Thursday, 17 July 2014

Haloumi Salad with Dolmades and Pork Koftas: Getting a Lot off My Plate.

On the 18th November 2011 I wrote a blog.  There is nothing unusual in that, I am after all the owner and writer of five blogs.  Back then however I was a fledgling food blogger and Friday Night Take-Away was my first attempt at writing a blog post.  I had been a keen home cook for years and had been sharing my evening meals on social media with positive feedback.  People seemed interested in what I was cooking so writing about it felt like the right thing to do.

I'll be honest, that post isn't great.  The food was*, but the writing and the photograph leave a lot to be desired.  But I was on a learning curve.  I was primarily using Tonight's Menu as a tool to improve my written English skills and, over time, I think I have succeeded in that.

My original plan was to keep Tonight's Menu as a daily diary of our evening meals.  Not a recipe resource full of weights and measures, no step by step guide to cooking.  I wanted to write the story behind the food, the reason behind the meals we chose to cook.  Within a couple of weeks I found myself in a pub for my evening meal and I decided there and then that TM wasn't going to be a review blog either.  I love food and I'm quite opinionated, but who am I to judge what/how others are cooking.  I also applied this rationale to occasions when I was eating in my friends' and family's houses too, writing about the visit and the meal without feeling the need to rate anything out of 10.

This went well until I was approached to do a review for an American Diner in Leeds.  I was about to turn down the opportunity when the call of the freebie got the better of me.  That post, written in April 2012, is still the most read thing I have ever written and sadly I don't think it will ever be surpassed.  I have since accepted and written a scant hand-full of other freebie reviews, but they are not what I've been happiest writing.

I've been at my happiest when I've been thinking up and running random food challenges.  The Olympic Food Challenge, World Cup Food Challenge, and Everything But the Oink have allowed me to stretch my culinary muscle, try even more new ingredients and, to a lesser extent, boss about a glut** of food bloggers; a group of people I'm happy to call friends.

"But why are you telling us this?" I hear you cry.  Well I've decided to call it a day, give it a rest.  It's time for this old warhorse to be put out to pasture.  Time pressures and other activities mean that I just don't have the time for writing, even though it is still something that I really enjoy.  But I'm not going to drop Tonight's Menu like a hot potato.  I want to leave it as something that I'll feel proud of.

I've said for a long time that I don't have a bucket list of food that I want to eat before I die.  I do however have unfinished business with some of my food challenges and there are some dishes that I'm desperate to share with you.  So from now on every post will be one step closer to the end of Tonight's Menu.  There are going to be more endings than in Return of The King.  And at the end of it all there will be room for a little more...

For the record, Tonight's Menu was a Mediterranean meze including grilled haloumi salad, pork koftas, and dolmades.  Very nice it was too.

*I think, it's been a while.
**or whatever the collective noun for food bloggers is.

Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Jarret de Veau

With France beating Nigeria on Monday for a spot in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup I had a few days to plan another meal for tonight's match against Germany.  After failing to get horse and running out of time to get veal for the last round I made certain that I would have veal tonight.  I made the trip into Leeds on Tuesday afternoon, popped into B & J Callard's on Kirkgate Market and set the wheels in motion.

I was after veal breast to make Blanquette de Veau, a traditional French white stew, but as Callard's don't stock veal I was in their hands and the hands of their suppliers.  It turns out that the few veal suppliers out there are more than happy to sell prime cuts of meat but tend to use the secondary cuts to make burgers and sausages, presumably betting more bang for their buck, or at least shifting meat that they would otherwise struggle to sell.  Getting breast or anything from the shoulder was proving difficult, but Kyle from Callard's didn't let me down.

He managed to source a veal shin from a farm in North Leeds.  I regularly cook with beef so I knew it would be suitable to stew.  My plan was to cut the meat from the bone and crack on with the cooking, but once I saw the three wonderful Osso Buco steaks I had a change of heart.  I wanted to use them whole so that the marrow could cook into the sauce, so I started looking around for French versions of the classic Italian dish.

I found a typically French Jarret de Veau aux Champignon, got it translated and set about cooking it.  The meat was dusted in seasoned flour and then fried in duck fat*.  Diced onions, carrots and celery were then added to the pan along with a glass of white wine and some stock.  This was brought to the boil before being reduced to a simmer for an hour.

While that was cooking I made some boulangere potatoes and tucked into the rest of the bottle of wine that I had opened to cook with.  By the time I finished the dish with chopped fresh parsley, garlic, and lemon zest, France had been knocked out of the World Cup by Germany.  An outcome that I had seen coming from before the first ball was kicked back on the 12th June.

