Monday, 25 July 2016

Too hot to handle (blogging)

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am not finding the horrible damp, sticky heat that we are currently experiencing to be particularly conducive to anything. I'm a cold weather creature anyway, but I can understand the appeal of bright blue days and blazing sunshine, even if I'm not fully enthusiastic about it. Unremitting mugginess though...ugh. The cat and I spent quite a lot of the weekend lying around looking damp (me) and lethargic (both).

Another end of month meal plan - this seems to have come around v quickly, with July vanishing in a humid haze. It's not terribly exciting but it is a plan. D is out on Friday. If it's no cooler, I plan to drown myself in ice cream.

Tonight: Burmese chicken soup. I think it's Burmese anyway. If we bump a meal in any given week, soup night gets bumped first, so a pot can end up kicking around our fridge for a good while before we deign to eat the poor bugger.

Tuesday: "turkey" curry (from the freezer) with rice and flatbreads. It is "turkey" rather than turkey because it is D's Christmas turkey curry recipe but made with chicken.

Wednesday: mussel and leek "carbonara". Slightly experimental. May report back.

Thursday: cod with pea puree and creamy herb sauce. Had this last week, from a Nigel Slater recipe on the Guardian website. Loved it and required it again.

Saturday: oxtail and chorizo (from the freezer - no, I agree that it doesn't sound very summery) with fried potatoes.

Sunday: chicken, spatchcocked and cooked on the barbecue. Sides to be confirmed.

Monday, 18 July 2016

MPM: 18th July 2016

I have a two day tutorial in Manchester this week. Work won't spring for me to stay over because it is not far enough away to justify the spends (I'm not high enough up the ladder to be one of those Fat Cat civil servants that the press like to pillory) so I've booked myself into a little room above a pub. I've stayed there before and it's wonderfully nostalgic - like being a student again with the bare walls and narrow bed and shared bathroom. So Monday night's tea will probably be an M&S sarnie for me and freezer diving for D. And on Thursday night I'm off out for supper with one of the friends I made while being a student and we can laugh about the fact that we no longer have to put up with bare walls, narrow beds and shared bathrooms...oh, wait...


Tuesday: Cod with chilli and pea purée by the inimitable Nigel Slater.

Wednesday: fresh soup

Friday: Coconut poached chicken with stir fried veg (bumped from last week)

Saturday: "Wings n Things" - D is being mysterious, but it sounds like we'll be getting a slice of Americana here in Leeds

Sunday: Osso bucco with saffron risotto - another bump from last week. Veal shin has now been sourced and will be arriving on Friday.

Whatever you're up to, have a great week's cooking (and eating!)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pizza 101 (1): base and roasted tomato sauce

I have often said that my last meal on Earth would be bangers and mash with onion gravy. But pizza would be a close second. Good pizza - which, for my taste, is a thin and crispy base, a scant amount of deeply flavoured sauce, plenty of cheese (but not so much as to make the whole soggy) and a couple of carefully chosen, complimentary toppings.

That being said, up until last year I had never made it myself, being slightly intimidated by bread making. I've cracked that now, which means I can have homemade pizza whenever I like! Or, because D is forbearing but not THAT forbearing, on a relatively regular basis.

The amounts here make enough for 4-6 pretty decent sized pizzas. Once the dough has been proved it can be rolled into a ball, wrapped in clingfilm and popped in the freezer. Likewise, the sauce can be frozen in little pots. Defrost the two for 12 hours in the fridge. So, whack it in there in the morning and make pizza in the evening in less time than it takes to ring for a takeaway.

The trickiest part of pizza making (in my humble opinion) is rolling out the dough.  We have an excellent pizza restaurant at the end of our street and I have tried to study their technique as they effortlessly fling around dough creating perfect, thinly stretched circles.  But the fact is, if I try and throw dough it is likely to end up on either the ceiling or the floor.  A rolling pin is the only way forward.  But I've stolen an excellent tip from my Mum, and now roll it out actually on the lightly floured baking tray.

With regards the baking tray, another Mum tip was to use one with holes in to allow plenty of heat to get to the bottom of the pizza as well as the top.

When you are coming to make your pizzas, in lieu of a proper pizza oven, crank your domestic beast up to the highest it will go at least ten minutes before you intend to cook them so that they are up to temperature.  Roll out the dough as thinly as you can imagine and spread about a tablespoon of sauce over the surface.  You can, of course, use more sauce if you wish but to my mind a pizza should not be too saucey (oo-er).  Snow over a fine layer of Parmesan which adds seasoning and a touch of cheesy umami to whatever is coming next and then you are ready to add whatever toppings take your fancy.

For the base:


500g strong bread flour
10g salt
10g fast action yeast
4 tbsp olive oil
360ml cool water

I make this in a stand mixer using a dough hook and the instructions reflect that. If you prefer to make it without then just pretend that you hand is said hook! You may need to knead for a little bit longer.

Tip the flour into the mixer bowl then put the salt on one side and the yeast at the other so that never the twain shall meet. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil. Put the bowl in the stand with the dough hook attachment and set off at a low speed.

Pour in the water, watching for the point when the dough forms a ball around the hook. You may not need it all. You can now crank the speed up a couple of notches and leave it to work away for 5-10 minutes. The dough is ready when it is soft, silkily elastic and not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for a couple of hours. I actually follow the advice of Mr Paul "Silver Fox" Hollywood, making it in the morning and allow to prove all day. You don't need to leave it in a warm place if you do this - ambient temperature is fine.

For the sauce:


6 medium tomatoes, quartered
Onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil
Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Tbsp tomato ketchup
Tsp sugar
Small knob of butter

Sprig of fresh oregano (or tsp of dried)
Small handful of basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 150.

Toss the tomatoes in a tbsp of oil, the balsamic vinegar, the oregano and plenty of seasoning. Roast for around and hour and a half.

Once the tomatoes are out, heat the other tbsp of oil and sweat the onion for five minutes until soft. Then add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Squish the tomatoes down in the pan and combine well. Stir through the ketchup, sugar and butter.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before stirring through the basil and transferring to a blitzer. Blend until smooth and then, if feeling really cheffy, pass through a sieve.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

TWTWTW: out and about in Leeds

This week I learned a very important life lesson. Kale and vodka are not happy bedfellows.

