Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Valentine's Day

Wed 30 Jan 2008

Valentine's Day is just around the corner ... if you need reminding. If you're silently panicking about a present then you can do worse than giving chocolate. In my capacity as an enthusiastic eater of chocolate, Hotel Chocolat offered some of the Valentine's selection to try. I was more than happy to accept - after all, as reviewer, I would have to eat the chocolates straight away!

I received the Love Selection - four different slabs (100g each) of chocolate, which retails for £12 and comes in a funky 'peepster' box/carry case. We started off with the 'Mellow Love' slab - crispy pancake pieces, cherries and milk and white (pink) chocolate. This was ideal for sharing as, while Andy loves white chocolate, I'm not a huge fan and could polish off the other part of the slab. The box also contains 'Deep Love' - the same thing but with the milk chocolate replaced by dark.

The other two slabs are 'Crostini Fruit and Nut', which is cranberries, sultanas, roasted almonds and crostini in milk chocolate and 'Praline Fusion'. This was easily my favourite out of the four: milk and white chocolate praline blended together, the block a gorgeous swirl of brown and gold. If you've just come in from a long, cold walk home it's very easy to eat almost the whole slab ...

This is the sort of gift you can give and, quite reasonably, hope to share (hmm, that might not be entirely in the spirit of Valentine's Day). After all, everyone has their chocolate quirks ... Of course, if you're looking for a gift for a new love, then this is a relatively safe bet as it would be a fussy chocolate eater who couldn't find something to enjoy here.

Hotel Chocolat is a UK owned business, with its own single origin cocoa plantation in the West Indies. I notice from the website that their chocolates are now available in the US. In the UK Hotel Chocolat does offer next day delivery, but it might be wise to place your orders sooner rather than later: you don't want to be buying twice as many post 14 Feb to make up for any oversight!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fairtrade Everyday Cookbook

Sat 26 Jan 2008

My copy of The Fairtrade Everyday Cookbook arrived on Saturday morning! The launch itself isn't until the end of February but that needn't stop everyone rushing out and buying the book NOW!

This book is important because it's the one in which MY recipe is printed. Not only that, but my recipe has two pages to itself, as it has a lovely full page photo! AND, my recipe comes with a big 'Highly Commended' (there are only about seven recipes in the book that are highly commended ... not that I counted).

So ... once you've rushed and bought the book you should head immediately to page 146 and make the Japanese-style duck breasts with aromatic rice!

Obviously, I remain dead chuffed (I spent the whole weekend muttering 'highly commended' and then bored everyone at work yesterday) and I look forward to making some of the other recipes. I'm also really looking forward to the book launch itself. Sophie Grigson was the 'consultant editor' on the book, and there are plenty of celeb contributions. I also notice that there are quite a few recipes from people based in Yorkshire!

A proper recipe test and review will be forthcoming!
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Round Up

Mon 28 Jan 2008

A quick round up for the end of the month ...

The bar on Millenium Square, formerly known as Cocoon (and even more formerly, Qube) has re-opened as a Wetherspoons - The Cuthbert Broderick. While the man might have influenced much of Leeds' architecture this pub will have to smarten up its ideas if it's to influence drinkers. When we popped in on Saturday afternoon it was certainly busy (and with the Ice Cube, is it any wonder?) but there were just two bar staff on and Andy's patience at the bar simply wore out.

We headed to the rebranded (again) Mr Foley's Cask Ale House (formerly Dr Okell's, more formerly Baroque). While the beers are still good, the menus are laughable - littered with spelling and factual mistakes. Though I did enjoy reading that frambozenbier is raspberries lacerated in lambic beer!

Finally, the current top five hits for Eating Leeds are:
  1. the joint review of Napa and Felicini ... up one from last time, but a recent comment suggests that Felicini may have its off nights ...
  2. down one, the sausage and bean casserole ... is it still cold and windy?
  3. the baked eggs are steady ...
  4. our visit to the city centre Viva Cuba is a new entry
  5. Kendell's Bistro makes its first appearance ... and still receiving positive comments from readers
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Honey and Soy Pork Fillet

Sat 26 Jan 2008

Aside from a few people wrapped in Australian flags in the city centre, Australia Day seemed to pass Leeds by. Not even really a celebration round ours, though we did make dinner from Australia Gourmet Traveller and we did drink Australian wine.

We ate ginger and soy pork with baby bok choy from the Gourmet Fast section of the magazine. To be honest, while I did follow the 'recipe' I'm not sure how many people buying AGT (or perhaps even reading this site) will need to be told how to make a honey and soy marinade. But here goes.

