28 November 2010

Simple Pleasures

After last week's paean to the joys of fat, I thought I should perhaps balance it out a little. It might also convince the people that have been making comments about my waistline that: a) I do eat a lot of vegetables actually (and fruit for that matter); and b) I don't spend every waking moment shuttling wheezily between Greggs and KFC.

That's why this week - Simple Pleasure No. 12, if I've got my facts right - I'm celebrating the (stupidly named) red cabbage for a number of reasons. First of all there's the colour. Look at it. Prince would kill for a shirt that colour. Secondly, there are all the myriad health benefits, from Vitamin C to fibre. Thirdly, there's the fact that this particular shining example of cabbagekind came from our allotment. Finally, there's the fact that, on a cold wintery day, nothing - and I'd probably even include mash here - can bolster a stew like a big spoonful of braised red cabbage. It's also the easiest side dish to make, one that you can get creative with (this contains homegrown red onions and garlic, a splash of Cider Brandy - which, with celery salt, is my current "go to" ingredient - a handful of past-their-sell-by dried cranberries and sultanas and nutmeg), one that will happily bubble away in a low oven for hours, one that freezes brilliantly and one that, as it's cooking, can make your entire property smell like Christmas. Not bad for a fist-sized brassica.

19 November 2010

Simple Pleasures

I've noticed a running theme with these. There's a lot of fat involved. Unfortunately, there's no getting away from the fact that, as far as edible joys go, fat is where it's at. What's pork without crackling? A scone without clotted cream? Potatoes without, er, a deep fat fryer? It's business as usual then with the latest entry into this "strand", although it also confirms another suspicion of mine, that the best bits of eating are often those fleeting moments. There will be more of those, and more fat in the future but, for now, I give you Simple Pleasure, No. 11: the point where your cheese on toast turns into the golden, bubbling stuff of dreams.

7 November 2010

Going Dutch

One thing I can't knock in this "career" of mine - inverted commas used on behalf of all those who suggest travelling, eating out, playing games and watching films is not a proper job, you cynical bastards - is the sheer variety of any given week.

Last week for example. Monday was a day of meetings to discuss web design and international liaison, amongst other things... and a screening of Jackass 3D. Tuesday was spent tidying my ridiculous inbox and playing Blood Stone so I could review it for The Guardian. Wednesday I was at the Lusso office writing about international property and private jets. Thursday I interviewed Steve McQueen's widow Barbara and discussed possible wine events while tasting wine provided by the excellent Yapp Brothers. And Friday found me in The Hague for the Dutch Fashion Awards.

To be frank, the Fashion Awards left me cold. Giggling, admittedly, at the pretentiousness of it all (seriously, how can you tell which uwearable, ugly collection is the best unwearable, ugly collection?) and speculating which of the models wouldn't have the energy to make it to the end of the catwalk? I know I'm no comparison for these girls but Jesus, how thin? If you got served a chicken that was as scrawny as a couple of them, you'd send it back.

It made me feel kind of guilty - well, for a nanosecond - for all the goodies I'd consumed that day. I'd never thought of Holland as a likely food destination (although I'm sure many do go to Amsterdam for the brownies) but perhaps we should. With the efficiency of City Airport helping, it was about two hours from home to hotel (the rather lovely Hotel Des Indes) and all of 10 minutes walk to my first revelation: broodje haring.

Since my first run in with a rollmop - an ex used to love them, we split up soon after I tried one, the events may even have been connected in some fickle teenage manner - the idea of raw herring still makes me a little uneasy. Even getting 20-odd years of sushi under the belt hasn't necessarily helped my feelings towards this particularly bit of aquatic dining (and I'm apparently not alone)but, what the hell. I can't keep quoting Bourdain - your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park - and his assertion that you should try everything once and let a small fish stop me; not even one in a soft bread roll topped with raw onions.

The "haring" had been suggested by the very helpful man at the counter, in answer to my "what should I try?" quest for semi-local authenticity. I could either have it in the traditional Dutch manner - on its own, eaten in much the same manner as a trainer feeds a sealion - or go the "broodje" route: basically, in bread. I figured the latter was the safer option and, with his warning to be careful ringing in my ears - "the locals are not the only ones who like the herring," he laughed, pointing at the seagull muggers waiting for the unwary - I nestled into a corner, next to two local businessmen.

Two very nice local businessmen, as it happened, who first laughed at my assorted photographic attempts - it really isn't easy to make broodje haring look pretty - and then beamed happily at the assorted whimpers as I ate it. Dear God, it was delicious, from the gently yielding roll - like the sort of bridge rolls my gran used to buy, only better - to the sharp onions, and under it all, the ridiculously soft, fresh, ever-so-fishy hit of the herring. The contrasts were perfect and the flavours deceptively big for something so tiny. "Did you like it?" they asked, probably unnecessarily given the speed it disappeared. "Fantastic," I replied, "what else should I have?" They ran through a couple of their favourites and insisted I try a little of the fried fish they were tucking into. That too was as fresh as I've had - and I've had stuff straight off a trawler - with the lightest of batters encasing it and steaming it to perfection. More appreciative noises escaped my lips, as they agreed I needed to try one of the spicier offerings.

The other server suggested the prawn mix, I gave a thumbs up, and another roll appeared. The sauce was effectively a Thousand Island / prawn cocktail dressing but with the heat turned up... if not to 11, certainly to a 6 or 7. Even so, the piquancy of the spice - I'd guess a generous amount of horseradish as well as a decent spoonful of Tabasco - couldn't overpower the freshness of the prawns. Impeccable.

The availability of fresh fish meant that I didn't even panic when someone suggested a shared sushi starter for dinner. Miller's is the sort of place that London's full of - bright, breezy, All Bar One-y eateries - where you don't necessarily expect a great culinary experience. Amazing what you can do in that setting when you have great ingredients at your disposal though (and some really interesting local beers).

The sushi was very good indeed - start with decent fish and you really can't balls it up - but trumped by the main course. The notion of a "vealburger" had got me very excited indeed. The arrival of not one big burger but two little veal sliders was a pleasant surprise in both visual and edible terms.

The lovely buns absorbed all the juices, the meat was charred on the outside yet still pink on the inside - an impressive achievement with something measuring in millimetres - and the trimmings, of opaquely thin slices of aged Dutch cheese, truffle mayo and a quail's egg gave it all a classy, rich spin. Chips were a bit of a disappointment (good looking but sadly lacking in crispness) but never mind, because the burgers were both little stars. They could probably have also fed the entire cast of waif-like models for a week but that's not important right now...

1 November 2010

L'Addiction, S'Il Vous Plait...

Much has been tweeted already about Hawksmoor and their new, rather impressive, gaff in Covent Garden. Much will also be written about the new addition to the burger menu. As I came late to the previous Hawksmoor Burger love-in, I'm getting in as early as possible with this one. Will Beckett, one of the co-owners, has already likened the Kimchi Burger to crack. He's got a point.

As if their juicy burger wasn't already deliciously messy enough, the addition of a generous smear of very potent kimchi gives the satisfying crunch / contrast you get from a dill pickle but adds a sour, punchy hit that makes the whole thing, well, yes, as addictive as crack. My concern - other than spending rent money on a fix and making various excuses to loved ones - is that I'm now used to the heat so the next one won't give me quite such a chilli high. I need the next one hotter and the one after that hotter still. Mr Beckett: can I suggest several degrees of kimchi and a loyalty card as a record of what the next "hit" should be? What do you mean I sound like an addict? Not at all, I just do the odd kimchi burger every now and again. I can control it...