Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Three Star Asparagus

I mentioned yesterday how much we had enjoyed the combination of asparagus, smoked salmon and soft boiled eggs last week. Well, apparently one of us enjoyed it so much that he decided to go off to the supermarket and buy all the constituent parts so we could have it for tea again last night. And it was just as scrumptious second time around.

The real revelation has been the method that Heston Blumenthal suggests using to cook the asparagus which I am going to share with you here. It’s easy peasy and produces perfectly cooked asparagus with just the right amount of bite and a slightly “roasty” flavour (I initially put charred as the adjective there and then realised that not everybody wants their food to taste burned-by-any-other-name).

So, step 1: preparation. Snap the woody ends off your asparagus. Retrieve, from your slightly chaotic cupboard, a medium sized saucepan and attendant lid. Put two pieces of kitchen towel down beside the hob.

Step 2: pre-cooking. Place a scant tablespoon of olive oil into your pan, then bung (a technical term) the asparagus on top and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Lid on.

Step 3: apply heat. Put the lidded saucepan over a medium heat and set a timer for five minutes. This would be a good moment at which to pour a glass of wine. You may wish to shake the pan vigorously several times during the cooking process to redistribute the stalks inside – or simply to work out some of the day’s frustrations.

Step 4: remove from heat. Tip onto sheet one of the kitchen towel and use sheet two to absorb any excess oil.

Step 5: serve.

WW note: I would reckon on counting a single point per portion of this to account for any oil – remember that most of the excess is blotted off.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday 6 - and a weekend round-up

I was going to bemoan the fact that Monday always seems to come around far, far too quickly. And then I remembered that I actually wrote my last meal planning Monday post on a Tuesday. And didn’t really start following said meal plan until the Friday. Life gets in the way, you see! Well, a combination of life and langour (on my part).

The meals that I did manage to cook, following my previous post, were delicious. There was the asparagus with soft boiled eggs and Heston B’s tea smoked salmon, which combination I thought was an absolute treat (although getting the smoked salmon to co-operate and form elegant strips to wrap around the asparagus was challenging. We just had it on the side).

Then, in front of Dr Who on Saturday we had venison burgers, brought all the way back from Scotland, cooked until only just pink and slapped in a bun with a plastic cheese slice – I’m sorry, but regardless of the quality of the meat in your burger (and these were top notch) a plastic cheese slice is entirely necessary. In a fit of productivity, we whipped up a batch of home made mayonnaise which was perfect for chip dunking. It really was a team effort – D whisked while I trickled the oil – which seems to make the process easier. And Sunday, it was pork cheek stew, which deserves a post all of its own (although I have noticed that every time I comment that I’m going to do a separate post on x or y subject, it never tends to materialise. Bad, butterfly brained blogger!)

So, onto this week. And from Friday onwards we will be out, off down to London for my gorgeous little nephew’s christening, and, more importantly for the purposes of this blog, lunch at The Ledbury. Only four meals need to be planned. Tonight will be asparagus with something…probably eggs of some sort. One meal will be brought across from last week. And in addition, I plan to cook:

o Lemon salmon with minted crushed peas and new potatoes

o Aubergine and red lentil curry – I have blogged about this dish before here, it is a very simple but very tasty midweek veggie supper. If we have new potatoes left, I might do some sort of spicy fried potato thingy to go on the side.

Pop over to Mrs M’s blog for more meal planning fun and have a lovely, fun and food filled week!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Au naturel

Whether you are looking to lose weight, or maintain your already svelte figure or keep yourself and your family healthy, everyone has to exercise a certain level of control over what they eat.

Take two of my very closest friends. They have absolutely enviable figures – perfectly proportioned, slender, healthy. Not too skinny, but certainly no inches to pinch (as an aside – these are the two nymphs that for some reason I chose as my bridesmaids. And then chose them beautiful, flattering dresses. No, I’m not sure why either.) They are both what people might refer to as “naturally slim”; they do not diet, they eat cake and drink wine and while they exercise (A enjoys walking while R is a keen hockey player) it is by no means a daily occurrence for them.

But I’ve observed them closely. And while they’ve neither of them counted a point or a calorie in their life both of them are naturally able to regulate their eating. I believe that it is instinctive or, if not, then a lifetime of practice has made it almost so.

