Dinner

Meal Planning: W/C 01/09/14

Meal Planning 01/09/14

This self-employment malarky is confusing. One month you’re eating like royalty, bouncing around town at all of the cool spots. What’s that? You can’t be bothered to cook? Let’s go out! Another round of drinks? I’ll get these! Tasting menu? Don’t mind if I do. Then the next month rolls in and suddenly you’re gazing at your bank balance in some sort of a daze, thinking “Where did all the money go?” Prince to Pauper in the extreme. 

Alright, so some of that is down to my poor household and financial management, but after three long years of going it alone, I still can’t manage to get into that swing of saving when I’m busy so I don’t need to scrimp when I’m not. Hence the meal planning. August has been my summer holiday month. I didn’t go anywhere exotic, but I took a week off and did a bit of hopping around the country visiting various friends and relatives. Thing is, when you pay yourself and you don’t do any work, well… there’s no payday. Still getting my head around that one.

So this week I’m trying to keep the costs down. I’ve had my jollies, checked out the new openings, but now it’s time to sit back and cozy up for Autumn. I don’t mind staying at home when the weather’s bad. I’ve got £50 this week to feed Matt and I, which may sound lavish to some, but trust me, we can spend a lot more than that. Hey – food is our hobby. I haven’t budgeted for breakfast because generally Matt doesn’t eat it and I have the same thing, of which I have plenty in stock. We’re not big on desserts, either, so you won’t see many of them. This is my plan: 

Monday: Because he works in street food, Matt’s weekends generally fall on a Monday and a Tuesday. Sometimes we go out, but this week I’ll be cooking at home so he can put his feet up. Lunch is soup and bread, which I’ll hopefully homemake on Sunday. I have everything needed for bread in the cupboards. Soup will be made from whatever leftover veg we have from the week. Tea will be a courgette risotto – it’s the end of the courgette season and you gotta get those babies while you can. This needs fresh courgettes, goats cheese and a bottle of wine – I have the rest. £10.

Tuesday: For lunch, it’s sliced minute steak from the freezer folded through couscous with harissa, roasted onions and pine nuts. Time to replenish those pine nuts, they’re seeing a lot of use lately. Tea tonight will most likely be cooked by Matt. It’ll probably be that bit of pork belly we’ve got in the freezer if I know him at all, maybe with borlotti beans (cupboard) and cider. I’ll give him a budget of £8 to spend just in case, he’s pretty good at coming up with impressive meals on limited funds. £11.

Wednesday: For lunch today, I’m taking more of the soup I made on Sunday to work. I’ll heat it up in the microwave at lunch time and eat it with bread – homemade if it’s not stale yet, but otherwise I’ll pick up a fresh roll from Co-op on my way in.  Left over risotto means one thing only – arancini. Tonight’s tea is light on the spend, heavy on the prep. I’m thinking Italian Small Plates. Arancini, deep fried courgette with mint, homemade garlic bread and aubergine parmigiana. Raspberry ripple ice cream (homemade) to finish.  I need an aubergine, a new bulb of garlic and a packet of mint. Eggs and cream for the ice cream. £6.50

Thursday: I’m styling and shooting for a client during the day, so don’t need to plan lunch. For tea? Matt’s working so it’ll be simple pasta for me, linguine from the cupboard, plus pine nuts, diced bacon and peas from the freezer, lemon and a splash of cream leftover from Wednesday’s ice cream. £2.50.

Friday: Another morning full of styling and shooting, this time I’m collaborating on a recipe for Food&. I’ll scrounge what I can from what’s left. In the afternoon I’m finishing off the copy for a client’s website and then shooting out to dinner with friends. No grocery spend today.

Saturday: Realistically, I’ll be out and about during the day on Saturday. I might meet friends for a coffee, Mrs Athas most likely, and pick up lunch while I’m there. Or maybe at Trinity Kitchen. For dinner I’m on my own again, I’m cooking honey sesame chicken with egg fried rice – I’ll make a double portion so Matt can have some when he gets in. The chicken comes out of the freezer, two thighs left over from another meal. I need to replace my honey and buy spring onions. Luckily I have sesame seeds and rice already in store, plus eggs leftover from the ice cream. Will treat myself to a bottle of slimline tonic so I can have a gin or two – it’s the weekend after all. £4.

Sunday: If it’s not a roast on a Sunday afternoon, it’s most likely a bolognese on Sunday evening. I’m alone, so I’ll have a late brunch and a few coffees at my local shop, then pootle home to get the stove fired up. Brunch will be waffles with syrup, for which I’ll use the last two eggs I bought earlier in the week. I’ll make too many waffles and freeze the rest for easy breakfasts – you can reheat them in the toaster. For the bolognese I’ll get mince out of the freezer (Matt picked up five packs for £1.49 each in the reduced section a few weeks ago), I have onions, milk, tinned chopped tomatoes and stock in already, and I can use the rest of the bacon I defrosted on Thursday night. I need to pick up a bottle of red wine, celery, a carrot, basil (our plant died) and gnocchi from the shop. £12. 

Total: £46 – wahey, £4 left over for snacks – maybe a few pieces of fruit and a packet of biscuits.

If you like these kinds of posts, take a look at Nelly’s and Tracy’s blogs. Those girls have it down. Me? Must. Try. Harder.

You can probably tell from reading this that my freezer, cupboards and spice rack are extremely well stocked. The spices and herbs have taken a long time to build up – but we tend to buy in bulk from the local Asian supermarket and keep everything in clean, sealed jam jars. When it comes to freezing, we buy the majority of our meat from the butcher but also use supermarket reduced shelves to grab things while they’re cheap. The extra cost at the time will pay you back in spades and if you have a lean month, your stress will be halved. Meat packs from your butcher or market really help too, and also encourage you to experiment with cuts you wouldn’t usually buy. Grains and dried goods can be stocked up on every few months with an online shop, but I love Millie’s for big bags of rice, couscous, pearl barley and lentils, along with large bottles of vinegar and oil. Having these things readily available makes for easy meal planning. 

