Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Jalapeño-infused Tequila & Jalapeño Cocktails

I've been pretty hot for the idea of booze-infusions since hitting Rubi Bar in Barcelona last year, trying some of their 100 flavoured gins, and nagging the owner to tell me how it's done.

It appeals to me on so many levels; I actually get chance to use some of the kilner jars I've accumulated; I feel like a 1920s bootlegger without the risk of a Still exploding in my basement (or syphillis exploding in my boy-basement); I get to quote the Beer Baron episode of The Simpsons in my head - specifically "You forgot one thing chief...I filled the balls with a funnel" - and then I get to turn up.

The mechanics of infusing is pretty straight-forward - you put something, anything in with some spirits and the high alcoholic content preserves it for long enough for the flavour to come out and taint the liquor.  Think of it as reverse-pickling - you know when you finish a jar of pickled onions and the vinegar you've got left is the good shit?  Imagine if the vinegar was liquor, and it had been pickling fruit or spices or charcuterie instead of old onions.

If you're really going to get into it then Niki Segnet's Flavour Thesaurus is a really useful resource for infusing - as it is for many other things - in that it lets you pick out individual notes and flavours from a drink (Juniper in Gin, for example) and then find ingredients which complement or contrast with it, letting you make educated experiments rather than expensive misfires.

First-timers could do a lot worse than Jalapeño Tequila, a face-palmingly simple combination of Mexican flavours which is good for sipping on its own, or versatile enough to be used in a few cocktails.  (In true meat-head bootlegger spirit, make sure you spell Jalapeño completely wrong on the label...)

Spoiler alert: The secret ingredient is jalapeños...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review: My Thai, Leeds

Rather than stifling my feelings towards My Thai until making a grand reveal, I'm going to say right off the bat that I love it.  Claiming "OMG I could eat there every day and not get bored" could probably be dismissed as hyperbole, but after my first visit I actually did just that.  Fair enough it was technically only every day for three days, but that's enough to make it a statement rather than a coincidence.

Popping up at the end of last year with little fanfare, My Thai's marketing strategy relied on little more than word of mouth, good faith carried over from the reputation of its' Bradford restaurant, and photographs of its folksy interior popping up on Instagram - which they did in abundance.  

They could have flipped the Thai-restaurant-decor coin and gone for a) Post Office ambience and laminated menus or b) "Exotic Palace" themed room in a sex-hotel and been done with it, but instead they went for a unique look which dictates the atmosphere well.  Wooden panelling covers the walls, decorated with campy, vintage Thai cinema posters and strewn with fairy lights - on a hunch I reckon this is what a Full Moon Party beach-hut looks like, but I can't say for sure - My attention span lasts no longer than 3 seconds whenever anybody begins sharing their "litchrally unreal" travel anecdotes.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Parsnip Brownies

If there's a root vegetable that doesn't work well in a cake, then I haven't found it yet.

It's not that I haven't given plenty of them an opportunity to let the side down either; the realisation that that's actual carrot inside carrot cake - not just sultanas and cinnamon covered in three inches of frosting - got me thinking about what other leftover veg I could sub into bakes.

Sweet Potato & Toasted Coconut muffins have been the biggest success story, to the point where I started buying Sweet Potatoes specifically to to be muffinned; totally going against my baking MO of using leftover vegetables as a way of justifying brownies for breakfast.  After Christmas (hey remember that?) we had a fridge full of rootin' tootin' vegetables bought with unfulfilled good intentions.  As great as Bundobust's sprout bhaji sounded, I was never realistically going to make my own, was I?

The most cake-relevant neglected veg was a bag of parsnips I'd intended to cover in maple syrup and roast.  As it goes, my in-laws bought us a waffle iron as a gift, so we found better things to do with our maple syrup, but in a moment of virtue I decided to let the parsnips fulfil their potential as opinion-dividing brownies.

Parsnips don't taste particularly rooty; they give the brownies a mild, almost nutty sweetness which pairs so well with walnuts, so I chopped a couple of handfuls up and threw them in the batter to add crunch.  I dusted my batch with Matcha powdered green tea, partly (mostly) because it looks dope, but it also brings out the bitterness of the dark chocolate against the parsnip's sweetness.

