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Thrice cooked chips: one time too many?

This post originally appeared on Laugh Lots, Travel Often.

Has anyone else noticed the prolific rise in the "thrice cooked chip"?

This little bad boy is usually cooked three ways by par boiling, deep frying, and then deep frying again just to make sure it's really done.

Allegedly, this produces a "near perfect" chip - fluffy on the inside and crispy and tasty on the outside.

Now I admit, I haven't tried to produce these at home. The day I deep fry anything in my kitchen will mark the start of a year long complaint-fest which my poor partner will have to put up with on a daily basis when I enter the kitchen and declare that I can still smell the grease in the air and feel it underfoot. So maybe, just maybe, I haven't experienced the triple cooked wonder at it's very peak - straight out of the fryer and into my, soon to be burnt, greedy mouth.

But I'm going to tell you what I think anyway.

I think the thrice cooked chip has been cooked...one too many times *insert gasps of horror here*. Possibly even two too many times (I hope none of you have fainted in shock at this stage).

Maybe the few minutes it takes to plate up the mega fry and get it out to you, added to the two minutes it takes to make sure everyone you're dining with has their meals and are ready to dig in, does something significantly detrimental to the chip quality.  But let's be honest - if the likes of top restaurants can't get it right, what hope do we have of producing something magical at home?

The perfect chip, I present to you dear readers, is not just cripsy! NO! It is the perfect balance of soggy and crispy. They are not too greasy, hold the right amount of salty flavoursome goodness, and the presence of both soggy and crispy parts allows you to enjoy each in comparison - much like the perfect union of salty and sweet we find in chocolate and peanut butter.

To date, every triple cooked chip I've had has had no where near the right amount of soggy to crispy ratio. They are waaaaay too crispy - the kind of "we've sat in a heated fish and chip store counter unit waiting for someone to buy us for the last two hours" crispy - and they pretty much always leave a greasy coating in your mouth.

So I'm starting a campaign. To bring back normal chips. I don't care if you're a gastropub, michelin hatted, or just the local chip shop. Keep it simple and you'll keep people coming back. If you really want to get crazy, throw a little chicken salt on for flavour. But please...don't discriminate against the soggy. You know you want it.

Hanging with the commoners

Yesterday we headed to buzzing Clapham Common (along with hundreds of other Londoners soaking up the sunshine) to meet friends for lunch. I train on the common with British Military Fitness, so there are days when I hate my stumble there, when I've forced myself out of bed and I'm still half asleep. But winter or summer, awake or sleepwalking, the common is a beautiful place to have three minutes from your doorstep.

We took advantage of the roof terrace at The Frog for a lazy Sunday lunch.

Grilled prawn, beetroot and rocket salad

Roast lamb

Followed by gelato at Nardulli - where the lining the outdoor pavement queue was handled super efficiently by staff dispensing cones and cups full of creamy goodness. We can definitely recommend chocolate, after eight, baci and hazlenut.

It felt just like we were on holiday!

Smile and the world smiles with you

Facebook statuses, twitter updates and blog posts this week must have abounded with the news that summer has finally arrived in London. While there are lots of reasons I stay in this often gloomy city, the fact remains that as soon as the sun is out everyone, everywhere and everything just blossoms - and there really is no better place to be.

So this week was picnics

and drinking on the streets

enjoying the southbank walk

Dream big & smile

Just chillin' on this here lounge of sand I made

and dressing up for a PE house party (more worryingly, the CG couldn't stop raving about how comfortable his short shorts were - not cool man).

I finally tried St John restaurant - very unimpressed. While the dining room was full, the cooking style was super traditional and the flavours just didn't marry together at all. Cucumber overpowered mussels, and frankly I'd expect a little more from roasted lamb at £18. My rabbit was pretty boring, so all in all, considering the best part of the meal was the side of greens - would not recommend.

