Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Recipe Corner – Mussel Paella

D and I are exceptionally fond of pretty much any foodstuff that comes out of the sea and a pretty large proportion of our meals feature fish or seafood of some kind. Recently, his father gave us a huge bag of frozen mussels which we’ve been eating our way through and the following recipe (adapted from one in an old WW cookbook) entered our meal rotation as a particularly delicious way to use them. I should say that it’s only a paella in the loosest sense of the word (I sense generations of Spaniards looking around for kitchen implements to hurl at me for accosting it). I should also say that it would probably be equally delicious made with one of those frozen seafood mixes that you can pick up in the supermarket, or with fat prawns. Some finely diced chorizo sausage added at the initial stages would be good too, although obviously would up the points.


Tsp olive oil
Onion, chopped
Clove of garlic, crushed
Red pepper, chopped
110g risotto rice
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of saffron
50ml dry sherry
450ml chicken or vegetable stock
200g frozen unshelled mussels (defrost before using)
60g peas

Serves 2, 5.5 points per person

Warm the oil and gently soften the onion for a couple of minutes. As it starts to sweat, chuck in the garlic and the pepper and continue to cook, gently. Meanwhile, add the saffron to the sherry to infuse.

Stir through the risotto rice and the spices and thoroughly combine.

Add the sherry (which should now be a lovely golden colour) and allow to bubble off. Then pour over the hot stock, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Next in are the peas, which cook for about 5 minutes. Then finally, the defrosted mussles for another minute or so – they require very little cooking so really you’re just warming them through here.

Et voila! (or whatever the Spanish equivalent is).

Monday, 26 July 2010

Recipe corner - Linguine with broad beans, peas and goats' cheese

This is a lovely, summery dish - and it involves two of my favourite things - pasta and cheese! I've tweaked the original to cut down on the portion size slightly while still keeping the proportions roughly the same. I guess it is up to the individual whether they would rather compromise on quantity or quality, and sure, on hungry days when I want my points to go further I'd probably avoid something like this. But in the height of summer, when I naturally eat a bit less, this is exactly the kind of fresh, tasty dish that I want to enjoy.


100g fresh or frozen broad beans
100g fresh or frozen peas
250g linguine
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
80g mild, rindless soft goats' cheese
50g grated Parmesan
small handful of fresh mint leaves
1 lemon
salt and pepper

Serves 4, 8.5 points per person

Boil the beans for a couple of minutes then add the peas and cook for a further three minutes. Drain and refresh under the cold tap.

In another pan, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water. When it's nearly done, put the beans and the peas back in their original saucepan along with the garlic and the olive oil, and gently warm through. Stir in the goats' cheese and half of the Parmesan and remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta keeping back 4-5 tbsp of the cooking water. Stir the water through the cheese to loosen and then add the pasta, the mint, a squeeze of lemon juice and seasoning. Toss together and then serve sprinkled with the remaining Parmsean and plenty of black pepper.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Lunch with Jeff

Warning - non dieting entry (aka food porn) ahead.

So yesterday, D treated me to lunch at one of our absolute favourite restaurants.  I may have mentioned before that we live in York, which is beautiful with many lovely places to visit, but in terms of high end dining it is slightly lacking.  J Baker's Bistro Moderne, which opened up about five years ago, is the only place in the city that I would wholeheartedly recommend if you were after a really special meal.  And, amazingly when you consider the quality, the price is incredibly low.

We've been back many times both for quick lunches and more lingering dinners and never, ever been disappointed.  The food is always tasty and often shows not only the chef's skill with his raw ingredients but also a quirky sense of humour.  One of the hallmarks of the menu is the nods to British classics presented in a fresh, modern and sometimes unexpected way.

Yesterday we both opted for the lunchtime grazing menu, which consists of three light courses for £12, plus a complimentary pre-lunch nibble which on this occasion was a spiced aubergine dip with breadsticks and radishes for dunking.  I forgot to take a picture - both of this and of our first course, an Inca tomato salad.  I'm not quite sure what the Inca part of it was, but it was a good start - tomatoes, olives, lettuce and feta with a glistening scoop of cucumber sorbet that was both sweet and refreshing.

At this point, D remarked that I would never make a food blogger if I kept forgetting to take photos so I sat my camera on the table next to me.  Giles Coren, the Times restaurant critic, recently kicked up a bit of a fuss by complaining about food bloggers in restaurants who insist on taking pictures of their food.  I say, what's the harm?  A delicious dish can be just as valuable a memory as a visit to a beautiful landmark as far as I'm concerned - in fact, when we discuss past holidays, more often than not we find ourselves reminiscing about the food just as much if not more than the culture or the scenery.   Anyway, from here on in there are illustrations!

Beer battered salt cod with chips and chervil mayonnaise

The second course proper was the above pictured piece of salt cod.  The picture doesn't really do it justice because it doesn't convey just how crispy that batter was.  It shattered as you pressed your fork into it with the most satisfying crackle I've heard on a piece of fish this year.   I loved the creamy mayonnaise as well, and the salty pop of the samphire garnish.  The only disappointment here was the chips - a little oily tasting and, well, flabby.  I like a crisp chip.  But smothered in mayo with a sprinkle of sea salt, it was a minor complaint.

