Tag Archives: Food

Identify my plant dot com (1)

11 Jul

What with all this rain we’ve been getting here, the weeds have been having a rum old son and dance. I thought it was high time I went out into the garden again and did some weeding, and so to the devil with the rain! It’s a tiresome process I can tell you, the little bleeders just pop up again when you turn your back. If only my vegetables did the same, I thought. One thought quickly led to another and it came to mind that I could just leave them if they were edible, and munch them at a later date rather than bother pulling them up and getting my fingernails dirty.

One small problem though…confidence! How would I know if it could poison me or not…. Put it on the blog and ask, why not? came the reply.

With that in mind, if anyone could shed any light on this I’d be grateful because I want to eat it!

 

Can I eat it?

It’s certainly doing better than my spinach. I have done some research and think it may be Good King Henry or something called Fat Hen.

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Cheese of the Moment #4

13 May

I always enjoy a farmers market. Yesterday the Traditional Cheese Dairy were in town again. The cheesemaker was keen to offer us some of his … cheese to taste. This time it was called Burwash Rose, a nice semi-soft cheese again from East Sussex, it was quite squelchy in texture.

This cheese came with a little romantic story. Mr Cheesemaker told me it was called Burwash Rose because it originated in the town of Burwash and it is washed in rosewater during the maturation process. Say what you like, but you don’t get more romantic than that.

Well you do as it happens because the jolly man on the stall went on to tell us that this particular cheese has its origins way back in 1211 although that date could be wrong, he definitely said it was 12 something or 11 something. Whatever year it was it was a long time ago. He said he discovered it in a very old recipe book from an Abbey, again I can’t remember which Abbey but for some reason Nottinghamshire keeps popping into my head. He took the recipe and started making the cheese and there you have it. Originally, he added, the cheese was named Abbot’s Delight but they changed the name because they didn’t want people to get the impression they were in the habit of selling small boys! He then winked or I might have added that for dramatic effect.

I’m a sucker for such romance so this is my cheese of the moment.

BURWASH ROSE!!!!!

Not my pic

Cor Blimey!! Cockney Food Gone All Posh!

16 Apr

Didn’t we ‘ave a loverlee time!

Time was when these were a working man’s staple down in ‘ole London town. A little bit of malt vinegar and a toothpick to pull out the grit and you were away.

Dirty Whelks

Whelks are sea snails and grow around the coast of Britain and elsewhere and these days our whelks seem to have found themselves a market in South Korea. There is more information from the Marine Conservation Society here. I was actually unaware that there was any pressure on them when I bought this lot but still it’s a bit of a shame that there is no longer a natural market for them over here. Apart from some very good restaurants or the dying breed of cockney fish vans traditionally found in pub car parks, there doesn’t seem to be anything in between.

under water

I’ve eaten whelks but never cooked them. It always sounded like a bit too much effort. When I’ve had them before, they’ve been either very nice or very rubbery. Still, I couldn’t resist picking up some to see how they would turn out once placed in my foolish hands.

I said it sounded like a bit too much effort and I half still think that. Basically, this is because you have to clean the blighters forever to get rid of the grit.  Now, there is a man whose recipes I generally trust and who goes by the name of Mark Hix, you may have heard of him as he is quite famous over here, and I chose to follow a recipe of his from his book British Regional Food.

Basically, it’s a simple snails in garlic butter recipe but strike-a-light it was blummin’ long-winded. The first step was cleaning them as best you could, which I did. It has to be said they were quite dirty on the whole and it was good 10 minute job. I was glad the Profesorette wasn’t taken with the idea of having a serving or I would have had to have spent more time at the sink. They were then drained and put into a bowl with some salt and left for two hours. I was already bored by this stage but did eventually find something else to do to fill my time. After this step, you are supposed to leave them rinsing under the tap for 30 minutes but in these dry, dusty days of hose pipe bans I decided not to be quite so wasteful and just rinsed them in a couple of changes of water.

