Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Tanzania - Duck Dar es Salaam

The next stop on Tonight's Menu's round the world tour, as part of the Olympic Food Challenge, brings us to Tanzania.  More specifically the city of Dar es Salaam.  Dar es Salaam was the capital city of Tanzania until 1974 when that honour was passed to Dodoma.  Even though it is no longer the capital it is still the centre of power and home of the Tanzanian Government*.

Duck Dar es Salaam is a dish which is served whenever there are special guests to entertain.  There's only Z and I eating tonight, but we're special enough.  The recipe I found states that curry powder is optional, but to my mind without it, all we're having is braised duck.  I did a little more research and discovered that the standard mix of spices for the region contains equal measures of cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and dried chilli flakes.

The spices are fried with some onion and chopped tomatoes until the vegetables are soft and the aromas of the curry powder fill the room.  The duck (we used duck legs, not a whole duckling cut into portions) was then added to the pan until it took on a little colour.  A litre of water was then added to the pan and it was left to simmer for half an hour.  At that point I added half a green plantain and half a yellow plantain.  We'd never had plantain before, so I wanted to see what they tasted like and what the differences in texture were.  With this in mind I also fried some of the green and yellow plantains as a taste comparison. 

The duck was served with cabbage braised in beef stock with plenty of black pepper.  The duck was superb and the mixture of spices in the curry powder was both earthy and fresh.  The braised cabbage was wonderful as well.  The only problem was the plantain.  The yellow plantain was better fried and the green plantain worked better cooked in the sauce but neither added anything to the meal.  I suppose a continent of people can't all be wrong but if I'm adding a starch to a dish in future it won't resemble a banana.  I will however, be coming back to the duck and cabbage and my new found love of braising.

*if your not sure how that works just imagine Leeds as the capital of England, with the Houses of Parliament still where they are in Westminster. Sounds good to me!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Russia - Russian-style Kohlrabi

Unlike most of the countries I drew for the Olympic Food Challenge, Russia gave me quite a peculiar problem.  The internet is literally awash with recipes for Russian food.  In the end, time and my ludicrously low boredom threshold, forced my hand.  I targeted the BBC and Good Food websites to see what I could find.  What I came up with was Russian-style Kohlrabi.  I cannot comment on how Russian this dish is but as we love kohlrabi, there was no way that we were not going to cook it.

Our love of kohlrabi came from the allotment.  We only wanted to grow unusual vegetables and odd varieties of veg that you can't buy in the shops.  I had never had kohlrabi before, but as soon as I saw the seed packet, complete with picture of a turnip crossed with Sputnik, I knew we had to grow some.  Our first attempt wasn't great but the few kohlrabi that did germinate were wonderful, nutty and sweet, somewhere between and apple and a turnip and good both raw and cooked.  We've since had more success growing our own (at one point we were growing multiple varieties) but since R entered our lives, allotment time has been limited so tonight's kohlrabi are shop bought.

The cubed and blanched kohlrabi are gently fried with a softened onion and some bacon and finished with paprika and caraway seeds.  What is there not to like about a recipe that simple?  I was wondering if this should be a side dish, but for the life of me, having eaten it, I can't decide what it would go best on the side of.  That said, I'm stuffed.  Two kohlrabi, a couple of rashers of bacon and half an onion for two greedy adults doesn't sound a lot, but it was surprisingly filling and very tasty.

The only additions were some soured cream and a few hunks of rye bread.  I have a funny feeling the next time I eat this it will be accompanied with a raging hangover.  Every hangover needs bacon*.  The kohlrabi has a mild buttery flavour when boiled but is more complex than potatoes would be and no hangover is complete without some smoky heat from paprika.

Oh, in case you were wondering, Russia are bound to do really well at the Olympics. They always do!

*apart from the vegetarian ones

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Afghanistan - Lawang with Qorma e Sabzi

I was having a whale of a time when I was carrying out the draw for the Olympic Food Challenge.  That was until I drew Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan for myself.  All I knew about these countries was what is reported in the news and a smattering of their histories.  Sadly most of my knowledge was all war related and in no way culinary.

More time was spent researching these countries than any of the others.  A lot of websites seem to have exactly the same recipies with the same spelling mistakes and the same lack of inspiration.  Finally I stumbled on the blog of Humaira, an Afghanistani living in America.  Humaira and her friend Katie have spent a long time recreating the dishes of Humaira's birthplace and have even won awards for their dumplings.

Having read through most of the food pages on their blog* I decided to pair a couple of the dishes for tonight's meal.  Lawang is a braised chicken curry with turmeric as the lead flavour.  I thought it would go very well with Qorma e Sabzi.  Qormas (korma) are at the heart of Afghani cookery.  I was really taken by the idea of a huge pile of this aromatic spiced spinach curry, even though the ingredient list included frozen spinach.  I can only assume that this is an american twist on the original recipe.  Both dishes were superb, the spinach was really fresh and balanced wonderfully with the earthy tones of the chicken.  I was dubious about the frozen spinach but it worked and was a cheap way of generating a lot of tasty food so who am I to argue?

I'm certainly not going to argue with Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai.  Rohullah is aiming to get a second Olympic medal when he atempts to better his bronze medal from Bejing and win gold in taekwondo.  The taekwondo doesn't start until next week but until then I'll have happy memories of two new dishes that we'll definitely be cooking again.

