Saturday, 30 July 2016

TWTWTW: More of the same...with added bacon

I promise that as some point this blog will go back to being more than meal plans and the occasional bitch about how busy and crap everything is.  Promise.  I'm coming towards the end of a four year professional training course so, understandably, work is preying a lot on my mind at the moment.  The rewards at the end in terms of career progression (and money!) will be worth it, but I've become a bit of a one track record in the meantime.  I hate it, since I am not and never will be someone for whom their career is all consuming.  I mean, if writing about food was my career then perhaps things would be different but until someone pays me to sit at home in my pyjamas and blog (hopeful face), I am definitely a work to live type of person, whose level of ambition is simply being able to provide for a comfortable existence.  You can believe it when I say that no one is more bored by having to prioritise work and studying over everything else than me.

Except, possibly, Minx.

It's not all doom and gloom though!  On Monday, after a day stuck in a classroom with a load of similarly stressed out individuals, D decided that we needed to go and cheer ourselves up with some properly MESSY food.

Look at that, boys and girls!  Almost Famous caused a bit of controversy when it opened because it had some trying-to-be-cool-and-ironic-but-just-coming-across-as-misogynistic graffiti in their toilets but that is gone now and what is left are some seriously gooey burgers.  Yes, those are Doritos that you can see proudly poking their way out there.  And yes, that is a deep fried ball of mac and cheese pinioned to the top.  For all that there was a lot packed in to that burger, the bun stood up very well and the star of the show was undoubtedly the blushingly pink patty.

Oh, and we had to try the bacon bacon fries, for research purposes...

Yes, they're fries topped with bacon AND bacon mayonnaise.  Yes, it's ok to drool a little.

D, who has eaten a LOT of burgers in and around Leeds does NOT rate this one as highly as the offerings that can be found in Nation of Shopkeepers or Belgrave Music Hall.  And, if I'm really honest, some of the nicest burgers I've had recently have been ones we've cooked at home.  But still, sticky of finger and greasy of chin, it was a nice, albeit calorific, start to the week.

Right, now I'm off to stare at some computations and hope that D is the lucky UK winner of the £61 million Euro jackpot (he never checks his ticket until Monday morning so that we can dream for a little bit longer).  Enjoy the rest of your weekend, my friends, whatever you happen to be doing - unless you're revising for an exam too in which case - I share your pain.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Too hot to handle (blogging)

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am not finding the horrible damp, sticky heat that we are currently experiencing to be particularly conducive to anything. I'm a cold weather creature anyway, but I can understand the appeal of bright blue days and blazing sunshine, even if I'm not fully enthusiastic about it. Unremitting mugginess though...ugh. The cat and I spent quite a lot of the weekend lying around looking damp (me) and lethargic (both).

Another end of month meal plan - this seems to have come around v quickly, with July vanishing in a humid haze. It's not terribly exciting but it is a plan. D is out on Friday. If it's no cooler, I plan to drown myself in ice cream.

Tonight: Burmese chicken soup. I think it's Burmese anyway. If we bump a meal in any given week, soup night gets bumped first, so a pot can end up kicking around our fridge for a good while before we deign to eat the poor bugger.

Tuesday: "turkey" curry (from the freezer) with rice and flatbreads. It is "turkey" rather than turkey because it is D's Christmas turkey curry recipe but made with chicken.

Wednesday: mussel and leek "carbonara". Slightly experimental. May report back.

Thursday: cod with pea puree and creamy herb sauce. Had this last week, from a Nigel Slater recipe on the Guardian website. Loved it and required it again.

Saturday: oxtail and chorizo (from the freezer - no, I agree that it doesn't sound very summery) with fried potatoes.

Sunday: chicken, spatchcocked and cooked on the barbecue. Sides to be confirmed.

Monday, 18 July 2016

MPM: 18th July 2016

I have a two day tutorial in Manchester this week. Work won't spring for me to stay over because it is not far enough away to justify the spends (I'm not high enough up the ladder to be one of those Fat Cat civil servants that the press like to pillory) so I've booked myself into a little room above a pub. I've stayed there before and it's wonderfully nostalgic - like being a student again with the bare walls and narrow bed and shared bathroom. So Monday night's tea will probably be an M&S sarnie for me and freezer diving for D. And on Thursday night I'm off out for supper with one of the friends I made while being a student and we can laugh about the fact that we no longer have to put up with bare walls, narrow beds and shared bathrooms...oh, wait...


