Wednesday, 28 September 2011

I'm Getting Too Old For This Shizz

Once upon a time, I was sent home due to an extremely gross hangover, in my days as an office junior for a financial PR company. The receptionist was the first to witness my deathly state that day. The lift door slid open and after a brief pause, a shaky claw-like hand emerged and gripped the marble floor. Thankfully, they kept the floor highly polished so it was quite easy to slide towards my desk on my belly, under the concerned but still quite pretty nose of said receptionist. I made it up onto my chair and then promptly slid off it, back onto the floor and just remained there. After a short period, an account director with a harsh haircut came over and asked how I was getting on with a project I had been entrusted with, which involved compiling a lot maps if I remember correctly. I stared up at her nostrils, moving my mouth but no words came out, so she turned about face and haughtily strode off. Shortly afterwards the office manager walked over and after taking one look at my green gills, suggested that I should go home. Which I thought was quite kind at the time. But the dressing down I got the next day revealed that there was a great deal of contempt behind my dismissal because I was "obviously no good for shit." From then on, I made sure that any exuberance from the night before would be kept in check. Or well hidden at least, by sleeping it off in the newspaper cuttings room.

And hey, we've all been there haven't we? Suffering for that one little extra indiscretion on a school night, goaded by friends and devils on shoulders, descending into level five, yes? I know I have been there too many times to mention but as I've got older, I like to think that I am beginning to learn the error of my ways. I still slip up sometimes though. I slipped up on Sunday night, having dined at the most excellent Montpelier Basement supper club who had their first outing in London at the Coach and Horses in Farringdon. The bonhomie of great company and great food got to me to be honest and I should have known better but I ordered an extra bottle of fine Malbec with half an hour to go before closing time. Consequently, I felt very shady the next day. Which wasn't good because I was meeting the sassy and well presented Jackie from I Am A Feeder for a WMPC swap. Luckily Jackie was running late so whilst I was waiting, swaying outside Barbican station, I did at least have some time to pull it together and put on my 'happy' face. When she arrived, she was a bit flustered herself, cursing flatmates and washing machine engineers but then the sunglasses came out and coolness resumed. I began to wish that I had some some sunglasses too as it was rather a bright, sunny day but off we trotted to Whitecross Street Market.

Now I am quite the conversationalist and can happily chirrup to anyone who cares to listen but given the state I was in, I think I went a bit onto autopilot as we wandered around the market. After a brief pause in my gabbling, Jackie piped up and asked if I wanted to know what she had made for me and for a split second, I wondered what the hell was she talking about. But then I felt the weighty white freezer bag in my hand, glanced down and suddenly remembered what we were actually doing there. "Oh God, yes, tell me", I replied, a touch embarrassed. And so Jackie did. Except I didn't understand any of the words. 'Lardy, plasticky, bolognesey? Terry and Sue? Who is this Terry and Sue? Did she just say ladyfingers?' were some of the phrases and questions that ran through my confused mind. But I did catch that she had made me some proper Italian lemonade, which threw me a lifeline. "Ah, you like to cook Italian then?" Jackie nodded, postulating that this made her a bad Chinese girl before zeroing in on the Turkish pizza wraps that are sold on The Iskele stall. So I bought two squeaky halloumi filled wraps for our lunch and off we went to the nearby park. Sitting down on the grass was a nice respite, what with the slight drop in atmospheric pressure on my aching temple and I could finally focus on having a nice chat about life, the theatre (turns out we've both trod the boards, darlink) and blogging. Alas, it didn't last for long as the baking heat on my bonce started to pop my neurons like popcorn and so I had to make my excuses to get to work. Jackie didn't seem too bothered, agreeing that maybe I should get indoors as I did look like I used to be a 'ginger'. I thanked her for her contribution and left her basking and peddled back to the office, back to my desk.

And then crash, the secondary hangover kicked in.

