Crispy chilli beef! Yeah, kind of. Look you’re never going to replicate the chilli beef you get from the takeaway because they fry it in oil – like all delicious things – and obviously we can’t do that. But this is a good, tasty effort! Before we get to that, of course, Paul had the idea that he would like to bookend our Newcastle trip report with his views on the North East. I nearly died of shock – the poor sod never wants to write our posts – so who am I to complain? He’d love feedback and I hope his billet-doux leaves you satisfied and smiling. That said, if you’re not wanting to read, that’s fine – like I do for all the longer entries, I’m including a shortcut button for you. That’s right – this time just click on the GRUMPY NAG to go straight to the food.
I thought she’d never leave, you know? Someone should tell her about her moustache. You could use it to strain soup. Right, shall we get on?
It’s well-known on this blog that when James and I first met, we had a couple of dates and I, completely on a whim, moved straight to Newcastle to be with him. At that time I was living in the living hell that is commonly known as Portsmouth, renting a room in a mansion from a pair of sadomasochistic dungeon masters. I’m not even joking with that one, I’m actually surprised that story hasn’t made it into a blogpost yet.
The strangest thing for me though was that I never heard of anything coming out of Newcastle. No news, no excitement, nothing at all. All I knew of it was from Byker Grove and even then I was only giving it half my attention because there was no doubt a tin of Campbell’s meatballs in the microwave on the go for me. I knew it had Geordies (obviously) and some sort of past industrial history but that was it. Until that point, I made a promise (and my good friend Glenn reminds me of this often) that I would never live ‘in the North’. Don’t get me wrong – I’m probably the most common person you’ll ever meet and absolutely not a snob, but I just had this vision in my mind of unrelenting grey skies, rusting machinery everywhere and misery.
How pleasantly surprised I was then when I actually visited the place. It absolutely astounded me. For my first journey up we got the train; I remember getting off and seeing this little scale model of the city on a plinth just outside the entrance. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was lit up and everything. I thought maybe it’d been dropped by the planning department and should probably keep off it, but no – it was art. It was public art! Just something small and insignificant and probably ignored by most people who walked past it but I was genuinely speechless. This might all sound very over-the-top and dramatic but I promise it’s true. See, I grew up in a place called Peterborough which, except for a big ass cathedral, pretty much just exploded forth in the 60’s and 70’s into a New Town haemorrhage. It’s totally devoid of any sort of culture. Utilitarian. Dull. Brown. Ring roads. You get the idea. Portsmouth was even worse.
So we came out the Central Station and saw this little plinth. We walked down to the Quayside and there was more. There was a vampire rabbit over a door. An archway that lit up like Tetris bricks. Another arch that would sing to you in a weird Geordie accent as you went through. A statue of a bloke floating in the air. It was amazing. And the place was absolutely immaculate.
We arrived down onto the Quayside, I saw the Tyne Bridge for the first time, and just in the distance, nestled against the big curve was the Sage (which looks like me on my side). I was absolutely mesmerised. This place was gorgeous. It was modern, it was clean, it was NICE! I knew then that I immediately wanted to move here. It was a place that I’d actually want to leave the house for and explore, rather than to just go to the supermarket. We stopped at the Pitcher and Piano (which gives a cracking view out onto a tilting bridge!), I actually scribbled out my resignation letter on a sheet of notepaper I scrounged off the barman there and then and he kindly faxed it off for me. I’d forgotten all about that until now. I mean, look at us way back when…
I really want you to know how taken in I was with the instant beauty of ‘The North’ (James here: I’m fairly sure he’s talking about me, but don’t be blue)
Look how young we were! Aaaah.
I still get it now. When I visit Peterborough I’m sad to say that I’m appalled by it. It’s dirty, dull, dreary. It’s like going back behind the Iron Curtain. There’s no ‘life’ to it. The last time we visited we had to go to Milton Keynes to find something to do. That just ain’t the case in Newcastle. As you’ll read in our posts, I’ve lived here for ten years (James for 32) and we’ve STILL only scratched the surface of things to do here. We’ll never get bored.
Even though we don’t really live in Newcastle anymore (but we’re only up the road) you can ‘feel’ the atmosphere. Even in the ‘rough’ parts you get it – I tell my friends that live in Ashington all the time that there’s just an energy to it all, as wank as that sounds, but there is! There’s something in the air. The people are nicer up North too, not just politer, but nicer. Their default setting is to be cheerful and helpful rather than dour and suspicious. I love it.
Newcastle has everything you need – it’s got the beautiful town centre, an ugly bit of town centre (sometimes I do miss concrete), the seaside is only a few miles away, the nice seaside is only a few miles more, a big-ass Angel, rolling countryside that goes on forever, and an airport if you want some proper sun. What more do you need?
If I had to recommend somewhere to visit around here other than Newcastle (of course) would be the bit around South East Northumberland – you’ve got Northumberlandia, a giant woman made out of rubble, the fantastic mining history over in Ashington (the Woodhorn museum is fascinating), a gorgeous beach over at Blyth (not a 99 in sight! Just watch out for doggers) and some wonderful countryside-villagey stuff up near Alnwick including a brilliant bookshop in an old train station, a dramatic castle and a fancy garden. Vindolanda’s also nearby for some fancy learnin’, and if you want to see a dishy 20-something studmuffin dress up as a Roman soldier.
Oh, and did I mention the accent? It’s brilliant. Jokes are funnier coming out of a Geordie. It’s a scientific fact (probably).
Come. You won’t be disappointed.
Full disclosure – we’ve copied this one from Auntie but have made it a bit more SW friendly!
to make crispy chilli beef you will need:
- 350g of minute steak, cut into thin slices (you can get some in our new ‘build your own’ Musclefood hamper!)
- 2 tbsp cornflour (2 syns)
- 2 tsp Chinese five-spice
- 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
- 4 spring onions, sliced (keep the green bits and the white bits separated)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced (save the faff and get one of these)
- thumb-sized bit of ginger, cut into matchsticks
- 4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (2 syns)
- 2 tbsp Hellman’s Tomato Ketchup sweetened with Honey (1 syn) (normal tomato sauce will do, just add on another syn)
- 250g wholewheat noodles, cooked according to the instructions
to make crispy chilli beef you should:
- put the beef in a bowl and toss with the cornflour and five-spice
- heat a wok or a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat and add a really good spray of oil (don’ let Frylight wreck your pans, use this instead)
- add the beef and fry until nice and crisp
- scoop out the beef and add in the peppers, half the chilli, the white bits of the spring onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about 3 minutes
- in a small jug, mix togehter the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and tomato sauce along with 2tbsp water and pour over the veg
- stir well and let it bubble for about 2 minutes
- add the beef back to the pan, stir well and serve over the noodles, and sprinkle over the green bits of the spring onions
Finally managed to scratch that fakeaway itch? To be fair, the itch was probably just yer cystitis playing up. We’ve got plenty more to tickle your fancy – just press one of the buttons below to find out more!