The next stage was creating the cooking liquor. 1 onion, 12 white peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme , 1/2 lemon and some white wine were all put into a pan and the whelks were added. The pan was then topped up so they were covered with water and some salt added. This was brought to the boil before lowering the heat and simmering for 45 minutes. At this point, I was a bit worried that 45 minutes seemed a long time and that they would be sure to come out rubbery but, uncharacteristically perhaps, I stuck with the recipe.

After the 45 minutes, they were taken off the heat and allowed to cool down in the liquid for yet another hour, and to think I had originally planned to have them for breakfast! Fortunately, I was around the house most of the day yesterday so when they were cooled, I plucked them out of their shells and chopped them up, being sure to remove the foot and any grey sacks from them.

Whelks and Beer

The butter mixture was made with garlic chives, butter, lemon, salt and pepper and the meat was mixed into it. The shells were then given another clean and the mixture stuffed into them. Nearly there! Puff, deep breath!

Salt was spread along the bottom of an oven dish and the filled whelks were rested on this to prevent them slipping and the butter leaking out during baking. Needless to say, I didn’t quite get this right!

Just put the ruddy things in the oven!

Last bit!!!!! Into the oven at Gas 6/200C for 12-15 minutes and they were ready. Finally! It’s tiring me out just writing this.

Verdict/Conclusion: Really nice, better than garden snails and best of all I managed not to make them rubbery – take note Essex! However, I wish more restaurants and pubs would do them properly so I could eat more of them without having to hang around all day preparing them. Would I make them again? If I had a sous chef maybe.

Non-gritty, non-rubbery, cor blimey Whelks done all posh like!

I’m a Sausage Fiend, Don’t You Know?!

14 Apr

When I moved house a couple of years ago, I didn’t just leave a little love nest behind, I left my local butcher behind too. He used to do the best pork and leek sausages of all time, in the world, ever, etc. While I found quite a decent butcher’s nearby, I was quite underwhelmed by their sausages. I took that as a challenge, bought my own mincer and have never looked back. If you don’t mind handling slippery meat, I thoroughly recommend you doing the same.

I’ve been doing them for a while now and have only ever had one ‘alright’ one. The rest have been immense, which I admit sounds a bit cocky but there’s nothing quite like pulling out your own sausage when people come round to eat. It impresses people no end for some reason. The feedback has been excellent so I’ve continued to do them, especially as they are so easy to do, even if they are a little labour intensive.

One of my fallback sausages is the Italian Spice sausage and here are two such sausages looking very happy together!

One of them is now sitting, even more happily, in my stomach. Somebody thank that pig!

I once enjoyed a Westmalle Dubbel with a spicy sausage in Bruges but alas, the two have never been seen in the house at the same time.

Just in case I make a foray into the sausage business* I won’t give you the precise measurements but because I’m feeling good today here are the ingredients:

Pork Shoulder, Pork Belly, Cold Red Wine, Parsley, Salt, Garlic, Cayenne, Fennel Seeds, Chilli, Paprika

*This is a lie actually. I just can’t remember them all off the top of my head!

Cheese of the Moment #3

14 Apr

Well, it was a fine morning over here. Made even better by the farmers coming to town with their fine produce. Now, I’ve never been a massive fan of cheese with ‘stuff’ in it and I’ve always liked my cheeses more on the sharp side but this morning I was charmed, taken in by the moment.

The cheese I most enjoyed today was like a softish Cheddar with added garlic, herbs and cider in the mix. All of those ingredients I like so what my problem was with ‘stuff’ being in cheese, I’ll never know. It’s made by the Traditional Cheese Dairy from Sussex (again!) I think I like them. Herby, garlicky and a little cidery sweetness to boot. The photo will tell you more.

Give it up for ……….SUSSEX SCRUMPY!!!!

Info above

The Hit Parade

9 Apr

We all love a chart, don’t we? Top 5s, Top 10s… When I was younger the Top 30 (40) was so important to my life. Every Sunday evening the official music chart went out on BBC radio and I used to take it really personally if the song I liked at the time went down a few places. Now, I don’t even know if there is an official chart.  There is just music, isn’t there?

