Friday, December 28, 2007


Fri 28 Dec 2007

Did you miss us on Cooking the Books on Channel 5 last night? A fleeting 15 seconds of fame - and I was gutted not to have the chance to promote Eating Leeds, but there you go.

On to more exciting, visceral pleasures and we arrive at pastry. On Christmas Day we had a duck for our dinner. As lovely as it was, just over 3 kg of duck goes a long way between two people, and in the interim we've had duck sandwiches (duck with cream cheese and black pepper - sounds mad, but it's delicious), duck stir fry and finally ... tonight ... duck pie.

While duck is not known for its lean meat, there's no point in making a pie if you're not going to use plenty of good, fatty heart healthy pastry. Andy insists that pies have a pastry top and bottom, and I think it's a crime to use shop bought short crust pastry, when home made is so quick. This means Andy is in charge of the filling, and I'm in charge of the pastry.

This is my favourite quick and dirty recipe, originally taken from a Safeway (remember that?) magazine.

Take 300g plain flour, 75g of lard and 75g of butter. Cut your butter and lard into cubes and whizzy it all up in your food processor. Add a little cold water to bring it all together in a ball and rest in the fridge (or freezer, if you're really in a hurry) for about 30 minutes. The cooler the pastry is the easier it is to handle.

I promise you'll spend more time washing up than actually making the pastry. This is also incredibly economic because lard is ludicrously cheap.

And this is what you end up with:

(In our case washed down with a Louis Bernard Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005).

For the filling Andy used left over roast duck, onions, carrots and a stock made from roast duck bones, a bay leaf, some cloves and a pinch of mace. Of course, you can fill your pie however you wish!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Thurs 27 Dec 2007

Although I've not got a shortage of things to write about, as it's the end of the year I'm going to indulge in some statistics.

This site averages just over 100 visitors per day ... but for some reason the numbers really drop off at the weekend. Is work really THAT dull?! Most visitors are from the UK although some people swing by from places as far afield (and as diverse) as Singapore, India, Taiwan, Argentina and the Bahamas!

Unsurprisingly, most people hit the front page, but the current top five articles are (in order):
  1. a recipe for sausage and bean casserole
  2. the joint review of Napa in Roundhay and Felicini in the city centre
  3. a recipe for baked eggs
  4. (festively) a recipe for turkey roll
  5. a review of La Tasca in the city centre
I might aim to do one of these 'Top Five' lists every month ... but then I've got lots of plans for the site in 2008 ... let's see how many come to fruition!
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Aagrah and Pizza Express

Quite a mix, I'll admit ...

The lunching club at work has been in overdrive mode recently and we've had two jaunts in two weeks!

Wed 12 Dec 2007

We were excited to discover that the Leeds city centre Aagrah was to be open for lunch in the run up to Christmas. We were less excited to discover that we had a choice between a fixed price lunch menu or a buffet. A buffet that cost £15 a head no less! I was gutted - I had planned to have dal piaz with a paratha and a beer. And I hate buffets.

We ended up spending £20 a head which is a bit steep for having to get up and serve yourself. On the up side, this was definitely one of the better quality buffets around although the vegetarian selection was somewhat slim. For starters, we had chicken tikka, fish tikka and lamb cutlets. Although all of these dishes had suffered a little from sitting around, they were all very tasty - especially the lamb. Main courses offered a selection of three curries, two vegetarian sides (including dahl - hooray), rice and naan, as well as a big bowl of raita. Unsurprisingly, this all fared a lot better than the starters, and I enjoyed everything I tried.

However, £15 is still too much money. While I enjoy trying things I'd never order a la carte, I'd rather not be jumping up and down to sort out food, and I'd rather not leave feeling a little ripped off (I'm not one of these people who gets her money's worth at a buffet!).

It also took us quite a while to get our bill (not great when you're on a lunch break), and while we were paying, the front of house seemed to think it fit to make phone calls while sorting out our cards, which spoiled the whole experience.

Food: surprisingly good for a buffet
Service: a little too slow, finishing up plain rude
Spend per head: £20
Value for money: just a touch too expensive

Wed 19 Dec 2007

A very different experience at Pizza Express. We were expecting the restaurant to be packed with pre-Christmas revellers, but it was surprisingly calm and there was no problem finding a table. Service was efficient and we started with a selection of dough balls and garlic breads before moving on to our pizzas. A touch of consternation as one pizza came out rather larger than the rest (it turns out that the Romana pizzas have the same amount of dough but it's rolled out more thinly ... we couldn't work out how that affected the volume of topping), but the pizzas all went down well - including two Christmas specials (Buon Natale - complete with turkey and stuffing, and Quattro Formaggio with sage and leek).

We munched our way through the pizzas (and drank our way through some beers) before declining desserts and coffee and heading back to the office. All efficient, quick, tasty and filling - just what you want in a quick, working lunch. And all for £15 a head.

