Easy Does it.

Ooh, aah - be mesmerised by the twinkly lights...


So, recently – as part of my real life, I had to spend a lot of time looking at Youtube clips of Nigella Lawson.

Firstly – I just want put it out there that my job is neither made up, nor am I using ‘job’ as a euphemism for ‘going to the loo for an uncomfortably long period of time’, which, I am quite aware, is in itself a euphemism for ‘looking at the undeniably magnificent Nigella and then touching myself’.

Now, interestingly Nigella is just one of those TV chef-type people that I’d never really watched a lot.  I’ve never bought any of her books or paid particular attention to her shows – I guess mainly just because … I dunno – I apparently don’t have a lot of time for breathless finger licking and seemingly ENDLESS midnight raids on the fridge for no apparent reason other than so that we can watch her in a nightie.  But this is TV – I understand that the woman has to work her angle, so I’m not going to hold that against her.

Bollocks, now in my head everything just sounds like a euphemism for ‘looking at the undeniably magnificent Nigella and then touching myself’.  Oh well, cracking on.

Anyway – in the process of browsing through endless clips of her cooking various things for an infinite supply of friends that seem to just hang around her house and mooch off her, I did come across one of her series that was designed around the concept of embracing short-cuts; using pre-made sauces, bottled pastes, and canned this that and the other.  It’s an idea that I like, quite frankly, because not everything has to be made from scratch, and I’m slightly suspicious of people who seemingly get off on the idea that that’s the only real way to do it.

Lets face it – no-one really cares if you made your Colombian Squid-ink Reducto-jus Infused Saffron rice from SCRATCH bitches, because it’s mainly just a wild ego-wank that proves you either have no life or are desperate to get laid by a food-groupie.  The people who’re actually eating it only really give a crap if tastes good – which is the point of cooking in the first place, so everyone just relax for a bit and put down your specialist quail egg shell-removers.

So, if anything, it was kinda empowering to be reminded that a) certain things do come pre-made – and are actually excellent when used properly, and b) finger-licking Nigella can stay.

Now if you excuse me I have to go to the loo.

Chicken Brik

 

...add a cold beer to this and you're golden.


I’d recently read about a Moroccan street meal called a ‘brik’ – essentially because of a special sheet of dough used to make a kind of pie/food parcel.  I’ve adapted something sort of similar out of  this notion, which is absolutely nothing like the real thing, but I think works really nicely.  If this was a movie, it’d totally have a title up-front that would say: Inspired by Real Events.

 Ingredients (for 4)

150g self-raising flour

200 ml warm water that had about 2 tbsp of honey dissolved into it

1 tbsp of olive oil

1 tbsp salt

half a cup of semolina

 

3 skinless chicken breasts, sliced into smallish, neat strips

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 red onion, chopped

juice of one lemon

 

2 generous tbsp of bottled Korma paste (whichever brand or type your prefer)

 

1 egg, beaten,

 

What to do

In a large bowl add the flour, salt and olive oil.  Make a well in the middle and add a bit of the honey water, and mix it in with either a wooden spoon (or your hands if you don’t mind them getting doughy).  Keep going by adding a bit of water, mixing it in, adding more water, mixing it in – until all the dry flour has been absorbed and you have a wettish dough (it doesn’t matter if you haven’t used up all the water).  It’s going to be incredibly sticky and clingy, so resist the temptation to dust with extra flour and try and work it with your fingers as best you can so that it’s free of lumps, then just cover the bowl with clingfilm and bung it in the fridge for about 30 minutes or so.

Get a pan on the stove, and heat a splash of olive oil, then add the chicken.  Once the chicken has started to brown nicely, add the Korma paste, half the lemon juice, and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir it all about and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes before removing from the heat.

Let the pan cool, then mix in the raw celery, onion, coriander and the rest of the lemon juice then set aside (give your pan a wipe-down at this point, you’re going to be using it again).

Get the dough out of the fridge, and on a large chopping board or clean work surface, scatter a good amount of the semolina. Break off a small burger-patty sized piece of the dough and, using your hands, press it into a roughish disc. Then flop it onto the semolina so that it gets a good coating on both sides, and start to gently roll it out with a rolling pin. Keep making sure it’s got a semolina covering so that it doesn’t stick, and roll it until it’s about 2mm thick and roughly circular.  At this point you should have a lovely crust of semolina on your fake brik dough.

