Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Delicious by DS5 with Tim Anderson

Gone In 60 Seconds

Temptation is seductive mistress and she can appear in many guises and just lately, she seems to be appearing a lot in my life. And I am not just talking about an alluring packet of chocolate digestives that lies in wait, on the shelf, ready to spring whenever you open the cupboard. Or about the leg of roast chicken that beckons to you, coyly, amidst the soft, yellow glow of the fridge in the midnight hour. This is not Nigella. No, I am talking about inducement of solicitous kind, the sort of temptation that will get you into trouble, big trouble, enough to get you banged up. So, with that in mind, I am truly grateful to the PR girl from Citroën for snatching the keys away from me last week because I would have done it, I would have pinched their brand new shiny DS5 and screeched it off the drive, off into the sunset, never to be seen again. But thankfully that didn't happen. All because my driving license is just out of date and some Suzy sharp eyes spotted it just in time. Sh*t.

What the hell am I going on about?

Well, last week I was invited to attend a preview lunch in opulent Dulwich as Citroën are to be proud sponsors of charitable pop up restaurant called Delicious by DS5 and the main man at the helm will none other than Tim Anderson, winner of BBC MasterChef 2011. The premise is that Tim and his cohorts will present a five course menu based upon the five senses at a secret location in trendy Shoreditch and tickets for the event will cost a paltry five pounds. And from there on, all profits will go towards Fareshare, a very worthwhile charity that aims to fight food poverty in this country and educate nutrition by redistributing surplus food which, inexcusably, often heads for landfill sites. And naturally, Citroën are launching their brand new car, the aforementioned DS5 in conjunction with the whole shebang, which brings me neatly back to the 'incident'.

You see for the first part of the proceedings, the assembled bloggers had to go off on a scavenger hunt around Dulwich to bring back ingredients for two of the dishes we were going to sample, ubiquitously named Aromas of Syrah and Taste of Beef. Now the concept of scavenging in Dulwich is probably a bit of a misnomer, especially as the crib sheet said we had to find a delicatessen and a farm shop, although I am sure the bins in the village are full of fine fare. And we had to do this using a map and our very own DS5 to drive. The keys were handed over to me and then I paused. I did just mention 10 minutes earlier that I shouldn't be driving because my licence was just out of date and could therefore cause a severe lapse on the insurance policy. But once I squeezed into the soft, leather driving seat and took a look around at all the fancy gizmos and gadgets surrounding me, I suddenly became convinced that everything would be ok. 'It would be very unlikely that I will ever have an accident,' I said to myself, in a monotone voice and so I clicked the automatic into DRIVE.

And then tap, tap, tap, there she stood, the PR girl, like a blonde angel of mercy, politely asking me to get out of the car and into the passenger seat, because she was going to be driving.

Which was quite embarrassing really. Sh*t.

Thankfully, once we had collected our ingredients, the rest of the day went without any further hitches and it was a pleasure to spend some time in the company of Tim and partnering chef Sujan Sarkar, helping out in the kitchen and learning about some of the concepts behind the menu for the pop up. As you might expect from someone who has endured a competition that doesn't get tougher than this, Tim had quite a few tricks up his sleeve and it was interesting to see the processes employed first hand. I definitely think that Tim's aim of delivering a multi-sensual experience is going to pay off. And because there is a certain element of surprise behind all of this, I am slightly loathed to describe the dishes we sampled in detail. However, I can say the beef or the 'tasting' course, delivers an intense umami hit and that dessert or the 'aroma' course is a clever deconstruction of the flavours and characteristics of Syrah wine.

To find out more about the pop up, which will be open to members of the public from Wednesday 16th to Saturday 20th May and to be in with a chance of getting a place at the table, you need to register your interest at Citroën's Facebook page here. To be frank, five squids for five courses is a steal so this is going to be a hot ticket. Remember, it is also for a very good cause so I for one, am hoping that I will make the ballot to get a seat.

Because I really want a second chance at nicking a DS5.

Tim and Sujan


Scavenging with Doreen from Tasty Fever!.....................pffft.

