Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Eat Your Heart Out Heston

It happened again last night. The recurring dream. Or nightmare as the case may be. I am back in school, walking down the main corridor next to the refectory and slowly but surely, the other pupils start to point and laugh. I can't understand why so I just hold my head up high and carry on walking, trying to get to my class on time. But the jeering and hysterics reach an unbearable crescendo. Even teachers passing by erupt into spasms of laughter. It feels like everybody has their eyes on me and the pressure of this claustrophobia is immense. My head feels like it's going to cave in. And then it hits me, the realisation that I am stark bollock naked. And there's nothing I can do about it except run. Or wake up in a cold sweat.

Psychoanalysts would probably have a field day with the significance of this but I think it basically boils down to a nagging feeling that I could have done better at school. Don't get me wrong, I loved school but in some lessons, I should have paid more attention and perhaps not been so mischievous. Take science for instance, I ran riot. I shall never forget Mr Carthy's face turn ashen when I explained that I had just stuck the tip of a thermometer into the bunsen burner and that poisonous mercury had sprayed all over the ceiling of the classroom (Alan Kwok put me up to that). He turned apoplectic when he found out that I had 'accidentally' set alight to his makeshift greenhouse at the back of the classroom. Well it had been crudely constructed out of cling film and garden canes, anyone wondering around with a lit splint could have done it. I do however feel pangs of guilt when I think about poor old Dr Goswami and the stress we put her thorough. Originally from Bangladesh, she had rather a strong Bengali accent which to us mean-spirited kids was a source of great amusement. During one lesson, Dr Goswami was instructing us through an experiment, telling the class to make sure that we kept our thumbs on the test tube whilst gently shaking it. Unfortunately her pronunciation of "thumb" sounded like "tongue" so cue 30 idiots sticking their flappy, pink dorsums over the top of said test tubes and wiggling their heads back and forth. She very nearly burst into tears as she screamed over and over again "No look! Use your tongue! YOUR TONGUE!". Like I said, children can be cruel so Dr Goswami I would dearly like to apologise for our actions that day. And thank you for resisting the temptation to repeat the experiment later that week with potassium chloride.

As a result of all this tomfoolery, I'd say that my appreciation of science is limited and narrow-minded. And if we delve further into the realms of food science, my understanding is positively luddite. So when Alexis of LexEat, outside Barbican tube station handed over a suspicious looking, brown paper wrapped package (pieced together with skull and cross bone sticky tape I may add) and a card with a long winded formula written down, I was immediately gripped by the fear. After walking away, I even had to double check that I had my clothes on.

In the emails leading up to our exchange, Alexis formed the opinion that I had been having it far too easy with all this WMPC malarky and that I would have to do some cooking for a change. Which I thought was pretty cheeky actually. It's not easy having to eat all this food you know which at the end of the day is for the purposes of critically evaluating the food blogging community at large. A lot of people may talk the talk but do they walk the walk? Credentials need to be tested and erm, that's what I am doing.......(cue long pause and tumbleweed rolling past).

So OK, after Alexis' jibing, for this particular swop I did expect to have to do a little bit more than zap my meal in a microwave but I didn't expect to have to follow a set of algebraic instructions, which went as follows:

1. Boil H20

2. Pour H20 over X (already seasoned), stir, cover

3. Reheat C

4. When X has absorbed H2O (approx 2-3 mins) stir through

5. Place X & Y on plate, add C, top with B

6. Eat

7. For dessert, sprinkle N on M

8. Inhale

I spent a good half hour on google back in the office, trying to decipher what the hell H2O was and what X and Y could be but kept getting links to skin care products and Chris bloody Martin. In the end I gave up the ghost and decided to take the package back home that evening where my better half took hold of the instructions and proceeded to berate me.

"Look you just have to boil some water and pour it over the cous cous (X), heat up the slow cooked lamb (C), when the cous cous is ready stir in the pistachios, sultanas and pomegranates (Y) and top the whole lot with the Greek yoghurt, cucumber, mint and cumin mix (B). (M) is a chocolate pot with smashed Maltesers (N). Plonker".

I didn't hear that last insult, I was far too busy having my Eureka moment. I'd seen the light, finally knowing how Archimedes felt after scrubbing his back with a loofah but did this meal, which Alexis had quite obviously taken time to prepare and put together, bring culinary enlightenment? Well yes it did, it was very good indeed. Although not an entirely new one on me and I must take this as a sign to get my WMPC posts done quicker, the slow roasted lamb which came with butternut squash was wonderful. The lamb was very tender, packed with middle eastern flavours, cumin, garlic, coriander. The smell was certainly evocative of Moroccan cuisine. The cous cous was a lovely surprise as I can find it a bit uninspiring but I have never tried mixing it with fruit and nuts before. Combining ruby flecks of pomegranate sweetness with the nutty textures, this cous cous was gorgeous to eat and light and fluffy too (but was that down to my deft touch of boiling water and fork fluffing wrist action?). The yoghurt and mint provided a fresh lift that countered the richness of the meat. I am not entirely sure if I was meant to snort the crushed maltesers as per Alexis' instruction, that would have taken the experimental nature of this swop too far but mixed in with the chocolate pot, her thick indulgent mousse provided a very decadent end to the meal. Superb effort Alexis.

I should add at this part of the post that unfortunately our timings meant that we didn't have much opportunity to have a chat as Alexis was on her way to Sheen Suppers the night we met but I am very grateful that she came out of her way to bring me my dinner, which I swapped for a bottle of Australian Chardonnay. I do know this about her though, she is another lawyer who secretly harbours a desire to become a food stylist. After this effort I would certainly endorse her to go ahead with this dream. However Alexis, one thing I don't understand is how can you not find Eddie Izzard funny?

I should also apologise for taking so long to write this frigging post. I seemed to have lost my blogging mojo over the last month and over the Christmas break. I found it eventually, at the back of the fridge next to some out of date cottage cheese.

I blame Alan Kwok for my lack of scientific knowledge

The Magic Formula

What does it all mean?

Slow Cooked Lamb with Butternut Squash, Pistachio, Sultana and Pomegranate Cous Cous and Greek Yoghurt with Mint, Cucumber and Cumin