Monday, 23 September 2013

Oxtail Ragu

You would think that after almost two years and over three hundred posts that I would know if I had written something before.  I know that I have repeated recipes in that time, some things* crop up quite often, but now that Tonight's Menu isn't daily I just manage not to write about those meals.  However, it turns out that my ageing memory is still prone to playing tricks on me.

I could have sworn that I had told you all** about the joys of Oxtail Ragu.  I was certain that I would be going over old ground if I told you that The Geometry of Pasta is one of my favourite cookery books.  At least three other people held the same opinion, but I have been through the archives with a fine tooth comb and I can only find fleeting reference to this wonderful dish, so here we go.

I've been looking for an excuse and the time to cook oxtail ragu for months.  The last time I made it was back in December when we had a house full of guests for Christmas.  One tail makes easily enough ragu to serve five people, so it's the perfect dish for a big family gathering, or two greedy people who love leftovers.

There isn't much point reducing the recipe either, as even when sold cut up, oxtails are always sold as the entire tail.  This is a hangover from the days of Mad Cow Disease and the threat of CJD.  One tail, some stock veg, half a bottle of white wine*** and two tins of tomatoes are all you need, but you could add some bay leaves or other hard herbs.  The whole lot gets cooked together for as long as possible.  I suppose if you have a slow cooker you could use that.  I just left my pan on a very low heat for 6 hours the day before we planned to eat the sauce.

The original recipe in The Geometry of Pasta suggests that the oxtail should become the meal on day one and the sauce reserved for day two but I like to strip the meat from the bones, shred it between two forks and mix it back into the sauce.  The book also claims that this is a sauce for penne, but I don't hold to much stock in the assertion that you need the right pasta for a specific sauce.  Use whatever shape of pasta you have, but do try the oxtail ragu.

*see spaghetti bolognese, and sausage and bean casserole.
**hello Mum.
***yes white wine, trust me.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Summer Vegetable Lasagne

Yesterday I proclaimed that our star find at last weekend's Headingley Farmers Market was an enormous Pattypan Squash.  Although it is quite a thing to behold, it's size was not the deciding factor in us buying it.  We have tried on numerous occasions to grow pattypans with very limited success.  On the allotment we only got two or three tennis ball sized squashes and at home the seeds failed to germinate.

Pattypans are closer to courgette than pumpkin on the squash scale.  I love courgettes but the pattypan has become ellusive so when I saw one on the market I bought it without hesitation.  My plan was to thinly slice the pattypan, gently fry the slices and use them as a replacement for lasagne sheets.  This plan was scuppered when I realised that the mammoth squash's skin wasn't as soft and delicate as the tender young squashes that I had managed to grow.

The skin was as hard as Rhino hide and once I had managed to halve the pattypan I discovered that the flesh wasn't as yielding either.  I decided to include the pattypan in the tomato sauce that I would have made for the lasagne and use the mixture to stuff cannelloni, only to discover that the packet of cannelloni that was tucked at the back of the cupboard only had three tubes in it.

Luckily we had enough sheets of lasagne to make a fantastic meal.  The sauce had onion, garlic, peppers, fresh tomatoes, oregano, basil and of course half of the pattypan squash.  It was simmered together and seasoned before becoming the first, second and third layers of the lasagne.  It was topped with a cheesy bechamel sauce, some mozzarella and baked for half an hour.

The resulting lasagne was honestly the best I have ever cooked at home.  They often dry out when I cook them, but the moisture from the vegetables helped to cook the pasta sheets perfectly.  I didn't even miss the obligatory meat layer.  I still have half of the pattypan left over too, if you have any ideas what I should do with it I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower Leaves, Bacon and Pine Nuts

Well, Mum has gone after a lovely week visiting us from Auld Reekie.  It's nice having her around and the extra pair of hands is always welcome when we're trying to get things done and R is playing up.  Last weekend, before she left, we took a trip up to Headingley on a two pronged mission.  Z wanted to visit Heart and Craft to meet up with some of her crafty friends and I felt the need to mooch around the Headingley Farmers Market.

We were specifically looking for something to have for our dinner on Sunday but we ended up with our bags full of exiting ingredients.  The star find was an enormous Pattypan Squash, but I'll come back to that tomorrow.  From the same stall as the squash we also picked up a Kohlrabi that was turned into a gratin that we had with a beef stew on Sunday, and a cauliflower.

We will be having cauliflower cheese later in the week but, unlike shop bought cauli's, the beast we bought from Headingley came complete with a bushel of foliage.  I hate chucking food away but had never considered cauliflower leaves to be a source of nutrition.  A quick internet search later confirmed that I was not going to poison myself or Z by eating the leaves.  Google didn't serve up much by the way of recipes however, so I pretty much made up Tonight's Menu as I went along.

We cook pasta with kale quite often so I was happy that I could do the same kind of thing with the cauliflower leaves.  I fried onions, garlic and some bacon in a little olive oil before adding the greens and a splash of white wine.  With the wine reduced and the greens wilted I added some toasted pine nuts, cooked tagliatelle, a splash of the pasta water and some grated parmesan cheese.

I have got absolutely no idea why I have never done this before, but cooking cauliflower leaves just makes sense.  They aren't as strong as kale or even cabbage, but they were tasty and as it keeps less food going into the bin, I'll definitely be cooking with them again.  Oh, and this would easily make a good vegetarian meal but I'm sure you can work that out for yourselves.

Three Good Things - Three good meals

Since starting Tonight's Menu I have tried to steer clear of the weekly round up of meals style blog post.  The main reason behind this* is that it is "Tonight's Menu" not "This Week's Menu".  That aside, I have had good reason not to be writing this week, my Mum is visiting.  It may not sound like a good reason to you, but I like to spend time with my guests, especially family, rather than spending the evenings typing.

Luckily, a wonderful blog concept from the glorious Liz, who writes at Margot Barbara, may well have saved my blogging conundrum.  Three Good Things is a roundup of three things that Liz is grateful for over the space of a week.  As this blog is about my evening meals, here are the three best ones that I have cooked this week

Good Meal One - Harissa Baked Trout

The thing with Mum is that she is quite a fussy eater.  There are very few meals that are completely off the menu, apart from any form of cured pork.  Ham, gammon and bacon are all persona non grata when she visits**.  We are making progress with some of the other foibles, fish being one of them.  The problem with fish is the fiddly nature of them.  It is written that Mum will find a bone in every portion of fish she is served.  With this in mind, I took extra care to pinbone the trout fillets before applying some harissa paste and baking them in a tinfoil parcel.

I served the trout with couscous, roast peppers and cherry tomatoes.  By the time the fish had been flaked off the skin and mixed through the couscous Mum was more than happy.  As were Z and I as we love fish and don't eat it often enough.

Good Meal Two - Tuscan Bean Stew

With the drawing in of Autumn and the shortening of the days, I have already started thinking about comfort food.  One of my favourite and most comforting combinations is that of sausages and beans.  The combinations of flavours that you could use is only limited by your imagination and good taste.  We bought some Italian inspired sausages from Sainsbury's over the weekend and cooked those with onion, celery, borlotti and haricot beans in some pork stock for a couple of hours.  The stew was finished with green beans and spinach.

Good Meal Three - Gigot Chops

The third good meal was courtesy of Mum.  We had decided to have some lamb as Z, who can't stand the stuff, was out for the evening.  I pointed Mum in the direction of Kirkgate market, told her who my favourite butcher is, and left the rest to her.  I imagined a Barnsley chop or some shanks but Mum was on a mission.

Having found B & J Callard, she walked in and flummoxed the young butcher by asking for two Gigot Chops.  He didn't have a clue what she was after, but one of the more senior members of staff was there to help.  The Scottish gigot chop is what the English call a leg steak and although I will have eaten it in the past, years of living in England had let it pass from my memory.  It is easily my favourite cut of lamb.

So there we have it, three good things, three good meals, all completely different and all wonderfully tasty.

