And on the third day, he cooked something and ate it.

Someone who knows me better than just about anyone else, recently sent me a link to a 365 project by a guy called Jonathan Harris (http://vimeo.com/mssngpeces/today).

It wasn’t the first 365 project I’d come across (the idea of taking and posting up a photo every single day for a year), but in this particular instance, not only were the pictures insanely batshit incredible, what was more affecting however was the way he spoke about how the act of taking the pictures had forced him into the habit of remembering. Something I think we all take for granted, and therefore don’t do nearly as often as we imagine.

I went through a particular phase where I was an obsessive photograph-taker for that very reason. After a time where I’d sort of just let things drift by, I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no real recollection of a lot of what had happened in those years – none of the moments, the little things, or even the big things that make up the million-thread tapestry that is any given moment in our lives.  This is why I scrounged an ancient sony camera and a lens for it from some kind friends – and began taking photographs. It’s a habit that ran strongly with me for many years, and in a lot of ways was part of the reason for making this blog in the first place.  Of course lately, my camera has mainly been used to capture (mostly badly, but that’s my fault not the camera’s) the stuff I do in the kitchen, and maybe the quite narrow focus of doing that for the blog has stopped me from using it to look at the other things, the life around me that I used to look at all the time.

And so, with this guy’s 365 project rattling around in my brain in an annoyingly inspiring way, this time I thought it’d be nice to put some of that cooking stuff in more context. Capture a sense of what was going on at the time around the kitchen and all the food.  Because hearing this guy speak about photographs and remembrance so hauntingly, instantly made me miss my camera’s ability to see the things, that at the time, I didn’t know were one day going to become my memories.

So, here’s the Easter Weekend in food and passing, and of course a recipe at the end.

Thank you buffel.

Pistou Soup (for 4)

Ingredients

2 potatoes, roughly chopped

250g green beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pack of bacon, cut into chunks

1 brown onion, diced

3 leeks, sliced

1 large stick of celery cut into pieces

3 carrots, cut into pieces

1 can of borlotti beans, drained

1 dried chilli, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 heaped tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves

6 tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, cut into slices

1 cup of white wine

1 tspn of smoked paprika

70g of linguine, broken into 2-inch pieces

for the Pistou

1 healthy handful of rocket leaves

1 handful of grated parmesan

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt

pepper

What to do

Slice the tomatoes in half, fit them tightly, cut-side up, in a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves. Turn your oven to 180 degrees celsius and let them bake for about 2 hours.

Add a splash of olive oil to a heavy-based pot on a high heat and fry the bacon. When it’s getting crisp, add the chopped onions, leeks, chilli, garlic and the rest of the thyme.  Get it all nicely mixed together, stirring with a wooden spoon. When it’s combined and starting to soften, add the rest of the vegetables, the white wine, paprika and then cover with water. Bring it to a gentle simmer and let it go for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if it looks like it’s drying out. About fifteen minutes before you plan to get it to the table, add the dried pasta, stir in and let it cook through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the pistou, blend the rocket, garlic, parmesan, salt and pepper into a paste.

Serve the soup straight from the pot, with crusty bread and a dollop of both the pistou and some of the chopped, baked tomatoes in each bowl. Easy, freakin’ peasy.

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Big Eating in Little…um, Parktown.

A table reserved for 20? No problem.

“Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” is what people started to say about … well, some Englishmen, after they’d gone out in the midday sun a lot and then bitten someone instead of sucking down tea and saying thing’s like ‘Good God, Bertie’s gone and jammed the walpole something bafters, eh what?”

So basically, as everyone who lives in a place that’s hot knows: don’t go out in it – because it’s uncomfortable and likely to make you a bit squiffy in the face and pants. Other Hot Places include: kitchens, and…well, because this story is about kitchens, that’s all I can really think of at the moment. So, yes. Kitchens. According to that logic you shouldn’t go in those either, something about staying out of them if you don’t like sweating. I am alas extraordinarily bad at both staying out of kitchens and listening to what other people say – which is why I host dinners for large amounts of people and then practically set myself on fire cooking for all of them. The most recent one being last weekend.

At this point I wish I had happy photographs of people laughing and having a good time, eating things and cracking open the 12th bottle of red wine in about 14 minutes, but alas I was too busy grappling with a minor grease fire (which always looks scarier than it actually is) and 2kgs of bad ostrich. Not bad ostrich like Nicholas Cage popping meth and caps in people’s asses in a Werner Hertzog movie, just ostrich that should never have been put in shrink-wrap and sold to me to feed to people. Bad Pick ‘n Pay Hyde Park. Bad.

