Tuesday, 17 June 2014


I eat a sandwich virtually ever day. Have done my whole life. Isn't that a bit boring? No. Actually, no. Lots of variety possible.

There is something deeply cultural about it. Somehow, probably because it was cheap and easy, I grew up thinking that lumch and sandwich were synonymous. Lunchtime? Eat sandwich.

Not only that, but I refuse to eat a sandwich at dinnertime. That screams "insufficuent" to me. And somehow just wrong. And no, I don't include burgers or tacos or quesadillas in that restriction. They are not what I think of when I think of a sandwich.

And I even like those simple, somewhat plain sandwiches from childhood. That is to say a ham sandwich, or a cheese sandwich, with nothing else other than butter and bread. These will please me greatly, at any time.

But I'm also very fond of elaborate sandwiches, crusty French bread split lengthwise and stuffed full of all manner of salads, meat, and condiments.

Still, the topic of sandwiches can be as massive as the entire topic of food. And I can be just as fussy.

Remember: I don't believe in eating bad food. EVER. I'm not poor enough or hungry enough.

The first issue is the bread. There was a time, I swear, that white sliced bread in a bag was edible. But that was at least 20 years ago. Of course our tastes become more sophisticated with age, but this is a comparison thing - 20+ years ago, bagged sliced white bread was similar to fresh white bakery bread, just not as good. NOW? No comparison. The white bagged sliced bread has a texture of polyester quilt batting, and tastes like cardboard. It has neither the texture, nor taste of bread at all. Cheap burger buns are as bad.

So, if that is all that's available, forget it. There's nothing you can add to make it enjoyable.

But let's return now to the question of culture.

I failed "Being English" miserably. From a young age I was far too interested in foreign food/culture/travel, and new experiences. I hate tea, have no time for royalty, cricket bores me silly, and the abiding English attitude that while the empire may be long gone, anything English is automatically better just disgusts me. It's complete bollocks, and is a simmering mild bigotry. Yeuk.

Nevertheless, I was raised in a land where bread was spread with butter, and it feels like a default to me. That's the first step. After that, all bets are off, but butter my bloody bread, will you? This whole North American thing of mayo instead of butter will not do. I love mayo, oh yes I do. And I will add it to many of my sandwiches. But I still want butter first.

That's not the only problem I have with the typical North American sandwich. Why does it have to have cheese in it? You make fun of me for my butter default, but you have a cheese default. Cheese in every sandwich just ends up making all sandwiches too alike. Again, I love cheese. I love a cheese sandwich. But if I ask for a roast beef sandwich, for example, if I don't mention cheese, it means I don't want it. Otherwise I'd ask for a roast beef and cheese sandwich.

In particular I do not want ham and cheese. Yes, I know it's popular. Yes, ham on pizza is fine. But cold sliced cheese should not be adulterated with ham, and cold sliced ham should not be adulterated with cheese.

And while I'm at it, processed pretend cheese has no place ANYWHERE. If you put that in my sandwich I'll throw it at you.

Then there's the BLT. Which I don't understand. Or, to put it another way, I'll take my BLT without lettuce or tomato, thank you. A bacon sandwich is a thing of great beauty. Buttered bread, obviously, well-cooked bacon (no flabby fat), and ketchup will do nicely.

A sausage sandwich is good too. Cooked sausages, cold, sliced lengthwise, with ketchup. A hot dog is NOT good. Sausage in a bun? Sure. But not a nasty quilt batting bun (see above). Good bread. And not a nasty wiener, a good sausage. Any kind of good sausage, doesn't matter. Add ketchup, or mustard, or both, or sauerkraut. But no bloody hot dogs.

Then there's seafood. Sardines, tuna, salmon, shrimp, all will make me quite happy. I was in my 30s before I discovered tuna mayonnaise, and I quite like it now, but I'm just as happy with regular tuna, and some sliced cucumber. My husband does a beautiful salmon "salad" mix, with lots of black pepper.

Liverwurst, pâté, and potted meats (or fish) are all just fine with me too. Cucumber makes a good addition.

As for ham, so long as it's not too cheap and nasty, it's all good. What goes with ham? Well, tomato, and/or mayo, or Branston pickle, or mustard. Or a full salad. That all works. NO CHEESE.

Roast beef, add tomato or horseradish. NO CHEESE.

Chicken or turkey, only from a real roast. None of the processed deli meats quite work. White meat only, and fine just as is, with salt. Or with Branston, or salad. NO CHEESE.

