Category Archives: Produce

Lamb Hearts with Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffing

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve
Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

Have a heart! Really, I mean it. They taste great.

Our local butcher, Allinghams, gets fresh stuff in from Smithfield on Tuesdays. So I pre-ordered 4 lamb hearts last week and picked them up yesterday. The first great thing about lamb hearts is that they’re damn cheap, in this case less than 3 quid for the lot – good value considering it turned out to be more than a dinner for the two of us. The second great thing is that they’re simply delicious, with a rich flavour somewhere between lamb meat and liver.

I was at a little bit of a loss as to how to deal with them though, unfortunately none of my books cover what I wanted to do. I decided to plough on with my plan of stuffing them anyway, and went with braising them since this is a somewhat safe approach (much more forgiving than roasting.)

A passing reference in Hugh’s meat book suggests using a wet stuffing, so I avoided anything like breadcrumbs and shot for plenty of fat in the form of butter, bacon, and cheese. Ah, the cheese! We picked this up at the Hitchin Tuesday farmers’ market from Wobbly Bottom Farm. They have goats and make a range of excellent cheeses from goat milk, the Mature Goat is particularly delicious (it’s like a slightly goaty parmesan), as is the Blue Goat, but in this recipe it’s the excellent Goat Camembert I’ve used (which is really much harder than a Camembert!) The only other difference here is that I decided to add something for sweetness, as this tends to work very well with offal. Originally I considered sultanas but I keep dried figs in the same box. For some reason the figs just felt right, the rest is history, or, more accurately, dinner.

So, the ingredient manifest, some things here are listed twice where they’ve been used in different ways.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ingredients

The hearts:

  • 4 — lamb hearts
  • 4 — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 8 — toothpicks (they’re pretty important)
  • 20g — unsalted butter
  • 4 — thin slices of Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The stuffing:

  • 25g — unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp — caraway seeds
  • 2 small (230g) — onions
  • 2 (~60g) — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 1 tsp — fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 4 (~50g) — dried figs
  • sprig (~8 leaves) — sage
  • sprig (2″) — rosemary
  • 40g — Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The juice:

  • 100g — carrot
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 2 — generous sprigs of thyme
  • 250ml — dry white wine
  • 400ml — chicken stock

The base:

  • 1 — large courgette (zucchini – fresh from the garden!)
  • a little — oil for frying
Stuffed Lamb Heart - Stuffing
Stuff ’em

First clean your hearts, for this I recommend a short and very sharp knife, best to start by sharpening it actually. Trim any arteries out of the top of the heart and slit, just deep enough to graze the muscle, along any veins on the outside of the heart. A book I have suggests removing such veins, but this seemed to be far too finicky to me. Next give your hearts a good rinse, especially flushing any clots of blood out of the cavities and flushing blood out of the veins you’ve slit. Thoroughly dry the hearts with some paper towel, giving them a good squeeze to remove excess water from inside. Now put them aside while you prepare the stuffing.

Now is probably a good time to get the oven on, set it to 125°C.

Dice the onion into pieces about 5mm to a side and get them sizzling in a heavy casserole with 25g of butter and the caraway seeds. Slice the 2 rashers of streaky bacon into thin strips and add to the onion. Let this lot sizzle until it lightly browns. Very finely chop the garlic, sage, and rosemary and add to the pot with the pepper. Chop the figs into pieces about 5mm to a side and add as well. Now fry for about 5 more minutes until the fig pieces are softened. Turn off the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes, until you can handle it.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Sealed

Divide the stuffing mix up into 4 even piles and proceed to stuff the cavities of each heart. A teaspoon is a useful tool for this. Once the hearts are stuffed there should be about a tablespoon of assorted stuffing left over in the casserole, this will help flavour the sauce. Slice your cheese into 4 “spears,” chunky enough to push into the hearts without crumbling (it’s best to have the cheese in the fridge up to here as this will keep it a bit harder.) Thoroughly embed a spear of cheese into each heart.

Now lie a piece of streaky bacon over the cavity opening, doubling it back on itself to cover as much of the opening as possible. Use two toothpicks to hold the bacon in place (see photo.)

Add another 20g of butter to the casserole and over a medium flame lightly brown the hearts on as many sides as they’ll sit on. With this done ensure all the hearts are sitting with the bacon (cavity holes) facing upward and pour the white wine and chicken stock in around the hearts. Peel and roughly chop the carrots, toss them in, skin the garlic and thump it to death under the side of a knife, toss this in too.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready for the Oven
Ready for the Oven

Finally submerge the thyme in the liquid, get it simmering over the stove, then pop the lid on the casserole and shove it in the oven!

