Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

Happy New Year!

Back in 2013 I wrote what was meant to be the start of the end of my food bloging adventure.  I had planned on cooking and writing some last supper type meals and slowly wind down TM from the once daily blog to something I could occasionally dip into.  It turns out that what I had done was given myself permission to drop the blog like a hot potato.

There has been a lot of eating in the past six months and quite a lot of the dishes were the type that I had intended to write about.  Along with the things that folk would consider to be standard fare, rabbit has featured a number of times, as have a number of dishes using offal, and a great squid curry.  It is these dishes that have stayed in my mind, the ones using unusual ingredients.

Now I don't make New Years resolutions, but I am determined to eat a more varied selection of food in 2015.  We are lucky in Leeds that we have a glorious market.  I know that the building itself has seen better days, but the stalls and the people who run them are wonderful and well worth using.  We also have some great local shops that I fully intend making more use of.

Tonight's Menu comes courtesy of a couple of my locals.  Having gorged ourselves over the Christmas Holidays we decided that we needed to up our vegetable intake.  Our festive Market Delivered fruit box had provided us with a pomegranate that needed using and a tajine was born.

Aubergines, courgettes, peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic were simmered in a tin of tomatoes and stock with a couple of tablespoons of Ras El Hanout.  After an hour and a half delicious, rich, wintery stew was ready, all that was left to do was to make some couscous flavoured with coriander, parsley and some of the pomegranate seeds.

I also added some preserved lemons and some grape molasses to the stew but only because I happened to have them at the back of the fridge.  This is the healthiest meal that I have eaten all year and probably the healthiest I've had in the last three weeks and one I will do again.  For the record, I really don't see the point in aubergines but having found some interesting varieties locally I decided that they count as something that I don't normally eat.

I will try to keep you updated as I try to vary my diet during 2015 and I'd love to hear of any unusual foods you find, or if there is anything that you wouldn't eat that I could try to change your mind on.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Haloumi Salad with Dolmades and Pork Koftas: Getting a Lot off My Plate.

On the 18th November 2011 I wrote a blog.  There is nothing unusual in that, I am after all the owner and writer of five blogs.  Back then however I was a fledgling food blogger and Friday Night Take-Away was my first attempt at writing a blog post.  I had been a keen home cook for years and had been sharing my evening meals on social media with positive feedback.  People seemed interested in what I was cooking so writing about it felt like the right thing to do.

I'll be honest, that post isn't great.  The food was*, but the writing and the photograph leave a lot to be desired.  But I was on a learning curve.  I was primarily using Tonight's Menu as a tool to improve my written English skills and, over time, I think I have succeeded in that.

My original plan was to keep Tonight's Menu as a daily diary of our evening meals.  Not a recipe resource full of weights and measures, no step by step guide to cooking.  I wanted to write the story behind the food, the reason behind the meals we chose to cook.  Within a couple of weeks I found myself in a pub for my evening meal and I decided there and then that TM wasn't going to be a review blog either.  I love food and I'm quite opinionated, but who am I to judge what/how others are cooking.  I also applied this rationale to occasions when I was eating in my friends' and family's houses too, writing about the visit and the meal without feeling the need to rate anything out of 10.

This went well until I was approached to do a review for an American Diner in Leeds.  I was about to turn down the opportunity when the call of the freebie got the better of me.  That post, written in April 2012, is still the most read thing I have ever written and sadly I don't think it will ever be surpassed.  I have since accepted and written a scant hand-full of other freebie reviews, but they are not what I've been happiest writing.

I've been at my happiest when I've been thinking up and running random food challenges.  The Olympic Food Challenge, World Cup Food Challenge, and Everything But the Oink have allowed me to stretch my culinary muscle, try even more new ingredients and, to a lesser extent, boss about a glut** of food bloggers; a group of people I'm happy to call friends.

"But why are you telling us this?" I hear you cry.  Well I've decided to call it a day, give it a rest.  It's time for this old warhorse to be put out to pasture.  Time pressures and other activities mean that I just don't have the time for writing, even though it is still something that I really enjoy.  But I'm not going to drop Tonight's Menu like a hot potato.  I want to leave it as something that I'll feel proud of.

I've said for a long time that I don't have a bucket list of food that I want to eat before I die.  I do however have unfinished business with some of my food challenges and there are some dishes that I'm desperate to share with you.  So from now on every post will be one step closer to the end of Tonight's Menu.  There are going to be more endings than in Return of The King.  And at the end of it all there will be room for a little more...

