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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& butter……

I’ve been thinking a lot about butter recently. Not that I’m not always thinking about butter, because, I am. I love butter. I’m a butter purist, this is a margarine free zone thank you very much. Feck off flora, carry on clover, yes I can believe it’s not butter thank you. A horrifying amount of my daily food involves butter, I love baking with it, slathering it lavishly on toast, making sauces glossy with it and just generally making life better with it.

The reason, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about butter though is because sadly, my grandma is not doing so well. This woman is a force of nature, a true matriarch and the woman that taught me to love butter. It’s stuff of family legend that June spreads her butter so thick on toast you can see teeth marks in it and I can totally relate. So it seemed like a cruel joke when I was sat in the doctor’s office being told that due to acute stress (it’s been an intense few weeks) I was suffering with IBS. Cut out dairy especially and anything inflammatory for a couple of weeks, take these nice pills and see how you go.

“I’m sorry. Did you just say cut out dairy?”

“Yes, just for a couple of weeks, you are lactose intolerant, it says so on your records. Probably best to ditch it for a couple of weeks till things calm down”

Now, the fact that I’m lactose intolerant (MILDLY. I say MILDLY lactose intolerant) is something I very regularly ignore. Infact. Always ignore. I love dairy, it’s my favourite. A meal isn’t a meal without cheese, butter, sour cream, creme fraiche *insert other dairy related product here* but here I was being told that for my upset stomach to calm down this was a good idea. I was devastated, lost, confused, hurt beyond all natural cause and reason and then, I saw the challenge. It’s been months since I’ve written, days since I’ve tried to cook something new and as yet again my life is about to drastically change I have always sought solace in experimenting with new food. This is just the universe telling me to get my cooking head on again try something new and write about it. So, here I am, three days in, haven’t killed anyone yet. Yet being the operative word. I’m going to do a series of blogs throughout this couple of weeks around my journey of going dairy free, i’m nervous and excited, there’ll be terrible baking exploits, an exploration of dairy free cheese in its many forms, a dalliance with Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines which naturally involve less cheese. So please send your dairy free ideas and recipes my way.

 

Let’s see how this goes and no I’m not counting mayo as dairy.

A return to coffee shop challenges

Two months.

Sixty days.

Eighty seven thousand six hundred minutes since I last posted on this blog.

The blog that has pretty much defined who I am for the last nearly two years. I pride myself on writing about food, being honest about my overwhelming love of cheese, the fact that I screw up very regularly in the kitchen and I have a completely irrational loathing of all things coconut.
The reason that it’s taken me so long to sit and actually pen (well more like type) my feelings is the huge career decision I made two months ago. I left my loving, wonderful, magazine family and dove back in, head first, to the world of hospitality. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about being back in a restaurant or cafe for months and knew that I wasn’t completely involved in the job I was doing. I needed to be surrounded by the world that I was writing about, I needed to be involved in creating, making and developing food. Whilst I don’t regret my decision the main reason that I’ve struggled to write about this journey is because whilst those who know me best congratulated me, a piece of feedback that just kept cropping up was:
“Well……don’t you think that’s just a bit of a step backwards”

There’s a self deprecating story I now like to tell, normally after a glass of wine, in which I was once told on a date; that was I aware I was “assertive….bordering on bolshy” to which I had very similar feelings. Namely, I wanted to scream and shout “how the heck am I supposed to react to that?!” Do you want me to say “No. No I’m not aware of my nuisances and this one very blunt comment will make me change my entire perspective on myself. Thank you.” Or am I supposed to stand my ground and say “Screw you. I’m happy to be bossy and yes most horrifyingly of all, I’m happy to serve you your croissant and coffee every morning”. In reality neither on those things happened but trust me, I wish it could have been the second one.
When I first sat down to write this blog I wanted to write all about the hilarious things that I’ve learnt since going back into hospitality (Which trust me are many). I stared at the screen for days, sometimes driving myself insane till 4am trying to sound funny and witty, but I couldn’t make light of this transition until I’d expressed this annoyance, and I couldn’t not address the ease of which people told me this was a horrible decision and the judgement of the service industry in general. I guess in their eyes I had it all, I was working with one of the most well reputed, fun, cool companies. I had a “real job”.
The reality is I’ve never been ashamed to be a waitress, or a server, or Front of House or whatever you’d like to label it. I wear my badge of working in hospitality with pride. My job means I get to see customers at their best, their most excited, engaged and most importantly at their worst, at their saddest, most vulnerable and I feel privileged that I get to bring that person a cup of tea or a loaf of bread and see their day brighten. No matter what language you speak, country you come from or up bringing you’ve had I have yet to meet someone who can resist talking about food they love or have a day improved by being given something amazing to eat or drink. 

