I’ve been preoccupied with my new show. It’s been ages. Sorry.
It was my dad’s 82nd birthday this week and so I travelled to London with a cold box and various tupperware tubs containing the components to build (I dare say) an epic curry dinner. We had Chicken and Potato Balti (I say ‘Balti’ though I’ve no idea how authentically Balti it was – nice none-the-less), an aubergine and tomato dish using those tiny egg-sized aubergines cooked whole (in this I was trying to recreate a dish from the film ‘The Lunchbox’), Channa Dahl, and rice cooked with cinnamon. But the dessert excited me the most. It’s sharp citrus offset the hot and spicy main course perfectly, both feeling decadent whilst simultaneously cutting through the fattiness of the curry. It’s so easy, keeps in the fridge for ages and tastes just fantastic. I made a fancy topping for it too and it looked great. The recipe below makes enough for 6 pots.
Lemon and Lime Posset with Rose Sugar and Pistachio Praline
For the possets
600ml double cream
150g sugar (caster or granulated, and white or golden ideally)
a big pinch of powdered ginger
a small pinch of powdered nutmeg
For the topping
a handful of shelled unsalted pistachios
about 60g white sugar (must be white)
For the rose sugar
some dried rose petals
granulated white sugar
Make the possets first by combining the cream, sugar, ginger, nutmeg and the zest of both the lemon and the lime in a pan over the stove. Bring it to the most gentle simmer (be so careful it doesn’t boil up and over) and then let it simmer away for about two minutes.
Juice the lemon and lime. Remove the cream from the heat and whisk in the juice before pouring through a sieve into six little pots or glasses or teacups or whatever you fancy serving them in.
Put them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to set.
Make the two toppings, first the praline. Toast the nuts in a dry pan until lightly toasted, then set aside. Now make a caramel by pouring sugar and a little water into a pan with a silver or white interior so you can see when the caramel starts to form. Set over a medium heat tilting the pan hear and there to get the sugar to melt and start to boil. DON’T STIR IT OR IT WILL CRYSTALLISE. AND DON’T STICK YOUR FINGER IN IT OR YOU’LL NEVER FORGET IT! The sugar will boil clear for a while before starting to turn pale golden brown and starting to smell like caramel. Don’t let it go to far or it’ll taste bitter and burned. As soon as it’s caramel brown and smells good take the pan off the heat, pour in the nuts, tilt the pan around and pour the contents onto some baking parchment resting on a heatproof board and leave it to set. It should look like amber with nuts set in it.
Now make the rose sugar by simply grinding sugar and rose petals together in a pestle and mortar until you have a light pink powder that smells like Turkish Delight.
When the caramel is rock hard chop it up with a knife until you have a fine crumb. You could also do this in a food processor.
To assemble, sprinkle a pinch of rose sugar on top of the possets, then a layer of praline crumb, then a pinch more rose sugar and finally, if you have any, an edible flower.
As I said at the beginning I’ve been rather preoccupied developing, practicing and performing my new anarchic cooking show. It’s coming together. Presently it’s called George Egg: Anarchist Cook Part Two ‘Second Helpings’, but when it gets to the Edinburgh Fringe in August it’ll be called George Egg: DIY Chef. On the surface it’s about cooking with tools. If you want to get deeper it’s about resourcefulness, rebellion, independence and eccentricity in a painful and disturbing world of change, uncertainty and chaos. Something like that anyway.
Click HERE for dates.
I’ve been having fun. I’m developing a new show which is sort-of going to be a sequel to the current show but which won’t be a ‘part two’ that one won’t be able to enjoy without having seen the first. It’s called Anarchist Cook again, but with the addition of ‘Second Helpings’. At least that’s the working title at the moment. I’ve other titles in my arsenal (‘Extra Portions’, ‘Nicely Seasoned’, ‘Well seasoned’, ‘Urban Forager’…).
