Sunday, 18 November 2012

Happy 1st Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Zebra Burgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Filet-o-fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cheese Club - Cheese with added stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Smoked Mackerel Thai Fishcakes

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 November 2012

Penne with Black Pudding and Tomato Sauce

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

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

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

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