Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Meat Judging for the YBFs 2015

Meat
Apparently, there is no such thing as the 'meat sweats'. Listen to any scientist worth their salt and they will refute the condition, often giving you an alternative hypothesis that goes along the line of:

"No, you do not perspire excessively just because you have eaten gargantuan amounts of sausage and bacon. You sweat simply because you have most likely eaten far too much flesh, in a short space of time. Yes, I am well aware of the thermic effect of protein, the principle that digesting steak requires more energy than say, a stick of celery. Thus heating up the body, 'burning' calories. However, Dr Atkins was a quack and was over 20 stone when he died. Plus, it is very likely that you have also been drinking in the sun. Now, be off with you, and your hyperbolics about meat sweats."

Knowing this, I sort of agree. I've always thought that meat sweats were a bit of a myth. But after recently whaling through a great lump of charcuterie, along with some fine beef, pork belly, jerky, chicken, crackling and beer; all within the space of a few hours, well, now I am not so sure. I know I was fairly dripping after taking a nap on the sofa and when my wife walked in from work, she did a hell of a lot of sniffing and coughing, before finally spluttering "What the hell have you been eating? Dog food?"

So maybe meat sweats are real. Or maybe I should just take a shower more often. Whatever. The main reason for my sorry state was that earlier in the day, I had attended the meat judging session for this year's YBFs. Or Young British Foodies.

Set up in 2012 by Amy Thorne (founder of TASTE PR), food journalist Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and Lily Jones (founder of Lily Vanilli) the aim of the YBFs is seek out and celebrate all that is new and visionary in food and drink. Ranging from producers to bakers, to chefs and candlestick makers. That is candlesticks made from organic, heirloom, Cosmic Red carrots. So yes, the quirky can apply and so can the old. The word 'Yoof' in the title applies not in age but in the sense of one blossoming anew and with vigor, dazzling onto the scene. And I should know because I was up for the food writing category last year. Unfortunately, I lost out to Misti Traya, who is a highly original, witty and melodic sort of food writer. She is also American. But hey, I wasn't bitter. I just huffed out of the room that night, grabbed a fistful of salami, a bottle of Kamm and Sons and proceeded to give a piece of my mind to judge Marina O'Loughlin, in a shadowed corner of Tate Britain, where the awards ceremony is held.

Not Marina O'Loughlin
It turned out, curiously, that I had picked on the wrong Marina, who is pictured above and strangely similar to the real Marina. In fact, her real name happened to be Astrid Chalupnik and she was only at the ceremony because she had been accidentally locked in the toilets on the second floor after closing and was let out after some screaming. She did agree with me though, that life is indeed a bitch and was more than happy to indulge and share in a swig or two of bittersweet botanical spirit with me. I don't think I will ever forget that woman. With her plump, dark, red lips and wandering tongue.

That was last year and this year's YBFs are fast approaching and by some twist of fate, I have been invited back into the fold. At first I thought it was to be as a judge, along with James George, Richard Turner and Neil Rankin, all three heavyweights in the world of meat in the UK. But yet again, it turned out that I got the wrong end of the stick. My role at this year's selection process was merely to act as witness to events, a role that I initially had some misgivings about. Then a giant called Neil contacted me and said "Dan, there will be shitloads to get through, you'll love it." So I replied with the nonchalant and slightly Prima donna response of "OK, I'll do it."

I am glad I did because it was great afternoon. An orgy of tasting, cogitating and deliberating. It was an also eye-opener more than anything else, as eyebrows were raised at several points in the proceedings, with more than the occasional, furtive glance shot across the table. A just painted table, that left us all with white elbows by the way. In my capacity as independent meat observer, I would say that all five entrants gave the judges some serious food for thought, particularly from an entrepreneurial point of view. The judges do have plenty of fingers in plenty of pies after all, and it wouldn't have surprised me if one of them had piped up with an offer of £30K for a 75% stake in the business. Like that Peter Jones from Dragons Den.

The presentations themselves varied in scope and delivery. Some people expounded at length, showing off their knowledge and expertise. Some brought videos and pamphlets. Some just bashfully preferred to let their product do all the talking. Underling throughout the whole session though, was a strong sense of passion, belief and commitment and it was plainly obvious that all five entrants, live and breathe meat. Which must be a very hard thing to do.

It was definitely tough for the judges to come up with a winner but they got there in the end and as Supreme Court Meat Ombudsman overlooking everything, I do indeed know the end result. But that is all I can offer at this stage. No more, no less.

