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  The humble turnip has also been replaced by the huge and vulgar American pumpkin.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 CafĂ© 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.