Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tag: I'm it!

I’ve been tagged! The gorgeous Jenny, whose blog I make a point of never reading when I’m hungry has tagged me to take part in the Food Bloggers Unplugged series which was started over at A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate . Which means I get to ramble on about two of my favourite subjects – food and, er, myself.

What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?

I first started writing about food….oh, about five or so years ago. D and I had developed a bit of a restaurant habit and I started writing reviews – partly to amuse myself and partly so that we had a record of what we were eating. Then, back in 2009 a piece I wrote about The Old Vicarage in Sheffield won a competition which gave me a bit of a confidence boost and I decided I wanted to give myself an outlet to write more regularly.

The thing is, there were so many wonderful blogs out there already, I didn’t want to join the party as it were without a bit of a different slant, and that is where the WeightWatchers angle came about. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be thinner (rarely succeeding, mind) and the older I get the more I realise I only want to do it on my terms – i.e. avoiding uninspiring, tasteless “diet” food as much as possible.

Who is your foodie inspiration?

Hmmm, tricky.

I’ve always enjoyed both cooking and eating, and that’s thanks to my parents who encouraged us as children to eat widely and well, and ensured that we had all the basic skills we needed to be able to look after ourselves and not have to rely on takeaways and toast.

But my inspiration nowadays…well, I would probably have to say D. Since we met we’ve had so many culinary adventures together, and it has been those that have really inspired me to cook more and eat more and generally be more curious about food.

Your greasiest, batter - splattered food/drink book is?

I have a lot of recipe books, but I must be very honest and say I tend to treat them a bit like novels and day to day am probably more likely to cook from recipes I’ve found online. Which is something I really must change. Probably the most used book in the collection is Mary Berry’s Complete Cookery Course – mainly because it is a copy my Mum has had for donkey’s years that she gave to me when I moved out (buying herself a new edition, I believe!). It’s an incredible useful guide for basics.

Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

A few years ago we went to Copenhagen and had dinner at Noma, which went on to be named the best restaurant in the world. The food there was truly amazing, like nothing I’d ever had before. They only serve Nordic ingredients, many of which are foraged, so most of the flavours were quite alien to what I was used to, but it was stunning: fresh and vibrant but also playful. I love food with a sense of humour! I couldn’t pick out one particular course as the best – the whole experience was just fabulous.

Another food bloggers table you'd like to eat at is?

 Without wishing to sound creepy (she did nominate me after all!) it would probably have to be Jenny’s. I do always think her food sounds seriously good – proper home cooking.


What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

I was lucky enough to be given a KitchenAid this year as a wedding present, and I’d like some more attachments for that, please Santa.

Who taught you how to cook?

I used to bake a lot with my maternal grandmother – scones and sponges and that sort of thing. Basic cookery skills – that would be my Mum. To be honest, I’ve never really understood people saying that they can’t cook, if you can read, taste and you understand a few basic techniques then you can follow a recipe, so a lot of skills and techniques I tend to pick up as I go along.

I'm coming to you for dinner what's your signature dish?

If you’re coming for a dinner party at our house, then D will be your head chef – he tends to be in charge of the “event” cookery. I do always make gougeres though – lovely little cheesy choux puffs to enjoy with a drink beforehand.

In terms of midweek cookery – I tend to cook lots of things not very frequently, if you see what I mean. I am a huge fan of pasta though, so you’d probably get a bowl of pasta pesto if you caught me on the hop! It has been a staple since my student days.

What is your guilty food pleasure?

I try not to feel guilty about any type of food – everything in moderation, etc.! I do probably enjoy Dominos pizza far more than I should though – after all, no Italian would recognise those doughy, gooey utterly delectable monstrosities as pizza would they? Perhaps they should invent a new name for it.

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Now this is quite hard...I am an open book! And also, quite dull!

OK…there must be something…I am a grade 8 clarinetist, and did think about turning professional for a while back in my younger days – I won the Junior Musician of Havering at one point, which was probably the pinnacle of my musical career. I haven’t played for years now, and keep thinking about picking them up again.

That’s probably the best I can do.

Right, I’m supposed to tag five people to do this, although around this time of year I suspect most of us have other priorities…so I’m going to cop out and say anyone who happens to see this consider themselves tagged – diet bloggers as well!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Recipe Corner – Mrs Scrooge’s Piccalilli

We ventured into York on Sunday. For the uninitiated, York, whilst a very beautiful city with many fine features, is what can only be described as a Tourist Trap. Especially around this time of the year when the main street seems to play host to one rather twee Christmas market after another.

Yes, I know. Bah humbug.

I love Christmas, I really do, but the advent of Internet shopping has spoiled me utterly and I can no longer bring myself to love Christmas shopping. I found myself in the Marks and Spencer’s food hall shooting imaginary death rays at all the old age pensioners who had decided that, despite the fact they have the ENTIRE WEEK to go and do their shopping, Sunday – and the Sunday two weeks before Christmas at that, is the very, very best time to venture out for mince and onion slices. The American tourists who were absolutely fascinated by the contents of the tinned goods aisle – apparently they don’t have Heinz Cream of Tomato soup in the States - were also on the end of my patented Beam of Death.

It was my husband that made me brave the ravening hoards to purchase the ingredients for homemade chutney. And it’s a good job he did really – I should have made it a couple of weeks ago but I’ve been shamefully disorganised. Last year I went it for a Nigella recipe inspired by all good flavours of Christmas, but this year I’m experimenting with a slightly simpler spiced apple recipe which I think will work beautifully with strong cheddar. It spent the night burbling away to itself in the slow cooker which made the whole process even more painless than usual. I’ll also be revisiting a fabulous piccalilli which I discovered a few years ago on the Waitrose website and which is reproduced below. This stuff is truly fantastic so I try and remember to make enough to both give away and retain a jar for us.

The only ingredient in this that the dedicated Weight Watcher needs to worry about is the sugar. I would therefore reckon on a single point for a good dollop.

Ingredients

700ml malt vinegar
2 tbsp coriander seeds
500g cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp English mustard powder
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp Tumeric
2 tbsp ground ginger
150ml Cider vinegar
100g French beans trimmed and sliced
½ cucumber, quartered and sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
200g granulated sugar

Makes 1.7kg

Place the malt vinegar and coriander seeds in a large pan and bring to the boil, at which point add the cauliflower and onion and simmer for about five minutes until slightly softened but retaining some crunch.

Meanwhile, put the mustard, flour, turmeric and ginger into a small bowl and gradually whisk in the cider vinegar to make a smooth paste.

Add the remaining vegetables, garlic and sugar to the pan and stir over the heat for 2-3 minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved. Drain over a large bowl to collect the vinegar.

Put the mustardy mixture in the pan and bring to the boil. Gradually add the malt vinegar back in and then allow to simmer for 10 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon. Now replace the drained vegetables and take off the heat.

The piccalilli can now be spooned into sterilised jars (the easiest way to do this is to run them through a hot dishwasher) and kept for as long as you can resist it. Not very long in our household.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Maybe this time next year I'll have a Beachbody...

One of the things that I really, really want to get off to a flying start this coming January is a proper exercise routine. Throughout 2010 I was managing fairly regular attendance at the gym – to the extent that I was actually choosing to get up before nine on a Saturday to get to a Body Combat class. All that has rather petered out in the latter half of this year.

My general attitude to exercise was always one of dislike and suspicion, a seed planted back in my school days. I was not, it is safe to say, a sporty child, nor had any ambitions in that direction and can’t say I ever cried myself to sleep at night when I missed out on a place in the netball team. While we’re on the general subject, I never really understood the edict that every single pupil had to have some sort of role in Sports Day, but tried to get on board (generally by putting my name down for the relatively safe Tug of War every year as soon as the sign up sheet was posted). With the exception of swimming I steered clear of sport in general. And I think the world of sport was probably pretty grateful.

