Al Dente: Muffins and Fish Sandwiches with The Who

I’m still making my way through those three cookery books I got for Christmas, focusing today on Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals and Simply Good Brea</em>d by Peter Sidwell, and it’s brilliant. I’ve never felt so able before, never felt so capable of trying new things, pushing my culinary luck. Don’t worry, I’m under no illusions that what I make is pretty. It isn’t. I take those ‘does it look like the book?’ shots at the end of these pieces as much to make sure it’s the right colour.
Top tip; if the food changes colour after you’ve cooked it, it’s probably a good sign. As long as that colour isn’t black. And smoking. Unless, of course, you’re making coffee or things involve squid ink (I’ve had squid ink pasta. It’s pretty nice.) or…I’ve got off track.
The thing is though, I’m a firm believer in the principle of getting the basics down, and right, and instinctive and then going for the froo-froo. You could build a conservatory without a house next to it but it would look like a large, glass tent. You could decide you could do heart surgery based on the fact you’ve seen every episode of ER, but you’ll probably get arrested and, you could serve things on wooden boards and feed your family in your idyllic kitchen whilst down the road High Fernley-Whittingstall works out how to whittle pate, in town Gordon Ramsay discovers that he can cook meat just by radiating hate near it and Nigella Lawson does…something…terribly refined…and lovely.


Or you could push yourself, accept it won’t be pretty but also accept that chances are it’ll taste pretty good. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to fish sandwiches with mushy peas. Let’s broaden our minds, Victor!

So let’s make some muffins.

Wait, what, really?

Yes! Because I could go and buy some bread from the shop for the fish and it’ll taste nice, and it’ll last a couple of days and it’ll be so DULL. These days you need to commit your child to a religious faith to afford fresh bread and the vacuum packed stuff tastes like despair, if despair had yeast in it, so, thanks to our new Breadmaker (And to my lovely parents! Thank you!), we now make our own bread. And, if like me you hear the 11th Doctor in your head from time to time, yes, we make bread now and yes, breadmaking’s cool.
That’s a whole different blog post though so for now, let’s go through the usual suspects for the oven bottom muffins I want to make. These aren’t, in fact, the blueberry/ginger/bran varieties that Starbucks will somehow claim back as stationary on their tax returns when you buy them.
If they did any TAX RETURNS THAT IS! Satire and sandwiches! Piscine politics! I am the weaver!

So what have we got here? Aside from motion blur?

-Strong white bread flour

Like Bagels, and I cannot wait to make Bagels, these are very chewy, fluid-heavy pieces of bread. They’re also pretty simply to make, even without the Breadmaker, which I used.
In fact, I’m not sure they are. So how about this? How about the next time I make these I don’t use the Breadmaker and report back? Politics, Journalism AND sandwiches! How you like me, NOW? James Martin?!


Anyway, the muffins. 500g of strong white flour, a small teaspoon of salt, 50 milliliters of yoghurt, 250 milliliters of milk and some yeast, on the dough setting, spat this out.

I then rolled out to a sheet about 1.5 centimeters thick and cut into discs, using the tiny little 1 CUP pan that I normally use for measurements. I then heated the frying pan, popped the little chaps on there four or five at a time and waited.

After a couple of minutes I turned them over and, as I watched, they expanded in the heat from the pan. After a couple more minutes I took them out, put them in the oven at 170 degrees Celsius for two MC Frontalot songs and put the next load in. Then, they too, went in the oven.

Then, I tried one.

Then this played.


Not the short version they use for the CSI: New York theme and it wasn’t the full version because my brain knew we didn’t have an hour or so spare. No, just forty seconds and these lyrics:

Out here in the fields,
I’ll fight for my meals,
I’ll put my back into my living,
I don’t need to fight, to prove I’m right,
I don’t need to be forgiven

They looked like muffins I’ve bought. They were tall and puffy and floury on both sides and a little burnt so they were crusty, but not so burnt they tasted like charcoal and they looked…right. Something I’d made, looked right. About twenty years ago, my first Home Economics class saw me take in a pack of veggie sausages, a tin of tomatoes and some cheese. I put the sausages in a dish, poured the tomatoes over the top, grated the cheese and said I’d do the rest later.
And I’d just made muffins. That looked like the ones I bought.
I actually got a little emotional. I’ve been an enthusiastic eater, and heater, of food for years but there’s a difference between that and cooking, or baking. I’d taken disparate ingredients, done stuff to them and they’d come out, really well. It had worked, and I’m really not used to that. They looked good, they looked RIGHT. My back was officially put into my living, the detectives and CSUs of New York would dissect my muffins using science and ambient/techno incidental music. It had worked. I should get used to that happening, but, I don’t really want to. What can I say, I like being pleasantly surprised.