Lads mags and fashion mags are forever compiling Top 100s. Every time I log onto the Interwhatsit, Yahoo homepage is displaying a list of 10 things not to say to your lover while they have their nose in your fridge or 8 tell-tale signs that the person you are speaking to would really rather be looking at their iPhone.  Now, I would say that if you can’t beat them join them but clearly I joined many a moon ago, as evidenced elsewhere on this blog. Long before Nick Hornby released High Fidelity, we were all compiling our top 5 this and our top 5 that and top 5 the other. When I say ‘we’ I don’t necessarily include you. I refer to those of us who have shards of the obsessive coursing through our veins.

Well, I suppose I can’t keep ranting on like this without compiling another Top 5 of my own. Actually, in the interest of balance, why don’t I make that two Top 5s! Both are based on how much I enjoyment I gained from them on a particular occasion.

My top 5 foods enjoyed since finishing my detox!

  1. Spinach
  2. Venison Hearts
  3. Lord of the Hundreds Cheese
  4. Feta Cheese
  5. Pork Shank

My top 5 beers enjoyed since finishing my detox!

  1. Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter
  2. Ellezelloise Quintin Ambree
  3. Rothaus Pils
  4. Otley Thai-Bo
  5. Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter

 

I might go away next Easter. I really do have too much time on my hands!!!!!

 

C is for Chocolate, C is for Coca-Cola, C is for Chimay

7 Apr

Sorry, this isn’t about chocolate exactly, nor Coca-cola. This is about two different tasting experiences with the same drink. A week or so ago, I busted open and necked a bottle Chimay Rouge, my least favourite but the most widely available of the Trappist monk brewed ales. Actually, I didn’t. I opened it very carefully and with the respect it deserves poured very thoughtfully into a nice glass and sipped it.

Yeah..salt!

I’d recently revisited this beer as I have done with a few different beers after a serious detox. Yes, I know beer and detoxes aren’t supposed to be happy bedfellows but, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, beer is my carbohydrate of choice and I make allowances for it. Perhaps I’ll write about that another time.

I’m not a great one for making tasting notes but I decided to scribble down what I said or was thinking about the glass I’d had one evening the other week:

“Mmm, that’s much nicer than I remember. Tastes nice. Mmm. I can’t believe I haven’t had one of these for a while. Yeah, it’s all right! I’m actually enjoying this! Yeah.” 

Realizing these were quite subjective thoughts, I made the effort to try to pin down a few more useful ones:

“Quite thickish body, err.. ‘baby’ vinous body.. I think , mildly fruity port-like, deep dark chocolate to the end. Yes definitely the deep dark chocolate!”

The next time I tried it was just after a lunch and I tried to be more constructive by listing what I tasted:

“Smells of cherries, cherry and orange taste, then Uncle Tom’s bitter shandy from childhood Christmases, Coca-cola for a bit, finally turning to some chocolate, oh and now it’s vanilla ice-cream…. salt! “

I don’t think you’ll be seeing that on the back of a bottle in the near future, particularly as Uncle Tom is exactly that, my Uncle Tom!! I suppose I’m not really cut out for ever making serious tasting notes. I do, however, have a little more empathy with the likes of Oz Clarke when he starts drooling over the fact that the wine has a chewy quality like that of his grandmother’s knicker elastic. Not much though!

Katzenjammers Bierkeller and the Hop Exchange

6 Apr

My previous post on U Fleku and Antica Birreria Peroni, started me thinking. A while back, in order to re-live some Munich memories, a few of us decided to get out to a German bierkeller called Katzenjammers in Borough, South London. I hadn’t thought I would like it, as I’d seen the places near the river at Richmond and the Bavarian Beerhouse operations and not been impressed. However, this place had something going for it in that it was located under the Hop Exchange. For those of you who didn’t know the Hop Exchange is the building pictured on the top of this blog.

