Sunday, 18 November 2012

Happy 1st Birthday

A year ago today I made my first tentative steps into the world of blogging.  I had always thought of blogs as the domain of the self righteous and geeks but, I had been getting some very positive feedback from people about the food I had been cooking for my evening meals so a blog felt like the most logical step.  The thing that was stopping me was self doubt.  Would I be able to write something that people would read and more importantly, would anybody read the dashed thing?

My biggest fear was my mental block for written English.  I have always read a lot but whenever it came to putting pen to paper I froze.  I only ever scraped past written exams, even if I knew the subject inside out, so choosing to write for the sake of it was a scary proposition.  Fortunately Z has been on hand to proof read for me, because this would not be the blog it is if it hadn't been for her.

I decided from the outset that I didn't want to write a recipe blog, I felt that the story behind each dish would be more entertaining*.  I hope that I was right and that whether you've been reading all year or have only just stumbled across Tonight's Menu, you like what you have found.  Hopefully you have even been inspired to cook something, who knows?

As this is the first birthday of Tonight's menu I had thought about cooking a celebration meal, or looking back through a year of cookery to choose a favourite to cook again.  However, capricious fate has played me like a Mississippi Boat Whore and rather than rustling up a delicious meal I'll be spending the evening in the company of the Idiot B*stard Band.

To keep your culinary juices sated I have looked back over the last year to check on the most popular blog posts and present them here for your pleasure.  As tradition would dictate they are in reverse order.

10. Venison and Chocolate Casserole.  The antidote to Halloween and it's Americanisation was to cook something inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

9. Chorizo and Bean Stew with Gurnard.  Possibly my favourite dish in the top ten.  The lightness of the poached fish really worked with the earthy Spanish flavours from the bean stew.

8. Fish and Greens with Fufu. The only entry in the top ten from the Olympic Food Challenge, an undertaking that completely took over Tonight's Menu during the summer. The fish in question was Catfish which we had never eaten, or cooked with, before.  It was very good too, a strong meaty fish with no fiddly bones.

7. Cheese Club, Cheese with Added Stuff. From only last week and the first of three top ten hits from Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' first and only cheese club.

6. Yorkshire Cheese. The second entry from Homage 2 Fromage, this time with a local twist.

5. Posh Fish and Chips. With three fish blog posts in the top ten I'm assuming that there is an apetite for seafood out there.  I'm still trying to eat fish that isn't cod or haddock whenever possible.  The posh fish in this meal was marlin and it was good.

4. Irish Cheese at Homage 2 Fromage. The higest ranked cheese club post is here at number four.  The Irish theamed night included a visit from the wonderful Cooleeney Farm.

3. Yorkshire Chicken Mole. I'm happy that highest ranked recipe for the year is this Yorkshire twist on a mexican classic.  Chicken and chocolate are a marriage made in Wakefield.

2. Leeds Pork Pie Challenge. The first self imposed challenge on Tonight's Menu was to try and find Leeds' best pork pie.  I like to think that I was thorough, although I am still willing to be proven wrong.

Which brings us to number one, top of the pops, the big cheese, the most read post in a year of writing almost 300 musings about the food we eat.

1. Johnny Fontane's. This is the only restaurant review I have written and, saddly, Johnny Fontane's did not make it to it's first birthday.  To my astonishment, even after it closed, this post is still being read a couple of times a week.  Perhaps I should do more reviews, but then we wouldn't want more restaurants going bust would we?

So there we have it, the ten most read posts from a year of blogging.  It has been a fun year that I have taken a lot from.  I think my writen English has improved and I know that my photography certainly has.   This list does not actually include my favourite meals of the last year, but I'll save them for a different post in a day or two**.

Thank you all for continuing to read and talk about food with me.  Finally I think we should all thank Z, without her this really wouldn't be Tonight's Menu, it would probably be Tonights' Menue.

*if not for you my loyal reader then for me.
**I'm allowed a couple of monatages, it's my birthday.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Zebra Burgers

It seems that every week there is a new wave of public, or celebrity, outrage at the social networking and micro blogging site Twitter.  Some of the tales of woe are reminiscent of playground rows, friends falling out over an opinion miraculously behaving like best friends by the end of the week.  There are tales of trolls* being so vile that people are deactivating their accounts altogether.  There are also the legal battles over jokes on twitter being taken seriously and for deformation of character.

It's not all doom and gloom though, in fact it's probably not even 10% doom and gloom, but as with all things it's the bad news that travels and sticks.  Tonight's Menu comes courtesy of the nice, friendly, cuddly side of Twitter.  Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to meet some of the people I follow on Twitter at various food (and non-food) events and it was through one of these that I had my first contact with zebra.

Back in November I noticed a picture, posted on twitter by Jo from Thistlemist Farm.  She had been selling her wonderful soup at Wentworth Farmers market and was tucking into a zebra burger.  I was immediately jealous but resigned myself to not driving the hour and a half round trip for a burger.  I set about my day and promptly forgot about stripy meat.  When I got home I found a message from Jo telling me that she'd bought me a packet of the burgers and that I could collect them next time she was at a more conveniently placed farmers market. 

Today was the Oakwood farmers market and I made the trip up to Roundhay to pick up my burgers.  Sadly Jo was ill, but I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Soup who had been sent to market with her wares to sell and the zebra to pass on to me.  It felt a bit odd, getting to the front of a queue of people buying soup and asking for zebra.  It was just as odd when an unmarked bag was passed over the stall counter, money exchanged hands and, like a Chicago gangster, I left the market making sure that I wasn't being followed.

To make sure that we could taste the zebra we decided not to garnish the meat patties with the usual ketchup, mustard, cheese etc.  We grilled the burgers and served them with dukkah coated potato wedges as a nod to their African heritage.  I'm not sure what I was expecting from zebra, I've never eaten horse** and I was sure it wasn't going to be beefy.  It didn't have that strong a flavour at all, gamey and sweet.  The burgers were also very juicy which surprised me as I thought that zebra would have been especially lean.

The burgers were from Oslinc, a Lincolnshire Ostrich farm who also specialise in exotic meat.  I love ostrich burgers, not that I've had them for a long time.  I only hope I am never made to choose between zebra and ostrich as they both taste fantastic.

*not the ones who live under bridges waiting for passing goats to eat, but evil spirited individuals who take delight in bullying people. 
**it's on the list

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Filet-o-fish

I realised recently that, although we have been keeping to the tradition of the Friday Night Take-away for a couple of years, there is one take-away establishment that has escaped a mention.  Tonight we have set that straight by knocking up a couple of fish burgers for me and Z.

There was a time in my life when I was a regular visitor to the burger bar with the golden arches.  As a 6th form student I had a Saturday job as a till monkey in a supermarket.  Every lunchtime, for two years, I wandered across the road to McD's and ordered the largest burger on the menu*.  This trend came to an end when I went to university.  A combination of no Saturday job, not having much disposable income and there not being a McDonald's close to my flat meant that my burger intake wained.

If we did treat** ourselves, normally in a moment of drunken abandon, I would stick to my guns and get as much meat as my wallet would allow and Z would usually order a filet-o-fish.  This left us with a problem.  For some reason, no matter which branch of McD's we staggered into, there were never any filets ready to eat.  This meant I had to either; A) wait for Z's filet to arrive, while my burger went cold, or B) eat my burger then sit there wanting a second burger watching Z eat hers.  Due to this, I have resented the filet-o-fish for years.

I do however love a fish finger sandwich.  The fact that they are on almost every pub menu is testimony to their greatness and, possibly, our inability to let go of more innocent times.  They do vary in quality, from reformed "white fish" in basic sliced white bread to monkfish goujons on ciabatta, and every thing in between.

