Saturday, 31 July 2010

Losing My Mind

meemalee sings
When I'm not eating, I'm singing

Although these days, I have a passion for post-rock and Mike Patton, I think it's fair to say that as I was growing up, my taste in music was fairly theatrical.

The very first album I ever bought was Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (with Jason Donovan, natch). To this day, I can still remember it word for word.

All throughout school and university, I sang soprano in chamber and chapel choirs and as part of an a cappella ensemble. Frankly, it was all a bit Glee.

I even sang tenor in a male voice group (I am female, I just happen to have quite a broad vocal range and I was at an all-boys school at the time - I'll explain another day) where we merrily piped out barbershop tunes such as "My Evaline" and "Old Man Noah".

Sadly, the only time I get to sing these days is at karaoke. Although I did do a tiny set at a company shindig last October, which was a pretty damn cool experience and managed to assuage my rock star aspirations somewhat. I got to belt out an old Sleeper hit called "Shrinkwrapped" and a Kim Deal, Tanya Donelly track called "You and Your Sister".

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you a song which was my absolute favourite when I was ten. Loved it then, love it now.

Liza Minnelli and the Pet Shop Boys perform Stephen Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" from the musical Follies.

With thanks to Marmaduke Dando, a professional singer who reminded me that this tune existed.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Orange Zest Shortcake, Whipped Cream, Blueberry Coulis (Recipe)

Orange shortcake, whipped cream, blueberry coulis

I don't like baking.

Don't get me wrong - I'm happy to reap the benefits, but for me, life's too short to weigh flour. I know lots of people who think this makes me deficient in some way, but frankly I'd rather have my cakes made for me *cough*.

I don't do desserts either. I might spend hours lovingly preparing a meal, but if my guests want a pud they get (a) fruit, (b) some Ben and Jerry's, or (c) Ocado's finest.

Unfortunately the other day, I was forced to make a pudding for John Torode and Gregg Wallace (the original Puddingface)
. Like I said in the MasterChef cook-off post, I'd found a basic shortbread recipe and then monkeyed with it till I came up with a hypothetical something I could happily call my own.

The first time I actually had a go making my shortcake, it tasted fine, but aesthetically left a little to be desired. In fact, my husband was nice enough to say that it reminded him of the first Ripley Clone in Alien Resurrection. No, I'm not showing you a picture. Anyway, I think that was his own geekoid way of encouraging me to try, try again.

Orange shortcake, whipped cream, blueberry coulis

Orange Zest Shortcake with Whipped Cream and Blueberry Coulis

Serves 4
  • 100g unsalted softened butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g cornflour
  • A large orange
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 300ml double cream (ie a standard pot)
  • 200g blueberries (ie a standard pack)
  • Some icing sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C.

Whisk the butter and caster sugar until creamy. Work in the flours until it forms a crumb-like dough. Zest the orange, being careful not to include any of the white pith and mix the zest into the shortbread dough.

Now roll the dough out to a little less than 1cm thickness and then cut into shapes. Any freaking shapes you like - the fancier the better. I like stars, me.

Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes and then leave to cool.

Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from your zested orange and then simmer this with half the pack of blueberries and the granulated sugar until it thickens.

Beat the cream with a little caster sugar till it stiffens and then fold in some of the remaining blueberries.

Sieve the blueberry sauce and pour into a pretty pool onto each dish. Sandwich two biscuits with the whipped berries and cream for each person and place on the blueberry sauce.

Scatter the rest of the blueberries around and sift icing sugar on top.

Bob's your uncle.

By the way, here's an extra-special version (possibly NSFW) that I made just for the man who insisted that "those that make their food into shapes lack confidence in their cooking".

To be honest, they're ruddy lucky I didn't make them a shoecake (cake like a shoe).

I still don't like baking.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Giant Robot, Clerkenwell - The Haiku Review

Giant Robot, Clerkenwell - Space Age Diner
Giant Robot, Clerkenwell - Space Age Diner

Prawns are giant. Meat
Balls are not. Tasty but dear.
There is no robot.

Giant Robot - Giant Prawns (garlic, chilli, oregano) £23.60
Giant Prawns (garlic, chilli, oregano) £23.60
You get five

Giant Robot - Spaghetti and Meatballs (beef, spicy tomato sauce, pecorino) £9.65
Giant Robot - Spaghetti and Meatballs (beef, spicy tomato sauce, pecorino) £9.65
The "large" portion

Giant Robot
45-47 Clerkenwell Road
London EC1M 5RS
020 7065 6810

Giant Robot on Urbanspoon

A Giant Robot
What I expected

EDITED TO ADD: For future pithy nonsense, see The Haiku Review

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

An Afternoon with John and Gregg - More MasterChef Fun


Asking me if I love MasterChef is a bit like asking if a bear sh*ts in the woods.

