The Great British Fake Off

Yes, it’s happened, I’ve succumbed to the overwhelming GBBO hype.

Well, actually that’s a lie, it’s just an excuse to share with you a cooking article I wrote whilst at University.

I am notoriously bad at cooking. If there was a fairy-tale book for cookery, I would be the one mothers and fathers warn their children about crossing on the plate.

I’m a food villain, the devil with a spatula some may say.

To ensure we get off on the right foot I want to categorically confirm I am a bad chef.

It’s an ugly word but I have previously tortured recipes to the point of extinction.

I like greasy, unhealthy, irresponsible foods and I’m not ashamed of that.

However, like all supervillians I have attempted (kind of) to change my ways.

My first effort of creation was a healthy, encouraging, pride-filled attempt (well, pride filled by my very low standards anyway).

We start with the starter, why you ask? Pretty self-explanatory, it’s a starter.

I always feel like I’m showing off ordering a starter in a restaurant, I’m sure I’m not the only one who sits around the table awaiting someone to perk up with “Is anyone going to get a starter” and that’s always returned with the polite phrase, “I will if you will”.

I feel it’s more of a behavioral gesture to show that although it’s your meal, I’ll take an interest in not only what you’re having but the reasons behind your selection.

I’m making this, so why not, in for a penny, in for a pound.

Grilled Halloumi on a bed of rocket.

Not bad for a novice, aye?

Okay, I doubt Heston Bloomenthal is quaking in his boots about my apparent effort of innovation but I think it’s a platform I can begin to improve on in the future.

Despite it’s lack of size and weight the cheese gave up quite a fight.

Grilled to give it a browning coat on top of its cushioney pale interior.

It wasn’t rubbery but it sqwelched when I bit down, it was a challenge with a smile.

The flavours were quiet and shy in forthcoming but once you’d bravely decimated the dish, alongside the salad, it gave you a balance of the cheesy, silkly, elegance and a peppery twang from the rocket.

Proud of the start, it’s time for the main event.

I feel like this is a Mayweather Pacquiao moment.

I’ve been talking about giving this cooking-lark a go for a while but never actually put my food where my mouth is.

Now… “Let’s get ready to rumble.”

First of all, fish.

We start with the fish because, let’s be honest, it’s the headline act.

I’m a big fan of fish, it’s like meat but scalier.

Throw into the mix the purest side dish on the planet, rice, and you have yourself a heavyweight contender.

Okay, admittedly the rice was Uncle Bens in the microwave, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, I mean Gordon Ramsey didn’t just turn up to a kitchen one day, start swearing and grab a Michelin star now did he?

The fish however didn’t come from an invitingly coloured packet.

Wheeling my trolley around the supermarket, swerving to avoid the upperclass mums with little Humphrey throwing grapes from the tail end, I headed for the fridges.

Oh yes, Captain Birdseye you’ve had your time, I’m going to get a fish so fresh it’s still got tanlines from the pacific ocean’s glare.

I started snobbily dismissing foods without a fully green dietary wheel on the packaging which is when I came across ‘Tunafish steaks’.

The reason for my selection; it ticked all the green boxes in terms of healthy eating and it had ‘steak’ in the name. Game Changer.

A thin layer of fry light sunflower oil was sprayed into a pre-heated pan until it began to sizzle.

Dodging the spits from the pan as if I were in the Matrix I set the fillets down until they began to brown.

Minutes later, out it came.

I went all out on this dish, even to the extent of sculpting the pearlescent rice into a triangle shape and popping a torn piece of shrubbery on top.

I don’t know why I did this, I’d seen it on masterchef, Greg and John approved, that’s good enough for me and to be honest I was getting carried away.

Of course I didn’t eat it, that was tossed aside as soon as my cutlery hit the table.

The first scuba-like-dive into the fish was mesmerising.

Juices oozed out the bottom like sodden sponge and my fork returned with a flakey piece of perfection attached.

It needed a few chews, just enough to realise you were involved in a battle but not too many; stubborn but forgiving, like a hormonal teenager.

It was glorious.

Just as the pallet began to dry, from the fishy main, my pre-readied dessert entered the fray.

I’ll call it London-mess.

It’s basically Eton mess but I don’t think I’m fooling anyone by slapping a pompous name on the front.

Gooey marshmellow standing shoulder to shoulder with an army of light, fluffy, crisp meringue pieces all set off by the vibrant addition of some hand picked garden fruits.

Ideally, I would be making this later in the year, but once I’d seen the Strawberry’s glint the tiniest shade of rouge from my kitchen window I stripped them from the stem and got busy.

Thinly sliced alongside whole punchy raspberries.

I had to make sure my healthy plans didn’t completely evaporate, didn’t I?

Now, I know I sound like that Sunday league footballer who thinks he’s Lionel Messi with a better barnet and a right foot but I must express again, the success of my meal so far, is as unexpected as snow in July.

