Wednesday, 21 December 2016

2016: so long, and thanks for all the fish

2016 proved a bad year to be a celebrity or, indeed, a fan of democracy. But leaving all of that aside, the really important issue is what did we eat? I’ve been tracking back through blog posts to bring you a yearly round up. Hurrah.

Eating In

I notice that the number of recipes that I share here has fallen quite a lot, which is a shame, and something to pick up on next year. It’s partly because I invented a rule that in order to post a recipe, I needed to make it twice. So there are a load of dishes that I’ve cooked once thought, ooh I must share that, then not got round to making again. I’m rescinding the rule for 2017.

I always keep a note of what we cook at home (and how regularly), and looking at my spreadsheet, the top three meals were all fish based which is unsurprising – we loves the fish. Salmon with pasta pesto (a perennial favourite in our house) and fish pie make up the top two; for the latter, I enjoyed this recipe for its luxuriant simplicity.

I was also reminded of our phase of eating poached trout with minted mayonnaise on a weekly basis throughout asparagus season, which meant that it hit the number three spot. Stirring some fresh chopped mint and a spritz of lemon through mayo really elevates it. The original recipe, by Gordon Ramsay, called for a minted hollandaise – perhaps in 2017 we’ll get round to doing it properly, but, in the meantime, the mayonnaise was an excellent foil for the delicate fish.

Looking through the list, I’ve come across some dishes which were only cooked once but definitely deserved to be eaten more regularly. How is it we only managed to only have that fantastic Vietnamese style braised pork dish on one occasion? Or that fantastic cauliflower risotto (which recipe is, fortuitously online – thanks, Jamie O!)

Of the recipes that I did get around to posting, a surprisingly high proportion were baking themed which I suppose is indicative of what I’ve particularly enjoyed cooking this year. I am becoming a much more confident bread maker, which is lovely, and one of my goals for 2017 is to get a sourdough starter going. I’ve especially enjoyed our forays into homemade pizza. Our freezer currently lacks both pizza dough and sauce – that will definitely need to be remedied in the new year.

Talking of homemade stuff though, I am dead impressed with D’s first experiments in sausage making. He’s done two so far – a boudin blanc and a Merguez and both of them were excellent. If you’re interested, he’s used this book for both, and the recipes have turned out beautifully.

Eating Out

Our trip to Paris in November saw us having some stunning meals, including a simple plate of lamb and mushrooms which I have already tried to re-create at home. A possible contender for my dish of the year.

Earlier in the year, and a bit closer to home, we visited the only Michelin star restaurant in Leeds. It wasn’t really my thing. But elsewhere, we have had some fine meals in this fair city, and, in Ox Club, found our favourite brunch spot. The thought of the Korean Fried Chicken still makes me smile – another possible contender for my dish of the year.

Without a doubt though, my favourite new local restaurant is the superlative Hana Matsuri which is just around the corner from us in Meanwood. I can’t stop thinking about their amazing sushi. Every single thing that I have eaten there is yet another possible contender for my dish of the year.

I’m nothing if not indecisive.

Dieting

Er. I tried Smart Points. I hated Smart Points. I made some half arsed attempts to revert to counting Pro Points, or even just calories, but nothing really took root.

Towards the end of the year, I decided to give 5:2 a whirl, and although the results were not particularly conclusive, I’m going to be fasting with gusto throughout the first couple of months of 2017 to see if I can make it work for me in the long-term.

My weight has not really changed much all year – the fluctuations up and down have all been within the same three or four pounds. Considering that it has been a year of considerable stress at times, I suppose I should be slightly pleased with that. It looks as though I may have conquered my demons with regards emotional eating, always a major factor in my weight gain. It also looks as though breaking free from the tyranny of counting has finally got rid of that feast or famine mentality which is so inherent in the long term dieter. I didn’t gain weight after a two week holiday in Scotland, or an indulgent long weekend in Paris, because I have learned the art of balance. That’s fantastic. But the scales need to go down.

I must admit, part of me is slightly panicky as to what I will do if I can’t get 5:2 to work. What the next plan is. I’m trying to ignore her for the time being.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Seven sleeps

I'm braising red cabbage at the moment, which is filling the house with a very (for me) Christmassy scent. I make this recipe pretty much every year - unadulterated, unchanged and unfailingly good. It also has the virtue of improving with age (much like me) so preparing it in advance is practically mandatory.

Are you sorted for your Christmas dinner yet? We are on our own this year so keeping things easy, yummy and slightly non traditional. Smoked salmon roulade on spelt bread to start followed by confit duck legs with mash and braised red cabbage - with cold turkey, gammon and sausagemeat loaf if anyone requires additional protein. Cheese, of course. And, finally, Christmas pudding ice cream - a recipe that I must share at some point. Gorgeous!

2016 has not been the easiest year on a personal level - let's not even start on global events. Which is why I am especially looking forward to this next couple of weeks; this holiday that is traditionally about peace and goodwill to all will hopefully be a time to focus on all the bright, shiny things that sometimes get obscured. Family and friends, sparkly lights, the joy of sharing and, yes, a bit of self indulgence.

The cute cat picture of the week is as Christmas themed as I can get - Minx tends to save all her most photogenic moments for when my phone camera is out of hand, the gorgeous little bugger. Still, small mercies - she has yet to bring down the tree!


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Slow cooker recipe corner: Merguez sausage and squash stew

I am unclear as to when a stew ceases to be a stew and becomes a tagine. I'm calling this a stew, despite the obviously Moroccan influences, because I don't feel qualified to call it otherwise. You can call it a tagine though, if it pleases you.

