Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A fabulous bakin' boys yoghurt bar

IT appears Becks, fretting over his next career move, may be ready to switch professions. We had an inkling of this daring move on Boozeday Tuesday in The Yard.
The young high-flyer gave us a pretty strong indication of his thought processes with an impromptu demonstration as he got up to leave the pub. Swivelling like a modern-day Nureyev, he proceded to throw himself against the pub's picture window with abandon before steadying himself and walking out as if nothing had happened. It left us with a lot to ponder about - are they already seeking stunt doubles for the next James Bond film, I wonder? On the other hand, were four pints of 45 a little bit too much to handle before 3pm on a school day?

Withers and I opted for a bit of adventure after tiring of the familiar surroundings of The Yard. We eyed our options carefully: O'Neills, City Arms, even the Goat Major. Then I came up with a masterstroke - the Rummer Tavern. Two pints later, and feeling even more daring again, I suggested a trip to the Park Vaults. All well and good until we discovered it was shut. So we marched across the road to a very posh boozer in Churchill Way to round off a splendid afternoon. Only drawback was the loss of my England v Australia Boxing Day Test match cap. If I can find the pub again, I shall return to reclaim it later.
I got home with every intention of buying a takeaway, but instead slumped on the bed and promptly fell asleep. It was 11 by the time I woke and dared to peak at Sky Sports News. Then came the moment I had dreamed of - in fact for a moment I thought I was still asleep: Bristol Rovers 1 Bristol City 0. The Gas are off to the Millennium! Promptly rang my mate Haydn, who was obviously fast asleep, and left him a ranting message about how this was best day of my life etc, etc. I was so excited I didn't sleep until about 3 am.
During all that time all I'd had to eat was a bakin' boy oats bar from the local garage.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A nice Thai banquet (eating out)

Now we've got a nickname for the Fab BB, I've come up with a little ditty for my pal Withers. It goes something like this:
"I'm off to drink with Withers,
The wonderful Withers of WOS,
We hear he is a political whizz,
If ever a wizard there was,
If ever a wizard there was, there was, it's Withers because, it's Withers because,
because, because, because, because, because....
Because of the wonderful column he does."
Then I decided that didn't give an impression of the true Withers, so I altered it slightly...

"I'm off to drink with Withers,
The wonderful Withers of WoS,
He really is a misery guts, if ever a misery there was,
If ever a misery there was, there was, it's Withers because, it's Withers because,
because, because, because because because...
Fill in your own finishing line here: ie He supports Crewe Alexandra, He's love lorn, it's his round, it's his fault, he watches too much Larry David, he spends all his time in the office..."
You decide... And if you have my e mail address, all contributions gratefully received. Free pint for the winner (but obviously not from Withers)

Last night I ate out at a nice Thai restaurant, so no recipe today, folks (to paraphrase Jimmy Young). Who he? asks everyone under 40.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Beef in a blanket (using all the wrong ingredients)

THE Prince of Darkness must have been turning in his coffin on Friday. The metrosexual revolution hit the sports desk in a big way, and a competition seemed to develop over who was most in touch with their feminine side. Shutts, the big-girls blouse, started it.
"I've started exfoliating," he pronounced excitedly. He was met with blank stares.
Eventually Roberts piped up: "What! First Rosey, now you."
Rosey took exception to this in his "I'm goin' 'ome" type of voice. "I've never ever exfoliated!" he declared huffily.
"Not what we've heard. You're the original metrosexual," argued Roberts.
"For God's sake, I only use MOISTURISER," exclaimed Rosey, feeling terribly affronted.
Then Shutts dropped a bombshell. "Well, that's what I'M using," he declared brashly.
Rosey's head flipped back and his eyes fluttered. If looks could kill. "That's not exfoliating! Don't you know what exfoliating is?"
At this point Roberts, Owenov and I all looked blank. This was becoming a more heated debate than any discussion on whether Rob Earnshaw or John Hartson should be used to partner Craig Bellamy up front in John Toshack's Wales soccer side.
Shutts, it has to be said, is getting the upper hand in the Metrosexual league table. In his spare time he buys flowers from Tesco and arranges them around the house, and he feels it necessary to SkyPlus Neighbours every night. He also doesn't drink alcohol and there's a rumour he has Coleen's work-out tape at home. I think Rosey may be fighting a losing battle.

