Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Convalescing

Apologies in advance if things go slightly quiet for the next week or two. I had my pesky gallbladder removed yesterday and, although all went well and I am already home (it was keyhole surgery which is significantly less invasive than the non-keyhole kind) I am currently sore, grumpy and have absolutely zero appetite. Which means the thought of eating, let alone cooking, does not appeal. Not the best premise for a blog about food. I am currently subsisting on cups of tea, the odd biscuit and plenty of paracetamol. These are not such things as blog posts are made of.

Hopefully I'll be back up and about shortly - there is only so much Netflix a girl can watch!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

TWTWTW: Lazy, hazy, crazy

Well, we haven't done a that was the week that was post for a while, which means that the blog has been lacking in cute cat pictures, which will never do.


La Minx remains as beautiful and capricious as ever, as is the way with felines.  She, at best, tolerates and, at worst, cordially dislikes D despite our ongoing efforts but he forgives her because she is beautiful and has the loudest purr ever to emanate from a little cat.

Now, tell me, where on Earth has the summer gone?  I'm sure we had a few nice days back there in what - May?  June?  But the last few weeks have been terrible!  As regular readers will know, I am not a fan of the heat but the lack of blue skies and the constant threat of rain is becoming slightly depressing.  I feel like I should be talking about barbecues and summer salads but it's really more weather for stews.

Still, miserable weather notwithstanding, we managed to drag ourselves out this week when we went to a really fun Sipsmith gin event at Shear's Yard this week, which I will write about in more detail in another post; I was shocked to find that it has been two and a half years since we last went to that fine establishment (I wrote about it here).  Sadly, both time and money preclude us from visiting such local gems as often as we would both like - and given the continued pressures on independent establishments it's a real shame not to support them more.  Leeds recently lost The Black Swan which was an absolutely wonderful gastro-ish pub that is also mentioned in the above post which goes to show that even places that do everything right are at risk.

We had a few nights midweek where we were a bit lax about cooking for various reasons, but things have picked up this weekend, and for brunch this morning I finally got around to making shakshuka (pictured below with toasted, buttered brioche).


It's been on my "dishes I should really try" list for AGES and, guess what?  It really is worth trying!  I followed Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe, here because I liked the fact that it kept things pretty simple (I mean, in terms of additions to the stewed tomato and pepper mix.)  I can see how adding a garnish of feta, or herbed yoghurt or cooking some chorizo or something in with the vegetables would work well, but loved it just as it was.  It's great for brunch because you can make the sauce the day before (which probably improves the flavour anyway) and then just cook the eggs in the morning.  Although I have to say this: his recipe suggests that you make the sauce then divide it between four pans before cooking with the eggs.  This sounds like a lot of washing up to me.  I cooked the vegetables in a large, shallow, stove-top casserole dish and just broke the eggs into that.  Much simpler.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Recipe corner: Courgette and halloumi cakes

We're trying to get back into the habit of Sunday brunch because it is a very lovely habit to have.  The main issue that I have with Sunday brunch is that it usually takes place quite early - certainly early enough that I want to limit the number of processes involved and my exposure to things that are sharp and hot.  This one, while not immediately screaming of breakfast foodstuffs, actually fits the bill pretty well because you can get the cakes prepared the night before and, actually, they benefit from a few hours chilling and firming up in the fridge.

The original recipe was a Gordon Ramsay one which I have, as is ever my wont, tweaked a little bit.  We topped the little cakes with a poached egg and a drizzle of Sriracha hot sauce to make it brunch appropriate.  I reckon they'd be nice as a light, summery main meal with some sort of salad and grain, or even whacked in a bun to make a vegetarian alternative to a burger.

It doesn't really need saying but, just in case someone has stumbled on to this accidentally, excuse the bloody awful food photography.  I succeed in making everything look terrible,


Ingredients

Courgette, coarsely grated
Carrot, coarsely grated
120g halloumi, grated
60g (about 1 slice from a standard, thick sliced loaf) bread, reduced to crumbs
15g Parmesan
Zest of 1/4 small lemon
Tsp oregano
Egg
Flour, for dusting
Tbsp vegetable oil

To serve (optional):
2 eggs
Hot sauce

Place a sieve or a colander over the sink and, inside, layer up the courgette and carrot gratings (is this the word?) along with some generous pinches of salt.  Set aside for half an hour or so.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, place the grated halloumi.

Blitz your bread into crumbs using a small processor.  Add the roughly chopped Parmesan along with seasoning and the oregano and blitz again to form fine, cheesy crumbs.  Tip this into the bowl alongside the halloumi and grate in the lemon zest.

When the vegetables have had sufficient time to give up some of their water content, give them a quick rinse and a thorough wring-out.  Pat them dry on a bit of kitchen paper and then whack into the bowl, along with one egg.  Mix thoroughly to form a sort of loose, colourful dough.

Lightly dust a large plate with flour and then dampen your hands, which will make it easier to form the cakes without the mixture sticking everywhere.  I got six little patties out of this amount, but makes as many as you wish depending on how you intend to serve them.  When the patties are formed, put on the floured plate and turn over a couple of times to lightly coat.

Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  If you're cooking them for breakfast then overnight is perfect.

When the time comes to serve, heat the oil up in a good, non-stick frying pan (alternatively, we have taken to lining the base of our pans with non-stick baking paper.  If you do this, you can dispense with the oil altogether, or you can brush it lightly over the surface prior to cooking).  Fry the patties for around 5 minutes on the first side then gently turn over and cook for a further 3-4, until a decent crust has formed and they are warmed through.

If you are serving these with a poached egg then be sure to have the pan of water ready boiling when the cakes go in to fry and just drop the eggs in for the last couple of minutes of cooking.

Serve according to taste.

