A book?

Or: what on earth is Roger up to at the moment?

Working

Hot water pastry dough

The short version is: yes, I’m working on a cookbook.

The long version is to add that I’ve got a chunk of time off to do the groundwork, but can’t possibly finish a whole thing in that period, and so make precisely no promises about when it’ll be done. Or what’s in it. Or whether it’ll be any good.

I’m working on that last one.

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Guerrilla Kitchen at Cambridge Food Park

“Pop-ups” and street food are big news at the moment, and like any food fashion, some of it’s the grossly overrated shibboleth of the beard-stroking poseurs, and some of it’s genuinely fantastic. Cambridge Food Park is happily by and large composed of the latter. It’s a kind of meta pop-up, a pop-up of pop-ups, if you will. If you won’t, it’s a rotating selection of local food vans and vendors, serving lunch on Thursdays and Fridays.

I nipped down for lunch today, and had some fantastic char siu bao from Guerrilla Kitchen.

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These were freshly-steamed, and served with a simple selection of fillings: pork belly, chicken, tofu, or tongue.

I opted for pork belly and chicken, and I need to go back for the other two. The chicken had some spice to it, and was served with edamame beans and peanuts, plus a sprinkle of shredded leaves and spring onions.

FoodPark (1)The pork belly was gently flavoured with the char siu marinade, then cooked super tender with gooey skin, and finished on a hot griddle for a rich sticky finish. The cucumber is a nice fresh contrast. The buns themselves are soft and ever so slightly sweet. I’m not a bao connoisseur, but they make great fast food, and these seem to be well-executed and very tasty indeed.

It’s good, and if you’re looking for lunch you should definitely nip down to Food Park. It’s a rotating selection, and you can sign up for a newsletter or follow them on Twitter for notifications of which food vendors will be there when. Steak and Honour is a regular, as is Fired Up Pizza.

Other offerings include fancy hot dogs, Afro-Caribbean, cupcakes, coffee, and of course the splendid Inder’s Kitchen.

There’s some seating, though not masses, but it frees up pretty quickly. Some of the vans can have a bit of a queue, so you may need to be patient if it’s busy, but I didn’t see anybody waiting all that long. No, it’s a pretty slick setup, and a really good use of what’s basically a vacant lot on a construction site.

It’s just a pity there’s nowhere to get a glass of wine or a beer. Someone should add that.

Puy lentil & broccoli salad with roast garlic dressing

On Tuesday I nipped down to the Tate Modern, and ended up having lunch there. The current show on Kazimir Malevich is fantastic, incidentally, and the accompanying book is a beautiful thing.

The members room (some friends kindly got me a membership for Christmas. Thanks, guys) is a reasonably quiet place to have an only fractionally overpriced lunch with an amazing view over London. In this case, lunch was a genuinely fantastic lentil salad, bursting with garlic and richness. And I forgot to take notes. Bugger.

Lentil & broccoli salad with peppers and garlic

So this isn’t that. It’s a kind of from-memory analog, accounting for the head of broccoli I had left in, that wouldn’t keep much longer. It is also absolutely a keeper – deep and satisfying. This being me, it involves a whole bulb of roast garlic.

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Lamb, spinach, and pistachio pie with harissa

This recipe is the eventual outcome of an experiment that started with quite fancying chachouka, but having both some lamb to use, and a boyfriend whose fondness for pie borders on the obsessional. I usually make the chachouka from the River Cottage Veg book, (someone’s replicated the recipe here) but after all the tinkering, this has basically nothing in common with it. It’s definitely a pie, though. Look, you can see the pastry.

In fact, we get from there to here via the Braised eggs with lamb, tahini, and sumac recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, liberally crashed into spanakopita. The first iteration worked in pure flavour terms, but the textures were a wash out. So after a bit of work, this is what we end up with.

Lamb and spinach pie with harissa and pistachiosFair warning: it is a bit of a faff
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SmokeWorks, Cambridge

As Cambridge slowly gives up even pretending not to be a London suburb, the accretion of restaurants you might actually want to eat in goes hand in hand with the complete inability to afford houses you might actually want to live in. A mixed bag, to put it mildly. But when I heard that we were getting a BBQ joint in that Bodeans/Pitt Cue style, I was excited.

The horrifyingly distorted economics of my hometown are somewhat beyond the scope of a paean to pulled pork. You could mutter darkly about gentrification or something, but in the centre of Cambridge that’s taking the piss. Plus, I suspect the tears shed for the demise of the Eraina actually fall more from nostalgia for greasy 1970s moussaka than any understanding of how food is meant to work.