In any case, this is a mash up of a couple of online recipes adapted for the slow cooker so it lost touch with any claim to authenticity a while ago. That aside, it is utterly delicious. Merguez sausages are officially one of my new Favourite Things. Homemade Merguez sausages are amazing. I've probably posted this picture before but I'm so impressed by D's hitherto undiscovered sausage making skills (plus I don't have a picture of the stew. Stew is like curry - it always looks rubbish in pictures):


This recipe was a fitting way to use up these beauties, and I can give it no greater compliment than that.

Ingredients

6-8 Merguez sausages

Large red onion, thinly sliced
250ml chicken stock
Small tin (200g) tomatoes
Tbsp honey

Heaped tsp each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried chilli flakes, smoked paprika, ground together in a pestle and mortar

Butternut squash, peeled and cubed
Tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
Half a preserved lemon, chopped

To serve: fresh coriander, finely shredded

Serves 4, generously

First: heat a little oil and brown the sausages on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool slightly before cutting into chunks and transferring to the slow cooker.

Add a little more oil and then place the onion into the pan cooking for around five minutes until beginning to soften. Splash in a little stock to deglaze the pan then add the spice mix and stir well. When nearly all the stock has bubbled away, pour in the tomatoes and the honey, then turn down the heat and allow to reduce slightly while you get on with prepping the other ingredients.

Throw the squash, chickpeas, apricots and lemon into the slow cooker alongside the sausage.

Taste the sauce and season well. Pour over the other ingredients in the slow cooker and stir thoroughly. If the mixture looks a little dry, add a bit more of the stock. Set the slow cooker to low and allow to burble away for 6-8 hours. Before serving (with steamed rice or couscous) stir through the coriander.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The 5:2 diet - an initial review

Coming into the holiday period, with far more social engagements popping up than is usual, it is going to be tough over the next few weeks to fit in the requisite fast days so D and I are being relatively easygoing about it. We always knew that this initial stab was going to be experimental and, potentially, shortlived but it has also most definitely proved worthwhile.

Here is what we have learned so far:

Fasting is hard, but not impossible. Sticking to high protein foods such as eggs (D has been eating a lot of hard boiled eggs) and low calorie / high volume items such as cherry tomatoes (surprisingly low for a great, sweet, toothsome return) and keeping well hydrated are essential.

We thought that we would want to “spend” most of our calories on a substantial evening meal, however, on the days where supper happened to come in at less than 200 calories (usually when we’re sharing a tub of fresh soup) that bit of additional flexibility has been most welcome. So we’re going to try and aim for 200 calories or thereabouts in the evening. Soup is perfect for this, if you can get past craving a chunk of bread and butter on the side.

Weight loss is not a given, however much you think you deserve it after two days of feeling a bit cold, hungry and grumpy. We were both slightly up last week despite successfully completing two days of fasting. What you do on non-fast days is just as important as what you do on the fasting ones.

So this is the plan for version 2.0 commencing in January:

A food diary apiece. Keeping accountable, even if it just to a pretty notebook, of what we eat every day will hopefully stop too much extra creeping in. The odd treat is fine, but a non-fast day is not an excuse to pig out. And balance is vital – if you’re having a more indulgent meal than usual (hello, chicken tartiflette) then keep the rest of the day simple and light. It’s just common sense.

And talking of treats, it is especially noticeable this time of year how easy it is to drink your way through excess calories. We both like a tipple or five but we are cutting right back.

One thing that is vital - planning and preparation on fast days. Everything needs to be in place so that we don’t have to think and we don’t have to rely on purchasing food items on the hop.

And exercise – a dirty word as far as I’m concerned but one that I need to get to grips with (how many times have I said that on this blog over the years?) Lesley is doing amazingly well at the moment with little more than a FitBit and a pair of dogs. I don’t think Minx would appreciate being taken for a walk but I have a FitBit that I can dust off and I have a treadmill in the garage so there is no excuse for not upping my steps and getting a bit more active. D has even challenged me to run a 10k by the end of 2017!

I’m really pleased to have a clear plan of action for after the holidays, and also that these last few weeks have seen me shave off a few pounds – not much, by any means, but a start. I have a roadmap in my pocket and I’m going to enjoy Christmas with a clear view of what I need to do once it is all over.

Monday, 12 December 2016

MPM: 12th December 2016

I write this from the living room which has been festooned with fairy lights and currently boasts not one but TWO Christmas trees. Joy.

This is a week of Christmas dos - a fuddle on Monday (do other workplaces have fuddles or is it peculiar to the civil service?), a three course, booze fuelled lunch on Thursday and festive pizza on Friday. We are still trying to fit in two fast days, but unfortunately (for us) they will be consecutive. Gah. At this point in the year, I hold out very little hope for weight loss but if I can minimise gains (or even squeak maintenance) I will be perfectly happy. Elsewhere...

Monday: mussel paella - I may be full of beige party food come the evening but am going to make this all the same as the poor dish keeps getting bumped.

Tuesday: fast day 1 - smoked haddock fish cakes and salad

Wednesday: fast day 2 - mushroom soup

Saturday: chilli con carne

Sunday: something (possibly more homemade sausages) with mash and braised red cabbage. The cabbage is a vital component of our Christmas dinner and benefits from being made in advance and reheated, so I'll do a full cabbage's worth and freeze some.

Happy cooking and eating folks, and happy nearly Christmas!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Recipe corner: chicken tartiflette

If I still included Weight Watchers points at the bottom of the recipes on here, this one would probably stand at eleventy million.  There is nothing vaguely diet friendly about it, it being a dish that is a celebration of creamy, cheesy stodge. Still, in such times, I am moved to quote Joey Tribbiani of Friends - if you're going to do a thing wrong, do it right.  If you're going to eat something groaning in calories, make it something like chicken tartiflette.

