Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Eggnog (a.k.a. booze custard)

So, we moved house. We moved house, and it was utterly horrendous.

In the month's preceding the move, everyone took great pleasure in telling me how it would be the most stressful experience of my life. "Ha", I laughed in their faces, "you pussies obviously haven't done A LEVELS! Don't harsh my moving vibes, man!". I concluded, with joyful optimism, that they were mistaken, that they were all overreacting pessimists. Yes, of course I expected it to be exhausting. I expected the heart palpitations which came with spending more money than I've ever even seen. I expected to want to slam Ben's head against a wall repeatedly throughout the whole experience. And I expected that I would roll out the "I've actually got a curved spine" line more than once. That's all par for the course. But what I didn't expect was:

- That the woman who previously owned the house wouldn't actually move out of it on the day of completion, despite the whole legally binding contract thing
- That the woman who previously owned the house would leave it full of dirt and rubbish and a load of stuff her removal men 'forgot' to collect
- That all that stuff would still be sitting in my shed, waiting for her friend - who occasionally pops round to tell us when he can't come and collect it - to come and collect it
- That the woman who previously owned the house would leave the key to the side gate in the lock of the side gate and not tell us till three days later, by which time it had gone
- That the woman who previously owned the house apparently consumed nothing but fish for the 16 years she lived here and it would take two weeks to get the smell of mackerel out of the walls
- Spiders. So many spiders
- That the woman who previously owned the house would entirely fill the bins with the wrong stuff so the bin men wouldn't take it away and subsequently we've not had our rubbish picked up for 3 weeks.  And that someone would then steal our bin...

I don't think all those things happened when you moved house, did they?  No.

What with all that palaver going on, I am not feeling very Christmassy. This is a problem because I LOVE christmas. I feel that Professional Christmas Celebration might be my true calling in life, if only I had a big enough kitchen, adorable children and an extensive selection of craft materials.  But at the moment this is how Christmas is going down in our house.

Whilst I could pretend that my stepladder tree is me being terribly avant-garde, I am in fact quite distraught at the lack of spruce and sparkles in my life. I want to make my own wreath; I want to make a Christmas cake that nobody will eat; I want to have remembered to send my Dad in Cyprus a card before it's so late that it won't get there till Easter. To be honest I'd settle for having bought a single fucking present. But I've done none of that. Instead I've sanded and scrubbed and pained, I've looked at 7001 wallpaper samples, I've cleared out my garage and ended up crying in the middle of the street because it turns out my bike won't fit in my car and I have now broken my car. Home-ownership sucks festive balls.

So, to try and rectify all this unintentional bah-humbuggery, I invited my friend Ruby round last weekend for eggnog and Christmas films. To be honest I had no idea what I was letting myself in for as I'd never actually had eggnog before, but it sounded appropriate. Until that point, the thought of egg in a drink had conjured up images of protein shakes and hangover cures, but what the world had neglected to tell me is that eggnog is basically BOOZE CUSTARD. Why had I not realised this sooner? Well, I got drunk on pudding and it was the best day of my life.

Kirstie Allsop is going to have to watch her back from now on - as I am going to be fucking ON IT for Christmas 2013 - but for now, for this year, I am going to sit back and get sloshed on custard. 

Eggnog (serves 4)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup double cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cloves
BOOZE (I used about two shots of Dissarono as I'm a girl, but you could use brandy or rum, which I think is more traditional)
Sprinkling of grated nutmeg

Whisk your egg yolks together with the sugar, till glossy and sticky, and put to one side. In a saucepan heat the milk, cream, cinnamon and cloves until it is just about to boil. Remove from the heat, and gradually pour onto the eggs, whisking as you go. Don't add too much at a time, or the eggs may scramble. Then return the mix to the heat for a couple of minutes to heat through again.  At this point the bastard stuff will probably curdle - because that's what custard does - but do not fear, just give it quick whizz in a blender (remember to remove the cloves) and it should be fine. Turn off the heat again and add booze, to your taste. Sprinkle on a little nutmeg with each serving. I believe the done thing is to then chill it and consume cold, but that requires some degree of patience....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Review: The Unthank Supper Club

You know the bit in Withnail and I where Withnail wakes up in the car and pronounces, "I feel like a pig shat in my head"?  Yeah. That. 

It's 7.30am on a Saturday (an entirely pointless hour, unless you have children), I've been awake for an hour - with the room feeling like the Titanic post-iceberg - and I've just eaten half a loaf of bread and butter to try and make myself feel less swirly. Ben - who is not troubled by the affliction of hangover insomnia - is still passed out upstairs, after elbowing me in the face at regular intervals throughout the night, and my companions for the morning are the Gilmore Girls.

Who's fault is my current state? You might say it's mine, for drinking all of the fucking wine, but I am holding on to the belief that it is entirely down to the Unthank Supper Club.

>It is now three weeks later. I had to give up after the above two paragraphs, as everything started to jump about the page. And then I moved house, which kind of got in the way<

You're all familiar with the concept of a supper club, yes? Well, just in case (before I go to teach my grandmother to suck some eggs) I'll give you a quick low-down. The idea is that someone (preferably with reasonable cooking skills) opens the doors of their home to paying guests and cooks them a lovely dinner, as an alternative to an expensive trip to a restaurant. You pay a fixed price, you bring your own booze, and it's generally a very relaxed, cosy affair.

I had only been to one supper club before this.  And in fact, whilst that called itself a supper club, it turned the concept completely upside down by actually being in the private room of a restaurant.  It was also one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, after I found myself sat next to the editor of Delicious magazine, totally starstruck.  When asked what my favourite thing to cook was I replied, dumbstruck, "Er, sausage and mash?".  SAUSAGE AND FUCKING MASH.  She said she'd contact me about a feature for the magazine.  She never did, obviously.

Anyway, the USC is more of your traditional super club affair, but it is by no means basic or unprofessional.  The club is the project of husband and wife, Clarissa and Yusuf (Yusuf is a professional chef and Clarissa a very good home cook), whom I stumbled upon through the glorious internet. I'd been googling Norwich supper clubs, as a bit of research, and it turns out they are the only one. Clarissa and I ended up getting in touch through twitter, then ended up in the pub together, and from there on we've been nattering away about utter nonsense and helping each other argue with our other halves.

So that probably makes me a bias reviewer, right?  Not really. I'm a blunt bastard, so I'd probably tell them if I hated it, but that makes it all the more of a relief that it was great. And I got fantastically sloshed, which is always a positive, but I can't say it has been entirely helpful to the reviewing process. I have always thought that I would quite like to be a restaurant critic (wouldn't we all), but I have now realised the major downfall - you have to be relatively sober if you want to be able to comment efficiently. There are large sections of the evening which will be lost to me forever. Particularly the row that Ben and I had on the way home and what the hell it was about.  And also someone's hilarious comment about custard, which I was determined to commit to memory, but nope, poof, gone.

The USC takes place at the beautiful, grand house of one of Clarissa's friends.  It's a monthly affair, and they squeeze in about 25 people on a long banqueting table. £30, 4 courses (plus truffles, but C was quite drunk herself by this point and left them on top of the piano, which meant we got to eat them when everyone else had left) and you bring your own booze. Clarissa goes to great pains before the evening to reassure everyone that the club it is NOTHING to do with swinging, and I'm happy to report that nobody tried to touch me inappropriately (I left my car keys at home just in case).

So what did we eat? For an amuse-bouche (I LOVE SAYING AMUSE-BOUCHE) we had cauliflower three ways with charred apple. Unfortunately I can only remember two of the ways - but it was basically a cauliflower soup with some shavings of raw cauliflower and toasty apple. Yum yum, lovely. A delicate little portion, well seasoned and balanced flavours, with a garnish of sorrel, which C had gone and foraged that morning (yeah, it's OK, I gave her a stern look for being so bloody wholesome and annoying), and she severely berated anyone who left it. 

