Sunday 23 September 2012

When the going gets tough, the contrary get cooking. Or go to Italy.

I was supposed to be in Contrary Towers this weekend, however, for reasons best known to the inmates I'd decided to not be here for at least part of it. Which means I needed some place else to be. Bugger. I decided to go to Norfolk. Which, given the damage the ever disintegrating relations with the nearly-ex are causing, was a pretty stupid decision.

Off. The. Scale.

Which was why when my dear friend Michelle suggested I should finally accept a long standing invite to visit Somerset I leapt at the chance. Almost literally.

It turned out she was having a couple of friends round to dinner, the lovely Sarah and her hubby Jon. I could do this, I might be a hermit, but I can be a sociable hermit. Yes? *gulp*

So this sounded brilliant.

Michelle then asked if I had any ideas of what to cook. Oh. Food. I like food. I came up with a couple of suggestions, both of which (as a starter and main course) would be relatively quick to prepare. And, obvs, I offered to do the cooking, after all she was going to put up with me for 24 hours, it was the least I could do. Besides, it saved having to actually create a usable recipe. Which would never do.

As you may be aware, I have issues with public transport. It always conspires to ruin my day, especially if I have to be somewhere on time, and, by definition, this was such a time.

Are we nearly there yet?
So I left early. And brought Monty.

The public transport was wise to this skulduggery and sneakily mucked up the signals around Reading. But all that meant was I became slightly less ahead of schedule. Transport wasn't going to be stymied by this and created traffic issues, delayed meetings and anything else it could think of to ensure that when Monty and I arrived...

We had to find a bus.

Have you ever used Google maps? It's brilliant. It tells me full route stuff, including which bus to find. Except for here... No information about local transport. I tried several times. Monty looked quite ashamed at my stupidity. I was trying not to hyper-ventilate. Eventually I worked out that there was a local information system. Which told me the best route was... via the next station. WTAF? So I told it to ignore trains and it said... nearly 2 hours. And I'd just missed the next bus. Feck.

It's not the size, it's the lack of taxis.
It might have whimpered at that point.

Okay. That wasn't acceptable, I needed plan B. I would travel as god intended. In a taxi. Or would have done if the queue wasn't a human model of the Great Wall of China except with more rather polite middle class people.

And middle-aged. Which was a problem as one of them, let's call them "me", needed to attend to a personal matter. *sigh*. So I left the queue and went in search of a loo. And coffee.

Coffee proved tricky. Fortunately I was distracted by a flower stall, so picked up a selection of rather bright flowers and then, in the distance... Spied a coffee place! Hurrah!

By this point Michelle had regained power and suggested I try going via Midsomer Something Or Other. She was having a laugh. There was no way I was going to go to a place called Midsomer, I might not have a telly but I do know how damaging that can be to the health!

So I went back to the Great Wall. And waited. Patiently. Ish.

Eventually it was my turn and, even more fortunately, was picked up by a lovely lady taxi driver. Which was brilliant. This meant that not only did I not see any of the scenery coming down (yacking to a lady sitting next to me) I missed all the Somerset scenert (yacking to the driver), before we knew it I was at my friend's house and ready to...

Go to Tesco.

We'd arranged that owing to the day going away from plan we'd do the shopping before picking up the friends, my taxi driver even offered to drop me off at the Tesco, but it was a different branch. She really was lovely.

So, shopping done (you'll be pleased to know we forgot the red onion) we picked up the friends. Which was hilarious. It turns out my old 911 wasn't the only car with difficult back seats. Oh dear. It all worked out though, after a shaky start and we bounded back to chez sorbet listening to constant chatter of life in France, which I really enjoyed, but couldn't really contribute as I was having an attack of nerves.

As you do.

The starting of dinner was slightly delayed as I had to speak with the nearly ex about a number of things, which I would like to say went well. But it never does. As I mentioned earlier this was meant to be quick fix so we had Pea and pesto soup with Fish finger croutons (aka Kermit the soup) along with another Contrary Towers favourite of Harissa chicken and chick pea salad. The soup recipe was pretty much as in the blog post, but I'd used a have a teaspoon of medium curry powder and half a teaspoon of flaked garlic as well. This wasn't some cunning development, more a case of I couldn't remember the recipe, didn't read what I wrote and had to recreate it.