The sharpness of the fresh fruit forced my tongue to recoil in shock upon it’s first meeting.

It felt like an explosion.

It’s nice but nasty if you get what I’m saying, like that awkward moment you can’t tell if you should laugh at somebody stumbling in the street because they might genuinely be hurt.

Then the sweet messy guilt overloads the pain.

A response from heaven, like swallowing a cloud.

It was too light to bite but too thick and luscious to drink, that middle tier of pursed lips swelling to ground down the crunchiness and appreciate the buoyant texture of the course.

I’ll be honest, I struggled to finish it.

That’s not an admission of me not liking what I’d produced, out of pride alone I wish I would have finished it just to brag some more, but then when all was said and done and I was just about to pat myself on the back and fill out a Great British Bake Off application form I realised something.

Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would have to wait a bit longer, I wasn’t perfect just yet.

I’d forgotten the veg.

Ah well, Rome wasn’t built in a day I suppose, there’s always next time.

If there is a next time.

To be continued… Maybe (probably not).

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Let Me Be Your Fantasy… Football guide.

Friday evening is the biggest part of the day… Forget getting on the beers you have a big selection dilemma ahead of the Premier League this weekend.

Aguero or De Bruyne as captain? Will Ibrahimovic find the net again? Is Ozil destined to continue his scoring midweek form? (Spoiler, none of the above are in the team we’ve selected this weekend)

People not engrossed in an inter-work/group chat league will not understand but fear not, my intention is to help… Well, that’s my intentions; whether I actually do is a different matter.

I think the phrase ‘blind leading the blind’ comes into play now though because I’ve had a bang average start to the fantasy premier league season.

Also, we’ve tried to pick a different XI to the usual big name cluttering that usually appears, just to be different. If you decide to take none of this on-board and give David Silva the armband, I won’t be angry, I’ll just be disappointed.

So, between the sticks this weekend we’ve gone for Adrian of West Ham. The Spanish stopper hasn’t covered himself in glory, thus far, but a home tie against a toothless Sunderland (Defoe can’t do it all by himself, but he’s still trying bless him). Clean sheet incoming!

Hector Bellerin gets the nod at full back. His ferocious pace must keep opposing wingers awake at night. A nice home meeting at the Emirates against the Boro could see another unblemished defensive record. 36 points for the Spanish speed merchant too, so his marauding forward runs are hitting the spot.

Another Gunner in our armoury is Laurent Koscielny. He’s the top scoring defender this campaign and will undoubtedly add to his 43 points this weekend. Potential captain candidate.

Scott Dann sits alongside Koscielny as he takes the Palace to Champions Leicester City. Could be a tough afternoon If Slimani, Mahrez, Vardy and co are at it, especially after a good win in Europe this weekend, but their set-piece frailties could give Palace an edge. If you fancy big ol’ Danny boy to bag a goal this weekend (It might happen, he loves a header doesn’t he) at 20/1 there could be worse flutters.

The final member of the base is Bruno Martins Indi of Stoke City. The man with the most intense eyes in the Premier League. Not a big scorer really with just a measly 12 points on the board but Mark Hughes takes his Potters to leaky Hull City. The Tigers shipped six last week at Bournemouth and with just eight goals scored all season up the other end Bruno and his team mates’ points scoring could go through the roof.

Another Stoke man is the first name in the midfield. No surprise, arise Sir Joe of Allen. The Welsh Pirlo has been a revelation in the new advanced freedom afforded to him since his arrival and has bagged four already this campaign, the same total he managed in four seasons at Liverpool. It wouldn’t be unimaginable if he added to that tally against Hull tomorrow. A Joe Allen to score first and Stoke to win 2-0 scorecast is a tidy 60/1 too… That right there could be value of the weekend or the most bandwagon’ hopping bet I’ve ever laid eyes on, I can’t quite decide.

Adam Lallana is looking some player already this season. Twisting and turning his way through PL defences with ease. He’s so wriggly he’s like a bearded eel when on the ball. West Brom visit Anfield in Saturday’s late kick off and he could be key to Team Klopp splitting through the Baggies back line.

Man of the moment, Mr unfulfilled potential himself Theo Walcott is our captain this  week. His stop-start career is enjoying a purple patch recently and he is currently the top scoring midfielder in the Fantasy Premier League. Boro at home is a prime opportunity for Walcott to further continue his good form. Knowing Theo, he’ll now go on a barren run and not find the net until January so cherish that armband because it may not last long.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is the final man in the middle of the park. I’ve had a real soft spot for this player ever since he exploded into the Reading side as a teen and his display with Iceland at the Euros is further proof this lad is no joke. 31 points so far with a £7.2million price tag isn’t exactly the best return but a new gaffer in charge of the Swans and a home tie against Watford could be the kick-start they are after. Untouchable quality in both boots, he takes free-kicks and pens so points are always a real chance with this lad. Not great value in the odds market but Gylfi to score anytime is 15/8… Apparently the good deals aren’t in Iceland this weekend.