Tuesday: Cod with chilli and pea purée by the inimitable Nigel Slater.

Wednesday: fresh soup

Friday: Coconut poached chicken with stir fried veg (bumped from last week)

Saturday: "Wings n Things" - D is being mysterious, but it sounds like we'll be getting a slice of Americana here in Leeds

Sunday: Osso bucco with saffron risotto - another bump from last week. Veal shin has now been sourced and will be arriving on Friday.

Whatever you're up to, have a great week's cooking (and eating!)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pizza 101 (1): base and roasted tomato sauce

I have often said that my last meal on Earth would be bangers and mash with onion gravy. But pizza would be a close second. Good pizza - which, for my taste, is a thin and crispy base, a scant amount of deeply flavoured sauce, plenty of cheese (but not so much as to make the whole soggy) and a couple of carefully chosen, complimentary toppings.

That being said, up until last year I had never made it myself, being slightly intimidated by bread making. I've cracked that now, which means I can have homemade pizza whenever I like! Or, because D is forbearing but not THAT forbearing, on a relatively regular basis.

The amounts here make enough for 4-6 pretty decent sized pizzas. Once the dough has been proved it can be rolled into a ball, wrapped in clingfilm and popped in the freezer. Likewise, the sauce can be frozen in little pots. Defrost the two for 12 hours in the fridge. So, whack it in there in the morning and make pizza in the evening in less time than it takes to ring for a takeaway.

The trickiest part of pizza making (in my humble opinion) is rolling out the dough.  We have an excellent pizza restaurant at the end of our street and I have tried to study their technique as they effortlessly fling around dough creating perfect, thinly stretched circles.  But the fact is, if I try and throw dough it is likely to end up on either the ceiling or the floor.  A rolling pin is the only way forward.  But I've stolen an excellent tip from my Mum, and now roll it out actually on the lightly floured baking tray.

With regards the baking tray, another Mum tip was to use one with holes in to allow plenty of heat to get to the bottom of the pizza as well as the top.

When you are coming to make your pizzas, in lieu of a proper pizza oven, crank your domestic beast up to the highest it will go at least ten minutes before you intend to cook them so that they are up to temperature.  Roll out the dough as thinly as you can imagine and spread about a tablespoon of sauce over the surface.  You can, of course, use more sauce if you wish but to my mind a pizza should not be too saucey (oo-er).  Snow over a fine layer of Parmesan which adds seasoning and a touch of cheesy umami to whatever is coming next and then you are ready to add whatever toppings take your fancy.

For the base:


500g strong bread flour
10g salt
10g fast action yeast
4 tbsp olive oil
360ml cool water

I make this in a stand mixer using a dough hook and the instructions reflect that. If you prefer to make it without then just pretend that you hand is said hook! You may need to knead for a little bit longer.

Tip the flour into the mixer bowl then put the salt on one side and the yeast at the other so that never the twain shall meet. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil. Put the bowl in the stand with the dough hook attachment and set off at a low speed.

Pour in the water, watching for the point when the dough forms a ball around the hook. You may not need it all. You can now crank the speed up a couple of notches and leave it to work away for 5-10 minutes. The dough is ready when it is soft, silkily elastic and not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for a couple of hours. I actually follow the advice of Mr Paul "Silver Fox" Hollywood, making it in the morning and allow to prove all day. You don't need to leave it in a warm place if you do this - ambient temperature is fine.

For the sauce:


6 medium tomatoes, quartered
Onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil
Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Tbsp tomato ketchup
Tsp sugar
Small knob of butter

Sprig of fresh oregano (or tsp of dried)
Small handful of basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 150.

Toss the tomatoes in a tbsp of oil, the balsamic vinegar, the oregano and plenty of seasoning. Roast for around and hour and a half.

