Monday, 21 April 2014

Wild Garlic

No such thing as a free lunch? Not the case if you like wild garlic.

Not that the thought of eating a plate of wild garlic leaves really does it for me. But with a few extra store-cupboard ingredients that bag of foraged leaves can easily be transformed into a delicious meal.

When Gav came home with a 300g bag of the stuff, my initial thoughts turned to risotto. But Gav fancied making some gnocchi and with a bag of potatoes lurking in the cupboard, I had to agree that was the way forward!

He used the recipe on this website, but doubled it up and stuck in a couple of eggs too. The recipe is pretty easy to follow - although shaping looked a bit tricky. But, by 'eck the end result tasted fabulous! 

We served a batch with grated cheese and a little chutney (see below) for a quick and easy tea whilst the rest went into the freezer (shape the dough then lay them on a metal sheet to freeze, then bag them). I think we'll serve future portions with a simple tomato sauce, or maybe just a little butter and a squeeze of lemon with a watercress salad...

As the gnocchi only used 240g of the wild garlic we had 60g left so I decided to make a South Indian style chutney too - as I had about 40g of fresh coriander which needed using up. I just blitzed the fresh leaves with two green birds eye chillies (seeds still in), a pinch of salt and a few good glugs of oil (I just used sunflower, but you can use olive if you prefer). I'd have added some lemon juice too, but we were out of lemons.

The end result was as delicious as I expected (after attending a Milestone cookery class I often make something similar but with coriander leaves and a couple of garlic cloves) and I will be using it in sandwiches, stirred into pasta and gnocchi!

Hopefully this year's wild garlic adventures have only just begun and we have lots more experimenting to do... check out what the good people of twitter like to do with their wild garlic...

Chris Hanson - salsa verde with lamb - I blanch it first just to take the edge off it then chop and mix with anchovy, parsley, olive oil etc.

Ros Arksey - works well in pasta, in bread, on pizza or with new potatoes.

Auriel Majumdar - omelettes (with duck eggs), risotto and pesto with walnuts. All yum. Also just been in London & had it in gnudi, fluffy & delicious. 

So come on then... how do you eat yours?!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Sakushi - a hungryhouse top takeaway 2014

I recently received a lovely email from the guys at hungryhouse (and, yes, that is all one word and in lower case) asking me whether I wanted to use their takeaway service to try out a couple of their Top Takeaways for 2014. And, of course I accepted.

Now, only those takeaways with good reviews, ratings and customer return rates make the Top Takeaways list so I knew we were going to be in safe hands. Having said that, I was still pleased to see Japanese restaurant, Sakushi, on the list. We've had a few takeaways from here and we've never been disappointed.

Ordering through hungryhouse was pretty easy. I just logged in through my Facebook account, put our chosen items into the basket and entered my voucher code at checkout. I then received an email confirming the order was pending with Sakushi and another confirming acceptance of the order along with the expected time of delivery. We received our food some 42 minutes after making the order, which I thought was perfectly reasonable.

I'd decided to take advantage of the freebie situation by trying a few new dishes. Normally our order includes a serving of ton katsu kare, lots of salmon sashimi and some vegetable gyoza. But this time we went for a sushi and sashimi platter (£13.95), yakiniku pork don (£7.95), duck gyoza (£5.75) and takoyaki (£4.95). A bargainous 20% discount and a delivery charge of £1 brought the total to £27.58, which isn't cheap, but a reasonable price for Japanese food.

As we waited for our food, I prepared the table; a dish for the soy and wasabi dip, chopsticks and fizz (the perfect accompaniment for sushi).

Yakiniku pork don was chunks of pork served in a light sauce with red onions and rice. This was a new one for us - I think I chose it because I liked the name - I had no idea what to expect. And, to be fair, it was a little bland for us. This isn't a criticism of Sakushi; had I Googled the dish beforehand, I'd have known it wasn't really our cup of tea. The pork was well cooked, the onions added a touch of sweetness and the sushi rice was good and sticky - but I think I was just craving my kare!

Duck gyoza was tasty, and, thanks to the use of hoisin sauce, they were reminiscent of the popular crispy duck pancakes (never a bad thing). But takoyaki was probably the most successful of the new dishes we tried. These dough balls were stuffed with octopus and served with a sauce and mayonnaise (believe it or not, your favourite condiment is more popular in Japanese cooking than you'd think). They were pretty moreish and we'd have them again.

The sushi and sashimi platter came with three salmon and avocado rolls and four cucumber maki, but it's always the sashimi and the nigiri (essentially sashimi with a chunk of rice) that catch my eyes. Here we had three slices of salmon, two of tuna and two of seabass - they were all beautifully fresh and clean tasting. Our favourite is salmon and I was glad to find that our slices were quite thick, making for quite a decent portion. I was also pleased to see that an extra piece of nigiri had been thrown in, so we had salmon as well as prawn and tuna.

