Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Notes from my Christmas kitchen (2019 edition)

I didn’t take a single photo of the food that we ate over Christmas - which, for those of you who know my (startling lack of) talent for food photography may come as a shock. The trouble is (and I’ve complained about this before) while you are trying to line up the perfect shot - or even just trying to line up something that you can make look half decent if you Instagram the bejesus out of it - the food is a) smelling yummy and b) getting cold.

I think, though, this was the year that we really nailed Christmas dinner - our version. We still serve confit duck legs - the method very closely based on Valentine Warner’s recipe detailed here. We have now introduced an additional meat element: the duck and black pudding bonbon. To make these, D roasted two duck legs until tender then removed the skin and shredded the meat into a bowl, alongside two thick slices of black pudding. The mixture is soft and pliable enough to easily fashion into balls before rolling in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep frying - all of which, with the exception of the frying, can be done well in advance.

There is mash, because there has to be a potato element. And there is braised red cabbage which has been a staple for many years being both a little bit sour, a little bit sweet and a little bit buttery all at once and providing some moisture to the plate in the absence of any gravy.

This year, as well, inspired by a Thomas Keller recipe, we softened an onion in a little butter and oil then added a pile of shredded sprouts with a couple of sprigs of thyme. Covered the whole in chicken stock and reduced right down before adding a splash of cream and a good spoon of Dijon mustard. The bitterness of the sprouts were tempered, but not entirely diminished, by the flavour of the rich sauce and it really worked well to pull everything together.

Usually, we end up eating pudding on Boxing Day because we’ve maxed out. But keeping things light on the snacks and starters type meant that this year, after a couple of hours digestion time, we just about made room for the individual Christmas pudding cheesecakes that D had carefully prepared earlier in the week. I love Christmas pudding and I love cheesecake so this was a match made in heaven! I’ll post the recipe here for future reference - it would be great if you were entertaining a lot of people since you could make a full sized one, get it done well in advance and then just slice and serve on the day.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Meal planning Monday: 20th January 2020

We continue to eat our way through the freezer which has kept food bills low this month and been proving extremely delicious. Well, I say food bills have been low - we did have a bit of a splurge in the Indian supermarket yesterday to restock the spice rack and get the wherewithal for a batch of D’s famous green stuff which, we have decreed, must be in the fridge at all times. Also, D keeps buying prawns because the cat has decided that they are her Favourite Thing and she has her father firmly under the paw.

This week is an unusual one because we are both away with work for one night. While D is living it up in Nottingham I will probably be eating a ready meal. While I travel to Edinburgh, he will be having steak. We have very different standards when it comes to solo dining! Elsewhere:

Monday: green chilli chicken soup

Tuesday: gnocchi (from the freezer) probably with tomato sauce, pesto and mozzarella

Thursday: D’s homecoming meal - creamy salmon pasta

Friday: we have some bags of Christmas nibbles left in the freezer because we always, always buy far too many. So nibbles. And maybe some homemade bread if I get round to making it.

Saturday: Burns Night, and my Dad’s birthday. We are going to make Balmoral chicken, from this month’s Good Food magazine. Chicken, haggis, neeps and tatties- I’m already excited!

Happy cooking les touts!

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Recipe corner: coconut and ginger mussels

We got five new recipe books for Christmas which added to an already huge collection. All too often, much wanted books come into the house, get read, drooled over, maybe even tagged and then they get consigned to the shelf. And, come meal planning, it’s the internet that is called upon as the main resource. It’s ridiculous.

So, despite our plan to spend most of January eating down the freezer, we decided to make an exception for the new books. Last night, we pulled out “Made in India” by Meera Sodha. This was a gift from my Mum who has been raving about it for years. On the basis of this dish, I see her point. It wasn’t complicated food but it was utterly delicious and one we hope to revisit soon.

I love mussels in any shape or form and they are so cheap! D picked up a bag in the market for just over £3 which served two of us very generously and felt like a luxury. We just had some well buttered baguette on the side - Sodha suggested paratha which would have been lovely but was an effort too far after a long week at work. Next time!


1kg mussels, in the shell, debearded and cleaned

Tbsp vegetable oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
Small handful dried curry leaves
4 fat garlic cloves, crushed
Chunk (4-5cm) root ginger, grated
Red chilli, deseeded and chopped

Hefty tbsp tomato purée
1/4 tsp chilli powder
200ml coconut milk
Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Serves 2

In a large pan (with a lid) gently heat the oil then tip in the onions and the curry leaves with a decent pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for 8 mins until the onions are very soft and beginning to turn golden.

Now in goes the garlic, ginger (be generous with the ginger!) and chilli and cook off for another minute until the garlic has lost its raw smell. Stir through the tomato purée and chilli powder, again cook for a minute to get rid of any raw spice, and then pour in the coconut milk, up the heat and bring to a gentle bubble.

Time to tip in the mussels. Swirl the pan gently then put on the lid. Cook for 6-8 mins - it will be dependent on the size of your mussels, but you want all the shells to be wide open and the meat glistening and tender.

Use a slotted spoon to dish the mussels then stir the coriander through the sauce and check the seasoning before pouring over and serving with some sort of bread for dunking.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Meal Planning Monday: 6th January 2020

The first meal plan of the new year, nay, the decade! How exciting. 

The month of January has two themes. The first is: our chest freezer is full. How is it even possible to fill a chest freezer? We’re broke after Christmas, let’s spend the next few weeks eating it down. The second is: oooh! New cookery books! 

Monday: tuna pasta bake. Using some remaining Christmas cheese. This is obscenely cheesy which is just what’s needed after the first day back at work.

Tuesday: gnocchi with Parmesan butter, sage and walnuts. Hmm, apparently the third theme is cheesy stodgy. But - gnocchi from the freezer, leftover walnuts and the Parmesan butter comes from the Marcella Hazan book D got for Christmas.

Wednesday: I’m travelling with work. So, whatever I can get that’s close to the hotel and under the expenses limit.

Thursday: I don’t get home till nearly nine, so likely a sandwich on the train.

Friday: fish pie, using various odds and sods of fish from the freezer.

Saturday: burgers (from the, yawn, freezer)

Sunday: a Rachel Khoo recipe from “My Little Swedish Kitchen”. Slow roasted salmon fillets which I’ll serve with pink pickled onions and lemon and dill scented rice.

Happy cooking!

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Into the twenties

Towards the end of last year I was pondering the future of this blog.

When I first started, I had a vague USP - or at least an SP, as it was hardly U. I was someone who enjoyed good food who was following the Weight Watchers diet. It was supposed to be a record of losing weight while cooking nice meals. It was also a nice way of interacting with other people in the diet blog community.

Well, times have changed. I may still be Weeble shaped but I no longer follow Weight Watchers and have come to believe that, for me at least, anything which involves endless counting and measuring of food is not really a good idea. And many of the blogs I followed back then have disappeared, their authors with them.

