Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Weigh in Wednesday: 27th August 2014

Early morning weigh in for me today as I'm not around for my regular 6pm meeting.  This possibly means that today's result is slightly more...flattering than it ought to be.  I DON'T CARE.  I whooped the proverbial arse.

Previously on WWF: -38lbs
This week: -6.5lbs
Total loss: 44.5lbs

So, I blasted through the 40lb loss barrier and am cruising back towards the 50 point.  Also, this week sees my lowest ever recorded meeting weight.  Another 10lbs will put me just below my lowest recorded home weight.  I'm trying not to indulge myself in diet maths but I really, really want to get those 10lbs off as quickly as possible so that I feel that I am making forward progress again.  I don't for one minute think that this week's result will be repeated - nothing like.  But it is the start I needed, the boost that makes all those hungry, sulky moments almost worthwhile (NB: D may not agree).

I'm staying in a hotel tonight, so am somewhat at the mercy of the onsite catering facilities - other than that I have another clear run this week, which hopefully bodes well for another good result next Wednesday.  Fingers and paws crossed!

Monday, 25 August 2014

MPM: 25th August 2013

Last week saw us ease back in to routine after a splendiferous holiday.  It also saw me witness the, ahem, fruits of that holiday on a set of WW meeting scales - not pleasant.  Luckily, we had a delicious meal plan in place to make the transition back to strict pointing relatively painless.  I say relatively...I have had quite a hungry few days.  

This week - well, tomorrow night I'm out at my book group, so will just grab a quick sandwich beforehand, and Wednesday night I'm away for work (staying in a very glamorous hotel just off the M1) - this will leave D to fend for himself (and the cat) and mention has been made of retiring to the local hostelry for beer and a burger.  On Friday, he himself is out so I will probably be indulging in some of the M&S Food Hall's finest nibbles.  Last time I was let loose in there to get my own tea, I ended up with prawn dim sum and cheesy chips.  Happy days.  That leaves us only four days to properly meal plan.  

Tonight we are having whitebait - I am going to be experimenting with baking them rather than deep frying to see if it provides a similar, addictively crispy effect.

A Thursday night homecoming dinner of mushroom risotto.

Saturday, D is going to be cooking a couple of the mackerel that we caught while up in Scotland.  He is hoping to get his hands on some frozen gooseberries to make an accompanying sauce.  

And a Sunday roast - chicken, I think, with plenty of leftovers to form the basis for next week's plan.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Recipe corner: Haggis stuffed chicken with carrot and ginger mash and orange and whisky sauce

As recipe titles go, it's not the snappiest, is it?  You will also, if you scroll down, see it is not the lowest points offering in the world BUT it is absolutely delicious.  And look, my food photography is as pitiful as ever, but the carrot mash was in a tower!  That's how I roll for Friday night suppers.

I have had a mild haggis obsession since our first trip up to Western Scotland - four years ago if memory serves (and it doesn't always, I drink a lot of gin).  This is the first time that I have used it as a stuffing and it worked marvellously well - it has a subtle, spicy warmth to it which is perfect as an accent.  Here, the mash and the sauce are both quite sweet (the sauce in particular, which I have vaguely based on a couple of whisky Cumberland sauce recipes that I found online, tastes a little like marmalade - don't let that put you off!)  But when eaten in conjunction with the meat they work brilliantly well.  I also roasted off some curly kale to sit underneath the chicken and I would recommend serving this dish with some sort of iron rich green vegetable for an additional savoury note.

To cut down on points you could use a skinless chicken breast and/or reduce the amount of butter used.  Don't skimp on the haggis though.  They don't call it the chieftain of the pudding race for nothing.


20g butter

2 medium, skin-on chicken breasts
100g haggis (we use MacSween's which is readily available in supermarkets)
Tbsp half fat creme fraiche

3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
Fresh grated ginger to taste (probably about a tbsp worth)

Shallot, finely chopped
Juice of 2 oranges
Zest of 1/2 an orange
50ml whisky
Tbsp redcurrant jelly
Tsp English mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Serves 2, 16 pro points per portion

Weigh out your butter - you'll use this across all three aspects of the dish and can adjust what goes where to suit.

