Category Archives: Food

Mastering the art of the Chef

I’m not sure if I like cooking, or if I like food.

definitely like food, I’m just not sure if I also like the process of cooking or if it’s because I know there’s food at the end (and in the middle, and there’s probably wine too, I’m a terrible influence on the kitchen).

The other thing I like is watching cooking. Not in real life, because I’m a control freak, but on TV.

Of course, I have sworn off the next series of Great British Bake Off because of BELIEFS about not just following the (insane amounts of) money. I also haven’t watched Masterchef in years, despite it being the thing which brought me and Boyfriend together in my student halls.

So what do I watch? Feels like time for a list!

  1. Great British Menu
    I truly believe this is the best cooking programme on TV. I’ve watched every season (though shamefully I haven’t begun the current one) and it just gets better and better. Professional chefs creating amazing dishes, a bit of history and a celebration of people who’ve done great things, and a good dose of competition.
  2. Cupcake Wars
    The clue is in the name. It’s a contest to make the best cupcakes. You didn’t even know how many ways you could make cupcakes before you watched this show. It’s very american and that’s only a good thing.
  3. Bake Off – Creme de la Creme
    Cherish Finden is my queen.

    This is professional pastry chefs making professional pastries and then having them measured with a ruler and spirit level. Also Benoit Blin who is very French. It’s all great.

  4. Hell’s Kitchen
    Gordon Ramsey shouts at cocky american chefs, and often sends his guests home empty-stomached. Also challenges.
  5. Man vs Food
    Greasy food from the USA, and also lots of it. And then he eats it all because of food challenges. Everything has cheese involved.

Cheese and Musicals

Today I made ricotta, and I’m very proud. It looks horrible, but I have great hopes for once it has sat for a while in its little basket.

I have been in a bit of a slump over the summer, creatively. I had that weekend where I made a blanket and two cushions and a collage of Leeds (ish), and I optimistically resolved myself to doing more creative things. Naturally I then followed this up with very little.

The last couple of weeks have changed that somewhat, with the return of our work Baking League and a spontaneous candle-making session a few weekends ago. Here are some of my recent achievements:

breakfast cake candles cheese cupcake cupcakes

As ever, my achievements are largely food-based.

I call this post cheese and musicals, because as I write I’m catching up on Elaine Paige on Sunday, and it feels like the time of year to remind everyone that musicals exist. Going into a new term means new student theatre (a continued high-point of my life), a new season at Opera North, and generally lots of musical fun. To capitalise on this I bought some “light up fountain speakers” yesterday, which are already a fantastic purchase. Very little can improve on Elaine Paige’s laugh, but watching a fountain chuckle is an improvement.

Third of Three

This is really just a collage of ALL THE BAKING, because I spent hours on Sunday baking. We have a work baking contest, which is monthly, and this month’s theme was “Birthday Petit Fours” – I went for mini trifles and choux bun gifts…and this is how…

baking

Which resulted in this….

petit fours

And now, generally my baking is a bit shoddy, and I don’t mind coming last, because it’s all about the enjoyment of the exercise. But really, I did think these were pretty damn good, and very bite-size and birthday (and therefore on brief).

I came third of three.

Ah well – always next month!

April Resolutions

Guys, do you remember New Year, when I posted explaining how I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions? No? Never mind. I said I’d come up with some by May, but check me out, I’m early!

I resolve to cook more. Today I made pizza and it was great y’all.

pizza1 pizza2

I resolve to spend more time making beautiful things (such as this)

Leeds

I resolve to enjoy my friends more. I’ve been emailing the wonderful Miranda-in-Cuba daily, and it’s doing me the world of good.

I resolve to make more plans (which I guess is what this is)

And finally, I resolve to learn to look after myself better, which starts with all of the above, but also includes going on more walks, reading more books, and having more hugs.

And there we are. Only 4 months late.

Ruining food

I am a foodie. I like food.

Hipster press is ruining food for me.

I’m an avid reader of any article which professes to tell me more about the Leeds food scene. I very rarely actually make it to any of the restaurants, but the knowing they are there is what counts. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that a lot of the articles are trying to make something from nothing, and in a city with such a vibrant food offering, that’s frustrating.