Monday, 31 July 2017

MPM: 31st July 2017

Pay day!  Hurrah!  The meal plan last week was abandoned to a certain extent when we realised that we had more food in the fridge / freezer than we had money in the bank (an exaggeration, but you get my drift).  Hence it may seem slightly repetitious this week since dishes got bumped into that glorious hinterland where wallets are full again.  Not that our wallets are ever that full seeing as how we are civil servants and the Government hates us and wants us and our children and pets to suffer.  Again, I exaggerate and again, I digress.

It's hard to believe, especially given the appalling weather that we have had recently, that we are now entering into the last gasps of Summer.  Here's hoping that August decides to be kind to us and brings some sunshine.

We're fasting on Monday and Thursday this week, so that will be soup, as per.  On Wednesday, we are going to Shears Yard for a five course tasting menu paired with Sipsmith gin cocktails.  The menu looks fantastic - check it out here; the only concern being that I hate being out on a school night.  To atone, the weekend will be a model of restraint and decorum and will probably involve quite a lot of doing stuff in the garden if the weather would be so kind as to stay dry.  Elsewhere:

Tuesday: Crab tart with a side dish of spiced courgette couscous.  Leftovers of both will do us for lunch on Wednesday and Friday.

Friday:  Chicken Caesar burgers.  However, we're taking the original recipe and, er, messing with it a bit to make it more exciting.

Saturday:  Pepper and lime crusted tuna with mustard cucumber "spaghetti".  I think that I've blogged this one before...yes, here it is.  Gorgeous.

Sunday:  We're trialling a couple of dishes for a forthcoming dinner party with my parents so I don't want to go into any detail in case they're awful and we have to rethink the menu, but courgettes and lamb will be involved in some shape or form.

Have a lovely week folks!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Eat North

Street food is definitely one modern trend that I can get on board with.  I'm an old fashioned girl in many ways - I don't have any tattoos and like my music to have an ACTUAL TUNE but yep, love the love for street food.  Of course, I don't actually like eating on the street.  We were always taught at school that it is common to eat while you're walking along, and that is one lesson that stuck fast so much so that I am almost physically incapable of eating and walking at the same time.  However, as long as there is a handy bench or, preferably, a table somewhere in the vicinity of the street food van then I am there.

There are already many reasons to love Leeds's North Bar, but this summer they've given us another, extra specially big one by running, in conjunction with Leeds Indie Food, weekly events at their tap room like mini festivals - of food! We've been meaning to go for a while and finally got around to it last weekend.

Different vendors attend every time - we happened to be presented by a choice of Indian food courtesy of Manjit's Kitchen, giant arancini by the girls of Golden Balls (like your style, ladies), and kebabs from The Middle Feast.  Both of us opted for kebabs - which seemed to be the most popular choice at 2pm on Saturday - D's with chicken, mine, blackened aubergine and halloumi.  Very tasty stuff and an absolute world away from the kind of kebabs that always seem like a good idea in the early hours of the morning after one two many cocktails.


We also decided that it would be rude not to take a couple of the Porterhouse Cake Company's wares home to try.  I am pleased to be able to confirm that tahini does work extremely well swirled through a brownie.  Who knew?


It was a really fun event and they've obviously been going down well with the good people of Leeds since a further six have just been announced.  I certainly hope to get to another one before the summer is out.  Further details can be found at the website here or the Leeds Indie Food twitter feed.

And no, this is not a sponsored post, although if North Bar would like to send me a T-shirt and a box of brownies they would be gratefully accepted.  I'm not proud.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Baby steps

There are few things more annoying than tracking a good weight loss all week (between 2 and 2.8lbs) only for the scales to bounce back up on Official Weigh Day. 

I mean, the point about weighing yourself daily is to get a sense of the overall trend, the general movement and not to get too het up about the number on any given day.  But everyone knows that the results on Official Weigh Day mean the most.  And everyone knows that Official Weigh Day is really Monday, no matter how often you try and convince your psyche that Friday is better.

So, anyway.  My Official Weigh Day result was a 1.2lb loss.  Which isn't bad by any means, but given that this was the highest number to flash up since last Monday it is supremely irritating. 

Still, I take it and I keep going.  The alternatives that I mentioned are weighing almost as heavy as, well, me.

Monday, 24 July 2017

MPM: 24th July 2017

I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, so I haven't yet had my Official Weigh In and don't yet know whether my renewed commitment to the 5:2 plan has paid dividends on the scales.  Daily scale hops have seen a definite downwards movement, which is tentatively pleasing.

The fast days themselves, as expected, were not that pleasant.  Thursday, in particular, I was extremely grumpy in the evening and took myself off to bed to sulk behind a book at around eight o clock.  Hopefully, this week will be a bit better.  However, I've stuck to keeping my food diary, and observed the rule about no cheeky glasses of wine on school nights, so that's progress. We also adhered to the meal plan and ate well all week - although both agreed that veggie haggis isn't a patch on actual, y'know, haggis.

Next weekend will be a busy one for us - we're off to the Roosters brewery open day on the Saturday with my parents and then on Sunday we have tickets for a local restaurant's take on Scandi food.  So, no meal planning required at the weekend.  Monday and Thursday will be fast days - that just leaves us with...

Tuesday: Caesar salad burgers from this month's Good Food magazine

Wednesday: Crab tart

Friday:  Homemade fish fingers - D has yet to decide whether he's going spicy or classic

All good, summery fare - which is not quite in keeping with the greyness and rain that I see before me through the study window but you never know - perhaps our diet can tempt the sunshine back out.  Have a great week all!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Recipe corner: easiest ever chocolate pots

Although life may be tough at times, there is always, always chocolate.

When I was a child, my love of the good stuff was well known throughout the family.  You could guarantee that if we went out for a meal and there was a chocolate based dessert on the menu that my little piggy eye would immediately alight upon it; the creamier, the sicklier the better for my young taste buds.  My mother claims to still remember the expression on my face the first time that she gave me a chocolate button - the utter wondering delight that such a thing existed.

