Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 27th November 2013

Weeks 1-8: -20lbs
This week: -2lbs
Total loss: 22lbs

It feels not a little ironic to be writing a post about more success having just polished off a bag of Doritos.  I have developed the slightly dubious habit of not eating very much on weigh in day to ensure I'm light for the scales (although I suspect not eating after noon for a six pm weigh in is a bit like taking off your glasses - ultimately makes practically no difference).  The upshot is that I always get to Wednesday evening with a luxurious amount of points to spend in the Sainsbury's Local round the corner, where I stand in front of the confectionary aisle wide eyed with wonder.

Anyhoo, another good result this week.  I suspect, although I haven't been back through the archives to check, that this is the most sustained amount of success, both at tracking and physically losing, since WWF records began.  Which is tremendous.  I think, for me, feeling emotionally very stable and happy at the moment - partly down to circumstances and partly down to the tremendous benefits I've derived from the CBT sessions I've been having - is playing a huge part.  I feel more peaceful and together than I have....well, perhaps ever.  Peaceful and together not being words that immediately spring to the minds of my nearest and dearest when they think of me.  I want to think some more about that and maybe write about it in the near future.

Challenges ahead this weekend on the WW front, but good times on the family one, so I shall await next week's result with...interest.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

How to cook perfect pork belly

Pork belly is a very serious business.  When cooked properly, I think it is one of the tastiest cuts of meats there is.  I love the contrast of the tender meat, the gently wibbling fat and the crispy, salty skin.  Given that it is very, very pointy (14 points or 513 calories for 100g raw weight) it can only be an occasional treat which means that when I do have it, it has to be done right.  It is for this reason that I have stopped ordering it in restaurants because too many people do it wrong and you end up with something pale and flabby and deeply unappealing.

So here is your guide to perfectly cooked pork belly, with a luscious gravy that will probably cause you to lick the pattern off your best china.  As I said this is a serious business - you will need to start it at least one day before you intend to eat it, subjecting yourself to a whole world of denial induced pain as the house starts to smell like hog roast - but it is worth it, I promise you. When it comes to such matters I cannot tell a lie.

So, the day before you intend to feast.  Preheat your oven to 170 degrees and remove your slab of pig from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.  Take a large roasting tin and into it place a couple of cooking apples, quartered and cored, two or three onions, peeled and halved, three or four whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic and some sprigs of thyme (you could also add other herbs at this point - some sage leaves perhaps, or some lemon thyme for a hint of citrus zing).  Add a good splash (about 50mls) of dry cider and some salt and pepper.  This is the trivet on which you will rest the pork while it roasts.

Take the pork and, using a very sharp knife, score the skin and massage in about a tablespoon of oil before sprinkling liberally with good sea salt.  Now lay it atop your herby trivet, cover the whole roasting tray with tin foil and place in the oven for 90 minutes.  After this time, remove it, baste with the cidery juices and return to the oven, still within its foil tent for a 60 minutes, then turn the oven off altogether and let it sit for a further 30 minutes.

Take the pork out of the oven, transfer it to a large dish and allow it to cool completely. 

Once it is cool, it is time to press the meat.  This will compress the fat into an even, unctuous layer.  Wrap it in greaseproof paper and sit it skin side up.  Put a second large dish over the top and weigh it down - tins of beans are ideal for this.  It needs to be pressed for at least 12 hours, preferably longer.

You will also want to transfer all the delicious remains of your fruit, veg and herb trivet into a saucepan, as this will form the basis of your gravy.  Anything that has really burnt on to the roasting dish leave to the hands of the washer upper and don't try too hard to scrape it off as it will add a bitter, acrid note to the sauce

One day, this will be gravy.  Honest.
After pressing, your pork should look something like this:

You can now cut it into portions.  You could try and eat the whole thing yourself but it would probably make you sick.  Or fat.  Or both.

