Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Case of the Curious Vegetable

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in East Laandan in a ramshackle building that ordinarily provides rehearsal space for preening drama types and work areas for creative whatnots. No I wasn't auditioning for the role of Grant's long lost half brother Dave in EastEnders (although they do need to replace the recently expired ginger soon). No I was there in my capacity to help out at The Hart and Fuggle, one of the capital's most recent pop-up restaurants which has now popped off elsewhere. A shout had gone out over Twitter asking for spare pairs of hands and I thought it would be good fun to get involved. And it was. The whole place had this wonderfully bohemian vibe going on with mismatched furniture, abstract art dotted about and open plan kitchen. It was a great place to work in. The only downside was that it was facking freezing in the cavernous room that Alice Hart and Georgina Fuggle had taken over for this 10 day installation. It was my intention to stay well into service but possibly because of my whinging about the temperature, Alice insisted that after 4 hours or so of peeling and chopping veg I go home. Although it is also quite possible that after witnessing my carrot shredding technique, the girls may have considered that I was a liability. I did carve up my hands somewhat and perhaps they felt this didn't bode well for later in the evening when customers turned up and the missing heat would finally arrive in the kitchen. So it was with a heavy heart that I bade them farewell and wandered off back home.

But wait a minute, I forgot to tell you about the omyfackinggodwhatthefackhaveijusteatenohmygodamigoingtodofackingdie incident!

The theme of the menu on that particular night was to be Vietnamese and shortly before I left, Alice had been preparing a peculiar looking Asian vegetable. I asked her what it was and she gave me it's name in Vietnamese which quite naturally floated in one ear and out the other but she held up a sliced piece showing it's unusual looking structure. And I promptly took it and popped it into my mouth. Within seconds, I felt this pin-prickle sensation at the back of my throat and my lips contracted so tightly that they resembled the proverbial cat's arse. Clutching my throat and thinking I was going into anaphylactic shock, I glared frantically at Alice who glared back with a "shit! you're not supposed to eat it raw!" look. She dashed to the fridge, grabbed a bottle of milk, some amaretti biscuits from the side and then force-fed me both asking all the while if I was alright. After a short while, the sensation subsided and I said I was and then a kind of embarrassed lull fell over us after which nothing more was said about the matter. And then I went home.

Ah right so that's why I was asked to leave.

Still for days after, I was perplexed by this vegetable, what it actually was and what indeed it was called. After some searching online and quizzing of knowledgeable people on Twitter, I've come to the uncertain conclusion that I had made an acquaintance with bitter melon*, which apparently is very very very bitter. The hint is in the name. But where am I leading with all of this? And what has this latest episode of idiocy got to do with Where's My Pork Chop? Well, having made contact recently with Kok-Loong Wong who writes the very exotic sounding (or should that be erotic) Only Nature Food Porn blog, he told me that he would be well up for taking part in this project. He even had a bitter melon dish for me to try.


Having gone through a recent drought of participants, I left a message on the UK Food Bloggers Association website forum asking would anyone like to take part in WMPC and this is how I got in touch with Loong. In fact he is the only one to have got in touch so far which surprised me. I mean what is wrong with the idea of feeding a total stranger? It seems that those UKFBA members are either far too shy and retiring or I don't look thin enough in my profile picture. Pah! Come on, where's your sense of adventure??!

No matter, I was very happy that Loong emailed me especially since he said he would rustle up some Chinese food, what with it being Chinese New Year and all. Originally from Malaysia, Loong's blog covers a whole spectrum of Eastern cuisine with also a healthy nod to traditional British food. His blog is more of a personal record of recipes but along side his very nifty food photography, they certainly got my mouth watering. So last Thurday, all I had to do was make the quick drive down to sunny Southend. Except it wasn't sunny, it was freezing (again!) and I got slightly lost. Loong did say that I should call him for directions but male pride got the better of me. I was certain that Cliffs Pavillion, our rendezvous point, was more towards the town centre but it turned out that it was in Westcliff, 20 minutes away from my parking spot. When I finally found him, he was calmly looking out to sea and so I shook his hand whilst trying to suppress heavy breathing and casually wipe the sweat from my forehead. We went down to a small cafe on the front where I bought some hot chocolates and we had a nice chat. I have to say that he was a fairly shy fella and I hope that he didn't find my quizzing too intrusive, although I could tell from his giggling reaction when I told him that I eaten bitter melon raw, that you really really shouldn't. We went through the contents of the bag he brought along much to the amusement of our fellow patrons and then it was time to make a move and make the 20 minute run back to the car.

