Friday, March 30, 2007

To Moro! To Moro! I Love You, To (etcetc)

Maximo Park: Books From Boxes (Warp, 2007)

So we finished issue 51 and piled down to Moro (via Filthy's) to raise a glass and fill a fork in honour of our now ex-art director Keith who's gone and got himself a new job with Swanky & Swanky, designers to the stars.

I had a couple of Al Hambras, quite a lot of rather good vino collapso, padron peppers (one likes to go off-menu now and then, innit?) and the white pork which was so very, very good, it was like eating at home, only not having to wash up while listening to something improving on Radio 4 and eating bits of cheese straight from the fridge.

Later, we went to a bar cheeky enough to charge us a fiver to get in before turning the lights on and turfing us out 45 minutes later... Still, that's what you get for being drunkards.

Keith is now filling boxes with his accumulated blags, which makes this Maximo Park tune - one of his current favourites - spell-bindingly appropriate. Sort of.

Bye Keith! Don't be a stranger!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spontaneous! (kinda)

I know, we all know, that all things spur-of-the-moment or even those carefree, 'why not, one more won't matter' evenings go out the window once a baby shows up and starts waking you up every single day at 5.45am. But it has been 3 years since me and Robert agreed to do something without talking about it at great length. But today we agreed that next week, we are going to New York for 2 nights. Just us. Robert has a one hour interview with some old-git band which includes his flight and a swish hotel. So I just need to get a cheap flight, do all next week's work (2 recipe features both writing and testing!) over this weekend, get my hair done, lose a stone and record the Easter Saturday episode of Saturday Cooks (honestly, it is usually live) on Monday and then on Tuesday hello grandparents, goodbye Scrap. Really, really not sure I want to go after all. I don't think we've talked about it enough.

Anyway, here's a recipe for an idiots' pudding that came out surprisingly well. Whizz up some berries (lots in season now) with a bit of icing sugar until smooth. Cut the cardboard off a 750g carton of vanilla ice cream and chop it up roughly with a large knife. Turn into a bowl and mix with some more berries a packet of smashed up biscuits, like gingersnaps and half the sauce. Tip into a a cling-film lined loaf tin and freeze overnight. Serve with rest of sauce drizzled over.

Postman Tat

I got two Things That Weren't CDs in the post yesterday - this can sometimes be the cue for a small surge of excitement.

The first was an invitation to see Mutya who-used-to-be-a-Sugababe preview new material in glorious person at Legendary London Jazz "Haunt" Ronnie Scott's surrounded, presumably, by plates of fried shrimp, icy Chablis 'n' bubbles, some chickeny bits, stuffed chili peppers and tiny portions of roast beef and horseradish (served on a stick, natch).

The other one was a sickbag "designed" to "promote" the new Marillion album. Good and bad then.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pop Music: Endlessly Malleable

Ria Bartok: J'y Pense Tout Bas (ESRF, 1965)

42 years - and about 6000 miles - separate these two records. But one much more important thing unites them and that is their unhurried pleasure, the way they immediately create their own world and demand that you either live in it now or you push off somewhere else, sharpish. Of course, you stay put. Well, we're not stupid, are we?

Anyway, I knew nothing about Ria Bartok until about three days ago. This is developing into a bit of a theme, isn't it? Merry in my innocence I was. Then I recieved this. It is stuffed with great pop moments, but there's just something about Ria B and this song that makes me think that 42 years ago wasn't that long ago at all.

Then I watch this and it seems like a very long time ago indeed.

Dinosaur Jr: We're Not Alone (PIAS, 2007)

So, Dinosaur Jr. Rather like The Waterboys they seem to have hit a particularly brilliant patch 20 odd years into their, if you will, career. The thing that I love about We're Not Alone is that it's clearly Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl rewritten for people who've spent the last couple of decades eating toast in bed with their socks on, too lazy to even open the curtains. This sort of behaviour seems very attractive to me now that I'm in a place in my life where I'll probably never eat toast in bed with my socks on again - curtains closed or open.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Gluten-Free Carrot Cakes

I gave in and went shopping today on only day 6 of The Experiment but just bought fruit, veg, milk, yogurt, bread and eggs. No trimmings, treats or things in jars. With that and the freezer I should get through another week without binning anything.

