I'm suppose to look puzzled, not angry!

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I have a book to publish. Editors love it, marketing departments say 'up the media profile'. So here I am 'upping it' and writing about the book, food, and life in general.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Lemon filo lunacy.

I only wanted to blog about our holiday in Corfu once I had recreated the unforgettable lemon cake which we ate in Barbas restaurant.  My lovely agent, Laura, had recommended this fine fishy eaterie although she forgot to tell us that its official name (?) is Porta Remounda Taverna.  God knows why it should be known by two different names.

Anyhow, we were greeted at 'Barbas' by Leanna, the daughter of the owner. She told us that Laura-the-agent was her favourite customer and Leanna made us feel like royalty (English, that is; not exiled Greek) just for knowing her.

Recovering from my near death experience
I hasten to add that we were eating shortly after I had fallen off a cliff while insisting to my family that I knew a shortcut to the beach from Mon Repos, the palace where our Prince Philip was born.  For some reason I stepped back into thin air while telling the children to be careful.  I grabbed at thorny bracken as I fell and even though I stopped a couple of feet down I was in a pretty sorry state.  Ged-the-husband had reached for his 'phone ready to call the emergency services and his screen had said, "Welcome to Albania".  The children thought it very funny that mum had fallen off a cliff and landed in another country. We soon realised that it was just rogue roaming.  Faced with the choice between a Greek hospital and some decent restaurant hospitality, I plumped for the latter.  It took three bottles of icy retsina, a plate of melt-in-the-mouth calamari and half a big fish before I felt restored.

It was only when leaving the restaurant that Ged realised he must have lost his glasses when reaching over the cliff to drag me back up.  The next day, we all had to make the treacherous journey once more and sure enough, there were Ged's specs lying amongst the tinder which I had clutched at on my way down.  We could have started a forest fire!  We could have gone to jail!

But back to the lemon cake.  Don't bother grabbing your pens to write this recipe down as I am about to record a disaster.

Recipe written when a bit drunk
John's punishment
I was so excited by this because it was so unusual.  No flour or ground nuts just filo pasty torn into small bits.

Nearly half a pint of juice
The lemon cake was to form part of a dinner for my brother, his girlfriend and her son.  They arrived an hour early so I punished my brother, John by making him squeeze and zest 6 lemons.

Yoghurt and filo

Adding missing sugar to eggs and lemon
John remarked how odd it was that there was no sugar in the recipe.  Would the sugar syrup poured over the cooked cake be enough?  Not likely. So we threw in 3 heaped tablespoons.

Adding flour in desperation 
Next, we tore up the filo and threw it into the very watery egg/sugar/lemon mix.  We hoped beyond hope that a miracle would now occur and that the filo would swell up the mix ready for baking. Nope.  So we added 4 heaped tablespoons of flour.  And then the yoghurt.

It should be ready by 7.25pm
In it goes, not looking good
Still sloppy
Solid but unbrowned
Finally baked
It was 9.55pm before the bloody thing set.  It looked like a rubbery omelette so we rubbed butter over it and whacked it back in at top heat for another ten minutes.

William doing the honey
I tasted a bit and it was sour as hell so William gave it a good squeeze of honey.  There was no time to start making sugar syrup - no-one even wanted a pudding by this time anyway.

Eventually it was plated and looked quite lovely, if nothing like the one we ate at Barbas.  And the reaction of my guests?  The adults were too sozzled to care and as for Joe, well he voted with his feet which pattered very quickly to the kitchen bin where he spat the cake out.
Quite a pretty sight

Not such a pretty sight.
You know how cookery book writers always say, "Never try a recipe for the first time at a dinner party, practise first"?  There's a very good reason for that.  Take heed.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Ruined bananas and the filthy Shanghai restaurant.

I hardly ever makes cakes.  The main reason is that I'm not good at following recipes and I always add a bit, take a bit away, change the oven temperature - basically, mess about with the recipe, thinking I know better.  I don't and my cakes usually end up in the bin.

Today, in my local Co-op, I tried pulling one banana from a bunch of four, snapped the ends off all of them and was forced to buy the lot.  Then I had to find a recipe for banana bread because they were all going to go black within minutes.  I turned to the Be-Ro book.  Can't go wrong with that methinks.

Ruined bananas
Trusty ol' Be-Ro

Recipe which needs no fiddling with
But then I realised I only had granulated sugar, and the butter was a bit rancid as it had been left in the sun all day yesterday.  "It'll be fine" I prayed and lobbed it in the mixer.

Not fine at all and certainly not pale and fluffy
Praying the flour will fix it
It refused to mix.  I don't know if that was because of the oily butter or the great big sugar crystals but the two ingredients definitely didn't get on.  Undeterred I threw in the eggs.  Yes, the mixture curdled so I threw in the flour.  All I had to do next was mash the bananas.  Why would I need to do that if they were going to get mixed up anyway?  So I put them in whole.

