Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best of British and Irish Food

Thurs 29 Jan 2009

As promised, we've had the cake and now ... the competition. On 28 March The Best of Britain and Ireland opens at London's ExCel. The event runs over the weekend and is an exhibition dedicated to domestic tourism. In these economically straightened times, with the pound plunging against the euro, it's probably timely to remind ourselves of what's on our doorstep.

Of course, it's also time to think about all the great food that's on our doorstep. We're often hearing about traditional dishes being forgotten in favour of more exotic imports. Now, you've got a chance to champion a traditional British or Irish dish, make a video and, potentially, have your video seen by over 20, 000 people at the exhibition.

A good first step (besides thinking about what dish to focus on) is to join the facebook group (while you're there - join the Eating Leeds network). Once you've made your video you can post to the facebook group directly, to a youtube channel, or to

At the moment this is all the detail I have - but rest assured that any updates will be passed on!

Also - don't forget to watch Jamie Saves Our Bacon, tonight at 9pm on Channel 4. You might even get some ideas for your video!
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Lemon Yogurt Cake

Sunday 25 Jan 2009

As promised, after the food politics comes ... cake! And sometimes, things are just meant to be. In the last week (or so) yogurt cakes have been popping up here and there in my feed reeder: Helen at Grab Your Fork produced a pomegranate syrup cake and Maria at the Goddess's Kitchen a gâteau au yaourt. And me? Well, I had yogurt in the fridge that could do with using up.

I also had some lemons that needed using but (as ever) I was unperturbed by the lack of recipe that fitted exactly and headed into the kitchen.

The result was more than good enough to write about. This is a very simple cake to make - there's no weighing involved and there's very little fat in it (I went Maria's vegetable oil route, rather than Helen's melted butter purely because I'm lazy!). It's also ideal if you don't have electrical kitchen kit to do the usual heavy duty creaming of butter and sugar - even I would be able to make this unassisted by my Magimix!

So - preheat your oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease and base-line a 23 cm springform tin.

For the cake - mix 1 cup of caster sugar, 1/3 cup of vegetable oil (light olive oil would be fine - just don't go for an oil with a pronounced flavour, like extra virgin olive oil) and 2 cups of self raising flour. This will be a fine, crumbly mix. Add 1 cup of plain yogurt (full fat, no flavourings) and 2 medium eggs. When this is all combined you will have a proper cake batter. Finish the mix with the finely grated rind of one lemon (if you're cautious, just use the rind of half a lemon - but I love lemon in puddings!) and 3 heaped tablespoons of ground almonds.

Tip the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cocktail stick comes out cleanly and the cake is risen and golden. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before tipping out onto a rack.

Looking good even without icing!

Because of the almonds in the mix, if you wanted to finish with syrup you could (leave in the tin!). I was originally going to ice this cake but, with the full lemon rind in the batter I knew it wasn't going to need any more flavour. And let's face it, without icing you can almost pretend it's healthy (you know, yogurt, almonds, fruit ...).
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

This Little Piggie

Sun 25 Jan 2009

A bit more food politics for you ... but read this and you'll be rewarded next week with cakes, competitions and videos!

You may have gathered that, here at Eating Leeds, we're enthusiastic eaters of all things porky. I fall into the Homer Simpson camp when it comes to pigs: they are wonderful, magical animals. And they're cute too - especially piglets.

You may also know that the UK pig farmer is in a bit of a predicament and that farmed pigs are, mostly, not treated quite as well as they could be. In addition to this, pig welfare standards are different across the EU and a pig that has been bred and slaughtered in the UK should have had a slightly better life than some of its friends in continental Europe. Because of all of these factors, I always try to buy British pork. Sometimes it's really easy (that's when you're at a farmers' market, buying a rare breed from the farmer) and other times it's very tricky. One of the most difficult places to buy pork (and pork products, such as bacon and ham) is, for us, the supermarket. It seems next to impossible to tell where the pork actually comes from.

And it's not that we're stupid: currently labelling legislation for pork products strikes me as vaguely ridiculous. Currently, a pork pie processed in Britain from Danish pork can be labelled a British pie.

The other problem is that there is no legal definition of labelling terms such as 'free range' (there are EU wide definitions for this term for eggs and chickens) and 'outdoor bred'. Combined with the confused origin labelling, it's no wonder that Andy and I spend a lot of time picking up different packets of ham and bacon and trying to work out which is the soundest purchase.

