Sunday, 6 December 2009

Dem Bones Dem Bones....

Now as a rule I don't normally do horror movies. Mainly for reasons of self preservation, personal integrity and to save having to remove stubborn stains from my underwear. I am a big, sniveling, girlie wuss you see. I can't count the number of times that I've embarrassed myself in a cinema (or theatre for that matter). It's not so much the gore and violence that bothers me, it's those quick, shock jumps that come out of nowhere. My first reaction is often to scream out some expletive, lift my buttocks several inches in the air and throw my popcorn over some poor unsuspecting soul in front of me. Worst case scenario happened during The Others (erm the one with Nicole Kidman in it) when my antics caused the stranger sitting next to me to laugh in my face continually for the rest of the film. Mind you, that was just one person. I think I had an entire audience of the Fortune Theatre pissing themselves during A Woman In Black. Sod the horror...the horror! It was a case of oh the shame...the shame. So when MiMi of Meemalee's Kitchen made the offer of a meal for WMPC in exchange for a donation to charity and a copy of "Pure Evil: The House of Unnatural Darkness Part II", a full length feature that MiMi, her hubby and friends have made, I must admit I had my reservations. Don't get me wrong, I'll gladly give to a worthy cause. It was the shitting my pants part I didn't fancy.

When our scheduled appointment to meet up came around a couple of weeks ago, alarm bells sounded off further still as MiMi dropped me a line and said "I hope you like bones!". This was all starting to sound just a touch macabre and ever so worrying as I've also seen photos of her on t'internet with blood pouring from her eyes. Sensing whiffs of danger, the occult and possibly devil worship, I decided that it would be best to get seats by the window in The Hat and Tun where we were to have lunch together. I got there first and when the barmaid came over, I ordered a pint of London Pride and asked that she keep a lookout out for me. Looking puzzled, she simply replied "sure" and walked off with a frown. I nervously took a sip with eyes hooked towards the door before looking down at the menu, trying to focus on the words, trying to put myself at ease. When I looked up again she was standing there in front of me, arms to the side, face blank and without expression. Then she tilted her head to one side and in a sickly sweet, sing song voice, uttered "Hello Daniel" which caused me to shriek and fall off of my stool and recoil in terror with my arms over my face because well, that's my name. And.....and......and I'm getting carried away here because I've bloody met MiMi before, albeit once and she's sweet as pie. Lets ditch the melodramatics shall we.

Lunch in The Hat and Tun was very good actually, it was the first time I had been there as well as MiMi and we were both impressed with the food although disappointed that their scotch egg was off the menu as it has garnered good reviews. The kitchen had been moved downstairs and set up within the bar area yet health and safety prevented deep frying so close to a public space. Or something like that, I couldn't really understand what the puzzled waitress was telling us. MiMi went for a roast pork doorstep sandwich (slow roast Essex Saddleback) which she daintily went at with knife and fork despite my encouragement to go at with hands and teeth. I went for the Ploughmans which came with two massive hulks of Keen's Cheddar. It was a bit of a dairy overload really but I ploughed on through, probably looking considerably less dainty then MiMi in the process. It was also nice to have a chat, particularly about her adventures in Burma where her folks come from. I was a little bit taken aback though by her reaction after regaling a story to her concerning a minor indiscretion in my yoof. Not that she was appalled or outraged or anything, she merely said that as a lawyer, she always had to keep a clean sheet. And I was simply flipped by the fact that I have met yet another food blogger who works in law. MiMi is about the 8th or 9th one now, what gives? Are all lawyers wannabe chefs? This a question that must be answered at a later date.

As always, it was soon time to depart but not before MiMi gave me the run down on that evenings supper which was to be Neck of Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash, Ficelle from Paul, Peanut Caramels from Hotel Chocolat and persimmons from random street vendor. A fantastic haul and as I took hold of the goodies, it suddenly dawned on me what MiMi was going on about with regards to the bones. She instructed that I should pour a couple of tablespoons of water over the stew when reheating and with that we went our separate ways.

Despite the cheesathon I had at lunch, come 7pm, I was fairly "Hank Marvin" as they say in certain parts of the world so I whacked the stew in the microwave for 4 minutes, with my stomach grumbling and growling all the while. It was interesting but in the container, the portion that MiMi gave looked to be a regular size yet once I poured it onto the plate it seemed to have doubled allowing me a mental clap of joy. Admittedly, it didn't look that pretty but the smell alone unleashed the berserker carnivore in me. The lamb was wonderfully tender with a hint of warm spice in the background which contrasted well with the sweetness of the squash. Neck is a particularly flavoursome cut and of course the best part is gnawing in between the bones and sucking scraps of meat. I know my colleague was doing his best to ignore Captain Caveman on the other side of the room but it couldn't have been easy listening in. I thought about offering him some of the bread and letting him have a go at soaking up some of the delish, glistening, fatty gravy but then thought the better of it. Ah such is the cruel nature of this project, eating in the office whilst others make do with sandwiches from Tescos. I did however share out some of the delicious peanut caramels from Hotel Chocolate so I am not all that bad. The persimmons were a new one on me, having never tried them before but because I had gorged myself to oblivion I took them home to eat the next day. They were quite the revelation and I find it hard to put my finger on describing them but a cross between mango, melon and tomatoes comes to mind, with a subtle floral note. The Simpsons kitchen towel used to wrap them in was also a nice touch (see my twitter bio for further explanation http://twitter.com/FoodUrchin).

I've bought some more since and they've become a household fave so thanks for the introduction MiMi and thank you for your gorgeous stew.


Before

During

After

Hmm caramel.....do you want to try? hmm no you can't it's mine, hehehehe........

Persimmons

Aha you thought I wasn't going to mention it didn't you! But of course, we need to talk about the film, starring MiMi, along with her hubby who wrote and directed plus a very funny and able cast. Initially I thought about going all Jonathan Woss with an in depth critique but this is a food blog and I probably wouldn't do justice to the concept (or should that be conceptual) that is Pure Evil. Set in house that contains 8 artists whose personalities range from the highly strung, droll and downright mysterious, it is by turns hilarious, bizarre, and absurdly whacked out. There is some great improvisation going on which I think impressed me the most, along with the continuity (!) and MiMi's amazing performing pig tails. Oh and the soundtrack is pretty cool too. If I had to be critical I would say that its a little bit too long but there are some super silly moments to look out for throughout, like the word association game between the actors. But most importantly, it wasn't scary at all. If you fancy some surreal fun and giving some money to Save The Children then pop over here: http://www.justgiving.com/pe2dvd

Monday, 30 November 2009

Keeping The Faith

"You have never tried pie and mash?! Then, my girl you have never lived!"

And so these were my thoughts after making arrangements with Carla of Can Be Bribed With Food for a WMPC swop. I've been preaching about the goodness and greatness of P&M for many years now to anyone who would care to listen. In my opinion, this age old East End speciality is truly manna from heaven, a gift from the cockney gods to the people of London taaan. I grew up on it and I'll eat it once a week if I can. It is fantastic. And this was a perfect opportunity to add another number to the flock.

In order to describe this unsung wonder of the culinary world, just think of a pie that is mainly constituted of minced meat from an unspecified source. Don't bother asking about its provenance because nobody knows, which adds a certain mystique. The pie will be often constructed with pastry that is pale, soggy and flaccid. Unless it's been burnt, then the crust will shatter over your jumper and carbon will stain your tongue. You don't normally get anything in between. If you are lucky enough to get gravy, it will be pretty watery and tasteless. The mash though is often wonderfully woolly and dense. The responsibility of it's creation is usually down to an old lady called Doris who works in the back of the shop, pouring industrial sized boxes of Smash into cavernous vats. She gets paid tuppance an hour and has to shakily scale very tall ladders but she loves her job. The green liquor is the by-product of a thousand eels that have been boiled in water until their flesh turns to mush. The eels, bones and all, are removed and chopped parsley and flour are thrown in and the stock is reduced until it forms a gluey sauce which is poured all over. Once placed at the table, it is then to be smothered with malt vinegar and white pepper. This is your basic plate of pie and mash.

