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How long did it take for me to get the perfect crackling on a loin of pork?

Thirty-one years.

I tried everything.

The secret to excellent crackling follows, but let us also look at the basics of buying a pork loin rib for roasting.

This is probably more pertinent to readers living in the UK and possibly a few Commonwealth countries than elsewhere. I’d never encountered crackling until I moved here.

You will need two roasting tins, coarse salt and sturdy kitchen scissors.

At the butcher’s

Ask your butcher for a loin of pork that has a good rim of fat on it.

He will produce a large rib from which he will cut your roasting joint. He will also ask how many ribs you would like.

A seven-rib joint will serve 14-16 people comfortably. We like leftovers, so we had roast dinner for four nights running and sandwiches on two other nights. A roast pork sandwich with butter and mayonnaise is Proustian to me. It also works well with pickle.

In 2022, a seven-rib joint costs between £34 and £36.

Ask the butcher to chine the joint (for easier carving) and to score the skin.

Crackling — and roast — preparation

At home, an hour or two before cooking anything, boil a large pan or roasting tin of water for the crackling. Either vessel should be half full of water.

Meanwhile, remove the crackling portion by carefully cutting the skin with as thick a layer of fat as you can from the roasting joint. Set it aside on a board or a plate.

Make sure you leave a thin bit of fat covering the meat on the joint. Season the joint well with salt and pepper and set it aside on a cutting board or platter.

When the pan or roasting tin of water is up to a rapid boil, carefully drop the skin into it and cook it for five to ten minutes. Reverse the skin and cook on the other side — the fatty one — for five minutes.

I learned about the boiling technique on a television show from a French chef who said that his mother always prepared crackling that way. Gordon Ramsay uses the same method.

It works.

Remove the crackling portion from the boiling water and place it on a plate. When it has cooled, carefully pat it dry with kitchen towel and put it on a dry plate. Refrigerate it for one to two hours.

Roasting the crackling

The chilled crackling should go into the oven 20 minutes before the meat. It will take about two to two-and-a-quarter hours to roast.

Method:

1/ Preheat the oven to 200°C (395°F).

2/ You will need a smaller roasting tin and coarse salt, which is a must.

3/ Rub coarse salt all over both sides of the crackling, including between the crevices of the skin. Make sure you adhere to good hand and food hygiene as you don’t want to contaminate your salt container with raw pork bacteria.

4/ Place the crackling in the roasting tin and put it on the top shelf of the oven. Roast for 20 minutes.

5/ When you are ready to roast the meat (see below), move the crackling to the lower shelf and reduce the heat to 180°C (350°F).

6/ After an hour, remove the crackling, pour any excess fat into a mixing jug and return the crackling to the lower shelf to continue roasting.

7/ After another hour, remove the crackling tray from the oven and strain the remaining excess fat into the jug. (Once the fat has cooled, pour it into a clean jar with a lid, refrigerate and use for pan frying fish or roasting it in the oven — a great substitute for deep frying.)

8/ After two hours, your crackling is done if you can cut it easily with kitchen scissors. If it does not cut easily, return it to the lower shelf for another 15 to 20 minutes.

9/ When the crackling is done, remove the pan from the oven and set it on a board to cool. Once cooled, cut it into large strips with kitchen scissors.

Roasting and carving the meat

Roasting the meat is straightforward.

Method:

1/ Put the seasoned joint of seven ribs (see above) on the top shelf of a 180°C (350°F) oven for one hour and 45 minutes.

2/ When done, remove the roast to a carving tray and let it cool for 30 to 45 minutes.

3/ When it has sufficiently cooled, begin carving the meat. Carefully remove the rib bones and place them in a large saucepan so that you can make stock. Fill the saucepan with water and place on the stovetop on medium heat for two hours. The stock should reduce by half. Season the stock with salt and pepper. Leave to cool for a few hours before decanting and refrigerating for later use. (I use large mayonnaise jars or litre-sized soft drinks containers. They do need lids or bottletops.)

4/ When you are left with just the meat, carve it into thin slices. These photos show what the slices should look like.

Sauce

While the meat is cooling, make a sauce, or gravy, to accompany the meat. I use a combination of Port and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of any meat or vegetable stock I’ve made previously.

This takes about 20 minutes.

Method:

1/ Heat the empty roasting tin on the stovetop, placing 50g (2oz) of butter and 50g (2oz) of flour in it to cook until bubbly. This is the beginning of a roux.

2/ Once the butter and flour are bubbly, have a whisk ready. Add a good splash of Port and whisk until the roux and the wine come together in a thick mass.

3/ Slowly add meat or vegetable stock a little at a time, whisking between each addition until smooth. The sauce will gradually get thinner until it resembles jus, a lightly-textured gravy.

4/ When the sauce is ready, add the meat to the sauce in the pan and gently warm it through over low heat. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high two or three minutes before serving so that everything is hot.

Serving

Place the meat covered in sauce with a piece of crackling on the side of the plate.

Wrap any leftover crackling in aluminium foil and refrigerate it. Reheat it on the foil the next day at 180°C (350°F) for five minutes.

I have prepared crackling this way for a year, and it is the best yet.

One of my good friends and I occasionally discuss whether all calories are alike.

His perspective on losing weight involves eating less, full stop.

Mine involves eating the right kind of foods, which the body has to work harder to digest.

On Monday, June 20, 2022, an article appeared in the Daily Mail, ‘Counting calories is a waste of your time, says gut health guru Dr Megan Rossi’.

Here is the essential part of the article (emphases mine):

with highly processed foods, most of the food matrix has already been broken down for us by machines, making the calories more accessible (so the figures on the labels for ultra-processed foods are a more accurate measure of what our body absorbs).

Another reason for not focusing on calories is that not all calories are equal, because of food’s thermogenic effect. This is when you burn calories while eating and digesting. In other words, your body’s processing will counter some of the calories — and here’s the important bit — depending on the specific food.

Whole foods such as fruit, veg and nuts that need chewing, breaking down and more digesting have a higher thermogenic effect than ultra-processed foods.

And the calories from highly processed foods are much more readily available. For example, a KitKat and a banana might contain similar calories and your food-tracking app won’t treat them any differently — but your body will.

One study in particular (published in 2010 by Pomona College, Claremont, in the U.S.) found that the body burns nearly 50 per cent fewer calories digesting a meal of processed foods than after a whole-food meal, even if both contain the same total of carbs, fat and protein.

It might not sound enough to make a lot of difference, but over a month, a year, a lifetime, it certainly adds up.

Further research in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2019 found that people told to eat as much as they liked gained more weight when given ultra-processed foods than when having unprocessed options — again, even when the meals were matched for carbs, fat and protein.

This supports what I’ve seen in clinic: limiting processed foods is a better weight-management strategy than counting calories.

These sorts of findings are repeated time and time again, and explain why we often don’t experience a lasting feeling of fullness after eating processed foods. For instance you might feel stuffed after a fast-food meal, yet weirdly ready to eat more an hour later.

If a food has already been broken down for you, your body has less work to do and it’s less satisfying. An apple takes longer to eat and is way more filling than apple sauce, which itself is more satiating than a glass of apple juice. That’s because a whole fruit contains fibre and water bound up in that food matrix.

