Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shoe pastry

IN the words of that comedy character from the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave: "I don't beleeeeve it!"
For once in my life I returned home straight after work yesterday to pick my car up from Charlie's garage. Brakes fixed, £85, lovely job.
Still, I fancied a drink to celebrate and knew some of the guys were out on the town. First off, though, I wanted to get out of my work clothes and into something more comfortable so donned jeans, T-shirt, jacket and my new glistening white trainers.
Then off I set for the Yard, my thirst growing by the second.
Imagine my horror, then, when the neanderthal at the door, decked out in knee-length coat and uniform, informed me: "Sorry, no trainers."
But this is The Yard. The place I spend about three-quarters of my salary, the venue where I spend nearly every night of the week deep in the sort of challenging conversation that regularly finds itself transferred onto these pages the following day.
No doubt this gentleman on guard duty didn't recognise me. He hadn't been briefed to my importance to the profits of the Brains brewery chain, he needed to be put straight before he got himself into an awkwardly embarrassing situation. It was time to put him right.
"Look here my dear fellow," I didn't say, because I don't talk like that. Rather I blustered: "But this is The Yard! I come in here every day. My mates are waiting for me upstairs. I even went home to get changed tonight, just an hour ago I was wearing a suit. Honest."
To which he replied: "Please get off the step."
The letter is in the post to his employers right now.
Texting my mates didn't help. They informed me they were "finishing their drinks". I could see them from my lonely vigil point outside - didn't look like anyone was in a particular hurry to join me.
My concern increased when I peered through a side window to see that one of the Yard customers was decked out in flip flops! So why can you wear black, toe-revealing, passe beachware that looks bohemian (or crap, depending on your point of view) and not nice new, clean, white trainers. Questions will be asked in the house, I tell you.

The Yard is a pub, by the way, not a nightclub. The Lava Lounge, by contrast, resembles a nightclub. Imagine my surprise then when my entry into said Lava Lounge went unhindered by any 6ft 6ins jobsworth, besuited hooligan.
There was a leaving do in the lounge, someone from advertising, and I bumped into Kempy, Becks, Withers and Marc, who were already well into the night's proceedings. I felt a bit out of touch, so set about playing "catch up".
I was doing pretty well when things ground to a halt, as they usual do, with Withers' round.
This man has an entirely unique way of going to the bar for drinks. First he complains that he ought to be getting home, then he mumbles about having no money and having to use his debit card. Whoever heard of going to a pub without bothering to pick up any cash? Well, ok, the Prince of Darkness, but then he's afraid he might be hit by a stray sunbeam on his trip to the cashpoint.
Without further ado then, here's the Withers method of buying a round.
1. Stand at very back of any queue near bar.
2. Refuse to make eye contact with bar staff or raise voice above a whisper.
3. When barman approaches turn back to bar and start talking to someone who hasn't got a clue who you are.
4. Ignore any cries of "Hello, sir, how can I help you? What would you like to drink".
5. Drift back to table complaining you can't get served, they won't accept a card and, anyway, you're "very tired" and need to go home.
No recipe today because by the time I tottered in I didn't want to set the kitchen alight or cook up my old favourite "12-hour rice". If you're interested this is: Put rice on, bring to boil, turn down to simmer, go to bedroom for "a little rest". Wake up 12 hours later to find a thick black crust of something on the bottom of your saucepan. Turn off gas ring before landlord smells a rat.
Try it sometime - I did.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Minced Beef with scrambled eggs

THE world and his wife were invited to a PR do last night to celebrate the "launch" of a new lager. Yet even the thought of free beer couldn't encourage me to go hob-nobbing with a bunch of PR people.
I can't handle the false cheeriness of these Jocastas, Jemimas and Poppys (and the girls have names equally as strange. Boom, boom!) They pretend to be your best friend when they've never met you before in their lives. When they ring you up you are expected to know immediately who they are - even when they get your name dreadfully wrong. A typical conversation goes as such...
"Hi there... woo... Jocasta here from Profilactic Promotions, Hi. Can I speak to Dick Whittington please?"
"Um, there's no Dick Whittington here. I'm Nick..."
"Oh, right Dick. Well anyway we thought you might like to..."
Go strangle yourself, you silly tart.
Anyway, I headed off in one direction while Roberts, Withers, Rosey and Marc set out on the search for the ultimate freebie. I'm just stepping onto the bus and my phone starts going mad, beeping to inform me I've had a thousand text messages.
Now, if you are me you know this is pretty odd, basically because I can go for whole weeks without one message (Billy no mates, you see). Sitting down, I check the phone.
I've always had the feeling that my colleagues are all linked by a single brain cell, like an alien lifeform has taken them over as in The Bodysnatchers, but this is uncanny. Four messages from four people and ALL the same message! "Agata is behind the bar!", or in Marc's case "Agthete is serving" (maybe he's broken away from the Hive).
I know what they expect. They expect me to get off this bus, hot foot it to the freebie function over half a mile away, just to see the girl of my dreams. But I'm not THAT desperate. Well, maybe I am, but I can already see the worst-case scenario. For me, even at a brewery bash, the glass is always half empty - that's why I spend so much time at the bar, I suppose (my excuse and I'm sticking to it). I can imagine turning up, drinking lots of free beer, making a complete tit of myself in front of my favourite Polish barmaid and waking up this morning with a dreadful hangover and many regrets.
Much safer to go home for a meal and a night in front of the telly.
I've taken some minced beef out of the freezer and I fancy some Chinese - but disaster strikes! My Ken Hom Cookbook is missing. This sparks off a major race-against-the-clock search as I need to at least prepare the meal before Extras. I contemplate having something else, but my panic over the missing cookbook is increasing.
I look everywhere, open every cupboard, search every drawer but no luck. I start cursing out loud, accusing anyone who has ever been to my flat of cookbook theft. How very dare they!
But, of course, I find the book after a good 15 minutes, lying under a pillow that just happens to be propped up on my bedroom floor along with 50-odd back copies of newspapers. Hmm, perhaps it's time for a tidy up next week.
Back to the kitchen where I rustle up Ken's Minced Beef with scrambled eggs.
You need:
8 oz mince
For the marinade:
2 tsp light soy
2 tsp rice wine
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Marinade the mince in this for 20 mins in the fridge.

Mix four eggs (it says six in the recipe but I havent got six)
add 2 tsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp light soy (perhaps a bit less or it can become salty), 4 tbsp finely chopped spring onions. Mix it all in.

Put on wok or frying pan until hot and smoking. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable/peanut oil, until that smokes, then put in the marinade mixture and stir fry for two mins. You will have to turn it down slightly as the meat can spit.
After two minutes, when the mince is cooked, remove it from the wok, then wipe wok clean, heat and add oil. When this is smoking add the egg mixture.
As it starts to scramble add beef and continue to stir until the egg is done and beef heated through.
I had this with spinach. You fry up 2 crushed garlic cloves and salt for about ten seconds then add the Spinach leaves (without stalks). When this starts to wilt add a spoonful of sugar and continue to stir fry for four mins. Serve.

News reaches me from another intrepid outlet of sports journalism in Cardiff.
We sports hacks can be pretty confrontational, either in the Roberts way of swearing at every rugby-connected person he interviews to provoke a reaction, or in actually squaring up to each other and threatening fisticuffs.
Anyway, what started as a joke apparently broke out into open warfare - a dangerous thing when the man on the end of the joke, Bono Junior, has spent the last three months army training.
The wreckless loon who sparked it decided, rather oddly, that Bono would appreciate his attempt at humour.
"Have you heard the one about the Gestapo?"
Slap! "Liar!"
Cue mayhem as Bono starts throwing punches and the newsroom descends into uproar.
Oh, to be a fly-on-the-wall!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Paella and wedding Stu

