Top Ten Dishes of 2014

Not wishing to miss out on a shameless plug for the Cook Twit blog and a chance to rehash some of my earlier work with minimal effort, I thought I’d jump full square on to the food bloggers best of 2014 bandwagon. 2014 has been a great year for grub. Though thanks to the fast diet I’m 6lbs lighter!

As one mate says to me “Do you ever have a crap meal”. Well generally because I go to places that other foodies on twitter have recommended, the answer is No. So I should add if there are places not mentioned below who know I’ve visited them. It is no slight, it is merely the fact that these had a slight, undefinable edge. There are thousands of dishes at number 11 !

Its my view that a quality dish chimes when several factors gel. Apart from the obvious ones, flavour, ingredients, skill of the chef, I reckon the circumstances around the meal play a big part. Degree of ‘hungriness’, atmosphere, who you are with, mood, expectation, service and a whole host of ‘soft’ issues. With this in mind you may find some of my choices a little surprising. But here goes in no particular order.

10) I love fish and chips. the best I had this year was sat on my own in the sunshine in Albert Square Manchester. It was served in a cardboard tray by The Hip Hop Chip Shop as part of the Manchester Food Festival. Simply superb with lovely skin on chips and chillied onion ring. But a special mention should go to The Elephant 1934 and the Arnside chippy who both came a close second.

Great fish and chips
Great fish and chips

9) I love seafood and pasta. I had no better of both at Salvis in Manchester. Seafood tagliatelle. Stunning.

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8) I love brunch. Seems to have become very popular this year. I had no finer than at Beef and Pudding. A vast helping for £9.95. The Flames Egg Benedict equally good.

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7) I have a raging sweet tooth. Always save my second sweet stomach for afters! Had an amazing marmalade and ginger cheesecake, served in a kilner jar whilst sat by the Thames in London on a glorious summers eve. The Tied End Cottage Pub, Teddington. Incredible. The warm peach tart at The Assheton Arms deserves a mention though.

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6) Love my ‘dirty’ street food. Mumma Schnitzel set up an obligatory Citroen H van in Spinningfields, Manchester (sadly now departed) and served up the finest chicken schnitzels known to man. A standard Friday lunch treat. Even better the ‘specials’. My favourite the ‘Hanoi Hanoi’. Thai flavours mingled in with a kick.

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5) On a similar theme, Twitter had served up frightening images of the Solita Christmas Burger. I was hooked. All expectations were met (apart from the candied chipolata on top). Christmas dinner in a bun.

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4) Love a pie,  I regularly buy Great North Pie Co versions, but had a couple of beauties outside this year. After a six hour drive and starving, I think The Church Green, Lymm, chicken and root veg just shades The Roebucks mutton pie. Nags Head did an amazing chicken leg and ham one too.

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3) Went to Mughli on the curry mile in Rusholme, Manchester for the first time this year. Had their signature seafood biryani. Superb.

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2) Went to Sicily this year for the hols. Fish is big there. Had a great big dorado served on a platter with potatoes, veg and gravy at ‘La Grotta Azzurra’ in Toamina. Served at the table. Awesome.

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1) Anything at The Pig On The Beach Hotel. Went for a week for our 25th wedding anniversary. All ingredients grown or caught within a couple of miles. I had a slab of turbot caught that morning. Chef told me in the day that it was coming. It doesn’t get fresher than that.

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So there you have it, the top ten. Like I said though, there are hundreds of number elevens. Well done chefs a great year. Lets see what we can have in 2015.

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Rapha Cycling Club – Manchester

“Is this the coolest place in Manchester?”

Sloping round a wet, cold Manchester City centre is a fairly regular part of a Cooktwit day. He needs to recharge his batteries for the afternoons shift ‘downt pit’, (or office as it’s sometimes called). A quick luncheon is called for. Soup, salad or a sandwich being the norm. Tucked away round the back, next to University Challenge outfitters ‘Jack Wills’ a stark shop front homes into a view. It’s a view that wasn’t there a few weeks back (10 weeks to be a little more accurate). It’s bears a sign of clean, black script and says ‘Rapha’. In the window, sleek cycles climb the walls; a solitary cycle jacket in lime completes the display. I venture in intrigued.