And the vast majority of deli meats are nasty, especially the soft ones. Bologna, mortadella, and all that. Yeuk.

Salami is good though. Add mayo and thinly sliced green pepper. Maybe some olives. Cheese here is optional, but it has to be a suitable cheese.

Eggs, ah yes. Egg mayo or just sliced hard-boiled egg is fine. Add tomato. Or cress. Or just as is. NO CHEESE.

I do not eat fried egg sandwiches, because I do not eat fried egg white. I particularly dislike the weird pseudo-omelettes that fast food places put in breakfast "sandwiches". And their greasy sausage patties are vile too. I have a problem with grabbing breakfast "on the road" for this reason - these tend to be their idea of breakfast.

Peanut butter? NO. Never, don't eat it. And as for combining it with jam.......bizarre. Just bizarre.

I don't eat Marmite (see note above on failing "Being English").

And don't get me started on sandwiches with soup.

Oh, while I'm here, we must discuss grilled cheese sandwiches. First of all, the name. Because usually they are actually fried. So if we are talking ACTUALLY grilled, like panini, that's fine. I'll even mix cheese and meat then. But a fried cheese sandwich? No. Forget it. Give me a slice of cheese on toast any day, and for preference with sliced tomato on top.

Have I forgotten anything? Probably, because people put some weird shit in sandwiches.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Bechamel Battles

I was reminded this morning to do this, but I've been meaning to for a long time.

There is a........thing...........that some people do, which is to use condensed soup as a sauce.

It's not for me to tell you what to do, for a number of reasons, and if you like that, or you simply find it convenient, that's fine, just don't feed it to me. YEUK.

But if the reason you do it is fear of bechamel/white sauce/roux sauce then we can fix this.

Bechamel is a very basic sauce, and it was the first thing I was ever taught as an 11-year-old in HE at school. Although it has a French name, versions of it exist all over the world, and my guess is that it is a very old idea.

The principle behind it is to melt butter, add flour to make a sort of paste, then add milk to thin it back down to the thickness you want.

There are actually names for the different thicknesses, depending on your purpose, e.g. "Panada" for a very thick sauce. And you can look up measurements/proportions of the ingredients to predict accurately in advance how thick it will be, and your total yield. These usually keep the milk quantity stable, while adjusting the amount of butter and flour. Here's a handy olde fashionde chart to give you an idea.

Thin sauce  1/2 oz butter, 1/2 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Pouring sauce 3/4 oz butter, 3/4 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Coating sauce 1 oz butter, 1 oz flour, 1/2 pint milk
Very thick sauce 2 oz butter, 2oz flour, 1/2 pint milk

If you stick to these for quantities you will have consistent results.

But I rarely measure it. I do it by eye and I'm going to teach you how to do it.

First get a "knob" of butter. How much is a knob? It's described in cooking glossaries as a walnut sized piece, or about a rounded tablespoon. I've even seen it given as 25 grams, and that's just silly. Decide on your own knob, and stick to it. Roughly.

I did this by eye and it came to 28grams.

Melt this in a saucepan. You don't want it too hot, but you don't want to wait all day so on a scale of 10, 5 is a good heat. Let it completely melt, but don't let it start to burn.

Now, with a wooden spoon, stir in enough flour to make it all stick together. For this amount of butter a heaped tablespoon of flour is roughly right. There is considerable variation possible here, but I'll show you what exactly equal parts (by weight) butter and flour look like.

This is your roux. A mixture of fat and flour, that is now heating through, but again, you don't want it to change colour, so keep it moving about. Cook it in this way for about 1 minute.

Now add milk. The trick is to pour slowly and mix fast. Use your dominant hand to mix and your other one to pour. Slowly means slowly. Not a trickle, but a slow pour. Switch to a whisk as soon as you can, and mix FAST. When all the milk is added, keep whisking, as the mixture will thicken a little more once the heat stabilizes. Some people use warm milk to minimize that, but it isn't necessary.

So let's recap in brief.

Melt butter.
Add flour.
Pour milk in SLOWLY, and whisk it FAST.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

Typical problems:

#1 Too dense a roux, due to too much flour in proportion to fat. This is not insurmountable, and is sometimes deliberately done to get a lower fat sauce. You'll just have to whisk like a mad thing.

#2 Sauce comes out too thin. Too much milk added. If you are adding it slowly this will not happen. So pay attention.

#3 Sauce too thick. So add more milk. End of problem.