Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Combinations 10: Lemon Chicken

Sun 25 Feb 2007

It's been a while since Eating Leeds last participated in a Combinations exercise (well, that's a formal, blogging event type of one) but somehow, this month, it's been slotted in. Hosted by Andrew, over at Spittoon, this month he chose lemon chicken with pak choi. Hmm, I managed half of this dish, because I had so many vegetables it didn't feel right to start buying pak choi too. Also, I'm not the biggest fan of Chinese food, so I guess it's a curious month for me to rejoin the fray.

The original recipe (rather lazily, in my opinion!) calls for packets of lemon sauce. Tut, tut, tut! I figured it couldn't be too hard to make a lemon sauce and trawled the internet for a recipe. Nothing definitive popped out, so I made it my way.

Since I was only cooking for two, I very much did the quantities by feel. In a small saucepan I put some water, added probably about a teaspoon of sugar, followed by about 2 teaspoons of honey. I crumbled in half a chicken stock cube and let it all dissolve over the heat. Then I added 3 or 4 very fine slices of lemon (lemon rind would probably go well) and some finely sliced ginger, before adding in lemon juice, tasting and adding, until it tasted lemony rather than sugary or like stock. At that point, I decided I didn't like the taste and I definitely didn't like the smell. I thought I'd let Andy make the call on the sauce, put it to one side and go on with everything else.

I was supposed to serve the chicken with steamed pak choi, but there were lots of left over veggies, so I decided that the side dish would be stir fried noodles. The oil was duly heated in the wok, one sliced onion was added, along with two cloves of garlic and some finely sliced ginger. As that started to soften, in went one (very hot!) dried bird's eye chilli. Then I added a quarter of a red cabbage, finely sliced, half a sweet potato (diced and boiled - left over from the night before) and half a courgette, sliced in strips. I let that cook for a bit with the lid on, so the cabbage could soften, before adding some udon noodles, a splash of soy sauce and a splash of mirin. Just before serving, my sous chef (Andy!) added some sliced spring onions and we finished the stir fry off with chopped chives.

The chicken part was super easy! I heated some oil, ready for deep frying. While it was warming up, I finely sliced the chicken breast and made a thin batter of equal proportions of plain and corn flour and cold soda water. The chicken was dipped into the batter and went straight into the oil and was cooked until golden. I had to do this in quite small batches, so I had the oven on and a plate with paper for draining off any excess oil.

And that was it! We served the noodles on hot plates, but left the chicken on one plate and passed the lemon sauce separately. Andy sampled the sauce and it passed his taste test. What was interesting, was that the sauce went really well with the chicken - I was actually spooning extra on!
Now ... what to drink? I chose a Babich 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. This was driven by several factors: some internet based research suggested a sav blanc would go well with an oriental style chicken dish, the night before we had a sauvignon blanc so it was a good comparison (that's a whole other story and you'll have to wait for it!) and the Babich had scored 90 points in a recent Wine Spectator Sips and Tips newsletter. So ... how did it go? Very well.

The wine had a strong hint of pineapple on the nose with lots of citrus up front on the palate. It was a really crisp wine, and at about £8 a bottle we thought it was fantastic value. It actually went a lot better with the spicy noodles than with the chicken, although as a whole package the meal did really work.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Waiter, there's something in my ... pie!

Thurs 22 Feb 2007

"Waiter there's something in my ... " is a new blogging event for 2007. I missed the inaugural one for January (stew), but have managed to get organised for February. The theme being "pie".

Given Andy rates pie as just about the pinnacle of culinary achievement (I know ... how northern is that?) it's quite a miracle that pies have only featured the once on Eating Leeds.

For this event I headed to the The Women's Institute Book of 650 Favourite Recipes. My previous foray into this book, Yarmouth Biscuits, was pretty successful, so I was interested to see what else it would come up with.

I opted for the strangely named 'savoury onion pasty'. This is a bit of an odd one - I can't really imagine a sweet onion pasty, it was more a pie (the recipe specified baking it in a pie dish) and ... it didn't have onions in the list of ingredients! The real selling point was, however, the oatmeal pastry. I love oatmeal. Too much. So I had to try it.

It was very simple to put together. The pastry was 75g of self raising flour, 75g of oatmeal (I used medium ground oatmeal, but I think next time I'd opt for finely ground), 25g unsalted butter, 25g of lard (the original recipe said 50g combined of lard and margarine) with enough water to bind. Letting the food processor to do the hard work I gave the pastry a quick knead, wrapped it in clingfilm and let it rest for a bit in the fridge.