Before I get to that though, a couple of Leeds eateries were sampled over the course of the week - it's almost like I'm in danger of having a social life! On Monday, D and I headed out for Thai food at a venue that we've been meaning to try for ages called Zaap. The menu read like an absolute dream with a good mix of small "street" dishes and larger classics like the ubiquitous green curry. The restaurant was bright and buzzy and packed out despite it being the beginning of the working week, but the food left us slightly underwhelmed. Nothing I could put my finger on but it was all just a little greasy, a little lacking in rounded flavours. The minced chicken salad (Larb Gai) was too perfumed for our palates with insufficient salt and heat to balance out the heavy handed application of lemongrass. We both agreed that the slightly more muted venue across the road, Thai A Roy Dee is superior if you're more interested in food than neon signs.

And then on Friday, a posse of ladies who lunch treated ourselves to a tapas and bitch session at the (I think) relatively recent opened Leeds branch of Iberica. Lots and lots to like here - my particular favourite dish being the chorizo lollipops that zinged with paprika heat. At £30 per head for more tapas than we could eat, a bottle of wine, two mocktails and two coffees, it was pretty decent value too.

It was during post tapas cocktails at another new venue on me, Be At One, that I made the unsurprising discovery vis a vis leafy greens and lemon vodka. I don't know whether it is supposed to be tongue and cheek or genuinely try to appeal to the clean eating brigade but the detox cocktail made with lemon vodka, lime juice, spinach, kale and pineapple was actually nasty. There wasn't enough fruit or acidity to balance the taste of iron. I adore kale, but this was just wrong. Fortunately, a porn star martini, made with passion fruit and vanilla vodka, restored my equilibrium and immediately leapt to the top of my favourite cocktails list.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Meditations on a Sunday roast

Is there anything that we Brits love more than a Sunday roast?  Well, probably many things (is the most popular dish in the UK still chicken tikka masala?) but a Sunday roast is surely up there.  The country may be in total disarray, the economy in free fall but this is one proud British tradition that will surely never die.

The big question is, what is your joint of choice?  D and I have pondered the point for years.  There are so many aspects to take into consideration.  The side dishes - you can't have sage and onion stuffing with lamb now, can you?  The leftovers - we're big fans of the leftover lamb biryani but, equally, cold roast chicken or beef make superior sandwiches (especially if you happen to have some blue cheese knocking around to season the latter).  It's a tough call, but I think my heart belongs to the roast chicken. 

Thus it was, when D saw a mention in the Good Food magazine of a roast chicken to end all roast chickens, we couldn't help but purchase it.  The Thoughful Producer* seems to be a relatively new endeavour which is all about producing the very best quality, free range chickens.  I suspect that these birds get massages.  At £15.99 they are not cheap (you can order direct from their website but we got ours through Ocado to avoid paying the delivery charge) but we thought the resulting product was very good indeed, and without getting preachy, I do think that consumers have a responsibility to buy and eat the very best meat that they can afford.   It's worth bearing in mind as well that this was a BIG CHICKEN - we derived lunch for four people, a round of sandwiches and six portions of curry from ours - that's eleven meals at £1.45 per portion.  (Please note that this is not a sponsored post - we just really liked the chicken and wanted to share the love.)

Back to the Sunday roast, and, to match such a beast we had to bring our A game to the sides.  D produced some fantastic hasselback potatoes, which were a bloody faff to cut but a delight to eat.  He tucked thin slivers of garlic and flecks of rosemary into the slits in the potato and drizzled with oil; the result was somewhere between a roastie and a jacket potato, crispy of skin and firm of flesh. 

Peas were sautéed with pancetta and shallots and seasoned with the merest hint of dried chilli which only served to enhance their sweetness.  And we roasted hunks of cauliflower until they were beginning to char and then poured over a sweet-sour dressing which included honey, sultanas and pine nuts.  Puffy, golden Yorkshire puddings and a rich gravy, enhanced by the bird's own giblets added the finishing touches.

The thing with Sunday dinners is that you have to resist doing too many dishes to preserve your own sanity.  But I would have loved to add more here - a sage and onion stuffing, a root vegetable mash, crispy roasted kale, batons of sweet, sticky parsnips, sausagemeat.  The list goes on ad infinitum.  Luckily, Sunday rolls around every week so there is always another roast dinner on the horizon to which we can look forward.  If you have any tips for new dishes or recipes then I would love to hear them!

ETA: Yotam Ottolenghi has some lovely ideas for chicken side dishes that are a bit more exotic and summery than good old roast spuds - see here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Recipe corner: Oven bottom muffins

These are apparently known as the bagels of the North, but they are quite different beasts (to bagels, I mean). D and I have been buying them for years; they are good for breakfast butties, burger buns and makeexcellent vehicles for spicy scrambled eggs among other things. It was only a matter of time and confidence before I had a go at them myself and I was chuffed with the results.


400g strong bread flour
5g salt
5g sugar
7g instant dried yeast
10g sunflower oil plus a little extra
15g butter
255g skimmed milk

Makes 6 large muffins

Have your stand mixer ready with the dough hook attached. Then place the bowl direct on the scales to weigh in the ingredients. I've listed everything by weight rather than volume which makes life slightly easier and saves on washing up!

Stir together the flour, salt and sugar then add the yeast and stir again.

Add the butter and oil, place on the mixer and set it off on the lowest speed. Meanwhile, weigh the milk into a separate jug.

After the fats have been mixed through - about a minute - up the speed of the mixer a notch and pour in the milk. I do this gradually, allowing the flour to absorb most of one splash of milk before adding the next.

When all the liquid has been added you will find that you have a rather sticky dough. At this point, I turn off the mixer and squidge it altogether with my hands before pushing the dough hook right into the middle of the ball of dough and setting it back off again. Knead, on a medium setting, for around five minutes at which point the dough should be silky and elastic.

Pour a little oil into the bottom of a separate bowl and then transfer in the dough, turning it a couple of times so it is lightly coated in the oil. Cover with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for an hour.

