Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Recipe corner - Valentine's Raspberry Souffle

Edited Feb 2012: I'm adding this recipe to Mrs M's first ever recipe link party - it seems appropriate given the time of year!  This is a fantastic, simple and (relatively) virtuous dessert to make for the one you love...

Raspberry souffle - sadly not mine!  (Taken from the Good Food Channel website)
A belated happy Valentine’s Day to everyone! Now, I know it is a cheesy Hallmark occasion designed to guilt people into spending money on cards and gonks. But I must admit that it does hold a special place in my heart.

A good few years ago – just over seven to be precise, I was in a pretty low place. I had just moved back in with my parents after a disastrous period of trying to assert my independence that had left me broke, tired and utterly heartbroken. That Valentine’s Day I received the most beautiful bouquet of flowers, sent by my gorgeous Mum to cheer me up. The gesture didn’t cheer me up though. It made me feel incredibly alone.

And so, it was on Valentine’s Day that I decided I needed to do something to take control of my life and I signed on to an Internet dating site. At that moment in time it didn’t cross my mind that I would meet anyone with whom I could have a long term relationship. But I wanted to take the initiative, seize the day...do something, anything, positive.

D was not the first man that I chatted with on there, but he was the first one that I actually met in person. As a couple, we didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts, but despite everything, the relationship prospered and grew. And this year, I get to marry my best friend in the entire world, and I get to stand up in front of my family and friends and tell them how much I love and value him. So I always celebrate Valentine’s Day, because it was the day on which I took the first steps along the path that would lead to here, and to him.

Enough with the gushy stuff and on to the more important part of this post – pudding and, specifically, the pudding that I served as the final hurrah of my multi course extravaganza of a Valentine’s Day dinner.

This recipe, which is by Paul Heathcote on the BBC website, describes itself as “foolproof”. Now I must admit that I tend to distrust anyone or anything that uses that particular adjective, but on this occasion it may have been justified. Certainly it was simple to put together, and a lovely way to end a meal. I didn’t pick it because it was WW compatible – that was just a happy accident, but I would definitely make it again, without a qualm, for a dinner party.

The only change I have made to the original recipe is to halve the portion size – and this is only because my ramekins could only hold a quarter, as opposed to half, of the mixture. After several other courses though, the reduced quantity was absolutely fine. One of the key things I’m learning about myself is that I need a lot less food than I think I do. And I would rather eat a smaller portion of something yummy that a large bowl of something bland and worthy.

Oh, and I should mention, that D used the remaining half of the mixture the following night. It had split slightly, but a good whisk to reincorporate the raspberry and the meringue, and Bob’s your uncle, two more soufflés. So they are obviously pretty forgiving if you want to make them in advance. Personally, I made the coulis before hand and then had the egg whites and sugar laid out in bowls to do the whipping and folding at the last minute.


250g raspberries
4 egg whites
100g (plus 2 tsp) caster sugar
1/2 tsp cornflour, dissolved in a little water
2 tsp butter

Serves 4, 4 pro points per serving

First, evenly butter and sugar ovenproof moulds for the soufflés and place in the freezer.

For the coulis, add half of the sugar to the raspberries. Place in a hot pan and cook quickly for 2-3 minutes with a good squeeze of lemon juice. Liquidise with a hand blender and pass through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Place 2 tsp of coulis in the bottom of the soufflé dishes and thicken the remaining coulis with the moistened cornflour.

For the meringue, ensure the whisk and bowl are free from grease by scalding in boiling water or rubbing a lemon around the surface of the bowl, then place the egg whites into the bowl and start to whisk (an electric whisk makes life an awful lot easier!) Gradually add the sugar until the mixture forms a soft, glossy peak then finish off with a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Briskly whisk about a third of the egg white mixture into the thickened coulis and then gently in the remainder, taking care to keep in the air.

Divide the mix between the dishes.

When ready to bake, space out on a tray and bake in a medium to hot oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for approximately 10-15 minutes depending on the size and dish.

