Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Recipe corner: Cod with Parma ham and spiced lentils

Readers, I have given up.  I am simply going to stop trying to make my photographs of food look good.  I’m just not prepared to spend the time and energy lining up the perfect shot – not to mention the fact that I’m not prepared to eat cold food.  No, instead, I am going to Instagram the crap out of everything and pretend that I am being abstract and arty.  Here, for example, we present “Cod noir”.

Cod Noir

So.  D and I have been together for quite a long time – even if you knock off the year that we spent apart (but still saw each other on an almost daily basis.  We were BAD at being separated).  Anyway, it has been a long time, so it is nice that he can still surprise me.  Recently, he declared that he was going to cook a dish of cod and spiced lentils.  I was dubious.  It didn’t sound like the kind of thing that would particularly float either one of our boats.  I tentatively suggested that he wrap the fish in some sort of bacony product (reasoning that everything tastes better with bacon) and then left him to it, expecting to find it all rather meh.

How wrong I was – dear Reader, this was SUPER tasty.  The salty bacon and the fragrant, deeply savoury lentils are the perfect accompaniment for soft, sweet flakes of lovely fish.  There is spice but very little heat (D suggests upping the chilli content).  And it is very good for you.  I would definitely commend this one to your attention.

If you omit the oil altogether, you save 4pps per portion.  Which is nice.


Tbsp. oil
Tsp. mild curry powder
Tsp. Garam Masala
Tsp. turmeric
2 x thick cod fillet (loins are good for this)
4 x slices of Parma ham

120g dried Puy lentils
Tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Red onion, finely chopped
Tsp. ground cumin
Tsp. ground coriander
Chicken stock cube (or pot, which is what we use)
Lemon – zest of whole and juice of half

4 tbsp. low fat natural yoghurt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground coriander
Handful fresh coriander, chopped

Serves 2, 15 pro points per portion

Preheat the oven to 200.

Cover the lentils with water and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.  Cook for 20 minutes, or until they are tender.

Combine the yoghurt, coriander (fresh and dried) and cayenne pepper and set aside.

After the lentils have had 15 minutes, put an ovenproof frying pan lightly coated with oil a tablespoon of oil over a high heat.  Coat the fish with the dried spices and wrap in Parma ham.  Fry for 2 minutes until the ham has started to crisp up and then transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 5 minutes.

Once the cod is safely confined, turn your attentions to your lentils.  Drain thoroughly and then heat a further tablespoon of oil in a clean pan and put the onion into soften.  After a couple of minutes, add the garlic and dried spices, and, once all of these are cooked you can add the lentils and stock pot and combine thoroughly.  Add the lemon zest and juice and season to taste.

Serve the lentils topped with the cod and a generous dollop of yoghurt.

Monday, 28 September 2015

MPM: 28th September 2015

Ah, hello October.  It's the time of year when the thoughts of the meal planner turn towards stews and pies and steaming heaps of mashed potato.  Mind you, given the lack of summer in the UK over the last couple of years, such thoughts are never that far away, even in August.

On Friday, it is my grandmother's funeral, so we'll be over with my parents for a couple of nights.  And on Saturday, we have a lunch planned at the wonderful Van Zeller in Harrogate; a belated anniversary present to ourselves.  If it is as good as the last time we went we will definitely be in for a treat.  That only leaves four meals to plan and the current thinking is as follows:

Cod wrapped in Parma ham with spiced lentils
Corned beef hash
Spaghetti with a creamy tomato, caper and rosemary sauce - yes, this is the third time that this poor dish has appeared on the plan, let's try and get it made this time round, shall we?
Shepherds' pie - someone was making one of these on the TV recently and I realised that it has perhaps been years since I cooked up this childhood favourite.  Already looking forward to it.

That's it for us - but head to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Very Sundayish

We are definitely well into autumn now.  It's not just in the quality of the light, or the smell in the air but in the little things, like the rumbling hum of the central heating clicking on first thing in the morning, and the fact that the butter is now hard.  I've been looking back and trying to work out exactly where the year has gone.  