Do you plan ahead for cooking in the week? Are there any tools you use to make life easier?  

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa for the Yogurt Council

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

This week, my second official recipe for the Yogurt Council went live. This time, I attempted to tackle savoury, and while yogurt marinated meat is always a hit (chicken marinated in yogurt, for example, makes for the tenderest bird EVAH), I wanted to think outside of the box and produce something there wasn’t a million recipes on the internet for already.

The flavours of North Africa are among my favourites. An easy go-to dinner for me is pretty much anything with couscous and a sprinkling of paprika, maybe a dollop of harissa, some sumac or pomegranate jewels. Yogurt goes had in hand with all this stuff, a no-fuss way to cool the spice. These meatballs pack a lot of warmth, so I created a yogurt and cucumber dressing as well as using yogurt to create soft, pillowy flatbreads. Sweet peppers, shallots and kalamata olives balance this dish and make it a very satisfying treat for lunch or tea. 

Read the full recipe over on the Love Yogurt UK Blog…

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Does anyone else think this ball of dough looks like a baby dinosaur’s head? Or am I just extra weird today?

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Roll those babies out

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

Yogurt Saffron Flatbreads & Lamb Meatballs with Harissa

I’ve made these flatbreads in various forms a lot over the past year or so. They don’t need much kneading, time to prove or work – just mix up, roll out and dry fry in a pan. For these, I used half white flour, half wholemeal, but plain white works well too, alongside dough studded with cumin seeds and raisins too. You can also skip the Moroccan feel and eat these without the spices, stuffed with asian glazed pork meatballs as a kind of cross between a kebab and a bao. These flatbreads, and soda bread, are my go-to quick bakes if I want a carby hit with tea but potatoes and rice don’t fit.

I’ll be back over the weekend with some meal planning ideas, some link love and THAT mac n cheese. See you soon! Remember in the meantime, you can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and over on Facebook too.

Disclaimer: As part of my #YogurtStylist win back in June, I was asked to work with the Yogurt Council from Love Yogurt UK to provide three recipes showing off how versatile and practical yogurt can be as an ingredient. This is the second in the series, the third if you include the recipe I won with. Read about my win and what I received here: Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: A Recipe for the Yogurt Council

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

Hello again! Today I’m back with the main course from my Yorkshire Day menu, served up for my cookery demonstration at the Le Creuset store in the Victoria Quarter. For the starter recipe, check out Monday’s post: Courgette Risotto.

The thinking behind this dish, is that I wanted to again show the versatility of my Le Creuset 30cm casserole dish. I’ve spoken so much about this dish since I bought it, and it really is such a useful item to have in your kitchen. It’ll go from the hob, into the oven and, from there, straight to the table. And it’s roomy enough to cook for a whole family. One pot chicken dishes are two a penny in our house, they’re an easy tea option for either a weeknight, or to feed friends. The same basic recipe can be adapted with loads of different spices and extras to keep things different. In February, I made a similar thing with One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

This time, as I was cooking on show and I had a limited timescale, I chose the simple spice combination of cumin seeds and paprika. These spices lend themselves well to a slow, warming heat but nothing too eye-watering. They give the dish character without blowing anyone’ s head off. This type of dish will pretty much take as many ingredients as you fancy. You can pack it with all different types of veg and carbs. It works well with jerk seasoning, or cajun spices, rice and black eyed peas – Caribbean style, or with sausage, cider and butter beans for something more mild.

The local element of this dish (although I bought the veg locally also), is the salami. It turns out Yorkshire is somewhat of a hotspot for cured meats. While you can get official Yorkshire Chorizo, made on Church End Farm in Skipton, which I’ve used before, I went for a salami cured at The Reliance – a pub on the outskirts of Leeds town centre which I mentioned in my Where to Eat in Leeds post. Dried and cured on site, they offer two flavours: Fennel and Chilli & Black Pepper. I referred to this as chorizo throughout my demonstration, which it isn’t (whoops), but the salami works in very much the same way – with the same texture, just less spice. Salami lets out oil, much in the same way as chorizo does, but a little less, and with a much meatier flavour. If I were making this dish with supermarket ingredients, I’d use chorizo and use slightly less paprika in my spice mix, as supermarket chorizo contains more fat and therefore lets out much more spiced oil.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

The biggest thing to be aware of when you’re cooking this dish is texture. Each element needs a bit of special treatment to keep the textures as they should be. For the chicken, crispy skin is a must. For the salami, the outside needs caramelising to save things getting too chewy. Potatoes must be cooked through and the green beans must be crunchy. That’s why, the browning process, though it seems time consuming, is important. Be patient, it doesn’t add much time on and the dish will taste so much better.

Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami (makes enough for 4 sharing)

5 Shallots or 1 Large/2 Small Onions
2 Garlic Cloves
2 Sprigs of Thyme
2 tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 tbsp Cumin Seeds, crushed
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
1 Whole Chicken, jointed or 4 thighs & 4 legs skin-on
300g Salami or Chorizo
2 Large Handfuls of Jersey Royal Potatoes
250g Trimmed Green Beans
500g Chicken Stock

1. Chop the salami into chunks and put it into a dry pan. Place on a medium heat and leave for five minutes, flipping the pieces over once to get a nice caramelisation on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Add your chicken pieces, skin side down into the pan with the oil from the salami. Again, leave for five minutes to brown. Only the skin side needs to be browned. Don’t worry about the chicken being pink on the inside, we’re just colouring it, not cooking it through. When the skin turns a golden brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

3. For this kind of dish, I like to chop my onions a little chunkier than usual. Thicker onion slices will add another texture element to the dish. Chop or slice your onions roughly and place them in the pan (now complete with salami and chicken juices) on a low heat. Sweat them down for five minutes until they are just starting to soften and add finely chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Cook for another five minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mix the paprika, cumin seeds (crush or finely chop these before), salt and pepper together and add your olive oil. Mix to turn it into a paste. Transfer this paste to the pan and combine with onions. When the spices are mixed in and the onions are simmering, pour in the white wine vinegar. This bit of liquid serves to deglaze the pan. Scrape your spatula along the bottom to make sure you catch all those delicious brown parts, adding flavour to what will become the sauce and reducing it down into a concentrated liquor. You can do this with booze too, a glass of white wine would do, or staying with the Spanish theme, a sherry. At a push, you can use a little splash of stock to do this.