The carrot mash can easily be done in advance: boil the carrots until soft, drain and then roughly mash or crush - you are not looking for a smooth puree here.  Grate in the ginger and add seasoning and a knob of butter and combine over a gentle heat until the butter is melted.  Add enough ginger so that it gives your mash a mellow warmth but does not overpower the carrots themselves.

Prepare your chicken: carefully butterfly the breast.  Pop the haggis in a bowl, cover with cling film, pierce and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Combine it with the creme fraiche to loosen slightly.  Spread the haggis on one half of the chicken breast and then fold up and secure with cocktail sticks.  Season the chicken skin well and set aside.

In a small pan, melt another knob of butter and gently cook the shallot until soft.  Add the whisky - you can light it at this point but, be warned, there is quite a lot of alcohol in 50ml and it will flame high and for quite a long time.  Act nonchalant.  Flamed or not, you want to reduce the whisky down to practically nothing.  Then you can add the other ingredients and stir over a medium heat until the jelly melts.  Don't reduce it here - you'll do that in a minute - you're just looking to get everything amalgamated.

Preheat your oven to 190.  Heat the remainder of the butter in a frying pan and place the chicken breasts skin side down.  Fry for about five minutes, so they get a good amount of colour and crustiness on the skin.  Then transfer, skin side up, onto an oven tray and thence into the oven for about fifteen minutes to cook through.

Keep the chicken pan over a low heat and pour in your orange sauce mix.  Use the liquid to scrape up all the lovely, crusty bits of chicken stuck to the pan and combine with the buttery meat juices.  Raise the heat and start to reduce the sauce down by around two thirds to a sticky, marmalade scented syrup.  If you have made the carrot mash in advance, be sure to reheat it at this stage.

Serve chicken, carrot and sauce preferably with some form of green vegetable.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Tobermory Tales

I don't think I'll ever tire of Tobermory and the Isle of Mull.

We are considering the possibility of visiting some of the other Inner Hebrides next year (Islay alone has eleven whisky distilleries - eleven!)  But I do get a slight pang at the thought of not seeing that beautiful main street sweeping around the bay, at not having dinner at Cafe Fish watching D take down great platters of shellfish with fanatical determination, at not sitting outside McGoghan's with a pint and, of course, not spending most of the week looking out for Tobermory Cat (or Ledaig to give him his proper name).

This time around, as well as spending a fair few hours stretched on the apartment's comfy sofa with a book and a mug of tea, we paid a visit to the Isle of Mull Cheese farm, the Tobermory Distillery and the Glengorm farm shop where we bought two of the tastiest steaks that I've eaten for a long while.  We went to Iona and walked across that tiny, holy island and hurled bright coloured stones into the rain-swept sea.  We fished.  We ate fish.  We drank pints in the pale, tremulous sunshine that appeared later in the week.  We ate more fish.  We went to see a folk artist from Kent who sang in an old fashioned bluegrass style.  We ate some cheese.  And then we ate some more fish.  And drank some whisky.

Good times, my friends.  Good times.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The return of Weigh in Wednesday

So, as promised last week, I tucked my tail firmly between my legs and went back to a WW meeting last night.

My feelings about meetings, as discussed at length elsewhere on the blog are very mixed.  However, there is no getting away from the evidence that my weight loss when attending meetings is far more consistent than when I'm not.  They give my week structure, acting as a proper line - both after a good week (don't get complacent!) and a bad (fresh start!)  I have to accept, once and for all, that maybe I just plain need them to do this.  Do I, subconsciously, see this as a weakness because I should be able to do it on my own?  I'm not sure.  But I've been playing around long enough that I have to now man up and use the tools at my disposal that are proven to work - shoulda woulda coulda as the song goes.

Let's, then, look at some stats.

I am 2.5lbs heavier than my last recorded meeting weight on 22nd February.  Given that was an early morning meeting and yesterday was an evening meeting, the actual difference is probably even smaller than that.  So, overall, six months of no progress.  Sigh.  "You've got maintenance down!" tinkled the leader when she saw my old weigh in card.  Which would be fine if I didn't still look like a Weeble.

