Thursday, 29 December 2011
1) Hay was the buzzword for chefs in 2011. Such was it's marvelous insulating qualities, the strawy, straw coloured straw stuff that grows in fields was a big hit in the kitchen for cooking things in straw. Hay made all the difference, wrapped around that pork shoulder, that leg of lamb, that calves liver. And it also made a lot of mess. But this year, the word across stainless steel countertops across the land is that a new material has been found, which is even better then straw. And it's called 'Rockwool'. Yes, you heard it hear first. Demand for this stone wool insulation material is set to go through the roof as chefs such as Nuno Mendes start to set the trend. Look out for his new Rockwool wrapped Goat's Head with Milk Poached Daikon and Camomile Starfish Goujons coming onto the menu at Viajante very soon. It will tear your mouth apart.
2) Government proposals to implement a 'minimum price' on alcohol sales in the UK will see a boom in home brewing but traditional beer and wine making will fall to the wayside as experimentation with vegetables and other foodstuffs come into dominance. Techniques are still a bit rough and ready at the moment but as certain people get to grips with the possibly illegal distilling of manky vegetable hooch into pure spirit, major breakthroughs will start to shine through, particularly at house parties. In turn, alternative speakeasies will begin to rise and appear around the capital, where 'Marrow Rum', 'Turnip Gin' and 'Pumpkin Whisky' will all become common parlance. And it will all be great fun and giggles with only the occasional bout of blindness or paralysis. Which is kind of ironic, given that the idea behind Chief Iggle Piggle David Cameron's latest, joyless, bogus campaign is to improve the nation's health. David, an Englishman will fight off a horde of rabid hyenas wearing nothing but his underpants to get to a beer, sod the cost. And therein lies the real problem. Yet another system of tax won't solve it, you twat.
3) Our working lives are getting busier, hours longer, lunch breaks shorter. It's no wonder that the temptation to gorge on junk in the 15 minutes behind our desks is so prevalent. So thank heavens for the likes of Sebastian Fortescue-Smythe who has come up with a fantastic new concept in healthy, organic, super fast food. And I for one can't wait for the roll out of his new chain of food bars called 'Masticate', where all dishes will be served up having gone through the first stage of digestion. In Sebastian's own words, "Yah, I first got the idea on my gap year travelling through Papa New Guinea, living with various tribes. The staple diet out there is taro root and the most incredible thing I witnessed out there, were the various Mothers of each tribe chewing these tubers and spitting them into bowls for their young offspring to eat. My God, I thought, there's an idea that will go down well in London." The first Masticate bar will open in early Jan, in Hoxton.
4) Whispers behind the tills at Waitrose is that Delia Smith will be launching a brave and bold venture for Valentine's Day, in the form of a new range of sexy, edible lingerie made from spun sugar. Which, apparently, is to be found by the jam and preserves section. Apparently, this is a last ditch attempt to lure Heston, who, judging by the adverts has been displaying a distinct lack of chemistry in the partnership so far, despite Delia's best efforts. In fact, apparently, this whole marketing campaign has been orchestrated and paid for by Delia, simply because she fancies the pants off the pseudo-bald, bespectacled, meat fruit genius. I don't know, I am only repeating what the cashier was telling me the other day. What I do know is that I will be Sky plus-ing the saucy advert when it is aired on ITV1 at 9pm (after the watershed) on Feb 1st. Because, perversely, I fancy the pants off Delia. And I really am bald.
5) As street food continues to grow and expand, the hunt for the next frugal, portable, takeaway dish to be elevated inexplicably to a superlative state is on. We've had burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, ribs, falafel, jerk chicken, burritos, bratwurtz, sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, ribs, cupcakes, falafel, burgers and sandwiches, all ranted and raved about in equal wonder and derision but I reckon that nows the time for the humble Frikadellen to catch some of that limelight. If you shop at Lidl or Aldi, then you are probably already aware of the qualities of this lumpy, ugly, salty, shitty, horse meat patty but sooner or later, someone, somewhere will pitch up with a trolley in a car park and start shifting these by the bucket load. People will start to queue for hours to get a bite, rambling on about about how good these Frikadellen are. "Just as good as the stuff you get in Copenhagen." And before you know it, the first Frikadellen pop up will open some crack den in Westborne Park before moving onto a permanent fixture in the West End. Mark my words.
