Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Years Eve Lunch

Perhaps the greatest lunch of the year (apart from New Years Day / Our Anniversary lunch - more of which tomorrow) is the annual Fitzpatrick Table-For-Three Special at The Wolseley on London's fashionable Piccadilly.

So, with smart shirts and make-up, on we swished into town and breezed into The W. It was buzzing and ringing with precisely the sort of atmosphere you want on a cold weekend lunchtime. Scrap made a beeline for the tiny baguettes and filled his face with clear delight. S and I tucked into a half dozen Mersea oysters.

By the time the schnitzel and the suckling pig - sorry vegans :( - arrived Scrap was full and was content to muck about with Duplo and have his cheeks pinched by attentive staff until this happened...

Chocolate war. No survivors. There was so much chocolate, so much ice cream and so much hot chocolate sauce it took three of us to make sense of it all. We sucked down our drinks and left.

On the way home we decided to take in the fun fair in Hyde Park. Rather predictably, El Scraparelli wanted to go on everything, but made do with a sort of dragon thing, a fire-engine-by-way-of-Disney affair and a very cool blue tow-truck that ploughed up and down a track. Simple pleasures - that's what we like!

Chocolate pots

We’re going to Matt and Karen’s tonight and our contribution is the pudding and some fizz. I’m making chocolate mousse because it is easy, tastes nice and I happen to have the four ingredients it requires in the house.

Break 200g dark chocolate into a bowl and add 80ml (about 5 tablespoons) rum (or Whiskey, Cherry Brandy or Cointreau)and 3 tablespoons of water. Set the bowl over a pan of water and heat gently until melted, leave to cool a bit. Separate the eggs and whisk the whites until stiff then whisk in 50g golden caster sugar. Beat the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate then fold in the egg whites. Spoon into 6 dishes or glasses then cover and chill for a couple of hours. Serve with a dollop of extra-thick cream and a biscuit on the side.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ham, pepper and spinach frittata

Microwave a 200g bag of baby spinach leaves until wilted. Cook two whole red peppers under a medium grill turning until blackened and blistered. Cover with a tea towel and leave to cool. Beat 6 eggs in a large bowl. Pierce the bottom of the peppers and squeeze the juices into the eggs then skin seed and cut the peppers into strips. Cut a chunk of ham, about 150g, into pieces and stir into the eggs with the pepper strips and wilted spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a splash of oil in a non-stick frying pan and pour in the mixture. Cook on the lowest heat until almost set through. Scatter a few cubes of Cheddar on top and slip the pan under a grill for a few minutes until completely set and nicely browned.

Ham and split pea soup

Now I have all this lovely stock from poaching the gammon yesterday and I can't throw it away. Predictably, I have decided on soup. Strain the stock into a pan, make it up to 2 litres with extra water then stir in 250g dried split yellow or green peas. Roughly chop the saved chunk of ham and a tomato and add to the pan. Bring to the boil, part-cover and simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until the peas have disintegrated. If you have any parsley left, add to the soup then whiz with a hand blender until fairly smooth. Very good for freezing.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Records That Make Me Feel Good: 10

Wes Montgomery: A Day In The Life (MFP, 1979)

Now, I happen to think that Wes Montgomery is a pretty astounding fellow. There seems to be a school of thought that he took the dollar and blew his talent banging out breezy cover versions for the cocktail and chittter-chatter market when he could have been grinding out three-piece jams for Riverside Records. Well, you know, what, who cares? I don't. The man had his bills to pay and he paid them however he saw fit and everyone else can, frankly, go piss up a rope. Purists and snobs are the death of good music and, if it's good music you're after, then Wes is your chap. Oh yes.

So, anyway, covering The Beatles. It's a tricky job, but I honestly believe that this version of A Day In The Life is better than the original. More soul, more swing. Just listen to the texture and depth of the arrangement. This is one of the funkiest pieces of easy-listening jazz you will ever hear. And all repackaged in a terrible, cheap sleeve for the sort of people who bought their dinner-party LPs in Boots the Chemist while celebrating the arrival of that terribly exciting Maggie Thatcher woman.

And, what's more, Wes was double-jointed and could bend his thumb all the way back to his wrist. Could John Lennon do that? No.

The end.