Needless to say the show is going to be another cooking show and cooking once again using unconventional methods and non-culinary appliances and equipment. So I’ve been playing around with tools, office equipment, and ingredients.
This is a single scallop, which I cooked in its shell. I placed a tiny knob of butter on it and blasted it for about a minute each side with a DeWalt DW340 paint stripping gun. Once beautifully caramelised I sprinkled it with a little smoked sea salt, a pinch of dill, some pepper and a squeeze of lemon. It was honestly one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten in my life.
I played with the DeWalt heat gun again with this piece of sirloin. Rubbed with a little olive oil and then blasted, the meat sitting in on the blade of a shovel. I made a chimichurri of sorts with olive oil, lemon, garlic, chilli and dried oregano and shaved in some raw fennel using a Stanley wood-workers plane. And then sliced tomato (sliced with a junior hacksaw).
A plumbers blow torch cooked this fillet of rainbow trout, crisping up the skin. It was simply dressed with a smear of wasabi and a splash of soy sauce.
This linguine was made using an Elpine desktop paper shredder. Perfect 3mm ribbons. Boiled in a kettle, dressed with uht cream pots, parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper. And a pinch of chopped parsley.
The other fillet of trout (1st fillet blasted with heat – see above) was poached simply in a Morphy Richards Voyager 800 travel kettle. Poached trout skin isn’t as appetising as poached bass or bream skin so that was removed before the fish was dressed with a smear of english mustard (from a sachet), soy sauce, mint, chilli and cracked black pepper.
And finally, another steak again cooked in the shovel blade with the DeWalt gun. This was a Bavette steak. Once cooked it was topped with a few slices of gorgonzola and some toasted walnuts (toasted alongside the steak) before being sprinkled with some fresh red chilli and parsley.
I promise you all, ‘Anarchist Cook Two’ is going to taste really really good!
Oh, and a final note. Of course ‘Anarchist Cook’ (show one) is very good too, in fact it’s brilliant and has won awards and garnered rave reviews and stars-galore and toured the world and all that, and is still touring, so do have a look at the website HERE to see where it’s playing. There’s lots of dates still pending all over the country, as well as a rather nice mini-tour of the Scottish Highlands. The last and ONLY remaining chance to see it in London will be on March 15 and 16 at the Soho Theatre, in the main theatre space, at 8:30pm. It’s a big theatre and it’d be a pity not to fill it, so please do come if you can, and bring some/all of your friends/associates/family/work-mates… Here’s a link to tickets for those dates.
Matt and I started this blog for a number of reasons. We needed something that would force us to write on a regular basis, we wanted to push ourselves to come up with new dishes and ideas and we wanted a space to vent the occasional frustration or celebrate a new discovery or nostalgic comfort. But the main reason for blogging was as a record of the food we cooked as a catalogue, a reference, a virtual cookbook for our children.
Many years ago we mooted the idea of writing cookbooks for our kids as a leaving present for them when they finally flew the nest- cookbooks packed with all the family classics that they’d grown up on which they could dip into to when they needed a taste of home. We talked about the idea and because both our families have spent an awful lot of time together a lot of Matt’s family favourites have become ours too and vice versa, so a combined record seemed like an even nicer idea. And a blog of course, so much less committing and final than actually putting something to print where the likely danger of thinking “oh no, I should have put the lasagne in there too!” just as it comes off the press is too strong, seemed like a better option.
Often the copy has strayed away from recipes, it’s served too as a bit of publicity for my performing work of course (fair enough though since my current solo-show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ is all about food anyway)*, it’s drifted into opinion pieces, but it’s tried to remain food-centric and in almost every entry there’s been a recipe. But like I said, the main reason it’s up here on the web is so that when our kids have left home and want a recreation of something familiar and tasty they’ll find the instructions here.