Dust with icing sugar, place a raspberry on top (if you so fancy) and serve immediately

Monday, 21 February 2011

The wanderer returns

The last week has seen me at a training centre, deep in the wilds of Lincolnshire. Well, I say deep in the wilds – it is actually just a couple of miles outside of Lincoln town centre. But it feels like the middle of nowhere.

After five days there I did feel a bit like a mole. Classrooms, bedrooms and dining room are all under the same roof and so, unless you make a conscious effort, or take up smoking, you never actually need to set a food outside.

And oh, the joys (or not) of mass catering. Actually, they make a fairly reasonable fist of it, but still…had I ever been allowed to have school dinners (I brought a packed lunch for my entire school career) I am sure this would have invoked flashbacks. L-Hall is kind of legendary in certain circles; people have been know to gain as much as half a stone after a week of three course breakfasts, lunches and dinners. They quite literally feed you into a sort of bemused submission.

I am pleased to report that I did not gain half a stone – in fact, a quick hop on the scales this morning, and I appear to have stayed the same, which I take as quite the victory. The week started well; I hit up the salad bar at lunchtime and stuck to one course, generally a veggie or fish option for dinner…however, by the end of the week I had made a couple of evening visits to reception to purchase a twin pack of Cadbury’s Caramel Bunnies to soothe my jangled nerves.

It was lovely to be home, and to be reminded of the pleasures of great home cooking. We’ve had quite a fishy weekend, the highlight of which was an amazing warm salad of pan fried mackerel fillets and grapefruit. It was D’s creation, much as I would like to take credit, and I’ve told him he needs to cook it again soon. The combination of the rich, oily mackerel with the sour grapefruit and a hit of wholegrain mustard was absolutely gorgeous – and I’m not usually a grapefruit lover.

I also realise I never got the chance to post here about the Valentine’s Day dinner I cooked before I left for Lincoln – but rest assured it was fabulous, even if I do say so myself. I do plan to share the pudding recipe here because actually it is a very WW friendly dessert, and easy to whip up midweek if you feel like indulging.

Right, off to plough through my inbox…

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Backwards and Forwards, Up and Down…

For the last three weeks I have been full of motivation and resolve, eating well, hitting the gym and seeing some downwards movement on the scales. Hurrah.

And then, the last couple of days I seem to have slumped back into “don’t care” mode. Tuesday night, I decided to eschew the stir fry that was planned for tea and dragged D out for a drink instead. And then, a bottle of wine down, we phoned our favourite restaurant on the off chance that they would have a table available, and they did. So we went.

The meal itself was absolutely wonderful. I’ve waxed lyrical about J. Baker’s before, but (and I can’t emphasise this enough) if you ever find yourself in York and don’t choose to eat here then…well, there’s not a lot I can do about it. But you’ll have missed out.

Of course, I can’t entirely regret a nice evening out with good company, and fantastic food, including some amazing fresh crab served with apple sorbet and spicy granola (wow!) and one of the most delicious duck dishes I’ve ever tasted (seared, served with vanilla salt and mandarin balsamic if you’re interested). And, as my last weigh in proved, one bad day doesn’t undo a good week. But I suppose what bothers me is why I chose to go off piste. What triggered this particular little act of rebellion. Because although one bad day won’t make a long term difference, one bad day has a habit of becoming two or three or…well, you get the gist.

I’m a wee bit stressed out work wise at the moment – I’ve signed up to do something that I really don’t want to do, something rather pressurised, something that will potentially involve being away from home for extended periods, which I hate. And, I’ll be honest, I’m worried about how these periods away will harm my eating habits – I’ll struggle to count the catered food, and I’ll be lonely and prone to comfort eating Kit Kats in my room. I’m a wee bit stressed out about the upcoming wedding as well – some of the decisions we’ve made have upset some people which in turn has upset me. But I’m just kidding myself that pressure of this, or any other sort, is a license to anaesthetising myself with food. Which is really what Tuesday night was all about.

So, as of today, as of right NOW, I’m putting it behind me and starting all over again, and the thought of Jeff’s sublime aubergine-with-fifty-spices or his delicate cauliflower foam served with a poached quail’s egg will most definitely NOT make me lose my focus…for the rest of this week at least.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lunch in the closet

I’ve given up trying to understand my body. Last week I pointed every morsel that crossed my lips and lost a pound. This week I spent most of Saturday afternoon indulging in wine and cakes and lost three. I’m not complaining. But I am slightly confused.

