A story of salmon….

It’s a Sunday night, I’m sat in my dining room, glass of wine in hand, staring at the wasteland that used to be my kitchen. The top of a food processor is discarded on the floor, knives strewn all over, half chopped bunches of coriander and parsley looking sad on top of the cooker and a singular, mangled & lonely lemon. The utter devastation of my kitchen is all down to one man, one man whose face is grinning at me frustratingly from the front cover of the book I got this weeks dreaded recipe from. Jamie Oliver. I say his name with narrowed eyes and a hiss in my voice due to my current state stress.

The reason I’m in desperate need of yet another glass of wine (this would be my third large, so sorry Mother) is that I challenged myself to do one of Jamie’s 30 minute meals and actually try and make it in 30 minutes. I knew this probably wasn’t going to be possible but I didn’t realise quite how infuriating and anxiety inducing it would be.

I took my time carefully going through the book and picking which recipe I was going to wage war on. After discussion with one of the housemates we settled on ‘Crispy Salmon, Jazzed-up rice, baby courgette salad, gorgeous guacamole, berry spritzer’.

My first annoyance with this recipe is that it has over 20 ingredients. OVER 20 JAMIE. This is supposed to be a mid week meal, now some of these are staple ingredients that you probably have in your your cupboard but on the other hand how many people, on average, have fennel seeds just lying around? As usual I will go through the recipe step by step below but I’m just going to put it out there this recipe took nearly 50 minutes. Which is not 30. It also takes 8000 different pans, chopping boards, food processor etc. Oh, and finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was serving rice on a chopping board, this is not normal or productive. In any way.

Ingredients:

SALMON
2 long peppers, red & yellow
A bunch of spring onions
2 fresh red chillies
1 x 1kg fillet of salmon, skin on, scaled and pin-boned
1 lemon
Fennel seeds

SALAD                                                                                                 RICE
1 lemon                                                                                                1 mug of basmati rice
A couple of sprigs of fresh mint                                                     1/2 a 450g jar of red peppers
1-2 red chillies                                                                                    A few sprigs of fresh basil
400g baby courgettes                                                                        Balsamic vinegar

GUACAMOLE                                                                                     EXTRAS
4 spring onions                                                                                  1 pack of tortilla wraps
A small bunch of fresh coriander                                                  1 tub of soured cream
1 fresh red chilli
1 clove of garlic
2 limes
2-3 small ripe avocados
1 handful of cherry tomatoes

SPRITZER
1 punnet of blueberries blackberries, or strawberries
Ice cubes
A few sprigs of fresh mint
A bottle of sparkling water

DISCLAIMER – So, to be honest with you reader; I did not use baby courgettes, shocking and appalling I know but my local morrisons only had full sized courgettes. Plus I hate fennel. I loathe it in all it’s ani-seedy forms and so I didn’t use the fennel seeds on top of the salmon. Also shocking. Finally, Morrisons let me down again and refused to sell me 1kg of salmon and so I had to settle for salmon fillets.

TO START – Get all your ingredients and equipment ready. Fill and boil the kettle. Turn the grill up full whack. Put a saucepan on a medium heat. Put the standard blade in the food processor

Let the panic begin. Does this count in the 30 minutes or do I actually have to be cooking for it to take 30 minutes!? My grill is awful it’s going to take 30 bloody minutes to heat up

SALMON – Pour a couple of lugs of olive oil into a large roasting tray. Halve and deseed the red pepper. Slice the pepper and the bunch of spring onions into 2 cm pieces. Roughly chop the chillies. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the salmon, season and finely grate over some lemon zest. Rub these flavours all over the salmon, then wash your hands. If necessary, halve the salmon so it fits in the roasting tray, then lay skin side up and arrange the slices vegetables around it. Whack under the grill on the middle shelf and set the timer for 14 minutes.

I’m sorry, since when was a ‘lug’ a form of measurement!? Last time I checked if I was lugging something, I was punching it. What do you mean wash my hands Jamie I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR WASHING

RICE – Put the rice into a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt and cover by 1.5cm with boiling water. Put the lid on, then turn the heat right up and leave to cook for 7 minutes. Once cooked, take off the heat and leave to steam for 7 minutes, still covered with the lid.