Spoon some of the chicken onto one side of the dough circle (about 3-4 tablespoon’s worth), keeping about an inch away from the edge.  Using a kitchen brush, paint that side with the egg, and then fold the dough over and bind it – so that it looks like a cornish pastie.

Heat some vegetable oil in a pan, then gently lift the brik into it, and gently fry on both sides until golden brown.  Drain on some paper towel and serve.

Just a note – you won’t end up using all the dough, but it’ll keep, if covered in the fridge, for about 3 days.

Rescue Me

All the things necessary to make A Happy Dannyrocketer are in this picture.

Being drunk is a curious thing.  It’s curious, because firstly you don’t try and dry-hump a lamp-post when you’re just having an orange juice.   Secondly, being drunk also means having to Eventually Be Sober – which is just horrible.  Being suddenly sober is crappy in a way only comparable with men who wear leather waistcoats, couples who feed each other cheesecake in public and people who laugh loudly and disproportionately at newspaper articles that you know for a fact aren’t that funny.

…just in case you were wondering, all three of those things are in fact within five feet of me right now, are more annoying than a seasonal novelty dance-move and have plunged my mood straight to I Will Stab You.

I think it’s why the French and Italians are so good at being drunk.  You pair up their lower-in-alcohol wine (traditionally 11% to 12.5% as opposed to our reds which sometime top out at 16% – a case in point being a Zorgfliet I had recently that was like drinking a salami), and their starch-and-sauce heavy food and those guys are ready to rip it until someone punches them in the face just to get them to stand still for a bit.  Us, not so much. Our thirst is strong, and we tend to think Protein is the solution to everything.

There’s a fantastic moment at any party which I call ‘carb o’clock’, where suddenly, everything that even vaguely looks like you can eat it is fair game.  This is usually where people start licking bovril out the bottle and smashing dry packet soup in their faces like its cake. A case in point being a birthday piss-up I was at recently, where a massive pot of french onion soup (which in itself is a fairly odd thing to have at a party) was taken down so comprehensively by tequila-fueled Professor Plums and Miss Scarlets (it was a Cluedo-themed dress-up) that I’m pretty sure at one point someone was cradling the pot in a corner and singing it nursery rhymes while keeping everyone else at bay with a rifle.

Good times.

The next morning is of course where the wheels fall off, which the day after the French Onion Bash – they did.  This is where if you don’t have a solid rescue-plan in place – you’re going to have what’s technically termed A Fucking Horrible Day.

Fresh rocket and shaved parmesan, penne pesto, OLIVES!, caramelised butternut with feta, fantastic meatballs, and that lamb. Oh. The. Lamb.

Enter the buffet.

The Sunday buffet is the best possible thing in these circumstances and it was in search of just such a monster that I recently re-stumbled (it’d been years since I’d last gone) across the fantastic La Rustica in Houghton, Johannesburg  (103 Houghton Drive – 011 728 2092).  Tables literally groaning with antipasti, a second table laden with a giant Kabeljou (the size of a comfortable three-seater couch), a vast array of pastas, three (yes…THREE) lambs roasting on spits outside, and that most Italian of things…Yorkshire pudding.  It was totally the land at the top of the Faraway Tree that Enid Blyton never got round to describing. Probably because she was too busy thinking up new names for pixies that were always Winky, for some reason.

Never have three more desperately in-need people slumped down at a table, ordered themselves a Bloody Mary and then proceeded to eat for about 3 hours straight.  It was utterly glorious and restored spirits we didn’t even know we had in the first place.  Of course, there’s only one way to do this properly, and that’s to go and chug two liters of wine first, just so that, you know…you too can get the full impact.

Okay, so drinking is a curious thing, but if meals like this are at the end of it, then it’s fine by me…

Forgive the fussy eaters, for they know not what they do.

Come let me nuzzle you...

I had to eat beetroot every single day for nine years.  I didn’t want to eat the beetroot, but I  was forced to at boarding school by a very large woman with forearms that looked like the kind of heavy-weaponry that America spends inconceivable amounts of money on every single year, which then inevitably doesn’t work the first time they deploy it anywhere that’s not a tree-lined avenue in Wisconsin.

Now, I have nothing against beetroot – but I challenge you to eat anything for three thousand two hundred and eighty five days straight, and then see how you feel on the other side.  Needless to say, that for whatever the reason, there are very few people who don’t have some sort of food weirdness lurking around.  Even those who’d consider themselves fairly adventurous will unexpectedly turn around and confess some ridiculous aversion to, I don’t know…cocktail sausages or something.

