Monday, 27 April 2015

MPM: 27th April 2015

Greetings everyone, and welcome to a more summery meal planning Monday than I can remember for a good long while.  The weather is, quite simply, GLORIOUS.  Which means that meals are tending to be a bit lighter and a bit fresher.
D and I are out Friday at a colleague's retirement drinks, out Saturday at a local event and leaving Sunday and Monday plan free at the moment until we decide how the long weekend is going to pan out.  So, not many meals to think about in advance this week.  Here's what we we will eating chez WWF...
Brown crab risotto with crab and chilli cakes and Parmesan crisps - a dish inspired by our recent trip to Whitby, where all along the seafront you can buy fabulous dressed crabs.
Bacon, egg and roasted asparagus salad with a honey mustard dressing
Trout with cauliflower and pickled mushrooms with brown butter sauce - D will be cooking this, an approximation of one of the dishes cooked in Masterchef finals week.  We are both in a very fishy mood at the moment!
Pea and ham soup.
Mmmm, looking forward to that little lot.  As ever, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's...

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Hello weight loss, my old friend...

For all my bravado a few weeks ago, I have yet to go back to a Weight Watchers meeting.  I don't know why, but the thought of setting foot through the door reduces me to a quivering wreck.  Definitely some issues there to work on.  But that is not to say that I have not been engaging in the Watching of the Weight.  I have a good few days under my (capacious) belt now and am feeling nicely in control even after our brief sojourn in Whitby.

One of my...issues is perhaps too strong a word but will do for now...with the WW model is the emphasis on the one weekly weigh in.  While I understand the reasoning behind it, it does set an awful lot of store by what you weigh in one particular moment in time rather than on the general progress.  I've recently found an app called Happy Scale which allows you to record a daily figure and then uses that to calculate a moving average as well as a record low summary.  So far, I like this approach.  The concern with daily weighing is always that it can be a bit obsessional, so I've switched my scales to kilograms - that way I can see and record the change in the numbers without really understanding what said numbers mean (I'm actively trying not to do conversion maths in my head).  I find that way there is a much less emotive connection between what the scales say and how I feel.  Logical?  Perhaps not, but you've always got to do what works best for you at any given time.

Anyway, it means that you are spared the interminable weekly weigh in posts for now - although I might do a semi regular update on progress if, for no other reason that to add a bit more accountability.  As to meetings, I just don't know...history tells me that I do better when I am going but history also tells me that I have a tendency to come to a juddering halt whenever I have a bad few weeks.  I'm keeping an open mind for the time being.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Whitby (and weight loss)

There are very few places in the world that I love as much as Whitby.  I've been visiting since I was a child and much of it has barely changed.  There is something completely timeless about the place.

For once, we were blessed with the weather. For the day and a half that we were there, we had constant sunshine and blue skies.  Whitby has a brooding quality which means that it suits grey skies and mizzle but it was so nice to walk round in short sleeves and feel the sun on our skin.

We went to the arcades, took a boat trip, climbed up to the Abbey and just...wandered.

On Thursday evening, we had planned to go for dinner at Green's bistro, which seems to be the closest Whitby gets to upmarket cooking.  But in the pub we found a corner table which was right by the window and afforded amazing views out across the seafront.  We couldn't bring ourselves to leave but lingered as the twilight fell and the lights of the arcades became increasingly gaudy in the gathering dusk.  So pub grub and cheap white wine it was, and then we fell into conversation with a large group of Goths who were there for Whitby Goth Weekend and ended up staying until well past the bell called time.  Next time, Green's!

Fish and chips at the Magpie Cafe were superlative as usual although I eschewed them in favour of  hake with a smoked haddock fishcake and creamy vegetables.  LOVED this and definitely would like to recreate something of the sort at home - I thought using a fishcake as an accompaniment was such a nifty little idea.

Points may have gone by the wayside to a certain extent, but prior to the trip, there had been a steady downwards trajectory all week, with a total loss of 2.6 kg across 6 days.  I expect to see a bit of a bounce tomorrow but nothing that a restrained weekend won't take care of.  I'm in a really happy place at the moment - I don't necessarily know what has caused the massive upswing in my general mood, but I am not going to knock it.  Onwards and downwards lovely friends, and a very happy weekend to you all!