Time then slows, clocks come to a standstill and the only regular beat is the thump, thumping in my head. Colleagues talk to me in slowed down, deep voices, I dribble on my shirt and my eyes fix to a blank screen. Eventually, after a few of hours of mute distress, I get sent home for the second time in my working life. It's shameful but I am grateful. I hop onto the train, hop through the door and hop straight into bed. I am getting too old for this shit.

Luckily, I remembered to stick Jackie's offerings into the fridge before crashing so yesterday after a shower and a coffee (and about 12 hours sleep) I had the most enjoyable brunch. And better still, Jackie had emailed, repeating what she had cooked for me. To start, she had given me a shot glass of chilli whipped lardo to spread on some homemade bread. For main, she had made a bolognese pasticciata and for dessert, a mocha tiramisu with hazelnut chocolate. All to be washed down with Italian lemonade, the syrup of which had been muddled with basil. And from start to finish, it was all amazingly impressive. I exclaimed to my wife, who was upstairs at the time, that she should really, really try this lemonade. "My God it tastes like lemons!" is probably a daft statement to make (Holly shouted back in an oh so sarcastic tone "that's great darling") but I've never tried lemonade like this before. It delivered a sharp, citrus, tangy hit and It was gorgeous. To be frank, if I had drunk it on the way back to the office, I probably would have made it through the day such was the lemonade's restorative qualities. The lardo was very good and I really enjoyed the chilli heat of the back fat smeared on oven warmed bread, although towards the end it did start to err on the salty side as I licked the remainder out of the shot glass. Jackie's bolognese pasticciata was a totally new one on me. In her words "it's like lasagne but with layers of polenta" and it certainly looked the business after placing it in the microwave and negotiating a chunk of the stuff from the glass kilner jar onto the plate. I did have to laugh at Jackie's instruction to remove all the metal pieces from the kilner jar before heating. I mean, come on, does she take me for some kind of idiot? Again, it was delicious. Lighter than lasagne with fluffy layers of polenta and rich, intense ragu, I polished off my plate in double quick time and went to go for seconds but unfortunately, Mrs FU came down stairs and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. This also meant that I had to share the dessert which again was light but had a decadent vein running through it with the nutty, chocolate sauce and a pillow of creamy mascarpone. Full credit to Jackie for baking her own lady fingers, adding a lovely personal touch (I know them as sponge fingers!)

So thank you Jackie for a wonderful meal, perhaps it was just as well that I waited a day later to try your fine cuisine. Eating whilst lying prone on the floor is never much fun.

Italian Feast

Chilli Whipped Lardo

Bolognese Pasticciata

Mocha Tiramisu with Hazelnut Chocolate

Italian Lemonade

Smeared lardo on warm bread

S'not lasagne you know

Monday, 15 August 2011

Mummy's Little Helper

Ask anyone where they got their passion for cooking from and more often than not they will immediately drop their heads to the floor, begin to fumble with a button at the bottom of their shirt and raise an awkward left foot onto tippy toes before answering, "in my Mummy's kitchen". Shortly after this brief retreat back to childhood, it is then quite normal for the person in question to expand, quite vividly, upon a detailed history of peeling, baking, chopping, stirring, and tasting, all by their Mother's side. Knee high to a grass hopper is demonstrated by level palm and the battered stool to reach the counter top is reminisced with tearful joy. Before long, they start boasting that they we're doing the Sunday dinner at the age of 6 and had cracked champagne sabayon way before the first hairy shoots of pubescence appear. Such is the wunderkind who owes it all to Mother.