I had found a few old dates at the bottom of a bag and thought I may as well dispose of them in the banana bread.  You may note from the picture that I DID bother to chop them up.  The only reason for this act of non-laziness was that I thought I had better check each one for hidden burrowing creatures.
Weevil-free dates and lazy bananas
Finally, for no good reason, I decided to cook the loaf in a Bain Marie.  Oh, and change the oven temperature a notch to 160C.  But it worked!  It took just under 2 hours but was absolutely delicious, especially with lashings of non-rancid butter.

Completely unnecessary Bain Marie
Shockingly good banana loaf

A Quick Note on our Local Chinese

We had our wedding reception at Shanghai Restaurant in Brierfield.  That was over 4 years ago when Shanghai had a brilliant chef and the place was shiny as a new pin.  We used to go all the time and then two years ago,  it all went horribly wrong.  The food was dreadful, the staff were awful, the place was a dump.  It presently has three 'For Sale' signs over the door which does not bode well.  But yesterday, with only a haggis in the fridge at home (which no-one wanted) we decided to go back and give it a try. I gave the staff a good grilling to see if they had bucked up their ideas.  They assured me that they had a new chef and we would not be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the filthy carpets, greasy tables and lack of working lightbulbs filled us all with fear and we were pretty worried that if we ate the food we could be spending the next day hanging over the loo being very ill.  Did that stop us?  Strangely, no and we lived to tell the tale.  Actually, I can't fault the food we had.  It was all standard Chinese fare (Glamorous of Manchester it is not, no chicken feet here) but everything was quite delicious.   NOW CHANGE THE CARPETS AND CLEAN THE PLACE UP, SHANGHAI!

chicken lettuce wrap

BBQ Ribs, wontons, salt and pepper wings etc

Crispy beef

Sweet and sour pork

Fried noodles & beansprouts

Egg fried rice

On the door was a 'Food Standards' sticker which did not display the actual rating.  I presumed it had been scratched off but I've just checked online and it seems they received a 4 out of 5 which is not bad, considering the carpets.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Pelvic floor rollercoaster test and throwing up our £98.60 dinner

Wysick, Yorkshire

Of all the places to throw up our dinner!  The astonishingly appropriately named Wysick, pictured, was the lay-by where we ground to a halt as my friend Ruth cried, "I think I'm going to be  . . "

Too late. And then Zoe-the-daughter decided to join in and liberally splattered the car seats and carpets. I watched in wonder as £98.60 worth of restaurant food was hurled over the car interior and the grass verge of Wysick.

Posh sausage, with free pot plant.
Seabass on pea purée with gnocchi and crisped pancetta

Only ten minutes earlier I had been taking photos of the fabulous food at Lockwood's Restaurant in Ripon.  Joe-the-son had said, "Mum, I've got a free pot plant with mine."  He then refused to eat his salad served in a terracotta pot because he wanted to take it home.  I had to promise to buy an identical pot and serve his salad in it nightly.

Everything we ate was delicious and I was even tempted to try a pud.  Actually, I tried a bit of everyone's - orange and almond cake, chocolate pot with shortbread, creme brulee.  And no, I was not the one who threw up.

We had spent the entire day at Lightwater Valley theme park.  Click on the link and it will take you straight to a video of  'The Ultimate' - the longest rollercoaster in England (or was it the world?) and scary as hell.  If any woman is wondering if she needs to do  pelvic floor exercises, forget the thing where you are supposed to skip with a full bladder as the test.  Just do this ride with an empty bladder for the The Ultimate Bladder Control Test.  I recommend that you go on the Wild River Rapids next so you have an excuse for the wet patch.  Actually, before would be better.

But it was not the food or the rides that brought on the biliousness.  It was that notorious bit of bendy road over Blubberhouses that did it.  Combined with Ged's driving.  I was actually googling 'Blubberhouses', hoping to discover how it got its silly name, when Ruth started throwing up  (click on the link for Wikipedia's explanation).  And I had just been telling everyone how I had once been for a trial as a private chef only a mile or so away from where we were.  The estate was called Sicklinghall.  My mother had been appalled that I would have 'Gill Watson, Sicklinghall' embroidered on my chef's jacket.  The man (now a Lord) had a mistrust of clingfilm and liked everything to be covered in foil.  This meant everything looked the same in the fridge which was way too confusing for me.  He also said that he was allergic to onions and garlic which was the clincher as far as I was concerned.  I can't think of any dish I have ever made which does not contain either onion or garlic.

So, there you have it.  First day back from the holiday (can't blog about that until I've got the photos from Ged's 'phone) and disaster struck us once again.  Ged and I struggled to get to sleep that night because every time we started to drift off we would get the giggles again thinking about the awfulness of it all and the sorry sight of my lovely friend Ruth standing in her knickers in a lay-by because her jeans were sodden.

I worry at times that people must think I make it all up.  This is why I tried to take a picture of the car and Ruth-in-pants but strangely, everyone objected.