Unlike me, Dr Rossi is big on plant-based diets. However, she did have something interesting to say about gut bacteria, which she says is a:

secret weapon … These, and the chemicals they make when they digest plant fibre, can affect appetite.

These chemicals, such as short-chain fatty acids, tell our body we’ve had enough. This halts the production of hunger hormones such as ghrelin, and increases the ‘I’m full’ hormones such as leptin.

Other chemicals produced by our gut microbiota are thought to target the reward network in the brain, which influences our relationship with food and our tendency towards emotional eating.

Microbes and their by-products have also been linked with ‘turning on’ genes related to fat distribution. Added to the fact that our microbes may influence our taste receptors, it’s pretty clear that having a higher body weight is way more complex than simply eating too much and not exercising enough. So feed your gut microbes and it’s likely to keep everything else in check.

This is why it is important to prepare meals from scratch. Even at my busiest during my working years, which included being in the office at the weekends, I always made time to prepare two sets of dinners for the days ahead. I could take one portion out from the freezer every day and put it in the refrigerator. It was thawed by the time I got home that evening.

Ready meals never gave me as full a feeling, so to speak, as homemade dinners did.

The same goes for treats, such as cakes and biscuits. Baking with butter and sugar produces a more satisfying result than buying something off the shelf made with vegetable oil and corn syrup. Consequently, one eats less of a homemade sweet treat than an industrial product.

The answer to obesity is to eat fewer processed foods, especially carbohydrates, and to focus on natural fats and proteins instead.

The ketogenic diet is a way of eating, for life. It makes food more enjoyable and satisfying.

On Saturday, June 18, 2022, a group of Telegraph columnists shared the lessons they learned at the age of 40.

‘What I wish I had known at 40’ is a thought-provoking article and worth sharing with younger family members. I hope that Prince William, who is reaching this milestone on June 21, reads it.

Some of these columnists are well over 40 now, which makes their observations all the more worthwhile.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Janet Daley had no choice but to leave her academic career abruptly, aged 40:

Not very long after my 40th birthday, I lost the career to which I had devoted my adult life. From the time I arrived at university – which seemed to me like heaven on earth – I had never wanted to be anything other than an academic …  But then came one of those brutal moves for which academic life is notorious: my department was closed down and I was out. It was like a bereavement. My family were for a time seriously worried about my emotional stability.

But there was, as you may have guessed, to be a whole new chapter. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, newspapers were at that time expanding exponentially. This was just after the Wapping revolution when the press was freed from the decline to which the domination of the print unions had once condemned it. This liberation also encompassed the old National Union of Journalists rule, which had made it very difficult for Fleet Street to hire writers who had not served years of apprenticeship on provincial newspapers. Those two factors combined to allow me to enter what would always have been a natural alternative profession. I started out as a commentator for The Times. Then The Independent – only recently launched and very fashionable – offered me a column. Then, a year later, The Times brought me in as a columnist. Five years after that, I joined The Telegraph, where I have had a happy home ever since.

So what do I wish I had known back in that period of grief and hopelessness in my 40s? That you can reinvent yourself at almost any point in your life, and that there is a world of possibilities out there if you refuse to be defeated by despair.

Bryony Gordon is still learning, every day:

It wasn’t that long ago that I turned 40 – I will be 42 in a couple of weeks – but two years in pandemic years is like 20 years in normal human years, so perhaps I have managed to gather some pieces of advice for my marginally younger self. Namely: don’t trust your Prime Minister, don’t imagine you’ll ever go abroad again, and don’t wait to get work done on the kitchen, because building materials are going to be more pricey than printer’s ink.

Practical matters aside, I wish I had known that I didn’t have to live in fear. Fear of failure, fear of not doing enough, fear of losing everyone I love. If I have learnt anything in the past two years, it’s that I have very little control over anything, so I might as well start enjoying life, instead of waiting anxiously for it to end. At 40, nothing is certain any more – not immortality, not oestrogen, not the 8.47 to Waterloo. You can sit around railing at the unfairness of it all, or you can start sucking the delicious juice out of what you do have. This is the option I have decided to take, but only after a fair bit of railing, flailing and pain.

But what do I wish I’d known most at 40? That I barely know anything at all, and if I’m lucky, I’ve got a whole lot of learning on the way. Bring it on, I say.

Christopher Howse recounts the mistakes of his his middle years and says:

At 40 I still hadn’t realised that almost everyone’s troubles were as big as mine. It took a few more years to swim along with other people cheerfully. The worst thing would have been to make my woes define me against a world that was to blame for my miseries. But now, like minnows in a stream lit up by the English sun, we swim one way, then swirl round in formation, then dart explosively apart. It’s better than solitary splashing, exhilarated one moment and towed under a dark wave the next. To me it looks like the Prince learnt to swim some time ago.

Judith Woods says that it is important to be oneself:

I wish I’d known at 40 that it’s not too late. To start a lifelong quest. To end a toxic friendship. To be reckless. To be careful. To be, in George Eliot’s immortal words, what you might have been. If only your inner critic could be silenced …

I spent my early life worrying, ruminating and second-guessing what “other people” thought of me, would think of me if I went blonde, brought supermarket wine to a dinner party or let my baby daughter have a dummy. Silly things. Stressful things.

Finally, at 40 I started to realise that unless anyone (by which I mean someone who mattered) explicitly said something to the contrary, it was safe to assume my dress wasn’t too short, my work was fine, I didn’t say anything unforgivably awful in the pub and I was not a high-functioning failure, in danger of being outed at any moment.

Do princes suffer from impostor syndrome? Apart from the one moonlighting as a pauper in Mark Twain’s classic novel, I suspect not. An heir to a throne is, of necessity, schooled in resilience as well as tireless public service.

Here in the cheap seats, I’m more than a decade ahead of the Duke of Cambridge and can joyfully report that not giving a monkey’s about other people’s (unvoiced and entirely putative) opinions of how dreadful I am is gloriously liberating. Curtailing the self-sabotage remains a work in progress of course. But it’s never too late to begin.

On a similar note, Michael Deacon points out that, at age 40, one can finally ditch the conformity that defined one’s youth:

We think of the young as rebels, but in reality the opposite is true. The young are conformists, desperate conformists. In everything they do they crave acceptance, perhaps not from their parents or teachers, but always from those their own age – and in particular from those they deem to be cooler or more attractive than they are.

And inevitably this frantic, fevered craving makes them unhappy, because it compels them to do things they don’t really want to, things they don’t actually enjoy. They force themselves to go to parties they’d been dreading, go clubbing even if they hate the music, buy clothes they know don’t suit them, pretend to love books they’ve never read – and all in a neurotic attempt to impress others, or at least to avert their contempt.

By 40, however, all that nonsense has dissolved. We go out when we want to, and stay in when we don’t. We choose the music, films and books we genuinely enjoy, rather than slog our way through unrelieved tedium in a miserable bid to seem clever and sophisticated. We lose all interest in the concept of cool, and accept our tastes and our views as they actually are. We allow ourselves to think what we really think, rather than what we think we should think. In short: we start being honest – both with others, and with ourselves.

