Thursday, 29 November 2012

Learning to love Leeds - Kirkstall deli market

A good market warms the cockles of a foodie's heart. And fortunately there is a very lovely one a mere twenty five minute walk away from my new(ish) front door.

I don't know very much about Kirkstall Abbey despite its relative proximity, although Wikipedia reliably informs me that it was established in 1152. It is a beautiful site to wander round, certainly. What makes it even more appealing is that on the last Saturday of every month it becomes host to a fabulous deli market.

This was my first time there and I was very impressed by the range and quality of produce on offer - if, on following that hyperlink, the list of stalls doesn't set your juices flowing then you are made of stone.

It was beyond the limits of our power to sample everything on offer but D did sterling work on behalf of my blog readers - managing to put away a venison burger and a pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce. I had a mouthful of both - excellent, particularly the pork. We also indulged in a festive mulled cider - by way of a restorative, you understand. And I must give a special shout out to the sublime Brown and Blonde brownies. I tried a Malteaser one and, had I been a Victorian maiden, there would have been swooning. D reports that the Black Forest one was similarly good.

It is always a pleasure to find such sites and the fact that this one is so close makes it especially so. I for one am going to make Kirkstall market day a regular feature in my diary.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Recipe corner - Crispy lemon sole with potted shrimps and cucumber

I was round at D's last night and he cooked the most fabulous supper that I have to share with you. It's another from Heston Blumenthal's "At Home" book but with nary so much as a tweak or a twitch. Oh - tell a lie, he did double up the amount of cucumber for two people to get it all used up. I like cucumber, it wasn't a trial.

Actually, I tell two lies - potted shrimps can be slightly problematic to get hold of; D used two little 57g pots of Morecambe Bay shrimp available from Waitrose and I have adjusted the recipe quantities shown below to reflect this - hence the slightly odd amount.

This is a delicious meal - light but rich and tasty. Thoroughly recommended.


1 thick slice of white bread
Salt and pepper
Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon
2 Lemon or Dover sole fillets, skinned
1 tbsp groundnut oil
114g potted shrimp
5g dill
1/2 cucumber peeled, de-seeded and sliced
Pea shoots or other leaves for garnish

Serves 2, 10 pro points per portion

Pre-heat oven to 110C and line a roasting tray with parchment paper.

Cut the crusts off the bread and roll the slice out to about 2mm thick before seasoning with salt, pepper and some of the lemon zest.

Place the fish fillets on the bread and trim them so that they are the same size.

Heat the oil in a frying pan on high heat, and, when hot, place the fish in the pan bread-side down. Sauté for 3 minutes until the bread turns golden brown.

Remove from the pan and place the fillets in the roasting tray, fish-side down, for 5 minutes

Now put the potted shrimp in a small saucepan and warm gently over a low heat. When the butter is melted add the finely chopped dill, lemon juice, the rest of the zest, salt and pepper.

To serve: place the fillets, bread-side up on top of spoonfuls of the shrimp butter, drizzle some of the butter around the plate and with pea shoots.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Three go wild in...Surrey

Foraging is quite the in thing nowadays. Actually, strike that, I think we've passed foraging and progressed to street food. Or have we? I do try to keep abreast of food trends (my prediction for 2013 - fish finger sandwiches are going to be BIG) but I usually fail, mainly because my attitude is if it is tasty, eat it, and if making it is fun and groovy and good for the planet then that's cool too.

Anyway, while dahn sarf recently, my brother suggested a day out foraging in the wilderness which didn't exactly sound like my cup of tea until it emerged that said wilderness was located in Surrey where mobile phone signals abound, that there would be professionals to guide us and that lunch would be provided. Hurrah sez I, sounds like fun, and my Dad agreed. I suspect the prospect of lunch sold him too. And so the three of us, intrepid explorers all, set off along the treacherous pathway that is the M25.

The fruits of one's foraging obviously depend on the season and so ours was predominantly to be fungi based - which is excellent as I am very partial to a good mushroom. This was foraging for the genteel however, and the first half of the day took place in a centrally heated environment (albeit a very attractive converted barn) where we drank coffee, ate chocolate biscuits and looked at pretty pictures of things one could and could not eat. It was not until after an excellent lunch that we strapped on walking boots and set off into the forest.

I have to say, the main thing I learned about foraging for mushrooms was: don't do it unless you have a mycologist with you. Seriously. Our hauls were scrutinised before we were allowed to take them home and an alarming number of very innocuous looking mushrooms ended up in the bin marked "Deadly". I'm not even kidding.