Mix together some honey and soy sauce. Add grated garlic and ginger. Mix well.

Take your pork fillet (tenderloin) and halve length wise. Marinate the pork in the honey/soy mix.

Cook some rice.

Fry the pork fillet, basting with the remaining marinade, until cooked.

Steam some baby bok choy.

When cooked, slice the pork fillet, serve on the rice and bok choy and serve sprinkled with some lightly toasted sesame seeds. Perhaps drizzle with a little sesame oil.

I'm sorry I can't sound more enthusiastic. There are a few things wrong with the recipe. Firstly, I'd say the proportion of honey to soy is grossly in favour of the honey (for 4 - 1/3 cup honey to 1/4 cup soy). In addition, because both the garlic and ginger are grated you get a rather too subtle ginger-y taste through the marinade. Personally, I prefer it when they're finely chopped: I think you get a stronger flavour and you get the mini-explosions of garlic or ginger when you bite through a piece. I think the addition of chilli (which I left out only because I was following the recipe) would go a long way.

Pork fillet is too expensive and delicate a cut of meat for this treatment. I think you'd be better off marinating a cheaper cut of pork, sliced up for a stir fry. You could flash fry it, and use some of the remaining marinade to pep up some fried rice - with plenty of vegetables. After all, just the bok choy will not get you much further towards your five a day ...

We served this with a Keith Tulloch 2005 Hunter Valley semillon (£9.99 Hoults). I was told that this was slightly botrytised and would have enough sweetness to match the marinade. If you'll pardon the pun - what rot! This is a bright, lime-yellow wine, with loads of lemon and lime on the nose and just the tiniest hint of honey. There's a touch of sweetness on the front of the palate which soon gives way to some mouth watering acid and even more lemon and lime. The wine comes in at just 10.5% abv - in the shop this gave some weight to the argument for sweetness, but in reality it's a reflection of a cool summer. I thought it was a smashing wine but it wasn't a good match with the food. Perhaps salt and pepper squid, served with plenty of lemon, or some fresh, fried garfish ... but not pork in honey and soy.

This was a shame, because the Caves de Turckheim gewurztraminer we had the other week would have been a far superior match. But I am a sucker for trying something new, and sometimes that is rather more miss than hit.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cauliflower and Almond Soup

Thurs 24 Jan 2008

Winter is a good time for soups but this year I've been a bit slow off the mark. Still, what is better to have at home, ready to heat up and eat, when you come in from the pub, than a big pot of soup? AND it's healthier than the usual post-pub grub: pizza, kebab, curry ...

I spotted the recipe for cauliflower and almond soup in the Complete Traditional Recipe Book. Previously, I've made a carrot and almond soup which turned out to be a very tasty number, so I was confident that this soup would be a success.

As with many soups it's easy-peasy.

Melt some butter in your favourite soup-making pot. Coarsely chop an onion and sweat down, before adding a medium size head of cauliflower, also coarsely chopped. Mix through 100g of ground almonds and a 1/4 tsp of turmeric and garam masala to taste. Add vegetable stock and simmer until the cauliflower is tender.

When the cauliflower is tender, whizzy up to a good thick puree. I served with a generous dash of chilli oil. My chilli oil is based on sesame oil and the fragrant oil worked really well with the cauliflower. Thanks to the almonds the soup is very rich and creamy without the addition of cream. And the cauliflower means it is thick, with plenty of body, without the use of potatoes.

The original recipe actually used turmeric and nutmeg, but I couldn't find the nutmeg so, taking inspiration from aloo gobi, I opted to use garam masala as an unlikely substitute.

No matter how much I might have liked this simple but filling soup, I had forgotten that Andy doesn't particularly like cauliflower so it didn't receive a rapturous reception. Still, can't please all the people all the time!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Scores on the Doors

Thurs 24 Jan 2008

The other day while tootling around the internet I came across Scores on the Doors. This (rather scary) site is contributed to by 74 councils and gives the 'official local hygiene ratings' for over 67 000 food businesses.

Actually, you might want to think twice before checking out your favourite venue, but I've already discovered that it's brilliant for finding reasons NOT to visit certain places!

The search is a little sensitive but once you've found a venue be sure NOT to be guided by star ratings alone. One venue I searched for in Leeds scored only one star, but delving into the more detailed ratings revealed that hygiene was 'good' whereas 'structural compliance' was only 'fair' and 'confidence in management' was 'little'. Personally, I'd be more worried if the hygiene was poor but everything else was great!

