Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tomato, meatball and fennel pasta recipe

This is one of those recipes  that you can whip up pretty quickly and it looks like you've spent a good old bit of time in the kitchen carefully blending ingredients to make something hearty and warming. If you're a bit of a cad you can reinforce the lie by listing off a long list of ingredients you obviously used and leaving herb jars out on the side, or you can just 'fess up and have people gasp at your kitchen ingenuity - I mean, Nigella's made a career from cutting corners, so why can't you?

Easy balls...

The meatballs in this recipe need to be top notch, so buy the best sausages you can afford and make sure they have a high meat content - you can afford to pay a bit more as the sausages stretch quite far prepared in this way. Go for free range/organic, as at least you know the piggies have had a good life before being mercilessly slaughtered for you the benefit of your tummy - after all, pigs are more intelligent than dogs and suffer shamefully in an intensive system (enough preaching now).

As expressed in previous blog posts, I can't survive without tomatoes, so when my ethical wranglings are too much for me to buy imported fresh ones, I satisfy my cravings at this time of year with tons of tinned toms.

I'm a little obsessed with fennel at the moment, but it's the one thing that makes this everyday dish a little unusual, leaving people puzzling to put their finger on what that floral, aniseedy backnote is. Including the fennel lightens the dish and means you can pair this with a mouthy white as well as a lighter red. Or both, if you want to drink that much...

Tomato, Meatball and Fennel Pasta

Serves two - Prep 10 min - Cook 25 min


 - 4 high meat content free range/organic sausages
 - 1 tsp of fennel seeds
 - 1 smallish onion, finely chopped
 - 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
 - 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
 - 100g mushrooms, finely sliced
 - 1 tsp tomato puree
 - 1 x 400g chopped tomatoes
 - Salt and freshly ground pepper
 - 1/2 tsp sugar
 - Olive oil for cooking
 - 150g pasta of your choice


1. Make sure your sausages are at room temp. Taking each sausage one at a time, squeeze out the sausage meat from the casing in three separate amounts; squeeze each bit of the sausage in to a small ball. Repeat with eat sausage.

2. Put a pan on to medium high heat and once hot fry the sausage balls until brown on the outside, but not cooked all the way through - you won't need to add any oil to the pan as enough will come out of the sausages. You'll need to fry the balls in batches, to make sure they fry and don't just steam. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Browned balls

3. Turn the heat down and in the same pan (don't wipe it out!) add the the fennel seeds and cook for  30 seconds until they become fragrant; then soften the onions and after three minutes, add the garlic and soften - keep stirring/turn heat down to make sure these don't catch or they will introduce a bitter note to the dish.

4. Once the garlic and onion has softened, add the pepper and the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes until they start to soften.

5. Add the tomato puree and the tomatoes, turn the heat up and add the sausage balls to the pan. Keep this blipping away on a medium heat as you boil a kettle for the pasta.

6. Put the water in a large pan, salt it and once to comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook to the instructions.

7. Whist the pasts is cooking, check the seasoning on the sauce and keep it blipping away. Sometimes I add a dash of worcester sauce if I feel lacks a bit of flavour.

8. Drain the pasta, plate and add the sauce on top to raptuous applause (whilst you hide the sausage packet!).

NB thism sauce can also be used as a filling for lasgne, to have with potatoes, to accompany veg etc etc - it's not just for pasta!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Pancho's - Arndale Centre, Manchester

Pancho's, a small stall that has stood in the hustle and bustle of the Arndale food market, first caught my eye with it's gaudy yellow sign and queues of burrito buying lunch-timers, last year - back then it was one tiny little stall; the Mexican husband and wife team run off their feet churning out never-ending streams of Mexican street food. Now they've got two stalls and are fast becoming a firm favourite in the food hall.

