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.

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!

October 03, 2010

Birthday noms: Art's Cafe and Patisserie Valerie

Hello foodies, Maz here. Yes, I am aware it's been a while; I've been away (metaphorically, not actually (apart from, like, one week in Tenerife)) to graduate and sort my life out a bit.

While the life sorting hasn't really happened, I have had a birthday! Happy twenty-twoth to me. To celebrate, G, the lovely bearded soul he is, took me for a day out of culinary pleasures, which I will more than happily document for you here.

Firstly, we went to Art's Cafe. This is a fairly well-kept secret tucked away on Call Lane and, while the interior is a little dark, it adds to the snug feeling and keeps the tables from feeling cramped. In the evening it would be "moodily lit" and gorgeous. In fact, the meticulous care that went into the production of G's coke float and the presentation of our meals made us both feel pretty frickin' special; it was certainly above and beyond the service from an establishment that calls itself a cafe.

We had a "plate" each - mine was the fish plate and G's was the Yorkshire plate. His had a slab of homemade pork pie, the creamiest Wensleydale this side of, well, Wensleydale and a wonderful apple and celeriac coleslaw that put the tang back into the cheese. I'm a sucker for crayfish and lemon, and my ramekin-full felt like it would never end. This was in contrast to the haddock fishcake which I wolfed down in a couple of bites it was that good, which of course induced immediate regret and meant the smoked mackerel pate (which was just as intense) lasted half an hour on the hugest slice of dough bread ever. My God, there is nothing bad to say about this place. Just don't all go, let's keep it a bit secret (although, being well-known wouldn't stop it from being hella tasty...)

At this point it had started raining, so by the time we took shelter in Patisserie Valerie about half of Leeds had had the same idea. It also meant that some of the cakes we maybe would have liked (ahem, TOFFEE ECLAIR) were sold out, but it turned out that was a testament to the quality of the produce. We shared individual portions of strawberry gateau, mixed fruit tart and pecan tart and the intensity of flavours, the freshness of the ingredients and the little presentational details set them far above any other cake in any shop in Leeds. Especially the strawberry gateau was light and fragrant; the strawberries, while chilled, still remained juicy and their flavour stayed on my tongue like rosewater.

Click here to have a nosey at ALL THE CAKES. Mmm.

This was my first experience of a cake shop (apart from the wonderful Sunshine Bakery - thankyou Culture Vulture), but doesn't mean it any less deserves that title of my new Patisserie of Dreams. It was a wonderful birthday day out, and the second of two establishments I would evangelise about quite happily to any unsuspecting passers-by. Art's Cafe and Patisserie Valerie are genuinely two of my favourites out of all the places I've had the pleasure of reviewing so far. More than worth the money, fabulous service and a great eating experience in both establishments, where in both places we really felt like valued customers.

Art's Cafe
42 Call Lane
0113 243 8243

Patisserie Valerie
50A Albion Street
0113 242 4739

September 15, 2010

Linguine All' Espagnola

Again, apologies must come for not updating this more in recent weeks - now that the kitchen's finished I am able to cook again, but I hardly seem to be making incredibly exciting food worth writing up. In any case, enjoy this pasta dish I whipped up the other day. My pidgin Italian probably doesn't make any sense, but that's just the way I roll. The dish takes its cue from the classic All' Arrabiatta sauce, so I just bastardised it for my own ends. I'd like to think I picked this meal up during the few times I've been to Spain (and subsequently fallen in love with the country and its cooking) but most of the time I was there I was too pissed on Sangria to cook. Oh well.

Serves 2

200-250g Linguine
2 Medium Onions
4 Cloves Garlic
2 inches chorizo
1 tsp Dried Thyme
2 tbsp Tomato Puree
2 Chillies (optional)
2 Egg yolks

Set a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta, and cook until al dente according to packet instructions. When draining the pasta, reserve a mug of the starchy water, and add to the pasta again once it's fully drained - this stops the pasta from sticking in the saucepan and helps the sauce to coat it. While the pasta boils, prepare the topping. Dice the chorizo as finely as possible and fry gently in a little olive oil for a few minutes. Finely slice the onion and add to the frying pan once the chorizo's starting to release its fat. Keep frying on a low heat, finely chop the garlic and chillies and add to the pan as well, along with the thyme and tomato puree. When everything's all nice and soft and orange, stir it into the pasta, and serve. While it's still hot, place an egg yolk on top of each serving, and beat it in with your fork. Season generously with black pepper, and enjoy.

The addition of raw egg may seem strange (and not for the faint-hearted) but the residual heat of the pasta cooks it, and it adds a lovely richness to the meal. Definitely not one if you're watching your cholesterol, but what the hell. It's only lunch.

August 31, 2010

No Beans About it: A Simple Pork Casserole

Apologies for the lack of updates recently, but rather selfishly my parents have decided to knock out the whole back of the house and redo the kitchen at the very same time that I moved back home from Leeds. The upshot of this is that we've been surviving on baguettes from the local French deli and microwave meals. Shudder.

In any case, I was finally allowed into the kitchen the other night to use the new fridge and hob. Limited for space amongst the dusty surfaces and power tools, I had to make something that wouldn't require too much preparation and had little chance of spoiling or getting dust in it. I came up with this.

Serves 4

4 Pork Chops (or similar amount of diced pork)
50g Prosciutto (or lardons, or diced smoked bacon)
1-2 Red onions
1-2 Red Peppers
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tin Red Kidney Beans
Olive Oil

Firstly, begin by chopping up the pork. I divided each chop into three as a compromise between reducing the cooking time and having a having something large to get your teeth into. Heat a small glug of oil in a casserole dish and brown off the pork. There's no need to cook it all through, just let it take on colour. Remove and set aside on a plate.

Throw in some more olive oil, thickly slice the onion and roughly chop the pepper and add to the pan when the oil's ready. Add the prosciutto (diced if not already), and cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. It might seem somewhat excessive to have two kinds of pork in the dish, but it's really important to incorporate the smokiness into the dish. Finely slice the garlic and add to the pot. Rinse the beans, and add when the garlic just starts to brown and become aromatic. Add the reserved pork, refill the bean tin with water, and fill the casserole dish until the food is completely covered in liquid. At this point you might want to add some herbs or paprika, but I think this dish has enough in it to let the taste of the pork shine through.

I neglected to take a picture, so enjoy this mercilessly stolen shot of some bacon being chopped up 

Simmer as long as you can bear, but for at least half an hour. The idea is the reduce the liquid in the pot until it thickens from the partially dissolving kidney beans. As with all stews, it's not an exact science; add more water if you feel it needs it, cover the casserole if you feel it's evaporating too rapidly. You'll want to scrape the bottom now and then to avoid the food burning, but don't be too much of a zealot about this. The burnt bits at the bottom are often the best part. When it's done, serve with rice, polenta or crusty bread.