The veal was superb.  The meat fell of the bone and the addition of the fresh herbs at the end lifted the sauce.  Z was a little squeamish about eating the marrow but loved it after her first tentative morsel.  I would buy and cook this again in a heart-beat, if only veal was more readily available in our butchers and supermarkets.  The thought of perfectly good meat going to waste just because of fads, trends, and people's sensibilities saddens me.

I'm also sad to have cooked my last meal of the World Cup Food Challenge.  It's been fun but there is always another challenge.

*the recipe called for butter but after making confit duck I happen to have quite a lot of duck fat that needs using.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Switzerland - Pizzocheri

I had always assumed that Switzerland would be the runners up in Group E.  That said it all came down to the last match.  France didn't do them any favours, only managing a draw against Ecuador.  A spirited 3-0 victory against Honduras was enough for the Swiss team to book their place in tonight's match against the mighty Argentina.

Having made a fondue for Switzerland in the opening round of the World Cup Food Challenge I was stumped for what to cook tonight.  What other food is synonymous with the Swiss?  I didn't want to start messing around with chocolate.  I have fought the good fight against rosties in the past and frankly, I never want to eat burnt and raw grated potato again.  Other possibilities included Muesli, but I want an evening meal not breakfast, and Berner Platte, but that is too similar to last night's choucroute garni and I couldn't face that again for a while.

Then I discovered that the Swiss have a healthy love for pasta.  Sharing a border with Italy was bound to rub off some influences.  Unlike the Italians though, the Swiss favour buckwheat pasta and I couldn't think of anywhere in Leeds that I'd be able to buy any, so I decided to make my own from scratch.  All I needed was some buckwheat flour and I had two options of where to get some.  My first were sold out and expecting a delivery on Friday, my second choice, Out of This World, had flour aplenty.

Making the pasta was child's play, so much so that I employed R, with a little supervision, to cut out the pasta after we had made the dough.  I'm sure Pizzocheri isn't meant to have wavy edges but that is the cutter that he chose.  The strips of pasta were cooked in plenty of boiling water with some potatoes, green beans and spinach.  Once cooked and drained the pasta and vegetables were layered with cheese in an oven proof dish and topped with fried onions, garlic, sage leaves and melted butter.

My favourite line of the recipe is the last one.  "Bake in preheated oven for 5–10 minutes at 250 ºCelsius. The cheese must melt."  And melt it did.  A bit of research into pizzocheri tells you that this is a favourite winter warmer and I can see why.  It definitely fits into the comfort food category.  The pasta has a lovely flavour from the buckwheat, and who doesn't love double carbs?

Sadly, by the time I had finished eating, Switzerland had been knocked out of the world cup by Argentina.  I know I'll be making fondue again and I'm sure that pizzocheri will make a return when the cold weather sets in.

Monday, 30 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Choucroute Garni

The problem with having drawn France in the World Cup Food Challenge is deciding what to cook.  Some of the countries taking part in the world cup have a limited culinary history.  When looking up dishes for Honduras I came across Carne Asada on four or five separate searches, the decision was made for me.  The French though have more iconic dishes in their culinary canon to lay siege on most of the rest of Europe, never mind the rest of the world.

Choosing Confit de Canard as my first dish was a no brainer.  I'd been looking for an excuse to cook it for ages.  Assuming that France would get out of Group E I had already been looking for inspiration for Tonight's Menu.  I originally thought that tonight would be the night that I knowingly tried horse for the first time.  Since horsegate I have been looking for an excuse to cook an equine supper and as the French love cheval I decided to give it a go.

I asked my butcher if he could source me some horse and sure enough he said that he could.  I'd decided that I wanted to cook Daube de Chevaline, a slow cooked stew that required some shoulder meat.  This was available but once you added on delivery to the butchers it was close to £25 for a couple of pounds of meat.  Horse was off the menu.  Next on my hit list was Blanquette de Veau, but sadly the time consumed in a fruitless horse chase ate up all of my veal ordering time too. 

Having tried and failed to get hold of the ingredients for two classic and refined dishes I decided to go a bit more rustic and cook Choucroute Garni.  This mountain of a meal has a place in the folk lore of Z's family.  Holidays to France weren't complete without a table bursting pile of sauerkraut festooned with various sausages, hams and pork.

My choucroute has a base of cabbage braised in white wine with onions, bacon, celery, caraway, mustard seeds, and juniper berries.  This was served with a Toulouse style sausage, belly pork and a joint of cured pork collar that were cooked separately and then added to the choucroute to warm through before serving.  I also cooked a load of new potatoes but there wasn't enough space on the serving plate to include them in the photograph.

