Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rocket Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce

Today it rained.  It seamed to rain from the moment we woke up until long after I finished writing this post.  I know that we need the rain and that parts of the country are still technically in drought but surely enough is enough.  I normally don't mind the rain.  I quite like walking in the rain.  I used to love playing rugby in the rain.  But having to entertain the boy all day because we couldn't go outside has been tough.

I decided that there was no time like the present to start his food journey, so this afternoon we made gnocchi.  To R, this was nothing more than playdough and flour play, but his joy at putting boiled potatoes into the ricer and watching the wriggly worms of potato come out of the bottom was lovely.


To the pile of potato we added flour, an egg and a big handful of finely chopped rocket.  The dough was then rolled into a big snake and cut into what I thought would be perfect gnocchi size dumplings.  They were then put in the fridge until we needed them, apart from the one that R decided was his and needed hitting with a big spoon.

When needed the gnocchi were plunged into boiling water and cooked until they floated.  If I'm honest they were a little on the large size but they still tasted better than any you can buy in the shop.  I served them with a tomato sauce and more rocket.  I doubt R will remember the first time that he made gnocchi from scratch, but I hope that he'll eventually remember that he likes them so much that they become a family favourite.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Venison Steak with Braised Red Cabbage and Roast Potatoes

After a week of not cooking, I was determined to reclaim my place at the hob tonight.  I wanted to come back with a bang, but needed inspiration.  We set off to the Kirkstall Deli Market hoping to stumble upon the one ingredient that would shape our meal.  If you haven't been to the Kirkstall Deli Market can I suggest that you give it a try.  Even today, in the pouring rain, there was a good mix of hot and cold food stalls.  Even the local allotment society had a stall and at £1 for a huge bag of rhubarb, I'm glad they were there.

The inspiration finally came from Round Green Farm.  I didn't try any of their venison burgers or sausages, which were being cooked, but the offer of two packs of haunch steaks for £10 was too good an offer to miss.  Meat in the bag, I nibbled my way around the rest of the stalls picking up more ingredients for future meals.

After the market we had a less enjoyable food trip around a supermarket.  We had planned this prior to the fun at Kirkstall Abbey and it gave us the opportunity to pick up the rest of the ingredients for tonight's meal.  I think it was the heavy rain that made me crave the comfort of braised red cabbage and who doesn't want roast potatoes?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Pizza

Z has been doing the cooking all week and she pulled out all of the stops for our Friday Night Take-away.  We quite often pimp a shop bought pizza with additional toppings but today Z made the whole thing from scratch.

The dough was made following a Jamie Oliver recipe.  Z made this during the day with a little help from the boy.  It was rolled as thin as possible and topped with tomato sauce, parma ham, salami, mozzarella and parmesan cheese and baked for 10 minutes with our oven turned up to 11.  The only way it could have been improved would have been to turn the oven up to 12, but it doesn't get that hot.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chicken Stir-Fry

Another late night at the office has meant that Z is at the stove again.  I honestly think that she's enjoying all of this cooking.  I tend to dominate in the kitchen.  It's not that I am any better at cooking than she is, or that I have any particular mastery of cooking techniques.  It's just I find that after a day at work cooking a meal helps me to unwind so I crack on with the kitchen chores while Z busies herself around the house.

By the time I got home from work this evening, Z had prepared a cracking stir fry of chicken and vegetables.  Chicken, peppers, carrot, red onion, garlic and pickled ginger were all fried together.  Soy and garlic oyster sauce were then added before the whole lot was served with noodles.  Z also managed to make four pints of chicken stock to put in the freezer, such was her excitement at being let loose in the kitchen.  Perhaps, I should back away from the stove more often?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Tagliatelle with Stilton and Broccoli Sauce

Last week was national Stilton week.  For some reason, even though I was well aware of this fact, I neglected to cook anything containing my favourite cheese*.  Z took it upon herself to rectify the situation with tonight's menu.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Z makes a mean cheese sauce.  More than half a block of Stilton went into a bechamel before cooked broccoli was added.  The whole lot was then tossed over pasta and devoured.  It's not the most authentic Italian dish in the world, but it was very tasty.