*it is really well written and I kind of got drawn in to the stories as well as the recipies.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Marshall Islands - Macadamia Nut Pie

I know that we are four days into the Olympic Food Challenge now but today really was a challenge.  Finding recipes for the Marshal Islands was harder than finding hen's teeth or rocking horse droppings.  Tonight's Menu has always been about the main meal of the day in our house, the main course to be precise, but I really struggled to find anything other than this Macadamia Nut Pie recipe.  In fact, it turned up on more than one website so I'm fairly sure it's a real Marshalees recipe.

Having found the only recipe that was available to me, the next challenge was to work out when to cook it and what the actual main course would be.  That was when good fortune shined upon me.  I have cancelled all plans for doing anything and seeing anyone during the course of the Olympic Food Challenge.  It's not that I'm some kind of recluse but writing takes time and so does pulling together the posts from the other bloggers.  The only thing that hadn't been cancelled was a pub crawl in York for one of Z's colleague's 30th birthday.

But what better present for a 30 year old than a pie?  As none of us are as match fit as we used to be in the drinking steaks we only had three pubs on the list and we only made two of those.  We then returned to the birthday boy's house for more drinks and some food.  This is where the pie made its appearance.   There were a dozen of us including toddlers but I'm sure we could have saved some for Marshall Islands' four Olympians.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Argentina - Steak with Chimmichurri Sauce

Tonight for the Olympic Food Challenge I am cooking the only recipe that I have tested in advance, Steak with Chimmichurri Sauce.  Argentina and steak go together like Wenlock and Mandeville.  Such is the affinity between grilled beef and Argentina that a large number of Argentinian Steak Houses have sprung up around the globe.  I've eaten in such restaurants in Leeds, London and Amsterdam and seen them in most of the cities that I have visited.

I love steak.  Before Z changed her mind about vegetarianism it was my go to meal if I was eating alone or in a restaurant.  These days we eat steak at home for celebration meals, but the addition of the Argentinian sauce, chimmichurri, really lifts the meal to another level.  Back in May I discovered that there are as many recipes for chimmichurri as there are fish in the sea.  I chose what I thought was a good looking, yet basic recipe and made copious notes while we were eating.

Tonight I followed the annotated and food splattered list to make my own version of this classic sauce.  It is really simple to make too.  Onion, garlic, parsley, oil, vinegar and oregano are put into a blender and blitzed until a sauce is formed.  Our house recipe has about twice as much parsley as any I have seen but it works really well against the raw onion and garlic.  We had skinny chips and corn on the cob with our steak and settled down to watch the opening ceremony.  It looks like the Olympics have arrived.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Central African Republic - Fish and Greens with Fufu

Tonight's Olympic Food Challenge meal comes from Central African Republic (CAR).  CAR is a land locked country in the heart of Africa so I was surprised to find this recipe for Fish and Greens.  It turns out that meat is scarce in CAR, so freshwater fish is one of their main sources of protein.

Z has had a great day trawling around Kirkgate Market, looking for the ingredients for the next few days meals and picking the knowledgeable brains of the stall holders.  The recipe for Fish and Greens does not specify what fish to use.  Having consulted the staff at R Bethell's fishmongers Z decided to buy catfish.  We have never had catfish before but the jolly fishmonger assured Z that we should cook the head as well as the steaks so that's what we planned to do.

When we opened the bag of fish there was no head to be seen so we just cooked what we had*.  The catfish skin was salted** and then fried in more oil than I would normally use.  Onions and garlic were added next and softened.  The final ingredients were a tin of tomatoes, spinach and seasoning.  The whole lot was simmered until cooked.

We served the fish with another first for tonight, the African staple, Fufu.  Traditionally, fufu is made of cooked cassava, yams or plantains which are pounded until they form a firm dough.  The staff at Spice Corner suggested that a packet of plantain fufu, made the same way as polenta, would be acceptable and much less time consuming than making it from scratch.

CAR have never won an Olympic medal even though they have sent a team to every Olympic games since 1984.  Perhaps one of their six athletes will bring home the gold this year.  Tonight's meal certainly did.

*a bit of a relief if I'm honest, the fishmonger's description of cutting the head in half so that the brain could melt into the sauce was a little off putting!
**to break down the slime!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Andorra - Trinxat

Unless you have been ignoring me*, or you are new to Tonight's Menu, you would have missed out on my plans to eat the Olympics.  Two years ago, during the World Cup, I had the great idea to base our evening meals on one of the two nations that were playing in the evening kick off.  This opened my eyes to some great new food, which I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.  I wanted to do something similar for the Olympics and came up with the Olympic Food Challenge.

Tonight sees the start of the challenge.  I know that the opening ceremony isn't until Friday but the sport started today with the Team GB Women's football team beating New Zealand 1-0, so the challenge is on.  From my allotted list we thought we would ease ourselves in by cooking Trinxat from Andorra.

Andorra is a tiny country high in the Pyrenees mountains surrounded by France and Spain, specifically Catalonia hence the 'x' in Trinxat, which you pronounce 'ch'.  The recipe for this bubble and squeak style dish can be found here but I have tweaked it for tonight as there are only two of us and we couldn't eat an entire cabbage.

