Monday, 29 November 2010

The Young Ones

Looking back, as I often do, it's quite amazing that after my tenure as an undergraduate at the prestigious University of Northamptonshire (formally Nene College) that I actually came out alive. A typically overwrought statement I know but seriously, money was very thin on the ground and I could barely afford to feed myself. I certainly dropped a couple of dress sizes I can tell you that. And when I did eat it was hardly ever nutritious let alone appetising. Cottage pies were often the order of the day, deconstructed cottage pies that is. Take one can of corned beef, mush up with various boiled grubby vegetables in a roasting tin, add a jug of Bisto gravy, blend until a slurry like texture is achieved, top with mashed potatoes, bake and eat at an ironing board substituting as a table. Very grim. I did once elevate the humble pie to another level though. I took one one of Fray Bentos finest and placed it in said roasting tin (my main piece of kitchen equipment) covered the abomination with more tinned stewing steak and sealed everything in with a Just-Rol puff pastry crust. A pie within a pie you could say and oh so post-modernist, ha ha ha! But that was probably the limit of my culinary creativity whilst at college. Otherwise my diet largely consisted of moribund fish fingers and watery beans on toast bought from the Netto down the road for threepence. Although this strict budgetary regime often left me hungry, it did at least leave me with more than enough spare cash to spend on alcohol and partying, the raison d'être for all students surely?

*Ruefully ponders the fact that he also came out of uni with no degree*

No, I really should have spent my money (and time) more wisely. On books, at lectures and in the library, that would have been a good start. And perhaps if I had headed towards the markets and stuck my nose in the bargain bins at the supermarkets or even struck up an uneasy relationship with the butcher, just concentrated on feeding myself properly then perhaps my brain would have cottoned onto the fact that this was one of most important times in my life. Instead I ran around like an idiot with a traffic cone on my head for three years. If I had my time again, I would certainly do it differently and maybe take a leaf out of Eve's book. Her remit is to cook decent meals, get those vitamins in and make ethical choices when buying food. All within a tight budget. Eve writes Apples for Eve by the way and she is currently studying English Literature in London.

Yes, I am pilfering WMPC dinners from poor students.

*Hangs head in shame for second time in a post*

I met Eve ages ago and this post is way past it's submission date so apologies for that. If was to be honest when I started writing this piece, it went off on a tangent rallying against the injustices of soaring university fees, talking about the recent demonstrations and subsequent riots but I never intended this blog to be overtly political in anyway. However if anyone is interested in my idea to set up a pop-up tea and cake stall inside a 'kettle', please do get in touch. So yes I met Eve on a sunny morning in October outside Liverpool Street. She was late and I thought 'ah stereotypical student' but then I spotted Eve wheeling her bike across the concourse waving with grease marked hands. She said that her chain had slipped which brought up memories of all those other old chestnuts. Ha yes "the dog ate my homework" and "I twisted my ankle". A likely story indeed. But then I realised I was projecting and decided to forgive her. We had a good chat actually, about her studies, life in London, the social scene, her plans for the future and before long I was starting to feel quite jealous of it all so I changed tact and began to brag about my blogging exploits. This didn't last long though for fear that I was projecting again and revealing myself to be a colossal prick so we switched to common denominator of food. Eve was fairly principled as you would expect from someone her age (oh my God, I do sound like a colossal prick!) Shop local and buy local produce, think organic, think seasonal, eat healthy etc etc. However Eve was also realistic about the expectations of living on a budget and was keen to highlight that some of the student cookbooks and guides out there, in her opinion at least, didn't reflect this. Which is why she started her blog. Like I said it was great to spend 10 mins chatting away with a complete stranger and I hope Eve got smashed out of her head on the bottle of red I gave her. Because I would have done at her age (I suspect she didn't)

So what did Eve give me in return? Well she certainly showed that you can still enjoy a good feast whilst watching the pennies with Homemade Soda Bread, Chickpea and Spinach Salad, (ingredients from Ridley Road Market, Dalston), Hummus and Bean Shoots (bought from Broadway Market), Pear and Stilton Tart (pears from a friend's garden) and Brownie with Raspberry Sauce (Eve freely admits that she got the ingredients for this dessert from Tescos). It was all hugely impressive and an absolute far cry from my efforts. Her soda bread was deliciously dense and crumbly which soaked up the warm nutty hummus. The chickpea salad was punchy in flavour and colourful to the eye and Eve's stilton tart was really was good. The salty, creamy textures of the cheese combined with sweet juicy pear made for good bedfellows, well worth the poach. The highlight though was Eve's chewy, chocolatey brownies set off against a sharp, vivid raspberry sauce. Fantastic. As in the past, I often take WMPC contributions home to share but not these brownies. Don't tell the wife though. Or the kids. Especially the kids. They've got to start learning things the hard way, the way their idiot Father should have done in the first place.

Thanks Eve.

Student Feast

Brownies with Raspberry Sauce

The Menu

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Daisy Does Dinner for Kavey

I've known Danny for a long time. Not long enough to have seen him with hair, obviously. But long enough that he wasn't yet the Food Urchin when we first encountered each other, online. He was Toady Dan, on the BBC's online food chat forum.

It's worrying isn't it?

I mean it's one thing letting a Food Urchin make you dinner. But quite another taking food from a toad!

Luckily, for reasons that have almost (but not quite) faded into the mists of time, I've known this sweet, egg-headed Essex lad as Daisy since the first time we met in person. And saying that "Daisy's Doing Dinner Tonight" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

I was one of the first to sign up to his Where's My Pork Chop (though not the first to get around to actually doing it, by a long shot). I roped Pete in to help and we made some shahi paneer, egg curry and basmati rice and I threw in a box of polychromatic Indian mithai (sweets) from my local Mahavir Sweet Mart. By his account, the effect of all that sugar was pretty psychedelic…

Now, Daisy did do a rather incredible imu, where he buried a headless lamb in his back garden, with fire, for many hours. And proceeded to feed an entire army of WMPCers!

But, I wanted a proper Reverse Where's My Pork Chop, usually abbreviated (with no explanation for the odd capitalisation) to rWMPC.

After a little badgering, Daisy gave in. At around the same time, he was talking on twitter about getting his hands on some game birds. I demanded Magpie Pie. Not because I have any particular desire to eat magpie, or even know whether it's a bird that is considered to be good eating. But for no other reason than that the name tickled my silly bone. Magpie Pie! Magpie Pie! Magpie Pie!

In the end, Daisy didn't get his hands on any magpies and we both needed to defer the date which is how we suddenly found ourselves agreeing to schedule for my birthday, at the end of September. So what did he conjure up for me to celebrate my 21st again again again… ?

To start, we enjoyed a smooth, creamy cauliflower and blue cheese soup. Daisy had also lightly pickled some mixed fruit and vegetables for dropping into the soup as a garnish. The soup was delicious and I really liked the juicy little cubes of flavour provided by the pickle.

This was followed by a duck hash, greens and mushrooms and a fried duck egg each. We couldn't get the duck hash to form any solid shape, so it doesn't look gorgeous on the plate, but it tasted lovely, especially with the rich duck egg yolk mixed through it.

The highlight of the meal for me was the beautiful pear tart tatin, made from his own produce too! We served it with some posh ready-made fresh custard and it was just the ticket. Best of all, having stuffed ourselves with the Tasting Menu at Launceston Place for lunch, and off to Dorset for the Meemalee's Kitchen Burmese Popup the next day, we realised we couldn't finish it all so there's more than half a tart left in the freezer!

Oh and what did I swap for the lovely meal above? I met Daisy in China Town late morning and introduced him to dim sum. I was very good and only had a bite of each dish but as I love feeding people, was gratified to watch Daisy munching through lots of dim sum delicacies, including his first chicken feet!