So, I’m using this platform that I’ve spent two years working on, building up somewhat of a reputation for to ask you, implore you, to remember that your waitress, barmen, manager, baker, butcher and cocktail maker are a human being just like you. We have pride and some of us (Shock- horror) have chosen to make this industry our career. Take the time to remember that whilst you’re spending your hard earned money with us, we’re also putting our heart and soul into your ethically sourced, hand-reared, single origin flat white and yes we do read your trip-advisor reviews and yes they are taken seriously. Some of the strongest people I’ve met have been in the service industry, the first women I worked for and worked with as a waitress is still a constant inspiration to me, it takes true grit and skill to run a successful cafe or restaurant. Ask us our opinion on what you should order, engage with us like we’re people and trust me you’ll get great service and remember we’ve probably been here and been on our feet for many hours, working, just like you. 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and I can come home to and scream out my frustrations at, the ones who didn’t roll their eyes at me when they found out I’d got “another job” or taken my massive “bolt back to safety” but the main thing I’ve learnt since returning to hospitality is please remember that you’re not being served by a robot, that person handing you your coffee is a person. 

Oh, and please don’t order a half caff-soy-mocha. That isn’t a thing.

How do you measure a year?

 

“Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure – measure a year?

In daylights (365)? In sunsets (same)? In midnight’s (see before)? In cups of coffee (too many to count)?”

The opening lyrics to one of my favourite songs struck me as an apt opening on my reflection of the year this blog has now been alive. Rent puts it perfectly, how do you measure a year? Should I measure it in successes? That actually, when I write them down are bigger than I ever thought they could be, or is it more accurate to work in failures? Which were also many and some, may argue, more spectacular. There were times I cried too much over silly things, rushed into even sillier decisions and there was an unfortunate incident with a window. Please don’t ask.

Whilst, I like to think, I am a positive person, it is actually very easy to get wrapped up in the loss’s we suffer every day; I’ve drifted apart from friends whom I thought I would always be close, I’ve not been to the gym anywhere near as often as I wrote in my aims for the year and even though I promised myself I’d be more sensible in 2016/17 still made some spectacularly stupid choices. I’ve loved, lost, celebrated and mourned all throughout this year, however, one thing that has always kept me focused was this blog. It sounds ridiculous because I probably don’t post on it anywhere near as often as I should, or, more importantly, so much as I’d like. Loving food and writing about food has defined my year and defined me. I have thrown myself off of heights that used to scare me…….literally, I jumped out of a plane, which, incidentally was funded by a foodie adventure. I’ve reviewed places I used to revere and have cooked things harder than I thought I could achieve. I whipped my first real meringue, hosted my own supper club for 35 very loved one’s, made a dessert worthy of MasterChef Australia and for the first time focused in on what I’d like to do with my life. Be around food.

I’ve managed to involve food in all areas of my being, I’ve hosted friends and family, catered for work events, cooked for charity and baked recipes I knew would fail just so that I could be real in my writing. I started this originally as a channel to discuss my love of food but it’s become so much more. It’s become something that has given me confidence in really low times and brought me back down to earth when I was probably becoming too lofty, and, whilst it sounds about as sickening as eating three sticky toffee puddings in a row it’s also very true.

