Eets: Fine Dining on the Dole
Roast Stuffed Quail with Potato and Courgette Rosti, Steamed Broccoli and Chestnut Mushroom Sauce.
Summer was bullshit and autumn has settled in, changing the colour of leaves and the stock in supermarkets. To really warm my bones in this time of dropping temperatures, I find myself unemployed. For one who’s now only borderline young, I’m still really clocking up the shitty job experiences. Still, it was my decision to forego career building and settle for a life of awful, badly paid jobs whilst waiting to get good enough at writing that it might attempt to pay London’s extortionate rent. This week, I’m cooking on as little money as my tastebuds will allow.
As any student can tell you, the cheapest eets is noodles, but if you’ve got any kitchen talent, there’s no need to stoop so low. The picture at home is like this: my girl is on her way home from work, and a couple of the boys are over and hungry. It’s one of my housemate’s birthday but he’s selfishly gone to a gig, so we decide to have his birthday dinner without him. The party must always go on.
The boys have bought in on dinner plans; one gave me a couple of quid, the other gave me a can of Becks. I plan to make this dinner on what I have in my pocket and what’s already in the fridge and cupboards. So we’re talking dinner for four for a fiver.
The local supermarket is full of discounts and our first hit is in-season quail. We get four of these tiny birds for four quid, due to the yellow sticker situation. We also pick up: some fancy (yellow-sticker) bread, an onion, a couple of potatoes, some chestnut mushrooms and a little cream. As a group we have a fairly sturdy relationship thanks to booze, so we end up with a couple of bottles of wine. Still, due to some ‘self-made bonus discounts’ at the self-checkout, we only give a tenner over to the supermarket beast and it gives us change.
Liberated birds bagged, we flock home with our spoils. The bread forms a starter to stave off hunger and keep everyone patient. The dinner plan is fairly simple, but endlessly wanky. Whole roast stuffed quail will sit on a potato and courgette rosti and be served with steamed broccoli and a mushroom sauce.
First, I improvise a stuffing for these little birds. My girl is a florist and she’s brought home all kinds of herbs:
Into blitzed up stale bread goes some fresh thyme, crumbled black pudding and some dank duck pâté we had in the fridge from a trip to France.
The pâté is made with foie gras, which isn’t cool, but it is delicious. The glossy fat from around the edges of the can is spread onto the breast of the tiny stuffed birds to keep them moist.
The quail is sat on some chopped onion, whole garlic cloves and lemon thyme. I jam sprigs of regular thyme into the leg joints purely for aesthetic purposes. I splash them with olive oil and crunch on some sea salt and roast the cute little bastards for 25 minutes.
Into the oven also goes the rostis:
Grated potato and courgette (which was squeezed of its moisture through a tea towel), mixed with egg, flour and seasoning and squashed into patties. We coat them in coarse polenta for crunch and shallow fry in a cast iron pan so they can go straight into the oven to cook through.
Polenta is sick by the way, it’s cheap as fuck and as flexible as Jimmy Savile’s tracky elastic. Last week we were feeling wintry so I made a venison stew with polenta ‘mash’. I just boiled chicken stock, stirred in the polenta and whisked ‘til it was thick. In went some grated Parmesan and chopped fresh rosemary. Tasty, cheap and bright yellow, like all good foods.
Broccoli is chopped into trees and mushroom sauce is made simply:
Chopped onion, garlic and mushrooms are sweated until soft, the pan is deglazed with some French fortified wine, and cream is added and stirred ‘til thick.
Piece of piss. Everything is stacked and spooned onto plates and served with crisp, special offer white wine.
Entertainment comes in the form of controversial football news. We watch young English players racially abused by mental Serbians and mad Poles give it the Klinsmann on an unplayable, waterlogged pitch. The funniest bit of everything is watching a bunch of dicks in a studio try to fill time whilst the England-Poland game is being confirmed as cancelled. They can barely fill screen time with any sense when there’s football to dissect, so they’re truly on their knees here. Cut to a reporter backstage who’s badgering some guy for soundbites, pushing him to say something of interest,
“I am only head of referee committee, we will know soon.”
We play some Xbox because it’s more entertaining than watching football anyway, and I can make sure Rooney NEVER scores. Anyway, fuck England, and their fans that traveled to watch them play, they should get a better hobby.
For dessert we pass around a bag of Reese’s Pieces, being careful not to read the list of ingredients.
“Aren’t they just peanut butter and a sugar coating?”
“Nah, there’s a paragraph of chemical-foods on the back.”
“Americans make the worst shit.”
We realise we’re doing things all backwards, eating trash without getting stoned first. Poverty has dug in deep and we don’t have any weed between us, which is a pretty sad state of affairs given the current political climate. Emergency tactics are put into play. One of the boys sets about scraping the grinder with a pair of scissors in search of cannabis residue, a homeless version of hash.
“It’ll get you really fucking high.”
And he didn’t lie. It’s not long before I can no longer stand the bright lights of my laptop and have to transfer to my typewriter, purely for the sensation and excitement of the tiny hammer stamps.
So that’s the first of what will probably turn out to be many, many cheap meals until I get work and can go back to eating properly. I’m not holding my breath though, as a great man once said:
“Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?”