Monday, 30 November 2009

Keeping The Faith

"You have never tried pie and mash?! Then, my girl you have never lived!"

And so these were my thoughts after making arrangements with Carla of Can Be Bribed With Food for a WMPC swop. I've been preaching about the goodness and greatness of P&M for many years now to anyone who would care to listen. In my opinion, this age old East End speciality is truly manna from heaven, a gift from the cockney gods to the people of London taaan. I grew up on it and I'll eat it once a week if I can. It is fantastic. And this was a perfect opportunity to add another number to the flock.

In order to describe this unsung wonder of the culinary world, just think of a pie that is mainly constituted of minced meat from an unspecified source. Don't bother asking about its provenance because nobody knows, which adds a certain mystique. The pie will be often constructed with pastry that is pale, soggy and flaccid. Unless it's been burnt, then the crust will shatter over your jumper and carbon will stain your tongue. You don't normally get anything in between. If you are lucky enough to get gravy, it will be pretty watery and tasteless. The mash though is often wonderfully woolly and dense. The responsibility of it's creation is usually down to an old lady called Doris who works in the back of the shop, pouring industrial sized boxes of Smash into cavernous vats. She gets paid tuppance an hour and has to shakily scale very tall ladders but she loves her job. The green liquor is the by-product of a thousand eels that have been boiled in water until their flesh turns to mush. The eels, bones and all, are removed and chopped parsley and flour are thrown in and the stock is reduced until it forms a gluey sauce which is poured all over. Once placed at the table, it is then to be smothered with malt vinegar and white pepper. This is your basic plate of pie and mash.

Having just described this beautiful meal in such a manner, I am of course doing it a supreme disservice. But I had a problem you see. All of a sudden, my credibility was at stake. Given all my shouting from the roof tops, I suddenly became worried that Carla wouldn't enjoy it and overzealously started to deconstruct my beloved P&M. OK I went overboard with the paragraph above but given it's simplicity, would Carla understand my passion for the stuff? I was also mindful of the fact that she had lived by Lake Garda in Italy (via Panama) for the majority of her life. After organising our meeting, I got an inkling that she would also be introducing something from her childhood and believing that Carla's Italian food heritage was far richer than mine, I started to panic. It was really strange but in my head, I really was beginning to run it down. How could my boys own staple compare to anything that Carla would have eaten as a little girl casa posteriore*? Talk about sleepless nights. However, I should have kept the faith because as far as I am aware, Carla thoroughly enjoyed her first visit to Clarkes of Exmouth Market. She did comment that the liquor didn't really taste of anything to which I responded "that's what the vinegar is for!". The only minor snag was the fact that Carla seemed to have trouble keeping hold of her cutlery. I was worried that I was going to leave the cafe with a fork embedded in my forehead at one point, such was her gesticulating during conversation but it was all in keeping with her Latin spirit.

Despite the danger of flying objects, it was great having a chat with Carla over lunch, which of course is part and parcel of the WMPC project and I was thrilled to hear stories of her growing up. By the sounds of it, she was quite the handful in her yoof. Like the time she went shopping with her Daddy and upon seeing a dolly demanded to have it on the spot. Upon having her request denied, there was much stamping and screaming until her Dad picked her up, plonked her in the car and drove home with Carla creating all the way. Once home, he picked her back up, calmly walked into the house and into the bathroom, plonked her under the shower and turned the cold tap on. Apparently a lesson was soon learned. Given that I have two little 'uns that are slowing evolving tempestuous personalities of their own, this was valuable information. Soon it was time to go back to our offices but not before Carla gave me the run down on the food she had made me. Which was Italian Sausages on a bed of Puy Lentils and Pink Peppercorns to be served with bread and dollop of homemade Salsa Verde (from a nice large jar of the stuff) . For dessert she had made me a crostata, an Italian baked tart that's normally reserved for birthdays. I felt honoured and was very impressed with the careful instructions she gave me for heating up and serving the salsa verde. "Make sure you take it out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before you want to eat so it gets to room temperature". I could tell that Carla was obviously passionate about her food and dare I say it, slightly nervous that I would enjoy it although I doubt that she put herself through the mill like I did.