6) Thankfully, for the first time in 10 years, deaths at home because of accidents in the kitchen will finally decrease in 2012 due to this recent and successful campaign. Unfortunately, catering outside, in gardens, in the open air will continue to take the lives, especially in the summer. And this really is a worrying trend. By the way, I am not talking about deaths relating to throwing petrol on the barbecue and food poisoning due to undercooked sausages here. No, something far more sinister is afoot. And it's all down to some numpty showing men, grown but essentially immature men, how to deep fry whole turkeys. My wife has actually banned me from watching this video but I keep getting up in the night, quiet and secretive, to pad down the stairs, to flick open the laptop, to click and stare in awe. I know of many other brethren who are also hooked on this instructional video, which is dangerous yet beautiful, like an open flame. like poor old Nicholas Cage in Knowing, it's a terrible thing to thing to acknowledge that one of us, or all of us, will surely die.
7) Food, food design and food performance art will continue to make great strides after the trail blazing trailing trails made by the likes of Bompas and Parr and Blanch and Shock in recent years. But these guys will seem a little bit average, tame, boring and vanilla in comparison to the more avant garde food artists that are emerging onto the scene. Amongst a plethora of practitioners who have recently formed and exhibited their culinary inspired work, under the umbrella of 'Zeitgeist Banana', is a young man from Berlin called Claus Lowenbrau. Coming to the Festival Hall in June, in time for the Golden Jubilee, Claus is planning his most controversial piece yet. Entitled 'Essen Sie Scheiße und sterben Sie', Claus hopes to construct a large pair of buttocks, made from 2 tons of rendered pig fat and sit atop the structure so that he can throw rotten fruit at the audience, whilst making defamatory remarks about vegans. Book your tickets now, it should be an interesting night.
8) The marriage of television and food will enter the doldrums in 2012 simply because of overexposure, tedium, half-cocked ideas and the continued martyrdom of the celebrity chef. The public have carried on for long enough, slouching listlessly in their baggy sofas, watching the same old shit, the same old bouncy seasonal feature, the same old campaign to save squirrel, the same old competitive yet torpid runaround, the same old "Boy, I would love to stick my dick in that pudding." We've had enough, we are unconvinced, or simply put, we still can't be bothered because our ovens are still sparkling clean. BUT HAVE NO FEAR! For I have devised a brand new cooking show format, loosely based on The Running Man where members of the public and television chef's fight to the death in a gladiatorial arena, using nothing but silicone spatulas, eggs and spam. OK, I have yet to get it commissioned so things might not happen this year but I do have Antony Worrall Thompson on board as a prospective warrior called 'The Ginger Gnome'. Together, we shall get the nation cooking proper in no time.
9) Despite number 8) sort of besmirching that this country doesn't really have a proper food cultcha to speak of as yet, I do predict a rise in food festivals throughout the country and as a result, can picture seemingly ordinary towns blossom into new frontiers of taste and flavour, where the artisan can flourish and rise. Of course, already firmly ensconced on the UK food map are places such as Ludlow, Abergavenny and Aldeburgh but sure enough I can forsee Kettering, Skegness and Romford forming an integeral part of the burgeoning infrastructure. At present, I am personally involved in putting Romford firmly out there as a food tourist destination because I believe we have a lot to offer. We certainly have the wealth of the Essex countryside and it's produce on our doorstep. Which is why I am pleased to formally announce that Romford will have it's very first and proper food festival in July. And it will be called - "Alex James' Cheesy Essex Romp" - he'll sign up for anything these days.
10) The very last trend, prediction, event, hoo-ha that I would like to inflict on you (and if you have made it this far, well done) is one of grave importance. So please, listen carefully.
I am giving up blogging..
Ha ha, I am only kidding folks, I am far too fond of writing this inane obllocks and getting drunk whilst doing so. Even if it's inconsistent, slack at times and even if you don't care for it ; P.
But what I really would like to announce is Happy New Year to everyone, let's hope it's a good one, without any fear.
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Sometimes, a guy can't help but to act on impulse. And I am not talking about the kind of "Phwoor, your armpits smell gworjus petal, 'ere have a bunch of flowers," swerve in the street. No, I am talking about acts of inspiration that leave you mumbling incoherently into space whilst pensively scratching your chin. The sort of "Er, ah, um, maybe I shouldn't haven't done that," scenario. I am infamous for it. My life is peppered with bad DIY decisions, ill-thought email replies, dodgy sartorial choices and inopportune statements. All because of snap judgements. I once pinned a young chap to a wall outside Shoe World in Romford because I thought he had just assaulted some poor girl and run off with her shopping bag. Turned out that he was the boyfriend of said helpless maiden and they had just been arguing about returning some goods to another shop. But hey, it really looked like he was mugging her at the time.