Tim pouring

Tim smoking

Taste of Beef

Smoke gets in your eyes

Aromas of Syrah

Gone In erm 10 Seconds

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Save Time With Potatoes, Don't Dig, Dib

In passing conversation, whenever I mention that I have an allotment, responses nearly always come back in the form of a cosy smile with a soft tilting of the head and a drawn out mewing of "Awwwwwww, really?" It's quite a strange phenomenon actually. Strange because usually after uttering the phrase, the face of the person in question will often melt into this bizarre, beatific repose and dewy-eyed, they will then go on, mumbling incoherently, something along the lines of "Oh, I would love to have a plot on an allotment." And then, they go absolutely dumb on me. Mute, stupefied, carried off to this wistfully bucolic parallel universe, where the sun always shines, where carrots dance, cabbages hug and whole swathes of vegetables sway in unison, singing in glorious chorus as they imagine themselves skipping through the patch with a watering can. This is the point when I usually take the opportunity to deliver a short hard slap, to shake the person out of their stupor and to deliver the harsh, damning verdict that running a plot and growing your own vegetables is "FARKING HARD WORK! NOW WAKE UP YOU FANNY!!"

And it really is hard work, let's not make any illusions. If you work, have a young family, a steady and varied social life, various commitments elsewhere, a nagging and groaning list of things to do at home and in the garden, then finding opportunities to tend to a plot is very difficult indeed. And it's something that we struggle with all the time. Our visits to Norfolk Road are generally punctuated by running footsteps and a clattering of forks and spades, peppered with grunts and whispered swearing. Pops and crackles fill the air as seedlings get ripped from eroding, black plastic trays, wheelbarrows trundle back and forth, weeds fly up in a frenzy and old, gnarly potatoes get stuffed into orange carrier bags. In the background, there is a soundtrack of much splashing and laughter and then screams as a little girl gets admonished for trying to drown her brother in the water butt. No sooner than we've got there, we're back home. The kids get tossed out into the garden to play gladiatorial scooters on the patio and Dad lies flat on the floor in the front room, grabbing a quick moments peace before looking up and groaning inwardly at a crack in the ceiling.

If you are retired, it's a different kettle of fish for then, you have all the time in the world. Well, seemingly so, after all, no-one knows when Joe Black will come tapping on your shoulder and the odds do get shorter after 65. But I do get envious of the older guys on the allotment and their pristine, well managed, abundant plots. And whenever I go down there, I am sure that the grumpy git across from me hums Louie Armstrong's classic on purpose. Equally, I am sure that he is bemused by our smash and grab antics. He wasn't around on Saturday to frown when I arrived to plant our spuds for the year. With my sister's boyfriend I should add, we get on like a house on fire now. Before us lay five boxes of five varieties of tato and we resolved to get it done as quickly as possible. But how? Well here is the thrust of the post, if you own an allotment or grow vegetables at home and are very, very busy people like myself, rather breaking your back, digging drills and the like, simply dib your potatoes into the ground *badoom-tish*.

OK, using the word 'dib', as in employ the use of a dibber, is a bit of a misnomer. You actually need to us a bulb planter but as both are tools that used to make make holes in the ground, I am quite happy to go with dib. So the method is simple, rake your earth over, dib a series of deep holes in a line, at least 13cms deep and approximately 30cms apart and drop your chitting seed spuds in. Cover with soil and when the green shoots start to appear, earth up some more. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Russ and I planted half the potatoes in about an hour using this technique, roughly 150 all told, which was pretty good going. So our lunch break in the pub down the road was well deserved and we definitely deserved that pint. We might not have deserved the sixth one and we'll probably finish planting the rest this weekend. But let me assure you, allotmenteering is bloody hard work.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


A dibber........sorry bulb planter

Potato nestled nice and deep

This is a waste of time

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stir Wars Is Coming

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young(ish) man found himself staring at a computer monitor, listlessly watching the rolling feed of a popular social meeja website when suddenly out of the blue, a tweet leapt from the screen which immediately captured his nerdish imagination.

"There's a Mos Eisley pop up??? A Star Wars Supper Club?? Where? WHERE??", he furiously tapped away.

