Thursday, 31 May 2012

Recipe corner - Nigella's chickpea and chorizo (not quite a) stew

We made the mistake of wandering through Borough Market on Friday afternoon.  We had spend a very pleasant couple of hours at Vinopolis, a venue dedicated to the drinking of wine on the Southbank (if you have even vague tendency towards dipsomania it is an excellent way to while away an afternoon) and were wending our way towards London Bridge to meet friends.  How could we resist the smells wafting from those tempting stalls? 

Actually, in the main we were pretty good and avoided temptation (although there may have been a sausage roll consumed later at the pub) but I couldn’t resist purchasing a few venison chorizos that I happened to pass by. I love chorizo and I love venison and was intrigued by the combination of spice and rich, gamey iron.

I’ve had a Nigella recipe for a chickpea and chorizo dish bookmarked on the BBC site for a while now and this seemed the idea opportunity to give it a go. Of course, I’ve made changes. For a start, I’ve reduced the portion sizes. I’m a girl of good appetite but I don’t think the quantities she suggests are not particularly realistic (to my mind) unless one has spent the last week fasting. For a second, I roasted off some fresh cherry tomatoes instead of using a tin. I’m sure a tin would be absolutely fine mind you; it would make the whole dish a bit quicker to assemble and would mean that all the components can come straight out of the store cupboard.

D wasn’t overly keen on the addition of the apricots although I loved them. He suggested that they would have been more to his taste if they had been more finely chopped and I have incorporated this into the recipe. You could leave them out altogether and this would save you 1 pro point per portion.


Small punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
Balsamic vinegar
1 medium chorizo sausage (about 80g), chopped into chunks
30ml (2 tbsp) dry sherry
1 large tin of chickpeas, drained
50g dried apricots, chopped finely
Pinch of sugar
140g dried bulgur wheat
½ tsp cinnamon
Bay leaf
Fresh coriander, chopped (amount to taste)

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Heat the oven to about 150. Place the tomatoes in an oven proof dish, sprinkle with a little balsamic and some salt and pepper and roast until they have just started to shrivel – at this low temperature you could probably leave them for about an hour. Remove from the oven and deglaze the dish with about 100-150ml water. Place tomatoes and water in a small processor along with a pinch of chilli and blitz into a rough, salsa like texture.

Put the bulgur wheat in a lidded pan with a good pinch of salt, the cinnamon and the bay leaf. Cover with water and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer put the lid on and cook for about 15 minutes. You may need to add a splash more water during the cooking process.

Over a low heat, gently fry off the chorizo pieces until the deliciously spicy oil begins to render out and they start to crisp up. Add the sherry and allow it to bubble off.

Now you can add the drained chickpea, the apricot pieces and the tomatoes along with a pinch of sugar and seasoning. Bring up the heat and simmer for five minutes to reduce off some of the liquid.

Stir most of the coriander through the wheat, reserving a little for garnish, adjust the seasoning to taste and then serve up strewn with the chick pea mixture.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

"A kind of Jewish deli with cocktails"

At some point last year, D and I went to Polpo – a quick check of my records tells me that this was, in fact, in October. We liked it very much. We conceived the notion of going to the other places created and owned by Russell Norman. Apparently, he used to work for a rather posh restaurant group and left to start up his own place so that he wouldn’t have to wear a tie to work anymore. Brilliant. Presumably he had a slightly more detailed business plan than that, but I hope that he brought the tie thing up in the meeting with his bank manager.

D asked me to choose and I went for the latest one in the stable, Mishkin’s, rather to his chagrin I think. It is described on its website as a kind of Jewish-deli with cocktails. I was primarily sold because the menu contained a Reuben sandwich – a dish I have wanted to try for around eight years. (Dr House ordered one in an early episode of House – being curious about food I looked it up and have fancied it ever since. Corned beef! Sauerkraut! Swiss cheese! Russian mayonnaise! Rye bread! These are All Good Things.) Of course, now I come to research (i.e. check Wikipedia) I find that what Mishkin’s have on the menu is actually a variation of the Reuben called the Rachel – where corned beef is swapped for pastrami. It didn’t matter. The choice of venue was made.