I decided to write a blog because I'm working on a Burmese cookbook, and I wanted to know if people would like what I said, but the thing that actually got me started,
the first thing I ever wrote about, was MasterChef.

I've had some folk comment that me putting virtual pen to paper about MasterChef is a waste of my "time and talent", that it's low-brow and inane, but goddammit, I'm a big girl and if I think
it merits attention, then who the hell are they to disagree?

The fact is,
I adore MasterChef with every fibre of my being. It's emotional, it's visceral, it's ludicrous, it's compelling.

By the time you get to the final, you're right there with them, rooting for the competitors, wanting to adopt each and every one of them, to give them all a big hug and to tell them that everything's going to be all right (okay, this may just be me).

But would I ever go on MasterChef myself? For the love of God, no.

Despite being inherently vain (I have a blog - of course I'm vain), I'd never dream of competing for that delightfully plasticky trophy.

I want to watch people make
massive, ungainly sponge cakes, not try to combat them myself.

MasterChef Live - well, that's another kettle of fish entirely. I'd battled the beasts once before at the BBC Good Food Show, so when appliance gods Miele asked me, "So d'you fancy Round 2?", I said "Bring it!".

Gregg and John really like bloggers, you can tell

Plus, by then my eye had stopped twitching and I was still chafed that John and Gregg hadn't tasted my food (incidentally, Mat is firmly back on the Christmas card list. Dhruv, not so sure).

The small print? Five bloggers, one hour, two courses each, one winner. John Torode, Gregg Wallace and Andi Peters to judge. Andi Peters! Conditions to be as close to the real deal as possible. The venue - the Miele Showroom in Central London. What could possibly go wrong?


My fellow contestants were Danny aka Food Urchin, Ireena from Not Another Food Blog, Sarah from Maison Cupcake, and Helly from Fuss Free Flavours - worthy opponents and wonderful people all.

My plan to defeat them? I was going to deal out a culinary smackdown in the form of
ohn-no khao swe aka Burmese coconut chicken noodles - one of the best-loved and best-known Burmese dishes of all time.


And then I thought, "Frack - I don't do desserts". In fact, I've baked off my own bat just once in my life, when I made exceedingly square biscuits (the batter blobs were too big and kinda merged).

But I did a bit of research on how to make a basic shortbread, and finally came up with an orange zest shortcake with whipped cream and blueberries, and a blueberry and orange coulis. Howzabout that from a pud-making virgin, eh?

Thus in a state of wild and unjustified over-excitement, I met up with Food Urchin just before the zero hour to drag him around Chinatown to pick up my "special" ingredients.


The MasterChef Bloggers - Maison Cupcake, Food Urchin, Not Another Food Blog, me, Fuss Free Flavours

Final destination - the Miele Showroom. Sealed away like a space age time capsule, we walked into what can only be described as the Jetsons' residence. In lust with all the appliances, I just about managed not to fling myself at the nearest shiny surface and press all the buttons.

Food Urchin and I were asked to share a workstation, the others had their own. We set up shop with the lovely Amy as our trusty home ec, and waited for the "talent" to arrive.


And soon enough, Messrs Gregg Wallace and John Torode descended shortly after, but to my utter, utter disappointment, there was nary a sign of the legendary Andi Peters. Sad face.

Gregg and John came over over to greet us - I say "greet", the first thing Gregg said with a grin was, "Have any of you written anything rude about us?".

I wasn't sure if they recognised me from
Brum, but suddenly the pattern on the floor became very interesting to me. Hey, at least I didn’t create this image (second one down).


And then, and then, it was kick-off time. So we chopped and we diced and we minced and we sliced, and all the while, the Egg and the Toad came over to poke and to prod and generally get right up our grill-pieces.

Gregg decided to call me "YouYou" which was hilarious as you can imagine, and John just gave me death stares.

Soon though, I was too busy playing with the Miele equipment to give a fig - I especially loved the BOOST button on the hob which got you a pan-ful of boiling water quicker than a kettle.

"What's that? Who's behind me?"

The hour flew by way too quickly, and suddenly it was time to dish up "to restaurant standards".

This year's winner Dhruv Baker turned up at this point as well, allegedly to say hello, but more likely to make fun of us all.