I have been experimenting with gluten-free ideas for Scrap’s birthday party in a couple of weeks so his friend Sami can eat everything. So far so good with the flourless chocolate cake but not convinced about these carrot cakes. Me and Scrap made them together this afternoon and they taste nice but are a bit airy – I wouldn’t bother with the whisking next time, I’d just mix it all together and bake it. Probably yield a few less though, without all the air.

Makes 20
100g ground almonds
2 large carrots, finely grated
75g small sultanas
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp cornflour
½ tsp baking powder
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, separated
140g golden caster sugar
100g soft cheese
50g icing sugar
marizpan, coloured to make carrots with or some Smarties

Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.

Place the almonds, carrots, sultanas, vanilla, cornflour, baking powder, the lemon rind and half the juice and the egg yolks in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then add the sugar, a quarter at a time until stiff and glossy.

Fold the meringue into the carrot mixture then spoon into fairy-cake cases and bake for 12 – 15 minutes until just firm to the touch – they will deflate a little on cooling.

Mix together the soft cheese, icing sugar and a squeeze of juice for the reserved lemon half. Spread a little on the top of each cooled cake and top with a marzipan carrot or a Smartie.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Salt-crust Sea Bass x 2

One thing’s for sure – The Experiment is already on its last legs. And it’s only day 5. I’ve still just got enough to make a decent lunch but we really need bananas and yogurts so I think it’s time to start ‘capsule’ shopping for fresh things only. The £460 a year every adult in the UK spends on wasted food is being blamed partly on buy-one-get-one-free offers in the supermarket that never get eaten and things passing their sell-by-dates unnoticed until it’s too late. I may switch my tactic to frequent shopping and only in local shops, I’m including Somerfield Market Fresh here or should that not be allowed? And I'm going to really grow my own this year - perhaps I could convert our tiny patch of grass into a curly parsley lawn...

Anyway, I found a measly couple of rosemary sprigs, half a box of eggs and a punnet of still-yellow new potatoes in the little fridge so have decided to try and make a classic, 70’s style, salt-crust for our sea bass. We can have it with butter, new potatoes and some peas from the 12, all-opened bags still in the freezer. Ice cream and chocolate sauce for pudding!

Method One
This method of making a salt-crust struck me as actually being quite wasteful as the flour, eggs and salt all end up in the bin. Quite enjoyable to make though, steams the fish brilliantly within the crust (though tastes more salty than you might expect) and has a great retro look about it.

1 large sea bass, trimmed and cleaned
slices of lemon, parsley or whatever you have
250g plain flour
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried oregano
150g table salt
3 eggs, separated
4 tbsp cold water

Season the cavity and pop in a few aromatics like sliced lemon or lime, soft herbs, or a few slivers of garlic or chilli.

Place the flour, rosemary, salt and egg whites in a bowl and beat together. Add the water and bring together to make a firm dough. Cover and leave to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/ Gas 6. Halve the salt crust and roll out into two rectangles big enough to enclose the fish. Place the fish on a rectangle then brush round it with a little water. Place the second piece of pastry on top, and press round to seal, try not to get any air trapped and press the pastry so it takes on the shape of the fish. Trim round but it will shrink so leave a good centimetre or two of border.

Mix together an egg yolk or two with a little water and brush over the crust. Scatter with a bit of coarse sea salt and bake for 20 minutes. Break open the crust to serve the fish within.

Method Two
I did find rolling out the dough a bit tough as it's quite firm and not at all elastic and I thought about trying the other salt-crust method. I found 5 new boxes of Maldon Sea Salt in the pantry but only had one egg left. So, I separated the egg and stirred in as much salt as it could take which was 200g - I think the ideal balance would be two egg whites and 300g salt just to make the mixture a bit more moist and easier to mold around the fish. Anyway, I added a few fennel seeds and packed it round the second fish and baked it same temperature, same time - 20 minutes. It set rock hard and I had to crack off the crust. I think it tasted nicer, less salty and slightly moister than the first fish. Could have just been a better fish of course, but anyway, a lot easier and a tiny little bit less wasteful...

