Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Moving Day

We are moving! After 18 months enjoying life as a blogspot, we now have foodandbiscuits.com going!  Please come and join the fun.

See you at www.foodandbiscuits.com 

Love Jo

Sunday, 12 August 2012

OFC - Le Fini - Norway!

We've had a lot of fun taking part in the challenge, with more successes than fails (ignoring the epic fail that is not completing five of the countries...losers).  I am a little relieved its over and can now go back to our normal dishes (chicken fried rice and chips must be on the cards now??!) We have a busy few weeks coming up - my hen do in Liverpool is next weekend, and Joe is off to Valencia the week after for his stag.  I'm looking forward to embracing the fake tan and false lashes, while I've been promised Joe won't get his head shaved or be tied to any dwarfs.... Both will be amazing fun and a great prelude to the big event in September.  The grand plan between now and then is being super healthy...limited booze, exercise and lots of vegetables...will see how that goes!!

Anyway, Norway today gave us Jarlsbergfylt paprika, aka Jarlsberg stuffed peppers.  A good finisher for the three weeks' cooking.  It's probably the thing I'm most likely to make again (although I have promised Joe I'll make him banana pancakes).  

So, thank you for reading.  The Olympics have been awesome, we've developed a new love for indoor cycling and watching long distance running, and we're looking for tickets for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games already! We will miss evenings full of sport (Joe, the Dutch hockey girls, me, the swimmers - perve) but the footie is only around the corner so my mourning will not last long!
Jarlsbergfylt paprika (light supper for two)
One pepper, halved through the stalk and with the seeds removed
100g minced beef
50g grated Jarlsberg
large dash Tabasco
salt and pepper
50g breadcrumbs
rock salt 
juice of half a lemon

1.  Mix the beef, half the Jarlsberg, the Tabasco, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and seasoning in a bowl.
2.  Stuff the pepper halves with the meat mix, and then top with the remaining cheese.
3.  Put a thin layer of rock salt on the bottom of a baking tray and place the pepper halves on top.
4.  Bake in a 200 degree oven for 35 minutes.

OFC - Ghana and Zimbabwe

The Olympic Food Challenge has had its ups and downs for Joe and I.  We started off with such good intentions.  I researched recipes for all our countries, worked out what could go with what, and even did a vague menu plan for the 19 days.  Unfortunately our plans went a little awry, as often happens, and we are a sad DNF (which is perhaps one better than a disqualification?!).  Without going into too many details, at the end of week two I suffered a competition-hindering injury (aka gastroenteritis) and my dreams of going for gold were shattered. 

As good sports, we have managed to squeeze in a couple of final dishes, but must first apologise to Kazakhstan (uzbek palov), Belarus (Belarussian apple pie), Botswana (Botswana cabbage), Iraq (lamb with rice and pistachios) and Sierra Leone (banana pancakes).

 Braised Chicken with Chillies
2 chillies, deseeded and chopped
8 chicken thigh and leg pieces
1 onion, sliced
1/2 pint chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Brown off the chicken pieces and set aside.
2.  Using the chicken fat (or, if necessary add another splash of oil), fry the onions until soft.
3.  Add the chillies, nutmeg, chicken stock, seasoning and return the chicken to the pan.
4.  Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook until the chicken is done (roughly 35 minutes).

Roasted Butternut Squash
half a butternut squash, diced

1.  Place the butternut squash into tin foil and pull up the edges to make a parcel. 
2.  Roast the butternut squash in the butter (add a small amount of oil to prevent burning) until soft.
3.  Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

OFC - A Central and South American Feast

I might have grumbled about not having any Asian or European countries on our list, but one of the good things is we had three countries from Central and South America which led to quite a good Saturday night feast!  Perhaps its just me being lazy, but it does seem that a lot of these countries are overlooked for their more well publicised neighbours such as Mexico, Cuba, Brazil and Argentina.  If you look in the right places, the food is healthy, fresh and really delicious.  Of course, it helps if you're a fan of rice, beans, limes and coriander, as there are some recurring themes in the food!

