Two music graduates chronicle the culinary delights of Leeds and London and explore the height of fine dining on a limited budget.

Good food is well punk.

April 29, 2011

If ginger be the food of music, make a stir fry!

In the last few months, I've started singing really seriously again. I'm taking my Grade 8 and everything. Yeah. This means, in foodie terms, that I have an awful lot of raw ginger lying around. Raw cubes of ginger and a couple of lemon slices in hot (not boiling) water is wonder nourishment for a poor, ailing throat and I get through the stuff in buckets.

When I came in from work last night, what luck that in my fridge I didst find a pork chop! A good ol' slice o' pig to help eat up some of the masses of ginger. Luckily, I also had lots of crunchy veg; what follows is a fab stir fry that takes all of half an hour to prepare and make when you come in knackered after work.

A couple of points. THIS mofo greatly helped me with flavours and that:

but of course, a decent vegetable or corn oil with more ginger and some raw chilli would do exactly the same job. Ooh, I feel like Delia recommending a product. I must admit, I served this with spaghetti as I couldn't be bothered to walk all of 10 yards to the shop and buy noodles (and raw chilli for the oil!), but I didn't cook loads and didn't find it was overly carby for quite a heavy accompaniment to a stir fry. Also, I used pre-bought sweet chilli sauce instead of making my own, but, like I said, convenience yeah.

For one Hungry Maz portion:

1 large park chop, cut into bitesize chunks
1 orange pepper, diced (half for stir-fry, half for snacking?)
15-20g/large piece of raw ginger, finely cubed
50g baby sweetcorn, diced
50g sugar snap peas, diced
20g baby button mushrooms, halved
Stir fry oil
Sweet chilli sauce
Cracked black pepper

Work quickly. Have the pork and all the veg chopped and ready to go beforehand. Make sure your wok or, uh, malleable pan, is nicely warmed and then put a good glug of the stir fry oil in. You know the oil's hot enough when it's spitting and there are bubbles rising to the top. Test with a bit of pepper if unsure. When the oil's nicely fizzing, tip the ginger and all the veg in (including mushrooms, the water'll evaporate off pretty sharpish). Keep stirring, cook for two minutes. Throw the pork in, cook for a further five minutes until the pork is only just done. Take off the heat and add a generous squirt of sweet chilli sauce. You want everything just coated, with no excess sauce. No salt needed (think of the sauce!) but crack a lot of black pepper over the top. Serve immediately, feel satisfied.

The other advantage, of course, is that it leaves your throat so happy and raring to go that you can operatically sing into the night and make your neighbours want to leave the area. Mwahahaaaa. Happy nomming.

March 04, 2011

Butter Fetish: Lactic Pasta Spectacular

Suffering from a heavy dose of manflu today and faced with lunch alone, I decided to whip up some comfort food. It's a pretty simple recipe, but I now feel good enough to blog about it and may even leave the house.

Serves 1 hungry, ill person

150g spaghetti or similar
40g butter, or as much as you feel your cholesterol can take
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dried rosemary
1tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried parsley 
Salt & pepper

Put a saucepan on for the pasta in the usual manner, remembering to salt the water (no need for oil - contrary to popular belief it doesn't do anything). Mince the garlic and dice the onion as small as possible, and ever-so-gently melt the butter in the smallest saucepan possible. When the butter is melted, but before it begins to clarify, toss in the onion, garlic and herbs and keep stirring. You don't want anything to turn brown. Cook the pasta until just cooked. Halfway through, take out a bit of the cooking water with a mug or something and add it to the buttery onion mix. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving the cooking liquid. This is very important! Not only does that starchy water help the buttery goodness spread throughout the pasta, it makes deliciously warming broth for after. Honestly, it's not as disgusting as it sounds.


Anyway, add more of the starchy pasta-water to the onion mix if it needs it, and toss in the pasta when the onion's softened. Stir through, using a bit more starchwater if necessary and garnish with pepper, parmesan and more butter if you feel like you can take it. Eat quickly to nourish both body and soul.

It's a far cry from my normal style of cooking a pasta sauce, but there's something about it that just feels so good on a miserable sicky day. Try it! Just don't complain if it gives you a heart attack.

