Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Sun 24 Feb 2008

Anyone reading Eating Leeds regularly will realise how much I love pastry. Contrary to all the advice I was given as a child, eating it raw does not give you a stomach ache, and when cooked it is a fabulous, versatile wrapping for both sweet and savoury foods.

I am also a not-so-closet fan of James Martin. As Andy says "he's from Yorkshire and he makes puddings". Yes, indeed, that is really all you need to know. So, when it came to picking a recipe from a recent acquisition, James Martin's Desserts I headed straight to the mincemeat and apple jalousie.

This also appeared because I had almost a full jar of mincemeat left over from making mince pies at Christmas (and you know you have one too, lurking in your fridge!). You needn't fuss too much about quantities for this as you just make sure you cut the pastry to suit your filling.

To my remaining mincemeat I added 2 tbsp of rum, half an apple, peeled and finely chopped, and pinches of ground cloves, ground mace and ground allspice. This was an approximation for the mixed spice used in the recipe. I omitted the orange zest.

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with some baking paper. Give your puff pastry a light roll and cut a piece to make your base. Spread on your filling, making sure you leave a good couple of centimetres gap around the edge. Brush this with a lightly beaten egg.

Now make your jalousie lid ... take the piece of pastry you'll use as topping and lightly fold it in half. Cut diagonal slats in it and then, carefully, put it on top of your filling, opening it out. Press down around the edges, trim if you want. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with some caster sugar.

At this point, I was wailing: "it doesn't look like it does in the book". The puff pastry was a little tricky to handle and my slats had turned more to ribbons that folded back on themselves. Not to worry - despite not being even slats, my finished tart still looked lovely.

Bake for half an hour, until golden and bubbling. Serve with plenty of cream, and perhaps a glass or two of an Australian muscat (I particularly recommend the Yalumba Museum Muscat - loads of raisiny, dried fruit, spicey flavours). Wonderful warm or cold!

  • use bought puff pasty - although even if you buy pre-rolled I recommend a light turn with the rolling pin
  • you could easily omit everything bar the mincemeat - then there'd really be no chopping or measuring!
  • you can substitute any filling you like ... sliced apples covered in sugar are also good!
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Spinach and Chickpea Gratin

Sun 24 Feb 2008

I am signed up to the Observer Food Monthly mailing list. This means that once a month I get an email reminding me to buy the paper and providing a list of ingredients for the dish of the month. I rarely bother with this because it's more fun to treat the supplement as a lucky dip: Andy chooses a dish, I (generally) cook and everyone's happy.

However, this month the ingredients were listed for a spinach and chickpea gratin. Ooooh. Spinach, chickpeas and crème fraîche ... how good does that sound?

The first problem I spotted was that the recipe gave a weight of dried chickpeas. I had the foresight to put them in to soak overnight - but only because I've handled a lot of chickpeas. I wonder how many people opened OFM ready to make their Sunday supper to discover they were a day out?

The dish is simple, but a little time consuming and pan intensive. First, soak your 250g of chickpeas overnight. When you're ready to cook, drain them, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and then simmer until done. If you need to add extra water, do so.

As the recipe was for four, I exercised some creativity with it - as I figured if I had chickpeas left over I would make a small batch of hummous for lunches.

I coarsely chopped 3 onions and fried them off in some oil, with 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Once the onions had gained some colour, I stirred in just under a tablespoon of plain flour and gave it a good stir, to cook out.

Add the chickpeas, 250mL of vegetable stock and 200g of crème fraîche to the onions, season and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Stir the mix every now and then.

I then rinsed and wilted a 300g bag of baby spinach, before adding this to the mix.

Make sure you taste the mix, so you can adjust the seasoning.

The final stage is to cook the gratin. Heat the oven to 180C and pour the mix into a baking dish. Top with grated parmesan and fresh breadcrumbs, and bake for around half an hour - or until done (golden, bubbling).

Note the pretty blue baking dish - a Christmas present makes its web debut!

This will serve two for dinner, with leftovers for lunches. It microwaves well, and is interesting to eat because of the combination of textures: slight resistance from the chickpeas, smooth and silky crème fraîche, crunchy topping and slippery onions.

Not only can you feed this dish to your vegetarian friends, you can also eat and feel virtuous!