I know that we can't all spend our time (and money) at farmers' markets, chatting to the people closest to the pigs. And if we did, there wouldn't be enough pork to go around. However, I think it probably is time to invest a little more effort in thinking about the pork we buy. Take the time to check the labelling. I'd urge everyone to try to buy British pork and, after that, buy pork that's been raised to the highest welfare standards you can afford. If you can buy RSPCA Freedom Food pork - go for it!

You can always ask questions when you're in store, or you can write to your local supermarket's head office. You can also write to Hilary Benn MP, who is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In the near future, there should be plenty of opportunity to learn more about pig welfare: the RSPCA has launched a 'Rooting for Pigs' campaign to try to improve labelling, and they've got Jamie Oliver on-side. You can sign the RSPCA's petition on-line and, on Thursday night (that's the 29th January) you'll be able to watch a pig welfare debate, led by Jamie Oliver, on Channel 4 in Jamie Saves Our Bacon.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abel and Cole

Mon 15 Dec 2008

In the run-up to Christmas I was lucky enough to receive an Abel and Cole mixed organic veg box. For quite a while I've thought about committing to an organic vege box but I've never actually got around to it. There's actually not many reasons not to: Abel and Cole (and other vege box schemes across the country) will deliver to your place of work if need be, it's not that expensive (if you buy supermarket fruit and vege you are already paying so far over the odds it's untrue!), and often you can build up a profile that means you won't receive bucket loads of oranges if you don't like them.

Another plus with a vege box is the novelty value. If you shop at a supermarket, the chances are you're slowly becoming less aware of seasonality. This is actually a bad thing. The number of times I've heard people complain that the only vegetables available in winter are potatoes and parsnips shows how disconnected we can become from what we should be eating (yes, it's winter - eat something big, hearty and starchy!) and that we end up eating tasteless asparagus from Peru all year round.

Anyway, food politics aside ... the vege box arrived on the Monday morning of a week off. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of fruit in it. Actually - this means there were apples, satsumas and bananas: but a generous helping of each. The individual fruits were smaller than you'll be used to if you normally munch giant fruit from the supermarket but, as a non fruit eater, I have to say that the apples were really good. They smelt of apple, they tasted of apple, they were crisp and they were juicy. And this is coming from someone who eats about one apple a year (unless it's in a cake - that's the only way I do fruit). Andy (the fruit expert) reports that the satsumas were good and the bananas were really good - as they were actually ripe and didn't go from under ripe to spoilt in a split second.

The box also contained mushrooms, leeks, parnsips, potatoes, carrots, onions and a savoy cabbage.

While this is quite a lot for two people to eat in a week, the great thing about root vegetables is that they last, so we focussed (initially) on using up the more perishable items. The cabbage was used both as an accompaniment (creamed cabbage) and in a stir fry. The mushrooms were used on pizzas (this was our one bit of real wastage from the box - as Andy doesn't eat mushrooms and there were too many for me to eat all by myself) and the remainder of the vegetables were used in a variety of dishes - from mashed potato, to roasts, to soup.

A couple of the parsnips were very large, so they were immediate candidates for a very simple curried parsnip soup. The great thing about using parsnips for soup is that they're already starchy so you don't even need potatoes to help thicken things up.

Begin by softening a chopped onion in little oil (or olive oil and butter). Mix in a tablespoon of good quality curry powder (or less - this is very much 'to taste'). As the emphasis here is quick don't muck around with individual spices! Peel and chop your parsnips (I used two huge ones) and add to the onion. As parsnips will discolour, immediately add about 500mL of vegetable stock or plain water. Bring the mix to the boil and wait for the parsnips to cook.

Once the parsnips are soft, use a blender or stab mixer to puree the mix. If it needs letting down, use milk, water or stock. Adjust the seasoning. Serve - perhaps topped with a little sour cream or a drizzle of chilli oil.

As I can't photograph soup ... here is a picture of the vege box instead:

Spot the monster parsnip in the foreground!

Because of the limited number of ingredients you can have this soup on the table in little more than the time it takes to cook the parsnips. If you have a little more time to play with, you could roast the parsnips (perhaps with some garlic) or you could play around with a more adventurous spice mix.

Not only is this dish vegetarian friendly, but it's also quite easy to ensure it's vegan friendly: stick to oil for sweating the onions and offer your chilli oil or sour cream separately.