The interior of Mishkin’s is absolutely adorable – the kind of set up that I, growing up in darkest suburbia, used to imagine existed on every corner of New York. The staff, in common with all those employed across Norman’s restaurants, were young and beautiful and trendy. The waitresses were wearing extremely short shorts which retro nod was much appreciated by D.

I didn’t need to look at the menu – I was already salivating at the thought of my Reuben. D, deciding to get into the spirit of the Jewish deli theme, ordered the chopped chicken liver as well as one of the specials, a salad consisting of smoked mackerel, asparagus, fennel and a poached egg. He appeared to enjoy both thoroughly; I tried a little of the chopped chicken liver spread on toasted rye and thought it was gorgeous, especially with a generous dollop of a pickled (schmaltzed) radish to give a bit of acidity to the rich offal.
Chopped liver!
My sandwich was a true behemoth. I had eaten very lightly throughout the day in order to be thoroughly hungry come the evening, but still, was nearly defeated. It was as scrumptious as I had imagined – beautiful salty beef and sharp pickle and gooey cheese….however, when I go again, I shall opt for the half Reuben with slaw – I’m sure that would be more than enough. Mind you, the heavenly smell that was rising up from the mac and cheese ordered by the table next to us might be enough to tempt me away from the sandwiches altogether. I very, very nearly plucked up the courage to ask them for a bit. Another carafe of wine and I probably would.

A very large sandwich indeed!
In the spirit of research, and after a bit of digestion, we roused ourselves to share a pudding: a slice of cheesecake (well, when in pretend New York….) which was surprisingly light with a lovely lemony sharpness. Had I had more room I would have tried to make space for the soggy lemon drizzle cake but, alas, it seems that will have to wait for the definitely called for second visit – although with da Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino’s still to get round it may be a while. Still, if you yourself happen in the vicinity – and it is located right in the heart of theatre land so very handy for a pre or post play supper, then do go and wrap yourself around one of those glorious sandwiches. And please help satisfy my curiosity on this point – do the waitresses still have to wander around in tiny shorts in the middle of winter?

Monday, 28 May 2012

(A very short) Meal Planning Monday – 28th May 2012

Another week where chez Seren we are less in than out and shaking it all about. Or something rather less exciting. We are also still trying to empty the freezer. I believe I first started mentioning this in January. Since we do not have a particularly large freezer, I can only conclude that I am breathtakingly bad at it. Still, as we are due to leave this particular freezer behind in a couple of months, I had better improve my performance.


  • Chickpea and chorizo stew from Nigella’s “Kitchen” with a few tweaks from me. I’m going to skip the crispy spaghettini in the bulgur wheat and use fresh cherry tomatoes, lightly roasted and part blitzed, instead of tinned.
  • Pizza and salad
  • Pan fried salmon fillets with pasta pesto
That’s it! C’est tout! I’m over at the parentals this weekend so I’m hoping there might be some firing up of the barbecue. Which probably means I’ve doomed us all to appalling weather now.

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

Burgers and lobsters in the big city

We had an absolutely lovely time in London this weekend with family, friends, culture and, of course, food. Not ideal for weight watching – although a peek at the scales suggests that I am holding steady at the moment which is pleasing.

Anyway, London. Growing up down there it always gives me a happy tingly feeling to visit, although I am unsure that I would ever want to live there again having settled in Yorkshire. It also gives D and I, wannabe gastronomic tourists both, a chance to try out a few of the places that we read about in them there townie papers and blogs. The press in this country – in all matters, not just those of the stomach – is rather London centric which I can understand, but it does mean that most of the restaurant reviews I read leave me feeling rather plaintive – like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the glass looking in.