I am 16.2lbs heavier than my lowest recorded home weight.  Factor in the difference between first-thing-in-the-morning-nekkid weight and evening-clothed weight, this is probably a bit less in actuality.  It's still a backwards slide, which is annoying.  But I've caught it before it got tooooo serious.  And there is no reason that I can't be comfortably into new territory by Christmas given past form.

So, as ever, onwards and downwards - and hopefully next week I'll be able to report a good first week back result to set me up for the next phase of the journey.  Courage, mes braves!

The hunter gatherers

We love the idea of foraging for food, we really do.  Unfortunately, when you live in the middle of a big city and you work full time, the reality of the situation is that most of your foraging gets done in Waitrose.

We did have some opportunities on holiday though, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Winkles, from the rockpools around Portuairk. D used to winkle a lot as a child, and considers this an essential part of any seaside holiday.  If you've never had them, they are very akin to snails with a slight whiff of the sea - gorgeous just ferreted out of their shells and dragged through garlic butter.  Since we managed to gather such a lot (the pile you see before represents about a half of our total haul) we also had them on toast for lunch one day, and made a little winkle and bacon ragu sauce to accompany...

...the fresh mackerel that we caught on our sea angling trip.  We have been meaning to do that for the last few years and, as expected, it was enormous fun.  I must admit to a certain amount of squeamishness at first when it came to sliding the mackerel off the hooks - just because I acknowledge the reality of eating living creatures for dinner does not mean I find having their blood, literally, smeared all over my hands particularly easy.  Anyway, D being hunter gatherer in chief did the gutting and the filleting, and then we pan fried them and served them over winkle and bacon pasta.  Top notch stuff.

We have six more mackerel in the freezer and are hoping to have a go at smoking a couple - watch this space (either for a post about smoking fish or one in which our house burns down and we have to sleep in the car).

Finally, there were these little beauties, that we picked in Aros Park, just outside Tobermory:

Mushroom picking can be a surprisingly dangerous business, so we made sure that we only picked those varieties that we were absolutely sure about and that could not be mistaken for anything else.  Simply fried up in butter with garlic and parsley and then served up on toast, these could not have been more delicious.

I don't think, if mackerel fishing is slightly too gory for me, that I am ever going to make it out on a shooting party, or even butchering my own meat, but mushrooms - mushrooms I can cope with.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Meall Mo Chridhe: a foodie retreat on the edge of the world

On this, our small island, we are never really very far away from civilisation, but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise in Kilchoan.  Situated on the peninsula of Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point in mainland Britain, this little village with an indigenous population of just 150 feels like it could be on the very edge of the world.

It turns out that we foodies get everywhere though.  D and I spent two nights staying in a...well, how to describe it.  Meall Mo Chridhe's website says restaurant with rooms but, to us, it was more akin to a supper club where your hosts ply you with excellent food and drink and then let you pop upstairs to sleep off your dinner, bring tea to your bedroom door in the morning and continue the feeding with a slap up breakfast.  It is quite, quite lovely and, in our experience at least, utterly unique.

The view wasn't too shabby either.

The lovely thing about the owners, David and Stella Cash, was that they genuinely seemed as geekily interested in food as...well, us, with their lounge boasting the most astounding collection of cookery books encompassing all types of cuisines, although, in David's own words their real obsession is the provenance of their ingredients. This particular part of Scotland is blessed with an amazing natural larder of produce anyway, and they have fostered close links with both local fishermen to ensure a supply of the best seafood that the Sound of Mull has to offer and the estate for game in the winter.  But beyond that, they try and produce as much as possible themselves, with their stunning walled garden overflowing with fruit, vegetables and herbs, and a variety of animals roaming about on their own smallholding.

We were there two nights, and on the second evening it was just the two of us dining.  We ate lightly grilled lobster with a Pernod dressing while looking out to sea and feeling, as the light dwindled and the twilight crept across the water, like royalty.

To illustrate just what a special experience the Cashes seek to provide to their guests, I must mention D's Saturday breakfast.  While enjoying a pre dinner gin, D had started flicking through Fergus Henderson's cookery book which David had recommended to us, and was very taken by the notion of brains on toast, a piece of offal that he had never had the opportunity to try before.  David, in to stoke the fire, happened to overhear.  "It just so happens," he said, "That I think I have a venison brain sitting in the freezer at the moment.  Would you like it for breakfast?"  As we went up to bed that night, Stella was in the kitchen poring over a couple of recipe books to determine the best way to cook it.  And, sure enough, brains on toast was proudly placed before my husband the next morning.

(Incidentally, they are very tasty - a light, creamy texture and a very faint taste of liver - like a delicate pate.  David has promised to make us brawn next time we go, as D continues his quest to have eaten every part of every animal that he can.)

D and I have been very lucky to stay in some amazing places, but to come across such a little gem in such an isolated part of the world was just fantastic. They are open, for dinner, to non guests but the number of covers looked to be pretty limited so you would definitely need to book in advance.  The far West coast of Scotland has been a favourite destination of ours for a couple of years, but this particular discovery has made it even more attractive.  And when the scenery is this beautiful, that is really saying something.

Meall Mo Chridhe
PH36 4LH
01972 510238

Monday, 18 August 2014

MPM: 18th August 2014

Holidays are over - sad face.  I'm not back at work until Wednesday since I booked a couple of day's extra leave in order to sit around and do very little.  It is fortunate that I did since the cat, since being collected from the cattery on Saturday afternoon, has been my furry, purry shadow - I think she is appreciating a bit of one on one quality time, much to my delight (although it does make it harder to type).

Our meal plan for the rest of August was, almost literally, sketched out on the back of a beer mat while enjoying a pint in our Tobermory local, so this may be subject to some alterations.

Steak, from the Glengorm estate, with potato salad

Tuna pasta bake

Summer vegetable soup with provolone (courtesy of Mr Waitrose)

Nando marinated chicken pitta breasts - I've got a bottle of marinade in the cupboard which I bought for goodness only knows what reason but it needs using, and I do have a sneaky soft spot for Nandos

Haggis stuffed chicken with carrot and ginger mash - still on a Scottish kick, loving the haggis in any way, shape or form at the moment

Confit duck leg with parsnip and kale

Duck hash - using up some of the duck legs from the night before.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Whither Weight Watchers?

When I made this rather plaintive little post last week I got a text from my mother shortly afterwards telling me in no uncertain terms to stop with the excuses.  Which I thought was a little harsh at the time, but there is no denying that at some point you have to look at all the reasons you have got not to to do something and decide whether they are more important than the reasons you have to do it.  If the latter out weights the former, then perhaps what you are looking at are, in fact, just excuses masquerading as reasons.

Wow, that was a very confuddled paragraph.  Apologies.  I hope you get the drift.

Anyway.  I have spent most of my adult life - and certainly the life of this little blog expending a lot of time and energy over reasons why I can't (or won't) lose weight.

It is not down to whether or not Weight Watchers works - all healthy eating plans work, after a fashion, if you do them properly.

It is down to whether I work.  And, sometimes, I don't.  Actually, often I don't, which is why, from a weight loss point of view this blog occasionally reads like an annoying litany of failure.  Now, now, I'm not being maudlin or anything - I'm just saying that if anyone came across this blog because they wanted to read about someone losing weight with WW they might be disappointed.  Because the periods of success have never been long enough or sustained enough to get me where I want to go.

But that's OK, because each period of success teaches me something.  As does each period of...well, I hate to use the word failure so let's call it...deferred something or other.

It honestly doesn't matter how many new starts there are - and how many times I write a post that says I'm having another new start (although I can understand how it makes frankly annoying reading).  Because as long as I'm prepared to start again and again and again and again, eventually, maybe, one of them will be the start that gets me to the finish.

Back in March, my WW meeting closed down and so I decided to save myself a bit of money and start weighing in at home.  Since March, my overall weight loss has slowed down considerably.  Whether this would have happened anyway I don't know but, I said at the time that if it didn't work out that I would find another meeting (oh!  Hello Mr Deja Vu - welcome back!)   So, that's the plan for when I come back from Scotland (which will if this post pops up at the right time).  I would still like to think that with a good run I have a shot of making my end of year goal.  And D will still be my head cheerleader (and, in his own mind, I don't think he'll renounce the title of Leader - he likes it too much).

