Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cake baking competition

Mrs Jiffler has been busy and won her office cake baking competition with this raspberry cake. Sadly, I missed out on a slice, but it looks delicious.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

All the cock you can eat.

Its all gone a bit ‘That’s Life’ round here at Jiffler headquarters. While shopping in Kim’s Thai Food Store (George Street in Chinatown, highly recommended for cheap Thai and Vietnamese ingredients) I came across a range of memorably named products…

Tom Yam Gai was a success… better still were the rice noodles…

Cracked it…

I’ve cracked the Tom Yam Gai mystery.

I make this cheap supper with chicken wings now and again. Basically it involves getting a load of chicken wings, rolling them around in some sort of marinade (olive oil and lemon, or honey, or current favourite sesame oil and sweet chilli sauce) before bunging them in the oven until they are starting to go black and sticky. I usually eat them out of a bowl with a salad. It costs about a quid so makes a great mid-week supper.

Anyhow, last time I made it I was even more frugal and made a stock out of the bones – this was the stock that went into the super duper Ken Hom-beating Tom Yam Gai the other week. Making stock again today I’ve just realised the difference it makes. The stock is much darker and deeper. I reckon with nice fresh spears of lemon grass I can knock out another Ken Hom-beater for lunch tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Weekend.

I can’t think of a better way to start the Easter weekend than by sharing a Kurzi lamb at the Mogul Restaurant in Hemel. Kurzi lamb was apparently a favourite of the Moghul Emperor, and is a favourite amongst my friends ‘down south’ largely because of the sense of occasion which comes with carving a whole large leg of lamb at the table. One has to order a kurzi lamb at least 48 hours in advance to guarantee that a large enough piece of meat can be sourced, and give it plenty of time to sit in its marinade of spices and… er… lamb mince.

Our table of ten makes easy work of this, and we order a few extras including a tandoori-style trout, and the rather interesting ‘Staff Curry’ which is strongly flavoured with tamarind and puts me in mind of the kind of food served by the northern quarter cafes, only a little bit more stylish.

Friday is a relaxing day. A lie-in, newspapers, pop to the shops. We decide to rustle up a couple of salads for a leisurely lunch. A good friend surprised me with a gift of a wedge of Lincolnshire poacher cheese. Nuttier than a mature cheddar, and more brittle too, which makes it ideal for crumbling into a British-style salad with bitter leaves, beetroot, and a dressing made from cider vinegar.

King prawns are going cheap down at Morrisions so we buy a little plastic boxful. I make a salad from these, dressed with sesame oil, chilli, garlic and spring onions. Served with the bitter leaves as before. They make an interesting contrast to the Brit-salad, and also give us the sort of garlic-breath that clear a space at the bar.

We head off to the cinema in the evening to watch the Glastonbury film, which opens beautifully with a sound familiar to any Glasto veteran – the sound of wellies in mud.


Today’s main activity involved a longer than expected trek along the Thames path from Windsor to Shepperton, encountering varied wildlife, including three green parrots (apparently there are thousands living wild in the Thames region), and a captive Eagle Owl. Lunch was the usual walkers affair – assorted butties, homemade trail mix (with extra pumpkin seeds…) and plums. The first unscheduled ice cream of the season as well. Mint choc-chip cornetto.

We’re knackered when we get home, and both feeling a cold coming on, decide to skip the evening’s planned running around Shoreditch bars in favour of a roast chicken supper, with green beans, new potatoes and a weird experimental gravy made from cider vinegar which would have benefited from thinking through properly beforehand.


Mooching around Upper Street is more fun than usual due to the complete lack of people. We nip into the Winchester pub near Islington green to take advantage of their two for one Sunday Roast offer.

I opt for Lamb while Mrs Jiffler goes for beef. What arrives looks promising, and the meat is as good as you could wish for in a pub. The roast potatoes have had some effort put into them as well. The chef is clearly not a Brit though, as the Yorkshires were a bit on the soggy side (a bad thing) and the veg where still crunchy and colourful (a good thing). I’ll go back there again. As long as its two for one.

Tom Yam Gai soup in the evening fails to recreate the glories of the other week, but is met with general approval. I used medium rice noodles for the first time, but I still prefer Udon noodles in a fusion stylee.


Another stretch of the Thames, from Shepperton to Teddington lock, accompanied by more assorted sandwiches, and a treat for me - a bar of Cote d’or dark chocolate with hazelnuts in.

