general

Not in my wheelhouse

First thing's first. Doesn't really mean anything, does it? Come to think of it I've also started saying 'it is what it is', and 'that's not in my wheelhouse'. Quite where these phrases have crept into my life I'm not sure. I blame the country music that Ewan plays incessantly. Anyway, here is the thing that is the first thing. Better? Not really.

The garden is alive. Or to clarify, the vegetables in the garden are. Much to my surprise, in addition to the radishes (which I am reliably informed could be grown by literally anyone), beetroots are taking off, as are my baby leeks, carrots, onions, chard and even the beginnings of courgettes. Whether any of these things which actually be edible remains to be seen. But worst case scenario, I’ll just start burying shop bought veg in the garden to make myself feel better.

Now, onto the important stuff. If you've read this blog before you are probably aware that I can go on fairly relentlessly about the difference homemade stock can make. But I'd like to think that the recent blog on the virtues of tinned cherry pie filling show that I'm capable of being a pragmatist.


I thought I would try to construct a list of some of the things that I think it’s worth making from scratch, and some things where the shop bought option seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable alternative. So without further ado…

 

Crumpets and Scones

This is the one that spurred me into writing this piece. I love crumpets. Mostly for their ability to act like a sponge for butter. But I do also enjoy the crumpets themselves. But mostly the butter. Having made crumpets a couple of times myself, they absolutely make my list of not worth making at home. I see no discernible benefit. Whilst not labour intensive, they require a long proving period and then take an age to cook, for something that (inexplicably) still isn't as good as a decent supermarket brand's version. Perhaps I’m just no good at making them. I do like butter though.

Scones on the other hand should always be homemade, as should fairy cakes. Mostly because, unless they’re eaten within about half an hour of coming out of the oven, they simply aren't very good.

 

Sweet chilli sauce and Mayonnaise

Blue dragon sweet chilli sauce. Enough said. I also feel sure I remember seeing an interview with James Martin once where he expressed the same sentiment. Contains about a million ingredients so making at home is just a laborious waste of time.

Mayonnaise on the other hand, make yourself, especially if it's the basis for another sauce like tartare etc. It bears little resemblance to the shop bought variety.

 

Tomato sauce and pasta

It comes down to the fact that tinned pasta sauces are 90% tinned tomatoes. Just buy the tinned tomatoes for a fraction of the price and make your own.

The pasta to have with your sauce is more of a contentious issue though. Both fresh and dried pasta are actually very good products. Making your own isn't necessarily a guarantee of a better product. That being said, making pasta is quite a satisfying thing to do. So we’ll put it in the category of ‘if you have the time’.

This seems as good a place as any to insert puff pastry into the conversation, as I feel it fits into the pasta line of argument quite well. Homemade puff pastry is, I think, undeniably different from the shop bought kind, but is it actually good enough for it to make the 'make it from scratch' list? I think probably not. You can buy very good all-butter puff pastry so, if you have the time, nice to make but not worth it every time.

 

So there we have it. Yet again, I have solved a problem that didn’t exist, and answered a question that no one really asked. You are most welcome. I will now return to what I should actually be doing and prepping for Friday's supper club.

The Chef's Table

I have come to the conclusion that the notion of ‘bingewatching’ a television show can’t be considered the be all and end all as a way of measuring how much you truly enjoy a program.

For whilst I may have watched breaking bad with the kind of fervour and relentlessness somewhat akin to the characters in the show searching for their next hit, the way I watch the Netflix series ‘The Chef’s Table’ is rather different.

From the outset, I won’t try and deny that the program is rather pretentious and takes itself very seriously, but in all honesty, I don’t especially care. I think it is the best ‘food’ program on TV today, constantly engaging, thought provoking, filled with food-porn and from a chef’s perspective, incredibly inspiration provoking.

So with series 2 having been up for a while and only 6 episodes a series, you’d think that I would have breezed through them by now. Whereas actually I’m only halfway through the second season, and I think I have realised why.