I'll be honest, as meals for two people go this was excessive.  We managed to eat half of the collar, one of the belly pork slices and a third of the sausage.  There is plenty of cabbage and potatoes left too.  The collar will be part of some pea and ham soup.  The sausage will appear on sandwiches and pizza later on this week.  The rest will become soup-croute.

In case you are wondering, the stork garnish is one of Z's strongest memories of the holidays.  She and her brother used to collect them.  She now thinks that they were just put on every kids meal not just the choucroute, but we couldn't resist having one for old times sake.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Switzerland - Beer Fondue

Switzerland.  Home of the Swiss Army Knife, Red Bull, Toblerone, tax havens, and armed neutrality.  Birthplace of the Red Cross and the cuckoo clock.  It is also the home of FIFA, so it's not really surprising that they qualified for Brazil 2014.

Switzerland are the last of my four countries for the World Cup Food Challenge, but Tonight's Menu is one that I have been greedily looking forward to.  Anybody who knows me will be able to confirm that I am a lover of Cheese.  Given the choice I will go for a cheese board over any dessert on a restaurant menu.  I'm a paid up member of Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' wonderful cheese club.  For my birthday this year Z bought me a cheese making kit.  It should be of no surprise that I chose fondue to represent Switzerland.

The decision wasn't automatic though.  Fondue was on the back burner whilst I was looking for other dishes to cook, when I found the recipe for "The Best Swiss Cheese and Beer Fondue".  Cheese and beer? Now you're talking.  I've only had fondue a couple of times in the past and the most memorable time was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Too much booze overpowered the cheese.  The idea of a beery version was too good to miss out on.

The recipe is specific in relation to the cheese that's required, but when it came to the beer, it just says beer.  Dark beer, light beer, hoppy beer, I really didn't know what they had in mind.  I contacted Beer Ritz via Twitter to see if they stocked any Swiss beer, but the answer was no.  I was at a loss and started googling Swiss beer styles to see if I could get an idea of the type of beer that I should use.  I had settled on using a Helles style light lager when I was contacted by John from 1936 Biere.

John had seen my conversation with Beer Ritz and, being the seller of a beer brewed in Switzerland, was quick to get in touch and tell me of his wares.  He pointed me in the direction of Lazy Lounge who stock 1936, both bottled and on draft.  I hot footed it to the pub, bought the last six bottles of Swiss beer in the region*, and stashed it in the cellar until it was needed.

Yesterday I sourced the cheese for my fondue.  A trip to George and Joseph in Chapel Allerton is always a pleasure.  Stephen (cheesemonger extraordinaire) had reserved me a block of Reserve Gruyere de Jura and suggested Ogleshield Raclette as a suitable replacement for Emmental.  The two grated blocks of cheese were slowly melted into the beer, nothing could have been easier.

The only thing left was to decide what to dunk into the cheesy goodness.  We went for the obligatory bread, radishes, carrot batons, gherkins, and pickled onions, all washed down with the rest of the 1936.  The only rules were no double dipping and no sabotaging anybody else's dunk by knocking their bread off their fork and into the fondue.

Switzerland are not yet out of the world cup. A win against Honduras could well be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.  I'm not sure I'll be able to top fondue as a Swiss meal but I'll have to give it a go.  I will be going out to buy a fondue set though.  The orange beauty in the photo belongs to Nick, from Homage 2 Fromage, who was wonderful enough to let me borrow it for tonight.

*I also had a cheeky half pint of it while I was there.  Well it would have been rude not to.

Friday, 20 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Ecuador - Goat Stew

Here we go with my third recipe for the World Cup Food Challenge.  Having convinced myself that Ecuador would not progress from the group stage of the world cup, I wanted to find a recipe that would do them justice, something typically Ecuadorian.  Then I found this recipe for Goat Stew.  I love goat and jump at any opportunity to eat it.  This stems from the fact that I love lamb but Z can't stand it.  She'll happily eat goat though so as a lamb substitute goat does just fine.

Learning from my previous timing disasters, which came about due to not reading my Honduran recipe correctly, I double and triple checked the ingredients list and cooking instructions for the stew.  There were a couple of ingredients that I couldn't get hold of however.  Aji peruano powder was a chilli too far, even for Spice Corner on Kirkstall Market.  I substituted with Kashmiri chilli powder as it was meant to be mild.  The second ingredient I was struggling with proved more tricky to replace.

The recipe calls for a cup of frozen naranjilla/lulo pulp.  Nope I've never heard of it either.  It turns out the naranjilla is not quite a tomato, not really an orange, and not readily available in the shops of Leeds.  I had sent Z on many a wild goose chase during the Olympic Food Challenge but this was a goose too far.  But then the food gods smiled on us.