*other than my odd obsession with following unwritten rules that I have set myself.
**I have been known to smuggle bacon into dishes but once it is cooked down it acts more as a seasoning than an ingredient.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Savoury Duck

There is no way that I can claim that I was always an adventurous eater.  I had never eaten a curry before I went to university and I only knew what a butternut squash was because of my Saturday job at Sainsbury's.  It's the enthusiasm and adventurous nature of some of our TV chefs that has opened my eyes to the endless culinary possibilities that are waiting to be found.  People like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Stephan Gates made me think about eating more than what most shops choose to sell us.

One of the things that changed was my attitude to food.  No longer did I accept that I didn't like something until I had tried it.  I had a new outlook, if people were eating it, it had to be good enough to eat.  One food that epitomised this view is tripe.  It is eaten the world over and has only recently fallen from the menus of Britain.  I was unconvinced, but once I get an idea into my thick head it sticks.  How bad could it be?

I didn't go out of my way to buy and cook tripe but I did start looking out for it on restaurant menus.  The first time I found it was on honeymoon, in Mexico.  For the first and only time in our lives we had booked an all inclusive beach holiday, the idea being that it would force us to unwind after the chaos of the previous couple of months wedding planning. 

The buffet counter was really set up for American families on Spring Break.  Past the burger bar, beyond the rotisserie chicken, hidden by the tex mex build-your-own-burrito bar, was a small counter with some traditional Mexican food.  It was possibly the safest way to try a new food.  It was an eat as much as you can buffet counter, so if it was a disaster and I didn't like the tripe stew that I had chosen, I could just go back and get something else.  That is exactly what I did.

I wasn't defeated though. I have had tripe several times since and am happy to say that I found a really good plate of tripe and beans in a small tapas bar in Barcelona.  Knowing that it is edible, tasty and has a good texture, if cooked well, means that I no longer feel the need to eat tripe.  I certainly still have no desire to cook it for myself.  Apart from one thing.

The Tripe Shop, Unit 145, Row B, 1976 Market Hall in Leeds Kirkgate Market, has been flirting with me since I moved to Leeds.  Hidden away from the rest of the butchers, it would be very easy to walk through the market and never see the small counter.  Malt vinegar bottles and white pepper pots stand guard over the cuts of meat that most people probably feel should be thrown away.  I realised that I had been telling people about it without ever shopping there.  Last weekend I decided to rectify this situation.

Rather than tripe or esophagus, I decided to buy a couple of the more appetising sounding Savoury Ducks.  To the uninitiated, savoury ducks, or faggots, are large meatballs made of pork and offal, covered in caul fat and baked.  I can't tell you exactly what is in the Tripe Shop's ducks but I can tell you that the stall owner thinks that old recipes used to contain dock leaves, hence the name.

That pearl of wisdom was all that I got, no ingredients list and no serving suggestion.  I decided to re-heat the ducks in a rich beef gravy and serve them with a pile of mashed potatoes and steamed leeks, it is autumn after all.  Having now tucked into my first savoury duck I'm happy to say that they are very nice.  Somewhere between sausages and burgers, very rich and as you would expect, savoury.  At £1 per duck they aren't expensive, but if we do go back for more we'll probably share one between the two of us.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Soul Kitchen at The Wardrobe

It's been a long time since I've had a meal in The Wardrobe.  So long in fact, that I only have a vague recollection of the evening.  It was a few weeks after R had been born and a couple of weeks before we could finally take him home from the Neonatal Unit at St James's Hospital.  We decided to have our last baby sitter free restaurant meal on our way home from visiting our tiny bundle of joy.  We had been to The wardrobe before, never for food, but as it was on the bus route home from Jimmy's we decided to give it a go.

I think that I had duck that night and I have no idea what Z had.  I couldn't even tell you what style of food the restaurant served.  It could have been some kind of British bistro offer but I'd be guessing.  It turns out that I'm not the only person who has struggled to pin down the restaurant in The Wardrobe.

The venue has recently changed hands and the new owners didn't know what to make of the restaurant either.  It seems that the eclectic menu had evolved over the previous twelve years without much thought or direction.  The perceived need for a restaurant at all in this glorious bar and music destination was the draw of the pre-theatre set, looking for a 2-for-1 before going to the Playhouse or Northern Ballet. 

Being on the outskirts of the city, it had always been imagined that people would only eat in The Wardrobe if they were soaking up some culture at the same time, but it doesn't look like that is the case.  The Wardrobe's neighbours, both good restaurants, always do good trade so something had to change and change it has.

Soul Kitchen, as the name implies, has its roots in the soul food of the deep south of America, Creole cookery and food from the Caribbean.  The new menu sees Shrimp and Grits and Jambalaya sat comfortably next to Jamaican Crab Cakes and Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese.  There is also a large grill menu.  I say large, there are only six options but they are all on the man verses food scale and can be customised with rubs and marinades before making their way to the table.

I was invited to an evening of tasting the new menu, along with a cohort of some of Leeds' number of food bloggers and foodies.  This was an interesting evening because The Wardrobe management were really keen to hear our feedback after the meal.  We were served a selection of dishes from the menu, shared them around the table and mused about what was on offer.

It's fair to say that it's not quite the finished article yet, but that is why we were invited.  The basic offer is fine and just needs turning up to eleven so that you really know you're in a soul kitchen.  I'm really looking forward to going back under my own steam to see if they take the feedback in the spirit that it was intended.  Hopefully it will cement St Peters Square as a food destination in Leeds regardless of what you are looking for.

The Soul Kitchen at The Wardrobe, 6 St Peters Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS9 8AH.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Macaroni Cheese

It's funny how these things happen.  There was I, extolling the virtues of Rick Stein's India, when an on-line conversation moved rapidly from curry to Macaroni Cheese via pork chops and pesto.  There and then I knew that it wouldn't be long until it found its way into our plans.  That was last week and it happened in a corner of the internet that isn't full of my usual cohort of foodies.

Imagine my surprise then, when one of my food friends started talking about having macaroni and cheese.  In a third and unrelated conversation about meal planning, an other friend decided to change their plans for stuffed rolled pork loin in favour of "mac and chee", such is the power of suggestion.  

We had planned to have our macaroni and cheese on Thursday as a family meal after a day out together.  Our plans were changed however by a belly busting lunch in town.  By the time R's tea time came around we were still full and not in the slightest bit interested in eating more food.

Any other meal may well have fallen off the meal planner for a week or two, but macaroni cheese has a strange power.  Once you have decided that you are going to cook it, it has to be cooked, as my on-line discussions seemed to prove.  Our planned meal for this evening was steak with boulangere potatoes.  We'll now be having that some time next week.

As with so many family favourites, macaroni and cheese is a very personal dish.  Some people will use any old pasta shape.  Some will have a particular cheese that must be in the sauce.  We stick to macaroni but use whatever cheese we have in the house.  Today our sauce had mature cheddar, wenslydale and jarlesberg.  Along with cheese and pasta, our macaroni cheese is always topped with sliced tomatoes, breadcrumbs and extra cheese.  Sadly there were no leftovers, but we do still have steak to look forward to, so all is not lost.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Old Peacock, Elland Road

We moved to Leeds in September 1999 and, against everyone's advice, we ended up renting in Beeston.  Although I had been a Leeds United fan since I was ten I had never visited the city.  I'd watched Leeds play live, but only at away games, so you can imagine my joy at discovering that I could see Elland Road from the end of my street.

After we'd settled into our new home I decided to take my first look at the stadium where my beloved Leeds play their home games.  Having walked down the steps of Beggers Hill, I was welcomed by the statue of Billy Bremner.  It felt like all of my Christmases had come at once.  I hadn't booked a tour so we just wandered around the outside of the ground getting misty-eyed.  We then stumbled across The Old Peacock* on the other side of Elland Road.  It felt rude not to pop in for a pint.

What we found was a local's pub, a bit worse for wear and festooned with Leeds United memorabilia.  Every available surface, apart from those dedicated to drinking, had signed shirts, old programs and faded newspaper cuttings on them.  The beer was what we had grown used to at university; a choice of two lagers or smooth flow bitter.  It was not a pub to write home about, but it was my new local and it did have two pool tables.

