Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Rigatoni with Chicken and Pesto

In all fairness I could have written and posted tonight's menu by now.  We ate at 5:30ish so my excuse for the tardiness of my writing needs to be cast iron.  Fortunately I think I have a good reason.  Since Z weaned R onto solids he has been having his tea (supper) between 5 and 6 o'clock.  To my mind this is just too early so we have been eating after he is tucked up in bed.  So why change now?

Well, we're a traditional/old fashioned sort of family really.  We didn't actually discuss getting engaged.  I spoke to Z's parents, chose a ring and proposed on bended knee in Parc Guell, Barcelona.  Happily she said yes.  We got married a few years later in Z's church in Windsor and had a nice 80 person 3 course meal followed by an indie-disco.

A few years passed again and 16 months ago we were shocked by the arrival, two months early, of our son.  Things have been all topsy turvy ever since.  I'm not complaining, I have no right to.  R is a cracking little boy, he doesn't cry much, sleeps through the night and eats almost everything we put in front of him.  He can be a bit stress inducing at times, the few moments before meal and nap times mostly.  He has also knocked our routines, but we have got used to not eating until 9pm.

To continue our traditional/old fashioned path through life we have decided to get him Christened.  We both were* and it hasn't done us any harm.  To night we had the local Vicar coming around to discuss the formalities after R went to bed, so we all ate together.  I want family meals to be a daily occurrence, eventually, but closer to 6 or 7 would be better.  That wouldn't have fitted R's current timetable.

Fortunately, pasta dishes can be really quick to prepare, even quicker if you're using fresh pasta.  While I kept R entertained (or vice versa) Z fried chicken, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes.  Pesto and cream cheese were added and tea was ready.  We got extra parmesan, R got yoghurt for dessert.

*although I now put Jedi on census returns

Monday, 30 January 2012

Pork Madras

As with all good roasts, yesterday's meal has left us with plenty of leftovers.  The question is what to do with them.  The vegetables and some of the pork will be turned into soup using the pork's cooking liquid, but that won't do an evening meal.

I decided that a curry was in order.  Unfortunately time was against me.  The three of us got in from work/nursery late and a huge pile of washing up needed to be seen to before I could even start cooking.  I enjoy cooking curries from scratch, I even grind my own garam massala but tonight wasn't the night.  Luckily we nearly always have a jar of curry paste in the fridge*.

An onion, a couple of peppers and a tin of tomatoes make up the bulk of the madras.  The pork is added towards the end of the simmering to heat through.  In the time it takes to cook basmati rice your curry is done, put the rice on once you're happy with the curry and you'll end up with a richer, deeper sauce.

NB.  We also had a couple of onion bahjis with tonight's menu.  These were leftovers from a buffet at work and I didn't want to see them binned.

*The jar of curry paste is normally held in reserve for marinades.

The Versatile Blogger Award

What's this? An award? Crikey!  I'm touched, I really am.  The last thing I won was a golf umbrella at a school fete and now Tonight's Menu has been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award (VBA).  Now I'm relatively new to all this blogging malarkey.  I'd never heard of VBA until Clare, the writer of Feast And Glory, nominated me so I decided to have bit of a dig to see what the craic is.

In a nutshell the VBA is a nod to those blogs that you enjoy reading and would like to tell the readers of your blog about.  It's really nice to have been nominated, of course I look at the stats to see how many people are reading about my evening meals but that's not why I'm doing it.  I started writing just to see if I could.

I'd already been posting my meal plans on Twitter and Facebook so blogging felt like the right next step.  The one snag is my inability to spell and my poor grasp of grammar.  I scraped through my English GCSE's by rewriting several essays.  And only just managed to pull together the minimum word count for my dissertation at Uni.  I read and talk a lot but writing has always been a barrier.

Luckily Z is very encouraging and is always willing to proof read before I publish.  Tonight's menu would be a mess, littered with triping errors and smelling mistakes without her.

Back to the award.  The VBA comes with a set of conditions which are:
  1. You have to display the award with pride on your blog.
  2. You have to thank those who nominated you.
  3. You have to disclose seven random facts about yourself.
  4. You have to nominate fifteen blogs to pass the nomination on to.
 So without further ado I'll crack on.

You have to display the award with pride on your blog.

You have to thank those who nominated you.

Thank you Clare, author of Feast and Glory.

You have to disclose seven random facts about yourself.

1. My first pet was a goldfish called Addlington (won at Addlington Fair)
2. My current favourite cheese is Stilton
3. I own, but cannot play, a Flying-V Ukelele
4. I am Treasurer for Beeston Festival
5. I achieved Level 5 BAGA proficiency award for Gymnastics
6. I prefer Rugby Union to Rugby League
7. I have never loved Elvis

You have to nominate fifteen blogs to pass the nomination on to.