Like all stews, it was eaten in a far shorter time than it took to make it. But that's no bad thing, as by that point we were completely ravenous. A few glasses of red wine and immediately the house began to feel like a home again.

August 06, 2010

Pretty Grand: A Tale in Dining On the Go

There's a certain terrible transience that necessarily comes with any area associated with transport. I suppose that's a bit obvious really. But stopping to seriously consider the matter, it is a symptom of the modern world that we can never find the time to sit down and relax whenever we try and go anywhere. Consider Heathrow's Terminal 5 - supposedly a multi-million pound luxury hotspot to facilitate the mass transport of holidaymakers, the sheer amount of bloody chain restaurants and overpriced tourist shit make it an even more stressful entry on the bulletin list of enforced foreign relaxation.

St Pancras railway station is similarly marketed as some kind of boutique haven; a place where trendy young women in heels and silk scarves relax before a trip up north by filling their Louis Vuitton suitcases with yet more designer clobber. Instead I find the whole setup rather depressing - as lovely the architecture may be (and so far removed from horrid King's Cross next door) the whole place smacks of desperate consumerism. All the typical high street chains are crammed into brick alcoves; there's only so many Moleskines a man can take.

Upstairs, however, is home to the St Pancras Grand, a restaurant that holds the accolade of being able to rob me of my London cynicism for a few precious hours. It may be yet another chain (part of the Searcy brand) but the restaurant has a notable individuality that extends purely beyond its delightful location. Situated opposite the Eurostar trains bound for Paris, there is a definite Gallic air to the place, and the inside is done up like an old continental art deco establishment. Save for the Chip & Pin machines, you could be mistaken for thinking you'd fallen into a wormhole to the 1930s. I half expected to turn round and see Agatha Christie dining with James Bond at the table across from us.

The à la carte menu isn't exactly cheap (expect to pay £14-20 for a main course) but we were able to take advantage of a seriously good offer by booking through Toptable. £15 for a two course meal with complimentary glass of "pink fizz"? Yes please. The cheap menu was obviously fairly limited, with a choice of three for both starters and main course, but the old adage "you get what you pay for" is fairly appropriate. And since what you pay for is a rather delicious meal, there's no harm in that.

I ordered the Cornish Brown Crab served with toast, but was told sadly that the dish wasn't on the menu that night, replaced by a rather delectable salmon, trout and saffron potato terrine. It was fairly great, if a little mild. Still, an absence of gutsy salt or lemon was made up for by a good whack of chives, bring the meal up to taste.

Roast chicken with bacon, croutons and a poached egg was the main course (narrowly beating a salmon fishcake). The chicken was beautifully soft, clearly slow-roast for a good length of time, and covered in a wonderfully deep and rich gravy that tasted faintly of mushrooms. The mildly vinegary poached egg was a slight anomaly perched on top of the delectable meal, but the yolk provided even more depth of flavour to the chicken.

Desserts are priced at £6.50, but they are (according to my younger brother) bloody good. I wouldn't know; I had an espresso and a brandy in what I hoped was a Mad Men-esque throwback to the days of the liquid lunch, but more likely made me come across as a slight alcoholic. Oh well.

So transient and vaguely corporate it may be, but you could do a lot worse if you feel like chilling out and stepping back in time during a hectic trip out of London.

St Pancras Grand
St Pancras Station
Upper Concourse
Euston Road
0207 870 9900

July 24, 2010

From Bulgaria With Love: A Beginner's Guide to Shopska Salad.

With three years of higher education under our belts, my housemates and I (along with 6 other friends) recently spent a week on the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria sunning ourselves, drinking cheap lager and generally frittering away the remainders of our overdrafts.
"But why is he telling us all this!" I hear you ask through the magic of the internet. Well, obviously because we ended up spending the week surviving on Shopska, the national salad of Bulgaria. It may sound simple, and I'm not going to imply that simply chopping vegetables requires a recipe, but I felt the meal needed some kind of record for posterity. What can I say?

The key ingredient of the Shopska is the cheese, a type of brined white cheese called sirena. It's similar to feta, but less strongly flavoured, and generally made from cow's milk rather than ewe's. Any Leedsers should be able to pick something similar from the Maumoniat international supermarket, but the ubiquitous Feta should serve just as well.

Perhaps harder to replicate in Britain are the tomatoes. I don't think I've ever eaten a tomato from a supermarket that satisfied me in any way. I mean, sure, Sainsbury's flavouripe are alright in a bland sandwich, or drenched in dressing, but we just don't have the climate for producing tomatoes that actually taste of what they are. Oh well. It may be worth shelling out for. If you find a good source for tomatoes, let me know. In any case, the texture of the salad demands large and juicy tomatoes rather than small and fruity - if it wouldn't go in Maz's famed Tabbouleh, it wouldn't go in here.

Serves 10 as a starter, maybe 6 as a main.

1 block of Sirena cheese
1 large cucumber
2 Green or yellow peppers
2 red onions
4 of the freshest, best beef tomatoes you can find
1 tsp dried parsley
½ tsp dried oregano
6 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Begin by chopping the cucumber, peppers and tomatoes into chunks about 1cm wide, and place in a large bowl - actual quantities don't really matter, but there should be a roughly even amount. Likewise, finely chop or slice the onions, add to the bowl and stir the mixture. Season well with salt (to bring out the juices) and set aside for a few minutes. 

To make the dressing, simply mix the dried herbs into the oil with a fork. Add some salt and pepper, slosh in the vinegar and shake vigourously in a glass jar. Pour most of the dressing over the mixture in the bowl. Either chop the cheese into large chunks or grate it over the salad - either way is fine, but we preferred the large chunks of salty goodness soaking up the dressing and tomato juices. Drizzle over the remainder of the dressing, and serve with bread and grilled meat.

I know, it doesn't look like much, but the way the saltiness of the cheese is matched by the acidty of the dressing and juice of the tomatoes is one of the closest sensations I've come to culinary perfection.

As a post-recipe bonus, have a picture of me making the salad, in a dodgy vest and using the knife found in our villa that we swiftly entitled "the Bitchfucker".

July 13, 2010

A Trip to Whitby: The Magpie Café

George Bernard Shaw, highlighting the inconsistencies of the English language, once proposed a new spelling for the fish: ghoti. That's gh as in trough, o as in women, and ti as in nation.