Prior to serving you need to do a final cook to get the top seriously crispy and the meat warmed through.  Turn the oven on to a low heat - about 150 degrees, and heat an oven proof pan on the hob.  Place the meat in, skin side down and cook for about twenty minutes before transferring to the oven for a final ten minutes.  You can also finish your gravy while the meat is cooking - to the scrapings from the roasting tray add 250mls of cider and another 250mls of chicken stock.  Reduce briskly by about two thirds and then pass through a sieve.  Next time we make this we intend to experiment with a beure manie (butter and flour paste) to thicken it slightly.

If you go in for very cheffy presentation, you can use chef rings to cut through the meat after its first pressing to end up with an elegant cylinder of meat.  Keeping the pieces in the rings while doing the final cook will not only ensure retention of shape but will also guarantee a thin, almost toffee like crispy layer.

Here the meat is served with skordalia - a lemony, garlicky potato puree made with milk and olive oil.  Good old mash would be glorious, of course, but the sharpness of the skordalia works really well with the richness of the meat.

Pork belly is emphatically NOT diet food.  That piece pictured above came in at an eye watering 26 pro points - that is most of a day's allowance.  However, for an occasional treat it is hard to beat, and if a day or so abstinence is required to enjoy it guilt free then so be it (although feel free to remind me of that sentiment if the scales spit in my face next Wednesday and I come on here to moan at you).

Bon appetit!

Monday, 25 November 2013

A rough approximation of a meal planning Monday

I may have kept on top of the diet and the blogging this month but I can't help thinking that the list of blog post titles, alternating as they do between meal planning and weighing in, make for rather dull reading.  Note to self: must do better.

There is excitement to come this week.  At the weekend we are travelling down South.  The primary reason for this trip is so that I can meet my brand new niece.  However it seemed foolish, foolish I tell you, to miss out on the opportunity to see if we could get a reservation somewhere nice and we managed to secure a table at Story, about which I am terribly over excited.  We would have liked to get to Dabbous but it still seems to be very difficult to get a reservation unless you are...I dunno, the Pope.  Or hold incriminating photos of the maître d'. 

But as for the rest of it, the meal planning, that is less exciting.  D is currently 5:2-ing and we've found the easiest evening meal for these nights is soup.  And then he's away with work for two evenings so I will be eating tuna pasta because I love it and he doesn't see the point.  I think I need to do some more research around meals suitable for fasting to spruce things up a bit - any tips as to good online resources would be much appreciated.

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

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 20th November 2013

Weeks 1-7: -17.5lbs
This week: -2.5lbs
Total loss: 20lbs

Another solid loss this week – hurrah! I wanted to get a good result as this was the last week prior to Christmas that was entirely engagement free. Between now and the new year I’m aiming, pretty much, for damage limitation. Another pound would be nice – that would be one more shiny seven – and another pound and a half would take me into the next stone bracket down so a couple of very modest goals to keep in mind but I’m not going to stress out too much. I’ve made a good start and proved to myself that I can do it; I can follow the plan, I can lose weight, I can succeed, so if there is a slight December related hiccup it is not the end of the world.

Monday, 18 November 2013

MPM: 18th November 2013

This weekend reminded me of why I love Weight Watchers and also why it can be a right royal pain in the behind. The positives first: three very delicious dinners (moules frites, spaghetti carbonara, oxtail and chorizo stew with mash) consumed comfortably within points demonstrates that with planning and forethought you can pretty much have your cake (or your pasta or your frites) and eat it and lose weight. BUT, tramping round Liverpool town centre on a Saturday afternoon, dodging vast swathes of teenagers out to spend their pocket money and getting increasingly grumpy from low blood sugar, I had to concede that it does not allow for an awful lot of spontaneity, especially if you choose to “spend” large quantities of points on evening meals. I was so disgusted that I ate a Malteser reindeer (4 pro points - very nice indeed) and sulked a little bit.

