Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Lunch Bunch

Occasionally, (well, once or twice a week if we’re being strictly honest here) I decide to skip making a pack-up and “treat” myself to lunch “out”. I say out, but whatever I buy ends up getting eaten at my desk while I scan the BBC news headlines and wish I had a job that I could do from home. Preferably in about half an hour a day leaving me lots of time for fun stuff like napping and reading blogs. And I say treat but…well.

It was while I was standing in the Co-op earlier today, surveying the lunchtime options, that I realised a) they are not good with food and b) buying a crappy pre packaged sandwich or salad can in no way, shape or form be described as anyone who enjoys good food as a treat. I mean, everything looked so sad and grey and shrunken. I must have stood in front of the display for a good five minutes, just staring, blankly. Occasionally, I would pick something up to tap the nutritional info into my iphone (at least having a WW app makes it look a bit like you’re sending a text rather than calculating points) and spluttering out loud on discovering that some mangy, smelly tuna mayo on soggy stuff that used to vaguely resemble bread would set me back more points than a good home cooked meal.

No, I think me and the lunchtime takeaway may have come to the end of our love affair for a while. Increasingly, I just can’t stand spending a premium to eat bad ingredients badly assembled and left to sweat away in plastic. Especially when I think about the gorgeous squash soup with Gruyere leftovers that I was tucking into this time last week, a lunch that knocked any of the Co-op’s offerings into a cocked hat, and for half the points.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, my current top options (and by top I mean best of a bad bunch) are:

Comfort Food – M&S Shepherd’s Pie in a Pot: Yes, M&S tends to be pricier than its rivals, but it also tends to be worth it. The meal-in-a-pot thing may be a bit of a gimmick but I thought the Shepherd’s Pie was pretty tasty and filling and perfect for a gloomy day. At 9 points it is by no means the lowest option out there, but it will keep you going, and there is a generous layer of cheese on top which appeals to this particular fromagophile. The M&S Count on Us Chilli Con Carne pot should get an honourable mention here too – a bit lacking in spice, but only 6 points a portion and also pretty filling.

Meal Deal – Boots still wins this one by a whisker, I reckon. The Shapers range tends to be ok - I’m currently opting for the Chicken Caesar Salad. The dressing is, of course, no where near the real thing, and the cheese is a bit on the plasticky side, but there are plenty of crunchy croutons and a decent amount of chicken in with all the salad and the whole thing comes to a mere 4 points. There are plenty of 0 point fruit options to get as your “side” but I often treat myself to a bag of Snack a Jacks at 3 points – I have a curious fondness for rice cakes of all shapes and sizes.

Fast food – You still can’t really go wrong with a Subway. All the nutritional info is listed online so you can go as low or high point as you like and bulk out your choice with plenty of salad. I used to be a turkey-and-ham-with-the-works-plus-light-mayo kind of girl but have discovered that I can get steak and cheese for the same number of points (9) and somehow the latter feels much less like diet food.

Any other bright ideas would be welcomed…although for the time being I think I’m going to stick to filling my mauve and pink “Kitten” lunchbox (yes, I am 30, no, I have no intention of giving it up to use sensible Tupperware) with homemade fare – I might put the money I save towards something exciting. Like…oooh, I don’t know, a wedding…

Friday, 21 January 2011

Recipe corner – Oven baked roasted red pepper and chorizo risotto

I must be on track at the moment, because this is the second recipe I’ve posted in a week! It’s so tasty though, I felt I had to share.
I love risotto, and this oven baked specimen means that you don’t have to spend a long time standing and stirring at the hob (not that this is a task that I object to particularly). The resulting texture is slightly less creamy than a traditional risotto – probably more akin to a paella.

This is an adaptation…an evolution, if you will, of a recipe that originally appeared on the Good Food magazine website. If you don’t already check this site out then go on, pop across now (as long as you come back here to copy this down afterwards). It has some fantastic, simple ideas for meals, plus, most of the recipes include a full nutritional breakdown which makes them easy to work into your day.