When I watched the first season a little over a year ago, the program provided me with an enormous burst of creative energy at a time when it was seriously lacking. Virtually every dish on my recent and current supper club menus was conceived in the few week’s following my finishing watching the program.

The program managed to temporarily dredge up obsessive tendencies, amplified by the fact that I was living by myself at the time, so there was no one to stop me wandering aimlessly around the flat in the middle of the night muttering about ingredients and food combinations to myself, and wondering if there was a 24 hour tesco nearby where I could get some leeks to try out a new idea at 2am.

And so,  being so aware of the creative urge that the last season gave me, I am probably foolishly on some level trying to extend that, as if last time was anything to go by, there’s a limited window for which it can continue to provide the same kind of inspiration once I've watched it. And creativity is not an easy thing to come by. Sadly, turning it on and off isn’t really on option. Sometimes, all you can do is immerse yourself and hope for the best

And sure, I could just watch it again, and no doubt I will, but finding it fascinating and enjoyable on a re-watch is not the same as the light bulb moment you’re hoping for the first time you watch or read or visit something you’ve been anticipating.

So as I slowly move through the last few episodes I have decided that a couple of new cookbooks (or perhaps more appropriately tomes) ought to help in prolonging the creative streak. After all, the cooking is the easy part; it’s the figuring out what to cook that’s challenging.

If you’d like to see, and more importantly taste, some of what my creative ramblings have come up with, I have two supper clubs coming up in South London on the 24th and 25th June. Priced at £29 , it promises to be a great couple of nights, and it would be great to see you down there.  BUY TICKETS HERE

N.B The supper club on the 24th has now sold out, but there are still seats available for the 25th.

The dawn of a new era - Or just me redesigning the website

So as is no doubt, hopefully, evident, the new website is finally up and running. I fully anticipate that I have done something very foolish during its creation and that there are broken links or pages that don’t exist etc, so bear with me whilst I fix these things as they arise.

I’d love to know what you think of the site…….is what someone who pretended that other people’s opinions mattered more than their own might say. I won’t even bother pretending to be that person, who is pretending. We will skirt that whole issue. The site is made. It cannot, and shall not be unmade. Deal with it.

An actual blog post about food will follow this one shortly, but I felt that I couldn’t possibly allow the birth of the new site to happen without some kind of written announcement. Consider this said announcement.

There is however space for a quick gardening update. The random frost a few days ago and my lack of anticipation for it successfully managed to kill off my first few beetroot seedlings. But that’s ok. We’re operating a Sparta-like system in my garden. Only the strongest will survive. Perhaps I will just become a radish farmer. They seem to grow whether you want them to or not. To the extent that I have had to start eating them myself simply so as not to be overrun.

The first supperclub

So after only several months of procrastinating, coming up with excuses and generally avoiding it, I finally held my first supperclub on Saturday.

Lessons were learnt, washing up was generated, stress overflowed all over the floor. But overall I have to say it did seem to go rather well. Perhaps helped by the fact that my guests were friends rather than strangers, so inevitably were more lenient in both their demands and criticism. Except James, the drama queen that he is.

That is not to say it wasn’t a steep learning curve though. Although I had obviously cooked all the dishes on the menu before, I had never done them in sequence, for 8 people, so I didn’t necessarily plan accordingly for some of the challenges (mostly washing up related) that I would run into as I went along.

So I learnt quite a lot from the first attempt. For example, whilst I am generally a big fan of the list (I derive immense pleasure from crossing things off ), it is possible to have too many.

And although I was pleased with how almost every dish turned out, in a domestic setting, cooking on my own, I may need to rein things in slightly with regard to the scope of my ambition at the next event, which should help to both improve the quality and make for a less stressful experience. The intention has always been to do around 4 courses plus an amuse bouche. As the menu below demonstrates however, things got rather out of hand as I kept finding new things I wanted to cook.