No longer do we have time to worry about how we might look to people we don’t even know. This is the wonderful thing about middle age. Things that don’t matter don’t matter any more.

I couldn’t agree more. My 20s were miserable, especially as I was still trying to find my own identity as a person — and be accepted for my foibles.

I was so relieved to turn 30. It felt as if a shroud had been lifted from me.

At 40, I was even happier in myself. At 50 and 60, my personal happiness increased. Long may it continue.

I am closing with Philip Johnston’s warning about weight increase after the age of 40. Monitor it and get rid of it:

My advice is mundanely practical. Remember that just putting on a mere 1lb in weight a year can add two stone by the time you are in your 60s, so watch what you eat. I wish I’d taken a friend’s advice on reaching 40 to apply for MCC membership as I’d be in by now, just. I wish I’d taken up those Italian classes and properly learned the piano but didn’t. Do it. As Housman said, the land of lost content cannot come again.

But I also like the somewhat opaque observation of the American rock singer Bob Seger: I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.

On the subject of weight gain and loss, one of the greatest British success stories is that of Labour’s Tom Watson, who used to be the party’s deputy leader.

On Monday, June 20, 2022, The Telegraph interviewed him to find out his dieting secrets. The article has before and after pictures.

Excerpts follow:

In 2018 the former Labour deputy leader astounded everyone when he lost eight stone, going from 22st to 14st in two years and reversing his type 2 diabetes, going on to write the bestselling book Downsizing

Watson still admits to the occasional eating binge and has to resist temptation when he goes down the biscuit aisle in the supermarket:

Watson will never be free of the urge to eat sugar. The mere thought of a Hobnob can still have him salivating. If he finds himself needing to re-fuel on the go he’ll grab a packet of turkey slices from the likes of M&S. “But I could so easily go to the biscuit aisle and eat a packet there and then,” he says.

He has another book out about his weight loss:

Calling his new book Lose Weight 4 Life might at first seem a bit of a boast. As Watson says: “That’s a heavy and onerous responsibility I’ve given myself there”.

However, the title in fact refers to the cycle of small setbacks followed by resets that are inevitable.

Not every day will be a success, and those losing weight will have to adapt to good days and bad:

“You are losing weight for life because you’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to put a bit of weight on and have to learn how to put yourself in the mood to shift it. Whether it’s logging your food that week, or starting to take your measurements, as long as you’ve got a reset programme that brings you back to the journey, you’re going to be OK.”

Multiple times during our interview he tells me that weight loss is a “journey, not a destination”.

In Week One, he advocates:

  • creating and maintaining a log of food consumption along with one’s weight;
  • preparing oneself mentally;
  • avoiding getting down when one has not lost weight;
  • taking it one day at a time and reviewing the food log to see if any bad habits are apparent. If so, those are the ones on which to focus.

He makes it clear that what works for him might not work for someone else:

Not everything he did, he makes clear, will work for everyone else, but it’s a place to start.

His overall strategy is to adopt the keto way of eating:

Watson’s reset is to go keto, cutting back on the carbs.

If he was a minister now he’d be reengineering the British breakfast away from sugary cereals back to Fay Weldon’s ‘Go to work on an egg’, he says.

Cutting carbs also means cutting out beer:

he hasn’t had a beer in five years (“Too much sugar”), now favouring spirits such as vodka and gin.

Correct. Dry wine is also good with meals.

He also advocates the following:

  • not eating straight from the fridge; place your food on a plate and eat it with cutlery;
  • avoid snacking when going to parties;
  • don’t despair if your clothes suddenly feel tight; recalibrate and carry on;
  • pay attention to what is going on in your life and how it can affect your eating habits;
  • build a support group of friends who can help keep you on track;
  • get plenty of sleep; lack of it can cause people to gain weight.

I have a lot of posts about the ketogenic diet, which also improves mood, just the thing one needs at age 40 and beyond.

In closing, to my readers in the Northern Hemisphere, best wishes for the summer!

And many happy returns to Prince William on his special day.

Of all the Red Wall MPs, Lee Anderson’s star shines the brightest among true conservatives.

Those who missed the first two instalments of his profile can read them here and here.

Anderson-Bray latest

I left off with Anderson’s exchanges with Steve Bray, who lives up to his surname. For years, he has been on the open spaces around Parliament, e.g. College Green, braying against Brexit. He appears to be crowdfunded. He is very loud and the police won’t move him along. As for MPs taking action, not enough witnesses will come forward to corroborate his disturbances with them or with employees on the estate. After six or so years, he should really find a proper job.

The latest instalment in Bray-Anderson story took place on June 9, 2022:

Guido Fawkes has the story and the video (red emphases in the original):

The ongoing war of words between Red Wall Rottweiler Lee Anderson and Professional Loiterer Steve Bray has taken another dramatic turn. Yesterday, after Bray once again tried to confront Anderson on College Green, Lee bit back by asking “why haven’t you been sectioned yet?”. This, according to the London Economic, “sparked outrage”…

So much outrage that Shadow Mental Health Minister Rosena Allin-Khan demanded an immediate apology, claiming “MPs should not use mental health tropes when responding to criticism.”

Now, following Allin-Khan’s intervention, Anderson has offered a heartfelt apology. He tells Guido:

I will be apologising to the good people of London as it would appear Lord Bray has slipped through the net and quite clearly should be getting help.

Don’t count on it…

No doubt, the story will run and run.

Food banks

One story the whole nation knows about is Lee Anderson’s views on home cooking in light of food bank use.

One month ago, on Wednesday, May 11, a week after local elections, Anderson, who participates at his local food bank, said in Parliament:

There’s not this massive use for food banks in this country. We’ve got generation after generation who cannot cook properly, they can’t cook a meal from scratch, they cannot budget.

Guido has the video of his part in the Commons debate. Anderson invited any MP who wished to take him up on it an invitation to his local food bank in Ashfield. His food bank has a scheme whereby anyone who comes for food has to sign up to a budgeting course and a lesson in how to cook from scratch.

He rightly criticised the Labour MPs opposite for being out of touch and, fortunately, he said, out of power. Guido borrowed the motif from a popular BBC programme, Eat Well for Less:

Remember that, until 2018, Anderson was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. He joined the Conservatives that year.

It is also worth saying that Anderson was hardly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grew up in a mining family and said in another parliamentary speech that Labour’s poor education policies prevented him and his classmates from progressing in life. They all ended up working in the local mine when they left school.

Michelle Dewberry invited him on her show that evening to allow him to elaborate on his views. He told her that his mother and grandmother cooked from scratch every night.

In an interview with Dan Wootton (see below), he said that, for many years, he was a single parent, and also cooked fresh meals daily for his children.

Dewberry’s segment is worth watching:

Anderson and other food bank staff brought in a local, award-winning chef to do a cook off. He participated in it. He said that people can make a batch of meals for only 30p a portion. I can believe it.

He described it to Michelle Dewberry (emphases mine):

We did a small project where we took some school children and we spent £50, we filled a trolley up, we had a local chef, an award-winning chef.

We went back to the college and invited four other MPs and we had a bake off, like a cook off.

We prepared I think it was about 1700 meals and we put them in a container and froze them, now that’s enough to feed a family of five for about £50.