I mashed together cooked potatoes and cabbage, added fried garlic and seasoned the mixture.  The recipe asks for salty pork or bacon and I happened to have some Swillington Farm bacon, which I had been saving for a special occasion.  The bacon was fried and set to one side while we cooked the Trinxat.  The mixture was fried in the pan that the bacon had been cooked in and served in wedges with the bacon and a fried egg.  I'm not sure that this is the kind of healthy meal an athlete might tuck into before an event but I could eat this a couple of times a week.

*I wouldn't blame you

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Cauliflower Cheese

Tonight is the last night of our food freedom before being locked into the Olympic Food Challenge.  For the last time for twenty days we can eat whatever we want, without having to find a suitable recipe from Azerbaijan.  Only it's not that simple, things rarely are.  Because our diet is going places it has never been before, we need to eat up fresh items that won't be used while the big sport event in London is on.

Last night's spaghetti bolognese used up quite a few random vegetables that were about to become surplus to requirements.  However, there is no room in bolognese sauce for cauliflower.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, Z is the queen of white sauces in this house.  She made her cheese sauce using leftover garlic butter for the roux.  Once a pint of milk had been slowly stirred into the roux she added the remains of the cheese that I brought home from Cheese Club.  The sauce was then poured over the parboiled cauliflower, topped with breadcrumbs and mature cheddar, then baked in the oven.  With so much dairy it's hardly the healthiest vegetarian meal but it will leave me with fond memories of cauliflower until I can eat it again after the Olympics.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Spaghetti Bolognese

I'm now gearing up for the Olympic Food challenge, which I have set for myself and eleven other intrepid bloggers.  The challenge starts on Wednesday, so tonight and tomorrow we're falling back on simple recipes and using up fresh ingredients that we won't need over the next few weeks.  Tonight it's spaghetti bolognese.

I say it's spaghetti bolognese, but in reality it's spaghetti with a minced beef and vegetable tomato sauce.  To make life even easier for myself I made the sauce yesterday.  We all know that day old sauce tastes better whether it is a stew, pasta sauce or curry.  This was no exception to that rule.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Pork and Apple Crumble

Isn't it strange where inspiration comes from.  Last week on Twitter I noticed a conversation, which went a little like this;

@PeopleOfUK "What are some of your food must-haves and obsessions?!"
@fflowerstar "Apple Crumble & Pork, obviously not together! If one follows the other though I'm in food heaven!!"
@EwanMitchell "I bet you could do a really nice pork and apple crumble."

The conversation moved on to include pork and apple crumble cook-offs and the promise of home delivery of ramekins of tasty food but the thought stuck in my head.  It must be possible to make a really nice pork and apple crumble.

I think Mum and Z were a bit disappointed at first.  When I announced that I was making Pork and Apple Crumble they must of heard "I'm making Pork, and Apple Crumble."  I started with the pork.  I fried cubes of pork shoulder in batches, after dusting it in seasoned flour.  I then fried onions, bacon and garlic before putting the pork back in the pan and adding a chopped leek.  After frying the mixture for a couple of minutes I added a bottle of cider, brought the pan to the boil and then let it simmer, covered, for around an hour.

The crumble topping was made with flour, butter, mixed herbs and parmesan cheese rubbed together until they resembled bread crumbs, or that's what I thought.  The butter was far too warm, as was I, and the whole lot came together as a big dough ball.  Extra flour was added and a lighter touch used and soon I had what was needed.  The pork was transferred to a baking dish, a layer of thinly sliced bramley apples was laid on top and then the whole lot was covered with the crumble.  This was then baked for around thirty minutes.

The finished crumble was great but it needs some tweaks for its next outing.  The pork was really well cooked but the sauce had reduced too much so the dish was a little dry.  I also used too much of the crumble mixture which meant it wasn't crumbly and crunchy all the way through.  So, can you make a really nice pork and apple crumble? Yes you can.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


Pizza.  That doesn't sound very inspiring does it.  Well, after the day we have had and our plans for this evening, it was the perfect choice.  The day started early with a trip down to Holbeck to help set up for Holbeck Gala.  Plenty of furniture moving later, I was back home in time to freshen up so that we could head out for a pub lunch.

Our destination was The Roundhay Fox as we were planning to spend the afternoon at Tropical World.  I had called ahead and booked a table for the four of us.  Gary* had told me that there was a large party in over lunch time so there would be a delay in food orders but that didn't put us off.  Perhaps I should have heeded Gary's advice.  Our wait was so long that we were given complimentary drinks, which was nice.

When the food did turn up it was good.  I have been complaining about a lack of seafood on restaurant menus so felt honour bound to order the Grilled Plaice.  It was well cooked but it was missing the prawn, lemon and parsley butter that should have been its sauce.  Z had Spanish chicken and Mum had the steak and ale pie.  All were eaten with gusto but the happiest diner was R who devoured his scampi and peas.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Tropical World.  I was mainly chasing after R, while he chased after butterflies and discovered the amazing game of running back and forth through the plastic curtains that divide the rooms.  We noticed a thermometer at one point that was registering 43 degrees which would explain why I was so hot and exhausted by the time we left.

After a big lunch and fun and games with the meerkats, pizza was exactly the right early evening meal.  We still had some of Z's home made pizza dough in the freezer which we defrosted and rolled as thin as possible.  Pizza number one was a vegetable feast with peppers, courgette, artichoke, passata and mozzarella**.  The second was a meat feast with salami, chorizo, Parma ham, passata and mozzarella.