On a whole we were happy with the food. Although, if I'm honest, it wouldn't have hurt for the hot food to be a little, well, hotter but I guess I'd say that about any takeaway. At the end of the day, the food was well prepared and tasty. In terms of service I can't fault either hungryhouse or Sakushi. The ordering process was easy and the food arrived in a timely manner. 

There will be more Sakushi takeaways.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Happy Cook, Sheffield

Today has been a good day. 

With such lovely weather and a new house to furnish, we decided to have a stroll down Abbeydale Road to check out some of the vintage/retro (or plain old second hand) furniture so that we could get an idea of what was out there. Which meant that we hit London Road at about lunch time - perfect!

I had planned to show Gav the delights of Urban Choola, but it turns out that they don't open at lunchtime. So, as I'm on a mission to try some new places at the moment (to get out of my food rut), we gave Happy Cook a go.

Now, from outside, this is probably the least appealing restaurant on London Road, for me at least. A bright orange façade with pictures of food on the windows doesn't really do it for me and, even once we'd entered, I almost turned round and left as it was dark and empty - we thought it was shut. 

Thankfully a member of staff spotted us and sat us down. Décor is on the unusual side. Tables were sparkly with a granite effect, lights were on low and set into colourful, flower shaped shades and butterflies adorned the walls. There was also a TV showing (I assume) Chinese shows.

On learning that this was our first visit our server took us through the menu. It's short and simple. There's DIY stuff with Hot Pots and Korean BBQ - both available in all you can eat or set meal options. But as I'm a believer in having someone else do the cooking when I'm in a restaurant, we went for a selection of ready made Sizzling Stone Bowl meals and Charcoal BBQ skewers,

We also had a couple of the Taiwanese Special Teas (£2.80 each); I went for strawberry and Gav had the honey and pomelo. Both were really refreshing and the strawberry was pretty sweet whereas there was a bitter tang to the pomelo.

The food arrived in batches, presumably as and when it was ready and first up was the Beef Belly sizzling stone bowl (£6.50 or £4.50 between 12 and 5 with a fried rice option for 50p). And although the bowl wasn't sizzling as such, it was red hot which ensured the contents stayed piping hot throughout our meal. But enough about the bowl and onto its contents; tender chunks of beef, pak choi, fried rice all topped off with a fried egg. 

By 'eck this was good. I mean, really good. We were told that this was one of their specialities and it's clear why. There was a tasty and warming level of spicing, along with a few chillies to give it a little heat.  It was also a large portion - to be fair this would have fed the pair of us quite satisfactorily, but I'm glad we tried some of the BBQ too.

Chicken Gizzards (£1) were a new one on us and they reminded me of chicken hearts - these were nicely spiced. Squid (£1.50) and Tentacles (£2) were lightly grilled and served with a chilli sauce and fresh coriander leaves. Given the Asian love of texture to their food, it's hardly surprising that these had a good level of bite to them. However, our favourite was the Aubergine (£2). Sliced in half, cooked to full creamy deliciousness and served with a dressing of coriander, chilli and spring onions (I think) these were amazing for the £2 price tag.

Not that there's any question of the value of the food at Happy Cook. Our bill came to a grand total of £17.10, which, I'm guessing, is one of the cheapest, and tastiest, lunches we've had! We'll be back.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Jack Monroe's Best Ever Bolognese (or a rather good pasta sauce)

Ok, so I'm moving house, which means that I'm trying to save some pennies. And, whenever I'm trying to save pennies, the first thing to suffer is the food budget. Crazy, some might think, given how much I love food, but I personally like the challenge of making tasty and (relatively) healthy meals on a budget. The fact that I can also save us some money is a tremendous benefit.

I don't think I'm too bad at it either - I like a good bean casserole, curry or simple pasta dish. But it doesn't hurt to look around to see what other people are doing... which is where A Girl Called Jack comes in. Her blog is full of helpful recipes, hints and tips for anyone on a budget and I strongly recommend it.

Today I fancied giving her Best Ever Bolognese a go. The recipe is relatively easy to follow, but I did make a few changes...

  • I added some fresh thyme (Jack's method call for the addition of herbs, but they're not listed in the ingredients)
  • I cooked the dish for 20 mins after putting the lentils in, then turned the heat down and put the pasta on to cook
  • I used kale instead of spinach (as that's what I had in the fridge)
  • I used cider vinegar instead or red/white as I wanted to use the last of the bottle
  • I added a ladle of the pasta water to the sauce (coz the Italians really do know best)
  • I seasoned the dish before serving
  • I managed to get 4 decent servings out of it
  • Call me pedantic, but I would call this a pasta sauce, rather than a Bolognese

Now, I must admit that this sauce looked far from appealing after I'd blitzed it, and it looked even worse once I'd added the water... but as it cooked down, the lentils thickened up and the dish looked a lot better.

