Monday, September 30, 2013

Welding Burns

The king is dead,long live the king. Jamie has gone, to be replaced by Tom. I saw Tom Kerridge on the telly last week in a new lifestyle porn  cookery series. He always comes across a hearty and genial sort of guy, but you don't get the acclaim  that he has won by being simple, and I doubted if any of his recipes would suit my simple skills or lack of patience. True enough, he made a veg pickle that no sane person would attempt in their own kitchen, but then he did a lamb shoulder and spuds that was simplicity itself. I made it. It was shit. Probably my fault.

Looking at this blog, you would think we were carnivores of the most rapacious kind, forever having a bloody piece of flesh within our grasp, but, as a rule, we eat hardly any meat at all. A chicken dinner every Sunday, the odd bacon sarnie, the occasional meaty stew,  a bit of chorizo or pancetta added to pasta or rice dishes and that is about it. The kids have an aversion to red meat of all kinds unless it comes out a box, bearing no resemblance to actual flesh .

After the meat feast of Jamie's recipes, and Tom's shit shoulder, without even thinking about it, I started cooking some of my old standbys, and bugger me, no meat was involved, and bugger me sideways, they cost next to nothing. And nobody died.

First off, I made a huge pot of minestrone. No one needs to be told how to make a minestrone, you just bung whatever veg you have to hand into a pot, sweat it for 15 minutes, cover it with stock and boil the bugger up for 15 minutes. On this occasion the stuff that went into the pot was onion, garlic, celery, sage, rosemary, thyme, carrot, spud, spinach, kale, tomatoes, butter beans, broken up bits of spaghetti, and a couple of pints of veg stock. Total cost: no idea, probably about 3 quid. It was delicious with a sprinkling of parmesan and a bit of walnut bread and there is loads left, enough for at least two dinners at work, or, if you strain a bit of the stock off, or add another tin of beans, it would be just the job with a pile of chillied up polenta. I have a recipe for polenta that is unbelievable. I might share it one day.

Despite my aversion to faffing about, the second thing I did was a helluva of a faff; took a couple of hours at least to prepare, even before it went in the oven, and it generated a shitload of washing up to boot, but it is one of those rare dishes that is worth the faff. It is Marcella Hazan's  vegetable lasagne. I noticed in a tweet yesterday that Marcella has departed this life, RIP Marcella.

There are 3 main ingredients, courgettes, carrots and broccoli. You have to slice the carrots and courgettes thinly and par boil the broccoli, before breaking into tiny florets. You brown 2 garlic cloves in a big pan with butter and oil, then you chuck the garlic away, wilt all the carrots down in the pan, then repeat the whole damn process with the courgettes, then the broccoli. You are supposed to keep them separate and layer them up individually, but, as a very wise man once said: "fuck that for a game of tin soldiers". Then you have to make a cheesy bechamel and layer it all up as you would any lasagne.  It seems simple, and it is, and it is delicious and it makes loads for probably not much more than about 4 quid for the lot.

Next up, a veggie shepherd pie. Nothing to it, all you do is make it as if you were making a meaty one, but use green lentils instead of mince. I like to add some very finely chopped mushrooms too; dunno why, it just seems like a reasonable thing to do. I make the topping nice by mixing up sweet and ordinary spuds with loads of very well caramelised onions, a bit of chopped and wilted spinach and shitloads of cheese and butter.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


My affair with Jamie has come to an end. The book had to go back to the library, and there wasn’t enough good stuff in there to justify spending  the 26 quid Jamie  wants for it. Having said that, it is a decent book, and not nearly so aggravating as the telly series; it gave me some good ideas to do with leftovers, and almost converted me to brisket.

I deviated slightly from Jamie’s recipe for the brisket. I seasoned it and topped it with mustard, as I was told, but then poured half a bottle of wine into the roasting tray and cooked it for 6 hours. It came out alright, ‘twas still only brisket though. I didn’t make a meal with it, couldn’t be arsed, nor did I make any of the leftover recipes, but it made bosting sarnies, with a bit of red cabbage. Some might argue that spending 12 quid on a lump of brisket and cooking it for hours, just so you can have a nice sarnie at work is a bit of a false economy, and they might be right.

