Monday, 23 February 2015

MPM: 23rd February 2015



Colour me excited - this week D and I are off for my belated birthday meal at the very lovely Yorke Arms.  Then we are spending a night with my parents, and then we are off down to Herfordshire to spend the weekend with a couple of lovely friends.  D is due to be running a half marathon with them - I am due to be drinking copious quantities of coffee and, um, cheering them on.

Of course this means in terms of meal planning that only three nights are to be spent at home (get us with a social life) and one of those nights is likely to be freezer pot luck.  The two remaining are both pasta dishes, since D likes to fuel up the week before a race and I never need an excuse to eat pasta.

So, the rather curtailed plan goes like this:

Salmon fillets with pasta pesto
Lobster mac and cheese.

And that, my friends, is that!  Pop over to Mrs M's to see meal planning posts that actually involve a plan.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Recipe corner: Baked buffalo chicken wings

Chicken wings, popcorn and burgers consumed in front of an American football game (which I find utterly incomprehensible by the way, is that the idea?) may not sound particularly romantic but it was how we chose to celebrate our Valentine's Day nonetheless.  Ever since our New York trip in December 2013, certain items of Americana have become synonymous with...well, love, laughter and celebration.

I don't suppose that the buffalo wings we ate in the Third Avenue Alehouse were baked, so this recipe can't be said to be a true replica, however I thought that my wings, originally from Good Food magazine, were delicious and feel a lot more sinful than they actually are.  I can imagine doing these for supper with some salad, creamy dressing and crusty bread.  You could (in fact, you should) fashion some sort of blue cheese dip to go with them, but since I have yet to figure out how to make that anything less than a gazillion points I shall hold off blogging that one for now.

Ingredients

400g (about 4 large) chicken wings, halved at the joint

For the marinade:

2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar
0.5 tbsp smoked paprika
0.5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp Tobasco sauce
1.5 tbsp clear honey

Serves 2, 8 pro points per portion

Combine the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl, adding additional seasoning to taste.  Add the chicken wings, toss well, and then leave, covered with cling film in the fridge - a few hours will do but overnight is optimum.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan).  Line a large baking tray or roasting tin with tin foil or else you will be scrubbing at baked on Buffalo sauce for weeks.  Lightly spray the foil with oil to prevent any sticking.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the wings from the marinade, setting the bowl aside for the time being.  Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven.  After this time, drain off any excess oil that has accumulated and then pour the reserved marinade over the chicken, tossing well to coat.  Turn the oven up to 200 (180 fan).

Replace the wings in the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, after which time the marinade should be mostly evaporated and the wings covered with a spicy, sticky glaze.  Try to avoid eating straight away as you will probably burn your chin.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Shears Yard, Leeds (with cocktails to start)

I'll be the first to admit that I bitched about our move to Leeds when it occurred.  But there is absolutely no denying, not even from a reluctant resident like me, that the city has a far more exciting bar and restaurant scene than is found in many other Northern cities - including, I'll concede, my beloved York.  The thirty billion (figure only slightly exaggerated) students gives it a perpetually youthful feel but even when their loan cheques have run out, there are plenty of young professional types ready to don high heels, sharp suits and hit Call Lane for a cocktail.

Well, I say young professional people - but last Friday saw me hitting Call Lane for a cocktail and I am neither of those things.  But I put on about five times more make up than I normally wear and played willing.

Before I move on to the main event - dinner at the delectable Shears Yard - I first have to give a quick mention to the Black Swan bar/pub/restaurant type place that we visited for a pre dinner drink and that subsequently has leapt straight in to our favourites list.  The espresso martini would have made me weep with joy if it hadn't been for the fact that my mascara was not waterproof.  I am going back very soon to check out the pizzas that smelled, as they emerged from the beautiful bespoke pizza oven, like manna from Italian heaven.

