Truffles and Toffee Crisps: cooks on the ‘good’ food they hate – and the ‘bad’ food they love
People have stopped inviting me to dinner. It’s not that they don’t want to see me, they explain, they just don’t want to cook for me – and then they suggest a restaurant, as if I won’t leave the house for anything less than a 10-course tasting menu these days. In fact, little makes me happier than beans on toast – and, honestly, it doesn’t even have to be sourdough. In fact, tinned beans are but the thin end of a very large and heavily processed wedge. Much as I love kale pesto and honky goat’s curd, kimchi and oily fish, I’ll always prefer a Wotsit to an artisan potato crisp, and the wrinkled skin of Bird’s custard makes my unsophisticated heart beat faster than a jug of elegantly thin crème anglaise could ever hope to.
But coming clean about what are often called “guilty pleasures” – though I feel little shame in them – is hardly brave, or even novel. In fact, these admissions are practically a badge of honour for the diehard foodie, a kind of culinary reverse snobbery designed to prove your worth as a committed omnivore. We know that two-Michelin-starred chef Claude Bosi likes curry-flavoured instant noodles topped with Frazzles, and Masterchef’s Monica Galetti mainlines Marmite on the sofa, because they have happily disclosed these facts to the press. The godlike Yotam Ottolenghi tells me he has “an obsession” with “supermarket-grade sushi” for breakfast, and Nigel Slater regularly revels in the forbidden delights of everything from Smarties to Big Macs (“Oh God, the sauce”). Even healthier-than-thou birch-water botherer Gwyneth Paltrow has gone on record declaring her love for Oreos. Such confessions serve as useful proof that you’re a real, fallible human being – hearing Deliciously Ella admit that she has a “serious thing for dates with almond butter and hummus, but that’s about as crazy as it gets!” only confirms my suspicion that she’s a beautiful marketing robot for the chia seed industry.
And it’s not just junk food either; a kind of macho, aggressively omnivorous sensibility has developed in recent years: as John Lanchester wrote in the New Yorker: “Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go – about who we want to be, how we choose to live … People feel judged by their food choices, and they are right to feel that, because they are.” And if you’re not prepared to tuck into anything under the sun without a moment’s hesitation, you’re instantly classed as that most shameful of things: a fussy eater.
Take all those slimy, invisible tubes and organs that work so hard to keep us alive, for instance. With the likes of Anthony Bourdain and food writer Tim Hayward singing the praises of nose-to-tail eating, and “the gutty, messy smells of things like kidneys”, it takes someone with balls, or perhaps fries, as big as Momofuku’s Dave Chang to admit that, actually, you’re not that into innards. But I’ll be honest – I’m not. I don’t hate all of it; brains can be surprisingly delicious if you don’t think too hard about what you’re chewing, and flash-fried liver and chargrilled hearts have a certain bouncy charm, but I’ll come clean about the fact that the day I found myself judging 33 steak-and-kidney pies was a dark one indeed. Jay Rayner may boast he likes a certain “uric tang as much as the next offal freak”, but I’ve given kidneys a good go, and I just don’t share his enthusiasm.
Tripe falls into the same camp; however much Sichuan red chilli oil you throw at it, it still tastes of … well, shit – or as Allan Jenkins, the rather more eloquent editor of Observer Food Monthly, puts it, “I have a conflicted relationship with tripe.” Although I’m all for treating the animal with respect, and eating as much of it as possible, surely if you don’t like something, it should be OK to say so without being pilloried.
The current attitude to food reminds me of being a nervous teenage music lover, anxiously scanning Smash Hits to find out whether a new band was cool before declaring myself a fan. And, like krautrock, offal is cool precisely because many of us lesser mortals find it rather challenging. The same goes for dark chocolate; the bitterer the better – as I found to my cost when I bit into an 100% cocoa bar recently. Hearteningly, I’m not alone in my childish tastes; Jane Baxter declares that she would rather have “a Toffee Crisp dunked in a cuppa” any day, while Ruby Tandoh reckons that Dairy Milk “beats all else”, advising “if you get a really good-quality bitter dark chocolate, you only really need a square or two because it’s too horrible to want more”.
