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.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Help Wanted, Apply Within

I was a bit miffed about the last WMPC exchange. Some people really need to get their arses into gear you know and organise the time they've got and make sure that they get the ingredients they need in time for the swap. Otherwise the whole exchange is a bit pointless and you end up handing something over that is obviously a last minute gesture, which in turn makes you look a bit lame. My meeting with Lizzie of Hollowlegs at Oxford Circus felt exactly like that and as I walked away with this horrible empty feeling, the best I could do to console myself was to think "well at least I got Violet over to her, that marrow will have to wait until next time, I can't believe I forgot it and the bloody camera too".

Ah you thought I was slagging off Lizzie for a second then, didn't you? No she came up trumps, I'm just being hard on myself for not getting down to the allotment in the morning. I had found out that she was quite a fan of marrow you see, so I left one of my courgettes alone for the last couple of weeks and it was shaping up to be a real whopper. Like something Captain Caveman would wield. And then come Wednesday, amidst the howls of a chaotic morning, I couldn't find the key for the allotment gate. It had just disappeared. I could have run down there and tried to shout up to the patrol tower to be let in but Arthur who was on duty that morning is deaf and would have probably been asleep anyway. Yes they take security very seriously down Norfolk Road Allotment. So I left the house and on the way to the station, I bombed into M&S to pick up the first bottle of sauvignon blanc I could find (I hate M&S but was now in a rush). Then when I was on the train travelling in I looked into my bag and realised that I left the camera at home, so wouldn't be able to take photos of Lizzie's offering in the office. Naturally after this revelation I threw some violent jerky shapes in my seat whilst cursing under my breath which I believe perturbed my fellow passengers a fair bit. So I decided to calm down and look out of the window with just the smallest of ticks flicking under my eye. "Still at least I remembered to take along Violet" I thought, the second born daughter of Veronica, my sourdough starter of nearly 6 months now "Lizzie should be happy with that at least."

Prior to meeting Ms Hollowlegs, I was intrigued as to what she was going to do. We had bumped into each other earlier in the week at the BPR Summit and in the pub after the word "Spam" was getting bandied about a lot, leaving me a little apprehensive. A love of marrow, although watery and tasteless to some, I could appreciate. Spam on the other hand, I really do find hard to get excited about. Memories of the stuff, greasy and battered, plague me from my student days when we lived two doors down from a chippy/kebab shop and would regularly chow down on Spam patties. I suspect that Lizzie is a bit of Spam connoisseur and when she noticed my reaction to the mere mention of the word, she shot me a look that said "you'll get what you're given pal!". Perhaps she had been pulling my leg all along because when I met her a couple of days later, she produced a massive lunchbox containing Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta with no Spam in sight. And for this I was extremely grateful. Even better was the fact that I didn't have to work too late that night and was able to take it home to photographise her work before scoffing it down. It wouldn't have done to put up a picture of an empty lunchbox now*.

The great thing about this pasta (which I ate cold later in the evening) was it's simplicity. Sometimes it can be tempting to throw everything in but the kitchen sink when making a sauce. I do it all the time but Lizzie's tomato sauce was just right, giving the penne an even coating with a nice fresh zing. This meant that octopus and aubergine stood out rightly on their own. I love aubergine and the juicy, smokey flavours from the slices worked well against the light, tender pieces of baby octopus, delicious. I was pretty amazed to find out that the octopus had previously been frozen and would like to know where Lizzie gets her supply from. In the outer reaches of Essex, like in Sainsburys, Hornchurch High St, I've only really seen it in jars of brine, not the same at all. And lastly, I'd just like to say I was fairly staggered with the amount of food that she had made. If this is an average portion size then Lizzie really does have hollow legs.

Cheers Lizzie and thanks for providing the recipe (which I have posted below). I'll try to get that marrow to you once I find the key or when I finally get the attention of Arthur, whatever comes first.

Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta

Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta
200gr penne
2 cloves of garlic
2 shallots
1 can of cherry tomatoes (or just chopped) in juice
A glug of sherry (or a pinch of sugar)
A large pinch of chilli flakes
8 baby octopus, defrosted if frozen
1 aubergine
A handful of parsley Slice the aubergine thickly. in a non-stick pan, heat up some oil and fry the slices until browned on both sides. Remove and leave on kitchen paper. Heat up some more oil and fry the shallots with the garlic and chilli on a low heat. Slice the octopus in half if they're big and then add them to the pan. Fry them until they start to curl a little, then add the glug of sherry and simmer until reduced. Then add the aubergine slices and the can of tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened. The sauce should be quite thick, so do stir it now and again so it doesn't stick to the bottom. Meanwhile, cook the pasta to al dente. When the sauce is sufficiently thickened, mix with the pasta and scatter the parsley, finely chopped, into the pasta.

*Speaking of empty lunchboxes and other food carrying receptacles, I have now accumulated a large amount which is taking up valuable space in my cupboard. Please let me know if you want yours back and I will get my secretary to post them to you as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I'd never really thought about this before but after walking away from a recent WMPC exchange with Charlie of Eatmynels, it suddenly occurred to me that to the uninformed observer, what had just happened might seem....well slightly odd. And since I've started this little project, it's obviously happened a few times now. These episodes of oddness I mean. Picture the scene. One bloke (curly hair, athletic type) turns up to Farringdon Station on his bike, hops off and inspects the contents of his Freitag. Another bloke (bald with glasses but still curiously handsome) comes walking down the street, lugging a heavy rucksack. Baldy Bloke approaches Bike Bloke and they shake hands. Bike Bloke pulls out a carrier bag from his courier bag and Baldy Bloke looks in, looks back up, smiles and give the big thumbs up. Baldy Bloke then pulls a great big fat marrow out of his rucksack and hands it over to Bike Bloke who smiles and gives the big thumbs up back. They then put the respective swapped goods into their own bags, shake hands again and leave the scene, going off in opposite directions.

Now if I had been viewing this transaction from outside The Castle, the pub across the road whilst supping a beer, my furtive imagination would have come up with all kinds of conclusions. I'd definitely be thinking "what the bloody hell is going on there then?". Particularly if I had seen Charlie beaming the way he did when he was holding said marrow in his hands. But it's funny isn't it. In this frantic, heaving, belching sprawl of a city, where it's head down, plough forward, it's highly unlikely that any passer-by would have noticed the exchange. Wouldn't it be thrilling though if you actually stopped for a minute and took a close look around you. What if you spied someone dropping a loaf of sourdough into the lap of a customer at a coffee shop before disappearing out into the street. Or if you noticed a passenger on the tube slip a leek from out of their newspaper and hand it to the person sitting next to you before jumping off at the next stop. Or say if you saw two people sit down at a park bench each placing a paper bag on the floor between them, which they surreptitiously switch before suddenly walking off. Ha! Wouldn't that be great? OK, maybe I'm getting a bit carried away but keep your eyes peeled, it is quite possible that I am not alone and that food exchanges are happening all over the place. You never know.

After all that pontificating I better get down to the business of talking about Charlie's contribution to WMPC which was well worth the price of that big fat marrow, plus some runner beans, french beans and Desiree potatoes. These potatoes by the way are a revelation, not only for their taste but for the fact that we had completely forgotten that we'd planted them in the first place. When I first dug them up at the weekend, I shouted "Bloody hell, we've got red ones!". I'm waffling again, onto Charlie's mexican feast. I vaguely recall when I first met him at the Catavino Wine and Food Bloggers get together a few months ago, that he had been professionally trained and spent some time working as a chef proper. So I was looking forward to seeing what he'd rustle up when I got his name in the diary. Even more so when he told me that he would be providing his Chilli con Carne which won the People's Choice Award at the recent chilli cook-off at All Star Lanes. And plus Charlie had even committed to cooking the rice just before we would meet, talk about ticking all the boxes! But did his chilli meet this heightened level of expectation?

