Friday, October 25, 2013

Gloomy Sunday

Watching Tom Kerridge on the telly, you can see how he got to be the size he is, but it is refreshing to see a telly chef who still clearly loves his grub, and also loves sharing his love with the rest of us. Too many cooks on the telly now are jaded and repetitive from having been on for donkeys years, or aren't really cooks at all. I love the way Rick Stein goes to far flung places and tells us that this is what he loves, cheap grub, prepared in a shack by a peasant with a camping stove and battered tin can. You won't find his love of simplicity in any of his Padstow establishments, not when the bill arrives, anyway. Old Tom tells us he loves simplicity as well, but he doesn't really, and he certainly doesn't favour frugality, but he doesn't pretend that he does, so that's OK.

I'm attempting a bit of frugality myself, and I'm not being very successful. Last weekend I did Tom's duck, which has left me feeling a bit ambivalent. The duck was expensive, there wasn't much meat on it and it was a bit of a faff at the end, but was probably worth it, coz it was nice, and I did manage to stretch it out to two meals, more than that, actually, thinking about it. I haven't had much experience cooking duck due to the expense and lack of meat on the bleeder, and it has never been very's impossible to carve the bastard, for a start. On this occasion, I followed Toms instructions and then looked at a video on how to successfully carve it, and it was OK……I managed to get the breasts off in one piece and then carve those nicely, so, for once, it actually looked edible. It tasted, really, really nice, but I was still left with some doubts about it. The problem I had was that I can feed 5 of us and still have leftovers with a chicken, or a lump of red meat; this dear duck only fed the two of us.

Thinking about it though, it ended up good value. Me and the Mrs only had the breasts, which was enough. There wasn't much meat on the legs, but what there was, I stripped and chopped and turned into a stir fry, albeit a stir fry heavy on the veg and noodles, for the kids. I also followed Tom's recipes for potato pancakes and braised lettuce to go with the duck. The pancakes turned out really well, and there were loads of 'em, and the letuce was nothing short of a fucking revelation. I also knocked up some saffron spuds that I had seen Rick Stein do on Saturday Kitchen and they were also a bit, I had loads of leftover pancakes, loads of leftover spuds, and loads and loads of delicious duck fat. I had pancakes with poached eggs on Sunday for breakfast, then fried a couple more up for a snack before bed, then, the other night, I had lamb chops, accompanied by the last of the pancakes and the leftover spuds, fried very gently, for a very long time, in a load of duck fat. I also stuck a load of green veg on, just for appearances sake, and it was bloody belting. So, although the duck was dead, and there wasn't much meat on it, I managed. from the one meal I cooked on Saturday, to make 3 other biggish meals, a breakfast, and some snacks. Hat's off to Tom.

The cheapest meal I have had in ages was on Sunday: an Ottolenghi,which is a bit surprising because there was no faff involved and it was frugal, neither of which you would associate with him. A couple of boxes of free range chicken portions, a load of spuds,and several onions into a big pot and then a load of soy sauce, pomegranate mollases, mango chutney, ginger, and a couple of other bits and pieces. That was it, all in a pot and into the oven for 2 hours. Bloody delicious.

All this marvelous duck fat reminded me that I am defined as a man with a chronic illness (although I don't feel like a man with a chronic illness) and I am also obese (although only just!) so I should be a bit more mindful about the shit I scarf down. All through the summer I had been really good, or, more accurately, less bad than usual. I invented a cold porridge concotion that I had for breakfast every day, in place of my usual bacon butty, which gets wolfed down in the car en route to my labours. I can't pretend it was delicious, but it was edible, and very cheap, and, possibly, healthy; but it took a bit of getting through, and you most definitely can't eat it while driving.

The last few weeks have seen me revert to the bacon butty in the car, much quicker, much nicer as well, to be honest. This is bad, I have to acknowledge that. Next time I keel over, I will deserve no sympathy. I keep telling myself that I shall go back to the cold porridge, and I will, one day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In The Neighbourhood

When I was a lad, we knew what we would be having for tea, day by day, week by week, year by year; it never varied. There was a time when I could have remembered in minute detail, but those days are long gone. On Mondays we would always have stew, stew ala Lou, as me and me brother came to know it. It was delicious and was a dish of rare delicacy, consisting of a tin of stewing meat, a tin of mixed veg, a pint of water and an oxo cube. I’m surprised it never became the national dish. 

