Sharing the Love

Sharing the Love January

1. Prepping beef bourguignon for NYE 2. The calm before the storm 3. Bread & Butter Pudding at my favourite coffee shop @cupandsaucer_ca 4. Posing with my new mug 5. Lemon chicken, roasted new potatoes & a mixed bean salad by Matt 6. New breakfast resolutions 7. A bloody good burger from @OFMLondon 8. A new year means new decorations for my desk.

Last week was busy. We threw a New Years Eve party for the first time ever. It managed to be a kind of house warming too as it’s the first time the majority of our friends have been in since the house has been in a liveable state. It was fun. We made roast pepper puree (see what I turned the leftovers into here), potato and apple rostis topped with steak, glazed honey and mustard cocktail sausages and pear and gorgonzola crostini. Then we served a beef bourguignon out of a big, steaming pot on the hob. Our first experience of feeding that many people actually went pretty well, but I’d like to get some more practice in… Supper club, anyone? Just kidding.

The weekend just gone was spent painting. Having had a 4 week break while we celebrated Christmas, I was glad to get back to work on the construction site we call home. We’re actually very nearly done with the renovation now, just a few aesthetic bits left to do. We wanted to have the walls finished before our flooring is fitted next Monday, so I feel pretty chuffed. Once the floors are in we can scrub and paint the gloss-work, including the sage green front door and stair risers that I’ve been dreaming of! We’re getting closer to fiiiinally unpacking all of our furniture and belongings, and after nearly 5 months of living out of a suitcase I am beyond excited. Once the floors are fitted we’re also planning on bringing home 2 kittens from Yorkshire Cat Rescue. Too much good stuff on the horizon! Here’s how I’m occupying myself:

Last week I finished watching The Sopranos, which was possibly one of my favourite series of all time. I’ve now got a mob shaped hole in my life. We’ve started watching The Walking Dead now, and I have to admit that I’m loving a bit of Andrew Lincoln back in my life. I’ve read some of the comics so it’s interesting seeing how they’ve been developed for TV. Tonight was the first episode of The Taste on Channel 4. To be honest, I don’t think it’s for me, but I’m going to give it a chance. Sad man-children crying into Nigella’s bosom is all a bit weird for me. What do you think?

Goals for this month:

  • Unpack every box from the garage in the week after the floor is fitted.
  • Buy, collect and construct my new wardrobe before springtime.
  • Work on my idea for a Cook-along Book Club (as mentioned on Twitter). I’m thinking monthly, but I need some inspiration for affordable book ideas – I want to go less straight forward recipe book and more sources of inspiration. Any thoughts?
  • Find some awesome new food blogs to follow and do more to promote the amazing ones I already love.

What have you been doing this week? Did you try any recipes over the festive period that you’re particularly proud of? Do you have resolutions or intentions for 2014? If you’re a blogger, link me up to your new years posts. Say hi down in the comments or over @whipuntilfluffy. Have a great week!

Roasted Vegetable Soup

Roasted Veg Soup
January is absolutely rife with ‘healthy eating options’. I know, I know, the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to make a bit of a change and I’m all for that, believe me. But, to be honest, a dry or diet January will never be for me. It’s all depressing enough already. A frugal January though, that’s something I can (and sadly have to) get on board with.

This soup was born from leftovers. It’s the epitome of festive overindulgence coming back to redeem itself. On New Years Eve, Matt and I had about 20 people to feed. We served a canapé of roasted red pepper purée, served in a spoon and garnished with some chilli flakes. As always, we over catered and ended up with half a saucepan of the stuff left in the fridge. Instead of chucking it in the hungover post-party clean up, I decided to save it and recycle it for lunch today.

The original purée consisted of red peppers, roasted with a few cloves of garlic and then liquified with a hand blender. We added a bit of olive oil to emulsify the paste, to make it smoother. To bulk it out for the soup (but not lose flavour) I had a look for vegetables in my kitchen that were on the turn and roasted them too. I chose to do that because, for me, the charred bits around the edges of roasted veg add a layer of flavour to a simple soup which transforms it from something that can be pretty dull, into something a bit more complex. The slightly burnt flavour that comes with a roasted soup is warming and, most importantly for me, still wintery. Despite what the internet would have you believe, it is not yet Springtime. Clean, fresh flavours aren’t welcome until March. For now, you can take your spring greens and shove ’em.

The thing that usually stops me from loving homemade soups is the texture. Soups that have been blended can be grainy, or gloopy like wallpaper paste. What I’ve learnt recently, is that it’s easily fixed. It just takes a bit of time and a sieve. ‘Passing’ your soup through a sieve (or better yet, a conical sieve – that’s a pointy one) rids it of that weird graininess and turns it into a smooth, glossy masterpiece. For texture sticklers like me, this is an unmissable step that’ll have you feeling a lot more enthusiastic about your creation.