Baked Gammon with Parsley Sauce

Robert got a lovely piece of gammon from the butcher today. It weighs about 2kg so should take about 1 ½ hours to cook. Because you can never tell how salty it’s going to be, I think roasting it without pre-boiling is a bit risky. I've put mine in a pan with a sliced carrot, onion, celery stalk and couple of peppercorns and rosemary sprigs, covered with water, brought it to the boil, covered it and simmered gently for 45 minutes. Half way through, I tasted the water for salt. At this stage, if it is very salty, drain off most of the cooking liquid and top up with a kettle of boiling water. Mine was not too salty.

Lift out the gammon and pat dry. If you want to make pea and ham soup, cut a thick slice off the joint and keep the cooking liquid. Place the joint in a roasting tin and roast at 180C for 30 minutes. Mix together two tablespoons of maple syrup and 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Brush this over the the gammon, turn the heat right up and return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Parsley sauce
Make a white sauce using butter, flour and warm milk (add half an onion to the milk as it warms if you want). If you’re not making the soup, add a bit of the cooking stock to the milk. Add a big bunch of curly parsley and whizz until smooth with a hand blender. Add salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Stir fried cabbage
Heat a splash of sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan and cook a sliced onion and garlic clove for a couple of minutes. Add sliced Savoy cabbage and cook over the highest heat for 2 – 3 minutes. Add a splash of water, lower the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes or so until the cabbage is tender.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Records That Make Me And Silvana Feel Good: 1

Richard Rodney Bennett and Isla Cameron: The Bold Grenadier (MGM Records, 1967)

One day, a few weeks ago now, Silvana was at home not feeling so tremendous. As the afternoon got tired and turned dark she began watching Far From The Madding Crowd on a DVD that was put through our letterbox by mistake (long story).

Anyhow, the important part is this. She absolutely loved it and not just because her beloved Alan Bates is in it. No, it's also a great film that really gets to the heart of the Hardy novel blahblahblahblahblah. And, hello, a lot of the music is wonderful.

Especially this, where Isla Cameron sings The Bold Grenadier. The arrangement must have sounded rather weird and a little disjointed in 1967, but now, nearly 40 years later, you can make the direct links to Massive Attack, Portishead, all that lot. A great, great song. Not available from iTunes. But £13 on eBay got me this original vinyl copy. Oh yes.


2006 Top Tens

Portugal March 2006

1 Our new Topfield TF5800. We bought it from Super-Fi and they left it with the nice people who've just moved in over the road as we were in Derby. So we got this amazing set-top box / recorder, stopped putting money in Rupert Murdoch's pocket and got to meet our new neighbours too.
2 The soundtrack to Far From The Madding Crowd. More of this later.
3 Alela Diane and Mariee Sioux. Thanks Billy.
4 Cava. It costs, basically, nothing and it makes you feel astonishingly good. Surely this is man's greatest ever invention?
5 Music For Biscuits My favourite record of the year by some way.
6 Reading other people's blogs is always good.
7 Prosecco's pretty good too, actually.
8 The Feeling.
9 James Brown. I know he's dead. But this clip shows him to have once been the most alive man in the history of the planet.
10 My wife. My scrap. The pair of 'em... *blubs*

1 My subscription to Grazia
2 Fabio's 2nd birthday party
3 Our holiday in Egypt
4 Our blog!
5 Angela and Craig's wedding
6 Sharon and Martin's wedding
7 Camping (twice)
8 Favourite film this year - Volver - I love Penelope Cruz now

9 Favourite song this year - Rehab by Amy Winehouse
10 Favourite book I read this year - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Dulwich Woods

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Good books

I got given six new books for Christmas!

1 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
2 Bagdad Burning, the blog by Riverbend
3 The Accidental by Ali Smith
4 The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
5 A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka
6 Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas telly

How bad has Christmas telly been this year? ITV really excelled themselves - a two hour special of Doc Martin on Christmas night! And right now, on Boxing Day, the best they can offer is flipping Pretty Woman. Who hasn't seen it eight times before? It came out 16 years ago for goodness sake. I suppose I'd better watch it again then but I won't enjoy it.

Boxing Day

  • Darley Abbey
  • Monday, December 25, 2006

    Christmas Day

    Any more fizz?!?

    Records That Make Me Feel Good:
    Christmas special

    Shirley Bassey: Something (United Artists, 1970)

    I was out shopping in Derby the other day just looking for a few last minute bits and pieces. Naturally, I didn't find anything as all the shops are full of rubbish. Perhaps you've noticed. Anyway, I was about to give up and head for home when I passed Oxfam. I tried to resist the urge to run straight in, but, like a junkie jonesing for a fix, I was powerless.

