Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Big Shop - Week 2: Hyper Local

After last Saturday's enjoyable trip to Leeds Kirkgate Market for our big shop we could easily have decided to shop nowhere else for the duration of Lent.  What items we couldn't find on the market I know are available at other independents in the City Centre.  But shopping in town isn't an easy or accessible option for everybody.  We are lucky that Z works just outside of the centre, on Leeds' "South Bank"*, and we are even luckier that her place of employment has a car park that staff can access during the weekend.

That said, we don't drive into town that often.  We live half an hours walk away and our bus route is one of the better, more frequent ones that Leeds has to offer.  In the past when shopping on the market we have walked in and caught the bus home with our bags of groceries.  I realise that this too is a stretch for some, Beeston Road is steep and the bus prices have been going up.  But if you can't get into town and transport is an issue, where do you shop?

For most Beestonites the first option for something resembling a "big shop" is the Co-op.  It's local, it's convenient, its range of food, drink and cleaning products is large enough.  But it is a Supermarket**, so for us it is out of bounds even for a few bits.  Further along Old Lane is a small ASDA.  Small or not this is right out of the question, you don't get more supermarkety than one of the big four, even in "Express" format.

Yet in amongst the dense Victorian houses of LS11 there are still some small, local, independant food shops.  The cornershops of the Open All Hours variety do still exist, there are butchers, bakers and greengrocers.  So with these shops in mind we set off with our trusty list to see how we would get on.

The first stop was McDonnell's Butchers on Beeston Road.  The only meat on the shopping list was sausages for Toad in the Hole on Sunday but I also picked up some pork pies for our lunch.  We then miandered through Beeston heading towards Dewsbury Road, where we hoped we would be able to get the bulk of our purchases.

The first shop we got to was Kasa's, a local chain of convenience stores**.  Here we managed to get a few bits and bobs; pop, squash, milk, but nothing to write home about.  The next stop was much more successful.  J & D Marsay on Dewsbury road is a blast from the past.  A greengrocer and florist in a world where people struggle to eat their five-a-day and only buy flowers from petrol stations.  I'd been to Marsay's before, but Z didn't even know it was there and we have lived here since 1999.

The bulk of our weekly shop is fresh fruit and vegetables so we filled our boots and had a chat.  Turns out there used to be three members of staff that worked on Saturdays but the shop hasn't been busy enough to justify that for years.  The blame, without any prompting from me, was laid at the doors of the supermarkets.  That, coupled with the fact that most of their old regular customers are, well, old, means they aren't getting the footfall that they used to.

With R's buggy starting to tip backwards under the weight of the carrier bags*** we ploughed on.  A new Polish supermarket** next door to Marsey's provided olive oil, ham and orange juice.  The promise of fresh bread was dashed as the bakery we went to has closed down, as has the Dewsbury Road branch of Gregg's!

Our final stop was at Barkat Continental Foods on Roland Road.  Barkat is our go to for herbs and spices as I can get there easily in my lunch break, but this time we bought toothpaste and shampoo along with a shopping basket full of chilled and dry goods.

Two hours later we were foot tired and very hungry so we yomped back up Beeston Hill to survey our wares and see what was still missing from our list.  Once we'd unpacked, the missing items were obvious.  We were so busy chatting in the greengrocers that we didn't get enough fruit for the week, so a top up shop is in order.  The other item missing was toilet roll.  We did have opportunities to buy some but we aren't desperate enough to use non-recycled loo roll just yet.  I guess our ethics are still working even if our local shops aren't quite living up to them.

*I am not a fan of the current trend for calling anything and everything south of the river Aire the "South Bank".
**What is a supermarket?
***all our own.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Big Shop - Week 1: Leeds Market

I don't know about you, but our house is ruled by lists.  There is the Birthday list, the Christmas card list, the list of what is in the overflow freezer and the wine list.  There is also a list of DIY jobs that still need finishing*.  But the two most important lists are the weekly meal planning list and the shopping list.

The Meal Planner dictates what goes on the Shopping List on a weekly basis, but we try to add things to the shopping list the moment we run out of them, just in case we forget.  There are always some items that never actually make the shopping list, like milk and orange juice.  We use so much of both that it's just taken as read that we need them whenever we're shopping.

This list mentality has done us proud for years.  We seldom buy things that we don't need, we keep well stocked cupboards and we very rarely waste food.  This weekend though has been a challenge, would we be able to get everything on our shopping list even though we were not using supermarkets?

To make life as easy as possible, we tried to keep the shopping list and meal planner as fluid as possible.  A good example of this is the meal we planned as 'fish'.  I have learned to keep fish in the hands of the fishmongers of Leeds Kirkgate Market; if you plan to eat cod there wont be any cod, best to go with what's best on the day and today we got Sea Bass.

We didn't pull any punches with our shopping list though.  We included laundry liquid, maple syrup and mayonnaise.  These are all things that I assumed that we would struggle to find whilst shopping locally, but I needn't have worried.  The first shop we went to** not only provided the laundry liquid that our middle class lifestyle is accustomed to, but also gave us a cracking loaf of wholegrain bread.  Then we hit the market.

