Friday, 29 October 2010

Quickfire Friday

Friday already! The days have really run away from me this week.

An exciting weekend coming up for us; we’re off down to London to indulge in some Michelin starred pub grub, some very interesting vegetarian food and some near-the-knuckle humour courtesy of Mr Frankie Boyle. Hopefully photos and details will follow – although probably not so many of Frankie since this is, nominally, a food blog. If he makes any food or diet related jokes I’ll try and note them down. Unless he is rude about fatties in which case I’ll throw Minstrels at him.

We’ve been doing some improvising foodwise this week – it’s the end of the month and we didn’t want to burden the credit card with a big food shop. But nevertheless, we’ve done pretty well with the spoils of the freezer. Last Friday we found that an entire head of garlic, roasted slowly at a medium heat and then crushed into a paste will give a fantastically sweet, mellow garlicky-ness to mashed potatoes which then makes a fabulous side dish for pan fried fillet steak or slow roasted, crispy skinned pork belly. The soft roasted garlic cloves are also gorgeous squeezed from their skins and squished into crusty bread – no butter required.

If you fancy a curry this weekend, I would recommend popping over to the Good Food channel website and trying this Kashmiri lamb with fennel seeds by Anjum Anand. I find her terribly smug to watch, but this dish was absolutely gorgeous – and with low fat yoghurt and skimmed milk adding creaminess to the sauce, it works out as pretty low in points. D’s only criticism was the portion size – he says he could have eaten double what I gave him (and actually, I secretly agree).

Oh, and in a fit of domestic goddessdom I made these Nigella chocolate banana muffins, which at 4 points a pop are less than a Starbucks skinny effort, and very moist and tasty. Next time, I’d be tempted to stir a handful of chocolate chips through the mixture for a bit of extra interest and take the points hit.

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Recipe corner - Roasted tomato and ricotta risotto

This is the second risotto recipe I’ve put up in the last few weeks. I suppose at least I’m consistent – or dull, depending on your point of view. But I have to say, it’s the second risotto I’ve made in the last few weeks which has made me want to lick the plate clean while managing to be reasonably virtuous WWwise.

I wish I could claim the credit for this combination of ingredients but I can’t. I first came across it in this blog entry here, which in turn was based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. Hey, I plugged it into the WW recipe builder though!  Thanks so much to Victoria for her original post, this looks set to become one of my new favourite dinners.


For the roasted tomatoes:

As many tomatoes as you wish – I used half a punnet of cherry and two large plum tomatoes but probably would have added more if they’d been available
½ tbsp olive oil
Tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt, pepper
Generous tsp dried oregano

For the risotto:

½ tbsp olive oil
Red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Generous pinch of crushed dried chillies
120g risotto rice
100ml white wine
500ml veg or chicken stock
125g ricotta cheese
15g finely grated Parmesan

Serves 2, 8 points per person, 11 pro points per person

Preheat the oven to a low temperature – about 150. Then chop the tomatoes until they are all roughly the same size. I halved the smaller cherry tomatoes and used that as a guide when chopping the larger ones.

Now toss the tomatoes in the oil, vinegar, oregano and plenty of seasoning and roast in the oven for an hour, by which time they should have a lovely rich smell and look fairly dehydrated. You can do this in advance. Divide the tomatoes up – you want roughly two thirds stirred through the risotto and the other third to sprinkle on top.

Time for the risotto. Start by warming the oil and sweating off the onion with the chilli flakes, and then add the garlic and cook until it loses that “raw” smell (being careful not to burn it).

Stir the risotto rice in so it is completely coated in the oil and then add the wine and reduce down almost to nothing. At this stage it is time to start adding the stock, a ladelful at a time. Each time you add some stock add a few of the roasted tomatoes as well (remembering that you’ve set about a third of them aside for garnish). Stir well each time. Continue until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

Add the ricotta cheese and three quarters of the Parmesan, cover and leave to sit for a couple of minutes.

The risotto that you’re left with will have quite a soupy texture so you may want to cook it out a bit more – but I’d leave it if I were you. Garnish with the remaining tomatoes and Parmesan.

Ricotta on Foodista

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How the Cook Crumbles

When you were a child how many times do you think you said “When I grow up I’m going to….”