Except to say this. They ALL gave me the meat sweats. Good luck for September 15th everyone!

Below is photographic compilation of the session, complete with a brief and pithy repartee for each entrant.


You want bresaola? We can do it. You want chorizo? We can do it. You want hybrid, rare breed, maturated salami to tickle your Italian aunt's fancy at her 60th birthday party? We can do it! This seemed to be the over-riding, confident message from young butcher and charcutier Matt Hill, who is  producing a whole range of cured meats, along with his colleagues, in North London. His platter was certainly very impressive visually and had quite the impact when he brought it out, only to be ruined seconds later when Richard Turner plunged a digit into some fat njuda, to scoop out a lump and eat in one fell swoop. Personally, I felt that their salami was extraordinarily good and I also thought that Matt had fantastic hair.


Move over the Hemsley sisters. In fact, you can fuck right off with your healthy eating, girls. For here are the McVeigh sisters, namely Emily and Lucy, and they are bringing us steak all the way from Suffolk. And very good steak at that. From English Longhorn cattle, an ancient native breed, raised with the utmost care and attention with regards to welfare. I didn't know that you could become a nutritionist for cows but apparently they exist and this is just one of the standards put in place at Kenton Hall, to ensure a quality product. Actually frying their steak posed the biggest challenge for Emily and Lucy, nervously aware of the audience they were cooking for. But they did an excellent job, on top of a fluid and comprehensive presentation. 


Former chef Simon Hodge and now curerererer of meats brought a great deal of much needed elegance to proceedings with his thin slices of beef in ale (Five Points) and duck in sloe gin. Dressing his board with a variety of added ingredients, including oyster leaf and pea soup, we veered into restaurant territory, which silenced the judges and their belching. But only for a second or two. Inspired by old English recipes for curing, Simon has been operating out of London Fields for just under a year. His proposal was a quite one, although I did like his view on the boast that the world's first air-dried ham came from Carmarthen. "Yeah, that must have been circulated by the Welsh Tourist Board that one," he quipped, dryly.  


They are doing all manner of things up in Leeds, so it seems. From delivering meat boxes across the country, to organizing pun-tastic 'Meat-Ups' to educate the masses, to strapping GoPros to sheep for high octane video tours of the farm. All ideas coming from the brain of Ed (just Ed) who runs the retail side of the business. With a clutch of awards already under their belt, they are obviously doing something right. The crackling from his tender pork belly, slow-cooked in cider, delivered a brilliant crunch and his slivers of smoked chicken went down very well, I know that much. That Ed wants to make strides on the nose-to-tail side and deliver offal to the general public was also good shout. If you fancy trying one of their boxes out, don't be surprised if you find some bones for stock tucked in there.


Last but by no means least was Will Yates, who was entering his gourmet jerky snacks in for a second year running. Or so everyone thought. However, it seems that young William has been working on a lot of other things in his unit in East London. Namely pancetta, bresaola, some smoked ox-cheek (in chilli) and a cheesy sauce imbued with njuda. Plus some rather spermy shaped biltong and lots of other 'bits and pieces'. After looking down at it all, it was difficult knowing where to start but Will has definitely had his inventors' hat on over the last twelve months, proving that his obsession with all things meaty, or chilli for that matter, has not diminished. And to think this all started with a single dehydrator on his kitchen counter at home. Impressive stuff.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Orchard Retreat, Devon

A yurt. A yurt called Russet.
If anything is going to make you want to throw the towel in, quit the day job and go live in a round, makeshift tent type thing, complete with wood burner and double bed, in Devon, for the rest of your life, it's sitting in traffic on the M4, in the driving rain, trying to get home, from Devon.

At least that's what I thought the first time we visited the Orchard Retreat. Yet on our second visit, the melancholy started seeping into my veins way way before we hit the road. I would have been wholly grateful for a tractor to brake down, just outside the gates, on our last day. Immovable for another week at least. As parts from Brixham made their way around windy bends and over hilly hills. Via perhaps say, a loaded goat. I am not saying that the south west is backward in that sense by the way. I am just suggesting that a goat would be rather slow, and quite possibly an inefficient mode of transporting spare parts. But it would been a good thing. Because we could have stayed for a month.

Alas, our journey was pretty clear this time around. We were home in just under four hours and as we all trudged through the door, throwing luggage violently into the kitchen sink and out onto the patio, we all sat in silence on the sofa, with looks on our faces that said something like - "Well, this is a load of bollocks isn't it."

