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...



Ingredients

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.

Ingredients

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!

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Hello from Mull

So I promise to blog more regularly, leave you with the recipe for a truly excellent curry that FAILS TO LIST ONE OF THE KEY INGREDIENTS (thanks, Beth) and then disappear again in a puff of smoke.

The good news is a) the medication that I’m taking gives me a NORMAL DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. I cannot possibly convey to you how exciting that is after over a year of being nervous whenever I had to eat curry in public. And b) I am currently on holiday which is lovely. I write this from the flat we always take in Tobermory. There is a view across the harbour from the window. There is crappy television on the set. It is not long after seven and we are in PJs and drinking wine. We consumed rather a lot of seafood at lunchtime. Bliss.

I’ll be back soon, especially because I want to fill you all in on the most wonderful meal we had on the way up here, at a restaurant that sits right on the shore of Loch Fyne. In the meantime, Tobermory Cat (Ledaig to his friends) sends greetings.


Thursday, 7 March 2019

Recipe corner: Saag paneer (spinach and paneer curry)

Of all the British Indian Restaurant curries, saag paneer is one of my all time favourites and I think that I’ve finally come up with a home version that is good as any I’ve eaten out. I’d be the first person to say that I am not versed in authentic Indian home cooking. My recipe, detailed below, is a mash up of several others that I have collected like a spice loving magpie. In fusing these dishes together, I’ve probably created something as inauthentic as you like but, my view with cooking is that the most important question is always: “Does it taste good?” as opposed to: “Is this how my grandmother’s grandmother made it?”

NB: Since both of my grandmothers’ grandmothers were probably Irish peasants, I can’t imagine that they were concerned with much more than boiling up enough potatoes to keep their families fuelled.

Right - let’s talk the recipe. It may seem like something of a faff to cook, and spice, spinach and paneer separately and, if so, make the spinach as written and then just bung the cubed paneer cheese in at the end and stir well. You don’t even need to fry the cheese really, I just like the little additional texture that it gives.

Also, as with all curries, this one will benefit from sitting around in the fridge for a couple of days while all the flavours get to know each other. What I would suggest is, making the spinach in advance then spicing and frying the paneer fairly last minute to really maximise that lovely textural contrast mentioned above.

Some more top notch food photography for you...

Ingredients

For the spinach:

2 tsp rapeseed oil
Tsp dried fenugreek seeds
Medium onion, finely chopped

Generous tbsp of tomato purée, mixed with 120ml boiling water

2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Fresh ginger (equivalent weight to the garlic cloves), grated
0.5 tsp chilli powder
Heaped tsp cumin
Heaped tsp ground coriander
0.5 tsp turmeric
Heaped tsp garam masala
Generous pinch of salt

450g frozen spinach

For the paneer:

120g paneer cheese, cut into small cubes
Tsp rapeseed oil
0.5 tsp each of: ground coriander, cumin and paprika
0.25 tsp turmeric
Generous pinch of salt

Serves 2

Start with the spinach. Heat the oil, gently, in a large pan and add the fenugreek seeds. As they start to brown off and smell a little toasty, add the onions and fry until they are softened but not brown.

Next, in goes the diluted tomato purée and the rest of the spices. Mix well. Keep the heat nice and low and simmer everything together for about 5 minutes.

At this point you can add the spinach. Again, mix well and stir gently to allow it to melt and combine with the ingredients. Turn the heat down low, low, low, cover the pan and cook for 15-20 mins. You will need to check and stir frequently. If it is drying out, add a splash of water.

Place the paneer cubes into a large bowl, drizzle over the oil and sprinkle over the spices. Toss to combine.

To finish the curry: heat a dry frying pan over a gentle flame, add the cubes of paneer and cook, regularly shaking and turning, until start to go crisp and golden on all sides. Stir through the spinach before serving. The whole thing can be done in advance, paneer and all, but for maximum flavour and texture, make the spinach slightly in advance and stir the paneer through at the last minute.

