Exam Fuel: The Foodie way

Exam Fuel: The Foodie way

I might be going slightly mental during finals. Not only have I used it as an excuse to blow the student budget on nutritionally balanced exam fuel, but I’m also believing any bullshit I read on the internet. For example, because I read that salmon boosts omega 3 I started exam day with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a toasted onion bagel and home pickled dill, juniper and peppercorn cucumber. (my new favourite quick and simple tasty recipe)

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I have been eating ship loads of bananas (apparently potassium boosts your brain), peppermint tea (an obscure website says it reduces stress and panic) and broccoli is becoming a staple of every meal since I became convinced by the rather obviously named super foods.com, that it is a superfood. (Although I’m not sure its skills at fighting birth defects will be that helpful right now). I’m addicted to Pret sea salt dark chocolate, it apparently reduces stress, using pistachios in several of my meals, protein brain boost, and eating mountains of cherries, they help you sleep? 3 down, 1 to go…

So here are a few brain boosting, superfood filled, fuller for longer meals…. when I finish I’m eating cheesecake.

Cucumber Pickle

1. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin strands of cucumber, discarding the centre (or eating it). Scatter over crushed peppercorns, 4 juniper berries, large pinch of salt, chopped dill, 2-3tsp sugar, a splash of lemon juice and 200ml white wine vinegar. Shake, leave overnight. Eat

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Salmon, pistachio basmati rice, lemon and dill sauce and steamed broccoli for 1

1. Take the salmon fillet out of the fridge. Put 50g basmati rice in a pan over a medium heat. Add 1tsp Garam Masala, leave for 1min. Add boiling water and 1 vegetable stock cube and whisk till dissolved. Leave for 10 mins or until a lot of liquid has evaporated but there is still a little left. Stir in 10-12 pistachio nuts, unsalted. Cover and set aside.

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2. Chop 2 garlic cloves into small pieces. Fry in 1/2tsp oil for 2-3mins. Add pepper and 3-4tbsp lemon juice. Add 1/2 stock cube and 250ml water. Bubble till reduced by about half. Whisk in 2 light mini Philadelphia tubs till combined. Reheat and add a large handful of chopped dill, season to taste.

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3. Meanwhile heat a frying pan over a medium heat NB DO NOT LET IT GET TOO HOT. When hot, add the salmon skin side down, unseasoned. Leave untouched for 5-7 mins till the skin is crispy. (NB mine was quite thick) Turn and cook for a further 2-3mins. The salmon should be a really vivid pink inside and tender, if it is too pale you have over cooked it, if it is still fleshy it is rare, better for a different recipe. Luckily mine was perfect 🙂 Finally steam the broccoli, serve.

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I’m not claiming this will get me a first but it certainly sent me into my exam smiling. Image

Smoked Salmon, Creamy scrambled eggs, Sweet roasted peppers, toasted onion bagel

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Usually I am a great advocate of butter, try as I might to be healthy – even I have to admit butter makes everything taste better. In the light of healthy exam fuel I made my eggs with half fat creme fraiche. I am a convert, the creamiest, fluffiest scrambled eggs ever.

1. Chop 1 pepper into strips. Scatter with a pinch of salt. Microwave on high for 5-8mins (I did this the night before).

2. Whisk 3 eggs, pinch of salt, pepper and 1 tbsp light creme fraiche. Microwave for 30secs at a time, whisking between each spurt. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERCOOK, the eggs will keep cooking, so set them aside when they are still a bit runny.

3. Toast a bagel, top with the eggs (no butter), strips of smoked salmon, the pepper and a sprigs of dill.

Soy milk porridge, berry compote, salted pistachios

1. Put 50g oats, 250ml unsweetened soy milk and a pinch of salt in a pan. Simmer for 5-6mins, stirring. Pour into a bowl.

2. Put 1 snack pack of blueberries in a pan with 2tsp sugar and 3tbsp water. Simmer for 5mins. Place on porridge with a small handful of salted pistachio nuts. 

Lean Rump steak, light peppercorn sauce, paprika sweet potato chips, lemon and garlic broccoli, serves 1 – 15mins.

1. Chop 1 small sweet potato into thin strips. Scatter with sea salt and paprika. Roast on high in the microwave for 8-10mins.

2. Meanwhile heat a frying pan seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Trim the 200g steak of all visible fat. Chop 2 garlic cloves into thin slices and put in the bottom of a saucepan. Top with an in saucepan steamer and fill with chopped broccoli. Steam for 5mins.

