Jonesing for the disgustingly delicious guilty pleasure of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? Too cheap to buy them/in a location where they are less than freely available? Why not try the lovely Nigella Lawson‘s recipe for arterial disaster? I did and now I feel bad and good in equal measure.
Mix peanut butter with real butter and far too much sugar, pack into tin and press down firmly. Pour melted chocolate over the top. When set, cut into bits. Fill face. Feel slightly sick.
Has anyone else made versions of commercially-produced sweets at home? People who make their own toffee and risk full-body sugar burns? It seems somehow quaint and Victorian (not to mention dangerous), and almost wholesome considering the large quantities of sugar, butter and cream normally involved in this kind of thing.
Anyway, seriously, if you like peanut butter and chocolate, do it. Don’t eat them too close to bedtime, or the sugar content will send you through the roof and prevent you getting to sleep for ages, so you’ll just lie there feeling guilty about being a lardy pig.
Posh food and steeling the nerves to buy it
Visiting Brindisa, the very lovely purveyor of quality Spanish goods in Clerkenwell, on the way to the first night of the Beijing Opera at Sadlers Wells, was always going to feel like something a woman with much more expensive shoes would do. Still, I manfully knuckled down to it, and managed to buy some nice chorizo, manchego cheese and bittersweet paprika without breaking down in gastro-social anxiety; not without effort, as a silver fox businessman (in his suit and tie) breezed through shedding ’50 notes while discussing the evening’s dinner with his (presumable) trophy blonde on a high-end mobile.
I had naturally trained for this boutique experience, having wandered around Fortnum & Mason‘s food hall the other week after taking in the recent Jenny Holzer exhibition off Berkeley Square (I find that combining culture with epicuriosity is beneficial, if conducive to terminal smugness). The piles of beautifully packaged tea, the extensive range of mustards, the vats of buffalo mozzarella: all this overloads the senses like a very expensive hangover. There is something very pornographic about it the whole experience, but maybe that’s just my middle-class anxiety showing. I will admit to getting freaked out by the 57 flavours of balsamic vinegar available at even the humblest of supermarkets, so the range of shiny boxes, packets and bags of exotic and potentially delicious goodies to be found within these exclusive temples to the guts are bewildering.
It’s really the quality of the bags and packing that set quality epiceries aside from the common herd (in experiential terms rather than product quality – to a certain extent, you do get what you pay for foodwise): Fortnum & Mason’s precious duck-egg blue in heavy-guage matt plastic (lovingly filled by one assistant wrapping while the other rings up the cost behind a nice oak counter), Selfridges‘ the familiar strident yellow, Brindisa’s fetchingly translucent so a hint of the products purchased coyly reveals itself. Until fairly recently, Krispy Kreme doughnuts were only available in the UK from a concession in Harrods, and a flat logo-strewn box awkwardly poking though a flimsy transparent bag and bruising commuters’ knees on the tube was a sign of the rich ironist popping home to host a terribly chi-chi dinner party. Now that every Tom, Dick and Tesco has a proprietary cabinet prominently displayed, one has to wonder if the same cachet applies.
What better ways are there to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May than ensconced in a dark concrete sub-basement watching a silent film from 1926?*
After a rather too large lunch, hoofing it around the renownedly maze-like Barbican Centre trying to find the appropriate place to pick up our tickets for Flesh and the Devil was a little taxing, not to say sweaty. However, tickets clenched in greasy palm and garlic breath projecting around us, we took our (very comfortable) seats in the auditorium and eagerly anticipated the film. If one is not a fan of the common cinema advert genus, the Barbican is ideal, because as a proper art venue it of course has no truck with any of that commercial nonsense.
The besuited pianist (live accompaniment – classy!) took his place, flicked a switch to start the movie and tinkled away for the next two hours, splendidly nuancing Greta Garbo’s slinkiness and undercutting the pomp of the male leads. It’s a smashing piece of entertainment, with all the gesticulation you expect and need from a silent drama, but also some surprisingly naturalistic acting, and Garbo is mesmerising and repellent in equal measure as the needy (and greedy) socialite ruining men’s lives for kicks (and cash) in German high society between the wars. There’s some excellent barely-repressed homo-erotic stuff about brotherly love in there to boot, and the pointy-castle matte paintings are a bit of a treat.
