Friday, 28 June 2013

J Baker's Bistro Moderne: NOT a York based fairy tale

Whatever the lovely Peridot may believe, J Baker's superlative restaurant in York does open occasionally.  Their opening hours do look to have been reduced recently; I hope this is an indication that Jeff is planning to rest on his laurels a bit rather than one of straitened economic times, but who knows nowadays.  Anthony's in Leeds has demonstrated that even top quality places in vibrant city centres can suffer in this sad, post-recession day and age.

Anyway, D and I went to JB for dinner last night to celebrate the fact that I passed an exam (hurrah!) and also just because we hadn't been in ever so turns out that I still miss York terribly.  It also turns out that walking is a dangerous sport for me - I did something distinctly odd to my left calf while traversing from the bus stop to the office (about three minutes) which means that stairs are currently problematic (difficult when you live in a four storey house).

That aside, looks at the yummy stuff we had to eat:
Yes, that's right, I got the Picasa app recently and am now totally au fait with this collage thing...

But, seriously, can I draw your attention to perfectly cooked spiced duck breast - dense and tender of flesh, crispy of skin (main, left).  Or mussels steamed over local beer with butter and peas (top, centre).  Or a crispy, filo wrapped, delicately seasoned take on a classic pork pie (bottom, right).  The only sadness for me was that the set dinner dessert was rice pudding, which is one of my very few pet hates.

Fantastic restaurant, beautiful city, happy foodie.  The only sadness for me was the look of approbation from the home scales this morning but still.  Some meals are worth it.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Bits and McBobs

We passed this very aptly named shop while wandering the streets of Stirling last week:
Amusingly named retail outlets aside, Stirling, in general, does not appear to have an awful lot to it.  There is a castle, which we had vaguely thought of visiting until we saw the admission charges.  Ye Gods.  There was quite a nice sweet shop which smelled of childhood.  And a few run of the mill pubby places that did not set the pulses racing.

The Bridge of Allan, just outside, was lovely though.  We found a very pleasant little bistro type place with a menu that although a tad generic was perfectly good. 
 It is easy to sniff at these sort of places but often they are a reliable bet for a decent supper if you don’t know much about your location.  I had an asparagus, goats’ cheese and sun blush tomato pizza which was perfectly pleasant and slipped down a treat with a glass of what-the-hell-it’s-the-end-of-the-holiday Prosecco.  Plus, the place was called Jam Jar and they served all sorts of stuff in, you know, jam jars.  Quirky, no?
Still in the Bridge of Allan, flicking through the visitors’ binder on our caravan site, we found mention of a local brewery  which we decided to visit on a whim;  D has become quite the real ale man recently and I have been trying to get into it – mainly because he shakes his head in a disapproving manner when I drink cider.  This was a real find – quirky interior, friendly staff, interesting beers made on site including an amazing Thai scented one (I kid you not and it was gorgeous – hints of lemongrass and chilli heat) and (this really excited me) Golden Wonder crisps!  I can’t remember the last time I saw Golden Wonder for sale – I assumed they had been crushed by the behemoth that is Walkers. 
Oh, and talking of Thai (elegant segue there….) back here in Leeds I’ve come across a very nice Thai place that I must share; Thai Aroy Dee on Vicar Lane which I visited on Sunday evening with a group of fellow foodies.  It’s small and unprepossessing looking – especially when compared to some of the other Thai restaurants in the Leeds city centre – but the food was excellent both in terms of quality and value (my two courses came in at just £11) and pretty authentic according to the party member who actually hailed from Thailand.  Definitely one to check out if you a) like Thai food and b) live in Leeds.

Monday, 24 June 2013

MPM: 24th June 2013

A fairly normal routine for me this week.  I'll be freezer diving for the main constituents of most of these meals, so not an awful lot of cooking is required but I do have the wherewithal to bake some apple and cinnamon muffins (recipe to follow if any good) so you never know...

The weekend is still a bit up in the air, but up until Friday I will mostly be chowing down on:
  • Chicken wrapped in bacon with barbecue sauce and cheese (an 80s pub classic, from the Tesco Fresh and Easy range), mashed potatoes and steamed green veg
  • A sticky sweet chilli Gressingham duck leg with egg rice and broccoli roasted with chilli and garlic
  • Pollo pesto pasta bake
  • Oven baked fish and chips (Tesco Finest - not a bad substitute for the real thing) with mushy peas.  And ketchup.  Lots of tomato ketchup. 
Oh, and Thursday I'm going out to celebrate passing my exam.