The major problem I have had with this new book is that it is really, really heavy on the meat……………..the main premis seem to be to buy a huge fuck off lump of meat and have a Sunday dinner with it, then spice and rice some of it up a bit and have a sarnie or a wrap with the rest. That’s OK, up to a point, but you do get a bit sick of scarfing down the same thing day after day. This morning I opened the fridge door and was confronted with leftover veg curry, leftover bean and chorizo stew, leftover lentil soup, leftover rice and half a bastard chicken. Couldn’t face any of it, made a load of brie and ham sarnies. On sliced white bread. To be fair to Jamie, as we must, none of that grub came out of his book.

I had a go at Jamie’s broccoli and cauliflower bake last week. It was alright, if a bit of a faff. I noticed on the box that he used frozen veg, and he reckoned it was as nice as with fresh veg, if I do it again, which is unlikely, I might try that, not for increased cheapness but for decreased faffness. Another faff was his fish pie, which I did make with frozen fish and veg. It went straight into the bin. I don’t mind a bit of faff, but I want the results to be spectacular, not just OK, and that fish pie, even using frozen ingredients, was bastard expensive. That's not why it went into the bin though; it went into the bin partly because I had been cooking like a bastard and we never got round to eating it, and partly because it looked shit

I finished “The Cook” in no time at all, having taken to my sick bed with it. It maintained its brilliance throughout, although the twist at the end, while delicious, stretched credibility a bit too far.

I’m now reading Denise Mina’s new one, “Red Road”. The jury is out. I read one of hers years ago, and thought it was brilliant, and then read another, which I thought was shit, and then didn’t read any more of hers until this one. I’m feeling quite poorly and sorry for myself, and have a very thick, fuzzy and painful head, so it has done well to keep my attention for the 60 odd pages I have read: however, a bunch of shady toffs are becoming more prominent, and I am fast losing interest.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fat Man

This morning I made bread. Beset by a mild malady, I spent Friday evening in bed, with a cup of cocoa and a book, rather than drinking wine and posting endless nonsense on twitter. Consequently, I was up early, and feeling revived, rather than desperate, so I made bread, to go with a lentil soup that hadn't yet been made.

Bread vexes me. Most weekends I make soup at least once, and you need to have nice bread to go with it, but, have you seen the price of it? Even nasty bread costs an arm and a leg, and a decent loaf is painful to purchase. You can buy a decent loaf in  any supermarket, I'm not so daft as to deny that, but you can't argue that it is good value: in the end, it's only flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water, for fucks sake.

I used to have a bread machine, but I kept losing the little paddle thing and having to replace it, and I didn't like the bread it produced all that much either, long and thin, like the Nicola Zigic of the kitchen. Trying to cut a piece of that in a straight line required the dexterity of a surgeon. So I binned the machine and started making bread by hand, although not all that often, to be honest.

Here's the thing. Making bread is a piece of piss. No skill is required, very little time is required, and even a basic bleeder is as good as a premium supermarket store baked loaf, and, in most cases, better………and you can arse about and add flavours and textures as much you like, virtually for free. The bread I made today is very basic, half wholemeal, half white, sachet of yeast, bit of salt, bit of honey, bit of olive oil……..I dunno how much it cost, but I would be surprised if it was much more than 40p and I had the added bonus of a wonderful smelling house. A similar loaf in Sainsburys would be about £1.50, at least.

The book I took to bed was "Cook" by Wayne Macauley. Got about half way through, and so far, I love it. The thing has no punctuation, apart from full stops and is quite difficult to read until you get used to it; then it develops a strange, hypnotic rhythm all its own. So far, it is a bit of an hosanna to service, whether it remains so time will tell. I hope not, but it is still a brilliant, original and exhilarating read.

I can't watch Masterchef, it brings out the class warrior in me, all that fine dining; the kowtowing to the knobocracy: the deference. I sometimes think that if I had  my time again, I might want to cook for a living, but I doubt I could cope with the subservience. 'Cook", so far, takes a different stance, and celebrates the monied class, the heroes of the book salute them, as their willingness to spend absurd amounts of money on a plate of innards provides the bottom feeders with a route out of the shitkicking suburbs. I love it, and it is funny, not uproariously funny, but funny, and provocative. What more could you want, apart from a couple of murders?

