Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Breakfast Club

I often get asked what I do for a living and my response of "print monkey" often elicits non-plussed expressions of bemusement. To provide further explanation, I will often say that I work vaguely in the field of digital print where the most taxing of my tasks involves the pressing of a button to set things in motion. In short, a chimpanzee could do my job. Hmm maybe I'm selling myself a bit short here. I do have to keep a sharp eye for detail, I have to be organised and I have to work to deadlines. There are times when I get to be a little creative even. "Hey Dan, that idea for using little televisions as bullet points worked great, just what we needed for our pitch!". There's no escaping it though, life as a print monkey is mind numbingly boring. In the past I've tried to dress it up but have often fallen flat on my arse as a consequence. Once, I bumped into Claire Bristow, an old face from school. She was working behind the bar, I was ordering and being an arrogant twat presumed I had some kind of higher ground.

"How long have you worked here then Claire?"

"Oh about 2 years, what do you do anyway Dan?

"Oh I work in I.T, it's pretty complicated"

"Really? I'm just finishing my Masters on managing information systems, what code do you use?"

With that I just smiled weakly, took a gulp of my pint, placed it back down and ran straight out the bar, screaming. What a prick.

Anyway, I am detracting slightly here with this rant so lets get back to the thread of explaining an aspect of my job that is particularly annoying, having to work late into the night. Whilst everyone else is out there gallivanting across town, I am stuck behind my desk waiting for some PR bod or lawyer to get back from the pub and sign off a press release or some M&A document. Now please do not weep and put your tiny violin and hankerchief away, as over the last few months, I have at least had the good fortune to eat very well when I work in the evenings. And this is all down to a little project called Where's My Pork Chop? Meeting up with different people and getting to sample their food has been fantastic. I am having a ball with it.

However last week, I was incensed beyond belief as I was left in the lurch to...- THIS PART OF THE POST HAS BEEN EDITED OUT AS IT GOES OFF TANGENT, IS FULL OF SELF PITY AND GOES ON AND ON ABOUT BANAL OFFICE POLITICS - ...needless to say I was very busy and didn't get time to eat the very wonderful spread that Naomi aka The Ginger Gourmand had prepared for me for that evening. I was so looking forward to her sumptuous vegetarian feast too, entitled "A Last Taste Of Summer". Instead I spent a cab journey home at 2AM, feeling angry, starved and faintly ridiculous with a large froufie Bonne Maman bag on my lap. As the car picked its way through the quiet streets, I formulated a plan, I would have her picnic for breakfast instead.

Six hours later, I found myself in the kitchen getting ready to get stuck into a full on three course meal which was quite unusual. In the morning, I'm normally a mug of tea and couple slices of toast kinda guy. But as the saying goes breakfast like king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Although I don't think I looked particularly regal slouching at the table in an old, moth ridden t-shirt and boxer shorts, I was bloody hungry, I can tell you that.

So what did Naomi serve up? Well the menu went like this:


Leek & Gruyère Tart with Puy Lentil Tabbouleh and Lollo Rosso Salad (with Mustard Dressing)

Lemon Drizzle Cake and All Butter Shortbread

In other words, there was rather a lot.

As this was the first meal of the day, the gazpacho was a perfect start to kick off proceedings, a nice light chilled soup full of vitamin C goodness. Vibrant in colour and with peppery undertones, this Spanish speciality certainly perked up the grey matter. Naomi's tart combined nutty cheese flavours with soft caramelised leeks which worked really well although the pastry itself seemed unusually sweet to me. I later asked her about the recipe and Naomi replied that she had used a simple all butter shortcrust for the tart, seasoned with salt and pepper making me wonder whether perceptions of taste differ at certain times of the day. Any food scientists care to answer? I've coveted Naomi's tabbouleh in the past and having finally tried some, it was certainly good, although perhaps the puy lentils were a little too earthy for this dish. The salad leaves amazingly enough didn't suffer overnight and was still crisp and crunchy with the dressing adding just a gentle touch of mustard heat. As for the lemon drizzle cake, well Naomi provided a massive bar and I am supremely grateful that she did because it was heavenly. Moist and soft with a sugary, citrus crust. The little people who gathered around the table were very impressed with it too. Utterly delicious and destroyed in minutes. I was so full by this point that the biscuits ended getting divvied up between the twins. Probably not the best of ideas as they launched into sucrose overdrive shortly afterwards and went spinning about the house for about an hour.