Once the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knock the air out of it, folding it in on itself a few times. Divide into six, roll the pieces into rough balls and place on a lightly oiled baking tray. Loosely cover (I put the tray in a large plastic carrier bag) and leave for another half an hour. Preheat the oven to 200.

Just before baking, push the muffins down with the palm of your hand to flatten and then make an indentation in the centre of each ball - this, apparently, is traditional.

Bake for 12 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Try and allow to cool before smothering with butter and shoving them in your face.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Wednesday's child is full of woe

I intended to do a post every day this week and then, this afternoon, accidentally took a very long nap. At what point does a nap become a full on sleep? If the line has been defined, I think that I definitely crossed it.

So, resorting to cute cat picture it is. Still to come this week though - how to make the "bagels of the North" and meditations on roast chicken.

I may be biased but how gorgeous is she? I never get tired of looking at her.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Chef's Table at the Dean Court Hotel, York

As regular readers will know, D and I lived in York when we were first together and a little piece of my heart will always belong there.  But York, in common with a lot of British city centres, suffers (when it comes to food) from a preponderance of middle of the road chain restaurants that squash out many of the more exciting and innovative independent ventures.  York is heavily reliant on its tourist trade and what the tourists want, it seems, is certainty.  And they can be certain that they will get something perfectly decently edible in Pizza Express or Jamie's Italian or Wagamama.  I wouldn't be such a hypocrite as to criticise people for it, but it is a shame that the UK food scene, outside of London at least, is at constant risk of becoming homogenised.

I always felt that York was missing some good, high-end-of-middle, quirky little bistro type places, especially once the late lamented J. Baker's Bistro Moderne closed its doors.  Le Cochon Aveugle got a fantastic write up in The Guardian earlier this year, and I've enjoyed the meals that I've had at The Star Inn The City, but you'd have thought (hoped) that there would be scope for more.  Well, the team at the Dean Court Hotel are very keen to make their restaurant a contender.  And with that in mind, a group of hungry people were invited across to a Chef's Table event last week in the stunning DCH dining room, which is situated literally in the shadow of York Minster.  If there is a better view in the city, I'd be very surprised.

We had to admit, while chatting to the hotel manager, that as York residents it would never have occurred to us to go there for dinner, and apparently this is a perennial problem for them, as is the fact that their guests tend to favour the safety of the City Chain Restaurant over their own hotel's dining room.  And that's a shame, because there is a lot to like about this venue.

There is the view from the dining room, of course.  But there is also a snug little bar in which to enjoy a pre (or post) dinner snifter, there is a very friendly team of front of house staff and there is, potentially, some very nice food.  The chef, Benji Thornton, is a lovely chap who is obviously extremely passionate about what he does.  He not only has an excellent eye for plating but an instinctive knack for interesting flavour combinations.  As it was a Chef's Table, Benji cooked the first couple of courses in front of us in the dining room, talking us through the ingredients and techniques he used (and throwing out a few extremely useful tips including the fact that if you want your food to taste good you need to add butter.  Lots and lots of butter).  Also in attendance was one of his suppliers, a forager who had brought with her the biggest mushroom that I have ever seen.  Seriously look at the thing!

Giant mushroom

Chef at work
I really loved the fact that Benji was so excited about making using of foraged ingredients - not just the mushroom but beautiful herbs such as wood sorrel as well - and that he drew so much inspiration from his home county and its amazing produce.  The pairing of Yorkshire rhubarb with duck and a five spice jus was particularly successful and one that I fully intend to "borrow" for my own kitchen.

Pigeon, beetroot, mushroom
Duck, rhubarb, five spice
The main problem with a Chef's Table is that it is taking the chef away from the kitchen.  The team downstairs, who cooked the dishes behind the scenes while Benji was entertaining us, were, I think, a little timid with regards the seasoning (Benji himself was very generous with the Maldon Sea Salt, so I doubt it is generally an issue).  The other problem is that it is difficult to time things perfectly - the food wasn't served until after Benji had cooked and plated his sample dish and, with regards the duck especially, the meat had started to cool by the time it reached the table.  Again, I doubt that this would be the case if you were a guest at the restaurant ordering from the standard menu.

Chocolate, salted caramel, strawberries
I've since studied the DCH menu in more detail and there are some seriously exciting sounding dishes on there (the idea of confit chicken wings with pea and wasabi soup is making me feel very hungry indeed).  When we talked to Benji, he said that he was very keen to create plates of food that celebrated the ingredients without being over complicated but nevertheless there are some cheeky little twists that sound most intriguing and, I am sure, everything is presented absolutely beautifully, as evidenced by the pictures above.  If you're in York and fancy something a little different then why not give this place a try?  The enthusiastic team there deserves our support and York itself deserves more eateries that are prepared to do something a bit different and a bit exciting.

I was invited to the Chef's Table event at the hotel and did not pay for the meal - however, all opinions expressed are my own and are honestly stated.  I am impervious to all forms of corruption, even edible ones.

DCH Restaurant at the Dean Court Hotel
Duncombe Place
01904 625082

Monday, 11 July 2016

Back in the saddle with an MPM

I haven't really been blogging lately. In between stress over work and exams and stress over the general state of the country I appear to have developed a serious case of ennui. I've been studiously avoiding the news as far as possible and binge reading trashy novels which is not necessarily contributing to my intellectual development but has the advantage of keeping me relatively sane.

This week, though, I am going to try and post something EVERY DAY. Even if it just a picture of the cat and a gushing comment about how beautiful she is. And what better place to start than a Meal Planning Monday?

This week, I am out with some girls from work on Friday to eat tapas, drink gin and set the world to rights. Other than that we are to be found at the homestead so six meals have been lined up for our delight and delectation:

Monday: Kedgeree

Tuesday: Corned beef hash

Wednesday: fresh soup

Thursday: coconut poached chicken with stir fried vegetables and a coconut, lime and fish sauce dressing

Saturday: homemade pizza

Sunday: Osso Bucco with saffron risotto

A mix there of old favourites and new recipes, with the weekend looking pleasingly Italian. Whatever you are cooking and eating next week, have a good one and please let me know any particular favourite escapist fiction in the comments - I'm always after new recommendations!