Now, I know that Andrew over at Spittoon made a game pie and used lard in the pastry and voiced concerns about the 'health police'. Frankly, if you look at this pastry, the mere 50g of fat (the pie ultimately did four servings) is totally outweighed by the remaining healthy ingredients ... starting with the oatmeal! That fat just isn't going to sit in your arteries with the oatmeal on the case!

Anyway, little rant over, time to make the pie. A quick grease of the pie dish and I was ready to roll out the pastry ... The recipe calls for an 18cm pie dish and I was pretty concerned about the amount of pastry I had. I had to be very disciplined about dividing the pastry in half and rolling it out very thinly. If I'm feeling lazy next time I make this, I'll up the pastry by 50% - even though it's not strictly necessary.

Finely slice a whole leek and tip into the pastry lined pie dish. Finely chop a couple of rashers of bacon (original recipe said one) and sprinkle over the top before finally adding 25g (or so ...) of finely grated cheddar cheese. Season with pepper.

Beat 1 egg with 150mL of milk and pour over your leek/bacon/cheese mixture. Finally, top with the remaining pastry and ensure you make a good seal between the top and bottom. Brush with egg and milk wash and you're ready for the oven.

Start the pie off at 220C for 10 minutes, before turning the oven down to 180C and finishing the pie off for about 40 minutes.

It smelt fantastic when it came out of the oven! I actually had to wait until Friday night to eat it and I can report that the pie reheats well. It was delicious! The long cooking time meant the leek was soft, and the milk and egg gave the pie a good consistency. I really enjoyed the pastry (it even tastes healthy!) although Andy thought that the fine oatmeal would have been a better choice ('a bit gritty'). I'd been a bit lazy and only used a milk wash, so the top of my pie was not as glossy as it could have been. Apparently, had I used egg and milk and produced a glossy pie it would have been perfect!

We had the remainder of the pie cold for lunch the next day - and it was just as good.

This pie would make fanstastic picnic food as well as Sunday supper, and because it reheats well, it would be perfect to take round to a friend's or to make on the weekend for a midweek meal.

Well done to the Women's Institute!

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Room Wine Club

Mon 19 Feb 2007

A group of five of us headed off to Room on Boar Lane to try out the monthly Room Wine Club. In light of my last experience at Room, which I didn't think was brilliant value for money, I was worried that we'd part with our £30 and end up hungry and thirsty by the end of the evening. Fortunately, this was not the case.

We started off in the bar, with glasses of 2003 Petaluma Croser Brut and canapes: mushroom ballotine, smoked haddock risotto balls and white onion soup with onion bahji. The bubbly was actually, quite a disappointment. Brian Croser is one of Australia's foremost winemakers and we were all expecting good things from the wine, and it failed to deliver. However, we may have been a little harsh, as Room's champagne glasses, while stylish, are not ideal for tasting. They have very wide mouths and the bubbly fills the stem, so you are left with no option but to clutch the bubbly and warm it up. We decided that while the Petaluma hadn't knocked our socks off it was a wine we'd definitely seek out for another go. Of the three canapes, the star was definitely the white onion soup - it was creamy, smooth and very tasty.

We then moved to our table and the first two wines were poured. The starters were served together so there was an opportunity to mix match the wines and food. We began with a foie gras parfait with plum chutney and toasted brioche which was paired with a Tim Knappstein Three (gewurztraminer, riesling and pinot gris blend), and a wild mushroom terrine with red mullet and tarragon emulsion which was paired with a Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc. Both of these wines were served far too cold, so it was quite good that we were talked through the wines by someone from Bibendum. The Knappstein wine was quite unusual, and while it went quite well with the parfait and brioche, it took me quite a while to warm to it. I personally thought the brioche was a bit too sweet, and the foie gras parfait was incredibly light and mousse like, which not everyone liked. Personally, I think I'm in the camp of preferring my foie gras less fussed with.

The Wither Hills sauvignon blanc was a lovely wine, and, of all the wines tasted during the evening, we pretty much unanimously decided that it was the best stand alone wine. It worked well with the food, but would work better as a late afternoon, hot summer's day drink.

