Monday, 24 February 2014

MPM: 24th February 2014

Gosh, can you believe it is nearly the end of February already?  How the year is flying by.  It's lovely that the mornings and evenings are starting to lighten and there was even a suspicion of sunshine at the weekend which makes me dare to hope that spring is on the way.  I usually enjoy the winter months but this one seems to have been particularly damp and drear. 
I think it was a couple of weeks ago when I last mentioned that we were trying to clear the freezer - well, it remains remarkably uncleared.  Still, I'll keep trying; if it gets much more icy I'll struggle to reach my mini Twisters.
Meal planning this week - unusually we look to be dining in seven nights out of seven.  Other than soup then, what will we be dining on?
Baked eggs with crusty bread
Chilli con carne
Salmon fillets with pasta pesto
Fish and chips - I'll be hoarding points for this, but it is utterly worth it!
Corned beef stew with suet dumplings
More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Star Inn the City

After the sad demise of Jeff Baker's place last year, the York restaurant scene has been crying out for a decent higher end place to dine.  Enter Andrew Pern, the chef proprietor of the Star Inn at Harome - famous for one of the best gastropubs in the country and for being where D and I got married (although I notice that we are not yet name checked on their website).  If I tell you that the Star is where top notch, "proper" pub chef Tom Kerridge chose to celebrate his 40th birthday that might give you an indication of how splendiferous it is.  Anyway the Star now has a sister venue on the banks of the River Ouse in York and last night we toddled along to check it out.
The Star Inn had a Michelin star for years and is definitely at the fine dining end of the gastropub spectrum.  The York place is a bit less formal in terms of food and service and is the kind of restaurant that caters for a varied crowd - from large groups of revellers to romantic couples.  Impressively for such a large, airy building it manages to encapsulate the lovely cosy feel of the country place and the location is terrific - I can't wait to go on a summer evening and watch the sun set on the river through the huge windows.
Beetroot ravioli, goats' cheese
But, of course, big windows and a wood burning stove will only get you so far if the food isn't up to scratch - and thus it is with gread delight that I can report that the food was absolutely wonderful.  Just take a moment to go and look at the menu (I'll wait) - isn't it just jam packed with dishes that you want to bury your face in?  Andrew Pern has been a huge advocate of using local produce since way before it was trendy, and has a knack of sourcing amazing ingredients then treating them with an appropriate amount of respect and this shines through in the cooking.  I just can't decide what the highlight was - although the confit duck leg with chorizo "baked beans" might just edge it over D's scallop and pork belly combo.
Confit duck leg, chorizo baked beans
A minor niggle - no complimentary bread.  I am very fond of bread.  But I forgave them when the espressos arrived with mini chocolate tarts teetering on the saucers, all biscuit crisp pastry and a dark kiss of a filling.
Coffee, chocolate tart
So hurrah for York having a lovely new place to eat, drink and be merry.  The bar area is open to non diners which makes me very happy and a perusal of the breakfast menu, which is served from half eight in the week and from nine at the weekend, makes me even happier.  I can see this becoming a regular haunt, and while it may never quite replace JB's in our affections, it is likely to come perilously close.
The Star Inn the City
Lendal Engine House
Museum Street
01904 619208

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Recipe corner: Hot and cold gin and tonic

This is the absolute perfect dish to serve as a palate cleansing pre dessert, if you are the type of person who likes to serve palate cleansing pre desserts.
You'll need one of those foamer canister things (we have an ISI Whip) but, given you're a person who is considering serving a palate cleansing pre dessert, you've probably got one.
150g sugar
150ml tonic water
4 egg whites
125ml lime juice
75ml gin
250ml lime juice
150ml gin
Serves 4, 8 pro points per portion
First make a sugar syrup by bringing the sugar and tonic water to the boil, and then allow to cool.
Mix 250ml fresh lime juice with 150ml gin and half of the cooled sugar syrup.  Transfer to the freezer, taking out to fork briskly now and then (obviously you will need to do this stage well in advance).
Loosen the egg whites with a whisk or a fork then add the rest of the lime juice and the gin and the other half of the sugar syrup.  Put all the ingredients into the canister.
Prior to serving, you want to warm the foam through; fill a large beaker with boiling water and sit the flask in it for 10 minutes or so.
To serve, put granita in the bottom of the glass (you may not need to use it all) and top with the warm foam.  You will need to move quickly as the granita will start to melt almost immediately.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A New York themed dinner party