I remember having a conversation once with R when she confessed to a “binge” – over the course of an afternoon she’d eaten an entire (largish) bag of yoghurt covered raisins. I nodded, and sympathised, but later reflected that “binge” in my world meant something very different. She probably ate little, if any, tea that night. I don’t think I would have done the same in the circumstances.

It makes me wonder if “naturally slim” does not mean (as I have jealously but deludedly maintained to myself for years) a naturally speedy metabolism, but a natural ability to ingest as many calories as the body needs, and adjust all the peaks and troughs of consumption over a period of time, so as to not end up with a surplus that then settles as a layer of podge.

Of course, we all know exceptions to this rule – but I bet they’re fewer and further between than perennial dieters would like to think. The reality is that in general, the larger you are (assuming you’ve not reached the stage where you are rendered immobile) the higher your metabolism because your body has to work that much harder to transport you around from place to place.

I wonder if the fact that I had already had a taste of calorie counting before I hit my teens has permanently robbed me, and others like me, of the ability to achieve that natural balance? Or whether, like a good sense of smell, or an ear for music, it is simply something one is born with?  OR whether it is something that one can learn (or re-learn) with a bit of time and care?  I know that I am guilty of not always listening to my body but perhaps, if I'm really, really quiet, I might start to hear a wise little voice telling me exactly what I need to do.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A non food related post about weddings

Yesterday I mentioned that my wedding is a mere four months away. And it has become increasingly apparent to me that I do not have a long term career as a wedding planner, or indeed, any sort of planner. Despite having two years, yes, TWO YEARS to organise the thing, I’m still woefully under prepared.

The problem is, you see, that we booked the venue within a couple of months of getting engaged, without looking at anywhere else. The Star Inn at Harome is one of my favourite places to stay in the world and we have been going for my birthday every year for the past….oooh, six or seven years. When I found out that they hold weddings there, I didn’t need to see anywhere else. I love the setting, plus I knew that the meal would be absolutely top notch (if you happen to watch Great British Menu you will have seen the chef proprietor, Andrew Pern, get voted through to the final as the North East representative.) So that was all booked and sorted ages ago. And at the beginning of the year I stirred myself to arrange a registrar as well (I thought it might be a good idea), and took my bridesmaids shopping for dresses (top tip: if you’re buying high street for bridesmaids, hit the January sales. We got two absolutely gorgeous Monsoon dresses for something ridiculous like £40 apiece). And then I sort of…stopped. People would ask “How’re the wedding plans going?” and I would wave a hand airily and say, “All under control.”

The thing that most people are curious about is The Dress. And, funnily enough, that has been one of the least important aspects for me all along. As a girl who has battled with her weight since a very tender age indeed, I have never taken very much pleasure in clothes shopping (regardless, it has to be said, of whether I’ve been going through one of my rare slender phases or not). Changing rooms are, as far as I am concerned, Hell on Earth whatever size you are. The idea of going into one of those very posh wedding shops and trying on a range of sample sized gowns – which, let’s face it, were bound to be so ridiculously tiny that I’d end up with some poor woman desperately trying to squidge some delicate little bodice around my comedy boobs - was not one that appealed.

I thought I’d be quite happy to just pick something up, off the hanger, nearer the time. And then I made the mistake of Googling images in an idle moment. And I saw The Dress. It was so beautiful and so perfect and so exactly the kind of thing I wanted – even though I hadn’t even known what I’d wanted until then, that everything else just looked plain wrong. Fortunately, I think I have found a dressmaker who thinks she can recreate The Dress, and in time for September, and for an amount that will just about squeeze onto my credit card. So I guess that one more thing ticked off my non-existent list (which I really should get around to making…)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday 5

So, meal planning. I had every intention of getting online to do a shop on Sunday, but to be honest I was feeling a bit…Sundayish. Which feeling has lingered through Monday and on to Tuesday. Perhaps it is the fact that the sunshine has disappeared. Or perhaps I’m beginning to get pre-wedding jitters. I’ll be sauntering down the aisle exactly four months today, and I have only just reached the stage of thinking, “I really should make a list or something….” Really, I shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of organising so much as a trip to the pub, let alone a wedding.

All of which is entirely beside the point of this post. This post is about all the delicious things that we will be eating this week as soon as I rouse my lazy self and actually acquire the stuff with which to make them.

So (in no particular order):

Asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon and dunked in soft boiled eggs a la Heston in the current Waitrose ads.