Next we had a starter of citrus cured smoked salmon with shallot and fennel ceviche. I am not the biggest fan of smoked salmon, but I wolfed this down in about ten seconds. The sharpness and crunch of the ceviche balanced out the richness of the salmon, and again the portion size was just right, as I was still ready to eat a horse by the time the main came.

But it wasn't horse, it was lamb. With salt-baked celeriac, celeriac puree, greens and a creamy sauce.  I must admit things got a bit hazy by this point, but I KNOW it was good. Lamb was perfectly cooked, and there were pureed carbs, which are basically my favourite thing.  I think it was one of those occasions where I ate the fat and gristle, because I have no class. 

(I think one of those blobs may be accidental, Yusuf?)

Pudding was a treacle tart with creme anglaise (posh custard to you and me). The tart was really fucking good.  You can tell I liked it, as I forgot to take a photo until I'd nearly finished it. Clarissa came over and told us how it wasn't a traditional treacle tart, as it had panko breadcrumbs on top. Ben asked what the difference between regular and panko breadcrumbs was, and together we laughed in his face at his culinary ineptitude (whilst I desperately hoped that Clarissa would explain as I didn't have a clue either). They're Japanese apparently.

The only thing which we didn't like was a little shard of nut brittle with the pudding.  It was a bit challenging for the ol' fillings and I think it had been slightly over-caramelised.  I had to come up with one criticism, otherwise Clarissa and Yusuf might get too big for their boots and move somewhere trendy to open a restaurant or something. But that's it, that's all I can come up with. 

Asides from the excellent food you can also expect such party tricks as a dog who eats wine corks and has been known to pick-pocket the guests, and Clarissa's ability to tell you your exact clothing measurements with a brief glance at you. She used to be a costume designer and can also tell you impressive celebrity stories. She wouldn't give me Alan Davies' number though, which was most disappointing.

So, in conclusion (I remember when writing school essays they always said you couldn't write 'in conclusion' in your conclusion, but I'm not in school now, so in your face, teachers), I had a wonderful time and will definitely be returning. I recommend googling supper clubs in your area, or checking this one out if you're a Norwich bod. Yeah, there is an initial moment of awkwardness with all the 'so what do you do?'s and trying to work out who you're sitting next to, but one glass of wine in and you're swell. It's cheap, it's sociable, and it's supporting good people doing good things locally. Go, google, now. 

For more details on the Unthank Supper Club, you can visit their blog or follow them on twitter.

Monday, 3 December 2012


You might have noticed it's a bit quiet around here.  Actually you might not have noticed, you might think this is entirely in-keeping with the sporadic nature of Sod Nigella, in which case....pfffft, that's just the sort of lazy wild, free-living soul I am.

Anyway, my excuse is that we've moved house and those helpful little bastards at BT have said the earliest they can install my broadband is 7th January.....HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Kill me.

I am working from the pub this week - a challenge on every level - so hopefully I'll slip in a post from here.  In the meantime, my life looks like this, pity me.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Scandi spiced buns

So here is the promised buns post from last week, which I delayed due to a saturation of blog-based bun recipes at the time. But actually this works out terribly well, as it coincides with the return of the wonderful Forbrydelsen (The Killing) to our screens on Saturday.  I should make out that that was the plan all along, but I fear you are too clever to fall for that.

It's incredibly trendy to be Scandinavian at the moment. I can't tell you exactly why.  Perhaps it's because we all became suddenly obsessed by Michelin starred restaurants, and it was brought to our attention that one of the most intriguing was not in London or New York, but in fact tucked away in Denmark. Or maybe it's thanks to Ryan Air, who introduced 1p flights to places we'd not previously bothered with, and all came back and proclaimed them to be awesome. Or Wallander, maybe it's Wallander.  I couldn't tell you, but me and my Sarah Lund jumper are right on board this bandwagon. 

The truth is I've never actually been.  This is a fact which saddens me greatly - and one which I intend to rectify as soon as this goddamn house move is over and I have some pennies to my name - but regardless, I am still confident that it is probably my spiritual home.  I base this wild assumption on the following (sound the generalisation klaxon):
1. From what I can tell it shits all over us in terms of education, health care, and general political common sense
2. They make totally amazing crime dramas, largely featuring kick-ass (high on the autistic spectrum) female leads
3. Scandinavians come with an inbuilt good taste in home furnishings, as standard
4. They have wolves
6. People seem to have a genuine interest in decent, wholesome home cooking, balanced with an understanding for the need of a lardy treat every once in a while. The most prolific of which: The Bun.

Every Scandinavian I have met has been so impossibly nice that it is very difficult to ever imagine them going to war with one another, but if they ever did then I'd say there's a high chance that it'd be over buns.  Browse a few recipes for these chaps online and you will find 1000 variations, not just between countries, but within them.  It's like ragu recipes in Italy or BBQ sauce recipes in Texas; no two are the same and each one is adamant that it is THE recipe.  Us Brits might be a pain in the arse in many ways, but at least we largely agree on how to make a Victoria sponge.

So in the name of diplomacy - and acknowledgement that this recipe is a complete bastardisation of what several countries hold dear - these buns of mine (*ahem*) are being loosely termed as 'Scandi' as opposed to Norwegian/Danish/Swedish. I have also gone for 'spiced' rather than simply cinnamon, as I've thrown all fucking sorts in there. 

This isn't the quickest of recipes - you kind of need to commit to being in for the day - but it's all in stages, which means you have convenient breaks for episodes of The Walking Dead*/your favourite drama.  I should also point out that I take zero responsibility for what these are going to do to whatever diet you are on.  I ate seven in the space of an hour and expanded like the proverbial yeast dough.  But hey, it's winter, we all need some padding.

*My favourite thing about the Walking Dead is when Andrew Lincoln talks to Morgan on the walkie talkie and I can pretend he is talking to me.  What? Shut up.

Scandi spiced buns (makes about 40 small)
For the dough
250ml whole milk
7g sachet of dried yeast
1 egg, beaten
500g strong white bread flour (plus a bit more for kneading and rolling)
100g salted butter
80g caster sugar
Ground cardamom (you can leave this out if you don't like it, but I used the ground seeds of about ten pods)

For the filling
100g butter, very soft
50g soft brown sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground all spice
1 egg, beaten

So, let's start with the dough. In a pan, heat your milk until it is hot but not boiling (do not run off upstairs to the loo, as milk has a habit of boiling up and very quickly becoming a dairy based volcano, the evidence of which may or may not still be visible on my hob). Remove from the heat and then add in the butter, and leave to cool down a bit. 

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and cardamom.  Gradually pour in your milk mix, and start bringing together the dough with your hands.  Things will get messy.  About half way through add your egg (you don't want to add it too early as the warm milk might turn it to scramble).  Keep working away until all the milk is added, it will be quite sticky but you should be able to gather it together in a rough lump to turn out onto a floured surface (add more flour if it really is too sticky to handle).  Then it's time to knead - you've seen how they do that on the TV, right?  Knead away for a good few mins, get some of that pent-up aggression out, and you should end up with a nice ball or slightly shiny, springy dough.  Or, if you're a lazy son of a gun like me, fire up your Kenwood Chef and let the dough hook do the work for a couple of minutes, and hopefully end up with the same result. 

Cover with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm and dry for at least an hour.  This is a perfect opportunity for an episode of The Walking Dead.  Preferably one which has you on the edge of your seat with tension and graphic violence, as apparently watching scary things burns of loads of calories and you're gonna need that leeway for later. 

Check on your dough after an hour, you want it to have doubled in size. If it's not quite there, watch another episode.  If it's done nothing at all then you might have a dud packet of yeast, for which there is no remedy I'm afraid.

At some point whilst the dough is rising, make your filling.  Mix the butter with the spices and sugar, until you have a spreadable paste, as below. The smell should make your knees buckle with festive sentimentality.

