Hot potato. Hot potato

There is nothing more disappointing in life than a soggy, flaccid potato. Yes I just used the word flaccid. Whether it be chip or roastie, parmentier or croquette.

We want our potatoes crispy and we want them now.

I, as usual, put out the question out to the great unwashed about how to make potatoes crispy and some of the answers were surprising. Everyone immediately went into a discussion of roasties rather than anything else so for the rest of this blog we’re talking about how to make roast potatoes crispy.

Mother would have been appalled at the answer as no-one said lard and in the Lawlor household our Christmas roasties are done in lard, after which we all lie on the sofa wanting to die for the next fourteen hours.

There were a couple of themes throughout the discussion, firstly, let them dry.

A true crispy potatoes take time, and love, but mainly time. They need to be lovingly parboiled (someone tried to tell me it was part-boiled the other day. WRONG) then left to steam dry before being tossed in some form of fat. This drying technique is something Delia has always told me to do, but, shockingly I have always ignored due to normally being so impatient to get on with making the roast, but as per usual St Delia is correct. Let them steam dry.

Then, the main debate is and I guess always has been, what fat do we roast the roasties in? Is it oil? If so, WHICH KIND? Is it goose fat, beet fat, duck fat, some other gout inducing fat? Or is it controversially as one friend suggested, butter. The guy who sharpens Sheffield’s best knives swears by duck fat, Jay Rayner whom I trust in all things uses vegetable oil (which I was mildly surprised by) my chef friend gave me a scientific breakdown including how long to peel them before you want to cook them but was torn between goose fat and duck fat.  


I was entranced by the idea of roasting my potatoes in butter, I will find an excuse to use butter in anything, and I mean, anything. I love butter, anyone who’s been in the same room as me for more than 3 seconds will know I love butter, on in everything, in everything and so when someone put forward the fact that she does hers in butter I jumped at the chance. Let me tell you they were glorious. Housemate was horrified that I’d managed to find yet another way to use butter. They were wonderfully coloured, wonderfully crispy BUT they didn’t taste like the roast potatoes of days gone by.

I also take issue with goose fat, whilst they taste amazing they also feel greasy. When I use goose fat everything gets covered in a thin layer of fat that won’t go away; the tray, the oven, the sides, the cat. Lard is similar but I also feel like my vital organs are covered in that layer of fat. To me either roasting them in the juices of meat or good old olive oil is the way to go.

The definitive top three roastie tips seemed to be:

  • Let them be dry: If I took away one thing from my questioning was that the potatoes must be dry when they go in the oven. As said above this is something I’ve not done before but I WILL be doing from now on

  • To oil or not to oil: The fat almost seems to be irrelevant, the thing to learn is make it hot, really hot. Super hot. Smoking hot. The cool potato hitting the hot fat is what seems to matter

  • Fluff it up, fluff it up: I read an article the other day that said it doesn’t matter whether you give your spuds a good shake or not. The public disagree. Pretty much every person polled said that you should tap, shake, fluff our spuds before they are put into roast

 

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Silversmiths Review: The battle of the roasts

What makes a great Sunday lunch great? Is it drowning the entire plate in gravy? The delight of slicing into that first crispy fluffy potato? Is it the meat that gets your juices flowing? Or is the only way Yorkshire? As in…pudding.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a roast dinner done well. I never actually had roast dinner on a Sunday when I was growing up (I was a deprived child), it was one of the big things when moving out that I attempted to integrate into my life. That and 60p vodka mixers.  Curious about what I should be doing with my roast to keep it ‘en trend’ I’ve posed the question to the masses about what makes a good roast many times and yet whilst we all have very different opinions about what should and shouldn’t be there (cauliflower cheese seems to be a point of contention, plus chicken or beef) it seems to be a resounding fact that nothing beats Mum’s roast. No restaurant can even come close. So, when a wonderful friend of mine put a call of action out on Facebook for a gang of us to join her in trying the new Sunday roast offering from Silversmiths I jumped at the idea that I could see for myself if the homemade roast was the only way.

Silversmiths is one of Sheffield’s more fancy offerings. It’s the type of place that I’d make my parents take me or an anniversary dinner (for those of you who have those anniversary things, currently my longest anniversary is with Taylor Swift songs, ten years Swifty, ten years). So we met at 1 pm on Sunday and gave it a run for it’s money.