Also - the ratings are all dated, so bear in mind how recent (or otherwise) the information is!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Lounge

Tues 22 Jan 2008

One thing I hear most about The Lounge is that it used to be good. About 6 years ago I had some good meals there, but the restaurant changed/closed/reopened and the bar became more expensive, the quality of the beer less good ... all very sad, as I had spent some good times there.

After a break of about a year and a half, I finally ventured back, in search of a pre-theatre meal. I'm not sure if there's been a change of management or ownership but things have changed and, on last night's visit, for the better.

I arrived straight from work and ordered a caffè latte. I could find a seat and it would be brought over. Marks for civilised to start off with! When my coffee arrived there was no problem starting a tab and I was left alone to read my book and inspect the menu.

I'd been hoping to order the warm salad of black pudding with apple and roasted onion that I'd spotted on the website, but it wasn't on the menu. As I was after something light I settled on a smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket wrap. Andy's internet choice, toad in the hole, was available so when he arrived we were able to settle down to our drinks: a San Miguel for him and a small glass of competent (but possibly over priced) Chilean sauvignon blanc. What impressed me most was that the wine wasn't served freezing cold: I could actually smell and taste some gooseberries!

My wrap was served with a small side salad and a tiny (but in my opinion, perfectly sized) portion of chunky chips. I was after a quick, light supper and this did the job admirably. Andy's toad in the hole was huge: a pile of mash, two sausages, plenty of gravy and a massive Yorkshire pudding. Perhaps not what you might conventionally think of as 'toad in the hole' but all the elements where there. I thought the gravy was a little salty and (dare I say it?) chemical-like, and Andy complained that the mash was lumpy (ah! but at least it was real potatoes then!), but he liked the sausages and the Yorkshire pudding went down a treat with both of us. If the Yorkshire pudding is bought in (and after discussion, we decided it's probably not) the Lounge is certainly making the effort and buying something good.

With the theatre beckoning there was no time for loitering and our final bill came to just shy of £25 (2 beers - £3.2o a pint, 1 small wine, 1 coffee and the 2 meals). If dining early, some meals are available for just £5 (and, yes, the toad in the hole was one) and there is also a 25% discount pre-theatre offer, if dining between 5 and 6:30.

While I still think the drinks might be a little pricey we'll certainly be making more use of the Lounge in future. In winter, it's a cosy venue and in summer you can do far worse than sit in the garden and drink Pimms!

1. The Lounge, St John’s House, Merrion Street, LS2 8JE, phone: 0113 244 4234

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Potato - A Blog Event

Tues 22 Jan 2008

As I mentioned the other day, it's the International Year of the Potato ... and to me that sounds like the opportunity for a blog event!

Announcing ... The Potato.

For this event, you need to make a potato dish. However, if you can, it would be great if you can seek out a type of potato that you don't normally use, is new to you, or is known for being especially good for whatever you want to do. While you're unlikely to find too much potato exotica in your supermarket, you should be able to pick up something a bit different at a local farmers' market. If you do find something unusual and fancy some research into its history ... that's even better!

To get you started with varieties ... have a look here ...

Write ups by February 29 and the round up to follow early in March. Email me, and make sure you include your name, your blog's name and a permalink.

If you don't have a blog but would like to participate, please feel free to email me details of your dish/potato and a picture and I'll host your write up here.

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Monday, January 21, 2008


Today we have a guest review, written by Maureen Prichard. Appellation is in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, so a little far for UK based readers - but worth keeping in mind for any trips out of God's own county to God's own state!

Sun 20 Jan 2008

In January 1997, in the Barossa Valley, I discovered a little treasure of a restaurant called Pear Tree Cottage. Here chef Mark McNamara was creating a wonderful regional cuisine using products sourced mainly from the surrounding area. For the next five or six years Pear Tree Cottage was our destination for all sorts of celebrations and occasions, and the whole family was bereft when Mark reluctantly closed its doors.

We followed Mark’s career keenly thereafter and were delighted when he returned to the Barossa as Executive Chef of Appellation in 2005. Finally, David and I made it! We even arranged to stay in the Barossa overnight so that we could totally indulge, and indulge we certainly did.