So with that in mind, here’s my recipe for cheese sauce, because a cheese sauce (or a Mornay Sauce) features in probably too many dishes I like and cook – macaroni cheese, croque monsieur, enchiladas, moussaka and most kinds of lasagne. It’s great on other things too. A slice of cheese on toast where a thin spreading of cold cheese sauce has been smeared on the toasted bread before the slices of cheese go on top gives it a milky unctuousness that’s so comforting. Equally a blob in a cheese toastie (especially one made with something from my collection – see here) is sublime. It’ll be dreamy on any lightly cooked veg which then in turn is topped with a bit more grated cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, baked in the oven until crispy and bubbling, and then the topping fought over (try sprouts, stir-fried cabbage, sliced new potatoes, jerusalem artichokes).
Last night I made a sort-of macaroni cheese, but the pasta was a different shape, and the addition of slow cooked onions rendered the dish more like Käsespätzle (recipe for that here, and well worth doing). I didn’t really get to eat any of it though. I’d put it together and baked it before we had to leave for a thing at my daughter’s school, had a small bowl to taste before we left and planned to have a proper portion when we got back, but on our return it had all gone. Siblings. This meant my appetite for such a dish wasn’t sated AND I’d skipped breakfast this morning, so at lunchtime it was just what I fancied. Fortunately there was some of the cheese sauce left and not having time to build something as elegant as the dinner from the night before I simply warmed the sauce, cooked some Orzo (the rice-shaped pasta), stirred the two together and put it in a bowl topped with a trickle of E.V rapeseed oil for nuttiness, a pinch of chilli powder, some parmesan and lots of black pepper. It was outstanding and the epitome of the somewhat tired expression ‘a hug on a plate’.
Well, with that, and all those other possibilities waiting to be realised I think I’d better give you my recipe for a cheese sauce. Oh and incidentally, a béchamel sauce is just a mornay sauce before the cheese is added, so you’ve learned that too :
Cheese Sauce (Mornay Sauce)
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 litre milk (full fat preferably but semi-skimmed is fine)
about ¼ whole nutmeg, grated
pinch of chilli powder or cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
100g any cheese (parmesan, cheddar of course, stilton, brie – but not feta or cottage, though who knows, it might work, I’ve just not tried it with those)
First melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Whisk them together and keep them moving over a medium heat and keep cooking until it’s a light biscuity-brown. Add a splash of milk and beat in with the whisk (it’ll cool the butter and the whole thing with go like a big lump of playdough, but don’t worry, keep whisking), add a splash more, whisk again, and repeat this making sure there’s no lumps before the next milk addition until it’s started to thin out again to the consistency of thick cream. At this point you can add the bayleaf and slosh all but about a small teacup’s worth of the milk and bring the heat up a bit, whisking to stop it thickening and sticking to the bottom, until it’s all thickened. If it’s too thick you can always slacken it with some more milk.
Now let it cook for a few minutes, still staring and be careful because if it bubbles it’ll splash you. Turn off the heat and add a big pinch of salt, pepper, the chilli or cayenne and grate in the nutmeg. Taste it. It should taste nice a deep a smooth. If it tastes at all thin or watery add a bit more salt.
Grate of chop up your cheese quite small, bring the sauce up to the boil again, turn of the heat and THEN whisk in the cheese. If you add the cheese while it’s still bubbling there’s a danger it’ll split and you’ll have a grainy texture which really isn’t as nice as a smooth one.
Again, taste it and adjust – more cheese, more salt, more chilli etc.
Incidentally, these measurements are rough. Of course if it’s too thick, add more milk, if it’s too thin, well, there’s not a lot you can do apart from add more cheese at this stage, but take note and add less milk the next time you make it. But thinner is better if it’s coating pasta because it wants to be smooth and silky, not gloopy.
It’s a bit more manageable for adding to a dish when it’s not too hot as it’ll thicken up more. And cold in the fridge it’ll set like a loose jelly making spreading under the cheese on shoes on toast very easy. I’ve had mixed success freezing (seems fine when it’s incorporated into a dish like a lasagne, but when frozen solo seems to split when defrosted), but it’ll keep in the fridge for a week or so and can be dipped into for all those dishes listed above.