Warm New Potatoes

Gently simmer some whole new potatoes for half an hour or so in a pan of water till they're almost over-done, just starting to split but not completely fall apart. Mix together a large tablespoon of mayonnaise, a tablespoon of avocado or olive oil, a tablespoon of wine or cider vinegar, two tablespoons of water and a handful of chopped parsley (from patch in garden) and three chopped gherkins (end of the jar). Toss with potatoes and eat warm with fish and garden peas.

Almost-Instant Chocolate Sauce

Three tablespoons of double cream (whole, unopened carton left over from Mothers Day last Sunday and only one day out of date) and 50g or so broken good milk chocolate (cupboard still full of every type), splash of water. Microwave on medium, mix, pour over icecream and serve with last few biscuits. Everyone happy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Annoying People Talking About Annoying Records

Like me, most people who read this blog have super-amazing lives that never, but never, include staying in on Saturday nights and trying to make it to the end of Casualty without falling asleep in their chair with their mouth hanging open. Imagine that!

However, if for some reason tonight you're not snorting vodka off the dashboard of a hooky Jag somewhere in Whitechapel before "having it right off" in 333 (*wonders if people still snort vodka - hopes 333 is still going*) and rolling home at midday, then you might want to watch this telly programme that I'm on where annoying people (and some not annoying people) bang on about the most annoying records ever in one of that deliciously moreish List TV format.

Oh yes, it will be hilarious. The production company wanted my boss David Hepworth, but he couldn't do it. So I said I'd do it, but, in the toing and froing of the emails, I saw how much they'd offered him and how much they offered me. And mine was 20% less. So I said I'd only do it for the same money, at which point they reminded me that DH is, and I quote, "a legend". Happily, the next day, they offered me the same. Which makes me a legend too. Except, sadly, it doesn't.

Anyway, tune in and hopefully they'll have left in the bit where I am horribly rude about REM and admit to a secret love of that Nickleback record that used to be on the radio a lot.

The Experiment Day 4

Not been to the shops yet! Or eaten out, but last night I finished work a bit late and stopped at Ken's on Half Moon Lane for fish and chips for our supper which is against the rules, but honestly, I just forgot! It was half past eight and after a day spent twiddling food the last thing I wanted to do was start cooking again. But blimey, Ken's is fantastic isn't it! We hardly ever eat fish and chips and I had a can of coke! But I didn't have quite enough in my purse for mushy peas because I haven't had the convenience of supermarket cash back.

So far, we have no bread or eggs or fruit left but the fridge is still pretty full and look the green play dough from January is still there. I've been styling some deli products for M&S this week so I have been bringing home falafel, hummus, little salads and vine parcels which is defeating the purpose a bit. I have frozen mince, pasta and canned tomatoes to keep the spag bol coming until Christmas but no herbs! And the flipping mouse came back and took a little bite out of each of the last 4 packets of Quavers so that's the end of the crisps! We're eating porridge for breakfast everyday but that giant jar of oats is still full. Tea tonight: baked potatoes, beans and the last corner of hard cheese!

From the bottom of the freezer, two frozen whole seabass, so we will eat a proper Sunday lunch after all!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This New Thing Is Good, But, Hang On, So Is This Old Thing!

Dawn Landes: Tired Of This Life (Fargo, 2007)
Recently on the Word website there was some discussion of, um, folk hotties. The usual suspects were noted - Newsom, Pierces, Sioux, Power - but one name that came up on the message boards a few times was Dawn Landes. Well, that seems entirely fair in my eyes. Anyway, this is a really, really great song from her actually rather uh-mazing new album. It's a bit folk, a bit country, a bit lovely. Hurray!