So what did Loong make and how did it taste? Well, yet again an absolute feast was provided in the form of Chinese sausage pastries, Hakka Stuffed "tofu", Chicken and tofu pieces braised in five spice sauce and Apple tarts with cloves. The little sausage pastries were surprisingly sweet but delicious nonetheless with hopped shiitake mushroom and asparagus, really nice little morsels to get things going. The Hakka stuffed tofu was apparently a variation where Loong had opted to use aubergine, chili and bitter melon over fresh tofu. This was definitely unfamiliar territory for me but the results were very good indeed. The vegetables themselves were soft and tender with a lovely minced pork and fish stuffing which was intensely flavoured and succulent. As for the bitter melon, it was fine, perhaps slightly astringent still after cooking but this combined well with the meat mix. Loong's chicken, enveloped in a thick fragrant sauce was fantastically savoury and may well have been a little too salty for me had he not mixed in the five-spice which lightened things up a bit. Interestingly though, it was the rice that had the biggest impact. I think I've mentioned before the fact that Oriental home-style rice tastes so much better than that from restaurants and takeaways and Loong's was no exception. Coated in a shimmering gloss of chicken stock and fat, simply put, the rice was perfect, I could have eaten a lot more. The apple tarts were very pretty to look at and it seemed a shame to eat them but I soon overcame this and they rounded off the meal nicely.

This was a real cracker Loong and I still feel uncomfortable that you wouldn't accept anything in return for this wonderful meal. I think that perhaps that one day soon, I should meet up with you again and hand over something that I've prepared, how does that sound? And I'll make sure I'll park nearer next time.

Chinese New Year Feast

Chinese sausage pastries

Hakka Stuffed "tofu"

Chicken and tofu pieces braised in five spice sauce

Apple Tarts with Cloves

*I am still unsure whether this is what I actually ate raw that day so Alice or Georgina, if you ever read this, put me out of my misery. But not by making me eat it raw again OK?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Tonight's Special Guest Star IS.........


Do not adjust your browsers.

This week’s special guest-star on “Where is my pork chop” will be me “Dan” (Another Essex Dan you ask aghast? – yes indeed, we are rather prolific)… lucky, lucky people.

Let me introduce myself. You may know me from the rather fabulous, award winning* blog Essex Eating and also perhaps, for the more eagle eyed amongst you, from a series of “educational” films I made in Amsterdam in the late 80’s, which frankly I’m not proud of …anyway…moving on…

The Roman poet, Juvenal once said "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Which, translates as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” or as it is more commonly known “Who watches the watchmen?” Who indeed? And how does a Roman Poet have any bearing on Where Is My Pork Chop?

Let me illuminate you….

As you know, FoodUrchin has been quietly meeting scores of bloggers across the capital and stuffing their rather superb food and then writing up the results on this very blog.

The question that quickly became apparent to my keen analytical mind was “Ok, we know FoodUrchin can eat – but can he cook himself?” – who passes judgement on his cooking? He may look like a frankly uglier version of Heston Blumenthal, but that’s no guarantee of anything…Triple cooked chips or McCain’s oven chips is the question…or “Who watches the watchmen?” (See what I did there?)

Just before Christmas, I put this to FoodUrchin and he enthusiastically agreed to respond to the challenge by cooking for me, in a reverse of the WMPC format… I would then review his food on his own blog…he also insisted that I be honest and say exactly what I thought…. supremely confident or unquestionably stupid? Looking at the earnest yet blank look on his face, I wasn’t entirely sure.

I met FoodUrchin on a freezing cold December lunchtime at St Pancras. He handed over a rather impressive, heavy and bulging bag full of takeaway cartons, and I bought him some Churros from the conveniently placed window on the corner of the British Library by way of payment (see my latest post for details of those).

FoodUrchin informed me that as I’d recently returned from Nuremberg, he had been inspired to prepare a German feast for me, with an added WMPC connection – yes, it was Pork!

The contents were as follows…

Pork knuckle, braised in cider with caramelised onions.
Spiced red cabbage with apple
Potatoes layered with chestnut mushrooms and thyme.
Nigel Slater's recipe Christmas pudding

He also emailed me a rather comprehensive list of instructions for re-heating.

