Saturday, 28 June 2014

Sweetcorn pancakes - recipe

One of the many breakfast pancake incarnations
It's been a long time since I sat down to write for pleasure, if I look at my list of blogs posts I am reminded that it's been at least a month.

If you trawl the interweb, there are many bloggers who have started blogs posts in a similar vein and indeed there are many blog posts dedicated to the vagaries of life interfering with the need, drive, want and ability to write.

Without laborious descriptions of the trials and tribulations that would be both irksome to read and tiresome to write, it's with great pleasure that I'm going to skip the chaff and share this recipe for Sweetcorn Pancakes with you.

If you follow my Instagram or Twitter feeds, you'll see that pancakes, and their various toppings, make up a large proportion of my weekend breakfasts. A batch of batter makes double the amount of pancakes that even I can attempt in one sitting (I tried), so I've been fiddling around in the kitchen to find other uses for the batter, bar different breakfast toppings.

These pancakes are a great basis to a vegetarian or meaty meal (you can choose what you top them with) and are pretty healthy. If you skip the chili and make them a little smaller, kids love dipping them in ketchup and are a good way of getting them to eat some veg!

Sweetcorn pancakes - serves 2
(or one if you're splitting the batter for breakfast)
Prep 10 min - cook 5 min - vegetarian

Sweetcorn pancakes

Basic pancake recipe
125g self raising flour (you can use wholemeal for more taste).
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp of sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp rapeseed oil or melted butter
About 200ml of milk (depends on the flour)

Additions - if you're making this for one, half the following:
3/4 of a full tin of sweetcorn (not salted)
1 medium chili, chopped (leave the seeds in for spicy times)
Half a bunch of coriander, chopped
2 spring onions, sliced fine
Zest of a lime
Good grind of pepper

1. Pop all the dry basic pancake recipe ingredients in a large bowl and add the egg, oil/melted butter and half the milk.

2. Using a balloon or hand whisk, mix the ingredients together and add more milk until you get a thick double cream consistency.

3. If you're making this for one, split the batter now. The 'virgin' batter can be stored, covered, in the fridge for a couple of days. You might need to add a little more milk to get the right consistency when you use it - for inspiration for breakfast toppings, check out my recipe HERE.

4. Add all the additional ingredients and mix in until they're all coated with batter.

5. Get a large frying pan hot and add a tiny amount of oil. Use a piece of kitchen paper to wipe this over the whole pan (or using the back of spatula/fish slice works to). Don't put too much oil in or you'll have a smoky kitchen.

6. Turn the heat to medium high and using a big spoon or a ladle, scoop out portions of batter. Usually I'll make three sweetcorn pancakes from a one person portion of batter. Smooth the pancakes out so they're all the same thickness (about one piece of sweetcorn each).

7. Fry the pancakes and when the sides start to dry up and bubbles appear on the surface, then them over with a fish slice or large spatula. Be careful as they can come apart!

8. The pancakes are done when you can stick a corner of a fish slice/spatula in the middle and batter doesn't ooze out. Put another little bit of oil into the pan and cook the rest of the pancakes. The second batch will cook quicker (your pan will be hotter), so keep an eye on them!

It's up to you what you put on top of these pancakes. You can make a pretty substantial meal by topping with a smoky tomato/pepper sauce and a fried egg. Or you can go light and healthy with a tomato/avocado salad and a slice of fish. Get creative!

These pancakes go well with: mackerel, white fish, chicken, pork, rocket, spinach, egg, tomato, pepper, avocado, tzatziki, sweet chili, chipotle, pimento, ketchup.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Grand Pacific - Manchester

A long time ago (in social media time scales) I wrote a rather desiccating review of Australasia, a place I found to be rather more style than substance; a place which left a rather large hole in the pocket of my dining companion.

In a bid to exorcise demons (and as I was stranded on a cold and blustery day in the soulless wastelands of Spinningfields without any desire to move my feet more than they had to) I came upon the decision that it was finally time to try Grand Pacific, the upstairs/less formal/outdoors area/annexe of Australasia.