*correct at time of publishing, my favourite cheese can vary week to week.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spanish Vegetable Stew

My posts on Tonight's Menu this week have been shorter than usual.  I'm sure there are some of you out there who are glad of this.  I am hoping that normal service will be resumed in the not too distant future.  The reason behind my brevity is that fact that I have been working late and Z has been doing all of the cooking.  Sometimes it's hard enough to write about what we have eaten but when I've not been involved in the process it is even harder.

To try to remedy this lack of physical involvement in the cooking process, I spent some time this morning podding broad beans for this evening's meal.  We decided last night that we would have a Spanish inspired vegetable stew.  It could have been a vegetarian stew if we had omitted the chorizo, but we like chorizo and we're not vegetarian.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Bangers and Mash

Today has not been one of the better days on record.  I'm usually a happy-go-lucky kind of guy but today I've been wandering around work like a bear with a sore head.  Needless to say, the weather didn't help matters!  Luckily for me Z was on hand to save the day from complete ruination.

By the time I finally got home from work, Z had fed, bathed and read the boy his bedtime story and was already preparing tonight's meal.  Last week we took delivery of a meat box from Swillington Farm*. I won't regale you with a full list of its contents, but there were sausages.  They were rare breed, outdoor reared pork and herb sausages and very nice they were too.  Z also made some potato, swede and parsley mash and suddenly the day wasn't so bad after all.

*our first one since November last year!

Sunday, 22 April 2012


If you have been paying attention you will have noticed that we eat risotto quite often.  In fact, I'm surprised that this is only the 5th time that I've cooked risotto since November.  To me it is one of the greatest comfort foods around.  It's the oozy creaminess that gets me every time.  That and the fact that you can put anything into a risotto, the only limitations are your imagination.

I didn't have to use too much imagination as the ingredients suggested themselves.  We had half a cob of sweet corn and the end of our mange tout mountain in the fridge, both of which were in danger of not being eaten.  These were added towards the end of the cooking time.  I also fried off some smoked, streaky bacon to add a salty crunch to the dish*.

*not all garnishes are herbs.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Cassoulet au Canard

Having spent today on a guided tour of some of Leeds' independent coffee shops we completely neglected to organise our evening meal.  Luckily for us we had some ready-made options to fall back on.  Our freezer is always well stocked but after a day drinking coffee we turned to the store cupboard.

We have a couple of relatives that do quite a lot of work in Europe and whenever they return, they always bring us some foodie treats.  High on our wish list of French treats is cassoulet.  For some reason the French tin really good food.  A tin of beans and sausages in Blighty is a horrible thing but the duck, beans and sausage that come out of the French tins are wonderful.  They are stodgy, but a rocket salad* and a crusty baguette soon add some crunch and freshness to the meal.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Johnny Fontane's

When I started Tonight's Menu back in November last year, I did so to see if I would be able to write about something I love on a daily basis.  I decided at the offset I would keep the blog to why we are eating what we are eating every night.  There would be no recipes, no measurements and definitely no reviews. Also the blog would be updated daily.

Recipes have started sneaking in. It's more the method of what we've cooked rather than a full blown, stage by stage write up, but there are still no measurements.  The posts are quite often added a day or two behind the actual event and there have been occasions that I have missed a day completely. However, I have become comfortable with this as time has passed.  The final standing, unwritten rule, was no reviews.

Sure, there have been nights where we have eaten in restaurants, but true to the nature of Tonight's Menu, I have always written about why we aren't eating at home.  The restaurant in question always gets a mention, and of course I write about the food*, but not to the extent that a reviewer would.

Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by the management of Johnny Fontane's, a new independent restaurant which shortly opens to the paying public of Leeds.  I was asked if I would write a review of their new venture in exchange for a free meal.  I was, in equal measure, flattered and shocked to be asked, exited at the thought of an independent burger bar and concerned that this might change the direction of Tonight's Menu.