Much water has flowed under many bridges since then.  The pub's decline seemed inexorably linked to that of Leeds United.  As my team fell from grace, as did The Old Peacock.  I'm sure the global financial meltdown and the ban on smoking in pubs played their part, but as the gate reciepts dwindled at Elland Road, so did the foot-fall into the pub.

But, like a phoenix from the flames, The Old Peacock is back.  It is now being managed by The Ossett Brewery and, unlike recent variations on a tired theme, they are trying something a little different.  Rather than selling the usual pub fare they have transformed the Peacock into an Ale House and Kitchen.  I was invited along to the VIP opening to get a taste of what was on offer and can report good things.

Out with the smooth flow bitter and in with nine real ale pumps.  The new beer offer is mostly from The Ossett Brewery, along with a couple of guest ales and standard lagers.  The beer to look out for is 1919.  Named after the year that Leeds United were formed, it has been brewed specifically for The Old Peacock and will not be sold anywhere else.  1919 sold out by ten o'clock on the opening night and to me that is recommendation enough.  Sadly we didn't get to sample the food.  We did get a couple of canapés but they weren't really representative of the food that will be on offer.

It's not just the food and drink that has changed.  The place has a new feel too, as you would expect after a £400,000 facelift.  The wall to wall memorabilia has been replaced with a "one-off design" wallpaper featuring images of Leeds United's past.  The swirly carpets and matching upholstered stools and benches have been torn out and replaced with stylish wooden furniture and solid wood and tiled floors.  The pool tables have also gone creating space for a restaurant area that seats 40 people.

We had a good time on the opening night and a free drink is always welcome.  I've now seen the menu and I'm looking forward to my next visit even more, perhaps for Sunday lunch with the family.  I especially want to try the Thick Cut Pickled Brisket.

I've been longing for a decent pub, selling real ale and good fresh food, to open somewhere in Beeston for ages and it looks like my dreams have come true with the re-launch of The Old Peacock.  I only hope that Leeds United's fortunes are still linked to the pub as that would mean that good times are around.

*The Old Peacock is actually The New Peacock, or The New Old Peacock.  The original Old Peacock stood on the opposite side of Elland Road opposite the present McDonald's drive through.  It's thought that Leeds United got their nickname "The Peacocks" from the pub.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Roast Duck with Blackcurrant Sauce

Last week Z and R went on a play date with some of Z's mummy friends.  There is nothing unusual about that.  They tend to meet up regularly, especially during the school holidays when playgroups aren't running.  What was a little peculiar was their choice of activity.  They avoided museums, galleries and soft play gyms and opted instead for a bit of foraging.

We got the free food bug from watching River Cottage.  Every time Hugh returned home with a trug full of berries, leaves or mushrooms, we pondered how easy it would be to do the same.  We assumed that it was easier for him because he lived in the countryside.  Living in inner-city Leeds, we felt like we would never be able to access nature's bountiful harvest to the same extent as Hugh could.  But even living in the concrete jungle there is free food to be had.

The odd thing is, once you get your eye in there is food everywhere.  Blackberries, cherries, sloes and apples hang freely in most verges and laybys.  Churchyards groan with fruit.  Public parks are littered with edible goodies.  The odd thing is, the more you forage the more you find.  Z and her friends were on a mission for cherries and cherries they found.  They also found Blackcurrant bushes heavy with fruit and tonight's menu was formed.

Z cooked all of the blackcurrants in a little water the day she picked them so that they could be used in either savoury or sweet dishes later on.  Today, while a couple of duck breasts were pan roasted, I made a sauce using some onions, reduced red wine and chicken stock, and finished it with some of the blackcurrant jam.

The meal was finished off with sautéed potatoes and spring greens, steamed and tossed in melted butter.  The combination of the fatty, rich duck and the sweet, sharp blackcurrant sauce is one that is hard to beat.  I know duck can be a bit expensive but when you can serve it with free food it becomes much easier to justify.

The rest of the jam was sweetened with honey and turned into ice lollies in the hope that this recent hot weather hangs around a bit longer.  The cherries were turned into chocolate cake and cherry brandy.  The cake didn't last long, but we'll have to wait until Christmas for the brandy.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Night Take-away - Chicken Vindail

I got into cookery at university.  It was my first time away from home, fending for myself.  It was also the start of the Celebrity Chef boom of the mid 90's.  My parent's generation had had Floyd, The Galloping Gourmet and Food and Drink but we now had Oliver, Rhodes and Fearnley-Whittingstall.  Jamie and Hugh in particular got me excited about food and if it weren't for them I wouldn't be the person I am today.

It was the perfect storm.  New exciting chefs on shiny new programs at the same time as I was able to spend vast amounts of time watching the telly.  These days however I spend less time watching the box and when I do, the food programs all too often fail to make me want to cook anything.  The recent trend of cooking competitions with celebrity spin-offs do little but annoy me and certainly never get my culinary imagination fired up.

There has been one gem for me recently.  Amongst the Masterchef's and Come Dine with Me's shone Rick Stein's India.  I'm a big fan of Stein's.  I've liked, with few exceptions, everything that he has done.  I know that some people find his delivery to be condescending and vaguely annoying, like a broken toenail or Morrissey, but I like him.  More to the point I have really liked this latest series.  I make curries quite regularly but I've got into a rut, using the same spice mixes and sauces so discovering new combinations and methods has been inspiring.

I bought the cookbook which accompanies the series a couple of weeks ago.  I was going to wait until Christmas, but impatience got the better of me.  The fist thing I turned to was Saag Paneer.  I'm happy to tell you that Rick agrees with me on how this is cooked.  I then started to look for a recipe for tonight's meal.

My first choice was Chicken Vindail.  It comes from Chennai and is a quick cooked chicken curry similar to vindaloo in that the sauce is finished with vinegar.  Because the vindail was essentially chicken and sauce, I decided to cook a side dish too.  I flicked through the Vegetable chapter of the book and chose Poriyal, a dish of peas, carrots and beans finished with coconut.

The poriyal was so fresh and fast to cook that it may well become my standby side dish.  I replaced the peas that the recipe called for with some home grown broad beans just to make it even fresher.  The vindail was, without a shadow of a doubt one of the best curries I have ever cooked.  It was possibly one of the best I have ever eaten, at home or in a restaurant. 

The meal devoured, I went back to the book and started tagging recipes for future use.  Normally a good cook book will get three of four tags but Stein's Curry now has eighteen tagged recipes for future cooking, not including the two from tonight that we'll definitely cook again.  I can't remember the last time I was this inspired by a TV program or cookery book.  I feel a lot of curries* in the near future.

*curry being the adopted generic term used to cover all Indian cookery.  The closest translation for curry means gravy which neither of these dishes had.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Salmon Baked in Prosciutto

I've heard an awful lot of chatter about it now being too hot to cook.  We don't really do summer that well*.  If it's not a barbecue with cremated burgers then it's a sad salad or a limp sandwich.  Well I can't stand it any more.  It's not too hot to cook.  It may well be too hot to spend time stood over a hot pan stirring, but that isn't the only way to cook.

For tonight's menu I decided to cook a dish that I first heard about at university.  The recipe comes from back in the days when Jamie Oliver worked in a restaurant and lived in a flat.  Before he was married, while he was still naked**, young Jamie shared a recipe for salmon wrapped in prosciutto.  It was possibly one of the first "foodie" things I ever cooked and I've been cooking it ever since.

It's not a cheap meal but it is an easy one, especially if you don't want to be spending time in the hot, hot kitchen.  The secret to the simplicity of the dish is that it all gets cooked together.  Salmon wrapped in ham, green beans and cherry tomatoes are all roasted together in olive oil and lemon juice.  To bulk the meal out I've started adding some parboiled potatoes as well.

While the food is roasting for around half an hour, you're free to sit on the patio with a glass of chilled fizz and enjoy summer.  By the time the fizz is gone, the salmon is ready and you have a plate full of hot tasty summery food without a flaccid sandwich anywhere in sight.  Yes it's hot at the moment but that is no excuse not to eat good food, not in my house anyway.