Depeche Mode: Just Can't Get Enough (Mute, 1981)
But, you see, this is lovely too. I was 12 in 1981 and I remember thinking that not only were Depeche Mode really rubbish, but this record was just silly. Well, unusually for a 12 year old boy, I was wrong. I have just listened to it again (via this great box set) and it's bloody great. Full of life and enthusiasm and wonder and, oh yes, some excruciating synth wibbles. It couldn't be more different to Ms Landes but it is just as great in so many other ways. That's pop music, right? Double hurray!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Experiment

There's too much food in Landcroft House at all times. Our bank manager recently commented on how often we eat out. We talk about going on a different diet or detox plan every week. This is the latest plan: we buy no food apart from milk until we can take it no more. We have between the kitchen, basement and out-house, 2 freezers, three fridges and a large pantry. The order in which we will run out of key things will be cheese, eggs then crisps. How long will we last?

Basement Crates: Classics Edition 2

The Wiseguys: Real Vibes (Black Market, 1994)

I have been looking for this for so long. Of course, my mistake was I wasn't looking for something in an ancient Harthouse promo sleeve in the pile of records tucked under the gas meter at the back of the basement. Finding this was a wonderful moment. I honestly don't think I've even seen this for at least ten years. When I first heard it, in the early summer of 1994, it sounded incredible. Like a mix of a hundred records I barely knew but already loved thrown together with an admirable sense of reckless abandon.

The fact of the matter is, you just couldn't release something this stuffed with samples anymore. You'd get shut down. And I love the fact they've not tried to replay or hide anything - just pulled a load of old soul and funk records they loved and walloped them together as if they were DJing the backroom of some suburban pub on a Saturday night. It's like DJ Shadow with a Stella Artois hangover, a Benson stuffed between his badly looked-after teeth.

I post this particulary for Danny at Office Naps who is a huge Johnny Harris fan. Huge enough to appreciate the great slice of JH whacked on the end of this, anyway...

And, yes, I am available for Wedding Photo jobs too.


Pass The Dustbin On The Left Hand Side

I have just opened my post. Most of it was the usual CDs (looking good for Dolorean, The Sounds, LeCube and, um, The Wurzels), but one was a nice chunky one from a publishing house. So I ripped it open and found this.

I can't really describe how disappointed I was. A book about Billy Joel? Really? Why would anyone in the world want to read a book about the person who managed to write and record Uptown Girl, a song so awful that even Westlife managed to improve upon it?

This is heading straight for the FOR SALE pile. Unless there's some secret Friends Of Billy out there?

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Slippery Slope

Scrap told his first actual lie this evening. We began tea time with a bit of a row as he tried to carry his plate of tea (chicken and pea rice) into the lounge so he could eat while watching Shaun the Sheep. Firstly, he shouldn't be eating his tea in front of telly and also how much mess was he going to make? In the end, he sat at the table and I left him to it rather than watch him or try and force forkfuls in. He came to me quite a while later and said that he had eaten it all up. In fact he said 'All gone. Yummy in my tummy. Now I have pudding?' And I told him how well he'd done and gave him a slice of chocolate tart. Only as I was clearing up did I see all of his rice in the bin. He tricked me very deliberately. 'Yummy in my tummy.....'

Courgettes roasted with bacon

Courgettes are pretty bland but they are lovely when roasted with full-flavours like lemon and rosemary. I made these yesterday to go with our roast lamb and they were good. Heat a little olive oil in a shallow, non-stick baking sheet. Cut some courgettes into chunks then snip over 4 - 5 rashers good British streaky bacon. Roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so until starting to soften and catch a bit of brown. In the meantime, pop a garlic clove, the rind of a lemon, some fresh mint and rosemary and some coarse salt in a mini chopper and blitz until fine. Toss with the courgettes and give a good grind of black pepper and return to the oven for 10 - 15 minutes. I'm thinking now that a little handful of Parmesan might have been nice blitzed into the herb mix. Next time.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hollandaise Sauce

I was working last week on an ad campaign using spring vegetables and came home on Friday with a car full of asparagus and courgettes. The asparagus were fantastic as they came from London’s best grocer, Panzers, in St John’s Wood. They were too nice to stick on the side of the leg of lamb I was making, yes, I was making, for Mother’s Day lunch for Robert’s parents so I decided to go classical and make asparagus with Hollandaise as a starter. I used Delia Smith’s liquidiser method as it won’t split as home-made Hollandaise often does, but you need a rubber spatular if you don’t want to lose three quarters of it to the blender. Mine was a bit thick so I let it down with a splash of hot water from the kettle.