Now they’re not massive piles that people get at the local carvery, but they were enough, they were nutritious, good value meals.

He also told her:

My position is, yes, we have to support some people but, in the meantime, instead of throwing money at everything, let’s try and help people.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just food bank users who cannot — or won’t — cook, it’s also a lot of ordinary middle-class women. I’m nodding at the women who live on either side of me. There are countless more who rely on a) ready meals, especially the pricey ones from Marks & Spencer, and b) weekend roast lunches at the local carvery.

For a family of four — parents and two children — the sums add up pretty quickly, week after week.

The front pages from Thursday, May 12, were expectedly execrable, shouting that he was just another out of touch Conservative.

Metro is the free newspaper, available to all metropolitan commuters:

This was the headline from Labour’s house organ, The Mirror:

The story made GB News shows again that evening.

Colin Brazier invited left-wing Tom Pollard and conservative Benjamin Loughnane to debate what Anderson said in Parliament:

Pollard, not surprisingly, said that the poor are going through some really rough times. True, but one of the cheapest ways of saving a bit more of dole money is by getting smart by cooking at home. There’s nothing shameful about a hot dinner of a baked potato topped with hot baked beans. The potato can be done in the microwave and crisped up for 15 minutes in the oven. The beans can be poured out of the tin into a microwave-proof dish.

Loughnane said that he thought what Anderson said was well-intentioned and ‘not malicious’. He agreed that there were other ways to help people rather than monetarily. He said that the controversial element was that a Conservative MP had said it. However, Loughnane said that Conservative policies haven’t helped anyone’s cost of living very much, especially the poor.

Later that evening, Dan Wootton used the Anderson controversy for his lead editorial. He featured clips from all the televisual media — ITV, BBC, Sky — and said that their left-wing claims were false. Wootton said that Anderson made a practical point about the lack of cooking and budgeting skills in today’s households. He also played the full exchange from Parliament and explained that Anderson was a regular volunteer at the Ashfield food bank. He said that Anderson himself fed his two sons for 17 years by cooking from scratch:

Wootton interviewed Anderson later in the show:

Anderson said that there were also a lot of:

rich people who can’t cook, either, and that’s my whole point.

Wootton then went into Anderson’s background. The MP said:

I did struggle. I had to sell my car and walk everywhere. I’ve been that single parent.

As for what he said in Parliament:

What I alluded to … is common sense. The media have just run amok with it, really.

He said that it is better for him, as someone who has experienced living on the edge, to say what he did rather than some of his colleagues ‘who have been to Eton’.

Anderson said that food banks should be considered as a safety net not as a regular fixture in their lives. He supports people who are on hand to ask if those getting food parcels have problems with debt or money in general.

He added that he’d worked in his Citizen’s Advice Bureau and was used to encountering these types of issues from the people he helped.

I still have more on Lee Anderson to come next week.

He’s a no-nonsense, common-sense man who would make a great Prime Minister. It’s just a shame that he would never get that chance in the current political climate of Islington, the London borough that rules Westminster.

The metropolitan elites have done this country no favours at all. Lee Anderson and other Conservative MPs from modest backgrounds are trying their best to reset the balance.

Being a fan of the keto — low carb, high fat — diet, I was interested to read what an endocrinologist at Imperial College London’s Weight Centre discovered about weight loss and maintenance over the past six years, particularly during lockdown.

On March 28, 2022, The Telegraph featured Dr Saira Hameed’s findings: ‘How to lose weight — according to science’.

She developed the Imperial Satiety Protocol, the I-SatPro, six years ago. Her new book, The Full Diet, describes the protocol in detail. It involves more than food, delving into gut bacteria, sleep and exercise, too (emphases mine):

… she set up the I-SatPro (Imperial Satiety Protocol) six years ago, a fortnightly programme at her clinic, convinced that “if you share the science,” being able to “understand how your body works” could lead to lasting physical change. That programme is recreated in her new book, The Full Diet, which she believes can match the 14 per cent weight loss rate at her in-patient clinic.

The programme’s approach is both full and full-on: from food to movement, sleep, gut bacteria and exercise, all bases are covered. Like everything else in the world, I-SatPro went virtual when Covid hit – which was something of a blessing, Dr Hameed says, because the 14 fortnightly sessions, previously restricted to whatever room wasn’t booked up at Imperial, had their reach expanded significantly. There is no typical patient in each 15-strong cohort, though three-quarters are women (reflective of referrals generally for weight loss): their ages run from late teens to those in their 80s, from all walks of life, with a BMI upwards of 35. Dr Hameed says she stopped reading fiction two decades ago, when she became a doctor, because “my patients’ stories are more interesting”. 

It turns out that Dr Hameed’s findings on food are remarkably similar to the keto diet:

One of the reasons we have got fat, she thinks, is by cutting out fat (which is “delicious. Wouldn’t you rather eat the crispy skin as well as the roast chicken or sauté your vegetables in butter rather than eating them with a low-fat dressing?”), and “satisfying”. Eating creamy Greek yogurt, full of natural fats, both can’t be overdone and feels substantial; fullness being a key trait for stopping overeating.

Awareness of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, demonstrates the importance of the relationship between gut and brain – one modern ultra-processed foods are designed to derail even more. High sugar, high salt products with unrecognisable ingredient lists are the go-to for emotionally-driven eating – which Dr Hameed describes as “one of the biggest burdens” to all weight-loss treatments – and the fact it now makes up more than 50 per cent of our diets is a major cause for concern. Stick with one-ingredient foods, such as eggs, fish and nuts, and that issue goes away.

That said, she advocates eating only when hungry, because consuming anything too often — including protein — will lead to high insulin levels that convert fuel into fat storage:

Dr Hameed was on the Covid frontline until the summer of 2020 when she became pregnant with her fourth child: she believes most people “want to do the right thing” when it comes to protecting their health – particularly since the pandemic – but are often battling a tide of misinformation. One of the most common is around breakfast – which her patients routinely tell her they “know” is the most important meal of the day, and thus eat in spite of not being hungry. She tells them instead to wait until biology causes their hunger hormone to kick in, and to see each day’s food intake through the lens of an “eating window”.

Consuming anything – even the approved foods listed in the book – means sugar ending up in the blood, upping insulin levels that will convert fuel into fat storage; if we get up at 7am and are in bed by 11pm, that could mean 16 hours of food going in. Those following the programme can choose what their window looks like; either it opens or closes at a certain hour of the day, or lasts for a defined period of time. Not only does this keep insulin levels low – breaking down fat and assisting weight loss, as well as reducing the risk of insulin-driven diseases (such as type 2 diabetes)but it will “give your body the time to carry out essential repairs and resets”

That is so true. Being retired, I eat only once a day, in the evening. I have a normal one-course meal and rarely have dessert.

Hameed has a list of approved and forbidden foodstuffs. That said, there is enough variety for those following the protocol, preventing boredom:

the book’s “Choose Not to Eat List” includes offenders such as bananas, mangoes and grapes, “bread of any kind”, couscous and porridge. But Dr Hameed sees the book as a science-driven sum of parts; at the end of each chapter, like I-SatPro, “you get given a series of choices” which enable readers to decide what to do for themselves. “That element of choice is so, so, so important,” Dr Hameed, 43, says. People need “agency and ownership” over their health – and a plethora of rules “is probably counterproductiveif you give people information about anything, they should be free, then, to make choices about how they implement that in their everyday life. I think that’s the only way it can work, long-term.”

