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.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Skosh, York

Long-time readers will know that, up until 2012, D and I lived in the beautiful city of York. Although we are now settled in our little corner of North Leeds, it took a long time for me to stop missing my former home. But one thing that Leeds always had going for it over York was the food scene. Beyond the myriad of chain restaurants (presumably there to provide a sense of the familiar to York’s massive tourist population) and the plethora of pubs, there weren’t that many places that I’d recommend to a foodie friend. And the fact that our beloved J. Baker’s Bistro Moderne closed its doors not long after we left seemed like a sign from the universe that our move to Leeds was the right one.

Now, though, it seems as if York is beginning to up its foodie game. Andrew Pern is extending his city empire (of which more in a later post), there is a fabulous looking little street food market tucked away near The Shambles and Skosh has opened its doors to the paying public. As soon as we read Jay Rayner’s rapturous review, we knew that we had to go, a conviction only strengthened by the fact that the head chef there previously cooked at another late lamented friend, Van Zeller’s in Harrogate.

Skosh is situated on Micklegate, home of the Micklegate Run – a string of pubs in close enough proximity that hen parties minimise the risk of falling off their heels while they stagger between them. I would not let this put you off – you generally can’t move for hen parties in York and there is little danger that they will teeter their way into Skosh.

If you were a cynical sort, you might think that the people who designed the place did so by ticking every current trend box they could think of. There is the open kitchen at the back where the chefs toil away in full view of the diners. The menu of small plates rather than courses. An ironic take on an item of fast food. A multitude of global influences. But the minute you actually start to eat, all is forgiven. Because the cooking is really rather wonderful.

We started with a hen’s egg apiece – cheesy froth covering bosky mushrooms and a brief, sour kiss of vinegar. It was the only one of the dishes (according to our waitress) which did not particularly lend itself to sharing and I for one am glad that we got one each – we used our fingers to clean the inner shell of every last delicious smear. Oh, and talking of finger licking – the Skosh fried chicken with brown butter hollandaise was utterly fabulous; if everything was served with brown butter hollandaise, the world would be a better place.


Having had a slightly later and larger lunch than expected, we tried to be restrained with regards ordering but couldn’t resist a dish of mackerel and eel “kabayaki”, one of several dishes which nodded towards Japan. The fish was sticky and sweet and a joy in its own right, but became still further elevated by a swipe through the delicately saline oyster cream. It was undoubtedly a good choice but now, reading back through the menu as I write this, I mourn slightly that I missed out on crisp lamb belly with charred hispi and sumac, and chargrilled octopus with black olive caramel to name but a few.


On to “afters” and we simply couldn’t resist one of the two savouries on offer – a toastie with Baron Bigod brie, winter truffle and pickled turnip. Goodness, but this was a perfect combination. And, finally, a chocolate moelleux accompanied by a miso caramel ice cream which was so good that it reduced us both to silence (and more plate licking). If you are a fan of salted caramel than I urge you to try miso if you see it pop up on a dessert menu – it might sound slightly peculiar but it is utterly delicious.


So there we have it – an excellent new addition to the York restaurant scene (thank you, Mr Rayner for the tip off), which, judging by the busy, buzzy atmosphere when we were there is going down pretty well. Great news for York – and the perfect excuse for those of us who miss the place to travel back there even more regularly.

Monday, 8 May 2017

MPM: 8th May 2017

Hello friends! It seems daft to open posts with apologies for going a bit quiet, especially when the Internet at large probably neither cares nor notices when the lights of the WW Foodie temporarily go out. My Mum has been texting me asking for blog posts though so…

I do, in fact, have things that I want to say including a couple of gorgeous meals out recently and a fridge bottom pasta bake that turned out to be a thing of such absolute beauty that it needs recording for posterity. But before all that, let us turn our attention to meal planning since it is, of course, Meal Planning Monday.

As is so often the case recently, it is not a long plan. There’s two fast days in there and a night when D is out and so I’ll be home alone (I think there is some tortellini in the freezer which I will toss in butter, Parmesan and black pepper – bliss!) But what of the other nights?