Monday, 20 April 2015

MPM: 20th April 2015

Funny old week this week - I've got an exam on Wednesday so am a little bit...distracted, shall we say.  As soon as that is finished, D is picking me up and we are whisking off to Whitby for a couple of nights of R&R(&F&C).  We've planned the meals for tonight and tomorrow - I always eat the same dinner the night before an exam - and we know what we're having when we get back on Friday night, but the weekend remains a blank at the moment - probably some sort of roast on Sunday.  I'm sure we'll figure it out!

Anyway, the meals we have got decided are as follows:

Roast chicken breast, lemon couscous, asparagus
Salmon fillet with pasta pesto
Truffled mushroom risotto

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Amelia Rope chocolate (being a little of what you fancy)

I am a fully paid up, card carrying, unashamed chocoholic. Let's just get that out of the way first, shall we?  If there is a pudding on the menu that involves chocolate in any shape or form, you can be 99% sure that I will order it.  If there are two, then I'll be trying to convince D to order the other one.

This has been going on for a long time.  My mother claims to still remember the look of bliss that passed across my face the very first time that I was given a chocolate button. And I'm sure that there is a story in the family annals about me as a toddler managing to steal and eat my way through an entire box of chocolates (and it does sound like the kind of thing that I would do - moderation and I are not regular bedfellows).

Mind you, I'm not a chocolate snob.  A four finger Kit Kat is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  As is a bar of Dairy Milk, cold from the fridge and eaten with a cup of coffee.  But on the days when I don't have many points to spare yet need a chocolate hit, I tend to find myself turning towards the more expensive end of the market where you find greater intensity and complexity of flavour and thus can satisfy yourself with a smaller amount (theoretically).

And so it is that I wanted to commend to your attention the wonderful products produced by Amelia Rope.  If you're a chocolate fan - particularly a salted chocolate fan - then you need to give these a whirl because in terms of balancing flavours this woman is on a par with Willy Wonka himself.  The chocolate itself is superlative but factor in a dusting of sea salt and a few drops of one of Ms Rope's beautiful flavoured oils and you have an absolute masterpiece.  If I had to pick a favourite, I'd probably come down on the side of pale lemon and sea salt simply because it is a slightly unusual pairing and utterly, compellingly delicious.  If portion control is your issue, then follow the example of  D, who got me a box of salted chocolate cubes instead of an Easter egg; these are an absolutely perfect way for me to get a sweet fix at the end of the day and still feel relatively virtuous.

This is not a cheap product by any means, and the fixed £5 delivery charge means that you are better off buying a number of bars at a time - although this is no very great hardship.  If you are a fellow chocolate lover and you do give it a try then I'd love to hear what you think - or alternatively, get your own recommendations.

NB:  Sadly, this is not a sponsored post.  It is just bloody lovely chocolate.
NB2: If you are a Weight Watcher, both milk and dark chocolate are 1pp per 7g square.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Recipe corner: Hot cross bun pudding with salted caramel

I wasn't going to bother putting this one through the WW recipe builder, because frankly, there are some things that we are better off not knowing.  However, the original happened to include the nutritional information, so I've calculated the points for shits and giggles.  It's a scary number, but I promise you, if you make this recipe, you will thank me for it.  And we can all go for a long, daffodil strewn walk to burn if off, yes?

This recipe was originally published in March's Waitrose kitchen magazine and the only change that I made was to use skimmed rather than whole milk because I tend not to have whole milk to hand and I always feel that if a custard has double cream in it, it probably doesn't make an awful lot of difference.  It is a good dish for a dinner party because all the component parts can be made well in advance and then you just have to pour over the custard, strew the sugar and bake.  We did this just as we were sitting down to cheese and the timing worked out nicely.

We served this with a simnel cake ice cream which was basically a spice infused custard combined with dried fruit that had been pre soaked in brandy and Earl Gray tea, and chopped pieces of marzipan.  Vanilla ice cream would be a good accompaniment too though, or just a trickle of cream.

Oh, this makes slightly more of the salted caramel sauce than you need for four puddings, so keep the excess and pour over ice cream.  Or just eat with a spoon.


100 ml milk
100 ml double cream
Tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Tbsp caster sugar
4 hot cross buns, chopped into eight pieces
Tbsp demerara sugar

For the caramel sauce:

110g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
1 tbsp brandy
75 ml double cream
Pinch of sea salt

Serves 4, 16 pro points per portion

First, the caramel sauce.  Put the sugar in a large saucepan - it needs to have a big surface area and a heavy bottom (a bit like me!)  Set over a low heat and allow to melt slowly.  Swirl it occasionally to ensure it is warming evenly but do NOT be tempted to stir.  While this is happening you can combine the brandy and the cream and get the butter measured out.

