The Peckham Peculiar

Monday, 20th January 2014

The village I grew up in had (still has, I think) a local magazine. It would cover ‘news’ and dates of important events, such as the times of the next bell ringing session in the local church (BAN IT, I SAY – those bells woke me up every week as a teenager and I still harbour resentment) and, my personal favourite, dates for the next meetings of the budgerigar society. For some reason, I would always feel a little spike of anticipation when it flopped through the letterbox. I always thought, despite a vast amount of evidence to the contrary, that it would contain something actually worth reading. Twelve years of living in that house and I never learned my lesson. I longed for an article, a story about some local person, a subset of the community, a business, an event, an eyewitness account of someone taking their cat for walks on a lead. But no. The writing was never there, just lots and lots of ads for double glazing.

So now Peckham has a local newspaper, and – no pressure – it will be everything I never had. The food bit *cough* will be particularly special *cough*. Yeah I’m writing that bit. It’s called The Peckham Peculiar, it launched on Saturday, and you know what, it has stuff to actually read inside it. The first issue has a glimpse inside Peckham’s famous hair salons, a piece about the legendary Peckham Liberal Club and loads of other local stories.

The first issue is available from stockists listed here – more to come. If you’re lucky you might get one of the limited edition covers designed by brilliant local artist Jake Tilson. If you pick up a copy, do comment to let us know what you think!

We’ll also be on BBC Breakfast at 6.50, 7.50 and 8.50 am tomorrow having a bleary eyed editorial meeting so tune in to hear us bitching about redevelopment and planning stuff to go into the next issue. I think. It was kind of early. 

6 comments | The Peckham Peculiar

One Pot Pasta Disaster

Saturday, 11th January 2014

I am writing a book about cooking with BOOZE. Yuh huh. It’s not just about going out and getting drunk, coming home and knocking something up, far from it, but the fact remains that there is that angle to be covered. So I have covered it. I am covering it. I am testing recipes, anyway. Pasta must surely be in everyone’s drunken repertoire? It’s really simple to make, really stodgy, sorts you out a bit in the morning and is really satisfying at the time. The only thing more satisfying than a carb binge is a drunken carb binge. No guilt.

So I came across a number of recipes online for something called ‘one pot pasta’. The idea is that you sling everything – pasta, ingredients for the sauce, water – into a pan, and just sort of stir it about until the pasta absorbs the water and miraculously, you are left with perfect pasta and sauce. Except that is not what happens. I can honestly say that this is a crime against pasta.

Now I know the idea of the all in one was always going to be controversial, and I have to say I wasn’t particularly convinced either, but curiosity got the better of me and I had to know for sure. I’ve heard of the ‘risotto’ method, and I get the idea of the starchy, creamy sauce, but this, THIS, was precisely the consistency of…wallpaper paste. Use your imagination. My mother reads this blog. The sauce was the very definition of gloopy. The pasta was just about passable as ‘cooked’. It could have been used to glue things together in place of, say, Araldite. It was horrible, truly, BUT the bigger, more important question here is, WHY? Why bother? To save yourself from washing up ONE extra pan? Well, maybe it’s easier to just chuck everything in at once, I hear you saying, rather than cooking out an onion for a sauce for example, before adding other ingredients. Well let me tell you, it isn’t less effort, because you have to stand there and stir the bloody thing, the most effective way to do this being to use tongs. Ever tried to use tongs for any sustained period of time? It’s quite taxing on the wrist, actually. Taxing on the wrist and at the end you’re left with a sticky mess (I feel this marks the moment when my mother stops reading forever).

The pan is soaking in the sink, because the ‘sauce’ stuck to the bottom of it. The pasta is in the bin. Talk about a problem that didn’t need solving.

25 comments | Books, Monumental Fail, Pasta

Sunday Leftovers: New Year Review Edition

Wednesday, 1st January 2014

What? Oh come on. No-one knows what day it is anyway. It’s Sunday really, I promise. Surely you’re too hungover to think about it? Me? Asleep before midnight. I know. Look, it’s been a really busy year. To say I’ve pushed myself would be an understatement but I think I can say now that it was worth it. I mean, I’m fatter and older in mind as well as body and confused as to why I’m not turning grey but hey, I did a LOAD OF STUFF! So…here’s some of it.