Appellation is part of the Peppers The Louise vineyard retreat at Marananga, a very sophisticated five star complex. My fears for the occasion (that it might be a huge impersonal noisy restaurant and that Mark might not be cooking) were dispelled as we walked in the door. It is small and quiet, so low key that you don’t at first realise how impeccably designed it is. And we were greeted with the news that Mark was in the kitchen. Our pre-dinner drinks were scarcely in hand before he came out to welcome us. The warmth of that unexpected and personal welcome set the scene for one of our most memorable dining experiences.

We could choose between a tasting menu matched to local Barossa wines, or an à la carte menu which doesn’t discriminate between entrées and main courses. The dishes at the top of the list are lighter, while those at the bottom tend to be a little more substantial. We decided to go for the flexibility of the à la carte which allowed us to choose our wine from the formidable wine list (Appellation was 2007 winner of the Best Wine List in South Australia category of the 2007 Adelaide Food Awards) let me fit in dessert. After a great deal of deliberation we ordered.

While we were waiting for the first course (by this time getting very hungry), we speculated on the amuse bouche. Not one, but two arrived! The first was an exquisite triangle of avocado terrine encased in tomato and red pepper jelly with coriander oil – a miniature work of art that tasted as good as it looked. This was followed by a shot of tomato consommé with parsley, cucumber and coriander topped with olive oil foam. By now, our taste buds were well and truly amused.

For first course David had a tartlet of baby Williamstown yabbies and roasted peppers with a shellfish glaze and I had roasted spiced sweet potato with toasted pepitas, almonds and roasted cumin. These dishes represented such a contrast, the delicacy of the yabbies in their unctuous glaze against the spicy warmth and crunch of the sweet potato, but both were brilliant. Our second courses of grilled fillet of prosciutto wrapped snapper with baby caper butter gravy (“I had forgotten how brilliant snapper could be!” D) and twice-cooked belly of pork and spicy soya glaze (so rich but not at all cloying), were preceded by a cranberry and chinotto sorbet. We couldn’t believe it but things just seemed to be getting better.

At this point we decided to share the duck tasting plate. It consisted of liver parfait, rillettes and three slices of the most delicious red gum smoked duck breast with little toasts. It was too good to miss, and worked really well at this point of the meal.

All of this was accompanied by a 2004 Western Australian Cape Mentelle Zinfandel, which managed brilliantly to harmonise with the delicacy of the fish dishes, while standing up to the pork and duck. This was followed, preparing us for cheese and dessert, by a lovely red wine frappe – red wine granita topped with sparkling shiraz.

We finished off with cheese accompanied by Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2005 shiraz for David – by this time my notetaking had taken a dive and I can relate only that he had two Australian cheeses, one a Heide gruyere, and a brilliant French blue. I had affogato (as good as you get in Italy) made with Appellation’s own vanilla icecream, amaretto and excellent espresso, accompanied by a Flaxman sticky.

We could not fault one aspect of our dining experience. All of the staff were knowledgeable and discreetly helpful, and the attention to detail was carried through to the expertly made coffee and the exquisite petit fours which I watched the waiter assembling while we had our pre-dinner drinks. During the course of our meal Mark paid two visits to the dining room and chatted with all his guests, a habit I am pleased to see he has carried with him from his Pear Tree Cottage days. He has lost none of his touch, just honed it to produce a menu based on fresh seasonal regional produce, which balances subtlety with surprises.

1. Appellation, Seppeltsfield Road, Marananga SA 5355, phone: +61 (0)8 8562 4144

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Friday, January 18, 2008

International Year of the Potato

Thurs 17 Jan 2008

I have found out that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato. And no, it hasn't been designated thus by some marketing people ... it has been the decision of the UN!

I like potatoes: they're cheap, versatile and good for you (even after you've thrown butter, cream, duck fat or cheese at them they are still a good source of vitamin C, protein and potassium - and the potassium will help you absorb the calcium from all the dairy ...).

They are also an increasingly important food for people in developing countries.

There are hundreds of different type of potato, so if you do nothing else to celebrate the Year of the Potato seek out a variety you've not tried before - or even grow it yourself!

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Almond Cake

Sun 13 Jan 2008

A recent acquisition has been The Complete Traditional Recipe Book and I was pretty keen to give something a go. Of course, by the time you get to Sunday afternoon you are thinking about cake (hmm, maybe I think about cake all the time) but I also wanted something a bit ... quick and dirty.

And I found it ... a plain, simple almond cake. So easy as to be trivial ...

Mix 225g butter with 225g sugar and then add in four eggs. Add 225g of self raising flour, 50g of ground almonds and ... that's it. If you have some almond essence to hand (I didn't) you might care to add a teaspoon of that.