Monday, 27 June 2016

MPM: the Old Mother Hubbard edition

Actually, the title of this post is not strictly true. Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare, and our cupboards (and freezer) are, as per usual, well stocked with a variety of random items. It's the bank accounts and wallets that are looking a little sparse - and so, we are eschewing Waitrose until Thursday (pay day) and getting creative with things we already have in the house. And by getting creative, on Monday and Wednesday I apparently mean "removing pots of stuff from the freezer and heating them up".

D is out on Friday so it will be prick and ping for one, or, that perennial favourite of mine, filled pasta tossed in butter and Parmesan. Elsewhere...

Monday: pasta with tomato and 'nduja sauce

Tuesday: masala spiced hake goujons, potato salad

Wednesday: creamy butternut squash and red pepper soup

Thursday: chicken breasts, giant couscous with lemon and feta, asparagus

Saturday: we have friends round for a games night (squee!) so we'll be serving up chilli con carne with all the appropriate accompaniments

Sunday: D is in charge of co-ordinating a roast chicken dinner.

So while it may be the end of the world as we know it (and I most certainly do not feel fine) there is at least good food and good friends to ease us in to the new order. Happy cooking (and eating!) this week.

Friday, 24 June 2016

TWTWTW: make bread, not war

It is not in the nature of this blog nor this blogger to be political, but let us just pause for a moment and say WT actual F before moving swiftly on to the cute cat picture of the week:

In other news, my bread making career goes from strength to strength, when I took a break from revision on Sunday to bake a batch of oven bottom muffins. I have written out the recipe and, once I've made a second lot just to test it again, I'll be sure to post. They were far nicer than the shop bought ones.

I was in Manchester for a couple of nights and, on the first of these, was reminded of the delights of Hotel Food. I really, really don't understand the thinking behind the menus of these chain hotel restaurants - you know the kind I mean. They're a sort of confused Greatest Hits of world cuisine. To be fair to the Jury's Inn, none of the food was bad, I just don't get what salt and pepper squid and Asian crispy duck salad are doing nuzzling up to steak and chips.

Now, sorry to post and run but we're heading off to a wedding weekend shortly so I need to go and dust off my fascinator. I hope, whatever your plans, you have a lovely couple of days and I will be back on Monday for another edition of Meal Planning: the end of the month and we're brassic and we need to live on stuff from the freezer edition.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A somewhat reduced MPM: 20th June 2016

I have an exam tomorrow.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have been so tense that I currently have a permanently painful jaw from all the clenching.  It is remarkably difficult to relax your jaw without thinking really hard about relaxing your jaw.  Anyway, tonight and tomorrow night I am in Manchester and poor old D is left to fend for himself.  He was muttering darkly about subsisting on pimped up baked beans, the little lamb.

Then on Friday and Saturday night we are off to the country!  For my sister in law's wedding!  The name of the venue continually escapes me but I'm sure it will be a lovely occasion and perhaps by then I'll have stopped with the jaw clenching.  Plenty of champagne is bound to help.

The upshot of which is that there are just three meals to plan this week.  And one of them is a repeat from the last two weeks because we are both slightly obsessed.

Wednesday: Homecoming dinner - chicken breast and giant couscous with lemon, mint and feta.

Thursday: Poached trout with minted mayonnaise, asparagus and new potatoes.  We just can't get enough of this quintessentially British combo.

Sunday: Five spice braised beef from this recipe (already made and in the freezer), probably served with soba noodles and stir fried veg

To anyone else out there currently experiencing exam stress, either directly or via an associated teenager: I send you sympathy, solidarity and a plea for jaw relaxing exercises.  To everyone else: have a great week you jammy, jammy bastards.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day

My Dad doesn't really believe in Father's Day.  In addition to that, I doubt very much that he knows how to find my blog.  But I'm going to write him a little post anyway.

While in terms of personality, I am very similar to my Mum, when it comes to looks I am very much my father's daughter.  We are both short and round and curly.  Exacerbating the tendency towards the round is our shared love of good food, (lots of) good drink and a slight obsession with cheese.  Whenever I am sad, I always find myself craving cheese on toast or cheese sandwiches or pasta bake and I suspect that this is because, deep in my subconscious, cheese means Daddy and home.

I admire my Dad tremendously.  He has a work ethic and a tenaciousness that I wish I had inherited along with the cheese thing.  He went to a top university, despite the fact that he did not come from a family of academics, and achieved great success both there and later in his chosen career, all through dint of incredible hard work.  He can be stubborn, ridiculously so, but he knows how to channel his stubbornness to achieve results.

He has a love of adventure, of new experiences, and has the endless curiosity of the academic.  He is loyal and steadfast and, undoubtedly, adores his family.

And if he were here right now he would probably tell me to stop procrastinating and to get on with some work (remember, I didn't inherit the work ethic).  So I will, but happy Father's Day to him and to all the fathers out there, quiet fixed points in a moving world.

Monday, 13 June 2016

MPM: 13th June 2016 (with added musings on when a diet blog is not a diet blog)

Once upon a time, this was a blog that was not just about good food but about proving that it was possible to eat good food AND lose weight.  It has drifted from that in recent times which is sad.  On the one hand, I love writing my little blog which is a wonderful aide memoire for all our foodie based adventures.  On the other hand, the weight loss thing has fallen by the wayside, for all the posts in the archive (and there are many) which proclaim fresh starts and renewed endeavour.

At the moment, I genuinely feel like I am juggling one too many balls to add dieting in to the mix as well.  It's not that I am overeating particularly, it's just that dieting requires time and effort and energy which I don't have to spare.  But D and I have both agreed that something needs to be done (he wants to lose a bit of weight as well) and, once this current spate of exams is over, we will both take steps to do it.  In the meantime, we are trying to at the very least commit to cooking and eating well, and meal planning is an absolutely fundamental part of that.

It helps that we both enjoy meal planning, but for all that, it seems to fall by the wayside in times of stress.  Not this time.  This has to be the one habit that is so ingrained that it never falls by the wayside.

So, onto this week.  I will be mostly in the study, weeping over tax manuals.