Oh, and it has kale in it, which means it is kind of healthy as well.  So.

This recipe is a tweaked version of Monica Galletti's from her new book, "The Skills" (and I believe it also appeared in the Good Food magazine a month of so ago).  Tweaked, because instead of using a whole chicken, I cheated and used thigh fillets.  Oh, and she cooks her bacon to release the flavour but then omits it from the finished dish which seemed slightly odd to me, so I left it in.

My only very slight criticism was that when I've had tartiflette in the past, I'm sure it has been a little saucier so I've upped the amount of chicken broth required to let down the cream in my version below - feel free to reduce it back again (the original recipe called for just 100ml) or up still further if you like.  You will have more broth than you need anyway but it is pretty tasty, so keep whatever is left in the fridge to use in any soups or stews you plan to be making.

Ingredients

Rapeseed, or similar, oil

Six boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
1 onion, roughly sliced
1 head of garlic, sliced horizontally across
100ml white wine
1 large bay leaf
Hefty sprig of thyme
1 litre chicken stock

500g waxy potatoes (such as Charlotte) sliced to about the thickness of a pound coin

6 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
150ml double cream
150g Reblochon cheese, cubed
200g kale, roughly chopped

Serves 4

In a large casserole dish, suitable for use on the stove top, heat a little oil.  Season the chicken fillets well and then brown for a couple of minutes on each side before removing from the pan. 

Add a little more oil, then add the onion and the head of garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onion is beginning to soften. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and reduce down to almost nothing.  Now add the chicken stock, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.  Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook through - around twenty minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside, allowing the chicken pieces to cool in the broth.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a large pan of cold, salted water.  Bring to the boil and cook for around 5 minutes.  The potatoes will just be thinking about becoming tender at this point.  Drain, and set aside.

Once cool, remove the chicken from the broth and shred. Preheat the oven to 180.  Pour the broth into a separate bowl, wipe out the casserole dish and return to the hob over a medium heat. 

Heat a little more oil and then add the bacon, cooking until beginning to brown at which point you can chuck in the onion.  Five minutes later, when the onion is softening, in goes the garlic as well.

Pour in the cream, plus 200ml of the reserved chicken broth, bring up to a gentle simmer and then season to taste - a liberal hand with the black pepper would be good here.  Stir through three quarters of the cheese, and, as it starts to melt, you can add the chicken, potatoes and kale, stirring well to make sure that everything is coated.  I told you that this pan needed to be large.

Top with the remaining cheese and then bake for twenty five minutes until golden and bubbling.

Monday, 5 December 2016

MPM: 5th December 2016

It's December everybody!  We're already five days into our Advent Calendar, and the countdown to Christmas is well and truly on - hurrah!  I'm particularly over excited that on Tuesday we are going to a local Christmas market with carols and mulled wine, which should be a lovely start to the season.  And then on Friday, we're both out with friends - me for a Christmassy afternoon tea, D to drink copious amounts of beer.  Elsewhere, our meal plan looks like this:

Monday: Fast Day #1 and we're having fishcakes and salad

Tuesday:  Out for mulled wine and mince pies - but we have a stash of M&S nibbles in the fridge if we want something when we get back

Wednesday: Fast Day #2 - sooooooooup.

Thursday:  Mussel paella

Saturday:  Spaghetti carbonara

Sunday:  Lamb of some description with mashed potatoes and garlicky mushrooms (if you've seen my Paris post, you may recognise this as a re-creation of my favourite dish of the trip, I just hope that I can get it to taste half as good as it did in Cinq Mars!)

As always, happy cooking and eating this week les touts.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Foodie Abroad: Paris

I need to start handwriting accounts of our foodie adventures when (or just after) they occur.  I could buy myself a new notebook for the purpose – few things float my boat like the acquisition of fancy stationery.  The memory of food is a fleeting thing and although it is only a few short weeks since we were in Paris, already some of what I wanted to say to you has drifted away like a snowflake on the breeze, or some such seasonally appropriate simile.
Perhaps, though, what remains is the important stuff, the stuff that I really need to say. 
So.  Firstly a top tip.  If you ever go to Paris, get yourself over to Cinq Mars, a bistro which is all kinds of wonderful.  We read about it on a website – Paris By Mouth, I think, which proved to be an excellent resource.  We picked it partly because it was close to the Musee D’Orsay and we intended to go for supper after we’d had a stiff dose of Culture.  It was one of those happy accidents really, but we have both said that next time we’re in Paris (hopefully it won’t be another ten years) we simply have to go back.  The food was superlative.  We actually noticed that a lot of the people in there with us were English or American – perhaps they had picked up on it from the same website? – but this was no shoddy tourist trap.  It was simple, classic and utterly delicious.  I had lamb with pomme puree and mushrooms and it was one of the tastiest things I think I have eaten all year.  D is still raving about his veal chop with cauliflower cheese.  They give you the serving bowl of chocolate mousse and allow you to help yourself.  What is not to love? 

Wine!
The big treat while we were there was a trip to the three Michelin star Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire.  I have been a bit chary about writing about this, to be honest.  The two things that I now remember particularly about the experience are the bill and the appearance of the food.  It is, I am afraid, impossible not to mention the bill which was the most eye watering that I have ever seen (and I’ve eaten in a lot of expensive restaurants).  The food was utterly beautiful – it was art.  But, funnily enough, in terms of a pleasure to eat, I think I preferred the lamb and mash that I had at Cinq Mars.  I felt that some of the dishes we had at PG were slightly over complicated, that they had one or two components too many.  It’s an experience, certainly, but one I’d be slightly hesitant to recommend - perhaps I’m developing simple tastes in my old age?