While taking a well earned break from hunting down obscure fruits, Z stopped for lunch at Casa Colombiana in the Grand Arcade.  She was sharing some empanadas with R.  She bought a coffee
for herself and a bottle of fruit juice for R.  It was only when she opened the bottle of juice that she realised that she hadn't bought orange juice but had inadvertently bought naranjilla juice.  I'd been expecting a flavour somewhere between rhubarb and lime, but Z and Marta (the owner of Casa Colombiana) decided that lychee or kiwi fruit would be suitable substitutes for the recipe.

The final ingredient to source was beer.  I'm told that the big brand Ecuadorian beer is Pilsener, but nowhere in South Leeds seems to stock it.  I did manage to get hold of Modelo, my favourite Mexican beer.  With all three of my substitutes used it was time to get cooking.

The goat, having spent twenty four hours in a bath of beer, was browned off while a red onion, red pepper, three garlic cloves, parsley, and coriander were puréed.  Once browned the meat was set aside so the vegetable mixture could be cooked along with a mixture of puréed tomatoes and kiwi fruit.  The goat was then added back to the pan along with the reserved beer marinade and spices, and cooked for two hours.

Sporting clichés aside, the substitutes did me proud.  The beer worked its magic on the goat, acting as a tenderiser before the cooking began.  The Kashmiri chilli was warming and not too spicy which balanced the extra punchy heat from cayenne pepper.  But the star of the show was the kiwi fruit.  Along with the cup of pulp that was added at the start of the cooking I added a couple of chopped kiwis ten minutes before serving.  The sweet sourness of the kiwis cut through the heat of the stew wonderfully.

I'm not sure if Ecuador will emerge from Group E.  They are in second place with one game to play but their final game is against France who have scored eight goals in their first two matches.  If we do say goodbye to Ecuador at this point at least I have discovered a new family favourite.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Honduras - Carne Asada

The Republic of Honduras, formerly Spanish Honduras to differentiate itself from British Honduras (now Belize), is situated on the umbilical cord of the Americas, between Guatamala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  Like many other Central American countries, Football is the national sport of Honduras.  This doesn't mean however, that they're very good.  In the hundred years that they have had a national football association they have only qualified for the World Cup Finals twice.

With a French recipe in the bag as soon as the draw for the World Cup Food Challenge took place, I started to look around for culinary inspiration for the other countries in group E.  On two separate Honduran food sites I found reference to Carne Asada.  It literally means Grilled Meat but its origins have been lost in the mist of time.  Some say that it has Mexican roots but given the amount of Spanish influence in the region it isn't a surprise that there are cultural overlaps.  In the end I chose the version of the Honduran favourite from This is Honduras.

This is Honduras points out "Hondurans look for any excuse to get the barbaque going and make carne asada - it is a favourite for birthdays, family days out, picnics, etc."  Well, today is Father's Day.  That sounds like a decent excuse for a barbecue to me, so carne asada it is.

Z had managed to get beef skirt from B & J Callard's on Kirkgate market during the week and I set about marinating it first thing this morning, having reread the recipe to discover that you should marinate the meat overnight.  The strips of skirt were placed in a bowl with the juice of two oranges, a tablespoon of cumin, four crushed garlic cloves, salt and half a tablespoon of Worcester Sauce.  The final ingredient struck me as a little odd but who am I to argue?

Z made a batch of home made corn tortillas and some guacamole while I made some Chimol to accompany the beef.  I had planned to make a batch of Encurtido*, but I missed the bit of that recipe that says "Refrigerate for at least 3 days to allow for the flavour to develop".

The beef was great.  In fact, I can't envisage a barbecue in the future that wont have carne asada as part of the meat fest.  The simple onion, tomato, pepper, corriander, and lime juice chimol, was a good sharp foil against the sweet meat, so we might be seeing that on the menu again too.  I'm not sure if Honduras will get out of Group E, if they do I promise to get my act together and make a batch of Encurtido.  You never know, I might just make some anyway.

*think piccalilli and you're almost there.

Friday, 13 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Confit de Canard

I have been planning to make my own Confit de Canard for a long time.  It's one of those dishes that makes me feel happy just thinking about them.  The problem is, duck isn't cheap, duck fat isn't cheap, and, in all honestly, the need to confit duck to preserve it for long term storage is kind of superfluous these days, what with the dawn of in-house refrigeration units. Freezers I think they are called.