No, the vaguely-Greek-if-you-squint trip around the Med in a deep fat fryer has been replaced with SmokeWorks, and I could not be happier about it.

Smokeworks (2)

(There’s a great set of photos here from the opening night, by Karohemd)

The food, of course, is the important part. And the short version is: it’s great.

Let’s get a bit more detailed.

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Chicken with apricots, cardamom, and almonds

I’ve not really been able to shake the idea of meat and fruit since that brief dalliance with ox cheeks and plums. For all the slow-cooked stewy vibe, meat and fruit seem to play nicely with the summer. Plus, my blinking, befuddled incomprehension at sweet flavours makes it all a bit funky/novel.

Chicken with apricots, cardamom, and almonds

This particular example came about when I was mulling over fruit recipes, and my partner suggested pairing chicken with raspberries.

That may well be a concept for another time – I was not quite brave enough. But from there to chicken with apricot is a short and plausible leap. Heck, it’s a path strewn with tagines. Perusing a few of those gets you to almonds, and from there a bit of cardamom seemed pretty sane.

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Fennel & manchego Glamorgan Sausages (sort of)

The name “Glamorgan sausage” hides a fair old whack of sin. “Leek and cheese croquettes” are something you might legitimately feel bad about having for dinner, something you might be passingly moderate about; or nibble fussily from a hot buffet. Balls to that, says Wales. This is real food, and we’ll treat it as such. It’s a sausage, get on with it.

And sausages they are. Heavy and filling, tending to rich, and with a pleasing bite from the leeks, Glamorgan sausages are the only veggie banger not to feel like a limp apology.

Fennel & Manchego Glamorgan sausages

What they are not, however, is the best sausages. The best sausage is finocchiona. (Although in the spirit of diplomacy, I’d also consider a good, mealy, rustic Lincolnshire for the top spot.)

Being as you can’t really add fine-ground pork and still have Glamorgan sausages be either vegetarian or remotely similar to their origin, it’s hard to see a path to a finocchiona mash up. But I do wonder if we can get in some of that gorgeous fennel flavour in there, along with the deep, winey richness.

Let’s have a go.

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Ox cheeks slow-braised with ginger and plums

Slow-cooked ox cheeks are not often considered summer food, so I’m not even going to try pleading that this has fruit in it. It’s just something tasty I worked up after seeing cheeks on the butcher’s counter, and not being able to say no.

Heck, the plums aren’t even in season, so that’s me done for, really. I imagine there’ll be a tutting, hemp-clad psychopomp strong-arming me to a McDonald’s of perpetual flame in the hereafter. Might as well enjoy the stew while I’m here.

Ox cheeks with ginger and plums

Actually, I’ve always thought seasonality was more inspirational than holy, and food miles are a bit of a crass simplification when you start factoring in other energy costs. Jay Rayner puts this all far better than I ever will, and anyway I’m drifting wildly off topic.

No, this is actually a way to bring some gentler, fresher flavours to what might be my new favourite cut of beef. It’s cribbed substantially from a River Cottage Every Day recipe my old housemate used to cook, but I’ve mucked about with the flavours and thrown plums at it.  Continue reading

Eating my way around the Cambridge Beer Festival (part 1)

The Cambridge Beer Festival is an institution. Forty-one years old this year, it’s the longest-running CAMRA festival, and the second or third largest, depending on how you count. It is also fantastic fun, which is why since 2007 I’ve been taking a week off to volunteer at it every year.

Volunteering has a number of benefits, not least getting to try a heck of a lot of beer for relatively little money. But one of the nicer perks is getting fed a couple of times a day, from a pretty decent range of food concessions.This year, Adam, a fellow foodie and member of the cellar crew, challenged me to eat at and review them all.

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Here goes.

(there are beer recommendations at the bottom)

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Giggling Squid, Brighton – offbeat Thai

When I walked past Giggling Squid, I had a funny feeling I’d been there before, half-cut, about ten years ago, with a friend and his mother. That was quite an evening, and not conducive to long-term recall. Looking at their website, I’m not so sure. It had all the feel of a funky local independent, and appears to be a funky local chain.

Fuck it. The definition of “independent” is stretched paper-thin across music, shops, restaurants, publishing, and who knows what else. And chains aren’t axiomatically evil, whatever the strong correlations. Certainly, Giggling Squid didn’t feel like sitting down to dinner with The Man.

Duck spring rolls, at Giggling Squid

What it did feel like was a good Thai restaurant with an interestingly offbeat menu. There was plenty on there I’m not used to seeing, including a decent selection of fish, some standard curries with a twist, and some fun sounding bin ends from Quaff (a local wine merchant I’ve still not managed to get to, but heard great things about).

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