Turn out your dough and give it another quick kneading.  Then split into four and place three bits back in the bowl, under the cloth.  One by one, roll each ball of dough out into a rough rectangle shape, and spread with a generous helping of the spiced butter.  You could also sprinkle on some raisins or sultanas, if you're that way inclined.

Then roll it up into a sausage shape.

And slice into rounds, about 2-3cm thick.

Position these in a greased dish or tin, with a bit of space between as they will double in size. I wanted mine to all bake together in a big clump, but if you want them all separate then leave even more space.

Cover the dish and leave for another half an hour somewhere warm (I sat them on top of the oven, which was heating up). This isn't quite long enough for a Walking Dead episode, so I would recommend Modern Family as more jovial alternative.  Although watching this is bittersweet, as I increasingly notice the similarities between Ben and I, and Mitchell and Cameron, the gay couple.

See, they've swelled up again, isn't yeast clever? Now give them a brush of the beaten egg and sprinkle with a bit more sugar if you like.

Now it's time to bake. Gas mark 5, for about 10 mins. They're done when they've gone a nice golden colour and your house smells of actual heaven (see, gay couple).

I got a bit distracted by one of the episodes of something and mine went a bit too golden. One of them also seems to have prolapsed.

These ones came out a bit better. 

Best eaten warm, but even I am beyond eating 40 before they cool.  For those that cool, keep them in an air tight container.  I iced mine with a maple drizzle (mix maple syrup and icing sugar into a runny icing).  You can also freeze them very well, I believe, but mine didn't make it that far.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Black Angel spaghetti, à la Jamie

I was going to do you a post today on cinnamon buns, but it seems that everyone and their second cousin thrice removed was making cinnamon buns this weekend, and evidently you don't need my help.  That usually wouldn't make any difference to me, but a blog that I very much enjoy (which essentially is a better written, more popular version of this one - and the writer happens to be married to Giles Coren, so she wins all the prizes) beat me to it by posting a recipe for them yesterday, so I'll come back to them in a few days when the idea seems wildly original again.

Anyway, moving on to a more important issue...
...I just don't know how I feel about Jamie Oliver.

This ambivalence may not seem like a big deal to you, and in the grand scheme of things I suppose it's not.  First I should probably address my inability to do anything till the last minute, or my fear of peaches, or the relationship my cat seems to be pursuing with my dressing gown, but this Jamie Oliver thing is taking up plenty of space in my brain. 

On the one hand there is good Jamie Oliver.  Good Jamie Oliver showed us that our children (by that I mean your children, I don't have any of the blighters) were eating pig swill for lunch and that nobody gave  a shit.  I have no doubt that there was a ginormous team behind him doing the graft, but nobody else was out there making a fuss about it. And one way or another it worked, a bit.  Good Jamie also gave jobs to struggling adolescents and at the same time made a decent restaurant out of it.  And he's got people back in the kitchen, given them unintimidating recipes to cook and showed that it needn't take forever to give your family something other than KFC.  AND it needn't be Mum doing all that.

Well done Jamie. He's a nice chap, isn't he?

But then there is bad Jamie Oliver. Jamie who made Toploader famous.  Jamie the brand. Or 'JME', to be more accurate, because those two extra vowels were apparently too much for the British public to comprehend.  You seemingly cannot buy anything these days without there being a Jamie Oliver version.  Want some oil? Here! This one's been pressed by the feet of Jamie's loving wife and children! Want to make a salad dressing with that oil? Here! Throw away that old jar and get a Flavour Shaker (yes it looks uncannily like a jar, but it's totally different)! Want to grow some salad to dress with that? Here! You can fertilise it with Jamie's own shit!


Nowhere does the Jamie Brand manifest itself more obnoxiously than at Jamie's Italian. One of which sprung up in Norwich about six months ago, and it has been solidly booked ever since by people who are too scared to go anywhere that isn't scripted.  I have, for my hypocritical sins, ended up there twice since it's been open; once to take advantage of a voucher (which OF COURSE turned out not to be valid at that particular time) and once through pure lack of anywhere else to eat in Norwich on a Sunday. And I will undoubtedly end up there again, but that does not mean I won't whinge about it.

Now I should be clear that I am not adverse to a chain restaurant. I will generally avoid them if there's an alternative, BUT, if a restaurant does something good then there's no reason it shouldn't be successful. That's how it's meant to work.  I can, however, think of about three chain restaurants who actually deserve their success and unfortunately Jamie's Italian isn't one of them, as far as I'm concerned. Below are my most pressing annoyances, because we all like a breakdown.

1. The menu is worded for gullible idiots. You know, all that over detailed crap which makes dishes sound so quaint and wholesome, like Jamie gave birth to it that very morning, when in fact it is just a friggin carbonara.  The one which ground my gears more than anything on my trip was the inclusion of 'Melkam farm (might not have been Melkham, they've taken it down now, but it was something like that) asparagus' on the autumn menu - trying to make it sound locally grown.  Well, Melkham farm would have to be in Kenya to be growing asparagus at this time of year. Also, making a point of using a free-range egg in a dish of turkey which has no mention of being free-range....good one.

2. This is a list of the words that staff apparently have to use to describe the dishes.  I don't think it needs further comment.

3. 'Posh Chips'?, 'Funky chips'? Fuck off.

3. The platters. The fucking platters.  Served precariously balanced between two tins of imported, retro tomatoes. There is absolutely no practical or logical reason for this, unless one of the staff has a condition whereby they will spontaneously combust if they are not within three feet of something pretentious.  FYI, Jamie, everyone hates your platters.

4. On greeting you, the staff will ask, "have you been to a Jamie's before?", to which the correct response is, "No, thankfully, but I have been to a restaurant before and this looks a bit like one of those, so I think I'll catch on pretty quick".

5. The interior. I dream one day to be able to afford a feature wall of William Morris.  Jamie has decided to rub my dreams right in my face by covering every feasible surface in Morris.  That is apart from the stairwell which, Jamie - being the hip young dude that he is - has commission some youngster to spunk graffiti all over, depicting the things we apparently love about Norwich; namely mustard and Alan Partridge.  William is not best pleased, Jamie, he'll see you on the other side.

6. Expensive, too much stuff on the menu, grumble grumble, ETC. 

I DID really like their toilets though.  And very friendly staff.  Credit where it's due and all that.

With all that in mind, it pains me to admit that the food isn't that bad.  Not in a mind blowing way, but in a, 'That's a good idea, why didn't I think to make that at home?' kind of way. Which is where this dish came from.  I had something similar last time I was there and I liked it.  I liked it so much that I wanted to eat more than 4 mouthfuls of it for £8, so I set to work.  And this is pretty close. I won't tell you how many places I had to go to to find squid ink spaghetti, but if you are a Norwich resident then I will save you the trouble and tell you the result: Clarke and Ravenscroft, on St Gregory's Alley - they also do a cracking sarnie.

Seafood spaghetti (for 2)
200g squid ink spaghetti (or any pasta will do, if you're less of a ponce, but it DOES look pretty)
Couple of handfuls of seafood - at Jamie's they used scallops, I used half a bag of Waitrose frozen seafood(defrosted), because I'm keeping it real. Just prawns or just mussels would work equally well.
200g cherry tomatoes (or half a tin)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 glass white wine
250ml fish stock (if you were Jamie you would have this from boiling the shells of langoustine and heads of sea bass, but I used a knorr stock cube, FYI)
4 anchovies
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
Handful parsley, roughly chopped
Few good slugs of oil

In a pan, fry your garlic, anchovies and chilli, until the anchovies have broken down.  Then throw in the tomatoes, until they are starting to wilt. Then the tomato puree, then the wine and stock. And bubble, for about 20 minutes or so, until it has reduced to about half. If it reduces too much and becomes thick or is starting to stick then add more stock - you want quite a thin sauce. The skins of the tomatoes might float to the top, so fish them out if you're bothered, but it's going to get pureed anyway. 

