The Swine That Dines – #RootstoShoots

 

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Now I’m no food writer or blogger but it would be remiss of me to not attempt to sum up the astonishing eating experience I had at the Swine That Dines vegetarian evening RootstoShoots.  I’m a meat eater but my partner isn’t, this has actually been very beneficial to me as my diet has improved, is more balanced and fits in much better to the  ethos that it’s better for us and the planet if we all eat a bit less meat.

Whilst there are some notable exceptions in Leeds, generally the level of vegetarian food available on most venues’ menus is sorely lacking in imagination or choice.  The culmination of this is perhaps no better illustrated than when it comes to Christmas menus which seem to default to some form of risotto.  Now who doesn’t like a good risotto but come on people is that the best you can do?  It comes as very much a welcome relief therefore to go somewhere knowing that from a vegetarian perspective you are going to potentially be able to eat everything on the menu.  This is especially true when you consider that The Swine That Dines very much specialises in nose to tail eating, or so I thought.  What I learnt is that they just specialise in very good cooking.

For those who don’t know The Swine That Dines is an offshoot of The Greedy Pig on North Street and opens up on weekend evenings, with the vegetarian menu (#rootstoshoots) being the first weekend of the month.  The setting is a small (about 14 covers) cafe and therefore does not come with the airs and graces of a fancy restaurant, however that is  just fine by me.  You can relax, bring your own wine and enjoy what’s on offer.  It had the feeling of being somewhere that you long to randomly discover while walking around an unknown neighbourhood of some continental city.  A place that you are going to rave about afterwards and long to return to, luckily for me I’ll be able to any time I want.

The evening works like a tasting menu, but you don’t have to order everything, indeed there was a guy in there just having a couple of dishes with a bottle of beer.  Obviously we went for everything on the menu which they explain they bring out two dishes at a time.  Each dish is of a starter size and I love this sort of British tapas approach enabling you to share a couple of plates at a time, relax and wait for the next ones.  I also loved the way the menu was written, just three or four ingredients with no hint really on how they would be prepared or served which for me added to the intrigue.  It was a welcome relief to not see the words foam, air, jus, pan fried (how the hell else do you fry something?) anywhere near the menu.  Our menu was this:

1.

Coco Beans, Goats Curd, Lemon, Rye

2.

Sweet Potato, Burnt Butter, Nori, Yuzu

3.

Carrots, Romesco, Ewes Cheese

4.

Fava, Quails Egg, Dukka, Pomegranate

5.

Buttermilk, Polenta, Wild Garlic, Aiolli

6.

Duck Egg, Smoked Potato, Buckwheat, Sorrel

7.

Oyster Mushrooms, Quinoa, Hazelnut, Porter

8.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Tomato Sambal, Peanut

Now if you are like me and you read that menu you have to be intrigued either thinking ooh what’s that or mmmm how are they going to pull those things together, what will it look like, taste like etc.  Either way you can’t wait for the first couple of plates to arrive.  When they did arrive and you tasted the humble ingredients beautifully presented I was simply mesmerised.  I don’t think I’ve ever tasted food as good or certainly not better.  Each plate was a dazzlingly array of taste and texture, flavours meeting, marrying and exploding in your mouth sending your senses into overload.  I found it quite incredible how someone could take a carrot or a potato, surely the humblest of humble ingredients and make you feel like you were eating the most luxurious food imaginable.

I cannot pick a stand out dish even though we spent a lot of time discussing it, they were all brilliant although there were a couple of stand out elements, the carrot, smoked potato, oyster mushrooms did it for me.  The only ingredient that didn’t appeal to me was the buckwheat, didn’t stop me almost resorting to licking the plate clean mind.

If you’ve seen the film Ratatouille then this for me was that film come to life, an astonishing chef cooking from the heart and creating dishes to die for.

Going out for food this good is for many people a very special occasion type of affair, one that you know is going to seriously cost.  Here though the evening out was such astonishingly good value that it puts the experience within reach of most people I’d suggest.  Each plate was £6 – that’s £48 for all 8 or £24 each !!!!  There cannot be anywhere else where you can get food this good for such good value.  I often eat out thinking blimey this is a lot of money for something I could basically cook myself.  Never has that feeling been further from my mind at The Swine That Dines.

So where are all the foodie, artful, Instagramed pictures of these marvellous plates.  Simple, no picture can possibly do the food justice.  Just go eat there and see for yourself, but leave space for me as I’ll be taking up residence I think.