Our first port of call was a place called Burger and Lobster. This is apparently rather popular – we turned up at ten past twelve and swiped the last two seats at the bar, the tables having already been filled and a reservation system being totally twentieth century. At B&L menus are also a pretty outmoded concept – you can have a burger or a whole lobster. Oh, or a lobster roll. That’s it. Everything costs £20 which means the burgers are very expensive but the whole lobster is pretty good value and the lobster roll probably somewhere in the middle. Before we arrived, I was curious to know if anyone actually ordered a burger but having watched the orders come out of the kitchen for a while I did see quite a few go past – and very nice they looked too. Although for £20 I’d probably expect my burger to do a little song and dance when it arrived at the table. All three dishes are accompanied by skinny chips and a side salad. The side salad was covered in Parmesan cheese – this was obviously my sort of restaurant.

It’s a gimmick, sure, but a gimmick is fine if it is done well – and this was done very well indeed. D has the whole lobster which was boiled and then finished on the charcoal grill, and came with additional butter for dunking. He attacked it with relish – this is a man capable of extracted every last morsel of flesh from any crustacean and the plastic bibs provided by the waitress (a nice touch) really came into their own. The flesh was sweet and well cooked, the butter flavoured with lemon and garlic and the fries were excellent examples of the genre.

I went for the lobster roll. This was partly because I’d read that the brioche that constitued the roll part was a particular delight – and partly because a little bit of Yorkshire has crept into my soul and I wasn’t sure that I could bring myself to pay £20 for a burger. It was a good choice. The brioche was, indeed, excellent, buttery and sweet and – oh, so buttery. To be honest I’d have considered swapping the lobster filling for another one. The waitress informed me that it was baked on site – and also that it made an excellent bacon sandwich. I made a mental note to look up brioche recipes when I returned home. The lobster meat itself was, again, beautifully cooked, although its sweetness in conjunction with the sheer butteriness of the roll meant that it was an incredibly rich thing to eat. I manfully ploughed through the lot, and (I think) finished the fries as well but, ever watchful of my waistline, left some of the salad.
Lobster roll!
Burger and Lobster in not a place to linger over a long, luxurious meal. It was full and buzzy and obviously had a pretty quick turnaround judging by the number of people lingering by the bar eyeing plates of food as they waited for a table. But it is very good fun and probably the best value lobster in the capital. I’d go back for the brioche alone. But I’d probably arrive at half past eleven and loiter outside to ensure a booth next time.

Burger and Lobster
29 Clarges Street,
 London W1J 7EF
020 7409 1699

Monday, 21 May 2012

Recipe corner - Cardamom butter chicken

I absolutely adore curry. But as any good Weight Watcher knows, your typical Indian takeaway contains roughly a year's worth of points.

This recipe, from the June edition of Good Food magazine, did a pretty damn good job of scratching the takeaway itch for a fraction of the points and should be serves with rice and naan and a smug smile. As with most curry recipes it is well worth cooking a day or so in advance to allow the flavours to develop and freezes well.


2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Thumb sized piece of ginger, grated*
2 green chillies, seeds and all, chopped
Small bunch of coriander, leaves picked and stalks roughly chopped
3 tbsp ghee**
2 onions, sliced
2 tsp each turmeric, garam masala and ground cumin
1 tsp ground fenugreek
4 chicken breasts, cubed
12 cardamom pods, lightly crushed and seeds removed
1 cinnamon stick
400g can tomatoes
150ml pot plain yoghurt (we used low fat to no ill effect)
50ml double cream

Serves 4, 13 pro points per portion

* Buy a large piece of root ginger and keep, unpeeled in your freezer. You can grate it, skin and all, whenever a recipe calls for it - it is not only easier to grate this way, it integrates better into the finished dish AND keeps forever.

** I bought a huge tin of ghee, which is clarified butter, from Tesco. I figured that for butter chicken this was not an ingredient to skip. You could sub for oil or normal butter.

In a small processor, or with a pestle and mortar, grind the garlic, ginger, chillies and coriander stalks into a paste with a generous pinch of salt.

Heat 2 tbsp of the ghee in a large pan and cook the onions slowly
until caramelised - we found this took about 10 mins. Add the paste, turn up the heat and cook for 5 more minutes then add the groud spices for a further 2 mins.