Update on the fantastic Habitat soiree. For the Fabulous BB it appears a case of: "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." Turns out he was the only guest to make an appearance - and I'm still not sure if he obtained the discount on the Mirror he was so desperate to purchase. At least he came away with a doggie bag though how the jelly and ice cream didn't melt before he got it home, I have no idea. Becks, meanwhile, had to dig deep into his coffers to purchase his own brown quilt at cost price. The nerve of it.
It wasn't a completely lost night for the Fab one. He consoled himself with a visit to the Men Dressed As Women night at his local - as most of us suspected he would. Apparently there is no truth in the rumour he bumped into Shutts dressed in a Sarong.

If I ever bump into the head chef at Les Halles in New York he's going to be very upset with me. I tried out another of his superb recipes on Sunday. Unfortunately I hardly had any of the ingredients. Instead of Veaux a la Banquette, or some such thing, I had to make do with a little adaptation I will call Beef in a Blanket. Surprising, then, given the circumstances, that it was absolutely delicious.
What you need:
1/2 lb tenderloin beef cut into large chunks
a cup of button mushrooms
1 leek sliced thick
1 shallot
2 carrots, split in two
1 stick of celery
1 onion, halved, with two cloves inserted into each half
A tub of creme freche
1 egg yolk
4 tbsp flour

What I did:
First put the mushrooms and the leeks/shallot in two seperate pans, just cover with water and add a big dollop of margerine/butter to each. Bring to boil, then boil down so that the water has virtually disappeared, but DON'T BURN the mushrooms and leaks. Make sure you keep paying attention to them then remove from heat and set aside.
Put the meat, carrots, celery, onion in a big saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil then simmer for hour and a half or until the meat is tender.
Remove the meat and set aside, strain the remaining juice through a sieve and discard the veg. Keep the juice warm on the hob.
Heat about 3 tablespoons of marg in a medium saucepan. Heat and when it has melted start adding the flour and stirring it in to mix. Then add the juice from the meat a bit at a time, stirring until you end up with a thick sauce. Now add the meat, leaks and mushrooms together with a sprinkle of salt and white pepper and about three tablespoons of the creme fraiche. Bring to the boil stirring regularly and then leave to simmer for six to eight minutes. At this time I put on some white rice.
Put the egg yolk in a cup and add some of the creamy sauce to it and whisk together. Add this to the meat mixture but DON'T BOIL. Add a dash of lemon juice and season with a bit more pepper.
Put the rice in the middle of the serving dish and present the creamy beef and veg sauce around the outside. It actually works!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Party food

SOME people have a knack of being invited to the big events. Take Marc, who is so fed up that he hasn't got a nickname on this blog that I shall now be referring to him as the Fabulous Baker Boy. Sitting in The Yard last night at the reconvened meeting of the Wednesday Club, the Fabulous one announced he was not partaking of alcohol on the basis he was off to a party.
We were all stunned at this news. Why hadn't he shared the wealth, looked after his mates and got us invited to the glitzy affair?
Becks chimed up: "Where is this soiree then?"
The Fabulous one was extremely coy before finally admitting: "It's in Habitat."
"What, Habitat the shop?"
"Yes, Habitat the shop."
"Habitat the shop are throwing a party?" Withers looked incredulous.
"Yes, and I am told that if I turn up I might be able to buy the mirror I want."
Of course, none of us believed a word of this, expecting said party to be another Men dressed as Ladies night at the boozer around the corner.
Then the Fabulous BB produced the invite. It was actually a children's party. Curiouser and curiouser.
So the Fab BB was going to stand around eating jelly and ice cream and lots of jammy donuts. What would they do afterwards, we pondered? Play a game of pass-the-Anglepoise-lamp or pin the tail on the Customer Services Manager? Intriguing.
Becks, though, didn't see the funny side. He wanted in on the action.
"I need a quilt. I've got one from Next and another from Habitat but I desperately need a new quilt cover. If I come along do you think I might be able to get in."
Now gatecrashing a party in Habitat does sound a bit risque, not to mention damn silly really.
Without an invite, though, Becks wasn't sure he could pull off the daring adventure.
"Well, if you see a quilt cover can you get me one - in brown - particularly if they are offering them at a special discount to partygoers?" he asked of the Fab BB.
Silence, was the stern reply. I've yet to hear the full story of the Habitat shindig. I'll keep you posted.