Yet apparently, as is often the case, the young(ish) man got his wires completely crossed. There was no such thing but Gail Doggett, the originator of the mistaken tweet, responded by saying "Hey but that's not a bad idea." And then into action sprung a flurry of conversation which propelled the concept forward via a freefall spiral of enthusiasm, goading and games of 'chicken'. Within 10 minutes or so, a council of Jedi Knights was formed and suddenly Stir Wars: a Night at the Death Star Cantina was born, a charity event that would a) hopefully raise some money for a good cause and b) indulge our geeky fantasies of eating tauntaun whilst dressed as Boba Fett.

But like I said, that was a long time ago and the night of feeding 40 fellow fans has come around around rather quickly. Too quickly possibly, the menu has yet to be final, finally, finalised. Although it will be up very soon, promise. However, one thing I can tell you is that it will be fun. A great night in fact. Tauntaun will definitely be served up. Baby bantha ribs too. Han Solo may or may not appear in time for dessert, it really does depend upon whether the team can free him successfully from carbonite. But Darth Vader is definitely showing up with some Stormtroopers in tow. Will he be giving us a cooking masterclass, showing how to make his classic Penne alla Arrabiatta? Mind you, he looks like he's pretty crap in the kitchen if you ask me. But don't tell him I said tha........................arrrrgghhh death grip!!! ACK!! THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE!!................*chokes*.......................*dies*

Stir Wars: a Night at the Death Star Cantina will be held at Tsuru, Bishopsgate on May 5th, 2012.

There are FOUR tickets left. WE HAVE NOW SOLD OUT

May the Force be with you.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Death To All Snails (And The Menu For FU Supper Club April 28th 2012)

Lemony, tangy Sorrel

Resolution has failed, the treatise is broken, scattered and torn and all notions of diplomacy now fade, fall and dissipate within a portentous, desperate dusk. It is too late. Lines have now been drawn, lines which scour deep and scar the sodden earth, an emblem of vicious intent. The sky is black, generals gather in their masses, machines manoeuvre, distinctions of illusion and reality, blur and focus, in and out of view. But there is no denying it. It's time to engage, it's time to smite them from this earth, time to bring down my mighty wrath and to rid them completely from my back garden. Yes, it's time to declare war on the snails.

These may be strong words. They may even be a touch melodramatic. But today, I discovered that the snails in my garden have been laying into my precious sorrel, feasting with gleeful, greedy joy and quite frankly, I have had enough of the parasites. In fact, I think I am ready to go apeshit on their slimy asses. With beer, copper, salt, nightly raids by torchlight, napalm, whatever it takes. Especially since I have great plans to use the sorrel for the latest Food Urchin Supper Club which is up and coming on April 28th (of which there are lots of places left by the way).

So if you fancy a night out, dining with beautiful guests, eating wonderful food, enjoying stimulating conversation, in glorious surroundings, all within easy reach from central London (Hornchurch), please do get in touch. Your host might be a bit frazzled around the edges, jittery, prone to staring into space and occasionally yelling - "You weren't there maaaan! You weren't there!!" - but just remember, he did all for you, he did it to save the sorrel.

The man is a hero.

Food Urchin Supper Club Menu - April 28th 2012

Sorrel, Pea and Lettuce Soup.

Crab, Tomato and Saffron Tart.

Pan-Roast Breast of Suffolk Chicken with Chargrilled Asparagus, Crushed New Potatoes and a Tarragon and Lemon Sauce.
Rhubarb and Ginger Polenta Crumble with Soured Vanilla Ice Cream.

If you would like to attend, please contact moi, Danny at foodurchin@yahoo.co.uk. Suggested donation is £25 a head (which includes homemade bread, palate cleanser, free tap water and a jar of pickled snails. Vegetarian options available on request)

STOP PRESS: Kavey of Kavey Eats has come up with the marvelous suggestion of adding a snail amuse bouche to the menu so I am going to try and source some and come up with a recipe. No time for purging my own and no signs of Blumenthal porridge but I am sure I can come up with something.

So, how do you like your snails?