I still wanted somewhere, though, to act as a virtual recipe repository and a record of special meals. So I toyed with the idea of a new blog and even went so far as to investigate domain names. But, nah.  There might be stuff on here that makes me squirm a little bit (encouraging the use of half fat butter and cheese to make macaroni cheese springs to mind) and I wish that it didn’t have WW in the title (would anyone believe me if I pretended that it stood for something else? World Wide? Whimsical, Wobbly?) But it’s mine, dammit. And I am very fond of it, crappy food photography and all.

So, this year, as challenged by D, I am going to blog more regularly and make sure all our favourite recipes and meals are recorded. I might even go back and revise some of those earlier abominations dishes.

Happy New Year to all, may your 2020 be a good one (and may your shadows never grow less).

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Meat, then seven veg

Greetings Earthlings! The year is disappearing so fast and it has been the quietest ever on my little blog so my end of year report is likely to say must do better. Sigh.

We are not (that) long back from Berlin and we had a wonderful time - there’s definitely a post in that. And WW have, apparently, changed their plan again and I sort of want to find out how and then do a post on THAT but then...I suspect the WW ship has long since sailed for me. Perhaps I need to rename the blog - any bright ideas? Cooking with Cats quite appeals; then I would have a legitimate reason to stick up pictures of my beloved Minx for no particular reason. But as a name it doesn’t make any sense. Why would someone be cooking with cats? Are the cats actually helping out in the kitchen or just looking on reproachfully and bemoaning the lack of attention? Is it possible that the name would be open to misinterpretation and people would assume that I was making dishes out of cats? I mean, the Internet has its Dark Corners and I would hate to attract someone who would make that kind of assumption but...

Anyway, the meat in the blog post title refers to the food we ate in Berlin. Which was fab - I loved it! But wow, not a cuisine for vegetarians. To make up for it, we have just planned out seven days of entirely vegetarian meals. At this time of year, some of the veggie dishes that I am drawn towards are certainly too full of cheese and butter to count as strictly health food but that isn’t really the point of the exercise. I adore vegetarian food (although, for me, vegan will always be a bit too far) but I want to eat food that isn’t trying to pretend it’s something that it’s not if you see what I mean? Dishes that are glorious in their own right. Here’s what we’re doing:

Monday: roast root veg and pearl barley soup

Tuesday: pasta alla Norma - a gorgeous dish which combines a rich tomato sauce with aubergine, roasted until it just starts to melt through with a smoky flourish

Wednesday: “Arabbiata” pizza - basically, cheese and tomato but the tomato element is spicy with chilli as garlic. I’ll be topping this with lightly wilted rocket

Thursday: Ottolenghi’s ultimate winter couscous. Well, there had to be an Ottolenghi dish on there. And this is one of our favourites. The recipe is here if you don’t have a copy of “Plenty” on your bookshelves

Friday: Vegetarian dirty rice (another Ottolenghi dish) with corn maque choux (basically, sweet corn cooked in cream and spice).

Saturday: Mushroom curry, creamy chickpea and spinach curry, pilau rice, flatbread and Strictly on the telly. Bliss.

Sunday: Cauli cheese pie with mashed potatoes and Parmesan roasted parsnips. A cheese fest to end the week!

Back soon with...well, an account of Berlin (alternatively titled Pictures of Pork).

Sunday, 20 October 2019

MPM: 21st October 2019

Oooh I haven’t done a meal planning post in ever so long which is a shame because we’ve cooked some fantabulous dinners in the last few weeks of which I now have no permanent record. I think we’re getting a lot better at bringing balance to our weekly meal plans - saving more complex event cooking for the weekends and building up a good repertoire of quick and easy midweek meals. Monday remains soup night, but the soup is batch cooked at the weekend and frozen in pots. Tuesday seems to have become “storecupboard pasta day” which takes minimal effort to produce maximum enjoyment - and means you get to Wednesday and feel you’ve barely had to slave in the kitchen at all. Not that I don’t enjoy slaving in the kitchen - putting the radio on and pottering around while I try and wind down after a working day can be very therapeutic but, equally, sometimes the lure of the sofa and of cat cuddles next to a roaring log stove is too much to resist.

Speaking of easy cooking: we recently acquired Diana Henry’s new book, “From the Oven to the Table” and I can see that this fantastic collection of one pot, minimal intervention dishes are going to see us comfortably through the winter months. There’s a toad in the hole with baby leeks and cheddar in the oven as we speak (I’m writing this on Sunday evening) and a duck dish planned for next week. If you’ve never tried any of Diana Henry’s books then I really would commend them to your attention. She’s a brilliant writer and she always seems to provide recipes for food that I really, really want to eat.

So, this week. We’re well and truly autumnal here now, so warming food is the order of the day. And we’re off on holiday a week on Monday so not much planned with regards gallivanting, beyond an early birthday lunch for D next Sunday.

Monday: roasted cauliflower, bacon and caramelised onion soup

Tuesday: spaghetti puttanesca

Wednesday: blackened salmon with a creamy Cajun spiced sauce, mashed potatoes

Thursday: Ottolenghi’s winter couscous

Friday: mussels with leeks and bacon

Saturday: roasted duck breast with plums, green chilli and coriander rice

Sunday: out for lunch

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Bacon bao for breakfast

I made bao buns at the weekend, trusting to the advice of 2014 Seren.  I'd forgotten what an absolute faff they are to do, especially given that we have a tiny steamer in which only two at a time will comfortably fit.  Fortunately, I had nowhere else to be and not much else to do, so I cranked up Pick of the Pops and bimbled away in the kitchen while steaming each pair of buns.  The result: a steamy kitchen and 16 of the puffiest, fluffiest buns you ever did see.  2014 Seren did not steer me wrong.

You can, of course, buy bao now far more easily than you could even just five years ago.  When we had them in New York they were quite the novelty.  Now, if I'm ever seized with a craving I can pop along to Little Bao Boy here in Leeds who currently serve their wares in North Bar's latest venue.  And very good they are too - although I can't help thinking mine were a little bit better.

For reasons best known to myself, I decided to make three different fillings all of which worked well.  The first tranche of buns were filled with cauliflower florets, breaded and baked until crispy then dunked in a Korean barbecue sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Like Korean Fried Chicken but cauliflower.  And, er, not fried.  It was very good - the recipe I used is here and it's well worth a look!  Even D, who was exceptionally sceptical, thought it was nice (although he has requested that I try it again with chicken).

Then we moved on to a fish course.  I blitzed eight raw prawns (two large ones per bun) up with a tablespoon of cornflour, salt and lots of black pepper and then formed them into moist little cakes.  These were then fried in plenty of oil and served with shredded lettuce, spring onions and mayonnaise spiked with sriracha. 

Finally (and we head into fusion (or confusion?) territory here): hard boiled egg, chopped and mixed with a bit of mayonnaise and a good squidge of wasabi was squished into the buns alongside a slice of seared fresh tuna. 

I would say that I was hard pressed to pick a favourite of these, but the best was yet to come.  On Sunday morning, as an homage to those served by the aforementioned Little Bao Boy, we had bacon bao for breakfast.  The streaky bacon was baked until crispy then snipped into bun sized pieces and drizzed with still more sriracha.  Look at this - doesn't it look amazing?