I haven't finished with Jamie by the way, I still have all last weeks recipes to complain about, and I have made his fish pie this morning, but I've come over all delicate again, so it will have to wait.

Friday, September 13, 2013

One Meatball

I made a Jamie leftover thing and it turned out delicious, however, I became confused and started with one recipe only to finish with another, in the same dish. Moreover, I bastardised it, so I'm reluctant to give Jamie the credit. He can have a bit of the credit, but not all of it. On the telly I'd seen him do a Korean stir fry with left over brisket. It looked nice: I had leftover pork, and it was obvious that the dish would work with pork just as well as beef, probably better.

I shredded up all my left over pork, it didn't look like much, so I chopped up a few mushrooms; it still didn't look like much, so I chopped up half a cabbage, and some spinach. It looked delicious even before I cooked it. I took Jamie's advice on the spice mix and whizzed some garlic, chilli, ginger, turmeric and fresh coriander into a required the addition of a fair bit of water to make it into an actual paste. The aroma was worth the price of admission on its own. That was more or less it. I chucked the paste into a pan, let it sizzle a bit, then threw in the 'shrooms, and the cabbage, then the spinach, let it all sizzle and pop for a bit, then chucked over the leftover pork gravy, that I was no longer going to have with mash, and some coconut milk, made from a block of creamed coconut, and let it all bubble away. I may have chucked a bit of soy sauce in, can't remember.

At this point, I decided to open the book and check the recipe. Fuck me, I wasn't doing Korean stir fry, I was doing beef rendang, except it was pork rendang, with a few minor Cwmbran interpolations. I continued as if nothing had happened and I was making Korean stir fry all along, which consisted of boiling up some rice and chucking that in with the rest. When the rice went in, it started to take on the appearance of an old fashioned Vesta biryani, so I chucked some sultanas in, just for a laugh. Turned out to be an inspired decision.

We scoffed it while watching the latest Breaking Bad, or the Mrs scoffed it, I wasn't that hungry as I had cooked the eldest some sausage and chips, but he was out, so, taking Jamie's entreaties to be frugal on board, I scoffed that, with a couple of eggs. I watched with increasing dismay as the Mrs stealthily went back to the trough, for more Cwmbran Rendang Stir Fry Bollocks, 3 times.

I was hoping to have some for the next days dinner at work. Luckily, she left enough, which is how I know it was truly delicious. I'll try and make it again, but I doubt it will turn out the was probably that delicious pork gravy that was the kicker, and I won't have that to hand very often. In the end, it's as much as about the energy you put in as the ingredients you use, and the universe was smiling upon me that day.

I have also utilised the sauce I made for the Crap Chicago Pizza through the week, once for a very simple coating for some left over chicken, fried up with some mushroom and spinach for a pasta sauce, and also for a simple sauce for some slightly spiced prawns, again with pasta. I offered the daughter pasta again last night but she declined, and opted for poached eggs on toast. There's gratitude. I bet Jamie doesn't have to contend with that.

I watched the Jamie episode with the pork the other day. It showed that, while his heart might be in the right place, his brain isn't. For a start, the joint cost 28 quid. He justified it, like the berk who claimed a whole salmon was frugality itself, by saying that it would last a week. I have 3 observations on this. One, if you are skint, or poor, or yer finances have, one way or another, gone down the shitter, it is highly unlikely that you will have 28 quid to spend on a single joint of meat. Second, did you see the size of the fucker? You would need an industrial sized fridge just to keep it in... an ordinary household fridge would not be able to house a lump of pork that big. Third, no one in their right mind could cope with pork every day for a week, no matter how often you bling the fucker up with a bit of galangal.

I'm not convinced Jamie is enjoying this series; it looks like little more than a marketing exercise on behalf of his Uncle Ben. He doesn't really seem all that enthused by any of his recipes, he doesn't even provide many recipes, and the thing is padded out with idiocy. He has some inarticulate "mate" try one of his creations, looking very uncomfortable, before declaring it amazing, and also goes around to some chumps house to teach them how not to waste stuff. This weeks food waster bought half a lamb every week, despite not knowing what to do with it or what the different cuts were. Half a lamb. Ye fucking Gods. She didn't need a visit from Jamie, she needed a visit from a man in a white coat.