My mother drilled the Delia Smith recipe for cooking rice into me from a young age, old friends, housemates and even ex boyfriends have begged me for the recipe and the secret to cooking rice. I feel like i’m betraying St Delia by cooking rice differently! 7 minutes!? What madness is this!? But i’ll behave and follow the recipe

SALAD – Squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon into a large serving bowl and add a couple of lugs of extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of salt & pepper. Finely chop the mint leaves and ½ a chilli and add to the bowl. Speed-peel as much of the baby courgettes as you can over the dressing and put whatever is left behind on a large wooden chopping board. Take the bowl of salad to the table but don’t toss until right before you are ready to serve.

Speed-peel my courgettes and half my fingers at the same time as I realise that I’ve already used a good whack of my time17622816_10154605410801849_311581703_o

RICE – Roughly chop and mix the jarred peppers and mint leaves on the chopping board with the remaining courgette. Add a pinch of salt & pepper, a good lug of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

I’m sorry. Did you just tell me to pour liquid on a chopping board………this feels like madne….oh yep….look what happened……..

SPRITZER – Blitz the berries to a puree in the food processor. Half fill a large jug with ice cubes and rip the leaves from a few sprigs of mint. Put a sieve on top of the jug and quickly push the blitzed berries through, using the back of a spoon. Discard whatever is left behind, then top the jug up with sparkling water, stir and take to the table. Quickly rinse out the processor

This spritzer is utterly pointless and a massive waste of your precious minutes in this challenge. By sieving the puree you take out ALL THE FLAVOUR and so it becomes pointless and just a jug of sparkling water.

SALMON – When the 14 minutes are up, take the tray out of the oven. Using a knife and your fingers carefully peel the skin away from the flesh and flip it over. Add a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Turn the peppers over, then put the tray back under the grill and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the skin is really crispy.

Whilst severely burning your fingers

GUACAMOLE – Trim the spring onions and put then into the processor with most of the coriander, the chilli, a peeled clove of garlic, the juice of one of your limes and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Whiz up while you stone the avocados and quarter the tomatoes. Stop whizzing, and squeeze the avocado flesh out of its skin into the processor. Add the tomatoes and pulse until chunky. Put into a bowl and add more seasoning or lime juice to taste if needed. Take to the table with a few wedges of lime for squeezing over.

I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WASH ALL THE BLOOMING TINY STRAWBERRY SEEDS OUT OF THE FREAKING PROCESSOR. Really starting to feel the stress here as oh look it’s been 30 minutes, there’s stuff everywhere and nope I’m no where near done

RICE – Quickly fluff up the rice with a fork, then tip over the board of chopped veg and gently mix together. Take to the table. Put a griddle pan on a high heat

Whilst getting rice everywhere. Also I don’t know why my rice can’t be mixed with all these ingredients in a nice bowl, like a normal person, why does it need to be flat surface that means stuff goes everywhere!?!?!?!?!

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SALMON
– Use tongs to carefully turn the crispy salmon skin back over. Season with salt & pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes

I feel like you told me earlier to cook the skin until crispy. This salmon is getting a lot of cooking time and the skin is no longer nicely crispy, it’s bordering on burnt

EXTRAS – Warm the tortillas one at a time in the griddle pan for a few seconds on each side. Tip the soured cream into a bowl, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and take to the table.

As if I have time for this rubbish

TO SERVE Take the salmon straight to the table and serve with the lovely salad

Lovely, stress inducing salad.
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As I said above, this entire process takes longer than 30 minutes. However, whilst I’ve be-moaned most of this the recipe itself in principle is actually great. Apart from the stupid spritzer, don’t waste your time or money (let’s face it, berries aren’t cheap). I’ve never used balsamic vinegar with rice but it’s amazing and I’ve never achieved crispy salmon skin before so know how to do it now. Rice goes in a bowl though Jamie. A bowl.

