Food Samaritans – Leeds Food Charity & Social Enterprise

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If you’re from Leeds and active on Facebook, you might have noticed the above image being shared this week, along with a plea which urges friends to contribute to an ad-hoc food donation point in the Hyde Park neighbourhood:

 

“Dear all my leeds friends, there isn’t a food bank in hyde park and it’s pretty rank seeing the amount of food waste on the side of the streets. We’ve set up a little spot to dump food on the end of our road which is a popular spot for the hyde park homeless. Preferably no food that goes off…. Not to far a walk from anyone. And a good way to give back to the community we have taken from for 3 years!!”

Among a sea of “Top 80 Man v Food Challenges!!” clickbait lists about irresponsible restaurants encouraging patrons to fist globs of Nachos Grande out of a wheelie bin and into their mouth, this kind of attitude is welcome, humbling and very encouraging – the execution is a little misguided though: Read more

What do you buy the person who eats everything?

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A £700 leg of Jamón Ibérico, a copper-bottom Sautee pan and a new batch of hens might be the perfect gift for the foodie in every Guardian readers’ life, but – no offence –  I can’t imagine anybody who reads this blog spontaneously dropping a stack on a pan and some ham because an article said so.


If your favourite glutton doesn’t happen to live inside a Habitat catalogue shoot, they’re more likely to appreciate some of these Christmas treats:


Polyscience Smoking Gun

Let’s get it out of the way; yes it looks like – and would probably perform functionally as – drug paraphernalia, and using it as such might actually make you the only person in the country to laugh during the Mrs. Brown’s Boys Christmas Special – Feck The Halls (just kidding, that’s much too clever a name).  
To do that would be such a waste though, when you could be using it to infuse meats, cheeses, vegetables, crisps, beer, wine and liquor with cold-smoke from wood, herbs, spices, teas and any other combustable you can think to put in there.
£69.99 Lakeland
Minosharp Water Sharpener

A knife is a very personal item that could very well last its owner a lifetime, and there’s so much room for error when choosing one – pick the wrong size, shape, balance or type of steel and you’ve wasted your money, ruined Christmas, and the person you bought it for could be forgiven for never talking to you again.  Besides, any home chef worth their Maldon will already have one or two that they swear by and use for 90% of the jobs in their kitchen.
A knife-sharpener is unlikely to evoke an N64 Kid-esque reaction when it’s opened on Christmas morning, and everybody else in the room might be thinking “A knife sharpener, what a sad bastard.  They’ll much prefer the Minion I’ve bought them despite the fact we’re both grown adults” – but when your giftee’s trusty old blade has been given a new lease of life, and it’s slicing off thin, silken ribbons of Turkey breast without a care in the world, you’ll both know that you’ve won Christmas.
Besides, what kind of selfish sociopath is going to already have one of these, at this price?
£27.98 Amazon
Coffee Stuff

People who are predisposed to really liking food are inevitably coffee people as well.  They go hand in hand – the sophisticated flavour palates, the experimentation and customisation that comes from the infinite combinations of grinding, brewing, cupping and whatever else, and certainly the inherent elitism.  Espresso machines are mostly bogus, and highly unlikely to yield barista-style results, so don’t bother spending hundreds of pounds attempting to.
Aeropress and Bialetti both make equipment that makes good quality espresso with minimal effort, for around £20.  That bag of Whittard’s coffee that’s been half-folded over in a cupboard for 18 months just isn’t going to cut it, so do the equipment some justice by getting them a subscription to Pact as well – they deliver fresh roast and ground gourmet coffee as often as you’d like on a rolling subscription, so you can get them as much or as little as you think they deserve – the first bag is only £1 as well.
Aeropress £25 CoffeeHit.co.uk
Bialetti 6 Cup £17.50 Amazon
Pact Coffee £6.95/250g(£1 for first bag) Pact
Maldon Sea Salt
Imagine my delight when I found out gold-standard of seasoning is available in 1.5kg buckets.  Giving this to an aspiring home chef is the gift equivalent of a sly wink or a secret handshake, they’ll know that you just get them, and this type of quantity will last for up to a week in their kitchen.

£13.60 Amazon

Magazines

We live in a golden age of stylish, high concept cookbooks catering to every possible niche cuisine, but speaking from experience, your giftee will be inundated with them every special occasion as soon as they show even a passing interest in food.  Magazines will look just as good on their coffee table, and a subscription will remind them every few months what a great friend you are.