I've struggled with this I'm afraid to say.  I don't read that many blogs regularly and I don't want to trawl the internet and pass the award onto blogs that I wouldn't actually read, never mind like.  So I have decided to cheat and just pass the VBA onto the following blogs, ones that I read and enjoy, for now;

Food and biscuits
How not to do a food blog
How to be a dad
I don't just make soup
Project photo doodle
South Leeds life
The space between panels

I will keep the remaining nominations and update the list as soon as possible.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Boiled Pork Hock

So I did it again, I can't help myself.  We had already decided on our Sunday Dinner before I went to Kirkgate Market for fruit and vegetables.  I returned home with said veggies and two pork hocks.  Instantly changing our meal plans and also knocking one of the weekend's jobs for six.

We had planned Roast Chicken with all the trimmings.  Substituting one meat for another was no hardship and the trimmings remained the same.  We had also planned to replenish our stock of stock.  We make stock in large batches and then freeze it in more useful amounts.  The problem was that I now needed to use the stock pan for the pork.

After a good three hours of gentle cooking the meat fell from the bone and nestled onto the plates next to spuds, roasted in duck fat, carrots and broccoli.  We're going to be eating more meals as a family as @Baby_Rhys grows up.  He already prefers the food on our plates that what is in front of him, even though it's the same food.  Sunday lunch is the perfect family around the table meal, it's the one meal that most families aim to have together.  I hope that we eat together as a family much more often than once a week. Only the future will tell.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Pizza and Party Snacks

Since the arrival of our bundle of joy we haven't been the party animals we once were.  We were never into the club scene.  We were habitual pub/bar bunnies and as such we found Leeds to our liking.  No matter what mood you're in Leeds has a bar for you.  Cosy and intimate, wacky and off the wall, dark and brooding, you name it, it's out there.

We were also in the habit of hosting and attending random house parties.  These were not just a group of mates hanging around a kitchen*, they were always themed and fancy dress wasn't optional. We are to this day the proud owners of a fancy dress cupboard that is still being added to.  Tonight we managed to arrange a baby-sitter so we could once again don a costume and make merry.

The party itself is a house warming party, pretty standard reason for having people around for drinks and nibbles.  The hostess is renound for coming up with imaginative themes for her parties and tonight is no different.  Anybody ever been to a Rubik's Cube party?  Neither had I.  The idea was to arrive wearing the six colours of the 80's puzzle and over the course of the night swap clothing so that you are wearing just one colour.

No party is complete without a table bulging with snacks to soak up the booze.  Because we are out of practice Z and I shared a pizza before we set out.  We needn't have bothered as there was plenty to go around, including more pizza, but not too much to stop the twister championships.

*All house parties end up in the kitchen, its the law, tradition or an old charter or something.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Friday Night Take-away - King Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

This week saw the start of the Chinese Year of the Dragon and as Z is a dragon*, I though it only fair that she could choose tonight's menu.  As luck would have it she has chosen a Chinese dish for our Friday night take-away.

A simple stir fry of prawns and baby vegetables in black bean sauce with noodles.  Good food doesn't get much quicker.  Unfortunately the food miles on the veg stick in the throat.  I'd prefer to eat locally and seasonally whenever possible.  In a toss up between organic veg from Peru and its equivalent non-organically grown plant from around the corner I'll have the local one thanks.

The reason that we have baby corn and sugar snap peas in the house at all, boils down to yet another food preference.  I hate the idea of good food going to waste, especially if it has travelled from the other side of the world.  So when we saw the packet, reduced for a quick sale, we bought it.

Looking back at this week's meals we have eaten a lot of different vegetables, a fair proportion of which have been in season and at their best right now.  As with all things foody, balance is the key, so I won't be racked with guilt over my stir fry veg for too long.

*now I'm for it.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mushroom Risotto

It turns out that mushroom risotto was the fourth menu I posted here on Tonight's Menu way back on the 21st November 2011.  Those were innocent times, I hadn't started labelling the posts so if you click on "mushroom" below you simply won't find it.  I've decided not to go back and label the early posts and to leave them as they are.

I have also realised that I am cooking mushroom risotto tonight for the same reason as I cooked it two months ago.  It's that "what are we going to do with..." scenario.  I suppose I should broaden my mushroom horizons and cook something else, but that's not who I am.  This blog is not meant to be a test of my ingenuity when it comes to cooking.  It doesn't even contain recipes*.

The bottom line is I really, really like risotto.  So I'm surprised that this hasn't happened sooner and amazed that two months have passed since I last had mushroom risotto.  If you choose to go back and peek at the previous risotto you'll get a glimpse into my risottophilia.  I have it bad.

Along with mushrooms, tonight's risotto has leeks substituting for onions and a fair amount of thyme.  Everything else is standard risotto fare.  Arborio rice, wine, stock and patience.  Finished with butter and parmesan cheese.  I wonder how long it will be until the next risotto comes along.