Parsnips' high water content also helps keep everything moist and forgiving in the event of accidental overcooking, which means you can crank the heat up and get them really crispy on the outside without sacrificing too much of that elusive chewy middle that makes the crowd go wild.

Makes 12 Brownies:
Preheat your oven to 180ºC and line a deep baking tray with greaseproof paper, push it right into the corners, and drizzle with a little oil to make the brownies just slide off after cooking.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each one to incorporate into the mixture before adding the next.  Fold in the dark chocolate when it's cool enough that it won't curdle the eggs.
In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Gradually sift and fold everything into the chocolate mixture, and then stir in the cocoa powder, parsnips, and walnuts until evenly distributed.
Spread the batter evenly on the baking tray you prepared and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  Put a toothpick in the centre for 5 seconds, if it comes out clean then they're ready to put on a cooling rack, if not then put them back in for another 5 minutes or until they're done.
Leave to cool before making 3 slices along and 4 slices up (that makes 12 portions), and dusting with Matcha, cocoa powder, or gold leaf if that's how you handle your business.
See the full post for measurements: 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Recipe: Red Pepper Soup with a Grilled Cheese

Some people decorate their homes with works of art, or that 90s poster of the hunky guy holding a baby, or photographs of the people close to them, or that 90s poster of the hunky alien going "Take Me To Your Dealer", or this thing for reasons unknown to anybody, or mirrors (Oh wait, I already said works of art LOL).

Our kitchen is pretty pokey, and there's only room for a couple of accoutrements on the walls - one of them is a "Life's Too Short for Bad Coffee" screenprint by our friend Will Tapply who you should definitely check out, and the other is a menu that I managed to sneak past the (frankly superfluous) security guards when we went and had lunch at Katz's Deli in New Yyyawuck, and proudly framed for display.

I was reading the menu the other day while waiting for the kettle to boil, and noticed something that escaped my attention up until now - the Soup & Sandwich section.  For as long as I can remember, Soup & Sandwich has meant a bowl of Cream of Tomato, with half a sliced cheese sandwich on the side.  I've never had any complaints about eating it - because who can fault Heinz Cream of Tomato and white bread, crazy-paved with cheap mature cheddar? - but I've never tapped into the tarting-up potential like Katz's do, with bowls of Chicken Noodle or Matzo Ball Soup served with half a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye

I decided to expand on what I was already familiar with rather than diving head-first into new territory - I'm not about to make a Chicken Noodle soup from scratch after getting home from work on a weeknight.  Heinz soup is very reasonably priced so to devote effort to simply imitating it when I could just buy a tin would be a bozo's errand, so I decided to give the Red Pepper the chance to come out of its usual supporting role and have some time in the spotlight.

Using a similar logic, if a rubbish cheese sandwich (this term is very much relative) goes well with regular soup, then the benefit of combining  with a really good version of a cheese sandwich with really good soup is exponential.  To make the cheese sandwich better we just toast it, but don't go rushing to the 1986 shop to buy a Breville, all you need to make this grilled cheese is a decent-ish frying pan or skillet.  This is apparently the default method in America, but it's something I've only been doing since The Cheese Truck revolutionised the way I melt cheese during their stint at Trinity Kitchen.  One of the main benefits of this method is that you're not confined to square slices of bread, so ball hard in the bakery.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Recipe: Crispy Pork Belly with Kale

I reverse-engineered the recipe for this dish after ordering it at Lemon Grass Thai restaurant when I visited earlier this year, to gauge if it was a worthy replacement to the recently-closed Thai Aroy Dee.  Under the circumstances, it was pretty much my duty to order as much of the menu as possible (for research purposes) and in the flurry of dishes, this was relegated to being a lavish side.  In more modest settings when you don't have (however flimsy) justification for being greedy, it makes a perfectly satisfying main, served with white rice and flash-fried whole spring onions.

Belly is probably my favourite cut of pork, and there's no better way to prepare it than Chinese-style, brined in Soy and roasted in a marinade containing brown sugar which combines with the rendered fat during cooking and turns into an amazing crispy, sticky caramelised scratching.  Marinading for even 30 minutes will give the pork a darker colour and deep Soy flavour, but if you can leave it for up to 24 hours then that's even better. You can even roast it in advance, and then wok-fry before serving.