December 18, 2010

As American as Obesity and Racism: Apple Pie

In order to justify not paying any rent, part of the burden of living at home quite often involves cooking dinner - especially if it's "something fancy". In order to accommodate an old friend of my parents, I was put on duty pre-making dinner the night before as we were all out in the day. For the main course I did a chilli, a recipe for which I'll post up here when I finally decide how I like it best, but it's what I did next that gets shared today.
For pudding, I decided to make an apple pie owing to our glut of apples (sadly not from an orchard, but Sainsbury's), and also because I have a slight fear of pastry. I cobbled the recipe together from various sources on the internet, and I think it works well!

Only make it if you don't have a phobia of butter.

For the pastry:
220g plain flour
150g cold butter
Pinch of salt
Iced water

For the filling:
5-6 eating apples
120g butter
3tbsp plain flour
120g caster sugar
100g muscavado sugar (or demerara)
Pinch of salt
80ml water
Cinnamon, to taste

All that was left by the time I could photograph it

Begin by making the pastry. Make sure the butter is as cold as you can get it - cut it into cubes and place in the fridge to cool, if necessary. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips if you feel like doing it traditionally; I used a blender. If you do decide to go more technological, remember to use the pulse function and keep the mixture moving around the bowl - if you blitz it too much, it'll heat up and melt the butter, causing the pastry to be too crumbly. When the butter is fully amalgamated, with a texture like coarse yellow sand, slowly add in ice-cold water drip by drip until the dough comes together into a ball of pastry. Cut in half, roll out each half to about 15cm across (about 3mm thick), cover in cling film and place in the fridge.

For the filling, begin by peeling, coring and chopping the apples into smallish chunks; I cut each apple into 16 pieces (do the maths). It takes a while, so get someone else to do it for you if you're lucky enough to have a significant other/child/slave. Sadly since I was cooking this late at night I had to chop it all myself and ended up covered in small cuts and apple juice. When the apples are chopped, cover so as not to let them brown.

Now for the good bit. Begin by gently melting the butter in a small saucepan over a low flame, making sure it doesn't brown at all. Stir in the flour to form a paste (but not so much flour that it becomes a roux - use your judgement), and add in the sugar, salt and water. Be sure not to let the mixture get too hot, as then the sugars will begin to caramelise and form a hard toffee sauce. It'll be delicious, but it's not what we want. Stir the mixture so that the sugar dissolves and pour all the apples into the pan. Coat the apples in the sauce, resist the temptation to pick at them, and leave to simmer on a very low temperature.

Now, grease your pie dish. I'm sure there's a difference between using a metal and ceramic dish, but it's probably not that important? I used a ceramic quiche dish (with fluted edges), which made retrieval a little tricky, but it all goes down the same way anyway. Lay one bit of the pastry in the dish, rolling out some more if necessary, and make sure it comes up to the edges of the dish. Oh-so-gently nudge it with your fingertips if need be. Now, carefully ooze the appley filling on top of the pastry so it sits in a mound. Be careful not to overfill the pie! Sprinkle over as much or little cinnamon as you like, and carefully place the top sheet of pastry on top. Prick with a fork (no not me... wait...), and leave it in the fridge.

When it's time to bake, whack it in the oven at about 180 for as long as it takes to brown: about 45 minutes. Use your judgement. Serve hot, with custard or cream.

Sadly, as I arrived home late, I was unable to see the pie come out of the oven, majestically bubbling like a pacific volcano god. Instead, I consoled myself with a microwaved slice. It was still damn good.

December 06, 2010

Pricey, but pukka(nista): Jamie's Italian

tNow before I get too carried away, I must confess that I know precisely sod all about architecture. It's perfectly easy to find the Leeds location for one of the newer Jamie's Italians on the website and normally this sort of quote wouldn't move me:

We've converted a grand old bank into our first restaurant to open in the North of England and it's a real beauty. We were inspired by the wonderful old ceiling downstairs and stayed as close to the original as we could.

Then you get into the building and actually, the aesthetic statement totally rings true. It's possibly helped by my huge enjoyment of exposed brickwork, but the designers managed to source some wonderful vintage desk lamps, and little modern touches like the brightly lit stainless steel bar don't detract from the industrial (dare I say Northern?) feel.