The fragrant onion mixture can now be removed from the pan. (And, as a slight aside, look at my gorgeous Le Creuset pan! You know you're middle aged when you get one of those babies for Christmas and are HAPPY about it).

Anyway, now you're going to heat the final tbsp of ghee and cook the chicken pieces until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside, covered.

Proceed to add back the onion mixture, the whole spices, the tomatoes and a can of water. Season, then bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 40 mins.

Remove the lid and now add the meat back to the sauce and cook gently for a further 10 mins until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thickened.

Finish the sauce off with the cream, the yoghurt (bring this to room temperature before stirring through to help prevent splitting), further seasoning as required and the coriander leaves.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Meal Planning Monday - 21st May 2012

Well, it's that time of the week again. Although actually it isn't because I'm writing this on Saturday having just completed my online shop! So post comes to you from the past....

It looks set to be a busy week but we're off to London on Friday so at least there is something to look forward to. With D out one night this week it means the meal plan is pretty short as I'll be resorting to something simple and boring. Does anyone else find themselves not bothering to cook when they're on their own? I lived alone for about a year in my early twenties and basically turned into a slice of toast...


• Asparagus feature #1 - this lovely pasta dish.

• Asparagus feature #2 - something with eggs and Wensleydale cheese - possibly an omelette or a delicately cheesy scramble.

• Mrs M's Szechuan king prawns with egg rice and some tenderstem broccoli which I plan to stir fry with garlic and ginger.

• When we get home on Sunday I doubt we'll be in the mood to do anything much so I've got Ready To Cook smoked haddock fillets with a cheese sauce and I might stir myself to do some green stuff on the side.

And that's it! As always, pop over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Postcards from....not quite the edge

Time appears to be getting away from me a bit at the moment. So let’s take a minute, maybe make a cup of tea and have a quick catch up.

Firstly, workwise: I have an increasingly long list of things to do before I finish my current role at the end of August (this assumes I will take a week of leave before starting my new role in September – and I’m feeling increasingly guilty about planning for that even though I have leave that needs using up before my new leave year starts.) Although I am very good at making to do lists, I am less good at ploughing through them, so at the moment I am just watching the spreadsheet grow with a slightly mesmerised expression.

Secondly, housewise: the estate agent has informed us that everything should go through in about 8 weeks. We have started looking at new places to live. I am trying hard to focus on the positive things as far as possible (the fact that I’ll live with a twenty minute walk to work, the fact that Leeds has lots of nice shops, the fact that I’ll have some spare money to spend in said nice shops). Readers of this blog may know that optimism is not a strong suit of mine and I am spending a fair amount of time wanting to handcuff myself to the living room radiator and refuse to leave my beloved flat. I suspect D is losing sympathy and I can’t say I blame him.

My chimp continues to make loud noises (how can I possibly be expected to think about dieting when I am SO. STRESSED.) But I lost three pounds last week and, miraculously, am on track to record another pound this week. Perhaps all that stress has boosted my metabolism.

I have a couple of recipes I want to post here since I prefer this to be a food blog with a touch of navel gazing rather than the other way round. Also I want to reassure people (hello, Mum!) that I am eating something other than cheese on toast which is my usual recourse in high stress situations. We had a very nice stir fry last night. You probably don’t want to hear about stir fry though. I mean, it’s vegetables and prawns cooked in a bit of oil with some garlic and chilli and ginger and soy. Very tasty but simple stuff and not a whiff of authenticity about it.

Speaking of authenticity, has anyone else seen that Gok Wan now appears to have a cookery show? Now, I am all for anyone who makes women feel better about their own bodies and have a definite soft spot for Gok, but I’m slightly confused as to how someone makes the leap from television stylist to television cook. And probably a bit jealous that there is no such easy route from, oh, say, civil servant. But if any television producer should ever stumble across this blog then I think it is a MARVELLOUS idea. It could be all about austerity cooking – you know, lean recipes for lean times.

