Thursday, 30 March 2017

Cheap Eats in Leeds - Thai Aroy Dee & Ecco Pizzeria

A few years ago, D and I instituted the practice of aiming for at least one “CNO” a month. Which, for the uninitiated (i.e. everyone apart from us) meant the two of us dining out for a total of £30 or less all in. We all know that it’s pretty easy to eat well if you’re happy to splash loads of cash but can it be done on a budget?

The answer, of course, is yes if you know where to look but we fell out of the habit or, at the very least, became less stringent about the rules. Having recently seen our outgoings increase though, we are on a mission to be more frugal and so have reinstituted the concept of the CNO. But, because, you know, inflation, we’ve raised the upper limit to £40.

Thai Aroy Dee

I may have mentioned TAD before, but if you live in Leeds and are a fan of Thai food I would always recommend you come here rather than the glitzier Sukkothai or the buzzier Zaap Thai. I hesitate to mention authenticity in reference to Asian cooking, as I’ve never travelled there myself, but I have been here with people who know and they tell me it’s probably the most authentic Thai food in the city. Certainly, it’s delicious. The flipside is that nothing here, neither the food nor the restaurant itself, is particularly glamourous which is by the by if you can get a good feed for under £20 a head.

D threw a potential spanner in the frugal works by letting himself get too hungry which meant that he wanted to order a starter, a salad and a main plus rice and a beer. In the end, he was persuaded to share a portion of the Thai prawn crackers (crunchier, spicier and infinitely more addictive than their Chinese counterparts) followed by a minced chicken salad, stir fried minced pork with fermented eggs and a sticky rice. And a beer. I had a red Thai curry with duck and steamed rice. And a sparkling water. Because I’m trying to stop drinking on school nights.

D found the minced chicken salad to be a little delicate, and would have preferred a bit more zing and punch such as was found in the stir fried dish, which he deemed delicious. I can confirm that the spiced mince was heavenly, but avoided sampling jellified eggs because I have issues with anything that looks like jelly and tastes of old egg.

Mince and eggs!
The duck curry was also good. I think the duck must have been poached which left the meat incredibly tender although, where I am used to eating it fried, I must admit missed the contrasting crackle of crispy skin. The sauce was thinner than I expected but packed full of flavour with that classic triumvirate of sweet, sour and hot all in perfect alignment.

Duck curry!
Final bill? The whole lot came to £34.35 which we rounded up to £38.00 with tip. Not far below our limit but we took away enough leftovers to do us both lunch the next day. This might be no frills dining but it is undoubtedly good and definitely somewhere to consider if you’re looking for cheap, cheerful and tasty.


Ecco is located in Headingley, which, if you know Leeds at all you will be aware seems to be mainly populated by students. As such, it is a good place to head if you wish to avoid the city centre but find interesting and frugal places to dine out.

I had been wanting to visit (Ecco rather than Headingley) for ages, being a pizza fiend. It has quite the local reputation, always seems to be packed out and, impressively for such a small place, boasts an authentic wood burning oven. Apparently, to be considered true Neapolitan style pizza there are strict rules with regards the temperature of said oven and the length of time the pizza can cook (60-90 seconds) and Ecco are proud to advertise that they adhere to these standards.

I am not sure, however, that many residents of Naples would recognise some of the topping combinations that Ecco have adopted. D, ever the rebel, ordered an Istanbul “pizza” which was topped with tahini, rather than tomato, over which had been strewn liberal quantities of lamb mince, feta, pomegranate seeds and yoghurty salad. It was delicious, but it was not pizza.

I went for a slightly more pedestrian combination of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms and olives. The base was blistered and blackened which gave a pleasing hint of char, the sauce was good, the mozzarella plentiful and creamy. My personal preference would have been for a little less topping and a slightly thinner base, but I can’t say that I was complaining particularly. Chicken wings, ordered as a starter, and also cooked in the wood fired oven, were good if not exceptional.

Again, this was no frills dining. Tables are set very close together, service is efficient, food is served promptly with a minimum of ceremony. They do not sell alcohol which was not a particular issue for me but both D and the guy at the table next to us looked a little crestfallen at the prospect of pizza sans beer. However, with more pubs in Headingley than you can shake a drunken student at, locating a watering hole either side of your meal (and you will be in and out pretty quickly) is not hard.

Pizza for two (again, we had leftovers that we got boxed up to take away) with a starter and a soft drink came to £22.95 so even with tip we were well under the £30 mark, let alone £40. And I would quite happily go there again, although if you ask me, the best pizza in North Leeds is to be found a bit further up the road at Meanwood’s That’s Amore, where the menu is considerably smaller and the toppings are slightly less liberal.