I am determined not to leave it so long until I make these again - which means coming up with some more filling ideas!  I'd love to come up with some variations that put a bit of a spin on the classics - as ever, suggestions on a postcard!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Recipe corner: cacio e pepe

You may recognise this dish as having been particularly trendy - oooh, a good year ago, maybe more. Now, obviously, the cool kids have moved on but I still think it is worth posting this methodology for posterity. This is the sort of simple, quick pasta dish that I can imagine will remain on our regular meal rotation for many years to come.

This recipe comes, with a few tiny tweaks for personal taste, from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog. I must admit, I follow very few American food blogs and cook from them seldom. The reasons for this are neither sinister nor snobbish; when I first started really getting in to blogs, and bookmarking recipes, I soon found myself with a “to make” list that would never get made if I lived to be 500 and cooked something different every day. In order to get things to more manageable levels, I decided to restrict myself to UK sites. I recognise that I’ve probably missed out on a lot. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Smitten Kitchen somehow survived the cull I would never have learned about this fabulous foolproof method for cacio e pepe.

I would recommend warming the plates or bowls before serving. The pasta will start to cool while you’re tossing it in the sauce and if you don’t want it to be cold within a minute or so of starting to eat, a warm plate is a necessity.


200g dried spaghetti

90g pecorino cheese, finely grated
Half a teaspoon black peppercorns

You will also need to have some water to hand, and a small processor / chopper

Serves 2

Put a large pan of salted water on and bring to the boil.

In a pestle and mortar, grind the peppercorns. How fine you take them is up to you - I want a good flavour without crunchy bits being caught in my teeth, so I take it quite fine.

Set aside a small amount of the cheese for garnish. Then, put half the remainder into the mini processor along with a tablespoon of water and blitz - it will start to come together and clump. Add the other half of the cheese in with another tablespoon of water and half of the pepper. Blitz again. Continue to add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a paste roughly the consistency of cream cheese. This was about four tablespoons for me last time I did it. Add the pepper to taste (note: I would probably always end up using the full quantity but I like it peppery).

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water for around 8 minutes, or until al dente. Use a mug to scoop out some of the pasta water before draining and returning to the pan.

Add about half of the cheese and pepper paste along with a couple of teaspoons of pasta water and toss vigorously (I must admit, I tend to stir vigorously rather than tossing - I am messy by nature and don’t want to end up splattered in sauce). Continue to add the paste - a generous tablespoon at a time alongside a teaspoon of pasta water, stirring again each time, until the pasta is coated in a light, silky sauce. If you add it too quickly, you will end up with gummy lumps of cheese stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Plate up and garnish with the reserved cheese and another grind or two of pepper.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

A sojourn by the sea

We’ve just got back from a very pleasant couple of nights in Whitby. We’ve been so many times that we’ve pretty much exhausted the tourist attractions so our trips now basically consist of wandering around and, er, eating. There are many worse ways to pass the time.

I was planning to do a photo food diary post for the blog, since it’s all been a bit quiet recently. But the reality of most of the food served at the British seaside (in my experience anyway; I have yet to visit Padstein) is rather beige. So posting pictures of everything might prove a little dull. Let’s have some edited highlights instead.

The Bay Hotel in Robin Hoods Bay is slightly famous as it marks one end of the Coast to Coast (which I’m determined to do someday). They have a book there that walkers can sign. We popped there for lunch and bagged a little corner table that looked out over the eponymous bay. Haute cuisine this is not, but I can confirm that the chips are good and the prawn sandwich generously filled. D ordered the fried seafood platter for reasons best known to himself and ended up with a pile of vaguely fishy tasting goujons. The menu mentioned squid, scampi, prawns and salmon which one would have thought would be individually distinguishable - not so! He did, however, agree that the chips were of a decent standard.

Excellent chips

Lunchtime view

Monday night found us in The Star Inn The Harbour which I like but find to be slightly inconsistent. Last time we were there we loved it, the time before it was good not great - which we assumed to be teething issues given that it had, then, not long been open. On this occasion, there was plenty to enjoy but a starter of squid, which cost £11 for a startlingly small portion left us feeling a little ripped off. Oh, and D found the apple sauce served with his pork belly and scallops to be overly sweet. I thoroughly enjoyed my halibut with a rarebit topping and candied walnuts but, again, the £24 price tag felt a little on the steep side.

Mimsy squid

Hmmm, what else? Oh, well, it feels a bit daft to pick out a tuna sandwich as a highlight since it’s one of the most ubiquitous fillings there is. But The Rusty Shears’ trick of adding chopped olives, red onion and gherkin to the mix really gave it a lift and is one I shall be copying at home.

A most excellent tuna sandwich

Sadly it was an all too brief trip and it is back to work tomorrow, but we have fish from a Whitby fishmonger still to enjoy for tea tonight...and a trip to Berlin on the not so distant horizon so it’s not all doom and gloom. Hope everything is well with all of you out there in Blogland. I will try and post more regularly between now and the end of the year (but I won’t promise because, well, pie crusts and all that... )

Monday, 12 August 2019

MPM: 12th August 2019

For the first time in a long time, last week we cooked, and ate, all seven meals as planned. It felt good to be in control to be honest.  All to often, if we deviate, it is because we have "accidentally" gone to the pub after work and ended up ordering a takeaway or eating toast in lieu of an actual meal OR it is because we have been infected with a generous dose of ennui and ended up not eating a proper meal at all but grazing.  To make a plan, stick to a plan and actually enjoy eating all meals on said plan was really nice.

Oh, and Beth - chickpea mash?  The recipe is here.  A pleasant twist on the classic bangers and mash although I found that the chickpeas did need a judicious whack of seasoning and lemon juice to perk them up and the inclusion of a scattering of caramelised onion was a welcome note.

Onto this week, and the plan is to be in every night again and eat as follows:

Monday: carrot, tomato and feta soup (the other half of the batch we started last week.)

Tuesday: a freezer dive - chilli con carne with rice and a decent dollop of cooling sour cream.

Wednesday: pasta with nduja pesto and roasted cherry tomatoes.  Now, this pesto is part of the Sacla range which tend to be pretty good for a weekday meal.  But I'm not clear on how nduja pesto is different from just plain old nduja.  I guess I am soon to find out!

Thursday: a red wine and mushroom risotto, from The Silver Spoon.

Friday: and diving once more into the recipe book library, tonight we will be cooking Gung Bao chicken from Fuschia Dunlop's fantastic "Every Grain of Rice".  If you are a fan of Chinese food then I would highly recommend this tome.

Saturday: lamb seekh kebabs - sides tbc.

Sunday: Pollock (or whatever white fish looks good at the fishmongers) with chickpeas and chorizo, courtesy of Mr Tom Kerridge.

Have a good week one and all!

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Recipe corner: carrot, tomato and feta soup

A beautiful soup is a wonderful thing and I haven’t posted a soup recipe for AGES.

It was partly, perhaps, a reaction to Weight Watchers (where zero point soup, aka joyless, fatless veg purée) is heavily endorsed that I had all but stopped making the stuff. But one day, after yet another disappointing pot of ready made supermarket offering, fishing around for the one, desultory chunk of chicken in what purported to be chicken soup, D pointed out that we should really go back to doing it ourselves. He’s right; given that one only has a finite number of meals, why waste your time on crap?