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O come oh ye faithful…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Supposedly.
Now, don’t worry this isn’t a disparaging piece about the terrible consumerist nature of Christmas because, whilst I know I should care. I don’t. I love Christmas, I love it in all it’s glittery, tinsel covered tackiness. As soon as December the 1st rolls round I am the person to stand on my chair and start singing Deck the Halls as loudly as I physically can and religiously start buying everyone around me a tiny Christmas trees for their desks or rooms, just because.

However, there is one thing that instills an ever so slight feeling of dread in me. What on earth am I going to make for my annual Christmas do?
Our house is a wonderful hub of people and as we always love a good reason to celebrate and so naturally we set ourselves the task of hosting a Christmas party. One housemate will be bullied into making a mound of sausages wrapped in bacon (Her signature dish and somehow manages to make them taste even better than normal pigs in blankets) and other lovely housemate has a bit of a thing for cocktail sticks so will inevitably spend hours in the kitchen painstakingly threading anything that stands still long enough onto cocktail sticks.

Whilst these are two amazing options we need a whole smorgasbord of treats. Is everyone totally over Turkey? Crackers about cranberries? What are the Christmas trends this year!? Am I supposed to salt brine-deepfatfry-claybake my turkey this year, must all of my veggie-troubles be heritage, sourced from farms that only reap what they sew at midnight every third blue moon. 2016 was the year we all went mad for fermentation, dear lord am I going to end up staying awake till 3am the night before my Christmas do staring into a pot of kimchi getting high off the fumes and wondering how I can make it Christmassy?

I put a call out to my usual Facebook audience to ask for advice on what they like at Christmas. The resounding answer was: sausages wrapped in bacon, everywhere. As long as there were sausages in bacon they didn’t care what else there was. Some people even went a step further and demanded the addition of cheese to the already tasty treat. Now, everyone knows how I love cheese. If you’ve known me longer than 30 seconds I’ve probably already waxed lyrical about how much I love cheese in all it’s glory. However, and just hear me out here, I’m not sure it belongs on a sausage wrapped in bacon. One of the joys of eating pigs in blankets is that you can eat tonnes of them, with the addition and cheese would they become too intense and then limit the number I’d be able to eat?
There were cries for all things pastry, from flakey sausage rolls to filo filled with cranberry and brie. Tiny steak filled delights and homemade cheese straws were all demanded.

As always there was the inevitable debate between goose and turkey, personally I’m team turkey, cooking goose leads to everything being covered in a fine film of fat, the tray, the oven, you, the cat, everything. Lines were drawn over parsnips were wrong or right and please don’t get me started on the war I started and friendships I lost over posting saying that the only place bread sauce belonged was in the bin. Which, by the way I stand by.

To conclude this experiment lead me to believe that I am over complicating my choices for the Christmas do and that everyone will be completely happy as long as there’s food and tonnes of it. The more the better, but, there better be sausages wrapped in bacon or there will be anarchy.

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!

Follow the crumble path

“I don’t mean to be a pain but I can’t eat that because….”

The words that 99% of home cooks dread to hear. Oh. God. Now I’m going to have to adapt. I’m going to have to work out how to use all these different complicated flour/dairy/nut/soy/meat/seafood/mollusc/animal/vegetable/mineral alternatives. The list is endless, with new allergens being discovered every single day. Having grown up with a brother who had a different allergic reaction each week (sand, people, the boy was allergic to sand) I realise that allergies are real. They are not just things that people make up and should be taken incredibly seriously. However, that also doesn’t mean that I don’t have beef with people who are like oh yea I don’t eat gluten for “health” reasons. 99% of these people are horribly misinformed and end up boring the rest of us with their tales of how quinoa porridge has like so totally changed their life. Go do some research of what is involved in a balanced diet and then come back to me.
When you don’t have money to burn and maybe don’t have a wealth of knowledge on such ‘alternatives’ it can be tricky. As a cook I love inclusive eating, I hate having to cook something different for the veggie or the celiac at the party, it feels alienating and silly. We live in a world FULL of amazing ingredients and I always attempt to think of having to change my cooking plan as a challenge rather than a kerfuffle.
So, we had housemates lovely celiac boyfriend over and I was determined to start practicing the dessert that I will be making for my supper club coming up in a couple of weeks. This dessert involved the full Masterchef Australia special of something frozen, something crumby, something fresh and some silly plating that involves it being off centre. I wasn’t planning on making my dessert gluten free but after having tasted it I may keep it this way. Here’s my recipe for honey semifreddo, cinnamon rice flour crumb and fresh strawberries:

