Thursday, 29 March 2012

Steak and Chips

Since the arrival of our son some 18 months ago our ability to eat out at night has been somewhat hampered.  We still manage to sneak in the odd pub meal but these tend to be Saturday or Sunday lunches and not nights out.  The reason for the lack of blog action these last few days is that we are currently on holiday in Edinburgh, visiting my Mum, and I've tried to keep as far away from technology as possible.

We have still been eating well; salmon in soy and ginger, baked piri piri chicken and a massive take-away curry to name a few meals.  Tonight, however, Mum has volunteered to babysit so that Z and I can go out for a pre-anniversary meal.  The last few times we have been up to Edinburgh we have been eating our way around the mini-chain of The Dogs restaurants and tonight we have finally been able to complete the set, with a meal at Amore Dogs.

Amore, as you can probably tell, is an Italian restaurant.  Its laid back atmosphere, plastic jugs of water and images of dogs all over the place, all help to remind you that you are only downstairs from the original The Dogs, which is a modern British bistro.

As it's a special occasion* I did what most right minded men do.  I ordered a steak, although I wasn't daft enough to order the t-bone.  The sirloin marinaded in garlic and rosemary was great.  Z had pasta with a duck sauce which didn't quite hit the mark but the tomato salad that she ordered to go with it was great.

Hopefully Tonight's Menu will get back on track once we're back home.

*it'll be our 8th wedding anniversary in a couple of days.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Beetroot and Goat's Cheese Salad

We had a lovely day today wandering around Local4Lent, a food and craft event that took place in Leeds Corn Exchange.  We always go to these events looking for inspiration for our evening meal and today was no exception.  The deciding factor for Tonight's Menu however, was not found on the food stalls, but was decided upon after stopping for lunch and possibly over-eating, a bit.

We went to The White Swan, next to The City Varieties for lunch, as we knew it was baby friendly.  Rather than choosing sandwiches or something from their light bites menu we ended up with burgers*, which might not have been the best idea as we were stuffed by the time we had finished.

We decided that a salad and some nice bread was the only thing that we all wanted after the large lunch, and as we were in the Corn Exchange anyway,  I popped to Anthony's Fromagerie and Bakery for bread and cheese.  I have an admission to make at this point, I can't for the life of me remember the name for the cheese that I bought.  I know it was a British goat's cheese and I know I'd recognise it if I found it again but that's about all I can tell you.

To go with the cheese, I roasted some beetroot, crushed some walnuts and made a dressing using pumpkin oil.  The salad leaves included some rocket from our front garden which has bounced back from last year in all of this unseasonally nice weather.

For desert, Z and her Mum had brownies from #brownies which they bought at Local4Lent.  Washed down with chocolate wine.  I don't have much of a sweet tooth so I didn't partake, but I'm told they were great.

*I had the falafel burger which was brilliant!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Turkey and Spinach Korma

We have Z's Mum staying with us this week.  She's helping with childcare/toddler wrangling while we pack up the entire ground floor of our house.  In return for all the help that she's giving us we're paying in food and drink.  Having a third person to cook for is no hardship, it's only a little bit more food.  It also means that you need to consider the other person's food preferences which is a good workout for the internal recipe book.

Z's Mum is not a big red meat eater, so white meat and vegetarian cooking is on the menu tonight and tomorrow.  Tonight, as it's Friday night, I cooked a curry but rather than using the ubiquitous chicken, I cooked turkey instead.

The curry was a nice quick one to make.  Onions and garlic were fried before the spices were added, with a splash of water to stop them from burning.  Then the turkey was added along with a tin of coconut milk.  After simmering for a few minutes add some pre-cooked spinach and a bunch of chopped coriander and serve.  We had chapatis and basmati rice.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Toulouse Sausage and Bean Casserole

Sausage casserole is fast turning into a house standby.  The main reason for this is the huge variety in the meals that you end up eating due to the huge variety of sausages that are available to us.  At its heart, a sausage casserole is bangers, onions, beans and stock.  Whether you use chorizo or cumberland sausages is up to you, it's your imagination which makes the difference.

