Monday, 28 December 2015

Meal Planning Birthday

Today is my birthday. I awoke to a text from my brother telling me not to feel too bad about approaching 40. Which might have bothered a less content mortal. But me, I am perfectly happy to be a year older. I have trained D to tell me that I look 25 whenever I suffer a crisis of confidence and, in any case, don't really have an issue with being in my mid thirties. I work with a lot of recent graduates and it looks EXHAUSTING to be 22. I am legitimately old enough to say that I hate clubbing, that when I go to a bar I want to a) have a seat and b) hear what the person opposite me is saying and that I would rather stay in bed an extra 15 minutes than wear a full face of slap to the office.

And anyway, what's to feel bad about? I am writing this on a BRAND NEW IPAD AIR 2, there is a chocolate cake in the oven and a mimosa by my side. I am an extremely spoiled, extremely lucky, extremely happy girl.

This is Monday so by rights there should be meal planning. But we're off down to London on Thursday and will probably spend the intervening days eating all the Christmas leftovers. Tonight, for my birthday tea, we are having Momofuku chicken wings and homemade pizzas followed by aforementioned cake. We have turkey curry still to come and the remaining Brussel sprouts may well be turned into cheesy bubble and squeak patties. That's about as far as planning goes.

Hope everyone out there is safe and warm despite the recent spate of bad weather, and is enjoying these last few days of peace and indulgence before the new year starts. Happy eating people!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Foodie on a diet: 2015 round-up

Cats, books, life is good
2015 has not always been a very easy year.  In fact, at times, it has been downright unpleasant.  I can't say that I am sorry to see it go.

And yet, in its final weeks I find myself happier and more content than I have been for a very long time.  I look at my life and I like what I see.  I am excited for the future.

Anyone who has experienced any sort of depression will know that it can feel like being in the centre of a dense bank of fog.  Well, right at this moment, I feel like I've walked through the fog and have emerged at the top of the hill where the sun is shining and the view is great.

Let's not pretend that I have made any sort of progress on the weight loss front this year - but, I am in a really positive state of mind to crack on next year.  And I also think that just being able to cook and eat instinctively has been good for me - relentless tracking can be a bit joy sucking at times. But I'm ready to start up again.  And, to make life easier, D is also keen to get fitter and healthier in 2016.

There is lots and lots to be thankful for and lots and lots to which we can look forward, and that is a good thing.  To all the lovely readers of this blog, whether you have commented this year or not, a very warm thank you, a virtual glass of Baileys and a heartfelt wish that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and a great start to the New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The final Meal Planning Monday of the year (probably)

Although this is not the last Monday of 2015, it is likely to be the last meal plan.  In fact, one week today is my birthday so I will be lounging around drinking mimosas and generally being spoiled rotten by my husband (hint, hint, hintity hint).

I am working for the next two and a half days, but aforementioned husband is off so he will be donning the metaphorical chef's whites to produce the following:

Spaghetti with prawns and 'nduja
Homemade chicken Kiev with mashed potato

Then, on the 23rd I'm finishing work at lunchtime so we plan to meet up in Leeds for lunch and drinks - no plans this night although I think a few M&S nibbles and a glass of something cold and fizzy will be an apt way to celebrate the end of term.

Christmas Eve: Gammon and roasties (traditional)

Christmas Day: post to follow

Boxing Day:  Turkey sandwiches with a LOT of trimmings

Post-Boxing Day: D's famous creamy turkey curry

I can't WAIT.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Foodie at home: the best of 2015

Being a terribly sad spreadsheet obsessive, I keep a record during the year of our evening meals. Not all of them, just the ones that we would be happy to repeat.  I also note how many times that particular dish is cooked so that I can measure the popularity.  I've been doing this on and off since midway through 2012.  I probably need to get out more.

Anyway, it does mean that come the end of the year I am well equipped to reflect upon what we have been cooking (and eating).  Which is lucky for the purposes of this post.

As ever, our most consumed dish is the ubiquitous pan fried salmon fillet with pasta pesto.  which we have had seven times this year.  I don't know what it is about this particular combination of flavours that we love so much but it is a household staple.  The pesto is out of a jar, making this incredibly quick and simple to throw together.  Often, we stir ribbons of courgette and a handful of peas through the pasta for added green.  I don't think that I will ever get tired of eating this.

We try and have a roast dinner at least every other Sunday, and 2015 was the year of the roast lemongrass and turmeric chicken from Diana Henry's stunning "A Bird in Hand".  This recipe is all kinds of tasty.  And, as an accompanying side dish, my coronation rice salad works perfectly.  I'm so proud of that recipe - it definitely surpasses the original supermarket version that inspired it in the first place.