Once the tomatoes are out, heat the other tbsp of oil and sweat the onion for five minutes until soft. Then add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Squish the tomatoes down in the pan and combine well. Stir through the ketchup, sugar and butter.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before stirring through the basil and transferring to a blitzer. Blend until smooth and then, if feeling really cheffy, pass through a sieve.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

TWTWTW: out and about in Leeds

This week I learned a very important life lesson. Kale and vodka are not happy bedfellows.

Before I get to that though, a couple of Leeds eateries were sampled over the course of the week - it's almost like I'm in danger of having a social life! On Monday, D and I headed out for Thai food at a venue that we've been meaning to try for ages called Zaap. The menu read like an absolute dream with a good mix of small "street" dishes and larger classics like the ubiquitous green curry. The restaurant was bright and buzzy and packed out despite it being the beginning of the working week, but the food left us slightly underwhelmed. Nothing I could put my finger on but it was all just a little greasy, a little lacking in rounded flavours. The minced chicken salad (Larb Gai) was too perfumed for our palates with insufficient salt and heat to balance out the heavy handed application of lemongrass. We both agreed that the slightly more muted venue across the road, Thai A Roy Dee is superior if you're more interested in food than neon signs.

And then on Friday, a posse of ladies who lunch treated ourselves to a tapas and bitch session at the (I think) relatively recent opened Leeds branch of Iberica. Lots and lots to like here - my particular favourite dish being the chorizo lollipops that zinged with paprika heat. At £30 per head for more tapas than we could eat, a bottle of wine, two mocktails and two coffees, it was pretty decent value too.

It was during post tapas cocktails at another new venue on me, Be At One, that I made the unsurprising discovery vis a vis leafy greens and lemon vodka. I don't know whether it is supposed to be tongue and cheek or genuinely try to appeal to the clean eating brigade but the detox cocktail made with lemon vodka, lime juice, spinach, kale and pineapple was actually nasty. There wasn't enough fruit or acidity to balance the taste of iron. I adore kale, but this was just wrong. Fortunately, a porn star martini, made with passion fruit and vanilla vodka, restored my equilibrium and immediately leapt to the top of my favourite cocktails list.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Meditations on a Sunday roast

Is there anything that we Brits love more than a Sunday roast?  Well, probably many things (is the most popular dish in the UK still chicken tikka masala?) but a Sunday roast is surely up there.  The country may be in total disarray, the economy in free fall but this is one proud British tradition that will surely never die.

The big question is, what is your joint of choice?  D and I have pondered the point for years.  There are so many aspects to take into consideration.  The side dishes - you can't have sage and onion stuffing with lamb now, can you?  The leftovers - we're big fans of the leftover lamb biryani but, equally, cold roast chicken or beef make superior sandwiches (especially if you happen to have some blue cheese knocking around to season the latter).  It's a tough call, but I think my heart belongs to the roast chicken. 

Thus it was, when D saw a mention in the Good Food magazine of a roast chicken to end all roast chickens, we couldn't help but purchase it.  The Thoughful Producer* seems to be a relatively new endeavour which is all about producing the very best quality, free range chickens.  I suspect that these birds get massages.  At £15.99 they are not cheap (you can order direct from their website but we got ours through Ocado to avoid paying the delivery charge) but we thought the resulting product was very good indeed, and without getting preachy, I do think that consumers have a responsibility to buy and eat the very best meat that they can afford.   It's worth bearing in mind as well that this was a BIG CHICKEN - we derived lunch for four people, a round of sandwiches and six portions of curry from ours - that's eleven meals at £1.45 per portion.  (Please note that this is not a sponsored post - we just really liked the chicken and wanted to share the love.)

Back to the Sunday roast, and, to match such a beast we had to bring our A game to the sides.  D produced some fantastic hasselback potatoes, which were a bloody faff to cut but a delight to eat.  He tucked thin slivers of garlic and flecks of rosemary into the slits in the potato and drizzled with oil; the result was somewhere between a roastie and a jacket potato, crispy of skin and firm of flesh. 

Peas were sautéed with pancetta and shallots and seasoned with the merest hint of dried chilli which only served to enhance their sweetness.  And we roasted hunks of cauliflower until they were beginning to char and then poured over a sweet-sour dressing which included honey, sultanas and pine nuts.  Puffy, golden Yorkshire puddings and a rich gravy, enhanced by the bird's own giblets added the finishing touches.