For example, in this article Leeds List gleefully announces “It’s tapas, but not as you know it” – but it’s not. I know I’m a bit of a tapas snob, because you can’t live in Andalusia and not be, but seriously. None of these are tapas. They are probably very nice taster dishes, or small plates. Tapas are bar snacks. They aren’t the same. Stop doing this. It’s a ridiculous fiction of modernity that everything nice must conform to a current trend, and apparently that now applies to pigeonholing food into new categories where it never belonged, rather than just celebrating good food.

God guys. Just stop.

Off to see the Wizard

This is an unashamed food fangirl post. On Friday we took Boyfriend’s parents to The Man Behind the Curtain and it was amazing. For anyone who wonders whether Michelin star food is worth it, my personal view is now 100% yes. I took photos, I took notes, I was a horrible geeky foodie, and it didn’t ruin my experience one little bit, because it was just thoroughly amazing.

To begin with, it’s like eating in an art gallery. So, honestly, the pictures should just take over from here. Apologies in advance (I’m not famed for my photography)…

mbtc
Amazing art-gallery surroundings
course1
Course 1
course2
Course 2

Course 1 – hand massaged braised octopus, sicilian lemon, butter, capers, and smoked paprika emulsion

Course 2 – 15 year old beef, served rare, olive oil sauce, dried black olive powder, potato ovulata (which was a super-thin cellophane-y layer on the top and was WEIRD)

course3
Course 3

Course 3 – Puffed rice noodles, parmesan, sea urchin “bolognese”

Course 4 – My photo really doesn’t do this one justice. Spider crab layered with tomato and crispy wonton, quails egg with jam (I missed the fruit). I also missed what the wafer-thing on top is, but it was great. This was a real stand-out dish all round.

course4
Course 4

 

course5
Course 5

Course 5 – This is the fish course from Great British Menu this year, which both me and Boyfriend recognised at once and got a bit excited about.

Cod loin, squid ink dashi, char grilled gem lettuce, tiny pototo shreds with squid ink and malt vinegar powder.

 

 

Course 6 – Probably my second favourite. Iberian pork loin, slow cooked egg yolk in an edible egg shell, covered with BBQ cinders, ajo blanco and anchovies.

course6
Course 6

Course 7 – BBQ prawn (I missed the specific type) with smokey sauce in the head, veal sweetbread in spicy Hong Kong style sauce, sticky rice, seaweed, and hot and sour consommé.

course7
Course 7

 

 

 

 

course8
Course 8

Course 8 – Desert. Chocolate, lavender and honey mousse so thick you could plaster walls with it. Violet ice cream, puffed potatoes with beetroot power and potato and vanilla foam. And tempered chocolate.

 

course9
Course 9

Course 9 was agreed by everyone to be the high-point of the meal. A bite-sized cupcake with an edible wrapper. The cupcake is chocolate mousse, raspberry mascarpone, pistachio, and a passion fruit centre. Even after Boyfriend described how great it was, it was still amazing.

There’s not much left to say. I presume that the restaurant name is a reference to the Wizard of Oz, a normal man hidden behind a curtain performing amazing illusions. Not that I’d call Michael O’Hare or any of his team “normal” after that meal. But it’s definitely full of magic and wonder and illusion and I absolutely recommend it.

For Jeannine

A little while back I wrote this post all about my grandfather and how influential and wonderful he is. Today is another very special day, for a very special person, and sadly I’m once again at the other end of the country in inconvenient ways, but I wanted to take a second to share everything I remember and love about Jeannine (my wonderful grandmother).

Jeannine is French. She likes to pretend she isn’t, by living in the UK (and other places that aren’t France) for a significant portion of her life, and by speaking perfect English, and by having various quirky English habits, but she can’t escape it. Two things I quickly learnt as a young child were that the French accent is pervasive and emphatic, and that if you’re an angry French lady there’s really no reason not to let the entire world know it – because they’ll probably end up doing what you want them to.

These are the experiences which helped me understand what it means to be a strong woman. Jeannine is the matriarch of our little family, but also of a much wider dynasty of crazy French folk who followed her lead and took up residence in various parts of the UK. She’s a trailblazer, and an icon. She came to live with my grandfather after the second world war, before moving to Borneo, Afghanistan, and numerous places in between. She learnt fluent English as well as  mastering bits of other languages – before I began my undergraduate degree I discovered she had learnt Farsi (which unfortunately didn’t help me at all in my dreams of Arabic language perfection).