PS I really wanted to call this post Daisy Does Dallas, just because… but it made no sense, so I had to resist. I had a happy 2 minutes coming up with all kinds of Daisy porn titles like Daisy Does Deep Throat and Daisy Fucks A Duck but, you know, that'd make this NSFW. Oh wait, now the post is NSFW. Oops

A wonderful warm review Kavey, thank you. I am glad you enjoyed your birthday supper. The duck recipe was lifted from Mr Mark Hix's new book, Hix Oyster and Chop House. I couldn't get it form any solid shape either. That's your fault Mr Mark Hix.

But what the fluff is this fuck a duck porn business at the end? Eh? EH!? I didn't realise you had such a potty mouth. Or do you suffer from Tourette's?

PS Mrs FU was most dismayed to find out that I was giving the whole tarte tatin away. So much so that she punched me in the mouth and I had to make another one.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Never Ever Give Up Your Staff Discount Card

Back in the summer whilst idly slouching on the sofa in my pants, watching the box and repeatedly shoving fistfuls of twiglets into my mouth (hey that's how I like to relax), I got a text from my brother-in-law. It simply said 'Dan are you watching MasterChef? Fucking Sliney is on it!' Now please forgive an expletive so early in the post but you have to understand, my brother-in-law was making a powerful statement here. To explain further, you also have to understand who Sliney is. At the risk of enlarging his already bulbous head, Sliney was the enforcer on the rugby team that I used to be in. During the heat of a match, he would often come flying in from out of nowhere should there be the merest hint of a fracas. I think he preferred fighting to rugby. A wild card and a crude man but he was also viciously funny. So you can imagine my reaction when I did switch over and spotted this huge brute quietly explaining his delicate duck starter to Torode and Wallace.

"Fuck me Sliney is on MasterChef!" I shouted, springing to my feet, spitting twiglets everywhere.

It really didn't make any sense, past just didn't marry up to present. I had witnessed this man carry out numerous unmentionables and pranks (what goes on rugby tour, stays on rugby tour) and there he was fretting over presenting his rack of lamb, handling it as if it were some precious newborn. Weird, very weird. So shortly after, I engaged in some email conversation with him. To cut a long story short, Sliney simply went onto MasterChef to push his cooking further (who ever knew that enjoyed cooking in the first place). Over the years he had gone through many different jobs but underlying throughout, he always had strong passion for food (again, who knew!) and wanted to pop his head over the parapet to see if he could take it somewhere. And I can totally appreciate that because it's something that I am trying to do with my food writing, although my arrow is slightly aimless. I haven't been in touch with the big man since but I hope he is plugging away and that one day, I'll find out that he's opened his own restaurant somewhere. I sincerely believe that it is possible to turn things around as long as you work hard at it. This link is tenuous at best but when I met Neil of The Lambshank Redemption for a WMPC swap, after having a chat with him at Dose coffee shop near Smithfield, his story is testimony to all of this. Of course I am not saying for a second that Neil has ever shat in a pint glass, waved his willy at French policemen or ate a can of Whiskas in under a minute. I am just saying that in his pursuit to become a full-time freelance writer, like Sliney he has undertaken a fair few jobs along the way. And quite possibly, Neil could have played loosehead prop at some point.

In his own words Neil's CV is "fucking hilarious" having made transitions from private banking to cheese monger to events organising at Albert Hall, all fairly disparate you might say with some years out in the wilderness building a reputation as a writer. His scary tales of securing positions at publication houses, only to discover shortly after that the whole deck is about to collapse gave a great insight into the industry. However, after 10 years of plowing on through stormy and calm seas alike, Neil now seems to be in the enviable position of getting the sweet stuff. I follow a few freelance writers on Twitter but I have to say that Neil is one of the more annoying ones. Forever advertising the hardship of driving around the Highlands in Bentleys, sampling whiskey or having to fly off 'somewhere', well it can all get rather grating. But I forgive Neil because I really like his humorous, cynical style of prose and plus there's the fact that he originally hails from Harold Wood and is therefore a true Son of Essex. Even better is that we shall soon be venturing on a Pie and Mashcapade together, a trawl around some of London's finest cockney cafes to sample as much gluey potato and unidentifiable, fetid mince as possible. All smothered in a palid green liquor, laaaverly. I shall be stumping up for a few pots of eels in return for the sumptuous feast that Neil provided.

The bag that Neil handed over was fairly weighty and as he did so he explained with twinkle in his eye that he enjoyed large portions. Which probably raised an eyebrow or two in the close confines of the small coffee shop in which we sat but I was oblivious to this as I peered in and immediately got a waft of cheese. For my supper, Neil announced that I was having some the haddock chowder he enjoyed the previous night along with a special chocolate rice pudding. The piece de resistance though was a fine selection of cheese. Yes his career in cheesemongeryness may be far behind him but Neil has still managed to keep hold of his Neal's Yard staff discount card. And to be fair why would you ever relinquish that? Another quiet night in the office meant that yet another WMPC would have to be enjoyed at home but that's never any skin of my nose. Give me that to working until four in the morning any day of the week. Neil's chowder was certainly substantial and packed with flavour with lovely chunks of pepper, sweetcorn and slithers of salty bacon. It was probably more dense than any chowder that I've tried before but I wasn't complaining and I really appreciated the peppery undertones, Neil's seasoning was perfectly balanced against the rich, creaminess of the dish. I also liked the way he created a twist on rice pudding, adding a bit of Terry's chocolate orange magic to the mix by melting a whole chocolate orange or by using an orange liqueur, I'm not entirely sure. It was very good either way but perhaps a bit too much after the very filling chowder. In fact, I was fit to bust and had to leave the cheese till the next day but ensured that I got it out of the fridge nice and early to breathe in time for lunch. Neil's selection - Ardrahan, Kirkhams Lancashire, Tunworth, Colston Basset, Red Leicester and a goats cheese which he told me the name of but forgot to make a note - was fantastic. All quite individual in character with their own qualities, I can safely say that I enjoyed all of them. Well OK the runny, gloopy, funky, pungent Tunworth was my favourite but even the Red Leicester was great. I find the supermarket variants of this cheese can be fairly bland but the one that Neil chose was lovely and strong. Cheesy heaven.

Thanks again Neil, I'm looking forward to our forthcoming Pie and Mashcapade.

The Stash

Neil's Haddock, Bacon and Sweetcorn Chowder

Close Up

Chocolate Rice Pudding


Sunday, 3 October 2010

GCSE Spanswegian?

To this day, I still don't know why she did it. And to be honest, I don't why I agreed to her proposal. I think it was the discreet tap on the shoulder and the whisper to stay behind. Although fairly plain in looks with lanky greasy hair, she still carried off a certain gamine charm with her big brown eyes and button nose so for this pubescent freckle faced boy, the whole arrangement was spiked with frisson. With the class finally empty, she beckoned me to come over as she sat perched on top of her desk, legs crossed and angled to one side. Slowly, I edged over from the far corner of the room and stood, motionless in front of her. I was so close that I could smell stale coffee on her breath. The transaction could have only taken a minute or two but I distinctly remember walking out of the class room into the heaving throng of a school corridor at home time, flushed and heady from what had just happened. The French supply teacher was probably only at Forest Lodge Secondary School for about 3 months and you know what, I can't even remember her name but what had just occurred would have an impact on me for the rest of my life. I definitely remember sitting in the gymnasium a few months later, sitting there, staring at the paper and then staring at the clock and then staring at the paper again, thinking "why the hell did I listen to that French bitch? Why did I agree to take the higher levels? My god, what have I written down here?! It makes no sense! Oh shit, time is running out, oh shit! Why? Why?!"