Have a taste, make sure the seasoning and spice is good and adjust if necessary.  It will be quite rich, as you're reducing it to a small amount, so bear that in mind.  If happy, blitz with the blender, add a good slug of oil.  What you want is quite a thin, light sauce, which will coat the spaghetti rather than cover it like a normal tomato sauce.  Again, if too thick add some more stock.  Keep to the side on a low low heat.

Meanwhile cook your pasta and your seafood.  Assuming your seafood isn't frozen it'll only need a few minutes in a hot frying pan with a bit of oil.

Once all done give the spaghetti another good slug of oil, then plate up, topped with a spoonful of sauce, your seafood and a scattering of capers and parsley. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Breaking Bad cake for Rachel Boot

Last weekend, my good friend, Rachel Boot, turned 30.  This whole 'turning 30' phenomena is picking off my friends one-by-one at the moment, and it's coming for me in the not too distant future.  But you know what? I'm down with it.  I can take it.  I've been prematurely middle-aged for the last ten years so I may as well have the digits to correspond. 

And if you do have to deal with the big Three Zero, then you deserve to make a big fucking fuss about it; see all the people you like, drink till you don't recognise them, and hope that one of your awesome friends makes you a cake. OH HELLO, OVER HERE, THAT WAS ME!  And by the time the candle on said cake was lit I had drunk so much that I spent the rest of the time shouting, "DO YOU GET WHAT IT IS, DO YOU GET IT, DO YOU GET ITTTT???".

Not that you care - you want me to get to the cake, I know - but as it happens I had a wonderful time at the party. I got to have a weekend back in civilised London, drank a lot of stuff that I don't even remember, and nattered and screeched in the faces of lots of people I love. AND I drove to London.  I know you're all terribly clever and probably do that every day or something, but I was quite impressed with myself.  I did some massive roundabouts and didn't cry and everything.

So, how does one choose a theme for someone's 30th birthday cake?  Well, during the course of our friendship I've come to learn that Rachel Boot regards all of the below very highly:

1. Pugs
2. The phrase, "I know, right?"
3. Zombie apocalypses
4. The all consuming hatred of Tim Lovejoy
5. Pork products
6. Breaking Bad

Well I've already done option 1, option 3 isn't particularly appetising, and I wouldn't even know where to start with 2, 4 or 5, so I went for option 6.  Rachel Boot loves Breaking Bad as much as I do.  In fact she loves it more than I do, as she caught onto it in good time, unlike me, who catches onto everything late (see also: denim shirts, twitter, top-knots, BLOGGING).  So it was an obvious cake theme, albeit one which I came to severely regret when I was boiling molten sugar at half past ten on a Thursday evening.

If you haven't ever seen Breaking Bad then a) you need to take a long, hard look at your life and b) I'm sorry, this cake will make absolutely no sense. But seriously, hop to it, it's great, and Jesse gets hotter in every series despite being an intermittent meth head.

The most important element of a Breaking Bad cake is that you need to get some blue crystal meth in there.  If you don't then you might as well make a My Little Pony cake. It's not easy, you'll probably burn yourself and ruin your saucepans, but you just need to do it.

What you need is a solution of one part water, one part caster sugar (I used 2 cups of each for this).  Put this in a high sided pan, add food colouring, and boil to buggery.  You want it to get to boiling point quite slowly, but then keep it going till it gets hotter and hotter and bubblier and bubblier, making sure it doesn't start to catch and go golden coloured. It'll take about 10-15 minutes to get it to the state you want, which is basically a pan of glossy, crazy bubbles. A thermometer helps - you want to get it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit - but I sort of melted mine and had to freestyle. Corn syrup also apparently helps, but I'm English and don't really know what that is or have a supply of it in my pantry, but if you do then google 'hard candy' to find a recipe which incorporates it.

This is what you want your 'meth' to look like. Glossy bubbles, see? If you're not sure if it's hot enough then drop a little on a plate and see if it hardens. 

Once it's there you need to pour out onto a greased sheet of baking paper (take a piece of kitchen towel, dab it with a bit of vegetable oil, then give the sheet a rub), set in a baking tray. 

Give it about an hour to set and cool, it should be like boiled sweets, then SMASH IT UP. If it is still sticky then I'm afraid you didn't get it hot enough and there's not much to be done about it.  The lack of the corn syrup means it might go sort of hazy, and lose it's glassiness, so use it right away. I added some blue edible glitter as well, to up the sparkle.

The lettering on the cake is based on the titles of the show, which in turn is based on the periodic table, duh.  The letters Ra, helpfully fit with Radon, but there is unfortunately no element for which the symbol is Bo.  In this case I favoured the aesthetics over the facts.  And obviously the atomic numbers for both are not thirty, but those are the current atomic numbers for Miss Rachel Boot. 

It's not so easy to tell you how to do the lettering, but basically it's all the work of firm icing, stencils and colouring.  I use (click for links) this flower paste, these gel colours and these letter presses.  So you press your letters, then simply cut out a rectangle of black and two squares of green.  Do them the night before, to give them time to firm-up. To stick the pieces together just dab a bit of water on the back and position.

Then the cake.  Well that's just a basic sponge with buttercream, which I firmly believe everyone can achieve.  To prove this I invited my colleague Emily, a self-confessed baking novice, round this week (on the basis of a work matter, of course) and showed her how.  And she pulled off a blinder.  Look at her proud face.

So your basic sponge recipe, which you can multiply as appropriate (this was an 8 egg sponge), is:
1 free-range egg
2oz plain flour
2oz stork
2oz golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all together well and bake in a greased tin, checking after the first 20 mins, then every ten minutes until it's done (at which point you should be able to insert and remove a skewer, without any mix sticking to it).  For a cake of this size you'll need a rectangular tin, about 12"x8" and it'll take about 40 minutes.

The rule for buttercream is one part unsalted butter, two parts icing sugar, then a tbsp at a time of milk until you've reached the desired consistency.  In this case, 500g icing sugar (sifted), 250g of very soft butter and 4 tbsp milk.  Put all your ingredients in your mixer until done.  Use a palette knife to apply to the cake - do it gently, so you don't end up with crumbs in the icing. If there are a lot of crumbs then just apply a thin layer, then put in the fridge till firmed, then apply another layer on top and the crumbs should be covered.

Once the cake is iced, add your lettering to the top, then scatter the 'meth' around the edge.  Then....slice, eat and get off your tits on E numbers.

So, happy 30th, Rachel Boot.  I'm sure you'll agree that by using a 2 year old photo I'm doing both of us a favour.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chicken stew with thyme dumplings

Think of this dish as a culinary Shrek; what it lacks in looks it makes up for with other charms. Tasty, delicious charms.

Apologies that posts are a bit here and there at the moment. As I have previously mentioned we are moving house very soon and it's thrown things somewhat off kilter. Not that I've put a single thing in a cardboard box yet, but there is lots of reading of important paperwork (looking at home furnishings on Etsy) and phone calls to builders (looking at home furnishings on Etsy) and YAWWWWWWWN, I JUST WANT TO DECORATE AND BUY PRETTY THINGS.  Did you know that there are still places in the world where your local church can demand you pay for their roof repairs? Well apparently they chuffing well can and we're moving to one of those places. This little heathen can barely afford repairs to her own house, thank you very much, let alone The House of God. These are the sorts of treats your solicitor sends you when you're buying a house.

So cooking has reduced to basic sustenance and a dependence on all things stewy, carby and comforting around here.  In my opinion, Chicken stew is just the epitome of Autumn cosiness.  You may disagree with me, but I won't listen. For me it conjures the same feelings as tomato soup when you're feeling a bit poorly, or fish and chips at the seaside when it's started to rain and you're all hiding in the car. And dumplings, holy hell, they're the food of lardy Kings, I tell you.