I’m not giving up or conceding, and I recognise that, given my issues with weight I will probably have to count points for the rest of my life and for the most part I have made my peace with that. It really doesn’t take that much effort. But I do sometimes wish that I had the naturally inbuilt sense of balance of the naturally slim person (not to mention the twenty six inch waist and neat buttocks).

Ah well, onto this week. Friday and Saturday are taken up with (gasp!) socialising. There will be food and drink consumed. There may be a sore head along the way. Sunday is likely to be spend eating dust. The rest of the week will be spent on slightly less punitive damage control. And the meal plan goes something like this:

Butternut squash and tarragon soup

Chicken and mushroom pasta bake

Fish cake in a
bun(toasted sandwich thin) with salad (D’s regular night out)

Pork loin steaks with cauliflower cheese

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

Thursday, 14 November 2013

In which we go to Birmingham and have dinner at Purnell's

Purnell’s is not a restaurant that I ever had particularly on my radar - chiefly because it is in Birmingham and I am not.  But, D, much to his disgust, not only had to work on his birthday this year but, what is more, had to do so in Birmingham. So we decided to make the best of an unfortunate set of circumstances (work may be dull but it is the means by which we get money to play) and hit the town.  Although not to paint it red because I am incapable of painting anything any colour but the palest shade of baby pink these days – I blame being in my fourth decade.  In fact, we confined our pre dinner drinking to a couple of sneaky halves in Brewdog.  I think I’ve mentioned that D has, in the last few years, developed a real interest in real ales and Brewdog is a favourite of both his and my brother (who, like Remmington Steele, liked it so much that he bought shares in the company).  Incidentally, the Birmingham branch is particularly fabulous – or whatever adjective is more appropriate to the carefully cultivated, industrial style grubbiness of the interior.

But Purnell’s.  We had the tasting menu, of course (here called “the Tour”) with the matching wine which pushed the price up into what I like to call “Eeep” territory.  Which is ok for birthdays.  And they do have a set 3 course lunch menu for £30 which looks very nice indeed.  For I would heartily recommend that, should you ever find yourself in Birmingham, you pay Purnell’s a visit.  The food was delicious, the wines thoughtfully chosen and interesting, the staff a delight, the atmosphere relaxed and unstilted.

Bread arrived at the table shortly after we did and throughout the course of the evening we demolished nearly an entire loaf of this pain de campagne, which came, as unprepossessing as you like, with whipped butter and a little pile of rock salt crystals.  While appearing plain when compared to the elaborately flavoured bakes that some places send out, it was crisp and light and utterly delicious – perfect for plate mopping purposes.  And, apparently, baked in house daily.  We were off to a good start.  A good start that continued when we were presented by an amuse of miniature baked potatoes and watercress mayonnaise.  The chef advised that we use our fingers.  We were more than happy to do so.
Simplistic, almost rustic, presentation was not a constant.  Some of the courses were more elaborate: the “Remoulade 2012”, for example, came as three individual constituent parts with instructions as to how to eat them (I know that some people hate this kind of faffy eating but I generally find it amusing).  However, the stand out dish for both of us was the monkfish with red lentil dahl and coriander and coconut cream, which was back at the plainer end of the spectrum.  The combination of the peppery plump flakes of fish with the soft, yielding spice of the lentils was utterly delicious.  I believe that this dish won the fish course in an early series of Great British Menu and a recipe can be found on the BBC site here.  Expect to see it popping up in a menu plan soon.
The only course that was slightly underwhelming was the cheese.  It was fine, just a little unexciting.  Perhaps we have cheese ennui?  How terrible, if so!  But the first of the two puddings, “Mint Choccy Chip” tasted like a Peppermint Aero as made by angels, and the second included the richest, sweetest, silkiest vanilla crème brulee that I can ever remember eating – served in an egg shell.  So I was perfectly willing to forgive and forget.
Mint choccy chip - complete with minty fog
I can’t imagine we will find ourselves in the vicinity of Purnell’s again in the near future which is a shame because the food and, indeed, the experience, was a pleasure from start to finish.  I shall content myself by attempting to recreate the masala spiced monkfish and staring intently at eggs in the hope that the power of wishful thinking can insert vanilla custard into the shells.  In the meantime should you, gentle reader, be celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or a Tuesday in Birmingham, I would highly commend it to you as a destination.