Charlie con Chilli

Well of course it did. Much as I am aware that this exercise is becoming a bit of a lovefest for other blogger's cooking, Charlie's chilli really hit the spot. I don't claim to be an expert but this meal carried a real air of authenticity as he also provided two types of salsa, crème fraîche and cheese to accompany. The Chilli con Carne itself gave just the right kick, hot but not too over bearing (the addition of a scotch bonnet for decoration did worry me for a second) with lovely warm undertones of cumin and smoky paprika. The chunky meat was a nice change from the usual mincemeat texture and absorbed all the flavours well. The salsas were great, nice fresh flavours with the tomato pushing in just bit more heat whereas the sweetcorn with coriander cooled the tastebuds down and I swear there was beer in it but maybe I was just hankering after a Corona. The rice was fluffy, clean and tender having just been cooked and I was very intrigued by the little spheres in the crème fraîche, pink peppercorns Charlie? A very worthy champion indeed.

Cheers Charlie and apologies for alluding to you having inappropriate ideas about the marrow but you did say that you were going to "stuff the shit out of it"!

Sweetcorn Salsa

Monday, 3 August 2009

Charley Says.......

Ever remember your parents telling you never to accept sweeties from strangers? Well despite having that mantra drummed into me constantly as a kid, it seems that all that effort has gone to waste as I found myself last Friday at noon by the Monument waiting for exactly that, sweeties from a stranger. OK so perhaps Lara wasn't completely unknown to me as we have been exchanging tweets for some time now but she is the first person to contribute to WMPC who I haven't met in person. And plus Lara doesn't blog so prior to meeting her, I had no point of reference. I didn't know what kind of food she liked, I had no pretty pictures to look at and (dare I say it) I couldn't be absolutely sure that she was good cook! Remember, it was time spent drooling over fellow foodie's posts that kick started this idea in the first place so this was really a leap into the unknown, expectation wise. Of course, I was overlooking the one simple fact that this girl has started running one of those 'home' restaurants you just might have heard about, in leafy East Sheen appropriately named "Sheen Suppers". If Lara was opening her doors to indulge punters in a spot of underground cuisine, then surely she must know her stuff?

I'd got to the Monument fairly early and was musing upon this particular aspect (along with calculating how far I could run up the 311 steps before collapsing - about fifty I reckon under current conditions) when I spied Lara, who came bombing out of the tube station, talking on the phone. As Lara came towards me, I did that thing of standing stiff and waving and smiling awkwardly like you do when meeting someone for the first time. Or is that just me? So anyway when she whizzed straight past, I felt even more awkward. Don't worry, I soon regained my cool by pretending to swat an imaginary fly. But when she disappeared around one corner of the Monument, I began to panic, where was she going? That was her wasn't it? The short blond hair as sported on her Twitter avatar was unmistakable. I thought about following her but then thought against it, we could end up running circles around the base of the Monument for hours trying to find each other. No I decided to stand still and hoped to catch her should she came speeding around the other side. Luckily she did and I was able to get her attention by waving both my arms up and down like a lunatic. And so after some relief it was indeed the Lara that I waved down, we got down to exchanging handshakes, pleasantries and food goodies.

For Friday's exchange I had brought some charlotte potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, french beans, loadsabeans in fact and a spring cabbage. Lara in return had brought along some Thai Spiced Chicken, a Thai Flavoured Risotto with Peas and a Ginger Blondie with White Chocolate and Ginger Truffles. Lara explained further that the risotto idea was formed from leftover ingredients for that night's Sheen Supper, casually adding that she was "serving up Arancini with this spicy coconut monkfish fusion type dish you see". Naturally I could only nod back at her, open-mouthed and dumbstruck because a) I was mightly impressed and b) being the idiot I am, I didn't have a clue what Arancini was. And to think that I had the temerity to consider she might not be up to the WMPC challenge, she was starting up a restaurant in her own house for gawd's sake, of course she could bloody cook! You may have to be slightly mad to go ahead with such a venture but you should certainly be confident of your own ability in the kitchen and Lara definitely seemed so. Confident that is, not mad. So after shaking hands and wishing good luck, I bade her farewell and raced back to the office to google "arancini".