Our vege box experience was a very positive one and we both felt that the quantity, diversity and quality of the vegetables would be worth the money - and I even ate some fruit! I'd definitely recommend a box for any busy family who finds themselves stuck in a rut buying the same selection of vegetables from the supermarket. It's also a great way to support smaller businesses.

Other soup ideas: cauliflower and almond, roast garlic, or squash. Really - almost anything you can boil up and puree can be turned into a soup!
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Some News

Fri 16 Jan 2009

It's been a long time since a bit of a round up, so here's some news from round Leeds and Yorkshire in general.

Firstly - if you are in Yorkshire and you fancy a bit of manual wine-related labour, you may be interested in the Yorkshire Heart Vineyard activity weekend. Over the weekend of 31 January and 1 February, the vineyard, located in Nun Monkton, North Yorks, is opening itself to willing hands. All you have to do is hope for good weather ...

If you haven't already noticed Felicini, formerly on Albion Street, has gone the way of many other businesses and closed its doors. Although I was quite a fan initially, over the last 6 months or so, the menu had been cut down dramatically and it wasn't nearly as good as it had been. I've also been sad to note the closing of Pita in Headingley. They used to make excellent felafel sandwiches - essential food at the end of a night out - and it's a shame a small, independent business making good food has gone, while a well known sandwich chain (with an awful, distinctive smell) seems to be doing a thriving business a few doors down.

Of course, the credit crunch means that there are food offers everywhere. No 3 York Place (on, um, York Place) is offering a very good value lunch/early bird menu - just £30 for 3 courses, including a bottle of wine, for two people. The Malmaison (Swinegate) is offering the same deal (almost - the Mal's is priced at £29) - but you'll need to register on their site to get the voucher. Yo!Sushi (inside Harvey Nicks) is running a 40% off sale (visit the site for the voucher). And Pizza Express (Corn Exchange, Clarence Dock) are in on the New Year sale with a 2-for-1 offer. There are bound to be others - keep your eyes peeled!
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WBW53: Wine for Breakfast

Wed 14 Jan 2009

When January's Wine Blogging Wednesday was announced at the end of last year I was really excited, as our host, El Jefe, had chosen wine for breakfast. My initial, and utterly unoriginal, thought was Champagne with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. This was scuppered because, to make life difficult, he had stipulated we had to choose a still, dry wine.

I've obviously had far too good a Christmas and New Year, because at this stage of 2009, I'm bogged down with a head cold and I'm barely interested in food let alone alcohol. The thought of wine at breakfast, or any other time, is not exciting me at all.

Rather than not participate, I hope my theoretical approach will suffice. As soon as I dry out sufficiently to drink at breakfast time I will put my hypothesis to the test.

So - let's begin by thinking about breakfast. A proper breakfast - a full English. This means bacon, sausages, black pudding (all fried, thank you very much), egg (scrambled or fried - probably fried if I've fried the meats because then you get a lovely crispy meaty base to your egg and it's less faff), fried bread and toast (buttered) and, if available, home made baked beans. I'd have mushrooms too, but Andy doesn't like them so for the sake of domestic harmony, we'll leave them off the plate. Of course, I have no picture for you ... this is all in my head and flickr failed to produce even an approximation of the breakfast I'm talking about!

Although my recipe for baked beans includes chorizo I'm not going the way of a Spanish wine. This is for two reasons: there's loads of fat on the plate, so I need something with good acidity. I want to cut through the fat and I want to match the acidity of the tomatoes in the beans. Secondly, I don't want anything too big, weighty, alcoholic or even complex. The flavours on the plate are complex enough: if the sausages are good they'll be full of herbs, if the black pudding is good it'll be spicy and laced with pepper. The beans are a dish in themselves and the presence of the egg just complicates everything.

If I were interested solely in fulfilling the second criterion I'd be tempted to go with a Beaujolais (which, interestingly, Andrew over at Spittoon paired with his bacon butty). I suspect that my plate has too much going on and that the Beaujolais could fail to work with both the beans and the black pudding.

The natural place to find acidity in a red wine is Italy. And I'm going to head for one of my favourite wines: Chianti. I was tempted to suggest Lambrusco, because in theory this should work well too but not only is it not still, I'd also have to find a good one to try at a later date and that might prove a little tricky. My theory is that a Chianti will be robust enough to stand up to the flavours on the plate but won't fight with the spice and herbs. Its acidity should both cut through the fat and complement the tomatoes.