The Day After.

Warning. Jono Trying To Make Some Sort Of Profound Statement Alert.

It feels like there’s a fair amount of negative feeling starting to build at the moment towards the supposedly over-saturation of ‘celebrity chef culture’ and foodie obsessives (present), organic this and the next thing, Come Dine With Me subcultures, Masterchef/Iron Chef/Top Chef, Gordon Ramsey shouting at people, and hero-worshipped ‘only spoken of in hushed tones’ super god restauranteurs (Ferran and Heston, sitting in a tree…). Well, I say bollocks to that. Because at the heart of all that crap – and yes, most of it is crap, but at the heart of it – is really just the simple notion that people are starting to get interested in being able to cook, both for themselves and, more importantly… for each other.  And surely that can’t be a bad thing?  At the end of the day it all boils down to more and more people having a reason to get mopes like us together with plates of things to eat so that we can talk about whatever happened to the guy who provided the voice for the original Kit in Knight Rider and/or psychic dolphins.  And that’s kinda what the “20-odd people in my house for dinner thing once every two months or so” thing is all about, and who cares about the occasional minor grease fire?

For my reward, I choose.... pasta!

Okay, so that’s done. Someone make a joke about people who shouldn’t be allowed to wear spandex.

Spicy lentils with mushrooms and mascarpone. 

It’s sometimes odd how a dish can live in your brain, whispering “I’m not quite ready yet”, and “Why haven’t you gone to gym this week?”

Okay, not the second one, but still. One of the very first completely original recipes I ever started to work on was this lentil thing, and I’ve never quite stopped tinkering with it – until now it seems.  After about five years of fiddling with it, I think it might actually be finished, which is I gave it to everyone who came to my house for the Big Eating dinner as a starter.

When I found my own island nation of superbeings, this will be on the flag.

Ingredients (for 4)

3 cups of brown lentils

1 red onion (chopped)

1 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes

2 dried red chillis (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

2 bay leaves

2 heaped tbspns of Curry Powder

100 mls of vegetable or meat stock

2 tspn brown sugar

200 mls of red wine

olive oil

1 generous handful of brown or portebellini mushrooms

1 handful of rosa tomatoes

a healthy splash of brandy

2 tbspns of black mustard seeds

A couple of tbpsns of Mascarpone cheese

fresh rocket

salt

pepper

What to do

Pour the lentils into a pot and cover generously with water and a pinch of salt. Bring it to the boil cover with a lid, and let them boil for about an hour, topping up with water from time to time if it looks like they’re drying out.

In a pan, heat a splash of olive oil, then add the chilli, garlic and onions.  Once they’ve softened and are starting to take on a bit of colour, add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaves, curry powder and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and let it simmer until you’ve got a rich, red spicy sauce.

After the lentils have had their hour-long boiling session, stir in the sauce from the pan, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. After everything’s been stirred in, add the 200mls of red wine. You should have a somewhat soupy consistency about now. If it feels too thick, just add a bit of water, and don’t worry if it feels too runny, because you’re going to simmer it all down anyway. Let this all bubble away for another 45 minutes.

While this happening, slice up the mushrooms and tomatoes and bung them in a hot pan (you can use the same one you used to make the sauce – just give it a wipe with paper towel) with some olive oil, and once they’re starting to brown, add your brandy. Boil away most of the alcohol so that you’ve got lovely moist, browned up mushrooms and tomatoes left in the pan.

Toast the mustard seeds in a dry pot or pan and set aside.

So, after the lentils have had their extra 45 minutes, you’ll need to check the seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste at this point) and if the lentils have softened nicely. If they haven’t, just add a touch more liquid and let them carry on for a couple of minutes.

Scoop a ladle of lentils (this so should be the collective noun for lentils) into a bowl or onto a plate, add a dollop of mascarpone cheese and some of the brandy mushrooms and tomatoes, sprinkle with the mustard seeds and top with the fresh rocket.

Now, how about those psychic dolphins?

Wolf-wrestling is bad for your health. But not for the reasons you’d imagine.

 

Like the pyramids. Not a waste.

I once saw an insert on one of those awful travelogue-type programs that typically feature some ruggedly handsome, but still somehow inescapably smarmy, type person swanning around in Gondolas and musing endlessly about ‘faded glamour’ or some other crap. My usual reaction to these shows is to immediately attempt a recreation of the time my somewhat addled granddad beat the shit out of his TV with an 8-iron because he didn’t like the newsreader’s face (which, come to think about it, is probably the sanest reaction to the news I’ve heard in a while). The only problem being that this time I was actually intrigued enough to pause with the golf-club in hand because for once, the guy-with-a-face-like-a-cartoon-fish was actually saying something interesting. Balls.

