Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Recipe corner: A thing of stew-ty

A fantastic recipe and an even better pun – what more could you ask for?

One of the very few plus points about growing older is the fact that I seem to be less hungry all the time. I was going to say that I seem to be losing my appetite, but that is probably stretching the point; I still require regular feeding or else I start to droop and sulk. But I don’t require the volume of food that once I did which means I can make my points work harder in terms of quality rather than quantity. This is good, because many of my very favourite things in the world are point heavy, as I suspect this is the situation whatever measure (points, calories, syns…) that you are using.

The recipe below is a case in point. 16 pro points per portion is pretty hefty. Factor in a couple of accompaniments (last Saturday we had this with mashed potato and broad beans tossed in butter, garlic and Iberico ham) and you’ve got nearly an entire day’s consumption in a single meal. It was worth the hit, believe me, but some austerity throughout the rest of the day was required – not to mention a trip to the gym.

Oxtail is not an easy cut to come by – we ordered ours from an online butcher, and I can’t think why it is not more popular because it produces the most fabulous stew. It breaks down into tender beefy shreds and gives the surrounding gravy an incredible unctuous quality. Of course, this is partly because it has an incredibly high fat content, but it does ease one’s conscience a little bit when the cooled fat is removed on the second day (this and the shredding of the meat are messy jobs – I would advocate getting a nearby husband to get his hands dirty while you direct operations from a safe distance).

The original recipe, by Sam and Sam Clarke of Moro, was to be found on the BBC website, although it now appears to have vanished. I have tweaked it very slightly by reducing the amount of oil required – I also used my slow cooker for the first stage although you could just as easily do it in the hob. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is prepared across two days – it is pretty straightforward to make and tastes just…fantastic.

 Oxtail with Rioja and Chorizo


1.5 kg Oxtail (weight including bone), in chunks
1 carrot, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 celery stick, quartered
Tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Large sprig of fresh thyme
Tsp cloves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly squished
1 bottle of Rioja
Large sprig of fresh parsley, leaves stripped
Salt and pepper

Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
120g chorizo, sliced into rounds
2 tbsp flour,
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp fennel seeds
Tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper

Serves 4, 16 pro points a portion

The day before serving, season and then brown the oxtail in a large pan. I found that you did not need to add any oil at this stage – the oxtail’s own fat will be render out sufficiently. NB: depending upon the size of your pan, you may need to do this in batches. Remove from the pan (transfer to slow cooker if using).

Add the carrot, onion and celery to the pan and cook for about five minutes, tossing regularly to ensure that it browns on every side. Then add the peppercorns, bay, thyme, cloves and garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. Again, transfer to the slow cooker if using, or return the oxtail to the pan.

Add the parsley and rioja, season well and top up with water if required to cover (in the slow cooker, no additional liquid will be necessary even if the meat is not fully submerged). Cook for around 5 hours on High (or simmer gently for around 2 hours) until the meat can be pulled from the bone easily. At this stage, transfer the oxtail to a large bowl and strain the juices over it. Allow to cool and then refrigerate over night.

On the day of eating, remove as much of the solid fat as possible from the cooled stew. At this point, you should also shred the meat from the bones. This is a fairly easy, albeit messy job.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sweat off the onion and carrot for about 10 minutes – add a good pinch of salt to allow them to soften without colouring. Add the chorizo and cook for a few more minutes. Then, stir in the flour and cook off for a couple of minutes before tipping in the paprika, fennel seeds and tomato puree. Ensure everything is fully coated in the beautiful orangey paste.

Now you can bring the shredded oxtail and stock to the pan. Season again to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 mins, allowing the gravy to reduce slightly and thicken.

Serve with accompaniments of your choice (although I think it would be wrong not to have it with mashed potato…)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Monday morning, 6am

Two pounds off this morning ladies and gentlemen, which takes me to the magic stone mark since my refocus (I hesitate to call it a restart) at the beginning of January.