So up on the pass we had:

  • Food Urchin - Grilled Mackerel with Spring Onions, Charlotte Potatoes and Calcot Sauce, followed by Stewed Gooseberries topped with Meringue Peaks (the goosegogs and tatties were home-grown, no less)
  • Not Another Food Blog - Indian Spiced Salmon, Vegetable Pilau Rice and Aubergine Raita, folowed by Nectarine 'Crumble'
  • Fuss Free Flavours - Veal on a Mediterranean sauce of garlic, onion, raisins, capers & olives with a rocket and broad bean salad, followed by Lime and Elderflower posset with berries marinated in homemade elderflower cordial and an Irish Lace biscuit.
  • Maison Cupcake - Hazelnut French macarons with mascarpone and Nutella filling, followed by Hummingbird Bakery's Nutty Apple Loaf (can I just say all power to Sarah for daring to make macarons and beautiful they were - though I'm not sure my mum would deem this a balanced, two-course meal)
  • Meemalee's Kitchen - Burmese coconut chicken noodles aka ohn-no khao swe, followed by blueberry and orange zest shortcake, with whipped cream and a blueberry and orange coulis.

Judgement time. Noodles first. I told The Egg and the Toad I'd cooked Burmese food, though I kinda got the impression I could have said it was Martian.

At any rate, they seemed unimpressed and rather confused that I'd put the garnishes on the side, though I explained, “That’s the Asian way of eating – you season according to your own tastes”. Tumbleweed rolled past.


They took a forkful - John wanted more fish sauce and Gregg wanted more chilli.

Whatevs man, it's meant to be a subtle dish, and I'm not sure what part of "season to taste" they didn't understand.



Next up pudding. Alas and alack, my lovingly-whipped cream melted into a puddle as the blueberry sauce simply hadn't cooled enough, but John seemed to like it, despite the milkshakey-ness.

Gregg complained about the fact that I'd baked star-shaped biscuits, and stridently declared that those who make their food into shapes "lack confidence in their cooking". To which I say equally stridently, "

Stick it in your gob, Gregg

However, he did say that I had real baking skill, though sadly he didn't feel the urge to stick his face in it.

Anyway, Dhruv "
Palate of an Angel" Baker liked my food, so I couldn't really give a monkey's what the other two think.

I know he looks doubtful, but he did like it, honest

Anyway, after they'd gone all the way down the line, we knew Ireena from Not Another Food Blog had won, as the gruesome twosome only just stopped short of inhaling their spoons.

Her pud especially was a triumph, so well done to her on winning the grand prize of a Miele Masterclass Cookery Experience and a bottle of bubbly.

Ireena, the Miele MasterChef Bloggers' Cook-off Champion

Weirdly, everything's a bit of a blur after this. In fact, you can actually hear Gregg expressing concern for me here.

What a lovely pair of chaps they are.

But thank you so much to
Miele for inviting me to take part and for the chance to meet some fine fellow bloggers - 'twas an interesting afternoon all round.

And here's to Round 3 - whatever form that may take ...

Blueberry Shortcake Recipe here.

Help me. Please.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Confit doesn't like me - Cellar Gascon, Clerkenwell


I ruddy love macarons. And my favourite so far are the prune and Armagnac ones from Comptoir Gascon, which have shimmering gold dust sprinkled on top (thus making me feel like P Diddy).

But despite frequent visits to satisfy my blingtastic cravings, until the other day, I'd never been to the other outposts in the Gascon empire ie Club Gascon and Cellar Gascon.

The Grubworm, Chris from Cheese and Biscuits and I had planned a rendezvous at Cellar Gascon. I turned up last to find G and C sitting on leather banks either side of a high table with a precarious-looking stool left for me. I took a look at the stool and thought, "That's not happening", but thankfully Chris gallantly offered his seat to me.


We were there for the express lunch menu comprising the dish of the day and a glass of wine for £10.

As you may already know, I don't really do wine, so I asked for a soft alternative only to get roundly mocked by the waitress, who then brought me a glass of cranberry and orange juice mixed with a dose of Gallic scorn.


Dish of the day was confit rabbit on polenta which Grubworm and I went for. Chris chose foie gras and some squiddy venture, and we decided to share a plate of charcuterie, flippantly named "Piggy Treats" on the menu.

Chris's foie gras looked rather delectable - though, perhaps in return for the Walter Raleigh moment, I refrained from helping myself. Not so with the squid, which the Grubworm and I fell upon, and our greed was rewarded by sweet and tender meat balanced by juicy, sharp chunks of orange.


The Piggy Treats were equally pleasing and perhaps the most attractive plate I have seen in a while, resembling a meaty flurry and actually living up to its whimsical moniker.

Then came the wabbit. Two fat pieces sat on a bed of soft, squooshy, deliciously rich polenta. It looked quite normal, and tasted rather lovely, but the texture - oh, the texture.

