Friday, 19 December 2014

The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014

Yes, it's that time of year when lots of people who made their lists and checked it twice (working out who has been pleasant or not) and got all their Christmas shopping done weeks ago, can now sit back and smugly get on with the business of making merry.

However, some people out there will still be trying to figure what on earth they are going to buy for their partners and are anxiously glancing back and forth at pieces of paper (not to mention the calendar and the clock). Many will be currently at desks across the land, scanning screens furiously, emitting the occasional slow, foreboding yelp of fear as one by one delivery slots close and fancy looking dresses sell out. A few will begin to cry and take solace in the humble art of procrastination.

Because if you can't finish a list, it is always better to move on and make another list. At least then you can feel like you are actually doing something. Rather than nothing at all.

Which is why I am writing this list now! And so welcome to The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014 list. A collection of fine goods, meats, boozes and sensational seasonings that have impressed the most throughout the last year; coupled with a brief, witty appraisal.

I suspect this won't be the last list I put up on here either......

10 - Squirrel

I know what you are going to say - "Oh bore off baldy, with yer frigging rodent cooking, like a one-trick pony." But of course I had to put squirrel in here somewhere, largely because I had so much fun cooking with it. And plus the twins scored muchos kudos points in the playground when they told their friends what they ate last night. If you haven't tried it, you should. Gamey, sweet, lean, free-range meat. What is there not to like?

9 - unearthed Goose Rillettes (and gin)

I fell in love with unearthed's original pork rillettes a while ago now and you would be hard pressed to beat a small tub of sumptuous shredded piggy, to smear on a wedge of bread, whilst popping a cornichon or two into your mouth. But then those food explorers went and found goose rillettes. Similar in style but with a greater depth of flavour, this stuff is amazing and saved my life after a poxy day at work. The gin helped too.

8 - Baconnaise

Let's face it, anything that is labelled as 'vegetarian' and paired with 'bacon' doesn't normally come within a gnats' fart of tasting like the real thing and to be really honest, Baconnaise doesn't either. BUT this jar of artifice does still taste very good, in it's own peculiar way. Imagine Frazzles, in mayonnaise form. See, that doesn't sound too bad at all does it. Especially when dolloped on a burger. Given to me by a noodle enthusiast who has far too much food in her own house.

7 - Avocados

Don't feign surprise at this healthy inclusion, I don't eat crap all the time you know but I have to say this, I never thought I would grow to love avocados as much as I do now. Rammed with vitamins, minerals, acids and 'good' fats, I now regularly fork up a ripe beauty (mixed with lime and chilli) for a sensational spread for my hot toast in the morning. Thus helping me to leave the house with a spring in my step. Still not sure about using it in ice cream though.

6 - Bay

Is bay the unheralded super hero of the kitchen? The backbone, the stalwart, the simple essence that can change a good dish into an amazing one? I think it is and I have been using bay more and more in my cooking and the biggest hit of the year came when I threw it into the pot with some pears, lemon and marsala under the guidance of food writer Diana Henry. The resulting pudding was beautiful and that was largely down to the subtle, slightly peppery wink from the bay. Expect news of a fan club forming soon.

5 - Elderflowers

For ages now, I have always fancied making elderflower champagne, so when the blossomed in May this year (it was early) I leapt into a neighbouring field with a black bin liner and went into a wild frenzy of picking. A few buckets filled with water, lemon and sugar later, followed by swift decanting into plastic bottles through a pair of old tights and boom, we very quickly had our own fizz. This is sooo easy to make and delicious to drink. Shame it's not that alcofrolic but hey ho.

4 - Peckham Jerk

'Do not use Peckham Jerk marinade and stick your finger in your eye afterwards.' Helen Graves could well do with putting some sort of warning on the jar. But then again, I suspect that she never expected for people to rub their eyelids after smothering a whole chicken with the stuff, with their bare hands. So I can't really blame her and despite the OWFUGGGINHELL! this stuff truly transformed a BBQ in the summer. With many a guest marveling at the intense, fruity heat, all whilst pointing and laughing at my face.

3 - Innis and Gunn

I HATE seeing disclaimers on blogs but *sigh* disclaimer, Innis and Gunn have been sending me regular crates of their delicious, wonderful beer throughout the year to sample and lord help me, I love them for it. The beers have varied in style and substance. Some dark and rich. Some crisp and refreshing. Mostly all very alcoholic but not to the detriment of flavour. I have also cooked a far bit with it. An amazing brewery, that does amazing things with beer. And for purposes of balance, SABMiller wanted to do something similar and send me some of their lager. I told them to f*ck off.

2 - Rib of beef

Look at that. Just look at that. How can you look at that and not love it. Unless you is vegan. But yes, fore rib  has smashed into the top ten this year. Overtaking pork. Outsmarting lamb. Sticking a toe up the backside of duck. And that is all down to this lump of beef, sourced in Hereford, cooked in Hereford and eaten in Hereford at a birthday party. Lightly seasoned and roasted in a Weber with a firm crust on the outside and lovely pink within. It was gorgeous (after a thorough resting) and it is the reason why we are having this for Christmas dinner this year and not turkey

1 - Viking Smoked Salt from SousChef

Dun-da-da-dun-dun-daaaaaaaah! Yes, here it is! THE best thing we have used in well EVERYTHING in the kitchen this year. Half the year I mean. I picked some up at Sous Chef's Christmas show in July and the first sprinkling was scattered over a pair of fried eggs, on hot toast, and well, it transformed the whole plate. Absolutely bloody amazing and a small pinch goes a long, long way on meat, fish, baked spuds, cornflakes, whatever you fancy really. The reasoning behind the name does still allude me. I am not entirely sure whether any actual vikings were smoked during the process but to be honest, I couldn't give a fig. It maybe too late for Christmas to order some in but make sure you get this on your table for 2015. It will change your life.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Clerkenwell Kitchen, London.