Spelling aside, the word fish has a great cultural resonance with the British. Say it. fshhhh. Instantly, the sound of the word conjures up little silvery things caught off the coast of Cornwall, or a river trout cooked over a barbecue in the New Forest. Perhaps more likely though, the sound and smell of a fillet of white fish frying in batter. Fish and Chips. The best thing we gave the world outside of Monty Python and football violence. Like McDonalds and chocolate, it is a meal that transcends boundaries of class and age. Who doesn't love tucking into a steaming crisp fillet, smothered in salt and vinegar, atop fried potatoes dripping in grease? Doubly so from a wrapper, at a bus shelter on a cold winter's night.

Yet Fish and Chips is such a widespread dish, there are surely infinite ways to get it right? And subsequently, get it wrong. We've all been there. The fish tastes dodgy, the batter falls apart and the chips are some godawful "french fries". How to get the meal right?

On a recent daytrip to Whitby, we ran into this very problem. Being a coastal town awash with tourists and old people on coasches, it has a glut of Fish and Chip emporiums, but only one of them has a large queue out the door on any given Wednesday afternoon. Situated literally opposite the fish market, the Magpie Café consists of a (rather swanky-looking) fish restaurant combined with a more typical Fish and Chip outlet. Clearly the stuff of local legend, we decided that it was the destination of choice for lunch.

We were proved entirely right.

The meal was perhaps the Platonic ideal of how Fish and Chips should be cooked. The cod (they'd run out of haddock) was perfectly flaky, captured in a large crunchy batter. The chips perfectly struck the balance between crisp and soggy, benefitting from being fried in what smelt like beef dripping. And the mushy peas. Oh, the mushy peas. Words cannot begin to describe quite how good the peas were. Suffice to say, they were the best. Absolute end of.

Of course, such culinary perfection comes at a price. But that price is an absolute steal. At £4.40, the fish is slightly above the average, but so completely worth it in every way. Cod, chips, mushy peas, tartare sauce and a can of shandy came to just under £8. Eaten on the beach with a healthy pinch of sand the sea breeze in my hair. Paradise.

Interestingly, had I been served a battered ghoti, the chips would have been made out of ghoughpteighbteaus*.

The Magpie Café
14 Pier Road
North Yorkshire
YO21 3PU

*Hiccough, though, ptomaine, neigh, debt, bureau. Tenuous yes, but roll with it.

June 22, 2010

Lunch at L'Oranaise

Ah, sunny days and spontaneity. G and I were too snoozy to cook, ambling to Hyde Park Corner seemed like the perfect option and so a L'Oranaise trip happened. This place is a bit more on topic for this blog than some of our recent posts have been(!) and new for this post: I remembered to take my own pictures for the first time EVER. The things I do for you guys.

This was a light lunch so there was plenty of sharing, but look at the size of the drinks we started with:

Mine was only a smidge under a pint of blueberry smoothie, which was quite raspberry-heavy for a blueberry drink but had all the requisite seeds in it (it wasn't from a packet! hooray!) and was probably the most refreshing thing possible that time of afternoon. G's was simply wonderous; a caramel nut mocha frappe that sounds like a mouthful but had subtly rich flavours jumping out of it. Creamy and delicious.

Next was a mezze platter of shawarma chicken, hummus, cous cous, pitta and salad with tzatziki dressing:

The photo doesn't do justice to the brightness of the different components; it was actually a very colourful plate to look at. The cous cous is hiding under the tomatoes and had bits of red onion and sweetcorn and spring onion lurking in its depths, further increasing colour standards.

Both of us could quite happily have eaten the plate on our own; but, like I said, light lunch. The chicken was well-infused and soft, the tzatziki was zingy and there was enough pitta for the whole dish. Just perfect, if over in a flash (but that was completely our fault for sharing. Next time, greed all the way).

We decided on a banana split, but characteristically had decapitated half of it before even attempting to document it. Oops. There was honey and caramel sauce and if it hadn't been such a hot day the ice cream would have remained vaguely solid. The banana was the only natural ingredient in the dish, and certainly it wasn't quite as tasty as the mezze, but the flavours were well-balanced and we ate every last drop.

Then we went to the park and hung out. Thus ends the tale of the easiest lunch date ever. Obviously go; it's bloody brilliant, and couldn't have been more unfussy if we'd camped outside it in our pyjamas. The prices are exceptionally reasonable - our lunch, with extra drinks, came to a few pennies over 20 quid - and, if you're looking for something more substantial for the evening, they do wonderful authentic Algerian tagines (and pizzas, and cous cous, and stuff off the grill...). Love it.

1 The Crescent
Hyde Park

June 14, 2010

How to do Italian cuisine, with love from Ikea and Greece: Giorgio's, Headingley

This time, Tom and I were determined not to get carried away. For the second in our dual-authored two-parter, hereby christened, "The notafuckingfoodie Banqueting Bonanza", we were most definitely dedicated to sticking to a student-esque budget. Sod's law, therefore, that the bill came to £60. Definitely not our fault. Yep.

Once again, our feelings came out as a very mixed bag. To help illustrate this we'll keep with the same format from before, for continuity's sake:

Tom over here...
... and Marianne over here.


Perhaps what struck me about Giorgio's was how plain it seemed. Every British city is swamped by Italian-inspired restaurant chains, from Ask to Zizzi, meaning any independent really needs to stand out. While Giorgio's red leather seats and trendy colour prints on the walls put one in mind of a fairly racy foreign bistro, the laminate flooring and Ikea door handles made it feel like so many of the newly-outfitted Hyde Park student houses we've come to know over the last three years.

Hmm, think I disagree here. Headingley is not just for students, honest, and Giorgio's sets itself out as a classy if unintimidating venue that even your grandma might well enjoy on a special occasion. And the waiters. They topped up our wine! They swept the crumbs away after every course! Maybe I should be more used to it but I am such a sucker for attentive service.

A disappointing starter for me - based on the assumption that the quality of a restaurant can be found in the way it approaches the basics, I ordered the classic Caprese salad. Sadly, at £6.50 it proved to be more of a Ca-pricey. The tomatoes were one-dimensionally sour and needed as much salt as possible to bring out any depth of flavour. The mozzarella had the texture of damp shortbread and was nowhere near creamy enough, while the basil leaves in an insufficient amount to provide the dish with any actual flavour.

My starter was mussels in cream and white wine sauce, which the accompanying sourdough lapped up (and it was a nicely olivey ciabatta. Came with a good, thick balsamic too). Can't go wrong. The mussels were huge and I hadn't eaten for at least half a day so wolfed the lot down. And, in fairness, they were cooked very well - not a sloppy or rubbery one in sight - but it was pleasant rather than spectacular.

