Thursday, 29 September 2016


I read a story this morning that Kirsty Allsopp, she of the C4 property series "Location x 3", had provoked ire among her Twitter followers by commenting on some random guy's breakfast.  Said person had consumed "A glass of coke, a cappuccino, a croissant and a ham and cheese sandwich," and, as a result, "Our NHS is toast".

I don't know about you, but I suspect that the person in question was attempting to assuage the mother of all hangovers - that lot is classic morning after fare.  But whether that is true or he was just getting off a night shift or he happens to like starting the day with caffeine and fat fuelled bang, it doesn't really matter. 

See, the first thing that occurred to me was, I bet the man was fat.  Ms Allsopp doesn't tell us (not enough characters left after listing out the gory details of the meal that insulted her so), but I have observed that in general, criticising the diet of fat people and pretending it is really a debate about the state of the country's health service, appears to be considered fair game.  It's why every time you see a news story about the rise in obesity rates it is accompanied by a picture of someone wearing jeans that are several sizes too small and chowing down on a cream bun. 

We all know being fat is unhealthy, and that discussions need to be had around what our poor, beleaguered health service can cope with (which is a far more complex point than "Let's not treat fat people and smokers!" whatever indignant commentators who lurk below the line on various news websites would like to think).  But people, let's not use the NHS as an excuse for being an old fashioned, common-or-garden bitch.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Zucco, Meanwood

Meanwood is an area of Leeds that I think is best described as "up and coming". We like it very much and one large draw is the very lovely Zucco, a local restaurant that is good enough (in my opinion) to thrive in the city centre but has chosen (thanks be) to situate itself a ten minute walk away from our house.

If you're familiar with Russell Norman's Polpo, you'll know the sort of food we are talking about here: essentially ciccheitti, the Venetian take on tapas, so smaller sharing dishes with an Italian slant. In fact, I believe that the owners of Zucco were involved in the original Soho Polpo in some capacity (although I could be mistaken on that score).

It's the perfect genre for a neighbourhood restaurant, being suitable for large parties (when we went last on a Saturday lunchtime there were lots of young families) and couples alike. The only potential issue is that the tables-for-two are not big enough to handle the number of dishes that a greedy pair like us might order. They deal with this well though, sending tranches of plates out in logical sequence.

On Saturday, which happened to be our fifth wedding anniversary (I know!) we went for broke food wise, washed it down with a fine prosecco and it came to £80. I call that pretty decent value although by no means cheap and cheerful (for that, you may want Marcel's Cafe across the road).

The food itself is excellent. Not, I think, falling within the fayne dayning bracket, rather, robust and flavourful. In this day and age, I sometimes find restaurant food under seasoned, but this is a kitchen that is well acquainted with the salt cellar. An early highlight was a pizzette bianca with ricotta, chilli, and garlic - had the potential to be bland but turned up grassy with olive oil, the dough bubbled and scorched. Meat and fish are sensitively handled with the ox cheeks being particularly excellent, falling apart at the mere sight of a fork.

From top left here, clockwise: soft shell crab, sea bass with baby potatoes, Parmesan crumbed chicken breast, ox cheek with risotto.

My favourite thing, though, and a dish I order every time I visit, is the cannoli. Why I did not discover such a thing until I was well into adulthood is beyond me: it's like a cheesecake but better.

A good local restaurant is a wonderful thing and Zucco ticks a lot of boxes. Is it perfect? Not if you're looking for a particular experience - this is big and bold and rustic rather than refined and elegant. But it's a little gem of a place in the extended Leeds food scene and I am gratified beyond measure that it happens to be within staggering distance of my front door.

Monday, 19 September 2016

MPM: 19th September 2016

Holidays well and truly over and it is back to routine which means back to meal planning. The Bottomless Freezer (TM) has finally been (just about) conquered and so will be defrosted next weekend - D is manning up to the task while I am away with friends for a couple of nights. I shall look forward to returning home to a clean, frost free freezer. And perhaps the lost city of Atlantis or a bunch of marauding Vikings in the kitchen.