  • use tinned chickpeas (ensure you give them a good rinse before using them, especially if they are in salted water) - this cuts out the soaking and the long slow boil
  • use frozen spinach - cuts out the wash and wilt stage
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Mother's Day

Mon 25 Feb 2008

Thanks to an early Easter we have an absolute glut of chocolate related events all close together and, after Valentine's Day, the next one out of the blocks is Mother's Day.

The nice people at Hotel Chocolat have sent me yet more chocolates (yes, it's a hard life). This time, it's a box of Just Truffles. The box contains 30 truffles, so you should have no problems persuading your mum to part with a few and share them around. A word of warning - all the truffles in the box are alcoholic so may not be suitable for everyone. Some of the truffles are marked as having a generous dash of alcohol ... and they certainly pack a punch!

There are 10 different truffles: cream and chocolate, advocaat, white champagne, café latte, tiramisu, kirsch, white rum, dark rum, calvados and cointreau. My personal favourite was the cafélatte, closely followed by the cream and chocolate. Andy rated the advocaat very highly. It's a good, broad selection of flavours - everyone's tastes should be catered for.

Now ... while you're over at Hotel Chocolat, drooling over chocolates and picking out a present for mum, it's probably also worth entering the Easter Egg competition (yes, you have to eat MORE chocolate at the end of the month). The closing date is 18 March ... and you'll need to check out the Hotel Chocolat website to crack the code and enter. As usual, an Eating Leeds reader will win a prize - one of Hotel Chocolat's Extra Thick Easter Eggs. And that one you can keep for yourself!

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Da Mario's

Fri 22 Feb 2008

After a couple of after-work-post-gym beers at the Town Hall Tavern our thoughts turned to food (well, mine did) and I took the opportunity to suggest a restaurant I've never been to. Da Mario's, on the Headrow, is something of a fixture: its broad frontage means that you cannot miss it and it looks as though it has remained unchanged since the 1970s.

Despite it being half past 9 on a Friday night we had no problem getting a table: the restaurant was already emptying out and just a couple of tables remained occupied. We were tucked away in the corner, ordered some beers and checked out the menu. The menu covers quite a lot of ground, and in addition, we were given a list of daily specials that were all fish dishes (and all priced around the £10-£15 mark). I was tempted by a pizza, but we were all quite hungry and I realised that that choice would mark a delay in any of us getting our food. Instead, I opted, like the blokes, to go for pasta.

I chose, in hindsight perhaps foolishly, the "tagliatella al salmone" (I'm not sure, but I think that should be 'tagliatelle' - do I have an Italian speaking reader who can help?). The menu billed this as "a duet" of smoked and fresh salmon, with spring onions, lemon zest, dill and a tomato and cream sauce. Now, I often find salmon pasta dishes disappointing: a good balance of fish, pasta and sauce seems to be a difficult thing to achieve in a restaurant. Often the smoked salmon ends up cooked and tough, or it's quite salty and this imbues the whole dish with an unpleasant salty fishiness. but then, if a restaurant puts a dish on the menu - it should be cooked well, and I keep on trying. I figure if I can put together a simple pasta dish of smoked salmon, asparagus tips and cream a restaurant should be able to manage it.

You already know that I'm going to report that the dish was not a success. It was blindingly hot (hmm, do we detect some help from the microwave?), the smoked salmon was nowhere to be seen, the fresh salmon had enjoyed so much cooking it had descended into a pulpy, fishy mass, the lemon zest was indiscernible, the Napolitana sauce was an alarming vibrant orange ... The saving grace was that the portion was quite small. That, and after a couple of drinks I am always ravenously hungry. Had this not been the case, the majority of the dish would have been left.

My dining companions had chosen tagliatelle al funghi, another small portion quite light on mushrooms, and the spaghetti con polpettine. The meatballs were disintegrating and the one I tasted was tasteless aside from overpowering oregano. It was dry and grey.

Although we tried to finish our drinks in a leisurely manner, it was obvious it was time for us to leave. A waiter took our bill for payment before we'd even looked at it, the music was turned off and general restaurant closing activities began. It was only about half past 10.

There is a reason that Da Mario's was closing its doors so early and that, as we waited for our bus, Felicini still bubbled away ...

