Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cooking with fat

Minx gets tired trying to keep track of what she is supposed to be eating...
So the debate rages on about what the real enemy is when it comes to our eating - it seems that after years out in the cold someone has decided that fat isn't actually all that bad for you but having sugar in your tea is akin to...something dreadful.  I don't pay an awful lot of attention, to be honest; I have no intention of ditching any of the food groups, mainly because I am greedy and they taste nice and life is genuinely too short to spend it worrying all the time.

This much I do know, if you're counting points, or calories, or whatever, and you want to get your intake down a bit, shaving some of the fat out of a recipe often helps.  In most cases you can, at least, halve the amount of oil called for in a recipe with no particularly detrimental effects to the flavour but a decent calorie saving.  Gram for gram, fat has about double the amount of calories in it as does protein or carbohydrate.

And, when we're talking about pure energy content, all fat IS created equal.  Earlier this week, I watched Jamie Oliver pour several "lugs" (what is a lug, Jamie?  A good few tablespoons I reckon) of olive oil over a plate of mackerel and quinoa...and then refuse to add a knob of butter to his mashed potato.  Yes, there has been much written about the health benefits of olive oil, but that does not change the fact that pouring it willy nilly over your food is going to increase the amount of calories you consume by rather a lot.  Also, butter tastes good.  I love butter and cook with it often, and there is no reason you can't as long as you are sensible with regards quantities.  The idea that butter is "bad" while oil is "good" is a total nonsense.

The key for the home cook is to invest in some decent equipment.  A couple of good non stick pans will change your life (if your life, like mine, is quite small and quiet, and kitchenware excites you).  We bought ours a few years ago from M&S - a little pricey but worth their weight in...well, gold.  The point is, often a recipe calls for a lot of oil at the beginning just to stop food sticking to the pan.  It seems a bit of a waste to add something that is not going to contribute particularly to my enjoyment of a dish but just save a bit of time washing up.

Another tip is to buy yourself a silicon brush - this is something I picked up from watching Andrew Pern work during a Star Inn cookery course last year.  A brush will ensure that whatever fat you have added to the pan - even if it is just a scant teaspoon - can be quickly and evenly dispersed across the whole surface.  I use mine a lot for this very purpose.

When cooking foods with a high fat content of their own - streaky bacon and chorizo are two examples which immediately spring to mind - you can often get away with not adding any additional fat for cooking purposes.  Keep the heat low to start with, which will allow the fat in the item itself to render out.  I never cook bacon in oil - which makes me sound a bit puritanical -  but I just don't see the need.  The bacon will cook quite happily in its own fat as long as you start it off slowly.  And if I'm cooking something alongside said bacon - for example, an onion, I will cook the onion in the bacon fat as well.  Just make sure you do your meat first and that should provide you with sufficient lubrication.  And I'm sorry for using the word lubrication in a piece about cooking.  Those of you with a prurient mindset are allowed to leave the room for a giggle.

I suppose the point I am trying to make is, when you're following a diet plan, every little calorie or point or syn is precious.  But, equally, fat can be an important - even crucial - component of a dish and we shouldn't be afraid of it.  We just have to work out where it will actually contribute an element of pleasure to the food that we are eating - that's the bottom line, isn't it?  Enjoying what we are eating?

Personally, I like tuna...

Monday, 23 June 2014

MPM: 23rd June 2014

I know it is a cliche but, honestly, where does the time go?  We're coming up to the end of June people!  That's madness!  From now on we're in the downwards slide towards CHRISTMAS.

So this week is a bit like the end of term for me seeing as we are off on holiday a week today which is very exciting.  Some bits from the freezer make an appearance, but a new recipe as well.  Friday onwards is being left unplanned since we are out and about being social butterflies.

Salmon with bois boudran sauce and crushed potatoes: taken from "Heston Blumenthal at Home" this recipe looks rather delicious.

Lamb biryani: using leftovers from the Sunday roast.  The third time we have cooked this particular dish, which in our household is the highest of high recommendations.

Smoked haddock, sweet potato and spinach soup (thank you Mr Waitrose).

Chicken with broad beans and mint, probably served with some new potatoes tossed in a little butter.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Scales and tribulations

Previously on WWF: -50.4lbs
This week: -2.4lbs
Total loss: 52.8lbs

Last week, I didn't post a weigh in result and for that I am sorry.  It is the first time, since last September, that there has been no post and no good reason for not doing a post.  It was just sheer bloody mindedness on my part.

As you'll see, this week, by dint of putting one foot in front of the other (in diet terms) I have scored a good loss.  Which is great.  Two steps forward and one step back is still going forward after all.

The truth is, I've lost nearly four stone (good) but two and a half stone of that total loss took place between September and the end of last year.  This year there has been a LOT of faffing around.  I am proud of the fact that I have never given up, that I have kept on keeping on, but equally, I am annoyed that I've allowed myself to navel gaze and procrastinate and not just get my nose to the dieting grindstone and make some real progress.