To my mind a fish finger sandwich is a lunchtime treat and not an evening meal so tonight, I let bygones be bygones, set my resentments to one side and set about recreating the filet-o-fish.  Like the hyper-global-fastfood-chain I based my filet on 100% fish fillet.  To keep costs down I opted for coley but you could use any fish you fancy.  The fish fillets were coated in flour, egg and bread crumbs before being shallow fried and served in a bun with home made tartar sauce, cheese and lettuce.  This was every bit as good as I thought it would be and we didn't have to wait half an hour for it to be ready.

*washed down with a diet coke.  I am well aware of the irony of a greasy burger and a diet drink but I honestly prefer the flavour of diet coke to the full fat version.
**some treat!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cheese Club - Cheese with added stuff.

I love cheese. You knew that already* but I really needed to set the scene before telling a tale of cheese I don't like.  Every Christmas, without fail, shops are filled with "seasonal cheeses" with stuff added to them.  I can't stand them.  I'm talking about Wensleydale with Cranberries, White Stilton with Apricots, Cheddar with Pickled Onions.

Last year, to keep a crowd happy I bought some cheese that had "Christmas Chutney" mixed through it.  I'm told that it was nice but I couldn't bring myself to eat any of it.  I do like fruit, chutneys and pickles with cheese, but I prefer to add my condiment to the cheese as and when I see fit.  It was with this in mind that I bought my ticket to this month's Homage 2 Fromage: Cheese with added stuff.

Why would I buy tickets to an evening of cheese that I don't like?  Well, I had faith Vickie and Nick, the driving force behind Homage 2 Fromage, that they would not be serving up plates of second rate cheese stuffed with dried fruit.  My faith was well placed with ten great cheeses for us to try.

As with every Homage 2 Fromage there were highlights and the inevitable cheese that wasn't to everyone's taste.  Tonight however the room was split.  There was no definite king of cheese and nothing was universally despised.  We had: Black Crowdie, Swaledale with Old Peculiar, Gaperon D'Auvergne, Double Gloucester with Chives, Snowdonia Red Devil, Gouda with Cumin, Bowland, Mahon, Royal Red and Katys White Lavender.

My personal favourite was Gouda with Cumin although I will swear until I go to the grave that it was flavoured with caraway not cumin.  The sweet spice seeds were mixed through the Gouda so that every bite had a wonderful warm nuttiness.  At the other end of the scale was the Bowland.  This was as close to the afore mentioned Christmas cheese as I would ever like to get.  A Lancashire cheese stuffed with apple and raisins and coated in cinnamon.  I knew on sight that I wasn't going to enjoy it.  It was far too sweet and nowhere near cheesy enough for my liking.

The evening was rounded off with a talk from Richard Paul, Chairman of Nantwich International Cheese Awards and Cheese Sourcing Director at Bradburys.  He travels the world finding, eating and buying cheese and I think that I want to be him when I grow up.  As well as being an interesting and enthusiastic guest, he also rounded the night off by knocking the room sideways by introducing us to what I think is the world's maddest cheese. 

Rossini is an Italian blue cheese, rind washed with grape must, and it is a thing of wonder.  The flavour and texture somehow manages to change with every mouthful.  None of the creamy sharpness of a good blue is lost but it is accompanied by an explosion of alternating flavours.  The sharpness of the wine and the sweetness of the grapes are both present and there is a pleasing sherbety after-taste.  I don't think my tongue has ever been given such a thorough work out.

There was a lot of talk about cheese snobbery tonight.  I probably** fall into the snob bracket, as I prefer to add chutney/onions/pickle to the cheese that I have chosen rather than have it added for me.  We are all different and we all have very different tastes.  If we didn't there would be no place for Homage 2 Fromage.  Without Homage 2 Fromage I would never have tried Rossini and that is a world that I wouldn't want to live in.  Bring on the blue cheese in December!

*unless this is the first time you have found my blog in which case, hello, I love cheese.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Smoked Mackerel Thai Fishcakes

Yesterday I found myself looking into the fridge seeking inspiration for our evening meal.  I was faced with a motley crew of ageing vegetables and very little else.  There was one shining light, a packet of smoked mackerel that had been bought for Z's lunches.  For reasons that I might come to another day, Z hasn't been taking lunch with her to work this week, so the mackerel was in danger of being wasted.

Z regularly makes fish cakes for her and R's lunches at home.  I never get a look in so I decided to knock up a batch myself.  It was then I noticed that amongst the sorry looking salad in the fridge, sat the beginnings of a Thai curry.  There is nothing unusual about a Thai fish cake but I was unsure about the combination of Thai aromatics and smoked fish.

I decided to make a Western, potato based, fish cake and add the Thai flavours to the mix in the hope that the smoked fish wouldn't be too over powering.  To the smoked mackerel and mashed potato I added spring onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander.  I didn't bother with fish sauce as I presumed that the mackerel would be fishy enough.

Standard British fish cakes are usually served with peas and I wanted something along those lines to have with mine tonight.  Having searched the internet I came across Pad Prig King or Green Beans and shrimp.  Steamed green beans fried in red curry paste, is without a doubt the easiest side dish I have ever cooked.  I left out the shrimp but I can see how their sweetness would work in the dish.

I served the fish cakes and green beans with jasmine rice.  I was nervous when I took my first bite of the fish cakes, they smelled superb but I was still unsure about the clash of flavours.  I needn't have worried.  The fish cakes were great and the aromatics worked really well with the smoked fish with no individual flavour dominating.  I know that the meal wasn't authentic but I'd rather make good tasting food than let it go to waste.  With that in mind, Tonight's meal was a huge success.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Penne with Black Pudding and Tomato Sauce

Every now and then, like a magpie, I see something glinting at me and I have to make it mine.  I don't go in for collecting shiny objects but I do collect and store memories of recipes that I have seen.  Tonight's menu is just one of those captured objects.  As soon as the words "spaghetti with black pudding" flashed across my twitter feed I knew that I had to make it mine.

I love black pudding and I have never come across a variation of blood sausage that I haven't liked.  The German and French varieties are a bit on the soft side for my liking but as with most things in life I'll take the Pepsi Challenge*.  Knowing that I needed to cook this as soon as possible, I added black pudding to the shopping list and the rest is history.

The recipe was from Eat Like A Girl and I am very glad that I noticed it.  The sauce is so simple to make and cheap to boot, that we'll definitely be cooking it again.  The heavy seasoning from the black pudding really shone through the sauce like no bolognese ever could.  We will reduce the amount of sugar from the recipe in future as the tomatoes and black pudding were more than sweet enough for us.

*for those too young to remember, the Pepsi challenge was dreamt up by fizzy pop merchants Pepsi to convince the world that their cola drink was better than anybody else's cola drink.  Everybody in the known world states a preference for Pepsi, Coca Cola, Rolla Cola or even a supermarket own brand but lets be honest, who when ordering Coke in a bar turns down a drink after the barman tells you that they have a different brand? No body that's who.  I'm the same with Black Puddings.  I know the Bury pudding is great, I love the Scottish variety, I'm not mad on the Irish version, but I'm happy to take whatever is on offer. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Venison and Chocolate Casserole

Britain, it would seem, is in the evil grasp of a new tradition this evening.  Ever since I was a lad* Hallowe'en has meant dressing up and, with a suitable adult in tow, wandering around your neighbourhood collecting sweeties from the locals that you knew.  I remember one such Trick or Treat outing, I was dressed up as Twiki, Buck Rogers' faithful tin friend.  If you have no idea of who Buck Rogers or Twiki are then you are younger, and possibly less cynical than I am.  Other than my costume I also remember bobbing for apples and helping my dad carve a lantern out of a turnip**.

All of that feels like a very long time ago.  You never hear of bobbing for apples any more.  The practice has probably been outlawed unless a full Health and Safety review has taken place to ensure that nobody drowns and that no teeth fall out as a result of biting close to frozen apples from ice water.  The humble turnip has also been replaced by the huge and vulgar American pumpkin. 

