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.

March 17, 2010

"It smells leaky"

I wrote previously about the organic veg boxes we've been getting from the union recently; as brilliantly middle class and Guardian-reading it is of us, the downside is that we're now wading balls deep in kale and half-eaten beetroot. Half-cribbed off a Jamie Oliver recipe, I came up with the a creamy cheesy gratin-esque dish to use up all the leeks we seemed to have. Jamie often writes in his books that people don't eat enough veg, so he tries to make them more interesting/tasty. Turns out the following recipe probably negates any nutritional value the leeks may have had.

Serves 3

3 Leeks
4 Cloves Garlic
200ml Single Cream
100g Cheddar Cheese (or equivalent) 
1 stale end of a loaf of bread, turned into breadcrumbs
A few knobs of butter
1 tsp coarse grain mustard
Salt and Pepper 

Preheat the oven to about 200°C. Peel off the coarse, outer layer of the leeks. Rinse thoroughly, and slice each leek in half from the top to the bottom, leaving the base intact.  Rinse again under the tap - leeks have a habit of hiding lovely tasty soil in amid all those leaves. Finely slice the garlic, and gently fry in the butter. Chop the leeks into 1cm slices, and add the pan as soon as the garlic takes on some colour. Gently sauté for about 10 minutes until softened. Meanwhile, grate the cheese. When the leeks are cooked, add the cream, mustard  half the grated cheese and salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into a shallowish earthenware dish, and top with layers of cheese and breadcrumbs. Whack it in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the topping in golden brown, and serve immediately.

I served it with some beef sausages as an alternative to mashed potato, along with a good helping of steamed peas. Brilliant comfort food, and just what's needed at the moment. I suppose a good helping of chives would be nice strewn through the mixture instead of the mustard. You could add anything to the recipe to adapt it as a main course, I suppose. Shove in a sliced hard-boiled egg or two, some cooked pasta bows, some sliced bacon or ham and you've got an instant creamy bake. Couldn't be easier.

March 14, 2010

I'll grease your spoon: Popina's.

Well, I mean. Anyone in Leeds knows it would be rude to ignore this place but, dear Student Reader, I hope you appreciate how hard a task this article is. A piece about Popina's is not the sort you want to get wrong.

It's always difficult to judge the best fry-up this side of the Aire as it is, as one of the prerequisites of entering Popina's used to be that one must be hungover. Eventually it came to replace breakfast and end up as the main nutrition for the day, but we'll come back to that later.

So, the menu. Apparently there's sandwiches and shit on there as well, but who would know really. Get the breakfast, it’s not for the faint hearted. For a mere £3.50 you get a sausage, a rasher of bacon, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, a hash brown, an egg, four slices of toast and a cup of tea. That's the sort of all-inclusiveness you can only rely on in the North these days. Pay an extra quid and you get another rasher/sausage/egg/coronary.

And you know what? It might be a fry up, of course there's grease, but you get lots of food and its quality is really not that bad. There's practically a religion throughout Hyde Park it's that perfect in the stupor of the next morning's semi-death. The eggs are runny and there's lots of toast for dipping, the sausages are fat and not too porky (who wants actual meat acknowledgement? That's what the bacon's for, and it's nicely salty as it is), and stuff like butter and sauces and sugar for your tea are heaped liberally in baskets and bowls on the table. The red tops are scattered around and the radio keeps on humming. There are plenty of stools for when the extra few friends decide to stumble in half an hour after everyone else has ordered. The staff keep the atmosphere relaxed and don't ever try to rush you; you just know that the turnover’s pretty darn quick.

Unless, of course, you're rash enough to attempt the Mega Challenge. The price goes up to £6.50 now; over a fiver means Serious Territory. As well as everything with the large breakfast, there's now also two slices of fried bread, black pudding and double the toast. You must finish everything on the plate (yep, that includes the one weakness, the slimy mushrooms) to complete the challenge. You won't be eating for the rest of the week, so no need to scrimp on this one. Get the meat out of the way first (because that shit's REALLY hard if left 'til the end) and mop the rest up with the toast. If you finish your number goes on the chalkboard on the wall and you get a keyring, huzzah! Only 23 girls had completed it last time I looked, plenty of catching up to the 200+ blokes to do…

Every time friends have come up from home, this is the first place we go to. It's a bonding experience with course mates, a rite of passage from halls to Hyde Park living. Every student must experience this place. It's marvellous, legendary, satisfyingly tasty. Possibly the first place I'll miss once I finally leave this god damn city.