For the exchange, I gave Naomi some John Doe potatoes from the allotment, named so because I can't remember the variety I planted but they're great for roasties. She also took charge of Verity, the third daughter of Veronica and some bottles of Duvel as I had gathered from her tweets on Twitter that she was rather fond of the stuff. When I met her at the Monument for the swap, I found out that she had in fact lived in Belgium for a period of time. With brews as strong as 8.5%, I was surprised she could even remember.

Thanks for breakfast Naomi and thanks for making me walk through the city with the most frou-frou bag you could find. I don't think I shall return it you now. I think it rather suits me.
Welcome to The Breakfast Club
Leek & Gruyère Tart with Puy Lentil Tabbouleh and Lollo Rosso Salad (with Mustard Dressing)

Lemon Drizzle Cake

The problem with breakfasting is that you have to share it with the little people

Monday, 28 September 2009

Breville, Be Gone!

There have been plenty of surreal moments in my life, with images and scenes that will stay in my mind forever. For instance, at a student party I will never forget walking into the living room at 2am and confronting the sight of some strange bloke playing the guitar very badly whilst the sofa behind him was on fire. Then there was the time when I found myself at G-A-Y, busting some serious moves and getting spun around the dance floor by a 6'7 drag queen. This was particularly bizarre as I was under the illusion at the time that it was indie night at The Astoria. And more recently, I was completely thrown when sitting on the floor with the twins one morning. We were watching an engrossing episode of Balamory you see when all of a sudden, who should pop up in Suzy Sweet's kitchen but none other than Keith Floyd himself. I had only just heard about his passing on the news earlier so it was quite unnerving to watch Floyd bounce about the place, throwing meatballs in the air to the beat of Suzie's Cookin'. Perhaps CBeebies saw fit to air that particular episode as a glowing tribute to the great man but it freaked me out I can tell you. The weirdness that day didn't stop there though.

I had arranged to meet Mr Jonathan Brown of Around Britain With A Paunch at St Paul's Cathedral in the afternoon and was running quite late. Once my fellow colleagues finally sauntered back from their lunches, I made a mad dash from the office in the pouring rain, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. When I finally clambered up the slippery steps to the entrance, I found a very dapper and dry Browners standing there grinning from ear to ear with a box under his arm. A box that from it's outside appearance would have originally contained an iron.

"Hi Danny, here's your supper!" he said, still beaming, manically even. I expressed my thanks and then excitedly flipped open the box to inspect it's contents.

The box did in fact contain an iron. I looked up at Jonathan and then back at the iron and then back at Jonathan who by now resembled the proverbial Cheshire Cat. I just looked confused.

Sensing my befuddlement, Jonathan went on to explain "well seeing as you're a fan of Stefan Gates and his gastronaught style of cooking, I thought you could have some fun making a cheese toastie. There's a sandwich in the box wrapped in foil with some pretty good Montgomery Cheddar".

And that's when the penny dropped, my mission was to use the iron as an alternative to the Breville Toaster. Excellent. I should have known better really that the sandwichist would have come up with something like this though. He had also supplied a jar of apple and apricot chutney and a jar of chilli and crab apple jelly, both homemade along with some plums and pears from his garden. For the exchange I took him over to Apostrophe for lunch (where else could it have been really) and caught a quick half hour chatting about the merits of blogging and 'freebies'.

After bidding Mr Brown farewell, I got back to the office, placed the box under my desk and got on with the rest of the day. Yet as evening approached, it was soon time again to start thinking about getting the iron out to cook my toastie and at this point I did start to have some worries. In the end I decided that I would try the experiment at home, partly because I am trying to keep this project under wraps at work and partly because I didn't want my work mates to think I'd gone completely hatstand.

So did it work? Well Jonathan had slathered a fair amount of butter on both sides of the bread as you normally would when making a cheese toastie for a Breville. But I don't think he factored in that I would be making my first attempt at grilling with the iron turned up to full blast. This had near disastrous consequences. As I placed the Hinari Toasty Special down on the bread, there was an immediate loud pop and hiss which just didn't sound right. So I picked the iron up again only to find the sandwich stuck steadfast to the element. My natural reaction was to try and peel the damn thing off and naturally I burned my fingers. So after much profanity and waving of hand in the air, I grabbed a fish slice and managed to wrestle the bread away from the plate. Luckily it wasn't burnt. Much. I then figured that more butter was in order and that the heat should be turned down. I tentatively placed the iron back down and then waited for about a minute. I then picked it up and all looked well, the bread was starting to brown ever so slightly. And so I carried on this process for about 15 minutes, flipping the sandwich over to do the other side and over again and over again. Never before have I paid such attention to 2 slices of bread. In fact, it was quite laborious really. But once I decided that this toastie had reached its zenith, I cut it in two and placed it on a plate and the cheese oozed satisfyingly out. And yes it tasted good, the cheese was indeed nice and mature but unfortunately, my throbbing fingers detracted my attention somewhat. Luckily I had bought a fine bottle of red to raise a glass to Mr Floyd so wasn't in pain for too long.