Possibly the most famous sausage casserole is the French Cassoulet and that is what I recreated for tonight's menu.  I bought a packet of Sainsbury's* Toulouse inspired pork sausages especially for this but you can use whatever you have.  They were cooked together with some bacon, onions, carrots, butter beans and stock for about an hour and served with a green salad.  Bon appetit.

*other supermarkets are available, as are local independent shops and markets.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Conchiglie with Broccoli

There aren't many food rules that I abide to and there are a few that I take great pleasure in breaking.  My favourite "rule break" is putting the wrong sauce with the wrong pasta shape.  The idea of having multiple packets of pasta on the go at the same time just in case I fancied a creamy sauce rather than a tomato sauce one night is baffling.  I am, however, willing to try new recipes when they present themselves.

In the interest of not cutting my nose off to spite my face, I try to buy a different pasta shape whenever I run out.  This time I have ended up with Conchiglie, or shells depending on how poncey you choose to be.  I received The Geometry of Pasta book last Christmas, which is an encyclopaedia of which sauce to cook for which pasta.  I duly turned to it to see what it recommended.

I was expecting a snail ragu, or a chunky sauce that would catch in the pasta, so imagine my surprise when the book suggested a simple sauce of romanesco broccoli.  We didn't have a romanesco but we did have a standard broccoli so we substituted that instead.  You can find the full recipe here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Steak and Guinness Pie Revisited

Just a quick post tonight as we're eating the remains of the pie that we cooked for St. Patrick's Day.  We're even having it with similar accompaniments only served slightly differently.  The pie was warmed in the oven, wrapped up in tinfoil to make sure that the pastry didn't burn.  Tonight's potato and cabbage were boiled and steamed respectively and the whole lot was served with onion gravy.

As leftovers go, the pie was great.  The filling had improved the way that stew or curry made a couple of days ago does and the pastry hadn't gone soggy!  The down side was I'd completely run out of Guinness.  Still, you can't have everything.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Simple Paella

You may, or may not have noticed a couple of my favourite foods include anything Spanish and risotto.  The simple paella that I cooked for tonight's menu combines the two.

Start by frying finely chopped onions and celery in olive oil until soft then add your rice.  If you can get hold of some, use Spanish rice.  It is a short grain rice, like arborio, but it doesn't leach out as much starch during cooking so you end up with a much cleaner dish.  Once the rice is coated in the oil add chopped garlic and chorizo.  Stir this briefly so that the flavours start to mingle and the oils start to come out of the chorizo before adding peppers and stock.

So far this is very similar to how I make a risotto and it's where the two take separate paths.  With a risotto you stand over the pan, lovingly stirring and gradually adding more and more stock as each ladle-full is absorbed.  This is the secret to a really creamy risotto.  With paella you add all of the stock in one go and then leave the pan alone.  The next time you stir the paella will be moments before you serve it.

As with most dishes there are purists that will tell you that paella needs a raft of ingredients before it can truly be called a paella. These range from chicken, rabbit and snails to prawns, mussels and squid.  Personally, I'd be happy with any of the above but tonight I have none of them. Tonight I have good bread, good wine and good company.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Chilli Pork with Potato Wedges

I've had a cracking day with my family today.  A leisurely breakfast and church visit for Mothering Sunday, where Z was given a bunch of daffodils.  We then shared a smoked haddock and spinach tart before going up to Golden Acre Park for a lung-busting leg stretch.

We'd bought a backpack style baby carrier at Christmas and so far only used it once, so today was the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl.  At first R wasn't too keen on the carrier, but he soon got into the swing of things and thoroughly enjoyed all of the dogs that were also out for a walk.

But enough of this idyllic family scene I'm painting, what about the evening meal?  Well, on top of everything else we are currently having a freezer clear out due to some immanent DIY, so tonight's menu was inspired by the pack of minced pork that was lurking at the back of the increasingly empty meat drawer.

We haven't had a chilli for a while and we decided to keep tonight's version it a bit lighter than our usual chilli con carne.  We omitted the kidney beans and added extra carrots and celery to the mince, onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes and spices.  After a couple of hours simmering, chopped coriander was added before serving with potato wedges that were roasted in goose fat.  What mother could say no to that lot?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Steak and Guinness Pie

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I know I'm not Irish but when has that ever stopped anybody from enjoying a drop of the black stuff on 17th March?  It has also given us the chance to make a pie.  We are pastry mad in this house.  Any excuse for a pie, flan, tart, pasty or vol-au-vent is grabbed with gusto.  This normally turns into a lunch dish or a dessert so a full pie for an evening meal is great news.