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3. Fry the steak for 3-4mins on each side for rare – medium rare. Set aside. Add  2 chopped cloves garlic into the steak pan. Fry for a minute. Add a good glug of cooking brandy (I know I’m off booze for exams but this is medicinal, and the alcohol is burnt off). Sprinkle in 1 crushed stock cube, 1tsp slightly crushed peppercorns and 150ml water. 

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4. Meanwhile drain the broccoli and garlic. Return to the saucepan with a good dose of lemon juice. Cover off the heat, shake and leave aside. Add 1-2tbsp light creme fraiche to the sauce and stir. Return the steak to the pan with any juices that have seeped out. Leave for a minute. Serve. The steak should be on the cusp of turning pink.

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Rare Teriyaki Salmon, garlic, ginger and chilli chickpea mash, Coriander leaves, crispy chilli broccoli.

1. Heat a frying pan. Meanwhile pour the contents of a small can of chickpeas in water into a pan (including the water). Add 1/2 small chopped red chilli, seeds removed, 2 cloves garlic, chopped,1/2 a stock cube and 1tsp chopped ginger. 

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2. Place 1 fillet of salmon skin side down in the heated pan. Cook for 2-4 mins until the skin is crispy, remove from the pan and set aside. Add 1 large garlic clove, 1/2 small chopped chilli, seeds removed and fry for 2-3mins. Add 4tbsp soy sauce, 1tbsp rice vinegar, and 2tbsp sugar. Leave to bubble.

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3. Take the chickpeas of the heat and mash with a fork. Place 1 chopped garlic clove and 1 small chopped chilli, seeds removed and some broccoli  to a pan, fry for 1-2 mins. Add a small amount of boiling water and leave to steam.

4. When the teriyaki sauce has reduced by a third, add the salmon flesh side down. Leave for 1-2mins (for medium cook for a further 2mins – I like my salmon rare in the middle in this dish but not raw. The colour of raw salmon but not the texture).

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5. The broccoli water should have totally evaporated and the broccoli should be soft. Serve the salmon on top of the chickpea mash, scattered with coriander.

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The Queen of Puddings

The Queen of Puddings

You know the saying, you never get an invite to Queen’s college formal and then two come at once, or is it buses? I forget. I hasten to add before any of my followers worry I’ve been slacking on my revision for finals, this is a belated review. I am always lamenting that King’s music society has no fancy end of year dinner like many other university societies ( admittedly because it is dominated by the male choir and they get fancy dinners for free), so I tend to take up offers from other colleges when I can get them. Last term it was Cauis (what Cauis lacks on an everyday basis it more than makes up for when they make an effort) this term, Queens. Of course they don’t just invite anyone to these things you have to have made a bit of an effort in turning up and take part in the concerts occasionally but luckily the Gent and I are seasoned college music society hoppers, guest appearing in a number of different concerts mostly coerced by the promise of food and drink. The only down side of this is occasionally there are members of the college you have to explain your presence to, especially fellows or even occasionally the master, in this case we kept our head down on a table with The Organist and a Hog’s head in lieu of The Yorkshireman who was unavoidably detained elsewhere. Unsurprisingly the Hog’s head was not the greatest conversationalist, but we kept it flowing (along with the wine).

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I would say no expense spared, but unfortunately (as I was reliably informed by The Organist) Queens charge down to the name card and it was a choice between that and the menu. This meant I knew where I was sitting, but I’m afraid meant a lot of guesswork when it came to the food. Having said that the table was suitably fancy, the bread was warm and the butter was piped into swirls which I always think adds something a little special. Image

The Gent, the Organist and I started with the white wine (not knowing what we were eating) which was adequate and settled down to enjoy a sung grace in the style of Poulenc which definitely beat a fellow attempting to sing you get at most college dinners. Then came the starter. They had clearly upped the anti presentation wise to differentiate this dinner from regular formal hall, I particularly loved the dough sticks, a step up from bread with the pate. I am guessing the pate was either chicken or duck and it was pleasantly rich, salty and creamy. Unfortunately the ratio of pate to bread was a bit overwhelming and whilst the combination of the salty pate, sweet (I want to say tomato) chutney and the soft dough sticks worked well, there wasn’t enough chutney or bread and you ended up with half a lump of pate on your plate, which (after a bit) you realise is just salty and doesn’t taste of much else.

