Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Big gap there. Nothing significant to report apart from some late night sausage and mash action on Thursday.

The train down to London on Friday night zips by in a flash and I barely have time to finish the sudoku. The fridge is bare, and neither Mrs Jiffler or I can be bothered to traipse around Waitrose, or cook anything for that matter. Lucky for us that Mrs Jiffler lives around the corner from a budget Tapas joint called ‘El Molino’ on the Holloway road. Its fairly busy, but we get a table by the window.

Rioja in hand, the weekend starts. We discuss tomorrow’s houseparty over a plate of fried boquerones, and wait for our selection of plates to arrive. Fabadas asturianas fails to impress due to stinginess on the meat front, but a stuffed aubergine, reasonable patatas bravas and some albondigas make up for it. Our prawns take a while, but finally emerge from the kitchen smothered in sweet young garlic with just a hint of chilli.

The desserts are cheap, but we opt instead for boozy coffees involving Liquor 43 to perk us up ready for a mini pub crawl along the Holloway Road.


Big gap there. Nothing significant to report apart from some late night sausage and mash action on Thursday.

The train down to London on Friday night zips by in a flash and I barely have time to finish the sudoku. The fridge is bare, and neither Mrs Jiffler or I can be bothered to traipse around Waitrose, or cook anything for that matter. Lucky for us that Mrs Jiffler lives around the corner from a budget Tapas joint called ‘El Molino’ on the Holloway road. Its fairly busy, but we get a table by the window.

Rioja in hand, the weekend starts. We discuss tomorrow’s houseparty over a plate of fried boquerones, and wait for our selection of plates to arrive. Fabadas asturianas fails to impress due to stinginess on the meat front, but a stuffed aubergine, reasonable patatas bravas and some albondigas make up for it. Our prawns take a while, but finally emerge from the kitchen smothered in sweet young garlic with just a hint of chilli.

The desserts are cheap, but we opt instead for boozy coffees involving Liquor 43 to perk us up ready for a mini pub crawl along the Holloway Road.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tuesday 21st

Raining today, and I'm working from home so I have to find a really good reason to drag myself out for a constitutional. There is a toothpaste shortage, so I get the brolly out.

There are some mushrooms left, and loads of stock, so I set about making a kind of Asian influenced soup. The mushrooms sizzle briefly with some red chilli in some sesame oil, before some cherry tomatoes go in (no reason other than I have some in the fridge) and the leftover stock. This stays simmering for as long as I can stay hungry, with the occasional dash of soy sauce, tom yam gai, Tabasco etc going in whenever I feel twitchy. Right at the end I throw in the (still substantial) leftover chicken pieces.

I boil up some egg noodles and pile them in a bowl before pouring the hot soup over the top. A quick inspection of the windowsill reveals a herb shortage of near crisis proportions, so I have to go without any. It still looks good though, and tastes perfect for a rainy day, despite much of it going down my chin.

Monday 20th

Melt-in-your-hand avocado on toast for breakfast. Short of a fry up there is no better way to start the day. An early start too, off to meet my Dad at New Mills for a nosey around Kinder Low.

Lunch sheltering behind a bloody great rock between Ashop Head and Kinder Downfall consists of last night’s leftover chicken makes up my butties with a bit of salad, while Dad has corned beef and piccalilli on a rather nice looking ciabatta. Lycees and bananas gives a bit of an energy boost on the way down.

A substantial tea is in order – and since there is plenty of chicken stock I go ahead with the risotto predicted yesterday. I use Mrs Jiffler’s recipe, which is in turn nicked from Nigel Slater:

Mrs Jiffler’s Risotto:

As usual there are no right or wrong quantities. Mrs J has been known to use white wine instead of chicken stock, which I think gives a more summery feel to it. Its also normal for Mrs Jiffler to forget at least one ingredient, or substitute with something at random..

Butter or olive oil
Arborio risotto rice – the best you can afford.
Mushrooms – whatever you fancy. Chestnut mushrooms today.
An onion, or a couple of shallots
Saffron (not essential, if you haven’t got it, be imaginative)
Chicken stock (or white wine)
Fresh Parsley
Frozen peas
Parmesan cheese

Soften the onions in the oil/butter and throw in the mushrooms for a minute or two. Stir in the rice and stir fry for about two minutes.

