Saturday, 3 February 2018

I'm Not Dead

Hey everybody. Anybody? I don't know if anybody still follows this blog and, to be honest, I'd almost forgotten it existed. But this evening I had cause to boot up my ancient MacBook which has Probably Madrid set up as the home page in the browser. So I've had a few nostalgic twinges looking at it, and especially for some of the blogs I used to follow which are still going strong.

These days, I'm more focused on the wonderful and massively time-consuming world of vlogging (horrible word) - there's my cooking channel, Keef Cooks:
which is doing pretty well - and my new channel, Planet Keef:
. The Planet is, or is going to be (it's still in its infancy) about anything and everything that interests me - except politics and religion because I don't care to get into long, frustrating arguments with people who have a different point of view. I can't make them change their viewpoint, and they can't make me change mine. So what I'm interested in now is DIY, woodwork, electronics/Arduino, technology in general, ASMR, scenic drives and, well, we'll see.

If you're interested, I'm doing a Livestream on Planet Keef tomorrow, Feb 4th starting at 1400 GMT. It will probably last 90 minutes. I'll be answering questions on pretty much anything, and it would be lovely if you turned up! There is an ulterior motive to this, which is that YouTube now requires new channels to have 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of view time in the previous 12 months before the channel can earn money, so if I can get a bunch of people to stay glued to the screen for an hour or so that would help me get there enormously!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Paella Time!

You can't live in Spain, run a cooking website, and not have a recipe for Paella. So here's mine. I was a bit worried about doing this because of the authenticity issue - Valencian Paella Purists would slaughter me for this. But hey, I'll put my neck on the line and say this is a pretty authentic Madrid Paella Mixta, such as you would get in most cafés/restaurants (and actually, better than many I've had) around town.

The recipe is here: Seafood and Rabbit Paella

Sunday, 18 May 2014

KeefCooks has landed!

Finally, finally, after almost a year since I had the original idea, I've managed to build and launch my cooking website, KeefCooks. I'm furiously working away at adding recipes to it, but there's a fair bit there already, so please take a look:

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Juiciest Hamburger Ever

Sometimes, you just need to eat something that drizzles juice down your chin and all the way down into your boots. Don't you? A big, fat, juicy hamburger. But what that 'juice' really is, is fat. Fat is flavour!

I was recently researching what it is that makes for a truly juicy hamburger, and the answer is: the F-word. Somebody even suggested you should have a fat-to-meat ratio of 40%. That seemed a bit excessive to me, although I did try it once and the results were truly, joyously dribbly. I had to get my arteries cleaned out the next day, though, so maybe it wasn't such a great idea. The consensus seems to be about 20% fat in the burger, but in my video below I've gone for a compromise of 30%.

INGREDIENTS (makes 4 burgers)
450g beef (a reasonable cut, no need to go crazy)
150g hard fat (tocino/lardo or similar)
1 medium onion
pinch of salt
pinch of ground black pepper

4 good burger buns - not the soft fluffy mass-produced things from the supermarket - something more solid like my brioche burger buns
Sliced tomato
Iceberg lettuce
Dill pickles (gherkins), sliced
Cheese - a good, flavoursome mature cheddar, gruyere, raclette - basically anything that melts and tastes of cheese
Anything else you like - ketchup, mayo, mustard, bacon etc

1) Chop the beef, fat and onion into chunks that will go through your mincer
2) Run all patty ingredients through your mincer using the coarse plate
3) Run the mixture through the mincer again, this time using the medium plate.
4) Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to use it.
5) Form the mixture into patties about the same diameter as your rolls, and 2cm thick
6) Heat a thin film of vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed frying pan on medium heat. Place the patties in and turn every 30 seconds or so for a total time of 6 minutes*
7) Remove patties from pan, tent in foil and let rest 5 - 10 minutes
8) Assemble burger and garnishes
9) Eat

*How often you should flip your patties is a contentious issue, but this article shows that frequent flipping is best.
The timings above should give you medium-rare burgers - final internal temperature of 55-60ºC.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Melton Mowbray-style Pork Pie 2.0

Monday, 19 August 2013


My few remaining loyal followers may have been wondering if I'd expired suddenly, based on the paucity of posts recently. Well, no, I Ate'n't Dead. But I have been very busy with new stuff, and this blog has definitely suffered because of that.

You might have noticed that my last few posts have all been food/cooking-related. About a month ago, I decided to go the whole hog and build me a cooking website, build a huge audience and make stacks of money from advertising (we live in hope!). Anyhoo, that's a work-in-progress that will be at when it's eventually ready to launch. But, like an eejit, I also decided that every recipe would be enhanced by my ugly mug showing you how to screw up on video. So right now there's a collection of about 30 videos on my YouTube channel:

I may or may not post on this blog in the future, but now at least you know I'm alive and kicking, and you know where to find me in future...

