Breakfast And Lunch And Dinner In America


DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Vail, CO

Pepi’s Bar And Restaurant is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. OK, sorry, let’s track back a little. The Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. Pepi Gramshammer was a member of the 1960 Olympic Ski Team, and saw the birth of Vail, effectively an Alpine-themed Milton Keynes, as an opportunity. 54 years later, it’s still there, the cheerfully orange frontage inviting you in as an antidote to the blando corporate blah on show elsewhere.

It’s unapologetically Austrian, offering schnitzel, spatzle and hearty rib-sticking winter fare all year round. As a stop off for lunch on our way through from Great Lakes to Palisades, it suited rather well. There was a sense of history and personality to the place, a sense of ‘fuck you, I was here first, and the big orange building stays.’ It’s an attitude that the rest of Vail could do well to copy or at least look at.

We snagged an end table on the terrace (which I have a nasty feeling was reserved for someone else but hey we got there first and we were English and polite therefore fuck youse) which made the hangout much more choice. We watched the rich and privileged of Vail waft past, sweetly invulnerable to the world around them.

Pepi does a damned good Reuben. You don’t have to unhinge your jaw to eat it.

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DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Grand Junction, CO

When a place gets independently recommended by three different sources, you know you have to check it out. Bin 707 in Grand Junction got shout-outs from our next-door neighbor in Grand Lakes, a random lady at the World’s End brewpub down the way, and our hosts at Palisades.

Sure, ok, you have our attention.

Tucked into the business district of Grand Junction, Bin 707 is a gem of a place that you could walk past and miss and that would be a fuckup on your part. Highwalled, with a long low patio that allows you to make the most of the hazy 25 degree evening, Bin 707 is serious about their provenance. Local first, then state, then national. Which means Colorado lamb and pork is strong on the menu, with some great river-food in support. Alongside an amazing porchetta with green chili and hominy, and a lamb tenderloin so tender it almost melted on the fork, we enjoyed a glorious bavette that succumbed to the blade like a giallo victim, and duck breast that offered the perfect payoff between fat, crisp and melting tenderness. Stretch hit the jackpot, though. A simple Thai-spiced bowl of mussels won with the sweetest, plumpest bivalves I’ve ever tasted. The only criticism–more sourdough toast needed to soak up the precious juices.

Oh, and the beer menu was genuinely intimidating. In a good way, I mean. Thank the gods that our friendly and knowledgeable server could guide my way.

Relaxed, confident, delicious. You guys have to try this place out.


DATELINE: 10th July 2018

Clifton, CO.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you play it right, it can be the only meal of the day. If you want a serious, old-school American carbo-load, then Starvin Arvins on the main drag through Clifton is a must stop.

It’s dark wood and cozy booths. It’s stuffed animal heads on every wall. It’s stacked platefuls of food for absurdly small outlays of cash. It’s more coffee than you can drink in one go, and I never thought I’d write that sentence.

At Starvin, your waitress will be bright, blonde and heavily tattooed and it’s not a hipster affectation. At Starvin, I finally saw the point to breakfast. Here’s the buffer zone between you and the world. Here’s where you armour up against the challenges ahead.

A plateful of hash browns, cheese, sausage gravy and a cats-head biscuit with home-made peach and strawberry jelly on the side. Whatever else happens in your day, you know you’ve got breakfast right at least.

Fruit And Fibre? Bitch, please.

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DATELINE: 10th July, 2018

Palisade, CO.

One last thing, that isn’t breakfast, lunch or dinner, but needs to be raised to the group. The Grand Junction area is incredibly fertile, and Palisade, our base for this week, is rich in fruit of all kinds. It’s a big wine-growing region, and you have to know we’ve been tasting our faces off. The Dry Rosé at Grand River Winery is a crisp, flinty revelation.

But oh, the fruit. Summer season peaches are absurdly juicy and full-flavoured, spilling honeyed nectar down your chin with every bite. The Bing cherries on offer at every stall are so sweet and rich, almost alcoholic in their roundness and complexity. We spent money at Get Peachy, but you can do as well at Nana’s Fruit and Jam Shack, Herman’s Produce… oh, man, you honestly can’t go wrong.

Five-a-day never felt so easy.

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Sunday Kitchen

The plan was to get some art in us. A drive out into the country, to enjoy sculpture and installations in the grounds of a beautiful old country house in the Oxfordshire countryside.

The Vibemobile had other ideas. Normally she’s a joy to drive—speedy, agile, comfortable, above all reliable. But earlier in the week she over-heated and threw up an un-nerving engine management light, refusing to run above 20mph without shuddering. Double-plus ungood. I booked her in to see the car doctor, but we faced a sad fact. No car, therefore no car ride out into the country.