Such is our passion for pies we have discussed at length what constitutes the perfect pie.  This conversation normally takes place in a pub after a less than perfect example has been served.  A stew with a pastry lid is not a pie.  A pastry base with no lid is not a pie.  You need a bottom, top and sides before you can claim to have made a pie*.  This is when we start getting serious.  My ideal pie has a short crust base and a puff pastry lid.  The base is blind baked so that it doesn't go soggy, the filling is piled in and lovely flaky lid is added.

Our filling of braising steak, onions, celery, mushrooms and Guinness, was pre-cooked.  I know a true pie should all be cooked together but it's my kitchen and therefore my rules.  Once cooked, we served our pie with colcannon for that added nod to St. Patrick.

*There are of course exceptions that prove the rule, these include a fish pie, shepherd's pie or cottage pie.  For some reason these mashed potato topped cuddles in a dish, pass the pie test by being furthest from the definition.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Full English Breakfast

...or I've Not Eaten Since Breakfast.

I've been covering for a member of staff for the last couple of weeks while they recover from surgery.  It's not overly serious, but I wish them a speedy recovery so that I can put these early starts behind me.

To try to regain some bounce and energy to get me through the rest of the last day of the week, I treated myself to a full English from the new cafe that has opened at work this week.  I realised my mistake when the plate turned up.  Far from replacing the spring that was missing from my step, the bulging plate more or less me flattened me.

The food was great, nice bangers, well cooked bacon, a fried egg with runny yolk and a couple of slices of toast that you could use as emergency snow shoes.  To my credit, I finished the lot*.  However, the breakfast has robbed me of my appetite.  I had planned to have a tuna nicoise salad this evening, as Z is out partying with the girls, but I can't even face that.  I think we'll call it a score draw.

*I've never knowingly been beaten by a fry-up.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Lemon Sole in Beer with Samphire

This afternoon I had the dubious honour of attending a networking event for work.  I say dubious because I often find these events to be full of the kind of business people that I would normally avoid and certainly not do business with. The professional "networker" is a self assure business card pushing be-suited egotist that wouldn't look out of place on The Apprentice*.  Today's event wasn't like that at all.

Firstly, the event was aimed at community organisations.  I was probably the only person in the room wearing a tie but that's just how I roll.  Secondly, this wasn't the kind of networking where you press business cards into as many hands as possible.  This was an exchange of information about groups doing good and interesting things around Leeds.  The final positive from the meeting was its venue, the new meeting room in Leeds Kirkgate Market.

I deliberately set off from work a little early so that I could get some shopping in before the meeting started.  I was in a fishy mood so I wandered up and down fish row looking for inspiration.  I almost bought some razor clams but then I saw a huge pile of samphire and I changed tack.

I'd never eaten samphire before so I wanted it to be the star of the show.  My original thought for the razor clams was to fry them with chorizo but I thought this would be a bit overpowering for the samphire.  I decided on lemon sole as is has a lovely delicate flavour.  I poached the fish in beer** and made a light butter sauce with the reduced liquid.  I was stunned by just how salty the samphire was.  I cooked it in boiling water for just 3 minutes and I'll be doing so again.

*I do not watch The Apprentice but as we are force-fed the "news" from the show, as if it was important to my day to day life, I have managed to form a very strong opinion on both the show and the people on it.
**I used Budvar, but any pilsner or light trappist beer would make a great sauce.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Guinea Fowl Risotto

It's a tradition, or an old charter or something, that there are leftovers from your Sunday Lunch.  What you do with them is the interesting bit.  I love slices of roast beef reheated in gravy and served with mash.  I adore roast chicken, stuffing and salad sandwiches, with butter not margarine! 

The leftovers from this weeks Sunday lunch were destined to be a risotto.  There is something about risotto that manages to centre me.  I've cooked so many of them that I can relax into the process and, without much thought, turn out a great dish.