Grand Pacific may be dressed up as a different restaurant, but it's Australasia; it has the same menu, the same staff, the same decor and if you go downstairs, the same toilets. I was momentarily upset by the realisation that I'd be eating the same menu items I so roundly denigrated last time. It then struck me and double times upset me, that this time around it would be a hole in my own pocket and not some hapless companion.

Fortuitously for me the upset lasted only as long as it took the food to arrive (about thirteen minutes if you're interested). In place of the misjudged flavours and lack lustre baubles I'd experienced on my last visit, this time the food was little less than exsquisite.

BBQ lamb chops were delivered over a somewhat superfluous, but (I have to admit) somewhat aesthetically pleasing warming plate. Soft, sweet and covered in a teriyaki style marinade, they also processed a moreish smoky char that left me wishing I'd been served more than the plump three I'd just inhaled. The tuna tartar proved to be a well balanced dish of almost buttery fish with subtle zings of citrus, mustard, spice and caper. The tuna was so delicately chopped that each small piece resembled a tiny, intact jewel with none of the mushiness you get from rough chopping or poor quality fish.

Pretty food, amazing tastes

Sour plum and salmon futomaki were great, just over shadowed by everything else on the table, especially the pigeon. I warn you now, I'm going to wax lyrical a little... The pigeon was presented as two plump, pink breasts surround with small clusters of mustard fruits and topped with two pastilles. Not only was the dish a beauty to behold, but the combination of sweet, rich meat and fruit, cut with the mustard and the sharp crunch of filo was utterly sublime. It's one of the most delicious dishes that I have eaten in Manchester for a while.

Amazing Duck and Mustard

Oh and the chips are bloody moreish. End of.

To top our rather delightful experience we were also treated to some of the exceptional customers service that Living Ventures, the company behind Grand Pacific, are so famous for. We were served by Alex who not only had a thorough understanding coeliac disease, but who then proceeded to run to the kitchen with all our questions, asked the kitchen to change dishes to incorporate non-gluten ingredients and sourced some tamari (gluten free soy sauce) so we could both experience exactly the same tastes and textures throughout the meal.

In all, Grand Pacific completely changed my opinions of Australaisa, I might even go back to the main restaurant now.

Price for four cocktails, four sharing dishes and one side: £74.50

Food: 9/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 10/10
Value for money - 7/10

Total - 34/40

Go again? Yes.

Grand Pacific, 1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AP - 0161 831 0288

Grand Pacific on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Kitchenette - Manchester

I'm just going to put it out there; I'm a bit over burgers. And hot dogs. And all the dirty food spin offs that have popped up around Manchester like a post MacDonald's binge rash on the sensitive skin of a greasy teenager.

I've always had an uneasy relationship with food spawned from deep fat fryers, covered in sugar and smothered in sauce. Unfortunately I was born a woman, in a time when the media has boomed and incessant images of the 'perfect' figure are beamed into my eyeballs 300 times a day, whether I'm taking notice or not. At my grand old age I should have learnt not to notice, but no matter how much my brain/education tells me to ignore it, I still guilt trip myself about every sinful extra calorie that passes my lips.

But I ramble and this food/female hand wringing guilt issue is often written about. Someone should just pay me to write a post-feminist op-ed column about being a lazy post feminist (hint, hint? - Ed) but I think Vice already have something like that.

So it's back to my high and mighty food opinions, because how dare I be more than a two dimensional food reviewer...

Kitchenette has just opened up at the top of Oxford Road, opposite the Palace Theatre. You will have walked past it a million times without batting an eyelid when it was Fellicini; for this reason Mud Crab (who owned Fellicini) have stuck some plant pots outside and had a rebrand. This is why we noticed it after the Cornerhouse told us there was a 30 minute wait and I needed feeding ASAP.

