Monday, 24 September 2012

RAIN: Meat Liquor and Hot WIngs

My first introduction to chicken wings was the awful BBQ ones that come with budget take-away pizzas.  The poor quality meat with a synthetic and sickly BBQ sauce put me off big time. Then Meat Liquor came along with their addictively tangy and ridiculously messy Buffalo wings.  Finger food at its best. 
Meat Liquor is understandably popular.  There aren’t many places in London that serve quality American fast food and they are the best.  Their no-booking policy and cult following means that unless you go at the right time the queues are boringly long.  Much as I love a grease-fest, I can’t always be arsed to queue 45 minutes.  Even if they are that good.

So, after a week of fantasizing about their hot wings I finally made them myself.  A quick Google showed multiple variations on the classic but the simplest recipe kept cropping up and felt the most authentic.  I was initially a bit scared of deep-frying but it turned out to be easy.  This is a no frills recipe and better for it, though I had a heart attack just looking at the amount of butter…
These wings are fabulous.  They are a near-perfect replica of Meat Liquor’s version and totally satisfied my craving.  The blue cheese dip is unctuously pungent and rich, contrasting with the crisp crunch of peppery celery and sweet carrot batons.  Frank’s Hot Sauce is not very spicy, especially for a chili-head, but gives a subtle vinegar warmth augmented by a few generous dashes of Jamaican Hot Sauce.  And everything tastes better with butter.  
Hot Wings  - serves 2 generously or 3 to 4 as a starter

1.5 Kg of Chicken wings (Chop of the wing tips and cut between the wing bit and the bit that looks like a mini drumstick)
1 L of Oil for frying (I used sunflower)
1 bottle of Franks Original Hot Sauce
230 g of salted butter
Jamaican hot sauce or Tabasco to taste

Blue Cheese Dip

50 g Danish blue or other strong blue cheese, crumbled
Heaped tablespoon of buttermilk
Tablespoon of mayonnaise
Heaped table spoon of  sour cream
1 Crushed clove of garlic
tablespoon white wine vinegar

1) Thoroughly mix all of the dip ingredients together and add more cheese if necessary. Leave to one side.

2) Preheat oven to 80 degrees celcius. Heat the entire bottle of oil in a heavy based large saucepan (I used a wok) over a medium to high heat.  When it is shimmering and little bubbles are visible (about 10 minutes) add the chicken carefully using metal tongs or a slotted metal spoon.  It will look volcanic, don’t be scared.  You may need to cook the chicken in two batches.

3) Make sure the chicken doesn’t stick to the bottom and turn occasionally.  It will take about 10 minutes to cook – when they are golden remove and put in oven to keep warm while you put in the second batch of chicken.  Don’t bother with this if you can fit them all in.

4) While the chicken is frying, melt the butter in another pan and add the entire bottle of Franks hot sauce, mix well (don’t worry if it looks like its curdling).  Add the hotter hot sauce to taste.  

5) Mix the cooked chicken wings in the butter and hot sauce mixture and serve with the blue cheese dip and some carrot and celery batons.

Don’t do it everyday, but once in a while. Go wild.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

NEARLY VEGGIE - Fennel and Anchovy Spaghetti

Contrary to what this blog suggests, I don’t just eat cake and meat.  I really like veg, I really like salad.  Aware its better for my body and better for the environment, I‘ve made a conscious decision to eat less meat during the week and to hark back to my childhood meals where my mother fed me a pretty damn healthy, but pretty damn hippie, vegetarian diet.
Tastes change.  I used to hate tomatoes with a passion. Some say exposure breeds love and I have a sneaking suspicion that my about turn from detesting aniseed flavours to obsessing over fennel is due to the obscene quantities of Sambuca I’ve imbibed on countless Camden nights.
This pasta is one that surprised me.  It started off as a holier than thou attempt at healthier eating on a school night and became one I’ve kept going back to simply because it tastes great.  It’s not strictly vegetarian due to the anchovies, but you could leave these out and add some chopped kalamata olives instead. 