1. Da Mario's Bar and Restaurant, 105 The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW, phone 0113 246 0390

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Round Up

Fri 22 Feb 2008

Not really a round up, but a collection of interesting bits and pieces.

Firstly, having now started my WSET Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits (taught by the Northern Wine Academy) I'm thinking (even) more about the wines I drink and on the look out for as much wine information as possible. One site I particularly like is Wine Rendez-Vous, by Paris based sommelier, Olivier. It's a good giggle and his approach is very light hearted but informative. The fact that the content is video based also makes it a bit different from a normal blog. If you want a social networking aspect to your web experience, check out the Open Wine Consortium.

Finally, wine-wise, many people will remember Stormhoek wines - famous for viral marketing (free wine for bloggers in the UK, Geek Dinners in the US). The disintegration of Orbital Wines has left the winery in a bit of a financial pickle but ... there is a way YOU can help out. If you have the spare cash you can buy a vine!

On the food front, because we're all into reducing our food wastage, you should be heading over to the Left Over Queen. And while you're there you can join the Foodie Blog Roll.

And finally, if you're in or near West Yorkshire tomorrow morning, you can head over to Mytholmroyd for the Calder Valley Organic Gardeners' Potato Day! While this won't help you with your entry to my Potato blog event, it will mean you should have a good crop of potatoes later in the year!
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chicken Curry

Tues 5 Feb 2008

Way back at the beginning of February, while we were making jambalaya, I used the left over happy chicken to make a curry from the excellent Curry. This is a brilliant book, with curries from all over the world, and every single recipe we've made from it has been a success.

The recipe of choice for the chicken was murgir jhol from Bengal - a home style chicken curry. Provided you have the spices to hand this should take no longer than an hour from start to finish though, as always with curries, the longer and more slowly you can cook it, the better. Naturally, as this is a home style curry you can depart from my method as happily as I departed from the book!

I began by heating some vegetable oil and crackling 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves, 3 cardamom pods and 4 black pepper corns. Then I added a large, finely chopped onion. When it began to brown, I added a large peeled, chopped potato and cooked for a bit before adding and browning the pieces of chicken.

I then added a some grated ginger and garlic, a tablespoon of ground coriander, some extra whole cumin seeds, some crushed chillis and some turmeric. All of this is a bit arbitrary ... I love cumin so I tend to over do that where possible. Anyway, I cooked up the spices and then added some tomato puree and some chicken stock. I brought it all to the boil then reduced the heat, covered and simmered.
The book suggests you should sprinkle with ground, roasted cardamom and cinnamon and finish with chopped coriander ... but I was too lazy for that: just plain rice.

This was tasty, quick ... and fantastic the next day for lunch!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Tues 19 Feb 2008

Today, I should have been bringing you all the details of an exciting trip to the Leeds' Aagrah for a whole curried, stuffed lamb.

Unfortunately, despite the organiser (not me) ordering the lamb well in advance, and ringing over the weekend, and doing a smashing job of organising 20 people for a night out, the best laid plans were scuppered at half four yesterday afternoon when the restaurant rang to tell us that ... well ... um ... the lamb hadn't been ordered.

There was nothing for it but to head to the pub, drown our sorrows and seek out a curry somewhere else.

We started at the Palace, where I enjoyed the Milestone Black Pearl - quite light in body for a stout, and no overly caramelised flavours, but pleasant and easy drinking. The Palace always has an impressive range of beers available, they're well kept and there's always something new.

Not to be denied a curry of some sort, we headed to Shabab. Andy's masala machee (fried cod) was delicious, as was the haleem (lentils, beans and lamb), and my potato cakes were pretty tasty too. As usual I opted for the dahl makhni for my main course, and I actually felt that neither the dahl nor the paratha were up to the usual standard. As the starters really shone last night (although there was a complaint that the mixed grill was a little small for two to share) I suspect that on my next visit I'll be opting for two starters rather than my usual dahl.

Post curry, more beers were in order and we visited the Horse and Trumpet. I've never been in (it's always looked a little like what we call "a scary old man's pub"), but was pleasantly surprised. A good range of real ales (our choices were Landlord for some, Bombardier for others) and the standard lagers. The pub is still divided into rooms and was quiet enough for us to commandeer the whole front room. The beer was in good nick and the pub will definitely be marked down as one to visit in future.