Espresso martini!
So, Shears Yard. We've been meaning to go for a while and if you pop over to the website you will probably understand why - we figured that if the food ate half as well as it read it was bound to be amazing.  It sounded eclectic, slightly eccentric and with a tick list of ingredients designed to appeal.

The setting itself was gorgeous and bang on the current trend for exposed brick work and slight industrial aesthetic, but sufficiently full of  twinkly lights to make it a romantic setting on Valentine's Day Eve (NB: not a thing).  And the well sized bar, which allows patrons to relax with a drink both before and after the meal, was a lovely bonus - I am a big fan of having an area in which to linger in an establishment.

Twinkly!
But, as ever, the important thing was the food - and the food at Shears Yard gets a big thumbs up from me.  I think we knew that we were on to a winner when the bread turned up - black pudding brioche with beetroot butter - tasty and alliterative!  We were so fulsome in our praise that the waiter brought us over a second plate and while my usual policy is to avoid filling up on bread prior to a meal, this was way too good to resist.

An early review of the place found the dishes to be a little try hard, and while chatting with the owner after dinner, he mentioned that they had tried to dial it back.  That said, the kitchen seemed very keen on creating dishes with multiple component parts.  Often, this meant that the individual constituents were slightly muted in flavour - I'm thinking particularly now of a chicken liver parfait definitely situated at the lighter end of the offal spectrum - which nevertheless came to life when matched with the mini smoked chicken kiev and home made brown sauce.

I went veggie for my main course and absolutely loved my cauli cheese spring rolls with charred romesco and curly kale coleslaw.  Good vegetarian food is a thing of beauty and this was original, well thought out and sensitively treated.  D was not impressed (he is a committed carnivore) - preferring to get stuck in to a pressed pork belly dish which he deemed very tasty indeed.  A shared dessert of chocolate parfait with chocolate orange sorbet and a brownie was...well, as chocolatey as it sounds on the tin and beautifully made, even if it didn't push up against any flavour boundaries - quite frankly I don't want anyone to mess with my chocolate.

Chicken liver!

Chocolate!
All in all, a fantastic evening.  As ever, it is an absolute pleasure for me as a diner to come across an independent local restaurant doing exciting, tasty food and I look forward to a continued acquaintance with Shears Yard.  If Leeds keeps on yielding little gems like that, I may not ever be able to leave.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

MPM: 16th February 2015



Mmmm, you know how sometimes you look at your meal plan and you just want to eat all those gorgeous sounding dinners in one go?  It's one of those weeks!  Just writing this post is making my mouth water a little bit.

We're not planning to be out and neither are we planning on any freezer diving so it is going to be slightly more labour intensive than has been the norm in recent times.  But the sad truth is, I rather look forward to my hour or so in the kitchen at the end of the day, pottering around with the radio burbling in the background.

Oh, and don't forget people - Shrove Tuesday this week which means it is practically obligatory to have PANCAKES!!

And on with the meal plan...

A Madhur Jaffrey creamy, tomatoey, beautifully spiced prawn curry
As above - pancakes
Pork chop with gnocchi in a mustard sauce
Soup
Sausage and parsnip risotto
Roast chicken with appropriate trimmings

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Monday, 9 February 2015

MPM: 9th February 2015



Greetings meal planners!  And, for those of you who celebrate such things, happy Valentine's Day for Saturday.  I know it's goofy and commercial but I don't care!  We're out on Friday evening to a local restaurant that we've been meaning to try for ages - the food menu looks really promisingly delicious.  And then on the day itself we are cooking up a romantic dinner inspired by our New York trip (now well over a year ago.  Sigh).  We've even recorded the Superbowl to play in the background and really set the scene.

Now, what else is going on this week?  Tomorrow we are off to Liverpool for a training course so tea is likely to be something quick and light when we get in - sardines or scrambled eggs on toast, something of that ilk. That leaves just four days for the meal plan proper.