As I have got older my sweet tooth has receded to the extent that if you really, really pushed me, I'd probably opt for a starter over a pudding (always assuming that both wasn't an option).  But my predilection for cocoa based confections remains in tact such that if D sees chocolate mentioned on a dessert menu, he pretty much knows that all bets are off.

While I never met a chocolate pudding that I didn't like, I do think that a classic chocolate pot is possibly the ultimate.  It's unapologetic in its rich intensity, a true celebration of the cocoa bean.  And when I saw this recipe online, I thought that it must be too good to be true - as simple a thing as you ever did see.  Reader, it is not.  The only, only thing to watch out for is to make sure you add the water gradually - apply the merest modicum of patience, and chocolate pudding heaven is yours.

You could use flavoured chocolate.  You could add other flavourings yourself.  Or, you could sit back and let the star of the show shine through.  My most recent version made excellent use of the remains of a Prestat Easter Egg.  It turns out that the only thing that can make a Prestat Easter Egg better is the ability to eat it with a spoon.



Ingredients - per person

30g chocolate - I advocate going as dark as you dare
1 tbsp (which is 15g) boiling water
1.5 tbsp double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Boil the kettle.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave proof bowl.  Stick it in said microwave and, er, turn it on.  Every ten to fifteen seconds or so, remove the bowl, swirl it around and see where you are.  The chocolate will continue melting in the residual heat once you have removed it from the microwave and you don't want to overdo it.  Once you've mastered it, I promise you, this is by far the easiest way to melt chocolate.

When the chocolate is melted, first, stir through the vanilla.

Now, you are going to add the water.  I would recommend weighing it out direct from the kettle.  Start with just a small amount, and stir briskly.  Initially, it will look as if the chocolate is going to seize into a great big mess.  Keep going.  When the water is incorporated, add another splash and repeat until all the water is incorporated.  Remember to stir it until glossy between each addition.

Finish by stirring through the cream.  You should have a mixture which is roughly the consistency of a thin creme custard.

Pour into little espresso cups and chill in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the mix to set.

Enjoy, preferably on your own in a darkened room.  Maybe light a candle, play some soft jazz.  Have some quality time with it.  Remember, whatever life throws at you, there will always be chocolate.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Recipe corner: a couple of broad bean ideas

A friend of mine at work has an allotment.  Lucky chap.  I love the idea of an allotment, although suspect that the reality would be altogether dirtier and more tiresome.  Anyway, recently he brought in a load of broad beans that he had grown and now needed to use, all of which were gratefully received by his colleagues.

But the truth is, I was unsure as to what to do with them.  I have cooked broad beans before but wouldn't call myself a fan particularly.  However, it turns out that I love broad beans when they're shmushed up with other stuff.  Who knew?

First a word on cooking and preparing.  The first job is to remove them from the pods - this was D's responsibility and was easy enough to do in front of the TV.  Once the beans have been podded, you need to bring a pan of water to the boil, pop them in and simmer for two minutes, then drain and run them under the cold tap until they are cool to the touch.  Now they need to be squeezed out of their little grey jackets.  This, again, is an easy enough job to do albeit slightly tedious - again, I would recommend accompanying with a podcast or an episode of "Gilmore Girls" (current Netflix obsession).  We stored the beans submerged in cold water in the fridge until the time came to use them - I'm not sure whether this is necessary or not.  It did not do them any harm.

Broad bean dip


This recipe is loosely based on the ingredients list for Waitrose's pecorino and basil dip which is a household favourite.  I was really pleased with the balance of flavours that I got here - the broad beans were enhanced but not overwhelmed.  This was an utterly delicious taste of summer.  Although we just had it on tortilla chips, I would also eat it as an accompaniment to a main course - I can imagine it being delicious with a nice piece of trout.

Ingredients

70g broad beans, weighed after shelling

2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp mayonnaise
20g Parmesan, finely grated
8-10 mint leaves
Tsp chopped dill
Squeeze of lemon juice
Half a clove of garlic fine grated

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the beans and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes until nice and soft.  Remove from the heat and drain.

Meanwhile, put all the other ingredients into a mini blitzer (I swear by my Kenwood one.  We use it all the time and the day it breaks we will be straight out to replace it).  Whizz them together so that they are all well blended.  Season lightly.

Add the broad beans and whizz again until smooth.  Check the seasoning and adjust to taste - perhaps add a touch more lemon juice which should really help the flavours to sing.

Serve as a dip or a sauce or just eat with a spoon.  It really is that good.

Broad bean and pea crostini


A Jamie Oliver recipe, very slightly tweaked, this makes a perfect summery snack or starter.  Quantities are rather vague - this is easily adapted depending on the amount of people you have to feed.

So preheat your oven to around 180.  Slice a baguette, brush slices with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake until crisp - probably 10-15 minutes depending on how much of a beast your oven is.  Set aside to cool.

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil and then add a decent size handful of podded, shelled broad beans and another of peas and simmer for around 5 minutes until nice and soft.  Drain and return to the pan.

Using a masher, lightly crush together the vegetables: you want them to retain some texture.  Then, throw in a good splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a flurry of grated Parmesan.  Stir through and check the seasoning.  I personally enjoy a good hit of black pepper here.

Spread the cooled crostini with cream cheese and then top with the broad bean and pea mix.  For us, this made six very generously topped crostini but I reckon it would have gone further were we not such greedy minxes.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPM: 17th July 2017

Not a particularly seasonal menu plan this week - you'll notice haggis popping up a couple of times which is something that I always associate with winter.  However, we have had a veggie haggis lurking in the freezer for ages (don't ask) that needs utilising. And, let's face it, when has British summertime ever been actually summery?

We're fasting Monday and Thursday - so that will be soup (I've knocked up a batch of this old favourite).  Elsewhere:

Tuesday: veggie haggis and clapshot, caramelised onion gravy and some sort of green - I'm thinking maybe a creamed spinach?