Because the star of tonight's risotto was a real star, roast guinea fowl, I kept the rest of the dish quite simple.  Onions and celery formed the base of the risotto with a glass of white wine and plenty of stock.  To add a bit of colour and freshness I also added frozen peas.  Z had lunch at Dock Street Market today and, luckily for me, brought home one of the Riverside Sourdough Bakeries loaves.  The bread and a glass of wine really made the dish a meal.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Lambwors and chips

Z is having a well deserved pamper night at one of her friends' house.  This has given me carte blanche on what I'm eating this evening.  When we first met, way back in September 1995, Z was vegetarian.  Therefore my Z-not-at-home-meal was invariably steak and chips* just to redress the red meat balance.  These days, with Z's return to an omnivorous state, I can have steak whenever I like, within reason.

I now favour lamb when Z isn't around, or when I can find it on a decent restaurant menu.  This is because lamb is the last vestige of Z's vegetarianism, so we don't eat it that often.  In fact this is the first time I've eaten lamb since starting Tonight's Menu.

I bought the Lambwors on a recent trip to Leeds Kirkgate Market.  There is a cracking South African butcher on Butchers Row who I have bought boerewors from in the past.  I'm always intrigued by their ever increasing range so when I saw that they had started making a lamb version I was in.  Knowing that I'd be on eating them on my own I only bought a short length of sausage.  I then froze and forgot about them until today.

Being home alone for the evening I have let my foodie** pretensions slip.  There is something very satisfying about a huge pile of skinny chips, a large pile of dressed salad and some spicy meat.  To make sure I wasn't being a complete slob I knocked up a yoghurt and harissa dressing which was cooling and hot at the same time.

*assuming I had some cash, more often than not it would have been a shonky pasta dish but would have been craving steak.
**I really do not like the term foodie. I prefer the term "passionate about food" or "always hungry"

Monday, 12 March 2012

Rigatoni with Anchovies and Olives

When I asked Z what she wanted to eat tonight I wasn't expecting to hear "we should really do something with all of those olives."  I'll be honest, I hadn't noticed that we had accumulated a glut of them.  We nearly always have a jar of them in the fridge for salads and sauces but they don't often get the staring role in a dish.

We considered a tuna nicoise style pasta sauce but then I noticed some other jars of antipasti that were screaming out to be enjoyed.  Crushed garlic, anchovies, the olives and some sun-dried tomatoes were fried off in some olive oil.  Cooked pasta was added before more oil and some chilli flakes.  I can't remember cooking a more flavour packed or simpler pasta sauce.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Roast Guinea Fowl

When we woke up this morning we already knew what we were cooking for this evening's meal.  The ingredients had been sourced and bought.  We had even considered the timings so that everything was ready at the same time*.  We then realised that we had got the date wrong and promptly shelved our plans for another week.

This left us with a bit of a dilemma and me with a fun chore on my hands; what to have for tea?  I already needed to go to the supermarket for the weekly "big shop" so an additional item was added to the list, a question mark.

Wandering up and down the brightly lit aisles of goodies is one of my guilty little pleasures.  I know I bang on about my dislike of the supermarkets and the strangle hold they have over independent shops, but my desire to shop for fun ingredients, the chance of food bargains and the convenience, keeps me coming back.

The one thing I knew was that we had some carrots in the fridge that needed to form part of the meal.  I decided there and then that they would be a side dish for a roast of some kind but I wasn't sure what bit of what animal would be the centre piece.  Looking for a flash of inspiration I perused the butchers counter.  I may as well have stuck my head in a cardboard box.  It was lunchtime on a Sunday and all that was left was a couple of small chops and some sausages that were looking rather sorry for themselves.

I headed down the meat aisle to be met by more disappointment, clearly this was the wrong time to be buying meat.  Then I remembered that at the far end of the aisle was the game section.  There is always an abundance of meat here.  I don't know if it's the price that puts people off buying game, or whether people are just not sure about eating meat that isn't chicken, beef, pork or lamb.

Either way, I found and bought a whole Guinea Fowl, took it home and got to cooking.  I did nothing fancy with the Guinea Fowl, other than resting it on a bed of onions before roasting it.  The juices from the bird mingled with the onions to make a lovely gravy.  I served it with some boiled potatoes, steamed greens and the carrots, which were mashed together with swede as the second veg.  For the record the bird only cost £5.  There was plenty for all three of us and we have leftovers for later on in the week.  It was as easy to cook as a chicken so I'm still no clearer as to why people don't eat more game.