Slow cooked lamb with aubergine chutney and saffron oil

Next came this lamb which I thought was absolutely amazing.  It had been cooked for twelve whole hours with the result that it was incredibly sweet and tender - you only had to look at if for it to fall apart with a gentle sigh.  The aubergine chutney was fab as well - we identified aubergine, courgette, onion, garlic and tomato among the tiny little cubes; there was a slight vinegar kick, enough to set off the sweetness of the meat (which we think was seasoned with cumin and cinnamon) without becoming sour.  This is definitely a dish I'm going to try and recreate at home, and actually think it could be made pretty WW friendly.

Ivoire Chocolate Sandwich with cherries and lavender

Sticky chocolate cake with drunken cherries

At this point we were at a good stage of fullness.  But there is no way, unfortunately, that I can go to JB and not indulge in a pudding.  My sweet tooth has receded a little as I've got older, and I'm more likely to opt for a starter nowadays than a pudding, but here, all bets are off.  We both went for chocolatey options - D's sticky chocolate cake was excellent, but the sandwich...oh, my.  I'm not sure the picture does it justice; the white, gooey bit in the middle was a dense white chocolate and lavender mousse: sweet, thick and with a slight perfume, but the sharp cherries and the bitter dark chocolate ice cream prevented the whole thing from being overly cloying.  I would have licked the plate if I had been at home, as it was, I may well have been guilty of running my finger round to try and scoop up the last vestiges of mousse.

Now,  I have no idea how many points were in that lunch, and I'm not even going to hazard a guess.  As I said back here eating out is one of my greatest joys, and I have personally decided that, if WW is going to be a feasible plan for me, I don't intend to worry about the odd extravagant meal.  And for all that I can't wait for the day when I slip into a pair of size 10 jeans again, lunch with Jeff every now and then is an indulgence I don't plan to give up.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Pasta and me – a long term love affair

About eight years ago I decided to jump on the Atkins bandwagon. It was not during a particularly affluent period of my life, but I somehow persuaded my mother to take me shopping and stocked up on meat, eggs and cheese. And more cheese. And a little bit more.

I think I lasted two days before I admitted defeat and made toast (probably grating up the leftover cheese and piling it on top – I’m nothing if not predictable).

Low carb is just not for me. The Atkins of the early 2000s was, as I understand it, quite a different beast to the current version, and there are plenty of other low-carb plans out there which look doable when I read through the menu plans. But I just don’t think I have it in me to give up my beloved bread and my even more beloved pasta.

Pasta and me, we go way back. It was the first "proper" meal I ever cooked, if you can call combining some extremely undercooked penne (aiming for al dente I hit crunchy) with a jar of Ragu sauce, as cooking. I proudly served my offering up to my mother and my brother and they ate it, bless them. And the thing about cooking is that sometimes the best way to learn is to make a mistake – I don’t think I’ve undercooked pasta since.

Tuna pasta bake is a dish forever associated in my mind with my Dad. He loves it, the stodgier the better, preferably with a thick layer of melted cheese on top. It was in order to make his beloved tuna pasta that I learned at a tender age how to put together a proper white sauce from a roux, carefully adding the milk bit by bit, before flavouring it with Parmesan and herbs.

At university, the kitchen facilities were very limited. To encourage students to eat in hall the residential kitchens were equipped with a two pan hob and, if you were lucky, a microwave. This obviously meant that one was limited as to what one could cook and my go-to meal for that entire three year period was pasta pesto. Not homemade pesto (I’ve never made that, and I really should get around to it one day) but a jar of Sacla’s finest. I avoided it for a while after I graduated, but it has gradually returned to occupy a special place in my heart, although now, being the proud owner of an oven, I like to enjoy it with vegetables roasted with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. In fact, now I come to think of it, one of the first dinners that D cooked for me after we had moved in together in December 2004 was pasta pesto topped with a pan fried salmon fillet – a meal we still enjoy regularly. There are no doubt purists who would be shocked by the combination – I believe it is an edict of Italian Mamas that fish and cheese should never be eaten together – but we like it, and aesthetically the combination of grass green pesto and pale coral fish is gorgeous.

The main issue surrounding pasta and WW to my mind is portion size - or at least it was when I started. WW have deemed that a large portion of pasta is 60g (3 points worth) - believe me, when you first see that weighed out it does not look like a large portion and it is probably at least half the size of the amount I would eat in my student days. It is surprising, though, how quickly one gets used to that sort of amount - I very seldom cook more than 60g per portion of any carb nowadays. A small thing perhaps, but at least one of my bad habits seems to have changed for the better. It’s one of the reasons that I love WW – my affair with pasta is as passionate as ever, but now we’re (mostly) about quality over quantity.

