Thursday, June 28, 2007

Almond Bars

Thurs 28 June 2007

Andy is off in Germany, so to welcome him home tomorrow I thought I'd do some baking (let's face it - beats packing!). With the house move just around the corner the two requirements were that I not have to buy anything and not have to unpack anything.

The Women's Institute 650 Recipes book was lying around (well, so were a pile of others), and I thought I'd have a go at the Almond Bars.

It turns out that this recipe is basically shortbread topped with jam and finished with some almond macaroon. Doesn't that sound good? Doesn't it also sound like a bit of work? Not so!

To make a smallish amount (enough for two), mix 100g plain flour, 75g butter, 1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar and one egg yolk together. The recipe says to roll the mixture out but this was impossible. I put all the crumbs on a baking tray and tried squashing them all together to make a lump. Next time, I'll use a baking dish like I would do for shortbread. Bake this at 180C for about 20 minutes. Because of my technique the edges were a bit brown - good if you need an excuse to eat some, not so good if you're aiming for pretty.

When the shortbread comes out of the oven, top with jam. I used raspberry jam, and I stood the jar in some warm water for a little while to try to soften it up to make it more spreadable.

Up the oven's temperature to 190C. Measure out 65 g caster sugar and 50 g of ground almonds and mix them together. Beat the egg white until stiff and then fold in the sugar and almond mix. To the shortbread and jam with this and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes - until the macaroon mixture is golden, set and firm.

Remove from the oven and allow to almost fully cool before slicing into bars. If you try cutting while it's too hot (like I did) it will be a bit flaky and crumbly (more bits for 'tasting'). The WI book is quite specific about the size, but really - I don't think it's important.

They are absolutely delicious. And the best thing about homemade things is you can put on as much jam as you want!

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Mon 25 June 2007

As you may recall, Monday was rather wet. I work with a lot of people who live quite a long way away from Leeds so the office emptied rather quickly. Rather responsibly, I went outside, ran around in the rain for about an hour and took a lot of photos. Which was fine, until I realised I was back in the office with a sodden jacket and jeans drenched to the thighs. The walk back into town was rather cold and soggy.

After some essential chores, a couple of beers at North were in order (ticking a few off the birthday card) and before we knew it I was ready for something to eat. I suggested Akbar's, but we'd had curry the night before, so we traipsed over to Thai Cottage, but they were closed. Back towards Fuji Hiro* (open but not serving) and finally into Fairuz.

Fairuz is in a strange location, rather tucked away and with the feeling of almost being in the basement of an office block. We've been meaning to go for ages, but have just never got around to it. Fortunately, on Monday night, even though it was late and there was just one diner finishing off his coffee, the sole staff member on board was happy to serve us.

Lebanese food suits itself very well to loads of small dishes and eating for hours, but, at 10pm on a Monday night just one dish was called for. I could not help but choose the chicken shewarma and Andy opted for lamb neck.

The shewarma was delicious. It was flavoured with mint and oregano and was served on the most beautiful, fine, light, crispy bread, with a lovely lemon-garlic yogurt like sauce. It came with a simple salad. And for around £7.50 it was a generous portion. Andy's lamb (around £10), while it looked a lot smaller, was absolutely gorgeous. It was so tender and was spiced with clove and cinnamon. It was served with similarly flavoured rice and some salad. On first appearances I won, but after we sampled each other's food we couldn't decide on a winner.

If you can't make decisions like that there are two 'all in' type menus and at lunchtime the restaurant offers a buffet. They also offer an early bird menu between 5 and 7. We both thought the food was lovely, and we're also full of admiration for the one man, who seated us, took our orders, brought our drinks and cooked our food.

So - it was bad luck on several counts that actually meant we visited Fairuz for the first time, but now we have been, we'll definitely be making trips back.

1. Fairuz, Fairfax House, Merrion Street, Leeds, LS2 8JU, ph: 0113 243 4923

*We visited both Thai Cottage and Fuji Hiro back in April and loved them both.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rapid Round Up

Tues 26 June 2007

Some super quick points of interest ...