I know for a fact that I intended to eat Coco Pops for breakfast every day, avoid semolina and have proper puddings midweek. My mother was perfectly capable of making fabulous puddings, but she had somehow got hold of the crazy idea that puddings were for High Days and Holidays only. If we wanted sweet after tea during the week, our choice was restricted to yoghurt or fruit. It’s probably one of the reasons I developed a secret biscuit habit.

Anyway, now I am all grown up and I can have puddings any time I like. The problem is that I am a grown up who is endeavouring to fight against her stubborn flab and puddings (other than yoghurt and fruit) can seldom be slotted into the day after an evening meal. And so I tend not to bother with puddings except when I go out.

It was this article that prompted the craving for crumble. A proper autumn fruit crumble with the slightly tart fruit bubbling up through a sweet, oaty topping and a judicious amount of cream. The problem? How to slot a proper sized portion of crumble into my daily points. The solution? Have pudding instead of tea! And so it was that last night, instead of the Moroccan style chicken with olives and sweet potato mash that had been tentatively planned, I baked an apple and blackberry crumble (6 points a portion) and topped it off with a dollop of WW crème fraiche (0.5 points). Not only did it exactly hit the spot but actually, I found it sufficiently filling that I didn’t go to bed hungry which I always assume I will if I don’t eat a “proper” meal. I think D also approved – well, we’re having the rest of the crumble for tea tonight.

In other news, if you’re looking for something to distract you from work, check out the link at the bottom of the page to “The Foodie Blogroll”. It may seem slightly contrary for a dieter to take such a lascivious interest in food blogs, but I am endlessly fascinated by what other people eat – and often find them a source of great inspiration when it comes to planning my own daily meals.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Recipe corner - Mussels steamed with cider and bacon

Right, I think it is high time for another recipe.  And after recent posts on the subject, you would be forgiven for the thinking this has turned into the WW Mussel Eater blog.  But (and I apologise for sounding so evangelical on the subject) mussels are a) fabulously tasty, b) not at all expensive and c) low low low in points.  Oh, and d) it generally takes me so long to get through a bowl that I am not bothered by the thought of any side dishes (although crusty bread to mop up the juices is always good).

I think some people are a wee bit scared when it comes to cooking seafood.  Let's face it, the mussels and oysters of this world are not going to be winning any beauty contests any time soon, and they can look a wee bit daunting when compared with a chicken breast that comes straight from the supermarket all nicely trimmed and wrapped in plastic.  But, fear not!  A little bit of preparation time and mussels are actually one of the speediest things ever to cook - faster than the very fastest of fast food.

So, prior to embarking on the recipe below - and I do urge you to try it, it's the British answer to a traditional moules mariniere and if anything, even nicer, what do you have to do to get the mussels ready for the pot?  Give them a quick scrub, and you'll notice a bit of stringy type stuff protruding from the shell - take a good hold and yank it off - I find this quite therapeutic.  This is what is known as "de-bearding".  If the mussels are wide open prior to cooking and looking generally a bit sad they could well be dead and if so, need discarding. If in doubt though chuck it into the pot.  The surefire way to tell if it is dead is if it is closed when it comes out.  As long as you avoid those, you should be fine.

This recipe is taken from the "Best of British" booklet that was tucked inside of the BBC Good Food magazine, Oct 2010.  The points are calculated based on the nutritional info provided.


small knob of butter
140g smoked bacon - I found this to be 4 decent sized rashers
2 shallots, finely sliced
small bunch of thyme, leaves stripped
1.5kg small mussels, scrubbed and bearded
150ml of cider
2 tbsp double cream

Serves 2, 6.5 points per portion

Heat the butter in a large pan and then fry the bacon until it starts to crisp.  Throw in the shallots and the thyme and cook briefly until softened.

Turn up the heat and then tip in the mussels and pour over the cider.  Cover the pan, give it a good shake, and then leave the mussels to steam for 5-7 minutes shaking occasionally until all the mussels have opened - remember at this point to discard any that are still closed.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the mussels into bowls and then place the pan back on the heat.  Bring the juices to the boil, stir in the cream and pour the sauces over the mussels.