The smells coming from the bag as it sat on my desk that afternoon in the office made my stomach grumble…spicy, sweet. I couldn’t wait to get the contents home and into my frankly, rather svelte belly.

Arriving home in the evening, and practically bursting through the front door and running upstairs – I unpacked the contents of the bag and for the first time realised how much effort had gone into this. A hell of a lot of cartons were stacked up on my worktop.

Following the re-heating instructions meticulously, It was with bated breath that I finally served up two straining plates of FoodUrchin’s grub, the smell was gorgeous –like Christmas in Germany actually.

I’d love to say it was inedible. I’d love to say that FoodUrchin couldn’t cook for toffee. (He recently beat me at the Bisol Prosecco food matching competition; his smug grin still haunts my nightmares).

But, no.

This was superb.

The Pork Knuckle was beautifully cooked and moist, the accompanying cider and onion sauce was lovely. The spiced red cabbage with apple, a perfect choice to eat alongside the pork, smelt and tasted incredible.

Now, I promised FoodUrchin I’d be honest, so the potatoes layered with chestnut mushrooms and thyme didn’t live up to their promise…. they were nice, and I scoffed the lot, but they tasted like they’d been ‘re-heated’ this dish probably being something which just doesn’t respond well to being allowed to cool and then warmed up again. But this is but a small gripe.

Finally – the addition, which surprised and delighted me the most, a homemade Christmas pudding! Doing it the justice it deserved, I set light to it with some Brandy and dug in.Wow!

I love Christmas pudding, and over the years I’ve spent ages poring over reviews and tracking down noteworthy examples.
FoodUrchin’s is hands down the best I’ve ever tasted, rich, and decadent – bloody gorgeous basically. I was beyond impressed. I’d happily hand over money for another one.

So there you have it WMPC readers, FoodUrchin irritatingly, put his money where his mouth is and delivered the goods. His cooking is a treat…seriously; I ALWAYS cook and I loved the idea of someone cooking for me for a change, that it was all so well made was just icing on the cake.

Well done FoodUrchin…(you git).

Dan - Essex Eating

*Disclaimer – this statement may, or may not be true.

OK first of all I would like to say that no money, stolen goods or bodily fluids were exchanged for this lovely review so thanks Dan.

Secondly Dan, I really really appreciate your honesty and I am always up for some constructive criticsm but seriously, diss my facking pototoes like that again and I'm going to come around and burn your facking house down you slaaaag.

And thirdly, yes folks, not content with eating your food, I now want you to write my posts for me so if you are interested in a bit of reverse WMPC action (oo-er) then drop me a line. This is truly what the project is all about, swapping meals and swapping stories.

Danny - Food Urchin

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Join Us

I have to say, it has been very quiet on the ol' western front with regards to Where's My Pork Choppage. At one point it seemed that people were practically queuing up outside my door, begging to participate but over the last couple of months, the offers have all but dried up. This has unnerved me greatly, leading to sleepless nights, loss of weight and a profound sense of paranoia. What have I done? What have I done? I haven't slagged off any cooking yet and why would I, the contributions so far have been wonderful. Mostly. No I have sung from the tree tops, waxed lyrical, rambled nonsensical, wibbled fantastical and spouted by and large a complete load of horlicks that has very little relation to the actual meals that my fellow bloggers have sweated over for me.

Ah, is that the problem?

Actually, I don't think so. No, after writing up my little irreverent reviews, everyone has been quite pleased and said they enjoyed reading them. Mostly. However, I did see some signs of discord in early January after my last post. Some antipodean upstart started to enquire as to when they, the bloggers, would get to sample a taste of my own cooking. Of course this was discussed on Twitter and one by one the filthy peasants started to revolt. Worried that the banging on my door would now be accompanied by flaming torches, scythes and rakes, I decided to pacify them. I'm not going to tell you exactly how but everyone who has contributed to WMPC thus far have been invited to join a special club. I don't want to go down the route of the Masons with initiation ceremonies involving nipple tweaking and half-rolled trouser legs. Let's just say that the only way you will get to find out the inner secrets of this newly formed sect is if you sign up to WMPC and cook me a bloody dinner.

No doubt half the blogging community already know what I am going on about because those who are in on it are a complete bunch of blabbermouths but there you go. This is the carrot on the end of the stick. It's not just about cooking me a meal anymore. Oh no. It's about being part of something that is bigger and greater than you can possibly imagine. Oh yes.

