Thursday, 30 July 2015

Hitting up the Scotland Year of Food and Drink 2015

I'm on the countdown to my holidays - today is officially my last day in the office for over two weeks and I couldn't be happier about it.  We are off to Scotland on Monday - a couple of nights in Glasgow and then a whistlestop tour of Islay before Mull for a week.  The weather forecast might be a little dismal but our enthusiasm remains undampened.

It goes without saying that most of our plans involve indulging in some fabulous food and drink.  Not for nothing did we pick Islay, home to a number of fantastic whisky distilleries, and no trip to Mull would be complete without at least one seafood binge.  I hope to share some of my adventures here while we go round, WiFi access allowing.

By a very happy coincidence, it turns out that 2015 has been declared the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland so hopefully we will come across some events while we are out and about.  Whatever happens, you can be sure that there will be plenty of enthusiastic prose and terrible photography.

A beautiful Scottish oyster topped with chorizo in Oban
I'm also conscious that I've been very lax about posting recipes here lately and we've been doing some fantastic cooking at home.  I'm going to try and schedule some recipe posts to pop up over the next couple of weeks while we're away - keep your eyes peeled for a very interesting prawn dish and a superlative pulled pork.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Reading, not planning

I faithfully promised my mother on Sunday that I would write a meal planning post.  And indeed, I had every intention of doing so - especially since we actually had a meal plan.  But then I accidentally picked up a book and...suddenly the evening was gone.

As a child, indeed, as a teenager, I was always a bookworm.  I was one of those kids who started getting twitchy if there was nothing around to read.  Unfortunately, I read incredibly fast which made holiday packing tricky (this being in the time before Kindles).  I seem to recall one trip when my exasperated parents banned me from taking my usual mountain of reading material and I ended up practically memorising a copy of Woman magazine that my mother had bought at the airport.

I loved reading so much that when it came to choosing a degree subject, there was, in the end, no contest.  My head said that something vocational like law was the way forward, but my heart pined for English literature and was ultimately victorious.  When people ask me what is the purpose of an English degree, I can talk the good talk about the critical reading and communication skills that you pick up, but the truth is that most English students that I encountered were the kind of children who, like me, dreamt of being accidentally locked in a library overnight.

Anyway, the point of all this is that recently I have been trying to get back in touch with my inner bookworm.  I don't know whether it is part of growing older, or the demands of work, or the fact that I no longer have a daily train journey, but I just don't seem to read as much anymore.  D and I therefore declared a mindless television ban (it remains off unless there is something that we specifically want to watch) and our evenings are to be devoted to literary pursuits.  Which is great.  But yesterday, I picked up an old copy of Sebastian Faulks's "Engleby" and barely looked up until bedtime.  So I forgot to meal plan.

Sorry about that.

I did manage to throw together a delicious dinner for us, as per the abstract plan.  Pan fried salmon, warm potato salad dressed with olive oil, lemon and mustard, and some lightly pickled, dill drenched cucumber ribbons.  Gorgeous stuff.

The rest of the week we are aiming to eat as much of the perishable stuff in our kitchen as possible, prior to our departure for Scotland next Monday.  Which means cod curry tonight (the second half of the batch that we made last week), then haggis hash and 'nduja spaghetti with garlic bread later on.  It all sounds like pretty tasty stuff.

When we get back we plan to revisit some of our recent budget ideas to ensure that any profligacy while enjoying the whiskies of Islay and the seafood of Mull (not to mention the pre holiday Kindle binge), is balanced out.  I see macaroni cheese in my very near future!

Monday, 20 July 2015

MPM: 19th July 2014

I always try and write the meal planning post on a Sunday to ensure that it gets done.  But sometimes the result is that I feel quite Sundayish when I do it - sleepy and slow and tea ridden.  This is especially true this morning and therefore I am going to plunge straight in to the meals themselves and spare you the rambling intro.

Meal plan this week is as follows:

Brown shrimp risotto
Leftover roast pork with potato salad
Red pepper, goats' cheese and 'nduja pasta bake
Rick Stein's cod curry (bumped from last week)

We are mainly out next weekend and so it is just the midweek that needs thinking about - which makes this a short (but definitely sweet) entry.  More meal planning fun (and perhaps some engaged brains) over at Mrs M's.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The treadmill

I am continuing to try to blog even though I fear what I am producing is little more than a ramble.  Actually, I have a gorgeous recipe that I will try and post at the weekend (makes mental note).  No pictures unfortunately - or fortunately if you consider my woeful food photography skills.  Perhaps I shall headline it with a picture of the cat looking winsome.