The Hop Exchange minus 2 floors

Despite no longer having its original glass roof, which was destroyed during one of the World Wars, I think this building cuts a fine figure curving around Southwark Street as it does. The Hop Exchange, as its name implies, was once the centre of commerce for the hop industry where hops could be steam-trained up from Kent and people could trade in hops under the natural light entering from above. It is missing its top two floors now but it is a lucky survivor, surviving bombs, fires and redevelopment, so far!

A few years ago, I was allowed inside during one of London’s Open House weekends, when all sorts of great places open their doors to the general public for two days. It is both functional and beautiful inside, at least to my mind and worth a visit if you get the chance.

Hop Exchange Balconies

While this area was the centre of London’s brewing industry, it’s now a great centre for food, with Borough Market next door. The Hop Exchange itself has been converted into office space but it does let itself out for functions.

However, the beer connection hasn’t been totally lost, which is where Katzenjammers comes in, located as it is in the basement. The vaulted basement ceiling lends an air of authenticity to the German style beer and food hall. The oompah band, so irritating in Prague, doen’t get in your face and plays such covers as ‘I should be so lucky’ by Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up.’ It’s quite possible that I imagined the Rick Astley song but I’m sticking with the story, it sounds better.

Unfortunately, it was too busy to get a table for food so I didn’t get to try the Schweinefleisch und Bierentopf, which by all accounts is a ‘hearty pork and dark wheatbeer stew’! On the plus side, I was able to opt out of drinking out of a stein and get some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (a-love-it-or-hate-it smoked sausage-smelling smoked beer from Bamberg)  from the tap.  It was a busy Friday night and I think I might go there again, only earlier or on another day, I want that Swine flesh!!!!

What’s up doc?

6 Apr

Some time back when I was travelling in the Andes I put this in my mouth and swallowed it.

Cuy

This is an Andean Guinea Pig which has been traditionally baked in a hot oven on a hot rock of some description. They go by the name of cuy. This particular cuy was consumed on a balcony overlooking the colonial-style main square in the Peruvian town of Arequipa. People in the Andes are thought to have first domesticated these animals some 5000 years ago and not because they are cute and furry. They were domesticated to provide food. When I was trekking through the countryside in the Andes, there weren’t too many households where you didn’t see them being kept in outdoor enclosures for exactly that purpose.

I only ate the one cuy but that wasn’t because it was horrible, it was just a bit too much of an effort to eat for so little meat. You really need to get your hands greasy to get the meat of those little fragile bones. It did make me think about the meat we eat in the world though. If everyone in the world develops a taste for the same protein sources, beef, lamb and pork, where are we going to farm them all? On the area currently known as the Amazon rainforest perhaps? I might be stretching things there but you do get the point. It is a serious environmental issue.  One thing that puzzles me is why we don’t eat more of what is abundant near to where we live.

One such animal here, and I suspect in many countries around the world, is the rabbit. Often scoffed in the UK for being peasant food or more recently because they are cute little bunny-wunnies, these animals are a plentiful source of meat and very often a pest in the local habitat. They are also very, very cheap. You won’t be surprised to learn that I picked up 2 for £5 at a local farmers market recently. Eating them would seem to be a win-win situation. The meat is good, wild and there is certainly more on them than on the cuy that I ate.

They are a seasonal product and the rabbit season finishes at the end of February so I froze those last two before cooking them. Historical and traditional recipe books always have a few rabbit recipes in and amongst all the mutton recipes that also seem to have disappeared from modern tables so I decided to try a couple of new ones back to back  (almost) and see how they turned out.

The first was a fairly typical recipe with cider, tarragon and mushrooms. When it came down to it though I didn’t have any cider so I chopped some apple up and used some of my homemade oakleaf wine. I guessed this might come out a lot sweeter and a bit less refined than using a dry cider and I was correct. It was pretty tasty.

rabbit 1

The second recipe came from a torn out page of a recipe magazine and was called Craddock’s Hazlenut Picada. I’m guessing Craddock refers to Fanny Craddock, the legendary mad-as-a-lorry TV chef from the distant past, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I think this recipe could be Maltese in origin or perhaps Spanish but I’m not sure. Again let me know if you have any information. Anyway, I enjoyed this one too. It’s quite rich but I liked this recipe more. Then again that could be because I didn’t tinker with the recipe!!!!