So let's welcome Sister Jassy of Gin and Crumpets into the group, the first blogger to contribute to WMPC in 2010. Hallelujah and praise be to the Great Pork Chop in the Sky.

I met Jassy on Monday, on the corner of Covent Garden station at noon. It was extremely cold and I began to regret turning up 15 minutes early but no matter, it was a pleasure to see her bright smiling face. I say it was a pleasure until she pointed out her adjacent office with windows giving full view of the corner that I had been standing on. It did run through my mind that Jassy could have quite easily spied the idiot in the hat and come down earlier but decided to leave me freezing my nuts off. But I let it go. Like I said, I have been pretty paranoid lately. Due to the temperature, we only had the briefest of chats but it was heartening to hear that she was looking forward to a sabbatical in the spring. Jassy is off to Ballymaloe Cookery School in the emerald isle and hats off to her, I wish it was something I could do. We made the swap and I had to apologise as I had promised to make her a 'bum sandwich' (for further explanation read this). The reason for not providing this delectable lunch offering was down to the fact that Mrs FU vetoed it. When I asked my missus why, she said "well, you haven't even given me a bum sandwich yet" which caused me to raise an eyebrow and a smile and for that I got a large stickle brick thrown at my head and called a "dirty sod". So instead I handed over to Jas, a bottle of finest Pirate Pinot Noir. We bid each other adieu and off I toddled to work. Toddling because I was trying to get some blood circulating in my system.

As I walked back, I had a butchers at the menu Jassy had printed off. Her offering had a distinctive ye olde worlde theme which pleased me to no end, it all looked like an excellent kick start to the proceedings. Medieval Spiced Beef Stew, Buttered 'Worts', Wholemeal Bread and Rice Pudding with Elderberry Jam. Lovely. Yet when I got the food home later that evening, modernity rose it's ugly head and it did look like everything was going to go belly up. Like all WMPCers before hand, Jassy provided everything in tupperware containers so I popped the stew in the microwave, left it to cook through thoroughly and went about the business of sweating the "worts" or spring greens as they also known in a pan. After 3 minutes or so the ping went off and I paid no attention until I started hearing strange creaking noises. So I opened the microwave door and pulled the box out to find that a vacuum had been created during the heating process. The golden rule when heating food in a container in a microwave is to remove the lid and place back loosely. If you don't then the lid will suck down and hold steadfast with the strength of 12 horses. After hearing 5 minutes of panting and swearing as I tried desperately to prise the thing apart with my bare hands, my good wife came in, told me to put the box down before I burnt myself and to stab the lid with a knife as that was the only way forward to release the pressure. Which I did, with the zest and zeal of Sir Lancelot. And the lid popped open.

So after a slightly stressful start, I was finally about to settled down to Jassy's stew. And yes verily it was very good. I must admit I had some reservations to the stew as some medieval variations of meat dishes can be quite sweet such as mincemeat pies when made to an original recipe but this had a nice balance of cinnamon, cloves and mace. Not too overpowering. The beef itself was fantastic, full of flavour and braised enough so that it held shape yet melt in the mouth tender. I have a nasty habit of over doing it so that the meat turns to mush but this was just right. The 'worts' were a vibrant, healthy accompaniment and the wholemeal bread was as authentic as could be. I had no idea that Marks and Spencer dated back to the 15th century. The big star was the pudding and at the risk of sounding Greg "IT JUST GETS HARDER AND HARDER" Wallace, I do love rice pudding. On Jassy's advice I heated it up, this time loosening the lid, and spooned over a dollop of rich Jersey cream that she also very generously supplied. It was great with subtle hints of vanilla and nutmeg, totally soothing and comforting, bringing back memories of childhood. The Peckham elderberry jam which I am presuming Jassy made via a spot of foraging had just the right amount of tartness to cut through. Delicious.

So thank you Jassy, for getting the ball rolling again and thank you for a gorgeous supper. I was stuffed.

PS I owe you a new tupperware box and 'a bum sandwich'

No. Verily. I. Can't. Remove. Oh. Bollocks

There's been a stabbin' (must be from Peckham)

Medieval Spiced Beef Stew with Buttered Worts and Markes and Spinsters Bread


The Menu and Sir Lancelots Sword