Our three were Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile.  Guatemala and Nicaragua are republics in Central America, previously colonised by Spain and with rocky histories.  Guatemala is relatively poor, whilst Nicaragua has the lowest GDP in the whole of Central America.  Nevertheless they are fascinating countries and tourism (and therefore cash) is on the up in Nicaragua.  Chile, on the other hand, is one of South America's most stable and prosperous countries.  It is the longest country in the world so has a fairly varied eco climate with both deserts and a glacier.  Much of the food for all three countries is Spanish based and they benefit from great sea resources.
 Nicaraguan Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto is the national dish of Nicaragua.  It means "spotted rooster" in Spanish, although there's nothing to do with chickens here.
half an onion, finely chopped
half a pepper, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
half a tin of kidney beans, drained, with some of the liquid reserved
cooked rice - roughly 3:2 with the beans
salt and pepper to taste

1.  fry the onions, pepper and garlic for 2-3 minutes
2.  stir in the beans with some of their reserved liquid, salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil and then reduce to cook through.
3.  add the rice, and more of the reserved liquid if necessary.  Adjust the seasoning and heat through thoroughly.

Guatemalan Mango and Avocado Salsa

half a mango, chopped
half a red pepper, diced
half a tomato, diced
one guacamole, chopped
1/8 red onion, diced
lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl about 30 minutes before serving. Leave covered in the fridge for the flavours to combine.  Check the seasoning and serve.

Chilean Seabass Ceviche

This recipe needs really fresh seabass (well, to be honest, what recipe doesn't?).  It's dead easy: chop the ingredients into smallish pieces, combine, and leave in the fridge for a few hours.  Drain off the excess liquid before serving.

4 small seabass fillets, skinned
one spring onion
quarter of a red pepper
juice of half a grapefruit
segments of quarter of a grapefruit (I was able to use the ones out of the squeezed half)
juice of half a lime
chopped coriander
salt to taste

OFC - Rasta Pasta!

Imagine my delight when I found that one of the dishes from the British Virgin Islands was called Rasta Pasta!  Quite simply there was no other choice when I came across this.  Ok, it might have been adopted by teenagers with the munchies, but still...

The other plus was I needed a pasta dish for Joe's pre-running meal on Friday evening, and not many of the countries we have lend themselves to good running prep (way too many beans and chillies in our countries...I'll say nothing else!).  For those of you who haven't read the round up, Joe is running his second marathon in October, exactly one week after we return from our honeymoon.  This means he is front-loading the training, as I will not be sacrificing our honeymoon for a week of pasta and early nights!  I'm very proud of him and he is running it in Liverpool so his mum can see him cross the finish line - in 4 hours, fingers crossed!
Rasta Pasta
1 garlic clove, minced
half an onion, sliced
1 pepper, finely sliced
enough pasta for two (depends on your appetite!)
7-8 broccoli florettes, blanched
half a can of black beans
half a teaspoon dried oregano (or a teaspoon of fresh, finely chopped)
parmesan cheese

1.  cook the pasta to al dente
2.  saute the garlic, onions and pepper until soft.
3.  combine the drained pasta, onion and pepper mix, cooked broccoli, oregano and beans and toss with a generous glug of olive oil.  Season to taste and serve with a generous helping of parmesan.

OFC - New Zealand and Maldives

New Zealand and the Maldives.  They're near each other, right?  Australia and half of Southern Asia is between them?  Oh, ok, well they're both islands and that makes them similar enough for me to stuff them in the same post. 

New Zealand

So what did I know about New Zealand before starting this little project?  It's kind of like Scotland, got a lot of sheep and gap year students.  It's also where Peter Jackson filmed most of the Lord of the Rings.  And they make good wine.  Pretty impressive knowledge, no?  What do I know now? It does definitely have a lot of sheep, the population is smaller than Scotland's, I do love the wine and the food really is rather varied.

When I first started searching for recipes it seemed everyone was trying to make me do a pavlova.  I'm afraid it's just not for me, I'm not into desserts at the best of times and something about a pavlova just seems a bit...boring.  I thought, given the very varied influences serving New Zealand food, I would use this one to my own ends.  I have been told the country selections were all random, but somehow we ended up without any Asian or European countries!!  New Zealand benefits from both immigration and proximity to South and East Asia, so a number of the recipes have that kind of influence.  After a bit of searching, I landed on pork stuffed cabbage rolls with tangy tomato sauce which was damn tasty.