Roasted Veg Soup
Ingredients (Makes 2 Large Bowls)

8 Small Sweet Peppers (or 4 of the long ones)
1 Small Bulb of Garlic
1 Medium Sweet Potato
2 Medium Onions
1 Medium Potato
500ml of Chicken (or veg) Stock
Whatever herbs you have to hand (I used thyme)

Method

1. Chances are, you haven’t made a pepper purée ahead of time. No worries. Halve your mini sweet peppers and remove the seeds and white bits. Lay them on a baking sheet, you’ll probably need two so the peppers don’t overlap, and pop peeled garlic cloves into the gaps.

2. Cube your sweet potatoes into 2cm ish bits. Chop your onions into fat wedges. Lie your veg onto another baking tray and add some more garlic. Sprinkle all your veg with as much thyme as you fancy, a pinch or 2 of salt and drizzle with olive oil. Toss so everything is evenly covered.

3. Roast all your veg in an oven at 180, for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are starting to catch. Scrape the contents of the trays into a big saucepan and pulse with a hand blender. Alternatively, pop it all into a freestanding blender and blitz until smooth.

4. Once you have a thick veg paste in your saucepan, whack on the heat at a medium to low level and add 500 ml of stock. As it comes to the simmer, throw in a potato cubed into 1cm pieces to work as a bit of a thickener. Simmer for 30 minutes when the potatoes should be soft and the liquid reduced. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Blend once more and push through a sieve into a suitable container. Eat straight away or leave to cool and reheat when it suits you. Garnish with a blob of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives.

Food Resolutions for 2014

Food Resolutions

Give certain things another try. There are a couple of things I’ve always been really annoyed that I don’t like. Most things I’m not impressed by are related to texture, and though I’ve tried long and hard, I don’t think there’s anyway I can train myself to enjoy them. Some things though, I’m still sure there’s some way to change my opinion. The main culprit is coffee. Having watched Matt discover proper coffee over the last year, it’s occurred to me that I’m probably missing out. I’m going to attempt to train my tastebuds in a new series on the blog coming soon, named “Learning to Love”.

Spend cash on quality. I eat out so much. Probably too much. There are so many restaurants and cafes I want to try but it’s easy to fall into a routine. You get used to the places that are near to you, that are dependable and easy. That’s not to say they’re not good, just that there are probably more exciting options out there. This year I vow to try new places. Eat out less but do more research and even spend more money if necessary. I’m interested in trying a few more fine dining restaurants, especially those close to home in Leeds and Yorkshire. I want to try street food, corner cafes and local favourites too. Basically, I just never want to pay over the odds for a mediocre lasagne at Jamie’s Italian again. 2013 saw my dislike for chain restaurants grow but hopefully in 2014 I can visit more independents than ever. No matter how much my friends might like Nandos 😉

Expand my skill set. 2013 was the year I finally learnt how to bone a chicken properly. I want to work on classic techniques and build up my repertoire a bit – I’m talking filleting fish, tempering chocolate, making the perfect choux pastry. I can do a few things really well, through a bit of practice. I’ve got a perfect chicken stock down, I can make my own pasta. But this year I want to round those skills out, Julia Child style. It’s surprising how many things I don’t know how to do to, just because I didn’t eat them growing up. I might even go back to basics and learn how to boil an egg from Delia. Basic skills can act as the start of so many dishes, so I’m hoping it’ll seriously help with putting together recipes and menus.

Commit to seasonal eating. In 2013 I learnt a lot about what to eat throughout the year. By picking foods that are in season I’ve found that my diet has become much more varied and I’m always willing to try something new when I make meals at home, especially when I’m under pressure, if I’m in a hurry or I’ve just got home from work and want something quick. It saves me from falling into ruts with midweek meals, something I’m really thankful for because I get bored easily and a constant rotation of spaghetti bolognese, Thai green curry, sausage and mash and the like can get me down. I’ve definitely also seen a decrease in the times I reach into the freezer for a pizza or borderline looking leftovers. I’m not saying that everything I eat is always in season but I definitely use it as a guide when thinking about what to rustle up. In 2014 I want to commit more to that way of thinking and eat more of what’s ripe as opposed to what’s on the shelves at the supermarket. If you fancy looking into eating seasonably too, I found this infographic pretty helpful.

What are your food plans for 2014? Are you changing anything up? Is there anything you want to try in the year ahead? If so, share it with me down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. What have you been up to over the festive period? Keep up with my shenanigans over on Instagram. I’ll be back with a recipe in a few days.

Orange & Pomegranate Fizz

Orange and Pomegranate Fizz 2

Despite not being big drinkers, every year on Christmas Morning my family crack open the champers. Usually it’s straight up for the hardcore and Bucks Fizz for those attempting to keep a hold of their enunciation skills before lunchtime, but 2013 was the year that my mum handed over some holiday responsibility to me, so when I prepared breakfast on Christmas day I rustled up some cocktails with a subtle change.

The thing with this cocktail is that it doesn’t have to be much work. I squeezed the oranges so we had fresh juice, but you could go the way of the carton if you fancied. A bit of vermouth, a splash of lemon juice and one lone pomegranate later, and you’re well on your way to a fruity but sharp festive alternative.