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

London weekend: a trip to the Ginstitute

If you like gin (and, let us face it, who doesn't) then I urge you most strongly to get yourself along to the Ginstitute on Portobello Road.

This is actually the home of Portobello Road gin that you may have come across in your cruises down the Waitrose gin aisle (oh, wait, is that just us?)  But the gin itself is a happy offshoot of the original intention which was to open a little place where people could learn about gin and create their own customised blend.  In the process of practising the distillation of the various botanicals to be used by the punters, the owner came up with a blend that he thought might be marketable and so Portobello Road gin was born.

The experience itself lasts about three hours and costs £100 per person which sounds steep until you realise what that gets you.  You initially spend an hour sipping gin cocktails in London's second smallest museum learning all about the history of the spirit.  It's fascinating stuff, and Jake, with his bone dry delivery, was a skilled storyteller - although I couldn't help thinking that cocktails in lectures could have made a huge difference in my attendance levels when I was at uni.

A very blurry view of the bar in the gin Lecture Room
From there, you are provided with another drink (gin and tonic - hurrah!) and taken upstairs to the blending room.  Gin is, essentially, a colourless, odourless spirit - all the flavour comes from the naturally derived ingredients that are added to the base for the second distillation.  The predominant flavour is juniper but the others can be as varied as you like.

Before we were allowed to decide on our final recipes, we had a session sampling some of the most important botanicals - in original and distilled form, and learned a bit about the different quadrants of flavour that needed to be hit to create a balanced gin.  Then we picked our ingredients - up to twelve was the recommendation, four of which were standardised to ensure that the gin had all the basic building blocks of what we recognise as...well, gin.

You eventually leave there (although not before a gin martini for good luck) with clinking bags - a bottle of your very own personalised blend (which, incidentally, is kept on record so that it can be reordered whenever you like) plus a bottle each of Portobello Road and a sample bottle of Jake's favourite tonic water.  You see now how the £100 begins to look pretty reasonable.

It was a truly unique experience and we adored it.

As an interesting footnote, the following day we did a double blind tasting of our personal gins, the Portobello Road and a fourth bottle of London Dry with my parents, brother and sister in law.  The two personal blends scored head and shoulders higher than the others (sorry Jake).  Although D beat me by 3 points damn him - and I mocked him for throwing everything bar the kitchen sink into his recipe while I was a model of restraint...We're definitely going to reorder the blends we made and I would love to go back and try and completely different combination of ingredients - perhaps something nice and spicy for Christmas.

The Ginstitute (above the Portobello Star Bar)
171 Portobello Road
London W11 2DY
020 3540 7781

Friday, 8 August 2014

London weekend: Opera tavern, hot dogs and popcorn

If you live in London and I could encourage you to do one thing with your weekend it would be to go to Barnyard, which is very close to Goodge Street tube, and get a portion of popcorn ice cream with smoked fudge sauce to take away.  Or you could sit in of course - I'm not a dictator by any means.

I solemnly swear that, wherever else you go that day, this will be one of the nicest things you eat.

Right, now that's out of the way (my God but it was good though.  I mean, just amazing - sweet and creamy and salty and crunchy and...)  where else did we get to last weekend?  Which, actually, because I am writing this and scheduling it to pop up while I am on holiday (oh, the wonders of modern technology) is probably more like two weeks ago.  Time certainly does fly when you're doing something.

Oh, Opera Tavern.  Now this was a really nice place to while away a couple of hours.  It's tapas type food (we're still on a slightly Spanish kick) although some of it is more immediately recognisable as the type of dish you might order in Spain and some of it is is more "this is a small plate of food that we fancy cooking for you", if you see what I mean.  Almost to a dish it sounded lovely though.  We actually ended up veering towards familiar tapas favourites which just made me want to go back and sample some of the slightly less...can I use the word authentic?  No, it just makes me sound like I know what I'm talking about.  Let's just say, the other side of the menu.

The one dish that we'd read about prior to arriving was the Iberico pork and foie gras sliders.  And they really didn't disappoint.