Food: good, standard Pizza Express pizzas
Service: efficient and friendly
Spend per head: £15
Value for money: not bad, although you could argue that the pizzas are a little on the pricey side (average around £8)

1. Aagrah, St. Peters Sq, Leeds, LS9 8AH, phone: 0113 245 5667
2. Pizza Express, Corn Exchange, White Cloth Hall, Leeds, LS2 7DA, phone: 0113 246 5207
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baked Nectarines

Sun 16 Dec 2007

As a rule, I don't buy out of season produce. This is for several reasons ... it costs too much, it's generally rubbish and (of course) it's not within my ethical remit to eat something which has been flown half way across the world.

However, I was really struggling to pick a recipe from December's AGT because the recipes were either too summery (yes, I'd love squid salad with a glass of Chablis, thanks - but not when I can see frozen bird baths at 3 in the afternoon), or too Christmassy. Baked stone fruit sounded quick and easy - and (more importantly!) HOT.

So, generally food snobbery and environmental concerns aside I bought six sad nectarines from the local supermarket. They were marked down to just £1 and had come all the way from South Africa. Despite having hit their sell by/use by/display until date they were rock hard but starting to shrivel.

The filling was a lot more successful. The same supermarket happened to have bags of amaretti, and, after a fortifying cup of tea and biscuit sampling exercise, I dragged out the Magimix.

The recipe in the AGT did involve quantities, but these went by the way side. I coarsely processed about 8 biscuits, added in probably a good tablespoon plus of ground almonds, a tablespoon of golden syrup, some butter (relatively finely chopped) and finished the mix off with a generous dash of rum. The mix was pretty solid and tasted unbelievably good. Given the parlous state of the nectarines I was worried about spoiling the filling. This worry mounted when I could barely cut the nectarines, let alone separate them from their stones. Unsurprisingly, the flesh was violently tart.

The oven was preheated to around 220C, the nectarine sort-of-halves were arranged on a baking tray and the filling spooned in. Just 10 minutes later, they were ready.

Baked Nectarines

Despite misgivings about the fruit (me) and the whole concept (Andy) this went down a treat. There was some filling left over, so we ate some and mixed the remainder with cream - some of which went on the nectarines and some of which was just eaten.

It's difficult to describe how good this tasted, and all I can say is that, if you happen to be in the southern hemisphere and enjoying PROPER stone fruit - give it a go. It's quick, simple and almost a true storecupboard standby. We scoffed the nectarines for afternoon tea, but it would do just as well as an improptu (or otherwise) dessert.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Refrigerator Bread

Sat 8 Dec 2007

I've skipped from recipe 2 to recipe 66 in the The Big Book of Bread - I should have it done in no time at all!

On Saturday I spent too much time reading the newspaper and surfing the web to fit in a full bread bake before heading out to dinner. So leaving the bread to prove in the fridge for 15 hours was ideal. As my mum says, it's very hard to over-prove bread, and the fridge is the trick I always use for making hot cross buns for Good Friday.

I had to halve quantities (approximately) and the recipe is complicated only in that you need some mashed potato. So, one large potato was peeled, chopped, boiled, mashed and left to cool in the fridge.

The bread making itself was simple. I dissolved a teaspoon of caster sugar in approximately 60mL of warm milk with some warm water added and sprinkled over 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried yeast. While the yeast was doing its magic, I measured out about 275g of plain flour and mixed in some salt. I rubbed in about 25g of chopped, unsalted butter and then added half a beaten egg and about 90g of the mashed potato. When that was all incorporated I added the frothed up yeasty milk and finally turned the dough out on to the bench and gave it a good kneading.

It was quite a soft, sticky dough and it did take up a lot of extra flour. After the kneading, a quick slick of oil and back into its bowl and (covered with cling film) into the fridge for the 15 hour prove.

The recipe, rather foolishly (in my opinion), says that after 15 hours the dough will have risen to the top of the bowl. I would have thought that that would depend on how big your bowl was, and my dough was no where NEAR the top. It did look as though it had risen a little and the coolness of the fridge meant the dough was considerably stiffer and easier to handle than the day before. After a second knead, the dough was left for another rising - another couple of hours near the heater.

Another knead and eight rolls were produced. A final rest before heading into a 220C (fan) oven for about 10 minutes.

Apart from me not putting in quite enough salt, the bread was excellent - very fine crumb, but still quite chewy, although not particularly crusty.
The rolls came out a pretty, very pale yellow (thanks to the egg and potato, I imagine) and would be perfect for a dinner party.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Turkey Roll


Sun 9 Dec 2007

It's been our first proper sit down dinner at home for quite a while, and to mark the occasion I graciously let Andy choose the dish. The source was the Observer Food Monthly from November and he picked a sort of turkey roll. The recipe is, apparently, from The Silver Spoon and, while I haven't double checked this, it's very resonant of the involtini agli spinaci we made a while back.

It also turns out that it's better and will make an excellent alternative for those of you not feeding the five thousand on Christmas Day, but still wanting to eat turkey. There is a bit of faff, but the recipe does lend itself to preparation in advance, and I already have it ear marked as a good dish to feed guests.

As usual, my version is not the published version, but in this instance, it's not far off.

We bought a couple of turkey 'steaks' from the supermarket - I assume this means some portion of the breast. The packet contained one larger piece and one smaller, so we froze the smaller and I took to the larger with cling film and the rolling pin and flattened it out into a good size, and eminently rollable, rectangle.

I soaked one and a half slices of white bread (crusts removed and torn up) in about 150mL of dry white wine (2005 Palliser Estate sauvignon blanc - a really lovely, mouth wateringly dry, high acid sav blanc from NZ with pronounced gooseberries on the nose and palate). While that was sitting, I washed and wilted a bag (250g) of baby spinach. When the spinach was done, I left it to drain, while frying up a chopped onion and a clove of garlic. As the onion softened, I squeezed the wine from the bread, and added that to the frying pan, before squeezing and chopping the spinach. That went in too ... and finally, a sprinkling of dried majoram and some salt and pepper.

Once that was all cooked, it was put into a bowl to cool a little, before being mixed with a beaten egg. The oven was pre-heated to 180C. The spinach mixture was spread over the turkey 'steak' which was duly rolled up and tied with string. A roasting dish had been prepared with some butter and oil and the package was baked for around 30 minutes - by which time it was looking satisfactorily golden.

We served it with the remainder of the spinach filling fried up, some left over mashed potato mixed with egg, fried up, and some steamed carrots. And the remainder of the sauvignon blanc.
For the amount of effort, this is a striking dish - and none too shabby. Whole heartedly recommended!

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Las Iguanas

Fri 7 Dec 2007

Last night we had our work Christmas night out. The event started with a late lunch at Las Iguanas, down by the Corn Exchange. I'd never been before and had heard various things (both good and bad) about the restaurant. We were having the Christmas lunch deal (£14.95 a head for three courses) and I was hoping that it would be as successful as last year's trip to (the now defunct) Cactus Lounge.

In short, yes, it was. And the single thing that really stood out (and could have really ruined our meal) was the fantastic service. We had a table for 18 (no mean feat in itself) and, although we had pre-ordered, we had a number of people stuck at work for varying amounts of time. The staff were brilliant, as they allowed us a 20 minute wait to see who would turn up, then they agreed to serve starters for those that were present, then they managed to get 2 starters out very quickly when two latecomers arrived, and finally brought all three courses out at once for someone who arrived about half an hour before we left.

Were we the customers from hell? No doubt, yes. Was the restaurant busy with plenty of other large tables causing less trouble? Absolutely. And the staff kept their composure and good humour no matter how many requests I threw at them. I was very impressed.

And the food was pretty good too. The steaks were cooked to order, the chicken enchilada was very tasty and the desserts were all scoffed down. And cocktails were on 2-for-1 all afternoon.

I'll be heading back in the New Year to sample the full menu.

1. Las Iguanas, Cloth Hall Street, Leeds, LS1 2HD, phone: 0113 243 9533.
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Chocolate Brownies

Thurs 29 Nov 2007

To provide you with some inspiration for recipe ideas for the Hotel Chocolat competition, I'm looking at chocolate brownies.

I've actually got a few good recipes for brownies but this time it's Nigel Slater's version (from The Kitchen Diaries). Only his recipe is a bit ... fiddly, so this is my version.

Take 200g of best dark chocolate and melt over hot water. Meanwhile, beat together 250g of unsalted butter and 300g of golden caster sugar. You have to beat this really well, so let the food processor have a really good run at it.

When the butter and sugar is light and fluffy, add (one at a time) 3 eggs and one egg yolk - beating very well between each addition. Next beat in 60g of plain flour, 60g of beat dutch process cocoa and 1/2 tsp of baking powder. When this is all well combined, add the melted chocolate. Further good beating, before adding 50g of dark chocolate cut into 'gravel sized pieces'. This mixture has the texture of chocolate mousse and tastes fantastic.

But! You have to stop scoffing the mixture and pour it into a baking paper lined dish - I use our roasting dish and Mr Slater recommends a 23cm square baking tin. Smooth the top of the mixture and place in an oven pre-heated to 180C for about 30 minutes.

The mixture does rise a little, and you do want it moist (but not still cake-mixture) when you pull it out of the oven. Allow it to cool in the tin for at least an hour, before cutting into squares.

I've taken some severe short cuts and liberties with the original recipe, and maybe if I followed it I'd produce even better brownies ... but none of my work mates are complaining!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Round Up

Tues 4 Dec 2007

A very quick round up ...

Firstly, congratulations to me! I've just passed (with distinction) my WSET Intermediate Certificate in Wines and Spirits. I studied with the Northern Wine Academy and I'll be heading back next year to move on to Advanced.

If anyone in the West Yorkshire area is interested in a bit of restaurant reviewing it will be worth getting in contact with Owen Jackson, of Mystery Guest Services. The idea is that mystery guests visit restaurants and compile comprehensive reports on what the venues are doing right and wrong. For further details, email Owen at

The Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Headingley (St Anne's Road) has closed down and very quickly re-opened as Sukhothai (a sister venue to the restaurant of the same name in Chapel Allerton). This pushes Headingley's Thai restaurant count to four ...

And finally, don't forget our Hotel Chocolat competition ... you have until 10 December to produce chocolate recipes and wine chocolate prizes. Tomorrow I'll be posting a chocolate brownie recipe to give you some inspiration!
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