I must admit I was hugely curious as I walked in, due to the fact that I knew Silversmiths had undergone a huge face lift that they’d managed to turn around in an inordinately short amount of time. 5 days kind of short. Insanity.
The entire restaurant now looks like a completely different venue in a really great way. It’s light, open and friendly whilst still feeling upmarket and classy. The dark red has been replaced with white and the new table layout is a winner. It doesn’t matter that there are relatively speaking a lot of tables in quite a small area it doesn’t feel horrendously overcrowded and you still have enough room to breathe. It’s now the type of place I can imagine fancy businessmen having important lunch meetings or ladies who lunch meeting for fizz and fancy food.

We were greeted by a lovely server, I think birds may actually dress this girl in a morning she was so lovely and we immediately got down to the hard work of picking a drink. As Silversmiths prides itself on sourcing things locally I had to go for a Yorkshire tea gin (had too, right!? Right). The drinks took a while to arrive but when they did the gin lived up to expectations and was drank far, far far too quickly.

We all decided to go for mains and desserts (not my normal way round, give me a starter any day) but I was desperate to get on with the roast and had spotted a Yorkshire Parkin that seemed right up my street for dessert.
There was a range of styles of roast, from price topping Venison, to pork belly, chicken, beef, veggie, if you wanted a protein as your showstopper Silversmiths probably have it on their menu.
We all ordered, five beef, chicken and a pork. Disney princess waitress (seriously, she was that nice) had to come back and inform us that they only had three beef left (impressive to say that they’d only been open for around an hour) so grudgingly I swapped to chicken (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes) and our host swapped to pork. It’s selfless acts like this that will guarantee me a seat in heaven. The food wait was I’m not going to lie, pretty long, the man sat next to me started to look pretty tasty, but the food arrived piping hot and there was definitely enough of it. So whilst the wait is forgivable, sadly there were a few things that are harder to forgive. One member of our table had to send the roast beef back, which, to give them their due was handled impressively by owner Justin and was replaced with a lovely looking rolled lamb. The other thing that I am having trouble dealing with is the lack of roast potatoes. Now, I don’t know if this is just personal taste and while I love all forms of potatoes, i’m a bit like all teachers in this regard. I have a favourite. Whether I should or not, I do and it’s roasties. The duchess potato thing was delightful and buttery and the new potatoes were….slightly misplaced and at the end of the day, a new potato, Silversmiths oh Silversmiths I craved a crispy, fluffy roastie to mop up mi’ gravy.

On a lighter note, my chicken was delicious, loved the sun-dried tomatoes and they had managed to get a good caramelisation on the outside. The stuffing was also great, more please. The veg were pleasantly al dente without being raw and the Yorkshires were great in all their Yorkshirey goodness. There was also a good amount of veggies between two which is something I’ve noticed a lot of places skimp out on.silversmiths4

Whilst my main was great, if lacking in roasties (but hey this might be personal taste) it is not a cheap meal by any stretch of the imagination. I do understand paying for quality and for the most part Silversmiths do deliver, but if you’re looking for a place to become a regular for Sunday dinner this may not be it. If the rents are up and you’re looking for some slightly posher grub then go for it! I’m still a fan of cauliflower cheese on my roast though so it’s still in debate if home cooked is the way forward…..

Gin, marvelous gin

When I came to Uni at the tender age of 19 I remember walking into my first proper city club. I goggled in awe at the sticky floor, the hoards of drunk lust filled teenagers and most importantly the fact that I could legitimately buy a Vodka mixer for 60p. 60 people. Now, this “Vodka” in question was undoubtedly paint stripper and I’m pretty sure has massively reduced my levels of intelligence but it seemed like the epitome of a good night out at such a young age. Having grown up in a tiny town that had only one also tiny club this was a whole new world for me.

Now, luckily, for both me and my liver, my tastes have become more refined. I haven’t been inside the hallowed halls of that fateful club in around four years and have done my time of sitting outside on the curb waiting for taxis with my box of cheesy chips and gravy.
These days I grace much more reputable establishments and stick to a diet of dry white wine, prosecco and of course gin. I love gin. I’m not ashamed to say it. I used to only associate gin with an elderly relative of mine but as I’ve grown so has my love for “Mother’s ruin”. Luckily I live with two other women who share a love of gin as well (something I don’t think our mothers are actually too happy about), so when I was invited to a gin and food pairing I nearly cried with joy and rang said two wonderful women and demanded they come with me.
The other amazing aspect of this supper club was that it was created and executed by a MasterChef contestant. Anyone who’s been in a room for longer than a millisecond will know that I have an overwhelming and completely unhealthy obsession with MasterChef. Both Australian and British, so I nearly fell off my chair when the lovely Chris Hale from this years MasterChef sent me an invite.