I was trying to arrange a Sunday lunch date with a friend recently and she laughingly said that all her weekends were busy between now and Christmas.  Is this true of many people?  Or are D and I just desperately anti-social?  We tend to pass our weekends quietly; reading, sleeping, spending time to prepare nice meals, generally just collecting ourselves for the week ahead.  Later on today, I am going to turn a bag of windfalls into apple butter and perhaps do some baking.  Maybe have a bath while listening to Desert Island Discs on iPlayer.  

In the words of the carol (and, let's face it, it is never too early to start thinking about the C word) all is calm.  Long may it last.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Recipe corner: Bhurji pau (spicy scrambled eggs)


When we were in Glasgow this summer, we went for breakfast at an absolutely gorgeous little place that serve Bombay Street food with a Scottish twist.  It was called Babu Street Kitchen and you can find the original post here.

Anyway, I was so completely enamoured of their Bhurji Pau, a spicy scrambled egg dish served on a buttered roll that when we got home, D came up with this close tasting replica.  It makes a truly fantastic brunch dish or a light supper when you want something full of flavour but easy on the stomach.

The closest thing we can find locally to the Morton’s rolls that Babu serves (Morton’s being a Glasgow bakery) are Shelton's Lancashire Oven Bottom Muffins which you can buy in Sainsbury’s (and possibly elsewhere although I've not seen them).  They have a lighter texture than an English muffin and are slightly flatter and less crusty than a typical bread roll.  They toast well, are robust enough to make an excellent vehicle for a bacon sandwich or even a burger, and are only 4pps each.  Highly recommended.  If you can’t find them, a normal English muffin would probably make a very acceptable alternative.

Reduce the amount of butter, or indeed, omit it altogether, to save 3pps per portion.


5 medium eggs
2 small (or 1 large) red onions, finely chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
½ inch piece of ginger, finely grated
Small handful of coriander leaves, chopped
Tbsp. vegetable oil
Tsp. ground coriander
Tsp. medium curry powder
½ tsp. chilli flakes
Tsp. tomato puree
10g butter

To serve:

2 muffins (Oven Bottom or otherwise)
20g butter

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Lightly whisk together the eggs with the dried spices and a decent amount of seasoning, then set aside.

Place a pan over a medium heat and add the oil.  When the oil has started to heat up add the onions (along with a pinch of salt to help the sweating) and cook for about five minutes until they have started to soften.  Then add the ginger and the chillies.  Cook for a couple more minutes, before stirring through the tomatoes.

Finally, add the lightly spiced eggs (popping the split muffins in the toaster just before you do so).  Take the heat right down and stir until the eggs start to lightly scramble – probably just a couple of minutes.  Remove from the hob slightly before they are done to the perfection as they will continue to cook in the residual heat.

Stir through the 10g butter, the tomato puree and the coriander.  Butter the muffins with the remainder and then top with the spicy eggs.  Remember Glasgow – and, possibly, wash down with a wee dram.

Edited to add:

Such a dish is too good not to share, so I am including it in the Belleau Kitchen Simply Eggcellent recipe link up.  This month's theme is anything goes (as long as it is eggy and said eggs are free range) so I'm looking forward to seeing what else pops up.

Monday, 21 September 2015

MPM: 21st September 2015

A somewhat trying week last week, but we more or less stuck to the meal plan and very nice it was too.  Coq au Riesling had to be bumped to next Sunday because I didn't take into account the marination time required and that lovely sounding pasta dish didn't get made yet again...I think I shall cook it up and have it for a couple of lunches this week.

Not quite sure what is happening this Friday, but other than that the week is sketched out.  Let's hope for a nice quiet time of it, shall we?

Cod with BLT salad
Bhurji pau (spicy scrambled eggs) with toasted muffins
Sausages and mash with red onion gravy
Butternut squash and tarragon soup
Bolognese pasta bake
Coq au Riesling with homemade baguettes

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Scones for Nanny

My grandmother passed away this week.  She was in her late eighties and suffered from vascular dementia; in such circumstances these things are never entirely unexpected.  But her decline was sudden.  Her stubbornness was legendary within our family; we had expected her to carry on for years, dementia or no.