TOAST and Lucky Peach are both pleasingly high-quality, design-conscious publications which feature articles, photography and illustrations from a range of contributors, sharing their perspective on the people, stories and culture of food.  Like this blog, but less crap.

If you’re set on giving somebody a cookbook though, SousChef.co.uk has done what somebody should have done a long-ass time ago, and made hampers containing books and a selection of the harder to find ingredients used – nothing’s worse than getting the new Ottolenghi book for Christmas and not being able to find a shop open that sells Harissa.


TOAST £15 EatDrinkToast.com
Lucky Peach $48/4 Issues lky.ph

Leeds Indie Food Festival Passport




If your pal is anywhere near Leeds in May, they’ll be going to the Indie Food Festival.  As I mentioned here it’s going on for two weeks – with anybody who’s anybody in the Leeds food game taking part in events – and finishes with the biggest street feast the City’s ever seen.

We’re not 17 any more, so nobody wants to keep a skeevy fabric wristband on for two whole weeks.  The Festival Passport acts as the wristband for public and gets filled with stamps as its owner attends tastings, panels, workshops and screenings over the course of the fortnight, entitling them to priority tickets, discounts, and exclusive events and products.

£12.50 LeedsIndieFood.co.uk

Regular Guy Fitness Club

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As a guy who writes about food, my level of fitness is largely a product of my environment; an environment that, for the past 18 months, has been full of extravagant street food and high %ABV craft beers. It’s a combination which has left me in peak physical condition – for a 56 year old heavy-smoker whose vices include port and cheese.

Confit-ing food isn’t going to suddenly become less delicious overnight; I’ve shed my naive, ignorant dismissal of offal as being totally gross (except tripe, that is and always will be totally gross); I know now that it’s entirely within the realms of possibility to deep-fry ice cream. These things can’t be unseen or untasted, changing eating habits at this point isn’t an option – once you go black pudding, you never go back, pudding.

I know I’m not alone – I’ve seen my peers stood around at food markets dribbling salted caramel into their beards, and a cursory glance at Instagram suggests you all share my dedication to discovering new, gluttonous ways to enhance Macaroni Cheese. The inevitable outcome of this is that we’re going to expand, and in that case there are two options.

Option One:

Own it! Dove commercials and #bodyposi memes have persuaded everybody of the merits of being big – surveys show that 8 out of 10 anacondas prefer it if you’ve got buns – but there’s a couple of risks involved with this one. Firstly not everybody can be Latrice Royale or Action Bronson; there’s a chance you might not pull off the image with their pizzazz, and look more like an out of work WCW wrestler. There’s also the health implications – you’ll get out of breath on escalators, you’ll be the subject of taunts if you ever have to boot an awol football back to a group of youths in the park, and then you’ll die young. At that point all of your loved ones will think you’re a posthumous dick for denying them several more years of your company, just so you could eat pizzas where the crust is made out of miniature burritos (patent pending). If you don’t want your memory sullied, you can try Option Two:

Option Two: 

Do just enough physical exercise to negate all of the chorizo you put in everything.  To the casual outsider, getting fit looks like a daunting world of adverts for fat-burning pills that REALLY WORK!, discovered by a guy that DOCTORS HATE!, “banter”, and iPhone apps which track your running sessions and have an option to brag about it on social media.  The only apparent upsides to this lifestyle are “Cheat Day” – when you follow the Butterfield Diet for one day every three months, I heard about it from The Rock who devours a band’s entire European tour rider in 24 hours – and the fact that you can draw a massive knob on your local park with your running app and a little bit of planning.

I don’t know if you’ve been to a gymnasium recently, but they’re nothing like in films.  I was expecting all-grey sweatsuits, punchbags and a wise, motivational trainer; but it turned out to be full of posturing bros with hairstyles and Nike Huaraches, as well as one guy who stood in the middle of the changing room, drying his dick with a hairdryer.  It takes a certain kind of masochist to take up running in the Winter, so chill dudes like you and I are left with the option of working out at home.