The two main courses were roast beef with confit baby vegetables (carrots and fennel), paired with a Mitchelton shiraz, and a rump of lamb with parsnip risotto and black cherry foam, paired with a Wither Hills pinot noir. I was highly suspicious of the 'black cherry foam' idea but it worked really well and the pairing of the lamb with the pinot noir was the food/wine match of the evening. We were all rather unconvinced by the matching of the beef with the shiraz - it was a lovely wine but I felt it would have gone a lot better with a plain steak. The pinot noir was a very typical example, with a big 'dirty earth' smell (my impression). However, this pronounced farmyard smell very much put off some of our party who, even though they enjoyed the wine and food match, really struggled to get past the wine's nose.

The final two wine pairings were with dessert and cheese. A Miranda Raisined Muscat was paired with a lemon and blueberry cheesecake with raspberry sorbet. This was a subtle departure from the advertised menu and there were a few disappointed faces that we were missing out on meringue. Nonetheless, the wine (which had a curious detergent, almost antiseptic nose) went really well with the food - in particular, the combination of wine and raspberry sorbet was delicious. This pairing was a strong contender for best match, and was only just pipped at the post by the lamb/pinot.

And finally, we had manchego cheese with apple and pear, with St Hallett Faith Shiraz. This was another good match, and it was very interesting to be able to compare this big, blousy Barossa shiraz with the Mitchelton from Victoria. I felt that the Faith would have been a good match with the beef, but I think it would probably be an even better match with something like beef wellington, where you have the added bit of richness and creaminess from the pastry, which would give this big wine something to cut through.

There was also some discussion about whether or not the order of dessert and cheese was correct. In this instance there was a general consensus that cheese first, dessert second would have worked better, as it was quite tricky for the shiraz to follow the sweet white.

Probably my sole complaint about the evening would be that a service charge was added to the bill - this was advised before the event but it's a practice I loathe so much that I'm going to complain about it anyway!

Pet hates aside, we left Room feeling well fed and watered - and more than happy to attend in future.

The next Room Wine Club is Monday 19 March, with a focus on Laroche wines.

1. Room, Bond House, The Bourse Courtyard, Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5DE, phone 0113 242 6161
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Steak and Sesame Night

Sun 18 Feb 2007

While I had hoped to be bringing you a review of Hansa's, Leeds' oldest vegetarian, Gujarti restaurant, circumstances beyond my control have dictated otherwise. We actually had floated a weekend alternative to Valentine's Day, but found ourselves left with our third option - a night of Japanese food, sourced exclusively from one of Andy's Christmas presents.

Andy had suggested that he make me the steak in roasted sesame seed marinade from Cooking Japanese. Of course, you always need side dishes (even hardened omnivores like me acknowledge the necessity of some greens), so I had a quick flick through the "Sides and Salads" section and we came up with something approaching a menu.

The first thing that needed to be done was to put together the marinade for the steak. Although the recipe called for ribeye, Andy opted for the far more readily available sirloin (or porterhouse). A generous 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds were toasted in a dry frying pan until they started to brown. These were then crushed in a mortar and pestle and to this paste was added a 3cm piece of ginger, a clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, some rice vinegar (in place of sake) and a dash of sugar. This mixture was beaten together and formed the marinade for the steak.

At this juncture, the meat needed to rest for 30 minutes. This meant we disappeared to the pub.

On returning to the kitchen, it was a focussed effort to produce the side dishes. I had chosen green beans with a sesame miso dressing and spinach with sesame dressing. You may sense a predominant sesame theme.

We topped and tailed the beans and dunked them in boiling salted water a whole minute before the spinach was treated the same way. A minute later, and the mix was drained, doused in cold water and Andy was given the very important job of separating beans from spinach.

Meanwhile, I'd been toasting a good pile of sesame seeds. Once browned I divided the mixture in two and set to work on the spinach dressing. Firstly, I crushed the sesame seeds in the mortar and pestle. I then added a tiny amount of plain white granulated sugar, followed swiftly by a dash of vodka (yes, I appreciate that Grey Goose vodka in lieu of sake may be construed as misguided - but you have to make do with what you have in the kitchen), a tablespoon+ of dashi (again - the instructions on the dashi - while no doubt explict in Japanese, were scanty in English) and a tiny splash of soy sauce. While the recipe called for tamari we simply do not cook often enough (or in enough bulk) to warrant about 5 different types of soy sauce. Anyway, crush all of this together, tasting all the time.

While the head chef is doing this, the sous chef should be draining and squeezing out the spinach, sprinkling it with soy sauce (in this instance, shoyu) and wrapping it in a bamboo mat.