I love Kirkgate market.  There I've said it.  I love the buildings that it is set in, I love the mix of stalls, I love the calls from the stall holders hawking their wares, but I was worried that we would return home with items still not crossed off our list.  I shouldn't have worried.  An enjoyable*** hour or so later we returned home with fifty pounds worth of fruit, vegetables, fish, bread and sausages for the first barbecue of the year.

I have a feeling that giving up supermarkets for Lent will not only be possible, but I'm starting to think that we won't have to change our habits either.  There are still some question marks over where we can source our preferred brands of soap, beans and toilet roll, but Leeds is a big city and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the local shops on offer.

*we've been living in our house for 13 years but some things just never get done.
** Out of this World, 20 New Market St, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 6DG
***when was the last time you enjoyed a trip to the supermarket? It doesn't happen. Markets are great and you should use them.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Give it up for Lent!

Lent, Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday.  Christians around the world will be fasting or giving up a luxury item for forty days as a form of penance leading up to Easter and the marking of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Many non Christians also join in and give up food stuffs from crisps and chocolate to meat and alcohol.  I gave up booze for lent a few years ago and this is not something I will be doing again in a hurry.  Trying to explain to my Scottish relatives that I didn't want a beer while visiting them on holiday was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

This year we have decided not to deprive ourselves of food and drink but limit ourselves to where we can buy it from.  For lent we are giving up supermarkets.

I have a love hate relationship with supermarkets.  I love the range of food available.  I love the convenience of being able to buy all of my groceries under one roof.  I love the copious free car parking.  I'm quite fond of free morsels of food on cocktail sticks on the deli counters.  On the other hand, I hate BOGOFs on £5 chickens.  I hate individually wrapped apples.  I hate buying fresh food that is out of season and has been shipped around the globe.  More importantly I hate the damage, perceived or otherwise, that supermarkets do to the High Street and independent traders.

We have made a slight tactical error however.  We missed the opportunity to stock up on the larger items that we rely on the supermarkets for.  Top of this list is nappies, but as this is a food blog I'll try to focus on the food.

So until Good Friday* we're saying goodbye to Asda, Morrison's, Sainsbury's and Tesco's.  There will be no cheeky visits to Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, M&S or Waitrose.  We will be shopping in the corner shops, the greengrocers, and the butchers that we all too often avoid because they aren't located next to each other.  We'll also be spending more time shopping on Leeds Market which, to be honest, is something I'm really looking forward to.  Bring on the shopping.

*and possibly beyond depending on how we get on.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Dead Hippies and Humble Pie at Trinity Kitchen

Back in October 2013 I wrote a post for The Culture Vulture about the opening of Trinity Kitchen and what the food hall could have turned into.  I think it was fair and balanced.  My first impression was made at a preview event, which had been organised by Trinity to give the kitchens a taste of customers and service, before opening the doors to the salivating public.  It is fair to say that I had my reservations.

Whilst I was sure that, in keeping with the rest of Trinity, Trinity Kitchen was going to be a well designed space, I wasn't sure about how the mix of permanent vendors and rotating street food vans would work.  On the afternoon of the preview, the street food vans weren't trading so we could only eat from the permanents and very nice my food from Pho was too.  But, if I'm honest, it was the vans that I was interested in and it is the vans that I have been going back for, at least once every rotation.

Tonight I was invited back to Trinity Kitchen, with a clutch of other food bloggers for a free meal, to help welcome a new batch of street food vans.  The usual format of sit where you want and serve yourself was thrown out of the window and in an interesting twist, table service was introduced for the evening.  We were welcomed with a glass of fizz from 360˚, shown to our seats and presented with menus.  There were two choices from each eatery but I couldn't drag my eyes away from the Dead Hippie burger from newbies, The Meat Wagon.

Burgers are de rigueur in Leeds at the moment, usually piled so high with extras that you can't pick them up without losing half of them onto your lap.  These burgers, which require a knife and fork to eat them, are a pet hate of mine*, but the Dead Hippie was perfectly handleable.  The two patties were still pink and well seasoned, the "Hippie Sauce" was as good as any special sauce I've had on any other burger and the pickle was large enough to put up resistance without being overpowering.

Even the bun was up to the job, refusing to fall apart even though the burger was so juicy you could have wrung it out and had beef soup as a side dish.  It was a tasty burger and I'm glad I chose it, as at £8 I don't think that I would have bought one for myself.  Not when the other street food vans had cheaper and more interesting food on offer.

Highlights for me since Trinity Kitchen opened have been; Manjit's Kitchen, Fish &, Original Fry Up Material, and Donostia Social Club, all of which I'd welcome back to Trinity in a heartbeat.  I'll be popping back at some point this month to spend some of my hard earned cash and try some of the other new food on offer.  I do still have issues with the notion of Street Food in the UK, but while it is being presented so well in Trinity Kitchen, I think we'd all be foolish not to take advantage of the ever changing array of quality food being served in such an excellent environment.