For the purposes of this post, I’ve calculated the points based on the individual ingredients. There are a few tweaks you could make to make it less pointy:

o Make it vegetarian by getting rid of the chorizo – total saving, 3 propoints per portion. Up the paprika a little if you do this for an extra flavour kick.

o Ditch the olive oil – total saving 2 propoints per portion. Use a spray instead.

o Use extra stock in place of the wine – total saving 1 propoint per portion.

o Reduce the total amount of Parmesan in the recipe by half (I wouldn’t ditch it altogether as it does add a lovely umami flavour) – total saving – 1 propoint per portion.


Tbsp olive oil
Red pepper, cut into quarter pieces
Red onion, finely chopped
Clove of garlic, crushed
50g chorizo sausage, diced
150g risotto rice
50ml white wine
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried chilli flakes (opt)
200g (one small tin) chopped tomatoes

Tbsp balsamic vinegar
250ml veg or chicken stock
30g Parmesan, finely grated

Serves 2 / 15 pro points per portion

Firstly, roast your pepper. I find the easiest way to do this is to put the four pieces, skin side up, on a baking tray and stick them under a hot grill for 10-20 mins until the skin is blackened. Transfer the pepper into a plastic bag and cool. The skin will then slip off easily. Dice the flesh of the pepper.

In an ovenproof dish, warm the olive oil and add the chorizo. Cook for a while: the chorizo itself will release more oil as it heats up. Tip in the onion and the pepper, cook for several minutes until softening, then add the garlic and spices and cook for a minute or so more until the “raw” garlic smell is no longer present (I find adding the onion and garlic at the same time, as many recipes suggest, just causes the garlic to burn).

Now stir in your risotto rice, and make sure it is coated in the lovely, orangey oil. Then add the wine and allow to bubble down to almost nothing. Pour over the stock, tomatoes and add a good lug of balsamic vinegar for sweetness, cover the dish and transfer to a preheated oven (200 or 180 fan) for 25 minutes.

Stir through the Parmesan cheese before serving.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

"Healthy" eating?

I came across a blog the other day, in the course of one of my random blog hopping exercises, of a girl who was losing weight while following a fairly strict vegan diet. Reading through what she ate on a daily basis was quite amazing – here was someone who was actually doing a Gillian McKeith In Real Life! Someone who didn’t have to go on the TV and extol the virtues of such a regime for the cameras while secretly fighting a burger craving*.

It made me feel a little inadequate, I must admit. I wouldn’t say I have a bad diet, I cook a lot from scratch, I try and eat plenty of fruit and veg (made easier, it must be said, by the fact that WW have now made fruit zero point) and try to be conscious of eating a good variety of foods to get in a range of nutrients. But I am never going to be someone who tucks into a bowl of roasted cauliflower for breakfast.

Then I started thinking about some of my sins. I often have a jar of ready made sauce in the cupboard so I can bung something together quickly if needs be. I am no stranger to the takeaway. I prefer a bag of French Fries to a handful of unsalted nuts. And (oh, hang your head!) I recently purchased a bag of frozen alphabet potato shapes on a whim. I started picturing my “Table of Shame” – you know, when McKeith used to take someone and lay out their weekly food intake in order to shock them into embracing their new diet. Was I the only person who used to look at that and think, “Oooh, I haven’t had Jammie Dodgers (or fish and chips or cheesy Wotsits etc…) for ages!”

But here is how I justify my less than flawless food habits. We all talk a lot about “healthy” eating, and when we use the word “healthy” we generally are referring to physical health – that food which will provide our physical bodies with sufficiently nutritious fuel to function at peak efficiency. How about mental health though? Let’s not pretend that emotions and food are not related; apart from the odd person who genuinely doesn’t given a monkeys about what they’re eating and, literally, only eats to live, we all make that connection. You know, a particular dish that will put a smile on our face after the shittiest of days, or a favourite chocolate bar that is the oral equivalent of a great big hug. If what you’re eating is (to your own palate) worthy but joyless, you won’t be particularly happy. And I personally believe that good mental health makes a significant contribution to the health of the physical body.

I would support the right of the author of the blog that set off this chain of thought, or Ms McKeith or anyone else to eat and drink exactly as they wish. If cauliflower for breakfast makes them happy then good for them. But for me, I’m going to try and learn to balance eating a diet that feeds my body and a diet that feeds my soul too – and that very likely means the odd indulgence and regular deviation from the path of nutritional righteousness. Sorry Gillian.