Leeds Parish Church (on Kirkgate) is holding a 'Strawberry Fayre' on Sat 7 July. No other details but there is a banner outside the church.

Leodis (formerly on Sovereign Street) appears to have closed down. Wandered past the other day: it looks like it has been closed for quite a while and, although the sign in the window says 'until further notice', it does not look promising.

North (hooray!) is turning ten this weekend. If you pop in you can get a celebratory card with 10 different beers listed on it. If you get through them all by Sunday you'll receive a goodie bag!

I've got a horrible feeling that I've missed something out ... but if I have, I'll put it in my next post.
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Monday, June 25, 2007

Carnforth Station

Sat 23 June 2007

No, this hasn't turned into a train spotting site ... Saturday afternoon saw us with almost an hour to kill at Carnforth Station. This station is best known for its role in a film, Brief Encounter. One of the platforms retains some 1940s charm and the other is an inspired piece of concrete architecturalism (or something - it's a big block of concrete and really quite nasty).

Fortunately, the platform that's nice has a proper refreshment room and after two hours on a train from Leeds, refreshments were in order. My expectations weren't particularly high - I was expecting a cup of tea and a biscuit, but there were two cakes to choose from as well as the world's largest flapjacks. Andy had a flapjack and I opted for a slice of orange and poppy seed cake. We sat down with our tea, cakes and newspapers and proceeded to while away our hour.

The huge flapjack was delicious: rich, buttery, golden syrupy and so sweet you could almost feel the sugar crystals as you munched through it. The cake was a similar success: not an overly risen, fluffy, no substance shop-like entity, but a proper piece of cake: crumbly with a good crunch on the poppy seeds and flecks of orange rind throughout.

All this for a whole £4.50 for the two of us. Bargain.

The Refreshment Room, Carnforth railway station, Warton Road, Carnforth, Lancs, LA5 9TR, phone: 01524 732 432

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Fish Pie

Sun 17 June 2007

Until I came to England I'd never had fish pie, and I have to confess I am quite a convert. This month's Australian Gourmet Traveller is, of course, a winter edition - so full of warming, slow cooked comfort food. While we're not sure whether it's summer or winter here in West Yorkshire I didn't fancy having the oven on for hours on end and so ended up sampling the snapper (we substituted coley, a general purpose, cheap, white fish, which is also OK to eat), fennel and potato pot pie.

It does take a while to put together but is fine to assemble in advance (if you're aiming for pretty you may wish to do the potato topping just before you pop it into the oven, as otherwise the potatoes will brown a little). The original recipe is for 6 and I approximately halved it for the two of us.

Take 175mL of milk and bring to the boil with 175mL of vegetable or fish stock then remove from the heat and keep warm.

Melt some butter in a saucepan and add a couple of sliced shallots, a bulb of fennel, sliced and a couple of cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and cook out for a couple of minutes, before slowly adding the warm stock and milk mixture. Stir the mix continuously until smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until thick.

Remove from heat and add your fish (skinned and cut into 3 cm cubes) and green prawns (headed, tailed, shelled - I cut ours in half too) and mix well. The recipe suggests to add the chopped fennel fronds, but I didn't have any, nor did I have green onion, but I did add in a big pile of chopped dill.

You can now set this aside until you are ready to cook.

Heat the oven to 180C and, using a mandolin, finely slice enough potato to make a topping (we used Jersey Royals and left the skin on). Layer the potato over the top of the pie and brush with butter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the potatoes are golden and it looks done (the recipe says until the fish is cooked, but I don't know how you'd know that!).

We served with steamed broccoli and carrots, and a bottle of Foxwood Dawn Picked viognier (Hoults, £4.99). As a disclaimer, I shall admit that I don't like viognier, and I set Claire the challenge of picking one I would like. This wasn't it. Very toast and butter on the nose, but a lot of citrus on the palate, with a slightly oily/diesely finish and a hint of lychee. Not one I'll be rushing out to buy again, but maybe fans of the grape will love it.