Monday, 20 May 2013

Sourdough & Crumpets

I've never (knowingly) eaten sourdough bread before, but it keeps popping up on cooking programmes and in recipes and everyone seems to be unanimous that it is the BEST bread ever. It seems a bit fiddly to make - about three times fiddlier than normal bread - but I'm okay with that.

The first thing you need to make sourdough is a starter culture. It's just bread flour and water, but yeast from the flour and in the air causes it to ferment. To date, I've made three starters, but the assorted 'recipes' I've tried have not been successful. They're all a bit vague about things like what temperature it should be kept at, whether to keep it in a sealed vessel or not, and other things that those in the know, know and take for granted, while us novices struggle to keep the thing alive.

My first two efforts (the first recipe an algamation of junky recipes from the Interwebz, the second from Paul Hollywood that included four grapes - presumably for extra yeast from their skins) died miserable gloopy deaths, but the current one (from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) seems to be fine.

Apparently your starter has to have a name - mine is Kevin. Yesterday I felt brave enough to hoik half of Kevin out of the jar to make a 'sponge' with. This is the first phase of baking your loaf. You add more flour and water to the starter and leave it until it's bubbling like a bubbly thing (I left it overnight). Then you add more flour and a pinch of salt, stir it all up and knead it for ten minutes. Then you need to let it rise (all day, basically), knock it back and prove it again (overnight). When it's doubled in size, you can bake it.

So I did. The result had a crust of steel and the density of concrete. Useful as a weapon, but not my idea of a perfect loaf. I will try again, of course.

But one of the things that has me baffled about maintaining your starter is that you have to throw part of it away before feeding it with a bit more flour and water - every day. For such a tree-hugger-like activity, the idea of all that waste just puzzles me. So I thought I could do something with it - the starter is essentially just a batter. You could make pancakes with that, I thought. But then I also thought, if I add some salt and baking powder to it, I could make crumpets. So I did, and they were very close to being wonderful (I burnt the bottoms in my excitement). I think you could also use this batter to make blinis.

I'll let you know if I ever manage to make an edible sourdough loaf.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Now You've Got Your New Blowtorch, What Will You Do With It?

I try to limit the amount of kitchen gadgets I have, on the basis that it's hard to find space to store them, and worries about how useful they will be. In the case of the blowtorch, it was like trying to decide whether or not to buy an iPad. However, the blowtorch is considerably cheaper (about €45 with a big can of lighter fluid), therefore the risk of it sitting unused and unloved on a shelf is less. So, I've had it about a week, and this is what I've done with it so far:

  • A test run, melting some sugar to form something like toffee
  • Cheese on toast - our grill has never been up to this job, but melting cheese onto pieces of buttered toast takes a matter of minutes and tastes delicious
  • Browning pale-looking meringue: be careful, you can easily turn it into a blackened and inedible Vesuvius
  • The classic excuse for buying a blowtorch, créme brûlée. I admit, I cheated with the custard base - used a shop-bought 'flan' mix. Melted a spoonful of sugar on top of each custard to form a wonderful caramelly crunchy layer
  • Crisping up some leftover chicken skin
  • Cheese on toast again
  • Adding some colour to cheeseburger baked in a flatbread parcel
  • Zapping pork belly skin to make perfect crackling
  • 'Toffee apple' - a slice of apple coated in sugar caramelised with the blowtorch.
Not a bad investment, methinks.

Friday, 11 January 2013

A Short Treatise on Pies

This is a piece I wrote late last year, but never posted. I was reminded of it yesterday when I read an article in the Guardian entitled 'How to Make the Perfect Steak and Ale Pie'. This article is part of a series by the normally-admirable Felicity Cloake; what she does is take a bunch of recipes from well-known cooking folks, makes them all and then figures out which is the best (and it's frequently an amalgam of several recipes). It's a terrific idea, and I have used many of her 'perfect' recipes for various things. However, with her 'pie' recipe, she has been seriously misled by the likes of The Hairy Bikers, Valentine Warner and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. All of the recipes she makes are for Things That Are Not Pies. See below; all will be explained...

For many food-related items in the UK, the latter part of the twentieth century saw a tremendous rise in industrialised production, with a corresponding fall in quality. Pies were no exception, and many people who grew up with some of the horrible products on the market at that time have a pretty dim view of the beasts. Fortunately, things have improved somewhat, and pies have been enjoying a bit of a revival. They are no longer looked down on as cheap, grotty products for the proles, although you don't have to look hard to find that kind of rubbish if you really don't care about what you eat.