Lunch today had pie and mash written all over it. I'd seen a tweet featuring a blackboard with "Pie and mash" scrawled snazzily across it and the minute I stepped outside onto the pavement and felt an icy, portentous wind whistle through my legs, I thought to myself - 'Oooh yeah, I am going to go and have a nice crusty pie, filled with soft braised beef, luxurious gravy, seconded with a creamy, fluffy dollop of mash." And so off I waltzed, down the street, legs-a-popping out sideways and heels-a-clicking like a veritable Dick Van Dyke. I always walk like that when it gets cold, gets the blood circulating you see. I even had a little rumba going off in my head like this: PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA.

Such was my excitement.

Unfortunately, when I got to Clerkenwell Kitchen, my chosen destination for repast, I discovered that that pie and mash was in fact, on yesterday's menu and not today's and that I had been gawping at an old tweet and..........well you can picture the scene can't you. 

My heart sank and my bottom lip jutted outwards; the clouds gathered and unleashed a deluge; and a small dog trotted past my ankles and took a piss on my newly polished shoes. An imaginary dog that is. Imaginary rain too because I was standing inside. But yes, I felt totally bummed out when I realised that I was not going to be eating pie and mash for lunch today. So much so that I absentmindedly dropped my imaginary maracas on the floor. 

However, the great thing about Clerkenwell Kitchen is that the food in there is always pretty damn good and that blackboard, which gets refreshed everyday, had some delectable new options to choose from. Like duck hash with a fried egg and my god, it was lovely. On the plate it represented a simple mess really. Of crushed spuds, caramelised red onion, some sliced greenery, some gorgeously sharp chopped cornichons and of course, a decent shredding of warm, fatty duck meat. All topped with an egg, fried to crispy-edged perfection whilst still saving a silky slick of yolk in the centre. It was more than lovely actually and more than made up for the absence of pie. And mash. My pudding was very pleasing to eat too. A wedge of sweet and bitter lemon ricotta cake with a handsome dollop of roast plum, very lightly spiced.

I've popped into this quiet, unassuming gem a few times now when I've been up that London for work and have always come away happy. Cuttlefish stew, courgette and Parmesan tart and thick door step sandwiches, crammed with pork, crackling and apple sauce are just some of the delights I've sampled there and if you ever find yourself in the area (Clerkenwell that is, the clue is in the name) I heartily recommend you go there for some fantastically cheap, well-sourced, lovingly cooked, honest grub. 

I hate saying things like that about food though. 'Honest grub' sounds a bit twee, a bit daft and good food never lies. And I very nearly accused the guys at Clerkenwell Kitchen of doing just that today, of lying.


But I am glad I kept my gob firmly shut when ordering at the till and ended up shoveling that beautiful duck hash into my mouth instead.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Lamb Stock

It shames and pains me to admit this but lately I have become far too reliant on pre-made stock pots, flavour shots and plastic sachets of meat slop. Don't get me wrong, they do have a place in the store cupboard and can get you out of a tight squeeze. A majestic meal of bangers and mash was very nearly ruined recently, for fear of having nowt moist to pour over it. But thankfully I had a little bucket of K-norr beef gloop tucked away and with the addition of some dried onions (now this is something you should always have to hand) I was able to knock up an onion gravy that was very nearly fit for King. Very nearly indeed.

I would like to get back into the habit of making my own stock though because nothing on the market can really replace a good lengthy* simmering of bones, water and vegetables on the hob. When you make your own stock, you generally don't have to worry about saltiness, any insipidness or involuntarily gagging on something that could have come straight out of a washing up bowl; a dirty sniff of grey, malignant water. Some pork stock cubes I once bought did that to me. Reminded me of drinking manky old sock water so it did. Not that I have ever drunk manky old sock water mind. Well, maybe in my student days.

No, you can't beat a home-made stock; rounded, healthy and deep with savoury flavour. And if it wobbles, then all the better. If there is any sign that a stock is a good 'un, it's when it wobbles like jelly, all gelatinous and rich. I made a fine lamb stock recently, not just from the bones of Shaun the Sheep but from a couple of whole shoulders. Which sounds very decadent and over the top but I should add that the braised lamb meat was used for a big family dinner partay. We have however been living on the resulting stock for last few days as there was tons left over.

Kept in the fridge, I've been taking a spoonful here, a spoonful there, adding it to meals with gay abandon. Soup, shepherds pie, pearly barley, porridge etc which has perhaps led to an overkill. But until it runs out, I am going to keep going. In fact, I wonder what it would taste like in tonight's vegetable curry? No one will know. And plus it would give a discreet fingers up to meat-free Monday.

Cue Muttley snigger.

I might just stick the remainder in the freezer for now though. In the bottom tray, where all the chicken carcasses are slowly building up, like a desolate frozen graveyard. A stark reminder that I should really make my own stock more often.

And I should really make sure it's wobbly.

Lamb fat rising to the surface, resembling an alien landscape, another world (he says, theatrically)

Gratuitous lamb stock video - NSFW

*Of course, I should add that lengthy is not always best. Especially with fish. And chicken.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Stir Up Sunday with Urban Fruit

Christmas pudding should never die. And by that, I mean a good festive plum pud, all dark, rich and fruity should never suffer from the rigors of time. Should you accidentally forget all about it that is. Oh, we've all done that before haven't we, eh? No? We've all made a batch of puds when full of excitable Christmas bonhomie and jazz, and found one stodgy bleeder hanging around the kitchen come New Year haven't we? Or even better, we've all scooped some up in the January sales, with the glowing frugal notion that we are saving money.

"Yes! 5 Duchy Original puds for two paaand fifty! We are sooo sorted for next year. Get in!"

*Fist pump"

*Star jump*


And we've all gone to spring clean the kitchen a couple of years later, to tackle the cupboard of 'Doom, Plastic Bags And Other Unknown Detritus' and found stacks and stacks of Christmas puds at the back. Dusty, sad, and all alone.

