Recipe: Christmassaman – Christmas Leftover Thai Curry

This year I’m hosting guests for Christmas dinner for the first time ever.  Last year was a bit of a dry-run; I cooked for just the two of us, but the meal was just one part in a melee of excitement about spending Christmas in our own home for the first time, a short break which punctuated drinking Prosecco & taking family photos with the cats in the morning and drinking Negronis & watching Goodfellas in the evening (a fine tradition that everybody should adopt)

This year though, guests.  That means hosting, structure, and an exponential amount of Christmas leftovers.  Luckily they’re all vegetarian, so I’m not going to have to find a plethora of things to do to the rest of the Turkey once everybody realises that Turkey is naff.  If you do happen to have a load of it lingering in the fridge on Boxing Day though, feel free to shred it and use it in this recipe.  You can also add any leftover bacon, lardons or chopped up Pigs in Blankets to the side dish, go wild.  For me though, this is a totally vegan meal.  Who knows, it might go some way to making us feel better after whatever new Christmas Day tradition & cocktail pairing…

Massaman Thai Curry is my old reliable pal on Thai menus – often I’ll go off-piste and order eye-watering Papaya Salads, Sour Sausage heavy on the fish-sauce, and gag-inducing Century Eggs (only once), but when I want a guarantee of something I’ll enjoy, my ordering-autopilot steers me straight to the Massaman.  It’s also the most festive of curries, sweetened with Palm Sugar and warmed with traditional spices like cinnamon and star anise, it shares a lot of DNA with things like Mulled Wine and Mince Pies.   Read more

Review – The Man Behind The Curtain

Man Behind The Curtain Leeds Review

He’s had a busy year, Michael O’Hare.  Following a successful stint on teatime telly, a Michelin star, and all of the publicity that goes with it he’s well and truly in front of The Curtain – luckily, despite all of the self-effacing humility, his food – and the restaurant as a whole – still manages to flourish under the many spotlights honed in on it.

Carte Blanch is the order of the day here, their interpretation of the term is the first thing that greets you – “1. To allow full creative freedom.  2. To showcase what we feel is right for now.” – but that goes without saying – looking around the restaurant you hardly get the impression that anything about the place is a result of creative compromise.  Decor is eccentric and erratic; as the lift opens (the restaurant occupies the loft in a posh clothes shop, come on, keep up) a swarm of sculpted hands throwing up the devil horns protrude from the walls, all hailing the restaurant’s name.

Man behind The Curtain Leeds

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Recipe: Pumpkin, Miso & Orange Soup

Halloween season might be over, and while your jack-o-lantern might have started sagging to the point where it looks like a melted Donald Trump waxwork, pumpkins are here to stay.  For a while anyway.  In fact,  for the next month or so supermarkets are going to be flooded with all variety of bulbous, misshapen squashes.  It’s tempting to buy them all and turn your kitchen into a harvest festival-backdrop from your Nan’s charity calendar, but what can you actually do with them?

Soup, DUH.  It’s the best thing to eat at this time of year; it’s pretty much cosiness in liquid form, and it’s perfect for using up all of the bits of veg that’s been lingering for the past two weeks while you’ve been put off cooking anything adventurous by mild onset SAD.  Squashes have some kind of magical molecular make-up which means they’re the ideal base for a soup – cook until soft and blend them, and they turn into a beautiful creamy puree, without requiring any dairy or fat to emulsify them.  

The trouble is, while a little bit of squash is just-so sweet in a pleasantly bland way, it doesn’t lend itself to sustained enjoyment, say, over the course of an entire bowl.  Spoon after spoon of the same flavour and texture can turn into a test of endurance and determination.  Miso and Pumpkin are often seen in the same dishes on Japanese menus – the fermented funk found in small doses of miso plays with the dull, deep sweetness of pumpkin and adds a layer of complexity to the flavour.

Being such a strong flavour, miso could easily overpower this dish if it was the only savoury element, so I’ve used 3 parts vegetable stock to 1 part miso to prevent this.  Apart from that, the base of the soup is very traditionally british – onions, carrots, celery, and sweet potato – with some orange zest grated in towards the end of cooking to add brightness.  