I asked friends who write review blogs what they would do and sought solace from Z.  I even contacted Johnny Fontaine's directly regarding my reservations and after a chat I accepted their invitation.  That, in a nutshell, is how Z and I find ourselves sat at a table with three other food bloggers.  I have never seen so many people taking photographs of food in one place.

The meal deal was simple, any single burger, any side dish and a drink, from the extensive drinks menu (excluding spirits and champagne).  This would normally be great value at £9.99 but tonight the deal was sweeter as it was free.  Z and I both chose bacon cheese burgers.  I had onion rings and Z went for the seasoned fries for our side dishes.  I ordered at the bar and was handed a lump of impersonal plastic that would "flash and jump around the place" when my food was ready.

Our wait wasn't long.  My tricorder went off and I shuffled over to the counter to pick up my tray of food.  The experience was somewhere between waiting for an aisle at bowl-arama and being served school dinner.  Only I kept my own shoes and the burgers at my school were never this good!

The burgers where perfectly cooked, still juicy and pink in the middle and seemed to consist of nothing more than meat and some seasoning.  Our sides were a little disappointing.  The promise of home cut fries filled me with joy but ours were soggy and even though they were "seasoned" I still had to add salt and sauce.  The onion rings split Z and I.  We both love onion rings, especially when they aren't reformed from onion scraps. These were made from chunky slices of proper onion, but I felt that the coating had been applied ham-fistedly and then overcooked so that the slightly burnt bitterness of the coating masked the sweetness of the onions.

I'm sure that by the time Johnny Fontane's opens to the paying public, the food niggles will be ironed out, but I fear the impersonal service is there to stay.  You don't spend good money on flashing lumps of plastic and then not use them, do you?  There were plenty of staff milling around clearing tables, but even then, eye contact was minimal, never mind a complimentary "how is your meal?"  Perhaps I'm being a fuddy-duddy but I like a bit of a smile with my service, I also quite like some service.

One final thing, just in case your thinking "doesn't sound that great" the beer list is great and Z informs me that her cherry milkshake was awesome and she really likes a good milkshake.  Will I go back once they open?  Probably, the burgers were good and the price is right.  An independent American dinner is a welcome addition to the Leeds restaurant smorgasbord, I just wish it felt like an independent rather than trying to emulate a chain before it even opens.

*this is a food blog after all.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mackerel Fish Cakes

There has been quite a lot of chatter about fish cakes* on my Twitter feed recently, so when Z offered to make a batch of mackerel fish cakes for tea, I could hardly say no.  Z looks after the boy on Thursday and Friday so managing to knock up a batch of fish cakes whilst toddler wrangling was a herculean feat.

Z used peppered smoked mackerel** as the fishy part of the mixture along with mashed potato, softened leeks, sweetcorn and parsley.  The mixture was shaped into cakes, coated in egg and bread crumbs and put into the fridge so that they would hold together better in the oven.

Apart from the egg everything on our plates this evening had been reduced for quick sale, including the breadcrumbs which we make from stale bread and keep in the freezer.  The fish cakes were much lighter than any that you could buy pre-made.  All to often bought fish cakes have far too much potato and not enough fish.  Z got the balance just right.

*including images of Finnish cakes decorated with fish!
**it's one of R's favourites.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fusilli with Bacon and Leeks

Scratching around in our cavernous fridge and our usually well stocked store cupboards last night, and again this morning, left us completely uninspired.  We simply couldn't fathom what we could cook from what food we already had.  The miserable weather conditions that we woke to were the muse that I was lacking.  I wanted a hug on a plate.  It was then I remembered a small packet of bacon nestled in the freezer and my food cogs started whirring.

Z scurried to the cellar to save the bacon and arrived back in the kitchen clutching a small amount of chicken.  I must remember to label frozen food stuffs better!  By now we both had our hearts set on an unctuous bowl of pasta, so Z braved the rain on her way home from work just to get some bacon.

