August Underground’s chicken

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FOOD & DRINK

As someone who doesn’t go out much, I have to be inventive if I want to. Having few people to socialise with, I sometimes take real life visitors out in my virtual worlds. So when my kid sister needed some menu ideas, I took her to August Underground’s Diner, a place I invented in Islington…

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Mine is a themed restaurant, a tribute to cult, horror and sci-fi movies. Various film memorabilia, props and costumes are dotted around, and the place is staffed by cosplay actors.

It’s a subterranean affair on a small industrial park, a short walk from my Unfinished Literary Agency above Hotblack Desiato’s office in Upper Street, N1. Originally a venue I created to address some personal issues, I’ve adapted it since to help others. I cook a lot for myself back home, and for my sister (Courtney), so when she asked me for some of my recipes, the easiest place to bring her was here, for when she can’t come round to my place, and has to cook for herself.

I’ve had my favourite booth converted, so that I can demonstrate my recipes by cooking them at the table. Although we won’t be requiring the chefs tonight, we’re nonetheless shown to our table by chief hellraiser, Pinhead. I write down the ingredients I need for this recipe, he sticks it on a pin and heads for the kitchen.

PAN-SEARED POACHED CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI

Seared poached chicken2

Ingredients:
Chicken breast fillet (skinless)
Purple sprouting stem broccoli
Cooking oil
Butter (salted)
Salt and pepper

Originally a carnivorous establishment, as my dining habits have changed, so have the menus at August Underground. Most of the food now is vegetarian, and the fewer meat dishes are free-range. I usually cook this for myself, and Courtney needs to learn to do the same, so this is a recipe for one.

Once Pinhead returns with my ingredients, I fire up a pan over a medium-high heat and pre-heat the oven to 190c. I also lay out a sheet of foil (about A4 size) ready for the second stage of cooking. The two-cook method first seals the meat in the pan, locking in the juices, which then steam the meat at the poaching stage. So there’s less to do, I season the pan with a good grind of salt and pepper at this point.

I heat a teaspoon of vegetable or sunflower oil in the pan, and fry the chicken for about 5 minutes either side. Half way through I add a knob of butter to the pan and fry 3 or 4 broccoli stems, shaking the pan to coat them with butter. I end up with chicken which is sealed and browned on the outside, and broccoli which is charred.

I tip the contents of the pan (cooking juices too) onto the foil and close it loosely (like a purse, or a pasty), leaving a small gap at the end for excess steam to escape. The parcel then goes into the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes to poach.

I serve this dish with either gravy (sometimes adding a Yorkshire pudding) or cheese sauce (pictured above). For the cheese option, I use shop-bought stuff: Plonk some chunks of strong Cheddar in for more cheesiness, and heat it in the microwave.

People would pay a tenner for that in a gastro pub but my diner is virtual, so Courtney pays and now knows how to cook this for herself.

The original August Underground’s Diner review is in my second collection of short stories, The Unfinished Literary Agency.

Micro Kitchen Marvels

23.04.15 (Day 487 / 44)

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The half kitchen is now half-equipped, as you would expect half a kitchen to be. For the purposes of this and future food blogging, I shall list at the outset the equipment I have at my disposal and which I will be using to prepare meals. If you aspire to be just like me, this is what you will need. In all likelihood, you will aspire to more but for students, those recently released from prison and who’ve been homeless and now find themselves with limited means and budgets, here’s what we have:

A microwave oven
A kettle
A toaster
Microwave roasting bags
A microwave browning plate
A blow torch

That is the extent of my kitchen: very much a work in progress but for now, that’s what we have and that’s what we’ll use.

Before leaving the bedsit part of the flat and descending to the half kitchen, I need to select some mood music to accompany my preparation and enhance my dining experience. New arrivals into the CD collection today are Polly Paulusma, Leona Naess, more Imogen Heap, Frau Frau, Florence and The Machine, Cradle of Filth and Emiliana Torrini. I shall take the latter down to the kitchen.

You now join me and Emiliana live the kitchen, where we shall prepare tonight’s microwave wonder: corned beef cottage pie. To do this, we have the following:

Two large potatoes, unpeeled
One tin corned beef
One tin diced, mixed vegetables
Gravy granules
A picture of what it should / could look like:

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This meal serves one. Emiliana isn’t eating as she’s too busy singing.

Microwave the potatoes on full power for 10-15 minutes, so that a sharp knife will pass through them. If you really can’t be bothered to take this any further, at this stage, you have perfectly usable jacket potatoes. If you can be arsed to carry on though, allow the potatoes to cool for a while, then slice them in half and scrape out the filling. This will be our mash and the skins can be set aside for snacks of loaded potato skins another time. If you have a fridge – me and Emiliana don’t – you can add butter and milk if you wish but the scraped out mash has a nice baked flavour.

Boil a kettle and make some gravy using the granules: about four teaspoons to make a cup of thick gravy.