*NB: This is a complete and utter guess on my part – I’m just projecting.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Recipe corner - Roasted squash and thyme soup with Gruyere

Oh dear - long time, no post. The standard reason for a diet blog to go quiet is that said dieter has fallen spectacularly off the wagon and is lying in the gutter with crumbs down their front. While not quite plumbing the depths, there may well have been a pizza ordered at some point. Dominos have started adding a layer of pesto to one of their bases and I am very fond of pesto. It was research, people!

I went to a new meeting last night which is far more conveniently situated than previous ones but does involve walking past my favourite curry house which was smelling particularly delicious. My resolve was sorely tested – a special murghi massala with pilau rice would have gone down very well after the ritual humiliation that is the Weigh In. Luckily, I had my tea all planned out and so was able to resist – just.

This soup recipe is adapted from a Rick Stein effort on the BBC website (from where the photo also is taken - I must get into the habit of taking my own photos, although they never make the food look very appetising). I say adapted, but really, I’ve just substituted half fat crème fraiche for single cream and cut out a bit of oil. Most WWers are big fans of zero point soup and it may seem counter intuitive to start bunging butter, cream and cheese into it, but the result was a delicious, velvety, rich concoction which made an extremely filling tea. Our squash was freakishly big, which meant the soup was a touch thicker than what would be my personal preference, but you can always adjust the stock to solid ratio as per your own tastes.


Butternut squash
40g butter
1-2 tsp dried thyme
Litre of chicken stock*
4 tbsp half fat crème fraiche
120g Gruyere cheese

*One day I swear I will be sufficiently foodiefied to make my own stock. Until that day comes, I am very partial to the Knorr stock pots.

Serves 4, 6 pro points per person

Split the squash in half lengthways, and remove all the seeds and fibres from the cavity. Cut into large wedges, spray with a little oil and season the wedges well. Roast in a hot oven for about 40 mins, until tender.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat. Tip in the onion, season and add the thyme and allow to soften but not colour.

When the squash is cooked, allow to cool slightly before removing the skin and adding to the pan. Cover with the stock and simmer for about ten minutes, adjusting the seasoning as necessary (I find squash needs a lot of salt to counteract the sweetness, but bear in mind that the stock itself will have a fair amount of salt in it).

Blitz to a puree and then return to the heat, stirring in the crème fraiche. Serve with the Gruyere coarsely grated on top.

NB: D is of the opinion it would be easier to peel the squash before putting it in the oven to roast. I’ve kept to Rick’s method here, but you may wish to consider it, especially if you are in a rush – the squash can take quite a while to get to handling temperature.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday fun

Greetings, friends! The snow has started falling yet again here in Yorkshire, so no signs that spring is approaching yet. But as I head into the weekend, I just had to share these two pieces of comedic genius with you.

Read, and wonder at these two recipes and then (and this is key) scroll down to the user comments:

Rachael Ray’s late night bacon


Rachael Ray’s pineapple wedges

I had to stop reading these at work because I kept making odd snorting noises. Well, odder than usual.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

(Classic) Recipe corner – Macaroni cheese*

*Inspired by Victoria – thanks for reminding me of this fabulous comfort food!

OK, probably a teaching grandmother to suck eggs post. I mean, I bet everyone has their own macaroni cheese recipe. But for those of us who count points, it is sometimes useful to have had someone else sit down and stick it through the recipe builder.

I have said it before and will no doubt say it again: I am a massive cheese lover. It’s genetic I think. My Dad would literally live on bread and cheese if left to himself. And as a general rule, I don’t approve of the concept of low fat cheese. It is one of those foodstuffs that you should embrace in all its lardiness or not at all (like low fat chocolate bars. Wrong, wrong, wrong).

But, when I popped to Tesco during my lunch hour I was tempted to break my golden rule by the sight of a trial size Cathedral City Lighter pack – a brand I’d heard reasonable things about. And, do you know what, not half bad. I mean, it’s never going to find its way onto a cheeseboard – if I want to indulge in a piece of real Cheddar I go for the absolutely gorgeous Black Bomber and points be damned. For a midweek macaroni cheese supper though, it was very Quite Nice indeed. And yes, I know that 14 points is quite steep for a meal, but in my opinion, worth every one.