Withers, meanwhile, has taken to whistling the tune of the early 80s sitcom Shelley. It came about after Nathan explained that he was trying to obtain an interview with star-of-the-show Hywel Bennett. It prompted me to tell the story of the night myself and my former sidekick Lewis carried out our own version of the Spying Game by tracking the Welsh actor around the seedier pubs and clubs in Cardiff.
We ended up having a rather surreal evening chatting to the impressario in Kiwis, while he declared his desperate need for female company, though in far more crude terms.
At one stage I admitted to Mr Bennett that, while living in Stoke, I was given the nickname Shelley. Apparently, when I owned hair, I looked very much like the work-shy layabout.
Withers insisted on scanning the internet to find a picture of Shelley and agreed that the resemblance was uncanny. There followed an afternoon of inane theme-tune whistling from the Withered one until Rosey suggested he might find it difficult to whistle without teeth.
Glad to say, the Roger Whitaker impression have since ceased.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TV dinner

Woohoo! As Homer Simpson would say. I've finally got my TV back after five days. It's fab - it works. I spent the whole of Monday watching everything and anything from the brilliant Simpsons, to the mundane (Richard and Judy anyone?) and on to the stultifyingly boring (Brentford v Northampton on Sky Sports). And I enjoyed every bit of it.
Mind you, I did take a while to get the thing to work. And attaching it to the stand was a bit of a nightmare, particularly when I realised I'd put it on the wrong way around, meaning the DVD and Satellite box would be facing away from me. I would have to clamber over assorted boxes, leads and god knows what else to turn it on.
That wasn't the only hiccough, either. The TV repair man was scheduled to arrive "sometime after 2". He actually turned up sometime after six, complaining of a broken axle to the van.
By this time I had stupidly opened the door to a rather strange creature called Heidi, who asked me to complete a Mori poll survey. It was mainly political questions which all seemed to point towards: Do you want your actions monitored 24 hours a day by CCTV and to have to carry an identity card at all times?
It was all very political and when Heidi then proceeded to tell me that everything I believed in was wrong, that immigrants should be sent back where they came from, that single mums should not be given so much money and that everyone under the age of 20 should be locked up. I thought of pointing out to her that she herself was an "immigrant", opting instead to bluntly advise her that I had absolutely no interest in a party political broadcast on behalf of Britain's young Nazis. She got the message, I think. The survey finished very soon after that. Aren't I nasty?

Yesterday met up with Paul, a mate from those lovely old Barmy Army days in Brisbane and Adelaide. He lives in Cardiff and brought along some photos of our glorious times in Oz. We met in Dempsey and what I didn't realise was that Celtic were playing in Europe that night. In the blink of an eye we were surrounded by 400 bosses, bouncing up and down singing something like "The Celts are here". Decided the best way to put up with this was to neck about eight pints. If you can't beat em, join em. Didn't help me get up for work this morning, though.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A few Thai sweet chilli pretzels

THE Vin Man's had a haircut. More to the point he's had MY haircut. Poor dab, don't know what's got into him. The Fat Kid isn't impressed, she would rather he resisted the skinhead look until he is... oh... 47? I imagine, then, that it was his Dad who finally relented.
See the Vin Man, with the same powers of persuasion that enables his mother to acquire a new car, looks at The Fat Kid with those pleading eyes, brushes his hand over his head in a sweeping movement, and pleads: "All off like Grandad... all off like Grandad."
Never thought of myself as a trendsetter but I must admit I felt a little bit proud.
Mind you, I think this is the first step on Vinny's career path to becoming Southend-on-Sea nightclub bouncer.

It's been my first week back in work and I'm just writing this before going home to crash. It's not been too bad, but I had forgotten the lure of the pub after a hard day in the office. Normally the "new men" and attached members of staff are straight off home after a busy shift, which is why I was amazed that so many people insisted on accompanying me to The Yard on Thursday for a welcome back drinkie session. Then the moaning started...
"You've got to do something about this?"
"Do you know what happened when... It's a disgrace."
At the start of the week I saw my Doctor. She plugged me in and pumped up my arm, then screamed in shock when she read the result. "My God!"
Here I go, I thought, my life's hanging by a threat.
Not a bit of it. My blood pressure, which before the trip to Oz had been touching 200/98 - pretty damn high, apparently - has dropped to 116/72, a magnificent result and well below the danger threshold, so much so that I was taken off one of my meds. Excellent.
Then came the return to work, a first day grappling with the insane technology which regularly provokes you into acts of wonton violence on inanimate electrical objects, and the pub outpourings about the nightmare three months during my absence. It was like I hadn't been away.
I'm sure I could feel my blood pressure rising, my slender figure (now 3/4 stone lighter, believe it or not) bloating up and a scream rising in my throat.
Welcome back to the wacky world of newspapers.