I ended up with a grade F for my French GCSE and the whole episode has left me with a total distrust of grubby, waif-like, sexy gallic women. Audrey Tatou? Phwoor but non! She would date you, make mad passionate love to you but then go on to mentally screwing you up for her own perverse amusement. Embittered? Moi? Non, je ne regrette rien.

Which is a lie because I would really love to have a second language that I could casually and fluently slip into. When abroad, I hate that squirm of embarrassment in the pit of my stomach as I desperately flounder about the place before launching into barking and gesticulating mode. As such I am always in awe when I witness someone move from their mother tongue to a completely different one with no effort at all. Rachel of Catalan Cooking and erstwhile partner in crime does this all the time. Except she speaks Glaswegian AND Spanish and when I met her for a WMPC swap at Moo Grill some moons ago, the brain did go into meltdown at times as we conversed over a big juicy lomito. Try imagining holding two phrasebooks up at the same time, manically juggling the pair and flicking through the pages, eyes and ears jumping all over the place, lip reading, trying to make sense of what was being communicated and you'll get a sense of my inner turmoil. To be fair on myself (and to Rachel) when she in is full flow using her native burr, I can keep up quite well. My boss of 12 years is from East Kilbride so I am well attuned but Rachel, being the Catalonia obsessive that she is, will often start waxing lyrical about a recipe or story that is interjected with Spanish prose. At which point, I might as well stick my fingers in my ears and shout "la la la, I can't understand you, la la la, I'm not listening". More to the point, throughout our lunch, Rachel would often break off to utter something incomprehensible to the handsome Argentinian chap who runs the very cosy and affordable Moo Grill. This always unnerves me when people do that and I have to say when Rachel was pointing in my general direction and having a good ol' laugh with said chap who also started to point and laugh, it did irk me somewhat. Rachel after told me that was she was telling him of my exploits with lamb and holes in the ground but I don't believe her. Perhaps I should get off my arse, just try to learn a language and banish the memory of Mademoiselle Tordu altogether. I mean if an Argentinian can learn how to speak Spanish, how hard can it be?

Linguistic issues aside, it was great to meet up with Rachel as she's always prepared to give advice and a piece of her mind and she has a great sense of humour to boot but what did she come up with? Well somewhere, out there, is a poor little piggy who is wandering around with no feet as Rachel decided to introduce me to the Catalonian staple of trotters, one part of the animal that I had yet to try. There were 3 variations to sample, Trotters A La Catalan, Trotters Stuffed with Prunes and Plain Trotter, all prepared up to a point with some cooking to finish them off as well as some super concentrated pig stock. It was stipulated that the finishing part should be done at home and with a proper hob and oven. Try to do everything in a microwave and it will all turn to "pish and I'm nae having that" I was warned. By the time I got home that night, it was a little late to eat even by Spanish standards so I decided that I would rustle up the trotters for breakfast. So the next morning I set to business before work filling my kitchen up with delicious porcine smells. First up was the trotters catalan which were heated through in a vibrant orange carrot sauce and finished with picada stirred in, which is a blend of chopped hazelnuts, garlic and parsley fried with some of the sauce mixed together. Second was the trotter with stuffed prune which were to be sliced into rounds, fried and served up with a simple accompanying tomato sauce. And the third was the plain trotter wiped with some honey and roasted until crispy. And in terms of order of preference that's exactly how I favoured them. The trotter in the lairy orange sauce was beautiful and cut nicely through the glutinous flavour of the meat with a lovely nutty sweetness. I ended up drinking the remnants from the pan like soup which left me with a happy carrot moustache. The trotter with prune was a very close second with it's mixture of caramelised piggy crunchiness and soft textures within. Prune and pork made good bedfellows and the tomato sauce with some of a teaspoon of that thick stock blended in added just enough tartness to balance the flavours overall. The plain trotter was also nice but having smeared some honey on it, the tasting session was starting to err towards the saccharin end. I would be interested to see how trotter fares with more savoury or spicy flavours. The twins finished them off nevertheless (in fact they had a good dig in with everything).

Thit Rachel, thanks doll, tha's a great bit o' scran ya knocked up therr (as they say in Barcelona)

Trotters 3 ways (with extra super concentrated piggy stock)

Trotters A La Catalana

Trotters Stuffed with Prunes and Tomato Sauce

Roast Honey Trotter

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

They Walk Among Us

The word 'foodie' it seems has many different connotations for different people. For some, the word gets right up their noses. They find it pretentious and elitist and anyone who labels themselves as such is deemed to a complacent knob-end with an overinflated sense of superiority. For some, it's the actual phrasing of the word itself with it's pronounced "-ee" at the end that winds them up. It all sounds far too cutesy, nauseating and precious. Witness Sophie Dahl self-proclaim that is she a 'foodie' and you might understand. However, for others it is just a simple way of defining yourself as someone who is interested in food. That you view it as a hobby, a passion, that you like to talk about food, write about food, cook food, photograph food. That you like to dine, entertain, eat in, eat out, explore, experiment and on the odd occasion, are willing to fail in your pursuits (or to have your pursuits fail you). Or you can think like me and believe that 'Foodies' are true believers of a higher culinary authority. When the time comes, we, the greedy but select chosen few will be whisked off in a great apple pie shaped spaceship just before the arrival of Galactus the planet devourer. I can tell you with absolute certainty, when he turns up all Earth will amount to is a mere patty of butter to be spread on a colossal slice of cosmic toast. Meanwhile, the 'Foodies' will bask for all eternity in the galaxy of Gluttonia, which is largely made from butter, anti-matter and marshmallow. I am a Foodie. This is what I believe.

But anyway going back to the meaning of the word, despite its varying resonance, I would say that it is a fairly generic term these days so for the rest of this post I shall continually refer to the word (can you guess that there's been a fair amount of hand wringing going on?)

Ever since writing this blog and my other one, I have been lucky enough to meet a fair number of people who share the same enthusiasm and as time goes past, more and more foodies seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The proliferation of new food blogs that are popping up daily and the growing interaction of foodies on social networking sites are testimony to this. A case in point is Clerkenwell Lunchers or #clerkenwelllunchers as you'll find it trending on Twitter. Via the idle chit chat of tweeting with folk announcing what they are up to for lunch in their area, a collective seems to have evolved out of nowhere. Well not exactly nowhere, out of Clerkenwell of course. Having discovered that they work quite close to each other, you now have a group of people who once a week actively plan a different lunch destination (our High Priest is The Grubworm) where they meet, eat, chat, laugh and be merry. How brilliant is that? It certainly beats sitting in the park on your todd with a lunchbox on your lap. There are other lunch clubs springing up I believe, such as #greenparklunchers and #cgardenlunchers. Which is all fine and dandy so long as they don't stray onto our turf, sparking off some ferocious gang war battle reminiscent of a scene from The Warriors. Except we'd use sharpened mangoes instead.

But what does this explosion really mean to me? Well it's simple, it means that there are more and more foodies out there that I can tap up to take part in WMPC and feed me. I am positively rubbing my hands with glee. Saying that though, upon coaxing a willing victim into my trap, it is strange to find out that they work around the corner from me. This is what happened when I met Mary of Did You Put Garlic? outside St John's Restaurant, just a stone's throw from my office for a food swap.

"Where do you work then?" I asked Mary

"Just a few doors up there" Mary replied, pointing.

