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.
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.
I first came across a Waldorf salad probably in the way most people of my generation did, not by eating it but through the much loved BBC comedy series of Fawlty Towers. (I couldn’t find the original clip but only a ‘Waldorf Salad remix’) This classic episode features a brash American couple that come to stay and arrive late as the hotel kitchen is about to close. Upon discovering this, Mr Hamilton, the short-tempered guest offers Basil £20 to keep the chef on for a bit longer. The American first confuses Basil Fawlty by asking for a couple of Screwdrivers – a drink Basil has never heard of and then proceeds to order something else not on the menu; a Waldorf salad. When Basil is confused and annoyed for a second time, the frustrated and demanding American lists all the components of the salad; “Celery, apples, walnuts, grapes, topped with mayonnaise.” The list had to be repeated angrily several more times for Basil to get it right and as was the norm with Fawlty Towers, total rip-roaring hilarity and chaos ensued with the plot getting more and more convoluted with Basil getting increasingly worked up. Ah, fond memories…
I’ve made versions of a Waldorf salad many times but last night had a flash of inspiration to incorporate some of those flavours into a simple chicken risotto. The risotto came about because, as I’d already made some lamb stock from butcher’s bones the day before, (which was now tucked away in the fridge) I realised I needed to use up the chicken stock I’d made that day out of the whole chicken we’d eaten the previous night…sounds confusing but I had made two stocks and didn’t want to keep both. There is no better way to utilise an amount of stock than in a risotto. Well, unless you’re making a soup or a biryani or a paella or a…etc. etc.
This combination of flavours and textures in this risotto worked surprisingly well and much better than expected. I didn’t include apples as such, but cooked the dish with a dry Normandy cider for that ‘applely’ nuance. I caramelised some celery with the onion before adding the rice and left some raw as a rather satisfying crunchy topping together with the walnuts and parmesan shavings. The grapes didn’t get a look in but then again I don’t think I’d include them in a regular salad either.
INGREDIENTS (4 persons)
a big glug of EV olive oil
1 large onion – chopped
2 sticks of celery – chopped finely
large handful of leftover cooked chicken – picked from the bones or elsewhere
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
a good, big pinch or grind of the pepper mill.
2 large cloves of Garlic – finely chopped or sliced
300ml arborio rice or similar
300ml dry cider
500ml chicken stock
extra simmering water, if necessary
salt – to taste
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
a lump of butter – around 50g…slightly less maybe.
a handful of walnuts – semi crushed
a stick if celery – finely chopped or sliced
EV olive oil
parmesan shavings – to taste
extra salt and pepper
- In a heavy pan, slowly caramelise the onions and celery in the olive oil until soft and translucent.
- Add the chicken, chilli flakes, pepper and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add the rice and cook for a minute or two covering each grain and mixing well
- Add the cider and turn up to medium heat, continuing to stir the rice
- Once the the cider has been absorbed/evaporated, add the stock a ladle at a time, whilst continuing to stir the risotto
- Turn the heat down if necessary to keep the dish at simmering temperature.
- Stir the risotto every 20-30 seconds and keep adding stock or hot water as it needs it.
- Once the rice is ‘al dente’ – with each grain cooked and creamy on the outside but still retaining a bite within, turn off the heat, add the butter and season to taste.
- Stir in the butter and cover for 5 minutes and just leave it
- The risotto will be lovely and creamy by the time you dish it out.
- Plate up, topping the rice with the celery, the broken walnuts, a good drizzle of olive oil, the parmesan shavings and extra salt and pepper.
ps. I also had some roasted squash that was sliced and added to the topping – very nice. (don’t bother roasting 1/4 of a squash for this but add if you have some leftover from a previous meal – on second thoughts, it may be worth it.)
There are numerous things that get-my-goat, but one that often comes to mind is when someone uses the “I was going to…” tact to make up for the fact that they haven’t done something, somehow feeling that letting their intention be known is equal to having actually done whatever it was that they were going to do but didn’t.
“Oh, it was your birthday last week wasn’t it? I was going to get you a present”
I hate that.
