Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Big News

Believe it or not, this is my actual kitchen

Brad Pitt has done it. Kevin Bacon has done it. William Shatner has done it. And now finally, I have done it. We have all used our chiselled cheekbones, charismatic personalities and the rich, deep timbre of our eloquent voices to endorse a product. In Bambi's case, he bafflingly entranced us all into buying Chanel No 5 with nonsensical non sequiturs. Mr 6 Degrees is currently bouncing footloose all over our screens, extolling the virtues of a mobile network that he probably doesn't even use. And who can ever forget Captain Kirk's gleaming appraisal of the Commodore VIC-20. And me? Well, I am about to enter your living rooms via the power of the goggletube to tell you all about dishwasher tablets. Yes, dishwasher tablets. Thankfully, in my opinion at least, the production team behind a new advert for New Finish Quantum with Power Gel, which features yours truly, have done a very good job. Much better than the Hollywood examples. Sure, you might have spotted a clunky insert in this paragraph already and there will be more. But believe me when I tell you this, I am not the new Barry Scott.

The journey towards the advert started off fairly innocuously. I received an invite to attend a blogger event in February organised by Finish, that presented the chance of meeting and cooking with a top chef and to feature in a national TV ad. The chef in question was Florence Knight of Polpetto fame (soon to be re-opened) and to be frank, the notion of rolling meatballs with her was far more appealing than getting my face on the box (be still my beating heart). As PR days go though, it was great fun getting stuck in with everyone, prepping burrata, octopus and making small glasses of tiramisu, all cornerstone ingredients and recipes from the Polpo Empire. Particularly good giggles were had with Claire from Things We Make and Dom from Belleau Kitchen and it was a shame that wine wasn't served really but of course, it was also a casting day so it was probably best that we were all kept in check.

Curiously, I don't remember that much from the video interview I had with the director, a friendly chap called Toby. Principally, he asked questions about me and about the blog but he also wanted to know what I thought of the product, as Finish had sent me stacks of their New Finish Quantum tablets to test beforehand. I think I gabbled. I think I gabbled a lot. With jazz hands. I think at one point I even said "The best thing about these new dishwasher tablets is that they clean dishes really well." Which they did. But I am not sure that I had to extrapolate the recommendation further with star jumps. At the end of the interview, Toby warmly shook my hand and in a totally non-judgemental way said "Thanks Danny, it's been really.......interesting." And I walked out thinking 'Oh well, that's that.' Because we all know what 'interesting' means.

A couple of weeks later though, I received an email saying that the director really liked me and that he wanted to meet me again with his team, this time at my house to have more of a general chat. More New Finish Quantum with Power Gel tabs were sent, which got distributed amongst family and friends, giving me a new found reputation as the Willy Wonka of detergents and more conversation was had on my sofa. The advert by all accounts was to be far more poetic and organic than your usual marketing splash that screams and blasts viewers into submission. Showing me the treatment on his Mac, which was basically a large collection of photos of kitchens, food and people; he demonstrated the feel of the project quite aptly. I was slightly unnerved that a lot of the photos were taken from my blog, Twitter and Instagram accounts, which led me to pause and wonder whether Toby was stalking me. But I was reassured that they were interested in me because I was a normal guy, with a normal family and a normal life but with a big passion for food. They also liked the fact that I admitted during the interview that I was a messy cook, which fell right into the remit. They felt Finish could help me with that.

A day or two later, they got in touch again and said that I had made the grade, along with Nisha, owner of the aesthetically pleasing My Kitchen Antics blog. We were gonna be big stars! (Jazz hands, again).

After that, there was a whole barrage of telephone calls, emails and even more dishwasher tablets were sent. By this point, I thought about always keeping a couple on my person. To tip bellboys and cab drivers and slip in the pockets of doormen outside private clubs; predisposing a lifestyle that surely would soon come. But Mrs FU quickly brought me back down to earth and said that we should save some packets for Christmas presents. The reason for plying me with the tablets was to make sure I was happy with the product and that I could convey that easily when it came to filming.