Monday: unusually, we're having the same dish that we had last Monday, which is poached trout and asparagus with minted mayonnaise and new potatoes.  The original recipe called for minted hollandaise but we decided that making hollandaise was a wee bit faffy for midweek, so just added the required flavourings to (shhh!) shop bought mayo (D favours Mellow Yellow).  It's such a nice combination of flavours and perfect for the time of year.

Tuesday: odds and ends salad - shredded roast chicken, 'nduja onions and goats' cheese croutons

Wednesday: Butternut squash and tarragon soup, with homemade baguettes for dunking

Thursday: a real favourite dish of mine!  Spaghetti vongole (from Russell Norman's recipe in "Polpo").

Friday: a no cooking night - we're indulging in our once a month treat of fish and chips (you can tell that we're middle aged though, as we order one portion of chips to share. I don't have the capacity that I did in my youth!)

Saturday: the plan is to go to the coast with D's dad and sister as a Father's Day outing.  D is going to slow cook a batch of his famous chilli con carne for us to eat when we get home.

Sunday: salmon with pasta pesto.  It's a tradition on the eve of exams.

That's our lot, mes amies, and a very tasty looking lot it is too.  Have a wonderful week of good cooking, eating and whatever other -ing tickles your pickle.

Monday, 6 June 2016

MPM: 6th June 2016

We're approaching the mid point of the year which is, frankly, unbelievable. They say time flies when you're having fun, but this also, apparently, applies when you're having a generally stressful, miserable pig of a time. Yes, dear reader, I'm not in my happy place at the moment.

But there are bright spots on the horizon, including a very exciting meal out this Tuesday on which I shall report back in due course. Also, on Friday we're off to York Races for the day - and perhaps I shall win my fortune.

Elsewhere, we shall be eating:

Monday: poached trout with asparagus and mint hollandaise (from Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Heaven")

Wednesday: chicken (leftovers from the Sunday roast) with wild mushroom sauce and Puy lentils (adapted from a recipe in Diana Henry's "A Bird in Hand")

Thursday: courgette, herb and rice filo pie

Saturday: rarebit burgers (adapted from a recipe in "Delicious" magazine, June 2016) with baked spiralised curly fries

Sunday may well prove to be another roast, meat type yet to be decided. Although if the sun decides to make an appearance something a little bit more summery may be in order.

Happy cooking and eating this week mes amies! I shall try and ensure my mood is improved by the time the next meal plan rolls around...(you could always post your favourite joke in the comments! Mine is as follows: what is the definition of blu-tack? Smurf poo!)

Saturday, 4 June 2016

TWTWTW: Goodbye to an old friend

Beautiful Minerva McGonagall Cat left us this week. She was diagnosed with a tumour several months ago which had, at last, started to have an impact on her general health and so my Mum made the heartbreaking decision to put our little friend to sleep. She had been a part of our family for 16 years. I have been surprised at quite how much it has affected me; I mean, I cry at the drop of a hat anyway, but this feels like genuine grief. The level of impact that animals have on our lives cannot be underestimated - poor Minx has been subjected to a LOT of weepy cuddles this week. At the same time, it was the right decision to make and I take a lot of comfort from the fact that my Mum allowed a much loved, elderly cat to end her long and happy life peacefully and with dignity. We should all be so lucky.

D and I went over to spend the evening with my parents to say a proper goodbye to Minnie and, while there, cooked an absolutely gorgeous recipe - this cauliflower risotto by Jamie Oliver. Nothing is as luxurious and comforting as a risotto and this is a particularly delicious example of the genre and brought a smile to all our faces even in the sad circumstances.

Elsewhere this week, D and I popped to Headingley for an end-of-the-working week lunch and had some very nice sandwiches at White's Cafe Bar. I like White's - it has a nice atmosphere with just the right balance of buzzy and laid back, and is equally amenable if you want a good cup of coffee or if you want to drown your sorrows at the bottom of a large glass of wine. The group of very LOUD, very ENTHUSIASTIC students at the table next to us did threaten the mood a bit and, as D pointed out, it is quite dark if you sit at a table near the back of the room. Still, behold these sandwiches:

I went for the Philly cheesesteak which was doused with a pleasing amount of black pepper and American mustard, while D had a BLT with cheddar and coleslaw which was huuuuge. I mean, not "Man Versus Food" huge but still, required a bit of a jaw stretch. How does Adam Richman do it?

Right, I am off to cuddle my cat again - and to all pet owners out there, give your furry friend an extra kiss this week and remind yourself how lucky we all are to share a bit of our lives with them.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Recipe corner: Fresh baked baguettes

Paul Hollywood does not know me from Adam but he has, in a small way, changed my life. I am now a woman who after a day at work thinks nothing of whipping up a couple of baguettes to have with tea. From being a total bread phobic* a couple of years ago to this - what a way I have come.

*To be clear, I was frightened of making bread, not eating it.

I suppose, to the purist, I still don't really make bread because I rely heavily on my Kitchen Aid and her dough hook and do very little kneading by hand. However, the fact that in his baguette recipe Paul Hollywood tells you, specifically, to do it that way (baguette dough is quite wet and sticky and difficult to work with) inspires me to think that it's OK. God, or Paul Hollywood or someone, invented dough hooks and standing mixers so that people like me could come home in the evening produce fresh baked, crusty bread on a whim.

The recipe below is from Paul Hollywood's "Bread" book but since it is published elsewhere online, I don't have too many qualms about putting it here as well. Also, I must admit that my version reduces the water a smidge from the original 180ml. It may only be a tablespoon's worth but I found it made a huge difference to the way in which the dough came together.

My other top tip, if you specifically want to make baguettes, is to invest in a baguette tray like this one. The first time I attempted baguettes the taste and texture were right but the shape was ridiculous - this is not easy dough to work with. But allowing the dough to do its second prove and bake in one of these trays solves that problem completely.


250g strong white bread flour, plus additional for dusting the surface
5g instant yeast
5g salt
160ml cool water
2 tbsp olive oil, plus additional for greasing the bowl

You will also need: a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment fitted, a large bowl, clingfilm, a large plastic bag and a baguette baking tray

Weigh out the flour into the bowl of the mixer. Add the yeast to one side of the flour and the salt to the other.