After another beautiful day of walking, Mrs Jiffler find ourselves ravenous, but with an empty fridge. We wander up Holloway road trying to find somewhere cheapish that is open, and doesn’t involve kebabs. While crossing the road we step in front of Mingo ( driving back up to Hertfordshire. What are the chances of that eh?

We arrive at a ‘gastro-pub’ called the Landseer, which is pleasantly busy with young studenty/young professional types. Starters are ridiculous and features: ‘Quail Cigar with Diamond Vegetables and Red Current Sauce’ (that is a direct quote, complete with spelling mistakes). What is a Quail Cigar? Will it fit up the chef’s arse?

On the mains the chef has managed to keep his culinary masturbation to himself and so Mrs Jiffler and I both order burgers, she with mushrooms, and I with Goats cheese on top, and two pints of well kept IPA from the rather disorganised antipodean behind the bar.

Bread arrives, with olive oil and balsamic for dipping. So far so gastropub. Then our burgers arrive – blimey the crusty farm-house style buns are as big as Mrs Jiffler’s face!

The ‘Hand-cut’ chips are a decent size and a generous portion. They could have done with a few minutes less in the chip pan though as they where seriously browned. How does a gastro-pub chef let this kind of thing leave the kitchen? Its chips for gods sake. Anyhow, Mrs Jiffler likes them that way apparently so I keep the grumbling to a minimum. The ‘tossed’ salad is unremarkable too. Some dense, flavourless leaves with the merest shaving of red onion – quite where the tossing came in to things I’m not sure.
Our burgers however, are mighty. They both arrive topped with goats cheese and mushrooms, although thanks to the antipodean idiot behind the bar we didn’t pay for either. The burgers are huge, and the quality of the meat stands out. I might quibble a bit and say they where a touch overdone, but then I’m still bitter about the chips, otherwise I’d say it was one of the best burgers I’ve had for a long, long time.

Wednesday 12th

Back in Hertfordshire at work again. Mrs Jiffler and I are working late so we pop for fish and chips at our old ‘local’ on Elms Road in Apsley. As always, the fish is freshly fried, and one is allowed to join in and apply your favoured amount of salt and pepper. I ask for a pickled egg, more to annoy Mrs Jiffler than anything else.

We eat our chips by the marina in Apsley and share a can of coke. Elms road fish is always superb value, and was rated best fish and chips in Hemel Hempstead by a Christian youth club in 1994. There you go – as recommended by God’s followers. Shame there is nowhere open for a brew.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Catching up a week.

Too busy even to do the blog just lately, which is a shame as the my meals have been interesting and varied in the last week or so.

Corduroy boy has set me a ready, steady cook challenge. It’ll be a while before I find time to do the necessary shopping / preparation for this, but since I’ve already told him what I’m making he’ll know I’m not cheating.

Given the backlog its probably best to run off some of the best and the worst of the last couple of weeks.

Starting with the worst (so as not to leave a bad taste in the mouth, so to speak), I was disappointed by a meal at the normally reliable ‘English Lounge’ in Manchester. My chicken sandwich with salad was pretty much up to scratch, but my friend’s chicken pasta was an experiment which the chef should have quietly put down to experience, not put on the menu.

It might have worked as a ‘taster’ or a small side relish, but as a main course it was hard work My friend - who normally cleans his plate (and has been known to lick the plate clean where spaghetti hoops are concerned) – bravely soldiered through about half the meal, before giving up and concentrating on a mellow pint of Deuchars IPA. I’m not sure what was in the pasta sauce. Pesto definitely, probably sweet chilli sauce, something brown – chocolate? I’m all for culinary adventures, but the chef would be well advised to taste his/her creations before revealing them to the paying public. If I had made this at home, I would have thrown it straight in the bin, and had some poached eggs on toast instead.

A buffet lunch later in the week put me in a filthy mood all afternoon. At work we enjoyed an interesting and gently delivered presentation from one of our Nigerian clients and as usual got stuck into the salty savouries and dry sandwiches the company lays out at these events.

