Friday, 20 July 2018


I did actually give the Smart Points programme a whirl when it first came out a few years ago.  Back then it was slightly different in that daily and weekly point allowances were a bit higher but fewer foods were zero points (just fruit and veg as opposed to the fruit, veg, chicken, fish, eggs, pulses etc. of the current iteration).
I was against it from the start.  I lost weight very well on the Pro Points programme (this was the version of WW prior to Smart Points). In fact, when I was going to meetings in 2014, I lost a stone in my first four weeks of Pro Points, which is pretty impressive.  So I already had a natural resistance to the change. 
And I do stand by what I thought then which is – Smart Points is more restrictive than Pro Points and it does feel more like a “diet” if you try to eat in exactly the same way.  I remember that when I was doing Pro Points, I found it pretty easy to eat sensibly and still have a piece of chocolate after dinner or a mid-afternoon biscuit.  A daily treat.
But I think my mentality is slightly different now because my focus, my absolute priority at the moment is my health rather than weight loss (although no, I'm still not quite over my disappointing result - I'm only human!)  My poor old body has been rather through the wringer and I want to treat it well, to nourish it.  Coming at Smart Points from that angle has made me realise that the very phrase “daily treat” is a total oxymoron.  The dictionary definition of a treat is: an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.  Out of the ordinary!  Which probably doesn’t – or shouldn’t – mean daily.
Realising this has made me far more receptive to Smart Points.  When I look back over my first week, I can see that the quality of my meals improved markedly, particularly with regards to vegetable and protein content, and snacks mainly consisted of fresh fruit.  There was a bag of salted popcorn on Friday evening (deliberately chosen and enjoyed) and that was it.  Other than the chocolate truffle I had to end my meal on Saturday evening, I don’t think that I had any sweet stuff (again, apart from fruit).
First week fervour obviously helps make this easier but I think that bearing this in mind will really help me get along better with the Smart Points programme.  It will be interesting to see whether or not the scales come round. 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A post weigh-in post

Well, I am surely glad that I did write my pre weigh-in post before I went to the meeting. Because the scales were not kind. In fact, they were positively bitchy, informing me that I had managed to gain a pound over the course of the last week.

I’m no stranger to gains – they’re a fact of life, and I try to be sanguine about them but, oh! This stung quite a lot. Such that I could actually feel my eyes get hot and prickly when I stepped off, even while I was cheerfully telling the leader that I wouldn’t let this put me off and would give it another good go this week. Then I went to the meeting shop and spent £7 on over-processed WW own products that are full of the type of sugar replacements that people with delicate tummies should probably avoid.

But while waiting for the meeting to start, I actually sat and read my own post and it did make me feel a lot better. So what if the scales are taking a while to catch up? I know, in my heart of hearts, that I did my very best this week, that I made good decisions, and that I took proper care of myself. Hopefully, good results will follow (said with gritted teeth).

In other news, someone emailed me a few weeks ago to say that this blog had been listed as one of the Top 5 UK Weight Watchers Blogs and Websites in 2018. I’m not sure how many UK Weight Watchers Blogs there are (probably 5), and I’m not quite sure that this has actually been a Weight Watchers blog for a while but hey! We take our victories where we can. And the thumbnail of Minx they have used is one of my favourites so it’s worth a click just to admire her.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

A pre weigh-in post

So, first week nearly over and in a few hours it will be time to hop up on the scales.  Whether they are the Scales of Doom or the Scales of Joy remains to be seen. 

I wanted to make sure that this post was written and up before the weigh in, so that I can look back on it regardless of the result.  Because, whatever the scores on the doors, this has been a successful week.

As I hoped, operating within a structure has been really good for me.  I have been eating properly for the first time in a while and my fruit and veg consumption has rocketed as I embrace zero point snacks.  This has had a knock on effect on my mental health – I feel much calmer and more in control.  And physically, my stomach has been OK.  Not perfect, but OK. 

I have had a lovely weekend with friends and managed to enjoy myself without going ridiculously overboard, without adopting a “Screw it, I can’t point so I’m going to eat and drink everything in sight,” attitude and, hugely, without having a drink.  I am a girl who loves her alcoholic beverages: to get through an entire sociable weekend watching other people tuck into large glasses of Pimms while sticking to water is a pretty big deal.  But I made the decision that it wasn’t worth the points and it wasn’t worth the potentially catastrophic effects on my beleaguered digestive system and I stuck to it.

So whatever the scales have to throw at me today (and I’m genuinely in the dark) I’m going to try and remember that, by any other measure, this has been a GOOD WEEK.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Summer in the city - a weekend round-up

I didn’t want to go down to London last weekend, I’ll be totally honest. I was nervous about being away from home – from D, from the cat, from familiar surroundings - and, bluntly, from my bathroom. I also did not want to have to spend a weekend guestimating points just a few days in to my newest and shiniest WW attempt.

I had more or less made up my mind not to go but D wasn’t having any of it. I don’t envy him much of the time; living with someone who is very anxious must be exhausting. You constantly have to be strong for them, to push them to overcome their entirely irrational fears. So I was effectively frogmarched on to the bus on Saturday morning – but, in the end, all was well and I had a lovely time and have come back with that new sense of confidence which comes from venturing outside the comfort zone. Thank you, D.

Of course, the fact remains that I have two days where my tracker may be way, way off. Well, actually, I think that I am fine for Sunday since we ate in and I was able to find all food items in the catalogue. I winced a bit that the innocent looking honey and seed rolls that we had for lunch turned out to be 9 Smart Points, but heigh-ho, that’s what weeklies are for.

Saturday night required a lot more guesswork, but whether I’m under or over, the meal itself was worth it. We went to a restaurant called Ember Yard in Fitzrovia and it was LOVELY - especially gratifying given that I suggested it. It’s a menu of small plates with a Spanish and Italian slant – some of the dishes are recognisable from the typical tapas repertoire, others not so much. Highlights included (surprisingly) chargrilled flatbread with thyme and smoked butter (so good we immediately ordered another) and a lovely special of sea bass with ajo blanco.