One pot prawn and tomato curry with carrot and cumin salad and naan bread (eagle eyed viewers might note that this appeared a couple of weeks back, but for reasons which currently escape me, it never got made and the prawns have been languishing in the freezer ever since).

Spaghetti puttanesca – I think I must have seen a couple of blog posts about this recently, because for some reason it has lodged itself in my head.

Gnocchi with butternut squash a la D.

Venison burgers (brought back from the west coast of Scotland) with oven chips (classy, no?)

Pork cheeks with chorizo, white port and broad beans served with mustard mash.

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

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Tastes of home

Eating out is, or should be, a pleasure and a privilege.  And to complain because one has just had to spend a week eating out, paid for by their employer, is inappropriate.  Really, it is, and I'm not going to do it.  But the unthinkable is starting to happen - I am beginning to get to the stage where nine times out of ten, I would rather eat at home.

Let's forget about the whole foodie-on-a-diet thing for the moment as well - the fact is, it is possible to eat out and still lose weight, but it is difficult.  So generally, when I'm away for prolonged periods I accept that the weight is going to stay the same or perhaps creep up a little.  I've made my peace with that.  I just can't bring myself to be the person on the table who orders the green salad with dressing on the side.

But the fact of the matter is, most of the time nowadays when I eat something in a restaurant, I find myself thinking that I could do better at home.  And I am not, for one moment, claiming to be a great cook.  I am a competent cook.

There will always be restaurants where what comes out of the kitchen is a little bit special, that gets your heart racing a little bit faster.  I've bored you all before by our bordering on obsessive love of J. Baker's Bistro Moderne.  Later this year, we've managed to get a reservation at Heston Blumenthal's new London venture, Dinner.  And we're already engaging in spirited debate as to what we'll eat when we go there.

But other than that, I think I'm content to limit my going out from now on.  It's unlike me to take a mature line on anything - perhaps being thirty is finally beginning to catch up with me.

This, by the way, is what I came home to on Friday:

Roasted chicken w asparagus and couscous

A roasted chicken breast with salty, crispy skin.  Some simple, asparagus picked just up the road.  And a portion of D's delicious lemon couscous.  Completely simple and completely delicious, the highlight of my culinary week.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Recipe corner - Rhubarb crumble muffins

Nothing makes me feel more thoroughly domestic goddess like than baking. A loaf of banana bread today to keep D company next week (am away for work AGAIN), some fabulous hot cross cupcakes for my parents for Easter:

And this weekend, a batch of very lovely rhubarb crumble muffins to welcome a couple of visiting friends.

Muffins are great. The thing is, they're basically cake, but cake that you're allowed to eat for breakfast. Cake as legitimate breakfast food! And these are not only very tasty examples of the genre, at 6 pro points they are relatively virtuous too.


175g caster sugar
175g rhubarb, diced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
125ml buttermilk
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the crumble:

50g light muscovado sugar
50g plain flour
25g oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g butter

Makes 12, 6 pro points per muffin

Heat the oven to 220 and line a muffin tin with 12 cases.

Stir the caster sugar into the rhubarb and set aside.

Make the crumble topping by combining the dry ingredients and then rubbing in the butter until the mixture resembles damp sand.

Stir the oil, egg, vanilla and buttermilk into the rhubarb - it will look quite wet at this stage. Now add in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate and stir well.

Spoon (or ladle) into the cases and top with a thick layer of crumble. Bake for 15-18 mins, until a skewer inserted into the muffin comes out clean.

Allow to cool - and then proceed to enjoy at any time of the day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday 4

Back to reality and Mrs M's

Hmmm. Well, strictly speaking this is meal planning Tuesday. But we'll draw a veil over the lack of accuracy to the title, shall we? And forgive a poor little brain addled by a week of sunshine and cider?

After a wonderful time away I am not really in the mood for anything as sensible as meal planning. Or, indeed, work. Fortunately I'm off to Birmingham for a meeting today, so several hours can be whiled away on the train catching up with blogs and staring into the middle distance wishing that I was still on holiday...

The meal plan for this week is rather brief and rather dull:

Roast chicken breasts with asparagus

Smoked salmon linguine - final recipe not yet decided

A one pot prawn and tomato curry with rice and naan to accompany Dr Who on Saturday

Garlic and rosemary lamb with new potato salad

Plus a lovely meal with friends at my beloved J Baker's and a night out in Birmingham on expenses! But since we're talking civil service expenses that is far less exciting than one might expect!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone