Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Making perfect Chips (or French Fries)

Every one seems to have been converted to microwave or oven chips these days, but they just don’t taste like real “Chip Shop” chips, or even those made by your mum! Actually these modern alternatives are often surprisingly unhealthy, and often devoid of the vitamin C that the well made home made chip still contains.

In the old days (pre 1970, when the world was only in black and white!) the Brits preferred lard, specifically beef lard to cook chips in, and I have to admit that the chips were great but artery hardening in the extreme …. For traditionalists, I believe that Scotland can still provide the full ‘pre colour’ chip experience (They still deep fry Mars Bars and Pizza slices), and I am sure the chips are still made the old fashioned way!

Anyway, for those who would like to try the old fashioned method I have checked around and this appears to be the accepted procedure.
  • Choose large and firm, white-skinned potatoes. If buying from a supermarket, make sure that the bag they come in says they are suitable for chipping.
  • Wash the potatoes thoroughly and dry with a clean cloth or kitchen roll. Peel with a potato peeler in cold water - vitamin C dissolves in hot water, so the vitamin can leach away. Similarly, only peel as required - Don't leave the peeled potatoes standing in water for more than a few minutes.
  • Heat a good quality, low-cholesterol, oil in a chip pan with a basket, at gas 180c or electricity mark 5. Don’t ever leave the pan unattended! In theory the oil should only be used a maximum of seven times but as long as its clear it’s OK.
  • Vegetable lard doesn't taste as good as the old fashioned stuff, and it's less healthy, and does not drain away from the chip so use oils.
  • As the oil heats, thoroughly dry the potatoes, and then cut the potatoes into chip shapes, about 1/2in by 4in, using a large, straight-edged chef's knife. Fat chips are good, as chips cut thinner will soak up more fat (Bad!).
  • Soak potatoes in water for 10 minutes to remove excess starch. Thoroughly dry the cut chips using either a clean cloth or kitchen roll. Dried chips will stop the oil spitting.
  • Test the oil is hot enough (about 180 degrees Celsius) by dropping a piece of potato into the pan. It should begin to cook straight away. If the oil isn't hot enough, the potato will sink to the bottom. If chips are cooked in oil which isn't hot enough, they will be very greasy.
  • When the oil is at the correct temperature, lift the basket out of the chip pan, place the chips inside and lower into the oil. The volume of chips should be half that of the pan - otherwise the oil will cool and the chips will absorb too much fat.
  • Blanching method (optional); the chips are fried at 170C for 4-6 minutes and lifted out just as they start to colour. The heat is then raised to 190C and the chips are plunged back into the oil for a further 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
  • Cover the pan with a lid for the first eight minutes of cooking. During this time they will steam fry.
  • For the last five minutes, remove the lid. This will allow water to escape from the oil, and the chips will crisp.
  • Shake first then turn out onto a clean cloth or kitchen roll to remove excess oil.
  • Serve immediately and allow each person to add their own salt and vinegar (I use a vinegar spray which puts a fine coat onto the chips!

Potatoes types?
Selecting the right variety of potato is also crucial for creating the perfect chip, and the King Edward is king. Like the other favourite chipping varieties, including Maris Piper (the chip shops’ favourite), Cara, Wilja, Saxon, Maris Peer, Desiree, Sante, Pentland Dell, and Fianna, it is tasty, and neither too watery or too high in sugar, which respectively give it a crispy texture and a light golden colour.
Lard, Peanut Oil, Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil?
Lard is just a health “No No” these days, and many think it’s not as tasty, but I am not sure about that taste thing.
Vegetable Oil is cheaper than Olive oil.
Sunflower Oil is better than vegetable oil because it has a higher smoke point.
Peanut Oil, well, this is more a US thing and therefore I can’t comment.

Virgin olive oil is expensive, and has a lower smoke point than vegetable oil. Why is that important?
Firstly; you will have to empty the pan and throw the oil away every few uses, so less expensive oils are less costly.
Secondly; every time you use the oil, you lower its smoke point - the point at which the molecules break down into a gunk called acreolein, and spread smelly smoke around your kitchen in the process.