I tried a little bit of everything, but stuck to water rather than indulging in wine or cocktails and then, in lieu of a dessert (tough going – the churros looked amazing) I ordered a double espresso and a single dark chocolate and Pedro Ximenez truffle (which item I thought was a really clever addition to the dessert menu). A divine full stop to the meal.


Also – if you’ll forgive me ditching the food talk for a minute – we went to the open air theatre in Regent’s Park, to see a production of “As You Like It” which was brilliant! Such a funny, sweet, silly rendering of the play, which I hitherto hadn’t considered one my favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies. The musical settings were a little bit cheesy but the cast carried them off with aplomb and the whole thing was an absolute joy. I’ve never seen a bad production there – and it’s a lovely venue if the weather holds out. If you’re London based and find yourself at a loose end, get thee hence.

After returning in such a good mood, I am not exactly sure what misguided impulse compelled me to jump on the bathroom scales yesterday morning. I haven’t weighed myself on them for a while, so I have no idea how my weight today relates to my official WI last Wednesday. If I was expecting to see a large drop after a whole four days of counting, I was doomed to disappointment. Not for nothing does lovely Peridot call them the Scales of Doom, because I immediately felt sulky and annoyed and resentful. The answer is clear – official weigh ins ONLY from now on and a focus on progress rather than perfection.

Monday, 16 July 2018

MPM: 16th July 2018

Back from the smoke, and ready to do my first Weight Watchers sponsored* MPM for a while.

*NB – Weight Watchers do not sponsor me. Which is a shame, because I could really do with the extra cash. I would also take payment in low point fizzy cola bottles, which is probably all that I am worth to them.

The current tactic is to plan a week’s worth of dinners first, point these up in advance and then build the rest of the week around the evening meals. That way, they get to stay as “normal” as possible – which, for me, is a priority. I’m hoping, therefore, that there shouldn’t be too much noticeable change to the weekly meal plans, but it will be interesting to see how that pans out over the following weeks and I may find that I need to start modifying things slightly if getting through the day proves tricky. Once the weather cools a little, I’d be quite keen to re-introduce a weekly soup night which would allow us both to have a day a week where we could build in a more decadent lunch or a few evening treats, but there is not a chance that I’m attempting to eat any soup other than gazpacho at the moment.

This week – D is out with friends on Friday which means prick and ping for me. I currently find myself with a raging sweet tooth, so I may get something really low point and then have a nice pudding afterwards. I saw Rachel Allen make a chocolate chip croissant bread and butter pudding on TV last night and almost swooned. Although I suspect that I would have to eat dust for a day in order to fit that particular pudding into a daily points allocation. Then, on Saturday we are seeing my Mum and Dad for dinner which should be lovely. Elsewhere:

Monday: fish tacos, inspired by Felicity Cloake’s recent column. I’ll be shallow frying / baking the fish to keep points down and replacing sour cream with fat free yoghurt. Sigh.

Tuesday: sweet potato cakes with coriander yoghurt dressing and salad. A lovely Ottolenghi recipe made much less virtuous than it sounds by frying said cakes in butter.

Wednesday: spaghetti carbonara. This is post WI. I am not promising that there won’t be some garlic bread on the side as well since, officially, points don’t reset until Thursday morning. Mwah hah hah.

Thursday: chicken Caesar salad. Am going to dust off my old WW version of the dressing and see how it fares. I plan do to little cubes of paprika dusted roast potato in lieu of croutons.

Sunday: we have a pot of delicious Bolognese sauce in the freezer. I can’t decide whether just to have it with a mound of spaghetti and courgette ribbons, or to make a gnocchi bake (we have some gnocchi in the fridge) with a gooey Mozzarella topping. I have yet to point up the sauce from the original recipe so that might tip the scales one way or the other.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Hard part over...

First meeting – check. D walked me to the doors to prevent me from chickening out. Fortunately, the meeting venue is about a two minute (slow) walk from our front door so there is literally no excuse to go, come rain or shine.

It was fine, as these things always are. My weight was, almost to the pound, identical to my pre-op weight last year (the best point of comparison since both are done fully clothed). So I’ve definitely proved that I can do maintenance. It is a small victory, but one to which I cling.

The revised plan sounds quite interesting. Chicken, fish, eggs, fat free plain yoghurt and pulses and now all zero point, alongside the old fruit and veg zero heroes. Hurrah! However, daily and weekly allowances are down. Boo. I still find the Smart Points formula far more restrictive than the old Pro Points one – foods high in fat and sugar are punitively high and the foods that they have selected as zero point definitely suggest that they are pushing people towards a more protein based diet (and I am a self-avowed carb monster). However, I think that this is going to be doable. Many of my favourite meals will likely take up a good two thirds of my daily points allowance, but I can stick to practically zero for breakfast (fruit and yoghurt) and lunch (salad and protein or soup).

Last hurrah supper – check. Pizza, from our divine local takeaway. Didn’t manage to eat it all, so it languishes in the fridge at the moment. Actually, that wasn’t hard at all (although resisting the leftovers might be).

First fully tracked day – check. I came in with two points to spare, which have been “rolled over” into my weeklies (you can now save up to four a day which is another innovation, and most welcome). Fruit, couscous and chicken salad, salmon with pasta pesto. Full of first day fervour, I found it relatively easy to avoid snacks and swiped away the offer of lunchtime fish and chips with nary a quiver.

