Blog Day 2006: Eat it up

As today is officially Blog Day, I thought I’d join in by venturing into the crevices of the blogosphere to see what other foodie types around the world are up to.
The results are revealing in their difference but my selections have one thing in common – they are all written by women.
Why do so many women choose to blog about food? It’s got to be something to do with men!
Anyway here’s my selections and I’ve included the “rules” for Blog Day at the end of this post just in case you want to join in the fun.
Food Pix
Just as described, this blog is full of mouthwatering pictures of food all cooked up by 26-year-old proud army wife Donna.
Fresh Approach cooking
Described as recipes and whatnot from a not-so-typical L.A. girl this blog is a treat for links – spaghetti web.
Restaurant girl
This woman in New York has a huge appetite for eating out and says she gets more excited about a good steak than a good man. She’s in love with food. A girl after my own heart.
Neurotic Iraqi Wife
This Middle East desparate housewife is another army wife who just can’t wait to get cooking with the chocolate pancakes. As she says “heavenly chocolate”.
Isle of Man Candy
This young lady a bit closer to home seems to be campaigning for cheaper fish and chips. Good call girl but is £4.50 really that pricey?

Here’s what to do for Blog Day 2006:

* Find 5 new Blogs that you find interesting;
* Notify the 5 bloggers that you are recommending them on BlogDay 2006;
* Write a short description of the Blogs and place a link to the recommended Blogs;
* Post the BlogDay post (on August 31st); and
*Add the BlogDay tag using this link: http://technorati.com/tag/BlogDay2006 and a link to the BlogDay web site at http://www.blogday.org

Ever had good pub food?

I’ve recently been taken to task by two readers over my recent review of new city centre restaurant Bacchanalia.
The main objection from this letter writing couple appears to be my description of the type of food they serve as “good pub food” and informed us that they had never experienced food as good in any pub.
This baffled me slightly as most pub food I encounter these days is very good. There wasn’t any slight intended and, following a splendid lunch today at a pub near my home,

I had to wonder where the letter writer goes out if only so that I can avoid it at all costs.

My lunch at the Bull’s Head in Tintwistle was typical of the standards I thought we’d all come to expect – a menu with varied choices, specials, well-cooked and served up in a friendly atmosphere.
We’re not talking out-the-freezer-into-the-microwave pies here.
My salmon with asparagus fricassee was served with boulange potatoes while Himself never tires of scallops with bacon and these were as good and sweet as any served up in a restaurant. And the price? Most dishes at less then £10. So, I’m sorry my review didn’t give you the right impression about Bacchanalia, at least it was accurate.
But if the culinary wilderness where you live doesn’t improve soon then why not venture back to the city centre and try out The Bridge or The Ox to see how good pub food is done.
I can’t be alone in finding good pub food in the north west so let me know your recommendation via the comments below.

Another’s life through food

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Here’s a man after my own heart! Chris Gillett also lives his life through food, but he takes pictures of it all.
48-year-old Chris from Wiltshire has found fame in his local art gallery and further afield after taking pictures of every meal he had last year and compiling a collage from the 2,550 images which resulted.
Chris has been widely reported as saying that this project led him to lose a stone in just six months because he became more conscious about what he was eating.
Perhaps turning your daily menu into an art form could become a more imaginative way of combating growing obesity levels.
As the government turns its attention to this problem, maybe the newly appointed minister for fitness should be getting busy with paint pots, paste, film and video as well as trying to get everyone on their bikes.

Love in The Lakes

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Thankfully there wasn’t a whole calves head or ten varieties of torte on the menu but the wedding feast I’ve just been treated to was as extravagant as any banquet of the past.
Under clear, Cumbrian skies we have been eating, drinking and being merry for a very stylish wedding.
Now wedding food isn’t usually much to get the pulses racing but, when the couple that the word “fabulous” was invented for get hitched, things are done a little differently.
Billed on the invite as a special BBQ, this was more of a feast in the open air.
BBQs generally spell trouble for me – too many blackened sausages and incinerated cobs of corn to be a truly memorable eating experience but this was different.
There was Pimms, there was steak, there was chicken, there were chargrilled vegetables, there were salads galore, buttered new potatoes, freshly made coleslaw, strawberries, a mountainous supply of profiteroles and enough chocolate sauce to go swimming in. With a nod to the bride’s Jamaican roots the chef had concocted a fantastic jerk sauce with just the right amount of Scotch Bonnet making it through and the whole setting with the tablecloths and waiting staff made sure this was indeed a very special BBQ.

In fact the whole experience was something akin to a grown-up version of a Famous Five picnic but without the mutt.

In the grounds of Cragwood country house , overlooking Lake Windermere and accompanied by gospel singers it was a summer event not to be missed.
So all that remains for me to say is congratulations Sharon and Crawford – may your lives together always be just as fabulous.