Wednesday: giant couscous tossed in 'nduja, roasted vegetables and a crumble of feta cheese

Friday: veggie haggis toasties.  Don't knock until you've tried them.

Saturday: I'm cooking up a veggie Indian feast, featuring two of my favourite curries - saag paneer and chana masala (aka cheesy spinach and spiced chickpeas).  To be served with rice and flatbreads and maybe a couple of cheeky chutneys.  YUM!

Sunday: fish of some description - but we'll decide what we're doing when we pick up the fish on Saturday.  We have an absolutely wonderful local fishmongers so we're going to choose something that looks yummy and then base what we cook around that.  If it's sunny, perhaps I might even persuade young D to fire up the barbecue?

Have a wonderful week, mes amies!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

In which I re-commit to 5:2

I've been thinking about what I did at the start of the year that worked so successfully.  And what I can add to those techniques in order to be even more successful.  Here's my list so far...

1) A food diary.  Practically every day in January, I carefully recorded what I had eaten.  It might sound a little obsessive but it never took long, and I kind of enjoyed it.  It focuses you; even though no one else was reading it, I wanted the food that I recorded to look good...let's be honest, who wants to actually have to write that they've scoffed half a pack of Hobnobs?

2) Alcohol.  I've mentioned this before, I'm sure.  I love a drink.  But my weight loss noticeably speeds up when I cut it out.  I'm not going to promise to cut if out altogether, but for "5:2 2.0" there will be absolutely none on school nights (unless for a very particular reason) and I will limit consumption at the weekends by focusing on higher quality, low volume.

3) Meal planning.  Whatever diet you're doing, meal planning is pretty key.  I also need to make sure that I'm planning lunches and breakfasts as well - I'd like to limit snacks and treats and a surefire way to do that is to make sure that I'm eating properly at meal times.

4) Ah, yes, snacks and treats.  The odd biscuit or packet or crisps or piece of chocolate is absolutely fine, but I need to keep an eye on consumption levels.  I'd like to limit myself to one "treat" a day, maybe relaxing slightly at the weekends. So that could be a biscuit with an afternoon cup or tea OR a packet of cheeky cheese and onion when I get home OR a few Maltesers after dinner.  Not all three.

5) Exercise.  Yes, this again.  Lesley has nagged me about it before and with good reason - I need to make time for this and commit to a proper programme of activity.  There's a hotel across the road from my office with a proper pool - I'd love to treat myself to monthly membership so that I could fit in some swimming.  I'd also quite like to try some yoga classes, as I think this would help with my anxiety issues as well as being good, gentle exercise,  but I'm not going to shell out a penny until I've proved to myself that I can make exercise part of my schedule.  We have a treadmill in the garage, I have the couch to 5k app on my phone - it's free, it's easy, it's effective there is NO EXCUSE.

I reckon if I can stick to all these edicts, as well as two fast days a week, I can get things moving again in six weeks.  Game face on!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Excuses, excuses

So, I promised a bit of a retrospective post to talk about 5:2 and how the year was going.

I have talked on here on a couple of occasions about how 5:2 is hard but not that hard.  Fast days are rubbish but they are doable if you are organised and if you just get past the fact that being a bit hungry is not going to kill you.  I'm therefore a bit disappointed that our fast days have got a lot more sporadic in recent weeks.

There is a bit of a reason - or is it an excuse?  I always strive to be honest on this blog, albeit optimistically honest (is that a thing?) so I might as well say that, particularly since the break in, my anxiety levels have been high and I've not always been feeling 100%.  I've been on anti anxiety medication in the past but I don't like that as a solution so I'm trying to deal with it myself.  And I've noticed that low blood sugar can exacerbate physical symptoms of anxiety so I've been a bit wary of fasting.  Ha, written down that looks exactly like an excuse!

My weight has remained pretty stable throughout - I'm currently a couple of pounds shy of a two stone loss for the year.  That's amazing BUT the majority of that loss came in the first couple of months.  That is not amazing.

I've made peace with the fact that I am never going to be a skinny girl again, but I would like to lose enough that I am an unremarkable size and, more importantly, enough that I am not endangering my future health.  I really want 5:2 to work for that because I am shit scared of the alternative.  The alternative is going back to a more regimented plan - a Weight Watchers or a Slimming World.  And that makes me want to cry; I love being liberated from counting, from obsessively measuring out every teaspoon of oil or knob of butter.  I actually enjoy going to the fridge an being able to sling something together from bits and pieces of leftovers and not having to worry as I go along that it will involve more points than I have left for the day.  I cook and eat well and have found my own natural balance (as evidenced by the fact that, even without fasting, I have maintained my weight).

But, if 5:2 isn't going to get me to where I need to be then I have no choice.

So, here's the deal.  I am re-committing to 5:2 wholeheartedly for the next 6 or so weeks, which takes us to the end of August.  It would be nice to knock off half a stone or so in that time, although any downwards movement would be good.  If I haven't made any more progress then I'm going to have to start on an alternative route come September.

It's blogged and therefore I have to stick to it, right?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Polpetto, London

We're just back from a few days spent down South which was very nice indeed.  We got to spend time with friends and family and, of course, we made sure that we got to eat.  Although London has a distressing habit of encompassing far more nice restaurants than two people can possibly cover in a limited amount of time.  Sigh.

We decided to go to Polpetto and, in doing so, have now officially managed to have a meal at each of Russell Norman's London outlets.  I've been irritatingly enthusiastic about him before on numerous occasions - see here or here or even here.  Finishing the set has long been a cherished goal of my husband, who believes in completism (and, as such, is doing his best to visit every single Brewdog bar.  The fact that they've opened one in Brazil is a constant source of annoyance to him).

Anyway, Polpetto.  I'm not sure that I've much to add other than what I have said about Norman's restaurants before.  They're not high end dining, the decor tends towards slightly shabby whimsy, the staff towards the achingly cool.  The food is, in my experience, always delicious.