So, what is a pie? According to the Melton Mowbray Pie Association, promoters of the annual British Pie Awards, 'a pie is deemed to be a filling totally encased in pastry'.

Now that's a fairly tight definition, but it would also allow things like Beef Wellington to be called pies, and lattice-topped fruit pies to be sent to the naughty corner. I understand why they defined it that way, and I more or less agree, because it keeps out Things That Are Not Pies: Pizzas; Flans; Quiches; Shepherd's Pie; Cottage Pie; and the dreaded bastard-son-of-pie favoured by many a pub landlord, the ceramic bowl full of slop with a slice of bought-in puff pastry sitting on top.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the MMPA chose their definition of a pie because of the rival UK pie competition, British Pie Week, sponsored by Jus-Rol Pastry, where Things That Are Not Pies are regularly favoured with awards.

The most popular savoury pie fillings are probably Steak & Kidney, Chicken & Mushroom and Minced Beef & Onion (the item after the '&' is normally there to provide a bit of bulk from something that's cheaper than meat). Unlike Spanish attempts at pies, the meat and vegetable is cooked in a tasty gravy or sauce. You can put pretty much anything you like in a pie, but stew-based fillings tend to be the most successful.

There are no hard and fast rules about what accompaniments should be served with a savoury pie, nor even about what should be in it, but if you visit any of the traditional pie shops in London's East End, your pie will be served with mashed potatoes, possibly peas (mushy or not), and 'liquor'. Now, this is a bit weird - it's basically a fishy parsley sauce and is a hangover from the days when the Thames was swarming with eels and most of them ended up in pies. The liquor was the water the eels were cooked in. These days, eels in the Thames are rarer than hen's teeth, and pie fillings have drifted to the meaty side of things, but the liquor continues.

You may also come across pies served with chips or french fries (and note, there is a significant difference between these things), and maybe with mixed vegetables and/or salad. If you're very lucky, you may be offered extra gravy.

I should mention at this point that not all pies are designed to be eaten hot. The main one in the 'eat-me-cold' category is the pork pie. This contains minced/chopped pork surrounded by a savoury jelly and encased in a fairly hard pastry. Traditionally, these pies are not made in moulds, but the pastry base is 'raised' around a wooden former called a 'dolly'. The jelly is poured in through a hole in the lid after the pie has been baked.

I actually took part in the British Pie Awards a couple of years ago: took a red-eye from Madrid, watched in dismay as airport security confiscated my gel-filled chilling packs, and arrived at Melton Mowbray in the English Midlands with warm and squishy pies that impressed nobody.

I had expected this pleasant market town that claims to have invented the Pork Pie to be in full fête, but none of the people I spoke to had ever heard of the Pie Awards. I'd also been expecting the place to be swarming with fellow pie-makers, and it possibly was, but you can only go up to so many strangers and ask them if they make pies before Social Services start taking an interest. The next day was Judgment Day, and while the public and the Gods of the Art of Pie were welcome to wander around the outskirts of the judging area, there really wasn't much to do until the results were announced at about 5pm.

I retired to one of the pubs adjoining the huge church where the awards were going on (and the vicar had blessed the pies, which I thought was rather enlightened of him), taking a bar-stool directly opposite the kitchen door. As I settled myself, one of the two oldish men in the kitchen put on his coat and announced he was off to pick up his car from the garage, leaving the other one fuming and grumbling out loud 'I'll feckin' killim, leavin' me on my own at lunchtime!' over and over.

I noticed they had Steak & Kidney Pie on the menu, and eavesdropped with interest when someone approached the barmaid and asked about it.
'Does it have pastry top and bottom?'
Aha, I though, a fellow competitor.
'Ooh yes,' said the barmaid, 'it's lovely.'

So he ordered one, and I watched in jaw-dropping, eye-rolling, tearing-my-hair-out horror as the grumbling madman in the kitchen assembled this utter travesty of a pie. He removed two frozen puff-pastry 'pie-shells' from the freezer, defrosted them in the microwave and popped them under a grille to brown. Meanwhile he heated up the S & K filling, put french fries and salad on a plate, and then built the 'pie' - one crust on the bottom, some filling, second crust on the top. I have never in my entire life seen anything so bizarre. Neither, I imagine, had the poor customer who'd ordered it, probably wouldn't be able to bring himself to eat it, but would still have to pay over a tenner for it. And this sacrilege was carried out on the very day of judgment of the British Pie Awards.