But I’m going to start this entry by apologising to any regular followers for my woefully slack blogging, (I haven’t written anything since early May before I did my Anarchist Cook show at the Brighton Fringe), and now I’m going to do exactly what I’ve just complained about and tell you things I was thinking I could have done.
In my fringe show I cooked a three course meal on hotel equipment, so I thought I’d do a blog of the three recipes I made on stage. If you saw my show, and this is something that would interest you then let me know and I WILL do it, but just now that show feels too long ago to be current. Since I’ll be doing the show again in the Brighton Comedy Fringe in October I WILL do a blog about that then, and I invite anyone to remind me nearer the time.
Last weekend Matthew and I went to Glastonbury Festival. It really is the best festival in the world with a really tangible sense of raw counter-culture and in many of the hidden places, genuine anarchy. I was performing a truncated version of my Anarchist Cook show there and Matt was my guest, and with us we took the intention, and the ingredients, to make a delicious Thai Curry. It was to be made on a Trangia (by far and away the BEST camping cooker) and to be enjoyed by us and marvelled at by our fellow revellers, dissatisfied with their lot as they chomped on Pot Noodles or over-priced festive fare. We were going to cook it, and photograph it, and blog about it. But look, here it comes, another “I was going to” moment, for good as our intensions were circumstance conspired against us. An initial few days of shockingly poor weather which I may have inadvertently brought on myself* was followed by Matt having to return home early when his father was taken ill, and so we never got to cook it. Mind you, we still had some very tasty meals, some of them bought but most of them made. Nothing strikingly innovative but still probably better (and certainly cheaper) than anything for sale on the site.
During one especially fierce downpour we were trapped under my 12 year old Argos gazebo with an extremely talented comedian called Dave Thompson. He’s a very interesting man with lots of amusing anecdotes in his canon, and we enjoyed his company enormously while rustling up something from our limited larder to keep us going until the rain stopped and we could venture out to buy something hot from one of the many stalls on the site. But in the end we were so satisfied with the cold meal that we’d thrown together (both in terms of calorific requirement and palette entertainment) that we didn’t end up buying anything else and while Matt had nothing at all for the rest of the evening, Dave only ate a bag of nachos when he got back to his tent much much later and I attempted to cook a packet of instant noodles at 3:40am after doing the Mavericks late night cabaret, but ended up loosing more than half of them when I tried to drain the water away and, a little drunk, inadvertently poured most of the noodles onto the muddy grass as well. And I wasn’t cooking them because I was hungry. Rather it was more of an instinct thing due to the consumption of what I would describe as “a glut of cocktails”.
Avocados with Cockles
2 perfectly ripe avocados
1 jar pickled cockles
extra virgin rapeseed oil
crushed chilli flakes
the juice of 1 lime
freshly ground black pepper
chopped fresh coriander
Halve the avocados and fill the stone-wells with cockles. Drizzle over rapeseed oil and lime juice. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, crushed chilli and corriander. Very tasty and even more enjoyable if you are backstage at a festival, sipping cider, with the distant sound of live music and the pitter patter of rain as it hits the gazebo under which you are sheltering.
We had a ball of Mozzarella torn up with ours too. Which worked.
*During my show I toasted some pecan nuts on an upturned iron and to crush them I dropped them between the pages of a Gideon Bible, dropped the bible to the floor and stamped on it. Funnily enough, almost immediately after doing it on both the friday and the saturday shows we experienced the most incredible electrical storms. I did the same on sunday, but the sun stayed out. Perhaps my blasphemy was countered by the Christian radiance of Dolly Parton who was on at the same time as me? Or perhaps it was all just coincidence.
A number of years ago, finding myself on the road and staying in soulless hotels around the country I struck upon the idea of seeing what I could cook using the non-kitchen equipment in my room. I made some pretty good food, and I filmed some of my exploits and uploaded the footage to YouTube. The film I made went viral and has been watched to-date by some 129,096 people. All over the world. As a result I made a radio appearance on ‘The Splendid Table’ in the USA, I was asked (and rejected the advance) to have the footage broadcast on Channel 4 (it was only a clip on ‘Rude Tube’ and I thought it would ‘use up’ the idea for which I had other plans), and I did a ten minute live version of cooking with irons at Robin Ince’s ‘Nine Lessons & Carols for Godless People’ show last Christmas at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London.