Now, let’s talk about mushy peas. I’m a newcomer to Nottingham, and one of the things that interests me is that mushy peas are very much a thing here. So much so that in the covered market in town there’s a mushy pea bar, where you buy tubs of them with mint sauce, which were also sold at the Christmas market, the Goose Fair and basically everywhere people have been looking for both hot, fried food and rides to puke hot, fried food all over. I like mushy peas, I always have done, but, in this area, I am alone.
Margeurite does not favour mushy peas. Marguerite in fact aggressively does not like mushy peas. Or peas of any sort which aren’t sugarsnap or still in the pod. Partially it’s a hold over from her child hood and partially because, as she put it, ‘Why would you DO that?!’
A quick aside; Marguerite is fantastic company going round supermarkets, firstly because a lot of what she sees is completely new and secondly because, having grown up in the land of sun and flavor, she views certain elements of British cuisine with a combination of pity and gastronomic outrage. It was thanks to her I realized ASDA actually has a ‘Tea and Biscuits’ aisle and was still marveling at this when she sighed and said;

‘Someone has got to teach you people about coffee.’

I turned around to see her staring at the vacuum packed, granulated ‘coffee’ that covered one entire shelf unit like a gigantic dusty monolith of disappointment and led her away before she began arranging relief drops from Starbucks. Which, of course, they could claim as a tax writeoff.



Mushy peas. Victor, suspects please?

Thanks Victor. So we have:

-Frozen peas. Beloved of all gumshoes who just got roughed up by Big Vinnie but can’t afford a steak.
-A potato.

Okaaaay. You have my attention, if nothing else, Jamie. So, chop the potato, put it in boiling water with the peas and give it 15 to 20 minutes.

After that, drain them so they look like this:

And then? Destroy them. This is the most fun thing I have ever immersion blended, for two reasons. Firstly, I’m not doing the culinary equivalent of chopping down a Redwood with a toothpick and secondly because it’s so fast! And it turns green! Pretty much instantly! So blend the crap out of it for a second then chop up and dump some mint leaves in there and blend again! Cackle maniacally as you do so should you wish. I did. It looks like this when you’re done:

Then put it in a bowl and prepare to reheat it later.

Now, a short word about the two things I didn’t do with this meal. The first is add any form of potato-based carbokrieg. I didn’t do this out of health, I did it because I forgot. Next time there’ll be sweet potato wedges sprayed with olive oil and roasted, should work a treat.

Secondly, the Tartar sauce. Marguerite has a hack for this which is very, very simple;
-Chopped pickles.


So with one element missing, one element done and a third prepped, it was time to…cook the fish!
I rolled them in flour, salt and cayenne pepper (Well, I say rolled, more…HURLED with the pepper) and heated the colossal iron skillet we have with some vegetable oil in the bottom. So, the fish started looking like this:

Then, I dropped them in the skillet and sprinkled a little parmesan, and motion blur, over them.

And then, we were done. A little cress shredded (And by shredded I mean ripped, Hulk-like, from the tissue paper) and it’s time for the ‘Does it look like?’ picture. Hit it, Victor!

You know what? I’m happy with that. Yes, Jamie’s are all orange and beautiful and he’s serving them on a piece of the Marie Celeste, but he’s Jamie Oliver. He’s a fantastically talented chef with a deep seated love for social change and I’m the guy reading his book wearing my old Judo club hoodie. He SHOULD have pretty food, because otherwise Sainsburys will Number 6 his ass up to Portmeirion with Delia to be chased across the bay by weather balloons whilst frantically fonduing. Go on, my son. Or whatever you cockneys say.
Me? I just need it to taste nice. Which it really, really did. The fish was watery and soft and lovely, the batter was perfect and the muffins, whilst a little chewy were…real. They were real actual things I’d made that looked like something I’d make in a shop. It was brilliant, and I look forward to making them again.

Things I learned:
-My joy at muffins not being a gastronomic lie can get me to excited to finish baking them. They came out really well, but five more minutes and they’d have been even better. Or to put it another way, looks like this scheme…(Sunglasses on), was a little…UNDER DONE


-A slightly cooler pan will actually cook the fish better. Again, tasted great, but if I want that lovely orange color, I need the pan to chill out. Literally.
-Mushy peas are an asshole. Seriously. The stuff looked great but it tasted like pea-flavoured minty toothpaste.

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