I’m going to test out some of the more popular home workout regimes and reporting back to let you know how effective and sustainable they are – this isn’t a series of articles which assumes people give a shit about my “road to fitness”, so you don’t have to deal with any personal updates or gross before and after photos, it’s a review and guide for regular people who want to fit some fitness in around the constraints of jobs, social lives, restaurants that they have to Instagram, and laziness.

Check back later this week for the first impressions of Focus T25.

An Ode to the Festive Bake

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Each generation grows up with its own concensus of pop-culture artifacts that spell the impending Festive season.  Anybody who came of age between 1990 and 2008-ish – regardless of gender, race or social class – will be able to tell you that Christmas didn’t begin until the first broadcast of the Coca Cola advert with the convoy of illuminated lorries and their unneccesary carbon footprint.

That wore thin after Youtube came out and let people watch adverts any time they wanted, and userpers to its throne came thick and fast; the announcement of each year’s candidate for alternative Christmas Number One – Rage Against the Machine did it, Simon Cowell didn’t give a shit, and the concept became a dead horse for serious “Musos” to flog each year – Elf popping up on Channel 4’s program schedule one Sunday; Starbucks turning people’s misspelt-name related angst into childish wonderment just by making their cups red, like reverse-matadors.

For me though, Chritmas begins when I walk past a Greggs – caution in my step due to the early-November sludge of damp leaves – and smell that familiar scent of the Festive Bake; a sensory trigger as salient as hearing the opening strings to Spice Girls – 2 Become 1, or seeing some Daily Mail-reading shithead post a Facebook status about Muslims trying to ban tinsel, or make Figgy Pudding halal.
Its flavour pallate – Chicken and Bacon with stuffing (if you’re lucky), sage and cranberry sauce – isn’t particularly Christmassy; take the cranberries out and you’ve got a standard Fray Bentos pie which you can attempt to enjoy at any time of the year, as long as you’ve got a decent tin-opener.

But the Festive Bake is more than the sum of its parts – the list of ingredients doesn’t take into account all the times you’ve got one (two) on the way to the German Market – just to tide you over, or the Pavlovian conditioning which makes you brush the crumbs off your scarf, even though you’ve stopped wearing one because you’ve remembered that scarfs make your beard itchy.

I tried to cheat this year – Buzzfeed would probably call it a “Life Hack” – by buying Festive Bakes in bulk from Iceland and keeping them in the freezer so I could eat them at regular intervals throughout the year, and each attempt left me disappointed.  Maybe it was due to my inferior oven or the fact that eating Sage and Cranberry sauce while watching the World Cup group stages feels a bit jarring, but the romance just wasn’t there.

Trinity Kitchen – 10 Highlights from the First Year

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It’s a common pop-cultural phenomenon for near-identical movies to come out at around the same time – I don’t just mean copycats which wear their plagiarism on their sleeve, but actual massive coincidences like Deep Impact and Armageddon, The Prestige and The Illusionist, Mean Girls and NOTHING, because Mean Girls is one of a damn kind.  But what about Sharks Tale and Antz coming out so close to Finding Nemo and Bugs Life?

It’s not just films – the current UK Top 40 contains no less than 39 songs that are about bums; or have videos with a tracking shot of somebody’s bum for 4 minutes; or come on a bum-shaped picture-disc which looks like the artists’ bum, and has an anus in the middle where you put the spindle.  Admittedly those 39 songs are more tasteful than the other charting record though, which has the misfortune of carrying Ed Sheeran’s face on the cover.

In October 2013 this phenomenon spread to food, and it was a good month for Leeds city centre.   Before you had chance to wipe the Dough Boys sauce off your face at the newly-opened Belgrave, Trinity Kitchen was opening just down the road – a new kind of food court which snubbed the typical “Fast Food-Fast Food-Harry Ramsdens-Spud U Like-Fast Food” roulette, ingrained in the DNA of shopping centres across the country.