Mussels daily special

Potted pork and rabbit

Rabbit saddle, chard and mustard

Roast lamb

We also stopped off at Cha Cha Moon for a little afternoon snack - really generous portions for a decent price, so a good noodle bar option, and definitely more interesting than the likes of Wagamama.

Cha Cha Mooli

Veggie spring rolls

Sticky marinated chicken

And now that the CG has crawled out of bed suffering from post party memory loss, I'm off to torture him with stories of his inappropriate behaviour (never let the truth get in the way of a good story right?) and to enjoy a pub lunch in the sunshine with friends!

Book & Blook Club

My book club is failing, dismally. The last three attempts have gone a little like this: 

  • Everyone agrees on a date
  • Follow up email fails to keep all current contact details on the list, so at least two people end up not knowing when and where we are meeting
  • The day of book club rolls around and 5 to 6 people pull out due to various ailments and work commitments
  • 3 to 4 people get together to have a meal and not talk about the book
If I'm being honest, the last point was kind of always the way we ran book club anyway, with lashings of wine and cocktails, but with a few more people.

In any case, if you're looking for a book, here are my round ups of the last three books we've read:

David Mitchell
The most disturbing, gory in a horrible childbirth way, opening of any book I've read, this book managed to maintain quite a bit of the shock factor throughout. Really well entwined Dutch and Japanese perspectives made it an interesting insight into both the 17th century and  the opposing cultures. Read it if: you don't mind if love stories don't have happy endings.

Dodie Smith
It was on the classics list so it had to be done. It's a nice, easy read with some real characters - but they can be polarising. Quite an insight into the way women perceived themselves, and I'm guessing in a lot of ways, still do. Read it if: you enjoy the teenage perspective on life.

John Irving
Strangely compelling, the book is told in past and present and I have to admit I was really engaged in the past story, wanting to know more, but I sped read through the sections in the present as I found them overly descriptive and an unwelcome break from the "real" story. Read it if: you  enjoy vivid descriptions, and you don't mind reading in capitals (rest assured, not the whole book is capitalised!).

Real life book club aside, there's a pretty brilliant initiative that has been kicked off by the clever Zoe of Conversation Pieces. It's called Blook Club - which is very cleverly bloggers + books. 

So I'm racing to catch up on their reading list and have just started on Super Sad True Love Story which I'm finding fascinating so far. I'm intrigued by the idea of a futuristic society where people know everything about you, where you can be publicly ranked in attractiveness against every other person in a bar (potentially soul destroying), and where ageing is considered an almost repellent idea. I can't wait to see where it goes...

Lunch at Dinner

The CG and I swapped date night for date day yesterday, and headed to Heston Blumenthal's Dinner for a long Sunday lunch. 

I really liked the concept of the history behind the dishes, and we both had starters adapted from recipes from the 18th century which were delicious - they looked almost messy on plate when they arrived, with individual components being difficult to identify, but the flavours were amazing.


Hay Smoked Mackerel

Mains were fine, but not incredible, but I think this is mainly down to the fact that they weren't as different as the other courses available. They were what you'd expect to find in any good restaurant.

Black Foot Pork Chop

Fillet of Aberdeen Angus

But the tipsy cake for dessert - a kind of sugared brioche with two hour spit roasted pineapple - was definitely the highlight of the meal. 

Tipsy cake

Special mention goes to the faultless service - with at least five different wait staff attentively making sure we never had to lift a hand to get attention for anything. 

And as for date days instead of nights? A definite winner.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Immerse yourself

One of my super thoughtful girlfriends organised a birthday present for me this year that she knew I'd be intrigued by: immersive theatre with audience participation (and that's not just because I'm a drama queen). So on Friday night we headed to "watch" Babel in Caledonian Park. 

I won't give too much away in case you're thinking of going, but I can assure you it was pretty eerie to start with. As you wind your way through the park your mind is racing, trying to work out the meaning of what you're seeing, ad trying to find patterns that might make sense.