But I digress. You get the idea that I am passionate about pies. And so, I hope, are you. May the Pi be with you.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Stiff Peaks

Well, slightly runny peaks, actually. But this is my first attempt at beating the hell out of egg whites until they give in and miraculously turn themselves into meringue. I'm reckoned by some to be a fairly decent cook, and I wouldn't disagree with them. But where I fall down is in desserts. Okay, I can make an apple pie or crumble with my eyes shut, but when it comes to things like custard, meringues, sponge cakes etc, I'm a complete novice because I've never paid much attention to that kind of stuff. I do love to eat it, though, despite my previous claims about not having a sweet tooth (I think it emerged about ten years ago, like a late-developing wisdom tooth but without the pain).

 I spent the last couple of months watching The Great British Bake-Off, and it has kindled a bit of a spark in me. It seems that baking is an enormous area of culinary art that, dare I say it, requires a lot more skill and knowledge than that required to bung meat and two veg on a plate.

So this afternoon I decided to try something I've never done before - a meringue (which may or may not form the base of a pavlova). It seems ridiculously simple: take three egg whites (some recipes suggest adding a pinch of salt and cream of tartar), whizz 'em about a bit, and then whizz in 6oz of sugar - icing sugar is preferred because of its finer texture, but I used ordinary granulated. The beating process is supposed to take 5-10 minutes, but I was using a hand whisk, was probably too slow during the first ten minutes, and my arm was all set to drop off when I stopped after half an hour. I know I haven't quite achieved the desired consistency - stiff peaks, baby! - but I just couldn't continue. However, I've made it into a circle on a baking sheet, and tried to form ramparts around the edge to hold the fruit in with. It's now basking in a slow oven for an hour. I'm sure what comes out will be edible, even if somewhat short of perfection.

 The next challenge will be whipped cream - stiff peaks again.

 A side effect of making the meringue is going to be home-made dairy ice cream. I stumbled on this by chance, but if you are using three egg whites in your meringue, you won't be surprised to learn you'll have three orphaned egg yolks. And, apart from the cream, what ice cream needs is three egg yolks. Result!

After the attempt described above, a couple of people pointed out the reason for failure was that I used granulated sugar, so I tracked down some caster sugar (at least, that's what I think it is - it's a bit hard to tell with some stuff in Spain - it's a very fine white sugar), and had another go. The result was pretty much the same as the first attempt: I just wasn't getting enough air into the egg white, so it was doomed to failure. And you need your stiff peaks BEFORE you add the sugar.

By this time, I've been halfway round the Internet looking for solutions (and yes, Cynthia, I would LOVE a KitchenAid, but gosh aren't they expensive!), and learnt a great deal. The problem with recipes on the Internet and in actual books that you pay lots of money for, is that nothing ever goes wrong. Anyway, here is my stiff peaks advice from assorted sources:

1) Equipment. Do NOT use plastic stuff. You need a stainless steel bowl and whisk. Copper bowls are also recommended, although some sources say that copper ions will migrate into your egg mixture, and this may or may not be a good thing. Ceramic or glass bowls are fine too.

2) Equipment. Must be spotlessly clean. Any trace of oil or grease will cause the process to fail. Some people recommend placing your bowl and whisk in the freezer for fifteen minutes before use.

3) Equipment. Try to match the size of your whisk and bowl with the quantity of egg white you are using. The whisk (excluding its handle) should be about three times the height of the amount of egg white in your bowl.

4) Eggs. The eggs should be as fresh as possible, and at room temperature when you begin the process. When separating the whites from the yolks, it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that there is no trace of yolk in with your whites. So, whatever separation method you are using, you need one small bowl for the collection of yolks, one for the separated white of one egg, and the bigger bowl that you will be doing the mixing in. Once you have separated one egg white, pop it into the big bowl. This way, if you mess up separating one egg, you can simply throw it away without contaminating your other egg whites.

5) Method. Having been so careful in preparing everything as above, it can all go horribly wrong if you don't beat it properly. And very few online recipes bother to explain how to do that. They just say things like 'make sure you incorporate lots of air into the mixture'. Yes, but how? I found this brilliant little video on YouTube that tells it like it is:
The trick is in the flick, apparently. However long you go at it, you will NEVER achieve stiff peaks if you just use a stirring motion with your whisk. What you need to do is angle the bowl toward your belly, and for every revolution of the whisk, give it a little flick upwards. I tried this and it worked brilliantly - I'd get a little trail of egg white flying through the air each time. Do this continuously until the mixture forms a peak when you lift the whisk out of it, and the peak does not collapse.

So, finally, I managed it! I did take a photo, but it's not very good. And I did lose most of the stiff-peakiness when I was incorporating the sugar. However, I'm definitely making progress!