A quick mention of two other pubs I've visited recently: The Rodley Barge, in Rodley, where they have their own bitter, and the Old Red Lion in (sort of) the city centre. The Rodley Barge was a friendly, jolly place on a Friday night (we were waiting for a bus), packed full of regulars and with good beer. The Old Red Lion is a Sam Smith's pub, which means it's insanely cheap. However, we did rather stand out and it's the type of pub you need to cultivate as a local, rather than just drop in.

1. The Palace, Kirkgate, Leeds, LS2 7DJ, phone 0113 244 5882
2. Shabab, 2 Eastgate, Leeds, LS2 7JL, phone 0113 246 8988
3. The Horse and Trumpet, 51-53 The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6LR, phone 0113 243 0338
4. The Rodley Barge, Town Street, Rodley, LS13 1HP, phone 0113 257 4606
5. The Old Red Lion, opposite the Adelphi (couldn't find any more details), Hunslet Road, Water Lane type of way.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Left Overs

Mon 18 Feb 2008

We had a few bits and pieces left over from our kefta and egg ... the left over lamb mince went into making kofta kebabs, stuffed in pita with plenty of lettuce and tomato and some searingly hot habanero sauce. Mmmm. And we congratulated ourselves on how far that 90p worth of lamb mince actually went!

But we still had a tiny bit of left over tomato sauce, some chopped coriander and mint, some feta ... and, hating wastage, I wanted to combine as much of this as possible to produce a meal. We had some pork loin chops defrosted (yes, we're also trying to eat some of the stuff in our freezer!) and a plan was fermenting ...

I heated some olive oil and fried off the chops. With a good, hot pan they turned a lovely golden colour and cooked quickly. I mixed the left over tomato sauce with some of the mint and coriander as well as an extra clove of chopped garlic. I topped each chop with this and then covered with thin slices of feta cheese before finishing under the grill. Thanks to the quick searing and the gentle finishing the chops stayed moist and the mint, coriander and extra garlic perked up (not to mention padded out!) the tomato sauce. The feta added some salt and creaminess. It all came together really well - so well, that I'd actually make this from scratch, and not just to use up bits and pieces.

Served with sautéed potatoes and steamed carrots. A blindingly quick meal!

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kefta and Egg

Sat 16 Feb 2008

Often what we eat on a Saturday night is dictated by the latest arrival on the food magazine or book front. Yesterday, however, we found ourselves in the position of not having this restriction. So while I was in the shower Andy was able to spend the time browsing our extensive collection of recipes to come up with dinner.

It was Australian Gourmet Traveller September 2006 which came up with the goods: "fresh spring flavours". Well, it's not quite Spring yet but it's near enough (sunny but soooo cold here in Leeds) and the chosen recipe was fresh, light and packed with flavour, while still being warming. The kefta, roast capsicum, egg and coriander actually comes from a selection of breakfast recipes, but it certainly does as a post pub supper. As usual, the recipe below is our version.

First, make your meatballs. Take 300g of minced lamb (your butcher will be able to do this for you - the meat cost us just 90p from Michael Michaels in Butchers' Row) and mix it with one finely chopped onion, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp each of chilli flakes and mint (this will not make the meatballs particularly hot - the dish had a slight tingle on the lips rather than any roaring chilli heat). As a substitute for ras el-hanout we used pinches of Chinese five spice, ground fenugreek and ground cumin. Add at least 50g of breadcrumbs and finally mix in one egg to bind. The amount of bread crumbs you need will be driven by how easily (or otherwise) the mixture comes together. You need to trust your gut on this one! Season the mix with salt and pepper and make into meatballs. If you have the time and inclination, frying up some of the mix for a taste test pays dividends.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil and gently fry up a chopped onion and a finely sliced red pepper. Add as many of the meatballs as will fit in a ring around the edge and brown them all over. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and cook vigorously to reduce the liquid.

All of this you can do in advance.

When you're ready to eat, make space in the centre of the pan and drop in an egg (or more, if you like). Cover and cook for around 3 minutes or until the egg is done as you like.

Serve on hot plates, sprinkled with chopped coriander and mint and feta cheese. And plenty of sliced bread for cleaning the plates!