Here then is a delicious, sweet and summery concoction, courtesy of Nigel Slater. I did mine slightly differently to him in that I blitzed the carrot element to be quite silky smooth (I like a smooth soup) and then stirred the tomatoes through to add texture at the end. The carrots were the mellow backdrop to the peppery, sprightly basil flecked tomatoes with a final zing from the feta. Lovely. I must admit, I also used a bit less oil than he recommended. Weight Watchers habits die hard...


Tbsp olive oil
Large onion, roughly chopped
400g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
Litre of very dilute veg stock (I used a tsp of Bouillon powder in total)

Tbsp olive oil
500g cherry tomatoes, quartered
Garlic clove, peeled and lightly bruised
Small handful basil leaves, shredded

To garnish:
120g feta cheese, crumbled
Basil leaves, torn
4tsp olive oil

Serves 4

Place a nice, large saucepan over a low heat. Warm the oil and then cook the onion until pale and soft. Then in go the carrots with a hefty whack of salt and pepper to cook slowly for a further 10 minutes. Pour in the stock, bring to a gentle simmer and allow to bubble away for half an hour until the carrots are soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing to a smooth purée with a stick blender (or in a processor). This can all be done in advance.

Shortly before serving, put the quartered tomatoes in a second pan with the oil and garlic and cook down, over a low heat, for 10 minutes or so until you have a sweet mush. Season, stir through the basil and then add to the carrot mix and heat the whole gently.

To serve, garnish with the crumbled feta, some torn basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

MPM: 5th August 2019

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of "the only blog post of the week" aka Meal Planning Monday.  This week posted on a Tuesday!

Is anyone else wilting in the current weather?  I feel like I am physically melting most of the time.  I completely take on board that I have more insulation that some other people but combine that with general warm-bloodedness and a genetic propensity (thanks, paternal grandmother) for a sweaty brow and nose and you do not end up with a pretty picture.  The current combination of heat and humidity is a particular killer and whatever I try, the cat refuses to fan me with palm leaves as I drift off to sleep, so I end up tossing and turning and harrumphing and generally being most annoying and annoyed. 

I don’t, however, seem to be one of these people who lose their appetite in the heat, which is a shame.  I’m permanently thinking about ice cream, which is also a shame.  If you’re a fan of Lotus Biscoff and haven’t yet tried the Lotus Biscoff ice cream stick then hie thee hence to your nearest supermarket frozen-food aisle and buy some.  You can thank me later.

Anyhoo, meal planning.  D picked a few of the meals this week, direct from the archives of The WW Foodie, which is exciting.  We were originally going to be having a third WWF recipe on Saturday night but this has now been bumped to next week in order to use up some chicken we have going spare.  Someone may or may not have accidentally cut right through a chicken breast on Sunday when he was preparing homemade Kievs and that same someone may or may not have stormed off to the supermarket in an expletive studded squall of self recrimination to buy a second pack rather than try and patch the hole with trimmings.  The remaining chicken, and, indeed the remaining breadcrumbs from the Kiev, will be put to good use.

Monday: sigh.  Still soup but now we are going homemade, having come to the conclusion that most shop bought soup is shit.  The aim is to try and make it at the weekend so that Monday can still be a night “off” cooking.  Last night, we made a Nigel Slater recipe: carrot and tomato with feta.  And, to be fair, it was miles ahead of anything that we might have recently had from a supermarket. 

Tuesday: there is half a cauliflower lurking in the fridge and I fancied making mustardy cauliflower cheese, a recipe from Ottolenghi’s “Simple”.  D suggested throwing in some pasta and making it a mac-and-cauli-cheese.  Excellent suggestion.

Wednesday: roasted veg with feta and couscous.  A bump from last week.

Thursday: corned beef hash.  Woohoo – a house favourite!  In an exciting twist, we don’t have any homemade corned beef to hand so we are going to try it using a tin.  Given that tinned corned beef is one of the definitive tastes of childhood for both me and D, I am genuinely looking forward to this.

Friday: lemon sole with brown shrimp butter.  Classic, easy, delicious Friday fish.

Saturday: homemade chicken goujons (or nuggets if that feels right) with oven fries and possibly (this is still under discussion) a wedge salad.  Just because I am intrigued by the idea and want to make one. 

Sunday:  another Nigel Slater recipe – I am loving his work at the moment.  This time, sausages with herbed chickpea mash.  Sounds like a lovely, summery twist on a classic.

Have a good week everyone! 

Monday, 29 July 2019

Meal planning and catching up

*Slinks back in with a new post.  Torn between starting with abject apology for absence (which always feels slightly self-aggrandising since it pre-supposes that anyone actually missed self in the first place) and just acting like it never happened.  Wrestles with dilemma.  Deletes and rewrites and deletes same chunk of text multiple times.*

Anyway (in lieu of any excuses, I’ll opt for an aggressive stance), in this day and age how many people still read blogs?  Especially little backwater blogs like this one where the writer still uses their original Blogger template and eschews any sort of decent photography preferring to stick with everything look like primordial sludge.  The blogging scene ain’t what it was all those years ago. Feel free to shoot me down if I’m being an unreasonable cowbag but I reckon that it used to be about sharing personal experiences with like-minded people in a nice, low-key manner and creating a little virtual community of kindred spirits.  Now, you get people who actually put the career of Influencer on their passport (or would do if you still had to list your career on your passport).  So everyone who has a blog wants it to be the biggest, shiniest, shoutiest blog in the world in order to attract attention and, thus, money.  Oh, not to mention the bloggers have to have a presence all across social meeeeeja.  Which kind of puts paid to the fact of anonymity.

I think that it’s a little bit sad.  But then, I suppose if someone had Discovered me and offered me ludicrous sums of money / amounts of free stuff to write about what I love, thus saving me from a life of Desk Bound Drudgery, I would probably have taken them up on it.  So maybe it’s just envy talking.

ANYWAY.  What’s going on with me?  Work – busy, busy, busy.  But good.  Food – we’ve cooked some really lovely stuff lately that I hope to get round to posting, but there may not be pictures because I think I have to really give up on the whole pictures thing.  I’ll just illustrate everything with a photo of my cat.  Weight – well, still there.  At this stage of the game I think it’s going to take a serious bout of novo virus to kick-start things on a downwards trajectory again. 

And as for meal planning this week…

Monday: as long term friends will know, we often have ready-made soup on a Monday night.  This is partly a hangover from our 5:2 days, ensuring a relatively low calorie start to the week.  It also means that after getting through Monday we don’t have to worry about any elaborate cooking.  But D finally cracked and said what we were both thinking – soup can be a bit dull.  So now, Monday is going to be soup-and-bread-and-cheese night. We’ve got some chicken and vegetable broth along with a lovely looking piece of Caerphilly to enjoy.  I’ve had some baguette dough defrosting in the fridge since this morning – I’ve not tried freezing it before, so not sure how it will turn out but am hopeful it will work well.