This was also a splendid opportunity to use the last of my meagre balcony crop: round carrots! Yes, they are meant to be round. Heritage variety, innit.

Tune in later this week, when I will be showing you how to make your very own (sugar) blue crystal meth. You all watch Breaking Bad, right? Let's hope so, otherwise shit's gonna get weird for you.

Chicken stew with dumplings (for two)
Two pieces of chicken per person (leg or thigh)
Slosh of oil
8 shallots
4 med carrots
4 cloves garlic
Sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
Glass of white wine
Pint chicken stock

For dumplings
50g suet
100g self-raising flour
1tsp thyme leaves

Brown your chicken off in the oil, in a heavy casserole dish. Once coloured, remove from the pan, then add in your shallots and garlic until softened. Return the chicken to the pan and add in the wine. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the stock, rosemary and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, make your dumplings. Mix the flour, suet, seasoning and thyme and add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a sticky dough. Separate into dumplings and set to one side, on a floured surface.

Cook your stew for about an hour (check every 20 mins or so and add more stock if needed), till the stock has reduced to a nice gravy and the chicken is starting to come away from the bone. Add in your carrots and cook for another 10 mins, then dot the dumplings around the surface and cook for another 5 mins, until they have swelled up.

Serve with veg.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks

Man have I got a hunger on me at the moment.  I think it's the change of the seasons. I just want to scoff scoff scoff. A biscuit here, a chunk of cheese there, half a jar of peanut butter between emails. My body is obviously trying to get a bit of lard on to see me through the winter months, which isn't necessarily required.

As previously discussed, I think Autumn is bloody excellent, but I'm sure September was unusually cold this year.  October is going the same way.  We've got the central heating on already, which according to Twitter is a major faux pas. Apparently if you don't turn the central heating on till November it makes you a better person and harder than Chuck Norris.  I don't care, our tough Canadian neighbours - who are used to proper snow - have turned theirs on, so it's OK.

Mr Mangrove is getting totally down with the whole wrapping-up warm thing. Have you ever seen a more sarcastic looking feline? He fits in well around here.

When I get properly ravenous, I think the only thing which can satisfy me (does that sound rude? Never mind, if it gets me a few more google hits....) is mashed potato.  Bloody love the stuff - Bodger and Badger have nothing on me.  Preferably served with a hunk of meat.  Roast chicken, sausages, pork chops, they're are all adequate adversaries, but nothing can be described as a 'hunk' quite like a lamb shank. It's a cheap cut, it's as big as your fist (or bigger, if you have tiny Beadle hands like me) and, if it takes your fancy, you can grab it in-hand, gnaw from the bone and declare yourself Henry VIII.  Of course, I didn't do that....definitely not.....V childish. 

So this certainly sorted me out: slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks, with a good old dollop (dollop isn't the most appealing adjective is it? oh well) of mash. The photo at the top of the page is my attempt at cookbook-ish, whilst the below is the real life scenario; plate in lap, pyjamas on, excessive gravy, portion of greens to balance things out. That's how autumn should be.

Slow-cooked balsamic lamb shanks

3 lambs shanks (ours just happened to come in a pack of three, so we had left-overs)
About 150g flour
Slug of olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic
Half a bottle of red wine
120ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp juniper berries (about 5 or 6 berries)
2 bay leafs
A couple of sprigs of rosemary

Mix a good few pinches of salt and pepper into the flour in a bowl.  Dip in your lamb shanks, until all the flesh has a light coating of the flour.  In a good sized casserole dish (which fits your shanks fairly  snugly) or heavy pan, heat your oil, then brown off the lamb shanks one by one. 

Fry your onions, until soft, then add in the garlic cloves and give it another minute.  Return the lamb to the pan, then add the remaining ingredients. The shanks should be about half covered by the liquid, so add a bit of water if needs be (or more wine, if you're feeling extravagant).

Put the casserole dish in the oven at gas mark 4. Then, sorry, but you've got three hours to wait. It'll give you time to peel ten tonnes of potatoes and make mashed potato mountain. Or you could read a book, or dick around on instagram, or annoy the cat. I'm pretty sure I did all of these things.

Every 30 mins or so, check how things are going. Baste and turn the meat, add more liquid if needed.  You'll know it's done when the meat is starting to fall off the bone and the juices have reduced/thickened.  Have a taste and see if it needs more seasoning, or watering down a bit. Then devour.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chicken liver, parsley and walnut salad with warm mustard vinaigrette

Bit poncy sounding eh? Well I went to Waitrose this week, so I've gone up in the world.

I bloody love that place. I think I've got a serious problem (but they say the first step of addressing a problem is admitting it, so IN YOUR FACE, PROBLEM).  For the first year of living in Norfolk I'd managed to keep its location secret from myself - refusing to google the exact spot - but then, the other day, I came across it by accident.  UH OH.  Immediately I started itching for their fine selection of cured meats, jovial customer service and easy car parking. Turns out it's right on my way home from our Cambridge office - "Splendid", says my bank manager!

I fell off the Waitrose wagon and I fell off it hard.  In I turn, into a car parking space which doesn't make me embarrass myself.  I cruise through the door, smiling at all the pleasant, non-harassed looking people, and I thank the lords that I am wearing a lanyard and a Barbour, as apparently those are THE THINGS to wear in Waitrose at 6pm on a Thursday.  I grab a trolley (first mistake, ALWAYS just get a basket), off I speed, and then.....then I spend all of the fucking money. 

It was meant to be a post-work dash - looking for a simple dinner - but I came out sixty quid lighter and severely lacking in dinner.  What I did purchase was:
Edamame and wasabi dip
Vacuum packed chestnuts
Iberico ham
Very smelly cheese
Umami dust
Organic chicken livers

It's like Dr Jekyl and Mrs Hyde, but instead of turning into a murderous monster, I turn into a frivolous, gun-ho, food ponce. To bring things back to earth, my evening ended with me sat on the sofa with a bag of grated cheese (left-over from a work thing, I should add; I may be a lazy fat arse but I draw the line at pre-grated cheese), as I had neglected to buy actual dinner.

The thing is, if you just stuck to doing the regular shop, I don't think it'd cost you much more than Tesco - and you'd hate yourself less - it's just there's so much good stuff to tempt you, which you don't have to worry about in the lesser supermarkets.  The two big things in Waitrose's favour, however - when trying to justify my devastation of the joint account - are: 1. Their general more ethical approach (they stock decent quality, free-range meat/they treat their staff well/they sell more British produce) and 2. They really know how to reduce stuff; if it's approaching sell-by it comes down to about a quarter of the price. They also don't sell milk from badger culling farms, so me shopping there is basically solving all of the world's problems. 

The main crux of the issue is that I really can't afford to be going to Waitrose right now, as we happen to be buying a house.  I  realise when I said in my last post that we 'own' a pub, it might have sounded like we're terribly rich, but far from it, we only lease the building for that, don't own it.  This house will be the first stack of bricks that Ben and I have ever owned and the mortgage will probably outlive us both. I can't work out whether it's terribly exciting or absolutely terrifying, but the one thing it definitely is is expensive, so I really shouldn't be dicking about in Waitrose. 

The one meal worthy thing that I bought on this ill fated trip was the chicken livers. Now me and liver haven't always seen eye-to-eye.  Lamb's liver is still a definite no. But chicken livers, it comes and goes. When I was strolling through the aisles of Waitrose I thought, 'Hell yeah, I'm the sort of person who likes chicken livers!'.  When I got home and had to eat them I wasn't so sure. That's not to say that this dish isn't good, you just need to definitely like liver - there's no sitting on the fence with this one.

