Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Breakfast and a breakdown at The Botanist, Sloane Square

I always get the heebie-jeebies whenever I venture into Sloane Square (which isn't often to be honest) and before you ask, it's got nothing to do with a fear of running into the likes of Spencer Matthew or any of his excerebrose* skinny red trouser wearing ilk. It's to do with the memory of going to see Sarah Kane's Blasted at The Royal Court Theatre when I was younger and a bit more cultcha'd than I am today. After watching the controversial play, I distinctly remember walking into the nearest pub with friends afterwards, all of us silent. Having stepped up to the mahogany bar, the Australian behind cheerfully asked me what I would like and I barked back - "Give me the strongest f*cking thing you've got!" -  before shuffling off into a quiet corner to contemplate and weep upon what I had just witnessed.

The funny thing is that I am sure the pub was situated exactly where The Botanist stands today. So after wandering in there this morning to partake in a breakfast tweet-up, when I started to read the menu, the flashbacks came on quite strong.

"Hmm smokey porky bacon (Oh my God! The buggery!)"

"Ooooh eggs benedict! (His eyes! He is gouging his eyes out!)"

"The Botanist's Infamous Bloody Mary (Blood! So......so, so much blood!)"

Which is not what one wants to be going through when one is breaking their fast at 8AM, I can tell you that right now. Thankfully they do do a mean flat white in there, so after a slurp or two, I was able to sort myself out and get on with the business of instagramming a plate of fruit. Which now makes me think that my 'problem' isn't with Sloane Square but with caffeine. Which I must look into at some point.

BUT ANYWAY! Breakfast at The Botanist was indeed very good today. Not only did it cover all the nutritional requirements needed to start the day i.e. vitamin C, monounsaturated fat, complex proteins, alcohol (etc), it was all pretty damn fine to eat. Although I have to say, their infamous Bloody Mary did deliver a spicy thwack to the back of the throat and was a lot more pokier that I am used to. It was very off putting at first actually. However, by the time I got to the bottom of the glass I was laughing.

Highlights in particular, should you wish to repast there for breakfast, were the sweetcorn fritters with avocado. These crispy nuggets, loaded with nuggets of golden corn, married up perfectly with the soft yet spiky green salsa served alongside. They really were gorgeous Thane. And the blueberry buttermilk pancakes with streaky smoked bacon and maple syrup were lovely too and reminded me that the Yanks do know a thing or two about brekkie don't they. Whenever I've eaten them in the past, in the back of my mind, it always feels like none of it should work but it really is a beautiful combination you know. Pancakes, syrup, bacon, blimey.

The one low point was probably losing out on winning a bottle of wine (for best tweet) to a pregnant lady who can't touch a drop until July at the very earliest. But hey, I got a free breakfast in exchange for some manic tweeting so I am not bitter. Well, not much anyway.

Would I return back to The Botanist for an evening session? I have to say that the menu does look very good and I do like the sound of the Peterhead cod fillet, king prawn risotto and crisp squid. This isn't a nudge by the way, you cynical bar stewards. I would happily pay for a meal in this sexy establishment. I might even put on a pair of red trousers and bouffe my hair up for the occasion.

I do need to get over that fear though. Of horrors engraved, of visions that still linger from the past, of that damn play. I'll shall see my doctor tomorrow. Or maybe I should see my shrink instead.

Disclaimer: I was, if you haven't already guessed, a guest of The Botanist, eating breakfast in praise of Breakfast Week

Menu. Fruit. Flat White.
The Botanist Infamous Bloody Mary. Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine.
Blueberry buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. Avocado on toast. A plate of things, including bacon.
Sweetcorn fritters, roast vine tomato, baby spinach, avocado salsa.
*My new word for the day

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A poem for Burns Night...

We had our Burns Supper at the disqualified time of three o'clock today, which isn't really in keeping with proceedings I know. Celebrating both the Scottish poet and the wee devious beastie that is haggis should be done under the cover of darkness bar the odd candle or two. With whisky in hand, fire roaring in the background, bagpipes playing, absolutely steaming and guests a' screaming as you take to the table to blast out Tam o' Shanter. With hardly any clothes on. I am only saying that because that is what happened on the last time I went to a Burns Supper and that was a very long time ago.

Today was different because tomorrow is Monday, we have children and it really wouldn't do to have them watch their father vomit indiscreetly into a handbag, in some corner of the kitchen. But still,  we did have our own little dalliance with tradition and I am happy that we have got the twins hooked onto the delights of haggis; along with clapshot and a whisky cream sauce.

It really is lovely is haggis. Full of peppery, spicy, offally goodness and as a dish, it should be celebrated at the table more often, without the requirement of pomp and ceremony and debauchery Especially since you can do so much with haggis. Whack it in pies, sausage rolls, you can even serve it with octopus (it does work, honest).  In fact, I have only just caught wind of Deeny's, who make haggis toasties that look farking amazing and I must get down to their stall to try one soon.

So yes, let's see more eating of haggis please. And always go for Macsween. I am a big fan. A touch pricey but their haggis is well worth it and it's far more easier going to the shops to buy them. Rather than having to don a deerstalker, wellies and loading the potato gun to go hunting the buggers yourself.