To introduce a bit of texture before serving, I topped the bowls of soup with translucent-thin slices of red onion and jalapeño which I’d pickled in the juice of that orange to sweeten that initial burn, and some crumbled salty cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds.  This recipe makes about a 8-10 portions so you’ll be eating it for a while – feel free to get creative with the toppings and vary things up.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe:

Pumpkin, Miso & Orange Soup

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 8-10 Portions

Pumpkin, Miso & Orange Soup

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litres Vegetable Stock
  • 2 tbsp Miso Paste
  • 500ml water
  • 1 large, deseeded Pumpkin (or 2 tins of prepared Pumpkin)
  • 3 Onions
  • 4 Carrots
  • 2 Celery sticks
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 deseeded Red Chilli
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • 1 Thumb of Ginger, Grated

Instructions

  1. Gently heat a good glug of olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pan.
  2. Add the crushed garlic and grated ginger and heat gently to release flavour into the oil, then stir in the miso paste until heated gently.
  3. Add the water and stock and bring to a gentle simmer.
  4. Add all of the vegetables, roughly chopped, and simmer for around 30-45 minutes (if you're using tinned pumpkin, leave this out until a later stage)
  5. When the vegetables are tender, blitz with a food processor until everything's smooth, (if you're using tinned pumpkin, stir it in now) and add back to a gentle heat and grate in the zest of one orange.
  6. Remove soup from the heat as soon as it begins to simmer.
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Review: Bar Soba, Leeds

Bar Soba Leeds Review

Bar Soba Leeds opened around a year ago – the final lick of paint which completed the transformation of the Grand Arcade & Merrion Street from a dingy-yet-charming hovel into Call Lane 2.0.  Primarily a cocktail bar which proudly boasts a menu of pan-Asian “street food”, Soba occupies the location in The Grand Arcade that previously homed nightclubs like Heaven & Hell, which famously had a “£7 all you can drink” offer.  Midway through the first course it became apparent that Bar Soba was adhering to this tradition – I could barely stand to eat more than £7 worth of this unimaginative, unaccomplished cooking.

Ordering Thai Fishcakes as a starter is a reliable indicator of the quality you can expect for the rest of the meal, and the ones here were just that.  Claggy and mysteriously sweetened – an homage to those donuts you eat by the paper-bagful along the seafront – were mistaken for Sweetcorn Fritters initially, with the Sweetcorn & Coconut Fritters themselves mistaken for globs of deep-fried Play-Doh, all mushed and oily from the fryer, with none of the ingredients distinguishable in what was served. 

I don’t know what was inside the Steamed Beef Wartip Dumplings as they lost the battle for taste against a soy-heavy, shop-bought dressing, and those crispy onions you buy in tubs from Ikea, but considering the dumpling skin shared the texture and appearance of soft-boiled condoms, I’d rather not find out.  Lime and Coriander Prawn Katsu is the only starter which isn’t an unmitigated disaster – only because I’ve grown accustomed to frozen, breaded prawns from family Christmas buffets catered by Iceland.  The ones served here are of a similar standard, and bewilderingly served with the same assorted dips you get with poppadoms from an Indian Takeaway.

The Real Junk Food project recently took up residence in Santiagos just opposite Bar Soba, taking donations of unsellable and waste produce from supermarkets and restaurants, saving it from the landfill and selling meals on a Pay-As-You-Feel model.  It’s an admirable scheme and one which is gaining traction across the UK and Europe.

Judging by the contents of Bar Soba’s Chilli Pork Ramen, they’ve taken inspiration from TRJFP and started bulking it out with leftovers from last week’s Toby Carvery steamtrays – I’m not expecting Koya or Shoryu-level authenticity from a bar-turned-restaurant which offers more than 40 broad interpretations of Asian dishes, but if you’re going to put Carrots, Broccoli and String Beans in a ramen dish, at the very least cook them properly.  These particular ones disintegrated like a damp sandcastle at the faintest touch; patients recovering from invasive root-canal surgery would probably describe these vegetables as “somewhat lacking in bite”. Some of that cooking time could have been devoted to the freeze-dried noodles, which were cooked just enough to start breaking down the surface starch into a gluey paste, but not quite enough to prevent the middle from being solid.

To offer some balance, they know what they’re doing when it comes to meat – the roast pork is succulent with good ribbon of just-cooked, tender fat, the spices are balanced and there’s a satisfying char on the outside (the broth however was nothing of the sort – muddy, weak and one-note without even a hint of the dashi that usually adds complexity to good ramen, and elevates it above something you can make at home with a Stock Pot and kettle).

If this version of Singapore Street Noodles became well known it might cause irreparable damage to the country’s culinary reputation and tourist industry – lukewarm and lacking in the depth and brightness of flavour usually associated with the dish, it arrives tasting of nothing but cheap crisps.  We request it without meat, so there’s a scattering of miniature, gnarled prawns punctuating the dish, as if somebody accidentally spilt the contents of a pair of nailclippers over it.