Overall though, two excellent additions to the pantheon of Leeds CNO venues. But fear not, next month normal service will be restored as we head to Michelin starred (and priced) The Black Swan at Oldstead and pay the equivalent of ten Cheap Night Outs for a single meal. Huzzah!

Thai Aroy Dee
120 - 122 Vicar Lane, Leeds, LS2 7NL
0113 245 2174

93 Otley Road, Leeds, LS6 3PS
0113 278 2828

Monday, 27 March 2017

Meal planning, goal setting

Apologies: it all went a bit quiet there.

Excuses time: I've been a little under the weather. So far this year I have had a poorly paw (TM Lesley) and a poorly tooth and now I am suffering with a poorly gallbladder. I say that I'm suffering - I tend to think that D has the worst of it since I've been in a foul mood and my appetite has been a bit all over the place which has impacted on our usual, stringent, food planning. The empty pad on the fridge has been rebuking me all week long. Also - busy with work, blah, blah, blah. I used to get more opportunities to write blog posts at lunchtime.

Anyway, the gallbladder will hopefully be whipped out at some point and in the meantime I need to man up. Firstly - a weight loss update. 1.2 lbs off this week which isn't bad considering that while I started the week eating very little (which helped with fast days), by the end I wanted to gnaw my own arm off. The goal setting of the title refers to the fact that I'd really, really like to hit the mini goal of two stone off by the end of April. It's definitely doable, but I need to keep focused and maybe tighten up a little bit on treats sneaking in to non-fast days.

So what are we up to this week? Well, our cookbook inspiration is being provided by the man himself Yotam Ottolenghi. We are hitting up his "Plenty More" tome for ideas; regular readers may well have heard me rave about "Plenty" in the past so I have high hopes for this. We're fasting Monday and Thursday, we're out for supper on Wednesday and D is out with friends on Friday so I'll probably have beans on toast (with cheese if I'm feeling particularly racy). Not much left to plan, which is a shame because there are loads of dishes in this book that I want to try...

Tuesday: tagliatelle with lemon and walnuts

Saturday: "mezze": dakos, grilled lettuce with farro and lemon, squash with chilli yoghurt and coriander sauce

Sunday: aubergine cheesecake

YUM! Have a fabulous week all - I'm going to occupy myself with planning the bribe (/reward) that I will deserve if I can hit my entirely arbitrary goal.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cook Book Review: Diana Henry's "A Change of Appetite"

In March, we have decided to theme our meal planning by picking a book (or website) each week to cook from.  Week 1 saw us cracking open "A Change of Appetite" by the extremely talented Diana Henry.

I am a big fan of Ms Henry, a food writer whose prose is as elegant as her food.  Her book of chicken recipes, “A Bird In Hand”, gifted us the absolutely superlative lemongrass and turmeric roast chicken which I crave on a regular basis.  I had owned “A Change of Appetite” for  a while but never made anything from it; D and I are both slightly suspicious of anything specifically badged as “healthy”, perhaps worn down by years of Weight Watching and spray chemicals oil.

We needn’t have worried.  The focus of “A Change of Appetite” might be healthy eating but it lacks any preachy tone or miserable austerity.  The recipes we tried were delicious, the flavour combinations sometimes unexpected by always successful.  The blurb (which you can read in full on her website here) refers to her drawing inspiration from a pretty wide field, most notably the Middle and Far East which was certainly true of the dishes that we cooked.
Of the three we tried (having drawn up a fairly lengthy shortlist), our favourite was the Burmese chilli fish with hot and sour salad – the recipe for which can be found online here.  We served it with some steamed rice but it probably would have been substantial enough without if you are an eschewer of carbs.  The fish by itself was gorgeous but it was truly elevated when combined with the zing and crunch of the salad.  If you have a food processor, or mandolin, to ensure that the vegetable shredding isn’t too much of a faff, I would definitely commend this one to your attention.

A lamb dish with fregola (we subbed giant couscous) salad and whole baked sea bass with aubergine also went down well.  That they didn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of the Burmese fish were more down to logistics than recipe writing – neither D nor I are huge fans of faffing around with bones (which is a shame as meat and fish on the bone is undoubtedly delicious).  I think that, in particular, the combination of the sea bass and aubergine (which recipe can also be found on the Telegraph website here) was surprisingly successful and I’d happily repeat it with fillets.  Actually, I’d just make the aubergine relish again on its own as it was fantastic cold the next day.

Those recipes that we didn’t get around to during the designated week and I have no doubt that they will be popping up in rotation shortly.  An excellent start to a month of book cooking – some new dishes and, more importantly, a renewed impetus to look to our extensive library for weeknight inspiration.