Pork Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Tangy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients (makes 4-5 rolls)
4-5  white cabbage leaves
200g mince pork
1.5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 cup cooked rice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 spring onion, finely chopped
half a carrot, grated
1 ts fresh ginger, finely hopped
pinch chinese five spice
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 a lemon, juiced
large splash cider
salt and sugar to taste

1.  blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds so they are slightly malleable. 
2.  stir fry half the garlic, the ginger, and after 1 minute add the pork mince and carrot.  Stir fry until the pork is cooked and then mix in the soy and oyster sauce.  Continue cooking until the liquid is reduced, and then stir in the spring onion and cooked rice.
3.  Place 2 tbsp of the pork mixture into each cabbage leaf and then roll up into a parcel.  Steam for 10 minutes.
4.  While steaming, put the tomato puree, lemon juice, cider, sugar and salt into a pan and bring to the boil.  Simmer until the cabbage rolls are steamed.

The Maldives

I'm not sure I have actually heard the Maldives being mentioned throughout the Olympic coverage, so I was actually a little sceptical they were competing!  Apologies to the Maldives, but it turns out they only have five athletes participating, in athletics, swimming and badminton, and they are currently sans medals.  No worries though, it's the taking part that counts (from us, sitting third in the medal table...).

But they can rest in the knowledge that they are a beautiful archipelago with sun and sea that draw in honeymooners the world over.  That doesn't seem too shabby to me.  It is also the country that introduced me to Aluvi Hiki Riha, aka potato fry, which is going to become a staple hangover cure from now on!

Aluvi Hiki Riha
250 g potatoes, diced and boiled until al dente
1 onion, sliced
4-5 curry leaves
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
half tsp mustard seeds
1 hot chilli, finely chopped (I used a bird's eye)
2 cardamon seeds
pinch chilli powder
teaspoon curry powder

1.  Roast the potatoes until golden
2.  Saute the onions, ginger, garlic, chilli, mustard seeds and curry leaves.  When soft, add the roasted potatoes, cardamon, chilli and curry powders, seasoning and toss. 
3.  Cook down for a few minutes, adding a splash of water if looking too dry.

I served ours with a poached egg and watercress, which was great for a fiery brunch.  Be warned, if you use a whole bird's eye chilli this is quite eye-watering!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

OFC - St Kitts and Nevis - pepper, sweetcorn and avocado salsa

Looking for food from St Kitts has just made me a bit miserable that I have no current plans to go to the West Indies.  Don't get me wrong - I am very excited about our honeymoon in Espagna (Madrid, Seville and Malaga if you're asking) but there is something pretty romantic about white sandy beaches and endless blue sea and sky.  Plus, not to be stereotypical about it, but I do like a bit of rum.

Not to worry though, it's not going to get me down for too long.  There are male swimmers on the tv after all.  And today I made my favourite thing so far of the OFC - Saint Kitts pepper, sweetcorn and avocado salsa.  Sunshine on a plate, Joe scored this 9.5/10!!
Pepper, Sweetcorn and Avocado Salsa

Now the recipe I found used a poblano pepper, which I couldn't locate.  I swapped it for a yellow bell, and added a little bit of chilli spice, which seemed to work pretty well.

Ingredients (for 2)
half a bell pepper, chargrilled so the skin comes off and finely chopped
1 avocado, chopped
one fresh corn on the cob, or 3-4 tablespoons of sweet corn, sheared of the corn
1 spring onion, finely chopped
half a lime
quarter teaspoon of cumin
tablespoon coriander
salt and pepper to taste
a splash of tabasco

1.  Put the chopped avocado, chargrilled and skinned pepper, corn and spring onion in a bowl and mash together so the avocado starts to coat the other ingredients
2.  mix in the cumin, coriander, lime, tabasco and mix.  Season and serve. 

Its been a while! (Joe)

It has been a while since my last post (May I think!) so I thought I was about time I took some of the blogging responsibility back from Jo. As I write this she is making some St Kitts salsa as part of the Olympic Food Challenge, while simultaneously cooking some super health flapjacks for marathon training fuel....remind me why I am marrying her again?? ;o)

I am unsure why blogging has become so infrequent after posting every day for over a year, but I guess it is a habit, like anything, that is easy to fall out of; there has also been a lot going on recently!

So here is a quick round up;

First and foremost, all things considered, Mum is doing well. After 3 rounds of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer and a major operation, she is now back at home in recovery with her feet up and lots and LOTS of visitors! We are all very thankful for the support that we have from family and friends so thank you to you all.