Combine the water and the two tablespoons of oil into a jug.

Set the mixer off at its lowest speed and gradually pour in the water and oil mix. When all the liquid has been added it may appear quite wet and sticky. Have courage. Turn the mixer up a notch and, gradually, it should begin to come together. Once it has gathered into a ball around the hook, turn it up another level so it is now going at a decent, medium speed and allow to knead for about 7-8 minutes. After this time you should have a dough that, while still slightly sticky to the touch, is also silky and stretchy.

Oil a separate, large bowl and tip the dough into it, turning it a couple of times so that the entire surface of the ball has a light coating of oil. Cover with clingfilm and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size - I found that this took around 1.5 hours but it may be longer in cool weather.

Lightly flour a work surface and your baguette tray. Tip the dough on to the surface and use the heel of your hand to knock some of the air out of it. Then fold it over on itself a few times which will help the structure.

Divide the dough in two and, as if it were plasticine, roll each piece out into a rough sausage shape. Place the dough sausages in the baguette tray. Then place the whole in a large plastic bag and return to the warm place for the second prove - about another hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 and place a roasting tray full of water in the bottom. This will create a steam that helps the bread develop its crisp crust.

Bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown and crisp. I find that I need to cover the tops with foil after about 15 mins in my oven to stop them over colouring. The internal temperature of baked bread is 190-200 degrees if you want to use a cooking thermometer to check if they are done.

Enjoy, mes petites!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bundobrunch at Bundobust

I first wrote about Bundobust just over a year ago (see here if you're interested). Since then, we've been back several times and still absolutely love it. The menu continues to change and develop and several dishes have appeared there now that have become house favourites: the vada pav (a spiced potato "burger") and the Punjabi kadhi (a kind of yoghurt soup) are both must orders as far as D is concerned. Me, I stick by my original choice of the spiced scrambled eggs but have also developed a serious addiction to the okra fries.

Also last year, this time in Glasgow, we discovered how much we enjoy eating spicy food for breakfast. So when, as part of the Leeds Indie Food Festival Bundobust decided to do a joint event with the superlative Layne's Espresso called Bundobrunch we were there with proverbial bells on.

Writing about it feels a little bit mean, because at the moment this is not intended to be a fixture. However, chatting to the guy behind the bar I learned that the reaction was so generally positive that it could well become a regular thing which would be very exciting indeed.

As you can see from the menu, set box options (two savoury, one sweet) were on offer rather than a list of dishes from which to pick and choose. We both went for the same option which featured a breakfast biryani, chilli spiced rarebit and a sweetcorn and methi (fenugreek) pancake. As you might expect from this particular kitchen, the spicing was bang on, leaving a pleasant residual warmth on the palate rather than bash you over the head chilli (never desirable, but especially not at 10am). The star of the show was that sweetcorn pancake. Now, I would describe myself as, if not exactly a hater, certainly a non-fan of sweetcorn, but suspend those little kernels in spiced batter and somehow they are transformed! This is definitely something to be recreated at home.

The £12 price point felt a tad steep when compared to the regular lunch menu, and while I completely understand the thinking behind doing the set boxes, I was sad to miss out on some of the other dishes on offer (hello, asparagus fries). Although clearly opting for the same thing was a failing on the part of your intrepid reviewers. In our defence, it was quite early.

Anyway, I've got everything crossed that Bundobust do decide to take up a more permanent residence on the brunch scene. If you are in Leeds and fancy a light bite with a decent pint on the side it is definitely worth checking out their standard menu. Those okra fries are dangerously moreish.

Monday, 30 May 2016

MPM: 30th May 2016

D and I both weirdly enjoy meal planning. So much so that it is often something to which our conversation turns when we are out and about enjoying a convivial pint. Perhaps it is because our favourite table in our favourite bar gives us a view of D's beloved Waitrose. Or perhaps it is because nothing sharpens the appetite like that first drink of the evening. Regardless, our weekly meal plan is often jotted down when we are out of the house, away from recipe books and other resources. This week, we decided to make sure that we did it at home and thus used some of our overstuffed bookshelves, not to mention our home Wi-Fi connection.

May seems to have been a ridiculously long month. And who on Earth decided to make pay day fall after the Bank Holiday weekend? Tonight, we'll be feasting on whatever we can find lurking at the back of the store cupboard (Peppa Pig spaghetti shapes in tomato sauce, anyone?) The rest of the week is looking pretty good though.

Tuesday: a chicken Caesar salad, using an old blog recipe. Since I wrote this post, D has been busy perfecting his Caesar dressing so it will be interesting to see how this low fat version stands up.

Wednesday: risotto ai cavolfiore - that is to say, cauliflower risotto. D's pick from "Jamie's Italy" by Jamie Oliver.

Thursday: butternut squash and tarragon soup. If I'm home from work in time, I'll make some bread to go with it.

Friday: pork chops with Saint-Marcellin cheese. Another D choice, this time from "Pork and Sons" by Stephane Reynaud.

Saturday:Punjabi kadhi (a spiced, sour yoghurt soup) with cauliflower pakoras, chilli paneer and homemade flatbreads

Sunday: some sort of roast

A week of excellent eating. Hope everyone out there in the UK is enjoying this rather miserable Bank Holiday Monday and that everyone, everywhere has a fantastic week.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Recipe corner: Cashew chicken with egg fried rice and crispy garlic kale

Photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website

Usually, you have to put up with my less than stellar food photography - however, on this occasion, I have shamelessly borrowed someone else's so you can see what this dish could look like.

I did snap it myself and ended up with this:

Photo courtesy of me and several glasses of wine
The less said the better, eh?

I served this for our Friday night supper last week and we both hoovered it up, making yummy noises all the while.  Cashew chicken is one of my favourite dishes from the Chinese takeaway, so I expected to be all over it, but D was looking forward to it rather less - he was happy to revise his original opinion on eating.  It doesn't have many ingredients, and I considered adding garlic or more spicing to the stir fry, but stuck to the original recipe and actually, I think the deeply savoury simplicity of it is the charm.