Addendum: I was to find a viognier that I liked only a couple of days later, which was a Condrieu and came in at just four times the price of the Fox Wood. But more about that later!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spiced Mackerel

2 June 2007

Another Olive recipe into the test kitchen: spiced mackerel fillets with potato salad. Another recipe that's really a bit of a non-recipe ...

Buy your mackerel - the fishmonger will fillet it for you and mackerel aren't known for their scales so running your hand over the skin will be enough to ready the fillet for cooking. Do buy a whole fish from a fish monger, as you will be able to pick a nice big fish. We only needed one fish between two of us.

In a mortar and pestle, crush equal quantities of cumin and coriander seeds (for 2 people sharing a fish, it was 1 tsp of each), cayenne pepper (or chilli powder, or chilli flakes) to taste, a dash of tumeric and enough lemon juice to make a paste.

Score the mackerel (on the skin side) and rub the paste all over. Leave to marinate.

While marinating, prepare the potato salad. Boil up some new potatoes until tender. When cooked, drain and to the pot add chopped spring onions, some lemon juice, some olive oil and some parsley. Put the lid on and give it all a good shake together. To serve at room temperature, keep it covered until ready to serve.

To cook the mackerel, grill (and I recommend this rather than frying, which is what we did, because the skin didn't hold together particularly well) - skin side up until done.

Serve with the potato salad. We also served with runner beans in a light tomato, garlic and chillli sauce.
The cumin and coriander flavour works really well with the oily, rich fish and I really enjoyed the simple potato salad. The beans added a bit of colour and, with their chilli flavours, complimented the fish. A quick, simple supper - and one that could be adapted quite easily.

Easy peasy. We served with Señorio de Sarría Viñedo no 5 2005, from Navarra (£7.99 from Hoults). It was a lovely wine - smelt like berries, but quite dry and citrussy on the palate, finishing with a touch of red fruit. It went well with the fish but would also be good as an apéritif.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chilli Crusted Steak

I recently took up the offer of a super cheap 3 month subscription to Olive. In fact, it turned out to be cheaper than I expected, because I thought it was 3 issues for £1 each, when it was actually 3 issues for £1 all up.

First recipe into the domestic kitchen was chilli-crusted steak with mustard mash. I'm not sure how much of a recipe you really need for this type of thing, but we did follow it and had a very pleasant, quick meal.

For the steak: combine breadcrumbs with some olive oil, chilli flakes to taste, and some chopped chives and parsley. This will be the topping.

For the mash, boil up your potatoes and then mash, adding in butter, milk and wholegrain mustard, again to taste.

The recipe said to use rump but we used sirloin. Heat the griddle, and cook the steak on both sides, before adding the topping (pat it down so it sits nicely) and popping into a 180C oven, to finish off the cooking and crisp up the topping. We served with roast carrots, parsnips and sweet potato.

We drank a bottle of Chateau Continel Elixir 2001, from Fronton (£9.99 from Hoults). This turned out to be quite a find. The wine is made from, predominantly, the négrette grape, something I haven't tried before. Although the wine did need a good decant and breathe, it had lovely leather and tobacco notes on the nose and followed these up with a very meaty palate. It was quite soft on the tannins but had good structure and moderate length. It was quite a hit and went well with the steak.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arcadia - Pie Night

Mon 18 June 2007

A relatively recent development at Arcadia is the Monday night 'Pie Night'. Pie, peas and a pint (Black Sheep or Deuchars) for £5.

Why I thought this was a good idea, since I loathe peas, I don't know, but I managed to rustle up a group to try this out. Which was all well and good until we found out Arcadia had one pie left. Fortunately, the full kitchen was open until 8 so, while Andy ate the remaining pie, the rest of us sampled the rest of the menu.

A couple of us went for the New Yorker salad: a big bowl of lettuce, celery, walnuts (they're a superfood now!), blue cheese and chicken, served with garlic bread. The great thing about this salad is that it wasn't drowned in dressing, so you could actually taste all the different ingredients. It was a huge bowl and, for £5, I was pretty impressed. The garlic bread was a bit nondescript, but there was certainly nothing wrong with it.