This rush of blood thinking also applies on occasions when I am tinkering in the kitchen, as it did yesterday when I set about to make some bread pudding. I had just visited our local bakers for a loaf and spotted some of the lovely, sugar-sprinkled stuff on the glass shelf. Walking back to the house, munching away on a gloriously sweet and stodgy slice, I resolved to make some more as soon as I walked in through the door. I mean, I wasn't even going to take my coat off so batshit was my hankering. But having never actually made any before, I quickly threw a shout out for recipes on Twitter. Lynne from Greedy Pig pinged back an intriguing version which used black treacle but the one that really caught my eye was this family recipe, passed down through the generations from Grandpa Joe to hirstute Dan of Essex Eating. Primarily because he suggested soaking the fruit in brandy. A great idea, I think you'll agree.
However, dashing to the drinks cupboard revealed a situation of Mother Hubbardesque proportions. We really had bugger all in the way of honest, hard liquor. Except for a half bottle of Lagavulin. Which remained unopened, put aside for a tipple in front of a roaring fire (on DVD) on Christmas Eve. I paused for a split second and then, reminiscent of Withnail demanding booze, I ripped the box asunder, pulled the bottle out, popped the cork and poured a rather generous splash over a bowl of some very sorry looking mixed fruit that I found at the back of the cupboard. I think I was pleased with myself for just one more split second and then the feeling disappeared because, well Lagavulin is fairly expensive and possibly too good for the likes of bread pudding. Looking down at the moistened currents and sultanas after the deed, I really did feel this horrible, hollow pang of regret, deep within my bowels. I should have thought twice. But it was too late, I had just mugged myself of some fine, fine whisky. And I can just imagine all the connoisseurs out there, are fainting right now at the mere suggestion of such waste and are having to be revived with splashes of water from small glass jugs and smelling salts.
But you know what? The end result wasn't half bad, leaving me with a bread pudding that in flavour was unusual, complex, masculine and brooding. A bit like Marlon Brando's Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. If I were to go down this road again, feeling frivolous and flush then perhaps I would ease off the whisky just a touch. But the peat-smoke taste and aroma certainly added a new dimension to this humble cake. It even made it seem quite festive, perhaps I should add nuts next time? Maybe that's taking things too far but it goes to show that the bare bones of a good, honest recipe will stand up to almost anything and I rather like that train of thought. As for the 4 tablespoons of gooseberry jam that I added because we didn't have any marmalade in the house (as per Grandad Joe's recipe), well, that was truly inspirational. Not foolhardy at all.
Inspired Bread Pudding (recipe from Essex Eating but with my tweaks)
Makes about 10 very generous slices.
Half a loaf of bread (preferably stale)
3/4 of a mug - self raising flour
4 tbs homemade gooseberry jam
9 tbs sugar (Plus extra for sprinkling)
50 gms butter - plus extra for greasing, and dotting on top.
300g mixed fruit (optionally soaked in 3 tbs of whisky).
1 heaped tbs mixed spice
Rip the loaf into small pieces into a mixing bowl, and fill with water to cover. Leave to soak for about 1hr.
(If soaking the mixed fruit in expensive whisky, or perhaps something else, slightly cheaper - now would be the time to do it).
When ready, strain your bread in a Colander, pushing and squeezing the water out, put back into the mixing bowl and add the flour, Marmalade, Sugar, Butter and the two Eggs. Mix together, then stir in the mixed fruit and the mixed spice.
Pour the mixture into a buttered 5cm deep Dish, rough dimensions 20cm x 25cm.
Dab butter on top, cover with foil, put into an oven pre-heated to 180C. and bake for 1hr 15 min. Remove the foil, and then cook for another 15 min to brown the top.
Test if done, by inserting a skewer or knife into middle, if it comes out clean it's done. Finally, sprinkle some sugar over top.
Bread pudding tastes best barely warm or cold, so you need to leave it to cool down a bit before tucking in (with a glass of Lagavulin, if you happen to have any lying around)
Thursday, 8 December 2011
It was only once he started walking on, down the hill and back to the train station that a tumult becomes apparent, a tumult from inside, inside his head. And with each step it grows and grows. The feeling itself was indescribable, some kind of bizarre gnawing, a ravenous hungry squall, some intense pressure from deep within. Dipping into an alleyway the Food Urchin tries to relieve his bladder in the vain hope that this fear would dissipate. But no, this maelstrom from within had nothing to do with the fear of the Food Urchin publicly pissing himself. No, it was far worse than that. This was pure fear.