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We moved onto the red for the main, usually a safe assumption, but we had both got it the wrong way round and the white was marginally nicer. It was pork belly. I was pleased at first because it was something different. A change from the college stalwarts of roast lamb, pork, beef, salmon… well you get the idea. Plus it is very hard to overcook pork belly because it is so fatty. While not the most healthy of meats, it is usually melt in the mouth with crispy crackling on top…..mmmm So I was a little confused as to how Queens managed to over cook the meat to a stringy texture with a fatty rather than crispy top, I suspect (ironically) it was actually cooked for too little time at too high a heat. Having said that I would happily eat a LOT of that mashed potato. It was buttery, with a hint of garlic, a hint of mustard, with the thick, comforting, smooth texture that solves many problems. It was complimented by the sweet and smooth carrot puree, unusually what appeared to be edamame beans, an unidentifiable sauce (which was nonetheless very nice) and crispy pancetta providing a burst of saltiness. Shame about the meat.

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At my last dinner in Queens the highest compliment was held by the dessert. A sweet, warm, orgasmic sticky toffee pudding which would have elevated even the worst meal to delicious in my eyes. Sure enough it came out again (a house speciality in fact). They had clearly taken notes from last time as well (or perhaps it was the extra money) but it was served with sweet, thick and creamy vanilla ice cream, which (as I been told by the Organist when I was instructed to wait for cream last time) really made the pudding even better. While they haven’t exactly showed much variety, if it ain’t broke…. It certainly left me with a smile on my face. Queens are alright at the fancy stuff, but they do the simple stuff really well.Image

Round the World flavours

Round the World flavours

(nb the photos are not my own, but inspiration)

I had a bad evening last night. So to cheer myself up I designed a menu.

Vodka marinated caramelized tomato and fennel, whipped basil cream, balsamic drizzle, salted cashew nut crumble, rocket leaves.

Paprika dusted Lobster, flambé chorizo, diced roast pumpkin, deep fried fish bones, sweet peas, coconut marinated whiting, coconut foam.

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Smoked Lamb fillet, cumin spiced pistachio butter, crispy sweetbreads, samphire, sweet carrot puree, minted yoghurt, beetroot ketchup, giant croutons, wild flowers. 

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Lime and ginger sponge, foaming hot chocolate, avocado cream, iced white chocolate snow, sour pineapple, coconut flakes.

Recipes to follow

Easy Creamy Garlic pasta (Microwave meal for one)

Easy Creamy Garlic pasta (Microwave meal for one) 

I am aware that the amount of meals for one on my blog at the moment does make me look a little bit like a loner but I’m afraid that is what finals does to you. Is it bad that the evening meal has become the highlight of my day amidst drowning in a sea of books, papers and opera dvds? Talking of which I should probably make this short and sweet.

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Ingredients

1/2 aubergine

1 courgette

100g mushrooms

100ml stock

salt/pepper

parsley

3 cloves garlic

lemon juice

50g penne

2 small tubs of lightest Philadelphia cheese

 

Chop the veg and garlic, place in a microwavable dish. Add the stock and a small amount of pepper and lemon juice. Sprinkle with parsley. Microwave on high for 2-250mins, until roasted. Meanwhile cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 10-12mins. Drain reserving a tbsp of water. Stir the pasta water and pasta into the veg and add the cheese. Enjoy.

Same ingredients, different dish

This time chop the veg, microwave for 20-25mins. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar (a bit of chilli if you like it hot) and 2tbsp sugar. Serve with rice or noodles (and if you are feeling particularly healthy money wise) prawns.

Rather be at Oxford than St John’s?

There is a myth in Cambridge that St John’s college formal hall is a place of outrageous decadence. They only serve lobster, caviar and truffles. Every evening is started with a champagne reception and it is eaten off plates of real gold, or so the Daily mail would have us believe.

I’m sorry to report that there was no such excessive lavishness. however there was a nice meal with nice wine for a very nicely subsidised price. (Take note King’s). They make a wonderful show about it all, with individual printed menus, complete with college crests and wine descriptions. In fact most things had the college crest on it, plates, coffee cups, napkins almost like John’s were trying to imprint on you their presence.Image

ImageThey score pretty high on first impressions, with the waitress served warm bread rolls and wine and despite the fact the grace was particularly lengthy and my chair almost fell backwards due to the weight of my bag, I sat down with high expectations. The Riesling was nice, not too sweet (which I do not like) but not overwhelmingly matched with the smoked salmon starter. Talking of which they slightly oversold that one. While it was smoked salmon, brown bread and butter, dressed salad and lemon wedge, I’m pretty sure even my cooking-phobic father could have put it together. No horseradish necessary. Having said that I am a big smoked salmon fan so I was happy.