*sometimes it contains recipes.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burns Night

A lot has been written about Robert Burns, Burns Night and the tradition of Burns Supper.  The great man has been dead for over 250 years.  His birthday has been marked for many of those years and a strong tradition has been built up around the 25th January.  If you would like to know more then the internet is indeed your oyster, this blog isn't the place to be.  I know not one poem or ode from start to finish.  I can't tell you where Rabbie was born or where he died but I do know how to mark tradition.

That said, I was not raised with this as a traditional meal.  My parents moved from Edinburgh on their Honeymoon.  Their destination was Dudley in The Black Country as my Dad had just landed a plum new job.  I can only assume that Haggis wasn't readily available in the 70's in England which is why I missed out for so many years.

I have now been to my fair share of Burns Suppers.  Dinner parties at University, house parties with stovies* served after midnight and everything in-between.  The grandest affair was in the Officers Mess at Woolwich.  It was the last time that Burns Night would be celebrated there as merging battalions meant that Woolwich was being sold off.  All of the regimental silver was out for the occasion, along with so many polished buttons that the chandeliers were jealous.

I'm on record as preferring my haggis, tatties and neeps unadulterated, no sauces, no garnishes, no flair.  The army didn't agree with me on this one.  Dainty pastry baskets held the neatly turned scoop of haggis.  The tatties and neeps where not mashed.  The thing that really stood out was the speech.  I don't know if you have sat through a poor after dinner speech, if you have I bet this one was worse.  It was not the poor attempt at a Scottish accent, nor was it the off taste "blue" jokes.  The problem was the amount of alcohol that had been consumed prior to the speech starting.  Lets just say that the laughs dried up long before the port did.

Tonight we have been a lot more traditional, no airs and graces, no wall to wall silver and no speeches.  The meal has been served in just as I like it and, for the record, this is the third time we have had haggis this year.  It just goes to show that haggis is for life, not just for Burns Night.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

*ask me about stovies another time.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Chicken Koftas

After a weekend of feasting and generally eating until I felt sleepy, what I really needed was a light meal.  Not for one second do I mean that I wanted a small portion of food.  Nor did I want to still feel hungry once my knife and fork came together on the plate at the end of the meal.  Nice and filling without being stodgy was the order of the day.

We're not inflexible in the kitchen and tonight's menu changed halfway through the day.  The interesting thing is the key ingredients stayed the same.  We'd initially thought about some Tex-Mex style spicy chicken wraps with roasted veg and rice.  For some reason Z sent me a text during the day which read "Do you fancy koftas?"

We had already thawed out two of Swillington Farm's chicken and bacon burgers to use as the starting block for the meal.  Substituting Moroccan spices for Mexican ones was no hardship.  Instead of rice we had couscous with the roasted vegetables that we were going to cook anyway.  Yoghurt with mint and coriander acted as a dressing for the couscous and a cooling sauce for the spicy koftas.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Root Vegetable Crumble

As much as I love a weekend away, getting home is always nice.  Back to the comfort of my kitchen and my sofa which, after years of nurturing, has a perfect me-shaped hollow at one end.  Unfortunately the weekend away also brings the realisation that nobody has done any food shopping for a week.

For one reason or another the celeriac soup that I was going to make last week never happened.  Neither did I make anything with the jerusalem artichokes that had their price reduced (due to an arbitrary sell by date).  Fate it would seem had thrown these roots together.

I roasted them, with some potatoes and a sliced onion, in wholegrain mustard, honey and oil for an hour until golden.  I added a small pot of cream, plenty of bread crumbs and some grated cheese, to give the dish a crumbly topping.  The long cooking time gave me just long enough to get around my local supermarket in readiness for the week ahead.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Rigatoni in tomato sauce with goats cheese

After the fun of the seaside we were faced with the long drive home from Bristol to Leeds.  But before we set off we had time for one last meal.  Being Sunday and being good traditionalists, we were off for a pub lunch with Mr S and his family.  We also met up with Z's brother, it would have been rude not to.  A table had been booked at The Golden Heart in Winterbourne and it was a good job we'd booked too.  I've never seen so many people turned away from a pub!

The biggest problem with this particular Sunday lunch was the amount of food that we had tucked away during the weekend, curry on Friday and fish and chips on Saturday.  I was replete.  My desire to stuff my face with fantastic food had waned.  Before we'd even set off for the pub I was dreaming of a nice light salad.  It was a shame really as I could have easily eaten everything off the menu.

What I chose in the end was rigatoni pasta with marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomato and olive sauce with baby basil topped with a slice of grilled goats cheese.  It wasn't as light as I had hoped but it was definitely the lightest meal that any of us ordered (apart from the children's meals).

I'm not known for having a sweet tooth so I skipped desert while my fellow dinners found extra capacity*.  I'm glad I did as even the pasta at lunch was enough to see me through the rest of the day.