It was a pleasure to experience such a great silent classic on the big screen, and also to be a member of one of the most callous audiences of all time: we all giggled furiously while poor Greta slid beneath the icy covering of a lake to drown after finally repenting of her wicked ways. All in all, an excellent alternative to enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.
*merely rhetorical, pls do not answer kthxbye
Well, it might not have been purchased from a shop dedicated to the art of fried poultry (and the occasional lipsmacking rib), but it was certainly very independent. Some greasy kebab shop on the Lower Clapton Road (of which there are many) provided me with a couple of pieces of fried beast (species indeterminate) the other Sunday evening, when filthy food was sorely needed after a lengthy walk down the Lea Valley and a couple of pints. The ‘chicken’ was dried out and crusty (and not in a good fresh bread type way) from sitting like Miss Havisham in the hot cabinet while most customers to the shop ordered chunks of sweaty lamb, watched hungrily as they were grilled and popped in pittas, then left to devour them at the bus stop, but nevertheless I requested some, not being in the mood for hot kebab action. The experience was adequate if leathery, but becomes a pearl of memory when compared to the horrific 2-hour multi-bus journey home after a road traffic accident blocked off the only passable route through Stoke Newington.
Anyway, my question is this: How wrong (or indeed wilfully perverse) is it to eat something from a shop or restaurant that is not the establishment’s stated speciality, even if you don’t particularly like the speciality or have been dragged there when you’re not feeling it? Now, I’d generally sneer at ordering chips in a Chinese takeaway, for example, or refusing smacking-fresh fish at the seaside, as it seems indicative of small-mindedness and fear of the unknown. However, I don’t feel there’s that much in it when you’re talking lardy fast food, although ardent connoisseurs of Middle Eastern grilling may disagree.
A whole kilo of MEAT
The Robster and I went to Prague for the weekend, and we spent some time looking at pretty buildings and fannying around in the snow before getting down to the real business at hand: beer. Much of this splendid substance was consumed, generally biased towards the dark and chewy end of the continuum (rather than girly lager which you can get anywhere), and including samples of Velkopopovicky, Staropramen Granat, Gambrinus and Krusovice, costing on average about 40 pence a pint.
On our last night there we went to the highly-recommended Pivovarsky Dum, or “House of Beer”, which any sane person would surely agree is a fine name for a pub. A bit out of the way from the bright lights and UV theatre shows of the centre of town, its clientele consists of moderately-clued-up tourists as well as hefty local chaps out to do some serious damage to their livers. A splendid feature of the place is that you can order a zirafa (giraffe) of your chosen beer: this is a long 4-litre glass tube set in a shiny brass foot with a tap, and sits on your table preventing you from realising how pissed you are until you get up to go to the toilet.
Available to mop up the exciting microbrews (including banana lager and a nice sour cherry beer which is a lot more subtle than yr Mort Subite kriek and all that gubbins) is a fairly extensive menu. Now, Czech cuisine really does not muck about, one good reason for visiting in winter being that you need healthy walking around in the cold to burn off the damned food. Potatoes prepared in stomach-leadening portions coupled with big hunks of beast-flesh are de rigeur, and the Dum wasn?t noticeably bucking the trend the night we were there. A couple of half-litres gone, we ventured upon rabbit with spaetzles (err, Czech gnocchi?) and potato dumplings stuffed with roast pork and accompanied by sauerkraut, all of which was very nice, especially the sight of several pathetic rabbit leg bones lying desolate on a plate after finishing. We thought ourselves pretty hearty after encompassing this lot, but as the evening wore on we noticed a growing proportion of gentlemen tucking into enormous plates supporting what, according to the menu, were individual 1kg joints of pork, accompanied only by small lakes of horseradish and mustard. Atkins-tastic. We sipped a couple of digestif shots of slivovice (alarming plum brandy) to untwist our melons, then headed off into the snow to pack our bags.
I have always enjoyed sucking bones
Browsing for dinner components the other week in the supermarket, I examined with great interest a couple of chunky pieces of oxtail. Now these haven’t made any significant appearance for a while, what with BSE panic and the disinterest of the general populace in cooking anything that isn’t chicken breast, so it was with an aura of expectant smugness that I purchased a pack for, as they say, a song. Slightly trepidatious, I prepared them for Sunday supper, sealing in seasoned flour and then braising gently with roughly chopped onions and carrots and red wine (loosely according to the gospel of Nigel Slater). After a couple of hours they were lumps of sticky chewy melting cartiligenous gorgeousness, and the velvety wine gravy and sweet juicy carrots weren’t bad either.