Continuing on a theme of spice, 2015 was the year when D created the masala spiced fish finger sandwich as an anniversary meal which I absolutely loved.  A good sandwich is a thing of beauty and a joy forever and this one was superlative.

Another innovation for 2015 was to institute "Sunday breakfast" as a way to extend our early morning fare beyond bacon sandwiches.  We've had some gorgeous dishes so far, but my favourite is probably the bhurji pau - spicy scrambled eggs.  I owe Babu Street Kitchen a debt of gratitude for opening our eyes to the possibility of spice at breakfast time.

From India to Italy - and one of my ingredients of the year (I banged on about it enough) has to be the 'nduja sausage that I bought from The Ham and Cheese Company.  Oh, but I love this stuff.  I've got lots of ideas for introducing it into different recipes, but to be honest, you probably will never better just spreading it thinly on toast, drizzling with a little olive oil and flashing it under a piping hot grill to melt slightly.

Talking of toast, I think that this year I might finally have conquered my fear of bread making.  Certainly, I have become distinctly more proficient and my confidence continues to grow.  The satisfaction of eating freshly baked bread, warm from the oven, is immense.  I don't have a huge repertoire as of yet but this Hairy Bikers' recipe for a rustic Spanish loaf is definitely a current household favourite.  I might have to write that up over here actually, as recipes on the BBC website have a nasty little habit of disappearing.

And finally, there was very little in the way of Weight Watching this year and nowhere is this more evidenced than by this remarkable dessert that we made at Easter - hot cross bun pudding with salted caramel.  We served it with a stollen flavoured ice cream, but it would be just as good drowned in cream.

Here's to more good cooking and eating in 2016!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Foodie Abroad: the best of 2015

This year we were lucky enough to go to not one but two 2* Michelin restaurants.  While Michelin is certainly not the be all and end all, two stars still means something – generally seriously good food and service as slick as a dolphin’s tummy. 

But there were delights to be had all over the place at every price point.  2015 was the year we inaugurated the CNO (Cheap Night Out) in Leeds – and although we tailed off a bit in the last few months that is definitely a habit we are going to get back to next year.  Leeds has an embarassment of riches when it comes to fabulous little independent joints producing top class dishes.  And not just Leeds – we also experienced some fantastic food in Harrogate which is the merest hop, skip and jump away.

Our annual trip to the West of Scotland was as wonderful as ever and full of good eating experiences, from city to shore.  We also experienced the delights of Nottingham (although I’m still bitter that D wouldn’t let me visit the kitty café) and the truly majestic fish and chips of the Magpie in Whitby. 

But what were the highlights?  The dishes that made our eyes roll back in our heads, the places that made us feel all warm and fuzzy?  Read on, dear friend.

The Geri Halliwell award for “Spicing up our Lives” goes to…Babu Bombay Street Kitchen in Glasgow.  We only went there for breakfast but it inspired two – two! – recipes when we got home, as we realised that life would never be complete without bhurji pau in it.  We’re planning to go back next year and check out the lunch menu.  Honourable mention to Tharavadu for a Keralan sea bass dish that I would eat every week if I could.

The Augustus Gloop award for “Pudding of the Year” goes to…the strawberry cheesecake at Norse, Harrogate.  Fairy light but packing a serious flavour punch – this was truly skilled cooking and a sublime eating experience.  Honourable mention to Restarant Sat Bains for producing what was, essentially, an ur-Aero.  An Aero to transcend all others. 

The Jeeves award for “Sublime Service” has to go to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, and to one waitress in particular who spent the entire meal gently ripping the piss out of D.  He loved it.  It goes to show that the mark of truly fantastic waiting staff is to understand your customer and tailor their experience accordingly.  Oh, and also to bring along extra marshmallows for the entire table.

The Bruce-Willis-in-the-Sixth-Sense award for “Plate of food that causes the Jaw to Drop”…now, this was a tough one.  But in the end, I had to go for the kohlrabi tagliatelle with pesto at Restaurant Sat Bains.  It was a prime example of a dish that sounded humble but tasted anything but.  It was the highlight of a truly awesome meal that included the bread of the Gods and frozen chicken livers.  And it was vegetarian.

All in all, an excellent year with the promise of more good stuff to come in 2016.  I can’t wait!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Meal planning Monday - the coughdown to Christmas

I have been suffering with a hacking cough and a crackling chest for over a week now and I'm officially bored.  I sound like a consumptive orphan who pops up in an early scene from A Christmas Carol to elicit sympathy.  Tiny Tim's wheezy younger sister.  I must be driving the people around me at work absolutely mad.