Braised Rabbit with Mushrooms and Cider (Official Version)

Ingredients: 30g butter; oil; 4 rabbit portions; 4 small onions;  375g of quartered mushrooms; 300ml dry cider; parsley; tarragon; 300ml single cream

Method: Brown the rabbit in the butter and oil and remove; add onions to pan and stir until golden; add mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes; return the rabbit and add cider, parsley and tarragon, season and bring to boil; cover and cook at 160c/325F/gas 3 until rabbit is tender (90 minutes); remove rabbit and reduce sauce then add cream, season and garnish.

Craddock’s Rabbit with Hazlenut Picada

Ingredients: Rabbit; Olive oil; 4 tomatoes chopped; onion; garlic; parsley; 250ml white wine; thyme; celery; paprika; 75g hazlenuts toasted; garlic (I like a lot); a few strands of saffron; chopped red chilli peppers

Method: Put hazlenuts, 3-5 cloves garlic, saffron, chilli peppers and some oil into a blender and press ‘whizz’; In a pan fry onions and olive oil until translucent; add tomatoes, garlic and parsley and reduce until you get a thick sauce; brown rabbit pieces in another pan in some more oil; add rabbit to the reduced tomato sauce; add everything else except the sauce in the blender; cook the rabbit for 25-35 minutes until it is nicely cooked then remove from sauce; now add the contents of the blender to the tomato sauce and cook to the right consistency; pour over the rabbit pieces and drizzle a bit of olive oil and sprinkle some paprika over the top.

 

For my next mission, I will eat a squirrel. There are too many of the blighters running riot across this country. Again, a plentiful source of protein. Anyone know where I can eat it?

Olde English Fish Recipes

1 Apr

There’s no doubt travel makes you think about things. Not always at the time of travelling mind you, it is often many months or even years later that you look back on things and understand or appreciate them. Food is a fundamental thing in all cultures around the world and understanding what food is, was and could be in your own country was something that certainly came to me after travelling. While I grew up in a house with a very good cook, I was blissfully unaware of the fact until I flew the nest. Getting older and getting to know new cultures makes you ask questions and I took those questions back home with me. They’ve led me to many interesting discoveries and the other week I was reminded of a couple of historic fish recipes that I came across whilst looking through the history books which turned out well.

Whiting in Ale

This is a recipe from 1600s England. Whiting is a fish from the Cod family and there are several varieties apparently, but I only used the variety named …’Whiting’!

  • 3 chopped onions
  • 250ml brown ale
  • 250ml lighter ale ( I’m not sure this distinction was in the original recipe)
  • 30ml raisins
  • 1tsp mustard
  • 500g Whiting
  • breadcrumbs

Simmer the onions in the brown ale for 9-12 minutes before adding the lighter ale, the raisins and the mustard. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Put the fish in a dish, pour the onion sauce over it, cover and bake. Thicken sauce slightly with breadcrumbs before serving. Simple and tasty. (Adapt the quantities to the quantity of fish you have.)

Mackerel with Fennel and Mint

Mackerel is my favourite fish and is, luckily for me, available here most of the year. This is a regency recipe, which means  the second half of the 18th Century.

  • 4 Mackerel boned/butterflied
  • 1/2 fennel bulb finely chopped
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • loads of fresh mint chopped
  • 4 anchovies chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & black pepper

The fennel is fried in just under 20g of the butter and the breadcrumbs are added when the fennel is softened. Next the nutmeg, mint and seasoning are added and the whole thing is stirred. Slit the fish diagonally and fill the slits with the mixture and the  inside too. Grill under a hot grill.

Mash together the rest of the butter and the anchovies and put over the fish. Serve with more mint and lemon wedges.

Both dishes are remarkably simple and I’m surprised they didn’t catch on!

Pics to follow.

Cauliflower – Welcome Back!