If you’re us the next thing to do is pop down to the local pub for 2 hours and have a couple of beers. With 2 hours up take the casserole out of the oven and turn each heart cavity-side-down. They go back in the oven for another hour now.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Frying Courgette
Frying Courgette

About 20 minutes before the hearts are due to come out of the oven slice the courgette into thin (~3mm) rounds, a mandolin is invaluable for this sort of thing. Drizzle a little oil in a large fry-pan and brown the rounds of courgette on each side, this will need to be done in batches (unless you have a truly enormous frying pan!)

casserole onto a plate, carefully remove the toothpicks, and top each heart with a slice of cheese. These can now go back into the oven, but turn it off and leave the door slightly ajar (we’re just keeping them warm at this stage, not trying to cook them further.) It is also a good idea to pop a couple of serving plates in the oven at this point.

Pass the liquid and vegetables from the casserole through a food mill or push it through a course sieve. Place this back onto the stove and reduce over high heat until it reaches the consistency of runny cream. Be careful here, tasting the sauce regularly. The main issue to worry about is salt. There may be a lot of salt in the sauce from the bacon and stock – good stock won’t have added salt, but most bought stocks do have some and stock cubes are very salty! If the sauce verges toward the salty side before it is thick enough you could try thickening it up a little with some cornflour solution. If it isn’t very salty then you can, as they say, “season to taste.” Finish the sauce by passing it through a fine sieve.

Pop the hearts under a hot overhead grill to get the cheese just-sizzling. Create a bed of courgette slices on the two warmed plates and put two hearts on each plate. Drizzle with some sauce and serve with a glass of the wine used in the cooking and a jug containing any excess sauce. This turned out to be a rather rich meal so the dry white wine worked well as a balance.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve
Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

This is a large meal, two hearts filled me well and one was enough for Kat. An alternative would be to serve one heart per person, in which case I’d double the amount of courgette used and serve with something additional on the side, a small green salad maybe.

Another alternative presentation for the hearts is to slice them, since the cross-section is rather attractive. Our leftover heart will be prepared in this way and served cold as the centrepiece of a lunchtime salad.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Cross Section
Cross Section

As usual the recipe is also documented in photos:

Harey Weekend

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

It’s been a pretty terrible week for me. On Tuesday evening I lay down to sleep and suddenly had a sore throat, very strange. Seriously, there wasn’t a hint of a problem until I lied down and then within minutes it felt like I’d swallowed a caltrop. I’ve had the throat all week, progressively getting better while my head got worse. I tried to describe how I felt to Kat and came up with “it feels like I have a nest of insane, woolly ferrets running around in circles in my head.” All great fun, I assure you! sigh I never used to get colds and their ilk, must have stronger bugs here in the UK (admittedly this is just the second cold I’ve had in two years, so it could be worse.) Anyway, enough whinging, pathetic, weak human!

I’ve been looking forward to the weekend. In the preamble to my latest lamb shank casserole recipe I mentioned that I’d ordered a hare. Well, this morning we picked up our hare from Hamblings, it was only 10 quid! An animal fit for roasting that’d had at least a good 5 days hanging. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how long it was hung for, the butcher said 5 days was the worst-case. Ideally a hare should hang for at least 7 to 10 days, and it’s pretty cool at the moment so longer would be better. The butcher got it in on Tuesday (it’d been hung prior to this), hung it for another couple of days and it was skinned and paunched on Thursday. I picked up some unsmoked streaky bacon from him too. I tried to get caul fat but he told me it’s “like gold-dust”, and said that’s the way it’s been since abattoir work became piece-work. Things that take too much time to do (and don’t yield much money) just aren’t done any more.

The butcher separated the hare’s legs from its saddle for me, then we wandered back home, via the veggie shop, to admire the goods. The first thing to hit me was the smell, this is one pretty pungent beast! Not a bad smell, not to my nose, but I think some might find it a bit nauseas. Anyway, you can admire the goods without the smell, as usual I’m taking plenty of photos!

Mr Hare

The meaty back legs I’m reserving for a casserole tomorrow. The saddle I’ve trimmed up and will roast tonight. The front legs and trimmings have gone into a pot with vegetables and herbs to make a game stock that’ll be used for both the roast and the casserole.