The only problem with the soup was I'd overdone the stock so it took a while to reduce. And the guests looked slightly nervous at my description. The Harissa chicken and chickpea recipe is pretty simple, I'll give the measurements for two, for five people I simply double the amount. Except for the chicken, where I used 5, obvs.
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • Harissa powder (I got mine from Sainsbury I think), or Harissa paste
  • A lemon
  • A 400g tin of chickpeas
  • A 250g (usual size) punnet of cherry tomatoes
  • A dash of olive oil
  • Half a red onion, chopped. Or, in my case, not bought. Pfft.
  • Fresh parsley
So sliced the chicken in two, to make two very thing slices, though as it was the Tesco ones seem to have extra bits, odd. I rubbed the chicken in the olive oil before sprinkling with harissa powder both sides and setting aside to infuse. Next I, or rather my lovely commis chef Michelle, sliced all the tomatoes in two. These were mixed with the drained chickpeas. Next the lemon was sliced and then squeezed over the rest before hand mixing. Later in the evening, Michelle's daughter, was roped in to chop the parsley and add to the tomatoes and chickpea just before serving.

So, with most things prepared I split and blended the soup before chopping the fish fingers and delivering the lot to the table. I wasn't going to do portion control. I'm not sure whether the guests liked the food, but Sarah might have been using a spoon to remove the last bits of soup from the pan.

With the soup starter done I used a griddle pan to cook the chicken, about three minutes a side. Maybe. I'd had a couple of drinks by this point. Again, I lazed out and didn't do portion control, which was okay as the Tesco bits made it possible for people to have fine control over what they had.

And then the food was over. And we could have cheese. And a few more drinks. And talk.

A lot.

Party bear.
As it turned out, one hell of a lot. You see Somerset, as it turns out is nothing like E14. And there isn't a handy app to hail a cab. In fact, contrary to what the local guide said, there were no taxis at all. I know because all through the night we kept trying to call them. And I mean all through the night. Some time after 7am we eventually got one so Jon and Sarah could return home. It was fabulous to meet them and I'm really looking forward to seeing them again some time!

At this point a sensible person would get some sleep.

Which was why Michelle and I sat and chatted until 10am. And then it was too much and an hours sleep was needed. It turns out the only sensible person was Michelle's 15 year old daughter, not only could she hold her own talking with a group of adults, helping with the food prep and providing some fabulous art to look at, she also went to bed and had a sensible night's sleep instead of chatting in the garage at 4am because somebody wanted a cigarette!

Anyway. Some time later, we went for a walk. I'd been told the night before about the local farm shop. Where you could get botox. This I had to see. And it's true! You could. It was an impressive demonstration of diversification in in a farm, and it was obvious they were going to do more, I was quite impressed. After this we walked. And walked. And walked. And some miles later, wandered in to a pub. As you do. But not for a drink drink, Michelle had lemonade, I had ginger beer. Because it was on tap. Oh yes.

The downside of walking is you have to walk back, but really, it was hardly a chore, the area was quite beautiful and my companion was fabulous, the only silences were companionable and pondering rather than lack of conversation. Which is no more than you can ask for. Absolute bliss.

Sadly I had to return to Contrary Towers as I really didn't want to overstay my welcome. The trip back was far less troublesome. If you ignore the idiots at the station that drew the attention of the police. My flatmate was in bed by the time I got in so I sat and pondered quietly before eventually seeing whether I could manage to sleep, given I'd had just over an hour.

I couldn't. As ever.

The morning was rather rushed, unfortunately my flatmate couldn't stop for the baconz I'd got as she had to get to the airport for her quick break in Italy and after the briefest of conversations she was off.

I feel quite bad about this. I'll admit I was by this point not being as sociable as I could be, so not only am I missing her horribly, I also feel it wasn't the best way to wish her a bon voyage.

Anyway. At some point in the day I decided I needed to make bread. We'd actually talked about it in the night so I skipped off to Tesco to get some yeast and more flour. When I say skipped I should say waded. It was chucking it down. Great.

So, today's bread recipe...
  • 500g strong flour
  • 7g of fast yeast, or 2tsp if you use the pots (as I did)
  • 3tsp of the herb salt Clare brought back from Croatia, which I then ground down with the mortar and pestle, so about 1.5tsp of normal salt I guess
  • 3tbsp of olive oil
  • 300ml of tepid water (100ml boiled, 200ml cold)
Second prove, just before baking
Yes, I didn't use sugar, stick a tsp in if you prefer. I mixed the flour, yeast and salt, made a well, added the oil then the water before mixing. Once mixed I kneeded on the Contrary Kitchen worktop until it was nice and smooth before putting in the only decent bowl we have and covering with cling film. The bowl was placed in the warmest area in the apartment (the downstairs loo as it turns out) and left for an hour, by which time it would be about twice the size. I knocked the air out of it and shaped it in to a long lozenge on grease proof paper , dusted with flour before leaving for 45 minutes to prove a little more.

Finally... I heated the fan oven to 200C and chucked the load in for 25 minutes.

When it was ready (I did tap to make sure it sounded hollow) I left it to cool on a wire rack, actually one of the shelves from the oven.

Some time later... I ate some. It was delicious. And it's all mine!!!!!!

Actually, I'll give some to my bezzie tomorrow when she comes round. Unless I've eaten it all.


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