This one is slightly more obviously sinister looking (in a pretty, fairy-tale type way):

The other thing about mushrooms is that however many you think you've got they cook down to much less. Still, our labour was not in vain as my brother put them to excellent use the following morning as part of a post-hunt breakfast.

I don't think that Bear Grylls has a thing to worry about but it was a fabulous day nevertheless. The provenance of what we eat is pretty high profile these days but even so, it is rare to have the experience of getting out there and retrieving it with your bare hands and when D2 served up breakfast to the family the next day I felt distinctly proud. I'd be interested to do it again at other times of the year when the focus of the hunt (if one can use the word hunt when talking about mushrooms and other assorted woodland plants) would be different.

There are plenty of these courses available if you sniff around online, but I would thoroughly recommend the chaps who ran ours, not least because they were both self proclaimed foodies who were not only interested in the foraging side of things but the cooking as well and the lunch provided was excellent. Let me tell you, a tummy full of guinea fowl stew and apple tart really helps when you're plunging your hand into dank undergrowth. Check out the Wild Harvest website here.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Recipe corner - date and orange muffins

Yesterday, after a day in the classroom, I was seized with the desire to come home and bake. This muffin recipe has been in my file for a long time and, while a low fat cake is a) something of a contradiction in terms and b) never quite the same as a full throttle one, these are tasty moist little things, perfect for those days when you need cake for breakfast. Which, let's face it, is most of them.

I would apologise for the fact that I have half fat butter in my fridge, but it is still quite early in the morning and I'm sleepy. So I'll just say that yes, I know true foodies will snort in derision, hang my head in shame and get over it. I find that Anchor and Lurpak lighter options are both fine for baking and sandwiches and help shave off a few points here and there. Which means that you can have more of the good stuff slathered on your toasted crumpets or freshly baked bread.


200g plain flour
60g muscovado sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dried dates, chopped
100ml skimmed milk
120g low fat toffee or vanilla yoghurt
1 medium egg
Zest of 1 orange
50g half fat butter, melted, at room temperature

Makes 9 muffins, 5 pro points per muffin

Preheat your oven to 180 and line a muffin tray.

Set aside 10g of the sugar.

Then, combine your dry ingredients: flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate and stir through your chopped dates.

Now whisk together the wet ingredients: milk, yoghurt, egg, zest and melted butter.

Can you guess what happens now? Yep, briskly combine the two. Conventional wisdom is that you should never over stir muffin mixes. I just let my Kitchen Aid at them for 30 seconds or so which was fine.

Spoon in the muffin cases and sprinkle over the reserved sugar. Bake in the oven for around twenty minutes.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 19th November 2012

Wow, it's been a while since I did one of these. But I am determined, determined to start eating like a normal person again rather than a student. No offence to any students out there and perhaps it has changed since my day (!!!) but well balanced, healthy meals did not tend to feature high on the radar. Part of the problem was that my college didn't supply students with ovens - a cunning ploy to make them dine in halls. These days I think I would rely heavily on a slow cooker but back then (and I keep talking like it is the dimmest and distanest of pasts and it was only ten years) I just shrugged and cooked pasta. And toasties. Not generally together.

So yes, meal planning. I have a plan for this week. It's a bit heavy on the theme of childhood teatime favourites but when you're cooking to please yourself that's ok. And I have already started slotting these meals into my online tracker, so they're all WW compatible if not friendly.

Inspired by the lovely Lauren I've put my plan in a pretty template this week. Lots of fun playing with the Frame Artist app, I can tell you.

As always, head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A tale of two birthdays - part the second

D (husband) is not the only important initial in my life who has a birthday in October. The eleventh of said month marks the arrival into the world of D2, my younger brother.

This year, D2 turned thirty - an apt time for his sister to write some stirring words in tribute of her sibling. But I hope they're unnecessary, that he knows how much I love him and admire the man, husband and father he has become.

Schmaltz aside, his thirtieth was a fantastic opportunity for the family to get together and do some celebrating. And when we celebrate in our family we tend to eat and drink. A lot.

I had been to Le Gavroche for D's fortieth a few years ago and remember it as being very nice. Nice is such a damning word, isn't it? Nice is a little pedestrian, a little forgetable but in a hey - you tried hard sort of way. Admittedly, my memories of Le Gavroche were at the upper end of nice - deserving of at least a very and possibly even an extremely - but I don't remember being blown away. This time I was. This time, every dish sang out to me, all accordions and Piaf and tumbling carousels beneath a Parisien moon.