I agree.

However, I do disagree with the prohibition of ‘bread of any kind’. I am a keen bread baker and maintain my own sourdough mix. As long as the bread is fermented — allowed to rise once on the countertop, knocked back, then given time to rise again in the fridge (3°C) for one or two days — it will be fine. The result is a French-style, aerated artisan loaf, which is quite filling, given the holes. Weekend nights are sandwich nights in my house. I haven’t had any problem with weight control with fermented bread.

I do think that commercial bakery bread is a problem, though. That I would avoid.

So, the best bet is to learn how to bake bread at home. It’s cheaper and more satisfying.

But I digress.

Dr Hameed’s book includes simple exercise tips and her patients’ stories, which make it more interesting than a standard diet book:

She prescribes Neat or non-exercise activity thermogenesis; essentially, adding bits of movement to otherwise sedentary tasks. That can be standing on the train (even if there’s a seat); walking around when on a phone call, or offering to fetch something left elsewhere in the house. These are the kinds of small additions on which you can “build until it becomes just a natural part of how you’re living”.

Dr Hameed believes that where The Full Diet has the edge is that it features her patients’ stories. “These are real people with jobs, families, commitments, or with busy, busy lives, who have made it work. And I think that should really encourage the readers that if other real-life people can do it, then I can too”.

I would also recommend drinking three to four glasses of water a day to flush out the system. Incredibly, it will help with weight loss and maintenance.

Dr Hameed’s book goes on sale on March 31. I hope it is a great success.

As I continue to read through Jay Rayner‘s cookbook reviews from 2021, I ran across a comment from one of his readers concerning the sacramental nature of food:

Eating is a form of sacrament (word by which longstanding concepts of sacrifice, religion and shedding of blood are tied etymologically) because it is the point where a life is sacrificed and consumed for another life to be sustained. That is part of the reason for saying grace at meal times. For this reason, if you don’t connect food to ethics you’re not really doing food or ethics properly in my view. You have reduced food to another form of soulless consumerism rather than a sacrament.

That is the first time I’ve ever read such an explanation from an English speaker.

Plenty of French people consider a group lunch or dinner to be sacramental. In an episode of one of his television shows, the renowned chef Raymond Blanc actually said that dining together was a form of ‘Holy Communion’ (his words). He lifted up a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread to emphasise the point.

This concept elevates a lunch or dinner to an extraordinary experience, one to be respected as well as relished.

The concept is food for life rather than food as fuel.

In 1980s Britain, Marco Pierre White (MPW) was the original enfant terrible of young chefs.

He went on to win not only Michelin stars but also start the careers of the youngsters working in his kitchen at Harveys in Wandsworth Common, London.

Gordon Ramsay, Stephen Terry and Phil Howard all worked for MPW at the same time, more about which below.

However, more important is the bad rap that liver gets.

This is because most liver is cut into thin, shoe sole slices and is overcooked.

Whenever someone says to me, ‘Liver? Yuck!’, I tell them they’d love it if they ate it my way: thick with a somewhat crusty exterior and rare on the inside. A butcher will gladly cut liver to order.

A masterclass in cooking liver

Fortunately, Marco Pierre White likes it the same way and demonstrates how to cook liver properly in this video, which is around seven and a half minutes long. The liver recipe at the beginning only takes a couple of minutes to watch:

An Italian responding to the video says that this is (emphases mine below):

Fegato alla veneziana = Venetian liver. The mother of Marco grew up in Venice.

As is true of the most authentic Italian cuisine, this dish has three ingredients. Marco prepares sautéed liver, onions and adds a small amount of vinegar for the sauce.

The video begins with the sautéed onions on a plate with the vinegar added, making a sauce of sorts.

Now on to the liver:

1/ Marco salts the liver by hand from a great height, then grinds pepper on it the same way. This is because seasonings disperse better on food when applied from shoulder height.

2/ Marco dusts the thick slice of liver with flour, then shakes off the excess. He doesn’t say so, but you should season the flour with salt before dredging anything in it, even if you’ve already seasoned the main ingredient. Otherwise, what ever you cook in it will taste of just flour: terrible.

3/ He puts the liver in a preheated pan that has sizzling oil in it, just covering the bottom.

4/ When the liver has ‘caramelised nicely’ on the bottom, flip it over and cook until it is ‘nicely golden brown’. So, one side should be caramelised and the other golden brown.

5/ The finished product should be pink inside. Marco explains that this has to do with the temperature of the pan. If the pan is too hot, the flour on the outside of the liver will be scorched. If the pan is too cool, the liver goes soggy. Once you think it is cooked enough, lightly touch the top of the liver. If it springs back, it’s rare. The more the surface of the liver solidifies, the more well done it is, which is not what one wants.

If you don’t want to touch the liver, Marco says to watch for the blood to come to the top, at which point it is done.

6/ Remove the liver from the pan, let any excess fat drip off of it and put on top of the plated onions and vinegar sauce.

Because the video is old, the cut liver doesn’t look that pink. However, when Marco feeds one of his sous chefs a little bit from the top of a long knife, the sous chef says it’s great:

It’s the business.

Liver is an important protein:

Liver is actually one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat and therefore one of the healthiest food choices you can make. If you get and buy local or fresh sources you can it eat it raw and it’s even better for you that way. We humans would eat the liver raw right after a kill while hunting. I prefer to process it and bring it home.

Done properly, liver should be pink in the middle:

… yes, the liver should be still pink when plated otherwise the texture will be too tough!

A viewer made Marco’s Venetian liver and enjoyed it:

I have just prepared and eaten MPW’s onion liver. Yummy.

These days, Marco is the face of Knorr’s seasoning cubes:

Check out his section on the Knorr website. Excellent cooking ideas for the home cook to try out. He even managed to improve on my own Spaghetti bolognaise recipe, and I didn’t think that was possible!

The video comes from a late 1980s show on Channel 4, which had just started broadcasting. Channel 4 has always been known for its innovation in programming.

YouTube has more episodes, but there aren’t many, because MPW stopped filming halfway through the series. Another commenter says:

They only managed to film 3 episodes before Marco told them to get the f…k out of his kitchen, apparently it was supposed to be a 6 episode deal with the newly launched Channel 4. Sorry about that.

The video is so nostalgic. There’s smoking indoors! We even see the little square in the upper right hand corner of the screen, signalling that a commercial break was coming up:

Ahhhh the box with the diagonal lines in the right hand corner of the screen that told you the adverts were coming up took me back.

After Marco gives the sous chef a taste of the liver, they discuss their mentor, Albert Roux:

Albert Roux mentored Marco plus many of his crew at La Gavroche in the 80’s.

Apparently Marco worked at a butchers shop and a couple other little enterprises Albert ran as well.

This was the dialogue:

Chef: Albert Roux is my mentor.

Marco: OUR MENTOR.