    Of course, I soon remembered that almost everything in Oxfam is rubbish too. But then, having tired of Mel & Kim 12"'s and Your Hundred Favourite Tunes LPs, I found this little beauty. It cost me 49p.

    How can, um, something so perfect be so cheap?

    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Christmas Eve Dinner

    Mum's preparations for tonight's dinner have been going on for days. The menu is the same every year, white spaghetti then salt cod, slow-cooked in the oven with potatoes, then salt cod fried in batter with salad, then cheese and finally cannoli. The salt cod has been soaking for 48 hours and the pasta and two types of custard are ready for the cannoli. It's lot of effort but it produces the best meal of the year.

    Mum learnt this from her mother-in-law, my late grandma, and she's now the only one left in our family who makes them. She has to make loads extra for dad to take to aunts and uncles. She makes fresh pasta, cuts out circles then wraps them around lengths of cane that she had made in dad's village. She then deep fries them until crisp and golden. She gave me my own set of cannoli canes when I left home but I have never used them. Shame.

    Make the pastry using 1lb strong flour, 4 large eggs and a pinch of salt then knead for 10 minutes to make a smooth dough. Roll out very thinly then cut out 4 - 5in circles. Wrap around cylindrical moulds and fry in a couple of inches of vegetable oil, turning until puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

    For the custard, place 3 pints of milk in a very large pan. Using a knife pare the rind off a lemon and add to the milk and warm gently. In a bowl whisk, 12 tablespoons of sugar with 12 eggs yolks until smooth and light then whisk in 12 tablespoons of flour. Whisk in the warm milk then return to the pan. Bring it to to the boil, stirring continuously until thick. Remove from the heat then divide in half. Melt a large bar (200g) of dark chocolate and stir into one half of the custard, leave to cool. Add a small glassful of Strega to the other half and leave to cool.

    A few hours before serving, spoon the custards (avoid the peel) into the cannoli, so one side is white and one side chocolate. Leave in a cool place. Drizzle with clear honey or dust with icing sugar before serving.

    The Grumpy Shepherd

    "Me no like want Baby Jesus"

    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    Mum’s leek and potato soup

    Peel and chop four potatoes, one onion, one garlic clove and two celery stalks and place in a pan. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Add the white part, sliced, of three leeks and cook until tender. Whizz with a blender. Add a knob of butter, a small carton of single cream and some chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Aunty Anna’s potato pizza

    We arrived in Derby about midday to find it thick with fog and the trees still heavily coated in frost. There was a fire on in every room and within 15 minutes, we were scraping the bottom of our bowls of mum’s delicious leek and potato soup. At that point in came my sister Angela holding aloft a huge slab of Aunty Anna’s pizza that she’d watched her make and then waited for it to come out of the oven so she could bring it back still warm. This is how Angela said Aunty Anna made it. She rolled out a giant rectangle of pizza dough then scattered one half with grated Pecorino. On top of the cheese she spread potatoes mashed with onion and parsley then lay ham on top of the potato. She folded over the other half of the dough and tucked in the edges like a calzone. Then she lifted the whole thing into a hot oiled tray and drizzled the top with even more olive oil. It tasted like Italy.

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Gingerbread house

    This came in the post today from Jackie and Geoff. It's too sweet to eat!

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Osso Bucco

    We went to my Christmas party last night. It was thrown by my lovely agents, JHA, at The Lansdowne in Primrose Hill. It used to be an old favourite of mine a very long time ago when I worked in Camden and along with The Eagle in Farringdon, was one of London’s first Gastropubs. All these years later and it has remained pretty much unchanged. The party was lovely and so was the food though it was very slow. The gap between starter and main was nearly an hour but when my Osso Bucco arrived it was fabulous – soft and tender and classically paired with saffron risotto, though having said all that, we’d drunk so much during the wait, I might not have been the best judge.

    Elizabeth David's Ossi Buchi Milanese
    2lb of shin of veal sawn into pieces 2in thick, ¼ pint each of white wine and stock, 3/4lb tomatoes, parsley, a lemon, a clove of garlic, 2oz butter.
    Brown the slices of shin of veal in the butter. Once browned, arrange them in the pan so that they remain upright in order that the marrow in the bone may not fall out as the meat cooks. Pour the white wine over them, let it cook for 10 minutes then add the skinned and chopped tomatoes, let them reduce, add the stock. Season. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 hours.
    Prepare a handful of chopped parsley, a clove of garlic, chopped, and the grated peel of half a lemon. The Milanese call this mixture gremolata, and it is an essential part of the traditional ossi buchi Milanese. It is to be sprinkled on top of the ossi buchi before serving.
    To make the dish as it should be, a very tender veal from an animal not more than three months old should be used. A dish of risotto Milanese always accompanies ossi buchi.