Any Leeds Thai food fans wondering about Lemon Grass as a replacement to Aroi Dee then I'd recommend you go and see if it's for you - the quality of food and value for money stands up to comparison, but it doesn't have that same lo-fi charm that only a select few have managed to emulate.  It has its own unique character though - relying on decor to try and disguise the building's previous life as a nightclub - so if you can get on board with water fountains and tranquil gardens where a DJ booth and dancing podium used to be, it's a strong contender.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

2014 and Objectives for 2015

I hate to sound like a stereotypical #blog writer, but I'm going to use my first post of 2015 to acknowledge the fact it's 2015.  In my defence, most competent bloggers would have their 2014/15 posts scheduled to automatically publish at the stroke of midnight, while I was in the Brudenell dancing very sensually to the impeccable Talking Heads tribute band who - thanks to the persuasive power of Sierra Nevada Torpedo - might as well have been the actual Talking Heads for all I knew.

No.  I post my New Year retrospectives in the second week of January when they've lost any semblance of topical relevance, and you can barely recall what type of desk calendar you spent 365 days gradually ebbing away at.  It was a Family Guy Quote-a-Day one that a well-meaning relative bought you for Christmas 2013.  You meant to get something a bit more tasteful from HMV in the sales, but when you got to the tills there was a 30ft caterpillar of teenagers buying Breaking Bad t-shirts, so you just left it.  Family Guy has its moments, you told yourself.