Monday, 4 March 2019

MPM: 4th March 2019

In a vain attempt to recapture my blogging mojo I thought that I would do a meal planning post.  Meal planning has still continued chez nous over the last few months - some weeks have been more successful than others.  Some weeks I have been half woman, half Giant Hula Hoop.  What kind of monster invented the Giant Hula Hoop, by the way?  I'm obsessed with the bloody things and I've managed to make D obsessed with them as well.

Anyway.  Meal planning.  We have no plans this week - we're off on holiday at the end of March and are making vague attempts to be slightly frugal until then - so hopefully nothing should throw us off track.  Apart from Giant Hula Hoops.

Monday: soup.  A hangover from our 5:2 days, we've got into the habit of having a pot of soup on a Monday night.  It's quick, easy and a light start to the week.  I should really make my own but the whole point of soup night is the lack of cooking. 

Tuesday: Pancake Day!  We like our pancakes piled up in a stack, like the American style ones, and then served with crispy bacon, chilli flakes and lots of maple syrup.  Although lemon juice and sugar is always good too...

Wednesday: a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Simple" - fettucine with spiced cherry tomato sauce.

Thursday: mushroom risotto.  Keeps getting bumped, but I'm determined that it will get made this week.  If we've got any bacon leftover from Tuesday, I might bung some in for a bit of extra excitement.

Friday: smoked haddock rarebit with mashed potato.  I saw a contestant make this in the first round of Masterchef the other week and was immediately determined that I was going to do it too. 

Saturday: homemade pizza.  We haven't done this for ages, so it's about time.  D is planning to go entirely off piste, muttering about Merguez sausages, hummus, feta and pomegranate.  So I will keep mine super simple.  Maybe just a scant scattering of capers and chopped anchovies.

Sunday:  something with roast lamb.  Elaborateness levels to be determined by levels of energy and enthusiasm come Sunday.

Have a happy week all!

Monday, 25 February 2019

What's up, doc?

It’s somewhat customary, when one has been absent a long time from one’s corner of T’Internet, to apologise and offer an explanation.  So, lovely readers, the primary reason that I have not been posting recently is because it is hard to work up any enthusiasm for writing about food when you seem to spend half your life dealing with it at the other end.  I am sorry to be coarse, unladylike and to be offering what is undoubtedly I of the TM sort.  But there you have it. 

Finally, at the end of last week the problem was diagnosed as Bile Acid Malabsorption (BAM) or, as it is sometimes called, Bile Acid Diarrhoea (BAD), almost certainly caused by the removal of my gallbladder around eighteen months ago (I wrote a post about my experience with that so will link the two together in case it should prove useful to anyone).

I won’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of it, but basically BAM means that your guts are not absorbing as much bile acid as they should be so you end up with bile swilling around that your body tries to flush out by releasing more water – the result being that you end up with pretty much permanent tummy trouble.  A normal reasbsorption rate is about 20%.  Anything under 15% and you get your BAM diagnosis.  Anything under 5% is considered severe.  My rate was 1.8% so –well.  Winning. 

I have now started taking medication which should mean that the problem is sorted out and very shortly I will be looking back and laughing at all this.  Because, believe me.  I am not labouring under any sort of delusion that this is a Big Problem in the grand scheme of things.  I am perfectly well aware that there are many people out there who are dealing with far worse and I am a little ashamed that even at my ripe old age I have not got any better at pulling on Big Girl Pants and being stoic in the face of such annoyances. 

Monday, 21 January 2019

MPM: 21st January 2019

Ugh, I am so over 2019. I have spent much of the last few weeks feeling under the weather. Not ill enough to indulge myself like a proper invalid, just a bit bleurgh. I’m well into my second week of the cold that just won’t quit, I had to get emergency dental treatment last week to prevent me from having to go out in public resembling an extra from Deliverance and my stomach continues to object to anything I care to ingest. Harrumph.