Friday night ended up in the City Arms. No surprise there. The plan was to go home early as the 14-hour late shift was beckoning on WoS the next day.
Early? Yeah, right.
Hours later, sinking beers with Coggsy, Smashy, Nicey and Withers, and I have a tie wrapped around my head, trying desperately to remember how to count to five so that I can join in that wonderful XTC song "Senses working overtime?"
Senses working overtime? Senses not working at all from where I was standing or, rather, leaning.
To top it all, I only had the energy to open some Sweet Chilli pretzels and munched my way through about six of them before crashing to the bed. Thank God Scooby has banned me from cooking after sessions in the boozer.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Haaah, Grasshopper

GRASSHOPPER Withers is turning Japanese, by all accounts. While most of us spend our Saturdays out on the razz, the inscrutable Crewe-asian has taken up Origami. Far from a martial art, this is better known by his phillistine colleagues as the ancient art of paper folding.
This revelation came to light, as all such moments of enlightenment do, during a particularly heavy session in the Yard on Tuesday.
Becks and myself seriously doubted that this was really the way he spent a large portion of his weekend until he produced his mobile phone and showed us a picture of something he convinced us was a paper penguin.
Apparently they have been giving Origami lessons in the Times and Withers, his social life obviously entering one of its famous "dips", decided he wanted to lift himself to a higher plane and forget all his troubles.
Didn't last long, mind. This morning I asked him whether he had moved on to Dinosaurs.
"No, I've given it up," he confessed.
Still, if you pass Chez Withers in the next few days, don't be surprised to see him outside painting the fence.

Last night I had a first go at Polenta, that maize-based substitute for potatoes or pasta. I didn't have to make it mind, it came ready mixed in a pack from Sainsbury's. I put it in the oven on gas mark 7 for 20 minutes and topped it with Parmigian Cheese. I mixed up an Italian concoction of fried bacon, onion, garlic, basil leaves, fresh tomato and dried chillies to go with it.
It was alright, but I'm not sure I will make a habit of it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Roast chicken with mascarpone, lemon zest and pancetta

IF one day I were to discover an old lamp in an attic and conjure up a genie, then my first wish would be a couple more inches (in height, stop sniggering at the back, dammit). And there lies the problem, getting into the loft in the first place. To be more specific, getting into my parents loft.
You see, the old folks are moving to a new place. They have decided that at the combined age of 380 they need something a bit smaller, on the ground floor, with a warden on call to meet their every need.
The trouble is that going from a three-bedroom house with garden to a one-bedroom flat means that you must start offloading stuff that you have no room for. Apparently, some of my things dating back to the Jurassic era are still stored at their house so, when I offered, tentatively, to lend them a hand my dad, quick as a flash, said: "There are some things in the loft you could get down for us."
Right. Well that's all well and good until you realise the only ladder on offer has about three steps. When I clambered up onto it I already had an awful feeling.
Somehow I managed to get the door open but I could only just reach the opening with my fingertips. The humiliation. I offered to stand on the very top of the ladder, on a wafer-thin bit of metal on which even the best circus performer might find it difficult to maintain his balance, but by then my step-mother, worried look on her face, was shouting: "No, no get down! It's not worth it, not for a few old football programmes." Phew! Saved by the bell.
Then she rubbed salt in the wounds. "It's alright, my nephew Gerald is coming round on Saturday, he's about 6ft 4. It will be no trouble for him." Well, whoopee-do Gerald. What's worst, I bet he finds that Aladdin's lamp.

Well I stuck to my guns for all of about five days. The Fat kid is now a girl racer. That's a female driving a boy-racer car. I finally took the plunge and bought her a Black Renault Clio Dynamique. Very sporty. Alloy wheels, low-profile tyres, one of those strip braking lights across the back window. All-singing, all-dancing. Then came the teething problems.
When we arrived to pick it up I noticed that the driver's side tyre was almost flat. "No problem," said Joe second-hand car salesman. "I'll pump it up for you."
"But it looks like there's a big gash in the thing."
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing."
"But my daughter has to drive it all the way back to Southend. And she has a baby with her."
"I'm sure it will be ok. But if it needs sorting when she gets back, we'll pay."
We got it back to my place. "How does the radio work?" the Fat Kid asks.
"How am I supposed to know?" I respond helpfully. "I know as much about this car as you do."
Eventually we get out the logbook, find a code to tap in and seemingly get it working. No reception, though. Don't know whether it's sorted yet.
Back in Southend, the Fat Kid calls me the next day. "Tyre's completely flat," she says.
"Well, get someone to put the spare on and take it to Kwikfit or something and get it done. Get a receipt as well."
Twenty minutes later. "It's me." What a surprise, Fat Kid. "Pete tried to take the tyre off but the spanner doesn't fit. It's the wrong spanner."
"Well, call the AA out then. You're a member. They've got lots of spanners."
"Oh, yeah." Doh, Fat Kid. If she started thinking she'd be dangerous, love her.
Later again. "The AA man has changed the tyre but says I need the other one changing too. It's illegal."
Long and short of it, Second-hand Joe agreed to pay for them both, I "lent" Fat Kid some MORE money and now she has two new low-profile tyres and is cruising the Southend Seafront looking proud as punch. Don't know if the radio is working, mind.

