Tuesday 10 August 2021

By: Mrs Robot

An array of cheese, meats and olives on a wooden board. There are glasses of wine in the background.

So… we're still here. It's been over a year since my last post. And we didn't get the ’rona, or have to rely on our precooked meals because we were poorly, which was great. I honestly didn't think it had been so long since I'd last posted, but I guess this had better be some sort of retrospective. I'm going to split this into two posts, one for us at home and one for food cooked by other people, because there was some of that too.

We didn't actually have any trouble getting food. We always have flour, rice, noodles, assorted nuts and pulses and so on in stock, and because we get a weekly vegbox delivery and shop at the local butcher, we never had any gaps in what we needed. We did do a bulk order with Wai Yee Hong at one point because we weren't able to get to Bath to the Chinese supermarket. But compared to friends who couldn't get pasta (and whose kids live on the stuff) we had it easy.

Last year's initial lockdown coincided with a spell of good weather, and because we're lucky enough to have a garden that meant lots of eating outside on the patio. Even if we couldn't go anywhere, we could still enjoy a Spanish spread. There was always jamon and tortilla, and Mr Robot's become extremely good at cooking pescado en adobo, chunks of white fish marinated and then floured and deep fried. I'm a big fan of those fishy nuggets. As the epidemic went on, Mavalco, which usually supplied restaurants, started selling Spanish ingredients direct, and we've placed a few orders with them.

Poor old Mr Robot had a proper lockdown birthday in May, but we made a meal of it – literally. He joked that he wanted a dinosaur cake with a raspberry ice-cream meteor for his birthday, so I made lemon-cake dinos (mould from Lakeland) and a raspberry meteor, all on a 'lost world' scene made from biscuit and chocolate ganache. I was jolly proud of that!

A crater made of biscuit with chocolate ganache mud. There is a ball of pink ice cream inside the crater, and dinosaurs made of cake around it

We cooked increasingly elaborate meals when eating indoors. Being at home meant it was possible to prep something needing long, slow cooking at lunchtime and pop it in the oven during an afternoon tea break. Pot roast pheasant midweek? Hell yeah. And I'm prone to anxiety, and found cooking a good way to switch off after the working day. There were times when I didn't have the headspace for much, but I could crack open a cookbook and make something nice. Looking at the cookbook shelf, Fuchsia Dunlop's The Food Of Sichuan and Every Grain Of Rice are two books that got a lot of use.

A selection of Sichuan dishes

We didn't really push many boundaries, food-wise, though Mr Robot has enjoyed cooking Korean food – and we've both enjoyed eating it. I think it started with a recipe for Army Stew and snowballed from there.  But overall the past year or so has definitely been a time of comfort eating, everything from meat pies to Indian dishes to lasagne. And, I must confess, takeaways. This possibly should go under 'food cooked by other people' in the next post, but I feel it belongs here, because those Deliveroo/JustEat orders relate more to the food we'd cook ourselves, in that they were what we'd eat when we simply didn't have the headspace or energy to cook for ourselves. At the start of pandemic restrictions, we were often having two a week. We have become rather rotund robots!

Dishes of red cabbage and sprouts

Anyway, I shall leave you with some Christmas food. We did our usual Christmas food, a tasty spread of normality in what had been a very not-normal year. A lot of 2020 was pretty sucky, but at least the food was good!

A redheaded white woman pouring a glass of wine into her mouth

Friday 3 April 2020

Quarantine cuisine

By Mrs Robot 

I guess we’re not going to be able to avoid updating this blog while we’re on lockdown, eh? To be honest, being shut up at home isn’t having too detrimental effect on our diets. Because of how we shop – milk from the milkman, organic vegbox from Riverford, meat, fish and cheese from Walter Rose – we haven’t yet encountered any difficulties in getting our usual fresh foods, and our diet is so varied we already had various rices, pastas and noodles in the cupboard. (Incidentally, Walter Rose is now doing veg deliveries as well as meat, across the south of England and into London, so they’re well worth taking a look at, or you can try looking round your own local small shops if you're having trouble finding what you need in the large ones.)

I’ve been really grateful for having a well-stocked spice and condiments cupboard, because making decent food has become an important part of daily life. Stepping away from our computers (we’re both currently still working full time from home) and making something is a good brain-refresher; plating it nicely and taking care with presentation reminds us we’re not just existing, we’re still living.

And so I made scones during one lunchbreak. Another time, I grabbed my usual salad ingredients, and instead of just bunging them all into a bowl, added some rice noodles and a lime/fish-sauce dressing to make something much fancier-tasting, and presented it all nicely on a plate. I charred aubergines during one lunchbreak, then left them in a plastic tub in the fridge to drain, and turned them into baba ganoush with home-made roti a couple of days later. I’d been meaning to make baba ganoush for ages, and being shut up at home gave me the kick up the bum I needed to get on with it.