But we shouldn't panic or feel guilt or grieve. Because Christmas puds never die.

Now, you might be wondering what the hell am I going on about. Well, this forthcoming Sunday is 'Stir Up Sunday'. Yes you know the one. To celebrate this tradition of making Christmas puds on the last Sunday before the Advent, the folks at Great British Chefs are holding a Twitter party in conjunction with Urban Fruit, the people who gently bake fruit; in an friendly, urbane sort of way. The main aim is to gather people online to discuss, exchange ideas and air frank views about Christmas baking. Given the upsurge in home baking, all thanks to Mary Berry's hair and Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, it should be a riot

You may have a pet pieve about marzipan. You might want to know what mixes are best for mincemeat. Or perhaps you just want to find out the number of a good, reliable dentist (always handy as broken tooth cases soar around Christmas, what with all those coins secreted in figgy puddings).

Using a selection of fruits from Urban Fruit, I have a Christmas cake recipe that will be popping up here on the Great British Chefs website that sort of strays from the norm. A colourful Caribbean effort, that is filled with spice and bananas amongst other things. But the most important thing about this cake is that it is stacked with booze.

As you well know, Christmas cake, pudding or a chocolate log even, topped up with brandy, whiskey or sherry tastes magnificient (in my humble opinion anyway). Most importantly though, if you soak enough alcohol within that crusted frame, that sponge interior, you can be rest assured that that cake will never, ever, ever die. Which is very important indeed.

Join the party this Sunday, using the hashtag #stirupsunday

Monday, 10 November 2014

Potted Squirrel with sourdough, watercress and pickles

This post first appeared at Great British Chefs and yes, it's another squirrel post.

One well known trick that I have in my repertoire of culinary skills - of which there are many, I can peel a grape in under 2 seconds for instance - is the art of hiding food within food. Parents or partners of fussy eaters will know what I mean by this. Like adding a sprinkling of finely chopped carrot and celery here and there, into spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne. Coating steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese or masquerading fresh fruit with cream and chocolate. Essentially it’s a play-off and probably a bad one at that. But if I can pack those vitamins in without any sign discord at the table, then so be it.

This trick of hiding or disguising food is also useful in helping people overcome their prejudices. I have been tinkering around a lot just lately, with one ingredient in particular and a couple of the responses have been far from encouraging. “How could you?” “What? Like the ones we see in the park?” “So, you are eating rodents now are you Dan?” These are just a few of the comments that have come my way. Mostly from my Mum. But I think I have cracked it with this recipe. Well I know I have cracked it because I served her this potted dish last weekend and got some very enthusiastic feedback.

“Wow, this is good. Gamey but good. And I like the texture, bit like a rough pâté or um….like rillettes? Is that how you say it? What is it anyway? Pheasant? Rabbit maybe?”

“Squirrel Mother, you’re eating squirrel,” I told her. Like Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys.

She is still talking to me, but only just, which only goes to show how emotive we can be with our attitudes towards to certain types of meat. Cow, moo, beef, yes. Furry woodland creature, squeak, Disney, no. 

Whether I have convinced her that squirrel is the way forward remains to be seen. However I do urge people to try squirrel, as it really is a lovely, sweet, alternative source of protein to eat. I know Pascal Aussignac is a fan of this sustainable meat and they are becoming a lot easier to come by. I get mine from Brompton Food Market but most butchers should be able to find them for you these days.
So try this quirky starter and try to put saccharin images of squirrels washing up or gaily collecting nuts to the back your mind. Whilst you are at it, try and put images of that squirrel showing its nuts off on The Great British Bake Off towards the back of your mind too. 

Because that really will put you off your tea.

Potted Squirrel with sourdough, pickles and watercress – serves 4


2 squirrels, jointed into six pieces (and don’t worry, they usually come skinned and gutted!)
150gms smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 banana shallot, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stick of celery, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
6 juniper berries
500mls dry cider
Salt and cracked black pepper
Unsalted butter
Sourdough bread
Olive oil
Selection of pickles such as cornichons and silver skin onions


Now I use a crock-pot for the first stage of braising the meat but you could also use a casserole and your oven on a very low setting, say 120C. The choice as they say, is yours. But yes, start by layering the bacon down first and then add the jointed squirrel and then scatter over the remaining vegetables, spices and herbs. Season generously and then pour over the cider. Set the crock-pot to low, cover and then leave for 6-8 hours. The principle point here is to melt the bacon into submission and cook the squirrel meat until very, very tender.

Leave to cool and then pour off through a sieve, reserving some of the cooking liquor. Take the squirrel out and as much of the bacon as possible and then, using your hands, pick the squirrel meat. This is a little bit fiddly and time consuming but you want to make sure that no tiny bones remain. So pick over a metal bowl and listen out for any pings.

When you have removed all the meat, combine with the bacon and mash together with a fork. You could stick this in a food processor if you wanted a smoother pâté but I prefer it rough (no giggling at the back). If the mixture is a little bit dry, add a spoonful of leftover liquor but not too much.

Spoon the mix into ramekins and put to one side. Take your block of unsalted butter and clarify by heating and melting in a saucepan on the hob, skimming any scum that rises to the top, whilst the chalky deposits fall to the bottom. The golden stuff in-between is what you are after. (To save on time and faff, you could also buy some Lurpak Clarified Butter)

Carefully pour the clarified butter over the top of the squirrel, leaving just a thin layer and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.

When ready to serve, toast your sourdough and dress your watercress lightly in olive oil and arrange on a plate with the potted squirrel and a scattering of pickles. 


Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Towards the end of the summer I was introduced via email to a certain Kanna Ingleson, a devotee of  taxidermy and an enthusiast of the odd and she had a very simple proposal for me. Would I be interested in submitting a recipe for her new online magazine? A new magazine showcasing European taxidermy subculture and the people in it.