55 Cornwall Street
B3 2DH

0121 212 9799

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 13th November 2013

Weeks 1-6: -14.5lbs
This week: -3lbs
Total loss: -17.5lbs

And this just in - Friday night fish and chips conducive to weight loss!

Early weigh in for me today and it may well be that I am slightly lighter at 7:45 am than I am at 6 pm but I'll take that on the chin next week and for now will just enjoy my result.

I had a slight wobble on Sunday evening - more of a minor tantrum really. I'm not sure why, for the most part I have been eating well and feeling happy and certainly not deprived. It passed fairly quickly with a dose of Studio Ghibli but I need to keep an eye on it - I do not want to risk a major blip between now and Christmas.

Monday, 11 November 2013

MPM: 11th November 2013

I was sitting writing up the plan (in my special meal plan fridge notebook, natch) yesterday morning when caught D looking at me with an amused twinkle. "You do realise," said he, "That the people who read your blog will probably fall over at the sight of a meal plan which actually involves cooking."

So, dearest readers, you have been duly warned. This week's meal plan is brought to you by the very heat of my oven and sweat of my brow (which, owing to an unfortunate medication side effect, can be very sweaty indeed.)

It's a quiet week this week, although some excitement tomorrow when we have two new Ikea units delivered and the recipe books currently piled up on the floor can be stacked on an actual shelf. And amidst all the nest building, we will mostly be eating:

Pasta pesto with courgette ribbons and peas

Spinach and red lentil Dahl with roast chicken, basmatic rice and naan

Moules frites

Spaghetti Carbonara

Oxtail slow cooked with Rioja and chorizo, mashed potatoes, broad beans tossed in garlic butter.

Look at that - almost worthy of a food blog! Head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Weigh in Wednesday: 6th November 2013

Weeks 1-5: -14 lbs
This week: -0.5 lbs
Total loss: -14.5 lbs

After weeks of big losses, when I saw the number on the scales tonight I prepared myself for a wave of disappointment.  It never came.  Actually, I'm very, very pleased.  I feel now that those big losses have been consolidated if that makes a whit of sense?  I'm also conscious that a multi course tasting menu with supplementary cheese course and matching wine flight probably equates to a billionty one points so I've more than made up for last Wednesday's indulgence.

Onwards, onwards and downwards.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Classic Recipe Corner: Sage and onion stuffing

I’d love to preface this post with some beautiful shots of a freshly roasted chicken, perhaps some artfully strewn herb sprigs, a potato or two. But I can’t because, er, I forgot. Here, instead, is a view of Harewood House, taken while walking this Sunday. This was shortly before the start of the whingeing, the huffing up hills like The Little Engine That Could and the water bottle leaking all over my arse. It’s pretty though, bathed in the late autumn sunshine, and I love the fact that it is, literally, minutes outside of Leeds and yet almost convinces as a rural idyll.

It is to my great shame that up until a few years ago the only sort of sage and onion stuffing to ever grace my Sunday table was made by Mr Paxo. Paxo stuffing has a lot to recommend it, not least the fact that it is unquestionably a taste and smell of childhood. OK, it looks a little bit like the contents of a Hoover bag in its natural state, but I considered it as quintissentially Sundayish as The Archers.

I can’t remember why I decided to make a fresh stuffing, on a complete whim, for Christmas dinner a couple of years ago. Maybe I was feeling particularly Domestic Goddess-ey that day.
Edited to add: the idea originally came from my brother, D2 and sister in law who are roast dinner experts of the first order.

Anyway, make it I did from a completely traditional Mrs Beeton recipe and it was so glorious that it has appeared regularly on the table ever since, most recently this last Sunday, and yet never reared its head on the blog.