The restaurant doesn't take bookings (NOT a fan but we had time to kill) and the Sunday night when we went there was a 40 minute waiting time, but that was alleviated by literally the most wonderful gin martini I have ever experienced. On the menu it's called a Double Grape Martini and has bits of cucumber and stuff in it, but the sharpness of the citrus and veg was enough to give a refreshing kick. This may be betraying my uncultured roots a bit, but I was very pleased they used Beefeater as standard and didn't just stick to Gordon's to keep cocktail costs down.

We were eventually seated in a candlelit alcove away from the main body of the restaurant and immediately served the Top Italian Bread Selection. It didn't come with the rosemary and lemon gremolata as advertised, but the olive oil and balsamic we got instead was probably better. I have never had balsamic vinegar that good. It was fruity, and knocked the one at Art's Cafe out of the water (sorry Art's, still love youse).

My smoky scamorza arancini was perhaps a bad starter choice. I didn't find the mozzarella to be all that smoky and there wasn't nearly enough arrabiata to go with. G had the cockles linguine which was surprisingly well-balanced with some strong garlic. There was enough chilli in there to starve us of winter colds for several months.

Scallop and squid ink angel hair is just going to be good - it looked fabulous on the plate - and there was nothing there to disappoint with gentle, subtle aromas from the capers and the garlic oozing through the salty squid ink. G's fish in a bag promised bolder flavours with anchovies and fennel, but, being served with cracked wheat, rather tempered it. A lot of flavour was soaked up and lost and, while the fish itself was cooked perfectly, it meant there wasn't much left to go with it and it ended up being a bit of a disappointment. Having said that, we were so impressed by the initial flippin' bread we could've just eaten several portions of it and gone home happy...

I wanted the walnut tart but there wasn't any left so went for the boring choice of ice cream. There were lots of flavours, but no-one pays much attention to ice cream and it wasn't nearly as good as G's panna cotta. SO much vanilla. Probably double double cream it was so creamy. Mmm.

So at this point we ask for the bill, feeling quite content with what had been a lovely, romantic evening... then we see the full price. The sneaky buggers don't include the VAT on the menu. It added almost an extra tenner on per head, and almost caused the cotta coronary. Unfortunately, our waiter was simply marvellous so we paid without a squeak. We'll also probably go back, but next time we'll be prepared for the eventual rueing and fist shaking.

Jamie's Italian
35 Park Row
0113 322 5400

November 09, 2010

A Feelin' for ma Chicken Korma

Is there anything more comforting that chicken korma? Especially the lurid proper English ones you get in the worst/best establishments. The following method may seem slightly over-complex, but that's just the way I went about doing it. Feel free to cut corners, but I feel Indian cookery should be a bit of a slog.

4 Chicken Breasts
2 Medium Onions
1 tin of coconut milk
2-3 tbsp ground almonds
A handful of raisins

For the marinade:

Juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1tbsp Paprika
1tbsp Turmeric
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp plain flour
Salt & pepper

For the curry paste (makes two portions):

1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
2 red chillies
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 cinnamon stick
Sunflower oil

First, dry-fry all the whole spice seeds (and cinnamon) until aromatic. Take care not to burn the cumin. Chop the chicken into chunks, grind the roasted seeds in a pestle and mortar, and mix the dry ingredients for the marinade. Coat the chicken with the mixture and drizzle over the lemon juice. Cover, and set aside in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the paste, first grind all the roasted spices. Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger, and deseed he chillies. Put all the ingredients (bar the oil) in a food processor and start it going. Slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture starts to come together. Blend until smooth.

All preparation over,  slice the chicken breasts and fry in a small amount of oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole. Slice the onions fairly thickly, and add to the pan. When softened, add half the curry paste (save the rest for another time), stir and fry off for about two minutes. Add the tin of coconut milk, along with two tins of water. Throw in the raisins, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Keep topping up with water if necessary, and add ground almonds to thicken if so desired.

I don't know what it was about this recipe that I got right, but something in in just tasted exactly how a korma should taste - of course, I make no claims to authenticity, but it's incredibly satisfying to "get it right". Obviously the recipe can be adapted to any meat, veg or whatever. I used the remaining curry paste to make a blended soup with some roast butternut squash. Just don't forget the naan breads!