D and I do not give dinner parties very often.  The cost, partly financial but mainly physical and emotional, is just too high. 
D is something of a perfectionist, you see.  No, forget about "something of".  He is a perfectionist.  He wants to produce multi course tasting menus which are on a par with those you might expect to emerge from a Michelin starred kitchen.  He sometimes forgets to take into account that a) we are not professional chefs, b) we do not have professional equipment but c) we do have day jobs and d) a very small kitchen indeed.  This makes him grumpy.  He feels he has failed his guests.  I, too, get grumpy - mainly because I just want to have another glass of wine and relax over my dinner.  Perfectionism is not an affliction from which I suffer.
Anyway, this weekend we designed a menu of dishes inspired by food we ate in New York.  Some worked better than others but overall, I thought it was pretty good and I think our guests enjoyed it too, even though Marco Pierre White Junior had a brief meltdown over some missing horseradish. 
On arrival - truffle popcorn and cheese "cookies".  The truffle and rosemary popcorn was a nibble we came across in our NYC watering hole of choice, Third Avenue Alehouse.  To recreate, I mixed the kernels with truffle salt and dried rosemary (not fresh - it just caught horribly when I tried it) before popping in oil.  I tossed the popcorn in butter melted together with truffle oil just before serving and sprinkled it with a little extra truffle salt.  This is a decadent, dangerously moreish snack - perfect with an aperitif.
 The "cookies" were our nod to EMP's black and white cookie nibble.  When we ate those, you see, we jokingly said that they tasted like the best Ritz crackers and Primula you could have.  So, er, our guests actually got Ritz crackers and Primula.  There were although shavings of apple and sharp cheddar in there.
Pan fried mushrooms and squash mixed with dried cranberries and then topped with a rich, thick squash puree flavoured with herbs.  This was our version of EMP's nod to New England in the Fall.
Momofuku pork buns - recipe here.  The pork, brined and cooked as per instructions worked like a dream.  The buns, it turns out, do not respond too well to freezing - they were fine, but a tad drier than we would have liked.  In future, I'd just make these the day before and pep them up on the day.
Smoked sturgeon sabayon drizzled with chive oil and served with cream cheese and caviar rye toasts.  The sabayon was taken directly from the Eleven Madison Park book and, predictably, tasted absolutely divine.  D used a milk frother when reheating it to achieve a light texture which worked beautifully.
I think the matching wine must have got to the evening's official photographer (who, to be fair, was also head chef, waiter and sommelier) as the photos become a bit fewer and further between at this point.  So, you don't get to see the carrot tartare where carrots were lightly poached in chicken stock and butter, roughly chopped to achieve the tartare texture (EMP use an old fashioned meat grinder) and then served with raw quails' egg yolks, and a selection of condiments.  Nor will you be able to note that horseradish was not among the condiments and thus it was the carrot was served to the sound jaw grinding.  I liked it though - it is such a fresh, clever dish.
For the meat course, it had to be our take on the classic American deli sandwich, the Reuben: home made corned beef on baked circles of sourdough bread, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and lashings of Russian mayonnaise.  The mayonnaise was delicious - flavoured with tomato ketchup (it is sweeter than tomato puree), horseradish, grated shallot and dill.  D was unhappy with the presentation of this dish but it tasted like an absolute dream and it is difficult to make the elements of a sandwich look pretty.
For cheese we again took inspiration from EMP where we were served a single cheese alongside the beer in which the rind had been washed.  We went for Stinking Bishop with a Perry accompaniment which worked beautifully and, in place of biscuits, baked pretzels from Paul Hollywood's recipe that worked like an absolute charm - I would urge you to give them a go if you, um, like pretzels.
Onto sweet courses and D loves to do a hot and cold cocktail as a pre dessert - his layered g&t is a thing of genius.  The hot and cold Manhattan didn't work quite as well as there was too much alcohol in the granita for it to freeze properly but it still looked pretty and tasted delicious.
Finally, peanut butter and jelly cheesecake pots - I loved these, and I don't really like peanut butter.  We made bars from this recipe (highly recommended) but wanted to serve it slightly deconstructed in a more restaurant (pretentious) style, so layered pieces of it up with fresh raspberries and salted peanuts before topping with a drizzle of melted jam and some cream.  About a squillion pro points, wouldn't you say?  Well worth it though.
We had intended to sample some chocolate covered salted pretzels with coffee but everyone was reeling slightly by now so we decamped to the sofa to rub stomachs and hide from the washing up.  I ate one for breakfast the next day though and can tell you that they are rather good - now if only Dean and Deluca could be persuaded to open a Leeds branch my cup would runneth over.
We are hoping to tempt my brother and sister in law over when they are next up North as some of these dishes definitely bear repeating.  And D's frazzled nerves should have repaired themselves by then.  Of course, if he were writing he would tell you that he just can't get the staff, and he would have a very fair point.  It turns out I do bake a damn fine pretzel though.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Scales on Saturday