Now, I have had stranger proposals before and I must admit that I am not totally au fait with the whole business of stuffing dead animals but this rather quirky premise did appeal a lot to me. Probably because I am quite odd myself and I am a sucker for anything remotely alternative when it comes to food.

The main remit was to consider what could be done with the meat that is taken out of said dead animals. By all accounts, at some taxidermy classes (which are fast becoming popular by the way) there is often an added educational element where chefs come in to demonstrate what can be done with the carcasses afterwards. So the idea in itself isn't unusual. And plus there is the demonstrable concept of using this art form to promote total 'nose-to-tail' eating and zero food waste. In terms of connecting the dots, there is no real reason why we can't put food and taxidermy together. Seriously, think about it.

Of course, a slightly bizarre aspect does rear its ugly head when you consider that all manner of creatures can be immortalised through the medium of wool and wire or polyurethane. So where do you stop? Well perhaps eating your beloved Tiddles is going a step too far but if this magazine gains legs, other suggestions have been put on the table for future features and recipe development. Like, um, roadkill and other things. We'll wait and see.

But to start things off, we simply went for a squirrel recipe. Slightly out there but not too out there if you get what I mean. A lovely, warming ragu that would go down fantastic on a Friday night with a glass of wine. Before having to nip back in the kitchen to deal with the fur, skin and all the accoutrements to deliver a masterpiece for the mantelpiece.

So please do check out #taximag here and have a read. It's all rather interesting. Promise.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Theo Chocolate from Seattle

This is just a very quick post to a) get me into the habit of blogging more regularly and b) capitalise on the fact that this week is Chocolate Week in the UK, thus taking advantage of all the traffic that is currently steering its way. To all the chocolaty things on the Internet. Or not, as the case may be. Gawd knows how it all works. I am just going to hashtag the shizzle outta this.

But yes, chocolate! I had some rather nice chocolate the other day that found its way into my grubby mitts via the lovely and gregarious Susan....something or the other. You know, I don't think I know her surname but she writes a great blog, eats and drinks, is very funny and divides her time between the US and the UK and when I met her a few weeks ago, she very kindly gave me some chocolate from Seattle.

I then promptly forgot about these bars of delight, having stashed them away in my rucksack and only just came across them after fishing out a rather rancid over-ripe pear at the bottom of the bag. Yes, I am that forgetful. Thankfully, the chocolate wasn't ruined in any way and upon discovering them, they certainly delivered a triumphant fist pump to the air; a feeling akin to finding some Jaffa cakes in your pocket for instance.

Now, I am not a connoisseur of cacao by any means. The grubby stuff i.e. corner shop confectionery is more than suitable for my palate but I have always, rather snobbishly, assumed that American chocolate was really rubbish. Hershey's springs to mind. Past experiences and memories equate to gobfulls of too sweet, brown, grainy shite basically and how it has the temerity to call itself chocolate is beyond me. However, the bars of Theo Chocolate handed over to me were amazing.

Ticking all the boxes regarding provenance, non-GMO, organic, fair-trade etcetera etcetera, the guys at Theo do go to 11 on the worthy-o-meter but hey, what is the point of making something good unless it makes you feel good eh? And boy, does this chocolate does make you feel good. From what I understand is their 'Fantasy' range, I sampled (or we, I should say) the Bread & Chocolate bar, made using 70% dark chocolate and their Chai, using 45% milk chocolate. And chai tea, naturally.

The breaded bar was my favourite. Dense, smooth and slightly bitter with gorgeous nuggets of sourdough crumbs, it was reminiscent of other biscuit-based chocolate I've tried before. Like um, a Yorkie bar but it was much, much better and I don't even know why I am thinking about them. A poor comparison but hopefully you get the idea.

By contrast, the 'Chai' was stronger in flavour, spicier and more fragrant and I think I would have preferred it married up with dark chocolate, instead of milk. However, yet again, this chocolate delivered another pleasantly surprising hit. Tea. Chocolate. I could do this again. Perhaps with a cup of tea. How would that be? Too much? Maybe.

So there we have it. A new perspective on US chocolate. After trying these bars, I certainly won't be so dismissive in future. It might even be worth importing some from across the Atlantic. Although I might just wait till I catch up with Susan again. I must work on the forgetfulness though. Whenever we secretly eat chocolate at night; in the morning, when the children get up, they nearly always find the wrappers. Slovenly stowed not so secretly under the settee.

"Daaaaad, have you been eating chocolate again?"

Nothing worse than a tutting six year old, wagging a finger in your face, at 7AM. I can tell you that.

Also, I've said the word 'chocolate' and alliterated and rhymed far too many times in this post, sorry.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wine Urchin #5 - Montagne Saint-Émilion from Lidl

Does expensive wine ever maketh the dish? And by that I mean, if you are going to cook with wine, should you splash out on a decent bottle to stick into the pot? Or should you just plunk for an economical bottle of plonk? Speaking as someone who in the past has poured the best part of twenty squids over stewing steak that only cost me a fiver, it can still be a bit of a puzzling quandary. I mean, after serving up that said bourguignon, I looked around the table and waited for faces to melt into frames of delight and a chorus of rapturous applause but nothing happened. People were complimentary for sure. It was very "nice", "tasty" and "delicious" even. But no-one slid off their chairs and fell onto the floor in a spasm of orgasmic joy. I wanted to grab them by their lapels and ear lobes and shout "I spent £19.95 on the Cote du Rhone that went into that, you ungrateful motherfunksters!" But I am sure my father-in-law would have punched me in the face if I tried a stunt like that so early into our blossoming, familial relationship.

That was then though and now I think my general train of thought is that even a splash of the most unassuming and frugal wine (i.e. cheap) is good enough to lift a dish. And I say this with confidence because I have spotted many a box of catering glug tucked away on shelves in restaurant kitchens. Clad in white cardboard and plainly labelled 'cooking wine' it obviously serves its purpose and when you consider the margins, well no-one is going to be spunking the good stuff are they? Plus, why on earth would you cook the bejesus out of something that is going to taste so much better unadulterated? Even more importantly, there be alcohol in that there wine. So yes, these are my thoughts........