I'll give Jamie some credit. Using his ideas, if not his recipes, has saved me a few bob this week. I have a load of chicken and different packs of mince in the freezer that I didn't need to use, and which, most weeks, I would have used. And here we are again, back at the weekend, and I'm going to do a Jamie again. I have already got a biggish lump of brisket brining. I'm not confident though. I hate fucking brisket,

Us Brummie types, especially us Brummie types who support the Blues, have been getting all beside ourselves at the prospect of Peaky Blinders starting on the telly. My departed nan used to call me and my brother peaky blinders when we played up, which was hardly ever. It concerns a bunch of Brummie hoodlums from 1919 or thereabouts, and there is a femme fatale, a mad Irish cop, social history, revolution and fuck knows what else in the pot. Jamie would be proud…..everything gets cooked, or overcooked.

Plenty has been written about the sets and the accents, but I have been surprised by the generally good press that it has received, because it is shit, absolutely woeful. If they had put as much effort into writing a decent script as they did in practising laughable accents, it might be OK, but they didn't and it's embarrassing. It's one saving grace was getting a mention of the Blues in. The barman in The Garrison reckoned half the team were in there, sinking a few before the game……a tradition which continues to this day, going by our start to the season.

Monday, September 09, 2013

I'll Trade You Money For Wine

First things first, I only found out about Robbie Fulks a few weeks ago, and bugger me, what a man, what a talent, what a crime that he so little known. Listen to that track just up there if you don't believe me. You might want to visit his website too; it's very old fashioned in that he writes stuff on there, as opposed to filling it with PR bullshit.

I've been struggling to find a book that holds my attention for a few weeks, but I have been saved by "Black Irish" by Stephan Talty, which has had me scouring wikipedia for information on Buffalo, where it is wonderfully set. The city is as much a character as Washington is for Pelecanos, but minus the sentimentality. Talk about hard bitten.

My weekend with Jamie was not a great success:

The Dough
I don't usually cook on Friday night, what with working all day, then going shopping and not usually getting home much before 7, but Jamie had inspired me, and I resolved to make his Chicago pizza pie. I can  make pizza, I've made thousands of 'em, and I can make bread, I have made millions of loaves, and they are usually pretty good, so I why I decided to use this new and unfamiliar method of making the dough, Lord knows. Anyway, it didn't work. The dough didn't rise and it felt very heavy, dense, and soggy. The sauce was very easy to make though. Being Friday, and as I'd been shopping, the kitchen was well stocked and I  managed to ease the disappointment  with plenty of red wine accompanied by many corned beef cobs 
I couldn't be arsed throwing the dough away on Friday night, and when I got up on Saturday morning, bugger me if it wasn't showing signs of life. Having nothing to lose, I decide to give it a whirl. I stretched it out, lined a flan tin with it to make a big one, not the 4 recommended by Jamie, smeared some of the sauce on it and topped it with some crumbled sausage, some torn pancetta and a load of cheddar and Parmesan. It was alright, no better, no worse. The kids ate it, but wondered why I hadn't made a normal pizza. It was no easier to make than yer bog standard pizza, and I won't be using that method to make dough again. The sauce, though, was something else, and required absolutely no effort to make, and I still have loads left .The kids will be getting it mixed up with some pasta and leftover chicken before this week is very much older.
The Sauce
I'm not at home typing this, but, as best as I can remember, you just chuck a tin of tomatoes into a processor with some red wine vinegar, a clove of garlic and some chopped chilli and salt and pepper and whizz the bastard up. That's it.
Usually, when making a topping for pizza I sweat an onion, then add garlic, chilli, sugar, salt, pepper and red wine or sherry vinegar and reduce it down into almost a jam. Takes a bit of time but tastes nice. Jamie's simple effort is as good, and  there is loads left. It is virtually an arrabiata, so just cook up a bit of bacon and mushroom, mix with the sauce and some pasta, and you have an effortless tea. 

