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Archive for January, 2010

Some advance prep

Look at that baby! Its destiny will be revealed tomorrow. In the meantime, though, two illuminating fragments of dialogue.

In Selfridges Food Hall
TOE: Excuse me, do you have liquid smoke at all?
Nice young man: ???
TOE: It’s a seasoning. For making things smoky.
NYM: Is it, like, oil?
TOE: Never mind.

In John Lewis Food Hall
TOE: I wonder if you can help me, I’m looking for liquid smoke.
Nice middle-aged man: Ah, the barbeque enthusiast’s favourite! I know we stock it in the summer but I’m not sure if we have any in now. I’ll have to check with a colleague though, I actually work in the wine department.

Nuff said.

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Not guilty

As the boyfriend will be the first to confirm, TOE is a mild-mannered type, not given to fits of anger nor to irrationally taking agin random things. Honestly, it’s true – don’t look at me like that! However, one of the very few things I do dislike – and with good reason – is the cult of the smoothie.

Smoothies are for people who think they should eat healthily, but can’t be arsed with actual food. They’re evidence of how consumers have lost touch with what food really is, and buy overpriced, overpackaged, overprocessed commodities dreamed up by marketers instead. They’re the Soylent Green of the 21st century. They contain bananas, and if that doesn’t convince you of their inherent evil I don’t know what will. Actually, I do – the Smoothie Maker. Those too starry-eyed and right-on to buy a bottle of glorified fruit juice, can instead buy a jumped-up, harder-to-clean blender. With a tap. Yes, loyal public, if I had to pinpoint the single thing that annoys me most about smoothies, it would have to be those stupid little taps.

So you can imagine that I took rather a dim view of Innocent, the company guilty of turning the slurping masses on to smoothies. I sneered at their cutesy logo. I dissed their twee ads. I vowed they’d never get their grasping, banana-smeared hands on a penny of my hard-earned cash. And then they only went and launched Innocent Veg Pots.

For the busy faceless drone, engaged in a long-running conflict with an expanding waistline, wobbly thighs and bingo wings, these are an answer to prayer. They’ve got about 350 calories per pot, and deliver three of your five-a-day. You shove them in the microwave for two minutes, stir, nuke for a further 90 seconds, and eat. They taste gorgeous. I was even prepared to overlook their frankly extortionate price (about £3.50, although my spies tell me they are sometimes on 3-for-2 at Sainsbury’s) and heinous overpackaging in the light of their convenience, measly calorie content and deliciousness. I loved the Moroccan Giant Couscous. The Sweet Potato Chilli rocked. The Thai Coconut Curry was perhaps my favourite. All was happiness, and a beautiful relationship looked set to develop between Innocent and me.

But then they introduced Parsnip Hot-Pot, and I tried it, and it was vile. It’s not in my nature to take these things lying down, so I emailed Innocent with a few well-chosen words about their new launch. I said I was not angry, just rather disappointed. I expressed my dislike of the flavour. I told them it tasted like glue flavoured with wee. The truth will set them free, right?

And they were lovely. A nice lady called Rowena responded to my email straight away, asking for details of the offending item lest it was part of a bad batch, and sent me vouchers for three free veg pots of my choice.

I love a happy ending, and I love good customer service, so I thought I’d share this heart-warming little story here before I head off to nuke my lunchtime veg pot. Tuscan Bean Stew today, since you ask.

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Mmmm, delicious

Don’t they look lovely? Aren’t you dying to recreate them for yourself?

Sadly, gentle reader, mere hours after the boyfriend and I consumed this South African feast of bobotie and coffee fridgecake, we were both struck down with a grim stomach bug. It’s taken we six days to even look at the photos, and I certainly can’t bear to describe the food. But, this is proof positive of my good blogging intentions.

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Phew – Amici is still lovely

A while ago I posted about my disappointment in the new, what-ever-the-opposite-is-of-improved Bucci in Balham. Another of our favourite local restaurants is Amici in Kennington, which recently moved to swish new premises. We visited last night and I am delighted to report that it’s as fab as ever. The menu is almost exactly the same, apart from the addition of fresh oysters and a slight price hike (which we reckon is fair enough – their prices have been at rock-bottom for years, and it’s still bargainous). The room is lovely – bright, buzzy and classy, with first prize going to the semi-circular booths by the window. The cutlery and crockery have been chosen by someone with a real eye for style. The food is as good as ever, and the portions as generous. They even have a shiny new website.

Hurrah for Amici. Mmmmwah.

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Peanut-butter chicken

After a lamentably quiet few weeks, I’m hoping to get back into the blogging saddle. December and January aren’t great months in which to write about food, to my mind – in December one would have to simply shriek to be heard over the clamour of competing sprout recipes and Christmas pudding alternatives; in January everyone seems to be flagellating themselves with carrot sticks and awash with soup. So I think it’s time to reconnect with my roots – and I don’t mean those damn parsnips that keep turning up in the organic veg box.

I am shamefully poor about cooking African food. When I need inspiration for weekday suppers, I tend to veer automatically towards Italian (quick pasta dishes or soporiphic, velvety risotto); Asian (speedy stir-fries or the fiery curries that I crave on cold nights); or even trashy American chillies, burgers and the like. All delicious, of course, but hardly patriotic.

This recipe is vaguely West African – peanuts are used in some Nigerian dishes, and jollof rice is a traditional favourite (I have to confess I only know this from reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful novel Half of a Yellow Sun; when I spotted jollof seasoning in Sainsbury’s I couldn’t resist it. For all its supposedly African credentials, this is rather like a substantial Thai curry in character, but yummy nonetheless. Excuse the shocking photo, taken on my phone.

You need some chicken pieces (I used skinless thigh fillets); onions, garlic, green and yellow pepper, chillies, tomatoes (I used a tetrapak of chopped toms in juice; fresh would have been better I think), flour, curry powder, chilli powder, salt and pepper, crunchy peanut butter, fresh corander and limes.

Start by tossing the chicken pieces in curry powder and chilli powder (about a 5tsp of each) and flour (a couple of tsps). Chop all the veg. Brown the chicken with a little olive oil and butter in a pan, remove and set aside while you saute the veg (except the tomato) until golden. Return the chicken ot the pan and add the tomatoes. Cover and cook gently for about 45 minutes, then season and add a generous couple of tablespoons of peanut butter.

I served this with brown rice cooked with jollof seasoning and a green salad, garnished with coriander and lime. It’s brilliant winter comfort food.

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