I think I even uttered to my little boy - "I know son, this is a load of bollocks. I am sorry. I am so sorry I took you on holiday. We went on holiday by mistake. We won't do it again."

And he just nodded and looked back up at me, sadly, sagely. Before going on to tell me off for swearing.

Of course, holiday blues are not unprecedented and we've all been there before but I do feel it my duty to say that, should you wish to go to the Orchard Retreat, then do so at your peril. Because it is simply lovely there. So simply, quietly and exquisitely lovely. Just a small collection of yurts and cottages, all set within an orchard (surprise!) and fields resplendent with various trees, a stream and soft buzzing bees, flitting hither and thither. All furnished with shabby chic furniture and a few modern touches. Plus the aforementioned comfy beds and wood burners to cater for your inner pyromaniac. Although there is a fire-pit too, if you start feeling totally out of control. Individual private toilets and showers for the yurts, in which we stayed, are scrupulously clean. The kitchen facilities are also clean and efficient. Free WiFi is intermittent, depending on proximity to their router, but why should you care? This is a place to unplug and unwind, to marvel at nature and relax with a Sampford Courtney cider on bench in the sun. Whilst your children run free in the background, slowly turning feral in the tree house and bushes, as days skip gently past.

There is also a clay oven to play with! God, I loved this new addition to the place. We went into a BBQ frenzy last time, as there are plenty of Webers doted about the place. However, given the option of cooking in cob, which we were able to do a couple of times during our stay, well the experience this time around didn't even compere. Assembling pizzas out in the open could be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (and I repeat the word could here, because the children were involved). Especially since the pizzas in question cook within the merest of minutes, therefore encouraging a frenzy of bread and tomato based feasting. "PIZZA!" we screamed. "LET KEEP MAKING PIZZA!" Before collapsing into a heap, bellies swollen, mouths stained red and strings of mozzarella dangling downwards

The second venture was slightly more subdued but no less flash, as I bought a joint of pork shoulder from the local butchers to braise, low and slow. Except things weren't so mellow at the start. A fierce heat burnt the buggery out of the crackling, so that had to be hastily sliced off. But after a couple of hours, we soon had a meal fit for a King; complete with spuds, ratatouille and baked apples. Unknown apples that had been freshly plucked from the surrounding trees, tested at first for tartness and some did leave us with desiccated gums and shriveled lips. But it was oh so good. Every home should have a cob oven and for me personally, it really was the icing on the cake of a perfect break. 

So yes, I defy you to visit and not grimace as you hand your key with a fearsome grip back to owners Vicky and Nick, envious of the life they have built for themselves. They work hard most certainly, to keep things running smoothly. But I suspect there is a wonderful payoff going on there.

I know when I was driving home, I was thinking curiously, frantically even, whether their business model could fit somewhere within my home county. What are those three words? Location. Location. Location. Is there the equivalent of an Orchard Retreat in Essex? I am not so sure

I know I will keep pondering upon it but for now, four hours isn't too bad and as such, I reckon we'll be returning sooner rather than later. Them apples will need picking soon and I reckon some scrumptious scrumpy could be made and taken away, to sup once home.

That would take the edge off the next goodbye.

For inquiries or bookings contact Vicky and Nick on 01363 866058 or via the website


Feral kids, yurt, mushrooms
Double bed inside the yurt, view, fire
Clay oven, Clay Oven, CLAY OVEN! ON FIRE!
Neapolitan before, during and after cooking. Fin's effort, complete with Mattessons smoked sausage
Glorious pork
Ratatouille
Glorious sliced pork
Fin doing battle with nettles

Friday, 31 July 2015

Greek Semolina Cake with Orange and Honey

  
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs website. Which has been revamped and looks all very sexy and shiny and new, you should check it out.

Most traditional recipes, like this Greek semolina cake (or Revani as it is also known), are all open to interpretation, tweaks and additions and this recipe is no different. And whilst I wish I could say that I learnt to make this under the guidance of a scary Yiayia, all clad in black, I got the lowdown for this wonderfully moreish cake from another maternal figure. Namely the very reliable Delia Smith. But then again, she didn’t quite get it right the first time around because my first attempt way back when, fractured under the pressure when I tried to lift it out of the tin and I was largely left with crumbs. This could be down to my own cack-handed ineptitude of course but being the stubborn, pig headed type, I am hardly going to foot the blame. So after further cracks at the whip, I’ve made a couple of changes by adding a smidgen of bread crumb and soupçon of oil to the mix, just to stabilise things. There be might frowns, certainly; but let me reassure you, the grainy texture and lightness of this cake, imbued with sweet honey and citrus, is by no way affected by their introduction. Yes, I am talking to you, my imaginary Greek grandmother. As for Delia, I am sure she won’t be too bothered.