Then, the draw for the world cup took place.  I had already organised the World Cup Food Challenge and knew that I would end up cooking dishes from the countries of Group E and France was first out of the bag.  I knew instantly that the first* dish I would cook to represent France would be Confit Duck.

I flicked through various cook books and trawled the internet before finding three recipes that I liked the look of, each with subtle variations that I wanted to incorporate into my duck.  Anthony Bordain, Nigel Slater and Valentine Warner were chosen as my inspiration and my guides for the week long duck-athon.

The first step was to salt the duck.  I added rosemary, lemon thyme, black peppercorns and juniper berries at this stage, rubbed the duck legs thoroughly with the salt and aromatics and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.  The following day I rubbed the excess salt off the duck, nestled it in the bottom of a pan, added some of the herbs that had also been in the salt, and smothered the lot in duck fat.  The fat, by the way, cost more money than the duck did!

The chefs all had differing opinions as to how to cook the duck at this stage. High temp in the oven for an hour, low simmer on the hob, or two and a half hours at a low temp in the oven.  At two to one the oven method had it.  Could I decide which temperature to set the oven at though? No I couldn't.  In the end I went for a middle ground of 180˚c, mainly because that is the maximum temperature that my pans can withstand.

After an hour I had a cheeky peek and decided that the oven was too high so I droped the temperature and let it cook for another hour.  And there it was, perfectly cooked confit duck, but now came the hard part.  It was Tuesday and I wasn't eating it until Thursday.  I left the duck in the pan of fat to cool overnight and popped it in the fridge in the morning.

Having gone to all the effort to make confit duck I then turned my attention to what I was going to serve it with.  There was a sizeable bit of my brain that wanted chips.  Another part of me wanted to go the whole hog and make cassoulet from scratch, but frankly I couldn't be bothered.  In the end I made boulangere potatoes, partly because I needed the oven on to finish the duck and partly because I love boulangere potatoes.  Think of them as a low fat version of gratin dauphinois and you're there.  A cheeky glass of wine and I could have been in France.

I very much doubt that I'll make my own confit duck again.  Don't get me wrong, it was magnificent.  The crispy salty skin, the soft melting meat, none of the thick smoke that hangs around the house for weeks after roasting a duck or frying a duck breast.  It just costs too much. 

*I'm assuming that I'll need to cook more French dishes when they get out of the group as group winners.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I know, I know. You hang around for ages waiting for a blog post and two come along at once.  Well I'm sorry for the delay, I really am, but circumstances at work and at home have changed so I haven't really had the head space or time to write.  On the odd occasion that I have had a window of opportunity to write I haven't been doing the cooking, and writing about food that you haven't cooked yourself isn't as easy as it seems.

I have tried to write, I really have. I have draft posts for Indian inspired Fish and Chips, Green Cauliflour Cheese, Chocolate Turkey Fajitas, Seafood Pancakes, and Rabbit Stew and Dumplings.  There are also a couple of posts relating to our experience of giving up Supermarkets for Lent.  But these things will remain in draft until such time as we cook the dishes again*.

On top of work I have also been training for my first half marathon.  Getting home from work and going out for anything between a 6k and a 10k run before even contemplating food, really reduces the amount of free time in the evenings, before going to bed and starting the whole thing again in the morning.  But with the half marathon behind me** we're settling into a new routine, which should see me at the stove more often.

Apart from anything else, I have instigated yet another food challenge.  You may have noticed that there's the small matter of the World Cup looming on the horizon.  Whether England win the tournament, make it out of their group, or capitulate and lose all of their opening matches is neither here nor there.  A group of us will be eating dishes representing all 32 of countries taking part in Brazil.  You can follow our progress here.

In the mean time, we have tried to be very organised on the food front.  Our weekly meal planning has gone from strength to strength.  We either plan after a veg box delivery from Market Delivered, or before we do our big shop for the week.  This is the only way we have found of making sure we always use the food we have and limit food waste.

Tonight we had planned to have spaghetti with a beef ragu using some braising steak that was lurking in the freezer, however, in the interests of a happy house, we have allowed a change of plan to suit the mood of our youngest and fussiest family member.  Rather than defrosting the steak we acquiesced and took some pork mince out of the freezer to make meatballs.  It really wasn't such a big change as the sauce for both dishes contain the same ingredients.

Fried onions and fennel seeds were added to the mince before it was rolled into ping-pong ball sized spheres.  These were then poached in the tomato and vegetable sauce before being piled onto the pasta and served with garlic bread.  Everybody was happy and cleared their plates so it was a worthwhile change of plan.  I don't have Italy in my group for the World Cup Food Challenge so I'll not need to cook any pasta dishes during the tournament.  What to cook for Ecuador is another matter all together.

