Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Orange Tree Tapas and Grill, Denton

On Sunday evening, since earlier plans had been cancelled, we decided to try the Orange Tree Tapas restaurant in Denton. We'd often looked at the menu but decided to stick with original plans of a takeaway or the Italian, but this time we stuck to it, and went in.

Being a Sunday night, the restaurant was empty, but we were warmly greeted by what appeared to be the owner.

The restaurant looked lovely, and we guess could have a great atmosphere when busy. The owner seemed determined to make us laugh and proved to be a character, chatting to us and making jokes throughout the night - perhaps a little too much at times.
We asked him how many dishes we should order after being told that the portions were quite big, and he recommended 3 each, and he also pointed out a couple of dishes to try (which we didn't actually! But will next time).
We ordered some house wine, and he gave us pretty much a full glass to try, and if we didn't like it, he'd get us something different. But it was very nice, so bonus glass of wine!
Eventually we ordered a mixture of dishes, and some chips as the side. The owner was quite keen that we wouldn't order too much and kept saying that if we wanted more throughout the meal we could order as and when. He also said that one portion of chips would be more than enough for us both with what we'd ordered. Something which we were impressed with.


We ordered the (1) Chicken, Mushrooms, Cream and Garlic, (2) Lightly Spiced Lamb Stew, (3) Sticky and Spicy Rice, (4) Chicken, Paprika and Cream, (5) Fillet Steak in Garlic and Chilli, and the (6) Chorizo sauteed with Parsley and Lemon.  All were very tasty indeed, and we wondered why we'd never been in before. The owner pointed out the blackboards which displayed the specials as well as the mid-week offers. The offers seemed to be so good value it was untrue, so next time, we're going to try a week night and see what we get. The bill game to around £38 with a bottle of wine, so very good value.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Marple Food and Drink Festival and Crayfish

On Saturday, Tim was helping out the Marple Band at what we thought was a random gig, but it turned out to be at the Marple Food and Drink Festival. Bonus! I went along to support the band and also to see what was going on.


It was the Food and Drink day of the festival and the precinct was full of various stalls, many from local business, but notably including Marple Allotments Association. A stall which I gathered useful information about my lack of home grown tomatoes as well as some rather exciting and still muddy red Swiss Chard. Something that we've never cooked before.
I spent quite a bit of money while the band were playing, on various veg, gluten free brownies (because I can!) and a bottle of interesting Prosecco. But my main ingredient that I was excited about was Crayfish tails.

I'd spotted a recipe on The Recipe Chef, via facebook which I quite fancied, but never actually got round to hunting out some crayfish tails. So here they were, in little pots on the fishmonger's stand, begging to be bought. I couldn't remember the quantities from the recipe so bought a pot of prawns too. If there were too many, I'd just eat them as they were.

I kind of followed the recipe but not entirely, and looking at it now, I realise I ate the sauce which was meant for 2 people, but only with the pasta for one!

I started by chopping up the two and only tomatoes we had into chunks. These were supposed to be cherry tomatoes, but I did chop them to approximately cherry tomatoes if that counts? And started preparing the red pepper as suggested. This involved putting it in the microwave with a splash of water for a couple of minutes. At the end of the time I thought the microwave was going to explode, or the pepper would be on fire, but all was well. This too was chopped up, added to the tomatoes and put in the oven (200C) with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a chopped clove of garlic for about 20 mins.

Meanwhile I put on some gluten free spaghetti to cook.

Once out of the oven, the sauce is mashed down in a pan, then the crayfish (and prawns) were added and the whole sauce heated through.

