The Bistro delivers again

I have written before about our love for one of our all-time favourite restaurants, Bistro West and last night we had reason for a little personal celebration (which I won’t write about on here yet, but which I feel incredibly happy and relieved about) so it was the perfect excuse for our first visit in a while! Even better, the tram line extension to neighbouring Didsbury has just opened, which meant we could hop on for a quick two stop ride to get there! (Dangerously easy!)

For starters I plumped for the baked piri piri king prawns, red pepper and manchengo cheese. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the description of baked prawns, but it was delicious! It came in a sort of mini lasagne dish with some handy bread to mop up the melty cheesy salty deliciousness. Happy.

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Rob meanwhile went for the lamb and cashew nut kofta with mini falafel. These mini falafels were actually the real stand out, so full of flavour, they were like mini taste explosions!

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For mains I knew as soon as reading the menu description I had to have the rosemary, lemon and garlic chicken kebabs. These came with a “warm Sicilian salad” of aubergine, tomatoes, olives, chorizo and baby new potatoes – five of my most favourite things! All on one plate! And  I was not disappointed, it was insanely tasty! Only problem was the massive portion, I couldn’t quite finish it!

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Rob couldn’t resist the fillet steak. This had a nice summery twist as it was served with battered courgette strips (deliciously crispy and creamy) and summer cabbage, peas and grean beans. The cream and Dijon sauce was to-die-for, and, even better, came with big chunks of mushrooms  in it which I was allowed to pick out (as my dining partner insanely claims they are ‘mould’ – missing out big time!!) Oh, and the chunky chips were damn good too – cooked to perfection (I had to eat one or two, just for check for the sake of the blog post you see).

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Dessert had to be one of the famous Bistro Trios. This time the theme was orange – orange creme brulee, orange and almond cake and, the pièce de résistance, a COINTREAU ICE CREAM. I won’t even try to convey the deliciousness of this in words but let you imagine for yourselves! Thanks to the Bistro for another stonkingly good meal on a very happy occasion 😀

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Lebanese at Zaytoon’s

There is a little strip just around the corner from our house, less than a ten minute walk infact, where there are a handful of restaurants and bars. This cluster is home to two of our favourite bars in Chorlton as well as our faithful Yakisoba, always a reliable fallback when we don’t want to/don’t have time to cook.

There are a few other restaurants here that we have been meaning to try for a while and so on Friday night finally got round to visiting the rustic little Lebanese place, called Zaytoon. The place was busier than we have seen it before and we luckily arrived in time to secure the last free table. The owner came over within a few minutes of us sitting down to welcome us and explain the menu which was lovely. This is a small family run establishment with just a handful of tables and shelves down one side of the room stacked with all sorts of knick knacks, it sort of lent the feeling that you were sat in someone’s living room, which I thought was quite a nice touch!

We ordered a beer each and began to peruse the menu, aside from the fact I could see Barlow Moor Road out the window and the icy wind that was whistling around outside, I began to feel  a little like I was on holiday!

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For starters we shared some moutabel – a smoky aubergine dip similar to baba ganoush with toasted pitta breads, and some absolutely delicious falafel which came with tahini and a tasty spicy little salad. I am a big fan of falafel but do often find them to be disappointing – either too dry, too heavy or just plain soggy. These little beauties however were absolutely perfect in both texture and flavour, delicious!

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The menu is quite small, which tends to go down well with me, a few expertly cooked dishes are much better than a large menu of dishes that are just cooked averagely. The owner also reeled off lots of tempting sounding specials however, including lots of fish and lamb dishes, some specifically for two or more people. We decided to order off the menu this first time however, although next time we visit (and there will definitely be a next time!) I think we will sample some of the specials.

Rob ordered a chicken shish kebab while I went for the chicken shawarma, both were served with plenty of hummous, more pitta breads and a lovely big helping of salad. The salad, which had a special name but unfortunately I can’t remember it, was liberally sprinkled with sumac. Sumac has quite a tart, lemony flavour, and it worked really well on top of the salad. I love lemony citrusy flavours anyway (zingy!) so this was a big hit with me, I have already been out to buy some as I think it will be a good way to get Rob to eat more salads!