Most common frying oils and vegetable shortenings start out with a smoke point in the 445F (229c) range with some lower (olive oil and lard @ 375F - 190c) and some higher (sunflower @ 510F - 265c), so after you've used it a few times the smoke point starts to drop near your frying temperature, usually around 365F - 185c, and smoke often begins to rise before you can even get the food in.
Obviously every usage builds up food particles and silt in the oil that can burn, turn black, and generally make everything taste bad like them. Careful filtration between uses can limit this quite a bit, but few people do it.
So if you want to re-use it's probably best to use a cheaper sunflower or vegetable oil, however taste makes a difference and I use olive oil.
  1. Fry with safflower (sunflower) oil. The high smoke point it starts with gives you more re-use before it degrades below your frying temperature.
  2. If something you're frying is throwing off a lot of itself into the oil, consider straining it through some cheesecloth between uses.
  3. Don't overload the pan and keep your frying temperature up. Many things fry just fine at around 365F (180c) , and people often fry lower than that unintentionally by overloading the pan on first load up. 
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Friday, 27 July 2007

Animal magic

For reasons that totally elude me there has been a spate of “Strange but True” animal tales hit the news, so I thought I would collect them into one quick round up for posterity.

Tabby cat called (Mad) Jack trees a bear:

Yep a 15lb tom cat was so territorial about his back yard patch that he twice treed a fully grown Brown Bear in New Jersey USA. Reminded me of the scene from that old Disney movie about two dogs and a Siamese cat, crossing a state in Canada …. I think it was called “The Incredible Journey” …. In which the cat takes on a Grizzly Bear to save the small dog (I am not talking remake … the 1963 version is the one I am thinking of).

Seagull thief is after the Doritos

You heard it; Sam, a seagull thief, has been regularly raiding a newspaper shop and stealing packets of Doritos (Cheese flavoured Tacos in a packet) in Aberdeen, Scotland. Good job he hasn’t spotted the local “Fried battered Mars Bars” or there would be trouble.

Who needs Doctor Death when you have Oscar the death sniffing cat? He wanders the wards only stopping with people about to die. This is in Rhode Island USA …. What are they feeding the cats over there?

Like a Bad penny they always turn up … lost cat found after 10 yrs

A cat called Lynx who disappeared 10 yrs ago, turned up in a strays hostel who tracked his (original) owner down.
When I was a kid our cat ‘Bouffs’, 'moved' about 15 houses away and lived with a family there. She refused to stay with us, and we accepted it. Then after about 2 yrs she walked back into our house and refused to return to the family who she had been living with. She stayed with us another 8 yrs until her death as an old cat. The other family were so upset that they got a dog! Mind you, we had told them that Bouffs was as thick as two short planks. 

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Thursday, 26 July 2007

PC Spinning of news by the BBC

First the good news, ‘Few Muslims 'back suicide bombs', cries the BBC web page headline somewhat disingenuously. This is based upon the views from a poll by the Pew Global group in the Muslim world, which actually shows that “Fewer” (not “few”) Muslims support blowing themselves up in order to kill us and go to paradise.

PC Brigade: “Well that’s good news then!”

General Public: “Err, but the poll shows that on average there are still one in three Muslims world wide who think killing me is OK!

PC Brigade: “Ah, but that’s down from two in three …. Mecca wasn’t built in a day you know, Hearts and Minds, Hearts and Minds!”

General Public: “But surely all right minded peoples of any religion would think Murder was wrong?

PC Brigade: “Well yes, but these aren’t right minded folk; this is a religion that says that murder in the name of god is a short cut to paradise. Of course all cultures are of equal value in our Multicultural paradise, and therefore this is a valid school of thought.”

General Public: “You mean killing me or anyone, like the worshippers of Kali did, you know, whassinames, ‘Thuggee’s’ is OK?

PC Brigade: “Yes that’s the general idea; you kill people while crying 'god is great' (Alla ha Akbar), and straight to heaven you go for doing gods work.”

General Public: “But what about the victims?

PC Brigade: “Well some, the Muslims for example, will go to paradise if they are the ‘right sort’, and the rest, the ’non right’ sorts of Muslims and non believers, go to hell.”

General Public: “What’s on Earth is the wrong sort of Muslim?

PC Brigade: “Ah well that’s where we have a slight problem, from our Multicultural point of view, none are, because it’s a 'glorious religion that all the rest of humanity should show great deference to', but, some of our Muslim brothers seem to think that any Muslim who doesn’t follow their way to Allah, are the “wrong sort of Muslim”. E.g. Sunni’s hate Shia’s and they both hate all other islamic sects.”

General Public: “So the BBC headline should be that ‘At least one in three Muslims supports suicide bombings’?