Onwards the Food Urchin staggers, sweating, shivering, blinking and staggering some more. Shadows linger and stretch across the road, street lights morph and twist into spiral galaxies, whilst his ears buzz all the while with ferocious white noise. In the distance, the Food Urchin can just make out a sign on a wall which reads 'Surbiton' and he breathes a short sigh of relief. 'Perhaps', he thinks, 'Perhaps, if I can just make it to the station, to the lights, to the company of strangers, then maybe I'll be alright.' And after fumbling with hands, as clumsy as trotters, at the ticket barrier for what seemed like an eternity, the Food Urchin finally makes it onto the platform and spills onto a bench, hyperventilating and shaking wildly. 'Someone will come to help me, someone will get me on the train, get me home.' But no-one does, they all simply move away, recoiling, gasping and averting their eyes, leaving a wide empty space around him, a lonely space. Desperate, the Food Urchin looks at a little girl who was being dragged away and tried to say something but no words came. It was the little girl who punctuated the silence - "Mummy, what's wrong with that man's face?"
Again the Food Urchin tries to respond but the clattering and hiss of an arriving train sounds in the distance. Wanting just to get home and to bed, the Food Urchin decides to haul himself up and brush his clothes down, muttering to himself, 'You've had one too many ales, young man that's what it is, now take it easy.' With toes dangerously overlapping the yellow line, teetering and swaying, listing from side to side like a ship on rough seas, the train misses the Food Urchin's nose by an inch but good fortune finally begins to smile on him as the doors open precisely where he stands. Further more, there are seats. 'Ah a place to sit and maybe sleep this off a bit', the Food Urchin thinks to himself, not noticing the clamber of bodies scrambling out of the other door on the carriage. Finally, the Food Urchin slumbers against the cold glass and peacefully drifts off, occasionally scratching his nose. Which by this point more than resembles a snout, yet softly the Food Urchin begins to dream and soon enough he is back at the house from whence he came, dreaming about all the wonderful things he ate.
The chicharones, puffy, porky and crisp dipped in a wonderfully boozy and warm bourbon satay.
The 'Bacon Sarnie' of iberico ham and pan fried brioche with a tomato pil pil sauce. A scoop, a wipe and a single mouthful that was so so good.
The frozen salami - pork loin cured with fennel seed, bay and juniper - thinly sliced and ice cool with fragrant juniper pop corn and a lovely bay granita which could have done without the bitter garlic chips.
The twist on 'Ham and Eggs' which superseded any comfort and familiarity that the original dish has. So delicious was this version that from now on, throughout the land, this dish must be made with cured ham hock, confit egg yolk and grated parmesan and drizzled with sage butter. There can now be no other way.
The 'Boston Butt' brined in apple juice and cooked in a low oven so that it remains scarcely pink and so tender, served up with black pudding, apple and a tangy, minty chimichurri type sauce.
The Three Shots - Jim Bean Black Bourbon, Pigs Trotter Dashi, Gin and Lemon Thyme slush puppy - all intoxicating in their own special way, the gin in particular singing on the taste buds
The 'Bath Chap' oozing sensuality with melting flesh and wobbly fat, with lush pear soaked in prosecco, peppered with stabs of salt from the pecorino, divine.
The Bacon panna cotta, the giddy school boy surprise, lush cream laced with the goodness of streaky, fatty bacon with some candied on the side for equal measure, drizzled with maple syrup. Pure alchemy.
All of it was so so good, so so indulgent and so so piggy and just recalling the images in his mind was enough to make the Food Urchin clutch his stomach and dribble in his sleep with his cheek still pressing against the glass, flashing blue, flashing blue.
Suddenly the Food Urchin realises that the train has stopped. He thinks he is at Waterloo Station but he can't be sure for several police wagons obscure his sight. Slowly but surely, peeling his face away from the window, the Food Urchin suddenly becomes aware of eyes. Lots and lots of eyes framed by helmets with visors down. And guns, lots and lots of guns pointing towards him. In a fit of panic, the Food Urchin tries to shout but instead of remonstration, an alien, shrill squeal emits from his lungs. The helmets jump back before a deafening chorus of "DON'T MOVE" is repeated over and over again. Now frightened the Food Urchin raises his hands in front of his face to protect himself. Except they aren't hands anymore, they are ungulated stumps, hooves, real trotters. In terror, the Food Urchin screams and again that piercing sound resonates and echoes across the concourse before the helmets move in and brutally force the Food Urchin to the ground. Now in a state of total delirium, the Food Urchin thrashes as if his life depended on it, screaming, kicking, squealing, resisting the cuffs but it is no use, he is outnumbered and dragged off the train.
