Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Chilli, corn and red pepper chowder

So, I’ve done two whole blog posts on tumblr and I’ve not been offered a book deal yet. What’s up with that?  Well, after a bit of careful research (yes, I know most of you clever clogs would do this before getting started, but I was too busy writing lengthy anecdotes about Norovirus) it seems like all the cool cats of the food blogging world are on blogspot.  Tumblr is apparently more for pictures of cats with phallic facial markings and hipsters getting themselves into a pickle.   Which, whilst occupying most of my internet browsing, isn’t something I can contribute that much to; Norwich is still coming out the other side of nu rave and my cat won’t sit still long enough for me to draw anything inappropriate on his head.  Plus tumblr kept crashing and making me antsy. 

So here I am!  There’s no need to panic, I’ve transferred the aforementioned tumblr posts, because I know none of you would want to miss out on those gems. Publishers, you can contact me on overcockyswearyblogger@genericemailhost.com to make an offer for my first book.

Now, onto some food.  When I was toying with the idea of starting this blog, a lot of my initial reluctance came from the idea of having to photograph my meals before eating them.  Because generally, when there's a plate of food infront of me my main priority is necking it ASAP.  However, so far this hasn’t been a problem; the issue is more convincing myself to actually write up the posts afterwards.  I basically write the whole entry in my head whilst cooking, pretending I am an incredibly witty TV chef, then I sit down, eat my dinner and fall asleep in front of a Scandanavian crime drama.  As a result I have a selection to chose from to share with you today. 

And the winner is this chilli, corn and red pepper chowder.  Now, don’t ask me what the difference is between a soup and a chowder because I don’t bloody know, but for the purpose of alliteration this is a chowder.

Now I have a bit of a love hate relationship with soup (or chowder).  Back in 2007 I worked for a lovely establishment called The Tree Hugging Hippy Juice Bar.  On the back of absolutely no professional experience, a couple of sample dishes and pure blind faith they let me be their chef.  I say chef, though I was definitely more of a cook (with a kitchen space of approximately 3’x5’) but my boss kindly humoured me by saying ‘yes chef’ and ‘no chef’ so that I could believe I was very important.  It was a the loveliest place to work and it inspired me to go off and start my own business, The Cambridge Cupcake Company...but we’ll talk about that another day because cupcakes are a whole other story of love and hate.  

During my time at The THH, the main element of the menu was soups, and I was responsible for having two different ones on the menu each week.  As a result, I was making soups six days a week and then going home on a Sunday and creating a new soup for the following week.  Needless to say I developed extreme soup fatigue, which I am only just leaving behind, 5 years later.  The below is one from the repertoire of my THH days.  Happy times.

For 4 portions

1 onion, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 red peppers, roughly chopped

About 750g frozen sweetcorn

Vegetable or chicken stock (I can never be arsed to make my stock up properly, so I used two cubes and enough water to surround the veg, straight in the pot)

1 sliced red chilli/2tsp dried flakes (chilli is a very variable and personal thing so I’ll leave the final decision to your discretion – you can always add more when blending if it’s not hot enough for you, or add sliced fresh ones when serving). 

1 lime

A slosh of cream and a handful of cheese (optional).  

2 tbsp Oil for frying (I use olive or rapeseed)

Fry off the onion and pepper in the oil until softened, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further minute.  Add enough stock so that the veg is surrounded (not too much as you don’t want it to be too thin, you can always add more once blended to get the consistency you want).  Once it’s bubbled away for a bit, add the sweetcorn, then give it another 5 minutes of bubbling.  Then blend.  The skins of the corn can be a bit tough, so if you only have a hand blender you may also want to sieve it.

Once blended, add cream and lime juice to taste, then serve.  We had ours with a handful of grated cheddar, as we’re a bit cheese dependent, but if you’re boring and virtuous you can go without.  

Romance and Vomit

Now, Ben and I are not really big on Hallmark occasions; or at least we like to think we’re not.  Valentine’s day being The Mothership of Hallmark occasions.  We look down our noses at people buying personalised Moonpig cards and hideous teddy bears, surgically attached to silk hearts, and pretend to be blissfully unaffected by such tedious frivolity.  But when it comes to the actual day, we end up feeling a bit too mean-spirited to totally ignore it and the resulting activity probably costs five times as much as your average service station bunch of flowers.  This Valentine’s was no exception, and we decided to celebrate as per usual, by having ‘a nice meal’ (the distinction between ‘a nice meal’ and any regular meal generally being that we sit at the table and not on the sofa).  Ben said he’d cook; RESULT.

Things took a turn for the worse when he turned up with these.


Now, I don’t like not liking things. I get irritated by fussy eating (despite the fact that I used to be THE fussiest eater on the planet) and will at least try most foodstuffs. But oysters (I originally typed that as ‘butt oysters’ and it’s taken me a good few minutes to compose myself), I could happily have gone my entire life without going near one.  No matter how much Tabasco/lemon/Worcestershire sauce you smother it in, it still looks like phlegm.  “They taste like the smell of the seaside” people muse.  AND? How is that a good thing? Would you be more inclined to eat something if I told you it had “delectable notes of guest bedroom”, or “a bouquet of Milton Keynes train station”? No. For me, tasting of a location = no dice.