Remove the corned been from the tin and mash it up. Drain the tinned vegetables and mix them with the corned beef in a microwave dish. Pour over the gravy and spread the mashed potato on top. Season to taste. This microwave cooking lark may not produce the best looking dishes in the world but they are tasty and the seasoning is crucial.

Set the whole thing aside and it’s ready for re-heating in the microwave any time to want it: about 4-5 minutes on full power.

For a more authentic / appetising look, run a blow torch over the top and it’ll look something like the one in the picture.

A knife, Fork and Spoon in the Road

21.04.15 (Day 485 / 42)

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There is a for in the road, for things could go either way at the moment.

In short, I’m behind on the rent and I’m not kidding myself this time when I say that it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the same authorities I’ve fought for the last fifteen months.

When I completed my housing application form, I stated in all honesty that some of the rooms in this little new chez moi were shared, because they sometimes are, with visiting family. The tenancy on this place though is for my sole occupation of the flat. I’m being paid for the former by the council but being asked for the latter by the landlord. It should all be resolved soon but until it is, even though I’m fully settled with everything in place, I don’t feel that I can settle with doubt hanging over me. I honestly don’t think I’ll be evicted but the uncertainty is something which is bound to play on my mind. And make me more unwell. Stress makes a person suffering chronic depression more depressed, as does the ongoing battle to be recognised as being mentally ill for the purposes of claiming PIP. That claim dates back to February last year and is a great savings pot if it’s ever released. Now I have to go to tribunal to prove that I’m a bit mental. But mental illness is invisible. I know how it feels sometimes.

I’ve stopped the cleaning which was financing my bar bill as the host pub needs to cut costs. So I’m confined to my bedsit within the flat, which suits me as it’s where I want to be as there are sometimes some real tools in the bar downstairs. I hated the cleaning to be honest but it was a means to an end, made worthwhile by the daily visits from the postman bearing goods which I’d ordered online while I still had money. Now I get to stay up late, smoke lots, write more and sleep in most mornings.

The only interruptions are the visitors to the bar downstairs, wanting to see me. I like being visited but wish that some were by prior arrangement. It costs me money to have guests, as every time I descend to the bar, I feel obliged to buy a drink and some visitors expect to have a drink bought for them.

I’m ranting and digressing. I needed to get things off of my chest, so that I can move on, which is what I thought I was doing for forty two days. Today is day forty two of being in my little place and all of the above aside, I truly love it. It really is me. Once a living space is aesthetically pleasing from all angles, it is truly home and somewhere one can feel comfortable.

So the fork in the road concerning security is one which will hopefully go in the right direction. My rent on the place has been built into the business plan, so hopefully that’s not a knife drawn for me downstairs. All of these responsibilities are ones which I’ve not had to deal with for the last fifteen months, having not had a home. I will do my best to keep the place though and continue to be spoon-fed by those who continue to support me. A quick hello to the two best mates, the two sisters and the two daughters then.

Now it’s all about putting the fights behind me and hoping that I’ve done enough to keep myself going here. There’s no point worrying, so I shall try not to dwell, concentrating instead on my writing and food.

On the writing front, I’ve signed the contract with a magazine publisher and my short stories are going into print. The first novel is selling in modest numbers on Amazon and I’m receiving royalty payments for everything. We’re talking pennies though. But I won’t give up on the writing, nor the cooking.

With the loss of the cleaning income, the absence of PIP, the underpayment of housing benefit and the limited equipment available in the kitchen of the flat, food has had to be frugal and creative. Pending the arrival of a cooker, I am limited to a microwave and a slow cooker for the preparation of meals. I surprise even myself sometimes though with what can be conjured up on a budget and less than half a kitchen. But there are many others in a situation similar to mine and as I’ve always shared things when I have them and helped people out, so I will continue and as I experiment and hit upon things which work, I’ll share those as well.

So for the food part of this blog, I’ll assume that most people don’t have a slow cooker and only possess a microwave. Microwave roasting bags are available, as are coated, non-metallic plates for browning food. Get those and you’re rarely likely to need a proper oven and many in my position will only have a microwave anyway. We’re back in the eighties and I’ll assume my readers have a toaster and a kettle. If not, all three can be procured from Argos for under fifty quid and will take up little room in the corner of a completely self-sufficient bedsit. And toaster bags are easy to come by for heating things from the outside rather than the inside. Assuming the bedsitter only has a microwave, kettle and toaster though and not the roasting bags and plates, or the toaster bags, here’s a simple variant on bacon and eggs for breakfast tomorrow:

You can have the eggs poached, scrambled, or baked in ramekins. Scrambled is simplest, so we’ll do that for tomorrow:

Serves one, living alone in a bedsit:

Beat 2-3 eggs together in a cup. Season to taste with salt and pepper but dried herbs and spices are good to add if there are any in the store cupboard. Add half an eggshell full of milk per egg if you have milk in a fridge. Otherwise, prepare some instant milk in advance by adding powdered milk to boiling water and allowing to cool. The milk can be omitted though. Also if you have a fridge, add a knob of butter. The eggs can be cooked without milk or butter in any case.