Part of this is edible...


As I’ve said, we researched our destinations quite thoroughly before we went because, well, in this day and age, why wouldn’t you?  One lunchtime, we were sitting outside a café in the Montmartre area and a couple approached our waitress and asked where they could go for frogs’ legs.  Google, people, Google!  If you’re going to eat frogs’ legs (I’ve tried them once and it was a frankly underwhelming experience so I wouldn’t bother again) then find out where to go for good frogs’ legs – why leave it to chance or a random waitress who may or may not like them herself?  For example, I said to D that I wanted to eat lots of snails, he went away and found lists of the best places to eat snails in Paris.  Which is how we ended up at Benoit one day and Bouillon Chartier the next.  Both very different takes on a classic Parisienne bistro.  Both did excellent snails drenched in vivid green garlicky herby butter.  Heaven.  Benoit is another place that would definitely warrant a re-visit, Bouillon Chartier is busy and buzzing and the wine was excellent value for money but the food tended towards the cheap and cheerful end of the spectrum.  We were sat on a table with a Canadian couple (it’s not the kind of place to go if you’re anti-social) and they were distinctly unimpressed by the quality of the meat and the pallor of the fries (although I should note here that I enjoyed my steak hache with peppercorn sauce very much.  I’m easy to please.)

Snails!
It was, overall, a wonderful trip to a wonderful city.  I had forgotten how very much I like Paris and much was left undone (which is good as it will, hopefully, encourage us to return before too long).  Perhaps next time, I will manage to be a more assiduous blogger.  I can’t guarantee it though – the thing about food is that I never want to let writing about it get in the way of filling my face with it.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Why I'm giving the 5:2 diet a whirl

There’s only so many times that you can make grand announcements about starting back on the dieting wagon and have people take you seriously.  I’ve been writing this blog for years and, look, still a porker!  An older and wiser porker, true, but still. 

So I’ve kept a bit quiet on that front lately, while I try and get it straight in my head what I actually want to do.  I’ve thought about it a lot and D and I talked about it while we were away because he wants to lose some weight too.  And for the last couple of weeks we have been doing intermittent fasts – commonly known as the 5:2 diet.
The premise is simple.  For 2 days a week you eat 500 calories or fewer (600 if you’re a bloke).  The rest of the time you eat normally.  Emphasis on the normal – you don’t gorge, because it defeats the point.  I’m probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here; there was a BBC documentary about it a few years ago and it has since become quite mainstream.  I think I even mentioned it in a blog post a couple of years back having done one fast day out of curiosity and given up in a fit of disgust.  So why come back to it now?
The answer is pretty simple.  I just cannot face accounting for every little thing that I stick in my mouth anymore.  I’ve successfully lost weight by counting calories, I’ve successfully lost weight by counting points but I seem to have used up every last little ounce of willpower to do these things again.  It is utterly, utterly tedious and utterly, utterly joyless and I don’t want my food to be tedious and joyless all the time. 
If this works it means that I only have to think about counting calories for two days a week.  And, don’t get me wrong, fasting is a bit blooming miserable.  But it’s only for two days a week.  Psychologically, it makes a massive difference to be able to say, “Oh, hello mince pie.  I can’t eat you today, but I will be wrapping myself all around you tomorrow.  Wait for me.” 
It helps a lot that D is doing it too.  We can be a bit hungry and a bit miserable together.  And, like I said, the fasting itself hasn’t actually been as difficult as I thought and I’ve successfully completed four fast days so far.  I eat a very light lunch at around one o clock – two oatcakes, two Laughing Cow triangles and some chopped salad or a couple of clementines.  I drink plenty of sugar free squash and a couple of black coffees during the day.  And then dinner is either a bowl of soup or something simple but high in protein like a piece of fish with vegetables or an omelette.  I hoard 10 calories for a splash of milk so I can have a cup of tea after supper.  At the moment, we’re relying on quite a lot of ready-made stuff simply because we don’t want to have to cook on fast days, but that’s OK.
And the results?  The results are as follows:
Week 1 weight loss / (gain)                         (0.4) lbs
Week 2 weight loss / (gain)                         3.0 lbs
Total loss / (gain)                                         2.6 lbs
Bit of a mixed bag there, but I’m going to give it a bit longer before I come to any firm conclusions.  I have no expectations that the losses will be quick – a pound a week is my modest ambition, and so far I have achieved over and above that, albeit not in a straight line.   Over those two weeks I have had fish and chips, wine, a roast dinner, cheese, chocolate, mince pies (clearly not all at once).  So although I’m conscious not to go absolutely mad nor have I been particularly abstemious.
D and I are committed to doing this until the end of January – although I can’t see either of us managing even one fast day between Christmas and New Year (you never know but…you kind of do).  So whether it works or not, at least I’ll have given it a fair try.  I really, really hope it does.  The only alternatives that I can see at the moment really blow.  As ever, beloved readers, I will keep you posted.

Monday, 28 November 2016

MPM: 28th November 2016

Well, here we are, Monday again. The weeks slip by depressingly quickly. I have lots to say but my blogging mojo has been a wee bit lacking of late - I must get my portly arse into gear.

Meals all planned and ready to go though:

Monday: pan fried salmon fillet, courgetti with pesto

Tuesday: pasta with mussels and potatoes (a bump from last week)

Wednesday: soooooooooooup

Thursday: we're out for celebratory sushi

Friday: D is out and I shall curl on the sofa with filled pasta tossed in butter, Parmesan and black pepper and those Gilmore Girls.