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Mushrooms in general, and truffles in particular, are another thing I would be happy to leave in peace under the soil. In the glory days of journalistic junkets, I was taken to Las Vegas buy canada goose jacket nyc for dinner at the three-Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – and treated to a seven-course truffle-themed menu, complete with precious tubers flown in from the chef’s native France. Unfortunately, whatever Giorgio Locatelli might think about these grubby fungi being “the highest expression of nature”, they still tasted of stale armpits to me. Not that I dared to admit it at the time, of course.
In fact, I’m a pretty cheap date, because I don’t really get all the fuss about lobster, either. I have had it sea fresh and stuffed into a plain white roll on a New England shore, and gussied up at London’s beloved Le Gavroche, and I’m still at a loss as to what this fearsomely pricy crustacean is supposed to taste like, apart from “a big, shit, cold prawn”, as a fellow doubter put it on Twitter. Many people I survey “can’t stand” oysters, either – dubbing them “lumps of fishy snot” – yet they still feel “it’s always embarrassing” best price for canada goose jacket to turn them down.
It seems the more expensive the foodstuff, the more underwhelming the response, which makes me wonder whether things such as wagyu beef and abalone are the culinary equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes. Weekend magazine’s drinks critic Fiona Beckett thinks fillet steak is “overrated”, while Jemma Wilson describes foie gras as “a total whatevs”, and reactions to caviar in my survey range from “a bit meh” to “sickly, fishy balls of overpriced disappointment” – although it’s the traditional ritual around these tiny, salty eggs that Gizzi Erskine can’t stand. Having seen the aforementioned Chang eating fried chicken skin topped with caviar, sour cream and chives, Erskine confesses she is now “obsessed with it – I’ve treated myself to a tin worth more than a hundred pounds and had it with the filthiest, greasiest fried chicken … It’s such a grubby idea that I have to eat it alone.” The problem is, she says, that after that, “caviar served the classic way, with blinis, bores me”.
Jack Monroe is out and proud about a disgust of “bottomless green smoothies”, and baker Luc Martin hates quinoa so much that he is moved to tell me so on two social media platforms – both feelings I can understand, although even I am puzzled by the “rampantly omnivorous” Fuchsia Dunlop’s horror of milk as a drink, or Rachel Roddy’s brave admission that she’s the only person on Instagram not to worship at the altar of avocado. A friend’s hatred of sourdough bread, meanwhile, (“Sour, sour. Chew, chew, chew. It’s not like sinking your teeth into a lovely soft bloomer, like a thick, white duvet”) seems, to me, frankly perverse. But, you know, each to their own.
This is why Country & Town House magazine’s food editor Anastasia Bernhardt’s shame at her dislike of smoked salmon (“I can’t stand the taste. I’ve tried so hard to like it. Very embarrassing”) makes me feel a bit sad. Since when did every meal become an eating competition? Try everything once, and then eat a balanced diet of the foods that give you pleasure. And remember, life really is too short to pick a winkle.
Coconut ice magic
Anyone who grew up in 1970s and 80s Britain will have fond memories of Bird’s Ice Magic, the sweet gooey sauce that set to a brittle shell on contact with cheap vanilla ice-cream, just right for shattering with an aggressively wielded teaspoon. Sadly, it seems it was just too magic for the market, and it has disappeared from shelves, along with its almost equally thrilling squeezy, cone-shaped bottle. But never fear, because help is at hand from an unlikely source. Extra-virgin coconut oil may not have been a kitchen staple in the 1980s, but its high melting point means it hardens as it cools – which is exactly what we want here. For the sweet flavour of the original, albeit with a totally tropical coconut taste, add a little golden syrup. If you want to pretend sophistication, leave it out.
(Serves 6)65g dark chocolate, chopped50g extra-virgin coconut oil2 tbsp golden syrup (optional)A generous pinch of salt
Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt all the ingredients together, stirring to combine.
Pour into a jug and serve with ice-cream – pour over while warm and, benefits of canada goose jacket within 30 seconds, it should set to a shell.
Mini Marmite-and-cheese doughnuts
Killer party food. If the idea of savoury doughnuts troubles you, just think of them as slightly more substantial versions of that classic French nibble, the gougère. These are best served warm, while the cheese is still gorgeously gooey.