At least the carved turnip has a culinary use.  The carving pumpkin however, has no place in the kitchen.  A never ending barrage of soups, risottos and pies are being cooked this evening in an attempt to use up the pappy, mealy, bland scrapings from the legions of not really scary tea-light holders.  I'm sure that when R gets a little bit older, we'll be carving pumpkins too, but until then we're staying clear of the Americanised and commercialised version of All Hallow's Eve.

Rather than having a jack-o-lantern to ward off the evil spirits of the Underworld, we decided to celebrate and rejoice with the spirits of our loved ones with a Day of the Dead*** inspired Mexican meal.  Venison stews are often sweet affairs packed with root vegetables and finished with redcurrant jelly.  We decided that the bitter sweetness of Mexican chocolate would be a marriage made in heaven.

As with most casseroles, I started by coating the meat in seasoned flour and frying it off in batches.  I then fried two onions, three red romano peppers and some garlic until they had softened, scraping the meat residue off the bottom of the pan at the same time.  I added the meat back into the pan along with five large tomatoes and a teaspoon each of ginger powder, ground cinnamon, ground cumin and some fresh chilli.  Finally I added some chicken stock and let it bubble away for a couple of hours.  After about an hour and a half I added my not so secret ingredient, half a jar of The Chilli Jam Man's Hot Chocolate Orange Chilli Jam.

I cooked the meal before I set of to work for the evening.  Letting the casserole rest for the best part of eight hours let the flavour come together.  When I had turned it off there was still a rawness to the chilli and the chocolate wasn't as pronounced as I would have liked it to be but by the time I had got back home, it had really come together.  Z reheated the venison and cooked some rice, so that when I got in from work we could sit down together and have a meal for the first time this week.

We live on a quiet road where there aren't that many families with children old enough to go trick or treating.  Our neighbours have decorated the front garden with cobwebs and ghoulish nick-nacks, but as one of them is a set designer I can forgive them.  Perhaps it's our proximity to a cemetery that puts people off from knocking on our door looking for a tooth rotting hand out.  Whatever the reasons, I'm glad that we were left alone tonight to enjoy this wonderfully spicy and not too sweet meal.

*the 70's do feel like a very long time ago don't they.
**that would be a swede for my English readers. How you could possibly carve what the English call a turnip is beyond me!
***technically November 1st but we couldn't wait another day.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Berlin Baby!

One of the reasons that I have stopped posting on Tonight's Menu daily is our recent holiday in Berlin.  It's not Berlin's fault, I had a great time, but being away from the blog gave me time to think about how I was using it.  After almost a year I felt like I was in danger of repeating myself and that wouldn't be fun for me or you.  From now on I'll be posting less frequently and only if the meal deserves a mention*.  It seems only right however, that I tell you a little of what we got up to while on holiday, especially the week's worth of food that we consumed. 

If you haven't been to Berlin you really should give it a go.  We have a built-in reason for choosing Berlin as our destination as Z's brother lives there, but you don't need a family connection to justify a trip, especially now that Jet2 have opened up a route from Yeadon International Airport.  There are only three flights a week and they are quite late, so we ended up arriving just as R was ready to go to bed.  Luckily we were mob handed.  The three of us (Z, R and I) flew with my Mum (Granny), while Z's Mum (Nana) and Step-dad (Grand-Phil) had arrived the day before.  Getting R settled wasn't too tricky, even though he was giddy at the attention he was receiving.

As there were so many of us we hired a flat in the middle of the city to call home for the week, this meant we could come and go as we pleased and weren't beholden to hotel catering.  The flat was massive with the potential to sleep 18 people yet it only had a small kitchen, so most of the evening meals were prepared by me and Grand-Phil.  Other than space, our only other limitation when cooking was the lack of ingredients in the rather small and tightly packed "super" market in Friedrich Strasse U-Bahn station.

To say we didn't have a lot of choice, we still managed to eat well.  Pork chops with sage, meatballs, roast mixed vegetables and pasta with a fresh tomato sauce were all cooked by us at some point.  We also had sausages with sauerkraut as part of our final meal**.  Of course not all of out meals whilst on holiday were eaten in the flat. 

As we were doing the tourist thing we had lunch in a bar or cafe almost every day.  The first of these was in De Berliner Republic on the banks of the Spree.  They had some good traditional fare for us to choose from, along with around eighty different beers.  The grannies both had flammkuchen, Germany's answer to the pizza.  Z had pickled herring and Grand-Phil and I both went for blood and liver sausages.  Everybody's food was good but the sausages were a lot softer than either of us had anticipated, more like hot pate than black pudding.

blood and liver sausages

Later on in the week I managed to track down one of Berlin's most notorious food institutions, Currywurst.  Yes it's a sausage covered in curry sauce but not as you would find in the UK.  The sauce is more like a heavily seasoned ketchup, closer to the school dinner curries of my youth than the curries we eat at home, but it works.  I had mine sat outside Adebar, Mitte, in the pouring rain and it was perfect***.


It wasn't all sausages though.  For Z's birthday, her brother and sister-in-law took us to Kuchi, a Japanese/Oriental restaurant with a fantastic menu.  Everything from soup to sushi was on offer.  I had braised pork with rice, Z had a Thai Green Curry, while Z's sister-in-law had a great looking plate of sushi.  Z's brother outdid us all though by ordering Mr Duck's Special Plate. 

left: Sushi. Right: Mr Duck's Special plate

It almost needed to be ordered on the strength of its name alone.  I was like an over flowing bento box, filled to the gills with the best that the menu had to offer.  We finished the evening at Keyser Soze, a bar that would be well at home in Leeds.  Proudly shabby, selling all of the best German beers and with a sound track which was diverse enough to include NWA and Dolly Parton.

And that was that, a week in a fantastic city soaking up culture and over thirty different beers.  Our flights home were in the evening, so we had time for one last meal.  We wandered around looking for a likely restaurant and happened across Café Spreeblick in the Nikolaiviertel district.  The clientèle were all of a certain age and the food that was on offer was of the same vintage.  Wonderfully traditional food.  If we had been in Leeds there would have been Fish and Chips and Filled Giant Yorkshire Puddings.  I ordered stuffed rolled beef with potato dumplings.  It was a fantastic and fitting final meal for this trip, so good in fact that I'll be cooking the dumplings myself in the not too distant future.

Of course, we will be going back to Berlin so it was farewell not goodbye.  I really can recommend a visit although I wouldn't bother with the Checkpoint Charlie Museum if I were you.

*no more writing about leftover spag boll you'll be pleased to hear.
**when in Rome etc.
***one of the things that I have noticed having been to Berlin on a few occasions it that they do like to be outside.  Even in the depths of winter you can happily sit outside a cafe tucking into coffee and cake because they are set up for it.  They know that the temperature is going to plummet, so every chair has a blanket and every table is under an umbrella.  We should do this more in the UK rather than moan about how cold it is.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Friday Night Take-Away - Tamatar Gosht

Eid Mubarak!  Now I'm not Muslim, I'm barely Christian, but that doesn't mean that I can't mark the passing of Eid with a good meal.  I had assumed that, like Christmas, there would be one meal that everybody sits down to with their whole family*.  I asked twitter and was told, in no uncertain terms, that my assumption was wrong.

It turns out that Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice (big Eid) honours the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son for God.  God stepped in at the last moment and switched Ishmail for a ram, happy that Abraham was willing to do his bidding**.  Because of this, meat is the order of day in Eid meals and everybody has their favourite.