I love a roast dinner and it is possible to have a heaped plateful for a (relatively) reasonable number of points. Roast potatoes for example. I use just a tablespoon of oil for two people, cooling the parboiled potatoes and then tossing them in the (also cold) oil before putting them in the oven. It’s a contentious way of doing it, but I find it gives excellently crispy results and means you can control (and limit) the amount of fat you are adding. Meanwhile the volume on the plate which we all crave from a proper Sunday lunch can easily be created by piles of veg – carrot and ginger mash is a particular favourite of mine, zero points apart from a scant knob of butter tossed through at the end to add richness.

At 4pps, the stuffing is one of the pointier aspects but well worth it. Still, you could halve the portion and still have a dollop of lovely, herby deliciousness. Then, you could have the rest of it smeared all over your cold cut sandwich the next day.


100g sliced white bread, ideally slightly stale (crusts removed)
4 x onions, peeled and halved
10 (roughly) largeish sage leaves
40g butter
1 medium egg yolk
Salt, pepper

Serves 4, 4 pro points per portion

You will need a little blitzer, a large saucepan, a bowl, a slotted spoon and a spoon for mixing.

Fill the pan with cold water, place in the onion halves and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the pan to the boil and then simmer for five minutes. This will take the raw tang out of the onions and leave them sweetly flavoursome for the stuffing.

Meanwhile, place the bread in the blitzer and whizz into fine crumbs. Transfer to the waiting bowl.

When the onions have had their required bath, remove to the blitzer using a slotted spoon. Put the sage leaves in the still simmering water for around 30 seconds – again, just to take the raw taste off. Transfer these to the blitzer with the onions and whizz into a greenly speckled, savoury paste.

In the same pan, over a gentle heat, put the butter on to melt.

Remove the pan from the heat and tip in the breadcrumbs, the onion paste, the egg yolk and more seasoning than you think you need and stir briskly to combine.

Bake alongside the joint – I use disposable foil trays. The top will brown but the inside will remain much more yielding than packet stuffing. Serve alongside roast chicken and all the trimmings.

Monday, 4 November 2013

MPM: 4th November 2013

Happy Monday everyone!

There is something of a dearth of actual cooking in the meal plan this week owing to a couple of cultural interludes, a takeaway craving and a visit from my in laws. Still, I am trying to get back into the habit of a meal planning post so will write it up, such as it is.

We had an amazing meal at Purnell’s last week which I can’t wait to share with you so will try and get that done this week – aside from anything else, indulgence in a very interesting wine flight has insured that a couple more brain cells have gone west so if I leave it too long you won’t get much beyond “Yum”. Which, to be fair, is a reasonable summary in the absence of any other.

Meanwhile, this week –

Monday: We had a roast chicken dinner last night so we will be having roast chicken and stuffing wraps this evening with spiced wedges and salad.

Tuesday: Cultural interlude #1 – no, not fireworks but an NT Live showing of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein”. Sadly the cinema is located in something of a cultural desert so we may end up at Nando’s beforehand. (Keep it quiet but I quite like Nando’s….)

Wednesday: D out, me – currently craving poached egg on toast. As it is post WI there may be something indulgent for afters.

Thursday: Cultural interlude #2 – Alan Bennett’s “People” at the Leeds Grand. Likelihood of rushed pre-theatre beans on toast: high.

Friday: Himself is craving a proper fish and chip supper and, after denying him last week I cannot in all conscience do so again. I will be eschewing all but a handful of chips and weighing the fish in an attempt to stay on track.

Saturday: Finally some cooking! I bought D a copy of “The Silver Spoon” for his birthday which is a compendium of classic Italian cookery. Tonight he is planning to whip up a Risotto Milanese – we’ve already purchased the bone marrow which is quivering away pinkly in the fridge. Possible some nice antipasti beforehand.

Sunday: Unknown as yet but out somewhere with FIL and SIL.

Head over to Mrs M’s for more meal planning fun.