    An eCard That's Actually Good

    A few minutes ago I was walking around Borders in Islington stroking book covers and looking idly at DVDs while trying to resist the temptation to drop in at the bakery for a cheese slice on the way back to the office (I failed). Anyway, someone in Borders had the good sense to be playing last year's excellent Richard Hawley album. "This is good," I thought, interestingly (because it is).

    Imagine my pleasure then on returning to said office to find an email entitled "A Richard Hawley Carol" that contained perhaps the only ecard ever that you don't feel cheapened and demeaned by looking at. Richard Hawley's Silent Night then? Oh yes...

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Seems like a good idea...

    Why didn't I think of trying that?

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    It's a flying dog

    This might be the best thing you'll ever see.

    Still stuck for present ideas?

    Here are a few suggestions you might want to have a think about...

    Or not, as the case may be.

    McFly Me To The Moon

    I'm brilliant at the internet, as you can see from this amazingly captured snap from the new McFly video Friday Night. For those people that care about these kind of things, it's the theme tune to the new Ben Stiller film Night At The Museum which me and The Wife saw a trailer for and I sort of remember her liking the look of (or maybe I imagined it). Oh yes.

    Records That Make Me Feel Good: 9

    Tommy James And The Shondells: Crimson And Clover (Roulette, 1968)

    This is one of those records that just sounds brilliant and sort of yellow and red and bell-bottom-y. The sort of record that should be pumping out of a huge wooden stereogram set on The Wonder Years. A massive hit 38 years ago this month (many people thought the repeat-to-freak chorus at the end was suggesting "Christmas is over..."), Ver Shonds are the only band EVAH to have had a track covered by The Velvet Underground, Simon & Garfunkel AND Kelly Clarkson (ie, this one). Notebooks out, pop-quiz compilers.

    And, of course, they did the orginal of I Think We're Alone Now too.

    What's not to like?

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    Festive cheer!

    It was our turn to host the annual Fitzpatrick family party this year. We all had a great time but as ever, I made way too much food and had to bin half of it and a child knocked mulled wine over my best white tablecloth, the one my mum brought me back from Italy. Still, the jelly rabbit was a big hit. I liked the mincepie tarts best. Not many of us really like mincepies - too much pastry, I think, which is why tarts work better. For mine, I used Robert's mum's trick of adding some cranberry sauce to the mincemeat so it's a little sharper then topped them with a sweet and pretty marzipan star.

    Star tarts
    225g plain flour
    150g cold butter, diced
    1 egg yolk
    1 teaspoon golden caster sugar
    2 tablespoons cold water
    Mincemeat mixed with cranberry sauce
    100g marzipan

    Preheat the oven to 180C / gas 4. Place the flour and butter in a food processor and pulse until it forms fine crumbs. Add the egg yolk, sugar and water and pulse again to form a firm dough.

    Roll out the dough and use to line three 12-hole tart tins. Chill for 30 minutes.

    Spoon the mincemeat mixture into the cases but don't overfill. Roll out the marzipan – use a bit of icing sugar if it starts to sticks. Cut out stars and place on top.

    Bake for 15 - 20 minutes – if the mincemeat starts to bubble up too much, turn the oven down a little bit.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Mouse family

    They climbed up the tree and ate all the chocolate baubles. Just a few bites out of each one. I really should have known they were going to do it. The tiny little sods.

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    The Greatest Story Ever Told

    What a book!
    What a cover!
    What the hell is a "pet milk kitchen"?
    More brilliant old cook books!

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Lobster lunch

    Using a pair of scissors, cut out the underside shell of a large raw lobster tail to expose the flesh. Thread a metal skewer through the tail so it doesn't curl up during cooking. Grill, shell side up, for 5 – 6 minutes. Meanwhile, mash together a little butter, some lime rind and juice, chopped garlic and herbs such as coriander or basil and a grind of black pepper. If you feel in the mood, add a splash of Tabasco, Tequila or Pernod (just one, not all three!). Turn over the tail, spread the butter mix onto the flesh and return to the grill for 5 - 6 minutes until cooked through.

    The Turks and Caicos Islands

    Looks nice doesn't it!