Well I have to say from personal experience, that this is a load of rubbish. And before I go any further, I should tell you that am reliving, in part, a tale I heard from a chef in a tv studio. As I sat there, listening to him regale an over romanticized upbringing of culinary enlightenment starting at the age of 3 (all of which of course was all down to his dear, dear Mummy) I found myself desperately wanting to shake him and slap him and scream "THIS IS NOT TRUE!" Why? Because I've got kids myself and despite all my best efforts, the pair of them are absolutely crap in the kitchen. Have you seen their pastry? By the time it goes in the oven, it's grey, malformed and usually has a brick of Lego stuck in it. And we can never ever get frigging cupcakes baked, you know why? Because the bloody mixture always gets eaten before it can be spooned into the paper cases and the hundreds and thousands usually gets scattered into hundreds and thousands on the kitchen floor. And as for chopping vegetables, how difficult is it to mirepoix some onion, carrots and celery? Quite difficult with a plastic knife by all accounts but the fact that the twins still haven't got to grasps with redumentary chopping techniques drives me up the bloody wall.

So in short, anyone who opines that they caught the cooking bug by helping their Mum in the kitchen is a bloody liar. Like Nicola from The Shed, she's a bloody liar. I'm not buying into the ol' 'there used to be a mark on a cupboard in our kitchen where I used to balance and scrape my cooking stool against it'. I don't believe that she ever made cakes and pastry with her mum and that her childhood was always a wandering journey of homemade feasts, picnics and eating out. Ditching university to work at Foreman and Field sounds like a complete nonsense to me (although she now works at Hubbub - a food delivery company in Norf Landaan that utilises local shops). And to suggest that her supperclub was only ever to be a venture to push her cooking futher and to have fun, yes fun! Well come on, Nicola, you're making this shit up aren't you?

Maybe she's not.

Because her Mexican meatballs, complete with hot chilli sauce, gremolata and rice was pretty amazing. Spicy and tangy but not as hot as Nicola feared, the meatballs were fantastically moist, well seasoned with hints of lime and chipotle, the rice was plain and simple. Her dessert of meringues with strawberries and caramel sauce was an absolute belter. Delicately formed tears of crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside meringue, decorated with what, food colouring? I dunno but they were great with chopped strawberries and drizzled with sweet toffee flavoured, caramel sauce and cream. A real, naughty, decadent dish and delicious meal overall. Hard to believe that Nicola rustled it up after a night on the razz but we'll won't tell her Mum about that.

And as for me. Well I obviously have to pull my socks up where the twins are concerned. Either that or pass the baton to Mrs FU.

Thanks for a lovely kick start to WMPC Nicola, I hope you enjoyed the wine!

So who is next?

Meringue Yo! Rice Yo! Strawberries Yo! Meatballs Yo! Thundercats Yo!

Saponara, an Italian deli that is on the Hubbub rostra I believe

Mexican Meatballs with Gremolata and Rice

Meringues with Strawberries, Caramel Sauce and Cream

I drank the rest of the caramel sauce afterwards

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Man From Uncle Ji

Everyday life offers you a cast of thousands when you work in London and having spent 13 years of my life around the Barbican area working in my heroic role as print monkey extraordinaire, I've seen a lot of faces. Over time, some people do begin to stand out though, who don't just colour in the scenery, people who you start to recognise and begin to acknowledge with a slight nod as you pass and get on with your day. They will probably always remain nameless but nevertheless, it's nice to make human contact, however understated and fleeting because ordinarily we all keep our heads down don't we. One of my favourite characters in the area who always stands out everytime I see her is a vivacious blonde and whilst she likes to act demure and shy, I know with absolute certainty gets a bit of a kick whenever I spot her and grin. It's all in the body language. Everytime I fire off a wink and smile those knees of hers, without fail, always collapse and waver. Those terrible, knobbly, hairy knees that just hang below a red, polyester hemline with calves gangling into an ill fitting pair of red high heels. It doesn't really improve from the waist up as it's usually a white flouncy blouse affair which barely hides a stuffed push up bra. The wig has definitely seen better days. And the face, well in all honesty, this vivacious blonde will never be able to conceal the reality that she in fact a he, no matter how much slap is trowelled on. Yes this local character is quite possibly the most unconvincing transvestite that I have ever set my eyes on. If any HRT treatment has taken place, it hasn't bloody worked. But he/she has been carrying it off with great aplomb for yonks now so long may he/she carry on strutting their stuff around the streets of EC1.