Having just described this beautiful meal in such a manner, I am of course doing it a supreme disservice. But I had a problem you see. All of a sudden, my credibility was at stake. Given all my shouting from the roof tops, I suddenly became worried that Carla wouldn't enjoy it and overzealously started to deconstruct my beloved P&M. OK I went overboard with the paragraph above but given it's simplicity, would Carla understand my passion for the stuff? I was also mindful of the fact that she had lived by Lake Garda in Italy (via Panama) for the majority of her life. After organising our meeting, I got an inkling that she would also be introducing something from her childhood and believing that Carla's Italian food heritage was far richer than mine, I started to panic. It was really strange but in my head, I really was beginning to run it down. How could my boys own staple compare to anything that Carla would have eaten as a little girl casa posteriore*? Talk about sleepless nights. However, I should have kept the faith because as far as I am aware, Carla thoroughly enjoyed her first visit to Clarkes of Exmouth Market. She did comment that the liquor didn't really taste of anything to which I responded "that's what the vinegar is for!". The only minor snag was the fact that Carla seemed to have trouble keeping hold of her cutlery. I was worried that I was going to leave the cafe with a fork embedded in my forehead at one point, such was her gesticulating during conversation but it was all in keeping with her Latin spirit.

Despite the danger of flying objects, it was great having a chat with Carla over lunch, which of course is part and parcel of the WMPC project and I was thrilled to hear stories of her growing up. By the sounds of it, she was quite the handful in her yoof. Like the time she went shopping with her Daddy and upon seeing a dolly demanded to have it on the spot. Upon having her request denied, there was much stamping and screaming until her Dad picked her up, plonked her in the car and drove home with Carla creating all the way. Once home, he picked her back up, calmly walked into the house and into the bathroom, plonked her under the shower and turned the cold tap on. Apparently a lesson was soon learned. Given that I have two little 'uns that are slowing evolving tempestuous personalities of their own, this was valuable information. Soon it was time to go back to our offices but not before Carla gave me the run down on the food she had made me. Which was Italian Sausages on a bed of Puy Lentils and Pink Peppercorns to be served with bread and dollop of homemade Salsa Verde (from a nice large jar of the stuff) . For dessert she had made me a crostata, an Italian baked tart that's normally reserved for birthdays. I felt honoured and was very impressed with the careful instructions she gave me for heating up and serving the salsa verde. "Make sure you take it out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before you want to eat so it gets to room temperature". I could tell that Carla was obviously passionate about her food and dare I say it, slightly nervous that I would enjoy it although I doubt that she put herself through the mill like I did.

So later that evening in the office, following Carla's word to the tee, I drizzled some of the olive oil that covered her salsa over the lentils and with the sausages, heated it through in the microwave. And oh ye, it was good. Very good. Just hovering my nose over this rustic looking dish as I trotted over to my desk got me salivating to the point of distraction. Not my distraction mind, my work mate',s who pointed out that I had dribbled on my shirt. The sausages which came from Le Marche, central Italy had a wonderful warm spiciness with possibly a hint of nutmeg and were quite coarse in texture. There were also quite salty but as Carla had gone easy on the seasoning, everything balanced out evenly. The lentils had a nice subtle flavour of red wine vinegar with the peppercorns creating lovely fragrant pops of heat as I chewed my way through. The bread was soft and fresh, fantastic for mopping up but the real star was the salsa verde. I do like a good SV and I've made it a few times myself to serve up with fish and chicken but I can honestly say that this was far better than any of my previous efforts. It really punched through with a strong zest or tang rather and complemented the sausages perfectly. I found myself smearing it over the remaining bread after like an ravenous giggling hyena and had to show some restraint as I knew that Mrs FU would like to try it too. So with a heavy heart I placed the jar in my bag (it lasted one more day). The crostata with it's pretty criss-cross finished off my meal just right. The pastry was light and flaky with the apricot jam filing adding a sweet, fruity touch.

Thanks Carla, I shall be putting in my order for some more Salsa Verde soon, it really was the "business"

*This translation for “back home” came from Babelfish and is therefore, entirely unreliable.


Italian Sausages on a Bed of Puy Lentils with Salsa Verde

Apricot Crostata





Monday, 23 November 2009

I'll Get You My Pretty

Heartbroken. That's probably the best way I can sum up my feelings when you pulled out of our WMPC swop. I've been a fervent admirer for quite some time now and when you agreed to finally take part after some badgering on my part, I was, well chuffed to bits. I mean, here was a local girl who was obviously passionate about food (I constantly check your website) and you certainly talk the talk on twitter (hell you're on there all the time). So I was certain that you would be able to er...walk the walk. Maybe it was inappropriate for me to say that I would love to get my hands on your chestnuts, did that scare you off? Your autumnal recipes looked delicious that's all I meant to say. I was even willing to source a decent Alsace Pinot Gris or Gewurztaminer for you to go with a curry, which I know you like. I know it's not your fault, events conspire against us, I understand. Nevermind that it was a pint and packet of crisps for dinner that night. Please don't feel guilty. The big question is, did you get your money and did you use that big stick like I suggested? More importantly I haven't forgotten about you, I shall be in touch soon to arrange another date. In the meantime, to create an curious aura of anonymity, you shall be known as Delia. You know who you are.

I'll get you my pretty and your little dog Toto too! Hahahahahahaha!


101 Things that you didn't know about Delia - 64. She is rather fond of pipes

Friday, 20 November 2009

They Call Me Mr Creosote

I have been a fully paid up member of the Gluttons Club for many years now and there have been occasions when my capacity for scoffing has bordered on the obscene. I have actually been kicked out of a Pizza Hut before, along with another avaricious companion, after managing to get through about 20 slices of pizza each. We argued that the offer said "unlimited buffet" but the manager told us in no uncertain terms to "piss off" because we were taking the Michael. Another time springs to mind when I was invited over to the parents of a good friend of mine for a celebratory chinese takeaway. Masses of food had been ordered for our party of 8 and one by one they fell by the wayside. Except for me, I just kept ploughing on through. Once I had polished off the contents from the last plastic tray, my mate's Dad just stared at me and said "still hungry?" Seeing the twinkle in his eye, I replied "yeah I could eat more" and what followed was, well pretty disgusting really. Cheese, pate, pork pies, leftover turkey, pickled onions were brought out of the fridge and placed in front of me and well I kept going (actually it must have been around Christmas time) to the astonishment of the rest of the group. Eventually my good lady told me to stop showing off and pack it in before I burst all over the dining room. Could this capacity for hogging massive amounts of food be seen as admirable trait? Well no not really but still there have been times when my voracious appetite has got the better of me. When my eyes get far too big for my belly. It happened after my last WMPC exchange and it was a little red box what done it your honor.