I have to say, my father-in-law was a boon with regards to the testing process as he would often report back, saying that his tea mugs have come up sparkly clean or that he's finally removed some random stain from a soup bowl (he, not the tablet). I sort of get the impression at some stage though, that he started to gleefully over-egg things, burning casseroles to buggery to purposely prove a point. "Ha! Didn't bloody shift that though Dan!" That's what my mother-in-law told me anyway. Personally, I was captivated by the smell, especially with the lemon and apple tablets. The twins were drawn to them too but for other reasons. So we had to make sure the test packs remained high up on shelves for fear of foaming mouths.
Pensive
The day of the shoot came around quite quickly. A car with blackened windows and leather seats picked me up from my house on a cold spring morning and whisked me to a location in West Hamstead. I say whisked, it took about two hours what with the rush hour traffic but luckily, I had as much water as I could drink to pass the time with. Can you imagine it? Free water! That's when you know you've hit the big time. Well, when I finally got there, I thought I was going to wet myself trying to climb back out of the car. So really, it's not a good thing. And when I saw all the production trucks lining the street, the urge became even stronger. I have done piddly little things before, dancing in front of a camcorder with a wooden spoon, holding a chicken by the neck, that sort of thing. However, arriving at this cavernous, basement flat, filled with equipment and tons of people with clipboards and walkie talkies was something else altogether. It was terrifying. Toby found me almost straight away and led me into the garden to talk about the day ahead and about setting up a scene to do some cooking using a wheelbarrow and he noticed that my leg was shaking uncontrollably.

"Are you cold Danny?" he asked and I just nodded, when really it was the adrenaline kicking in. Being a consummate professional though, with a few deep breaths, I soon knuckled down to the business of looking earnest, with arms folded and sharing the vision before heading to wardrobe and makeup; the latter of which only took 2 minutes (I have such good skin). And then bang, off we went. The whole, long day was spent shooting set pieces, interviews, cooking sequences, jugging dishwater tablets and presenting various dishes for the camera. All quite repetitive really and slightly dull in places, what with all the hanging around, getting the light right, chosing the best lens for the camera, placing props around to create the perfect mood; all very arty. Highlights of the day for me include thwacking steaks and shucking oysters, setting fire to the aforementioned wheelbarrow to make risotto and tantilising the nostrils of the crew with the ox cheek lasagne that I baked. 

Ox Cheek Lasagne
The low point came when I had to hold the said lasagne dish up the air, now clean due to the magic of Finish Quantum with Power Gel, for an inordinate amount of time. My job was to scan it intently and seriously whilst the director of photography got the ultimate, beautifully framed shot. I thought my arms were going to fall off at one point. Yes, it was a hell of a lot of work for what essentially amounts to 30 seconds and at the end of the day, around midnight, I fell back into the car and drifted straight off to sleep, with no water passing my lips. But I must admit that I did enjoy myself.

Jazz hands
Months have passed now and I have seen the final cut and like I said, I am quite pleased with the result. Chuffed in fact. The advert itself airs in a couple of week’s time but I should be getting a link sorted out soon so that readers of FU can get a sneak preview and then you can decide for yourself. One of the final outcomes from the advert, as you would sort of expect, is that Finish hope to persuade consumers to switch and see the difference, a catchphrase that in the wrong hands could belong to the Barry Scott School of Sloganeering. However, I think Nisha and I have managed to lend some credibility to this latest campaign, not just because we write a food blog but because we are regular people. We tested the product after all. On smeared wine glasses, grimy plates and scabby pots and were happy with the results. We've switched and so have some of my family and friends. And my doctor. Oh and the milkman too.

In fact, come over to my house if you want to try them out, I've still got a box under the stairs. Unless you want to wait until Christmas that is.

I told you I was a messy cook

Monday, 29 July 2013

The David Gower Selection - Laithwaite's Wines


Cricket has never really been much of a passion of mine and there is a good reason why. Some time ago now, when I was a boy, I went on a trip of a lifetime to Australia to visit family who ensconced down under way back in the 1960's. It would be fitting to squeeze in at this point, all the usual banter about them being criminals, forced to flee the country etc etc, because they were. Well, Great Nanny Clark was. She was a colossal tea-leaf in fact. She had an evil, lustful eye for the pick 'n' mix in Woolworths whenever she came home and had been known to smuggle cutlery out of Claridges in her brassiere on one or two occasions. Harmless, lovable rogues, that's all they were really though and we travelled thousands of miles to see them. 