With our stomachs suitably lined and R asleep, Z and I took the opportunity of a live-in babysitter.  Leeds is full of great bars and there seem to be new ones opening up all the time.  We ended up in Dock Street Market where I had some great beer by Flying Dog and Z had one of their superb cocktails.  Then we moved onto Friends of Ham for more craft beer, fino sherry and a tasting plate of wonderful meat including finocchiona which you have to try!  I'm just left wondering when I'll be able to try it again.

*the extremely chatty employee of The Fox who took our reservation.
**Britain's second favourite cheese after cheddar.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Friday Night Take-away - Fish Fingers

There are two steadfast Friday traditions in our house and it's not often that they converge.  Today however, both Fish Friday and Friday night take-away are singing from the same hymn sheet.  I had sent Z shopping earlier in the day to get provisions for the weekend.  Included on her shopping list was cod.  I was planning to roast the cod wrapped in bacon and serve it with bobby beans* and roasted cherry tomatoes.

When I got home from work, it turned out that the dinner plans had taken a change of path.  Z had cooked R some fish fingers with some of the cod that she bought on Kirkgate Market.  She and my mum both liked the look of the toddler's food so much that they decided to knock my plans into a cocked hat.

The thick fillets of cod were sliced into fingers and rolled in beaten egg and breadcrumbs before being shallow fried.  We stuck with the bobby beans and some new potatoes as the accompaniments but really it should have been chips and mushy peas to really recreate the take-away experience.

*Green beans, French beans, call them what you want.  I had never heard them called bobby beans before moving to Leeds but it's such a cute name it will probably stick.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Spetsofai - Sausage and Pepper Stew

We've all been there.  You buy a new cookery book, excitedly flick through the pages and get giddy about all of the new recipes you are about to try.  Then, through no fault of your own, the book makes its way onto the groaning bookshelf with all of the other books to gather dust.  For a change to tradition, Tonight's meal is the second recipe from the cookbook that Z bought me last week: Meze Cooking by Sarah Maxwell.

We cook sausage stews and casseroles quite often, usually cooking them with beans and flavouring them depending on the type of sausage.  This simple stew of slow cooked onions, peppers and sausages was wonderfully sweet and sticky.  As it was a nice evening we just had the sausages with a side salad and some garlic bread but some couscous would have been good too.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Stew

When I told Mum what we were having for tea tonight she said "That sounds a bit vegetarian".  She was of course correct.  It is vegetarian, but we had the ingredients in the house and, although it has a relativity long cooking time, it's not very labour intensive.

The recipe is actually one of Simon Rimmer's from Something for the Weekend and although it is billed as a winter warmer I think it's fine as a summer supper.  The original recipe also has a potato scone topping but I have discarded that for this evening in favour of some boiled new potatoes.

Roasted butternut squash was added to fried onions, leeks and garlic.  A glass of white wine is poured into the pan and brought to the boil before the chickpeas, sour cream and double cream are added.  The mixture is then simmered for five to ten minutes.  The one ingredient that I didn't have from Mr Rimmer's recipe was tarragon.  I added parsley instead to add some freshness to the creamy sauce.  We all agreed that without the chickpeas this would make a great pasta sauce.  That said, I think I will have to cook something with meat in it tomorrow before a revolt takes place.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


My Mum arrived today for a week's holiday.  She has come to see R, not me or Z, but I'm happy with that.  As she only arrived this afternoon, I didn't want to spend the night tied to the stove, so I decided the one pan wonder Paella was the way forward.

Once R was tucked up in bed I cracked on with some judicious chopping.  Onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, chorizo and turkey breast were all fried before rice, white wine and stock were added to the pan.  This was then left to simmer until the rice had absorbed all of the stock and was cooked through.  All that was left to do was to stir through some fresh parsley and serve.

As with most dishes, I am 100% certain that the way I cook paella is not authentic, but it works and it tastes good, so I'll keep doing it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Stir fried Pork with Egg Fried Rice

Having roasted a pork joint yesterday and not eating it, due to a large lunch, we are tucking into pork again tonight.  We're keeping with the oriental theme from yesterday too.  To keep yesterday's meal light we had a Japanese pork and miso soup.  Tonight we're having a Chinese inspired pork stir fry.

We are lucky in Leeds to have a couple of decent Chinese supermarkets.  We use them both for basics like soy sauce and noodles but we often go off piste and buy something just because it looks interesting.  This is a method of shopping that can go either way.  We have faced the horror of mystery Chinese sausage and almost lost our taste buds to a Thai curry paste that was so hot it made our tongues sweat.

At the other end of the scale, we have discovered the best black bean sauce known to humanity and we came across the sweet vinegar sauce that we used for tonight's meal.  A couple of tablespoons of the sauce were added to fried pork and vegetables to make a sweet/sour glaze.  I served this on a mountain of the best egg fried rice that I have ever cooked.  If I wasn't so full I could happily have eaten the whole thing again.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Roast Pork Miso Soup

Our attempts at meal planning this week have not been a raring success.  Don't get me wrong, the meals we have cooked have all been great but they have not necessarily been the meals that we had planned to eat.  Today was no exception to this trend and I am happy to take full responsibility for the forced change of plan.

