29 January 2009

Blue Skye Thinking

Today was a good day. Amazing what a decent night's sleep can do, isn't it? The thumb is much improved - I appear to be growing an entirely new finger tip under the semi-lopped one - I got some work done, I racked up 6.5m on Geometry Wars (don't worry, it's a boy thing) and the sun was shining as we took a stroll along the Richmond river bank to go to lunch at Petersham Nurseries.

I last went here in the depths of winter with a travel writing friend from Australia who, in the process of taking a photo of my steak, managed to startle fellow diners Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan into thinking they'd been spotted: "quick, scarper, it's the paps..." They hurtled out at a rate of knots, we looked at each other sheepishly and tucked into a fine, if pricey lunch.

Today was the first time back and after an attempt at star spotting - we think she used to be on TV, er, that's about it - we nestled in for a run through the very fine set lunch. Three courses for £27.50 is hard to grumble with (even with the
earth floor - no, really) when Skye Gyngell's cooking is on point. The seasonal drink - Prosecco with Winter Rhubarb was perhaps a little lumpy at nine quid but was both delicious and provided a lovely foreground for some arty farty shots...

Plus points? The bread - drizzled
with oil and balsamic, toasted. A starter of bruschetta with lomo: more of the deep, almost nutty bread, the hit of the garlic, that charred smokiness, the sweetness of the tomato and the decadent fat of the lomo. Jesus. I could have eaten that all day. The pudding of pannacotta with blood orange caramel. OK, so the blood orange may stretch their "locally sourced" definition some but stuff it.

Best of all, while there are
some "cheffy" dishes on the menu - ravioli of cavolo nero, haddock carpaccio - it's mostly the sort of hearty fare - oxtail, spinach & nutmeg soup, rabbit - that you come away inspired to have a stab at.

It was, by any standard, a fine lunch, filling without straining the belt. Which is just as well as I've come home to a message that tomorrow's chocolate judging is now looking like seven hours of eating. Nurse! Have a wheelchair on standby...

28 January 2009

The Long And The Thick Of It

Sorry. No post yesterday but for very good foodie reasons. A breakfast meeting - sort of - about a new foodie project that will no doubt feature in more detail, in due course. No specifics just yet - don't want to tempt fate or have someone nick the idea - but yesterday was very positive (cheers Kirsty!) and very entertaining. You know those moments in business where everybody just seems to click and there's zero sense of wankerdom? No, you're right, they don't happen very often, if at all. Yesterday was an exception though... fingers crossed.

The rest of the day was a mixed bag. Sort of. Lunch we'll get to in a sec. The afternoon was spent in semi-frustrating style trying to find some wi-fi access around Soho. Seriously Pret A Manger, you can bleeding afford to offer wifi to your coffee-drinking customers. Just get it sorted will you? Because otherwise you're forced to deal with the likes of some surly woman on Lower Regent Street who put the "strop" in Apostrophe. Jesus. Is the wifi working? A nod. I'll have a coffee then. A large steaming cup of (to my mind) damn decent latte arrived... but there was no working wifi. Grr, I thought, and politely asked if I could get the coffee to go because I had work to do and needed wifi. If I got a third of the original coffee in a takeaway cup, I'd be very surprised. So stuff that branch of Apostrophe - which is no bad thing as it has a lot of negative memories, now I come to think of it. Two's company, and all that... So, Apostrophe on Market Place will be the spot that sorts my macaroon-related needs and my wifi hotspot of choice will now always be 16mm on D'Arblay Street. They're sweethearts, do good cakes, don't charge the earth and even let me recharge my dying laptop. Bless 'em.