We almost walked past. After judging the down at heel diner look and the menu full of such un-original dishes as burgers, hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese, we thought we'd have eaten it all already. But in the corner of the menu was a little box, a box which contained the words 'Eat Buns Eat More Buns.' All of a sudden I realised that 'HOLY SHIT THIS PLACE DOES THOSE STEAMED BUNS YOU GET IN CHINA TOWN' (and yes my brain was actually shouting at me and I'm not a knob who just likes to use caps; I'd entered some sort of hunger brain meltdown and was just stood on a street corner drooling/shouting to myself).

So we went in. I'm glad we did.

Kitchenette has been made over in an industrial vibe (grey walls, metal bars, bit shabby), but with enough comfort factored in for harassed grandparents to feel at ease, when being pulled in for pre/post theatre snacks by their burgeoning-on-obese grandbrats. There are leather booths and large tables, a view of the canal (not sure if that's a plus or not, at least there's natural light in the back) and both times I've been in there's been a random mix of students, daters, suits and friends.

Pulled pork sliders, they so cute
First time we ate, we eschewed everything on the menu for the steamed hirata buns. Actually I lie, we had the pulled pork sliders to start (not my choice, it's another food stuff I'm pretending I'm over because I know how many calories it contains) and the pulled pork was pretty good - none of this salty, overly sweet, sauce laden gloop you get these days; properly seasoned, soft with a bit of bite and a salty/savoury warmth.

Back to the buns - these are basically like the steamed bun you get in Chinatown (as I already said), however these are:
 - much bigger
 - not filled
 - flat like a pancake, you fold them over like a taco.

The idea is that you order your buns and then order the filling - so we went for tempura sea bass and the sticky chicken. The sea bass was light, not greasy, divinely crisp on the outside, steamed silkiness on the inside and enough for two. The sticky chicken came in a salty, moreish bbq/teriyaki sauce with sesame seeds for extra crunch - it would have been better a bit warmer, but that was the only downside. You get lettuce for a fresh crunch and (my favourite thing in the world) kimchee to add a fermented cabbage punch in the mouth that you can't get from anything else (anything else not being fermented, spicy cabbage).

Superb fried chicken
Crunchy pork salad
Second time around we had spent the day carb-loading, so buns were out of the question. We started with the fried chicken - natch it comes in a takeaway carton, a serving aesthetic I honestly quite like (and I'm not being post-modern ironic or nuffink with that statement) - whoever's in the kitchen at Kitchenette knows how to fry chicken. Crispy, spicy batter, no taste of oil and the most tender, succulent, steamed chicken on the inside. The Colonel's got stiff competition.

Hanger steak was served medium-rare without us having to ask; silky thin slices cut through by a punchy Asian style salad was made perfect with a side of fries. The pork salad was a gamble (I usually hate the limp lettuce excuse for a mains salad you get everywhere in Manchester) but I wasn't disappointed. Finely shredded veg and crispy, sweet pork were covered in a gossamer of peanut/chilli/lime dressing - zingy, fresh and the perfect contrast to the buns I ordered on the side - well, I couldn't help it and the pork salad went so well in them and what about my kimchi fix...

Kitchenette's neat fusion of Asian and dirty foods (I would call it dirty Asian, but who knows what google searches I'll come up in if I do), spot on service and their better than other dirty restaurants cooking skills, means I think Kitchenette will ride out this dirty food storm and be a Manchester stalwart that you definitely won't walk past again.

Price for one starter, two mains, one side, two beers and two cokes - £31.50

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere - 7/10
Service - 9/10
Value for money - 8/10

Total - 32/40

Go again - yep, already notched up quite a few visits!