(He says, flinching)

Ingredients

1 large unwaxed orange

200g semolina

50g slightly stale white breadcrumbs

175g caster sugar

100g ground almonds

3 tsp baking powder

175ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

3 eggs

For the honey and orange syrup

200mls of honey

Juice of 1 unwaxed orange

5tbs water

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

For the yoghurt and pistachio topping

200mls Greek yoghurt

50gms pistachios, chopped

Honey, for drizzling

Method

First, preheat the oven to 200C. Then line the bottom of a 24cm loose-base round tin with greaseproof paper, then grease the tin. Mix together the semolina and bread crumbs in a bowl with the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Cut the orange into small pieces, removing any pips and then put the pieces into a blender and blitz to a pulp. Whisk the oil with the eggs in another bowl and then pour into the dry ingredients and then mix well. Fold in the orange pulp and then pour the mixture into the tin and place in the oven. After 10 minutes turn the heat down to 180C for another 40-45 minutes.

Check with a skewer by inserting it into the middle, if it comes out clean it’s done. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate.

Meanwhile, whilst the cake is baking, make the spiced honey and orange syrup. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring until the honey has completely dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Leave the cinnamon stick and cloves in to infuse for 30 minutes and then lift them out the syrup.

While the cake is still warm, pierce it several times with a skewer, then spoon the syrup over the cake allowing it to run into the holes. If any excess syrup over the cake starts to seep out from around the cake, simply scoop up with a spoon and pour over again until everything is soaked up and leave to cool completely.

When ready to serve, lightly whip the yoghurt to loosen and then smooth all over the top of the cake with a palatte knife. Drizzle with honey and then finish with a scattering of the chopped pistachio.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Three Things: Paella at London BBQ School, Andy Bates' Southern Fried Chicken Livers and Cheese on Toast

Three is a magic number

There are lists aplenty on the internets. Lists, lists, lists. All of which serve our increasing and insatiable desire to accumulate information, statistics, facts and funny pictures of cats, without ever having to actually absorb anything. And perhaps the world doesn't really need another list to look at. But given the amount of 'stuff' I get up to food wise, I have decided to start doing them. Weekly lists, namely short posts or burst of things that I cooked, places I have been to, people I have seen, new or old flavours wot I have savored. That sort of thing. Because there is plenty that I want to shout about and yet I often don't find the time to do so. And if Fay Maschler can do it, then so can I.

Of course, regular readers of this blog will be scanning this with rolling eyes and going "Oh yes, off he goes again, with another idea, let's see how long he keeps this one up."

Well, let's see shall we? Eh? YEaaaaah? *shakes fist in the general direction of imaginary people*

Oh and the lists will be short, keeping the number to three. Because three is a magic number, yes it is, it's a magic number.

Let's go.

Rachel McCormack's wood fired paella at London BBQ School
When I first wandered into the London BBQ School way back in May for sneak peak, as chef, tutor and proprietor Alastair Instone showed me around the place, I did that thing of enthusiastically nodding and grinning and pretending to totally 'get' the concept. When all the while, the phrase - "WHAT THE F**K ARE YOU DOING?" - was echoing through my brain. Because at the time, Alastair was showing me the shell of an empty warehouse, with no roof, in the backyard of a small industrial park in Peckham. The man's vision as he waved his hands around the place was certainly convincing but I did wonder what had been ingested, to send Alastair off on this mad journey.  I mean there is playing with fire and there is ....playing....with....fire.

However, when I returned in the latter part of June for preview of a class, his grand plan began to make sense. He might still get his fingers burnt but this is a great concept in the offering. The space is still rough, with shorn brick surroundings and a battered concrete floor but in one corner, a small functional kitchen stood and along one wall, the heads of three Kamado Joe's all popped up smiling, all embedded within in a bench. The roof was still missing. Large perspex corrugated sheets had been fixed up to provide shelter from the elements but on that night it wasn't needed. The air was close, sticky and warm and besides, a wood fire in the centre was roaring away (on corrugated steel) with guest tutor Rachel McCormack keeping a close, beady eye over it.

"Right! This is good to go. Now, where is that chicken? Stop with your chatting and someone get me that chicken."