Have a lovely weekend peeps – we’re off to the races tomorrow as part of our extended Farewell to York tour. Any tips are welcome below.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Meal planning Monday – 14th May 2012

Things move apace. We have now accepted an offer on our flat and it has become more imperative than ever to actually eat down the contents of the freezer as well as the storecupboards. This is easier said than done when one is also trying to create a meal plan that is balanced and tasty and healthy and varied and all those other adjectives. But I’ll give it a shot.

  • Monday: D is out having curry today so I can please myself this evening. I’m indulging my dark side with an M&S pizza which will do my tea tonight and also, with a side salad, lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Tuesday: Pork and prawn stir fry with noodles. Pork from the freezer, but it was such a meagre little piece I thought we might need some more protein. So have bought two packs of prawns (they were on offer) to use up one small piece of pork fillet. Yeah, freezer clearing really not my forte…
  • Wednesday: Asparagus (hurrah!) with Parmesan shavings, lemon butter and a poached egg. Probably some sort of bread on the side for juice mopping.
  • Thursday: Chicken fajitas – these have been popping up on meal plans all over the place recently! I’ll be approximating this for the fajita seasoning, although I don’t have garlic or onion powder (fresh onion and garlic will probably do).
  • Friday: We’re out all day at York Races, which could get a little messy. I’ve tried to anticipate my takeaway cravings by getting in some Birds’ Eye southern fried chicken fillet things so I can create a chicken burger when I get home. No guarantee I’ll manage to avoid the kebab shop on the way though…
  • Saturday: Mmmmm, curry night. I’m making a cardamom butter chicken recipe from this month’s Good Food magazine, with mushroom curry, rice and naan bread on the side.
  • Sunday: Eggs “Benedict”: only with smoked salmon instead of ham and a toasted bagel instead of a toasted muffin. So, actually, not a Benedict at all.
As always, head over to Mrs M’s for more meal planning fun.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Girl walks into a church hall…

So, on Saturday morning, two days later than planned, I went back to Fat Club.

It was a blow to my pride. I had thought, or rather, hoped, that I was in a good enough place to do this under my own steam without the ritual humiliation of getting weighed by someone else (and I do find it humiliating, even if that is not the intention). But if the last few years have taught me anything it is that there is nothing wrong with asking for a bit of help, so, with a deep breath and a girding of the loins, I entered.

And I am so glad I did. It was the nicest meeting I have yet been to.

The weigh in was far less painful than expected – even fully dressed I was still over a stone down from the start of the year, and I am glad that I dragged myself back before I regressed past that milestone.

Current mood: cautiously optimistic.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 7th May 2012

It's that time again!

Given the number of magazines, pages torn from magazines, recipe books, Internet bookmarks and ideas scribbled on the back of a napkin, I should find meal planning easy. So why is it that every week I find myself scratching my head and saying "Er...pasta pesto?" I think the problem is too much choice! It's paralysing, my friends, paralysing.

Hey ho, and on with this week's plan. This should take us through to the weekend at least and one of these may get bumped if I manage to get down to the market one lunchtime to pick up some asparagus which has come into season.

Macaroni cheese to use up some of the ageing cheddar lurking in the fridge.

• Hake with tapenade and pears - a Hairy Bikers' recipe and household favourite.

• Sea bass with fennel butter, roasted new potatoes and braised fennel. The fish is from the Waitrose Cook! range - we had this a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it so much it's making a repeat appearance.

• Shepherd's Pie - what with the weather being so unseasonably chilly and damp I've been craving some good, old fashioned nursery food.

Chunky pea and ham soup with garlic bread - a D special.

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

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Learning to love Leeds: Bar Baby Jupiter

Temporarily setting the navel gazing aside now to talk burgers and bars. Both are things of which I am very fond.

I’ve worked in Leeds for…goodness, nearly seven years now, but I’ve never particularly warmed to it and have always been glad to escape back home to York. York feels much more me somehow. But now we are looking to move here, it is high time that I took more of an interest in the city, and by the city I mean primarily its hostelries and restaurants. If there are more around like Bar Baby Jupiter then perhaps Leeds and I will rub along alright.