Keeping the heat medium to low, pour in a little of the stock (or whatever you’re using) and stir gently and steadily. Once the rice has taken in the stock, add a little more and stir again. Repeat this process until the rice has absorbed the liquid and swollen up nicely (Stir in the saffron halfway through the process, or if you can be bothered, steep a pinch of saffron in a small bowl of warm water for 30 mins before pouring the whole lot in with the stock). The whole process can take ages. Generally I can have mine ready quicker than Mrs Jiffler, but hers taste better, so its probably best to be leisurely.

Towards the end throw in a lump of parmesan to melt – or grate it in if preferred. At the same time the frozen peas should go in – these only take a couple of minutes to cook. Then add some fresh parsley if you have any.

Eat on a cold day in a warm room.

Other options:
Today I stirred in some chicken pieces from yesterday’s roast along with the parmesan.
Coarsely chopped spring onions instead of the onions, along with chopped celery works well with the ‘Summmery’ white wine version.
Chuck in a few odd bits of panchetta or bacon just before the mushrooms.
I once left out the parmesan, and threw in some chunks of fruity Italian Taleggio cheese. I was on a cheese high all evening…

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday 19th Feb

Drinking for England (well, Wales actually) this weekend. A fairly unplanned Friday night ended up being an almighty bender. If anyone finds logs (as in firewood) hidden around the Deansgate area they have us to blame. Friends from Wales staying on Saturday, including a surprise appearance from one Mr Ahmed Elvis of Cardiff. More drinking, including some well-kept Hydes at the Fletcher Moss in Didsbury, but unremarkable food due to the requirement for stodge to soak up the beer.

Funds are low, so I invest in my own comfortable version of sukuma wiki – a chicken. I can’t afford to go organic today so I settle for a corn fed free ranger from Tescos. Mr Tesco gives you a little foil tray to cook the chicken in, which is rather unnecessary, but saves on washing up.

I’m surprised by the chicken – as I’ve had a few bad experiences with supermarket birds in the past. The texture of the flesh is sublime, and it is beautifully coloured. I have quite a bit of difficulty getting it from the carving tray to the plate without eating it first. I eat a good third of the bird with some parsnips, followed by some lychees that I found on offer in that grubby little fridge by the bread aisle.

There is enough chicken left for my hillside lunch tomorrow (my Dad is coming over for the day for a nip up Kinder Downfall), and should be enough for a soup or a salad later in the week. Or a risotto made in the style of Mrs Jiffler. There is a big bunch of rosemary going dry in the kitchen so I push a big handful in around the carcass and get some stock on the go – perhaps for soup if the weather goes rubbish later in the week. The kitchen smells fantastic.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wednesday 15th

Chicken lunch at the final curry café… the results are out soon…

I don’t know why, but I ended up buying a Red Mullet at the fishmongers today. I went in to buy a couple of kippers and it just looked good. Not cheap mind (unlike kippers).

I’ve only had Red Mullet a couple of times, and I’ve never cooked it before, so I have a look through various recipes, all of which require things I haven’t got in the cupboard or fridge. In the end I decide to get all fancy-pants and stuff it with a briefly fried mix of: shallots, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and raisins…Yeah. Blimey.

I sing the Clash’s ‘Death or Glory’ as I stuff the fish, realising that there is a good chance that this lot will either be a taste sensation, or end up with the fish in the bin and beans for tea.

While its in the oven I distract myself sautéing a side dish of leeks, mushrooms and chilli. Anxiously I take the fish out of the oven… it looks OK, smells slightly of burnt Christmas cake, and tastes…

At least the fish is recoverable. Its not too badly cooked, and with the Christmas cake mix scraped out and a squeeze of lemon it makes a reasonable enough meal. No need to reach for the tin opener yet. Next time I think I’ll keep it simple and use some fragrant herbs, maybe basil, and some chilli at a push. Although I might not go for the Mullet for a while…

M&S ‘Organic Wild Blueberry Probiotic Yoghurt’ doesn’t taste of blueberries or yoghurt. Maybe it tastes of ‘probiotics’.