5. When most of the liquid has disappeared, slice your new potatoes lengthways and place them flesh side down into your pan, making sure they make contact with the bottom. Direct contact with the surface of the pan will build up a bit of a crust, and cutting the potatoes lengthways means they’ll cook through quicker – meaning there’s no need to par-boil them.

6. Begin to layer up the browned salami and then the chicken on top of that, making sure the skin is facing up. Pour stock into the pan so it covers the potatoes. Stop there, as any liquid covering the chicken will prevent it from browning and going crispy in the heat of the oven. Let it simmer on the hob for five minutes.

7. Place into a oven preheated to 180ºc on the middle shelf. Place the lid on but slightly cocked, to let a little bit of steam out. Prep your beans and after 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the beans over. Cook for a further 25-30 minutes and transfer straight to the table. Serve out of the pan, family style.

With this type of recipe, you don’t need to worry too much about over or under cooking the chicken. After around 40 mins the chicken will be moist and perfectly cooked through. A little extra time won’t make the meat lose its tenderness because of the liquid in the pot. Don’t be scared, it’ll be delicious – in life, there are plenty of things to be precise about, but this dish isn’t one of them!

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

Because the only pan and dish needed for this recipe is the 30cm casserole, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about some of the other Le Creuset items I used during my cooking demo – things you wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to Le Creuset. First up, the Cool Tools. I have a few of these in my kitchen and I can’t tell you how useful they are. They’re pretty straight forward really, a heat proof mat that will protect your work surfaces and dining table even if your pot comes straight from a scorching oven. They’re reliable, they look goo and they don’t retain heat, so you won’t burn yourself. The Round Cool Tool is just £7 and the perfect companion for the 30cm Casserole, plus you can coordinate them with your cookware!

Next up, the Chef’s Apron (£30) and Double Oven Gloves (£19). Now, I know that these aren’t the kind of things that normally make you excited to spend your money, but make an investment in them and they’ll become a solid part of your kitchen kit. Thick, reliable and good quality, spending the extra cash beats buying multiples in the supermarket and burning your hands when they start to wear out. I don’t own either of these yet, but I plan on buying both soon. The apron is comfortable to wear, despite it’s thick material, the double waistbands are flattering and there are four (FOUR!) pockets, for you know, storing stuff. Available in Cerise, Cassis, Cream, Black, Coastal Blue and Nutmeg.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

On Friday, I’m back with the final course of my Yorkshire Day menu. It’s a staple recipe you can adapt to suit your needs, perfect for summer, with little unusual extra too: Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream with Rhubarb Pickle. See you soon!

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Courgette Risotto

Courgette Risotto

A few weeks back, I designed and cooked a Yorkshire Day menu for a demonstration at the Le Creuset store in Leeds Victoria Quarter. Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the starter: Courgette Risotto! This was the first cookery demonstration I’ve done, and I was lucky enough to have the plush surroundings of the luxury French cookware brand we all know I’m obsessed with. It was nerve racking, and not something I’d ever seen myself doing, but could I turn down such a great opportunity? No way. Le Creuset coached me every step of the way, and luckily, there were a lovely bunch of ladies in attendance. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – and I actually enjoyed it, having previously thought I’d burn at least 10 tea towels, all of my fingers and, just possibly, the whole place down. Turns out I’m one step closer to basically being Rachel Khoo (no?… ok maybe not).

Let’s talk about the food. I’m one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic. Which I guess is obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t do it so much. Risotto, however, is probably the most therapeutic dish to make, with a slow bubble and methodical stir that will calm worries and soothe stress. It’s also great to make for a group – one pot means little washing up and it can bubble away while you stand by with your spatula looking pretty. It can be served as a starter or, in larger portions, as a main. It’s versatile, innit. That’s part of the reason I chose it as my first dish to make in front of a room of people. And I’m glad I did – it went down pretty well, and I somehow managed to channel a bit of its laid back Italian charm.

Yorkshire Courgette Risotto

It’s natural to think of risotto as a winter dish. But personally, I see it as the perfect vehicle for the fresh, zingy flavours of summer. Served in small portions, a risotto really doesn’t have to be heavy, which is why I chose it as a starter for my Yorkshire Day menu. Forget the traditional pairings of meaty mushrooms and chunky root veg – just stick with the seasonal veg and herbs of the warmer months and you’ll be reet. Another thing I don’t agree with: that risotto is a labour of love. That phrase is so loaded. Yes, it needs your attention, but it doesn’t have to take hours. In fact, using the 30cm shallow casserole I’m so prone to banging on about, it takes little over half an hour. The method is easy once you know how, and pretty soon you’ll be whipping these bad boys up like it’s second nature.

CourgetteRisotto1

As with everything great, it starts with onions. You can use small onions, or even shallots. Shallots will give you a slightly sweeter flavour that will work well with the more delicate citrus notes in this recipe. Onions and shallots, like risotto, need some lovin’.  Dice them small and soften them over a low heat with a little oil and a little butter, for anything up to 30 minutes. They’ll be sweet, soft and translucent. Add garlic and thyme and you have a perfect base. Next up is the rice. It’s deceiving. Just a cup of the dried stuff will feed six people starter sized portions and probably leave you some left-overs. So many times I’ve just poured Arborio rice into the pan willy-nilly, but be warned: that stuff expands. Add a cup of your rice to the pan and move it around. You want to coat each grain in the oil, get it all up in those juicy onions. Cook it out for around five minutes, stirring continually, and you’ll notice it starts to go translucent around the edges. At that point, you’re ready to add your wine.

