Review: Ecco Pizza

 
 

Trying to review pizza seems like a pretty futile exercise; like Woody Allen says, “Pizza is a lot like sex – when it’s good it’s really good, when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good” (he stops short of mentioning the merits of “eating pizza” with your own step-daughter) and a lot of places seem happy to operate using that as their unspoken mantra.  

The fact that it’s pretty much delicious-by-design makes it harder to tell the difference between the pretty good and the really good – asking somebody whether they prefer one geometric lump of hot dough, cheese and sauce to another is like asking a Labrador to explain which of his ears he’d rather you scratched behind.
 

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Jalapeño-infused Tequila & Jalapeño Cocktails

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I’ve been pretty hot for the idea of booze-infusions since hitting Rubi Bar in Barcelona last year, trying some of their 100 flavoured gins, and nagging the owner to tell me how it’s done.

It appeals to me on so many levels; I actually get chance to use some of the kilner jars I’ve accumulated; I feel like a 1920s bootlegger without the risk of a Still exploding in my basement (or syphillis exploding in my boy-basement); I get to quote the Beer Baron episode of The Simpsons in my head – specifically “You forgot one thing chief…I filled the balls with a funnel” – and then I get to turn up.

The mechanics of infusing is pretty straight-forward – you put something, anything in with some spirits and the high alcoholic content preserves it for long enough for the flavour to come out and taint the liquor.  Think of it as reverse-pickling – you know when you finish a jar of pickled onions and the vinegar you’ve got left is the good shit?  Imagine if the vinegar was liquor, and it had been pickling fruit or spices or charcuterie instead of old onions.

If you’re really going to get into it then Niki Segnet’s Flavour Thesaurus is a really useful resource for infusing – as it is for many other things – in that it lets you pick out individual notes and flavours from a drink (Juniper in Gin, for example) and then find ingredients which complement or contrast with it, letting you make educated experiments rather than expensive misfires.

First-timers could do a lot worse than Jalapeño Tequila, a face-palmingly simple combination of Mexican flavours which is good for sipping on its own, or versatile enough to be used in a few cocktails.  (In true meat-head bootlegger spirit, make sure you spell Jalapeño completely wrong on the label…)

Spoiler alert: The secret ingredient is jalapeños…


Jalapeño Tequila


You will need:

A 70cl Bottle of decent Tequila – You won’t need Patron, but you can do better than Sierra.  Go for a 100% Agave type like El Jimador (Just under £20 in Waitrose) 

4 Jalapeño Chillies 

A Kilner Jar and Sealable Bottle.

Slice the Jalapeños fairly thickly – about 6 slices per chilli – and take out the white centre and as many of the seeds as possible; over time the white pith would make it taste bitter and the seeds would blow your brains out.

Decant the tequila into the kilner jar and add the sliced jalapeños.  Seal, shake, and sit somewhere cool and dark.  Leave it there for 7-14 days, shaking every now and again.

Using a sieve and a funnel, decant the tequila back into a bottle and seal it.


BONUS: Chop up the jalapeños with some fresh de-seeded tomatoes, white onion, coriander leaves and lime juice for an amazing tequila salsa.

Jalapeño Margarita

Shake equal parts Jalapeño Tequila with Fresh Lime Juice and a shot of Agave Syrup with ice.  
Strain into the most flamboyant glass you own, with a cinnamon-salt rim.
Jalapeño Cucumber Cooler

Dice a 2″ piece of Cucumber and muddle in the bottom of a tall glass.  
Shake an equal amount of Jalapeño Tequila and Lemon Juice with a dash of Agave Syrup, strain into the glass and top up with soda water.
Jalapeño Bloody Maria
Shake 2 shots of Jalapeño Tequila with Tomato Juice (Clamato if you’re lucky enough to have access to it) Worcestershire Sauce, Smoked Sweet Paprika and the juice of half a Lime.
Strain into a tall glass filled with ice, and garnish with white pepper and an unnecessarily large, leafy stick of celery.

Review: My Thai, Leeds

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Rather than stifling my feelings towards My Thai until making a grand reveal, I’m going to say right off the bat that I love it.  Claiming “OMG I could eat there every day and not get bored” could probably be dismissed as hyperbole, but after my first visit I actually did just that.  Fair enough it was technically only every day for three days, but that’s enough to make it a statement rather than a coincidence.