We do have foods in the freezer in case we both get ill at once and neither of us can cook. For now, we’re focussing on eating well, with a decent quantity of fresh veg, to stay healthy. I hope you stay healthy too! Have you tried anything new, or made anything you're especially proud of?

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Burmese Mutton Puffs

A plate with four nicely browned round puff pastry patties on.
By: Mrs Robot

Ooops, Christmas came and went with no Greedybots. (In case you’re wondering, this year’s trifle was inspired apple crumble, with lightly poached apples, brandy and cinnamon cake in the base, custard, whipped cream and then crumble fragments on top.) BUT you’re getting a post in January, and you had to wait till February last year so…

We’ve accumulated many cookbooks over the past year, and one we’ve used a lot is Mandalay by Mi Mi Aye. We went to the launch of her first book, Noodle!, which we loved, and were invited to the launch of this one, but my job got in the way. I’ll do a proper review of that in coming weeks, but over the last weekend I made something which didn’t make the cut for Mandalay: seik-thar puffs, or mutton puffs in English. The recipe’s online at Great British Chefs.

The method is interesting, as you fry the onions and garlic first in spices, then do the mutton (okay, I used lamb) and more spices separately, adding cornflour and water and thickening it, then adding the onions later. I’ve learned the hard way to make sure I cook onions properly for Asian dishes, and I know the value of properly browned meat. I was a bit dubious about the cornflour stage – mutton in glue? – but it works brilliantly. I had a bit of meat left over, so ate that on its own. Delicious!

The garlic and turmeric made it taste really Burmese to me. There’s potential here to vary the dish. I think a pork mince would be really interesting, or you could use finely-chopped mushrooms, carrot, water chestnut or other veg with a bit of bite if you want a veggie option. Changing the spices would also make a big change.

Anyway, another great recipe from Mi Mi Aye here!

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Bar du Boucher, Bordeaux

The front part of the Bar de Boucher in Bordeaux, with a wooden bar and bar stools
By: Mrs Robot

Ever have one of those days when the weather seems to be against you? We had one in Bordeaux; it was chucking down. But in the end we had the last laugh, as it drove us into a little bar we'd probably otherwise not have gone into. We love a bit of rock music, but on holiday tend to look for somewhere a little more traditional feeling, and in Bordeaux we'd been looking for the perfect steak Bordelaise. As it was, it was raining, we needed to hide from the deluge, and a beer plus Guns 'n' Roses seemed like a brilliant idea. I liked this place as soon as we walked through the door; I like a pub that feels well-worn, like it has regular patrons and doesn't give a stuff about being fancy enough to attract finicky types.

We hadn't noticed the name of the bar. Bar du Boucher: Bar of the Butcher. Had we not wandered deeper in we might never have realised what a treasure trove it was. The ceiling's vaulted, and the room itself long and slightly gloomy. The front is tables and bar, like in the photo at the top of this page, then the bar continues, with stools alongside it. We headed for those rather than a table to get a look at the beer pumps and there, by the opposite wall, is the meat counter. Beyond that there's a restaurant area with an amazing light made of pans – a pandelier, if you will – above the tables.

So, picture this: a slightly soggy pair of robots enjoying plenty of rock music and a pleasant beer or two, and right beside us, constantly drawing our eye, was the magnificent meat counter. We couldn't eat anywhere else that day!
The meat counter at Bar de Boucher, Bordeaux, with five dark, well-aged pieces of beef on the front row.
You don't just order steak in the Bar du Boucher, or even the cut of the steak. You get a choice of the breed of cow your steak is from. We both had Blond d'Aquitaine, the local breed, and of course we had it bleu. In case you're wondering, it's the middle joint in the front row of meat in the picture above. Both it and the cut to the left of it are entrecotes, but the incredible dark colour of the Blond d'Aquitaine made it an automatic choice. The minimum size for a piece of meat is 200g, and after that the size is up to you. There's also duck breast (stuffed or plain) and andouillette on the counter, but really the cow is the star here.

I had my steak with potatoes dauphinoise, Mr Robot had chips, and the dauphinoise is definitely the way to go. We washed it down with a local wine. If the meat is impressive, the wine list matches it. Several of the bottles on there, vintage wines from some of the best-known chateaux in Bordeaux, were priced in four figures. Ours was nothing like those, so if you're hankering for an old Margaux, it's still there waiting for you.
A steak with visible criss-cross char lines and two glasses of wine behind it.
Oh, and that steak Bordelaise? We never found one, but a charming local couple we met at lunch on another day explained that steak Bordelaise wasn't something the Bordelaise themselves really go for anyhow – a dish of lampreys stewed with leeks is the thing they really consider typical. I don't know if that's my thing. I do know if we're in Bordeaux again, we'll be heading back to Bar du Boucher, rain or shine.