And just like that, a whole generation of my immediate family is gone.  I have been a little maudlin over the last couple of days but today am feeling a little more...well, carpe diem-ish.  All four of my grandparents lived long and full lives and left behind many fond memories and now we have a new generation in our family (my little nephew started school just the other week - how time has flown!) which is just as it should be.

My Nanny F was the first person who ever allowed me to crack an egg.  Unsurprisingly, it went everywhere.  We used to bake scones together in the kitchen her, my brother and I, using the old fashioned type of scales that come with weights to balance them.  I remember her telling me that a good cook always cleans up as she works which is an adage I adhere to still.  Whenever we went over to stay, she and my grandfather would buy in Coco Pops - it was the only time that we were allowed to eat them - and chocolate digestives which we would have with milk first thing in the morning, still tucked up in bed in the spare room.  The radio was always on in the kitchen, unless it was time for the soaps or the news, in which case it was the small black and white TV on top of the fridge.  She knew how fond I was of salmon and made sure that she always bought some in for me, serving it with a combination of mayonnaise and tomato sauce in a little dish on the side which I thought was terribly sophisticated.

I will miss her, miss all of them, very much and hope that they have all found each other again.  And I think that I shall bake a batch of scones very soon.

Monday, 14 September 2015

MPM: 15th September 2015

One of the best things about meal planning is the sense of anticipation when you've got a really nice dish coming up.  Because clearly, dinner is the highlight of everyone's day, right?  I'm already looking forward to Saturday night: confit duck legs and Doctor Who is basically bliss.

We celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary this week and D is in charge of the catering - he has promised to make me the best.  Sandwich.  Ever.  He knows me so well - sandwiches are right up there among my favourite things.  I shall be providing fizz to wash it down.  On Friday he is off to visit his Dad so I shall be pricking and pinging.

Otherwise we will be eating:

Spicy prawns with green salad and potato salad
Vietnamese style braised pork with rice and stir fry veg using the remains of the Sunday roast
Spaghetti with creamy tomato, rosemary and caper sauce (sadly bumped from last week)
Confit duck legs with mash and braised red cabbage
Coq au riesling with homemade baguette

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Tharavadu, Leeds

Last Monday, D and I found ourselves in the centre of town for a work event.  It was one of those ghastly, corporate things that requires an administration of alcohol straight afterwards and so we decided that we might as well make a bit of an evening of it.  This was originally supposed to be another example of a Leeds Cheap Night Out but when my mother very kindly put some money in my bank account as an early wedding anniversary gift we decided to do some pushing of the boat.  And I'm very glad we did so because the meal I had at Tharavadu is one of the finest examples of Indian food that I've had in a long time.

It is, more specifically, a Keralan restaurant, Kerala being a state in South West India situated on the coast - which probably explains the prevalence of seafood dishes on the menu.  The spicing, in general, seemed to be on the milder end of the spectrum and coconut was widely used.  Oh, and everything was utterly delicious.

We started with pre-meal snacks and pickles, which were slightly more varied than the usual poppadoms.  I'm not entirely sure what they all were but they were crunchy and salty and not in the least bit greasy as can be the way of such things.

The white chutney on the right was some sort of coconut dip which was seriously good - think a savoury Bounty bar and you wouldn't be far wrong (although you might be slightly freaked out).

We usually avoid starters in Indian restaurants as they can spoil you for the main event.  However, in this instance we opted to share a portion of chilli paneer.

Beautifully presented, just the right level of warmth from the chilli and lots of crunchy vegetables.  Yum.  Oh, and wouldn't you have thought that after all these years I would have gained at least some food photography skills?  Useless I tell you, useless.  It's a good job I can paint a picture with words...(insert rolling eyes emoticon here).

The main event though, and the dish that had me practically swooning was this:

A whole boned sea bass with a lightly spiced prawn and vegetable filling served with Masala potatoes.  This was good.  This was lick the plate awesomeness.  I couldn't stop eating it.  I was full but I had to keep shovelling it in until it was all gone.  D went for the seafood curry which he also seemed to enjoy and we also ordered some gorgeous little coconutty pancakes called "appam" in lieu of the usual naan bread (purely for research purposes you understand).