Travel:

Having a laugh with some children in an Ethiopian village

Visiting Ethiopia with World Vision turned out to be the trip of a lifetime; I learnt more about the food, the people that produce it, and how that production keeps them and their families off the streets. A fascinating country and one that certainly blows away any sensory cobwebs. I wrote more about Ethiopian cookery plus some recipes here. 

I learned about Hungarian food by deep frying balls of dough and topping them with cheese and sour cream to make langos (good for a new year diet, FYI) and also by travelling to Tokaj.

Oh yeah and I went to Iceland. I gotta say…the food didn’t set my world on fire and it was cold as hell (WHO KNEW?) Seriously though, go in the summer for geological stuff.

Restaurants:

Sign in a Camberwell caff. Where to start?

In the summer I became, as my friend affectionately terms it, a restaurant widow. This basically refers to the fact that we don’t really see our boyfriends since they became restauranteurs. Peckham Bazaar opened in June and none of us could have imagined how successful it would be, right from the off, not to mention what would happen when Fay came for dinner. I don’t work at the restaurant, as people assume but let me tell you, it definitely feels like being part of a family and is 100% all consuming. A life changing experience for sure.

I updated my Peckham and Camberwell food and drink guide, because I like to stay on board with the hyper-local vibe.

Other London restaurants and openings started getting a look in via Sunday Leftovers, but don’t worry because I included recipes, cat pictures and random links to fun stuff too.

Food Writing:

I wrote 2 cookery books, the first being 101 Sandwiches, which I can’t believe is being re-printed already! I am so, so chuffed with the way its been received and a massive thank you to everyone who bought it. My second book, about er, cooking to get yourself laid, is out in February. I wasn’t sure whether to write it, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me angry that all writing on the subject of ‘date food’ is a load of cheesy toss and so I felt duty bound. The finished book is something I’m proud of, and I’ll be really interested to see how it goes as it’s much more mainstream – not so much one for the foodies. Or, more accurately, not one the foodies would necessarily think about buying. Really though, it’s full of recipes that make you look proper slick with minimum effort – and who doesn’t want that? I must also mention the illustrations by Kate Sutton which are brilliantly funny. There’s more book news too but I can’t go into it here because I haven’t told my mum yet, and that isn’t a joke. I’m serious! She’d be upset. HI MUM *waits for text message*

I was chuffed to win a ‘fresh faces in food’ writing award at the Young British Foodie Awards in September. It’s been a long time since my face looked fresh but still. I was beside myself when I found out who the judges were and it made me think ‘hmm, maybe I can do this thing, then’. And with sentences like that, who’s going to argue? Huh?

There was plenty of carb action on my sandwich blog; the most viewed posts were London’s Worst Bacon Sandwich, and The Devastator at Red Dog SaloonI also wrote bits and pieces for various newspapers, some of which you can see on the ‘press’ page and from January I will be writing for The Peckham Peculiar, a new local newspaper which I’m really excited about.

Cooking:

My cooking in 2013 was as influenced by Peckham as ever; favourite recipes were the Afghan zamarud, suya, grilled poussin with pomegranate molasses, Turkish chilli and rose and watermelon salad with labneh.

I made some serious sandwiches, obviously, the frankly bloody ridiculous fool’s gold loaf, an ultimate lobster number, some ‘high risk of cardiac arrest after eating’ French onion soup muffins and a Christmas sandwich that actually tasted nice.

Crazy things happened to eggs, from the hangover bashing Mumbai Disco Eggs, to the ‘my train picnic pisses all over yours’ eggs scrambled in a Thermos flask and eaten with smoked salmon followed by Iberico ham and washed down with a beer and cheese, on a train to Bristol.