I could wax lyrical about how much this blog has meant to me, but I should probably focus on the food and write about my foodie highs and lows this year:

Lows

Start with the bad news eh?

  • Everyone’s obsession with coconut: Especially in 2016, coconut was freaking everywhere. In puddings, savouries, in oils and butters. Frankly, I want it no-where so if we could move onto another ‘health food’ craze that would be grand
  • Chia Seeds: See above
  • Being deemed a snob: I’ve loved writing about food but it does now seem to have given me a label of ‘food snob’. I think the term you’re looking for is; ‘has taste’18871429_10154779643851849_1716247826_n
  • Brexit: Well that just ruined everything didn’t it
  • Cheese Soufflé: Imagine going to your dream restaurant, you’ve thought about this day for years, you practically wet yourself you’re that excited. You sit down, someone is literally employed to pull your chair out for you. The first course is the restaurants signature dish. They’ve served it since the dark ages of when Michelin first existed, it’s renowned across the world as a delicacy and…………. you HATE it. Not just don’t like it, but literally can’t stand it, think it tastes, looks, smells hideous. You begin to question your palate, who you are, what you think you know and why on earth you’re being allowed in a restaurant with not only 1 or 2 but 3 Michelin stars. You’ve loved the chef since you can remember and yet you hate his signature dish? Is there anything more disappointing? It’s ok though because the rest of the menu makes up for it. Panic over.  

Highs18816171_10154779647211849_1029948589_n

  • Eating at my first Michelin starred restaurant: I was actually nervous walking in,what if they realised I “didn’t belong”, made even worse by hating the first course and jumping out my skin when someone was there to push my chair in. I had to be banned by my Mother from taking photos but it was bloody amazing. Sadly since 18834751_10154779650491849_1794121632_nwe went it’s come out he doesn’t pay his staff minimum wage. Shame on you.
  • The Wick at both ends: This was probably my first real invited review and again I was so nervous, I loved every second of it, took some of the best photos I’ve ever taken and felt so privileged. The food was pretty decent too
  • Running my own supper club: Spurred on by friends, loved ones and unlucky boyfriend of the time I was encouraged into running a supper club for 35. It was extremely stressful but wonderful and an experience I’ll never forget and can’t wait to repeat
  • The first time somebody asked my advice on a recipe: “Oh you know about these things” Hoping that no-one realises I learn most of my stuff from MasterChef Australia

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me. Those that I see every day and those that I don’t. Thank you for putting up with me and I can’t wait for my next foodie adventure.

Mixing it up: The Wick At Both Ends

Small plates are so in right now. They’re so in and cool that after eating some small plates last week I hit peak relevance on Monday night at 6 pm and the rest of a week was a write off after that.
I have to admit I am completely guilty of jumping on the bandwagon of teeny tiny plates of food, I’m not sure if it’s because it makes me feel as if I can eat four times as many because they’re small (that makes sense…right?) or because I’m a habitual food sharer and get ratty if people don’t want to give me some of whatever they’re eating. Sharing is caring people.

Myself and the perpetually patient housemates were lucky enough to be invited to the Wick At Both Ends to try out their latest new menu and we ate them out of house and home. Shockingly.

They’re new menu is catchily called Wick ‘n’ Mix, it’s stuffed full of dishes and price depends on how many you want. We obviously went for seven small dishes (the most they offer in a group deal) for £22 and then because we were scared this wasn’t enough we added another three for £12….and chips….just in case.

We went for:

Venison shepherd’s pie

Why not start with one of the best eh? Rich and meaty this was a dish of pure delight. Topped with perfectly creamy mash this was a stand out dish for us, pretty much faultless

Potted ham with burnt apple and sourdoughwick10

Potted things are always a funny one aren’t they? A bit like a fancy pate really. This one was one a pretty good potted thing, it matched well with the burnt apple puree and was a light and slightly more refreshing option than our others

wick2Tempura cauliflower

The best dish. By a mile. Perfectly crispy and tasty there’s not a right lot else to say about this, except next time I’m going to order four, for me. In fact, please deliver me some, right now. Please.