Although I am determined not to put pressure on myself - and avoid deadlines at all costs - I was super keen to hit that milestone (so witty...) this morning - psychologically, it feels like a huge boost.

The next two weeks I'm off delivering training, so potentially tricky on the weight loss side of things (and no meal planning!) But I feel in a good place to face these challenges with, if not a song in my heart then, at the very least, a grit-teeth smile.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sunday night sarnies

Look at these beauties...

I have rediscovered an old friend tonight. You are looking at a toastie consisting of:
2 x slices from a medium white loaf (5pps) with
10g butter smeared on the outside (2pps) and
60g smoked salmon trimmings (2pps) combined with 50g light cream cheese (2pps) and a good scrunching of black pepper packed inside...

Then toasted in my faithful Breville for 4 minutes and garnished with salad.

A delicious, luxuriant tea with the added bonus (from my point of view) of being a nostalgic delight; I used to eat these on a regular basis as during my student days.

Happy Sunday!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A little stumble (but not a full on fall)

So, as you may remember, last Monday, in a fit of something in between enthusiasm and smugness, I told you all about how I had dragged myself out of bed in order to swim at the ungodly hour of six thirty. As Lesley quite rightly pointed out, this is probably not deserving of too much kudos until it has become a regular occurrence. Well, I am pleased to say that I repeated the same feat on Thursday morning too. Early exercising is not set to become a regular fixture in our routine but we have both agreed that in order to hit the requisite (although required by whom I don’t know) number of workouts per week, they may sometimes be necessary and I’m proud that I proved I can do it…even if I don’t much like it.

As it is, the last few days have been a bit pear shaped and yet I still managed a half pound loss yesterday morning – I like to think that Karma gave me a little reward for fighting against every instinct of my inherently lazy nature not once but twice.

Back to this latest slip up, and it’s the same old chestnut with me; stress = poor choices. I had to travel to London for a job interview last Thursday and despite the fact that I had planned out my strategy with regards food and drink I still faltered, especially when the interview didn’t go as well as I had hoped. And then, having faltered, I didn’t pull myself up straightaway; I sulked on Saturday afternoon, refusing to go to the gym and having a nap instead, and then wasn’t as stringent as I could have been on Sunday (although it turns out fish finger sandwiches are not so pointy as you might expect). Little things but….meh. I hate the fact that I’m such a Pavlov’s dog about it all. I read the blog posts that I write when everything is going well and that person sounds so happy and sorted and healthy – in fact, that person is so happy and sorted and healthy, and yet the sulky, sleepy, cheese-on-toast eating, gym spurning alter ego is still around and closer to the surface than I would like.

Still, for all that, the scales continue to creep downwards – I’ve lost 12 pounds since the turn of the year and I’m going to go all guns blazing for a decent loss this week that will take me up to the 1 stone mark. Onwards!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Meal planning Monday - 20th February 2012

Well, here we are again. It’s Monday which means two things: weigh in and meal planning. Let’s leave you in suspense with regards the weigh in, shall we? And move straight to the meal planning.

I’ll be away Tuesday night and home late on Wednesday night, so only five household meals to be accounted for this week. We’re still on freezer clearing duty: you’ll notice broad beans to make a sneaky late appearance – I swear that the bag doesn’t appear to be going down at all!
  • Tonight – leek and goats’ cheese tart (using pastry from the freezer and goats’ cheese that is currently making the fridge smell a wee bit suspicious)
  • Thursday then becomes a belated Shrove Tuesday! Yes, we’re having pancakes for tea. The sensible option would be to cook something light and nutritious and then follow it up with a couple of pancakes; I’m not sensible so I’m going to just eat pancakes. With lemon juice and sugar. Mmmmmm.
  • Friday – it’s Fakeaway night! Lamb seekh kebabs in pitta bread, probably with some kind of chilli condiment, and spiced potato wedges.
  • On Saturday we’ll be having a stew of oxtail with chorizo and rioja. We’ve made this recipe before and it is absolutely wonderful, so I’ll probably blog about this one separately. At the moment, the plan is to serve it with mashed potato and broad beans with serrano ham. Gorgeous.
  • Finally, Sunday, and I’m going to be digging out my beloved Breville to make an old favourite of mine from my university days – smoked salmon and cream cheese toasties.
As always, plenty more meal planning going on at Mrs M's.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Recipe Corner - Broad bean and bacon salad with goats' cheese croutons