I could have eaten a lot of these.  The pork was more deeply savoury than I usually associate with that meat, but was lifted by the sweetness of the foie.  Juicy, messy and seriously meaty, these were a delight.

Ah, but see here we have a selection of Spanish charcuterie and some gooey little croquettes with aioli and we're back on to familiar territory.

There was much about Opera Tavern to like - not least the wonderful service, with a disarmingly honest yet charming waitress who, despite having to deal with a very large party at latecomers, was still more than happy to chat about the menu, the restaurant and other Salt Yard venues as much as we could wish.  She particularly recommended Ember Yard as being worth a visit - something to bear in mind next time.

We agreed on this trip that we would both get to pick an establishment for lunch.  Opera Tavern was D's choice (well done D).  His wife, yet again, revealed herself to be an utter pleb at heart by opting for Bubbledogs over in Fitzrovia and what can she say?  She doesn't regret it one bit.

Yes, it's a total bloody gimmick.  Bubbledogs is a champagne bar with one of the most extensive fizz lists that I have ever seen.  Alongside the champagne, they dogs.  Yep, gourmet hot dogs with a variety of toppings, and sides of tots or sweet potato fries...and that is pretty much the extent of the menu.  I loved it.

The dogs themselves were top quality - well spiced with that pleasing snap that you are supposed to get when you bite into a hot dog skin, the toppings were generous, and the portion of tots we ordered to go alongside were inescapably moreish.

Given that they served a number of the champagnes by the glass for less than ten pounds, you could quite easily get a cheapish lunch in here.  We opted for a bottle, but there are a good range of prices, and some of the varieties are pretty unusual - plus, the waiter was quite happy to chat through different options without ever going for the hard sell.  As I said, gimmick - yes, but a charming and delicious one.  And they're the best sort.

18 Charlotte Street
London, W1T 2LY
020 7580 3842

Opera Tavern
23 Catherine Street
London, WC2B 5JS
020 7836 3680 

70 Charlotte Street
London, W1T 4QG
020 7637 7770

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Minx Alone

Hello readers of the blog!  It is I, Minx.

I am a hard done by cat, you know.  Scarcely have my humans come back from gallivanting around in a place that they called Barcelona (but you and I know is really Cat-a-land) but they're off to somewhere called Scot-a-land so once again, I am to be dumped in the cattery.  Not that I mind it too much you understand - there are other cats there to chat with and I can play on Mum's guilt for literally weeks when she comes back but still... 

...Why would you want to go on holiday when you have a cat as pretty as me at home?

Mum tells me that she has scheduled some posts to go up while she is away so her beloved readers will not be left to bereft (unlike me - huh).  I did try and help her write them but for some reason she seemed to end up deleting everything that I typed.  Well, I say typed, it was more like stream of consciousness from walking across the keyboard - very modernist says I.  Mum says that this is not a modernist blog.

If anyone wants to send me emergency Dreamies I can be reached care of the Adel Cattery, where I will be mostly practicing my sulky face for the next ten days.  See you on the other side.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Foodie Abroad: Barcelona titbits

As touched upon in my last post, Spanish is not a world cuisine that I know very much about.  Although since I wrote that I started to wonder if I know a significant amount about any world cuisine and concluded that I probably don't.  Especially when you start to take into account the massive regional variations that are going to occur in any country - even a tiny little island like Britain.  But I am always eager to learn, and the best way to do that is to go abroad and, basically, eat as much as possible in an open minded spirit.  In fact, the first time we went to Barcelona, D and I took to wandering in to little tapas joints and just pointing at words on the menu with no clear idea of what we would get.  That is much harder to do now since it seems that most places hand over an English menu as a matter of course, and, equally, with the rise in popularity of tapas chains such as La Tasca, the lingo has become a bit more familiar.

An old favourite that we were determined to revisit was a restaurant that has been a bit of a tourist destination since it opened in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Los Caracoles is a cool, dark, heavily panelled place - full of squinting diners who have just stumbled in off the sunlit street.  The menu is, from what I can tell, very traditional.  The restaurant is named after its signature dish - snails, in a delicious, heavy ragu sauce that comes with a curl of bread, shaped like a snail shell, for dunking.