And while I've been writing this update, Michele has posted a link on Facebook to a website article:

The very first paragraph made me want to slash my wrists: 'The most important thing to remember when making meringues is that moisture is their greatest enemy. Therefore, don't make meringues on humid or rainy days. Also, avoid making them when doing other cooking.'

It's been grey/overcast/actually raining here the last couple of days. I've also got 6 litres of stock bubbling away in the background. Gahhh!

But I did get stiff peaks.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

New Toy

Ever since Apple released the first iPad, I've wanted one. But they were expensive, and I really had no idea what I would do with it if I did go crazy and splash out a ton of money. So I put the lust into a dark recess of my mind, and forgot about it.

However, a couple of things coincided a few months ago that convinced me I needed an iPad. The first was doing the design for a website whose two owners both used iPads to review the ongoing work. I saw flaws that were not apparent on any other browser/platform. So it was a bit embarrassing asking the client to test things out on an iPad and send me a screenshot. The second thing was the recent launch of the iPad no-number, which resulted in a dramatic price cut for the basic iPad 2. At €399, it wasn't an unreasonable price.

But still I wavered, until a few days ago when I read an article about how you could wirelessly connect an iPad to a MacBook (or PC) and use it as a secondary display. That was the clincher for me, and this afternoon I went out and bought this beautiful little slab of technology.

So I've spent the evening setting up this and that, and trying to download some of the other. The first stumbling block was connecting to the App Store. Programmers can be too clever for their own good sometimes, and when it spotted that my post code wasn't a UK one, it kicked me out of that registration process and flipped me into the Spanish one. En Español. That's not a problem, but I'm sure it means that, for example, the content I'm offered in the Kindle bookstore will be mostly Spanish, and not of much use to me. But I had no choice.

Part of the magic of all these new devices is that they can theoretically synchronize their content, so that your photos, videos, music, email and books can be shared on all related devices. So I knew that when I input my Kindle account details on the iPad, it would be able to access the books that I had bought from Amazon. I was sweetly surprised when the iPad knew what page I was on in my current book.

But syncing music with my MacBook didn't work - I need to upgrade the iTunes software on my MacBook. I've been resisting this upgrade since forever, but now I suppose I'll have to do it. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow. I pressed on with the iPad as secondary monitor project, and bought the app (Air Display) for $10. Then they give you a URL to download the MacBook client from. But guess what: my MacOS is too old to work with it, so I need to upgrade that too, tomorrow.

So the new toy is proving to be a bit of hard work, but I'm sure everything will be wonderful when it's done.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tybalt & Theo: Kindle Edition

Most of my blog readers are probably aware that I occasionally write novels that no agent or publisher has yet had the foresight or cojones to take on. Which doesn't mean the book is no good, of course, it just means it's not right for that particular agent/publisher/whatever. Three or four years ago, I spent an awful lot of time on a website for aspiring writers called It's owned by publishers HarperCollins, and I made lots of great friends there, learnt lots about writing, and garnered a ton of feedback for the book I was promoting at the time: Tybalt & Theo.

Since then, I've been busy with other projects, and the writing has had to take a back seat - somebody suggested the other day it was on the back-burner, but I had to reply it wasn't even on the stove. I've also seen the traditional publishing industry decline more and more in the face of the rapid rise of eBooks. Most of my buddies from the Authonomy days have taken the self-pub eBook route, and several of them have done extremely well.

So, I decided to take the plunge. I know I have a well-written, funny and entertaining book, based on some of the great reviews it had on Authonomy, so it would be churlish not to share it with the rest of the planet. I might even make a few Euros from it. So, Tybalt & Theo: A Time-Travelling Lark is now available for Kindle in all Amazon markets. And if you don't have a Kindle (I don't), you can get the Kindle app for your smartphone or iPad.

Here's the book pitch:

Theo is a merchant banker in recession-hit 2008. Tybalt is a condemned criminal in 1608. In a freak accident, they exchange places.

Theo has just lost 97 million pounds that wasn't his. It belonged to his bank. The global finance industry is in meltdown. Unemployment looks imminent.

A chance accident sends him hurtling towards certain death at Newgate Underground station, but instead of the afterlife he finds himself in 1608.

At the same time, Tybalt finds himself propelled forward to 2008 into a world quite beyond his understanding. He discovers the dubious delights of fast food, appears on stage at the Globe and completely fails to find his good friend Will Shakspere.

Back in 1608, Theo finds himself almost hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, lined up to assassinate King James, and building himself a new life.

Can Tybalt and Theo find the way back to their own times? And, more to the point, will they want to?

It's jolly good fun, and you can buy it for less than the price of a pint from these places: