Sunday, 30 December 2012

It's been a funny old year...

Ah, the post Christmas pre New Year slump. That time of year when we can barely raise ourselves from the sofa except to stagger to the tin of Roses in the corner.

It's also a time of year that invites introspection. We look at the days the months that have passed us by, strutted their stuff on the stage of 2012, we wonder what, if anything, we would have changed about them.

So much has happened this year for me, so much has changed. And yet there are things that have stayed the same. My weight, for example. How it is possible write what is ostensibly a weight loss blog for two years and basically see little or no change is some sort of half assed achievement, no? When it comes to the Watching of the Weight, I'm like the little kid at the back of the class who can only win a prize if they make one up for him ("Tommy: the award for sharpest pencils goes to you!") But I will never stop trying and maybe that is one of the reasons to write a blog - it helps me to keep on keeping on.

2012 has taught me many things. It has taught me that I am stronger than I had ever supposed that I was. That change should not always be feared. That my family and friends are pretty amazing and will support me no matter what. And really, I suppose, that while I shall always dream of being a bit thinner, I am capable of this strength and worthy of this love, regardless of my size.

What do I want from 2013? I want it to be a year of personal growth (the non literal type, you understand). I want to commit myself to being mentally and physically healthy, I want to work hard and I want to laugh out loud a LOT. Anything that follows on from that can only be good.

Wishing all of you love and joy and the happiest of happy New Years.

Friday, 28 December 2012

2012: the food what I ate

2012 may not have been a vintage year for weight loss (ha! What else is new - Ed) (brief pause to stab Editor with a sharpened bread stick) but, as always, I ate some jolly good food.

It was a year where two of the most memorable dishes I consumed were sandwiches; the lobster roll at Burger and Lobster:

And the monster Reuben at Mishkins:

Which confirms to me a truth always half suspected - sandwiches are probably the best foodstuff in the world.

We didn't do an awful lot of "fayne dayning" this year but I was still fortunate to sample some amazing food in some amazing restaurants. Both of my favourite posh-nosh dishes contain one of my all time favourite ingredients, sea bass. Perhaps in 2013 some sort of sea bass sandwich is in order?? There was this little beauty of a plate at Le Gavroche: sea bass with red rice, braised fennel and North African spices:

And then, at my beloved Star Inn, a pan fried fillet with crispy spiced whitebait and a foaming bisque:

If we're talking seafood, then the unfailing amazingness of the produce in Ardnamurchan deserves a special mention:

And finally, I have to show you what may well be the prettiest pudding of the year - nay, ever:

Again from the Star Inn - a chocolate plate par excellence.

Let us hope that 2013 brings more sandwiches! More seafood! More chocolate! And more amazing memories.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

To those of you who read and comment and make me smile on a regular basis...

To those of you who have popped by on a whim or by the happenstance of a Google...

To those family members and friends who keep half an eye in this direction...

To all of you I wish peace and joy and the merriest of merry Christmases.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

And so we begin again

Since September, my attempts at losing weight have, if I am honest (and where else should I be but here on my blog) been half arsed. As excuses go, having to come to terms with a new job, moving to a new city and finding myself sans husband and companion of eight years in a single foul swoop, is a pretty good one but excuses are only ever that – never reasons.

I have found it hard to look after myself properly. My eating habits have become erratic. My cooking mojo has wandered off. Whereas when we were two,homecooked meals were served every night as a matter of course, now they are a rarity. I wonder what instinct it is that makes it so easy to care and nurture others but not oneself?

But. Enough already. The coming of the new year is a good opportunity for me to pick myself up, shake the dust of this last twelve months from my shoes and start again. And ok, it might be starting again for the eleventy billionth time. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to restart – eventually, one of them will culminate in a big band finish.

This January I am going to try and be very kind to myself. Lots of quiet evenings, early nights, simple food, gentle swims. I may even book myself in for a couple of much needed beauty treatments. I am going to remind myself that even in the singular, I deserve to be treated well.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Walking in a winter wonderland

This weekend saw me make my inaugural trip to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. I don't know how on Earth this has passed me by before; basically a Christmassy themed fairground where it is de rigeuer to wander round with a plastic glass of mulled wine clutched in one hand and a Bavarian bratwurst in the other - a very me sort of place.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Girlie talk and Italian food

Sometimes, what a girl really needs is to go out with other girls, have a couple of cheeky g&ts, some lovely food and a good gossip.

Now, readers of this blog may well be aware that D and I are/were (I'm still not sure what tense is appropriate so I'll hedge my bets) huge fans of J Baker's Bistro Moderne in York, to the extent that we seldom ate out anywhere else when we ate out in that fair city. But Le Langhe, an Italian deli and cafe which serves restaurant food at the weekend, had been on our radar for a while, and on the basis of tonight's meal could well merit future visits. Le Langhe is something of a York institution, twice up scaling it's premises in the last decade, and we often visited the deli to buy the amazing Italian meats and cheese on offer (they do this Barolo cured ham which is to die for) but had never made it for dinner. Shame on us.

A, a friend of mine from university days, booked it having heard good reports about the food although word on the street (she's the mother of a small child which seems to give her access to all kinds of privileged information - sort of like jungle drums for parents) was that service was a bit hit and miss. And we did have to wait a good five minutes for menus because the printer had jammed, but other than that the waiting staff were perfectly friendly and sweet, if a little gauche. Also, despite the limited number of covers, there was no table turning going on that we could see - we were booked in for seven and left a leisurely two hours later.

The menu wasn't huge which I personally consider something of a plus point. A and R both opted for main course pasta dishes which looked and smelled delicious - especially the pumpkin and goats' cheese pappardelle. But, when I saw calves liver with pancetta and sage on the menu, I couldn't resist. I adore offal.

This was scrumptious - well cooked, the liver tender with the faintest blush of pink, the pancetta crispy and salty, the medicinal note of the sage well balanced and underneath it all, a neat little portion of creamy potato gratin to squish into the iron rich gravy. Also worth noting was the really interesting wine list which served a decent number by the glass - I tried a red called Dolcetto which I don't think I've come across before, which ripe fruitiness went beautifully with the food.

We had eschewed starters in favour of desserts and they didn't disappoint. First up was a lemon and prosecco sorbet to cleanse the palate:

And then a delicious hazelnut tart with figs and chocolate mousse for A and I while R opted for pannacotta. The tart looks rather dull and brown in the picture but as with the main course, I was impressed with the way the flavours had been balanced - the delicate taste of the nuts holding their own against the honeyed sweetness of the dates.

So, happy faces and replete tummies all round. It's not the most sophisticated restaurant in the world, but the cooking was of a very high standard as far as I could see and I definitely want to take another look at that wine list. They offer a seven course tasting menu which, on the basis of tonight's dinner I am very excited to try out next year. I never need much of an excuse to visit my beloved York...

Le Langhe,
The Old Coach House, Peasholme Green,
York YO1 7PW
01904 622584

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Learning to love Leeds - Kirkstall deli market

A good market warms the cockles of a foodie's heart. And fortunately there is a very lovely one a mere twenty five minute walk away from my new(ish) front door.

I don't know very much about Kirkstall Abbey despite its relative proximity, although Wikipedia reliably informs me that it was established in 1152. It is a beautiful site to wander round, certainly. What makes it even more appealing is that on the last Saturday of every month it becomes host to a fabulous deli market.

This was my first time there and I was very impressed by the range and quality of produce on offer - if, on following that hyperlink, the list of stalls doesn't set your juices flowing then you are made of stone.

It was beyond the limits of our power to sample everything on offer but D did sterling work on behalf of my blog readers - managing to put away a venison burger and a pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce. I had a mouthful of both - excellent, particularly the pork. We also indulged in a festive mulled cider - by way of a restorative, you understand. And I must give a special shout out to the sublime Brown and Blonde brownies. I tried a Malteaser one and, had I been a Victorian maiden, there would have been swooning. D reports that the Black Forest one was similarly good.

It is always a pleasure to find such sites and the fact that this one is so close makes it especially so. I for one am going to make Kirkstall market day a regular feature in my diary.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Recipe corner - Crispy lemon sole with potted shrimps and cucumber

I was round at D's last night and he cooked the most fabulous supper that I have to share with you. It's another from Heston Blumenthal's "At Home" book but with nary so much as a tweak or a twitch. Oh - tell a lie, he did double up the amount of cucumber for two people to get it all used up. I like cucumber, it wasn't a trial.

Actually, I tell two lies - potted shrimps can be slightly problematic to get hold of; D used two little 57g pots of Morecambe Bay shrimp available from Waitrose and I have adjusted the recipe quantities shown below to reflect this - hence the slightly odd amount.

This is a delicious meal - light but rich and tasty. Thoroughly recommended.


1 thick slice of white bread
Salt and pepper
Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon
2 Lemon or Dover sole fillets, skinned
1 tbsp groundnut oil
114g potted shrimp
5g dill
1/2 cucumber peeled, de-seeded and sliced
Pea shoots or other leaves for garnish

Serves 2, 10 pro points per portion

Pre-heat oven to 110C and line a roasting tray with parchment paper.

Cut the crusts off the bread and roll the slice out to about 2mm thick before seasoning with salt, pepper and some of the lemon zest.

Place the fish fillets on the bread and trim them so that they are the same size.

Heat the oil in a frying pan on high heat, and, when hot, place the fish in the pan bread-side down. Sauté for 3 minutes until the bread turns golden brown.

Remove from the pan and place the fillets in the roasting tray, fish-side down, for 5 minutes

Now put the potted shrimp in a small saucepan and warm gently over a low heat. When the butter is melted add the finely chopped dill, lemon juice, the rest of the zest, salt and pepper.

To serve: place the fillets, bread-side up on top of spoonfuls of the shrimp butter, drizzle some of the butter around the plate and with pea shoots.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Three go wild in...Surrey

Foraging is quite the in thing nowadays. Actually, strike that, I think we've passed foraging and progressed to street food. Or have we? I do try to keep abreast of food trends (my prediction for 2013 - fish finger sandwiches are going to be BIG) but I usually fail, mainly because my attitude is if it is tasty, eat it, and if making it is fun and groovy and good for the planet then that's cool too.

Anyway, while dahn sarf recently, my brother suggested a day out foraging in the wilderness which didn't exactly sound like my cup of tea until it emerged that said wilderness was located in Surrey where mobile phone signals abound, that there would be professionals to guide us and that lunch would be provided. Hurrah sez I, sounds like fun, and my Dad agreed. I suspect the prospect of lunch sold him too. And so the three of us, intrepid explorers all, set off along the treacherous pathway that is the M25.

The fruits of one's foraging obviously depend on the season and so ours was predominantly to be fungi based - which is excellent as I am very partial to a good mushroom. This was foraging for the genteel however, and the first half of the day took place in a centrally heated environment (albeit a very attractive converted barn) where we drank coffee, ate chocolate biscuits and looked at pretty pictures of things one could and could not eat. It was not until after an excellent lunch that we strapped on walking boots and set off into the forest.

I have to say, the main thing I learned about foraging for mushrooms was: don't do it unless you have a mycologist with you. Seriously. Our hauls were scrutinised before we were allowed to take them home and an alarming number of very innocuous looking mushrooms ended up in the bin marked "Deadly". I'm not even kidding.

This one is slightly more obviously sinister looking (in a pretty, fairy-tale type way):

The other thing about mushrooms is that however many you think you've got they cook down to much less. Still, our labour was not in vain as my brother put them to excellent use the following morning as part of a post-hunt breakfast.

I don't think that Bear Grylls has a thing to worry about but it was a fabulous day nevertheless. The provenance of what we eat is pretty high profile these days but even so, it is rare to have the experience of getting out there and retrieving it with your bare hands and when D2 served up breakfast to the family the next day I felt distinctly proud. I'd be interested to do it again at other times of the year when the focus of the hunt (if one can use the word hunt when talking about mushrooms and other assorted woodland plants) would be different.

There are plenty of these courses available if you sniff around online, but I would thoroughly recommend the chaps who ran ours, not least because they were both self proclaimed foodies who were not only interested in the foraging side of things but the cooking as well and the lunch provided was excellent. Let me tell you, a tummy full of guinea fowl stew and apple tart really helps when you're plunging your hand into dank undergrowth. Check out the Wild Harvest website here.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Recipe corner - date and orange muffins

Yesterday, after a day in the classroom, I was seized with the desire to come home and bake. This muffin recipe has been in my file for a long time and, while a low fat cake is a) something of a contradiction in terms and b) never quite the same as a full throttle one, these are tasty moist little things, perfect for those days when you need cake for breakfast. Which, let's face it, is most of them.

I would apologise for the fact that I have half fat butter in my fridge, but it is still quite early in the morning and I'm sleepy. So I'll just say that yes, I know true foodies will snort in derision, hang my head in shame and get over it. I find that Anchor and Lurpak lighter options are both fine for baking and sandwiches and help shave off a few points here and there. Which means that you can have more of the good stuff slathered on your toasted crumpets or freshly baked bread.


200g plain flour
60g muscovado sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dried dates, chopped
100ml skimmed milk
120g low fat toffee or vanilla yoghurt
1 medium egg
Zest of 1 orange
50g half fat butter, melted, at room temperature

Makes 9 muffins, 5 pro points per muffin

Preheat your oven to 180 and line a muffin tray.

Set aside 10g of the sugar.

Then, combine your dry ingredients: flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate and stir through your chopped dates.

Now whisk together the wet ingredients: milk, yoghurt, egg, zest and melted butter.

Can you guess what happens now? Yep, briskly combine the two. Conventional wisdom is that you should never over stir muffin mixes. I just let my Kitchen Aid at them for 30 seconds or so which was fine.

Spoon in the muffin cases and sprinkle over the reserved sugar. Bake in the oven for around twenty minutes.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 19th November 2012

Wow, it's been a while since I did one of these. But I am determined, determined to start eating like a normal person again rather than a student. No offence to any students out there and perhaps it has changed since my day (!!!) but well balanced, healthy meals did not tend to feature high on the radar. Part of the problem was that my college didn't supply students with ovens - a cunning ploy to make them dine in halls. These days I think I would rely heavily on a slow cooker but back then (and I keep talking like it is the dimmest and distanest of pasts and it was only ten years) I just shrugged and cooked pasta. And toasties. Not generally together.

So yes, meal planning. I have a plan for this week. It's a bit heavy on the theme of childhood teatime favourites but when you're cooking to please yourself that's ok. And I have already started slotting these meals into my online tracker, so they're all WW compatible if not friendly.

Inspired by the lovely Lauren I've put my plan in a pretty template this week. Lots of fun playing with the Frame Artist app, I can tell you.

As always, head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A tale of two birthdays - part the second

D (husband) is not the only important initial in my life who has a birthday in October. The eleventh of said month marks the arrival into the world of D2, my younger brother.

This year, D2 turned thirty - an apt time for his sister to write some stirring words in tribute of her sibling. But I hope they're unnecessary, that he knows how much I love him and admire the man, husband and father he has become.

Schmaltz aside, his thirtieth was a fantastic opportunity for the family to get together and do some celebrating. And when we celebrate in our family we tend to eat and drink. A lot.

I had been to Le Gavroche for D's fortieth a few years ago and remember it as being very nice. Nice is such a damning word, isn't it? Nice is a little pedestrian, a little forgetable but in a hey - you tried hard sort of way. Admittedly, my memories of Le Gavroche were at the upper end of nice - deserving of at least a very and possibly even an extremely - but I don't remember being blown away. This time I was. This time, every dish sang out to me, all accordions and Piaf and tumbling carousels beneath a Parisien moon.

I liked it.

In the top left hand corner here we have a soufflé Suissesse which is like eating a cheesy cloud floating on cream. I mean, nothing not to like about that. And next to the soufflé we have a foie gras parfait with ice wine vinegar jelly and gingerbread. Scrumptious. Bottom left was my dish of the night - stone bass with Arabian spices, red rice and braised fennel. I was expecting to enjoy it (I never met a bass dish that I didn't like) but this was heaven. The combination of textures on the plate, the delicate warmth of the spicing which somehow enhanced rather than masked the sweet fish - I got to the end of the plate and wanted to eat it all over again. Finally, pictured in the bottom right, was a gratin of langoustine and snail in hollandaise sauce. Lurking beneath that golden exterior is a cheeky little parsley and garlic purée which worked perfectly with the intense butter and succulent flesh.

Black pudding followed, with a crispy egg complete with unctuous golden yolk. Black pudding is, I think, one of my favourite things. The venison (top right) with parsnip purée was the favourite dish of the night for much of the table and the only one to be delivered to the table under a cloche to be swept off with much dignity and careful timing by the waiting staff.

Look at the cheese! This was a cheese trolley of great distinction. My father, who as I have said before is a great lover of cheese, was like a child in a sweetshop. The rest of us were scarcely less enthusiastic.

The final course I was expecting to be a disappointment. You see, on the sample tasting menu on the website, there was mention of a chocolate and praline and raspberry creation that I had been hoping to see, but it had been ousted by a baba (of Calvados rather than the more traditional rum). I needn't have worried. This baba was dense and sticky and sweet and boozy and all manner of delicious.

For all the food was rich and plentiful we none of us felt uncomfortable by the end which is a testament to the balance and restraint shown by the kitchen. The kitchen which, incidentally, we were shown round at the end of the meal, as arranged by my sister in law. It was amazingly small for something producing so
much deliciousness.

In summary: Le Gavroche is no longer to be deemed as nice by moi. No, not even very nice. It was sublime. And, I think, a very fitting place to celebrate a very special brother.

With thanks to V for being the photographer for the evening!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A tale of two birthdays - part the first

It has long been a rule in our household that no one (read: me) is allowed to mention the C word until after D's birthday. Well, that has now been and gone and so happy countdown to Christmas everyone! The red cups arrived into my local Starbucks on Friday, so skinny gingerbread lattes all round!

And the birthday? So nice of
you to ask! You know us - never ones to let an estrangement get in the way of a good meal so we decided to visit Anthony's in Leeds to see if one of the cities best regarded establishments lived up to expectations.

They were high (the expectations, that is). We'd been to Anthony's years before when it was still relatively new on the scene and raved about it to anyone who sat still long enough to listen.

But perhaps our palates have changed in the meantime. Or perhaps we caught them on an off night (and, in fairness, we had been told in advance that the freezers had broken down at the weekend causing chaos and confusion in the kitchen).

Because the food just wasn't that brilliant and when I'm paying £65 a head for a tasting menu I want brilliant.

There were bright moments. This dish, for example, was garnished with a rather scrummy salt and vinegar Quaver. The main constituent, pig snout, was a little gelatinous for me but I applaud the inclusion of a more unusual bit of pig.

The bass with chargrilled lettuce and labneh (a soft cheese made from strained yoghurt) was gorgeous. Simple flavours, a good variety of textures, perfectly executed - this I could have eaten over and over again.

But elsewhere, disappointed faces. Or rather faces etched with the strain of trying really hard to like something and just not succeeding. There were cauliflower "dumplings" which tasted like musty pannacotta. The main course duck, obviously cooked sous vide, was a lovely even shade of pink but was already lukewarm by the time it reached the table. There was altogether too much toasted buckwheat strewn about - not a cereal to which I warm.

Cheese was ok. I liked the fact that you got a cheese menu rather than a trolley. But we had to pay a supplement for it.

We neither of us warmed to the desserts either. D positively disliked the fig with salsify and blackberry (pictured top). The pineapple tart Tatin with Brie ice cream and black olive felt like it was going for shock value over taste with none of the individual components quite working.

I'm very keen to go back to Anthony's on a day where everything has been running smoothly. I want to give the place the benefit of the doubt based on the chef's obvious talent and our memory of past glories. I'd not go for the tasting menu again though - it's just too much money to pay for something that is not quite to my taste. £65, after all, would keep me in gingerbread lattes all the way through until C-day.

19 Boar Lane
0113 2455922

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A grand day out

Lesley is very wise. In a comment on my last post she pointed out that there was nothing to stop me blogging about things other than food and cooking (or the lack thereof) while things were a bit squiffy. By which I mean peculiar rather than drunk. And she's right - I don't want to get out of the blog habit. Plus, a blog about food is always going to be about lifestyle as well, isn't it...sort of...?

So. Me and the husband are currently dating in an attempt to reinvigorate, rebuild, revitalise (I'm not sure what the correct word is in the circumstances) our relationship. Now, the thing about dating - as opposed to actually being married - is that you have to do stuff. So today we spent a few hours wandering around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

It's been on my to do list for years and I wasn't disappointed. Huge, often random, sculptures in a beautiful outdoor setting? Fresh air and culture in equal measures? An exhibition by an artist with a frankly bewildering fixation with female genitalia?

The layout is such that just wandering through woodland you encounter all manner of things. Like these choice specimens.

I was glad we chose this time of year to go. The autumn leaves and bleak sky set off the pieces beautifully.

Some were more peculiar than others...

Yes, that is a giant hare with breasts. I had to wait a long time for the gaggle of schoolboys to get out of the way before taking this shot. And here are some headless people sitting on chairs. They are hollow which represents emptiness and futility - this I know because the label told me so. I would have thought making them hollow made them lighter and thus easier to transport, but what do I know?

We spent over three hours there and only covered a tiny amount of the total space. Considering that you only have to pay for parking (£7.50 for the whole day) it was amazing value and we're already discussing a return trip in January when the temporary exhibition changes.

If you find yourself in the Leeds / Wakefield area and you have a penchant for this sort of thing then I would highly recommend it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Hello, world!

I was chastised over the weekend for my lack of blog updates.

The trouble is that my cooking and eating is a bit meh at the moment. I'm still, let's be completely honest, missing my husband, my cosy flat, my cosy life and microwave meals and fish finger sandwiches just seem so much more...achievable.

But they do not a dieting foodie blog make.

I just do not feel particularly inspired, I'll be honest with you.

For me it seems, cooking is not just about providing fuel but sharing - a meal, love, time...I know I have to learn that cooking something nice for oneself is still an expression of love, just maybe a less obvious kind.

Still, it's not all bad news. Look at the gorgeous girl who jumps in through my living room window every now and then:

And I saw my darling Min at the weekend and I'd hate for her to be jealous:

I suppose there are worse things to be than a crazy cat lady...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The New Normal

In which I discuss the art of dating and provide a very user friendly version of Heston Blumenthal's macaroni cauliflower cheese.

D and I had been together eight and a half years when we separated, albeit on a trial basis. That's a long time, especially, I think, when it essentially covers the period from early(ish) twenties to thirties - for me, my real growing up years.

We're still trying to work out what this separation should look like. One thing we are agreed on is that we should try just dating for a while. Dating. Remember that? When you got dressed up and went out and did something as opposed to sitting on the sofa in pyjamas with a bottle of wine and a boxset? Yeah, dim and distant for me too. I got married so I wouldn't have to do dating anymore but there you go...

As of Saturday I have my first top tip for anyone who may find themselves in a similar position. When you book tickets for an event, EVEN if you book them through a particular theatre box office don't be so naive as to assume said theatre is where the event actually is. Apparently, in the last eight and a half years, things have changed. And I have failed to change along with them. Check, check and check again all the details of your "date" if you are the organising party - this will prevent your sort-of ex rolling his eyes, biting his lip and generally remembering all the annoying, scatty habits you had which led him to leave in the first place.
Why not invite him around for dinner? No location based issues to fend with then, and why not make him something like the below? It's rich and decadent enough to appeal to the sternest heart.

This is an adaptation of the recipe in Heston B's latest which is called something like "At Home" or "Easy Peasy Recipes for Busy People". The original requires a trip to the chemist to buy something more commonly used to treat cystitis than ameliorate your dinner and a number of slightly twiddly processes. I am sure that these are there to make the dish better but the below was scrumptious, easy enough to whip up after a day at work and with just a tiny tweak to the amount of butter and cheese and a swap of whole for skimmed milk, relatively WW friendly. Hurrah.

Don't be put off by the small amount of pasta - this quantity is definitely sufficient.

150g cauliflower florets
200ml skimmed milk
100g macaroni
80g Gruyere plus 20g for topping
20g Parmesan
Tsp wholegrain mustard
20g butter

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Place most of the cauliflower florets in a saucepan - keeping a few back for the final stage. Go for a large pan with a big surface area so that the milk will almost cover when poured over. Place over a medium heat and simmer for 35 minutes. When done, the vegetable should be meltingly soft - tip cauliflower and milk into a blender and whizz to a smooth purée.

Cook the pasta in well salted water until al dente.

Bring the cauliflower mixture back to a simmer, add the cheeses and mix well. When the cheese has melted and the sauce is unctuous and smooth, stir through the mustard, the butter and season to taste.

Fold the cooked pasta and reserved raw cauliflower florets through the sauce. Top with the reserved Gruyere and pop under the grill and bubbling and golden.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

It's never too early...


Some amongst you may scoff that it is FAR too early in the year to be thinking about the C word. But let me tell you, these Heston Christmas puddings will be rarer than gold dust come the beginning if December. So when I happened across a stand full of them in Waitrose this afternoon I simply couldn't resist...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Foodie Penpals - September

Regular readers of this blog will know that September was not the best of months for me: I started a new job, moved house and separated from my husband all in the space of thirty days.

Before all that - back in those heady days when I had a clue what was going on - I signed up to a rather fabulous scheme called Foodie Penpals. You can read about it here but the gist is that you buy some yummy things, pack them in a box and send them to a fellow foodie with a note of explanation.

My box arrived on one of the most horrible days of my life and, deeply mired in self pity as I was, it still managed to raise a smile from me. That's one of the amazing things about blogging. You become a part, albeit a tiny one, of a wider community where the collective spirit is one of support and kindness and joy.

My package came from the very lovely Carys. Look at my loot!

What was especially nice was how thoughtful the items were.

There were some Welsh delicacies - including some extremely gorgeous Welsh cakes (best described as flattish, lightly spiced scones - how have I managed to miss these for the past thirty years??) Oh, and toffee waffles that you perch on a cup of tea until they go all gooey and delectable. I definitely must go for tea in Wales.

There were also some slightly offbeat offerings - I told Carys via email that I would try anything once and she definitely took me up on it! But, let me tell you my friends, if you have never tried cheddar and toffee popcorn then you are seriously missing out. It is one of the most moreish snacks I've come across in a long time. I've found it here and will definitely be purchasing some more very soon. Roasted chickpeas proved almost as addictive - and being as healthy as they are tasty make a perfect snack for a WWer trying to claw her way back onto the wagon.

I still haven't got around to trying the green tea noodles and Japanese seasoning but see a seared tuna steak dish in my very near future to sample these.

So thank you to Carys, to Carole Ann who organises the scheme and, in fact, thank you to all you bloggers who have made this little corner of the web such a lovely place to be. Roll on October!

Meal Planning Monday - 1st October 2012

I'm back! Kind of...

This is my first meal planning post for a while, my first in my new home and my first as a singleton. Phew. I'm keeping it extremely simple and with lots of nursery food options on there (see Thursday and Sunday!) to get me back in the swing and to soothe my troubles away - while remaining on track. Where a dish won't freeze particularly well I shall just eat it over two nights. I know - contentious (but frugal).

• Monday and Tuesday - cheese and tomato bread pudding with salad in honey mustard dressing.

• Wednesday - out having a crying on the shoulder session with my lovely friend A. Going straight from work so will have an Innocent veg pot before leaving the office.

• Thursday - fish fingers, mash, peas, carrots and oodles of ketchup.

• Friday - tuna pasta bake using the Homepride sauce that lovely Jenny has recommended previously.

• Saturday - a slow cooker chilli using beef brisket and chorizo, from a Thomasina Miers recipe which can be found here.

• Sunday - back to the nursery for
potato waffles, baked beans and a poached egg. To be taken in front of Downton - if I have a working television before then!

As always, head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Reality Bites

Thank you from the heart of my bottom for the comments left on my last post. You were all so kind; it meant a lot. I'm sorry I've not been commenting on blogs much recently but gradually, gradually normal service looks set to be resumed.

I am now moved in to the new place in Leeds. Half of my possessions are still in boxes but I'm slowly getting there. It's a beautiful house and I am lucky to have it and I am resolutely not going to focus on the fact that I am here on my own.

I don't yet know what will happen between me and D but I do know that I am going to give saving our relationship a good shot. And part of that is looking after myself and not allow myself to wallow in a mire of self pity and rose wine. With this in mind, off I toddled to a brand new WW meeting this morning. Yep, at 7.30 am, I was getting weighed! How virtuous does that make me feel! The meeting itself is just a ten minute walk from the office so I was at my desk by eight, all aglow with good intentions.

I don't yet know if this is going to be Operation Win Back Husband or Become Presentable Singleton. But either way, it has to be better than Operation Become Morbidly Obese Gin Raddled Lock In.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Girl/Boy, Interrupted

Once upon a time, about eight and a half years ago, there was a girl and a boy. They met, as girls and boys often do. They went on a few dates. They made each other laugh. They had interests in common (although the relative merits of the musical as an art form and the correct ambient temperature for the living room would be constant sources of disagreement).

And after (quite a short) while, they moved in together.

And a few years later, they got engaged.

And a few years after that, they got married.

And a year (almost to the day) after that, the boy told the girl that he wanted to separate for a time to think about whether he wished to continue to be in the relationship.

And the girl cried (quite a lot) and drank gin (quite a lot) and at first thought evil thoughts about the boy but then remembered some nice things about him and cried a bit more.

And the girl reluctantly admitted to herself that sometimes, however much you love someone and however much you have built your life around them and however much you think the day is brighter because they are in it, sometimes relationships fall apart despite everything and that it isn't a question of blame or guilt, just very, very sad. And she was grateful that they loved each other enough to think that their relationship might be worth a trial
separation period and might still be worth saving.

And the girl, who wrote a blog that was sometimes about dieting and sometimes about food and sometimes just about life in general, decided to put up a post explaining why things might be a bit unsettled for a while and why meal planning might consist of a lot of prick and pings* for one for the time being while she got used to the idea of cooking for herself.

*Although then she remembered that she didn't have a microwave anymore so would have to go for ones that baked in the oven until she got around to replacing it.

The end. For now.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

End of the summer

I've interspersed this rather meandering post with pictures from a recent meal we had at Carriages wine bar.  If you ever find yourself in the North Yorkshire market town of Knaresborough and in need of sustenance, it is well worth the visit.  They don't appear to have their own website, but you can find their entry on the Harrogate food guide here.

Well. What an odd two weeks it has been to be sure.

You may remember, in the last thrilling instalment, that I was on the point of moving out; after weeks of procrastination by a pair of less than stellar solicitors, things had suddenly come to a head very fast. D, my brother and I spent a couple of frantic days flinging all our stuff into boxes and driving a white van between our flat and my parents’ garage wherein now can be found pretty much all our worldly possessions. In no particular order.

King prawns and langoustines in a lemongrass, chilli, pineapple and kaffir lime leaf nage
We were fully prepared to spend the following fortnight, which we had both booked off work for the purposes of general chilling out as opposed to going away, combing Leeds for the perfect place to live. But the rental market, previously a relentless juggernaut of a thing which waited for no man, slowed down to…well, much less of a juggernaut. So we’re currently still chez les parentals.

Smoked trout fillet on grilled fennel with olive salsa and beetroot marinated calamari
Much as I love them, it is not a particularly ideal situation for either party. Their garage looks, as my mother says, as if the Ark of the Covenant could be concealed somewhere within its depths (although D did manage to create a path through to the wine rack at the back). And of course there have been fraught moments on either side when I for one have been in danger of regressing to my thirteen year old self.

Beef fillet with beetroot fondant, sausage and leek ragout with a tarragon and mustard bechamel sauce
Still, all that aside we did manage to get some relaxing in. I don’t think I got up much before nine the entire time which was absolutely blissful. And, of course, any thought of dieting went out of the window – well, it never takes much with me, does it?

Yes, this is a diet blog, remember? Ha, I bet you’d forgotten. The old weight has been remaining pretty steady – but not going down and all the impetus and drive of the first few months of this year has completely dissipated among the general disruption and stress of the summer. BUT. I reckon you can’t be said to have failed until you have given up altogether and that I will never do. There is a meeting, located a ten minute walk away from my office, that takes place at 7.30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and that is where you find me this time next week.
Pot au chocolat with pistachio fudge
My thoughts on meetings have always been mixed. On the one hand, I resent paying to have someone weigh me, like a pig going to market, and then tell me stuff that I already know for half an hour. On the other hand, I am a creature who thrives on structure and routine and I have proved time and time again that left to myself I will have the odd burst of brilliance and then drift off course like a chubby little cloud. So, meetings it is. Meetings and meal planning and (whisper it) back to the gym – although it will be a new gym, because to go all the way from Leeds to York just to jog on a treadmill for a bit would just be silly.

So, all steam ahead for next week, although there is the small matter of my first wedding anniversary beforehand…

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A place called home

I've almost certainly mentioned on this blog before that although I now live in God's Own County (Yorkshire for the uninitiated) I was born and grew up down south, at the part of the Underground map where the District Line meets the county of Essex, only moving in my early twenties. Leaving the house I grew up in was relatively painless in the end. It happened while I was at university and during that period so many things were in a state of transition that it didn't register as much as it might have done a few years earlier. And I always assumed I'd go back. Not to the house you understand, but to The South, to London, because that is what graduates, clutching their shiny new degrees, did.

It never happened and somehow, eleven years later, I find myself a kind of expat. By which I mean I think that I think of myself as a Southerner living in the North. They don't let you declare yourself a Yorkshire(wo)man until you're third generation.

And now I'm moving again, from North to West Yorkshire. And, oh,  the wrench at leaving York is far more acute than leaving Essex. I guess it's because my really formative years took place here, my  real growing up.  In the last ten years in this, my beautiful city, I have had my first proper job (it involved chocolate), and my first flat (damp and nasty).  I got my heart broken a little bit and bruised a couple in return and, of course, I met the man that I would end up marrying. It was in York that D and I had our first date, at a grotty pub that happened to be handy for the station, in York that we made our first home together, spent our first Christmas, probably had our first big fight. York is where I think of as home.

I don't want to leave.

But then, what is home, really?  Is it a physical place?  Or is it just anywhere that the people you love are?  I suppose the very fact that my heart now belongs so firmly to the grim North is evidence that the concept of home is more than geographical.  It is love and memories rather than bricks and mortar.  And so, although I got a bit sniffly when I looked round our little flat, devoid of furniture, and will get a lump in my throat when I walk down High Petergate towards the Minster, I must be brave and resolute and accept the idea that in a little while they'll be a whole new set of Leeds based memories and a home built there too.

I leave you with one of my favourite views of York taken by D a few years ago. And I promise to follow this up at some point with something more relevant to this blog - a Foodie's Guide to the capital of Yorkshire.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


It turns out that I am moving.


After weeks of delay and a torpor suddenly things have started moving rather more quickly.  We have yet to find anywhere to go so we are descending on my parents for what all parties hope will be the briefest of sojourns. D is attempting to ram our sofas into their garage as we speak.

Cooking and meal planning may go to the wall a bit for the next week though, so please bear with.

But look, in the meantime, here’s a lovely picture of some strawberries!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Meal planning Monday - 20th August 2012

After last week’s successful return to the meal planning fold (meal plan not only made but pretty much adhered to) I find myself in a bit more of an anxious mood today. Perhaps it is the fact that we are living surrounded by boxes and that we are still awaiting confirmation of a moving date, but I don’t really want to commit myself to anything more than a few days in advance.

I can tell you what we’re eating tonight – Shepherds Pie. We were supposed to have it yesterday but it got bumped in favour of a rather delicious sausage sandwich, using award winning sausages from this butcher.

I know that I’m out tomorrow night – going over to Liverpool for a couple of days to have a handover to the replacement me – so D is fending for himself.

And I know that on Wednesday I’ll be back late and so quick, easy and tasty is the order of the day so that old reliable, pan fried salmon fillets with pasta pesto is popping up.

I’m pretty sure nothing much is happening on Thursday, which will give me the opportunity to cook my third Capricorn goats cheese recipe. I’ll leave that one as a bit of a surprise – suffice to say is is going to be a savoury version of a dessert classic.

The weekend though – that seems way too far into an uncertain future to have a plan. I’ve got some pigeon breasts in the freezer, and some puff pastry, and so have had the idea of doing little pigeon Wellington type things. That’s a possibility.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to finally being settled and back into routine. I start my new job on 10th September and would like to be well ensconsed by then, so please cross all digits for me. And, after you’ve done that you might like to pop over to Mrs M’s for some more meal plans.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Mid week catch up

Moving blows goats. There is simply no polite way to put it. We are currently living surrounded by packing boxes as we wait for the sale of our flat to go through. If and when this happens it will be no thanks to our completely inept solicitor, who is very good at finding new things to charge us money for, but little else. I’ve been reduced this week to chasing up various bits of information on their behalf and have proved to be about ten times more efficient. And I am not an efficient person at all. When I beat you in the efficiency stakes there is something seriously wrong.

They need to pull their finger out because we have to have a moving date so that we can sort out where we are actually moving to. At the moment it’s a toss up between my parents’ shed and a blow up bed under my desk. I am not dealing well with the uncertainty. We’ve seen a couple of places that are potentials, but the rental market in Leeds moves so fast that agents are, understandably, not keen to agree a let when the let-ees think they might be moving at sort of around the end of the month, assuming their solicitor can rouse themselves from post-lobotomy torpor to lift the phone and agree something with the buyer’s solicitor (who is, by all accounts, equally useless).

Anyway. D decided that it was not worth shipping my ridiculously large, tottery pile of food magazines over to Leeds and so has been spending his evenings ruthlessly ripping out the pages he deems worthy of keeping and ditching the rest. I see his point but was rather fond of my pile and have secretly decided to start building it up again as soon as possible.

Mind you, I’m starting to wonder how many recipes one person actually needs. I’ve recently started trying to catalogue all the various internet bookmarks I’ve got and they total 330 so far. That’s in addition to shelves groaning with cookbooks, a box file and additional folder stuffed with clippings and two recipe notebooks. And still I struggle when it comes to meal planning! Anyone know why that is? Answers on a postcard…which you might need to address care of Leeds station toilets.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A second #capricornchallenge recipe corner - Summer tomato pasta with goats cheese

So, as I explained here a lovely goat called Ethel sent me all sorts of gorgeous ingredients in return for coming up with some fun and funky ways of cooking her beautiful cheese. Easy for a dedicated cheese lover such as myself.

We've already had a classic tart, and this recipe, inspired by the Barefoot Contessa (love her!) is a fresh and summery pasta dish which would be perfect for al fresco dining if, you know, we actually had any summer to speak of.


3-4 plum tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Fat clove of garlic
Tbsp olive oil
Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
120g fresh pappardelle pasta
100g Capricorn Somerset goats cheese
20g Parmesan, grated

Serves 2, 16 pro points per portion

The key to this dish is to allow the tomatoes plenty of time to macerate - at least a couple of hours at room temperature. I prepared them the day before, refrigerated overnight then took them out of the fridge a couple of hours before cooking the pasta.

So, firstly you need to halve the tomatoes then, using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Dice the flesh.

Then, julienne the basil leaves. To do this, lay them flat in a pile, roll into a cigar shape and then thinly slice into a heap of green slivers.

Combine the tomato, basil, oil, vinegar, lemon juice and the crushed garlic clove with a hearty amount of salt and pepper, cover and set aside.

When ready to serve, cook the fresh pasta in boiling salted water for a mere 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the goats cheese. I removed the side rind but left the top and bottom and then roughly diced to help it melt through the sauce a little quicker.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and then stir through the tomatoes, the goats cheese and
half the Parmesan. The cheese will melt and combine with the macerated tomato liquid to give a beautifully delicate, creamy sauce which coats the pasta.

Serve with the remaining Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 13th August 2012

So the fireworks have been fired, the last medals presented and the Spice Girls, er, spiced. The Olympics are officially over.

Back to meal planning!

For the first time in a few weeks I have sat down with notebook and pen, chewed said pen thoughtfully, and put together a meal plan. Nice to be back in control - or as much in control as I ever am.