ImageI’m afraid the waitress service did start to get a bit old as each individual component was plated over our shoulder. While Mark Francis next to me commentated that it gave us time to enjoy conversation, company and drink our wine (the red, not as nice as the white but still good) before they came around with top-ups, my lamb failed to maintain 98% of its heat. I was impressed with their potatoes (take note Cauis), crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and well seasoned, although I’m not entirely sure what made them chateau potatoes other than the fact they were served by St John’s. I later found out this means potatoes cut to resemble jewels (which makes a lot more sense). I was equally a fan of the sauce which was sweet and rich and the amazingly al dente green beans, lightly coated in butter. The rather suspicious sounding ‘accompaniments’ turned out to be basic mint sauce and redcurrant jelly – I’m pretty sure all colleges buy the same brand – nothing special. The meat was well seasoned but overdone, I can’t really blame them for that – mass production is not easy.

ImageAt this point I went to the loo and returned to find my seat had unfortunately been soaked by the exuberant gestures of either Mark Francis or Gareth Malone with my red wine. Luckily the fellows had left to an even longer dismissal or the sight of 10 seemingly blood soaked napkins might have been an alarming sight for them. As it is we simply added a little drama to the meal and got an extra glass of wine. Before settling down to dessert. I was one of the lucky few that didn’t have to eat my pithivier with my face (the word gateau was unnecessary). It turned out to be a tasty, well baked almond filled pastry which went well with slightly sweetened whipped cream. Good ending John’s. Moment’s of brilliance – although I am expecting lobster next time. Image

Ultimate Challenge: £10, one person, microwave (and hob), 20min decadent menu

Ultimate challenge: £10 student microwave (and hob) 20min menu 

I’m not sure you are technically allowed to review yourself when writing a blog but having addressed the ultimate  challenge for any student. You have finished a module of your exams, you want to treat yourself but all your friends are still busy. You can’t really afford (nor would you want to ) to eat alone in a restaurant and you only have a microwave. On top of that your fridge is the size of a shoebox and you can almost guarantee that anything left in it will go off before it has been worth the money you paid for it, plus you are trying to be relatively healthy but are pretty damn hungry. You also (in this woman’s case) have recently purchased a ridiculous amount of amazing bordeaux wine for only £3 a bottle,  what is the point of going out anywhere.

Yes I was lucky to find the £4 rump steak (reduced from £5) but otherwise….and it is £10.41 but who is counting!!!!

Ingredients

2x Mussels in white wine sauce (save one for later) – £2.99

4x bread rolls (3x lunches for the week) – £0.69

Rump steak 200g – £4

1x sweet potato (save half for later) – £0.49

Asparagus bunch (save half for later) – £0.49

1 muller light coconut and lime yoghurt – £0.69

4x lightest cream cheese individual packs (save 1 for later) – £1.00

6 large eggs (save 5 for later) – £1.15

1 snack pack Belvita breakfast biscuits – £0.50

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20:00 Whisk together 1 egg, yoghurt and cream cheese until smooth.

19:00 Pour into a microwave proof dish. Chop the sweet potato into thin strips (the thinner they are the better they work).

18:00 Chop the asparagus and place in a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Season a frying pan with salt, pepper and a very small drizzle of oil. Place on a high heat to heat up.

17:00 Meanwhile place the cheesecake in the microwave covered in a small piece of paper towel. Microwave on high for 1min, it should be mostly cooked. Microwave in 20sec bursts until cooked in the centre. Crush the biscuits into crumbs and sprinkle over the top, refrigerate.

16:00 Put the mussels in a saucepan to heat up (roughly 4 mins). Place the bread roll in the microwave on a low heat for about 45s    ec to warm up. Put the steak on to fry, roughly 2mins on each side for medium rare.

12:00 Cover the steak in foil and put aside to rest. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, pepper a small drizzle of oil and smoked paprika. Put in the microwave on medium high for 10mins. Meanwhile eat your mussels and crusty warm bread.

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02:00 Boil water and cook the asparagus for about 2mins. Turn the microwave to high and cook the potatoes for a further 2mins.

00:00 Serve. Eat cheesecake after.

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Swhisky Sticky Toffee Pud

Swhisky Sticky Toffee Pud

It’s official, I’ve spent far too much time revising I am starting making references to my modules in my blog names. Boris Godunov – look it up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Godunov_(opera). Geeky music moment over. I recommend this for anybody going through a stressful period of your life, it soothes with sugar, stodge and booze (you don’t think so when you’re cooking but it hits you). Adult comfort food.