Diego Costa is the Barclays Premier League’s number 1 marksman this season with the Brazilian born bully bagging seven times already. It’s a tough task to score against Mourinho’s United, especially on the special one’s return to the bridge, but he’ll relish the physical tussle with Bailly (you know he will, probably too much, both players to get booked 21/10). At £10.2 million he is a luxury buy but many will be scared off by the visit of United so if he does continue his form we could be the benefactors. A lot of betting around Costa has good value. 4/1 first goalscorer, same price for last goalscorer, 5/1 for him to find the net twice and if you think he’ll blow his top he’s 18/1 to be sent off… Although, contrary to general perception he hasn’t been sent off in a game since 2010. (Disclaimer, he’s still a bit of a bastard but we love him)

Romelu Lukaku is the man hunting down Costa’s heels for the golden boot. Just one goal behind the Chelsea man, Lukaku’s slow start to the season has well and truly been put to bed. Romelu is best when he’s at his arrogant best and the way he breezed past Clichy for his goal last weekend shows the lad is on flames. Six of Everton’s eleven PL goals have come from the Belgian and an away tie at Burnley means he’ll need to be on his game if they’re to break down Shaun Dyche’ stubborn clarets.

Adrian
(West Ham)

Bellerin – Dann – Koscielny – Pieters
(Arsenal) (Palace) (Arsenal) (Stoke)

Walcott © – Sigurdsson – Allen – Lallana
(Arsenal) (Swansea) (Stoke) (Liverpool)

Costa – Lukaku
(Chelsea)  (Everton)

 There’s our XI and with just over £25mil still in the bank you could either save that for next week or splash out on a few luxuries for the bench.

Our big focus of the weekend is obviously the late Sunday afternoon match up between Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Jose’s United. A dominant performance against Leicester last weekend and a new-found solidity with three/five at the back gives the Blues a real rested confidence heading into the tie. United have played twice since Chelsea kicked a ball but are coming into the game off the back of a stern defensive showing at Anfield and a convincing 4-1 home win vs Fenerbache in Europe.

The Kante/Pogba battle will be one for the neutrals. Two goals in midweek for the world’s most expensive dabber (Except Irene from Littlehampton who won the full house on Monday night… Bingo reference, didn’t land did it? Soz.) but Kante and his Duracell engine will ensure he hasn’t got time to settle. Let’s be fair, it all depends on how Mourinho wants the game to go. If he wants a point, like Monday, they will shut the game off and get your zzzz’s in because it’ll be a stalemate. If United open up and go for the win we could have a classic on our hands.

Jose to be sent to the stands is an interesting price at 28/1 or if you think he’ll get confused on his return to the bridge and do a Ron Atkinson (No, not that) and take a seat in the wrong dugout you’ll get a 50/1 return.

It wouldn’t be a Premier League weekend without one of your acca letting you down… Bayern Munich in the early KO last week, cheers boys.

It’s not about gambling, it’s about having fun so if you are over 18, and a responsible being, there are a couple of tasty prices you could take advantage of (although, with my track record I wouldn’t be tucking into these without a proper sit down)

A nice little 6/1 if you fancy BTTS and Palace to upset the Champions. It’s just one defeat in six for the Eagles and Leicester, despite their European antics, find their league form stumbling.

The North Londoners are going strong. Spurs and Arsenal both head into tomorrow heavy favorites and in fine form so a 5/1 double generates a pretty good price if you fancy both to win without conceding.

 How’s your luck been? Feeling good? Okay then, give this a whirl.

BTTS & draw – Swansea/Watford,
Everton away win,
Stoke away win,
West Ham home win,
Liverpool home win,

 Unlikely, yes but at 33/1 is it worth chancing?

 Let’s hope even if everything above is completely wrong and we have a torrid of a weekend there are plenty of mistakes for Alan Shearer to have a pop at on MOTD.

Thankyou for reading, be clever, take it easy and all the best.

Turning The Mid-Tables

Another solemn summer, annoying autumn and yet another notch in the great English depression. Sam Allardyce departed for his off-field business dealings, The FA’s synthetic computer generated product Gareth Southgate now leading the Lions and a Captain who can’t get a look in at club level. Check the family tree, you might get lucky, your great great grandfather may have been half Welsh and then it’s all aboard the Bale bandwagon.

Fair to say it’s pretty bleak right about now, as if we weren’t already pessimistic about the future of our game, it’s far from the beautiful one we bang on about. If anything it’s the equivalent of that 38-year-old woman at 3am outside the nightclub, kebab in hand, shouting about how Jamie was the best boyfriend even though they broke up six-years ago and he’s now married with children.