Some people do frown upon such behaviour unfortunately. Rigid, uptight, conservative, moralising, traditional, authoritarian types who would do well to take their heads out their own arses. And prior to meeting him, I was kind of worried that Uncle Ji would be precisely one of those types, given his persona on twitter. However after lunch, conversation and a WMPC swap, the first one in a long time, I was pleasantly surprised. And futhermore for such a strong, masculine, macho member of the male species, I have to say that Uncle Ji had pretty good hair and nails for a man. Too good really. So I'm kind of suspicious as a result. And as for what we actually talked about over a pie and a pint in The Fox and Anchor, well Uncle Ji has forbidden that I reveal too much as he is a fiercely private man. It turned out that he only really wanted to meet me to see if I could get my hands on some indigo kyanite but I didn't really have clue what dear old Uncle Ji was on about. "Vat you talkin' beta? Vord on the internets is you the man who gets things?" he exclaimed, to which I could only reply, "Well I do get food from people Uncle Ji but that's about it". So bizarre and curious goings on indeed but I was grateful for the Indian food he gave me which came in the form of an aubergine dish called 'baingan ke amchoo', some 'shahi paneer', a dahl chutney, some rice and a very unusual pigeon tikka dish.

Being a big fan of aubergine, the baingan was a big hit. Smokey and delicately spiced with a luxurious texture that was so so pleasing to eat, I loved it. And the pigeon was a nice surprise too as I've never had game presented like this before. Very tender and again light with aromatic spice flavours rather than the fiery heat I normally associate with curries, mind you Uncle Ji did criticise the English interpretation that Indian food should be packed with chillies. The homemade paneer was very good too, rich and creamy whereas the rice was plain and simple and all the better for it given the combinations of flavours going on. There was one duff note though I am afraid which was the dhal chutney, compared to the rest of the plate it was rather bland and felt like it needed something else for some extra oomph. I normally love coriander but the last minute addition to this chutney left it all tasting rather.....soapy? Sorry Uncle Ji but otherwise, a splendid meal.

I did email Uncle Ji afterwards to thank him for his contribution to WMPC and was relieved that he didn't take my criticism of the dhal too hard. However there is something in his reply that makes me think there's a lot more to this gentleman around town than meets the eye. I just wish I could put my finger on it.

Good morning beta, (son)

You are very welcome for dinner. Vas pleasure to give you proper Indian food! Most food these days not good Indian! Is very important that you no write that Uncle Ji cook for himself beta, it no look good in my community! I have very good Indian lurdki (girl) who come in and cook for me - I ask her to make extra for you, innit? She very good cook. Uncle Ji no cook for himself - I am Indian man, Indian man no cook. Is Aurat ke kama (women's work) innit beta? You see these days these young Indian boys cooking all this food! It no blaady good! Vhat they blaady thinking?! Occasional toast of poppud over fire is thaik hai (ok) but whole blaady meal? No beta, no. Is no blaaady good.

Yeah, I agree beta. I didn't much like the chutney either. Dall should be cooked all together- not with some raw ingredients added after - new fancy bullshit if you ask your Uncle Ji. usually I would cook red dall with onion, lots of garlic, haldi (turmeric) and numac then when dall is cooked in separate pan melt ghee and fry whole dhanya (corinader) and jeera (cumin) in it gently with slices of garlic to make Tardka innit. Then you pour tardka into the cooked dall. Is much better traditional way. I no like this new fancy bullshit way of cold dall and raw onion.

I very much liked that pub you took me to, also they have good IPA. Although Uncle Ji does not drink alcohol of course. Good Hindu's do not drink sharab, beta. But was very good food. I liked the steak pie very much and the bone marrow was amazingly good. Although of course I didn't eat the beef or the bone marrow because I am good Hindu and Hindus no eat beef, innit. Guy maa ki hai. (cow is mother) innit.

