Monday, 27 July 2009

Atischoo! Atischoo! We All Fall Down!

There's nothing more I love in life than a good old fashioned dare. You have to be careful though, some dares can get you into trouble, such as running through the streets of Romford wearing nothing but a pair of Dr Martins. The police gave me a thorough ticking off for that one. Some dares can even be quite dangerous such as abseiling down the side of a Parisian hotel using just bedsheets tied together for rope which were attached to a radiator in my room four floors up. The gendarmerie, my rugby coach and my parents gave me an absolute bollocking for that one I can tell you. However, these are the excesses of an exuberant youth, I've calmed down a hell of a lot these days, I'm a family man looking to live the quiet life now. But still, its good to buck the trend once in a while and revisit the dare especially in the face of hysteria. I blame Rejina from Gastrogeek for the latest one of course, she put the seed inside my head prior to meeting up for today's episode of WMPC.

When organising a time and date to meet Rejina through a plethora of emails, I discovered that she worked right next door to Borough Market and so I expressed that she was really "jammy" to be so close to such a foodie mecca. Her response was "not jammy, just infinitely more likely to catch swine flu!" which gave me food for thought. In this current age of panic, should I really be transversing the capital's byways and public transport system all for the sake of a meal? Should I really be putting myself at risk like this just so I can type out some witty gems and stake my claim in the world of food writing? Furthermore, I could inadvertently become a carrier and wipe out the food blogging community forever, they are a sickly lot at the best of time, the alcohol consumption weakens the immune system you see. Still at least that way I could scoop up all the blogging awards that are up for grabs. I seriously thought that at the very least I should get one of the surgical masks just to be careful. But then I got a grip of myself and told myself not to be so stupid, there's no way I'm going to get one of those awards*

Of course when we did meet this morning, I reminded Rejina of the swine flu comment and said "hey wouldn't it be funny if we did this exchange wearing masks!" and her eyes lit up. "That is a fantastic idea!" she beamed back and before I knew it we where in the outpatients department at Kings College Hospital where she works, with the bestest of straight faces trying to snaffle some from a nurse. Rejina did all the talking whilst I lurked in the corridor (had I met a 'dare' connoisseur I wonder?) and before long she came skipping out clutching two. And so from there we nipped around the corner to the main entrance of the hospital and collared some poor decorator on his lunch break to take some snaps.

"I'm not going to get into trouble for this am I?", he asked with a slight look of apprehension on his face.

"No, no, no, you be just fine, just take loads of photos. And quickly. And make sure you get the hospital sign in the background!", I rattled back.

Can you spot the old lady in the background? She wasn't impressed.

To say it was slightly surreal would be an understatement especially with the amount of people gawping at us walking through the busy thoroughfare but as Mr Painter was snapping away, I felt a gleeful joy. It was like being that naughty college boy on rugby tour again. Alas I think it was too much for Rejina who quickly ran back into the hospital after exchanging bags proper, giggling her head off probably thinking "bloody hell I hope my colleagues didn't see me" (so maybe not the connoisseur after all). And so I slowly meandered back to the office, chuckling to myself, carrying a tub of chicken casserole, with the mask perched at a jaunty angle on my head.

The casserole was a perfect example of good home made grub that Rejina says she simply threw together. It was tasty and filling with lovely moist chicken, potatoes and carrots. The peas in particular were very good having remained fairly sweet and the one herb dumpling served up was utterly delicious. I say one because I found out that her fiance had nicked the other one that Rejina intended for me when packing the meal. I feel quite pained by this and have told her to pass on the message I wish to challenge him to a duel on Blackheath Common this coming Friday, 6AM. Tickets will be available. And yes I'll admit to licking the plate clean making the best of the yummy gravy, well there was no-one else in the office so who cares.

For this wonderful dinner I exchanged a bottle of Matahiwi Sauvignon Blanc, a fine gooseberry smacked bit of glug from Malborough, New Zealand.

Excellent dinner and daring-do Rejina!

Chicken Casserole with NHS issue swine flu mask

*After all this flippancy, I'm bound to get the dreaded pig lurgy now.....oops.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Piggy Heaven

When I first came up with the idea of Where's My Pork Chop? I wasn't entirely sure whether it would take off. The concept may be quite simple, at its heart the message is basically "I tell you what, feed me some of your lovely grub and I'll give you something in return". Slightly cheeky? Well maybe but since I've started posting about my adventures, I've been taken aback by the number of people who have contacted me saying they're are up for it, asking when can they cook for me. The amount of goodwill out there is really heartwarming but after my latest exchange with Linda of With Knife and Fork at Cafe Nero, Chancery Lane, I was knocked sideways on two counts. Not only did she provide an enormous feast for my consumption but she also gave me half an hour of her time, taking on the role of careers advisor (talk about food acting as a conduit!).