*Lord knows from where.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Fish and Chips

A glorious day by the sea side.  Families lining the sand while children build sandcastles and frolic in the surf.  Donkey rides, Punch and Judy, kiss-me-quick hats.  All endearing images I'm sure, but the reality of January in Weston-Super-Mare is as far removed from this imagery as possible.

The few families that were there were all huddled from the icy winds and wrapped up in as many waterproof layers as they could find.  We made our way along the pier, which has a handy shelter that runs its entire length, to the worlds largest penny arcade*.  If the children we had with us had been a couple of years older we'd probably have stayed longer, spent more money and had a sugar induced screaming fit by the end of the afternoon.  Luckily at fifteen months and four years our two were easy to move on.

No trip to the seaside is complete without Fish and Chips.  I've eaten some of the worst chips known to man by the sea but it's never stopped me going back for more.  Luckily there are plenty of chippies to choose from, but where to start?  We decided to let modern technology be our guide and with a combination of Trip Advisor and Google maps we found The Atlantic Fish Bar.  Without the age of the internet we'd probably have ended up with yet more wilting chips and soggy batter.  What we found, well off the beaten tourist trail was a gem of a chippy who had signed up to Hugh's Fish Fight.

I've had mackerel baps from Fish& in Leeds (and very good they are too) so I looked further down the sustainable fish menu to see what  else was on offer.  Your average chippy might offer a choice of cod and haddock but The Atlantic has 8 different fish on offer.  I had Rock Salmon (also known as dogfish or huss) as I'd never had it before and good it was too!

*I made this up, but it is really big.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Friday Night take-away - Chicken Jalfrezi

I'm nothing if not true to my word.  This is why, on a Friday afternoon, after a long week at work, I have packed the family into the car and driven the 210 miles from Leeds to Bristol.  My mission is to repay a gambling debt to Mr S before he gets the mob involved.

Mr S is a Reading FC fan and earlier this season I suggested that the outcome of the Leeds vs. Reading match at Elland Road should result in one of us buying the other a curry.  What could I lose*.  Reading had never beaten Leeds at Elland Road in the League and we (Leeds) were on a nice winning streak.

Unfortunately Simon Church decided to score after only two minutes of the game and I sat through the next 92 minutes hoping that Leeds could save my poppadoms.  They didn't.  That was 17 December and this is the first opportunity I have had to repay the debt.

The deal was to buy the victor a curry so there is no cooking tonight.  The take-away chosen by Mr S was Radhuni in Fishponds.  Reassuringly the menu opens with the words "we prepare our ingredients and cook our dishes the finest traditional way." Which is good to know.

We ordered enough for four including; some great onion bhajis, chicken jalfrezi, lamb achari, king prawn rahundi and chicken kashmiri.  With good friends, the conversation should feel like it hasn't stopped since you last saw them, no matter how long ago that was.  It's fair to say we have some really good friends in Bristol.

*a curry

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Being a child of the late 70's I was fortunate to be spared the horrors of Abigail's Party type shenanigans at home.  Not for me the uncomfortable nights trying to get to sleep, while my parents entertained Sir from the office and his gaudy wife, all drinking home made cocktails from a tiki bar in the corner of the living room.

This also means that I was spared the cheesy* fondue party.  For some reason fondue does have a bad reputation.  I don't know if it's purely because all food fads, once passed by, are seen as naff.  It could be that any meal that needs its own specific cooking and eating accoutrements just doesn't take off.  Who knows.

I had my first fondue a couple of years ago.  My in-law's happen to have a kitchen full of weird food gadgetry and decided that they hadn't used their fondue set since the first time they had used it many moons before.  An old recipe card was still with the box but unfortunately the amounts of cheese and booze didn't translate, so we ended up with hot cheesy white wine to dunk our bread into.  I'm happy to say that the fondue has since been re-visited and with much better results.

Tonight I'm having fondue at Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' very own cheese club.  Since it launched last year I have managed not to make it to any of their cheese tasting evenings, instead carrying out on-line taste-alongs here and on twitter.

Tonight's event was hosted at Primo's Gourmet Hotdogs.  Although excited at getting to attend, I will admit to being a tad nervous at meeting people in the flesh, that I've been chatting with for months on social networking sites.  I needn't have worried though as the attendees at Cheese Club were all really nice.  I'm already looking forward to the next event.

NB. The first rule of Cheese Club is talk about Cheese Club.

*take that however you like.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Tagliatelli with Wood blewit mushrooms and chicken

Another glorious find on the streets of Leeds this weekend was a bag of Wood Blewits from the lovely people from Autumn Harvest Mushrooms.  They had a small stall at the Briggate Farmers Market at the weekend.  As soon as I noticed them I homed in.  They always have a really good variety of fungus on offer from pink oyster mushrooms to ready to go dried risotto packs.

I first heard about Wood Blewits on an episode of River Cottage.  Hugh was waxing lyrical with his mushroom man John Wright about the joy of this hard to find shroom and eventually set fire to his mushroom guide (he was using it as a wind break for his camping stove).  Things like these stand out in my mind, so when we were faced with them in Leeds we had to buy them.