It was a great holiday, the memories and experience of which still echo in my mind but there was a moment that came towards the end that scarred me forever. I was in the garden of an uncle's house trying to play cricket with my second cousin called Leslie, who was Australian by birth and mad on the sport. I say trying because I was a typical pasty uncoordinated ginga from the UK with little experience of the hallowed game. Whereas handsome and tanned Leslie was that all singing, all dancing kid from the Gold Coast who was good at everything and as a result, a bit of a spoilt brat. 

The goading didn't bother me at first but after a while, it began to intensify and become more personal. I think it's called 'sledging'. So, thoroughly fed up of having to scamper everywhere to retrieve a red leather ball to the sound of mocks and jeers, I decided to give Leslie a taste of his own medicine. Focusing and concentrating on three singular, wonky sticks, poking up out of the ground, I threw the ball with all my might and for the first time that day, it whizzed past his bat and smashed them to pieces.

"OWZAT YOU TWAT!" I screamed, lungs bursting with joy and I started to whip my feet around the lawn in the manner of Michael Jackson and his famous moonwalk. However, I was so caught up in celebration that I failed to notice a crimson faced Leslie who was running up towards me, simultaneously crying and swinging a bat above his head. Being the accurate sportsman that he was (and still is, I should imagine) Leslie planted a hefty piece of willow firmly into my mouth. That he didn't knock any teeth out was a miracle but a canine did pierce and protrude out my bottom lip and blood flowed freely after that, as well as more tears.

The situation was soon placated by a wet sponge, a fistful of Aussie dollars and the reassurance that Leslie would remain locked inside his room until he calmed down. By all accounts, the little cherub was still sore and sensitive after seeing his heroes fall. If David Gower and his cohorts hadn't secured a comprehensive 3-1 series win that summer, therefore recovering the Ashes, he might have been more forgiving. At least that was the suggestion at the time but I have to say, after that episode, cricket sort of lost its allure. I went on to play rugby union instead, which is a much more civilised affair.

Speaking of civilised affairs though, despite having an underdeveloped understanding of what actually happens on a cricket pitch, I rather like the idea of watching as a spectator. Any sport that breaks for lunch and tea sounds good to me but the fact that cricket fans are actively encouraged to bring along a picnic with alcoholic refreshments to serve themselves throughout the day, sounds even better. So when Laithwaite's Wines approached me with the offer of curating a celebratory hamper to enjoy at the 4th Investec Ashes Test v Australia at Durham ICG on August 10th, I leapt at the chance. 

The main deal on my part is suggest food to match wines selected by Mr Gower or Lubo, as he is affectionately and inexplicably known. Curating is an interesting word actually, as it sort of implies a considered approach or degree of artistry. I'll be honest and say that whilst testing the wines that arrived a couple of weeks ago, it was considered but I employed an artistry of a different kind. Piss artistry. But nevertheless, I do sincerely believe that these pairings would keep most members of the Barmy Army happy. This is what I came up with:

Blackstrap Shiraz 2010 - Packed with pepper and jammy fruit with plenty of length (as they say), I was tempted to make the suggestion of packing a disposable bbq into the hamper so that the wine could be enjoyed with a freshly grilled rump steak such as 60 day Longhorn from The Ginger Pig but the Durham ICG probably wouldn't be too best pleased with that idea. Sandwiches made from sourdough bread and packed with cold beef, cooked rare, a small bunch of watercress and a smidgen of horseradish would go down well though.

Villa Broglia Gavi 2012 - I got into an argument with Mrs FU over this one as she asserted that this was a "drinking" wine, which of course sounds absurd because all wines are drinking wines. What she meant was that this Gavi, which is quite fruity yet retains a dry crisp edge, is an Italian wine to be enjoyed on its own. I begged to differ and shoved a plate of marinated anchovies under her nose to try with her next glass. She acquiesced that boquerones were indeed a nice pairing and then shoved me out of the way to finish the bottle in the sunshine, in the garden.