I'VE been out of circulation for a few days - in fact, it's safe to say I've been to the back of beyond: Scunthorpe, to be exact, for my mate Stu's wedding.
Now Stu getting married is a cataclysmic event. Then again, most things that happen in Stu's life are cataclysmic.
I met him about 15 years ago when he first joined this esteemed paper as the chief sports sub. I interviewed him in the local of that time, the Queen's Vaults, where he promptly sank about eight pints of Guinness while I supped away equally energetically on lager. We talked about our mutual interests, namely everything Punk rock from the Damned to the Undertones. Can't remember mentioning work too much.
Not the traditional type of interview, I grant you, and it was a bit of a struggle to get out the words: "Jobsyours (hic) if you wannit."
After a while he moved on to sports edit the South Wales Echo, and later joined the People to take charge of the Welsh and Irish sports editions. When there was a changing of guard at the Peeps, Stu and the entire sports team relocated to Broughton, near Preston, where they were employed en bloc by the Sunday Express and Sunday Star.
The reason why Stu's world is as turbulent as Hurricane Gordon is that he never does things by halves. Ever.
Stu is competitive to a ridiculous degree, fearless and ready to take on any challenge at any time. In his spare time he's a poet, musician, painter and countryside rambler.
An example of Stu's adventurous attitude came when he went skiing for the first time. Viewing the ants on the slope below he told his fellow travellers: "God, they're not going very fast, are they?"
Reaching the top of the piste, he saw a number of skiiers slaloming gently down the beginners run and promptly announced: "That's boring... I'm going down here," setting off on the black run with glee.
His squeals of delight could be heard all over as he negotiated the first bump in the ice and took to the air. But he wasn't bargaining on the speed with which the second bump arrived and gawping spectators watched helplessly as he launched into the air with a tangle of legs, arms and skis - only to land head first in the next hill of snow. James Bond, eat your heart out.
Anyway, at 8pm on Sunday I headed for Sunny Scunny, planning to break up the journey by stopping overnight at a Travelodge on the way.
The roads, though, were clear and I finally went all the way to Scunthorpe, driven on at various times by The Clash, Obie Trice and Morrisey. I booked into the Travelodge on the outskirts of Scunthorpe at midnight.
Next morning I dressed up for the big event: Cream suit and trousers, beige shoes and white shirt with thin blue and red stripes... Oh God, it just didn't go!
Fortunately there was a Tesco Extra opposite. What a great invention they are. I found some tasty black shirts, not packaged but hanging up, retailing at £8 a pop and a really good tie to go with it - pure silk for £4. A quick change in the toilets, followed by a hearty fry up, and I was ready for the big event.
By the time I reached the church I was two hours early. Bugger. So I looked at the directions for the Hemswell Court where the reception is taking place. It can't be that far, can it? I can drop off my stuff, find the place and drive back in plenty of time for the wedding.
Some hopes. Roadworks mean that the directions I have been given are next to useless and the traffic is pretty bad. Not only that but the place is miles away. I'm nearly in Grimsby by the time I find the place and, after checking in and dropping off my gear, it's about 1.10pm.
There's then a mad rush back, interrupted by the Fat Kid who says 'For some reason, I'm not insured to drive my car'. Nothing I can do about it now, Kid, I'm late for a wedding!
I got there with minutes to spare and met up with some of Stu's work cronies: Ray and Scotty. Scotty used to look like Kramer out of Seinfeld but with his expanded sideburns he now appears more like Jack Nicholson in Wolf. When the moon changes I imagine him emerging from the woods covered head to toe in hair.
Ray's a Manc through and through, a fervent United supporter with a pathological hatred of Scousers. Also there is Ed, Stu's old boss who now, in a bizarre version of musical chairs, is Scotty's understudy on the Express.
The service seems to go ok, apart from the fact you travel four hours from Wales and all you get to bloody sing is "Cwm Rhondda". Bread of heaven, bread of heaven... Aaaaah!
At dinner afterwards I am sitting with a bunch of interesting strangers. There's a teacher from Bolton with the most blatant syrup you've ever seen who is determined to mount a determined defence of Wanderers' "Bung-accused" boss Sam Allardyce. He blames EVERYTHING on Man Utd. I'll have to introduce him to Ray.
The rest of the crew all seem to have come from Norfolk and looking around the table I begin to feel like Bert Reynolds, and have a distinct feeling they'll be whipping out their banjoes soon. Deliver us from evil, please - particularly the one with the eyebrows that meet in the middle.
Actually, they're all very nice people really and I'm being horrid.
The speeches are great, particularly when Stu breaks into Italian to welcome wife Anna's cousins from the old country. It reminds me of the Italian courses he took once because "It's a sexy language. You can even make 'I've trodden in a lump of dog poo' sound like the most romantic phrase in the world'.
He carries it off perfectly though, to a standing ovation, and escapes the character assassination he must have been fearing from his younger brother Steve.
Then it's the night's festivities and Stu tells us there is a band waiting for us. What he DOESN'T say is that he is lead singer and guitarist of the Band. So it's from cutting the cake to cutting a rug with a number of Irish-influenced ditties like Whisky in the Jar. On stage, the nine musicians look like the Pogues and the Dubliners performing a reunion gig.
As the night goes on and the lagers go down I finally decide to take to the dancefloor for the Stones' "Start Me Up" - and my Jagger impressions go down so well that everyone clears the floor (or were they just trying to avoid injury from flying out-of-control arms?). I do three minutes Jagger and am shagged out. How does he do it for two and a half hours?
Finally the dregs of the party settle down for a final drink while, around us, the staff are hoovering up and laying breakfast tables. They definitely want us to go.

Whenever there's a wedding it always reminds me of my own failed marriage. The day itself was great, apart from the fact that the ferocious wind outside Swansea registery office led to the girl I married, hereafter known as the Psycho, to drive a large hatpin through her finger. Blood everywhere. It was all downhill after that.

Up early and return home. It's a good motorway journey but by the time I complete the 500 mile round trip the black Fiat Tipo I call Boo (on account that the registration has Boo in it) is out on its feet. Every time I touch the brakes there is a serious grinding of metal. It sets my teeth on edge.

An extra day off. I do all the normal chores and then it's off to the hospital to visit Steadso, one of our Saturday casuals, who has been in hospital for weeks with a mystery ailment. I spend a good hour looking for the ward that Owenov tells me he is on. He got the ward right, just got the hospital wrong. By the time it dawns on me after an A to Z tour of Cardiff's University Hospital that somethings wrong, and I find out the truth at reception, I realise that my brakes are so dodgy I probably won't reach the other hospital without skidding off the road, a la the Voice of God. Nothing for it but to take the Tipo in to Charlie's Garage.
Quickly off home then and time for a Paella, Ainsley Harriot-style.
You need:
Half a chopped onion
Two cloves chopped garlic
A chopped red pepper
Cup of rice
3/4 pint vegetable stock
Pinch of turmeric, pinch of paprika, pinch of salt
Smoked, chopped ham
half an apple (cubed)
Assorted seafood (prawns, muscles, squid rings - you can get Seafood selections from most supermarkets)
Lemon juice and black pepper
frozen peas

To cook:
Mix Seafood with good smattering of lemon juice and back pepper. Leave to stand.
Heat olive oil in wok or saucepan
Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion softens and garlic starts to brown
Add the pepper and stir fry for 3-4 mins
Rinse the rice and then add to the mixture in wok/saucepan
Stir so that all rice is covered in olive oil
add vegetable stock so rice is covered.
Add the chopped ham, tumeric, paprika and a teaspoon salt.
Bring to boil then reduce to simmer.
Cook for about 6-8 mins, then add the seafood medley and the frozen peas.
Cook and keep stirring for another 5-6 mins. Add a bit of hot water if it sticks too much to bottom.
Add the apple just before the end of cooking and stir in.
Leave to stand for about a minute
Serve with garlic bread and, if fancied, a dollop of sour cream.

It's not quite as good as some of the paellas you get in Valencia, but it's filling nonetheless.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

spaghetti puttanesca (...and don't mention the wart)

SHUTTS is king of the freebies. He can't fail to return from a press conference or sporting event without a large free bag of goodies.
So imagine his utter disbelief when he turns up at the K Club just outside Dublin to cover the Ryder Cup, only to find out that he has to PAY for his lunch. It costs 10 euros and, not only that, but it isn't very much - just a bit of ham, some bread and a salad. The big man's distraught, he has a substantial frame to fill.
Shutts has been sharing a room with someone from a newspaper with much bigger resources than Wales on Sunday. The journo in question very generously offered him his floor to sleep on. With Shutts a mere 6ft 9ins he doubles up as a pretty effective draft excluder.
Mind you, it can't be easy for his fellow hack to sneak him past the doorman at the five-star hotel where he's staying. I imagine there have been some pretty interesting whispered conversations going on behind hands, like "Where did that national journalist find a 6ft 9ins rent boy?"

Closer to home, I get the distinct impression my colleagues are doing everything they can to get a mention on this blog. I can be talking about the weather or the football or Rosey's love life or whatever, and someone will just chime up with: "I had a very nice tea last night involving pasta and courgettes, done in a beautiful madeira sauce".
Great, but this blog won't be influenced by others. That's why I was amused by the look on the face of one of my colleagues who will remain nameless (you know who I'm talking about, Marc) when he told me of a recent trip to the doctors to find out the origins of a rather annoying spot that had appeared on his chin.
"What is it?" asked a man so proud of his hygiene that his bathroom is like a shrine to L'Oreal.
"Why, it's a wart," the doctor informed him casually. "It may be caused by applying too much product to your face."
Our man's anguish as he regaled the story to me in the pub was compounded when the truth suddenly dawned on him. "That can't go in the blog!" he stormed.
Oh, the horror.
As for Posh Lins and the Marmoset, I'm afraid we'll never know the full story...