I was gobsmacked and I stared back at her as if to say "why didn't you tell me this before?" even though her attendance at some of the Clerkenwell Lunchers get togethers should have suggested that she worked nearby. We only had a brief conversation on the street with Mary giving me the lowdown on her Maltese background, her impending nupituals and of the particular dish she had prepared for me but I have to be honest and say that my mind was on other things. Given the revelation that Mary was a foodie who worked so close to me, I began to wonder just how many where out there and just how could you tell? Mary's lips were moving but speech and sound slowly faded out to silence as my eyes began to dart up and down the street, focusing on passers-by. That old man walking his dog, does he keep charcuterie hanging on his balcony? That woman tottering across the road in high heels, is she into baking cupcakes or does she find them too twee? That young boy in the pram, does he throw a tantrum after his mother has lovingly prepared and served his dinner using an Annabel Karmel recipe? I hope he does. These were the thoughts running through my head when suddenly Mary coughed and announced that she really had to get back to her office. I just dumbly nodded and handed over a bottle of Torres Sangre de Toro in exchange for her contribution. As I watched her walk off, like a broken record I kept muttering to myself over and over again, "how many of us are there? How many?"

And then it hit me.

"My god! We're going to need a bigger ship!"

So what did Mary make for me and does she deserve to get on that apple pie shaped spaceship? Well given her heritage, her blog primarily centres on Maltese food and recipes which pleased me to no end as I have never tried Maltese before. Ha and I call myself a foodie. Her menu consisted of Laħam fuq il-fwar, Torta tat-Tamal and Cisk. Or for the unitiated, Steamed Meat, Date Pastry and Maltese Beer called "Cisk". Mary also provided some very healthy steamed broccoli, cauliflower and Chantenay carrots with hazelnut mash. The steamed meat or Laħam fuq il-fwar sounds like a very efficient and economical dish to make. As most Maltese meals begin with soup, the meat for the main course is often cooked over a large pot as the broth bubbles away underneath. The meat itself is usually beef which has been thinly sliced and sandwiched between two plates, seasoned with garlic and herbs and placed on top on the pot (see I was listening Mary). This sounded amazing and indeed it was, even after reheating in the microwave, the steak was wonderfully tender. Mary had also been very generous with her toppings of parsley and bacon but maybe a little too generous with the garlic but hey, given the name of her blog, I suppose it was to be expected. Mrs FU asked me not to breathe in her general direction in bed that night. The vegetables like I said were very healthy and still had a firm bite, there's nothing worse than soft, boiled beyond submission carrots. The hazelnut mash was a bit of a delicious surprise actually. There are plenty of ways of livening up your Maris Piper but with nuts, well that seemed unusual to me but Mary's mash with just a subtle kick tasted gorgeous. Unfortunately her date pastry didn't fare so well as it was a little bit too dry for my liking. The flavours of clove, aniseed and orange blossom came through well but overall, it did clog up my mouth somewhat. Thank gawd then for the Cisk Maltese Beer she gave me (and by all accounts saved from the clutches of her boss). This beer was really refreshing with lovely floral undertones, quite unusual for a lager really. Now that I know where she works, I shall be putting my orders in. I mean how hard can it be carting a case load over from a small island in the Med? Though after my dissing of her pastry she may feel inclined to throw a full can at my head.

Thanks though Mary, it really was a great WMPC contribution and you certainly have won the right to be on that spaceship.

Laħam fuq il-fwar (Steamed Meat with Steam Vegetables and Hazlenut Mash)

Torta tat-Tamal (Date Pastry with Clove, Aniseed and Orange Blossom Water)

The very refreshing Cisk (posing with empty can the next day)

Sunday, 15 August 2010


Feign a passing interest in taking part in Where's My Pork Chop? at your peril.

That's all I have to say on the matter.

Because if you do, I will slowly but surely grind you down. I will become the devil on your shoulder whispering into your ear, the kid whining in the back of the car "are we nearly there yet?", Mrs Doyle incarnate, repeating "go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan, go'waan" ad infinitum until your knees buckle, you wet your knickers and with clumps of hair in your hands, you scream "I'll do it! I'll do it! I'll do it"

And that is exactly what happened to Señorita Thomasina Miers when she asked me on Twitter, many, many months ago, the question 'what the hell is WMPC?'

Well OK, not quite. I made up the whole fainting, seat wetting, hair pulling scenario but when Tommi (as she known to her BFF's) made the enquiry way back, she might not have been prepared for the barrage of direct messages that came back her way. I don't know why but very quickly, she went mysteriously silent on me. Perhaps I shouldn't have said that I would love her forever and ever and ever and ever if she took part. So I decided to change tack, drop the guise of manic possessive stalker and go for the gentle nudging approach. And it seemed to work as Tommi kept popping her head in on Twitter, saying that she would love to take part but her schedule was really really hectic. Still I knew I had her hooked. I was like the scab that you just can't resist picking but the question was how could I make a food swap actually happen.

Luckily a chance came up when I was invited to a secret supper at The Dock Kitchen where Tommi was cooking alongside Stevie Parle. I remember at the start of the evening, walking in and grinning like a loon at Tommi, practically pointing at myself, going 'look it's me! it's me!' but she was far too busy to notice. At the end of the evening and after a sumptuous feast which included a variety of starters (the broad bean and morcilla salad was amazing), Ajo Blanco, Wild Sea Trout with Mexican Salsa and Cherry Clafoutis, I spotted an opportunity and bounded over to her. Unfortunately I had also drunk rather a lot of wine by then and doubt that I made much any sense, slurring that I was the guy from WMPC and that we really should arrange a swap. I like to think that from staring into my cookie monster eyes, Tommi could see that I really was just a gentle, harmless soul. So smiling back at me, she said that "yes we should definitely do something Danny". With this news, I simply hugged her and waltzed out into the night, happy that my mission was very nearly accomplished. I wasn't so happy to wake up in Bas Vagas later that night but that is a different story.

True to her word, an email bounced into my account the next day that I should liaise with her assistant and we'd do lunch at her restaurant, Wahaca. Now this was slightly out of remit, given that the whole WMPC ethos is about providing a meal for me when I am on my late shift at work but I thought what the hell, Tommi is still going to feed me, again in fact! The lunch date did get pushed back a few times because as she said, she is a very busy girl. And all of this didn't bother me too much until I discovered on one occasion that she had to cancel because she was out in Baja, eating, sampling, tasting and soaking up the sun. Which when you think about it, was rather cheeky really. There I am, wasting away and Tommi is living it up, stuffing her mouth with Mexican food all in the name of research. When the time for our lunch date finally came around a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I would give her a piece of my mind. But as I walked past the huge queue on the stairs of Wahaca, leapfrogging to the front and announcing my arrival, I soon realised that I was the brazen one.

Wahaca was packed to the rafters that afternoon and as I sat alone at a table, I did feel a bit stupid trying to take a few snaps with my camera. With a partner or en masse, it's fine but when you're on your tod, it felt really bizarre so I took to chugging away on a Corona whilst nonchalantly scanning the menu. Señorita Miers soon came to the rescue, breezing in and relieving me of billy-no-mates status. After ordering for the pair of us, we settled down to a good old chin wag. We covered a lot of ground. Talking about anything and everything, be it the elimination of the human race for the greater good of the planet, which we both agreed was rather a depressing subject for a Friday afternoon, to the somewhat lighter subject of dancing in muddy fields with wellies. She was utterly charming with a great self depreciating sense of humour, which shouldn't really come as a surprise. It's funny but when meeting someone with a high profile you tend to turn up with negative expectations but at the end of the day, we're all the same and Tommi was certainly down to earth. I suspect that I've played the 'don't you know who I am' card more often Tommi. Never goes down well in my local though. I particularly liked the fact that she was open to criticism and acknowledged that there was always room for improvement. She even admitted that her tortillas could be better and had been working hard to source a more authentic variety (and succeeded by the sounds of it).

Speaking of which, as we chatted away plates of food were piled onto the table consisting of Pork Pibil Tacos, Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche Tostadas, Broad Bean and Feta Quesadillas, Potato Taquitos, Guacamole, Frijoles and a Green Salad. All to be washed down with Agua Frescas or Hibiscus water plainly put. And it was all lovely, especially the ceviche which was refreshing and spicy hot at the same time. The broad bean quesadillas were great too, a light and healthy take on a dish that can sometimes can be a little too greasy. The potato taquitos were slightly odd as the combination amounted to a bit of a carb overload for me personally but the frijoles (refried beans) were gorgeous, rich and almost dark chocolate in flavour. Throughout, I did try to remember to take photos but concentrated more on the eating part, falling foul of Tommi's only bug bear about bloggers taking crap photos of food and then posting them willy nilly. Looking back through the pics I took, it seems that my technique generally consisted of shoveling a juicy and fiery pork pibil taco in my mouth and then taking a photo of an empty plate thus demonstrating Tommi's point.

As we finished up with some very naughty churros with melted chocolate, the topic of conversation then turned to how was I going to settle up on the agreement of giving something back for getting fed. With a mouthful of sweet doughnut, I stared back at Tommi trying to fathom exactly how I got into this position of getting a free meal. Strangely, the whole WMPC deal of this little adventure sort of left my mind so I stammered back that I would gladly come back one evening to do the dishes. Thankfully Tommi wouldn't have any of it and suggested that some allotment produce might be suitable payment and that she would even try to think up a recipe with what I give her.

See what I mean? She really is a lovely lady. Thanks again Tommi, I shall be popping by this week with a box of goodies for you.


Le Menu

Busy, busy, busy

Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche Tostadas

Stalker alert!


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fuss Free Shopping?

Oh shopping for food used to be such fun. Hand in hand we used to go skipping down the aisle, flinging whatever took our fancy into the trolley, laughing gaily at each other. Smoked salmon for breakfast tomorrow? Yeah why not. Ha ha ha. Oh look at those rib-eye steaks. Yes, those two please, yes the big ones. Ho ho ho. Champagne? Oh sod it, it's the weekend! HAHAHA! Total exuberant abandonment. And we never really had to rush so along the way we could take actually take time to smell and grope fruit, sample and taste cheeses and make lascivious comments about freshly baked baguettes. OK, shopping in Sainsburys on a Friday night may not be everyone's idea of foreplay but no matter, food is certainly conducive to arousing erm states of passion. Sometimes the shopping bags never left the hallway.

There are consequences though when you submit yourself to pleasures of wanton indulgence, wallowing in food, drink and lust. For us they came in the form of two little bundles of joy. A beautiful boy and a gorgeous girl who have brought so much happiness into our lives that it's impossible to describe. Yes, aw bless but let me just say that these terrific creatures have also mugged us of money, time and energy and when you have children, young children in particular, the food shopping experience is never the same. Friday nights (or Saturday mornings mainly) are now rather fraught affairs. The list is prepared and accounts for only the essentials. The car is parked and each child is plonked into a trolley, one already agitated because Upsy Daisy has been dropped onto the floor. We both run through the doors and then separate, knowing that we only have a small window of opportunity before all hell breaks loose. I cover meat and dairy, my wife covers fruit and vegetables. We meet back at the tinned goods aisle. For a second, I take my eye off the ball looking at some Merchant Gourmet Dried Porcini and then I hear a crash. My son has pulled a whole tray of baked beans from off the shelf. My wife, clutching an armful of tinned tomatoes, shouts at me for not keeping an eye on what he's doing. What she hasn't noticed however is that my daughter who has been chewing on a packet of spaghetti, has split the packet and has been emptying straws into pretty patterns on the floor. So I shout back. Which in turn starts both children crying. And there's nothing worse than a child screaming in a supermarket. So I dash to the bakery aisle, grab a loaf of Soreen, rip the packet apart, take fistfuls of malty dough and shove them into the twin's hands. The rest of the shop is done double quick time, knowing that once the Soreen is done, repetitive demands of "Ineesomemore, Ineesomemore" will build into a crescendo of screaming and I'll have to grin inanely at the old lady who frowns and tuts as she walks past. Because if I didn't, I would have to punch her in the face.

All in all then shopping for food has become quite a stressful experience and it's one task that I generally do by myself these days. And that's still quite a difficult one to juggle given the time constraints surrounding work commitments and other chores around the house, the allotment, time for hiding in shed etc etc. And plus there is also the added factor of having to shop on a budget. So what can I do to make life easier for myself? Well if I were to listen to Helen from Fuss Free Flavours then by all accounts I should really try to find out if there are any food co-ops in my area. Like really really try. To say that Helen is passionate about food co-ops is an understatement. I met Helen again quite recently (this was long after she actually gave me my WMPC dinner I should say, slack posting strikes again) and I was quite taken aback by her fiery rhetoric with fists slamming down on tables. "I don't remember Helen being like this" I thought to myself but then again we did have a fair bit to drink at Bob Bob Ricard that night.

So what is all the fuss about about then? And why is Helen who by definition writes a blog that contains fuss free recipes getting so fussed up? I mean, what the fuss? Well the concept of a food co-op is very simple. A group or collective gets together and pools their combined buying power to make bulk purchases of food from suppliers and then via a box scheme or from stalls run at schools, churches etc, fruit, vegetables and other goods are then distributed back out to the community. All at a fraction of the cost that you would expect to shell out at the supermarket. The produce is usually standard grade, no organic, bio dynamic frippery here but it is fresh, affordable and accessible. Helen's mantra is that simple good food like this should be available to everybody and as I said, a large proportion of the recipes on her blog are created from her weekly box which she gets from her local food co-op in West London. With vegetable and fruit laden boxes costing £3 each a week, the concept is certainly attractive especially when you consider a family box from Riverford or Abel and Co costs between £17 and £20 (yes, ok it's organic). Of course the rub is when I looked on the Sustain website, my local co-op was 15 miles away across the river. And I don't own a boat. There is always the prospect of starting one up in my area myself but again, I really don't have the time and plus I really like hiding in my shed. However, it is a very laudable scheme and certainly benefits many people, families in particular who struggle to make ends meet. If a food co-op did spring up in my area then I would definitely use it.

So what did Helen make for me from her box of delectable goodies? Well Helen did say when we met for the exchange that she had felt fairly cooked out from the previous days exertion of feeding Messrs Torode and Wallace so had opted for a simple meal of Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes, followed by Lime and Elderflower Posset. Oh and she threw in some of her homemade Elderflower Cordial. Yeah, like I said, she really couldn't be that fussed to cook. Yeah right. It had been a rather warm day so it was nice to finish work early for a change and dine out on my patio when I got home and equally, this light supper was just the ticket. The mackerel was nice and delicate with just a smidgen of mayo and some chopped chives. The salty slivers of parmesan contrasted well with the salad that had been neatly dressed in balsamic vinegar and her potatoes were very nice indeed. I love a caper but never thought about tossing some throwing them in with spuds for a tangy, piquant kick. The posset was good but may have suffered a bit from travelling, jogging around in my backpack on a sweaty train. The cream had started to separate but I wolfed it nevertheless and got the subtle lime flavour. And finally Helen's cordial was very freshening to wash everything down. I am definitely going to have a crack at Elderflower cordial next year. And vodka, most probably. And for this exchange, all Helen would take from me is a paltry tomato juice in the pub but I like to think that my conversation was riveting and entertaining enough to warrant cooking for me. She only yawned once.

Thanks again Helen, keep up the crusade and get the message out there.

Flaked Smoked and Tinned Mackerel, Roast Baby Potatoes with Capers and Olives and Rocket Salad with Parmesan and Tomatoes

Great eating on a summers evening

Posset, whyst did thou split on me?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire

You know when you've been out on the razz with the lads and consumed half your body weight in beer and spirits, smoked 40 Rothmans, eaten 12 packets of pork scratchings, laughed, jeered and snogged each other and rolled around on the floor and then been kicked out of the pub not for fighting but for suggesting that Wendy Richards (RIP) is prettier than the barmaid after which you'll make your way home, falling through numerous hedges on the way and then narrowly escape arrest for swinging from a lamppost. Yeah you know when that happens..............ok you might not but I do have to ask, why oh why does the curry house at that point seem so appealing. Actually that is a silly question. Of course it's going to be appealing. You're starving but you're drunker than 10 sailors who've taken on Ollie Reed (RIP) in a drinking competition and the Raj of India is the only option available because they're the only ones, bless them, who will take you in. No the bigger question is why oh why when surrounded by your mates, do you suggest with drunken bravado that we should go for the hottest things on the menu?