The thing with jars right, they’re pretty. I’m not ashamed to say I love drinking out of them, even if they are made for jam and grannies and non-Pinteresters alike think I’m a dickhead. Call me a hipster if you like but I’m into it. Jars are also good if you don’t have a cocktail shaker to hand. I poured orange juice and Martini (that’s vermouth, but you could use a vodka or gin if you liked) into my Kilner with a bit of lemon juice. I dropped some ice in to make it good and cold, and then I whacked on the lid and shook it up good and proper. One minor note, though. As much as I love how they look, there is one caveat to using a jar as your glass. Unlike a traditional shaker and glass option, your drink isn’t poured over fresh ice when you serve it, instead it’s served with the ice you shake it up with. The movement means you get the ice going and warm it up, making it melt quicker. So as you get to the bottom of your jarred cocktail it can turn a bit watery. My solution is to drink up faster.

Orange and Pomegranate Fizz 1

Ingredients (Makes 6-8 Cocktails)

5 Large Oranges
1-2 Lemons
150ml Dry Vermouth (that’s about 25ml, 1 shot, per person)
1 Pomegranate
1 Cup of Ice
1 Bottle of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava (in fact, any sparkling wine will do)

Method

1. Juice the oranges into a measuring jug. I used a wooden reamer from Lakeland, but you could use a fancy machine or just squeeze them by hand, it won’t take you long. Strain the juice through a sieve if you want it smooth, otherwise leave it as it is!

2. Pour the juice a third of the way up your jar or glass. Next, add a shot of vermouth to each jar.

3. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to each cocktail. I did this by sight, it doesn’t have to be exact. Drop a couple of ice cubes into each jar and screw the lid on tight. Shake away for 10-15 seconds, until all the ingredients are well mixed and the liquid’s temperature has come down.

4. Top each jar to the brim with bubbles. Drop in 2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds. Squeeze a little juice in while you’re at it. Voila!

I find that the fruit and vermouth counteract the dryness of the champagne quite nicely, but the tanginess the drink leaves behind means you can’t help but take this cocktail seriously. Fizzy pop, this ain’t. Leave your Sex On the Beach at home, I might just drink it all year long.

Nurturing the Inner Hostess

Winter is the time when my inner hostess goes into overdrive. Oh how I yearn to welcome people into my home, woo them with trays full of delicious nibbles, serve tart & tangy cocktails on a silver platter and try to make them feel like they’re living (just for an hour or so) in a page from the Farrow & Ball catalogue. I mean, obviously, this has never happened. My house doesn’t even have flooring yet. You have to keep your shoes on or you’ll get splinters, it’s hardly welcoming. When I dream about my future though, a warm, full house is what I see. Burning candles and rosy cheeked friends with full glasses in their hands. When a close friend recently said “Dinner at Lil & Matt’s is one of my best things” I almost squealed. I’m on my way, people.

Let’s get one thing clear, I bloody love a canapé. My one complaint about my own wedding is that I never got to actually eat the canapés I painstakingly chose. Apparently they were nice, but I’ll never know. This time of year presents loads of opportunity to crack out some bite-size bits and pieces. I have a few fail-safe ideas that are applicable to most social gatherings. Glazed Sausages are always a hit. Just ask Nigella. My mum’s done them at Christmas for years and in my experience very few people can turn down a banger. Buy raw chipolatas and marinade them in heaped spoonfuls of honey and wholegrain mustard. Keep them in the fridge for half a day and then roast them in a hot oven, ready to pull out when you guests arrive. They’ll be sticky, shiny and irresistible. Next, I like to make myself some Pear, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Crostini. Slice and toast some shop bought baguette and fry your pancetta until it’s brittle and gleaming. Smear some soft gorgonzola onto that toast and pile on the rest. There are loads of variations but I like to keep things simple (3-4 ingredients) and seasonal. This year I made a selection of pastries and some homemade potato rostis with some toppings.


Guardian Perfect Cheese Straws


Joy the Baker’s French Onion Pastry Puffs
Potato & Apple Rostis with Sirloin Steak, Horseradish Cream & Chives

Our home bar is, perhaps worryingly, one of the only things we’ve unpacked since moving in. Yeahhhh ok, we like a drink, but a collection of spirits is great when you have people over. After a year or so of building ours up we have a fair selection to choose from, and it makes cocktail making a lot easier because you don’t have to plan ahead. A Winter Sangria would be my perfect drink for a Christmas gathering, if you have friends over for dinner or a film (hands up for Love Actually!) or even for a present wrapping party in the week before the big day. Still seasonal but a refreshing change amidst weeks of mulled wine, use a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a slug or two of a spirit of your choice – gin or vodka would be ideal. Add a cup or two of fruit juice (I’d use apple or elderflower but anything goes) and chuck in plenty of seasonal fruit like apples, pomegranate and fresh cranberries – better yet, frozen cranberries or grapes can take the place of ice. Whack in a sprig or two of rosemary too. Asking guests to bring a bottle is the easiest way to keep the booze flowing all night without being seriously out of pocket, but I think a cocktail on arrival is a nice little flourish and definitely something I want to work into my routine when having people over.