Honey Semifreddo (disclaimer, this is based on Nigellas recipe, with a couple of alterations):

1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
150 grams runny honey (Nigella says 100g which I don’t think is sweet enough and she doesn’t specify what type of honey, I think runny works best personally!)
300 millilitres double cream

Rice Flour Crumb:
Right, so my recipe for this crumb is pretty darn unhelpful. A wise woman once taught be how to make crumble topping by if you can feel all of the ingredients in perfect harmony then it was a good crumble topping. I make crumbs in the same vein, it also depends on how crumbly you want to make this dessert, whether you want tonnes of crumb or whether you only want a sprinkling. So here’s the ingredients, be as wild or as restrained as you wish:

Rice Flour
Cinnamon
Demerara Sugar
Softened butter
Pecans/Dessicated coconut (optional, I’d obviously never use coconut because it’s gross but I can understand why people would think it belongs here)

To decorate:
Fresh strawberries (I used three on each plate, 2 whole and 1 chopped into four segments)
Fresh mint

Method:
Line a normal sized loaf tin with clingfilm
And panic because it is inevitably impossible to get the cling film wrinkle free

Beat the egg and egg yolks with the honey in a bowl, over a saucepan of gently simmering water, until the mixture is pale and thick
More panic because WHAT CONSTITUTES THICK!?!?!?! What’s thick to me might not be thick to you, ok it’s kinda got a ribbony texture

Whip the double cream until thick, and then gently fold in the egg and honey mixture
Damn you thickness, and why does cream always take longer to thicken that I think. DON’T SPLIT. DON’T SPLI….ok it’s ok. Should I leave the honey mixture to cool!?!?! Not sure, I’ll whack it in anyway, curse you Nigella and your amazing but vague recipes

Pour into tin, clingfilm over and leave to set in the freezer for between 2-3 hours
And realise that unlike masterchef you don’t just have empty freezers waiting for today’s semifreddo, no, no you will have to completely re arrange, drop half a bag of peas everywhere and end up with everything slightly melted to make a flat surface for this tin to sit

When semifreddo is nearly ready, heat oven to 180 C, put all the ingredients for crumb in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until combined
Never use more than your fingertips or everything will end up slightly manky as the butter will start to melt. Plus take off rings, every time I forget and the I swear violently at getting my rings covered

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, tip out crumb onto tray and bake for around 15 minutes or until golden and crunchy, make sure to ruffle the crumb at least once
Isn’t ‘ruffle the crumb’ such a great turn of phrase

Take semifreddo out of freezer, serve with a generous crumb trail and the fresh strawberries and mint
Pretend you’re on masterchef but make sure you instagram quickly as the semifreddo WILL MELT
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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?

Fear X Loathing: A burger redemption

I am not one for food trends. Definitely not. Silly phrases and normally poorly thought through concepts. Chia seeds, bad. Ice cream stuffed macaroons, bad. Glooping Sriracha on anything that stays still long enough, bad, bad, bad.

With this disdain of having to be ‘on trend’ in mind I must admit I went into Fear X Loathing on West Street with a hint of trepidation. Fear X Loathing specialises in burgers and huge stacked burgers at that. They all rather oddly have the name Juicy in the title and I have to admit I’m not a massive burger fan. It also has the slight added disadvantage of being away from the Division Street Massive and their independent counterparts.