Going again with the simple flavours, I had the gnocchi in a saffron and parmesan sauce. By far the highlight of my meal, the dish was a beautiful earthy yellow, and subtly flavoured with onion, garlic and parsley. Subtly to the point of not imparting any particular onto the dish, but the gnocchi's gutsiness was marvellously counteracted by the creamy sauce in an fairly irresistible combination that didn't fail to satisfy.

Main for me was fruita de mare with linguine, tomato and chilli. For someone that's awful at dealing with spicy food, I was surprised at how intense yet manageable the kick was. The tomato shone through, as did the clams.
This appears to be the order of the day with Giorgio's; everything is flavoured tastefully. It's not new, it's not particularly exciting, but it succeeds well in what it does.

Pudding was a tiramisu, and instead of pull[ing]-me-up, it let me down quite considerably. Although it was priced at £4.25 and the size of D battery, these failings may have been overlooked if it tasted of anything. It may be a criticism to level at all kinds of meals, but it just needed more alcohol and coffee. Even at that small size, it was just too spongy and creamy. Still, at least it came with an attractively sliced strawberry on the side.

My panna cotta got better throughout. The berries were... well they weren't sharp, but they were "not sweet" enough for there to be a contrast, and once I started taking bigger spoonfuls of panna cotta I managed to discern a genuinely wonderful vanilla undertone. If only there had been more of it, then it would have been worth the £4.75 listing.

Giorgio's is run by a lovely Greek fellow, and while the menu is varied and the food is good, it is inauthenic, standard Italian fare. Considering the restaurant's proximity to the fairly excellent Salvo's, it is quite a wonder how it manages to compete. However, for a quick meal out when you don't want to cook but want something a little more upmarket, it's perfect. There's a lunch menu available from 12 - 2 at £11 for two courses and £13 for three, making the prices ok enough to bring the family or a group of friends. For what it is (an unfussy, relaxed meal out) it's definitely worth a look-in.

Giorgio's Ristorante Italiano
70-72 Otley Road
0113 278 2030

May 30, 2010

A Mediterranean in Leeds: The Olive Tree

Well, to celebrate the ongoing success of notafuckingfoodie, the two of us went out for dinner at The Olive Tree - winner of the Best Mediterranean Restaurant in the Leeds Restaurant Awards. And as dedicated food bloggers (but not Fucking Foodies, mind), what was there to do but complete the meal with a review?

In terms of dividing up the writing, we'll use a cunning trick of internet publishing, and write with the following voices:

Tom here...
...and Marianne over here!

Upon walking into the restaurant we were immediately hit by the waft of good food and the buzz of lively chatter. But instead off getting bogged down in the miscellanea of the décor let's get straight down to business and talk about the food!

Chargrilled octopus on a bed of spinach with citrus dressing to begin with for me. My previous culinary experiences of octopus consisted of a tastelessly leathery sushi and gorgeously panfried tapas. This offering came in as a very good third experience - cooked so simply on the hot grill, the freckly, slightly burnt smokiness of the suckers and gorgeously meaty tentacles were brilliantly cut through with the dressing.

Starter of king prawns in a chilli and garlic cream sauce. These were surely not king prawns but Steroid Prawns. They were so huge, in fact, that their texture became even more squid-like than the octopus. Still gorgeous, however, and wonderfully complemented by an unusually sweet garlic aroma floating through the pool of cream sauce. All-in-all, though, the octopus juuuuust beat it.

The wine was a Cypriot white - named "Aphrodite" for some reason. Perhaps because of the ease with which one could knock it back? A fairly dry bottle of table plonk, really. Though pretty pricey at £14 a pop. Still, it added to the illusion of having a meal at some cheap family-run bistro near the coast in the mediterranean. And after all, that's why people eat at Greek restaurants, surely? That and the fabulous dips.

Ooh, taramasalata. Forgot about that. It was GORGEOUS, and deservedly award-winning. The cod roe almost took on a tomatoey flavour it was that juicy, yet remained rich and creamy. The just-warm pitta sticks that came with were the perfect accompaniment.

Agreed. I'd never claim to be an authority on Mediterranean dips (although growing up in south-west London has exposed me to an excessive amount of hummus) but it was possibly the best bowl of mashed up fish eggs I've ever eaten.
Main course for me was a joint of slow roast Kleftiko Lamb, a traditional Cypriot dish cooked with garlic and oregano. The meat was gorgeously tender, flaking softly off the bone at the merest stroke of a fork. served again of the spinach salad, the meat was incredibly well done, but felt it needed just a little kick more of garlic. Of course, as with anything labelled as 'traditional', I have no bloody idea whether the garlic is supposed to be subtly infused or powerfully overwhelming. But I love garlic. Crave it, even. Oh well.

Main of red mullet on bed of capers and salad: There were no capers. I love capers and there were none. That was half the reason I ordered the dish. The lack of capers was sort of made up for by the shock of not one but THREE red mullets sitting delicately poached on my plate. However much warm spinach salad the chefs were willing to throw at me (with again an unusually sweet vinaigrette! Is this a Greek thing or was there extra sugar in the kitchen?) there was no way I could eat all that fish. The, uh, petite wedge of lemon provided couldn't possibly make up for the lack of flavour throughout the mullet, and Tom gamely finished the dish off for me. Again, the lamb won in terms of amount, flavour, presentation (although the mullet's presentation was very good) and for simply having all the components listed on the menu. Hmph.

Since neither of our dishes came with something starchy to soak up the lashings of citrus dressing, we ordered a dish of Briam to share - a sort of Greek ratatouille flavoured with dill, the flavours were earthy and rich, but we just couldn't manage to eat all the food. Should have got the chips.

Dessert was baklava: initially was disappointed by having only one but then I realised not just how much it had been "poshed up" in terms of exquisite presentation, with trails of sauce and icing sugar floating over the bowl - I tasted the damn thing. More pistachios seeped out through the pastry layers than I could ever have imagined and the syrup was delicately flavoured and not too heavy. No need for any accompaniment; the baklava was balanced all on its little lonesome.

My Stafidhopitta was slightly less satisfying - similarly, a singular portion of filo pastry-based sweetness but instead of pistachios, was filled with sultanas and flavoured with orange liqueur. Unlike the delicately balanced baklava, it was just too sweet. To the point of sickliness, even, and had to be quickly counteracted by an immediate serving of strong espresso.

Overall, the food was impressive, if a little expensive. The bill for two eventually came to £96 - perhaps a little too much emphasis on filling stomachs rather than satisfying palates and well out of the range of most student budgets, but there exists a much more comfortably-priced set menu, with three (presumably smaller) courses for £14. We should have gone for that option really. Oh well.