Being on a diet and saying “I like salad” is a bit like those very slender celebrities who claim to be “stuffed” after a small piece of steamed fish and some broccoli – it sounds like there is some serious self delusion going on. But I am going to stick my neck out here – people, I like salad, I really do. Admittedly, I like to put stuff on my salad, but I genuinely enjoy crunching through a pile of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes et al.

I’ve always been slightly wary of serving up a main meal salad, assuming that D was not a fan. But it turns out I have been wrong on this score, he, like me, is quite happy to eat it as long as it is a vehicle for Other Things. Were he to be presented with a plate of naked iceberg adorned with nothing more than a few palely bland chunks of tomato, it might be quite another matter.

This particular salad was borne from necessity – I am still trying to come up with fifty different ways to serve broad beans, plus we had some bacon and some goats’ cheese in the fridge that needed using up. But it was absolutely delicious and perfect light but tasty fare for a Sunday (oh-bugger-its-weigh-in-tomorrow) evening.


For the green salad:

Mixed leaves, shredded
¼ cucumber, chopped or sliced
Tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp white wine vinegar
Tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the broad beans:

100g frozen broad beans
2 rashers of back bacon, fat trimmed, and chopped
4-5 spring onions, finely sliced
Tsp butter
2 tbsp half fat crème fraiche
Tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

For the croutons:

4 thin slices of French baguette (approx 20g each)
60g soft goats’ cheese

Serves 2, 12 pro points per portion

Tip the broad beans into a saucepan of simmering salted water and boil for around five minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the grill and toast one side of the baguette slices for a few minutes. When lightly toasted, remove, and smear the goats’ cheese on the other side. Have these on a baking sheet ready to go back under. Whisk the oil, vinegar, mustard and seasoning to make the vinaigrette.

Melt the butter in a non stick pan and fry the bacon. After a couple of minutes add in the spring onions and toss well to coat in the delicious rendering bacon fat. Soften for a further two to three minutes.

Now, place the goats’ cheese croutons back under the grill for around five minutes until beginning to brown. While they’re under, add the broad beans to the bacon pan and combine well before adding the crème fraiche, lemon, mint and seasoning. Allow to bubble gently and remove from the heat – you want them to be warm but not blisteringly hot when they hit the salad.

Toss the leaves and cucumber with the vinaigrette. Top with the broad bean and bacon mixture, and finally the goats’ cheese croutons.

Monday, 13 February 2012

I’ve turned into one of those people…

Guess where I was at twenty past six this morning. Go on, guess.

Twenty past six saw me sitting outside of the gym, waiting for it to open.

We decided not to actually join the queue of keen beans that were waiting for the turnstiles to be unlocked and instead lurked in the car until half past. Nevertheless, I was in the pool at twenty five to seven and, as I swam up and down and watched the clouds begin to blush pink with sunrise through the glass roof, I thought to myself “Who are you?"

Meal planning Monday - 13th February 2012

I’m only planning meals for Monday through to Wednesday this week. Thursday and Friday will see me living it up in London while D continues to manfully eat his way through the freezer and then on Saturday we’re over to see my parents and my beloved Min for dinner. I haven’t worked out what is happening on Sunday yet, but it will probably involve eating eggs on toast.

  • And speaking of eggs on toast, tonight we’ll be having Eggs Benedict for a light yet indulgent supper. I must confess, the Hollandaise is out of a jar. Housekeeping fail.
  • Tuesday – Valentine’s Day! As you may remember, I am a big fan of this most overblown of fake Hallmark occasions. We’ll be having a steak supper and a bottle of red wine and I’ll spend a couple of minutes trying to make romantic small talk before we revert to normality and start squabbling over my inability to load the dishwasher properly.
  • Wednesday – Chicken and chickpea “stuff” leftovers. In last week’s meal plan it was referred to as a curry, but it turned out more like a stew with a vague hint of chilli. This was a most disappointing recipe so I won’t bother to link or share it - I hate wasting points on boring food. I plan to make it slightly more exciting second time around by bunging a load of sliced jalapenos and some crème fraiche (in place of sour cream) on top.

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


Friday, 10 February 2012

Long overdue...

Way back in the mists of January the lovely Lauren nominated me for “The Versatile Blogger” award and it has taken me all this time to get round to writing about it. I blame Work for making me be away from home for long swathes of time and Karma for not allowing me to win the lottery and thus spend all my time not working.

But there is it, in all its glory – isn’t it pretty?

When I first started blogging, nearly two (two!!) years ago it was really just to amuse myself. I like food, I like writing about food, but I also had come to appreciate reading about all those women out there who, like myself, struggled with achieving a healthy body and a healthy lifestyle. I have always believed that it is possible to lose weight (or, indeed, maintain a healthy body weight) while eating nice food. I continue to believe that – even though I don’t always manage it.

It was always my intention that this blog be both a celebration of food and a meditation on why it is so many of us struggle with our weight. If you reject, as I do competely, the idea that you only get fat because you are stupid and lazy, then what does that mean (answers on a postcard please...)? I continue to tussle with the emotional side of weight loss and gain (that will be those navel gazing posts that I still inflict upon you from time to time). I also continue to work on eating as much tasty food as I possibly can. I am not sure if that makes me Versatile so much as vaguely Confused. Either way, I am very grateful to Lauren for thinking of me, and to everyone who stops by and reads this blog from time to time.

Now, I believe that I am supposed to nominate ten other people for this award, paying the love forward. I’ve picked five of the many wonderful blogs that I follow – so each of them can regard themselves as been twice blessed. 

Peridot : I lurked on Peridot’s blog for a long time before plucking up the nerve to comment. She writes so beautifully and so truthfully about her weight loss and she has more willpower than anyone I have ever “met”. More than any other blogger I follow I want to give her a big hug. And then take her for a drink. Although since she is low carbing at the moment it would probably have to be a slimline tonic water.

Lesley : again, a really truthful blog. And with regards versatility, not only does she write incredibly well, but she takes the most amazing photographs. I’ve so enjoyed her recent posts where she takes her camera along with her when she goes out running, that I’ve almost, almost, convinced myself to try some outdoor runs when the weather improves a bit.

Linz has a social life that puts me to absolute shame; where she gets the energy to balance that, her crazy work schedule and personal training sessions is beyond me who spends most of her weekends lounging on the sofa like a Victorian maiden aunt.

Starfish : a fellow WWer who has lost a stunning amount of weight and does crazy things like surfing and riding bikes down very steep hills. I admire her bravery tremendously (again, from the refuge of my sofa).

And finally Jenny : this a food-ey blog rather than a diet-ey one. Check out the recipe index on this site, I promise you, you will want to cook practically all of them. She seems to be able to turn her hand to any sort of cuisine while catering for a family on a budget. I try and never read her posts while hungry.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Meal planning Monday - 6th February 2012

Back at home and back in my own kitchen – hurrah!

In weight loss news: I’m very pleased that I’ve managed to lose weight across both the weeks that I’ve been working away from home. Admittedly only half a pound this week, but considering I had very little control over my weekly meals, was out for dinner on Saturday night (sister in law’s 30 tenth birthday) and accidentally fell face down into a large bag of crisps on Sunday (I blame the weather), I’ll take it very gratefully. I’ve talked before about really struggling with “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to eating plans. These last two weeks have proved to me that if I stay focussed and make good decisions where possible I can still achieve some measure of success. And hurrah for that.

Now, what are we eating this week?

