Chicken pie [mmm, pies…]

I’m not one for following recipes. Its not that I’m a snob or have a mad amount of confidence in my own culinary genius [I’ll leave that for others to decide], its just that I like to play around and make things up myself, I own a grand total of two cookery books and frankly I can’t be arsed reading instructions. So, as a little experiment I decided I was going to follow a recipe, to the letter, and see what happened. I had some chicken thighs in the fridge and fancied making a pie so I cracked open Heston Blumenthal’s delicious sounding recipe for chicken pie.

The result, after a lot [and I mean a lot] of faffing around all evening was pretty good. Personally I’d half the amount of mushrooms and leeks that the recipe instructs though – they overpowered the dish. I’d also be tempted to add a bit of cheese into the sauce for extra deliciousness. Everyone loves cheese. Basically, next time I’ll stick to my own recipe. Sorry Heston. Close, but no banana.

N.B – His method of ‘low and slow’ cooking of the meat does produce really tender and tasty chicken though. What a G.

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The Marble Arch

The Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Rd, just on the fringes of Manchester’s Northern Quarter is a real institution. Famous for its artisan real ales and onsite brewery as much as its drop dead gorgeous Victorian architecture, the pub also boasts an impressive food menu. I’ve been meaning to try the Marble Arch’s fayre for ages now, and now I have I can firmly say that my meal here has to be one of the finest I have tried anywhere in the city (ranging from the delicious cheap eats of the Rice & 3 merchants through to the fine dining experience of Michael Caines @ Abode).

The Marble Arch’s menu is firmly in the best of British tradition – a great selection of timeless classics including full roasts, pies, fish & chips and burgers, as well as an inspired speciality cheese selection. The prices are more on the restaurant end, but completely worth it and, given the quality of ingredients, practically a bargain. I had the rib eye steak and chips, served with grilled mushrooms and tomato and very impressive mushroom and peppercorn sauce. The steak was cooked to utter perfection, the chips were a beautifully golden and crispy, and the sauce was to die for. Everything was clearly made fresly from scratch The sauce in fact was the real star of the show – a complex blend of various kinds of mushrooms, brandy, cream, garlic and no doubt various other ingredients that I’m not aware of. The perfectly cooked simplicity of a dish like this really shows the chef has some serious confidence and ability.

At £16.50 this is on the upper edge of the price bracket for pub grub, but had this been a £30 meal at a formal restaurant I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – this is the kind of food that puts some of the region’s so-called fine-dining-cum-gastropub institutions to real shame.


The Great(ish) Kathmandu – West Didsbury

I’ve read so many good reviews and been recommended this place by so many people that I finally had to check it out. Going in through the doors of this tandoori Nepalese restaurant is like entering some kind of weird 70s time warp. The dodgy worn hotel style chairs, the ‘We accept travellers cheques’ sticker on the door (what exactly is a travellers cheque? I’ve still yet to figure it out), through to the brown decor, the whole place has a kind of creepy retro vibe. Upon entering, we were given our menus. The only word I can describe these menus as has to be epic. I mean, really, really big. I’ve never seen such a large and bonkers menu. Half the starters, for example are more expensive than most of the mains, and there’s about 6 pages of main courses, most of which sound so similar I was left scratching my head. Anyway, the poppadoms arrived, which was a nice break from the menu browsing, and wow, they were good. Really light, crispy and fresh with a selection of clearly homemade chutneys. A very nice surprise.

We ordered lamb chops, boti kebab, a dry chicken Nepalese curry, a tarka daal, some pilau rice and plain naan bread. The lamb chops were out of this word. So deliciously tender, full of flavour with a warm hit yet very fragrant. Winner. The boti kebab wasn’t frankly much to write home about, sadly. The mains were, again, a mixed bag – the chicken had a gorgeous ginger and onion hum and its charred flavour went well with the gorgeous fresh naan bread. The tarka daal sadly had a powdery texture, I suspect down to not cooking the spices off properly. The food, then, was a bit hit and miss. Great in parts (some of the best lamb chops of any kind I’ve ever had, anywhere) but a letdown in others (iffy daal).