The thing with Sunday dinners is that you have to resist doing too many dishes to preserve your own sanity.  But I would have loved to add more here - a sage and onion stuffing, a root vegetable mash, crispy roasted kale, batons of sweet, sticky parsnips, sausagemeat.  The list goes on ad infinitum.  Luckily, Sunday rolls around every week so there is always another roast dinner on the horizon to which we can look forward.  If you have any tips for new dishes or recipes then I would love to hear them!

ETA: Yotam Ottolenghi has some lovely ideas for chicken side dishes that are a bit more exotic and summery than good old roast spuds - see here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Recipe corner: Oven bottom muffins

These are apparently known as the bagels of the North, but they are quite different beasts (to bagels, I mean). D and I have been buying them for years; they are good for breakfast butties, burger buns and makeexcellent vehicles for spicy scrambled eggs among other things. It was only a matter of time and confidence before I had a go at them myself and I was chuffed with the results.


400g strong bread flour
5g salt
5g sugar
7g instant dried yeast
10g sunflower oil plus a little extra
15g butter
255g skimmed milk

Makes 6 large muffins

Have your stand mixer ready with the dough hook attached. Then place the bowl direct on the scales to weigh in the ingredients. I've listed everything by weight rather than volume which makes life slightly easier and saves on washing up!

Stir together the flour, salt and sugar then add the yeast and stir again.

Add the butter and oil, place on the mixer and set it off on the lowest speed. Meanwhile, weigh the milk into a separate jug.

After the fats have been mixed through - about a minute - up the speed of the mixer a notch and pour in the milk. I do this gradually, allowing the flour to absorb most of one splash of milk before adding the next.

When all the liquid has been added you will find that you have a rather sticky dough. At this point, I turn off the mixer and squidge it altogether with my hands before pushing the dough hook right into the middle of the ball of dough and setting it back off again. Knead, on a medium setting, for around five minutes at which point the dough should be silky and elastic.

Pour a little oil into the bottom of a separate bowl and then transfer in the dough, turning it a couple of times so it is lightly coated in the oil. Cover with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for an hour.

Once the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knock the air out of it, folding it in on itself a few times. Divide into six, roll the pieces into rough balls and place on a lightly oiled baking tray. Loosely cover (I put the tray in a large plastic carrier bag) and leave for another half an hour. Preheat the oven to 200.

Just before baking, push the muffins down with the palm of your hand to flatten and then make an indentation in the centre of each ball - this, apparently, is traditional.

Bake for 12 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Try and allow to cool before smothering with butter and shoving them in your face.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Wednesday's child is full of woe

I intended to do a post every day this week and then, this afternoon, accidentally took a very long nap. At what point does a nap become a full on sleep? If the line has been defined, I think that I definitely crossed it.

So, resorting to cute cat picture it is. Still to come this week though - how to make the "bagels of the North" and meditations on roast chicken.

I may be biased but how gorgeous is she? I never get tired of looking at her.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Chef's Table at the Dean Court Hotel, York

As regular readers will know, D and I lived in York when we were first together and a little piece of my heart will always belong there.  But York, in common with a lot of British city centres, suffers (when it comes to food) from a preponderance of middle of the road chain restaurants that squash out many of the more exciting and innovative independent ventures.  York is heavily reliant on its tourist trade and what the tourists want, it seems, is certainty.  And they can be certain that they will get something perfectly decently edible in Pizza Express or Jamie's Italian or Wagamama.  I wouldn't be such a hypocrite as to criticise people for it, but it is a shame that the UK food scene, outside of London at least, is at constant risk of becoming homogenised.

I always felt that York was missing some good, high-end-of-middle, quirky little bistro type places, especially once the late lamented J. Baker's Bistro Moderne closed its doors.  Le Cochon Aveugle got a fantastic write up in The Guardian earlier this year, and I've enjoyed the meals that I've had at The Star Inn The City, but you'd have thought (hoped) that there would be scope for more.  Well, the team at the Dean Court Hotel are very keen to make their restaurant a contender.  And with that in mind, a group of hungry people were invited across to a Chef's Table event last week in the stunning DCH dining room, which is situated literally in the shadow of York Minster.  If there is a better view in the city, I'd be very surprised.