But then, back in (I think) about 2009, D and I began attending a local gym on a reasonably regular basis. I started off by just sticking to gentle lengths of the pool before cautiously venturing into the gym proper and then discovered that some of the classes were actually OK as long as you stayed at the back and avoided catching sight of yourself in the wall to wall mirrors. It would be too much to say that I ever enjoyed myself, but I definitely enjoyed the feeling of well being that followed a good workout. And I also enjoyed the fact that exercising allowed me to eat more. Weight Watchers allows you to earn bonus activity points to be consumed or not as the individual sees fit – well, I generally always saw fit (I am quite very greedy) and still achieved a steady weight loss as well as some fledgling muscle tone beneath the flab. So what happened in 2011? Hard to say. We’ve fallen out of routine, and, I must admit, the thought of having to build up all that fitness again from scratch does fill me with dread. More than once in the last couple of months have I thought about cancelling my gym membership.

Perhaps, then, it was more than a little bit lucky that a few weeks ago I had an email from someone who wondered if I’d be interested in mentioning some of their products on here. If I tell you the site was called beachbody.com you may understand why I was more than a little surprised – there may well have been some incredulous laughter on my part. But I read her mail and was touched that she said that she’d seen that I have posts relating to “living a healthy lifestyle”. And I thought, well, they may have been a bit thin on the ground lately, but living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is in fact the point of this blog. I want the people who visit me here to understand that losing weight or maintaining a healthy figure isn’t about deprivation but about balance. Have your cake, eat it, but make up for it somehow. Eat salad for dinner or (and here’s the bit I’ve certainly been avoiding for the last six months) go for a swim or a jog. I’ve lost sight of the exercise bit of a healthy lifestyle recently, but this was a salutory reminder, and just in time for New Year Resolution season.

Beachbody have some new products coming out which they’ve asked me to link to, and, in the spirit of spreading the exercise love I am more than happy to do so, although I should add that I haven’t tried these particular ones myself – unfortunately, my living room doesn’t lend itself to home workouts. I have however done some Les Mills Pump classes at the gym and always found them good in a painful sort of way, plus, strength training is a really good way of boosting your metabolic rate. The slightly amusingly named Body Beast workout looks to be more aimed at those people who are wanting to build some serious muscle – not my thing, but ideal if you’re after a more Fatima Whitbread look (hats off to her, the woman looked amazing on I’m A Celebrity). And I had actually heard of the P90X2 workouts, which seem to be a mixed bag of strength training and cardio previous to seeing them on the site – to have penetrated my consciousness they must be doing someone some good.

I should also say that although it is an American site they do international delivery at no extra charge, which is nice of them.

Many thanks to the very sweet Emily from Beachbody for what may well be the gentle nudge I needed to get me back in the direction of the gym – I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be what you would call a gym bunny, but I do need to make it a part of my life again. Are you there, Bonus Activity Points? It’s me, Seren…

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Recipe Corner – Roasted Parmesan Parsnips

This post could well have been called: “Time to talk turkey (or in our case, three bird roast)”. You see, I’m rather excited – this year I am cooking Christmas dinner not just for myself and D, but for my parents, my brother and sister in law and my eleven month old nephew. Discerning palates all, especially the baby.


The menu has been more or less finalised and hopefully a lot can be done in advance which I think is the key to any sort of entertaining and means that I can spend most of the actual day drinking Bucks Fizz (Mum, if you’re reading this, I’m just kidding. I promise to remain upright at least until Doctor Who.)

As well as roast potatoes, the best ever braised red cabbage, crushed Swede, the ubiquitous sprouts (of which more in a later post) and, of course, peas, I will be serving some scrumptious crunchy coated parsnips. I’ve tested this recipe twice now (D has been forced to eat variations on a theme of Sunday dinner two days in a row – how he suffers for my art) and think I’ve cracked it timing wise. In terms of prep, both the potatoes and the parsnips will be parboiled well in advance, probably on Christmas Eve, and allowed to cool completely. Not only does this seem to give the best, crispiest roasted roots, but it also is one more annoying job out of the way.

I’ve given the rough amounts for 4 people here, but it is easily doubled or halved depending on the size of your family and, indeed, how much they like parsnips.

Ingredients

6 parsnips – look for short fat ones as they tend to be easier to cut
2 tbsp couscous*
20g fresh grated Parmesan
½ tsp ground cumin
Black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Serves 4, 6 pro points per serving

* The original recipe that this is based on called for polenta which I wasn’t able to find in its correct form in our local Tesco. I substituted couscous, a store cupboard staple in our house, as an experiment and it worked well. It is probably a coarser crumb than polenta but it still gave a lovely, crispy coating to the parsnips. By all means use polenta if you can get hold of it.

Cut the parsnips into rough quarters length ways. Your pieces all need to be of similar size, so if you have a particularly rotund specimen you may need to cut it into eighths. These look about right:


Photo credit: Waitrose.com

Put the parsnips into a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. Once there, boil them briskly for a minute before draining. Use kitchen towel to blot off any excess water.

While your veg cook, put the couscous, Parmesan, cumin and several good scrunches of black pepper in a suitable receptacle – I used a shallow.

Now transfer your drained parsnips into the couscous mix and toss well to coat. You should do this while they are still warm. You can do this bit well in advance – the vegetables will roast well from cold.

When it comes to cooking them, preheat the oven to about 200-220 degrees. Heat a the vegetable oil in a roasting tray for about 15 minutes. Tip the parsnips into the hot oil and roast in the oven, turning once or twice for 25 minutes until golden and crispy. Serve alongside your bird with lashings of gravy.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

This is why we plan our meals...



The lack of a meal planning post on a Monday indicated a lack of, well, meal planning on my part which in turn has led to a series of rather thrown together (albeit nice) suppers and culminated in a meal out last night (if Gourmet Burger Kitchen can be considered "out"...I suppose it is, in that it is outside of the house)   Which was rather foolish since we're trying to save money at the moment and I weigh in on a Thursday.  And also because I try to limit eating out to really special places these days, and whenever I go somewhere less than special I feel vaguely cheated because I probably could have cooked whatever I'm eating myself and had it while wearing my pyjamas and watching NCIS rather than having to pretend to be civilised.  Anyway, D told me sternly (well, he said it in an email so he didn't use a specific tone although I imagined him saying it with a stern voice and slightly furrowed brow) to get back to it and achieve some "consistency" with regards food shopping and the cooking thereof.

(As an aside I still managed to lose half a pound at weigh in - hurrah - and GBK was...underwhelming really.  I mean, nice enough burgers and I loved the fact that the skinny fries were actually matchstick fries, oh, and the garlic mayo was good.  But it was pricey in a sneaky way which I didn't like - charging extra for a dill pickle in the cheeseburger for example, when to have a cheeseburger without a dill pickle is sacrilege as far as I'm concerned).

Anyway, let's talk meal planning.  There is still a decent amount in our freezer, so most of the meals this week are based around ingredients that we already have.  Oh, and the cunning amongst you will notice that there are nine meals listed, so this meal plan, taking into account there is likely to be at least one night out thrown into the mix, should see us through until the end of next week. 