Tuesday: Smoked haddock and leek fishcakes. Don’t know much about this dish – D is in charge. I am making him cook smoked haddock and leek fishcakes because a few weeks ago we went out for my father in law’s birthday. We went to a pub for dinner and D ordered at the bar. I requested smoked haddock and leek fishcakes and, for some reason best known to himself, he ordered me scampi. It was not the end of the world since I am quite partial to scampi, but scampi is not smoked haddock and leek fishcakes. So this week’s fishcakes are recompense fishcakes.

Thursday: A freezer dive – most likely chilli con carne which I will accompany with rice and cucumber in herby yoghurt.

Saturday: Asparagus night! I am going to make a delicious sounding asparagus frittata which also makes use of the new season potatoes, and D wants to do an asparagus whip. I also think some sort of lightly dressed salad will be in order, with raw asparagus shavings. We will follow this seasonal feast with some little cups of lemon posset.

Sunday: Slow cooked shoulder of lamb on boulangere potatoes. We’ve been making this recipe for years and it never disappoints. Some sort of green on the side (I quite fancy the idea of doing a petit pois a la francais which is basically peas and shredded lettuce lightly cooked in stock).

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The inhumanity!

It is ten o clock on Wednesday morning.  The second fast day of the week is a few hours down.  Already, our fearless heroine is having to steel herself, screw her courage to the sticking place and generally just work hard to not have an almighty tantrum right in the middle of the office.

Yep, this is the same fearless heroine who quite frequently doesn't bother to eat breakfast on the days on which she goes to work.  So how, exactly, is today different?

I guess that we will file it under "The mind is a strange and wonderful thing".  And we will also do our best to remember that it will get easier again and, also, that a nice result on the scales will make all of this seem worthwhile.

I have moved my "official" (to no one but me) weigh in day to a Friday so that it falls after the two fast days and before the weekend bean-fest.  While logically I know that there is no real difference, again it comes down to mind games.  My lowest weekly weight tends to fall on a Friday so why not have that number as the one that I capture for posterity?  It also means that, should the second weekly fast fall on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday (as often happens) I might be less inclined to go off the rails and declare Thursday night the unofficial start to the weekend.  Might being the operative word.

And, in other news, I popped into M&S this morning to pick up my prawn layer salad (note to self: START MAKING YOUR OWN PACKED LUNCH YOU LAZY MARE) and came away with this instead:


Now we can all be a bit sniffy about supermarket sushi - it is not the real thing by any stretch of the imagination but I quite enjoy it on its own merits and it is perfect for fasting - plenty of textural variation and good, strong flavours make it seem more substantial than its calorie count (193!) would suggest.  I'm looking forward to lunchtime with the kind of fervour that is usually the prerogative of teenage girls waiting the new Harry Styles album.

Monday, 24 April 2017

MPM: 24th April 2017

There was no fasting for us last week (we were on holiday. At least, we were off work.  And we certainly don't need much excuse to avoid it).  I haven't checked the scales, but I suspect that a little bit of over indulgence over Easter will have nudged that needle up so we are back to two fast days this week with our nominated Days of Pain and Misery and Soup for Tea being today and Wednesday.

And, predictably, today has been rather horrid thus far.  I think fasting is made worse if you avoid it for a while.  My body has apparently forgotten just what it is like to be deprived of calories and gone into full on whingeing child mode.  I am filling up on fluids and reminding myself that tomorrow I can eat EVERYTHING.  As a psychological trick, it is surprisingly effective.

This is what the meal plan looks like this week:

Monday: soup

Tuesday: moussaka.  A Valentine Warner recipe that we originally intended to put together during the week that we Cooked his Book.  It was bumped but now it is back and I am very much looking forward to it, especially having seen Rick Stein eat moussaka on TV the other day (the Good Food channel are currently showing his Venice to Istanbul series).

Wednesday: soup

Thursday: er, moussaka again.  D is out for a team meal so I shall content myself with leftovers and trashy TV.

Friday: we're off to our beloved York to check out new-kid-on-the-restaurant-block, Skosh.  It had a fabulous write up in the Guardian recently, so we have high hopes.