Having been to one of Rachel's cookery classes before, I do like her brusk yet encouraging and effusive style of teaching. Don't expect to be taught how to brunoise an onion or clarify consomme. It's "Chop that" and "Keep an eye on that stock, it needs to be well seasoned otherwise all this effort will be nothing." Which falls in line with the no-nonsense style of traditional Spanish cooking that Rachel is known for. Get on with the task in hand and then we can have a laugh when we eat, so to speak

This is exactly what we did. After standing around for short while, supping beers and being mesmerised by scarlett bubbles dancing on pearled rice, the sitting-down-to-eat-and-digging-in-communally-around-a-bench was the best part. Bar perhaps being allowed to throw more wood on the fire. Yes, this BBQ school definitely caters for the needs of your inner pyromanic.

Billed as the the best fun you can have in public without getting arrested, I would have to agree. Though if the police were to find you, in a derelict building, dancing around a glowing pit in the dark, with mouths all greasy, they would probably would find some reason to sling the cuffs on the you.

If this sounds of interest, please go here for a list of classes available and Rachel will be running her wood fired paella class this Sunday. There are just a couple of spaces left.

Southern Fried Chicken Livers with Chilli Slaw and Baconnaise
OK, this is going on for far too long already this list writing business but if you try out one recipe this week, try Andy Bates' offally good Southern Fried Chicken Livers. A hell of a lot of temptation pops up my horizon of greed and I am constantly bookmarking posts and 'favouriting' dishes that people make, from bloggers, food writers and chefs alike. Yet they soon get forgotten and shoved to the back, as new ones pile in and pile up. Such is the transitory nature of edible offerings in the online world. I coo and ahh at the screen all the time but rarely am I ever sated. A diet of food porn never fills the stomach you see and I am already slapping myself in the face for using the words 'food porn'.

(SLAP! STOP IT!)

This dish was different. I saw it ping up and afterwards, I practically ran to the shops to get the ingredients because it looked good, it sounded good and inherently, I just knew it would be good. I mean it really twisted my mellow man.

Quick and easy and slightly messy to make, this was an instant hit in the house and I have made them several times since because:

a) When coated, battered and deep fried, chicken livers transform into these rich, intense, meaty nuggets of crunchy joy and quite frankly, they piss all over any offering that McDonalds or any other fast food outlet can deliver (which probably isn't difficult).

b) Slaw with chilli is a bit of a revelation. Ordinarily, I can take or leave coleslaw but imbued with some heat and grassy coriander, this was a bit of a step up for me. Too far a step for the kids first time around and subsequent tears mean I now make a separate batch. But yes, very good.

c) Home made baconnaise. Why on earth have I been scooping that plastic crap, out of a jar, with a spoon, and sticking it straight into my mouth? When all this time, I could making the real thing? Anyway, mayonnaise of the Gods.

d) Be careful though because chicken livers do spit when deep fried.

e) They are also cheap to make.

f) Oh god, this section is beginning to drag and I have started making lists within lists.......

f) Look, just try this recipe will you.

Cheese on Toast
Lastly and thirdly on the list, I would just like to opine opinion on Instagram. Apart from using it to goof off on food porn (SLAP!) I am still a little mystified as to how the whole platform really works. I mean like really, really works.

For instance, you can work and toil all day on something like, I don't know, a lovely bollito misto that looks appetising and fragrant, meaty but  fresh, resplendent with salsa verda and bathed in a light broth. And no-one will give an absolute frig.

Post a picture of cheese on toast and the world of Instagram will fall at your knees. This picture has got the biggest number of 'likes' to date and this has totally flummoxed me. I mean, does this suggest that should I just stick with the toast? Seriously, I really don't know what to say or how to comment on this glitch in the Matrix.

Which is good because this is too f**king long already but if you could enlighten me, I would be much obliged. In the meantime, I shall be working on next week's list....list.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Mondo Bizarro Pasta Bake


A rather significant and monumental birthday passed me by recently. I'll leave you to guess what it was and no doubt, when you find out, you will be shocked and amazed. Naturally, I had a bit of a shindig to celebrate. Because after all, it's not every day that you turn 30. And friends and family came and we had a party in the back garden, with the sun shining and the BBQ blazing; blinding everyone with smoke, because I bought some cheap sausages. Good money however was spent on some excellent beer from George's Brewery including a very tasty batch of 'Danny Boy' and that flowed very well. Perhaps a little too well, as some of the adults were very wobbly later in the day. Including myself, but what the hell I was newly 21 on Saturday, and it is always great to tumble, free fall in conversation, with equally pissed and very old mates; into a spiral of silly, infectious giggles.