Dinner was also interesting, if mixed. Having exploited Iqbal's legendary hospitality a few times, I thought it was long overdue that I took him out. Plus it would be interesting to get his opinion - his strong but accurate opinion - on another place. The venue of choice was Tom Ilic on Queenstown Road, which was interesting as apparently Tom was one of the candidates to run Roast when it opened. It's a strange venue and frustratingly close to being a very good restaurant. There were certainly no complaints about the food - what Tom can do with bits of pig and a calf head will make you whimper with carnivorous glee, while the bread, "wasted real estate" that Iqbal and I generally try to avoid, was so good we demolished three baskets. Seriously. As Bertinet explained (see earlier blog post), a bit of crust will get the digestive juices going. Tom's bread was glorious: satisfying bite, wonderful textures, incredible flavours. A shame then about the location - no passing trade means midweek dining is a barren experience - and the furniture. While I'm not a great lover of Michelin's enforced conformity in terms of style and trimmings, Tom's food deserves that sort of accolade, even if he doesn't give a monkey's. Apparently it's heaving on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and it means Tom's also got the sort of home life he longed for, so hell, it's worth that compromise. But this is a man who deserves to be better known.

So, back to lunch. Bentley's on Swallow Street was the venue, The Boy Done Food the companion. The last time I went to Bentley's it was the worst reviewing experience of my life... well, up to Arizona in Camden, but that's not important right now. £15 for a fishcake that was the lurid orange of Lidl's finest and suffering freezer-burn. The cheapest wine on the menu was £18... and this was 2001. And we had to ask for the bottle back after they'd poured two glasses and disappeared with it.

However, I wasn't going back to be a glutton for punishment. I was going to be a glutton. And I knew it would be a positive experience because Bentley's is now looked after by Richard Corrigan. We sampled the set lunch which featured the impeccable potted salmon and shrimps, a big, rich, nutmeg-dotted rice pudding with Yorkshire rhubarb and, in between, beautifully battered fish and chips. And a heated debate about the nature of the chip. For Will, the chip needs to be a crisp carb delivery system of about a centimetre square. For me... well, with decent potatoes and decent oil, I'm less fussy. Or rather can enjoy each variation for its own pleasures. These were on the fatter side and, as sod's law would dictate, I appeared to have the crisper chips. I just didn't realise the irony until I'd finished and the debate started...

I'll write more fully on this subject in due course because it's prompted an interesting debate. What then is the perfect chip? Is it the stringy frite? The twice cooked square one? The triple-cooked, beef dripping dunked variation? A fat, skin-on, wedge affair? A combination of some of the above? Looks like Indian food is not the only challenge for 2009 then...

26 January 2009

Bloody Mondays

Sheesh. You make all these vows about upping the game and blogging daily and cooking stuff and then a bloody Monday comes along and knocks it all out of whack. Bugger. That and a silly Q&A thing involving Facebook and my iPod went down a very odd crossdressing route. And that, my friends, is how rumours start.

Never mind. It is a work in progress and it will happen. Oh yes. It WILL happen. Besides tomorrow - or, er, today, as it's also called - is shaping up to more than make up for today's not-terribly-exciting food score. Tuesday is a breakfast meeting (about a big foodie project and more on that in due course) at Canteen, lunch at Bentley's - in advance of interviewing Richard Corrigan next week which I'm quite pathetically excited about - and dinner at Tom Ilic. The possibilities of eating myriad forms of pork - not forgetting today's slow-to-arrive-but-generally-worth-the-wait pork enchilada at Mexicali - are so great I'm starting to wonder why I didn't think of a more oink-y punning name for the blog: The Pig Kahuna anyone?

25 January 2009

Feeling Vine

Where did the week go, etc., etc. Somehow it's four days since the last post. I can't even blame the thumb injury as it's not really hampering my (suprisingly fast) self-taught four-finger typing process, indeed I can now hit the space bar with some force. And it's not like I didn't have things to write about with a typically fine Roast-fest on Thursday night (an always enjoyable mix of business and pleasure), the joys of good sausage and (jacket potato) mash last night, a delicious pasta dinner tonight with a from-scratch, simple tomato sauce that inspired today's rubbish pun and, inbetween all of the above, the chance to judge at the Academy of Chocolate Awards on Friday.

