce and deep fried bread with a jam were easy to identify, although details such as the red wine sauce and that it was mozzarella with fig jam were not revealed until afterwards. It was not a plate that one would hope to see in a normal restaurant; the individual ingredients were nice but not outstanding and had nothing to say to each other.

The main course generated some discussion in my party as to what it was: my insistence that it was chicken not pork turned out to be nearest the mark, which was guinea fowl. It came with some buttered celeriac, variously identified as potato, squash and celeriac, and puy lentils in gravy.

Dessert provided my only moment of real food disorientation, as I picked a small globe from the top of the chocolate pave and put it in my mouth. Rather than being a berry or a chocolate chip, it was hard and waxy and any scent it had was overwhelmed by the smell of chocolate. After I had nibbled cautiously on it for several seconds, unable to work out it out, the signals suddenly unscrambled and I realised it was a hazelnut.

Other than that brief moment of perplexity, I found this experience a lot less challenging than I had expected. The most difficult thing for me was accepting that I had to sit so close to strangers, and dealing with the cacophony of the room, where darkness seemed to make people much less self-conscious about talking than usual.

Thinking about the experience, I have to choose between feeling begrudging and patronising, neither of which is appealing. Either I was disappointed because Dans le Noir was not exciting enough – anyone who’s had a campfire has eaten in the dark – or I was not an ideal subject of the experiment because I have already thought so hard about my relationship with food and adventured so far into the borderlands of my comfort zone that simply eating in the dark was less exciting for me than many others.