Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Eggnog (a.k.a. booze custard)

So, we moved house. We moved house, and it was utterly horrendous.

In the month's preceding the move, everyone took great pleasure in telling me how it would be the most stressful experience of my life. "Ha", I laughed in their faces, "you pussies obviously haven't done A LEVELS! Don't harsh my moving vibes, man!". I concluded, with joyful optimism, that they were mistaken, that they were all overreacting pessimists. Yes, of course I expected it to be exhausting. I expected the heart palpitations which came with spending more money than I've ever even seen. I expected to want to slam Ben's head against a wall repeatedly throughout the whole experience. And I expected that I would roll out the "I've actually got a curved spine" line more than once. That's all par for the course. But what I didn't expect was:

- That the woman who previously owned the house wouldn't actually move out of it on the day of completion, despite the whole legally binding contract thing
- That the woman who previously owned the house would leave it full of dirt and rubbish and a load of stuff her removal men 'forgot' to collect
- That all that stuff would still be sitting in my shed, waiting for her friend - who occasionally pops round to tell us when he can't come and collect it - to come and collect it
- That the woman who previously owned the house would leave the key to the side gate in the lock of the side gate and not tell us till three days later, by which time it had gone
- That the woman who previously owned the house apparently consumed nothing but fish for the 16 years she lived here and it would take two weeks to get the smell of mackerel out of the walls
- Spiders. So many spiders
- That the woman who previously owned the house would entirely fill the bins with the wrong stuff so the bin men wouldn't take it away and subsequently we've not had our rubbish picked up for 3 weeks.  And that someone would then steal our bin...

I don't think all those things happened when you moved house, did they?  No.

What with all that palaver going on, I am not feeling very Christmassy. This is a problem because I LOVE christmas. I feel that Professional Christmas Celebration might be my true calling in life, if only I had a big enough kitchen, adorable children and an extensive selection of craft materials.  But at the moment this is how Christmas is going down in our house.

Whilst I could pretend that my stepladder tree is me being terribly avant-garde, I am in fact quite distraught at the lack of spruce and sparkles in my life. I want to make my own wreath; I want to make a Christmas cake that nobody will eat; I want to have remembered to send my Dad in Cyprus a card before it's so late that it won't get there till Easter. To be honest I'd settle for having bought a single fucking present. But I've done none of that. Instead I've sanded and scrubbed and pained, I've looked at 7001 wallpaper samples, I've cleared out my garage and ended up crying in the middle of the street because it turns out my bike won't fit in my car and I have now broken my car. Home-ownership sucks festive balls.

So, to try and rectify all this unintentional bah-humbuggery, I invited my friend Ruby round last weekend for eggnog and Christmas films. To be honest I had no idea what I was letting myself in for as I'd never actually had eggnog before, but it sounded appropriate. Until that point, the thought of egg in a drink had conjured up images of protein shakes and hangover cures, but what the world had neglected to tell me is that eggnog is basically BOOZE CUSTARD. Why had I not realised this sooner? Well, I got drunk on pudding and it was the best day of my life.

Kirstie Allsop is going to have to watch her back from now on - as I am going to be fucking ON IT for Christmas 2013 - but for now, for this year, I am going to sit back and get sloshed on custard. 

Eggnog (serves 4)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup double cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cloves
BOOZE (I used about two shots of Dissarono as I'm a girl, but you could use brandy or rum, which I think is more traditional)
Sprinkling of grated nutmeg

Whisk your egg yolks together with the sugar, till glossy and sticky, and put to one side. In a saucepan heat the milk, cream, cinnamon and cloves until it is just about to boil. Remove from the heat, and gradually pour onto the eggs, whisking as you go. Don't add too much at a time, or the eggs may scramble. Then return the mix to the heat for a couple of minutes to heat through again.  At this point the bastard stuff will probably curdle - because that's what custard does - but do not fear, just give it quick whizz in a blender (remember to remove the cloves) and it should be fine. Turn off the heat again and add booze, to your taste. Sprinkle on a little nutmeg with each serving. I believe the done thing is to then chill it and consume cold, but that requires some degree of patience....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Review: The Unthank Supper Club

You know the bit in Withnail and I where Withnail wakes up in the car and pronounces, "I feel like a pig shat in my head"?  Yeah. That. 

It's 7.30am on a Saturday (an entirely pointless hour, unless you have children), I've been awake for an hour - with the room feeling like the Titanic post-iceberg - and I've just eaten half a loaf of bread and butter to try and make myself feel less swirly. Ben - who is not troubled by the affliction of hangover insomnia - is still passed out upstairs, after elbowing me in the face at regular intervals throughout the night, and my companions for the morning are the Gilmore Girls.

Who's fault is my current state? You might say it's mine, for drinking all of the fucking wine, but I am holding on to the belief that it is entirely down to the Unthank Supper Club.

>It is now three weeks later. I had to give up after the above two paragraphs, as everything started to jump about the page. And then I moved house, which kind of got in the way<

You're all familiar with the concept of a supper club, yes? Well, just in case (before I go to teach my grandmother to suck some eggs) I'll give you a quick low-down. The idea is that someone (preferably with reasonable cooking skills) opens the doors of their home to paying guests and cooks them a lovely dinner, as an alternative to an expensive trip to a restaurant. You pay a fixed price, you bring your own booze, and it's generally a very relaxed, cosy affair.