However. I can accept when I am wrong and this is one of those occasions, I have been wrong about burgers. The incredibly friendly staff were quick to recommend me a burger that whilst sounded like my worst mutant trendy nightmare was actually completely delicious.
They also persuaded me into halloumi bites and as I am a complete cheese fiend (as if fearxloathing4anyone didn’t know that yet) I snaffled them before you could say “what does cheese say to itself when it looks in the mirror”. Deep fried halloumi is always, always going to be a huge success in my book and this was particularly good. They have a range of in house made sauces that come in varying degrees of blow your brains out spicy. The chilli mayo one is so good that I could have licked the pot that they gave me. Crispy, slightly spicy, the halloumi was a win.

Moving on, the main event was…..are you ready for this…….a bacon frazzle burger. Yes. Yes, you read that right dear reader. A chicken patty topped with spinach and sun dried tomato and garlic sauce and yes most importantly bacon frazzles. As in the 90’s retro crisps that taste sod all to do with bacon and a lot to do with E numbers. Who cares though because they taste freaking amazing on a burger. The herb Crème fraîche was gorgeously creamy and it came with sweet potato fries. Fit. They were crispy, crunchy and yet creamy on the inside. The whole thing was absolutely massive so definitely worth the £12.50 price tag. Stop tutting it’s not that much.fearxloathing3

Even better Fear X Loathing do some cracking cocktails. On a high after my frazzletastic lunch I promised I’d be back that evening with Lovely Boy in tow and drink my own weight in cocktails.

Now. Reader. Forgive me. I can’t exactly remember what these cocktails were called due to the number consumed, however, I know I had a zingy lovely gin number which definitely fearxloathing1added to my one glass of wine glow. Lovely Boy had a chilli cocktail (pictured) which was perfectly balanced and had just the right kick you were looking for to keep you awake for a long Friday night.

We both really enjoyed it and it’s always great to have a bartender who knows what he’s talking about. Plus I had the always added advantage of making Lovely Boy jealous due to my frazzlmazing burger.

Must think of some frazzle puns……..

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Fear X Loathing
101 West St, Sheffield S1 4EQ

The Beer Engine. An ode to hummus

We all have that one friend. That one friend who has it together. They have a great job, fantastic house and generally seem quite good at adulting.

I meet my successful adulting friend probably once a month, he laughs at my silly twenty ish year old problems such as: what am I going to do with my life, he despairs when I inform him that my latest date was covered in tattoos and lives in his warehouse and comforts me big brother style when inevitably said romance falls to pieces around my ears. Where as I mercilessly tease him about his latest no carb diet, roll my eyes and lecture him about the environment as he talks about his corporate job and constantly inform him that he is overly middle class and refer to him simply as public school boy.

As he had a rather significant birthday recently (I won’t disclose which as he had the biggest strop about it all in the first place) I decided that I’d return the favour he’d done for me many times and take him out for dinner. He informed me that he was on a no carb diet (cue much gaffawing from me) and so I picked tapas. Who doesn’t love tapas!? Tiny bits of everything and normally many things involving cheese. My tapas place of choice was The Beer Engine. My local from work the Beer Engine is a light an airy pub serving up a great range of craft beer and a weekly changing menu of tapas

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We obviously tried one of everything going, which involved:

Hummus with toasted pitta

Right. Confession time, I’m terrible and I mean TERRIBLE at making hummus. Also at spelling it but that’s beside the point. This may genuinely have been some of the best hummus I’ve ever had, served sprinkled with nigella seeds which added a smokeyness and gorgeous warm pitta I don’t think I stopped eating it. My favourite thing by a mile.

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Spanish sharing plate: mixed olives, marinated anchovies, manchego cheese and membrillo, cured meats

Still got no idea what membrillo is. Don’t care either. Olives – yum, cheese – yum, cured meats – yum but the standout on this plate was the anchovies. They were incredible, especially when

mixed with the hummus and pitta bread

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Sausage, new potato, fennel, watercress and fried egg

I hate fennel. HATE IT. I’m not convinced that there is actually any fennel in this dish as it was delicious and everything is improved with a fried egg. Went fantastically with a dollop of hummus.Beerengine3

South by South West salad: Salad, sweetcorn, beans, cherry tomatoes, spring onion and feta

Slightly confused as to the origins of this salad however can imagine it fitting in super well at a BBQ. Have I mentioned the hummus yet?

