Thursday, 21 April 2016

My Life as a Vegetarian

They say you are what you eat. If that's true, then I'm a bacon butty. Only joking, sometimes I eat sausages. And burgers. And other stuff like that. Y'know, meaty stuff. If you cut me in half, you would see 'carnivore' written all the way through me.

I have tried a vegetarian diet, many moons ago when I was an impoverished student. When I say 'vegetarian' I don't mean hardcore 'healthy' vegetarian, I mean things like egg, chips and beans. With lots of mayo.

But I did spend a year – actually, it might have been just six months, but it certainly felt like a year – sharing a house with two guys who wanted a vegetarian to occupy the third, and by far the tiniest, bedroom. The deal was that we would all contribute to the food budget and take it in turns to do the cooking. So I got the gig, but what they hadn't explained was that the flavour of vegetarianism they practiced was macrobiotic.

That was new to me, but here's a quick rundown of what macrobiotics eat. Grains, fruit and veg, no dairy, no meat, and a weekly fish allowance. And if I remember correctly, members of the nightshade family such as spuds and tomatoes were considered to be the work of the devil. And it goes without saying, you have to balance the Yin and Yang in every meal. And chew everything 50 times before you swallow it.

Hard work doesn't even begin to describe this diet. It was awful.

Things came to a head when I spotted one of the guys from the house outside a MacDonald's furtively eating a Big Mac. I left that house shortly afterwards, headed straight for the meat counter, and haven't looked back since.

So that's macrobiotics, and allegedly if you are a reclusive Japanese monk living on top of a mountain and you follow this diet, you can easily expect to live to be two hundred years old. Imagine, two hundred cold, miserable years without a single cheeseburger. I'll pass thanks.

I have many friends who are vegetarians of one sort or another. In fact my wife would probably be one if I let her in the kitchen. And that's fine, but just as I don't go round trying to make vegetarians eat meat, so I don't welcome attempts to convert me to a vegetarian diet.

Pop star and militant vegetarian Morrissey is fond of saying 'meat is murder'. And I can live with that. You may have my bacon butty when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

I'm Back!

Wow, I last posted in this blog back in August last year. I really didn't think it had been that long. And the reason for this extended leave of absence? Well, we moved house in September, and again just after Christmas. So, Spain no more, we are in God's Own County, Yorkshire, in a little suburb on the edge of Leeds. And we're loving it! The always-interesting, sometimes challenging weather, the fabulous countryside a mere stone's throw away, the fact that everybody speaks English.

It's all good stuff, and the bonus is that, for me at least, having been away for a couple of decades, it feels like a foreign country, so we're having to learn how everything works all over again.

Anyway, here's the New Year Message I posted on my YouTube channel, and in it you can see the amazing kitchen that I now work in. Enjoy!

New Year, New Kitchen




Sunday, 30 August 2015

Body Image

This image has been popping up a lot in my Twitter feed recently (how modern am I?), and I want to scream every time I see it. She might be a very nice person, she might be very healthy and outlive me by centuries. But that is not a body that appeals to me in the slightest. No doubt she'd say the same about mine, but that's not the point and this is my blog. We're talking about body image here, and how the media and marketing tosspots imagine perfection should look, thereby alienating, scaring and generally discombobulating the 99% of people who don't look anything like that.

She's drinking a green smoothie, a 'superfood' apparently, blithely ignorant that the only superfood in the world is bacon. I bet she goes on detox programs too, blissfully unaware that the human body already incorporates all the systems needed to keep it safe from toxins and it doesn't even charge you for it.

But back to body image. Huffington Post carried this article recently. A photo of a slightly tubby but happy looking young lady was given to 18 designers (14 of whom were women) in assorted countries. They were asked to modify it to represent their idea of the perfect woman. Heaven help me if I ever go to China. And it's interesting to note that only one of them changed the colour of the white underwear. To red. Italian.

Anyway, horses for courses, one man's meat is another mans poison (KLANG KLANG CLICHE ALERT), but really I want to find out where that woman lives and send her a pie. Possibly full of bacon. I'm sure she'd thank me for it.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

keefcooks.com - much improved website

KeefCooks home page
I've been very quiet on the blogging front lately because I've been hard at work building a complete revamp of keefcooks.com. Now it's done, and I'm very pleased with it. It's a serious redesign with several major objectives.

Firstly, to improve the findability of the recipes, both for people and for search engines. Secondly, to improve the experience for viewers on mobile phones. And thirdly, to increase advertising recipe - because if I'm going to keep on doing these recipes and the accompanying videos, I do need some money coming in!

So I tackled the findability issues by scrapping the 7 or 8 categories that I had - it was becoming very limiting anyway, and replacing that with a whole bunch of other groupings - Cuisine/Origin, Meal Course/Type, Main Ingredient, Cooking Method, Cooking Time, Most Recently Added and Most Viewed. And there's also an old-fashioned search box if you want to do it that way.

That taxonomic structure (yes, an SEO expert actually called it that) will help search engines get to the content much easier, and I've used friendly URLs throughout the site so that the clunky old web addresses like keefcooks.com/recipe_detail.php?id=27&t=3 become smart, streamlined and readable, like http://www.keefcooks.com/spaghetti-carbonara-easy-recipe/.