Smart frontage
Smart frontage

An athletic young bean manned the as yet empty coffee point on the ground floor. Though a quick glance around confirmed this is a quality space. I shimmered up the stairs via the black and white contact graphics.

Contact graphic, H van, branding
Contact graphic, H van, branding

 

The space opened, revealing a smart serving counter at ten to, whilst a gleaming stack of garment rails headed out at quarter past. A panoramic view of the King Street emporiums beckoned to the left. I headed down there and hitched up to the high gloss touch down bench replete with high tech racing cycles. Bespoke tables dotted themselves around, welded frames providing each with the necessary support. The tables themselves double up as display cases, showcasing vintage cycling apparel. It’s all rather pleasing.

Vintage display
Vintage display

Having surveyed the land I decided to pitch in with a bracing lunch. The menu is divided into pre and post cycling workouts. The pre bits offering such sporting favourites as porridge, eggs and blueberries whilst the post-match action centres on deli end sandwiches. It is here that the Cooktwit to his aim. A mozzarella, roasted pepper ciabatta drenched in pesto seemed to fit the bill. It came warm (having been lightly squashed in some sort of flat iron arrangement) with a pleasing assembly of leaves, each soaked in an appropriate dressing. A strong coffee in the ‘Rapha’ branded cup and saucer accompanied.

Rapha coffee, the sandwich
Rapha coffee, the sandwich

I’m not going to bore you and say it was the best sandwich I’d ever had, but nonetheless I can confirm that the raw materials were of the highest order. The whole ensemble easily matching my standards of delivering the right quality product at the right price (£4.50) at the right time.

As I say it’s a high end deli offering that can be acquired in many places but it’s not everywhere you can then fondle a pink soft shell, or soak your hands into a soft merino, neck warmer. As a keen cyclist it is fair to say I was equally impressed with the after match window shopping. As it was almost Christmas when I ventured in The Flame was duly informed that if she was struggling to acquire a gift of sufficient standing this was the outlet she needed to subscribe.

The garments
The garments

So there you have it another albeit rather informal purveyor of fine goods with which one can enjoy a leisurely lunch. Well worth a trip. And they even do bottles of Ticketybrew beers if you fancy adding a little extra to the meal. It’s good stuff I’ll certainly be back.

Rapha Cycling Club, 5 St Ann’s Alley, Manchester, M2 7LP

ccmcr@rapha.cc

http://pages.rapha.cc/clubs/manchester

01618346748

 

The Assheton Arms – Downham, Clitheroe

“Yawn, yet another Lancashire pub chain serving local, quality food with wonderful hospitality!”

It’s early December, The Cooktwit has bagged a day off and decided to treat The Flame to a slap up lunch out in the sticks. The in car navigation system is set to The Assheton Arms, Downham Village, Clitheroe. Why here? I liked the sound of its parents! The Seafood Pub Company. Anyone with seafood in its title is going a long way in my eyes.

Great frontage, great view
Great frontage, great view

Downham Village is a pleasant, rural bolt hole a couple of miles outside foodie hub Clitheroe. Indeed it would seem you can stick a pin anywhere in the Lancashire/Ribble Valley and hit somewhere good to eat. I’ve already reported the fine virtues of The Parkers Arms and The Three Fishes, both close by.  Despite the wintry date, the weather was kind. Overcast but still and mild, great for walking but thwarted the wonderful views from the terrace as we walked in.

Once inside, two fine gentlemen greeted us warmly, almost as warmly as the roaring fire. Having ascertained our 1pm booking was all in order we biffed up a deck to a rather charming dining salon. Resplendent with muted tartan and country hues it felt like a big cuddle from a favourite, buxom aunt (obviously the one with curlers out and teeth in!). Splendid views across ‘them there hills’ were afforded from a picture window.

Table, muted tartan, picture window
Table, muted tartan, picture window

A restorative livener was sanctioned in the shape of a Thwaites Wainwrights golden Ale. An excellent start. The Flame and I settled on our naturally lit, circular table to survey the card.  And what a splendid card it was. The offerings headed by cooking method rather than courses. Smoked, Robata Grill, Clay Pot, Street Food, Boat, Snacks, Specials and Starters. It’s a lovely menu.

Bar, missed the log fire!
Bar, missed the log fire!