2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
100g butter
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Begin by placing the egg yolks in a small bowl and season them with a pinch of salt and pepper. Then place them in a food processor or blender and blend them thoroughly for about 1 minute. After that, heat the lemon juice and white wine vinegar in a small saucepan until the mixture starts to bubble and simmer. Switch the processor or blender on again and pour the hot liquid on to the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream. After that, switch the processor or blender off.

Now, using the same saucepan, melt the butter over a gentle heat, being very careful not to let it brown. When the butter is foaming, switch the processor or blender on once more and pour in the butter in a thin, slow, steady trickle; the slower you add it the better. (If it helps you to use a jug and not pour from the saucepan, warm a jug with boiling water, discard the boiling water and then pour the butter mixture into that first.) When all the butter has been incorporated, wipe around the sides of the processor bowl or blender with a spatula to incorporate all the sauce, then give the sauce one more quick burst and you should end up with a lovely, smooth, thick, buttery sauce.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I made this chocolate cake for JJ’s baby shower yesterday. She’s gone wheat-free and lovely David Herbert has this recipe in his Perfect cookbook. I was hung-over (thanks Heidi) and found it hard to concentrate but it came out very well, all things considered – these sorts of cake are meant to sink a little in the middle, ok. I decided to make a quick frosting to pour over the cake to give it some shine but flipping Scrap stuck a finger and thumb into as it was sitting out to set which didn’t help.

Anyway, we had a really great afternoon (thanks Lol) and I may make this cake again in double for Scrap’s birthday cake as his best-friend is gluten-free but then there’s always the problem of children and nuts. Anyone know a flourless, nutless chocolate cake that tastes wonderful?

250g dark chocolate, broken
165g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter
2 tbsp strong black coffee
125g ground almonds
5 eggs, separated
For the frosting
150ml double cream
knob of butter
100g dark chocolate, broken

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. Grease a 23cm non-stick spring form cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Gently melt the chocolate, sugar and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Transfer to a large bowl, and beat in the ground almonds and egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form medium-firm peaks. Stir a third of the whites into the chocolate mixture to slacken it then gently fold through the remaining whites.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 45 minutes until the cake feels firm to the touch but is still a little soft in the centre.

Allow to cool in the tin, it will sink a little. David dusts his with icing sugar but it you want frosting, bring the cream and butter to the boil in a small pan. Add the chocolate and leave to melt. Stir to mix well then pour over the cake and leave to set.

London's Finest: Rebato's

There are few - if any - things better in the world than having a night off from "childcare" (trans: watching TV while crunching pumpkin seeds) and actually go out of the house to eat something that only adults like.

Last night, we did this in Rebato's the finest place in London to actually go out and eat something only adults like. But why is it so good? Well, here are the facts:

1. It's on South Lambeth Road, possibly the greatest stretch of culinary wotsit in south London.
2. It is the one Spanish island in a brilliant sea of Portuguese fooderies. Like our old, old favourite, Bar Estrela.
3. The front bar is dark and tiled and lined with bull-fighting posters, old photographs and framed newspapers. There is not a hi-chair or a children's menu in sight.
4. The bar itself is long and highly polished wood. As soon as you sit at it a nice man pours you a cold dry sherry and offers you interesting things to eat.
5. Within minutes you are surrounded by said interesting things and a glass of fresh red wine appears at your elbow.
6. Everybody looks happy and unhurried and planning on drinking a little more than they normally would but not worrying about it too much.
7. The food - we had the croquettes, the stuffed chillies, the hot chorizo, the squid, the octopus and incredibly salty (and delicious) bread - arrives with amazing speed and is cleared away with a smile as soon as you merely catch someone's eye.
8. You cannot have a bad time in Rebato's. It is impossible.
9. But you might forget to take a picture. Which is why this plate of Pate de Negra comes from a bar Silvana and I ate in in Madrid about four years ago. Oh yes.