Other options sampled from the main menu included the Cumberland sauce with mash (also £5) and one of the specials, lamb shank, at £7.50. The lamb shank looked really good: the meat was falling off the bone, and the report back was that it was absolutely delicious.

So that brings us to the pie, which didn't involve pastry so Andy was unhappy. He also felt it was a served with a rather excessive amount of marrowfat peas. The gravy looked a bit watery and thin and it was all a bit disappointing. Which is a shame, because the rest of us were tucking in to some very tasty and cheap food. Given the pie-indifference, I'm also not too sure about checking out Arcadia's curry night (that's Tuesday). If you are eating with your beer, I recommend sticking to the menu as those of us who did were not disappointed.

After our meal, we headed down to the Box for Monday quiz. It's free but you'll have to be good to win it, as last night you would have needed to best 28.5 out of 31. After a couple of hours in Arcadia with all those beers, we were no competition!

1. Arcadia, 34 Arndale Centre, Headingley, LS6 2UE, phone: 0113 274 5599
2. The Box,
8 Otley Road, Headingley, LS6 2AD, phone 0113 2249266

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Combinations 13: Garlic Buttered Prawns

Sun 10 June 2007

Combinations 13 is upon us (and I'm getting in early this month!). Hosted by Andrew at Spittoon, he's chosen the Garlic Buttered Prawns from Global Grub. I've already cooked some emergency pasta from the book, and reviewed it on Paper Palate, so the book's getting something of a thrashing but here we go!

The recipe is really simple - most of my time was occupied shelling and de-veining the prawns! Once they were ready, I heated some oil and butter in a fry pan and tossed them in, giving them a good stir every now and then. I followed this up with a splash of Thai fish sauce, some black pepper, 2 cloves of garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. At the last minute I stirred in some chopped coriander. We served it on a simple lettuce, onion, tomato salad - undressed because you end up with all the lovely buttery, lemony, garlicky sauce from the prawns.

To drink, we opted for Domenico de Bertiol prosecco (around £7 from Hoults). It's a fresh, light, citrussy wine with some residual sweetness and it went really well with the prawns - the citrus cutting through the richness of the butter and prawns, the sweetness mixing well with the fish sauce and lemon. A very happy match.

It was horrible with the salad - if you ever want to experience a bad food and wine match, have some lettuce and onion and a sip of prosecco and you'll understand instantly how important it is to get the match right! Of course, if we'd made a slightly cleverer salad (rather than whatever was in the fridge) we would probably have been OK!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Loch Fyne

Sat 9 June 2007

Loch Fyne sits in the now fully refurbished City Square. When I first moved to Leeds (the first time, in 2001) City Square was under scaffolding and remained that way for what seemed like an age. It's been open for a while and despite its proximity to the railway station and being surrounded by traffic it's a very pleasant place to sit out and have a coffee or some lunch.

And that's exactly what we did. Inspired by Loch Fyne's £11 lunch promotion we headed off to check it out.

The £11 lunch menu is quite short: a choice of four starters and four mains. You also get a glass of red, white or rosé wine. Andy started with the squid tentacles (mis-spelled on the menu) in chilli oil, and I went for the chicken liver paté with oatcakes. The squid was tender, tasty and had a good chilli kick. The paté was pretty good - and I actually really enjoyed it in combination with the oatcakes.

Our main course choices were grilled sardines with herbs and garlic and penne pasta with a smoked salmon cream sauce. As side dishes we had chips and a red onion and tomato salad. The sardines looked tasty and were quickly demolished. The pasta realy only deserves the description 'OK'. The sauce was a bit oily and salty and I found the dish rather cloying. I did like the addition of grainy mustard to the sauce, but I really felt I could have done a lot better myself at home. The tomato salad was also OK - after all, it was just tomato and red onion, but there was just a bit too much dressing for me.