So yeah, that’ll do I reckon. Oh! And I started selling my Peckham Jerk Marinade, which you can buy via the link at the top of the blog or in Persepolis.

Ingredients for Peckham Jerk Marinade

Okay I think I’m done now. A very happy new year to you all! Let’s see what 2014 is packing.

29 comments | Round-ups, Sunday Leftovers

Seasonal Sandwich Woe Ho Ho

Friday, 20th December 2013

Why are seasonal sandwiches so rubbish? Last year, on a whim, I did a mad dash around Holborn collecting all the Christmas sandwiches from the major high street chains for a seasonal sandwich show down and it was just so depressing, I didn’t bother to repeat the experience this year. It got me thinking though, what exactly is it that’s so bad about most of them?

The main problem is the fact that they are generally stuffed with as many different elements of the Christmas dinner as possible. Why? The overall effect is a sandwich with a horrible generic taste that is unique to the time of year but not very pleasant. This is a sharp contrast to the sandwich made from your ACTUAL leftover Christmas dinner which is always truly bloody lovely, the reason being that it is made from nice ingredients that have been recently and properly cooked, which brings me nicely to my next point…

The ingredients in pre-prepped Christmas sandwiches are generally a bit gross. Who really eats turkey that often? More to the point though, who eats cheaply produced turkey that smells like farts and squeaks against your teeth? Who eats bacon that has been infused with a fake smoke flavour instead of actually smoked? Who eats sickly lurid red cranberry sauce that looks like it should be used to get really ingrained dirt off builders’ hands? PEOPLE WHO EAT CHRISTMAS SANDWICHES.

So anyway I thought I should have a bash at making a seasonal sandwich that actually tastes nice. It’s on sour dough, because there’s a lot of filling, and it needs to have some good sturdy scaffolding around the outside. Next, a layer of shredded sprouts, which I fried a little to get some colour on them, followed by a layer of proper, treacle cured, smoked bacon. I would have preferred streaky but smoked back I had so smoked back I used. The bacon is chopped before going into the sandwich, so it doesn’t come out in one long annoying strip when you try to eat it. Some good sharp cheddar next (I used Keen’s) followed by a layer of caramelised onions, which, despite being a bit 2001, bring much needed sweetness to the sandwich. A slick of wholegrain mustard and then, on the side, a pot of gravy (more of a stock really), made with partridge carcasses.

So it’s essentially a sort of festive toasted cheese sandwich French dip. Further proof that the toasted cheese is a sandwich which fits seamlessly into pretty much any situation.

Christmas Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Partridge Gravy (this served 2. I know, I’ve changed). 

2 slices sourdough bread
Several thick slices good quality cheddar cheese
1 onion, cut in half and sliced
A handful sprouts, finely sliced
3 slices back or 4 slices streaky smoked bacon (again, good quality)
Wholegrain mustard
Butter, for frying

For the gravy (you could of course use other bones or stock)

4 partridge carcasses
1 onion, halved
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
A handful parsley stalks
A few peppercorns
Salt

To make the gravy, roast the carcasses and vegetables in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Add to a stock pot with the other ingredients and cover with water. Simmer for a couple of hours. Skim off any scum from the surface. Strain and reduce a little further if desired.

For the sandwich, first caramelise in the onions very slowly, in butter. Stir them often but keep on the lowest heat. They will take about an hour. A splash of booze wouldn’t go amiss here come to think of it. Don’t forget to season them. In a frying pan, fry the sliced sprouts in a little oil over a fairly high heat, stirring all the time, until beginning to colour. When ready to assemble the sandwich, grill the bacon until the fat is crisp. On one piece of bread, add a layer of onions. Roughy chop the bacon and add it on top. Follow with a layer of the cheese, and then the sprouts. Cover the other piece of bread with mustard and put it on top.

In a heavy based frying pan or skillet, melt a generous amount of butter and add the sandwich. You don’t want the heat too high or it will burn but it should be sizzling. Take a heavy object (I used a Le Creuset pan and plonk it on top to weigh it down). After a couple of minutes (keep an eye on it), flip it over to toast the other side.