Anyway, we still got home in time to go to bed before 10. Well, there's no need to go mad, is there.

Friday, March 16, 2007

New Music Friday: Summer Special

Groove Armada: Paris (Columbia, 2007)

EDIT: Link removed.

This track is just so good and you need it so much that I couldn't stop myself posting it...

Anyway, that's Candi Staton on "vocals". And that piano's a bit nice, isn't it? This is precisely the sort of record that makes the idea of the summer being just around the corner even more exciting than it already is.


Sunday Bunch

Billy has just invited me to DJ at this. Well, he knows as well as I do that me "DJing" involves playing ancient breakbeat and folk records that bear no relation to each other at all while swaying slightly and smoking too much.

And that's it. No dancing - or any real flicker of interest from anyone other than me - is involved.

The fact that the very lovely Memory Band and - oh! - Alela Diane are appearing had no impact on my decision making whatsoever.


Myriam's visiting from Switzerland (for a Dolly Parton concert at the weekend) so we met up at Borough Market last night. I was early but at just 6 o'clock Brindisa was already completely packed. I put my name down for the next table of four (an hour and a half!) and went off to The George with my newspaper to wait for the others. I really like having a drink on my own while waiting, just one – that half hour of absolute peace.
Anyway, Brindisa was very nice but I don’t think worth the eventual two hours we waited or the £110 bill. Very nice but not spectacular, the £9 ham plate was miniscule and the spinach tortilla was straight from the fridge. But we had a lovely night and the Padron peppers, cava and sherry and the waiters were all great. Definitely want to go to Spain for our holiday soon and in the meantime need more trips to South Lambeth Road for Estrella and Rebato's

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An Agreeable Day Out With The Bees

The Bees: Love In The Harbour (Virgin, 2007)

I went to the Isle Of Wight yesterday with The Bees. They were excellent fellows, Bee-man Paul even picked us up in Portsmouth - in his Lexus, no less - and drove us all the way to Ventnor. Which, I'm pleased to say, is about the nicest place on earth.

The picture above was taken while we had lunch - scampi, naturally - on the terrace of the very marvelous Spyglass Inn. We wore t-shirts and had to hide a bit from the sun. Yes in March. Amazing.

Later we went to their house which is up the hill from the bay. That's it above. It is pretty much every man's dream house. BBQ and football in the garden. Records, DVDs and exotic tobacco in the front room. Enormously well equipped recording studio in the basement. That's Warren Bee coming out of the door, but you can ignore the bloke on the phone to the right - that's not a Bee, that's their press officer, Coyne-O. He texted me later to tell me how he and the photographer had missed the last ferry. I assume this is because the band took them to this fantastic little pub called The Lobster (& Something) which is directly across the road from their gaff.

I, more sensibly, went home in time to catch not only the catamanran back to Portsmouth, but also the below. Bye bye Bees. Thank you for having me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Non Grazia

Is it just me or has Grazia Magazine gone really quite rubbish? Me and Heidi used to talk about its contents every week, but no longer.

First off, 3 weeks out of 4, Posh (yawn) is on the cover. The sensational titles are always a let-down - this week "Kate:friends fear she's killing herself - ok, that means she's still going out with Doherty then. "Stars in Crisis!" - Billie Piper cries (and...) Courtney Cox rows with her husband (please!...) The "10 Hot Stories Eveyone is Talking About" section always used to be my favouite but this week the hot stories include "Can Castaway save reality TV?" and "Blimey! Now it's IT Tights" I didn't read it so I don't know what IT tights are, sorry.

