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