We donned our glad rags and had a wonderful evening, there were four wonderful courses and more gin than I care to talk about. We left giddy and very, very tipsy.
The evening started with:

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Canapes

gin7As every good evening should it started with canapes and yes of course, gin. We were greeted with a play on a Tom Collins, which was sharp, sour and wonderfully moreish. There was thyme and a very silly paper straw (which, honestly, does anyone really use these!?) and it was completely delicious. gin8
The canapes were a black pepper tuille and potted chicken which was everything you want
a chicken mayo sandwich to be and I ate about twelve of them. Then there was a crispy bruschetta topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil, another favourite of mine, again too many were consumed and finally a fig, polenta and goats cheese bite. Which, if I’m completely honest, I didn’t eat one of due to my utter loathing of goats cheese. Sorry Chris.

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Starter

The starter was delicious. Completely, utterly delicious. There wasn’t enough of it. Why are starters always so small, WE WANT MORE STARTER!!!! It was a cured salmon with a slick of tarragon mayo, something horseraishy and gin and tonic jelly (which should be a thing that there is more of in the world). The salmon was melt in the mouth amazing and the various different kinds of mayo were the perfect accompaniment. I didn’t eat the edible flower, they are as useful as a paper straw to me. More salmon please.

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Main

Now usually, I have a slight problem with eating cute animals (go ahead, tut at me, for if I eat meat I shouldn’t mind eating cute things. Well I do) but Chris Hale could make me change my mind and have me out hunting for Bambi’s mum myself. The main was a Venison Bourguignon with pomme puree, pickled blackberries and celeriac crisps. More Chris. We demand more. More pomme puree goodness, more venison (yes I’m crying for more) and definitely more celeriac thingies. This course came with a mahoosive shot of Sloe Gin, which is actually my least favourite kind of gin but paired perfectly with the Bourguignon. More Chris. More.

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Dessert

Now by this stage in the evening we were incredibly giggly and had far, far, far too much gin. Dessert was essentially a very large gin and tonic which whilst needed some crunch or maybe some cake to soak up even a tiny bit of the gin we’d drank it was a very tasty Gin and Tonic sorbet!
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Overall the evening was a complete success, Chris was a wonderful chef and host and I think I proposed twice to the bar manager who kept plying us with Gin. We love you.
So thank you to Pop Up North for a great evening and I can’t wait to see more from you guys!

A confession of a habit most strange

It’s all our parents fault. It is. They taught us these strange, strange habits as we were growing up, or, they at least didn’t chastise us enough saying “No child! That’s a terribly odd thing to do. What on earth would make you think of such a terrifying and disgusting creation”. OR. They deprived us so heavily of the things that we craved so furiously that as soon as we got a sweet taste of freedom we clung onto it, embraced it and dived into a whole sea of weird. So yes, it’s our parents fault.

I vividly remember in my first week of Uni feeling young, vulnerable and exhilarated all at once. I’d eaten pizza three nights in a row and couldn’t tell you the last time I saw, let alone consumed a vegetable. I was a rebel without a cause, a whole array of foods open to me that Mother had told me (correctly) would be bad for me. Screw that, I’d eat all the Ricicles I want god dammit! However, I was craving a slice of home, a bit of comfort on my fourth day of determinedly destroying my liver like every good fresher does. So I grabbed one of the teacakes (not bread rolls anyone from Sheffield, as in actual teacakes. With raisins in) my mother had sent me off with, toasted it and grated some cheese onto it. Put it together like a sandwich, ate it…..and realised all my housemates were staring at me like I was a creature from Mars
“You just put…. cheese… on a teacake” one of them stammered
“Yea. Don’t you?” It was then I realised. I’m weird. I’m really really weird and all the food things I thought were normal were lies. For years I’d pronounced hummus wrong, put cheese on teacakes and not eaten a roast on a Sunday and thought this was perfectly normal.