When the sugar is melted turn the heat up SLIGHTLY and simmer gently until it has turned a deep amber gold colour.  Watch it like a hawk - it will go from beautiful to burnt very quickly.  When it has gone as dark as you dare remove from the heat and stir in the butter (it will spit, so be careful).  Then stir in the brandy cream and the sea salt until combined.

Take the four ramekins you are using for the puddings and put a generous couple of tablespoons of sauce in the bottom of each one, swirling for even coverage.  Do this straight away while the caramel is still nice and loose.  Arrange the hot cross bun pieces on top.  You can do this in advance and set aside.

Put the milk, cream and vanilla in another pan and bring to just below boiling point - you want there to be lots of bubbles all around the edge just busily breaking the service.  While it is getting there you can whisk the egg yolks and sugar together lightly.  Remove the milk and cream from the heat and pour in a slow, steady stream over the egg yolks whisking constantly to prevent scrambling.  You can make this in advance as well.  Place some cling film directly on the top of the custard to prevent a skin forming as it cools and set aside.

Prior to serving, preheat the oven to 180.  Pour the custard over the buns and sprinkle with the demerara sugar then bake for 20 minutes or until golden.  You can drizzle more sauce on before serving if you like (and who wouldn't?)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cheap Eats in Leeds: Red Chilli

(A very special guest post today from my partner in [calorie] crime!  For previous Cheap Eats in Leeds posts see here and here...)

Hi, D here, I'm being allowed to say a few words with regards last night's "failed" cheap night out.

The plan was to take S to Nation of Shopkeepers which is my current favourite place in Leeds for a burger; the less said about Leeds List's top ranked New York Burger Kitchen the better - or maybe it's a story for another time, who knows.

We arrived a little later than we would normally have supper (look at me being posh, I'm Northern so normally I'd say tea when I obviously mean dinner for most people) but not so late as to...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So we arrived at NOS and I sent S to find a table while I ordered the drinks which was both a smart move and a mistake because once they had been served I proceeded to make my food order and...

Barman: "I'm sorry, the kitchen closed early tonight."
Me: "!!!"
Barman: "Did you only come in for the food?"
Me: "Yes we did."
Barman: "The drinks are on us then."
Me:  "Are you sure?"  (Free drinks!  Living the dream!)
Barman: "Yes."
Me: "Thank you,"  (Result!)

Of course now we needed to work out where to eat.  We contemplated Almost Famous which is situated next door and the burgers looked good apart from that "Shut Up America" abomination (Oreo ice cream sandwiches are NOT burger toppings) but as I was determined to get S to try the NOS burger first I thought something else made more sense.

And thus it was that we made the short trip over the road to Red Chilli, somewhere I'd visited previously.  I must admit that we didn't keep the cost under £30 (the self imposed limit for Cheap Eats) but we could have managed it if we had shared a single main which would have been more than enough for the two of us.  As if was, S took a lot of hers home in a doggy bag.

Anyway, the waitress came over to take our order and S went for salt and pepper squid to start followed by a Beijing style tofu main.  Then something happened that I have never encountered before.  I asked for a portion of duck tongues to start and the waitress said no!...

Waitress: "You should have the chicken dish," (pointing to the item next to the duck tongues.
Me: "I'd like the duck tongues please."
Waitress: "Have you had them before?"
Me: "No."
Waitress: "They're cold and bony."
Me: "I'd like the duck tongues please."
Waitress.  "They're not really for you.  There are other dishes that you might like."
Me: "!!" (Is she saying they're only for Chinese people?)

Now I should tell you - there are ways of getting me not to do something but telling me that I can't do it is not one of them.

Me: "I'd like the duck tongues please."

At this point she finally took my order and didn't seem to have any quarrel with the mutton dish or the egg fried rice that I ordered for us to share.

(I'm sorry, this was supposed to be a few words and I've already written quite a bit, perhaps the editor will cut some of this out (Ed:  Nah, people are plenty used to me rambling on...)