*this is one of the true tricks of looking like you know what you are doing in the kitchen.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Leeds Pork Pie Challenge

It is National Pie Week this week and in a moment of madness I asked my friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter who sold the best pork pies in Leeds.  The response I got was staggering.  Even discounting the pie shops and butchers from Doncaster, Bradford and Pontefract, I received recommendations for 11 different pie-men within the Leeds postal district.

I realised, after Z pointed out the obvious, that getting around all of these shops in one go would take hours and leave us with far too many pies to eat in one sitting.  I jettisoned the shops in Otley, Wetherby and Garforth from my list and set off around Leeds.

The six pies I ended up with were from:

Wilson's, Queen Street, Morley
Stephenson's, Lower Wortley Road, Wortley
Bentley's, Robin Lane, Pudsey
Costelloe's, North Lane, Headingley
Haley and Clifford, Street Lane, Roundhay
The Little Yorkshire Pie Company, Kirkgate Market, Leeds

Obviously I knew which pie was which, so Z stepped in to act as the control judge as we nibbled our way through a pie heavy lunch.  In an attempt to be vaguely scientific we decided to judge the pies on the following criteria; the pie's appearance, the quantity and distribution of the filling, the quality of the pastry, and most importantly the overall flavour of the filling itself.

On looks alone, the pies from Wilson's, Haley's and The Yorkshire Pie Co. took a three way lead into round 2.  None of the pies looked properly hand raised, which would have been my preference but that clearly isn't the Yorkshire way.  To my surprise only a couple of the pies contained any trace of jelly when we cut them open.  I'm going to put that down to undercooked pastry that soaked it up after it was added rather than it not being there at all.

The Pastries were a mixed bag and this was where we could start to separate the men from the boys.  The pie from Costelloe's just wasn't that good.  I didn't have high expectations when I bought it and those expectations were met.  The real disappointment was from Bentley's.  A traditional butchers who make the pies on the premises.  I'd had high hopes but they were shattered by an unappetising looking pie that didn't look any better once cut open.  There wasn't much filling to talk about and the pastry tasted overcooked.  The pie itself was ok once you got it into your mouth but by then the damage had been done.

In joint 3rd place were the pies from Stephenson's and The Little Yorkshire Pie company.  Both had their merits but were ultimately beaten by better pies.  That left two.  Judging by the sheer number of recommendations I'd received, I was not surprised at all that Wilson's had made the final.  It is a great pie but on the day it was beaten by the pie from Haley and Clifford by a single point.  On analysis it boiled down to the flavour of the filling.  The pie from Haley's had a more robust, almost bacony, flavour and was very well seasoned too.

Back Row L-R: Wilson's, Stephenson's, Bentley's. Front Row L-R: Costelloe's, Haley & Clifford, Little Yorkshire Pie

So that's that then.  Well not quite.  There was one vital piece of information that I had withheld from Z, the price of the pies.  When I told Z that the winning pie cost more than twice the price of the second place pie she started to have doubts.  There is no questioning the result as it stood but we both wondered if we could recommend that you spend your hard earned money on an expensive pie when you could save money and have a great pie at the same time.

So, in a Top Gear style bombshell reveal, I'm not going to suggest that you hunt out the winning pie.  Leeds, I give you Wilson's Pork Pie.  They do make a really good pie and it wont hurt your wallet.  There is the added advantage that there are a number of Wilson's stores around Leeds so you needn't go all the way to Morley from Shadwell to get one.

For the record, my favourite pie was the one from Stephenson's in Wortley and if I'd been judging alone the results would have been different but that's why I roped Z into the taste off.  No doubt your taste in pies is different too.  Wherever you buy your pies this week just remember one thing, don't forget the mushy peas.

Pumpkin Enchilladas with a Mole Sauce

When flicking through our folder of recipes, looking for the carbonara one, I fell across a recipe that I had printed out in 2004 and had never cooked, Pumpkin Enchilladas with Mole Sauce.  As we were pre-armed with chilli chocolate jam, now seamed like the perfect time to try it out.

