Friday, 4 December 2009

Monday, 30 November 2009

Moving virtual home...

Dearest louts, loutesses, and loutettes,

I am currently transferring all of Ramsden's random ramblings from blogger to wordpress. Please bear with me.

The new site (with video channels, embedded playlists, and a real talking goat) should be up and running by Friday.

Much love,


Monday, 23 November 2009

Broth for a rainy day

I once made this soup for my grandmother when she was poorly, devoted grandson that I am. A couple of hours later a fax arrived with a handwritten note from Grannie.

Dear Jammy,

Thank you for the soup. It cheered me up. Just a few criticisms:

The bits of cabbage and bacon are rather large and difficult to eat, and so as a soup it requires a knife, fork, and spoon to eat it. Perhaps next time you could chop the bits up a little smaller.

Your grandfather says it was too salty.


Now there's gratitude. I'm sure Grannie was right, yet part of this soup's charm is its very ruggedness - it's big and brutish and slurpy and utterly warming; ideal for this bout of miserable weather. It is also very much a blank canvas of a soup. You could tinker around with it until the cows come home, adding fennel seed and sausage, pasta and Parmesan - even some mushrooms. It's a t'riffic fridge slut. This is just how I happened to do it today.

(PS here is a 'music for making soup' spotify playlist)

Bacon and Cabbage Broth

Serves 6

150g smoked lardons, or 8 rashers of streaky smoked bacon sliced
2 onions, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
2 large spuds, cut into large dice
150g cherry tomatoes
a savoy cabbage, sliced
1 sprig rosemary
parsley stalks
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 litres chicken stock
Oil, salt, pepper

Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and fry the bacon until crispy. Add the onion, garlic and spuds, along with the herbs. Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, cabbage, and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

Serve as you like.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Pizza East, Shoreditch High Street


Translation can be difficult. Different countries have different ways of expressing what is essentially the same thing, but is yet so nuanced, so finely tuned, that the merest mispronunciation can lead to extraordinary difficulties. A friend spent a year in South America, to hone what was, until then, fairly ropey Castilian Spanish. Having somehow landed a job at an international company, he was, on his very first day, ushered into the biggest board meeting of the year. All the heads of the South American arm of the company had gathered around a large table, with Jim, a six foot six, red-haired Englishman (sore thumb, anyone?) plonked at the end. And like in a bad dream he was asked to introduce himself.

"Hola, soy Jim.....", God this is awkward, he thought - I should tell them. "Soy muy embarazado". I'm very embarrassed.

Except that isn't what he said. "Hello, I'm Jim", he said, "I'm very pregnant". The room exploded, Jim's face fast turning scarlet.

With the first hurdle having been limped over, his boss tried to put him at ease with some gentle, GCSE oral exam-style questions.

"How did you get from the airport Jim?" he enquired.

"Ah, si. Err, yo cogi un autobus. Duro cinco horas". I got a bus. It took five hours.

Except that isn't what he said. He actually said this: "Ah, yes. Erm, I fucked a bus. It took five hours".

Because in Castilian Spanish 'coger' means 'to take'. In South American Spanish it does not.

And in Britain 'pizza' means 'flat bread with tomato and cheese'. In Pizza East it does not. I have been 4 times in a week, and only once has my pizza had tomato on it.

I'll start at the beginning. Last Friday I met a friend for lunch at aforementioned and much-lauded restaurant, and I fell in love with the place immediately. It's in the Tea building on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road, and occupies the vast, expansive ground floor. And yet it manages to be utterly cosy, warm and welcoming. The decor is a delight - proper distressed wood (not the furniture equivalent of 'faded' jeans - why spend £20 extra on jeans that look just like the ones you're replacing?), great long tables with swing-out seats, and comfy banquettes to sit back and wallow in. It's immaculate yet unfussy, the service attentive but unintrusive.

The antipasti menu is as good a translation of Italian grub as I have seen - no half-arsed parma ham and melon here. Proper food, beautifully cooked. Over the course of those four visits I ate a pingingly fresh and elegantly presented mackerel escabeche with lentils, the criminally underrated fish soft and yielding and singing with lemon. Wood roasted bone marrow, all rich and wobbly and flecked with sea salt, was a joy, slathered on toast and crammed in with radish and parsley salad. Mussels were also wood roasted, and were just about the plumpest I have eaten.