It doesn't look like the most diet friendly of weeks, but with the exception of the meal out all of these dinners have already been counted and are in my tracker.  Just goes to show that it is entirely possible to follow a healthy eating plan and not live on dust.

Head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

It was all going swimmingly...

Yesterday was rather like the curate's egg.  There was good news (you passed your exam!  You can go ahead and destroy those stupid index cards!) but also bad news.  I managed to lose both my keys and my purse - and when I say lose, I am becoming increasingly convinced that I actually unintentionally gifted them to someone.  It's not the end of the world - ok, I could have done without knowing how much locksmiths actually charge (ouch!) and all the cards got cancelled before any transactions went on them and there wasn't all that much cash in there, but still, it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.  I am someone who goes through life probably being a bit careless at times because I tend to believe in the inherent goodness of most people.  I need to be more cautious because some people just aren't nice.  Which is sad.

Oh, and the purse itself was a Mulberry one which was a gift from D for my thirtieth birthday.  Which also makes me sad.  I have replaced it with a very pretty Accesorize one but still, I loved that purse.

Heigh ho.  I must admit, my last ditch attempts to reign in any Scottish themed damage went somewhat out of the window last night and (still in a spirit of confession) I was tempted to skip weigh in this morning as a result.  But I didn't, and the result was a 3lb gain which also isn't the end of the world.  A good week will sort that out.

And then, post weigh in and post post weigh in coffee, I went swimming which is news in itself.  I took out an expensive gym membership back when I moved here in September and then, like 67% of people with gym memberships proceeded to not use it.  I just thought about using it a lot.  While lying on the sofa.  Weeping.  And drinking wine.  Which meant that my fitness went woefully downhill.  Which made me even less inclined to use it.  But I have, just in the last few weeks, gradually started to reintroduce it into my life.  I used to love some of the classes that I went to at the gym - I think I would struggle with an hour of Body Combat at the moment, so I've started with swimming, and I'm going to build up.  It's probably too soon to notice a huge difference, but earlier this week I walked up a hill to get to the Wallace Monument and then walked up said monument and didn't die.  I take victory where I can get it.   

The Wallace Monument.  Big in Scotland.

View from the Wallace Monument, complete with Scottish flag.  And top of random man's head.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Raggle taggle gypsies - oh!

First, a huge thank you for all those crossed fingers, toes and eyes - I passed my latest exam.  So that is two modules down, umpteen to go before I can call myself fully versed in the ways of tax. 
Bonny Scotland - the countryside just outside Sterling
Now, let's talk about far nicer things shall we - like gypsy caravans?  I first saw these mentioned on one of my fellow Monday Meal planner's blogs and it was love at first hyperlink click.  Actually, I declared myself in love with The Chip in yesterday's post, didn't I...does this make me fickle?  Probably just overly effusive about everything.  Anyway, Bramble Bield.  I've tried camping once before and hated it (ha - so not effusive about everything) - I find the concept of sleeping on the floor with nothing but a thin sheet of canvas to protect you from the elements as the very antithesis of fun.  But sleeping in a pretty Romany caravan, with net curtains and fairy lights?  That, I can get on board with.  This, my friends, is glamping.

And our caravan, Rowan, was very beautiful...(I particularly like the ethereal ray of light slanting down through the first picture...)


But, let's be strictly truthful here, if I was an estate agent I would call Rowan bijoux.  I, a diminutive 5 foot 4 (and a half) actually just about fit, lengthways, on the bed.  D struggled and ended up having to adopt a sort of C shape which I don't think he found particularly comfortable.  Another of the caravans, a fetching green one called Holly, is said to be larger.

Minor length issues aside, Bramble Bield was a lovely place to pass a couple of days.  Although the site itself felt fairly isolated it was actually just a few miles outside Sterling.  And the fact that adjoining us was a fully fitted kitchen and working shower meant that it was somewhat more civilised than the aforementioned camping experience.  Oh, and talking of civilised, the owner brought a lovely Continental breakfast round for us each morning - cereal, fresh bread, pastries, fruit, yoghurt - far more than we could manage in one sitting.  One minor gripe?  No Yorkshire tea bags.  We're going to have to start carrying our own around with us.
Powis House Lodge  
01786 460231

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Glasgow and The Ubiquitous Chip

I knew very little about Glasgow prior to visiting it.  Just that it was "Not Edinburgh".  I still don't feel like I know very much about it; I suppose there is a limit to what you can learn in less than 24 hours.  I didn't immediately warm to it in the way that I have with some cities.  The town centre suffers a bit, as do most British cities, with the rash of same old-same old shop fronts and while some of the architecture was beautiful some of it was awful 1970s concrete monstrosities - occasionally right next door.  But the area around the university was absolutely gorgeous.  And Ashton Lane, the location of the restaurant at which we dined on Sunday evening, was equally lovely and made me think there could well be more to Glasgow if one took the time to scratch the surface.

