Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Fuck It I'm Writing A Recipe

I've been meaning to do some 'student cooking' recipes for a while. The general point was meant to be me showing off about what I'd cooked and how cheap it was and aren't I clever managing to eat such tasty food on a budget - well this meal fails miserably at that, because duck breasts are not cheap.

Some of this post was written yesterday, fresh from Tesco's and laden with shopping, after a rather eventful cycle ride as there's something wrong with my bike that means the pedals are only working about 50% of the time. I really should take it to the repair shop. I've since rewritten it, but some of the tenses might make no sense still, as I did my English GCSE five years ago and have since forgotten how to write.

What We're Having For Dinner:

Fried duck breast with red berry sauce, chickpea and kidney bean mash, sautéed carrots and salad.

You'll Need to Buy:

4 duck breasts (£8)
A bag of frozen mixed fruit (£1.50, or you could get just raspberries but that's £2)
Carrots (£1, you won't use all of them though)
A tin of chickpeas (80p - wtf is with this modern rip-off, when I was first year you could get 3 tins for a quid, maybe I should be buying dried chickpeas.)
-I wasn't even going to buy chickpeas, but Tesco was out of any white beans like haricots or butter beans.
A tin of value kidney beans (18p)
A red onion (18p)
A bag of baby leaf salad and rocket (Usually £1.50 but they have a 2 for £1 offer)

You Might Already Have in a Cupboard:

Salt and pepper
Brown sugar
Lemon juice
Ground coriander

Optional: some red wine for the sauce. Or balsamic vinegar. I forgot to buy either of these and it turned out fine without them.

Total: about £12. Serves: 4.

So it's £3 each - like I said this isn't amazingly cheap, but is only marginally more expensive than a McDonalds Happy Meal. IT doesn't come with a free toy though.


Finely dice the onion and fry. You want it to be nice and soft so do them on a medium-low heat. This might take a while, add a little bit of water to the pan if they look like they're about to dry out. 

While the onion's cooking prepare your carrots. I wanted to go for thin strips so I did this using the slicer on the side of my cheesegrater. I used 3 decent sized carrots although you could probably do more.

Keeping an eye on the onions, drain your chickpeas and kidney beans, and rinse off the starchy water they've been sitting in.

When the onion looks about done add both tins then a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and salt to taste. You want it to be quite sour but not overpowering.

Mash up the mixture in the pan. If you've got a potato masher it makes it a bit quicker but if not just use the side of a fork. You're not aiming for a smooth puree so don't worry if it's quite rough with a few whole ones in. At this point you might want to add some finely chopped fresh coriander for extra flavour. (I didn't bother, but it might be nice.)

You probably don't want to keep the mash on the heat for too long because it might start to dry out - once it's ready transfer it to a bowl. You can stick it in the microwave just before serving to warm up - I went for 'warm' as opposed to hot and I think it was pretty nice like that.

Get your duck breasts out the packet and cut slices into the skin, going through all the fat but not too deep into the flesh. Find your sharpest knife for this as otherwise it's a bit fiddly, and you'll want this knife again later for slicing up your breasts before serving. Rub some salt and pepper on both sides.

Add a big handful (maybe 100g) of frozen berries to a small  saucepan with some butter and sugar.  I basically guessed the proportions, scoop up a decent tablespoon of butter and shake some sugar out a packet. You want it to be quite sweet to balance the sour bean mash and the peppery flavour of the rocket, mine was probably a little bit sweet and I made a bit more than needed. But - you can use leftovers as a sauce for desserts, as long as you make sure you don't accidentally get any bits of duck in the pan.

Heat until the butter melts and the berries are all defrosted. They'll start to release juices but will mostly remain intact. If you wanted a smooth sauce you could pass this through a sieve to get rid of the seeds and the fibrousy bits, but I couldn't find one, and to be honest as you spoon the sauce over the duck you can just avoid the solid fruits if you want. Once it looks done take off the heat - you can warm it up just before serving.

At this point I twiddled my thumbs for about 45 minutes as I was waiting for my friends to arrive and I didn't want to accidentally serve them cold duck breasts. The duck takes a lot longer than the sauce so if everyone you're cooking for is ready and waiting then you can get the duck on the heat before you start the sauce.

Get a nice big pan and put it on the highest heat. You don't need any oil as the layer of fat under the duck's skin will melt as the duck cooks. Wait until the pan's really hot then put in your breasts skin side down. Turn down the heat to medium and leave these for about 5 minutes until they've released loads of oil and the skin's starting to look a crispy golden-brown colour. Then turn them over.

I pretty much had no idea how to tell how ready they were so I enlisted the help of my friend Oscar, who gave me the following advice:

"Give them a poke and if they're as firm as your cheek then they're raw, if they're as firm as your chin then they're rare and if they feel like your forehead then they're well-done."

Here's a picture of Oscar:

I haven't ever tried a totally raw bit of duck but I can't imagine it's all that delicious, so you want it to be reasonably cooked but still quite pink in the middle. Flip them every so often so they cook evenly and when they look done transfer to a chopping board and wrap in foil so they don't cool down too much.

Now fry your carrot strips. Chuck in a teaspoon of cumin and/or ground coriander to add some nice flavours. Don't fry them for too long - they'll be quite firm still and will absorb some of the flavour from the duck fat. I think if you fry them for too long they'll get really caramelised and be a bit too sweet.

While your carrots are in the pan prepare your plates: chuck some salad leaves on them and spoon out the bean mash. It might need a little whizz round the microwave first.

When you think the carrots look done take them off the heat, and put on top of some kitchen roll to absorb the excess oil. I think this is worth doing as it might end up a bit greasy otherwise. If you don't have kitchen roll then maybe use a clean tea towel that you can put in the wash after.