PC Brigade: “Well that’s one way of looking at it, if you want to be negative.”

Of course you would never see that sort of headline because we have reached the stage where we have to spin everything involving Islam so that we don’t offend them. Odd really because guess what the headline would have been if over a third of non Muslims said it was OK to bomb Muslims? I guarantee that it would have not been ‘Few non Muslims back bombing Muslims’.

No one ever asks publicly, what sort of religion condones murder as a way of entering paradise? If it wasn't Islam, and therefore 'an untouchable, sacred cow' (to borrow from Hindu's) in the West, but was the worship of Kali by murder, we would have no problem in calling it as it really was.

But instead, we portray the fact that over 30% on average of Muslims condone and support suicide bombings, as somehow a positive thing. Lord Reith will be turning in his grave, as he sees how the BBC, in the name of 'impartiality' is now no longer able to even take a moral stance on what is wrong, or even report facts in a straightforward manner.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Old Booze is Old News

There was an unusual news item that caught my eye today. Hidden treasure of a non glittering kind ….. Booze!

It seems that Macedonian villagers have been unearthing bottles of vintage cognac from World War 1 in their fields. Surprisingly it is not only drinkable, but also valuable at about 5,000 euros (£3,360 $6720) per bottle, so the hunt for more bottles of the elixir of the gods has drawn people from all over Europe.

The bottles were from supplies held by French troops stationed in the region to help Serbia during WWI and were buried by shell fire.

This kind of strange find reminded me of the old Whiskey Galore movie which was based upon the events surrounding the sinking of ship full of whiskey off the Hebrides. The real ship that sunk in Feb 5 1941 - during WWII - was the S/S Politician.

Having left Liverpool two days earlier heading for Jamaica, it sank outside Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides in bad weather, containing 250,000 bottles of whisky. The locals gathered as many bottles as they could, before the proper tax authorities arrived, and even today, bottles are found in the sand or in the sea every other year.

Old wine often has a market, and even newish bottles can become expensive and 200 yr old bottles occasionally make the news with a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem from 1787 was purchased by an American client for the record breaking sum of 90,000 US dollars, breaking the previous record of 56,000 dollars set in 1985.

But they have a bit to go to beat the two-millennia-old bottle of light green rice wine excavated in northern China which may have passed its expiry date but is still potable according to the archaeologists who found it in Xian — home to the famous terracotta warriors — who have stored it in a glass container for further study, Xinhua news agency reported.

The wine, which is so old that Roman emperor Julius Caesar could have tasted it, has "high purity, marking a mature wine-making technology," Sun Fuxi, a Xian archaeologist said. The bronze wine jar, adorned with a phoenix head, was the best preserved and largest quantity of ancient wine ever found in China, according to the agency.

Hmm, I think I’ll stick to Mr Samuel Smiths Best Bitter established in 1758. That’s old enough for me.

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Friday, 13 July 2007

Wiping England from History

There was news recently that Roman coins had turned up on a beach in Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland (which was outside the Empire), and the excitement this had caused amongst local Historians and Archaeologists.

Personally I don't find the idea so exciting or strange as Roman trade was well beyond the boundaries of the Empire, and coins have been found as far afield as East Africa (Imperial coin found Nairobi), India, Ceylon (The Roman coins certainly known to have been found in Ceylon begin with Nero and Vespasian), Vietnam and China, so 30 miles away seems nothing odd.

But then I went to school at a time when British History was taught chronologically from the Stone Age, through Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romans, Dark Ages, 1066 & Normans, 100 yrs war, War of the Roses, Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth 1st, Cromwell, The Restoration, Glorious Revolution , George the third and the Americas, William Pitt & Napoleon, Victoria and the Empire, First World War and finally the Churchill and the Second World War.

Why we can't still teach kids from Primary (Cavemen and Stone Age) through Junior (Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romans, Dark Ages) and into Secondary (1066 onwards), is beyond me. It worked well, it allows for deviations for Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland at certain points e.g. William Wallace and Robert the Bruce instead of Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth 1st.

Teaching the history of ethnic minorities is a waste of time, is non cohesive and divisive and should be a private matter for those kids. The US or France or Germany don't teach the history of Mexico or Turkey for example. Only in the UK has the PC brigade got enough power to force this nonsense. But nowadays most English kids are apparently taught about foreign countries (Pakistan), the history of the EU, and UK history is tacked on, out of context so that they have no idea who or what comes when and where.