In other news, I put an order in with a catering company called Nisbets on Thursday. It was time for a new frypan, my old one I brought over from Sydney has reached the end of its non-stick life. Based on a recommendation from the much worshipped “Hugh book” I went for the Bourgeat brand (Nisbets was also recommended by the book.) Hugh described Bourgeat as the “current chef’s favourite” (in 2004), that seems a pretty good rating. I went all-out and ordered three different sizes! (20cm, 28cm, 3-eff’n-huge-6cm) I also got a nice big and heavy cleaver for butchering, well, anything really. Plus a length of muslin (something I’ve had trouble finding anywhere else), and a good solid muffin tray since we didn’t have one (it’s not generally going to be used for muffins though!) I can report that Nisbets’s “next day delivery” (their cheapest delivery option) really is next day! Here’s the loot:

Nisbets Goodies

I’ll be writing entries about the making of the stock, the roasting of the saddle, and the casseroling of the legs. Though, as usual, it will probably take a week or two for me to get the entries done, spare time is a rare commodity.

Got Milk?

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I think I’ve found the best supermarket milk in the UK: Duchy originals organic freshly pasteurised Ayreshire milk. It tastes brilliant and, as it isn’t homogenised, comes with a little dollop of creamy goodness under the cap (probably containing 10% of the calories in the bottle!) Even the semi-skimmed product is pretty decent. All thanks to good old prince Charles.

Mentioning semi-skimmed brings another thing to mind: public health awareness as a function of corporate marketing[1]. Low fat anyone? Low salt? Low GI? Maybe it’ll be low pumpernickel next? Before you reach for the semi-skimmed take note that typically the Calorie difference is only about 25%. There really isn’t any point unless you drink litres of the stuff per day. A cup of the full-cream milk I have in front of me contains 160 calories, the semi-skimmed alternative would contain no more than 40 Calories less. That’s right, just forty. Taken in the context of a standard male adult intake of 2500 Calories the difference is a mere 1.6% (2.0 for the adult females.) Of course, for many, the “standards” are usually way off the mark (exactly how average are you?), in the context of my current calorie intake at 15% below BMR (~1650 Cals) this is still only a 2.5% difference! If I can fit normal milk into my diet then anyone should be able to!

The conclusion? Dump the bloody skim milk, it doesn’t taste good and makes stuff all difference anyway.

What about the fully skim-milk you ask? Well, you may as well stick to water in my opinion. But that aside, skim milk is typically 50% lower calorie than the full-fat cow juice, yet even then for a whole 250ml of the stuff we’re talking less then 5% of your daily Calorie intake. A quarter litre is a fair bit of milk too and, unless you guzzle glasses of the stuff straight, you probably have less than that per day taking into account normal sized servings of cereal and tea/coffee (I shudder to mention having milk in either though.)

Want some advice? Keep a closer eye on the sugar and other carbs in your breakfast and drinks. That low-fat chocolate milk drink from the inconvenience store would be fine if it didn’t have twice as many Calories in sugar than it has left out in fat.

Anyway, the point was: HRH Prince Charles sells good cow-juice.

[1] Something I’m not going to delve into in great depth. One of the wake-up moments for me, that made me take a closer look at just about every piece of “accepted knowledge” I came across, was coming to the UK and finding “non-bio” prominently displayed on many laundry detergent products. I had no idea at all what this meant! It turns out that at some point in the distant past there was some big scare about “biological” (containing enzymes) detergents causing drastic eczema and even toxic-shock, so everybody avoids the stuff. Meanwhile, back in Oz, companies market “enzymes” as a great thing for your washing powder (and I hear things are much the same in the US.) In the end it is all a function of marketing, this “fact” came up, some company pushed it into their marketing campaign, and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Fat? Think of the billions made on marked up low-fat (usually high sugar) products, the English-speaking-worldwide anti-fat campaign has been around for decades yet this world gets more and more obese by the day. Eggs? Salt? Red meat? So many “evil” foods of this day and age have their original evilness based on flawed studies (some as long ago as the 1960s!) The great news is that more recent research is countering many of the earlier studies. Not enough salt will kill you, no saturated fat stuffs with your hormonal system, cholesterol from eggs is good for you. It’s all terribly frustrating, how do we know what to believe? I wish I knew. My best guess is keep things balanced. Almost always eat “rough” foods (i.e. stay away from things with more than three flow-chart states between their origin and your table: killed->packaged->cooked), and get a good share of calories from protein and fat (about 40% and 30% in my case). I’d say it is pretty clear that the government and industry backed low-fat-high-carb diet has failed. My, that turned into a rant didn’t it?