In the shops over the festive period I keep seeing things to lust over when really my priorities should be elsewhere. I should probably consider buying some curtains rather than those perfect napkin rings or a cut glass punch bowl. My guests could probably do with some coat hooks for their jackets before  personalised glass markers, but yanno – I can’t stop. I won’t. One day, readers, one day.

Clockwise from Top Left: Martha’s Entertaining, Normann Copenhagen Liqueur Glasses, John Lewis Lacquer Round Tray in Gold, Marimekko Pieni Unikko Tray, Zara Home Teaspoon, Ball Canning Quilted Jars, LSA Punchbowl & Ladle.

It works the other way too. I make sure I’m a pretty good guest. Invite me over and generally, I’ll arrive with wine, flowers or occasionally chocolate, but I feel like 2014 is the truly the year I’ll come into my own when it comes to the hostess (or host) gift. I always go to town at Christmas, arriving at parents’ and in-laws’ with arms full of chutneys, curds and baked goods. I guess it makes me feel like a adult to bring gifts with me, since I’m the baby of the family. This year we made flavoured oils to take home with us. It can get expensive if you’re making a lot, but buying the odd glass bottle only costs a few quid, and it’s even cheaper if you save your oil bottles throughout the year. It helps if you have a well stocked spice cupboard too. This year we packed five of our bottles with garlic, rosemary, coriander seeds and peppercorns. The other five got green rocket chillis, red birds eye chillis, chilli flakes and peppercorns. Each couple in the family will get a pair to open with a note explaining what they are and asking the recipients to leave them to infuse for a month or two. It’s hardly original, but it’s tasty, useful and shows a bit of thought.

I always like to receive something handmade, it’s personal and every time you use it, you think of the person who gave it to you. I think these bottles look pretty impressive too. Similarly, jars of sweets or preserves work pretty well. Try these Bourbon Salted Caramels by Shutterbean for hosts with a sweet tooth!

Did you make gifts for christmas this year? Do you go to town when you entertain, or do you prefer to be the perfect guest? What are your fail safe dinner party recipes?

Simple Biscuit Sandwiches with Lemon & Thyme Buttercream

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Sometimes I just want a sweet treat. You know how it is, you eat your tea and it was nice, but for some reason you’re still hankerin’ for something and you can’t quite put your finger on what. It’s in these times of trouble that I’ve learnt to turn to the baking cupboard. Rustling something up off the cuff can be hard when it comes to baking, more often than not you need specialist flours, sugars or flavours. That’s why we all need one fail-safe option up our sleeves, something you know you’re always going to be able to make. This simple biscuit recipe is mine.

You don’t need nothing fancy, just butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and one egg yolk. Simple stuff, right? Buy one set of all these ingredients and they’ll last you a while (just remember to refresh your eggs!), they’ll work in loads of other recipes, and you won’t need to pop out to the shop when you fancy something sweet. The biscuits come out like shortbread, buttery and crumbly, and are the perfect base to add extras too. That half a lemon that’s shrivelling in your fridge door? Zest it! A 3/4 used block of cooking chocolate? Throw it in! Chopped nuts? Check! Dried fruit? Don’t mind if I do! You get the picture… it’s a yummy vehicle for more yumminess.

Don’t get me wrong, these guys are fine on their own, but I like a sandwich. Twice as nice, right? This time around I kept my biscuits plain and I chose another use for that half a lemon from the fridge that’s going a bit brown around the edges… buttercream! While I was in there I grabbed something else that was looking a bit ropey. Leftover from the sunday roast, half a packet of fresh thyme. I’ve used lemon thyme in baking before so I figured lemon + thyme = lemon thyme, right? Well not quite, but kinda. You can add more or less thyme dependent on your tastes, or just keep the buttercream plain old lemony. Personally, I like a herby kick. Next time I’d like to add a splash of booze to the mix. Maybe use orange zest and Cointreau with a chocolate chip biscuit. Nice.

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Ingredients (Makes 16 large sandwiches – whoopee pie style!)

For the biscuits:

250g Unsalted Butter
140g Caster Sugar
2tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg Yolk
300g Flour

For the buttercream:

100g Unsalted Butter
200g Icing Sugar
Juice of Half a Lemon
1/2tsp Thyme Leaves

Method

1. Cream the butter together with the sugar. If you’ve got a mixer, great, but otherwise just use the back of a spoon and use those biceps. Make sure your butter is softened and you should have a fluffy consistency in no time. Next, beat in the vanilla and egg yolk.

2. Sift the flour in a little at a time (not sure why you’re sifting? Have a read of Joy the Baker’s Baking 101 post!) and fold it in with a wooden spoon. The mixture will go a little bitty, but once it’s a rough ball take it out of the bowl and shape it into a ball with your hands. It should stay together without a problem.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and stick it in the fridge for half an hour. This step isn’t essential but a colder, firmer dough will make it a lot easier to handle. Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

4. For this next bit, I got a bit technical. I like to keep things as simple as possible but after one too many incidents with separate cookies blending into one big plank in the oven, I like to make my biscuits uniform. I separate the dough into little balls and weigh each one on my digital scales until they’re all a matching 40g. This helps keep them roughly the same size and shape when they bake. It seems like a lot of trouble but it’s actually pretty easy and the look of the finish product makes it well worth the time.