You spoke too soon Corduroy boy – sometimes it does go wrong!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tuesday 14th

Yeah Valentine’s Day, but I’ve already done all that so head to the peak district instead for a trundle around Stanage Edge. Cheese butties laced with Tabasco (try that one Corduroy Boy) make a satisfying high-ish altitude lunch, and the Tabasco perks me up for the descent.

My family live in a touristy part of Wales and it really annoys me when tourists arrive in 4x4s towing jet skis, use the beaches, and then bugger off up the A55 without spending any money. It means that increasingly the residents have to put up with the noise, congestion, and general disturbance, but do not receive the financial benefits in return. With this in mind I try to spend a few pounds in the local economy wherever I go for a walk. Hathersage is geared up to taking the tourist dollar with a lovely deli, baker, posh butcher, pubs, walking shops etc. I resist the urge to go beserk, and shop around for some fruit, a paper, and a drink.

Bizarre omelette craving when I get back to the flat so I chuck together a double-egger with the last bits of spring onion, red pepper and celery. A chap from Uni rings up while I’m cooking and tells me omelette is not exciting enough for the blog, so I add some dried tarragon to the beaten egg to liven things up – a real winner as it turns out.

As the evening draws on I don’t feel like eating a big meal, so I decide to make fan-tail roast potatoes with sesame seeds on. No reason, other than I haven’t eaten them since the 1980’s. I’m fondly reminded of rare restaurant meals involving prawn cocktails, t-bone steaks, Chicken Kiev (how good was that? I’m gonna look for the recipe on the web) and blackforest gateaux – and if I was really lucky a drop of Mateus Rose ‘watered down’ with lemonade.

Anyhow, the oven is a fan-assisted pain in the arse and the spuds are a tiny bit crunchier than expected. No black bits though, so I eat them out of a bowl with mayonnaise from a jar.

Monday 13th

Chicken wings come out of the freezer and I fancy something a bit TGI Fridays for tea. To be fair I’ve never been to a TGI Fridays, are they still going? I wonder if I’m missing out on a cultural experience there.

I need a few supplies so pop out to see the Fruit and veg man. As I get to his stall he’s just locking up so I carry on towards Somerfield for a look at their fruit and veg. I’ve never tried Somerfield fruit and veg before, its generally just been the odd pint of milk or loaf from there. I’m proud to say that I’ve used the DIY checkouts though. I should put that on my CV in case the career goes pear shaped and I need to keep the wolf from the door.

Anyhow, they don’t have any baking spuds in Somerfield, so I opt for the mucky charlotte potatoes at the bottom of the display. Only they’re not mucky, they’re clean potatoes ‘dirtied up’ using some weird stuff made out of sawdust that has been coloured to look like mud. What the hell is this? What market research has lead Somerfield to this? Customers must want clean spuds that look like dirty spuds, otherwise Somerfield wouldn’t bother would they? Bonkers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these middle class anti-supermarket bores - I like to spread the wealth, buy for a good price, and buy quality, and that doesn’t exclude shaking hands with Mr Tesco - but how did we get as far as mucked up clean spuds?

After cleaning the spuds (the stuff comes off easy under the tap) and making wedges, they go in the oven in olive oil. The chicken wings have been marinating in a mixture of honey, the juice of one orange, and olive oil. They also go in the oven, with occasional basting, until they are dark and sticky.

So chicken, wedges, coleslaw from Somerfield, and some home made guacamole make up a ‘finger lickin’ feast.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Saturday 11th

Mrs Jiffler is visiting following her recent month in East Africa. We decide to check out the ‘Live Bait’ seafood place off Albert Square (well the Market Restaurant was full…). I’ve been itching to try one of their seafood platters for a while, so we order a large pile of crunchy sweet sea monsters.

The Madagascan crevettes are buttery and fragrant but are beaten hands down by sweet atlantic and tiger prawns. The meat in the Whitby crab is a bit scarce, and our waiter makes some excuses, the fun is in cracking open the claws though, and sucking out the delicious contents. Clams, mussels, more prawns and some whelks make up the rest of the platter, and I’m grateful to Mrs Jiffler who lets me take on most of the whelks. Three oysters each, gulped down expertly with shallot vinegar and green Tabasco (I wonder where I can get this, does Tesco in town have it?). Should have ordered a dozen come to think about it.