Some people find it surprising to learn that bacon can be cooked from raw in a microwave. I learned this from Marco Pierre White: three rashers at full power for two and a half minutes will give you well cooked – though not crispy – bacon. Put the cup containing the beaten eggs on a plate with the bacon and your bacon and eggs will cook together. Serve with toast and a tea or coffee, using your toaster and kettle respectively.

The point is, with a bit of imagination and ingenuity, and with limited means financially and equipment-wise, a lot of things are possible. As with all other cooking, the key is in not being afraid to experiment.

Enjoy breakfast courtesy of me sometime. I’ll be experimenting in my limited kitchen and brining you new recipes when I come up with them. For now, your food blogger is retiring to the half kitchen to fuck around. Jack Monroe, eat your heart out.

Home-made Chicken and Celery Pie

From the Restaurant at Home menu, this is one we knocked up for a customer last night:

At our disposal we had roast chicken left over from the previous night’s roast dinner and the freedom to use whatever we could find in their kitchen.

First we made a short crust pastry, using three parts plain flour to one part self-raising. We added cubes of butter – around half the weight of the flour – and mixed it all together to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Then we refrigerated the mixture for fifteen minutes. Next we added water gradually and mixed it all up with a wooden spoon to make the basic pastry dough and chilled that for a further fifteen minutes. Then using more flour, we rolled it out and lined our greased baking tins, before blind baking the bases of the pies.

Next we added the left over chicken and stuffing and added some cooked celery, dried basil and oregano, salt and pepper:

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To make a sauce, we simply used chicken gravy granules and made a thick gravy, to which we added a dessert spoon of Worcestershire sauce and a teaspoon of yeast extract:

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Then we added the lids, crimped the edges of the pies, scored them, coated them with egg wash and baked them. Et, voila:

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Rustic, admittedly but served like that in a gastro pub, in their dishes, a money-grabbing proprietor would have you for a tenner each: we won’t.

So we simply used left overs, together with a few other things in the kitchen and worked some magic. We cooked, we served and we done the dishes.

The Wimbledon Cocktail

From the Restaurant at Home cocktail menu:

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Fed up with the cold weather, our Chef Director wanted a reminder of Summer. He came up with this. It’s part alcoholic cocktail, part dessert and part sugar rush:

Pour a bottle of flavoured cider into a large glass. It can be any flavour but for the authentic Wimbledon cocktail, obviously strawberry is best. Leave plenty of room in the glass as we’re adding ice cream.

Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This will fizz quite a bit.

Et voila: alcoholic strawberries and cream.

Boxing Day Turkey Baguette

Boxing Day Turkey Baguette

From the Restaurant at Home sandwich menu.

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Still stuffed with Christmas Day turkey? Loads left over and wondering what to do with it? For something slightly different, try our hot turkey baguette:

Cut the turkey into goujon-sized pieces and coat in plain flour. For a little more decadence, make our southern fried chicken coating of plain flour, salt, pepper and other herbs of your choice, such as dried parsley, basil, garlic, hot paprika and so on. Coat the turkey pieces first in the flour, then in beaten eggs and again in the flour.

Fry the turkey in a little oil for five to ten minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, heat as many baguettes as you have mouths to feed in an oven. Alternatively, use part-baked baguettes.

Place the turkey pieces in an oven-proof dish, switch the oven off and place the dish containing the turkey in the oven to keep warm in the residual heat.

Slice the baguettes, drizzle a little oil over the cut sides and using the oil left over from frying the turkey, place the baguettes soft side down in the pan. Toast / fry them for two to three minutes until slightly charred.

Using other leftovers from Christmas dinner, make up an accompaniment to go into the baguettes with the turkey. This can be stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, mixed together or on their own. Alternatively, make a simple mustard mayonnaise, garlic mayo or honey and mustard mixture.

Spread whatever you’re having with the turkey onto the baguettes then add the fried goujons. If you prefer, ciabatta works just as well as baguettes but if you have neither, just thick-sliced bread is fine so long as it’s toasted.

Add salad if you wish, or cheese, then melt it under the grill.

Finally, add some immediacy and serve hot, with fries if you like.

Accidental White Sauce

From the Restaurant at Home cook book:

Our Chef Director discovered this one by accident, when he used cream instead of milk to make a white sauce. This is a complete cheat and doesn’t even require heat for preparation.

Quite simply, instead of using milk, butter and plain flour to make a white sauce, forget the butter completely and mix equal parts of double cream and cornflour. Stir until all lumps have disappeared, over a low heat or even no heat: instant white sauce.

Use the white sauce as the basis for a parsley or cheese sauce. Make the white sauce in bulk and freeze it. It’s really versatile; like us.

We can make this or any other sauce, marinade or spread for you. We can bottle it. We can deliver it. We can use it in a complete meal we cook for you in your own home. To find out what else we can do, just get in touch with Restaurant at Home:

enquiries@chef.net
07955 306667