NB: feel free to cut the measurements down to 30g and use a cutter to cut the biscuits – they’ll look a whole lot prettier than the “rustic” look I’ve gone for.

5. I baked mine in batches. I placed 6 balls on my baking sheet in alternate spaces (see picture) so they each have their own space to spread. I created the pattern in the top just by pressing down with a fork to form a cross. I don’t really know why; my mum used to do it so I guess it’s just habit! Keep an eye on them but 10-12 minutes had them turning brown at the edges for me.

6. While the biscuits are in the oven, beat 100g of unsalted butter together with 200g of icing sugar. If you’re using a mixer, turn it up to the highest speed. By hand? Work up a sweat. For plain buttercream I’d add 2 tbsp of milk at this point, but here the lemon juice does that job. Once the mixture gets to a whipped texture, add the juice and the thyme leaves. Whip until fluffy (wahey!) and the butter should turn from yellow to a lighter, creamier colour.

7. Cool the biscuits on a wire cooling rack. They’ll be flimsy when warm so go steady. Once they’re completely cooled, the biscuits themselves will stay crispy for 2-3 days in a sealed container. If you’re making them for a special occasion, don’t sandwich them with the buttercream until the day you intend to eat them, it can make them a little squishy in the middle if they sit for a bit.

BSLTB12

Sharing the Love

Sharing the Love1. Sandwich of kings, grilled cheese 2. Overnight Pork – last week’s Sunday lunch 3. The new William Morris paper at the top of the stairs 4. Food&_‘s “A Taste of Winter” Event 5. Amazing garage discovery, just in time 6. Lunch @tcauldron – this pork wrap blew my mind 7. Comfort food makes bad news sting less 8. TREE!

This week I’ve mainly been reading up on interiors. My habit has gone above and beyond a casual Apartment Therapy browse every now and again. I am fully involved, if you know what I mean. Because the house was such a blank canvas when we moved in (it’s now finally got some paint on the walls, at least) I’ve been drinking in every image I can find, Pinning and Evernoting like crazy trying to think of new and creative ways to use all this space. I’ve found that compartmentalising by room or project has been really helpful, so naturally small project posts with before and after pictures have been my favourite to read.

This week we put some wallpaper up and painted our understairs cupboard door with blackboard paint to serve as a cute and practical place to write shopping lists and notes to each other. It was fun and, more importantly, simple. Having such a massive renovation job to do it’s easy to get weighed down, but getting the little things done really boosts morale. Baby steps, people. Baby steps. Here’s the stuff that’s been inspiring me:

Yesterday we decorated for Christmas. After postponing for a week because we thought we were getting floors fitted (let’s not dwell on that, it’s a sore subject) we got our hands on a tree from the local hardware shop and dug the Christmas boxes out of the garage. The house still isn’t exactly comfortable, since we’re still waiting for flooring and there’s a lot of a plaster dust around, but adding a festive touch or two has definitely made it a bit cosier. We’re away visiting family for the actual event this year and planning on taking a lot of homemade treats with us, so pop back before the big day for a few gift ideas.

Goals for the Next Week:

  • Finish painting the bathroom, put the fixtures up and hang the prints
  • Pick my crochet needles back up and triumph over at least one granny square (Help? Anyone?)
  • Clear the conservatory of all the boxes cluttering it up, make it a liveable space
  • Make a start on gloss-work downstairs
  • Work on some festive recipes to take along to my work Christmas party 🙂

What have you enjoyed this week? Link me up to recipes you’ve tried, meals you’ve enjoyed, home projects you’ve completed or blogs you love. Let’s chat down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. Have a great week!

Sweet Potato Hash with a Fried Egg

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Brunch is nice. It’s like breakfast, but also like lunch. It’s great on Sundays. You can have it out, you can cook it yourself. It’s very flexible. Brunch is nice.

I’m partial to a bacon sandwich.I like a full english too, but sometimes I just want to do things a little differently. In America the massive breakfasts are always my favourite meal. The concept of “Home Fries” makes me very happy. Potatoes? Fried? For breakfast? Winner. So last weekend I wanted to do a different take on the whole home fries thing, make it more seasonal and maybe spice it up a little. Sweet Potato Hash is what came of my adventure.

Number one, sweet potatoes are great. High in fibre, relatively low in carbs and deeeeelicious. In Autumn I tend to use them a lot, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas time when they’re featured on every food blog around the web. If you’re a hater, this would work fine with normal potatoes too (Charlotte, probably) but the sweetness with the spice works really well here and creates a lovely balance. Number two, there’s a meat element here but there doesn’t haven’t to be. If you’re a veggie, just take that meat out and maybe add some green peppers or aubergine (mushrooms are the devil’s work so don’t even talk to me about that. I’m told it would probably work but I just don’t want to hear it, alright?). My original idea for this was to use lardons or pancetta, but alas the cupboard was bare. Instead I chopped up some leftover pork sausages and chucked them in. The char on the fatty meat is the best. Just use whatever meat you got!

You can fashion this dish to whatever suits your needs. I like it hot so I used 2 whole chillis and a good, thick paste of spices. Tone it down if you like, but I think the spiciness is all part of the fun. Alternatively, you could whack a little sour cream on the side to cool things down. Just tart the creamy stuff up with a little salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley. For toast, you can bake your own bread if you’re feeling flash. I bet you’ll feel very accomplished. But let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that on a Sunday morning. Pick up a good loaf from your local baker or supermarket. The crustier the better. Sliced white won’t cut it here.

I’d make this dish again in a heartbeat, in fact, I may well make it tomorrow. It’s a different take on a traditional brunch and has an rooty, warming flavour ideal for this kind of year. Get your brunch on!

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Ingredients (makes 2 generous portions)

1 Onion, diced
1 Large Sweet Potato, cubed
1/2 Cup of Chopped Sausages or Bacon (whatever you have)
2 Cloves of Garlic, thinly sliced
2 Birds Eye Chillis, diced
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
Salt to taste (I used approx 1 tsp)

2 Eggs
4 Slices of Crusty Bread
Chopped Parsley to Garnish

Method

1. Once you’ve done all your chopping, get the onion in a frying pan over a medium heat with a tsp of oil (I used a light olive). We want to brown these guys not just soften them, so don’t be tempted to turn the heat to low. After five minutes, add in the garlic and the chillis. Keep it moving and keep an eye on it, we want the edges to catch but we don’t want to burn it to a crisp. You want to add the garlic to the pan after the onions are already partially cooked as garlic needs far less cooking time and can turn bitter. This way your slices will be browned and chewy upon plating up, not burnt.

2. Throw in the meat and cook for five minutes. The edges should be turning brown when you add the sweet potato. Turn the heat down to low and leave for five more minutes. When everything but the potatoes are starting to form a crust (they’ll look a little anaemic – it’s ok), throw in the spices and mix to coat all the ingredients in the pan. Pour in half a cup of tap water, turn the heat up to medium-high and cover with whatever you can find. As long as there’s some steam circulating you’ll be fine, no need to worry about a perfect fit.

3. After ten minutes remove your lid. The water should have reduced to a paste and the potatoes should be starting to get tender. If a few bits look black, no worries, the char only adds to the flavour. At this point, use your judgement. If your potatoes are still solid, add some more water and recover for a little while longer. If they’re just a little hard in the middle, keep them over the heat for another few minutes until a fork goes through easily. Season with a sprinkle of salt.

4. When the potatoes are soft in the centre, make two gaps at the edge of your pan for the eggs. Crack them in and leave to cook for approx 4 minutes. They’ll be done when the edges start curling up from the pan. While they’re frying, toast your 4 slices of bread. Pile them on 2 plates and drizzle with olive oil. Carefully remove your potatoes from the pan and spoon them on top of the toast. Then use a fish slice to place your egg on top. Sprinkle with a little more salt and some chopped parsley. Serve alongside a little bottle of Tabasco.

SPH8

RARE, Leeds

Rare3

Uncommon Excellence is what RARE is all about. I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what that means. My guess is that Rare think they’re something special, a little something out of the ordinary, if you will. They class themselves as refined, but not fine dining. They want to offer the people of Leeds something we can’t get elsewhere in the city. Apparently that includes comfortable surroundings, value for money, generous portions and knowledgable, enthusiastic staff.

The dinner menu is simple. A whole chicken for two, pork belly, lamb sausages, game pie and a burger. The crowning glory is one mammoth porterhouse steak to share between two. For £60. That’s £60, folks. I’ll come back to that later.

I was invited down to RARE for the second of its two preview nights. Between the three of us, we ended up ordering one steak and one burger. On top of that we shared the full range of starters (three of them) and a lot of sides. Oh and we finished off with both puddings. Why not, eh? All in the name of research. Let me run you through it.

Rare4Spicy Tamworth Pork Belly Ribs £7.50 served with red cabbage and beetroot pickle
Rare6Potted Smoked Duck £6 served with grilled sour dough toasts and date, fig and apple chutney
Rare5Yorkshire Pudding £4 served with beef, onion and porter gravy

My favourite of the starter line up was the Potted Duck. I’m a sucker for any meat-based spread and this was good, with a thick layer of duck fat sealing in the meat, crisp sourdough and spicy chutney. As always with paté there wasn’t enough bread, so I opted to fork the rest of the stuff straight out of the jar into my mouth. The duck itself could have been chunkier, the consistency was straddling rough and smooth a bit uncomfortably, committing to neither, but the flavour was good and I would definitely go back for more. The Yorkshires were crispy and fluffy, just as they should be. We opted for gravy and as we were sharing we ended up ripping and dunking. The gravy itself was a touch on the bitter side for me and went cold pretty quickly in its little ramekin. I wish we’d opted for the “warm Yorkshire blue cheese sauce” instead. Finally, I’m ashamed to say that the pork ribs were none of my business. I’m not the biggest fan of fatty pork cuts (sacrilege, I know!) but they smelled great, glistened with meaty juices and I’m informed by my friend Nicola (a self-confessed pork fanatic), they were very satisfying with the red cabbage and beetroot pickle providing a sharp, tangy accompaniment to cut through the fat.