I got on the scales this morning, out of idle curiosity, and was surprised to see that I've lost a couple of kilos (they remain set to kilograms for the time being although the temptation to convert to pounds is often too hard to resist).  It's a slow drift but it is a drift down which is interesting.  It got me to thinking about the whole diet treadmill thing.  You know - you're either on it, and jogging along with everything going swimmingly, or you're flat on your black on the floor, having been violently hurled from the belt, and you're pouring molten chocolate into your mouth.  Have I, quite accidentally, managed to stumble across the happy medium?

I spent the weekend with my young nephew and niece and my great wish for them (my niece in particular since it is often a female issue) is that they never get on that treadmill, because once you do it is always there.  If they are wise they will follow my brother's example; he loves his food and his wine and his beer and always has, but even as a small child he instinctively ate in moderation and was naturally active.  He has had his faddier moments - and I still don't approve of cottage cheese pancakes for breakfast (he is a fan of a protein rich diet) - but his relationship with food has always seemed to me to be pretty good.  Me - I've feasted and famined, been fat and thin and probably always will be ever so slightly weird when it comes to eating.

Having said all that, the number on the scales this morning shows that when I actually stop thinking about it and try and act like a normal person, I do pretty well.  Counting points makes it hard to be normal - and don't get me wrong, I know I need to count points to get down to where I need to be - but it gives me some hope that maybe when I get there I'll finally get that balance right.

Monday, 13 July 2015

MPM: 13th July 2015

Just back from a few days down South visiting some of my favourite little people.  My niece and nephew are (and I fully admit that I might be biased) an incredibly gorgeous and engaging pair and an absolute pleasure to visit.  Not to mention my brother and sister in law who somehow manage to make parenthood actually look not only easy(ish) but also pleasurable.

I also had the opportunity to visit one of my oldest friends who has recently had her first baby.  It is a very odd experience seeing someone that you have known since they were in white knee socks becoming a mother.  It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were teetering down Romford High Street smothered in lip gloss.  And now she has a small son.  How times change.

Anyway, back home and back to meal planning.  Actually, D has put together the plan for this week - well, he needed something to do while I was off gallivanting!

Langoustines with sweet potato and chilli vinaigrette (we had this a few weeks ago and enjoyed it so much that it has popped up again - although we're going to try and refine it this time)
Coq au Riesling
The ultimate BLT
Rick Stein's cod curry
Chilli con carne with home made cornbread
Barbecued shoulder of pork

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


No MPM this week as I am away from tomorrow (D will probably live on scavengings from the fridge and freezer) and the first few days were...actually, mainly scavenging from the fridge and freezer.  So it would not have made very interesting reading.  But, mindful of my resolve to blog more frequently, I thought I would do a quick update post.

Weight Watchers

Well, this blog is called the weight watchers foodie, isn't it?  Maybe I should just rename it the foodie.  Or just some girl who likes to eat and also talks about her cat an inordinate amount.  Whatever, at the moment it just isn't happening.  I have decided to stop worrying about why this is for the time being.  My goal for the next few weeks is just to concentrate on healthy routines.  We go away to Scotland for the first fortnight in August which will be a great opportunity to recharge, relax and generally get a bit of oomph back.  Then, when I return, I can put plans in place to crack on and make the second half of the year a tale of successful pound shedding. 

Cooking at home

There has been some good cooking going on recently; our favourite new recipe of the year so far remains the fabulous lemongrass and turmeric chicken that I mentioned a few weeks ago and has since already reappeared on our menu. 

Another recent obsession is a fabulous ingredient called 'nduja which is a spicy, spreadable sausage - sounds weird, tastes fantastic.  We bought ours online from The Ham and Cheese Company and intend to make it a regular fixture in our fridge (it lasts for months if wrapped up properly).   We both very much enjoyed this incredibly simple 'nduja spaghetti recipe but perhaps the best way to enjoy it is spread on good bread and then popped under the grill for a couple of minutes and drizzled with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  Capers or pickles make a good foil for these little toasts.  Honestly, this stuff is fantastic and highly addictive. 