The chicken kebab was incredibly juicy and moist with a lovely subtle garclicy flavour while the flavouring of the shawarma was a little more robust. Both were very tasty and it just felt nice to eat a nice healthy meal of grilled meat with lots of salad, bursting with flavour. I was impressed with how the sumac helped lift even the most tired bits of iceberg lettuce!

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The menu listed baklava as the only desert, although when you can eat baklava, you don’t need anything else in my opinion! We were trying to be good however so decided to sample this another time! And we definitely will be back to try out some more of these lovely simple homecooked Lebanese dishes, as we assured the owner on our way out the door! It is well worth a visit!


Shredded chicken in a smoky, spicy tomato sauce with red onion rings

This is another great mid-week meal; quick to make when you get in from a day that’s made you want to tear your hair out (hopefully just your own, but maybe other people’s too if it’s been really trying 😉 ), bursting full of flavour, and, relatively, healthy. It’s also a good last-minute meal for the rare occasions when I haven’t planned out every instance of eating a week ahead, as I tend to have most of these ingredients in the house anyway! For all that it’s a really simple meal, I’ve had a lot of recipe requests from friends that I’ve fed this to!

This is based on a recipe from BBC Good Food which I’ve tweaked a little.

For two people you will need;

  • Slug of olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 fat garlic gloves
  • Plenty of fresh coriander
  • 1/2 tsp muscovado sugar
  • 1 sachet of fajita seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • toasted pitta breads to serve

Funnily enough, the original recipe didn’t call for a sachet of fajita seasoning, but one time I made this with just a tiny scraping of chipotle paste left in my jar and found that supplementing with an old packet of fajita seasoning I found lolling around the back of my cupboard worked quite well!!

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the chopped white onion and crushed garlic. Once these have have begun to cook, add the sugar, chipotle paste and fajita spices and fry for another few minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes then after a few minutes the whole chicken breasts. Turn the heat down to a simmer, shove a lid on the pan and pour a glass of wine in order to forget the stresses of the day… After 20 minutes, remove the chicken from the pan, shred it, and return to the pan. Cut the red onion into fine rings and scatter on top of the sauce for the last few minutes of cooking, to soften. Serve with a liberal sprinkling of roughly chopped fresh coriander and a toasted pitta bread.

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Enjoy! Hope you are all having good weeks 🙂


Jamie’s garlic rosemary chicken with green bean and pesto linguine. Sort of.

While I was in the doctor’s waiting room a few weeks ago I saw an episode of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals. I missed the start and I missed the end, after being called in for my appointment (how inconsiderate! Trying to watch something here!) but I really liked what I did see and thought the recipe in question was an excellent idea for a quick but interesting and tasty mid-week meal (blimey, I’m doing Jamie’s marketing for him now). When I got home I hit t’interweb in a bid to find the actual recipe, but no luck! I guess if it’s in his new book he’s probably not going to post it online for people like me to nab for free…

So, I took the basic idea from what I saw on the programme and had to freestyle (clearly spent too long watching Jamie) a little with what I could remember and sort of make up the ingredients as I went along.

This is what I used

  • Enough fresh linguine for two (I think tagliatelle would have been better, but linguine was all I could get my hands on at the time)
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • handful of garlic cloves
  • a little rosemary (preferably fresh)
  • handful of juicy cherry tomatoes (I always think buying on the vine means you get much sweeter and tastier tomatoes)
  • Pot of basil
  • grated parmesan
  • blanched flaked almonds
  • olive oil
  • green beans
  • salt & pepper

I bashed the chicken breasts out to flatten them a bit to help them cook evenly then rubbed them in olive oil, a little crushed garlic and plenty of rosemary. I cooked them in a hot pan with olive oil with a few extra whole cloves of garlic in the pan (peel left on) which were lovely and sweet to eat at the end. I added the halved cherry tomatoes around halfway through.