Bacchanalia

baccan.jpgTime can be a funny old thing. We all claim to not have enough of it, try to cram things into it and all too often make futile attempts to manage it.
In ancient Rome they did things differently and they made time for wild and mystical festivals – exactly five times a month – dedicated to the God Bacchus AKA the Greek God Dionysus.
These festivals were soon outlawed because they offered too much power to women and the underclasses of society, worrying the Roman leadership about being overthrown.
But since those times, the term Bacchanalian has been extended to refer to any drunken revelry so the newest oddly-named restaurant in the city centre seemed to be promising a memorable night out.
But I say night out, it was actually late afternoon when we arrived at the former site of Simple in the City and time was already against us.
16.45: We sat down in the outdoor area and were told that dinner wasn’t yet being served.
16.50: We decide to wait it out by ordering a platter to share (£4.95) as a starter and then wait for the main courses when the a la carte menu was available. We were in no hurry.
17.00 A large plate of assorted bread – pitta, tomato, olive, focaccia, breadsticks – arrived with humus, guacamole, tzatziki and olive tapenade was served up.
The portions were generous and we were happily enjoying this selection, admiring the view in a leisurely way.
Being pedestrianised, Chapel Walks is probably Manchester’s main “cafe society” street, a place to dwell and pass some time while always being conscious of time’s constraints thanks to the town hall clock looming into view.

Sandwiched between the French sounding Le Figaro (which isn’t French) and Grinch (which isn’t a bitter, green-coated, cave-dwelling creature), a restaurant which sounds Italian or Greek turns out not to be either thing.

17.30. The waitress brings us the evening menu. The a la carte menu is available from 6pm and revealed dishes from across Europe. There was moussaka but also linguine, salads but also black pudding mash. These main courses are all billed as “wholesome meals” – a description which seems more suited to Jamie Oliver dishing up in the nursery than to the orgy of revellery the moniker might suggest.
The waitress ( who managed to achieve that friendly, relaxed and knowledgeable mixture that seems to be sadly so rare in the Manchester Mcjob waiting staff) informed us that the “mash of the day” was with shallots and leeks while the “stuffing of the day” was chutney and mushroom.
A place that does a daily mashed potato recipe! I think that must be a new definition of comfort food especially if they really can come up with 365 different forms of crushed spud. Sounds like a food blog just waiting to be written to me.
17.45. We order our main courses. I don’t need any extra invitation – it’s the mash of the day and the pan-fired chicken(£11.95) with the stuffing of the day for me, while Himself orders up a medium fillet steak which is offered with sweet potato dauphinoise (£18.95).
We also ordered two vegetable dishes which further point out the eclectic mix on offer – creamed greens and Mediterranean vegetables.
18.00. The town hall clock was chiming. My chicken was succulent and well-cooked and, while I did have some doubts about the potential of a chutney stuffing, I was pleasantly surprised – enough sweetness to be complimentary but not an overpowering flavour at all.
Himself was very pleased with the way his steak had been cooked (something he seemed to feel needed to be mentioned with every mouthful) and found the sweet potato a refreshing accompaniment.
18.30. Things were going swimmingly. The chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio was long finished but the night was young. It was time to order deserts and then………… what was that I could spy out of the corner of my eye? Sitting there throughout our calorie indulgent meal, keeping quiet on the opposite side of the street but suddenly the centre of everyone’s attention – a gym. And not just a gym building, but one with scores of tracksuited runners with stop watches tearing out into the streets on some sort of challenge.
Now if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to put me off pudding its an athletic reminder that the gym membership is paid on standing order with “standing” being the operative word too often.
I passed on puds but Himself, being of stronger constitution decided to re-visit the Greek feeling with Baklava.I made the right choice as this was the only disappointing dish of the day – burnt on top, dry and extremely uninteresting, the accompanying ice-cream the only saving grace.
19.00. We paid our bill (£75.45 including drinks). The town hall clock was chiming, some determined runners are still timing some achievement with stop watches but our time has run out.
STYLE: City center swish.
COOKING: Good pub food.
PLUS: Location and good service.
MINUS: A name which leads you to expect something different. Mystical, drunken revellery is not on the menu.
VALUE: Top price for pub-style food.
Bacchanalia is at Tudor House 15-17 Chapel Walks, Manchester. M2 1HN 0161 819 1997.

Sexy food’s little brother

I hear that everyone’s favourite Northern Quarter deli is making a return – but only in a small way. What’s being described as a “special mini cafe” version of Love Saves the Day is opening up in trendy record shop Vox Pop.
I’m told the new arrival will be offering browsers coffee and cakes which is all well and good – but what about the things I miss from the old Tib Street cafe? What about the breakfasts with freshly squeezed orange juice? What about the lovely, garlicky soup or the wonderful platters? And then there was all those deli items, pastas and oils that the old shop/cafe did so well.
So, while it will be a welcome return when the espresso starts steaming in September, let’s hope the mini version grows up to be a full-blown Northern Quarter eaterie once more.