.......however, I can still get all knee-jerky and twitchy whenever the subject of 'cooking with wine' arises. After making enquiries on Twitter* a couple of weeks ago, on how to make Coq au Vin (because I have never made this classic before) a few of the suggestions that came back said that I should absolutely, unequivocally and on pain of death use the finest wine possible. You know, like available to humanity. 

Which pained me. It really did. So much so that I spent an inordinate amount of time pacing up and down the kitchen, wondering what one must do about the situation, with much hand wringing and  brow furrowing. In the end I opted for the middle road and pulled out a bottle of Montagne Saint-Émilion that I had been given to try. This bottle of Merlot came from Lidl no less, one of the German twin sisters that is currently kicking the big supermarkets square in the cream crackers and they are obviously upping the game with big additions to their wine cellar. You can now wander into a Lidl store and pick up a bottle of Bordeaux for £25 these days don't you know. Which does belie the original incentive of going in to pick up cheap fruit and veg, continental meats and drill bits but I suppose it only goes to show how far they've come along.

Anyway, after having a quick taste, a rich slurp of plum with spice and just a smidgen of oak, I thought to myself - "What the hell, this might cost £8.99 and would probably be better to drink on a cold and damp Autumn evening, in front of the fire but I don't have a fire and I want to make sure this chicken dish tastes delish, so ....fuck it." And so in it went.

I didn't go the whole hog with the coq thing by the way, buying a tough old bird for the pot. I just went for plain ol' chick'n; free range of course, using a recipe by some guy called Arby. The end result, after marinating overnight and some faff with toasting plain flour, was pretty damn good and if you haven't made coq au vin before I would wholeheartedly recommend you try Arby's method. My plating up left a little to be desired in the presentation stakes but blimey, red wine with chicken, mushrooms, bacon, mash and gravy; who'd have thought that could taste so gorgeous eh? Talk about ask a silly question. Still, maybe part of that was down to using a decent bottle of wine. It is definitely something that I am going to consider more in future.

The twist in the tale of course is that I was also sent a bottle of rather lush Fleurie, a fruity and fresh Gamay from Burgundy that retails slightly cheaper at £6.49. So we poured out a couple of glasses to accompany the casserole and much happiness was delivered to the table. But if you know your wine and know your way around regional French cuisine, you might have already spotted a glaring mistake.

I wonder if you can tell me what it is?

Wine, reduced
Marinated coq (chook)
We were dye-ing to eat this chicken.......ha!
Messy but delicious
* I often get told off for making general food enquiries on Twitter with many people barking back that I am lazy and that I should simply use Google. Those folk can do one, because Google doesn't converse with you like Twitter does. And I much prefer that.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Lime Pickle

You know how the saying goes. When life hands you a bunch of lemons, then make lemonade. And if life gives you melons, well it could be worthwhile getting checked out to see if you are dyslexic or not. But what do you do when life chucks some limes your way?

This was the question I faced yesterday, as in my fridge I found 11, nay 12 limes that were just teetering on the edge of decay. Green but slowly turning to yellow and beginning to collapse inwards like a collection of dying citrus stars. Where they came from I do not know. People are always giving me shit. And I don't just mean that in the freeloading sense of the word or grief. Although I do get both of that too. No I mean people are always giving me shit to cook. Take last weekend for instance. I went to a house party where free colonic irrigation was on hand by means of home brewed beer and a friend wandered up to me with a plastic orange bucket, full of passion fruit that he had collected from his garden.

"Here you go Dan, thought you could do something with this lot."

"Um, like what?"

"I dunno, you're meant to be the frigging cook."

And off he went, tutting along the way, making me feel all awkward and questioning my own credentials as a foodie (sorry, lover of food) so I called after him.

"I can make some jam I suppose.......or....a jelly?"

But it was too late, the moment was lost.

A plate of sliced limes
Coming back to the limes though, when I saw them languishing away, the old light bulb did ping up pretty much straight away. I decided that I would make some lime pickle with them.

Now for me, lime pickle is firmly planted in the category of 'Foods wot I never used to like but forced myself to like'. It has taken me years to get to the stage of dolloping a tangy thwack of flavour on my poppadom. Building up slowly, with much wincing along the way. The sourness isn't so much the problem but more the texture. A sliver of cold rind, peppered and congealed with oily, spiced mush takes some getting used to. But I have grown to love it.

So of course the next stage had to be to make some of my own, rather than rely on Mr Patak, and I was very happy with the results. Recipes vary and microwaving seems to come up a lot but I looked to my old faithful 'Asian Cookbook' to help guide me through proceedings. I got the book from WHSmiths ages and ages ago and it really has been a stalwart. I think it is out of print and I have messed around a bit with the recipe but this how I transformed a bunch of neglected fruit and turned them into a magnificent pickle. 

Naturally, this probably shouldn't be considered as a 'definitive' method. I am sure some of the feedback will go along the lines of "Uh-uh. You forgot to do this, didn't do that, blah blah blah."

But the more I think about it, the more I reckon that this recipe could probably work with passion fruit too.

I wish I thought about it on Saturday.

Lime Pickle - makes about 750gms, or enough to fill a sterilised Kilner jar (you know, one that can hold about 750gms)


12 limes, fresh, or dying
4 chillies. seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp of garlic and ginger paste
250mls sunflower oil
2 tsp mustard seed
2 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp fenugreek seed
2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp sugar


First cut each lime into 8 slices and arrange flat down onto a large plate and sprinkle liberally with salt. Put to one side and leave for about an hour (some methods cure for a lot lot longer but I was in a hurry).

Then place all your spices into a frying pan over a medium heat and lightly toast for 1-2 minutes. Put into a pestle and mortar and grind down to a fine powder.