Eye-catching and tongue tingling! - Thanks to Pancho's

Pancho's makes the best burrito in the whole of Manchester and probably in the whole of the North West and maybe even in the UK. I recently had the pleasure of trying some North East burrito styling at Street Chef in Sheffield (they're missing a trick not calling it Street Shef...); very good (blog post soon), but still only on a par with Pancho's.
Hands up, you guessed it, this is a blog post from a bona-fide burrito fan - when Barburrito was initially alright and my taste buds weren't so...ahem...sophisticated, I'd make a weekly trip there. This was shortly followed by a burrito-cational few visits to the big smoke, where I tasted something closer to what I guess is the real deal (if anyone wants to take me to Mexico to taste the real deal, please get in touch) and since then I've craved a burrito roughly once a week. Thankfully Pancho's has been there to quench my thirst/hunger with this carby, meaty, zesty meal in a wrap.

If you crave a burrito please never visit Taco Bell in the Arndale food court.

In fact why does the Arndale bother providing the food court? Especially when you can walk approximately two minutes, indoors, and come across the delights of the food market? Maybe to keep the crowds away so I only have to wait behind five people for my burrito instead of ten?

Anyway, I digress, this is a post where I big up Pancho's and don't philosophise on the whys and wherefores of Arndale management.

The Pancho's burrito is a massive affair - I go for the smaller size and it's still massive. There's a revolving list of fillings, depending on what's been cooked that day by the staff; the filling are all very traditional (in a good way), rather than the crazy rat balls and smoked pig face concoctions you're likely to get in some 'street food' places these days.

Ripped open - look at all that filling!

If Pancho's have the pork in chipotle as an option, I implore you to have this filling over anything else. Whole bits of pork are slow cooked in a smokey, tangy sauce with a bit of a kick - it's sweet, it's spicy and it's lip-smackingly delicious. The pork with cactus is a pretty special affair too; lighter, but with an insane depth of flavour and great texture from the cactus - and you can't get more Mexican than cactus.

Along with the meat (or veg, if you're that way inclined/mental), the burritos are stuffed full of salad, beans, peppers, rice, cheese, sour cream and salsa (I always hold the cream and cheese, but that's a personal taste thing). The salsas are made fresh and shower you with an abundance of fresh, fruity flavours that cut through the carby, meaty, creamy burrito - word of warning, the hot habenaro will blow your head off (and also makes your lips majorly plump up, so a good choice if you're in need of plastic surgery but can't afford filler injections).

"This place sounds divine," you're thinking. But it gets better (really?!) - Pancho's staff freshly make salsas and sauces for you to take home (the chipotles in adobo saves you a hell of a lot of work and makes the base for the best huevos rancheros EVER) and they stock a wide range of dried Mexican chillies that are a) hard to find or b) that you usually need to be ordered specially online. Oh and mentally hot sauces, if you like that sort of thing. And (proper) tequila - but don't getting that if you have to go back to work.

Pancho's is a great place for lunch - don't got to Boots for some over-processed meal deal - for a quid more you can get a filled to busting (seriously, I don't know how they get all the fillings in without breaking those wraps), freshly made, authentic, flavoursome treat. And there's tables to sit at in the market too.
Pancho's Burritos, Food Market, Manchester Arndale, High Street, Manchester M4 3AH - Facebook - Twitter -

Pancho's Burritos on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Ski Club - Spinngfields, Manchester

Ok, so I’ve been lazy with the blog – sorry, I’ve been dealing with life by sticking my head in the sand and putting my fingers in my ears. Enough of the complaining (as I’ll be doing a lot of that in the following post, so get ready) – the recent wintry weather has stirred me to write up a night I was invited to at Ski Club; with snow on the ground, what an opportune time to share.

The Ski Club is the newest (although pretty old now, hey? – ed) pop-up concept from Heart Soul Rock & Roll; those people behind Spinningfield's summer pop-up, Yacht Club. Being canny to the fact that Manchester's inclement climate isn't conducive to high sales of booze in an outside, barely covered venue, they've moved indoors to Quay House and recreated the high life on the ski slopes a la 1972.