This dish looks good and tastes fantastic. As a plus, it looks quite impressive too - so you could easily serve it to guests. We used eight good sized meatballs when making the dish and had about 6 left over. And we felt that pork or chicken would work just as well as the lamb.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Tues 12 Feb 2008

Since we were drinking Italian wine for Wine Blogging Wednesday I wanted some Italian food to go with it.

Australian Gourmet Traveller came to the rescue with bistecca alla fiorentina. I wasn't really inclined to rush out and buy t bones for a mid week supper so I scoured the market for some decent sirloin.

The only place to buy steak is at the market. Limit yourself to the supermarket and you will have to resign yourself to meat cut so thinly you can read the newspaper through it (as my dad would say) and it's usually drab, uninspiring stuff (not to mention over packaged). Unfortunately, one trend I noticed at the market was the offering of sirloin as 'table trimmed'. This means 'fat removed'. Ah, so wrong. I want a big layer of fat on my steak to ensure all those lovely flavours go through the meat. I'm quite capable of cutting a layer of fat from some cooked meat myself, thank you very much.

Anyway, I finally found some fantastic sirloin at Phil Bennett's. It was already cut in big fat slices, with a big layer of fat, nice dark meat and marbled to boot! And just £6 for two big slices!

The AGT version of bistecca alla fiorentina is simple: take your steak, rub some olive oil on it, season, and then let it sit packed in some bruised rosemary.

Get your pan good and hot, and add butter and olive oil. If you have a griddle or a grill - even better. Whack the steak in and leave it. If you start messing around with the steak it will stick to the pan and it will all go wrong. Once it's seared properly you'll be able to turn it over easily.

Make sure you take it out of the pan before you think it's cooked and then sit it on a hot plate, wrapped in tin foil.

Sort out the rest of your meal - in our case some potatoes sautéed in duck fat and a quick take on insalata caprese, and then serve.
What better to go with it than a Super Tuscan? In our case, the 2001 Ormanni Julius - sangiovese red berry fheavy, but with hints of leather finishing the wine thanks to the shiraz. We were lucky enough to buy this wine at the winery, so I'm not sure how available it is in the UK (a quick google suggests not very). The 2001 is drinking well now: since the summer (when we bought it) it has definitely moved on, with a decidedly garnet hue and the tannins softening nicely. Drink now. Drink with steak.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WBW42 - Just Seven Words

Wed 13 Feb 2008

Andy: It is red and I like it.
Alex: Red berry fruit, a hint of leather.

The wine: Ormanni Julius 2001, 60% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 10% shiraz, 14% abv. IGT Colli della Toscana Centrale.

[sorry for awful, blurry picture!]

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Monday, February 11, 2008

PAGE42 - Potted Crab

Sun 10 Feb 2008

Another visit to page 42 - this time from the Complete Traditional Recipe Book. We've had some successes from this book: the cauliflower and almond soup and the plain almond cake, so I had high hopes for page 42 and potted crab. After all, I love shellfish, I love butter and we had some white crab meat left over from a recent sushi sortie.

This is very much a by-taste recipe. I used just under 100g of white crab meat and about 75g of unsalted butter.

Allow your butter to soften (straight from the fridge is a bad idea). In a pan, mix together 1 generous tablespoon of dry or medium sherry with a good squeeze of lemon juice and reduce to about 1 teaspoon. Mix this with the butter, and then add the crab meat, plenty of salt and pepper, and a good pinch of ground ginger. Obviously, you need to taste as you go along. When happy, pack into a ramekin. Looks good, doesn't it?

To finish, melt some butter with a splash of water and some grated lemon rind. Pour this over the crab to seal.

Hmmm. All good in principle. But the fact was, it just wasn't very nice. I'm not going to pretend to be a connoisseur of potted crab (or potted anything to be honest) but this just didn't work for me at all. I had hoped to produce something that would do as a sandwich filling but it was a non-starter. The clarified butter on top tasted a bit like lemon tart but the crab itself (despite frequent adjustment of the seasoning) was pretty tasteless.


