Monthly Archives: January 2010

S is for Steak. And Suicide. (In that order.)

It’s January, so, because I live in London, almost every other tube journey I take will be hindered by a Person Under A Train. Perhaps I’ve heard too many drivers’ deadpan announcements, but I have no sympathy for those who’ve jumped, only self-pity as I and thousands of others shuffle-queue and elbow our way home in their selfish wake.

I just don’t understand it: who, instead of just sticking their head in the oven in the comfort of their own home, would go out of their way to make everyone else’s January more depressing than it already is? Here we are: it’s grey and damp, not a bank holiday in sight, pay day’s a mirage, and we’re feeling twice the people we were before Christmas, battling into skinny jeans every morning only to inch home cursing our migraine-inducing waistbands – and the idiot who decided to meet his maker with an audience.

Perhaps those who recently lost the will to carry on had all visited one of the clutch of Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses that, inexplicably, still litter the capital’s streets almost 50 years on. Like poisonous mushrooms, these tenacious curiosities are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I ate at one this time last year, despite every fibre of my being screaming at me to go directly to jail without passing go. It is, and will always, remain lodged in my consciousness as the very worst meal of my life. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t join the suicide statistics straight after the experience was because I couldn’t face the prospect of my much-fetishised Last Meal being a criminally-priced cow’s valve camouflaged with a thin veneer of grey meat, frazzled onion rings that got too up close and personal with a vat of rancid oil and potato skins covered in what appeared to be the fruits of a vigorous and productive annual oven-cleaning session. Would that I could turn back the clock and reconsider that particular decision.

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Five a day the naughty way

Ever since my turbo-gastro-weekend with the sensitive gluttons, when we indulged in a cake threesome, not 24 hours have passed in which I haven’t thought wistfully of the perfect match that courgettes and hazelnuts make.

Unfortunately, my gastronomic personality in these matters is an unsavoury combination: a handful of stubbornness mixed with a pinch of stinge, simmered with lashings of greed. Because of this, if I can make the same cake as the one we enjoyed in that café and serve myself a larger portion of it at home for half the price, the likelihood of me returning to the Northcote Road is as slim as I was – before the cake, that is.

Unable to wait for the seasons to catch up with me, I got down to the marrow of my nutty summer squash confection this weekend. I added my own touches – a splash of Frangelico here to liven things up (plus a drop or two in the cake), a smothering of full-fat hazelnut frosting there – and voilà. For artistic purposes, I just had to cut an XXL slice:

Courgette and hazelnut cake

Get that five-a-day feelgood factor

Had my concern for your vicarious viewing pleasure not taken over, I would have allowed temptation to have its wicked way with me before, during and after the photo session. Somehow I managed to restrain myself long enough to take this photo, and my patience paid off – the cake was a healthy yet hedonistic treat, and so moist you could hear the fork bite into it. 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A death in the food family

Such as shame. So soon into the new year and so unexpected. Who knew you couldn’t freeze sourdough starter? Not the website I consulted (I’m mentioning no names here…)

A couple of weeks away and I lose not only the source of my daily bread, but a friend who never bothered me unless I needed him, a friend who gave and gave and never asked anything for in return apart from a simple weekly feed, a friend who was a source of entertainment and wonder and who went through a lot with me in a short space of time. I learned a lot from that starter; I thought this was the beginning (geddit?!) of a beautiful relationship.

I need to honour the passing of my first starter here to atone for the fortnight of neglect that sealed its fate. So, here’s to you, sourdough starter – thanks for all the good times: my first blooming white sourdough, the wholemeal loaf that so impressed the sensitive gluttons, a heady apricot and walnut crumb that was nutty perfection when toasted, and this sticky pistachio and date concoction that was saved from the brink of cake by my starter’s savoury roots:

Pistachio and date sourdough loaf

The fruits of my first starter

Every one a triumph. 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Egg on your face

There’s nothing more likely to make my appetite turn on its heels and effect a hasty exit than the sight of rows of tourist restaurants unflinchingly displaying their menu in chilling technicolour. Finger lickin’ it ain’t.

I generally avoid such places like the plague. Unfortunately, some resorts in Gran Canaria are, well, plagued by them. One day, with lead in my stomach, I was forced by hunger and lack of forethought to stop and try to digest something from the happy hour hub of the island. The burden fell to me to find the least terrifying restaurant option, a task so Herculean that it would have been easier to raze the place single-handedly and set up my own venture on the ruins.

What is the collective noun for a mass of unappetising eatery options? A gag of restaurants? And what criteria does one assess when choosing amongst them? Anybody already eating here, especially anyone apparently savouring their meal, had to be either addled by sunstroke or fundamentally lacking not only in taste but in taste buds. No restaurant was fuller than the others. The photos, like illustrative icebergs, revealed only a tenth of the awful might of the dishes.

We ended up plumping for a café whose menu told the story of an ovine invasion of Germany (all Frankfurter variations came with an optional fried egg). The dishes were, quite literally, a picture. We sat in the sun, surrounded by a gallery of food mug-shots: gastro-combos that could only have been photographed by a tripped-out student trying to recreate his hallucinations through the medium of food. Faces with frankfurter smiles gurned at us like Chuckie’s plainer siblings.

Bockwurst Kartoffelsalat (fried egg optional)

All together now: mmm...

The level of detail was breathtaking: eyes and eyebrows rendered in food; noses with nostrils. We wept.

Continue reading

Ten out of twelve!

Roll on next year…

Having a grape time

A full house for the true professional

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