Tuesday: currently, spiced monkfish with chutney and flatbreads, but this may end up bumped to the weekend.

Wednesday: spaghetti carbonara – D is out for a couple of pints after work but I should be able to whip this up quickly when he comes home starving.

Thursday: roasted vegetables with couscous and feta.  We used to cook a stove-top version of this on a regular basis when I was a student.  It was the go-to “We’ve been eating rubbish for several days and require some proper nutrients” meal. 

Friday: we’re both out for a leaving do, so no current plans in place.

Saturday: might end up being the monkfish.  Otherwise, we have steak in the freezer all ready to be turned into steak sandwiches.

Sunday: D has a yen for chicken Kiev.  So he’s going to make that.  He has done a homemade version before and it worked out very well, so I have high hopes for this.  What could be nicer than crispy chicken drenched in garlic butter?

And that takes us nicely back round to Monday.  Quite a meaty weekend, so might need to balance that out with a few more veggie based meals next week (never a major hardship).  Hope whatever you find yourself cooking and eating is lovely. A bientot! 

Monday, 24 June 2019

MPM: 24th June 2019

It's a brand new week and a typically grey, muggy day here in Leeds.  I am not a fan of heat at the best of times, but this particular brand of damp stickiness is particularly unpleasant.  Either we need to get on and have a bit of a summer or admit defeat and lurch straight into the cool, crisp days of Autumn.  Sort it out, weather.

Today also marks the start of my fourth week in my new role which has been full on and busy from the get-go but which is all going well so far.  I feel a little bit like a hamster on a wheel, and I don't think that I will ever see the bottom of my inbox again, but at the moment that still feels OK.  A few months down the line, if I am tearing my hair out in fistfuls, please feel free to refer me back to this.

Meal planning this week - I'm going to a bottomless brunch on Saturday, so it is unlikely I will still be upright come tea time.  The planned curry is going to be made in the slow cooker in advance so will be there if I need it.  Otherwise, a quiet week (well, it is the end of the month).

Monday: soup, as per often.  Crusty bread on the side.

Tuesday: spaghetti in tomato butter sauce and with turkey meatballs.  These meatballs are not, to my shame, homemade, but have been lurking in the freezer for a while and need using. 

Wednesday: trout fillets, minted hollandaise (again, the hollandaise is not homemade!  My foodie credentials are taking a battering today), potato salad, asparagus.

Thursday: fishcakes, but I'm thinking of going down a slightly Scandi route.  This Rick Stein recipe for "frikadeller" with remoulade looks nice.  I've got half a fennel bulb in the fridge that needs using, so I'll probably thinly slice that and add it to the remoulade to boost the veg content.

Friday: I'll keep back some of the tomato butter sauce from Tuesday and use that, alongside a batch of frozen dough, to put together a Friday night pizza.

Saturday: cardamom butter chicken

Sunday: a D choice - steak and chips

Hmmm not a bad selection at all, although it would be nice to see a couple more veggie options on there - something to balance out next week.  Have a good one everyone, and happy cooking!

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Foodie abroad: Brat, Shoreditch

Shortly before we went to Brat, it just so happened to be voted the second best restaurant in the entire country by the National Restaurant Awards.  This was a happy coincidence.  D had chosen and booked it months before off the back of, I believe, a glowing Jay Rayner review.  But coincidence or not, it definitely added a certain additional frisson of excitement as we headed across town to Shoreditch on Wednesday night.  Shoreditch is becoming increasingly trendy now, isn't it?  I mean, I don't really keep track given that I am safely confined to Yorkshire for most of the year and tend to come over all Country Mouse whenever I visit London, but judging by Brat itself, and the surrounding venues, it's certainly nicer than it used to be and boasted quite the collection of hipster beards.

Brat was very nice.  I enjoyed my meal there very much.  But I have to start out by saying that while I have no idea what criteria the panel of the NRA were using, I disagree with their conclusion.  Let's get the moaning out of the way first.  I think I must be getting old because the general layout of the dining room - with tables so close together as to be practically communcal - was not particularly to my taste.  Although D and I did enjoy singing a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday" to the nice gentleman sitting next to us.  Also, while I welcome the move away from the starched linen and hushed tones that accompany traditional fayne dayning, part of me does want a little bit of ritual and reverence and...well, special fairy dust, if for not other reason than to soften the blow of the inevitably hefty bill.  For me, I found the atmosphere Brat to be a little frenetic and (possibly as a result) the pacing of the meal overall was not quite perfectly judged.  Finally, for the love of all that is coverd in chocolate, if you're advertising a baked cheesecake on your menu then WHY would you not give it some sort of biscuit base, or at the very least, a garnish of crumbs?  Why this modern trend for puddings that entirely lack textural contrast?  I do not approve (although, in fairness, the cheesecake tasted very nice).

Burnt cheesecake with rhubarb

These whinges aside (and I am very aware that many people will disagree with my take on the general ambience being, y'know, not a seventy old trapped in the body of a thirtysomething) all was lovely.  Brat's thing is that nearly everything on the menu is cooked on a specially designed, wood-fired gril which imbues the food with wonderful char and smoke.  At its best, this makes your dinner here akin to the most amazing barbecue you've ever tasted.  In common with pretty much every other person in the place, we ordered the turbot.  Oh, the turbot.  Brought to the table partly boned out, the pearlescent flesh tinged with flashes of gold and black, this was a thing of beauty.  It is sprayed with vinegar while it cooks and then seasoned to salty perfection.  A mouthful of this carried a faint memory of traditional fish and chips, as eaten next to a beach bonfire at dusk.

Turbot.  A heavenly thing.

Elsewhere, the smaller plates were mostly miniature masterpieces.  A highlight for me was the grilled bread, crunchy and blistered and smothered in wild garlic and summer truffle.  And the smoked cod's roe, a current household obsession, was utterly amazing.  We definitely needed a few more portions of this.  It takes a brave chef to serve dishes of such simplicity, but the execution, in general, could not be faulted (cheesecake aside).

Grilled bread with wild garlic and summer truffle.

Smoked cod's roe on toast

Is this the second best restaurant in the country?  Subjectively speaking, if I was the head of the NRA judging panel then the answer would be no (and, also, I would be tremendously fat and have the liver of a foie gras goose).  To my mind it lacked the innovation and flair and touch of quirkiness of, say, a Raby Hunt but then, the two respective chefs are aiming for completely different things and vive la difference!  For the turbot alone, I will forgive Brat much.  But please.  Put a base on the cheesecake.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Recipe corner: oven-baked onion bhajis

I must admit, onion bhajis are not something that it would ever really have occurred to me to make from scratch until I did (or, rather, D did) and discovered that the homemade variety are absolutely amazing - a hundred times better tasting that the ones you can buy in the supermarket and far less greasy than the standard Indian restaurant version.  I am in love. 

D's feedback was that he would have liked them a little bit crispier, so next time I make them, I will cook them at a lower temperature for slightly longer to allow them to dry out properly (I've reflected this change in my instructions below).  But I don't think the aim is to get them really crispy.  He agreed with me that the flavour was very good and particularly liked the fact that they have a decent whack of heat. 