Because the male mind, thick, languid and blotted with alcohol cannot make reasoned choices and when goaded will happily decide that a phaal is the perfect end to a night out. Created in response to years of abuse from small minded pissed up oiks, the phaal really is a ridiculous dish that will leave you red-faced, sweating, crying with streams of snot running from your nose. Your mouth feels like someone has poured molten lava into it and that a brigade of fire ants are exercising their mandibles on your tongue and no amount of Kingfisher, water or sugar will douse the flames. Worse still, in the morning the pain will revisit but at the other end as you go through your ablutions on the porcelain throne, eyes closed, teeth clenched. If the Spanish Inqusition had the phaal at their disposal, then surely it would have been preferred tool for extracting confession over the red hot poker. After some very dainty wipes and a hurried telephone conversation to your protocologist, you swear later that you will never ever ever do that to yourself again. And I haven't. Not since my single days anyway. I have matured, I know better. But every now and then, the 'ring sting' echo of the past comes back to haunt me. And a certain young man going by the name of Nick and who writes Lost In The Larder was responsible for the most recent one.

Having reread that last sentence, I think I should just clear up that it was Nick's Cochinita Pibil Tacos that caused the last episode, nothing more, nothing less.........filthy gits.

I met Nick a few weeks ago now. He was coming up from his native Bournemouth into the big smoke to collect a huge stash of magazines and to attend a symposium organized by some Danish butter manufacturer. This could be considered as slightly odd behaviour but I was happy to meet Nick again as we had bonded at Bloke's Eat Beef and ever since then he had been eager to take part in WMPC. Nick was over an hour late getting to the arranged meeting point that day but given he that had to drive all the way from Dorset and make his way into Wimbledon before coming into town and was feeding me to boot, I forgave him (do it again though Nick, in the immortal words of Rory Breaker "I'll kill ya!") So we ambled around to Smiths of Smithfield for some brunch (club sandwich) and chat and after a short while it soon became clear that this guy was very passionate about food. Displaying a thorough knowledge of the produce available in his area, Nick earmarked local farms, shops, restaurants and deli's with great enthusiasm and reverence. You know how it goes in conversation when you often want to respond in kind to a subject, I have to say I started to feel like a dork and a fraud. What the bloody hell do I know about stuff grown, sourced and produced in Essex? Not much, I soon realised as we talked further. Nick's main thrust then turned to setting up a network in Dorset similar to the strong food community that exists in London where people engage with producers and restaurateurs at events, eat and drink with each other and write up about it in blogs and the like to get the information out there. That was the reason why he had 100 magazines to collect, he was putting on an event in Poole centering around a screening of Food Inc and was picking them up for goodie bags. Of course it has since happened and was very successful by the sounds of it and at this point in the game I can only feel a personal sense of underachievement. In fact I am the tardy one here. Damn these young go getters is what I say. Hats off to Nick for what he's doing though, it's certainly admirable that someone is making great efforts to showcase local food in it's infinite variety outside the capital.

But what of his contribution is Where's My Pork Chop? And what the hell did he do to my bum?

Actually his Cochinita Pibil Tacos didn't really wreck that much havoc, the initial school boy theme of this post came from Nick's enquiry the next day when he asked did I suffer any side effects to my posterior, making me giggle and think about past misdemeanors. No his meal of traditional Yucatán tacos were indeed delicious. Constructed from 7 hour slow cooked Dorset pork, corn tortillas, shredded cabbage and radishes with a chilli salsa and pink onions and I savoured every last bite. The pork was wonderfully tender and sweet with strong tones of citrus which contrasted well against the chilli salsa. The salsa did have a decent kick to it but it wasn't up the top end of the scoville scale and I was grateful for that. The addition of the plain shredded white cabbage did seem unusual to me but for texture it worked well and the onions which I presume had been marinated in vinegar added a lovely tart flavour. All to be washed down with some chilled, freshing Mexican Modelo lager. By the way if you are thinking of participating in this project and think that I can be won over by some alcohol then you'd be right. If I was to be at all critical with Nick's dish, I would say that he could have done me a favour and drained off some of the juice from the meat as my shirt certainly got a good Pollocking. But then again, that's nothing new.

Thanks again Nick, for a fantastico contribution to WMPC. Keep us posted on further events down in Dorset.

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Chilli Salsa

Succulent pork

Delicious combination of flavours

Will you respect me in the morning?

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A Letter From Ameri......Ooooh No Aberdeen!

When I was at university, I shared a house with a bunch of guys who were a great laugh but hygiene, food hygiene in particular, was not high on our list of priorities. We were absolute slobs. And the kitchen certainly rivalled the scene from Withnail and I - FORK IT! It's a wonder that I didn't contract e-coli or something like that. Or maybe I did but I would always put the galloping trots down to the horrible but cheap 'Graphite' cider we used to drink. Anyway, one of the guys, who for the purposes of anonymity shall be named Greg because that was his name, used to get a regular package from his parents every week. It would contain a letter, some cash, couple of Pot Noodles, a few sachets of Cup-A-Soups and a pair of clean pants. Which was sweet and endearing but the whole escapade used to baffle the hell out of me. Did his parents really think that those meagre dried and totally unhealthy rations would sustain him throughout the week? Did they really think he would spend the money on decent food? And why did Greg get a clean pair of pants once a week. What happened to the other pairs? Did he wear those pants for the whole week and then throw them away? I never did pluck up the courage to ask him. Not even after a couple bottles of that crap cider.

But why am I harping on about the past (yet again). Well not that long ago, say only about a month ago, well maybe longer, I received my very first WMPC contribution by post all the way from bonnie Scotland! This filled me with no end of excitement, largely because of all a sudden I could see this project going global. Yes, first Scotland, then Wales, maybe Ireland, Isle of Man? The sky was the limit now. I started thinking that perhaps I could start to expect packages from all over the world, containing strange and exotic foods such as Armadillo Roadkill from Texas, Crocodile Curry from Thailand or Mole Crickets from Mexico. I got all these perfectly postable suggestions from here by the way. OK maybe this is all a bit much to be asking for just yet but you never know what's on the horizon. And oh to be a blogger of international fame. Sure call me ambitious, call me big headed, call me vain, vapid and vacuous if you like but seriously to push WMPC onto the world stage, well it would be a dream come true. Sigh But let's come back down to humble beginnings and have a delve into the wonderful Celtic treasure trove that Lyndsay of White Wine In The City sent me. First a little bit of background.

I originally got in contact with Lyndsay via the magic of Twitter having got embroiled into some debate over Danny Dyer of all people. I still say he's a prick Lyndsay but anyway I detected a sniff of interest from her to participate in WMPC. People should really keep their guards up really because give me an inch and I'll take a mile. So we got into this email exchange where I soon discovered that beneath the hardened shell of an maintenance technician who works for an offshore oil company beats the heart of a passionate foodie By her own definition, Lyndsay is originally a Weegie who has moved up and settled down in the fair Granite City of Aberdeen which is far more than north than I have ever been. Actually the furthest I've got in Scotland has been the Trossachs and once you've been caught by the trossachs, you daren't go any further. I digress. Frustrated by the lack of a decent food scene in Aberdeen she began to develop a strange compulsion to look and paw at food blogs when she's supposed to be dieting for her wedding. And of course she started to write her own blog which, cooking and gardening experiments aside, displays a slavish devotion to fish fingers which I think is brilliant because I love them too.