Avruga Caviar

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

In my recent review of Coq d’Argent I mentioned Avruga Caviar. This topped off the timable that was part of Kat’s froggy entrée. I also referred to it as “damn good”, and it was! However, I should make the point that it does not seem to be actual roe… rather, some recombined smoked herring meat product.

When I wrote the Coq entry I assumed two facts: 1) That the caviar was herring roe, and 2) that “Avruga” was a generic term for herring roe caviar. The process whereby I unravelled these facts has been interesting, albeit a little bit of a waste of time.

Internet (Mis)Information

It all started with my Coq entry, I Googled “Avruga caviar” so I could link it from my review. I found two reasonable looking sources, one was on Wikipedia, a two sentence entry that said Avruga “is made from the roe of herring” (emphasis mine.) The second was on a site called, which states that Avruga is “made from the roe of the common herring.” So I went ahead with this information.

Culinary Interest

The iGreens site said that Avruga was “Available from Waitrose, selected Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s.” Armed with this knowledge and an interest in getting better acquainted with Avruga I wandered up to Waitrose to get some bits and pieces for an evil cold platter for dinner. Alas, no Avruga! Instead I got a “herring caviar” named “Onuga®” in the hope that it’d be similar. We had a nice evil dinner of figs (argh! the “food miles!”), goats cheese, olives, and Onuga on spelt crackers. Washed down nicely with a 10yo tawny port. FYI: We do not normally eat this sort of food!

Before dinner I set about some Google sleuthing to see if “Onuga” was “Avruga” and find out more information about herring roe caviar.

Avruga® Revealed

In time I tracked down an official product page for Avruga to discover that the word Avruga requires a registered trademark symbol. Avruga® is the name of a product marketed by a Spanish company called Pescaviar. Along the way I also discovered that it is produced for Pescaviar by a company called Cataliment (no online info) and has Marine Stewardship Council “Chain of Custody” certification. This latter information comes from the news page of a website belonging to marine fishery consultants MacAlister Elliott and Partners.

So not only is it great “caviar”, it also takes the pressure off the poor old sturgeon and has impeccable environmental credentials. Eating this stuff should give hippies orgasms.

Spreading The Word

Armed with my new-found knowledge I trundled off to update the Wikipedia article. Aiming to clarify that “Avruga” was a product name and expand the snippet with the information about the producer and environmental certification.

This is the first time I’ve edited a Wikipedia article and doing so is an interesting insight on how the whole Wikipedia process can work. You just need enough enthusiasts who can’t get their priorities straight (I’ve really got other things I should be doing), Wikipedia has a whole Internet full time wasting nutjobs like myself.

After making some edits I discovered things like it being useful to review the “history” and to add update comments (I didn’t even see the form field for this when editing the entry.) Anyway, in the history I saw “Clarified the fact that it is not fish roe” followed by “Avruga caviar is made from herring meat not the roe? What utter garbage. I ate some avruga caviar tonight at a restaurant. It is ROE. Corrected article accordingly.”.

I was intrigued.

Reformed Herring

When someone makes such a pompous sounding “statement of fact” with no backup I get edgy. I’ve done it myself so many times and had it end in an embarrassing counter-proof almost as many times. The other thought is: why would someone bother to say it isn’t roe without some good reason? Since it is certainly seems to be roe.

The first thing I did was take a look at my jar of Onuga. The line “reformed herring product” was suspicious, if strangely worded. Reformed, like reform school? The ingredients revealed that the main contents were “water” and “smoked herring”, no mention of roe? I’m pretty certain that if it was roe it would say so!

But Onuga is not Avruga! On a closer look at the Avruga product page I noticed the phrase “Pescaviar has developped[sic], from wild herring, a unique product” and no mention of anything like “roe” or “eggs.” And re-reading the MacAlister Elliott page revealed the phrase “faux caviar.” I also did a Google image search to try and spot the ingredients list on the jar, in the fuzzy edge of one image I saw “smoked herring”.

I dug a little deeper and found the references to Pescaviar and Cataliment on the Marine Stewardship Council’s “PFA North Sea herring” certifications page. Both entries are for “smoked”. Adding this up with the information from the MacAlister Elliott site starts to make it sounds like much the same thing as the Onuga caviar.

