Cooking For One

Sunday, 16th February 2014

How many times have you heard people say that they ‘cook to relax’? I don’t. I can only cook in fact, when I’m relaxed to start off with. If I’m upset then kitchen time goes out of the window. Like a wheel coming off a cart, I become de-railed when down. How do you think I’m so good at pimping instant noodles? It’s not JUST because I spent so much time getting drunk in my yoof, you know. Eye roll.

Cooking for one can make it even harder to get motivated, supposedly. When I’m on form I generally don’t have a problem cooking 8 curries then living off them for a week until I see chunks of paneer instead of ice cubes in my gin and tonic but hey, I’ve heard of the problem. Anyway on Friday I was staring down the barrel of Dinner Alone, and Friday, in case you didn’t notice, was Valentine’s day (if you didn’t notice you’re clearly not on Twitter). Everybody is supposed to hate Valentine’s day. I don’t. I don’t like it either, I just feel completely and utterly indifferent about it, or at least I did, until I had a book out about food and dating, then all of a sudden I became all like, ‘URGH, why are you all so MISERABLE?’ It’s because I’m paranoid that no-one will realise that the book is supposed to be a bit of fun. Everyone will think I’m a massive sell out! I’m one step away from writing for, for, for, I dunno, somewhere shit!

Anyway so it’s supposed to be a bit of a laugh, this new little book of mine, and while I may never reach the dizzy heights of prose achieved in Barbara Cartland’s magnificent tome, The Romance of Food (seriously, get it, it’s incredible), I’ve had a damn good go. Also my book contains recipes that are actually good. So for Vally D I decided to bust out a recipe from it. Actually it’s more of a lesson in method – how to cook an awesome steak. It really does work, by the way, and on the previous page I tell you how to mix the perfect martini which contains 90 whole mls of gin. Yuh huh.

So I bought a magnificent 550g rib eye from Flock and Herd and ate it all to myself while watching House of Cards because I am a restaurant widow and apparently Valentine’s day is a busy night for the trade or some such rubbish. Pfft.

Cook Your Date Into Bed is available on Amazon now

It looks like the crust isn’t dark enough in this photo which is annoying. Trust me, that one crussssssty bastard.

 

13 comments | Books, Meat, My book!

Sunday Leftovers No. 6

Sunday, 2nd February 2014

A brief, bullet-pointed leftovers for you today, because I’m feeling, in general, snappy.

Actually sod bullet points. They ugly.

1. The Peckham Peculiar launched this month. That’s a new local newspaper for Peckham and Nunhead. I’m writing for it. It’s ace.

2. Ganapati are opening a takeaway kitchen on Wednesday. THEY WILL DELIVER. This is major. I’ll have the number on speed dial so I can start calling the moment they open. It’ll be harder to get a delivery from there than it will to get a GP appointment say, tomorrow, in East Dulwich.

3. I went to Ireland, gained weight and lost dignity.

4. Guffaw guffaw at the accuracy of this pie chart depicting just why you actually use the Dominos online pizza tracker.

5. My new book is available to buy on Amazon and in various shops including, I was shamelessly happy to find out, SELFRIDGES. No bloody less.

6. Muffaletta sandwich in London. Eat it.

That’s it. I’m going to eat the dinner which I made my boyfriend cook for me while I flounced around with more swoosh than Robin Williams in The Birdcage.

 

4 comments | Sunday Leftovers

Eating and Drinking (lots of drinking) in Dublin

Sunday, 2nd February 2014

I’m always moaning about the lack of ‘proper boozers’ in London. When I lived in Gloucestershire, I worked in a pub where the regulars had their own glasses (often engraved with their names), into which I would start pouring their preferred drink when I saw them coming down the road, at exactly the same time each day. There was a lot of decent banter around that bar. I can still recall the names and faces, the lock-ins, the gossip and the horrible feeling when I finally tore myself away and buggered off to university. It was a bit like leaving a family.

If you have a fondness for the same kind of establishment then you’ll bloody love Dublin. There’s a pub like this on almost every street corner, all proudly serving properly poured Guinness, naturally. I tried hard to discern whether or not it actually tastes better in Ireland, as everyone claims, and while at first I didn’t notice a difference, I must admit that every pint seemed to slip down like midnight silk. Either that or I started to become an alcoholic, drinking the black stuff pretty much constantly from mid morning until bed time. The pubs do this brilliant thing too, called the ‘toasted special’, which are sandwiches, and which also bring me nicely to the start of my Dublin food story. We ate from one end of the scale (pub toasties) to the other (faaaahn dining) in just a couple of days and although I do feel fatter – subcutaneously, viscerally, psychologically – I feel we really got the measure of the place, so here are my tips.