We aren’t in the best state and the Euro 2016 hangover is just beginning to fade. So what is our bacon sandwich? What makes everything okay again and gives us that blind optimism that we will of course win the World Cup in two years time?

A 2-0 home win over 178th ranked part-timers Malta didn’t quite set the taste buds into a drawl, nor did a tedious 0-0 stalemate in Slovenia, so where next.

The probable answer is exactly the same as every underperforming competition; back to the same tired and tested squad that dropkicked our souls into an Icelandic abyss a few months ago.

There are a few glints of hope within the squad as Pep Guardiola seems to have cuddled Raheem Sterlings’ ego back in from the cold at club level and Jordan Henderson now looks like a proper midfielder, like, with accurate passing and everything. I know, miracles do happen.

However there are some that have a lot to do if they’re keen to remain out of the back pages and in the starting XI.

And it begins with our leader Wayne Rooney. Finally dropped by club and country after a string of underperforming months his decline is an ever-present reminder that we missed a golden opportunity to achieve when he was at the peak of his goalscoring powers.

The vice-captain Gary Cahill is another of the senior heads who need to take a look in the, probably cracked, mirror. Constantly careless in possession, lacking in decisive clarity and about as sturdy as a student union toilet door.

Joe Hart seems to have finally stitched on his hands after the tournament in France and his scintillating display in Slovenia surely proved, once again, he is still a valuable member of the Southgate plan. And he’s only playing in Italy, it’s not as big a step down as the Pep loving papers will have you believe.

The FA maintain their philosophy of playing through the thirds which benefits the new breed, especially John Stones whose ball playing stance will please the football purists. However his human turnstile performance (lets everybody through) in the last international still leaves a lot of room for growth, but his ability is obvious and once he settles we will have one helluva player on our hands.

What we need is an identity. Do we want to be a luscious, possession-based bulldozer who finish every match with 70% of the ball and dominate from the outset? Like a Spain who, for all their admirers and stunning stroked passing game do sometimes border on boring.

Or do we want to set up like a Leicester City side who know how to win games, play to their strengths within the squad and release a quick passage of play with a sharp cutting, clinical edge. We have the pace, we have the clinical finishers but is our football snobbery preventing our tactical progression.

It’s not about our limited resources which some pundits will have you believe, a wise old football coach once told me “It’s not where you look, it’s how you use your eyes”… Still not quite sure what he was on about then but I’m pretty sure here the reference would be to look further than your nose.

The England squad announcement will be made and the majority will be from Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea, that’s usually how it goes with a couple of outside additions to keep the public barks quiet and down to just a disgruntled growl.

Why is this a common factor? Is this where the problems start or finish?

Performances this season, baring in mind it’s only the shallow end of the campaign, have shown the homegrown talent is there and thriving in our top flight.

Charlie Austin is the standout performer thus far. He’s tucked away four of the nine league goals the Saints have scored and looks ready for the next step. Another two notches in the Europa League have further proven his ability to stick it between the posts but still finds a flurry of misfiring Lions ahead of him in the pecking order.

If you were building the perfect versatile wideman, you’d build a Michail Antonio. Powerful, strong, technically sound and a keen eye for goal the West Ham lad is on the cusp of a first cap. He’s been included in the past two squads but is still awaiting that first outing in an England strip. His form is unignorable too, contributing to 56% of the Hammers goals but, similar to Austin, still finds a few unshiftable faces ahead of him in Southgates plans.

There are countless options if you withdraw the ‘Big Six’ so perhaps its time to rid the hierarchy bias and allow the opportunity to a wider pool of players.

Scott Dann has captained Palace to an FA Cup final and a strong start under Alan Pardew, could he be an option to solidify a newfound defensive structure.

Michael Keane is another young defensive option who has impressed for Burnley and could be after a valid choice if called upon.

Troy Deeney, Junior Stanislas, and Danny Simpson have all also endured a flourished start but the chances of their respective call-ups are probably on par with Sam Allardyce’s run for parliament.

Ultimately none of us have the answers so it’s our responsibility to examine every option, no matter how ludicrous or unimaginable it may seem.

I don’t buy in to the whole ‘mental baggage’ argument that due to previous national team failings the players head into tournaments with an expectation to fail, no chance. If you started a new job and was told the person who did that job before you was awful and underperformed, would you pack it in then and go home? No, you’d be buoyed by the challenge to step up and raise the bar.

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result… Or to give it a 2016 football reference, putting Harry Kane on free-kicks and expecting a Juninho Pernambucano thunderbolt to nestle in the top bracket after he’d shanked the previous three into the floodlights. Nice one Roy, that worked a dream but like you said yourself you had no idea what you were doing.

At this point in time, and for the foreseeable future we are, and will remain unless something drastically changes, a country in transition that refuses to change.