The Healthy Full English
The greatest thing about the weekend is rapidly becoming the fact that I can *cook* breakfast. I KNOW, that makes me sound like the most boring person alive, but I’m skint - January skint - so it’s basically true. That and being able to watch three movies a day.
As much as I’m enjoying my healthy weekday breakfasts (that’s actually genuine - they are delicious), Saturday morning comes and I have the time to cook a healthy version of a Full English to kick off the weekend, which beats eating out of a plastic pot at my desk hands down.
Ok, the term ‘Full English’ is a tad stretched here. It does leave me full but is missing certain elements of the traditional cooked breakfast that allow it to be described as genuinely ‘full’; namely anything that is seriously naughty and delicious: crispy hash browns, fatty black pudding crumbling amongst glistening fried bread - in fact any bread. No, none of this disgusting food during the January Detox (*drools*), this is the time for bacon, eggs and tomatoes to shine. Oh, and spinach. Admittedly, it’s a far cry from a greasy spoon special or Duck and Waffle’s incredible Full English offering.
I hate detoxing.
It’s January. Nobody likes January. The first month of the year is bestowed onto us with promise: new year, new you! …apparently. What it really means (we come to realise by say, the 4th), is a month of misery as we sheepishly look at our bank accounts - completely depleted by Christmas parties that we desperately remind ourselves were totally worth being so skint for, despite the fact most of them are blurred and laced with questionable morals. Then we turn our focus to our resolutions: get fit, get healthy, give up smoking, give up booze for 31 whole SODDING days (why didn’t we pick a shorter month?) By the 4th we are hungry, angry, craving an array of semi lethal substances and can’t sleep because our bodies are used to the warm arms of a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir rocking us to sleep.
So, rather than killing a bottle of wine after work with friends or chanting “Jäger Jäger Jäger!” at a club on Saturday nights (read: down the local country pub at 7pm on Christmas Eve), I will be spending my new found free time *grimace* doing productive stuff. And under the ever-hopeful term ‘productive stuff’ comes writing, including updating the wonderful world of Food Porn, which due to an extended attack of aforementioned habits and the festive season, has been unfairly set by the wayside of late.
I’ll mix up it up and try not to bore you all to death with Instagrammed photos of Ryvitas (though I can’t promise that won’t feature,) by including reviews of actual Food Porn I experienced during the hey day of 2012 (better times…) and any decent, healthy meals I whip up that don’t resemble the contents of Lucky the rabbit’s food bowl.
Best of luck to all out there at least making an effort to be improved versions of yourselves. I suspect you will fare better than me and I wish you well. Must go now as I’m hallucinating margaritas.
The Pret Christmas Sandwich
There’s no escaping it (and why would you want to?), Christmas is coming. The Pogues may not be blaring out of the radio daily, you may not have resigned yourself to the fact you will inevitably put on at least ten pounds and find yourself swearing off alcohol for January (with no real commitment) just yet, but it’s happening. The simple things that let you know the festive season is upon us have started rearing their beautiful little heads, indicating that it’s time to think about being organised with presents, start stressing over New Year’s Eve plans and mentally prep yourself for the liver damage. First it’s the red cups at Starbucks. The John Lewis vs Marks and Spencer Christmas ad show down. Obviously, the Coca-Cola advert. And then there’s the Pret Christmas Sandwich.
Every high street food outlet worth their salt has a Christmas sandwich that takes pride of place on their shelves in bright red packaging, but there is one that beats out all of them and that’s Pret a Manger’s offering. Not only is it packed full of turkey and stuffing, but they are not afraid to feature a decent amount of cranberry and mayonnaise. Add in a bit of spinach and you’re just one ingredient shy of the Greatest Christmas Sandwich found on the high street. And that ingredient is the onions. Little pieces of crispy onion; they MAKE the Pret Christmas Sandwich the success that it is. Those little bits of crispy goodness surprise you as you bite into the sandwich that is never dry and always full of festive flavour.