As the years have gone on I’ve learnt to somehow forgive my parents for leading me so astray and developed new food quirks. For example, I have an overwhelming fear of orange pith, eat peanut butter and marmite on the same slice of toast and think hummus on crumpets is a banging idea.
So, I opened it up to the great and good of Facebook to share with me their quirks and by gum they didn’t let me down. Weirdos everywhere stuck their flag in the sand and shared their quirks. One foodie friend bared his soul for all to see in sharing his overwhelming hatred of cucumber and one bloke friend threw his wife under the bus by revealing her rather strange habit of eating frozen peas. Yes love that is a strange thing to do. Sorry.
Here’s a few of the top out-there treats:

  1. Sausage tartar – Who doesn’t love munching on raw pork

  2. The pastry rules – Volovants are totally ok, however samosa pastry is a no no. Choux is also allowed however don’t put a pie in front of this lovely lady, the pastry WILL be left

  3. Choc ‘n’ Cheese – Chocolate milkshake. Check. Chunk of cheddar. Check. Interchange bites of both to complete all your dairy dreams

  4. Crunchy Treat – Who doesn’t love a good bowl of al dente pasta. Infact, why even bother cooking it at all!? Snack away

  5. Cheese gate – I was taught a new way to eat nachos yesterday but one gorgeous girlie. With a knife and fork!!! Who wants to touch all that nasty cheese anyway

  6. Skin on – A standing ovation for the man who openly admits he the skin of a kiwi. Who stayed strong when all around him called him insane and gross and vile and crazy. Keep eating that kiwi skin I say

  7. Banana Bonanza – Bananas are great. Bacon is great. Why not combine the two!? Finishing it off with some sweet chilli sauce. Perfect, right?

Carnivores Anonymous

Things that I’m not fantastic at

  • Whistling – Never been able to. Been an annoyance since school
  • Maths – due to a series of horrible and traumatising maths teachers from my school days
  • Hiding my emotions – Full stop

The first two have never proved an overwhelming problem for me: I’ve never been lost in the woods needing to attract attention so my lack of ability to whistle has never been a big deal and no-one ever asks me to do Pythagoras theorem anymore (how useful is it now Mrs. Neil?!) so my daily usage of Maths manages to remain comfortably low. However, dear friends, dear, dear friends. The last point is my absolute downfall.

I met someone new recently and obviously when you meet someone you go through the stages of getting to know them ,the way  your heart flutters when you find out you have a weirdly similar adoration of documentaries, when he makes your housemate do that hilarious uncontrolled laughter, affectionately nicknamed Llama laugh , being overly disappointed when you discover they don’t like cheese as much as you etc. Clever egg that he is he horrifyingly quickly picked up on the fact that I don’t just ‘like’ things. I LOVE them or I HATE them. There is very little middle ground with me. For example: I love cheese so much I tear up whenever someone presents me with a tasty morsel, I whimper with joy when Australian Masterchef comes on each year and I cackle with glee every time I see a photo of an otter. On the other end of the spectrum I feel viscerally angry whenever I smell coconut, lose it when people pronounce ‘jalapenos’ wrong and really really don’t like people who can’t queue properly. THERE’S A LINE FOR A REASON.

One of the main ways that these extreme emotions show themselves is by languishing over my face.  My face acts  pretty much like that of an over excited cartoon character. One particular topic that has been making my countenance shrivel with disdain is that for the past couple of years I have constantly faced the assumption that I am a vegetarian. Whilst I have absolutely nothing against those who chose the vegetarian lifestyle (you have more will power than I do) I do not chose this lifestyle and the assumption that I am hits on another major pet peeve of mine. Stereotypes. “You have a veggie vibe” I’m sorry. What now!?!?!?! What does a veggie look like!? I didn’t realise they all had a particular style that meant we could pick them out in a crowd to tut at their stereotypical ‘vegi-isms’

So, I’ve decided to be veggie for a couple of weeks. Partly to whinge about how much I miss chicken, mainly to see if I’m actually a closet veggie in denial and have no right to be so quick to anger with those who assume I am.

I don’t have give up cheese though so it’s ok:

Day 1:

Totally chilled. Not feeling a problem at all until the evening rolls round. I really really fancy a curry which is great. I love veggie curry. Yes. But I also love chicken and especially fish curries and oh wait those are both banned. Disaster. So I settle for a larger portion of saag paneer with mushroom rice and naan bread. Yum.