 
 
Popping up at the end of last year with little fanfare, My Thai’s marketing strategy relied on little more than word of mouth, good faith carried over from the reputation of its’ Bradford restaurant, and photographs of its folksy interior popping up on Instagram – which they did in abundance.  
 
They could have flipped the Thai-restaurant-decor coin and gone for a) Post Office ambience and laminated menus or b) “Exotic Palace” room in a themed hotel and been done with it, but instead they went for a unique look which dictates the atmosphere well.  Wooden panelling covers the walls, decorated with campy, vintage Thai cinema posters and strewn with fairy lights – on a hunch I reckon this is what a Full Moon Party beach-hut looks like, but I can’t say for sure – My attention span lasts no longer than 3 seconds whenever anybody begins sharing their “litchrally unreal” travel anecdotes.
 
The kitchen is tiny, and the menu reflects the restraints on space a handful each of starters, stir fry dishes, curries and rice bowls are available, as well a couple of specials – everything is billed as “Thai Street Food” and the flavours haven’t been sacrificed to appeal to farang tastes – on my first visit I liberally made it rain chilli powder on my prawn crackers, only to leave them at the end when I realised the heat was unbearable. The owner berated me for wasting the seasoning when she came to clear the table, and rightfully so – she told me afterwards that she grinds it herself by hand, and detailed the suffering that her eyes and sinuses endure in her doing so.
 
Lesson learned, don’t ruin any more dishes for myself.  There’s enough going on in My Thai’s food without having to supplement it with daft heat (incidentally if anybody wants to start a disco revival band, I think I’ve just come up with the perfect name) – familiar flavours pummel away at the tastebuds on the back of your tongue while the unexpected ones add sense of interest; implausibly light steamed dumplings give way to a salty chunk of spam in place of minced pork, star anise adds an anaesthetic quality to fragrant green curry but, unusually, doesn’t overpower the 5-spice roast pork which comes with perfectly sticky rice.
 
Satay skewers come complete with skin so crisp, caramelised and tense that you could be eating the wings of a bird engineered just for your eating convenience – The satisfying bite in the Tod Man Pla is enough to raise suspicion that there might actually be fish in them.  Tamarind Duck is a little greasy but manages to salvage some variety of texture with a good crunch of palm sugar, all while managing to not be cloyingly sweet.  The only downer I’ve encountered is Sweet & Sour, where the only thing setting it aside from your local takeaway’s version is an astringent taste of white vinegar – the Crispy Chilli Chicken is a much better version of the dish.
 
After she was done berating me for not being able to handle the chili powder that she routinely rubs into her tear ducts without flinching, the owner joked (I think) that she doesn’t care about cooking and just wants to make money – at less than £10 for two courses and a drink I’m not quite sure how she’s planning to do that, but I’ll happily do my bit to help.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Parsnip Brownies

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If there’s a root vegetable that doesn’t work well in a cake, then I haven’t found it yet.

It’s not that I haven’t given plenty of them an opportunity to let the side down either; the realisation that that’s actual carrot inside carrot cake – not just sultanas and cinnamon covered in three inches of frosting – got me thinking about what other leftover veg I could sub into bakes.

Sweet Potato & Toasted Coconut muffins have been the biggest success story, to the point where I started buying Sweet Potatoes specifically to to be muffinned; totally going against my baking MO of using leftover vegetables as a way of justifying brownies for breakfast.  After Christmas (hey remember that?) we had a fridge full of rootin’ tootin’ vegetables bought with unfulfilled good intentions.  As great as Bundobust’s sprout bhaji sounded, I was never realistically going to make my own, was I?

The most cake-relevant neglected veg was a bag of parsnips I’d intended to cover in maple syrup and roast.  As it goes, my in-laws bought us a waffle iron as a gift, so we found better things to do with our maple syrup, but in a moment of virtue I decided to let the parsnips fulfil their potential as opinion-dividing brownies.

Parsnips don’t taste particularly rooty; they give the brownies a mild, almost nutty sweetness which pairs so well with walnuts, so I chopped a couple of handfuls up and threw them in the batter to add crunch.  I dusted my batch with Matcha powdered green tea, partly (mostly) because it looks dope, but it also brings out the bitterness of the dark chocolate against the parsnip’s sweetness.

Parsnips’ high water content also helps keep everything moist and forgiving in the event of accidental overcooking, which means you can crank the heat up and get them really crispy on the outside without sacrificing too much of that elusive chewy middle that makes the crowd go wild.