It is incredibly moreish - although be prepared to spend some time fishing out bits of snail shell - we are not in Michelin land now.  Incidentally, that is a starter sized portion.  If you're my husband, you follow this up with a huge plate of arros negre, a rice dish coloured with squid ink that is sort of akin to a seafood paella.  After this, you will probably require a post lunch siesta.

Seafood abounds in Barcelona - which, given that it is a coastal city, whose port has a two thousand year history, is probably understandable.  On our last full day I was keen to go right down to the marina to eat on one of the terraces down there - it's probably slightly overpriced but the quality of seafood that these places serve is absolutely fantastic.

Clams, mussels and very large...things that were described as winkles but not recognisable as such all cooked to perfection.  Nothing is more delicious than really good seafood and a glass of crisp white wine enjoyed while the sun sparkles off the sea.  Actually, I think that it had clouded over by the time we got there, but my appetite was undaunted.

It was here as well that I got to try my first ever fideua which is basically paella but made with noodles (here, like spaghetti, only much shorter) rather than rice.  I loved this and must try and recreate it at home - I've found a Brindisa recipe online which looks rather good.

And a final foodie highlight to mention - and one that it would be easy to walk past, situated as it is on Las Ramblas and looking like a seriously dodgy tourist trap - is the Jamon Experience.  Yes, that's right, the Experience of Ham.  We spent a very diverting couple of hours in here - first learning about how the ham is made and the different gradings, before getting to scoff six different types with a cool glass of Cava (or beer or red wine depending on your preference).  

There's a shop at the end (where they sell, er, ham) but no pressure to buy - our ham man (which is a rather unfair way to describe him given that it actually takes a lot of skill and dexterity to carve the ham into the tissue thin slices that the product demands) just cheerfully left us to wander - although not before pouring us a second drink to sip among the hams.  Happiness, my friends, truly is.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Foodie Abroad: Fine dining in Barcelona

So, as you can imagine, we were keen to sample some of Barcelona's higher end fare while we were there - this is the region of Spain that gave the world El Bulli after all.  D's initial suggestion was that we went for a Michelin star place every night we spent in the city - D does not always live in the real world.  As it was, we had dinner at two starred Lasarte on the Tuesday and lunch at the one starred Cinc Sentits on the Wednesday and both had fairly significant food babies (and credit card bills) as a result.

Both meals were excellent and I'd be hard pushed to fault any of the dishes that were set in front of us.  Unlike the couple at the table next to us in Lasarte who put ice cubes in Dom Perignon champagne, sent back a snail risotto because it contained snails and started fretting about a fag break when they were three courses in.  Yes, if you've identified my tone as "incensed snob" there you would be entirely right - I don't care.

Anyway, let's start with Lasarte, because, er, it came first.  I would describe the food as modern European - it didn't have any particular element that screamed Spain at me (although my lack of knowledge about Spanish cuisine could have meant that I was not picking up on subtle cues) and a lot of techniques on display were in line with the kind of food you'd eat in any good restaurant in any city in the world nowadays.  But I would hate to come across as blasé because I'm really not - it was fantastic food, beautifully treated and some of the dishes were utterly superlative.

The afore mentioned risotto - watercress with snails and sea cucumber.  Look at the colour of that risotto!  This was a fantastic dish, rich without being cloying with a lovely range of textures.  Not one to order if you don't like snails though.

And more green food!  This was an Iberico ham and basil soup with oxtail cannelloni - D declared it his top dish of the holiday. The soup tasted as vibrant as it looks and the pasta added interest and smoky depth.

I do think the brown smear is rather unfortunate presentation, but this dessert of French toast with frozen coffee creme and plum compote was a sweet and sticky delight with a pleasing touch of bitterness from the ice cream.  Very yummy indeed.

And check out the petits fours tower!  Absolutely lovely presentation, a really nice touch.

So, yes, Lasarte was lovely.  And if that had been the only high end meal of the holiday we would have felt ourselves very lucky indeed.  The trouble was, the next day, in Cinc Sentits, we had possibly our second favourite meal ever (the first being EMP back in December).  And, as with EMP, it was mainly because this was food that had evolved from a sense of place and tradition which always seems to add an additional dimension - an imperceptible seasoning of love.