"Why are we laughing?"

"I don't know. Why are the children taking all our money?"

"I don't know!"

"HA! I have given all my money away! All my birthday money! HA! Look at them run!"

"Hey, look at Gary's small penis!"

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Gary didn't have his penis out by the way. Nor would I know if it were small. He was just wearing one of those naughty aprons, to cover his shorts from splatters from the paella he was cooking. The sky then began to bruise and darken and most of the people drifted off slowly into the night, with just a few of us sat around a table, getting bitten to buggery by mosquitoes. I woke on my couch. At 2AM. The strain of trying to get up the stairs, with these 18 year old legs, was obviously too much

That was pretty much it really. A day full of fun, laughter, tons of booze and lots of food. Perfect.

However, if I could apply one mantra to our approach to laying on a spread, it would be - 'Never knowingly under catered' - and we did have a lot left over. Even a second stab with a second invite for close family on the Sunday hasn't really made a dent. There is still too much bloody food and I am worried that come next weekend, I will be grating burgers into ragu, filling mashed potato salad into paving cracks and showering with mango trifle. Because we can't have any waste now.

I did make quite an interesting pasta bake last night, or a mondo bizarro pasta bake as I called it. Using leftover penne that had been tossed with pesto, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, I added some leftover pulled pork (that had been smoked in my new smoker, which I must write about soon). Along with some roasted mushroom, some humungous courgette/marrow and mixed through with a cheesy sauce and topped with even more cheese. That cheap, yellow, plastic cheese that will only really do with burgers.

It was delicious and we all wolfed it down last night, which got me thinking about what other concoctions would do well in the future. Do you have any unusual recipes? Pasta purists might balk but you have to admit, as a medium or base ingredient, this carb really does have the potential for a million different interpretations. Well, maybe not that many but you get what I mean.

Hmmm *ponders*

And this post is just a musing you know, a quiet reflection and a slight comedown. Possibly, also stuck in these words, are thoughts about where am I going and what am I doing. What more can I do with my pasta? I ask. (Read that as, what should I be doing with my life?)

Mostly though, this is just an underhand way of letting you know that I have just turned 40. And I have no money left, so please send cards and donations.

There is still time.

Pulled pork, courgettes and penne
Topped with cheep cheeze
Voila!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

MyPie.London


Pie and salad feels wrong somehow.  It should be accompanied with mash really. I know this and I know this well, having eaten over forty times* my own body weight in fluffy, bashed-up spuds over the years. Spuds that are usually accompanied by pies. And liquor. Oh lest we forget liquor. Beautiful, beautiful liquor. A pale gravy, most certainly. Flecked with bits of green, it is cloudy, mysterious and quite tasteless really, until you dump a load of malt vinegar and white pepper over it. However, I love that stuff and just typing up this is making me want to head down to Manze's right now. But where was I? Oh yeah, salad with pie. Is there a place for it?

Well, until I visited MyPie.London in Broadgate Circle last week, the thought had never have crossed my mind and prior to that, I am sure I would have been firmly in the careful now, down with this sort of thing camp. But the sun was beating heavily upon my freckled brow that day and when Chris Brumby, chef proprietor of MyPie, asked what I wanted to accompany my steak, cheese and chilli pie, the thought of some cooling leaves and *gulp* watermelon seemed at the time, to be the only way to go.

Still, it took me some time to actually order it, wavering at the hatch whilst wondering if ghosts of relatives were watching over. "Frank! E's 'aving rabbit food with 'is pie! Frank! Wake up!" And when I did finally blurt out my order, even Chris seemed to blanch at my request, making me want to snap "You're the one who is selling f**king salad with your pies mate." Bloody hell it felt stressful trying to decide.

After handing some cash over (£6.50), the short walk to some lumps of wood on the concourse was slow and laboured and when I finally plonked myself down, a bead of sweat fell off my nose. I opened the carton and looked down at the pie, a perfectly formed pie at that, and then at the green rocket, before pausing once more and going in for the kill.

The salad was quite good. Very good actually. Dotted with bulgur wheat and dressed lightly, the little pink nuggets of watermelon complimented the green spikes well, serving up sweet contrast to the pepper. It was thankfully refreshing too. As for the pie of promise, well that definitely lived up to expectations. A fat laden, pastry parcel, entombing a well of tender beef, luxurious gravy and curiously yellow cheese is not a summer dish but one bite in and I was gone. Pies, when made with love, have the ability to transform and transcend you out of your surroundings and there have been many times when I have been lost in pie, up in the sky and this was no different. With lips coated and a bump back to earth, I only really noticed the faintest tinge of heat afterwards, which was fine by me. Anything higher on the Scoville scale would ruined the whole effort and most likely, would have seen this former ginger collapse into a puddle on the floor.

