and the story’s brand new, i can take it from here, i can find my own bravado

My friends and I would sometimes joke about the exaggerated length we’d go to in avoiding compliments. “Nice dress!” someone would say. “Oh this? I found it in a ditch somewhere. It’s covered in spaghetti”, we’d reply. “Love your hair today!” says a colleage. “Oh god, I’m so sweaty!” I inevitably and truthfully insist. And amidst a world that currently appears to be doing little more than kickflipping into a pile of garbage on a daily basis, I feel like something of a dingus implying that my blog having a fresh look is an event. Oh this new site? I found it down the back of the washing machine, covered in lint. A small rat was guarding it. I gained the rat’s trust. We are to have an Autumn wedding. It’s nothing really. I’m so sweaty. 

But it is exciting! Come October I’ll have been nine years in the damn food blogging game. I have learned and unlearned things along the way, I’ve had a cookbook published, I’ve moved house and across the spectrum a million times, I haven’t got any worse at photography, and I am ready for my blog to have a new pair of pants. I’ll always be fond of my previous and truly stupid header image, of Noilly Prat jostling for position on the shelf above the stove with a can of Double Brown beer, (made by screenshotting a photo, sticking it in Microsoft Word, typing over it and then screenshotting that) but I want something new and pretty – something that still contains elements of my goofy self but thrusts the photos in your face, has text that’s deliciously easy to read, and – sorry Blogspot, it’s me, not you – is more elegant and intuitive for me to use. So here I am!

As a full-time bartender I don’t have all the time in the world to cook, so when I have a new idea for a recipe, I need it to work first time round, otherwise like, that’s my cooking window for the week dashed, ya know? It’s happened before (most recently, involving dropping a spoon into boiling sugar and burning my arm) but I had a good feeling about this idea: what if I make crispy orange beef, the kind you might get at a Chinese restaurant, but using Fanta in the sauce? I was inspired by this when drinking Fanta while at Mrs Kim’s Korean restaurant down the road; the walls are bright orange so it was rather like being in a sensory deprivation tank where the theme was Fizzy Drink Propaganda. 

Anyway not only did this idea merely work, I feel confident that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made or eaten or thought up ever in my entire history of having ideas. The beef is almost laughably crispy, and the sauce is remarkably balanced in flavour – aggressively salty, with sesame depth and the sweet, intense orange flavour of Fanta. The Fanta is indeed the secret ingredient but the secondary secret ingredient is the tapioca starch – it gives the sauce a syrupy, thick, almost gluey texture which is entirely desirable here. It also fries up with a quickness to form, as I’ve said, a fabulously crunchy crust on the strips of beef. The Fanta itself acts as the sugar component of the sauce as well as the flavouring, and the cartoonish orange tang is honestly perfect.  I’ve named it 211 Orange Beef after the E-number present in Fanta – so as well as giving you protein this dish will also give you the hyperactivity you need to get through a busy day! 

211 orange beef

a recipe by myself. 

  • 125ml/half a cup of fanta
  • 400g sliced steak, usually labelled as for stir-fry – otherwise if it’s cheaper, slice your own
  • three tablespoons tapioca starch
  • three tablespoons soy sauce (or Tamari, to make it gluten free)
  • one tablespoon sesame oil
  • three cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • plain oil for frying, I used rice bran
  • one spring onion, for garnish

Sprinkle the soy sauce over the beef, and then toss the strips of beef in two tablespoons of the tapioca starch. With pathological attention to cutting down on things I have to clean up, I did this by pouring the soy sauce directly onto the beef in the styrofoam tray it came packaged in, and then tipped it into the plastic grocery bag that I carried it home in with the tapioca starch and shook it a few times to coat the beef. It sounds stupid but as well as cutting down on several bowls to wash, it was also incredibly effective. 

Put the bag of starch-dusted beef in the fridge while you make the sauce. This is very straightforward – place the roughly chopped garlic, remaining two tablespoons of soy sauce, remaining tablespoon of tapioca starch, sesame oil and fanta in a large pan and heat gently, stirring often. It will look very nothing-y, but as soon as it starts to come to the boil it will spring to life, forming a thick, dark, syrupy sauce as you stir. Immediately remove it from the heat and spatula it into a bowl, or better yet, into the dish you plan to serve the beef in. 

Give the pan a quick wash and dry and then heat up a few tablespoons of the oil. Fry the beef strips a small quantity at a time – this will not take long. Turn them over frequently till the starch has turned crisp and golden and any red meat has been browned. That said, this is beef: you can’t really undercook it. 

As soon as the strips of beef are cooked, transfer them to the bowl of sauce and fry the next lot of beef, continuing like this – frying and transferring into the sauce – until it’s all done. Slice up some spring onions and sprinkle them across the top of the serving bowl and eat with the rest of the fanta alongside. 

Ostensibly this should serve two, especially if you make some rice to serve it over, but I ate the lot in bed in about four minutes. 

I’ve still got a lot to work out here – it was a painstaking process just transferring everything over (importing nine years of content took like seven minutes, but trying to work out how to get the domain name over here took, without a word of a lie, about seven hours nonstop and increasingly tearful work) and I am slowly working on the recipe index, which is already looking super beautiful. It’s all pretty exciting. Anyway I could go on and on but I just wanna press publish on this damn thing and present it to the world, holding it aloft to the sky like Rafiki holding up baby Simba at the start of Lion King, or like a rugby player gently grabbing another rugby player by the butt and lifting them closer to the warm sunlight during a lineout. Because then I can relax back into my usual heavily unrelaxed state. So: welcome to the new-ish! As Waldo Lydecker said in the 1944 noir film Laura, which I only watched because it had my name in the title but it turns out it’s really good – “It’s lavish, but I call it home”.

title from: the greatest living New Zealander, Lorde, and her highly rad song Bravado

music lately: 

Spiller feat Sophie Ellis Bextor, Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) what a jam from a time we can never get back, the year 2000. This song is so dreamy, as is SEB’s face and plummy voice.

Panic! At the Disco, Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time. They’re back and as reassuringly hysterical as ever and I love it. 

next time: well I made this organic cocoa and olive oil sorbet but I haven’t tasted it yet. I am obviously hoping it doesn’t suck; if this is the case you’ll probably see it here. 

2 thoughts on “and the story’s brand new, i can take it from here, i can find my own bravado

  1. Hannah says:

    Laura! I feel like I’m surfacing from the deep sea of anonymity by finally posting a comment, but I have been reading your blog for so long (through my student days and into adult mode) and wanted to say I love the new look. Great post as always. -an inspired way to use Fanta!


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