Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Mon 28 April 2008

The great WSET Advanced Exam has been and gone! What a relief! In many respects, not nearly as scary as I expected. Our blind tasting was a sweet white wine. I'd taken Karen's advice and completed the tasting before looking at the options. I was expecting to see 4 sweet whites listed, but was pleasantly surprised by one sweet white (a Bordeaux) and THREE DRY WINES. What a relief. So ... that's 2 marks at least out of 25 for the tasting exam!

The multiple choice section was OK too ... one question on Port I definitely got wrong and another tricky one on Vins de Pays that I fluffed, but overall I'm pretty happy with that section.

Short answer - I was expecting (I don't know why) one question worth 25 marks, so I was a bit confused to be faced with four questions worth 100 marks. Anyway, my map work paid off, as the first question was all about Bordeaux, including picking a few appellations off a map. There was also a question on Champagne (really annoyingly, I mucked up the part about which areas predominantly grow which graps), a question on wine storage, and a more general question covering a whole pile of things like matching Old World and New World wines/styles, a few service oriented questions and some vinification questions.

Hopefully I didn't fluff anything too badly - and hopefully the markers can read my writing and that I managed to cram enough information in the VERY small spaces the WSET think you need to answer the ten point questions! If anyone from the WSET reads this - please consider leaving more space for answers!!

Monday night had already been set aside for celebrating: a few games of pool, with beer, followed by a quick snack and more beer. Quite a few people ate at the Elbow Rooms, where the chips are great and the BLTs are monstrous. I ended up stopping at Wokon for noodles, where I had flat rice noodles with beef and spicy chilli sauce. While nicely spicy I was a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps I'm just very difficult to please, as both of my dining companions were really happy with their noodles, and said they'd definitely return (and I'd definitely go back in preference to Nooshi). Given that most of the noodle dishes come in at just under £5 it does represent good value for money (generous portions), so maybe I just chose the wrong combination of things. What I did like is that, in addition to their standard dishes, they also have a mix and match section, allowing you to have your own combination of noodles, meat and sauce.

After fuel, next stop was the North Bar where another shock lay in store. NO MORE JAMES BOAGS. Please don't try to sell me Coopers Sparkling as a lager ...

1. The Elbow Room, 64 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 6DT, phone: 0113 245 7011
2. Wokon, 156 Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6LY, phone: 0113 234 6666
3. North, 24 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU, phone: 0113 242 4540

tagged with: ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Almost There ...

Apologies for the rather sporadic nature of posts recently ... especially if you've been waiting for Marcus Wareing Does Curry Part 2, where we road test the lamb chops that went with the very successful dahl.

My excuse? The WSET Advanced exam is tomorrow. For the last month (plus) I've been on a reasonably intense revision program, which has involved an extortionate amount of paper and a fair degree of panic. I started the course worried about the tasting exam, but now I'm far more worried about the short answer section. Many of the sample questions are rather vague ...

Will I know enough? Well, I'll know the answer to that question by 12:30 tomorrow afternoon.

Normal Eating Leeds service will resume on Tuesday as Monday night will involve beer, pool and a pita from Pita on the Otley Road on my way home!
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pork and Cream

Sat 19 April 2008

Studying mode is in full swing and Andy was going to cook Saturday night's supper until he fell foul of a cold. Still, he'd already done the hard work (the shopping). The concept: pork cutlets (British of course), pan fried, with a cream and chive sauce, served with carrots and potato rösti.

Let's start with the röstis. They're surprisingly easy, requiring only potato, plenty of butter and pepper to taste.

Grate the peeled potatoes (either using a cheese grater or the shredding disk in the Magimix) and squeeze out any excess water. Heat a pan and melt plenty of butter. Add your shredded potato, squashing it down to make a tightly packed patty, and grind over some pepper. Let the base get good and crisp, before turning (adding more butter as you go). After the rösti is crisp on both sides, move to a warm oven (my fan oven was around 150C). You can make these as small or as large as you wish - and if you have an oven proof frying pan (no wood or plastic handles!) you needn't worry about turning: just dab butter all over the top and finish off in a warm oven and a quick flash under the grill.

For the pork, I finely chopped two shallots and fried them off in plenty of butter (a bit of a theme here ...), before adding the cutlets. Because I was making a rich, generous sauce I didn't bother worrying about getting the pork brown - I just made sure it was gently cooked, before removing it to the oven while I made the sauce.

Sauce wise, I cranked up the temperature, and added a generous splash of wine to deglaze the pan. Then a good knob of unsalted butter was mixed through, and it was finished off with sour cream and some very finely chopped chives.