The Olive Tree Headingley
74-76 Otley Road

Tel: 0113 274 8282


May 21, 2010

Getting a taste for the tasting menu: Anthony's.

Today, my friends, I am taking you to Nom Central. The wonderful and expertly coiffed G turned 21 and, as the ultimate treat, we had the tasting menu at Anthony's.

There were thirteen in our party altogether, and the attention to detail, the level of knowledgeable service and mouthwatering presentation given equally to all of us was absolutely impeccable. Cannot commend the staff highly enough. Special mention goes to the dashing head waiter from Barcelona who could probably have told us where every ingredient was locally sourced from but instead gamely put up with many, many El Clásico jokes; you are brilliant. You are the bees' knees. Keep winning at life.

The mood lighting and tasteful minimalist cream interior set the relaxed mood, punctuated by swift service; all eight courses had about fifteen minutes between each and no-one was left waiting. Accompanied by approximately a bottle and a half of wine each, this is what we ate:

1. Duck confit, butternut squash purée, hazelnut powder.
Purée in this case means absolutely 100% smooth as a baby's bottom. It was like a zingy set yoghurt, offsetting the coarseness of the gamey duck. The hazelnut emphasised how sweet the duck was and tasted like Christmas on its own.

2. Onion risotto, parmesan air, espresso.
The parmesan came in a foam which oozed a mature aroma but, if anything, made the onion stronger. The espresso cut through the creamy sauce and created a wonderful residue which lingered long in the mouth after the course had gone.

3. Moroccan spiced scallop, apricot reduction, chocolate reduction, pistacho sauce, chocolate prawn cracker.
The point in the meal where the waiter definitely explained what everything was, but tipsy time meant it was more fun to discover the flavours yourself on the tongue. The soft scallop's delicate flavours were not overpowered by the spices, especially when teamed with the juicy apricot.

4. Smoked haddock, manchego, white sauce, chicken skin, chestnuts.
My absolute favourite of the evening. The white sauce was poured over the manchego, creating a theatrical level of smoke and showing off the nutty, meaty qualities of the smoked fish. To quote G's mother, 'Oh God, I've died and gone to heaven!'

5. John Dory, chorizo, whelks, butternut squash purée.
Ah well, you can't have it all. Unfortunately, no-one seemed to be a fan of the texture of the whelks; they were a little rubbery and a discernible flavour was lacking. Also, a slight sense of déja vu with the reappearance of the squash was a shame. The chorizo, however, was gorgeous, meaty and oily and wonderfully punchy, making the John Dory seem almost smoked. Yum. I would have had more of the chorizo than anything else!

6. Pork belly, pig's tail, pig's ear, sushi prawn.
This is a personal bugbear, but I was hoping for red meat for the 'main'. Not to detract from the loveliness of three different types of pork, however. This dish was particularly immaculately presented and, through experiencing different parts of the same animal on the same plate, it helped us appreciate the subtle flavours throughout the little meat we actually got. The prawn was similarly juicy and delicious.

7. Bulgur pudding, vanilla sponge, cardamom milk, apple sorbet.
The first of our two desserts would have been a posh rice pudding if it wasn't for the milk being sent down from heaven and the bulgur being as soft and starchy as the risotto we had eaten before. It definitely had an aroma of vanilla, rather than sugar, and the sorbet (while miraculously staying cold?!) tasted like extra apple juice had been syringed into the middle of it. About a melon ball's worth of appley concentration and I am salivating while writing this.

8. Peppermint chocolate cheesecake, salt toffee foam, brittle, almonds.
The cheesecake mousse came in two piped tubes about the size of a piece of chalk, but were surprisingly thick and substantial considering their size. The peppermint oil was particularly wonderful, offsetting the sweetness of the toffee foam. The cake was completed by the crunch of the nuts and brittle, similarly sweet and satisfying.

Lordy. Save those pennies, create a special occasion and go go go! Perhaps price-wise it might be sensible to go for the á la carte - and certainly the taste won't disappoint - but portion-wise we came away from the tasting menu not just feeling full but like we'd experienced a myriad of cookery delights and skills. This sort of place is deservedly a one-off, and definitely something to be experienced. The tastes will linger on for weeks afterwards.

19 Boar Lane
0113 245 5922

May 17, 2010

Ode to the Potato - from Earth to Oven

A belated update, due to the pressures of finishing off a degree. It's not as if there's been too much to write about, as I've been surviving mostly off coffee, instant noodles and bags of Bombay Mix; incredibly healthy, I know. Yet born of a need for low effort meals and an ever-dwindling supplies cupboard, I thought I'd share one of the more nutritious (and delicious!) meals from the last few weeks. There's a certain romance to the jacket potato that I've not quite been able to put my finger on – is it the lingering memory of an early childhood visit to the Tooting Spud-U-Like? Or its roots as a solid working class meal that appeals to my Guardian-reading public school guilt? The jacket potato has long been the cheap staple for lunch, served at home from the oven or out of a polystyrene tray in a cafeteria. Easily multiplied, requiring minimal effort and infinitely variable in the filling. It seems to be the ideal student meal (especially with the classic combination of baked beans and grated cheese), yet I feel the jacket potato is an all-too-rare occurrence in my own life. In the (going on) three years I've been a student, I can't say I've relied too many times on the simple pleasures the dish provides, often preferring more involved fare. As lovely as a couscous and feta salad is, it doesn't exactly fill a hole in the same way. Thus, I hereby present a simple mediterraneanish filling for the jacket potato that provides a welcome change from baked beans, but is still satisfying in its own way.

A quick note on cooking methods: a jacket potato is never made in a microwave. A baked potato, sure, if you're short on time, but it'll never develop the crisp skin and fluffy inside that defines the jacket potato.

Serves 1

1 largish potato (floury variety)
Sunflower/vegetable oil
Rock salt (i.e. coarse grains)
Half a courgette
2–4 cloves of garlic (depends on how garlicky you want the dish to be)
1 tablespoon of capers
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 tsp dried / 1 tbsp fresh Basil
1/2 tsp dried / 1/2 tbsp fresh Oregano
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Grated Cheese (optional)

Begin by heating the oven to about 180. Clean and scrub the potato, and coat liberally in oil - olive oil may be healthier but doesn't quite crisp up in the way sunflower oil does. Then rub the sock salt into the oily potato. This draws out the moisture from the skin of the potato, again helping to create the desired crispy jacket. Whack the potato into the oven for an hour to an hour and a half, turning halfway through. I've yet to work out whether covering the potato in tin foil is at all beneficial, but intuition says it would keep the moisture in, delaying the development of a truly crisp skin.