If you’ve never tried one, I urge you to get one at your earliest convenience. If you’re trying to be good because you know your average calorie intake will go up to 5000 per day soon, get one anyway, you only live once. Apart from the obligatory drunken Christmas Eve down the local pub, or the period between Christmas and New Year (when it’s entirely acceptable for your movements to be limited to moving from your bed, to the sofa, to the fridge), the build up to Christmas is the best bit. So get into the spirit by treating yourself to an epic Christmas sandwich and crank up ‘All I Want For Christmas’ on your iPod. I won’t tell a soul.
A Serious Ham and Cheese Croissant, The Natural Kitchen
I pretty much got bullied into buying this. I was an easy target: a hungry girl practically drooling over the pile of croissants, quite clearly having a personal battle over whether to get one or be good as planned. But LOOK AT IT. ‘Coaxed’ may be a more appropriate word than bullied.
I do love an Eat Ham and Jarslberg croissant, but the sheer volume of filling encased in this buttery flaky goodness puts the Eat croissant to shame. And I’m fairly sure they were the same price, although do forgive me for not knowing exactly - blame it on the croissant perving.
I dream of being European and subsequently eating breakfasts of pastries and espresso in old cafes with chairs that face on to the street, or from my personal balcony/veranda, looking out to sea. Because that’s what all European people do, right? RIGHT? Cereal at my desk while I trawl through dull emails isn’t quite the one. So thank you, Natural Kitchen, for providing so epic a croissant that I feel a tiny bit like a sophisticated Parisian at my desk some mornings. You’re truly doing good in the world.
Notes From A Sunday Roast
Last Sunday my life was dominated by cooking a roast. I don’t often cook roast dinners; I’m in that increasingly standard, modern day twenty-something trap of not being able to afford to move out of home. I’m not adverse to cooking for the family by any means; in fact, I don’t think my madre Sally would disagree with me if I said everyone prefers it when I do (I provide a lot more variety and Sal can sit back in front of one of those crap quiz shows she’s started watching as the years go by). Unfortunately I get home over an hour after everyone else and they cannot deal with having to then wait for me to cook something, so it rarely happens these days. I would cook more at the weekend, but Friday is curry night, Saturday I’m usually on the lash pissing would-be London rent up the wall and by Sunday I’m too hungover to even be able to look at a roast, let alone cook one. Last week was an exception.
The parents were due home in the evening from one of their monthly European jaunts, and frankly, I needed some daughter points. Although to be honest, I do enjoy cooking a feast for people, it’s just that the staunch feminist in me and Emmeline Pankhurst genes shut down my fifties housewife tendencies often and with vigour. I offered to cook Jamie Oliver’s five hour braised leg of lamb that I immediately go to whenever I find myself in a situation that requires me to cook an impressive dinner. You cannot go wrong with this recipe from ‘The Return of The Naked Chef’, and it’s a great example of why I love Jamie. He makes cooking simple, no fuss and it always turns out near on delicious – or for the very worst of cooks, passable. That’s what I want from home cooking: a facade that makes people think I’m far more talented than I am. Last Sunday I got a bit cocky though. The lamb needs about half an hour of attention, then just slow cooks away for hours on end, which led me to the brilliant idea of going the extra mile. Simple Sunday roast quickly morphs into stressful test of skill (mainly time management based) that resembles Christmas dinner.
I’ve cooked a handful of Christmas dinners in my time, starting out around the age of 18, when I convinced my parents to let me hold an annual faux Christmas Day for a group of around 14 friends. The event ran strong for two or three years, until I was found running a bath at 4am after having played a game of Spin the Bottle with a bottle of port (which of course we polished off after God knows how much cheap Cava and mediocre red wine), eating half a chocolate gateaux and falling asleep at the dinner table with my dress and tablecloth covered in said chocolate gateaux that I hadn’t QUITE managed to keep down.