The bacon was fried off with a finely shredded leek, some thyme and plenty of black pepper.  A glug of cream was poured in before cooked pasta was added to the sauce.  The dish was finished off with a hand full of parsley, some more black pepper and topped with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hoisin Chicken with Mange Tout

You may have read yesterday, that over the weekend I saved a mass of mange tout from the vegetable graveyard at my local supermarket.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the produce, I can only assume that it had passed its sell by date.  I don't normally buy mange tout, not because I don't like it but because it always seems to be airfreighted into the UK from Peru or Kenya.   Mange tout grows very well in Britain.  I know this to be true as I've grown it myself.  I would rather eat local seasonal produce but I don't like seeing good food go to waste.  Either way, I have found myself with a glut of veg.

We needed to start eating our way through the mange tout mountain so I decided upon a stir fry.  But I knew that if I added it to a pan with other ingredients I wouldn't even make a dent in our over supply.  So I kept the mange tout out of the frying pan and cooked it separately as a side dish.

The chicken was stir fried with red onion and a pepper before hoisin sauce was added and stirred through.  The mange tout was blanched and then reheated with oyster and garlic sauce.  We served both alongside some pain boiled rice.  We still have a lot of mange tout!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Asparagus Omelette

On Sunday, with the re-discovered joy that fridge ownership had brought, we had a family outing to our nearest supermarket.  Never have a small group of people been so happy at the thought of buying fresh orange juice, milk and cheese!  We could also raid the vegetable graveyard, looking for perfectly fine and edible produce that failed the supermarket's ridiculous shelf-life policy.

There was plenty to choose from, but we limited our haul to a bag of mange tout the size of your head and two bunches of asparagus.  Now I know that neither of these foods are in season and therefore, have probably been airfreighted in from Peru or Kenya, but a bargain is a bargain and I hate to see food go to waste.

Tonight I cooked a rather large omelette for our evening meal, which we ate with a salad that Z prepared.  I wont bore you to death with how to make an omelette, James Martin does enough of that every week on Saturday Kitchen.  I will say that lighter evening meals will become more of a prominent feature here, unless we snap back to wintry conditions again.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Chana Saag Paneer

This was meant to be the meal that we cooked on Friday for our Friday Night Take-Away but as you will see from yesterday's post things got well and truly in the way.  I also have a new distraction, the Olympic Food Challenge.  I spent most of today creating a new blog for my one-off summer food adventure, so it fell to Z to make the evening meal.

We started with a couple of onion bhajis each before the main event.  Z fried onions and garlic with mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, chilli powder and cinnamon before adding the paneer.  Once the paneer had started to colour she added a tin of chick peas and a glass of water.  When the water had all but evaporated the pre cooked spinach went into the pan.

A couple of tablespoons of yoghurt were stirred through with a good handful of chopped coriander and the meal was ready to serve.  After waiting three days for this I had started to wonder if we were ever going to cook it.  I'm glad Z took the reins, it was delicious.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Tale of Two Meals

It has been a busy couple of days, which is the main reason for a combined catch up post.  On Friday we finally took delivery of our new shiny fridge freezer.  I have become so accustomed to not having a fridge in the kitchen that it feels massive.  It took a while to get it into its final position only for us to then realise that the doors need to open the other way around.

I found the relevant section in the manual and set about removing the doors.  Half way through this simple task I realised that I didn't have all of the relevant tools*.  I rehung the fridge door and realised that the evening had run away with me.  It was far too late to start cooking so the planned Friday Night Take-away of Chana Saag Paneer was put on the back burner.  In its place I went to our local Chinese take-away and bought Chicken with Cashew Nuts.

Today we had planned a trip to York to see some of Z's colleagues.  This was nearly scuppered by one of my colleagues not being able to work.  Fortunately, I work with a great team and between three of us we got the shift covered and I made it to York for a beer or two.  I took the opportunity, while passing through Leeds, to stop off at Fish& for a cone of calamari.  If you haven't stopped at the hut on Commercial Street for a mackerel bap, or fish and chips with a twist, then I insist that you do.  Not only will you be eating great food but you'll be supporting a truly local start up business while you're at it.