She is an artist, and holidays when I was little were filled with sitting up in her studio or in the summerhouse at the back of the garden, throwing paint at pieces of paper and wishing I could create such delicate masterpieces as her paintings. She knitted, and I had a blue cardigan/dressing gown which I wore for years and years after I grew out of it. Alongside the paining and knitting there was tapestry and crochet, and all kinds of other creative pursuits which I keenly tried to imitate.

Later, when I was old enough to hold sensible conversations, we moved into chats across the breakfast table on every subject imaginable. I’ve taken lots of inspiration from her book choices, which are infinite but all somehow educational, meaning she now seems to have a knowledge of just about everything, from Indian colonial history to the Wimbledon Ladies’ finalists of the last 20 years.

And then there were (and are, because they are still there, being played with by her hoards of great-grandchildren) the games. Woofits “Happy Families”, pick-up-stix, snakes and ladders, and a funny little ludo set which retained its pieces like no board game I’ve ever seen. And a box of tiddlywinks, which I never quite mastered. We’d play for hours, graduating on to proper playing cards when we were a bit older. Bridge hasn’t grabbed my attention, but the range of other games I learnt did.

When I lived in Spain, only 3 short years ago, she even came to visit me. We walked around the Alhambra, saw all of the decorated displays, and by the end I was probably more tired than my grandmother. But then, like Geoff, she never liked being called grandmother because it made her feel old, and it is as if she has spent my whole life proving that point to me. She reads this blog, skypes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and emailed me from her iPad to congratulate me on passing my Masters. I live in the hope that I’ll be so young when I’ve got great-grandchildren of my own.

Jeannine

Happy Birthday Jeannine!

What is it like to want?

You know the phrase “you always want what you can’t have”? I’m not sure it’s true. I think mostly I want what I can have, I just don’t have it and that’s why I want it.

But then, I should probably just curb my degree of “want”. I’m in such a lucky position to be able to feel like I want things rather than need them. There’s an element of counting blessings here, but aside from that, I think it’s really valuable sometimes to give yourself a bit of perspective.

Here are some things I want:
– Dinner
– To be fit and healthy (and mayyybeee a bit thinner. Jillian is back on the scene)
– World Peace (just sneak that in there. You’re considered a bad person if you don’t)
– Chocolate
– More friends
– More money
– More time
– A life-size cutout of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson
– A top grade on my Masters (and maybe a publication offer, with no amendments)
– A dog
– A cup of tea

Fairly comprehensive list, probably.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting any of those things, but it’s also good to take a step back and think about how many things aren’t on that list. Sometimes it feels like life is giving you lemons, but a good friend once told me that if life gives you lemons, you should make some kind of awful cheese-lemon-smoothie. That friend doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and this post is rapidly running away with itself in terms of well-known phrases.

BASICALLY, what I think I’m saying is that at this time of year lots of people (myself included) get bogged down by all the things that they want, so just take a second to think about all the things you already have, and appreciate how great your life probably is, and then consider not  wanting health and also chocolate (or consider working out how to get them both, which is the next step, and also the dream).

It must be love

Let’s get right back into it with an interesting and really complex subject, which seems to have been central to my thoughts lately. Love. It’s pretty great, but it comes in many forms and I think some people assume that the word “love” only has one meaning. I think they are wrong, but I also think that everyone interprets love in different ways, and I know that I’m very comfortable with my own understanding of “love”. It goes a bit like this.

Lasagne love
So I love lasagne. It’s my favourite food. It’s hot and wholesome and it doesn’t compromise (when it’s good at least). I love it because it’s nostalgic of my childhood, but it also encourages me to remember how much great stuff there is out there in the world that isn’t necessarily British.

Also, it’s an exciting food, and it’s a metaphor for life. There are meaty, messy bits, and smooth boring bits, and pasta (and extended metaphors which don’t necessarily work). It’s got everything. I’m unashamed to declare my love for lasagne.

Family love
I love and hate my family. I think everyone does, to varying extents. They say “you can’t choose your family” and that’s entirely true, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love them. After all, you owe them. They made you who you are, genetically, psychologically, socially. The works. And they owe you as well, because you had many of the same impacts on them (depending on where you are in any given family tree).

I love my family because I think they made me great. There are a few genetic traits I could give up, and a few sociological ones which I’d probably not miss, but overall I am who I am because of my amazing family, and I love them to pieces for it. And I also hate them, because they are so weird and annoying and frustrating. But that’s just how family love is.