Sunday 29 September 2019

Voila, le French Taco

A French taco from O'Tacos, bitten into to show the chips and cheese sauce
By: Mrs Robot

Ah, la belle France! Home of the finest cuisine. So as our wedding anniversary holiday this year was to Bordeaux, it was only natural that we should seek out the French Taco.

Wait, wut?

I completely blame this article in The Guardian. Usually we avoid junk food places on holiday as possibly not very local, and the Bordeaux branch of O'Tacos is a reasonable distance from the tourist area. But the promise of authentically French junk food, a wrap stuffed with chips and meat and cheese sauce, lured us in. It's nothing like a Mexican taco. If anything, it's half-kebab, half-wrap, with cheese goop thrown in.

When we arrived at O'Tacos the queue was out the door – well, it was lunchtime, and the place was just round the corner from the university. We ended up going away for a coffee and coming back a little later when class had restarted. Even so, the chaps behind the counter were busy with a constant stream of Ubereats drivers picking up delivery orders.

It is really good. How something so wrong can taste so right is beyond me. As far as I could make out, the wrap, chips and cheese sauce are standard. Then you get to pick one to four meats (depending on the size of taco you've chosen), an additional sauce, and any extras (including the option to have it toasted with additional cheese on the outside). It's delightfully non-messy, very tasty, and very filling.

France: not just the best at fine cooking, but here to claim the junk food crown too.
A French taco from O'Tacos, bitten into to show the chips and cheese sauce

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Still greedy...

By: Mrs Robot

Even when our appetites for blogging wane, our appetites for food do not! We've new cookbooks to talk about, and lovely food to share. I shall whet your appetite – and hopefully summon the spirit of my blogging passion – with this little shot of today's lunch. Ma po tofu with rice for me (though I couldn't identify any meat in it, and usually I'd expect pork) and braised beef in udon noodle soup for Mr R, at Chili Family Noodle in Bath.

Chili Family Noodle is always really busy, especially during term times when all the students are back in town. It's an unpretentious little noodle bar at the bus station, and the food is really good. My tofu was packed with the tastes of black bean, chili bean sauce and Szechuan pepper, and I loved every mouthful. That said, I did envy those noods. Maybe we'll have to go back...

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Lunch at Chez Dominique, Bath

By: Mrs Robot

Yesterday was my birthday (45 – might not be a 'big one' but it certainly feels big enough) so Mr Robot took me to Chez Dominique in Bath for lunch. Usually we go out in the evening for birthdays, but my workplace gives us our birthdays off so I'd booked a salon appointment in town that morning and we decided to make it a lunch date instead. Chez Dominique's a la carte menu is available all day, and we'd fancied going there for ages. It's just over Pultney Bridge, near our dentist, so we've both looked longingly at the menu on the way back from being savaged by the hygienist.

Mr Robot had booked the afternoon at work and said it felt very much like being on holiday, as we were eating nice food on a lovely day. It also felt a little like bunking off as he'd been in work that morning and then left it all behind.
But you're not here for tales of bunking off, you're here for food! I had smoked eel salad for a starter, and Mr Robot had a ham hock salad. Mine included chicory and apple, and both had a very nice dill dressing on that made us think yes, we really do need to grow some dill in the garden this year. The sweet crunch of the apple and bitter crunch of the chicory contrasted nicely with the soft, smoky eel and crispy smoky bacon.
For our main course we decided to share the chateaubriand from the Specials board. During our meal we heard the manager telling other customers the meat comes from Walter Rose – well, that explains why it was so good. We had it rare, because neither of us sees any point in having steak any other way. It came with fried mushrooms, salad leaves and frites. I'm fussy about mushrooms, only liking them when they're very fresh and very well fried, and these were perfect. (Honestly, stewed mushrooms are the worst.)
Mr Robot had the pear and almond tart for pudding, while I went for the cheese. This was good cheese. For one thing, there was an acceptable cheese-to-biscuit ratio. Too many places load up on (cheaper) fancy biscuits and stinge on the cheese, in my opinion. Chez Dominique makes sure that when you order the cheese, cheese is the star. And every cheese has a decent amount of punch.
I can't tell you how much it all cost as I didn't pay, but Mr Robot seemed to think the price was jolly reasonable, and we both agreed it's somewhere we'd go back to.