Archive for May, 2010

Coalition pie

I’ve just returned from a week in South Africa, about which more later, which is my excuse for the tardiness of my post-election dinner post. My, wasn’t it all exciting? Unlikely bedfellows all over the place – and that was just that rough-as-badgers woman spilling the beans about George Osborne’s love of dog collars in the News of the Screws.

Anyway, I was inspired – both by these shotgun alliances and by the need to empty the fridge before my holiday – to create a cottage pie with a cauliflower cheese topping. No, no – just hear me out. This was really, really delicious. Please do try it. Here’s what I did.

The Saturday before, I’d roasted way too much lovely topside, placing it on a bed of onions, celery and carrots and chucking over liberal amounts of red wine after the sizzle stage to make an extra-flavourful gravy. This left-over meat and veg went in the food processor to be not-too-finely chopped and added to an extra onion and a few mushrooms, sauteed. I added the rest of the gravy too, a few drops of soy sauce, and some extra red wine, and reduced it all down well. Then I added some frozen peas and put it into a dish.

Meanwhile, I’d boiled a potato and steamed a cauliflower. These went into the food processor with a little cream, plenty of butter, a little grated cheddar and generous amounts of S&P. Once smoothly processed, they went on top of the meat mixture, and were finished with a good layer of breadcrumbs and more cheese, for crunch.

Lovely stuff.

Look! The Greens are in there too!


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My fabulous friend Sarah had her birthday party on Friday night, and I only just got her a very successful present. I say “only just” because, when I saw this in the hallowed food hall of the Fridges of Self, I knew that:
a. Sarah would love it, and
b. It would be a terrible, agonising wrench to part with it, like losing a new-born child.

Just look.

Lots of little jars! All different colours! With Stuff in them! (Persian rose petals, carnal sin, mediterranean lavendar, white mischeif, nutmeg, devil’s penis chilli, grains of paradise, saffron, salt of the earth, smoked paprika, cocao nibs, bitter orange, renaissance stardust, baby rose peppercorns, furikake and sumac, since you ask.)

Pretty little jars of Stuff!

Honestly, wrapping it up and preparing to say farewell was agony. But it was worth it for the look on Sarah’s face when she opened the box and said: “Little jars of STUFF!”

This is a fantastic present. Someone, please, buy one for me.

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Dear Clapham…

I’ve been thinking. I know we’ve been seeing each other for a few years now, and we’ve had some good times, but lately the bad times have outweighed the good. I think maybe it’s time for us to take a break. We’ve both changed, we’re different from how we used to be. It just feels like the right time to move on. It’s not you, Clapham, it’s me.

Actually, scratch that, it’s you.

Take Saturday, for instance. There we were, just looking for somewhere to have a quiet drink before going on to the very well reviewed Fish Club for some starch cooked in lard. So.Uk went on to the no-go list some time ago after one indifferent cocktail and equally indifferent waitress too many. Revolution has always been a hell-hole. The Bison & Bird was heaving with shrieking students (two of whom ended up behind us in the ATM queue, having a loud conversation about knickers. And if you thought conversations about knickers were de facto interesting, you were wrong.) Every other bar along the High Street seemed to be guarded by a brawny, self-important doorman, and I absolutely refuse to be charming to some steroid-fuelled Neanderthal wearing a Bluetooth earpiece in order to gain entry to somewhere I didn’t much want to be in the first place.

So we took our custom to La Rueda, which advertises itself as a Spanish restaurant, tapas and wine bar. When I asked for a table for two for drinks, the maitre d’ looked around at the phalanx of empty tables and the single available bar stool, and informed me that I would have to sit at the bar, as the restaurant was busy. Yes, Clapham, I know they brought us free olives, and they were anchovy-stuffed. That’s true. But better a dinner of herbs where love is than anchovy-stuffed… you get the idea, surely?

Anyway, I know you want to talk about the fish and chips, so let’s move on. Everyone says how good The Fish Club is, right? Well, kind of. That’s everyone who isn’t left standing about, while the waitress, who promised to seat us imminently, carries one plate at a time from pass to table with glacial slowness. And everyone who doesn’t try to order a bottle of wine, and be met with as uncomprehending and disgusted a stare as if they’d asked for the menstrual blood of virgins, ice and a slice, and slimline tonic.

Come on, Clapham, how would that make you feel? It made us feel sad. Sad and unwelcome. It made us feel like we really don’t want to do this any more.

What’s that? What about Café Wanda?

Now hold on, Clapham, it’s just not fair to bring that up. I know we went there afterwards. I know the owner’s son was in attendance, as amiable and efficient as ever. I know the myriad flavours of vodka were icy cold and brain-tingling. I know the “waiting time” was as irresistible as you’d expect from a dish that’s essentially pork fat on bread. Yes, you don’t need to remind me, the pierogi were delicious. The smoked salmon blinis were the real deal. We were too full for pudding but we still ordered poppy seed cheesecake to take away – I admit it. No, Clapham, I won’t deny it, we’ve never not had a good time there.

Yes, okay, then. Please stop crying. Maybe we can still be friends.

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So yesterday, I asked the boyfriend (or rather, I Google Messengered him, which is how we tend to communicate these days, often even when we are in the same room), what he fancied for dinner, confidently expecting to hear some variation on the burger theme. Possibly: “You know, I’ve often wondered, if you took mince and sort of squashed it, then cooked it and put it in a bun, with chips, what that would be like.”

But no. He said: “How about pasta with broccoli?”

After I’d picked myself up off the floor and poured a stiff drink, I suggested he pop to the excellent local fishmonger (Jeffrey’s in Brixton Market – way too old-school to have a website), and buy some prawns to make it more special, it being Friday and all. He got 24 massive ones for a fiver – that’s Jeffrey’s for you. I know they were probably dredged at the expense of the destruction of acres of virgin seabed, and the collateral death of hordes of seahorses and poor turtles, and I feel dreadful about it, but I do love prawns. Oh, wait – maybe they were farmed in South-east Asia by impoverished former rice-farmers, seduced by evil multinationals into sinking their life savings into prawn-ponds and about to be reduced to penury by a bout of crustacean measles or something. That’s no better, is it? Anyway they were dead before we bought them, so it’s okay.

Once you have justified your purchase, peeled and deveined the prawns, put some water on to boil for your pasta. I used giant shells because I think they look smart. Finely chop lots of garlic and chilli (I used about eight cloves of garlic and three large red chillies). Put these into a pan on a low-ish heat with olive oil and butter; you might want to add the zest of a lemon and juice of half of it, or a splash of white wine after a while. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cut some purple sprouting or normal broccoli into small florets. When the pasta is all but cooked, add the psb. Turn up the heat under the garlic and chilli and add the prawns. After about two minutes, drain the pasta and broccoli, return to the pan and add a slug more olive oil and some chopped wild garlic or parsley if you like. By this point the prawns should be cooked. Mix everything together and serve.

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