Ski Club - vintage slopes luxury, apparently - thanks to City Life

Wood clad, with leather seats and faux fur throws, coupled with dim lighting and vintage pictures of the slopes, the decor is meant to invoke the snug hillside cabins of St Moritz; unfortunately none of the styling perks up the rather cold and soulless space that Ski Club seems to be. Maybe I visited on the wrong night (seriously PR people, you're going to have a press night? Please make sure there’s some ambiance in the place you're trying desperately to sell us),  or maybe it’s just soulless; but three cocktails in and I was still shivering under my blanket.

Those aforementioned PR people had kindly invited a bunch of press/blogger types to come together for a tasting of the Ski Club’s fare in the hope we'd get busy writing gushing prose about. Bad move. What we were served at Ski Club can only be described as vile.

As you readers are aware, if I’m invited somewhere to eat, then I’ll judge that place harsher than somewhere I just rock up to and actually pay for my food at (yeah, I do pay for food you know...); if you know someone is there to review, you make damn sure everything is tip top standard. If you invite a whole crowd of reviewers (a la the Ski Club night), then you make sure the food and service is so damn hot I’m burning my fingers on it and talking about it for years to come.

Arancini snowballs

Porcini arancini balls were massive, almost snowball sized dusty abominations that tasted of gravel. Sundried tomato, mozzarella and pesto on a stick – meh, I could get that at Pesto and that’s not saying much. Some sort of sausage roll had greasy pastry as thick as rhino skin and the fondue? Well I've already discussed that before - but let's get it off my chest again because it was so disappointing - claggy, cold, contemptible.  The only edible eats were some cured meats - but if they'd fucked up opening the packet and plating it, then I'd be even more worried about what's happening in the kitchen than I already am.

Oh and a note to the Ski Club staff - if someone asks you if the food served is gluten free, and that person is sitting in the group of press you invited to see how amazing this place is, please have the decency to get back to that person whilst the food is still on the table and not after it has been cleared and they've gone hungry. Thanks.

If the food's not up to scratch then at least you can rely on the drinks right? There's a good choice of spirits and beers, plus some quirky cocktail concoctions; even a blue coconut thing (Tiffany and Coco) - stylish to look at, yes, but the flavours in all the drinks fell somewhat flat and were smothered by an overabundance of sweetness. Great if you have a sweet tooth - I prefer something a bit bitter, with a kick (says a lot for you personality - ed), rather than the nursery soothers served, but they seemed to go down well with others in the party.

Blue drink - no advisable to drink off or on the slopes

The ski club will be hanging around in Spinningfields (above Artzu Gallery) until March if you fancy warming your cockles after a day on out the slopes of Manchester's shopping streets - however I'll take my apres-ski elsewhere.

Ps The bar staff, in contrast to the waiting staff, were exceptional.

Food - 2/10
Atmosphere - 5/10
Service - 6/10 (score greatly increased by the bar staff)
Value for money - n/a

Total - 13/30

Go again? No thanks. I'll be interested to see what Heart Soul Rock & Roll dream up next, as Yacht Club was pretty decent. Let's hope this is a seasonal blip for them.

The Ski Club, Quay House,  Hardman Square, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3JE - Facebook - Twitter -

Please note I was invited to Ski Club as part of a press night and was given my food and drink for free. I am under no obligation to say anything nice in return for this - as is pretty evident from this review!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Easy roasted cherry tomato recipe

As promised in previous posts, here’s the recipe for the easy roasted tomatoes. They’re pretty easy to make, so don’t go thinking I’m such a kitchen don for figuring this out.

I’ve lately found myself in the position that I’m now cooking for one – after a couple of months of living off a diet of booze, miso soup and any cake that was brought in to the office (which saw me subsequently becoming anaemic and submitting to any cold/sickness that reared its head), I’m now back forcing myself to actually bother to cook when I get in from work and to cook food that tastes great/puts nutrients in to my body.