Did the combination of pie and salad work though? It did. And I say that with gritted teeth, because I have got previous with Mr Brumby, having met him at the Great British Roll Off and have over the years, exchanged subsequent taunts about what constitutes a proper proper pie. But yes on a day like that, mash, however buttery, would have ended up all congealed in my gob, like dry cement in a mixer I am sure. Salad, on the other hand, was the right choice.

The MyPie.London van can be found popping up at various places, with various menus across town (keep an eye on its Twitter feed) and if you see that red and white former ice-cream truck, don't be afraid to try that salad suggestion with those deservedly named 'Epic Pies'.

Come winter time though, it will be absolutely out of the question.

The three stages of eating pie
City workers, choosing pie, with hands on hips
*The mash to body weight calculation could be way off and on reflection, I think we best double it.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Battling it out with Bertolli with Butter


Should you ever find yourself traversing the pleasant lanes of the M25, just near Junction 27 and on the Essex side of the street, you can sometimes spot a rather large house on the hill. To the untrained eye, it looks fairly innocuous really but to those in the know; well, they will know that that house belongs to none other than Mr Rod Stewart himself, he of a gajillion sold records and countless leopard skin pants. I often find myself passing it. Normally quite slowly on that god-forbidden stretch of road and when I do, I always wonder if the sexy ol' gravel-throated gnome is at home and I ponder upon what he might be up to in there.

Is he in his basement studio, flitting on a stool, belting out Maggie May? Is he playing football, in the back garden, with his thirty children, all swathed in tartan? Or is he by the pool, Piña colada in hand and topping up his tan? Who knows. But judging by recent revelations, the one place in the house that he certainly won't be in, will be the kitchen. Oh no, his wife Penny Lancaster has put paid to all of that nonsense. Because as she attested on Loose Women a couple of weeks ago - "Cooking takes away a man's masculinity." And we can't have that happening to Rod now can we.

For cometh the day that Mr Stewart pulls out a potato peeler, that will indeed be a dark day for all us men. For our testicles will wither into dust, we shall lose the strength and know how to go hunting and slowly, as our minds deteriorate, all reason will be lost. To such an extent that sometime, in the near future, we will probably start considering something really daft. Like giving women the chance to vote. Or something.

OK, you can probably see my pennysworth is toeing the sarcastic line here but in this day and age, it does make me laugh when you hear these sort of statements. Antiquated, facile and unnecessarily vexatious are just some of the words I've gleaned from the thesaurus to describe my feelings on the matter. But speaking generally, when Penny says something like that in the meeja, she is doing two things. She is giving credence to a generation of blokes who actually believe that sort of thing. Whilst at the same time, she offends all the guys out there who do cook.

"HOW DARE SHE SAY MY ATTEMPTS AT VISCHYSSOISE ARE IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM EMASCULATING!" I screamed in my pinny when I heard the news. It made me mad I tell you.

Of course, there is the third and more pressing issue of Penny perpetuating the patriarchy, letting down the sisterhood and striking a blow for equal rights but blimey, I am supposed to be writing a fun post based around a challenge set by Bertolli with Butter here. Eyes are probably reading this right now and thinking - 'Dan, we just wanted to see who came out trumps in the cooking stakes at home. Mum or Dad? Now get with the program!'



So yes! What's it all about Alfie? Well the challenge set by Bertolli with Butter was just that. They got in touch and asked if I, along with my wife, would be up for devising some quick and easy recipes using their product. And in light of the hoo-hah surrounding Penny's not so wise words, it was suggested that perhaps it would be fun to see who could come up with the best one. To test the myth, so to speak.

Given that Mrs FU and I are both wildly competitive and wildly opinionated about who is the best cook in the house, deciding who came up with the tastiest dish was always going to be fraught with danger. I am a terrible interferer when she is cooking and she is a terrible critic when I have finished. With that in mind then, we left the judging process down to our adorable twins. Who seemingly cannot be bribed, no matter how many sweets are put on the table.