Shame on you Grazia. I'm going to start reading Closer. And Nuts. And Word.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pasta with meatballs

Scrap had a whirlwind social today. We’ve just said goodbye to his best friend Sami and his little brother Milo who along with Scrap ate three mouthfuls of supper then jumped like crazy on the tiny trampoline until bath time (now!).

Earlier today, Scrap had his old NCT mates John and Henry round for play and lunch. All kids like pasta and most like meatballs so I thought this was a safe bet and good for making ahead of time. I think meatballs need a smooth sauce, so if you’re using cans of tomatoes, whiz them with a hand blender first.

Plenty for 3 mums and 4 small children
2 x 400g can plum tomatoes, whizzed or 800g jar passata
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
bunch fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
6 fresh sage leaves
1 thick slice of white bread, crusts on
500 g lean organic minced beef
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 sweet potatoes, diced or 1 very small butternut squash, diced
500g pasta shapes (I like to mix them up a bit)
250g mozzarella, diced

Pour the tomatoes into a pan with 300ml water and heat gently.

Place the garlic, parsley and sage in a food processor and tear in the white bread. Whizz until the bread breaks into crumbs then add the beef and whiz again until the mince is quite smooth. Add the egg, seeds and a pinch of salt and mix well.

Roll the mixture into cherry sized balls, dropping them into the tomato sauce as they’re ready. Partially cover and bubble gently for an hour or so. Add the sweet potato or squash and cook for a further 30 minutes until the veg is tender.

Cook the pasta, return to the pan and mix in the sauce and mozzarella. Serve as is or tip into a heatproof dish, drizzle with a little olive oil and pop into preheated oven until a bit crusty on top. Offer chilli flakes and grated Parmesan to grown-ups.

Celebrity Look-A-Likes

Some nice pictures of Joni Mitchell have just surfaced on a Canadian new website. One of them looks kind of familiar.

Unfortunate Album Titles

Dolores O'Riordan from The Cranberries - literally, one of the least good bands in the entire history of fairly dreadful bands - is preparing to release her first solo album.

It's called Are You Listening?.

I have a one word review in mind. If you'd like to have a go, write your own in the comments section below. There's a prize - no, really! - for the best one.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rye Hotel? I say no, no, no

When we got woken up at 6am this morning, the sun was already shining so brightly that we all had a quick bowl of cornflakes, pulled on our wellies and headed out to Dulwich Woods. It was fantastically muddy and we came back filthy and rosy-cheeked. We stripped off in front of the washing machine and Scrap went straight back to bed for an hour and a half while we read the papers and listened to the radio. Did you hear Andy Kershaw on Desert Island Discs? I really loved him. And all of his record choices. It's repeated on Friday at 9am, if you missed him.

Then we went to the Rye Hotel to meet our friends Liz and Steve and their two girls Lily and Ollie. Really, we wanted to go to the Herne Tavern which I've heard very good things about but when Liz called to book on Monday, it was already fully-booked for today! It must be good. Which to be honest, is more than can be said for the Rye Hotel. It was very far from good in fact it was very poor. To start with the whole garden was fenced off because the grass was being treated. Yes, on a Sunday afternoon. So we sat under the gloomy marquee beside a gas heater even though it was a brilliantly sunny day outside. The house wine was rough. The food was shocking. Where do I start? We all had the Sunday lunch roast chicken. You know, I think I'm quite easy to please but they obviously roasted off a ton of chicken leg portions at 10 in the morning, so by the time we got them, they were dry and flabby-skinned. The potatoes had definitely not been roasted from fresh, in fact I'd put money on them coming from a bag in the freezer, they were hard on the inside and soggy and greasy on the outside. The veg was limp and very greasy and the whole thing was cold. It was bad and it cost us £45 per couple. Waste of money, waste of calories, waste of all our time. We were so fed up we decided to get out as quickly as we could and went in search of cake.