Pour into a greased tin (I used a one pound loaf tin - and had some mixture left over for muffins) and bake. Now ... the recipe said to bake for an hour and a half at 160C. Because I have a fan oven I turned it down to somewhere between 140 and 150C. The muffins took about half an hour and my cake about an hour. So best to keep an eye on it and make a judgement call.

It's a simple cake, with a fine crumb. It kept really well - the almonds help to keep it moist, and it has served well as mid-morning snacks throughout the week. The book says that the recipe is reminiscent of eighteenth century cakes that would have been served with coffee. Of course, if you wanted to take it with your afternoon sherry or madeira I'm sure it would go just as well.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

WBW#41: Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Wed 16 Jan 2008

... hosted by Fork and Bottle.

I haven't done well with blog events recently but at the end of last year I decided to get enthused about Wine Blogging Wednesday. Not only is it an excuse to drink wine, but it might help with my forthcoming advanced WSET course (or something).

Which is why today saw me bombing around wine shops in Leeds looking for a bottle of white wine from the concisely named Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north eastern Italy. I'd even been warned about leaving this til the last minute but I have to confess that Italian white wines are, um, not exactly an interest of mine - particularly pinot grigio ...

Bad planning has meant that I'm about to drink the same wine as Andrew over at Spittoon - le Fredis Pinot Grigio 2005. However, I haven't read his tasting notes - as soon as I saw that Oddbins (my final hope) had only one Friuli in stock I stopped reading!

Before tasting, a quick consult of the The World Atlas of Wine and wikipedia. It appears that the Friuli region offers the world three DOCGs, eleven DOCs and three IGTs (le Fredis fits into the latter category and is Venezia Giulia). The main grape grown is Friulano but there seems to be a lot of grapes grown too. The area is most noted for its white wines.

So - I was a bit disappointed to end up with an IGT wine and, what's more, one not made from one of the more obscure local grapes. My fault for not doing more research before heading into the wine shop ...
The wine ... a distinctly pale gold colour with a nose predominated by citrus, with floral and even toasty vanilla notes. Andy thinks it smells quite grassy and after a good hard think I can sort of see where he's coming from - not freshly cut grass, but how the grass cuttings smell when they've started to dry out.

On the palate, there's plenty of acid but more than a touch of residual sweetness, and, as the wine is aged on its lees, there is some toast too. I might be generous in saying medium length, so I'll temper that by noting that it's not a complex wine: the flavours don't develop and change.

Overall, not my cup of tea. I think the palate is too strongly skewed in favour of the sugar, creating an unbalanced* wine - and far too expensive for what you get (£8.49 at Oddbins). I'm quite disappointed because I love having my preconceptions (about wine) challenged - and it would have been fantastic to come away a convert. However, I've learnt some valuable lessons about wine blogging (don't leave it til the last minute and do your research!), Italian wine labelling and the wine regions in north eastern Italy - which means the exercise has been a success all round.

WBW#41: Friuli-Venezia Giulia - le Fredis Pinot Grigio, 2005, IGT Venezia Giulia, Valter Scarbolo, Lauzacco, Italy - purchased from Oddbins, Headingley, £8.49.

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*Please bear in mind, this is my opinion. I am far, far from an expert on Italian whites and it's possible that pinot grigio aficionados will point out that this is how it's supposed to be. Which is cool because I'll know for next time!
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Monday, January 14, 2008

PAGE 42 - soba noodles in broth

Sat 12 Jan 2008

Before Andy hit the kitchen I put together our starter, which was soba noodles in broth. This is actually a dish we've tried before (and liked) so I was pretty happy to find that the recipe was on page 42 of Cooking Japanese.

If your cupboard is stocked for Japanese cooking this truly is an easy storecupboard standby.

For the two of us, I cooked a handful of soba noodles in lightly salted water, rinsed them in cold and put them to one side.

I added a packet of dashi to about a litre of boiling water and ensured it was fully dissolved, before adding a quarter of a cup of soy sauce (yes, it sounds like a lot, but be brave). Add a tablespoon of mirin, a teaspoon of sugar and bring back to the boil.

Add the soba, ensure they're separated and serve immediately. Top with sliced spring onions and pass the shichimi togarashi. If you happen to be running short on your Japanese seven spice powder you could do worse than substitute some chilli flakes!

This is a fantastic, quick and warming soup. Load it with the noodles for more of a meal, or keep it simple as a light starter.

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