So the dishes arrived and the duck tongues turned out to be both fiddly to eat and delicious.  There is no easy or polite way to despatch them - I was covered in duck juices, fat and hot sauce.  The sauce was tasty but fiery, and it was a cumulative kind of heat - my mouth was tingling by the end of the starter, and for a good while afterwards.  If you don't mind eating like a caveman and enjoy heat than I can recommend these wholeheartedly.

Duck tongues
 Meanwhile, the salt and pepper squid was a fine example of the genre, nicely peppery and cooked to perfection.

As for mains, the tofu dish was OK but I prefer our own black pepper tofu which is actually a Yotam Ottolenghi dish.  My mutton was lovely so all in all I think that I preferred my dishes - man like meat as S might say.

Mutton, tofu
We settled up and then headed for home with very full stomachs to watch Masterchef (which we both agree is not shaping up to be a vintage year).

The End.

Thanks for letting me say a few words....


(As for my two penn'orth - I love this place.  The menu is so interesting with a variety of dishes that go well over and above the usual suspects.  I can't tell if it is genuinely authentic - I've never been to China - but it doesn't seem overly Anglicised.  As D said, it is easy to do cheaply as well - the portions are such that one starter, one main and one side would feed two people pretty easily.  Highly recommended.)

Red Chilli
6 Great George Street
0113 242 9688

Monday, 13 April 2015

MPM: 13th April 2015

After being a little OTT with our spend for Easter Sunday, D and I decided to reign it in for a couple of weeks.  Which has meant taking a critical look at the contents of the freezer and the cupboards and using those as the basis for meal planning.  We've actually ended up with some really yummy dishes - (I would definitely rock the Masterchef invention test) and, across two weeks, our total food shopping bill has probably come in at around £50 in total.

This week, I've got book group on Tuesday, so D will be freezer diving (there's a portion of coq a la biere in there that I reckon has his name all over it) and on Wednesday we're heading out for another one of our Cheap Nights Out, as we continue to explore the best and lowest priced that Leeds has to offer.  Elsewhere we will mostly be eating:

Sausages, mash and onion gravy
Burmese chicken soup
Chilli con carne with rice and herbed yoghurt
Spaghetti with 'Nduja

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Recipe corner: tuna and apple mousse

This is not really a recipe so much as telling you a list of ingredients to bung in a food processor and blitz to an inauspicious looking paste.  It is very tasty though.  We served it as a dip prior to Easter Sunday lunch, with strips of toasted pitta bread and crudites, but it is also lovely on toast with some crisp slices of cucumber.  The amount listed below will yield enough to fill two large ramekins. The original recipe (which I have tweaked ever so slightly) comes from "Chocolate and Zucchini" by Clotilde Dusoulier.


1 large can of tuna in brine or spring water, drained
1 shallot, quartered
1/2 crisp green apple (a Granny Smith is ideal), cored and quatered
Juice of half a lemon
Small handful of fresh coriander leaves
60g ricotta
1/2 tsp chilli powder
25ml olive oil

Serves 4 (generously), 3 pro points per portion

Er, place ingredients in food processor.  Season.  Blitz.

Ca, c'est tout.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Further notes on Easter Sunday

When playing host, D and I like nothing more than to feed people until they pop and wash said food down with as much wine as we can ply them with.  Our motto is never knowingly underfed.  Except that we are both quite pretentious so would probably try and translate it into Latin.

To kick off our Easter excesses, there were dips - a smoky, garlic laden baba ganoush and a surprisingly delicious tuna and apple mousse. The recipe for the latter will follow shortly, since it is one of those things that is incredibly quick and easy to knock up and is marvellous smeared over pitta, crudites or crackers depending on what you have to hand.

Then, to start, D's latest iteration of a prawn cocktail notable in particular for its smoky avocado puree and sun dried tomato flatbread.  Smoke and avocado is an absolute winning combination which we first encountered during a recent trip to The Yorke Arms and we found that the easiest and tastiest way to achieve it was by making scant use of this product: Liquid Smoke.  Seldom has a condiment been so aptly named; if you're a fan of smoky, barbecue flavours, I would definitely check this out.  Meanwhile, the flat bread was nicked wholesale from one of Jamie O's 15 minute meals and basically consists of blitzed up sun dried tomatoes in oil with flour, baking powder and a little water and then pan frying it until blistered and crispy.  Incredibly simple but an excellent way to add flavour and texture to the dish.