Saturday: chicken Tartiflette

Sunday: a tagine (stew) of merguez sausages, root vegetables and chickpeas

Talking of merguez, take a look at these beauties:


D's sausage making career continues to go from strength to strength - these were amazingly tasty. It's labour intensive mind you - Sunday afternoon was entirely given over to the endeavour - but, oh my, the results were delicious.

Monday, 21 November 2016

MPM: 21st November 2016

I have Paris themed posts to share with you; they currently lurk, slightly disconsolately in my drafts folder waiting for a bit of final TLC. Much like their author really - I have been doing plenty of disconsolate lurking since we got back from our trip. Call it post Paris / pre Christmas ennui.

In the meantime, there is always meal planning.

Monday: smoked salmon omelette

Tuesday: an old favourite! Oven baked red pepper and chorizo risotto. This is one of my most visited posts so if you haven't ever made it - why not? Literally tens of people can't be wrong!!

Wednesday: soup

Thursday: Rachel Roddy's weekly column in The Guardian is always well worth a read, and her recipe this week tickled my pickle so much that it had to go straight on the meal planner. Behold, mussels with potatoes and pasta. Simple and seasonal.

Friday: steak sandwiches

Saturday: veal chops with cauliflower cheese. A dish inspired by one we ate in Paris.

Sunday: D's career as a sausage maker continues apace; today he is going to attempt merguez. I will probably make some sort of couscous accompaniment.

Whatever you're cooking (and eating) this week - have a good one and stay warm!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Learning to fly

So here I am in Paris. Bonjour!


We arrived yesterday, after a mercifully brief flight from Manchester airport. Good lord, but I hate flying. I was relatively blasé about it as a youngster but something about getting older - awareness of own mortality, exposure to 24 hours a day news which is invariably crap and creates a permanent, swirling void of anxiety deep in the soul - has done for me. I find myself borrowing my mother's technique of keeping my eyes trained on the face of the stewardesses or, if none are within sight, the obviously more seasoned travellers, to check if they are reacting to the variations in engine sound. But then, I think everyone is trained to act cool on aeroplanes, to studiously yawn over the newspaper wearing a faintly bored expression, regardless of any inner turmoil they may or may not be experiencing.

But we made it, we are here, and the gluttony has already commenced. Also, the cultural experiences. But mainly the gluttony.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

TWTWTW: Bangers

This week it was Bonfire Night in the U.K. An occasion on which we celebrate, through the respective mediums of bonfires and fireworks, the fact that a bunch of nefarious Catholics were foiled in their attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

(Desperately tries to resist urge to make ironical comment on this given the current state of British politics).

Anyway, certain foods are traditionally associated with Bonfire Night. Sausages, or bangers, for obvious reasons. Chilli con carne (slightly less obviously). Parkin - a rich, sticky, spicy cake (again, don't grasp the significance of the connection. But any excuse to eat gingery cake). Our household being nothing if not predictable, all these foodstuffs were on the menu for the weekend.

I was thwarted in my attempt to make parkin by Waitrose rather rudely failing to provide adequate stocks of black treacle, but I produced a damp gingerbread loaf instead which was almost an acceptable substitute. It was D who really triumphed in the food stakes this weekend though, by using some of the new kit he got for his birthday to produce his very own sausages:


Just look at these plumptious little beauties! At my request, he made a batch of boudin blanc, which is a traditional French sausage consisting of pork and chicken, a combination of warming spices and milk and eggs which give it a light, moussey texture. It turns out that making sausages is neither easy nor clean nor quick, but it does give a person a certain smug glow. Also on the agenda for the next couple of months, plans are afoot to create a house sausage recipe (he is thinking pork and juniper) and some spicy merguez.

In other news, we leave for Paris at 5am on Thursday morning, for a long weekend of Gallic indulgence. And when we get back, we have plans in place which will hopefully mean that this blog goes back to being as much about weight watching (as opposed to Weight Watchers-ing) as it is about food. Colour me excited.

Monday, 24 October 2016

MPM: 24th October 2016

It's D's birthday week!



On Sunday, the big day, we are off to Whitby. We will walk to the end of both piers and visit the arcades, play pool and lunch on fish and chips which sounds like a pretty idyllic time to me. A bit less high-end than some previous years but given that we will be hitting a three Michelin star establishment when we visit Paris in November, I think we (and our wallets) will cope. Saturday, or Birthday Eve, we're seeing my parents for lunch so nothing planned dinner-wise, but seeing that M&S have started bringing out their Christmas party range, I think that something nibbly will do the trick.

On Thursday we are doing something unusual - cooking a dish for the second week in a row. It's just that good - when pressed to come up with things to eat this week, it was all we could come up with! On Friday, a new recipe from a lovely new book by the fearsome, but undoubtedly talented, Ms Monica Galetti.

Elsewhere:

Monday: Moules Marinieres

Tuesday: filled pasta tossed in butter, black pepper and Parmesan

Wednesday: soooooooooooooup

Thursday: Vietnamese style braised pork

Friday: chicken tartiflette (from Monica Galetti's new book, "The Skills")

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Hana Matsuri, Meanwood

Meanwood, a suburb to the North of Leeds, has been undergoing something of a middle-classifying since Waitrose opened a branch here several years ago. The latest indication? A tiny little sushi restaurant, just seven covers strong, has popped up on the high street and it is ASTONISHINGLY good.

Never having been to Japan (although I've visited plenty of Yo! Sushis in my time) it is obviously hard for me to judge the level of authenticity myself. Fortunately, when we visited the other week we were seated next to a lovely Canadian lady who had lived in Japan for a number of years who informed us that it was spot on - and then blew our little socks off by praising the chef in Japanese.