The first forkful went in my mouth, then headed north and smeared itself over the roof of my mouth. I tried to push it around with my tongue in an attempt to swallow, but it steadfastly refused to budge. There's a phobia called arachibutyrophobia - "fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth" - I was experiencing the leporine version in spades.

So I blenched, but I tried another forkful, as if the second might hurry along the first, but no joy - the rabbit didn't seem to be dissipating in volume or tenacity. It seemed more like food coming up than going down, and I suddenly said quietly, "It's like it's been pre-chewed".


Poor Grubworm - he'd been enjoying it up till now (more or less). But he's a plucky young chap and decided to make the best of a bad job and finish it anyway. The polenta really was very good though.

We ended our meal with a shared cheese platter - a small but perfectly-formed French selection including nudibranchine shavings of a delicate semi-soft sheep’s cheese which I failed to make a note of. But I know you can get them all at Comptoir Gascon if that helps at all.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, yes, I did. I'd avoid the rabbit confit in future, but I rather liked the rest of it, patronization and all. I'll definitely swing by again.

Cellar Gascon
57 West Smithfield
London EC1A 9DS
020 7796 0600

Club Gascon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 4 July 2010

A Fernandez and Leluu Picnic at the Henley Royal Regatta

Giant Prawns, Tuna Sashimi and Samphire by Fernandez and Leluu

It was a bad start. Public transport woes got me to Paddington late, and when I went to get £100 out of a cashpoint, it claimed to dispense the cash to me but decidely didn't. I rang up Lloyds to be told I'd have to file an ATM dispute claim - my word against theirs that I'd been given the money.

Ticked off beyond belief, I then flew up the platform only to see the doors to the train I wanted slam shut. I was mildly mollified though that a surprisingly low-key Henry Conway, knitting dandy scion of disgraced MP Derek Conway, and his chums had also been denied entrance so we were all in the same boat.

My shoes for Henley

Talking of boats, that's why I was there, dressed in regulation-length summer frock, slippy-soled kitten-heeled shoes and ridiculous feathery fascinator - to attend the Henley Royal Regatta, what what.

Stewards Enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta
Henley Royal Regatta

Ryvita (yes, Ryvita) had invited me to a picnic at their Ryvita Crunch Cafe in the Upper Thames Enclosure. It was hosted by the wonderful Fernandez and Leluu who run a legendary supperclub somewhere in London.

Other guests were the London Foodie, the Greedy Diva, Su-Lin from Tamarind and Thyme, Rachael from the Hatcham Supperclub and Laura from Feast on Scraps. A fine company indeed.

Picnickers at Fernandez and Leluu Henley Picnic
I lack the ability to sit in a feminine way

So after a fairly epic journey, we all finally made it to Henley.

The rowing and screaming was fun, despite giving me flashbacks from college, but the main event for me was the food (and lashings of Laurent Perrier champagne on tap).

Tuna Sashimi by Fernandez and Leluu

I've never been to a Fernandez and Leluu night, but if they're even half as good as the picnic spread that Simon and Uyen (aka F&L) provided, you can sign me up for life.

Uyen from Fernandez and LeluuSimon from Fernandez and Leluu

Savoury highlights included glorious tuna sashimi and salty-sweet samphire, the biggest mother-loving prawns I've ever clapped eyes on, the fattest, dreamiest oysters, and potato salad so good I wanted to weep.

Sweet treats included berries and Cointreau trifle which made me want to sing, pears poached in champagne which the London Foodie claimed were "better than sex", and some delectable lemony cakes from Violet's Curd.

Fernandez and Leluu's Picnic Spread

And of course there was the Ryvita. I have to confess that I quite like Ryvita and have been known to eat it slathered in pate (thus defeating its main purpose somewhat).

Anyway, they've just launched a new range of Ryvita crispbreads with flavours including Cracked Black Pepper, Dark Rye, Seeds and Oats, and my favourite Sweet Onion.

That last one combined with some Donald Russell smoked salmon was A VERY GOOD THING.

Ryvita Spread at Fernandez and Leluu's Henley Picnic

In fact, the whole thing was a very good thing. The posh totty was just a bonus (although most of them were in the Mahiki Henley tent downing Treasure Chests, I dare say).

Chin chin.

DSC08920Henley Royal Regatta

Thank you to Ryvita, Wild Card, and Fernandez & Leluu for a fantastic day and thank you to the lovely Cornishware makers TG Green who lent us their fab stripey plates

ps Fernandez and Leluu were interviewed today on BBC Radio 4. Listen here.