Grande Réserve de Gassac Rouge 2012 - This rich Cabernet Sauvignon came on a journey with us all the way down to Devon, belying the theory that wines don't travel well because this red was delicious and full of bramble berries. After taking the children on their first camping trip, which lasted just two days, we settled into a little family hotel for the night and got stuck into some goodies we bought from a deli outside Barnstaple. Two choices of cheese were made, a nutty Devon Oke Cheddar and a Devon Blue and it was the subtle blue veined cheese that scored top marks so that would have to go in the hamper.

The Rustler Chenin Blanc 2012 - Dry, crisp and grassy with lots of herbal notes, this wine left us stumped (ha!) for a period and very nearly fell back into that "drinking" wine catagory but then Mrs FU came up with idea of serving something quite creamy and decadent, so that the wine would not only pair up but could also cut through the flavours. In the past we've made Salad Olivieh, a Persian salad that can be tweaked here and there but generally consists of diced potatoes, peas, mayonnaise, finely chopped gherkins and grated eggs. I made a variation at the weekend with shredded chicken and chopped tarragon and it complimented the Chenin Blanc perfectly. And vice

So that's my four pairings. The proof of the pudding will be how they all fare together along with the wines, under the heat of the midday sun (or rain) in Durham in under a couple of weeks time and I aim to report back on that. But if England continue on their current trend, then I am sure everything will work out just fine.

I am hopeful in fact that Mr Gower might grace us with his presence as I'd love to find out what he thinks of my selection of food. And I also want to collar him for what my spoilt git of a (second) cousin did to me, way back in 1985.

"See this scar on my lip Lubo," I'll say. "It's all your fault you know."

Salad Olivieh

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Crispy Onions


Given that our fair and green land is currently in the grip of seismic thermals, catastrophic heatwaves and somewhat apocalyptic thunderstorms, it doesn't really make sense to do much in the way of cooking at the moment. After standing behind the stove this morning, simply frying an egg, I thought at one point it was all going to end, by way of the Wicked Witch of the West. In that I might melt into the floor, into a puddle of freckles and spectacles, glistening like liquidised lard. This was all in spite of having the fan switched on at full pelt in the kitchen; fluffing and spluttering warm air about the place, burring and wavering like a lumbering drunk. What a useless piece of equipment that is. Even stripping down to my shreddies didn't help. I did think about going one stage further but I quickly stopped dead in my tracks, for fear of spitting fat. And plus I didn't want to scare the kids when I called them to the table for breakfast.

So yes, it's hot. You know it's hot, we all know it's hot and I don't need to go on about it. But what can we do whilst this pandemonium goes on? What can we eat, whilst we slavishly remain glued to the screen, waiting for a name? Any name. What is going to help us keep our cool, in these testing times? What is going to keep us sane? Seriously, I need to know because I keep shouting, nay screaming, at Kay Burley, telling her to "F**k off!" all the time. What sustenance is going to keep me on the straight and narrow whilst the world around me dissolves around me like a Dali landscape? WHAT?!!! TELL ME?!!!!

Actually, I think I have the solution.

CRISPY ONIONS!!!!

And if you are now thinking: "Wow, that's one hell of a tangent, what is he smoking?" Please, bear with me.

Because in this steaming tumult, this concrete jungle, this seething pit of sweat, grime and hysteria, the only damn thing it seems that we can eat is salad. And in my opinion, salad ain't salad unless it's topped with thousand island dressing and most importantly, crispy onions. Ooh those little shavings of deep fried allium gold, ooh they are so delicious and tasty and are excellent for finishing off mountain bowls of leaves, beets, sweetcorn, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and chopped gherkins. You know, just like the sort of salad you used to stack up in Pizza Hut in the 90's. Or possibly the 80's.

So given the current conditions out there, please consider this to be a public service announcement.

Don't cook. Strip naked. Keep your eyes glued to gogglebox. Eat salad.