When you are ready, give a final twist to the bamboo mat to drain any last minute moisture and slice your spinach into tidy bundles. Top each bundle with some sesame paste, sprinkle with a few reserved sesame seeds and serve.

At the same time, you can easily fit in the preparation of the sesame paste for the beans.

Crush the remaining sesame seeds in your mortar and pestle and add a sprinkle of sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of red miso paste and a generous splash of mirin and combine to form a thick paste. The beans, which you've previously separated from the spinach, can now be dressed in the sesame paste, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and served.

It's important to note that because both the beans and spinach are lightly cooked they can, and indeed, should, be served at room temperature. This allows you to prepare them in advance.

At some point, you also need to make your dipping sauce for the steak. The recipe calls for 125mL of soy sauce (shoyu), mixed together with strips of fresh ginger, shichimi togarishi (seven spice mix - for those in Leeds, available at Wing Lee Hong), and two teaspoons of dashi granules. Since you should always read instructions from start to finish, you'll know to keep some apart from the spinach dressing! Add extra water as required for taste or texture.

When you're ready to eat, you're ready to cook the steak. Heat a griddle pan and cook your steaks to taste. Set them to one side to rest, and then add remaining marinade and some spring onions to the pan, to form a thick paste.

Serve and eat.

Although the original recipe suggests serving with steamed rice, we decided our side dishes provided us with plenty of extra food. At a dinner party, I would offer rice as well as an additional side dish, to make sure everyone was well fed. I also appreciate that the instructions look long and perhaps rather complicated. Let me reassure you that, marinade for meat aside, between two of us we had assembled and eaten this meal in little more than an hour!

And to drink? Well, on the one hand, you should have seen the perplexed look we received in Hoults, when we suggested we wanted a wine to drink with Japanese steak, with lots of sesame seed. We ended up with the 2005 Mitolo Jester Shiraz - from McLaren Vale and as recommended by Dave Prichard. OK - I know shiraz from McLaren Vale doesn't scream 'easy-drinking' (and at 14.5% you do need to have your drinking boots on) but this is a very subtle wine - the tannin provides great structure and length without obnoxious mouthfeel (you don't think you're drinking it 5-10 years too early) and the gentle fruit and spice mingle congenially with the sesame and red meat. It was a great match!

Japanese Cooking gets a big tick - we can see we'll be trying out more recipes in future!

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

News Round

Thurs 15 Feb 2007

Quite a busy wrap up this week ...

My course folder arrived for the Professional Certificate in Gastronomy! It's HUGE! So while I'm a bit scared by the amount of reading required, I'm trying to get a head start before things kick off in a week or so ... we have something like 10 small (500 word) assignments and one 3000 word essay to complete between now and the end of June ... so it should keep me out of mischief!

My first post has appeared on Paper Palate. If you read this site regularly you'll know I'm always making things from Australian Gourmet Traveller, but from now on you'll be able to get a monthly review of the current magazine.

A while back Joyce posted a comment about the Waitrose Next Great Food Writer competition. You have until 1 March to get your entries in so you'd best get scribbling, as you need to produce 1500 words AND include an original recipe.

In my wanderings around Leeds I've noticed that The Vine (pub) on the Headrow has closed down. I never made it in there, although it was quite a popular live music venue. We'll have to wait and see what happens - hopefully not yet another strip club ...

I'm hoping to get some cooking done over the next few days, but not entirely sure what so you'll have to stay tuned. But we are definitely heading to Hansa's on Saturday night. This is one of Leeds' oldest Indian restaurants and I really enjoyed my last visit (about 3 years ago) so let's hope that it's still good.

Last weekend, I picked up a bottle of Grosset Polish Hill Riesling at Hoults. At £17 a bottle it wasn't exactly cheap, but having spent a long time in South Australia trying to get hold of a bottle I was impressed to find it by accident! I was even more impressed when reading The Advertier's Top 100 wines - this wine scored 99 points and was the top riesling. Obviously now I just have to find something to eat with it. This experience just goes to show that it really is worth the effort of seeking out and visiting the smaller, independent wine merchants.

And finally ... another week, another website. This time I've chosen Kate's Critiques. While the Kate in question hasn't reviewed a huge number of restaurants, I hope she keeps on going and adds a few more soon.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Sun 11 Feb 2007

Ah, Arcadia ... a pastoral idyll ... and also an excellent pub in Headingley! We've had some very happy drinking experiences in this bar and I'm a huge fan of the various pub dogs, not to mention the good range of real ales, along with the continental beers which keep Andy happy.