31 Brudenell Road
0113 274 4944

March 05, 2010

The Joys of Kale, and a Simple Dissertation Supper

For the first time in my three years at Leeds University, I bought a £5 organic veg box from the (slightly scarily vegan) Green Action Co-Op. Noticeable in among the refreshingly grubby potatoes and slightly shrunken celeriacs was a massive bag stuffed with some unknown green leaf - upon enquiry, I found out it was kale. Obviously, a quick wikipedia search and scour through the recipe books for what to do next was in order.

Not really coming up with anything in particular, I decided to just freestyle a variant on the standard lunch. Since the dissertation's due in (yikes) less than 14 days now, long complex recipes are out of the question. The following took a maximum of 15 minutes start to finish, is nice and light and I reckon is probably well healthy. Y'know, to get the brain in gear.

75g Linguine (or similar pasta)
100g Kale
1 Egg 
1 Handful Sunflower Seeds
1 Handful Pumpkin Seeds
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Dried Chilli
Salt & Pepper

Put the water on for the pasta to boil, and water for the egg if you want to poach it. Pick the leaves of the kale off the woody stalks and wash well. Rip into bite-seized pieces, and steam for about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, finely slice the garlic, crush the chilli and gently fry in the butter with the seeds. Poach or fry the egg (and here you're on your own - I always try and poach eggs a different way and it never really works properly), add the kale to the buttery garlic/seed mixture and toss around until all mixed together. Throw in the pasta, top with the egg and season. I drizzled a bit of walnut oil on top for flavour. Walnut oil's good for the brain, right?

Kale really surprised me - it was incredibly tasty, and had a wonderfully springy texture that  was completely different to any other cabbage I'd eaten. If I had them, I'd add some pine nuts, or some crispy lardons to really liven up the flavours. Hell, even a splash of cream could really transform the dish. On the flipside, though, cooking for one is always a pretty depressing experience for me. A good meal is tripled when those eating it are doubled. Or something like that, at least. Back in first year I often cooked for myself, due to differing work schedules/diets and the lack of a proper communal area back in halls. As nice as it was to have the freedom to try cooking new types of food, eating was mostly a solitary affair. Thank Nigella for housemates!

March 03, 2010

Coq au Something

Is there anything more satisying than a good stew? A more luxurious (i.e. meaty) offering today, it's called Coq au Something because I just threw in anything that would taste good. I'd like to think the use of addition of courgettes is a fusion of northern and southern French culinary styles, but it's only because I didn't have any carrots in the house. Dumplings are a great addition on a frosty spring night, but if you don't like them, mashed potato or crusty bread would be great to soak up all the delicious juices. I used a slow cooker purely so I could get all the prep done in the morning, btu it's just as easy in a casserole dish.

Serves 5-6

6 Chicken Thighs
2 Onions
4 rashers streaky bacon
1-2 Courgettes
1 stick of celery
2 medium potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Sprig fresh rosemary
2 Chicken stock cubes
1 Largeish glass of red wine
A fair amount of flour
Salt and Pepper

For the dumplings:
50g Suet
100g self-raising flour
Salt and pepper
Optional: assorted dried herbs

Tear the skins off the chicken and gently fry until crispy in a dry pan to render out the fat.
Slice the onions, chop the bacon and fry gently in a mixture of chicken fat and butter until the onions are soft (but not brown).Chop the garlic fairly finely and add to the mixture to cook for a minute or two. Remove the mixture from the pan and place in a casserole dish or similar. Do the same for the celery and courgettes (or carrots if you're using them) and sauté lightly until slightly golden. Add to the dish. Lightly coat the chicken in flour and fry until browned. Place the chicken in the dish and pour over the wine. Add the stock cubes, crumbled up, and enough water to cover the ingredients. Bung in the herbs, salt and pepper, and diced potatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour and a half on the hob, or cook for about eight hours in the slow cooker.

At some point near the end of cooking, make the dumplings by crumbling the suet into the flour, add the salt, peppers and herbs if using, and add enough lukewarm water to make a pliable dough. Divide into about 10 balls and simply plop on top of the stew. Leave them to cook for about half an hour and serve.

The meat should be falling off the bone, and the mixture will have taken on a slightly gloopy texture from the flour, bone marrow and fats reacting together in a tasty bit of food science. Using a slow cooker apparently saves energy and produces some amazingly soft meat, but takes a spot of faith and the willpower to not keep checking it, while using a casserole dish on the hob can make some lovely slightly burnt bits at the bottom of the pan. Using wine in cooking sometimes feels like a waste of perfectly good alcohol, but it really comes to the fore in meals like this. You can probably use any old shitty plonk - the bottle I used had been left open all night - and it'll still add a brilliant depth of flavour to the dish. The beauty of meals like this is that they're instantly appealing and infinitely adaptable. Cook for a bit longer, add a pasty topping and you've got an instant pie. It freezes well, and a small portion reheated with some brown rice would make a fantastically indulgent midweek lunch.