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 ÂșCelsius. 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.