Walking round the supermarket, I’m wracked by environmental concern as I look at prettily packaged tomatoes bursting out of the temperature controlled fresh produce isles in the middle of winter – however tomatoes are my weakness and I can JUST survive the mountain of guilt as I pluck the most overly packaged ones off the shelf and stash them in my basket, whilst furtively making sure none of my environmental charity colleagues are ready to jump out from the root vegetables and question my sustainable ethics. So yeah, that's why I'm posting this now and not in August.

I like to use the little plum cherry tomatoes, but you can use any type you fancy. If you’re arsed about that sort of thing or want to really impress those people you regret inviting round to dinner, then you can get a selection of sizes and colours. Or if you live near a poncy market and not in the provinces then get your hands on some heritage ones and harp on about it on Twitter so everyone knows what a fucking foodie you are.

For the above mentioned reasons, I’ve given you a recipe for one portion, but it’s pretty easy to scale up for as many people as you want – just make sure you use a bigger dish and make sure the tomatoes are all in one layer. This is a side dish portion, or will stir through pasta for one, if you want to make it the main event in a dish, I'd scale things up 50%.

Quick roasted tomatoes

Serves one – prep 2 mins – cook 30 mins


• Ten cherry tomatoes, halved

• 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced

• Pinch of salt

• Grind of black pepper

• 1/4 tsp of thyme – dried will do

• Cooking olive oil


1. Turn your oven to 180c (fan).

2. Wash and halve your tomatoes.

3. Place the tomatoes in an oven-proof dish – make sure you choose one that the tomatoes can fit in one layer in, but that doesn’t leave too much room around them. A small pyrex or ceramic dish can be picked up at Big Shop for a couple of quid and will come in handy for lots of lonely, one person meals in the future (cue small violin please...).

4. Lay your garlic slices on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle over the salt, pepper and thyme and drizzle over a bit of olive oil – you don’t want to drown it, just a drizzle to stop the garlic burning.

5. Place in the oven for about thirty minutes – check after twenty to see how it’s fairing – ovens (especially old ones I don’t have the money or motivation to change) can be contrary beasts, so I can tell you 30 minutes and I know you’ll come back to me and gripe that it took 37.2 minutes, that's why I get you to check them. The tomatoes should be soft and just catching, but not burnt or hard.

6. Take out your tomatoes and have them as a nice side or stirred through pasta or however your creative brain/tastebuds direct you. If you’re lazy and want me to suggest a whole meal to you (and it’s a chance for some shameless self promotion), then eat these with slow cooked baked beans and sticky chipotle bourbon chicken. Oh and some steamed broccoli, because it stops you getting folate anaemia and I’m well up on that now.

Looks a bit minging, tastes a lot fab

Friday, 11 January 2013

This & That - Northern Quarter, Manchester

Back alleys – (before I go any further, please get your mind out of the gutter) – public toilets/pigeon breeding grounds/areas you generally wish to avoid unless you are a pigeon/nefarious character.

However, Soap Street in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter, is very definitely a back alley, but very definitely one you don’t want to avoid. Running down past Trof NQ, it's barely big enough to swing a cat in let alone get a Smart Car down, it's grimy and a bit smelly - but halfway down sits This and That, a Manchester curry house/legend that’s been doling out rice and three for the past 20 odd years.

The outside has been jazzed up with a trendy mural (well, this is the Northern Quarter), but I’m sure the inside hasn’t been touched since it opened. Plastic seating that looks like it’s come from an ex-Wimpy and a simple bain-marie for serving food school dinner style – the menu on the wall is the only decoration in the place.

But it’s not the atmosphere, the surroundings or even the fellow diners, that draws the crowds – it’s the cheap, tasty, food that This and That churn out so quickly.

I’ve been twice lately, always at lunch time and always after a colleague has muttered the magic ‘c’ word. We pile out and jam in to any car we can find, head up and join the familiar queue that snakes out the door and in to the aforementioned alley; chatting, deciding and eyeing up other people’s plates as they pass by.