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Friday, February 08, 2008


Thurs 7 Feb 2008

Lunch club service resumed and we headed off to Norman on Call Lane. My first (and only) experience of Norman was a visit about six years ago, when I went to eat on a Friday night. Big mistake. It was more in bar mode and the food was a little clumsy. Salmon with miso mayonnaise - potentially brilliant in concept, dire when it's miso paste mixed through with a little mayo. Subsequently, it has been recommended to me by an acquaintance who eats out a lot - he maintains it is one of the best value lunchtime venues in Leeds. Before we even arrived my lunch mates had various gripes: they won't let me in on a Friday night, the food is OK but it's far too slow.

This probably makes you wonder why we were even heading there ... Well, we'd been assured that service had sped up and, in my case, perhaps six years is long enough for a venue to change.

Norman has had a facelift since I last visited, and the young man who was our waiter was affable. There's a good range of beers on draught (excluding real ale, but don't forget - Norman is where the beautiful people run), and the menu consists of a broad range of south east Asian staples. Most excitingly, all day Monday and between 12 and 3 every day, all main courses (normally around the £8 mark) are £5. Effectively, you're getting your drink for free. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a wine/drinks list. Although a couple of us were interested in ordering wine we didn't bother and stuck with beer.

Lindebooms and Amstels firmly in place we ordered: pad thai was the most popular choice, with a nasi norman and a Thai green curry bringing up the rear.

And then we sat chatting and drinking our beer. And chatting some more. And then we looked at our watches and realised that lunch time was (or should have been) over. Someone asked "who's going to complain?". I hardly needed the invitation ...

When the food arrived it was good value for £5. All the basics were absolutely bang on: the nasi norman had been ordered without the fried egg and that's how it arrived and the portions were generous. There was absolutely nothing wrong. My Thai green curry was erring on the cautious side of spicy and, if I was being picky, I could argue it was a little heavy on the coconut cream. But for £5 I won't. But there was also nothing outstanding that warranted the wait.

Given that we had had to ask about our food I was disappointed to note that our second (smaller) round of drinks hadn't been knocked off the bill. If that had happened I might be inclined to be more glowing about the service. While the main waiter who dealt with us was good, another waiter showed a complete lack of concern about the whereabouts of our food.

So would I go back? Actually, yes I think would. If I were wandering around town on a weekend and found myself fancying some noodles and a few beers I might head in (then again, I might head in preference to Fuji Hiro ...). I'm not convinced that I'd be happy to pay full price and for lunch mid-week the service is far too slow.

Best summed up in one word ... ambivalent.

Cost: £10 per head (one main course and around 2 drinks per person)

1. Norman, 36 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 6DT, phone: 0113 234 3988

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pancake Day

Tues 5 Feb 2008

Tuesday was, of course, Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday). Easter is ridiculously early this year!

While I had no intention of using up all my eggs, butter and sugar we still had to have pancakes on Tuesday. Normally, when making a crêpe batter, I do it by feel. After all, it's not complicated to crack one egg (or two), beat in some flour, and let down with milk to get the right consistency. I like to make the mix in advance and leave it in the fridge overnight.

However, I thought that actually following a recipe wouldn't kill me, and set about narrowing the field to just one.

I ended up choosing a sweet crêpe batter from Auguste Escoffier's Ma Cuisine. Let's face it - a French crêpe has got to be a good one!

For two, take 70g of plain flour and mix with 30g of caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Beat in 2 eggs, a tablespoon of rum (or brandy or kirsch - and you can probably be more generous) and let down with milk. Finish with a teaspoon of melted butter and then cook.

We both prefer our pancakes with lemon and sugar (although I was tempted to go the Nutella route for a while), and we decided to add extra milk after we cooked the first couple as the crêpes were too thick. The sweet batter was a pleasant change from the standard savoury - although the disadvantage is that if you make too much mixture you're limited to desserts to use up the spare pancakes.

Hmm, I guess 'disadvantage' might be the wrong word to use!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pub Day

Sat 2 Feb 2008

For quite a while now I've been touting the idea of a day out in Leeds, drinking at "pubs that are good but that you might not know about". At various points in time I've got as far as putting together an interactive google map, floating dates, sending emails, and so on ... but we've never actually managed it.

On Saturday, under the guise of visiting the joint beer festival run by the Grove and the Scarbrough, we actually managed part of the original mapped route.