But my highlight was the soft polenta with chicken livers. These are stupendous - crispy little nuggets of liver with the gentlest, warmest spicing, sitting atop a golden hillock of creamy polenta, and adorned with a piquant sauce. Potentially my favourite dish of 2009.

Onto the pizzas, and I hope I won't risk being turned away on my next visit (which, let's face it, will probably be this evening) for saying that they're a mixed bag. A great deal of thought has gone into creating these - so much so that when I asked to substitute toppings (on my 3rd visit) I was told that I couldn't. They have been meticulous in their design, yet rigour and street food don't necessarily go together. Call me a philistine, but I simply don't think pizza needs tinkering with. The bases of these pizzas are terrific, with that magical, much sought-after combination of crispness and chew. So why the need to try and make them extra-special with bizarre toppings - sprouting broccoli on a pizza? That's a mistranslation if ever I saw one.

Some of the attempts at ringing the tomato-cheese-pig changes do work. The veal meatball pizza with prosciutto, sage, lemon, parsley and cream is an absolute triumph, the duck sausage a glorious, rich delight. But the best pizza, like the best Italian food, is the simplest. The salami, tomato and mozzarella pizza is, while perhaps narrow-minded, splendid in its simplicity, the Margherita even more so.

Pizza East - you had me by the jaffers as soon as I walked in. After the starters - handsome, original, stupidly scrumptious - I was thinking about leaving home and squatting on your doorstep with a sleeping bag and a fork. You don't need to fart around with the pizzas. It's like the most beautiful woman in the world wearing make-up - perhaps minutely enhancing, but completely unnecessary.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Ethnic Eating Experiment - Day 5 (finally)

Well, after a week and a half in the editing suite the video for my final ethnic eating day is ready for human consumption.

This really was the highlight of the week - brilliant shop, delightful shopkeeper, and a very kind friend to help with the filming. The food was delicious to boot.

Aubergine Khoresht with jewelled rice

Serves 4

For the Khoresht
1 tin of aubergines
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 potatoes, sliced
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
4 dried limes, pricked with a knife
Salt, pepper, oil

For the rice
Handful of barberries
Handful of chopped pistachios
Half a pint of rice
1 pint water

Pour boiling water over the barberries and leave to swell for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a large frying pan or wok and add the aubergines. Fry until lightly coloured, remove and add the onion. Soften, remove and add the spuds. Fry until brown, then return the aubergines and onions to the pan, along with the turmeric, dried limes, and enough water to just cover the spuds. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Put the rice and water in a saucepan with a little salt, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes (resist the temptation to remove the lid). While your rice is simmering away, drain the barberries and press out any excess moisture. Fry in a little more oil for a minute or do, before adding the pistachios and frying for another minute. Once the rice is cooked, season with a little pepper and add the pistachios and berries.

Check the khoresht for seasoning, and walk to your nearest Persian shop. Serve to the owner with the rice and some pilfered parsley.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ethnic Eating Experiment - Day 4

To Chinatown, where this little piggy lost his feet.

Five spice trotters

Serves 2

3 trotters, washed thoroughly
2 tablespoons Chinese five spice
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 litre water (I know I say a pint, but I ended up adding more. cheeky)
4 pak choi, divided and washed
1 packet Shanghai noodles
Oyster sauce
Oil, salt and pepper

Heat a little oil over a medium heat and brown the trotters on all sides.

Add the five spice and toss to coat all the meat thoroughly, then add the garlic, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce and water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for an hour and a half.

Remove the trotters to rest and bang up the heat, reducing the cooking liquor until sticky. Meanwhile stirfry the pak choi and noodles with a little oyster and soy sauce. Serve with the trotters, along with a generous tickle of the cooking sauce.

Tomorrow I meet the Iranian John Torode. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Ethnic Eating Experiment - Day 3

If yesterday's ordeal was incoherent, vomit-inducing and, frankly, useless, today was a complete joy. This is really what the experiment is about - trying things that I'd usually balk at, and being pleasantly surprised by their tastiness. Huzzah for East African bread (and apologies for early mispronunciation)!

Chickpea and spinach curry for lazy bastards

Serves 4

1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons of curry powder
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin spinach (by the way - I now LOVE tinned spinach; it's delicious)
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon (or thereabouts) tomato puree
Salt, pepper, and olive oil
Injera bread

Heat a little oil in a saucepan or wok and saute the onion until soft. Stir in the curry powder, then add coconut milk, spinach, chickpeas and tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve with injera bread.

Thank you to my two helpful and slightly tipsy helpers.