First time I went up I had to try the rice ‘n’ three; the dish This and That is famed for. The man behind the bain-marie loads a plate up with steaming, fluffy rice whilst you point out which of the stainless steel troughs you fancy a ladle of, which are then slopped on in a generous, school dinner style way.

I tried the mild keema (mince), bombay potatoes and the lamb saag. The meat in both dishes had benefitted from a long, slow cooking; even though I had the mild keema there was still a bit of a kick. The lamb saag wasn’t bursting with meat, but a heady waft of aromatic space helped make up for that. And for less than a fiver I really wasn’t going to complain.

Second trip up and I was caught, just as I stepped inside the door, by a smoky, sweet char – to my left was a little bbq griddle that I hadn’t seen last time, replete with sizzling keema kebabs that were then slapped in to large roti (chapatti). I had to get me some of this, especially as I realised it was half the price of the rice ‘n’ three (post-Christmas visit with very depleted finances).

Opting for the small version was a good plan; two large keemas were placed on a doughy roti and smothered in salad and chilli riata, with some chillies and coriander for an extra fresh kick. I didn’t need the chillies as the keemas had been superbly spiced with dried red chillies and heady cumin. Delicious and only £2.50. Ok the roti was a bit leathery, but it cost £2.50 so what leg have I go to stand on to be grumpy about that? It was certainly better than the ones you get at the takeaway.

This and That isn’t going to win prizes for looks, fashion statements or for testing the boundaries of modern gastronomy – however for a cheap, quick lunch that is freshly cooked and chock full of flavour, I think you’ll struggle to find anything better in the city. Some people have complained that there isn’t a shit load of meat in their dishes – it costs less than a fiver and you’re too bloody fat anyway, a bit of veg will do you good.

Ps Not sure I want to share this place with you as it’s pretty small and the lunch queue is always quite large. Please make sure you save me a seat if you get there before me!

Pps Check their website/Twitter as they post what’s cooking each day, so you can plan what you want before you visit (or choose in the line as people walk past, that’s my tactic!)

Ppps Sorry no photos, Blogger is being rubbish and not letting me upload - will amend as soon as I can!

Price range from £3.30 for rice and three veg to a heady £5.40 for rice and four meat.

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere – 8/10 (if you don’t mind sharing a table)
Service – 7/10 (you do most of the service yourself, but the chaps are very nice)
Value for money – 9/10

Total – 31/40

Go again – Already planning to!

This and That, Soap Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1EW – WebsiteTwitterFacebook – 0161 832 4971

This and That on Urbanspoon

This’n’That on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sticky chipotle bourbon chicken recipe

I’m putting my hands up and admitting to being a bit of a chilli freak – not one of those masochistic show-offs who punish their taste buds/guts/sweat glands by seeing just how hot I can take things; instead I'm rather relaxed, enjoying the subtle flavours found in different types of chillies and delighting in a little overall heat, rather than requiring a tongue made of asbestos to even attempt getting close to the food I cook.

Lately, my obsession has focused on the dried, smoky, fruity chillies so redolent of Mexican cookery; think anchos, chipotles, guajillos – with access to great online stockists such as Spice Mountain, Panchos in the Arndale Market and even my local, provincial supermarket getting in on the act; I’ve had lots of opportunity to sate my chilli fix.

This following recipe is a favourite of cold days when I need a little warming comfort – the chicken goes really well with steamed greens, brown rice, jacket potatoes, home baked beans (recipe here), sweetcorn, a big glass of bourbon on the rocks… But I’ll let you find your own perfect pairing and not be overly prescriptive in what you should be eating this with.

Perfect drinks match to the chicken - also, in the chicken!

NB I use chicken on the bone as it has much more taste than breast; plus the extra fat lends itself to surviving the heat of the oven. You could use breast here, but reduce the cooking time as needed.