So after just a couple of days corresponding, Lyndsay sent me a tweet saying "Therr's a wee boax a goodies on therr wey, ah hope they dinnae git foosty" and low and behold the postman came knocking on the door the next day with a box labelled FRAGILE and addressed to 'Mr Food Urchin and Family'. I was over the moon. As I opened it, a soft yellow hue shone outwards, lighting up my face and my ears filled with the sounds of bagpipes. Inside there contained -

A can of Irn Bru
A packet of Aberdeen Rolls aka Butteries
A roll of Charles Macleod Stornoway Black Pudding
A squat but perfectly formed little Macsween's Haggis
A patty of butter
Some raspberry jam
Two Gingerbreadmen
And a packet of Scottish Fudge

The real nice touch was the handwritten letter from Lyndsay, giving me a brief and funny overview of everything. I was particularly tickled by her tale of having worked with an American chap who used to regularly eat 6 butteries for breakfast and more with his fish and chips for lunch. Apparently he was also a rather large chap which is no surprise given Lyndsay's estimation that they contain roughly 2 million calories a bite. Essentially this was a traditional breakfast package and she recommended creating a stack of fried potato scone, fried haggis, fried black pudding and topped with a fried egg. All to be washed down with the Irn Bru. Now at this point, I don't want to cause a diplomatic incident by saying this but fucking hell is it no wonder that Scotland is the coronary capital of Europe?! Still I am always game for eating, however unhealthy it may all sound so a couple of days later I set about frying up a storm early one morning for myself and Mrs FU. I didn't get my hands on any potato scones or farls so I decided just to slice up and saute up some charlottes that I had knocking around. And just for a touch of colour, I decided to throw in a pinch of chopped parsley, like a proper English tube. I have to say it was all indulgently wicked. The haggis was very good with warm spice and peppery notes that cut through the plump oats and lungs. The black pudding was surprisingly light, crumbly and very moreish, so much so that we sliced some more up afterwards and whacked in the pan. Cutting through the soft fried egg, the yolk escaped and oozed down into the morass which made everything taste even better. The tatties did their job in upping carb overload (and the parsley added a certain fresh zing to proceedings). Drinking a glass of fluorescent, possibly toxic orange fizz at that time of day was unusual but I do like a can of teeth coating Bru and it washed everything down fine. Afterwards, we were fairly full up but I decided to plow on with some toasted butteries and jam. Interesting, they were like a cross between a plain white roll and a croissant, very nice thickly spread with jam in fact but how you'd get through 6 of them is beyond me.

Mrs FU also reported that the fudge was some of the best she's tasted so high praise indeed. As for what the twins thought of the gingerbread men is anyone's business, I can't understand them at the best of times but they are only two years old. I think the clue lies in the fact that they demolished them in seconds.

So thank you Lyndsay for your excellent contribution to WMPC, it certainly knocked the socks and pants off what my mate Greg ever got sent to him in the post. I know you've been waiting a while for the post and I feel bad for that. I also haven't been able to reciprocate yet with a package of goodies from London but in the meantime I've sent you a signed copy of this photo which I hope goes towards some way of making things up. I am sure you'll find it much more sexier then that tube Danny Dyer.

Box of Delights

The haul and handwritten letter

Cardiac Attack Breakfast

Very buttery 'Butteries'

One is the limit

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Green Eyed Monster

Many well informed commentators on food will give you the opinion that the concept of grazing in restaurants in the UK, sampling lots of dishes from tasting menus and sharing your plate with your fellow diner comes from an evolved appreciation of tapas, dim sum, mezze and the like. This could not be further from the truth. Yes Heston, in part you may also be responsible, you may well have pioneered the 20 course blow out but there are darker forces at work here. What many people don't realise is that the government had to do something to combat a social illness that was slowing creeping into our collective consciousness and affecting our behaviour towards each other. Forget binge drinking, forget ASBOs, forget Ant and Dec. No the real problem that threatened to undermine the very foundations of this great nation was food jealousy. Simply put, as we began to dine out more and more, we became more and more competitive. And worst still we began to covet our neighbour's Osso Bucco.

You may recall this situation. You go out to a restaurant with a group of friends, family or maybe it was just you and your partner. You peruse the menu, spending a good five minutes um-ing and ah-ing before making your selection. You then listen to everyone else's choice with a squint in your eye and a lump in your throat. Your dishes come up and immediately you scan all the plates. You then realise that your choice was shit and that you really should have gone for that pork and ham terrine that your best mate is just about to tuck into. He looks at you, smirks and winks triumphantly. You become enraged and toss a bread roll at his head. He throws a fork back at yours. You both leap at each other and roll around the floor, smashing the place up, chaos ensues. For a period of time in the 90's this kind of scene was commonplace in restaurants throughout the land and something had to be done. You see as a result of this antisocial behaviour, costs to the NHS started to spiral out of control, the catering industry began to suffer tremendously and the burgeoning food revolution was in serious danger of being snuffed out altogether. Until the government stepped in with Deliah Smith as special advisor and they came up with the idea of grazing so people could feel at ease with sharing and therefore prevent food jealousy and the violence connected with it.........

........of course this is all a bunch of horlicks. When I was formulating in my head how to write up my WMPC swap with Garlic Confit, my own personal foible of food jealousy popped up and a sorry incident from the past. When it comes to eating out, in all shape and form, I simply hate it when someone chooses better than me. And Mr Garlic Confit (as he wishes to be known throughout this post) pipped me way past the post when we met up nearly a month ago.

It was a glorious day, Election Day in fact but we won't go into that and I had arranged to meet GC in Leather Lane at Daddy Donkey. This was another one of those blind dates where I had never met the blogger before so spent a good few minutes hanging around before noticing this chap in the winding queue staring at me in that "er, it is you isn't it?" manner. Spying a bulging bag at his side, I leap frogged over the barrier, shook hands and we immediately kicked off with conversation about food. Within seconds I could tell that GC was passionate about the stuff (in fact GC did you say you'd trained as a chef, I can't remember) and was quite enthralled by his sidelines and projects. Wednesday Night Curry being one of them where he regularly invites strangers via an email lottery (or via Twitter) into his house where he'll knock them up a tasty and authentic ruby. Other schemes involve running cookery classes at schools local to him, teaching children and parents alike to cook which is a wonderfully magnanimous project. One madcap endeavour more closer to my heart was GC's approach to laying on an enormous paella for parties. Ever wonder what to do with that huge pan you lugged all the way back from Valencia? Simply plonk it on a wheelbarrow full of glowing charcoal, add several bags of calasparra and several other ingredients of course and away you go. This is something I shall definitely be having a crack at in the future.

So anyway, like I said we were having a fair old natter. When we finally stopped and had stationed ourselves by a wall in the sunshine to chow down on the Mexican goodies that I had paid for, I asked GC what he chose. I hadn't really paid any attention up until that point. "Oh, I got the Three Amigoes, you get the best of everything then" he replied. As he said that I have to be honest and say that I couldn't help feel the wet fart of disappointment as I stared down at my fat, bulbous Daddy-D with black beans and chilli sauce running over my mitts. Damn it! Why didn't I see that? I think it was the "best of everything" that got me. And that smug grin. And that flick of the dark, black mane of his. And was too late, I could feel the Hulk within ready to burst out and roar "you bastard! you picked better than me!" I started to shake, I started to quiver. My frown pitched forward, my lower lip dropped down on my chin, I began to sneer. But then at the perfect moment, GC piped up and said "I suppose you should have a look at what I've made you, you've got a nice bottle of wine in there by the way" motioning to the bag at our feet.

And then suddenly, all was well.

Funny that.