Saturday: while in York we intend to visit an old haunt of ours, Henshelwood's deli, wherefrom we shall buy cheese, charcuterie and an eff-ton of their superlative chicken liver pate.  This shall all be consumed, carpet picnic style, on Saturday night with homemade bread and a yummy sounding Ottolenghi yoghurt and horseradish potato salad.

Sunday:  D is making pork and juniper sausages - a recipe of his own devising.  We shall probably end up eating these as sandwiches, with vestiges of the carpet picnic on the side.

And that's it from us this week - enjoy whatever it is you happen to be cooking and eating and have a FABULOUS bank holiday weekend!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Black Swan, Oldstead

To celebrate (or commiserate) the fact that D and I first met thirteen years ago to the day, on Good Friday we pootled off to The Black Swan at Oldstead, it being some time since we enjoyed a Yorkshire Michelin star. The Black Swan has built quite the local reputation over the last few years but its profile was probably raised significantly by the fact that the extremely easy on the eye head chef, Tommy Banks, appeared on the BBC’s Great British Menu last year and cooked a dish at the final banquet.

If you like your foodie destinations remote and scenic, then this one will appeal. The village of Oldstead appears to consist of the restaurant, the house in which the restaurant guests stay, and a few sheep. We did catch sight of a couple of runners on the surrounding lanes who presumably came from somewhere, but it was certainly not obvious as to where. Oh, and further Instagram opportunities abound just down the road, where can be found a picturesque ruined abbey.

There is a relaxed bar area downstairs with a fireplace and a broad sweep of gleaming bar (sadly no cat – every country restaurant should have a cat) and then upstairs the restaurant proper spread across two rooms. It had a lovely, relaxed feel to it – well spaced, well sized tables (terribly important), an eclectic playlist that was set at just the right volume and the most charming set of waiting staff I’ve come across in a long time.

Gin and tonic
And what of the food? Well, the surrounding gardens are the source of many of the ingredients and the Black Swan’s whole ethos appears to be very much tied to local, seasonal eating. These terms are in danger of becoming clichéd but I certainly got the sense that, here at least, they were genuinely meant and that the kitchen strives to make the best of the land on which it sits. GBM fans may remember that Banks’s banquet dish was a celebration of the art of preserving and, sure enough, throughout the place were scattered jars of pickles and gently infusing fruit schnapps. The main constituents of one of the dishes, beetroot cooked in beef fat, had been harvested months earlier and then stored in a traditional clamp. Little things like this, that serve to root a restaurant’s food in place and tradition, are very important to me.

Beetroot
It may be another cliché, but I sensed a definite hint of Scandi in the style and sensibility of the cooking. Some of the flavour profiles reminded me of dishes I ate at Noma, as did the often sparse yet elegant presentation. This was particularly true of the sweet courses which eschewed traditional, hearty British desserts for something lighter, brighter and verging on the savoury at times. I adored the Douglas Fir parfait with sheep’s milk sorbet which sparkled on the tongue; the petit-four, a cake made from artichoke, chicory root and thyme was slightly less successful: it was interesting rather than delicious and I don’t necessarily want my cake to be interesting.

Douglas fir parfait
Slightly unfortunately, the high point of the meal came, for us both, with the very first mouthful – an amuse bouche (thus, doll-sized) tartlet of smoked eel and Lincolnshire Poacher. This was a single bite of utter deliciousness and set the bar so very high that none of the subsequent dishes managed to surpass it. A few came close: the afore mentioned Douglas Fir dessert, a venison tartare with onion puree which danced on the edge of being too darkly rich, a hazelnut and chicory parfait lollipop. It was also nice to see a chicken main course; served with a selection of aliums and draped with new season wild garlic, it was a salutary reminder that chicken, when responsibly reared and beautifully cooked, is a heavenly thing. It missed out on the top spot though because we both felt that some sort of additional element on the plate was required for perfection – I actually felt the lack of some sort of crispy, salty little potato element, but then I’m always slightly sad to see a plate without carbs.