  • Roasted chicken thighs with mashed swede, Parmesan parsnips, roast potatoes and Brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnut butter.  Two of the sides are trial runs for Christmas dinner.
  • Bolognese pasta bake - bumped from last week.  What is it about poor old Bolognese that it always gets bumped with me?  The sauce is already made though, so this will be a good one for a night when I just.  Can't.  Be.  Bothered.
  • Mackerel fillets with harissa and coriander couscous.
  • Lamb seekh burgers with cumin carrot slaw and potato wedges
  • Shepherd's Pie (I have a lot of lamb mince to use up...)
  • Egg, chips and beans - another one for a lazy evening
  • Bacon and broad bean risotto
  • Bangers and mash with red onion gravy
  • Nigel Slater's mild and fruity salmon curry with naan bread
So, should keep us going for a while.  Potato seems to be featuring quite heavily, but it is a potatoey time of year.  I might make the wedges sweet potato and add parnsip to the Shepherd's Pie topping just for a but of variation.

As always, head over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning fun.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Recipe corner - Exceptionally easy brown soda bread

So, bread. The idea of making bread scares me a little bit which is odd because usually I am quite gung-ho about cooking in general. And I have been baking since I was knee high to a grandmother. But bread? Nope, slightly wary.

It was our recent trip to Roganic that inspired me to take a little baby step into the world of bread making. We were served the most delicious brown soda rolls while we were there (see below, second from front), dense and sweet.
The Roganic bread basket
I knew (or rather, had a vague idea) that soda bread didn’t involve any messing around with yeast and suchlike. So I took to the net and lo, found a recipe for a brown soda bread by the Irish Goddess that is Rachel Allen. And last weekend I dusted off my beautiful Kitchen Aid (which I have not named, no, really, I haven’t), and set to making the most basic version.

Voila!
 As you’ll see the result is somewhat…well, let’s be honest, rustic. A little misshapen, a little clumsy looking. But I suspect that no baker has ever been prouder of a loaf. It tasted surprisingly good as well, especially considering how little effort was involved. We ate it on Sunday evening with some good Italian cheese – and I suspect D’s enjoyment was only very slightly marred by me saying, “I made bread!” in a wondering tone after every bite.

Ingredients

225g wholemeal flour
225g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg
375-400ml buttermilk*

(*Instead of buttermilk I used normal skimmed milk with a hefty squirt of lemon juice. Set this aside for about ten minutes before using.)

Serves 12, 4 pro points per serving

Preheat the oven to 220.

Sift together the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.

In another bowl, whisk the egg into the buttermilk. Pour most of the liquid (I went for about two thirds) into the flour mixture. Using your hands with your fingers outstretched like a claw OR the dough hook of a beloved food mixer, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more liquid as necessary (I didn’t use the full 400ml in the end). The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky.

Turn onto a floured work surface and gently bring it together into a round about 4cm deep. Or, as per the picture above, something vaguely approximating a puddle shape. Cut a deep cross on the top (this is to let the fairies out!)

Place on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200 and bake for a further 30 minutes.

The loaf is cooked when it sounds slightly hollow when tapped on the base. Although to be honest I spent quite a long time knocking it wondering exactly how that sounds. Maybe a seasoned bread baker would have less difficulty. In any case, the timings provided seemed to work well.

This is best eaten on the day it is baked, preferably still warm from the oven and oozing with butter. However, we stored the loaf under a tea towel and ate some the following evening and it was still fine for dunking in soup.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mirror, mirror

Warning: intense navel gazing and retrospection follows. Avoid if such things make you feel slightly nauseous – but return later in the week to learn how to make the Easiest Bread In The World™.

So. Two separate things got me pondering last week.

The first was that I was staying in a hotel in London and I found that I was discombobulated by all the mirrors in the room. Seriously, everywhere I looked I could see my reflection – even when I was in the shower. It made me uncomfortable.

Then, on Saturday I went to the hairdressers for the first time in ages and the prospect of having to sit and stare at myself for an hour made me reflexively grope for the war paint in a state of mild panic.

And it made me realise that I just don’t look in the mirror very much anymore. In our flat we have one in the bathroom, of course, and a full length jobby in our bedroom but the former shows only one’s topmost bits and the latter is placed in such a way that it is not particularly easy to get a look at yourself unless you stand on the bed. Which I don’t.

I’ll usually give myself a quick once over in the morning, and I’ve got a compact in my handbag so that I can do the old spinach on teeth check if I’m out and about and I’ve just eaten spinach. But I just don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, so I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my appearance. I wonder if that is one of the reasons that my weight loss efforts tend to be a little half hearted.

Most women can’t dwell on their appearance without the issue of body image rearing its head. It’s just a fact that a lot of us use our weight and our size as one of the defining measures as to whether we look OK or not. If you are overweight, it’s sometimes difficult to hold your head up and be proud of your appearance if every single measure of attractiveness that society uses tells you that you’re at the bottom of the scale. It tends to puncture your vanity.

When I was in my early twenties, I went through a stage of being very vain indeed. It was just after I had left university. I had lost a few stone and was in one of my rare thin phases. I got my first job working in a warehouse where most of the staff were male and in their thirties or forties and girls, particularly young, pretty, naive ones, were thin on the ground. The work itself was a mind numbingly mundane and so myself and the other girls in the office occupied quite a lot of time flirting with the warehouse men. Perhaps for the first time ever I felt attractive, validated by the male interest. I would get up at stupid o clock in the morning to style my hair and apply make up before work. I lived in high heels, despite the fact I had to walk several miles a day to get from the station to the office.

A decade later I have gone completely in the other direction and, actually, that’s not an entirely good thing. Of course, you should feel validated by something other than how many whistles you’ve collected on your daily totter around the warehouse, and now, older and wiser and in a far more suitable job, I do. But equally, taking a bit of an interest in your appearance isn’t necessarily just about vanity but about believing that you, yourself, are worthy of a little bit of time and effort. You’re worth the five minutes it takes to whack on a bit of lip gloss, or apply body lotion after the shower, or paint your toenails. And, equally (because I had to make this a bit about dieting, right?), you are worth the little bit of time and effort it takes to plan healthy, sensible meals, track your points, and generally look after your health.

You’re worth it. I’m worth it. And it’s definitely worth a little bit of concerted effort so that the mirror can become a friend rather than an object of fear and loathing.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Meal planning Monday 18


November continues, grey and miserable and unremitting. I have perked up a bit though. Firstly, I had a much needed haircut on Saturday which I absolutely love (it’s all short and curly now, a bit like a poodle only, er, not) and I got an email from the lovely Lauren to say that I had won her chocolate giveaway! How can one be grumpy in the face of funky poodle hair and chocolate? Plus, a new series of The Killing started on Saturday night. My cup runneth over.

Meal planning recently as been as much based around the contents of the freezer as possible. This is a) to make room for all the Christmas goodies that I will no doubt buy despite the fact we will then end up eating mini sausage rolls in February and b) because money, as always, is too tight to mention. Especially with the aforementioned Christmas coming up. So the rough plan for this week is as follows:

  • Broccoli and blue cheese soup with home made soda bread
  • Spaghetti Bolognese (the other half of the sauce that we had a couple of weeks ago – I might ring the changes by making this a pasta bolognese bake)
  • Sticky pork belly with noodles and bok choi
  • Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with toasted English muffins (one of the ultimate comfort dishes identified in my last post)
As always, head over to Mrs M’s for more menu planning.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

In which I am grumpy


Picture from amazon.co.uk
I was just flexing my fingers to write about how much of a grump I am today, how I nearly threw a full on temper tantrum this morning before setting off for the station this morning (sample dialogue: “Don’t wanna go to work. Don’t wanna.”) and how all I want to do is sit in bed and swig red wine and read trashy novels when something compelled me to check the archives and look! It appears I was feeling almost exactly the same at this time last year!

It’s official my friends – I’m allergic to November and should therefore definitely be allowed to pass all thirty days of it in a state of hibernation. But since the Department has cracked down on sick leave I’m going have to come up with an alternate plan.

Incidentally, I note that last year I self prescribed risotto, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and chicken soup. So that’s half of next week’s menu plan sorted then.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Come dine with us!


So, Saturday evening we cooked a meal for my parents. You know how whenever you watch Jamie or Nigella and they talk about how they like really informal dinner parties where everyone just helps themselves from a steaming platter of something in the middle of the table? Yeah, that’s pretty much the opposite of how we do dinner parties. We like it formal. Multiple courses with matching wines. Cheese before pudding. 

This does mean that most of Saturday and a couple of precious Friday evening hours were spent in the kitchen, but I really don’t mind. I do honestly love cooking and I love cooking for other people. Although I do find sharing a kitchen with D to be quite a stressful business. He is a very precise cook whereas I am more chaotic and clumsy and tend to lose basic motor skills when feeling under pressure.

Particular highlights included D’s fantastic mussel and saffron soup – which is a recipe I’d love to blog for you if a) he lets me and b) it works out as reasonably WW friendly, and a rabbit in mustard sauce which I think mentioned in a meal planning post a couple of weeks ago when we did a practice run. The recipe we used for the rabbit is here – and I would recommend giving it a go if you can bring yourself to eat Bugs. Although the ingredient list makes it sound like it is going to be overpoweringly mustardy, it actually bakes down to quite a mellow flavour.

In the interests of accountability, I should make it clear that not a morsel was pointed. But a midweek Weigh In (capital W capital I) this morning showed me only half a pound up from the official number on Thursday, which I take to mean that not too much damage has been done.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Notes from a big city – part the second

So when last we saw our hero and heroine they were on a train back to Romford with full tummies and a couple of hip flasks full of Old Pulteney liqueur. (Extended parenthesis: I don’t think I mentioned the hip flasks in my previous post – suffice to say, D had decided to indulge himself and his best man with a small, metal container from which they would be able to swig alcohol on a forthcoming camping trip. I’m not quite sure why either.)

But back to the important part of this post which is that the following day, once tummies had been sufficiently deflated, they…we (maintaining a third person pronoun will end up making me confused) headed back out (in?) to the metropolis in order to have lunch at Roganic.

Roganic claims to be a pop up restaurant – which I feel is up for debate given that it is going to be kicking around for a couple of years. This suggests to me not so much popping as….well, just being. But it doesn’t matter because it is only right that the capital gets to appreciate the genius of chef Simon Rogan and his talented team. Rogan has a restaurant up in a remote corner of the Lake District called L’Enclume, where D and I enjoyed one of the finest meals we have ever had in this country. It has one Michelin star but I am fairly sure that if it were in London it would have at least two. It deserves three. It is absolutely amazing. If you are ever up North then go. We were hoping for more of the same at Roganic and we were not disappointed in the least.

Now, I should be clear that if you are not the type of person who thinks that the word “interesting”, when applied to food, is a compliment then this is probably not your sort of place. Does that sound patronising? I do hope not. I merely mean that there are some people, close friends and relatives of mine among them, who want their food simple and their combinations classic. And to be honest, for my last meal on Earth I’d probably be more interested in bangers and mash than a plate of wizardy pokery and edible doo-dahs. But D and I also love going to restaurants where the chef is going to challenge our taste buds. Simon Rogan’s food is definitely different – some of the ingredients he uses you won’t even have heard of. But you won’t care because they taste so good.

I won’t bore you by detailing all the ten courses we chomped through. I will, however, share some of the pictures with you because the dishes were as beautiful as they were delicious. Also, they were taken by D so they are of a slightly higher quality than the risible food photography to which you are usually subjected.





A couple of particular highlights for me were the chargrilled langoustine (pictured fourth above) which was served with yoghurt and elderberries (prawn! With yoghurt! And fruit! Crazy, but utterly amazing) and the bilberries with dried caramel and iced lemon thyme (sixth above) which was as fresh and sweet as…a river nymph. But it is hard to pick a favourite moment in the face of such consistent quality.

The staff were absolutely lovely as well, happy to chat and engage throughout – although I felt a little bit sorry for the waitress who asked us what our favourite course was and was subjected to a whole five minutes of earnest debating. Oh, oh and the butter for the amazing bread was served on a stone that looked like a potato! I think I have a picture of that as well, actually…

So, Roganic. Do go along. And go to L’Enclume as well while you’re at it – I promise you’ll thank me for it.  Just make sure it's within, er, two years (or so) of reading this or it may well have popped off...

Roganic
19 Blandford Street
London
W1U 3DH
0207 4860380

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Meal planning (let’s pretend that it is) Monday 17


Do I start every single one of these posts by saying how quickly Monday has come around? Shall I try and ring the changes this week? Or just revert to formula? But it’s true…I feel like I’ve only just finished one meal plan before the next hoves into view. And much as I love the idea of meal planning, the reality is that as soon as I sit down (proverbial) pencil in hand, every idea and recipe vanishes from my head and I wonder how many times I could get away with serving up beans on toast. It’s a bit of a far cry from when D and I first moved in together (nearly seven years ago – wow!) I went into full on 1950s housewife mode - we probably didn’t eat the same thing once for the first six months, the tiny kitchen was always absolutely spotless and I made his sandwiches for him every evening. How times change.

Anyway. This week we’re planning round a few things. My lovely parents are coming for dinner on Saturday evening, so that menu is being organised separately – it will involve a repeat of the delicious rabbit dish that we cooked a couple of weeks ago (that I never got round to blogging – bad food blogger!). We always over cater, so we’ll probably have plenty of leftovers to get us through Sunday.

Tomorrow, D is out which normally means prick and ping but it’s the night before weigh in so I want to keep things quite light and low sodium – I’m thinking eggs of some description on toast.

Thursday we have a few jobs that we want to do (and a poor, neglected gym to visit) so it needs to be quick and easy – step forward slow cooker Bolognese. I think spag bol has popped up on a number of meals plans recently and it always seems to get bumped, poor thing. But I can bung all the ingredients into the slow cooker on Wednesday evening while my eggs are cooking, switch it on Thursday morning and quick and easy tea when we get in – perfect.

Friday – shopping and prep to do for Saturday evening, so again speed and simplicity is our watchword. I’ll probably just bung a pizza in the oven to be perfectly honest.

Not so much a meal plan this week then as a succession of throw togethers. You could always try checking out Mrs M’s blog for something more sophisticated…

Recipe corner – Braised fennel with butter and parmesan

It goes a bit against the Weight Watchers grain to advocate a vegetable side dish which is higher in points than the chunk of protein that is sitting alongside. Vegetables are zero point under the WW regime which means that the hungry WWer can be inclined to develop the mindset of vegetables as bulking agent rather than vegetables as delicious thingummies in their own right.

Well, no more. As delicious as the slow roast pork shoulder was on Sunday evening, this braised fennel dish was the undoubted shining star of the meal. We had originally intended to make some roast potatoes as well but neither of us could be bothered when it came to it and to be honest, I really didn’t miss them. Yet again proof that I never need as much food as I think I do to be satisfied.

This very simple but fabulous recipe is by the quite lovely Simon Hopkinson and the original can be seen on the BBC website. The only tweaks I have made are to reduce the amount of butter and Parmesan slightly – not by much, mind you, but it has shaved a couple of points of per portion. The point of the dish would be lost without the buttery, salty richness provided by these ingredients, but I should add that even in the original recipe, the delicate sweetness of the fennel is enhanced rather than overwhelmed.

Ingredients

1 large fennel bulb, cut in half lengthwise and trimmed
40g butter
4 tbsp vermouth
40g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Serves 2, 7 pro points per portion

Pre heat the oven to 170 degrees while you prep the fennel.