The sauce is mixed with the cooked pasta and I added a few torn basil leaves (the recipe said to cook the tomatoes with dried basil, but we didn't have any) and a drizzle of olive oil.
The dish was lovely. One of my favourites actually. And I will be making it again and again. If I can find crayfish tails that is. The guys at The Recipe Chef commented about the meatiness of the crayfish tails compared to prawns, but I've previously not had the opportunity to actually compare them in the same dish I didn't really expect much meatiness to be obvious, but there was quite a big difference. The crayfish also added so much more of a lovely fishy flavour to the dish.
Perhaps I've not been looking that closely, but it doesn't seem that our supermarkets have any crayfish, and with the absence of any fishmonger that I can see in the area, my hunt may be a long one.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Brodsky and Bizarre

Cage Performance

Cage Performance

Last night saw me at the familiar place that is the RNCM. Although it seems that much has changed since the last time I was there, but that's another story. There was Jazz and CAMRA Beer Festival on it seemed, but I don't drink beer and have mixed views about what some call Jazz, but last night's performance was no ordinary Jazz. I won't go on about this too much, as this is a food blog after all, but I'd just like to mention a few bits.
There was a performance of John Cage Uncaged, which was a performance of his Song Books. If anyone who doesn't know who I mean - yes he is the 4'33" guy. It really was a bizarre and random night, and intentionally so. Performances happened across all the RNCM's public spaces including in the middle of the coffee shop - most notably for me, the one performance of the chef cooking mushrooms which he handed out. More like a cooking demonstration than a musical performance, but that's Cage for you. All performances happened at random times, and in random orders, and the whole idea was that everyone could wander round it all, each getting a different combination and therefore experience of the night. Kind of like a bizarre interactive museum. Anyway, more about the performance here.

Towards the end of the performance The Brother and I decided to eat at the newly redeveloped Brodsky restaurant which is part of the RNCM. I saw some ongoing building work to the side of the restaurant and I believe that the plans are to be able to run the restaurant as a self-contained establishment which doesn't rely on the events at the college for opening times. Earlier in the day enquiries had been made about the gluten free dishes and it seemed there was quite a good selection.
When we arrived, the lady who seemed to be in charge presented us with a menu on which the gluten free options had been labelled. (not pictured) Excellent service!

Brodsky's main courses
The prices didn't seem to be as expensive as expected, but there was a limited choice. I think that the menu offered changes as per what type of event is running, to cater for special pre-show 3-course meals, festivals, and multiple events. I chose the Tex Mex Chicken and The Brother chose the Tuna Steak with garlic and herb butter which was on the fish bit of the menu.
Brodsky's now run table service which was efficient, and the whole lay out and decor of the room was rather pleasant. Lots of white walls, and dark fittings.
When the food arrived however, I was a little disappointed. My food was OK, nothing special at all. My chicken dish looked like it was canteen food, and maybe a big pot had been kept bubbling. It didn't really seem to be Tex Mex either. It was a "generic" tomato sauce with added peppers and chilli. The side of veg seemed not to be too fresh, although they had treated it to a knob of butter, and it wasn't overdone.

Tex Mex Chicken
The Tuna was good. I haven't really eaten much Tuna and it looked a bit overcooked to me, but according to The Brother, who has been eating lots of it recently, it was fine. I did try some and it wasn't dry, and it was quite tasty. The butter was good too, although if you look closely at the picture, you can see that they had left the cling film on! Nevermind.

Tuna Steak with Garlic and Herb Butter
I'm not sure if I was expecting too much from the new restaurant, as it does serve a college as well as the general public, but I think it could have potential. Once it has established its own identity it could be great. I may consider eating there again next time I'm up Oxford Road and at the RNCM, but this time choose something that would have been cooked fresh rather than maybe sat over a burner for a while.
I should have grabbed at the mushroom giveaway earlier to see what they were like.

Back, briefly, to the Cage thing. The night was very odd, funny, crazy and different, so that got me thinking about trying to re-create a dish which I had some time ago that produced a similar reaction in me. A few different flavours and textures that are not normally put together producing an unusual mix and a smile to the face. I'm not trying to be Heston or anything, but watch this space for something a bit different soon!

