Thursday, 18 April 2013

Pop Art & Pot Bellies

Recently I went to visit the Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern. I managed to scrape through A level Art all those years ago, and unfortunately all this left me with was a vague interest in modern art. Unfortunately I cannot profess to be a culture vulture and hadn't been to the Tate for years.

I dragged along two buddies who did Art A level with me (probably to a much better standard than me, those A level years are a haze of doing as little as possible and having far too much fun) and we mooched around the exhibition, choosing our favourite in each room and, despite Annie's best efforts at intelligent comments and knowledge, not taking ourselves too seriously. Proven by the decision to lie on the floor of the Turbine Hall and a bit of impromptu yoga training from Luce....

Me, Lucy and Annie
After more culture than we could bear, we hopped across the Millenium Bridge for something to eat and a much needed glass of wine (ok ok I was the one desperate for the wine - it was well after noon on a Saturday after all). I'd been into Bread Street Kitchen a couple of times just for a drink or two, so I was looking forward to chowing down on their burger.

Photo Credit goes to Annie (I scoffed mine)
It didn't disappoint. It was a juicy, meaty treat. Really nice amount of cheese and good pickles. I normally really dislike ketchup on anything, especially burgers which is a bit controversial but this was just the right amount to compliment the burger. I blame my parents for the summer trips to France for my obsession with mayo on chips. Anyway, the burger was delicious, as was the homemade mayo I had with the enormous chips. I normally prefer slightly less wedge-like chips but these were fluffy and crispy. My only criticism is that the burger doesn't come with chips, so £16 for burger and chips isn't cheap but it's worth it. For a much better review, have a look at what Burgerac thought.

Oh hi St Pauls, don't you look beaut
After we had decided we couldn't eat another thing, we decided we could definitely fit in some more beverages so we headed upstairs to Madison. I should add that we were right opposite St Paul's in a complex - for want of a much better word! - that houses Bread Street, Barbecoa, and lots of shops and restaurants called One New Change. On the top floor is Madison, a large bar and restaurant with pretty dam good views. I'd been up before but you would not know this was here unless you had the inside track, and quite a few people do. always help me out and they introduced me to Madison.

Quite the view
As the sun went down over St Pauls, we decided to go in search of Disco Bistro because we hadn't eaten enough... Thanks to my iPhone we found it - above a closed pub with only a sign to lead us to this fabled place. You would not know it's there unless you go looking, which is kinda the point.

I ran up the stairs to suss it out as I didn't imagine it was going to be that busy at 6.30 on a Saturday - and I was right. Running up the stairs, I passed who I now realise was Carl Clarke, who is at the helm of this much-reviewed, much-loved pop up. He offered chicken wings and cocktails and I managed to persuade the girls to give it a run. We got straight into a cosy little table in the corner and commenced the consumption of a few too many cocktails called something like 'Live East Die' - champagne & gin, you can't go wrong.

There was no way I was leaving without some wings, having read numerous blogs about their fabulousness. So we chowed down and they were truly fabulous. I'm not a massive fan of wings normally but I find myself scouring my diary for a time when I can return before this amazing pop up closes on 26th May.

Sadly, there are no pictures of the wings as they were gone before you could say 'Another round of Live East Die please' but we did order more. Annie's one true love is white chocolate, so a basket of doughnuts with white chocolate and rhubarb sauces were ordered.

Being devoid of a sweet tooth, I ordered 'Cheese Crackers'. These came.

Probably the best 'Cheese Crackers' I've ever had. Cashel Blue, micro herbs, and a strange but delicious miniature broccoli type veggie. They were amazing, I loved them. I can still taste them now!

If you can get to Disco Bistro, I would really recommend it. I've heard it gets very busy and becomes as much a Disco as a Bistro... I've heard their burgers aren't too shabby either.

After paying the bill, which was really not much considering the cocktails we'd consumed, we disappeared into the night with full bellies and happy thoughts of a fantabulous day spent with lovely friends.

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Monday, 8 April 2013

The First Dinner Party of 2013

I absolutely love dinner parties, hosting them at our shack and going to friends. As no-one ever has any money for a big night out like we seemed to be able to manage in those fabled days of our early 20's, it's the perfect solution to eating good food, 'punishing the red grape' as my gorgeous friend Branchy says, and seeing lovely people without breaking the bank.