I liked it.

In the top left hand corner here we have a soufflé Suissesse which is like eating a cheesy cloud floating on cream. I mean, nothing not to like about that. And next to the soufflé we have a foie gras parfait with ice wine vinegar jelly and gingerbread. Scrumptious. Bottom left was my dish of the night - stone bass with Arabian spices, red rice and braised fennel. I was expecting to enjoy it (I never met a bass dish that I didn't like) but this was heaven. The combination of textures on the plate, the delicate warmth of the spicing which somehow enhanced rather than masked the sweet fish - I got to the end of the plate and wanted to eat it all over again. Finally, pictured in the bottom right, was a gratin of langoustine and snail in hollandaise sauce. Lurking beneath that golden exterior is a cheeky little parsley and garlic purée which worked perfectly with the intense butter and succulent flesh.

Black pudding followed, with a crispy egg complete with unctuous golden yolk. Black pudding is, I think, one of my favourite things. The venison (top right) with parsnip purée was the favourite dish of the night for much of the table and the only one to be delivered to the table under a cloche to be swept off with much dignity and careful timing by the waiting staff.

Look at the cheese! This was a cheese trolley of great distinction. My father, who as I have said before is a great lover of cheese, was like a child in a sweetshop. The rest of us were scarcely less enthusiastic.

The final course I was expecting to be a disappointment. You see, on the sample tasting menu on the website, there was mention of a chocolate and praline and raspberry creation that I had been hoping to see, but it had been ousted by a baba (of Calvados rather than the more traditional rum). I needn't have worried. This baba was dense and sticky and sweet and boozy and all manner of delicious.

For all the food was rich and plentiful we none of us felt uncomfortable by the end which is a testament to the balance and restraint shown by the kitchen. The kitchen which, incidentally, we were shown round at the end of the meal, as arranged by my sister in law. It was amazingly small for something producing so
much deliciousness.

In summary: Le Gavroche is no longer to be deemed as nice by moi. No, not even very nice. It was sublime. And, I think, a very fitting place to celebrate a very special brother.

With thanks to V for being the photographer for the evening!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A tale of two birthdays - part the first

It has long been a rule in our household that no one (read: me) is allowed to mention the C word until after D's birthday. Well, that has now been and gone and so happy countdown to Christmas everyone! The red cups arrived into my local Starbucks on Friday, so skinny gingerbread lattes all round!

And the birthday? So nice of
you to ask! You know us - never ones to let an estrangement get in the way of a good meal so we decided to visit Anthony's in Leeds to see if one of the cities best regarded establishments lived up to expectations.

They were high (the expectations, that is). We'd been to Anthony's years before when it was still relatively new on the scene and raved about it to anyone who sat still long enough to listen.

But perhaps our palates have changed in the meantime. Or perhaps we caught them on an off night (and, in fairness, we had been told in advance that the freezers had broken down at the weekend causing chaos and confusion in the kitchen).

Because the food just wasn't that brilliant and when I'm paying £65 a head for a tasting menu I want brilliant.

There were bright moments. This dish, for example, was garnished with a rather scrummy salt and vinegar Quaver. The main constituent, pig snout, was a little gelatinous for me but I applaud the inclusion of a more unusual bit of pig.

The bass with chargrilled lettuce and labneh (a soft cheese made from strained yoghurt) was gorgeous. Simple flavours, a good variety of textures, perfectly executed - this I could have eaten over and over again.

But elsewhere, disappointed faces. Or rather faces etched with the strain of trying really hard to like something and just not succeeding. There were cauliflower "dumplings" which tasted like musty pannacotta. The main course duck, obviously cooked sous vide, was a lovely even shade of pink but was already lukewarm by the time it reached the table. There was altogether too much toasted buckwheat strewn about - not a cereal to which I warm.

Cheese was ok. I liked the fact that you got a cheese menu rather than a trolley. But we had to pay a supplement for it.

We neither of us warmed to the desserts either. D positively disliked the fig with salsify and blackberry (pictured top). The pineapple tart Tatin with Brie ice cream and black olive felt like it was going for shock value over taste with none of the individual components quite working.

I'm very keen to go back to Anthony's on a day where everything has been running smoothly. I want to give the place the benefit of the doubt based on the chef's obvious talent and our memory of past glories. I'd not go for the tasting menu again though - it's just too much money to pay for something that is not quite to my taste. £65, after all, would keep me in gingerbread lattes all the way through until C-day.

19 Boar Lane
0113 2455922