Recipe: Balsamic Beetroot Stew

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Regular readers will have seen me sing the praises of Leeds Market Delivered, who I’ve been buying my Fruit & Veg from for a couple of weeks now.  One of the things I like most about the service is the fact that Vegetables are sold as hampers; you choose how much to spend and they send you a corresponding amount of produce, it turns meal times into a play-at-home version of Ready Steady Cook.

In the week I try to eat as sensibly as possible to justify my indulgence in Farmers Markets and restaurants at weekends.  Having received a load of root vegetables from Market Delivered, I set about coming up with a nutritious stew, with roasted Beetroots at the helm.


Ingredients

  • 4 Beetroots
  • 2 Parsnips
  • 4 Carrots
  • 1 Medium White Onion
  • 2 Sticks of Celery
  • 1 Litre Vegetable Stock
  • 3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (more or less to taste)
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Clove of Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Cinnamon

Method

1. Finely dice your onion and celery, chop the clove of garlic, and fry these with a knob of butter over a low heat until soft.  This should take about 10-15 minutes, but the longer you can cook them for at the start, the more flavour you’ll get from them in the final dish.

2. Peel your root vegetables and chop them into large chunks, at a jaunty, blog-friendly angle.

 3. Add your roots to the softened onion and celery, pour a glug of olive oil on top of everything and give it a big stir until everything’s coated.

 4. Roast everything in a 200°c oven for 40 minutes.

5. This is completely optional, but at this point I added a few squares of really dark chocolate.  The cocoa works well with the balsamic vinegar, and the chocolate give a nice thick gloss to the gravy.  Feel free to skip this if it isn’t to your taste though.
6. Add the vegetable stock and balsamic vinegar, and bring to the boil on the hob.  Cover, and cook in the oven again at 200°c for a further 30 minutes.

You can serve this as you would any other stew, with some nice crusty bread to mop up the excess gravy.  Personally I paired it with a cold Minted Bulgur Wheat & Chick Pea salad, with some Apple & Celery slaw for a contrast of flavours.

Review: Roast & Conch

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Being from the West Midlands originally, I’ve visited Cadbury World more than my fair share of times – celebrating various birthdays, school trips, foreign-exchange visits, heist attempts… – so I know my stuff when it comes to Chocolate and how it’s made.

The factory tour starts with a brief introduction to the humble cocoa bean, then there’s a fountain which looks like two glasses of milk perpetually being poured into a vat, then you go on a mildly exhilarating tour of a model village occupied my anthropomorphic cocoa beans, watch an old advert of a woman eating a Flake in the bath,  and finally you get to the end of the production line; nose full of smells – and get given a Curly Wurly to whet your appetite before being herded into the gift shop to buy a yard of Freddos and a ruler that looks like a Dairy Milk.
When we arrived at our table at Roast & Conch, and received an introduction to the concept, our waitress taught me more about Cocoa in 2 minutes than I’d learned in my entire childhood of Bourneville pilgrimages.  You see, Hotel Chocolat’s high-concept restaurant boasts a menu where every item contains chocolate.  
Sort of.
The menu combines British and Caribbean cuisine, and during the introduction it was explained that cocoa beans were used to season the dishes, rather than add sweetness – we weren’t going to find Creme-Eggs benedict on the menu, or superfluous squares of chocolate thrown on top of things for the sake of it.
We were shown a small plate of cocoa beans on our table and invited to crack them open and have a taste.  Sure enough, the first thing you notice is a familiar smell of dark chocolate, followed by an intensely bitter, nutty flavour.
This introduction to the concept was indicative of the high level of service at Roast & Conch; upon arrival we were greeted by a member of staff who took our coats before showing us to our seats, our waitress didn’t hesitate to keep topping up our table’s water throughout the meal and brought an amuse-bouche to the table before our first course – obviously not make-or-break factors, but appreciated details nonetheless.
While I’m not usually a fan of gnocchi, I decided to stray out of my comfort zone and take a friend’s advice to try the Sweet Potato & Cocoa Nib Cornmeal Gnocchi (£6.5) starter – tentatively billed as served with “Pumpkin and Nutmeg Air”.  
Nowhere near as pretentious as the menu makes out, the “air” was in fact a ridiculously smooth pumpkin puree which formed a bed for the nicest gnocchi I’ve tasted.  Substituting sweet potato and cornmeal for the usual potato and flour made it really tender, and the cocoa nibs gave it a real bite.  
I can say with total conviction that eating this gnocchi felt nothing like chewing an eyeball, which is something I’ve not been able to say about gnocchi before.  They’re welcome to quote me on that as well.
Being a big lamb enthusiast, I couldn’t resist the 8-hour Lamb Pepperpot (£15) main – the meat was cooked to the point where it disintegrated into layers of silk in my mouth, and the cocoa nibs perfectly complemented the rich, sweet umami taste of the lamb gravy.
If I had any criticism, it would be that the ground provisions – root vegetables – in the stew were perhaps too thoroughly cooked, a little bite to them would have added a welcome variety of texture.
My partner had the Mac & Cheese Pie (£12) which was presented inventively in an open-topped crust made from cocoa nibs, with hard-cheese crackling on top; a welcome change from the standard practice of slopping an earthenware dish of the stuff under a grill with some cheese on top.
The Macaroni itself was delicately flavoured with Gruyere and truffle oil, and surprisingly light but still felt like a satisfying main course.
We shared Green Beans and Sauteed Spinach (Both £4) which were both tasty, but a very rich addition to my main course.  I felt like the Pepperpot would have been better with Sweet Potato Ribbons (£3) as a bit of respite from the cocoa nib onslaught.
After a palette-cleansing Ginger Fizz cocktail (£7.95) we were able to move onto the desserts.  Considering the ubiquity of chocolate on the rest of the menu it was no surprise to see more of the same on the back page,  however some of the offerings were surprisingly understated.  There was no tacky Fudge Sundae or Death By Chocolate in sight.
We opted for the Ganache Tart (£6) which was served with a brilliant hazelnut praline ice cream, and Pecan Pie (£6).  The latter was my favourite of the two, due to the welcome but unexpected addition of raisins, and an amazing pecan brittle on the side.