*Hopefully won't be too long as they were all very good.
**I'm still running, just not as far.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Cabbage Bake

There is very little that is inspiring in a blog post entitled "Cabbage Bake".  In fact I had considered calling this post something else just to get your attention, but if you have made it this far, please stick with me, I hope you won't be disappointed.  The fact is, during my blogging hiatus* we've cooked this dish on more than one occasion, so it feels only right that it gets a look in. 

Now, I'm not the kind of person that will revisit a dish unless it's worth eating, so that should tell you something.  I can't remember the exact details on the night we first cooked it, but tonight we had good reason to look up the recipe again in Russian, German & Polish Food and Cooking by Lesley Chamberlain.  That reason was being in possession of a whole savoy cabbage that we needed to eat before another one turned up a couple of days later.

But why bother buying another cabbage if you already have one?  Well, since giving up Supermarkets for Lent we have been using the excellent Market Delivered service to get fresh fruit and vegetables from Kirkgate Market on an almost weekly basis.  We have found that the secret to veg boxes is to wait until the order has turned up and then meal plan.  As we're still not clear of the "hungry gap" in the growing season, cabbages are turning up in most boxes, so using them is always on our minds.

We often steam cabbage, to have as a side veg, or add it to stir fries and curries, but this week we had managed to neglect our cabbage altogether.  Our need to get it eaten was therefore high, before it became that most horrible of things, wasted food.  We needed a recipe that would use it all not just a few leaves and that is where the cabbage bake comes in.

The shredded cabbage is cooked in a little stock until just soft, drained, seasoned and spread into an oven proof dish.  The cabbage is topped with a layer of sliced tomatoes and then baked for 30 to 40 minutes.  Nothing could be simpler.  We happened to have a pack of kielbasa sausages that I'd picked up from our local Lithuanian store, so we chopped them up and added them to the cabbage before adding the tomato lid.  I know that makes calling this a vegetarian dish a flight of fancy, but trust me, it works just as well without the meat.

*it's been over seventy days since my last post.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Big Shop - Week 2: Hyper Local

After last Saturday's enjoyable trip to Leeds Kirkgate Market for our big shop we could easily have decided to shop nowhere else for the duration of Lent.  What items we couldn't find on the market I know are available at other independents in the City Centre.  But shopping in town isn't an easy or accessible option for everybody.  We are lucky that Z works just outside of the centre, on Leeds' "South Bank"*, and we are even luckier that her place of employment has a car park that staff can access during the weekend.

That said, we don't drive into town that often.  We live half an hours walk away and our bus route is one of the better, more frequent ones that Leeds has to offer.  In the past when shopping on the market we have walked in and caught the bus home with our bags of groceries.  I realise that this too is a stretch for some, Beeston Road is steep and the bus prices have been going up.  But if you can't get into town and transport is an issue, where do you shop?

For most Beestonites the first option for something resembling a "big shop" is the Co-op.  It's local, it's convenient, its range of food, drink and cleaning products is large enough.  But it is a Supermarket**, so for us it is out of bounds even for a few bits.  Further along Old Lane is a small ASDA.  Small or not this is right out of the question, you don't get more supermarkety than one of the big four, even in "Express" format.

Yet in amongst the dense Victorian houses of LS11 there are still some small, local, independant food shops.  The cornershops of the Open All Hours variety do still exist, there are butchers, bakers and greengrocers.  So with these shops in mind we set off with our trusty list to see how we would get on.

The first stop was McDonnell's Butchers on Beeston Road.  The only meat on the shopping list was sausages for Toad in the Hole on Sunday but I also picked up some pork pies for our lunch.  We then miandered through Beeston heading towards Dewsbury Road, where we hoped we would be able to get the bulk of our purchases.

The first shop we got to was Kasa's, a local chain of convenience stores**.  Here we managed to get a few bits and bobs; pop, squash, milk, but nothing to write home about.  The next stop was much more successful.  J & D Marsay on Dewsbury road is a blast from the past.  A greengrocer and florist in a world where people struggle to eat their five-a-day and only buy flowers from petrol stations.  I'd been to Marsay's before, but Z didn't even know it was there and we have lived here since 1999.

The bulk of our weekly shop is fresh fruit and vegetables so we filled our boots and had a chat.  Turns out there used to be three members of staff that worked on Saturdays but the shop hasn't been busy enough to justify that for years.  The blame, without any prompting from me, was laid at the doors of the supermarkets.  That, coupled with the fact that most of their old regular customers are, well, old, means they aren't getting the footfall that they used to.