*we don't do seasons very well at all. It would probably be better is we just had slightly over-cast mild days 24/7 but we'd only complain about that too.
**it wasn't him, it was the food.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Chicken Calabrese

This is neither the time or the place to talk about illness.  It's not a heath blog it's a food blog*.  however my state of poorlyness this weekend has prompted Tonight's Menu.  This weekend was the hottest of the year so far and we had plans.  We had planned to visit a friend in Wilmslow for a barbecue and a session drinking his home-brew.  Everything was put on hold and I went back to bed at around 12:30pm on Saturday.

There I stayed, feeling sorry for myself, until the following day.  On Sunday I continued my convalescence on the sofa.  This was no bad thing as I got to watch the Wimbledon Men's Singles Final and the highlights of the German Grand Prix.  I also got to watch some food programs, which was one of my favourite pastimes before R turned up and wrestled the control of the telly from my grasp.

One of the shows I caught was Saturday Kitchen Best Bites.  I was still dozy and uncomfortable so I wasn't really paying attention but one recipe grabbed my attention, Spicy chicken calabrese with olive oil mash.  It looked like such a vibrant, colourful and most importantly tasty dish that I made a mental note to cook it soon.  I didn't realise it would be this soon however.

With me out on my back, Z took over the shopping and meal planning duties for the week.  She was planning on me being out of action for a couple of days so tonight she was going to cook chicken thighs with some leftover courgette and chick pea stew for herself.  However, I'm feeling well on the road to recovery and wanted some proper food to get me back into the swing of things.

The Calabrese is a stew of chicken and peppers and has one special ingredient, 'nduja, which is a spreadable, soft salami.  I'm not sure about eating 'nduja on toast as a snack, as was recommended on the program, but its uses as an ingredient seam endless to me.  Sadly I do not have any spreadable salami, so I had to improvise.  I added smoked garlic, hot paprika, crushed fennel seeds and oregano to the stew. 

The finished dish was delicious.  I served it with soft parmesan polenta instead of the recommended mashed potato, but only because we didn't have any spuds in the house.  I limited the amount of chilli in the dish to better suit my weakened constitution, but as summer stews go this was a winner.  I'll admit that the 'nduja would probably add some depth of flavour to the dish but it was certainly not a flop with out it.

I have a feeling that dishes similar to this will be popping up on our weekly meal planner quite a lot this summer.  There are very few ingredients so with a little imagination the recipe could be used with most meats, fish, or even made as a vegetarian dish.  I will defiantly be eating polenta more often as it only took 5 minutes to cook.  I'll also be on the lookout for spreadable salami, if you see any let me know.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Black Pepper Tofu

A little while ago I was lent a copy of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.  I was told by many people that it was their favourite cookery book, filled with superb recipes that I would love cooking.  This news filled me with joy and I was salivating at the prospect of some vegetarian Middle-Eastern food inspiration.

I'll be honest, my excitement died down pretty quickly.  I don't know what it was but none of the glorious recipes made me want to cook them.  Yes the dishes all sounded great.  If I'd been offered any of them in a restaurant I would have been more than happy.  But, as with so many other cookery books, Plenty would have been destined to loiter, unused, on our book case, if it was ours.  Because it was borrowed however, we were determined to find a recipe that we liked the sound of and wanted to cook.

One of the recipes that we'd picked out was for Black Pepper Tofu and, as we had half a block of tofu left over from making Pad Thai, we thought we would give it a go.  The recipe was simple enough.  Crispy fried tofu was added to fried onions, chillies and garlic.  Sweet and light soy sauce were added next along with some sugar and the key ingredient, ground black pepper.  A handful of spring onions was all that was needed to finish the dish.

I have never been so glad that I hadn't added more black pepper to a dish in my life.  I had reduced the quantities of the pepper and the chilli but the dish was almost unpalatable.  The first couple of mouthfuls were great but, unlike the peak and trough heat that you get from chillies, the black pepper was unrelenting.  Every mouthful needed to be washed down.  It's fair to say we won't be cooking this again, but we still have a couple more recipes from Plenty to try before it is dismissed totally.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Gammon in Coke

Last week, while talking about delivered meat boxes, a friend asked if I had any idea what to do with a gammon joint.  They had received one in their last meat box and didn't have a clue where to start with it.  I jokingly suggested that they should acquire a bread-fruit and cook Oil Down.  Another, more sensible person suggested cooking the gammon in coke.  I had heard of cooking ham this way before, but it was something that I put down as a weird idea.  The conversation moved on and I forgot all about gammon, after all I didn't have any.

On Friday, while discussing my plans for the weekend, I was offered the gammon joint that had starred in the previous conversation.  It turns out that neither Elizabeth nor Rachel are actually that keen on cured pork.  My mum is exactly the same.  She loves pork chops, roasts a mean pork shoulder but can't stand bacon.  A little bit of bartering later*, I was the proud owner of a modest but perfect gammon joint.

There was only one thing I could do with it really and that was to cook it in coke.  A bit of judicious internet surfing lead me to Nigella Lawson's Ham in Coca Cola recipe.  I'm all in favour of odd cookery but submerging a joint of meat in coke did feel strange.  I cooked the joint as per Nigella's instructions before going out for the afternoon.

The final part of the recipe was the glaze.  I'm sure that you could have quite happily eaten the gammon without glazing it but I felt like going the whole hog.  In any case the meat needed reheating so not glazing it would have been a wasted opportunity.  While the gammon was getting its final cook, under a coating of treacle, brown sugar and English mustard, we roasted a sweet potato and boiled some new potatoes to make a two potato mash.  The final sweet accompaniment was some corn on the cob to round off the sweet savoury theme of the meal.

It wasn't the handsomest plate of food I have ever photographed, but what it lacked in looks it certainly made up for in flavour.  Yes I was sceptical about the whole cooking meat in fizzy pop thing but I shouldn't have been.  The coke didn't just add sweetness to the meat but also added an extra meatiness to the joint.  I'm much more likely to have a joint of gammon in the house in future than a bottle of coke but if the two turn up at the same time, I have a feeling that I'll be cooking this again.

*I owe you some lamb!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Sage and Thrift - Cook Book Swap

It turns out that I was wrong.  When I first joined Twitter I was very dismissive of it as a waste of time.  My first tweet was "I'll give this two weeks" and in under a week I had stopped tweeting.  This was a long time ago, so long ago in fact that one Mr Stephen Fry follows me.  I can't remember what lured me back to twitter but whatever it was I owe it, or them, a debt of gratitude.

For me twitter is a melting pot of wonderful ideas and like minded individuals.  It's a place where ideas turn into reality, it's a hive mind of information, it's all so quite fun when you're drunk*.  A good example of the possibilities of twitter is Sage and Thrift's Cook Book Swap.  The idea of people coming together to swap their precious cookery books was born after Jo gently teased Liz about her cook book habit.

I'm sure Liz isn't the only one of us out there who just can't resist the urge of buying more and more cook books.  Images of egg yolk running down a perfectly poached egg or cream oozing down the side of an apple pie are almost pornographic to foodies.  The better written ones are good enough to lose yourself in for hours.  I don't really use cookery books for their recipes, but for inspiration and that's enough to make me want all of them.

The problem is, as with most things, books cost money.  They also take up a lot of space in the kitchen**, so they are a costly and bulky addiction.  Liz and Jo's solution was to organize the Cook Book Swap so that we could all share our love of cook books without breaking the bank, or our book cases.

The first Cook Book Swap was held back in April.  I ummed and ahhed about what book to take along with me.  Luckily Z came along too so we could take a couple of books.  We handed over our tomes and started browsing through the other contributions.  Z chose Organic by Sophie Grigson and I picked the cookery book from the Thai Orchid Cookery School in Chiang Mai.

Over the last couple of months we have feasted on; Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Savory Scones with Beetroot Jam, Polenta Crusted Mackerel, Gnocchi with Mushroom Ragu, Hot and Sour Prawn Soup, and Pad Thai.  I'm sure you can guess which dishes are from which books.