Secondly we have been organising our wedding that's happening at the end of September! Luckily Jo and I have the same ideas (or is that I agree with her??) so there hasn't been too many rows - which is good, obviously. With only 8 weeks to go though things are getting a bit hectic!  My stag do is in Valencia in the last week in August where the highlight will be La Tomatina with 15 mates, while Jo will be enjoying the sights and sounds of a night in the mighty Liverpool! Sadly, my best man's Mum passed away recently so I think a week away with the boys will do us all some good. Chin up fella x

Last weekend we attended the wedding of two good friends, Al and Jess Gilmour! Congratulations guys - we had a brilliant time and we look forward to seeing you both soon at our do.

The happy couple
 Al's stag was in Amsterdam and it was ace....here is a picture of him in all his glory:

Weird leprechaun thing
In amongst all this, I volunteered us (Jo) to cook a selection of dishes from some of the countries that are competing in the Olympics along with some other bloggers/ tweeters with too much time on their hands! (hmmm)....all in there are 204 countries and we have all the easy ones! Clearly!

Our countries are New Zealand, Chile, Bahrain, St Kitts and Nevis, Maldives, Zimbabwe, Angola, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Norway, British Virgin Islands, Iraq, Sierra Leone and the Dominican Republic.

I think we've got inspiration for all but two: Zimbabwe and Iraq, so if anyone has any inspiration you are welcome to help out!

We will be posting the food made over the course of the next two weeks or so so keep your eyes peeped!  Amongst all this I am also in training for my second marathon in Liverpool, which is a week after we come back from our honeymoon in October - right now I am struggling for motivation and the whole thing seems a little daunting! I am sure I will get there in the end though!

So fingers crossed everything will go to plan.  The blogging and food making may be a bit sporadic but we will do our best!  Lots of love, Joe (and Jo)

OFC - Dominican Republic - Albondigas de pescado

It turns out the biggest challenge in this Olympic food malarkey is tearing myself away from the sport to write the post.  I'm a day behind (or perhaps a few...will take some steroids and catch up with the crowd shortly) so today has been a rollercoaster of gymnastics, diving and swimming.  British men getting the first medal in the team event for 100 years, 15 year old Ruta Meilutyte winning the 100m breastroke, all pretty exciting!  Summer is turning out to be fun and for once I'm not crying on the inside from my lack of holiday this year.

However (and here is the worst link you'll ever hear), if I was in the mood for a holiday I wouldn't mind going to the Dominican Republic!  Haha.  I'll hang my head in shame now.  The Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean island, first landing point of Columbus, and so the first European settlement in America (you learn something new every day).  The food is therefore a bit of a mishmash of Spanish and African and is quite similar to other Latin American cuisine.  Think empanadas, chimichurris, arroz con leche.

Our choice was albondigas con pescado, or to give it its glamorous name, fish balls.  The recipe was nice, but could have done with a bit more punch and we ended up mixing in some chilli sauce.  Luckily, Joe only announced today that he was going to mark my food out of ten, so this one escapes a mediocre score.
Albondigas con pescado (for 2)

For the fish balls
250g white fish (we used haddock), roughly chopped
75g breadcrumbs
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1/2 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 bell pepper, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

For the sauce
1/2 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
large squeeze tomato puree
bunch coriander
salt and pepper
juice of one lime

1.  Place all the fish ball ingredients in a food processor and blitz until it starts to come together
2.  shape the fix mix into table tennis sized balls and set aside
3.  gently fry the onion for 5 minutes until soft
4.  add the bell pepper, tomato and garlic, and tomato puree and fry for a few more minutes until the puree has been cooked out
5.  add a cup of water and bring to a simmer, season to taste
6.  place the fish balls into the sauce gently and cover.  Simmer for 5 minutes and then turn over and simmer for a further five minutes
7.  finish with the chopped coriander and lime, and serve with rice.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympian Food Challenge, Week One

Joe and I have been a little quiet on the blogging front recently.  Joe is going to do a full round up to explain what's been going on, but believe me when I say its just been a bit hectic!  Sometimes life does just get in the way, but fear not, we have been doing some Olympic-type stuff in the background!

I remember in the dim and distant past, Ewan Mitchell telling us about this fantastical idea he had to promote global food.  It was a dream, a dream of discovering new tastes and flavours.  A chance for us to expand our repertoire and challenge ourselves.  We were all to cook food from the countries participating in the Olympics.  All 204 of them.  Even the ones you didn't know existed (yes, I'm looking at you Tuvalu).