Hats off to Jamie for that
The Pork
His recipe for pork shoulder required a 4.5 kilo lump of meat. One is not going to find a lump of pig that size around here, besides which, 4.5 kilo???? No one can eat that much pig, you'd have to be a family of 14, and even then, people would be begging for mercy. Now, I may complain that we have no deli, baker, greengrocer or decent butcher in town, but we do have 3 big supermarkets and a little M & S. I am intimately acquainted with all of them, so I knew that the best place for a sizeable lump of pork was Asda, so that's where I went, and I bought the the biggest pork shoulder they had.......a measly 1.2 kilo. At times like these it is best not to think about the provenance of the meat, but, it looked like a sorrowful and sad specimen.
My plans for this went a bit awry. I had intended to do a huge Sunday dinner, except it would be for Saturday tea. What I hadn't factored in was that, come tea time, I would be the only fucker in the house. That was OK though, the point of buying this joint was to try some of Jamie's recipes for leftovers, rather than have him tell me what veg to cook with a slab of meat, and, clearly, there were going to be plenty of leftovers,
Jamie doesn't say to do it, but I brined that poor dead flesh for about 12 hours. He recommends bashing or whizzing up a load of fennel seed with salt and pepper and rolling the joint in that. This was new to me and I gave it a whirl, with some trepidation, but it turned out fucking delicious. That's it for the meat really: chuck the spice on, with some oil, sit it atop some sliced onion and apple and whack it into into the oven. I deviated from Jamie a bit, I added a glass of white wine  and about half a pint of chicken stock to the roasting tin and cooked it on 160 for about 3 hrs. The crackling was the best crackling I have ever had. I shall be doing this again, but not until I can find a lump of meat weighing at least 2 kilo.
The Gravy
The eldest got in from his McDonalds shift at about half nine and declared that he wanted me to cook him steak, mash and gravy. My initial thought and response was rather unkind; fuck me, I thought, I've been arsing about all afternoon and half the night and now he wants steak, mash and bloody gravy. Well, he had the steak, a huge ribe eye, and that wasn't going to take more than 10 minutes, the spuds would be little trouble and I had the pork just about finished, which would give me juice for the gravy. So I did him his bloody steak, mash and gravy. The gravy was so nice it made me cry. I'm crying again, just thinking about it. I've saved some and I'm going to make a huge mound of buttery mash and have the gravy with it. Nothing else. Then I shall rest.
The Soup
When it became clear that there was little point in making a huge, fuck off dinner, I made soup. I love soup, so easy, so cheap, so comforting. I had a bag of watercress on its last legs so made a pea and watercress soup. This is how: I sweated an onion with a spud for about 10 minutes, then I added the pitiful looking watercress, about 12 ounce of frozen peas and a couple of handfuls of spinach; then I added salt and pepper, a chicken stock cube and a spoon of vegetable bouillon. Cooked it for 20 minutes, gave it a whizz, and added a blob of creme freche. That was Bob, my uncle. I had it with some expensive bread, I shall come back to bread another time, as it bugs me. There you go, I had been cooking and preparing food for hours and what I had for my tea was a bowl of soup and a load of pork crackling. And very delicious it was too.
The Sunday Dinner
I have nothing to say about the Sunday dinner. It was just Sunday dinner: Chicken, with a load of veg, and stuffing. And Yorkshire pudding. That's how it is, some like stuffing, some like Yorkshire pudding. I forgot to salt the Yorkie pud, but It was only me that seemed to notice. I had bought a big enough chuck that there should be enough left on its poor, sorry carcass to utilise another of Jamie's leftover recipes.
The Poodles
I used some of the leftover pork to make the kids tea, and I didn't use a Jamie recipe. Just tore a load of pork  up, put it in a hot wok with spring onion, spinach, soy sauce, black bean sauce and chilli bean paste, sizzled it all up for a couple of minutes while some poodles were doing and then mixed it all up together. They ate it, and you can't say fairer than that.
While I was at it I made a couple of pork wraps for my dinner at work. So pea soup and pork wraps already made for a free dinner.

Jamie is a genius.
The verdict
So far, so so. I have also made  a pasta, prawn and pea thingy out of that book, which was simplicity itself and all cooked up in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It was OK, nothing special, but good enough to add to the old repertoire, so that's a win. When I make it again though, I'll add some chorizo or bacon to it at the start; it was nice, but a bit lacking in oomph, however, for a tea knocked up in 12 minutes flat, I'm not complaining.