Weeks 1-19: -39lbs
This week: -0.5lbs
Total loss: 39.5lbs

I would have been happy to stay the same this week after last Saturday's stellar, and not entirely deserved, result. As it is, another small downwards movement which is very pleasing.

Onwards and downwards...

Friday, 14 February 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

I read this poem at our wedding. Every word still holds.

Invisible Kisses, by Lemm Sissay

If there was ever one
Whom when you were sleeping
Would wipe your tears
When in dreams you were weeping;
Who would offer you time
When others demand;
Whose love lay more infinite
Than grains of sand.

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it's full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

If there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield.

Then see only my face
In the reflection of these tides
Through the clear water
Beyond the river side.
All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Recipe corner: Roast chicken and leek pot pie

I wasn't intending to blog this recipe.  It was just something thrown together with various odds and ends to use up the remains of a rotisserie chicken that we accidentally managed to purchase last week.
You may ask how one accidentally buys a rotisserie chicken to which I say to you, if one goes to their favourite bar for a quick drink after a very pleasant couple of hours at the cinema ("Inside Llewyn Davis" - wonderful) and that quick drink turns into three glasses of wine on an empty stomach then one is quite likely, alongside one's partner in crime, to cross the road into the shining beacon that is Waitrose and do a bit of tipsy shopping.  It is the middle aged, middle class equivalent of buying a kebab on the way home after a night downing Jaegerbombs. 
So anyway, we ended up with a rotisserie chicken that we hadn't quite planned for, and it did for a few sandwiches but there was meat left that needed using and I thought, what about a nice pot pie.  I am firmly of the opinion, incidentally, that a pie is only a pie if it has pastry all the way around it.  A pot pie, on the other hand, is what a lot of pubs serve up under the guise of a pie, that is, it just has the pastry on top.  It is a lot more diet friendly, obviously, and feels naughty without being too many points (or calories).
It is important though that the filling is rich and savoury and has enough sauce that it will bubble up around the sides of the pastry and dribble down the sides of your beautiful new Le Creuset ramekins.  This filling fits the bill perfectly. 
As I said, I wasn't intending to blog this recipe.  But then I had the final portion of pie filling for lunch today (the amount of chicken I had stretched easily to three) mixed with pasta and topped with a bit of cheese and I thought it was utterly scrummy like that too. 
110g roast chicken, mixed, roughly shredded
Onion, finely chopped,
Carrot, finely chopped
2 leeks, sliced
Tsp dry thyme
2 tbsp white wine
20g butter
20g plain flour
400ml chicken stock
Heaped tsp Dijon mustard
100g puff pastry
Makes 3 pies, 8pp per pie (chicken filling is 4pp a portion if eating without pastry)
Put a large, non stick pan over a low heat and gently start to cook the onion and carrot pieces, with a good pinch of salt so that they will sweat.  Meanwhile, rinse the leeks to remove any grit from the layers and do not dry too thoroughly - the residual water will help steam the veg.  Transfer the leeks into the veg plan, season well with salt, pepper and the thyme.  Pour in the wine and allow to bubble off to nearly nothing.  Continue to cook gently.  The carrots may still be on the al dente side when you come to make the pie filling but don't worry - they will finish their cooking in the oven.
In a second pan you can prepare the sauce.  Start by making up the chicken stock and have it standing by.  We use Knorr stock pots but any decent stock will do.
Melt the butter and then add the flour and stir briskly to make a paste.  Add the stock a splash at a time, combining well at each stage.  Sometimes it will feel as if the sauce is not going to come together - the flour paste will appear as lumps in the liquid.  Be firm with it - vigorous stirring and it will amalgamate.  Keep going until all the stock is added.  Allow to bubble briefly, finally adding some more seasoning and the mustard.
You can now combine the sauce and the vegetables and stir through the chicken.  Transfer the mix to three ramekins. 
To finish off the pies, preheat the oven to 180.  Cook the chicken mix for fifteen minutes and, while it is in the oven, roll out the pastry on a floured surface.  Cut out circles that fit on the top of the ramekins, using any trimmings to make leaves for the pie top.  Or birds.  Or splodges.  Top the pies and bake for a further fifteen minutes until puffed, golden and delicious.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Meal planning Moanday