For the record, Tonight's Menu was a Mediterranean meze including grilled haloumi salad, pork koftas, and dolmades.  Very nice it was too.

*I think, it's been a while.
**or whatever the collective noun for food bloggers is.

Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Jarret de Veau

With France beating Nigeria on Monday for a spot in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup I had a few days to plan another meal for tonight's match against Germany.  After failing to get horse and running out of time to get veal for the last round I made certain that I would have veal tonight.  I made the trip into Leeds on Tuesday afternoon, popped into B & J Callard's on Kirkgate Market and set the wheels in motion.

I was after veal breast to make Blanquette de Veau, a traditional French white stew, but as Callard's don't stock veal I was in their hands and the hands of their suppliers.  It turns out that the few veal suppliers out there are more than happy to sell prime cuts of meat but tend to use the secondary cuts to make burgers and sausages, presumably betting more bang for their buck, or at least shifting meat that they would otherwise struggle to sell.  Getting breast or anything from the shoulder was proving difficult, but Kyle from Callard's didn't let me down.

He managed to source a veal shin from a farm in North Leeds.  I regularly cook with beef so I knew it would be suitable to stew.  My plan was to cut the meat from the bone and crack on with the cooking, but once I saw the three wonderful Osso Buco steaks I had a change of heart.  I wanted to use them whole so that the marrow could cook into the sauce, so I started looking around for French versions of the classic Italian dish.

I found a typically French Jarret de Veau aux Champignon, got it translated and set about cooking it.  The meat was dusted in seasoned flour and then fried in duck fat*.  Diced onions, carrots and celery were then added to the pan along with a glass of white wine and some stock.  This was brought to the boil before being reduced to a simmer for an hour.

While that was cooking I made some boulangere potatoes and tucked into the rest of the bottle of wine that I had opened to cook with.  By the time I finished the dish with chopped fresh parsley, garlic, and lemon zest, France had been knocked out of the World Cup by Germany.  An outcome that I had seen coming from before the first ball was kicked back on the 12th June.

The veal was superb.  The meat fell of the bone and the addition of the fresh herbs at the end lifted the sauce.  Z was a little squeamish about eating the marrow but loved it after her first tentative morsel.  I would buy and cook this again in a heart-beat, if only veal was more readily available in our butchers and supermarkets.  The thought of perfectly good meat going to waste just because of fads, trends, and people's sensibilities saddens me.

I'm also sad to have cooked my last meal of the World Cup Food Challenge.  It's been fun but there is always another challenge.

*the recipe called for butter but after making confit duck I happen to have quite a lot of duck fat that needs using.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Switzerland - Pizzocheri

I had always assumed that Switzerland would be the runners up in Group E.  That said it all came down to the last match.  France didn't do them any favours, only managing a draw against Ecuador.  A spirited 3-0 victory against Honduras was enough for the Swiss team to book their place in tonight's match against the mighty Argentina.

Having made a fondue for Switzerland in the opening round of the World Cup Food Challenge I was stumped for what to cook tonight.  What other food is synonymous with the Swiss?  I didn't want to start messing around with chocolate.  I have fought the good fight against rosties in the past and frankly, I never want to eat burnt and raw grated potato again.  Other possibilities included Muesli, but I want an evening meal not breakfast, and Berner Platte, but that is too similar to last night's choucroute garni and I couldn't face that again for a while.

Then I discovered that the Swiss have a healthy love for pasta.  Sharing a border with Italy was bound to rub off some influences.  Unlike the Italians though, the Swiss favour buckwheat pasta and I couldn't think of anywhere in Leeds that I'd be able to buy any, so I decided to make my own from scratch.  All I needed was some buckwheat flour and I had two options of where to get some.  My first were sold out and expecting a delivery on Friday, my second choice, Out of This World, had flour aplenty.

Making the pasta was child's play, so much so that I employed R, with a little supervision, to cut out the pasta after we had made the dough.  I'm sure Pizzocheri isn't meant to have wavy edges but that is the cutter that he chose.  The strips of pasta were cooked in plenty of boiling water with some potatoes, green beans and spinach.  Once cooked and drained the pasta and vegetables were layered with cheese in an oven proof dish and topped with fried onions, garlic, sage leaves and melted butter.