Oh well. A quiet Sunday at home, then. Or an opportunity to noodle around in the kitchen. Which, as any smart cookie will realise, is a grand way to get your dinner game in place ahead of the week looming up on the horizon. If you’re like me, it’s also a rather good chance to clear out the food in the fridge that will turn into unsavable sludge if I don’t act fast. Buying food and then throwing it away uneaten is a cardinal sin, and one that’s easily avoided.

The salad and veg drawer in my fridge is a place where terrors lurk. Today, I faced carrot fear. A significant portion of the bagful I’d bought last week were halfway to primordial ooze, liquefying from the inside out. I issued a curse to the vegetable gods, binned the rotting half, and quickly diced the remains. Bagged and in the freezer, they’d last long enough to add to a mirepoix or for a quick and easy carrot soup.

Readership, do not discount frozen veggies. They are, in many cases, preferable to fresh—particularly if the freshies just get ignored in the bottom of the fridge. Food heroes of mine like Jack Monroe and Nigel Slater are advocates of the humble bag of Bird’s Eye peas or sweet corn. My sister-from-another-mister Sandi takes it further—she buys fresh, chops and freezes her veg. If you’re a busy beaver during the week, an hour or so at the weekend with a knife (or if you’re really time-poor and not too anal about the appearance of your soffrito, two pulses in a food processor) can save you all the time you need come dinner time.

I thought about the whole veg-prep thing, and considered that while chop-and-freeze is a valid time-saver, I might as well take the process a little further. I sliced up the saddest looking of my onions, and threw them into the Instant Pot (I need to talk about the transformative effects of the electronic pressure cooker on my kitchen life, but that’s for another time) along with the sad remnants of last night’s bottle of wine, a knob of butter, a glug of balsamic, salt and pepper. A 30 minute cycle, and this unpromising array of leftovers had transformed into a sticky-sweet-sour dollop of deliciousness I could use as the basis for a sauce, over a quick dough base for a take on pissaladière, over sausages… you name it. Not bad for five minutes of attended work.

I was on a roll now, but it was lunchtime. In a shocking move, I’d bought squidgy white bread from the garage the day before. Normally I’m against this sort of thing, but laziness trumped my best bread-making impulses. Besides, I fancied dirty sausage sandwiches.

Another refugee in the fridge was a pack of vac-packed frankfurters from Aldi, one of those impulse buys you can’t really explain to other people or yourself after the fact. I realised, when faced with squidgy white bread and mechanically formed sausage-style product, that I had subconsciously guided myself towards a recipe I’d spotted on the foodie-web the previous week. It’s deliciously evil.

Take your bread, two per person for a light lunch. Decrust, butter and spread on a dollop of ketchup or mustard or both. Add a sausage, and roll up, squishing the package shut. Slap on some egg-wash, place the roll-ups on greased foil and bake in a hot oven until crisp. Probably ten to fifteen minutes should cover it.

Dirty, dirty sausage sandwiches. If you really want to filth it up, slap on a slice of plastic cheese before you roll up the bread.

For god’s sake, have a salad alongside.

The oven was still on. It seemed wasteful to switch off. I was on a roll. I was having too much fun to stop now. I was looking at the most humble of leftovers with fresh eyes. The rubble on my worktop from lunch had potential. White bread crusts and a bit of beaten egg. Add one to the other. Douse in the last scrapings of the rind of parmesan in my sad-looking cheese tray in the fridge (you may detect a theme coming up when it comes to my neglectful curatorship of the interior of our trusty Liebherr). Bake for twenty minutes until crisp.

HAH. Posh breadsticks. They’re snappy and a bit dense in the middle. Never throw away bread, Readership. There’s always crumbs to whizz up. There’s always croutons. You can always make something out of nearly nothing.

And of course, the oven was still on, and I had courgettes and peppers in the fridge that wouldn’t last the week. Sliced, tossed in oil (Morrisons do an amazing garlic-infused rapeseed oil in the world food section that is dirt cheap and incredibly useful for traybakes), salt, pepper and dried herbs. Or fresh if you’ve got ’em. I started the veg at the same time as the breadsticks, gave them a stir once the sticks came out, and gave everything another twenty. The courgettes and peppers had caught in places, were still soft in others, and had become fragrant, sweet and moreish. Stirred through pasta (perhaps with some of the sweet onions I made earlier) or at room-temperature alongside some fish or chicken, they’re a seriously good standby.

The oven was still hot. The fridge has been restored to sanity, but I wasn’t done yet. There was a butternut squash in the store cupboard that had been waiting patiently for months. Time to let it shine.