Last night got home in time to watch the highlights of the Ryder Cup. Needed something quick and filling so out came the Sopranos cookbook (they should be paying me for the name checks).
I settled for spaghetti puttanesca which has a very unique flavour and is nice and filling.
3 crushed cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
A good tsp paprika
Two tins tomatoes
A good pinch of oregano
dozen or so capers
8 anchovies
8 black pitted olives (halved)
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley

To make:
Bring a pan of hot water to boil and add spaghetti.
Meanwhile, heat a wok or frying pan and add olive oil.
fry garlic and paprika over medium heat until garlic starts to turn a golden brown.
Add Tomatoes, oregano and a pinch of salt
Cook for 15-20 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Add the anchovies, capers, olives and parsley and cook for further two minutes.
Rinse pasta in boiling water and then add to the sauce, stir well then serve.

That's it, warts and all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

My mum's meatballs

FOR years it was a complete mystery to me. My mum used to do these lovely meatballs in a fantastic sauce with spaghetti.
When I started learning to cook I once asked her how she made them. "Ah, there's a secret ingredient," she revealed.
Well, sadly my mum's no longer with us, but her meatball recipe has survived the test of time. It was first passed on to my dad, then my stepmum.
A couple of years ago I finally persuaded my stepmum to reveal the long-protected family mystery. "What's the secret recipe of the meatballs?" I asked her.
"Secret?" she said. "There's no secret - it's just a tin of Oxtail soup!"
Now I can impart the secret to the rest of the world.

An equal amount of beef mince and pork sausage meat
Two cloves crushed garlic
A generous splash of Worcester sauce.
a teaspoon of salt and black pepper.

Mix these altogether and make into meatballs slightly smaller than the average tennis ball.
Put these in the Oven gas mark 4 or equivalent and cook for about 20 mins.
Keep checking as they start to brown.
Drain off the fat and then add a tin of Oxtail soup.
If you like, and I do, you can then add sliced mushrooms, a sliced celery stick or any vegetable you might prefer. I also used some frozen peas.
Return to the oven and cook for about an hour with the lid on.
Then remove lid for last half hour and stir on occasion.

For the spaghetti.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil
add spaghetti and cooked for 10 to 15 minutes until done.
Put in a colander and rinse through with hot water.
Return to pan and add about a tablespoon of tomato puree.
Mix together.
Put on a plate and add meatballs and sauce.

And that's it, simple but very tasty.

WITHERS reckons this blog is getting boring. I think he's just getting above his station because his effort is the 86th best read political blog in Britain. Out of 400.
Then again, people in politics can use statistiics for anything. As they say: There are lies, damn lies and statistics.
Bearing in mind Withers has little to do all day (unlike us busy sports journalists) I expect he's been nipping around the corner and logging into his own blog for hours at a time. He'll deny it, but isn't that the story with all politicians.
Remember Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Five pretzels

WENT in search of the lesser-spotted Brammy yesterday.

The Bram, you see, is a creature of habit which hates being removed from its environment.
You can't just set your clock by its movements, you can actually fill out next year's calendar, for example - June: Abergavenny Steam Rally, have only ice cream of the year while again finishing runner-up in the classic car competition with the moggy minor. August: Visit Brecon Jazz. Get in free by helping to set out chairs at the venues. Rant about how "it's not as good as it used to be" and threaten to never go again. Following year, forget about earlier rant and attend Brecon Jazz.

The Bram's world was thrown into chaos recently. His reliable drinking haunt, the Old Scroat, shut down for a month for refurbishments. The best way to refurbish the Old Scroat would be with a wrecking ball, I reckon, but the Bram sees it differently.
The annoying break of routine has left him shuffling around looking morose, trying to find a replacement establishment in which to imbibe a good, cheap pint of beer.
He's tried the Goat Major, which he was distinctly unimpressed with, and The Yard, which is too expensive and only sells a decent pint of lager. In the City Arms he was accosted by Barflies. This wasn't people acting like Micky Rourke in the film of that name, but actually flies buzzing around the bar. I reckon they just followed Bram there, but he's having none of it.
Then there is the mouldy old county club, which has good cheap beer but the atmosphere of a morgue.Last night we knew he was on the look out again, and tracked him down to the Model Inn which, he reliably informed us, was the first pub visited by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. Bram knows this, of course, because he was 21 at the time of the English Civil War and just happened to be drinking there were Olly and pals turned up.

When we arrive Bram is one of two people in the pub. Sat across the table from him is a terrifying drunk who is raging against the world. Bram, who is regular found in the company of madmen and ne'er-do-well's because of his habit of drinking in seedier old establishments, is sat across from him, nodding obediently like a rather grey old pet dog. He is the picture of calmness as the whirlwind across from him finally blows itself out and slinks out of the pub to head for home.
Then Bram joins myself, Withers and Becks at an adjoining table. "Nice bloke, John," he says, indicating the raving nutter who is making off down the street. "He's a bit of a fighter, though, used to be in the army (new model one, no doubt)."
As the night progresses I point out that Bram's waistline is expanding at an alarming rate. Before I know it we are in a beergut comparing contest with Withers and Becks as judges. Apparently while Bram is more rotund (to my mind he looks like he's swallowed a beachball these days) I am wider. That's just being big boned, really.

Finally, the Bram sneaks off to its nest in the wilds of Newport, and Withers and I totter off home. Too inebriated to cook, I open a bag of pretzels. Next thing I know its four in the morning and there is a pretzel mountain on the bed.
Ah, life...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

vindaloo, vindaloo la, la


A big football day today with Manchester United playing Arsenal and Chelsea taking on Liverpool in what Sky have called Grand Slam Sunday. It was also pay day on Friday so it's time for a big supermarket shop and something substantial to take me through the day.
While perusing the shelves a Patak cook-in sauce, reduced to 67p, catches my eye. It's vindaloo, and the memories come flooding back. Apparently, curry is now the no 1 food choice of the British public, and I try to remember how I first got interested in this most magnificent of meals.
It goes back to when I was about 15 at school and my mum brought home a Vesta Beef curry. This constituted dried bits of what looked like sawdust with little nobbly bits of Rabbit droppings. Yet put them in a pot, add water, bring to the boil and instant curry - magic!
Then came the sixth form and an offer to do a cookery lesson every two weeks as a "fill-in" subject between A level classes. Me and my mate Tom decided to give it a crack on the basis that the lesson came before lunchtime and we could eat our recently prepared food instead of the school dinner on offer that day.
Our first dish was spaghetti bolognaise, and the recipe has been with me ever since (I guess most of us learn how to cook that first). Second came curry, which was the same as spaghetti bolognaise but with curry powder added. After a while the teacher gave up trying to teach us new recipes and let us do what we wanted. So every fortnight Tom and I would make a curry, adding more and more curry powder as time went on, seeing how hot we could stand it.
From there it was a short leap to stopping off on the way back from a night out on the tiles, fully loaded, at a curry house in Gloucester Road, Bristol. Here myself and my mate Miller would attempt to prove our machismo by ordering vindaloos. The Indian gent serving us obviously thought: "We've got a right pair here, off their faces... just chuck in every hot chilli and spice you can find, lads, and see if we can make them spontaneously combust!"
Normally it took about two or three bites before we looked at each other and gave up. I guess a lot of young lads go for this approach, but as you get older you tend to go soft. First you step down to Madras, then a tikka masala and, if you are a real softie, you end up with a korma. As for Baltis, when did they start? You used to go for an Indian, then overnight it changed to a Balti. There were no longer Indian restaurants in the high street, the Hindu Temple suddenly turned into the Balti Brasserie overnight. Still, through it all, the memory of the unique vindaloo experience stays with you.
And there it is. Patak Vindaloo sauce. It's got to be done. Can I still hack it? Am I still tough enough? The challenge is thrown down, the vindaloo in the trolley. Now what to go with it? I buy a cooked chicken for £2.99 and some veggies and hot foot it back home to test out my toughness.
What you need:
vegetable oil
1 tin Patak vindaloo cook-in-sauce
A cooked, roast chicken 2 peeled potatoes cut into big chunks one egg.
Half a diced red pepper/half a diced green pepper
five or six mushrooms
Put potatoes and egg into a small saucepan bring water to boil and remove potatoes after 4/5 mins leave egg on until hard boiled (another 5 mins)
Heat up vegetable oil in a wok. When hot add the newly boiled spuds and the peppers.
Cook for 5-10 mins then add Patak sauce.
Meanwhile, soak rice in warm water for 15 mins. Rinse rice and put in saucepan, cover with about an inch of water Bring to boil and add a touch of turmeric to give it some colour (its not pilau rice, but it looks like it) Boil rice down until nearly all water has gone, then turn heat right down and put on lid. Meanwhile, add the mushrooms and chicken to the vindaloo sauce.
Add a little water if it looks too thick. Cook rice for 10 mins then turn off but don't remove lid. Cook the vindaloo, stirring often.
Rinse boiled egg in cold water, peel and cut into slices, add to vindaloo.
Dish rice onto plate, top with the vindaloo. Serve.
Here's what should happen: First mouthful and you establish that Patak have managed to get the authentic vindaloo taste.
Second mouthful: Develop hiccoughs.
Third mouthful: Feel sweat breaking out on the top of your head.
Fourth mouthful: Get up for a break and make a cup of tea (water just doesn't do the trick, but tea will help to ease the burning) .
Fifth mouthful: Get towel from bathroom and dry off dripping head, wonder why you appear to be crying...
Sixth mouthful: I know, let's save the rest for tomorrow... Yeah, as Vindaloo taste tests go, that one was spot on.