One recuring dish from my twitter research was Chappal Kebabs.  A bit of googling later and a starter was born.  We wouldn't normally have a starter but as it's a special occasion we thought it would be rude not to.  Minced beef, onions, tomato and chillies were all mixed together with numerous spices, formed into patties and fried.  I served them with a fresh Pudina Chatni (mint chutney).

Sadly, I live in a house where lamb is off the menu.  Z isn't keen on eating baby sheep and having had beef in the chappal kebabs we couldn't have beef for our main course.  As this is a celebration meal chicken was also off the menu.  Luckily Z is more than happy to eat older sheep and as mutton is nearly always available on Kirkgate Market I started looking for recipes.

I didn't have to look far.  When I cooked for Pakistan in the Olympic Food Challenge I ended up using one of Sumayya from Pukka Paki's recipes.  I went straight back to her website and found exactly what I was looking for, Tamatar Gosht.  Taking Sumayya's advice I made the curry yesterday so that the flavours could develop.

All I had to do today was reheat the curry and temper it.  I don't have any onion seeds in the house but with mustard seeds on the list I don't think that we missed out too much.  I had planned to make an okra side dish but I'm glad I didn't.  My days of wolfing down pate after plate seem to be behind me.  Besides, tonight was all about sacrificing meat and what better way to do that than to cook it well.

Eid Mubarak to everybody that is celebrating over the next few days.

*dry turkey anybody?
**I remember this story from Sunday School, it still amazes me how close to each other the religions are.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Posh Fish and Chips

I've said it before and I'll say it again, we are lucky to have Kirkgate Market in Leeds.  I know you can buy much more than food, but food is the reason I use the market.  I try to go every week but more often than not it's a couple of times a month tops.

I have even managed to change how I shop when visiting the market.  If I'm going to a supermarket I will have a list and slavishly follow it, only diverting from the written word if I stumble upon a bargain.  On the market my list tends to be a whole lot more generic.  For example my list today had Vegetables, Fruit (lots) and Fish*.  I keep the market list simple so that I can buy what looks best on the day.  If I have a particular recipe in mind I will be more specific but I have learned never to do this with fish.

Even in the height of mackerel season there is the chance that all of the good ones will have sold before you get to the market.  The cod you fancy might be more expensive than you budgeted for or, as happens to me all too often, there is something that just looks better than the fish you were looking for.

Today Fish Row was heaving with brilliant looking mussels.  I'm a sucker for moules mariniere but my eyes were turned by marlin steaks.  I'm all in favour of trying new things, so when young Mr Bethell from Bethell's suggested that the marlin was superb, we were in.  He also told us that unlike tuna, the marlin wanted to be cooked through but definitely fried, not baked or stewed.

Taking the fishmonger at his word, I fried our two marlin steaks for a few minutes a side.  They were cooked perfectly and tasted wonderful.  Not as fishy as tuna, not even as fishy as salmon but a good meaty fish.  I cooked some home made oven chips while Z knocked up a salad to have with our posh fish and chips.  The final touch was a garlic and parsley salsa verde that really lifted the fish and was great to dip the chips into.

I'm not sure if I'll get marlin again.  It was really good, but somehow it was just not fishy enough.  If you're not keen on fish, either the taste or the threat of bones, it is probably a good bet.  I have no fear of bones and love the full on fish flavours.  Perhaps next time I'll have mussels.

*I know I didn't really need a list for so few items but I do like a list.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


Normally, when you return from holiday, there are a couple of days when there isn't enough food in the house.  The initial run to the local shop for bread and milk sees you through breakfast and you can just about cobble something together from your cupboards for a couple of meals.  We got back from Berlin last Tuesday and although we have shopped, we still haven't carried out a "big shop" so our cupboards are starting to look pretty bare.

There are always somethings that can be relied upon.  We tend to have three or four types of rice on the go at any one time and there is usually a packet of sausages in the freezer.  The decision to make a paella style dish was made by the fact that the sausages that I found in the freezer were pork and chorizo.

Before anybody calls foul and starts asking about the lack of prawns and mussels, that would be a seafood paella.  The original dish from Valencia would have traditionally contained chicken, rabbit, pork and even snails but no seafood.  Don't get me wrong, I love a seafood paella but with the ingredients I had, a sausage paella it was.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Pulled Pig Cheek Hash

Where does inspiration come from? Sometimes a dream, perhaps you have seen something on the telly, read a magazine article or perhaps a book.  These days it's quite possible that inspiration comes from the internet.  I think, subconsciously at least, the inspiration for tonight's menu came from Twitter.

I can't tell you how, when or why I started following Hashcapades on twitter.  All I know is every now and then they pop into my timeline either with a new hash recipe or retweeting somebody else's meals.  It's not a new idea, I was raised on stovies* but to this day I have never cooked them.

So why change the habit of a lifetime tonight?  Insipration was at hand again.  Nestling in the freezer were a couple of pigs cheeks from Swillington Farm and some pork ribs that were leftover from a mexican meal we cooked a few months back.  I had been waiting for the right reason to cook the cheeks.  They are a brilliant cut of pork but two of them just doesn't quite feel like enough meat for a meal for two hungry carnivores.

I decided to use the ribs to bulk out the cheeks and cook them slowly so that they fell apart.  That was when the decision to make a hash came to me.  I cooked the meat in white wine and stock with onions, carrots and celery for around three hours on the lowest heat I could manage.  The shredded meat was then added to sauted potatoes, onions and more carrots to form the hash.  A ladle of the cooking liquor and a handful of rocket were added to finish the dish off.

The idea of pulled pork dishes has been knocking around for some time now so I can't claim to be any kind of revolutionary trend setter, but this dish was so easy and satisfying that I can see quite a few similar dishes on the menu in the future.

*a Scottish version of the hash, traditionally made with leftover beef but more often than not made with sausages in our house.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Red Mullet with Clams

It's been a while since I've posted a blog on Tonight's Menu, but that's not to say that I've not been eating well.  Work and real life, culminating in a well deserved holiday in Berlin, mean that it has been almost a month since the last post.  I never claimed that this would be a daily challenge for a set period of time, but I also never thought that I would miss more than a couple of days at a time.  I was thinking that I needed to go back and "recap" all of the meals that I hadn't written about, but that way madness lies.  I'm having a fresh start and it happens tonight.

I'm glad it's tonight too.  It's a new experience and one that I want to share*.  I love fish but I'm still a bit wary about cooking it so whenever I have a really successful meal I feel the need to shout from the rooftops.  Tonight was one of those meals.  I took a well deserved trip to pick up some fish from Leeds Kirkgate Market.  I didn't know what I was going to buy or what I was going to cook, thinking that the nicest looking fish would make my mind up for me.

I was right to trust my senses.  My favourite fishmonger** had some great looking hake steaks.  I thought about cooking a black eye pea and boarwors stew and poaching the hake in the same pan, but then I found the red mullet.  TV chefs will tell you time and time again to buy the best ingredients that are available.  If you are buying fish this has to be the number one rule.  I have stopped shopping for fish with a particular species in mind, instead I go and see what looks good on the day.  The difference is huge.  Brilliant mackerel is fantastic, buying mackerel because you wanted mackerel is not always a good move.

As the red mullet was so wonderfully fresh I decided not to make anything too extravagant with it.  I dusted the fillets with a little flour and fried them in butter for a couple of minutes a side.  I placed the cooked fish in the oven to keep warm while I quickly steamed some clams in the fish's frying pan with some butter and white wine.  I served the mullet and clams with some asparagus that I had saved from a supermarket graveyard and some new potatoes.  I have cooked more complex dishes in the last month, but none of them have left me feeling so satisfied.

For the record, I haven't stopped documenting the meals, so there may well be some post dated meals yet to appear.  I hope you like them as much as I did.