I was already a bit in love with The Ubiquitous Chip before even looking at the menu because as far as I am concerned it is the best name EVER.  And then there was the fact that the food looked rather exciting and used lots of amazing Scottish produce.  And then we arrived and...well, the interior.  It's amazing.  Like dining in an airy conservatory all strewn about with foliage and fairy lights.  Kitsch as anything and utterly, utterly gorgeous.
We had a very minor falling out when it transpired that the main course that my beady little eye had been trained upon was not on the current menu.  It is, of course, a rookie mistake to set your heart on something that appears on the website - most decent restaurants change their menus far more frequently than their sites and quite right too.  And the food that I did end up eating was excellent anyway.
If I had to pick a favourite dish - and we're talking gun to the head situation - it would be the truly divine steak with brown shrimp butter - which pictured on the left above looks the least inspiring.  Let me tell you, this was some seriously good cow.  And the kitchen actually knew how to cook a steak blue - it was practically mooing when it came out.  Gorgeous stuff.  But there was plenty to love elsewhere - including a quinoa accompaniment which actually sold me on that rather worthy grain. 
In short, an excellent dinner but as to Glasgow itself, I remain undecided.  However, since The Chip and I are now officially dating, I may well have to go back and explore some more.
The Ubiquitous Chip
12 Ashton Lane
G12 8SJ
0141 334 5007

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The scales are a cruel and fickle mistress

But not today.  Today I lost another 2.5lbs.  I should add that I successfully managed to sleep through my official weigh in - a permanent Saturday alarm has now been set to ensure such muppetry doesn't happen again - so that this result comes from my rather funky-hot-pink-home scales.  But, since they were in line with the less-funky-more-functional-looking-WW scales last week, I think it is acceptable to take their word.

I had a secret goal in my head to be into the next stone bracket down before we head off for a few days break in Scotland, which I achieved.  Since we don't like to bandy numbers around on this blog, let's just say that I've moved from MAYDAY:0.5 to YIKES:12.  HAPPY:10 is still a long way off, but these kind of little milestones do help.

If I can maintain this week, I'll be more than happy.  I'm going to be taking my pedometer away with me and plenty of walks are planned, but, equally, some indulgent eating - not least a dinner in Glasgow's Ubiquitous Chip which I am thoroughly looking forward to and can't wait to share with you.  More importantly than the food though, I am hoping for some real quality time with D.  We are coming up to the time when we have to decide whether or not we want to be a proper couple again and, at the moment, things feel good - I hope this trip confirms that.  I mean, how could you fail to feel romantic staying here?

Photo credit:

Monday, 10 June 2013

MPM: 10th June 2013

Well, I said in my last post that I needed to get back into meal planning, so here we go.  A tentative toe in the water. 

I'm pleased to say that, following the outpouring of optimism last week, I lost two and a half pounds at my weigh in on Saturday morning.  And I'm equally pleased to say that, at the time of writing (Sunday afternoon) I have still not succumbed to any wobbles or wibbles.  Another good week prior to our trip to Scotland would be a real boost.

It's a bit of an odd one though, this week, since I'm staying with D for the first couple of days.  I have an exam on Wednesday (which I may have mentioned once or thrice) and, following a bit of a meltdown in which I told him that I was going to eat WORMS and then FAIL the exam because I had NO-ONE to make me tea or mop my fevered brow, he *ahem* thought to invite me.  So he was in charge of meal planning for the first couple of days - but luckily he is a well trained estranged husband and picked two of my absolute favourite dinners. 

Wednesday - exam day - I am playing by ear.  I have a book group meeting in the evening so hopefully there won't be too much rocking in a corner.  Saturday I've left unplanned as well - but I'm thinking it will be a post weigh in pre holiday pizza (pointed, of course).  And Sunday, it's off to Glasgow and dinner at The Chip.