I have long relied on a slow-roasted lamb shoulder as my dinner party staple, so it was time to switch it up and attempt something else. I also decided to take the chance of some well-needed days off to make my own cheese. My bro got me a cheese-making kit for Christmas and after reading and re-reading the instructions, I thought I could manage it. 

Good old Jamie has a tasty little marinated mozzarella recipe, which is really nice in the summer (optimistic). Never mind the weather, this was an easy 'recipe' that I can do before everyone arrives and the Prosecco starts flowing. 

Ricotta is up next...
It actually took two hours to do this - but it is easy. You need 8 pints of milk but everything else is in the box. The instructions are really clear and it did work. It looks pretty disgusting after the rennet (vegetarian) has worked it's cheesy magic, but as the instructions say, persevere. My main issue with it was that it wasn't really stretching like it shows in the instructions, so I kept microwaving it - I think this meant I got rid of too much whey and it became a bit hard.

About as stretchy as a pair of Spanx
I bought some back up Buffalo mozzarella at my local farm shop, as this did not turn out as well as I was hoping. Everyone enjoyed the dish, but my mozzarella left something to be desired (despite one of my overly-kind buddies telling me he preferred mine. He's far too good a liar). 

Next on my list was dessert - I'm really no baker but to be honest who needs to be with big Betty C helping you out? I grabbed the ingredients for Slutty Brownies and decided, thanks to Sarah from A Million Dresses, I added some Rolos. I couldn't find the salted caramel sauce, but I think we would have all fallen into a food coma. 

Yes that is cookie mix on the bottom, a layer of Oreos and Rolos and I was about to add the layer of brownie mix. I got this all ready so that by the end of dinner, I can throw these in the oven and carry on punishing the red grape (and punish it we did).

For main course, we had a standard menu change. Even the gorgeous Sambo commented on her excitement at the change - I really should try harder. My infamous Chorizo & Fennel spaghetti made it onto the menu - The Scouser's favourite.

Here comes the science part: 

It's a Jamie recipe, no surprises there - it does require proper chorizo sausage, which I get from Aldi. You may frown at Aldi, but once you get passed the random offerings of garden ornaments and deep fat fryers (yes I do not lie), there is some amazing stuff in there. A large chorizo sausage is £1.99, and this is comparable to at least £3 in M&S.

I've also started buying slightly better quality spaghetti as I think it actually makes a real difference. So you need 100g of spaghetti and I would say half a chorizo sausage per person. You'll also need a bulb of fennel which can be expensive unfortunately. Finally you'll need two tins of chopped tomatoes, teaspoon of fennel seeds, chilli flakes and garlic.

Slice the garlic and crack the fennel seeds in a pestle & mortar, through them into a pan with some olive oil - not too much as the chorizo will render it's own oil into the pan in a sec. For the chorizo  cut it into slices, then in half again. You'll need to cut up the fennel too and I try and make it the same size as my chorizo (long thin pieces). Let the garlic fry gently, then throw in the chorizo with the chilli flakes - as much or as little as you like. Turn the heat up so the chorizo fries and then add the fennel after say 3-4 minutes. Stir it all up and let it fry for another 3-4 minutes. Turn the hat down and add two tins of chopped tomatoes. Leave to simmer until you are left with a nice thick silky sauce, normally about 30 minutes.

Obviously you'll need to cook your spaghetti. Always best not to drain this too much until it's bone dry, as the excess pasta water loosens up the sauce and makes it mix well. Thanks to my lovely mum, I now have a large pan that I can do the mixing in - sometimes I serve the pasta then throw the sauce on top, but with this it's better to mix it all then serve. I kept some chorizo to the side to make sure everyone got plenty of the good stuff.

As a final fancy schmancy addition, you can add the green fennel tops to the dish. If you really want to, you can make pangrattato - fried crispy breadcrumbs which sounds completely odd on top of pasta but I tell you it works. You need some chunks of bread, made into breadcrumbs. You can add to that whatever you like - I whizz mine up in a food processor/blender, so add some herbs like rosemary, dried chillies, anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, whatever you fancy. Fry the breadcrumbs in a splash of olive oil until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper and just sprinkle over the dish.

No pictures of the food, so here is Pippa the dog waiting for the guests to arrive
My love for dinner parties continues and soon it will be time for BBQs - homemade burgers, chicken eaten with your fingers and beers in buckets of ice. This weather needs to be buck it's ideas up.

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