Over in York we headed for a couple of family friendly pubs.  We were having a really good time chatting with a group of friends that we don't get to see often enough.  Then we realised that we were still in York and it was fast approaching R's tea time.  York isn't that far from Leeds but try telling that to a hungry 18 month old whose very life is dictated by meal times.  We made a dash into Pizza Express** and ordered a plate of meatballs for the boy and a couple of pizzas for the two of us.  R helped himself to our pizzas but then slept on the train home, so the operation was a success.

We had planned, for the second day running, to cook that curry.  It will just have to wait until tomorrow now.

*Never start a DIY project at any time other than 9am on Saturday morning.  There will always be something that can go wrong and it will take you the rest of the day to sort it out.  This includes a trip to your local DIY store to buy the tools that you thought you already had.
**Other pizza restaurants are available.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Challenging Cheese

Tonight was the return of Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' own cheese club, a monthly get together of cheese-fiends looking to get a big dairy hit*.  Since it's inception last year we have tasted hard cheese, soft cheese, blue cheese, Irish cheese, Yorkshire cheese, melty cheese and beery cheese.  But tonight we faced our biggest challenge, rind washed cheese.

Walking up the stairs at The Adelphi (the home of cheese club) I had no idea what I was about to face.  The fog soon lifted as I entered the room.  If I had been carrying my cheese miners canary it would have fallen off its perch.  But trust me, this is not a bad thing.  What I already knew about rind washed cheese wasn't much but I did know that they didn't necessarily taste as bad as they smelt.

We were being treated to 8 cheeses which were about as varied as a single type of cheese can be.  The stars of the show were Epoisses, Talaggio and Reblechon.  The Epoisses was almost running off the plate it was that gooey.  The Talaggio was soft but didn't try to run away and the Reblechon fell somewhere in the middle.  As with a lot of soft cheeses these were all mild and creamy and nowhere near punchy as they smelt.  There were hard cheeses on offer too.  Admiral Collingwood, washed in Newcastle Brown Ale, and Ardrahan, an Irish cows milk cheese that would have been at home at last months cheese club, both had a toothsome bite to them.

But it wasn't all cheesy deliciousness.  I fought and bettered Oxford Isis.  The initial assault on the senses was like your nose being attacked by a kimchee wielding kipper.  That said however, if you could get past the smell it had a pleasant sweet, salty flavour but it didn't taste good enough for seconds.  Neither did Celtic Promise.  To me this sounded more like a 100-1 shot at Aintree than a cracking cheese.  I'm not going to say that it had equine overtones, that would be cruel, but neither the flavour, taste or texture could win me around.

That left one cheese.  Stinking Bishop.  It is probably the most famous rind washed cheese in Britain.  Catapulted to fame by Wallace and Gromit, after its starring role in The Curse of the Ware Rabbit.  I had hoped that it would be on offer tonight as I had never tried it and to my joy, there it was.  We taste the cheeses blind, that's to say we don't know what we are eating until we have tasted all of them.  I was crest fallen to discover that my least favourite cheese of the night, nay decade, was Stinking Bishop.  Writing this after the event, I cannot put into words how much I disliked eating this cheese.  It was like it was going off in my mouth as I ate it.

A couple of valuable lessons were learnt at Homage 2 Fromage tonight; never judge a book by its cover, or a cheese by its smell and never meet your heroes, you will only be disappointed.

*that's probably just me, everybody else seems quite normal.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Moules Mariniere

I don't know how things work in your house but in ours the birthday boy or girl gets to choose the evening meal.  They also get to put their feet up and stay away from the stove.  The usual birthday meal consists of a huge steak and too big a portion of chips.

Tonight it's my birthday and I fancied a change.  I love mussels and don't eat them anywhere near often enough.  It was with this in mind that Z journeyed to Leeds Market.  She returned home with a couple of kilos of the biggest mussels I have ever seen.  She was a bit wary of cooking them as she had never cooked mussels before but I assured her everything would be ok.