It turns out that in the Czech republic, one of the more typical bar-snacks is called ‘beer cheese’. What happens is that a lump of cheese is brought to the bar in a saucer with some hunks of bread, beer is poured into the saucer and then the cheese is mashed up into it with a fork to make kind of a cheese/beer paste, which is then spread on the bread. No sucky old peanuts for these hardened Czech men. And then they drink the night away and sing songs of the old country where men were men and wrestled wolves naked by moonlight.

I couldn’t help it. I too wanted to be a man and wrestle, if not wolves, then at the very least an angry cat. And probably not naked either. Subsequently I never forgot the idea of ‘beer cheese’, and remembered those Czech men fondly. Which prompted, on a recent trip to Capetown where a couple of friends and I decided to take the afternoon off at the excellent Brewers & Union where there is both beer and cheese in abundance, the idea that it was time to try it.

Big. Fucking. Mistake. I wasted some good cheese, half my expensive lager and ended up with something that tasted like being sick on some bread, just about everyone laughed, and no-one went out to Tokai forest for a friendly wrestle. Plus, Colin Moss was there. Which just made the whole experience a miserable fail on just about every level.

Clearly, those Czech men are fucked in the head and someone needs to show them a pretzel, because all that wolf-grappling has obviously done lasting damage.

However, not all not-peanut Euro bar snacks are a heinous mess that taste like the floor of a bar after a 48-hour vomiting festival. And we have the Spanish to thank for it.  Having recently become obsessed with Tapas – I’ve been introduced to the ultimate bar snack/dinner-in-a-hurry/simple meal accompaniment – Patatas Bravas, which thankfully knocks beer cheese into a cocked hat.

Now this is totally one of those meals that, on the surface, doesn’t look like anything special. If you’re a cynical, joyless, glass-half-empty type (like the beer-cheese men, clearly) – then yes, it’s just roast potato with tomatoes. But by the same token, the Great Pyramid of Giza is just an annoying pile of rubble blocking up an otherwise perfectly serviceable desert, so those people can just bugger off.

However, sometimes a thing is more than just the sum of its parts – and this is one of those moments. The smoked paprika, aioli, crispy potatoes, tomato and chives all somehow just come out right, and left an impression lasting enough for me to want to put it up here. And so, having cast around for a decent recipe and adapting something I found on the website for the Guardian (strangely enough) – I wound up up with:

Patatas Bravas (for 4) – or, spicy tomato relish with potatoes and garlic aioli.

Ingredients

500g potatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika (this is the key to the whole thing really, don’t use normal or sweet paprika – it won’t be the same)
2 tbsp malt vinegar

for the aioli
1 egg

300ml olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

a dash of lemon juice
Chives, to serve

What to do

Get your oven to 200C while you get some other poor sucker to peel all the potatoes, because that bit is a real pain in the ass.  Once they’re peeled, cut them into smallish cubes about an inch across or so. Bung a roasting tray with a healthy splash of olive oil into your hot oven and leave it to heat through. This should take about five minutes, or there and thereabouts. Take it out, toss the potatoes in the hot oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt and bake for about 45 minutes until crisp and golden.

While that’s on the go, it’s time for the sauces. Put two tablespoons of oil into a largish pan on a medium heat, and start frying the chopped red onion. After about about seven minutes when they’ve just started to crisp around the edges, put in the chilli, and cook for another few minutes, then adding the tomatoes, sugar, salt and smoked paprika.  Stir it up like a champ, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until rich and darker in colour. Take off the heat, add a tablespoon of the malt vinegar, and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper if needed.

To make the aioli, put the egg in a bowl along with the garlic and the other tablespoon of malt vinegar. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and either with a hand-beater or a blending stick, whizz until incorporated. Then, this is the bit where you’ve got to be careful –  start  adding in the rest of the olive oil while beating all the time until you’ve got a creamy mayonnaise-style sauce. Like everything, taste it!  Then you can add salt accordingly, and finally finish it off with a good dash of lemon juice .

Take the potatoes out of the oven, spread the tomato sauce on to the plates, put the potatoes on top, then add a dollop of aioli and a sprinkle of chives, turn on the rugby and serve immediately with a cold beer or some strong red wine.