So – hurdles yet to overcome. I’m away Saturday and Sunday, popping down to London for a night to see friends. It’s a shame that I can’t get one full week of “proper” tracking under my belt, since obviously I’m going to have to make some guestimates away from home. But I’ve already decided to eschew drinking and will just try and make sure that my food choices are as sensible as possible. Hopefully the Scales Of Doom (TM- Peridot) will look favourably on my efforts next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Sunshine, lollipops and a new blog post

Long-time no blog!  It is probably a little self-indulgent to say that I hope that I haven’t been missed – but I feel it is slightly justified given that lovely Hazel left a comment on my last post saying she missed my Meal Planning Mondays!  I promise to reintroduce them forthwith.  With regards the radio silence:
Reason the first – my digestive discomfort issues have been continuing.  I have always prided myself on the robustness of my digestive system and this has been unpleasant and disconcerting.  I finally plucked up the courage to go the GP and it is probably something very simple related to stomach bile (sorry if TMI) post gallbladder surgery.  It is not uncommon and can be controlled with medication.  So once anything more sinister is ruled out (and giving that all of this has only kicked off post surgery it seems highly unlikely) I will be rendered as right as rain by the wonder of our NHS.  Happy days.
Reason the second – which is related to reason the first.  Long term readers will know that, from time to time, I have a bit of an issue with anxiety.  Or rather, Anxiety, because anxiety is when you’re a little bit worried about a presentation that you have to do at work the following day and Anxiety is when you are frightened to leave your bedroom for reasons that are obscure even to you.  It’s frightfully common nowadays – the go-to mental health issue de nos jours, so I feel like something of a cliché but there you have it.  Fretting about my health and always trying to ensure the nearest toilet was within easy access in case of emergencies combined with my existing predisposition and made me…well, a bit shaky.  I don’t want to dwell on this too much – if it’s boring and tedious to me then it is undoubtedly boring and tedious to you.  Needless to say, fasting went by the wayside (low blood sugar is the last thing you need when you’re wobbling anyway) as did much cooking or, indeed, taking much pleasure in food.  (Sorry for the melodrama – can you understand why I didn’t post now?)
I haven’t weighed myself in a while but from the feel of clothes and suchlike I think it is all relatively stable but I’ve not been eating particularly well and that is stupid, because one of the best things to do for your mental health is to ensure that your diet and fitness are on point.  So that leads me to reason the third why I’ve been a bit reluctant to blog.  I’ve decided to go back to WW for a bit.
I know that I swore off it and I truly believe that, in the longer term, intermittent fasting will enable me to maintain my weight without being a slave to the pointing and weighing and measuring.  But I also believe that just for now, a bit of structure, something to focus on, would be a Good Thing.  And if I can ditch a few pounds in the process it will be an Even Better Thing.  I don’t intend to be evangelical about it.  I will eat out and have nights off – life is too short to never eat another takeaway.  And I will continue to monitor the situation.  If the return doesn’t justify the effort well, then, I’ll stop.
I’ve already signed up for the app and will be going to my first meeting tonight.  I’m intrigued about the new plan – it seems to be edging ever closer to Slimming World with more zero point foods – including lean poultry, fish, eggs and pulses.  I struggled initially when WW switched from Pro Points to Smart Points so it remains to be seen if the further changes make it more or less doable.  Regardless, a healthy project is just what I need at the moment to take my mind off my own navel. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Recipe corner: Creamy salmon pasta

Everyone has a dish that they remember, perhaps from childhood or perhaps from a holiday, something that sticks out as being the absolute essence of Delicious. For D, it is a creamy salmon pasta dish that he once had while on a skiing holiday in Italy. He cannot explain what it was that made it so perfect, and, as with so many things, I suspect that it was partly a configuration of particular external circumstances that makes the memory so precious but, nevertheless, I wanted to have a creamy salmon pasta dish in the repertoire to please him.

The thing is, the majority of creamy salmon pasta dishes that I looked at are pretty much salmon, cream and pasta. Maybe a bit of white wine and/or lemon. There never seems to be much to them which I think makes them sound pretty bland.

Here, I’ve upped both the umami and the acidity. The shallots, Parmesan and, importantly, the anchovies, add a savoury note to the cream, while the wine and the lemony cooking dishes add much needed zing. I also really like the mustard here - not so much as to make its presence too obvious but just an underlying hum of warmth. Salmon, mustard and dill is a fantastic combination.

This is simple, quick to cook comfort food of the highest order. It may not quite live up to that one plate of pasta eaten by a young man in the Italian Alps, but the slightly older man who had it for his tea in a living room in Leeds seemed pretty content just the same.


2 salmon fillets
Half a lemon, thinly sliced
2 tbsp white wine

2 shallots, finely minced
Generous knob of butter
2 anchovies
50ml white wine
150ml double cream
30g Parmesan, finely grated
Scant tsp of English mustard
Generous tsp freeze dried dill

150g dried pasta

Serves 2, generously 

Preheat the oven to a 180. Put out a large square of tin foil and lay the lemon slices out in the centre of it. Season the salmon fillets well and then sit them, skin side down, on the lemon. Gather up the sides of the square foil, sprinkle over the wine and then bring the edges together to make a parcel. Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins (the timing will depend on the thickness of the fish) until the salmon is almost cooked through but still moist.

Once the salmon is cooked, the sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to do the pasta. So bring a pan of salted water to the boil and set a second, large pan over a low heat.

Tip the pasta into the water and set a ten minute timer.

Melt the butter in the other pan and, just as it starts to foam, bung in the shallot. It should be minced fine enough that it turns soft and translucent pretty quickly - 2-3 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook for a further couple of minutes until they have melted into the shallots.

Pour over the wine and turn up the heat. Reduce until practically all the liquid has disappeared and then pour in the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes. Reduce from the heat and stir through the Parmesan until melted completely.

To finish the sauce, flake through the cooked fish (discarding the soggy skin), ensuring that any fishy, lemony, winey juices also get poured in. Season with salt, pepper and dill.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little bit of cooking water. Stir through the sauce adding a splash or so of the water, if needed, to ensure a clinging texture (particularly pertinent if you prepare the sauce in advance).

Monday, 4 June 2018

MPM: 4th June 2018

Last week of work before a little break. Phew! There’s been the odd long weekend here and there, but otherwise, we’ve not had a proper stretch of time off since January.

If I’m honest (and I can’t lie to you Dearest Reader), fasting has completely dropped off a cliff recently. And I’ve noticed that the scales have crept up a couple of pounds. So a nice break and a proper recharge will hopefully give me a much needed mental boost and ability to recommit.

So, onto this week’s meal plan. I’m going to stubbornly put soup down for Monday and Thursday so as to start out with good intentions.