Serve the pork chops smothered in the sauce, with rösti on the side, and some steamed carrots (well, you need to compensate for the cream and butter somehow ...).

To drink, we had a 2002 Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay. Marsannay is a Burgundian appellation, from the Côte d'Or. White Marsannays receive a pretty dismissive entry in The World Atlas of Wine. I was interested to note on the Domaine Bruno Clair website that the wine is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Blanc. Who knew that Pinot Blanc was allowed in Burgundy? Actually, I didn't even know Marsannay was a Burgundian appellation - but fortunately it's NOT one which appears in any of the WSET material, perhaps because it's the youngest appellation, added in 1987.

Technicalities aside, the wine was pretty good. It was well balanced, although both fruit (in particular) and acidity were fading fast. There was still citrus and it was a pleasantly buttery wine (handy, with all the cream and butter in the food). Thanks in part to its reasonably high alcohol (13%), it had good weight and the length wasn't bad. The big problem with this wine is the price. I actually bought it reduced to about £8 but the normal retail price was £12.99. That's just far, far too much when you can buy excellent Mâcon-Lugnys at around half the price. Both the reds and rosés from Marsannay receive kinder words from Robinson/Johnson - so perhaps seek these out in preference to the whites.

tagged with: , ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Marcus Wareing Does Curry - Part 1

Mon 21 April 2008

I've been very lucky: I've received a copy of Marcus Wareing's new book, One Perfect Ingredient, for review. You probably know Wareing as Ramsay's sidekick in various television programs, and two Michelin starred chef at Pétrus (visited by Eating Leeds in February). This will probably give you a lot of preconceptions about the type of recipes that might be in this book ... and I'd say you're highly likely to be wrong.

This is a seriously practical book. OK - the Gâteau Opéra is for the very dedicated, but most of the recipes are light on both ingredients and technique, with an emphasis on fresh and simple. As its name suggests, the book has a focus on individual ingredients: the very first recipe is a stunning looking Moroccan aubergine dish, and for pretty much anything you can think of, Wareing provides three different recipes. Many of the recipes will have parts that you can isolate and reuse elsewhere, and there are suggestions for variations throughout.

I was tempted (sorely) by a great many dishes, but opted to start with the Indian style lamb chops, accompanied by dahl.

Let's start with the dahl.

For such an uncomplicated book, I was surprised that Wareing begins his recipe by soaking 125g (for two) of red lentils for at least four hours. Soak red lentils? Well, on occasion even I follow instructions (or take advice), so I soaked my lentils overnight. A quick rinse, cover the lentils with cold water, and bring to the boil for a very precise 6 minutes. While this was going on, I heated a pan, and then added 2 tsp of cumin seeds, 2 tsp of turmeric, a generous dash of crushed chillis and 1 tsp of ground coriander (would you believe that the recipe actually calls for fennel seeds - AGAIN?!). The cumin seeds were soon bouncing around the hot pan and the kitchen smelled great. Time to add a good generous splash of vegetable oil, followed by a finely sliced onion and 3 cloves of garlic, crushed. Keep the pan hot and cook this down until the onions are golden, turning to brown.

By now, the 6 minutes will be well and truly up ... time to drain the lentils and then add them to the pan with your onion mix. Stir well and then add passata, a pinch of demerara sugar and salt to taste. Cook until you're happy with the consistency and the lentils are cooked. If you need to keep this warm cover with foil and put in a low oven.

Serve in a bowl, with some coriander sprinkled over the top.

Not only did this look good, it tasted excellent too. Soaking the lentils means they cook really quickly - I found that by the time they went into the frying pan with the onions they were done. Loading the dish with onion adds richness, and by dry roasting the spices first you do get a more subtle, complex flavour. This is also a ridiculously healthy dish.

Proof that good feed needn't be bad for you, needn't cost a fortune and needn't be difficult to prepare. All from a two Michelin starred chef.

tagged with: , ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Curry for the Weekend

Sunday 13 April 2008

It's still not exactly warm here, although the sun is trying to shine, so here's something filling to come home to after the pub at some point this weekend.

This recipe for pepper chicken chettinad comes from Australian Gourmet Traveller, and was taken from Qmin, by Anil Shokan. It looks as though this book may be available in the UK as Contemporary Indian Cuisine. The usual departures from the printed recipe are inevitable ...

We started with chicken marylands (thighs and legs) which were seasoned with salt and turmeric and set to one side.