Ever since I started this little project, I have been trying to pin down a date with Kavey of Kavey Eats. Not that she's been elusive or anything, just trying to co-ordinate our diaries has been difficult as she's obviously a busy little bee so I was pleased as punch when we finally sorted it out. It's interesting but she is someone that I used to follow on the BBC's very own food message board, a long time before the advent of twitter and I always enjoyed her posts on the forum. My username on there was toadydan which I mentioned to Kavey on one of the occasions that I have met her but she couldn't remember me so my posts on the BBC must have been really memorable! Still it seems that Kavey has the name Daisy fixated in her mind for me anyway (long story). But that's all neither here nor there, I was looking forward to eating Kavey's grub simply because she was one of the first foodies that I encountered on the internet. Plus she is the daughter of Mamta Gupta whose website Mamta's Kitchen is one of the best recipe resources on the net for Indian cuisine. And so I was really hoping that she was going to cook me a curry. A phone call the night before our meet-up confirmed this, although I was slightly disheartened to hear that she couldn't be effed to make me nan bread, I mean come on!

We met at Waterloo during the brunch hour and confident that I knew where I was going after the debacle for my last WMPC swop, I took Kavey to Canteen. Again taking the lead from my last visit, I recommended the Eggs Florentine (OK they weren't really my choice from the last time but hell, I'm taking the credit for it this time) and so we settled down for a nice leisurely chat before I had to get into the office for some power point hell. Topics of conversation were varied ranging from photography to the very exciting up and coming Blaggers' Banquet (which has now past, my posting on this particular WMPC has been very tardy I'm afraid). Anyway, we must have been enjoying our chat and were probably getting quite animated as at one point we were asked to keep quiet by some uptight chap in tight chinos. It seemed that there was also a film crew in the restaurant who were trying to finish one last take and we were ruining it for them. Kavey's response was very sympathetic and polite yet once squeaky arse walked off, she uttered under her breath "how rude, I'll be buggered if I lower my voice now". And so I mentally punched the air and we carried on talking, taking the volume to 11.

Alas, the hour soon was over and I had to upsticks and make it into the office. Kavey gave me the quick run through of dinner which was Shahi Paneer and Egg Curry with basmati rice and coriander. She also gave me a small red box containing 8 individual Indian sweets which looked really enticing and sent me on a trip down memory lane. I used to live in Forest Gate, East London and we had a newsagent on the corner of our road that sold them. I'll be honest and say that as a kid, I was more interested in gobstoppers and rhubarb and custard so I hadn't actually tried them before but just opening the box induced a flashback and a kind of pavlovian response. The strange sweets on the counter that I was too scared to try but really really wanted to. So I gave my thanks, kisses and thumbs up to Kavey and was on my way.

Work was on the quiet front that evening so there was no eating at the desk for this episode of WMPC although I did snaffle a green pistachio flavoured sweet in the afternoon. I soon discovered that sweet was the operative word and to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it that much, I found it intensely saccharine but nevertheless I gulped it down, the glutton that I am. When I got home later that evening, I divided up the food for myself and Mrs Food Urchin, poured out some beer and settled down and it was pretty much how I expected, superb. The paneer in particular was very good. Kavey professed that she doesn't go in for hot dishes but the cheese curry had a nice chilli kick which cut through the overall creamy richness of the dish. The egg curry, which was an unusual approach for me, was milder and gave a nice fruity balance with its tomato sauce with warm spice notes. The basmati rice was light and fluffy and as the sprinkled coriander leaves warmed up over the heated dish they gave off a lovely perfume. A fantastic effort Kavey.

What happened next though was slightly daft really. And I say next but I should say much later that evening and after much consumption of beer. Initially it was decided that the sweeties in the magic red box should be left alone in the fridge as we were quite full but Mrs Food Urchin went to bed leaving Mr FU to his own devices. So I am left sat in front of the tv and after a period I think "oh sod it, I fancy one of those sweeties now" and so I grab the box and place it on the arm of the sofa. And then I grab a pad to make notes. And then I proceed to eat through the whole lot whilst making notes. They read as follows (including spelling):
  • (form ealier) green - pistachoi - nice, no too sweet !!!
  • yellow - very - too sweet
  • pink - fruity, barry, very nice !!
  • sliver with pistach? more nutty delicate, delciate marzipan (smooth soft texture, slight meticalbolic, very good)
  • lemon - v good, rich and unctious
  • orange - fruity coconut carrot, flake pistachio
  • turkish delight - floral, rosewater, alomonds,vanilla
  • donut ball - almond, bready puppy seed, bready

Mrs FU found me on the sofa at 2AM, tossing, turning and moaning, clutching my tummy, the tv still on and with an empty red box on the floor. Like I said I'm a glutton but thanks Kavey for introducing me to the delights of barfi, mithai, halva and laddoo but maybe one at a time next time round eh?

The green one goes first!
Shahi Paneer and Egg Curry with basmati rice and coriander

The silver "meticalbolic"one

The scribblings of a drunk, mad, glutton

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Where's the A to Z?

I have a profoundly inaccurate sense of direction. Stop and ask me the way to the Liverpool Street and it is highly likely that you'll end up in Uxbridge. Alright, that last statement might be a little over the top but there have been a couple of occasions when I've sent a tourist on their merry way and thought afterwards "oh no I meant to say right". This is terrible but I have actually bumped into a fellow pedestrian who recognised me and stopped to remonstrate the fact that I'd given them the wrong instructions a few days previous. I, in no uncertain terms, argued that I had never seen him before in my life, called him an "idiot" and stormed off before he could register that my beetroot-red face and smell the faint involuntary flatulence emitting from my posterior. He was a big hairy scaffolder and scaffolders can be scary blokes you know. So, the moral of this tale is never listen to or accept advice from me when lost. Ask a community police officer for directions, that's all they're good for anyway.

Also, should you ever arrange to meet me for a WMPC swop, don't expect me to know where Canteen is either. Even if I do suggest that it would be a good place to go and that I would buy you breakfast in there. As Mia from The Urban Foodie found to her cost last week. Although I was off work for the week, using up holiday to do some DIY around the house, I didn't want to cancel our appointment so I suggested that we meet early in the morning. That way I could get back home and still have the rest of day to stand in my front room to scratch my head and ponder. You know, I never did get any painting done. So I met Mia at our designated spot, Embankment at 8:45 sharp and with great strides and purpose, walked across Waterloo Bridge to take her to breakfast, having a good natter along the way. When we reach the other side, Mia then turns to me and says "so whereabouts is it? to which I reply "well it's around here somewhere". Actually all I really knew was that I'd heard they had a branch on South Bank, somewhere. Most likely a geezer in the pub told me. Desperate not to let on that I didn't have a clue where we were going, I decided that the best policy would be to run around like a headless chicken, dragging poor Mia left, right, upstairs and down the myriad of steps, byways and walkways around Royal Festival Hall.

After a short while, Mia decided that perhaps she should get directions off her iPhone. "Bloody hell, marvelous idea" I thought, "I should really get myself one of those". Once she found the Canteen website with a map she then handed it over to me. Which was a mistake. Perhaps Mia was trying to do me the good favour of letting me feel as though I was still in charge of the situation but I am dyslexic when it comes to maps. Hence, the poor directional skills. I am sure alarm bells went ringing off as I pointed at the small screen and asked "what do you think that big blue wavy line is?". She didn't have to tell me it was the Thames, the look she gave was enough. In the end, I admitted defeat and had to go into an Eat establishment to ask where the hell Canteen was. And of course, it was just around the corner. 20 minutes faffing about, running up a puff and it was just behind the bloody Royal Festival Hall. Still, nothing like a bit of exercise to build up an appetite.