We had to admit, while chatting to the hotel manager, that as York residents it would never have occurred to us to go there for dinner, and apparently this is a perennial problem for them, as is the fact that their guests tend to favour the safety of the City Chain Restaurant over their own hotel's dining room.  And that's a shame, because there is a lot to like about this venue.

There is the view from the dining room, of course.  But there is also a snug little bar in which to enjoy a pre (or post) dinner snifter, there is a very friendly team of front of house staff and there is, potentially, some very nice food.  The chef, Benji Thornton, is a lovely chap who is obviously extremely passionate about what he does.  He not only has an excellent eye for plating but an instinctive knack for interesting flavour combinations.  As it was a Chef's Table, Benji cooked the first couple of courses in front of us in the dining room, talking us through the ingredients and techniques he used (and throwing out a few extremely useful tips including the fact that if you want your food to taste good you need to add butter.  Lots and lots of butter).  Also in attendance was one of his suppliers, a forager who had brought with her the biggest mushroom that I have ever seen.  Seriously look at the thing!

Giant mushroom

Chef at work
I really loved the fact that Benji was so excited about making using of foraged ingredients - not just the mushroom but beautiful herbs such as wood sorrel as well - and that he drew so much inspiration from his home county and its amazing produce.  The pairing of Yorkshire rhubarb with duck and a five spice jus was particularly successful and one that I fully intend to "borrow" for my own kitchen.

Pigeon, beetroot, mushroom
Duck, rhubarb, five spice
The main problem with a Chef's Table is that it is taking the chef away from the kitchen.  The team downstairs, who cooked the dishes behind the scenes while Benji was entertaining us, were, I think, a little timid with regards the seasoning (Benji himself was very generous with the Maldon Sea Salt, so I doubt it is generally an issue).  The other problem is that it is difficult to time things perfectly - the food wasn't served until after Benji had cooked and plated his sample dish and, with regards the duck especially, the meat had started to cool by the time it reached the table.  Again, I doubt that this would be the case if you were a guest at the restaurant ordering from the standard menu.

Chocolate, salted caramel, strawberries
I've since studied the DCH menu in more detail and there are some seriously exciting sounding dishes on there (the idea of confit chicken wings with pea and wasabi soup is making me feel very hungry indeed).  When we talked to Benji, he said that he was very keen to create plates of food that celebrated the ingredients without being over complicated but nevertheless there are some cheeky little twists that sound most intriguing and, I am sure, everything is presented absolutely beautifully, as evidenced by the pictures above.  If you're in York and fancy something a little different then why not give this place a try?  The enthusiastic team there deserves our support and York itself deserves more eateries that are prepared to do something a bit different and a bit exciting.

I was invited to the Chef's Table event at the hotel and did not pay for the meal - however, all opinions expressed are my own and are honestly stated.  I am impervious to all forms of corruption, even edible ones.

DCH Restaurant at the Dean Court Hotel
Duncombe Place
01904 625082

Monday, 11 July 2016

Back in the saddle with an MPM

I haven't really been blogging lately. In between stress over work and exams and stress over the general state of the country I appear to have developed a serious case of ennui. I've been studiously avoiding the news as far as possible and binge reading trashy novels which is not necessarily contributing to my intellectual development but has the advantage of keeping me relatively sane.

This week, though, I am going to try and post something EVERY DAY. Even if it just a picture of the cat and a gushing comment about how beautiful she is. And what better place to start than a Meal Planning Monday?

This week, I am out with some girls from work on Friday to eat tapas, drink gin and set the world to rights. Other than that we are to be found at the homestead so six meals have been lined up for our delight and delectation:

Monday: Kedgeree

Tuesday: Corned beef hash

Wednesday: fresh soup

Thursday: coconut poached chicken with stir fried vegetables and a coconut, lime and fish sauce dressing

Saturday: homemade pizza

Sunday: Osso Bucco with saffron risotto

A mix there of old favourites and new recipes, with the weekend looking pleasingly Italian. Whatever you are cooking and eating next week, have a good one and please let me know any particular favourite escapist fiction in the comments - I'm always after new recommendations!