The tomato sauce for the frankly mediocre pizza was really good, and so was the crackling on the pork and the gravy. I'm not sure if me or Jamie should get the credit for the last one, I think.
I didn't use the book that much, I got notions from it, rather than recipes. For the rest of the week I'll be using his leftover ideas, and I hope this is where the book will come into it's own. Some of his ideas are quite obvious, and there is nothing wrong with that, but some of them are new to me and I shall look forward to giving them a whirl.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Working Dream

I think I might resurrect the blog, but make it a bit more focussed than previousy. I learned the hard way that you can't use a public blog to let off steam about yer work colleagues, and the world doesn't need the likes of me to post random links to interesting stuff anymore. Everyone knows how to find stuff now.

Here's the rationale: 18 months ago I experienced a dramatic cardiac event, which necessitated a bit of a lifestyle reappraisal. Sad to report, reappraising a lifestyle is one thing; acting on the reappraisal quite another: I'm still the same fat bastard that found himself being whisked off in ambulance in such a humiliating fashion. I have tried, a bit. I am much more diligent with the medication than I was and the blood pressure and cholestrol level is way down, and I eat less through the week and I make sure a I go on walk of at least 45 minutes every day and I go on the occasional bike ride. The bikes gears are knackered and according to the local repair man, not worth repairing, so that isn't much fun in such a hilly environment, but I try, occasionally.

You may ask, why don't you get a new bike? I might reply, because I'm fucking skint! Which brings me to the point of this newish blog. When I returned to work, I was grumpy and miserable. You think to yourself, I'm not going to accept as much pressure as before, not going to eat quite as much shit, and your managers and human remains departments all tell you that you must look after yourself, before piling as much shit on your poor, decrepit bonce and down yer lily livered throat they did before.

They pile more shit than before on your head, and warn you "not to play the heart card" Then they say, "work is stressful, and it's going to get more stressful, and we are not in a position to protect you, so you better be able to man up…….you said you were fit for work, so you better had be"

Frankly, I was feeling sorry for myself. I was burned out. I was lacking in enthusiasm. I couldn't be arsed. A major crisis would hit and I would think, "here we go again same old shit" I was no fucking use to anyone.

So I changed jobs. Still a social worker, of sorts, and, in some senses I have more responsibility than before, but not as far to travel, no management or supervisory responsibilities, no huge caseload, but, a huge fucking pay cut of about 400 quid a month. Was it worth it? Who knows, time will tell. So far, it seems worth it……..the little team I joined is ace and despite spending all day every day up to our arses in other peoples pain and misery, we spend most of the day laughing our heads off. For the first time in years, I can say that I love my job. Might just be a honeymoon period though. Also, love might be overstating the case, a little. And the pay cut hurts, a lot.

So, I have to economise. This is difficult, as I was hardly flush to start with. A few years ago there was a spate of articles on high flyers downsizing. I would chuckle as I saw that they were tending to downsize to a lifestyle and income I could only dream of. I've always been mindful of the cost of good grub, and tried to buy and cook stuff I could get several meals out of. It isn't difficult, if you have the time and patience……..and there's the rub, time and patience: I have little of either.

The prompt for all this bullshit is the increase in celebrity chefs telling us how to economise. There was an Irish bloke on the telly the other week, a big, bluff, jovial bloke, forever on Saturday Kitchen. His task was to shop and cook for a family on their weekly benefit income. He couldn't do it, he blew the budget on a  whole salmon, saying they could make it last a week, the fecking eejit, Then last week there was the Jamie Oliver hullabaloo. I like Jamie, but he can be a dope.

So they have vexed me. They are full of good heart and good intentions but they have vexed me. I propose to change the tack of this blog. There will still be a bit of the usual bollocks, the odd link, the odd book and record recommendation, the odd diatribe against the bastard tories, but the focus is going to be on food, good cheap, everyday food and how to stretch it out…….food that can be bought in a supermarket in a small, nondescript Welsh town: a town that has no decent butcher, no decent bakery, no kind of delicatessen at all.

I got Jamies new book out of the library yesterday.How's that for saving money? I have already tried 2 recipes, one worked, one didn't. I'll be using it all weekend and all next week and posting my thoughts. I bet you can't wait.