I'm not entirely convinced that wine is a good and proper thing to have with a full English. After all, greasy spoons serve strong tea (from an urn) and strong (instant) coffee for a reason ...
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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

7 Random Things About Me

Wed 7 Jan 2009

I'm a very bad person: at the tail end of last year I was tagged a few times for memes and have failed miserably in responding. So, I'm going to redress the back log and start with the Random Things meme. I was tagged for this by Anne, of Anne's Kitchen.

So ... here are my random things (appropriately, no particular order):

1. My favourite food in the world is spaghetti with chilli, oil and garlic. I think this is neither random nor weird - but plenty of people disagree.

2. I cut the tops off tubes to use up all of whatever is in the tube. Again - I think this is normal, but I've been informed otherwise.

3. I think that watching TV is a participation sport. Ditto reading the newspaper.

4. I LOVE entering competitions!

5. I hate peas. I like fresh, raw peas - but cooked peas are utterly wrong.

6. As is Pinotage.

7. I love skiing. Ironically, I did more skiing living in Australia than I've managed in 8 years of living in England.

So - the rules are that I now tag 7 random people and comment on their blogs to let them know.

Here we go.

I'm going to start by tagging Marcus Wareing. Yes, he's a famous chef and yes, his blog hasn't been updated since April last year, but I'm not going to let that stop me! Anyone reading this site often enough will know that I'm something of a fan: I've eaten in his restaurant and cooked (and sung the praises of) plenty of his recipes. Let's see what happens ...

Next is Ros at Living to Eat.

The Half Baked Baker.

Jules, the Domestic Goddess (in training).

Jeanne, at CookSister.

David, at Book the Cook.

And finally - Helen at Beyond Salmon.
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Monday, January 05, 2009

Quick Dips

Sat 3 Jan 2009

I know the entertaining season feels like it's over, but let's face it - it doesn't need to be Christmas or New Year to have a party. And whenever you have a party - it needs catering. I grew up in a household where party planning and preparation was a joy and I've inherited my mother's need to ensure there's enough food to feed a small army. Andy was doubtful - "don't do too much food", he warned, "we don't want people here all night".

By Saturday morning, everything was ready bar the last minute bits and pieces - and that included two dips. Dips are the easiest things in the world to make (especially if you have any type of food processor) and the home made variety ends up being cheaper and a lot healthier (in case you're on a New Year health kick).

These two dips are very different and come from very different books.

The first is Ainsley Harriott's butter bean hummous, from his Friends and Family Cookbook. This dip is really nothing like hummous - no chickpeas, no tahini and a hell of a lot less olive oil.

For about one cup of dip use a small tin of butter beans (make sure they're in water and give them a quick rinse before using them). Put this in your blending equipment of choice, add a small clove of garlic and some very finely chopped fresh rosemary (probably only a teaspoonful or so - all down to your taste really). Whizzy up. Add extra virgin olive oil to let the mix down to dip-like consistency (often a very personal preference) and adjust seasoning. I added salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and finish with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil.

For the next dip, I headed to Made in Morocco and produced a spiced carrot dip. This was definitely my favourite of the two, but that's because I love carrots, chillis and cumin! To make this dip you'll either need to buy some harissa, a North African chilli paste, or make your own.

To make enough harissa for this dip, take your mortar and add some chilli flakes, a clove of crushed garlic, some salt and a sprinkling of toasted cumin seeds. Batter this all together and bring it to a paste with a little extra virgin olive oil. The exact quantities you can vary to your taste: I used about a teaspoon of chilli flakes (end product - HOT!), one clove of garlic and about half a teaspoon of cumin seeds. The recipe in the book is the 'in bulk' version and begins with 1 cup of dried chillis!

While you're battering away at the harissa, put some peeled, chopped carrots on to boil. I used four small-medium sized ones. When the carrots are cooked through, tip them into your blender and whizzy up. Add the harissa and extra garlic and extra virgin olive oil as you need. If you're serving the dip to those with delicate palates, go gently with the harissa.

I absolutely loved this dip and will definitely be making it again. It has the sweetness of the carrot, the smokey, rich flavour of the toasted cumin, the fire of the chilli and the tang of the garlic. Fantastic!
Spiced carrot dip & butterbean 'hummous'

I made both these dips in under an hour (and that included washing out the blender and waiting for the carrots to cook). They were very cheap to produce and they're actually very healthy (not actually a priority of mine, but maybe for some people!) because neither requires a lot of olive oil to bring them to a good dipping consistency. Oh - and they're also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Happy new year!
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