Use your sharp knife to slice up your duck breasts before serving.  Wash it first as you're not supposed to mix cooked meat with raw meat in case you die of food poisoning. I found it was easier to hold the breast in one hand and cut with the other instead of using a fork - you want the slices quite thin and it gets a bit fiddly.

Pretend you're on Materchef as you arrange the carrots and meat on top of the salad.

And finally - spoon over the sauce.


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Useful ways to spend your time

1. Win your college's annual pancake race.

2. Log into Grindr and upload a photo of a crow. Wait for the messages to roll in.

3. Update your CV then forget to apply for jobs in time for the application deadlines.

4. Tinker with your privacy settings on Facebook

5. Consider uninstalling some programs from your computer in the hope it will run faster without them.

6. Devise a dance routine for the song 'Control' by Janet Jackson.

7. Respond to your Grindr messages.

8. Devise another dance routine for Janet Jackson's 'Black Cat'. And take a moment to fully appreciate that she wrote this song herself and that she is an overlooked genius.

9. Admire the many faces of the Jackson siblings.



10. Check Grindr again.

11. Write a blog.

12. Put on the kettle. Consider getting back to work.

13. Watch a film.

14. Sleep.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Thoughts on Page 3 and 'No More Page 3'

I am against Page 3. The fact that in the 21st century a newspaper thinks it's totally innocuous to run pictures of topless women every day shows that this is a very sexist newspaper. But I only think this because they don't also have daily pictures of topless men.

One of the primary ideas of feminism is that men and women are equal. In practice people can have loads of arguments about whether or not this is true, but usually people who argue men and women aren't equal are confusing the word 'equal' with 'exactly the same'. Broadly speaking there are quite a few differences between men and women, some related to biology and some perhaps influenced more by social factors, although it's unclear to what extent this might be so.

For example, in the UK most football fans are male. To what extent this is because football is 'naturally' more appealing to males than females is unclear. It may be that throughout childhood boys are encouraged to take an interest in playing and watching football to a far greater extent than girls to the point that this could totally explain the disparity. Or perhaps it's other factors - as a male-dominated space football might be openly hostile to women, or maybe men like being given the opportunity to run around being a football hooligan.

Even if you think those suggestions are totally wrong and the only possible explanation is in hormones and brain chemistry, it would be hard to argue that men and women aren't of equal worth as human beings. Not exactly rocket science.

Another obvious difference between men and women is apparent in their bodies. In many ways men are similar: they both have arms and legs and heads and shoulders and bums, but there are a few differences. Men tend to have a cock and balls, and women have something between their legs too terrifying to describe . Women also have long hair on their heads, and men have short hair  - oh wait a minute, I think that might be one of those social factor things I was talking about earlier. Maybe. Men and women both have nipples, women with breast tissue underneath and men without, although some men can develop a sort of chest cleavage of their own if they go to the gym loads. (See below.)

Because they've developed to feed babies with milk, women's nipples are generally a bit bigger than men's I think, but they basically look the same otherwise. So why, how can it possibly be, that women's nipples are more offensive, or sexual, or for the eyes of adults only, than men's?

Let's just imagine a male version of page 3:

I don't know who this guy is, but I just found him on a Google image search for 'man in underwear', with the highest level of safesearch on. Looking at this, it reminds me of an image I saw plastered all over billboards a while ago.

Oh yeah - an advert for pants. That we're happy to see plastered on shop windows and billboards, without provoking hysterical responses that these were supposed to be 'family shop windows' or 'family billboards', or that perhaps the seductive look in David Beckham's eye will lead to excessive horniness in adult women and the early sexualisation of young boys who will think they have to get loads of awful tattoos in order to emulate him.

Like I said, Page 3 is sexist. Defending it as 'a celebration of the beauty of youth' or something doesn't excuse the very obvious fact that if you choose to only celebrate the beauty of one gender then you're being sexist.

But porn it ain't.

Categorising women's nipples as more obscene than men's does not help women. And if anything, makes life a lot more difficult for a subset of women: those with young children who wish to breastfeed in public. Women are routinely harassed for this by members of the public, or even by political columnists on Twitter.

Everyone knows print and broadcast media are still very sexist. If you want to get into the papers and you're a woman you have to be Kate Middleton or Madeleine McCann. Or Mary Beard, but only so that they can report the fact that people on a messageboard had photoshopped your face onto a vulva. TV comedy shows routinely have no women on a panel of six. Or congratulate themselves for occasionally having two women on a panel of six, despite the fact they also have a male host. BBC Radio Four regularly has more male guests than female ones. Even with Woman's Hour on six days a week, there are still far more male voices than female.

In this climate I can see why lots of women don't like Page 3. To them, it symbolises what's wrong with British media. The No More Page 3 campaign is gaining momentum, picking up media attention and even Rupert Murdoch has said maybe it's had its day.

Well, fine. As someone who only very rarely pays actual money for a print newspaper, and has probably been on holiday to Dorset more times than I've bought a copy of The Sun, I can't exactly say I'll miss it. Maybe some of its readers will, and they'll have to move to the Daily Star. Maybe for a while some feminists will make a point of buying The Sun to congratulate old Rupert on finally joining the sisterhood.

Will the nation have lost anything? No. But to me, this whole thing seems as much like puritanism as it does feminism.

I'm reminded of the scene in the pilot of Malcolm in the Middle, when a topless Lois opens the front door to a startled reaction from one of her son's teachers. "They're just boobs, lady," she says. "You see them in the mirror every morning, and I'm sure yours are a lot nicer than mine."