Still, I’m sure it’s not all doom and gloom. Oh, I know. We finally, FINALLY cracked and bought ourselves a dishwasher which got plumbed in this weekend. Our kitchen, which is ridiculously wee compared to the size of our dining room because of piss poor planning by whoever designed the house, does not really have room for a dishwasher. But the unremitting washing up was just dragging us down so we moved our gorgeous 1950s style fridge into the dining room, convinced ourselves that it was a design feature, and moved the dishwasher into newly created space. Deep, deep joy. The eventual plan is to knock through and create one big kitchen-diner which would be a much better use of the overall space. But until such time as we win the lottery (oooh, or perhaps someone reads this blog and offers me a Changing Rooms style makeover in return for a good write up! Get in touch!) this will have to do.

Of course, this means that I am currently desperate to cook things that require multiple pans and bowls just for the pleasure of bunging them in the dishwasher and NOT washing them up. Regardez:

Monday: soup

Tuesday: mushroom stroganoff with rice

Wednesday: prawns with sweet potato and coriander mash and chilli sauce

Thursday: gnocchi baked with courgette, garlic and chilli

Friday: haggis with neeps and tatties (happy Burns Night to my Scottish friends!)

Saturday: Szeuchan style braised pork belly

Sunday: salmon with curried mussels

Have a lovely week all!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Recipe corner: Sticky Toffee Parkin


A disadvantage of being born in the period between Christmas and the New Year is that a lot of nice restaurants are shut. I mean, it’s not a disadvantage for the people who work in them who are, I’m sure, very pleased to be able to spend time with their loved ones. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to push down the misery of growing older with copious quantities of delicious food and wine, then it can be a problem. So often, I ask poor old D to cook for me. Next year (which ends in a 9 which means it is not a big birthday but it is very nearly a big birthday and thus I am likely to be quite depressed) I’m just going to get takeaway pizza and a Colin the Caterpillar cake, I promise. But this year he delivered quite the triumph with his “Chicken Caesar Salad 2018”, pan fried seabass with lobster butter and, best of all, sticky toffee parkin.

This latter dessert is a reminder of all that is good and true in the world, even in these days of Brexit and Trump. It has all the spice of the traditional Yorkshire Parkin (my recipe for that is here) but slightly lighter of texture and, of course, DRENCHED in golden toffee sauce. You could have a bit of cream or ice cream alongside but, to be honest, you don’t need to do so. It is perfect as it is.

It should be noted that my husband cooks very big puddings indeed. The quantities that he provides as serving 3 could easily be stretched to 6 (in my humble opinion) if being made for people with normal appetites who are coming to the end of a substantial meal. Obviously, because it was my birthday I just engaged my Pudding Stomach and ate an entire one as described. But on your birthday it is OK to be greedy.

Right. Per the man himself:

Ingredients

75g self raising flour
40g oatflakes
5g ground ginger
1g ground nutmeg
1g mixed spice
3g baking powder
85g soft dark brown sugar


1 medium egg
28g butter

5g bicarbonate of soda
85g chopped dates
143g boiling water

Serves 3-6 depending on levels of greed

Oven at 180C.

Butter 3 metal rings - diameter 7cm and height 6cm, wrap tin foil round bottom quite tightly, the mixture is quite wet and will seep out otherwise. Butter the bottom of this too.

Put all the dry ingredients in your Kitchen Aid, using a K-whisk attachment, whisk ingredients until incorporated.

Add egg, and whisk until incorporated.

Add butter, in centimetre cubes and whisk until incorporated.

Add the boiling water to the dates. Add the bicarb. Mash the date mixture.

Add to the other ingredients and whisk until incorporated.

Pour into the rings, until about 1cm below the top.

Put in oven for about 25 minutes. Don't worry if the tops catch slightly as you will be cutting the tops off so they are flat.

Once they are done i.e. you can skewer them cleanly, leave to cool.

Make the sauce.

Ingredients

60g salted butter.
60g soft dark brown sugar.
50g double cream.

Put ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Stir. Done.