Sticky chipotle bourbon chicken

Serves 2 – Prep 5 min – Marinating – 20 mins plus – cooking time 30-40 minutes


• 4 pieces of chicken, thighs and drums (up the quantities for the marinade if you are using more pieces) – I always use free range organic chicken; it tastes better, it’s better for the environment and I like to know the things I’m eating have at least had a sort of good life before they get killed for my plate

• 100 ml cooking olive oil

• Big grinding of black pepper

• 1 heaped tsp chipotle paste (use less/more to vary the spice levels to your liking)

• Good shake of Worcestershire sauce

• 2 tblsp honey – use runny if you have it, I just used up some crystallised set honey as I wasn’t going to use it on toast, once it was in the oil it was fine

• 1 tsp dried thyme

• 50ml bourbon – I used Woodford, but you can use something Jack Daniels or something similar

• Sea salt


1. Bring the chicken out of the fridge and up to room temperature before you use it (about 30 mins) – you should do this with every meat you cook with to ensure it cooks properly.

2. Put all the ingredients bar the chicken and the salt in a bowl big enough to accommodate the chicken and mix to make your marinade. Taste to see if it’s spicy/sweet enough for your tastes - always taste BEFORE you add the chicken and NEVER taste a marinade which has had raw meat in. Remember that it will have no salt in, but don’t add any now.

3. Put the chicken in the marinade bowl one by one. As you put each piece in, rub the marinade into every nook and cranny of the chicken, I like to rub it under the skin, so that all the chicken meat gets flavoured.

Marinade all rubbed in

4. Once all the chicken is in the bowl, wash your hands as they are covered in raw chicken. Put the bowl to one side on the work top and cover it with cling film, leave for a minimum of 20 mins (max marinating time should be over night/a day). If you are going to leave it for more than 30 mins, put the bowl in the fridge. When you take it back out of the fridge, make sure you bring the meat up to room temperature before you cook it.

5. When you are ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 200c. Place the chicken thighs skin side down in a roasting tin/dish (the dish should just accommodate the chicken pieces, without leaving too much space or ramming them in too tightly). It doesn’t matter how you place the drumsticks as they have skin all the way round.

6. Sprinkle over a little sea salt and place in the oven for 25 mins.

7. After 25 mins turn all the chicken pieces over (thighs skin side up) and sprinkle with a little more salt – check to see how done they are and how long more they will need.

8. After 35 mins check to see if they are cooked through and serve when they are ready. To serve take the chicken pieces out of the dish and put on plates with sides of your choice. Drizzle the chicken with the sticky, smoky, spicy juices from the bottom of the roasting dish as they are delicious ad shouldn't be wasted!

Sticky, spicy and ready for eating

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Slow cooked homeamde 'baked' beans recipe

At this time of year, our thoughts collectively reflect on the gluttony of the Christmas period; so much recipe and food writing at this time of year implores us to drop the dress sizes we’ve (so hideously, like the awful, unrestrained plebians we are) piled on, by detoxing/cutting out/practically starving ourselves back in to the svelte creatures we weren't pre-Christmas. To these writers/articles I say, "shut up."

A recipe post is no place for me to espouse my thoughts on faddy, cut-out diets (seriously you just need to eat less/move more – but that’s a rant for another day...); but I will ask you, how sustainable is something when you starve your body of essential nutrients? Even if for a relatively small period of time?

...anyway, before I get started... This recipe represents my approach to post-Christmas food; focussing on being healthy and restrained, whilst still being big on flavour, comfort and most essentially - including the essentials of a healthy diet.

This recipe won't make you lose 7lbs in a week, but it will nourish you and when conjoiuned with other healthy recipes and a bit more movement (even ten minutes pace around the block), will help you  lose your Christmas belly sustainably; without turning you in to a sugar craving, secretly binging, demented, calorie counting, label checking grump.

With this recipe you don't need to cut everything out of your diet - especially taste!