D fully expects to be eating dust and ice cubes on Friday and Saturday night - or perhaps some sort of takeaway. Elsewhere:

Monday: red Thai curry with prawns

Tuesday: cheddar and ale soup (from "Tom's Table" by Tom Kerridge)

Wednesday: tuna and mushroom pasta bake 

Thursday: corned beef hash 

Sunday: lemongrass and turmeric roast chicken (from "A Bird in Hand" by Diana Henry)

Happy eating folks!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Recipe corner: quick fish, mussel and chickpea stew

Stews are generally best made at least 24 hours in advance to allow the flavours to acquire enough depth to make them worthwhile. This one, however, packs in so many flavourful ingredients (including a cheat! Just call me Delia circa 2008) that it can be cooked, eaten and enjoyed on the same evening. We whipped it up while on holiday in Scotland; we had nabbed some beautiful pollock on a sea angling trip and were reliant, for cooking it, on the limited kitchen equipment in our self catering apartment and the limited ingredients available in the local Co-op.

This is rough and ready cooking, so intended as the merest guide. Use whatever fish and/or shellfish you fancy, play with the herbs and spices as it pleases you. I, personally would urge seeking out the pre cooked mussels in sauce such as these because they add an instant additional layer of flavour, but there's still plenty going on here if you can't find them or they don't float your boat.


2-3 pollock (or similar white fish) filleted and cut into large chunks
1 pack pre cooked mussels in garlic and wine

Onion, chopped
Tin of anchovies in olive oil
2 fat cloves of garlic
Tsp tarragon (the freeze dried stuff in a jar)
Tsp paprika
Juice of half a lemon
Large tin of tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
Large tin of chickpeas, drained
250ml stock

2 heaped tbsp mayonnaise
Clove of garlic crushed
Zest of a lemon
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Serves 4-6

Combine the ingredients for the aioli and set aside.

Tip the oil from the anchovy tin into a saucepan and place over a low heat.

Meanwhile, blitz or chop together the anchovies, garlic and dried spices with a hefty pinch of black pepper.

Add the onion to the pan and allow to soften for five minutes or so before adding the garlic and anchovy paste and cooking off for a further couple of minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and allow to bubble down to nothing before adding the tomatoes and stock. Taste, and adjust the seasoning - add sugar as necessary (I find that this tends to be essential to round out the flavour of tinned tomatoes). Bring to a simmer then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.

While cooking, remove the mussels from their shells, being sure to retain all the lovely sauce, and drain the chickpeas. Add them to the tomato mix, and allow it to cook, uncovered and over a gentle heat, for a further 5 minutes or so, to reduce slightly.

Finally, nestle the fish on top, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes until opaque. Stir the fish gently through the sauce before serving, drizzled with aioli, with hunks of crusty bread.

Saturday, 10 September 2016


The alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and we left Mull by the 7 o clock ferry which smelled strongly of stewed coffee. I dozed for much of the drive and so saw only brief flashes of the dramatic rolling hills that flank the road south from Oban, and the shining waters of Loch Lomond. We stopped once, briefly, for petrol and M&S sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese, ham and cheddar) and, as a result, made it back to Leeds by early afternoon where the first cup of tea, brewed in our own teapot, tasted exactly like home.

The cat is back with us, much to our mutual joy, and is currently curled up next to me. She says to say hello to the blog readers.

I said yesterday that I would decide on my favourite holiday dish on the ferry; I lied. I tried to sleep on the ferry, with my head cushioned on my handbag. When we discussed it last night, D said that he thought Cafe Fish's Goan fish curry was the star turn - and it was, indeed, excellent, so I will go with that - certainly, I've already been searching out recipes online to try and recreate it. But it's hard to compare breakfasts and burgers and high end Glasgow establishments and island pub grub; suffice it to say we have eaten well across the fortnight and, no doubt, the scales tomorrow (or the next day) will bear witness. Sigh.

Still, I'll worry about that later. For now, I'm indulging in the mild melancholia that comes with the end of a holiday, tempered by my pleasure at being back at home surrounded by all home comforts, flanked by the feline and looking forward to an episode or two of Bake Off on the telly box. Life is good.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Day 14: Mull - summertime sadness

Is there anything sadder than the end of a holiday? 

The only bright spot on the (currently rain drenched) horizon is the fact that tomorrow I get to see my beloved Minx (assuming that there are no problems on the roads to delay us). Unlike some cats, who get in a bit of a snit after being sent into exile, she goes into giddy, grateful mode when we are reunited, so I am anticipating many purrs and cuddles tomorrow evening. And few things soothe the soul like a furry, purry ball of pussycat. Here, in fact, is La Minx doing her contended face:

Otherwise, I am sorry to leave Tobermory and Mull and Scotland but I think that we have managed a nice balance between activity and sleepy, bookish torpor. We have also eaten and drunk well for the most part (with one last fishy hurrah to come this evening). Naming a Top Holiday Dish will be hard, but at least it will give me something to do on the ferry tomorrow.