We go to Barcelona the week after next, and, once we're back, Operation Get Your Finger Out commences in earnest.

Monday, 16 June 2014

MPM: 16th June 2014

Mrs M has moved to her very own domain - fancy!  To see more meal planning posts from across t'internet then go ahead and click on her lovely new badge.

Anyway, back to meal planning chez nous.  Last week was very much a game of two halves - the first half involved a lot of a certain someone feeling very sorry for themselves and not being very interested in cooking at all.  We got back on track during the second half of the week and enjoyed some fabulous dishes, including this lovely lemon sole with brown shrimp butter recipe on Friday night which I hadn't had for ages.  It wasn't in the original meal plan but the nice Waitrose man brought us along two packs of lemon sole in the shopping (a sub for one pack of plaice fillets - I am not entirely sure of the logic but, equally, not prepared to argue) and so we forced ourselves to do a bit of bumping around.

This week has ended up looking a bit rice-y.  Which is fine; as we've recently discovered, if you're trying to cut back, rice is probably the best "value" staple carb - you seem to get a lot more for your money (and for money read points or calories).  But the chilli on Friday may yet be served in wraps, burrito style, to vary things a little bit.

So this week we'll be eating:


Leftover roast pork with mustard mash and creamy mushrooms and kale


Chicken and chorizo jambalaya: we actually made this last week and because we had all the ingredients to hand decided to do the full recipe and set two portions aside for this week.  It's a nice recipe - we worked it out at 12 pro points for a good, hearty portion.  An excellent way to use leftover roast chicken.

Chilli con carne

Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle: D is in charge of this one and I can't wait!

Slow roast shoulder of lamb on boulangere potatoes: perfect Sunday dinner fare.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Recipe corner: A summery stew of chicken, broad beans, lemon and mint

This was just a very easy dish that basically sits on the stove and take care of itself while the cook potters.  It is pretty close to a Lucas Hollweg recipe that I copied out of the Sunday Times magazine aeons ago, although that was flavoured with mustard (also delicious).  I was in the mood for something zingy so subbed out the mustard for flavours of lemon and mint which I thought would be gorgeous with broad beans (it was).

The only problem is I haven't yet decided what would prove the best accompaniment for this kind of thing - new potatoes, perhaps, steamed and tossed in a knob of butter, or a lemony basmati rice or even mash (mash on the side is never wrong).  I actually ended up serving it over pasta which was not quite right.  Fortunately, there are two more portions in the freezer for me to have another go.


400g chicken thigh fillets, skinless and boneless, cut into chunks
3 tsp light oil
Onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
50ml Vermouth (or dry white wine if you happen to have some kicking around)
2 large bay leaves
500ml chicken stock (I tend to use Knorr stock pots)
100g frozen broad beans
4tbsp half fat creme fraiche
Zest and juice of half a large lemon
1-2 tbsps chopped fresh mint

Serves 4, 8pps per portion

Heat 2 tsps of oil in a large saucepan.  Season the meat and then add to the pan to brown - in batches if necessary.  Remove to a plate.

Heat the final tsp of oil.  Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until it starts to soften and then throw in the garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes or so until all the vegetables are softened.

Pour in the Vermouth or white wine and briskly scrub at all the golden sticky bits of chicken and onion stuck to the bottom of the saucepan to ensure that the liquid deglazes them all.  Reduce the wine to almost nothing, then return the chicken to the pan and combine everything well.

Now you can add three quarters of chicken stock.  Bring up to a brisk simmer then cover and cook for around 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the creme fraiche with the lemon and mint and weigh out the broad beans.

After half an hour has passed, remove the lid and add the broad beans.  They will bring the temperature of the liquid right down and temporarily stop the cooking so you may need to turn the heat up to get it back to bubbling.  If it looks a little dry, add more stock - you want a decent amount of sauce.  The broad beans should cook in about 5 minutes in the hot stock.  The best way to check that both chicken and vegetables are cooked through are to have a quick try.

Turn the heat down and stir through the flavoured creme fraiche.  As long as the stew isn't too hot and the creamy mix is at room temperature you shouldn't have any issues with splitting.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Monday, 9 June 2014

MPM: 9th June 2014

My husband, in a fit of what I can only assume was serious work avoidance syndrome, has planned our meals out for the entire month of June!  Since I have an exam on the 25th, it suits me to have the job taken care of.  As well as Soup Wednesday, he is instituting Fish Monday which sounds like an excellent idea to me.  I do notice however, that there are few veggie days on there!  D is nothing if not a carnivore.

So this week:

Fish Monday - Smorrebrod (a Scandi style open sandwich) with plaice, prawns and basil

Chicken and chorizo jambalaya, using leftovers from the Sunday roast

Soup Wednesday

Chilli con carne

Game, red wine and cranberry pot pie with mash - not the most seasonal of dishes, but we have the filling and some puff pastry in the freezer so it will be a quick and easy assembly job on Friday night.