Last week I wrote that I had been really enjoying my food, blah blah fishcakes, positivity abounded. This week I’m feeling a bit more…subdued. I’m closing in on a three stone loss since October last year, but, I must admit, the novelty has most definitely worn off and some days last week felt like a bit of a slog. A meal out on Thursday night and a decent loss on Saturday roused me up slightly, but I’m definitely just trying to get through one day at a time at the moment. Which is fine – there are going to be periods where things are a bit like that and doggedness rather than finesse is what is required.

I think my main goal for the remainder of February is to try and start some sort of exercise routine. Nothing too strenuous by any means (I am nothing if not intensely lazy), but I know from experience that there are few things more helpful to fight against mild dolour (is that an oxymoron?) than a bit of movement. Also, that there are few things that one feels less inclined to do when one is feeling sluggish and grey and sulky. Which is precisely why one should do them.

Onto eating. Dinner party on Saturday (if it goes to plan it is going to be top notch and I can’t wait to share some pictures with you! If it doesn’t go to plan then my parents will be eating takeaway fried chicken from the end of the road) which means Sunday will be a light, leftovers kind of a day. Tomorrow I’m out at my book group so I’ll be grabbing a quick sandwich beforehand. One night will be soup night (that’s a thing now). So three days left to plan…

Chicken and leek pot pie, celeriac mash

Smoked salmon bagels with Valentines fizz, possibly followed by Gu chocolate pots if points allow

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Weigh in...Saturday?

Weeks 1-18: -34lbs
This week: -5lbs
Total loss: 39lbs

Slightly late weigh in this week as I decided to check out a meeting that is, quite literally, within spitting distance of the house. Early impressions are good and a Saturday weigh in definitely appeals. I miss the alliterative blog title though.

So a good loss this week despite a couple of...hiccups with tracking. And by hiccups I mean...absence of. But I would dearly love to hit a three stone loss by the end of February so back to it today with a renewed sense of purpose. This is where I find attending meetings really does help - it's like hitting a mental reset button every week.