We ordered a platter of sashimi and a platter of sushi so we could try a good range of items. The freshness and quality of the fish was amazing - sweet and cool and buttery textured. We asked, hopefully, whether it was sourced locally but sadly not (they get it from a specialist supplier in London).




The platters would have been more than enough but, fired with enthusiasm we, er, ordered more. Chicken wings - hot, sour, crispy, addictively good. I am a massive fan of the confit chicken wing recipe in David Chang's "Momofuku" book and these were very similar. Silence reigned as we inhaled these, wistfully sucking the bones when they were gone like the middle class cavemen we are. A soft shell crab roll was similarly well received.




All this incredible bounty came in at just over £60 - good value to my mind, considering the quality of the produce (and the fact that we were utterly bowled over). I know raw fish is not for everyone - my mother, for example, can't stomach the stuff - but for those who love it (and I think it is hard to be ambivalent) this is such an exciting addition to our little local scene. It doesn't have an alcohol licence currently but there's a great bar a couple of doors down for a pre or post sushi tipple and, quite frankly, when your mouth isn't full of food it will likely be occupied in rhapsody.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Book review: "The North Yorkshire Cook Book"

A shamefully long time ago, on arriving back from our Scottish trip, this was waiting on my doorstep.


Not literally, you understand, Postie had managed to get it through the letterbox. But what better way to celebrate being back in Yorkshire than by reading about its lovely food?

The recipes contained within its pages have been provided by restaurants and specialist food shops from across the region (a full directory is included in the back). Because these venues range from high end dining to smaller cafes and delis, so too do the recipes vary massively in style. Personally, I like that - the book is a treasure trove of unexpected delights - but those who prefer their recipes books to focus on one particular ingredient or style may not be so keen.

Some of the places featured in the book are well loved haunts of ours: Norse, in Harrogate, have submitted a delicious sounding mackerel tartare recipe, while Rafi's, the spice shop that we used to frequent in our York days, offer up an intriguing Moghul style roast lamb dish that I'm very keen to try. There are also some nice bakes to be found - the Ye Olde Sun Inn bread flavoured with honey is definitely on my to-make list.

Some of the recipes are for restaurant style dishes (presumably because they have been written by, er, restaurants) and thus not for everyday - the plate of Yorkshire pork designed by Guisborough Hall sounds amazing but is not something that I'm going to knock out for a weeknight supper (although it would be perfect for a posh Sunday lunch party). Again, I like that - I'm a confident cook and not averse to spending a bit of time in the kitchen for something truly special, but it won't be for everybody.

What's really lovely about this book is that it shines a spotlight on some really special little corners of North Yorkshire - most of the recipes come with a little introductory page with some history and information about the venues which is a nice touch, as are the lovely accompanying photographs. If you were a foodie paying a visit to York or Malton, the directory would give you a pretty good idea of the places to check out (assuming you are like us and basically spend your holidays lurching from meal to snack to meal).

As a celebration of our little corner of the world, this is an absolute treasure of a book. It costs just 14.95 of your English pounds and can be found on Amazon - so you don't even have to come up to North Yorkshire to buy it, although who wouldn't want to visit this most beautiful part of the world? And, to whet your tastebuds still further, I hope to be sharing a recipe from the book with you in the next week or so (assuming I pull my increasingly lazy blogging finger out). Stay tuned!

(PS I was sent a free copy of this book to review. You know the drill - yes, I like free stuff but I try and be honest because if I can't be honest with you, dear blog readers then with whom can I be?)

Monday, 17 October 2016

MPM: 17th October 2016

We've just booked ourselves a long weekend in Paris in November and I could not be more excited. It's been ages since I last visited. We fly out the day after I sit my last (touch wood!) exam, and after a frankly horribilus of a annus, I can't wait to soak up some good food and wine and culture - but mostly food.

With my thoughts full of crisp baguettes, ripe, glistening cheeses and scented cassoulets, this week's meal plan seems a little pedestrian but we'll make it work!

The eagle eyed may notice pork making two guest appearances - both dishes using leftovers from yesterday's roast. I am always surprised by how much I enjoy a pork roast - in my mind it is the poor relation of the chicken or the lamb but on the plate it always delivers.

We are out Friday and Saturday (I know! A social life!) and Sunday has yet to be planned (after two nights out we will probably be good for nothing except beans on toast on the sofa). So, for the remaining evenings:

Monday: creamy smoked salmon tagliatelle

Tuesday: cold roast pork, taleggio stuffed onions, salad with honey mustard dressing

Wednesday: soup night

Thursday: Vietnamese style braised pork with egg fried rice

Sunday, 16 October 2016

No direction

For the past few weeks, this blog has been little more than a series of meal plans which, while clearly an important part of social history to be preserved for future generations, hardly makes for riveting reading.

And I was out with my Mum yesterday afternoon and she asked me when the blog would go back to being about Weight Watchers. To which I replied, it won't because Smart Points kind of killed off Weight Watchers for me. The trouble is, I have yet to embrace a viable alternative.

One option is, of course, just to admit final defeat but when I really think about it, I don't want to. I talk a good talk about embracing self acceptance, and I'm certainly past making weight a moral issue, but I would be happier smaller. I'm not even talking small-small, just small enough to be healthy and unremarkable. But I feel like I have used up every ounce of dieting mojo allotted to me. Dieting is SO BORING. It is so much effort and so joyless.

I must admit, I've wondered about going down the VLCD route - a few months of Lighter Life or Cambridge to remove food from the equation and just get some pounds off but, ugh. Joyless to the power ten. Plus, I don't know if my marriage would survive.