The only place I know that actually serves proper home-made cake is Petitout on Choumert Road. We all sat outside in the sunshine, chose from three different types of fresh, light and buttery cake and had great milky, frothy coffees. On the way to the little park down the road for a game of footie, the kids each got a new book from the Review book shop on the corner, Scrap chose Igor, The Bird Who Couldn't Sing by Satoshi Kitamura and Liz and I went nuts and bought a dress each in Fenton Walsh. We all went home skint but happy. Rye Hotel? No, no, no!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mirch Marsala

We've just been out and had the best lunch ever. We were in Tooting this morning visiting a friend at St George's and thought we might go for an Indian lunch. We were recommended Mirch Masala and the food was exceptional. The place is not smart and the staff are not particularly friendly or all that helpful but the food is very fresh and very well cooked. With tonight's chilli (so going to end up in the freezer) in mind, I wanted to eat vegetarian but in the end we shared poppadoms, a couple of grilled meat starters followed by a lamb curry (Karahi Methi Gosht) which was tender and beautifully spiced, chana daal, rice and naan. Scrap scoffed a pistachio kulfi and with soft drinks, the bill came to just £20.70. You really should go.

Before we left we were offered a bowl of pan, the mixture of seeds and tiny aniseed sweets that aid digestion. Scrap went crazy for it and held a tight handful all the way up the street so we ended up buying a bag ourselves from one of the grocery stores. Our particular mix contained sesame seeds, sugared fennel seeds, roasted fennel seeds, split coriander seeds and flavourings (oops) six E-number colours (yikes) and mouth freshner(!!!!)

Red-hot black bean chilli

Half way through the cooking time

Serves 4
200g dried black beans or cannellini beans
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 – 6 hot chillies, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp smoked paprika
600g braising or stewing steak, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
300ml chicken stock
1 square of dark chocolate (I used a chunk of Green & Blacks Maya Gold which is a bit orangey and it was brill)
soured cream or large handful grated mature Cheddar

1 Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain, put into a pan with cold water, (don’t add salt or it will make the beans tough) bring to the boil and cook hard for 15 minutes then drain.

2 Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onion, celery and garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Add the chillies, cumin seeds and paprika and cook for a minute more.

3 Stir in the beans, steak, tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for 3 hours. Stir in the chocolate, season then spoon into bowls and top with a dollop of soured cream or some grated cheese.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Peckham Market

Robert and I have been out on alternate nights every night this week so we've hardly seen each other but we always, always stay in on a Saturday night. I'm looking forward to it.

My eye was drawn to the colourful chillies on a market stall on Rye Lane this morning while on my way to queue in the post office for a few hours. I bought a large handful of each and a bag of dried black beans and plan to make us a real blow-your-head-off chilli for our tea tomorrow. A bowlful each in front of the tv. I've just put 200g of the beans to soak in a large bowl of water and will come back and write the recipe tomorrow.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hello Old Thing, Hello New Thing

The Trees: Streets Of Derry (CBS, 1970)
The eagle eyed among you will have spotted that The Trees are another bunch of hairies in need of a good wash and a proper job. However, they did make some nice tunes, one of the nicest of which is Derry. Yes, it's vintage psych-tinged UK folk rock. Well, I need to get all this stuff out of the way before I start on the nu-country (clue: there is no nu country coming). Basically, if you don't like this, you won't like The Trees. This is taken from a forthcoming SonyBMG 2CD reissue set that doesn't appear to exist on the intranot yet. Sorry!

Plan B: Couldn't Get Along (featuring Thom Yorke) (Pet Cemetery, 2007)

Plan B is bloody great. In fact, he is so great that he's nicked this entire track from Thom Yorke - the world's most tedious man - and actually made it exciting. This is taken from Paint It Blacker, a collection of all the versions of tracks he couldn't clear for his very marvellous album. As this is a self-produced bootleg anyway my conscience is entirely clear about posting it. Ask me nicely and I might whack up Mama Loves A Crackhead too. Never have Hall & Oates sounded so good...


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

London: Literally, Quite Nice To Look At 2

You see, that's quite nice to look at, isn't it? Not as nice to look as the large glass of cold booze I'm going to have when I get home, but still quite nice.

It's probably best we don't about talk that *points down*