You live and you learn. And aside from the obvious, I learnt that a Christmas dinner is both stressful and takes far more time to cook than you think it will. So, of course, I decided to not only cook this five hour leg of lamb, but add in some sides such as my grandma’s red cabbage recipe that only gets knocked out at Christmas because it takes so bloody long. The simple offer of ‘I’ll cook a roast Sunday night’ turned into a marathon 6 hour cooking session, all of which was documented over on my personal twitter account @charliejburness, should you care in any way.
Anyway, the red cabbage. I couldn’t possibly divulge the secret to my grandma’s (and subsequently, my imminent) success, but it includes added, joyful layers of dessert apples, onions, bacon, vinegar and dark brown sugar. It’s wonderful. It also takes near on an hour and a half to make (although, to be fair, I’m a slow chopper and by this point I was drinking – YOU CAN’T NOT). Digging seriously for daughter points.
The cabbage turned out pleasingly well. But the roast would be NOTHING without stellar roast potatoes. Everyone says this, I’m well aware, but my mum does AMAZING roasties. Or rather, Delia does and mum uses her recipe. Crispy but fluffy on the inside. It sounds pretty basic: par boil, fluff up in saucepan once drained by pretending saucepan is your ex’ head and shaking it like mental for a minute, then place in and coat with hot oil in pan, roast. However, I panic every time. I roasted them for way more time than my mum seems to yet they still weren’t browning, at one point even shouting encouraging ‘you can do this’ mantras to said potatoes. Thankfully the roasties turned out crispy enough (though not perfect) by the time the parents turned up late, strolling through the front door, all calm from their cultured yet boozy trip to Istanbul with friends, whilst I resembled a nut job who’s been holed up in the house alone, cooking for six hours and on their third glass of red wine. Apparently I should’ve had the roasties on a higher heat. As I said, you live and you learn.
Streaky Bacon Sarnie
Sunday morning perfection: a bacon sarnie on fresh, springy white bread with real butter and lashings of Heinz tomato ketchup.
No real butter in the house means I had to settle for marg. Plus a member of the household picking up a discounted farmhouse loaf yesterday, without thinking through that it would quickly go stale, meant I had to toast the bread for the sarnie. Unorthodox. And not perfection.
But it was enjoyed without a hangover, knowing that this Sunday had at least the potential to be productive; eaten whilst catching up on ‘The Thick Of It’, with the introduction of Miles Jupp and Chris Addison being likened to a Quentin Blake illustration. These factors made it one of the best bacon sarnies I’ve had in a long time. It’s all about the delivery.
Horn Ok Please
Let’s get this straight. Street food is awesome. I spent 2011 backpacking, half the time of which I spent in South East Asia. The street food was one of the most enjoyable parts of the region; from Pad Thai in Bangkok, to Pho in Saigon, Murtabak in Sulawesi and these ridiculously greasy amazing pancake things they served with an array of savoury and sweet condiments on pretty much every beach that had a bar near it (a wonderful kebab or Chicken Cottage alternative). I’ve great memories of street food in South East Asia and it’s one of the things about travelling that I miss the most. Bar that dodgy tuna baguette I bought for the journey down the Mekong from the Thai border; admittedly, a mistake. But travelling isn’t travelling without a bit of food poisoning. Especially when you’re stuck on a boat.
One of the destinations at the top of my list of places to travel is India. I dream of eating curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t need to tell you that you can get some fantastic Indian food in Britain, but inevitably most of it is anglicised to some extent. I don’t really know anything about Indian street food. So I’m delighted not only to have recently discovered a wealth of independent, adventurous street food vendors in London, but whispers of some fantastic Indian street food.
One of these places is Horn OK Please. I first heard about Horn OK Please two or three months ago via twitter, from people who were lucky enough to snap some of their South Indian street food for lunch at Kings Cross’ Eat Street. I heard nothing but good things. Eat Street recently changed to Kerb, and to celebrate the new venture, Kerb hosted a launch party that ran until 10pm a couple of weeks ago. There are currently no plans to do so, but I am definitely of the opinion that they should do a once-a-month all dayer/night event. Accessible to more people, the potential for increased success for the vendors and food porn everywhere…can’t go wrong. I’m not saying this for selfish reasons at all of course. I will say that I would change plans to ensure I could go every month though.