My mate Pete called. He was bitten by some flying insect at Jayney's barbecue the other weekend and his arm swelled up like a balloon. He had been unable to drink since then because of the anti-biotics, so I wasn't surprised to get the call - he was desperate for a pint of Abbots.
Met at the Claude. It was quiz night and, though we didn't enter, we were pretty good at getting the answers between us until the final round: What happened last week. This short-term memory loss seems to be a symptom of old age, particularly as something from long ago seems to stick. Not only did I know who played the Joker in the Batman film but who played the Joker in the Batman TV series: Burgess Meredith, who later played Rocky's coach.

I had a Sopranos moment at the fish counter. I feel a real moral dilemma when it comes to swordfish. I love it, but I also know that this delicacy is being fished close to extinction. When I saw it on display it was a bit like Tony Soprano entering the fishmongers having consigned his mate, the FBI informant Pussy Bonasera, to "swim with the fishes" by chucking him off his yacht. As he viewed the display the fish started opening their mouths and asking: "Why d'ya have to kill me, Tony?"
Anyway, the moral dilemma lasted but three seconds - then I remembered how good swordfish tasted - like a succulent pork chop, but made of fish. Swordfish is quite a popular dish in the southern states of America, cooked in cajun spices.
When I was in New Orleans four years ago I bought a mixture of the spices for some ludicrous price, then used them about twice. The jar is still in the cupboard, but without any sign of a sell-by date I think it might be risking it to use them. So I make up my own spice concoction containing equal measures of Cayenne pepper, black pepper, Chinese five spices, cumin and garlic salt, then I rub this over the swordfish.
I opt to have it with herb and garlic potato wedges, thanks to a packet of schwarz herb and garlic potato wedge stuff.
Recipe: Pat swordfish dry Rub butter or marg and a small amount of olive oil into the swordfish. Then roll it in the spices and leave to marinate in fridge for while.
Cut two large potatoes into wedges.
Put in a bowl and mix with a good sprinkling of olive oil.
Heat oven to gas mark 6 (200) mix with half the wedge stuff until potatoes well covered.
Put on a baking tray into the oven and cook for 15 mins.
Then wash five whole mushrooms, wash and then fry them.
Toss the potato wedges that should be going brown, and put a generous number of small cherry tomatoes on the vine on top of them, then return to oven.
Light grill to medium and put swordfish underneath. Keep checking everything.
Turn swordfish when spices start to brown and fish looks like it has done on that side.
When it is done on the other side, put onto a plate.
Add mushrooms.
Remove potatoes from oven - the tomatoes should have wrinkled and softened and some can be squashed into the potatoes. Serve up with some crusty french bread.

Yesterday I went to see the film, the Black Dahlia. My recollections of James Ellroy's book are that nothing was resolved and the killer never found. It was all pretty confusing, anyway, and the film was no different. While the cinematography is excellent and the acting pretty good, particularly from Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank, I got more confused the more it went on.
And I was shocked by the sexual content - not because Scarlet Johansen and Josh get it on but because of the circumstances.
They sit down to a full roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings and then decide to get jiggy on the table, pushing all the food to the floor. What a waste!
After a couple of hours I realised that I will have to get the DVD out to understand it better. Guess I'm just thick. Saw the film at the Odeon on Tuesday afternoon and was the only person in the cinema. Plenty of space to lol about, but a bit eerie.
Had the remaining vindaloo and jacket potato for tea then settled down to watch Panorama's special investigation into football bungs.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

prawn sandwiches a la Roy Keane

12.25am and myself and the Robot are still toiling away, waiting for the last editions of the paper to arrive to check for any errors. I'm dead on my feet - it's been a busy day. I was planning to heat up the remaining butternut squash when I got home tonight, but I don't imagine I should really be eating that at 1.30 in the morning. Much earlier had a nice Carbonara arf and arf from the House of Lard, and at about 6.30 Nickers offered to do an M&S run for prawn sandwiches. We're right posh here, we are...

The voice of God, meanwhile, has been stuffing himself with Polish food over the last few days for some kind of "research" item. Apparently the local Polish-run deli is doing remarkable business since migrant workers from Eastern Europe started arriving in Cardiff. Some of the other staff aren't too happy, though. Nate stormed out of the office because he couldn't stand the smell.
Since the Voice went home, Robot has been tucking into his stash of food, thinking it's all freebies he's obtained for use in the feature. Haven't the heart to tell him the Pumpkin Seeds are strictly the Voice's own choice of snack.

Griller in the midst

THE Cogs were turning last night. Well, The Coggs turned up at the pub anyhow. That's my mate Coggs, who started life working as a small cog on the weekly newspapers with Celtic and worked his way up to establish himself as a big wheel on the nationals. He's now a fully-fledged member of the golf writer's union, travelling the world in pursuit of Tigers and Great White Sharks.
Of course, travelling the world with a national expense account means Coggs rarely has time to visit the kitchen. That's why he needs his partner Kempy to tell him what to eat, when to eat and how to find whatever it is he wants to eat.
Yesterday, whilst in the middle of one of his skillfully crafted essays on the stylish swing of a Mickelson or an Els, he turns into the absent-minded professor - so focused was he on the job in hand.
When it came to solving the mighty problem of what to have for his lunch, there was nothing for it but to phone Kempy. "Where's the pizza?" he inquired, followed by: "Can I do anything with this frozen chicken?"
Coggsy's one contribution to the world of cuisine was to request a George Foreman grill for Christmas. And this marvellous contraption has served him well at times of crisis, providing the bacon sarnies and morning fry ups that sets him up for the brain-teasing challenges ahead.
If that fails, Kempy has also given him vouchers to spend at his favourite local curry house - an inspired purchase if ever there was one.

I enjoyed a Stiff night yesterday. No, sadly I didn't strike lucky and it wasn't a case of my ageing bones setting rigid during the early hours. It was an evening's TV dedicated to Stiff records on BBC4 and was a fascinating insight into the early days of the likes of Elvis Costello, the Damned and the great Ian Drury.
So engrossed was I that it didn't leave much time for cooking, so it was straight into the microwave with the remaining pasta e patate.
That's my life. All Sex and Drugs and Rock n roll, as Drury would say.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Uncle Junior's Pasta e patate

SCOOBY has perfected a great technique for anger management. To conquer his temper he thumps something.
It began with a golf ball which took a hell of a beating after he signed up for lessons with the local pro. Unfortunately the pro worked miles away from a golf course - in a shop on Albany Road - and the whole thing took place on one of those virtual golfing ranges, far away from the field of battle.
But it served its purpose.
When he'd knocked the casing off as many golf balls as possible he packed it in - only to then take up with a Samba band. This gave him the chance to thump steel drums to his hearts content.
But the course finally ran out and Scoobs had nothing to beat up on... until along came a course on African drumming. Now he bashes hell out of the bongos to relieve his considerable stress.
To be fair, my landlord Scooby has plenty to get angry about. Same as the rest of us really, most of it caused by petty bureacracy and ineffective authority.
He's probably lost count of the number of arguments and legal fights he has had to get his disabled son Joe the right schooling and to get adequate hospital care for his mum. Every time he thumps a drum I imagine some petty official's face looms large in his mind's eye.
Mind you, there is another reason for his appetite for drumming. I can't believe it's coincidence that 80 per cent of his classmates are women.
Last night was drumming night for Scoob and after he told me of his latest escapades I settled down to my favourite meal of the moment - Pasta e patate from The Sopranos cookbook.
It's a pretty quick and hearty meal and contains my latest Pasta crush - Macaroni.
You need:
A pack of cubed pancetta, or four slices of bacon.
1 small carrot
1 celery rib
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste/1 tablespoon sundried tomato paste (my own preferred choice)
salt and black pepper
three peeled and diced potatoes
two and a half to three pints water
12 oz macaroni
loads of Parmigiano cheese

To cook: Heat oil in pan
Add the pancetta, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley
fry on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 mins
Add tomato pastes, spuds, salt and pepper - mix up
Add water and bring to boil
Simmer for 30 mins
Crush as many potatoes as poss with a fork against the side of pan
Add macaroni
Simmer for 12 mins, stirring occasionally
Add half the cheese and stir in, cook for another 3 mins.
Add some hot water if too thick.
Turn off and stand with lid on for two mins.
Serve up dollops of the stuff, add a little more salt and pepper, top with more Parmigian and chilli flakes. Yummy.
Settle down to watch Extras with a starring role for Keith Chegwyn and Orlando Bloom (a great series, welcome back) and later the Sopranos. Hey, some of those guys could do with anger management lessons off Scooby.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fish, chips and the koi done good