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Pork ribs in a mango and tequila sauce

Public school boy attempted to convince me that mango is a carb. Shut up. Whilst I’m not overly keen on ribs the sauce was incredible. Sweet, sticky, smoky and slightly spicy it’s everything that you want from a BBQ sauce without being overly thick and gelatinous. Still not hummus though.

Beerengine4

Macaroni Cheese Balls

Deep fried Mac ‘n Cheese, that’s all that needs to be said about that. Probably the only thing I didn’t cover in hummus.Beerengine6

Calamari with lime and coriander mayonnaise

I would like a vat of that sauce, and the hummus, the batter was light and fluffy as all good batter is, calamari doesn’t go fantastically with hummus though

Beerengine7

Chef’s potato salad

Not hummus but still really good. Slightly spicy which I appreciated and topped with coriander which is always a win in my book

 Beerengine5

So overall the food is good with great value for money as the portions are definitely not tapas size, they’re like…..actual people size.

Please give me the hummus recipe?????

Battle of the BBQ

Reader, I have a confession. I am a competitive person. It’s something that’s taken me years to accept about myself. I spent so long saying “No, no, don’t be silly I’m not a competitive person”. The word competitive for me had connotations of playing monopoly with my family and it ending in earth shattering arguments due to both Father and Brother being overtly determined to win.

However, since I’ve grown older and supposedly wiser I’ve accepted that a bit of competitiveness is no bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be throwing the tiny monopoly dog at my fellow players anytime soon but a healthy level of wanting to be good can be useful.

So. Lovely Boy made his first mistake this week. He challenged me to a BBQ off. Silly, silly boy. I told friends that he was attempting to do this and all of their faces crumpled in a mixture of pity and fear for him, nearly always followed by a “Ooooooo that’s a mistake”.  However, he’d sparked the competitive streak in me and even though I knew his lovely blue eyes would be staring at me forlornly when I won and there was a distinct possibility that due to me being a bossy madam I was about to ruin something that had only just begun. I didn’t care.

It’s a truth universally known that it isn’t Christmas in the Lawlor household without a BBQ’d Turkey. It’s become the stuff of legend. Our family regularly reminisce about that first fateful Christmas my Father threw his toys out of the pram and decided our RAF oven was just too small so was going to BBQ it, Mother retreated to the kitchen, bottle of Verve Clique in hand, Uncles gathered round in awe to watch man light fire and cook, both of the Granny’s were proclaiming to the heavens that they’d never get fed. They did. We’ve never looked back since. Therefore, I have no fear of BBQ’s, I know that meat, fish and veg can all be treated to the BBQ way and taste great.
We drew our lines in the sand and took each other on in an epic battle of a who’s who of BBQ’s. I chose a garam masala chicken and a coriander lemon mackerel and he chose a marinated rosemary lamb.

Friends bought so much food that our table was groaning underneath the load (a highlight being the Venezuelan Arepas) and I’ve been eating BBQ leftovers for the last week.

Here’s a few of my favourite BBQ related recipes.

Oh, and who won the battle of the BBQ? I think we can safely say we drew and he didn’t run for the hills when he saw my competitive face. Next time though…..

Garam Masala Chicken:

12 chicken drumsticks- skin on

3/4 pot of natural yoghurt

3 tablespoons of garam masala

Large bunch of coriander, torn, stalks and leaves

2 tablespoons of dried mint

2 table spoons of paprika

1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper

1 table spoon of chilli flakes (optional, depends if you can handle the heat)