It's all most irritating. But, while I continue to thrash around on the horns of my oh-so-first-world dilemma, I promise to make a more concerted effort to blog. I've got some excellent sushi to tell you about and a book to review just for starters, plus tomorrow's meal plan which I know is awaited with baited breath...

Monday, 10 October 2016

MPM: 10th October 2016

Ugh, I don't understand where the weeks go. I'm sure it was only yesterday that I was writing up last week's meal plan and yet...here we are, Sunday night, Countryfile on the tellybox and time for another MPM post. If, in the meantime, I was out having adventures then fine but nope, life is quiet. I like quiet but I begin to wonder if I'm a little bit too attached to my spot on the sofa.

Five meals planned for this week; on Tuesday, D and I are going out to try a new local sushi joint. It looks authentic to my entirely untrained eye. And on Friday I am out for girlie cocktails. I have recently discovered the Porn Star martini - unfortunately named but an utterly addictive, sour sweet mix of passion fruit and vanilla.

Otherwise:

Monday: spaghetti carbonara

Wednesday: slow cooked beef stew with a pillowy pile of mash - I'm thinking of trying a recipe from Nigella's "How to Eat" which flavours it with thyme and anchovies.

Thursday: soup

Saturday: lemon sole with brown shrimp butter - an old favourite that D wants to revisit and, possibly, sex up a little bit.

Sunday: roast (pork?), bacon and herb stuffing, taleggio stuffed onions and greens.

YUM.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

MPM: 3rd October 2016

It's hard to believe that we are entering the final quarter of the year. Colour me shocked.


Still, these last few months are often the very nicest. I love the cooler weather, the dark nights and the crisp, pale mornings. Plus, both D and I have birthdays coming up before the end of the year.

The freezer is, finally, nearly empty. It's only taken, what - three or four months? But defrosting can now proceed and, once that is out of the way, restocking - which is far more exciting. We've been trying to work out what our freezer staples should be - chilli and corned beef for sure, perhaps fish pie? Not to mention pizza dough and sauce the presence of which should dissuade us from making too much use of the takeaway.

So, this week's menu plan:

Monday: fish cakes with herb remoulade and dill potatoes (from "The Scandinavian Cookbook" by Trine Hahnemann)

Tuesday: leftover lamb biryani

Wednesday: lemongrass and turmeric chicken filo parcels 

Thursday: soup night

Saturday: Goan fish curry

Sunday: some sort of roast

There is definitely a spicy sort of slant to the week but I have no issues with that! D is out and about on Friday so I will most likely be pricking and pinging some form of pasta. Or making cheese on toast. Hurrah for cheese on toast!

Whatever you are up to, have a fabulous week of cooking and eating - and if you have any ideas as to what we should be getting for the freezer then do, please, share.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Shame

I read a story this morning that Kirsty Allsopp, she of the C4 property series "Location x 3", had provoked ire among her Twitter followers by commenting on some random guy's breakfast.  Said person had consumed "A glass of coke, a cappuccino, a croissant and a ham and cheese sandwich," and, as a result, "Our NHS is toast".


I don't know about you, but I suspect that the person in question was attempting to assuage the mother of all hangovers - that lot is classic morning after fare.  But whether that is true or he was just getting off a night shift or he happens to like starting the day with caffeine and fat fuelled bang, it doesn't really matter. 


See, the first thing that occurred to me was, I bet the man was fat.  Ms Allsopp doesn't tell us (not enough characters left after listing out the gory details of the meal that insulted her so), but I have observed that in general, criticising the diet of fat people and pretending it is really a debate about the state of the country's health service, appears to be considered fair game.  It's why every time you see a news story about the rise in obesity rates it is accompanied by a picture of someone wearing jeans that are several sizes too small and chowing down on a cream bun. 


We all know being fat is unhealthy, and that discussions need to be had around what our poor, beleaguered health service can cope with (which is a far more complex point than "Let's not treat fat people and smokers!" whatever indignant commentators who lurk below the line on various news websites would like to think).  But people, let's not use the NHS as an excuse for being an old fashioned, common-or-garden bitch.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Zucco, Meanwood

Meanwood is an area of Leeds that I think is best described as "up and coming". We like it very much and one large draw is the very lovely Zucco, a local restaurant that is good enough (in my opinion) to thrive in the city centre but has chosen (thanks be) to situate itself a ten minute walk away from our house.

If you're familiar with Russell Norman's Polpo, you'll know the sort of food we are talking about here: essentially ciccheitti, the Venetian take on tapas, so smaller sharing dishes with an Italian slant. In fact, I believe that the owners of Zucco were involved in the original Soho Polpo in some capacity (although I could be mistaken on that score).


It's the perfect genre for a neighbourhood restaurant, being suitable for large parties (when we went last on a Saturday lunchtime there were lots of young families) and couples alike. The only potential issue is that the tables-for-two are not big enough to handle the number of dishes that a greedy pair like us might order. They deal with this well though, sending tranches of plates out in logical sequence.

On Saturday, which happened to be our fifth wedding anniversary (I know!) we went for broke food wise, washed it down with a fine prosecco and it came to £80. I call that pretty decent value although by no means cheap and cheerful (for that, you may want Marcel's Cafe across the road).

The food itself is excellent. Not, I think, falling within the fayne dayning bracket, rather, robust and flavourful. In this day and age, I sometimes find restaurant food under seasoned, but this is a kitchen that is well acquainted with the salt cellar. An early highlight was a pizzette bianca with ricotta, chilli, and garlic - had the potential to be bland but turned up grassy with olive oil, the dough bubbled and scorched. Meat and fish are sensitively handled with the ox cheeks being particularly excellent, falling apart at the mere sight of a fork.