I'M in the wrong job. I know, you're all thinking I should be Marco Pierre White's new sous chef or the straight guy to Ainsley Harriot's funny man, but that's not it. I feel my future now lies in fish and chips.
Why? Because Bram, Becks and I were having a conversation about the subject yesterday. More specifically fish and chip shops.
It all came about when we were discussing the upcoming Manchester United v Celtic game and the area surrounding United's ground. I just happened to point out that I'd been passed Lou Macari's fish and chip shop outside the Theatre of Dreams and it had netted him a fortune over the years. "Best investment I ever made", said the former Scotland and United striker and, with the money he's had to spend over the years, that's a pretty ringing endorsement.
Bram then went into some diatribe about how he and his brother always play golf with the prize of a fish supper to the winner. They stop off at a shop near Gilwern which is "one of the best around".
It reminded me of a couple I met in Barbados a couple of years ago. Ironically, we were going off on a sea fishing expedition for the day. Eight hours on a boat, a great deal of sea sickness and one fish caught between 12 of us. Hardly a bargain at £15 a head.
Anyway, this bloke started telling me about his holiday home in the Dominican Republic, his regular trips to the Caribbean and how he had sent his daughter out to a luxury five-star hotel in Paris with her boyfriend for her 18th birthday. Multi-millionaire businessman, I thought. Into playing the stock market or made his money by coming up with some earth-shattering invention like the I-pod or the blog.
"No, Butt," he said. "I own the fish and chip stall on the sea front at Port Talbot. You want to come and try it some time. I'll give you a bag of chips for free!"

The Prince of Darkness had an altogether murkier tale about fish. He lives as a country squire (in some old dracula-style castle, I guess) near Cwmbran. You can see it when the moon's full - all those bats whizzing around the Belfry.
Behind the Prince's house is a market garden. And the market garden is very proud of its extremely expensive Koi carp. The Prince owns cats. I think you know what's coming...
One day the Prince opens the back door to find a beautiful Koi struggling for breath on the back doorstep. He gently carries it to the sink and immerses it in water, but he knows it isn't long for this world.
With the other hand he is reaching for the oil and butter, and heating the frying pan on the grill...

The Prince and Brammy both live near Celtic Manor, the home of the Ryder Cup in 2010. And it has come to their attention that someone has been going around offering people £20,000 to move out of their houses for a few days and rent them to rich American golf enthusiasts.
What they would make of Brammy's bijou squat, with its lawnmover rested lovingly on the spare room bed and the door almost impossible to open for the junk mail piled up behind it, I've no idea. He thinks Tiger Woods might be interested.
Then again, Tiger might get better bed and breakfast at the Prince's. Imagine the scene...
"Hey, these Welsh folks are great. Someone's left me a fresh Koi Carp on the step..."

Raced home to watch the footie last night - no time for cooking. Just heated up the remaining gravy from the night before with a bit of lamb and some leftover spuds. Didn't half fancy some fish and chips though ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wabbit on the hob and madhur jaffrey's lamb curry

THERE I was, quietly going about my work on Saturday afternoon and waiting for the footy results to come in, when Nickers said something that made me suck up tea through my nostrils, choke and splutter all over the desk.
Nickers is one of our casual sub editors, a bright girl who shows plenty of initiative, which made her outrageous comment even more surprising.
"I think I've found Rosey the ideal date," she said.
Now, I'm sorry, but did Casanova need a matchmaker? I doubt it.
"What are you laughing at," she protested. "He needs a nice girlfriend."
And obviously Rosey can't find one himself. This is Rosey, we are talking about, who has had about 50 first dates since I've known him (and that's only two years). Let's equate that to me. No girlfriend, four years. Hmm, Rosey obviously needs help.
In fact, Rosey is the lothario equivalent of the magician David Copperfield. We can be walking down the street minding our own business when a good looking member of the opposite sex passes and, voila, Rosey has her phone number. Pure genius.
Still, it's not always gone well for him and so I do feel a wee bit of sympathy. Not enough, you understand, to back this "Let's find Rosey the perfect girlfriend" campaign.
He throws his heart and soul into the dating game, bless him. Perhaps it's because he is just into his 30s and he seems to be invited to a wedding by one mate or another nearly every week. Doesn't want to turn into the male equivalent of an old maid (what would that be? A mouldy Butler?)
Some of those dates haven't gone too well and I think sometimes he tries to impress a tad too much. Over the last year he's learnt the 10 steps to divine happiness after picking up with a kung fu instructor, danced to German folk in lederhosen after meeting a young lady on a train ride from Hamburg to Munich and dived out of a plane without a parachute (of course, I've made all that up, but you get the picture). And with such a decent track record, Rosey has naturally come home sometimes to find his pet rabbit sleeping dangerously close to the cooker.
Of course, I know all about bunny boilers, which is why I've stayed away from the dating game so long. Or maybe it's just because my chances in love have receded in direct alignment with my hairline. My one real encounter with love was about 15 years ago. It was love at first sight, marriage in six months and utter despair in three years. Oh yeah, and we burnt a house down along the way. You could call it a flammable relationship.
Still, I'm ready to launch the "find Rippers the perfect girlfriend" campaign. All she will have to do is let me watch cricket for hours on end, spend two months at the Ashes in Australia, support the Gas and put up with my ranting when they lose, spend hours in the pub and not come near the kitchen while I'm cooking.
People tell me the right girl is out there somewhere and urge me to keep looking. But it's been four years. Why isn't she looking for me, lazy cow??
By the way, Saturday night was hot dogs. A three-minute job.

TALKING of old maids, that is what my great friend Janey always imagined she would end up being - the old maid with the cat. Well, I went to her second child Harry's christening on Sunday, so obviously her worst fears were completely unfounded. As I knew they would be.
She made one of those silly promises once. "If I reach 40 and I'm not married, I'll marry you." Drat! foiled again. Mind you, I have a sneaky suspicion she told my pal Gareth exactly the same thing.
I met Janey 15 years ago. Unsurprisingly it was a meeting which took place in the middle of an alcohol-induced haze. I was trying to get a taxi home after a night out and was first in line at the cab rank. When the woman behind the counter asked me where I wanted to go I said "Cathays". A voice piped up behind me. "That's where I'm going, too! We can share."
Now I wouldn't recommend this approach to single ladies out late at night, but we spent the entire journey home gasbagging, swapped numbers and met up for a drink a couple of weeks later. See Rosie, I can do it too!
It's been a friendship that has perservered through many sticky points throughout the years, and I was at her wedding to Rich two years ago.
Now they have two kids, a nice house and a garden perfect for wiling the afternoon away. It was great weather, too, although by the time I stumbled home at ten that night I was in no fit state to cook. Luckily I'd made a big fry up earlier in the day - bacon, egg (one of Simon's "good" eggs), black pudding, fresh fried tomatoes and mushrooms with two pieces of toast. Hit the spot lovely.

JUST over two months to go until my trip to Australia for the Ashes. It's costing me six grand. Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne for Xmas, Sydney for new year. Can't wait. I don't like cricket, I love it!
I'm putting everything in order before I go and also trying to get a bit fitter. Hence 40 lengths of the swimming pool this morning, followed by a trip to the dentist to make sure my teeth are tip top.
Today I met the new hygienist. Gorgeous. Trouble is you know that you will never get anywhere with someone who has peered deeply into your throat while removing bits of tartar and scum from between your teeth. They always tend to talk to you, too, while digging deep into the recesses of your month.
"Going anywhere nice on holiday?"
It's not the best way to make a first impression, is it?
That night its a recipe I just scribbled down from a TV programme featuring Madhur Jaffrey. It's for lamb curry.
You need:
Chunks of Lamb
3 diced vine tomatoes
Sliced onions
Ginger and Garlic puree (I use the very lazy garlic from a jar)
tomato puree
Garam Masala
Red chilli powder

Put oil in a wok or Karahi (Indian wok)
Fry the sliced onions for 3 or four minutes
Add chunks of lamb (I cut a lamb joint in half, then chopped into chunks)
cook up until lamb changes colour and goes brown
add some squeezes of puree, a good shake of garam masala and 2 tsp chilli powder.
Cook and mix up for a minute or two
Add tomatoes and a good pouring of natural low fat yoghurt.
Season with salt and black pepper
Cook for around 30 to 40 minutes, adding a splash of water to prevent sticking
Serve with plain rice

Becks is on trial this week. Not David Beckham going from Real Madrid to Chelsea or anything like that. In fact, our Becks has joined Celtic. Not Glasgow Celtic either. Celtic Newspapers. They are a group of very successful local papers run on a shoestring and produced thanks to the goodwill of some very hardworking staff. They produce things like the Merthyr Gazette, which everyone buys in Merthyr to see who is in court.
For Becks, it's a bit like being a journeyman with a Premiership team and transferring to Crewe Alexandra as player manager. Or Sheffield Wednesday, because that is the team Becks' supports. Don't know what "Posh" Lins makes of it, mind.
He came into the pub last night, looking a bit shell-shocked by it all. Must be all the bouncing babies, school photos etc that have got to him.