Macaroni cheese is a please yourself kind of dish. I personally like a nice thick layer of melted cheese on the top, so I rely mainly on the Parmesan to flavour my sauce, but there is no reason to keep to my proportions. There are plenty of potential zero point additions: onions, leeks, mushrooms (I would always soften these in a separate pan before adding or they’ll be a wee bit too crunchy; one of the beauties of macaroni cheese is all the unctious squishiness). You could whack a tin of tuna into the sauce before combining with the pasta to make a delicious tuna pasta bake. A lot of recipes suggest adding sliced tomatoes and breadcrumbs to the topping. And of course, you could vary your cheeses. But here, I’m going fairly classic.


30g butter
30g flour
300ml skimmed milk
20g Parmesan, grated
Tsp dijon mustard
Scrape or two of nutmeg
80g reduced fat cheddar, grated
120g pasta

To infuse the milk:

Onion, peeled and halved
Garlic clove, lightly crushed
Bay leaves

Serves 2, 14 pro points per person

In my opinion, one of the secrets to a good bechamel is to infuse the milk beforehand – but if you can’t be bothered then you can always skip this stage. In any case, all you need to do is tip the milk into a saucepan with the onion, garlic, a couple of bay leaves and a few peppercorns. Bring the milk up to just before boiling point (it should be frothing enthusiastically at the edges) and then turn off the heat and cover. Infuse for as long as you like – an hour or so should be fine.

Now for the sauce. Strain the milk into a jug first of all, wipe out the infusing pan and use it to make the sauce – no need for too much washing up! Melt the butter over a low heat before tipping in the flour and stirring well to combine into a paste (or a roux if you’re feeling particularly French). Then, little by little, add the milk, stirring well at each stage to get rid of lumps. Take your time – you want to make sure you cook out the flour or else you’ll be able to taste it in the finished sauce. I would reckon on this stage taking around 10 to ensure a glossy, lump free sauce. Stir through the mustard and season with nutmeg, plenty of black pepper, the Parmesan cheese (reserve a little for sprinkling on top), around a third of the Cheddar and salt if required (but leave this till the end – the cheese itself should provide plenty of salty flavour so you may not need to add any more).

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water and drain well.

Toss the pasta through the sauce and arrange in a baking dish. Top with the remaining Cheddar and bake in a medium oven for 10-15 mins until it is gloopy and bubbling. Serve with the remaining Parmesan scattered over – and perhaps a salad on the side if you feel the urge.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Bloody, bold and resolute

Ah, January. Probably the most depressing month of the year. Post Christmas, post birthday and post New Year celebrations, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot to brighten the endless dark days, especially if one’s diet is equally joyless. Which of course it should be, as one tries to undo all the damage done by spending the last two weeks of December thinking it is ok to eat chocolate for breakfast, snack on mince pies and forget what a piece of fruit looks like.

Oh, was that just me?

I think I knew that I was ready yesterday. You see, I just couldn’t be bothered to eat. All day. A few pints of sugar free squash were all I consumed until about half seven at which time I heated up a bowl of split pea and ham soup and ate about half of it. This is a very rare occurrence and I recognise that it was my body finally telling me enough was enough. For all that I make New Year Resolutions, they seldom seem to start on January 1st itself – I generally require a couple of days of sulking and hoovering up the Christmas leftovers before I am truly ready to start again. Again.

The cupboard still contains more chocolate than is strictly necessary, but luckily most of it is easily portionable (is that even a word?) And I believe that there are some mini sausage rolls lurking in the freezer (shop bought I’m afraid – it’s a family Christmas tradition to get mini sausage rolls every year and every year I think to myself “Hmmm, I bet these would be much nicer if I made them myself…”) but again, easy enough to cook them up a couple at a time to have as an in-front-of-the-telly-with-a-puddle-of-ketchup treat. Everything else has been safely despatched. I think. Armed with my new Pro Points iphone app, surely, nothing can stand in my way?? (cue: evil super villain laugh).