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Meanwhile, I put the green beans on to cook and made the almond pesto by chucking in liberal amounts of fresh basil, grated parmesan and almonds (that had been blanched in hot water) to the blender. I didn’t measure out exact amounts but used around two parts basil to one part parmesan and one part almonds. I whizzed up, added a glug of olive oil then a ladelful of water from the pasta which has also meanwhile been cooking away (a good tip from Jamie to stop the pesto from being too naughty by just using loads of olive oil!) I added salt and pepper then blended some more. Yum.

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I drained the pasta and green beans and stirred through the pesto, adding the chicken breast, tomatoes and garlic cloves on top. Then just added a few leaves of fresh basil on top to finish. Slurp!

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Chicken and Red Lentil Curry

This is a curry I first made a few years ago, from whatever I could find in my kitchen. Rob had been away for 10 days walking the Coast to Coast (The Wainwright Coast to Coast for those of you that don’t know it). England may be a relatively small country, but walking from one side of it to the other is still a fairly impressive feat, particularly as Rob went ahead with it on his own despite his friend pulling out of the last minute. And the fact that the crazy poor boy was particularly unlucky with the weather, resulting in a pretty continuous soaking for must of the journey. So, after 10 wet, lonely days, he reached his final destination – Robin’s Hood Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, and proceeded to toss the stone he had picked up from the start of his walk at St Bees on the Cumbrian coast into the sea on the opposite side of the country. He then phoned me from the train station telling me that he had made it, that he would be home in a few hours, and that he was practically hallucinating at the prospect of a hot bath, a curry and a beer.

Once ensuring there was hot water and bubble bath, I cried “to the kitchen!” I must make my crazy darling man a curry! On entering the kitchen however I found there to be none of my usual curry ingredients – fresh chillis, rice or mustard seeds. I peered out the window, “hhmm looks a bit wet and blowy out there. Not sure I want to walk to the shop…” (The irony of this does not escape me given the journey that he had just made). I shall be inventive and concoct a new curry instead. Thank god there were at least beers in the fridge! And so one of our favourite currys was born; the chicken and red lentil.

Here’s what you’ll need to make around two generous portions or three smaller ones;

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 large clove of garlic or 2 medium-sized ones
  • Chunk of ginger
  • 2 tbsp curry paste (Rogan Josh was the one I had in the fridge that day, but I’ve made this with a few different ones depending on what I’ve had in)
  • Around 1 and half tbsp curry powder
  • 1 heaped tsp tumeric
  • 1tsp chilli powder
  • Around quarter of a tsp of nutmeg
  • Decent squeeze of tomato puree (between 1/3 and 1/2 of a tube)
  • 500ml chicken stock

Heat a little oil in a pan and add the curry paste, curry powder, tumeric, chilli and nutmeg. Then add the chopped onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger (grate the ginger straight over the pan to keep all the flavour!) Fry for a few minutes until softening.

 

Stir in the diced chicken and then the roughly chopped red pepper and cook on a fairly high heat for around 5-10 more minutes. Add the rinsed lentils, the chicken stock and the tomato puree and leave to simmer for around 20 minutes – until the lentils have cooked.

 

Serve with a toasted pitta or naan bread. And a cold beer, of course! (And excuse my mucky table cloth! Oops!)

 


Marmalade Chicken

So after all my weekends here, there and everywhere, and after numerous visitors have been and gone, we have finally enjoyed a weekend to ourselves with few concrete plans –  bliss! We’ve slept in, ate toast and tea in bed with the papers, started our Christmas shopping, cleared out the monstrous dining room cupboard, and Rob has made me some more picture frames out of bits of old picture rail. I have also finally had a chance to make something worth blogging about!

This is a recipe quite often made in our family, first introduced to us by my Uncle Keith. I love it because it’s a really easy recipe, and the result is impressive given the small amount of effort you have to put in!

Here’s what you’ll need to make enough for four people;

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp good quality marmalade (I like Tiptree. They do good jam too, yum!)
  • 3 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 decent sized garlic cloves, crushed
  • chunk of ginger, grated
  • Around 50ml orange juice
  • Around 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • spring onions

 

Mix the orange juice, marmalade, mustard, olive oil, garlic, ginger and salt and pepper in a bowl then marinade the chicken pieces for as long as you’ve got (a few hours is good if you’ve got time, otherwise at least half an hour)

Then all you do is bake in the oven (covered) at 180 degrees for around 20 minutes. After the 20 mins, take out, give it a stir and spoon the marinade over the chicken pieces a few times, then toss in a decent handful of chopped spring onions.