Obviously too many people are reading this blog, particularly those who receive drunken phone calls from me. No one answered last night. In fact, Kempy admitted: "I knew it was you and thought you would be drunk so ignored it. I was watching the football."
Fair play, Kempy.
Still found it possible to make drunken roast lamb with roast spuds, yorkshire pud and gravy. The lamb wasn't drunk, I was.
What you do:
Put on cooker on gas mark 3 to heat up.
Fall asleep for two hours.
Wake up and go to remove your dinner from oven.
Realise its still sitting on the side because you forgot to put it in the oven.
Put lamb in foil and peel and cut potatoes. Put into roasting pan and coat potatoes with some oil (not too much because lamb juices will run out).
Cook for 30/40 minutes.
Remove and put cooker up to gas mark 7 to cook mrs Beaton's frozen yorkshires for 20 mins.
Then put these back in with the lamb and potatoes and put the heat back down to 3. Add some slices of butternut squash (Cook for another 30 mins or until lamb done and potatoes brown.
For the veg:
Fry up some sliced garlic and salt in a pan. Add mange tout and spinach and stir fry until spinach wilts.
Add small amount of hot water from kettle. Cook for another 5 mins.
Meanwhile, make gravy by following instructions on Bisto box.
Serve up on a plate and eat at about midnight while watching the re-run of Lost on E4+1 (not ideal, but there you go).
Probably better to do this one while sober at Sunday lunchtime.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

In Cod we trust

THE Voice of Cod spoke to me last night. It said: "Bugger, I've forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer again!"
Actually it wasn't the Voice of Cod at all but Marc, our stand-in news editor, who has been trying to fill Kempy's substantial shoes for the last week while she's been on holiday. And it seems to have affected his dietary and sleeping habits very badly.
Every day this week he has been promising himself that he will rise early, remove the aforementioned chicken from the freezer and give it time to defrost while he's at work. And every day he has woken bleary eyed after a poor night's sleep, beset by worry and stress, rushed to get dressed and got halfway to work before realising that he's going to have to make do with Cod in the Bag again. Still, it's good for the brain power, isn't it? Or is that just codswallop?
Meanwhile, I imagine there have been a number of bells and whistles going off in our HR department of late. The world is now so PC that you are supposed to mind your P's and Q's. I even heard that swearing had been banned by one of our sister papers. A newsroom without swearing? That's like the last night of the proms without Land of Hope and Glory. It's tradition, goddamit!
New arrivals to the desk should therefore be treated very warily in case they are agents of the HR - it's all a bit "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, paperclip counter".
We had a new arrival this week. Emma. So imagine my surprise when Shutts naively blurts out a story of sexual deviance so gross that it would make Emmanuele blush. Silence. But not for long. The Robot spots his opening and pipes up. "Yeah, we did a piece on her once". Least, I think he said piece.
It was Rosey's birthday yesterday so we all filled up with cakes, then filled up with alcohol. I stumbled home to a cup of tea and some reheated noodles before catching the end of possibly the most dire and pointless chat shows ever produced. And I don't mean yours, Wossy.
Pillow watch: Just 24 hours left to suffer Withers. You're in the home straight, mate.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Stir-fried minced pork

I HEARD the Voice of God last night. Across a crowded pub it boomed: "A pint of Brains smooth please, bra'." Of course, it wasn't the omnipotent being himself ordering up a pint of Cardiff's finest - it was the Voice of God as you might hear in one of those old fashioned film epics with a cast of thousands and Charlton Heston in the starring role. Moses, the full story, or something like that (now on DVD in eight-parts from K-tel, just send off a cheque for £2.99 to ... etc, etc).
The Voice of God actually belongs to The New Boy Macca. The only problem with the Voice of God is that I never envisaged the supreme being speaking with a Gwent accent and rapping with the Goldie Lookin' Chain. To be fair, that's exactly what Macca did in a previous life, rapped with the Newport-based funsters. As Macc Dad, apparently. Just pulled out before they became successful and therefore missed out on all the good times. Instead, makes a pittance in this wonderful world we call journalism.
Still, I reckon Macca, with that booming voice, could start up a tasty little sideline. He could hire himself out for weddings, funerals, religious celebrations and Bar Mitzvah's...
An essential difference between the Voice of God and the omnipresent one is that the Voice of God is not "all seeing". He didn't, for example, foresee a bend in the road to Usk the other night and managed to total his Merc. I can almost hear his booming declaration as he stumbled around in that roadside ditch: "Oh, bugger". Apparently the ABS let him down.
Anyway, got home last night for the next episode of the Sopranos and the League of Gentlemen film. Both, in many ways, a little bit disappointing. Not too impressed with these Tony Soprano dream sequences, I'm afraid.
As I needed something quick and filling I went for the Stir-fried minced pork with steamed rice.
Basically, I've got a jar of those pickled vegetables in the cupboard, which makes life so much easier.
8oz minced pork
4oz washed, drained and chopped mixed veg
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar. Garnish with spring onions if liked.

Rinse veg and blot dry with kitchen paper. Chop up into pieces.
Heat wok until hot. Add oil and wait until hot.
Stir-fry mince for two minutes, breaking up into bits.
Add veg and other ingredients. Cook for another five minutes.
Serve on bed of rice.
Condition check on Pillow: Still alive.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

spicy sichuan noodles and pillow rice

WITHERS has been hired as The Bodyguard this week. But to be perfectly honest he's no Kevin Costner and is unlikely to get jiggy with Witney Houston any time soon. Nor for that matter is he being paid the crown jewels.
In fact, Withers has been left in charge of Pillow for the week. And, to me, that's the equivalent of naming Charles Kennedy as designated driver on a night out.
To be fair it's a tough job and if Withers fails he knows his neck will be firmly on the chopping block (stir-fried Withers head anyone?). Pillow, you see, is Kempy's cat. And Kempy loves her cat. Then consider that Kempy is Withers' boss and realise that all he has to do is leave the front door open or allow Pillow to overdose on Whiskas and he may find himself neutred in his prime.
So what is Withers' price for such a harrowing challenge? Free use of Sky Sports for the week. On his first night as Pillow's minder he watched into the wee small hours, woke up on the sofa at 5 in the morning and breathed a sigh of relief when Pillow appeared on cue for breakfast. Talk about taking your eyes off the prize!
Anyway, Withers hot-tailed it home early from the pub last night to do his duty (pure coincidence that Italy were playing France on Sky Sports 3 in a repeat of the World Cup final) and I wandered home soon afterwards after a quick beer with Brammy. No Carling lager so I perused the pumps and opted for the one with a Harp on it.
"I'll have a pint of Harp," I said.
When it took about five minutes to pour I reminded the barman I was still waiting.
"These things take time," he said, finally producing a beautifully poured pint of Guinness. Then the lightbulb went on above my head: The Harp is the symbol of Guinness. What was I thinking? I don't think I've seen Harp lager on sale for many a year. Anyone remember Harp lager? Doh!
Got home and needed something quick and filling. Out comes Ken Hom and I make straight for the Spicy Sichuan Noodles. The secret ingredient? Peanut butter!
First you marinate 8oz minced pork in 1 tablespoon dark soy, 2 tsp rice wine, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles for 3-5 minutes until done, plunge into cold water then stir in 2 tbsp of sesame oil.
Then start cooking sauce in wok. You need:
2 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped ginger
5 tbsp chopped spring onion
2 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp dark soy; 2 tsp light soy
2 tsp chilli bean sauce
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
8oz chicken stock

Heat wok till hot, put in oil and heat until smoking.
stir fry garlic, spring onions and ginger for 30 secs.
Put in marinated pork and cook until the pinkness has gone.
Add all ingredients and cook for 2 minutes.
Add noodles and mix well in.
Serve up and then add crushed sichuan peppercorns if liked.