7 comments | Sandwiches

Sunday Leftovers No. 4

Sunday, 15th December 2013

Alaskan king crab and steak

I’ve had toothache. The last 2 weeks have been dominated by a horrible, pulsating, radiating pain so I’ve mostly been moaning and having conversations like this:

Me: “Owwwww”

Boyfriend: “Would you like some clove oil for the pain? Then I’ll go to the shops and buy you some of that cheap pink fizz you like to get drunk on when you’re feeling sorry for yourself and also some ice cream and chocolate. Then I’ll go to Silk Road and get some of your favourite noodles and tuck you into a blanket on the sofa and tell you how great you are.”

Me: “FUCK OFF I HATE YOU EVERYTHING IS SHIT RAAAARRGGGGGHGHGHGHHGG!!!!”

So it’s been a little unpleasant, basically. I’ve been more than a little unpleasant. Toothache stops me from eating and I’m not down with that, which does not explain why this is such a bumper edition of Leftovers. I’m shocked at my own dedication.

The best meal in recent memory award goes to a test run of the menu for Goodman’s soon to open steak and crab restaurant (top photo). It will serve large bone-in steaks alongside freshly cooked Alaskan king crabs, which have incredibly sweet meat and, obviously, are MASSIVE. Sides (we ate truffled potatoes and broccoli) and starters (we ate oysters from Rex Goldsmith and pata negra ham) will come included in the price – the very expensive price. This is going to be a restaurant for rich people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dirty Burger in Vauxhall is a funny old place, it turns out; a bit like eating in a restaurant at a theme park, all fake corrugated iron and plastic wood. The music is very loud and the seats uncomfortable. It’s a transient space, built to serve people burgers which they ideally take away. The burger isn’t bad actually, cooked medium rare with a decent bun, although I can’t say I was into the cheese which did that horrible almost-splitting thing. Saying that processed cheese works best in a burger is almost a cliche now, but that doesn’t stop it being true.

Dirty Burger, Arch 54, 6 South Lambeth Rd, Vauxhall, SW8 1SS

Chicken Shop has opened a branch in Tooting, and again there’s a touch of the Alton Towers about the decor. The food however hits the spot. Having tried um, everything on the menu, I’d recommend you get your rotisserie chicken with a salad of butter lettuce and avocado and perhaps a pot of coleslaw. Some people are into chips I believe. The chicken is pretty much as it should be – plenty of crisp skin most importantly – and although the meat was slightly dry in places, it wasn’t a big deal considering the price. We ate 2 whole chickens and all the sides twice between 4 people and with 2 jugs of red it was about £15 each. Their habanero hot sauce was pretty fine actually, with a proper bit of heat; I’d happily have paid to take a bottle home.

Chicken Shop, Ground Floor, 141 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SY

A lunch at Harnett Holder and Co. in the New Forest couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the scoff it and run approach of Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop. This is a truly stunning setting for a restaurant and – mega bonus points – they have a tree swing by a lake. It’s way better than any you had as a kid though because you can take a martini with you and let’s face it, nothing aids digestion like a good stomach lurching swing from a tree.

The food was a bit of a see saw experience too; best was a starter of dinky pickled vegetables and pink peppercorns on a fluff of goats’ cheese so big it was almost as if I’d dished it up myself. A pot of whipped cod’s roe however was let down by the fact it didn’t have nearly enough cod’s roe in it; a cruel disappointment. Weirdly, considering Hartnett’s involvement, the pasta dishes were least impressive, but a beef fillet dish was unexpectedly great; at first glance it looked dry but it turned out it was just weirdly presented – underneath was an impressive sticky gravy loaded with trompette mushrooms.

Harnett, Holder and Co, Lime Wood, Beaulieu Rd, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7FZ

I’m afraid Tozi wasn’t for me; some very mediocre charcuterie, fridge cold cheeses and a stale house bread selection were not, as the internet would say, For The Win.  In their favour, some soft shell crab did actually tasted of crab rather than batter, but they failed to tell us that it also came as part of the fritto misto we’d ordered. A side salad was criminally undressed and the whole meal left an aftertaste of ‘meh’. A little more attention to detail needed.