The next Sage and Thrift Cook book swap is on Sunday 23rd June at Brewbar Espresso, under Leeds City Library, from 2pm until 4pm.  I'm still in two minds about whether to swap my two books or take in two fresh ones from my personal collection.  Either way I know I'll have another couple of months worth of new recipes and inspiration after Sunday and I'll have Liz, Jo and Twitter to thank for it!

*Drink responsibly kids
**or wherever you keep them.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Warm Pigeon and Beetroot Salad

Regular visitors here and to my other blog, Everything but the Oink, will know that I have an ongoing relationship with Swillington Farm.  I have been a purchaser of their organic meat and vegetables for some time and I recently sponsored one of their pigs.   We have been visiting the farm every couple of weeks to visit Breakfast*, to check on his progress and pick up some treats from the farm shop.  We recently got our first ever double yolker from one of their hens which had us both giddy with excitement!

We last visited Swillington on 9th June for Open Farm Sunday.  As well as seeing how Breakfast was getting on, we could tour the whole farm, visiting the bees, sheep and cattle.  We also wandered through the woods past Cockpit Round** and found the old Ice House.  As well as the animals there was one thing that stood out on our tour of the farm. 

Everywhere you looked there were signs reminding you that Swillington Farm, the walled garden, the fishing ponds, Ice House Woods, Cockpit Round, Breakfast's pen, are all scheduled for destruction. The High Speed 2 rail link to London will run right through the heart of Swillington destroying everything that Jo and her family have worked hard to create.  I'm all in favour of building to boost the economy but I am yet to see a business case or argument that has convinced me that HS2 is a good idea.  The fact that Swillington is affected just makes it worse.

That said, the signs of things that are not yet certain to come didn't stop us having a great day.  I'm told that this was the best Open Farm Sunday that Swillington have hosted, with more visitors than ever finding out where their food comes from and how it is raised/grown.  We couldn't leave the farm without visiting the shop on our way out and, for a change, we bought a pack of pigeon breasts rather than pork, beef or lamb.

We've had a whole pigeon in one of the meat boxes that we had delivered from Swillington in the past.  It's one of my favourite game birds, but one pigeon does not really feed two people***.  The packet of four pigeon breasts for £3.00 was a much better find for us.  A simple warm salad of fried pigeon, sautéed beetroot and the first of the salad leaves from the back garden, was a perfect summer's evening meal.  It was also a great way to round off a glorious weekend. 

*Yes I have named my pig Breakfast, you can read all about him at Everything but the Oink.
**so named because cock fighting to place there after it was made illegal in 1863.
***not when they are as hungry as we are.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Primo's Gourmet Hot Dogs

It's just typical, isn't it?  After 300 posts on Tonight's Menu there was only one restaurant review.  Then suddenly two come along at once.  Whereas the last one was all bought and paid for, this review is courtesy of a freebie from Primo's Gourmet Hot Dogs.

For a long time now Primo's has been my go-to fast food restaurant.  Since finding out about Primo's, I've almost eaten every hot dog on their menu, but they keep introducing one off specials.  Every time I pop down to cross off another one of their standard dogs I'm faced with glories like Slum Dog, a hot dog with an Indian twist, or a raft of South American inspired hot dogs, the best of which was Argentinian and smothered in chimichurri sauce.

Creating all of these specials have given the staff at Primo's a taste for the extraordinary.  It was only logical that themed evenings would follow so that they could flex their imaginative culinary muscles.  It also made sense that the first of the Primo's Vs. events would take place during Leeds Loves Food!  I couldn't attend the initial night, Vs. New York but I was more than happy to get a table at the second event, Vs. Australia.

On arrival we were ushered to our table and asked if we were ready for our starters.  It was odd having table service in such a familiar fast-food setting, but I soon got used to it.  The starter of Coogie Bay crab and crayfish cakes with a mango salsa soon arrived, along with a bottle of Carlton Draught.  The fish cakes were superb, not as strong a crab flavour as I had expected.  The star was the salsa. The sweetness of the fruit worked brilliantly with the fresh herbs and the slightly salty fish cakes. If I'm honest, I could have eaten a bowl of it on it's own and I'm not a mad mango fan.

Next up, the main event.  No Australian theme night could be complete without Kangaroo on the menu and this was no different.  Of course Primo's being a Hot dog joint the Roo was in dog form.  I was really looking forward to this as I'd never had kangaroo before but, if I'm honest, the dog was lost under the flavour of the caramelised onion and mustard topping.  The Roo was served with Sweet Potato Chips, Coleslaw and a bottle of Victoria Bitter.  The two sides were great.  I have tried and failed to cook decent sweet potato chips a couple of times.  Whatever I'm getting wrong Primo's got spot on.

The third course was a home baked Lamington served with cream and a hot rum and banana cocktail.  Lamingtons are an almond sponge cake, covered in chocolate icing and topped with coconut.  I don't have a sweet tooth and was starting to feel full after the previous two courses but somehow I managed to delete the lamington and its mountainous Bundaberg cream accomplice.  I'm told that there was not as much alcohol in the rum punch as it felt.  As with mulled wine the heat added to the strength of the punch.  It went brilliantly with the sponge and was a good way to round off the meal.

The Primo's Vs. events are running every month until December and at £17.95 for a three course meal, including drinks, they are a steal.  I know fingers crossed I'll be able to go along to a few more of them, if not I'll still be heading down to The Corn Exchange for a hit of my favourite, The Classic Chicago.  The next Vs. event is "Dixie" on 4th July, Independance Day, if you are interested bookings, with a £5 deposit pp are being taken now in Primo's shop.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Kendell's Bistro

I don't do restaurant reviews* very often.  There are probably a number of reasons for this, which I'm not going to bore you with right now.  However, I think the main reason that I don't do many restaurant reviews, other than the fact that nobody asks me to, is that we rarely get the chance to eat in the kind of restaurants that I would like to review.  Most of our meals out take the form of Saturday lunch while shopping.  We frequent some good family friendly pubs and restaurants in Leeds but we're never there long enough to really get stuck into the menus.

Last month we had that rarest of things, a babysitter.  Z's Mum was visiting for the weekend and kindly offered to look after R so that we could have some "us time".  Not going out often left us with a dilemma, where to eat.  Leeds is awash with restaurants that we haven't eaten in.  A lot of them have had glowing reviews.  Some of them have so much hype that I feel like I have eaten there already.  Others have opened their doors and gone about the business of serving good food, without all of the bells and whistles that grand openings insist upon.  In the end we chose to go back to an old favourite, a place where we would spend more time if we had the time to spend, Kendell's.

Kendell's Bistro, on St Peter's Square, opened in 2007 and has been selling excellent French bistro food ever since.  I wouldn't say that we had been regular visitors since then.  In fact, it was a couple of years after they opened that we first found out that Kendell's even existed.  However, we fell in love with the restaurant on our first visit, which is why we have kept going back.

As always we faced the perennial problem of what to choose.  When faced with the kind of menu that Kendell's provide, that decision is doubly hard.  In all honesty I could happily have eaten everything that was on offer.  I passed on the binoculars as I had a great view of the floor to ceiling blackboard that acts as the only menu in the restaurant and started to deliberate.

By the time our pre dinner drinks arrived we had made our choices.  To start I chose Escargot (snails) and Z went for Coque St. Jacque (scallops).  I'd only had snails once before in France and to be honest I hadn't been impressed.  My overriding memory of that occasion was eating overly garlicked rubber balls.  I know a lot of people who would have never chosen snails again but I had a feeling that Kendell's wouldn't have anything on their menu that wasn't worth eating.

I was right.  Although served in the same ubiquitous white porcelain snail dish with plenty of garlic butter, that was where the similarity ended.  This dish of snails was topped with a pastry lid so the snails steamed in the garlic butter and avoided a bouncy send off.  Z's scallops were just as perfectly cooked but served in a less traditional manner.  Rather than being served in the shell, topped with mashed potato and cheese these were served shell-less with micro-greens and shards of crisp bacon which were a perfect foil to the soft sweetness of the seafood.