I dished this up with stir fried chinese greens.
The recipe says Pak Choy but I've never found this in a supermarket so I use Bok Choy - don't know if it's the same or not, but it works nevertheless.
Heat up a frying pan, add oil, slice up three garlic cloves and throw them in with salt. Whisk around for 10-20 seconds then add the Bok Choy. Let it whither slightly then add 2 tablespoons of chicken stock or water. Cook for a further three mins and serve so cooked but still fairly crisp.
Be warned, the noodle dish itself can be VERY filling. I had to save half of it for another day.
At the same time Withers was reheating his spinach and cheese curry (Yes, I was shocked, too, but apparently it's very nice - hope he didn't give any to pillow, though).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chilli pork spareribs with stirfried mangetout and water chestnuts

PROPOSED to Evans last night. This is not the momentous occasion you might think. It happens nearly every week and normally when I'm very drunk. She's unlikely ever to say yes so it's the kind of challenge that will last a lifetime - one of those goals that, if it ever came to fruition, would leave me nothing left to strive for.
Evans is a great girl. Entertaining, great looking, clever, sparky and likes a drink as much as I do. Only drawback is she likes rugby. We've never been out, not even close, apart from on boozy nights in the pub, which makes it even more entertaining to pop the question now and then. I like to think of myself as a cross between Bruce Willis and Ray "Butch" Wilkins, the former Manchester United and England international midfielder, but with Mr Spock ears if you see my latest passport photo. Withers prefers to think of me looking more like Zippy off the old kids show Rainbow (note to self: kill Withers).
Anyway, after a good afternoon's drinking it is always good to pick up the mobile and ring people and have a long natter, forgetting nearly everything you spoke about the next day. Spoke to my mate Laurie, who was a childhood friend and who I met again recently after contact through friends reunited. Then spoke to Evans, who has just started a new job up in Essex.
After all that I intended to watch Lost but promptly fell asleep and didn't wake again until 3 this morning. It made up for all the hours sleep I missed over the weekend.
So I didn't cook. In fact all I had to eat all day was a banana and an orange and the vitamin pills recommended to me by my guru.
On Monday night I did get around to opening the Ken Hom Illustrated Chinese Cooking book, though, and did some chilli pork spareribs with a veggie sidedish and plain steamed rice.
The thing about Chinese cooking is it requires particular ingredients which aren't always easy to find. One particular "must have" is Chinese rice wine, which can be replaced with sherry but gives Eastern food its unique flavour (to my delight I recently discovered it in Sainsburys)
As many spareribs as you fancy, depending on who you are cooking for (I had three)
Peanut, veg or sunflower oil (lots)
1 and 1/2 pints of chicken stock.
2 tablespoons chilli bean sauce
1 tbspn sugar
3 fld ozs chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 and 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
3 tbsp finely chopped spring onions
2 tsp whole yellow bean sauce
3 tbsp Hoisin sauce.
2 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water.
Heat oil in deep fat fryer or wok until v hot
plunge in spare ribs and fry until brown and crisp (may be best to do in batches)
drain on kitchen roll which combining all sauce ingredients and bringing to boil in pan
Add chops to this and simmer for an hour
Lift spareribs out and put them on grill rack.
grill, and baste every now and again with sauce until brown and sticky.
Cut up into six inch pieces.

Drain rice and put in pan, covering with about an inch of cold water.
bring to boil and boil vigorously until most of water has been absorbed.
Turn on lowest setting, cover with lid and cook for 10 mins.

Stirfried mangetout and water chestnuts
Heat wok or frying pan
add oil and fry 3 tbsp spring onion for about 10 seconds
add as much mangetout as you want and coat in the oil, stir fying for about a minute
add a tablespoon of light soy, two tablespoons cold water, one teaspoon salt, half teaspoon black pepper, one teaspoon of sugar.
Stir fry for another three mins on quite high heat
Add water chestnuts from a tin, which have been sliced thin.
cook for two more minutes
stir in two tablespoons sesame oil.

Place the chops on top of the rice then put the mangetout and water chestnuts around the side.
Delish! Also if you have some sweet chilli sauce dip this goes nicely, too. A good contrast in flavour and textures.
Perhaps if Evans reads what a fantasticly adventurous cook I am she will see I have more to offer than my drunken advances might suggest. Then again, I doubt it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

butternut squash stew

SPOKE to The Fat Kid yesterday. She's not really fat, nor is she a kid. She is in fact my 23-year-old daughter. She should really be a bit portly, on account of the fact she's already had two kids. When she first told me she was pregnant with her first child, the vin monster, I had the screaming abdabs. "I'm not old enough to be a grandad!" I protested. It put me into a deep depression for at least five minutes, till I thought of getting the subbuteo out again, taking the offspring to see The Gas (my footie team) and dressing him up in the current England shirt. I even bought him a Wales rugby shirt, poor mite.
The Vin Monster is three and the latest recruit, Marley, is just over three months old and nearly as big as Vin. No handmedowns for Marley. When it comes to feeding the big boy, What I cooked last night will probably not go nearly far enough.
He's built like his dad, but I'm not going to talk about his dad, on account of the fact he and The Fat Kid split up a couple of weeks ago and I am not surprised. He's a selfish git. Sorry, as I said I'm not going to talk about it.
Anyway, The Fat Kid wants to move. Again. She only moved two months ago to Harlow from Southend, but is missing her old friends. She is nearer her mother and sisters now, who are already driving her mad. But that's families for you.
I love The Fat Kid, we have a special relationship. I give her money, she spends it. But that's ok because I wasn't around during her growing up years. In fact, it came as an almighty shock when the police told me that she had run away from home and wanted to live with me. I was happily living the bachelor life at the time with no worries.
She was 15. We hardly knew each other. I took a job in London so that as soon as she got bored or fed up with me she could just hop on the next train back to mum. She stayed.
We had a pretty rocky time early on, as she was Southend's version of Bonnie. Instead of Bonnie and Clyde it was Bonnie and Bonnie as her best friend Lizbeth was her partner in crime.
Quite often I would be returning home from work late at night on the DLR when I'd get a call from PC Biggleswade or DCI Johnson or whoever telling me they had someone in custody who claimed to be my daughter. Instead of going to bed I had to climb into the car and drive to one of the many police stations that she called her second home to get her out of the slammer.
It was mainly silly things like shoplifting but when she stole my credit cards and bought £42 worth of pizza and Hagan Das for her and her mates I finally blew a fuse. I left her in the cells all night while thinking how to tackle this major headache that had gatecrashed my previous serene life.
This was the plan. I surmised I was cleverer than her on the basis that she had spent most of her early years playing truant, and that nearly everything she thought she was doing for the very first time, I'd done many years earlier.
So, without her realising (and I STILL don't think she knows) I set about picking her new friends - a boyfriend who went to school every day, a new best pal with a mother who scared the hell out of all the local kids and a new social network of people I felt I could trust to keep her out of trouble. I got her into college to do an NVQ in Beauty Therapy and pretty soon we were getting on great.
When she decided she was old enough to go it alone at 19 I agreed - and months later came the call I was dreading. The "I'm pregnant" one.
Anyway, think I've talked The Fat Kid out of making any hasty decisions. I reminded her what a pain packing is for a start and told her I couldn't lend her the deposit on a new place. We'll have to see what happens.
Spent the rest of the day lazing about watching more Sopranos, catching up with Lost (I saw it earlier in the week but didn't remember a thing on account of the drunken Stones night). Both had shocking endings.
Making a trip to the kitchen I found a butternut squash in the pantry that had been there for about six weeks. Not sure what it will be like but decided to cut it up and have a look.
Lo and behold, these things seems to keep for ages on account of their tough skin.
So it's out with Aynsley Harriot's meals in minutes and a cheap, cheerful and extremely healthy dish, brilliant to replenish anyone who has had the kind of boozy week that I have.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Half tsp mustard seeds, half tsp cumin seeds.
half red onion (or whole onion if you prefer)
One large clove garlic, crushed
one red chilli (seeds removed and sliced)
2 tablespoons Madras curry paste
three large potatoes, cut into chunks
Pint veg stock
butternut squash peeled and cut into squares
two vine tomatoes cut into six wedges each
Tin of black-eyed beans
Salt and pepper
Two mini Garlic and Coriander Nans

Heat oil and add seeds until they start popping (careful the oil isn't too hot or its like coming under fire on a shooting range)
Add chopped onion, garlic and red chilli and cook until onion softens (3-4 mins)
Add Madras curry paste and potato chunks and mix together.
Add veg stock and bring to boil
Reduce to simmer and cook for five mins covered
Add butternut squash, bring back to boil and simmer for 15.
Add tomato and black-eyed beans
Add salt and pepper as you wish
Heat for another three minutes while sprinkling nans with water and doing under the grill about a minute each side.
Put nans on plate, poor over Butternut squash stew.
Any that's left you can freeze. I use those plastic takeaway containers, they're great.
Tried to stay up late to watch the baseball, but dozed off during third inning.
There followed a night of silly dreams. "Stop shooting at me, Simon Thomas, I'm fed up hiding behind this bus stop!"

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Baked ziti with dah little meatballs


Well, I guess this is cheating but I've already made the ziti so I might as well warm it up and eat it. Thank God Saturday's out of the way again - it's been a pretty busy day what with the rugby season starting again and the Wales soccer team playing in the Czech Republic. Everything came in pretty late, too, so I was still in the office at midnight.
The hangover wasn't too bad at first on account of the fact I was still basking in the euphoria of the previous night, but as lunchtime approached the brain got slower and slower until I was having to function on automatic.
Dinner from the House of Lard (carbonara, pasta and chips) was most welcome and helped to revive my mood, but by the midnight hour I was starving.
Anyway baked ziti is pretty filling and not too tricky to make once you've made the meatballs mentioned earlier in the lasagne recipe. Here goes...
What you need:
Leftover tiny meatballs and Italian sausage
ziti pasta from a deli, broken into about two inch pieces and cooked in the normal way.
Ricotta, Mozzarella and parmigian cheese.
Sunday gravy (made last Sunday and kept in the fridge)

Once ziti has been cooked, mix with meatballs, sausage, tomato and half a cup of parmigian.
Put half the ziti in a casserole
spread over ricotta and add small squares of mozzarella
Add a layer of gravy
Put in the rest of the ziti
cover with sauce and the a good smothering of parmigian.
Cover with foil and cook in a preheated oven on an average heat, gas mark 4 or 375.
Cook for about 20 minutes then remove foil and cook for about 10/20 mins more.
Remove from oven and leave to stand.
Spoon big dollops on plate and add chilli flakes.
tuck in.
That is about the end of the Sunday gravy but it's kept me going throughout the week. This week I will be mostly cooking Chinese.

