Thursday, 29 September 2011

Pancho's Burritos

Today we returned to the Arndale Market in Manchester with one aim in mind, to have a burrito from Pancho's Burritos.

When we were last in the market I'd bought some habanero salsa from Pancho's which was excellent. And very hot. The quality of the salsa made me and the missus think that we would be daft not to eat there the next time we went to Manchester.

There's plenty of choice, including chili con carne and pork stew, but it was the burritos which drew us in. A fresh tortilla is softened over heat, then topped with rice, refried beans (actually tasty refried beans), chili salsa, lettuce and sour cream and a choice of meat. I went for beef with extra chipotle chili in adobo sauce, the missus went for pork with extra guacamole.

They were both excellent, the pork was a kind of pulled pork from a slowly-stewed shoulder. The beef was finely chopped rather than minced, and equally as good as the pork. All the separate components were tasty and really complemented each other. The superb chipotle in adobo fired things up nicely and the refried beans and rice helped cool things down when the heat threatened to get too intense. I was left with lovely smokey, meaty taste which lingered and lingered.

This cosmopolitan little food court is definitely my favourite place to eat in Manchester. You simply can't beat the value, quality and choice.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Thank You list

Have you ever been in the middle of eating your tea and stopped to think how many people you would have to thank for the food on your plate?

How many people would you end up with? There might be farmers and growers, pickers, sorters, packers, drivers, pilots, more drivers, warehouse staff, more drivers, shelf stackers and the checkout lady. Not to mention the buyers, sales & marketing, finance and HR departments of the supermarkets.

It might be fair to say, then, that the shorter the list, the better the food.

Judging by the steak I've just eaten I'd say that's a fair bet. The thank you list for my steak? Farmer, butcher. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I even said a little thank you to the cow. The list doesn't get a lot shorter than that, not for meat anyway. And steaks don't get much better.

The great thing about buying steak, or any meat for that matter, from a butcher is that you can get exactly what you want. I wanted a big sirloin with a decent amount of fat on it. And that's what I got. A thick slab of deep red meat with a good edge of creamy white fat.

I covered this in freshly ground black pepper and laid it in a hot pan which had a crushed clove of garlic frying in it. I rubbed the garlic of the cooked side when I turned the meat to impart a nice garlic flavour which I think really complements beef. After cooking for around 8 minutes I laid it on the chopping to rest for a few minutes before I ate it.

It tasted every bit as good as I hoped it would, which made me consider who I needed to say thank you to. So thank you, Maskill's of Hebden Bridge, farmers and butchers. And thank you, cow.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Halifax Food and Drink Festival

Well, I say festival, but farce might be closer to the mark. It wasn't very good.

It's hard to believe that the Halifax Food and Drink Festival has been going for 5 years. In that time I would have thought that the organisers would have learnt how to promote it. I live in Hebden Bridge, about 7 miles from Halifax, but I only heard about it when I saw a poster in Manchester Victoria train station. I saw nothing about it in Hebden Bridge, nothing in Todmorden, and nothing in Halifax, come to think of it.

Promotion that bad almost guarantees low attendance. And starting the festival on a Friday wasn't a good idea, aren't most people at work on a Friday?

To call it a festival was just downright misleading. There was nothing at all like a festival about it. It was like paying to get into a market, and I've been to better markets. Apparently Friday and Saturday had been so quiet that some of the stallholders didn't return on the Sunday. There was only 7 or 8 there on the Sunday, which was very disappointing.

Making matters worse was a painfully embarrasing cooking demonstration from Anthony Worral-Thompson. He thought we was somewhere near Darlington! He'd heard that Darlington was in 'the North', and obviously assumed that as he was in 'the North' he must be near there. Oh dear. He then took an hour to cook steak and chips and drank red wine from a bowl. I guess he'd had a few before he even got on the stage.

If Calderdale Council decide to continue with the festival they would do well to do a bit of market research beforehand to find out what people want from a food festival, and whether they want one at all. Assuming people do, then it would be worth asking them what they want, and maybe looking at other more successful festivals which take place around the area. Getting local restaurants on board would seem like a good idea as well - I'm sure they need all the help they can get at the minute.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wings at Manchester's Arndale Market

We've just come back from a day out in Manchester, but for a moment it felt like we'd had a day out in Kuala Lumpur.

In the Arndale Market, situated in a corner of the Arndale Centre, is a food court. But it's not one of those food courts which are packed out with fast food chains. Here there are independent outlets offering a range of Chinese, Greek, Indian and Mexican food and more.