The Objectives (Not resolutions, never resolutions) I set 12 months ago were pretty run of the mill things, and while I didn't write them down anywhere, I did alright at the ones I can recall off the top of my head - whether that's because I've blocked out the ones which I failed to complete is a matter for the Narcissism Court to decide.
Quit Smoking - Piece of cake.  I no longer wake up after a night out feeling like I've rinsed my mouth with Cayenne flavoured Cillit Bang, but on the downside I've been hit with several public indecency charges, thanks to all of the money I've saved weighing my trousers down.  That's a lie, I spent all of the money on Double Cheeseburgers so my trousers are as snug as ever.
Milk, No Sugar - Done.  I aimed to wean myself off sugar in tea, but doubled-down and did it for coffee too.  I don't subscribe to the whole "Tea tastes so much better when you can taste it, rather than the sugar" philosophy, because there are few things better than a sugary tea with fish and chips and shit white bread, but there's an undeniable virtue in saying you don't take sugar - perhaps this year I'll wean myself off milk, and then teabags all together.  In 2016 I'll drink nothing but room temperature water while physically patting myself on the back.
Drink More Water - Probably.  I got an app which was supposed to prompt me to drink a glass 9 times a day, but over time I've started to resent the alerts every time I look at them, for not being a new Instagram follower or Paypal funds received notification. 
Read More Books - This started off well because I was surrounded by the Christmas influx of new ones - Tina Fey, Caitlin Moran, Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Reichl all got read the fuck out of in the first month or so, but then it slowed down.  I'm not a believer in hoarding books that I'm not going to read again, so if anybody wants any of these I'll happily pass them on.
Find a Creative Outlet - You're reading it (Thanks again guys, both of you)
Nobody wants to read and endless stream of self-congratulation (which explains why my Twitter followers has hit a plateau despite attracting several adbots a day) so predictably, I'm going to set out some objectives for the next year, so they're actually codified for future reference and self-scrutiny.  Some of them are relevant to the blog, and some just for me.
Exercise 225 Times - Why 225?  Because I'm not going to exercise every day - I'm not even going to exercise every week day.  This gives me weekends off, as well as a 10% margin of laziness.
Regular readers might remember that I started doing the T25 a while ago, and documenting my progress.  Over Christmas that plan gave way to bigger priorities like family, goodwill, and brussels pâté, so I've started again from the beginning (regular service will resume once I'm caught up with where I was).  A year is a long time to be committed to a 10-week workout plan, so the aim is to do 225 instances any exercise; T25, whatever I move onto after that, swimming, a jog (Examples for illustrative purposes only, under no circumstances will I be going for a jog).
Write 52 Blog Entries - One a week doesn't seem like such a stretch - especially when filler like this means I'm home and dry for a whole week now.  It's been months since my last review (Casa Colombiana) so there's no shortage of opportunity there, and I've spent the past month making a small photography studio at home, so I'll be more inclined to post recipes when I don't have to rely on my iPhone for accompanying photos.
Document Being A Groom - Me and Lucy love two things - throwing parties, and being overcharged for things.  We decided to combine both of these by getting engaged last year, and beginning to plan our 2016 wedding.  Despite the fact that half everybody who gets married is a dude, the majority of wedding press focuses on the experience of the Bride, perpetuating the outdated passive Groom/"Bridezilla" paradigm, which is offensive to everybody.  
Learn 30 New Recipes - Which might sound like a lot, but I usually make the time to cook a minimum of 5 times a week, so over the course of the year that's 260 opportunities to try something new, rather than resting on my laurels.
Read 10 Books - Chris Finch - Finchy, bloody good rep - reads a book a week, so there's no reason I can't hit double figures.  I got 3 for Christmas and the Amy Poehler book is knocking around the house as well, so that's nearly halfway there.
Listen to 12 New Podcasts - Towards the end of 2014 I started getting really into Podcasts, specifically Scroobius Pip's Distraction Pieces, Serial, Worst Episode Ever (A Simpsons Podcast) and Food is the New Rock.  More along these lines would be ideal - if you've got any particular favourites then let me know in the comments and I'll give them a go.
Try and Find New Music - I really like statistics, especially using Spotify and Last.fm to find out what I listened to most at the end of every year.  In 2010 is was Kanye West because of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; in 2011 it was Kanye again for the same reason.  2012 was Kanye, in 2013 my top 10 was the 10 tracks from Yeezus, in 2014 I branched out a little and my most-listened to song was by Rick Ross.  Featuring Kanye West.  
How do you even discover new music these days?  Last year I started listening to BBC 6 Music more, and following Digster playlists on Spotify, but I still I only narrowly escaped the shame of Bobby Shmurda being in my Top 10 of the whole year. If I don't manage this one it's not the end of the world though though; Kanye has a new album coming out.
Finish Watching The Wire - File this one under "Common sense"
Finish Watching The Sopranos - See above.
See More of the Country - I've lived in West Yorkshire for over 5 years and I still don't know what a Todmorden is.  Going abroad is probably off the cards seeing as we have a wedding to save for, so that gives us a perfect excuse to see parts of the country we haven't got round to yet - The Lakes, Scotland, Whitby, Brighton.
Eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant - Yeah I know the rating system is of negligible relevance nowadays, but we're going to need some sustenance while we're driving around the country, and I can't live on Greggs Steak & Cheese rolls alone. 
That'll do.  If this post disappears mysteriously around December 2015, then just assume I didn't have as productive a year as I'd hoped...

Monday, 15 December 2014

Regular Guy Fitness Club: T25 Week 2 & 3

Week One put me through my paces, but I finished it (albeit a day sooner than I was supposed to) feeling motivated and generally posi, to the extent that in the second week I decided to step my game up.  This was a new me; the best version of me I could be; a version of me who had done an unprecedented one hour and forty minutes of exercise in the previous seven days.

I downloaded MyFitnessPal from the App Store and started logging what I ate, to try and gently shame myself into eating better.  If you're trying to improve your fitness and not following an existing diet plan (such as the one that comes with T25) then it makes a lot of sense to use something like this app to help visualise your calorific budget.  It tallies up your calories based on the food and exercise you input, breaks down where those calories have come from - carbs, fat or protein - and how that compares to the suggested ratio.  It does depend on how far down the fitness rabbit-hole you want to delve, but after a week of what felt like hard work, I made the decision that it was something I'd like to do.

Another app I started using this week made me feel more shame than seeing an empty net of babybel in the fridge - "Daily Water" visualises how much water you've drank that day with a handy red Alert icon on and lets you set reminders to DRINK WATER NOW; just in case you're so busy enjoying white privilege that you forget to drink anything besides bubble tea, flat whites, and £2.50 cans of pop from American import shops.  If any app developers are reading then get in touch, I've got an idea for an app which prompts people to inhale and exhale at regular intervals - we'll make a fortune off assholes like me.