Monday: soup

Tuesday: kedgeree

Wednesday: pea and harm tortellini, tossed in butter, Parmesan and black pepper

Thursday: soup

Friday: we start the holiday with appropriately festive and chips

Saturday: home made pizza. Haven’t done that for ages.

Sunday: freezer diving. How thrilling! Although we may just end up eating leftover pizza...

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Recipe corner: cumin spiced rice salad with lime and herbs

I will never tire of my coronation rice salad but this is a great alternative that requires very few ingredients and certainly things that I always tend to have knocking around. It’s possible that you might not have any fresh limes in your fruit bowl (as gin and tonic aficionados this is not a problem we experience) - lemon would probably work too.

Don’t skimp on the fat in the initial cooking stage - this will lightly coat the grains in lieu of any other dressing. I sprinkled some pickled red chillies over the portion that I took for lunch (see below. Also note my pretty, pink lunchbox. Could I be more of a cliche girlie girl?) These were an excellent addition.


30g butter
Tbsp vegetable oil
Red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
150g basmati rice
300ml vegetable stock

Zest and juice of 1 lime
Large handful of soft green herbs (mint, parsley, coriander...)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Melt the butter and oil together over a medium to low heat. Once melted, add the onion with a decent pinch of salt, cover, and turn the heat right down. Cook until very soft, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the garlic and dried spices and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Stir through the rice so well coated in fat and spice, then pour over the stock. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer then cover again, put the heat on its lowest setting and cook for 5 minutes. Then, turn the heat off altogether and leave covered for a further 5 mins, at which point the rice should be cooked through.

While the rice cooks, chop together the herbs.

To finish the salad, stir through the herbs, lime zest and juice. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Recent eats - the at home edition.

The days fly by so quickly that, on the few occasions when I have sat down to write this post, I have ended up spending a good five minutes staring at a blank screen while attempting to remember what on Earth I have actually cooked recently. I mean, I do cook - most days. And it usually tastes pretty good. But I have an appalling memory, especially when it comes to blogging. I’ve resorted to going back through my photos as a reminder which means that this post ends up being a summary of the dishes that I have photographed recently rather than particular favourites, but there. I suppose that if I was moved to photograph it, I probably liked it.

Actually, I’m going to start by talking about something fantastically delicious for which I do not have a picture. I mean, I do have a picture but it is so spectacularly bad, even for me, that I’m not prepared to use it. And that is D’s Merguez burgers. When he made his last batch of Merguez sausages he reserved some of the meat to make into patties. We fried these and then loaded them into a brioche bun with houmous, slices of roasted red pepper and a minted yoghurt and feta whip. What a combo. What a burger. Why am I writing this post while hungry?

For something a bit more refined, I commend to your attention Nathan Outlaw’s pan fried fish with spring vegetable nage. Such a versatile dish. Such an understated pleasure to eat. I’m having a bit of a moment with hake recently, so that is what we chose to serve here and just behold that wonderful, salty, crispy skin - a perfect foil to the silken creaminess of the nage underneath.

And another lovely seafood dish: the always wonderful Diana Henry’s crab, tomato and saffron tart. I used the recipe in her latest book, but this online version looks much the same. Now I, personally, often find crab a bit cloying, but the layer of almost jammy tomatoes cuts through that richness and provides a welcome contrast. Unfortunately, my pastry skills remain poor and I struggled with the shortness of the dough here; I ended up smushing it into the tin like Play-Doh rather than rolling it out. Still good though, and it did us two suppers and one packed lunch accompanied by a variety of salady bits and pieces.

Finally, not so much a dish but another very welcome addition to the fridge: I’ve been strewing these pickled chillies over a lot of things recently and they’re a lovely way to add tiny pops of both acidity and chilli heat to all sorts of dishes. Along with my continuing sriracha obsession, and the fact that I manage to find a way to incorporate D’s green chilli and coriander salsa into practically everything I eat, I’m becoming quite the chilli fiend!

Monday, 21 May 2018

MPM: 21st May 2018

A lot of the dishes on our menu recently have had a definite Asian slant. It just seems to be the direction in which my mind wanders when I start to think about what I want to eat. Now, obviously, Asia is a massive continent - both literally and in terms of culinary diversity, but I trust that you know what I mean when I make such sweeping statements.

This week, we are going out to dinner with Pater and Mater on Saturday, to celebrate the latter’s birthday. And, inevitably and ever optimistically, we have planned to eat soup on both Monday and Thursday. I am beginning to hate soup. Elsewhere:

Tuesday: we have leftovers of Sunday’s lemongrass and turmeric chicken to eat up, so we’re going to do an approximation of a bahn mi, by shredding it into a baguette with some crunchy veg and a slather of chicken liver pate.

Wednesday: paneer, red pepper and coconut curry. I LOVE a paneer based curry.

Friday: five spice caramel pork. I want to have this with noodles if D is agreeable (he is not the biggest fan of noodles in the world), if not, I am sure it will work equally well with rice.

Sunday: a recipe from “Our Korean Kitchen” - a spicy beef and vegetable stew, served with rice.

Happy Monday everybody!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Recent Eats - the Out and About Edition

My brother told me earlier that he was upset not to have been mentioned on the blog recently. So - hello D2. If I had got round to talking about the rather splendid meal we had at The General Tarleton for my parent’s anniversary then his name might have come up (given that he was there. As were my lovely sister in law and nephew and niece. I was slightly worried that little D and little S would be bored silly going out to eat but they, as befits the next generation of foodies, were fab. Better table manners than their uncle 😉).

Anyway, not only have I neglected to write about the GT but quite a few recent foodie adventures have gone unchronicled, so I thought that I would do a couple of quick round up posts, one for eating out and one for cooking at home. Let’s start with the eating out, shall we? And maybe throw in a few characteristically appalling photos?

Firstly, Whitby. I mentioned, at length, how much I loved Rusty Shears but we also took the opportunity to check out the latest venture by chef Andrew Pern, The Star Inn the Harbour. Our verdict - nice. It is not, nor is it attempting to be, The Star Inn, and is unlikely to earn Whitby its first Michelin star. But Whitby was crying out for a slightly more upmarket establishment and this fits the bill. Emphasis on fish and seafood, just as it should be given the location. Slightly twee decor, but I like twee. My mackerel escabeche with caviar creme fraiche and salted hazelnuts was a particular highlight.