(Makes about 18)225g strong white flour, plus extra to dust7g quick yeast5g caster sugar, plus extra to dust20g unsalted butter, at room temperature, chopped, plus extra to grease2 tbsp Marmite 65ml milk1 egg, beaten40g parmesan, or other very hard cheese100g mature cheddar, grated40g gouda, grated1 tbsp cornflour2 tbsp whole milk2l vegetable or sunflower oil, to fry
Combine the flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl and mix well.
Put the butter and Marmite into a small pan with the milk and 45ml of water, and heat gently, stirring until melted. Pour this into the mixing bowl along with the egg and stir until it comes together; the dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
Tip on to a lightly floured surface, or (better still, as the mixture is soft) into a mixer fitted with a dough hook, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes in a mixer, more by hand). Put into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel best cheap canada goose, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour). Meanwhile, finely grate the parmesan and spread out on a plate to dry out slightly.
Shape the dough into balls of about 20g each, folding each side tightly into the centre, rotating as you go, then turn the ball over and put it on a lightly floured baking tray or board, spacing them well apart. Cover and leave to rise again for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss the grated cheddar and gouda with the cornflour, and put in a medium pan over a low heat. Add the whole milk and allow the cheeses to melt, stirring regularly, until smooth. Keep warm.
Heat the oil in a large pan or deep-fat fryer to 160°C. Cook the doughnuts in batches for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden, then blot with kitchen paper and sprinkle with parmesan. Make a small hole in the side of each, and use a piping bag to inject a splodge of cheese. Eat immediately, while they’re still warm.
Southern cheese on toast
By southern, I don’t mean with zider and West Country cheddar, or indeed Velveeta and cornbread, but soaked in the sunny flavours of the Mediterranean. Creamy mozzarella, sweet umami-rich tomatoes and a peppery basil puree make this a treat indeed for a summer lunch. I like it just as well with baked tomatoes when they’re not quite up to eating raw, so feel free to make it with either.
(Serves 4)20 smallish tomatoes, or, if tomatoes are in season, enough ripe tomatoes to feed 4 people4 slices of robust bread1 garlic clove, halved2 burrata or buffalo mozzarella ballsFor the basil puree25g basil100ml extra-virgin olive oil
If you’re making this outside peak tomato season (or if your tomatoes turn out to disappoint), heat the oven to 210°C/fan 190°C/gas mark 7, then put the tomatoes on a greased baking tray (cut them in half if they’re larger than a walnut) and bake for about 20 minutes, until they start to split.
Meanwhile, bring a small pan of salted water to the boil and put a large bowl of iced water next to it. Dunk the basil into best mens canada goose jacket the hot water for 15 seconds, then immediately scoop out with a slotted spoon and put into the iced water. Drain the basil well and dry it, then put in a small food processor, or use a stick blender or pestle and mortar to blend with the oil, adding the latter gradually until you have a smoothish puree. Add salt to taste.
Toast the bread until golden, then rub with the cut garlic clove.
Squish the tomatoes on top of the bread, drizzle with the basil pure, add half a burrata or mozzarella (if you’re using the former, do this on a plate so you catch any escaping cream), season and add a little more pure. Devour.
Black and white shake
An old-fashioned diner classic with a certain wow factor thanks to the contrasting layers of creamy shake and dark syrup. The syrup recipe makes more than you will need for two drinks, but keeps well in the fridge for the next time life throws you some lemons. For really bad days, add a splash of bourbon.
(Serves 2 very generously, plus extra syrup)For the chocolate syrup165g soft light-brown sugar65g cocoa powderA dash of vanilla extract
For the shake500g vanilla ice-cream, slightly softened250ml cold milk2 tbsp malted-milk powder (eg Horlicks)6 Maltesers, crushed
To make the syrup, whisk together the sugar and cocoa in a small saucepan with 180ml of cold water to make a smooth paste. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrupy with a glossy sheen. Stir in the vanilla extract and season with salt to taste, then set aside to cool.
Put the ice-cream and milk into a blender with half the malted-milk powder and whiz until well combined, adding a little more milk if you’d prefer it thinner. Taste and add more powder as you see fit.
Pour the syrup down the side of a glass, rotating it so that it coats can you wash a canada goose jacket in the washer the inside, then carefully pour the shake into the middle so it doesn’t disturb the syrup. Top with the crushed Maltesers and serve immediately.
•The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for the Adventurous Cook by Felicity Cloake is out on 7 April (Fig Tree/Penguin, £25). Order a copy for £20 at bookshop.theguardian.com