Smoked eel tartlet 
Venison tartare
Minor quibbles aside, the general consensus was that this was very good indeed. To be honest, I’m not sure that it pips 64 Degrees in Brighton to the Year’s Best Meal (so far) but that is a question of personal taste rather than execution and there is no doubt that there was some serious skills on display here. Some of the most incredible meals I have ever eaten – my two favourite experiences remain Eleven Madison Park in New York and Five Senses in Barcelona – were made so because I believe that something genuinely exciting happens when a chef manages to look both forward and backwards, inwards and outwards. I think that Tommy Banks is such a chef, which, it therefore follows, means that The Black Swan has the potential to be such a restaurant. It is not there yet, but since he is the youngest holder of a Michelin star in the country, he has bags of time on his side and an establishment that is perfectly placed to enable him to achieve exciting things. Definitely one to watch.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Recipe corner: Mussels on toast

I’ve got behind on talking about the cook books / blogs that we used as the basis of our March meal plans. Which means you’ve been spared a blog post full of me banging on about how excellent all my old recipes are. (Although in all seriousness, I cooked five recipes from this blog’s back catalogue and they were all delicious. Yay me.)

During the week in which we cooked from Valentine Warner’s “The Good Table” there was, for me at least, one stand out dish. I’m usually a bit chary of sharing recipes here that appear in books or magazines because…y’know…copyright but this one happens to be posted on Mr Warner’s own website, so I figured that it wouldn’t cause any great harm if I reproduced it here as long as I linked to it. Voici le link.



It is such a simple idea that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it previously – creating a béchamel sauce using the wondrously fragrant, sea-redolent cooking liquor of the mussels and then stirring the little blighters through to create a rich, creamy pile of deliciousness. Yes, I am getting a little adjective heavy here but I thought it was that good. We’re coming to the end of mussel season now (if you hold by the old adage that you should only eat them if there is an “r” in the month) so maybe this is one to tuck behind your ear for a bit later on when the nights begin to draw in again. It is comfort food par excellence. Mr Warner suggests serving the mussels on toasted soda bread and the slightly dense, cakey texture does hold up particularly well here. I commend to you my very own soda bread recipe – it’s an absolute doddle to make and, I think, worth the effort in this case.

Ingredients

500g mussels, in the shell, cleaned and beards removed

25g butter
Level tablespoon plain flour
150ml milk
A good grating (perhaps ¼ tsp) of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Small handful chopped curly leaf parsley

2 thick slices of soda bread, toasted Butter (optional)

Serves 2

Put the mussels in a large pan with a splash of water, cover and cook over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the shells have started to open. You may need to give them a good shake about half way through the cooking time to ensure that they are evenly distributed – also, it is an excellent stress reliever. 


Remove them using a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the remaining juices into a small jug ready to make the sauce.

When they have cooled slightly, remove the mussel meat from the shells and hold them ready to go in the sauce. Discard any mussels which have failed to open at this point.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. When it is just on the point of foaming, add the flour and stir briskly to make a paste – I always favour a wooden spoon for this operation. Continue to stir until the paste is beginning to dry out – you will notice that it starts to form a ball away from the sides of the pan.

Now you can add the strained mussel juice, a little bit at a time, stirring hard in between each addition until the sauce appears smooth. A liberal application of elbow grease is required here. Once the mussel juice has gone, start adding the milk in a similar fashion, until it has all been absorbed and you have a creamy white sauce.

Turn the heat up a smidge and allow the whole to simmer for 5 or so minutes. Then, add the nutmeg to taste (not too much – nutmeg can take over a party if you allow it), a pinch of salt (again, not too much, there is a natural salinity to the mussels) and plenty of black pepper. Finally, stir in the mussels and the parsley and heat for a further 30 seconds to ensure that the meat is warmed through.

Toast the bread, butter it if you wish (I always wish for more butter) and then spoon over the creamy mass of mussels and serve immediately.

Note: I am convinced that this would make a fabulous brunch dish, if you were looking for something a bit different. If you were planning on doing it for brunch, I would recommend making the béchamel and the soda bread the day before, and then all you would need to do in the morning is make toast and stir through the mussels. If you do ever make béchamel in advance, once it is cooled, cover with a layer of cling film directly touching the surface of the sauce – this will prevent a skin from forming.