Soba is a big venue with a lot of flashy distractions; upstairs occupies the grandest part of the Grand Arcade, featuring a beautiful glass roof, DJ booths and a 20ft projected animated mural.  All of this doesn’t come cheap, and to pay the bills they have to get a lot of people through the door every month, and to do this they have to position themselves as a destination that big groups can compromise on – it’s certainly the only venue I’ve ever seen to offer pints of Carling alongside whole bottles of Patrón on the drinks menu.

In trying to kind-of please everybody, all they’ve succeeded in doing is providing the worst possible version of everything that’d on offer. There was nothing here which captured either the finesse or the gutsiness of proper Asian street food – in terms of authenticity, this is about as genuine as White-girl bindis at music festivals.

The bill – including 2 drinks and service – came just short of £60, and there really is no reason to be spending that kind of money on a standard of food which can be bettered by that of Wok On.

For other Pan-Asian recommendations, check out our Leeds Restaurant Cheat Sheet

Recipe: Indonesian Fish Curry

IMG_2344

 

Well Pumpkin Spiced Lattes are trending on Twitter, I guess that officially means it’s Autumn now.  The BBQ I bought at the end of June is sitting in the cellar, optimistically assembled but unlicked by charcoal flame.  The only thing it’s possibly been licked by is the cat that has decided to sleep in it occasionally, completely ignoring the handmade cat-yurt we bought them from Etsy.

Autumn means stews, soups and curries – reliable, comforting recipes to warm you up without abandoning all dignity and putting a onesie on, or having to get a Wonga loan out to fund a hours worth of central heating.  Earlier this week I made my first stew-dish of the Autumn, an Indonesian Fish Curry from John Torode’s new book (Torode’s the one off Masterchef who didn’t get savaged by Charlie Brooker), and it ticks all the boxes for an Autumn and Winter warmer – a reassuring hug in a bowl, but with a lip-biting bit of spice, and it’s quick and easy enough to make and eat before the windows turn pitch black and you surrender to bed at 6:30pm.

Method

Fry 3tbsp Red Curry Paste in a pan with 1tsp Paprika and 1tbsp Coconut oil.  Stir in Half a tin of Coconut Milkand simmer for a few minutes.  Add the other Half a tin of Coconut Milk and then half-fill the tin with Water and add that, then add Ten Kaffir Lime Leaves and simmer for a few more minutes.  Add your fish to the curry sauce – I used 2 White Fish Fillets and a Handful of King Prawn – as well as Cherry tomatoes, a pinch of salt and the juice of a lime.  Cover the pan and leave to cook for a few minutes.  

Meanwhile add a handful of Beansprouts and a few stalks-worth of Mint leaves into bowls – when the fish is just cooked, spoon the curry into the bowls while it’s still piping hot – the residual heat will soften but not overcook the beansprouts, and release the flavour from the mint leaves.

I guess Autumn isn’t all that bad if having to put up with a few dreary mornings and manky leaves on the pavement means getting to eat this kind of thing several times a week.  And it won’t be long until Greggs bring back the Festive Bake

Minor Treat: The Swine That Dines, Leeds

Ox Tongue, Beans, Corn Tortilla

This could be the easiest post I’ve ever written, just because I’ve had so much practice describing – even justifying – the concept to people as soon as I mention it’s a posh-eating experience at what most people recognise as a butty shop – since opening around five years ago, their bread and butter has literally been bread and butter.

You might be aware of The Greedy Pig for their pancakes or Full English and Vegetarian breakfasts (they say pizza is the great equaliser, but that’s got nothing on the unifying properties of fried breakfast foods, consciously-sourced and artfully composed, ready for Instagram) and rightly so, it’s my favourite and possibly the best brunch spot in the city – but over the past year they’ve been doubling down on their efforts to be seen as a credible evening dining option.  

The Swine That Dines started life as a nose-to-tail tapas stall at some of last year’s Street Food events – managing to make overlooked cuts like tongue and heart so appealing that they regularly sold out – and then started hosting themed supper-clubs in The Greedy Pig, with menus focusing on nose-to-tail (or root-to-shoot, in the case of their vegetarian events) cooking, always encouraging responsible, resourceful eating rather than extreme-eating machismo.

Recently they took the merciful decision to host weekly small plates events at The Greedy Pig, offering 6 to 8 new dishes every week which showcase not only the best of seasonal produce, but also Chef Stu’s creativity and passion that he honed working in fine-dining under big-name chefs that I won’t name-drop.  When you consider this background and talent, and the fact he’s spent years toiling away in a modest kitchen cooking modest food, The Swine That Dines menus begin to look like his way of hulking out – this week sees the sixth event, and in that time they’ve offered almost Fifty different dishes.   Read more