Put the butter in an ovenproof dish and stick in the oven to melt (or, conversely, melt the butter and pour into the dish). Season the fennel halves and then add to the butter, cut side down along with the vermouth and the trimmings. Season the whole well with salt and pepper. Cover loosely with foil and roast in the oven for half an hour.

One the thirty minutes have passed remove from the oven and turn over (trying to maintain the structural integrity of the fennel bulb while doing so!) Return, covered, to the oven for a further thirty minutes or until the fennel is tender.

Tip the trimmings and cooking juices through a fine sieve into a small saucepan. Warm through gently and add two thirds of the Parmesan cheese. Using a small blender, whizz this mixture up until smooth.

Pour this over the fennel halves, adorn them with the remaining Parmesan and then stick under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I was standing in the queue for the scales today (Thursday is my Day of Ritual Humiliation aka Weigh In) alongside about a dozen other gloomy looking women when I found myself thinking petulantly, “They’re none of them fat! What are they even doing here? That woman’s waist has a smaller circumference than my HEAD!*”

It’s grossly unfair of me. I don’t know any of these women nor their weight histories. Perhaps they have successfully slain their weight loss demons – and hey, look at that, they actually manage to maintain their weight loss by continuing to attend meetings. They haven’t regarded this as a finite process.

Or perhaps they have recently noticed that their jeans are a little tight – they’ve gained, say, half a stone and they want to deal with it now before the half a stone becomes twenty stone and they can’t see their feet anymore.*

Either way, Me gave Me a good dressing down for being small minded.

Then, after a gain (unsurprising given a weekend of debauchery in London – this is one particular gain I am quite happy to own because I enjoyed every single unpointed mouthful) I made the spectacularly daft decision to substitute my planned lunch (Prêt Italian chicken salad = 9 pro points) for a pint of cider with D (= 7 pro points - gah). Although WW advocates eating everything in moderation, I hardly think this is what is known as a sensible meal plan. I now feel more than a little sleepy. And I’ve promised to go to the gym this evening.

In other, slightly more cheerful news, the red cups are back in Starbucks – and people, you know that this means that the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. I’ve yet to have my first (skinny) gingerbread latte of the season but it’s surely imminent…

*Possible exaggeration brought on by scale induced hysteria.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Notes from a big city – part the first

So, London baby! D and I had a wonderful weekend down there steeping ourselves in art, culture, and, most importantly, food.

We were blessed with perfect weather for tramping the city; the air had a crisp edge but was still relatively mild for the end of October. We walked past the tents at St Paul's, crossed the river at Millennium Bridge and then made our way up the South bank towards Borough Market, with a brief pause to take in the Tacita Dean film in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (joint opinion: interesting, but nowhere near as powerful as the big, black box that they had there last year).

I’m ashamed to admit, as a self proclaimed foodie and gastronaut extraordinaire, that I have never really explored Borough Market before and our visit this weekend was a little on the whistle stop side. We did pause for long enough to D to enjoy some brown shrimp served up in a cutesy scallop shell (although I would be careful not to apply the adjective cutesy to the rather burly stallholder) and for us to tick the “Come to London – see a celebrity” box. Yes, who should walk past us while we were standing by the fish stall but TV’s Dr Hilary Jones! (NB: he is VERY brown).

Shrimp!
From Borough it was off to one of our favourite haunts on The Embankment, Gordon’s wine bar, for bread, cheese and a cheeky glass or two of red. Apparently, it’s the oldest wine bar in London. A word of warning: do not ask for a Diet Coke in here or a scary barman will frown at you and refer you to a website in which all the evils of the world are laid at the door of the Coca Cola corporation. Stick to the wine here, it’s safer.

Bread and cheese!
Wine!
A couple of happy hours were passed following in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes before we hotfooted it off to Soho to secure a table at much lauded Polpo. You can’t book in the evenings so we were there at half five, noses pressed up against the glass like the Little Match Girl (and Boy). And a good job we did too – by six the place was filling up and when we left at about quarter past seven the bar was three deep with people disconsolately eyeing up the tables of those with the sense to come early.

We really liked Polpo. It’s tapas in the sense that you order a series of small dishes for the table, but the food has an Italian rather than Spanish influence – this type of restaurant is apparently is known as a bacaro and originated in Venice. It’s a style of eating that greatly appeals to me, partly because it removes the possibility of menu envy (you know, that sick feeling you get when you realise that your dining partner has made the better choice and your own food turns to dust in your mouth).

The stand out dish was probably the grilled flank steak that was served with rocket and a porcini cream – definitely something I want to recreate at home. I also loved the calves liver with sage and onion: it was rich, dense and luscious with a thick gravy that was perfect for soaking up with the oily foccacia. We were delightfully surprised by the fig, mint and prosciutto bruschetti – a fabulous flavour combination which shall be making an appearance amongst our Christmas canapes. The fritto misto, ordered as an afterthought, pushed us over from pleasantly replete to rather full, but still, it was a lovely little selection of crispy, fishy nuggets – especially good to see some whitebait on there. Our overall bill for (I think) seven plates of food and a bottle of prosseco came to £93 including service charge, so not bad value at all.

Steak!
Fried Fish!
But it doesn’t end there, with our hero and heroine surreptitiously undoing top buttons on the train back to sunny Romford. For tomorrow they were heading for Roganic and, had they but known it then, a lunch of such magnificence that even the excitement at seeing TV’s Dr Hilary Jones would be overshadowed.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Meal Planning Monday 16

Thank you for your lovely cupcake comments! I haven't any other wedding pictures to share at the moment - we didn't have an official photographer - but if any more arrive in my inbox I will post them here!

We had an amazing weekend - posts to follow soon, but in the meantime, it is, of course, time for some meal planning.



Another pretty short week meal planning wise which will find us eating:

A Toulouse sausage and butterbean casserole, using some sausages we picked up from the legendary Ginger Pig.

Ham hock, leek and potato gratin.

Slow roasted pork shoulder with roast potatoes and fennel braised with butter and Parmesan.

Hmmmm, a wee bit piggy-wig orientated! But very tasty sounding none the less.

As always, head to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning fun.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Wedding Cupcakes






I couldn't resist sharing these with you - just when you thought all the wedding stuff was over and done with!

These are our wedding cupcakes - and aren't they pretty?  The cerise gerbera daisies on top match the bridal flowers exactly, and, although you might not be able to see exactly from these photographs, the frosting was sprinkled with edible glitter.  Very kitsch, very adorable.

We made up our mind a long time ago that we preferred individual cakes to one big one.  Aside from anything else, both of us have something of a morbid fear of posed photos and we knew that if we had a full on wedding cake someone would try and get a picture of us cutting it.  These fitted the bill exactly - and we invested in some clear individual cake boxes so that people could take them away and marvel at their beauty in the comfort of their own home. 

And what is especially, especially nice was that our lovely friend and former colleague E made them for us entirely free of charge, even though she wasn't actually at the wedding.  Weddings are expensive things, and as the planning progresses you become inordinately grateful for any little savings it is possible to make; this was a major saving and not a whit of compromise was required for which I am incredibly grateful.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Meal planning Monday 15 (and some pre trip excitement)

A short week for meal planning. It is D’s birthday on Sunday, so Thursday onwards will find us down in the Big Smoke. We’ve got some exciting stuff planned; lunch at Simon Rogan’s pop up Roganic (we’re huge fans of his Lake District restaurant L’Enclume so have high hopes for this) and a Vinopolis tour which includes absinthe sampling (hic!) We’re also planning to try and have supper at Polpo, although since they don’t take evening bookings this is not yet guaranteed, and are hoping for a last minute deal on tickets for Death And The Maiden at the Pinter Theatre. Oh, and a trip to London wouldn’t be complete without saying hello to the Tate Modern, one of our favourite places to while away an hour.