Wood Blewits are not cheap, but they are very tasty.  Tonight's menu is being kept simple so that they're the star of the show.  Simply pan fried with butter and a bit of garlic and tossed with fried chicken.  The sauce is finished with a spoon of crème fraiche.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Celeriac Gratin

If you're not a fan of celery and therefore think that you don't like celeriac, then I urge you to give me a moment of your time.  I'd like to share with you something to help you change your mind.  I'm no evangelist when it comes to food but I do find point blank "I don't like that" attitudes frustrating.  To my mind there has to be a way of preparing everything that is edible in such a way that even its harshest critics will enjoy.

I have a couple of vegetables that fall into this category, aubergine and okra.  I have eaten both enough times to know that I don't enjoy eating either, that said I keep trying these things and have found ways to make both wonderful.  In Malaga I had wonderful aubergine chips coated in polenta and I have eaten one or two really good Bhindi Bhajis (with okra) so I know its possible to make them*.

Celery, I know, is another one of the vegetables that really divides opinion.  My dad loved it.  My mum would just about put up with it if it was added to stews so early that it was unidentifiable at the time of eating.  I have even heard people describe it as the devil's vegetable, high praise indeed if Old Nick has the best music.

Our celeriac comes courtesy of Leeds' Briggate Farmers Market last weekend.  Among the artisan bread and designer pickles there were at least two or three farmers peddling their wares.  One was even proudly selling mucky carrots**.  The celeriac were priced individually, not by weight, and I couldn't stop myself buying the biggest one on offer.  Thinking ahead I knew that I'd use half of it for soup and the other half, celeriac gratin.

Layers of thinly sliced celeriac, fried onions, cream and strong cheese are baked together until the top is crisp and the middle is gooey.  The result has the comforting texture of potato dauphinoise but with the added freshness of celery.  We served ours with pork rib chops, but that's entirely optional.

*of course these are the exceptions, given the choice I'll pick something else from any given menu.
**I've had my fill of carrots of late.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Paneer, Carrot and Pea Curry

Tonight sees the final instalment of last week's great carrot mountain and it is a recipe that we haven't tried before.  I was forced to trawl the kitchen library for carroty inspiration, not wanting to serve them only as a side veg, but I drew a blank.  Neither did I want to use lots of them as mirepoix for various stews and sauces.  I resorted to the most natural course of action these days and Googled "carrot recipes".

So rare are dishes where carrots are the star that I found myself five pages through the search results.  Dedicated food sites, chefs and bloggers all let me down.  Fortunately Z is more eagle eyed than I am and found tonight's meal.  Paneer, carrot and pea curry.

For those not in the know, paneer is Indian cheese.  I baulked at the idea of a cheese curry the first time I saw it on a menu but now I'm a convert.  Paneer holds its texture so can be added to wet sauces or grilled. 

The recipe was a long one and as it was the first time I had cooked it, I followed it to the letter*.  First fry some onion and lots of carrots in oil for a few minutes.  Add spices, coriander, cumin, turmeric, chilli, mustard seeds, curry paste, ginger and garlic.  Next add a tin of tomatoes and some vegetable stock and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.  Finally add creamed coconut, peas and the paneer.

Next time (yes it was that good I'll be cooking it again) I'll swap green beans for the peas for a better texture and up the chilli levels, other than that it was pretty spot on.

*apart from where I didn't have the ingredients or where I felt something would work better.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Roast Pork

It's been a near perfect winters Sunday.  Bitterly cold but still, with cloudless skies.  A long walk in these conditions is good for the soul.  Having a farmers market at the end of the walk is like manna from heaven.

All of these things came together today.  The Leeds farmers market has two incarnations, on the first Sunday of each month it's located behind Kirkgate Market.  Toady it was the turn of the Briggate market.  The smaller version of the two with added craft stalls but still every bit as alluring.  We ended up with pies for lunch and a few more bits and bobs for during the week.

Pies consumed*, we then went to a friend's house for a toddler play-date and tea.  The tiddlers played with every toy, pot and pan that was within arms reach while us adults caught up on the local news.  Our hosts had cooked roast pork with all the trimmings, bar one.  I simply don't understand why supermarkets sell pork joints with the rind removed.  Not only is crackling one of the greatest guilty pleasures going, but even if you don't like eating pig skin, it helps to protect the meat whilst cooking.

Fortunately this was cooked perfectly and served with some carrots, roast potatoes, stuffing and some wonderful cabbage cooked with bacon, black pudding and apple.  We provided pudding, apple and blackberry crumble, made with foraged fruit last September.  It was all picked from around the corner of our host's house, so it seemed fitting to share it with them.

*with mushy peas, this is Yorkshire.

