Thursday, 28 April 2011

Foodie Abroad: Foraging

It turns out that I had a deprived childhood and never even realised. You see, despite numerous childhood beach holidays, sandcastles and 99s a-plenty, my parents NEVER took me winkling. I shall be having stern words with them when next we meet, I can tell you. Because it turns out I love winkles.

Here they are, recovered after some extensive scrambling around in rockpools and a grazed shin. Aren't they lovely, though?

I haven't included a photo of the winkle sans shell because they are not things of beauty - what shellfish are, quite frankly? But they taste amazing, little iodiney bites of seaside and sunshine.

We had them pretty simple and unadulterated - after rinsing they were boiled for twenty minutes and then piled into bowls where we fell upon them with pins - you have to "winkle" the flesh out you see, just like snails. A dish of garlic butter (I couldn't shake the escargot connection) proved a lovely addition, but they were fabulous just by themselves as well.

Unfortunately, it is late in the mussel season, so our foraging in that direction was slightly less successful: those that we found were delicious but a little on the dainty side:

Still, they made a perfectly pleasant, if light supper, briefly boiled with wine, the resulting juices being strained and combined with cream and garlic.

We've been walking along the beach today and have found a new spot which looks to be a veritable treasure trove of mussels - D reckons if we head back in September we could be in for a feast of crustaceans. Which is good news as far as I'm concerned; not only because I adore shellfish (and it is, incidentally, fantastically diet friendly) but because the act of gathering it yourself somehow makes it taste all the sweeter.

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Saturday, 23 April 2011

Foodie Abroad: A bit o' Scottish style tapas

Greetings from Scotland! The sun may have disappeared as soon as we crossed the border, but we still have our fingers crossed for a week of rest, relaxation, the odd dram of whisky and, of course, as much local food as we can get down our gullets.

To start with, I bring you a selection of light bites served up by the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. D and I ordered three starters, a portion of cheese and pudding to share.

Locally smoked salmon with oatcakes:

A Haggis taster plate with more oatcakes:

Stornaway black pudding with apple purée and still more oatcakes:

Local cheeses and, yes, oatcakes:

And, finally, a piece of Ecclefechan tart. This was a new one on me but absolutely gorgeous - just imagine all that is good about Christmas pudding and encase it in buttery pastry:

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Monday, 18 April 2011

(Not a) Recipe Corner - Roasted Asparagus

This weekend we paid a visit to our local farm shop and eagerly acquired some of the new season asparagus, picked just up the road.

We try and eat as much of this stuff as possible during it's all too brief season. Tonight's supper was simple but absolutely delicious; not so much a recipe as an assembly of happily harmonious ingredients.


Bunch of asparagus
Tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp of butter
Zest of half a small lemon
1-2 tsp lemon juice
30g Cornish Yarg (alternatively use Parmesan or Gruyere)
2 medium eggs
Tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Serves 2, 9 pro points per serving

Preheat the oven to 180. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus spears, then toss in the olive oil and season well. Place in the oven and set a timer for 15 mins.

Put a pan of water on to the boil and add the vinegar. Break the eggs into ramekins ready for poaching.

Use a potato peeler to reduce your cheese to a pile of shavings.

Melt the butter over a low heat and add in the lemon zest and juice.

As the asparagus comes up to the end of it's roasting time, slip the eggs into the boiling water for 2 minutes to poach.

Drizzle the lemon butter over the roasted asparagus, top with the cheese shavings, the poached egg and an extra scrunch of black pepper.

Consider having some crusty bread on hand to mop up the butter and egg yolk - or, if you want to save points, throw etiquette to the wind and use your finger.

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Meal planning Monday 3

I’m not sure how far we’ll be sticking to the plan this week. We are off to Scotland on Saturday and therefore should really be eating down the contents of the fridge. But social commitments on Tuesday and Thursday (and one should note that in my world, “Social Commitment” is usually shorthand for “Drinking until you fall over”) make it quite likely that any sensible dinner plans will be replaced by toast. Or takeaway. Or, indeed, takeaway on toast.


