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