    We got married on 01/01/01. It turns out that New Years Day is a really bad day for celebrating as everywhere is shut. On our first anniversary we went to Milan and it was closed. We had lunch in a food court. Our second anniversary was the best, we went to Madrid. They have these places called Museums or Palaces of Ham and they only sell, loads of different cured hams, bread, coffee and coke. I overdosed on caffeine and didn't sleep much but it was worth it. Our anniversaries haven't been quite so exciting since Scrap was born. This year I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a week in The Turks and Caicos Islands. I'd even settle for lunch at The Wolseley. Skinny chips and Schnitzles and Sundaes!

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Cheese Feast: UPDATE!

    Hey! If you want to go to the Cheese Feast you go and fill your boots (and the fridge). Just as long as you're back by eight!

    Cheese Feast

    I know I talk about cheese quite a lot but this is one event not to be missed. Having said that, Robert has a night in the pub booked so I will have to stay in and miss it. Anyhow, tomorrow night all the cheesemongers at Borough Market are running a special celebratory night of lovely European Cheeses. There will be talks and you can taste and buy all the samples. Thursday 14th, 5 - 8pm. I'd like some Gorwydd Caerphilly please, if anyone's going.

    The Madness of King Barry

    Can anyone explain to me what the bejeezus is up with Barry Manilow? He was on the Royal Variety Performance last night thrashing through the most knuckle-bitingly terrible 60s medley ever witnessed while grimacing like someone was pushing hot horseshoe nails under his eyelids.

    "Here are sum myor HITS frum the MOEDOWN CATALARGH," he screamed like a man possessed by hatred as the lamest, most tinkly-tonkly version of some hackneyed old crap spooled out around him.

    I stood there by the fridge (eating gorgonzola and breadsticks) with a look of sheer horror on my face (I'm guessing here, I mean, I can't be sure, but it felt like horror).

    It was truly astonishing. There was a moment during What The World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love when I thought the brutally tightened skin stretched over his face was going to burst and a vicious, people-eating lizard was going to pop out and devour OUR GRACIOUS QUEEN. But then James Morrison came on so, naturally, I put the cheese away, grabbed some seeds and turned off.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Spreading The Nerd Love

    Nerdcore - where dundeons and dragons, rap, and elemental sexual politics meet. It's the new civil rights.

    It is!

    Adam & Joe's Quizzlestick

    I interviewed Adam & Joe yesterday. They were lovely chaps despite the fact our original interview location had shut down. And it was Monday. And it was raining.

    Anyway, they're good and this is funny.

    Now, where else could you get this kind of insight, eh?

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    How hilarious

    Robert never gets bored of making the same jokes. Some have been running for nearly 10 years. For example, there's a rough-looking pub near Surrey Quays, called the Caulkers we go past sometimes. Every time we pass, Robert says to me something along the lines of 'Fancy a quick one up the Caulkers, Sweetheart?' It's not very funny but I play along. Similarly, we drive past this sign near Canary Wharf probably once every couple of months. CASH FOR SCRAP it says. Every single time, Robert says ' How much do you think we'll get for him?'

    And every time:

    I laugh

    I should get paid.

    Oh Christmas Tree

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    This is quite scary

    It's a film about the Texan speciality, Chicken Fried Bacon. My arteries actually froze up in horror about 45 seconds in.

    Records That Make Me Feel Good: 8

    Johnnie & Joe: I'll Be Spinning (Chess, 1956)

    I'd never even heard of Johnnie & Joe until this Wednesday. Then I heard this which is taken from a new compilation of theirs on the marvellous Ace Records.

    I don't pretend to know much about Classic R&B Combos Of The 1950s, but what I do know is this: I'll Be Spinning sounds like the 8-9pm slot of best pre-Christmas night you ever spent drinking too much in an unnaturally dark, unbelievably friendly bar. It's competely joyous. So enjoy.

    The crispy belly pork was delicious, by the way.

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    Crispy Belly Pork

    I think Wing Tai in Pecks is a great shop. I love Oriental food of every description and this grocer imports and stocks Vietnamese, Chinese and a bit of Japanese. Best of all, just after midday, they stack the glass cabinet next to the till with whole Peking ducks and £5 trays of crispy belly pork. You have to get there at the right time or it's gone. Today, by accident, I got there at the right time. The last thing we need in this house is more fatty pork and I only went in for a bundle of bok choi, and I'm already making salmon for tea, but as you can see, I bought it anyway :(

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Basement Crates: Discoveries 12 & 13

    Serge Gainsbourg: Je T'aime Moi Non Plus Au Lac Vert (Philips, 1976)

    Serge Gainsbourg never meant much in this country, but, weirdly, loads of people name check him now. He always seemed to me to be the most perfect kind of popstar. Someone who was a brilliant enough musician to be able to pick out the most sublime melodies while looking as if he'd barely thought about it, and old enough to know it was all a load of old shit anyway and you might as well hammer the pastis and smoke yourself into an early grave.