But this time our visit wasn't for drinking purposes but for eating. Arcadia offers Sunday lunch for just £5.95. Lunch starts at 1pm and dinners are available until they're gone. This does mean that you need to get there quickly ... overheard at the bar on Sunday was the shocking news there were only 16 dinners available!

We arrived just before 1pm but apparently the kitchen was suffering from a power failure, so dinner wouldn't be on for another three quarters of an hour. This gave us time to sort out our beer and newspaper situation (Durham Dark Secret for me, and Warsteiner for Andy) before worrying about whether or not we would opt for beef or chicken.

We both opted for beef and it wasn't long before huge plates of roast dinner appeared. We both had two hefty slices of roast beef, cauliflower au gratin, broccoli, carrots, Yorkshire pudding, pumpkin mash, roast potatoes ... and lashings of gravy. Given that the kitchen had had to deal with a power failure it's hard to be critical of the food - and it will come as no surprise to regular readers that I found the beef overcooked. I also appreciate that it's impossible to roast a joint of beef so that it's cooked to everyone's liking, so I'm prepared to overlook this. I also thought the broccoli was overcooked - normally it's one of my favourite vegetables but this time it was left to one side. Everything else was just fine.

For £5.95 one does not expect an haute cuisine experience - and at Arcadia, you do not get this. However, you do get a very solid, enjoyable plate of food, which you can wash down with your choice from a wide range of beverages - including well kept beers on good rotation. Arcadia is one of the few bars in Leeds where a dark beer is consistently available, and they always feature beers from small, independent breweries. On Sunday they even had Thwaites Mild on.

Lunch at Arcadia ends up being about more than the plate of food in front of you. On Sunday we had a greyhound and a terrier, as well as the (almost) resident boxer. There is always a slightly unusual mix of people, and if you sit at the front, you can also people watch.

While smokers will, undoubtedly, find the no smoking policy a bit of a pest, they should regard this as good practice for the summer.

And the rest of us can view Arcadia as a place where we can have an interesting, well kept pint, along with some tasty food, without parting with much cash at all.

1. Arcadia, 34 Arndale Centre, Headingley, Leeds LS6 2UE, phone: 0113 274 5599.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Red Chilli

Fri 09 Feb 2007

I've written about Red Chilli a couple of times before, and while I've usually been quite enthusiastic I've always wondered what I'd think if I actually visited without sitting in the pub beforehand.

On Friday night, a half pint of Golden Pippin into the evening, I actually managed it. In summary, I actually found it rather disappointing. And at this point, I should add the disclaimer that I am not the greatest fan, or aficionado, of Chinese (Szechuan or otherwise) food.

The dining experience didn't start well. We had a reservation, we arrived and our table was not ready. And this was at 7:30pm! Red Chilli doesn't have a waiting area, and while the bar is near the front counter, it's not set up for hanging around. The front of house staff didn't even suggest that we order drinks, so it's lucky we took it upon ourselves!

In the past, influenced as I have been by a few beers, I've been less than impressed by the level of service at Red Chilli, and Friday night did very little (if anything) to improve that impression. I do not want to be left loitering in a lobby for a reserved table and I most certainly don't want to hear an absolute cacophony of crockery while the staff set the table next to me. If you add this to previous encounters (where the staff haven't been able explain dishes on the extensive, but scantily worded, menu) you can probably understand why I'm feeling less than generous.

But let's move from service to food. As usual, the portions are hugely generous. We were at a table of six and started with just three starters: half an aromatic duck, a serve of salt and pepper ribs and a cold spicy beef salad. I do quite enjoy the salt and pepper ribs and the spicy beef, although I personally find the aromatic duck a little pointless (partly because I don't like hoisin sauce, and partly because I find the cost offensive). We moved on to two hot pot style dishes - one pork and one chicken, a tofu dish and pork in sweet vinegar. The pork in sweet vinegar, chosen by Andy, was a bit of a disappointment as it was more a sweet and sour style pork - battered, fried and overly sweet. The chicken in the hot pot had quite a strange texture - almost no texture at all. The pork in the hot pot was sliced incredibly finely and the chillis in it had a fearsome kick. The tofu I didn't like at all.