British food is getting better beta, much better. Especially when inspiration is taken from old colonies, innit. Uncle Ji still prefer French food to British food though. Main difference between English and Indian food is English people lazy. they make one dish. Indians cook 5 or 6 for each meal, then chapatti and rice and chutneys.

Um, yes, I think it's very important for a man from good family to take care of both his hair and his nails, beta. That is all

Uncle Ji

Uncle Ji

Pigeon Tikka, Shahi paneer, Baingan ke amchoo, Dhal Chutney and Rice

Monday, 21 February 2011

The end of WMPC???

And yet again there has been a lull in the movement that is Where's My Pork Chop? Just like the aftermath of a party, the good intentions and ideas behind this little project now, seemingly, lie littered on the floor amongst streamers, fag butts, chicken bones, empty wine glasses and empty tupperware boxes. As always it's fun at the time, chatting, laughing, drinking, doing the hokey cokey with my fellow bloggers. But lately whenever I go on these mad expeditions or food swaps, I keep finding myself perched on the edge of the bed nursing a fuzzy head the next day, fingers over my eyes, thumbs rubbing my temples desperately trying to get the ol' grey matter going. At the root of this particular hangover lies a simple question that I ask myself before sitting down in front of the computer. 'How am I going to write this one up then?' It's probably something that a lot of bloggers ask themselves, wanting to keep their posts fresh and original. Personally, this has meant going off on whimsical flights of fancy, scribbling down nonsensical journeys into the inner gubbings of my mind and sometimes the content is not always related to food. And as a result this has started to become a bit of a mute point when it comes to writing up a WMPC post. Brainy from the Numbskulls is starting to run out of ideas to put in the suggestion box. I don't want to say for a second that the party is over because I love meeting and connecting with people under this wonderful umbrella of food. But I think for WMPC to continue, I need to focus a bit more on the blogger and about reviewing the meals they send my way, to be perhaps a bit more succinct and not get too tied up in trying to fire off some witty parable. So there, I've said it. WMPC will carry on but in future it will be short, sharp and to the point.

And besides how could I even think about jacking it all in? Especially now that WMPC has gone international! Yes I received my very first food package from abroad (well second if you consider Scotland) way back in December all the way from Holland! Boo Yah! Man, it's a druggy cliche but the shit that Luc Martin sent me was amazing. I haven't had this much fun since the time I swallowed 12 space cakes at Glastonbury '94 and ran off to the Green Field wearing my sister's dress, screaming that I had transformed and shrunk into Willow Ufgood. It took my mates 3 hours to talk me down from an ancient oak tree that night but we still laugh about it from time to time....................... (stop it FU, stop it)

Erm yes, so I am now swapping food across the seas having engaged and bonded with Luc over the magic of Twitter. In his blog Roast Chicken and Red Wine, Luc displays a fondness for the unusual and is therefore a man after my own heart. For instance, his account of cooking hare is both funny and informative in which he praises the flavour of the animal whilst all the while highlighting the necessity of using a clothes peg when preparing it. And Luc certainly knows how to get the most out of ingredients. In return for his food packages he requested that I send him the finest black pudding in all off Laaandan Taan. After much deliberation (maybe too much) I couriered over some slices of blood sausage from Stornoway and a selection of Henderson's mini black, white and chorizo mixed puds, all purchased at Borough Market. Over a period of about 5 days, I could only watch my screen in amazement as he tweeted (with pictures) various meals, all with a black pudding element. Ribeye burgers topped with black pudding, eggs benedict and black pudding, black pudding on pizza and finally steak and black pudding...pudding. I really didn't think I had sent him that much. But he obviously enjoyed it for which I am glad as this iron-rich, colon busting package was sent in thanks for the Dutch goodies Luc had sent me a few weeks previous.