For the filling, thinly chop the courgette and garlic, and fry in a mixture of butter and olive oil for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to brown slightly. Roughly tear up the herbs (if fresh) and add to the mixture, along with the capers, salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato purée and cook off for about 5 minutes more to let the flavours develop. Simple!

The potato is only done when the skin has browned and crisped up - the inside may be cooked long before that point, but remember this is a jacket potato, not merely a baked potato. The skin should audibly crack when you cut it open, and stick into your gums when you try and eat it.

When it's done, slice open, ladle on the topping and cover in more more salt and pepper if needed. I added cheese because I just needed it. Not a posh cheese either - it has to be the cheap kind that melts easily and coasts everything in a lovely fatty layer.

The filling may seem weird in that it doesn't feature onions (an omission caused by not having any in the house) but it didn't feel at at lacking. The beauty of the filling is that it is infinitely variable. Some sun-dried tomatoes, a couple of anchovies, or roasted aubergine would all have gone well. It may take a long time start to finish, but the effort level is so ridiculously low it hardly matters.

May 14, 2010

Good friends and good memories: A Quickie in the Dry Dock for old times' sake.

Well, final hand-in was a total anti-climax. No sunlight for a month plus sudden decrease in stress levels equals getting drunk off three pints and then falling asleep. Lame. Lunch the next day, however, became all the more real in terms of Life Stage Transgression Fun Time when we had to say goodbye to the only coursemate still with dreadlocks, Tom Cat T. Sob. Violins. It was so emotional we wouldn't have finished eating, except that I think B and I had both missed breakfast.

This is essentially a review of the Library as well as the Dry Dock as they're both run by the same chain, Scream. Both have their points of merit; the Library has long been famed for its comedy evenings (totally gutted I missed Alun Cochrane a couple of months ago) and as for the Dry Dock, no-one ever really gets over the novelty of drinking in a full-on boat.

Food-wise, there isn't much that can be said other than it's standard pub fare. In all honesty, it was pretty bog-standard, and not what I've come to expect from both places. T was happy with his Classic Burger, which came from the extensive burger menu and has always been on top notch form whenever we've eaten there, but was a little disappointed with the portion size when he saw how huge B's mixed grill was for the same price. This was an unusual complaint; the burgers are normally so huge they dig you a second stomach. Either Scream are shaving a centimetre off their burgers in These Troubled Times, or the cows were particularly small this year.

K, M and I had fish and chips, and while they honoured my request of garden peas instead of mushy (who even invented mushy peas? why would you do that?) they came out of the microwave pretty pebble-like. And there weren't that many of them. AND they appear to have stopped doing chunky chips; all our meals came out with shoestring fries, which had a nice sunflower oil-y crunch but are not what you want for the ultimate chippy experience. I also don't get this trend of serving fish and chips in paper on a plate. K made the point that, as the fish has come straight out of the fryer, it just sticks to the paper and you've got half your batter covered in it. It was good solid beer batter as well. The fish itself was perhaps a little overdone, but at least we could eat all of that.

B's mixed grill was absolutely huge, containing as it did steak, chicken, gammon, sausage, chips and several other trimmings... completely covered in salt. Everything bar the steak, however, was cooked very well. The chicken and the gammon especially were juicy and tender.

Overall, mixed bag. If you've been on a Sunday recently, let me know how the roasts are. I still have fond memories of the freshly minted lamb/thick gravy/three types of veg still with some flavour(!) and would love to carry on the idea that Scream bars are good at food. Hopefully we just went on an off day, coupled with the fact that emotions were running slightly higher than normal. Hopefully the memories of good times and good food won't have to be rose-tinted by student nostalgia...

Dry Dock
Woodhouse Lane
0113 391 2658

**PREVIEW** Next review is slightly off-topic in that there were eight courses in a much higher-brow establishment, but it was the best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life...

May 04, 2010

"The Lebanese invented everything, you know..." How to make tabbouleh, with love from Beirut.

Mmmkay, so it's been a little bit longer than a week. If anyone is particularly bothered, I'M SORRY. Like the rest of the student population, I've had work to do. This time of the year is the worst.

But anyways. Tabbouleh, done properly. I rang home to clarify and everything. The main point to remember is that you want it as acidic as possible; we're talking so sharp it will take a layer off the roof of your mouth. If you were to do a quick Google for tabbouleh recipes you will often find English versions recommending the usage of fresh mint or spring onion; this, according to my Beirutian father, is absolutely plain wrong. Far too mellow. To go over:

1. Try not to substitute ingredients. It really is worth beef tomatoes instead of normal, for instance.
2. Don't add anything else. This is my grandma's simplest and best.
3. When it says chop finely, this means 5x5mm pieces. Really small.
4. Don't chicken out! Once you've experienced the amount of zing, you will be hooked. Promise.

Makes a large salad bowl's worth of, uh, salad.

Half a mug of dried bulgur wheat
Two beef tomatoes
One large white onion
Whole packet of dried parsley, or half a pot's worth of fresh.
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice (in all honesty, the bottled stuff is better in this case, it's slightly sharper)
salt and pepper

Soak the bulgur wheat for about half an hour, so it still retains a bit of bite. FINELY chop the tomatoes, onion and parsley if using fresh. Bung everything mentioned so far into a bowl, mix well.

Season well with salt and pepper. Add two or three good glugs of olive oil, so the mixture looks glossy. If you want to do the lemon juice the Lebanese way, add enough so that the lemon is very definitely the main flavour. You should find that the other flavours will still come through because of the salt, but they'll be secondary certainly. If you want to balance your flavours go right ahead I guess but y'know, I will judge you from the spheres of the internet.

And you're done! Serve with most fish, especially salmon. Get some pitta or, ideally, khobez (one of the shops on the takeaway row near The Library/Henry Price does large bags of it), tear chunks off and use as pockets to eat the tabbouleh with your hands. Scrumptious :)

April 24, 2010

Healthy Saturday Brunch (Not a Healthy Saturday Brunch)

I woke up this morning with an insatiable yearning for some junk food. And not just any junk food. I've always found the McDonalds breakfast menu to be incredibly exotic, available as it is only before 11. Or is it 10? That uncertainty, that window of opportunity, contradictory to the any-time-you-like fast-food ethos, is what makes it so appealing. Unfortunately, I live too far away from any McDonald's to go in my pjyamas, so I decided to recreate the Bacon & Egg McMuffin within the confines of my own home. What follows is less of a recipe, more of a set of detailed instructions to get it in just the right way. There are so many methods of cooking bacon and eggs, after all.

