Tuesday, June 19, 2007

a burger in brighton

i cycled to brighton for a burger on sunday. it's a very long way to go for a burger.

the reason for this insanity was the annual British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton charity bike ride. the good people at slavedrivers inc had organized a team to cycle and raise funds for DebRA, and i convinced O to go with me. i had dusted the cobwebs off my bike, stuck my sponsorship form on the vending machine at work, and very generous people sponsored my ride. we were all set. or so we thought.

had we thought more sensibly about it, we might have concluded that it probably wasn’t the best way to spend a sunday afternoon. 27,000 cyclists with extremely varying speeds and sometimes almost negligible road etiquette all cramped into tiny country roads with traffic flowing in the opposite direction. not a good thing. many ambulances passed us with their sirens blaring. some were preceded by policemen on a loud hailer yelling at everyone to keep left and announcing the severity of the accident ahead. one in particular announced that a rider was having a heart attack which was a little ironic as this was a ride in aid of heart disease. O had taken a pretty bad fall on her head which resulted in an ambulance ride and emergency dental treatment and the rest of the ride was spent in deep and frantic conversation with God, hoping that O would be okay.

gripes aside, the ride to brighton was not without its merits. there is little which can compare to the experiences of turning a corner to come into full view of an entirely purple field of lavender, cruising downhill at 52.4 km/hr with the wind screaming through your helmet or cycling along the top of Ditchling Beacon* with the view of green fields below on your left and a bunch of rather unamused sheep grazing on your right. we had passed through several charming villages whose occupants plied us with bacon butties, burgers, beer, cake, squash and even a brass band. some very nice people in Ditchling held my head and fixed my bike chain as i was being treated for mild shock and a scuffed knee after being thrown off my bike onto the pavement when another cyclist swerved into my path. miraculously through divine providence, apart from my scuffed knee and O’s teeth, we were okay – we were still alive.

I had never wanted to eat a burger as much as I did when I finally reached the meeting point after an additional mile of pushing my bicycle uphill after collecting my plastic medal (and one for O) at the Brighton seafront. there wasn’t anything special about the burger - it was a standard issue slavedriver’s inc burger which had traveled all the way from london in our support vehicle. but when you’ve been thinking about this burger for the past 54 miles, nothing compares to finally being able to actually eat it.

back at slavedriver’s inc comparing battle wounds, I peered over O’s shoulder as we checked out the BHF website for information on the london-southend ride. I think we must have hurt our heads more than we’ve realized.

*of course i walked my bike most of the way up. cycling up that monster of a hill is for masochists.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

thump me with a salmon (confit)

after fighting the will to sleep in and surviving the drama of p’s debit card almost being eaten by the cash machine, we finally made the very eventful 10 minute drive to billingsgate market in our quest for a very fresh piece of salmon. billingsgate’s a real adventure compared to the waitrose fish counter. where else would you get accosted by a fishmonger with two crab claws stuck on his incisors pretending to be a walrus? despite our best efforts, our early morning faffing had resulted in us having to do the unthinkable – they had run out of sushi grade salmon filets, and our only option was to buy the whole salmon. how would we cut this up we asked? with a knife – came the straight faced answer.

the adventure continued back in my kitchen as we grappled with the task before us. the rather large salmon had thankfully been gutted, so all that needed to be done was to de-scale the sodding thing and cut it up into manageable chunks. this was made exponentially harder due to the fact that we had absolutely no knife skills, fish filleting knowledge or a decent knife. p decided to de-scale the fish with my vegetable peeler, which proved strangely effective, but resulted in a flight of fish scales around the kitchen counter. filleting seemed a doddle after that – especially when motivated by the prospect of eating slices of the raw salmon dipped in soya sauce and wasabi. p had already taken the chopsticks out.

however. a and ls were coming for lunch, and we couldn’t very well just serve them raw fish. it was the perfect opportunity to experiment and a good day for salmon confit – inspired by tetsuya’s recipe for his signature confit of petuna ocean trout.

