Category Archives: Food

Toad in the Hole (Medicinal)

What does Autumn taste like? It looks buttery red and like brown leaves turning soft on dew drop lawns. It smells like damp earth and apple juice. It sounds like a breeze ruffling what’s left on the trees. Or, if you live in London, it sounds like leaf blowers at 9am, the cockwombles.

Much like the pained strains of the bagpipe, some leniency must be given to the leaf blower - indigenous instrument of the disgruntled council worker

Much like the pained strains of the bagpipe, some leniency must be given to the leaf blower – indigenous instrument of the disgruntled council worker

But what does it taste like? It needs to be something that warms from the inside, redolent with black pepper to make your lips tingle. It needs to act as a shield against the snivels and sniffs that those first foot stamping days bring on. In short, it’s got to be proper comfort food – the sort that comes out of agas in Grandmothers’ kitchens to appreciative sighs.

Call me a traditionalist, but this isn’t a season for extravagances or for experimentation. Flambés and fermentation and all the various exotica of the summer and spring kitchen have had their fun. This is a time for old-fashioned English stodge, a proper hug in a hot pan.

There’s really only one dish that could ever fit the bill – Toad in the Hole (Medicinal version). I can’t think of anything more English, more comforting, more autumnal or more utterly, completely and totally satisfying than toad in the hole and this version – with its heavy hand on the pepper and the crispy roasted sage leaves floating in the clouds of Yorkshire pudding – this version cures all ills.

Toad in the Hole (Medicinal)

Ingredients:

Equal quantities (I generally use around a pint when cooking for 6, and this really is a sharing thing) of –

  • Flour
  • Beaten egg
  • Milk
  • Eight good quality sausages. I like the sage and black pepper flavour of Cumberlands, but the rich red wine of Toulouse sausages work nicely too.
  • Six or seven fresh sage leaves.
  • Three red onions, one and a half finely sliced and one and a half chopped into eighths.
  • Chicken or beef stock
  • A big glass of dry white wine, and an extra one for you
  • A dash of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 225ºc.

In a metal roasting tin, scatter the sage leaves, the chunks of red onion (keep back the sliced red onion) and your sausages. Drizzle with a good quantity of vegetable oil – you’ll need a fair bit if the pudding’s going to puff up like you want.

Roast the sausages, onion and sage for a good 15 minutes. You want colour on the sausages and the onion to darken and sweeten. Whilst they’re cooking, get your sliced onions into a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low to medium heat with a big pinch of sea salt. Sweat them down and keep stirring them. If they stick, turn the heat down.

Make your batter – start with the flour, and make a well in the centre of your mixing bowl. Chuck in the eggs and whisk as you slowly add the milk. You want it completely smooth. Add a very healthy dose of salt and particularly black pepper – it’s best if the batter has a bit of a kick. It clears the tubes.

Once your sausages and onion have had a good fifteen minute blast, get them out and quickly close the door of the oven. As fast as possible, pour the batter over the lot and get it back in the hot oven. Whatever you do, leave that oven door closed for the next 25-30 minutes or your toad in the hole will sag disappointingly on serving.

The onions in the saucepan should be starting to take on a bit of colour and look really soft by now. Stir in about half a tablespoon of flour and cook for a few more minutes. Now turn up the heat and add your glass of white wine. Simmer until almost evaporated and add about a pint and a half of stock with a timid little splash of balsamic vinegar. Simmer until velvety smooth and reduced by about a quarter. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with your toad in the hole, which should be looking brown and crisp atop by now.

If I were you, I’d also take Baudelaire’s very wise advice – “let us not be the martyred slaves of time. Be drunk. Continually drunk.” And that is what Autumn tastes like.

Feature | Fast food goes Gourmet

This piece originally appeared in the Guardian.

International pizza delivery chain Domino’s last week started selling its new “gourmet” range – three pizzas which, according to a breathless press release have “been specially developed to appeal to a different type of pizza-eater who is looking for a lighter pizza and more distinctive flavours, which are akin to those you might find in a traditional pizzeria”. That is to say, the pizzas are an effort to appeal to those for whom Domino’s is usually only a last or drunken resort.

Domino's have fully embraced the trend for unusual and experimental cooking

For the majority of food lovers, high street fast food chains like Domino’s have become a byword for poorly-sourced, soulless and generally unpleasant food. Insipid burgers, rubbery cheese and Dead Sea levels of salt have all contributed to an overwhelmingly negative view of fast food. A request for one word descriptions of Britain’s fast food was met with a barrage of ire, ranging from “pointless” “unsatisfying” and “beige” to “greasy” “sticky” and, most damningly of all I reckon, “rancid“.