Lumache al'arrabiata

Leeds is a great city with lots happening all the time.  It is also home to a whole host of imaginative people who are willing to roll their sleeves up and get things done.  Today saw the start of something new for the city, Playful Leeds.

The idea of having fun in the city is a far cry from the "No ball games allowed" signs of my childhood that were put up by Council killjoys.  The first event focused on the idea of playfulness and whether Leeds is already a playful place.  I'm still a child at heart and can find fun in most surrounds but I can't remember the last time I made a den out of cardboard boxes.

I had our little boy in-tow so I also spent the afternoon toddler wrangling.  He's fast on his knees when he has his head down and that's when chaos can happen.  Fortunately for everybody at the event he was on his best, most playful, behaviour.  It's fair to say that we are both looking forward to playing more in future and seeing what comes of Playful Leeds.

After a busy day playing it's good to know that you can knock up a simple pasta dish without thinking too much about it.  They don't come much simpler than arrabiata.  Tinned tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and red chilli.  It's that simple.  Arrabiata is the Italian word for angry, so as long as you put in plenty of chilli you can claim to be authentic.  I also added some salami to ours but only because we had some in.

NB.  Lumache is the name of the pasta shape we happened to have in.  It is meant to resemble snail shells and is traditionally served with a snail ragu.  Arrabiata is normally served with penne but I was feeling playful.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Southern Fried Chicken

Just in case you didn't already know, let me fill you in.  We have a little family tradition on a Friday night.  We choose a take-away meal that we fancy and then cook it ourselves from scratch.  The rationale behind this is that we take charge of the ingredients (e.g. free range chicken), it usually costs less and the food is ready when we are, not 20 minutes later.

We were undecided as to what to cook tonight when fate smiled on us and through the letterbox, fluttered our salvation and muse.  Take-away menus normally have a short lifespan in our house, off the doormat and into the recycling bin in under 30 seconds.  This particular piece of urban jetsam has been saved a fate better than land-fill for the moment.

In my hands was a menu for American Fried Chicken.  This particular variation on a well known theme was festooned with chicken-in-a-bun meal deals, each with its own twist.  We decided we'd be traditional given it's our first try at SFC.

I need to point out that the one piece of kitchen equipment that I have been denied is a deep fat fryer, therefore our chicken will be roasted not fried.  Still, what's a litre of oil between friends.  We submerged chicken drumsticks in egg and then coated them in flour seasoned with smoked paprika, oregano and coriander*.

According to the menu, coleslaw and French Fries are the traditional accompaniment.  Fries were from the freezer but the slaw was yet another good way to plough through the cabbage and carrot mountain that we are still struggling to shift.

*The Colonel wouldn't give me his recipe.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Baked Pork Chops with Savoury Rice

Yesterday was a disaster.  It followed on from a time consuming and ultimately, fruitless evening.  I had the morning off, I was covering a late shift at work again, but I still had some work related chores to do.  One of these included a mad dash into Leeds to visit one of our lovely high street banks.  I made it to town in good time and once in the bank (building society, whatever), was met by a very well presented young man.

Brilliant, I thought, this will save me joining the queue* and wasting more of my precious free time.  I was to be thwarted by the branch not holding the items I required and shocked to discover that as a business customer I can't actually use branch services.  It turns out that the company restructure kept business and personal banking separate.  My mood from the previous evening was returning.

I had just enough time left to get back home and knock up a tortilla to have as dinner Al-Desco.  That was when I saw my bus. Through luck with the traffic lights and a turn of speed that I didn't know I possessed, I managed to get to the bus stop before it did.  The bus, however didn't stop.  The clouds of my soul drew in and darkness fell.  I faced a ten to twenty minute wait for the next bus or a twenty minute walk (jog) home.  I set off.

By the time I got home I was a stroppy mess.  For those of you who don't know Beeston Hill let me just say this, depending on your line of attack "hill" does not do it any justice.  There was just enough time to make a tuna sarni and raid the fruit bowl before going to work.

This is why there was no post yesterday.  I want Tonight's Menu to be daily, but there will be times when this isn't feasible or appropriate.  I hope you understand.

Today I'm back in the saddle, in charge of my own food destiny, and pre-warned as to what I'm doing at any given time.  I'm still beholden to the gods that govern the contents of my larder... and my imagination. Fortunately they are benevolent gods.

Tucked at the back of the freezer was a pack of Swillington Farm pork chops.  I decided to bake these with onions, garlic and thyme.  Served alongside a healthy mound of rice and vegetables, this more thank makes up for a day out of the kitchen and goes some way to rebalancing my mood.

*inevitably behind the man from the penny arcade cashing up for the month.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Beef and Carrot Stew

As I pointed out yesterday, I often get home from a trip to Leeds Kirkgate market with more food than I had intended to buy.  Along with that cabbage I am also the proud owner of too many carrots!