This was a highly enjoyable and interesting trawl through some of the UK's best filled chocolates and truffles. Allegedly. Some of the entrants were truly awful: it's hard to give any sort of positive feedback when your first reaction to one chocolate is "it looks like it came out of a dog" and the next "it looks like it came out of a dog. Six months ago." However, it did improve. A certain whisky-based chocolate was great (can't mention the names yet, sorry) while a little square of perfectly executed sesame-flavoured product was the best such thing I've eaten for a while. This time I was fortunate enough to have to cut and run before the end, so I missed the almost inevitable "chocolate high" however I don't have that opportunity this coming week when we're judging the chocolate bars... stand by to finish the week with some incoherent rambling.

I've also spent the weekend working on some achievable targets for the next month or so (and, hopefully, onwards). One of these plans is to blog every day and, to ensure I do, to up my game in terms of food consumed or (mostly) of food prepared at home... and then consumed. Expect roast-related ramblings at weekends and many curry-scented misadventures as I throw myself into the world of spices and look East for some inspiration. Stand by your mops, chaps, it's going to get messy.

21 January 2009

The Dashing Blade

Today I learned a valuable lesson. Having been a little out of sorts for a day or two - general January malaise, some odd career-y hiccups, maybe a lack of really good pork-based products - I was throwing together a simple pasta sauce and decided to test the sharpness of my new shiny cook's knife. By attempting to remove the tip of my left thumb. The words "doh" and, er, "doh" sprang to mind.

Anyway, after a few minutes in A&E - thank you for the stenostrips Elliot, you were a thumb-repairing legend - it's sort of back to normal, albeit with a bandage so big I can't play XBOX for a few days. That should help the sleep patterns a little anyway, and snap me out of the Geometry Wars addiction. And that, in turn, might help me snap out of the sort of mood that means I shouldn't pick up sharp knives...

Foodwise, it's been a bleurgh day as well. The highlight, as it so often is, was a piece of Mrs Lambshank's homemade bread, slathered in Skippy (that's the crunchy peanut butter not a slab of 'roo rillette) and a cuppa to get the day started. Otherwise, it's been very dull, so I'm deeply envious of William & Simon's Korean lunch at Bi-Won (covered in classic Dos Hermanos style here) and even more sorry that I had to forego an Anchor & Hope lunch to make some freelance money at midday. Still, tomorrow may well feature a spot of East Finchley Thai (depending on transcripts and reviews and stuff) but will definitely finish with a marvellous sesh around my favourite bit of London. The only thing that could put a damper on proceedings is whether I need a tetanus booster or not...

Still, it's not all bad news. The proposed Scottish trip - a pilgrimage to Old Pulteney, the northernmost distillery in Scotland via as many foodie hotspots as my belt will allow - is one for early March. And the legends at the BMW press department have kicked in with a 730d SE to make the journey in. Gawd bless 'em and their German efficiency.

20 January 2009

Pho Faced

What a fine day. It started with a Pret A Manger egg and bacon croissant (warmed egg mayonnaise and ketchup shouldn't work but hoo boy, it certainly does) and a decent cup of coffee, continued with Frost / Nixon (the best film I've seen for a good few months), followed by a very entertaining lunch with Jez (all round solid chap and potential media legend) and has just finished with a new President. Who can actually string a sentence together. Admittedly I could have lived without the yelpy bits of Aretha Franklin's performance - where did her voice go? - or the Yo Yo Ma Lord of the Dance thing - er, why? - but the rest of it was really quite inspiring. Here's hoping, eh chaps?

So, lunch. We went to Pho on Great Titchfield Street, a good value Vietnamese place. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but I get the impression, not least as the place was heaving from 12ish til gone 2, that there are a lot of decent things on the menu if you know where to look. I'd say we found a couple of 'em. The summer roll prawn was good, with a deep coriander hit, but the mango salad, while pleasant, lacked a certain punch, I thought. It had a freshness but it was all too fleeting. Better though was the prawn soup. It was billed as spicy and was, but not ludicrously so, although that was deceptive as the gradual build up of heat followed. Mind you, as the noodles flopped back into the bowl and drops hit my face about a centimetre from my eye, I was glad it wasn't so full on. Seriously, for someone who eats out a lot, I really should be better at it...