1. The Toasted Special.

So all the pubs have these toastie makers where the whole sandwich goes in on its side like a regular toaster and is lowered down with a lever. I found that you can generally have any combination of ingredients you like, providing those ingredients are ham, cheese and onion. In the best places, a pot of English mustard comes on the side. Some try to glam it up by adding a side salad or whatever which is obviously wrong, unless that whatever is crisps. The most old boozery of proper old boozers we visited was J Grogan, with a proper chatty landlord and a clutch of regulars around the bar. I listened in to their conversations with nostalgic jealousy. You can also catch diddly music in loads of the pubs in the evenings. I have on my phone (or had before it CALLOUSLY DIED this weekend), video evidence of my boyfriend dancing with complete strangers. He also bought an acre of vineyard in Tokaj, on a whim. Then there was the three bottles of whisky that turned up at our house a week after we got back, which were clearly ordered from a shop at some point. To be honest, we did a lot of drinking.

J Grogan, 15 William St, Dublin 2.

2. Fried Chicken Surprise.

I was determined to eat mostly Irish food but when one finds oneself stuck in the rain and starving, it’s only natural to be drawn into a restaurant which is rather daintily named CRACKBIRD. Erm. While it wasn’t the best fried chicken I’ve eaten (the coating too thick and lacking crunch), the flavour was great. What I totally digged down to my sodden boots however were the dips that came with. Scotch bonnet sauce was a genuine kicker, the chermoula had its flavours tipped in the right direction to work with the chicken and, best of all, a whipped feta and caramelised lemon number had me swiping around the pot with my finger and wondering just how soon and often I can nick the idea and pass it off as my own. I’ll admit I’d ordered it because I thought they’d balls it up which is, with hindsight, pretty stupid. Lovely to be proven wrong, though.

Crackbird, 60 Dame St, Dublin 2.

3. Two Mid-Range Gems.

Etto had made it onto The List (because everyone knows that Food People do extensive Googling/make spreadsheets/ask everyone on Twitter for tips before they travel anywhere, ever) but hadn’t made the final cut simply for not serving anything ‘particularly Irish’. Sometimes I am truly the fool. Dishes were nothing groundbreaking but cooked with a very light touch: a starter of vitello tonato still tasted of veal, underneath it all, and ‘Nduja pasta had just a hint of the spicy sausage humming through. I had to order a meatball sandwich special, clearly aimed at the lunch crowd but as confidently balanced as the rest. Honeycomb ice cream to finish. Buzzing little room, great service, interesting wine list, reasonably priced.

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2, Tel: +353 1 678 8872

The menu at Fallon and Byrne didn’t get me in the least bit excited either. Different restaurant, same snap judgement. We gave an over-privileged sigh and climbed the stairs to emerge into a surprisingly lovely room, vast and twinkling with waist-coated staff and leather seats - its location above a ‘food and wine hall’ had me expecting something akin to a Whole Foods cafe. A caesar salad was one of the best I’ve ever eaten and a rib eye with bernaise a hunk of very well cooked, quality cow. They can make a solid martini, too. It’s the kind of restaurant that makes you want to stay put and we did, for several hours. The only photo I possess is of a half eaten salad – testament to the amount of fun we were having. 

Fallon and Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Tel: +353 (01) 472 1010

4. Lunch not Dinner. 

The Winding Stair appears to be lauded as one of Dublin’s hottest restaurants but to be honest it left me baffled. I’m a greedy person, and despite my stamina diminishing with age (trauma!), I can still hold my own when faced with the long haul. The portions here though = gargantuan. Laughably large. That’s my starter below, a platter of smoked fish on a board which was larger than a sheet of A4, if Guinness addled memory serves. Be a lovely lunch though, don’t ya think? Not so much a prelude to a pile of mashed potato, fish and onions the size of a small island. I just wonder what they’re trying to achieve; generosity is a lovely sentiment, but not when it leads to serious discomfort.

The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Tel: + 353 1 8727320

5. High End Jinks. 

The Greenhouse was recommended to me by the human directory of Michelin starred restaurants, Andy Hayler. Despite our lack of agreement on the value of the Michelin guide, there’s no doubt he’s right to say that it’s curious this place doesn’t have a star. Incidentally, I remember first learning about the guide from a regular bar fly while working in that pub back in Gloucestershire in 2000. “You can see them twinkling through the window” he told me and yes, for more than a moment I believed him. The cooking here is serious without taking itself seriously. Well worth the wonga.

The Greenhouse, St. Stephen’s Green, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Tel: (01) 6767015

So there you have it: the highlights of as much food as it’s possible to consume in the space of 2.5 days without making oneself physically ill. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE.

On non-food related business:

- We stayed as a guest of Trinity Capital Hotel which looked like it was designed by Willy Wonka. I’m down with that, personally, but I believe not everyone wants to spend the night amidst giant purple curlicues.

- Dublin is famous for its taxis (there are more there than in NYC, apparently), although the only one you’ll really need is from the airport. This is a good chance to get the down low on Dublin, if the rest of the internet is to be believed. Me? I got a soliloquy on the moral status of the Gas Board.

- Irish people are incredibly friendly and they can drink like whales, let alone fish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

7 comments | Restaurant Reviews, Travel

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

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