I love squash. It’s super-forgiving. You don’t even have to peel it. Top and tail, quarter it lengthwise, then deseed it with a spoon. I put it back into the sheet-pan that the courgettes and peppers had cooked it (still hot, still seasoned with roasted flavour) dashed over a little more rapeseed oil, salt and pepper, then roasted for an hour. I can make a soup, perhaps with some of the carrots and onions from earlier. Maybe as part of a mash topping for a fish pie. Just alongside something porky. As part of a curry with some chickpeas. Possibilities abound. Dinner time has got that bit easier this week.

I think the Vibemobile might have done me a favour.

Chicken Two Ways: Soho, Memory and That Whole Proust Thing

I turned my back on Soho in October 2016, twenty-seven and a half years after I first walked through the door of TVP in Golden Square. I started as a runner, one of those fresh-faced types that would grab coffee, fetch lunches and ferry videotapes around. There–videotapes. Shows you how long ago it was. Continue reading Chicken Two Ways: Soho, Memory and That Whole Proust Thing

Fodderblog: The Best Balls Ever!

As part of Rob's Attempt To Get Back On Track with His Writing, I intend to ease myself in gently. It's been a while since I posted a recipe. And this one, my Lovely Readership, is a doozy.

I love meatballs. With spaghetti, or some cubetti potatoes, and of course slathered in a rich tomato sauce, they're an easy midweek supper. But they're surprisingly easy to make, and you know exactly what goes into them. Let me walk you through the creaton of the best meatballs you'll ever eat.

The meat is pork and chicken. To be precise, pork shoulder and chicken thighs. Both have enough fat in them to add tons of flavour and, more importantly, hold together without the need for breadcrumbs, eggs or other binders. All they need is a little care in construction.

I'm lucky enough to have a mincer attachment for our K-Mix, last year's Bake-Off inspired Christmas present. It's become a handy tool to take really cheap cuts of meat and make flavour-packed burgers and sausages. Meatballs are even easier. I added some sorry looking herbs from the supermarket (basil and parsley in this case, but thyme and sage would work fantastically), and ground away.

If you don't have flash-boy toys, go ask a butcher to do the chopping. They'll be happy to help.

While I was mincing, I had a couple of finely sliced leeks and a couple of cloves of garlic sizzling slowly in a pan. Once soft and fragrant, I let the veg cool a bit before squishing it into the pork and chicken mix. Don't mash it up too heavily, but make sure everything is well mixed. Add some salt and pepper, then gently form into glorious globes of gorgeousness.

Now the important bit. Clingfilm the balls, and stick them in the fridge for at least an hour. It'll help them to hold their shape. You notice that I've put them on baking trays over baking parchment. There's a good reason for that.

When you're ready to cook your balls, pop them in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 25 mins, turning them halfway through. They'll leak out some oil while cooking, which will help them develop a fragile crust. Don't fiddle with 'em too much and they'll keep their shape and take care of themselves.

If you're thinking ahead, you'll have some cubed potatoes in the oven already, so that when the dinner gong goes you can whip something out of the oven that looks like this:

Now we're talking. Serve with a simple chunky tomato sauce, that's all you need. The meatballs are fragrant, herby and meaty without feeling too heavy, textured without feeling gritty, deeply flavoured without being greasy. I am dead chuffed with these little beauties, and I recommend you give them a go. A tasty autumnal treat!

 

(It has been drawn to my attention that some of you fnd the word “balls” inexplicibly hilarious. I have also been accused of pandering to said lowest-common denominator in this piece. I really don't know what you're on about. There's nothing wrong with popping a hot pair of balls in your mouth and noshing away).

My New Way To Prep Cherry Tomatoes Will Bowl You Over!

Cherry tomatoes are so good at this time of year, especially if you keep your eyes open for the English varieties. Perfect for snacking, but you'll find them most often in salads. And therein lies the problem.

Although they're a joy to pick up and eat, as soon as you throw cutlery into the equation, cherry tomatoes become slippery little buggers. That perfect tiny sphere is a nightmare to spear or cut, pinging away from your best efforts. More often than not, they'll end up in your lap (or someone else's) rather than your gob. You can chop them up a bit, of course, but you have the same problem with getting a blade to make purchase. That's when things get dangerous.

Rest easy, Readership. I have a way with cherry toms that couldn't be simpler, and makes them a pleasure to use and eat. And all you need are two bowls.

I'm talking about the sort of size receptacle that you'd normally put cereal in. There's a single proviso: one bowl needs to be slightly smaller than the other, so that they'll nest easily together.

All you do is put a handful of tomatoes in the bigger bowl, put the smaller one on top, and push. You'll hear a crack and a squish as the tomatoes break.