Once we finally got in there, I have to say that breakfast in Canteen was very pleasant, despite being served by a waiter who clearly wore a string vest under his shirt. Mia plumped for Eggs Florentine and I had Eggs, Bacon and Bubble n Squeak and it was great to sit there having a chat with an absolute stranger. Even if I had to concede that she made the better choice and sat there quite jealous. It's OK she gave me a little bit of poached egg. But as I was saying, most of the contributors to WMPC I have met before but the only lines of communication I've had with Mia were via email and Twitter so it was nice to meet the face behind the blog. And what a blog too. OK, The Urban Foodie is the product of a MA in Web Design so as a food blog it does go beyond the realms, well compared to mine anyway! I'm not sure but I think the blog is relatively new, it certainly is very comprehensive with lots of information with reviews and recipes, you should check it out. And after spending 45 mins talking with Mia, it was clear that here beats the heart of a true epicurean with a lovely sense of humour. But then she'd have to after putting up with the initial farce of trying to find the place.

So what did Mia give me in exchange for brekkie? Sausages, that's what. Casseroled with butter beans, tomatoes, onion and fennel (you can find the recipe here) and it was fantastic, a super winter warmer. You could tell that the snags were of good quality, very meaty with a slight hint of pepper. The beans were soft and yielding and Mia had cut up the onion into fairly large chunks which had been gently caramelised, nice and sweet. Personally, I think that fennel seed is a great addition to any sausage dish adding a lovely hint of aniseed and frequently pair them up at home so Mia was onto a winner here anyway. She also supplied a side salad which I was very impressed with as the leaves, cucumber and tomato had been produced in Hackney, supplied by Growing Communities' scheme. Mia lives in the area and gets a box from them once a week. There were various leaves in the salad but the mizuna in particular was packed with mustard flavour which went down well with Mia's balsamic dressing. An excellent supper.

Thanks a million Mia and next time, you decide where we go, I'll just follow!

Sausage and Butter Bean Casserole
Autumn Salad from Hackney

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Hell is a place called Power Point

OK, rewind. It is a Friday and I am stuck at my desk and because I have decided last minute to take a week off, I have to tie things up. You know brief colleagues, clear email, tidy my pen holder, that kind of thing. It shouldn't have been any bother at all really. As I've mentioned before you could dress a chimp up in a shirt and tie and sit him at my desk. He'd do just fine in my absence. But there was also the small matter of sorting out a request from a client. Something that I had been putting off for days which was the task of touching up a power point presentation. Throughout the week, I would open the file and audibly groan whilst flicking through the slides, mainly because I had no remit and therefore no idea what to do with it. Mr T had simply plonked it on my lap and said "See what ye cun do w'this, wants tartin' up". So midday, I finally call the client to try and get some input and get told that because of branding that I can't change the format too much, the colours, the font, the images. Oh and the graphs should really be left alone. So feeling frustrated and just a tad impetuous, I ask "what exactly do you want us to do with it?"

"Well we thought you could jazz it up a little".

"Aha, yes of course jazz it up a little, why didn't you say! Well, what if I were to take a picture of my hairy bollocks, animate them and have them dance across the bottom of the screen at regular intervals? That would certainly liven up your AGM next week wouldn't it!"

I didn't say that of course but it would have been fun to hear their response. No I simply sighed and said that I would see what I could do and then naturally buried it in the vain hope that it would be picked up by someone else in the office whilst I was away. It was a Friday for gawds sake, I was about to go on holiday, I was finishing early for a change and I had to meet Euwen of A Rather Unusual Chinaman for WMPC.

This was going to be an interesting meet for the plain reason that Euwen (who will readily admit this) rarely cooks. If you have a look at his blog, it's obvious that he is a gourmand and eats out a fair bit, prompting some serious restaurant envy so I was quite pleased that I press ganged him into this little project and got him behind the stove for a change. I had originally planned another jaunt down Whitecross Street Market for lunch but the power point debacle held me back so it was decided that Euwen and I would meet at Moorgate when I finished at 2:30 and I would grab him a bottle of something for his efforts. As I walked down to meet him, I could feel an aching for a sunshine drink so I was mightily pleased that he had time to join me for a pint of the black stuff in The Globe. Which of course turned into two and could have carried on into three or four, had Mrs Food Urchin not rang and told me to get my drunken bum back home as my parents had popped by to visit. A shame really as we had a great chat that afternoon, shooting the breeze, talking mainly about food and our personal histories, I could have quite happily carried on. And I have to say that I am starting to find the social aspect of WMPC just as gratifying as scoffing the grub I receive. I found an interesting quote the other day by James Beard and I have to admit that knowing nothing else about him but still he said that "food is our common ground, a universal experience". If I wanted to form a base for the idea behind this project, it would be just that. Bring a meal to the table and conversation will follow, and then friendship, marriage, kids, who knows! (Don't worry Euwen this is not a proposal, I am just trying to make a comment on the unifying nature of food, albeit in a very cack-handed manner).

So what did Euwen sweat and slave over and what was the verdict? And further more, will he ever get his sister to clean the kitchen? As I understand it, after some panic and deliberation, Euwen went for recreating his mum's Chicken Rice recipe which can be found here. He also threw in a spring roll for good measure and some sweeties purchased on a recent trip to the States. Euwen need not have worried as the rice was very good indeed, full of meaty, savoury goodness. I feel tempted to use the buzzword 'umami' here when describing the flavours but can only hear in my head, Vic Reeves' rendition of 'uvavu' bounce about so I won't. But still the rice was lovely and tender and extremely moreish. Euwen, your mother would be proud. The chicken drumstick did suffer slightly from a nuking in the microwave, still the spring roll though was pretty good, although I am unsure whether he made this or not. And then we come to the Yankee Doodle Dandy confection which consisted of Twizzlers, Jolly Rogers and Hershey Chocolate. I have to say that I am not used to American sweets but jesus, they were sweet! In fact, they were all a bit too much to be honest, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom after each one to scrub the coating from my teeth. And not to mention the fact that they sent me hyper, buzzing with the artificial flavours and sugar load. Seriously, you could go raving on these sweets. Euwen, does your mother know you eat this crap?

For this swap, I grabbed a bottle of Rioja from Marks and Sparks when we left the pub. Thank you Mr Teh, top stuff.


Mum's Chicken Rice

Hallucinogens disguised as sweeties

Going back to Romford shouting "Lager Lager Lager"

Friday, 23 October 2009

Can I Play With Madness?

Have you ever been in the scenario when you're sitting on a bus with an empty seat next to you? There you are happily going about your own business, reading a book, listening to music or simply staring out the window daydreaming. But then you come to a request stop and another passenger gets on, a passenger who at first glace you know straight away isn't quite right. It's the way they bounce onto the bus and thrust their money violently at the driver before making some bird-like chirp, a whistle and then launch off down the gangway with eyes has wide as saucers. Invariably their trousers are too short, the hair is severely clipped at the side with a plume of madness on top and they carry a blue plastic shopping bag crammed with newspapers and other detritus by their side. You crane your head and look out the window, square on and you are thinking "oh please, oh no, please please don't sit next to me." Naturally, just by emitting that very thought, you become a magnet. The person whips their neck around, focuses, jerks their head to one side, barks and move towards you with great big strides. They plonk right down next to you and introduce themself, saying something like "I've got Bisto in my pants, it makes my bum itchy". Oh dearest headcase, out on day release, why do you aways find me?

I was thinking these same thoughts after I bought Sarah from finger and toes lunch from Whitecross Street market a couple of weeks ago for WMPC. But first some background. As the market has become quite a bustling centre for the local lunchtime crowd, I thought it would be nice to take Sarah down there and sample some of the finest street food that this city has to offer. Funny concept that though, street food, in London or the UK for that matter. Even funnier is the fact that there has been a lot of song and dance recently about the burgeoning pavement catering scene that seems to be developing across the land. Some mad hatter has even come up with the British Street Food Awards which was launched at Whitecross Street a few weeks ago, fully endorsed by Messrs Pierre-White and Worrell-Thompson. Brilliant. Except if you take a walk down this otherwise unassuming street in EC1 on market day, the food varies from Thai to Indian, Italian to Greek, Mexican to Brazilian and is hardly British at all. Let alone street. And what is British street food anyway? Hot chestnuts are all I can think of.

