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 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!

April 10, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance Tagine

Moving back to the familial home for Easter has its benefits; namely a larger living space, better quality TV-watching time and a well stocked food and drink cupboard. Unfortunately the comforts of cooking back at home are slightly offset by the irritation of never quite having the right ingredients to cook that One Perfect Dish for dinner. Up in Leeds, I may not have many meats or vegetables (beyond a seemingly endless supply of long-frozen mince and green sprouty potatoes) but the spice cupboard is well-stocked with curry ingredients, and I have a fairly accurate mental image of my tin inventory at any given moment. In London, however, I find myself awash with empty jars of cumin and coriander seed, desperately waiting a refill from a packet that will then invariably spill itself all over the Marmite. As such, I was instructed by Mother to cobble together something for dinner out of chicken breasts and whatever I could find in the fridge. Since I tend to cook on my toes rather than properly measuring out anything before I begin, I kept finding that an ingredient I was sure we must have would be missing, and had to send my younger brother round to the shop. Chaos.

The final meal is what I'm pretty sure would be called a Tagine, but that label would probably massively offend any passing North African. But that's the way I like it. In the same way the rich meaty sauce of the Bologna region in Italy has turned into tomatoey Spag Bol, so too is this dish a product of our post-imperialist view of another culture's culinary styles. A tagine is technically a conical cooking pot, and so the dish refers to anything cooked in one. Obviously, I had to make do without. I always take the inclusion of sweet dried fruits and nuts to be the sign of a tagine, personally. Not to mention a heavy use of spices and garlic. In any case, it was pretty tasty, so I thought I'd share.

Serves 4

4 Chicken Breasts
3-4 Medium Onions
3 Carrots
2 Sticks Celery 
4-6 Cloves of Garlic
1 Tin of Tomatoes
75g Dried Apricots
50g Chopped Almonds
3 tsp Ras El-Hanout
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Thyme
2-4 Dried Chillies (or more!), crushed
Salt & Pepper

Melt a mixture of oil and butter in your casserole dish. Slice the chicken breasts in half, and fry gently. Slice the onions and add to the pot. Finely slice the carrots and celery, and add to the dish, stirring occasionally so as to avoid the onions catching. Add salt and pepper. Chop up the garlic and throw into the pot, along with the spices. Slice the apricots finely, and throw in with the almonds. When the vegetables are soft and the onions golden, add enough boiling water or stock to cover the mixture, followed by the tin of tomatoes. Bring back to the boil and simmer for about half an hour. Serve. !لذيذ المذاق

Ras-El-Hanout technically could mean any blend of spices (much like a Garam Masala) but I used the Bart Spices brand purely because it was in the cupboard. It had cloves and rose petal in. I would have added a tablespoon or coriander, and probably a bit of cumin, but sadly the spice cupboard was almost completely bare. I served this with couscous and my "famous" flatbreads (like most things in life, nicked off Jamie Oliver). I'll share a recipe for them another time...