I don’t claim any of these things as proof, but I’m certainly feeling convinced.

Who Cares?

I made another update to the Wikipedia article on Avruga caviar to include my new observations in as much of a “wikipedian” manner as I could. It’s hard work avoiding “weasel words.” Then again, the original article cited no sources as all, if I knew the markup for it I’d tag “has seen Avruga quickly gain popularity” with “citation required”. It seems feasible, but I’d like more information to back that up.

What does this mean for Avruga? I have to admit that the concept of caviar has a certain exclusive air to it and that the idea of “reformed” fish meat “caviar” feels like a cheapening of this. However, we need to be realistic about these things! Get off whatever try-hard, wannabe, foodie high-horse you’re on and just enjoy it. Call it tiny balls of firm fish jelly if you like.

The Onuga was good, firm little balls with a mild fishiness. Was it “good caviar?” It didn’t have the crispness and “burst” of real caviar, for sure, and Kat and I would go salmon caviar by preference without hesitation. I don’t think the Onuga was as good as the Avruga either. But without a side-by-side test it is hard to say, enjoyment of food is physiologically and psychologically complex. There are many influencers; in this case accompaniments, environment, and perceived value come to mind immediately. The Avruga would have also lacked “burst” I assume, so certainly requires revisiting without the trappings of a “high class” restaurant meal. Also, I only had maybe 5 or 6 little balls of Avruga and didn’t give them my full attention, since it was Kat’s entrée. It certainly wasn’t bad, we did come away from it thinking “damn good,” after all.

Gah! I’ve got to try and get my priorities straight! I thought train-spotting geeks were bad… here I am spending 3 hours worrying about faux caviar! I’d better put my jellified smoked herring balls back into the fridge and go to bed.

January 2008 Goodies

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Yes, Ylläs (and some other) entries are still going to happen! From 09:00 last Sunday through to 23:00 last Friday 100% of my computer/net time belonged to work. I was in Germany dealing with some stuff. Getting back late on Friday night I turned off all the computers and spent the entire weekend computerless. A rare luxury, but one that means that things don’t get done.

When I got back from Germany a box of goodies from my mum back in WA was waiting for me. Plus, I grabbed a couple of bottles of whisky from the tax-free in Heathrow. Plus, we did a trip into London on Saturday and visited a catering store and Borough Market.

January 2008 Goodies

The image above contains, left-to-right & top-to-bottom:

  • Quattro Foglie ORO — Extra virgin olive oil from the EEVO stall at Borough Market.
  • Mum’s Quince Jelly — My all time favourite!
  • Promite — Never found this in the UK, I hate Vegemite and love Promite.
  • Mum’s Brinjal Ajvar — An Indian eggplant chutney, Kat’s favourite (she eats it from the jar if I’m not looking!)
  • Mum’s Duhhah — Perfect with the EEVO we got!
  • Mum’s Indian Tomato Kasundi — Great with everything.
  • Mum’s Tangerine Dream marmalade — Never tried it but it’ll be good.
  • Three wines from “back home” — The brute force of Aussie wines is quite a shock after months of mellower wines.
  • Aberlour 12yo — My favourite of the two, sweet and smooth.
  • Cragganmore “Distillers Edition” — Good solid flavour, maybe a “lighter” cousin in flavour to my favourite: Lagavulin 16yo. (No apostrophe on the bottle?!)

We also grabbed a couple of great cheeses, including the organic, unpasteurised Stilton that I can’t get enough of. At the catering shop we just picked up a few things missing from the inventory:

  • Butter Dish — I hate keeping butter in the fridge but we didn’t really have a spare dish with a cover and couldn’t be bothered with cling-flim.
  • Food Mill — The best way to make many soups and tomato sauce, alas, not the classic Moulin (the one they had was too big and too expensive).
  • Mandolin — Again this isn’t the mandolin but an 80% cheaper Japanese rip-off. Will see how long it lasts.
  • Conical sieve set — Hard to find but most useful, they didn’t have any muslin unfortunately but that’s easy to find elsewhere.
  • Grater — It is so hard to find a good grater!
  • Oil Jars — With pouring spouts so I don’t get an oily thumb and don’t splosh too much EEVO on dinner.



Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Hm, before Mary posted this I’d never even considered that someone old enough to talk wouldn’t know “Meat is made from animals.” After reading this story, and the one linking to it, it begins to sound normal. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did grow up in a restaurant — so maybe my world was different. After all, in butchers and the like it’s normal to see very animal-like carcasses hanging around, literally. But even thinking of the humble whole chicken found in most shops, how can anyone mistake that as something that wasn’t once walking around? Then again, I’m not four years old.

