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.

14 Goodramgate
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  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.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Home on the Grange

As per my last post, my eating habits appear to have devolved recently. What better way to get those foodie juices flowing this weekend than to hit up the vibrant York restaurant scene?
Unfortunately, our beloved J Baker's was fully booked on Saturday night. Well, I say unfortunate; it is always gratifying to know that plenty of people share your good opinion of a place, I just wish they'd leave me a table. Anyway, we ended up at The Grange Hotel instead which has the advantage of being a mere five minute totter down the road from our flat.

Last time we ate here, they obviously had a chef with some high falutin' ideas - although I can't remember the details I do recall a tasting menu and a parade of very small amounts of food on very large plates. They have reverted back now to a more bistro like approach which is rather less exciting for a dinky food enthusiast like myself, but probably a safer bet for a kitchen that, on Saturday at least, didn't always get the balance of flavours bang on. For example, the vanilla cider shot that accompanied a mini pork pie and pickled onion starter was rather heavy handed vanilla-wise which left it far too cloying to complement its platefellows; a shame, because it was easily the most exciting sounding dish on the menu.

Mini pork pie with cider shot and pickled onions (from a very weird angle....)
There were some nice moments though. The stand out dish for me was a chargrilled rump of lamb with ricotta, sun dried tomatoes, and basil jus The lamb was as pink as a blushing bride and buttery soft, a truly delicious piece of meat that stood up surprisingly well to the bolshy Mediterranean flavours. It came with crispy gnocchi - which I take to have been pan fried in the manner of Nigella's rapid roastini, and which will be sure to make an appearance on our home menu before too long.
Chargrilled lamb Mediterranean style
Two courses each plus a shared pud, a bottle of wine and a double G&T apiece and we paid just over £50 a head which is not bad at all. And it certainly got me more in the mood for (proper) food, as I actually managed to serve up a home-cooked meal on Sunday (and we'll gloss over the fact that three out of the four constituents were home cooked a couple of months ago and retrieved from the freezer). Hey, baby steps...

The Grange Hotel
1 Clifton
YO30 6AA

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Post in search of a title

You may have noticed a lack of posting lately. So pull up a pew and let’s get you updated.

Firstly, since this is primarily a blog about food and Weight Watching what’s been going on there? Not much, is the answer. I spent quite a lot of August away from home working: I’ve recently been seconded part-time onto a team who write and deliver analyst training. It’s tremendous fun and I love the work but it does mean a lot of travelling. As I wrote here, my weight has remained steady, even drifted down a little, but there has not been a lot of cooking going on. In fact, my cooking mojo seems to have wandered off. I cooked myself a bowl of pasta pesto the other night, which was delicious, but does suggest a slight regression back to student days. It’ll be cereal for dinner next.

Of course, the big event for September is, well, my wedding. Just over two weeks to go. The dress is being collected on Friday, the shiny new ring is in D’s safekeeping, the shoes (oh, the shoes!) are so beautiful that I keep taking them out of the box to stroke. The wedding breakfast menu is, I flatter myself, awesome. We’ve had all the guests’ choices in now – and it turns out a surprising number of our family and friends are full on carnivores judging by the popularity of the black pudding and foie gras starter.

It has not been without its stress. I look back on that naïve girl who, two and a bit years ago, blithely assumed that it was actually possible to organise a wedding without having any arguments or unpleasantness and laugh. A hollow laugh it is too. You see, people tell you it is your day but what they mean is – it’s your day for as long as your wishes coincide with mine. One family member is boycotting because we decided not to invite her teenage children (who, quite frankly, couldn’t give two hoots about traipsing all the way up to Yorkshire to go to the wedding of a cousin that they’ve seen a mere handful of times in the last ten years). But she (and my parents) are of the generation who still cling to the Sacred Cow of Family. Frankly, I am more disappointed about the close friends who won’t be attending because of the limited numbers held by the venue. Close friends, incidentally, who still came to my hen do and still showered me with love and support despite the fact they hadn’t been invited, never once uttering a word of reproach.

Anyway. Think that’s got you all caught up. I’ll try and actually cook something over the weekend so I could post about, you know, food. Failing that – anyone for Special K?