It was the final stage of my rather drawn out 30th birthday celebrations this weekend: some friends and I decided to indulge ourselves with lunch at a the two Michelin star L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Actually, D and I ate here a few years ago, and at the time found it a mixed bag – although the mashed potato (which Robuchon famously makes with a 50:50 ratio of potato to butter) was fabulous. The lunch deal this time round was too good to resist however: two courses from the lunch menu, followed by “afternoon tea” in the bar area upstairs in lieu of pudding, all for £35. It’s certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of the Toptable website.

My starter of baked egg with wild mushroom cream was nice – although the fact that my friend described the texture of her egg as “slightly snotty” did put me off a little. Descriptive, no? The light-as-air mushroom cream was the star here; I loved the combination of its fluffy texture with the deep, earthy flavours of the mushroom – it was like getting a kiss from a big, burly farmer with a scratchy beard. Or something. The main course was good too. I couldn’t resist the pork belly – despite the fact that most of the time when I order it in a restaurant it compares unfavourably to D’s amazing twice cooked version. This was good though – much thinner that you usually see belly served out, with crispy fat and a warm hum of ginger; and I adored the combination of the pork with fat, juicy prunes. As an accompaniment, the table received a couple of bowls of matchstick fries – my only criticism here was that there were not nearly enough. Fat chips I can take or leave, but hot, thin, crispy, salty fries are irresistible.

Without a doubt though, the most exciting part of the meal was being escorted upstairs to sit in comfort in the third floor bar and indulge in the loose leaf tea of our choice with a selection of delicate confections. Unfortunately, my own photos didn’t come out (the lighting was terribly dark – how do other people manage?) but I managed to find this image online at bookatable.com which should give you some idea. I think the general consensus of opinion was that the caramel macaron was the standout here – gorgeously sweet with that little hint of salt which compliments caramel so well. Blissful.

So there you have it – apparently my dieting top tip this week is to go out and indulge yourself a little. On second thoughts, if my body is running a week behind, the fallout from my pointeriffic weekend may be yet to come…

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon
13-15 West St

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Recipe corner – Get Ready To Crumble!

Had a bad day?

Feeling like the world is against you?

You need….crumble!

There is no pudding in the world that can put a smile on my face like a gorgeous, steaming bowl of fruit crumble. Ooooh, except maybe sticky toffee pudding. Or hot chocolate fudge cake. Or….ahem. Easy there, tiger!

It occurs to me that anyone who ever comes across this blog may not realise how sweet a tooth I have, mainly because I never seem to post sweet recipes. I’m not sure why it is that I rarely make puddings – possibly because we tend to have a stash of chocolate in the cupboard most of the year round that provides sweet treats as and when required.

I have sampled, by way of research you understand, most of the WW own branded desserts and my feeling is, for the most part – don’t bother. They all taste a little artificial to me – and pudding is one area where quality is definitely more important than quantity. One thing I do often have in my freezer is a pack of Del Monte Smoothie lollies. These are 3 points apiece and gorgeously smooth and fruity, like a really indulgent sorbet. Far nicer than anything WW has yet produced in my opinion. I also recently discovered that Magnum Minis work out at only 5 points, which, ok, is not an every day kind of thing, but definitely worthwhile for the occasional splurge. The Limoncello and Irish Cream flavours that they produced for Christmas were fabulous – I’m hoping these are not limited editions.

Anyway, back to the crumble, and here is my recipe based on one from the WW site…the only concession it makes to virtue is using half fat butter, and I don’t find that this makes any real difference to the final flavour. I like Lurpak Lighter and tend to keep it in the fridge anyway for those times when only a crumpet or slice of buttered toast will do. I am also adamant that the best crumbles contain oats – purists may beg to differ, but what can I say, I want my crumble topping to taste a bit like a Hob Nob biscuit.