The nicest thing about Pho is the presence on the table of fish sauce as well as some decent, unctuous, chilli sauce. And even better than that is the little tray of condiments that accompany each dish: fresh herbs, potent and fresh red chillis, bean sprouts and a wedge of lime. This means you can "pimp" your Pho in anyway you see fit.

Three starters, two mains, two teas brought change from £33, which puts it in Wagamama-rivalling territory. Only much, much more edible.

19 January 2009

Piece of (Fish) Cake

It wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a legendary food weekend. Cutting edge cuisine was notable by its absence. As was road sense and parking ability by a colossal number of North London arseholes. It started with letting someone out of a space so I could slide in... only to watch some arrogant pillock drive into it, somehow managing to negotiate a lane of oncoming traffic and still give the impression he hadn't seen me. I drove around the block and headed back to the same little parking bay. Another car was leaving, so I signalled... and watched, stunned, as that first bloke edged up so that his poxy little Renault was now taking up two spaces. I tried to call him a twat but, perhaps happily, in my wrath I hit the window lock button rather than the down one. Instead, hopefully, I mouthed the word sufficiently well for his young son to learn a new word he could ask his dad about later...

That was swiftly followed by two more examples of crap parking, with North Londoners apparently unaware of: a) how big their cars are; and b) any other person in the universe. When the revolution comes, people who occupy two car park spaces won't be the first against the wall. Oh no. I have longer, more painful deaths planned for them.

As a result of so much car-related fuckwittery, only one genre of food was going to hit the spot: comfort eating. And in the spirit of emptying the freezer this meant a turkey and mushroom pie made with the remains of the Christmas leg meat and - admittedly with the addition of some panko from our new local and excellent Asian supermarket Natural Natural (105A Ballards Lane) - a defrosted bag of cooked salmon that became eight damn fine fishcakes. That's lunch sorted for a couple of days as well then...

16 January 2009

The Photo

A few people have been asking about the photo. It was taken last summer at Alf Resco, the appalingly punsome named cafe in Dartmouth where Darren 'Squeezing Grapes' Fabri and I had a pretty fine breakfast. For all those who've asked why the picture isn't a lambshank, it's because I like the simplicity and homely nature of the condiments featured. That and I'm yet to find a way of making raw meat looking photogenic...

Days of Struggle

And so Brazilian / Japanese fusion. Hmmm. While I can understand Simon's suggestion (via Facebook) that it should work (given the size of the Japanese population in Brazil), I have to say that my night at Sushino was a little mixed. And by that I mean lovely and fascinating company, excellent drinks and really quite average food.

The concept itself, while slightly odd, should work given that the approach is less fusion and more a combination of two menus in one. A restaurant offering sushi - for those seeking light and healthy starters or a full light and healthy meal - and Brazilian-style grills could be a winning combination. The problem though is you have to have decent sushi. I don't claim to be an expert but after meals at Zuma, Cafe Japan, Sumosan and assorted holes-in-the-wall through Soho and not-as-good-as-they-once-were chains, the palate has seen a range of raw fish. And Sushino just wasn't up to standard. As for a 'special' sushi that's deep-fried, the less said about that, the better. There were good bits - the huge prawns from the grill, some strangely effective fruit sushi and a killer brulee and chocolate creation - but overall it was just a bit dull. But then there was the sake...

We were ostensibly to sample sakes from Akashi-Tai, presented by the charming Wakana Omija. We also got a lesson in Manhattan making by bar manager - and Manhattan afficionado - Paul Bradley, not to mention some great sake cocktails. I'll blog in more detail about Akashi-Tai's range in due course, but if you get a chance to try the Umeshu, I'd seriously recommend it. Infused with plum, it's...

