Chole – Chickpea Curry

My first two dishes from the Prashad Cookbook were relatively simple affairs even for the novice cook that I admit to being. Wanting to push the boat out a little after my modest success, I was eager to cook Chole – a cinnamon spice chickpea curry that I had on my very first visit to their fab little restaurant in Bradford (& shortly Drighlington). This, of course, is the dish that propelled them into the homes of millions after Gordon Ramsay picked this one out as his personal favourite

The cookbook advises that the spice preparations make all the difference to the flavours of the finished dish. Having now made the dish I can report it also gives me an altogether different appreciation of eating it too. Coriander seeds, cinnamon, red chillies, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves & cumin seeds are all tossed in a pan & fried to create a garam masala for the upper flavour. Unfortunately, on my first attempt, I set the heat too high causing it to burn, having to re-prep & do it all again….not the best start on a tired Friday evening

Cumin seeds cooked with onion form a base note and these are fried separately (Note – 2 pans!) with tomatoes followed by ginger, salt, red chilli powder, turmeric and sugar. I thought this was a simple dish of essentially 3 tins of chickpeas & some other spicy stuff but it is a very sophisticated and complex dish, with layers of flavours

The chickpeas are boiled in a large pan (that’s 3!) & I think this is where my dish went slightly wrong. I added additional warm water (as instructed) to my boiled chickpeas that had been left in their cooking water when adding the garam masala and cumin/onion mix. Ultimately it left the dish overly wet despite the additional cooking time employed

The consistency of the dish failed to live up their restaurant standard but the taste sensation was most definitely on the money. A point worth mentioning here, is this is a super cheap meal to make. With tins of chickpeas 50p a pop or less, it is fantastic food for a low outlay. We also had half left over which we took ‘en-flask’ to our annual salmon jumping expedition the following day. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it was 2nd time round, sitting by Stainforth Falls on a cold Saturday afternoon, with the chilli heat ‘warming me cockles’

Diva Italiana

It’s been a bit of a strange but nice week as I have managed to find myself home by 6pm all but once. On Thursday I had my 6 month check up at the dentist and as I left my phone pinged a text from Mattia Boldetti(Diva Italiana and VINeataly) inviting us to take the last table on Diva’s White Truffle Night that very evening with a good deal, 3 courses plus 2 glasses of wine for £25.
I checked with The Boss and we decided to leave the dinner in the fridge and try out Diva. I have to admit that for a long time after it opened Diva was our favourite place but for a while now it hasn’t been on our top list.
We started with an hour catch up (who says married couples don’t talk to each other……) over a couple of drinks in the bar which was nicely busy. A lovely touch was that we were seated at our favourite little table looking into the kitchen. Massimo has always been one of the most talented chefs in Leeds and he and his team were in full flow. I felt I should pick a good bottle of red for the menu. After a discussion with the maitre d it came down to a choice from Brunello( my favourite), Amarone and a Barbaresco, which is the one I went for.
An amuse-bouche of white truffle cheese nibble was delicious. The starter of hand made wild mushroom ravioli with fontina cheese and saffron sprinkled with a decent amount of Piedmont truffle flakes had an intense and subtle contradiction going on which really worked well.
A little break allowed a couple of glasses of the red to slip down nicely before the main arrived. A perfect sirloin of Tuscan roast beef with a truffle and white wine sauce accompanied by crispy pancetta and roasted Italian potatoes (lemony/herby) was absolutely fantastic!
Finally the dessert of chocolate truffle tart with pistachio ice cream finished an inspired menu that was Massimo at his very best.

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The bill would have been exceptional value had it not been for my extravagance but even with a top wine I must say the overall experience and value was spot on.
Chatting with Mattia after the meal, he suggested pre ordering a couple of days in advance anything we liked which is not currently on the menu..
G&D.

Wensleydale Heifer

After a break of nearly two years we were looking forward to a night at the Wensleydale Heifer in West Witton. The place is an old coach house converted into a “Restaurant with rooms”, the atmosphere is very relaxed and The Lad is made welcome. The WH holds the Guiness Book of Records record for the largest serving of it’s signature dish….. Fish and Chips, a 40lb halibut fillet and 60lb of chips were fried in a specially made fryer and fed to 250 eager guests. The seafood is as good as you will get except for the very top end fine dining restaurants. We went with a couple of friends who are global foodies and the comment of ” I could actually happily order any dish on the extensive menu” speaks for itself. The menu is changed weekly and there is usually several specials on offer.
We arrived at 2 ish after a lovely walk around the magnificent Aysgarth falls which are a 5 minute drive away. The ladies were peckish so they shared a couple of sandwiches, cheese and tomato and a BLT both made with fresh crusty bread and were thoroughly enjoyed. G had his customary two pints of Black Sheep bitter which he says is kept perfectly.
After a relaxing afternoon sat in the lounge followed by a stroll with The Lad and a snooze we were ready for dinner. I skipped the starters, our friends shared crispy duck rolls which were very good and G had 6 Irish oysters that were meaty, delicate “a gift from god” (pretentious Mr S)

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Mains were, simply grilled half lobster with garlic butter, Catherine had sea bass and parmesan risotto, both dishes were very good. Linda and G went for a spectacular seafood platter of lobster, scallops, prawns, oysters and snow crab claws which was amazing.