Remove tops off the puddings (the puddings will rise about a centimetre or more above the height of the rings, which will make it easy to cut the tops off.)

Remove them from rings, using a knife round the sides.

NB: You could, at this point, divide each cylinder into two portions by cutting horizontally through the middle.

Put in a bowl.

Pour over the caramel sauce.

Eat.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

New year, new you?

What is it about January 1st that makes us all think we will suddenly ditch our every bad habit and arise from the ashes of our previous failures like a glorious, slender, beautiful, healthy, mindful, balanced pheonix?  I've lived through enough Januaries now to know that it NEVER happens and, also, that the darkest, wettest, coldest more miserable time of you is probably the period in which you are least likely to succeed in instituting lasting changes.

With regards to weight loss, I long ago tried to ditch the "I want to weigh xxx by yyy" because, well, that way certain madness lies.  And it most definitely has improved my general relationship with food such that I have managed to end the last two years lighter than when I began them, which is progress in the right direction. 

My experience trying WW Flex last year was a really positive one.  I lost weight and felt like I was eating really well.  But after a couple of months, the old itchiness started creeping back in.  I started resenting the constant measuring and tracking and starting yearning for all those things that just didn't fit naturally into the programme.

Previous to that, I managed to lose weight successfully, and keep it off, using intermittent fasting and here, too, I see many benefits.  You get all the unpleasantness out of the way across two days and the rest of the time you learn to practice moderation.  And you really do - no longer are you stuffing in a full size pizza because "diet starts tomorrow".  But the fast days were really, really hard - I'm horrible to be around when my blood sugar gets too low - and increasingly I was making excuses to skip one or both fasts a week.  Which means you're then just eating normally all the time - which is fine if you're maintaining but not if you have weight to lose.

It strikes me that by combining the two I might be on to a winner.  One fast day a week - not fun, sure, but doable.  To counter: one "day off" built into the week: a day to cook that roast pork belly recipe that won't fit in to your daily points, or get that takeaway or eat that doughnut.  Five days a week of counting.  Maybe four - if I can get away with a day and a half "off" (generally Friday evening and Saturday) and still lose a pound a week, I'd be perfectly happy.

So that's the long term plan.  But, for now, I'm using January to lay the groundwork.  I'm not back to pointing yet but I have instituted the one day a week fasting.  For the rest, I'm concentrating on getting back to eating in a regular, moderate way after the madness that is the latter half of December.  Snacks are out, midweek drinkies are definitely out (alcohol reserved for weekends only).  Plenty of vegetable based meals.  A proper routine at bedtime and in the morning to get my sleep sorted out.  More steps daily, even if it just means getting of the bus a stop early.  Little, healthy habits.  It's not dramatic or exciting but I think, from now, on I'm treating January as less of a fresh start and more of a gentle transition.

Monday, 7 January 2019

MPM: 7th January 2019

It’s 2019 mes amies! And how has it started off for you? I am not going to spend my first meal planning post of the year whingeing so I’m just going to say it is Sunday evening, my cat is on my knee and I had the most AMAZING steak ever last night. Reader, Google reverse searing. It will change your life.

This makes it clear that I’m not doing Veganuary. While I wholeheartedly applaud any of you who have risen to this particular challenge, I am just going to come out and admit that I love animal products far too much to ever give them up. We buy the best quality that we can possibly afford but even so, my refusal to give up eggs, cheese, steak, smoked salmon...(continue list ad infinitum) probably makes me selfish. I certainly intend this year to make renewed efforts to ensure that a high proportion of my meals, particularly during the day, are meat free.

Let’s look at meal planning then. I’m going to brunch with some work colleagues on Saturday (and, by brunch, I mean extended piss up) so I’m assuming I won’t need supper. D has a Ginger Pig pork chop in the freezer that he plans to devour. Elsewhere:

Monday: roasted spiced squash and red onions, couscous with olives, goats’ cheese. We have some beautiful Yellison leftover from Christmas that I am excited to use.