Romantic love
Romantic love is difficult. It’s great, it’s one of the best things in life, but it’s also hard. Like family love, you owe something to the person you choose as your romantic partner, but the difference is exactly that – you choose. You choose to share in their life problems, and trust in them to share yours. You commit yourself to the happiness of being loved, and the sadness of being imperfect (because everyone is imperfect).

You also have to choose when romantic love isn’t right, and that’s complicated. You’re giving something of yourself to someone with the expectation that they will give it back, and it’s central to that to know what that thing is you’re expecting, and what you should do if you don’t get it. This is why couples have such messy breakups – they go into the relationship unsure of their needs, but knowing full well that a need has to be met. But when that need is met, it’s the best thing on earth.

Friendship love
This is the most complicated one of them all, at least for me. Some people say that their Mum is their best friend, or their partner, and I’ll admit that I’m close to both those people, but there’s something very unique about loving your friends, because they are the people who owe you nothing but still choose to love you back. You are invested in your partner or your family, you are connected to them. A friend can pick you up or drop you in an instant, but the really good ones don’t, and that’s why you love them.

They are the people who you transact with in a really unique way, because to truly love your friends you often end up knowing the things which make them tick, their wants and fears, and you know those things selflessly. And you give up those things to them, because best friends share a special level of trust. I am lucky to have some amazing friends who I would go to the moon and back for, and the thing which makes them so important is that I’m never tired of being their friend (and I like to hope they are never tired of being mine). When they need me to, I’ll move heaven and earth for them, no matter how inconvenient, and I’ll come out the other side not annoyed or fed up, but trying to understand what more I can do. It might be the strongest love of all, because it asks nothing in return, except a continued bond of friendship.

 

And that’s love.

Takeaway

This is a post inspired by hunger. Not any kind of metaphorical hunger, just literal “I’ve been hungry all day” hunger. I went to the gym as normal…as I often do…I went to the gym as I sometimes do when the muse takes me, and felt fine, but ever since then I’ve just been starving.

So, in honour of that, let’s talk all about takeaways.

Why are takeaways so appealing? I walked into the house to a scattering of menus all over the doormat, and now all I can do is debate which would be better if I were to get one (which I’m not, because…well, gym). The thing is, I know all of the restaurants, and I know them all to be rubbish. And here’s the thing. I’d still buy food from any one of them, simply for the joy that is eating takeaway food and not caring.

My parents having lived in India, Indian food has been a bit of a life-feature for me, so naturally that’s always a welcome choice. However, since living on my own, it’s also the takeaway meal I have the least. I’ve thankfully moved on from kebabs as well (well, my body is thankful, my heart is still a bit sad). Now if I’m going to order in, it’s a pick between pizza, Chinese, or some kind of take on Middle Eastern.

The issue is that in the UK we do eating so wrong that none of these foods work well. Pizza is the most acceptable, because it’s a given that we share a pizza, but then that means that you have to conform to what someone else wants on top of an entire pizza and that is a lot to give up. The other two just don’t work because with Chinese inevitably everyone in the room insists on ordering a single dish and having it to themselves – which is just plain boring. The whole point of food like this is to have a tiny bit of 10 different dishes, not eat an entire box of special chow mein to yourself (#me).

The issues with British people and Middle Eastern food are the most difficult for me. Where to begin. Again, it’s sharing food. It’s also finger food and if you’re not comfortable with that then you need to learn to wash your hands properly. Also, olives are great, especially cooked. Also, there is nothing that isn’t improved by a mixture of hummus, tzatziki and harissa. Also, falafel. But only good falafel. Why do we not eat this all the time?

So, onto the list which was always going to follow this post. If you live in Leeds, my picks are:

PizzaEcco Pizzeria
There’s takeaway pizza, and then there’s takeaway pizza. If you want greasy hangover food, this is not the recommendation for you (maybe go with Pitza Cano). Ecco is the best of pizza. Fancy toppings, random volumes (buy by the half metre, because whatever). It’s delightful.

ChineseEast Ocean
I
t’s nothing special to be honest, it’s just a Chinese takeaway. But it’s a nice, well priced Chinese takeaway that I’ve never had a bad experience with. And they are few and far between.

Middle EasternOranaise
My Dad chats to the Algerian owners whenever we go in, and it’s always hilarious. They have a lovely café and their takeaway menu is just as good. They even do takeaway mint tea, which is frankly hilarious (and delicious).