Mrs Jiffler orders crème brulee for desert (she is unable to refuse crème brulee) which passes the intial ‘satisfying crunch’ test and is apparently ‘as good as the one we had in Lille’ which, if I remember correctly, was described at the time as being ‘the best crème brulee ever’. The French like to credit themselves as the inventors of the Crème Brulee, while others believe it has Spanish roots. Few realise that the dish is believed to originate in 16th Century England...

Wednesday 8th Feb

Breakfast is boil in the bag kippers which have practically taken over the fish section of Tescos and become my guilty impulse purchase (68p is a bargain though). Just the thing before a long bike ride down the canal and around Salford Quays.

I had been toying with the idea of scallops for tea tonight since they are still in season and not a bad price. Mrs Jiffler made me see sense after an my recent venison / pigeon adventures and I eventually opt to stick with some out of the packet fresh pasta.

It says ‘Mushroom tortellini’ on the packet, but I’ve had these things before and know that they need a bit of help flavour-wise. There is plenty of basil in the pot on the windowsill so I decide to knock up a quick pesto. The only ingredient I’m short of is pecorino cheese, but I’m not sure if this was in the original Ligurian recipe anyway.

I’m not snobbish when it comes to pesto and will happily use the stuff that comes in a jar, or even in a tube, but there is nothing quite like homemade stuff. It probably costs the same as well. For some reason the stuff in the jars always looks like the colour of grass when you empty it out of the lawnmower. Homemade pesto is bright emerald green, which leaps out of the plate and fools the eyes nose and tongue into believing that its summer for a brief moment.

Tuesday 7th

Blimey, time to catch up…

Tuesday 7th

The bloke in the Arndale Market is selling Wood Pigeons at £1.50 a pop. These things are roughly the size of a fist and while they have a deep flavour, they can be as tough as cricket balls if you’re not careful. It appears that pigeon is seen as a bit of a luxury these days, Eyck Zimmer has put squab (young) pigeon on the menu at the River Restaurant at the Lowry hotel, and the last time I tasted pigeon was as a thin mousse pre-course in an obviously desperate for a michelin star type establishment in Northern Spain.

The bloke in the Arndale suggests a pot roast, and I take him up on that. Pigeons have a tendency to fry out so this one gets a vigorous butter massage before going in the pyrex with carrots, shallots, the usual seasonal veg, some rosemary springs (for no reason other than I have loads in the kitchen) and a couple of glugs of marsala for good measure.

In less than an hour the whole lot is ready to eat. Somehow the combination has really brought out the sweet notes in the rosemary, which has left the kitchen smelling lovely. The sweetness of the gravy is a perfect foil for the pigeon, and the whole lot goes down quickly using mostly my fingers and a spoon. Some fluffy mash would’ve been a hit with this. Next time.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Monday 6th February

Arrive back in Manchester to an empty fridge. Its late afternoon and there’s no time to do a proper shop, but I have a strange desire for venison. I haven’t had any this season, and an article in the paper has got me thinking. Of course, living in the city centre should mean no problem getting hold of some venison, or so I thought… not a sausage (literally and metaphorically)! So I end up with some rather pathetic looking ‘venison beefsteaks’ from Tescos, which means the nobbly bits of the deer, pumped with water and mixed with breadcrumbs. I don’t why I’m blogging this, I should just keep it as a guilty secret really.

The beefsteaks go in the oven and I set about sautéing some leeks and mushrooms to sit next to them. Since I’m practically eating a burger I decide to put the beefsteaks into pitta bread along with the leeks and mushrooms, and… some Heinz tomato ketchup.

As guilty pleasures go its not bad. My taste for venison is sort of quenched, and I’ve had something easy and relatively healthy. The ketchup was a bit decadent though.
To put things back on the gourmet trail I indulge in a bit of cheese later on. I picked up some ‘Membrillo’ or quince jelly from a Deli in Beaumaris at the weekend and I pair thin slices of this with chopped walnuts and Ossau-Iraty cheese on oatcakes. Ossau-Iraty is an unpasteurised sheep’s cheese made in the Basque region on the ‘French’ side of the border, and is the closest thing I’ve found to resembling the Spanish/Basque Idiazabal cheese which was one of the highlights of last September’s trip to the Basque country.