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Grilled Poussin

“Darling,” she said, and arced her back, pushing her belly button towards an imagined sun. I catch a glimpse of a small white breast and look away, concentrating fiercely on my wine. “It is really very difficult for those poor souls who are both beautiful AND intelligent. Rejected by both tribes. So sad.”
“I disagree.”
“You would. So contrary.”
“I think it’s like having the best from both tribes. Half eagle, half lion. Those ‘poor souls’, you included, might be a little more alone, but you’re griffins. Mythical beasts. Forgive me for not shedding a tear.”
“That may be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. But it will not offset you burning the poussin. Pay attention,” she smirks. And she’s right, of course. The skin is perhaps a little more than desirably charred already. I flip it and swig.

Griffins are the second best mythical animal

Lucy’s is the only mouth I know in which “darling” is not an unbearable affectation. She has a boyfriend called Pony and together they run a photographic studio in between forays to Essex and Middlesborough in search of trouble and life. She has been, by turns, a font of adventure, opportunity, mischief and solace. I owe her much. Right now I’m making a gesture of repayment by cooking her a meal, but she’s distracting me with statements absurd in their scale and scope.

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Roast rack of lamb with my dad’s roast potatoes

I had a dream last night that I was in Fascist Italy, cresting limestone hills on a brown Harley-Davidson in flight from my oppressers. In my sleep I felt the surge of power as the bike kicked and roared beneath me. I heard pebbles spit and skitter from the wheels. But what I dreamed clearest was the smell of fresh wild thyme as the thick tyres surfed over tiny green buds of the herb that covered that imagined hillside.

Asian squid porn is equally evocative of cherished memories but that's a story for an entirely different website

That smell, for me, is redolent of a lazy summer evening in Malta. My friends and I rolled up to a cliffside perch, drunk on hot sunshine and bad wine, and lay there smoking cigarettes as the sun set amongst chattering dolphins. Every time one of us so much as lifted our smoking arm the air filled with the fresh, earthy aroma of thyme.

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Salt and Pepper Squid

Sometimes I feel that writing a blog is a bit like being that guy at a party. You know him. He takes a corner of the room to himself and, tweaked out on plant food & bad coke, draws anyone near him into interminable conversations about his family, his future, his frustrations. His face is drawn and lined with the stress of his habits and he hasn’t shaved or slept for days. Consequently, he looks a bit like a pinched ballsack.

I know how she feels. Trapped between the "I'm just kind of crazy" guy and the one who reads Baudelaire aloud from his beanbag in between bong hits

I try to avoid the trap of solipsism and listen to my friends, family and food-loving acquaintances in the interests of self-improvement. Sometimes, however, I’m delighted that I’ve stubbornly taken my own route despite all nudging and directing. Cooking salt and pepper squid was one of those times. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting actual photographs on the blog. Of the food, that is, rather than painted dogs and testicle-shaped fish.

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Spring Rolls

By Zeus I love crispy stuff. There’s something about a salty, brittle crunch which carries enormous appeal. Maybe it’s the feeling of shattering something beautiful, maybe it’s the flood of flavour that almost always accompanies that moment. Maybe it’s just that everything crispy is usually fantastically unhealthy, appealing to my self-destructive side.

This woman probably went through a delicious crackling stage before becoming a kind of profoundly unsexy organ wallet

These spring rolls are a compromise between that most base of desires and my almost-but-not-quite-unashamedly metrosexual desire to not become a cratered doughball, drowning my promise in deep-fried goodness. Therefore they are baked. This method takes a little longer, but consider that to be time you’d lose to high cholesterol if you’d gone the deep-frying route.

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Spinach, mushroom, goat’s cheese and roast tomato pasta

To run the risk of sounding like a perfume advert, I believe in simplicity. My wardrobe is essentially black and white, with the occasional splash of colour a grudging nod to society’s loathing of mimes. Though I play up the hedonistic aspects of my lifestyle in an attempt to seem rock ‘n’ roll and unapproachable, I actually appreciate the simplest things in life the most. The kiss of a cold pillow or the moment you take off your socks rank just as highly for me as a Hawksmoor steak or a Hendrick’s G & T.

There's something quite meta about writing at length about simplicity. Blows. My. Mind.

This doesn’t always translate into food. I love to cook the likes of duck confit and decadent venison, and I’ll never order something basic in a restaurant. I want to be dazzled and surprised by other people’s food and by extension hope to do that with mine, sometimes at the expense of the pure satisfaction of a good nourishing plate of grub.

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