31 Mar

It’s been a long time! I’ve always hated cauliflower cheese, which is how most people in the UK get fed cauliflower, and boiled or steamed cauliflower has always just left me reeling in wonder at why someone had gone to all that trouble of growing the thing in the first place.

Not so bad after all!!

I’d completely written off cauliflower as something that might just thicken a soup or be curried to death. Then a couple of years ago, I went to Morocco where I was given a simple dish of … cauliflower. I have no idea what they did to it but it must have been marinated in something and there was a subtle taste of cumin. Cauliflower grows well here and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to cook it over the years but I never once thought of just frying it!!!

By frying or stir-frying with some basic spices, you can ensure that it keeps its form much better and to my palate at least it brings out a real tasty nuttiness. A far cry from soggy white veg or being covered in a stodgy white sauce. This is so obvious I feel a bit stupid. I now feel like the football manager who bought a player pre-season only for him to get injured before the season started and who now sees the return of this player – “It’s like a new signing.” A new signing for the kitchen.

With all this in mind, I’m convinced that there is a way to make cauliflower cheese appetizing. This is my mission, and I choose to accept it!! No doubt I’ll get some more cauliflower in the veggie box in the next couple of weeks and I’ll report back on the results.

 

Spring = Free Food

27 Mar

In my back garden, French Tarragon grows and regrows in a raised bed that we call ‘Death Row’. Everything else seems to die there. It’s a classic herb and needs no attention whatsoever and I can pick it from now until November. You can’t say fairer than that.

Death Row Cell 1

A couple of years ago, I remember picking bags and bags of blackberries from outside Collier’s Wood Sainsbury’s while inside they were selling tiny little punnets at £3+ each. What was that about? OK that wasn’t spring but when I was picking I also noticed quite a bit of wild rocket still growing. I mention this because they are now happily spreading their seed around my garden. The bees love them, the other half loves them and I especially like the flowers put onto my salads, like nutty peppery sweets (which aren’t sweet!!??”!)

Rocket Flowers

Classic Apples #2 – Cox’s Orange Pippin

26 Mar

Everyone should know this desert apple. It’s popular and tasty and if you rattle it you can hear the seeds inside. I’ve chosen it because I have a small tree in my garden and this is how it looked at the weekend.

Apparently, Mr and Mrs Cox were responsible for this thing of beauty. Mr Cox was a Bermondsey brewer and a keen gardener who moved from London to the country to retire. The story goes that in 1825, Mrs Cox, his wife, was watching a particularly interesting bee working over some blossom on one of the apple trees and was so impressed that she marked the tree with a piece of ribbon. Her other half, took the apple pips from the apple his wife had marked and sowed them. Most of them died but two survived, one became the first Cox’s Orange Pippin and the other Cox’s Pomona. The tree didn’t become public until the 1840s and in 1857 this new upstart of an apple won first prize in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grand Fruit Exhibition, much to the dismay of the traditionalists of the time!

A good story and if it isn’t true then I don’t want to hear about it. The Coxs themselves never heard about the full success of their apple, as they died beforehand. Trees being trees don’t like to be rushed. I’m taking this information as 100% evidence that the bee on the blossom part was true. The original tree survived until a few years before the outbreak of World War I, when it succumbed to high winds.

It is very, very nice and is very ‘complex’. A word I don’t like which means it has a range of different flavours that you may pick out as you eat it. Each apple is an edible journey. I can’t remember ever having one of these from the supermarket because there always seems to be someone giving you spares from the trees in their gardens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare too well outside England so I’ll just have one on your behalf if you’re not from round these ‘ere paarts!!!!

 

 

Eel Pie and Mash

25 Mar

Anticipation had been swelling up inside since early morning. This day he would be finishing before time and he was now gazing beyond the lop-sided heads in front of him to the large, round, white clock face on the far wall. Five more minutes. Enough for five more conversations. Five more life-sapping conversations.

The clock grew slowly in size as conversations, including his, faded into the periphery. The second hand tocked and vibrated, tocked and vibrated and he willed the minute hand to force itself forward with a little more urgency. Both hands, however, were resolute, confidently carrying out their duties.