Sunday 5th Feburary

A sweet beef and guinness stew, with a big plate of mash and some seasonal veg. You can’t go wrong on a Sunday evening with this sort of thing can you? My folks use a proper potato ricer for their mash (and I suspect the mustard is not Coleman's), which I’m sceptical about at first, but the end result works well and I go back for a second helping. We start off drinking beer, as is appropriate, then move on to some Californian plonk.

Saturday 4th February

Arriving at my parents, hungover due to quantities of a sugary alcoholic drink that turned my tongue blue, I slip in the side door with the intention of surprising my folks.

The kitchen has a deep, sweet, pork smell and I spot three freshly boiled pig feet on a plate by the stove. A large bowl of cloudy yellow stock is cooling by the sink and I take a lung full of the steam before dipping my thumb in for a taste. Just as I’m wondering what a bowl of this stock would do to a risotto, my Dad comes in from the garden and advises me not to get any ideas as he’s saving it for soups.

On a brighter note, one of the trotters has my name on it, and we sit down to suck and chew them with bread and butter. Pulling the a pigs foot apart can be very satisfying – the bones in the joints look a bit like human teeth so there are all manner of comedy gestures to be made. Sucking at the various bits of jelly is very enjoyable, especially when you get to the chewy salty bits in the middle, but I can’t take more than one without feeling a bit queasy. I start pondering whether they might be more satisfying roasted, or perhaps with a bit of sweet chilli sauce to dip into, but Dad gives me a raised eyebrow which suggests ‘stop talking shite’ and announces that the best way to eat pigs feet is in front of an open fire after six pints.

Dinner is a garlicy rib eye steak with the usual wedges salad, with a nice sangiovese which plays nicely with the garlic. I’m distracted throughout by the prospect of the cheeseboard though. Its bursting with British, French, Italian and Greek cheese and there are even a few grapes about. Most surprisingly the bottle of Warre’s vintage port that I brought home for Christmas still has some left in, so we sup what’s left and tuck into the well maintained cheeseboard, the crown of which is a hard French cheese that neither of us can remember the name of. I still can’t remember, so can’t blame the wine.

Friday 3rd February

I arrive in Bangor starving and my mind is occupied on the short walk to 3stan’s house with anticipation of the lining of the stomach at the (original) Fat Cat. A warm welcome from 3s, who suggests trying the food at the Harp for a change. The Harp has undergone a steady transformation in recent years from grotty old man’s venue, into a well managed pub with a good range of real ales. Since I’ve never eaten there before I jump at the chance to play at being a food critic.

The menu is extensive, and one has to look beyond the lunchtime baked spuds and toasties fare to get the real eats. 3s goes for a beef and ale pie, while I go for the Friday special of halibut and leeks (local and seasonal). I correctly anticipate that the specials will have gone by lunchtime, and so have to switch for the Abbeyfield chicken. Oh, and two pints of well kept Abbott ale.

3s pie is serious stuff. None of this microwave-in-a-bowl nonsense. It’s a hearty slice with a sweet gravy. Chips are reassuringly chunky, and peas are, well, peas.

My Abbeyfield chicken is a recipe the chef has brought with him from another Bangor pub called the Abbeyfield. Its 3s recommendation as he appears to be in the know with the proprietors of the Abbeyfield, the Chef, and the manager of the Harp. Strips of chicken come with onions and mushroom and served in a creamy sauce over basmati rice. Simple enough, but the quality of the ingredients, and careful cooking speak for themselves. We share a bowl of seasonal veg steamed until al dente, making a change from the super hot, fresh from the microwave carrots that so often arrive on the table in pubs (and in some of Anglesey’s pricier restaurants).
3stan and I have an ongoing and informal tradition of buying each other dinner alternately when I visit. Today is my turn and I’m pleased to see that the whole lot, with some beers weighs in at less than twenty quid. Pretty much what we’d spend on a something a bit less special at the Fat Cat. Bellys lined we hit the town.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wednesday 1st February

Seem to have a backlog… or should that be backblog?

Today has been an excellent day. Since it is my last day off before the second semester begins I thought I’d better make it worthwhile.