*see what I did there?
When in Auckland earlier this year at the New Zealand Comedy Festival I was performing my cooking show (‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’) in a theatre which could not have been more ideal. The Herald Theatre (the smaller space behind the gigantic Aotea Centre) a 190-seater space with the steepest seating rake I’ve ever seen and the performing area on floor level. This meant that the audience were all looking down on the action with no obstructions in front of them since the person in front’s head was at knee level for the person behind. It was an ideal position from which to watch someone cook and it also meant that the smells wafted up so that by the end of the show the whole theatre was perfumed with the aroma of, excuse the lack of modesty, a superb three-course meal.
Because the food I cooked in the show involved a fresh snapper (see last post) I spent a lot of time visiting the fantastic fish market down on the harbour and in addition to the fish cooked in the performance I bought a lot of other seafood to enjoy back at my apartment. I got some massive prawns one day which I turned into a thai green curry and they were so delicious I bought more the next day, forgetting as I so often do that I had other fresh things which needed using up. I ended up cooking something else, and then the next day wasn’t there for dinner because of work commitments and so on and on until some four days later I got the prawns out and tried one. As I sank my teeth into the now almost ‘foamy’ texture I shuddered and immediately expelled the rotten crustacea from my mouth and into my hand. They were definitely ‘gone’. The apartment I was staying in was serviced every third day or thereabouts so I tied up the bag and rather than put it in the bin I put it out on the balcony where, unbeknownst to me the wind knocked it behind the air conditioning unit. The next day the maid came and went but the bag of rotten prawns remained.
I couple of nights later I returned to the apartment and was terribly anxious about the smell. I’d spilled rather a lot of water on the floor in a sink-overflow-faster-than-expected-speed-of-tap-soaking-of-burnt-pan incident the day after arriving and my immediate thought was that the damp was the cause of the pong. But then I walked near the balcony doors and the smell got stronger.
When I found the bag it was covered in flies and the stench was overwhelming. My apartment was up on the eighth or ninth floor and way down below next to the apartment block there was a skip on a building site. The prawns had to go, so, terribly anxious that I’d be spotted by someone and shouted at I quickly threw the bag from the balcony in the direction of the skip. I missed. And when I left the apartment, despite the building site being set back from the road you could still smell the rot. I kept an eye on the bag for a couple of days and was hugely relieved when a couple of mornings later it had gone.
Undeterred by the prawn incident on another day I bought mussels. I’d been recommended them by a few people and I wasn’t disappointed. The New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels are HUGE. Far too big for a travel kettle. I had one that was so large it was like a violin case with a chicken in it. And they taste fantastic. I had them simply steamed open with some white wine, with garlic and shallot and parsley, and I made a dish of grilled mussels that was so nice I ended up cooking it on two more occasions for some of my fellow comedians. It’s a bit of a faff but worth it I promise.
Grilled Mussels with Breadcrumbs
Mussels (about 15 per person, unless you’re in NZ in which case 8)
White Wine, or Cider
Parmesan or similar hard cheese
Cayenne Pepper or Chilli Powder
Breadcrumbs (good ones, stale sourdough would be best)
Sweat some shallot and garlic in a pan with a little oil and butter before adding the cleaned and prepared mussels (you all know how to do that don’t you?) and a generous splash of wine or cider before clamping the lid on and letting them cook away until the mussels are open (a couple of minutes if that).
Scoop out the mussels (KEEPING THE PRECIOUS LIQUID IN THE PAN) and remove half the shell so you have a load of plump mussels in a half shell. Put them on a metal tray and get the grill hot.
Reduce the cooking liquor down by half, whisk in some cold butter and spoon a little of it over each mussel. Then chop parsley and mix with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle a little mixture over the top of each mussel, add a pinch of cayenne or chilli and some black pepper and a tiny knob of butter and stick under the hot grill until golden and crispy and bubbling.