An additional reason for choosing this particular meal for tonight's menu was our visitor for the evening.  Kato is a rising star of the Leeds Music scene and a vegetarian.  I have nothing against either of these traits, in fact I'm quite envious of at least one of them.  We don't eat meat for every meal but I wouldn't choose a life without bacon.  I would love to be more musical than I am.  I own two guitars and a ukulele but can only just manage to knock out a tune on them if Jupiter is in alignment with Uranus.

I am however, more than capable of following a recipe and altering it as I go along.  The stuffing for the enchilladas was so simple to make.  I mixed a tin of refried beans with three small roasted butternut squash and added some chilli and fresh coriander.  The mixture was then stuffed into tortillas and baked.  The mole sauce had a base of fried onion and a tin of tomatoes into which I added half jar of The Chilli Jam Man's chocolate jam.  This is then blended and reheated before pouring it over the enchilladas.  The full original recipe by Simon Rimmer can be found here.

As we had a guest, Z decided to make dessert.  Cooking carbonara earlier in the week had left us with a surfeit of egg whites so Z rolled up her sleeves and cracked on with her first attempt at a pavlova.  With rhubarb season in full flow Z managed my trick of buying far too much from Leeds Market. She roasted it with sugar and stem ginger syrup and served it piled on top of the meringue with yoghurt instead of cream.  It was great but we'll be eating rhubarb for a week.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Aloo Gobi

Tonight's Friday Night Take-away inspiration came, not from the raft of menus that clutter our welcome mat on a regular basis, but from the bottom of our fridge.  We'd bought and completely forgotten about a cauliflower at the weekend and it was screaming out to be used.  A curry seemed the obvious option.

I started the curry by frying mustard seeds in oil until they popped before adding onions and garlic.  Once they were starting to brown I added coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder and a splash of water so that the spices didn't burn.  As soon as the onions were coated in the spice mix I added the potatoes, cauliflower and a little vegetable stock.  The curry was ready as soon as the potatoes were cooked.  For a change we had chapatis with the curry and a beer or two of course.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Irish Cheese at Homage 2 Fromage

This morning, over a huge mug of black coffee, Z gave me a present.  This was completely out of the blue.  It's not my birthday for an other month, our wedding anniversary is also in April, and there are no Hallmark holidays knocking around at the moment.

Z, bless her, had bought me membership for Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' very own cheese club.  I've been going to the monthly cheese tasting nights for a couple of months but I was in two minds about becoming a fully paid up member.  Even though the perks of memberships are good (discounts at some of the finest cheese emporiums in Leeds and cheap entry to the cheese nights themselves) I wasn't sure I wanted to make the commitment.  Fortunately Z knows me better than I know myself.

I happily walked into town with my new membership card in-tow, not really knowing what to expect from Irish cheese.  I was in for an eye watering treat.  My limited experience of Irish cheese in the past was some rather disappointing cheddar.  Tonight none of the past rubberiness was on display.  Vickie and Nick (the grand fromages) managed to source four fantastic cheeses including; Cashel Blue, Gubbeen - a soft and mild cows milk cheese washed in wine, and Boilie - small balls of goats cheese which are stored in oil with garlic and herbs. 

The fourth cheese falls into the "cheese-gimmick" category.  It was a Porter cheese made with Irish stout.  I'm not keen on cheese with *insert non cheese item here* at the best of times.  Often it's fruit and I tend to avoid it as I'm always disappointed.  But I was here to taste cheese so I gave it a go.  The cheese itself was inoffensive, a mild cheddar stained brown with the stout.  My biggest problem with this type of cheese is that the balance is never right.  The stout needed to be much more prominent and in your face, this in turn would require a more robust cheese, but then I am no cheese maker.