As expected seafood and fish gets a heady billing, but there’s plenty for everyone here on this highly eclectic menu. Flavours and influences seem to come from all over the world. Caribbean Cod Cakes, Piri piri swordfish, Chicken with lemongrass, Goan King Prawn Curry all mixed in with local favourites.

The Flame decided on the fishy side for starts and main. The aforementioned Caribbean cod cakes (£4.95) arrived to start simply placed on a slate with a fiery jerk sauce. Very nice though a little dry she thought. Brought to life by the hot, thick, smoky spread.

I ventured in the ‘The little smoke room’ for my starters. I had the potted smoked duck, Scotch quail egg, pickles, salad cream, toast (£7.95). It all arrived attached to its very own, specially honed log.  The log having slots and routered ledges to accommodate the pots and slices of feed. Could have done with a couple more of the quails eggs! The salad cream was runny but utterly ‘delish’. The potted duck and pickles nice enough. A great start, things were going well.

The well huned log, cod cakes
The well huned log, cod cakes

Mains next. The Flame was touched to try the piri piri swordfish (£15.50). An unusual choice for her. She was tricked into the spicy coating and intrigued by the crispy chick peas. It came with a herb and citrus  quinoa salad and  smoked peppers. A heady combination I think you’ll agree? It looked a picture and tasted super as well. I managed a morsel. The crispy chick peas adding a crunchy texture.

I was seduced by one of the days special. A steaming bowl of mixed fish stew (£16). Chomping swabs of sea bass, salmon, scallops lovingly squelched in a lobster bisque, topped with mussels and a crostini with aioli. Just hit the spot for me. As I say I love my seafood!

Fish Stew, Piri piri swordfish.
Fish Stew, Piri piri swordfish.

For research purposes I again was compelled to try a dessert. And boy what a dessert. Peaches and cream custard tart with toasted meringue and raspberry syrup (£5.95).  Served slightly warm it was heaven on  a plate. Needless to say I wolfed the lot.

Peach tart with meringue!
Peach tart with meringue!

The Seafood Pub Company is gradually adding country pubs to its portfolio. It has six in all so far. If they are all as good as this it means we’ve got plenty of places to go at for a nice drive out. Ill be giving them a go. So should you.

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The Assheton Arms Downham, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 4BJ
Phone: 01200 441 227
Email: info@asshetonarms.com

http://www.seafoodpubcompany.com

 

Raised Game Pies – Gordon Ramsay

“Add game to your repertoire and you will open up a whole new world of delicious recipes”

The ingredients (without the eggs, sage & a few other bits)
The ingredients (without the eggs, sage & a few other bits)

I copied this recipe from a Sunday Times magazine years ago. The recipe was by one time golden boy Gordon Ramsay. He’s seems to have had a bit of a rough time of it lately but I reckon he’s still got it. I’ve made these pies a few times and they never fail. As he says in the opening spiel above, mastering game really does open up the flavour stakes. As he also says water crust pastry is easy to make and work with and mastering these pies will ensure you never have a supermarket pork pie ever again!

Ingredients

makes 4

250g mixture of game, such as loin of venison, partridge, pheasant or guinea fowl breasts (I got a tray of mixed game from my local butcher Red Bank Farm)
60g smoked bacon, chopped
200g sausage meat
2 eggs, beaten
1-2 tsp each freshly chopped parsley and sage
Grated zest of half a lemon
5 juniper berries, finely ground
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the water crust pastry
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 egg
50g unsalted butter
50g lard
85ml water

Begin by making the pastry. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Crack the egg into the middle and sprinkle over some of the flour to cover. Put the butter, lard and water in a small pan over a gentle heat. Once the butter and lard have melted, increase the heat and bring to the boil.

Mixing everything up!
Mixing everything up!

Pour the boiling water and fat around the edge of the bowl and quickly stir in using a palette knife. Knead the dough lightly until smooth, then wrap in clingfilm. Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Trim the game meat of any fat or sinew, then cut into 1cm cubes. Mix with the bacon, sausage meat, one of the beaten eggs, herbs, lemon zest and crushed juniper berries, and season with salt and pepper. Divide into 4 portions and roll into balls.

Reserve one third of the pastry for making the pie lids, wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge. Roll the remaining pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to a 2-3mm thickness. Cut out 4 circles, 14cm in diameter, using a saucer as a template., (I use a cereal bowl) Place a ball of stuffing in the middle of each pastry disc. Press the stuffing gently to flatten at the base slightly.

