If there’s one foodstuff that has helped mould my identity it’s cheese (there’s a pun in there) I’m a true turophile – hard, crumbly, soft, veiny, spreadable, blue, melted, any way it comes  – I LOVE CHEESE. However, in a cruel twist of fate I’m also intolerant of cow’s milk – something that’s gotten worse again as I’ve gotten older and seems to be particularly triggered by the good stuff, namely nice cool glasses of milk, sauces made with cream, and, my enduring first love, CHEESE.

Never to be defeated I indulge my habit when I can by concentrating my cheese munching efforts on goat and ewe varieties, which have the added bonus of tending to be lower in fat. Unfortunately, most people who are allergic to cow’s milk will also be allergic to goat and sheep milk, however, I do seem to tolerate them better. And, when I’m feeling really naughty and just can’t help myself, I go a bit wild and eat some mature cheddar and brace myself for the consequences. Cheese is a very beautiful thing and is without a doubt my favourite food and not being able to eat mass amounts of the most common kind has forced me to be more creative in the kitchen. This recipe was borne out of a deep and unquieting yearning to indulge in an old food favourite – macaroni cheese. The photo’s really don’t do justice to this cheesy carborific treat,. I included a small amount of the hard ewe’s cheese pecorino in both the sauce and topping of my mac and cheese to intensify the flavour, but you can leave it out if you want to keep things soft and creamy.

 

Recipe (serves 6)

500g pasta (I used a mix of wholewheat and white conchigle)

six thick rashers of bacon

two cloves of garlic

two teaspoons dried thyme

wholewheat dried breadcrumbs

one beef tomato

sauce

300g goat’s cheese log

100g pecorino (grated)

700 ml soya milk

lump of sunflower margarine

two level tablespoons flour

salt and pepper to season

two tablespoons dijon mustard

Mac that!

Stage one: Pasta perfect

There’s no pretending this recipe is good for you, but throwing some wholewheat pasta into the mix made me feel like I was at least trying to compromise. I boiled up 250g of white and brown pasta shells with a pinch of salt and drained before tipping into a ceramic lasagne dish. I chose conchigle instead of macaroni as it’s easier to get hold of the wholewheat variety of the former and the shells keep lots of lovely cheesy sauce inside them once baked.

 

Stage two: Garlic+Bacon=Barlic or Gacon?

This meal was a real treat so I used a whole packet of thick bacon roughly chopped and cooked with the two cloves of garlic sliced. This made the bacon nice and garlicky and the garlic nice and salty (yuuuum!) I didn’t add fat to fry my bacon and drained off the fat in the pan afterwards (again doing my best to be good).

Stage three: Bulletproof goat’s cheese sauce (made with La Roux)

I used a hefty amount of flour in my roux as I was afraid the soya milk wouldn’t thicken well and I knew the goat’s cheese would mask any flour flavour. After adding my soya milk gradually to the pan I stirred in the mustard and melted in my 300g of goat’s cheese, which I chopped into chunks.

I cut some (but not all) of the rind off, which is why there are a few visible chunks in the photo on the right. The rind itself melted away once the mac went into the oven to bake. I also added to the sauce around a third of the pecorino, some salt and a good hard dose of cracked black pepper.

Stage four: Crusty crumb

After mixing the bacon and sauce through the pasta (above) it was time to assemble for baking.  I sliced the beef tomato and laid it flat across the top of the mac and cheese (extra vitamins right there) and coated the top in a mix from the remaining pecorino, dried thyme and breadcrumbs. I then baked for 20 minutes at 200C and voila!

I made this when a few friends were over to stop me going on a huge cheese binge all at once, but it’s so deliciously rich (as mac n cheese should be) just a small portion with a green salad is seriously satisfying!

Over the last few years Sous le Nez has repeatedly been recommended to me as a place of tasty eats, but the fact its location was a bit of a mystery meant it took quite some time for me to get round to paying this cozy little eatery a visit. It was during a trip to the nearby Restaurant Bar & Grill that I finally spotted this subterranean treat situated under Quebec House on Quebec street, right under my nose…ba-boom-ch! And from this point onwards I was looking for an excuse to finally pay it a visit and carry out this review.

I should probably come clean and admit that during the five whole days I spent in Paris last October most of my meals were sourced from the local Lidl or purchased from snack stands at a music festival. On this basis, it would be a bit of a stretch to claim I was any kind of French cuisine expert, that said, I was thoroughly aware of  a purposeful French undercurrent when I eventually wandered down the steps into their bar area on a busy Thursday evening to celebrate bagging an exciting new job (whoop!)

The bar area was truly bustling with people enjoying after work drinks or dining from the bar menu and so I was a little disappointed when we were led through to a less ambient dining area where the tables were just a little too close together for my liking. The menu was French inspired with a few English twists, a little like the accent of our eager waiter, who slipped between a French and broad Leeds accent rather jarringly! We decided to dine from the Menu du Soir, which at £24.95 for three courses and a half a bottle of wine is cracking value and one of the restaurant’s virtues previously extolled by my friends.