It tasted good too. And with my 200g or so of chicken livers coming in at 37p, this is one that will be repeated. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Wick at Both Ends, Sheffield

The Wick has been known to be punching above its weight for quite some time, which is way it's a long-standing favourite of mine and why I've written about it here, here and here.

For those of you who haven't yet tried The Wick, it's a West Street bar, but one that's like no other on this busy strip. With a cool and eclectic decor, relaxed and friendly service as well as a good range of drinks including cocktails, real ales and wine, this is a far cry from the studenty chains that you'll find in the area.

And it's not one to rest on its laurels which means that the food menu change regularly, which, in turn, means that I'm rarely short of a reason to visit and I sometimes receive invites to try the food... as I had on this occasion.

We were booked in on a Friday evening so the bar was pretty busy, but, sat in a quiet corner, this didn't really bother us and it just added to the atmosphere of the bar.

We each kicked off with a cocktail; a classic Negroni for me and a Hondarriba for him. Typically made with the Italian Campari, the Negroni is incredibly bitter and I must admit to not enjoying them in the past. In fact I've been making them with Aperol instead, but this was lovely and it's probably made a Campari fan of me. On the other hand, the Hondarriba was a twist on a smoky martini, with both Lagavulin and Campari making appearances in the glass.

Moving onto the food and Gav had the special of salmon terrine (£4.50).  Served with a little salad and a couple of slices of bread, this was more pate than terrine, but it was deliciously creamy and rich. Gav certainly had no complaints.

I went for the sweetbreads (£5.50). Coated in panko breadcrumbs, I was running another risk by ordering something I didn't usually like (I wasn't on a mission to find fault with the Wick or anything, honest!). But unlike the chicken nugget, heavily breaded and deep fried sweetbreads I'd had in the past, these were actually very good. The panko coating simply provided a crisp edge that didn't over power the delicate meat. An apple compote had a savoury tang to it and completed the sweetbreads nicely.

Moving onto mains and Gav had the roast belly pork (£8.50). It was served with a colcannon (not quite the bubble and squeak as promised on the menu) and a gravy that was so good that Gav still smiles when he thinks about it. I had the braised beef brisket (£8.95) which was beautifully tender and fell apart at the touch of the fork. Mash was smooth and creamy and the large bunch of watercress was the perfect accompaniment, especially as the strength of its peppery flavour lead me to believe that it was British grown. Essentially, this is a simple dish made of simple flavours that never fail to work together.

I was stuffed by this point, but Gav quite fancied the rhubarb panna cotta (£4.75). Although served in a glass coupe, I can assure you that the consistency was spot on and its glass casing wasn't necessary for keeping the dish together.

Service was easy going; friendly and efficient and table service certainly comes in very handy on a busy evening. So, once again, the Wick had pulled it off. This is good food at very reasonable prices and anyone looking to indulge without breaking the bank should head here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

God Bless the Italians - Pasta with Anchovies and Butter

My all time favourite quick and easy meal is freshly cooked pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped chilli and rocket leaves stirred into it over a gentle heat. As soon as I can smell the garlic cooking and the rocket has wilted, I take it off the heat and stir in a load of grated cheddar (or Parmesan if I'm feeling flush) and tuck in. 

It's gorgeous - garlic, chilli and cheese are an amazing combination anyway - so this just can't fail. However, I'm guessing it's not very authentic... I don't think the Italians eat cheddar.

Having said all this, I reckon they might like the simplicity of my dish. Minimal ingredients, minimal fuss but big flavours - these same themes run through a lot of traditional Italian pasta dishes - cacio e pepe immediately springs to mind.

Anyhoo, it seems that I now have another quick and easy pasta dish to add to my list; thanks to Elizabeth Minchilli who tweeted a link to the latest recipe on her blog this morning. Said recipe was for pasta with anchovies and butter. Yep, that's right. Pasta with anchovies and butter. Nowt else. Nada. (well a bit of pepper - I personally would skip the salt - there's enough in the anchovies and the butter).

What's more this is an authentic Roman recipe... albeit an on trend recipe. Aye, you heard right. This is on trend in Roma. So... whilst we're stuffing our faces with our trendy hot dogs, burgers, ribs and other stuff served in baskets, the Romans are enjoying simple ingredients, prepared with thought and combined to make the most stunning of dishes... Sigh...

The recipe is stupidly easy to follow. Just follow Elizabeth's easy steps and PLEASE make sure you do follow the Italians and add some of the pasta water to the dish - you'll be amazed at how quickly it thickens up the sauce.

Having said that, I didn't quite follow Elizabeth's tips in terms of the quality of the ingredients used. I grabbed the first (and cheapest) tin of anchovies that I could find and I used Tesco Value dried penne pasta (I've got a house to buy dammit)... but I did manage to use some English, Red Tractor, butter.

And the end result? Bloody gorgeous. Seriously. Go cook it. Now.