At £74 for two people (including drinks and service) Roast & Conch isn’t cheap, and it’s not the type of place we could visit regularly – but taking into account the really high standard of service, the atmosphere, inimitable food, and the experience of the concept, it makes the restaurant a great choice when you’re after something a little bit special and different.
They haven’t got a car in the shape of a Creme Egg outside though, so Cadbury World has still got that going for it. 

Review: Wasabi Sushi & Bento

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Wasabi has been teasing the people of Leeds with its impending presence for over a year now – baggsying one of the renovated Albion Street plots and plastering it in promotional material weeks before Trinity launched.  
Finally, last April – with much fanfare – Trinity launched but Wasabi wasn’t ready yet.  Not a problem, there was to be a staggered launch with some places opening at a later date.  Then a few months later, the second wave of Trinity shops opened!  But Wasabi wasn’t ready yet.  Perhaps – being an eaterie – Wasabi would launch at the same time as the much talked-about Trinity Kitchen.  Then a few months later still, Trinity Kitchen opened!  But Wasabi wasn’t ready yet.
And then almost a year later, Wasabi announced that it would be opening its doors at 12 noon on February 19th, with a generous giveaway of Free Sushi for a year for the first 50 customers.  I went down and got my place in the queue at just gone 11am to make sure I was one of the lucky 50, and I waited until noon came round…and then!!
Wasabi still wasn’t ready.