*along with food served on chopping boards and chips served in a jenga stack.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Chinese Style Ox Cheek Stew

Cheek is a wonderful cut of meat from any animal.  Just think about the amount of exercise your cheeks get on a daily basis.  All of that chewing and talking means that our cheeks hardly have a break all day.  It's the same with animals*.  Cod cheeks are wonderful, pork cheeks are succulent but the daddy of them all are ox cheeks.

Even when cows aren't eating they're still chewing the cud.  The amount of work that those cheeks go through is mind boggling and all of that work means the meat is full of flavour, but also full of tough fibres and sinew that require slow cooking to break them down. The last time we had ox cheek we went for a traditional beef and ale stew but tonight I fancied something a bit different, so I raided the fridge for inspiration.

The usual suspects were there but tucked at the bottom of the salad crisper was a piece of ginger.  That was when I decided to try a Chinese inspired stew.  Onions, garlic, red chilli and the ginger softened in vegetable oil, formed the base of the stew.  The browned ox cheek was added along with light and dark soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sweetened vinegar sauce, five spice, szechuan peppercorns and some stock.  The stew was then left to simmer on a low heat for three hours.

The finished stew was superb.  The liquid had reduced down into a sticky sauce, thickened by the natural collagen from the cheeks.  The sweetness from the vinegar sauce balanced the saltiness of the soy, and the heat from the chili, szechuan peppercorns and ginger grew with every bite, without ever becoming overpowering.

The thing with cheeks is you only get two of them on any animal.  To my mind this should make them an expensive rarity, but as with most of the slow cook cuts they're relatively cheap.  We found our ox cheeks at Oakwood Farmers Market and we'll be looking for them again.

*Apart from the talking of course.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Oxtail Ragu

You would think that after almost two years and over three hundred posts that I would know if I had written something before.  I know that I have repeated recipes in that time, some things* crop up quite often, but now that Tonight's Menu isn't daily I just manage not to write about those meals.  However, it turns out that my ageing memory is still prone to playing tricks on me.

I could have sworn that I had told you all** about the joys of Oxtail Ragu.  I was certain that I would be going over old ground if I told you that The Geometry of Pasta is one of my favourite cookery books.  At least three other people held the same opinion, but I have been through the archives with a fine tooth comb and I can only find fleeting reference to this wonderful dish, so here we go.

I've been looking for an excuse and the time to cook oxtail ragu for months.  The last time I made it was back in December when we had a house full of guests for Christmas.  One tail makes easily enough ragu to serve five people, so it's the perfect dish for a big family gathering, or two greedy people who love leftovers.

There isn't much point reducing the recipe either, as even when sold cut up, oxtails are always sold as the entire tail.  This is a hangover from the days of Mad Cow Disease and the threat of CJD.  One tail, some stock veg, half a bottle of white wine*** and two tins of tomatoes are all you need, but you could add some bay leaves or other hard herbs.  The whole lot gets cooked together for as long as possible.  I suppose if you have a slow cooker you could use that.  I just left my pan on a very low heat for 6 hours the day before we planned to eat the sauce.

The original recipe in The Geometry of Pasta suggests that the oxtail should become the meal on day one and the sauce reserved for day two but I like to strip the meat from the bones, shred it between two forks and mix it back into the sauce.  The book also claims that this is a sauce for penne, but I don't hold to much stock in the assertion that you need the right pasta for a specific sauce.  Use whatever shape of pasta you have, but do try the oxtail ragu.

*see spaghetti bolognese, and sausage and bean casserole.
**hello Mum.
***yes white wine, trust me.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Summer Vegetable Lasagne

Yesterday I proclaimed that our star find at last weekend's Headingley Farmers Market was an enormous Pattypan Squash.  Although it is quite a thing to behold, it's size was not the deciding factor in us buying it.  We have tried on numerous occasions to grow pattypans with very limited success.  On the allotment we only got two or three tennis ball sized squashes and at home the seeds failed to germinate.

Pattypans are closer to courgette than pumpkin on the squash scale.  I love courgettes but the pattypan has become ellusive so when I saw one on the market I bought it without hesitation.  My plan was to thinly slice the pattypan, gently fry the slices and use them as a replacement for lasagne sheets.  This plan was scuppered when I realised that the mammoth squash's skin wasn't as soft and delicate as the tender young squashes that I had managed to grow.

The skin was as hard as Rhino hide and once I had managed to halve the pattypan I discovered that the flesh wasn't as yielding either.  I decided to include the pattypan in the tomato sauce that I would have made for the lasagne and use the mixture to stuff cannelloni, only to discover that the packet of cannelloni that was tucked at the back of the cupboard only had three tubes in it.

Luckily we had enough sheets of lasagne to make a fantastic meal.  The sauce had onion, garlic, peppers, fresh tomatoes, oregano, basil and of course half of the pattypan squash.  It was simmered together and seasoned before becoming the first, second and third layers of the lasagne.  It was topped with a cheesy bechamel sauce, some mozzarella and baked for half an hour.

The resulting lasagne was honestly the best I have ever cooked at home.  They often dry out when I cook them, but the moisture from the vegetables helped to cook the pasta sheets perfectly.  I didn't even miss the obligatory meat layer.  I still have half of the pattypan left over too, if you have any ideas what I should do with it I'd love to hear them.