As it's the weekend and the weather wasn't too bad, I thought it would be nice for us to go out for lunch.  We wandered down to the Midnight Bell ready to tuck into some of their delicious sandwiches.  It wasn't until we got there that we remembered that it was Sunday and therefore only the Sunday menu was on offer.  It was a main meal or a dejected walk home so we sat down and ordered more food than we had bargained for.  I had fish and chips, Z had a chicken and mushroom pie and R had everything that was within his reach.  The food was really nice but it put the kibosh on roast pork with all the trimmings.

Unfortunately, we had already defrosted the joint of pork so we had to cook it, but there was no way that we were going to sit down to a second stomach-bursting meal in one day.  Instead we made a light miso broth with fresh vegetables, udon noodles and some of the roasted pork.  One of these days I'll plan a meal and actually cook it, but until then I'll just keep enjoying the food we cook.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Tandoori Mackerel with Spiced Potatoes

Last night we had planned on having Tandoori chicken as our Friday night Take-away but inspiration came along.  Instead we had oregano chicken from a book that Z bought me.  I was still in the mood for a tandoori so we switched it to tonight.  However, we try not to eat the same protein or carbohydrate on subsequent days, so chicken was off the menu.

Instead we got a couple of mackerel from Kirkgate Market, which the fishmonger insisted were small.  Have you ever noticed how things are bigger in the kitchen, than they were in the shop where you bought them?  Rather than two small fish, enough for one per person, we had what seamed to be a bottle nosed dolphin each.  Admittedly, by the time I had filleted them they were a bit more manageable.  I smothered the fillets in tandoori paste and popped them back in the fridge until we were ready for them.

The fish were roasted in the oven set to its highest temperature*.  While they were cooking I tossed some parboiled potatoes in some butter which had been flavoured with turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel and mustard seeds.  Finally I fried some onions and peppers and added some leftover madras sauce that we had in the freezer.  The fish more than stood up to the strong flavours and the potatoes made a great change from rice.  With a few tweaks we'll be doing this again.

*I only wish my oven's highest temperature would be higher.  Tandoori and pizzas really need a scorching oven.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Oregano Chicken with Black-Eye Beans

I do love a nice surprise, who doesn't, so when I got home a couple of days ago, to discover that Z had bought me a new cookery book, I was delighted.  The book in question is a copy of Meze Cooking by Sarah Maxwell and dates back to 1992, a few years before I caught the cooking bug.

Z found the book in our local charity shop and it is clearly from the home of somebody that doesn't/didn't cook but does/did smoke.  Not one crease or sticky page anywhere and the unmistakeable aroma of tobacco on every page.  I was excited enough to see past the nasal assault and in no time at all inspiration had leapt from the page.

I was going to cook Tandoori Chicken as a Friday Night Take-away for this evening's meal, but all that has now changed.  The chicken that was destined for Indian spices was now marinating in olive oil, white wine, garlic and industrial quantities of dried oregano*.  The marinated chicken was then simply grilled, turned and basted until golden.  I also cooked black-eye beans with spinach from the same book.  This is such a simple and versatile side dish of greens, cooked, seasoned and mixed with a pulse of your choice, that I think we will be doing similar things again.  We will definitely be cooking the chicken again, it will be perfect for a barbecue when summer comes.

*We use a lot of oregano and we have recently been given a kilo bag of it, by a friend returning from their holidays.  If you're using supermarket bought dried spices this may not be the recipe for you as you'll need a couple of jars just for the marinade.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

French Cheese, Homage 2 Fromage

It's that time of the month again.  Time for the cheese lovers of Leeds to get together, in a warm room above a pub, and sample some of the best cheese known to man.  The theme to this evening's cheese club was French Cheese and there isn't a lot the French don't know about fromage.  Some would argue* that French cheese is the finest in the world and tonight we had nine of their finest to sample.

As with us here in Blighty, there is a French cheese for every pallet.  From the soft and flavoursome Brie de Meaux (the king of French cheese) to the powerful Langres, a rind washed cheese to give Stinking Bishop a run for it's money, and everything in between.  I had been cheeky in the run-up to to this month's event and suggested that Morbier should be one of the cheeses on offer.  I presumed that not many people would have tried it never mind heard of it.  A soft mountain cheese with a layer of soot running through the middle isn't the kind of thing you find on the average supermarket shelf.

I was more than ammused when, after tasting all of the cheeses, Nick**, in his usual run through of what we had eaten, announced the secret behind Morbier's dark centre.  The audible gasp made me chuckle.

The evening was rounded off with a cheese quiz.  I love a quiz and I love cheese but clearly not to the extent of some of the homagers.  There were some gripes about the questions (I don't think ewe's milk is unusual for a cheese) but there was nothing to sour the evening.

*mainly the French.
**Nick and Vicky are the masterminds behind Homage 2 Fromage and need and deserve all the praise in the world.  What they have achieved in 10 months is staggering.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Mushroom Stroganoff

Tonight I was going to tell you the tale of our foray into fungi foraging.  Last year I spotted a rather large mushroom growing on a verge close to our home.  We had recently bought mushroom field books and identification guides so it was the perfect opportunity to see if I'd stumbled on free food growing around the corner from the house.  On closer inspection it turned out that I had discovered a ring of Horse Mushrooms, which are indeed edible.