Tuesday: soup

Wednesday: more goats’ cheese, this time combined with some beautiful green veg and lemon to make a zingy risotto.

Thursday: we’re going to use some homemade Merguez sausages to do a spicy twist on a toad in the hole, with harissa onions.

Friday: monkfish with Romesco sauce.

Sunday: we’ve been bumping a Diana Henry miso chicken and sweet potato traybake for weeks now and, dammit, we’re doing it this week.

Happy cooking all!

Monday, 31 December 2018

2018 - the year in review

As with most years, 2018 was like the curate’s egg – good in places.  For the most part, it involved a lot of keeping on keeping on.  Work ramped up and became considerably more stressful in the latter few months for various reasons beyond my control – bad.  I struggled a bit with my continuing digestive issues which began to have an impact on my mental health – tedious beyond belief for all concerned.  But there were no big upsets, or dramas or traumas – good.  We had a couple of lovely trips away, including a few days in a little shepherd’s hut in York which I never got around to detailing on here – excellent.  Yet again, I have managed to end the year lighter than when I started it, mainly thanks to a successful re-acquaintance with WW back in the summer.  That may have trailed off a bit of late but I am keen to get stuck back into it now we are emerging from the month of December, when somehow it becomes normal to eat mince pies for breakfast.

Dishes of the year is a tough one to call.  We went back to Raby Hunt and loved it every bit as much the second time around but given that many of the dishes were almost exactly the same as the ones that we had eaten previously, I don’t feel quite right to hand over another coveted trophy to them. 

An early contender was most definitely the stunning duck dish that we had at Joro in Sheffield.  We liked it so much that we recreated it at home for our Easter Sunday lunch, and I am not convinced that our version wasn’t even better!

The duck at Joro

The duck chez nous

But, to be honest, the thing that still stands out for me is this little fellow.


Pizza, Jim, but not as we know it

This was the scallop sashimi, spring truffle and togarashi spice “pizza” that we ate in Skosh back in June.  As mentioned above, I never really got around to talking about our York trip in much detail but we were lucky enough to eat some wonderful food and this dish was just head, shoulders and upper chest above pretty much everything else we’ve eaten this year.  Put it this way: we liked it so much that we immediately ordered a second one.  It sounds weird, it sounds like everyone’s idea of badly done “fusion” but the combination of flavours, the delicately balanced marriage of the sea and the forest floor, was absolutely sublime.  Skosh changes the menu pretty regularly, so I doubt I’ll ever get to have it again.

Dessert of the year came in the closing moments, and it may sound ridiculous when we’ve eaten at some truly wonderful venues, including Il Ridotto in Venice where we were served the most glorious, challenging pudding combination of truffle, ginger and pumpkin which was as strange and wonderful as it sounds.  Yet nothing can compare to the dessert that D made me for my birthday this year – the sticky toffee parkin.  A mash-up of the traditional sticky toffee pudding and the Yorkshire parkin.  I have the recipe and I will be blogging it shortly.  If you like sweetness and spice then you will adore this, I promise.

Sticky toffee parkin


And an honourable mention to the Guinness cake that I ate during my first visit to the Rusty Shears.  The thought of this still makes me smile.

More icing than cake


At home, we’ve been dousing everything with sriracha and coriander and green chilli chutney – sometimes both at the same time.  My palate is becoming better and better at tolerating heat and I’m really beginning to learn how, like a pinch of salt or a drop of acidity, it can really bring cooking to life.  If I was going to commend one recipe to your attention this year it would be the chutney / sauce / salsa / whatever because it is such a good fridge staple.  I can think of few savoury dishes that would not be enhanced with a hefty splodge of this stuff.

As ever, I’d like to thank everyone who pops by and reads my little blog.  I still enjoy writing it after all these years, as a chronicle of adventures both at home in the kitchen and further afield.  And while it may not be a diet blog per se, it still stands as testament to the fact that I will never quite give up on trying to nudge the scales down to unremarkable levels. 