Come to think of it, I might have something against cocktail sausages. But that’s probably more to do with not being too wild about ‘cocktail’ as a food genre on the whole.

The problem is that, no matter how sensitive towards other people’s food aversion you’d like to be, it does sometimes make cooking for them a bit of a chore.  Without even having to pause for thought – these are just some of the ones from my pool of friends (and their justifications) off the top of my head:

Cherry tomatoes (apparently they look like alien brains)

Any chicken on the bone (bones freak me out…) Um, okay.

Mushrooms (this is what I imagine baby meat feels like…) I’m not going to think about this one too much.

Onions (It’s the texture) This was a beautiful girl I used to cook for a lot.  I tried hiding the onions in a lot of things I made in some of the most creative ways I could think of, but she was like some sort of invasive surgery – capable of finding the damn things and picking them out, no matter how finely they were chopped and cooked in.  Seriously, if ever you actually do need to find a needle in a haystack, just wrap the needle in a sliver of cooked onion and giver her a call.

Risotto (it looks like worms!!)

Cheese – I mean what the fuck!?!?! Who doesn’t like cheese (I just don’t like cheese okay!)

Duck (I used to have a pet duck)

Sweet potato pie (Potatoes aren’t meant to be in a dessert!)

Pawpaw (It’s. Just. So. Slimy)

Lamb (It just tastes so much like…lamb) Yes. Yes it does.

Parmesan (It smells like vomit) – this one is my dad, and yet somehow he stuffs his face full of marmite every day of his life. Go figure. 

You add to this a fair number of kosher eaters, general vegetarian-types of varying fanaticism and my lone vegan friend (shame, we try not to make too much fun of her, but we don’t allow her in any of our photographs) – and dinner parties with this bunch get fairly tough.

The interesting thing about this is that I really believe that food aversions can be ‘cured’, as it were.  Mostly just because I think not liking something comes from having been exposed to really horrible examples of it in the past, and from that, the switch gets flipped.  Which logically mean it can be unflipped, right?  To me, it makes sense that all that needs to happen is a meal where the thing you don’t like is done properly and wonderfully, and once you’ve gotten over the conditioning of supposedly not liking the thing – and you can learn to appreciate it on its own terms again.  A sort of mental/tastebuds ‘reset’.

I believe this because in the past I’ve helped one of my oldest friends get over his mushroom aversion, recently managed to turn the risotto-hater and also most impressively got over my own fear of pawpaw (Yes, that one was me.  Oh, and for my American friends, I’m talking about Papaya here…).  In fact, it was while I was talking about exactly how much I hated pawpaw that I suddenly realised it’d been a really long time since I’d actually had some, nicked a piece of a nearby plate of fruit salad – and couldn’t believe it when, to my enormous surprise, I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I thought.  In fact, I pretty much ate the rest of the plate like a vaccuum-cleaner set to ‘super suck’.  You see, I’d just gotten so used to telling myself I didn’t like it, that I didn’t question if it had carried on been true.

So, having said all of this, I took it as a personal challenge when I overheard someone claiming not to like tuna.  And because fighting in the streets is frowned upon, I’ve decided to cook them some instead and see if I can persuade them otherwise.

Grilled Tuna with Chilli, Ginger and Lemon Butter.

I know tuna is meant to be one of the things we're meant to be eating less of, but just look at it. It would be a shame not to eat that.

My approach for this is to just get out of the way and let the tuna speak for itself.  If you’re doing this for first-timers, make sure the steak is fresh, don’t make it too rare and just let the richness of the lemon-butter work its magic.

Ingredients (for 2)

2 large tuna steaks

1 dried chilli, finely chopped and seeds removed

1 knuckle-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

black pepper

salt

a splash of olive oil

4 potatoes

2 whole tomatoes

1 clove of garlic

fresh thyme

a splash of milk

the juice of half a lemon

2 anchovy fillets

100g butter

1 heaped teaspoon of sugar

a handful of fine beans

parmesan

What to do

This first bit you want to get going as far in advance as possible – even the day before if you want.

Turn the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Cut the garlic thinly into slices, then cut the tomatoes in half.  Put them in a baking tray lined with oven paper, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with some fresh thyme leaves, a dash of salt and pepper, and place two garlic slivers on each tomato-half.  Get that in the oven and leave them until they properly look gummy and golden – it should take about 2 hours or so.  Once they’re done, leave them to one side to cool.