Well, we’re still trying to clear the freezer. The problem I have is that in order to use up one ingredient (say, a bag of frozen broad beans) I need to buy several other ingredients, some of which will probably end up in the freezer. I feel a bit like Sisyphus. I am determined that I will get it defrosted by the end of this month, so expect to see a lot of broad bean related meals over the next couple of weeks…
  • Last night it was risotto – pancetta, pea and (yep) broad bean.
  • Tonight – Cumin crusted tuna steaks with (you guessed it) broad bean and dill pilaf.
  • Tomorrow – not a broad bean in sight! Salmon and pesto fishcakes, salad with a basil vinaigrette.
  • Thursday – I’m not going to be home from work until quite late, so I’m dusting off the slow cooker and putting together a chicken and chickpea curry to be served with basmati rice and/or pitta bread.
  • Friday – Not sure if D is in or out, but if he is in then I quite fancy some end of week indulgence with a spaghetti carbonara
  • Saturday – Slow roasted spiced lamb, couscous with feta and mint and a spiced aubergine puree
  • Sunday – Going to keep this quite light and serve a broad bean (they’re back!), mint and goats’ cheese bruschetta, possibly with some roasted tomatoes on the side.

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

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Recipe Corner: Chunky pea and ham soup

One of D's 2012 resolutions was to get more vegetables into his diet. I know this partly because he has written it next to the pea soup recipe in February's Good Food magazine.

This suits me down to the ground because, as fellow devotees of Weight Watchers will know, most vegetables contain zero points and therefore can be consumed with impunity.

It turns out that we are not in any danger of becoming full blown vegetarians just yet though, as we seem to have a tendency to insert some sort of pig into every recipe we come across. Very few savoury dishes are not improved by the addition of bacon. Thus the "and ham" of the title.

This soup is scrumptious and despite it's healthsome contents doesn't feel too virtuous. Don't forget the basil - it works brilliantly with the peas here.


Tbsp olive oil
5 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery heart, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
5 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
200g frozen peas
850ml veg, chicken or ham stock
3 large handfuls fresh basil
150g cooked ham or gammon, shredded

Serves 4, 4 pro points per portion

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Next in are the leeks and garlic - allow them to soften for a further 5 minutes. Finally go the peas. Stir through the other veg then pour over the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the peas are cooked.

Transfer half of the soup into a blender with the basil and whizz into purée. Return it to the pan along with the shredded meat and stir through. Check for seasoning before serving.

The original recipe suggests garlic bread as a good side dish for this - we concur.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

January round up

Greeting from the wilds of Lincolnshire!  And what a beautiful day it is too. 

Hard to believe that the first month of the year is already behind us.  How was it for you?  January chez moi was rather quiet which actually worked out quite well as I was able to get my 2012 off to a healthy and relaxed start; I'm 9lbs lighter now then I was at the beginning of the year after another stellar (albeit rather unexpected) loss last week.

As someone who has been dieting on and off for most of their adult life, with varying degrees of success, I am very wary of ever saying "This time is different."  So I won't.  What I will say is that I feel extraordinarily relaxed.  I think it's partly the fact that I'm not working towards a deadline (I WILL lose two stone by the summer / my wedding / my 30th birthday).  And partly down to the fact as I get older I stop demanding 100% perfection from myself - one, two, three, a thousand slip ups - it's all good as long as you pick yourself up afterwards and continue forward with a cheerful step.

I think it also helps that we've eaten very well this month.  I promise to share with you in very short order D's fantastic chunky pea and ham soup and also the delicious leek fritters that he made last Friday which came served with the brightest of green sauces.  We had a belated Burns night supper at the weekend, which was lovely, and discovered that leftover haggis makes a fantastic toastie filling if chopped up and moistened with a touch of mayonnaise.  I've rediscovered the joy of mackerel and made a mental note to have it on the shopping list more regularly.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've bought lunch rather than making use of my cute little lunch bag.  And my wasabi pea addiction continues to rage, checked only by the fact I can't always get to M&S.

Here's to a fantastic February for us all.