Monday, 13 March 2017

MPM - and a progress update

I’ve been following the 5:2 plan for 10 weeks now and things are going well. Strictly speaking, I had one week of 4:3 (which was bloody awful) and one week of 7:0 (that was the week that we went to Brighton and entered “holiday mode” a bit too early). In that time, I’ve lost 20.6lbs, which is nearly a stone and a half (yay!) and an average rate of just over 2lbs a week which is double what I was expecting (more yay!)

But if you look at the chart you can see that there was a period when things started to move in the wrong direction – basically, most of February. I had three weeks of gains on the trot – one, after an indulgent weekend away, was expected the other two, not so much. The thing that seems to make the big difference for me is alcohol. If I don’t drink anything, I can eat with relative abandon on non-fast days and lose weight. As soon as I start trying to factor in some wine at the weekends or a sneaky couple of midweek pints, it slows right down. It’s a shame as I adore a tipple, but for now, I am putting my beloved g&ts to one side while I concentrate on shifting some poundage. Drinking is going to have to be an occasional treat rather than a regular occurrence.

On to this week’s meal plan and, continuing our plan in March to cook our books, the basis of this comes from Valentine Warner’s “The Good Table”. I have yet to identify any particular theme to this book, unless that theme is “delicious things that I want to eat”. We’ll be fasting on Monday and Wednesday, and D is out on Friday for a team lunch, so four evenings to plan:

Monday: Soup

Tuesday: Mussels on toast

Wednesday: Soup

Thursday: Valentine Warner’s Dad’s prawn curry

Saturday: Moussaka

Sunday: Slow cooked beef cheeks with baby turnips

YUM. That’s the third week in the row where I think we’ve had some absolute treasures to look forward to – and, this may be the fasting speaking, but I can’t wait to get stuck in to that little lot.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Further foodie notes on Brighton

We decided to visit Brighton on something of a whim. Despite growing up in deepest, darkest Essex I don’t really know the South coast that well at all – my family always headed North for holidays, and that remains my instinct even as an adult. But Stewart Lee was playing a few dates down there and we fancied doing something a bit different, so off we went. It’s good to expand your horizons.

Brighton is actually a city - it was granted city status by the Queen during her jubilee - and, it seemed to me, a rather affluent one.  It smelled like it had been on the receiving end of time, care and money, in stark contrast to some of the Northern seaside towns that I have visited in recent years that are dying on their arse.  In addition, Brighton has benefited from the influx of students from not one but two universities.  There was a definite buzz to the place and the juxtaposition of the beautifully elegant Georgian architecture and the messy vibrancy of youth culture made for a fascinating melting pot of a place. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, it turns out that Brighton is quite the foodie destination which is not something that factored into our initial considerations. Although like any UK city it had its fair share of chain yawnfests, there was a pleasing spread of independents as well offering a range of foodstuffs at a range of price points.

First off, we have Bincho Yakitori does not have the most user friendly website in the world, but if you’re interested in Japanese bar food (and who isn’t?) then definitely one to check out. The chicken heart yakitori skewers were one of D’s favourite dishes of the trip.

I had heard good things about the vegetarian scene (if such a word can be used in the context) and we ended up having lunch in one of Brighton's oldest vegetarian restaurants, Food For Friends.  It was fun.  Nothing earth shatteringly amazing perhaps but an interesting menu that resisted tumbling into standard fare or cliché and hearty portions of tasty food.  I would quite like to recreate my halloumi, mango, avocado and cashew nut salad at home. 

Given our proximity to the sea, we were determined to make as much as we could of the local seafood and it didn’t disappoint. At Riddle and Finns, D, a crustacea afficionado, was presented with his biggest shellfish platter to date, all for a ridiculously reasonable £30 - the picture below does not do it any sort of justice, but it turns out that it is hard to photograph something so huge without getting one or other of us in shot.  And, as you know, this blog is a mug free zone.  Anyway, he reports that the whelks were a little bit on the chewy side but that everything else was perfect and he was particularly taken with the dinky little winkle picker that was provided alongside the cutlery  In general, the fish cookery here was exemplary and the menu boasted a good range of dishes albeit all variations on a theme of classic. The service was friendly but haphazard – nothing, however, that an unexpected glass of limoncello from the restaurant manager couldn’t fix.

The following evening we headed to the Tempest Bar for some rather up market pub grub - check out the stunning langoustines in the picture; these tasted even better than they look.  On a Saturday night, this was predominantly a venue for younger and trendier people than ourselves, but we were quite content in our little booth with our seafood and several decent bottles of white.  I really liked it here: the bar staff were young and cute and charming and the food was delicious (in addition to the langoustines we indulged in popcorn mussels and fire kraken squid - bar snacks to put pork scratchings and packet of peanuts to shame). 