Fast forward a couple of months and here we are, 19 countries on our list, thankfully all of which I have heard of.  Unfortunately none of which I have ever thought to use as food inspiration.  Well I guess, that is the nature of the challenge.  In the words of Kirsten Dunst, bring it on.

Because of the aforementioned things which have been keeping us a little occupied, I'm afraid I'm doing a week one round up to cover Angola, Bahrain and Malawi (apologies Ewan - will do individual blogs whenever I can!).  On the plus side, we haven't had any major duds yet, so read on...

Angolan Grilled Prawns

Ah, remember the week when it was sunny?  And we were able to get the barbecue out?  Well that was the perfect inspiration for a little grilled prawn magic.  These were juicy, chargrilled and pretty damn flavoursome.
Ingredients (for 2)
150-200g Prawns
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tablespoon spring onions, finely chopped
half a teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water.

1.  Put everything but the prawns into a pestle and mortar and grind until paste-like.
2.  Mix with the prawns and leave to stand for an hour or so.
3.  Thread onto skewers and grill or barbecue.
4.  Finish with a little squeeze of lime.

Malawi potato omelette

Now, I'm not doing a recipe for this as it's ridiculously simple.  I'm not even sure if this is a traditional recipe, but its a tribute to my lovely friend Sophie.

Back when she was footloose and fancy free, Sophie took herself off to Africa for a gap year.  She had tons of fun, great experiences, and loved the place so much she still harbours notions of moving back there to look after wild animals in the sun.

There was one slight downside to her time there, which probably also stems from her love for animals.  Sophie is a vegetarian (I know, horrendous),  and where she was staying in Malawi wasn't exactly "vegetarian friendly", unless you count meat as a vegetable.  So she spent most of her year eating chip omelettes, and it is for her that I bring you the Malawian potato omelette. 

Bahrain falafels

One of the things my research for the OFC has shown me is that a lot of countries lay claim to the same foods.  I'm sure there are minute variations, little idiosyncrasies which change the flavour or the texture.  It has definitely opened my eyes as I've probably been a little narrow in my search for inspiration.  Thai, Indian, Spanish, Mexican, happy days.  Bahrain? Erm.............

But lo and behold, it appears Bahrain is a home of the falafel!  That fantastic fried mixture of chickpeas, onions and spices, as great in a pitta with some salad as it was with my ratatouille (nothing like mixing your continents!)
Ingredients (for 3-4)
half a medium onion, finely chopped
half a garlic glove, finely chopped
half a 400g can of chickpeas
teaspoon of cumin
teaspoon of ground coriander
good pinch of chilli powder (to taste)
parsley (to taste)
1 egg, beaten (you'll probably need just under the whole egg, depending on the size of your oeuf)

1.  fry the onion and garlic gently for five or so minutes, until soft
2.  when done, tip into a bowl with the chickpeas, spices and parsley
3.  mash everything together with a potato masher until the chickpeas are totally broken down, then mix in as much of the egg as you need to be able to bind the mix
4.  shape into balls and flatten a bit
5.  shallow fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden.

Serve with salad and pitta, or if you're a bit weird like me, some home made ratatouille!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pinche Pinche - A-maize-ing fun 9/10

Excuse the pun, it's been a long week!  I'll try not to embarrass myself (or anyone else) with my terrible sense of humour from now on.

Rest assured though, I do stand by the statement that Pinche Pinche was a rather fun place to spend a Saturday night.  Vibrant, lively, good service and great food, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  I can also let the non-Spanish speakers into a little secret.  I googled the name as I was intrigued and discovered Simon and the team have a naughty sense of humour - its rather rude and they must have some fun with people shouting it out around them! 