Of course, I am ranting here. Excuse me but I am finding all this hoohah slightly confusing. Nevertheless, Whitecross Street is still a great place to get grub and I left it to Sarah to decide where we should go for lunch. She settled for one of the Thai stalls going for ginger tofu and rice and I took a plastic tray of chicken massaman curry. There is quite a nice pub called The Two Brewers, the proprietors of which let you bring in your food from the market as long as you buy a pint but alas it was rather busy so we had to make do with the adjacent park. No matter, we soon found a bench with table and settled down, having a good chat as we ate. We were then joined by another luncher however, who asked if he could sit with us. Sure no problem. But shortly after getting his tupperware box out which seemed to contain nothing but dark cabbage leaves, he proceeded to start pad out a rhythm with his hands on the table surface. The alarm bells started ringing when he picked up a stick from the floor and asked "is this your stick?" and began to drum with it whilst throwing chunks of green matter into his mouth. His mobile then rang which he answered and had a conversation that went along the lines of "yeah I feel so much calmer today, the sun is shining, I don't feel angry at all". At this point, becoming slightly paranoid that I was sat opposite Jeffrey Dahmer, I started to wolf my massaman down with brute force. I don't know if Sarah was really aware of the guy sitting with us and what he was doing but I had a bad feeling about the situation so I ate my food quickly and wanted to get the hell out of there. To cover things up, I explained that the speed eating was a family thing which she accepted with good grace. Call me shallow, call me a coward, call me idiotic. I don't care, I have had my fair share of nutters on the bus so sorry Sarah if you felt that lunch was rushed somewhat, I did what I had to do. Still I bet I got your blood boiling at the start of the second paragraph though eh! ; )

Thankfully come dinner time, the office was devoid of madmen as my boss was off for the day so I was able to enjoy my meal in peace and quiet. Sarah's contribution of leek quiche with lentils went down a treat. Although Sarah had misgivings about the pastry, I felt that it looked and tasted fine. The leeks were lovely and sweet which were surrounded by a luxuriant cheesy cardigan but I must admit that the pink facon (fake bacon) didn't fool me. Not a bad substitute but not quite the same for this carnivore I'm afraid. The lentils were also very good, with creamy goats cheese, sweet roasted peppers and parsley to give them extra lift. And the balsamic vinegar still hit the spot! A really good combination.

Thanks Sarah.


Leek Quiche and Lentils with Goats Cheese, Peppers and Parsley


Fin

Friday, 9 October 2009

Food Terrorists

I'm beginning to think that regular normal folk might not be ready for WMPC yet. Of course, all great ideas take time to filter through into the mainstream before they accepted, I realise that. And I expected some some set backs along the way but I never considered to be met with with such a ferocious level of incredulity, confusion and mistrust. I now know how the likes of Darwin, Einstein and Emo Phillips must have felt. Genius is often misunderstood at first. However, I must stay true to the cause. People will eventually see the light. We were rumbled you see, Biggest Jim and I that is. Our exchange of food goods was witnessed in the cold light of day.

GASP! SHOCK! HORROR!

I suppose the scene was fairly innocuous at first. Two blokes sitting there by East India Dock DLR, having a coffee and a chat. We could have been work colleagues on a break. Of course, we then delve into our bags and start explaining to each other what we had brought for the exchange. The look on the third bloke's face sitting on the table next to us was a picture. OK maybe ferocious incredulity is taking it a bit too far but as he looked over blankly, with a paper cup poised just below his open mouth, you could tell that he was definitely having a "what the f....?" moment. It was even funnier when I handed over Vivienne, the fourth daughter of Veronica and said to Jim "be careful when you open the lid, it may explode". As he switched from perplexed frown to nervous glare, you could tell that the poor chap really didn't know what to make of it all. I very nearly went all Michael Winner on him, saying "calm down dear, this just a commercial" but thought better of it. It was far better to have him think that we were some kind of epicurean splinter cell getting ready to terrorise London with sourdough starters and hazelnut biscuits than tell him the truth. So we just got up and left confused guy there. Jim walked off with a variety of spuds from my allotment and the aforementioned Vivienne and I jumped back on the DLR with a tub of jambalaya and said nutty treats.

When it came down to tucking into Jim's cajun speciality in the evening, I very nearly got rumbled again, this time by my boss. As I have made mention on here before I am trying to keep this project under the radar so to speak, primarily as it would just create hassle and I wouldn't be able to speak as freely as I like. So when Mr T (no relation to "ain'tgettingnoplanefoo") came bowling in at 8PM after his usual evening preprandials, I was just setting up the plate on my desk to take some shots. Fortunately for me, he's a four bottles of wine a day man and was pretty oblivious to what I was doing, so I snuck the plate back into the kitchen in the corner of the office. Also Mr T had bigger things on his mind like the fact that the office telephone system had gone up the swanny that day and with alcoholic bravado, was bellowing down his mobile to BT. So from the safety of the kitchen I was able to tuck into my jambalaya without recourse. Just as long as I kept popping my head out and shouting things like "you tell 'em!", "damn right!" and "boy, aren't BT bastards!" with rice spraying out my mouth with each exclamation.

So what was James' jambalaya like? Well, despite the fact that I was wolfing it down as fast I could and spitting half of it back out, goading my boss on, I thought it was very good. With moist pieces of chicken thigh, plump prawns and chunks of spicy chorizo, it was certainly filling. The peppers and onions had been softened thoroughly and took on a delectable caramel sweetness which worked well against the chilli. Saying that, maybe Jim could have been a bit braver and slung some more heat into the mix but that's personal preference speaking out here. He had been worried that the rice, now a day old wasn't up to scratch but the technique of sprinkling some water over the grains before warming back up in the microwave, perked them up just fine. And whilst we're on the subject, the whole nuking of meals in the microwave really hasn't been too bad so far. A lot of contributors have expressed concern before with this method of reheating but I think that's down to memories sticking in the mind of supermarket ready-meals perhaps? If you want my opinion, proper home-made grub doesn't really suffer in the same way as mass produced trays of slop in the ping machine. Just a bit of food for thought there. I had Jim's hazelnut and sesame biscuits once Mr T thundered off for the night and they were also very good too. I could even get the hint of sherry that he added, ususual but still very good.

Thanks big fella, lets hope that the flying squad doesn't come swooping in when you go out for a coffee in the near future.

Biggest Jim's recipe for Jamabalaya can be found here.

Biggest Jim's Jamabalaya (snarfed in the kitchen)

Hazelnut and Sesame biscuit (with a hint of sherry)

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Breakfast Club

I often get asked what I do for a living and my response of "print monkey" often elicits non-plussed expressions of bemusement. To provide further explanation, I will often say that I work vaguely in the field of digital print where the most taxing of my tasks involves the pressing of a button to set things in motion. In short, a chimpanzee could do my job. Hmm maybe I'm selling myself a bit short here. I do have to keep a sharp eye for detail, I have to be organised and I have to work to deadlines. There are times when I get to be a little creative even. "Hey Dan, that idea for using little televisions as bullet points worked great, just what we needed for our pitch!". There's no escaping it though, life as a print monkey is mind numbingly boring. In the past I've tried to dress it up but have often fallen flat on my arse as a consequence. Once, I bumped into Claire Bristow, an old face from school. She was working behind the bar, I was ordering and being an arrogant twat presumed I had some kind of higher ground.

