JJ’s Caribbean Cuisine

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About 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Notting Hill Carnival. It was bright, loud and grimy – I loved it! The beats were relentless and the smells from the different street food vendors was overwhelmingly good – smokey, tangy and rich food smells coming at us from all directions as you wondered through the crowded streets.

At 22, I was accustomed to trying all sorts of new foods (new to me that is) and wasn’t afraid to order them but the Leeds food scene back then was infantile and so such things as Caribbean Curry Goat wasn’t exactly on the menu unless you got invited to a family home in Chapel Town for tea. Of course this fantastic, diverse carnival in London would offer all kinds of delights but for me the goat curry was intriguing enough.

It was green, which I found strange, but it was delicious. Similar to lamb but gamier. A similar consistency to an Indian curry but with a more middle eastern flavour.  It was a completely new taste experience for me and made even more intoxicating by the surroundings of feathers, sequins and samba!

Until two weeks ago I’ve never been able to find anything similar. Until I went to my local town Carnival in Otley that is…

JJ’s Caribbean Cuisine, a Halal food van, greeted us as we entered the grassy carnival field, ready to peruse the festivities (colourful lorry floats, the annual dog show, stalls selling sheep herding gear – we do live in the country after all!). I must say it was a surprising choice of street food for the event given Otley’s general penchant for fish-and-chips-with-scraps, but we we’re straight over to JJ’s in a flash ordering our goat curry with rice and peas. Before I’d even eaten it I knew it was going to be delicious. I could tell from the vendors passion for the food and the smell of the steam cutting through the summer drizzle that it was going to be good.

Whilst queuing, I asked them if they’d considered Trinity Kitchen in Leeds, thinking they’d go down a storm there. They said they are applying for the next round of food van changes – so here is a message to say GOOD LUCK JJ’s, I will definitely look out for you at future events and visit for more scrummy goat curry when you get your spot in Trinity Kitchen!

 

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Prashad

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This Valentine’s Day we got an opportunity. My in-laws agreed to take our little sproglet for a niiiiiiice long Sunday lunchtime walk so we could sneak off and grab a bite together. As they live ‘over that way’ we thought we’d take the opportunity to try out Prashad!

You may think it was an odd choice for a Sunday lunch time, not to mention a broad daylight Valentine’s venue…and I suppose it was, but those of you with munchkins will know you have to snatch these chances when you get them, and I’ve been desperate to try out their infamous Thali for years now.

To understand what Thali is, simply think ‘medley’. It’s essentially a full meal on one plate. Made up of a couple of nibbly starters to whet your appetite, one or two mains to sample, some sides, sundries and even a dessert, this gives you a platter of spice sensations you will enjoy so much that you won’t even notice the absence of meat!

When our Thali’s arrived I was excited by how many different elements I had to work my way through, and this was doubled when Dom and I realised we’d been given different dishes! Clever Bobby! (That’s Kaushy, the original owner’s son who now runs the restaurant). He clearly knows how we Brits love to dine when it comes to Indian food – variety and sharing.

I wish I’d had the foresight to get the waiter to write down everything which was on our Thali plates, but truth be told I was too busy trying to discreetly take photos with my new fancy camera without looking like ‘a blogger’.

I really enjoyed the service and the decor of Prashad, the team there have really brought the Indian dining experience up to date, but would like to return perhaps in the evening when there is a bit more intimacy in the atmosphere. Ironically for Valentines Day, and despite the corner table upstairs where they’d say us (where all the other white people were!), I felt quite exposed; even a little observed.

Overall it was a great meal – a little break from parenthood for us and some beautiful food. We’ll definitely go back…one evening!

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Otta’s Leah

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These days I feel pretty out of touch with ‘the city’ (that’s Leeds for me!). I so rarely get to go, and when my trendy mates keep telling me about new places they’ve eaten or plaster their Prosecco photos on Facebook I must admit I go a little bit green…

Obviously having a small person in my life is overwhelmingly satisfying and I wouldn’t swap it for all the new bars and restaurants in the world, but it does make me nostalgic for the days I could spend 2 hours getting ready, throw on a pair of heels and trot off to town without a care.

Such an opportunity arose this weekend, when my mum asked if she could look after Jackson. The bright lights of Leeds were calling to me – Headrow House? Zaap Thai? The Homage2fromage Café?

But then I remembered Otta’s Leah. Our little town of Otley has just welcomed a new restaurant and so far I had heard nothing but great reports.

So the bright city lights, this time, got pushed aside for a quick taxi ride down the road and an urge to support local new business. And it didn’t disappoint! We were welcomed with a friendly face (actually the old front of house manager from Bistro Saigon in Ilkley who is great), and a ready table.

I looked around to see tables full of happy customers, very middle class and very middle aged. I worried we had made a mistake by using one of our precious date nights to mingle with the Otley oldies, but actually the subdued atmosphere and shortage of glitterati was pretty refreshing! No-one peering at your table nosying at ‘who’s who?’ and no fashion parade.

A couple of Hendricks gin and Fenitman’s tonics later we had perused the menu and ordered our starters, mains and wine. The menu is small, with 4 starter choices and 4 mains, and when you see the size of the kitchen which houses their 3 chefs you understand why! But what they do, they do extremely well…

I sipped a cold glass of their Rioja Blanco which accompanied my pan fried mackerel fillet with mackerel tartare wrapped in cucumber, followed by hake fillet on squid ink risotto and calamari. All of which was absolutely delicious – beautifully cooked and really well seasoned. We greedily rounded off with a somewhat stingy cheese, biscuits and a glass of port. Perhaps if we hadn’t been sharing it would have been the perfect amount.