*not one of the many re-heated delicious dishes from the freezer stores of chez Tonight's Menu.
**yes I have one.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


Just a quick mini post today as I'm only grabbing a bite to eat before heading into Leeds for a couple of drinks with a mate.  But cassoulet takes ages to cook, I hear you yell.  I know this but I also know that La Belle Chaurienne make and tin some of the finest cassoulet this side of the Pyrenees.  This is the last tin of our last stash so we'll have to stock up again.

You'll probably agree that it wasn't the most appetising looking meal, even with the addition of some chopped parsley.  The flavour more than made up for that though and I am now set for a pint or two.  At some point in the future, when I have more time on my hands I'll attempt an authentic cassoulet, until then I'm more than satisfied with tonight's meal.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Beef and Chorizo Stew with Roast Potatoes

Tucked into a corner of our kitchen is the door into the cellar.  Down there lives a number of spiders of varying size, my fluctuating wine collection, our sofa*, R's future stocks of Lego and our over-flow freezer.  There are days when retrieving food from the freezer can be like a trip into the Temple of Doom, fighting past toppling towers of timber and vaulting discarded furniture while trying not to be skewered on some tools that have not been put away properly.  Today, I gingerly made the trip into the cellar to retrieve a portion of leftover Beef and Chorizo Stew, for our evening meal.

I knew that the stew was down there because on the door in the kitchen, we have a blackboard which lists the freezers contents.  We are in the process of adding yet another blackboard to the kitchen but I'll get back to that later.  It transpires that I had originally cooked the stew to form the base of a Spanish inspired cottage pie.  I had forgotten this nugget of information otherwise I may have tried the same trick with the leftovers.

In the end I made a huge pile of roasties to serve with the stew.  The drawing in of the nights and the chill in the air made my mind up for me on that front.  The stew was delicious with the sweet, smoky Spanish spice flavours that I adore.  The roasted anya potatoes were that magical thing, both crispy and fluffy.  However, having now eaten the stew twice my quest for a Spanish cottage pie remains unfulfilled.

This is where the second backboard is going to come in.  We are going to have a blackboard of dreams.  The dishes I want to create, the challenges ahead, the ingredients untried.  All of these things will feature and hopefully, they will not stay on the wall for too long.

*we are decorating the living room and the furniture needed to go somewhere!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Rocket Pesto

Last year, in an attempt to battle our inability to get to the allotment, we transformed our meagre front garden into a little veg patch.  We grew a hand full of onions, had three courgette plants and trailed runner beans up the fence.  The majority of the space was reserved for lettuces.  We eat lot of salad so growing our own is a really good way to save cash.

Along with a couple of red lettuces* we grew a small amount of rocket.  We didn't buy a single bag of rocket last summer, it kept growing just as fast as we could eat it.  It grew so well that it was only in the depths of winter that it finally died down.  As the snow fell we forgot that it had ever been there.  A year on and we are now getting to the end of salad season again, only this year we didn't sew any.  The rocket returned from it's wintry grave and, where we had had six varieties of salad leaf, it has taken over.

With so much rocket we are widening our horizons away from salads and will be having a pop at rocket soup over the weekend.  Before that though, I have made the slightest dent in the rocket patch to make some fresh pesto.

Rocket, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and cheese are combined to make a delicious peppery sauce that we had over pasta.  Parmesan is the traditional cheese for pesto but, for tonight's version, I added a good hand full of the Ribblesdale unpasteurised goats cheese that I bought for Thursday's Yorkshire Cheese night.  There will be more rocket inspired dishes soon, all ideas are welcome.

*it is a scientifically unproven fact that slugs and aphids do not attack red lettuce.  We have never had so much of a nibble on any or our reds, whereas standard green varieties get munched all the time.

Monday, 17 September 2012


Whilst we were waiting for yesterday's Kohlrabi Gratin to bake we cracked on with the first part of tonight's meal.  The final vegetable treat that Z brought back from Headingley Farmers Market was a rather large patty pan squash.  Like the kohlrabi we have tried to grow these but we have never had any success.  Our courgettes always grew no problem but these yellow saucer shaped versions of the same fruit always eluded us.

The few that we did manage to grow tended to end up in pasta sauces, bulked out by standard courgettes.  Tonight they are replacing pasta.  In fact they are replacing aubergines which replace pasta.  In my mind mousakka is the Greek lasagne, which in turn is the Italian cottage pie.  A mince sauce is the starting block to all three and I always try to make my mince a day in advance.  The flavours intensify and the consistency is much better.

The spicy mince sauce was layered with thinly sliced patty pan squash which I had fried before hand.  The finished dish was then covered in a cheese sauce and baked until the top was golden brown.  Unlike the a bechamel sauce for lasagne, the sauce for the top of mousakka has an egg beaten through it so that it sets during baking.

Unlike aubergine, the squash retains some of its crunch during cooking giving the finished mousakka a much nicer texture.  When we get back to growing our own vegetables again I think we'll give these another go.  They are so pleasing to look at and have a little more versatility than ordinary courgettes.  We did make a little bit too much mousakka but I can't see it hanging around too long before it is eaten.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Kohlrabi Gratin

One of our favourite vegetables is sadly one that we don't eat that often.  We first discovered kohlrabi in gardening seed catalogues, we knew nothing about them other than the fact that they looked like small sputniks.  That image alone was enough for us to try and grow them.  Our first attempts were feeble, only two or three of the row of seeds we planted germinated and when one finally got big enough to eat it was old and woody.

Not put off by our initial attempts we tried again the following year with a much higher success rate.  I had a German colleague at the time who was mad for kohlrabi.  She informed me that she loved to eat them raw like an apple but that that wasn't necessarily normal.  We played about with them, finding new recipes to try with every harvest.

Now that we have all but given up the allotment* we don't get to eat kohlrabi that often.  It seldom appears in the "super" markets and when we do find it at farmers markets or on Leeds market it is often too expensive.  We were lucky to find a really nice large purple kohlrabi at Headingley Farmers Market at a price that we were willing to pay and quickly decided on how we were going to cook it.

Kholrabi gratin is every bit as good as it sounds.  Thinly sliced kohlrabi is layered in a buttered oven proof dish, seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and then covered in cream and strong cheese.  It is then baked for half an hour covered and quarter of an hour uncovered to crisp up the top.  We've had this with salad, bread and on occasion, on it's own.  Tonight we happened to have some good sausages so we had those.  The gratin was definitely the star of the show though.

*a hard decision but probably the right one

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Spaghetti al Funghi

Today we had a fantastic family outing to Sheffield.  The reason; The Sheffield Food Festival.  Twitter had alerted me of the existence of this South Yorkshire three day food-athon and so I was duty bound to visit.  Along with the treats on offer, the trip to Sheffield also meant that I could meet up with a couple of the other Olympic Food Challenge participants.

I'm always a bit wary when I go to food festivals.  So often I'm left disapointed.  Huddersfield is by far the best one I have visited but the people at Sheffield put on a good show.  There was a good variety of produce on offer* and there was plenty of space to sit and enjoy any food and drink that you bought.  I bought a chicken mole burrito, from The Street Food Chef, for lunch which sadly wasn't as great as I expected.  Don't get me wrong the burrito was good but the mole sauce was just too sweet for me.

The afternoon was spent lounging around the Peace Gardens soaking up the sun and the beers from the "craft" beer tent*.  My one plan was to seek out inspiration for tonight's meal and that came from Autumn Harvest, who can be found at lots of food fairs and markets in Yorkshire.  Sadly it is too early for Wood Blewit season but they did have some Chanterelle mushrooms which I hoovered up.

I'm not going to pretend that chanterelles are cheap, far from it, but they are really nice.  The flavour is subtle, less mushroomy and sweeter, more fruity than your average mushroom.  To make sure I didn't mask the 'shrooms I made a simple sauce for pasta by frying them in butter and olive oil with a little salt and pepper.  The sauce was finished with a splash of white wine, a handful of parsley and a little grated parmesan.  I'd normally add cream to a mushroom sauce, sometimes bacon makes an appearance too, but chanterelles are too special.  For an end of a foodie day treat, they were worth it.

