A guilty pleasure

August 27, 2010

I know it’s wrong, but there’s nothing, NOTHING quite like Tuc biscuits liberally slathered with lashings of Laughing Cow. That heavenly combination of salty, flaky wafer and thick, white stickiness that coats the mouth and tastes of nothing but cold is irresistable. I feel like Marie Antoinette in her mock dairy at Versailles – breasts trembling, milk pail swinging, all a-quiver with the wicked, plebian subversion of it all. I know it’s dirty, but no-one can see us down here…


Working in Wapping has its advantages (answers on a postcard as to what these are, and yes, they will fit) but a range of plentiful, good lunch options is not one of them. Recently I’ve started doing a bit of home cooking and bringing lunch to work, rather than working until 3pm and then rushing to Waitrose snarling with hunger and ending up back at my desk with a bizarre selection of unrelated foodstuffs, one of which is nearly always cocktail salamis. Today’s home-made, self-assembly lunch was particularly successful, having cooked the meat last night, though I would say that if you can make and eat it at home, it is even better fresh, because the lamb stays crispy.

Take a pair of scissors to a reasonably sized hunk of lamb – I used scrag, which is unbelievably cheap, but really tricky to get off the bone with shit knives (I ended up stewing the rest of it on the bone overnight – won’t know until tonight whether that little chuck-in-what’s-in-the-cupboard exercise worked or not) and cut it into little tiny pieces. Fry them on a high heat until vaguely crispy. Take a wrap bread or pitta, smear it thickly with humus and chuck on a few strips of cucumber, some halved cherry tomatoes, and tons of fresh parsley and mint (and basil, if you happen to have just bought yet another plant having killed the last one). Pile on the cooked lamb and sprinkle liberally with pomegranate seeds. Roll up as tightly as possible and eat, looking smugly around at your colleagues.

*tip – if making at work, don’t put the wrap in the fridge with the rest of the bits and pieces, because if it gets cold it will become brittle and break.

The Bull and Last, 168 Highgate Road, London NW5

I know that I said I wouldn’t be dining out this month, but this was an emergency. Last week I visited a dear friend who is currently wading through the bitter treacle of a divorce. This is, as you might imagine, pretty grim. We went to the pub.

Well, technically the Bull & Last is a pub, but really it’s a restaurant in the evenings, as practically all the tables get booked up. And there’s table service (though it’s infuriatingly difficult to get anyone to come and take your money if you’re hidden around the corner from the bar. A tip – book for more than two people, otherwise you’re stuck under the stairs, by the loos, in the dark).

I do like it, it overlooks Hampstead Heath, the service is cheerful – our waitress was gently dancing, I’m not even sure she knew it – and the music is brilliant: nothing like only-just-audible Guns ‘n’ Roses to get you in the mood for a massive plate of fish ‘n’ chips. I plumped for oxtail papardelle with bone marrow, which was unctuous and savoury, and we both ate every scrap of our meals. Plump is definitely the right word, at least in my case.

Since I’d broken my vow to eat in, I thought I might as well do it properly and join BB in a pudding, choosing Pimms jelly with cucumber sorbet. This is an extremely silly dish, as if a long drink had been separated into its component parts, and then distilled into a concentrate. It made me feel a bit like I was a short step away from just slinging a bag of the stuff over the banisters and mainlining it into my arm. Still, there’s nothing quite like an intravenous analgesic to round off a night, right?

It’s rare that I post a recipe because I’m almost never at home, but being utterly skint at the moment, I’m trying to avoid eating out for dinner this month (work lunches don’t count, that’s someone else’s money). Thus I’m attempting to recapture my love of cooking. This means inviting people round, because I really can’t be bothered to cook for one. I loathe it: it uses just as many pans, takes just as much time, then you sit down and eat for a maximum of about eight minutes, listening to someone drone on about BP on the radio, then it’s all over and you still have to wash up. It’s like bad sex – boring, messy, unfulfilling and nobody ever says thank you afterwards. So last night B (my landlord) came over to regale me with tales of his own meaningless trysts, and I cooked him dinner. It wasn’t fancy or particularly imaginative, but I made it up, it worked like a dream and so I feel like I’ve discovered a new species. It’s the small things.

Put a massive lump of butter in a pan and melt on a low heat. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook briefly, then add several handfuls of wild mushrooms – slice the big ones but keep the smaller ones whole – and a palm-full of fresh thyme leaves. Season and sweat until the mushrooms are becoming floppy, then remove from the pan and put aside. Using the same pan (mainly out of laziness, and the fact that since I moved house I find myself in possession of an extremely eccentric selection of kitchen equipment), boil and salt some water and cook some linguine. Drain well, put back in the pan, add the herby mushrooms, a palm-full or so of chopped fresh parsley and crumble in a thick slice of goat’s cheese (chevre blanc in this case). Mix together thoroughly then wolf, with a well-chilled bottle of cheap Beaujolais and a dear friend.