Serves 1

1 Egg (or more)
3-4 Rashers smoked Streaky Bacon (or more)
1 English Toasting Muffin (or more)
2 Slices Processed Cheese (or more)

BACON: I had to defrost my bacon, so threw it in the oven for about 5 minutes to thaw out. This had the side-effect of cooking the meat gently and not shrinking the fatty portions as it would in a frying pan. To get the bacon to crisp up slightly at the edges, I then whacked it in a dry frying pan and put it on a gentle heat to render out the fats a little further. This means the bacon doesn't get too greasy, and doesn't burn at the edges either.

EGG: Despite professing to Not Be A Fucking Foodie, I do somehow have a set of 'Presentation Rings' given to me as a birthday present by my parents - tallish cylinders ostensibly for serving incredibly smooth mashed potato or rice pudding etc. Luckily, they are exactly the same circumference as the average muffin, and so I decided I had to use them to cook a perfectly circular egg. By placing one of the rings in the frying pan (an old cast iron family heirloom that's ever so slightly concave), the egg sits perfectly in the middle without dribbling all over the pan. Cook the egg in the ring in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil on a low flame. Since the egg is going to be slightly thicker than normal, the heat from the pan isn' going to fully cook through to the top before the bottom turns too brown, so put a plate over the ring. This allows the yolk to steam, cooking it from the top down as well as the bottom up. Make sure to jiggle the egg around a little to stop it sticking to the sides.

McMUFFIN: Slice (this time, don't tear) into two halves and liberally butter each side. Place a slice of cheese on the bottom and pop under a hot grill for about a minute until melted. Place the egg on top, followed by the bacon, followed by another slice of cheese. Repeat under the grill so that the cheese runs into the spaces in between the bacon, and top with the top half of the muffin. It is vitally important that you don't use anything but the cheapest, most artificial cheese available. Anything with any kind of cheddary tang would completely ruin the balance of the meal.

Eat quickly, while still warm. Serve with ketchup, strong black coffee and orange juice.

April 19, 2010

Arabic food so tasty it's Moorish. Geddit.

Damn you, third year; who wants to work when you can eat stuff. What better way to spend the first weekend back after a rather productive Easter, I thought, than to sack Aesthetics off (admittedly, that's not difficult) and have a long lunch with my favourite bearded fellow. It's for the good of the internet readership population, I thought. I'm glad you agree, internet.

Having already sampled the delights of La Cafetiere and L’Oranaise many a time we settled on that other stalwart of student Middle Eastern cuisine, Moorish. Besides the naff sandwich board propped up outside, décor was Arabic business as usual; low seats ordained with complicated patterns in the dark wood, once-bright cushions now faded with cigarette smoke heaped everywhere, very dark interiors with unlit candles on all the tables. Lovely.

We both decided on a bourek each, it being Moorish's 'trademark dish,' and we were not disappointed. My tuna parcel had been marinated in harissa but had a good layer of goat's cheese to temper the spices, resulting in every mouthful initially not being too spicy but leaving a good kick at the back of the throat. G's lamb bourek was more herby and kofta-esque, but had good even flavours. The salad that came with it was sublime; red and yellow tomatoes on spinach with red onion, and a vinaigrette that was so lemony it should have overpowered but instead just brought out the sweetness of the tomatoes. Oh god, I could have eaten that salad all day.

Now, the sides. Hummus, good (and probably homemade). Harissa, good. Checkchouka, flippin' excellent. Then the tabbouleh. Whenever I go to a Middle Eastern restaurant I make a point of trying the tabbouleh because it was my favourite Lebanese dish as a child, and I've been trying to find one in Leeds that lives up to the glory of my Grandma's recipe. Admittedly, the Lebanese way to do it is to completely drown it in lemon but it’s their dish, god damn it, and that's just how it is. The best so far has been La Tranquillité in town, but I will post my Grandma's recipe up later this week.

I don't care if Moorish has an Algerian take on Arabic cooking, one of the main ingredients in tabbouleh is tomato (everyone knows that, god) and there was NO TOMATO. Not even a cherry tomato sitting in the middle. Just none at all. It was wrong. G, the uncultured pleb, absolutely loved it.

The tabbouleh was a real shame, because everything else about the meal was above par by a mile. The chefs gave us knowledgeable, efficient service, a free pot of mint tea and some Turkish Delight on the way out. The baklava they made us for dessert was some of the freshest I've ever eaten. They were still warm; syrup spilt all over the plate, our pistachios overfloweth, rosewater seeped out of the pastry when we bit into it. Drool. We also shared a crème brulée which G professed was the 'second best crème brulée he had ever eaten.' Considering our dessert intake, that's more than a compliment.

Apart from the Abominable Tabbouleh, I would heartily recommend this place. Price tag for mains, sides, desserts and drinks was £15 per head, which we felt was perfectly reasonable. Happy Loan Day, one and all. Now stop worrying about your finals and go spend some of that well earned, essentially free money (for now).

225 Hyde Park Road
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS6 1AH
0113 275 3244

April 15, 2010

Guest Soup, the Best Soup?

Today's delicious recipe comes via two lovely ladies desperate to get this soup out into the cutthroat world of online food blogs. And they say fame comes hard. But seriously, it looks pretty tasty. I'm sure to try it as soon as I have the carrots! Enjoy!

Serves 2 hungry people

Pack of carrots, 500g
1 yellow pepper
½ a large onion
2 cloves of garlic
Chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli
Salt and pepper
Mild olive oil
1 vegetable stock cube

Peel and chop (into fairly small pieces) the carrots put in a pan and add around 1 litre of boiling water. Cut off the stalk and halve the yellow pepper, remove the seeds. Finely chop half the onion. Place the peppers (outside facing down) in an oven dish with a glove of garlic in the centre of each. Sprinkle the onions over the top and add a generous amount of olive oil. Place on a low/mid heat in the middle of the oven. Allow around 40 mins to cook the carrots and peppers.

Take the peppers out of the oven, remove and save the garlic and chop (they should be very soft and starting to go brown). Then chop the garlic, this should just disintegrate. Add all of this to the carrots. Save the onions as garnish or as a snack for your house mate while he/she is waiting for the soup to finish. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil and the vegetable stock cube to the mixture and then add the chilli, to taste. Take off the heat and blend, a hand blender is fine. 

Serve with bread and salad. 

"Quick and easy, this soup rocks. The amount of chilli you put in is directly proportional to the amount of cigarettes you smoke in a day. I think we were a little overzealous with our chilli but it still tasted like sunshine and rainbows. We ate this for dinner with rolls and salad but it is a very good idea for lunch."