*still a bit heavy on the cupcakes for my liking.
*I'm no beer geek but I'm sure that the beer on offer was closer to real ale than craft beer.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Friday Night Take-away: Chana Saag

With the Olympic Food Challenge taking up all of our time over summer we have neglected some of our own food traditions.  The Friday Night Take-away started before I had even thought of writing Tonight's Menu so it's about time we started cooking our own take-away inspired food at home again.

To ease our journey back into our Friday night ritual I'm using leftovers from the Olympic Food Challenge. Qorma e Sabzi from Afghanistan to be precise.  Fried onions and a tin of chick peas were added to the mild spinach curry, along with some garam maslala and chilli powder to lift the dish.

Having transformed Qorma e Sabzi into chana saag it was only right that we had even more leftovers to mop up the curry.  I had made too many puris for Pakistan so I defrosted a couple of them, warmed them up and tucked in.  We can get spinach dishes from the local take-away but they are nowhere near as good as this.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Yorkshire Cheese

The second Thursday of the month is traditionally* the night for Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' own cheese club, a gathering of fans of fromage, tasting and celebrating different varieties of cheese.  Sadly this month saw the night moved due to a pre-existing booking at the venue.  Cheese club happened last week and I was not able to attend.  The theme of the night was white rind cheese (brie, camembert etc.) which I love but you can't always get what you want.

Today, to make up for last week's omission, I visited George & Joseph at The Source on Leeds Market and stocked up on superb cheese for tonight's meal.  We already had a decent brie in the house but we topped up with a piece of Shepherds Purse Harrogate Blue, some Lacey's mature cheddar and some of Ribblesdale's mature unpasteurised goats cheese.

I'll skip the brie as it was a supermarket staple.  The three cheeses that I bought from George and Joseph were superb.  The mature cheddar was nutty and crumbly without trying to strip the enamel from my teeth, a trait of too many overly strong cheeses.  The Harrogate blue was nice and creamy.  I'm a big fan of blue cheeses and this is one not to be missed.  The star of the night for me was the unpasteurised goat cheese from Ribblesdale.

Unlike most goat cheeses this one was hard, not quite at parmesan levels but getting there.  The flavour was not too goaty and it had a good salty tang to its mature sharpness.  I can see myself going back to this one and just cutting off slices to eat by the light of the fridge.  I'll have to wait another month before I can go to cheese club but it's good to know that I can still get great cheese to satisfy any cravings I have.

*for the last year at least.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Venison Steaks with Caraway Cauliflower and Anya Potatoes

Last weekend Z took the boy on a trip to Headingley so that I could crack on with some of the urgent DIY that a Victorian house demands.  We are slowly reinstalling a cast iron fireplace, replacing an ugly 80's gas fire in the process.  My task for the day was to chisel out the existing mortar from beneath the hearth tiles so that they can be relayed.

Z's trip was actually to a craft fair in Heart, but she also managed a trip to Headingley Farmers Market and picked up a few goodies.  One of Z's finds was a purple cauliflower.  I have seen them in seed catalogues but never seen one in the flesh, let alone eaten one.  As with all oddly coloured vegetables, I assumed* that the purple cauli would taste the same as the standard creamy white version.

With that in mind we decided to serve the cauliflower as a side veg, steamed to keep its colour.  We raided the freezer and found a couple of venison haunch steaks that were begging to be eaten.  The venison was simply fried for a couple of minutes on each side and allowed to rest.  The steamed cauliflower was tossed in butter and cracked caraway seeds.  A pile of anya** potatoes finished off a plate of food I could sit down to night after night.

**one of the nicest potatoes out there.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Turkey and Pak Choi in Hoi Sin Sauce

Yesterday I told a tale of my dislike of following recipes.  I know that this means I will never make a good baker or pastry chef, but I can live with that*.  Being free of the Olympic Food Challenge means that I can cook by feel and taste again without having to continually scroll up and down websites with a dripping wooden spoon in my hand.

The end of the OFC also means that I can shop for food the way I love to shop for food.  I am always armed with a list when I go shopping but it is often vague giving me carte blanche to pick and choose what looks best or is on offer.  The catalyst for tonight's meal comes from the "reduced to clear" category of impulse buys.

 I really like pak choi, we have grown it in the past but we tend not to buy it as it is usually airfreighted into Blighty and we try to watch our food miles.  Having saved a pack of choi from the supermarket vegetable graveyard I raided the freezer and found some turkey steaks that were quickly thawed and sliced and a stir-fry was born.

*not having a sweet tooth has some advantages.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Broad Bean Risotto

The Olympic Food Challenge has come to an end.  The summer of discovering new recipes and ingredients is over but I am still learning.  My latest revelation is the fact that I do not like following recipes.  That I have come to this conclusion at the end of following so many recipes shouldn't be so surprising.  But if I'm honest, I have never been a fan of slavishly following quantities and timings, preferring to add my own slant on a "borrowed" idea.

My dislike of recipes has been magnified recently with most of the OFC recipes being web-based.  I am not going to bite the hand that feeds me* but there are many food sites and blogs around and, sadly, they do not all pass muster.  The number of times that I found recipes with missing steps, or mystery ingredients that were not used during cooking, drove me potty.

Now that I am free of the shakkles of poorly written recipes I am once more the master of my own destiny.  I can also cook what I want, without hoping that it comes from a country that I have never heard of.  To get the ball rolling I decided to cook risotto.  Possibly my favourite meal and definitely one that I have missed while discovering new dishes.

Tonight's star ingredient in the risotto was broad beans.  We missed the early broad beans this year so tonight's were of the large, starchy variety.  That said, once they had been blanched and podded they were still delicious in the creamy risotto.  I'm looking forward to embracing my recipe freedom now that I have it back.  I'll still read the odd cookery book for inspiration and new ideas, but you won't find me tied to a book any time soon.

*not that I'm getting paid for any of this blogging nonsense.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Pakistan - Tamarind Puy Dhal and Poppy Seed Puris

My final stop in the Olympic Food Challenge is Pakistan.  I had a feeling that I would have to research this one to death to make sure that I was being authentic.  My first stop was twitter.  I asked the known universe if anybody had any truly authentic Pakistani recipes that they would share and the response I got was superb.

I was immediately introduced to Sumayya whose blog is packed with authentic Pakistani food, and some great stories to boot.  I had decided before I had even set eyes on her site that I wanted to cook Dhal and make my own bread as my tribute to Pakistan.  I chose Tamarind Puy Dhal and Poppy Seed Puris and set about cooking.

Both the dhal and the puri were simple and delicious.  We have only just started making dhal at home and we're still learning the way of the lentil.  Puy lentils hold their texture when cooked so there was no sloppy sauce to contend with.  The tempur mixture, including fresh coconut, really lifted the dish, as did the addition of some of the lemon pickle I had made for the Indian Olympic food Challenge meal. Of course I made too much bread but I thought we would need nibbles for the closing ceremony of the Paralympics.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Kyrgyzstan - Beshbarmak

Where do you start with Kyrgyzstan?  Before doing the research for the Olympic Food Challenge I would like to think that I'd have been able to find it on a map, but beyond that I knew nothing of the country, their culture or their cuisine.

I'm still not altogether genned up on the country's history, but I do know that Beshbarmak is one of those meals that are reserved for high-days, holidays and celebrations.  We are celebrating the food of Kyrgyzstan and that is enough for me.

The Kyrgyz were a nomadic people until around 100 years ago and their food is still entrenched in those traditions.  Simple food with few ingredients is the way forward and Beshbarmak is no exception.  The recipe I found called for lamb or beef and as Z is not a lover of lamb we opted for beef.  We got a wonderful piece of shin from B & J Callards and began the slow cooking process.

