Thursday, 26 August 2010

Recipe corner – Aubergine and red lentil curry

I haven’t added a recipe in a while, probably because my cooking has been somewhat desultory. But I’ve resolved to turn over a new leaf. Last night, I came home and whipped up not only a batch of the above curry but also of chilli con carne in about an hour. Very Nigella Express.

So this particular recipe is taken, more or less completely, from the Delicious magazine website. I cook it quite a lot because – well, I like it. It is great for a midweek supper and I tend to take the remaining portions for lunch over the following days – curry always tends to improve in flavour with a bit of sitting time and it’s nice and filling with maybe a pitta bread on the side for dunking.

In general, I am a big fan of pounding up spices to make my own paste if I’m making curry, but in this case you’ll notice that it comes out of a jar – a minor cheat but it does make this incredibly quick to do. Last night I had points to spare, so had not only this and a 60g portion of basmati rice (3 points) but also half a naan bread (3.5 points).


1 large aubergine, finely diced
1 green pepper, diced
Tsp (or more if you’re into a bit of heat) chilli powder
Tbsp vegetable oil
Onion, chopped
Tsp black mustard seeds
150g red lentils
2 tbsp curry paste (use your favourite. Or make your own if you’re feeling it)
450ml vegetable stock

Serves 4, 2.5 points per person

Preheat over to 190. Toss the aubergine and the pepper in the oil and the chilli powder, season well and put in the oven for 20-25 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, soften the onion in the pan for about five minutes before adding the mustard seeds. Wait for the seeds to start popping before stirring through the curry paste and the lentils.

Pour over the stock, and simmer for 15-20 mins, or until the lentils are soft.

Stir through the roasted vegetables prior to serving. You could also add fresh coriander at this point should you so wish.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A little bit of midweek luxury

Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs has been my go-to birthday breakfast for years.  As a young girl, I thought it was the absolute height of sophistication.  Obviously nowadays a dish can't be called sophisticated unless it is strewn with dust or covered in foam.  But the combination of tastes and textures - oh, it may not be cutting edge but it is still one of my absolute favourite food marriages.

In general I have found that I (and perhaps this is true of dieters in general) count among my favourite foods some pretty non WW friendly stuff.  Cheese - yep, that's a no no unless you are one of those weirdos who can actually eat cheese in fingernail sized portions.  Butter - spread so thick that you leave teeth marks in it naturally.  Real mayonnaise, ghee laden curries...OK, I'll stop now.  It's quite rare that a genuine favourite can be served up unless it has been tweaked and skinnified and made just a little bit less unctuous - after all, it is often the fat content that is responsible for that silky mouth feel.

Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs is not one of these dishes.  In days gone by, I'd add a knob of butter to the pan before throwing in the eggs but I've found a similar creaminess can be achieved by stirring through a spoonful of extra light soft cheese at the end.  And because the salmon itself is naturally rich and oily I don't think the dish is any the less.

It's moved from being the exclusive preserve of breakfasts to being a favourite, quick and easy midweek supper nowadays and I have to say, I always look forward to it.  Tonight, two large double yoker eggs and a generous (60g) portion of smoked salmon finished in the pan with a tablespoon of Philly piled on top of a slice of wholemeal toast came in at a very reasonable 7.5 points.  I feel satiated but I also feel like I've had a real naughty treat, and there are points left in the bank!  A very good end to the day.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Feelin’ (not so) Groovy*

*With apologies to Simon and Garfunkle.

The last couple of weeks have been slightly odd. We’ve been cat sitting for my parents, who live twenty miles down the road from us and while it has not been an actual holiday, I’ve sort of fallen into holiday mode which has made my general diet somewhat skewiff. Plus, we’ve been a lot further away from the gym and so our visits have been sporadic.

Oh, I had so many grand plans. I was going to take full advantage of the garden and the barbecue (we live in a two bed roomed flat, so outdoor space is a novelty) and eat a wholesome diet of grilled meat or fish and salad. You know, the kind of meals that celebrities insist they live on. When we couldn’t get to the gym I was going to shuttle run across the lawn, or maybe buy a cheap skipping rope. But grand plans don’t come together unless littler plans are in place – meal plans and cooking plans. The sort of organisation that I deliberately avoided. Yes, I’ve had good days here and there, but more by luck than judgement.

Anyway, we’re back home this evening and one of my first priorities is going to be putting together a proper meal plan for the week. I also intend to huff and puff my way through a Body Combat class. I need to reintroduce the concept of routine to my eating and my tracking and my exercise.