I have been keeping a keen eye on that patch of earth ever since, hoping to reap some tasty free food.  All to often I find the mushrooms kicked and smashed, laying strewn in their own fairy ring.  Yesterday I noticed the white caps poking through the long grass and decided that on my way home from taking R to nursery this morning I would pick a couple of them for our tea tonight*.  Sadly some other keen eyed mushroom hunter had beaten me to the goodies and, annoyingly, had picked all of them.

So instead of tonight's stroganoff being packed with free mushroom, it is full of shop bought ones.  I suppose I could have cooked anything that I wanted but my heart was set on stroganoff.  The combination of mushrooms, onions, sour cream and hot smoky paprika is just too big a temptation to resist.  Served with wild rice, tonight was another meal that took no time to cook.  The mushrooms I bought were fine, but I am still lamenting the missed opportunity of another free meal.

*I never pick everything that is available, only what I need.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Now that my herculean task of working the evening shift and sometimes double shifts at work has ended, I am taking the opportunity to recharge my batteries.  Part of that unwinding began last night, being back in the kitchen and making fresh pesto.  That has continued today with yet more culinary shenanigans and some down time in one of Leeds' fantastic independent coffee shops, Brewbar Espresso.

This morning, having packed R off to nursery and Z off to work I cracked on with my plans for tonight's meal, butternut squash gnocchi.  Having roasted a butternut squash for pumpkin risotto, and made mashed potato for fish pie over the weekend I had leftovers of both.  I combined the squash and potato, added flour and an egg and got rolling.  To start with I didn't think that I would have enough to make a decent meal for Z and I, but I managed to make enough dumplings for two meals, so half of the mixture has ended up in the freezer for a future treat.

Chores out of the way, I headed into Leeds for lunch and a leisurely afternoon sipping coffee and catching up on some reading*.  Brewbar is a nice, relaxed coffee shop under Leeds library, the coffee is fantastic and the music, at least today, was somewhere between Regina Spektor and Mike Oldfield and that suited me fine.

Back home I returned to the gnocchi.  There isn't really a cooking time for gnocchi, they are cooked once they float to the top of a pan of boiling water.  I'm not a fan of heavy or thick sauces with gnocchi so I decided to keep it simple and make a brown butter sauce with sage.  It was a good job too, the addition of the butternut squash made the dumplings sweeter but also more dense than normal potato gnocchi.  I'm now looking forward to eating the second batch that are in the freezer.

*and writing blog posts for evening meals that had been missed.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Pasta with Lemon Balm Pesto

A caring friend recently brought me a present back from Rome.  It was a packet of the most garishly coloured pasta I have ever seen.  At its heart it is durum wheat farfalle but it has been coloured in candy stripes with tomato, red peppers, spinach, beetroot and blueberries.  There is no way that I could make a standard pasta sauce like bolognese with pasta like this, so it was kept in a cupboard until a suitable occasion.

Then, last week, out of the blue, I spotted something on my way home from work.  At first I thought it was a large and unwieldy mint plant that had propagated itself on a road side verge, but on closer inspection it was Lemon Balm.  Making a mental note of it's location I returned home to ask the oracle (twitter) if anybody had any culinary uses for this citrusy member of the mint family.  What I got back was mentions of tea and cordial but nothing that got my juices flowing.  I then did what most people of my generation do, I googled lemon balm.

I should have known that what I would get back was references to tea and cordial.  In despiration I even looked at the wikipedia entry for lemon balm where this line "It can be used in fish dishes and is the key ingredient in lemon balm pesto" caught my eye.  As you can see there is no link to a recipe but my mind was made up, pesto it was.

A large bunch of lemon balm, picked on my way home from work, was blended with a clove of garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, a handful of pecorino and plenty of olive oil and to back up the citrus, a squeeze of lemon juice.  The pesto was simply stired through the cooked pasta and served.  The lemon flavour is really subtle in lemon balm, it is almost in the air around the leaves and not in the leaves themselves so the extra lemon juice was a good idea. 

With the right kit you could easily make this in the time it takes to cook the pasta for a really fast and very healthy evening meal.  With a good knife or mezzeluna it might take a little while longer but the results would still be worth the effort, you don't even need psychedelic pasta, but if you've got some, it makes for an attractive meal.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fish Pie

Today has been great.  Two play dates, plenty of quality time with family and friends and to top it all off a cracking fish pie.  We started off with a visit from York*.  One of Z's colleagues was in town early to drop his partner off for the Leeds 10k.  That left him at a lose end.  We invited him and his little boy around to ours for bacon sarnies, coffee and so that the two toddlers could run around for a couple of hours.  R is about 8 months younger than our guest and the difference was staggering.  The range of language, dexterity and turn of pace that I am about to encounter is quite simply scary.  I think I'm going to need to get into shape!

They left, before lunch, to pick up their runner.  I know nothing about 10k's and what a good time represents but you never know what this time next year will bring.  Before heading out for our second play date of the day we had time to knock up a quick fish pie.  Cod cheeks and smoked haddock were poached in a pint of milk with some onion, black pepper corns and parsley stalks for about five minutes.

Once lightly cooked, the fish was flaked into the bottom of an oven proof dish with some prawns and garden peas and set aside.  The infused milk was then slowly poured over a roux to form the sauce for the pie and the whole lot was covered with a generous layer of fluffy mashed potato.  The completed pie was then covered and placed in the fridge until it was needed.