All in all, if you like curry and find yourself in Leeds, I can't recommend this place highly enough.  It is right next door to Bundobust which is another little gem of a place that you could check out for a pre-dinner pint of real ale and a nibble.  I'm already keen to go back and have that sea bass again (looks forlornly at picture).  It's places like this that making dieting so very, very hard.

7-8 Mill Hill
0113 244 0500

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Ninth Wave, Fionnphort

One of the reasons that we like the West Coast of Scotland so much is that it feels so incredibly remote.  There are points on the Ardnamurchan peninsular, and across on the Isle of Mull, when you could be in Middle Earth and you almost expect to see a band of elves traversing the hills.

Two of the restaurants that we visited this summer were particularly remote, and I don’t know why but it somehow enhances the experience – as if you are being let in on a secret when you visit them.  The second, Meall Mo Chridhe, I have written about before and it remains as lovely as ever.  The other we visited for the first time this year, and I suspect that we will be back before too long.

The Ninth Wave is situated in the village of Fionnphort.  Village is possibly overstating it.  There was the restaurant, set back from the main road, part way up a hill, and three B&Bs and that was about it.  Most of the drive from the ferry is along a sinuous, single track road, each mile taking three times as long to cover as it would on the mainland.  We commented on this to the host as we paid the bill.  “Aye, that was deliberate,” he said with a twinkle.  They obviously want clientèle who really want to be there.

The road to the Ninth Wave

The choice of dishes is limited to three a course and changes on a daily basis depending on what produce has arrived in the kitchen – mainly fish and seafood courtesy of the chef’s fisherman husband.  In that respect it is extremely modern, for all that it is located in what is essentially a rural backwater.  It is small as well – about twenty covers in the twinkly little dining room.

The food was good.  It won restaurant of the year in the 2013 Highland awards and I can understand why.  Some of the dishes were excellent.  I adored my pigeon main course; the breasts marinated in pomegranate molasses and served with jewelled rice, candied nuts and sharp, cool yoghurt worked tremendously well.   A souffled crab cheesecake was also absolutely delicious with the sweet crab meat perfectly balanced against the smoky cheese.


Pudding - a thing of beauty
All of the dishes showed a lot of respect for the ingredients – scallops, mussels, lobster: all perfectly cooked.  The presentation, as well, was absolutely stunning.  The chef is self-taught and occasionally it showed; some plates were a touch under seasoned, some failed to blow any socks off even though perfectly competent.   But I suspect that it is food that will continue to develop and grow in taste and confidence – a suspicion that I would be more than happy to go back and confirm.

The Ninth Wave
Bruach Mhor
Isle of Mull
PA66 6BL
01681 700757

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Sugar tax - really?

I like Jamie Oliver, and I like the fact that he is keen to use his celebrity status to make a difference to peoples’ lives.  But some of the aspects of his latest campaign (to add a “sugar tax” to fizzy drinks and to ring fence the proceeds for use in tackling childhood obesity) niggle at me a little bit.

Firstly, I work in tax.  Tax is complicated.  Logistically, the tax department is not set up to be able to “ring fence” profits.  And, really, can you imagine if it was?  The public pay tax and they have to be able to trust the authorities to use the pot of money in the best possible way – that’s the way that our current democratic system works.  We don’t ring fence cigarette tax to treat smoking related diseases, nor the tax on alcohol to provide support for alcoholics, and I don’t think that we should.  It sounds to me (and maybe I am scaremongering) like a step down the road to where we only offer health services to those who have “paid” for them.  

The second point about tax is that it is very difficult to draft legislation that will do exactly what you want it to do.  So, in order to tax fizzy drinks, we have to define fizzy drinks in law.  And then, the fizzy drink manufacturers will no doubt try to find ways to ensure that their products do not meet the legal definition.  Will it be done on proportion of sugar?  Level of carbonation?  Fruit flavour?  If recipes can be tweaked so that they fall outside the definition, you can bet your life that they will be in order to be more competitively priced on the shelves.