"How long have you worked here then Claire?"

"Oh about 2 years, what do you do anyway Dan?

"Oh I work in I.T, it's pretty complicated"

"Really? I'm just finishing my Masters on managing information systems, what code do you use?"

With that I just smiled weakly, took a gulp of my pint, placed it back down and ran straight out the bar, screaming. What a prick.

Anyway, I am detracting slightly here with this rant so lets get back to the thread of explaining an aspect of my job that is particularly annoying, having to work late into the night. Whilst everyone else is out there gallivanting across town, I am stuck behind my desk waiting for some PR bod or lawyer to get back from the pub and sign off a press release or some M&A document. Now please do not weep and put your tiny violin and hankerchief away, as over the last few months, I have at least had the good fortune to eat very well when I work in the evenings. And this is all down to a little project called Where's My Pork Chop? Meeting up with different people and getting to sample their food has been fantastic. I am having a ball with it.

However last week, I was incensed beyond belief as I was left in the lurch to...- THIS PART OF THE POST HAS BEEN EDITED OUT AS IT GOES OFF TANGENT, IS FULL OF SELF PITY AND GOES ON AND ON ABOUT BANAL OFFICE POLITICS - ...needless to say I was very busy and didn't get time to eat the very wonderful spread that Naomi aka The Ginger Gourmand had prepared for me for that evening. I was so looking forward to her sumptuous vegetarian feast too, entitled "A Last Taste Of Summer". Instead I spent a cab journey home at 2AM, feeling angry, starved and faintly ridiculous with a large froufie Bonne Maman bag on my lap. As the car picked its way through the quiet streets, I formulated a plan, I would have her picnic for breakfast instead.

Six hours later, I found myself in the kitchen getting ready to get stuck into a full on three course meal which was quite unusual. In the morning, I'm normally a mug of tea and couple slices of toast kinda guy. But as the saying goes breakfast like king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Although I don't think I looked particularly regal slouching at the table in an old, moth ridden t-shirt and boxer shorts, I was bloody hungry, I can tell you that.

So what did Naomi serve up? Well the menu went like this:

Gazpacho

Leek & Gruyère Tart with Puy Lentil Tabbouleh and Lollo Rosso Salad (with Mustard Dressing)

Lemon Drizzle Cake and All Butter Shortbread

In other words, there was rather a lot.

As this was the first meal of the day, the gazpacho was a perfect start to kick off proceedings, a nice light chilled soup full of vitamin C goodness. Vibrant in colour and with peppery undertones, this Spanish speciality certainly perked up the grey matter. Naomi's tart combined nutty cheese flavours with soft caramelised leeks which worked really well although the pastry itself seemed unusually sweet to me. I later asked her about the recipe and Naomi replied that she had used a simple all butter shortcrust for the tart, seasoned with salt and pepper making me wonder whether perceptions of taste differ at certain times of the day. Any food scientists care to answer? I've coveted Naomi's tabbouleh in the past and having finally tried some, it was certainly good, although perhaps the puy lentils were a little too earthy for this dish. The salad leaves amazingly enough didn't suffer overnight and was still crisp and crunchy with the dressing adding just a gentle touch of mustard heat. As for the lemon drizzle cake, well Naomi provided a massive bar and I am supremely grateful that she did because it was heavenly. Moist and soft with a sugary, citrus crust. The little people who gathered around the table were very impressed with it too. Utterly delicious and destroyed in minutes. I was so full by this point that the biscuits ended getting divvied up between the twins. Probably not the best of ideas as they launched into sucrose overdrive shortly afterwards and went spinning about the house for about an hour.

For the exchange, I gave Naomi some John Doe potatoes from the allotment, named so because I can't remember the variety I planted but they're great for roasties. She also took charge of Verity, the third daughter of Veronica and some bottles of Duvel as I had gathered from her tweets on Twitter that she was rather fond of the stuff. When I met her at the Monument for the swap, I found out that she had in fact lived in Belgium for a period of time. With brews as strong as 8.5%, I was surprised she could even remember.

Thanks for breakfast Naomi and thanks for making me walk through the city with the most frou-frou bag you could find. I don't think I shall return it you now. I think it rather suits me.
Welcome to The Breakfast Club
Gazpacho
Leek & Gruyère Tart with Puy Lentil Tabbouleh and Lollo Rosso Salad (with Mustard Dressing)

Lemon Drizzle Cake

The problem with breakfasting is that you have to share it with the little people

Monday, 28 September 2009

Breville, Be Gone!

There have been plenty of surreal moments in my life, with images and scenes that will stay in my mind forever. For instance, at a student party I will never forget walking into the living room at 2am and confronting the sight of some strange bloke playing the guitar very badly whilst the sofa behind him was on fire. Then there was the time when I found myself at G-A-Y, busting some serious moves and getting spun around the dance floor by a 6'7 drag queen. This was particularly bizarre as I was under the illusion at the time that it was indie night at The Astoria. And more recently, I was completely thrown when sitting on the floor with the twins one morning. We were watching an engrossing episode of Balamory you see when all of a sudden, who should pop up in Suzy Sweet's kitchen but none other than Keith Floyd himself. I had only just heard about his passing on the news earlier so it was quite unnerving to watch Floyd bounce about the place, throwing meatballs in the air to the beat of Suzie's Cookin'. Perhaps CBeebies saw fit to air that particular episode as a glowing tribute to the great man but it freaked me out I can tell you. The weirdness that day didn't stop there though.

I had arranged to meet Mr Jonathan Brown of Around Britain With A Paunch at St Paul's Cathedral in the afternoon and was running quite late. Once my fellow colleagues finally sauntered back from their lunches, I made a mad dash from the office in the pouring rain, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. When I finally clambered up the slippery steps to the entrance, I found a very dapper and dry Browners standing there grinning from ear to ear with a box under his arm. A box that from it's outside appearance would have originally contained an iron.

"Hi Danny, here's your supper!" he said, still beaming, manically even. I expressed my thanks and then excitedly flipped open the box to inspect it's contents.

The box did in fact contain an iron. I looked up at Jonathan and then back at the iron and then back at Jonathan who by now resembled the proverbial Cheshire Cat. I just looked confused.

Sensing my befuddlement, Jonathan went on to explain "well seeing as you're a fan of Stefan Gates and his gastronaught style of cooking, I thought you could have some fun making a cheese toastie. There's a sandwich in the box wrapped in foil with some pretty good Montgomery Cheddar".

And that's when the penny dropped, my mission was to use the iron as an alternative to the Breville Toaster. Excellent. I should have known better really that the sandwichist would have come up with something like this though. He had also supplied a jar of apple and apricot chutney and a jar of chilli and crab apple jelly, both homemade along with some plums and pears from his garden. For the exchange I took him over to Apostrophe for lunch (where else could it have been really) and caught a quick half hour chatting about the merits of blogging and 'freebies'.

After bidding Mr Brown farewell, I got back to the office, placed the box under my desk and got on with the rest of the day. Yet as evening approached, it was soon time again to start thinking about getting the iron out to cook my toastie and at this point I did start to have some worries. In the end I decided that I would try the experiment at home, partly because I am trying to keep this project under wraps at work and partly because I didn't want my work mates to think I'd gone completely hatstand.