    Serge Gainsbourg had that air about him of someone who knew he could do this stuff with his eyes closed, but it paid for nice house in Paris and all the naughty stuff he could handle, so why not just bang it out and be done with it?

    Anyway, this is taken from the soundtrack to the fairly terrible movie, Ballade De Johnny-Jane. It's not exactly the best record you'll ever hear, but it does have some sublime versions of Serge's signature tune (as least as far as everyone who's not French is concerned) Je T'aime Moi Non Plus. This one sounds like it should be playing in the lift of a mid-70s Travel Tavern somewhere outside Dusseldorf, which can only be a good thing.

    DJ Shadow Count And Estimate (Dub) (Sole Sides, 1993)

    Now, I've written about DJ Shadow before (that's his original studio pictured above, BTW), but I was going to post this Oneness Of Juju record and then, having dragged it up from a long forgotten box in the basement, I realised it wasn't actually any good. This, on the other hand, is great. Raw, chopped-up breaks and dubbed out vocal samples. 14 years ago this sounded like the future. 14 years later it sounds like the past, but at least it's an interesting past...

    I'd post the original version of Entropy, but it's 18 minutes long (gotta love the Shad...) and who's got that kind of bandwidth to spare? Anyway, this is fantastic and I might dig out my original, extremely well-played and a little crackly Mo Wax promo of In/Flux sometime soon and post that - still one of the truly astonishing records of the last twenty years.

    Tonight's post has been sponsored by a nice Chianti and some lamb chops...


    Christmas present: Orange Alert

    Wouldn't you just love a few rounds of this with the family on Christmas Day? I know I would...


    Nigella's Christmas Kitchen starts on BBC 2 tonight, 8pm. I'm not mad-keen myself. Her use of big and clever words (eg bacchanalian when talking about some bunches of grapes) and make-believe glamorous lifestyle gets my goat. Robert's review of her new series is in the Guardian Guide this Saturday. He may have thought it was brilliant.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    Videos That Make Me Feel Good: 1

    The Specials on Saturday Night Live in, I think, 1980. Exemplary dancing and wobbly knee work.

    Salt of the Sea

    My sister-in-law sometimes gets me these sea salt spice mixes from Australia called Tridosha and they’re one of my most favourite ingredients. I especially love the Native Spice which has lemon myrtle in it – it’s key to my roast chicken (see yesterday). My cannister is grubby and nearly empty so I emailed them last week to ask if they had any UK stockists – sadly, they don’t but said you can still order online from the UK. I shall try it and see what happens. Maybe I could start a little export buisness?

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Chicken in a Brick

    I don't know why but I am definitely the only person I know who uses a chicken brick. I love mine. It’s use is usually initiated by Robert who regularly snuggles up to me early on a weekend morning and whispers in my ear ‘chicken in a brick?'. As a feeder, how could I refuse? Anyway, after being kept awake all night by the rain and howling winds (my neighbour just came round with a huge sheet of plastic-glass off our lean-to roof which ended up in her front garden!), it was the first thing I reached for this morning.

    Our chicken brick was a wedding present years ago from Habitat and they still sell them. So do lots of places on the internet, so there must be some other fans out there. If you haven't got one and like a roast chicken, you need to get one - they cost less than twenty quid. They’re brilliant because as the chicken cooks, the terracotta draws out the moisture and the skin gets really crispy. All of the juices collect in the bottom so you have an almost ready-made gravy and the chicken stays very moist. As it is porous, never wash it with detergent, only rinse it in water and the more you use it, the better it gets. The only down sides are that although it pretty well fills the oven, it can only manage a smallish chicken and it does take a lot longer – about 3 hours.

    Today, I filled my bird’s cavity with lemon, shallot and garlic and sprinkled it liberally with Tridosha sea salt, popped it into the cold oven and then turned it on. An hour before then end of cooking time, I squeezed in a narrow tray alongside the brick with some par-boiled potatoes and a couple of spoons of hot oil from the chicken. After 30 minutes, I turned them over and tucked in some fat pork sausages and rosemary sprigs. Cheddar mash, peas and buttered spinach completed our lovely lunch. And the sun has come out now too.