Chicken liver, walnut and parsley salad with warm mustard vinaigrette

Chicken livers (generally you'll get a pack which'll serve 4 for a starter, 2-3 for a main, but you can tell by looking how much you want)
1/2 a finely sliced red onion
Handful of walnuts
About 20g butter
4tbsp olive oil/rapeseed oil
2tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp dijon mustard
Small bunch of parsely
Salad leaves

Firstly, fry your walnuts in a dry pan for about a minute, until they are starting to brown, then put to one side.

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the livers, about 1-2 minutes each side, depending on how rare you want them. Put to the side to rest. In a seperate pan, heat your oil.  Now when I say heat, you just want to warm it up, as if you get it really hot (as I did), you'll have an oil explosion when you add the vinegar.  Once warm, add your vinegar, then dijon mustard and whisk until incorporated and you have a nice glossy dressing.  Add seasoning.

Make a bed of salad and parsley leaves, plonk the livers on top, scatter with walnuts and onion and drizzle over the dressing.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Banana and white chocolate blondies (and some stuff about pubs)

We'll get to the blondies in a minute, don't you worry.  But first I want to talk about pubs - we all like pubs don't we (No? Then be off with you, there is no place for you here)?  I tend to mention them in passing a lot, in regards to where we live and what we do, so I thought I'd take some time to explain - there is a tedious link to the cakes here too.

Despite neither Ben or I ever having done a shift behind a bar (don't get any ideas that we haven't had our fair share of shit jobs - I spent three summers working at the Dinosaur Adventure Park, serving turkey pterodactyls and cleaning up child sick off trampolines), pubs play a big part in our lives. We live above one, we own one (or technically B does, but what's yours is mine and all that, darling) and Ben works for a load of them.

To break it down; Ben works for a small chain of Norwich bars. Not pulling pints, but doing the finances. And all the planning stuff.  And the shouting at the council stuff.  And occasionally the BEING TAKEN ON A BOOZE MINI BREAK BY BACARDI stuff (Jealous? Me? Whatever).  Basically, the sobering and complicated jiggery pokery that goes on behind the scenes.

Through his position we managed to wangle ourselves a flat above one of said pubs.  Lovely flat, 2 floors, city centre.  Yes, we're a jammy pair of pricks, karma is coming for us.  If it makes you feel any better, we are subjected to Ed Sheeran cover acts through the floorboards at least once a week and the chap who does the cleaning at 8am on a Sunday morning listens to nothing but 80s power ballads, VERY LOUDLY.  Also - hordes of drunk people - they really suck when they're not you. 

So that's pub involvement parts one and two.  Then there's part 3: our pub, The Plasterers Arms.

Ben took it on last year, and we've been gradually doing it up and trying to get it back to its former glory (it had been let slip a bit by previous owners).  It's a lovely little pub and we're very proud of it.  Need a few more customers before I get a holiday to Barbados though, so perhaps pop by for a G&T sometime and help a sister out?  It's a traditional pubby pub. Cosy, lots of ales, pork pies, weekly quiz, that sort of thing. A microbrewery is currently being set-up in the back room, so the most local beer you could imagine will soon be on sale, and at some point I hope to get a supper club in there (oven dependent).  Any ideas are most welcome - what makes your favourite pub your favourite pub? Answers on a postcard (a.k.a. in the comments section).

Oh, and  the company Ben works for is also opening a brewery.  Just to keep things simple.

And me?  I don't technically have anything to do with pubs.  I work for a charity.

So...what was the poi...oh yes, cakes!  The other day, Stuart, the manager of the pub we reside above, very sweetly asked whether I might be interested in a little sideline of cake making for the pub.  I used to 'do' cakes (NO, BY 'DO' I DO NOT MEAN SEX THINGS, YOU SICK FREAK, I mean I had a cake making business), so this would be a simple and fairly obvious arrangement, yet I'd never really thought about, or actively pursued, doing them on the side (AGAIN, NOT CAKE SEXING).  So - partly through flattery - when asked, I thought 'why the hell not?', I like baking, I like cash, I'll do it.  Might as well make some for the Plasterers too. So, this weekend I set to, using up a haul of bananas which had been left over from a work event. 

And this is the result, banana and white chocolate blondies. Really fucking good. Shove them in the fridge overnight and all your diabetes inducing dreams will come true. Size zero dreams, not so much.  Rush on down to the Plasterers (like, now) and you might be able to pick one up and avoid the elbow grease.

Banana and white chocolate blondies

2 decent sized/3 small bananas (you can use ones which have started to go a bit brown and manky)
2 large eggs
280g caster sugar
280g plain flour
160g softened butter/stork
1tsp baking powder
300g white chocolate (chips or bars, cut up into chunks)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven at gas mark 5.  In a mixer (or with a spoon and powerful arm muscles) combine eggs, sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, extract and cinnamon until you have a smooth mix. Roughly mash your bananas and stir these in, along with 200g of the white chocolate chips/chunks. 

Line a roasting-sized baking tin with greaseproof paper, and spoon in the mix.  It should be about an inch thick. Bake for about 30 mins, checking after the first 20.  Do the old skewer trick, should come out without any mix on it.  You want it golden on top, still fairly soft but not raw/wet in the middle.  Leave to cool.

Once the blondies are cool, melt the remaining white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once runny, trickle it over the top of blondies.  Slice and preferably refrigerate overnight in an airtight container, for maximum gngnrwmrrrrjf.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Dinner with friends: A slow-cooked pulled-beef chili and chocolate mousse with honeycomb

It's Autumn!  Hooray!  Away with you unsightly upper arms, begone sweaty fringe! Welcome, scarves and woolly tights, good day to you, casseroles and mashed potato!  I've missed you, my lardy friends.  Not that we actually had a Summer, but it's such a drawn out anticlimax of a season that I for one am rather glad it's over. If you remind me of this bon homie approach to these new temperatures in December - when our beautiful yet entirely ineffective old windows mean I'm constantly ensconced in a blanket, or I'm trying to get dressed under a duvet at 6am because our boiler is actually controlled by next door - I will deny all recollection of positivity. 

Anyhow, on with the show.  I might have needed an extra comma in the title.  You all understand that these are two separate dishes, yes? I've not gone all Heston on you and created a spicy beefy dessert mousse (although, adding dark chocolate to a chili IS a thing, one which works very well).  IT'S A CHILI AND THEN A CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. You with me?  Good.

Last Saturday people came over for dinner. I know, right, two posts in a row about people coming over and being sociable, ACTUAL FRIENDS - Norwich is warming up.  Ben's old school friend Robert was staying and we also invited our friends, Tom and the two Hollies (one with a Y ad one with an IE, for distinction).  The idea was that we'd have a big dinner, all casual like, then head into town for further drinking and merrymaking. 

One slight problem: I can't do casual dining. 

Casual in a sense that I don't give a crap about what fork anyone uses, and a good belch will get a round of applause - YES.  Casual in the sense of me just serving up a bowl of nachos or a pasta bake - NO.  I just have to faff to some degree.  I long to be one of those Italian mamas who can throw together a grilled fish, a couple of tomatoes and a good bottle of oil and it be pronounced the most glorious thing anyone's ever eaten, but alas, alack, this is not me. 

This propensity to go all out may seem to be a desire to show off, but in all honestly it's more an eagerness to make people happy; to feed, to fuss over, to make everyone so full that I don't have to go to some hideous nightclub.  I want people to enjoy themselves. I grew up with an excellent cook of a step-father and host of a mother, so my standards have been unreasonably set. Luckily everyone's catching on to this civilised shit now we're in our late twenties, but at 21 I think everyone found me a bit baffling. 

So this was my best attempt at being casual.  A chili and a chocolate mousse.  Pretty simple right? Well it would be if I just did a straightforward packet-of-mince chili, rather than one which takes 4 fucking hours to cook, with the meat having to be delicately shredded.  Or if I bought a packet of Gü puddings and a crunchie rather than whisking eggs to oblivion and making volcanoes of sugar.  But no sireeee, that would be far too easy to satisfy my sadomasochistic culinary habits. 