So did it work? Well Jonathan had slathered a fair amount of butter on both sides of the bread as you normally would when making a cheese toastie for a Breville. But I don't think he factored in that I would be making my first attempt at grilling with the iron turned up to full blast. This had near disastrous consequences. As I placed the Hinari Toasty Special down on the bread, there was an immediate loud pop and hiss which just didn't sound right. So I picked the iron up again only to find the sandwich stuck steadfast to the element. My natural reaction was to try and peel the damn thing off and naturally I burned my fingers. So after much profanity and waving of hand in the air, I grabbed a fish slice and managed to wrestle the bread away from the plate. Luckily it wasn't burnt. Much. I then figured that more butter was in order and that the heat should be turned down. I tentatively placed the iron back down and then waited for about a minute. I then picked it up and all looked well, the bread was starting to brown ever so slightly. And so I carried on this process for about 15 minutes, flipping the sandwich over to do the other side and over again and over again. Never before have I paid such attention to 2 slices of bread. In fact, it was quite laborious really. But once I decided that this toastie had reached its zenith, I cut it in two and placed it on a plate and the cheese oozed satisfyingly out. And yes it tasted good, the cheese was indeed nice and mature but unfortunately, my throbbing fingers detracted my attention somewhat. Luckily I had bought a fine bottle of red to raise a glass to Mr Floyd so wasn't in pain for too long.

I will definitely give the Hinari Toasty Special another crack in the future, it just needs some fine tuning methinks. Thanks Jonathan for introducing the 'iron-method' and for the other goodies. Your chutney by the way really hits the spot. Cheers!



Introducing the All New Hinari Toastie Special

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Raising a glass to the finest of television chefs, Mr Floyd

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Psst Mate Want Some er.......Herbs?

Many nights ago, I was sitting at the dinner table with my laptop beavering away at solitaire, googling recipes for bum sandwiches and talking rubbish online when a message popped up, a DM or direct message in Twitter parlance. It said "just did a massive veg harvest b4 going away for a few days, it's yours if you can collect in next 15 hours!". I stared back at the screen wide-eyed and simply whispered out the word "woah", you know just like Keanu Reeves does at the start of The Matrix. And then I thought "Wow, maybe this whole idea of WMPC becoming an underground food movement is starting to take seed. After all, why else should I be getting messages popping up out of the blue like that. No people are starting to understand. They are putting their hands up. They want to feed me. They get the deal. And through this I can show how we can all feed each other. We can all achieve social harmony and peace by exchanging radishes for pasta dishes. We don't need Tescos. This is going to be big. Bigger than bloody Noel Edmunds that's for sure!"

Then my wife came into the kitchen and told me to sit down, shut up and stop shouting or else I would wake the kids. She then peered over my shoulder and said "you know, this Celia Brooks Brown might just want to off-load her extra veg rather than let it go to waste. I bet she couldn't care less about the bloody manifesto behind your who's my pork chop!"

"It's WHERE'S My Pork Chop"

"Whatever, just keep it down"

I had to agree, my wife had a point but nevertheless, after a further exchange on Twitter with Celia, I had decided that this opportunity should be part of my WMPC project. Whether it was in her game plan to meet me at The Rake near Borough Market the next day, I'm not entirely sure. She had asked if I could come and collect remember. Celia also ended up making me tomato soup and gave me some of her allotment chutney as well as carting over said homegrown veg which consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beetroot and some very pungent African Blue Basil. Given that she must be up to her eyeballs - she was giving one of her gastrotours around the market later that afternoon - I felt very grateful for our impromptu meeting. Not to mention slightly smug because I had managed to snaffle some food for that evening's shift at the last minute. Oh and cheeky, very cheeky because I got all of this for the price of a beer, a pint of Veltins for Celia and an Essex Boys Bitter for myself.

It was great to while away half an hour with Celia especially when I should have been at work, chatting about allotments, cooking and whatnot. When it came inspecting the bounty though, I must admit I was rather perplexed by the aforementioned herb which came sealed in a clear plastic bag. What the hell was Celia growing on her plot? The good shit? And when I opened the bag the smell hit me like a hammer, it was really heady stuff. So I raised my eyebrows and smiled conspiratorially at Celia and then asked "so what do I use this for?"

"Well it's basil, you might want to chop a little up and sprinkle some on the soup or use it in a salad?" she said, looking a bit confused at my gurning.

"Yes, of course!" I replied, blushing "Basil and tomatoes, marriage made in heaven!"

And with that I made my excuses and dashed back to office, hoping that I wouldn't have to explain why it took me an hour to get some money out of the cash machine. I had the soup later that evening with a bread roll and it was very good indeed, simple, fresh and fruity with a nice background hint of garlic. I smeared some of the chutney on the bread and found it a little too sweet for my liking, but after successive tastings at home it does compliment a good mature cheddar. And as for the basil, well this variety is definitely a herb to be used sparingly, I bit a off large leaf and my tongue was throbbing for hours afterwards. Still it worked well in a tomato and mozzarella salad I made the next day. All in all a great haul.

Thanks Celia.

Celia Brooks Brown and her tomatoes

The bounty with remaining soup, photo taken at home (basil added for decorative effect)

Monday, 7 September 2009

Meals On Wheels

Autumn is now upon us, my favourite time of year. The corn will be soon harvested, the trees will shed their leaves, the nights will draw in and the air will turn cool. And so through some symbiotic process, I shall dust off my slippers, slip a thick cardie on and proceed to shuffle around the house farting, eating soup cold out of the tin until Christmas. Yeah I love this season, gives me the perfect excuse to act like a miserable old git. I've lost the hair and the teeth are soon to follow if the pain in my jaw is anything to go by (lest we forget the hemorrhoids). I know I'm only 34 but why shouldn't I revel in this new sweet smell of death and decay in the air that surrounds us, meergh!

OK, I'm waffling on like a complete prat here, I'm not that morose a person, no not at all but there is something about this time of year that makes me contemplate the future and wonder what will happen when I reach my autumn years. I've made mention before that I want a change. I want to do something in the grand arena that is food, whatever it may encompass. Like hosting my own television series called "Come Dine On The Farm With Me During An Economic Crisis" for instance. Will I succeed? Who knows. I'm still trying to figure it all out. But whatever happens when I retire, with fortune or not, as long as there is someone like Jan from The Ample Cook to provide me with meals on wheels then I shall be a happy old man.

I was very excited when Jan contacted me to participate in a WMPC swop as she was the first person outside of London to do so, living as she does in Rochford and I'm very keen for this project to include foodies outside the M25. After an email exchange to work out logistics, I was even more enthralled at Jan's suggestion that her hubby, who shall be known as "Tiny", would be happy to courier the grub on his motorbike to my house the afternoon before my late shift. Fantastic! This is exactly what the rest of you lazy blogging buggers should be thinking about. Why the hell should I be racing around town collecting dinner from the likes of you? I mean, don't you know who I am?!* And better still, Jan decided in the end to accompany Tiny to my gaff which was great as the main aim of WMPC is to meet the faces behind the blogs. And for the record they came down the A127 by car, Jan didn't have to ride pillion.

I was little bit late for our meeting which was a couple of weeks ago now (I've been a bit lax writing this report up too) but when I finally made it home, my eyes zeroed in on the massive cool box that lay in the middle of the kitchen before I could turn and say hello to our guests. I've neglected to say so far that Jan also runs her own catering business Feast Direct, and it looked like she had indeed provided a feast. I can tell you, once we had got everything out of the box, I wasn't sure if Jan had taken me to be some glutinous greedy pig and felt that this was the least she should provide without recourse. Who had she been talking to on twitter I wonder? I'm kidding of course but she was generous in the extreme and I felt quite measly handing over some potatoes, leeks, two cobs of corn and some very old runner beans. For this I received, and wait for this:

  • 3 hefty slices of turkey, pork and bacon pie
  • potato, spring onion and chive salad
  • tomato, red onion and basil salad
  • roasted vegetable cous cous
  • homemade coleslaw
  • courgette pickle
  • plum jam
  • plum chutney
  • bramley apple cake
  • conundrum cupcakes (which I couldn't work out - Chomp Whores Perky maybe?)