Makes 12 Brownies:

Preheat your oven to 180ºC and line a deep baking tray with greaseproof paper, push it right into the corners, and drizzle with a little oil to make the brownies just slide off after cooking.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each one to incorporate into the mixture before adding the next.  Fold in the dark chocolate when it’s cool enough that it won’t curdle the eggs.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Gradually sift and fold everything into the chocolate mixture, and then stir in the cocoa powder, parsnips, and walnuts until evenly distributed.

Spread the batter evenly on the baking tray you prepared and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  Put a toothpick in the centre for 5 seconds, if it comes out clean then they’re ready to put on a cooling rack, if not then put them back in for another 5 minutes or until they’re done.

Leave to cool before making 3 slices along and 4 slices up (that makes 12 portions), and dusting with Matcha, cocoa powder, or gold leaf if that’s how you handle your business.

See the full post for measurements: 


Ingredients

200g Plain Flour
200g Brown Sugar
200g Unsalted Butter
3 Eggs
100g 70% Dark Chocolate, melted
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 Parsnips, grated
1 Handful of Walnuts
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
Pinch of Salt

Recipe: Red Pepper Soup with a Grilled Cheese

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Some people decorate their homes with works of art, or that 90s poster of the hunky guy holding a baby, or photographs of the people close to them, or that 90s poster of the hunky alien going “Take Me To Your Dealer”, or this thing for reasons unknown to anybody, or mirrors (Oh wait, I already said works of art LOL).

Our kitchen is pretty pokey, and there’s only room for a couple of accoutrements on the walls – one of them is a “Life’s Too Short for Bad Coffee” screenprint by our friend Will Tapply who you should definitely check out, and the other is a menu that I managed to sneak past the (frankly superfluous) security guards when we went and had lunch at Katz’s Deli in New Yyyawuck, and proudly framed for display.

I was reading the menu the other day while waiting for the kettle to boil, and noticed something that escaped my attention up until now – the Soup & Sandwich section.  For as long as I can remember, Soup & Sandwich has meant a bowl of Cream of Tomato, with half a sliced cheese sandwich on the side.  I’ve never had any complaints about eating it – because who can fault Heinz Cream of Tomato and white bread, crazy-paved with cheap mature cheddar? – but I’ve never tapped into the tarting-up potential like Katz’s do, with bowls of Chicken Noodle or Matzo Ball Soup served with half a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye

I decided to expand on what I was already familiar with rather than diving head-first into new territory – I’m not about to make a Chicken Noodle soup from scratch after getting home from work on a weeknight.  Heinz soup is very reasonably priced so to devote effort to simply imitating it when I could just buy a tin would be a bozo’s errand, so I decided to give the Red Pepper the chance to come out of its usual supporting role and have some time in the spotlight.

Using a similar logic, if a rubbish cheese sandwich (this term is very much relative) goes well with regular soup, then the benefit of combining  with a really good version of a cheese sandwich with really good soup is exponential.  To make the cheese sandwich better we just toast it, but don’t go rushing to the 1986 shop to buy a Breville, all you need to make this grilled cheese is a decent-ish frying pan or skillet.  This is apparently the default method in America, but it’s something I’ve only been doing since The Cheese Truck revolutionised the way I melt cheese during their stint at Trinity Kitchen.  One of the main benefits of this method is that you’re not confined to square slices of bread, so ball hard in the bakery.



For the Soup (serves 6)

3 Red Peppers, charred (Sub one for an Orange or Yellow if you like)
2 Onions, diced
2 Carrots, diced
1 Stick of Celery, diced
3 Cloves of Garlic
400ml Passata
400ml Vegetable Stock
2-3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp Tahini
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
2 Tsp Paprika

  1. Before you get started on the soup, spend 10 minutes charring the peppers over an open flame on your hob (just like in my Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chili recipe) and peel the blackened skins off under a cold tap.  Chop the tops off and deseed them, then leave them to one side until later.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of your knife – this way they won’t burn and make everything taste bitter, and they’ll get pulverised at the end when the soup gets blended.  Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan with the onion, celery and carrot and cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the paprika and toast for about 30 seconds, then add the passata, stock, tomato paste and stock.  Bring to a boil, cover and leave it simmering for about 15 minutes, then take off the heat.
  4. Blend the soup, taking care not to splash boiling hot liquid over your crotch and kitchen and then transfer it back to the pan you cooked it in – if you can do it all in the same place with a stick-blender then even better.  Stir (or stick-blend) in the Tahini and Cider Vinegar.  The Tahini adds a depth of flavour and gives it the kind of glossy viscosity you’d usually rely on cream for, and Cider Vinegar brings out the tang of the peppers.  