Acting on the momentum from the success of the Christmas show I decided to develop the idea and to create a show to perform at the Brighton Fringe, and now I’ve exactly one week before the show’s first outing.
In the show I will (attempt to) cook three plates of food (a starter, a main course and a desert) using only the equipment you find in the average hotel room, namely a kettle, iron, trouser-press, hair dryer, mini-bar fridge and so on. If you want to come and see it, and I hope you do, you’ll find me at Upstairs at the Three and Ten in Steine Street at 9:30pm on the 12th, 14th and 15th of May. The tickets are selling quite well (although I hope we get a few more for the last night, so if you ARE thinking of coming and Thursday 15th May is free, come then!), and if you sit near the front you’ll get to taste some of the food. Food which is, I promise, really rather good. Considering the circumstances.
Here’s a link. Now click it and get yourself some tickets!
Oh and here’s the poster too, which was designed by my very talented son Jem (here’s his Instagram if you’re interested)…
And I thought it might be fun to present this week the recipes that I’m going to cook at the show, but then I realised that if you do come, the surprise will have been spoilt. So I will blog about the recipes, but you’ll have to wait until my next one. In the meantime, here’s something else.
Presented with four egg yolks this weekend (having made an egg-white omelette!) I decided to make some fresh pasta. Ordinarily I’d use 100g of flour to one whole egg, but made with mostly egg yolks you’ll end up with the most amazing rich bouncy and deep yellow pasta. And I did. And with a pasta-rolling machine it really is SO easy, and so worth it too – a completely different product to the dried stuff.
I did it with the simplest sauce. Little more than garlic, chilli, raw tomatoes and herbs it really is one of my favourites.
Fresh Pasta (enough for 3)
160g ‘OO’ flour *
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
a pinch of salt
Combine the ingredients together and knead until smooth. It’s hard work and it might seem to dry. If it does seem to dry, it probably isn’t, just give it time, but if it REALLY feels too dry then add a tiny splash of water, but barely any. Then wrap it in cling-film and put it in the fridge for 30 mins before rolling it out in your pasta machine.
Divide it into quarters and roll out each quarter on the thickest setting, folding and re-rolling about eight times. Don’t add any flour save for the smallest amount just to stop it sticking. Lots of flour worked into the dough will result in slimy pasta. Not nice.
Once you’ve done that and got four nice smooth rectangles you can dust them with a bit more flour (because you’re just going to roll them out now, not fold anything into them) and put them through the rollers, reducing the thickness until pretty thin. I don’t like it too thin myself, not for tagliatelle, but I’d go thinner if it was for filled pasta.
Finally, fold the pasta in half and in half again, and again (lightly, not pressing to hard) and cut it across into 1/4 inch pieces so that when they’re tossed and jostled between the fingers you have a nice pile of tagliatelle ribbons, which you can flour a bit more and leave to dry a little while you get on with the sauce.
Raw Tomato Sauce
lots of olive oil
4 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 red chilli (sliced)
12-14 cherry tomatoes (roughly chopped)
soft herbs, I used parsley and mint, (chopped)
First, get a big pan of salted water onto a rolling boil.
Then, pour a really generous few gluts (about 2 tablespoons, maybe more) of olive oil into a shallow pan, add the garlic and the chilli, and then put it onto a really low heat. It will take a while to heat through but watch it carefully as you don’t want to garlic to burn at all. When it starts to sizzle watch until the garlic just starts to change colour and then add the tomatoes and herbs, give it a quick mix and take it off the heat.
Put the pasta into the water, bring it back up to the boil and time it for 1 minute before draining it quickly and immediately adding it (along with the water that’s clung to it) to the sauce. Stir, add some black pepper, and then put it onto the plates. Shave over some parmesan, more pepper, maybe more herbs. That’s it. The whole thing takes about five minutes.
Now, go and book those tickets!
*if you live in Brighton the Arkwrights Deli on Beaconsfield Road is the best place for ’00’ pasta flour. It’s top quality stuff and is much cheaper than all the supermarkets.