Now pet, it’s chicken tonight

Himself has recently been forced to do his own catering and, surprisingly, he’s managed to avoid ordering from the pizza delivery services or buying food which requires the film to be piereced before consuming.
In fact I returned home following a few days away to find him waxing lyrical about a new dish he had “invented”.
Now previous culinary attempts haven’t really gone to well in the husband department. Long before he became the husband he attempted to impress me with various mixtures of soya and cold, tinned corn which were introduced as vegetarian chili and more recently he dished up something described as a “red meal” – a plate where all the ingredients were indeed red but sadly didn’t really go together in any other form of categorisation (like taste).
So this new found enthusiasm didn’t really leave me whetting my appetite for a gourmet treat but he was determined to show me how great it was after a particularly gruelling day at work, so what was I to do?
Settling in front of the television plugged into a Slendertone (no time for the gym) with a long Campari and soda in hand (Dutch courage), I steeled myself for what was to come as the kitchen door was firmly shut and the extractor fan roared on.
But enough of this husband bashing – it was very, very good. So good that I’ll feature the recipe a little more widely on this blog.
OK, he hadn’t gone as far as actually shopping as all the ingredients were in the fridge before I left, but I have to say I was impressed with the creative mixture and the resulting dish would be great served with brown rice.
As regular readers have probably already guessed, Himself chose to serve this new dish with chips – something which might explain why he’s also gone up a waist size since I’ve been away.

Al’s lemon and celery chicken

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What you need
4 organic chicken drumsticks with skin removed.
2 lemons.
2 packs of baby celery.
Large handful of fine beans.
1 sliced leek.
2 cloves crushed garlic.
8 baby plum tomatoes.
Olive oil.
Sea salt and ground black pepper.

What to do

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan or skillet and add the garlic.
Brown the chicken.
Aff the sliced leeks and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
Squeeze the juice of 1 and a half lemons over the chicken and leek mixture.
Add all four halfs of lemon to the pan.
Chop the tomatoes in half and add them.
Chop the celery and add to the micture.
Cover and cook for 35 mins on a low heat.
The mixture should note require any more liquid but if it does dry out add a small amount of water, wine or stock.
Five minutes before the end, add the beans to boiling water for three minutes, drain and then add to the mixture.

My verdict

The celery and lemon really enhances the chicken flavour and it is surprisingly moist even though the only liquid is created from the vegetables. Perfect with brown rice – or oven chips! (The picture really doesn’t do the dish justice – give it a try).

By ‘eck Steve, you’re in the clouds!

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The city’s highest new chef could have stepped unwittingly into a bit of controversy with the description of his menu plans.
Speaking in today’s M.E.N, Steve McLoughlin he assures readers that his job as chef in the 561ft Beetham Tower will involve the “very best aspects of the north west’s produce”.
The chef who recently worked at the Cocoa Rooms and before that The Lowry, aspires to produce the finest cuisine in Manchester – sounds good so far.
But it’s the menu items detailed where the alarm bells start ringing – three fish in Boddingtons beer batter?
Come on Steve, we know you’re from leafy Altrincham but surely you must have heard – Boddingtons isn’t brewed in Manchester any more. Yes, the landmark tower is still there but there’s no-one home.boddies.jpg
Boddingtons is now only the Cream of Manchester for the marketing men so maybe your beer batter should include an ingredient brewed a little closer to home than Belgium.
P.S. If you want to learn more about Boddies great history, give these links a whirl:
Sights and sounds of the final day.

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Owners InBev
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Lunch break: Katsouris

Katsouris’ reputation for a good lunch has spread quickly – so much so that its often hard to find a table to eat in and an express till has been put into service to deal with the crowds of people popping in to grab a quick bite.
The hot carvery sandwiches seem to be the big draw but I’ve also sampled some excellent homemade soups, which are often spicy and hearty, plus sandwiches of Greek ingredients and more basic fare all served on delicious varieties of bread from specialists Barbakan. I can particulary recomment the Halloumi with their own recipe green olive tapenade on wholemeal – it’s the kind of sandwich you yearn for at 11am on a boring, wet, weekday.
But on this particular trip I wanted to try out the vegetarian meze. What a feast for £4.95. The expected humus and tzatziki but then, so much more – couscous with vegetables, tiny, sweet red peppers, sun-dried tomato, mushrooms, herby courgettes, stuffed vine leaves the list is so endless it’s like a Generation Game memory challenge.
Download a clip of this feast
With a plentiful supply of aforementioned quality bread this is a serious veggie lunch. Definately deserves a Veggie Hero mention.
My verdict: The only downside I can see here is the smallish venue on the corner of Deansgate and John Dalton Street – time to move to bigger premises and let more of us in for more of the time.
Plus: Lots of choice, lots of treats.
Minus: Can be very crowded.
Value: Sandwiches are at the pricier end of the scale but I think the meze must be one of the best-value lunches in the city centre.