Enjoy with some very cold white wine and some more bread to mop up the juices left on the plate.
Oh, and if prawns start to go off ever, triple bag them and get them as far away as possible. Or eat them before they go off. Or don’t buy too many. Or don’t buy them unless you’re certain you’re going to use them that day or the next.
Earlier this year I spent four weeks in Auckland performing at the New Zealand Comedy Festival. I’d not ventured over the equator before so I was expecting it all to be rather strange. What proved more strange though was to travel so absurdly far over parts of the world that could hardly be more different to the UK to eventually, after some 24 hours flying or waiting, to land at an airport which felt like I was on one of the Channel Islands. A bit different from the UK. But not very different.
Being there to perform my cooking-in-hotel-rooms show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ I was tasked with the job of finding a suitable fish to match the Sea Bream or Bass that I use when I do the show in the UK, so a few days after landing I visited the outstanding Auckland Fish Market down on the harbour and bought a selection of fish to try filleting and poaching to find the best match. The market had such a wonderful array of seafood, so much bigger (certainly) and more impressive than ours (though perhaps the impressiveness was just because they were new to me), but without a doubt there were some incredibly photogenic specimens. After trialling a few I settled on snapper, which really was almost identical to bream both in shape, texture, how it cooked and how it filleted, and I celebrated the find by cooking myself fried snapper fillets with a salsa verde and oven-baked chips.
The fish in the cooking show is filleted on an ironing board before being put into a little cage made of bent coat hangers (sort-of like the opposite of a shark cage, the fish being inside with us humans outside) which is then lowered into the recently boiled kettle (just for the sake of detail should you wish to recreate, the water has a pinch each of fennel seeds and peppercorns added). And it’s a travel kettle so there’s not a huge amount of room. When I do the show in the UK the bream (or bass) are small enough to be just the right size, but in Auckland I had to search for the smaller specimens since most of the snappers they were selling were, for want of a better word, whoppers. This proved to create a bit of controversy in the theatre and on a number of occasions when I got the fish out on stage it was met with a cry of ‘undersized!’ or ‘throw it back!’ and I was forced to protest that I’d bought it from the fish market and so while it was small it must have been at the bottom end of the legal limit AND that I wouldn’t have been able to get it in a travel kettle if I’d bought a bigger one. But the exchange was amusing enough to add something to the show anyway.
With reference to that first paragraph by the way – of course there ended up being a lot of differences and some amazing sights like nothing over here (I climbed a two volcanos for example) but equally a lot was very familiar too.
Snapper with Salsa Verde and Chips
1 snapper, filleted (or a bream, or a bass)
EV rapeseed oil
Waxy potatoes (cut into thick chips)
salt, pepper, paprika
For the Salsa Verde
3 or 4 cornichons
1 large spoonful of capers
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
EV Olive Oil
a bunch of mixed fresh soft herbs (I’d go for dill, mint, parsley, and basil, but any will be nice)
Make the chips first. Put the oven on at about 200 degrees and stick a heavy pan in with a generous slug of EV Rapeseed Oil in it. Cut up the potatoes and par boil them until slightly done. Let them steam in a colander or on a tea towel for about 10 mins. Toss them in a bit of oil and seasoning (salt, pepper and paprika) and then into the hot oil. They’ll take about 25 minutes but give them a jiggle every 10 mins or so.
Next the salsa verde. Just chop all the things that want chopping and mix with lemon juice, mustard and olive oil until you have a nice sloppy consistency.
Finally the fish. When everything else is ready cook the fish. Not before. It won’t take long and you don’t want it hanging around getting cold. Get a good frying pan (by which I mean something heavy and non-stick either through natural seasoning or teflon) and get it hot (though not stupidly hot). Don’t oil the pan, but oil the fish, and not too generously – just pour a bit of oil into your palm and then give the fillet a bit of a massage – and then gently place it skin-side down in the pan. It’ll curl up a bit, but be patient and it’ll fall back. Don’t move it! Keep an eye on the heat and make sure it doesn’t burn but watch the flesh start to go opaque from the bottom up as it cooks through. Season the exposed flesh side and when the opaqueness has just got over halfway carefully flip the fillets over. The skin should be nice a crispy. Season the skin a bit too and turn off the heat. The remaining heat in the pan will finish the fish perfectly while you put the chips onto your plate. Next put the fillets on and finally spoon over the salsa.