In the 1980s, Marco Pierre White was known for his pre-Raphaelite looks, especially his hair. He looked like an angel but ran his kitchen like a demon:

Marco is a frightening man in the kitchen. Honestly doesn’t even compare to how Gordon treats his staff, this guy was just plain scary.

Gordon Ramsay wrote about his time with Marco:

Oh, believe me, Marco yelled at everyone in that kitchen from the chefs to the waiters, read one of Gordon’s books and he’ll tell you no one was safe.

Today, somewhat grizzled, MPW owns several branded restaurant enterprises that are franchise operations.

Harveys

Harveys opened in 1987. It was a small restaurant in South London. MPW co-owned it with another restaurateur, Nigel Platts-Martin.

It attracted celebrities and, despite its size, was a bit of a status symbol. No doubt the French maître d’ and French waiters helped.

MPW hired young male sous chefs and commis who, somehow, managed to dance around each other in a demanding kitchen environment:

I can’t believe there are not more fights … Look how they are all crammed in there running around so close and for 12 hours a day.

In the video, he tells the interviewer what he wants from his staff:

Interviewer: “What it is it you want out of them?”

Marco: “I want loyalty, I want finesse out of the them.”

There was only ever one woman in MPW’s brigade, and she did not appear until the late 1980s or early 1990s:

Chef Gigi Mon Ami worked with Gordon Ramsay when he was Sous Chef at Marco Pierre White’s Michelin rated “Harvey’s” restaurant in Wandsworth Common, U.K. Gigi wrote about it in Moon On A Platter, but she also taught Culinary Fine Dining @ JobCorps- and said Gordon actually was very nice to her; kind of looked after her in Marco’s kitchen cuz he had hired her as a joke; she was the only girl in the kitchen, late 80’s. Ever since then, kind of a soft spot for Ramsay – that’s the way European kitchens were in the 80’s and into the 90’s before everything was PC.

Chef Gigi Mon Ami from San Francisco even wrote a book about it, Moon On A Platter. She travelled the world and was often the only woman in the kitchens in which she cooked.

The restaurant closed in 1993 with two Michelin stars awarded to MPW, who said that he wanted a third star and that, in order to win it, he would have to work in larger premises.

The young men, Marco included, did not cover their longish hair. All of them look like budding pop stars, including Gordon Ramsay:

Ramsay has looked exactly the same since 1987…except he doesn’t still have that Flock of Seagulls haircut.

One commenter on the video above wondered how Marco could have earned his Michelin stars with all those uncovered heads:

I mean the amount of hair the customers must have found in the food …

Marco had a penchant for giving his staff and customers a taste of his food. AA Gill, referred to below, was one of our great — and young — food critics at the time:

I love it when he feeds his cook the liver [and] onions with the knife… apparently this was something he loved to do. I remember reading AA Gill; he wrote that Marco hand fed something to the girl who was his guest at the time. Kinda cute, considering how much of a culinary behemoth he is. For me it says that he really, really does care about food and feeding people and creating gastronomic happiness at the highest level. Awesome.

Gordon Ramsay

Many of the comments on the video concern Gordon Ramsay who graces our television screens around the world, moreso than his mentor Marco.

Marco Pierre White is the only chef who ever made Gordon Ramsay cry. Unfortunately, this is not on video, but, allegedly, a spokesperson for Ramsay says that it’s true.

Commenters argued over who is the better chef.

Some say that Gordon merely copied Marco:

Ramsay copied so much from him, from his plates, recipes (scallops with curry powder, tagliatelles, etc) and embellishes so much. Marco is so much more authentic.

Several people pointed out that Gordon also copied Marco’s gestures but that Marco’s delivery of criticism was more constructive:

Notice, Marco says “come here” with a gesture only and then teaches the person something when they get there, whereas Gordon screams “come here” to the person, then insults them when they get there. Marco attacks the mistake, Gordon attacks the person. I know who’s the scarier of the two. And the better chef.

Someone else agreed:

At around 7:20 you can see Gordon blink his eyes like he is crying, there was another video at the end of which Marco says to Gordon, “You know, you cry every night”. In a Boiling Point episode, Gordon tells a young cook that he is nothing but a big baby cause Gordon caught him crying. Hell, when Gordon was his age he was crying his eyes out every night.

Another says that Marco is better:

Marco is the only chef in history to get 3 stars AND 5 spoons and forks in the Michelin Guide for his restaurant The Oak Room. That is total excellence. The great thing about it, is that he was doing a lot of the cooking when he achieved that honor. Gordon has 12 stars, most of which are not because of his cooking, but the cooking of others. Those stars belong to those chefs that work under his brand, not to him.

Anyone expecting the young Ramsay to speak will be disappointed:

Thumbs up if that’s the quietest you’ve ever seen Ramsay in the kitchen, haha.

And is it true that when he left he stole the Harveys reservations book?

Ramsey recently confesses he was so jealous of Marco that he went in Harvey’s and stole the booking book.

Stephen Terry

I didn’t even recognise Stephen Terry in the video. He returned to Wales to open his own restaurant:

Wow, look how young Stephen Terry is…….. He has the Hardwick Restaurant in Raglan near me 🙂

On a break, the interviewer asks him how he feels when Marco bawls him out. Terry shrugs and says:

It’s for a reason. It’s never not for a reason, the reason being that you’ve done something wrong or you’ve done something you shouldn’t have done … You’re learning all the time.

Back in the kitchen, Marco criticises Terry for the presentation of one the plates:

“You wanna do things like that, go to a florist!”

The love for a professional kitchen

Although a professional kitchen looks like a living hell, young men in particular still aspire to becoming professional chefs:

Yo, for real, passion is the only thing that drives you working in a kitchen, you face long hours, so much stress, burns, cuts and running, it’s physically and mentally draining for any person, but I love it. The people you work with, it’s like a family and it’s full of weird people hahaha but we’re always for each other and we always do our best. Sometimes Chefs can be tough, but even the tougher [ones] reward the staff and congratulate them for everything. It’s actually a beautiful job, but it’s tough, really tough.

Another commenter agreed on passion being an essential ingredient to a successful cooking career:

I love food. I love to eat it, i love to touch it, I love to change it, the way it sounds in the pan, the happiness it gives when it’s served, to improve my techniques and to magnify the ingredients. It’s all about passion really. And it should be, otherwise no one could do it.

Anthony Bourdain put it best when he wrote about the importance of cameraderie in the professional kitchen, a dangerous place:

The ability to ‘work well with others’ is a must. If you’re a sauté man, your grill man is your dance partner, and chances are, you’re spending the majority of your time working in a hot, uncomfortably confined, submarine-like space with him. You’re both working around open flame, boiling liquids with plenty of blunt objects at close hand-and you both carry knives, lots of knives. So you had better get along. It will not do to have two heavily armed cooks duking it out behind the line over some perceived insult when there are vats of boiling grease and razor-sharp cutlery all around.

I will post at least one more Marco Pierre White video.

For now, though, I hope that you try his Venetian liver recipe. It’s a keeper.

Lately, I have been reading Jay Rayner‘s restaurant reviews in The Guardian.

He writes the way he speaks, which make them all the more enjoyable.