 

 

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December Photo Fun – Week 3 – 2014 – Create

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The kids picked Create for the week 3 theme which I loved the idea of as after all the whole idea of our photofun projects is to create something from an idea.  When the themes are put out on twitter you just never know whether or not they will take hold, often you get a flurry right away and then nothing whereas this week it was the reverse a slow start that gathered momentum throughout the week.

I’ve never, perhaps until recently, particularly thought of myself as a creative person as I tend to think of creative people as those beautifully talented people around us who draw, paint, write, photograph etc in a way that makes us think or brings happiness into our lives.  A few years ago I was made redundant, and for anyone who has been through that it can be a tricky process to say the least.  I was fortunate in that the place where I was getting made redundant from paid for support for us to do some assessment of our skills etc.  Now I’m usually very reticent of that sort of thing but seeing as I was facing a big challenge I went into it with eyes open.  The person that I worked with for a few weeks after talking to me looking at my career etc said that I should describe myself in one way and that was as a creative thinker.  It sounds a bit bombastic but it was perhaps the first time when I’ve looked at the way I approach things and on reflection it felt right.  It’s not something that I feel comfortable saying about myself but it is perhaps a strong part of who I am I think.  Still can’t draw for toffee mind.

I thought about this while this theme was going on and how much creativity there all around us, perhaps particularly at this time of year, but also how we don’t celebrate creativity enough and encourage it within our children, it’s not just about drawing but it’s about how we see the world.  Rigidity of thought is not going to provide the solution that we require to improve the world we live in, creativity is.  Be that in maths or science, art or technology the ability to have a blank sheet of paper (either physically or metaphorically) in front of us and create something that did not exist before is perhaps the human races most unique trait.

All of that is I think captured in this beautiful gallery of people (and animals) creating things, food, art, pictures, sounds, a home, toys, all the things that nourish us.  Huge thanks to all who took part as always, apologies to anyone who I’ve missed out.  Click on the gallery to open it and scroll through the pictures and do let us know which ones you liked, there are some lovely interpretations.  Two more weeks to go so either follow me @ianstreet67 on twitter or follow the twitter hashtag #decemberphotofun for the remaining themes.  Be great to have you on board.

Ingredients that shouldn’t work but do

 

 

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Tomatoes, raw garlic, chilli flakes and blue cheese ! When I read the list of these 4 ingredients that are combined in this incredibly simply pasta dish I thought to myself that can’t possibly work.  However the recipe is one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things book which, along with his Everyday and Veg Everyday are books I turn to frequently when looking for something to cook for tea.  All three have some interesting, simple but extremely tasty recipes so I was intrigued by this one.  I love all the ingredients individually but couldn’t quite see how they would work together, how wrong I was however as this dish has turned into one of my favourite no fuss suppers.  It’s so easy that there is no cooking involved at all apart from boiling some pasta but the end result is bowl lickingly sumptuous.  If you want to put it to the test here is the recipe and simply instructions.  By rights it shouldn’t work but it just does.

The Humble Roast Potato

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As much as I enjoy a good roast and making proper Yorkshire puddings the thing that really makes the roast for me is the humble roast potato or Roastie, I can’t think of anything that is so simple but when you get it right is so pleasurable to eat and is the perfect accompaniment to everything else on the plate.  I’ve been making them now for many years and experimented with various methods, types of potato, fat, herbs etc and have settled on this for the perfect roasties you see in the picture above.

Critical of course is the main ingredient, not all potatoes are the same or necessarily good for roasting.  The best variety that I’ve found is Maris Piper which I peel and cut into large golf ball sized chunks and then boil for around 8mins.  As soon as I put the potatoes on then the oven goes on hot and I put a roasting tray on the top shelf with a good few lugs of olive oil in.  Now I’ve tried different fats but for me olive oil works the best.  I drain the spuds and let them steam while washing and chopping up some fresh rosemary and then I give the spuds a good shake to loosen the edges which will, as we all know give the lovely crispy edges we all love.