Onwards and downwards!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Recipe corner: "Surprise" tarte tatin

This is the kind of recipe that doesn't sound like it should work.  But Yotam Ottolenghi is a food writer who inspires trust and with good reason - this tart was absolutely delicious, both fresh out of the oven and after a couple of days reposing in the fridge.
The other thing is that it is not too bad on the points front.  Pastry is, of course, never going to be a low calorie food, but you can quite easily build it in to the daily quota with a bit of planning and by rolling it out relatively thinly.  I would suggest using a piece slightly heavier than specified below because you will need to trim it when fitting it over the topping.  But 120g was the amount we actually ended up using once those trimmings had been weighed out and so the amount I have used when calculating the points.
D was head chef for this one and he says next time he makes it he will double the amount of caramel to get a slightly thicker layer, so I've doubled the amount of butter and sugar specified in the original recipe below. 
200g cherry tomatoes
500g new potatoes
1 medium onion, sliced
120g hard goats' cheese
120g puff pastry
Tbsp olive oil
80g sugar
20g butter
Fresh oregano
Serves 4 generously, 13 pro points per portion
First you are going to dehydrate the tomatoes.  Slice in half, arrange on a baking tray, season and sprinkle with a touch of balsamic vinegar and put them in a low (about 120) oven for 30-40 minutes. 
Meanwhile cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 20 minutes, until tender.  Leave to cool, and, when possible, slice into discs. 
Cook the onion in the oil (reserving a little to grease the tart tin) over a low heat until soft.


Now all your component vegetables are ready, you can assemble the tart.  Start by using the reserved oil to brush over a 22 inch cake tin and line with parchment paper. 
Heat the butter and sugar together in a small pan over a high heat stirring briskly until they become a deep amber colour.  Pour into the cake tin and tilt it carefully so that the whole surface is covered and sprinkle over the oregano leaves. 
Layer the sliced potatoes over the caramel, close together as per the picture of the top of the post.  Then fill the gaps with the onion and tomatoes, and finally lay over the slices of goats' cheese.
Roll the pastry out into a disc that is about an inch larger than the size of the tin.  Gently lay it across the cheese and vegetables and tuck the edges in around the potatoes so they're nice and cosy.  Bake for 25mins at 200 and then turn the oven down to 180 and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the pastry is puffy, golden and, obviously, cooked.
Remove from the oven and give it a couple of minutes to catch its breath.  Then you need to invert it onto a plate so that the caramel layer is topmost.  A certain amount of dexterity is required so ask a responsible adult / husband.
Serve, perhaps with salad.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Recipe corner: Steamed buns a la Momofuku