The quantities I’ve given might not be perfect so feel free to add more of the ingredients that can be emulsified into the soup easily – Tahini to make it thicker, Cider Vinegar for bite, and Paprika for warmth.  Leave the soup to one side and get started on the Sandwich:

For the Grilled Cheese (per person)

2 Slices of Bread
100g Mature Cheddar, grated
1/2 Ball of Mozzarella, torn

  1. Put your frying pan on a low heat, if it’s too high then you’ll end up with a sandwich that’s burnt on the outside but uncooked on the inside (it doesn’t balance out) Butter the bread – a good sourdough works best for this, with a crunchy crust and plenty of air bubbles inside – and place a slice butter-side down in the pan.
  2. Pile the cheese evenly over the bread.  Some will fall or overflow, but this is good, those bits will trail out of the finished sandwich as crispy bits, and give some great texture and range of flavours.  Don’t go mental though, Jamie Oliver’s version ends up looking like the crown from Game of Thrones 
  3. Put the other slice of bread on top, butter side up.  If you’ve got a heavy skillet or another frying pan and a few jars then use it to compress everything down (a sheet of greaseproof between the sandwich and heavy pan stops butter going everywhere)
  4. Check it’s not burning after 2 minutes, if it’s starting to then lower the temperature and flip it over.  Press the other side down with your heavy pan and cook it for another 3 minutes
That’s it, cut it in half and get dipping.  Check back for more adventurous flavour combinations for soup and grilled cheese, or let me know if there’s any you’d like to see me try.

Recipe: Crispy Pork Belly with Kale

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I reverse-engineered the recipe for this dish after ordering it at Lemon Grass Thai restaurant when I visited earlier this year, to gauge if it was a worthy replacement to the recently-closed Thai Aroy Dee.  Under the circumstances, it was pretty much my duty to order as much of the menu as possible (for research purposes) and in the flurry of dishes, this was relegated to being a lavish side.  In more modest settings when you don’t have (however flimsy) justification for being greedy, it makes a perfectly satisfying main, served with white rice and flash-fried whole spring onions.

Belly is probably my favourite cut of pork, and there’s no better way to prepare it than Chinese-style, brined in Soy and roasted in a marinade containing brown sugar which combines with the rendered fat during cooking and turns into an amazing crispy, sticky caramelised scratching.  Marinading for even 30 minutes will give the pork a darker colour and deep Soy flavour, but if you can leave it for up to 24 hours then that’s even better. You can even roast it in advance, and then wok-fry before serving.
Any Leeds Thai food fans wondering about Lemon Grass as a replacement to Aroi Dee then I’d recommend you go and see if it’s for you – the quality of food and value for money stands up to comparison, but it doesn’t have that same lo-fi charm that only a select few have managed to emulate.  It has its own unique character though – relying on decor to try and disguise the building’s previous life as a nightclub – so if you can get on board with water fountains and tranquil gardens where a DJ booth and dancing podium used to be, it’s a strong contender.

Ingredients

Four slices of Pork Belly (Roughly 800g, depending on thickness)
Bunch of Spring Onions, top and tailed

For the Marinade
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
4 tbsp Oyster Sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing Wine
4 Garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar
1 Red Chilli, finely chopped
6 Whole Peppercorns (Szechuan if available, Black if not)
1 Star Anise



For the Kale
Bunch of Kale, or a bag, however you buy it
A good-sized piece of Ginger, thinly sliced
1 Red Chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove,
Sesame Oil

Method
  1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients and steep the pork belly in it, making sure everything gets an even coating for up to 24 hours
  2. Roast the pork at 180 degrees for 40-60 minutes, brushing any excess marinade at regular intervals.
  3. Take the pork out of the oven and leave it to rest.  Cut into square pieces when it’s cooled a little.
  4. Heat up sesame oil in wok, add the kale, ginger, chilli and garlic, and fry for 2-3 minutes; tossing frequently (the kale).
  5. Dish up the kale and fry the pork belly – fat-side down – in the same wok, along with the bunch of spring onions.
Sprinkle with Green Chilli, Sesame Seeds and Palm Sugar, and serve with White Rice.