My favourite line of the recipe is the last one.  "Bake in preheated oven for 5–10 minutes at 250 ºCelsius. The cheese must melt."  And melt it did.  A bit of research into pizzocheri tells you that this is a favourite winter warmer and I can see why.  It definitely fits into the comfort food category.  The pasta has a lovely flavour from the buckwheat, and who doesn't love double carbs?

Sadly, by the time I had finished eating, Switzerland had been knocked out of the world cup by Argentina.  I know I'll be making fondue again and I'm sure that pizzocheri will make a return when the cold weather sets in.

Monday, 30 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Choucroute Garni

The problem with having drawn France in the World Cup Food Challenge is deciding what to cook.  Some of the countries taking part in the world cup have a limited culinary history.  When looking up dishes for Honduras I came across Carne Asada on four or five separate searches, the decision was made for me.  The French though have more iconic dishes in their culinary canon to lay siege on most of the rest of Europe, never mind the rest of the world.

Choosing Confit de Canard as my first dish was a no brainer.  I'd been looking for an excuse to cook it for ages.  Assuming that France would get out of Group E I had already been looking for inspiration for Tonight's Menu.  I originally thought that tonight would be the night that I knowingly tried horse for the first time.  Since horsegate I have been looking for an excuse to cook an equine supper and as the French love cheval I decided to give it a go.

I asked my butcher if he could source me some horse and sure enough he said that he could.  I'd decided that I wanted to cook Daube de Chevaline, a slow cooked stew that required some shoulder meat.  This was available but once you added on delivery to the butchers it was close to £25 for a couple of pounds of meat.  Horse was off the menu.  Next on my hit list was Blanquette de Veau, but sadly the time consumed in a fruitless horse chase ate up all of my veal ordering time too. 

Having tried and failed to get hold of the ingredients for two classic and refined dishes I decided to go a bit more rustic and cook Choucroute Garni.  This mountain of a meal has a place in the folk lore of Z's family.  Holidays to France weren't complete without a table bursting pile of sauerkraut festooned with various sausages, hams and pork.

My choucroute has a base of cabbage braised in white wine with onions, bacon, celery, caraway, mustard seeds, and juniper berries.  This was served with a Toulouse style sausage, belly pork and a joint of cured pork collar that were cooked separately and then added to the choucroute to warm through before serving.  I also cooked a load of new potatoes but there wasn't enough space on the serving plate to include them in the photograph.

I'll be honest, as meals for two people go this was excessive.  We managed to eat half of the collar, one of the belly pork slices and a third of the sausage.  There is plenty of cabbage and potatoes left too.  The collar will be part of some pea and ham soup.  The sausage will appear on sandwiches and pizza later on this week.  The rest will become soup-croute.

In case you are wondering, the stork garnish is one of Z's strongest memories of the holidays.  She and her brother used to collect them.  She now thinks that they were just put on every kids meal not just the choucroute, but we couldn't resist having one for old times sake.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Switzerland - Beer Fondue

Switzerland.  Home of the Swiss Army Knife, Red Bull, Toblerone, tax havens, and armed neutrality.  Birthplace of the Red Cross and the cuckoo clock.  It is also the home of FIFA, so it's not really surprising that they qualified for Brazil 2014.

Switzerland are the last of my four countries for the World Cup Food Challenge, but Tonight's Menu is one that I have been greedily looking forward to.  Anybody who knows me will be able to confirm that I am a lover of Cheese.  Given the choice I will go for a cheese board over any dessert on a restaurant menu.  I'm a paid up member of Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' wonderful cheese club.  For my birthday this year Z bought me a cheese making kit.  It should be of no surprise that I chose fondue to represent Switzerland.

The decision wasn't automatic though.  Fondue was on the back burner whilst I was looking for other dishes to cook, when I found the recipe for "The Best Swiss Cheese and Beer Fondue".  Cheese and beer? Now you're talking.  I've only had fondue a couple of times in the past and the most memorable time was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Too much booze overpowered the cheese.  The idea of a beery version was too good to miss out on.

The recipe is specific in relation to the cheese that's required, but when it came to the beer, it just says beer.  Dark beer, light beer, hoppy beer, I really didn't know what they had in mind.  I contacted Beer Ritz via Twitter to see if they stocked any Swiss beer, but the answer was no.  I was at a loss and started googling Swiss beer styles to see if I could get an idea of the type of beer that I should use.  I had settled on using a Helles style light lager when I was contacted by John from 1936 Biere.