Whoever was cooking on Monday night was skilled in the art of perfect protein.  Grilled octopus skewers were the absolute highlight of the evening, the meat all at once dense and tender.  Ribbons of flank steak, tangled with aubergine and lamb's lettuce, melted on contact with the tongue.  Squid, thinly robed in batter and fried, had just the right amount of silky bounce.

Octopus!
Elsewhere there was a pizzete, the base bubbled and blistered, the top, liberally cheesed which is always a good thing.  And an orange semifreddo, liberally scattered with great, golden chunks of honeycomb which reminded me of the sophisticated lovechild of a Chocolate Orange and a Crunchie, There may have been plate licking.

Semifreddo
Sure, it's not setting the world on fire and since Polpo et al opened, the "small plate" dining experience has become somewhat ubiquitous.  I mean, we're even doing it in Yorkshire now. But it's all good stuff and I, for one, am very happy to hear that Polpo might be looking for a permanent home in Leeds.  It's the type of food that I will never tire of eating - honest, robust and tasty.

Polpetto
11 Berwick Street
London
W1F 0PL
020 7439 8627

Friday, 30 June 2017

A breakfast for on the go, and a TV dinner

I can't believe that we're coming up to the halfway point of 2017 already.  That can't possibly be right.

Lesley (hello, Lesley!) has recently started 5:2ing and asked me how it was going - so now, six months in, seems like a good point to assess progress so far and make some general comments on the diet (which will probably be exactly the same comments that I make every time that I do a progress report but they are good comments and bear repeating).  I will post that shortly.

Also, I have a couple of fantastic little things-to-do-with-broad-beans that I must share with you.  If you have an allotment (or, indeed, a garden) you may well be overrun with them at the moment and searching for new ideas.  Another, somewhat annoying, watch this space.

In the meantime, I just wanted to bookmark a couple of recipes for posterity and commend them to your attention.

These breakfast bars, a Nigella recipe via a lovely blog, are a cinch to make and a fantastic way of using up all those odd bags of dried fruit and nuts and seeds of which I seem to have a cupboard full.  They're healthy-ish: lots of good stuff in there but certainly not a low calorie or sugar option.  They last exceptionally well (over a week in an airtight container and still fine) and are perfect for breakfast on the go.  Which, in our house means breakfast at your desk when you've reluctantly hauled yourself out of bed in time to get to the office for seven.

And this garlic butter prawn linguine dish, we made on a Saturday night after a bottle of wine and an emotional rollercoaster of a Dr Who episode.  It is extraordinarily simple and low effort but delivers on indulgence and flavour.  Just the kind of thing that you want to cook and eat on a Saturday night after a bottle of wine and an emotional rollercoaster of a Dr Who episode.  One that I will be retaining up my sleeve for future use.

Back soon!

Monday, 19 June 2017

MPM: 19th June 2017

So it got hot. I, in common with much of the rest of the UK, have spent the last few days of the heatwave complaining about it bitterly. When the rain returns halfway through the week, we shall complain bitterly about that too. Such is the British way.

I really like the meal plan this week and am looking forward to all the dishes on rotation - with the possible exception of the inevitable Fast Day soup on Tuesday and Thursday. If it cools down enough to restore my appetite, I shall look forward to them even more.

Monday: roast sea bream with fennel, potatoes, olives and capers. A lovely sounding one pot dish that won't require too much effort and has an appropriately Mediterranean feel.

Wednesday: pasta in a sweet tomato sauce with roasted red peppers and sausage

Friday: a friend of ours brought us back some black pudding from a recent holiday and D suggested using it as part of a proper fry up. A weekend fry up supper was a real treat when I was a child so this should be great. Bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast will all be in attendance.

Saturday: garlic prawn linguine. The original recipe looks pretty simple - just prawns, garlic, butter, lemon and parsley. I'm wondering about adding some spiralised courgettes and roasted cherry tomatoes for a bit of additional interest (and nutritional value!)

Sunday: Parmesan roasted chicken thighs with cauliflower and thyme - aka variations on a theme of Sunday roast.

Have a good week all!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Recipe corner: Gochujang onion jam

I was going to open this post by talking about the aftermath of last week’s incident but self-pity is very dull indeed, especially when it is your own.  So, instead, let’s talk condiments.  I have already given you a creamy, herby salad dressing / dip to last the summer, now here is a relish guaranteed to improve any barbecue. 

It is spicy and smoky and sweet and sour all at the same time.  We have had it with both mackerel and burgers to triumphant effect;  at the weekend, D added pineapple chunks and juice and cooked it down even further to make a fruity caramel to serve with pork.  This is seriously versatile stuff.


The star ingredient here is the gochujang, which is a Korean chilli paste.  It is slightly fermented which gives it a very distinct, albeit hard to describe, flavour profile and is utterly addictive.  Korean food is supposed to be on trend at the moment, so you will probably find that gochujang is readily available in larger supermarkets.  I couldn’t honestly suggest a substitute. 

This recipe makes a large ramekin full of onion jam which is, I recognise, not a particularly useful measurement but the best that I can offer.  I have no doubt that it would keep well, in a jar, in the fridge, but we’ve been ploughing through it within a matter of days so have yet to test its powers of longevity.

Ingredients

3 red onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar
Tsp salt
30g sultanas
3 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
 

Take a large saucepan and set it over a low heat to warm up while you slice the onions and transfer them to a bowl.  Toss the onions in the oil, sugar and salt and then place in the saucepan, turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cover. 

Meanwhile, place the sultanas in a bowl (you could use the onion one to save on washing up) and cover with water to plump them up.

Cook the onions until soft and golden, stirring occasionally.  I gave mine a good hour and they probably could have gone for a bit longer but I was bored!