Out and about

You may have already read my glowing review of Harrogate based Norse which has been a recent highlight.  But I also have to give yet another shout out to the lovely Black Swan in Leeds.  This place manages to be a bar, a pizza parlour and a gastropub and fulfil all three functions well.  We very much enjoyed their pizzas earlier in the year and recently went back to try out the gastropub menu (all in the name of research - D was looking for a Christmas party venue.  Yes, that was the C word.  No, I won't say it again for a while).  If you like robust British pub food then this place will suit you down to the ground - we enjoyed chicken liver parfait and a crispy little porky croquette for  starters and then D tackled the beef and bone marrow burger while I went for a beautifully balanced chicken and chorizo dish.  It's not fayne dayning, but it's very, very good. 



Chicken and chorizo

Cat stuff

As I mentioned, I'm away for the weekend so D is going to attempt to bond with the cat.  He is calling it Operation: Stockholm.  I sense I am going to come home to one traumatised feline and one husband who is more scratch than skin.  Wish him luck...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Norse, Harrogate

It's always exciting when you discover a new favourite restaurant, especially when it is a mere half hour drive away. It may still be early days - we're still in the getting to know you phase, the will he or won't he call me back phase - but I have the feeling that with Norse, D and I have found somewhere to which we will return again and again.

As the name suggests, the food has a strong Scandinavian influence throughout which can be felt in the fresh flavours, extensive use of herbs and citrus and the odd portion of raw fish. But the use of local, and often unusual, ingredients (woodruff ice cream, anyone?) make it an affectionate representation of the best of British as well.

We had the tasting menu (of course) which was ridiculously good value, kicking off with some fabulous rye sourdough bread with goats' butter, artichoke puree and toasted grains.  Hard not to fill up on this before the meal had even got going.

Toasted grains
A pea and cheddar veloute with cep custard and pickled girolles was an early highlight, managing to balance the sweet, the sharp and the earthy notes perfectly.  Unfortunately, the balancing act fell down a little during the Whitby crab course - the one misstep of the evening.  The crab meat itself was a bit lacklustre and did not provide the sweetness required to balance out the bitter notes of lemon verbena and beer.  It was the one course that was less than successful, and for that they are forgiven.  Any kitchen that can provide a dish as sublime as the Lancashire smoked eel with dill purée, that arrived a little later, deserves top marks.

The pudding, too, was near perfect - a strawberry cheesecake that included the lightest, most perfumed elderflower foam and the aforementioned woodruff ice cream, all combining to make one of the nicest puddings I have had in a long while - and usually, I'm a chocolate girl all the way.  This was a bowl of British summertime by way of a shady woodland dell, absolutely sublime.

Strawberry cheesecake
All in all, I strenuously recommend this place if you happen to find yourself in Harrogate - although it should be noted that it only turns into Norse in the evening - during the day it is a coffee shop called Baltzersen's (I've just looked at the menu, and am rather keen to go and try the meatball open sandwich).  It's an absolute little gem of a place and I know that you will all wish us well as we embark on a hopefully long and happy relationship.

22 Oxford Street
01423 202363

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Weather whinge

I made a little promise to myself that I would blog every day this week.  And then yesterday happened and I spent most of it in a puddle moaning, "It's tooooooo hooooooot." 

I do not like heat.  I can cope with the cold quite easily - I am essentially warm blooded, not to mention the fact that I have a decent layer of sub cutaneous insulation (rolls eyes).  But heat?  No, no, no, I do not like it. 

I do not like the sun - my fair, Irish skin will burn within minutes.  I do not like humidity - my naturally curly hair will turn into a halo of frizz, my nose and forehead will become bedewed (deliberately twee word to make the whole process sound vaguely cute) with sweat and I will resemble nothing so much as the witch in The Wizard of Oz - after she started melting.

The cat is not impressed either.  She keeps looking up at me piteously, expecting me to fan her with palm fronds.  I guess she is walking round in a fur coat, poor love.

So listen up weather gods - let's dial it down a notch, shall we?  Sunshine is good but not too intense and a nice, brisk breeze to keep the temperature at a manageable level.  Thank you.