Place a larger pan on the hob and add a tablespoon of oil and then add the chilli and garlic and ginger paste. Stir fry until golden and then add the limes, sugar, spices and remaining oil. Reduce the heat to produce a low simmer and gently cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before pouring into said sterilised Kilner jar.

Cool completely and then store in the fridge until such time that you fancy some lime pickle. I expect to discover this batch in about oooh, six months time?

A close up of sliced limes

Sliced limes cooking

Lime Pickle

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Bull and Last, Kentish Town

Despite taking a keen interest in geography when I was younger, I have to say that my sense of direction is notoriously bad. If you ever find yourself lost on the streets of London, don't ever ask me which way to head. Because I will almost certainly send you down the wrong street to the wrong side of town. Once, around lunchtime near my office, a poor soul anxiously approached me wishing to get to St Pauls and I sent them on their way with a series of left/right gesticulations, smiling confidently as I did so. However as I soon as I turned tail, I realised that I had actually sent them in the opposite direction so I hastily blended into the crowd and waltzed off myself. I spotted the same person about 10 minutes later and the look on his face suggested to me that he was very angry. And quite possibly late. But hey, he must got directions off the right person because as he surged down the street, I could see St Christopher's dome rising magnificently in the background. I was just glad that he didn't see me.

With that in mind, my inner GPS went all shonky again this weekend. For an anniversary treat I booked a table at The Bull and Last, an esteemed gastropub favoured by Chris Pople and some bloke called Coren. And when I say I booked it, I mean just that. "Hello? Can I have a table? Thank you. Goodbye." I didn't think much more of it afterwards. So when the time came around, after a night in Hammersmith, watching some strange witch-like woman wail and float around the stage, when Mrs FU asked me if I knew where we were going, I naturally said yes. 

When we got off the tube at Highgate Station she asked me the question again.

"Yes, the pub is around here somewhere," I replied as we trotted off down the hill. "It's on Highgate Road. This is Highgate Hill. Look see the road sign. Let's just keep walking, we'll find it soon enough."

Mrs FU gave it the magic 10 minutes before she asked me one more time.

"Are you sure it's around here?"

"Um, I don't really know."

After a quick peruse on Google maps on the phone, it soon turned out we were quite a fair distance from the pub. In roughly the right area, I hastily tried to defend but oooh, it was still a bit of trek wasn't it. The silence was deafening as we started to sprint, apart from the occasional pant of breath and "Mind that dog shit" (the streets of North London are caked I tell you). Luckily we managed to get to the pub, bang on the nose for our reservation.

I don't think I have ever seen my wife down a pint so quickly before but as she wiped the sweat away from her brow and judging by the look in her eyes, I don't think I'll be in charge of booking restaurants for much longer.

The great thing about The Bull and Last, or where we were sat upstairs at least, is that the place is large and airy and when asked, the waiters will gladly open a window for you. So we managed to cool down and get nice and comfortable quite quickly. The decor of old paintings, stuffed animals wearing jaunty napkins, bashed up tables and chairs was fairly de rigueur for a gastropub; which does makes wonder whether everyone goes to the same taxidermist-come-antiques dealer (who must be making a fortune). But still, the ambiance was relaxed, with only the occasional "Rah!" to puncture the air and the aforementioned beer was very good. A pint of Five Points Pale Ale and a pint of Redemption..... something or the other. I think.

The menu was seasonal and British, leaning towards to the more gutsy side of proceedings, which suited me down the ground. I did ponder for a little while about some delicate sounding English beetroot with cow's curd and roasted walnuts, but I was starving after that walk so I ordered the braised pig cheek with watermelon pickle and sesame. Followed by the pork belly, black pudding, crackling and all the trimmings. Yes, double pork. Or triple in fact.


Now I love a pig cheek or two and the idea of pairing them with watermelon seemed very fanciful. It certainly looked exotic when the plate arrived at the table and as I pressed my fork into the teriyaki oyster of pork, it collapsed wonderfully under the weight. Coupled with chunks of pickled yet still crisp watermelon and peppery herbs, each mouthful was unusual, quirky and perhaps one of the best things I have eaten all year. My praises for this dish would have gone superlative if the waiter had put two cheeks in front of me. But alas, I only got one and half cheeks. Which seemed a touch stingy when you consider how cheap they are. Nevertheless, it got me first points on the score board which is oh so important when you eat out with your partner.

Not that Mrs FU's choice misfired. Her wild game terrine with damsons, pickles and toast also hit the spot and there is always something to admire in a well constructed slice. We played quite the guessing game as to what game was in the meat loaf and I am adamant that they stuck a prune into the mix. Not that my wife listened to me. She was too busy licking the damson jelly off the plate. Also, fantastic radishes but still, 1-0.

My mains could on face value be described as regular Sunday lunch fare but it was head and shoulders above the usual offering from our local pub. Sweet belly that again melted at the touch of a fork, nuggets of blood pudding, soft baked pear and crunchy spuds all made for very happy eating indeed. The crackling snapped with delight and the sprouting broccoli offered virtue but the best part of this dish for me, surprisingly, was the celeriac. God, I've missed that ugly son of gun and this was a timely reminder that root veg is firmly back on the agenda. I think I might just buy a few gnarly boulders on the next shopping trip actually. In short, for me, this plate heralded the start of Autumn.

However, even though I thought my mains was really good, Mrs FU (in her humble opinion) decided that her fish platter evened up the scores, citing that her wooden board filled with gravalax, brown crab, mackerel pate, chipirones, haddock croquettes, fennel salad and *sharp intake of breath* treacle bread beat my Sunday standard well into submission. And sure, it looked pleasing but there was no way that it whipped my nutty celeriac mash. Apart from the potted crab. That did taste amazing and rich. And the fresh mackerel. The beetroot cured salmon wasn't bad either. But the rest was raaaahbish. Except for the croquette. The fennel, the fennel was shit. I am done with that aniseed claptrap. Until next week maybe. 