What you get is an intensely savory kick from the anchovies or olives, with an iron-rich bite from the cabbage.  The fennel offers a fresh aniseed note, and the seeds give sudden crunches of licorice.  Brown spaghetti was again initially chosen for its health benefits but kept because it holds its texture well and its flavour stands up to the rest of the ingredients.

It’s not unhealthy.  It’s nearly vegetarian.  In short, give it a go. 

Fennel and Anchovy Spaghetti  - serves 2

Half a head of a savoy cabbage or small head of spring greens, sliced into 1.5ish cm ribbons. (Spine removed from greens)
2 cloves of garlic crushed
1 sliced red chili
Can of anchovies in olive oil, chopped finely and reserve the oil
Heaped teaspoon  of fennel seeds
Half a head of fennel, very finely sliced
50 ml white wine
extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
Enough dried brown spaghetti for 2 people

1)   Set a large pan of boiling salted water for the pasta and add spaghetti
2)   After about 5 minutes put another large deep frying pan or wok  on medium to high heat and add a glug of olive oil then the garlic, anchovies with their oil, fennel seeds and sliced chili.  Stir for about minute till the garlic is about to turn golden then add the cabbage and fennel.  Stir to coat with oil and add the white wine.
3)   Stir occasionally until the cabbage is cooked through but has a slight bite.  It should take about 5 minutes or so. If it looks a little dry add a splash of water to help the steam it along its way.
4)   The pasta should be about cooked by now, drain and add to the other pan stirring well and add a splash of the pasta cooking water if it looks like it needs more liquid. 
5)   It will need pepper, but taste to check the salt as the anchovies are pretty salty already.   Give it a squeeze of lemon and an extra glug of oil.  Parmesan is nice as well. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

HUNGOVER AGAIN: Lemon Custard Pie

I will at some point get to grips with my nemesis. Pastry. On any of the occasions I have handled anything remotely pastry-like it has determinedly misbehaved; falling apart, drying out, or becoming almost inedibly hard. I know it’s supposedly simple once you get the hang of it, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe there will be a Eureka moment after which I’ll be whipping up little pastries left right and centre before being heaved to the nearest bariatric ward, but until then I’ll avoid making it where possible until the craving takes over. 
'Cream' melted cause I was too impatient for it to cool properly.
 Due to a pretty epic hangover, the other weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about pie. An American pie. Specifically some sort of lemon pie, so I trotted off to the shops to stare numbly at shelves, aimlessly circle aisles three times and think everyone was staring at me. Knowing my limits, I bought a ready-made sweet short-crust pasty block. If you’re gonna pick a day to learn pastry, don’t pick the day after you thought it was a good idea to drink a double whiskey with every beer. 

 The supposedly foolproof dough was no match for me and a patchwork job was necessary but even with the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ and slightly over-browned edges it hit the spot.  The filling was comforting, with a hint of lemon flavour running through the firm and silky custard though when I make this again I’ll ramp up the lemon zing with extra zest.  The cream topping wasn’t actually cream it was Elmlea, as surprise surprise I’d forgotten to get extra earlier and for some reason none of the corner shops near our flat stock anything else! It was passable even if it did take brute force to whip. 

All in all, this wasn’t perfect, but it did the job and given the state I was in I’m still proud. 
Lemon Custard Pie (adaptedfrom

500 g block of sweet shortcrust pastry
1 cup sugar
Lemon zest from 2 unwaxed lemons
¼ cup water
¾ cup double cream
Big pinch salt
5 large egs
½ cup lemon juice

1)    Roll out your dough to about a pound coin thickness and blind bake in a 9 inch pie pan. This is a good set of instructions
2)    Make lemon custard filling: Reduce oven temperature to 160 degrees celcius.Pulse sugar and zest in a food processor until zest is finely chopped, then add to a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then boil, without stirring, 5 minutes. Stir in cream and salt, then cook until hot (do not let boil).
3)    Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Add hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly, then whisk in lemon juice.
4)    Strain custard through a fine sieve into another bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to get out all the goodness, then pour into crust.
5)    Bake until filling is set 2 inches from edge but centre is still wobbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely (or get impatient and add fake whipped cream then regret it when it melts a bit).