The biggest disappointment was reserved for the chips. They were awful. They epitomised everything that's wrong about nasty pub oven chips. For a fish restaurant, sub standard chips are a disgrace. There's no excuse for not chopping some potatoes, frying them once and then frying them a second time on demand. None at all.

Of course, over two courses we also needed a second drink: a pint of San Miguel for Andy, a glass of sancerre for me (and improvement on the house rosé).

The total bill came to just over £30. For £11 you do get a lot of food, but whether you're inclined to eat it all is a different matter. The cheap lunch deal hasn't encouraged me to head back to Loch Fyne to spend more on the à la carte menu.

I have been told that Restaurant, also in City Square, is good but pricey. I managed to put one mate off Loch Fyne, who went to the Foundry instead and said it was lovely. Just two more places to put on the 'to do' list!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Wed 6 June 2007

I don't eat out in Headingley enough. Drinking - that's a different matter because Arcadia is so good, but eating - hardly ever.

I an attempt to redress my city-centre bias last week I headed off to Nooshi. Actually, (ex)Housemate and I wanted something quick and cheap, and I had a cold so something spicy fitted the bill.

After 5pm, Nooshi offers a dinner deal - a noodle box plus a beer for £6 (unless you go for duck or seafood, in which case it's £6.50). (ex)Housemate went for the hoisin duck noodles (without vege - so they will customise your order) and I opted for the spicy chicken and vegetable.

I'll leave aside the fact that the spicy chicken and vegetable contained mini-corn (this is the devil's food) and focus on the rest of the dish. Actually, there's not really a lot to say. There wasn't really a lot of chicken in it, the veggies were unexciting and the sauce tasted a lot like sweet chilli sauce: a bit too sweet and cloying for me.

Nooshi specialises in noodles and sushi, but also offers juices, smoothies, green tea and ice cream. I'd probably nip in to try out their sushi, but when it comes to more noodles I'll probably be heading back to Fuji Hiro in ... the city centre.

It seems that Nooshi haven't been too busy winning over fans and aficionados of Asian food: Sourrain was also a bit underwhelmed.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Quick French Round Up

Mon 11 June 2007

How depressing to realise that we've been back from Paris for almost a month!

Rather than an exhaustive run down of all our French eating I thought I'd opt for a quick tour of the remaining highlights.

Our hotel room rate didn't include breakfast, but Paris is a city of bakeries and we spent our mornings at Patisserie Thierry Landry on rue du Temple. Their suédois au fromage et jambon was delicious: a double decker ham and cheese flatbread sandwich that has some non-obvious Swedish connection. I went for sensible breakfast options: a croissant and the world's largest palmier. With coffees, our breakfasts came out averaging around €10 for the two of us - whereas breakfast at the hotel would have been €8 each!

On a slightly more savoury note, a very big tick goes to le bar rouge at Galeries Lafayette. We ordered a cheese platter (€10) to share and a couple of glasses of wine: this is a very civilised way to spend an hour or two in the afternoon. The cheese platter was generous and delicious, and this surprise experience was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.

Galeries Lafayette seems to have its finger on some good pulses. While waiting for the RoissyBus to head back to sunny Leeds we stopped at L'Archicafé and I indulged in a very expensive (€5) chocolat chaud. It was also the single most sinful thing I've ever eaten. I think it was just melted chocolate. Maybe mixed with some cream. Served piping hot, with some milk.

Most surreal dining moment in Paris was, without a doubt, dinner on our final night at Kiccho, a Japanese restaurant on rue de la Verrerie. We ordered the biggest set menu (€48 for 2 people) and scoffed ourselves on salad, miso soup, a huge plate of sushi and sashimi, grilled fish and chicken AND dessert. In a totally uncharacteristic move, I ate so much I felt sick afterwards. But it was worth it.

1. Thierry Landry, 180 rue Temple, 75003, Paris, phone: 01 42 72 19 81
2. Le Bar Rouge, Galeries Lafayette, Blvd Haussmann
3. L'Archicafé, Galeries Lafayette, Blvd Haussmann
4. Kiccho, 11 rue de la Verrerie, 75004, 01 42 72 53 71
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