And remember.........CRISPY ONIONS!!!

*punches air, sobs incoherently and faints*
 
What would make this salad better?
CRISPY ONIONS!! (and thousand island dressing)
Hmmmmm.........crispy onions

Monday, 15 July 2013

Not Barbecued BBQ Brisket

Heggies Brisket
The plans I had for this lump of brisket that had been languishing in the fridge, I tell you. Having made its way from the hills of Herefordshire via Heggies, a family run butchers based in Hereford (of all places) as part of a wider selection of meat to sample; this frugal joint had been tucked it away with the express notion of doing something different. Namely to make pastrami with it. I got the idea from DIY Food, which is a new cookbook for bearded, grizzly homosexuals in plaid, if you were to believe one poor confused and sexually repressed individual, and I followed all the plans that were laid out in the book. In other words, I bought some salt and some spices and some herbs. But I never really got around to the simple stage of putting them all together to make a brine to start the whole curing process. I could have done but this is the sort of project that needs forward thinking. Five or six days of turning the beef in the brine before coating with cracked pepper and coriander seed, a period of hot smoking and then a final blast of steaming in the oven before serving up in thick slices, warm on rye bread and with pickles. Unfortunately, in five or six days time I plan to be lying flat on my face in a field in Devon somewhere, having drunk vast quantities of industrial strength farmhouse cider at a very small festival. 

So with regards to this whole pastrami business, you could say that there has been a conflict of interest. I will pick up on this thread in the near future though, once I return from the West Country, as the prospect of fumigating lumps of meat sounds very appealing. I don't have a smoker per se but with a load of foil, Betty MKII and an upturned mop bucket, I reckon I could rig one up quite easily. After all it worked with beer can chicken.

Anyway, the brisket did not go to waste, which I am sure you are glad to hear. It got served up yesterday over at my folks house after a thorough basting in a pot for about 8 hours on a low heat in the oven. A cheats method maybe and one that might not deserve the label of BBQ but the shredded brisket went down very well. So in the spirit of generosity, I thought I would share it with you, so that it may be added to the pantheon of great barbecue recipes that involve not actually using a barbecue. 

It is also worth mentioning, especially since I got it for free, that the meat that came from Heggies was of exceptional quality. As you might expect from locally sourced beef with all the inclusions of breed, traceability, the farmer's name, his favourite tie, what he likes for his tea etc etc. With that level of care and attention, the meat is guaranteed to taste good. If it doesn't, then someone is pulling the wool over your eyes (or blinding you with his tie). However, Heggies obviously do take pride. The flavour of their 30 day old steaks testifies to that. 

Interestingly though, Mrs FU wasn't massively keen on the deep tang of the sirloin and was irked further when I suggested that her taste buds weren't up to the challenge. In return, she was quick to point out the idiot who cooed over the amazing bacon, which also came in the pack and which didn't leak white 'stuff'. Furthermore, she chided that in future, I should dig further into my pocket if I wanted something decent to go into between two doorsteps of thick white bread and there wasn't a lot I could say to that.

I think I will try and win her affections back when I try to make that pastrami though. Because Heggies' brisket is a lot cheaper per kilo than their bacon. And it's on the way back from Devon. Sort of.

Not Barbecued BBQ Brisket - serves 8

1.5 - 2kg of brisket, rolled and tied

2 red onions, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

100gms of cooking chorizo, chopped

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 Guajilo chilli, soaked in water if dried and chopped, seeds and all (I got my chilli from souschef.co.uk

50gms honey

50gms dark brown sugar

50mls cider vinegar

Good splash of Worcestershire sauce

Good splash of tomato sauce

A can of lager (I used Red Stripe)

1 tbs ground cumin

1 tbs mustard powder

Salt and pepper

4 tbs olive oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Place a large saucepan on the hob and turn on the heat, add the oil and then add the onion, celery, garlic and pepper, bring the heat down and gently fry until everything softens and caramelises, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Turn the heat back up and then add the chorizo, chilli and tomatoes, sauteing for a couple of minutes, stirring everything around with a wooden spoon. Add the cumin and mustard and continue to stir for another minute then add the honey, dark brown sugar, tomato sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and lager. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes and then blitz in a blender or food processor and then season to taste (I like to put lots of cracked black pepper in).

