Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Now showing: ‘Cheesy Whorls of Pure Evil’…

I finally finished the Cannes job and on Saturday I got bored waiting for the kitchen to get finished and the food to ‘hurry up and grow already.’ This blog was supposed to be about growing stuff - then cooking it and yet so far I had completely failed to cook anything

The kitchen is a mess. It is halfway through being refitted, there is no floor, no extractor and the air is filled with brick/grout/concrete dust. The cupboards and worktop are partially installed but all the pots, pans and cooking implements are boxed up in the garage and, it turns out, incorrectly labelled.

The electric cooker was on its last legs before the refit even started and has swallowed so much dust that the fan oven has completely packed up. Only two of the halogen hobs/ring things are working and one of them requires a pair of pliers to turn the non-existent knob. Without the extractor the grill is too dodgy to turn on, and the top oven only works for about 30 minutes at a time. Whenever I switch on the cooker socket the whole thing shudders and makes that electro-hum sound that you hear when Dr Frankenstein flips ‘the really big switch’. For this reason I have mostly been living off cup-a-soups and sandwiches for the last two weeks. It’s just like being an art student again - except I am old and lumpy and there isn’t a stoned girl passed out in the bathtub, or any beer in the fridge.

I spent a few years working construction in London and have consequently prepared and eaten many ‘meals’ on building sites. I am no stranger to the tooth grinding bite of brick dust or the odd umami flavour of finish plaster. I have been electrocuted, blown up, burned, fallen off things, fallen onto things, had things fall on me, been branded, impaled, crushed, defenestrated, sliced and sawn. I have had more stitches than a weedy kid doing double cross-country running in January. I can do this!

Luckily the fridge is brand new, working, and full of fresh stuff that doesn’t need cooking. It gives, to the casual observer, the entirely false impression that its owner is ridiculously healthy. The kitchen also contains one functional cupboard filled with a bizarre mix of ingredients and foodstuffs hurriedly assembled as if under imminent threat of natural disaster or riots. It was clear that if I was going to attempt to cook anything it would probably have to involve instant custard powder, soy sauce and candles.

So far the only ingredients that I had managed to grow to the point of eating were the herbs; lovage, hyssop and sorrel. Over the last few weeks I’ve been munching the odd leaf from each of these plants every time I pass by and congratulating myself on how brilliant I am at growing stuff. Individually they tasted fantastic and I concluded that they would be even better when combined into some sort of baking project. I therefore decided to have a bash at cheese and herb scones. After all scones are the easiest thing in the world to cook. I remember making them back in the 70’s - during the compulsory single term of Home Ec for boys, in a badly equipped comprehensive school kitchen in the North East of England. I seem to remember getting a red star 10/10 for my scones so I ought to have no trouble knocking them up even in this mid-apocalyptic kitchen, right?

I am not going to give specific recipe directions here as I don’t want to be accused of conspiracy to distribute material support conducive to the conduct of acts of terrorism. That and only an idiot would actually try to make and/or eat these Cheesy Whorls of Pure Evil!

I had my flour, pinch of salt and fat rubbed in to the internationally accepted standard of ‘breadcrumbiness’. My first mistake must have happened somewhere around this point as far more than a ‘pinch’ of salt obviously found its way into the mix, along with some bits of non-specific grit.

My second mistake came when I tried to make buttermilk. I knew that it needed a few tablespoons of slightly sour buttermilk and the Internet told me that I could improvise by adding either lemon juice or white vinegar to some regular full fat milk. I only had semi-skimmed milk and no lemon, so I tried the juice of an old orange that had been lying around for a while. That didn’t seem to work, but then I found a bottle of white wine balsamic vinegar in the disasters and emergencies cupboard and sloshed in a slug of that for good measure. Now it definitely smelled sour, but it abjectly refused to curdle or thicken up like the helpful pictures on the interweb showed, no matter how much I stirred it or left it on a warm windowsill.