In the end, we ended up being let in at about 12:35, after being strategically left outside to play hype-man and make the place look popular, while their Social Media manager Tweeted photos of us, and people wandered past on their way to buy a Boots Meal Deal.
I’ve got no problem being used as a marketing tool – that’s essentially the purpose a food blogger serves – and I’ve queued for ages to get into enough empty nightclubs to understand this particular tactic, but we were stood on the other side of the store’s glass facade, and we could tell that there was nothing going on in the restaurant to warrant this cynical delay.
Upon entering the store we were greeted by a member of staff attempting to explain the queuing system, the blueprint for which was seemingly devised by M.C. Escher.  A large queue snaked around the fridges where sushi platters were kept, but you could skip that and go straight to the hot food counter if you wanted, which was sandwiched in between the fridges and the cashiers.  Once you’d been served, you then had to join another queue to go to one of the tills – certain tills for hot food and certain ones for sushi, but with no indication which was which.
We decided to go for hot food, and kind of awkwardly stood near the counter, unsure if we were in the right place, or if we’d unknowingly pushed in front of somebody.  My partner ordered the Chicken Katsu Curry (£4.95) and then joined one of the queues to go and pay.  I stood at the counter for a while longer while people were seemingly picked at random to order their food, eventually ordering the Salmon Teriyaki (£5.95) with a Chicken Yakitori (£1), Tempura Prawn (£1) and Two Fried Chicken Gyoza (£1.50) (Although I did only get the one Gyoza).
The meals at Wasabi are very large portions, served in tubs which require you to tackle your food top-down, with the rice at the bottom.  I attempted to eat mine side-on to get an even distribution of rice throughout the meal, but it defied gravity and stuck to the bottom of the tub, requiring excavation with the plastic fork.  
My Salmon wasn’t terrible, but it was very poor – it possessed a strong flavour suggesting that it was long past fresh, and was dry inside and out; the only moisture coming from the Teriyaki sauce which tasted like it was made almost entirely from Balsamic vinegar.
My partner’s main was similarly bad, the chicken was greasy, with the panko breadcrumb lost its crispiness and turned almost furry, having absorbed moisture from the meat.  The sauce was ok – I mentioned in my review of Yu Kyu that some attempts at Katsu curry sare nothing more than chip shop curry sauce, and this was a prime example of that.
The Yakitori, Tempura and Gyoza were of the standard you could expect from an Iceland Christmas buffet, and they were entirely cold.  One bite into the hard, fatty Yakitori and I immediately lost my appetite. 
Would the food have been this bad if it hadn’t been left in the hot-trays for half an hour longer than usual while the queue was left brewing outside?  Not quite, but it still wouldn’t have come close to being good.  This is exactly the same quality of food, if not worse, that you could receive at the most basic of All You Can Eat restaurants – at the current price point, Wasabi is placing itself in direct competition with Yo! Sushi, and it doesn’t begin to come close.
To put a positive spin on the place, the cold food that we saw in the fridges looked good and was proving very popular.  Nigiri, Maki, Sashimi and hand-rolls were all lined up in impressively uniform rows, sealed in cellophane to be bought Pick-n-Mix style, or in ready-made mixed sets.

The soups and salads looked very fresh; albeit a little expensive for the equivalent of something you could get from Pret.  The cost really become an issue when you consider that the brilliant Pho is upstairs, serving similar healthy salads and soups, made fresh, for around the same price.

And that’s where Wasabi really shows its flaws; Leeds has been spoilt for choice recently with various ventures popping up and providing brilliant, exciting, affordable food, made by people who actually give a shit, and this place stands out like a sore thumb.  Newton’s Third Law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; Wasabi is the antithesis of Trinity Kitchen and all of the other great food progress that’s currently being made, it is actively bad food, attempting to look like something more.
On top of this, when I Tweeted about my dissatisfaction with the food; knowing that fellow bloggers had attended, I received the following audacious DM from Wasabi:
Such is their blind arrogance and refusal to accept critique, that they assume the only reason anybody could fault them is if they didn’t win their promotional contest.
Actually, being one of the first 50 people in the store, I was given a card which entitles the holder to a free Wasabi meal up to the value of £10 every month for a year.  After eating there that prospect fills me with dread, so I’ve donated my card to a person living on the streets; at least some good will come of the experience.

Dough Boys @ Belgrave Music Hall

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I imagine you’ve been sat at your laptop since my last post, pressing refresh (or at least sitting back in a Muumuu and fat guy-hat while a pecking bird toy presses refresh for you, like when Homer becomes obese and starts working from home) and waiting for me to drop some more knowledge.  Well sorry for the wait guys, I’ve just been busy.  Get off my back, jeez!

I wasn’t too busy for a couple of lazy Sunday pints and pizzas though, so I lobbed my camera in my pocket and went to Belgrave – I reviewed their Street Feast last week and spoke fondly of everything but neglected to take photos of Dough Boys.  
The only way to correct this rookie error was by cramming food into myself so I could take photos of it, rather than forcing people to rely on eloquent descriptions of pizza.  Spoiler alert: It looks like pizza!


Really good pizza, mind you.  This is the Silvio, or their take on the Margarita – jazzed up with fresh basil and smoked sea salt after coming out of the oven.