salmon confit

fresh salmon filets
grapeseed oil
olive oil
½ tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp white pepper
10 whole basil leaves
¼ tsp finely chopped garlic
sea salt

bunch of parsley
100ml olive/grapeseed oil
½ tbsp capers

marinade the salmon filets (overnight) in the grapeseed and olive oils with the coriander, pepper, basil and garlic. preheat the oven at the lowest possible setting. take the fish out of the oil and bring to room temperature. place on baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes with the oven door open. baste every few minutes with the oil marinade. the fish should not have changed colour but just feel lukewarm to touch. remove from oven and cool. blend the parsley, oil and capers to a puree. i served the confit with a salad of watercress and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Monday, June 04, 2007

the narrow

i like running. i'm totally devoid of speed, self discipline, perseverance or the ability to follow a training plan and the slightest hint of rain puts me off running outdoors (which as you can imagine, happens with unmitigated frequency in english weather). but i still like running. it gives me the time and the space to clear my head and it's a good way of seeing the sights (which sometimes comes in the form of a really fit bloke running in the other direction). best of all, I kid myself with the delusion that I’m running up a calorie deficit which then justifies eating large comforting pub meals.

i’ve recently taken to running a route that takes me along the thames to tower bridge and back, and on the way, I pass the narrow – it marks the point where I’ve done a quarter of my run, and had for the past month left me curious about its food. it took a couple of phonecalls and a month’s waiting to finally find a date that was mutually acceptable with me and the narrow and we finally tottered over for saturday brunch.

having surveyed the concise menu at length, y eventually went for the oxford lamb steak which came with a rather large portobello mushroom and a nice melting pat of anchovy butter. the steak was tender and very well seasoned. i indulged with the braised lamb neck and turnip pie with a thick meaty gravy sweetened by the turnip, topped with a large crispy puff pastry hat. despite the large serving of creamy mash that my pie came with, I couldn’t resist the extra portion of chips which came all crisp and fluffy.

i did slightly regret my potato-on-potato action because it left me too full to order a separate pudding, but the lovely y let me eat quite a lot of hers - which was a refreshing lemon posset with cherries. it came in a wine glass - a layer of cherry jelly and whole cherries, topped with generous lashings of lemon posset. lemon posset is a simple dessert made out of lemon juice, sugar and cream and thankfully nothing like its medieval origins of curdled milk.

on the way out of the narrow, I passed the spot where a month ago i had the chance opportunity of meeting g ramsay in the pub and remembered how he had in jest said I was a slow runner when somehow the conversation veered towards our running times. well, g ramsay, if I keep eating meals like that in your pub, I don’t see how I’m going to lose the weight to be a faster runner. but that’s okay with me. I like food more than I like running.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

macaroni cheese and friendship

c's a proper friend. he listens to my whinging about all things mundane and gives me rather sensible and grown-up advice. we've become friends through, among other things, our shared ability to talk with delirious zeal about food which sometimes culminates in the sudden cessation of speech and a glazed look in our eyes. i sometimes get hungry just listening to him. he's also the sort of mate who shares the good stuff - recommendations, restaurants and recipes. most recently, he brought me through the various production stages of macaroni cheese.

if like me, your memories of macaroni cheese involve the orange powdery affairs gloopey mess produced from a blue kraft box, macaroni cheese hardly features highly on your favourite foods. c's version however, resulted in an entire afternoon of plotting how i could escape the clutches of my slavedrivers to go home to make the dish he so lovingly described.

macaroni cheese according to c:

“cook some 350g worth of large conchiglie shells till just before they are al dente. drain them off but keep about a cup of the cooking water behind. fry some oregano or marjoram in a pan with some butter and when it starts to smell nice add the cooked pasta and some of the reserved cooking water. to this add about 125g of gruyere, 100g of parmesan and 125g of mascarpone (these don't have to be exact or anything). stir all this around in the pan and add more pasta water as necessary to encourage thorough coating, the mascarpone is probably the most important thing to coat all the shells with, which is easier if you use big shells. After all the shells are coated transfer the gooey pasta goodness to an ovenproof dish. Tear up a medium sized (or bigger if you like) ball of buffalo mozzarella and put all the bits over the top of the pasta in the dish. Then sprinkle over some more parmesan, to taste, and if you like grate a little nutmeg on the top. Pop this all in the oven at 200 degrees and cook for about 10 or 12 minutes then stick it under the grill for about 5 minutes. then eat it all, yum yum”

I followed his instructions assiduously down to the eat it all, yum yum bit. the only amendment I made (in my third attempt within the same week – it was this good), was the addition of a couple of grilled proscuitto slices which I crumbled into the pasta, and the use of amori spirals rather than large shells because I just adore their springiness.