Tuesday, 11 May 2010

In too deep…

I don’t know what to do. I should have listened to the warnings. I should have seen the signs. I thought I knew how to handle it. But I was wrong.

They tell you to be careful on the internet. Careful about who you talk to. What you say. And be extra careful if you go to meet them.

And I was. Very careful. Public places. People knew where I was. Who I was meeting. It should have been fine. It should have just been the once. But no, I’ve not been able to keep away. I’ve had to go back for more, and more. I hoped this last one would be the one to finish it off. The one to expose the situation for what it was. After all the first time I met him he used a pseudonym so I should have known. But something tells me its not going to stop. Its bad; I’m married, he’s married. He’s got kids for goodness sake.

But still we can’t stop.

Swapping food.

Yes really. FOOD.

Because out there in the mad world of food blogging people seem to want to share. Not just their recipes or reviews in print. But real actual food that they’ve carefully grown or crafted with their own hands. And so I’m in deep because I like food and I like sharing. What started as a chance to bag a wild garlic plant for the garden, has turned into a whole host of meetings usually with some food item surreptitiously handed over: from cooking pork five ways for this project to learning the glories of real pie mash and liquor.…and well this. A reverse ‘Where’s my Pork Chop’ exchange, commonly known on twitter as rWMPC.

Of course we all know Danny’s onto a winner with his WMPC project, he gets his dinner cooked by some of London’s finest food bloggers (and a few hangers on like me) and he buys them cheap lunch or gives them a bottle of plonk. This guy’s no fool. And of course he claims he’s proved his own cooking credentials before with his rWMPC swap with Essex Eating. But I’m not buying that. I mean they are both called Dan, they are both from Essex, they pretend to go to the same events, they tweet from the same train home, and to my knowledge they’ve never been seen in the same room at the same time. So you know, I think they are the same person, its obvious, well maybe at very least related in some way that means Dan 2 isn’t going to say Dan 1 can’t cook and vice versa…..I’m suspicious and so I coolly volunteer to be rWMPC participant number 2. Danny is rather evasive and it takes me quite a number of months to finally pin him to a date….is this because after all he can’t actually cook I wonder.

And so at the allotted time on the allotted day we meet again at Liverpool Street. No flowers this time. We pop to a nearby pub. Get some beers. Talk food experiments. Then Danny rummages in his bag and whips out a foil tray.

OMG it looks like something from the Chinese takeaway could be lurking inside. Then there is a bag that apparently contains Dan’s nemesis, or did he say something for which he’d had to conquer his nemesis. I can’t quite remember. Because by this time I’ve realised I really am going to have to eat this, I’m accepting food from a bloke from Essex who I know very little about, no real idea where he’s been or what he gets up to and to cap it all I suddenly notice with his glasses he has an eerie resemblance to Dr Crippen.

Way’s of getting rid of the food and rustling up a similar meal spool through my head, then I can claim I ate it, write the post and be done. I hand over my rWMPC gift of homemade damson vodka. And nonchalantly we stroll off to get our respective trains home.

Once home I peak inside the parcels properly. We appear to have some homemade pasta, ah so that’s what all the muttering of nemesis was about, Danny’s fear of the pasta machine.

And in the foil tray we seem to have something that resembles some form of ragu, possibly with sausage in or possibly just some sauted off chopped up remains of Dan’s previous victim.

And a little pot of allegedly freshly grated parmesan, though it looks remarkably like the pre grated stuff they sell in the supermarket.

I’m still a bit concerned. It’s a lovely idea this food swap. But you know who is the guy I’ve accepted it from. Then my husband points out that since Dan has already scoffed his way through the WMPC dishes I prepared for him (actually we don’t know he has he just SAID he had) we should get on with eating these. The hunger gets the better of the dithering. We heat up the ragu, we boil water and cook the pasta. Into some bowls and parmesan on top. Voila (except its not French of course). We eat. It’s good. Very good. The pasta is just right, not to fragile but with the lightness and silkiness that homemade pasta has once the nemesis has been beaten. The sauce is rich, earthy and robust. The sausage turns out to be fennel, for which marks are deducted by my husband as he doesn’t like the flavour fennel (something to do with ouzo and greek holiday I believe). I however, am rather enjoying it. The parmesan doesn’t have that weird smell that pre grated usually does so I’m guessing it was truly grated by Dan’s own hands, I still knock marks off though because personally I’d have liked an enormous lump of top notch parmesan to grate myself but there you go in the world of ready meals you can’t have everything. And even after this feast there is enough ragu for me to have for lunch later in the week by which time the fennel flavour is mellower.

Maybe Dan can cook after all, or maybe just one of them can. Because yet again they weren’t both there to hand over the food so Dan 2 could have cooked and Dan 1 delivered it. Or Dan’s wife could have cooked it. Or his mum. Or his Nan. Or some fab secret ready meals service in Essex.

Nothing much is proved. Dan may be able to cook. He didn’t go all Dr Crippen on this occasion. What I do know is that the food I got to eat was pretty darn good and if that’s not a reason to continue meeting I don’t know what is.

Scores out of 10:
Pasta: 8
Ragu: 9.5 (7.5 from fennel hater)

Linda - with knife and fork

Well I really don't know what to say.

I am torn.