So, is it the (low-effort) time investment that puts people off cooking stuff like this at home? I arranged the ingredients in my lovely cast-aluminium pot up at half-time during the rugby and then left it well alone, adding a roasting tin of par-boiled potatoes tossed in duck fat to the oven after an hour or so, but it does take a good swathe of lazy afternoon to organise. Or is it the graphic anatomical lesson that results once the deliciously gooey flesh has been sucked off the vertebrae? We fitted our two together and speculated about how far along the tail they’d come from, poking fork tines curiously into the spinal canal. I can certainly see how it could be a little alarming, but once you accept that your slab of beef was once part of a muscle moving a cow’s leg around (or more likely a tender underused bum-steak) it’s foolhardy not to embrace knowledge of the skull beneath the skin that comes with picking apart chicken wings or a shoulder of lamb. It’s better for you than mechanically reclaimed sausage meat, that’s for sure.
Messy individual joint type things like lamb shanks (as Robster pointed out while licking his fingers, returned to the posh-restaurant fold by the then-spiky-haired-quasi-bad-boy Gary Rhodes back in the day) have hoven back into view over the culinary event horizon over the past couple of years due at least partially to the renewly perceived sexiness of solid manly British fayre (cf universal [well, not from vegetarians] slavering over St. John). Maybe the humble oxtail is also due a revival after a long period in the wilderness, and I’m not talking soup here. Whatever, I’m going to stock up the freezer post-haste.
Indie Chicken – an occasional series
#5 – Laz Fried Chicken & Pizza, 190 Archway Rd, London N6 5BB
Post-FAP last Friday night, I and my boo hopped off the bus, bid goodnight to Pete and headed for the local filthy chicken establishment. This, in close proximity to our new flat (and indeed fairly near my old one), is more of a pizza delivery place, but the fried chicken takes precedence on the shop sign so that it appears that one could purchase a pizza topped with melting chunks of deep-fried poultry. Which would be a very special experience, I think we can all agree.
Anyway, the meal: Rob, feeling lairy, went for a two-piece meal and a Diet Pepsi (‘2.95 I think, as was mine), while I was more sedate with my choice of one chunk of beast (yes, I mean that and not ‘breast’) and three hot wings, accompanied by a cheapo can of German-import Fanta (which, this reminds me, is still in the fridge). The chicken pieces were covered in satisfyingly greasy and crunchy skin, but a rather disagreeable muddy taste was evident even through a palate-thickening beer patina. The hot wings (baby drumsticks, par usuel) were better, and the fries (crispy but yielding) were downright tasty, but you know, I was a little bit refreshed at the time. So-so would be my overall verdict, what with no cleansing towelette action in evidence, but it hit the drunken spot, and what more can one desire?
Incidentally, while searching fruitlessly for the presence of Laz on that there interweb, I came across http://www.takeawaysulike.co.uk/, a marvellous site devoted to making sure that you can always find your favourite filthy food emporia. Excellent work.
Liz & Rob’s Freeview box criticises television
So, we finally got an appropriate aerial to help our shiny new Freeview box do its stuff and provide us with access to UKTV History, BBC 4 and, most importantly, Bid-up TV. Programmes such as last year’s recycled Cribs and Nick & Jessica: Newlyweds now form vital components of our domestic entertainment matrix. However, we have noted certain quirks of the little silver machine surfacing over time. For example, during a viewing of the very stylish video to Charles and Eddy’s Would I Lie to You? (shown as part of The HITS’ Classic Hits Weekend), the broken-down jazzy middle eight (so familiar to Top of The Pops fans from the early 90s) was mysteriously blanked out by interference, only for the song and video to become crystal clear again as the verse came back in. Clearly, we must make note of future occurrences of this type in order to ascertain the precise critical stance adopted by our digital television receiver. Look to the skies.
How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Diary of a Frustrated Girlfriend
I was sans bloke (due to a stag thing in Exeter) last weekend, and naturally I turned to baking as a displacement activity. It beats crying into your pint, eh ladies?