Rare1010 oz Longhorn Beef Burger £13.50 minced in house and served with baby gem lettuce, heritage tomatoes, dill pickle, red onion rings, swaledale cheese, beetroot and horseradish relish, triple cooked chips, wholegrain mustard and celeriac coleslaw

My perfect beef burger consists of a big, juicy patty, the kind that’s pink in the middle and oozes clear juices all down your chin when you bite into it. I like toppings. Cheese is always good. A bit of lettuce is a must. I like something a bit different, a sauce or a relish, but the right quantities are very important. The RARE burger ticks a lot of these boxes. The textures are near perfect. The bun was of a crusty, chewy persuasion that some burger snobs may look down on for taking up valuable stomach space, but I loved it. My only complaint was that the beetroot and horseradish relish, though it was nicely sweet and crunchy, overpowered the rest of the flavours so that the layers of tomatoes, pickles, onions and cheese were just textures in my mouth instead of distinct tastes. Having said that, I’d probably order it again.

Rare91Kg Longhorn Porterhouse Steak £60 seasoned with oak smoked sea salt, to share

The steak arrived a little more on the medium side than the medium rare we’d asked for but the meat was still tender. Porterhouse is a notoriously difficult cut to grill evenly, made up of the strip steak and the fillet which cook at different speeds. If you ask me, that’s quite a big risk to take for £60 of your hard earned cash. Considering the rest of the mains are reasonably priced (the next expensive dish on the menu is the chicken to share for £24) it seems strange for RARE to position themselves side by side price-wise with some of Britain’s best steak restaurants. At Hawksmoor in London, for example, the porterhouse comes in at £7 per 100g and foodies go to great lengths to get there. With Crafthouse just around the corner offering cuts from renowned butcher Ginger Pig at similar prices, even in Leeds the bar is set high. And whilst purists might sniff at anything more than a bit of salt and pepper with their slab, at £60 I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a few sauces to choose from. By the time you order a couple of sides, you’re talking £35 a head before drinks even come into it. The restaurant claims to offer both “uncommon excellence” and “rare value”, but as a showpiece main course the steak provides neither.

Let’s talk sides. DELICIOUS CHIPS. These chips are really good. They’re just the right thickness, neither chunky nor skinny. They’re like chip shop chips and they’re triple fried too. Swooooon. I could eat them all day, forever. They’re crispy and fluffy because as I understand it, this is what the triple frying method is all about. I’m into it. They’re £3.50, order lots. Root veg and onions rings were nice extras but offered nothing different of note. Honestly, it’s all about the chips.

Rare12Sticky Cinder Toffee Pudding £6 with Cox ice cream and toffee sauce

Rare11Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding £6 served with vanilla custard

The two puddings on offer are exactly the choices you’d expect to find accompanying the traditional English comfort food at RARE. While both the sticky toffee and bread & butter puddings went down a treat, I can’t help but feel that they were somewhat of an after thought. The cinder toffee leant a lovely burnt flavour, a good match for this time of year and I respect the decision to go with an apple icecream when a vanilla would have done just fine. It’s icy tartness cut through the stickiness of the pudding excellently. The bread and butter came with a gloriously frothy custard that came slathered over the pudding rather messily – I’d have preferred a little jug, but I guess that’s nitpicking. Overall the sweets were good, definitely nothing to turn your nose up at, but I can’t help but think of several other eateries within walking distance who could serve you a more satisfying version.

The wine we had to accompany our meal was a Syrah which cost £17.95. It was good, clearly high quality and a great match for the big meaty dishes on offer, but with the next choice for red at over £20, it would have been nice to see a few more affordable options. Other restaurants I’ve been to around Leeds (Dish & Shears Yard, for example) certainly have a wider choice under the £20 mark, so I was a little disappointed with the selection.

Let’s not forget, this place is a bar too. You’re led downstairs to eat,  into a den-like room with exposed brickwork, rope lighting and a massive stuffed cow called Sue. It’s a lovely atmosphere to eat in, and that means that upstairs is dedicated purely to drinks. The bar menu looks pretty damn promising. Sticking to wine on the night, I didn’t try any of the bar’s cocktails but just a quick skim of the menu made me promise myself I’d go back soon. I’m very much looking forward to this place as an addition to the nightlife scene, somewhere a little different to go to avoid the scrum (RARE have promised to limit standing room which should make for a more comfortable Saturday night atmosphere than the usual Call Lane haunts) and maybe grab a late bite from the Supper Menu.