The day did not get off to the best of starts routine wise – I left the house without any breakfast or lunch packed; but instead of using this as an excuse to go entirely off piste I’ve had a grande skinny latte for breakfast from Starbucks (2 points) which ok, is not the most filling choice, but should keep me going for a few hours, and then it is off to Subway at lunchtime for my lucky 5 point sub.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Seven things about me

Ooooh, I’m SO excited today to have been nominated to tell all my tens of thousands of readers (optimistic, moi??) seven things about me. Thanks, Linz!!

I thought this would be quite hard to do initially, but once I started I couldn’t stop, so you nearly ended up with seventy things about me, all of which were slightly more dull than the last. Turns out, I love blathering about myself as much as I love blathering about food. So, with no further ado:

1. I was born and bred an Essex girl. I moved to Yorkshire nearly ten years ago, but have been reliably informed that you don’t get to claim residency until you’re third generation, so I guess that means I’ll be staying an Essex girl. However, I can’t really do an Essex accent – unless very drunk, when the odd twang slips out. If I attempt to do an Essex accent, I sound a bit like Dick Van Dyck in Mary Poppins. I think there might be some serious repression going on there.

2. I have, at various points in my life, wanted to be a pilot, a neurosurgeon and a barrister – so I’m not quite sure how I managed to end up a civil servant. However, I am willing to bet that the fields of aviation, medicine and law are heaving a huge collective sigh of relief as we speak; I’m probably far too absent minded to do any of those things well.

3. I’ve always wanted to write. One of my most treasured possessions when I was younger was an old fashioned typewriter in a bright blue case that my grandfather gave me. I used to write school stories, a la Malory Towers and the Chalet School. I never got past Chapter One. The day I hit Chapter Two will be the day I know I have a keeper.

4. I read English Literature at university, because I realised that it would mean sitting around (one of my favourite things) and reading (one of my other favourite things) for three whole years. Obviously, not being a vocational degree it did not prepare me for any sort of actual career. However, it did leave me with an enduring ability to waffle about nothing at length and sound vaguely intelligent. The faux-posh accent (see point 1) probably helps with this as well.

5. I have spent more hundreds of pounds than I can bear to think about over the last few years on eating out at the type of restaurants where things are served in shot glasses or on pieces of driftwood and it has given me a tremendous amount of pleasure (although the resulting credit card bills have been committed to the shredder without being opened). I have eaten at two of the top three restaurants in the world according to these people (who are supposed to know about such things) and the memories of those meals make me break out in a huge smile even years later.

6. I am getting married next year, even though I am fairly sure that I am not grown up enough to be a wife. But I’m not supposed to talk about the wedding until T – 365 days (so expect a big ole wedding post on 17th September!)

7. I name things. Inanimate things. I never realised that this was weird and assumed everybody did it, but apparently not. The car, of course, has a name – he’s called Ethel, short for Ethelred (as in the Unready). Don’t think that’s too far out? OK, my engagement ring is called Jasmine (well, actually, just the stone, because obviously to name a setting would be weird). My Ipod is called George. My computer is Lizzie Bennett. I once spent a lot of quality time with a scanner named Howard. The communal tea tray in our office is called Colin – and I could go on. Unfortunately, naming things means that I get overly emotionally attached to them. When the stone fell out of my engagement ring earlier this year, I literally cried for a whole day – and that was before I found out that the insurance company weren’t going to pay for it to be replaced. In the end, I had to invent a story for myself in which Jasmine went on a seaside holiday before coming home to York.

And there you have it. Now, I would love to pass this on but being a relatively newbie in the blogging world I don’t think I know of fifteen other blogs to pass this on to who have not already been honoured. Therefore, if anyone who stumbles across this wishes to post seven interesting (or, as per above, quite dull) facts about themselves, please feel free! I’m terrible nosy.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Twix Travesty

I'm all for companies trying to make "lighter" versions of things.

But this is just wrong.  A travesty along similar lines to the Mars Delight or the Kinder Bueno.  The only acceptable chocolate / wafer combination is the KitKat in my opinion (which is the only one that counts on my blog).

As for the confectionery versus biscuit debate...I used to work for the sweetie company that makes KitKats and they classified the 4 finger as a chocolate bar and the 2 finger as a biscuit.  So there.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Fusion or Confusion?

I’m just going to come out and say it. I love Masterchef.

I mean, I’m not known for my discerning taste in television – just ask poor D who has just spent the whole weekend trying to get away from an Australia’s Next Top Model marathon. And when it comes to food programmes I’ll watch pretty much anything and will often have the Good Food channel on just as background noise (absorbing recipes and techniques by osmosis perhaps).