Tozi, 8 Gillingham St, London SW1V 1HJ

In Camberwell, Angels and Gypsies have opened ‘The Communion Bar’ underneath the restaurant which is the kind of place I feel I could lose a few hours in. It’s dark, and filled with imposing furniture that you can just about see due to the stained glass style lights on the walls. They have communion wafers on the tables, so now I know that communion wafers taste of precisely nothing. Their martini needs a bit of work to be honest, but I’ll go back because it’s just so completely random and unlike any other place in Camberwell, which is due for some new arrivals. Speaking of which, renovation work has started on the Recreation Ground pub which has been acquired by the Anchor and Hope group. I shall be living in the place when it opens (I believe) in January.

The Communion Bar, 29-33 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR

Sandwich of the week goes to this garlic mushroom melt which is basically mushrooms fried with a shitload of garlic and butter, piled into a bagel with Swiss cheese and a slick of Maille mustard infused with white wine and morels. The mustard has a real hoof of vinegar which was absolutely essential in avoiding cheese fatigue.

I also went to Iceland for a few days too; you can read about the time I got drunk and ate five hotdogs here and about the rest of the food here.

In cat related news, here’s a blog which is about both cats AND sandwiches. No I don’t write it. Cat pic of the week is Chas and Delia doing some painfully cute snoozing in which they appear to be HOLDING TAILS.

And finally, there’s still time to leave a comment on my post here, telling me about the last sandwich you ate; tomorrow one commenter will win a signed copy of 101 Sandwiches.

I need a lie down.

5 comments | Restaurant Reviews, Sandwiches, Sunday Leftovers

Win a Signed Copy of 101 Sandwiches

Thursday, 12th December 2013

The ultimate stocking filler, surely…or, just keep it for yourself, doofus! I’m giving away a copy of my book, 101 Sandwiches, which is a collection of sandwich recipes from around the world. I’ll write a personalised message of your choice in the front, or draw a giant cock rocket or whatever. UP TO YOU. To win, just leave a comment telling me about the last sandwich you ate. What was in it? NO FIBBING. I’ll use one of those random number generator thingamies to pick a winner on Monday. I’m looking forward to hearing about your sandwiches actually – totally holding out for the guilty pleasures.

 

Edit: 17th December. The winner is…Razzbingo! I shall be contacting you for address and message details. 

119 comments | Competitions, Uncategorized

Iceland: Eating, Drinking…Shivering

Sunday, 8th December 2013

It’s very hard to resist making jokes about supermarkets and king prawn rings right now. I’ll admit I did consider, briefly, some kind of variation on the slogan ‘that’s why mums go to Iceland’. Didn’t work out. I will tell you why people go to Iceland, though – it’s to marvel at the geological wonder of it all. It is possible to dive between the Earth’s tectonic plates, FFS. People go there to see mountains, glaciers and volcanoes. They go to see geothermal pools and geysers. They go for the Northern lights and the whale watching.

I’m not entirely sure people go for the food. Or at least, not so much any more. I’ve been to Iceland before, you see, and in my memory the food was significantly more exciting. I ate at a couple of good restaurants, had some unusual fish and left thinking I must come back to really get the culinary measure of the place. I imagined myself gorging on piles of spiky crustaceans, buried elbow deep in barbed langoustines and blushing lobsters, almost rudely abundant. What I wanted, I realise now, was another Sweden.

Perhaps it was my fault for not craving the preparations of the fancier restaurants (I rarely do), or perhaps it was because I had such a clear idea of what I wanted Icelandic food to be, but I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. Anyway here, in no particular order, is a list of 10 observations I made about food in Iceland. They are not necessarily negative, and some of them are very trivial, but that’s the kind of random shit I get off on. It’s the future of food and travel writing, I tell ya.