During lockdown in the first few months of 2021, he looked back at classic British cookbooks and chefs who changed the world of food in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s.

His last lockdown column on April 11, 2021 was about the family recipe collection, whether it be a box of clippings, a notebook or a scrapbook.

‘The old scrapbook recipe collections that tell the story of our lives’ brought back a lot of memories for his readers and for me.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He opens with this:

The cookbooks I’ve written about over the past three months were not included randomly. They weren’t selected because they offered up 97 clever things to do with a courgette and a spiraliser, or for their novel ways with quinoa. They were chosen because they had a serious impact on how we cook and how we eat. They were big sellers. As a result, week by week, people have discovered that they had the volume I was eulogising on their shelves. Some readers have owned a few of them.

But as this is the last column in the series, it’s time to look at a collection of recipes almost everyone has. I certainly have one. Mine has the word “Challenge” embossed on the front. That’s not a description of how hard the recipes are. It’s the name of the venerable stationery company which manufactured the blue, hardcover A4 notebook within which those ideas for dinner are contained. It is our collection of recipes cut from magazines and newspapers, photocopied from a friend’s book or scribbled down by a relative. It is an unplanned collage of a good life, or a feverish attempt at one, measured out in ingredients, volumes and oven temperatures. It is the ballad of traybakes and crumbles, of new and sophisticated ways with pasta and swift things to do with chicken and a bunch of lemons.

Rayner’s wife Pat started the cookbook over 30 years ago:

It is aspiration expressed through the medium of scissors and Pritt Stick. Witness: cider-glazed chops or peppered ham and tomato risotto or lamb and apricot kebabs. Many dishes remained just an aspiration. Some were cooked once or twice. Then there’s the discoloured recipe for Italian Celebration Turkey, which I return to often, if only for the stuffing. It’s a glorious mess of unsweetened chestnut purée, Parma ham, marjoram, sausage meat and onions cooked down in sherry. I have no idea who wrote it.

Food historian Annie Gray says that these recipe collections are:

a “sublime and fascinating form of biography”, which go back as long “as people have been writing things down”.

I fully agree. No two recipe scrapbooks or ring binders will be the same. Mine is completely different to my late mother’s and grandmothers’. Unfortunately, those are lost forever. My mother threw hers out before I could inherit it. My paternal grandmother’s went to my aunt and disappeared when she died.

Fortunately, my maternal grandmother’s collection went to her eldest granddaughter who, in the 1970s, had the genius idea of compiling them and publishing them in book form for our whole family. Everyone has a copy. Even better, anyone of us who had a favourite recipe could contribute it to the book. As a result, the recipes range from the traditional late 19th-century European staples from our family to more recent recipes from the Middle East and Asia, popularised in the United States of the late 1960s. We have my grandparents’ tastes, our mothers’ favourites from the 1950s and world food from the grandchildren.

But I digress.

Returning to Rayner, he says that the food historian Annie Gray bought an old cookbook with further pleasant surprises in it:

A few years ago, she found a volume by the 19th-century cookbook writer Florence A George on a Cambridge market stall. The book was interesting enough. “But better than that, it was stuffed full of recipes cut from newspapers and magazines dating from 1907 to the 1950s, collected by a previous owner. That’s pretty much a woman’s whole life measured out in these dishes.”

A friend of Rayner’s paid her daughter to compile her recipes in a ring-bound album format:

A few years ago, a close friend, Sarah, paid her daughter to stick all of hers into a ring-bound album. She admits she cooks few of them, but they do still tell her story. “There’s a lemon drizzle cake in there that I did many times when the kids were small and it reminds me of their childhood,” she says. “And there’s a Yorkshire curd tart recipe from my late sister written in her own hand, and that’s very important.”

Tim Anderson, an American who won the UK MasterChef title a few years ago, also has an album of family recipes from his childhood in Wisconsin:

“The original volume of Anderson Family Recipes dates from 2003 when my brother and I were off at college,” he says. “It’s recipes from my mother and grandmothers, food we ate when we were kids, though they don’t actually originate from my family in any way.” All of them came from boxes of torn clippings. It is a sturdy snapshot of American midwestern cooking, often incorporating the unashamed introduction of one canned or jarred product to another. Hooray for Betty Crocker. “There’s something called chicken Costa Brava involving chicken breasts, a jar of shop-bought salsa, jars of olives and tinned pineapple,” Tim says. “I really liked that growing up.”

Yes! I remember lots of those recipes, particularly the ones using packets of powdered onion soup mix or Campbell’s cream soups for sauces. Happy days!

I make all my sauces from scratch. It’s something I truly enjoy doing, but fond memories linger from my mother’s ladling cream of mushroom soup onto a beef dish and putting in the oven. Beef parmesan was one of my childhood favourites. For anyone wondering, the parmesan was Kraft’s, already grated, in the round cardboard container. We couldn’t get the real thing back then.

Jay Rayner implores us to make our own cookbooks for posterity. I have a handwritten one of my own, which I put together several years ago. I also have ring binders full of other recipes, some tried and tested, others which I’ve not yet used.

Rayner says that organising our family recipe collections is important:

An internet search history will never be as romantic as a scrapbook. It’s time, I think, to put a sheet of A4 through the printer. Perhaps it’s time we all did. Because without these collections we’ll lose a significant slab of our shared cultural, and edible, history. Future historians will not be able to work out our life stories through the dinners we dreamed of making. That would be a crying shame.

I couldn’t agree more. Fortunately, my far better half and I also have my mother-in-law’s extensive cookbook collection, from a 1960s edition of Larousse Gastronomique to Robert Carrier to Delia Smith. It is a 20th century treasure trove to behold — and to use!

For anyone wanting a break from politics and coronavirus, Jay Rayner’s restaurant reviews for The Guardian — okay, The Observer (Sunday edition) — are fantastic.

Rayner is also one of the critics on MasterChef in the UK. The man speaks the way he writes, so I can hear him as I read.

He also has a musical quartet, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in February:

Occasionally, he adds a few historical notes to his reviews, such as the one from October 2020 that he wrote about The Windmill in London. The Windmill is known for its pies (photos at the link):

There are certain food items that make everything better. A well-made pie is one of them. The Windmill, a pub in London’s Mayfair, now serves very well-made pies. In the days following my dinner there, I kept thumbing open the photograph on my phone and gazing upon their steak and kidney pie, with its glazed suet pastry case, lightly crimped around the edges. It looked like a promise, fully kept.

Rayner then gives us a potted history of pastry (emphases mine):

There was a time, many centuries ago, when pastry was used only as a lid on stews, or as a case to protect cuts of meat from the flames in the hearth. It would be discarded or fed to the pigs or, if the big house was conscious of its obligations, given to the poor. By the late medieval era we were putting fats into pastry and making it distinctly edible. Follow that golden thread all the way through history to this brilliant piece of steak and kidney loveliness.

After we emerged from the 2021 lockdown in April that year, Rayner shared with his readers his experience of being unable to go out to eat. He rediscovered his cookbooks and followed the recipes:

He overcame his fear of making pastry. Excellent.

Several of the comments following his article discuss pastry problems and how to avoid them.