To explain further, I am standing at a kind of crossroads in my life at the moment. It's the usual scenario, I hate my job, I want to change, I want to do something I really enjoy. Mid-life crisis is not the domain of the forty something anymore so here I am, scrambling about, desperately trying to think about what I can do about it. Linda caught wind of this via my whinging on twitter and said that she would be happy to have a chat about it with me, as in her own words "she's been there and is also a professional studier" so perhaps she could give me a few pointers. And blimey did she give me a few pointers. I'll be honest and say at times during the conversation I was completely bamboozled and I suspect that Linda noticed this as I stared gormlessly back at her with the Magic Roundabout theme tune playing in my head. But the underlying advice that she gave me was very helpful and I left the café with a renewed purpose and vigour in my step.

As such it wasn't until I got back to the office that I bothered to look into the very heavy bag that Linda had given me and take out the menu she had printed off entitled "Pork five ways - an experiment in porcine cooking". Yes she had made 5 little piggy dishes, all individually wrapped and labelled, for me to try out. Now I know she likes studying but Linda had approached this project with all the zeal of Hermione Granger! Not that I'm ungrateful, no this little piggy was extremely happy of course and ran wee wee all the way home later that evening to share the meal with his wife because for once, he didn't have to work late in the office. So what was on the menu?

Spiced Pork Crackling
Hammy Pea Soup with White Sourdough Bread
Pork Rillettes
Chicken Liver and Pork Pate
Deconstructed Piccalilli with White Sourdough Bread
Spanish style Lard Cookies

By Linda's own admission the spiced crackling didn't come out as planned (and I make her right!) but the rest of the food was absolutely delicious. The pea soup had a luscious, velvet consistency and was beautifully green in colour. The chicken liver and pork pate was airy and delicate, almost mousse-like in texture and we lapped up the deconstructed piccalilli, a lighter, fresher version of it's cousin which was nice and clean on the palate. Her Spanish style cookies wouldn't go amiss on Christmas Eve with their sweet, cinnamon bite but the stars of the feast had to be the pork rillettes and sourdough bread. It may not have been the healthiest of options but the rillette really was manna from heaven, truly indulgent with shredded pork, fat and a background flavour of mace or nutmeg. Mrs Food Urchin had to take the jar off me by force (but later I snuck it back into my rucksack for lunch the next day). And spending a day with Mr Dan Lepard has certainly paid dividends on the sourdough, again I had to be physically stopped by my wife from shovelling the lot down my throat so that she could get a look in. I maybe starting to sound like a proper pig here but I'm not used to sharing my WMPC you see. (Well that's my story and I'm sticking by it).

For the swap, I picked some curly kale, french beans and 4 courgette flowers along with some charlotte potatoes which in light of what Linda had come up (along with the free consultation) my contribution seems quite meagre now so perhaps I should try and send a bottle of sloe gin her way. I'm afraid that I can't link the recipes here as Linda took this as an opportunity to try out dishes that she's meaning to do for ages but credited Jennifer McLagan, Gary Rhodes, the aforementioned Dan Lepard, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Fergus Henderson and her mum. If her mum was responsible for the rillette recipe then I would like to pass on a big smacker on the lips but if it was Hugh's.......well go on then.

Cheers Linda, oink oink!

It was just like Christmas it was!

Oink Oink!

Lots more porky photos can be found here.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

You Know What Really Gets My Goat?

I so very nearly blew my top with this one.


Just imagine, there I was preparing myself yesterday morning, getting psyched up and ready for the arduous journey ahead. I got tooled up with the biggest marrow I could find down the allotment for protection, I strap a secret wallet around my waist to hide valuables and lace up my biggest pair of bovver boots. I then spend a good half hour staring in the mirror repeating "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me?!" over and over again. And then Helen of Food Stories texts me in a panic and says that she's left the Curry Goat at home, leaving me thinking that this week's WMPC was off. I mean look, didn't she know how difficult it was going to be for me to go south of the river, especially to Camberwell of all places? It was just as well that she lived down the road from where she worked and could nip back home to collect my dinner otherwise there would have been hell to pay.