To all of you I wish a very happy New Year and here is to great things for all of us in 2019.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Post Christmas blue(berry scone)s

Seasons greetings to all! We are now in the period of the year where, if your household is anything like ours, you will be barely moving apart from the well trodden path between the sofa and the kitchen. Secretly, you will already be planning the health kick to end all health kicks on which you plan to embark at one minute past midnight on January 1st. And then you remember that you’ll have a fridge full of NYE leftovers at that point so best hold off until you return to work.

Today is my birthday. Most of the year, I dislike having a birthday so close to Christmas but, I must admit, there is something nice about having an event to look forward to post Boxing Day if only to punctuate the naps. I woke to the smell of blueberry scones in the oven - there are few better smells than home baking and, I might almost suggest that it beats the more commonly evoked scent of bacon frying into second place. But I digress. Behold these beauties which were sweet and buttery and perfect with a cup of tea. They were an almost exact replica of the old Starbucks berry scones that I used to adore back in the day and which the bastards saw fit to stop producing (in the U.K. at least).


Hopefully everyone had a wonderful Christmas dinner? Our duck legs were as delicious as ever (I don’t really understand why we only tend to cook them once a year). And D’s last minute brainwave of making shredded duck and black pudding bonbons, very lightly flavoured with Chinese five spice, was a genius addition.


We were due to spend Boxing Day eating a Christmas dinner proper with my parents. And, indeed, D managed it. But I took to bed mid afternoon with a stomach like a washing machine - a potent combo of my gnarly digestive system in uproar about the surfeit of rich food and drink that I had dared to subject it to, and that wonderful monthly visitor that makes it such a pleasure to be female. I am rather sad about this, although 24 hours of barely eating seems to have calmed things down slightly and my Mum did package up some turkey and sausage-meat for me to enjoy a traditional post-Christmas sandwich. Hopefully, it will be sorted out early in the New Year (the gnarly digestive system rather than the being female bit) at which point I might buy a turkey breast and offer to cook them a not-Christmas dinner in recompense.

That aside, it has been a lovely festive season and I have once again been reminded of how lucky and blessed I am. A blog is a funny thing - even one which is ostensibly about dieting and food will often come to be treated as a sort of confessional and that means the focus here might be skewed towards the less positive aspects of my life. This year, like all years, has brought its issues and struggles but also its gifts and it will be the memory of these latter that will endure.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Recipe corner: Mince pie brownies


Mince pies and a filthy imposter!
As I mentioned in my last post, my team at work had a mince pie bake off recently.  I toyed with a number of ideas, including a delicious sounding Mary Berry recipe for mincemeat topped with frangipane, but ultimately decided to veer off in an entirely different direction, a decision which may or may not have been slightly motivated by my fear of pastry.

I don't know what the issue is; when I've attempted pastry it has always worked perfectly well.  But, in my head, it is something that I Can't Do.  I used to feel the same about bread and I got over that, so perhaps 2019 should be the year that I take on pastry.  Although 2019 is also supposed to be the year that I finally lose a few stone and emerge from a chrysalis of podge like a beautiful, middle-aged butterfly.  The two things are not particularly compatible.

Anyway!  Mince pie brownies.  Good Food magazine have a recipe for this online wherein they recommend inserting actual mince pies.  I thought you'd get a better flavour if you stirred the mincemeat itself straight through.  And for a bit of crunch, I chopped up some shortbread biscuits (working on the basis that most people will have shortbread lurking around the house at Christmas) and bunged those in too.  Delightful.

The basic brownie recipe is based on my go-to which is from the Hummingbird Bakery book.  I have never been to the Hummingbird Bakery but I commend their brownie skills.  I've reduced the sugar for this batch, on the basis that the mincemeat will be pretty sweet and I don't want the whole lot to end up sickly.  Spoiler alert: they did not.

Additional spoiler alert: these did not win the bake off because they were not enough of a mince pie.  Pah.  I think they're rather delicious anyway.