One important element that we didn't stray from this afternoon was the recital of poems around the table. You don't have to make things that long winded but is it fun to inject a little burst of prose or verse. Mrs FU gave us 'The Owl and The Pussycat'. Isla gave a us ''The Messy Giant'. Fin gave us 'Incy Wincy Spider'. And I gave a hearthrending and powerful performance of 'It was on the bridge at midnight....'

Enjoy your haggis tonight folks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Dieting, Uddles and Happy New Year

Meat supremos Hawksmoor (gawd love 'em) posted this up on their Facebook page this morning, inviting Kara to come in for a steak and if anyone is searching for the perfect antidote to beat the insane proliferation of January dieting....bilge that is everywhere at the moment, then this has to be it. I don't know Kara Rosen from Adam and who I am I to judge someone's approach to eating and living but for the love of God, if I subjected myself to that sort of regime, I would be in mortal fear every time I approached the toilet. Hell, I would be in mortal fear every time I ventured 5 metres away from a toilet. And plus I would want to avoid all mirrors totally. For fear that every time I saw my smug mug staring out at me, I would probably want to slap it back and slap it hard.

Forgive the ranty nature of that opening salvo and please forgive me Ms Rosen. I am sure your diet suits you and your needs but f**k me, this dieting business is all pervading at the moment and it is getting me down a bit. I think it was watching Channel 4's Weighing Up The Enemy that finally done it. Pitching two overweight people to bet against each other to lose the most weight, whilst a sanctimonious, pile caressing celebrity doctor (with ill-fitting hair) waggles his fingers and tut-tuts from the touchline is a new nadir. If it had been helpful, informative, inspirational, then fine, great. But I didn't find it helpful in the least and when the credits started rolling I got angry. Rather than focusing on really helping two people out, WUTE simply jumps upon a merry-go-round of voyeurism and competitive panting and puffing; throwing in some glib social commentary and inane study surrounding the nation's weight for good measure; and drums up a message of "Unless you do something with your lives, you obese scum, you will forever burn in hell." Thus fanning the flames of shame and intolerance and boosting the coffers of the diet industry by another billion or so. It really is the most insincere pile of sh*te I've seen in a long while.

"Oooooooooh, what's rattled his cage," I hear you say. Whilst hiding behind a handbag, going "Oooooooooh."

Well, if you really must know, I am pretty heavy at the moment. The heaviest I have ever been actually and so perhaps I am a touch sensitive. Yes, like a glorious sun disappearing at dusk beyond a thick, grassy hillock, bathed in crimson rays, I have steadily watched my penis disappear and I am quite worried about it. Plus my jeans are tight and I can no longer talk on a phone and walk up the hill at the same time. So I am absolutely and unequivocally resolved to do something about it this year.


'Diet'. I think that word, pronounced in that quick fix sense, should be banned. Especially in front of children.

(Notice that I am trying not swear by the way, a bit of a resolution that. Again, especially in front of the children)

Instead, I am going to eat healthier, drink less, exercise more and take a long, sustainable view with regards to shrinking my belly. There will be rewards and the occasional blip of course, for life is too short to continue purging on kale salad with pistachios. But I am not going to go on a diet.

Up to now, the healthy eating approach has been going quite good. Root veg, fruit, oily fish and and porridge have featured heavily, with small tummy grumbles on the side. Then I went away to Suffolk at the weekend where I ate and drank a lot of cheese and wine. And wine and cheese. Last night though heralded a breakthrough, the first proper steps in cooking vital yet fulfilling nourishment, revealing a dish that is low in calories but packed with flavour. A dish that came in the shape of Uyen Luu's 'Udon noodle soup with fishcakes'. As it comes from her book My Vietnamese Kitchen, I am not sure if I am at liberty to share the recipe but if I am allowed I will stick it up on FU because it is a humdinger. It is fresh, cleansing, hot and tangy but most importantly, it leaves you feeling like you have actually eaten something. And feeling sated is very important to me. Without that feeling, you may well find me gnawing on a block of cheese in a corner of the kitchen at midnight. Oh cheese, you are definitely my downfall.

So a good start and a good start on my freezer too. Another resolution is to start making my way through the mystery bag and boxes of food that reside in that bleak landscape and I had a lot of whiting, fished by Mrs FU's uncle before Christmas to use. I love the way Uyen recipe's treats white fish for fishcakes. Blitzed in a processor with chilli, shallots, fish sauce, dill and baking powder, the resulting cakes are quite different to your usual Bird's Eye fare. Dense yet light and once fried off in a pan, totally moreish. A worthy end for Barry and his mates. And you'll have to look at my Instagram account too to work out what I am on about there. Some people are worried.

In other news, I am looking forward to the year ahead, although I can't quite believe that we are half-way through the 'dieting' month already. I have got lots of things planned.

In the meantime, I just want to wish everyone a Happy New Year. It's not too late for that is it?

Nah, it's never too late.

Barry and friends journey yesterday

Udon (or 'Uddles') noodle soup with fishcakes

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, they 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 blossom.....um 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