Maybe it’s an American, land of plastic food, thing? Or a city thing? But even in Sydney the animalness of meat seems clear. In inner Sydney butchers (the good ones) carcasses are hanging, and chicken feet are on display (OK, maybe western Sydney for the latter).

I call beef “cow” and pork “pig” and have for a very long time I think. We had laying hens back home and the link to what was on our plates was unmistakable, I’d have thought. Only once did we try to eat one of our own chickens… that was mostly because I wanted to. I killed it and, IIRC, plucked it (Mum might have) and Mum cleaned it. It was baked but, while tasty, turned out to be rather tough. His name was “Elvis”. My sister was rather upset, you see, I killed the wrong rooster. I killed the one she’d named. (But she never went vego!)

We didn’t try to repeat this experiment with other excess roosters I killed. They fertilised the occasional lucky tree. One rooster had to be killed twice, I stuffed up the first attempt. For the brief period between his killings this rooster was dubbed Lazarus. This is the time I learnt that it was better to use the axe than try to break the neck (there’s a technique to that that I didn’t know at the time). In a note of defence, to the person keeping laying hens roosters are an inconvenience, one is OK (you need a succession after all) but they can be mean to the hens and are noisy.

I hope that in the future I have the chance to do it properly. I’m better informed now, I know that a rooster as old as the one we roasted (in it’s second year) isn’t right for roasting, but is good for, say, Cock-au-Vin.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Waitrose, a supermarket, yes, most exciting. Why? Well a Waitrose just moved to Rickmansworth and is now our closest supermarket. Previously Ricky had the choice of just a medium sized Tesco and a small sized Marks & Spencer (and “Iceland”, if you count a frozen-goods store as a supermarket). We became Tesco shoppers, since the local M&S’s stock range is too limited to be of much use. M&S became the useful “cold meat and cheese stop” as it is only about 3 minutes away, while Tesco, a 10 minute walk, did for our weekly shopping.

Here in the UK supermarkets seem to have a class structure. Tesco is pretty much right in the middle, while M&S and Sainsbury’s position themselves as pretty classy. At the bottom of the class ladder are Morrisons and Aldi, while, at the top, Waitrose seems to lord it over the rest. So now Ricky has a high-class supermarket, if such a thing can exist (real class is not having to care about the shopping, let alone how or where it is done). This is all rather different from the situation back home in Australia where, generally, a supermarket is a supermarket with either Coles and Woolies being it, though there is a light sprinkling of “budget” chains like BiLo mostly to be found in less metropolitan areas (all owned by Coles or Woolies anyway).

It seems that Waitrose is now going to be our supermarket of choice, we’re just so bloody classy. Not only is it just across the train tracks from us (a one minute stroll aided by an overpass) but it also has brilliant variety! Though smaller than the Tesco-extra in Watford, which we had to stop shopping at when we dumped the car, it still seems to kill it on variety. One prime example is game meats, today we tallied up farmed venison, duck, and goose; plus game birds of pheasant, partridge, wood pigeon, and mallard! At a supermarket. They have a good range of “fresh” seafood, some good beers (including some of the St Peter’s range, though not any of our favourites), and more “foreign muck” than you can point a stick at. The only department they fail in a little is wholefoods, but they’re at least as good at the local Tesco on that front.

The vegies and general meats look decent too but I’ll stick to the little high street Chris Blake Butchers (chain) and Mark’s Fruits for these needs. So long as they can provide what I want I prefer to stick to the small guys, I’ll leave Waitrose for the occasional exotic ingredient.

The sudden existence of this new supermarket has me pondering local retail economics. How will this affect the Tesco and M&S? I assume the Tesco will suffer a decent drop in revenue as it was formerly the only resonable general supermarket in town. At the same time, I don’t think it’ll be as much as one might expect. While Waitrose was packed last Sunday this Sunday it was really rather quiet, I think a lot of people looked around and saw the same old stuff they get at Tesco and a whole load of stuff they don’t care about. Waitrose prices tend to be a little higher than Tesco prices, though I think the goods are a bit better in many cases, and people set a lot of importance in differences even as low as 5 quid per week. I think Waitrose is in a convenient position, but I live right in the middle of town and don’t have a car, anyone who drives isn’t going to care either way. The M&S could suffer quite a lot, I think it previously only really had any point due to it’s central location. Having a new “classy” supermarket nearby that is 5 times the size might be bad for it. I’d expect to find that many of the customers attracted to Waitrose will actually come from a local pool of people who drive to Watford for their groceries (as we did when we had a car), thus not having so great an impact on the local stores.