The problem comes when trying to pick between vendors you’ve heard brilliant things about and they all happen to be in the same place. Committed to the Indian street food cause however, I went straight to Horn OK Please, where they happily piled up a plate with ‘a little bit of everything’ for the bargain price of £6.50.
The most unique part of the meal was the Pani Puri - a round, hollow puri with a hole in the top, in which the masters of Horn OK Please poured in a mixture of potato, chickpeas, chaat masala and chutneys. I was instructed to put the whole thing in my mouth at once, otherwise the special water they had also added would go everywhere. I’d struggle to describe it as anything other than an explosion of flavour and textures in my mouth; as standard as that phrase has become, it’s true. It was the most interesting Indian food I’ve had, definitely not your standard lamb dansak takeaway on a Friday night.
The ‘little bit of everything’ also included a potato filled dosa and bhel puri; an assortment of textures with tomato, potato, green and tamarind chutneys, fresh coriander and red onions, garnished with pomegranate seeds that added an extra burst colour to an already exciting plate. A lover of meat, I didn’t even realise that everything was vegetarian until someone asked me if it had been, which I think is an excellent sign of how satisfyingly good the food was, if also indicating how lacking I am as a food blogger.
As well as at Kerb, and true to Indian in London form, Horn OK Please can be found at Brick Lane on the weekends. I urge you to hunt them down, try a little bit of everything and have the world of Indian food opened up to you as you would never get in an Indian restaurant on your local high street. And then start saving for a plane ticket to Delhi, because it will make you want to try it in the mania of an Indian city. Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter may be aware how often I bitch and moan about not working/living/socialising near Kings Cross, home to Eat Street/Kerb (the former recently replaced by the latter).
With not enough holiday days or cash lying around to jet off somewhere, I have a random few days of holiday left to use on home soil. Honest to God, my first thought was to take the day off and finally check out Eat Street. And so after a perfect morning of a lie in, leisurely making myself look socially acceptable, flirting with the guys at the new local coffee shop and with the sun shining, I grabbed my fellow blogger and friend, Hannah (@HannahGLodge) and off we skipped to Eat Street. I was in such a good mood I was wearing heels OUT OF CHOICE.
Not that you’ll care all that much, but Hannah and I met in Indonesia whilst backpacking, and our love of good coffee and a decent cocktail has transferred well from Bali to London. As backpackers with a soft spot for South East Asia and - in particular - its’ street food, Eat Street was the perfect rendezvous.
Enter Tava Wava, Indian street food produced by two Aussie guys (hoping and praying as I write this that I’ve not been home too long to tell the difference between the Aussie and Kiwi accent, else it doesn’t matter what good things I say about their food). Tava Wava were serving up a meat and veggie wraps, the former being coriander chicken tikka, the latter - beetroot, paneer and coconut Dahl. We’d already eaten at other Eat Street vendors and could just about manage one more indulgence; how to choose?
Well, Han being far ballsier and open about being a blogger than I am, casually drops into conversation her ‘slashie’ occupation of charity worker/PR/blogger to the guys. They offer to mix us up a bowl of the two meals on offer rather than choosing one wrap. And thank God they did because they were both SO good. I love dahl, but would never usually choose the mix of beetroot, paneer and coconut as they are all ingredients I feel a bit ‘meh’ about. How wrong I was. The food was of fantastic quality, cooked right in front of us and it was healthy. Tava Wava ensure their food is organic, fair trade and free-range; what’s not to love? Above all, it was exciting, different and served with a smile.
Tava Wava so far only bring joy to Londoners in the form their artisan Indian wraps on Fridays through Sundays as they are currently also ‘slashies’ with other jobs. Follow them on twitter for the latest (@TavaWava), though they can be found most Fridays at Kerb, the new Eat Street.
And if all of that hasn’t convinced you to sought the Tava Wava guys out, they also happen to be easy on the eye. That should do the trick.