Making the pies. They might look a mess but they taste awesome!
Making the pies. They might look a mess but they taste awesome!

Roll the reserved pastry to the same thickness as before and cut out 4 lids, 7cm in diameter (I use a cup)  Place a lid over the top of the stuffing. Wet the rim of the larger pastry disc, then mould it up and around the filling to meet the lid. Curl the edge of the lid up to meet the top inside edge of the pie case and press together to seal. Repeat with the others, then chill for about 30 minutes until the pastry feels firm.

A final brush with egg wash.
A final brush with egg wash.

Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Make a neat steam hole in the centre of each pie lid with a skewer. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven and reduce the temperature to 170C/Gas 3. Brush the pies evenly with the remaining beaten egg, then bake for a further 20-30 minutes until the pastry is cooked and the centre of the pie is piping hot. Allow the pies to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with piccalilli.

 

Moose Coffee – Manchester

“An American and Canadian diner in an office block in Manchester! It works”

I fancied a treat, normally The Cook Twit is scheduled for a light, healthy snack. Trooping round the back streets of Manchester on a cold, winters lunch time I happened upon relative newcomer Moose Coffee. It’s an American style diner that started life in Liverpool of all places and by all accounts to much acclaim. I decided to give it a quick go. Twice!

Outside looking in
Outside looking in

It doesn’t exactly scream “come in” at you from the outside. The overriding colour is brown. Set into the grey concrete of an office block you could miss it if you glanced the wrong way at the crucial moment.  Once inside the ‘Brown and Moosey’ theme continues. Beige, brown with a hint of mint echoing the rather clever ‘coffee bean with antlers’  branding on the menus, cups and operatives attire.

Brown, functional interior
Brown, functional interior

If a little dull it’s really all rather calming if I’m honest. Its lifted a little by the witty, ‘moosey’ appendages which adorn the walls at various points. I settled easily and comfortably at my central table for one.

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Then it’s the menu. And blimey what a menu. Extensive and filled with a myriad of stuff you would struggle to get elsewhere. Whilst breakfast dominates the left hand side of the card, it is thankfully served pretty much all day. And given the variety and quality of combos on offer there is something for everyone including veggies.

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I went for the ‘New Jersey Moose’. Two free range poached eggs on a potato hash, griddled with garlic, onion and mustard, then set on a toasted bagel and smothered in their hollandaise sauce. It arrived in good time and presented simply on a white plate. If I’m allowed to quibble it was a little under seasoned for me (Oooh get you, who do think you are Gregg Wallace – Ed) but, as with most establishments of this ilk, small, table top, containers are provided which allow the client to enhance the sodium content accordingly (do you mean they had a salt-cellar? – Ed). That said it was delish. Washed down with a rather fine black coffee the overall impression was that I’d had a rather scrumptious lunchette.

Clever branding, eggs, Heuvos Rancheros
Clever branding, eggs, Heuvos Rancheros

And then blow me down and smash me across the face with a wet haddock I deliberately went again a couple of days later! I had agonised whether to have the ‘Manolito’ the first time. The classic ‘Heuvos Rancheros’, two warm tortillas, smothered with re-fried beans, two over easy eggs, salsa, grated cheddar and sour cream. I had mine topped with griddled chicken for an extra ten bob. It might look a bit of a mess in the pictures but my lord it was good. I’m sure there was the odd jalapeno in there for extra piquancy. I washed it down with a snickers milkshake for good measure. What a treat!

Snickers milkshake, Moose coffee to go, Homemade cakes for after
Snickers milkshake, Moose coffee to go, Homemade cakes for after

Settling the bills sobered things up slightly, £9.10 for the eggs and coffee, £10.50 for the Heuvos Rancheros and milkshake. They are not figures I can weigh in with everyday. But there is no doubt I’ll be back to try more of the ‘brunchy’ goodies on offer. Theres at least a dozen more things to go at.

Moose appendages
Moose appendages

Moose Coffee give it a try, (if you can get in) it’s one to watch.

Moose Coffee
20 York Street
Manchester
M2 3BB

There are three in Liverpool as well

http://www.moosecoffee.co.uk