Withers, Rosey and I decided to have a small wager in the Halfway before Wales' first rugby international. Rosey asked: "When do we think Wales will cock up and blow all that early optimism?"
I went for 10 mins. Wrong.
In fact, it was 45 seconds.
Welcome to the ever-recurring story of Welsh rugby and bitter disappointment. Back at work this week, and I'm already thinking of how many different ways to say: "WE WERE STUFFED!"
By 8pm I was pretty pie-eyed, and said cheerio to Withers with all the intention of having a kip before watching the Superbowl live.
Next thing I wake to look at the alarm clock. "3.30".
Time the Superbowl ended? "About 3.20". B*ll*cks.

Last Sunday I had a crack at a little Italian recipe for Roast Chicken I saw on Sky before my TV completely packed it, was hauled off to the TV repair shop and left me unable to watch England finally win some cricket matches and actually lift a trophy in Australia. Am I a jinx? Looks like it.
I cooked it with roast potatoes, a variety of veg and did my own gravy for possibly the first-time ever (where Sunday lunch is concerned, anyway).
What you need:
Free-range chicken.
Tub of Mascarpone.
Zest of one lemon.
3/4 slices of pancetta. Or the little packet of cubes (though slices may be better)
Sprig of Thyme, Sprig of Rosemary and half the lemon.
2/3 onions, sliced.

Heat the oven to about 200, gas mark 4/5.
Wash the chicken, remove any giblets.
Mix half the tub of Mascarpone with the chopped pancetta and the zest of the lemon. Add black pepper as required.
Then at the opposite end to the cavity of the chicken, Make a "pocket" under the skin with your hand.
Push the Mascarpone mixture up into the pocket. Brush any left over the top of the chicken.
Place thyme, rosemary and half a lemon in the chicken cavity.
lay a bed of sliced onion in the baking tray and put the chicken on top.
Following the cooking instructions on the wrapper, cook the chicken for as long as it says, but DON'T use foil. When the juices run clear the chicken is ready.
Remove and rest on a serving platter, cover with foil.
Put roasting tin on the hob and scrape around the onions, which have been cooking in the chicken juices.
Add a decent amount of flour and mix up, then add a good splash of white wine and as much chicken stock as you will need, considering the amount of guests. Bring to the boil stirring all the time. Then simmer, but continue to stir now and again.
When gravy is thick and veggies are ready, strain the gravy to remove the onions then serve everything up and pour over the gravy.

Thanks go to the lovely Lydia for the Thai meal she bought me as a belated birthday offering. You've joined the friends, not just acquantainces, club. Unfortunately, I haven't got any badges made up yet.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tea at Kempy's

WORD reaches me that the Boss is with child. Well, not literally, because that would be a great story to boost circulation. Rather, Lady Boss is with child and her delighted other half has been coming up with a host of names for the unborn offspring.
Sources tell me that it was a straight shootout between Kenny Dalglish Boss, Lou Macari Boss, Charlie Nicholas Boss and Jock Stein Boss. It's fair to say, though, that Lady Boss put her foot down when the suggestion came through that the babe should be named Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdock, McNeill, Clark, Jinky, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox Boss after the famous Lions of Lisbon European Cup-winning side. Oh well, can't win them all.
Then, at the latest scan, rumour has it the Boss's hopes of a future Celtic striker were further crushed by the news the baby was missing the bits required to compete in a man's game. Myself, I don't see a problem here. With the standard of defending in the Scottish Premier League I would have thought any female with an ounce of footballing nous could bang in 20 goals a season for Celtic. He may still yet name her Henryka, I understand. "Ga an, the wee (wo)man!"

Dinner at Kempy's on Wednesday was fab, but walking into the front room I felt like I was making a guest appearance in that 1970s Sci-Fi epic Land of the Giants. Surrounding me on the walls were pictures of giant animals which could knock you flat with one blow of their mighty paws.
A closer look revealed it was actually one animal in particular, mutated out of all proportion as if it had got too near the power station at Sellafield. Pillow's beady eye follows you around the front room. He has been photographed, then blown up and put on canvas. Kempy's Lasagne was gorgeous, and the garlic bread tasty, too, but I couldn't help feeling that if one morsel remained on the plate Giant Pillow would pounce. Scary.