Collecting Thoughts

This morning at work we learned that a colleague, who actually sat just across the room from me, had died unexpectedly. He was admitted to hospital on Thursday night and passed away over the weekend.

I didn’t really know the man except to nod hello to, so there is no real sense of loss for me. But when something like that happens – someone is there one day and gone the next, it does make you…pause.

I mean, when I think about the reasons that I want to lose weight what immediately springs to mind? I want to look nice on my wedding day. I want my skinny jeans to fit properly again. I want D to be proud of his wife. I don’t want to feel self conscious eating in public. It’s all about the aesthetics. But shouldn’t the health side be equally important? I want to eat a diet that is going to give me the nutrients I need to make me as healthy as I can be. I don’t want to put my heart and other organs under strain. I want to be fit. I want to live for a long time in the best of health.

Apologies for the slightly morbid start to the week – I just wanted to get this down while it was on my mind. Normal programming will resume shortly.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Recipe corner – Use-Yer-Mussels Spaghetti

Having burbled on about mussels in my last post, here (just for you, Peridot!) is my “recipe” for seafood spaghetti. I use inverted commas because it was more of a chucking together of various ingredients – the outcome, however, was extremely yummy. You could easily adapt this method to any kind of seafood – we happened to have some mussel meat in the freezer that needed using up and just supplemented it with a few prawns. If you were cooking the mussels from scratch, I’d be tempted to use the mussel cooking liquor to loosen the final sauce rather than the pasta water.

Oh, and 75g of spaghetti is a pretty generous portion – you could easily reduce it and thus the points (but I’m greedy!)


3 garlic cloves
3 anchovy fillets
Pinch chilli flakes
Coarse salt
2 tbsp olive oil
200g cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
150g spaghetti
50g mussels (meat only)
50g king prawns

Serves 2, 7 points per per portion

Put the garlic in a pestle and mortar with a decent pinch of salt and squish well. Add the anchovy fillets, patted dry (I used fillets packed in salt, so rinsed them off first, if you use the ones in oil you obviously won’t need to do this) and the chilli flakes – as much or as little as you like, and continue to work into a coarse paste.

Meanwhile, put the spaghetti on to cook in a pan of well salted water.

In a large pan gently heat up the olive oil. Tip in the coarse paste and cook – keep the heat low because you don’t want to burn your garlic. The anchovies will start to “melt” into the oil.

Now bung in the cherry tomatoes and, using the back of a spoon, lightly crush into the oil. Add the prawns and mussel meat and cook gently until the prawns turn pink.

Once the spaghetti is cooked (8-10 mins) drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the spaghetti to the pan and toss well in the tomatoes and oil, using the reserved water to loosen slightly (you’ll probably need a couple of tablespoons). Check the seasoning – you probably won’t want any salt what with all those anchovies, but you might find at this stage a bit more chilli would be just the thing – and serve.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

And the scales say....

....2lbs off!  Hurrah!

Getting back to a meeting appears to have done the trick - for the first time in a long time, I planned out a week’s worth of meals and (more or less) stuck to that plan. And the advantages to this are twofold – money saved as well as weight lost. I think I’ve done the pound/pound pun before and it wasn’t funny then so I won’t attempt to revisit it now.

D and I have eaten mussels three times during this past week – a thrown together seafood spaghetti on Thursday, steamed with cider and bacon on Sunday and turned into a rich, saffrony soup on Monday. It might be turning into a bit of an obsession, but it’s a pretty healthy one, the points in mussels are ridiculously low. And it’s a good time of year to buy them – the ones we have had from our local fish place were fantastically plump and sweet.

It’s hard to pick a meal highlight from the week, but I reckon the butternut squash and sage risotto comes pretty close. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to cook it again.

In other news, I tried out the new Shape chocolate desserts this week as well (you may have seen the advert where two attractive young women attempt to brain an equally attractive young man with a falling flowerpot while eating pudding). Verdict: nice, but probably not two points nice.