Pleasant and plentiful is my summary of the dining experience, with a generous amount of freshly baked bread and naughty but nice portions of lovely rich salted butter offered up during the short wait for our starters to arrive. I opted for the chicken liver parfait with piccalilli and toasted brioche. Which looked something like this (only not quite so grey – thanks iPhone!)

The parfait was velvety smooth, which contrasted well with the sharp piccalilli that could only have been improved by more crunchy cauliflower. The brioche was buttery, fluffy and soft, but curiously untoasted – which was a shame as I think it would have made for a better mix of textures.  For the main course I plumped for pigeon, char-grilled chorizo, bubble and squeak and thyme and rosemary jus, which if you squint, vaguely looked like this:

As a sauce lover I was suitably pleased to find my plate laden with the saucy jus and the pigeon and chorizo did not disappoint this fan of salty meats. However, the hefty portion of bubble and squeak was found a little lacking as it could have benefited from a little longer in the pan to crisp up it’s skin, again for a better range of textures. The buttered seasonal vegetables (green beans, new potatoes and carrots) that were served as an accompaniment were also a little on the soggy side.

When it came to desert time I doubted (just for a second) my ability to work through three such generous courses, but the glazed lemon tart with orange sauce and chantilly cream looked too good to miss. Imagine this, but more colourful:

In the end I greedily consumed every last crumb as to waste such beautiful pastry would surely have been a crime and as the tart was anything but a slight slice, I did feel a little bit bloated for my troubles.

Overall, Sous le nez didn’t disappoint and I can see why it was repeatedly recommended as a venue for good value group meals. However,  as a date venue it didn’t quite hit the mark for me – perhaps we were in too early to catch any romantic French vibes.

 

 

 

 

It’s a slightly belated affair for my foodie penpal parcel post this month as I’ve just got back from a trip up north (where I bought lots of lovely local treats) so I’ve not had a chance to write about the lovely package I got courtesy of Lucy at ofallygood, much of which has been long since munched (but not forgotten!) There was so much packed into this hand delivered box of treats that it’s hard to know where begin, so I’ll start off with a photo:

I just about managed to cram everything into the photo though it was a bit of a struggle because as a local lady Lucy had even included some thoughtful non-food items in the mix for me too.  First up were some mini samples of some Neal’s yard products, which smelt absolutely delicious but were unfortunately inedible. That said, my skin has definitely benefited from their use over the past week. Also included in the non-edibles were some seeds for flowers that are said to attract bees – these were especially thoughtful as I live near a canal so can hopefully do my bit to make the area where I live have even more of a buzz (see what I did there?)

Moving swiftly onto the foodie treats, Lucy had included some nice things to snack on as well as some baking bits and bobs as I’d told her I was planning to get stuck into the cupcake craze in the next few months. Alongside some pretty cupcake cases I found some colourful petit fours cases, an F-shaped cutter and some glitter writing gel pens (ooooh sparkly!) I’ve not managed to use these yet but I’m planning a baking spectacular this weekend so I can get stuck in.

I wasted no time whatsoever in consuming the snackable items in the box – namely some delicious (and delightfully dairy-free) homemade pistachio shortbread and yu! mango snacks, both of which I managed to yum up on the day of delivery (oops). I ate the short bread with a glass of homemade meadowsweet cordial, which is a really light and refreshing alternative to elderflower. I’ve found the cordial particularly useful as it soothes poorly tums, which I’m prone to because of my cow milk allergy. Lucy also packaged up some meadowsweet tea for me and as a recommended hangover cure I’ve got it safely stashed for use next weekend as it’s my work leaving do next Friday evening.  Finally, I’m yet to use my black garlic, which I’m planning to incorporate into a really simple pasta dish so I can appreciate the promised balsamic flavour.

This was only my second month of foodie penpals and I must say I was blown away with just how much effort Lucy had gone to in putting together my parcel, she’s set the bar high for the months to come! As for myself, I packaged up some sweet and salty snack for Sarah over at Northwestnosh this month, so if you’d like to read about the dynamite liquorice I picked up for the self-confessed liquorice afficinado, skip over to her blog now.