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A plate of 4 local cheeses for 1 was enough for all of us after all that food. 3 bottles of house Sauvignon Blanc complimented the fish well.
Breakfast is a good choice of cereals, fruit, yogurts, fresh juice, kippers up to a full English but you do need to be very hungry.
Most of the rooms in the coach house have had a refurb and are comfortable and well presented although the rooms above the kitchen area can be a bit noisy and have a lingering smell of food, they have air con installed but I prefer to have an open window..deluxe rooms in the new building include themes such as A night at the Movies, Champagne and True romantics.
We left well fed and relaxed…..We are visiting again in 4 weeks time but will need to diet and take long walks first. http://www.wensleydaleheifer.co.uk
D&G

Palm Sugar Launch Party, Chaophraya, Leeds

Last Thursday we were invited to the launch of Leeds newest bar. Phil had to cry off due to an offer of an event at no other than Highgrove House, well you can’t blame him. I had a terrible trip back up the M1 and arrived at 8.30 to find the party in full flow. I was greeted at the door by fire dancers and inside all 3 girls were raving about the organisation, service and quality of the interior design which is a fusion of traditional Thailand and contemporary glamour. On arrival a choice of cocktails were offered and the canapés were frankly of the no expense spared variety! The chicken satay skewers, chilli king prawns with noodles and the vegetarian spring rolls were delicious. After a few champagne cocktails we were given a tour of the bar, private dining room and Kim’s (the owner) table. You know when a bar is top draw when it stock’s very special tipples such as Johnny Walker Blue Label. The private dining room is very stylish with a sunken table giving the appearance of being seated on the floor and Kim’s table is a lavish booth seating up to six for multi course extravaganzas.

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Upstairs, Chaophraya restaurant is the mother ship and the refurb has been done to the highest standard with several semi private areas and a sleek new bar, offering tapas style dishes. The restaurant also has a brand new à la carte menu and a range of set menus designed by Chaophraya’s founder, Kim Kaewkraikhot
I think this place really does set the standard in Leeds now and the food and drink probably make it the best all round venue. Hopefully new entrants and some of the other high end establishments will rise to the challenge. I cannot finish this blog without complementing the entire Chaophraya team for a fantastic night. We will make many visits and recommend it without hesitation.

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G&D.

Wattana & Flower

Translation – Pea & Cauliflower Curry.

My very first ever blog a couple of weeks ago was accompanied with some technical glitches – I didn’t actually finish it before posting!! Being new to the ‘blogging world’ I think this is understandable. The same applied to my very first ever attempt to cook vegetarian Indian from the wonderful Prashad cook book that I recently acquired and have committed to working my way through (along the lines of the Julie & Julia film) to allow my wife a break from the demands of feeding a family of 5 with differing dietary demands on a daily basis. The sheer number of ingredients was mind-blowing to an essentially complete novice of a cook and not measuring all my spices out in advance meant adding them to the pan in quick succession (it seemed that way to me) became a challenge on it’s own! That said I was pretty chuffed with the end result and proud of my modest achievement

So last night was my second attempt at cooking for the hard working wife. Kids all out, music on and a nice glass of Rose to hand. Slightly better prepared this time round too – new blender for the masala paste (green chillies, root ginger & a pinch of salt) and most of the other 12 ingredients ready measured and placed by the hob – can’t believe that didn’t occur to me last time? This is a curry that apparently appeared on the very first menu at Prashad and is essentially a pea and cauliflower curry, as it’s name ‘say’s on the tin’. The thing about these menus and what elevates them from the mundane and boring veggie dish is they are laced with textures – spice and a little sweetness. This dish, for example has cumin seeds; brown mustard seeds; asafetida (or devils dung – don’t you just love the sound of it?); turmeric; coriander; salt and sugar(???) to accompany the pea, cauliflower, tomato and masala base. This time round I was able to add them to the pan more or less as Kaushy Patel had clearly explained, other than the peas, which I added somewhat prematurely and meant they were a little too soft on completion. That said the complexity  of the flavours meant that I don’t think it spoiled the finished dish too much…….

My thoughts….another success and just great flavours. Wonderful!!!

La Tasca

Hot on the heels of our delicious week in Tenerife we were invited to try the new winter menu at La Tasca in Leeds. Unfortunately we were unable to attend the paella masterclass with the Group’s head chef (they are part of a rather large chain) up from London. We were subsequently invited to come and try the menu on a normal evening. We’d never been to La Tasca before so we took up the offer with no preconceptions.