This recipe is absurdly simple for all that it requires a wee bit of prep, and if you want properly good egg fried rice you really do need to initially cook the rice the day before.

Ingredients - chicken

2 skinless chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 egg white
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp rice wine (or dry Sherry at a pinch)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil

Ingredients - rice

100g basmati rice
1 egg
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tsp vegetable oil

Ingredients - crispy kale

Several large handfuls of kale
Tbsp garlic oil

3-4 spring onions, shredded

The day before (or, at least far enough in advance to allow it to cool properly) cook the basmati rice.  Cool and refrigerate until needed.

Combine the chicken with the egg white, the sesame oil, the cornflour and a touch of judicious seasoning and set aside for at least 20-30 mins prior to cooking.  Preheat the oven to 180.

Beat the egg together with the chilli flakes, the five spice and a decent pinch of salt and set aside.

Bring a pan of water up to the boil, and simmer the chicken for 4-5 mins until the meat has turned completely white.  This is known as velveting - you can also do it in hot oil but this method has the virtue of being somewhat lower in fat.

Now, you want two large frying pans or woks on the go at the same time, so get them on the hob to heat up while you toss the kale in the garlic oil and some salt and pepper and place in the hot oven to roast for around 10 mins until crispy (but not too singed).

Put the oil into the hot pans.  In one, add the cooled basmati rice, in the other, the cashew nuts.

Cook the nuts for around a minute, and then pour in the rice wine and the soy sauce and allow them to bubble down slightly, before adding the chicken.

Now add the beaten egg to the rice and stir well to combine.  Both the chicken and the eggy rice should cook for a further couple of minutes.  Ensure the chicken is entirely cooked through before serving (the easiest way to do this is by eating a chunk and that is the cook's prerogative).

Serve with the kale - I used my crispy greens as a base for the whole, but dumping it on the side is equally valid.  Either way is absolutely delicious.  Sprinkle the shredded spring onions over the top as an artistic garnish.

Monday, 16 May 2016

MPM: 16th May 2016

Happy Monday campers!  Did you have a lovely weekend?  We were pretty quiet here, but last night saw the inaugural barbecue of the year which was quite exciting - D cooked whole red snapper and clams in foil parcels and we served it up with potato salad, tomato bruschetta and a generous handful of peppery green leaves.  Fabulous stuff.

This week we seem to have developed a bit of social life, with the result that we are potentially out for three of the seven evenings.  What madness is this!  Next Sunday also remains unplanned; another barbecue might be nice but, equally, we might not be up for anything other than lying around and dunking biscuits in tea.  So, only three meals to disseminate:

Dover sole with shrimp butter, cucumber and a lemon and caper crumb
Spaghetti bolognese (50/50 spaghetti and courgetti - yes, I still love my spiraliser!)
Fresh soup (type TBC)

Not desperately exciting stuff, is it?  Still, it makes a change for us to actually be out and about.

Have a great week everyone, happy cooking (and eating!)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

TWTWTW: Back in the kitchen and the return of the Fakeaway

As mentioned many times on this blog for some unknown reason, when life gets stressful, one of the first things that flies out of the window is the cooking and eating of sensible meals.  I often lose my appetite, which feels ridiculous to say out loud since I do not look like the kind of wan and waif-ey creature who can't bring themselves to eat.  I certainly lose any desire to be in the kitchen.  In these dark days, the toaster becomes the most regularly used tool in the arsenal.

How lovely, then, to finally have got back into some sort of good routine this week.  We have cooked and eaten a number of gorgeous meals and both of us feel a lot better for it.

Yesterday evening, I decided to do a Friday Night Fakeaway for the first time in ages, and cooked a delicious but incredibly simple chicken with cashew nuts, which recipe can be found here.  Chunks of chicken breast are combined with egg white, cornflour and a little sesame oil for twenty minutes or so before cooking, which makes them incredibly tender in the stir fry. Seriously, give this one a go.  I also highly recommend drizzling some curly kale with garlic oil, sprinkling with salt and roasting in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes - you end up with something very akin to the seaweed they serve up at Chinese restaurants; it makes a great side dish and doesn't taste virtuous at all (which is clearly one of the points of fakeaway).

My mojo has returned to such an extent that I currently have some bread dough proving in the sun and, later, I will be giving my new baguette baking trays a whirl.  I have tried baguettes before, and although the taste was successful the shaping...not so much.  Paul "Silver Fox" Hollywood makes it look easy and it really isn't.

I must admit, no points are being counted at the moment - that's the next thing to add in and I'm going to have to spend some proper time pondering how to make the new Smart Points work better for me - my initial impressions were not favourable but the thought of going back to Pro Points, when I rely quite heavily on the online tools, is not really tenable.  I even found myself wondering about sticking my toe in the proverbial Slimming World pool this week - my Mum has had a lot of success on SW and is looking amazing at the moment - but I think that a) I would find it quite limiting and b) I'm just making excuses to avoid putting my head down and getting on with it.

Obligatory cute cat pic of the week:

Minx is, as ever, a furry, purry angel - even despite the fact that she has a charming new habit of coming and waking me up in the early hours for a little bit of a stroke and a cuddle.  Who needs beauty sleep anyway?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Norse, Harrogate (second visit)

A few days ago, I wrote about a return visit to Leeds' prestigious "The Man Behind The Curtain" which confirmed my opinion that while it is clever, modern food worthy of admiration, it is not food to love.  How wonderful, then, to go back to another venue where every beautifully crafted dish made me want to fall into it face first and lick the plate clean.  That venue is Norse in Harrogate.

I loved it the first time round and there is very little to add in a second piece, such that I probably wouldn't have bothered were it not for the fact that it is such a little gem of a place and really cheered me up after our trip to TMBTC left me wondering if I  just didn't "get" modern food anymore.  I've been lacking an appetite lately anyway and my palate was feeling distinctly jaded by the time we rolled up.

Consider me...un-jaded (if there is such a term).  From start to finish it is almost impossible to pick a highlight.  The moment that the fresh bread arrived at the table with toasted seeds and smoked artichoke puree, we knew that we were in safe hands.