We would be here all day if I shared all the pictures with you, so I'll try and contain myself.  This "garden" course has to be one of the prettiest plates of food that I have ever eaten.  Each individual component part was immaculately treated, some of the vegetables lightly pickled, others charred, and the whole was a lovely fresh start to the meal proper (we had already been presented with some fantastic reimaginings of traditional tapas dishes at this point to get us warmed up).

The main course was so clever - squab served in three parts.  Which sounds like a bit of a gimmick but really worked well allowing you to appreciate the different components of the bird.

So first the breast, the meat blush pink and iron sweet the skin crisp and salty, served with compressed pear.

Then a little croquette made with the offal.

And finally a spelt risotto with squab leg. This bag was cut open at the table so the intense smell of game and wine and herbs hit you full in the face when you started eating.  By the end I was picking out single grains of spelt at a time to try and eke out the experience.  Glorious.

I think it is fair to say that Spaniards aren't as big into the cheese as some other European nations. What made the cheese course here special was the little accompaniments that came with each one.  So quince paste (of course) and then (revelatory!) a little cube of dense, damp almond cake which worked amazingly with the saltiness, and finally a little carrot marmalade which added crunch.  I've found a recipe for what I think would be a good approximation for the cake online so if I try to recreate it I'll be sure to give it a go - I love the idea of serving guests cake with cheese.

Finally (and I'm conscious that this post is turning into a bit of a marathon now - hope I haven't made you too hungry) the puddings - oh, the puddings.  We had adored the french toast, coffee and plum combination the night before but it was just blown out of the water:

There were textures of lemon, and there was a version of the chocolate with olive oil and salt that we had enjoyed earlier in the week but to my mind the best (pictured above) was the cinnamon doughnut with toffee and apple and (I think) lemon verbena - a dish that was all the flavours of the funfair.  I never wanted to stop eating it.

So, in conclusion, Lasarte is a lovely restaurant where you will have wonderful food.  And Cinc Sentits is somewhere really very special indeed where you will have a near matchless experience.  It reinforces my opinion that when talented people are cooking the food inspired by what they know and love they will far surpass those that follow fashion or seek to be edgy.  And it has really fired my curiosity to learn more about Spanish cuisine, which is clearly has a lot more to offer than simply tapas and paella.

Restaurant Lasarte
Mallorca 259
tel: +34 93 445 32 42

Cinc Sentits
Aribau 58
tel:+34 93 323 94 90

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The sound of silence

Greetings, friends!  My, but this little corner of the internet has been a bit quiet lately, hasn't it?  I wish I had a good excuse for you - I've got more stuff to put up from Barcelona, and a couple of real little London gems from last weekend but the truth is...well, I've had a bit of the ennui.

I, I pretty much know that this is work related.  I try to be suitably vague about my job on here because a) it is quite horrendously dull and b) I am ever so slightly paranoid (someone in our building got sacked on the spot for making a comment about the department on Twitter while in the office).  So excuse me for not providing details.  Suffice to say, I am conscious of how lucky I am to not only be employed but also reasonably well remunerated but oh, it grinds me down.  It is just not really the right job for me.  And when you spend two thirds of your life doing something that doesn't make you particularly happy then it impacts on the remaining third - in my case, misery makes me rather inert.

So, why not pack it in and do something else?  Well, the main reason is that I have The Fear: I don't want to be unemployed and I don't really want to take a significant pay cut unless it is for a very good reason.  I also don't honestly know what the right job is.  I have ideas and inklings but no stone cold certainty.  I'm not desperately motivated by money - I just want something that makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning.  Am I expecting too much?  Do the majority of people just drag themselves through the daily grind and then concentrate on making sure that their leisure time makes up for the drudgery of the office?  That doesn't sound like the right way to live to me.

Anyway, I've been having a bit of a sulk and that is why I haven't been a particularly good blogger in recent weeks and is also probably why my WW campaign has stalled a bit.  We are going to Scotland for ten days next week so my impetus to get going again is rather low - but hopefully a break will be just what I need to clear my head, gain a bit of perspective and boost my mojo.