The original recipe calls for you to just spoon them onto a pre-prepared baking sheet.  I actually used a silicon mini cupcake tray which was great for keeping them an even shape but probably meant that they were slightly deeper than the originals.  Again, an increased cooking time should ensure that they are cooked through and not at all doughy in the middle.  If you don't have a tray, by all means revert to the original method.  It may slightly affect the number of bhajis that the recipe produces.

Here, you see them served alongside Nigella's cherry tomato curry, coriander rice and coconut flatbreads.  My team's "Tea of the Month" theme this month was vegan and this was my entry.  If it doesn't win my pride shall be very hurt indeed...


1.5 cm root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped or grated
1/2 green chilli, chopped
Tsp cumin seeds

250g brown onions
Tbsp rapeseed oil

45g chickpea (gram) flour
20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Makes around 10 - 1 Smart Point (WW Flex) each

These can be prepared in advance, but if baking straightaway then preheat the oven to 170 and either have a silicon cupcake tray to hand, or line a banking tray with a piece of lightly oiled foil.

In a pestle and mortar, bash together the ginger, chilli and cumin seeds with a generous pinch of salt to make a paste.

Peel and halve the onions and then thinly slice them into half-moon shapes.  Gentle heat the oil in a large bottomed pan and then add the onions and fry for around 15 minutes until they are soft and translucent.  If they look like they are catching, turn the heat down and add a little splash of water.

Transfer the onions to a bowl and add the ginger and chilli paste, along with the other ingredients and another decent pinch of salt.  Mix well and trickle in a little bit of water - a couple of teaspoons should be fine - in order to form a thick batter.

Use a tablespoon to put these on the pre-prepared tray - make sure you leave a bit of space between each bhaji if you're baking them freehand.  Place in the oven for around 35 minutes until they are starting to brown on top. 

Serve, alongside a delicious homemade curry or just a dollop of chutney.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

MPM: 27th May 2019

For some reason, I failed to hit Publish on this yesterday so here it is, a day late...

Happy Bank Holiday weekend to all UK readers! And a very happy birthday to my lovely Mum who is twenty one again today.

Meal planning this week - we're both out on Friday night (separately) so nothing planned then and D is popping out for a couple of end-of-the-month pints tomorrow so something quick and easy that can be thrown together when he gets in is required. 

Otherwise (and some of these are uncharacteristically vague):

Monday: salmon and rice bowl with pickled ginger and radishes, spring onion and pea omelette, wasabi and sesame cucumber salad, crispy onions, crushed wasabi peas and Sriracha mayonnaise.  It's suppose to sort of nod towards sushi flavours.  (Edit: we didn't end up cooking this last night as I was suffering from tummy trouble. Apparently, the medication I'm on to counteract my body's total inability to handle food is in short supply which means despite putting my repeat prescription in well over a week ago, I still ran out and had to miss some doses.  Sigh.  I've been in a tremedous sulk over this, since I'm actually in quite a lot of discomfort and spending far more time on the toilet than is ever desirable.  Sigh again. I'm supposed to be cooking it this evening, but I'm still feeling a wee bit delicate so might do something a bit less elaborate and bump this to next week.)

Tuesday:  leek, potato and taleggio tangle pie.  A tangle pie, by the way, is when you use shredded filo sheets on top rather than pastry so it feels slightly healthier than a normal pie.  Making the filling with lots of oozy butter and cheese should successfully counter any health benefits.

Wednesday: spaghetti Carbonara

Thursday: fish (whatever looks nice) with new potatoes and asparagus

Saturday: it's a weekend fakeaway, courtesy of a Teeside Parmo

Sunday: roast pork belly (from the freezer) with, er, two vegetable sides, tbc.  I was thinking this braised fennel recipe might be nice.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

A bit of mixing and matching

I have recently successfully applied for a new role at work which means for the first time in my illustrious career, I will actually be line managing staff.  I have successfully avoided this for nearly fourteen years, so this is quite a big deal for me.  It seems to me to be a disgustingly grown-up type thing to do (NB: I may be turning forty next year but I am still waiting to feel like an adult and suspect that it may never happen).

Anyway, I’ve had a very busy few weeks: first there was the preparing for the interview and then doing the intervew and then afterwards the worrying about the outcome of the interview which obviously all took up quite a lot of time.  And then when said outcome was revealed there was the slight panic that I have a lot of work to try and wrap up in a relatively short period.  So the little time in the day that I used to carve out for blogging seemed to disappear. 

Anyway, it always seem slightly self important to explain one’s absence from the Blogosphere, as if people out there were genuinely wondering why I hadn’t posted a meal plan or a vaguely food / diet relate ramble, so I will drop the subject without further ado.

The fact that I am moving to this now role on the 3 June (it is more a symbolic than an actual move since my new desk will be located about two rows away from my current desk) has got me all excited for a Fresh Start.  All perennial dieters love a Fresh Start.  Mondays, of course, are Fresh Starts on a miniature scale.  The first of a month is also a Fresh Start and I get especially excited when the first of a month falls on a Monday because it is a Fresh Start Squared.  A new job sits outside of these and yet it is still a lovely opportunity to Draw A Line. 

I’m just trying to work out at the moment what this Fresh Start will look like so that I can take full advantage of the opportunity and the explanation of my new plan is rather convoluted, so bear with.

I realised the other day that if I had lost a mere half a pound most weeks since I started blogging, then, even allowing for, say, a couple of pounds the other way at Christmas and over the summer I would be over ten stone lighter.  I never needed to be over ten stone lighter so, in fact, I would be at goal and maintaining.  And yet, along the way, half a pound would have felt so puny and insignificant.

To lose half a pound, you have to create a rough calorie deficit of 1,750.  If you spread that over weekdays alone, that’s just 350 calories a day!  350 calories is nothing!  With this in mind, I started thinking – what about if I just tried to shave a small amount off my calorie intake from Monday – Friday with an aim of just drifting down by half a pound a week, but doing it in such a way that was genuinely sustainable, would genuinely have a minimal impact on my life.  And this is the combination of techniques that I came up with:

Intermittent fasting: a common manifestation of this is 16/8 which means you limit the window during which you eat to just 8 hours a day.  So, my plan is to stop eating after dinner (usually around 8pm for us) and then not eat for 16 hours (which takes me to noon the following day).  Some days it might be later, some days it might be earlier, but it doesn’t matter; the key is just to get that 16 hour fast in. 

Weight Watchers: from the breaking of the fast until, say, six in the evening, my plan is to count points, with the broad aim of having around a third of my total allowance during this time.  This shouldn’t have a major impact since I’m usually at work and taking a pack-up so by sticking with plenty of zero point fruit and veg and lean protein, I should be able to eat something fairly decent.

Then, for just two hours a day, no rules apply other than trying to eat mindfully – i.e. not for the sake of it, not too much (very akin to the principles of HDE).  I might even keep a paper food diary just to help encourage this mindfulness (nothing like putting you off eating an entire tube of Pringles if you then have to write it down).  This means that we can cook and enjoy an evening meal – and many of the meals we have are fairly healthy and low point anyway because the years of WWing mean that I tend to keep portion sizes down and veg content high anyway – without having to measure every swig of oil, without having to avoid certain foodstuffs because they are just not diet friendly. 