Saturday was my third birthday meal on the run, an extravagance usually only reserved for the big numbers (not for a couple of years, thanks, before you say anything rude). This one was the family meal, as we had my parents as house guests for a couple of days.  My mother (who no doubt will greatly appreciate me saying this) has something of a penchant for tequila, so Pinche Pinche seemed like an excellent choice.  They have a huge range of tequilas and mezcals to suit every pallet and bank balance, as well as cocktails, South American beers and wines.
Joe and I have been to Pinche Pinche once, for the launch of their new menu.  At the time we were treated to a little taster of their ceviche, so this was top of my list to try again. We also indulged in a huge bowl of Hass avocado guacamole, which was more delicious than any I have tasted before.  Limey, creamy, with super crunchy home made tortilla chips.  We were also swayed by our waiter, Juan, into trying the special starter plate, which included vegetable tacos, nopales tostadas (cactus) and marinaded prawns.  It was delicious, with clean lime and coriander flavours.  I would admit we perhaps had eyes bigger than our bellies - the guacamole portion is huge and we were fairly stuffed by this stage!
Mixed starters
Fear not though, we carried on with the food.  You could never say we aren't dedicated to doing a full review.  That, and, when I love the food, I find it difficult to say no even when I am starting to resemble a pygmy hippo.

We were a touch predictable with choosing the main courses.  While my father picked out the fish burrito, Joe and mum both had the duck fajitas (another recommendation from the taster night) while I had the chicken fajitas.  Fajitas all round!

These are all listed as from Northern Mexico but are more accurately Tex Mex cuisine.  Nonetheless they combine my favourite things - sweet vegetables, succulent meat and spicy chilli sauce.  Having had a sneaky taste of the fish burrito I can advise it had mild haddock in a crispy batter with coleslaw and rice.  The burritos are not for the faint hearted - they may look more meagre than the fajitas but are very filling.  As well as the tortilla, there is rice, cheese and beans packed in there.

I love a fajita and these ones are certainly good.  The marinaded meat is piled on grilled Spanish onions and peppers, served with cheese, sour cream, guacamole and tons of tortillas.  With each dish you also choose your salsa.  They have varying degrees from "what are you doing eating Mexican food" weak to face-meltingly spicy (my descriptions!). The step between the second most to the most spicy is quite a leap and I was quite jealous of Joe's manly super hot salsa.
Chicken fajitas
The accompaniments
Tortillas - six per person I believe!
Duck fajitas

Fish burrito
After all that, you would think we were full, but oh no.  There is always room for churros.  These are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside (just like Armidillos....sorry, old joke.  I'll stop now!) served with a heavenly chocolate sauce.  Joe went off piste with a chocolate dessert recommended by Juan.  It was also nice but it will take a lot to persuade me from the churros!

All in, it was a fantastic meal.  Yes, we ate far too much food and drank too much wine, but it'll be a while before we go back again.  Everything was well made, fully flavoured, and accompanied by great surroundings and wonderful service.  Top notch.  A solid 9/10.

Monday, 2 July 2012

An Innis & Gunn food matching experience

I feel like I've been the unsuspecting victim of a brilliant guerilla marketing plan recently.  It started with my parents waxing on about some great beer that was brewed in Edinburgh.  You know the Scots, we love a bit of self promotion.  Then we went to a supper club in Leeds (@dineleeds) where they matched Yotam Ottolenghi with a range of these beers flavoured by different aging casks.  THEN my wedding planner upped sticks to join the company as well!  Well, what else could we do but jump on the I&G band wagon?

Innis & Gunn is a range of beers aged in oak barrels.  Starting as an accidental by-product of an attempt to flavour whisky with beer, the range has expanded to I&G blonde (American oak with a real vanilla flavour), I&G rum cask, rum finish, Irish cask and many more. 
(from left) Innis & Gunn original, rum finish, blonde, and more rum (it's my favourite)
After the @dineleeds experience, I was quite intruiged to try some food and beer matching of my own.  Picking a wine to go with food is usually not too tricky (given I'm not too fussy if I like the wine) but beer presented more of a challenge.  The flavour is stronger and it's more of an acquired taste to match it to food.

Having done a bit of research, my best bet appeared to be trying to compliment the sweet and smoky flavour of the beer with some smoky food with enough punch to stand up to the complex taste of the beer.  To give us the best chance of success we went for a range - original, blonde, and rum finish.  One of them had to be a good accompaniment.

Bearing all this in mind, I took inspiration from one of my favourite spices - smoked paprika - and made crevettes with chorizo, white wine and parsley, courgette ribbons and crusty bread.  Sweet, succulent prawns with rich, spicy chorizo is one of my favourite combinations, and it was a great match to the I&G original.  It had the feel of a real continental treat.  Next time I'll probably have the blonde as a well chilled aperitif, while the rum cask was a great dessert (and went very well with some dark chocolate).  The rum cask is definitely my favourite, although at 7.4% is bloody lethal!