So later that evening in the office, following Carla's word to the tee, I drizzled some of the olive oil that covered her salsa over the lentils and with the sausages, heated it through in the microwave. And oh ye, it was good. Very good. Just hovering my nose over this rustic looking dish as I trotted over to my desk got me salivating to the point of distraction. Not my distraction mind, my work mate',s who pointed out that I had dribbled on my shirt. The sausages which came from Le Marche, central Italy had a wonderful warm spiciness with possibly a hint of nutmeg and were quite coarse in texture. There were also quite salty but as Carla had gone easy on the seasoning, everything balanced out evenly. The lentils had a nice subtle flavour of red wine vinegar with the peppercorns creating lovely fragrant pops of heat as I chewed my way through. The bread was soft and fresh, fantastic for mopping up but the real star was the salsa verde. I do like a good SV and I've made it a few times myself to serve up with fish and chicken but I can honestly say that this was far better than any of my previous efforts. It really punched through with a strong zest or tang rather and complemented the sausages perfectly. I found myself smearing it over the remaining bread after like an ravenous giggling hyena and had to show some restraint as I knew that Mrs FU would like to try it too. So with a heavy heart I placed the jar in my bag (it lasted one more day). The crostata with it's pretty criss-cross finished off my meal just right. The pastry was light and flaky with the apricot jam filing adding a sweet, fruity touch.

Thanks Carla, I shall be putting in my order for some more Salsa Verde soon, it really was the "business"

*This translation for “back home” came from Babelfish and is therefore, entirely unreliable.

Italian Sausages on a Bed of Puy Lentils with Salsa Verde

Apricot Crostata

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'll Get You My Pretty

Heartbroken. That's probably the best way I can sum up my feelings when you pulled out of our WMPC swop. I've been a fervent admirer for quite some time now and when you agreed to finally take part after some badgering on my part, I was, well chuffed to bits. I mean, here was a local girl who was obviously passionate about food (I constantly check your website) and you certainly talk the talk on twitter (hell you're on there all the time). So I was certain that you would be able to er...walk the walk. Maybe it was inappropriate for me to say that I would love to get my hands on your chestnuts, did that scare you off? Your autumnal recipes looked delicious that's all I meant to say. I was even willing to source a decent Alsace Pinot Gris or Gewurztaminer for you to go with a curry, which I know you like. I know it's not your fault, events conspire against us, I understand. Nevermind that it was a pint and packet of crisps for dinner that night. Please don't feel guilty. The big question is, did you get your money and did you use that big stick like I suggested? More importantly I haven't forgotten about you, I shall be in touch soon to arrange another date. In the meantime, to create an curious aura of anonymity, you shall be known as Delia. You know who you are.

I'll get you my pretty and your little dog Toto too! Hahahahahahaha!

101 Things that you didn't know about Delia - 64. She is rather fond of pipes

Friday, 20 November 2009

They Call Me Mr Creosote

I have been a fully paid up member of the Gluttons Club for many years now and there have been occasions when my capacity for scoffing has bordered on the obscene. I have actually been kicked out of a Pizza Hut before, along with another avaricious companion, after managing to get through about 20 slices of pizza each. We argued that the offer said "unlimited buffet" but the manager told us in no uncertain terms to "piss off" because we were taking the Michael. Another time springs to mind when I was invited over to the parents of a good friend of mine for a celebratory chinese takeaway. Masses of food had been ordered for our party of 8 and one by one they fell by the wayside. Except for me, I just kept ploughing on through. Once I had polished off the contents from the last plastic tray, my mate's Dad just stared at me and said "still hungry?" Seeing the twinkle in his eye, I replied "yeah I could eat more" and what followed was, well pretty disgusting really. Cheese, pate, pork pies, leftover turkey, pickled onions were brought out of the fridge and placed in front of me and well I kept going (actually it must have been around Christmas time) to the astonishment of the rest of the group. Eventually my good lady told me to stop showing off and pack it in before I burst all over the dining room. Could this capacity for hogging massive amounts of food be seen as admirable trait? Well no not really but still there have been times when my voracious appetite has got the better of me. When my eyes get far too big for my belly. It happened after my last WMPC exchange and it was a little red box what done it your honor.

Ever since I started this little project, I have been trying to pin down a date with Kavey of Kavey Eats. Not that she's been elusive or anything, just trying to co-ordinate our diaries has been difficult as she's obviously a busy little bee so I was pleased as punch when we finally sorted it out. It's interesting but she is someone that I used to follow on the BBC's very own food message board, a long time before the advent of twitter and I always enjoyed her posts on the forum. My username on there was toadydan which I mentioned to Kavey on one of the occasions that I have met her but she couldn't remember me so my posts on the BBC must have been really memorable! Still it seems that Kavey has the name Daisy fixated in her mind for me anyway (long story). But that's all neither here nor there, I was looking forward to eating Kavey's grub simply because she was one of the first foodies that I encountered on the internet. Plus she is the daughter of Mamta Gupta whose website Mamta's Kitchen is one of the best recipe resources on the net for Indian cuisine. And so I was really hoping that she was going to cook me a curry. A phone call the night before our meet-up confirmed this, although I was slightly disheartened to hear that she couldn't be effed to make me nan bread, I mean come on!