Carrots, it turns out, are Britain's favourite vegetable*.  Why then are there so few carrot recipes?  People must do more than eat them as a side vegetable or make cake out of them.  We tend to make soup from our carrot gluts.  A wonderful roasted carrot and caraway dip also makes several appearances every summer.  But neither of these are worthy of an evening meal.

We still have the majority of Mr Cabbage in the fridge** so we needed something that would let us make headway into both vegetables.  Luckily we have some shin beef in the freezer and Z is currently working three days a week.  Today was a day at home so she could crack on with a good slow rib sticking beef and carrot stew.

Three and a half hours later the collagen from the shin beef has broken down to leave meltingly tender meat.  The carrots are still intact, because they were left large, and their sweetness has flavoured the gravy.  The bitter cabbage is the perfect foil for the stew, along with boiled potatoes.

*according to The British Association of Carrot Growers
**even after last night's heroic efforts.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tagliatelle with Savoy Cabbage

I don't think I should be trusted to do the food shopping.  I always come back with things that weren't on the list.  If they were on the list I'll probably have bought too many of them.  However, I'm a sucker for an offer but not to the extent that I'd buy two chickens for £5.  I dread to think what kind of a life those two birds would have had.

It's not just offers in supermarkets that I struggle with.  I often shop at Leeds Kirkgate Market and when faced with food sold by weight I go to pieces.  I'd like to blame my age and the supermarket boom for my blind spot for weight.  I have no idea what 5lb of carrots look like.

The worst thing is when the shopping list says something like "veg".  What type and in what quantity?  This leaves me with a lot of license for choosing ingredients but if I get carried away we end up wondering what to cook.

Tonight's menu is born out of veg being on a shopping list.  I found a gem of a savoy cabbage being sold for pence on the market and duly bought it.  Having got it home I discovered that it was a tad bigger that I initially thought.  In fact, we'll be eating it for days, tant pis.

To get the ball* rolling, we're having a great little pasta dish that we unearthed the last time we had too much cabbage to eat.  Fry some cabbage and leek in butter until soft, along with some thyme.  Pour on some cream and cheese** and mix with whatever pasta shapes you have to hand.

**tonight we have port soaked Stilton left over from Christmas

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

You know that family favourite you have?  You know, the one that everybody loves and asks for when they visit. Where did it come from?  It doesn't matter if it was handed down to you from your parents or found in the back of a magazine, it has roots, but they should not be set in stone.  I see recipes as guides, not oracles.  The real secret to following your instincts and not recipes, is belief.

If I feel the need to change something then I will and tonight's menu is no different.  Spaghetti and meatballs has been a favourite for a long time but it has evolved.  To start with we used to bake the meatballs and pour over some tomato sauce.  Now we poach the meatballs in the sauce so that the whole meal comes together as one.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Haggis Tatties and Neeps

This doesn't usually happen.  Highland Chicken normally follows a meal of Haggis, Tatties and Neeps as a use for the leftovers, but not this time.  Tonight we're having leftover leftovers.

Other than its unsettling ingredients, I think the other reason people don't cook haggis is the time it takes. A small haggis (enough for two to three people) takes a good hour and a half of simmering to cook.  The alternative is to remove the haggis from its casing and cook it in a dry pan.  This way it's done in 15 minutes and you can add some whisky as you go.

In my mind, there are not many dishes as comforting as this one.  Creamy mash, well peppered neeps and plenty of haggis are my favourite three piles of food that occur on the same plate at the same time.  There are no airs and graces, no garnish of parsley and no dragged quenelles of puree.  Just three steaming heaps of joy.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Crispy Duck

I'm often found at the reduced section in supermarkets.  But, and this a life lesson for us all, it's only a bargain if you were going to be buying the thing anyway.  A coat in the sales with 50% off its original £100 price tag is still £50.  That's just maths.  If you were looking for a coat, brilliant, well done.  If you were after shoes you have just lost £50 from your Jimmy Choo budget.

Now, to completeley contradict myself, if it has a yellow sticker on it, I'm likely to stick it in my trolley.  I can justify this by now having two freezers (the allotment necessitated the second one).  I'd rather preserve good food and eat it when I'm ready for it, than allow it to be binned just because an arbitrary date on a label has passed.  The real secret to this is not to then forget what is in your freezer (this happens all too often with chest freezers).

Whilst looking for inspiration for yesterday's meal, I found two duck legs tucked at the back of the freezer.  Yes they had the ubiquitous yellow sticker of reduction on the packet.  I would eat duck more often if it was cheap as chips but then again I don't eat chips that often.

Realising that it's Friday night there was only one direction to take the quack in, Chinese.  As with yesterday's chicken, duck legs roast better than frying.  A quick tidy and rub down with salt and five spice and they were ready for a good two hour appointment with the oven.  Stir fried tatsoi from the front garden and jasmine rice (from the cupboard) completed the meal.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Mediteranian Roast Chicken

I'm still raging against the gluttony of Christmas and New Year celebrations.  I am also still just about getting by on what we have in the house, having not managed to re-fill the cupboards.  I must go shopping tomorrow.