Tuesday would be lamb chop, boiled spuds and peas; can’t remember what Wednesday would have been, possibly pork chop, boiled spuds and peas, Thursday would be fish fingers, mash and peas, Friday would be chips from the chippy, with whatever we wanted, saveloy and peas for me usually, or a scallop, or roe, tinned, not fresh, never fresh.  Saturday would be egg and chips, Sunday would be a Sunday dinner and a Sunday tea, consisting of tinned salmon, lettuce, bread and butter, spring onions, a tin of mandarins, some jelly, and evaporated milk. Oh, and a chocolate log. Being a weak and frail child, I never got an end of that bastard cake. Maybe I should write a misery memoir. Rather than say grace, eldest brother would signify that we could start eating by hilariously flicking water into an innocent and unprepared face from a lettuce leaf.

It wasn’t Gordon Blue cookery, but we knew where the fuck we were, and we ate together.

It’s all a bit more haphazard now. We never know what we are having from one day to the next, we rarely eat the same meal, and we rarely eat en famille . I blame the telly cooks. We would starve without the telly cooks to guide us. I’m always doing something that I have recently seen on the telly. Most of it ends up in the bin.

I had my longish affair with Jamie, and now I’m flirting coquettishly with Gino DiCampo and Tom Kerridge. I tried Toms lamb shoulder, which was shit, and I bought all the stuff for his dripping salad but was too scared to try it, and this week I saw him arse about with a duck, which I shall try on the weekend. I love the way he states that simplicity is his watchword then tells you to spend 3 days making a dressing, and several hours cooking a duck, not just sitting there and leaving it, but paying it loving attention.

Gino is the man for me at the moment. I’m skyplussing his programme and skimming through it……………..when he says a recipe is simple, it usually is. I did his pasta with broccoli garlic and chilli, which was delicious, and cheap, as well as being a piece of piss to make. Last week his lamb chops in a honey sauce looked rather good and I shall be giving them a whirl before too long.

For some reason, our local Asda has started selling enormous pork bellys, this is a good thing, I hate those little bastards, no bigger than a chop that supermarkets usually sell. I followed (more or less) a Rick Stein recipe, turned out delicious, made a hell of a mess of the roasting tin though

I haven’t given up on Jamie; his book has gone back, but he’s still on the telly, if becoming increasingly hard to swallow. He did a squash thing in rolled up pasta this week which looked easy enough, and will be tried at the weekend.

I just read “Red Road” by Denise Mina. I liked it. When I was a very young man, and first got into crime fiction, courtesy of Birmingham Library, I was reading classic American noir, by the likes of Dashiell Hammet, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, et al. I liked that these authors tried to shine a light onto the murkier corners of the soul and society. They were not much concerned with middle class angst, and, although set in a distant place, a long time ago, the words connected with me in a much more profound way than the words of Kinglsey Amis or David Lodge did, as much as I enjoyed the words they wrote. It is crime fictions willingness to address the shit that the working stiff has to put up with, the obstacles put in the way of the little guy, and to expose the hypocrisy and smug sense of entitlement of the elites that attracted me and has kept me reading it.

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to find really interesting, insightful, nuanced crime fiction. Pelecanos remains highly readable but has become almost a parody of himself, Lee Burke’s villains continue to be possessed of downright heroic levels of depravity, the Scandinavians have all gone fucking mad and, with very few exceptions, British crime fiction is as shit as it has always been, and even the good ones end up writing the same book over and over again.

Reading "Red Road" was like returning to a gentler, more sensible time. No savage violence. No villains with powers so great that they are impossible to kill off, no warped moral relativism in which it is bad for the bad guys to kill,  but OK for the good guys to mete out lethal vigilante justice. What the book gives us first and foremost is brilliant writing, and a sad, wistful humour. It recognises that the world is mostly shit, that justice for the poor is a different beast to justice for the rich; it doesn’t portray the wrongdoers as simply evil, and the good doers as simply good; it doesn’t ratchet up the violence, but it lets us know the devastating effects that violence has upon the victims, and it keeps us turning the pages, right up until the final brilliant sentence.

It is probably pertinent that Mina is a Scot: Scotland and Ireland have been producing fantastic crime fiction for about 10 years now, you’d probably need a degree in research methods to find most of it though. The American South and the Rust Belt has also been producing great, edgy fiction. Dark tales from the margins of marginalised regions are telling us great truths about this beautiful capitalist world we live in, but it’s only dopes like me who seem interested……still, at least I can be entertained while the system slowly chokes the life out of those it doesn't need anymore.