Monday: We’ve got some beautiful looking asparagus which I shall be roasting and serving up with lemon butter and shavings of Cornish Yarg cheese with a poached egg perched proudly on top. Simple, light and scrummy.

Tuesday: I saw these chicken fillets with a caesar style melt when I was doing my online shop (I had a 25% discount voucher with Ocado – necessity, sadly, makes me more of a Tesco or Asda girl normally) and, since chicken caesar salad is a favourite of mine, I couldn’t resist. The plan is just to have the fillets on some lightly dressed Little Gems.

Wednesday: Chilli con carne – a household favourite. We’ll be making it in the slow cooker and freezing a couple of portions to take to Scotland with us.

Thursday: I may have promised D a curry to celebrate the start of the holidays. We have a fabulous Indian takeaway just across the road from us and I do spend a large proportion of my life trying to ignore the wonderful smells that frequently drift across…but sometimes, you just have to indulge.

Friday: A play it by ear kind of day – although I had vague intentions of throwing together a macaroni cheese and again, making a couple of extra portions for Scotland. It may not be very summery, but who can resist macaroni cheese at any time of the year?

Continuing in the not-very-summery-but-who-cares vein, we have a mass of leftover chicken from our Sunday pot roast and some rather sad looking mushrooms in the fridge, so I am wondering if whipping up some chicken and mushroom pie filling for the freezer could be in order? I love a nice pie, and it is relatively easy to make them a little more WW friendly by just having pastry on the top of the meat (which I always think is more of an inverted tart than a pie, but to-may-to, to-mah-to.)

Also this week, D has requested that some of the humongous pile of rhubarb in our kitchen be made into crumble, and I am more than happy to oblige.

Pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning fun.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Recipe corner - Gnocchi and butternut squash with chilli, garlic and sage

This post was supposed to be about fish and fruit. But that will have to wait for another day because last night's tea needs to be recorded for posterity (and, hopefully, your delight and delectation.)

I really wish that I could take credit for it but nope, it is all D's work. I just stood on the sidelines warning him to watch the butter content. Then took one of my trademark Pollockesque food photos.

It was absolutely yummy - so much so that the other half of the gnocchi has already been earmarked for a repeat performance.


Butternut squash, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 red chilli, finely diced
2 tsp chilli flakes
salt and pepper
250g gnocchi
50g butter
8-10 sage leave - finely sliced
10g Parmesan cheese

Serves 2, 11 pro points per portion

NB: The cooking times below were for pieces of squash about 1cm cubed, but feel free to go chunkier if you wish, just adjust timings accordingly.

Toss the diced squash in two cloves of crushed garlic, the diced chilli and half the chilli flakes along with plenty of seasoning. Roast in a 140 oven for about an hour - you want it soft but not on the verge of disintegration.

Blitz half of the squash pieces.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the gnocchi and boil for 3 minutes. You'll know they're ready when they float to the top of the pan.

Meanwhile, finely slice the final clove of garlic. Melt the butter until foaming, and then throw in the garlic pieces for a scant ten seconds. Add the blitzed squash sprinkle with the other tsp chilli flakes and fry for one minute before adding the sage leaves and the roasted squash cubes. Cook through for another couple of minutes.

Drain the gnocchi and put into two bowls. Divide the squash mixture between them and toss a little to combine. Finish with the grated Parmesan.

Serve with a fork and a smile

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Monday, 11 April 2011

Meal Planning Monday 2

A groovy MPM graphic!  Courtesy of Mrs M.
The weeks do seem to fly by, don't they? Don't worry though - I'm on the countdown to my holibobs now, so this next one is guaranteed to crawl.

And with no further ado, here is how the meal plan is looking this week:

Monday:  Gnocchi with roasted butternut squash in sage butter. Bumped from last week. It's a good job that squashes are hardy things, this one has been sitting patiently in the cupboard for a while now.

Tuesday:  Hake with tapenade and caramelised pears. This dish deserves a post all of it's own!

