Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Little Sparrows and Piggy Cheeks

Once upon a time our kitchen was very small. That wasn't such a bad thing though and in some ways it was rather efficient due to it's size. Everything was immediate to hand, surfaces were kept intentionally sparse to preserve valuable space and with minimal effort and energy I could crank out a decent meal or two. Then two little blips appeared on the horizon. Well on an ultra scan monitor actually. Due to their unusual shapes we called them 'hedgehog' and 'bean' and we decided there and then that more room to swing the proverbial cat would be needed. So we extended the kitchen and it became huge. I spent an inordinate and frustrating amount of time using IKEA's very own 3D home planner software to fit the new space out with new cupboards, shelves, drawers and cubby holes and to be honest I am not sure that I did a good job of it. For one I ignored that most basic design principle, be aware of the kitchen's holy Trinity. Which if you didn't know is the oven, the fridge and the sink. When planning what goes where, just make sure that these three divine shrines of domesticity are relatively close to each other. Equidistant if you're really anal. My failure comes down to the fact that I put the fridge and oven within easy distance to each other but left the sink sprawling over at the other end of the room. The result? Well whenever I am in the kitchen cooking, a mini marathon ensues as I dart from the fridge to the sink to the oven to the sink to the oven to the fridge to the sink. Leaving a hazardous and slippy trail of water, peelings, flour, butter and other detritus in my wake. In fact what am I talking about? I blame the IKEA software, it should have alerted me that I was steering away from the holy Trinity. Yeah, there should have been some kind of alarm or yodelling pop-up assistant saying "bork bork bork! don't forgets ze Trinity yah! bork bork bork!" But. There. Was. Nothing.

However, when I designed the kitchen, the one thing though that I can't blame on our Scandinavian cousins was the overzealous impulse to install as much cupboard space as possible. That was definitely my fault and we have tons. And when the kitchen was finished, it felt rather good. Well it does doesn't it? Throw what you like at me world but hey I will always have a corner in my house where I store away my beloved KitchenAid Blender, all neat and tidy like. The problem is that over time, if you're like me you tend to accumulate all kinds of useless cooking paraphernalia, largely from places like IKEA* and before you know it you have cupboards and cupboards full of crap. So if I get the chance again, I will design my kitchen with less cupboard space and drag the sink closer to the oven and the fridge.

But what is done is done (for now) so the other day I set about the task of clearing out one cupboard that was mysteriously full of Tupperware boxes and plastic takeaway trays and chanced upon a Pyrex pizza tray with holes, still in it's packaging. I scratched my head for a minute or two, trying to figure out why I had bought this rather gimmicky item but suddenly remembered I got it out of a pound shop thinking that it may serve me well should I ever want to make some spätzle. I first encountered 'German pasta' at the sadly defunct Konstam where it was served up with roast Uxbridge chicken. The spätzle had been decadently pan-fried in beurre noisette and mixed with herbs and I thought it was delicious. After that evening I was determined to make some of these fluffy, doughy.... er squiggly dumplings at home. That was probably about 4 years ago now and I had forgotten all about spätzle until I fished the pizza tray out just the other day which gives you an appreciation of my sense of purpose. But still I made some the other night and was fairly happy with the result, the spätzle wasn't quite as big and fluffy as I remember but they were still very good. There are various recipes out there and I did do some research first, getting a lot of advice from Sara of Sasasunakku on Twitter. Essentially the basics are the same, flour, eggs, salt and a smidgen of water. So here is a very simple step by step guide should you ever feel inclined to make some spätzle at home. Ha, I do like the professional tone of that last sentence, like I'm the frigging spätzle King, this was the first time I ever tried it!

First take a pizza tray with holes. Or a colander. Or even a proper spätzle plate or press. You will also need something to push the dough through. A dough scraper is deemed to the best utensil but apparently you can use the back of a ladle. I used a B&Q grout spreader that I found in the shed and I promise you Mrs FU, it had never ever been used and I gave it a scrupulous clean under the tap.

So make up your spätzle dough by mixing 250gms of plain flour (or tippo '00') with 5 large free range eggs, a teaspoon of salt and a dash of water. The dough has to be quite loose, almost like a batter for you to be able to push it through your chosen receptacle.

Heat a large of pot of water on the hob until it's boiling fast and strong. Place your chosen receptacle over the pot and pour in the middle a ladle of dough/batter.

Spread the batter across your chosen receptacle with your chosen utensil, pushing every last bit through as quickly as you can. The spätzle is ready when it pops up to the surface (mine took less than a minute) so keep an eye on it. With a slotted spoon take the spätzle out and place in a bowl of iced water to stop it cooking further.

Repeat the process until everything is used up and like I said go quickly otherwise you will find that the dough/begins to set on your chosen receptacle and everything starts to get very sticky and messy.

Once drained and dried with kitchen towel, the spätzle should look like this (again should it? I am not the spätzle King). All ready to be warmed through with a nice cheese sauce poured over as an accompaniment to some nice fat bratwurst.

Or you could serve the spätzle up, pan fried in beurre noisette and mixed with parsley and chives (which I did in homage to Oliver Rowe) to accompany some pig cheeks braised in red wine with spicy red cabbage. Next week I am going to clean out some more cupboards and see what will inspire me to cook next. This could be the start of an interesting journey, I may not be the Spätzle King but I am certainly the King of Kitchen Crap.