I decided that a few tablespoons of dodgy milk probably wasn’t going to make much difference overall and so added my ‘buttermilk’, egg and grated Double Gloucester to the mix. Everything seemed to be going well and I soon had my cheesy-sconey mixture rolled out on the fantastic new granite worktop.

Instead of cutting it into little rounds I had decided that I was going to spread my chopped fresh herbs over the surface and roll the whole thing up like a Swiss roll. I sliced the roll into 10 spiral slices and brushed the tops with a bit of milk and a sprinkle of Parmesan. The cooker went on with a KKLUNKFZZZZZZZZT and the top oven then chugged away for the next 15 minutes making the occasional coughing/growling sound.

When I took them out of the oven they definitely looked the business. In fact I was so pleased with them I decided to try a foody-foti. See below.

However, let me assure you that despite their benign appearance they tasted of pure evil. Individually the herbs are fantastic. The sorrel I have is a variety called silver shield, it tastes exactly like granny smith apples and will probably be brilliant in salads. The taste of lovage is essentially uber-celery, celery squared, celery – to the max! Hyssop on the other hand is more difficult to describe, being a bit sagey, a bit bitter-minty, and a bit odd. It is also, according to Wikipedia, a convulsant when used in excess. MmmmConvulsant-y. Doh!

Something sinister happens when you combine these 3 herbs with way too much salt and the aforementioned ‘faux buttermilk’. Think 'dead tramp’s feet' and you’ll have some idea of the taste sensation that awaits the unwarey gourmand.

So with this disaster I think I have safely established my cooks credentials. Stand by for the sequel, 'Log of Doom!'


  1. Oh poor you, I'm so glad mine is fimished. You asked about my cooker it's a Belling FSE60DO and, although it isn't the quality of my previous Belling 600 e.g. the runners for the oven shelves are much more flimsy and there are only 2 instead of my previous 4 and the grill pan is smaller. However, it is really quiet, the grill works well, the top oven works well and I was really pleased with the even heat in the oven when baking the muffins.

    What a shame the cheesy whorls didn't work out, because the look great!

  2. Cheers Janice, will look that one up as I my shortlist seems to consist entirely of zanussi's. I notice that every cooker I look at only has two shelves these days - what's that all about? Also they all seem to have consistently small and flimsy grill pans, no matter how much you pay.

    I too thought the cheesy things looked pretty good, especially when sliced open revealing the nice spiral of death inside. I was still marvelling at the marbelling when my throat started to close up.

    I like the swiss roll way of finishing them off though and think that could be worthy of further experimentation - perhaps with some kind of fruit.

  3. Thanks for giving me a good giggle. Maybe these are herbs which are best added at the last minute, like parsley. Herb butters, perhaps?

  4. Lovage is a brute. Dig it out now before it's roots go down three metres. Called the Maggie plant because it's only use is to flavour soup, the smell of it made me ill. You have your culprit, now deal with it.
    Hyssop - used to flavour liqueur Benedictine, it's strong stuff. Lepers were bathed in Hyssop. Psalm 51 "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean" Not recommended if you are pregnant(!?).
    Sorrel. Now the juice from that would have been ideal for curdling your milk!

    Of the three sorrel is the only one I'd eat - in a omlette or as a sauce with pork. Now I'm hungry.

    (All the above are personal opinions)

  5. Is - cheers, I suspect they are too strong for herb butters, although the sorrel might work in conjunction with something more reliable like parsley.

    Mal - The lovage is in a pot as the main idea was always to use it as a companion plant that I could also use for the odd bit of cooking. I quite like the taste on its own and think it would probably be fine in a leafey salad. Like the idea of sorrel with pork.

  6. They look good enough, one of those cases of looks being deceiving then. I can totally sympathise on the kitchen front, I remember when we were having our's refitted, a nightmare which seems to go on for months.

  7. Dude this is so unfair. Its about 3.30 pm central US time and I'm starvin. I could eat one of these, they look so good. Sorry their looks deceived you....we learn from our mistakes (yeah whatever....) :-) off to the snack machine.....