Wednesday:  Tinned ravioli on toast. Classy, no? D is out so I'm indulging myself with a super quick and easy taste of childhood.

Thursday:  Peppered chicken breast strips (still clearing the freezer and have no idea why we ended up with these) with sun dried tomato and basil couscous and some Mediterranean style veg.

Friday:  Fish in breadcrumbs (another item unearthed from the dwindling freezer) probably with mash and peas and lashings of ketchup (tartare sauce for D).

Saturday:  We're celebrating our "anniversary" this week (seven years since our first date in a sticky carpeted York pub!) so tonight will be a special candlelit dinner.

Sunday:  In further adventures with the slow cooker, I'm doing a pot roast chicken with mustardy gravy as seen recently on Dinner Diary served with roast potatoes and something green!

Check out Mrs M's blog for more meal planning fun.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Oh! To be in England, now that April's here...

We're coming to the end of a glorious weekend of sunshine. A nation waits with bated breath to see if it is here to stay or if we have just experienced British Summertime in it's entirety.

This weekend, I have mostly been walking. Well, that's not quite true - in fact, walking has only accounted for four of the last forty eight hours. But it felt like more.

D, you see, has appointed himself Chief Whipper Into Shape. This involves the two of us doing a dogged seven mile trek along the river every other afternoon. But in honour of the beautiful weather, this weekend we did it on two consecutive days.

I should say at this point that sometimes I quite like a walk. When the scenery is pleasant, the pace pitched somewhere around "gentle saunter", and there is a pub or two to take in, I can think of few more pleasing ways to while away an afternoon. But D is not doing this particular walk for Fun - nope, this is all in the name of Fitness.

I'm just not built for serious walking. I have short little legs and therefore a short little stride. While D powers purposefully along, I am having to trot, whimpering, at his heels. And my other serious problem is that I am the lucky (?) owner of what we like to call in the trade Comedy Breasts. This means my centre of gravity is all off - I'm in constant danger of toppling forward, and very frequently do.

Having said all that, there is no denying the plus side. The scales are descending at a gratifying rate. And yesterday I managed to quaff four pints of delicious, sun-dappled cider without going into points deficit. What? If this is, indeed, British Summertime then it's only right to indulge in the very British pastime of drinking until your nose turns a fetching shade of lobster...

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Some first anniversary navel gazing

It’s been nearly a year since I started this blog.

If this was primarily a weight loss blog, I’d be sheepishly admitting that my weight probably is about the same now as it was when I started that first entry. It’s been lower and higher, but overall, there has been no significant change. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Well, disappointed, of course.

But also, after a very turbulent few years which have involved all sorts of personal traumas, part of me is rather pleased that I’ve at least broken the pattern of gaining. The depression and anxiety issues, which are the root cause of much of the poundage I now carry around, are improving. I may be taking anti depressants for life, but as my lovely GP said, if you had a thyroid issues, or were diabetic, you would take that medication for life and not think anything of it.

It strikes me, reading that last paragraph back, that it smacks a bit of excuse making. Is it an excuse? I’m not sure. I certainly think, had the last few years not been as difficult, I would be smaller. I absolutely know that, especially in the early days of the anxiety, when a vague feeling of dread hung about me like a cloud punctuated only by moments of extreme, white-hot panic, I was self medicating with food and alcohol. It’s natural to turn to things that you love in times of stress. And there is a limit to how much you can ask of your loved ones before your depression starts sucking all the life and joy out of them as well whereas food is an unquestioning, undemanding constant.

To go back to my original point, I have always wanted this blog to be about more than weight loss, but a celebration of wonderful food as well. I wrote, back in my very first entry, about how some of my favourite memories were foodie ones, and it was absolutely true; food has always been a great love of mine and probably always will be but, somewhere along the line, it also became my weapon of choice. That’s sad. It makes me sad that I’ve abused something I am so very fond of and turned it into something harmful. But, at the very least, my eyes are now open to that. And it is nearly impossible to binge mindfully. The essence of bingeing, especially when you’re using it as an escape mechanism, is mindlessness.