Red pepper hummus with wick4focaccia

Roll your eyes if you’d like, hummus is just hummus I hear you cry. No, no, dear friend. Hummus can be terribly bland or terribly good, this one was terribly good for example. Ever so slightly spicy the texture was en pointe, kudos, and I could have eaten a loaf of the foccacia.

wick3Garlic prawns

I love getting my hands dirty when it comes to food so serving prawns whole like this is always a winner.

 

 

Pork belly with wild rice and almonds

I forgot about this dish. Sorry, I was too busy drooling over the cauliflower

Celeriac with horseradishwick5

I’m not going to lie I feel slightly betrayed by this dish. When deciding upon our marathon amounts of food I defended celeriac. I pushed for it to be included in our gargantuan line up. Waxed lyrical about how tender and tasty it could be given the chance. However, this celeriac wasn’t great. The horseradish we were promised wasn’t apparent in the sauce and it was under cooked. Needless to say I got questioned on why we didn’t just order more cauliflower

Duck nuggets with rhubarb ketchupwick9

Probably one of my most favourite phrases to say. Go on. Say it out loud. Duuuuuck Nuuugget. Also one of my most favourite things to eat it would appear. Who knew deep friend duck tastes so good.

Musselswick11

Another slight let down here on the mussel front. The housemates LOVE mussels, go nuts for them and these were slightly underwhelming, it’s fine I just wafted the duck nuggets under their noses

Curried monkfish with sweetcorn

Now, I’m probably not the best person to comment on this as I loathe sweetcorn, but the actual monkfish itself was amazing, meaty and slightly spicy, can I have a plate of just the monkfish?

 

wick8

Whilst there were definitely a few slips in the dishes, I’m still a little bitter about the celeriac, overall the food was pretty damn good. They managed to bring out all ten plates of food to us at the same time, all hot and very obviously just cooked so I’m impressed. If I was that chef I probably would have been cursing us. It’s also worth mentioning that our waitress was so lovely it looked like the management had stolen her right out of a Disney film.
To conclude; please make the shepherds pie into a massive sharing dish rather than a small plate, it’s too good to just have a couple of spoonfuls and next time I’ll just have to order more duck nuggets and did I mention the cauliflower?

Getting my veg on

I must admit I have been feeling guilty. Now, feeling guilty is sadly nothing new for me, in fact, it’s how I’ve spent vast swathes of my life feeling over the years. Guilty that I wasn’t doing well enough at school, that I wasn’t a good enough friend/girlfriend/worker/writer, that someone misunderstood what I meant, that the relationship hadn’t worked because I just hadn’t tried hard enough etc. All of this negative guilt has lead to some interesting behavioural choices over the years and a tendency to message my housemates on a regular basis and ask them if in fact my nightmare of them no longer wanting to be friends with me because I am so annoying is coming true. It never is FYI. However, whilst all of this sounds self-pitying, self-serving even, my over-heightened sense of guilt does do me some favours every now and again.
I feel particularly guilty if I buy a £3 chicken from Morrisons, and whilst I can’t always afford organic, hand-fed, hand-plucked, cuddled by farmers chickens, I should probably be more thoughtful about where my food has come from and the life that it’s lead to get to my plate. It has been proven time and time again that the amount of meat we are eating is having a direct impact on our environment and everyone’s seen the hideous documentaries about chickens living in cages. So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to be more conscious of what I eat.

I tried to be veggie for a while last year and failed so miserably that I ended up sat in my room at 2am drunkenly crooning softly to a box of KFC. However, this year I’m trying again, not  because I think meat is unhealthy or that I need to restrict myself but because it makes me a more conscious eater. If I’m specifically avoiding an ingredient then I will think much more carefully and sustainably about the others involved. Currently I’m a week in, which is better than I did last year, and I’m feeling much more positive about it. I’m eating more fresh vegetables and am aiming to be much more adventurous in the ways I cook them. Just don’t ask me to walk past the rotisserie chickens in Morrisons, they smell so gosh darn good.