There is additional flexibility in that there is no reason why the two hour HDE window has to be in the evening – so if I want to go out for lunch with my team, for example, I can do that and then count points for the afternoon / evening.  Which, again, is easy enough.

I reckon doing this should be enough to get me the 350 calorie saving that I need.  Of course, this also means that weekends are free too, but again, the eating needs to be mindful because I would need to be aiming for roughly maintenance calories in order to preserve the deficit.

If I could achieve this, it would be a stone by Christmas.  It sounds pitifully slow but I refer you back to my earlier point – time passes and it’s all very well to lose weight more quickly but if you can’t sustain it over a long period then it’s all for nothing.  It might go back on, it might not but you’re never going to reach the end point because there are too many barriers.  Sustaining something, anything, has always been the issue for me and I think that is because deep down I want the freedom to cook and enjoy good food more than I want to be thinner.  I need to use the tools that I have to make minor tweaks to almost fool myself into changing.

I’m going to give it a whirl anyway, and will report back when I’ve got a month or so under my (managerial) belt.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

MPM: 6th May 2019

I genuinely don't know where this year is going.  May, already?  Bonkers! 

Anyway, we are currently dahn sarf with the family, so this is a pre-recorded message...

Meal planning this week proceeds thusly:

Monday: away from home.  Not sure what the plan is. 

Tuesday: back home.  Probably a lazyish tea.  We mentioned pasta pesto with salmon, which requires minimal effort and mainly storecupboard ingredients.  If we can't be bothered to go to the supermarket after the long drive back from Essex, it may just be pasta pesto.  That's OK with me, to be honest.  I like pasta pesto.

Wednesday: D is doing a variation (what form this variation will take has yet to be revealed) of an old favourite: pepper crusted tuna steak with cucumber and mustard "spaghetti".

Thursday:  I was keen to throw a nice veggie meal into the mix, so I've opted for Ottolenghi's shakshuka which I've been craving recently.  Homemade flatbreads on the side.

Friday: At D's request, fish and chips.

Saturday: Chicken schnitzel, Parmesan mashed potatoes and a creamy mushroom sauce.

Sunday:  I have some pickled rhubarb and ginger mix leftover from Easter Sunday and I've become slightly obsessed with the idea that it would work really well with duck.  So I'm going to make slow roasted duck legs with rhubarb.  Not sure of the sides yet, or how the dish will look, but if it works out well then I'll be sure to report back.

Hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend and happy cooking les touts!

Friday, 3 May 2019

Hunger Directed Eating: Deja Vu or Deja Woo-hoo?

I apologise for the appalling title.  It is Friday and it is the end of the week and I am ready for the weekend.  A four day weekend, no less, since we have tacked an extra leave day on after the Bank Holiday.  We are off to London, but not to see the Queen - to see my brother, D2, my sister in law and my gorgeous nephew and nieces.  So, much to look forward to.

In the meantime, Hunger Directed Eating, or HDE, has been popping up a lot as a tag on my Instagram feed recently so obviously I clicked on it for a nosy around.  I might be missing something, but it seems to be VERY similar to the kind of thing that Paul McKenna was pushing years ago with his "I Can Make You Slim" programme, minus the slightly spooky hypnosis CD.

The gist is that if you eat like a slim person, you will get slim.  Which makes sense to a certain extent.  You have to listen to your body, eat what you want, when you want and stop when you are satisfied.  For dieters, this sounds like the Holy Grail - no restrictions, no counting, no nothing.

I must admit, while I think it sounds pretty great, I am slightly sceptical.

One: learning to eat instinctively is a VERY GOOD THING.  If someone is suffering from a binge eating disorder then reprogramming yourself that you no longer categorise food as "good" and "bad" is excellent.  And if you can crack it, it's the most natural way to maintain weight loss in the world.  But...

Two:  if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, I am unconvinced that you will manage to do it with a programme that sells itself on the notion that there is no restriction whatsoever.  I am no biologist, but I am fairly sure that the human body is instinctively (key word here) more likely to want to maintain the status quo (including fat stores which are a useful defence against future famine) than it is to get smaller.  Obviously, if you go from bingeing seven days a week to eating a normal diet, you will create an initial calorie deficit and you will lose some weight.  But to lose four stone (say) you would have to create an overall calorie deficit of (roughly) 196,000 calories.  Over the course of a year, to do this you would need to instinctively undereat by 536 calories a day.  For a woman that's a quarter of their daily maintenance requirements.

Three:  again, if you are someone with a significant amount of weight to lose, you have likely been ignoring your instincts and your body for a very long time.  You are likely to be very, very good at it.  So to expect to completely reprogramme yourself and lose weight at the same time seems a tough ask.  It's a bit like...well, say you are a really terrible driver and you take a driving test and end up mounting the pavement and ploughing into a load of pedestrians before ending up in a duck pond.  You have utterly failed at something which is a very natural and instinctive skill for other people.  HDE strikes me a bit like you've climbed out of the pond and are wondering what to do next and the driving instructor hands you the keys, rips up the L plates and says, "Yep, you've proved to be really bad at this driving but the instincts are probably there somewhere so just trust yourself in the future and you'll be fine."  It just doesn't make logical sense.

Four: almost without fail, every photograph I saw with an HDE tag was of high calorie, high fat food.  Now, it might well be that the user is eating a Full English for breakfast and then is so full afterwards that they pick on fruit and carrot sticks for the rest of the day.  That's kind of the point.  But when you see pictures like that, all captioned: "I can eat this and still lose weight!" you being to wonder if we've got a bit of a case of the Emperor's New Diet here. 

Anyway, I would love to be proved wrong here - so if anyone has come across a genuine, long-term success story then please share.  I'm going to see if I've still got that Paul McKenna book kicking around somewhere; aside from anything else, that CD was one of the best insomnia aids that I have ever yet encountered for all that it didn't help to make me thin...

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Recipe corner: A springtime trout tray-bake

A momentous thing happened today: D bought his first ever umbrella. Up until this point, he has claimed to be agin them. Unless they are made by Aquascutum and cost several hundred pounds and, short of a lottery win or an elderly, hitherto unknown eccentric millionaire relative leaving me their fortune, I am NEVER going to think that is a good idea.

Anyway, he now has an umbrella which is useful, as it looks as if Easter weekend was a temporary aberration and we are back to the chill, damp days of the English spring. And to celebrate, last night we ate a meal that was extremely springlike, a celebration of all of the wonderful produce around at this time of year. If you have a jar of Hollandaise lurking in the back of your fridge (as we did for some reason) this is the work of minutes. You could make your own if you like. Or you could sub in a nice, rich mayonnaise or creme fraiche or even plain yoghurt.

This is seriously easy, low effort (difficult sauces aside) and a delicious Friday night fish supper.


2 x trout fillets
Heaped tsp of Dijon mustard

250g new potatoes
Pack of asparagus, woody ends snapped off
Tbsp vegetable oil
Tsp dill

2 heaped tbsp Hollandaise sauce
Small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice

Serves 2

Preheat the oven to 180.