Fortunately, Richard Bissett from Cooleeney IS a cheese maker.  He brought three cheeses with him for us to try tonight.  Durrus and Gortnamona were both great cheeses, Durrus was probably my favourite cheese of the night.  But the one that everybody was talking about come the end of the night was Cooleeney Farm House cheese.  I'm not sure what it was that made it so magical.  It was so soft it should have been melted but it was fresh from the pack.  The rind was reminiscent of camembert without being quite so pungent and the cheese itself so was beautifully creamy.  The fact that it almost ran off the biscuits added an extra bit of fun and jeopardy to the evening.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Tagliatelle Carbonara

Whilst flicking through our folder of recipes* last night, looking for the Moroccan Chicken recipe, I came across yet another household favourite, carbonara.  I've loved this creamy, cheesy pasta sauce since well before I left home.  Admittedly the first time I had carbonara it was from a jar and there is still a place for the cook-in sauce.  That place just isn't my kitchen

The recipe I unearthed was a James Martin one from UKTV Food.  Cook your pasta as normal and fry off some bacon in a separate pan.  Once these are cooked, crack on with the sauce.  In a bowl mix together 150ml of double cream, grated parmesan, lots of black pepper and parsley.  Then beat in five egg yolks!

Once the pasta is drained stir it through the bacon and then, off the heat, stir in the egg and cream mix.  The residual heat will be more than enough to cook out the sauce and there is no danger of the eggs scrambling.  Just in case there aren't enough calories on your plate grate over some more cheese.  This is pure luxury on a plate.

*I know that I keep banging on about not following recipes but everybody starts somewhere and we have had this folder for about 16 years.  It contains hand written notes, photocopies and screen grabs from the internet.  Most of them are grubby and look worse for wear.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Moroccan Chicken

Since I started writing Tonight's Menu, I have learnt a couple of things about my eating habits and preferences.  Firstly, it turns out that we eat a lot of chicken.  If you look down the list of links at the side of the page you'll see that chicken has far and away the most posts.  We only eat free range birds.  We buy them whole and butcher them at home so that we have portions ready for any occasion.

Secondly, I have realised that I am really into Moorish cooking and flavours.  I already knew that I liked Spanish food, but I hadn't really considered the extent of its roots or how often I want to eat something inspired by the flavours of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

In the warmer months we eat a lot of warm salads and spiced grilled meat for our evening meals but the spices that the Moors introduced to Spain are great for winter warmers.  Tonight we revisited a recipe that we have had knocking around since our early university days, Moroccan Chicken.

Chicken legs work wonderfully in this one pot dish which is handy as that was all that was in the freezer.  We didn't have all of the actual ingredients to hand so we improvised a little.  A sliced onion, a couple of carrots cut into batons, a couple of cloves of garlic and the chicken are placed into a pan along with half a pint of stock (chicken or veg).  A teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chilli add the spicy kick and a tablespoon of honey adds a mellow sweetness.  After 25 minutes simmering I added a tin of blackeye peas and some chopped parsley and let it cook for 10 more minutes.

In the recipe the carrots are courgettes, added for the last 10 minutes.  The blackeye peas are meant to be chickpeas.  Neither of these forced changes made the finished meal any less enjoyable.  In fact the carrots added an additional sweetness to the honey so I'll probably add them in next time and make a note in our recipe book.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Piri Piri Pork Chops with Savoury Rice

Last week I made piri piri chicken for our Friday Night Take-away.  It was great but it has left me with a jar of marinade sat in the fridge.  Although I could quite happily tuck into spicy chicken on a regular basis, we don't happen to have any more chicken in the house.  What we do have is a couple of pork chops.

To my mind the largest piri piri franchise in Britain are missing a trick.  I've often wondered why the chain in question don't serve free range chicken.  I have even asked this of an employee and the response, straight out of the corporate feed was "we sell too much chicken to use free range."  I pondered at the time why they didn't use other meat, as well as chicken, to ensure that the highest animal welfare was maintained.  The answer was along the lines of "because we do chicken".  I've not been back since.

Our chops were marinated for a couple of hours and then grilled.  This is exactly the same process I would use for chicken.  In an ideal world I be slapping the meat on a barbecue but we don't have the space outside.  Savoury rice is a really simple accompaniment.  Fried vegetables, what ever you have to hand, are stirred through boiled long grain rice.  We had sweet peppers, spring onions, peas and sweetcorn.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Beef Stew

As it's the weekend we decided that a long slow cook would give us the most family time and require the least time at the stove.  It also meant that I could spend a bit more time knocking our house about.  Having lived in it for over 10 years we are now trying to give our house its Victorian charm back.  The latest challenge is reinstating the fireplace in the living room and striping back the floorboards. But this is a food blog not a DIY blog so I'll move on.

To give us the required time to get on with things we decided on a beef stew.  As usual we didn't have a recipe to hand but we did have a pack of Swillington Farm braising steak, onions and celery.  The only decision to be made was, what liquid to cook the meat in.  I fancied Guinness but Z rightly pointed out that St Patrick's Day is around the corner so we skipped that one.

In the end a bottle of red wine ended up in the stew along with some carrots for extra bulk.  We dusted the beef in flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and mustard powder, before frying it off.  It helps to thicken and season the final stew and takes so little time that it's definitely worth doing.  After three and a half hours we served the stew with steamed broccoli and boiled potatoes.

I will not be doing a post tomorrow (Sunday 4th March 2012) as we are going to a friend's dedication party.  Normal service will be resumed on Monday.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Yorkshire Chicken Mole

I go to an awful lot of food events these days.  Fares, markets, festivals, you name it.  If it's within easy reach I'll try my hardest to be in attendance.  I may well be reaching my tolerance of cupcake stalls at these events however.  I know they are going to be good, but there are now so many "Professional" cupcakeists out there that I can no longer tell one from another.  It's particularly galling when you have multiples at the same festival.

Duplication happens all to often.  It is not the fault of the vendor, they apply for a stall and their money is duly taken.  The blame (if there is any to apportion) needs to lie at the feet of the organisers.  I'm not claiming to be able to do any better but variety is the spice of life.  If was attending a chutney fair I'd expect wall-to-wall chutney but a food and drink festival should have variety at its forefront.

Last weekend's Wakefield Food, Drink and Rhubarb festival was over-run with cupcake, fudge and pork pie stalls.  Much more variety was needed to make me want to go again next year.  If there had been one cake stall or one pie stall I might have felt inclined to buy some.  Unfortunately, and very out of character, I wasn't in the market for pork pies.  One of my other destinations in Wakefield was Hofmann and Sons butchers.  I had been tipped off that their pies were worth the train fare alone.

The pies were good, but they were secondary to the main reason for getting the train to Wakefield.  At a food event in Leeds last year I had tried a spicy chocolate orange jam and was bowled over by it.  I found out about the Wakefield festival from The Chilli Jam Man, the person behind this incredible jar of joy.  As soon as I knew he was in attendance we had to go so that I could share the flavour of the chocolate sauce with Z.

Tonight is the first time we have cooked with it and we kept it simple so the flavours would shine.  We coated chicken breasts with the chocolate orange chilli jam and roasted them.  We served them with a warm salsa of peppers, onions and tomatoes.  If you haven't tried a chocolate mole before this is the simplest way in.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Welsh Dragon Sausages and Mash - Happy St David's Day

There are some things in life that it is perfectly acceptable to have favourites of.  Favourite football team: Leeds United.  Favourite graphic artist: Pete Fowler.  Favourite holiday destination: Barcelona.  There are other things where favouritism can be a bit more tricky.  You shouldn't really have a favourite child* and you certainly shouldn't have a favourite parent's nationality.

My Dad was Scottish and my Mum is Welsh.  The 5 Nations (now 6) always brought raised national pride especially between my Dad and Granddad.  I always felt torn between the two and see myself as half Scottish and half Welsh.  The only time I don't want either team to win is when they play each other.

My spilt-national-personality does come with its advantages.  I celebrate an extended number of national days.  Already this year we've toasted Robbie Burns with a haggis supper and today we're celebrating St David, the patron saint of Wales.

On a recent trip to an other one of my favourites, B&J Callard butchers on Leeds Kirkgate Market, I found Welsh Dragon Sausages**.  I duly bought half a dozen and put them aside for tonight.  Simply grilled and served with mashed potatoes they make a great mid week treat.  To make the meal that little bit more Welsh I added fried leeks to the mash. Mwynhewch eich bwyd!

*unless you only have one in which case it should be that one. 
**the sausages contain NO dragon.  There was a case in 2006 where Powys trading standards asked a butcher to re-label his Welsh Dragon Sausages, not because they didn't contain dragon but because it was too ambiguous that they contained meat.  The ingredients stated the per cent of pork that was in the sausage but that wasn't good enough for the man from the council. "I don't think anyone would imagine that dragon meat was being used but we would not want vegetarians to buy the sausages believing they were meat free."