Take a stock pot or casserole with a lid and place the brisket inside. Pour over the sauce mix to cover and place the lid on your chosen cooking receptacle and put into the oven. Return every half an hour or so, or when you can remember and turn the brisket in the sauce. Repeat for around 8 hours or until the brisket becomes very soft and tender.

Remove from the oven and take the brisket out of the sauce on a chopping board, cut the string and with two forks shred the brisket, starting at one end, pulling the fibres apart length ways into ribbons (should be quite easy). Then mix back into the sauce.

Serve in white buns or between slices of bread and add slice gherkins.

Placed on makeshift barbecue for food stylisation
(no actual barbecuing took place for the brisket but we did cook lots of other things, honest)
It's very niiiiiiiice

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Aubergine Parmigiana


If you are ever in need of a boost, a little geeing up and wish to re-ignite that tickle in your stomach, akin to the feeling of standing in a sweet shop when you were five, go shopping in Aldi. Seriously, do it. It really is a veritable, bonkers paradise of hyper-consumerism, an Aladdin's cave of miscellaneous expendables and junk shop tat. I wandered in there the other day for some fruit, vegetables and what is collectively known in our house as 'sandwich stuff' ("Make sure you get some sandwich stuff") and I wandered back out with an electronic fly zaper, some Dr Beckmann Glowhite whitening detergent and a jar of Cowboy Burger seasoning by Schwartz. Because personally, I think this is the shiz that MEATLiquor has been putting into their burgers for ages now, I just need to test the theory. Ha! Your secret will soon be out boys!


Anyway, the fact is that I do love to go for a shop in Aldi and despite the moth-like attraction to power tools and comfortable slippers, we do make great savings on the food bill. For instance, I recently bought three gorgeously purple, rotund and sensuous aubergines for 49 pence each. This is an absolute bargain when you consider that other supermarkets normally punt them on for double that. How do Aldi do it so cheap? Is it down to a striped down, no-frills, super efficient teutonic business model? Or do they bring out the thumbscrews like all the other chains? I don't know but I happy and grateful to have an Aldi on my doorstep.

The interesting and funny thing about shopping there is the reaction you get from familiar faces when they get caught rummaging around in the freezers for basa fillets whilst carrying a duvet set under their arm. Cheeks blush, lips get bitten, puppy dog eyes arch ruefully to play the sympathy card and then comes the standard response:

"Oh hi, yeah, well oh God, hey, isn't cheap in here. I've just finished doing my bit in Waitrose but I remembered I was totally out of toilet roll and well, hey isn't it so cheap......so erm, see you!"

And off they tootle, waving with hand aloft and head surreptitiously bowed down in shame. I always do my best to wave back but more often than not, I am holding a fishing rod under one arm and a crate of iced tea in the other. Ah, the paradox of Aldi. We think we are saving money but really we are not. Clever Germans.

Coming back to the aubergines though, having saved some real pennies there, I decided to make melanzane alla parmigiana the other day using Mr Oliver's recipe. Now, most recipes take the route of frying slices of aubergine in oil until lightly browned and squishy and tender. However as this is a lengthy process and can often make the aubergine greasy, I decided to give his char-grilling method a go. The result was a mixed bag really as the aubergine hadn't quite cooked through, to transform into that gooey layer you normally expect but I did like in the inherent smokiness that came from the grilling them. It certainly added an extra dimension to this very comforting dish and if I were to consider this method again, I would probably whack them on the griddle and then whack them in the oven for a bit longer. Say for half and hour, in a lasagne dish, drizzled with a generous helping of olive oil.

In fact, I will probably pop out to Aldi right now and give it another whirl at the weekend, whilst their aubergines are still so cheap. Plus they've got a good deal on a bench grinder with sanding belt at the moment. I've been after one of those for ages.

Cheap aubergines, parmesan and mozzerella

Layering with cheeses

Splashing with olive oil


Crisp


Very nearly very good