Day 13: Mull - eating out

Buggeration - I got so distracted by "Wolf Hall" that I completely forgot to post yesterday. Which is odd because I know how "Wolf Hall" is going to pan out: spoiler alert, it is NOT going to end well for Anne Boleyn.

And, of course, the challenge to blog every day was an entirely arbitrary, self-imposed one and no one will really care that I slipped up, but still, buggeration.

Let's distract from the fact that this is late by posting some pictures of food from a couple of Mull establishments, shall we? This has not been a holiday focussed on exotic or adventurous dining; if I had to sum it up in a single word, that word would be "comfort". And what is more comforting than sausages?

When I was young, and we would holiday in North Yorkshire, the biggest treat imaginable was a pub meal and I would nearly always opt for sausages. A proper, British banger, with chips or mash, you go a long way to beat it. MacGochans, one of Tobermory's busiest purveyors of pub grub, served theirs with bubble and squeak which is a variation I shall allow - just. While I think it is a bit of a shame that they are trying to position themselves as a restaurant with a bar rather than a pub that serves food, I still like it here and they served me up haggis lollipops so I am bound to love them forever.

We've managed two meals - a dinner and a lunch - in the peerless (for Tobermory at least) Cafe Fish with a third to come this evening. This salt and pepper squid was perfection - crispy and salty, warm from the pepper, the squid beneath with just the right balance of tender and chew. If you only eat out in one place while you are here, let this be that place. And definitely order the squid.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Day 12: Mull - the art of scones

Hidden away in a forest, about 12 miles from the town of Tobermory, is a gorgeous little walk through a forest called (I think) "Art in Nature". Someone has gone to the trouble of installing some beautiful sculptures into the forest itself. And, at the end, you emerge onto a white-sanded beach called Calgary Bay. It's idyllic, well worth checking out if you ever find yourself on Mull.

What I especially like is that it begins (or ends, depending on preference) with a tearoom. All good walks should involve cups of strong tea and fruited scones slathered with butter and jam. The scones at Calgary were golden and crumbly and lightly scented with cinnamon which is a splendid idea that I intend to pilfer when next I bake scones, which I do not do nearly enough.

A Very Good Day.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Day 11: Mull - over the yardarm

Ah, holidays. It is six o clock ON THE DOT and I am sitting outside the local pub with a glass of wine BECAUSE IT IS ALLOWED. Above, a surprisingly blue sky given how doomy and gloomy were the earlier weather predictions. It is also exceedingly mild considering that we are now into September. Not quite balmy, but not all that far off.

We have had such a lazy couple of days which has been gorgeous, especially since my book group decided to make "Wolf Hall" their Big Summer Read. I'm enjoying it very much, although I have started alternating chunks of its dense, beautiful prose with chapters of cupcake-strewn chick lit for shits and giggles. 

I also am in serious danger of turning in to a fish given the amount I've been choffing since we got here. Every meal, breakfast aside, has been marine based and it has been GLORIOUS. Check out the stunningness of Cafe Fish's posh fish finger open sandwich (today's lunch) draped with a beautiful, dill spiked slaw:

Monday, 5 September 2016

Day 10: Mull - Meal Planning Monday abroad

After a week of eating out for every meal, being in self catering accommodation is utterly glorious. This morning, I have had an apple and a cup of tea for breakfast - you can't do that when you have a solicitous Scottish matron hovering at your elbow (as in our Islay B&B) and you won't do that when you've paid good money to include breakfast in the room price (even if the scrambled eggs are rather pale and watery).

But we are obviously still on holiday, so I'm loath to commit to a firm meal plan for the week. We've got a table booked at Cafe Fish on Friday and we always try and fit in a trip to Mull's foremost public house, MacGochan's, where they serve surprisingly good steak. Also, currently reposing in our fridge, a sackful of fresh fish: mackerel, pollock and ling, caught by our own fair hands which we intend to turn into a hearty stew and a lightly spiced fish pate. So zero likelihood of going hungry here.

I've been trawling through photos looking for stuff to share; is it just us who seem to snap nothing but food? But anyway, here we have D's first seafood platter of the holiday:

This was taken at Sea Salt, in Islay, a pizzeria cum bistro which did a decent line in seafood. D loves a platter. He has got through a couple of others since, and plots to hoover up more before our return home.

Also from Sea Salt, a black pudding and goats' cheese salad. This was a starter. A STARTER.