In all seriousness, despite that very brief spell of green eyed food monster, it was great to meet up with Mr Garlic Confit and it was a shame that we had to cut lunch short to get back to our offices. Hopefully we'll meet up again soon so that I can pick his brains further but most importantly, for the purposes of this review, what did the man cook for me? Well as it was Election Day, his contribution focused on the vivid colours of red, green and yellow namely Seared Tuna with Anchovy Marinated Courgette, Radish and Home Dried Tomato Salad along with Lemon, Chilli and Radish Leaf Baby Potatoes. Oh and he threw an Alphonso Mango into the mix for dessert. As you can see, there was no introduction of any kind of shade of blue. Whether GC was making a political statement here I am not entirely sure but his meal was fantastic. The instruction for the tuna was to sear all sides in dry pan on all sides for 45 seconds and it came out perfect, meaty, succulent and obviously very fresh. GC had made the right decision not to mess around with it too much by giving it just a light seasoning. His anchovy marinade gave a lovely twist to the courgette which had been sliced into strips, delicate and fresh which contrasted well the the crunch of the radish. And the potato salad was very good too, combinations of lemon and chilli always works well in my book although the radish leaves left me a little bit nonplussed. All in all it was really a beautiful looking, summery meal. GC proposed that whilst cutting up and eating the very orange flesh of the mango, I should sing Glen Medeiros' "Nothings Gonna Change My Love For You" which I didn't get at first. But can you believe it, this was my first Alphonso and as the juice ran off my chin, a flashback of first love came flooding back. The sweet perfume also helped, reminding me of Zoe Downey who gave me my first french kiss at a school disco. No doubt, the Hawaiian smoothy was number one way back then. Oh and lest I should forget that bottle of wine, a pale floral rose from Provence which also sang to me in mysterious ways, seriously good.

So thanks Mr Garlic Confit, thanks for the memories and thanks for your contribution.

Seared Tuna with Anchovy Marinated Courgette, Radish and Home Dried Tomato Salad along with Lemon, Chilli and Radish Leaf Baby Potatoes

Sweeter than Zoe Downey's kiss

The menu

Wine stops Hulk appearing

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

In too deep…

I don’t know what to do. I should have listened to the warnings. I should have seen the signs. I thought I knew how to handle it. But I was wrong.

They tell you to be careful on the internet. Careful about who you talk to. What you say. And be extra careful if you go to meet them.

And I was. Very careful. Public places. People knew where I was. Who I was meeting. It should have been fine. It should have just been the once. But no, I’ve not been able to keep away. I’ve had to go back for more, and more. I hoped this last one would be the one to finish it off. The one to expose the situation for what it was. After all the first time I met him he used a pseudonym so I should have known. But something tells me its not going to stop. Its bad; I’m married, he’s married. He’s got kids for goodness sake.

But still we can’t stop.

Swapping food.

Yes really. FOOD.

Because out there in the mad world of food blogging people seem to want to share. Not just their recipes or reviews in print. But real actual food that they’ve carefully grown or crafted with their own hands. And so I’m in deep because I like food and I like sharing. What started as a chance to bag a wild garlic plant for the garden, has turned into a whole host of meetings usually with some food item surreptitiously handed over: from cooking pork five ways for this project to learning the glories of real pie mash and liquor.…and well this. A reverse ‘Where’s my Pork Chop’ exchange, commonly known on twitter as rWMPC.

Of course we all know Danny’s onto a winner with his WMPC project, he gets his dinner cooked by some of London’s finest food bloggers (and a few hangers on like me) and he buys them cheap lunch or gives them a bottle of plonk. This guy’s no fool. And of course he claims he’s proved his own cooking credentials before with his rWMPC swap with Essex Eating. But I’m not buying that. I mean they are both called Dan, they are both from Essex, they pretend to go to the same events, they tweet from the same train home, and to my knowledge they’ve never been seen in the same room at the same time. So you know, I think they are the same person, its obvious, well maybe at very least related in some way that means Dan 2 isn’t going to say Dan 1 can’t cook and vice versa…..I’m suspicious and so I coolly volunteer to be rWMPC participant number 2. Danny is rather evasive and it takes me quite a number of months to finally pin him to a date….is this because after all he can’t actually cook I wonder.

And so at the allotted time on the allotted day we meet again at Liverpool Street. No flowers this time. We pop to a nearby pub. Get some beers. Talk food experiments. Then Danny rummages in his bag and whips out a foil tray.

OMG it looks like something from the Chinese takeaway could be lurking inside. Then there is a bag that apparently contains Dan’s nemesis, or did he say something for which he’d had to conquer his nemesis. I can’t quite remember. Because by this time I’ve realised I really am going to have to eat this, I’m accepting food from a bloke from Essex who I know very little about, no real idea where he’s been or what he gets up to and to cap it all I suddenly notice with his glasses he has an eerie resemblance to Dr Crippen.

Way’s of getting rid of the food and rustling up a similar meal spool through my head, then I can claim I ate it, write the post and be done. I hand over my rWMPC gift of homemade damson vodka. And nonchalantly we stroll off to get our respective trains home.

Once home I peak inside the parcels properly. We appear to have some homemade pasta, ah so that’s what all the muttering of nemesis was about, Danny’s fear of the pasta machine.

And in the foil tray we seem to have something that resembles some form of ragu, possibly with sausage in or possibly just some sauted off chopped up remains of Dan’s previous victim.

And a little pot of allegedly freshly grated parmesan, though it looks remarkably like the pre grated stuff they sell in the supermarket.

I’m still a bit concerned. It’s a lovely idea this food swap. But you know who is the guy I’ve accepted it from. Then my husband points out that since Dan has already scoffed his way through the WMPC dishes I prepared for him (actually we don’t know he has he just SAID he had) we should get on with eating these. The hunger gets the better of the dithering. We heat up the ragu, we boil water and cook the pasta. Into some bowls and parmesan on top. Voila (except its not French of course). We eat. It’s good. Very good. The pasta is just right, not to fragile but with the lightness and silkiness that homemade pasta has once the nemesis has been beaten. The sauce is rich, earthy and robust. The sausage turns out to be fennel, for which marks are deducted by my husband as he doesn’t like the flavour fennel (something to do with ouzo and greek holiday I believe). I however, am rather enjoying it. The parmesan doesn’t have that weird smell that pre grated usually does so I’m guessing it was truly grated by Dan’s own hands, I still knock marks off though because personally I’d have liked an enormous lump of top notch parmesan to grate myself but there you go in the world of ready meals you can’t have everything. And even after this feast there is enough ragu for me to have for lunch later in the week by which time the fennel flavour is mellower.

Maybe Dan can cook after all, or maybe just one of them can. Because yet again they weren’t both there to hand over the food so Dan 2 could have cooked and Dan 1 delivered it. Or Dan’s wife could have cooked it. Or his mum. Or his Nan. Or some fab secret ready meals service in Essex.

Nothing much is proved. Dan may be able to cook. He didn’t go all Dr Crippen on this occasion. What I do know is that the food I got to eat was pretty darn good and if that’s not a reason to continue meeting I don’t know what is.

Scores out of 10:
Pasta: 8
Ragu: 9.5 (7.5 from fennel hater)

Linda - with knife and fork

Well I really don't know what to say.

I am torn.

On the one hand, it's obvious that you enjoyed my pasta, my homemade pasta which pleases me immensely and then you go and say that I look like Dr Friggin' Crippen? The ragu gets a stellar 9.5 rating on the richter scale but then you infer that "nothing much is proved" and that quite possibly I have got someone else to cook your rWMPC meal?! Furthermore you dare to suggest that Essex Eating Dan and I are one and the same person??!! You actually think I am related to that hairy oaf???!!!

I am beside myself with outrage.

I need to lie down.