The oil will now be piping hot when you take the tray out of the oven, tip the potatoes in with the rosemary,  a few bashed cloves of garlic, salt and pepper and turn all the potatoes so they are covered in the oil and the herbs.  Place in the hot oven for around 50 mins taken them out a couple of times to turn the potatoes over.  The results will be the perfect roastie, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.  Just one tip, cook more than you need as these bad boys are great for a midnight snack or of course as the base for bubble and squeak for Monday’s tea.  Yum

Mince Pie Taste Test

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As we all know the key choice we have to make at this time of year is not about presents, TV choices, which family members are you going to fall out with but which mince pie you are going to buy.  Much debate ensued at work so the motley collection of rogues and rapscallions who I work with decided that we’d put a few to the test, cue much hilarity and expansion of waistlines.  Over the last few weeks people brought in different boxes from different suppliers, we dived in and debated the pie giving an overall score out of 10.

Many questions were raised, not least what constitutes a pie? For example can something that doesn’t have a proper top (Heston) be a pie or is that a tart?  Each pie got the soggy bottom testing treatment and we discussed type of pastry (crumbly, soft, buttery, greasy etc), filling (too much, too little, sweetness), booze content (a wee hint or soaking).

The result of all this dedication gave a top three on average score out of 10:

  1. Tesco finest deep filled – 7.86
  2. Morrisons cake shop baked in store – 7.5
  3. Co-op luxury all butter – 7.25

 

The 25 Mile Eating House

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I love visiting Cardigan and the surrounding areas of South West Wales but if there is one thing that always slightly surprises me is that it’s not that brilliant for places to eat, or at least I’ve not managed to find them.  Granted there are some notable exceptions but not a huge variety and the pubs in particular are not great.  This has always surprised me as it’s surrounded by fantastic agricultural land, sits on the mouth of the longest river in Wales that feeds into Cardigan bay all of which produce some of the finest produce you could wish to find anywhere and it baffles me why more is not made of this.  I was chatting to someone about this who said that there was not enough trade outside of the tourist season to make places viable but what about people who live there do they not want places to go out and have good food?

One place that appears to be bucking this trend is The 25 Mile Eating House which I was lucky enough to pay a visit to and where I had one of the best and most enjoyable meals out I’ve had anywhere. The concept behind the place is strikingly simple, source the very best local ingredients from no more than 25 miles away, treat that produce well, cook it simply and let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.  Do all of this in a welcoming enviornment, where the staff know what they are doing and hey ho you have all the ingredients of a great place.  Of course places that say locally sourced homemade food are ten to a penny no matter where you are, it’s an easy statement to make but often seems to mean we sent one of the staff to Lidl and we have microwaved the results.  The 25 Mile actually does what it says on the tin and does it fantastically well, a lesson in fact to many many other establishments.

As soon as we walked in I got a good feeling about the place, the atmosphere was relaxed, warm, welcoming but professional.  A good mix of seating showed that people on their own, in couples, families or groups would all be catered for and all of these were in when I visited, including the owner/backer and his family on the table next to ours which was a good sign.  Gorgeous bread and home made butter were were quickly put in front of us to nibble while we looked at the menu, which like the rest of the place, was refreshingly simply a couple of fish dishes, meat dishes and vegetarian options for the mains with starters to compliment them.  For the children they could choose any of the mains for half price or there was an additional four options they could go for which were at the incredible bargain price of a fiver.  Now I have no idea why general in Britain we seem to treat our children so badly when it comes to food, they are either not particularly welcomed in restaurants or have generic frozen ‘children’s menus’ options or both.  How are we going to grow the next generation of people who care about what goes on their plate if we are so bad at treating them when they go out to eat.  The 25 Mile was a revelation in this regards by providing food for the children that was of the same standard as the adults and treating them with respect meant that we all had a great experience and from a business perspective it meant that the adults had three courses where we might otherwise have been simply trying to get something down us and leave as quickly as possible.  It doesn’t seem that difficult to me but perhaps it must be as so few places seem able to pull this off.

The 25 Mile has a great philosophy but that will of course amount to nothing if the food on the plate does not match up.  It was however incredible with a couple of quickly devoured starters setting us up for the mains.  I went for Welsh back sirloin steak with beef hash, fried duck egg and an incredibly intense steak sauce every mouthful of which provided a comforting meaty glow within me while A opted for a tomato and purple basil risotto cake, fennel salad troed y rhiw pesto and smiled all the way through eating it.  You could say steak and a risotto cake, so what? but that’s the point it’s simple food, sourced locally and cooked brilliantly and would prove very difficult to beat.  One of the kids had a mini steak which was a slimmed down version of mine but retaining all of the quality and she was treated properly, asked how she would like her steak cooked etc while the other went for a fresh pasta dish that was sublime.  I’d have happily eaten either of the kids meals and left happy and how often could you say that about somewhere you’ve eaten out?  For afters there was a selection of amazingly strange sounding ice cream, black pepper anyone, which had to be ordered and tickled the tastebuds like nothing I’ve quite experienced and it wouldn’t have been right if I’d not had a cheeseboard.  The serving of cheese in restaurants can spoil many a good night out for me as I’m often faced with a mound of crackers or fruit with a slither of cheese.  No I want to protest I ordered a cheeseboard not a cracker board or fruit bow.  At The 25 Mile however it would appear as if someone has actually sat down and ate the portion being served as it had exactly the right amount of cheese (all Welsh of course) to cracker.