If you live in Leeds, this place is a reliable shout for indulgent food cooked well. Whilst the quality is high, excitement isn’t. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, RARE isn’t it. Nothing about this place screams uncommon excellence to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. You’ll no doubt leave rubbing your belly and feeling satisfied, just the way I did. Choose well and it can be good value for money. It’s just a shame about their mission statement.

RARE Lamberts Yard 163 Lower Briggate Leeds LS1 6LY | 0113 246 7013 | @eatdrinkrare

Disclaimer: RARE invited me down to try their food menu free of charge.

Sweet & Spicy Corn Fritters

Sweet Corn Fritters

I’m learning to cook frugally and I’m not very good at it. The sight of leftovers turns me cold. Wilted greens, hardened chicken, mushy noodles; none of that stuff is my bag. Surprisingly though, I’m scraping by. A good thing – meal planning comes naturally to me, a control freak through and through. Reusing ingredients isn’t the problem (I’d eat beetroot, chicken, cabbage or whatever for 5 days in a row without complaint), it’s just that congealing, sorry-looking mess in the tupperware container on the 2nd shelf down that I take issue with.

A few weeks ago Matt and I were set to tuck into a creamy noodle soup for tea, a loose take on a Malaysian laksa we’d made on the weekend that was absolutely glorious the first time around. For reasons even I don’t understand, I couldn’t face eating what was left unless I created something, just a little something, slightly different to go with it. A dumpling, perhaps, or one of those delicious fried snacks that help you start off a thai takeaway before you hit the gang panaeng head on. Our usual store of frozen gyoza skins were sadly sacrificed in the move, plus with a lack of filling options, nothing defrosted and less than £3 in my purse, those little parcels I know and love seemed truly unobtainable. With a can of Green Giant staring at me out of the store cupboard, I came up with the plan. A quick trip to Co-op and £1.50 later, I was back with spring onions and chillies to fry up some sweetcorn fritters.

Served with a tangy, salty dipping sauce, these fritters were an ideal accompaniment to our fiery, fragrant soup. I think the first time I made them they ended up a little big. There wasn’t quite as many crisp outer edges as I would’ve liked. When I revisited the recipe this weekend I made sure to keep the dollop of batter to no more than a modest tablespoon full. It pains me to say it, but heaping here is not the way to go.

I’m really looking forward to making these again, maybe this time with a dishful of Singapore Noodles, or alongside pork potstickers and thai fishcakes when I have friends round and want to impress. From cupboard to plate these took no longer than 20 minutes and the batter can be made in advance as well as frozen to make the after work prep even easier. What I like even more, is that they’re easily adapted to suit fussy eaters. As long as your guest doesn’t hate corn itself, you can spice the little cakes to adapt to anyone’s tastes. Add an extra chilli, lemongrass and coriander for something quite delicate and fragrant, or grind up coriander seeds, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns for something more warming.

Sweet Corn Fritters

Ingredients (Makes 12 Fritters)

For the Batter:

1.5 Large Tins (roughly 400g) Sweetcorn
2 Red Chillis
5 Spring Onions

110g Flour
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Paprika
2 Eggs
75ml Milk
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper

Vegetable Oil to Fry

For the Dipping Sauce:

1/4 cup Sweet Chilli Sauce
1/4 cup Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Fish Sauce
1 tbsp Rice Wine

Method

1. Chop your spring onions and your chilli as roughly or as finely as you like. I tend to leave my onions fairly chunky to add a bit of texture to the mix. Drain your sweetcorn. Combine your veg in a bowl and set aside.

2. In another bowl, mix your flour, baking powder and paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste, I use around a teaspoon of each. When the dry ingredients are well combined, crack your eggs into the bowl and beat. Next, pour your milk in slowly while you mix it to combine. You may not need all of it, depending on how thick you want your batter. I tend to add milk to mine until it’s roughly the consistency of custard.

3. Take your batter and add it a little at a time to the bowl which contains your veg. Mix it through until it coats each kernel of corn but you don’t want too much excess. Heat a 1cm high layer of vegetable (or another flavourless) oil in a large frying pan. Olive oil isn’t a good choice here as it will take longer to reach the desired temperature and will leave the fritters with a distinctive taste. Plus, it’s expensive!

4. To test if the oil is hot enough to fry in, I take a chopstick and dip it into the oil. Any thin, wooden utensil will do – try the end of a wooden spoon! If you spot small bubbles around the edge of the stick, your oil is ready to go. Grab a table spoon of your batter mix (remember, don’t over do it!) and splosh it into the pan. I managed to fit about 5 fritters in but it’ll depend on the size of your pan.

5. Leave the fritters to cook for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side and then flip them. They should be a lovely golden brown colour. When they’re done on the other side (they should need slightly less time after the flip!) lift them out of the oil and onto a piece of kitchen roll or a clean tea towel. This will help soak up the oil so they retain their crispiness. Repeat with the next batch.

6. While your second and third batch cook, mix up the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small dish or ramekin. When the fritters are all done, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little fresh coriander if you have it. Wolf down like your life depends on it.

Sweet Corn Fritters