Next, the base. Dry roast some dried chillis, peppercorns and cumin seeds. Blend these and then add to four shallots (use shallots, rather than onions, as the taste does end up being quite different) and 8 cloves of garlic, and crush it all in a blender. Not too much: leave it as a coarse mix.

In your favourite curry cooking pan, heat some vegetable oil, and when hot, add a few curry leaves. Put in your chicken and seal and brown the meat (be prepared for the usual spitting). Once browned, remove the meat, and add 3 roughly chopped tomatoes and cook. Next, add your garlic/shallot/spice mix and cook through. And finally, return the chicken (and any juices) to the pan, cover and allow to cook for 20 minutes or so. Obviously, your chicken needs to be cooked and the sauce needs to be ... saucy.

We served with plain rice and some of our standby red dahl recipe.

This is very tasty and a pleasant departure from the 'usual' curry. The flavour of the shallots makes quite a difference (mind you, I'd make this with onion if no shallots were available), and you've got great control over the spiciness of the final dish. Adjust your dried chilli to black peppercorn ratio as you wish! It's also a quick dish to make - so it's perfect for quick suppers - but it reheated well too, so you can either make ahead or make twice as much for leftovers!

The original recipe actually calls for fennel seeds in place of the curry leaf and cumin that I substituted. The moral of the story? No matter how think you know your spice cupboard, it's worth checking what's actually in there!

tagged with: ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Olive Press

Mon 14 April 2008

What was once Simply Heathcotes on Canal Wharf has rebranded to The Olive Press. Still part of the Heathcotes group, but now the accent is on pizza and pasta, rather than fine dining.

Still, it counts as somewhere new and, when I received an email advertising Monday Night Magic (a £5.95 pizza and pasta menu after 6pm), I thought it was an ideal opportunity to pay a visit.

Canal Wharf, just off Water Lane, has the potential to be a stunning setting. When I first visited Simply Heathcotes (4 or 5 years ago) there was none of the scaffolding, hoarding and building work that now dominates Leeds. The restaurant sat, even hovered, above the canal. In the evening, the soft lighting in the restaurant was reflected in both the huge glass windows and the water and it was all very pretty. Skip forward to (almost) summer time 2008 and the huge glass windows give you a very harsh outlook - across the water is an almost uniform view of hoarding, in a rather bright blue. What a shame.

Of course, the restaurant can't help this, and one day, hopefully, a more attractive setting will return. In the interim - try to time your visit for after dark.

We had booked, although at half past 6 on a Monday night there wasn't a lot of competition. We declined a drink at the bar (I had spent the whole day in Harrogate wine tasting) and headed straight for our table and the menus.

There's not so much on the menu to challenge regular eaters of Italian food, but the menu does offer a good choice of pasta, pizza, rice dishes, seafood and steak. It could be argued that the vegetarian pickings are a little slim ... but on Monday the specials menu offered additional vegetarian dishes. Only a very picky diner will struggle.

We headed straight for the main courses. I chose a special: crisp fried gnocchi with sage butter, pumpkin and a creamy blue cheese sauce and Andy chose the Italian cured ham pizza. We also had a side order of deep fried courgette and parmeson fritters.

Without a doubt - the pizza won. It was a generous size, with a lovely base: crispy but not impossible to eat without risking dental work, light but with enough structure not to sag under the topping. My dish, which sounded so good on paper, was a little disappointing. By frying the gnocchi to crisp they had soaked up a bit too much oil, which was then released when you bit into them, there wasn't a lot of sage in evidence and the blue cheese sauce lacked the tart bite you associate with blue cheese. The dish was, perplexingly, almost drowned in rocket. However, the pumpkin puree was lovely - smooth and tasty and punctuated by small cubes of sautéed pumpkin. Full marks for concept, but very much let down by the execution. I'll definitely be experimenting with this idea at home.

The courgette and parmesan fritters were something of a star. While not as good as my mum's, they were actually pretty good. Perhaps not entirely necessary in terms of quantity of food, but a tasty adjunct to our main meals nonetheless.

We played it very safe on the drinking side: a pint of Peroni for Andy and a glass of Trebbiano (Italy's white workhorse grape) for me. There wasn't a lot of interesting wine by the glass and I vetoed the idea of a bottle. Then again, I doubt few people will be visiting The Olive Press for its wine list ...

Service wise, I'd put the Olive Press in the OK category. This is based largely on the fact that there was no pepper on the table, and we were never offered any. The restaurant has gone to the effort of putting proper salt grinders on the tables, but pepper ... no. It was only after I was quite a way through my gnocchi that I observed a comedy oversized pepper mill appear with chaperoning waiter at another table. No, no, no. I want to put my own pepper on. I want to try the food, add some pepper, maybe add some more pepper a little later on ... and I certainly don't want to be made to feel a midget by a pepper mill!