The restaurant currently runs on two floors. Upstairs was empty for us and I’ve heard the same from other diners, so I hope that they consider extending the bar area on the ground floor and start utilising the first floor restaurant space. Otley needs more good bars and surely this would attract potential diners too.

Overall, I was very impressed with Otta’s Leah. The staff were friendly and attentive, the menu was small but perfectly formed and the atmosphere and décor gave off the perfect low key Friday night vibe.

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Beetroot Brownies

Beetroot Brownies

I have had the January Waitrose magazine in my house now for a week and haven’t even turned the cover page. It’s one of my guilty pleasures and one I like to get really cosy and comfy before I settle into reading. Gone are the pre-baby days when I used to sit outside in the garden on a sunny saturday afternoon with a large glass of rosè, reading cover to cover in one sitting (usually followed by a mad dash back to Waitrose to pick up ingredients for a newly inspired dish). Now I wait… I wait until Jackson is asleep, until I have swept up the craziness of the day and piled it into the toy box/dishwasher/washing machine, until I have cooked our tea and Dom is nicely settled into some evening work. Then I read.

This week however I have been absolutely shattered and barely even glanced at the cover before falling asleep! But what a cover it is. Popped with the bright crimson pink of beetroot soup and flecked with contrasting greens to brighten up our January coffee tables.

When my mum asked me to bake something for this Sunday’s family dinner, I turned to the cover for my inspiration and dug out the recipe for beetroot brownies, a firm family favourite. You could be fooled into thinking they were a ‘new year, new me’ baking choice given the whole pack of cooked beetroot which features. But sadly not, they are laced with butter, sugar and dark chocolate all of which give a fudgy, rich indulgence, with an earthy flavour hit from the rich beets.

The beetroot flavour is subtle but the grated red root gives a moistness to these little brownie bites which will make you reach for them time and time again, just like we do!

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Chaophraya

Chaophraya

It’s hard to know what to say about Chaophraya… Yes it’s a chain, yes it’s big and yes it’s bold but I can’t help but choose it time and time again.

I once did a cookery day and cocktail masterclass here (organised by my hens for my hen weekend) and it was a really fun experience, although I had been coming here for years prior.

My husband and I often visit some of the less flashy South-East Asian offerings around our area of Leeds (such as Nam Jai Thai in Otley and Bistro Saigon in Ilkley), but when we have occasion to treat ourselves (this time it was our 2nd wedding anniversary, and a child-free lunch!) we sometimes gravitate towards the blingy, opulent and always mouth-wateringly tasty Chaophraya, Leeds.

We have both been to Thailand a couple of times, unfortunately never together, so we are under no illusion that this is very much a Westernised experience, probably equivalent to the Aagrah for Indian, but really, who cares? Some of Leeds’ bearded hipster folk may scoff at this mainstream hotspot, and flock to Headrow House for the next 10 minutes, but I say DINE! Dine in this gold encrusted, orchid filled, politely staffed, fabulous cocktail making, delicious chain… Oh and order the tamarind duck, it’s seriously good.

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Masterchef Goes to Italy

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If, like me, you were glued to your screens this May, watching Natalie Coleman pip the other finalists to the finishing post through this year’s Masterchef, you will probably also have been drooling into your cushions whilst the contestants visited Mamma Agata in Ravello, Italy.

I was more than a lot jealous watching Natalie, Dale and Larkin head off to the Amalfi Coast to cook the classic Italian dishes, with the very classic Italian mamma. Of course clever editing made all three of her dishes look super simple and super fast, but there’s no amount of camera tricks that can substitute for mouthwateringly tasty looking, rustic Italian fare, glossy with olive oil and packed with the finest back-garden ingredients.

So here are all three of Mamma Agata’s recipes, which she very kindly shared with the finalists, and the nation! As I haven’t tried and tested these yet, measurements are to follow, but if you kicked yourself for watching the show without your pen and recipe pad, these are the notes you need…

 

Recipe 1: Sundried Tomato Gnocchi

Cook your potatoes skin-on, once peeled get them through the mincer on to a clean dry surface.
Add 00 flour, parmesan cheese and 1 egg.
Add a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes and bind to make your gnocchi dough.

Shape your gnocchi and boil in salted water.
Once they begin to float to the surface, remove from the pan and shock under cold water to stop them cooking.

For the sauce add chopped parsley and slices of fresh artichoke to a large glug of olive oil.
Add another handful of dried tomatoes and combine the gnocchi into the pan.

Serve with a generous sprinkle of parmesan.

Recipe 2: Parpadelle Pasta with Peppers and Sausage

Slice and fry the red and yellow peppers in olive oil and a bit of butter.

In a separate pan, gently fry off a sliced red onion.
In this same pan, sear the sausages and pierce once browned (Mamma Agata says: “Seal flavour in, pierce fat out”)
Add the peppers and a cereal bowl of halved ripe cherry tomatoes.
Cook for 30 minutes.

Make your pasta dough and roll into long sheets.
Roll up and cut into inch thick portions – unravel and toss in flour.
Boil in salted water and after a couple of minutes, add the parpadelle to the sausages and peppers.

Sprinkle with parmesan to serve.

Recipe 3: Stuffed Squid

Chop the tentacles of two squids and add to a pan with olive oil, green olives, black olives, capers, parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan.

Once cooked, stuff the body of the squids with the mixture and sear in a pan.
Add fresh chopped oregano, a bowl of halved cherry tomatoes and a jar of passata and simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve sliced, with the sauce poured over.

 

If you try or have tried any of Mamma Agata’s Masterchef recipes I’d love to know what you think, and the quantities you used!

@Squeeze0fLemon

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