Still, at least I keep telling myself that 'tis better to have such bugs now than over Christmas.  I'm gritting my teeth when I'm saying it, mind.

Elsewhere, Christmas preparations continue apace.  The first component of our Christmas dinner is made and in the freezer.  We are doing a practice version of the pre-starter this evening.  The time plan is completed and the jobs allocated.  So that's all the important stuff done.  I still have to write cards and wrap gifts but, well, one step at a time.

Meals this week - I'm out on a Christmas do on Thursday and D is out on one on Friday so five evenings planned...with freezer dives on Tuesday and Sunday.

Thai red curry mussels
Pulled pig cheek wraps with Spanish tomato rice (bumped from a couple of weeks ago I think)
Spaghetti with carrot ribbons and garden herb pesto
Home made pizza (hurrah!)
Panacalty (corned beef stew) with suet dumplings

Have a great week everybody.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

All change at Weight Watchers HQ

So those little monkeys over at Weight Watchers have decided to change the plan again, just a few years on from the “Pro Points” re-vamp.  Instead of being professional, points are now smart.  Smart points.  SPs (not to be confused with the other SP – Sneaky Peak).

I haven’t looked at the new plan in vast amounts of details, but here are the headlines:

The calculator now seems to require a lot more information.  The points are initially calculated on calorie content but then can vary one way or the other based on the nutritional profile.  High protein content will bring the points down while high sugar and high saturated fat will shoot them up.

The points allowance has been recalculated – and the majority of people seem to have ended up with fewer points overall.

Some of the foods that I looked at – i.e. the ones that were saved in my favourites, hadn’t changed very much.  The most noticeable differences were the fact that skimmed milk has increased in points (presumably because of the natural sugars) and items of confectionary have also become higher – a KitKat, for example, used to be 6pps but is 9sps.  Foods high in saturated fat have also increased – butter has doubled, and olive oil also appears higher.  Which makes such treats much harder to build in to the plan.

All in all, I’m feeling rather ambivalent.  Change can, of course, be a good thing when it is done for the right reasons but WW has always been about flexibility and moderation and this feels like a bit of a move away from that.  And I always found that the pro point system yielded good results for me without feeling overly punitive.   A bit of chocolate after dinner, a knob of butter stirred through the mashed potatoes – these are the things that help me stick to a plan long term.  My current thinking is to pick up again with pro points in the new year, using a homemade, Excel based tracker and see how that goes which will have the added bonus of not costing me £5 a month to be an online subscriber.

If anyone out there has started on SP I’d be intrigued to know how you are finding it!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bloggers do Christmas

I am intrigued by the increasing number of bloggers (and I follow a lot of people – foodie, beauty, random…) who have been posting Christmas present guides.  This is obviously now a Thing and so I wondered if I should do something similar.

But then I drafted a post and I realised that it was basically my Christmas list re-written to make it sound slightly generic.

Does your Uncle Jo like reading?  Here are the books that I have enjoyed in 2015!  Or even the ones that I want to read in 2016!

For the foodies in your life, what about these products that I really like scoffing?  Or how about some new Le Creuset?  Everyone (I) loves Le Creuset.

Enjoy a bit of a tipple?  I went to this distillery in the summer and really liked the whisky!

You can't blame the bloggers.  Newspapers and magazines do it every year, and blogging is just a natural extention of the print medium.  It's just that I’ve always thought, if you know your nearest and dearest so little that you have to resort to a Guardian journalist telling you that all the well dressed men this year will be wearing cashmere striped socks, then…well, maybe consider giving them the gift of your time and attention this Christmas.  The very best presents are the ones that mean something.  Either because they are an item genuinely coveted or because the giver feels it has resonance.

Having said all that, just in case you are interested…

This year, my favourite books have been “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell (apart from the ending – oh, the ending!), the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman (Harry Potter goes to university) and “A Prayer for Owen Meaney” by John Irving  (I think Owen himself might be one of my all time favourite characters).  Ooooh, and “The Paying Guests” (because Sarah Waters is all kinds of wonderful).

I adore Amelia Rope chocolate and am beyond excited to see that she has started doing the pale lemon and sea salt as a truffle.

Grey’s Fine Foods sent me free stuff, so it only seems fair to mention them again, but they genuinely have a lovely selection of Spanish goodies and I really rated the quality of both their meat and sherry.

For entry level whisky drinking, my absolute favourite is Penderyn.  My favourite splurgier purchase this year was Ardbeg Auriverdes.

And, having recently become vaguely obsessed with this blog, I am desperate (desperate!) to own an Hermès scarf.

Happy Christmas shopping everybody!