With R's buggy starting to tip backwards under the weight of the carrier bags*** we ploughed on.  A new Polish supermarket** next door to Marsey's provided olive oil, ham and orange juice.  The promise of fresh bread was dashed as the bakery we went to has closed down, as has the Dewsbury Road branch of Gregg's!

Our final stop was at Barkat Continental Foods on Roland Road.  Barkat is our go to for herbs and spices as I can get there easily in my lunch break, but this time we bought toothpaste and shampoo along with a shopping basket full of chilled and dry goods.

Two hours later we were foot tired and very hungry so we yomped back up Beeston Hill to survey our wares and see what was still missing from our list.  Once we'd unpacked, the missing items were obvious.  We were so busy chatting in the greengrocers that we didn't get enough fruit for the week, so a top up shop is in order.  The other item missing was toilet roll.  We did have opportunities to buy some but we aren't desperate enough to use non-recycled loo roll just yet.  I guess our ethics are still working even if our local shops aren't quite living up to them.

*I am not a fan of the current trend for calling anything and everything south of the river Aire the "South Bank".
**What is a supermarket?
***all our own.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Big Shop - Week 1: Leeds Market

I don't know about you, but our house is ruled by lists.  There is the Birthday list, the Christmas card list, the list of what is in the overflow freezer and the wine list.  There is also a list of DIY jobs that still need finishing*.  But the two most important lists are the weekly meal planning list and the shopping list.

The Meal Planner dictates what goes on the Shopping List on a weekly basis, but we try to add things to the shopping list the moment we run out of them, just in case we forget.  There are always some items that never actually make the shopping list, like milk and orange juice.  We use so much of both that it's just taken as read that we need them whenever we're shopping.

This list mentality has done us proud for years.  We seldom buy things that we don't need, we keep well stocked cupboards and we very rarely waste food.  This weekend though has been a challenge, would we be able to get everything on our shopping list even though we were not using supermarkets?

To make life as easy as possible, we tried to keep the shopping list and meal planner as fluid as possible.  A good example of this is the meal we planned as 'fish'.  I have learned to keep fish in the hands of the fishmongers of Leeds Kirkgate Market; if you plan to eat cod there wont be any cod, best to go with what's best on the day and today we got Sea Bass.

We didn't pull any punches with our shopping list though.  We included laundry liquid, maple syrup and mayonnaise.  These are all things that I assumed that we would struggle to find whilst shopping locally, but I needn't have worried.  The first shop we went to** not only provided the laundry liquid that our middle class lifestyle is accustomed to, but also gave us a cracking loaf of wholegrain bread.  Then we hit the market.

I love Kirkgate market.  There I've said it.  I love the buildings that it is set in, I love the mix of stalls, I love the calls from the stall holders hawking their wares, but I was worried that we would return home with items still not crossed off our list.  I shouldn't have worried.  An enjoyable*** hour or so later we returned home with fifty pounds worth of fruit, vegetables, fish, bread and sausages for the first barbecue of the year.

I have a feeling that giving up supermarkets for Lent will not only be possible, but I'm starting to think that we won't have to change our habits either.  There are still some question marks over where we can source our preferred brands of soap, beans and toilet roll, but Leeds is a big city and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the local shops on offer.

*we've been living in our house for 13 years but some things just never get done.
** Out of this World, 20 New Market St, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 6DG
***when was the last time you enjoyed a trip to the supermarket? It doesn't happen. Markets are great and you should use them.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Give it up for Lent!

Lent, Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday.  Christians around the world will be fasting or giving up a luxury item for forty days as a form of penance leading up to Easter and the marking of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Many non Christians also join in and give up food stuffs from crisps and chocolate to meat and alcohol.  I gave up booze for lent a few years ago and this is not something I will be doing again in a hurry.  Trying to explain to my Scottish relatives that I didn't want a beer while visiting them on holiday was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

This year we have decided not to deprive ourselves of food and drink but limit ourselves to where we can buy it from.  For lent we are giving up supermarkets.

I have a love hate relationship with supermarkets.  I love the range of food available.  I love the convenience of being able to buy all of my groceries under one roof.  I love the copious free car parking.  I'm quite fond of free morsels of food on cocktail sticks on the deli counters.  On the other hand, I hate BOGOFs on £5 chickens.  I hate individually wrapped apples.  I hate buying fresh food that is out of season and has been shipped around the globe.  More importantly I hate the damage, perceived or otherwise, that supermarkets do to the High Street and independent traders.

We have made a slight tactical error however.  We missed the opportunity to stock up on the larger items that we rely on the supermarkets for.  Top of this list is nappies, but as this is a food blog I'll try to focus on the food.