Kitchenette, 60 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5EE - 0161 228 6633 - website - Twitter - Facebook

Kitchenette on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 March 2014

The taking of a freebie

Recently there has been an enormous amount of hand wringing, commenting, denigration and argument about whether accepting a free meal/product invalidates your opinion as a writer. The instigator of the most recent blather was the doyen of eating out whilst getting paid for it (and one of my personal writing icons), Jay Rayner with this tweet:

Following this comment every other food critic, restaurateur and (you guessed it) food blogger, put on their clomping sized nines and entered the argument. And now I'm writing a bloody blog post on the subject as I think we need to stop for a minute and cease this self-gratifying naval gazing (and I haven't reviewed anywhere for a while, so I need content).

Let's interview me because this is my blog and guess what, the content is driven solely by my opinion; then you can all write comments on the bottom and we can prolong this argument across several social media platforms for the rest of the week. (If you want another blogger's opinion on the matter/to read something far more eloquent, check out The Hungry Manc's take on freebies HERE).

Most important question - have you ever taken a freebie?
Yes I've accepted freebies and I continue to accept them. When I started this blog my aspirations were to become the next Marina O'Loughlin, writing coyly witty prose from the food frontlines and never truly exposing my identity. Then came the crashing realisation that eating out regularly enough to create continued, interesting content was prohibitively expensive. Along came a restaurant asking me to pop in, try the food, give them my opinion and lo and behold, I now regularly accept a couple of meals/products a month and pay for the rest out of my own pocket.

How can your opinion still be valid if you accept a freebie?
My gut reaction to that question is 'who the fuck cares?' I'm a food blogger, I write my blog as a creative outlet/as a hobby/for fun and because I value my own opinions far too highly. Compared to a national newspaper I have a tiny readership, who can chose to ignore my opinion or go read someone else's if they don't like what I have to say. There are more important things to get stressed about as to whether my opinion is still valid after a freebie.

But the sensible side of me will give you a proper answer - firstly; it's a bit rude of you to question as to whether my opinion can be bought for any amount of money. I'm an educated, sentient person with (I'd like to think) some intelligence, so please don't undermine me.

Secondly; I ensure I mark any restaurant/product that I have received for free much more harshly than those I pay for myself (which I make clear on my page regarding freebies).

And thirdly; I make it starkly clear on my blog that I will accept freebies and I always state in my article if the review is resultant of a freebie - there's nothing like a good old bit of transparency. Oh and I'll be pretty critical about it if it's shit, as I do like a good moan (I also mention that on my freebies page too).

Why do you accept freebies then?
I don't have an expenses account, an income stream related business plan that puts aside money to send myself to new openings, rich parents or deep pockets. Next month I won't even have this poorly-paid charity job (please send small violins and people to wail on my front step for me).

Don't you think it's morally wrong to accept a freebie?
No. If a restaurant/company wants to market their product through sending out an invite for me to dine at their expense, that's a good marketing plan. I would think it morally wrong for me not to mention that I received said meal for free or to mark them in the same way I would for a meal I paid for myself, where the kitchen had no idea they were being reviewed. Do printed publications make a point of telling you that all those products they review in their 'best of' pages have been sent in by PR companies or taken to the journalists by wide-eyed PR girls on press visits?

But doesn't that mean the content on your blog is controlled by public relations people?
No. This is a blog, ergo it's my opinion. I choose where to eat and the freebies I want to accept. I write, proof and edit every post I write - there is no sign off, content control, passing under the noses of or 'can you just change this for the client'. There are no paid for posts, advertorials or PR written posts - I don't even accept guest bloggers or host advertising. I write it, it gets published, it will be full of spelling mistakes and bad grammar and I don't care if some PR's client doesn't like it. I will not change or take down a post for anyone (bar taking some swear words out because they upset my Mum. Sorry Mum).

So you admit that your opinion is less valid than a newspaper critic?
Do critics openly tell you that the chef they are reviewing is their friend, or the guy opening the new Asian fusion place is an ex-school buddy? No. So, can we therefore argue that my opinion is now more valid because I am transparent and state which meals are free or if I know the owner?

Er, who actually cares? We all need to get over ourselves and realise there is more to life than arguing about the validity of an opinion. If you don't like my opinion, read someone else's blog/paper/magazine/writing on the toilet wall (but please carry on reading my blog because I need the attention).