As I suspected the mussels were perfect and the creamy white wine sauce was perfect.  Not all traditions were broken as we did have chips but what are moules without frites?  For an extra birthday treat Z made a couple of rhubarb and apple crumbles, my favourite.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Pasta with Rabbit Ragu

I have noticed, while spending copious hours with my nose in cookery books, an Italian idea of cooking two meals at the same time.  This isn't just a clever use of leftovers but recipes that are designed so that you'll make too much for one sitting and have the remainder another day.

A good example of this is braised oxtail in white wine.  The meat is served on day one and the sauce is served with pasta the second day.  With this frugal way of cooking in mind I deliberately made sure that there was too much sauce in Sunday's Rabbit Casserole.

As well as some of the sauce from the casserole I also reserved the saddle of the rabbit which I've now shredded and mixed through.  As the sauce was very rich I have let it down with some of the pasta cooking water and added a handful of fresh parsley.  With two decent meals out of one rabbit we'll be buying bunny more often.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Beef Burgers

It's Easter Monday and that's a bank holiday! Bank holidays mean only one thing, a barbecue.  However, the weather gods have not smiled kindly on the UK today, so plans of cremating meat products have been knocked into a cocked hat.

Perhaps a little prematurely, we purchased the where-with-all for making burgers at Cornucopia on Friday and therefore our path for this evening was set.  We bought a packet of mince from Manor Farm Beef with tonight in mind.  Even Chris the farmer said that they often turn their mince into burgers by simply seasoning them.  Who am I to argue?

Salt and pepper is all that we added to the beef before dry frying the burgers and letting them rest in the oven.  We topped them with emmental, a couple of rashers of bacon and served them with skinny fries and gherkins.  The only thing missing was the smoky taste you get from barbecue cooking, but that will have to come later in the year.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Rabbit With Shallots, Rosemary and Garlic

It's Easter Sunday, a time for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and eating far too much chocolate.  I don't have a sweet tooth so the chocky part of today is lost on me*.  Easter is full of imagery both Christian and Pagan.  The eggs that I just mentioned, the cross that can be found on the top of Hot Cross Buns and the cute Easter Bunny who delivers the over-packaged confectionery to all the good little children.

In a perverse twist, I thought that today would be a good day to resurrect a recipe that we first tried in 2005, rabbit with shallots.  I was full of foodie bravado at the time and I decided to test myself by buying and butchering a whole rabbit (skinned, I'm not daft).  Rabbit, bought and jointed, I needed a recipe and found this by Mike Robinson.  The reason I chose it was the line "Add the bacon to the pan. While that is cooking away, put on a pair of ski goggles and peel the shallots." I don't have any ski goggles but it is still the best cooking instruction I have ever read. 

As there are only two of us eating tonight I have halved the quantities, but other than that, I have more or less followed Mike's recipe, even down to the parsley mash.  I think that this is a fitting way to celebrate the hard work and commitment of the Easter Bunny.  He doesn't receive the praise of Rudolph and yet does all of his work alone, not as part of a team pulling a fat man around on a sledge.  Please be upstanding as we toast the Easter Bunny.  And delicious he was too!

*although I have managed to eat two mini cream eggs.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

We have spent today running around Leeds in a futile hunt for a fridge freezer.  I had no idea that these white obelisks, that lurk in the corner of the kitchen, came in so many sizes.  I also took for granted that 11 years ago we bought an odd sized appliance that we now cannot replace.  It seems that nobody makes a fridge the size we need to fill the gaping void in our kitchen, the hunt continues.

The gaping void means our chilled fresh food capacity is severely reduced.  We have enough space in a cool bag for milk, cheese, butter and a little salad but other than that our storage is either frozen or ambient*.  I found and started to defrost some prawns before we went on the white goods hunt.

As we drove home, fridgeless, I had a terrifying realisation.  We were completely out of black bean sauce**.  We also had with us a baby who was well due a nap and who was stubbornly refusing to go to sleep, so I combined the two problems and set off, with the buggy, into Leeds.  It was about an hours walk there and back but R had his nap and I got my sauce.