Every Sunday we eat together as a house, it’s become a bit of a thing for us, we call it family dinner and it’s something we’ve managed to stick to even when things are tough and life is trying. This week for Sunday dinner I’m creating something new, it’s easy to do my usual chicken (Can you tell I like chicken by the way) but as meat isn’t an option right now it’s time to think outside the box. After trawling through the internet and considering many options I’ve gone for a mushroom wellington. Pastry solves a myriad of ‘crappy week’ problems and is always a favourite in the house. We also all adore mushrooms and, for good measure, I’m sure I can find a way to sneak cheese in there somewhere.


Mushroom Wellington:

Ingredients, serves 3:

  • 3 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • Spinach
    Depends how spinachy you want it, but remember spinach is hideously annoying in the fact it shrinks like the wicked witch of the west when faced with water
  • Enough puff pastry to surround said large mushrooms, around 2 sheets of pre rolled puff pastry
    Don’t pretend you make your own puff pastry
  • 4 or five button/closed cup/chestnut mushrooms
  • Half a white or red onion
    Some people have a preference
  • Cheese of your choice
    Now yes, I realise this is horrifyingly vague, but some people wouldn’t appreciate me dictating that this recipe needs intensely strong blue cheese (which is great) some people would prefer the meltier quality of brie or the tang of a cheddar. So yes, cheese of your choice. The quantity is also dependent on how much you like of said cheese.
  • Butter
    Because what doesn’t need butter
  • Oregano
  • Salt and pepper
    Obviously

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees and line a tray with either non stick tinfoil or baking paper
    This WILL stick, don’t be tempted to not use anything, you’ll end up crying over losing the pastry bottom, sad.

  2. In a large frying pan put a generous pat of butter, salt, pepper and turn onto a medium heat to melt butter
    Who says butter pat!? Surely it’s knob…..oh wait….probably shouldn’t say that

  3. Once butter is melted place each of the portobello mushrooms face down in the pan, flip after a couple of minutes to that all surfaces are browned slightly
    Don’t over fry at this stage, this would be a disaster as it’s going to spend 40 minutes in the oven soon

  4. Move pan off the heat once the portobello mushrooms are cooked, chop closed cup mushrooms, onion and garlic as finely as possible. Add more butter to pan and fry all of these together
    Notice a theme in this recipe? Butter. This is NOT a dieting recipe. I repeat, abandon hope all ye who diet here

  5. Once mushrooms, onion and garlic are all browned add in around a tablespoon of oregano and then stir spinach in until wilted
    Always use more spinach that you think as it shrinks into absolutely nothing

  6. Put mushroom, spinach and onion mixture aside to cool. Light dust a surface with flour and lay out sheet of puff pastry
    Inevitably spill flour and cover the surface, yourself, the floor, ceiling, windows, neighbour’s house in flour in the process15995369_10154379735231849_1321945653_n

  7. Spoon three evenly distributed portions of spinach mixture onto the pastry with large gaps in between, place a slice of favoured cheese on top, lay mushroom flat side down over cheese and layer another slice of cheese. Repeat on all three spinach piles
    Don’t be tempted by putting toooo much cheese, remember this stuff melts and will go everywhere

  8. 15995657_10154379735406849_410709532_nLay second layer of pastry over all three piles and cut so three evenly sized parcels are formed. Fork the edges of each parcel and brush with egg. Pierce a hole in the top of each parcel to finish
    No egg wash = no golden brown = sad. Don’t forget the egg wash

  9. Place parcels in the pre-heated oven for around 40 minutes until golden brown and enjoy!
    GOOEY CHEESE JOY

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Please feel free to email any feedback on this recipe or your favourite veggie recipes to erin_lawlor@hotmail.co.uk