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