Unlike the starters, Z was not so keen to try my main course.  I had picked Rognon de Veau (calves liver).  Z has a very strong childhood memory of ordering rognon de veau by mistake on a family holiday in France.  So disturbed was she by the whole liver that was served to her, that she ended up swapping it for her friend's mother's dinner and hiding behind a propped up menu during the meal.

I didn't get a whole liver but slices of seared liver with a rich onion gravy and buttery mashed potatoes.  This was a real treat as we don't eat half as much offal at home as I would like.  To have it cooked so expertly was an added bonus.  Not to be out done, Z's Canard de Cassis (duck in black current sauce) was everything that she hoped for.  You could almost get drunk from the cassis in the sauce and yet it didn't over power the duck.

After all of that I was stuffed, but Z soldiered on to a third course.  More out of duty** than hunger, she chose Iles Flottantes (floating islands).  A light, fluffy meringue, bobbing in a sea of custard, is not something I'd ever encountered.  I dutifully tried some but it was too sweet for me.  That said I don't have much of a sweet tooth at the best of times.

As we were finishing off our wine I realised that the woman sat at the table behind us had ordered the exact same meal as me.  I thought I had been adventurous and a little off-piste with my choices, but perhaps there are more cavalier diners out there than I give credit for.

For the record, this was no freebie.  We chose to dine in Kendell's.  We weren't invited and I certainly wasn't asked to write a review.  I genuinely love the food, the wine, the not too attentive staff and the atmosphere.  I don't know when we'll next get the chance to go to Kendell's Bistro but I know that I'm already looking forward to it.

*Some would contest that I don't really have a food blog at all due to the lack of reviews and recipes.
**her mother's favourite dessert

Sunday, 26 May 2013

People of UK - A week in food

For the past week I have had the honour of being Person of the UK.  No, this is not some lofty office with privileges handed to me by Whitehall*.  People of UK is a rotation curation account on Twitter.  Every week a different person from England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland takes control of the account and shows their followers a unique snapshot of living, working and playing in the UK.

As part of my week, I have been asking the thousands of followers of the People of UK account what they have been having for their evening meals.  The response has been staggering and varied.  There is a clear and unsurprising people's favourite and a few things that I really want to make**.  Below is a full list of my meals and those of the people of the United Kingdom for the week ending 26th May 2013.  Thanks to everybody who got involved.
Artichoke Omelette, Bangers and Mash, Bath Chaps, Bavette Steak with Jersey Royals and English Asparagus, Carbonara, Cheese, Chicken Korma with Coriander Rice, Chicken Mint and Orzo Soup,  Cod in Thai Green Sauce, Fish Fingers, Ginger Chicken Udon, Glamorgan Sausages and Mash, Goan Green Chicken Curry, Goat Cheese Salad, Huevos Rancheros, King Prawn Chowder, Kedgeree, Lemon Chicken, Linguine with Crab and Wild Garlic Pesto, Mackerel on Toast, Merguez Sausages, Onion Bhaji and Lamb Madras, Pasta Bolognase x3, Pea Fritters, Pepperoni Pizza, Pork Belly, Pork Fillet and Veg, Quesadillas, Reheated Takeaway Pizza, Rump Steak, Spaghetti with Leek-Peas Cheesy Cream Sauce, Smoked Salmon Blinis, Tacos, Thai Turkey Burgers, Tin of Salmon mixed with a Tin of Beans, Toad in the Hole, Vague Curry, Veal Escalope with Sauté Potato and Green Salad, and Wiener Schnitzel.

*I did visit Eton this week but it turns out that that just isn't enough these days!
**and some things that I wouldn't touch with a bargepole.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Chilli Jam: Kebabs & Cake

A couple of weeks a go I was offered a FREE jar of jam made by The Chilli Jam Man.  All I had to do to receive the jam was to promise to eat it and write about the experience.  The first part of the deal was a cinch.  I went to Millies, who had made the offer of the jam, and picked up a jar.  I chose a jar of Ginger Chilli Jam and made sure that it was included in our meal plans for the week.  The second part of the deal was equally successful with the jam featuring only a couple of days after I had picked it up.  However, I found myself at a loss for words when it came to putting together this blog post.

The quality of the product wasn't the problem, neither was my cooking.  Yet for some reason I just couldn't get the words out.  I had decided to use the jam as a marinade of pork kebabs.  I found a couple of loin chops in the freezer, roughly chopped them and coated them in half of the jar for a few hours.  I threaded the meat, along with onions and peppers, on to bamboo skewers and grilled them.  Served with wild rice they made a great midweek meal.

The kebabs were really nice.  The ginger really shone through the sweetness of the jam.  I would have preferred a more fiery kick but Z thought it was spot on.  I then sat down to write about them but I got stuck in a loop.  I found myself writing the kind of gushing blog post that I don't like, so I parked the blog and moved on.

What I needed to do was to use the jam again.  We had mused about other uses while we were tucking into the kebabs and the idea that had stuck in my mind was to use it in a sweet dish instead of a savoury one, it is jam after all.  Chocolate and chilli are such a good combination I decided to break with tradition for Tonight's Menu and bake a cake.

Z is the baker in our house*.  Other than a massive batch of cupcakes a couple of years ago for charity I am a cake novice.  I have seen Great British Bake Off on the telly and I know that baking is more of a science than my usual cooking style so I needed a fool proof recipe.  I was about to trawl the internet but the first chocolate cake recipe that popped up was one of Mary Berry's.  As Mary is the queen of cake, I assumed that nothing could go wrong.  I followed the recipe to the letter, I even managed to find two matching cake tins which were the specified size.  However, it's fair to say my cakes' uneven rise and almost burnt sides lead me to believe that I wouldn't be master baker of the week.

That said, this cake was baked for flavour and not looks.  By the time I had sandwiched the two cakes together, using the rest of the chilli jam as the filling, we had a glorious chocolate cake.  This time around the heat levels were perfect against the sweet richness of the cake.  I was going to take the cake into work to share with my colleagues as I don't have a sweet tooth, but I couldn't part with it. 

The Chilli Jam Man does make a cracking range of versatile jams and chutneys and great pickled onions.  Most of his range can be bought in Millies, who also stock a load of other interesting chilli products including this great looking gift hamper.  Thanks to Millies for the free jam, I'm off to eat some more cake.

*other than bread

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Venison Stroganoff

I know that I shouldn't, but I really can't help myself.  To save money and to avoid food waste I really ought to stick to my shopping list.  However, I am a slave to bargains and interesting ingredients.  More often or not I end up having to rewrite the weeks meal plan to accommodate items that I have bought which are out of date.  The more exciting finds usually end up in the freezer, saved for a special occasion.  Tonight is one such special occasion.  The visit of the Mother in Law.

I get on well with the Mother in Law, so I will leave all of the traditional jokes to somebody else.  In fact I get on so well with her that I was happy to defrost some venison loin that had leapt off the shelves and into my basket, without consulting my shopping list, a couple of months ago.

Stroganoff was the obvious choice, as we already had sour cream and mushrooms in the fridge that needed using up*.  The meat is fried first then rested while onions are fried in the same pan with a heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika.  Sliced mushrooms are added next followed by the cooked venison and the sour cream.  Served with wild rice and some broccoli, special meals don't get much simpler to cook.

*I'm not above using leftovers for my guests.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Friday Night Take-away - The Cheese Burger

The reality of being a parent really struck home this week.  R woke up last Thursday covered in Chicken Pox and our plans for the week were chucked out of the window.  We have been in self-imposed quarantine ever since.  My planned Birthday meal was cancelled and both Z and I had to re-arrange work as we had to keep him out of nursery.

Every cloud has a silver lining and ours has been more meals as a family.  In a normal week R has his meals at nursery and we eat our tea after R has had his bath and gone to bed.  This week we've been making sure dinner was on the table by the time the worker of the day got home.  We have even given R his first taste of Chinese food with a Chicken and Oyster Sauce stir-fry with noodles.

Tonight though, we are back to normal routine.  I don't finish work until six o'clock on Friday so R had cottage pie before I got home.  Once he was nicely tucked up in bed we cracked on with our take-away style meal of cheese burger and chips.