This is 9 points which sounds a bit ouchy – but the other night we had a bowl of 2 point soup followed by the crumble which was a fantastically comforting tea for a chilly January evening and, taken as a whole, doesn’t do too much damage to the daily allowance.


60g plain flour
30g jumbo oats
40g half fat butter
40g caster sugar plus a tablespoon for the fruit*
½ tsp cinnamon
6 sticks of rhubarb

*You could sweeten the rhubarb with artificial sweetener which would reduce the points by 1 per portion.

Serves 2, 9 pro points per person

Combine the flour, cinnamon and oats in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture ressembles damp sand (you can do this stage in a food processer which saves a bit of time). Stir through the sugar.

Meanwhile, chop the rhubarb into roughly 5cm pieces and place in a saucepan with a splash of water and a tablespoon of sugar (you could also add some warming spice at this stage – cinnamon and ginger both work well). Place over a low heat until the rhubarb has softened but still retains some structure.

Tip the rhubarb into an ovenproof dish and tumble the crumble (poetry!!) over it. Bake in a hot oven (180 – 200) for 30 mins, or until the top is golden and the fruit is beginning to bubble up at the sides. Leave to cool for 5-10 mins before serving.

Gorgeous with cream, ice cream or custard (unless you’re me and don’t really like the stuff – an Englishwoman who doesn’t eat custard! The shame!) – remember to include any additional points.

Sit back, relax and indulge.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tales from the Scales

I don’t tend to talk an awful lot about the results of my weigh in. I’m not sure why, it just never seems to occur to me as a topic when I’m coming up with things to write about.

But I want to write about my result last night. Last night was my first weigh in since re-starting the plan two weeks ago post the Christmas and New Year merriment. My first week had been less than 100% stellar, not improved by the fact I had been unable to attend the week before (I’m a terrible sulker when things don’t go to plan), but I’d pulled it back and now I toddled along , having had seven perfectly tracked days in a row (plus three gym visits to boost the bank). I had that smug little glow that one gets when one is about to receive one’s just reward and I jumped onto the scales quite happily.

I had lost a pound.

A single, squiddly little pound. A decent bowel movement can get me a pound’s weight loss some mornings.

I took back my card, signed the weekly sheet and headed straight for home, definitely a bit moist of eye. I started doing diet arithmetic – you know when you think, “Well, if I lose an average of half a pound a week for x number of weeks then it will take me so long to get so far,” and that made the eyes even moister. By the time I got back to the flat I was sufficiently worked up to make D’s shoulder quite soggy.

Later, pootling up and down the swimming pool (and let me tell you, it took quite an effort of will to go to the gym after my disappointment – the two bottles of organic cider in the fridge and the takeaway menu drawer had been singing out my name quite loudly) I tried hard to be sanguine.

I bang on and on about the fact that I don’t regard WW as a diet – just a way of monitoring the way I eat to ensure I create a bit of a calorie deficit. The alternative to WW? Well, I’d still have to eat, I’d still have to plan my meals, I’d still want to consume sufficient nutrients for good health. There’d be a little less admin, but not a massive amount. And the trade off for that fifteen minutes spent tracking every day is improved health and an eventual decrease in girth.

I suppose we all want validation, we all want to know that our efforts are being rewarded. And the main way we seek that validation is the number in the scales. If the number goes up, or stays the same, or even doesn’t give us the drop we hoped for, if the number doesn’t feel like sufficient reward for our endeavours, then we judge ourselves a failure.

But I’m sorry; I did not “fail” at anything last week. In fact, there was plenty to be proud of. I made sensible, healthy decisions, I ate well, I exercised, I did not over indulge nor did I deny myself anything that I really wanted. That’s a successful week. Failure would have been allowing my disappointment to derail me, to allow the negative thought pattern of, “Sod it. This obviously isn’t working for me, I’m going to eat and drink what the hell I like and waistline be damned,” to take over. Success is accepting that if you do all the right things, the results will eventually follow. Success is realising that this is a life plan – not a quick fix, not a temporary measure. Success is keeping on and on and on, and not allowing a number on a dial to derail you.

In the words of The Beautiful South, you just have to “Carry on regardless.”