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The wine I used for the Yorkshire Day risotto was a bit special. Made in Leventhorpe, the dry white is ideal for this dish because the acidity is a great balancing flavour paired with the creaminess of the rice and cheese. Starting with a large glass and reducing it down until almost gone, it’ll deglaze the pan, soak up all the flavour from the onions and the taste of the wine lingers on the rice while the alcohol cooks off. The wine, along with the courgettes and lemon, really go a long way to keeping this dish light and summery, despite the robust base. If you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking then you can deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar, which will also add some acidity. In a pinch, you can even use stock.

Alongside the wine, the real star of the show here is the Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. Usually a risotto is made with Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I wanted to see if, in the spirit of Yorkshire Day, I could get a local cheese in there instead. As always, when I’ve got a cheese-based query (and trust me, they crop up a lot) I head straight to my local cheesemonger, the lovely George & Joseph I’m Chapel Allerton. They were more than happy to help me and when I requested a Yorkshire equivalent to Parmesan, they suggested Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. A hard cheese, it still has a rich, creamy texture, but it grated perfectly into the risotto, not overpowering the way a softer cheese might be, but leaving behind a residual flavour and saltiness slightly more interesting than your typical Parmesan.

CourgetteRisotto2

When plating up I topped each portion with ribbons of fresh courgette and crushed, toasted pine nuts. Not only does it make for a very pretty finish, but it also adds a touch of freshness and a much needed bit of crunch to an otherwise soft, rich dish.

Yorkshire Day Courgette Risotto with Leventhorpe Wine & Ribblesdale Goats Cheese
(makes enough for six starter portions or three mains)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes

5 shallots or 1 large/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
Approx 130g Arborio Rice
1 large glass of dry white wine
750ml of chicken stock (the best quality you can afford)
2 large/4 small courgettes
Approx 150g (a large handful) of Ribblesdale Goats Cheese, grated
2 heaped tbsps of pine nuts
½ a fresh lemon

1. Dice your shallots and soften over a low heat with a small nob of butter and a splash of oil. After ten minutes, add crushed garlic and thyme leaves, roughly chopped. Soften for another five minutes until translucent. In another frying pan, pour in the pine nuts. Set over a high heat and keep an eye on them.

2. Add your rice to the pan and stir well to coat each grain with oil. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes – when ready, the grains will turn translucent around the edges. At the same time, take the pine nuts off the heat and set aside.

3. Turn up the heat and immediately pour in the white wine. Leave to simmer and reduce by more than half, leaving just a tablespoon or two of liquid in the pan.

4. Add your first ladle of stock. Try to resist the urge to keep stirring. A little movement is fine, but messing with your rice constantly will make it more starchy, leaving it with a gloopier texture. When the risotto is ready, you’ll start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. When you move the rice around in the pan, it should stay in the same place, not spreading to the drier parts of the pan.

5. Repeat this process, tasting the rice after each ladle of stock. Use a y-peeler to create ribbons for the top of dish, five to eight should be about right. Grate the rest of your courgette. The rice should take around five ladles worth of stock – you want it to be soft on the outside with a slight bite left at the centre. Tasting after each ladleful will help you get used to how your risotto should be, so you don’t miss that vital point when it’s at its most perfect.

6. After the final ladle, your risotto should be able to stand on its own. If you piled it up, it shouldn’t start to spread to the sides of your plate, but maintain its form. If it’s too wet, keep it on the heat for a bit longer. Chuck in your courgette and turn the heat down to low. Add the grated cheese and stir through. Turn off the heat and let it melt for a few minutes in the pan.

7. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt to the risotto because the cheese, especially if you’re using Parmesan in place of goats cheese, has a high salt content as well as the stock. Serve up, top with courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts. To finish, I drizzled over a little Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil with Lemon, but if that’s not within your reach, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead – mmm zingy! Enjoy!

CourgetteRisotto6

CourgetteRisotto7

I served up my portions of risotto to the girls in the Le Creuset Tapas Dishes, part of the World Cuisine collection. I love these babies and they’re probably going to end up as my next purchase. Perfect for sharing style dishes stretching across all cuisines. Available in Volcanic (pictured), Cerise and Satin Black for £14 each.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with the simple chicken dish I made for the main on Yorkshire Day, but in the mean time, check out posts from some of the lovely attendees: Kat Got the Cream and Life by LDE – gorgeous ladies who just may have caught the Le Creuset bug.

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

A Low-Carb Italian Feast

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I’ve had a bit of a challenging time at work lately. Over the May bank holiday, I launched my freelance website, CopyStorm. I’ve been busy anyway, working all sorts of hours (and a lot of weekends!) to keep up, but with the new site on top of that, things got a little crazy. Matt was away a few weekends ago, frying up a storm with Fish& on Liverpool Dock, so I was alone in the evenings. During the day I had to work and clearly Saturdays are not the ideal time to be slaving over your laptop, especially when the sun is out. As the afternoon rumbled on I became convinced that I owed it to myself to get a takeaway as a reward. I’d worked so hard after all. You deserve it, said the voice in my head. You need a treat for the weekend. And I nearly did it.