In hindsight, we should have left desserts well alone but as this was a special meal, we ploughed on regardless, deciding on a just light bite and digestif to finish things off. Namely cheese and port. From the small selection available we went for Stichelton, Keen's Cheddar and Reblochon, all of which were delightful. Although I felt the French cheese could have been just a touch more gooey. I am only nit-picking though, trying to proportion some element of blame. For by the time we'd finished, we felt thoroughly turgid. Joyful but definitely swollen.


A draw.

As far as the actual cost of Sunday lunch, a bill of just over a hundred squids did edge things towards the expensive end, especially since we didn't have that much to drink. Honest, we really didn't (a few more pints and half a carafe of Picpoul). And I have to been mulling it over in my head ever since as to whether The Bull and Last represented value for money. I think they just about pulled it off. Their menu wouldn't look out of place in most decent boozers up and down the land but in the cooking and presentation, I would say that they do deliver that extra bit of care and attention. That fish platter was certainly a labour of love with all its elements and the service was charming and friendly. We had quite a giggle with our waiter at the end, belying some reports that the staff can be po-faced. And I really did like those pig cheeks with the watermelon. All one and half of them. No, I was more than satisfied with the meal we had there and you only live once and all that. Next year we are going to IKEA for meatballs.

BUT! If I did have to complain about one thing, it would be the fish eye mirror that hangs in their toilet upstairs. Jesus, it very nearly knock me for six when I stared into it after conducting my ablutions. I was so disorientated by the thing that after leaving, I started to wonder back up towards Hampstead Heath. 

Thankfully Mrs FU was on hand to direct me down the hill, towards Kentish Town tube station. The stop that we should have gotten off at in the first place.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Lobster, Fish and Happy Shopper Camp Chowder

Bliss (kinda)
 Yes, that is me on the left, basking in the warm glow of a not-quite-Autumn-yet sun. As you can see, the soft grass beneath my feet dips downwards, masking primal granite underneath. And just beyond that tent in the middle, just beyond a hedge of bracken, jagged rocks pierce the Atlantic; like old man's teeth gnashing and foaming in the brine. The mysterious island of Lundy sits squat on the horizon and after that, well, who knows. This is Mortehoe in North Devon, an undeniably beautiful place. However, do not let this serene, wistful photo fool you. It may convey a sense of wonder, a frame of a man at peace with the world, soaking up the best that nature can offer. But the reality is, or was rather, when this photo was taken, I was getting smashed by winds of up to 90 miles an hour. Nature was farting in my face and laughing and giggling with glee and to be honest, it wasn't pleasant. The whole time we were there, it was like nature was bellowing:

"You've come camping? Here? On one of the most exposed parts of the British coast? HA! You fool! Can you feel my windy buttocks buffeting your face? Watch then, as I sit on your tent and squash it with them! Hahahahaha! Can you hear that snapping? That's your tent poles that is! That will learn you for using a cheap tent! Whoops, there goes your hat! AND YOUR EVENT SHELTER! Ha! Oh joy! Oh joy, joy, joy!"

Needless to say our first camping holiday with the twins was a bit of a trial. Not an unmitigated disaster mind. In the company of very good friends and with the aid of copious alcohol, bags and bags of 2p coins for the arcade and stereotypically English stiff upper lips, we did manage to have a most excellent time. And the children certainly loved it. They even went into the sea, the nutters. Personally though, when we finally left Devon, I was just a little bit disappointed that I didn't get to do as much cooking in the Great Outdoors as I would have liked. I had plenty of ideas and I had even bought a copy of Josh Sutton's Guyrope Gourmet to try out some of his recipes. But trying to read the damn thing out in the open, with pages whipping from left to right was nigh on impossible. In the end, I just popped it back in tent and took to standing in the gale, whilst sipping stupidly strong scrumpy and flicking V's back at the sky.

We did have a couple of breakthroughs at breakfast time, which came in the shape of bacon and black pudding butties and some eggy bread. And we also managed to rustle up one meal in the evening, namely my mate John's infamous chowder. I was pretty insistent that we made this actually. Largely because John has been bleating on about this fabulous seafood stew he makes whenever he goes camping, for like, forever. And largely because I have always been intrigued by the juxtaposition of the ingredients within, which mainly consists of very expensive and luxurious lobster, coupled with dirt cheap tinned potatoes. By all accounts, this recipe was borne out of sourcing what is available in Mortehoe and as you might guess, there isn't much. A pretty well-stocked fishmonger, come fish and chip shop. And an efficiently stocked camp shop. Oh, plus three pubs. I did wonder if I should point out to John that the camp shop sold fresh spuds but after seeing him gamble up to the till with a silly grin on his face and an armful of Happy Shopper tinned new potatoes (59p), I felt it was a risk worth taking.

And it was. Given that in reality, we used very little to pep everything up - this meal basically consists of lobster, fish, water, wine, onion and cream - it tasted bloody amazing and was testimony to the simple approach when cooking. Served up in a mess-tin for authenticity, it was rich, indulgent and life-affirming; a cor-blimey smack on the lips to be mopped up with bread slathered with butter. My only addition when preparing and helping to finish at the end was to issue a small smattering of capers over the top, which gave just enough spike to help cut through the silky broth.

After licking the remains of the sauce out of the mess tin using my stubby digits, I threw the lightweight vessel into that ferocious wind, roared at the top of my lungs and turned my back to it victorious. Moments later, the mess-tin returned and hit me on top of my delicate head. So in the end, nature won. But if you do ever go like to camping yourself and have access to a decent fishmonger, and some Happy Shopper spuds, you really should try this recipe. It will blow you away....he he geddit? Ha ha ha.......ah fack it.....