We opted for the seven course tasting menu (with an additional amuse and post dinner chocolates it was, strictly speaking, nine in all) and it was a study in how tasting menus should be.  Every dish was small but perfectly formed.  And see how pretty?

The table was divided as to the best savoury course of the night - was it the buttery turbot with the punchy, herby pickled clams and the rich smoked mussel sauce?  (Apologies for the deterioration in picture quality - the lighting switched to "romantic" at this point)

Or the hogget that just melted in the mouth with the punchiest garlic peas that you ever did see?

My father was adamant that the dessert was the star of the show - a pistachio and rapeseed oil cake licked with skyr and elderflower frosting and served with strawberries and honeycomb.  And, to be fair, you'd go a long way to find something more perfectly delicious, or a prettier symphony of spring pastels.

Four of us ate a superlative meal, we started with a bottle of champagne and then two of the party had a matching wine flight and the bill worked out at £75 a head - amazingly good value for food of such quality.  This is fusion food at its very, very best: the flavour profile is distinctly Scandi, but the ingredients are a parade of the Best of British produce and the two marry together perfectly.

A wonderful night out in a truly wonderful little restaurant.  Thank you, Norse, for rejuvenating my palate and getting me excited about cooking again!

Monday, 9 May 2016

MPM: 9th May 2016

It's been a while since we had a meal planning Monday, isn't it?  A combination of work and study and a nasty bug have meant a lack of cooking (and, indeed, eating) round here of late.

Fingers crossed the worst of it seems to have passed and it is time to get back into the kitchen and get producing some slightly more complex meals than toast.  This week, then:

Pepper and lime crusted tuna steaks with mustard cucumber "spaghetti" and wild rice
Warm salad of lamb with sweet potato and pomegranate
Corned beef hash
Fresh soup
Friday night fakeaway: Cashew chicken stir fry with egg fried rice and crispy kale "seaweed"

If the weather holds then we might break out the barbecue next weekend - perhaps some delicious whole fish with salads and bread to accompany, but that plan remains to be fixed.

Hopefully, they'll be some more meal plans over at Mrs M's to enjoy.  Have a good week lovelies!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds (second visit)

We first went to The Man Behind The Curtain (henceforth to be known as TMBTC) back in September 2014.  It was not that long open but it was already very ambitious, very modern and positioning itself at the high end of the Leeds dining scene.  Fast forward a year and the head chef, Michael O'Hare, has become something of a sleb thanks to an appearance on Great British Menu, and the restaurant has scored a prestigious Michelin star.  Interested to see what these changes had wrought in terms of the food, we duly got in line (it's now booked up months in advance) and, last week, finally returned to the top floor of Flannels department store.

Reading back, my original impression was not overwhelmingly positive.  It had all seemed a wee bit style over substance.  I expected this second visit to prove me wrong - after all, as well as impressing the Michelin inspectors, a number of highly regarded reviewers have swooned over O'Hare's food. But nope, my first opinion continues to hold true.

It is very, very clever cooking.  It utilises modern techniques and on-trend ingredients (Iberico pork, anyone?) and the plating is creative and quirky.  The problem is, the end result is not the sort of food that I want to eat.  The seasoning, to my taste, was on the cusp of too much, such that one particular dish reminded me of nothing so much as a Pot Noodle, exploding with dusty umami.  And texturally, a lot of the dishes lacked pleasing contrasts because of the overuse of sous-vide.  I don't care what anyone else says, I think sous-vide fish (in particular) is slimy and damp and not very pleasant to eat.  The flavours were, almost without exception, big and brash and bold and just a bit too much.  There was very little that was subtle, or delicate, and star ingredients just got lost.

I also strenuously object to cleverness for the sake of it when it comes to cooking.  So dessert was a chocolate and lavender mousse with a light, foamy vanilla custard spooned over at the table.  Fine.  Except that the custard was made with mashed potato.  It tasted like custard.  It looked like custard.  Why on Earth bother to make it with mashed potato?  I found it off putting. I approached the whole dish tentatively because I don't want to eat chocolate mousse and mashed potato.  I suspect that such reticence makes me exactly the kind of reactionary customer that TMBTC does not want to darken its trendy doors.  And that's fair enough.  You can't appeal to everyone all of the time.

Let's talk about some positives.  An early amuse of XO veal sweetbread in a steamed bun with pickled Shitake was a very lovely thing.  I think that the sweetbread must have been pan fried - a rarity here - as it had a lovely crust that yielded into a perfectly cooked, creamy interior.  It worked well with the spicing and was very prettily presented.

Presentation in general, although never going to appeal to stalwart traditionalists, was definitely artistic.  While there were problems with this Iberico Pork main course (mainly that the accompaniments overwhelmed the little piggy) I do love the way it has been plated.  That egg shell, incidentally, was edible, which was a nice touch.

And for all that I took umbrage with the chocolate and potato dessert, I adored the little passion fruit and praline cupcake that was presented as a petit four, complete with edible cupcake paper.

This was one of the few dishes where the flavours were balanced absolutely perfectly, with the sweetness of the white chocolate and hazelnut acting as a beautiful foil for the wincingly sharp passion fruit puree.  I would have liked another one of these.

What else?  D had the wine flight to match the tasting menu (there is no a la carte option here) and it was astoundingly good in terms of quality and value, with his particular favourite being a plum sake that did, indeed, taste heavenly.  The service was absolutely flawless.  The room itself is lovely - big, well spaced tables and the comfiest chairs that I think I have ever sat on in a restaurant.  Overall, much to admire.  And, indeed, I suspect a lot of people will enjoy the food.  The fact that it was not to my taste was, probably, more about me than about the cooking.

There is certainly nowhere else in Leeds doing this sort of thing at the moment and, certainly, I would urge people to go along and try it for themselves.  I wouldn't go back again myself - £70 a head is just too much for food that I know I am unlikely to enjoy, but I certainly wish Mr O'Hare and his very cool staff all the best - their presence in our city can only do good things for the already vibrant food scene.  Let's just hope that mashed potato custard doesn't catch on elsewhere.

The Man Behind The Curtain
68-78 Vicar Lane
Top floor Flannels

0113 2432376