The phone was placed in its docking station and he tried to recall his last conversation. He could only remember that it was with a man and that he’d passed on some information from the computer screen in front of him. He logged off, despite knowing it was a minute early and that Mr. James was very keen to squeeze every last drop of work he could out of every possible employee. Only last week he had belittled a part-time student who had packed up a few minutes early, reducing her to tears while the rest of the office looked on impotently or shamelessly concentrated that little bit harder on their task in hand. It was best not to test Mr James. After all, nobody was here through choice and he was the only boss in London who referred to himself as Mister.

The clock drummed 12.30. He bolted up out of his chair, grabbed his mobile off his desk and marched off to get his coat. Time was up and Mr James couldn’t touch him now. He decided to take the stairs down to the street, to help shake off the morning tension. He would take the bus there, the 57 was regular. There was a lady at the bus stop and he smiled at her but not so much as to engage her. This was something he was doing for himself and nobody could penetrate his bubble today.

The 57 bus was on time and he gestured to the lady to board before him, careful not speak. The bus driver was looking directly ahead at something beyond the road in front of him and as the green light beeped the last person on board he systematically put the bus in motion, still staring at that very same thing. Looking around the bus it was a relief that there were no school children on board. There were seats available and he could have sat anywhere but he was too excited to sit, he needed to keep moving. He watched people get on and off the bus and noted how people tend to make a lot more fuss during the daytime, perhaps they had more time to.

So what could he expect? A mind-altering experience? One that would change they way he thought forever? Or maybe just a good time. The bus rolled on. It passed an old village hall-like structure where muslims dressed in white tunics spilled out onto the street chatting happily. It passed a large supermarket and crossed a small river.  A tube station came and went and finally it reached Tooting Broadway, always bustling, always lively.

The road he was looking for was opposite the market. He knew where this was so he weaved his way to the market entrance and looked across the street. There was the road. He skipped across between the slowing cars and leapt up onto the opposite kerb. Was this really the street? He couldn’t see anything of note down there. It was a street with a fading breed of shops along it, a cobblers here, an ironmongers there and a dirty less-than-trustworthy-looking lawyers office  further down. Perhaps, it was fitting after all. Perhaps this wasn’t the renaissance he’d expected. He strained to see where it was but it couldn’t be seen. He walked deliberately towards the end of the low parade and from the corner of his eye, he noticed something bright, luminous. It was star-shaped and there was another and there another. This was it. Two small frosted windows either side of a very narrow double door marked the entrance and now he could see that this inconspicuous shopfront peppered with pink, green and yellow luminous stars was what he had been reading about for so long. Trepidation arose in his stomach. He pushed the wooden doors and slowly stepped forward onto an old tiled floor.

The doors jerked themselves closed behind him. The back wall was tall and tiled. Newer tiles blended in with some older, classier ones croaking back to more prosperous times. Five narrow tables jutted out from the right hand wall and thin fixed benches accompanied them. He glanced left at an overweight lady in a gingham smock and hairnet holding a ladle and then back to the benches where an old man sat spooning white fluff into his mouth. Self-consciously, he stared up at the menu board to compose himself. The menu board was packed with choices but closer inspection revealed that these were not choices but variations – Pie, Pie and Mash, Eel Pie and Mash, Eel 2 Pie and Mash, Eel Pie Mash and Liquor. All mash is lumpy said the sign. The lady was staring at him, waiting. He ordered Jellied Eels, 1 Pie, Mash and Liquor with a mug of tea and the lady expertly whipped out a pale blue bowl and with her spatula span it round dolloping lumpy mash around its flat edges. Next she ladled chopped eels into the middle and covered it in gloopy liquor. Really? Was this it? She finished off by wedging a flat ground beef pie onto the mash. He took it, along with a spoon and squeezed himself onto one of the benches. This place was dying and he felt the slow death creep over him as he spooned the food into his mouth piece by piece, looking round at the very few people who had been coming here all their lives.