Stir through the sultanas, the gochujang and the vinegar.  Turn the heat up slightly and cook for a further 10 minutes or so until the jam is slightly sticky and just beginning to catch on the bottom of the saucepan.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool before serving.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

And breathe...

I couldn't bear to have that last post up at the top of the feed anymore, so, here. We haven't had an obligatory cute cat picture in a while.


As guard cats go, she's not the greatest. But did you ever see a more beautiful feline?*

* I may be biased.

Monday, 5 June 2017

A bad start to the week

Picture the scene. Six thirty in the morning, I was lying in bed pretending to be asleep when D comes in and says, in a voice teetering somewhere between incredulity and panic, "Where's the car? The car's gone."

A little further investigation revealed my purse lying in the middle of the drive and the back door lock hanging off the screws. Somebody or bodies had got into our house in the night, removed the car keys from D's jacket pocket, rifled through my handbag and made off with our car.

Now, there's an awful lot of shit going on in the world at the moment, as recent events in London and Manchester prove. And this incident, is, in the scheme of everything that is happening, tiny and incidental and means nothing to anyone except me and my husband and, possibly, our elderly neighbours. But it just serves as further proof to me that there are some complete and utter wankbadgers out there. People who actually think it is ok to break into someone's house while they are sleeping and just help themselves to a car and then, as if that is not cockwomblish enough, leave the back door open through which our cat could have escaped if she had any sort of nous.

I am trying quite hard to be angry because the alternative is to be frightened. I bet arsewipes like those who paid us a midnight visit, I bet that they get off on making people afraid. They probably find it amusing. Well, screw them and screw all the people like them that shake our faith in the basic goodness and decency of humanity. They are not worth our fear.

Anyway, I apologise for the rant and the fact that the only meal planning I will do today is working out which bits of these spineless lowlifes I would like to chop off and bake in a pie (with apologies to George R. R. Martin). Normal service to be resumed shortly.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Norse, revisited

It was my Mum’s birthday last weekend so we popped across to Harrogate to go out for dinner.  Now, I’ve written about Norse not once but twice before, and there are only so many ways that you can say somewhere is super delicious and lovely and that everyone should go.  But this visit was worthy of a slight further note because it was our first since the Norse team moved into their new location.   Where previously they were situated in Balthezen’s café, only emerging at night after the last coffee and cinnamon bun had been served, now they are down in the Montpelier quarter and you can visit for lunch!  Hurrah!

The new restaurant is in a cellar underneath a hotel but still manages to be a bright, airy space, in perfect keeping with the light, Scandi influenced food.  It seemed a lot bigger than before (I’m not sure how the number of covers compares) and yet was still packed out on Saturday night, with people several deep at the bar.  In fact, if there was one small criticism to level it is that they could have done with another staff member out front – the ones on hand were rushed off their feet and, occasionally, plates took slightly longer to clear than they should have done.  (NB: We fed this back to them and they have been in touch to thank us and to say that they are looking into it.)

The food, though, was fabulous.  They no longer do a set tasting menu but offer a list of thirteen savoury plates of various sizes, recommending three apiece.  We ordered the entire menu between four, with a view to sharing everything.  Thirteen plates plus two snacks and three desserts and yet, such was the lightness of touch and balanced parade of ingredients that none of us left feeling over-full.

General consensus round the table that the top dishes were, surprisingly, two vegetarian ones.  The Hasselback potatoes with cheddar and pickled leeks were always going to appeal to a family of cheese monsters.


The grilled hen of the woods were a revelation though – who on Earth knew that mushrooms could taste so luscious and smoky and meaty? 


I must also give a special mention to the hake, beautifully cooked and bathed in a fabulous, run-your-finger-round-the-bowl shellfish sauce.  The only problem with sharing was that I only got a bite or two – this was one that I was tempted to hide under the table and keep to myself.

Puddings: marginally less successful, as it turns out that D fundamentally objects to Jerusalem artichoke ice cream (I didn’t really mind it myself).  I do think that the elderflower parfait was terribly, terribly pretty though.


It goes without saying that, if you’re in the Harrogate area, this is a top destination.  And it was gratifying to see the place doing so well.  Long may it stay so bustling and busy, even if it does mean that dirty plates linger a little longer than they should do – fabulous local places like this are to be treasured.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Recipe corner: Tomato and ricotta "baked ziti"

I adore pasta bake in all its forms. It’s not pretty food and it certainly doesn’t tend to be sophisticated but, oh! A big pile of gooey, cheesy pasta will always make my greedy little heart beat slightly faster. As a child, admittedly before my taste buds developed a modicum of sophistication, tuna pasta bake would often be my choice for a birthday supper. Yes, it sits leaden in the stomach. Yes, the majority of Italians would turn their noses up. Yes, by the time that you’ve strewn enough cheese it becomes ridiculously high in calories and saturated fat (add a side salad if it makes you feel better). I don’t care.


The dish that I cooked last night, a layered tomato and ricotta pasta bake, was a vague attempt to re-create a baked ziti that I used to eat at the restaurant chain Sbarro. Sadly, it no longer has a UK presence so I cannot go back to check how close I got – however, it chimed pretty closely with the memory and I adored it. D felt it lacked a little oomph – perhaps some chorizo or bacon or chilli in the tomato sauce would remedy this – to me, was perfect as it was, and incredible comfort food.

In terms of technique, I aped pretty closely the Pioneer Woman’s baked ziti, figuring that an American dish required an American home cook’s wisdom. Her recipe is here – as you see, she favours a meat sauce, but mine is strictly vegetarian. That is not to say that it is particularly healthy; yes, there is a lot of cheese in there. Comfort yourself that the tomato sauce will pack in a couple of your five a day and contains relatively little fat.

