Pilluelo and The Catalan Queen, They Speak!
It’s a Sunday morning. It is Mediterranean hot and I am standing in side a real life Boden catalogue trying to spot Boris Johnson having just spent the monthly wage of an illegal immigrant in California on 6 tomatoes. Having also bought a cucumber my partner in crime and I decide that if the Marylebone Farmer’s market reflects the average price of sustainable seasonal produce a lot of people will be going very hungry very soon.
The straw that broke the camels back was definitely the tomatoes. Yes they may well have come from the Island of Wight and ok were not farmed by illegal immigrants but four bloody quid for eight tomatoes?!?! I said to the vendor that "I could get across the Solent as a foot passenger for less and pick my own!!". But he didn't find this very funny. If I had been wearing pink chinos and a cashmere jumper across my shoulders, he might have tittered out of politeness. But I was wearing a grungy t-shirt and smelt faintly like a pub.
A couple of weeks previously I rashly offered on twitter to enter a cooking competition with Food Urchin as his previous two choices had bailed out on him and he desperately needed someone to cook with. Clearly if we shopped anymore at this market our budget would be blown.
Yes, not one but two of my fellow Essex compardres blew me out, can you believe it. Fank gawd for Rachel!
As Danny is still emitting a light fragrance of Eau-de-last-night’s-piss-up we decide to lie low until the supermarket opens and we can get the stuff we need and may actually be able to afford – it has to be the first time in my life I have considered Waitrose the affordable option. We go off in search of proper sustenance and coffee and find the only café in the area that doesn’t do blue mountain frapuccino and duck egg and pancetta on a bed of Norwegian sourdough, but coffee and bacon sandwiches with white bread.
Hey I only had a few pre-birthday ales the night before but ok enough to forget the SD card for my camera in the morning so all of these pictures were taken on my iPhone. Super high quality I think you'll agree.
Revived we consider the Tesco Express option for buying but discard it as affordable but unsustainable so we charge around Waitrose with our list along with every other contestant on Nom Nom Nom.
It was like Supermarket Sweep with everyone scrambling around with baskets and trolleys. I kept looking around to see if I could spot Dale Winton but then I remember reading somewhere that he shops in Lidl.
After our shop, we hot foot it back to the Cookery School and set about preparing our feast of Watermelon Gazpacho, Poussin Stuffed with Rose Petal Jelly, Rice and Sherry and Elderflower Panna Cotta with Gooseberry Compote. The menu was largely Rachel's idea. We had met up previously to go over a menu and I got rather carried away, expressing the desire to emulate 3 Michelin Star cuisine. She just slapped me across the face and said "this is supposed to be simple stuff that a family of four can cook". I am glad she did as 2 and half hours went by in a blur. Highlights for me during the cooking process were the blast cooler (every home should have one), Billy 'Cowfish' Abbott throwing half of his apricot stuffing up the wall and getting away with not cutting my fingers, for once I didn't have to wear the blue badge of dishonor. I was also very pleased that I had decided to make four panna cottas. When it came to plating up, I left the first two in a bath of warm water for too long and they came out of their bowls like runny Elderflower plops more than anything else. The third one though, held firm. Phew!
Cooking in a competitive environment in an unfamiliar kitchen has its drawbacks. For some reason the recipe that was easy peasy in your pals kitchen while you knocked back a glass of wine or three can become fraught with nerves and worry. The blender isn’t quite right, the oven doesn’t turn your meat the golden colour you want, everything seems to take a lot longer and the collective nervousness in the room adds to your own tension. But Danny is the epitome of calm and collected , long since having ditched the hangover and by the time we stop I am happy with what we’ve done. It’s not perfect, as ever it’s not quite as good as I imagined it would be but I am happy with what we send upstairs to be judged.
I'd like to say that I the epitome of coolness too, judging by the photo above (or you might just be thinking that is the epitome of a prick). I was pleased too with the end result and very pleased to finally sit down and sample the dishes that everyone else made, the standard was exceptionally high. But boy did the judges take their time. With heady conversation springing forth, empty plates before us and glasses continually being refilled, I did start worry that I would slip under the table back into an alcoholic fug. When suddenly the judges appeared and amidst the cacophony of many cheers and whoops, it was announced that we had won. I'll admit it all (again) seems like a blur but I do remember looking across at Rachel who was a picture of astonishment. Our prizes, a bottle of champoo each, a bulging goodie bag and a Kitchenaid Food Processor and Blender. As it was my birthday that day, Rachel graciously let me have the processor. Which was bloody heavy and by the time I lugged it from the cab into Liverpool Street station and onto the train, I was covered in a fine film of sweat. Nobody sat next to me on the journey to glorious Romford. But I didn't mind, inside I was a happy man.
Cheers again to all the rest of the people who took part, to Annie Mole for organizing, to The Cookery School for hosting and cleaning up after us and to the judges who shall remain nameless but don't worry, your cheques are in the post.
And one last thing, all this NomNomNoming hasn't just been about being a flash harry in the kitchen, there is a little bit of charidee involved. Sponsors of NomNomNom2010 have donated tip top prizes for a raffle and all proceeds will go to Action Against Hunger so please do enter.