The decision to do a fruit soufflé for dessert was particularly naïve as I’ve never found a recipe that I felt carried enough fruit flavour whilst managing to maintain enough body to have a pleasing texture instead of just being ‘eggy’. So the family suffered through two weeks of daily soufflé variations including some less than stellar efforts, but I am pleased to say that it did seem to pay off in the end with all 8 coming out consistently risen and cooked just how I wanted them. The recipe will be accompanying me to my grave.

But overall it was a positive experience and I’m looking forward to getting my next one sorted in a couple of weeks and ironing out some of the kinks. Watch this space.

 

Also, I realise that after a promise of gardening updates, there have been no gardening updates. I will not lie to you internet. It is cold, and wet, and I do not wish to be cold and wet, hence, limited gardening. That being said, rain cannot stop my radishes taking off.

I have created life. I'm basically God.

I have created life. I'm basically God.

And even this unfathomably small beetroot seedling.

Await further updates.

The joy of the unrefined pie

A recurring theme of this blog is my tendency to write about something vaguely ‘relevant’, but to do so with such laboriousness that the relevance has passed by the time the blog is ready to be posted. Yet again this has happened, and national pie week is just a distant, fond memory. But let’s just say it wasn’t. Let’s just say that it only finished yesterday rather than two weeks ago…….

 

“We’ll make apple pie – with apple spaghetti, vanilla extract and cinnamon and no pastry. It’s delicious.”

Let’s remove the words no pastry from that sentence. So in other words, you’re making apples. Not apple pie.

I don’t think anything further really needs to be said about the above quote except that no, it’s not a joke or part of a weird satirical food commentary, it is a genuine quote from some…. ‘cooks’.

I’ll just let it hang there, irritating all who actually enjoy pies and have no time for such nonsense.

 

That quote brought me great sadness, to the extent that I was unsure whether I could bring myself to write more about pies this week as national pie week comes to an end (did you enjoy it? Did you know it was happening? Do you even care?). So given it’s also national cheerleading safety month, I considered looking into that. Turns out I don’t especially care about that, so as pie week is now over the pain has subsided enough for me to go back to my original intention of writing about pies.

There are some things that need to be refined. Eliza Doolittle. Prose. These blog posts – if you think they ramble now you should see them before they’re edited, they’re usually twice as long and several times more incoherent.

One thing that I don’t think needs to be refined is the pie. Pies are where my inner cooking laziness really comes to the fore, I am just not that particular when it comes to pies.

NB. This is what I originally wrote. I then read back the blog and realised that it is in fact a flagrant lie. My tendency with pies is undoubtedly to lean towards the lazy, but I am very particular about the form that the laziness must take, and actually, achieving the correct lack of refinement in a pie is perhaps not as easy as it seems.

 

When I’m having a pie, I’m not actually looking for one that always adheres to my normal requirements of ‘well cooked’ food. I don’t want perfectly cooked pastry. I want a pastry lid that is slightly too thick, and slightly undercooked so that it’s crisp on the top but still stodgy underneath. And as far as fillings go, I’m pretty lazy as well. Beef or chicken for savoury pies (in the form of ox cheeks or chicken thigh meat), some veg, not too much if it’s supposed to be a meat pie. I am also very unconcerned with presentation when it comes to pies. Is there a filling? Is there pastry vaguely covering that filling? Great, it’s close enough then.

However it is perhaps my preferences for sweet pies that truly exemplifies my pie laziness. Cherry pie filling. And not good cherry pie filling. Tinned cherry pie filling. The cheaper the better. Yes it has no discernible cherry flavour and a consistency that is mildly disturbing at best, whilst being probably 90% sugar, but that is quite beside the point.

It’s at this point that I feel most food blogs would now provide you with several pie recipes that, realistically, no one is going to make but which make people feel like they are putting something useful into the world. I will not be doing that. Instead I will simply encourage you to wrap in pastry, or at least cover with pastry, more of what you eat. Because something with pastry is unquestionably better than something without.