It was a great experiment and one I'll be repeating.  I'm also particularly excited as Innis & Gunn have a pop up restaurant and bar at 32 Potterrow in Edinburgh until the end of August.  I will be going for a bit of respite after the crazy wedding planning.  Anyone going up for the festival should definitely try and stop by.
Crevettes with chorizo and white wine (next time I might try cooking it with the Innis & Gunn for an extra flavour punch)
Joe, playing with his food. Nice prawny friends.
And a gratuitous shot of Joe looking like a giant next to a baby army car - just because.

Friday at Chino Latino

I'm in week two of a three week birthday super celebration.  Starting last week with the Red Door, I'm punctuating work with fun meals out at the weekend.  Next weekend we're heading to Pinche Pinche in Chapel Allerton for a Mexican fiesta. Not so shabby and definitely a good way to make me feel better for being yet another year older!

Friday's treat was an evening at Chino Latino, the "modern Pan-Asian cuisine" restaurant and Latin bar in the Park Plaza.  The last time we went was the launch of the Christmas menu, and the food was sufficiently impressive that we've been waiting for a good excuse to go back.

Joe and I traditionally indulge in a few cocktails for my birthday so the Latin bar seemed a good place to start.  A little quiet for a Friday night, it did give us a chance to chat to the bar manager Rich.  An excellent raspberry and mint margarita and chino lips (tequila with lime, chilli and sugar) were followed by a negroni and a slightly off-piste home creation which will never be recreated but was excellent.  There was multiple vodkas, apple juice, lime and grenadine and sent me straight to a rooftop bar in the sunshine.  

Hmmm...a Yorkshire bar with only Cornish beer on tap. 
Chino lips - tequila with a chilli kick
Raspberry and mint margarita
Joe's negroni
Cocktails sampled, it was time for dinner.  The Chino Latino menu spans Chinese, Japanese and South East Asian cuisine.  While I'm not usually one for fusion food, the chefs here produce excellent dishes beautifully presented.  You can choose from tempura, dim sum, sushi, sashimi, or go for the larger plates.  While the large plates do look very interesting (duck breast with sweet miso and kumquat chutney, or seabass, black bean, shaoxing wine and choi sum, for example), they're a little on the pricey side so it seemed more fun to go for the smaller options.  
Joe enjoying his wine
Apparently he said something funny...!
 Choosing the smaller dishes meant we got to try a real cross section of the menu, kicking off with crispy duck, which we'd spotted on someone else's table and looked delicious.  Everything was really well done - paper thin pancakes, crispy, deeply flavoured duck, sweet sauce and crunchy vegetables.  Its a classic for a reason.

This was accompanied by tempura soft shelled crab and stuffed chillies which were beautiful.  I have been a bit nervous of soft shelled crab (how can it be soft and survive in the sea?!) but I loved this.  Tempura's always pretty good but tempura soft shelled crab was a revelation. 

Trying to compete with these dishes was pork, crab and glass noodle samosas with a green pepper yogurt dipping sauce. I loved the samosas - classic Chinese sui mai flavours in flaky pastry.  The yogurt dip didn't marry with the clean flavours of the rest of the dishes, but that was a small grumble in a round of impressive food.
Crispy duck
Tempura soft shelled crab
Pork, crab and glass noodle samosas
 After a petit break, the next three dishes arrived (I was already pretty stuffed by this point!).  Joe had picked the marinated blow torch salmon, which was sushi but seemed to have been warmed up a little (the blow torch I'm guessing!).  I couldn't quite work out what the blow torching added to the dish but the salmon was sweet and firm and same with a piquant coriander drizzle.