I will definitely give the Hinari Toasty Special another crack in the future, it just needs some fine tuning methinks. Thanks Jonathan for introducing the 'iron-method' and for the other goodies. Your chutney by the way really hits the spot. Cheers!

Introducing the All New Hinari Toastie Special

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Raising a glass to the finest of television chefs, Mr Floyd

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Psst Mate Want Some er.......Herbs?

Many nights ago, I was sitting at the dinner table with my laptop beavering away at solitaire, googling recipes for bum sandwiches and talking rubbish online when a message popped up, a DM or direct message in Twitter parlance. It said "just did a massive veg harvest b4 going away for a few days, it's yours if you can collect in next 15 hours!". I stared back at the screen wide-eyed and simply whispered out the word "woah", you know just like Keanu Reeves does at the start of The Matrix. And then I thought "Wow, maybe this whole idea of WMPC becoming an underground food movement is starting to take seed. After all, why else should I be getting messages popping up out of the blue like that. No people are starting to understand. They are putting their hands up. They want to feed me. They get the deal. And through this I can show how we can all feed each other. We can all achieve social harmony and peace by exchanging radishes for pasta dishes. We don't need Tescos. This is going to be big. Bigger than bloody Noel Edmunds that's for sure!"

Then my wife came into the kitchen and told me to sit down, shut up and stop shouting or else I would wake the kids. She then peered over my shoulder and said "you know, this Celia Brooks Brown might just want to off-load her extra veg rather than let it go to waste. I bet she couldn't care less about the bloody manifesto behind your who's my pork chop!"

"It's WHERE'S My Pork Chop"

"Whatever, just keep it down"

I had to agree, my wife had a point but nevertheless, after a further exchange on Twitter with Celia, I had decided that this opportunity should be part of my WMPC project. Whether it was in her game plan to meet me at The Rake near Borough Market the next day, I'm not entirely sure. She had asked if I could come and collect remember. Celia also ended up making me tomato soup and gave me some of her allotment chutney as well as carting over said homegrown veg which consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beetroot and some very pungent African Blue Basil. Given that she must be up to her eyeballs - she was giving one of her gastrotours around the market later that afternoon - I felt very grateful for our impromptu meeting. Not to mention slightly smug because I had managed to snaffle some food for that evening's shift at the last minute. Oh and cheeky, very cheeky because I got all of this for the price of a beer, a pint of Veltins for Celia and an Essex Boys Bitter for myself.

It was great to while away half an hour with Celia especially when I should have been at work, chatting about allotments, cooking and whatnot. When it came inspecting the bounty though, I must admit I was rather perplexed by the aforementioned herb which came sealed in a clear plastic bag. What the hell was Celia growing on her plot? The good shit? And when I opened the bag the smell hit me like a hammer, it was really heady stuff. So I raised my eyebrows and smiled conspiratorially at Celia and then asked "so what do I use this for?"

"Well it's basil, you might want to chop a little up and sprinkle some on the soup or use it in a salad?" she said, looking a bit confused at my gurning.

"Yes, of course!" I replied, blushing "Basil and tomatoes, marriage made in heaven!"

And with that I made my excuses and dashed back to office, hoping that I wouldn't have to explain why it took me an hour to get some money out of the cash machine. I had the soup later that evening with a bread roll and it was very good indeed, simple, fresh and fruity with a nice background hint of garlic. I smeared some of the chutney on the bread and found it a little too sweet for my liking, but after successive tastings at home it does compliment a good mature cheddar. And as for the basil, well this variety is definitely a herb to be used sparingly, I bit a off large leaf and my tongue was throbbing for hours afterwards. Still it worked well in a tomato and mozzarella salad I made the next day. All in all a great haul.

Thanks Celia.