The Chinese outlet is called Wings and will look familiar to anyone who has eaten in the hawker centres of South-East Asia. Fast service at the counter behind which stand steaming pots of rice and stock, and hanging up behind a glass shield are whole roast ducks and hugs slabs of roast pork. It looks so inviting, and the long queue suggests that this is the place to eat.

And it is. That's not to say that the other places aren't good. I'm sure they are, but we couldn't resist a taste of out travels. I had roast duck and char sui on rice, the missus had roast duck and roast pork ramen. The meat was excellent, succulent and authentically tasty. The ramen broth was equally good. I'd go back in a shot, but next time I'd leave with a whole roast duck, a bargain at £11.

Instead, this time we came home with a kilo of mussels from the fish stall (£3.50) and a little pot of fire (habanero salsa) from the Mexican stall. If the rest of the Mexican food is of the same standard, then we'll have to go and eat there as well. Though I think I'll choose something a bit milder than the salsa - it would be insane to eat too much of anything that is that hot!

As we left we walked through the grocery area where durian fruit was on sale. It's sickly-sweet smell hangs thickly in the air around Bukit Bintang, the area where we spent much of our time when we were in KL. That smell, together with our Asian lunch and the table of noisy, chattering chinese behind us when we ate transported us right back to Malaysia. The feet are getting itchy again.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Jamie Oliver's Brisket Chili

Without a doubt this is the finest Chili you will ever eat. And if you like this, then I would recommend giving his braised oxtail a go, just as easy and just as tasty.

I made the chili for 2 hungry adults, and it fed us handsomely.

First of all, finely chop an onion, a chilli or two and a couple of cloves of garlic and soften over a low heat. I used some Hotel Chocolat Cocoa & chilli oil to try and add a bit more flavour. 

Whilst the onion, garlic and chilli mixture are cooking score a 1.5lb piece of brisket. Season the meat and then rub in some ground cumin seed, dried oregano and a good amount of paprika. This then goes into a casserole or pan which can go into the oven. Fry the meat over a medium heat, to get some colour. Turn it regularly to ensure it gets browned on all sides.

Add the onion mixture to the casserole along with a cinnamon stick, 3 bay leaves, about 400ml of good beef stock and about the same amount again of passata or a tin of chunky chopped tomatoes.

Turn up the heat and get everything simmering vigorously, the put it into a medium oven (160 Celsius) for about 3 hours, until the meat pulls apart with little effort. If you want you could add some kidney beans a few minutes before serving to add a bit of texture.

True enough, just like on the tele, the meat fell apart. And it tasted very, very good. I now understand why Jamie and Gennaro react they way they do to some of the stuff they cook. It made us go "umm" and "cor" and make bold statements of intimate activity to each other. Satisfyingly big chunks of rich meat, and some small slithers, in a moreish, slightly sweet, spicy, savoury sauce. It didn't stand a chance. We finished the lot off in two big bowls each. Writing this I simply want to eat it again right now.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Spaghetti Vongole

Us Brits are a nation of animal lovers, apparently. A fact reflected in what we eat. Although there are an odd few who keep chickens, sheep and even pigs as pets the vast majority of us don't. Because we want to eat them.

Admittedly some of those who keep farm animals as pets do end up eating them, but I can't imagine a chicken called Sally tastes a great deal better than one called £5.99 from the butcher. Familiarity may breed contempt but it doesn't guarantee flavour.

There is a more practical view of animals in other parts of the world. Dog may not feature on many menus seen by tourists in South-East Asia but it does appear in the diet of ordinary people at home in Vietnam and Cambodia. France hasn't produced any famous jockeys and I can't help but think that the reason is because they'd rather eat horses than watch them run round a field.

Put simply, some animals are meant to be eaten and some aren't. There was no heartache, then, when we recently said goodbye to our clams.

We had only had them for 24 hours before we decided that they would make a much better spaghetti vongole than a house pet - having said that, we live in a flat so they weren't such a bad idea. We bought them from the excellent fish market in Kirkgate Market (terrible website alert!) in Leeds.

The stalls at this market sell a range of fish that I haven't come across in this country. Fresh conger eel, clams, parrot fish are some of the more exotic varieties on offer. The stalls also provide the restaurants of Leeds with their fish so it would be safe to assume that there is a high turnover of produce, which means the fish is fresh.

Once you've got some clams making spaghetti vongole is straightforward. We used about 100g of clams per person, and cooked them in a pan along with 4 cloves of garlic (we like garlic), half an onion, a small glass of wine, a chilli and olive oil. The clams cook till they open and then get mixed with cooked spaghetti.

This is the kind of meal that would cost the best part of a tenner in a restaurant, yet at home it can be made for a couple of quid. It's well worth it.