A quick one, just because there’s a salad that I make a lot, and Nikki (Mrs Egg) just said to me “what’s in that salad again?”, so I thought I’d make it, and blog it, and then it’s up there for next time.
Sometimes you want a junk-food hit but you don’t want to be popping the last mouthful in with a feeling of regret and shame. When that’s the prevalent mood I make what we call ‘healthy festival burgers’ because they taste like the sort of thing you’d have from a stall at Glastonbury mid-way through the festival when you know you’ve already over-done it a bit and this just hits the nail on the head. It’s a cheat, in that the burgers are shop-bought vegeburgers (usually Asda own-brand which are really rather nice), and they’re put into buns (wholemeal, yes), with cheese if you’re having cheese (processed cheese of course, it’s got to feel a bit ‘bad’), a blob of mayonnaise and tomato chutney and then as much of this salad as you can cram in. It’s raw-galore with so much crunch you’ll finish with an aching jaw and a pious feeling of aren’t-I-being-good?
Healthy Burger Salad
Red cabbage (finely sliced)
White cabbage (finely sliced)
Onion (finely sliced)
Garlic (1 clove, finely chopped)
Radishes (sliced or chopped)
Loads of soft herbs (I had dill, parsley, coriander and mint)
Loads of toasted seeds (I used sunflower, pumpkin, pine nuts, sesame and poppy)
Salt and Pepper (lots of pepper)
Juice of 1 lemon (or lime)
Olive Oil (A generous glug)
Date syrup (about a teaspoon)
That’s it, all mixed together, super simple. And completely adjustable depending on what you’ve got. I’ve added thinly sliced raw courgette, the flowers from heads of broccoli (they look fab), anything sprouted (beans, seeds or lentils), turnip, celery, spring onion. A splash of soy sauce is nice, with raw ginger too to give it an Eastern feel. Pomegranate molasses too to both sweeten and sour as a replacement for the lemon and the date syrup. Maple syrup too has worked well.
And of course this works extremely well with the steak I did in the last blog. Nice balance.
Finally, on the subject of festivals, if you want a laugh I urge you to go to the Wilderness Festival website and watch their film. I’ve been asked to do a cooking talk there this year, and I’ve heard it’s a really nice gig. I’m sure it’s lovely. But their film is SO hipster it hurts *affecting a semi-transatlantic drawl like someone who’s lived stateside for a couple of years* “yah, I’m a Blacksmith, but at the weekends I do taxidermy and shoot my bow to relax. What’s that? Do I earn a living as a smith? Oh yah. Well, I’ve got a trust-fund too obviously”. Have a look. The film’s here.
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. This coming weekend I’m in Sutton and Maidenhead. In a few weeks it’s Bath and then Scotland. Dates and links to tickets are here.
Edinburgh Fringe Perfectly Balanced Salad
Avocado (broken into chunks with the fingers)
Mozzarella (torn into large pieces)
Kalamata Olives (pitted)
Really really good tomatoes
Parma or Serrano Ham
Red Onion (really thinly sliced)
Red Chilli (really thinly sliced also)
Radish (sliced quite thinly)
Tinned Anchovy Fillets (cut lengthways into thin strips)
E.V. Olive Oil
Mint, Dill and Basil (shredded)
Black Pepper and Crunchy Salt
There’s no rules. Judge the proportions yourself according to taste but something similar to the photograph seems to work. Arrange on a plate as you wish, neat or scattered, before dressing with the oil and lime juice and finally the salt and pepper. I assure you, it’s really very good. You’ll be wiping the plate with your finger.