Lamb biryani (using leftover meat from the Sunday roast)
Oven baked red pepper and chorizo risotto (bumped from last week)
Soup (of course)
Beef and ale stew with mash and veg

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Time to Talk Day 2015



Today, some of the UK's leading mental health organisations are asking people up and down the country to take five minutes to talk about mental health.  The good news is that by reading this blog post you are doing just that - so have a gold star from me...
  
I've made no secret on this blog that I have had wobbly patches over the years and I have been blessed by great GPs and people around me who were willing to hold my hand when I needed them.  So I thought it important to acknowledge this campaign.

The thing about suffering from depression, or anxiety, or similar disorders, is that they are intangible.  You break a leg, you wear a plaster cast.  You catch a cold, you cough and sneeze.  Even something less immediately obvious, like diabetes - you have a blood test and then you are in possession of a piece of paper that says that there is something wrong.  When I was first diagnosed, quite a long time ago now, I requested a full gamut of tests because I was desperate to find a physical cause for the fact that my mental faculties were all over the place.  I remember almost crying when they all came back normal - a dicky thyroid, low iron levels, these were medical problems.  Being too anxious to function properly - that was not.  Which meant on top of feeling god-bloody-awful I felt incredibly guilty as well.

Depression can be triggered by a traumatic event, by grief or by stress but it is separate and distinct from all of these things.  And while everyone, sufferers most of all, want to hang on to a straightforward idea of cause and effect I don't think that ultimately it is helpful to focus on that to the detriment of coming up with coping strategies.

I don't really know what the point of this post is.  Just, I suppose, to encourage anyone who may stumble across it to take a moment to look at the Time To Change website, or to think about someone in their circle who may be struggling with some of these issues.  There is a wealth of information and help out there - and a good GP should be your first port of call if you or anyone you love is not waving but drowning.

And thank you, dearest reader, for taking five minutes from your day to read this post.  Normal service (whatever that may be) will be resumed shortly.

Monday, 2 February 2015

MPM: 2nd February 2015



January is always such a miserable month that I, for one, am glad to see it retreating into the murky distance.  Bring on February!  I can see blue sky out of the bedroom window, and Pancake Day is just a couple of weeks away.

This week we're launching our inaugural Recipe Book Night.  You see, D and I have an absolute mountain of recipe books - we collect them obsessively, and yet with one thing and another very seldom get round to using them.  We have therefore decided to have regular evenings where we make a point of dipping into the bookshelf for a special meal.  Hopefully some of these will be good enough to get into regular rotation and pep our meal plans up a bit.  This Saturday, I will be cooking a fish dish from Nathan Outlaw's "British Seafood" and D will follow up with a meat dish from Tom Kerridge's "Proper Pub Food".

Also this week, we work on our middle class credentials by going to the opera!  We have been listening to the CD over the weekend and nodding very earnestly at the bits that we think are dramatic.

Elsewhere on the meal plan:

Mussels with cider and bacon (and garlic bread)
Spaghetti carbonara (bumped from last week)
Soup
Oven baked red pepper and chorizo risotto
Roast lamb

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Holy smoke

Apologies for the slightly random and rambling nature of the posts at the moment - I'm just trying to get back into the physical habit of blogging.

Anyway, we had a really quite exciting moment in our kitchen on Saturday evening when we tea smoked some mackerel.*

It is made still more exciting by the fact that these were mackerel that we ourselves caught off the coast of Tobermory in the summer.

Mackerel, just out of the sea.  Sorry guys!
The last few had been languishing in our freezer (seriously, the bloody thing is bottomless.  If we ventured far enough in we would probably find the Holy Grail.)  Having been frozen for so long the texture of the fish was likely to be rather compromised, so we decided that smoking and then blitzing them into pate was a fitting send off.

It turns out that smoking food inside is surprisingly easy.  You need a sturdy pot with a big surface area, some tea leaves and some foil and that is it!  Line the pot with foil, spread out the tea leaves and then take another piece of foil, pierced all over, and lay it on top.  Then add your fish, like so:

Prepare to smoke!
Top with a lid, turn the heat on and leave for...well, I think it took about forty five minutes all in all for ours, but we went back and prodded them at regular intervals to check that all was well and nothing was on fire.