Smashy and not nicey

Urgh! Well, I know I promised the Baked Ziti recipe but it aint gonna happen. I was supposed to go home nice and early last night, couple of pints in the pub then slip the aforementioned culinary delight into the oven having already lovingly prepared it the previous day. But the best-laid plans can always be derailed, particularly if I end up in the City Arms on a Friday night.
You see, the City Arms is the home of my own personal DJ Jase, who owns all the best records I have ever heard or possessed. Jase even provided the soundtrack for my 46th birthday shenanigans this year.
I remember asking him how he knew all these fantastic songs, and he worringly told me that his Dad used to play them when he was still in nappies. That really cheered me up.
Anyway, Mashers and Freeman are off to America for a six-week tour. The Thelma and Louise of the Echo wanted to say goodbye before they left and organised their do at the City Arms. Freeman (or Nicey as I like to think of him) was even appearing as a guest DJ. He's got the right name for it. When I was a kid we always used to listen to Alan "fluff" Freeman doing the chart show on a Sunday - perhaps the Echo man is a distant relative, who knows? We should all call him Fluff from now on, anyhow.
Music was great, though. All punk, new wave... some songs I hadn't heard in ages. Remember That Petrol Emotion? They didn't last long but "Big Decision" has to have one of the best riffs ever. Good choice, Fluff.
I then get speaking to Gerry's folks, who were spending a weekend in Cardiff on a flying visit from north Wales. Think it was the Ramones tee-shirt that told me they were my type of people. Anyway, one thing led to another, and my own personal DJ took over, playing all the records that remind me of younger and happier times, when I didn't have a care in the world blah, blah.
At one stage I left and reached the taxi rank. Ziti awaiting. But before the taxi turned up I had a brain storm and went back to the pub.

There's a funny tune racing around my brain. "What condition my condition was in" by Kenny Rogers. It's the most memorable song in that fantastic Coen Brothers film "The Big Lebowski" and particularly poignant at this time. It seems to be getting louder and going on forever.
Shit! It's the new ringtone Beckett sent me. I open a blurry eye and look at the clock. 8.30! I'm normally in work on a Saturday by now. Scramble around and pick up the phone. It's Dad. My stepmum Jean is unwell and it's probably not a good idea to visit on Sunday.
Thanks Dad, you saved my bacon. I would still be in bed now if you hadn't rung.
Even at 12.30 I'm still not actually sure what condition my condition is in. Critical, some might say.

Friday, September 01, 2006

ham and cheese nibbles and all-in-one balti rice


The day after the night before, and it's off to the one-day international cricket with our news editor Kempy. Though it sounds like I'm talking about another sports desk lackey, Kempy is in fact female. She's also the paper's news editor. She backs herself where sport is concerned, and likes lots of boysie things like football, cricket and going on the lash (she also won the summer's fantasy football tourney, and won't let anyone forget).
But there's an early setback. Kempy hasn't turned up for work. Mass panic and phone calls to local hospitals in the area. We know she was out on corporate hospitality at the Rolling Stones the night before. Alarm bells are ringing.
Then comes the news flash - she fell asleep on the bus and missed her stop, tottered the half mile home and then promptly fell down the stairs. She's made of stern stuff though, and won't miss the cricket I am sure.
Kempy got into cricket two summer's ago when we went to Edgbaston for the Sunday of an England v West Indies Test match. Spending a relaxed day outdoors drinking while having very little else to think about appealed greatly, and the banter was right up her street, too, especially the Ashley Giles fan club singing G-I-L-E-S to the tune D-I-S-C-O.
I thought cricket might just be a Kempy fad. She's a bit of a faddy girl. Over the last few years she's tried skiing, golf, women's football, camping, army training, arm wrestling and penny farthing riding. The fad becomes the no 1 occupation in her mind and she goes and gets all the gear. Two weeks later and you ask something like: "How's the golf going?"
"Oh, I've given that up now. Can't be arsed."
The cricket's lasted a long time in comparison and it was her idea to go to England's first-ever one-dayer in Cardiff.
I'm a Test match purist and hate this one-day pyjama game - no decorum. People might see that as a bit of a paradox coming from a bloke who, a few hours earlier, was dancing around to the Stones in a high state of inebriation with a pair of shoes in one hand and a pair of socks in his jacket pocket. Well, life's full of contrasts as Johnny Cash might tell you if he was still alive.
In my rucksack I've packed the essentials - three-day old lasagne, two pepperami firesticks and a packet of cheese n ham nibbles. Kempy looks a bit green when she arrives but she has all the gear - England international cap, sun glasses etc.
First stop is the beer voucher hut where we make a sound decision and buy enough for three beers each. No queuing up later in the day. Unfortunately the ground resembles a festival sight and I half expect Hawkwind to turn up and play an impromptu set outside the rows of chemical toilets that have already attracted a long line of admirers.
You've got to feel sorry for the guys in fancy dress. It's not so bad for the blokes dressed as netball players but the mutant ninja turtle is going to have a hell of a job fitting his shell in there.
Kempy, meanwhile, is attracted to the latest freebie - free sunscreen. Never mind the fact that it is grey and overcast and likely to rain at any moment.
After watching another woeful England one-day batting display, skittled mostly by Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar bowling at 94mph after spending almost two months out of the season out injured, we dig into the rucksack and out come the cheese and ham nibbles.
Then the rain starts, but it's all right because it gives Kempy the chance to indulge a new fad -prancing around in a free blue rain poncho advertising the name of a high-street bank.
It's a must have fashion accessory and before long we are both dolled up in these fantastic reusable shawls. We retire to the bar but its hammering down and no chance of play resuming so we decide to call it a day. As I leave the ground I am forced to weave my way down a street made dangerously slippy by a thin covering of ripped up blue polythene. The poncho fad is over.

A day off, and I'm excited. I am going to do nothing today. The real cause for my excitement, though, is the start of the new Sopranos series on E4, which begins that night. To mark the occasion a day in the kitchen is called for. I get out the remaining meatballs, sunday gravy and Italian sausage and decide on Baked Ziti from the Sopranos cook book. They are always making Ziti or eating Ziti in the programme and although it sounds quite awful (I doubt whether the English translation of the word Zit every reached the Italian community of New Jersey) it is basically just a different type of pasta - one that you are more likely to find in a specialist delicatessen than a high street supermarket. It's a "tube" pasta like a longer version of penne.
But I'll leave my ziti recipe for tomorrow as once it's cooked I leave it in the fridge for another day.
I've got some pork that needs eating up. So I decide on an All-in-One recipe from the Balti cookbook, with personal adaptations along the way.
After payday every month I go shopping and always buy more than I need. Mostly I cram the cart with vegetables and then get really teed off when they have turned into a soggy, unusable mess in the fridge within a week. If anyone has tips on keeping veg fresh I'm all ears.
This recipe requires onions but because my remaining onion has turned a dark shade of mouldy purple I have to settle for spring onion instead, chopping up the bulbs finely. I'm able to cook the whole thing in a karahi - a kind of Balti wok - which is another big advantage. I guess a wok would do equally well, though.
So here's my All-in-One balti pork meal
You need:
chopped green chili
one clove crushed garlic
vegetable oil
8lbs fresh tomatoes (vine, but kept in cupboard - not refridgerated)
garam masala
red peppers
a few mushrooms
pint and a half of water
A cup of rice (soaked in warm water for 30 mins)
Chopped up hunks of cooked pork (I used pork belly on discount from the cooked meat counter at Sainsbury's, minus the crackling)
salt and pepper

1. HEAT the oil, then add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes till turning a golden brown.
2. ADD green chillis (the amount depends on you) and one clove of crushed garlic. Cook for a minute then stir in a good two spoonfuls of garam masala
3. COOK for another minute then add tomatoes and bring to boil.
4. Simmer covered for 10 minutes.
5. Add the water and bring back to the boil.
6. Add the rice, pork and salt.
7. Bring to the boil and simmer for 7 to 10 mins.
8. Put foil over the wok/karahi and put a lid on top.
9. Heat on lowest setting for another 10 mins to cook the rice. Turn off heat and let stand for 5 to 10 mins.
10. season to taste and serve.
Nice and filling and keep the foil on so that you can dip back into it all day.
That night in the Sopranos, Carmela announces: "I'm making Ziti for dinner".
Me too, Carm, me too.