The seabass and crayfish dumplings were the perfect balance of yeilding pastry and a delicate fish filling. Perhaps my only disappointment was the beef fillet salad, which Joe loved.  Seared beef and crunchy salad in a coriander, mint and yogurt dressing, again I thought it didn't work with the other delicate flavours, but I think that was just me!
Blow torch salmon
Seared beef salad
Crayfish and seabass dumplings
It's difficult to get across how much I enjoyed the food (even that beef salad!) and the cocktails.  It was a shame that the atmosphere in the bar was fairly downbeat due to the depressing electronic music and the lack of other guests.  We also felt like the standard of what was coming out of the kitchen was let down by the service - slow at times, they failed to ask how the food was until we mentioned it, and there was a fairly bad incident with one of the waiters who didn't want to serve us as we weren't in his section.  (Not sure that was our concern really!)  This is a pricey restaurant, with small dishes at around £7-12 mains at £16-29 and wine starting at £19 a bottle, so these things shouldn't happen (we had a 50% off voucher). However, Thanos, the general manager was attentive and seemed genuinely interested in making sure we had a good time.  They also gave me a complimentary dessert which was beautiful (and nothing to do with the service - they were just being nice).

Thanos also told us that they are remodelling the hotel from top to bottom, and there is a relaunch day on 19th July.  He is looking to improve the downstairs bar and iron out the glitches which are holding it back from being as popular as it used to be.  If they can sort out those bits, then I'm sure we'll go back when we've got some spare cash to splash.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A wet Wirral weekend

While Joe and I have lived in Leeds for a long time now, our homelands are always going to be the Wirral and Edinburgh.  Both have so much to offer and we're very lucky to come from such fantastic places. 

This weekend we were back on the Wirral to spend some time with Joe's mum and catch up with friends.  Next weekend is my birthday (eek...getting older than I am happy about!) so on Friday we dashed home for dinner at the Red Door in West Kirby (when I say dashed, I really mean it - getting changed in the car and everything!)  We have already reviewed the Red Door once so I won't go into lots of detail again, but suffice to say we had an absolutely brilliant night. 

On Friday, as well as showing the football (poor Greece), they had live band entertainment setting up a great atmosphere.  We were thoroughly looked after all night, enjoying a group table at the back of the stage, with copious food and wine.  Everyone enjoyed the food, and we tried a full spectrum of the menu - surf and turf, half a chicken, hanging kebabs, burgers, fried chicken and Caesar salad - an excellent effort I think!  All received good reviews, and although my Caesar was massive and slightly overdressed, I cannot complain when the prices are as reasonable as they are (about £8-13 for a main).  The drinks are easy going, with house wines coming in numbered bottles, and only two beers on draught but plenty by bottle.  We stayed away from the generous spirit menu (a lot of rums and tequilas) but these will be tried next time. 

Yes, the service might be a little keen (I could have done without being checked on every two minutes by the hostesses when we walked through the door) but it made for a very relaxed night.  No dashing for the bar, no pouring over over-complicated menus, it was just a very good night all round.  I have no doubt we will be back for more nights out in the future and would encourage others to do the same.

(from left) Shereef, Stephy, Jess, me, Joe, Al, Tappers and Sam
Tappers and Sam enjoying special fried chicken and the beef hanging kebab
Al, mid bite.  Blame Joe for the picture.  I took out all the other unfortunate ones!
Joe, munching on chicken a la Henry VIII
Chimp, who dropped in for a couple of drinks later on.  Lovely to see you!
The boys
Me and Al
The lovely Stephy and Shereef
After a super night out on Friday, Saturday was quality time with Sue.  Ever the optimists, and despite all the news stories about flooding across the north, we decided it would be a good idea to go walking around Ness Gardens.  On route thing were looking a little grey, and about 10 minutes after paying our entrance, the heavens opened.  Oh well, these things happen and we did make a valiant effort, walking around in fairly torrential rain for an hour and a half!  Ness Gardens is beautiful though with some great working gardens, and we will go back when its a bit less damp.

We returned home and forced Sue to watch Spain v France (me supporting Spain and Joe supporting France, usually fun, but a pretty miserable game!).  We were cheered up with a dinner of roast chicken with wedges, Mediterranean vegetables and foccacia courtesy of Church Farm in Caldy. 
Sue and Joe
Me and Sue - a few too many brollies for a June afternoon!
Sue and I trying to find our way out of the labyrinth
After a lazy morning, Sunday was a trip to John Lewis to put together our wedding gift list.  As well as freebie coffee and cake, we had a little bit too much fun with the zapper.  I've had to delete some of the more eccentric choices but I do love John Lewis (ever my parents' child).
Free lunch.  Crap coffee but good cake
Me enjoying my food a bit too much.  You'd think I'd be more graceful at this age
Joe obviously liked his lunch too - sorry about whiting out your head with the Liverpool sunshine!
The Liverpool skyline - check out the sunshine!