Along with the Bertolli spread, a variety of ingredients were sent over for us to use, both doubled up for fairness and both approaches went down an Italian vein, as you might expect. Cooking concurrently over two nights, Mrs FU rustled up a pasta with tomatoes, courgette, pancetta, lemon and black olives and I created a refined risotto, using similar vegetables and a sprinkling of mint that is running riot in the garden. Working with the product itself was fairly straightforward for both of us, as we used it as we would use plain butter. I am a strong advocate of butter and rarely go in for 'spreads' but we found that the Bertolli with Butter worked well. Apart from the smooth finish, the spread added that Mediterranean touch from the olive oil, which ramped up the flavours in our dishes. Especially for the risotto when dotted around before serving and stirring through, to lend a silkiness at the end.

Like I said though, the final decision as to what dish worked best fell upon the small but broad shoulders of Isla and Finlay, whose verdicts were filmed and can be found below, with the recipes. And yes, Mum comes out best. But I am not bitter, as they were quite torn and rather sweetly, gave me a reassuring pat on the back afterwards; with a whispered "Don't worry, we liked your risotto too." I'll take that. Because by showing them that both of us can cook and by exploring different cuisines together, as we often do, at least they will grow up free of any misconceptions or 'myths' about who should be in the kitchen.

In the meantime, Penny can continue feeding her Rodney as much as she likes. Although it must get a bit tedious, having to puree all that food.

Pasta with tomatoes, courgette, pancetta, black olives and Bertolli with Butter - serves 4

As I have already alluded before, when Mrs FU does the cooking I do have a tendency to stick my nose in and I did question the combination of anchovy and bacon as she went about her business. But apparently, a dose of fishy umami does the trick for any pasta dish. Rather than plain old salt. Or so I was informed, before being told to formally bugger off.

Ingredients
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
3 anchovy fillets
1 courgette, finely grated
100gms baby tomatoes, chopped in half and seeded
70gms pancetta
Handful of pitted black olives, chopped in half
300gms pasta
30gms Bertolli with Butter
1 lemon, zested
Handful of basil leaves, torn
Grated Parmesan, to serve
Cracked black pepper

Method

First, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium heat and melt the butter spread and then add the onion, garlic and anchovy. Stir until everything becomes soft and then add the pancetta, turning up the heat slightly to crisp  the bacon.

Whilst that is going on, fill up the kettle and put it on to boil (life is too short to boil water on the hob for pasta). Add your pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water, say a tablespoon or two and then drain.

Finish the sauce by adding the courgette and tomatoes and cook through for five minutes and then add the olives to warm through for another minute or so.

Mix the pasta, sauce, some cracked black pepper and the reserved water together and serve up in bowls. Finish by scattering over the torn basil, lemon zest and Parmesan.


Lemon and mint risotto with broad beans, courgettes and Bertolli with Butter - serves 4

I think I got deducted points for this dish simply because it wasn't served up quite as quickly as the previous night. Which isn't fair, just because I like to take my time when extending my creative oeuvre all over the shop. Working conditions weren't that great either, as I had to listen to deafening  chants of "WHERE'S OUR DINNAH?" But what can I say, my wife is a cheat.

Ingredients
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
50gms Bertolli with Butter (plus a couple of knobs for stirring through at the end)
200gms Arborio rice
150mls dry white wine
1.2 ltrs vegetable stock
100gms broad beans, podded and removed from their outer skins
1 courgette, diced
100gms mascarpone
1 lemon, zested
Handful of mint, finely chopped
Salt and cracked black pepper
Lemon slices, to serve

Method

Start by placing a large saute pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the butter spread to melt. Then add the onion and garlic and stir for about 10 minutes until soft. Throw in the risotto rice and again stir so that everything is evenly coated and then pour in the wine and reduce until it is absorbed

Then start adding the stock, a ladle at a time so that it slowly sucks into the rice, stirring all the while to exercise the creamy starch out. The trick here by the way is to keep the stock warm in another saucepan on the hob.

Continue in this fashion for 10 minutes or so and you should be at the halfway mark and at this point you can add the emerald broad beans and diced courgette, then carry on with the meditative pouring of stock. After another 10 minutes, the rice should be ready. Test it to make sure. The grain should be soft with just a little nugget of whiteness in the middle.

When the rice is ready, add the mascarpone, the lemon zest, a pinch of salt and cracked black pepper and mix through. Dotted around the top of the risotto little blobs of the butter spread and cover and leave for 5 minutes. Then stir the melted butter spread in and add the mint at the last minute, stirring one last time.

To serve, spoon a generous portion into a deep bowl and add some more lemon slices for decoration or to squeeze. Should you want more....lemony flavour.