Lobster, Fish and Happy Shopper Camp Chowder - serves 4 adults and 2 children

Ingredients (fish is fairly approximate as we bought everything by pointing)

2 lobsters, cooked
750gms of cod fillet, sliced into goujons
250gms of gurnard fillet, sliced into goujons
2 tins of Happy Shopper New Potatoes, drained and cut in half
1 onion, finely chopped
300mls double cream
1 large glass of white wine, possibly 2
Olive oil
Black pepper
Capers (optional)

Bread and butter to serve


If cooking this outside, first make a perimeter around your cooking area to shield you from the wind. Use cars, trailers, windbreaks, jackets and chopping boards to ensure that your Campingaz single burning stoves work efficiently. Keep a flagon of strong Devonshire cider handy to keep you sane when everything blows off the table.

Now, break up your cooked lobster and remove as much meat as possible from the claws, legs and head. Crack the tail and peel and cut the flesh into chunky medallions. Reserve the meat in a pot of some description. Then place all the lobster shell into another pot and filled with approximately 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil on your gaz burner and simmer and reduce for about 45 minutes. This will form the main part of your stock.

When done, place a frying pan on the burner, add a splash of olive oil, then the onion and gently fry until translucent. Add the wine and reduce by half and then add some of the stock. John was the master of ceremonies at this point and carefully adding the shellfish stock by the ladle, taking his time. Whereas I would have dumped the lot in but I expect this was to gain maximum efficiency from the gaz or gas or whatever.

Then add your Happy Shopper spuds and the cream and begin to reduce further.  As the stock thickens, pop the lobster in to warm through and then add the fish. Cook for about another 5 minutes.

When ready, serve in mess-tins or bowls, add a crack of black pepper and a scattering of capers if you so wish. Add a slice or two or bread and butter and off you go.

Enjoy whilst the sun goes down and eat quickly. As the wind tends to turn things cold very soon.

Happy Shopper Spuds
Lobster and Cidre
Lobster Meat
Lobster Stock
Essential for camping

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Sub Cult and Sun Hats

I don't normally do this. I don't normally eat something for lunch and then race back to my computer to eulogize and slobber all over the keyboard. I am normally far too lazy to do anything like that. And besides, I find the whole deal of rutting at the desk, fingers hammering a go-go, chair shifting back and forth a bit... well, a bit seedy. I have read some blog posts in the past; on new, hip and happening openings and have got the distinct impression afterwards that the writer has just spent 5 minutes of their lives, grunting and gurning away behind a screen; before spilling forth with that final sentence of "Oh my god it was soo good, and I got there first, I was there maaanandIgottherefirstandahmagaaaditwassoosoogood!!!"

I can see the said writer right now, all sweaty after triumphantly reviewing. Head slumped forward, lolling lasciviously about the place, genitals quite possibly out on display.

I never do that sort of thing.

BUT I have eaten a sandwich today that has made me want to do just that! So please, let me tell you all about it!

(Don't worry Mum, I am not typing this with my winky out.)

Yes, I visited Bishopsgate Market for the first time today, yet another street food shebang that has set up on the clean streets of the City of London. I say clean, Bishopsgate Market is set up on a gravel base building site. Anyway, they are popping up all over the place now and I must admit, I have spent some time cynically mulling that this explosion is simply the consequence of a 'trend' and the rush to make a quick buck. Perhaps it is for some. But the more and more I eat from various trucks, tents and wagons, the more and more I become convinced that this ever growing movement is, in the immortal words of John Torode, a good thing. For instance, the variety of what is available these days for lunch is breathtaking and definitely gives hungry punters a break from the banality of what the chains and supermarkets can offer.

Back to that sandwich though, namely a Rodeo-Sub from Sub Cult. Now when making decisions at these markets, I don't normally believe in choosing the longest one because far too many prats will join a queue on the simple basis that it is a very long queue and today Sub Cult had a very long queue. However, having sneaked a peek at the menu, there was enough on the board to pique my interest and make me want to stand in the blazing sun, like a prat. For about, ooh 20 farking minutes. Still, I thought a combination such as sweet scallop, free range pulled pork, calamari and lemon and parsley mayo would make the wait worth it.

Of course, when I finally made it to the relief of the shade of the van's side hatch, I was told by a man with unfeasibly large sideburns that they had sold out of their Sub-Marines. So, masking quite anger, my cohort and I plumped for the Rodeo-Sub instead, which cost £6.50 of our English pounds. And I am so glad we did, because it was gorgeous. Resplendent with 28 day (well?) hung beef, Provolone cheese, pickled chillies, baby onions and black truffle mayo, and a few spinach leaves to feign a healthy approach, this sandwich was amazing. Coupled with the soft brioche sub that contained the filling, each bite was a savoury, tangy, meaty delight. The back note of the truffle was particularly good, tying everything together with a pleasant hit of ommmaaaaamee.

Now if I had a penny for every time a sandwich or burger elicited an expressive "hmmmm" from my gobby mouth, I would have about 28p by now. But I have to say, this Rodeo-Sub definitely made me sit up more than usual. After taking my fill, I walked back up to the van to say thanks to the hirsute couple responsible and to commend them on a really fantastic sandwich and naturally they responded with cheers and fist bumps. I also inquired as to whether they towed their camper van everywhere because the interior of the driving compartment looked as ancient as my favourite lucky pants. Torn, ragged, dusty and nearly 23 years old. They assured me that the engine did work and that they drove everywhere, which made me think "Yeah right, jokers." But maybe they are telling the truth though, their sandwiches are certainly righteous enough.

Oh god, and now I am turning into Guy Fieri.

On one last note, if they wanted to take things just that little bit further, I would suggest this for the chaps at Sub Cult. On hot, sunny days when everyone comes traipsing in, braying in single file to form an orderly queue, try handing out some of your paper bags to your customers to use as hats. Some of them don't mind waiting but some of them, especially the paler specimens, do not fare well under the August sun.

Hairy blokes in front of a van that surely can't work