Mince Pies, with actual mince

It’s Christmas! Mince Pies! Indulgence! Glib broadsides about capitalism! Probably some other stuff!

Yeah. So, with food as with a lot of things, I’m a bit of a fan of anything that gently subverts the form. Crash that into the fact that it is actually Christmas time, and “proper” mince pies were basically inevitable. It’s like my grandmother always used to say: “You just can’t get too much postmodernism in your dinner.

Actually, she’d probably have hated postmodernism on principle, in suspicion that it seemed a bit French. But I’m straying from the point.

If we’re going to believe Wikipedia, Mince pies actually started out a bit like this – a meat pie with fruit, spices, and middle eastern influences. Spoilers: the Victorians ruined it.

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Flesh and Buns, London – overcrowded, infra-dig

Flesh and Buns is the latest venture from the folks behind Bone Daddies, the Soho ramen bar that sounds a bit like an inter-generational fetish night, and narrowly escapes style-over-substance by serving extraordinarily tasty food.

Bone Daddies' ramen

Bone Daddies’ ramen

It’s another Japanese-ish concept joint; this time a kind of elevation of Tokyo drinking hole bar snacks. It’s a repackaged Izakaya with an inexplicable hentai twist, and a name that should really be warning enough.  Like Bone Daddies, the food is tasty, but Flesh and Buns pings a good seven or eight milli-Polanskis on the Good-But-Problematic scale.

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Celeriac rosti

I don’t go in for brunch in a big way. It’s nice to have some things standing between you and the long slide to egregious self-parody, after all. That said, I’m unlikely to be out of bed before 10 am on a sunday, and so the first food into the face hole is, accordingly, Brunch By Default.

When I can be bothered faffing about a bit, rather than just clawing bacon into my seething, hungover maw, these celeriac and potato rosti are just the ticket.

Stick a poached egg and a little hollandaise on top for maximum bourgeois brownie points:

The celeriac makes what is basically a posh hash brown a little unusual, adding a depth and sweetness that really works.

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Sticky chorizo potatoes

Winter starches, yeah? But something a bit quicker than a stew? Cursory tapas influence? Yep, sweet – hop on.

Chorizo potatoes

Ok, it’s a terrible picture – I’m still finding my feet with flash and working without daylight. But I’ll assure you, it tastes way better than it looks, and you can bring it in at just under twenty minutes. That’s not bad given how much faffing I usually mandate.

It’s potatoes and chorizo and garlic and stock, and it does what it says on the tin.

It might not make the cut for the book, but I’ll definitely be making it again.

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The cookbook – a sprint review

I’ve been cargo-culting Agile for the book, so it figures that I should do a similarly feckless travesty of a sprint review.

For those less well acquainted with the big entitlement bouncy castle that is much of modern software development, Agile is a project management methodology that chunks stuff out into tractable, iterative units, and empowers teams to make a bunch of decisions about their work. It’s funky and flexible, and goes some way to handing the workers control of the means of production. Champagne socialism with post-it notes.

Look, that’s a terrible explanation. But the point is you can break something (like a cookbook) into discrete tasks, track their progress in chunks of work, and correct on the fly. A “sprint” is an agreed unit of time in which you try to get a bunch of shit done, and have something working at the end. Then you review.

Sprint review

My review in summary: oh fuck.

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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.

FoodPark (6)

 

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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