April 13, 2010

Getting a Pizza the Action

When treating a friend to a dinner in on my second night back in Leeds, I was stuck with what to cook. Despite having just had a Sainsbury's delivery earlier that afternoon, I could find very few actual meals in the fridge - especially sinceit had to be vegetarian. Suddenly, I noticed the two pizza bases I had bought for about a pound or so. Small, tragically unappetizing things. I decided I could do better. So it was that I set out making my own pizzas from scratch. I only did a basic margherita but we ended up with almost too much food so it didn't feel lacking in any way. I used Sainsbury's Basic mozzerella - the texture's a little rubbery, but it's actually pretty tasty and very good value, unlike many brands of 'pizza cheese'

Makes 2 incredibly large pizzas

For the base:

500g  Strong bread flour
2 packets fast-action yeast
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
Water at room temperature

For the sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 Tins tomatoes
2 clovs of garlic
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp sugar
1 dried chilli (optional)

Begin by making the dough for the base. Make sure the flour has high gluten content - if you check the nutritional information, it should be at least 12g Gluten per 100g. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and slowly add water, stirring until it comes together in a dough. Top tip: I used a chopstick to mix, so as to avoid the annoyingly sticky dough hands I normally get when making bread. When the dough is of the right consistency (and when it will be, it's obvious), shape it into a nice big smooth lump, cover the bowl in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the sauce, simply heat the olive in a small saucepan, and add the tomatoes. This is one of those occasions where buying Basics tomatoes isn't worth it as you want a really good tomatoey flavour. I used one tin of expensive Napolina for the flavour and one carton of Basics plum tomatoes to bulk out as a compromise. Bring to just below boiling point and add the other ingredients. If you haven't got fresh oregano, substitute for 1 tsp of dried. The chilli shouldn't make the sauce at all hot at such low quantities, but if you're worried, leave it out. Leave the sauce the simmer and reduce for about an hour, being careful it doesn't completely dry out and burn.

To prepare for making the pizzas, turn your ovens grill onto its highest setting. For a more 'authentic' Italian pizza, you want to make simulate the conditions inside a wood-fired pizza oven, so you're going to need a lot of heat from directly below the pizza to recreate the hot bricks - simply placing your pizza on a wire rack won't work. A tip I picked up via Heston Blumenthal is heat a cast iron pan or similar on the hob to get really hot, and place the pizza on the base of it under the grill. I had to make do with a baking tray made of what I presume is steel, but it did the job. This Video explains fairly well.

To make the bases, simply divide the dough into two, and roll out. It doesn't have to be circular by any means, but it'd be nice if you can get it. Be warned, this is the hardest part of the recipe, and the dough can end up in an extremely wonky shape that may not fit in your oven.

Add your chosen toppings. I used a ball of mozzerella torn into chunks, a few basil leaves, and some olives on each one. Why bother with anything more complicated? Whack under the grill for about 3-5 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because it all depends on how hot you can get your oven to go. Intense heat is the name of the game, as it gets the crust to rise up quickly, and will char the dough beautifully. Serve instantly, with a bit of salad and a lot of red wine.

I was quite shocked at how easy the dish was to make - of course, it took a little time, and the end result wasn't perfect, but it tasted great and was immensely satisfying. Plus, it was ridiculously cheap. The two pizzas were more than enough, and I had enough left over both for breakfast and lunch the next day. Truly the best part of any pizza.

April 11, 2010

If you Don't Like Duck, you're Out of Luck!

As a farewell meal to celebrate the last time I would ever make the big move back up to Leeds before finishing all the learning, I was instructed by mother to "make something nice" with whatever I could rustle up out of the freezer. One rustle later, I found eight duck breasts amid the mounds of frozen peas and tupperware boxes of 3-month-old goose fat. Turns out they were given to us by my granddad, who either shot them or or got them off a mate of his. I don't know. I don't live in the country. Being wild duck, it was incredibly lean, and a world away from the fatty stuff I've seen so many times on Saturday Kitchen but never had the money to cook. Anyway, I was going to try something a little "asian", with ginger, honey and soy, served on a bed of fried noodles but that fell through when I discovered we didn't have any soy sauce and mum protested that she didn't want any "weird flavours". Back to the drawing board, I cast my mind back to watching Heston's Feasts the night before; in it, he reworked Duck à l'Orange into a series of savoury sweets as an homage to Willy Wonka and 60s cuisine. Obviously, I wasn't going to be mucking about with a sous-vide or any liquid nitrogen any time soon, but the way he described the original French dish made it sound pretty damn tasty. With his basic instructions in mind, I set out freestyling my take on it. Like most of what I cook, I don't make any claims to it being authentic, but it seemed to work alright. Pretty retro, and pretty tasty.

Serves 4
4 Duck breasts
2 tsp butter
2 tsp flour
3 Oranges, zested and juiced
150 ml chicken stock
2-4 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Honey
Salt & Pepper
Madeira (or similar liqueur - Grand Marnier would be appropriate)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Stir around to make a roux. When the mixture is beginning to brown ever so slightly, add the orange zest, and cook for a minute or so more; the oils in the zest will seep out and smell amazing. Add the juice of the oranges, along with the stock, and bring the mixture to just under boiling point. Now, here's where you;ll need to use your judgement. Taste the sauce. Depending on the oranges used, it may be either incredibly bitter or incredibly sweet. Add enough vinegar to sharpen the flavour so that it cuts through any sweetness, and add honey to cancel out any overly sour notes. I used about 3 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey, but it was mostly done by adding a little bit until I got the balance just about right. Be careful not to overdo it though - oranges should be the dominant flavour, naturally. When you've got it about right, slug in as much alcohol as you feel you can part with, and leave to simmer, stirring occasionally so as not to form a skin.

To cook the duck, simply season with salt and pepper, and fry on each side for 3-5 minutes, before finishing off for about 10-15 minutes in the oven. Because my duck breasts were pretty lean, I had to fry in oil and make sure it didn't dry out in the oven, but shop-bought duck doesn't need any fat in the pan - it'll release it's own. When the duck is finished, let it rest for a couple of minutes and arrange into attractive slices. The meat should be just pink in the middle, but with any juices running clear.

Serve with potatoes (mine were mashed) and vegetables (mine were frozen peas). Bon appetit!

As I mentioned, my duck ended up just on the wrong side of dry, but the sauce made up for that to an extent. The beauty of the orange sauce is that the sharpness cuts through the gaminess of the meat, but is balanced by a sweetness that complements the rich flavour. The sauce also came out a little thicker than I'd have wanted - I always overestimate the amount of flour needed in sauces and gravies. But still, it was a pretty tasty dish that was great fun to cook, and new experience!