Where this place really comes into its own though is the service. Seriously, I felt like any second a Nepalese Basil Fawlty was about to storm into the dining room, throw us out and kick the waiter up the arse. On one hand the waiter wouldn’t let me take a sip of water without topping up my glass, yet at the same time whipped away a plate of poppadom and chutney from under my nose while I clearly hadn’t finished. They also looked at me with a strange kind of suspicious grin when I wanted to pay by card. None of this annoyed me, I have to say. If anything I found it bizarre and frankly amusing, it kind of added to the strange atmosphere.

Some people rave about this place, and I can see why. I guess if you know what to order, and don’t mind the dodgy service, you can have a great meal. I’ll probably come again and stick to the chargrilled/tandor cooked dishes as this is clearly what they excel at.

The Great Khatmandu is located in West Didsbury, opposite the Metropolitan pub.


Sushi!

I’ve been getting pretty obsessed with sushi recently. Not quite sure why but it really is my favourite food in the world right now. Pretty much the perfect meal. Its packed with flavour, has a kick (Mmmm, wasabi!) and is filling yet healthy! Definitely good karma food.

Manchester has a few decent sushi outlets (Wasabi, Samsi, Out of the Blue) but here’s the lowdown on how to make it yourself. Now, this is one of those tasks that is a bit tricky first time round but is pretty easy to get the hang of.

You’ll need:

  • Sushi rice
  • Nori seaweed
  • Rice vinegar, sugar and salt (or ready prepared sushi rice seasoning)
  • Wasabi
  • Bamboo rolling mat
  • Soy sauce & pickled ginger (to serve)
  • Fillings of your choice
  • Water
Firstly, prepare the rice. To serve 3 – 4 people (depending how hungry you are) you’ll need 300g of rice. Wash the rice in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear. Drain and place into a pan along with 350ml unsalted cold water. Place a lid on the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins. Take off the heat and leave to stand for 25 mins (don’t remove the lid at any point). While the rice is cooling, this is a good time to start arranging your fillings. Its up to you really, but if you’re cutting veg you need them in thin, regular batons. Things like avocado, cucumber, spring onion and courgettes work really well. If you’re making fishy sushi then you need fresh raw fish – tuna and salmon are great. It is very, very important you get the freshest fish you can. You’re best off going to a good fishmonger rather than buying packaged fish from a supermarket for this reason. Cooked prawns are also delicious.
When the rice is cooled, place in a non metal container and pour over 3tbsp of your sushi rice seasoning, folding and mixing the rice as you go. Place a sheet of nori shiny side down on your bamboo mat. scoop up the rice and cover the nori evenly in a thin layer, leaving about an inch at the top free. Dab a little wasabi across the middle and place your fillings along the wasabi in a thin, regular line.
Now here’s the tricky part – Moving away from you roll the mat, keeping an even pressure and tucking the roll in as you go. If you find this difficult, there’s loads of videos on YouTube explaining how this is done.
When you have a completed roll, slice into inch thick pieces with a very sharp knife. Serve with soy sauce, pickled ginger and extra wasabi. If you’ve done it right it should look a little like mine here. Tuck in!


Herbs, Herbs, Herbs

The summer is here and my little herb box is springing to life. Spotted my basil plant flowering today.

If, like myself, you love the idea of growing your own food but don’t have the luxury of a garden, then a little herb box on the windowsil is a great alternative. I’ve got a rather bushy mint plant on the go as well..


Bread & Butter – Northern Quarter

Bread & Butter is a cross between a proper old school lunchtime buttie shop (see Rustica) and a trendy Northern Quarter eatery. The menu at Bread & Butter has a heavy Mediterranean influence, with the homemade roasted vegetables, garlic mushrooms and spicy chickpeas being a particular highlight. The usual choice of deli meats, salads and condiments are of course available, should you choose. Everything is available on the standard baguette or ciabatta, but what really sets Bread & Butter apart is the piadina – a cruncy flatbrad from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The fillings are spread across the bread, which is then folded and placed on a griddle pan. Why piadinas haven’t taken off in a bigger way is beyond me, because they’re delicious. My favourite has to be roasted veg, hummous, spinach and feta cheese.


Simple breakfast.

The oldies are sometimes the best. Nothing wrong with a bit of pimped up shredded wheat.