So until Good Friday* we're saying goodbye to Asda, Morrison's, Sainsbury's and Tesco's.  There will be no cheeky visits to Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, M&S or Waitrose.  We will be shopping in the corner shops, the greengrocers, and the butchers that we all too often avoid because they aren't located next to each other.  We'll also be spending more time shopping on Leeds Market which, to be honest, is something I'm really looking forward to.  Bring on the shopping.

*and possibly beyond depending on how we get on.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Dead Hippies and Humble Pie at Trinity Kitchen

Back in October 2013 I wrote a post for The Culture Vulture about the opening of Trinity Kitchen and what the food hall could have turned into.  I think it was fair and balanced.  My first impression was made at a preview event, which had been organised by Trinity to give the kitchens a taste of customers and service, before opening the doors to the salivating public.  It is fair to say that I had my reservations.

Whilst I was sure that, in keeping with the rest of Trinity, Trinity Kitchen was going to be a well designed space, I wasn't sure about how the mix of permanent vendors and rotating street food vans would work.  On the afternoon of the preview, the street food vans weren't trading so we could only eat from the permanents and very nice my food from Pho was too.  But, if I'm honest, it was the vans that I was interested in and it is the vans that I have been going back for, at least once every rotation.

Tonight I was invited back to Trinity Kitchen, with a clutch of other food bloggers for a free meal, to help welcome a new batch of street food vans.  The usual format of sit where you want and serve yourself was thrown out of the window and in an interesting twist, table service was introduced for the evening.  We were welcomed with a glass of fizz from 360˚, shown to our seats and presented with menus.  There were two choices from each eatery but I couldn't drag my eyes away from the Dead Hippie burger from newbies, The Meat Wagon.

Burgers are de rigueur in Leeds at the moment, usually piled so high with extras that you can't pick them up without losing half of them onto your lap.  These burgers, which require a knife and fork to eat them, are a pet hate of mine*, but the Dead Hippie was perfectly handleable.  The two patties were still pink and well seasoned, the "Hippie Sauce" was as good as any special sauce I've had on any other burger and the pickle was large enough to put up resistance without being overpowering.

Even the bun was up to the job, refusing to fall apart even though the burger was so juicy you could have wrung it out and had beef soup as a side dish.  It was a tasty burger and I'm glad I chose it, as at £8 I don't think that I would have bought one for myself.  Not when the other street food vans had cheaper and more interesting food on offer.

Highlights for me since Trinity Kitchen opened have been; Manjit's Kitchen, Fish &, Original Fry Up Material, and Donostia Social Club, all of which I'd welcome back to Trinity in a heartbeat.  I'll be popping back at some point this month to spend some of my hard earned cash and try some of the other new food on offer.  I do still have issues with the notion of Street Food in the UK, but while it is being presented so well in Trinity Kitchen, I think we'd all be foolish not to take advantage of the ever changing array of quality food being served in such an excellent environment.

*along with food served on chopping boards and chips served in a jenga stack.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Chinese Style Ox Cheek Stew

Cheek is a wonderful cut of meat from any animal.  Just think about the amount of exercise your cheeks get on a daily basis.  All of that chewing and talking means that our cheeks hardly have a break all day.  It's the same with animals*.  Cod cheeks are wonderful, pork cheeks are succulent but the daddy of them all are ox cheeks.

Even when cows aren't eating they're still chewing the cud.  The amount of work that those cheeks go through is mind boggling and all of that work means the meat is full of flavour, but also full of tough fibres and sinew that require slow cooking to break them down. The last time we had ox cheek we went for a traditional beef and ale stew but tonight I fancied something a bit different, so I raided the fridge for inspiration.

The usual suspects were there but tucked at the bottom of the salad crisper was a piece of ginger.  That was when I decided to try a Chinese inspired stew.  Onions, garlic, red chilli and the ginger softened in vegetable oil, formed the base of the stew.  The browned ox cheek was added along with light and dark soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sweetened vinegar sauce, five spice, szechuan peppercorns and some stock.  The stew was then left to simmer on a low heat for three hours.

The finished stew was superb.  The liquid had reduced down into a sticky sauce, thickened by the natural collagen from the cheeks.  The sweetness from the vinegar sauce balanced the saltiness of the soy, and the heat from the chili, szechuan peppercorns and ginger grew with every bite, without ever becoming overpowering.

The thing with cheeks is you only get two of them on any animal.  To my mind this should make them an expensive rarity, but as with most of the slow cook cuts they're relatively cheap.  We found our ox cheeks at Oakwood Farmers Market and we'll be looking for them again.

*Apart from the talking of course.