NB I have used dried beans in this recipe – it is always imperative that you prepare dried beans according to the packet instructions and never add them to recipes dried. Some beans, especially kidney beans, can be very dangerous if not prepared properly. You can use canned beans, but it does make for a more mushy consistency.

Slow cooked ‘baked’ BBQ beans

Serves 10 as a side/starter or 6 as a main – prep 15 min plus overnight soaking/boiling – cook time 7 hours (in slow cooker)


• 300g dried cannellini beans – prepared to the packet instructions (usually overnight soaking with 10 mins boiling, but please check)

• 300g dried kidney beans – prepared to the packet instructions

NB – you can substitute 4-5 x 400g cans of beans instead – just make sure you use ones that don’t have any extra sugar or salt. Feel free to use a mix of any beans, these are just ones I had in the house.

• 1 dried guajillo chilli – could use dried ancho or other dried, smokey chillies instead

• 100ml boiling water

• 2 x cans chopped or plum tomatoes – if using plum, make sure you break them up

• 1 tsp chipotle powder (can use 1 tsp chipotle paste instead)

• 1 tsp english mustard powder

• ¼ tsp cloves

• 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika

• 1 tsp dried thyme

• 2 tblsp molasses sugar

• 1 tblsp treacle

• 1 tblsp red wine vinegar

• Good grinding of black pepper

• 6 bay leaves

• 1 x large onion, sliced fine

• 400g smoked bacon in one piece – cubed – or smoked belly pork (I just used the bacon) - you can leave this out if you are veggie

• Sea salt, to taste


1. Prepare the beans to the packet instructions – when they are ready, rinse them and set aside.

2. Toast the dried chilli in a dry frying pan for a minute or two, until just smoking, but not burning. Whilst it is toasting, boil a kettle.

3. When the chilli is toasted, take off the stalk and remove the seeds (or leave in if you want spicy beans!). Place the chilli in a small bowl (you may need to rip it in half) and add 100ml boiling water. Leave it to rehydrate for 10 mins, whilst you make the sauce for the beans and layer everything together.

4. In a bowl add all the ingredients together; bar the bay leaves, onion, bacon and salt. Mix until a smooth consistency.

5. In the bowl of your slow cooker, put a third of the cubed bacon (use the fattiest bits for the bottom layer), then follow with a third of the onion and two bay leaves. On top of this add a quarter of the beans.

Layer it up

6. Repeat the layers, finishing off with a layer of beans – make sure they are under the top of the pot.

7. Pour the water the chilli has been rehydrating in, into the reserved tomato mixture. Chop the rehydrated chilli as small as you can (treat it like chopping fresh herbs) and add to the tomato mixture – stir in.

8. On top of your layers, add the tomato mixture – using the handle of a wooden spoon to poke through the layers and help it seep through. If the tomato mixture comes to way below the level of the beans (more than 2cm), add a little water to the pot.

9. Put the lid on and put the slow cooker on the low setting, (I only have Low and High on mine). Cook for six hours and check the seasoning. Add sugar/salt/vinegar/spice to your own personal taste. For mine I added ½ tsp of salt and a capful of extra vinegar – but always taste before and after you do this.

10. At this point check to see how done your beans are – beans will cook quicker the fresher they are, however there is no way to tell how old the beans in the packs you buy from the shops are, so you need to check on this recipe from about hour six onwards. Mine ended up taking seven, but another time has taken as long as eight.

11. Serve with whole brown rice and some quick roasted tomatoes (recipe to follow). Or if you’re pushing the boat out, with a baked potato, sweet corn and sticky chipotle chicken (recipe to follow). Streamed broccoli also suits this very well.

Not the best looking dish, but one of the most tastiest!

Ps – these beans taste nicer the next day, great for a nutritious, tasty and filling lunch that will make you the envy of the whole office!

NB – I bought my chipotle powder and dried guajillo chilli from Spice Mountain at Borough Market, but they also trade online. Chipotle powder is an amazing spice cupboard addition, however you can used two dried chipotle (prep the same as the other dried chilli) or a tsp of chipotle paste (available from big supermarkets) instead.