And tax issues aside, this feels like the thin end of a very unwieldy wedge.  First fizzy drinks, then will we target sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits…any foodstuff with a proportion of sugar that someone (Jamie?) has deemed too high?   Will this include sliced bread and bottled sauces and soups and baked beans?   

Look, obesity is a serious problem.  We all know that.  And we also know that dieting is not the answer – the dieting industry is worth billions and more of us are fat than ever before.  Prevention is way, way better than a cure – and prevention at an early age is paramount.  We, as a nation, should be protecting our children from all of the health issues associated with obesity.  But punitive taxes don’t feel like the answer to me.  It’s one thing to tax cigarettes and alcohol – and I say that as someone who has been known to indulge in both.  As an adult, if I choose to exercise my right to engage in a habit that impacts detrimentally on my health, than I pay for it.  Tax on sugar though?  What about all the people who are not obese, who exercise sufficient control over their calorie intake, who exercise, who live a balanced lifestyle and want to indulge in some confectionery as part of that balanced lifestyle?  Why punish them?  And, actually, is it the state's job to dissuade children from drinking cola?  I mean, I hate to be one of those people, but when I was a child I simply wasn't allowed to have fizzy drinks unless it was the weekend - and even then, it was to be regarded as a treat rather than an everyday staple.

Education must be a big part of the answer.  The more people cook from scratch, the more people understand what they are eating and what the impact of that will be on their waistline, and, quite frankly, the more emphasis placed on the many and varied health issues that are caused by obesity, hopefully, the more everyone will rethink their approach to food and nutrition.   We also need to be looking at the mental side of the coin – some people are overweight as a result of (at least in part) mental health issues.   Food and drink are coping mechanisms for a lot of people.  I don’t think that anyone would actively choose to be fat – so surely that begs the question why are so many of getting fatter?  And if the answer is that we are a nation of stressed, time poor people who rely on convenience foods and sugar rushes to get us through the day, then I don’t think that having to pay an additional 20p for a can of lemonade is going to make a discernible difference.

Monday, 7 September 2015

MPM: 7th September 2015

Well, that was the week that was.  In terms of food: excellent, we stuck to the meal plan and enjoyed every single one.  We also paid a visit to a new(ish) fishmonger which is just a twenty minute walk away and which was very impressive - I can see us becoming frequent visitors.  In terms of WW, the week was good but Friday and Saturday (again) wandered off track.  I need to come up with strategies to make the weekends less...weekend-y.

Anyway, on to this week.  We are eating out tonight (post to follow) and have subsequently only planned as far as Thursday, although Sunday will definitely be some sort of roast dinner.  Meals on the list so far:

Spaghetti with a creamy tomato, rosemary and caper sauce
Thai chicken soup

Edited to add:

The weekend is now confirmed! 

Salmon with curried mussels
D's keema curry
Roast shoulder of pork


More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Weight Watchers update: August 2015

Image from funnyasduck.net
I knew that when I got back from Scotland I was going to have to face the scales.  And, not only face them, but enter into battle with them. They're still set to kilograms so actually, the number itself isn't particularly painful because I don't have the slightest clue what it "means".  Nevertheless, you don't have to be a genius to work out that it's too high.

For the last fortnight, I have been tracking...sort of.  That is to say, weekdays have been pretty solid and then it's all gone a bit pear shaped at the weekends.  Still, the good must have outweighed (ha, ha) the bad because I have lost 1.6 kg in that time.  That's 3.5 lbs which is not too shabby at all!

It is my intention to post monthly updates on here noting overall loss (or gain), number of days on track and any favourite recipes, meals or products that have kept me going.  It's good to be accountable and the lovely folks of blogland have always been incredibly supportive.  I am not setting any particular goals at the moment.  There are four months left in 2015 and if I could just be lighter at the end of them than I am now, I will be perfectly happy.

I have reset my weight tracker so that my new starting weight is my post Scotland, August 2015, figure.  I had been resting on earlier laurels for too long.  I need to draw a line and start, unequivocally, on a new chapter of the story.