I must say, I don't often make chili, because I'm a terrible snob and I've come to view it as a bit ubiquitous.  I ate too much of it as a student and in house shares, and Ben eats it pretty much everyday when his band goes on tour, as this is what every promoter who puts them on/up seems to provide.  So I don't tend to bother.  Same applies to spag bol, Thai green curry, stir fry etc.  But really the joke's on me, because these are some of the best dishes out there, if made properly. And in this case, despite spending 6 years in the kitchen, shelling out our week's food bill on beef, and sending Ben back into town at least three times to buy forgotten ingredients, I would say it's worth the faff.

Same goes for the chocolate mousse.  Unfortunately I did something really bad in a past life and now chocolate gives me migraines, so I could only eat half, but it was a good half.  It's probably a blessing really, if I wasn't limited by such an ailment I'd almost certainly be the size of a rhino.  Warning - the mousse contains raw egg, so this is an excellent tool for discovering if any of your friends are pregnant. If they're suddenly not drinking and are too full for this pudding they're definitely up the duff. Additional warning - the honeycomb is seriously chewy, so if you've invested in expensive fillings rather than the standard NHS ones you might want to take it easy. 

Luckily, my cunning plan of making everyone too full to go out to a bar was perfectly executed  and within two hours we were all totally shitfaced and too busy trying to pull off 'the egg-separation trick' to realise that we weren't out being young and trendy. The aforementioned state of shitfacedness meant I thought I was doing an instructional video when I was apparently just pressing the camera button, so the only video is of my attempt with my horrible oh-god-is-that-really-what-i-sound-like recorded voice, once Robert had rescued the camera from me.

Slow-cooked, pulled-beef chili
Serves 6
About 1kg of beef  (braising steak, brisket or shoulder is probably best), cut into chunks of about 2" or so
2 large white onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chillies, finely chopped
2tbsp ground coriander
2tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp of cayenne pepper
2tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp tomato puree
3 bay leaves
2 glasses red wine
2 pints beef stock
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
1 x 400g tin kidney beans

To serve - fresh coriander leaves, wraps, tacos or rice, guacamole, sour cream, salsa

You're going to need a substantial casserole dish for this.  I actually used two, because I'm the sort of person that has two casserole dishes (*sheepish look* make that three), but you can probably get it all in one if you're careful.  Or make less for that matter. 

In your casserole dish brown-off your beef in small batches and put to one side.  Then fry your onions till soft, add the garlic and chilli for a moment or two then add the spices. Give a good stir around, so you can smell all the spices, then add tomato puree, then add your beef back in and the wine.  Give a couple of minutes for the alcohol to burn off, then toss in the tomatoes, bay leaves and about 2/3 of stock. 

Put in the oven at gas mark 3 for about 2 hours, checking after the first half hour then every twenty minutes or so.  What you want is for the sauce to be very thick and reduced and the beef to be falling apart.  This could take up to three hours, depending on your cut/size of beef pieces. If it seems to be drying out, add more of the stock.

Once you've got it to the desired state you basically need to take two forks to the beef and 'pull' it, so it's roughly shredded.  Taste to see if you need any further spice or seasoning. Then add in your kidney beans and warm through again on the hob.

Serve with all manner of accompaniments.

Chocolate mousse with honeycomb
Serves 6

For the honeycomb
5 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

In a sturdy saucepan heat the syrup and sugar until all the sugar has melted and it has turned to a good bubbly caramel (not too dark or it will taste bitter).  Add in your bicarbonate of soda and it will suddenly all foam up like one of those volcano experiments at primary school.  Have prepared a sheet of baking paper, on a tray or a cool counter, and pour the foaming mixture onto the sheet.  You want it to be quite thick, otherwise you with have flat honeycomb.  Leave to cool for at least half hour, until it is firm and brittle.  Break into shards.

For the mousse

100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate (you can use all dark if you like)
4 eggs
200ml double cream

You need several bowls for this one.  Four bowls to be exact.  In one bowl, whip your cream until it's nice and thick but not stiff.  In another you want your egg yolks, beaten.  In the third whisk the egg whites to soft peaks (again, not stiff).  The final bowl is for your chocolate, and it needs to be a good size to sit over a pan of water. 

So melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water.  If your chocolate starts to play silly buggers and splits, take it off the heat and beat in a little sunflower or vegetable oil, this might rescue it.  Once melted, add gradually (you don't want to do it all at once and scramble them) to your beaten egg yolks, stirring vigorously to stop it from splitting.  Once this is nicely emulsified, stir in the whipped cream. Then fold in the egg whites.  All the while, stir stir stir, your arm should hurt.

Split into 6 ramekins/tumblers/small bowls and leave to set in the fridge for at least an hour.  Then adorn with honeycomb and serve. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Dr Pepper BBQ Ribs

I challenge you to find a phrase more wanktastic than, "hang-on guys, don't tuck in yet, I've just got to take a photo for my blog!".  Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it?  Well then please accept that as an excuse as to why this photo is so shoddy.  We had some friends over for a BBQ and I just couldn't bring myself to fart around with the SLR when everyone was sitting there, several beers down, waiting to rip apart a much anticipated pig carcass. More than anything else, I can't close one eye, so the sight of me trying to squint down the viewfinder is best avoided.

Obviously this was two whole weeks back - technically a different season to where we are now - and it was still appropriate to sit outside in a t-shirt at 10pm.  We ate, we drunk those tiny stubby bottles of lager, we got bitten to pieces by mosquitoes - it was quintessentially British (although no pimms - I have not had a single fucking glass of pimms this summer, what are you all playing at?).

I actually made these for the first time a few weeks ago; spent several hours preparing them, thinking, 'Everyone's gonna shit themselves for these badboys', then, when we sat down to eat, realised I'd left the camera in the car and I blew a gasket. I'm not just massively lazy, we live in the city centre so my car is parked quite a way from our flat and it would have meant everything was stone cold by the time I returned. So, the aforementioned BBQ was basically an excuse to scoff these again.  Yes, they are that awesome.

People will probably be split into two camps when looking at the ingredients for these: half will think 'eh?' and the other will see it as pretty normal.  The latter have probably made or eaten a lot of BBQ food.  Or are American.  When I started to make these for our gathering, two of our guests were already present. I laid the ribs in the baking tray - nothing untoward there - then covered them in a bottle of DR Pepper.  They looked at each other, looked at Ben, then did a nervous look at their shoes, as if to say, 'Is she OK? Should we call someone?'. With each extra ingredient I added they were squealing with disbelief, "KETCHUP? HONEY? NO, WAIT WAIT, WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE?".  Yes, all that stuff goes in there.  A bit later on, our Canadian neighbours came over, gave the above selection a glance and shrugged, "yeah, standard ribs procedure".  Basically this recipe is pork + sugar + everything else in the house that contains sugar.  Don't forget to clean your teeth after.

You can do these in the oven just as well as on the BBQ, so don't panic that you've missed your chance.  It'll just take a bit longer and probably come out less charred.  I served with slaw (grated/sliced carrot, red cabbage, red onion plus a mix of natural yoghurt and mayo to dress) and corn on the cob (marinated an hour before in lime juice, chilli flakes and seasoning).

As a helpful piece of advise - if you have a BBQ with a lid, don't shut it. It will set on fire (more so than it's mean to), you'll burn the first lot of ribs to a crisp and your girlfriend will yell at you.

DR Pepper BBQ ribs

I've done this based on a 1.5kg of ribs, which will serve about 4 people. Scale-up or down as required. 