NB – You don’t have to use guajillo chillies here, you could use ancho (available in the speciality section of big Tesco’s) or other dried, smoky, fruity chillies you come across. Vary the chillies for different flavours or add a selection of your favourite to vary the flavour to your liking. You can buy dried chillies online at Spice Mountain, Steenburgs and Cool Chile Co.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

I am Pho - Chinatown, Manchester

It’s long been believed that there’s restorative properties in chicken soup; indeed it’s true, recent scientific research has validated what mothers have known for centuries. Whenever I’m cold, fluey or just a bit run down, the first thing I want to pick me up is a hot, steaming bowl of stock, with soft meat and crisp veg to hug me and sort me out.

Unfortunately central Manchester’s not blessed with the type of small Jewish deli where chicken noodle soup is dolled out to deal with everything from a broken heart to a bad case of man flu; but what we do have is I Am Pho, a Vietnamese restuarant/cafe repleat with large bowls of savoury warming soup noodles. And believe me Pho is as good of a cure as chicken soup for anything, even hangovers!

I Am Pho is the only Vietnamese place in Manchester’s bustling and vibrant Chinatown; as you have guessed from the name they do a roaring trade in Pho (pronounced fuh), the traditional Vietnamese soup noodle dish. They also crack out a good deal of other Vietnamese specialities including those beautifully translucent summer rolls, the French colonial mishmash sandwich Ban Mi and plenty of other noodle and rice concoctions.

I am pho - with thanks to Trip Advisor

But we were there for the Pho. On a drizzly, wintery Manchester night, three of us walked down the steps to the stark white, but surprisingly warm and full, basement unit that is I Am Pho. The clientele a mix of large groups and couples all chattering away avidly over steaming dishes, vividly lit up with mounds of angry red chillies and bright green herbs.

We all wanted a warm hug to compensate for the weather outside (and my streaming cold) and ten minutes later ours arrived. Three large bowls (one beef, one chicken, one tofu) accompanied by a dish piled high with beansprouts, coriander, mint, chillies and lime were placed in front of us and for a barely perceivable second we all paused, lost in the aromatic fug that had encircled our table.

I’d gone for classic beef pho with beef stock – the stock itself was lighter than that found at Café Vnam (the other place to go in Manchester if you’re a fan of traditional and very well executed Vietnamese cuisine); not as richly dense or savoury, but still with a good deep saltiness, the warmth of the star anise and cinnamon adding sweetness and rounding the layers of the dish out. Whereas the broth at I Am Pho isn’t as decadently rich as that at Café Vnam, the beef they serve on top is definitely better. Rarer and softer than Vnam’s, it’s obvious this is better quality meat and the portion size is much more decent.

Beef pho - healthy hug in a bowl

I Am Pho is tiled white, with silver accents from the tables and chairs – sounds pretty stark, but the rich fog of scented steam that surrounds each table, coupled with the chattering customers and the fact you’re safely ensconced in a basement, makes I Am Pho a great place to shelter from the Manchester weather. Put that together with really friendly service, great food and the fact that it’s smack bang in the centre of town, makes it my go-to place for cold curing/heart fixing respite.

Ps I Am Pho is equally as great for meat eaters as well as veggies/vegans – we went with a vegan (yeah I know, what was I thinking?) and as long as you make them aware, they will use a vegetable based stock with no fish sauce added. Bonus.

Price for three mains  – £23.85

Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Service – 9/10
Value for money – 8/10

Total – 34/40

Go again – Yes!! Instead of demanding my mother travels up from Wales with a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup, I can now pop along here before the sniffles have even started to come on. Plus it’s even good when I’m not ill!

I Am Pho, 44 George Street, Chinatown, Manchester M1 4HF - 0161 236 1230 - Twitter - Facebook

I Am Pho on Urbanspoon