You always know that you've had a good trip when you start talking about "next time".  "Next time we'll try this...go that..." We were next timing Brighton before we had even left and writing up this post has made me start it again.  Good times.

Bincho Yakitori: 63 Preston Street, Brighton, 01273 779021
Food For Friends: 17-18 Prince Albert Street, Brighton, 01273 202310
Riddle and Finns: 139 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, 01273 721667
The Tempest Inn: 159-161 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, 01273 770505

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

64 Degrees, Brighton

We were told, while on a walking tour of Brighton, that the seaside city has more restaurants than anywhere else in the country outside of London. Whether this is in actual terms or just per capita, it is undoubtedly true that Brightonians take their food pretty seriously and I would definitely recommend it as a destination for people who like to eat.

In fact, an early contender for Meal of the Year emerged while we were there and let me tell you – whichever other restaurants I happen to visit in 2017 have an awful lot to live up to. Were it Leeds based, 64 Degrees would have reduced D and I to penury. I am almost glad that it is so far away. The restaurant is a tiny, casual space dominated by the open kitchen. You eat at close quarters to your neighbours; the layout is such that litheness is a prerequisite of the waiting staff. It verges on the claustrophobic which can make this anxious diner a little uncomfortable. But the moment that the first plate arrived at the table all such considerations were entirely forgotten.

The menu consists of twelve dishes: four meat, four vegetarian, four fish, all priced between £7.50 and £14. The recommendation is up to six plates between a couple, which allows each partner to make one choice from each category; to be honest, I reckon that we could have managed one or two more as the portion sizes were not large. It is worth noting that the menu really does change daily – we glanced at it the day prior to dining there and a number of the dishes changed or disappeared. So if something catches your eye, order it. You may not get a second chance.

We started with octopus croquettes, rich and sweet accompanied by a Srirachia yoghurt and a spritz of lime to add fire and tang. The bar was set high and things only got better from there. Tagliatelle came doused in butter and truffle, draped with the golden ooze of an egg yolk. Squid, perfectly cooked served on the dreamiest, creamiest celeriac puree that you can imagine. Butternut squash, its sweetness balanced by the lactic cloud of accompanying goats cheese. All of these had us licking the plates.

Then came the meat, and the bar disappeared up into the ether. Firstly, a pork dish served with kimchi, sour and hot, and charred chunks of chilli infused pineapple. D declared this the winner. But my favourite was a cube of lamb shoulder that disintegrated into a heap of tender strands as soon as the fork hovered over it, the meat then rolled up in blanched spinach leaves with spring onions and gochujang.

Pork with kimchi and pineapple

Lamb with spring onion and gochujang
If I’m being strictly, strictly honest, dessert, while delicious and very pretty (you go a long way to beat a combination of lemon and rhubarb) did not quite match the dizzy heights of the savoury courses.

Lemon and rhubarb
And, what is interesting as I write about this a week or so after the meal itself is that the flavour combinations, when written down, sound slightly…pedestrian, perhaps? Flat? Which couldn’t be further from the reality of the food itself which was, to a bite, superlative. I particularly enjoyed the use of Asian flavours to punctuate dishes without feeling gimmicky or trendy or detracting from not only the quality of the ingredients, but also the precision with which they had been prepared. When the bill arrived, I was astonished at the value of the meal. Then I discovered that they’d missed off some of the drinks. Even so, this was still pretty decent value for food of this calibre and we are already trying to figure out if we can fit in another trip to Brighton later this year to experience more of this glorious little kitchen. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

MPM: 6th March 2017 - Cook My Blog!

Time seems to be getting away from me at the moment.  I still haven't got round to putting my up my tales of adventure in Brighton (for adventure, read gluttony - it has taken a week for my system to recover!) and yet here we are with another Meal Planning Monday.

As I mentioned last week, this month each week in March is dedicated to a particular recipe book or, as is the case this week, recipe blog.  Yes, in a supreme act of hubris, this week I will be Cooking My Blog - it's WW Foodie Week!

When I started reading back, it really struck me how many more recipes I posted in the early days of the blog.  I don't think that it is because I cooked more back then; I certainly might have been more blasé (or ignorant) with regards copyright issues...and, also, when I was following Weight Watchers, I was always keen to share recipes that worked particularly well while still being low in points, a USP which is now missing. 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to revisiting some old dishes and keen to see whether they actually work or whether I end up tweaking them into something entirely unrecognisable.  As per usual, we are fasting on Monday and Wednesday, and we're out on Tuesday night.  The plan otherwise:

Thursday: Roasted tomato and ricotta risotto

Friday:  Pissaladiere with potato salad

Saturday:  Cardamom butter chicken, aubergine and red lentil curry, rice and flatbreads

Sunday:  Slow cooker shoulder of lamb with tomatoes and butterbean mash