There are definitely two stages to Beshbarmak.  Firstly you cook your meat with some onion for a couple of hours and then you make a basic dough that you simmer in the meat stock.  I'll admit to being a little underwhelmed at the thought of this dish.  In fact, if it wasn't for the Olympic Food Challenge, I wouldn't have bothered cooking it at all.

But then I would have missed out on a fantastically wonderful dish.  We added half a green pepper to the finished dish, but other than that we were true to the recipe.  The noodles were a cross between pasta and udon noodles.  The shin beef was perfectly cooked and the broth, oh the broth.  I won't go as far as suggesting that you drink it out of tea cups*, but it is delicious.  I suggest you try this for yourself.  If you are interested you can find the recipe I used here.

*which is the Kyrgyz way

Friday, 7 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Cayman Islands - Almond Tree Snapper with Lemon Herbed Butter

We are fast approaching the end of the Olympic Food Challenge.  After tonight I only have two meals to cook and then I'll have researched, cooked and written about the cuisine of twenty nine countries since the start of the Olympic Games.  Tonight's second to last nation is the Cayman Islands.

Before I get onto the meal, I need to tell you about one of the recipes that I found.  Even if I could have sourced the ingredients there is no way that I am willing to cook Turtle Cordon Bleu.  I know that I profess to be willing to eat anything, but when a meal consists of the young of an endangered species, wrapped in ham and cheese and deep fried, I'm out.

From the same site that brought you Turtle Cordon Bleu I also found Almond Tree Snapper.  We had snapper for the first time earlier this week and it was so good we were really looking forward to having it again.  Sadly, for the first time since the start of the Olympic Food Challenge, we were let down by the fishmongers of Leeds Kirkgate Market.  Snapper was off the menu.  Luckily the stall holders are not just sellers of fish, they also really know their product.

After a good chat with our fishmonger of choice, Z returned home with some hake fillets.  Not necessarily a Caribbean fish, but far and away the highest selling fish to R Bethell's Caribbean customers.

The only difference between this recipe and one for bread crumbed cod*, is the addition of salted almonds in the breadcrumbs.  I found salted almonds in Sainsbury's, but I'm sure they are widely available.  We served the fish with roasted peppers, courgettes and sweet potatoes**.  It's a shame that we couldn't get snapper but that can wait for another day.  Adding almonds to bread crumbs is a good idea and one we'll definitely be using again.

*apart from the fish.
**fish and chips on a Friday?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Iraq - Chicken in Fig Sauce

After our non-country specific burger and chips last night, tonight we are back on track with the Olympic Food Challenge.  Tonight's member of the National Olympic Committee is Iraq, a country sadly best known to us as a battle ground, rather than the cradle of creation*.  It is possibly thanks to the country's recent history that its culture and food is not very well documented but one author, Nawal Nasralla, decided that we ought to know about her country.  It was on her website that I found the recipe for tonight's meal.

Afkhadh al-Dijaj bil-Teen, or Chicken in Fig Sauce, struck me as a simple and yet authentic recipe so we set about finding the ingredients.  To be honest there wasn't much to source but finding dried figs in Leeds could have been simpler.  In the end I turned to twitter and asked the good people at Millies who, it turns out, sell dried almost everything, including figs.

The recipe states that dates could have been substituted for the figs but I'm glad we persisted.  The sweetness of the figs along with coriander in the sauce created an almost festive flavour and the chicken was fall off the bone tender.  I served the chicken with bulgar wheat**, which I cooked in vegetable stock, and garnished the entire plate with fresh parsley and pomegranate seeds. 

This really was a great dish, one of the standout meals for the Olympic Food Challenge.  I have already planned it into our Christmas meal planner as it is so simple and yet so full of flavour.

*I know which I'd rather be remembered as.
**a grain we really should eat more of, it's as easy to cook as rice and has a better texture than couscous.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Burger and Chips

Our original nineteen countries in the Olympic Food Challenge were a heavy mixture of beef, lamb and pork dishes.  We struggled to find many chicken or fish dishes and there were certainly no vegetarian meals to be had.  This time around we have drawn ten countries that seem to be chicken and fish obsessed.  This week's meal planning went a bit awry, as we were in danger of having chicken two days in a row, so with a break in the Olympic Food Challenge we decided to devour some red meat.

I know that the phrase "Why go out for burgers when I can have steak at home" is actually a referance to fidelity but if you look on it as a statement it's a little flawed.  Don't get me wrong, I love steak, but I also love a good burger once in a while.  These particular burgers were from Swillington Farm, so chocked full of rare breed goodness.

The beauty of a burger at home is that you are in control of the toppings*.  I kept things simple with French's American mustard and cheese while Z added tomato relish to hers.  Corn on the cob, pickles and skinny fries made for a wonderful mid week meal.  In amongst the frantic cooking of the last month the burger was like an oasis of calm.  A big, juicy, comforting oasis of calm.

*if you make the burger from scratch you are in control of the whole process, but that is for a different blog post altogether.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Armenia - Garlic and Lemon Baked Chicken

Having baked fish with some lemon and orange last night for the Olympic Food Challenge, tonight I'm upping the citrus steaks with Chicken Cooked with Garlic and Lemon in the Oven from Armenia.  I was tempted by a couple of the dishes on the Armenian Cuisine website, but having stuffed vine leaves for Lebanon and not knowing where to get soujouk, I decided on chicken.

I actually felt like a contestant on The Great British Bake Off.  I had a list of ingredients but it felt like half of the cooking instructions were missing.  I did what all of the best contestants do and made it up as I went along. 

The juice of three lemons, three large garlic cloves, allspice, salt and some harissa as a pepper paste substitute, were all blended together with olive oil and poured over the chicken.  This was then baked for half an hour covered and half an hour more uncovered, basting all the while.  The finished result was some of the juiciest chicken I have eaten in a long time.  We served it with crushed new potatoes with olives and green beans.

Armenia won a silver and two bronze medals in the Olympics but neither of their Paralympians have picked up a win. This baked chicken dish was well worth a gold medal though.  We will be cooking it again but possibly with a whole spatchcocked chicken.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Vanuatu - Citrus baked fish in coconut cream

A couple of thousand kilometres off the Queensland coast of Australia lies the island group of Vanuatu.  The South Pacific islanders sent a team of five athletes to the Olympic games and one athelete to the Paralympic games but so far they have failed to pick up any medals.  I could really have done with bumping into one of them at some point as finding out about their food has proven to be tricky.

After what felt like an aeon I found a list of recipes on Travel Blog, a site I had never discovered before.  My eye was drawn to recipe twenty one of twenty nine, which is a Green PoPo Curry.  I then spent another lifetime trying to decipher what PoPo was* before deciding that a different recipe was perhaps the best way forward.  Citrus baked fish in coconut cream was the recipe that I settled on.

Apart from that fact that we have never cooked snapper before tonight, I really liked the idea of baking fish in coconut cream.  I failed to buy any banana leaves for authenticity, so I used tinfoil to wrap the snapper in.  I don't know if the leaves would have imparted any flavour but the fish was very tasty without it.  As the recipe asked for half a tin of coconut cream I used the other half to cook wild rice in as an accompaniment.  The rice was finished with lime zest, coriander and a couple of chillies.

If you can cope with a whole fish on your plate this is a dish well worth trying.  We'll be having snapper again in a couple of days, I hope it's as good as this.  Even if it's close I'll be happy.

*papaya, if you are interested.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Qatar - Shakshooka

Finding a recipe that summed up Qatar for the Olympic Food Challenge proved to be tricky.  I thought I was onto a winner when I discovered that the Qatari Embassy website has a food section.  Sadly the Embassy's website is a poor indictment of Qatar's athletes who picked up two bronze medals* during the Olympic games.