KeefCooks rich snippet in Google
Another behind-the-scenes idea I've implemented is structured data markup. You're probably scratching your head, but what it means is you use a schema that relates to recipes. So first of all, you are directly telling the search engine you're talking about a recipe. Then you tell it the recipe name, cuisine, prep time and cooking time (in a rather arcane ISO format), the ingredients and a summary of the method. In Google search results, some of this info appears as a 'rich snippet' along with a small thumbnail that makes your result stand out from the others and be more likely to be clicked on.

As far as revenue goes, there's really only one option at the moment, and that's Google AdWords. I designed the site specifically to fit Google's standard sizes for adverts. I do also have a PayPal Donate button, which has resulted in precisely 1 donation in the 2 years that I've been running this site. Please feel free to donate as much as you like!

KeefCooks printable recipe
Finally, I spent quite a lot of time building the print version of the recipe details page. If you choose to print out a recipe, you get a nice clean layout without any advertising or menu links (you might have noticed that clicking links on paper doesn't work!). What you do get, however, are 2 QR (Quick Response) codes. If you have a barcode scanner app on your smartphone, you can scan the codes - one of them takes you to the original recipe on the website, the other takes you to the video on YouTube.

So that's the new-look website. Hopefully I've made it super-easy and simple to use. And as any good designer will tell you, making something simple is actually a very hard thing to achieve, and after all that graft, I need a beer. So will someone please hurry up and make a PayPal donation!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Restaurant Review: Tuk Tuk, Madrid

Late last year, business partners Ric and Alan shook up Madrid's rather staid food scene by opening Tuk Tuk (in the trendy Malasaña barrio, Calle Cardenal Cisneros 6), serving Asian street food. It was a bit of a risk - Madrileños are not known for embracing exotic foreign food. While Madrid already had a number of Asian restaurants - lots of Cantonese, several 'Indian' (Bangladeshi, normally), a couple of Thai places - none of them was outstanding and none had the guts to serve authentic recipes. The curse of 'adjusting to suit local tastes' prevails in Madrid.

Tuk Tuk is different - the food is bursting with Asian flavours, served without pretension, and very affordable. The first restaurant became so popular they had to turn away more people than they could serve at weekends. Clearly the demand was there, so a couple of weeks ago they opened a second venue (in the gay Chueca barrio, Calle Barquillo 26) that can accommodate twice as many people as the first Tuk Tuk.

We went on a Saturday lunchtime a few days after it opened. The interior follows the design cues of the original Tuk Tuk - black and red, a big photo-mural of an Asian city street, Chinese lanterns and illuminated advertising signs. This location can hold about 60 people on three levels - the ground floor, a mezzanine and a basement. The basement is unusual in that it has natural daylight filtering into it, so it's a lot more pleasant than most basement dining areas.

We've eaten at the original Tuk Tuk several times, so our expectations of the food were pretty high. We were not disappointed. The menu isn't divided into starters and mains, it's divided into Rice Bowls, Thai Curry, Barbecue dishes, Noodles dishes, Noodle Soup, Salads and Soup.

To start, we shared a bowl of Hong Kong Char Sui - marinated Pork loin served with a dome of sticky rice speckled with black seeds (nigella, I think). Then we had Moo Ping - Thai skewers of marinated pork - and Tom Ka Gai, a delicious Thai chicken soup buzzing with the flavours of coconut, lime, lemon grass and only the chef knows what else. It was all superb.

So, give your taste buds a treat and go to Tuk Tuk.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Food Education

When I was at school, cooking ('domestic science') was definitely for girls. Us lads didn't get a look-in, it was woodwork and metalwork for us chaps. And that was okay until I left home to go to Uni, and had to fend for myself, foodwise. I'd never been encouraged to cook at home, although I could manage things like frying an egg, making beans on toast etc. Remember, this was the olden days, the 1970s, when access to information was nowhere near as splendid and easy as it is now. The interwebz did not yet exist, and knowledge was acquired from school or the public library (the cook-book industry was nowhere near as big as it is now, in fact I don't think my mother owned a single cookery book). So I would phone my mother in a panic to find out how to make Yorkshire pudding, for instance.

I mention all this because last week, a new GCSE curriculum was announced in the UK for cooking and nutrition. It will take effect from September 2015, and the contents of it are, frankly, amazing. I would quite like to do the course myself!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Haggis

It was Burn's Night last weekend (25th January). Haggis is compulsory eating on this day of celebrating Scottishness, and this year I decided to make my own, as authentically as possible. That, of course, means hitting the offal in a big way. I thought I might be thwarted at the first hurdle, getting hold of a sheep's pluck. The pluck is the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, and it turns out to be readily available at the casquería (offal) stalls at my local market. This surprised me, but asadura is a fairly common peasant dish round these parts. What I couldn't get was a sheep's stomach to stuff the filling into, so I had to make do with sausage casing.

Now, if you're in the US, you would have a seriously hard time getting a complete pluck, because your government deems lungs to be unfit for human consumption. I think you could make a reasonable version without the lungs, but don't tell any purists I said that.

Here's my haggis recipe, and here's the video of me making haggis.

So the drill for a formal Burn's Supper involves at least one bagpiper playing 'Scotland the Brave' (you might think there's some bravery involved in making/eating haggis), and the host or Master of Ceremonies reciting Robbie Burns' 'Address to a Haggis'. The haggis is, of course, accompanied by neeps and tatties, and a wee dram or ten.

It's really not difficult to make haggis, although it can take 5-6 hours. And remember, for a chef, every night is burns night.