Sorry. All that talk of sake made me crave one and, having been sent away with the remains of the bottles sampled - hey, I'm not proud - I figured I could talk more authoratively on the joys of ume plum-infused sake if I was simultaneously sipping on one. It's sweet, rich, warming - even straight out of the fridge - and I'm fully convinced of its alleged therapeutic properties. As is Mrs Lambshank who decided it would be good for her throat and nicked my glass. Grrr.

That was the sensible part of the evening. It was then followed by an hour or two getting lessons in classic cocktails by Paul, and running through his fine collection of bourbons and getting the aforementioned masterclass in Manhattan making. More on that when I've made one at home I'm happy with. As opposed to the ones Will and I created last night. If not Manhattan, we'd have settled for Brooklyn. Instead we're somewhere around Iowa. But we will get better. Oh yes. We will.

I should also mention tonight's dinner but it might sound like bragging. All I will say though is that it started with a base of onion sweated down in the fat produced from the remains of last weekend's pork belly. If I was the sort of sad, anal bastard who kept lists of 'aromas of the year' that would be an early contender for Number One...

14 January 2009

And Don't Spare The Horses

Seriously, is there a better pub to eat in than The Coach & Horses? While I like the concept of gastropubs - better food in places that sell beer, what's not to like? - way too many places get it wrong. Hell, way too many places have decided that by replacing the old furniture with stripped pine and sourcing an artisan sausage or two, they can now charge £12 for bangers and mash. Worse, too many have emphasised the "gastro" bit at the expense of the "pub" bit.

So thank Christ - or the deity of your choice - for Giles and Colette and their glorious boozer. And, in particular, their annoyingly talented young chef Henry. This isn't food that reinvents the wheel, this is comforting, delicious, simple stuff. We kicked off with a couple of Scotch eggs (sorry Iqbal, sorry Ginger Pig, sorry Graham's, but these are probably the best in London) before moving onto a selection of starters, from pig's head with sauce gribiche, to potted shrimps with (homemade, astonishing, dear-god-give-me-the-recipe) sodabread, via amazing herring roes on toast. Mains were in similar vein: venison and chestnut pie with mash and kale, a pork chop that equated to about 1/16th of a pig (with glorious crispy fat), and ox cheek that hadn't so much slow braised as treated with the sort of long-lasting TLC that borders on the obsessive, served with prunes to form a wintery, warming combination that made my eyes roll back involuntarily in my head. Puddings of apple and rhubabrb crumble and rice pudding with prunes had a similar effect, while the wines - good choices one and all by Col - were the sort of bottles that made you whimper. Quite literally in Giles's case...

Tonight's intriguing event - sake and sushi pairing at the Japanese / Brazilian fusion place Sushino - has a lot to live up to. More on that tomorrow, then.

12 January 2009


Just me or did it really feel like a Monday today? It was a real struggle to get my head - and my arse - into gear and I ended up tidying more e mails (only 170+ unread now, down from 1062 over Christmas) and slowly thinking about future work. I also caught The Wrestler (cliched but superbly played and deeply moving) and Waverider (a slightly disappointing Irish surf documentary) and, disappointingly, didn't do anything of note food wise. I solemnly promise that I won't let that happen again because a) it gives me nothing to write about save for slightly disappointing Irish surf documentaries and b) makes me feel like crap for relying on comfort food and grabbed snacks from assorted naff caffs. At least tomorrow culminates in a fest of good food at The Coach & Horses, with the owners, the lovely Giles & Colette Webster. It's a great gastropub, and one of the few that gets the balance - equal parts great food and proper boozer - right. Plus, with Giles and Colette, you get lovely company and a lot of laughs.

Anyway, more on that after it happens. In the meantime, I did at least get the ball rolling on a day of food-related DVD watching: well, with a blog of this name, the movies need to come into it every so often, right? I finally tracked down a copy of Big Night and today found a copy of Babette's Feast. Now if I can just find a copy of Eat Drink Man Woman (still strangely never released in the UK on DVD) I've got the makings of a fine day's entertainment, plus some very different snack themes to follow. Any other food movies? Post away with any suggestions... Oh, and Roll Models and Buffet The Vampire Slayer don't count.