Now - I realise I am very much in the minority here. Most people I know (and this includes someone from Hong Kong, who is better placed to make a judgement than me) love Red Chilli. You cannot fault portion size or even value for money (I guess - for the above food, which was more than enough for 6 people, with beers, it cost £17.50 a head, including tip). But I often leave feeling as though the staff feel they have done me a favour by serving me. At best I could describe the service as desultory. And I always feel the food is less than clever. Perhaps part of that is that I'm sceptical about how well a brigade can execute such a massive menu. And perhaps part of that is that I am always left feeling as though I've eaten a small salt pan, with a good dash of oil.

So - Red Chilli - good for a post beer feed, but I think for slightly more serene night out I'll take my stomach elsewhere.

1. Red Chilli, 6 Great George St, Leeds LS1 3DW, phone 0113 242 9688.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Round Up

Thurs 8 Feb 2007

We've escaped January and the eating and drinking action is hotting up ... although we're making a conscious attempt to avoid all the overpriced Valentine menus and saving our energy for the latest Room Wine Club dinner, which is on Monday Feb 19.

This is hotly followed by the Wolf Blass dinner at Gaucho's in Adelaide, South Australia. No - we're not jetting off, but if you're in Australia, dig out your latest issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller and find out when your local one is. If you're in Adelaide - it's Tuesday 27 Feb and costs $AU120 per person.

For us in Leeds, on Friday 2 March we'll be off to a beer masterclass (tickets £10) at Harvey Nicks, followed by dinner in the restaurant crowned Leeds' best last year. And then we'll be rolling on to the train, down to Saltaire for the Bradford Beer Festival. Tickets for the beer festival vary by session - Friday night is already sold out and Saturday day tickets are apparently selling quickly.

In other news, Angel's Share in Chapel Allerton is now doing Sunday lunches. We had a very enjoyable meal there last summer, so we might even manage to get back and sample their laid back approach to Sundays.

And while I'm gearing up for the start of my Professional Certificate in Gastronomy, I'm also now writing for Paper Palate. My biography is already on the site, and hopefully my first piece will be appearing soon.

And finally - a food blog of the week ... I Think I Have a Recipe for That. How true that is! It's a relatively new blog - and the author seems pretty organised (Menu Planning Monday?!) - I wonder how long that will keep up?!
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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Aubergine and Onion Salad

Sat 3 Feb 2007

Some friends over for dinner on Saturday night prompted something akin to a kitchen frenzy. My feet have recovered from all the standing but my hands are covered in tiny scratches ...

Our starter was to be toad in the hole. I didn't want to make gravy to go with it, as I was planning on serving gravy with the roast loin of pork for main course. What to do? I really wanted something quite refreshing, to go with the stodgy, warming mix of batter and sausage ... and came up with the idea of serving this roasted aubergine salad. The recipe (in proper recipe format) appears in the latest Australian Gourmet Traveller.

I had to be a bit creative, as I didn't actually have everything that I thought I did have ... but nonetheless, the outcome was excellent. You could serve this dish with loads of things - naturally, since Australia is enjoying summer, it would go really well with a BBQ, but it's just as at home on the dinner table.

The other good thing about this salad is that you prepare it in parts, and mix just before serving. This means you can get yourself well and truly organised.

First, take an aubergine. Cube the aubergine, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and garam masala (the original recipe used ground cumin, but I only had whole and couldn't be bothered grinding!). Roast the aubergine at 160C for about an hour. Allow to cool.

Roughly quarter some red onions, and saute off in some olive oil, with some bruised cloves of garlic. When soft, add some more garam masala (or ground cumin) - about a teaspoon, a pinch of cinnamon, and chilli flakes to taste. The original recipe does call for ginger - but you guessed it, there was none to be found in fridge! Cook this off, and then add a splash of water and allow the scant sauce to thicken. Allow to cool.

You are now more or less done. When you are ready to serve, mix the aubergine and onion mix together. Top with crumbled goats cheese (I used chevre, but feta would work just as well), and dress with olive oil and chopped coriander (OK - the original recipe asked for mint - but apparently mint is unprocurable in Leeds on Saturday).

It's delicious - and with all that veg, no doubt it's very good for you too!
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Monday, February 05, 2007

Yo! Sushi

Sun 28 Jan 2007

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Yo! Sushi 50% off offer. This meant we just had to pop along to Harvey Nicks and have some lunch. Yo! Sushi is on the fourth floor, the other side of the food hall from the Fourth Floor Cafe, and is a world away from pretty much any other type of restaurant.