And voila!  Smoked mackerel!  D slipped the flesh from the bones and then we blitzed it with cream cheese, chives, lemon, horseradish and a hefty dose of salt and pepper - this needed quite a lot of seasoning to wake it up.

There is no way to make pate look pretty,,,,
More by luck than judgement, we managed to achieve a gratifyingly delicate smoke flavour that didn't overpower the fish itself,  I was also pleasantly surprised at the relative ease of the process and would definitely give it another go - home smoked salmon anyone?  D and I have both said that we want 2015 to be a year where we attempt some new kitchen projects and this was an excellent place to start.

*(I have just read back that sentence and realised how very tragic it sounds - Saturday night, party night, and we're at home smoking fish.  In our pyjamas.  Is cooking still the new rock and roll?  If not, there is no hope for us.)

Monday, 26 January 2015

MPM: 26th January 2015



It's that time of the week again when we cast our minds over what we hope to be scoffing and quaffing in the coming days.  Hurrah!  It's a quiet week for us - January, in general has been a sleepy, torpid kind of month, but since I'm a sleepy, torpid kind of person you won't find me complaining.

This week is a wee bit meat heavy - I must make an effort to bring more veggie based meals into the rotation.  The excuse, as ever, is that we are continuing to freezer dive and you will be pleased to hear that we are actually reaching a point now where defrosting the bugger is becoming a possibility.

Meal plan:

Haggis with neeps, tatties and onion gravy (we were supposed to have this last night to celebrate Burns' night but it got bumped)
Oxtail with rioja and chorizo
Spaghetti carbonara
Soup night
Fish and chips (at D's plaintive request)
Chilli con carne
A Sunday roast of some sort

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Leftovers

Our Christmas was pretty quiet which, after a trying end to the year, was exactly required.  There were several days where I didn't make it out of my pyjamas.  Unrivalled sloth, that's me.  My birthday falls on the 28th December and, as I said to D, you couldn't have designed a more perfect day if you'd tried - I got up late, had my favourite breakfast washed down with stiff mimosas, then went for a nap (drinking in the daytime makes me sleepy), then watched a couple of films, then ate my favourite dinner, then went to bed.  Not for nothing is my nickname based on Enid Blyton's Sleepy Sloo.

As ever, a big part of the celebrations was the food and we had some unparalleled successes this year, including a sublime Christmas pudding ice cream on the day itself, and a majestic rib of beef at my parents' house on New Year's Eve.  But some of the very nicest things were those meals that were thrown together from the leftovers.

I'm considering buying a turkey breast joint soon just so that D can make another turkey curry.  This was a thing of serious beauty: the meat simmered alongside cubes of potatoes in coconut milk, a splash of cream and mild spices.  We ate little else for two days running.

Traditional Boxing Day sandwiches were a highlight:


Turkey, gammon, sausage meat, strong Cheddar, lettuce, cucumber and a generous swipe of mayo.  We didn't even have turkey on Christmas Day - we just cooked one so I could construct this beast of a thing.  Excuse the photo by the way - bad even by the standards of this blog - this was taken quickly just so I could send it to my Mum.  Who immediately responded with "Wow, that is a sandwich".

Speaking (sort of) of gammon, one lunchtime D constructed little ham hash cakes, fried until crispy and topped with a perfectly poached egg:




A perfect brunch dish.

And as a final hurrah, a couple of weeks ago we used the last of our Christmas cheese to make a tartiflette, that classic apres-ski dish.  If you haven't, y'know, actually been skiing this is almost (almost!) too rich, but with a hefty spoonful of sauerkraut on the side we powered through and D has already requested a repeat performance.  This Hairy Bikers' recipe is a close approximation of the one I used - highly recommended, but go for a good long walk beforehand.  And, possibly, afterwards.