All in all, the story itself was a bit of an anticlimax, but the idea behind the experience was excellent. Oddly, it really made me want to organise a how to host a murder party.

Sunday shoe shopping

Shopping partner extraordinaire Miss J and I soaked up the spring sunshine today and pretended that we really belonged in Chelsea. I realised that time was running out before we head to NYC, and I needed wedding shoes for my dress fitting, stat. 

So here's the thing: Sloane Street, lovely. Not too many people, wide paths to walk on, picture perfect houses and private gardens to admire. But what is with the lack of Sunday openings? Clearly these mega designers don't need to worry about catering to people who actually work Monday to Friday. 

And here's another thing: Harvey Nichols customer service. Seriously good, in so many departments, on so many levels. But completely undermined by the one sour faced lady working at their bright and airy 5th floor cafe, who clearly lacked the ability to smile, and told me no photos were allowed. I'm sorry? You're not a Michelin starred establishment (and even then I'd have something to say). What are you worried about? Someone copying your signage? It should not be that hard to be friendly - and a smile really doesn't cost you anything. Well, I hope it pains her to know we had a great time anyway.

And as for the wedding shoes...so many options, so little money....

The times, they are a changing

As soon as I uttered the words "Ibiza with a bunch of 24 year olds? Why not!" it seems that my London family set about pointing out exactly why I shouldn't be going. Of course, they didn't know that they were, god love them. 

It all began last night when I went for cocktails at the top of the Gherkin, where I agreed to a hens party in Devon ("why not!" seems to be a pretty popular refrain with me right now), then proceeded to get wildly drunk while catching up with some travel buddies from South America and agreed that a four day bender in Ibiza  was a brilliant idea (I'm still standing by this for now).

Cut to lunch today with my fabulous London family. My recently engaged mate heralds us with the news of their pregnancy - brilliant, exciting news which had me squealing - but boy, I did not see that coming. Two of my other mates rock up having purchased their first home. A visiting mate from up North admits that they're not not trying to have kids, and it's looking a lot like true love for one of the (until recently) remaining singles. All of this over burgers and salt & pepper squid.

Yep, the inevitable has occurred. For so long I've lived in London in a bubble of escapism - pretending that I don't have to grow up. But the bubble is looking like it might burst pretty soon. And that may not be a bad thing.

But in the meantime, the CG and I agree that we should continue making the most of our commitment-free London life. In fact, that we should probably ramp up our appreciation of our carefree lifestyle. So here's to our new (old) life...for now.

Crispy three veg

This post originally appeared on Laugh Lots, Travel Often.

The last time I cooked steak was on my BBQ when I still lived in Oz. In 2007. Not because I don't like steak, but because I adore steak - and with no BBQs to hand in London, I want it to be melt in the mouth restaurant perfect instead of out of my pan average.

But this is the year of saving between trips home, to NYC and our wedding and honeymoon, so I bit the bullet recently and decided to make us a treat meal to make up for our reduced dining out agenda.

To accompany our steak, I made a nifty little side veg which is actually great for impressing as it looks a lot more fancy than it is.

Preheat oven to 200°C / 390°F. In separate bowls, peel into slithers with a vegetable peeler:
  • 1 large potato

  • 1 sweet potato

  • 2 parsnips

Mix together:
  • 50g of melted butter

  • 40g grated parmesan

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of dried thyme

  • sea salt

  • cracked black pepper

Divide equally over each of the veg, and toss to combine. Flatten each veg into two piles on a tray lined with baking paper. You want to make them as flat as space allows, so they really crisp up.

Cook for 20 - 25 minutes and voila! Easy peasy super tasty, super crispy veg (poor little parsnip - wasn't quite as much of him as the other two so he was a little more well done...still delicious though!).

Original recipe from Donna Hay.
  • Total time to mouth: 40 minutes (I'm not the quickest peeler)

  • Man rating: 7.5 / 10