Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Recipe: Chilli Beef & Red Miso Udon

Mondays have become de facto noodle-night in our house thanks to how easy it is to cram a load of chilli, ginger and garlic into a big bowl of ramen or udon and put the weekend behind us while catching up on Boardwalk Empire.   Due to the illegal/highly unethical nature of weekend workouts, Monday is the day to get back on the T25, so loads of noodles and vegetables provides good fuel for that.

If you've ever used one of those Stir Fry kits you get form the supermarket - a big bag of cabbage and beansprouts, egg noodles and a sachet of gloopy sauce for about four quid - you'll know that they kind of suck - the vegetables are all filler no killer, the sauce is cloying, and the noodles end up leaving their impression on the base of your wok, and reducing to mush in the meal.

I went to Fuji Hero last week and noted that they overcome this problem dousing the dish in curry oil, which tasted brilliant but went against everything Noodle-night stands for.  Rather than lubing my udon with oil, I made a little bit of stock using Miso paste, mirin and soy to stop them sticking to the wok - as a bonus, it helped cook them through properly, something else which is difficult when cooking such thick noodles quickly on a high heat.

I used mange tout and baby corn this time because they were in the reduced aisle at the supermarket, but feel free to experiment with the vegetables - just be really careful not to overcook them, a couple of minutes is plenty.  The same goes for the beansprouts, you want them to provide nice bit of crunch and texture rather than going limp and sagging all over the place, so put them in when everything else is cooked, take it off the hob and let the residual heat bring it all home.

Any ingredients that don't look familiar will be available in the world food section of any decent-sized supermarket, (including vacuum-sealed Udon which are much cheaper than name-brand versions or the bags from the vegetable section) or any nearby Chinese supermarkets which you should familiarise yourself with as soon as possible because they are a goldmine.

Serves 2.  Preparation 10 Minutes, Cooking 10 Minutes

Friday, 17 October 2014

Trinity Kitchen - 10 Highlights from the First Year

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.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Recipe: Crab, Scallop and Black Pudding Jambalaya

I thought I'd have come up with a recipe for Jambalaya a long time ago, just to give me an excuse to say such a brilliant name over and over again until the word lost all meaning.  The final motivation came after a particularly somber Monday which dragged on for three-quarters of an eternity; a Ned Stark of a day that incessantly reminds you that Winter is coming, but all of the fun bits of it are weeks away yet; a day that somebody had imported into VSCO Cam, slid the temperature setting down to -8 and given everything and everyone a greyish blue hue.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Pop-up restaurant menu made of (mostly) iconic pop-culture dishes.

Time to perpetuate another press release!

Ever wanted to kick a hole in your TV screen, reach into whatever you're watching and snatch the food right off their table?  That's kind of what Virgin Media are doing today with a one-day pop up in Soho.

Chef Neil Rankin from The Smokehouse has curated a menu which caters to different services throughout the day.  Dinner is easily the highlight, with Breaking Bad's Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken and Pulp Fiction's Big Kahuna burger (With a $5 shake, even though they're only available from Jack Rabbit Slim's, and Sprite is the traditional accompaniment for a BKB - I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder).

Friday, 10 October 2014

Feigning Blood - New vegan-friendly burger simulates minced flesh


Vegetarian burgers are crap.  They taste like the congealed bits you find in off-brand Pot Noodles and have the same texture as Nerf bullets - that's why any restaurant that wants you to spend upwards of £6 on something in a bun always offers a big mushroom in lieu of an imitation burger.  Their savour could be here though, in the form of a completely vegan-friendly burger which simulates the taste and physical properties of real dead-stuff.

Impossible Foods - started by former Stanford Biology professor Patrick Brown - is working on plant-based products which will replace meats and cheeses by not only imitating their taste, but the full "eating experience" - smell, texture, tensile properties, reaction to heat, and (probably) sound.  They do this through finding molecules in plants which also lend certain properties to meat, and then doing some other science things which will go right over all of our heads - I imagine you've already stopped reading this sentence already and got distracted by the photo underneath.