But Masterchef – that is must see TV. Seriously. I draw the line at the Junior version – precocious children scare me. But standard, Professional and Celebrity – fantastic! It’s comedy gold! If they have such a thing as the gurning world championships, John Torode and Greg Wallace should enter, they’d be absolutely sure to win. The expressions that those two have come up with while wandering between the contestants – who would have thought that the human face was capable of such contortions? And, almost as amusing, some of the food combinations that the entrants come up with, particularly in the early stage invention test. I think my favourite from this current series was Christine Hamilton’s Thai mussels with…blue cheese.

Anyway, during the last series of Masterchef Proper (i.e. the contestants are not “famous” or professional chefs) John Torode coined the phrase that I’ve used as my title to express his uncertainty at a particularly odd amalgamation; someone attempting to marry, for example, sweet and sour sauce with bangers and mash. Now, whenever we see an unlikely combination of ingredients in a recipe or on a menu, we chorus (in a cod Australian accent, of course) “Is it fusion? Or confusion?” Yes, I know…but it makes us laugh.

I was a little bit surprised then, to see in the latest issue of Good Food magazine John Torode has supplied a recipe for a spicy butternut squash…curry, for want of a better word, to be served with spaghetti. He called it fusion – so you can guess what is coming. I cooked it for supper one night last week, with the intention of writing a very amusing blog piece about how it was confused rather than, um, fused. Trouble is, it actually tasted pretty nice - I thought the pasta worked well with the heat of the sauce. So, no amusing confusion jokes for me. It wasn't perfect by any means - both of us found the addition of lime pickle made it a little sour, so that needs to be balanced out, and I’ve got a few ideas that will pimp it up a little bit – I’m convinced that the addition of some fat prawns would work well with the squash – and then I’m going to post it here so you too can bellow quotes by rubber featured Australian chefs at your food. Or not.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

On a roll...

Does two days count as a roll? 

Shhhh!  We have to be very quiet...we don't want to scare the mojo!!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Pastures (kind of) new

Currently D and I have relocated about 20 miles down the road to cat sit for my parents while they are living it up on a round the world trip. I could insert bitter comments about teachers and their long holidays here, but I won’t because I’ve never met two people more dedicated to their jobs than my parents and they deserve their time away. PLUS I get to spend quality time with my beloved Minerva McGonagall. (Gratuitous cute cat picture will probably follow).

Anyway, we quite fancied a lunch out on Sunday and decided to go and pay a visit to The Drum and Monkey in Harrogate. We had high hopes; not only had it been recommended to us on a couple of occasions, but also the website informed us that Tatler had proclaimed it “The best seafood restaurant in North Yorkshire”.

My verdict – sorry Tatler, but meh (and with language like that you may well ask what is standing between me and my dream of being the new, but far less grumpy, and a bit more female Giles Coren). The interior was dark and a bit old fashioned but not in a quirky, retro kind of way more in a needs-a-lick-of-paint-and-some-decent-lighting type way. And the menu was old fashioned too – and again, quite straight faced about it. The crayfish cocktail was…a crayfish cocktail. Crayfish, Marie rose sauce, lettuce. I think we’ve just got a bit used to the type of restaurants that like to shake up the old classics a bit – playing around with expectations. Being confronted with the real thing, in a room that looked like it belonged in a 1970s period piece was a bit…well, meh. My baked red snapper main course was drastically under seasoned, although the fish itself was cooked beautifully and D’s dressed crab salad was…odd. Tinned orange segments have no place in a salad. The radish rose was quite pretty though.

I suppose, on the plus side, we couldn’t be bothered with pudding, so the whole meal probably was fine with regards to points. But any restaurant which makes me write out the sentence “Couldn’t be bothered with pudding” and mean it, is not a restaurant that is worth going back to.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Detox Day 3 – whoopsadaisy!

At about half past seven last night (which is usually teatime in our household) I realised that I couldn’t be bothered to wait another hour for dinner, let alone engage in a vegetable chopathon. So I cooked pasta pesto (a long-term friend) instead. Er, this is not detox food, unless you are trying out some weird detox which involves wheat and cheese (and if you are, and it works then I want details!). I take a bit of comfort from the fact that most of the constituents in the pesto (oil, basil, garlic, pine nuts) are allowed.

So there we have it, sheer bloody laziness runs roughshod over weakling attempt at better health. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The pink Bircher muesli continues to go down well at breakfast (although this morning it didn’t seem to be as satisfying as previously: my arm had tooth marks in it at about quarter to nine) and lunch for today is the remains of a delicious roasted tomato and red pepper soup that we had for tea on Tuesday, plus I have been loading up on some rather gorgeous plums and nectarines. So, if the point of detoxing was to get my levels of fresh fruit and veggies up than it has succeeded on that one count.