Unfortunately I wasn't so creative with the smoked salami-type sausage and pancetta that he sent me, along with some aged Gouda cheese and yep you guessed it, some black pudding. We received the package during the full on festival of gluttony that is Christmas so rather than knocking up some fancy meals like ol' fancy wooden clogs Luc, the FU clan used the meats and cheese to graze on as we were want to do throughout the whole fattening period. The charcuterie was very good indeed and survived the journey well, the sausage was smokey as to be expected but also with a nice spice. The aged Gouda really was interesting as this was quite hard and salty, similar to Parmesan in some respect and totally different to the creamier, rubbery texture I have encountered before. The closest I got to cooking and conjuring up a meal was when I fried the black pudding and constructed an open sandwich using a slice of rye bread, some of the cheese and a fried egg. Typical hangover breakfast material really but the blood sausage with delicious. Dense, iodine and supreme savoury. I am bit perplexed in fact as to why he was so eager that I send black pudding his way.

Thanks again Luc for sending your contribution over the waters and apologies to the delay in getting this post done. Believe me there have been many incarnations.

And lets get the International Preserves Exchange underway. Now that's something we could both get our teeth into.

And last but not least, let's get on with some more WMPC adventures, are you interested in feeding me?

Vac-packed goodies from the Netherlands

Hangover brekkie

Aged Gouda

Dutch charcuterie


Sunday, 9 January 2011

Late Again Mr Urchin, See Me After Class

Oh you have been slack. Soooo slack with this one my boy. Naughty Urchin. Bad Urchin. Laaaazy Urchin. You deserve to punished for this bout of indolence and negligent behaviour. At least 2 weeks detention, 5000 lines and quite possibly 6 of the best. In fact let's do this now, bend end over Urchin, this is for your benefit, not mine. It's high time you learned about the value of integrity, about showing gratitute and delivering your honour. And believe me this going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you. Creditability, that is what is at stake here. Do you want to go through life with people thinking that you are nothing more than a shifty, cheeky, cockney con artist. Do you intend to carry on taking food from people's mouths without the merest hint of thanks? Do you want to continue with this project that known universally as Where's My Pork Chop?

No sir. No sir. Yes sir.

Then assume the position and after each subjugation, repeat after me "Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post"


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post!


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post!


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post!


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post!


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post!


Never again, will I take 6 weeks to write up a WMPC post.................sir?

Yes boy?

Can I have one more please?

And we're back in the room.

Yes I am so sorry Claire of Green Onions and the much celebrated Shacklewell Nights, it really has been remiss of me to dawdle getting your contribution written up. When it comes to this blogging malarky, regularity and consistency has never been my strongest forté. In fact I don't really know what my forté is. Eating, yes that's my forté and it was well worth making the journey to deepest East Laaandan to meet you and have a chat, albeit a brief, freezing one under the purple bridge at Hackney Central on a particularly grey November day. And of course it was great to sample your delicious food, which was so plentiful that even my beaming colleage got to try some later that evening. Your pumpkin and sage soup, which I actually had for lunch after meeting you, was velvety and comforting and warmed me straight through. It was just the ticket after that arduous bus journey back to the office, shivering on the top deck, muttering to myself that I could have shuffled back on my arse cheeks on the pavements from Hackney and got into Barbican quicker. Speaking of cheeks, your braised ox cheeks were immense, they simply melted in the mouth and were so so good. Your creamed swede mash, luxurious and sweet along with pearl barley and tender celeriac, all amounted to real stick to yer ribs, honest home cooking and it was beeeeyootiful. Like I said, for my work mate, it was like Christmas had come early, although thankfully he didn't quite understand where I got the food from (I can be very vague at times). So thankfully, the whole WMPC thing is still under wraps, kinda. And to finish with your frangipane fig tart, well that was the cherry on top. Or should that actually be fig? Light and not too cloying, it was the perfect ending and an excellent digestive aid after eating all that meat.

Thanks again Claire, I hope the wine went down equally well and I hope to get to Shacklewell Nights soon x

Pumpkin Soup

Braised Ox Cheek with Creamed Swede and Braised Root Vegetables in Pearl Barley (with Greens)

Fig and Almond Tart