You'll notice I've not mentioned the £5.95 deal ... something that was never mentioned in the restaurant, or, indeed, on the bill. To be fair, I didn't check the deal was available when I made the reservation. However, the original email made no indication that the deal was for a limited time (we were there less than a fortnight after the email arrived in my inbox) or that there were any special booking requirements. Perhaps marketing just hasn't let the staff in Leeds know ... This is a shame, because if Andy's pizza had cost us £5.95 I would be saying you should be heading there on a Monday night.

There are a couple of other service niggles ... I'm not sure I rate receiving a text message straight after I've made my booking (my memory is better than that of a goldfish!). It seems a bit of a lazy way of emulating smart restaurants that ring you 24 hours in advance to confirm your reservation. I was also very put off by the fact that the waitress collecting our bill had to launch into a sales pitch about the Heathcotes reward card. She looked a bit uncomfortable, and, frankly, we hated it. The bill came with printed information about the reward card (and there's details on the website) ... and I don't mind that. I really object to being sold something at the end of my meal.

For the two of us, 2 (generous) main courses, a side dish, a small glass of white wine and a pint of beer came in at just under £30. I think that might be a little expensive ... but if the Monday Night Magic deal does really exist, it would be worth visiting to make up your own mind.

1. The Olive Press, Canal Wharf, Water Lane, Leeds , LS11 5PS, phone: 0113 244 6611

tagged with: , ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Champagne from Pol Roger

Tues 15 April 2008

I was quite excited to read yesterday that Pol Roger are introducing a 'sans dosage' Champagne to the UK market.

You may not be aware of it, but champagne is actually manufactured in various degrees of sweetness. You'll see 'Brut' or even 'Extra Brut' on a label here, but both of these mean that the wine can have up to a certain amount of sugar. 'Sans dosage' (also known as 'zero dosage' and labelled as 'Brut Zero') means that the Champagne has no sugar added* (hmm, I wonder if that makes it healthier?) and that means a drier drink.

The Pol Roger Pure Brut will be available from Harvey Nichols until the end of May for £32.99.

There are a couple of other 'Brut Zero' wines available in the UK, but, as a rule, they are far rarer creatures than their slightly sweeter friends. Worth looking out for if you're interested in trying something a bit different ... and worth knowing about so you're not (perhaps unpleasantly) surprised next time you open a bottle!

Champagne production itself is quite a lengthy and complex process and a good general overview can be found (as ever!) on wikipedia. However, the official site (in English) of Champagne's official body, Le Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne, is just as approachable.

*Legally, Champagnes labelled as Brut Zero may have up to 3g of sugar per litre ... but the human tongue can (on average) only detect sugar at 4g per litre and above.

tagged with: ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Chocolate Coke Cake

Sun 06 April 08

By now, I figure I should be spending pretty much every waking hour studying for the WSET Advanced exam at the end of April. Of course, I'm not. I'm finding plenty of other things to do, and that includes trying out more recipes from James Martin's Desserts.

I was actually going to make the chocolate cola cake for last week's exercise in shed building, but it started earlier than anticipated, so the baking was pushed out.

This is a really easy cake to make, and I think Mr Martin makes it more faffy than need be. But more on that later.

Preheat oven to 160C (fan forced - 180C otherwise).

Melt 250g of unsalted butter with 200mL of Coke (or non-branded cola). In the food processor, put 250g of self raising flour, 300g of golden caster sugar, a pinch of bicarb of soda and two or three heaped tablespoons of cocoa. When the butter has melted, add this mix to the flour and sugar and combine well. Add 2 eggs, 75mL of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and when well combined pour into a 23cm greased (and preferably base lined) spring form tin, and bake for at least 40 minutes, or until done (in my case, it was actually pushing an hour).

When the cake is cool, ice with a butter frosting: 30g of softened butter, 100g of icing sugar, at least 1 tablespoon of cocoa and enough Coke to combine. You don't want the mix too sloppy - it should be firm, but spreadable. This is actually half the quantity given in the recipe but it was ample to ice the top of the cake.

All straightforward.

So - let's move on to the problems. Firstly (and principally), by melting the butter you end up with a VERY liquid cake batter. And this means that it's inclined to ... escape from your spring form or loose bottomed cake pan. I don't know if heating the Coke does something good for the baking, and I can only assume that melting the butter is suggested to make the work easier if you don't have a food processor. Andy suggested that, perhaps, if you don't have a food processor, you would just buy a cake. Really? Surely you'd just buy a food processor!