We left stuffed, happy but sad that The 25 Mile is not my local eating house.

Girona

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I’ve recently had a couple of days in Girona, Catalonia, escaping the ice and snow here and enjoying the feel of early spring warmth on my skin.  Girona has been somewhere that’s been on my radar for a while so it was great to finally have a chance to go and I have to say it’s a fantastic city for a few days.  For me if you’ve only got a weekend or so in a new city then I like a smaller city that I don’t have to spend time traveling around, trying to figure out the transport system etc, I want a place I can potter and mooch around exploring on foot and seeing what I can find and Girona fitting the bill perfectly for this.

The city is packed with history as it’s on the Via Augusta way that linked Spain through to ancient Rome and as well as the Romans has been ruled by the Visigoths, Moors and French, has had 25 sieges of the city and been captured 9 times.  I think that this is mostly due to it’s fantastic strategic location raised up as it is with views across the plains and bordered on one side by the Pyrenean mountains and the other by the sea so whoever controlled the city controlled vital trade routes in Southern Europe.  This history has of course left it’s mark on the city, churches, chapels and a massive cathedral dominate the old town which contains one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe and is fantastic to walk around.  The area has the feel of a film set with narrow alleys and staircases vanishing off in a maze like structure willing you to explore.  Flanking the back of the old town are the town walls which you can walk along, they gave super vantage points across the city but also down into the old town and it’s maze of alleys and houses and you could pick out some fantastic walled gardens and hidden balconies that you would never have seen from street level.  The walls form a rough semi circle with the remainder of the border of the old town being the River Onya which is criss crossed with numerous pedestrian bridges.  At street level you cannot see the river and would not know it was there as the houses are jutted right up against it but little gaps appear where the bridges are.  One of them will look very familiar in construction methodology to anyone who has seen a certain landmark in Paris as it is indeed designed by Gustave Eiffel and completed just before his more famous tower.  The bridges take you over to the newer side of the city but there are still some beautiful squares and tapas bars to while away the time.

I love the whole concept of tapas and no matter how much we attempt to imitate it back here we never get it the same.  It was great to sit and watch how the Catalans were going about ordering and eating and as much as I loved the tapas (Iberic ham mmmmmmmm) the way of eating I really enjoyed was Pinchos, trays of mouthwatering morsels on sticks in bars.  You help yourself and then they tot up your sticks when you are ready to pay.  It’s a great way of trying something without worrying about the cost and I like the whole vibe around it.

As well as wandering, history, eating and drinking there was plenty of culture available as well with museums covering art (classical rather than modern), archaeology, history and a fantastic one on the early years of the cinema.  There were also a number of the ancient buildings that you can go in (the Cathedral is the big draw) but I also really liked the Arab Baths.  I was lucky to be there over Palm Sunday and while not being religious myself it was great to soak up the atmosphere and watch what was happening around the cathedral as family groups met and chatted all with huge palm leaves or laurel plants.  The feeling I got from the city and the people throughout the few days was one of warmth and friendship.

Of course you need somewhere to stay when you go to another city and the choice is usually to stick to the tried and trusted hotel chains or try to find something interesting and locally owned and run.  I always try and go for the latter and this time came up trumps with one of the nicest places I’ve stayed, a B&B (Montjuic B&B) 10 mins walk from the old town with views over the town out to the mountains.  Carmen and Michael were the most perfect hosts who simply could not do enough for you but were never fussy or formal and provided exquisite homemade delicacies for breakfast that made it tricky to actually want to leave and go exploring.

I felt extremely fortunate to have visited Girona and would definitely go back (in fact I think I could live there).  It also happens to by a cycling mecca as well and I’d love to go back and do some riding but whether you ride or not it’s a great city.