I adored this intensely savoury combination, lifted by the tangle of sweet onions on top, and would love to use it myself. This was all a bit much though especially when, y'know, it's a starter and there is more food to follow.

Here is something a wee bit more...wee.

Caviar with oatcakes and creme fraiche - what a treat to see this on the menu at Cafe Fish on Saturday. I can't remember the last time I had caviar - it is probably considered rather passé in these days of austerity. Gorgeous.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Day 9: Mull - gone fishing

We are settled in to our self catering apartment in Tobermory. The location is perfect: the building was originally a bonded warehouse for the distillery and is situated at one end of the main street with views across the bay. We are within staggering distance of the pub (excellent) but nothing is very much further away than a five minute saunter.

D and I spent the afternoon fishing and several fillets of freshly caught mackerel are about five minutes away from being cooked for supper. As such, this post shall be necessarily short and sweet.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Day 8: Oban/Mull - crossing over

Oban rose in my estimation this morning when, while mooching around waiting for our ferry, we spotted not one but two local cats. I always approve of a town with cats.

This one was sitting outside the Seafood Shack, patiently awaiting his breakfast, which shows him to be a feline of impeccable taste. The Shack is probably the best place to eat in Oban, serving up the freshest seafood possible with minimal messing. Crabs are dressed, mussels cooked in a little wine and garlic, salmon lightly smoked. Sandwiches are available in three varieties: crab, prawn or aforementioned smoked salmon, generously filled and ludicrously delicious in their simplicity. Unfortunately, it is impossible to make such a thing look glamorous.

Last night, we dined at a local seafood restaurant called Ee-usk which, again, favoured a simple approach and produced some very nice food as a result. I had hake with a mussel sauce - two favourite ingredients of mine - and was pleased to see them so sensitively treated, especially after ranting about the British propensity for over-cooking yesterday.

But beyond fish and felines, Oban failed to reveal to us any hidden depths and I am not sad to go, particularly as we are now away over the sea to Mull where we intend to spend a week doing very, very little. The blog posts may well get very dull indeed...

Friday, 2 September 2016

Day 7: Islay/Oban - interlude

The town of Oban chiefly consists of a road lined with shops and bars that hugs itself around the curl of a bay. Above, a great, round tower looms and, at the far end, sits the ferry port. The constant sight and sound of the ferries going back and forth make Oban feel very much like a place to go through rather than to. Which is why, this year, we decided to make it a destination in itself and spend an evening. I will report back shortly as to whether or not this was a wise decision. Perhaps some places are better off as thoroughfares.

We have already completed the Oban distillery tour, our sixth in four days, and have declared ourselves officially "whiskied out". Tonight, there will be seafood and then tomorrow, we set sail for our beloved Mull. I am looking forward to being in self catering accomodation with my own, albeit basic, kitchen. Eating out for every meal becomes tedious very quickly, especially when (food snob alert!) so many places out there serve such remarkably average food.

I am always wont to leap to the defence of British food culture which, at its best is one of the most exciting and varied and lovely in the world. In the middle of the market, though, we Brits do need to take a couple of things on board. One: seasoning is not a dirty word. A pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, even a squeeze of citrus, can bring a dish to life. And two: for the love of the Teapot do we HAVE to cook everything to the point of cremation? Professional chefs - and, it follows, diners - need to get a wee bit braver.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Day 6: Islay - whisky, whisky everywhere (and many drams to drink)

There are no two ways about it, one comes to Islay for the whisky. There are an incredible eight distilleries on this one tiny island. 

Although the basic process for turning water, barley and yeast into whisky is the same wherever you go, I would still recommend visiting different distilleries. On each tour you will have a slightly different experience and glean slightly different information.

Over the last two trips we have now made it to all eight distilleries and, in the process, sampled some seriously good whisky. I always assumed that I didn't like the heavily peated malts for which this island is famous, but at some point in the journey my palate must have changed sufficiently  that I can now genuinely appreciate that whiff of smoke and loam and that slight burn on the roof of the mouth.

We actually left Laphroaig (pronounced Laff-Royg and arguably Islay's most famous export) until last, assuming it would be out least favourite. But whatever you think you know about this famously smoky single malt, prepare to be surprised. We tasted a range of different expressions all of which were far more complex and interesting than we expected.

We are unlikely to come back here, certainly in the near future. It is not as beautiful as our beloved Mull and is certainly not a foodie destination as far as we have been able to tell. But if you are in any way a fan of Scottish whisky, and are interested in challenging your palate and your expectations, this place is an absolute must visit.