So many shop bought cooking sauces are disappointing.  But the jars from Taste on Vicar Lane are great.  The Black Bean and Chilli is so firey that it is a contender for the hottest meal we cook.  Before we even started preparing the main course we tucked into a plate full of pork dumplings with some soy and rice wine vinegar dipping sauce

We then chopped a green pepper, a bunch of spring onions and checked the prawns for any gritty veins.  These few ingredients were fried together along with one spoon of the black bean sauce*** and a good glug of oyster sauce. 

*at least there are no VAT issues to contend with
**there are worse things in the world but I really, really wanted black bean sauce.
***it really is that hot.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Lemon Pepper Crusted Cod

The Easter weekend is upon us.  Two bank holidays and a four day weekend.  For most of today I have been thinking that it's Saturday.  I think it has something to do with the lie in and a shopping trip around Leeds Market.  We were shopping for fish because it's a tradition, or an old charter or something, to eat fish on Good Friday and who am I to stand in the way of tradition?

As is often the way, we didn't know exactly what we were looking for but that's part of the fun of shopping for fish on Leeds Market.  All of the fishmongers are good, so with an open mind you can simply pick what looks best on the day.  If you do go looking for a particular fish for a particular recipe you might miss out on a real stunner.

In the end we bought a nice piece of cod.  Cod is still one of the fish that we should eat less of due to stock numbers, but as I haven't eaten a morsel of cod since I started Tonight's Menu, I figure I can have my share tonight.

The cod was topped with bread crumbs which had lemon zest, parsley, plenty of black pepper and melted butter added to them.  It was then baked and served with boiled anya potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Chicken Casserole

I love cooking.  I find that it relaxes me after a day at work, sat behind a desk and occasionally troubleshooting random problems.  I also love the looks and sounds of appreciation that you get from my dining companions as they tuck into a lovingly prepared meal.  All of those things go towards why I write this blog, it's an extension of my cookery passion.

There are some days however, when Z gets to the stove before I do.  Getting home and cooking is relaxing, but coming home to the smells of an already cooked meal knocks spots of any bad day at the office.

Z works three days a week and spends the other four looking after me and the boy.  Today she went the whole hog and cooked a chicken casserole so that the three of us could sit down and eat together before R's bed time*.

Z fried off some bacon and two chicken thighs in a big pan.  She then added carrots, celery, onions, half a bottle of red wine and some vegetable stock before simmering for two hours.  She then shredded the chicken and added it back to the pan with some sliced mushrooms and simmered the whole lot for a further half an hour.  By the time I got home all that was left to do was mash some potatoes and eat.  Thanks Z!

*R goes to bed around 7 after a bath which is why we usually eat so late.  This is also the reason why these posts are often a day behind themselves or at least very late at night.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Venison Sausages with Roast Potatoes

This is not a meteorological blog post, but the weather certainly plays a part in what we eat.  Big rib-sticking stews in winter, light salads in summer, you get the idea.  Having started Tonight's Menu in November I haven't written many salad posts but they will come soon enough.

This time last week I had spent the day on Portabello beach, Edinburgh, building sandcastles and eating ice cream.  It was like it was the middle of summer, only without the hoards of people.  I have never, in all my years of visiting Scotland, eaten ice cream, on a beach, in March.

Last night's meal was a light and summery pasta dish with a sauce made from my home grown rocket.  Tonight, due to the wintry conditions that we awoke to, we needed something a little bit more hearty to give us a big comforting hug and keep the chill out.

The venison, pork & red wine sausages were grilled, but the real treat was the roast potatoes.  Anya potatoes make the most fantastic roasties.  Each spud is almost like a single, huge, knobbly chip.  The flavour is superb, nutty and buttery.  To really set them off we roasted them in goose fat and served the lot alongside some steamed kale from the garden.  Summer is great but winter food can be so much more indulgent.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Linguine with Rocket Pesto

A few years ago Z and I took on half a plot at our local allotments.  This was way back before it was the trendy thing to do.  We had been down to the allotment because it was their yearly show and we are, essentially, nosey.  Having looked around we decided to take the plunge and with a few friends signed up for our plot.