Rest of the meals look like this:

  • Salmon fillet with pasta pesto
  • Pan roasted chicken breast with lemon couscous and asparagus
  • Chilli con carne burrito with salad and minted crème fraiche dressing (x2)
More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Make (wa)hay while the sun shines

It’s amazing what a spell of good weather will do to the spirits. Or maybe it is that, finally, after nine months of wound licking and general feeling a bit Eeyore-ish I am perking up. Either way, I have been in an oddly good mood the last few days. I feel…hopeful.

Diet first of all – and I have had a run of excellently good days, including a delicious meal out at a local restaurant where all choices were sensible, tracked and washed down with mineral water. For the fifty billionth time, I ask myself why I apparently find it so difficult to stick to what is essentially a very sensible and balanced eating plan all the time. Especially when I consider how much well-er (not a word, I know) I feel when chock full of fruit and veg and fish and Good Things.

Marriage second of all – and we have had a lovely few dates in the last couple of weeks and a positive session with the Nodding Counsellor last night. I can’t deny that I hope we get back together. I think it would be a terrible shame if we don’t. But, equally, I have begun making tentative contingency plans for what I will do if we decide not to reunite, and, although the prospect doesn’t fill me with joy neither does it fill me with complete and utter dread. Just profound sadness.

I have some things on the horizon to look forward to – well, post exam anyway (on which note please spare a thought for me a week tomorrow). Most notably, a trip to Scotland which will involve a couple of nights in a proper gypsy caravan here and an overnight stay in Glasgow with a meal at a restaurant called The Ubiquitous Chip which has been on our to-do list for some time. Aside from anything else, don’t you just think it is the best name for a restaurant ever?

Now, if I could just get back into the habit of meal planning (which I always find an invaluable tool for WWing success) and get a couple of good results on the scales I think I’d almost be back to being a proper Good Blogger.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Recipe corner: Hazelnut meringue cake with whipped cream and berries

I can't pretend that this post contains a recipe that is remotely WW or other diet friendly.  It is, however, cake and very good cake at that.  And it has fruit in it.  And no flour which makes it suitable for thems what can't eat flour.  So, as my brother said, practically a health food.

Last Monday, you see, was my mother's birthday and birthdays must always bring cake.  My brother D and family were visiting from London and very lovely it was to see them too.  My sister in law V is currently doing a sterling job growing a new little addition to the family and being mother to little D who at nearly two and a half is my favourite example of the toddler genre.  D and V took charge of the very important job of making Mum a birthday cake; I think I offered to help but I am far less efficient than the two of them, not to mention far more lazy, so ended up watching Shrek 3 with little D instead.  Which made me cry a bit when Shrek had a midlife crisis and decided he didn't want to be a husband and father anymore - I am predictably maudlin when it comes to marital unrest portrayed in the media.  Little D seemed to enjoy it though.

Anyway, cake.  I didn't get round to asking why they picked this particular one but I am glad that they did because it was very nice and perfect for the sunny weather we had last weekend - it felt almost more like a dessert than a cake.  We didn't put candles in it.  We did, however, drink champagne and sing happy birthday so I don't think Mum minded.

The only change that I have made here to the original Rachel Allen recipe is to reduce the amount of cream by 100mls.  I don't think that will make a great deal of difference (there was a lot of cream in lovely Rachel's version) and it does bring the point / calorie / fat count down a bit. 


10g butter
225 g hazelnuts, whole, skin on
6 medium eggs
200g caster sugar

To serve:
250ml double cream
10g icing sugar
Mixed berries
Fresh mint leaves

Serves 10, 11 pro points per slice

Firstly you need to toast the hazelnuts in a hot oven - there is an excellent how to here.

Now, using the butter, grease a loose bottomed (heh heh) 23cm tin and preheat the oven to 170 (fan 150).

Blitz the toasted hazelnuts in a processor (or, alternatively, you could work off some pent up aggression by pounding them with a rolling pin).  Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy and gently fold in the hazelnuts.

In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks - or, until you can hold the bowl upside down over your head without getting an egg rinse.  Gently fold these into the other mixture until completely incorporated. Be sure to fold and not stir - stirring will destroy all those little air bubbles that you have just created into the whites and lead to a heavier cake.

Put the batter in the buttered tin and bake for around 45 mins until an inserted skewer comes out clean.  Rachel says don't worry if it sinks slightly in the middle - I take this to mean that it will inevitable sink in the middle.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before sliding out onto a pretty serving plate.  Allow to cool completely before the final stage.

Prior to serving, whip up the cream until stiff and then smear or pipe it on before decorating with fruit, a dusting of icing sugar and torn mint.