All in all, this was a pretty good week – as I said in my last post I wasn’t 100% on programme because of a day out, but other than that one blip, my tracker reads perfectly. So why is it that right up until yesterday evening I had  this niggling voice that telling me to throw it in and go…pig out?  Last night, I was late at the office and the temptation to go and wait for my lift in the pub and to wash down a large bag of crisps with a couple of pints of cider was immense. And I knew that once that line had been crossed it was a stone's throw away from trying to talk D into takeaway when we got home – even though we had the night’s supper, a delicious soup, already cooked. The devil on my shoulder was telling me – you haven’t done enough. If you can’t be 100% perfect then why bother at all?  All or nothing thinking - madness.  I resisted, only just, but still...and I got my reward today.  The pleasure of seeing a decent loss that you have genuinely worked for can't be underestimated.

Oh, and thank you soooo much for wishing me luck after yesterday's post.  The thought of coming on here today and admitting a gain to you lovely people was one of the things that kept that little shoulder devil firmly squished.

Here's to another good week!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Weekend round up

So, the million dollar question this bright Monday morning is does:

6 days of stellar pointing +
4 3 gym trips
1 boozy Friday at the races which started with a glass of fizz at half twelve and ended with rather a lot of Pringles about ten hours later =
A good result at the scales?

Regardless of whether the scales are kind to me tomorrow morning or not, I am pleased with myself this week. It was always my intention to enjoy my day out, the test for me was would I allow it to throw me off for the rest of the weekend. It didn’t - which is progress of sorts. While I made the girls bacon sandwiches on Saturday morning, I restricted myself to tea and toast and was able to come in on points even with a massive portion of delicious homemade prawn curry for tea (which put paid to any residual hangover – I always find a good blast of chilli helps a fuzzy head).

I also (and this is a major achievement for me) eschewed any more alcohol on Saturday and Sunday night. I like nothing more than a civilised glass of wine or six while relaxing in front of weekend television but I decided I had had my fun for the week and stuck to soft drinks. With the result that I actually had a much more productive Sunday than usual! A lesson to be learned there, perhaps.

Hopefully the scales will smile on me tomorrow. Or, at the very least, not burst out into howls of evil laughter.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Recipe corner - roasted squash risotto

D claims to have not been much into cooking before we met. He had three dishes in his repertoire with which to woo the ladies: bangers and mash with onion gravy, prawn curry (origin unknown) and mushroom risotto. Any more than these three dinners and you’d have to go back to the beginning and rotate through again. I sometimes wonder if this was some kind of girlfriend test: love me, be prepared to eat the same three meals for the rest of your life.

Six years after coming under my influence he is shaping up to be a pretty wonderful cook. And although his natural allegiance is to the school of “if in doubt add more butter / cream / oil / all of the above” he is very good about taking account of my points allowance and curtailing the saturated fat content.

The meal we had for tea was a case in point: it has some butter, oil and Parmesan cheese in it but not so much that it makes too large a dent in your daily allowance but enough that it is rich and luxurious and utterly gorgeous. This is his recipe which he has kindly allowed me to share as long as I give him all the credit – which I am happy to do as long as he promises to cook it for me again soon!


Half a large butternut squash, cut into wedges and deseeded
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Tbsp olive oil
8 sage leaves, shredded
2 tsps butter
Large onion, chopped
120g risotto rice
50ml white wine (optional - 1 pro point per person in total)
500ml chicken stock
40g extra low fat soft cheese
40g freshly grated Parmesan
20g pumpkin seeds (optional - 2 pro points per person in total)

Serves 2, 8.5 points per person, 14 pro points per person

Preheat the oven to 200C

In a large ovenproof tray toss the squash in the olive oil, garlic and half the sage leaves. Season well and then roast for 30-45 mins until soft and golden. Once the squash has cooled slightly, scrape the flesh away from the skin into a bowl and lightly mash – keep it reasonably chunky to provide some texture in the risotto.

Now heat the butter in a pan and soften the onion.

Add the rice and stir well to coat in the butter, then add the splash of wine (if using) and allow to bubble off.

Tip in the rest of the sage and season lightly – bear in mind that your stock may be quite salty so be careful. Now add the warm stock a ladleful at a time, giving a good stir at each addition, until the rice is soft but with a touch of bite in the middle of the grain – we found this took about 15 minutes. You may not need all of the stock.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir through the mashed squash, two thirds of the grated Parmesan and the soft cheese. Cover and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes - this will make it even thicker and creamier so you may want to add a touch more stock before serving to thin it out a little.