We also went to The Moon and Sixpence for lunch, a rare beast for Whitby, in that it is unashamedly modern in design. There was sriracha on the menu, for goodness sake, mixed with mayo and drizzled over some very yummy crispy squid. Happiness is.

D’s main course was underwhelming to say the least (it takes a certain level of incompetence to make a gumbo bland) but all was forgiven when dessert arrived - the most amazing warm cookie pot. I think that I probably made some inappropriate noises.

Talking of cookies - they appear to be having something of a moment. We went along to one of the first Eat Norths of the year, and forced ourselves to share a pot of raw cookie dough because we got given a sample while we queued for beer and...well. More inappropriate noises. It was sold by The Baking Biker and oh, sweet Cheezus, I’ve just seen that you can buy it online.

Finally, and bringing us bang up to date, I got around to visiting Mommy Thai last night. It’s a tiny little venue in Leeds city centre serving, unsurprisingly, Thai food, and very nice it was too, not to mention exceedingly good value - under £30 for one starter, two mains and two bottles of beer. I have a rather annoying tendency to always order Pad Thai when confronted with a new menu and this was a fine example of the genre.

But I think D’s main course of five spice pork pipped it to the post flavour wise.

They offer a special lunchtime deal and I am very tempted to head back soon and avail myself of it given that it is walking distance from the office. Although I doubt that I would achieve much by way of work in the afternoon with a tummy full of noodles.

Monday, 7 May 2018

MPM: 8th May 2018

I know life is busy, but at the very least I should be making times for meal planning posts. I mean, it is a basic right of all my beloved readers to hear about what I am eating, is it not?

I jest, and although I always feel that the first post after something of a pause should contain an apology for the blogger’s absence, it is something of a liberty to assume that people notice or care. Apart from my Mum, who texts me asking where the blog is. But she’s my Mum, and is therefore contractually bound to consider everything I do important and special.

The truth is that the last few weeks have been busy and stressful. We’ve not been sticking to 5:2 particularly and any weight loss has most definitely stalled - boo. Things should be improving now though, so we approach the new week with renewed vigour. I am also seriously considering signing up for a 5k run to incentivise me to actually complete the Couch to 5k programme. Every time I have started it, I have actually quite enjoyed the session but it is finding the motivation to trek out to, er, the garage in the first place which is proving tough (and yes, reading that back I know EXACTLY how pathetic it sounds). There’s one in a local park in mid July but I’m fretting that might be too soon as I need 8 weeks to do all the training runs and would then like to have at least a month of consolidation, including some Park Runs, to feel confident going in to the actual, organised event. So I might see if anything is going on in late August or early September. A lot of my colleagues are quite into running and from chatting to them I have gleaned that there are quite a lot of events going on from which to choose.

And so to meal planning. D has spent the last couple of days doing some serious batch cooking, so the garage freezer is now stocked with umpteen Merguez sausages and several pots of chilli. Our goal for the rest of the month is to try and eat down the indoor freezer. I’ve been desperate to own a Smeg fridge for quite some time now, and we’ve agreed that since we can’t afford to do the kitchen renovations we crave at the moment, we can at least splash out on a pretty fridge to make the space slightly more attractive. I mean, how beautiful is this?

Anyway, this is a convoluted way of trying to explain why sausages pop up not once but twice this week, albeit in different guises.

Monday: a bank holiday fast day - soup.

Tuesday: to celebrate the lovely weather, I suggested a salad. So tonight there is going to be some element of shredded veg and then some sort of satay dressing, probably with noodles and definitely prawns. This dinner is still rather at the concept stage.

Wednesday: already looking set to be a shocker of a day for me work wise. So I suggested something simple but oh so comforting with a half pack of sausages lurking in the freezer - the good old sausage sandwich. D is to contrive some sort of red onion marmaladey accompaniment.

Thursday: more soup.

Friday: a summery fish dish. Again, this evening is still rather at the concept stage.

Saturday: I am cooking the books, the book in question being Diana Henry’s latest (“How to Eat a Peach”) and the dish in question being crab, saffron and tomato tart.

Sunday: Merguez sausage stew with couscous.

Happy cooking and eating all!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Rusty Shears, Whitby (my new happy place)

We took ourselves off to Whitby for a couple of days this last weekend. We booked it months ago to mark the date on which we first met (fourteen!!! years ago) but we never need very much excuse to travel across. It's the perfect place to relax, take deep breaths of chip-scented sea air and be a wee bit indulgent.

And if it is indulgence that you are after, alongside a side of whimsy and a good, stiff gin then look no further than Rusty Shears - a tea shop come House of Gin. Was there ever a more appealing combination?

It doesn't open in the evening, but the sign reassures customers that gin is served from 11am, and there is nothing guaranteed to make one feel more hedonistic than ordering gin and tonic with lunch (we waited till one o clock because spirits before noon does feel wrong). There is an absolutely massive selection - we managed to try five different ones across the course of two visits and still had barely scratched the menu's surface. Amongst them - a local gin brewed in someone's garage just up the road and a Scottish gin with a mere two botanicals (juniper and rosehip should you be interested). It was total ginvana.

But obviously sustenance is needed alongside and the menu of sandwiches, light bites and the most delicious homemade cake hit the spot perfectly. I jumped at the chance to order a Reuben on rye, a great personal favourite, and D opted for wild mushrooms on toast. Then we committed the grave error of treating ourselves to a piece of cake apiece. I say error; the cake was fantastic, sublime. My Guinness cake with a thick layer of lighter-than-air-and-sweeter-than-a-kitten's-purr frosting was perfect. D's maple pecan cheesecake was a delight. But all that sugar occasioned, unsurprisingly, quite the slump and we ended up staggering back to our room for a much needed post-cake nap. Still, that's what holidays are for, no?