Now all becomes pandemonium. A huge, swelling crowd has been present all along but up to that point, deathly quiet. But when they witness the Food Urchin, bound and defeated, a deafing roar goes up and a hundred phones and cameras are pointed in his direction. Despite being confused, disorientated and scared witless the Food Urchin decides to make a one last ditch effort, to take one last chance for escape and kicks out at no-one in particular. Instantly, a baton strikes his head and the Food Urchin falls to the floor. Slowly he loses consciousness but before he blacks out totally, the Food Urchin hears a familiar voice.
"Leave him alone! Leave him be! He has a condition damn you! LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
When he wakes the Food Urchin finds himself in a darkened room lying on a bed of straw on the floor, with low hung lights and old rickety beams above. In the corner is a trough where several large pigs are scoffing, all different breeds, all different colours, some hairy, some bare. One pauses and looks around and just for a split second, the Food Urchin experiences a flash of familarity as if the pig is an old friend or someone he has met at least once before. It something to do with the eyes, which look sad yet resigned. A door suddenly opens and in walks Neil, the culinary magician, followed by another guy with a mop of blond hair and geeky black rimmed glasses who again looks strangely familiar.
Neil walks up, bends over the Food Urchin and roughly rustles his head, sweetly chirping, "How are you doing Danny Boy, you feeling any better?"
The Food Urchin tries to talk back but again, all he can manage is that same pathetic whine.
"Shhhh, Danny, take it easy, take it easy, you rest up ok? You need to get your strength back. Listen, we're just going to have to keep you in here for a while and we're going to try and make things as comfortable for you as possible. Is that ok? So just relax, eat what you like and most importantly, take things easy because listen Danny, we've got big plans for you, haven't we Tom?"
And with that the guy with the blond mop looks down and just smiles, that same enigmatic smile.
The Food Urchin attended Neil Rankin's inaugural supper club on November 27th in Surbiton and hasn't been seen since.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
Creating a menu at any level, be it for a small dinner party or for a big event requires a great deal of thought. Ideas and suggestions should be approached with careful consideration. And when putting down these flights of fancy on paper, when scribbling frenetically with quill, when constructing a masterpiece, the chef or cook must take on board many, many, many different.............things. He or she must recognise subtle nuances of taste, they must be appreciative when balancing flavours and examine thoroughly combinations of textures and colour. The chef or cook must ask pressing questions of himself or herself. How do I present this dish? What can I do to make this better? What am I trying to say here? Who am I cooking for? Why? Why am I cooking...................why?
For chefs (or cooks) truly are artists and poets, we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dream.
So it goes without saying that when we were trying to come up with a menu for the forthcoming One Night In London, a collaborative venture at The Chancery in January 2012, this was precisely the process we undertook. And when I see we, I mean Luc Martin of Roast Chicken and Red Wine fame with Pavel Le Bouche, the man who knows Not How To Do A Food Blog, on board as executive, consultant chef and onion chopper. Yes, we are offering a one night only (hence the name) nine course menu for charidee in the heart of the city and after much deliberation and wringing of hands, we can finally present the menu:
Bread: Luc's sourdough
Langoustine ravioli with langoustine broth
Black Angus Onglet and a cheeky pie
A small sticky toffee pudding
In truth, this menu was thrashed out over a half-hour, three-way Skyping session which is exactly as rude as it sounds. Just imagine, three guys, behind their respective computers, barking aimlessly into space, drinking beer, swearing, sitting, wearing nothing but their underwear and you'll get the picture. There had been some lengthy, warbling discourse via email but we only really nailed it via that conference call. It was, I'd say, a little bit like the Yalta Conference as negotiation got quite edgy at times. Pavel wanted to bake a cake and I suggested a vegetarian dish at one point, both of which were shot down by Luc with a ferocious pounding on the table, heard all the way from Holland, echoing down the line. But as this was largely his baby, we let him take control and write most of the menu. Which absolves Pav and I from any real responsibility should everything go tits up on the night. But just take another peek at that menu, it might look a little bit vague still but it still looks pretty damn good to me, do you agree?
At present, we are fully booked for January 22nd I'm afraid but who knows, if this goes well, we might just do another one. Call it something like.............. 'Another Night In London'
I dunno, we would need to have a chat on Skype about that.