BBJ is…cool. There is no other word for it. It’s in a basement so dark and a little bit murky, the soundtrack is kind of funky, the d├ęcor retrotastic. I doubt very much that I, prim in ballerina pumps and understated jewellery, am the type of clientele that they are looking to attract. I am not cool. I can’t carry cool off, I never have and I never will. The absolute height of my teenage rebellion was getting a second piercing in my left ear and to this day I’m surprised at myself. Anyway. BBJ. It’s cool. I’m not. But they let me sit there and pretend which is one compelling reason to like it.

Another is this: they do a frankly miraculous burger. I’m not kidding – this was the nicest burger I have had in ages. On D’s recommendation (this is a regular haunt of his and we were there at his post exam request) I opted for Cajun beef; to his slight chagrin I opted to add a slice of cheese (I think a burger is naked without one) and oh, my it was lovely. It was properly meaty – I’m no expert but I suspect that this is top quality beef, and the spicing was spot on: enough to leave your mouth humming slightly, not enough to detract from the burger itself. Chunky chips and a lovely, creamy coleslaw on the side and all for the bargainous price of £5 (well, mine was £5.50 because of my dairy product addiction). Oh my. It is not yet half nine in the morning as I type this and I am salivating at the thought of that burger.  They also serve a selection of rather tasty looking sandwiches, along with a good range (so D tells me) of draught beers.  Good news all round.

You MUST try this burger!

They only serve burgers on Thursday and Friday, although sandwiches are available all week. Perhaps they think that the good people of Leeds can only cope with so much beefy deliciousness.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Right. That’s it. Time for some tough talking.

I should have known when I posted last week, talking about how good I was feeling, how my head was back in the game…I should have known that I was asking for it. Actually, I should have known when I posted a rather smug Q1 Review that I was tempting fate. I, my friends, am struggling.

The lovely and very clever Lesley as written before about her “chimp”. I’ve been going back and looking at some of her old posts as I grapple with how I get myself back on the wagon before I undo all this year’s good work. This one gives a good introduction. From what I can gather, your chimp is how you describe the part of your brain that is governed by emotion and instinct. To overcome the emotional side of eating (which is what is causing me issues at the moment) you have to get to know, and train, your chimp.

My chimp is unsettled. I’ve recently been offered a place on a four year training programme at work – it will be tough going but will ultimately lead to much greater opportunities for me. D and I have put our flat on the market and plan to move from York to Leeds to be closer to the office which will save time and money. These are good changes, positive changes. But I think my chimp is currently running around in increasingly crazed circles at the idea of leaving a home and a job which have felt so…safe. Oh, and let’s add the fact that our car has had to undergo some major surgery which is adding an element of financial concern to the mix.

I’m not holding these up as excuses for overeating and over indulgence. But I’m intellectually curious; I mean, eating, drinking, going into a kind of hibernation – these have always been my standard reactions to any sort of stress - but by my do I mean my chimp’s? From what I have found reading up on the theory online (I may end up cracking and buying the book) these could be my chimp’s way of interpreting safety and survival – food, warmth, shelter.

So what steps am I now going to take to halt the downwards (or should that be upwards?) slide.

Step 1 – my chimp does not like to shown up in public. So, I’m going back to WW meetings (for the eleventy millionth time). Seems I can’t be accountable on my own – at least at the moment – so public weighing is the way forward. I’ll also be reporting my loss, gains or otherwise here on my blog to ensure that I’m accountable to you as well.

Step 2 – chimps are very motivated by rewards. So, I’m going to offer it a financial reward for a) going to the weekly weigh in b) going to the gym and c) seeing a loss on the scales. This money is specifically to go on clothes – one of my prime motivators to lose weight is to look better, and what makes a girl feel better than a new top or a new pair of shoes?

Right, I feel better for having written that down. I’ll be going to class at noon tomorrow – wish me (and my chimp) luck.