 

When it comes to chocolate spread I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider – not only do get a bit of a bad tum if I have milk, which means I really shouldn’t have chocolate spread at all but I’m not really a fan of nuts either (gasp, not very foodie of me I  know). It was from this Nutella-ostracised starting point that I came across Sainsbury’s Popping Candy Chocolate Spread. One day, casually browsing food porn on Twitter, I came across a tweet from Sainsburys featuring the aforementioned spread and I decided I had to have it and so the experimental quest began

After a nice chat with the PR folk over at Sainsburys, I managed to secure myself a sample jar (yes!) even though the product has been on the shelves for over a year now, I’d somehow missed it – probably because I generally only linger next to the honey in the conserve section. I sat tight for a few weeks and eventually the jar arrived. Because I really couldn’t resist cracking it open, I sat at my desk rather uncouthly spooning in a couple of tablespoons into my mouth as I sipped on my cup of afternoon tea. FYI, this meant I digested far less calories than if I’d picked up a chocolate bar and the second option wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. My instant thoughts were that the flavour was pleasantly chocolaty, but at first I was somewhat underwhelmed – where was that crackle, pop? After about 20 seconds it kicked in on the back of my tongue and I knew then the jar was not going to last long.

Over the coming two weeks I made it my mission to slap the chocolaty crackle pop on as many nearly appropriate foods as possible (rather than simply eating it from the jar with a spoon) and this immediate mass consumption unfortunately resulted in me not taking a photo of the jar itself. Recording what the product looked like became an afterthought that I only hit upon as I scraped out the bottom of the empty vessel.

Now, let’s be clear, a quick read of the ingredients list and a nod to the the fact this spread’s key selling point is the use of a novelty kid’s confectionary, lets us know it’s not a gourmet product. That said, in combination with the food stuffs I tested it with, it was a sinful snack of the gods.

First I slapped the spread on some toast – it was the obvious thing to do, but far from the best use I came across. Somehow the warm bread seemed to dissuade the candy from being so poptastic and I felt less satisfied as a result and reached for my spoon once more. Next I tried the chocolaty -goodness on crumpets and though it was tasty, I felt like I was somehow subverting English tradition too far. However, I did stumble upon a breakfast choice winner when I used the spread on some fresh pancakes. I cannot begin to explain how nice the melted spread tasted on curled crepes, which seemed to act as a catalyst for optimum pop levels (snap, crackle, yummm!).

In all honesty, a lot of the spread did end up being eaten directly from the jar, though an equal measure was probably consumed via my now favourite tea accompaniment – popping candy chocolate spread on hobknobs. Thought you couldn’t improve the best biscuit ever? slap on some of this and you’ll realise you can always take indulgence up a notch, even if you shouldn’t!

Over the four fabulous years I’ve lived (and eaten)  in Leeds The Olive Tree restaurant in Chapel Allerton has made its way firmly to the top of my list of favourite places to eat.  The fact I used to live just around the corner from this compact but gorgeous Greek eatery undoubtedly gave it a good leg up the ladder, but the consistently great menu, generous portions and value for money have helped it keep its position and made it more than deserving of a ‘proper’ review.

The Olive Tree is one of those places that is so reliably good that you want to share it with everyone, which is why I found myself there early on a Friday evening a few weeks ago introducing yet another Leeds friend to my favourite find. The restaurant is of course by no means a hidden secret – it’s been the only Greek restaurant to make the Good Food Guide for the past four years, but because it’s a little out of town, those who live in the city centre can sometimes miss out if they’re not giving a little push in its direction.

So, having a convenient excuse to be there and being in possession of a tastecard that promised 50 per cent off the food bill, I set to work greedily ordering my favourite Greek dishes. Service can be a bit rushed at times at the Olive Tree (probably because they are so busy) and as I’ve come to expect this I’d set my heart on the Whitebait (£5.95) followed by the Arni me Feta (£15.95), long before I’d set my foot through the door – nevermind when the waitress came promptly to take our order. My dining partner went for a double whammy of lamb with Keftedes (£5.85) and Kleftiko (£14.95) and we selected a side of spinach with mint and garlic (£2.45) and a nice bottle of red.

During our very brief wait for starters to arrive we were presented with some warmed pitta slices, which we tried not to yum up all at once, as from past experience I knew I would need to save space for my hearty main course. When starters arrived my high expectations were once again met – the Whitebait was light and crisp and the tiny fish plentysome and not at all greasy. The fish was served  with a refreshing Tzatziki and lemon slice – tasty and simple. The meatballs my fellow diner had opter for were declared the ‘best’ he’d ever tasted and the standards for our tasty mains were thus set.

Whitebait and Tzatziki

The smell of the lamb mains were a delight for our meat-mad senses and we tucked in to the cinnamon, oregano and garlic fragranced joints in near silence. As forks were inserted, the meat compliantly dropped away from the bone, it was moist and utterly mouthwatering and the  hint of cinnamon was perfectly complemented by my salty feta and slightly sweet salsa.

Arni me Feta

 

As has unfortunately become fairly routine on my trips to the Olive Tree, I was unable to finish my main course – though it’s worth knowing that if you do find finishing a struggle the staff will give you some tubs to take away any leftovers. I’m yet to sample the desserts – savoury fiend that I am I always opt for a starter. Still, it’s something to aim for as I’m sure I’ll find another excuse to go back soon!