We met at Waterloo during the brunch hour and confident that I knew where I was going after the debacle for my last WMPC swop, I took Kavey to Canteen. Again taking the lead from my last visit, I recommended the Eggs Florentine (OK they weren't really my choice from the last time but hell, I'm taking the credit for it this time) and so we settled down for a nice leisurely chat before I had to get into the office for some power point hell. Topics of conversation were varied ranging from photography to the very exciting up and coming Blaggers' Banquet (which has now past, my posting on this particular WMPC has been very tardy I'm afraid). Anyway, we must have been enjoying our chat and were probably getting quite animated as at one point we were asked to keep quiet by some uptight chap in tight chinos. It seemed that there was also a film crew in the restaurant who were trying to finish one last take and we were ruining it for them. Kavey's response was very sympathetic and polite yet once squeaky arse walked off, she uttered under her breath "how rude, I'll be buggered if I lower my voice now". And so I mentally punched the air and we carried on talking, taking the volume to 11.

Alas, the hour soon was over and I had to upsticks and make it into the office. Kavey gave me the quick run through of dinner which was Shahi Paneer and Egg Curry with basmati rice and coriander. She also gave me a small red box containing 8 individual Indian sweets which looked really enticing and sent me on a trip down memory lane. I used to live in Forest Gate, East London and we had a newsagent on the corner of our road that sold them. I'll be honest and say that as a kid, I was more interested in gobstoppers and rhubarb and custard so I hadn't actually tried them before but just opening the box induced a flashback and a kind of pavlovian response. The strange sweets on the counter that I was too scared to try but really really wanted to. So I gave my thanks, kisses and thumbs up to Kavey and was on my way.

Work was on the quiet front that evening so there was no eating at the desk for this episode of WMPC although I did snaffle a green pistachio flavoured sweet in the afternoon. I soon discovered that sweet was the operative word and to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it that much, I found it intensely saccharine but nevertheless I gulped it down, the glutton that I am. When I got home later that evening, I divided up the food for myself and Mrs Food Urchin, poured out some beer and settled down and it was pretty much how I expected, superb. The paneer in particular was very good. Kavey professed that she doesn't go in for hot dishes but the cheese curry had a nice chilli kick which cut through the overall creamy richness of the dish. The egg curry, which was an unusual approach for me, was milder and gave a nice fruity balance with its tomato sauce with warm spice notes. The basmati rice was light and fluffy and as the sprinkled coriander leaves warmed up over the heated dish they gave off a lovely perfume. A fantastic effort Kavey.

What happened next though was slightly daft really. And I say next but I should say much later that evening and after much consumption of beer. Initially it was decided that the sweeties in the magic red box should be left alone in the fridge as we were quite full but Mrs Food Urchin went to bed leaving Mr FU to his own devices. So I am left sat in front of the tv and after a period I think "oh sod it, I fancy one of those sweeties now" and so I grab the box and place it on the arm of the sofa. And then I grab a pad to make notes. And then I proceed to eat through the whole lot whilst making notes. They read as follows (including spelling):
  • (form ealier) green - pistachoi - nice, no too sweet !!!
  • yellow - very - too sweet
  • pink - fruity, barry, very nice !!
  • sliver with pistach? more nutty delicate, delciate marzipan (smooth soft texture, slight meticalbolic, very good)
  • lemon - v good, rich and unctious
  • orange - fruity coconut carrot, flake pistachio
  • turkish delight - floral, rosewater, alomonds,vanilla
  • donut ball - almond, bready puppy seed, bready

Mrs FU found me on the sofa at 2AM, tossing, turning and moaning, clutching my tummy, the tv still on and with an empty red box on the floor. Like I said I'm a glutton but thanks Kavey for introducing me to the delights of barfi, mithai, halva and laddoo but maybe one at a time next time round eh?

The green one goes first!
Shahi Paneer and Egg Curry with basmati rice and coriander

The silver "meticalbolic"one

The scribblings of a drunk, mad, glutton