And that's it! No muss, no fuss. You now have crushed tomatoes in the bigger bowl, opened up but still in one piece. You can chop or tear them more finely, or leave them as they are. The other benefit: you'll notice that the process has also deseeded your toms, leaving juice and pips behind. Don't waste that juice: run it through a fine sieve back into the smaller bowl, and whisk in a tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar, three tablespoons of good olive or rapeseed oil, and a little salt. Hey bingo–tomato vinaigrette.

Ooh, hey, I've just realised. You can use the same method to skin garlic. Just put a few cloves into the bigger bowl, and crush as before. You'll need to put a little more muscle in, then just listen for the crack as you bear down. The skins will come away from the cloves without any trouble.

Who said cooking has to be complex? Who said veg prep needs expensive equipment? Not me!

The Wight Stuff: The Food Of The Isle Of Wight

If you're a foodie, Britain has some amazing places to visit. Scotland is a cornucopia of bounty, from salmon to beef to whisky. Welsh lamb is the world's best, and the welcome and scenery are pretty tidy too. The seafood in Cornwall blows most other places out of the water.

And England, dear England. TLC and I have eaten our way around the country. From Northumberland, breakfasting on that morning's kippers, to rural Shropshire and Ludlow, the beating heart of English grub. We've seen it all, and loved it all.

But there's an English secret when it comes to amazing grub, and I'm here to reveal it. Hands up who thinks of the Isle Of Wight when you consider great British grub?

Well, you should.

OK, some of you may already have something to say on the matter. Yes, the Isle does have a rep when it comes to a certain pungent ingredient most kitchens would suffer without. But there's much more to enjoy. Especially as the island itself is only just waking up to the realisation that it has so much on its plate.

Let us consider the Isle Of Wight. A diamond-shaped island in the Solent, about 4 miles off the Hampshire coast, small enough to cycle from nose to tail in a day. It's drier and warmer than the mainland, with a microclimate centred around the southern town of Ventnor that's basically a Mediterranean suntrap. This means the island has a longer growing season and better weather than some parts of Northern Spain.

With fertile land and perfect growing conditions for a whole host of goodies, it should be no surprise that the Isle Of Wight is a bit of a food basket. It's lush and green, with sheep and cattle grazing on every hillside. The local asparagus is as fresh as you get (and disappears bloody quickly–find a good local deli and be prepared to snag every bunch you can lay your mitts on).

The food culture is pub-centric, which always pleases me as I get to try out local ales alongside my fresh-caught fish or local lamb. There are three breweries on the island, and it's rare that a hostelry won't have at least one of their beers on offer. If not, never fear: Goddard's and Island Brewery have a solid bottling operation, and you can pick up a little of what you fancy in most shops. Goddard's Ale Of Wight and Fuggle-De-Dum are personal favourites, but as between them the three breweries have fifteen ales on offer you have plenty of opportunities for research. They even have a mini-beer festival in May, in the grounds of the local steam railway museum. And let's not forget Quarr Abbey, whose Benedictine monks brew their own delicious take on Belgian Trappist ales.

Viniculture is also taking root on the Isle Of Wight. Adgestone and Rosemary Vineyards produce cracking whites and sparkling wines, unsurprising given the similarity of the terroir to the Champagne region. They're small but growing businesses, who offer a great range of juices and vinegars alongside the more traditional offerings.

And then, of course, there's garlic. Brought over by Free French troops stationed there during WW2, the stinking rose flourishes in the island's rich soil. Now The Garlic Farm is the success story of food on the Isle of Wight: 80% of garlic grown in the UK comes from the fields around Newchurch. It's a tourist destination in its own right, with a brilliant restaurant serving all sorts of garlicky goodies. I can heartily recommend the hot dog, as long as you don't have any heavy activity planned for the rest of the day. The gift shop is one I found difficult to leave. TLC and I are going to be vampire-free for a while.

The island has its own pace of life, slower and less keen to impress than many food destinations in the UK. Chatting to locals, we quickly came to realise that it's taken the Island a while to wake up to its true potential. Eateries like Salty's in Yarmouth, and the amazing Red Lion in Freshwater are only now offering the simple, locally-sourced grub that foodies like me crave. Delis are starting to pop up, but they're still comparitively rare. Wierdly, the best place to source locally caught meat and fish is The Co-Op. That, I'm sure, is in the process of changing. To be fair, I didn't get a chance to check out the one Waitrose on the island. I bet that's got some treats.

We knew, going into it, that there was going to be some good eating on the Isle Of Wight. We were not disappointed. It's a place that's coming into its own as a food destination, and with easy access via the ferry, not a pain to get to, either. We're already making plans for our next visit.

And I've not even mentioned the history and culture of the place yet. That's a whole other blog post…