Getting up bright and early on Saturday, my thoughts immediately turned to yeast. When you only see your chap at the weekends, and half of these are spent at his flat, which has a decidedly non-lady-friendly kitchen, it’s difficult to set aside the proving time for risen breads and associated baked goods. So I whacked up a batch of dough (thank the little baby Jesus for easy-blend yeast), placed it over the grill of a just-pilot-lit oven to rise, and sat down after applying deep hair conditioner and a face pack to eat some yoghurt and read a magazine. After the dough had risen sufficiently I knocked it back and plonked half of it in a 1lb tin and half, shaped roughly oval, to go free and easy on a large baking tray. After another rising both of these went in the oven to bake while I had a shower. Result: one baby traditional and one rustic loaf, perfectly textured bread still slightly warm and ready for lunch (sliced chorizo and tomatoes dumped unceremoniously on toasted long skinny slices of the rustic effort). I love it when a plan comes together.
The afternoon saw a jaunt into Muswell Hill and a wander back through Highgate Woods. Here I met a friend and we spent a good and very enjoyable hour getting thorns stuck in our shins while scrambling through brambles in search of the wily blackberry, many of which we scoffed messily instead of placing safely in our capacious punnets. Given that I spent many happy (if slightly bloody) summer afternoons as a youngster in exactly this way at my granny’s farmhouse, this was nostalgia at its finest and tastiest, notwithstanding the scratches all over my knuckles. Back home, a quick batch of shortcrust pastry was made (with good old lard, of course) and pie was constructed, or rather one big apple/blackberry job (in a hastily junk-shop-purchased ancient flan tin: 50p to you, squire) and a tray of cute mini pielets. The room filled with lovely wholesome smells, girly conversation was had and then pie was eaten. And I now have a store of blackberries in the freezer. Hurrah!
Neither the weekend nor the floury frenzy was over yet. Sunday morning saw more yeast kicked into gear for Chelsea buns. The bread experiment the previous morning had bolstered my confidence, I had unearthed a rather elderly bag of mixed dried fruit and peel from the back of a cupboard, and the game was afoot. I was a bit nervous as I’d not made them before, but all was well, and relatively soon I had a ring of spicy, bready, fruity spirals lurking enticingly on the kitchen table. There are a couple in my desk drawer right now in anticipation of elevenses. Splendid.
So: as has been proved by science, baking is good for your biceps, makes your house smell really nice, and promotes a general sense of wellbeing even if your significant other is many miles away drunkenly tormenting a bald man dressed as a naughty nurse.
(You may recall the first instalment of this all-comers welcome occasional series from a while ago. If not, I don’t care. But I would nevertheless like to see local chicken reviews from strange and exotic climes.)
#2 Perfect Chicken, Junction Road, London N19
Yesterday I went swimming after work (as is my wont of late) and therefore needed to eat something truly filthy afterwards to counterbalance any undesirable healthy effects. I emerged from Archway tube station, crossed the road to the above named takeaway, got my dinner (fresh chips!) and pootled off with it on the short bus ride up to Highgate.
It’s a reliable local chicken shop but I patronise it only occasionally, as there’s generally this spotty teenager behind the counter who leers at me and gives me extra hotwings, producing entirely the opposite effect to that which he presumably intends. However, their Value Box Meal is indeed the best value pile of grease in the vicinity, consisting of two pieces of chicken, three hotwings, fries and a drink for ‘2.99. The chicken was moistish and the seasoned skin is disgustingly and deliciously gooey, so that takes care of that. The hotlegs (one of last night’s was kind of ball-shaped – goodness knows what the fowl/cat it came from looked like) were a bit too crunchy and kind of meh in the hottness stakes, and the fries were fine. The drink selection is what endears the place to me over and beyond the pimply youth’s complimentary filth: a can of 7-up, Pepsi, Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke, and it’s always one of the wacky latter pair that I go for, in this case Cherry Coke. Mmmmm teeth-rotting fingerlicking fun.
There was no refreshing lemon towelette included in the bag (although there was a sachet of salt and a shiny paper napkin), but there sometimes has been in the past; this unpredictability is kind of attractive/annoying depending on the mood I’m in. Additionally, the hubris of calling a poxy fry-kiosk ‘Perfect’ puts me in a good mood as I pass the establishment on my way home. There’s definitely a ‘meaty’ project somewhere in documenting/analysing indie chicken names, but I’m too lazy to kick it off just at the moment.