Our second play date took us to Leeds Museum with friends from the other side of Manchester.  We completely forgot that when he left Leeds to find his fortune, the museum didn't exist.  Fortunately all men are able to navigate by pubs, even in towns that they have never been in before, so it wasn't long before he turned up with his daughter.  This time R was the elder of the two toddlers but rather than lead by example he regressed to crawling around the place. I think he was flirting!

Back home all that we needed to do for our family meal was put the pie on the oven for around 45 minutes.  The fluffy mash was even creamier once it had soaked up some of the white sauce and the fish was cooked perfectly, because we had only partially poached them earlier.  Hopefully after all of the excitement and a really comforting meal, we won't hear a peep out of R until it's time to get up.

*not all of it!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Pumpkin Risotto

Last week we had one of the worst meals that we have ever cooked.  Pumpkin risotto is one of our favourites so when we had a really disappointing one that came in a package, celebrating national vegetarian week, I knew I would have to set things right by making one from scratch.  That is exactly what I did today.  I wouldn't normally go into as much detail as I am going to but the simplicity of a good risotto needs explaining.

I started by roasting half a butternut squash with a little olive oil, marjoram, salt and pepper for around forty minutes.  I also put some peeled garlic cloves in a puddle of olive oil in the squash's seed cavity.  Once cooked, the flesh was scooped out of the skin and roughly chopped.  The garlic infused olive oil was poured into my favourite risotto pan* and a finely chopped onion was added to soften.

After a couple of minutes of gently frying the onion I added some arborio rice and cooked that until all of the grains had been coated in the olive oil and had started to become translucent around the edges.  Next I added a glass of white wine and let that boil until it had reduced by half, before adding the first ladle of stock.  I happened to have some chicken stock in the freezer but you can use whatever stock you have to hand, for this risotto I'd go with either chicken or vegetable. 

Once the first ladle of stock had been absorbed by the rice I added the cooked flesh from the butternut squash and more stock.  I then kept adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring all the time and waiting until the last lot of liquid had been absorbed by the rice before adding the next ladle full.  Whilst cooking the risotto, the squash broke down so that the flavour was through the entire dish.  During the cooking process I also added lemon thyme, the garlic that had been roasted with the squash and salt and pepper.

Once all of the stock had been added and the rice was cooked, I added a couple of knobs of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese, turned off the heat, put the lid on the pan and left it alone for five minutes.  This last step has turned into a ritual.  After standing at the hob stirring constantly for twenty minutes or so it can feel like your arm is going to fall off.  The rest is really for the butter and cheese to mingle with the rest of the risotto but it's also a good chance for a welcome glass of wine and a brief sit down.  That five minutes was the same amount of time that it took to cook the packet risotto that left me feeling so cheated.  I took the opportunity to toast some pumpkin seeds and lay the table before serving.

This was as far from the last risotto as it could have been.  The rice, while cooked through, still had bite.  The sauce was creamy and oozing.  The seasoning was perfect and the individual flavours of the butternut squash, lemon thyme and garlic all shone.  The addition of pumpkin oil gave an additional background nuttiness, while toasted pumpkin seeds gave an extra texture.

I had already boycotted restaurant risottos after too many disappointing offerings.  I'll now be extending that boycott to include shop bought risottos too.  Especially when, with not much effort, meals as fantastic as tonight's pumpkin risotto can be made.

*we all have a favourite risotto pan right?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Lamb Chops with Sautéed Potatoes

Tonight I'm home alone, well not actually alone as R is asleep upstairs.  Z, on the other hand, has gone to an engagement party in Leeds.  This has given me a fantastic and rare opportunity to cook and eat lamb.

When we first met, Z was vegetarian and I could just about make a cup-a-soup.   To say that things have changed is an understatement.  There has been an awful lot of water under many bridges in the last seventeen years, but one thing that hasn't changed is Z's dislike of lamb.  It is the only meat* that Z doesn't like.  The flavour and texture combine to put her off.  This is why, after over 200 posts, there has only been one other mention of lamb.

As I don't get to eat lamb that often I decided to keep it simple.  I fried the chops on both sides before letting them rest in the oven.  While they were resting, I sautéed some parboiled Anya potatoes in the pan that I had fried the lamb in, making sure that I lost none of the lamb's flavour.  I could eat this a couple of times a month and not get bored of it, so as a once in a blue moon treat, it was fantastic.

*apart from most offal items

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Onion, Cheese and Chard Tart

I'm sure that I'm not the first person to point this out, but the onion really is underrated.  Nearly every dish we cook, curries, pasta sauces, stews, you name it, the onion has a starring role but it never gets any of the credit.  Tonight Z has settled the score with an onion, cheese and chard tart.  The reason Z is cooking an onion tart is a surfeit of onions. 

At fifty pence for a couple of pounds of them I was hardly going to say no.  The chard was the last of our crop from the front garden.  We have grown nowhere near enough chard this year but as the old saying goes, your garden is never as good as it will be next year.

To make the filling for the tart, Z slowly sweated three onions in olive oil and butter until they were soft before adding the chopped chard stems.  These take a little longer to cook than the leaves which cook in next to no time so they were just stirred through the onion and stalk mixture as it cooled.  Other than salt and pepper the only addition to the naturally sweet mixture was lemon thyme.