And the exotic devil underneath is the Screaming Goat, which has Goats Cheese, Beetroot, Chervil and Walnuts on top.
They’re not stingy with toppings, but at the same time they don’t weigh down the slice and leave you with a lap full of wet cheese.  As before the dough is great – crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle with frequent air pockets and the occasional, welcome charred bit.
As well as the two varieties we tried, you can also get Sausage Fest (a meat feast with I think 3 types of sausage), Woodsy (Pepperoni and Mushroom), Baa No More (A Middle Eastern-inspired one with spiced Lamb) and another vegetarian offering aptly named Paul & Linda (Another vegetarian option with Artichoke hearts) which they can make vegan-friendly on request.  
As the pizza names suggest, they’ve got no problem being tongue-in-cheek about what they do.  Every month they host Dough vs Dude – a speed-eating contest which I haven’t taken part in yet because I’m giving everyone else a chance first – and they often come up with themed pizzas based on bands playing at Belgrave.  Hopefully they’ll do something similar for the Box Set Quiz nights which start next month – whole, unsliced pizzas with dipping sticks for the Breaking Bad quiz would be a good start.  And if you don’t understand why, THEN DON’T BOTHER COMING TO THE QUIZ, SON!
I mentioned it in passing before but I feel I should reiterate how good value they are as well, we got 4 slices – which equates to an entire 14″-ish pizza – for under a fiver thanks the ridiculously generous half price slice offer which runs every day before 7.  It’s so good that you wouldn’t hesitate to buy it at full price, but don’t tell them that.

Review: Pho Cafe, Trinity Kitchen

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Last week’s Trinity Kitchen round up focussed on the food vans which embrace us in a brief, adrenaline fuelled fling before leaving us again – exotic sailors on shore leave; rock stars swaggering into town for one night of their world tour; Danny Zucho at the beach at the start of Grease.

As exciting and brilliant as they are, and I must stress that the current crop are fantastic – to pretend Trinity Kitchen lives and dies by the appeal of these mysterious strangers would be unfair on the restaurants who are there all the time; consistent, reliable, and there for us when the cowboys ride their converted School-buses and Transit vans into the sunset, back to that London or wherever they’re from.
Today I’ll be reviewing Pho.
Likely to be the first thing you notice as you enter Trinity Kitchen is Pho – an island consisting of little more but a large, open plan kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.  The menu specialises in Vietnamese street food such as soups, salads and noodles, and the fact that Pho’s de facto seating area consists of cantina-style long benches and bar stools suggests you’re here for a good time, not a long time.  We pitched up at one of the benches, and went to enquire about some of the menu items.
At the counter we got a briefing of the menu from Justina, who was very thorough, despite the jarring distraction of a DJ/Drummer ensemble not too far from the counter.  Being big fans of Thai food we had a pretty decent point of reference for most of the dishes, and went for a combination of the familiar, and things that we wouldn’t feel guilty about eating during our week of repenting for the weekends multitude of sins.

Noticing one of the workers throwing fruit into a juicing machine we decided to try a couple of fresh juices as well, to really trick ourselves into thinking we were detoxing: Super Green Juice (£2.95) containing Kale, Pineapple, Apple and (I think) Mint, and Apple, Beetroot & Carrot (£2.95) – No prizes for working out what went into them.  The super juice was the winner of the two, it somehow tasted really creamy, and not at all like cooked kale.

After just a few minutes our buzzer started jittering around the table and I went to retrieve them.  For starter we shared Vegetable Spring Rolls (£4.75) and Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs (£4.95).  The spring rolls were bigger than expected which seemed a bit daunting if you’re used to takeaway spring rolls filled with anonymous stodge, but these were really pleasantly light; wrapped in rice paper rather than pastry (So gluten free as well as lower in calories) they contained a mix of vegetables, glass noodles and herbs.

The meatballs were rich and well seasoned; each one a couple of mouthfuls in size, they were lightly crispy on the outside with a firm texture inside, similar to a Thai fish-cake.  Four spring rolls and five meatballs were 274 calories and 323 calories, respectively (Although these figures don’t include the incredible peanut dipping sauce that accompanied them)

For the main course I went for the Pho Xao, or Wok Fried Noodles with Tender Beef (£6.95).  The noodles were cooked perfectly with a nice bite to them, and the generous amount of beef which really was tender flavourful – it could have easily taken center stage in a roast dinner, never mind being hidden away among a forest of noodles.  I checked the nutritional info because I’m like that, and was impressed to see it just shy of 400 calories.

The other half had Ca-ri: Vietnamese Curry with Tiger Prawn (£8.95) which was similar to a Thai curry in the sense that it had a fragrant balance of herbs to compliment the heat of the chilli, but thicker and it seemed richer.  It was served with a dome of rice on the side so you could add as much or as little as you liked, with the whole dish amounting to just over 700 calories.