Pop back in the oven, this time uncovered, for another 15-20 minutes.

Sometimes if I think the chicken skin looks like it could take a bit of crisping up, I’ll toss the chicken pieces into a hot frying pan for a minute or so. I like to serve this with mashed potato, green beans and carrots, except the fridge was a little bare, so it was minus the green beans!


A weekend in Bronte country

It’s official – Autumn has well and truly taken hold. And, for once, we lot in Manchester have been blessed with some truly beautiful cold, crisp, sunny days with lots of crunchy golden leaves to kick and a kaleidoscope of colours on the trees as more leaves turn – just as bloody well after the wettest summer on record!

This turn of weather good fortune really has been just as well, as the weekend before last we headed off to Haworth in Yorkshire, affectionately known as Bronte Country and the delightful cold bright autumnal weather meant we could enjoy our wanderings down the steep streets and across the wild open moors far more than if it had been wet and miserable. (In which case I’ll admit I’d probably have been a bit grumpy!)

I’ve not really seen a lot of Yorkshire (being a Scot who’s lived in England only relatively recently, there’s still an awful lot of the English countryside I’d really like to see) and was straight away taken with the charm of Haworth itself. With its steep cobbled high street high lined with quaint and quirky shops and pubs, you could really imagine yourself stepping back in time, as if nothing much had changed for 100 years or more. This sense of history was all the more keenly felt for trips on the Keighly & Worth Valley steam trains

and the almost-tangible presence of the famous Bronte family, particularly after a trip to the Parsonage. As the steam from a passing train billowed in your face, briefly distorting the people and sights immediately around you, you could feel yourself transported to another time. The feeling of the past was further compounded for me by the fact that we were staying in the Haworth YHA – which just so happened to be a converted Victorian mansion, complete with resplendent plasterwork, stained glass and impressive doorways. Being the massive history geek I am, I straight away pictured myself swanning around the house as if I were in Downton Abbey!

While not in the village itself, we continued to be blessed with beautiful weather as we lolloped our way up the Pennine Way and across heathery open moors, continuing to spot Bronte-related sights such as Top Withins farmhouse and Penistone Crag.

Of course all these activities in the bracing country air meant we worked up quite an appetite which meant lots of yummy food! Somehow, I managed to fail to take any food photos apart from of some cake (more on that later!) (I know, I’m a terrible food blogger!)

I do just have to describe the fantastic meal we ate on the Saturday night however, even if I don’t have a photo, as it was the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life! Firstly, I would never usually order chicken when out for a meal, tending to plump for more indulgent choices or things we don’t often cook at home. Something about the description of this dish on the menu called out to me however and I am so glad I ordered it! The pan roasted chicken was glazed in maple syrup and wholegrain mustard (two of my favourite things – this reeled me in first!) and was served with a roasted butternut squash puree (oohh, another of my favourite things, I might just have to order the chicken!), apple reduction and cornbread and sage stuffing. The skin of the chicken was practically indescribably tasty – sticky and crispy and sweet and savoury all at the same time…. mmmm… the roasted butternut squash puree was so sweet and flavoursome, and the stuffing was a fantastic coarse texture and also bursting with taste. As I write this, I think I am definitely going to have to try and re-create this at home! So, a lesson for me, don’t always discount the chicken as the ‘boring option’! The other half also made an excellent choice with his hake, with a perfectly crispy skin, nestled on a bed of delicious tomato,  kidney bean and chorizo stew.

Of course no weekend in Haworth would be complete without at least one trip to a tea room for some restorative cake.

I even managed to earn an extra gold star by finding a tea room serving local ale! Sticky apple cake and a pot of earl grey tea for me, twice baked vanilla cheese cake and a pint of Blacksheep for the boy  – everyone’s a winner! And just look at this adorable milk jug!