Cooks’s notes: I didn’t have a stick of celery so substituted it for a second grated carrot, but you’re ideally aiming for a classic soffrito here. I keep a stash of Parmesan rinds in my freezer to whack into soups and sauces and they do add tremendous flavour but, if you’re not weird like me, just make sure you add stock rather than water to the tomato sauce. For the mozzarella, go for the slightly firmer kind that comes in a square block rather than a ball – it’s better for cooking.

Ingredients

Tomato sauce:

Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Generous sprig of oregano (or a heaped tsp of the dried variety)
50ml red wine
200g tin of chopped tomatoes
Tbsp tomato puree
Tsp sugar
Parmesan rind


Cheese sauce:

200g ricotta cheese
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
75g mozzarella cheese, grated
Egg
Scant pinch of ground nutmeg
Tbsp lemon juice


180g dried penne pasta
100g mozzarella cheese


Serves 2 – 4 depending on the depths of your hunger / greed


Make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil and sweat off the onion and the celery with a decent pinch of salt. When beginning to soften, add the carrot, garlic and oregano and sweat a bit longer until you have a colourful mulch of vegetables.

Tip in the red wine and allow it to bubble down to almost nothing. Then add the tomatoes, the puree and the sugar and stir well. Fill the tomato tin with water and add that too, along with the Parmesan rind. Season, bring to a vigorous boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and reduce by about a third. When it is done, allow to cool slightly before blitzing to a rough puree in the food processor.

Combine all the ingredients for the cheese sauce in a nice, large bowl and season well. Plenty of black pepper is called for here.

Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes less than it suggests on the packet – you want it to be a little too al dente so that it retains texture on baking. Once cooked, stir into the cheese sauce, along with a generous spoonful of the tomato sauce. You should have a nice, loose texture but, if not, a little splash of the pasta water will help it along.

Layer up the bake – half the pasta, half the remaining tomato sauce, half of the mozzarella cheese then repeat. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, removing the foil for the last 15 to get some colour on the top.

Monday, 29 May 2017

MPM: 29th May 2017

Ah, bank holidays. I take these extra days of rest very seriously, to the extent that I have not bothered dressing today. Here I am, on the sofa, in my pyjamas. The cat, who is having a bath beside me, approves.

That is not to say that I have entirely slothful: I have baked bread, made Caesar salad dressing and a quick Asian style pickle, all for tonight's tea. All this lying around makes a girl hungry.

The diary is pretty empty this week so plenty of meals at home. We've ended up with chicken twice next weekend but that's ok - we like chicken. I may flip Friday and Saturday's meals if I'm feeling energetic enough to cook on Friday night.

Monday: Caesar salad to start with, followed by a steak bahn mi. Yeah, I'm not sure what the theme is either. We've never had bahn mi before, but we're loosely following this recipe which sounds delicious.

Tuesday: fast day - soup

Wednesday: tomato and ricotta pasta bake. I've got in mind to try and recreate the baked Ziti dish that I ate from Sbarro back in the days when I lived near a Sbarro. I don't believe that they have any UK branches now.

Thursday: fast day - soup

Friday: chilli con carne (freezer diving at the end of the working week.

Saturday: D's choice - an Ottolenghi recipe from his "Jerusalem" book: chicken with caramelised onions and cardamom rice.

Sunday: Chicken ballontines with spring veg and hasselback potatoes.

Have a good week all!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Mr P's Curious Tavern, York

I wrote a post about the lovely Skosh a couple of weeks ago and failed to mention the other York venue that we visited that day which is equally worthy of note.


Andrew Pern is the holder of one of Yorkshire’s six Michelin stars at The Star Inn at Harome. In recent years he has started to extend his empire, and back in 2013 opened The Star Inn The City in York which I think (checks archives) that I have written about here. It’s a bit more accessible in terms of price and style than the mothership and was a very welcome addition to the York restaurant scene back in the days when not a lot seemed to be going on. Now, Mr Pern has opened a second York venue: Mr P’s Curious Tavern, and it was to here that we repaired on a sunny Friday lunchtime at the beginning of May.

It has to be said though, we were labouring under a slight misapprehension – based on the name, we were expecting a pub, and popped in for a pint and, perhaps, a sandwich. It is not a pub (even if it does boast an impressive bar with a be-yoo-tiful array of gins) rather, a restaurant serving what our waitress described as “Yorkshire tapas” which description I quite like, although I suspect many Spaniards may object strongly to the cultural appropriation. We left having consumed rather more than we were expecting (although certainly not as much as we could have done), and not really minding a bit.

The highlight was probably the potted confit duck – as the name suggests, this was gloriously rich but the richness was admirably countered by the fruit and nut topping which also added an interesting textural contrast to the silky pate.

 
Also recommended are the great big crispy, salty rings of calamari with an unbelievably moreish seaweed salad cream. I can never resist fried calamari when I see it on a menu and these were well handled.


The décor and the way in which the food was described and subsequently presented was quirky and kitsch which I personally find appealing but, I suspect, could be highly irritating to those who favour clean lines and white linen. Such people would do well to steer clear (and perhaps take themselves off to the slightly more ascetic sensibilities of Skosh). For the rest of us, there is much to enjoy here and hurrah to Andrew Pern for finding more ways to bring his celebrations of Yorkshire food to us Yorkshire foodies.


Mr P's Curious Tavern
71 Low Petergate
York
YO1 7HY
01904 521177

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Recipe corner: An Ottolenghi yoghurt dressing to see you through the summer

It may seem odd to add, to the distinguished archives here on WW Foodie, a recipe that essentially a salad dressing.  For a start, the instructions are pretty much, “Place stuff in a blender and switch on”.  But I wanted to make a mental note of this particular dressing because D and I have come to the conclusion over the past few days that it is one of those things (like bacon, butter and cheese) that makes EVERYTHING taste better.

It’s an Ottolenghi recipe and he serves it as an accompaniment to leek fritters (the recipe can be seen in full here – the fritters themselves are lovely).  But we’ve drizzled it over salad, used it as a dip, added a dollop atop a pile of tagine and couscous and it just perks it all up.