There was nothing that I did not like about this place from the eccentrically nostalgic decor (Miss Marple after she'd hit the gin selection) to the enthusiastic and charming staff. Oh, actually. I'm sad about the fact that it isn't open in the evenings - we could absolutely have whiled away an entire evening and an awful lot of money there - and that it is in Whitby rather than Leeds. But perhaps, given how much I both gin and cake, it is all for the best.

Monday, 16 April 2018

MPM: 16th April 2018

For the first time in quite a while, we have a full week of dining in to plan. Work is likely to be hectic and full on for the next few weeks, especially for poor old D who is currently co-ordinating a massive project on top of his day job. If he has any hair (or fingernails) left by the end of April it will be something of a miracle. So I want to make sure that he has plenty of nice evening meals to which he can look forward.

Monday and Thursday: fast day - soup.

Tuesday: this week's recipe book is Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals. I have no idea why I bought it; I dislike the concept and note from watching the programme (which is never off the Food channel) that Mr Oliver's timings do not include any sort of clearing up. Anyway. We're giving it a go and making a beef stroganoff with rice.

Wednesday: chickpea and paneer black pepper curry.

Friday: crispy sole with brown shrimp butter.

Saturday: D plans to make a batch of Merguez sausages. He's done them before and they are AMAZING. We're going to hold back a little bit of the mixture and make little patties to have as a burger. Can't wait for this!

Sunday: we've not had a roast dinner in a while so I think that it's high time for one with all the glorious trimmings.

Now that little lot has made me thoroughly hungry...

Friday, 6 April 2018

Easter Sunday lunch

Although Christmas Day is generally the time where we push the boat out with regards lunch, we decided to put a little bit of time, trouble and thought into our Easter repast this year.  And, might I say, the results were very pleasing.

We wanted our starter to be nice and simple and, as luck would have it, we still had a packet of Tobermory smoked salmon in the freezer so elected to have that alongside some homemade bread.  It turned out, when said packet was retrieved, that the smoked salmon was actually smoked trout but we enjoyed it just the same.  It needed nothing more than a scrunch of black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice to make it perfect.  As for the bread, my love affair with Dan Lepard's sour cream loaf continues.  Such a good bread.  We ate the last of it yesterday (Thursday), lightly toasted, and it was still very delicious indeed.

For our main course, we wanted to try and recapture the glorious duck dish that we ate at Joro earlier this year.  The duck was brined for 48 hours and then served with a coriander and peanut pesto and a katsu sauce.  To make it more substantial than the original, we added a side of rice through which we stirred D's coriander and green chilli chutney.  This was utterly sublime, and I intend to blog the full recipe very soon so that I don't manage to forget exactly what we did.  If you happen to come to our house for dinner in the course of the next year, it is quite likely that this is what you will be served.

D gave up sweet stuff for Lent, bless his heart.  For six weeks he eschewed puddings, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and cake like a little trooper.  So I let him choose what he wanted for dessert on Easter Sunday, and his request was for a no-bake lemon cheesecake.  When I came to research this, I found that the majority of lemon cheesecake recipes were, in fact, baked.  But I came across this one by Mary Berry which seemed to fit the bill nicely.  It may seem a cheat to use lemon curd as a flavouring but the results were delicious and it was incredibly easy to do.  Instead of making one large cake, which served eight, I opted to half the recipe and make four cheesecake pots which makes life an awful lot easier in terms of serving.  My only criticism was that, for me, the ratio of base to topping was slightly off - the biscuit at the bottom is always my favourite part of a cheesecake.  So, if I make this again, I'd probably up the amount of crumb in the bottom of the pots by half.  Bear in mind though that I am greedy. 

We finished with cheese from The Cheeseboard in Harrogate.  If you ever happen to find yourself in Harrogate, and if you are a lover of cheese, then you must make them a visit.  The selection is amazing and they do nice bread and chutneys too (although obviously my bread is better!)

There may not have been a roast lamb in sight (I will remedy that shortly - one should never have to wait too long for a roast lamb dinner) but a very pleasing meal all the same and it was nice to mark the most important celebration in the liturgical year for all that I would no longer consider myself a practicing Catholic.  I hope that everyone out there on T'Internet, particularly those of the Christian persuasion, had a very happy and holy Easter.  The next stop is surely Spring!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Recipe corner: D's green chilli and coriander salsa / chutney / sauce / thing

Hey! Long time no blog! I'd love to say it's because I've been out and about having adventures but other than going to work and getting ahead on my Goodreads challenge, I have accomplished very little.

I've been cooking - it's not that there has been nothing to say. We had a week of vegetarian meals, for example, which was great. I loved trying out some new recipes which included finally making Marcella Hazan's tomato butter sauce which I thought was DREAMY. And the kale salad that I served on the side was also a surprise hit.

We've also both developed something of an unholy passion for sriracha and are busily drizzling it on everything. Top tip - combine it with mayonnaise, Greek yoghurt, dill and a squoosh of lemon juice for the most fabulous burger sauce.

But today we're talking about another condiment which has taken up permanent residence in our fridge. This stuff is so good - stir it through rice, splodge it on cheese on toast or just eat it with a spoon, it's addictive. D just made his latest batch today and I got him to weigh out everything so that I could report it EXACTLY but, of course, as with any sauce of this type, you can tweak to your own individual tastes.

This keeps in the fridge for weeks. We run through it pretty quickly though.


150g green chillies
150g fresh coriander - stalks and all
25g shallot
25g garlic
90g vegetable oil
30g white wine vinegar
15g lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Whizz all the ingredients up together and season well. The end.

Monday, 12 March 2018

MPM: 12th March 2018

Happy Monday campers!  Actually, I'm writing this on Friday afternoon so the weekend is still to come.  I hope that it was a good one.  We have plans for a trip into town for brunch and books, the very nicest sort of day.  Although, really, I need to stop buying books.  I've got a tottering TBR (to be read) pile that I really should tackle before adding still more to it.  But I just can't resist - nothing makes me giddier than the prospect of a browse around a bookshop.  Except, possibly, a browse around a lipstick counter.