The day began, in the morning, at the Grove. I actually passed on this part. While the beer at the Grove tends to be in good nick (I say tends because I once had an iffy pint of Black Cat) at the moment it's one of my least favourite venues, because it is unbelievably cramped when it's busy. Of course, Saturday morning reports suggest that it was a haven of tranquility with an excellent beer selection.

My day began, in the afternoon, at Mr Foley's. While the Leeds Brewery Winter Spark was quiet lively it was a tasty, ruby red beer. Other choices were York Brewery's Guzzler, Abbeydale Moonshine and the Czech pils, Zatec.

Next stop (and in search of some food) was the Town Hall Tavern, a Timothy Taylor pub. I like this place, not only because it sells Ram Tam, but because it is such a calm and down to earth place. The beers were, unsurprisingly, excellent and our resident Timothy Taylor fan was extremely happy. Unfortunately, he was also extremely hungry - as the pub doesn't serve food on Saturdays.

By the time we left the Town Hall Tavern it was dark and thoughts of food had been temporarily banished from our thoughts as we made our way to the Victoria on Great George Street. Pints of Tetley's Cask, Acorn's Barnsley Bitter and Staropramen soon revived our interest in food and before long we were out the door.

Fortunately, the Vic is just over the road from the excellent Thai Cottage. For just £15 a head we munched our way through yet more beer, prawn crackers, a starter and a main course each. After the mind numbingly hot larp gai of my last visit, I was a little more circumspect and started with fish cakes, followed by pad kee mow (drunken noodles). Despite my noodles rating zero chillis on the menu's hotness scale, I felt that they were just as spicy as the one chilli red curry.

Fed, and hardly requiring more watering, we decided to try our original destination, the Scarbrough. But at half past 9 on a Saturday night it was far too busy. There was just time for a quick drink (mmm, Budvar dark) at Milo, before heading home.

Leeds has so many interesting places to go ... if you're stuck in a rut, try any one of these venues. I'm not suggesting that at every time of the day they're all ideal (stay well clear of Mr Foley's around 6pm on a Friday night), but they serve decent beers and all have their own quite unique feel.

1. The Grove, Back Row, Leeds, LS11 5PL, phone,0113 2439254
2. Mr Foley's, 159 The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5RG, phone 0113 242 9674
3. The Town Hall Tavern, 17 Westgate, Leeds, LS1 2RA, phone 0113 244 0765
4. The Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel, Great George Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3BB, phone 0113 245 1386
5. Thai Cottage, 39 Great George St, Leeds, LS1 3BB, phone 0113 245 922
6. Milo, 10-12 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 6DN, phone 0113 245 7101
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Monday, February 04, 2008

Seed Cake

Sun 3 Feb 2008

I am rather partial to cake. It is very civilised to have cake and tea in the afternoon on the weekend and it's good to have something to take to work during the week. So, if I'm ever lost for something to do I make cake.

There are so many good, quick and dirty cake recipes. For example, seed cake. When I first made a seed cake, people at work found the idea of caraway seeds in cake novel. Not enough cake eating, I suggest.

This recipe is from An Elegant Sufficiency. As this is a book of Edwardian recipes it just hints at caraway's pedigree as a cake ingredient. I liked the fact that the recipe also contains brandy. With no decent cognac available (and, to be honest, I possibly lacked the inclination to part with the cash, even if it had been) I substituted grappa. I was quite careful, because grappa's taste is quite distinct and I didn't want to end up with the caraway swamped by the brandy.

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease 1lb loaf tin.

Cream 125g of unsalted butter with 150g of caster sugar. Add 2 eggs, 300g of self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Add ground mace or nutmeg to taste (I used about half a teaspoon of mace). The recipe became a bit vague when we got to the brandy. One tablespoon but also one wine glass ... I opted for a generous tablespoon of grappa and then made the mixture up to cake mixture like consistency with milk. Last of all, mix in two teaspoons of caraway seeds.

Pour in the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until done. Be careful not to overcook (rather easily done in my pestiferous oven!).
If you have the luxury, take a slice at around 4pm with a glass of madeira. Exceedingly good!

(If you have over done the cake the flavour will still be excellent so turn into bread and butter pudding, or slather with butter or Nutella ...).

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