So there's nothing wrong in asking for a free meal?
That's a different matter altogether. I personally don't ask somewhere to give me a meal for free, mainly because I lack the social interaction skills or confidence. I personally think it's a bit cheeky to go around blagging people; I wouldn't do it in any other aspect of my life, so I won't do it with my blog.

Should bloggers adhere to a code of conduct?
No. I believe bloggers should have manners and be transparent - but they're the basic ground rules that all publications (and every single person on this planet) should adhere to.

Blogging sprang up to give you, me and the man down the road a voice. Blogging is free speech and to regulate it would strangle or constrain what people are saying. You're going to read some blogs that are poorly written, some whose opinion you don't agree with and some that are down right offensive - but use your intelligence as a reader to work out who you like, who you agree with and who writes in a way that makes you want to eat their words off the computer screen.

We all need to remember that a blog and a restaurant review are just personal opinion. My taste bubs will no doubt be very different to yours and there are a multitude of variables which will mean my experience of a place differs wildly to yours.

And really - there are far more important things in the world to worry about than whether my (or anyone else's) opinion has been invalidated because someone gave me a free burger. Let's all stop taking ourselves too seriously and start talking about the things that really matter:

People who don't have access to the justice/freedom we have.
Young people without a home or future.
People who aren't safe in their own homes.
Those who have seen everything they hold dear destroyed.
Those who care for others.
Those making dreams come true for poorly children.
Supporting those who fight for our freedom.
Protecting the environment.
Getting creative to change the world.

Now go find your own causes. Use your voice to change the world, not bitch about those in it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I grew up in the late 80s/early 90s, when there was still lead in paints, we didn't have to wear seatbelts and parents could smack children. It's a surprise we've all made it this far.

Most things I grew up with have become outlawed (see above paragraph), outdated (mine and my brother's matching shell suits) or outlived (my rabbit). But some things are still, thankfully going strong.

One of my favourite memories is coming home from primary school, racing my brother up the stairs and getting the malt loaf out (for all of you millennials, that's what Soreen was called when I were a wee 'un) and cutting thick slices off, slathering them in butter and bunging it into the microwave for ten seconds. The result? Ultimate gooey goodness. And it was approved by mother for being vaguely healthy (liquorice was also vested this lofty status).

Over Christmas dinner it transpired that the both of us still continue this tradition (minus the racing each other up the stairs), only this time it is actually butter we spread, rather than the hydrogenated-oil rich margarine replacement everyone was so fond of back then. As I said, how did we survive to be this old?

It seems that the people over at Soreen HQ (did you know it's made in Manchester?) either did EXACTLY THE SAME THING WE DID AS KIDS, or just have a lateral thinking product development team who realised 'we need to make different kinds of Soreen, because in this day and age you need a million new products a day to survive as a brand...'. Anyways they've developed pre-sliced loaves, two different types to be exact - one that's toast shaped and one that's just a normal loaf sliced, so toaster lovers and microwaves lovers can both get into the hot Soreen action (sounds slightly wrong - ed).

These pre-sliced loaves are amazing, no more sticky fingers/squashed loaves for me. I'm still finding it hard to decide whether micro-ed Soreen (melty/squidgy) is better than toasted Soreen (slightly crispy on the outside, gooey in the middle). What I do know is that the Festive and the Cinnamon Raisin versions are divine (sadly unsliced), but then again I'd think cinnamon heavy vomit was pretty damn edible - basically, buy them if you like hot cross buns, Christmas and er, cinnamon.

And yep, I've just written a blog post about a processed, pre-packaged fruit and malt loaf, but guess what it's my blog and I'm sick of naval gazing about the mouth feel of frickin' burgers or the way a plate is drizzled with oil. Get over it.

Soreen - available from most corner shops, supermarkets and other grocery type purveyors; or in my lucky case, from my friend who works there.