Cut the potatoes in half and place in a pan of cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes, before removing with a slotted spoon into a large bowl. Bring the water back up to the boil and then throw in the asparagus spears and simmer for one minute. Then drain and run cold water over the spears until they have cooled down.

Toss the potatoes in the oil, dill and season well. Transfer to a large ovenproof tray (I used my flat Le Creuset casserole but a baking tray would do as well). Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the asparagus dry and put it in the potato bowl. Swish it around so it gets coated in any remaining oil. You might need to add a drop or so more at this point. Season the asparagus.

Brush the underside of the trout with the mustard. Season the skin well.

After 15 mins, remove the tray from the oven. Push the potatoes to the edges and then bung in the asparagus and lay the trout fillets, skin side up, on top. Return to the oven for another 12 minutes. While this is cooking, stir the chopped mint and lemon juice through the Hollandaise.

After 12 mins, the trout should be cooked through, and the asparagus tender. Serve, with dollops of minted Hollandaise sauce on the side.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Easter Sunday lunch - 2019

For the second year in a row, D and I decided to push the boat out a bit for Easter Sunday lunch.  Although we did not eat it at lunchtime.  And we are neither of us practicing Christians (although I still maintain that my Catholicism is lapsed rather than totally extinct.)

Last year, we had duck.  This year, we again blew raspberries in the face of tradition (which demands that one serves lamb on Easter Sunday) and had pork.  Roast belly pork.  Twice cooked.

But first, not so much as a starter as an amuse.  An idea that we blatantly nicked borrowed from the specials board of The Reliance last week.  Little Jersey Royals, parboiled and then tossed in oil and roasted, split and topped with sour cream and caviar (not the real stuff, I hasten to add).  Reader, this is such a simple idea but it is SO effective and would make a marvellous canape, especially during Jersey Royal season.

Onto the pork, and my husband takes roasting belly pork very seriously.  This behemoth of a joint was slow cooked, pressed and then finished under the grill per the method that I've described here.

I, meanwhile, was in charge of side dishes, and I made lightly pickled rhubarb and stem ginger - not quite a chutney - based on Diana Henry's recipe here.  It was absolutely delicious with the rich meat.  She served it with a pork loin that was flavoured with caraway and juniper - I knew that wouldn't fly with the Pig Master, so decided to introduce caraway, at least, into the meal by sauteeing little cubes of potato with caraway seeds until crispy and golden.  Finally, we needed something green and so I made a delicious tangle of kale, blanched and then cooked together with onion, bacon and cream and flavoured with bags of black pepper and nutmeg.  To bring everything together, the splendid pork gravy.  And yes, we did serve the gravy in a miniature gravy boat.  The first rule of Masterchef Presenation is that the sauce should always be on the side.

Having devoured that, we were quite pleased that we had kept the starter light because still to come was dessert and this was another very rich dish, for all that I kept the portion sizes small.  Chocolate ganache, salted caramel sauce and candied salted peanuts.  I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do but used this recipe as a rough guideline.  It tasted like a very posh Snickers which is a Good Thing.

It wasn't till after we had finished that we realised that not only had the starter been a blatant rip off tribute to The Reliance, but the other two dishes were also based on things that we have eaten there in the recent past.  Which tells you that a) we love The Reliance and if you are ever in Leeds, you should go and b) eating out is an important source of culinary inspiration and therefore is entirely justified in all circumstances. 

Happy Easter one and all!

Monday, 22 April 2019

Meal planning (Bank Holiday) Monday

I don’t really know how to cope with a sunny Bank Holiday weekend. It seems so non British somehow. I managed to burn my left arm on Saturday while at the first Eat North of the year and have retreated indoors subsequently. The sun and I are not the best of friends and I will never, never understand the appeal of just lying around stewing in one’s own sweat.

Anyway, we are due storms this week so hurrah. Although, come to think of it, I don’t much like rain either.

Meal planning. Tonight, I’ve thrown together a supper to use up some odds and sods in the fridge. Potato and watercress frittata. A slaw flavoured with the remains of a basil and mint pesto. Fresh baked bread. Tomorrow, I’m out. Wednesday, D is out. And on Thursday we are going to see The Avengers straight from work. I’m not usually bothered about seeing films the second they come out but we decided that it would be practically impossible to avoid spoilers unless we completely eschewed the Internet.

Next weekend, the plan is: 

Friday: trout fillets with Jersey Royals, asparagus and minted hollandaise

Saturday: homemade pizza (this got bumped last week)

Sunday: sticky pork belly with noodles. Although I’m wondering about doing the pork stir fry per the recipe and serving it with rice instead. I’ll see how I feel at the time.

Whatever the weather decides to do this week, have a good one my lovelies.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Meal planning Monday (sort of): 15th April 2019

Meant to post this yesterday and, er, failed.  But we carry on regardless!  It's just a shame that meal planning Tuesday doesn't have such a pleasingly alliterative quality.

Anyhoo, how are you dearest reader?  I hope this finds you well.  We had a bit of drama at the weekend when the cat decided to either have a midlife crisis or start her bid for the Best Actress statuette at next year's Oscars.  It culminated in her being frogmarched to the vet who announced that she has slightly dodgy kneecaps.  As my mother said, one never thinks about cats having knees.  She now appears thoroughly pissed off with both us and life in general.

Of couse, she can express such emotions by leaving us little turd shaped indications of her displeasure in the hall.  The rest of us have to keep soldiering on despite the fact that a) Brexit, or the lack thereof, is a constant source of stress (modern day politics is NOT good for those of us with higher than normal anxiety levels), b) work is unrelenting and c) no lottery win has yet been forthcoming.  I mean, I'd take the millionaire's raffle, I really would.  I doubt that I could quit work for a million pounds but I could definitely buy a nice handbag and, as we all know, a nice handbag always helps.

In the midst of all this, of course, there are people going through real crises.  Peridot, if you happen to read this - still thinking of you and sending much love to you both through the blogosphere.

So to meal planning!  It was actually our anniversary on Sunday - not our wedding anniversary but 15 years to the day since we first met.  Our first date was in a not-particularly-great pub in York.  This year, we celebrated with steak which has become our go-to treat meal ever since we discovered reverse searing.  About halfway through said steak, we realised that one would comfortably have done both of us.  And so, last night, the rest of it was thinly sliced and served in a sandwich with caramelised onion mayonaise, mustard, and lightly dressed leaves.  Elsewhere this week...

Tuesday: split pea and ham soup

Wednesday: pan roasted chicken breast with sweetcorn puree and a potato and chorizo gratin

Thursday: D (rather than Charles) is in charge and he is undertaking to produce a spring veg risotto

Friday: creamy salmon pasta (opting for fish like the good lapsed Catholics that we are)

Saturday: homemade pizza.  Not sure what form this will take as of yet.

Sunday: a special Easter meal of roasted belly pork, lightly pickled rhubarb, kale with cream and bacon and caraway roasted potatoes.  There may well be pudding.  And even a starter.  And I shall spend the entire day in clean pyjamas.  Hurrah!