It’s funny, I grew up a half hour train ride away from the centre of London and yet I probably see more of it now that I go as a bona fide tourist. Having an amenable brother with a spare room and a good beer collection makes it pretty easy to go and visit. Still, I never visit without a very, very, infinitesimally small pang that I’m an outsider in a city I once considered my own. I always thought I’d end up there, you see, with a little flat in some up and coming area and an Oyster card and a membership of the British Library. Well, I have an Oyster card, but it spends most of the year languishing in my wardrobe.

Anyway, we digress. Sunday’s plans post drive back are still a bit up in the air, but that is not to say that we can’t organise Monday through to Wednesday, especially since two dishes got bumped from last week’s plan.

Monday: Tonight we’re having rabbit in a mustard sauce - or, lapin à la moutard. We were supposed to be having this yesterday but neither one of us got round to marinating the rabbit. So Bugs is currently sat in the fridge slathered in two types of mustard, salt, pepper and a little dried thyme.

Tuesday: Lamb seekh burgers with a minted yoghurt dressing.

Wednesday: Spag Bol (again, bumped from last week.)

As always, head over to Mrs M’s blog for more meal planning fun.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Recipe corner - a very quick and low point mushroom curry



It is very difficult to make curry look pretty. And, as long time readers will know, I struggle to make food look pretty even when it is actually, you know, pretty. Which is to say, although the accompanying illustration makes last night’s dinner look rather less than appetising (dun is never a colour one wishes to associate with food) I can assure you that it tasted lovely.

The chicken and the lentils I have blogged about before, and have now updated those entries with Pro Point values. But the mushroom curry has yet to grace these hallowed pages which is a shame because it is a fantastic side dish and super quick and simple to throw together.

I would never pretend that any recipe on this blog is particularly authentic to any cuisine other than…well, home cooking. If that even counts as a cuisine (I suspect it doesn’t). As long as a combination of ingredients is tasty, I’m happy to write about it. The use of curry powder may be a shortcut too far for people who like to make truly authentic Indian food – and sure, I always feel more virtuous when flinging together a whole plethora of different spices or whizzing up my own paste, but sometimes, especially when you’ve got two other saucepans on the go and you really want to sit down and watch NCIS, a shortcut is exactly what you need.

Ingredients

Low fat cooking spray
1 onion, sliced
Punnet of mushrooms (I favour chestnut, but any would do), sliced
2 x cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 tbsp tomato puree
4 tbsp non fat bio yogurt
salt and pepper
½ tsp ground fenugreek (optional)

Serves 4, 0 pro points per person (if you split it in half, as I did, you need to count 1 point to cover the yoghurt)

In a pan lightly coated with cooking spray, soften the onions. A pinch of salt at this stage will help them sweat rather than burn.

When soft, bung in (it’s a technical term) all remaining ingredients. Mix well, then cover and cook over a medium heat for approximately ten minutes.

Remove the lid and cook for a further couple of minutes to reduce the sauce.

Simples!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Meal planning Monday 14

Monday again...how the weeks do fly by.  And the weekends too, especially if you choose to spend the majority of them catching up on zeds after a hectic week of work. 

The big news of this weekend was that on Saturday afternoon I crept back into the gym.  When I swiped my card I almost expected the turnstile to do whatever the turnstile equivalent of keeling over in shock might be.  I went on the treadmill and did some running and rather more walking (I've kicked off yet another attempt to complete the Couch to 5k programme) while listening to "Jar of Hearts" pretty much on repeat - I like angsty songs when I'm exercising.

And what's on the menu this week?  Well, tonight I will spending in Liverpool (for work rather than pleasure unfortunately) and D will be fending for himself and then tomorrow night I have requested a welcome home dinner of roasted chicken breast with lemon couscous.

Wednesday - Spag Bol

Thursday - cumin spiced chicken, creamy lentil dahl and zero point mushroom curry (the point of this meal is to provide something that the collection of naan bread we have accumulated in the freezer can be used to mop up the sauces).

Friday - D is out, so prick and ping for me.

Saturday - the current plan, local butchers' stock allowing, is to roast some spiced quail and then tear it apart with our fingers in a pleasingly primitive manner.

Sunday - Rabbit in mustard - which will almost certainly be served with some lovely, buttery mashed potatoes.

Don't forget to pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning fun.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The art of guestimation

Well hello. This post comes to you from the 9.29 train out of York as I head back to my second week of training in the wilds of Lincolnshire.

Last week I determined to try and guestimate the points in all the canteen meals I was eating. After all, if these periods away are to become more and more of a regular thing I need to have some kind of strategy beyond chomping through two three course meals a day in a sort of glazed eye stupor.

The perfectionist in me (there is one lurking if you look hard enough) hates this. She does not approve of guessing. It is she who makes me weigh out pasta every time I cook it. But hey, it is also she who comes up with the kind of fuzzy logic that dictates that if you go out for lunch you may as well eat five rounds of cheese on toast for dinner because the day has already been blown. So we don't want to listen to her too much.

What was interesting about the process was how it was entirely possible to eat pretty much anything on offer just not everything and not all of the time. Over the Monday to Thursday period, I reckon I consumed all my dailies and around 18 weeklies (out of a possible 49). It helps that I am not much of a breakfast eater during the week, so a piece of fruit and possibly a biscuit was all I was having, leaving plenty of points for later in the day. But still, I ate pizza for lunch one day, and sticky toffee pudding after dinner one night...but it was a single slice of pizza with lots of salad, and it was a small portion of pudding as a one off treat.

Actually, the real problem arose when I got home; I was completely sick of sitting down to cooked meals and so Saturday and Sunday night saw us indulging in a nibble fest of bread, cheese, olives and pate.


Note to self - nibble fests are not easy to count unless you are strong enough to weigh out a single plateful (and where was Miss Perfectionist when I needed her, hey? Helpless in the face of cheese??)

But still, the scales inform me that after a week away from home and a weekend of glorious nibbling my weight has remained the same. That's not bad. This week my plan is to employ the same guestimation techniques foodwise, to try and avoid the pre dinner glass of wine in the bar (175mls will set you back 4 points), and to be a bit more careful at the weekend. Which probably means steering clear of the deli counter.

The above selection comes from
the wonderful Henshelwoods Deli by the way, a York institution and quite rightly so.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Recipe corner: A late summer lamb supper

Look at these beans, aren't they purdy? I didn't even know you could get pink broad beans!


One of the disadvantages of living in a flat is that we don't have a garden. Well, I say disadvantage; although I love the idea of growing my own vegetables and herbs I suspect the reality is we'd just end up arguing over mowing the lawn. Anyway, we always appreciate donations of home grown produce like these beautiful beans that came from a colleague of D's.

I wanted something very simple to showcase the fresh flavours of the veg, and celebrate this most Indian of summers we're currently enjoying. The following precisely hit the spot.



Ingredients

2 lean lamb leg steaks

100g broad beans
1-2 courgettes
50g feta cheese
Tbsp olive oil
Tbsp white wine vinegar
Tbsp chopped fresh mint
Squeeze of lemon juice

Serves 2, 10 pro points per portion

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Meanwhile, prepare your veg. Pod your beans and use a peeler or mandolin to reduce your courgette to ribbons.

Put your beans in to the water to blanch. After four minutes, add the courgettes. Give them a further minute before removing from the heat. Drain and rinse with cold water to ensure the cooking process is stopped.