I manage to drag my self out of bed early to catch the train to Edale. I’ve planned a scenic tour round Kinder south using a guidebook and map combination. The guidebook prescribes a three to four hour jaunt, but since the trains aren’t too frequent and I don’t want to be hanging around, I add a bit of an extra ramble, and a slightly dangerous scramble to get the heart pumping.

Its my first time in this part of the countryside and it doesn’t disappoint me. The weather starts off bitterly cold with poor visibility. The grass around me is frozen and I skim stones off the frozen brook as I ascend towards Crowden ???. As I get closer to the top I notice that the mist is clearing higher up and so scramble directly up to CH… just in time for warm bright sunshine…

What a view, looking down on the clouds even though its only 2,000 feet up. I am alone with the exhilarating feeling and the sun on my cheeks. One of the many Red Grouse pipes up with its freakish ‘go-back, go-back’ call and scares the jiffle out of me. Onward to the twisted mushroom rocks of the Woolpacks and I feel like a visitor to an alien planet. Why haven’t I been here before now?

As I get lower down the west side things start to chill again and the mist rolls back over me. Visibility is low and the grass resumes its frosty dusting almost immediately. Edale Cross, and Jacobs ladder are my last landmarks, before a steady ramble back to Edale train station.

Oh – the food. Yes last nights chicken comes back in salad form with a simple dressing and a taste of everything else in the fridge. Eaten straight out of a blue plastic box and washed down with a flask of proper coffee. I’d send it back in a restaurant (although it was miles ahead of the rubbish I was served in that pub in York), but on the side of a hill? Perfect.

Back in Manchester I have time to check emails and shower before going out to see Prof Joseph Stiglitz talk at Manchester University. No time for politics in this blog after the David Cameron related bad karma last year, but it was OK. Mrs Jiffler calls from Nairobi while I’m on the way there, which always makes me laugh – it doesn’t seem real that one can walk down Portland street, dodging taxis, while taking into a piece of plastic to a person in Kenya. Anyway, you can.

The smell from Marhaba Café entices me in just as I arrive at my front door. I um and ah, and to hell with it… they’re just shutting up shop but have time to make me up a Karahi with a potent kick of coriander, eaten with fingers and two roti on the sofa…
Some guitar playing, some beers, a quick read of the NME and finally a listen to the Coldcut album as I’m nodding off to sleep finishes the evening off… I’ve possibly done all of my favourite things today. Well, all my favourite things to do fully clothed at least…

Tuesday 31st

I find roasting a whole chicken to be very therapeutic. I don’t mind if there are no roast potatoes and trimmings. I just love the simplicity of bunging a chicken, relatively unmolested (OK maybe some herbs and a lemon up its ‘cavity’) into the oven. It’s a sort of multipurpose meal really, perfectly suited to a Sunday roast, dinner with friends, with a salad in the garden in summer, or a solo supper with plenty for lunch the day after. I love the routine of picking the flesh off the carcass, and preparing a stock from the leftovers.

Anyhow, I’m in the mood for some chicken therapy. A small organic bird comes in at less than a fiver – a lot for a midweek meal, but I’ll get tomorrow’s lunch and some good therapy for my money.

The idea is simple, bung it in the oven, watch Simpsons, do emails, eat chicken. But somewhere in between Market Street and the fruit and veg stall by Shudehill I decide to poach the bird with some seasonal veg (carrots, leeks) and some non-seasonal veg (fennel, tomatoes). Chilli and basil will give it a bit of welly.

Well imagine the faffing. The bird was fairly small, but was still a tight squeeze for the pan. The problem with these organic chucks is that they have such strong bones, and I ended up having to punch the bloody thing to get it into the pan. Half an hours simmering and the veg goes in – so the pan is now full to the brim with broth which occasionally bubbles up over the hob.

Rubbish tomatoes purchased at the last week at Tescos fail to leave any sort of impression in the broth, so I throw in stir some sun-dried tomato pesto from a jar (lurking in the fridge for weeks now, but seemed OK) into my bowl which gives it some edge.

I suppose it was OK in the end, but I felt I had to battle with the chicken a bit, don’t have an excuse to make stock (although there is some of the soup left, which will see some noodle action tomorrow) and there weren’t any crispy bits of skin to guiltily chew in the kitchen.
Next time I’ll just bung it in the oven.