1. ‘CRONIONS‘ (that’s deep fried onions to you) – a word that demands to be written in capital letters. These are used to garnish things. A lot of things. Okay so on hot dogs they make sense (Iceland has a famous hot dog stand which I’ve written about here), but on sushi? Not so much.

2. Deep frying. A journalist writing in a local magazine asked “why can’t the Icelandic just eat sushi without deep frying it?” A reasonable question. California rolls kept turning up battered, fried, squirted with a mayonnaise based sauce and scattered with – you’ve guessed it – CRONIONS, with absolutely no prior warning on the menu.

Better deep fried things came in the form of fish and chips – well, fish and roast potatoes, really – from Icelandic Fish and Chips. Cod really is the best fish for frying, isn’t it? Poor endangered bastards. Are we still allowed to eat Icelandic cod? I did anyway, I’m afraid, and it was damn fine. Steamed inside a very thin batter to perfect pearlescent flakes.

Cod, garlic roast potatoes, onion rings.

Beautifully cooked fish.

Icelandic Fish and Chips, Tryggvagata 8, Reykjavik

3. Mangoes. I found it odd that they seemed to make an appearance at least once on every menu, ever; even as a sauce option for my fish and roast potatoes. 

4. Liquorice. The salty kind, which I love, is very popular, and often comes coated in chocolate. I’m not really into chocolate (I know. I don’t really like mashed potato either, so swallow that) but stick something salty in it and I’ll gnaw happily. Also, salty liquorice Haribo are the best Haribo ever made and not just because they are called SALT KRINGLER – a good name for a boat, or a salty old sea dog.

SALT KRINGLER.

Supermarket haul.

Can I just pause here to put in a word for foreign supermarkets? So. Much. Fun. Who can find the weirdest, most difficult to identify product! Who can find the one with the funniest name?!

5. Lobster. Lots of. Understandable. The lobsters in Iceland are much smaller than the great big lunkers we’re used to; more like giant langoustines. Mostly they come grilled in garlic butter, which is how we ate them at a restaurant called The Lobster House. It’s worth eating here simply because you will feel like you’re sitting in the living room of the rich granny you never had. Or maybe you did.

Inside The Lobster House

Grilled lobster

The Lobster House, Amtmannsstigur 1, Reykjavik 101

6. Lobster soup. There is a restaurant on the old harbour front called Sea Baron which claims to serve the ‘very best lobster soup in the world!’. I preferred the rich bisque-like version at The Lobster House, but there are many served all over Reykjavik. Someone should write a lobster soup guide if they’ve got nothing better to do. I’d read it.

Lobster soup at The Lobster House

Lobster soup at The Sea Baron.

The Sea Baron, Geirsgata 8, 101, Reykjavik

7. Beer. Iceland is not a country for the wine enthusiast, because it’s all nose-bleedingly expensive. They make many excellent beers however, including some rich Christmas beers, so thick with hops and alcohol they’re almost chewy.

8. Minke whale. We ordered this out of sheer touristy curiosity and were surprised to find it rather tasty. It needs to be cooked rare, as it’s kind of fibrous and it needs to be seasoned highly, as it could potentially be bland. Am I selling it to you? No?

9. Hákarl. That’s fermented shark. What’s the point? Well the shark meat is poisonous when fresh so I can only assume it was first prepped and consumed this way for reasons of survival. It arrived in a sealed jar – a good sign when eating out – and once freed from its protective environment, emitted a strong smell of ammonia. That’s as much as I can tell you because my boyfriend hoovered up the whole lot before I had even halfway steeled myself to try it. Sicko.

Platter of traditional Icelandic foods, including fermented shark in a jar, black pudding, pickled herring, fishy mash, minke whale steak and rye bread.

10. Brennivín. A clear, caraway flavoured schnapps which Icelandic people call ‘the black death’. This may seem over dramatic. I thought so, until I had to get a flight the morning after a night spent guzzling it. A truly horrendous experience.

There you go. My top 10 observations from 3 days spent in Reykjavik. I await the abuse from those more in the know. In fact I welcome it. What did I miss?

8 comments | Travel

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