Whisk together the chilli, ginger, olive oil, pinch of salt and dash of pepper, add the tuna steaks and just let that all get to know each other for about 30 minutes or so.

In the meantime, peel the potatoes, pop them in a pot of salted, boiling water and leave them until cooked and tender.

In a saucepan, add the butter and anchovy fillets (they’re the key to this, it makes this sauce rich and beyond delicious – what I’m saying is don’t you dare leave them out), and once the butter has started to melt and foam, stir vigorously so that the anchovy fillets break apart and integrate with the butter.  Squeeze in the lemon juice, add the sugar and also a dash of pepper (the anchovies should give you salt enough).  Stir stir stir and then reduce the heat so that it stays warm without bubbling.  Give it a taste to see if the balance is right – you might find you need a bit more lemon or sugar depending on both your taste and the strength of your lemons.

At this point bring another pot of salted water to the boil, and add the beans. They’ll need to cook for about 15-20 minutes, so it’s best to put them on just before you’re about to start finishing up.

Once the potatoes are boiled, drain all the water and then add just splash of milk. Chop up the baked tomatoes (with all the garlic and thyme from the baking tray) and add them to the potatoes as well, then mash it together until creamy.

Get a ridged or normal non-stick pan good and hot and then slap in the tuna, cooking it on each side for a maximum of 5 minutes.  You just want the outside to be pleasantly seared, and once its cut open for the inside to be a rose-coloured pink.

Serve the tuna with the mash and a small grating parmesan over the beans, then spoon over the lovely lemon butter sauce.

Holding thumbs that this will do it.

20 People In A Room Talking With Their Mouths Full

My mom used to have this boyfriend whose jaw clicked when he ate.  Between that and the fact that he used to walk around naked a lot, he was a fairly annoying man.

The only reason I mention it, is that when there’s a camera attached to a wall, taking a picture every five seconds, it sounds a lot like that clicking jaw working over a couple of samoosas and a particularly chewy biryani.  There were a couple of moments when I was confused and thought somehow I’d been sent back to 1993.

Luckily for everyone, that was not the case, and it was just a camera making this, which is actually what happened in between the before and after photos that are here:

5 hours of dinner in about a minute.

Royal Risotto

If only crowns were made of this. Pity.

Dear Wills and Kate,

Well done for getting hitched.

Wills, I especially like how you handled your bald-spot with dignity and humour. It bodes well for you that you carry your physical ridiculousness quite comfortably, because seeing how the rest of your family have gone – you’re in for a lot of it along the way.

I watched you guys on a small youtube window on my computer while making some risotto for my lunch.  It’s probably not the most romantic or indeed traditional way to watch your wedding I know, but there were a couple of factors. Firstly, I just didn’t know if I could handle Elton John in HD.  He looks like a potplant that plays host to a scrappy little swampfrog these days, and my TV is new, so… sorry about that.  Secondly, I would have been up to my eyeballs in Yorkshire Pudding and Spotted Dick and all that other English stuff, if it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t plan ahead and happened to have some risotto in the cupboard at the time, so went that way instead.  Again, sorry about that.

Kate. You smile a lot. I hope it’s not because you’re hiding some cosmic and infinite pain inside, and more because Wills is a funny guy and constantly makes jokes about friendly badgers and a wisecracking owl. Congratulations on snagging your prince, even though your sister is hotter and doesn’t have those thin lips you’re cursed with (see earlier section about bald spots), I’m sure you will be very happy.

I’m glad you decided to sing so much during your wedding, because it meant I had the chance to see the Queen forget the words to ‘Jerusalem’, which was most excellent. This also unfortunately proves that she’s probably not a marauding space-robot, as I’ve long suspected. But it is somewhat comforting to know that at the end of the day she’s just an old bat who looks surprisingly good in yellow (her diet of canaries, human placenta and lemon cream probably has something to do with that).

Your kiss was small, but probably the right thing to do. I know the Royal Snipers were definitely on standby somewhere in the crowd, ready to unleash hell if there was the slightest hint of tongue, so good save.

Thanks for all the laughs, and may I suggest that your first child be called Morris. But only if it’s a girl.

Sincerely.

Jono

This risotto is exactly the same recipe that can be found here, but instead of using the rosa tomatoes, bacon and apricots, substitute the oven-baked tomatoes used in this recipe.  Ridiculously simple, quick and vegelicious.