Now combine the oil, vinegar, mint and lemon juice with some seasoning (go easy on the salt - the feta is salty). Return the veg to the pan and combine with the dressing and cheese over a low heat.

Meanwhile griddle the lamb steaks to your taste. Allow to rest before serving with the warmed vegetables.

We served this with couscous, but it would be equally lovely with crushed new potatoes or a lightly spiced rice pilaf.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In which the Foodie discovers a new way to destroy her liver

Despite the fact that I am thirty and distinctly non Middleton-esque, my father still calls me “Princess” without a hint of irony. So I was curious as to which of my many perceived good qualities he was going to mention in his father of the bride speech. A few minutes in, it came. “One of the great things about [insert real name here],” he said, “Is her ability to drink and not get a hangover. This is a girl who can definitely take her drink.” He then preceded to tell the company an anecdote about my seventeen year old self having an unfortunate encounter with a bottle of tequila.

And it’s true. I am my father’s daughter and, as it happens, my husband’s wife; I love, love, love a drink. I am a fully paid up lush, although I would like to hope more in the bon viveur sense of the term than the…well, person huddled on a park bench with a can of Special Brew in a paper bag (NB: I have never, to my knowledge, tried Special Brew). I have a long fostered appreciation of good wine, and an icy gin and tonic is one of my favourite things in the world. I have a predilection for a pint of crisp cider (Aspall’s for preference) and love the thirst quenching feel of a cold lager on a burning hot day. I even quaff the odd Snowball at Christmas and enjoy every sweet, fluffy, retro inch. My one exception to the general rule (apart from tequila which I tend to avoid post seventeen year old incident in the nightclub which ended with me lying prone on a wall) is that I do disapprove of sickly alcopops which to my mind present inebriation as an end in itself to teenagers who do not yet have the palate for the proper stuff.

Such dedication to the cause of cirrhosis means that, after twelve (ish) years of hard graft, there are very few drinks I haven’t tried (Special Brew aside). So I was delighted this weekend to be presented with something entirely new…

This is Becherovka (with apologies for the rather weeny picture).  Wiki tells me that it is an herbal bitters, flavoured with anise seed, cinnamon and approximately 32 other herbs and that it has an alcohol content of 38%. Oh, and that it is usually served cold and may be served with tonic – which would make it a beton.

It’s delicious! It tastes a little reminiscent of cola, but more herbal, and the bitterness of the tonic prevents it from being cloying. I’m assuming points wise that it is roughly equivalent to gin, which would make it 2 pro points for a 25ml measure. Do look out for it on your next jaunt out – it makes a lovely change. Oh, and do feel free to share any little known boozy favourites of your own, I’m always looking to expand my repertoire.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Meal planning Monday 13

This may sound like an absolutely ridiculous thing to say but I realised last night while pottering around the kitchen, that the thing I really miss out on when in one of my can’t-be-bothered-to-cook phases is the smell. I love it when the flat is redolent with the scent of dinner.

So, here goes my first proper meal planning post in a while. I’m trying hard to settle back into a domestic routine even going so far as doing, gasp, a proper big Internet shop – although I’m slightly concerned that the impact on our local Spar store could be catastrophic.

  • Broccoli and blue cheese soup – we’re coming into soup weather now and this is a favourite. Also, I’d bought blue cheese for another meal later this week, specifically…
  • Roasted loin of pork with blue cheese sauce and crispy gnocchi (I won’t serve these on consecutive evenings to prevent blue cheese overload).
  • Lamb steaks with a warm salad of minted broad beans, courgettes and feta
  • Creamy salmon-y spaghetti
There, I feel more like a housewife already. I must try and fit in some sort of baking this week as well; my Kitchenaid had its inaugural use last night preparing Yorkshire pudding batter and I’m keen to make more use of it – it’s so pretty. I think D was a little concerned when he caught me stroking it while tidying the kitchen…but at least I haven’t given it a name so far!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Peggy Sue got married…

And apparently I did too.

What a very lovely day it was too, thanks in no small part to my amazing parents (who not only paid but were a constant quiet, reassuring presence) and our lovely guests (who ate, drank and were merry alongside us). I think people were worried that I wasn’t having a good time since I passed a large proportion of the evening wandering around with a slightly dazed expression; and it is a surreal experience to find yourself amidst a crowd of well wishers wearing a white dress. I think my very favourite moment was when D, in a typically succinct speech, thanked the guests for coming and asked them to drink a toast to…his wife. His wife – it took a moment for it to sink in that he was talking about me!

It was just what I’d imagined. Quiet, intimate, simple. The ceremony itself passed very quickly, as everyone said it would. Our voices were mainly steady as we said our vows despite D’s best attempts to get me to corpse when he had my eye. Contrary to prior reports the weather held so we were able to drink champagne on the terrace afterwards while my baby nephew crawled in pale pools of sunshine on the lawn and the storm clouds scudded over and settled, glowering, in the far distance.

The food was absolutely out of this world, just as expected, and, thoughtfully, my brother and sister in law contacted the Star in advance and asked for a signed copy of the wedding breakfast menu that they had framed for us as a memento. I still had a stomach full of butterflies by the time we came to sit down, so I must admit I did not do Andrew Pern’s glorious dinner full justice – but the guests, for the most part, absolutely raved.

I don't know if anyone took a photograph of the room in which we held both the ceremony and the dinner - this one comes from the website, and you just have to imagine it minus the large round table!
It’s a little hard to process how I feel at the moment. D and I have been together seven and a half years, living together for most of that time; I was not expecting this wedding to mark any sort of seismic change in our relationship and nor has it. But I find myself possessed of a curious new, quiet determination: the determination to be the best wife that I can be to him.

I’m afraid I’ll probably disappoint you a bit on the picture front – I don’t really have any at the moment. We both decided not to have a professional photographer – we’re not very photo-ey people and the idea of having to stand around with rictus grins and various different combinations of people for an hour didn’t appeal. I believe my sister in law appointed herself unofficial picture taker for the day and is putting something together. In the meantime I can show you…

My dress was a copy of this picture:
Very Jane Austen!

And my shoes were possibly the prettiest things that I had ever seen (and the most expensive things I had ever worn on my feet):

So there you have it.  Maybe more photos to follow, but, as D has told me (quite sternly) this is a food blog not a wedding blog - so time to get back into the kitchen and get cooking.  Which I fully intend to do with the help of my brand new...

Well come on - every wife should have one!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Meal planning, er, Thursday...

Yes, I know it’s practically the end of the week and far too late for any meaningful meal planning but it’s time to get back to reality and routine.

So tonight my husband (I love saying that word!!) and I are going to the cinema and home via a Pizza Express two courses for £10 extravaganza. No cooking required.

Friday – D is probably out so I’ll be mostly eating beans on toast. Or something similar.

Saturday – I think time for a curry, so I’m planning on making one of my favourites – cumin spiced chicken with creamy dahl.

Sunday – Full on British comfort food – toad in the hole with mashed potato, roasted parsnips, braised red cabbage and lashings of onion gravy.

More meal planning fun over with Mrs M.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Talking Tapas at Ambiente

I know that this has been less of a foodie on a diet blog lately than a foodie getting married, losing the will to cook and eating out a bit. Bear with (as Miranda’s gal pal would say). Once all the wedding madness is over then normal service will be resumed. I have downloaded a gorgeous new meal planning template (see here) and have tentatively started identifying a few bookmarks that need to be cooked in the near future. I have also got hold of the couch to 5k iphone app to try and reboot my relationship with the treadmill (which to this date has been marred by a lack of interest on my side and a tendency towards masochism on his).
Anyhoo, in the meantime, let’s talk about some lovely tapas that D and I indulged in last Friday. We were celebrating some work stuff, plus, there was nothing in the house to eat bar baked beans. I really must go shopping.