I’m not sure why I haven’t learned my lesson about these bloody things. The appeal of the free buffet lunch is too strong because:
A, its free
B, it means I don’t have to bother making a packed lunch

The problem is I always eat too much, even when I’m trying not to, because the salty crap just gets you hooked. The office always stinks of farts by about three o’clock, and everyone is in a slump, pacing around looking for biscuits and drinking extra coffee. There has to be some alternative to the buffet lunch – sushi would be good, but probably too expensive, and philistine types would pull faces…

On a brighter note, I’ve had some lovely meals lately – starting with tapas prepared by by a Spanish friend of mine. Her Spanish cooking is always a pleasure, and an education for me in one of my favourite world cuisines, and this particular evening was no exception. The presence of a vegetarian among the guests meant a few interesting vegetable dishes, including some fried aubergines dressed with honey that reminded me of a starter I’ve enjoyed in the Ionian islands. I tried to commit the Spanish name of the dish to memory, but this was destroyed by the subsequent quantities of alcohol consumed in a sticky nightclub.

Dessert was kindly provided by the vegetarian guest, who modestly presented us with a smooth white-chocolate cheesecake. I think I described it in the pub later as ‘like being slapped across the face with a giant milky-bar’. Which - let me assure you - is a very good thing indeed.

Later in the week, down in London village, Mrs Jiffler and I can’t face the kitchen and so set off down Upper Street for a bite. Our original intention was to finally go and eat at Gallipoli, but instead we were attracted by the cheapo weekday menu at French bistro ‘Le Mercury’. Since both of us where starving, and Mrs Jiffler’s only condition was ‘I’ll eat anywhere where they give you bread’, we were pleased to be presented with a massive basket of assorted fresh breads at no extra charge.

Mrs Jiffer’s starter of moules mariniere was generous enough, and my ham hock terrine fresh enough to more than justify the £3.40 price tag, although I could have gone another mouthful of the terrine.

Seabass for Mrs Jiffler was another generous portion and the fish was well cooked. My shoulder of lamb was a bit odd, being of a slightly too-smooth texture, and served with a Gallic interpretation of mushy peas, or ‘smashed peas’ as I described them at the time. One can’t generally trust a French chef with something simple like this.

Anyhow, the bottom line is – two courses, a large glass of red each, a massive basket of bread, and two large portions of great French fries, plus a good tip for the professional and unintrusive waitress… and we still had change left over from thirty quid. In Islington. No wonder its always busy.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Vegetarians look away...

Here's one taken in a cider house in Pamplona last September. I may still be digesting that piece of steak...

Last week...

Monday. As in last week, not yesterday... I'm behind in the blog again...

A slice of Mrs Jiffler’s chocolate cake cheers me up on the train where there is a man with a mobile phone behaving like:
A, He’s never used a cell phone before
B, He’s never been a train before
C, He’s never been allowed out in public before

The woman opposite me looks jealous of my cake. Ha! Its only 9:15 in the morning so I feel pretty decadent.

I have a blast around the shops, including my first revisit to Gabbotts farm since the lamb-mince annoyance, fruit and veg (fruit selection a bit uninspiring at the moment), and the fish man. For some reason I buy a big bunch of fresh mint - I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do with that, but it smells nice.

For tea – two handfuls of chicken wings in a sweet chilli marinade. These take about 50 minutes in the oven and are a sticky treat eaten with fingers.

While I’m waiting for the chicken to cook I rustle up a quick salad of rucola, lollo biondo (for bulk), spring onions and a couple of baby toms, dressed with balsamic vinegar.


Funny day today – feeling a bit like I’m jetlagged and disorientated. This is probably due to the travelling to London and the clocks changing I guess. Or maybe I need a beer…

Anyhow, the fishmong has filleted a mackerel for me and so I lay out the grey v-shape in a baking dish and poke my nose into the cupboard for inspiration.

Spicy is the way to go, so I quickly soften a diced shallot in some olive oil and throw in the remains of my parsley plant (RIP), some finely chopped red chilli, and a spoonful of some posh smoked paprika. I drizzle this aromatic cooking sauce over the fish and bung it in the oven.

There is still some residual paprika-infused oil left in the pan, so I thinly chop a handful of new potatoes and sauté, adding to a sliced clove of garlic and some slices from a massive sweet pepper that I bought yesterday.

On the plate, with a bit of salad the whole ensemble looks great (no photo unfortunately) and tastes even better. The mackerel is lovely and meaty and survives the piquant sauce well. My flat mate emerges after the plate is clean and remarks that the kitchen smells good…