Apparently there is a new medical condition of which I certainly, as both a GP and a restaurateur, should be aware.
I am talking about 'menu anxiety'; a new report suggests that over 50 per cent of the public are at times affected by it.
I must confess that I was hitherto in blissful ignorance of its very existence. However, the authors of the recent survey point out that most restaurant menus intimidate the majority of Britons and many people are completely unaware of the ingredients used in even the most well-known dishes.
Symptoms of this newly-recognised malaise are said to include sweating and hyperventilation on being handed the menu, and a tendency to order the most recognisable dish rather than an alternative, which the customer might actually prefer.
Of course, the predictable suggestion has come from some quarters that restaurants should in effect 'dumb down' their menus. But simply because so many other things nowadays are simplified doesn't mean that the Arts (including the culinary arts) should follow suit.
So I propose that culinary vocabulary should be included in the educational curriculum, so that a new generation can understand something of the food they eat.
But what of the current sufferers of this allegedly disabling condition?
I'll simply have to refer them for cognitive behavioural therapy, because this cures nearly everybody of nearly everything.
I can't wait for the influx of shiny, happy customers requesting seconds of the fricassee of veal sweetbreads.
This week, a seasonal use for an underrated and favourite vegetable of mine - the Jerusalem artichoke. If you don't understand the instructions, you could check a dictionary or opt for a takeaway.
VELOUTE OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE WITH LANGOUSTINES
For four people
500g Jerusalem artichokes
50g unsalted butter
80ml white wine
500ml chicken stock
80ml double cream
16 fresh size-two langoustines, blanched and peeled
A little olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
VELOUTE OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE WITH LANGOUSTINES
1. Peel and finely chop the shallots and artichokes.
2. Sweat in the butter over a low heat for a few minutes then add the white wine and stock.
3. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are very tender. Transfer to a blender and liquidise.
4. Pass the resultant soup through a chinois into a fresh pan and add the cream. Heat but do not boil.
5. Quickly saute the langoustines in the olive oil.
6. Season the soup to taste and divide between four preheated bowls with four langoustines per guest.
FOOD AND DRINK WINES FOR THE NEW YEAR
January is the time to take advantage of some great deals on wines, says Alan Johnson.
Following the excesses of Christmas and Hogmanay, some of us feel it necessary to detox, with both our bodies and bank balances suffering.
I feel this a rather unnecessarily extreme measure to take, particularly when there are bargains to be had.
In January, wine merchants often offer good deals on wines that perhaps they have optimistically overstocked on. These are usually popular wines that the merchant will continue to sell but needs to realise some revenue from, for stock he has paid for. So buy them now while they are cheaper.
Also at this time of year, merchants like to take a fresh look at their range with a view to bringing in new and interesting wines and replacing those that have been gathering dust in the stock room. You can almost always guarantee that the merchant thought these wines were so delicious or interesting that he felt he must buy them, and that savvy wine lovers would purchase them quickly.
However, the merchant forgot that, unfortunately, most of us do not share this spirit of adventure and tend to stick to what we know. I recommend you take the opportunity to try some of these more unusual, perhaps slightly more expensive wines at their reduced price. They will also have benefited from a little extra time in the bottle.
Merchants' suppliers will also be offering up some deals as they come into the Printing New List season, so January may be the time to buy up older vintages, odd cases and sparkling wines. Would it be exceptionally sad of me to suggest that you could buy in January for Christmas 2006?
- Alan Johnson is MD of the GP Life Club's wine partner, Elegusto
The wines below are all available via www.elegusto.co.uk/GP
Palo Alto Cabernet Franc 2004 now £3.99
This is a supplier's end of line because the winery has been bought by Concho y Toro. Situated in the very northern reaches of the Chilean vineyards, the Francisco de Aguirre winery is ideally placed to make wines of character and complexity. This 100 per cent Cabernet Franc red (one of only a few made in the world) has a distinctive bouquet, is mouth-filling with a grip of tannin and a hint of smokiness on the finish.
Champagne Moutard now £14.95
The house was rated 33 in the top 50 Champagne houses, beating many grandes marques, by the French equivalent of Decanter. We were delighted, but not surprised because this is a deliciously well-made wine, soft, fruity, dry and appealing to all palates.
Borgo Selene Bianco 2003 now £3.10
For drinking now; an unoaked, fresh Sicilian white with lovely lemony hints, and apple crispness.
For more details or to purchase these wines, please visit: www.elegusto.co.uk/gp
- Dr Duckham is a GP in Tongue and Armadale, Sutherland, and runs Restaurant Cote du Nord, Farr Bay Inn, Sutherland.