I shall smite thee snail with all my might!!!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Bottom Drawer Of Strangeness And Mystery

In every home and in every kitchen, there remains a drawer of strangeness and mystery. It is usually the bottom draw and it is often full, cluttered with a right load of old tut. Purchases from Lakeland, IKEA and the Ideal Home Exhibition. Gifts received with a perplexed frown and fake, fixed smile. Gadgets and thingymabobs that normally don't get used, don't get to see the light of day. Except in times of panic, when the bottom drawer is flung open with tremendous fury. The collective sigh of joy is palpable as rays of sunshine beam down but more often than not, all they get is a fist, which plunges in and frantically rummages around for a second or two before extracting painfully in shock. And then the drawer is slammed shut again, amidst howls of anguish and profanity, leaving those poor, unloved tools of the kitchen to continue their existence in darkness and shame.

I decided to sort out my bottom drawer yesterday in a drive to spring clean the kitchen, with a view to de-clutter and simplify but it was a lot harder than I expected. Perhaps I am a hoarder. Perhaps I need a bigger drawer. Perhaps I need to get a life and stop photographising random gizmos and concentrate on other things. Let me know what you think.

So, let's start with the 'Gastro Max' cheese slicer. Ergonomic, light, flexible and able to withstand very high temperatures with a melting point of 265C, this plastic cheese slicer is ultimately very naff and very pointless. I don't know where it came from, I have never ever used it and it's unlikely that I ever will. Not unless I find myself wanting to cut some really really hot, volcanic, cheese. That doesn't melt. Alex James would probably find this device a boon and would gladly put his name behind it for an extortionate fee but I reckon it's a piece of crap, so I should probably bin it soon. But not yet, because, well you never know.

This Progressive Dough Scraper was bought to save a dozen stainless steel bowls and a dozen debit cards. Much as I like to bake bread, I am quite a messy, wasteful baker and I am forever getting told off for not clearing dough out of bowls and off surfaces properly because once that heady mix of flour and water and yeast dries, it becomes like superglue and sticks steadfast to everything. Enter the Progressive Dough Scraper! Except I still prefer to use a debit card, especially my wife's, which I get told off for too. Apparently, I can't chuck this out. Apparently, I am going to learn to remember to use the Progressive Dough Scraper. Well, let's just see how we go forward with that one then.

There is a story behind this vicious pizza wheel. A few years ago now we held a 'Pizza Party' at our house. Essentially a 'bring a load of alcohol and toppings and we'll all make pizza and get drunk' type affair. Throughout the evening, we had been cutting our brash, handmade pizzas with a plain old carving knife, when suddenly I remembered that I had this cutter in the drawer, new and still wrapped in cellophane. I bounded back into the room with a triumphant "Da-dah!", sat down and proceeded to tear at the plastic with my teeth and then swish, the pizza wheel was free. Or rather, slice, the pizza wheel was free. Looks of horror immediately focused and fixed towards one side of my face. I had slashed myself a neat, half cocked Chelsea Smile from the corner of my mouth up to my cheekbone. I still use it from time to time but in my opinion, a plain old carving knife is much safer.

Nanny FU gave me this strange contraption. By all accounts it's a pastry whisk. Well at least that's what it says on the side. It's obviously old, been well used and has a certain charm but it's not really practical, well at least not in my hands. I've used it to mash potatoes before but that's about it. Oh and I also use it when cooking with the twins, pretending to be some sort of culinary robot called Gadetmatrix Prime, teaching them how to mix cookie dough or something. With the pastry whisk in one hand, some stainless tongs in the other and a colander on my head, I reckon I am quite convincing. Rolling eyes and stifled yawns suggest otherwise but I can't get rid of it for purely sentimental reasons. And Nanny FU would bollock me if she found out.

I can't remember if I bought this craft blade specifically for carving lines into sumptuous pork skin for salting and crackling or whether it a remnant from a wallpaper job in the front room and has just wound up in the drawer. Either way it looks filthy and probably shouldn't go anywhere near meat so alas, I do think I am going to have to throw this away. But no matter, I can always go marching into B&Q and get another one, asking one of the oh so helpful staff, "Good man, can you please tell me where your pig scoring knives are please?"