As a footnote, the piggy cheeks were purchased from Barbecoa Butchery which is attached to Mr Jamie Oliver's new venture at One New Change, St Pauls. The guys there are a great laugh, especially the toothless wonder, pay them a visit.

(*and actually yes I am blaming you again............. fucking Swedes)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Variety is the spice of life

I had pie and mash twice this week for lunch. Greedy yes but I haven't had this beloved dish of mine for a while and besides it's bloody freezing out there. When it gets this parky, there's nothing like walking into a pie and mash shop and being enveloped by a hot, steaming fug that whiffs faintly of vinegar and eel juice. It's like being cuddled by your Nan. Not that my Nan smells of vinegar and eels of course. No, she smells of Special Brew*.

For the first excursion I went to Clark's in Exmouth Market and yesterday I popped into our local cafe Roy's Pie and Mash in Hornchurch and as you can see from their splendid Facebook page, Roy cuts a fine dash. This pie and mash shop comes with all the usual, comfortable trappings. The black and white tiles, the formica tabletops upon which salt, white pepper and huge bottles of 'Vinneys' vinegar sit, the aforementioned steam and the slow and steady stream of pensioners who seem to eat nothing but pie and mash all day. For extra authenticity, the walls of Roy's are adorned with tributes to the mighty, mighty Hammers, pictures of Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking in their heyday, clutching the FA Cup way back in 1980, the last time the mighty, mighty Hammers ever won anything. And in the corner is your obligatory Krays tribute, a massive placard of those boys who looked after their own and kicked in the teeth of others. Even though I wasn't actually born, I was in The Blind Beggar the night Jack the Hat got it you know. Along with everyone else from the East End**.

Anyway it's all very cosy, nostalgic and cockney and I love it. What I love even more is the menu in Roy's. You'd be hard pressed to make your mind up, I can tell you that. It goes something like this.

Pie & Liquor - 2.20p

Pie & Mash - 3.00p

Pie & 2 Mash - 3.80p

2 Pie & Mash - 4.70p

2 Pie & 2 Mash - 5.50p

2 Pie & Liquor - 3.90p

2 Mash & Liquor - 2.10p

Eels & Mash -3.70p

Eels, Pie & Mash -5.40p

Mash & Liquor - 1.30p

Eels & Liquor - 2.90p

Jellied Eels - 2.50p

2 Pie, Mash, Liquor & Eels - 7.00p

See, the possibilities are endless and it never fails to make me smile as I stand there at the counter, desperately struggling to make my mind up.

*PS My Nan doesn't really smell of Special Brew..............oooooh fack, she's gonna ring my gregory when she sees this.
** And it wasn't Jack the Hat, it was George Cornell, just checked on google.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Mighty Mo

Girls, as you go about your business this month you might just notice that something odd is happening to some of us chaps out there. It will be hard to pin down at first and at times you are bound to be thoroughly perplexed by this aura of weirdness. Sitting there on the bus or queueing up at the cash machine or even walking through the reception of your office, your eyebrows will crumple into a pained frown as you observe your male counterparts. Yes we have always been curious creatures but now things are going to get curiouser and curiouser. The problem is that you won't quite be able to put your finger on the matter.

But fear not, the penny will drop. Soon and very suddenly as your eyes swoop in on the monstrosity that lingers under our collective noses, it will hit you with an audible DUN DUN DAAH. The men! The men are growing moustaches! Run! Run for the hills, run for your lives! Yes ladies, it's Movember, the boys are growing moustaches for charity and you love it.

5 days in and I am still tussling whether to commit fully to the cause. I was very beardy until this morning when I had a shave and began to fashion with dexterity and skill a very sexy horseshoe tache. I wiped my face free of specks of foam and stood back to admire my work in the mirror. It was like I had skinned a ginger hamster, cut it's fur into strips and stuck them haphazardly to my face. Not a good look (I took it off completely). So yeah I am still wondering whether the abject humiliation of laughter, pointing and staring is worth it. Terrible really because it is a worthwhile cause.

One thing that might just change my mind is the Mighty Mo, the special burger that Byron has dreamed up for their involvement with the charity. I popped into their sparkily new branch at One New Change yesterday and was persuaded to give it a go. My waiter who may have been Spanish said that for every Mighty Mo sold, 50p is donated so that men can be encouraged "to be aware of the prostate cancers, to feel their balls and be more carefuls with their healths". And I'm all up for that. Especially the feeling of my balls. Consisting of 6oz hamburger, beetroot, mature cheddar, dry cure bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayo, this really was a man's burger. Incredibly filling in fact but I was very impressed with the burger at the heart of this concoction. Juicy and succulent, medium rare with a great char grill smokey flavour, gorgeous it was. I wasn't too sure though about the introduction of beetroot on the ingredient list but maybe Byron are reinforcing the message of "boys, please keep an eye on your prostate". If anything will do that, pink wee wee certainly will*.

So coming back to that moustache and whether I can summon up the kahunas to grow one, well Byron has another trick up their sleeve. If you register and donate at least £25.00 to Movember, between the hours of 3PM and 7PM you will be entitled to one free hamburger per day. For that I might just be willing to give the mo another crack.

Girls can also join in you know, just donate £25.00 (and give the Immac a rest for a month)

Mighty Mo
*The guys at Byron have reliably informed me that the beetroot has been added because it is a cancer busting vegetable which of course now makes perfect sense.