But try I did.  Not being able to face the whole down-in-one custom, I sliced off the tinniest portion like a total pansy, put it in my mouth and then promptly wretched into the bin.  Ben managed to neck three, causing much hero worship from me. 

The next day and my oyster hero is knocked out by Norovirus.  After a conversation with my Step Father, I disover that apparently 75% of Oysters contain Norovirus and it’s generally considered pot luck as to whether you get it.  Well isn’t that just swell?  The Gods of shellfish weren’t shining on Ben on this ocassion it would seem.

Being the Florence Nightingale type that I am, I photographed his pain as a warning to others.  You can tell he is ill, as opposed to just being slobbish, from a) the bottle of Lucozade, b) the hot water bottle on his face (although I think this was more to hide from me) and c) the Cancer Research UK (sorry employers) collection bucket being used as an emergency sick receptacle.


So, the moral of the story; if a foodstuff looks like something that has been spat out by a chav in an alleyway, it’s probably not going to do you much good.  Mr Mangrove enjoyed the (empty) sick bucket though.


Nectarine and blue cheese pizza

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Well, dear Juliet, I'm afraid I have to correct you there. Because, if you happen to base the name of your new food blog on the slander of a celebrity chef, I'm guessing that there is a high chance people will think there's an un-rosie whiff to it.  So my opening words should be an explanation; a justification; a defence.   “Why you hating on Nigella?” you might ask.  Well, I’m not really.  I actually quite like Nigella; I have some of her books and make her recipes; I think she’s enviably articulate, and I’m thrilled that there is at least one female chef on TV in possession of an ample arse.

My ‘sod you’ is not to the lady herself, more the concept of Nigella.  Actually, ‘concept’ is a bit of a wanky word isn’t it…let’s go with ‘production’.  My ‘sod you’ is to the production behind Nigella.  A perfect world of clean kitchens, full store cupboards, delis on your doorstep and sneaking downstairs at 3am to eat cheesecake in a designer dressing gown.  Cookery has become all about the sugar coating; the beautiful chefs, the beautiful friends who pop round for dinner, the beautiful houses (did you know that’s not actually her house? That discovery was up there with the truth about Father Christmas for me, I can tell you).

I love cooking, but when I do it none of the above applies.  I don’t have a lovely larder, full of seventeen brands of Italian pasta and some herb which none of us plebs have ever heard of.  My dressing gown is a hideous, brown primark number, which I wear a lot more than my boyfriend desires and has pockets full of used tissues and hair grips.  I don’t have any useful foreign relatives who have passed me down delicious, traditional recipes.  I actually live in my house and don’t have a production team to clean up after me, so everything is always slightly dustier or stickier than I might like.  And when my friends come round for dinner, everyone is usually so shitfaced by pudding that we have to retire to the sofa with the top button of our jeans undone.  There’s nothing beautiful about that.
So, in conclusion, I am not Nigella.  Up yours to that! And this blog is NOT a slur on Miss Lawson; more an ode to cooking like a normal and not trying to make a dinner that you want to have sex with.

So to open…Nectarine and Blue Cheese Pizza
This recipe is an amalgamation of a base from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (which was conveniently on this weekend when I was thinking how I couldn’t be arsed to make proper pizza dough) and a picture I saw on Pinterest which featured nectarines on this Italian staple.  You could use peaches if, unlike me, you’re not totally freaked out by their furryness.  The advantage of the Jamie dough is that you can put it straight to use rather wait for it to rise, prove etc; because who has time for that on a Monday evening? 

To make two hungry-adult-sized pizzas (the size that a hungry adult would eat, not the actual size of a hungry adult.  Unless you’re really hungry, in which case, multiply recipe by 17).

For the base
3 cups of Self-raising flour
1 cup of water
A slug of oil (about 5tbsp)
Salt (1tsp)

For the topping
Cheese of your choice (I used a ball of Mozarella and some crumbled Blacksticks Blue)
Tomato puree (about 6 tbsp)
2 nectarines
½ a red onion, finely sliced
Fresh basil

The dough is easy peasy - just mix all the ingredients and knead together until you have a consistency that can be worked into a spongey, slightly sticky ball (add more flour or water as required).  Turn-out onto a floured work surface and roll to your desired shape (make sure to flour the rolling pin too).  Slide your base onto a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Top with a generous spread of tomato puree and scatter the cheese, onions and nectarines.

Nectarine and blue cheese pizza

Jamie does his pizza in a frying pan, which I was a bit dubious of, but give it a go should you wish.  I put mine on a tray in the oven, gas mark 8 for about 25mins. You want the edges to be starting to turn brown and the cheese to be all bubbly.  If when you take it out it looks pretty done but the middle is still gooey, put the tray over a flame on the hob for a min or two, until the middle feels firm (keep a close eye as the greaseproof will catch). 
Scatter with basil and serve with salad (to make you feel better about yourself).

Nectarine and blue cheese pizza