I do fear for the small High Street veggie shop and butcher though. Waitrose easily outdoes them on range, maybe on price. Like I said, I’ll stick to the little shops (everything’s a one minute walk away) but for many the convenience of the supermarket may overrule.

As for Waitrose, my fear is that very few locals will be interested in the items they stock that excite me. If nobody buys game birds they’ll stop stocking them and stock more bacon or something instead. Yay. Time will tell, I think Waitrose stock variety will be an interesting observational study (what kind of nerd am I?).

Enough of this dullardry! It’s just a bloody supermarket. (With game birds!)

Regulated Up The Backside And Back Again

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I come from a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, where unpasteurised cheeses and charcuterie (salamis, etc) were made illegal to “protect people”. Want to move to Australia? Remember to say your fond farewell’s to the likes of Roquefort! Australian Camembert is to a good French unpasteurised version as chewing a candle is to a bite of good vintage cheddar.

In essence, moving to the UK has been a real experience when it comes to unpasteurised meat and dairy products! If I was to move back to “The Antipodes”, as some Poms inaccurately label my homeland, I’d have to a) first learn charcuterie and cheese making, and b) move to a farm. (Actually, this sounds like my dream life! The problem with dreams is always the practicalities.)

This is all a digression leading up to the main point: tonight I found this article.

A sad story of proposed EU guidelines that may make life very difficult for some, requiring restaurants to place detailed ingredient lists on their menus (frankly, beyond the important bits, I just don’t need to know) and probably mostly kill random preserves at markets. It just isn’t necessary, if you’re allergic to something stay away from unlabelled foods. It’s like some the fabled idiot with an acute sesame allergy who goes to a thai restaurant and dies. Don’t punish the restaurant, this is natural selection at work! How it is that governments form these nanny-state rules that most individuals would think are ridiculous?

I hope the current exemptions hold. I hope, dearly, not to see the UK or EU adopt rules that subtract a little joy from the lives of many for the sake of a very small minority. If anything is to be done I’d propose sticking great big warning labels to food with slogans like: “Unpasteurised Food May Harm You”, “This Cheese Could KILL YOUR BABY”, “Unlabelled Food May Be POISION”. It’s how they handle the cigarettes. Seriously, if buying cigarettes and alcohol can be legal then why not a bloody unpasteurised cheese?

C’mon EU, what the bloody hell are ya?

Beer and Cheese

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Well, it’s happening — through time I’m finding things in the UK that fill in some of the gaps left from Sydney. One of these gaps is beer; cheese isn’t one, England thrashes Australia on the cheese front (I guess we have to give them a chance somewhere). This Saturday we did one of our trips into Borough Market and discovered some great beer while picking up some excellent cheese.


Two Beer Girl
Two Beer Girl

After our, now traditional, “three posh bangers in a roll” from the Stoney Street Café we noted the “porter” in “Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House” for the first time. We had three great beers (two porters, one stout), at a slightly hefty price tag of 5-6 quid per 500ml bottle! Next time we’ll have to try some of the oysters and maybe the deep fried squid. There was a stand next to us, out the front of the premises, where a guy shucked oysters and generated mouth watering aromas by deep-frying squid for passers-by.

With porter on my mind (and in my belly) we wandered into the Utobeer stall in the market. Amongst their excellent range of beer was one of the porters we’d just had, along with as everything from stubbies of VB (hrm) to Chimay Bleu (mmm). We left with a small sample of beers to try, a bottle of the St Peter’s Old Style Porter we’d just had along with it’s Honey Porter and Cream Stout brethren (the oval bottles they use are very distinctive) and an Okell’s Aile Smoked Celtic Porter (because it sounded interesting). The over-the-counter prices for these beers is a rather more palatable ~2.50 each.

The St Peter’s beers, along with the nearby Brew Wharf are now on our “see, the English can make beer” tour of London. St. Peter’s also has a pub with their cask ales: the Jerusalem Tavern, in Clerkenwell (EC1). We’ll be checking it out soon!