Serve sprinkled with the remaining Parmesan and the pumpkin seeds.

Note: this was very rich and would probably feed three people with less enthusiastic appetites, especially if you had a nice, peppery side salad. I also have a feeling that some bacon lardons, chucked in at the beginning, would be lovely in this – but obviously this would up the points.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Weighing In

So my first day back as a fully paid-up, meeting attending, tracking-like-a-demon, Weight Watcher wasn’t stellar. But for the opposite reason you may think.

Firstly, the meeting itself. Some fantastic little old ladies who sat up at the front, cackling throughout and coming up with the kind of lines I would expect to hear from an Alan Bennett Talking Head. Loved it, and bless the Leader for attempting (in vain) to keep them reigned in. The scales were less fantastic – I always find meeting scales to be a little bit meaner than my home set (obviously the fact that I can’t strip nude in the middle of a church hall may have something to do with that) but the number…well, it just is, isn’t it? No point crying over it.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a knot of anxiety in my stomach all morning – the kind that presses against your diaphragm and makes you feel utterly sick. So, aside from a few cups of coffee (milk = 0.5) I hadn’t consumed anything before the twelve o clock weigh in. Lunch was a 6” turkey and ham on wheat with all the salad fixin’s and a good dollop of light mayo from Subway (=5) plus a bag of Baked crisps (=1.5) and dinner was an absolutely gorgeous dish of salmon (=4.5) with fennel remoulade (=0.5)* and wild rice (=3). Which put me on a total of 15 points – way under the lowest WW recommend I go. Add into the mix 4 bonus points earned at the gym (yay!) and I had created quite an impressive deficit.

Now WW lore tells us that to go way under your points is as foolish as going way over. And the legend of “Starvation mode” is pretty compelling – and an excellent way to justify a weekend blow-out once in a while (“I was shocking my body out of starvation mode! Honest, guv!”) But as a Leader of mine once said to the class, “You never see fat anorexics.” Which may not be the most sensitive way of putting it, but I kind of see her point. Anyway, I am not going to stress mightily about starting the week off with a few too many points in the bank. A trip to York races on Friday, where the wine will no doubt be flowing, should sort that out.

*Not wishing to take credit for someone else’s creation, you can check the original recipe out here – obviously tweaked for WW purposes chez Seren.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A few last holiday shots...

So, the deed is done and on Tuesday morning I will be taking my Monthly Pass and stepping on the Scales of Doom, to quote Peridot.  I suppose I should really come up with my own moniker for them!  I'm going to attempt not to turn this weekend into one, long Last Supper - although since we're out for dinner at our favourite restaurant tonight there will be some indulgence going on.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share a few last food memories from our recent trip to Scotland.

Firstly, we have these fabulous little beauties - can you guess what they are?

Give up?  Haggis nuggets!  Yes, apparently the Scots will eat haggis absolutely any which way.  Here they have been breaded, deep fried and served with a whisky cream sauce.  We also saw a haggis pizza in the local shop.  And when I say saw, I mean spotted in the freezer, purchased and ate it one lunchtime - how could I resist?  I have discovered that I really, really like haggis.  No great surprise, I'm a massive fan of black pudding as well.  This year I will definitely be cooking a traditional Burns' Night supper - although I have a sneaking suspicion that haggis is not the most WW friendly meat stuff in the world.

And next we have...

Yep, more mussels.  But these are particularly special because they were foraged, by D, from the seashore just outside the front door of our caravan.  He set off with a carrier bag and a determined expression, and returned an hour later with this bag of beauties.  We cleaned and de-bearded them and then just steamed them in a little white wine and finished the sauce off with a splash of cream and some garlic.  They were undoubtedly the freshest mussels that I have ever eaten and they tasted incredible. 

So there you have it.  The holiday is well and truly over now, but to be honest, I'm almost looking forward to getting back in the swing of meetings and re-committing 100% to the plan (feel free to refer me back to this in a week when I'm complaining of hunger).  Hope everybody has a fabulous weekend!