Thing is, sometimes, you deserve a takeaway, if that’s your thing. I am a firm believer that if sweet & sour pork or a battered sausage and chips is the way you give yourself a pat on the back,that’s fine. As a diabetic though, sometimes that’s stupid. Not always. But sometimes. So on this particular weekend, and for no apparent reason, my blood sugars were running the highest they’ve been in a while and despite treatment, they just didn’t want to come down and stay there. I gave myself a stern talking to and I went to the Co-op instead of the chip shop. I bought a courgette and an aubergine, some tomatoes, and I set some minced beef from the freezer to defrost. At first, I was miserable about it, but by the time I served up, I felt pretty smug. Just call me Saint Lil. Careful of my halo now! 

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So, Italian food. It’s not exactly a carb counter’s dream. It’s rich, it’s delicious, and by golly is it mostly made of flour. I had a hankering for bolognese, so I started with that. Matt and I have worked together on what we think is the perfect beefy ragu for almost the entire time we’ve been together. I think, after about four years, we now have it down to a fine art. It needs a bit of time. Eight hours if you have it. If not, four’ll do. It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it. It’s a delight: the perfect, methodical thing to do when you’re stressed, or if you just want to time-out for a while. Prep, throw everything in, and leave it to bubble away. At the finish line you’ll be left with a dark, silky sauce fit for kings. And your house will smell heavenly.

So this recipe is low-carb. To keep my blood sugar levels from unexpected spikes, I decided to skip the pasta. I’d just like to clarify that I don’t find this kind of thing easy. For reference, I’m not on board with “squashetti” or “courgetti”. Cauliflower “rice”? No thank you. With all the respect in the world, ain’t nobody got time for that. Well, at least, I haven’t got time for that. Aubergine slices in place of your carb, though? That’s legit. And it’s easy! The only form of carbohydrate in this dish comes with the béchamel sauce, and if you’re really feeling angelic, you can replace the plain flour with an alternative thickener, and use soya or almond milk in place of your regular cow juice. For me though, one heaped tablespoon of flour and 400ml of semi-skimmed split between six portions is good enough to slip through the net.

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Aubergine Lasagne (makes enough for six portions)

1 Large or 2 Small Aubergines

For the ragu:

2 Onions
2 Celery Stalks
1 Large Carrot
2 Cloves of Garlic
65g Pancetta
400g Beef Mince
100ml Milk
250ml Red Wine
400ml Beef Stock
1 Punnet of Plum Tomatoes (between 250 & 400g)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
Fresh Basil

For the Béchamel sauce:

50g Salted Butter
35g Plain Flour
400ml Milk
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Salt
40g Parmesan

This is long – stick with me.

1. Approximately 8 hours before you plan on serving, dice the onions, celery and carrot. Place a heavy-bottomed casserole pot on a low heat and add some oil (about 2tbsp if you’re the measuring kind). There’s no need to wait for it to heat up, so just chuck in your onion and cook for around 5 minutes – until it starts to turn translucent. Throw in your celery, then 3 minutes after that, your carrots. Add your garlic too – you can crush it if you fancy, but I can never be bothered to wash up the grinder – so a rough chop will do.

2. After your veg has softened (around 5 minutes), turn your heat up to medium, clear a space in the middle of the pan and add your diced pancetta. The only reason I like to get pan-bottom-on-pancetta-action is that you get a nice golden crust on the edges of the meat. Let the pancetta crisp up and when it’s nearly done, stir it through the veg.

3. Next up is mince, repeat the process – trying to get a bit of surface area contact – until all the pinkness has disappeared. Pour 100ml of milk over your meat – this may seem weird, but it’s one of the secrets to such a rich and unctuous sauce. Let it bubble away with the heat on high until there’s barely anything left. Stir in the bay leaf, nutmeg , salt and pepper.

4. Add your tomatoes, sliced lengthways into 2 halves. Cover with red wine. Repeat the same process you went through with the milk, letting it bubble and reduce by two thirds. It’ll take 5-10 minutes depending on the heat from your hob, gas versus electric etc. If you can’t get fresh tomatoes, add one tin of chopped tomatoes instead. There’s no problem with that, but I think the fresh ones just elevate your sauce slightly – ramping the sweetness up a notch. Put the kettle on.

5. Give the mix a stir while you wait for the kettle to boil. When it’s ready, pour 400ml of water over a beef stock cube in a jug or bowl and whisk quickly to dissolve it. Pour in the stock. Turn the heat as low as it will go and set the lid on your pot at a jaunty angle, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape. Step away and let your bolognese do its thing. Check on it every now and then and give it a stir. Top up with a bit of water if it looks a little dry around the 6 hour mark.

6. When you ragu is done, preheat your oven to 180ºc. Then, melt 50g butter in a saucepan. Add in the 35g flour and stir, to make a roux. The mixture should form a thick, beige paste. Keep it moving over a low heat for a minute or two, and bit by bit pour the milk over. Do this slowly and your sauce should thicken as you stir, leaving you with a consistency that should easily coat the back of a spoon. As the sauce bubbles on the stove top on the lowest heat possible, grate your block of parmesan. Take approximately 75% of it and fold it through your sauce. Stir in the nutmeg and salt (don’t be tempted to add more, parmesan itself has a high salt content) before removing it from the heat and setting aside.

7. Slice the aubergine in approximately 0.5cm rounds. Move quickly so it doesn’t colour. Begin to layer the lasagne, starting with bolognese on the bottom, then a thin layer of béchamel, followed by aubergine slices. Repeat the ragu, béchamel, aubergine layering until you fill your dish. Make sure the top layer is béchamel, and then scatter over the remaining parmesan.

8. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Garnish with torn basil leaves.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

While you’re playing the long game, listening to that beauty bubbling on the stove, you’re going to need something to tide you over. I’ve talked on the blog before about my love for Zucco, a restaurant not far from where I live which serves Italian small plates. One of my three regular orders there is the Deep Fried Zucchini with Mint. I thought I’d have a crack at replicating it at home. I’m having a bit of a courgette moment right now. It’s near on my favourite vegetable at this time of year. I can’t get enough!