Gosh. A bit heavy. I feel the urge to chuck a recipe in now, for something frivolous like fairy cakes, or fudge. Instead, let me consider for a moment where I want to be in another year’s time? Well, still writing here. Still sharing a virtual meal with all you lovely people. Hopefully slimmer. Definitely healthier, both in body and mind.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Meal Planning Monday

I think that one of the most sensible things a frugal foodie can do is make a weekly meal plan.

I realise that there are arguments against it. It’s not exactly spontaneous to have a list of meals pinned (or, rather, magneted) up on the side of the microwave. It doesn’t exactly scream “Free spirit lives here”. And what happens if the meal plan says chicken but your heart says fish?

But the alternative is to end up wandering round the supermarket with a slightly dazed expression, picking up random items, and condemning yourself to a Masterchef style invention test when you get home. And having to go back to the supermarket the next day to do it all over again.

Gentle reader, I have been there, and it is not a happy place. And so now I meal plan. I mean, I can be reasonably flexible – if I want Thursday’s dinner on Tuesday then that’s ok (wild and crazy, huh?) But, aside from the obvious logistical and financial advantages, it also is the best way to manage my points. Dinner tends to be the high point (no pun intended) of my eating day, therefore, I work out what I’m having and plan everything else around it. If I know it’s going to be a bit points heavy, then it makes sense that I’ll have a lighter lunch. Whether you’re a Weight Watcher or not, that’s just common sense.

So from now on, I’m going to try and include the odd weekly meal planning post in this blog. This idea is not mine – it is blatantly stolen borrowed from Mrs M whose blog I recently stumbled across. Given all the inspiration and tips I’ve picked up from looking at other people’s meal plans, I thought that it would be nice to contribute myself.

This week we’re trying to eat down the contents of the freezer, so it can have its annual (is that shameful?) defrost and clean. Hence the meals are based around what we have unearthed in there.

In no particular order:

Sweet chilli chicken stir fry with rice noodles

Broccoli and blue cheese soup

Cajun pork steaks with rice and peas

Coley curry – loosely based on Jamie’s coley korma recipe, but using some home made curry paste that we found lurking in the middle drawer of the freezer

Roasted butternut squash with gnocchi in sage butter

Crispy skinned chicken breast with lemon couscous

Spaghetti carbonara – I’m a bit of a purist and tend to use this recipe because it doesn’t include cream. I like my carbonara to be a simple bacon and egg concoction. With Parmesan. And butter.

Recipe Corner - Lemony white bean purée

I was going to start the post by suggesting that this bean purée is a delicious alternative to mashed potato. But I just couldn't do it to my beloved mash. It felt too much like betrayal.

I mean, really, who wants an alternative to mash? There are few sights that will gladden a foodie's heart more than a golden slump of buttery mashed potato on the side of the plate.

But we are coming into spring now and it is just conceivable that we might want something a little zingier to wake up our palates. And here it is. This recipe is as bright eyed and zippy as all those bonny young spring lambs out there. And it just so happens it is the perfect accompaniment to a juicy piece of lamb, as seen above. But it would work equally well with steak or, come to think of it, a nice big chunk of tuna.  It's not really a recipe, so much as a bung all the ingredients together and blitz. 


Tin of cannellini beans, drained (reserve a couple of tablespoons of the liquid)
2 fat cloves of garlic
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh herbs and seasoning to taste

Serves 2, 3 pro points per person

Wrap the garlic cloves, still in their skins, up in a piece of foil and roast in a hot oven for about half an hour.

Meanwhile put the beans, the reserved liquid, the lemon juice and any fresh herbs into a blitzer.  We've done this with both basil and parsley and both worked beautifully.  I'd recommend something leafy and green rather than the headier end of the herb spectrum - the aim here is fresh.

Watch the seasoning at this point - remember the bean water will be salted, so don't go overboard on the additional salt.  Plenty of black pepper is good though.

Add the garlic and blitz to a coarse paste.  Place in a small saucepan to warm through while you cook your meat accompaniment.