Fortunately, our last meat order from Swillington Farm, contained a chicken so big that we would have been eating leftovers for a week if we had roasted the thing whole.  I jointed it and froze the portions in handy two person packages.  One of these packages was still in the freezer and it contained the two legs.

I think chicken legs are overlooked.  I know that they take longer to cook than the breast but they do manage to taste of chicken.  We use them in stews and curries, stuff them and even stir fry them (once the bone has been removed).

I marinated the legs in lemon juice, coriander, oregano, garlic and olive oil and then roasted them along side some peppers.  Served with seasoned couscous and green beans, I'm feeling less bloated day by day.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Spaghetti with Crab and Cherry Tomatoes

After two weeks of feasting on rich hearty fare, I need a break.  Not from cooking but from the tyranny of stuffing, spuds and sprouts.  I need to shake off the shackles of red meat and gravy.  Not for me the three course meal followed with a completely unnecessary* cheeseboard.

What I crave right now are the light, summery dishes, that will hopefully help me get back into my November clothes.  Before you ask, no, I'm not on a diet.  This isn't a health kick.  Think of it more as a thinning of my gravy-stream.

Spaghetti with crab and cherry tomatoes should do just that.  Crab has a big flavour so a little goes a long way.  Serve with a nice big hunk of bread and a glass of what ever you fancy**

*no cheeseboard is completely unnecessary but after a marathon meal there is no need.  Skip the pudding and go for the cheese I say.
**see told you it wasn't a diet.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Beef and Potato Curry

It was only a matter of time before the weather had an impact on Tonight's Menu, I live in Britain after all.  Mum was leaving today, back to Edinburgh, after a week long visit.  The rail link between the two cities is usually reliable but, like her arrival, the wind was going to have a say in her departure.  All trains between England and Scotland were cancelled and Mum was staying for another night.

Z and I had already decided what we were going to have for our first meal for two in over a week but that wouldn't stretch to three people so we had to rethink.  We also hadn't done a "big shop" so the cupboards were relatively bare.

We found mince in the freezer, a good start, but what to cook.  We'd had lasagne the other night so Spag boll was out the window.  The discovery of a packet of chapattis sealed the deal, curry it was.  Onions, garlic, mince, spices and a tin of tomatoes made the basic sauce.  Potatoes, peas and spring onions were added for bulk and freshness.  Rice #3 (basmati) was rolled out for this one.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Fish Pie

Since starting Tonight's Menu something odd has happened.  Not by design, we have managed not to eat the same meal twice*.  I always knew that we had a good repertoire and range in the kitchen but after 43 posts we have only just managed repetition.

My Mum has been staying with us and all of the meals had been planned well in advance.  Shopping had been done early to avoid the "world is going to end tomorrow" madness that rains down on supermarkets before any public holiday.  The only meal not thought through was tonight's.

After demolishing the Highland Chicken, we sat around to decide what we were going to eat.  The blog turned into a handy diary of the previous days meals.  We'd eaten chicken twice and beef and pork once each.  Lamb is off the menu at home as Z doesn't eat it and to my surprise Mum suggested fish.  It's fair to say that Mum isn't a fish fan.  It is eaten grudgingly once a week because it's good for you.

Going back through the previous posts Mum liked the sound of Fish Pie**.  I knew we had the makings of one in the freezer, apart from a bit of something smoked, so it was decided.  A post celebration trip to the supermarket allowed me to pick up a small piece of smoked haddock to go in the pie with salmon, coley and prawns.

*apart from leftover chili con carni
**who doesn't

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Highland Chicken

Although English by birth (Bolton to be precise), I consider myself to be 50/50 Scottish and Welsh by parentage.  A partridge hatched in a pear tree is still a partridge and not a pear.  I'll accept British, even European but never English.

Part of my proud heritage* is haggis.  I probably ate haggis long before I knew the grizzly truth behind the contents of a good beastie.  The same can be said for black pudding.  This is probably why I'm not in the slightest bit squeamish when it comes to offal and nose to tail eating.  If it tastes good, eat it (and if you are willing to eat a killed animal eat all of it).

The traditional haggis meal, cooked and served with neeps** and tatties, is only one way of dealing with a sheep's stomach filled with its lung, liver, heart and barley.  It is a fantastic ingredient.  Anywhere you serve black pudding you could easily substitute haggis.

I first had Highland Chicken at the Cramond Inn, Edinburgh, and have cooked it plenty of times since.  Chicken, I use boned thighs, is stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon.  The parcel is browned in a pan and then roasted until the chicken is cooked.  Serve with neeps and tatties if you like.  A whisky sauce also goes down well.

*Along with being rubbish at football.
**For the record, neeps are the vegetable that the Scots call turnip and the English call swede.  Swede is an abbreviated form of Swedish Turnip.  Both are correct, lets leave it there.