Even before the horse meat scandal broke we tended to make our burgers from scratch.  I have heard of people adding breadcrumbs, egg and even tomato ketchup to the meat as seasonings or binding agents for their burgers.  All we ever add is finely chopped and fried onion, salt and pepper.  By the time the mince and onions are mixed by hand I find the burgers hold their shape pretty well.  I fried the burgers for a couple of minutes on each side before letting them rest while I got on with some garnishes.

People smother their burgers with all sorts of toppings.  A recent take-away menu that fell through our letter box had fifteen different beefburger options*.  I'm not going to tell you how to top your burger but I went with Jarlsberg, dijon mustard, tomato ketchup and some crunchy gem lettuce leaves.

There is only one thing that I will change the next time I make burgers.  I own, and have never used, a mincer.  I am determined to dust it off and start experimenting with different cuts of meat to make the best burger.  I have even seen ox heart burgers on display in butchers' shops and having recently tried pig heart I'd love to give that a try.

*there was no pulled pork on offer although I'm sure it won't be long before it appears on the standard take-away menus alongside doner kebab meat.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Kedgeree at the end of Easter Weekend

Easter bank holiday weekend 2013 will go down as one of those bank holidays when little is achieved and you feel good about it.  Normally, a bank holiday is the perfect excuse for a food blow-out, plenty of shopping and cooking, but my one plan for the weekend got in the way.  Rather than mooching around markets and food fairs I went to Manchester for a stag do.

The details of the stag will remain the knowledge* of the attendees.  Suffice to say, by the time I got back to Leeds I was starving and probably still a little drunk.  A hot cross bun had been saved for my return but I had longer to wait for the meal of the day.  It's not a Celebration without a roast and we had bought a rolled pork shoulder joint to celebrate Easter.  If you want to read more about cooking pork please feel free to venture over to Everything But The Oink where I am eating every edible part of a pig over the course of the year.

Today I woke up relatively hangover-free and set about the order of the day.  Firstly, meal planning for the week ahead and writing a suitable shopping list, followed by a trip to Temple Newsam.  More specifically a trip to Home Farm to show R the lambs**.  The sun was shining when we set out but the clouds quickly gathered and cut off the little warmth that the sun was providing.

After a couple of cold and enjoyable hours at the farm we decamped back to Leeds for a warming pub lunch.  We found ourselves in The Adelphi.  We'd been to The Adelphi a couple of months ago for Sunday lunch and were so impressed with the food and the service that we were keen to go back.  By the time we arrived a brief twitter conversation had resulted in a reserved table.  It wasn't needed because we had the run of the place when we arrived, but within half an hour the pub was really filling up and we would have struggled to get in.

I ordered bangers and mash and Z chose chicken and leek pie.  We knew that the staff wouldn't bat an eyelid at us letting R share our food which makes life very easy indeed.  R isn't a fussy eater for a two year old, but occasionally he still picks at food that I know he loves.  Not ordering him his own food might seem a bit tight but I'd rather share than waste money.

While we waited for our food I had a pint of the wonderfully named Hoptimus Prime, Z had a hot chocolate and R had a glass of milk which was served in the cutest flip-top Kilner bottle.  When the food arrived R had more than his fair share of my bangers and mash and wasn't interested in Z's chicken pie.  He's a harsh critic as both meals were superb!  That said, I do have ongoing issues with pies that are actually a stew with a pastry lid.

With lunch out of the way we cracked on with the shopping and I re-thought our evening meal.  Originally we were going to have smoked mackerel fish cakes, using up a packet of cooked peppered mackerel that had been destined for Z's lunch last week.  After a hefty pub lunch I fancied something lighter but was determined to use the fish and not waste food.  That was when kedgeree struck me.  I have only eaten kedgeree a couple of times and I had never cooked it before, but how hard could it be? 

Cooked rice and smoked fish stirred into fried onions and curry spices.  I always have some home ground garam masala in the store cupboard so there was no need for curry powder.  The finished dish is garnished with a hard boiled egg.  It really is that simple.  I know that it is traditionally eaten at breakfast time, but in a society that worships the All Day Breakfast, why can't we eat what we want when we want it.  I'm hereby reclaiming kedgeree as a supper dish.

*drunken miss-rememberings
**he's currently obsessed with Timmy Time and Shawn the Sheep.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Meat Free March - Dirty John Quinoa

Over the course of writing Tonight's Menu, I have managed to coerce quite a few people to give up their time and blogs, to take part in my hair-brained schemes and challenges.  When the opportunity to help a fellow food-blogger by taking part in their challenge arose I felt honour bound to offer my time and blog.

Meat Free March is exactly as it sounds, a whole month without a meaty morsel passing your lips.  I'm a card carrying carnivore and quite often sneak extra meat into vegetarian recipes* so I couldn't have signed up for the whole month. I don't know if it was Becs, from Bits and Bobs Becs, or Fay, from Food Fables, who came up with the idea of not eating meat, but I think I'm right** in saying that as we get towards the end of March their resistance to the call of bacon has stated to wane.

The Meat Free March Recipe Swap is not only a way for bloggers to come together and share ideas, it is also a good chance for Becs and Fay to get inspiration for the final push towards April and the promise of a juicy steak.  I am of course assuming that neither of them are have been converted to a life of vegetables.

Last week I spent hours trawling the internet and thumbing through cookery books to find that one elusive meat free recipe I wanted to share, and could act as inspiration to Becs and Fay.  I even went back through my blog posts on here to see if there was anything in particular that I thought somebody might want to cook.  That was when I received the email with my recipe swap partner's details.  I had another challenge, my swapee was vegan.

I went back through the books and bookmarked websites and, without fail, every recipe I had chosen had cheese, cream or eggs as an ingredient.  A second, more directed search and I was back on track.  As per the rules of engagement I posted my chosen recipe along with a couple of choice ingredients and sat back to await the arrival of my mystery package.

I didn't have to wait for long.  The recipe I received was for Dirty John Quinoa which was an adapted recipe from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson.  It was written out inside a cute owl greetings card and came complete with a bag of quinoa.  I've had quinoa in the past but had decided that it was just another grain and quite pricey, so I didn't get into the habit of buying it.  It is known as a super grain as it packs more protein than any other pulse which is why vegans love it.

My initial response to the recipe was not one filled with joy.  Firstly, I don't own a slow cooker.  I do however have a decent conventional cooker and some good pans.  Secondly the list of ingredients felt a bit miss-matched, but who am I to argue with Robin, she's written more vegetarian and vegan cookery books than I've had vegan meals.

Onions and garlic were fried off before a yellow pepper, 180g of quinoa, a pack of mushrooms, two tins of black eye beans, a tin of tomatoes, a dried chilli, smoked paprika, thyme and veg stock were all added to the pan to cook for a couple of hours.  Half way through cooking this was still not looking promising.  The earthy smells of the mushrooms and the beans were fighting against the smoked paprika and thyme.

There was no turning back however, we had nothing else in and had invested too long on the meal.  I needn't have worried.  Through some bizarre alchemy the casserole came together and the flavours married.  Quinoa has a peculiar texture, still crunchy after two and a half hours cooking, but that worked against the softness of the rest of the vegetables.  There was also a pleasant heat from the chilli and paprika that even R didn't find too spicy.

I won't go into the mechanics of the recipe swap as you can find the full details on either of Becs' and Fay's blogs.  These two need applauding for their efforts in exploring vegetarian food and encouraging others to drop meat every now and then.  I hope my swap partner enjoyed the recipe that I sent to them.  I liked Dirty John but I don't think I'll be adding it to my repertoire any time soon.

*not if I'm serving the meal to vegetarians, I'm not that nasty.
**I have been known to be wrong and this could be one of those occasions.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


Perhaps I am the type of person who is easily led, there is every chance that I am the kind of person that subliminal advertising works on.  I say this because ever since the horse meat scandal broke, I have been craving lasagne.  It doesn't take much for me to want a lasagne but when every news story on television and radio is leading with a dish of layered meat and pasta I was eventually going to cave in.