I have no idea what this is or does, it may well have come from a Christmas cracker or something, I just don't know. Do you know what it's for? Answers on a postcard please.

Jean-Patrique is a spiv and a charlatan who has conned a million Sunday supplement readers from middle England, selling his cheap, crap, blunt, 'Professional' knives. OK, Jean is only filching pensioners for £1.99 a time but all adds up. I bet you he is living it up on his own island in the Caribbean somewhere and he is laughing, laughing at all of us. And it makes me mad that he gets away with it and it makes me mad that I ever fell for his advertising promotion in the back of the Mail on Sunday. I won't get mugged again. This cleaver is being sent back to you Jean, in the post, embedded in a horses head. Your time will come.

I think these are picking olives or pickles out of jars. Or maybe they are to be used for skewering corn on the cobs that have been cooked on the barbecue and slathered in butter. Or maybe they are little spears that the Borrowers use, to keep the cat at bay when raiding the fridge at night. No matter, they are quite cute and I shan't be throwing them out yet.

Once a year, I probably make spätzle, just once a year. Yet whenever I do make these 'little sparrows' of joy, I can't help but smile at my own ingenuity. Because I bet no-one else uses a Pyrex pizza tray and grout spreader to smear sloppy, eggy dough through holes into a stock pot of boiling water. No, I bet the likes of Sebastian Stevenson of Islington have forked out fifty quid for their Original Kull Spätzle-Schwob HOCHGLANZ Spätzlepresse. But not me. This is about keeping it real. Which is why I will always keep my little bit of homemade kit tucked away in the draw. Even if I only make spätzle just once a year.

And on a familiar and final note, I don't think I'll be getting rid of my stash of tin cans either which are excellent for creating pretty, poncy, towers of food or simple, perfectly symmetrical fried eggs. Especially since the whole enterprise is highly ethical from an environmental point of view (hmm I now starting to sound like Sebastian). So yes, the tin cans can stay in the bottom drawer. As for the fifty or so empty, hollow cans that are cluttering the cupboard above. I think that I am going to have to get rid of them, but it will pain me to do so.

Am I a hoarder? Do I need to get a bigger bottom drawer? Do I need to get a life?

I think I just answered all three questions with this post.

Monday, 2 April 2012

One Man And His Asparagus

As of late, I have been getting quite excited by a peculiar, protruding, purple head that has appeared at the bottom of my garden, peering out of a raised bed. I've been visiting it daily, more or less. Crouching down with elbows on knees and palms on face, I've spent the last couple of weeks staring at it, monitoring it's progress. It's arrival has been quite early, especially for this time of year but the routine has been quite pleasant really. Taking the time to just sit still and quietly meditate, with the sun gently warming my back. Once or twice, I have even cupped my ear close, to see if I can actually hear it grow. Get me, the hairless hippy. Occasionally, I have even taken a tape measure down there. Not that I've been keeping a written record or anything. No, it's just so that I can make a rough calculation in my head, to roughly work out when it will be good for harvesting, when I can slip a blade in just below the soil to sever the beauty before plunging it quickly into a bath of seething water. For no longer than 30 seconds.

So yes, I have been savouring it for some time and yesterday, when no-one was around, I took the plunge. After all that protraction, really I should have eaten it unadulterated, plain, honest, raw and pure. But I decided an egg was called for, a soft boiled Burford Brown, a small nod at luxury. Dipping the head in, now feathered and green, floods the deep yellow yolk up to the surface. The caldera overspills and gooey spider arms run down the shell and cup. I pause and eye the stalk, glistening and effulgent. Then down the hatch it goes. The umami rich, viscous taste of the egg hits first but soon gives way to delicate, fresh, perfect bite of sweetness. And in that moment, I am reminded that this beautiful, elegant, vegetable, when taken straight from ground and eaten straight away, takes some beating.

Later in the evening, a visit to the bathroom is interrupted by a creaking door and a small, enquiring, crinkled nose and the secret comes out.

"Daddy, what is that smell?"

And that's when I am in trouble. Because my wife had her eye on that asparagus too. Thank gawd there's more to come.