Tuesday, 27 April 2010

In praise of risotto

I'm coming to the conclusion that risotto is one of the greatest weapons in the dieting foodie's arsenal.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture a bowl of billowing, creamy risotto, all pale and glossy and gorgeous. Feel a frisson of panic at the use of the word creamy. Surely this is a no go area for those watching their waist?

Well, it depends. A traditional risotto is very often finished with copious quantities of butter and Parmesan cheese which do add glorious richness. BUT, and it's a big but, a lot of risotto's creamy texture and mouth feel is created by the rice releasing its starch into the stock. Just rice and stock - no cream required!

Personally, I think it is always worth adding a judicious amount of aforesaid butter or Parmesan and cutting down elsewhere - maybe by having a smaller quantity of rice. The richness they impart, even using a relatively meagre amount, does add to the dish. Although in the recipe I'm going to share in my next post I substitute Parmesan for low fat soft cheese and the result was pretty satisfactory. Actually who am I kidding, it was bloody gorgeous!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Recipe corner - Pissaladiere

This is my version of a gorgeous, deeply savoury onion tart. It’s not completely faithful to the original French version of the dish, but neither does it stray too far. At 6.5 points per portion it would make a delicious lunch just served with a lightly dressed salad. I’ve always avoided pastry assuming it would be ridiculously high in points, but this is not too bad at all and seriously yummy.


100g puff pastry block
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g (half a small can) tinned tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
22g (half a small can) tinned anchovies

Serves 2, 6.5 points per person / 9 pro points per person

Preheat the oven to 220˚C unless you are preparing the onion mixture in advance.

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil and then stew the onions, covered, over a low heat for about half an hour until they are wilted and golden. A large pinch of salt in with the onions will help them release moisture and sweat.

Add the thyme, one of the garlic cloves, the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat up slightly and let the sauce reduce down for about 5 minutes.

Drain the anchovies on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and then pound them up with the remaining garlic clove. When the sauce is reduced, remove it from the heat and stir through the garlic and anchovy mixture.

Divide the pastry up into 2 equal size balls and on a lightly floured surface roll out into splodges (for want of a technical term!) approximately 12cm across. Spread the onion mixture onto the puff pastry leaving a small 2cm margin around the outside. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden. They’re best eaten warm rather than hot, so leave to cool for 5-10 mins if you can manage it.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Good mood food

It is a truth universally acknowledged (sorry, couldn’t resist) that when you’re feeling a bit off colour you start to crave all the sorts of daft comfort food which are not designed to do you scrap of good.

Seriously, one of the best ways to improve your health and your mood is to hop off to the gym and get those endorphins flowing and stuff yourself full of fruit and vegetables. But what does my treacherous mind decide to do? Develop full on cravings for cheese on toast, anything that can be made with a half pound of butter, chocolate and frozen pizza. Not even nice frozen pizza, but the cheap, doughy kind. What’s going on there?

Yep, it’s been a bad few days on the diet front and a bad few days on the cooking front but it’s time to snap out of the funk. I currently have a pan full of onions stewing on the hob to which I’m going to add garlic, tomatoes and anchovies to make a tart topping, and the sweet smell spreading through the house is making me feel more domestic and content then I have for the last few days. OK, so puff pastry probably is not particularly points friendly but baby steps…at least it isn’t prick and ping!

ETA: 50g of a ready to roll puff pastry comes in at 5 points - so not too bad at all. Maybe if the tart turns out well I'll post my first recipe!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

What is a WW Foodie?

Foodie (noun)

Foodie [foĆ³di] (foodies)

Somebody who enjoys good food
An enthusiast of cooking, eating, or shopping for good food


Synonyms: epicure, glutton, gastronome, gourmet, food-lover, connoisseur

Let’s get one thing clear right from the outside. I absolutely adore food; buying it, preparing it, cooking it, consuming it. I lurch, spectacularly or otherwise, from one meal to the next. I plot and plan and scheme over recipe books and websites and magazines. Often, when I go to sleep, it is thinking about the meals that I will be eating tomorrow.

Some of my happiest memories involve food and the joy that comes from sharing a meal with family and friends. I was lucky enough to have parents who understood the importance of eating dinner around the table as a family, and who instilled in me an appreciation for a whole gamut of food experiences. They had no time for fussy eating which resulted in two children who grew up without any fear of fresh produce, unknown textures or bold flavours.

I remember the joy of Christmas dinner and good natured arguments over the last of the sausage meat loaf. I remember the thrill of going to a Wimpy bar, and oh, the height of sophistication that was the Harvester in the mid-eighties. Or my eighteenth birthday lunch at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. I remember going to college, where a group of friends and I contrived to cook a three course meal for eight with two hobs and a microwave in our tiny kitchen. I remember the incredible foie gras beignets that we ate on the day my brother got married.

At home with D (my better half with whom I share most of my culinary adventures) I have witnessed his attempts to make the perfect prawn cocktail and shared each of the variations along the way. I’ve sampled his bangers and mash with red onion gravy that is, without a doubt my death row meal. I’ve also indulged (somewhat dubiously at first) some of his more extreme kitchen experiments: goats cheese ice cream (it worked well with the onion tart), horseradish ice cream (delicious with salmon and beetroot) and even mustard ice cream (which proved an excellent partner to a homemade ham hock terrine…can you see a pattern emerging?) I’ve found myself jumping on board the savoury ice cream train and think the next idea is a winner from the start – pea and mint ice cream to go with scallops and some kind of Hestonesque bacon experiment.

But, perhaps more importantly I remember our first foam at Midsummer House and how that inspired him to buy the foam canister, our first joint Michelin star meal at appropriately enough The Star Inn where the taste of a lobster bisque reduced us to stunned silence. I remember the disappointment of Hibiscus, the joy of The Fat Duck, Noma and l’Enclume and the continual stream of creations of warmth, invention and wit at J Baker’s. These shared memories, that form such a special part of our history as a couple, are so much more satisfying than any memory of cheese-on-toast on a wet Tuesday night under a blanket, alone, watching America’s Next Top Model (although that has its place as well).

The trouble with being such an enthusiastic cook and eater, is that food loves me too. In fact, it has a tendency to be a wee bit clingy. I have always tended towards the…plumptious. Combine a near obsession with food with a pathological hatred of exercise (I blame school PE lessons and the psychological effects of being made to wear the most ridiculously tiny gym knickers while doing athletics practice) and you have a pretty rounded combination. Throw in a dipsomaniac streak and a tendency to self-medicate with cheese on toast in times of stress and pretty rounded is in danger of becoming positively fat. The danger point for me arrived in September 2008. Vanity and greed were at war. I realised that I needed to take my obsession and start channelling it in a (slightly) healthier way. I joined Weight Watchers online. My weight has been (slowly) decreasing ever since.

I was slightly wary about the idea of labelling myself a foodie. For a start, I have been known to eat ready meals and food out of tins and jars. I don’t grow anything – no garden, no allotment, no herb boxes on the windowsill. I do the bulk of my shopping at local supermarkets because I have neither the time nor the budget to buy all my meat from specialist butchers and my bread from artisan bakers. I eat produce out of season. I have extra light mayonnaise and low fat sunflower spread in my fridge. I’m a member of a diet club, for goodness’ sake. A real foodie would take one look at my cupboards and throw me out of the guild.

But this isn’t about being perfect, making everything from scratch and never eating a strawberry in winter. This is about maintaining my love for food, actually celebrating it, while recognising that it doesn’t necessarily have to entail a steady decline towards obesity and all its attendant health issues.

So why not make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and pull up a pew?