Each autumn performers from all the corners of the world and from every genre of the arts converge on the Scottish capital for a month. This August I was amongst them. I took ‘Anarchist Cook’, the show I’ve been ripening and maturing this last year and a half, to the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, to perform every day in one of the hundreds of theatre spaces created for this wholly unique performance fair. From August 5th to August 31st at 2:45pm (except for one Monday that I took off – I was going to take two Mondays off but I ended up doing an extra show on one of them for reasons I’ll come to shortly) I performed the show to a full house. The room I was in (The Balcony at The Gilded Balloon) was only a sixty seater but even so I’d mentally prepared myself to be ready to entertain audiences in the single figures, though after the first preview was half-full, every show following that was rammed. A combination of an original idea well written and passionately performed I suppose. Extremely satisfying and gratifying whatever the reason.
Being away for a whole month my cooking and eating habits went a bit awry. When I’m at home I find myself catering for the family most nights. Similarly in Edinburgh I was catering for a theatre full of people every day (cooking the exact same three course meal twenty six times in a row), the difference being that unlike at home where I get to eat the meal I cook with everyone else, in Edinburgh those plates went off with the audience and I rarely got more than a few leftover scraps of bread and perhaps the odd bit of neglected salad. So I had to fend for myself a lot.
The intensity of the show’s production (resetting everything in the morning and then flyering before a lightening-fast set-up at 2:30 and an equally frantic strike at 3:45, followed by washing up and dropping the clean dishes behind the stage at 5:00) meant that despite having the best intentions before heading up there, once in the swing of things I didn’t cook a great deal. Apart from a couple of meals to share with my flatmates (excellent comedians John Robins, Matthew Crosby and Matt Ewins) I found myself eating a mixture of takeaways and the most abominably un-gourmet oven-ready or even worse microwavable dinners. It was rather absurd that I was cooking such genuinely tasty and deluxe platefuls on stage while eating, excuse me, ‘shit’ either side.
One day I cooked for Jay Rayner. Yes, that Jay Rayner. He was performing a show in Edinburgh too, (just on one day, not for the whole month like me), and he got in touch to let me know that he’d like to come and see my show. He figured that since his show finished at 1:45 he’d be able to jump in a taxi and get over to the part of town where I was performing for my 2:45 start. I agreed and said I’d make sure there was a ticket waiting for him. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I suddenly realised that the day he proposed to come was my day off! I got in touch with my venue and set about putting on an extra show on that day to accommodate him. We did so, and managed to sell out that show too (in fact it proved to be quite a celebrity audience on that occasion since not only was Jay Rayner present, but also comedians Daniel Kitson, Alex Horne and Tim Key. And a critic from The Times). Absurdly though, despite cooking the finest cuisine for The Observer’s most famous food critic and the cream of the Edinburgh comedy elite, for breakfast that same day I had a Gregg’s roll, and for dinner…
…a microwaveable Rustler cheese burger*
But on some days I did look after myself. I put together the above salad one early evening and it was so good I recreated it as a starter for my flatmates on another occasion. It was creamy and decadent while managing to be also crunchy and refreshing. A balance of bitterness from the olives, sourness from the lime, heat from the chilli and the radishes, salt from the anchovy and the ham, and all this calmed by the mild avocado and mozzarella with the herbs singing on top. Try it.
*Nostalgia’s a huge factor in the success of a dish. When I was a teenager I went on a number of wonderful youth hostelling holidays with my brother and our friends, and every trip, on the train heading back to London we would treat ourselves to a cheeseburger from the buffet car. It was microwaved in it’s bun with a slice of processed cheese before getting a squirt of ketchup and sometimes mustard too. The bun was always weirdly wet on top and hard underneath, the burger itself possessing an alien quality only achievable by this method of preservation and reheating. Disgusting of course, but Rustlers microwavable burgers taste just the same, and the memories, good ones, like the train we’d dine on, come hurtling home.