1.5kg pork ribs (if they don't have pre-cut ribs just ask your butcher to slice some pork belly into ribs and remove the skin)
1 tsp sea salt
2 litres of Dr Pepper
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (or a small handful of cassia, which is a lot cheaper)
150g soft brown sugar
4 tbsp honey or maple syrup
100g tomato ketchup
3 tbsp brown sauce
2 tbsp tomato puree
2tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Line two baking trays with tin foil, chuck in your ribs, and pour over 1.5litres of the Dr Pepper (split between the two trays).  Add the star anise, salt and cinnamon/cassia equally.  Cover with foil and roast for about 1.5-2 hours at gas mark 4, until cooked through.  If your oven is shit, like mine, you might want to swap the position of the trays half way through, so that both are equally done.  Once cooked, discard the liquid.

For your sauce, put all the remaining ingredients in a pan and simmer until it has reduced to a glossy, honey like consistency.  This should take about fifteen minutes.  If you find it doesn't thicken as much as you'd like, then mix a teaspoon of cornflour with some water until it's a runny paste, and add to the sauce as required. 

Now either dip your ribs in the sauce or paint it on with a pastry brush.  If you're continuing in the oven then place the ribs on a roasting rack, over a baking tray and up the temperature to gas mark 5.  Check and turn every ten minutes, basting with more sauce, for about an hour, or until they are as saucy (ooh err) and coloured as you want them. If you're doing them on the BBQ then you won't need to do them as long, as they'll catch pretty quickly, but try and get a couple of coatings and turn at least once.

Consume, with napkins to hand.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Rasta pasta

Right from the off, I should be absolutely clear that there is no Jamaican element to this dish whatsoever.  No secret ingredient of Reggae Reggae Sauce or a rogue scotch bonnet. Levi Roots isn't going to jump out of the woodwork, brandishing a yam (which is a darn shame, because he seems like a jolly sort of fellow).  You may have guessed that from the photo, but I feel I should point this out because - like any self-respecting blogger - I am obsessed with my blog view stats.  Through this I can see, for one, that I do actually have readers, quite a few in fact, even if I don't have followers (c'mon lurkers, give me a wave!), and I can also see what people type into google to lead them here. 

What leads a lot of people here, it seems, is a desire to be somewhere else.  So to all of you who were looking for something completely different, MEGA SOZ.  To name but a few: firstly, those who are here looking for a carby taste of the Caribbean - I'm afraid it's back to google for you, my friend. Secondly - and this is the most common wrong turn - those looking for the real Nigella.  Sorry again; less boobs, more swears, but if you can get past that there's still some food and stuff.  And lastly, to the two people who optimistically typed in 'fuck in supermarket' and ended up at THIS - well, you get my biggest sorry. Unless you enjoy spaffing-off over a well oiled penne dish, then you were probably severely disappointed.

Why rasta pasta then? Why the misleading name and subsequent apology? Well the colours, duh! I was besides myself when I came up with this.

Me: "I name this dish, RASTA PASTA!"
Ben: Silence
Me: "Did you hear me? I've called it Rasta Pasta! D'you get it?"
Ben: "Yes, I get it"
Me: "No, but, it's the Rastafarian colours AND it rhymes"
Ben: "Yes, darling, I get it".
Me: "Then why aren't you applauding?"


This is a great dish for me at the moment because...*drumroll* tomatoes have kicked off!  It's like they all went red when my back was turned  (to be specific, when my back was turned picking up a BOGOF deal of cherry tomatoes at sainsbury's) so for the past couple of weeks we've had tonnes of the fuckers.  And you know what? It breaks me to say it, but the ones I've grown don't taste any better than shop bought.  In fact I think the shop bought ones are better.  I feel totally cheated after the blood, sweat, tears and spider related freak-outs they've caused.  I don't know where I went wrong - too much sun/not enough, too much plant food/not enough - but is disappointing none the less.

If I were a less honest blogger I would probably just show you the photo and be all like "oh it's SO worthwhile, you all really SHOULD grow your own, yes it's effort but the payoffs, oh the payoffs, dahhhling!".....bullshit, mate.  Although, quite frankly, I'm amazed that I got real actual tomatoes in any form to grow, so swings and roundabouts. This recipe is actually very good for the bland little blighters, because they are basically so seasoned and pickled you can't tell they're below par. 

Rasta Pasta

200g linguine
Good slosh of olive/rapeseed oil
1 large/2 small cloves of garlic, minced
Handful of torn basil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (or 2tbsp if you like a bit of zing)
1/2 tsp caster sugar
Good pinch of salt and pepper
300g cherry tomatoes (try and get red and golden ones for the full reggae effect)

Slice your cherry tomatoes in half and in a a bowl mix them with the vinegar, sugar, salt and garlic. Give them a good scrunch up with your hands, till you have a bit of a squashy tomato mulch. Leave them for about 15 mins.

In the meantime, cook your pasta.  Once done, drain and mix in the tomato mixture, oil and the torn basil.  Add a load of pepper, for kicks.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Apple sourdough cake (a.k.a. Herman The German)

Every month, my charity colleagues and I have a team meeting; the main purpose being to discuss how much we've kicked cancer's arse that month and how we're going to go about kicking it the following month.  The secondary purpose is to eat our own body weight in biscuits, discuss books we've read and whinge about how much we hate going to Birmingham for training. 

Last meeting, my colleague Lou handed me a margarine container of goo and introduced it as 'Herman the German'.  "What the fuck?", I said.  Actually I didn't, this was work and I at least try to maintain a modicum of manners and professionalism.  "Er, what is it?" I said.  "It's Herman the German!", she exclaimed, as if I was the one making no sense.  I open the container and my new mate, Herman, quite frankly, resembles a container of baby sick (I've never been in close contact with baby sick, but I have it on good authority that it's rank).  He also smells like the floor of a brewery that hasn't been cleaned for decades.  Or your mouth when you wake up with a very bad hangover. 

Herman, I come to learn, is essentially a sourdough starter, which you stir, feed and eventually divide, dispense to friends and bake into a cake.  Basically it's a chain letter for gluttons. You are thankfully given instructions on how to care for your Herman - pin these on the fridge, as above, to look like you've got a purpose in life.  Apparently you're meant to follow these rules religiously, but unfortunately I've never been very religious, not even when it comes to baking, so my instructions were more like the following...

Day one: Forget, leave in the car, then be met by an appalling stench the next day
Day two: Stir
Day three: Forget
Day four: Stir
Day five: Fuck have run out of milk, Herman will have to starve
Day six: And sugar
Day seven: Finally add ingredients
Day nine, ten, eleven - twenty: Keep stirring as don't have time to make bloody cake
Day twenty: Add extra ingredients, divide, realise is going to be ages till you see anyone who bakes
Day twenty one: See friend, Me: "I've got you a present!", Friend: "Oh god, it's not that fucking cake thing is it?"
Day lost count: See mother, "I've got you a present!", Mother: "Oh god, it's not that fucking cake thing is it?"
Yesterday: Ritually sacrificed Herman and baked him alive into delicious fancy
Now: Still have a portion of goo, realise have no friends, eat whole cake in state of depression

So, conclusive evidence is that as long as you don't put it in the fridge, this thing is pretty hard to murder.

For all the ball ache, it's actually a pretty nice cake.  Or it is as long as you ignore the recipe and take out the EVIL RAISINS FROM THE SEVENTH CIRCLE OF HELL. My only other tweak to the recipe was to add a maple drizzle; in a bowl mix maple syrup with icing sugar, bit by bit, until you have a good drizzling consistency (the same proportions you would use of sugar to water when making standard fairy cake icing), and, er, drizzle. You don't need much, so make it in a small portion, and don't get too gun-ho with the maple syrup as that stuff's freaking expensive.

If you're the only person in this hemisphere yet to be presented with your own container of baby vom, then the website also tells you how to make your own starter.  Alternatively, if you live in Norwich, then I have another batch bubbling away like the Sanctum of Slime, and will gladly give it to you - I've had enough of my flat reeking like a sicked-up tin of Tennants Super.