Fried rice balls! Why didn't she say so!

It was another evening were work was thin on the ground so I was able leave at a reasonable hour and take Lara's dinner home with me to sample with my good wife. I must admit I did find the idea of a Thai risotto quite unconventional but after heating it through and taking a few mouthfuls, I was pleasantly surprised. Combining Thai flavours such as chilli, coriander, lemongrass and lime with the indulgently oozy texture of the rice worked really well. I did wonder if she had made this with coconut milk but apparently not, just cream, mascarpone and parmesan. In any case it highlighted the fact that a good basic risotto can really be a blank canvas. The spicy chicken was very good too, well seasoned and still fairly moist, providing a delicious meaty accompaniment to the rice. And as for the Blondie, well that went down a real storm between the pair of us, rich and decadent with small flakes of fiery ginger, a real sweet tooth lover's delight. We ate it cold but I suspect it would taste even better just slightly warmed up and I'll test this theory out as Lara was gracious enough to let me have the recipe to post on here. Psst, I've put it at the bottom. The truffles by the way were little bites of naughtiness and equally delightful.

I believe Lara's next date for Sheen Suppers is 4th September, so if you fancy something slightly off the wall then you can make a booking by emailing her at: Alas, I shall be up in Newcastle on a stag-do sampling the culinary delights of kebabs and Newky Brown but will be sure to get down to south-west London for the next one.

Thanks Lara (and don't tell my mum what I've done).

Thai Spiced Chicken and Thai Flavoured Risotto with Peas

Ginger Blondie with White Chocolate and Ginger Truffles

Ginger Blondies, Ginger Cream and White Chocolate & Ginger Truffles

The Blondie recipe makes about 16-18 small Blondies, 12 large ones, less if you trim the edges off to make them neater (I personally don't like the crusty edge of any cake!). Basically, a tin 18cm x 32cm or the equivalent size in a different shaped tin.

Ginger Blondies
300g good quality white choc (chopped into very small bits)
150g unsalted butter (cubed)
1 level tbsp of grated fresh ginger - microplane grated is best (no fibres)
I vanilla pod
300g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs (size is important in this case)
175g plain flour

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla pod scrapings.
Use a bain mairie to carefully melt together 200g of the choc and butter on a low heat. Cool for 5 minutes so you don't scramble the eggs and add to the egg/sugar mixture.
When well mixed, add the flour - don't beat the life out of it but do carefully make sure it's properly mixed.
Mix in the ginger and taste. It should be there but should not overpower the fudgy flavour of the choc. Stir in remaining chocolate bits and pour into the tray (they need to be small so they melt quickly and don't sink). Tap the tin a couple of times to get rid of big bubbles. Cook for 35 minutes in a pre-heated oven (180/gas 4 - I use the conventional rather than the fan setting). Test at 30 minutes. They are ready when an inserted skewer is cleanish - some stickiness is fine and in fact, desired.

Ginger Cream
The amounts for the cream entirely depend on how many people you wish to serve (obviously).
For a pint of double cream, add 4 tbsp of Golden Syrup and 1 level tbsp of Ground Ginger and whip to desired thickness.

250g good quality white choc (small bits)
150g good quality white choc (finely grated)
60ml of double cream
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp of ground ginger
Pinch nutmeg
Crystallised ginger for decoration

In a pan and carefully, on a low heat, melt 250g of the choc with all other ingredients (except the crystallised ginger). Cool in a covered tray in the fridge for anything from 2 to 12 hours (I often leave overnight). It's ready for the next stage when it's firm and you can scoop out a truffle shape with a spoon, melon baller etc. but it still has some stickiness. Roll the truffle shapes (you'll get 20 ish small truffles from this recipe but you can make them whatever size you want). Roll them in the grated choc, add a little strip of crystallised ginger to the top and sit on greaseproof paper in a sealed container in a nice cold fridge to set further.
Lara Newman