The horse meat scandal has got a lot of people very hot under the collar.  I'm not going to stand here and take any moral stance about cooking from scratch rather than eating ready meals.  We all make choices about how and where to spend our money.  I choose to buy ingredients and cook with them, it's how I relax and I find the process enjoyable.  Others don't have the same relationship with food as I do, each to their own.  I do have a slight problem with the way the focus of this particular food scare is running.

In the past* we have been quite rightly worried about food that could kill us.  The Salmonella scare of the 80s had us boiling eggs until you could play squash with them and roasting chicken until the bones had melted.  In the 90s, the threat of Mad Cow Disease turned a lot of my class mates vegetarian.  My family ate more beef as the prices dropped and it didn't do me any harm.  The current wave of worry about what's on your plate does not compare.  Horse (unless it contains the drug bute) is not harmful.  I've never tried it myself but I have eaten Zebra. 

The problem this time is that we haven't been given the choice to eat horse or not.  If I ever happen across horse on a restaurant menu then I'm sure that will be the dish I choose**.  Having eaten horse I may discover that I like it and then look for it on the supermarket shelves and ask my butcher if he can get any in.  But we live in Britain, a country where horses like Toy Town win Olympic medals, and Frankel is put out to stud at £125,000 per cover.  There is not an appetite for eating horse, I don't have a problem with that but I do wish we weren't so squeamish about the food that we eat.  Meat does not come shrink-wrapped on a blue polystyrene tray, it is a part of an animal.  If you can't cope with that small nugget of information then perhaps your lasagne should contain quorn not horse.

Aside from the labelling, I do have an other problem with horsegate.  The media*** keep referring to horse meat in the food chain.  Now given that horse is being eaten this is technically correct, however, the story is about horse in the distribution chain.  A food chain is a linear sequence of links showing species being eaten by the next species in the chain.  It's quite simple. 

At the bottom of any food chain is something that eats nothing else, take a plant for example.  Getting all the nutrients it needs from the soil, air and sun the plant doesn't want for much.  Minding it's own business the plant is harvested and devoured by passing insects.  A larger insect, the dragonfly, eats the small insects and takes their carcases back to the dragonfly hive where the small insect bodies are laid down in octagonal cells where over a number of months they become Marmite****.  The wayward dragonfly is the prey of many a small hunting bird, such as the robin or spotted fly catcher.  Neither of these birds are lovers of Marmite but they do love dragonflies.  The chain does not end here, there is always a larger bird.  The sparrow hawk is designed by boffins to swoop out of the sky picking off small birds while they are still wiping insect extract from their beaks after a slap-up three course dragonfly meal.  Nothing eats the sparrow hawk so it is the top of this particular food chain.

One of the saddest things I have seen on the telly is the constant footage of sparrow hawks that have been cruelly struck down by long distance lorries cutting through the countryside following dodgy instructions from satnavs.  Nothing deserves to be struck down by a lost lorry but this starts another food chain.  Tyranosaurus-Rexs are actually scavengers not hunters.  They live on carrion (road kill if you will) so are constantly roaming the countryside looking out for sparrow hawks knocked down in their prime.  The T-Rex population cannot be allowed to grow unchecked so their numbers are monitored by trained game keepers who, under licence, can shoot adult T-Rex and sell their meat at market.  Now imagine just for one second that the next time you bite into a T-rex pie, some unscrupulous game keeper has cut the t-rex meat with Brachiosaurus.  I don't mind a bit of brachiosaur every now and then, but the only way that it should enter this food chain is if the t-rex ate it.  The brachiosaur has entered the delivery chain between the game keeper, the pie shop and your plate.

Cows eating what they shouldn't is how we got to the mad cow disease problem in the first place.  No cow has ever leapt out at and tucked into a horse, therefore horse is not part of the food chain.  Neither, I'm pleased to say, is brachiosaur.

Rest assured for my lasagne I did not hot foot it to my local supermarket looking for a lump of prime dinosaur.  Far from it.  The mince I used for the bolognese was minced beef from my favourite butcher***** on Leeds market.  I could have gone the whole hog and made fresh pasta but I am still wary of home made pasta after one too many disasters.

I do love a good lasagne.  If I'm honest this was not one of the best I've ever made but it was still a good plate of food.  Yes, meals like this can take a long time to cook but while they are cooking you are free to do other things, you could plan your next week's meals or fantasize about dinosaurs.  There is a lot of unravelling still to be done regarding horse DNA turning up where it shouldn't.  In the meantime, if you are worried about what you are eating, support your local butcher and cook from scratch, you never know, you might enjoy it.

*now is the ideal time to put on your free rose tinted glasses.
**this is why I have eaten escargot, I didn't go on a mission to find and eat snails but the opportunity arose and I took my chance.  For the record, if you like garlic butter there is no real reason why you wouldn't like snails, just so long as you have a strong jaw, they are quite chewy.
***this is not an exercise in media bashing
****this is a lie I have made up and that I am continuing to peddle to my son, parents can be so cruel can't they!
****he likes us because we buy his steak mince and not his extra lean steak mince.  He doesn't really want to sell extra lean mince but he has to provide to those who don't like flavour in their food.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Carrot and Sweet Potato Curry

An unintentional and not all together unwelcome side effect of this year's food challenge, is that when I'm not thinking about pig I'm thinking a lot more about vegetables.  This is possibly down to the amount of time I am spending on Leeds Kirkgate market.  You can find me most Saturday mornings wandering around Butchers Row mulling over the porky possibilities.  Afterwards, meat in hand,  I like to fill my shopping bags with as much fruit and veg as I can carry home*.

I still find myself buying additional veg in the supermarket.  A couple of weeks ago I went green veg mad and bought pak choi, kale and spinach.  I must have been feeling run down and lacking in iron.  We managed to plough our way through the greens but that was at the expense of the carrots I had already bought on the market.

My initial thought, whenever I have any leftover vegetables, is soup.  However this wasn't a handful of carrots left over from a meal, this was a full bag of carrots whose potential had never been met.  I felt that it was only fitting to make them the star of a meal but I couldn't get soup out of my head.  It was the classic Carrot and Coriander that was haunting me.  I just couldn't shift the idea of the sweet earthy and fragrant dish from my mind.  I then realised that it wouldn't take much to convert the ingredients for a good soup into a great curry.

The base of the curry was onion, garlic and ginger, fried in ghee with mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin, coriander, fresh chilies and turmeric.  Once the onion had softened and the spices were toasted I added the carrot, sweet potato and a little red pepper, along with just enough stock to cover the veg.  By the time the carrots were tender the sweet potatoes had broken down into the stock to thicken the sauce.  All that was left to do was to stir in some fresh coriander and serve with naan bread.  I doubt that this is in any way authentic, but the flavour combination is so good it shouldn't be reserved just for soup.

*I'm going to start cycling to the market so the limit to my spend will be the capacity of my rucksack!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Duck with Port and Cranberry Sauce

Who would have thought that deep into January we would still be hoovering up the Christmas leftovers?  We have made stocks of soup and pies out of the leftover turkey and vegetables.  All of the cheese has been consumed and the last of the chocolate pennies have been melted in R's hands and smeared across the furniture.

The final reminder of the festivities was the last of the cranberry sauce that Z made this time last month.  In Christmases gone by we have bought a jar of cranberry sauce and thrown it out in mid June, but because this was home-made we felt duty bound to use it.  A pack of duck breasts in the freezer seamed the perfect foil for the sharp sweet sauce.

I gently fried the duck skin side down to render off the fat*.  After ten minutes I flipped the breasts over, turned off the heat and let the duck sit in the pan for ten minutes more.  Finally I removed the duck from the pan, cranked up the heat again and fried off some onions.  I added half a pint of port** and let that reduce before stirring in the cranberry sauce.  I'm not a fan of slicing bits of meat to serve them but there was a marked size difference between the two breast so the whole thing went a bit cheffy.  It will be around a year before we do this again, but it will be worth the wait!

*which is now sat in a jar in the fridge waiting for the next time we do roast potatoes.
**technically a Christmas leftover but booze doesn't count.