D’s lunch today is a box of somewhat dubious looking cold leftovers – even these, he reports, are delicious when accompanied by a swirl of the magic green sauce.  So, with barbecue season fast approaching, I think that this might be one to have in the fridge at all times for splatting, spreading and dunking purposes.  The below makes one healthy sized batch that seems to keep quite happily in the fridge for at least five days. 

Cook’s notes: the raw garlic does make it quite punchy (perhaps avoid eating before a first date) but I see no reason why you couldn’t add a green chilli into the mix for some additional heat.  We used a Kenwood mini processor to make this – a kitchen gadget that I could not be without as it is perfect for chopping and blending small amounts is easy to use and, importantly, easy to clean.  Highly recommended (although please note that they do not sponsor me.  I’d quite like to be sponsored and provided with lots of lovely free stuff because I have no shame but Kenwood most definitively do not.)

 Ingredients

100g Greek yoghurt
100g sour cream
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
20g roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
30g roughly chopped coriander leaves
 
Open blender (or food processor).
 
Insert ingredients.
 
Close blender. 
 
Ensure blender is plugged in.
 
Press button to blitz.
 
When the whole is a uniform green, check the seasoning and then set aside ready for use.

Monday, 15 May 2017

MPM: 15th May 2017

I feel quite aggrieved that it is Monday morning already – I am sure that the weekend wasn’t long enough. Mind, what there was of it was very pleasant – I caught up with my Mum over coffee, got an overdue haircut (more of a mow when you have a curly mop like mine), watched the Masterchef final (Alison was robbed! Robbed!,) and Eurovision (the UK was robbed! Robbed!) and did some cooking.

Our feast of asparagus on Saturday night was absolutely gorgeous. As well as the frittata, D made a batch of asparagus soup from this recipe which I would highly recommend (but with the addition of a pinch of white pepper at the end to make the flavours really sing). Making asparagus into soup has always felt slightly sacrilegious but this was enough to convert me.  D removed the tips, as suggested in the recipe, and we roasted these separately and served them drizzled with an intensely flavoured garlic and herb yoghurt dressing. Gorgeous.

This week is shaping up to be just as yummy. One thing though – the weight loss has definitely stalled a bit recently; there have been too many missed fast days, too much laxness on non-fast days and my daily hops onto the scales have dwindled which is always a bad sign. So today marks a bit of a reboot: I want to make it into that elusive next stone bracket which is 4.3lbs away – a couple of good weeks could see that off. Game face on!

Monday: Fast day – soup

Tuesday: We have lamb left over from Sunday’s slow roast shoulder, so I am going to do an approximation of this Nigel Slater lamb and apricot tagine and serve it with couscous and a drizzle of the remaining yoghurt dressing from Saturday which should add a bit of zing.

Wednesday: Fast day – soup

Thursday: I’m out for the evening, so we’re going to freezer dive for a pot of something that we can eat early. Not sure what this will be yet but we’ve definitely got some chilli in there, some curry and some moussaka so plenty of options.

Friday: I’m making mackerel kabayaki which is a dish that I ate out recently and adored. I’m planning to serve it with sushi rice and a carrot, ginger and sesame salad – all new to me and it’s probably not at all authentic to bung them all together but I think it sounds tasty.

Saturday: D is cooking pork with risotto and a sage and walnut pesto in an attempt to use up some of the sage that is currently taking over the back of our garden.

Sunday: Sausages (homemade, from the freezer), mashed potato, red onion gravy. Perfect Sunday fare.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Recipe corner: A spring frittata

I always think of frittata as the slightly coarser cousin of the omelette. An omelette, to my mind, is a delicate, buttery thing with minimal ingredients. A frittata is far less rarified and a fantastic way to showcase whatever produce happens to be in season (or lurking at the bottom of the fridge). I once read that it is not the done thing to treat a frittata like eggy waste disposal but (and I feel the same way about pasta bakes) sometimes throwing in whatever you happen to have on hand produces a thing of great beauty and, even if it doesn’t, it will be perfectly and agreeably edible.

For all that, here a little bit of advanced consideration has been applied to produce something that sings of the season. I first saw a recipe for this particular combination in a Waitrose magazine, but have tweaked the method slightly to suit.


Cook's notes: if you asparagus is very slender, you probably don’t need to worry about pre-cooking it but we've been getting some MONSTER stalks here. You could switch out butter for oil if you don’t want to faff around with melting it but I do happen to think that when butter and eggs are brought together, good things are bound to happen. With regards the herbs, I used dill because I love it, but any of the softer, milder, greener herbs (parsley, basil, even mint) would also work – your rosemarys and sages and thymes would probably overwhelm. Your frittata dish could be a large, ovenproof frying pan or a cake tin (NOT loose bottomed) would work fine - I plumped for a 24cm Le Creuset pie dish which was PERFECT.

Ingredients

250g new potatoes, thickly sliced
Bunch of asparagus
15g butter
Tsp dill
Heaped tsp wholegrain mustard
6 eggs
75g Gruyere cheese, grated

Serves 2 - 4

Heat the oven to 180 (160 if, like ours, your fan oven is somewhat enthusiastic).

Put the new potatoes in a large pan, cover with cold, salted water and bring to the boil over medium heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends and chopping each stem into 2-3 cm lengths. Set a large bowl of ice cold water to one side. Once the water has come to the boil, set a timer for 6 minutes and, once it goes off, add the asparagus to the same pan for a further minute. Then you can drain and put straight into the cold water to stop the cooking.

Melt the butter (the microwave is probably the easiest option for this). Using a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the inside of the dish.

Drain the vegetables, pat dry and evenly distribute across the bottom of the dish.

Whisk the eggs, season well and stir through the mustard and the herbs. Pour over the potato and asparagus mix and then place in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove, sprinkle over the cheese and return for another 15 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling and the frittata is cooked through.