I first ate at a Yo! Sushi in Bluewater in 2001, and not a lot has changed. There is still the novelty of the conveyor belt of small plates moving past you, and you sit at a counter and take your pick as you please. We headed in around half past 2, thinking that by then the lunchtime rush would be over. It wasn't the case - and we had a very short wait before being squeezed in. It's not the place to go for an intimate lunch, or if you like your personal space.

The great beauty of Yo! Sushi is that you can by pass the menu completely (which is brilliant if you are like me and can never make a decision anyway, and want to try everyone else's food), and just pull dishes from the conveyor belt. This is obviously more risk free if you are relatively well versed in Japanese food, and for those approaching the meal with trepidation, there is an illustrated menu which explains all the different dishes. This assumes that you can find the dish in the menu, work out what's in it, make the decision to eat it and pull the dish from the belt in a timely fashion. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to manage that.

Andy and I had a good collection of dishes - we ended up with 9 or 10 between the two of us. I started with some green beans with sesame dressing (not the best you will ever have - the beans were a bit sad looking and the dressing was somewhat anaemic). After that, we hit our stride with a good range of sushi and sashiemi. While some of the salmon in particular was a vaguely alarming colour I suspect this was the lighting, because all the food actually tasted pretty good. Because we weren't consulting the menu, I can't really describe what we ate - a lot of fish (mostly salmon and tuna, although also a very good, spicy squid salad), with a solid smattering of vegetable based maki. I also managed to sneak in a few pickled vegetables.

Naturally, we were drinking beer with this - Kirin for Andy and a Sapporo for me (although it must be noted that the Sapporo was not the Japanese brew, but rather brewed under licence in Canada).

I find that I fill up quite quickly eating in this kind of snack-like manner, so it didn't take long for us to decide to call for the bill. The bottom line was a whole £22. A bargain. Bear in mind that we were enjoying a 50% discount on the food, so the real total would have been closer to £40. And at that price, we were both unsure as to whether or not we would actually think it had been good value.

Ultimately, I think the first reason to go to Yo! Sushi is probably the conveyor belt novelty. If you are a nervous eater, then there is the extra frisson of being a little unsure about what you are actually eating. However, it's not a cheap way to eat fish, and I suspect that if you were very hungry you could easily rack up a sizeable bill - which could be a nasty surprise!

We did enjoy our food, and the staff we dealt with were all pleasant and efficient. But the overriding atmosphere is cheap, cheerful canteen style food - and it's just a bit too expensive for that.

1. Yo! Sushi, Harvey Nichols, 107-111 Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6AZ, phone 0113 2450612

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Toad in the Hole

Sat 27 Jan 2007

Since the first sausage making effort, this date had been pencilled in for the second.

This time around, everything was so much easier. There was less hassle choosing and preparing the meat (although there was a slight panic when we realised the ribs were still in the pork belly, rather than it being boneless!), and we'd made the decision to use our own plain breadcrumbs, rather than the very salty rusk mix.

This time, we also chose to use the coarser grinding plate, just for the sake of it. Our spice mix consisted of toasted fennel and fenugreek seeds, with loads of pepper. For our approximately 1.5lb of pork belly (before trimming) we used 1/2 cup of plain breadcrumbs, 2 tsp of fennel seeds, 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds and loads (yes, that is a technical description!) of black pepper. We used one egg and a splash or two of plain water. We weren't sure we needed sherry flavour sausages quite so soon!!!

This time, we operated like a team and from go-to-woe the whole process of producing 12 fat sausages took us between an hour and an hour and a half! Yes - we forgot to look at the clock when we started!

One of the nicest things to do with a sausage is make toad in the hole. So we did this. This batter recipe is based loosely on that found on Delia Smith's site. It was approximately 100g plain flour, mixed with 1 egg and ... some milk. We started off with approximately 100mL of milk, and just added more until it was the 'right' consistency (quite runny, a little thicker than cream).

We put our sausages in a baking dish and roasted them. Partly because they were quite lean sausages and partly because you need plenty of hot fat in your pan, we added extra oil. And when the sausages were nicely browned and the oil was hot, we added the batter, shut the oven and held our breath!

The hole puffed up nicely - though it does have a tendency to collapse once it's out of the oven, so if you're serving it up to guests you need to move from oven to table swiftly.

We served the toad in the hole with gravy (of course!), mashed potato and roast onions and carrots. And a bottle of red.

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