Oh, and I have rediscovered my love for oatcakes (although every time I eat one I imagine what it would taste like topped with a wodge of cheese). I think these are going to be featuring in my lunchbox quite heavily in the next few weeks. Soooo good, and the Waitrose ones we have in at the moment are only half a point each.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get my mouth round another plum (oooh, matron!)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Detox Day 2 - Reboot and Pink Muesli

Well. Day 1 did not go quite according to plan. Maybe the problem was that there was no particular plan to accord to (or something).

Fairly early on yesterday morning I started to get a thumping headache and felt distinctly nauseous – so much so that I couldn’t face the smoked mackerel salad that I had prepared for my lunch. I wondered if this was all the toxins leaving my body, until D pointed out that if I was so toxic that three hours without caffeine and alcohol could leave me feeling that rough I probably needed to be in some sort of drying out clinic. I suspect part of the problem was dehydration – at work, I generally fill my water bottle when I go to make tea or coffee. Anyway, I survived, albeit in a floppy, miserable kind of way.

I’d perked up by the evening (a sneaky can of Diet Coke may have been involved – bad). Our evening meal was lovely last night – griddled tuna steaks with sweet potato and coriander mash. I can never quite make up my mind whether I like sweet potato or not – I keep eating it, so I suppose I must. It is definitely improved by the addition of fresh coriander and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce – these little tweaks make it far less sickly. Although I must confess that it wasn’t till I had drizzled said sauce over it that I realised that it might not strictly be detox suitable food. Ah well. The aim here is to try and eat cleaner – not necessarily get Carol-Vorderman-swimsuit-ready in five days and it definitely improved the overall taste of the dish.

And this morning I have eaten an incredibly worthy breakfast and so am sitting at my desk feeling ever so slightly smug. Oats, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries soaked overnight in pomegranate juice and served with a handful of mixed summer fruits – my version of Bircher muesli coming in at 3.5 points a bowl. It was pink, which made me happy, and tart which also made me happy (I have something of a sour tooth). The portion looked a bit weeny when I prepared it last night but it was pretty substantial when I came to it today. Had I more time in the mornings I think the addition of a grated apple would be pretty good as well.

So, feeling far more groovy than this time yesterday, onwards!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Foodie on a detox

A good few years ago the great British public were being besieged with pictures of Countdown’s Carol Vorderman looking rather smug and svelte in a swimming costume. Anyone else remember this? Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I purchased her “Summer Detox Plan”, not initially intending to follow it just to get an idea of what it involved. Such was her enthusiasm for the plan though, I decided to have a go at following it. And since I did most of the cooking and the meal preparation, D was told that he was going to be following it as well.

We didn’t do too badly – lasted nearly two weeks. It was a curry that broke us in the end I think. Anyway, the point is that after the initial shock to the system, we both felt very well on it, and (although I didn’t weigh myself back in those days so relied on instinct and tight jeans) lost a good few pounds in a relatively short space of time.

Recently, I’ve been a bit lackadaisical with the diet. Stress at work and one thing and another has led to quite a few greasy takeaways and more than a few pints of cider and bottles of wine. Things are improving, but even when I’m pointing, I’ve noticed that I’m not always making the best choices. I need something to give me a kick up the arse – mentally, even if not physically. The idea of a detox period – nothing too long, mind, has been playing on my mind for a little while and I had decided to go for it - if nothing else, to give myself a bit of a challenge.

The plan was to follow it for five days, starting yesterday, adopting the basic Vorderman principles of cutting out wheat, dairy, caffeine and, as far as possible, processed stuff but deviating slightly by including a small amount of white meat and fish alongside plenty of fruit, vegetables, water and peppermint tea. And keeping a tally of points to ensure reasonable portion sizes.

Unfortunately, I did such a good job of toxing on Saturday night (wine was involved) that I felt fairly deathlike yesterday and hot water with lemon juice was just not going to cut it – I think we’ll gloss over the actual contents of yesterday’s food diary, but it won’t take an awful lot of imagination for you to get the gist. So the detox was postponed briefly.

I’m on it today though, albeit with slightly less enthusiasm than when I was planning it last week. Currently, I’m enjoying an extremely juicy white nectarine, and there is a smoked mackerel salad sitting patiently in the fridge. Tea tonight may be a roasted red pepper and tomato soup, or possibly tuna steak with sweet potato and coriander mash. Hopefully, by the end of Thursday I’ll be glowing with health and all ready to start retoxing again.