This in fact fed the family for a couple of days and for that I am very grateful Jan, the twins loved the cupcakes. When I took some portions to work the next day, I felt like a regular Yogi Bear with this pickernick on my desk with my colleagues snooping over my shoulder like Park Ranger Smith. For my money, the turkey pie and courgette pickle were the main stars. Although already sliced, the construction of pie had that artisan quality, it looked just perfect with firm yet moist pastry and big chunks of succulent meat surrounded by jelly. Combined with the tart pickle it was a taste sensation. Really good. The potato salad was luxuriously creamy with nice mild bites of spring onion and the coleslaw also delivered a satisfying crunch. The cous cous was light and fluffy and flavoured well with the roast vegetable but unfortunately the tomato salad suffered overnight having turned quite soggy and listless, if I had eaten it when it was fresh straight from the cool box I am sure it would have been delicious and fresh. The apple pie rounded off my picnic in the office superbly though I would like to try it again with some cream in future. Hmm, if I keep doling out these utterances then any image of myself as a greedy bastard will be justified methinks. The plum jam and plum chutney still reside in my cupboard unopened I'm ashamed to admit but they will plundered soon.

I have to say it was great to meet Jan and her hubby Tiny, despite having to strain my neck to look up at him. Meeting fellow foodies is never a chore and we already have plans to meet up again at the Rochford Beer Festival later this year. Hopefully there will be some more pies on offer then, nudge nudge, wink wink. But in the meantime Jan you've done enough to keep me going, thanks!

The Ample Cook and Food Urchin


"Hello, Mr. Ranger, sir!"

I still don't get that conundrum

Where's the cream?
* Oh you don't?..............shit.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Christina Aguilera's Dirty Knickers (and other related on-line searches)

There's no denying it, the Internet is a wonderful place but it can also be a strange place where even stranger people lurk. I have recently installed Google Analytics software on this blog site and on Food Urchin, as apparently this is an enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness. Zippity doo dah! I can now see if anyone is actually interested in what I am writing about or at least discover how they stumbled across my blog in the first place. So when I analysed the most recent report this morning over a bowl of cornflakes, I was fascinated to learn that someone in outer echelons of the 'net' had been directed to WMPC because they had typed "nipple tweak tube" into the search bar. I say fascinated but I was also slightly disturbed as personally I couldn't find any good reason as to why someone should be looking for such a thing. Maybe I'm naive and should get out some more. Still, such a request does highlight the fact that there are some very odd folks out there. And with that in mind, you do have to feel for Catherine from The Catty Life. After all she had put herself in the precarious position of agreeing to feed some nutter she hardly knew from off the web and meet him in Paternoster Square, outside Itsu. What was she thinking for frack's sake?!

And by all accounts, these were precisely the sentiments of Catherine's (or rather Catty's) friends when she bumped into them last week whilst waiting for yours truly to turn up. You can just imagine it can't you:

"You're doing what? Meeting some guy you've never met before off the Internet and feeding him?"

"Erm, yes?"

"You're crazy, what does he look like?"

"Well he says he looks like a cross between Ade Edmondson and Heston Blumenthal"

"What like that guy over there? With the baggy shorts and hairy knees?"

"Hey yes I think that's him!"

"OK, we'll wait around the corner. Scream if he even breathes on you"

Gladly there was no such ensuing drama, it was just really cool to spend 15 minutes or so, idly chatting with Catty about food, her background and about blogging in general. And this is precisely what the project is about, to get to know the faces behind the blogs. And to eat their food of course and after talking about her Malaysian heritage, I was pretty excited about what kind of meal Catty had cooked. I was however left fairly stumped by her description of "dirty, dirty, dirty fried rice". What, had she gone and served supper up in a filthy ashtray? Even worse, could it be that she is in fact the weirdo off the net and not me? What the hell was in the paper bag she was clutching? My look of concern prompted Catty to explain further that she had been born in Australia and had lived there most of her life. "Dirty" was just an Aussie expression of "full on" and that was the way she liked to cook and flavour her rice. "Strewth", I thought "thank god for that!".

Catty's rice was indeed packed with substance and spice and reinforced a notion I've had in my head for some time that good Eastern style home cooked food takes some beating. Her tip of sprinkling water over the rice before cooking to prevent drying out worked a treat and the smell once it was heated up was mouth-watering. The rice itself was extremely moreish with peppery tones rather than chilli heat and there were plenty of lovely morsels of bbq pork and juicy plump prawns. No sorry, not morsels, more like dirty fat chunks. The strips of egg may have suffered slightly at the hand of the microwave, I did give them just the shortest of blasts separately but unfortunately they turned a bit rubbery. Still no matter, it didn't stop me from wolfing them down with the rest like a greedy pig. The recipe isn't on her blog but she was kind enough to let me post it on WMPC which you'll find at the bottom. The chrysanthemum tea was a new one on me and once I got used it's subtle sweet taste, I found that I really liked it and in a funny way, it married up well with Catty's dish. She also provided some wrapped sweeties for afters, a kind of coconut truffle that was snaffled up straight away. Alas little piggy here neglected to note the brand but they were very nice (oink oink).

For the exchange I bought lunch for Catty in the shape of sushi and fresh fruit salad from Itsu. She did say that it wasn't the best in the city by far and prefers Ribbon for a lunchtime bento box but I suspect that she had plans to be sneak back in for some frozen yoghurt once I departed. And why not, we all have our own little deviant secrets don't we but I would sooner meet up with Catty than Mr Nipple Tweak Tube any day of the week.

Thanks a lot Catty!

'How Catty Likes Her Own Fried Rice'


Yeo's Chrysanthemum Tea

Catty's Dirty Fried Rice

3 cups of jasmine rice
4 eggs
1 takeaway box of BBQ pork with sauce
400 grams prawns
200 green beans, diced
1 large onion, diced
Oyster sauce
Light soy sauce
Chilli flakes to taste
Cracked pepper to taste
Olive oil

1. Cook the rice and refrigerate overnight (fried rice cooks best with dry, cooked rice - you can try it with rice you've just cooked but it may turn out a little gooey).
2. Beat the eggs in a bowl, add a touch of soy sauce and cracked pepper. Separate into two bowls.
3. Heat some olive oil in a pan and when very hot, add a small amount of egg from one bowl to make a thin film. As it cooks (and it only takes seconds) flip over and lightly cook the other side. Remove from heat. Repeat until egg from one bowl is all used up. Cut the thin egg sheets into strips and set aside - this is for the egg 'strips' which top off the fried rice.
4. Heat some more olive oil and add the other bowl of egg. Lightly fry on each side and using the spatula/wooden spoon/whatever you cook with, shred the egg into small pieces. Remove from heat and put aside - this is to mix with the fried rice in step 9.
5. Heat the pan again with olive oil, and add onions. Fry until they are just starting to brown then add the beans.
6. Fry until beans are starting to soften, then add the prawns.
7. Once the prawns are cooked, add the rice. Add a decent dollop(s) of oyster sauce and a good dash of soy, and stir stir stir!
8. On a low heat, keep stirring and frying, making sure you have no 'white rice'. Everything should be saucy ;)
9. Add the BBQ pork (and all its sauce) and the egg (not the strips), continue stirring.
10. Add cracked pepper and chilli flakes to taste.
11. Once cooked, top with strips of egg and serve immediately.

Serves 4.