Refine it please

 

 

 

My own experience with a Pie and Mash shop was similar. I’d always wanted to go but when I went it was hard to enjoy. The main reason being that the food was disgusting!!  Don’t get me wrong, I love eels and I love pies but not these eels and not those pies. Now the place I went to had a faded charm but I did feel like I was eating in a hospice. Maybe this restaurant was particularly bad. I’m not surprised they are disappearing from London but I’m equally surprised nobody has thought of updating the concept. Working class food doesn’t have to be quite so nasty and there are plenty of things you can do with both eels and pies. 

Mr Whippy Beer – Japan

25 Mar

There are things I admire about the Japanese and things I don’t. This one has left me not knowing not which side of the fence to sit on. On one side, the uncynical enthusiasm towards new fun things is something refreshingly Japanese, especially if you come from a culture where ‘piss-taking’ is king (UK), but on the other this is the world’s greatest living food culture desecrating one of the world’s greatest living culinary products. I can’t see them doing this to sake. If this takes off I won’t know whether to be truly appalled and cry or laugh along and slap my thigh!

Kirin are adding an ice-cold foam head to the top of the beer they serve. As if Happoshu wasn’t sacrilege enough! The head is frozen beer crystals at -5 degrees. Adding a frozen head to the beer!!! We all know that the idea of having beer at extremely low temperatures is a nonsense, there is nothing to be tasted once you get past a certain temperature despite what the marketing men tell you. It begs the question, why then do people drink these beers? Surely a soft drink would be a better option or indeed a Mr Whippy ice-cream.

Videos here.

What do I do? Laugh or Cry?

Emergency Mussels and Saturday Breakfasts

24 Mar

We eat less than half of the mussels we ‘produce’ in this country, which tells me we should be eating more of them. The Marine Conservation Society also suggest they are slightly under-exploited. I’ve seen them all around the coast in the UK and have even picked some from the seashore in the South West. When I’ve searched for old English recipes with mussels they always seem to be an ingredient that is added to a stew or pie, and sometimes grilled. They are not always given centre stage and indeed have been called the poor man’s shellfish.

I didn’t have a whole lot at home yesterday but was able to pick up a bag of mussels on the way home for my dinner knowing that I didn’t have an awful lot of time before I had to go out again.  However, mussels are notoriously deceptive in that you always buy them thinking that they won’t take long to cook but you always forget about the de-bearding process. Mussels attach themselves to things with their beards. I’m quite pleased that humans don’t do the same.

Beards

When I got home and realized just how little food I had, I initially thought the worst. But mussels lend themselves to few ingredients so I went to the garden and pulled up a leek and took an apple out of the fruit bowl. I rinsed, chopped and fried the  leeks in only the water that still clung to its surface. I added the chopped apple and a little cayenne pepper for good luck. Next in was the some leftover homemade elderflower wine and then the mussels. Lid on. A few minutes later the mussels were ready and I stirred in a bit of cream and threw some herbs from the garden on it. Job done and very little washing up to do.

Mussels in a rush

I must have got the proportions in the sauce spot on because it was lovely. It was sweet but just fell short of overpowering the mussels and the cayenne pepper was just there in the background. To be honest, this was more luck than judgement. I trusted the force and it came through.

(Marine Conservation Society Website and Greenpeace’s take on sustainable fishing)

I love my Saturday morning breakfast. They invariably revolve around spinach or chard but this morning I did add something I’ve never had for breakfast before. Ox kidney. I do enjoy pigs kidneys but these ox kidneys were more brainlike in appearance and there was a smaller proportion of soft meat on them. Nevertheless, I sliced off the soft parts fried them in some butter with a portobello mushroom, added some rinsed spinach and allowed it all to wilt down before cracking an egg over the top and whisking it around to scramble it. It was quick and really enjoyable. I’m not sure I needed the egg but it was still nice. Not overcooking the kidney was extremely important, as it seems to be with all organs. Keep the difference in texture between the mushrooms and the kidney to a minimum, if you know what I’m getting at!

Roll on the day. It’s been glorious weather this week and today looks marvellous too. Fine day for a nice beer.