Day 2:

This is really actually fine. I can totally survive two weeks without meat.

Day 3:

I’m feeling pretty drained  and tired, probably got more to do with my hectic schedule more than anything else. We have an amazing jacket potato place just round the corner from work which is helping a lot

Day 4:

The day times are fine. It’s the evenings that I’m starting to struggle with. Housemates are both meat eaters and when they start cooking chicken, it’s wrong I know but I genuinely start to salivate. I should be stronger than this. I should have more self will, this is pretty shameful

Day 5:

Starting to become very sick of plain jacket potato with cheese. I WANT TUNA. GIVE ME THE GOSH DARN TUNA

Day 6:

It’s Friday, and reader. I’m drunk. I’ve also failed. Miserably. I ate chicken nuggets, cooked at like 2am when I got home. I managed a pitiful six days, then cooked nuggets and snaffled them smothered with mayo and shame

 

So I like chicken. A lot it would appear. It’s amusing though as I know I do go days and days without eating meat in a normal week. Yet for some reason as soon as I denied myself meat all I could dream about was lasagne and other meaty based delights.
I’d have loved for this blog to become a homage to sourcing sustainable options and being conscious about where meat comes from. However, I was defeated by chicken nuggets, which lets face it, probably wouldn’t know what a chicken was if they fell over it.

Don’t you remember?

What makes you remember a meal?

I’ve eaten many hundreds and thousands of meals in my life, some unforgettable, some diabolical, some lost in the void of time and some wasted due to stupid things like hangovers. However, there are certain meals that stick out in my memory.

These aren’t ones that were served in dog bowls, or other novelty kinds of plates, they didn’t have foams and no-one served them to me on a silver platter. These were meals that meant something.

Every time I’m sad, I rush back to the safety of Lincolnshire and my mother will without fail make me lasagne. It’s something I now cook when I’ve had a bad day as it makes me think of home and ‘Miss Dior’ perfume. Housemate  defaults to her Nan’s amazing veg crumble, other housemate shares stunning veggie recipes from her childhood and brother brings home memorable dishes from his travels. However, all of these examples are food cooked at home.

This leads to the question: ‘What makes me remember a meal from a restaurant?’ Is it overly fussy food in a white linen clad room where the “stars” matter more than the food? Is it a place that I can crawl into when I’m tired and in need of a glass of pinot or is it the place that I had my first date with that special someone? Either at home or out on the town I think good food is defiantly the clarity of flavours and the atmosphere that you’re in. I thought I’d share a few of my top food memories:

  • My mothers lasagne: I know I’ve already mentioned it but seriously. Crunchy, crispy, meaty, cheesy, to me: the epitome of comfort in a dish. This lasagne saw me through screwing up my A-levels to my first real broken heart (I was 16, obviously, and he was totally….totally the love of my life). Meat, pasta, béchamel, repeat, top with mozzarella and cheddar. Bam
  • Tapas @ Cerventes in Malaga: I love tapas darling. Not only was this the best tapas I’ve ever had but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in general. Buttery leeks, perfectly cooked cod and a stew that made me eat lamb for the first time in about five years, this restaurant is the reason that my poor housemates are going to have to try hundreds of variations of cauliflower puree until i get it just right
  • BBQ on the beach: The long days of summer were getting shorter, the idea of autumn was in the air and it was a gorgeous night on a Welsh beach. We’d gone on an adventure and watched the sun go down. If I close my eyes I can still taste the blue cheesy mushrooms. Didn’t even have plates. Didn’t even care
  • Housemates Mac and Cheese: I’m incredibly blessed to have two amazing housemates, we talk till late into the night and do all the things good girl friends do together. The first time I was really poorly in the house, housemate sprang into action and cooked me the best Mac and Cheese of my life. Crunchy and cheesy what a winner
  • Seafood Biryani @ The Thali Cafe: I love this little hug of a café. Tucked away behind a brightly covered front it’s a mish mash of lovely staff, quirky décor and incredible food. It also does BYOB, a favourite of mine. The best meal I’ve had there so far is still the first time I went and discovered this place, not normally a Biryani fan this had the most fresh gorgeously spiced sea food ever. I still wake up thinking about it , it does what all good meals do. Brings back memories of a wonderful time in my life