Once cool, the onions and chard were spread over a sheet of rolled out puff pastry* and then covered with cheese.  We happened to have in a few ends of cheeses so four different types were used on our tart, but as long as you have a decent melting cheese any will do.  By the time the tart had baked and the sides had risen, a miracle had occurred, the sky had cleared and the sun was out. A perfect summer's evening for a perfect summer meal.

*shop bought. I know that this will outrage some people but there are some things that are worthy of shortcuts and puff pastry is one of them

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Leek and Ricotta Cannelloni

This is my final week* of working the late shift at work.  The working pattern hasn't actually been too bad but getting home late, eating and then trying to find a bit of time to unwind before going to bed has proven to be difficult.  My nights have been getting later and R has still been getting up at 6am, so I'm lacking a fair amount of beauty sleep.  I have been spending my mornings catching up on housework, that would normally be done in the evenings, and trying to sort out the finances for Beeston Festival.  Today however, I found myself with some spare time.

Along with not getting to spending much quality time with R, the other thing I have really missed while working late, is cooking.  Not only do I love cooking for people, I also find the process to be really relaxing and the perfect way to wind down, so with some time on my hands I rolled up my sleeves and used as many pans and utensils as was possible.

Making cannelloni is a time consuming yet rewarding exercise.  I am sure that there are short cuts but
I didn't take any today.  I started by making the filling and the tomato sauce.  The tomato sauce is not much more than a seasoned tin of tomatoes with softened onions, garlic and dried basil.  After simmering for five to ten minutes I took a hand blender to the sauce and removed the lumps.

The filling was equally simple.  I softened a shredded leek in olive oil with garlic and a couple of teaspoons of lemon thyme.  Once this was cooked I let it go completely cold before stirring through a tub of riccotta.  I then spooned the mixture into eight cannelloni tubes covered them in the tomato sauce, some mozzarella and parmeasan.  At that stage I stopped and went to work with the dish ready for Z to put in the oven when she got in from work.

When it finally came out of the oven it looked a treat.  I'm glad to say that it tasted as good as it looked.  The only thing I would change next time was adding a bit more salt in the filling, as when cooked the ricotta masked the other flavours.  I had also considered adding pine nuts to the filling mixture, this would have turned tonight's meal from a really good meal into a great one.

*for now.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Aloo Gobi

We have returned to the freezer for tonight's meal.  Z has been fantastic over the last couple of months while I have been working late, but there are some days when you're just not in the mood to cook.  Plus life doesn't stand still and there are other, more important, things that still need doing*.

On the freezer blackboard on the kitchen door** Z found leftover aloo gobi from last month and a portion of tomato bhajis.  The defrosted curry reheated a treat, as did the bhajis.  Z cooked some basmati rice and warmed up a naan to have on the side.  Tomorrow I'm going to roll up my sleeves and get the meal prepared before leaving for work but more on that later.

*Booking a holiday is very high on that list!
**I have no idea how we would keep on top of the leftovers if it wasn't for the freezer blackboard.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Spaghetti al Funghi

When planning our meals for the week we tend to start with whatever is still lurking from the previous week's shopping.  The stand out item this week, not having many leftovers at all, was a full, unopened, tub of double cream.  Now I don't have a sweet tooth at all and Z would never indulge herself to the extent of using an entire tub of cream so it was destined for a savoury dish.

The cream was added to fried onions, mushrooms and bacon and allowed to come to the boil before a large handful of parsley and plenty of black pepper were stirred through the sauce.  Cooked spaghetti was then mixed through the cream so that every strand was coated.  This could so easily have been a vegetarian meal, just leave out the bacon and adjust the seasoning as cream does need quite a lot of salt to pull savoury flavours through.  I know this is an autumnal dish but it was so comforting that I'd happily eat it no mater what the time of year.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Italian Pork Chops with Gnocchi and Broccoli

Well the Mother-in-law has gone and we have the house back to ourselves, just the three of us.  We escorted her off the premises and took her to the train station so that she could say a teary goodbye to Z and R.  Having visitors is very much like going on holiday, the usual routines are knocked out and by the time you get home there is nothing to eat.  All that we had in the house was a head of broccoli so I was dispatched to the shops to stock up.

All weekend I had been hankering for a lump of pork, simply seasoned and grilled, so when I found pork loin steaks on offer at the supermarket I knew what we were having for tea.  Back home I rubbed the pork in garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil and put them into the fridge to marinate.  There was one further consideration for the evening meal, the 2012 Euro final between Spain and Italy.  Kick off was at 7:45pm, R has his bath at 7pm.  It would be touch and go if we could get the meal out in time for the start of the match.

I put the grill on as the bath was running, filled a pan with water and chopped the broccoli so that everything would be ready to cook the second R was in bed.  By the time the chops had been turned once under the grill the water for the gnocchi and broccoli had come up to the boil.  I was originally going to fry the gnocchi and steam the broccoli, but this would have been more time consuming and would have made more washing up so they both ended up in the same pan.  Once cooked I drained the gnocchi and broccoli and tossed the two in warm olive oil seasoned with anchovies and dried chilli flakes.

By the time I had served the meal the match was two minutes old.  I'd missed the anthems and the kick-off, but I managed to watch the rest of the match uninterrupted with one of the tastiest and quickest meals I have cooked in a long time.  Spain may have won the European Championship but Italy won meal of the weekend!