John had seen my conversation with Beer Ritz and, being the seller of a beer brewed in Switzerland, was quick to get in touch and tell me of his wares.  He pointed me in the direction of Lazy Lounge who stock 1936, both bottled and on draft.  I hot footed it to the pub, bought the last six bottles of Swiss beer in the region*, and stashed it in the cellar until it was needed.

Yesterday I sourced the cheese for my fondue.  A trip to George and Joseph in Chapel Allerton is always a pleasure.  Stephen (cheesemonger extraordinaire) had reserved me a block of Reserve Gruyere de Jura and suggested Ogleshield Raclette as a suitable replacement for Emmental.  The two grated blocks of cheese were slowly melted into the beer, nothing could have been easier.

The only thing left was to decide what to dunk into the cheesy goodness.  We went for the obligatory bread, radishes, carrot batons, gherkins, and pickled onions, all washed down with the rest of the 1936.  The only rules were no double dipping and no sabotaging anybody else's dunk by knocking their bread off their fork and into the fondue.

Switzerland are not yet out of the world cup. A win against Honduras could well be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.  I'm not sure I'll be able to top fondue as a Swiss meal but I'll have to give it a go.  I will be going out to buy a fondue set though.  The orange beauty in the photo belongs to Nick, from Homage 2 Fromage, who was wonderful enough to let me borrow it for tonight.

*I also had a cheeky half pint of it while I was there.  Well it would have been rude not to.

Friday, 20 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Ecuador - Goat Stew

Here we go with my third recipe for the World Cup Food Challenge.  Having convinced myself that Ecuador would not progress from the group stage of the world cup, I wanted to find a recipe that would do them justice, something typically Ecuadorian.  Then I found this recipe for Goat Stew.  I love goat and jump at any opportunity to eat it.  This stems from the fact that I love lamb but Z can't stand it.  She'll happily eat goat though so as a lamb substitute goat does just fine.

Learning from my previous timing disasters, which came about due to not reading my Honduran recipe correctly, I double and triple checked the ingredients list and cooking instructions for the stew.  There were a couple of ingredients that I couldn't get hold of however.  Aji peruano powder was a chilli too far, even for Spice Corner on Kirkstall Market.  I substituted with Kashmiri chilli powder as it was meant to be mild.  The second ingredient I was struggling with proved more tricky to replace.

The recipe calls for a cup of frozen naranjilla/lulo pulp.  Nope I've never heard of it either.  It turns out the naranjilla is not quite a tomato, not really an orange, and not readily available in the shops of Leeds.  I had sent Z on many a wild goose chase during the Olympic Food Challenge but this was a goose too far.  But then the food gods smiled on us.

While taking a well earned break from hunting down obscure fruits, Z stopped for lunch at Casa Colombiana in the Grand Arcade.  She was sharing some empanadas with R.  She bought a coffee
for herself and a bottle of fruit juice for R.  It was only when she opened the bottle of juice that she realised that she hadn't bought orange juice but had inadvertently bought naranjilla juice.  I'd been expecting a flavour somewhere between rhubarb and lime, but Z and Marta (the owner of Casa Colombiana) decided that lychee or kiwi fruit would be suitable substitutes for the recipe.

The final ingredient to source was beer.  I'm told that the big brand Ecuadorian beer is Pilsener, but nowhere in South Leeds seems to stock it.  I did manage to get hold of Modelo, my favourite Mexican beer.  With all three of my substitutes used it was time to get cooking.

The goat, having spent twenty four hours in a bath of beer, was browned off while a red onion, red pepper, three garlic cloves, parsley, and coriander were puréed.  Once browned the meat was set aside so the vegetable mixture could be cooked along with a mixture of puréed tomatoes and kiwi fruit.  The goat was then added back to the pan along with the reserved beer marinade and spices, and cooked for two hours.

Sporting clichés aside, the substitutes did me proud.  The beer worked its magic on the goat, acting as a tenderiser before the cooking began.  The Kashmiri chilli was warming and not too spicy which balanced the extra punchy heat from cayenne pepper.  But the star of the show was the kiwi fruit.  Along with the cup of pulp that was added at the start of the cooking I added a couple of chopped kiwis ten minutes before serving.  The sweet sourness of the kiwis cut through the heat of the stew wonderfully.

I'm not sure if Ecuador will emerge from Group E.  They are in second place with one game to play but their final game is against France who have scored eight goals in their first two matches.  If we do say goodbye to Ecuador at this point at least I have discovered a new family favourite.