I so wanted to call this post something along the lines of "My lovely buns".  Because I really do have the sense of humour of a prurient twelve year old boy. 
I also wanted to give it a gorgeous photo that would be an adequate reflection of quite how tasty these little beauties were.  But you know the score with regards my food photography skills by now.  So here are my steamed buns with prawn cakes:
Sexy, huh?  But then, the originals were not renowned for their great beauty:
I must admit, I was really, really happy with the way these turned out; taste and texture wise they were dead ringers for the ones we ate in Momofuku.  And OK they were David Chang's recipe but still, we've all seen that round on Masterchef where the contestants all get given exactly the same recipe and still manage to produce entirely different, often substandard, plates of food. 
If you haven't experienced these buns before they are quite hard to describe - they have a dense, damp texture and a slight sweetness to them and they are incredibly delicious and even more incredibly moreish.  I think that they are most commonly served with pork. On Saturday, we wrapped them round peppery little prawn cakes that D made by whizzing up raw king prawns, flour and plenty of seasoning.  The following day we went a bit off piste and had them with halloumi and sweet chilli sauce which may have been fusion gone mad but turned out to be seriously yummy.
They dry out fairly quickly once steamed but are easily revived - just brush them with water, put on a plate loosely covered with cling film and microwave on medium for about a minute. 
240ml warm water (I used a ratio of 1 part boiling to 2 parts cold tap)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp plus 1 pinch sugar
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
420g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Tbsp sunflower oil
Makes 16, 3 pro points per bun
Stir together 60ml of the water with the yeast (make sure that this is brought to room temperature first if you have kept it in the fridge) and a pinch of sugar.  Leave this to stand for 5-10 minutes until it starts to foam.  If it doesn't foam it means the yeast hasn't woken up - this could be to do with the temperature of the water (check it is not too hot) or the age of the yeast itself.  I watch Bake Off and therefore know these things.
While you are waiting, stir together the flour and the rest of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. 
To the foamy mixture add the rest of the water, and the skimmed milk powder and give a quick whisk to combine.
Gently stir the liquid into the flour.  The original recipe suggested using a fork, I used my Kitchen Aid on a low setting.  Keep going until the dough begins to form - it was soft to the touch but by no means sticky - and make sure that all the flour becomes incorporated.  Now turn out the ball onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes (you could use a dough hook for this stage, but kneading is fun! It's like Play Dough for grown ups!)  You'll know that you're getting there when the dough takes on a pliant, elastic feel. 
Oil a large bowl and place the dough in there, turning it to ensure an even coating in the oil.  Cover with cling film and place in a warm spot for 2 hours, during which time it should roughly double in size.
Once this is done you need to give it a good pummelling which will make it deflate a little.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface, flatten it out and sprinkle with the baking powder, then gather it up into a ball with the powder in the middle.  You now need to knead for another five minutes or so to ensure the baking powder is incorporated - again, you could use the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer to do this.  Recover the dough and leave to stand for another half an hour.
We're nearly there, campers!  Now it is time to shape and steam the buns.
First cut out squares of parchment paper approximately 3 inch square.  The buns will sit on these in the steamer, so you need one for each bun.  Roll the dough into a log shape about 16 inches long and then divide into 16 equal pieces.  Take each piece between your two hands, and use your palms to flatten it into an oval shape, then use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the oval out so that it is about 6 inches long and 3 wide.  Now, using a pastry brush, brush one half with sunflower oil and fold it in half so it is the shape of a capital D - but do not pinch the edges together.  As each bun is shaped, cover loosely in cling film.  Allow them to stand for another 30 minutes or so, in which time they will rise very slightly.
The buns are now ready for steaming.  Sit some form of rack over boiling water, place the buns (sitting on their parchment paper) over the steam and cover for about five minutes, during which time they will puff up a little but not alarmingly so.  You may well have to do this in batches, unless you have the world's largest steamer.  Wrap the steamed buns in a clean tea towel until they are all done.  They do not need to be eaten straightaway (see above for revival tip) and can be frozen at this stage for future use.
Feel incredibly clever and incredibly smug.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Meal planning, and why Breaking Bad is not good for your health

I am feeling a tad…delicate this morning, I cannot tell a lie. And I have resorted to considerable quantities of blusher in order to look, y’know, alive. I blame Walter White and family. The sheer stress created by the final season of Breaking Bad is driving us both to drink - I managed to consume all my remaining weekly points yesterday in liquid form. And we ended up eating Chinese nibbles for tea rather than a proper meal so as to limit time away from the screen. Which was nice (I love sesame prawn toasts) but not all that balanced.

Anyway, it means pappardelle with butternut squash and mushrooms is on the menu for tonight, so that’s something to look forward to.

Last week, we didn’t actually go out for dinner on Thursday as planned – I was having a minor sulk because the scales gently reminded me that you can’t go away and eat your bodyweight in scones and still expect to lose weight. Salmon with pasta pesto at home instead and very nice it was too – one of my absolute favourite midweek suppers. We’re going out this week instead – hurrah! Then D is out for a curry on Friday night so I am going to have tortellini tossed in butter and Parmesan, and a Malteser bunny if I have the points left. And the weekend I’m leaving clear-ish as we’re going to be practicing some bits and pieces for our New York themed dinner party (note to self: must buy truffle salt). So only a few other meals proper to plan:

Mushroom and halloumi “burgers” (halloumi in the fridge needs using up. The fact that I will have to buy all the other constituent ingredients is neither here nor there.)

Fresh soup (of course – broccoli and stilton this week)

Beef massaman curry with basmati rice

Now, if you will excuse me, I think I just got my first hangover hunger pang. The rest of the morning will be spent trying not to go and buy a bacon sandwich. More meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.