Celia Brooks Brown and her tomatoes

The bounty with remaining soup, photo taken at home (basil added for decorative effect)

Monday, 7 September 2009

Meals On Wheels

Autumn is now upon us, my favourite time of year. The corn will be soon harvested, the trees will shed their leaves, the nights will draw in and the air will turn cool. And so through some symbiotic process, I shall dust off my slippers, slip a thick cardie on and proceed to shuffle around the house farting, eating soup cold out of the tin until Christmas. Yeah I love this season, gives me the perfect excuse to act like a miserable old git. I've lost the hair and the teeth are soon to follow if the pain in my jaw is anything to go by (lest we forget the hemorrhoids). I know I'm only 34 but why shouldn't I revel in this new sweet smell of death and decay in the air that surrounds us, meergh!

OK, I'm waffling on like a complete prat here, I'm not that morose a person, no not at all but there is something about this time of year that makes me contemplate the future and wonder what will happen when I reach my autumn years. I've made mention before that I want a change. I want to do something in the grand arena that is food, whatever it may encompass. Like hosting my own television series called "Come Dine On The Farm With Me During An Economic Crisis" for instance. Will I succeed? Who knows. I'm still trying to figure it all out. But whatever happens when I retire, with fortune or not, as long as there is someone like Jan from The Ample Cook to provide me with meals on wheels then I shall be a happy old man.

I was very excited when Jan contacted me to participate in a WMPC swop as she was the first person outside of London to do so, living as she does in Rochford and I'm very keen for this project to include foodies outside the M25. After an email exchange to work out logistics, I was even more enthralled at Jan's suggestion that her hubby, who shall be known as "Tiny", would be happy to courier the grub on his motorbike to my house the afternoon before my late shift. Fantastic! This is exactly what the rest of you lazy blogging buggers should be thinking about. Why the hell should I be racing around town collecting dinner from the likes of you? I mean, don't you know who I am?!* And better still, Jan decided in the end to accompany Tiny to my gaff which was great as the main aim of WMPC is to meet the faces behind the blogs. And for the record they came down the A127 by car, Jan didn't have to ride pillion.

I was little bit late for our meeting which was a couple of weeks ago now (I've been a bit lax writing this report up too) but when I finally made it home, my eyes zeroed in on the massive cool box that lay in the middle of the kitchen before I could turn and say hello to our guests. I've neglected to say so far that Jan also runs her own catering business Feast Direct, and it looked like she had indeed provided a feast. I can tell you, once we had got everything out of the box, I wasn't sure if Jan had taken me to be some glutinous greedy pig and felt that this was the least she should provide without recourse. Who had she been talking to on twitter I wonder? I'm kidding of course but she was generous in the extreme and I felt quite measly handing over some potatoes, leeks, two cobs of corn and some very old runner beans. For this I received, and wait for this:

  • 3 hefty slices of turkey, pork and bacon pie
  • potato, spring onion and chive salad
  • tomato, red onion and basil salad
  • roasted vegetable cous cous
  • homemade coleslaw
  • courgette pickle
  • plum jam
  • plum chutney
  • bramley apple cake
  • conundrum cupcakes (which I couldn't work out - Chomp Whores Perky maybe?)

This in fact fed the family for a couple of days and for that I am very grateful Jan, the twins loved the cupcakes. When I took some portions to work the next day, I felt like a regular Yogi Bear with this pickernick on my desk with my colleagues snooping over my shoulder like Park Ranger Smith. For my money, the turkey pie and courgette pickle were the main stars. Although already sliced, the construction of pie had that artisan quality, it looked just perfect with firm yet moist pastry and big chunks of succulent meat surrounded by jelly. Combined with the tart pickle it was a taste sensation. Really good. The potato salad was luxuriously creamy with nice mild bites of spring onion and the coleslaw also delivered a satisfying crunch. The cous cous was light and fluffy and flavoured well with the roast vegetable but unfortunately the tomato salad suffered overnight having turned quite soggy and listless, if I had eaten it when it was fresh straight from the cool box I am sure it would have been delicious and fresh. The apple pie rounded off my picnic in the office superbly though I would like to try it again with some cream in future. Hmm, if I keep doling out these utterances then any image of myself as a greedy bastard will be justified methinks. The plum jam and plum chutney still reside in my cupboard unopened I'm ashamed to admit but they will plundered soon.

I have to say it was great to meet Jan and her hubby Tiny, despite having to strain my neck to look up at him. Meeting fellow foodies is never a chore and we already have plans to meet up again at the Rochford Beer Festival later this year. Hopefully there will be some more pies on offer then, nudge nudge, wink wink. But in the meantime Jan you've done enough to keep me going, thanks!

The Ample Cook and Food Urchin

"Hello, Mr. Ranger, sir!"

I still don't get that conundrum

Where's the cream?
* Oh you don't?..............shit.