I jest of course, I had no problem at all with jumping on the train to meet Helen in Sarf London, it's all part of the great adventure that is WMPC. Actually I like to think it highlights my commitment to the cause. Make the offer of a good meal and I will always go the extra mile (Penge being the exception, I will never go to Penge). And speaking of which, I was very grateful that Helen went the extra mile because her curry was absolutely knockout.

I've eaten a few Jamaican staples plenty of times before such as Ackee and Saltfish and Jerk Chicken but this was the first time I've ever had Curry Goat. By her own admission, Helen wasn't entirely sure that it was goat but quite possibly mutton, as by all accounts it is often sold as a substitute in the butchers i.e. "mutton for goat". Still, that was ok as I don't think I've tried mutton before either. The meat was fairly strong in flavour like lamb but didn't actually taste of lamb, if that makes any sense and it was fantastically tender, it really did melt in the mouth. This was obviously a dish that Helen took her time over. The best part though was the spicy hot rich sauce. You know I said that I nearly blew my top, well in fact I did, in the most pleasurable way possible. With the scotch bonnet chillies pushing up the barometer on the scoville scale, it did test my capacity for hotness somewhat, causing the old bonce to sweat a bit but I made it through. Given the intensity of heat, there was a healthy whack of lime in the background which added a certain tang and the peas and rice with the addition of coconut milk gave a nice cool contrast.


For the exchange I handed over an unfeasibly large marrow, the one that I planned to use for self-protection, a bag of peas and a small pot of jam (strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant made by my father) all produced from the allotment. I get the impression that Helen plans to make some rum with the marrow through some strange alchemic process, a gin-soaked idea if ever I've heard one but if she's successful, I for one will not be handing out any more marrows for WMPC.

It'll be Food Urchin's Own "Mount Gay" and Curry Goat all the way for me I can tell you.


After (phew!)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sexual "Zucchini" Healing

For the lastest installment of WMPC, when Kerri of Dinner Diary tweeted me and asked whether I had a toaster in the kitchen at work, alarm bells started ringing, because a) we don't have one and b) it left me thinking, "She's gone and bought me Pop Tarts, that's no bloody dinner!"

Of course I should have known better as I have been scouring Kerri's food blog, which is also co-written by her fiancé Stephen, for some time now. To say it's comprehensive would be an understatement, so to assume they were ducking out by providing some sickly sweet 80's cardboard snack would have been insulting on my part. When I met Kerri at Embankment tube station yesterday morning, she said herself "I bet you thought I was bringing you some Pop Tarts!". Little did she know that my nervous giggle was in fact hiding a huge sigh of relief as she handed a lunch bag containing a much coveted portion of Two Bean Chilli, along with some grated cheese and sesame roll (if I had the toaster it would have been pitta bread - "ah so now I see")

For the exchange, I siphoned off a small portion of Veronica, my sourdough starter of 5 months, into a jam jar and named the offspring "Velma". I can only hope that she does her mother proud. I also went down to the allotment to pick a few spuds, some curly kale, a couple of courgettes and some of the pretty flowers that grow from them. I must admit cutting the flowers off did leave me with some trepidation as there had been an online discussion in the week with KaveyF and hollowlegs on twitter regarding what flowers to pick and pollenation. Take too many of the boy flowers away and you could leave the plant sterile. So I tentatively cut just two off yesterday morning. It is my plan though to go down to the plot this afternoon, place a bottle of wine and some Marvin Gaye playing extra loud on my iPod by the courgette plants and leave the bees to do the rest. Just to make sure, you know.

So how was the Two Bean Chilli? Well like I said before, Kerri and Stephen obviously cook a lot and this dish really showed off their talents. Sometimes this dish can be fairly one dimensional, it's served up in the pub across the road from where I work and it is just full on fiery, nothing else but this effort had lots of nuances and subtleties flowing through it. It had a nice amount of heat and you really could taste lots of individual spice flavours and I think the fact that there was no meat in it to dominate helped. I'm forever buying tins of beans and pulses and then leaving them in the cupboard gathering dust so will definitely be making this at home in the future.

I'm always a fan of cheese on chilli so thanks also for providing that Kerri, I know you were a little short on time so how you baked that sesame roll first thing is beyond me! ; )


Two Bean Chilli