10 January 2009

Black Velvet

Two posts in a day? Sadly, it's less a burst of manic efficiency, more a case of being very middle-aged and spending a Saturday night at home. It's also because I want to brag - well, semi-brag - about the pork belly. It wasn't 100% successful - I shall reduce the salt suggested by a good 60% next time and my spuds, while nice and crisp these days, still won't go the Judith Chalmers shade of my nan's roasties. However, it's all learning curve, and the positives outweigh the negatives. For example, the fennel flavouring was spot on and worth the pestle & mortar-inflicted elbow strain while the Levin Sauvignon Blanc 2006 was perfect: rich fruit, crisp minerality and fat-excising acid. The even better bit? Two slices of Hebridean black pudding from Borough Market added to the pan about 30 minutes before the meat came out. After deglazing the pan with a slug more cider, I mashed the black pudding into the juices, stirred in some double cream that needed finishing up and let the whole thing simmer down a little to form a sweet, rich, meat-juice-salty sauce. Happily, there was so much left over, I've just filled an ice tray with a view to cooking a cube or two with some scallops next week. And stirring a cube in to some lentils and peas next time we do a pork belly. Well, what's the point of emptying the freezer if we can't replenish it with some useful treats in the meantime?

Analyse This

Yeah, I know it's meant to be about the food and the movies and stuff - by the way, Role Models and Sex Drive are MUCH better than you might expect - but what's the point of having a blog if you can't rant?

So, can ANYONE explain how to get Google Analytics to work on this bloody thing? The set up of the blog was easy. The set up of all the other Google-related stuff has been easy. Trying to get the two to talk to each other... the instructions might as well have said "go back to school, pay more attention, do computer science, try again in three years". It's quicker and more logical.

As my mate Paul Smith so aptly - and regularly says - Gah.

Anyway, back to the proper subjects and I seem to have it in for pigs today. Bacon and black pudding already consumed and half a pork belly busy defrosting on the side. That's going to be scored, rubbed in salt and fennel seeds, and then slow roasted with a load of wine in the pan. That should result in a crackling of tooth-threatening crunchiness and meat that falls apart on the fork. Alongside it, the last of 2008's potato crop, probably roasted, and, assuming we can get them out of the ground - it's dead frosty out there - a few leeks. I've also got a bottle of Levin Sauvignon Blanc I've been saving for a rainy day. And in the absence of a rainy day, a snowy miserable day when I feel like a complete IT incompetent will suffice.

8 January 2009

The Pressure's On...

Blimey. You encourage someone to start blogging and then they go and demonstrate an annoying natural gift for it. Take a look at my mate Darren's blog, Squeezing Grapes, and you'll see what I mean. Good work fellah, and looking forward to hanging out in New York later this year.

Ironically, as Darren travels from Australia, I might be travelling to Australia. Over a stormingly good green curry at Madden's in East Finchley at lunchtime - seriously, is there a better way to spend a fiver in London at the moment? - Luke mentioned that his parents are coming to London in April for three weeks... which means their place in Sydney is available. How often in life do you get a chance to go to Sydney rent-free? Exactly. Depending on magazine commissions, it looks like Napa might be deferred in favour of a trip down under. Watch this space for more.

But back to that green curry. I used to think that the Hammersmith Cafe was a good hang-out and a regular life-saver in my Footloose Magazine days. I still make semi-regular pilgrimages to the place as the yellow curry is astonishing, but Madden's is: a) possibly better; and b) all of 12 minutes away, door to door, via the Northern Line. And two courses for a fiver? I won't bother with the spring rolls again - yawn - but the depth of flavour and the proper heat in the green curry would be good value at twice the price. On a day I'd had had to throw an alarmingly large sum to the Inland Revenue, the green curry took a lot of the sting away. And again, watch this space: over the next few weeks I aim to try everything on the menu and report back. And no, it's not blatant piggery. It's an important foodie mission. There is a difference. And as soon as I can think of it, I'll let you know.