I could see the pit-falls and future arguments of communal allotmenteering a mile off.  Firstly what do we grow?  Even the most dedicated fan of food* has pet hates and most of them are veg related.  I have a friend who loves gooseberries, you will not find me voluntarily within a mile of these spiky, sour little faux-fruits.  Likewise I know plenty of people who can't stand broad beans, but my plot isn't complete without them. 

With all of this in mind Z and I suggested to "the collective" that we would look after one half of one of the two plots that we had taken on and they could do whatever they wanted with the rest.  Then disaster struck, we got pregnant.  I know that the arrival of our son (18 months ago) has been scary, exciting, joyous and given us a new outlook on life but his arrival almost cost us the plot.

Luckily, a couple of Z's colleagues have stepped up to the mark and are now ploughing our furrow for us.  We still pop down on occasion and this summer R should be at a stage where he can muck about in the weeds whilst we get on with some serious vegetable husbandry.

This is all very well and good, but what about tonight's menu?  As a lottie substitute, last summer we dug over our front garden.  It's small but it kept us in salad last summer and we even managed a glut of runner beans.  For some reason the wild rocket that we planted just kept growing, right into November, so we never got around to digging it up.  Imagine our surprise when, in all of the great spring weather we've just had**, it sprang back into action.  We now have our first glut of  2012 and we haven't even sown anything yet.

In order to manage the sudden mass of rocket I have made a rocket pesto to dress linguine for tonight's meal.  Because rocket is so much more peppery than basil I have added almonds to the sauce instead of pine nuts.  If I had any I would have used pecorino instead of parmesan cheese but beggars can't be choosers.

*not foodie.
**until this week, seriously! I was eating ice creams on a beach in Edinburgh this time last week and now it's snowing. What's going on?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Chorizo and Bean Stew

Until an hour ago I had no idea what I was going to write about this evening.  We still haven't managed to re-furnish our kitchen so the traditional big shop hasn't happened and we are surviving on reserves from the second* freezer.  While looking for something to eat this evening I discovered a completely unmarked container and my interest was piqued.

When we got back home from work the mystery meal still hadn't defrosted.  We started to wonder whether we needed rice, pasta, potatoes or cous cous but in the end we didn't have any of them.  What eventually came out of the tupperware was a chorizo and bean stew.

I honestly cannot remember when we cooked the original stew.  What I do know is that it contained lots of chorizo, butter beans, haricot beans and black eye peas.  The sauce was tomato based but my palette isn't well tuned enough to tell you what herbs and spices were used.  In the end we had a side salad and plenty of bread to mop up the stew.  It was really good but I think I'll make sure I label the leftovers a bit better in future.

*yes, we have two freezers!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Ham and Egg Salad

After a week away from home it's always nice to get back to your own kitchen.  Firstly, have you ever tried to make a cup of tea in somebody else's house?  Nothing is where it should be*, spoons and mugs are all hidden and only Indiana Jones could retrieve the teabags.  This is what we have returned home to.

Our holiday was brought on due to having the entire ground floor of our house sanded last week.  It was just going to be easier not to be around the sawdust or having to live in a varnish fume filled house.  So we packed up the living room and kitchen, removed all furniture and fittings and high-tailed it to Edinburgh.  We had a great week, visiting relatives, going to the zoo* and eating ice cream on the beach in March!

But now we are back home everything is in disarray.  We don't even have a fridge to keep milk in never mind not having any milk.  Arriving home on Sunday brings with it the added problem of Sunday trading hours.  I had half an hour to run to the supermarket and buy the essentials.  After the obligatory motorway service station burger we decided on a salad for tonight's menu.

We always have jars of olives and artichokes so all I needed to buy was some leaves and we were already on to a decent meal.  I bought some nice parma ham and a decent loaf of bread and Z poached a couple of eggs.  A quick healthy meal was just what we needed after a week of excess. Now to put the house back together.

*apart from the milk, that is 99.9% of the time in the fridge.
** these are two unrelated events.