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
175g unsalted butter, chopped

210g caster sugar

110g plain flour
15g cocoa
Tsp ground cinnamon

3 eggs

Half a jar of mincemeat
4 shortbread finger biscuits, roughly chopped

Makes around 16 - 20 brownies

It might take a few bowls here, but I’d recommend getting everything weighed and ready to go before you start which then makes this the easiest job in the world.

Preheat the oven to 170 (160 fan) and grease and line a square tin.

Chocolate pieces and butter in one, microwave proof, bowl.

Sugar weighed out in another bowl.

Flour, cocoa and cinnamon in a third.

Mincemeat in a small pan.  Set over a really low heat.  You want to melt the suet and make the whole thing slightly more liquid which means it will distribute evenly through the batter.

Microwave the chocolate and butter on a medium heat for around five minutes or until melted and glossy.  I find this easier than setting up a bowl over boiling water.  You need to take it out and swirl it around every so often to prevent it from overheating, but as long as you set the temperature to medium-low (about 50% on my model) it should be fine.

Add the sugar and stir well until incorporated.  I find that this works best if I add it in about three lots, stirring well after each time.  Then sift in the flour / cocoa / spice combo and stir well again.


Break the eggs into one of the bowls you used for the dry ingredients and lightly whisk before adding to the batter.  Again, I find that it incorporates best if you do it in about three goes, briskly stirring after each addition.

By now, the mincemeat should be nice and melty (a technical term!) so remove from the heat and allow to cool very slightly while you fold the shortbread pieces through the mix.  Finally, stir through the mincemeat. 

Transfer the lot to the prepared tin and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes (actually, they took 20 in my oven but it is a BEAST).  

The brownies are ready when they have a shiny crust and the underneath quivers very slightly when you remove them from the oven.  Alternatively, stick a skewer (or a piece of spaghetti – my implement of choice) into the cake.  The brownies are done when it emerges with a few scant crumbs clinging to it.  There’s a really good visual of what I mean here. 


I defy anyone, mince pie hater or not, to dislike these.  The combination of boozy fruit and chocolate is, to my mind, absolutely irresistible.  Merry Christmas all!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

A pre-Christmas catch up

I cannot believe that Christmas is almost upon us and I, for one, am nowhere near prepared.  How goes it for you, dearest readers?

Most of our Christmas dinner preparation is underway, thanks to D.  The duck legs are sitting quietly in a box of fat in the fridge, the braised red cabbage and clementine ice cream are in the outdoor freezer alongside a couple of pots of turkey curry to enjoy in the fuggy period between Boxing Day and New Year.  And this weekend, I will be turning my attention to Christmas crumble: there will be a layer of apple, a layer of mincemeat and then a crumble topping flavoured with orange zest, cinnamon and chopped nuts. 

Dieting quietly fell off the agenda a good while ago so at the moment I'm all about the damage control which is not easy in an office when there is a permanent supply of Christmas snack foods.  My team actually held a mince pie bake off last week.  I went off piste and submitted a batch of mince pie brownies, which I thought were fairly epic, but they were proved a gamble too far and failed to win on the basis that they were not mince pie-ey enough.  My genius is clearly not appreciated.

Burgeoning waistline aside, I must admit that I have struggled to get into the spirit of things so far this year.  I always used to adore Christmas but now wonder if I'm just getting a little bit too old to buy in to the magic in the same way that I always used to.  Maybe not having children means that you just lose that sense of wonder.  Or maybe the fact that Bella Italia have seen fit to put Christmas Dinner lasagne on their set menu this year (I don't like to swear on this blog but WTAF?) has just made me feel that everything has gone a little bit too far.

Anyway, I hope to be on again at some point to run through my dishes of the year (I'll bet that'll have everyone on the edge of their seats for the forseeable) but in the meantime, I leave you with a picture of my beloved Minx being long suffering in a Christmas scrunchie - looking at which makes me think that perhaps I can still muster a little bit of festive wonder...