So, this week is looking a little bit like this....

• Hake fillet with tapenade and pears - a delicious and unusual Hairy Bikers recipe

• Pear, blue cheese and walnut salad with crispy pancetta (I have pears to use up).

• My next recipe for the #capricornchallenge - summer garden pasta with goats cheese.

• More pasta - filled with spinach and ricotta this time and tossed with butter and Parmesan, a quick supper before a murder mystery evening!

• And something a bit more wintry (we cater for all seasons here) - Shepherds Pie with green veg to use up some delicious lamb gravy from the freezer.

As always, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A #capricornchallenge recipe corner - pissladiere with goats cheese

Cheese is a very serious business.

I am a huge fan. Check out the recipe page of this blog and you will see that a large proportion of the dishes that I am encouraging people to cook contains the stuff. Yes, most cheeses are relatively high in calories and fat – but. Choose something with good flavour and a little will go a long way. Plus, wouldn’t you rather eat a small amount of something outstandingly delicious than a huge bowl of tasteless diet pap?

(Ahem. Climbs down from soapbox).

Ethel the Goat, of the Capricorn Somerset Goats is currently encouraging food bloggers to get creative and come up with some recipes that show off her rather tasty cheese. Now, goats cheese tends to divide people but I am firmly in the love it category. It has a gloriously pungent quality that is always (to me at least) reminscent of the smell of summer farmyards, of sunshine on straw. One tweet to Ethel later and the most amazing hamper of goodies turned up on my doorstep. This is clearly a goat who takes her cooking seriously.
The cheese itself is fresh and creamy and to be honest, I was quite tempted to just smear it on some crusty bread and leave it at that. But that would not make for the most exciting of challenge entries. So I’ve come up with a few different ideas, the first of which revisits an old friend.

One of the things I wanted to cook was a real classic – a red onion and goats cheese tart. I sometimes find when I eat this that the onion component can be a little too sweet and jammy. So I looked back at the first ever recipe I posted on this blog – pissaladiere. This is an onion tart where the sweetness of the onions, tomato and balsamic vinegar are whacked around the chops with an intensely savoury garlic and anchovy hit. I had a feeling that sliced goats cheese melted on top would be absolutely delicious. I was right.

You’ll find when you make this that the amount of topping looks a little meagre. Don’t be tempted to increase it – there are some serious flavours in there so definitely a case of less being more.

125g puff pastry
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g (half a small can) tinned tomatoes
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
22g (half a small can) tinned anchovies
100g Capricorn Somerset goats cheese, thinly sliced

Serves 2, 15 pro points per person

Preheat the oven to 220˚C unless you are preparing the onion mixture in advance.

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil and then stew the onions, covered, over a low heat for about half an hour until they are wilted and golden. A pinch of salt in with the onions will help them release moisture and sweat. You might need to give them the occasional stir to ensure that they don’t catch.

Add the thyme, one of the garlic cloves, the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat up slightly and let the sauce reduce down for about 5 minutes.

Drain the anchovies on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and then pound them up with the remaining garlic clove. When the sauce is reduced, remove it from the heat and stir through the garlic and anchovy mixture.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry into a rough square shape. Spread on the onion mixture leaving a small 2cm margin around the outside which you can then fold in to make a crust. Top with the slices of goats cheese (resisting the urge to swipe one or two for yourself).

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden. This is best eaten warm rather than hot, so leave to cool for 5-10 mins if you can manage it. Gorgeous served with a simple dressed salad.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The hairy bikers stole my USP!

Humph. So the Hairy Bikers, lovers of beer, baking and butter, are on a diet and the BBC are paying them to make a television programme about it. What's with that, BBC? I've been writing a blog about how to lose weight while enjoying gorgeous food for years now! Where's my TV deal?

That aside, I enjoyed the first episode - still available on iPlayer, although I was a little bit sniffy about the fact they used cornflour to thicken their white sauce rather than make a proper roux.

They've apparently lost a fair bit of weight between them (good for them) and they are affable chaps, so I shall watch forthcoming shows with interest.

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

In which I paint the town red in Liverpool

As you may know (because I can be quite repetitive) I am starting a new job in September. While this is, in many ways, a Good Thing, I will miss the people that I have been working with very much. We are situated in various offices all over the country, generally only coming together a few times a year to deliver training or mark assignments but we are incredibly lucky in that from the very start we all hit it off and found that our working styles, despite being different, easily mesh.

This week was the last time that I was to see most of them so we were determined to Go Out and paint the town, if not red, a very definite shade of pink.

We went to the Olive Press in Liverpool mainly because they were offering a good midweek discount deal and we civil servants haven't had a payrise in a while. For £30 a head (three courses and wine) it seems churlish to complain. But the food, while adequate, did not rock my world.

My chicken liver pâté starter was woefully under seasoned though nicely presented - I'm a sucker for a Kilner jar.

Lemon chicken with goats' cheese and basil risotto was, again, a little lacking in flavour. Oh, and the chicken was overcooked. I know people can be squeamish about chicken but really, it needs to retain some moisture...

However. I can't complain about the liqueur coffee. So I won't. And the pizzas that were delivered to some of the party looked excellent - a pleasingly blistered base with a good amount of toppings - not so much as to be overkill, not too little to be sparse.

The hardcore contingent then made our way to Revolution for shots and giggles.

Don't you just love the idea of cocktail teapots?

What I learned here was:

• Birthday cake vodka is not nice.

• If you have had enough alcohol
previous to said birthday cake vodka, you will drink it anyway.

• Long Island Iced Tea ROCKS.

• I am no longer very good at late nights midweek.

Which is why, if you will excuse me, I'm off for a little nap. If you happen to be travelling across the Pennines on the way to York at the moment and you hear someone snoring away in the back carriage then do feel free to give me a sharp dig in the ribs - or at least wipe the drool off my chin.

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