First impressions of La Tasca are good – light, bright, modern interiors very much like the sort of contemporary place you might find in Valencia or Madrid. Midweek was fairly quiet and it’s location is certainly a very competitive one – Greek Street is wall to wall restaurants, most of them chain operations.

To start we shared a plate of cured meats with manchego, bread and olives. All very good I have to say with bread nice and fresh. We then ordered from the new menu a range of tapas dishes – pigs cheek, padron peppers (our favourite of course), pork and chicken meatballs and a chicken & chorizo affair. Feeling greedy we also ordered a seafood paella which we were assured wouldn’t be too much food – I always over order with tapas.

Service was quick and attentive but then they did know I was a blogger which I always think makes a difference. All the food came at the same time which worked OK, but we did say that we’d be happy to have Tapas then paella, but no drama. I do like how in Spain all the dishes come out randomly spaced out time wise depending on how bothered the chef is! We’re a bit too wedded to our three courses in this country for my taste, but hey.

Successes were: pig cheek (tender and sweet) padron peppers (although under seasoned) and the seafood paella. The other dishes were a little bland for me and I wasn’t expecting the paella to be close the standard of the one recently in Masia del Mar in Tenerife, but it was pretty good actually – although the shellfish on top were dried out by the heat.

We came away thinking we would definitely return to La Tasca, particularly on a weekend lunchtime where we thought it perfect for a lazy lunch and few glasses of wine. It brings me back to the old debate about chains versus independents again but my view has always been that if a chain restaurant is doing a good job and filling a gap in the market then it will succeed. And I do think that La Tasca is doing that very well indeed. Although city centre mid-range restaurant competition is fierce, there is very little ‘Spanish’ competition in the city (other than South American Tapas places like Viva Cuba), it will continue to flourish under its new brand and revived menu.

La Tasca is a bright, breezy and unpretentious city centre restaurant perfect for everything from a tricky first date or office leaving do. It has the backing of a chain to get the ingredients and service right and although the food isn’t the best in Leeds, it’s of a high standard and certainly caters for a certain crowd that will keep coming back for more on this evidence.

 

 

Tim & Kaushy

A couple of weekends back, the wife and I, ventured down one lazy Sunday morning to the rather grandly titled ‘World Curry Festival’ in Bradford. Before taking in any culinary delights, we plumped to re-watch Julie & Julia (Amy Adams & Meryl Streep) on the big screen of the Pictureville Cinema of the National Media Museum. ‘Moseying’ down to the festival after this full of inspirational cooking/blogging fare we were somewhat disappointed to find a sparsely attended festival with little more than a baker’s dozen or so curry stalls.

I made a bee-line straight to the Prashad stall next to the unbelievably busy Zouk affair, where the Gordon Ramsey favourite (2010 finalists) and a recent favourite of ours were offering Chaat (Streetfood) and a new book by its owner Kaushy Patel aptly titled Prashad (Indian Vegetarian Cooking). The Chaat was to die for, even allowing for the dairy omission of my portion (dietary necessity not insufficient ingredients). After sampling some of the offerings elsewhere we retired to the bar for a glass or two of the red stuff. Not able to get the Chaat out of my memory taste buds, I dodged the ‘cats and dogs’ stuff now in full flow, to sample another portion. Flicking through the book whilst I waited the short while for my non-diary variant I had a Julie & Julia epiphany of my own…..Maybe I should learn to cook. I love food, I really do and maybe the wonderful wife would like the occasional day off that doesn’t cost us a king’s ransom. Obviously not able to try to do something she can already do, really well….I would teach myself to cook……. Vegetarian Indian, working my way through this exciting and intriguing book….what could be simpler???

So last Thursday I began a mini J&J adventure of my own. Vagareli Makai (Speedy Spicy Sweetcorn) I plumped for. Speedy being the draw for me. Of course it was nothing of the sort. For a start it has 15 ingredients…that’s 15 for mere street food! One of the ingredients Asafetida (Devils Dung) I had never heard of and took some locating…for a 1/4 teaspoons worth in the dish! Prep, being a complete novice, took forever and it did strike me that a dish of essentially tinned sweetcorn and red-skinned peanuts had been made overly & unnecessarily complicated. Of course I was completely wrong. It is the quarter of this and the quarter of that, that makes and transforms the dish from the ordinary to the extraordinary…as you all will probably already know.

The masala was made from fresh green chillies, garlic and root ginger blended into a fine paste with a pinch of salt. Sweetcorn (the main ingredient) and devils dung were added to popped brown mustard seeds. Masala added to the mix and turmeric, then peanuts, salt, coriander and sesame seeds all pretty quickly (5 mins) and before I knew it, hey presto……