Every link on the site led to a broken page and every google result took me back to the same home page via a different route.  I was ready to throw in the towel when I came across this You Tube recipe for Shakshooka.  Until that point I had never come across shakshooka but it turns out that it is not all that uncommon a dish.  It seems to stem out of North Africa and has moved from country to country with every nation taking on their own twist.

With that in mind I decided to stray away from the video and come up with my own variation based on the many recipes that I found and what I happened to have in the house.  I started as per the video instructions with sliced onion and immediately veered off course with half a chopped pepper.  I was back on track with some fresh chopped plum tomatoes**.  The vegetables bubbled away, softened and collapsed into a sauce over a low heat. 

According to the You Tube recipe the eggs are mixed into the cooked sauce to create a tomatoey scrambled egg mixture.  Again, I decided to ignore the recipe.  I added a handful of spinach to the sauce to wilt and then broke a couple of eggs into wells in the mixture to cook.  The only addition was some salt and pepper and a nice breakfast/lunch dish was born.

*Mutaz Essa Barshim in the men's high jump and Nasser Al-attiyah in the men's skeet.
**I have no problem with tinned tomatoes but while they are in season I love fresh tomatoes.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Palestine - Okra Stew

Having survived my first attempt at cooking okra, a vegetable that up until that point I found abhorrent, I decided to keep going with my new discovery.  I had always found okra to be a slimy, slug-like vegetable and couldn't understand its appeal.  It turned out that if you look after it, it is really nice.

Tonight's recipe for the Olympic Food Challenge is called Bamee, an Okra Stew from Palestine.  Although if you take the time to read the recipe I hope you'll agree that it is a lamb stew with okra.  Lamb means that it is not just me being challenged tonight as lamb is Z's final hangover from her vegetarian past.

This is a very simple recipe and because of that the finished dish does have that authentic feel to it.  The lamb (we had some neck) was browned with an onion, some garlic and allspice, covered in water and left to cook for a couple of hours.  Sautéed okra, a tin of tomatoes and a bunch of coriander are then added for a further half an hours cooking.

I was wary as some of the okra tales I had received said that stewing was one of the reasons that it went slimy.  However, some of my advice on cooking okra paid off as there was no slime in sight.  We had the stew with some flatbreads to mop up the juices.  Palestine's two Paralympians will be hoping to mop up their opposition on Saturday as they take to the Olympic Stadium in the long jump and shot put.  I wish them good luck with their endeavours.  I can't see us cooking this again as the lamb was still too lamby and fiddly for Z.  If gold medals were awarded for effort alone she would have been top of the podium tonight.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Dominica - Caribbean Reef Chicken

Researching a meal for tonight's Olympic Food Challenge proved to be quite tricky.  Almost all of the recipes from Dominica that I found were in fact from the Dominican Republic and not Dominica.  They are not a million miles away from each other in the Caribbean, but there are always regional variations.

The Dominican recipe that I settled on was Caribbean Reef Chicken.  The chicken is baked with a marinade of brown sugar, dark rum, lime juice and spices.  The smells coming out of the kitchen were reminiscent of Christmas, but that could have been the cloves in the sauce.  After forty five minutes the chicken is coated in a mixture of mango chutney and more rum creating an even stickier glaze delicious on the chicken skin.

We served the chicken legs with Caribbean spinach and rice which, although not necessarily from Dominica, was a really nice, fresh accompaniment to the sweet chicken.  Z had a little moment when she had a nice chew on one of the whole chillis that were cooked with the rice but other than that the meal was a success. 

Dominica's Olympic team of two athletes failed to take home any medals and they have no athletes taking part in the Paralympics, so for them London 2012 is over.  Caribbean Reef Chicken lives on however.  We will be using this recipe again but not for roast chicken portions.  We both decided that the marinade and glaze would make great finger licking chicken wings.  All we need now is the excuse to cook some.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Papua New Guinea - Curried fish

So far for the Olympic Food Challenge we have; eaten Pigs Trotters, toyed with the idea of goats head soup, eaten breadfruit (an ingredient that I was assured was disgusting) and tucked into and enjoyed okra*.  Tonight we are venturing into the very belly of the beast and I'm cooking something that ticks all of my "do not eat this" boxes.

What can be so bad?  It's curried fish!  I love fish and I'm rather partial to a good curry.  What I really don't like is cooked pineapple in any form.  I do like pineapple, don't get me wrong.  I don't have a phobia for the fruit itself.  I just don't like it in a savoury setting.

Having braved pigs feet however, I feel that I needed to give this a try.  The fish curry recipe from Papua New Guinea is a simple enough recipe to follow** and also had the added fun factor of being quite vague.  Not only were the quantities a guide but there was also no specific fish specified.  We had cod cheeks in the freezer so that is what we used.  The finished dish was really good, even the pineapple worked, but I can't claim that it was a true Papuan classic.

*up until that point I had only found okra to be slimy and disgusting, I really enjoyed it home cooked so somebody must be cooking it wrong.
**even though it is written in white on a black page which is a pet peeve of mine.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Pork, Apple and Parsnip Stew

Something has to change.  We almost have two freezers full of delicious leftovers and yet we keep adding to our stocks by continually cooking really nice food.   Once the Olympic Food Challenge is over we will have to try to eat at least one "ready meal" a week.  We'll also have to try even harder to cook just enough food for the three of us and not be so greedy with our portions.

Because of a scheduled gap in my Olympic Food Challenge timetable, we have been able to start the freezer cull tonight and what a way to start.  Hopefully you will recall the pork and apple crumble that I made a few months ago.  As normal I made too much and the remaining filling for the dish was frozen.  When we defrosted the pork it turned out that I hadn't been too generous with my quantities.  We had considered bulking out the sauce with mushrooms but when shopping for them I found some parsnips and knew immediately that they would be a much better addition to the meal.

As well as the parsnips, I also added some light vegetable stock as I remembered that the crumble had been a little bit dry and freezing never improves this.  I served the finished stew with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli, which coincidently is the same vegetable combination that we had with the crumble.  Having now eaten the filling twice we will definitely be making pork and apple crumble again*.

*Once we have got this wonderful summer out of the way and we can return to nice comforting wintry cooking.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Libya - Herbed Rice with Cumin Marinated Fish

After yesterday's hangover induced comfort food, I am back in the saddle and raring to crack on with the Olympic Food Challenge.  I was surprised when researching my previous nineteen countries that I hadn't found more fish dishes.  This time around my countries seem to be more interested in their fishing grounds, which suits me fine.

The first fish dish is actually billed as the accompaniment to a traditional Libyan rice dish of Ruz Hoot bil Kusbur or Herbed Rice with Cumin Marinated Fish.  The fact that this is a fish dish is not the only reason that I picked it.  It was the main factor but not the only one; the flavours in the rice were really tempting.  The deciding factor was the marinade for the fish.  I don't think I have ever used a tablespoon of cumin in anything.  It is a spice that can overpower other flavours if not used judiciously, but I went along with the recipe

I am very glad that I trusted Libyan Food because the finished dish was superb.  The cumin, garlic and lemon juice in the marinade combined really well to flavour the fish*.  I don't know if the breadcrumbs tempered the flavours but the result was great.  The rice was also really good.  I didn't have any fish stock so used vegetable stock instead but again the combination of flavours and the addition of whole roasted corriander seeds gave the dish an extra bite.

This is without a doubt one of the best meals we have cooked during the Olympic Food Challenge.  I would go as far as saying it warrants a gold medal.  Libya didn't get any medals during the Olympics and they only have a team of two entered in the Paralympics.  I hope they do well, I'll certainly be cheering them on after this dish.

*I chose coley, you can choose what you want.