So, tapas. Can I just say that our first ever holiday as a couple was to Barcelona, a very few months after we first got together and the city subsequently holds a very special place in my heart. I don’t think I had ever eaten tapas before that particular holiday – perhaps La Tasca had yet to invade the high street or perhaps it was just never a style of eating that I had thought to try. But I returned home a firm believer. Not just in tapas but in the fact that Barcelona was one of the most amazing cities in the world and the perfect place for two people on the cusp of…something.

And I’ve been to La Tasca a few times in the last few years in a vain attempt to recapture the magic – it’s an ok place to go with a large group of friends; frankly, I’m not prepared to be snobbish about chain restaurants for the most part – they provide a service, are generally reasonably priced, and one knows exactly what one is going to get if one chooses to eat there. But of course, one does not go to La Tasca and expect to find food that tastes like it it emerged from the kitchen of a bar just off Las Ramblas.

Well, Ambiente in York is a good step closer to that authentic experience. We ordered 8 dishes from the menu (3-4 per head was the recommendation) that ranged from the quite nice to excellent.

Wheel of tapas - anchovies, ham and manchego on bread
 The high points – I absolutely loved the pan fried pigeon breast with chestnut puree (paloma y pure de cartanas). It was tender and juicy and perfectly seasoned with a nice peppery crust that worked fantastically well with the sweet sauce; we wondered if there was a hint of cacao in there providing additional depth of flavour. The selection of fried seafood (frito misto) was sublime – the crispiest of crispy beer batters served with a very moreish sharp, mayonnaise type dressing. The other dish that I really must mention was the pimientos de Wigginton (as opposed to de Padron – Wigginton is a village just outside of York). I’ve never really seen the point of these salty little roasted peppers before, but I couldn’t stop eating these, the flavour was absolutely incredible.

Pigeon breast with chestnut puree

Frito misto, fish cakes and chorizo

All the produce was of a high standard and well cooked even when it didn’t deliver fireworks in the taste department; we both thought that the smoked haddock and celeriac fishcakes were rather under haddocked and the accompanying drizzle of watercress sauce underwhelming. Oh, and the portion of chorizo and potatoes was a little stingy – plenty of luscious, sweet sauce that was crying out for a few more patatas to be squidged into it. We were forced, literally forced, to order a portion of bread for soaking purposes.

It wasn’t Barcelona, and we didn’t wander back through streets that were still shimmering with the warmth of the noonday sun, past the amazing confections of Gaudi’s architecture. And our conversation was not the excited, tentative, wondering talk of two people still in the process of getting to know each other. But for all that, a lovely meal and a restaurant I will definitely be popping back to revisit.

Ambiente
14 Goodramgate
York
YO1 7LQ
01904 689784

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My first ever guest post!

Greetings pop pickers, and a very happy Sunday to you all.

A little while ago I was contacted by a lovely man called James asking if he could write a guest post for the blog.  And of course, mia blog being sua blog, I said yes.

Deliverable Diets: Healthy Meals Straight to Your Doorstep

The deliverable diet trend has finally reached popularity -- and with good reason! Everyone from the Hollywood elite to the everyday Jane is losing weight by subscribing to programs that send meals directly to your door. These diets are virtually foolproof: there is no meal planning necessary and the companies give you balanced, nutritious meals that both satiate your hunger and save you time.
The idea of boxed diet foods started in the U.S. with “Lean Cuisine.” You’ve probably seen Lean Cuisine in the frozen foods aisle of your supermarket or perhaps you’ve even tried one in your attempt to slim down. Weight Watchers also came out with “Smart Ones” meals that have the number of Weight Watchers points conveniently displayed on their packaging. Although it is tempting to buy frozen, diet meals that you can toss into the microwave, it is certainly not the healthiest choice.  The meals themselves may be low in calories, but they contain excessive amounts of sodium, high fructose corn syrup, modified ingredients and food colouring. Needless to say, this kind of processed, preservative-ridden food is far from healthy.
Now, however, it’s possible to get prepared meals that don’t contain any additives or modified ingredients with deliverable food programs like Purifyne, Body Chef, or Go Lower.  Some diet plans, like Purifyne, are “detox” programs, that deliver vitamins and juices that are meant to “increase your metabolic rate” and “revitalise your body.” Drinking the majority of your calories in juice-form, you will definitely lose at least 5 pounds in a week, making detox programs the perfect solution for anyone who needs to lose a few before a vacation or event. There are also plans, such as Go Lower, that from 21 days to a month’s worth of food for a weekly fee. These programs give you fresh meals, including snacks and sometimes even dessert. In just a month, you can lose about 10 pounds.
While delivery detox and meal programs are convenient and healthy, they do have a downside: cost. As you could probably guess, programs like these can range anywhere from £56.39 to £365 for just a week. Yes, it’s cheaper to make food at home, but delivery meal programs can teach you how to appropriately proportion your meals or reset your metabolism. Is it worth it? You decide.
James Kim is a guest writer for foodonthetable.com.  Food on the Table is a company that provides online budget meal planning services.  Their goal is to help families eat better and save money.

So what are your views?  I'd love to say that, for me, home cooking would always be the preferable option, but when life gets busy the time it takes not only to cook but to plan can be hard to find.  Anyway, food (ha ha) for thought.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Alternative vows

I’m in a reflective mood at the moment. It’s only natural I suppose, what with a wedding coming up.

Like most girls, when I got engaged I assumed that I would drift up the aisle as a lissom size 8. Well, maybe a 10, I have boobs. I had two and a bityears before the wedding plenty of time to lose the weight I need to lose and then some.

I don’t know why it didn’t happen. Well, it started to happen and then there was a backwards slide and then it started to happen again and another backwards slide…the point is, with all the forwarding and backwarding I’ve kind of ended up where I started.

It’s a question of motivation – it must be. But as D said to me the other week, with barely concealed frustration, what is more motivating than your wedding?

I suppose I was waiting for the magic switch to flick in my head. You know the one, where it suddenly all becomes easy. Where resisting high calorie food and wine (er, and cider and gin and…) no longer causes me to so much as blink. The one where I no longer turn to food and drink for solace when life goes a bit pearshaped. The one where cheese on toast isn’t the panacea to all ills. The one where exercise becomes enjoyable. The one where I suddenly become the person who says, “I really don’t like fatty foods anymore – and I get grumpy when I don’t go to the gym five times a week.”

Turns out there is no magic switch, not even one marked "Wedding". For me it will always be an effort of will – and I will NEVER be the person who stops liking cheese. But, (and this is the kicker) I have every tool that I need to make it happen close at hand and I’ve wilfully ignored them for the last two and a half years. Or, if not totally ignored them, let them lie fallow for long periods.

But I can’t change that now. And despite the fact that they have not seen me achieve any meaningful shrinkage, those same years have been good for the most part. I am finally enjoying my job, and feeling confident professionally. I am coping with my anxiety issues. I am (and apologies for the cliché) more at peace with myself than I was in my early twenties – despite the fact that I am bigger. I think that represents a degree of personal growth (of the spiritual rather than the literal kind!)

I wonder how sad I am that I will not be the slender bride I assumed I would be? You see, the closer I get to the big day, the more I realise that it is not about the wedding it is about the marriage. It’s not about the bride, it’s about the wife. The wedding is one day, and yes, I hope it is a glorious, happy day, but I’m doing it because I want to be Mrs D more than anything else in the world. I want to make him proud of me. I know at the moment he wishes I was thinner. Well, I can’t be a slim bride, but I can be a slim wife. And I will be.