This one is quite helpful on avoiding shrunk pastry and soggy bottom crusts:

A good book to get is “Leiths Baking Bible” – it’s quite a technical book as it’s based on their cookery school.

But it does give good insights into different pastry, cake and dough recipes. With a good “What has gone wrong when….” section after each method.

Shrunk pastry is usually a result of not resting it before cooking – rest then trim. Soggy bottoms are generally not blind baking for long enough or not glazing the pastry with an egg wash if using liquid fillings. Although it can help to do tart cases on a solid oven tray that has been pre heated before the dish with the pastry is placed on it – it boosts the cooking at the base of the tart.

Rolling out the dough from the edges can also cause pastry to shrink. Here‘s how to do it properly; roll from the centre:

In my experience shrinking happens when you stretch the pastry whilst rolling (stands to reason that it would then try and bounce back). Try and roll gently from above and don’t force it.

Another warns against adding too much water and not using the right kind of butter:

Could be you are adding too much water. That makes pastry tough. Also, use real butter, not the garbage currently masquerading as such in many supermarkets. High lipids content from butterfat, not buttermilk, which has too much water. If you melt a pat in a pan and get a watery smear, it’s bad butter. You want a pool of gold, a bit of froth on the edges and the unmistakable aroma of real, creamy butter.

On that topic, the most expensive brand of butter is not necessarily the best. I learned that in the US and have found the same to be true in the UK with some name brands.

Although Président (French) and Lurpak (Danish) are excellent, the expensive, famous British butters, similar to America’s Land O Lakes, are quite watery. When I lived in the US, I used my favourite supermarket’s own brand with reliable results. Here in the UK, I occasionally buy supermarket own brand, too, if I cannot find Président.

Finally, should one use a food processor for making pastry? Some purists say that pastry should be made only by hand. I beg to differ.

This comment explains how to make it in a food processor:

First put in the flour, then (I think this is crucial) add frozen butter, small chunks at a time till it resembles fine bread crumbs. Very slowly add cold water till the dough forms all together. Voila, it works every time for short crust….

However, it is important to give the pastry time to come together in the processor. I have never had to add more than a tablespoon of ice cold water.

I use cold butter straight from the fridge. It is essential to cut the butter into small cubes before adding it to the flour.

When it comes to pastry, a food processor can be a life saver along with using the exact ingredient measurements.

I hope that these tips and hints help the pastry-shy to give it a try.

Anyone, especially men, who worked in London in the 1980s will tell you how wonderful business lunches were in that era.

They were long and languorous, fuelled with alcohol.

The 1990s put paid to all that, and lunch al desko with fizzy pop or coffee became the norm, which, sadly, still exists today.

Therefore, it is good to read that long 1980s style lunches are back, in England, at least.

That’s the only good thing that can be said about coronavirus.

According to food critic Kate Spicer, writing for The Sunday Times, the trend started during curfew mandates in Ibiza in 2020 (emphases mine):

Daylight decadence is back. As someone recently said to me: “It’s literally carpe diem.” It arguably all started in Ibiza. With clubs closed, hedonism was a sit-down affair, and lunch became the island’s big ticket.

When holidaying Britons returned from the Spanish resort and our restaurants reopened, lunch followed.

Restaurateurs in London are loving it:

Dan Keeling can tell you what a good lunch sounds like. The co-owner of the highly praised Noble Rot restaurants in London has his office above the dining room at the Lamb’s Conduit Street site. “There’s no maybe about it — people are relishing lunch,” he says. “I know when we’re having a good service because the rumble of laughter, the roar of conversation, the actual vibrations of convivial good living rise up through the floorboards. A service like that can go off on a Tuesday. I love it. I feel like a kid up there, listening to my parents having a party.”

“We’ve been scooping grown men giggling into taxis at 6pm all summer,’’ says Fitzdares’s CEO, William Woodhams. ‘‘What I see is people planning lunches weeks in advance — off the cuff is over, it’s all about a lunch as a main event. Reservations start with a table for two and snowball. With everyone half in the office, half WFH, people are not in London all the time. They’ll come in, plan a morning of, say, three meetings where they might have originally done eight in a day, and then devote the afternoon to lunch.”

This phenomenon is an urban one:

Keeling thinks the urban exodus during the pandemic has reminded people exactly why we love our big British cities: “It’s impossible to recreate that urban glamour and energy in the shires.”

How true!

Other big cities are benefiting, such as Manchester:

At Manchester’s Hawksmoor, the high-end steak and seafood restaurant, lunches are as busy as they have ever been since opening in 2015. Co-founder Will Beckett puts it down to people wanting “face time not FaceTime. It’s not about what’s new and centred round the ‘chef’s vision’. They want a restaurant that nails the food and atmosphere but puts customers at the centre of the meal, somewhere they’ll feel comfortable and loved.”

Not everything is rosy, however. Brexit and coronavirus resulted in Europeans moving back to the Continent. That said, we have six million who successfully applied to remain in the UK, so we should be able to get European hospitality workers, surely.

Still, for those restaurants that can open for lunch, the world is their oyster. One London restaurant co-owner described it as ‘Christmas every day’:

At Luca, the unimpeachable Italian in Farringdon, the co-owner Johnny Smith says they could book lunch sittings several times over. He describes the energy then as celebratory. It feels like Christmas every day. And when people come they have it all — the prelunch drink at the bar, all the courses.”

Good!

Here’s a glimpse of the 1980s lunch, as served at Langan’s, which is reopening on October 30:

At its epicentre was Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair, then owned by Peter Langan and the actor Michael Caine. It was the destination for “languid, long, late and liquid business lunches”, as Richard Young, the photographer who documented its glory days, remembers. When the stars came out, he would often spot the same people sitting there at 8pm, rolling lunch over to dinner. One of the restaurant’s new owners, Graziano Arricale, says it won’t be having any express-menu business either when it reopens in October after recent refurbishment. “People see Langan’s as an escape from work,” he says. I don’t think the two-bottle business lunch will come back, but going out for friends is different. Our lunch crowd will be in for a long, celebratory two or three hours.”

Excellent!

Another fan of the 1980s lunch was the late Keith Waterhouse, who even wrote a book about it:

The writer and satirist Keith Waterhouse rose at dawn, worked until lunch and then spent the rest of the day over a meal he eulogised in The Theory and Practice of Lunch. The book, published in 1986, is worth digging out to remind our fretful, workaholic Pret generations what it’s like to breathe into the afternoon and take time over eating during the daylight hours. “Lunch at its lunchiest,” he wrote, “is the nearest it is possible to get to sheer bliss while remaining vertical.”

I could not agree more.

However, alcohol is not necessary for a good lunch:

… it doesn’t have to be drunken. Good company is its own high, says the model, make-up artist and sidesaddle stuntwoman Lady Martha Sitwell, who has mastered the sober long lunch. “If it’s a good crowd I’ll slam a few sugary drinks and a good atmosphere will pull you into the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be messy.” Not that she’s anti that. “It’s just pointless pretending you can work,” she says. “It’s straight to the sofa to rehydrate and brainless Friends reruns.”

Yes, it is one’s lunchmates who make the afternoon a memorable one.

That’s why my far better half and I are looking forward to another long, languid London lunch with friends next week. I can hardly wait.

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