Burgers are of course being pushed forward as the attention-grabbing flagship product, and they appear to have replicated to ubiquitous big, soggy, pink patty pretty perfectly.  You'll have to judge with your eyes for now though, as it isn't available the general public just yet.  According to the Wall Street Journal it's "more akin to a turkey patty" and "arguably several rungs below a gourmet burger", but then again so are a lot of burgers in "gourmet burger" restaurants: Zing.

Last year something similar was developed, with a $325,000 lab-grown burger (take that, Honky Tonk) made from delicious stem cells being devoured in a press conference.  Both that and Impossible Foods' plant-burger are a long way from mainstream public availability at the minute, but they serve as clear evidence that companies are putting money into developing sustainable sources for products which carry a massive environmental toll.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Leeds Indie Food unveils bid for a crowdfunded food festival

Leeds is hardly lacking food festivals, every weekend we're presented with the opportunity to attend a particular venue's "Food" "Street" "Feast" "Market" and "Festival" (circle as applicable) to the point where unique combinations of the words are running desperately low.

A new collective of Leeds restauranteurs, food bloggers and general pie-fingerers are setting themselves apart by throwing in a new adjective - Independent.

Leeds Indie Food will champion the city's crafty, artisanal underbelly which people like you (cool, handsome influencers who click lots of adverts and share my posts on social media) knew about before it was cool, but gets underrepresented at corporate-sponsored festivals like Leeds Loves Food, because Bulmers have a new limited edition flavour to market and they can afford to pay more for a pitch.

Events will take place over the course of two weeks next Spring, with tasting menus, brewery takeovers, film screenings and workshops as well as the obligatory street food event(s).  They'll be individually ticketed, but if you're really eager or you just love itchy fabric brushing against your delicate arms then wristbands will be available to grant access for the whole fortnight.  All money from these tickets will be distributed back to the independent traders and venues, making sure it's not only open to businesses that can afford to sacrifice an evening's takings to take part in the event.

Among some of the 20 names currently involved are Fish&, Bundobust, Laynes Espresso, Belgrave and its impeccable food lineup, Trestle, and The Greedy Pig.  They're looking for £6,750 as start-up capital to cover costs of advertising, design, videography and the launch parties - judging by the pedigree of businesses involved and fact they've raised over £1,000 in less than a day, it seems safe to assume they're going to smash it.  If you want to get in on the ground-floor you can donate to their Kickstarter HERE.

As well as the usual stuff like "gratitude" (you can keep it, hippy) and an invitations to the launch party, rewards for pledging include totes, tea towels and prints designed by Passport and Hungry Sandwich club (who have done the current stylish-as-all-hell branding), and a personal pop-up dining experience from Trestle if you're a true baller.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Honky Tonk Announces "World's Most Expensive Burger"

Burgers are currently the promotional medium for carrying a brand's yada yada - you've only got to look as far as the murdered-out Burger King that everybody talked about briefly last month for proof of that - and deliberately creating the "World's Most Expensive" anything is perpetual PR release gold, so whoever came up with an idea to combine the two has earned themselves a few pats on the back when they go to the Slug & Lettuce for post-office drinks.

Chelsea restaurant Honky Tonk has obliterated the previous title-holders Serendipity in New York (you can watch 2 Chainz eat their positively austere $300 sandwich here) by coming up with a £1,100 effort which contains all of the expensive buzzword-foods you'd expect.  The gold leaf-coated bun houses a Wagyu patty containing a pocket of black truffle brie, and it's topped with saffron-poached Lobster beluga caviar, a smoked egg, and champagne jus - it sounds like there's a party in my mouth and Patrick Bateman has vomited 9 courses from Dorsia onto the rug.

Unlike Serendipity's sandwich which has to be ordered 48 hours in advance and sees all the proceeds donated to homeless charities, the "Glamburger" was created to publicise tat-marketplace Groupon and isn't actually available to buy.  Terrible news for absolutely nobody, except the Chelsea-residing oligarchs' children who have missed out on a top Instagram opportunity.