Salt

Pepper

  1. Grab a massive metal bowl
    I mean massive. Big enough to fit all your chicken in and maybe the kitchen sink
  2. Tip yoghurt into bowl, add garam masala, mint, paprika, salt and pepper, stir until all incorporated and goes a lovely orangey colour
  3. Add in dried mint and coriander
  4. Place chicken in bowl and using your hands smoosh everything all together
    Aren’t you glad you followed my tip and used a massive metal bowl
  5. Cover with cling film and leave overnight to infuse
    Try not to wrap yourself in cling film at the same time. Happens worryingly often to me
  6. Uncover in time for BBQ, wipe off some of the excess yoghurt from the drumsticks (not all of it, but enough so that it’s not completely soaked in yoghurt or it’ll burn and that’s proper annoying to clean), sprinkle with cayenne pepper, some more salt, pepper and chilli flakes if you like it extra spicy and BBQ until cooked through
    Or this is what I normally do. However, Lovely Boy decided to take my chicken out and BBQ it without consulting me. Mistake.
  7. Serve with raita and some more coriander sprinkled on top.

Coriander Mackerel:

2 whole mackerel, gutted but still with skin, head, eyes and all

Large bunch of coriander

2 garlic cloves

1 whole lemon

Glug of olive oil

Salt flakes
Pepper

  1. Chop large bunch of coriander finely, stalks and all
    The stalks actually have the best flavour
  2. Chop garlic cloves finely (or if you can’t be bothered Very Lazy Garlic is pretty darn good)
    I can very rarely be bothered
  3. In a medium bowl mix coriander, garlic, olive oil, some of the salt flakes and pepper
  4. Slice lemon into rings then chop rings in half
  5. Take mackerel and stuff in the centre with the coriander mixture and the half rings of lemon
    Scare all your guests by wiggling then mackerel at them. People love it when fish still have heads
  6. Wrap tightly in kitchen foil
    Don’t let a guest who’s had one too many beers help. It will not be tight enough
  7. Place directly into slightly cooled coals, it shouldn’t take long at all. You’ll know it’s ready as the fish with flake away easily from the bone
  8. Serve with some sea salt flakes sprinkled over and some more fresh chopped coriander
    If it makes it that far

Marinated Lamb

8 Lamb Cutlets

Olive Oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch of mint

4 springs of rosemary, leaves finely chopping

Walt and Pepper to season (Yes I know it’s spelt wrong, however I’m just repeating the exact recipe on the channel 4   website)

  1. Simply chop the mint and place all ingredients in a dish to leave to marinade over night
    I’m not being funny right but my recipes are way harder, therefore I should have won
  2. BBQ for around 5 minutes on each side and leave to rest before eating
    Or just eat straight off the BBQ because you can’t wait

 

Yorkshire Blue Potato Salad:

Bag of Jersey Royal Potatoes

Mayonnaise (Personally I use Hellmanns)
White wine vinegar

Olive Oil (extra virgin if you have it)

Fresh chives

Bulb of Smoked Garlic

Yorkshire Blue Cheese

1 red onion

  1. Pre heat oven to 200. Boil Kettle. Chop Jersey Royals into halves or quarters (depends how chunky you like your salad) and part boil for around 5-8 minutes
  2. Drain off potato cubes and tip into a roasting tin, section off the smoked garlic into cloves and scatter over roasting tin, skin still on. Cover everything in the tin with a healthy glug of oil, season and roast until potatoes are slightly crispy and the garlic is squishy
    Don’t eat all the potatoes however tempting they look
  3. Leave the potatoes to cool until room temp. De skin garlic, place in a food blender and blend until a smooth garlic paste is formed
  4. In a large bowl whisk mayo, white wine vinegar and oil. Measurements for this is tricky as it’s all down to personal taste, if you prefer it more vinegary or mayo-y. At first it will look like the mixture has split and you’ll think I’m insane however just keep whisking and maybe add a tiny bit more mayo and it will form a silky sauce
    Vinegary-Mayo-y I’m so technical I know

  5. Chop red onion incredibly finely
    Have an argument with sous chef about what ‘finely’ means
  6. Snip fresh chives into the mayo mixture and add red onion, stir until combined
  7. Add in roasted potatoes, stir gently so as not to break the potatoes and to finish crumble Yorkshire Blue Cheese over the top
    If you haven’t eaten all the blue cheese already

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