7 January 2009

Mouse to Mouth Resuscitation

With more cupboard clearing to look forward to - where the hell did we get all these herbal teas anyway? - yesterday now seems but a distant dream of computerised eating at the actually-quite-good Inamo.

The first of its kind anywhere in the world, the Inamo concept will probably be coming to a city near you soon because it: a) is fun; and b) works. There are no menus and very few waiting staff. Instead, you have a little mouse pad on your table and a table that acts like a screen. Touch the pad, a menu - of the computer definition - appears. This allows you to move between the food - a pretty decent and well-executed range of Asian and Asian-influenced dishes - the drinks, a running total of the bill, and some other stuff and more on those in a second.

Tapping the mousepad on the projected picture of the dish you fancy brings up an order confirmtion. Confirm that and you'll see the real dish in front of you within 15 minutes. Like Wagamama, the food comes when it's ready, so it's probably safest to order a few small dishes and eat those before weighing into the larger plates. Unlike Wagamama, the food is good. Happily, with an Inamo veteran guiding the way, we negotiated our way through some thoroughly decent fare: seared tuna, some excellent salt-crusted ribs, chicken and apple in betel leaf, a fine piece of rib eye that you cook yourself on a hot stone, a good value black cod... And there's a fine selection of interesting teas if you don't feel like boozing it up. Puddings - a good creme brulee, an excellent mango and sticky rice combination - were better than expected too.

And while you're waiting for the food, you can change the ambience of your table with background patterns and images, play Battleships with the person sitting opposite, watch the kicthen spring to life to prepare your sushi via the 'chef cam'... All good fun and very good value to boot.

Right. I'll leave you to it. I've got a load of soya mince and a box of Blackberry & Nettle tea to get through...

5 January 2009

Shepherd's Pie

The sixth day of the economy regime... and, as anticipated, it's not too bad at all. In fact, it's possibly a little too easy at the moment given the forward planning abilities - and flood / terrorist strike / hurricane / other unlikely disaster paranoia of Mrs Lambshank. Seriously, we have so much food we could probably eke this out with three square meals (and regular snacks) a day until the end of the month. With a little careful planning it could even be March before we're looking at things like tomato soup risotto or frozen pea and lentil sandwiches. Accordingly we are considering taking the 'regime' into February...

In the meantime though, it's going pretty well - and last night's shepherd's pie was a thing of beauty, even if I say so myself. Shoulder of lamb is such a sumple dish to do and the leftovers are so versatile. Plus, if you've slow roasted the meat - I typically let it melt away for four hours plus at around the magic temperature of 180 degrees - by the time you simmer the remains down with a little stock, tomatoes and a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce, it'll break into succulent strands of intensely flavoured meat.

I normally buy Farmer Sharp's lamb at Borough which is excellent stuff if a little pricier than usual for a shoulder. Mind you, the last one was from the Ginger Pig who do a very decent £15 flat rate for the joint: that's pretty good value at any time, but when they find you one that weighs around three kilos? Happy days. It was also first rate meat, as you'd expect from this multi-award winning butcher. And that near enough three kilos fed four people generously for lunch, made a rich (and freeze-able) stock, a couple of sandwiches and around 10 portions of shepherd's pie. Some might baulk at a £15 meat spend when you can buy two crap chickens for a fiver but it's far more economic. Those £5 'deals' give you a meal for four, assuming by 'meal' you mean 'portion of bland, flavourless meat with bugger all nutritional value'. That's £1.25 a portion then. My last leg of lamb provided enough big flavour-packed, protein-rich meals for about 90p a head. I'm no maths expert but I'm pretty sure that's less than £1.25...

Right. Today sees my first trip to Inamo, which I'm quite excited about (black cod AND battleships sounds like a winning combination to me), and also sees my lovely itinerant friend Darren start his own blog, the 'food porn' / wine punning Squeezing Grapes. Welcome to the world of food posting mate! Like me, Darren has left banking for a proper job you can be proud of and, subject to exchange rates, he'll be in New York training as a chef this year and charting his adventures on the blog. I sense it's going to be one to watch...