The other problem is that I don't think the cake tastes as good as the batter. Maybe I should stop eating so much cake batter, maybe I'm too used to eating cakes laden with chocolate rather than cocoa ... but I was just a little unconvinced by the finished product. To be fair, this doesn't mean it's inedible AND the icing is delicious. The cake also keeps well (it's so moist) and the flavour does seem to mature quite a bit. In addition, in the book Martin adds a sauce made from more Coke, a melted chocolate bar and cream, with some optional marshmallows for good measure!

I'll be making this cake again, because it is quick, easy and tasty. Using the Coke adds a bit of novelty, so it would be fantastic if you ever need to 'take a plate', but it's probably not up there with some of the great cakes you'd use to impress dinner guests. However, next time I won't be melting the butter and Coke and I might be looking for a way to incorporate some real chocolate in addition to the cocoa. I'll make sure I keep you posted!

From James Martin's Desserts I've also made a delicious jalousie.

tagged with: , , , ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Round Up

Fri 04 April 2008

Very swift round up ...

I finally made it to Further North in Chapel Allerton. This really is the North Bar's little sister ... tiny room, tiny bar (and disproportionately large loo!). The same standard of beer but a much smaller range, mainly focussing on German, Belgian and American beers in the bottle, one hand pull and Lindeboom (and a couple of others) on draught.

North picked up an honorable mention in the Observer Food Monthly's annual awards for Best Place to Drink, so if you haven't already been you should probably take the opportunity this weekend to check it out, while they're running the annual Belgian beer festival - running from 4 (that's today!) to the 18th of April. We'll be checking it out tomorrow afternoon, so stay tuned for a report!

If you're out and about in Headingley it is worth popping into Jamon in the Arndale Centre (apparently there is a sister deli in Horsforth too). Stocking all things Iberian this tiny shop also sells delicious muffins - and the huge slices of tortilla are pretty good too!

The top five articles on Eating Leeds recently are:
  1. the sausage and bean casserole (seriously, guys, it is starting to warm up!)
  2. Napa's opening and Felicini - down one spot
  3. Viva Cuba - up one spot
  4. Baked Eggs - swapped spots with Viva Cuba
  5. a simple almond cake - a new entry - and the most recent one too!
On the blog front ... check out The Boy Done Food (nice pun, took me ages to realise the last word was 'food'!).

And finally ... for the Web 2.0 savvy - you can follow me (Alex) on Twitter.
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

WBW44 - French Cabernet Franc

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth;
John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale

This month, Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV. He's chosen French Cabernet Franc. Reasonably easy (I'd hazard) for those of us in the UK. However, Cabernet Franc isn't one of the big, famous grapes in France (think Burgundy - Pinot Noir, Bordeaux - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Rhône - Shiraz and Grenache).

Instead, Cabernet Franc's homeland is the Loire Valley, perhaps better known for its Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, or the Muscadets from the Nantais, or its Chenin Blanc from Touraine and Anjou-Saumur. There's kind of a white wine pattern emerging there ...

The prinicpal areas (or appellations contrôlées, hereafter ACs) for Cabernet Franc in the Loire are Chinon AC and Bourgeuil AC. Chinon has the slightly higher reputation, I believe. And it was a bottle of Chinon that I bought - a 2005 Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir.

This was a gorgeous wine: big, fat, dense purple sploshes of it spilled from the bottle into my glass. The nose was quite vegetal: green peppers, blackberry leaf, with hints of both red and black fruit (red fruit became more prominent over the course of the bottle). Acid and tannin were in balance and, given the colour of the wine and the amount of fruit, I wouldn't be in a particular hurry to drink it - although I'd be tempted to keep my eye on it over the course of a year or two, rather than cellar for a decade! It tasted very much like it smelt, with more fruit. The tannins were quite grippy but otherwise this was a smooth wine, savoury with very good length. As you'd expect with a wine of 14% alcohol, there was plenty of body.

Big, thick, purple tears hung in the glass.

There was a lot of lip smacking and I enjoyed it immensely. We drank it with a broccoli and stilton soup - not the most intuitive of matches, I'll concede, but the Stilton softened the tannins and the weights (thanks to the cream and cheese in the soup) were quite evenly matched.

I'll definitely be drinking this wine again - so I'd like to thank Gary for suggesting something interesting from a region better known for its whites.

1. Charles Joguet, 2005 Cuvée Terroir, Chinon AC, £9.99 from Hoults (Leeds).

tagged with: , , , ,
Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!