As I write I'm already planning tonight's tea (of course) which is to be linguine with broad beans, peas and goats; cheese - sounds like a lovely summery dish for what is turning out be quite a miserable morning.  I'll post the recipe if it turns out well - and spread a bit of pasta love.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Getting some zeds

Apparently, lack of sleep has been linked to obesity. I don’t think that can possibly be true. If it were I would be a size 8 by now.

I am a champion sleeper. Really, if it were an Olympic event I’d be taking home gold. I may be on the verge of turning thirty, but I still have the sleeping habits of a very, very tired sixteen year old. I frequently sleep until past noon at the weekend, and almost as frequently don’t bother to change out of my pyjamas when I get up. Last night I went to bed at half past eight people! Admittedly, my weekday routine generally involves getting up a few minutes before six o clock, but still, half past eight is not just verging on the ridiculous but is slap bang in the middle of it.

I don’t know if the current extreme tiredness is down to the (fairly intense) training course I’m doing at work, but one thing is for sure, it is not doing my eating habits any favours. When I’m tired, I tend to make poor decisions. I’m less organised and get a bit lax in the old planning department. I also feel less and less inclined to exercise – which is counter intuitive as exercise always tends to give you a big shot of energy.

At least things have improved in the last week – more homecooked food for a start. We’ve had some delicious dinners recently; last night D cooked fantastic chicken fajitas which we had with refried beans, salsa and a quickly cobbled together sour cream substitute (low fat soft cheese, low fat mayo, a little finely grated mature cheddar and some coriander puree – don’t laugh, actually it was very good!)

I guess until my routine gets back to normal I have to accept that I might not be losing any weight – but I’d like to be in a holding position. Getting back into a regular gym routine is key to this so, that’s my challenge to myself this week - three visits minimum.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Comfort Blogging

I feel so much better since writing yesterday’s post, thank you for your kind words. During my recent shrink appointment (and as an aside on that, I was very disappointed to not get to recline on a couch and look at ink blots. But then, I was also quite disappointed that the psychologist didn’t look, or sound, anything like Frasier) we talked a lot about patterns learned in childhood. It takes a lot to unlearn those. I did a lot of secret eating as a child, took a lot of comfort in the mouth feel of chocolate and melted cheese. Those habits are not going to disappear overnight, I just have to try and check myself when I start to revert to them.

Risotto update: absolutely gorgeous! I reduced the amount of lime and ginger in there, so as not to overpower the crab, and the flavours worked beautifully. It was incredibly rich, but all the richness came from the crab meat rather than the usual additions of butter and cheese. According to the nutritional info on the website it worked out at 6.5 points a portion and very well worth it.

Gym update: epic fail. But, I am not going to feel too guilty about it because my swimming kit is in the boot of the car as I speak (well, write) and tonight the plan is to go straight there. However much I whinge on the way.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Comfort Eating?

Well, this last week my eating has been beyond bad. Seriously. How a self confessed foodie can justify barely setting foot in the kitchen for seven whole days is entirely beyond me. There was one evening when, through a combined effort with my live in sous chef, I managed to turn a yellowing head of broccoli into some delicious broccoli and blue cheese soup but other than that it has been takeaway central in our flat this week and it has to stop.

I could come up with all sorts of excuses. The training course I’m on is stressful and rather tiring. I deserve a treat at the end of a long day. But what I want to know is when did the concept of treat get all tangled up with subjecting my poor body to an onslaught of grease washed down with wine?

What could be more of a treat than a home cooked meal? A perfectly seared tuna steak or a bowl of pasta and roasted vegetables glistening with pesto? A fluffy pile of mashed potato? A handful of sweet-sour cherries or juicy strawberries? I struggle to understand the thought processes that bypass all these in favour of Dominos.

Tonight, it is going to be different. I am going to cook this delicious looking crab risotto. I might even fit in a gym visit and treat myself to a rush of endorphins followed by a cool shower. My body deserves better than I am giving it at the moment, so things ARE going to change – one meal at a time.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Buffet Lunch

What is it about those two words that strikes fear into the heart of this particular dieter?

I’m on a four week training course at the moment (pauses for a minute to revel in deep, deep joy) and a buffet lunch is being provided. Every day. For four weeks.

I think I’ve mentioned my tendency towards points blindness in certain situations before, but never is it so pronounced as when I’m faced with a table full of dinky little sandwiches and mini pizzas and cocktail sausages (although I must say that I was quite disappointed yesterday at the lack of cheese and pineapple sticks). Do I somehow convince myself that if it is miniature it doesn’t count?

Yesterday I managed to confine myself to a single plateful. Three quarter sandwiches – chicken (good), tuna mayo (less good – there was a lot of mayo and I bet it wasn’t low fat) and cheese (awful), a chicken finger type thing (like a fish finger but, er, chicken. And cold) and yes, a mini pizza. By no means disastrous but I was sorely tempted by all the other bits and pieces – especially the cake table. Bakewell tarts! Battenberg!

I think as of tomorrow I’m going to bring a pack up in with me. It’s not the frugal way, but for the sake of my waistline I need to eschew the buffet table altogether. The day the cheese and pineapple sticks turn up it could get messy.