Dessert was another recipe that I'm going to put up here later this week because it is imperative that it is shared - salted caramel hot cross bun pudding with simnel cake ice cream.  If you like fruit, spice and rich vanilla sweetness then it is very important that you make this before the shops decide to stop selling hot cross buns (although I reckon a tea cake might do at a pinch).  Stay tuned, hop pickers!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Italian inspired stuffed leg of lamb with Spring on the side - Easter Sunday chez Foodie

For all that Easter is the arguably more significant religious festival (to Christians, at least) it is Christmas Dinner that has become the biggest occasion in the home cook's calendar.  This year, D and I wanted to try and redress the balance a little bit.

It had to be lamb.  You can't not cook lamb at Easter.  And,to be honest, if you're going to cook lamb, it is very hard to go wrong with Tom Kerridge's superlative lamb shoulder on boulangere potatoes. If you've never cooked that little beauty, dear Reader, then you need to give it a go.  But I wanted to do something a little bit different this year, and took to t'Internet for some alternative inspiration.

I ended up, thanks to some inspiration from a dear friend, with an approximation of this recipe, courtesy of the Jamie Oliver magazine.

I started with a leg joint that my friendly local butcher boned out and butterflied for me.  It is worth asking a professional to do this if you possibly can, although a husband with access to You Tube and a sharp knife will make a jolly good attempt if you're pushed.  I smeared a couple of heaped teaspoons of green pesto across the meat then added roughly chopped artichoke hearts, still golden and peppery with oil, anchovy fillets, a thick coating of Parmesan breadcrumbs, a carpet of flat leaf parsley and plenty of seasoning before rolling the beast up and securing with string.  There are some powerful, salty ingredients in that stuffing, such that it sounds like it might be slightly too much - but rest assured that in conjunction with the sweet, fatty lamb it works like an absolute dream.

To accompany, I wanted some side dishes that would incorporate the same sort of robust flavours as the meat but might be slightly lighter than the Sunday dinner norm.  I revisited an old friend, a cannellini bean puree flavoured with lemon and roasted garlic which provided a soft, flavourful blanket on which to build the plate up with roasted new potatoes, pan roasted asparagus (still not local alas - I'm waiting for the start of the season with bated breath) and a delicious braised fennel gratin with lemon and Parmesan.  Minted peas would be another excellent addition here if you felt so inclined. 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Happy Easter!

I hope, most fervently, that you all had chocolate for breakfast...or, at the very least, a hot cross bun.

I'll be back soon with tales of an Italian inspired roast leg of lamb and the recipe for a VERY indulgent but seriously good Easter pudding.

In the meantime, I leave you with news that at least one person does not appear to be perturbed by the decline in Creme Egg quality this year...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Cheap Eats in Leeds: Bundobust

D and I are on a continuing mission to sniff out the best places to eat out in Leeds for under £15 a head.  Earlier this month, we headed to The Black Swan for superlative pizza.  Now we come to D's March choice: Bundobust.

The venue

Bundobust is another relatively recent addition to the Leeds scene, opening its doors last July.  Word has clearly spread since the place was full to the gunnels on a miserable, wet Monday evening.

The concept (and I sort of hate using that word in conjunction with restaurants) is an Indian street food kitchen situated in a real ale pub.  And the overall feel of the place is quite canteen-esque - certainly functional rather than beautiful.  But that happens to suit the style of the food down to the ground.

The order

A selection of Indian street food consisting of:
The ultimate bhaji (onion, cauliflower and spinach)
Something called Bhel Puri, which is a cold dish of puffed rice and noodles, flavoured with tamarind chutney
Indian style scrambled eggs with flatbread
Dhal and rice
Oh, and some spiced popcorn.

This lot came in at a grand total of £23.  Absolutely bargainous.

The food

This is street food, it is not to be nibbled at politely.  It arrived at the table in takeaway style cardboard tubs.  It was neither pretty nor pretentious.  What it was, was completely delicious.  I was particularly taken with the spicy eggs which we hoovered up between us - definitely something to recreate at home.  The dhal as well was fabulous, a soft, tender hug of a dish humming with ginger.  I probably could have lived without the spiced popcorn which was fine but slightly underwhelming in terms of chilli flavour.

I think this is the kind of place that is going to divide the crowd - it is not for meat eaters (the menu is entirely vegetarian), and it is certainly not for people who want a comfortable chair and a proper knife and fork.  But for cheap, tasty, exciting food and a good selection of craft ales, it is definitely somewhere to sniff out. 

6 Mill Hill