Deep fried courgette slices with fresh mint (makes enough for two sharing)

nb. there’s an egg in these pics. I started making this recipe, breading the slices with flour, then egg, then flour. It was a little too claggy and thick for me, so I dropped the egg. After I’d made this, I went back to Zucco – they’d seen my tweet about this recipe and told me the secret is to use milk and flour instead – next time!

1 Large Courgette
80g Plain Flour
1 tsp Rock Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Nutmeg
6 Fresh Mint Leaves

1. In a shallow bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Slice your courgette. I stuck to approximately the thickness of a 20p piece, you need a little bite or you’ll end up with crisps. Chop each round in half so you have semi-circles.

3. Roll your courgette slices, a handful at a time, in the flour mixture. While you’re doing this, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed, deep frying pan.

4. When your oil is up to temperature (stick a wooden utensil in – the handle of a wooden spoon, maybe – the oil should bubble gently around the handle) drop in your courgette slices. Be careful not to overcrowd your pan.

5. It should take around 5 minutes for your slices to start browning around the edges. When they’re nicely coloured, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them on a couple of pieces of kitchen paper. Repeat with the next batch.

6. Dress your slices with a sprinkle of rock salt, pepper and a slug of olive oil. Chop your mint and throw it in. Toss them around for an even covering. Serve warm.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

Aubergine Lasagne

It’s a big meal – but when it comes to carbs, it’s pretty virtuous. I’ll be making this time and again in the future. Happy feasting!

Got any tips and tricks to share about lasagne making, carb-swapping or courgettes? Share them with me in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy.

Tequila Soaked Prawn Tacos with Mango Corn Salsa + Update

TEQUILA SOAKED PRAWN TACOS WITH MANGO CORN SALSA

Sooo… that posting twice a week thing? Yeah, that didn’t happen. Sorry.

But hey, I’ve been eating tacos! I’ve been trying to spice up week night dinners. We don’t eat a lot of Central and South American inspired cuisine in our house, so this was a little experiment that turned out rather nicely. I didn’t intend to blog these guys but they happened to be pretty bitchin, so I thought I’d share. They’re boozy, zingy and quite spicy. Overall: pretty satisfying.

I think fish is my new jam… which makes me think of fish flavoured jam. Which is gross. Correction: I think fish is my new thing. It’s great for a lighter tea that still feels pretty flashy. I had Moules Marinere last night, for example, and it felt very luxe. I paid about £4 for half a bag of mussels at the market and that amount would easily feed four. Classy and cheap. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

I was making these tacos on the fly, so in an idea world I would’ve used proper corn, soft tacos. Instead I used tortillas, which worked fine but wasn’t quite the same. I bought mini ones but if you can’t find them just trim the regular size ones down using a knife around an up-turned cereal bowl. Voila!

Tequila Soaked Prawn Tacos with Mango Corn Salsa (makes enough for 4) 

1 Pack of Mission Deli Mini Wraps
200g Raw, Peeled King Prawns
50ml (about 2 shots) of Tequila
1 Lime
½ Iceberg lettuce

For the Mango Salsa:

1 Small Onion, diced
1 Mango, diced
½ Tin of Sweetcorn
3 Birds Eye Chillies
A Small Bunch of Coriander, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. About an hour before you plan to eat, place your prawns in a bowl and pour over the tequila. Squeeze over the juice of half your lime. Place to one side.

2. Dice your onion and mango, the smaller the better, and mix in a bowl together. Add the sweetcorn. Slice the birds eye chillies very finely (remove the seeds if you want to keep the heat down, I left them in) and chuck those in too. Then add the coriander and season with rock salt and black pepper to taste. Mix everything together and squeeze in the juice of your remaining lime.

3. Place two frying pans next to each other on the heat. While they’re warming up, shred the lettuce and place it in a bowl. In the first pan, warm the tortillas one at a time, flipping every 30 seconds or so until they’re nicely golden on each side, but take them out before they turn crispy. In the second pan, empty your bowl of prawns. They’ll have turned slightly pink already from the citrus. Cook for 1 minute on each side until they’re nice and rosy and turning out at the edges.

4. Take your bowls to the table and dig in. We added a drizzle of natural yogurt spiked with Tabasco, but if anything, that brought too much heat on top of the chillies in the salsa. I don’t think you need it, but you could add the yogurt on it’s own if you fancy.

TEQUILA SOAKED PRAWN TACOS WITH MANGO CORN SALSA

Next time, I want to try tacos with fried white fish of some sort too, more like a traditional fish taco, I bet the crunch would be amazing. But I’m a bit concerned about losing the tequila taste, because it’s on of the best things about this dish. Maybe I could experiment with some flavoured batters? My mouth waters at the prospect.

A little update: as I said earlier, sorry I’ve been away so long. There’s been loads going on, but the real reason is work. I’ve picked up some jobs from a couple of food clients over the past few months and it’s been really fun working on a subject matter I love. I plan to talk a bit more about what I do as a job here soon so hold tight for that, if you’re interested.

In the coming weeks (no promises on when, I’ve learnt my lesson!) I’ve got posts on all sorts coming – a trip around one of my favourite local foodie spots, a few more recipes and something a bit different too. Thanks for sticking with me! To round off, some stuff I’ve been enjoying lately:

Watching: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Trip to Italy, both equally entertaining.
Reading: A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin – please, no spoilaz.
Eating: Low sugar snacks, more on that later.
Drinking: Aperol Spritzes.
Celebrating: My 27th birthday with a trip to Norse in Harrogate. It’s incredible.

Where to Eat in Leeds

I eat out a lot. To the point where I’m almost ashamed. The other day I was outed on Instagram, tagged to do the #widn tag with the comment “@whipuntilfluffy who is prob out having an awesome looking lunch again” … What can I say? Guilty.

