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.

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