Headed by Richard Johnson from British Street Food, TK hosts a changing line-up of street food vendors from around the country, lifting their Ambulances and Citroes vans in through the ceiling with a great big crane, and putting a roof over their head for a month at a time.  There are a few permanent residents as well, including Chicago Rib Shack, Burrito, Chip & Fish which give a bit of consistency to the place, and provide more familiar food to bring in big groups of people and make sure nobody goes hungry, regardless of how fussy an eater they are.
It isn’t completely without fault – there’s often a lot of overlap with several similar vendors on the same or consecutive months; line-ups can sometimes seem regimented and formulaic, I’ve worked out it’s usually 1 Meat, 1 Pan-Asian, 2 Spicy and a token Dessert; and I’m yet to meet the person who wants to be interrupted by a loud DJ set when they’re eating dinner, but the good far outweighs the bad.  Vendors are queuing up months in advance to reserve a pitch, the quietest I’ve ever seen it is “Contently buzzing”, and it’s given local businesses a lot of valuable exposure while bringing in new things that a local audience wouldn’t have discovered on their own – it’s a credit to the City, and Leeds is lucky we didn’t have to settle for a Subway and a sit-down Greggs.
Here are my highlights from the first 12 months, in no particular order:

1. Pho

Confession: For the first 3ish months of Trinity Kitchen, I didn’t bother any of the vans with my custom, and that’s because Pho was (and is) so good.  The freshest Vietnamese dishes of noodles, soups and salads served quicker than you’d imagine possible for around £20 for 2 people, including sides like fried squid and summer rolls.

Cafe Moor has been toiling away in Leeds for years, serving authentic and cheap Middle Eastern and North African food without any gimmicks or pretence from its 10am-5pm plot in Kirkgate Market.  It was wildly popular among a new audience in Trinity Kitchen and benefitted hugely form the exposure – they’re now in plans to expand on their market stall and open a restaurant in the City Centre.

3. Original Fry Up Material

So universally well received that they’ve found a second-home in Leeds, seemingly popping up at every other event, so keep an eye out for them.  Some nice dudes with a funny name, serving consistently good food – including the best version of a Blue Cheese burger I’ve eaten – and many would say the best burger there’s ever been at Trinity Kitchen, which might upset…

4. Meatwagon

One of the best things about Trinity Kitchen is discovering new businesses that you wouldn’t have usually crossed paths with.  Meatwagon’s arrival was a whole other game, everybody’s heard of them and the rumours that TK had got such a huge name created a lot of hype and genuine excitement.  As PR goes they didn’t get off to the best of starts (see the review), but it was handled well, and the visit turned out to be a successful preview of the new, very welcome MEATliquor restaurant just downstairs.

5. Dorshi

Meatwagon was good, but it wasn’t the main event in March, that title belongs to Dorshi – probably the best thing there’s ever been at Trinity.  They might be all-conquering award winners now, but I was gushing over their West Country, Southside UK take on Sushi before they were cool.  A certain fondness will always be reserved for them, for introducing me to Kewpie mayo.

6. Pembermans

If Ice Cube was at Trinity Kitchen on the first day that May’s traders opened up, he’d say “Fuck the Goodyear blimp, this is a good day”.  Pembermans might have looked like any other pulled-meat van, but their breakfast and lunch Bento boxes were something special.  There’s no round-up, or even any pictures from May because I was just too busy eating for the whole month.

7. Cheese Truck

This is what it’s all about.  Looking at all the previous Kitchen lineups I don’t think anybody would have anticipated something as original as a gourmet cheese toastie van, but anybody who heard about it, saw it, or ate anything from there lost their minds.  I’d love to see more risky choices like this in the future.

8. MeiMei’s Street Cart

The final pick from TK’s finest month, MeiMei’s brought Chinese street food like you’ve only heard about in blogs from places like London.  Comfort-dishes like sticky ribs and wings (the sauce from which relegated several top-tier t-shirts to the “stained loungewear” drawer), and their amazing signature Jian Bing; a savoury crepe filled with umami sauces, fresh salad, Pork, Duck and crispy wonton.

9. Rolawala

Another heartwarming success story:  Turning up in April and selling naan wraps filled with flame-grilled meat or vegetarian curries, Rolawala became one of the most popular visitors ever.  Fast forward to this week, and they’re preparing to open a permanent spot where Notes Cafe used to be.

10. Madeleine Express

Considering the insistence on having a token cake van every month, I had to include one sweet highlight.  Madeleine Express is far from a token choice though; also known as Noisette Bakehouse, Leeds’ local Sarah consistently comes up with incredible recipes combining non-conventional flavours and classic formats, as well as the very best versions of traditional favourites like Salted Caramel Brownies and (naturally) Cinnamon Madeleines.  All without a glob of buttercream icing or a twee sprinkle of edible-glitter in sight.