We digress.  For today, it is Monday, and that means meal planning (although, actually, we did that on Thursday so the meal plan was contrived on Thursday, written on Friday and only published on Monday.  Mind blowing.)

This week, we fast Monday and Thursday - and after a couple of poor weeks we are determined to get two good days under our belts.  On Friday, we are going for dinner at that behemoth of the Harrogate food scene, Norse.  Looking forward to that one.  Elsewhere:

Tuesday: a four cheese risotto.  Yep, that's right - risotto made with FOUR different cheeses.  The recipe is from The Silver Spoon.  I am looking forward to sinking into a cheesy coma afterwards.

Wednesday:  D has selected bangers and mash - there's very much a comfort food theme emerging here, isn't there?

Saturday: a recipe from "Simple" by the wonderful Diana Henry. Devilled mackerel with cucumber and watercress yoghurt.

Sunday:  roast pork.  Tomorrow, we embark upon a vegetarian week so I have promised D a good chunk of meat to see him off and he has challenged me to make better crackling than my mother, who cooked roast pork for us a couple of weeks ago.  It's not something I cook very often, but I will do my best.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Head - meet sand

I'm avoiding the scales for a few weeks.  Possibly because I've not been feeling 100% lately (I remain in terrible thrall to a delicate digestion and it is becoming rather wearing), the fact that the scales have remained stubbornly static is making me disproportionately annoyed and upset.  So I am giving myself permission to back off for a while.

In times like these, my mind turns to alternative methods of dieting which would get me to where I want to be a little quicker than this circuitous journey on 5:2.  I starting Googling the Keto Diet* the other day (high fat, low carb), flicked back through our Dukkan book and wondered whether I could combine 5:2 with 16:8 (which would mean on non-fast days only eating within an 8 hour window).  But I think, actually that I just need to give my head a wobble, to stick to what I'm doing, to up the exercise and to concentrate on the fact that I've found something that works (albeit slowly) and has improved my relationship with food a hundredfold.

*Anyway, if I started on an eating plan that allowed me to eat unlimited cheese I would literally end up TURNING INTO CHEESE. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

MPM: 26th February 2018

I cannot tell a lie, when I weighed in this morning and the scales yielded me a mere 0.4 lbs loss, I was disappointed.  I try to be very, very realistic about what I can expect on 5:2 but less than half a pound still stings.  I'm hoping that now my digestive system seems to be settling down a bit, if I keep on with the old keeping on I will see a better result next week. 

Talking of better results, yesterday saw me dip the very tip of my littlest toe back into the exercise pool.  Long time readers might remember that we have a treadmill in our garage, purchased back in the days when D was a keen(ish) marathon runner.  I've long been using every possible excuse to avoid venturing out there and climbing aboard, but given that it is clear that my 2018 Weight Loss Campaign needs a boost, I've done it.  And by "it", I mean I completed the Couch to 5k week 1, day 1 workout, which is really more walking than anything else.  Let's see if I can manage day 2 and 3 this week and maybe even reach the giddy heights of week 2.

Meal planning - we are out on Wednesday (a quick bite before a trip to the theatre) and on Sunday (lunch with the parentals).  Today and Wednesday are fast days.  There's not an awful lot else to plan.

Tuesday: Beef and fennel stew (from the freezer), mashed potato

Friday: Nigel Slater's fettucine with fennel and prawns - how adorably simple and delicious does this dish look?  Perfect for an end-of-the-week-collapse-on-the-sofa supper.

Saturday:  D is cooking two dishes from The Palomar Cookbook (a recent addition to our collection).  He plans chopped liver followed by a deconstructed kebab.  I shall be contributing homemade pitta breads to the proceedings.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Joro, Sheffield

D says that I would never make a professional restaurant critic because I am very bad at criticising places.  And I get his point - I would rather not write anything at all if I have nothing nice to say.  However.

There is loads and loads to like about Joro.  But if I book a table for a tasting menu - which I have been told by the restaurant themselves takes around two and a half hours - then I rather object to having to vacate the table after two.  Fair play to the server, he told us as soon as we arrived that they would need the table back at eight.  And, owing to bad traffic across Sheffield we were about five minutes late arriving for our booking.  And, I totally understand why restaurants turn tables - especially relatively new, popular restaurants who need to get bums on seats to generate revenue.  But two hours was stingy, by their own reckoning; as a result, the pace of the meal was slightly quicker than I would have liked and we were not offered coffee (which, as it happened, we would both have appreciated).  Clearly, the solution is not to book a table at six, but why should early punters be treated any differently to those who prefer to dine later? 

Ooooh, deep breath.  That was tough.  Back to the fan-girl stylings to which my readers are much more accustomed.  Because, as I said, there was loads to like here.  The style is difficult to describe except to say it is very distinctly, typically, a certain type of modern British.  Helpful, huh? They themselves describe it as "An urban restaurant influenced by nature" - which is fair enough.  I would add that they are not constrained by any particular cuisine type, seeing as how the flavour profiles seemed to range across Europe and out to the Far East in scope.

The ten course tasting menu was considered, balanced and well executed with some dishes touching upon the sublime.  Of the savoury courses, a full four were entirely vegetarian and it was great to see these plates holding their own against their meaty counterparts.  A tangle of roasted brassicas served on a black garlic sauce, for example, really demonstrated how vegetables can stand up to hefty, smoky flavours and deliver something that is more than the sum of its parts.

For all that, our favourite courses all happened to involve meat - so no chance of us converting yet.  Among the initial snacks, the cubes of homemade black pudding with apple cider gel were utterly divine.  The pudding had a dense, almost fudgy texture which I appreciated very much.

I was in raptures over 130 day aged beef tartare with smoked butter and truffle.  Just look at the amount of truffle on that plate!  That shows a real generosity of spirit in the kitchen.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not given that this was a brigade of chefs who clearly knew what they were doing, the beef more than held its own.  This was an autumnal dish, musty and earthy - again, huge flavours but all in harmony.

D was particularly taken with mallard - cooked sous vide in a brine and served with a punchy coriander pesto, soy ketchup and puffed rice.  I say particularly taken, he spent the rest of the evening talking about it.  And much of the next day.  He says that he wants to recreate it himself and consulted with one of the chefs as how best to do this.  I am quite happy with this development.