So with this (excessive, if anything) experience, I thought I’d put together a little guide to eating in this city. Whether it’s a 3 course meal or a quick snack, here are what I consider to be the best bites in town at the moment.

Where to Eat in Leeds: Shears Yard

Shears Yard A firm dinner favourite since its opening in August last year, Shears Yard is my go-to for a special occasion. Brought to us by the team behind the Arts Cafe on Call Lane, Shears Yard serve seasonal, British cuisine with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. Each plate throbs with tastes and textures, every element seems painstakingly created so that it all sings together on the plate. Not even the bread is boring (whipped truffle butter, anyone?). The dishes are complex, elegant, but they’re not pretentious. You might struggle to choose just one dish, so coordinate with a partner and go halvsies. Visit on a Thursday night, it can get noisy on the weekends. Dishes pictured include Duck liver parfait & homemade duck “ham”, black pudding brioche, white onion chutney & blackberry gel and Local corn fed chicken breast & leg, crab & lobster fritter, sweetcorn & chorizo salsa & lobster mayonnaise. Starters from £4.50, mains from £10.95.

Shears Yard 11-15 Wharf Street, The Calls, Leeds, LS2 7EH | @ShearsYard

Where to Eat in Leeds: Zucco

Zucco This is the neighbourhood restaurant that dreams are made of. Draped in a candlelight blanket, Zucco serves Italian small plates, classic cocktails and really good house wine. It’s dark, atmospheric and there’s a clatter from the open kitchen just loud enough to feel exciting. The menu changes every day depending on the produce available but some favourites are there day in, day out. I’m talking fritto misto, served simply with the lightest, crispest of batters. There’s aubergine parmigiana, deep fried zucchini and mint and, what I believe to be the best plate of pasta this side of Rome, braised beef pappardelle. Zucco has become a regular in my friday night routine, the perfect place to rock up to after a couple of post-work pints, feeling a little tipsy and positively buzzing at the thought of the weekend. Treat yourself to a Negroni (it comes with a stripy paper straw!), order enough food to cover the table top and return the next day to nurse your hangover, sitting at the bar with a pizzette and a carafe of wine, ready to flick through the newspaper. Plates from £2.50 to £8.50. Book early in the week to secure a table on Friday or Saturday nights, but don’t panic if you didn’t plan ahead, time it right and there’ll be room at the bar.

Zucco 603 Meanwood Road, Leeds, LS6 4AY | @zuccouk

Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen

Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen While it may not be the obvious choice for dinner in the city centre, this music venue and bar holds some serious culinary gems. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you might not get past the door without a lumberjack beard and full sleeve of tattoos, but never mind that, just bust on in there and get yourself some pizza. Belgrave currently offers three food options: Dough Boys Pizza, Patty Smiths & Fu Schnickens. Each offering is outstanding in its field, but the Guo Bao by Fu Schnickens are really something to behold. Little steamed buns made on site and filled with pork belly, hoisin, cashew nuts, sesame, palm sugar, pickled carrot & mooli, they originate all the way from Taiwan and I would go so far as to say they are the best single bite available in Leeds right now. The crispy panko chicken version is pretty tasty too. Here’s my advice: arrive at Belgrave, buy a pint of Symonds cider from the bar or a flat white from the Laynes pop-up, get yourself a guo bao, wait a bit (optional), get yourself some pizza, wait a bit (optional), get yourself a Patty Smith’s Dirty Burger, repeat. Grab a half price slice (£1-£1.40) everyday until 7pm, get two Guo Bao for £6.

Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen 1-1A Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, LS2 8JP | @Belgrave_Leeds @DoughBoysLeeds @PattySmithsUK

Where to Eat in Leeds: The Reliance

The Reliance What I consider to be one of Leeds’ unsung heroes, The Reliance is that perfect, solid option to keep in your back pocket and play as your trump card. Sure, it’s pub grub, but it’s more refined than rustic. The dishes are seasonal, they’re simple but in the most glorious sense of the word. No foam, no espuma, no soil, but flavours that bowl you over. It’s good, honest food and I never leave one morsel on my plate. Not one. Whether you’re soaking up last night’s gin with a fish finger sandwich, or getting rosy cheeked over candlelight and featherblade, The Reliance is that old friend who’s just easy to be around. With good beer and relaxed, friendly service, you’ll leave with a smile on your face. I wish I lived next door. Oh, and they cure their own charcuterie too. Starters from £4.25, mains from £9.95.

The Reliance 76-78 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN | @The_Reliance

Where to Eat in Leeds: Trinity Kitchen

Trinity Kitchen I thought and rethought Trinity Kitchen’s inclusion in my top five, and while it feels wrong to tarnish the indie attitude of this list so far, it is true that some of the best things I’ve eaten over the past six months have been part of the shopping centre’s street food line-up. Trinity plays an important role in bringing exciting and diverse street food to the people of Leeds, and without the capitalist big-guns I wouldn’t have discovered this month’s favourite, Dorshi, or even (heavens, just imagine!) my beloved OFM. I can’t endorse any of the main-stays in the Trinity Kitchen set up, I’ve tried all of them and been thoroughly unimpressed, but the street food rotation is always interesting and provides somewhere different to go on an otherwise monotonous lunch break. I look forward to seeing what’s new every month and I like that it brings London traders up here to Yorkshire, somewhere they probably didn’t give two hoots about before. Highlights have been the Bacon Blue Burger (@OFMLondon), crispy chicken with fried “rice” (@eatDorshi) and just about everything from Cafe Moor (@CafeMoorLeeds). Street food meals starting from around £4.50.

Trinity Kitchen Top Floor Trinity Leeds Albion Street Leeds LS1 5AT | @TrinityLeeds

What to Eat in February

What to Eat in February

Vegetables: brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, chicory, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, squash, swede, sweet potatoes, truffles (black), turnips.

Fruit: blood oranges, clementines, kiwi fruit, lemons, oranges, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, rhubarb.