Roast pork with the trimmings

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Of scales and sunshine (or lack thereof)

Previously on WWF: --54.3lbs
This week: +2.9lbs
Total loss: 51.4lbs

Just as last week's loss wasn't really earned, so this week's gain wasn't really justified.  I think the gods of the scales are just having sport with me.  Which would be fine, but my resolve is low at the moment and I am really, really struggling.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of quitting, I just have to grit my teeth and accept that the upping and downing might continue for the next few weeks while I concentrate on having more good days than bad.

I'll get there - it just irks me that sometimes it feels like the easiest thing in the world and sometimes it is a constant battle and I don't always understand why.

Speaking of that though, I have recently been offered a possible solution for the fatigue and general meh-ness I've been experiencing the last few weeks; a blood test showed up that I am severely deficient in Vitamin D.  This is apparently very common in this country and is easily fixed but it can make you feel tired and low and full of vague aches and pains.  I have a six month super strength prescription and to get my levels back up to normal, after which time it will just be a case of making sure I remember to take a standard multi vitamin.  I only mention it because, reading up on it after the doctor's appointment, I came across an NHS article that mentioned vitamin D deficiency can be linked to excess weight.  Often, I think, overweight people are quite prone to doctor avoidance, which might be another reason that it doesn't get picked up that often.  But it could be worthwhile, if any of those symptoms sounds familiar, going and requesting a test. Other sources of vitamin D include sunshine (ha!) and oily fish, so next week I will mostly be trying to get outside more (if the lowering clouds ever lift) and having pilchards on toast for lunch (yum!)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Product review: Bannisters' Farm Littl'uns

I don’t write a blog to get free stuff, which is a good job as I don’t tend to get any. So imagine my surprise and delight when someone contacted me out of the blue and offered me a product to try! Oh, the excitement – I probably squealed a little bit. I am not cool, my friends.

It is very hard to be honest when you’re feeling pathetically grateful that a) someone has noticed your little blog and b) they think that your opinion might be worthwhile enough to send you their product. But a good journalist has to try and maintain a veneer of impartiality. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am going to admit that I got open sneers from the husband when I told him that we were getting microwaveable potatoes. We have both long been somewhat cynical of these, being of the firm opinion that if you’re going to have a jacket potato you should just, y’know, buy a potato and bake it. It is neither difficult nor time consuming, assuming you remember to put said potato in the oven a good hour or so before you intend to eat.

Where I do think these really come into their own though, is the office based lunch. Although the packet states to microwave from frozen, I found that if I took them out of the freezer in the morning and wrapped them in a bit of foil, they still stood up well come noon. Much as I am a devotee of sandwiches, sometimes a hot option is welcome – especially when the weather is as profoundly miserable as we have been experiencing recently. The Littl’uns, at 2 pro points or 85 calories each, are a really diet friendly option for anyone following WW or a similar calorie controlled plan. The low points count is obviously due to the size rather than any jiggery pokery on the part of the manufacturers, but I always find jacket potatoes pretty filling anyway, and although I ate two at a time you could probably get away with one plus salad and topping if you were more birdlike of appetite. Two potatoes, a can of tuna with some light mayo and a good helping of salad worked out at 8 pro points – that is lower than most packet sandwiches and proved both filling and tasty. Boxes being ticked all over the place.

Personally, I don’t think a potato cooked in the microwave can ever measure up 100% to one slow cooked from scratch – the skin will never get quite as satisfying crispy. But these were really not a bad attempt and I would happily repurchase for the sake of lunchboxes. A spoonful of baked beans or a sprinkle of cheese (or both) would also prove quick and easy desk based repasts.

In addition, there are some full sized filled potatoes in the range, two of which I was sent to try. These I also liked as a handy lunch option – although they were heftier in the points department (13pp for the one I tried the other week). They are cheesy though, and nothing with cheese can ever be bad.

In summary – I am not cool. Bannisters’ Farm are cool for sending me stuff to review (thank you and sorry this has taken a while to see the light of day!) Littl’uns potatoes are a) cute, b) low in points and c) make good, quick and tasty lunches for the office based drone. They cost £2.20 for a pack of six and are available at Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose (hurrah!) and Ocado. Oh, and they’re gluten free too so excellent for any of you looking for something that isn’t bread.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

And back to regularly scheduled programming...

Previously on WWF: -51.3lbs
This week: -3lbs
Total loss: 54.3lbs

I am entirely unsure where that loss came from this week but I will quite happily take it.  That's three good results in a row, which considering my mood at the moment is pretty damn amazing.

I'm having one of my periodic meh phases which makes everything feel like a bit too much of an effort.  It's hard to put my finger on why - things in my personal life are pretty good, I own the most beautiful cat in the world (she has taken to waking me up in the early hours of the morning to stroke my face - it is utterly adorable), work is fine, weight loss is why the grumps?  I'll have to have a ponder - I only have one series of "Parks and Recreation" left to watch which, once finished, should free up quite a lot of time in my schedule for navel gazing.