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Recipe corner: Sausage and kale gratin

This is my take on a dish called panade, which, I must admit, I knew nothing about until I started to look for ways to use up some kale lurking at the bottom of my fridge. Hugh F-W described it in an old Guardian column as a sort of cabbage, onion and stale bread gratin which doesn't sound immediately tasty. It certainly isn’t attractive which is why I haven’t bothered to include a picture. An unattractive, rustic dish combined with my lamentable food photography skills equals a picture that looks like nothing on Earth.

I liked the idea of the layers of bread, cheese and cabbage all melded together by the stock. But why not add a bit of additional interest in the form of crumbled up sausage meat? My mind was going along the route of a pimped up stuffing which can often contain some element of offal. For my first version, I used a bit of haggis that had been languishing in the freezer, for the second, some crumbled up slices of black pudding. Both excellent, although I know neither ingredient is to everyone’s taste so I have suggested sausages in the ingredients list below. Incidentally, while I have included weights and measures in the recipe it is really the kind of dish that can be adapted to suit individual taste. If you want to be a bit heavy handed with the cheese, or whack in another sausage that you happen to have lying around, I certainly won’t tell.

This can be a side dish or a main event depending on how hungry you are. It is rustic food, a meal for an Autumn evening of long shadows and air that nips at your fingers.

Ingredients

150g curly kale
Tsp butter
Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

3 small onions, thinly sliced
Tsp vegetable oil
Tsp butter
3 standard size sausages, meat squeezed from casings
3 large sage leaves, finely shredded or generous tsp dried sage
Salt, pepper

50g cheddar cheese, grated
3 slices of bread, crusts removed, cubed
250ml vegetable stock

Heat together the oil and butter in a small pan and then turn the flame beneath them down to the lowest possible setting. Add the onions and stir well to coat in the fat. As they just begin to cook, add the sage and season well and then cover and cook for around 20 mins until golden or soft. Stir regularly and add a splash of water if they look to be sticking.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the kale for 4-5 minutes and then drain and rinse under the cold tap to prevent it cooking any further. Squeeze as much liquid from the kale as possible and then return to the pan and melt through the butter over a gentle heat, seasoning well with pepper and mace.

Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and boil the kettle to make up the stock.

After 20 mins, add the sausagemeat to the onions and combine well. Cook for a further 5-10 mins until the meat is beginning to crust and colour.

Place half of the sausage and onion mixture in the bottom of a small, preferably buttered, gratin dish and top with half of the bread and the cheese. Then spread across all of the kale. Finish with another layer of sausage, then bread and cheese.

Pour over the hot stock. Cover the dish and bake in the oven for 35 minutes then remove the cover and bake for a further 15 or until the whole lot is a golden, bubbling mass. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

How to cook sushi rice



I’m about to throw an empty packet away, and with it the instructions that I’ve been using to cook sushi rice. What is this blog, I asked myself, but an online kitchen scrapbook and thus the perfect place to make a note of it all. Thus:

Step 1. Weight out 100g rice. This is enough for two people as long as they’re pretending to be ok with WW’s idea of a portion.

Step 2. Cover the rice in cold water and swirl it around a bit. The water will go quite cloudy. Drain into a sieve. Consider repeating the process three or four times as instructed but instead decide to run cold water over the rice in the sieve, stirring lightly with your hand. After a minute or so of this, the water should run clear.

Step 3: Tip rice into saucepan and pour over 130 ml cold water. Bring to a simmer then cover and cook for 10 mins. Turn the heat off and leave for a further 25 mins. Do not remove the lid during this time.

Step 4: Meanwhile, combine a tbsp rice wine vinegar with 2 tsp sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Step 5: When the time is up, remove the lid and stir through the vinegar-sugar combo and a tiny pinch of salt (the salt is not specified on the packet but I find it wakes up the sweet sourness of the other additions).

Step 6: Serve - topped with whatever your little heart desires.