One of the desserts - a brown butter and muscovado parfait on a Parkin base with sherry syrup and sour apple - was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  The other was good, although paled slightly in comparison with this inspired combination of sweet and sour and spice.

So much to like and a minor annoyance.  I would go back to Joro, and considering Sheffield is about an hour away by train that's quite the compliment.  But I wouldn't book an early table and I'd probably point blank refuse to leave until they brought me an espresso.  Just to learn them.

Monday, 19 February 2018

MPM: 19th February 2018

Amazing meal at Joro last week (write-up to follow shortly). Less than amazing was my digestive system's reaction to it. Yes, I am having (ahem) ishoos at the moment with what feels like food in general (and, in particular, food) which I'm fairly convinced are linked to the fact that I had a bit of said digestive system lopped out last summer. It appears to be rather pissed off with me and is exacting revenge. I'm fighting back by keeping a detailed food diary complete with colour coded (ahem squared) movement monitoring which, at some point, I may need to go and wave at the doctor. Although I'm terrified that they'll make me FODMAP, or some such thing. Which would not be in keeping with my (shamelessly nicked) life philosophy of everything in moderation, including moderation.

Anyway, the point is that the meal plan unravelled slightly towards the end of last week to accommodate my delicate little self. Although we were back on track by Sunday for a fiendishly good fish finger sarnie. I reckon that I've nearly nailed ciabatta rolls which are the perfect vehicle for any sort of sandwich that has the potential to be messy: robust yet airy with an excellent flavour.

New week, new start and I've stuck to a fast day today (I suppose it's only half six, there's time for it all to go wrong) will hopefully be able to stick, more or less, to the planned meals for the week without needing to resort to gruel.

Monday: fast day - soup

Tuesday: freezer dived turkey curry with rice and cucumber raita. And maybe a flatbread if I can be roused to such dizzy heights.

Wednesday: fast day - soup (and a trip to the cinema to see The Black Panther in an attempt to distract from the hunger pangs)

Thursday: prosciutto capalleti, garlic bread, some sort of salad

Friday: as part of our ongoing quest to cook our books, I'm doing a couple of dishes from Tim Anderson's "Nanban". I think that I've selected Tonkatsu, which is the Japanese equivalent of schnitzel, with sushi rice and mushrooms with spicy miso butter. I'm not entirely sure that it would be considered at all authentic to both things together, but the idea worked in my head, so we'll give it a go.

Saturday: D has requested burgers, so I'll be doing ciabatta rolls take 3 and will leave the filling of them to him.

Sunday: we had a pot of cream in the fridge that needed using up, so I threw together a pommes dauphinois last week and whacked it in the freezer ready for next Sunday lunch. Such a rich dish needs very little else, so probably a small amount of roast meat and something no-nonsenseley green.

Monday, 12 February 2018

MPM: 12th February 2018

Shrove Tuesday, Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day falling in the same week? SO many reasons to indulge in fabulous food. Unfortunately, because we are going out for dinner on Thursday (about which I am SO excited!) we will be fasting on V-Day itself. Which is a shame because I had a very romantic idea about something I could cook for D, but it will keep. If I'd properly thought about things, I would have tried to plan in a Chinese dish, especially given how much I enjoyed the couple of recipes that we made by Fuschia Dunlop recently, but never mind. Instead, the plan is as follows:

Monday: fast day - soup

Tuesday: pancakes (crepes rather than American style) with bacon, chilli and maple syrup. This is an April Bloomfield recipe and really rather wonderful.

Wednesday: fast day - soup

Thursday: out for dinner, review to follow!

Friday: a freezer dive - turkey curry, rice, cucumber raita, flatbreads

Saturday: D might be out, in which case, prick and ping for me. If not, I intend to rustle up a quick spaghetti carbonara using a hard ewes milk cheese called Lord of the Hundreds, which we picked up at the weekend

Sunday: a homemade fish finger sandwich, combining goujons, green chilli and coriander chutney, cucumber in herby yoghurt and homemade (probably) ciabatta rolls. Lush!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Recipe corner: Pasta with ricotta and nduja

I have long wibbled on about the wonderful ingredient that is nduja and now it seems to becoming a lot more widely available and commonly used.  Why, even our local pizza place uses it as a topping.  If you have yet to experience it then I would describe it as being as a type of sausage, fiery with chillies and a very soft, paste (or pate) like texture. 

Our absolute favourite (again, I've banged on about this before) is from The Ham and Cheese Company who are London based but do mail order.  They're not particular cheap, and the delivery charges make one weep a little bit but they are very, very good.  Alternatively, M&S have started doing a very passable version, a jar of which I received in my Christmas stocking (Santa knows me very well).  I would say that the chilli heat is slightly harsher and the flavours slightly brasher than our favourite which is why this pasta dish, with the addition of ricotta to temper and soothe, was an ideal one to make with it.

It's the kind of supper that I adore - you can make the sauce while the pasta is cooking and have everything done and dusted within quarter of an hour, and yet it has a depth of flavour that belies such simplicity.  Highly recommended.


Tbsp rapeseed oil
Onion, chopped
80g nduja
100g ricotta cheese
30g Parmesan, finely grated
Tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
180g dried pasta
Grated Parmesan, to serve

Serves 2, generously

Set a pan of salted water over a high heat and, when it comes to the boil, tip in the pasta and cook for 8-10 mins according to instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and then sweat off the onion, covered, with a hefty pinch of salt, for 5 mins or so until soft and translucent.

Stir through the nduja, turn the heat down to low, and allow to putter quietly in the background. As it does so, combine the ricotta and Parmesan in a bowl along with the thyme and a hefty whack of seasoning. Then, add the cheese mix to the onion and nduja in the pan, stir well, and allow to reduce slightly.

Siphon off some of the salted water and then drain the cooked pasta. Stir through the sauce along with a generous slurp of cooking water so that the sauce clings elegantly to the pasta shapes.

Serve, sprinkled with a little further Parmesan.