And now the ideologues of the PC wing of the labour party, have decided that British history teaching should be just abandoned. Now even Churchill is to be dropped from history lessons but (oddly) Pakistani history is being left on the curriculum along with Arabic ..... ah well, which way is Mecca?

To wipe a nation from the map first you remove its history, and it appears England is to be definitely to be removed from history. We in England already produce children, who don't know who the Kings and Queens were, can't tell you about the War of the Roses, have no idea about Cromwell & the Commonwealth, or the Glorious Revolution, and in fact know nothing about nothing. Strangely, in Scotland there is no such issue because Scottish history is taught in a traditional manner.... but then English Labour MP's have no say over the Scottish curriculum

Odd that, or maybe not when a (1) Labour Minister once apparently said "that there was no such thing as England" and (2) Liberal leaders apparently agree. Well after another decade of teaching non English history, they may well be proved to be right.

To think that foreign nations may well be teaching about "England", long after it has been wiped from the Map of the British Isles.

(1). Hansard 11/05/1999 pt 27: "I was disappointed to hear the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan lab) appeared to say that there was no such thing as England, whereas Scotland and Wales were real countries."

(2). Liberal Democrat Leader of Newcastle City Council, Peter Arnold who insisted extraordinarily that there is no such thing as England.

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Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Global Warming - latest

Mainstream fightback:

Since I wrote this blog comment a new BBC science page has come on line which shows all the main 'sceptics' arguments and the counter view to them. It doesn't show of the science supports the counterview but its apparently fair.
The Summary of the Sceptics Top Ten Arguments covers all the points, and I admit I am wobbling, but still not entirely convinced that its a human led event. It covers the following subjects:
They have also added this article on the sceptics views.
The Original Blog:

In a spirit of fairness I have editted an old blog because the BBC, true to its word, has published a new article on the solar influence on climate. Of course its an article purporting to prove that this influence is negligible or non existent.

Frankly I found it unconvincing because although the last 20 yrs data shows a divergence from trend for 13 of those years, but in reality it has the same weakness as all the pro CO2 (as main driver of global warming) brigade. That is that it relys on data from a very small time scale of the last 50, or even 20 yrs, upon which to base an assumption of trend for the next 300 years.

This is just not sustainable in any other scientific context, where a 20 year blip in a trend taken out of 5,000 yrs would not be considered significant, and certainly not enough to refute a long term set of data.

In fact this is rather a good illustration of how we are being driven by an unscientific agenda on what should be a wholly evidence drven discussion.

NB: Recent studies have found that the ice never completely melted when the last warm period occurred and that some parts of the solar ice caps got thicker (hence the survival of Polar Bears?) ... there is evidence that this is occurring even now. The jury is still out in my world.

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Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Chinese Communist show trials

Lest we forget, China is a totalitarian state.

I know that sounds obvious, but with the new 'cuddly' feel to China that our politicians encourage us to think, as its economic power grows, and as we approach the Olympics, it sometimes takes a jolting headline to remind us that it's only 30 odd years since Mao died.

I was reminded of this with the headline “China food safety head executed” …. his crime? 'Corruption and dereliction of duty'. The amount involved, a comparatively small 6.5m yuan ($850,000; £425,400) in bribes, which is hardly a death sentence, especially as anecdotal evidence sugests that top communists have made billions of yuan in bribes over land seizures alone.

However the dereliction of duty is a more serious charge, but it appears that a lot of this dereliction went on below the level of the dead man. This story has the chilling feel of a Stalinist, or more properly Maoist show trial, where a person is first denounced, then tried, then shot, and acts as a timely reminder that the rule of law in a communist state, always comes second to the needs of the communist party and government.

Whether it’s correct to impose the death penalty for causing the deaths of others is an argument which I may pursue in another Blog, but whether a man should be killed to send out a state message against corruption is not an argument I can support.

I mention this because the reasons given by the state for his death were quoted as being that Zheng Xiaoyu had "brought shame" on the department, adding that anyone abusing their power would be punished. Not a mention of the deaths, but a concern over loss of face. Finally the other concern was that exports might suffer because of loss of confidence in Chinese drugs and foods.

When you watch the Beijing Olympics, remember that the smoke and mirrors that make it appear a glittering success, are built on real bloodshed and showcase executions, not too different from those of North Korea or an Islamist regime.

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A middle aged orange male ... So 'un' PC it's not true....