I had only been to one supper club before this.  And in fact, whilst that called itself a supper club, it turned the concept completely upside down by actually being in the private room of a restaurant.  It was also one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, after I found myself sat next to the editor of Delicious magazine, totally starstruck.  When asked what my favourite thing to cook was I replied, dumbstruck, "Er, sausage and mash?".  SAUSAGE AND FUCKING MASH.  She said she'd contact me about a feature for the magazine.  She never did, obviously.

Anyway, the USC is more of your traditional super club affair, but it is by no means basic or unprofessional.  The club is the project of husband and wife, Clarissa and Yusuf (Yusuf is a professional chef and Clarissa a very good home cook), whom I stumbled upon through the glorious internet. I'd been googling Norwich supper clubs, as a bit of research, and it turns out they are the only one. Clarissa and I ended up getting in touch through twitter, then ended up in the pub together, and from there on we've been nattering away about utter nonsense and helping each other argue with our other halves.

So that probably makes me a bias reviewer, right?  Not really. I'm a blunt bastard, so I'd probably tell them if I hated it, but that makes it all the more of a relief that it was great. And I got fantastically sloshed, which is always a positive, but I can't say it has been entirely helpful to the reviewing process. I have always thought that I would quite like to be a restaurant critic (wouldn't we all), but I have now realised the major downfall - you have to be relatively sober if you want to be able to comment efficiently. There are large sections of the evening which will be lost to me forever. Particularly the row that Ben and I had on the way home and what the hell it was about.  And also someone's hilarious comment about custard, which I was determined to commit to memory, but nope, poof, gone.

The USC takes place at the beautiful, grand house of one of Clarissa's friends.  It's a monthly affair, and they squeeze in about 25 people on a long banqueting table. £30, 4 courses (plus truffles, but C was quite drunk herself by this point and left them on top of the piano, which meant we got to eat them when everyone else had left) and you bring your own booze. Clarissa goes to great pains before the evening to reassure everyone that the club it is NOTHING to do with swinging, and I'm happy to report that nobody tried to touch me inappropriately (I left my car keys at home just in case).

So what did we eat? For an amuse-bouche (I LOVE SAYING AMUSE-BOUCHE) we had cauliflower three ways with charred apple. Unfortunately I can only remember two of the ways - but it was basically a cauliflower soup with some shavings of raw cauliflower and toasty apple. Yum yum, lovely. A delicate little portion, well seasoned and balanced flavours, with a garnish of sorrel, which C had gone and foraged that morning (yeah, it's OK, I gave her a stern look for being so bloody wholesome and annoying), and she severely berated anyone who left it. 

Next we had a starter of citrus cured smoked salmon with shallot and fennel ceviche. I am not the biggest fan of smoked salmon, but I wolfed this down in about ten seconds. The sharpness and crunch of the ceviche balanced out the richness of the salmon, and again the portion size was just right, as I was still ready to eat a horse by the time the main came.

But it wasn't horse, it was lamb. With salt-baked celeriac, celeriac puree, greens and a creamy sauce.  I must admit things got a bit hazy by this point, but I KNOW it was good. Lamb was perfectly cooked, and there were pureed carbs, which are basically my favourite thing.  I think it was one of those occasions where I ate the fat and gristle, because I have no class. 

(I think one of those blobs may be accidental, Yusuf?)

Pudding was a treacle tart with creme anglaise (posh custard to you and me). The tart was really fucking good.  You can tell I liked it, as I forgot to take a photo until I'd nearly finished it. Clarissa came over and told us how it wasn't a traditional treacle tart, as it had panko breadcrumbs on top. Ben asked what the difference between regular and panko breadcrumbs was, and together we laughed in his face at his culinary ineptitude (whilst I desperately hoped that Clarissa would explain as I didn't have a clue either). They're Japanese apparently.

The only thing which we didn't like was a little shard of nut brittle with the pudding.  It was a bit challenging for the ol' fillings and I think it had been slightly over-caramelised.  I had to come up with one criticism, otherwise Clarissa and Yusuf might get too big for their boots and move somewhere trendy to open a restaurant or something. But that's it, that's all I can come up with. 

Asides from the excellent food you can also expect such party tricks as a dog who eats wine corks and has been known to pick-pocket the guests, and Clarissa's ability to tell you your exact clothing measurements with a brief glance at you. She used to be a costume designer and can also tell you impressive celebrity stories. She wouldn't give me Alan Davies' number though, which was most disappointing.

So, in conclusion (I remember when writing school essays they always said you couldn't write 'in conclusion' in your conclusion, but I'm not in school now, so in your face, teachers), I had a wonderful time and will definitely be returning. I recommend googling supper clubs in your area, or checking this one out if you're a Norwich bod. Yeah, there is an initial moment of awkwardness with all the 'so what do you do?'s and trying to work out who you're sitting next to, but one glass of wine in and you're swell. It's cheap, it's sociable, and it's supporting good people doing good things locally. Go, google, now. 

For more details on the Unthank Supper Club, you can visit their blog or follow them on twitter.

Monday, 3 December 2012


You might have noticed it's a bit quiet around here.  Actually you might not have noticed, you might think this is entirely in-keeping with the sporadic nature of Sod Nigella, in which case....pfffft, that's just the sort of lazy wild, free-living soul I am.

Anyway, my excuse is that we've moved house and those helpful little bastards at BT have said the earliest they can install my broadband is 7th January.....HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Kill me.

I am working from the pub this week - a challenge on every level - so hopefully I'll slip in a post from here.  In the meantime, my life looks like this, pity me.