As well as our mains, we shared a Goi ngo sen, which I would never attempt to pronounce, preferring to pussy out and use the menu number “8”, or the informal Tangy Lotus Stem Salad (£4.95).

This was pure vegetables and protein, with shredded chicken and butterflied tiger prawns strewn over a bed of Green beans, carrots, and the titular lotus stems.  The salad provided a nice fresh palate-cleanser between chopstick-fuls of our mains, with a faint peppery taste similar to raw celery.  Being nothing but vegetables and white meat, the whole dish only added just under 200 calories to our grand total.

Overall we were both really impressed with the meal, we knew we would be as we’d been a few times before and loved it, but I had no idea that it was all so healthy.  Definitely a place I’ll be going back to.

Pho on Urbanspoon

Market Delivered – Leeds Market Produce Delivered to Your Door

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The virtues of buying fresh locally-grown produce are obvious (celebrity chefs have been campaigning tirelessly for the past 15-ish years to make sure we’re aware of them) , and us Leeds folk should count ourselves lucky that we have such an amazing hub of independent traders as the Kirkgate market, right in the middle of our City centre.

While it’s entirely feasible that Nigel and Jamie can spend lazy mornings wandering around a marketplace, testing the tensile strength of an avocado, the rest of us aren’t afforded that luxury and have to make do with a quick trip to little-Sainsburys in the spare 20 minutes between getting in from work and having to cook tea.  Just look how popular Tinder is, if people can’t devote more time than it takes to flick their finger to finding a suitable mate, then how can they go to the market and ensure they’re getting the best courgettes for their money.

This is where Market Delivered steps in.
As you might have guessed from the name, Market Delivered is a service which offers home delivery on market produce, giving you the benefits of market-quality food and prices, with supermarket convenience.
The website is split into categories, and with Fruit, Veg and Meat (Which I imagine is going to be most peoples’ reason for using this service) rather than filling your basket with individual items you buy a mixed box or pack, at a few different price-points based on how much you need.  You can also add individual items like Fish, Milk, Yoghurts, Eggs, Butter and Confectionary to your basket, so not everything is left to chance.
Having a Girlfriend who unfortunately suffers from Vegetarianism, I don’t cook a lot of meat at home (It’s actually quite good that my meat-gluttony is restricted to eating out), but we use a lot of vegetables in cooking, so we went for the Seasonal Veg Box for 3-4 (No Potatoes) (£10) and the Fruit Box (£5.50).  The typical contents are listed in the product description, along with accompanying photos to give a rough idea of what you can expect:

I liked this system, it saves time having to go and put each item in your basket, and it feels like the stall-holder is giving you a bit of a deal.  We also got some Smoked Haddock fillets (£1 each) and 30 Eggs (£3) which Market Delivered proudly announce are free range and laid fresh the day before they’re delivered to you.

We placed our order on Sunday night and booked delivery for 6pm – 9pm on Tuesday, with delivery only costing £2.99.
At about 6:30 on Tuesday the friendly Market Delivered proprietor (whose name I forgot to catch in all the excitement of getting loads of food given to me, and talking the business and Twitter) turned up with market boxes, laden with leaves and roots and shiny fruit, and our fish and eggs.  I was amazed at the sheer quantity of it.
The vegetable box contained: Winnie the Pooh-carrots, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Parsnips, Courgette, Mushrooms, Red & White Onions, Swede and Sweet Potatoes (Nosey cat sold separately)
And in the fruit box: 6 Bananas, 8 Kiwi Fruit, 5 Satsumas, 3 Peaches, 5 Plums, 5 Red Delicious, 2 Granny Smith, 4 Pears, Strawberries, Pineapple

All of it is top quality stuff as well, definitely not end-of-the-day off-casts, which could easily have been the case with my delivery being after trading hours.  Along with my 4 pieces of Haddock, 30 (THIRTY!) eggs and delivery cost, all of this came to just under £26.

I’m kicking myself for wasting so much time and money buying packaged fruit and vegetables from local supermarkets, I just wish I’d heard of Market Delivered sooner.  As the customer-base grows it would be nice to see partnership with more stalls so we can get more niche ingredients (Caribbean vendors especially please!), but I can’t find any faults with the current service offered.  This is how we’ll do most of our shopping from now on.