On the one hand, it's obvious that you enjoyed my pasta, my homemade pasta which pleases me immensely and then you go and say that I look like Dr Friggin' Crippen? The ragu gets a stellar 9.5 rating on the richter scale but then you infer that "nothing much is proved" and that quite possibly I have got someone else to cook your rWMPC meal?! Furthermore you dare to suggest that Essex Eating Dan and I are one and the same person??!! You actually think I am related to that hairy oaf???!!!

I am beside myself with outrage.

I need to lie down.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Left On The Shelf

I suspect, like most food lovers, that I have too many recipe books. At the last count, I'd say about 80 different books line my shelves with possibly over a 100 copies of various magazines. Some might say that you can never have too many books and some might even scoff at the size of my collection. I do know in fact that some people have mini-libraries tucked away in their houses with reams and reams of print dedicated to gastronomy but those types are food obsessed dweebs with the look of a blogger about them. Food bloggers are easy to spot by the way. Think part human, part meerkat with large eyes, even bigger mouths, extended index fingers and a tendency to dribble. They're also oblivious to flashbulbs, not very fleet of foot but over time their elbows have evolved into sharp points and will use them as deadly weapons should you come anywhere near their plate or glass. I know this because I look in the mirror everyday and can only marvel at the dramatic changes that have occurred since taking up this hobby of eating and writing about it.

I digress.

So why do I think that I have got too many cook books? Well the simple reason is that I hardly bloody use them. I do have some favourites that I return to time and time again but for the large majority, the only purpose they have is to sit up there on the shelf and look pretty. Case in point number one is Gordon Ramsay's *** Chef. That's the title of the book by the way. I've not censored it. It's not called "Tit Chef" or anything. Though that wouldn't be too far from the truth (sorry Gordo, love you really!) So I bought it when I went to visit the man himself at a book signing, laughed and joked when I shook his hand, mumbled like a total plonker when he blasted a question at me and left feeling 40 quid lighter. It is a lovely book, with stunning photography and amazing recipes but I am never ever likely to try them at home for fear of a) getting the book dirty and b) well how the hell I am I suppose to recreate dishes of that quality anyway. Do me a favour! So it just stays up there, looking pretty. It is signed though so perhaps in the future I could sell it and recoup that 40 quid. Just as long as his stock doesn't plummet any further (sorry Gordo! No really I do love you!)

Case in point two is the Ottolenghi cookbook, another gorgeous volume that languishes on the shelf, gathering dust, only ever to be taken down when I am home alone and feeling fruity. And of course Yotam* has now brought out Plenty which has already been raved about and I will probably get that too. But this is no good, I must at least use the damn book otherwise it's a waste of time and money and precious paper. Things are looking good for Ottolenghi though as last week I finally got to sample a recipe, thanks to Gail from One Million Gold Stars who showed me the way with her own twist on an already eclectic dish.

I met Gail a few weeks ago at an event at La Fromagerie where we consumed our own bodyweight in cheese and I got to explain the whole concept that is WMPC - "er, you feed me and I'll write a totally nonsensical review about it". Thankfully Gail was up for the challenge despite some ungentlemanly conduct from yours truly. In the Affineur room, I practically barged her out the way to get at some samples (remember those elbows?) and felt very bad afterwards. For about 10 seconds. I must admit though, it was great to see her smiling face the other day outside Barbican tube station as yet again this little project of mine has gone through a lean spell. I miss meeting different people from all walks of life, it's not just about getting fed. Honest. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to spare so it was a bit of a whizz bang conversation as I dragged Gail up the road to buy her some wine. In her twitter bio, she describes herself as a freelance Content Editor and writer, Domestic Slut, Craftivist, Londonist contributor and #KaraokeKlub co-founder and after chatting about her day to day activities, I did feel a tinge of jealousy. I mean oh to be a Domestic Slut. Like I said our meeting was prompt and so I bade her farewell and good luck on her journey to a Kings Cross postal depot (OK so maybe it's not all glamour for you eh Gail?) and made my way back to the office.

So what delectable Ottolenghian dish did Gail rustle up for me? Well her meal from the previous night had been a variation on their Puy Lentils with Sour Cherries, Bacon and Gorgonzola. The twist being that Gail used chorizo instead of bacon because well she didn't have any bacon in the fridge and I like that kind of resourcefulness. Interestingly this was also the first Ottolenghi recipe that Gail had ever tried so it's good to know that I am not the only one with a fetish for harbouring books. The combination of the lentils, cherries, chorizo and cheese was amazing. Earthy, salty, tangy, creamy, all rolled together to deliver one hell of a sucker punch. I was seriously impressed and of course, although this wasn't Gail's creation per se, it still takes a deft hand to assemble so I'll give her full credit. And I'd say that the smokey paprika heat from the chorizo takes the dish one step further over bacon. Spread over a bed of rocket leaves lovingly cultivated from a supermarket chain, this warm salad really hit the spot. If you go to Gail's blog, you'll see that baking is her forte and I was very happy to chomp down on her delicious chocolate cookies.
Moreish, moist and sweet, quite naughty really. A big glass of milk wouldn't have gone amiss but unfortunately I had to put in a few more hours on the late shift but could I have some more for beddie bye-byes please Gail?

All in all an excellent contribution to Where's My Pork Chop? Gail and thanks to you for spurring me on to actually use a recipe book. Rather than paw it lasciviously with the curtains closed.

Puy Lentils with Sour Cherries, Chorizo and Gorgonzola

Chocolate Cookies

* Although to date I have never ever used one if his recipes, I am still on first name terms with Yotam