P.S. I know at least 3 readers will know who it is in the first picture - just shows how bizarre the night was really!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Chinese Slow-Cooked Pork

Thanks to a fantastic half-price offer at Morrisons I did something which is quite rare and bought a joint of meat.  Pork shoulder is a cut I love cooking as it tenderises so well when you have a few hours spare and at £2 something a kilo I thought I would treat Fran to something special ;)

Chinese Slow-Cooked Pork
When we are not talking about food we are generally talking about our fast-approaching little soiree to Switzerland (hence the curiously placed guide book above).   In a few weeks we will be no doubt trying to cook a cheese fondue or something but for now - back to the pork....

I can't really attribute this recipe to anyone as I looked at a few, pinched some ideas but changed quantities, missed some things out and added some others so I guess this is my own creation.  With slow-cooker recipes you don't need to be too accurate on cooking time and we find we often go to the pub until we are hungry.  In this case it added about 3 hours to the planned cooking time so we were left with a "pulled pork" type of consistency which was fantastic actually!  The sauce was very rich but the meat could take it and had we not served it with crackling then it would have been a healthy dish too.

Such a very simple dish done this way:

lkg Pork Shoulder Joint
1 teaspoon Chinese 5spice
1 teaspoon salt

Remove the fat from the pork, rub meat with the 5spice and salt and leave in fridge for 2 hours

For the cooking sauce:

1 Tablespoon Molasses
4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce (Gluten-free)
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 Teaspoon Crushed Dried Chilli
5 Spring Onions
1 Large Knob of Ginger (unpeeled and finely sliced)
6 Cloves of garlic (peeled but left whole)
600 ml of Chicken Stock (Gluten-free)

In a pan dissolve the molasses into the soy and fish sauce.  Add the stock and vegetables and bring to a simmer.

Put the slow-cooker to high and place the meat in the middle.  Pour over the sauce, cover and leave for 4 hours.  Turn the meat and cook on low for at least another 2 hours.

When cooked, remove the meat, cover with foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Pour the sauce from the slow-cooker into a pan through a sieve.

Turn up the heat and thicken with cornflour until at the required consistency.

Shred the meat and scatter it over stir-fried veg, then drizzle over some sauce.  We also had scratchings (done separately) but they were a bit of a disaster so we won't go there. 

We thought it tasty great.  The sauce was rich and spicy but the meat could handle it.  It was nice to have the stir-fry crunch too.  We plan to buy some more pork while it is still on offer so you may see some more slow-cooked pork ideas (or perhaps you could suggest one!?)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Lucia's Beef Rolls and Caponata

Yesterday was a busy Sunday for me.  I was working till half past 2 then I had to go to my parents to pick up the bottle of Camel Valley Bacchus they had kindly bought for us while on holiday in Cornwall.  It got to about half past 5 and all this time I couldn't wait to get back home and try the recipe we had been planning all week.  For our Sunday dinner we only had to look as far as fellow food blogger Lucia and her wonderful Simply Italian Food.

Braciole Napoletane al Sugo (Beef Rolls the Neapolitan Way)

We had decided to try the Beef Rolls (the Neapolitan way).  See the link for Lucia's recipe but I will attempt to talk you through how we did it.

First we laid out the beef.  We bought Steak Sizzlers as they seemed to be about the right shape for rolling (more about that later)

Then we spread all the ingredients as per Lucia's instruction.  This included: garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts and chopped parsley

We then seasoned them, rolled them up and secured the rolls with cocktail sticks
These were then sealed in a hot pan with good olive oil - done in batches as it was less stressful

The rolls were returned to the pan and to it we added tomato puree and passata and left to simmer for an hour

We were very hungry as it was Sunday dinner so we served this with some gluten-free spaghetti and a side portion of warm Caponata.  For the Caponata we went back to the brilliant Jamie's Italy.  We cooked his Caponata as per the recipe except instead of herb vinegar we used red wine vinegar from Kenyon Hall Farm.

For this you will need:

2 Aubergines (large chunks)
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
Salt and Pepper
1 Small Red Onion
2 Cloves Garlic
Small Bunch Flat Leaf parsley - separated and chopped
2 Tablespoons of drained and rinsed salted capers
Handful Green Olives - stones removed
3 Tablespoons of Herb Vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
5 Large Ripe Tomatoes

This is a very easy stew cooked in stages and simmered for 20 mins - half an hour.  Jamie recommended less oil and less cooking time then we prefer so we kept Olive Oil on hand to keep the dish moist as we went along.  We were trying to get a consistency similar to that which we had in Carluccio's recently which was completely cooked down and shimmering in oil.  We made quite a lot so some is in the fridge to eat as a cold antipasto later in the week.

First, brown the Aubergine all over in a hot pan with a few glugs of Olive Oil and after five minutes or so, add the red onion, garlic and parsley stalks

Then add the capers, olives and vinegar
When the vinegar has evaporated add the chopped tomatoes, season and cook for about half an hour or to the consistency you prefer

Serve it warm with some parsley and some more olive oil drizzled over the top

This was a great meal, rather filling and very satisfying for what should be the best meal of the week in my opinion.  During this time Fran also made another Fritata so it was quite an epic hour or so for the more relaxed cooks among us!! 

Beef Rolls: First of all, thank you to Lucia for providing such a great recipe.  I must admit we were intrigued by the simplicity of the tomato sauce but perhaps the beauty of the dish is that the meat is flavoured rather than the sauce making it an altogether more subtle dish.  There are a couple of things to bear in mind - which we will think about next time we try this dish - and that is to think about the quality of the meat.  In hindsight we wished we had bought better meat from the butcher as the steak we used became a little tough in the cooking process.  Or maybe we should have tenderised it a little with a hammer before cooking.  Lucia - perhaps you can let me know what cut you used?
Also, as Lucia quite rightly pointed out - the Parsley is very important.  We probably didn't put enough in (and we were warned) as were were saving some for the Caponata.  This may have been to the detriment of the flavours and we will learn from our mistakes.  To summarise though: a great recipe with fantastic flavours - just make sure you use a good quality meat and plenty of Parsley (as Lucia suggests)!

The Caponata was great too.  It needed cooking longer than the recipe says in our opinion and make sure the capers are well rinsed as although it was ok on acidity any more vinegar would have taken it a bit too far I felt.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Frittata/Crustless Quiche

In another attempt to break the routine of soups for lunch I thought about re-visiting what I used to make. Previously I would make a large homemade quiche, with various filling which would last me all week for lunch along with salad, but since I am now gluten free, this is not an option. Obviously I could go down the route of gluten free pastry, but since I invested in some silicone baking dishes, I don't actually need the added calories or saturated fat of pastry in order to cook a quiche type thing.
Some supermarkets I've noticed have got the odd "crustless quiche", but upon studying the pack closely, this just means there's no pastry up the sides. What I've attempted is really and truly crustless. Almost a Frittata. But not, as it is not purely eggs.

This Frittata type creation is another go at getting more iron, although really, I do love spinach anyway. So in this one my ingredients were onion, peppers, spinach and yummy goats cheese.
To start with I gently fried a chopped onion and half a red pepper.

Meanwhile I washed and wilting down a massive bag of spinach in batches (bought from Albion Farm Shop).
I then squeezed out as much water as possible, squeezed and squeezed. And left it to drain further.
I then put all the onion, pepper, spinach and chunks of the goats cheese into the silicone baking dish ready for the egg mixture.
 I referred to the fantastic Dairy Book of Home Cookery (1968 version!) for the quantities of milk and eggs for their Quiche Lorraine. This said 3 eggs to quarter pint of milk and quarter pint of cream. I have never made quiche with cream, as I've never felt the need. I like it without the need for the extra creaminess and added fat, so half a pint of milk it was.

I also added another egg, as they were of medium size and I thought that it would add to the setting and aid the holding together - since there is no crust and it is not actually a frittata! I added about a half teaspoon of nutmeg and some pepper to the egg mixture before pouring it all on.
This was then put in the oven at 180C for about 45 mins, or until the egg was set. The Quiche Lorriaine recipe had all sorts of temperatures and timings, but the pastry wasn't baked blind. So I just kept testing it til it was set.

The result was a tasty Fritatta type thing which I've eaten every day for lunch with salad. The base was a bit watery, but this could be from the spinach, maybe I'll use raw next time to see what happens. I will definitely be making this again, perhaps with different ingredients.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Asian Pork and Aubergine Hotpot

Why is it that whenever we want ideas for a recipe we go straight to google?  We have probably 200 cookbooks at home (in a very small house) and we don't really make use of them.  The good thing about going to google though is that very often the kind of dish you are looking for is on the BBC Good Food website.  A favourite from the website became tea for the last 2 nights running.

Asian Pork and Aubergine Hotpot with Rice
Now there is not much point in me explaining the full details as I changed very little from the original recipe, so think of this more as a recipe review.  The full details can be found here.

The first time we made it Fran felt there was too much Star Anise so this time I just used 3 (but this is personal taste as I quite liked the aniseed kick).  We didn't have Muscavado sugar so used molasses instead.  Also, we chose pork shoulder steaks rather than pork belly which we have found to be too fatty in the past.

Here is how we did it:

Brown the meat in batches and put aside (I used a colander to lose some excess fat -but then used it anyway while cooking the aubergine!)

Brown the aubergine in batches (adding a little of the pork fat as above) and put aside

Heat up the sugar till beginning to caramelise and add the pork and aubergine and coat

Add the chopped ginger, chilli and onion and cook for a few minutes

Then add the star anise and cinnamon stick with a splash of fish sauce and coriander stalks (chopped)

Add water to about a third of the dish, cover and cook undisturbed for 1 hour (200c)

When ready to serve, add lime juice, some more fish sauce, chilli and coriander


One of the most important ingredients in this dish I think is the lime juice at the end - the flavours just dance in your mouth.  Also, although it needs about an hour to cook the pork, don't over-do it as the aubergine will become mushy.  The recipe says large chunks of aubergine - so you want to keep the shape if possible. 

Often with a stew it gets better if it is left for a while - we definitely found this as we had it two days in a row.  On the night we made it - it tasted great but had perhaps a little too much water (so be careful).  But left in the Le Creuset over night - the flavours really combined without over-cooking, the sauce thickened a little and then after heating on a medium temperature for 20 minutes was yummy the next day.  Perhaps this dish would work better if cooked in the morning - left to settle then re-heated in the evening (just a thought).

Anyway - we love this recipe - the proportions made 5 good sized helpings and will freeze.  Plus this is Gluten-Free so happy days!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Ha Ha Bar and Grill, Spinningfields, Manchester

Last night, being one of the few Friday nights we ever get together, we decided to go out into Manchester for a meal and a few drinks. We'd decided on the place, mainly as we had a voucher, and we'd called in there a couple of times for drinks and the wine was nice.
We chose Ha ha Bar and Grill in Spinningfields.

Buying garlic at the French Market

Beforehand we'd gone up to the French Market to replenish our garlic supply. We'd previously bought one of those massive bunches of garlic from the Christmas market with the promise that it would last us all year. This would be true in the sense it wouldn't go off, but we'd got through it all in 8 months rather than 12, and couldn't get back into using the tiny garlic bulbs that are available in supermarkets.
Some of the market stalls were shutting down, but we did find a large quantity of garlic and other fruit and veg, a cheese stall and a woman selling all manner of sausages including the not-so French Chorizo. We just picked some garlic but we would have stocked up with loads of interesting produce had we not been going out.
We'll definitely keep an eye out for further accessible French markets, and look forward to stocking up on all sorts of European goodies at the Christmas markets.

Back to Ha ha. First of all, we'd just like to say that from now on we will be trying to avoid the big chain restaurants, despite what vouchers may be emailed to us every day, trying to entice us in. Basically this is because the food is OK, but nothing special, and we did feel that whatever we chose from the menu, we could do it ourselves at home. Maybe to a similar standard, maybe better. We're not saying that Ha ha had the "counted out peas" feeling that some chain pubs give, but we'd rather spend our money elsewhere on food that is more special really.
We started off with a drink at the Mark Addy pub, on the opposite side of the canal to Ha ha, and decided that we'll try there for food sometime, as it is award-winning apparently. Although the expensive wine, was just OK rather than great.

We got to the restaurant and the bar area was full - mainly shirt and tie brigade, and rather noisy. All added to the atmosphere though. Plus Ha ha was clearly the most popular place along that stretch of restaurants. Maybe because of the separate bar area.
We were seated along the edge of the restaurant area, and given menus and we asked if we would like to order drinks. We said we'd like to look at the wine menu first, but actually decided on one of the recommended wines that we'd tried before. We were also offered water; still, sparkling or tap. So we went for a jug of tap and noted the plus point that tap water was actually offered.

We explained to the waiter that I was eating gluten free and he said he would find out exactly which dishes I could have. It turned out to be anything that was obvious, in other words no pasta or bread. I fancied a steak and he explained that the Stilton and mushroom topping was gluten free, but the other sauces were bought in and therefore couldn't be guaranteed gluten free. Top marks for the waiter, as he was very thorough in explaining everything, obviously knowing how serious food allergies and intolerances can be, but why, when there were at least two chefs on show to the restaurant are the sauces bought in? Counted out peas springs to mind.

We placed our order and sat with our wine for a bit. The pace of the service seemed good, not rushed at all. I had opted for the melon and serrano ham starter. I generally am not someone who goes for a sweet/savoury mix like that, but thought I'd give it a go. Tim ordered the pate. The waiter came over and said that the melon wasn't good enough to serve and asked me for another order. Again, top marks for the waiter, the manner in which he did this was great, and I'm sure some places may have just sent out the melon. But again, why did this happen? Early on a Friday night you would have thought that everything would be available. In the end I ordered the garlic and chilli prawns which was another one of my three options.

Garlic and Chilli Prawns

Tim said that pate was nice enough, but a slab of pate from Morrisons deli with some leaves and bread could have been made up at home. The Prawns too, were OK. I was expecting more of a chilli hit, but there wasn't that much.

The main course came. I had ordered the Sirloin Steak with the Stilton and mushroom topping and skinny fries. Tim has the Meatballs, mainly because it promised his favourite ingredient of the moment: Fresh Basil.
I'd asked for the steak to be medium, and it was a little more than medium really - the waiter did ask if it was OK, but I couldn't be bothered saying it was a little more well done than I'd expected. The steak itself did have a nice barbecued/grilled flavour and the sauce was rather tasty too. But really was a little tough and my first mouthful contained gristle. Tim was rather disappointed with the lack of fresh basil in the meatball dish. There could have been some dried sprinkled over, but we weren't too sure what it actually was.

We took a look at the desert menu, which for me was ice cream. The waiter did say that the chef could make up an Eton mess without the meringue as the meringue has flour in it. Not sure what kind of crazy recipe was going on there, but what he was proposing was basically ice cream and fruit. So I decided on just plain ice cream. Tim had the Profiteroles with cream.
Again, everything was nice, but kind of ordinary. The sort of thing we could do at home.

In conclusion. The food was OK to poor really. Nothing special. We will not be going again, unless of course it was booked for someone else's do or occasion. We weren't that offended by the place. The service was very good, the waiter was excellent but the restaurant wasn't busy at all. This type of restaurant does serve a purpose, perhaps for taking out the parent that likes "normal" food and not too much way out flavour, (by that I mean doesn't like flavour) but really, we'd probably find a nice independent pub somewhere, or cook ourselves, unless there was a really really good voucher available!

We finished off the evening in the more pleasurable surroundings of Epernay Champagne bar for a couple of glasses of Champagne (Henriot and Louis Roederer - sorry Jenny!) and some exciting, spicy cocktails, and decided that along with the Mark Addy, this should be a place we'll test the food offerings. They only do a selection of nibbles, but well worth trying we reckon.