Ingredients (serves 6 or 1 depending on how hungry and greedy you are)

200g plain flour                                100g butter

1tsp baking powder                          200g caster sugar

150g dark brown sugar                   150ml cream

2 eggs                                                   2 large pinches of sea salt

150ml milk                                         50-75ml whisky

1-2 tsp of vanilla extract

60g melted butter

1 large pinch of salt

 

Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla and butter together, until foamy. Add flour, salt, sugar and baking powder and mix well, doesn’t matter if it is a little lumpy.

Butter a shallow dish and pour the mixture in. Bake at 20-30 mins at 170OC until firm.

Meanwhile put the sugar in a pan with 2tbsp water. Leave on a low-medium heat WITHOUT STIRRING until the sugar turns amber. IMMEDIATELY remove from the heat and add the cream and butter, it will bubble ferociously but go with it and mix well.

Add the salt and whisky , just try not inhale the fumes too much (last time I got unintentionally tipsy at 9am).

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke a few holes with a skewer and pour over the sauce, leave to seep in. If need be reheat before serving and put extra sauce on the side.

The Queen’s Salmon

The Queen’s Salmon

There is little excuse for how abysmal I have been at blogging lately, well except finals. Exams which will hopefully prove that three years and £9000 wasn’t a waste of time and I shouldn’t have just gone to cookery college or started working in the Pepperberry.. Perhaps post finals there will suddenly be a tide wave of blog posts, or perhaps I will be a bit too busy punting, drinking Pimms or playing croquet, watch this space.

However even finalists are allowed to have a bit of fun so last week I added a new college formal to my modest collection. The organist encompassed the meal in one sentence which fitted rather well; basic food but done well.Upon arrival the ambiance impressed. While Queens may have their hall in the modern part of the college (it’s no 19th century building) it is far nicer than any other modern college hall I’ve been in, the lighting is dimmed but you can see the food and the place settings were very posh.

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The menu didn’t immediately scream Amazing, very different from Kings, simply stated, I think I preferred it to the flowery language, There was a rather weird sounding Meatball, mango chutney and cucumber to start. But I was assured by the lovely lady who had invited me that she had had meatball at formal before and it was of above average quality. She was right….about the meatball. The meatball itself was well cooked, still tender and moist with a lovely mildly spicy flavour. While there was only one, it was perfect portion for a starter. What was lacking was the accompaniment. a far too dot of mango chutney (that complimented the meatball) was masked by a huge dollop of cucumber mixed with yoghurt. I think it was meant to be raita but it was too heavy on the cucumber and was pretty much flavoured with nothing else, I fail to see what it added to the dish. Plus it looked a little odd, like a sort of green egg with a mango chutney yolk.

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Moving on to the main it sounded fairly uninspiring on the menu, Poached Fillet of Salmon with Saffron Cream is more what you would expect as the last resort fish option at an 80s retro dinner party. (Think devilled eggs, vol au vent, sherry trifle) But I am willing to admit when I am wrong and Queens surpassed itself. The salmon was perfectly cooked, (if I was really picky the skin could have been crispy but then I would be expecting to pay £15 for the dish not the meal plus wine) the saffron sauce was really tasty and needed no additional seasoning and the green beans were al dente not overcooked, virtually impossible in mass catering. But the real surprising winner was the seafood risotto. I was expecting overcooked (seafood and risotto), underseasoned and lacking in any actual seafood (a la standard mass catering). It was overcooked, but it sort of worked. The stodginess just made the risotto more comforting, like a savoury rice pudding, well seasoned studded with a surprisingly large amount of well cooked seafood. It was unexpected and potentially not formal but very tasty.

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Finally the creme de la creme (this pun makes sense later). I had been looking forward to the sticky toffee pudding for a while. It may well be my favourite dessert ever… if made well. Well Queens did it. It was sweet, moist but not over the top. Think sunday roast when you were 5 and your mum was learning to be domestic but had learnt Delia’s basics and Delia knows her stuff for the home cook. What would have elevated this dish from family comfort food to smart mid-week dinner party would have been something else, ice cream or cream. This was luckily a view shared by The Organist who insisted that I wait to touch my pudding until he had persuaded the waiting staff to venture into what we can only assume is the secret cream emporium of Queens given the 15min wait, to get us some pouring cream. While I failed to resist trying a small bite before the cream arrived I will admit he was right, the cream made a good dish even better. 

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Queens has nailed the everyday formal experience for students. It isn’t fussy or pretentious, but it’s a step up from cafeteria food. It doesn’t serve you individually so your food gets cold, but it isn’t insistent upon presentation over flavour. It isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn tasty and comforting. To quote Great British Menu (my latest addiction) it nails the brief. Basic food, cooked well, pretty damn tasty.