Taking a quick detour; far out of London in Alyesbury, I’ve recently been led to Hop Pole (“Aylesbury’s permanent beer festival“). A pub with a great range of cask ales on tap, many from the local area. The Vale Pale Ale and the Grand Union Honey Porter are both excellent. Unfortunately this discovery comes near the end of the time I’ll be in Aylesbury regularly (after more than a year), a bit late! If you ever happen to be there and after a beer, the Hop Pole Inn is the place to go (it’s on Bicester Road, only about a 10 minute walk from the town centre).


Cheese is a different matter. The cheese situation here in the UK was clearly superior to that in Australia from the start. Even in Tesco (like Coles) you can get a great range of local and continental cheese. Sheep, buffalo, goat, even cow. Unpasteurised and pasteurised. Soft, hard, old, and mouldy. That’s just Tesco. My first unpasteurised Camembert was an education in it’s self, and after a year the lesson has only just begun.

As I’ve already covered, we get some great parmesan from Borough Market. As well as the parmesan people there are always many other stalls with great cheese; the luxurious, velvety Comté, the delicate and tasty Caerphilly (sold by authentic hairy Welsh gentlemen), the small stalls with 100s of different cheeses, and then there’s also the slicker Neal’s Yard shop on Park Street.

Cheese & Stout
Cheese & Stout

As well as our usual parmesan purchase we grabbed an exquisite unpasteurised Stilton from one of the stalls. Alas, I cannot remember it’s name, I can remember that it comes from Nottinghamshire (almost a “duh” is seems), can also be found at Neal’s Yard (but isn’t listed on their website), and tastes glorious. We just ate some of it with the St. Peter’s Cream Stout — one last thing to add: ner ner.

All the specialist cheese stalls (stalls which provide just one or two specific cheeses) have bits out for tasting, as does Neal’s Yard, so you don’t have to take my word on any of this. Get yourself to the market and eat cheese!

New Zealand Wasabi

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

NZ Wasabi powder
NZ Wasabi


Not long ago, while trawling the web for wasabi, I found New Zealand Wasabi, and with little delay I put in an order. It’s not fresh wasabi unfortunately (which could be a bit of a shipping problem from NZ to the UK! Wasabi might even be a weapon of terror.) The story is that anything other than real, fresh wasabi is just not right — alas I have not had the pleasure of real wasabi’s company and it doesn’t seem overly eager to meet me.

NZ Wasabi goes a long way to bringing you the real thing: “It only contains one ingredient — Wasabia Japonica rhizome.“. I imagine it’d be possible to have fresh wasabi delivered too, but you’d need to come to some sort of commercial arrangement. Our humble buying power only allows access to the snorting-grade powdered goods. Judging from information on their website they’ve put a lot of effort into perfecting the growing conditions; so much so they have patented their growing system. It sounds like a great business they’ve got running there, I hope their success continues.

We eagerly awaited the arrival of our wasabi package, the fateful day came upon us and we were the proud recipients of three small jars (12g) and three medium cannisters (50g) of real wasabi powder. One hiccup did occur, the smaller jars were a bit old and the wasabi powder had a rather disturbing “bruised avocado” colour when mixed with water, while the powder from the larger containers produced a more appetising bright green colour. All is well though, the NZ Wasabi people immediately dispatched replacements along with some bonus chocolate! Not just real wasabi, also real customer service.

Wasabi powder
Wasabi powder

The wasabi is quite a different creature to the tubed horseradish “wasabi” we’re used to. The colour is much the same, as is the nature of the nose-tingling hotness. The flavour is significantly different, the horseradish “wasabi” tastes much like horseradish — the real wasabi tastes like, well, like wasabi I guess. On the matter of “ouch” the fake wasabi initially seemed to have significantly more bite, but we’re discovering that the potential bite of the rehydrated wasabi powder seems to increase with the level-of and time-since rehydration. The wetter and longer-rehydrated the hotter it gets. (Within reason! I’m talking thick paste for 30 minutes, we’re not laying down bottles of watery wasabi to age.)

I recommend giving this real wasabi a go if you’re keen to explore such things, with the buying power of the GBP against the NZD it doesn’t seem too horrific — our 186g of wasabi cost us 18GBP. That’s OK, considering that a 43g tube of very wet wasabi horseradish paste from Tesco costs 89p. I can’t guess exactly how much wasabi powder is used to make a gram of paste, but I think the cost delta wouldn’t be all that terrible with hydration taken into account. Based on our usage so far this supply will last us a good while. However at this price it’d be difficult to consider the cost worthwhile in Australia, where the price would be the same.