Meat & Fish: guinea fowl, partridge, turkey, venison, clams, lemon sole, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters.

As I write this, there’s a storm out. When I look up, the grey is clearing, making room for bright blue skies with candy floss clouds, but I still hear the rain sploshing on the windows and the doors banging in the draft. It occurs to me that this kind of sums February up, the last month of Winter. Times are a-changin’, but probably only in small increments for another 28 days, when dull and biting February will buckle to bright and breezy March and spring’s first days allow us to shake off our winter coats and leave them in the cupboard. January may have been bitter, but it’s ok, hope is on the horizon.

For me, February is all about roots. It’s our last chance to make the most of those knobbly, earthy gems before Spring brings greens and we’re all gushing about asparagus and pea pods, before anyone who’s anyone is leaving those muddy, scraggy guys to rest in favour of their prettier relatives. I’ve got a lot of love for those roots, so in February I like to make use of what’s left, think parsnips, turnips, jerusalem artichokes. And of course, that nubby diamond in the rough, celeriac.

For this month’s recipe, I went with what was in stock. Sweet potatoes and a butternut squash, jewel-like against a browned spiced chicken, rubbed in moroccan flavours, topped with charred cauliflower. All in one pot, softening in each other’s juices, speared with fresh rosemary. Killer one pot chicken dishes are usually my husband’s forte. Caribbean, French, North African flavours, he’s mastered them all. This is the stuff winter is made of, for us. Marinated and cooking in it’s own fat, alongside a smidge of lard and a bit of stock, all dryness is banished from the bird and the flesh comes away from the bone like butter. A one pot is easy to put together, saves on washing up and looks as impressive as a roast with a tenth of the effort. Perfect for a lazy February afternoon, when all you really want to do is snuggle under a blanket with your book. Add a tumbler of wine and you’re in for a warming, seasonal treat. Probably a mid-afternoon snooze, too.

What to Eat in February

One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower (enough for two)

1 Small Chicken
1 Butternut Squash
2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
Half a Head of Cauliflower
Half a Lemon
Fresh Rosemary to Garnish
30g Lard
Oil for Cooking

For the rub:
2 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp Caraway Seeds
2 Tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Nutmeg
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
1 Tbsp Olive Oil

What to Eat in February

If I’m making a one pot chicken dish, I generally find it cheaper to buy a whole chicken and joint it myself. I’m planning to do a post showing you how I do that, but for now, put your trust in Delia. She starts her instructions with “this is nothing to be afraid of” and I wholeheartedly concur. Save your chicken wings and freeze them alongside the carcass, which you should roast off in a hot oven and keep to make stock out of when you have two or three saved up. Whole chickens are very economic, especially if you can save cash with a multi-buy, joint them and freeze the individual pieces for later. You can always buy your chicken ready jointed at the supermarket, no judgement here, and obviously I don’t need to lecture you on the benefits of bone-in, skin-on thighs and legs vs breast fillets, right? Right.

Once you have your chicken pieces, measure out your spices. Here, I find it easiest to use an electric spice grinder, but a pestle and mortar is a good work out and will make you feel like you earned your supper. Alternatively, use the end of a rolling pin on your chopping board, just make do with what you have. When you have a fine mix, add in your oil and mix, you should end up with a thickish, red paste, still relatively dry. Roll your chicken around in it, rub it into all the crevasses. Set aside for later.

What to Eat in February

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Put a large saucepan full of salted water on to boil. In the meantime, peel and cube your squash. Those buggers can be tough, but don’t let them win. This video from The Shiska in the Kitchen should help, if you need. Next, do the same with your sweet potato. When the water comes to the boil, dunk your veg in and turn down to a simmer. Find yourself an overproof dish big enough to hold all your ingredients. I went with a Le Creuset Shallow Casserole (love of my life) which is 26cm across. Pop in a glug or two of oil, veg or olive, and heat. When the dish is good and hot, place the chicken in. Leave it in there, sizzling, while you drain your vegetables. They should’ve been cooking for around 5 minutes at this point. Cover and set them aside. Brown your chicken in the dish for around 4 minutes on each side. Turn off the hob.

Place your knob of lard into the dish with the chicken. Transfer your root veg into the dish and arrange it around the meat. Scatter over  some fresh rosemary. Chop your cauliflower into little florets and arrange it around the outside edge. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and cover. Place inside the oven on the middle shelf. Cook for 30 minutes. When your timer beeps, reach in and remove the lid. Mix things around a bit. If you’re worried things are getting too dry (each bird will release a different amount of fat, after all) you can simply add a cupful of chicken stock. Cook for a further 30 minutes or until the edges of the veg are turning a deep brown. If you’re worried about the chicken, just stick a fork in and if the juices run clear, you’re all good. To serve, mash any large chucks of squash or potato roughly with a fork and sprinkle with more fresh rosemary.

What to Eat in February

Take the dish to the table and tuck in. It’s a fairly filling meal for two, but if you want to flesh it out, add some buttered rolls as a side and you might end up with some chicken leftover for lunch in the week. The spice and richness of this meal pairs well with a red wine, as you may find that a white is delicate for the robust flavours. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a really spicy dish. It doesn’t blow your head off but leaves more of a background warmth instead. If you did want something cooling to cut through it though, a blob of sour cream with a little lemon juice mixed through would do nicely.

Other dishes to eat in February:

Farfalle, Pancetta & Kale from Food&_
Roasted Winter Citrus from Joy the Baker
Celery Root and Cauliflower Puree with Garlic Greens from Gourmande in the Kitchen
Warm Brussel Sprout Salad from A Beautiful Mess
Jerusalem Artichoke and Cheese Gratin from Lavender and Lovage
Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Ravioli from Eva Kolenko
Pomegranate, Pear & Kale Salad from Chasing Raspberries

Tell me, what are you eating this month? 

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.