From top left here, clockwise: soft shell crab, sea bass with baby potatoes, Parmesan crumbed chicken breast, ox cheek with risotto.


My favourite thing, though, and a dish I order every time I visit, is the cannoli. Why I did not discover such a thing until I was well into adulthood is beyond me: it's like a cheesecake but better.


A good local restaurant is a wonderful thing and Zucco ticks a lot of boxes. Is it perfect? Not if you're looking for a particular experience - this is big and bold and rustic rather than refined and elegant. But it's a little gem of a place in the extended Leeds food scene and I am gratified beyond measure that it happens to be within staggering distance of my front door.

Monday, 19 September 2016

MPM: 19th September 2016

Holidays well and truly over and it is back to routine which means back to meal planning. The Bottomless Freezer (TM) has finally been (just about) conquered and so will be defrosted next weekend - D is manning up to the task while I am away with friends for a couple of nights. I shall look forward to returning home to a clean, frost free freezer. And perhaps the lost city of Atlantis or a bunch of marauding Vikings in the kitchen.

D fully expects to be eating dust and ice cubes on Friday and Saturday night - or perhaps some sort of takeaway. Elsewhere:

Monday: red Thai curry with prawns

Tuesday: cheddar and ale soup (from "Tom's Table" by Tom Kerridge)

Wednesday: tuna and mushroom pasta bake 

Thursday: corned beef hash 

Sunday: lemongrass and turmeric roast chicken (from "A Bird in Hand" by Diana Henry)

Happy eating folks!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Recipe corner: quick fish, mussel and chickpea stew

Stews are generally best made at least 24 hours in advance to allow the flavours to acquire enough depth to make them worthwhile. This one, however, packs in so many flavourful ingredients (including a cheat! Just call me Delia circa 2008) that it can be cooked, eaten and enjoyed on the same evening. We whipped it up while on holiday in Scotland; we had nabbed some beautiful pollock on a sea angling trip and were reliant, for cooking it, on the limited kitchen equipment in our self catering apartment and the limited ingredients available in the local Co-op.

This is rough and ready cooking, so intended as the merest guide. Use whatever fish and/or shellfish you fancy, play with the herbs and spices as it pleases you. I, personally would urge seeking out the pre cooked mussels in sauce such as these because they add an instant additional layer of flavour, but there's still plenty going on here if you can't find them or they don't float your boat.

Ingredients

2-3 pollock (or similar white fish) filleted and cut into large chunks
1 pack pre cooked mussels in garlic and wine

Onion, chopped
Tin of anchovies in olive oil
2 fat cloves of garlic
Tsp tarragon (the freeze dried stuff in a jar)
Tsp paprika
Juice of half a lemon
Large tin of tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
Large tin of chickpeas, drained
250ml stock

2 heaped tbsp mayonnaise
Clove of garlic crushed
Zest of a lemon
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Serves 4-6

Combine the ingredients for the aioli and set aside.

Tip the oil from the anchovy tin into a saucepan and place over a low heat.

Meanwhile, blitz or chop together the anchovies, garlic and dried spices with a hefty pinch of black pepper.

Add the onion to the pan and allow to soften for five minutes or so before adding the garlic and anchovy paste and cooking off for a further couple of minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and allow to bubble down to nothing before adding the tomatoes and stock. Taste, and adjust the seasoning - add sugar as necessary (I find that this tends to be essential to round out the flavour of tinned tomatoes). Bring to a simmer then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.

While cooking, remove the mussels from their shells, being sure to retain all the lovely sauce, and drain the chickpeas. Add them to the tomato mix, and allow it to cook, uncovered and over a gentle heat, for a further 5 minutes or so, to reduce slightly.

Finally, nestle the fish on top, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes until opaque. Stir the fish gently through the sauce before serving, drizzled with aioli, with hunks of crusty bread.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Home

The alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and we left Mull by the 7 o clock ferry which smelled strongly of stewed coffee. I dozed for much of the drive and so saw only brief flashes of the dramatic rolling hills that flank the road south from Oban, and the shining waters of Loch Lomond. We stopped once, briefly, for petrol and M&S sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese, ham and cheddar) and, as a result, made it back to Leeds by early afternoon where the first cup of tea, brewed in our own teapot, tasted exactly like home.

The cat is back with us, much to our mutual joy, and is currently curled up next to me. She says to say hello to the blog readers.

I said yesterday that I would decide on my favourite holiday dish on the ferry; I lied. I tried to sleep on the ferry, with my head cushioned on my handbag. When we discussed it last night, D said that he thought Cafe Fish's Goan fish curry was the star turn - and it was, indeed, excellent, so I will go with that - certainly, I've already been searching out recipes online to try and recreate it. But it's hard to compare breakfasts and burgers and high end Glasgow establishments and island pub grub; suffice it to say we have eaten well across the fortnight and, no doubt, the scales tomorrow (or the next day) will bear witness. Sigh.

Still, I'll worry about that later. For now, I'm indulging in the mild melancholia that comes with the end of a holiday, tempered by my pleasure at being back at home surrounded by all home comforts, flanked by the feline and looking forward to an episode or two of Bake Off on the telly box. Life is good.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Day 14: Mull - summertime sadness

Is there anything sadder than the end of a holiday? 

The only bright spot on the (currently rain drenched) horizon is the fact that tomorrow I get to see my beloved Minx (assuming that there are no problems on the roads to delay us). Unlike some cats, who get in a bit of a snit after being sent into exile, she goes into giddy, grateful mode when we are reunited, so I am anticipating many purrs and cuddles tomorrow evening. And few things soothe the soul like a furry, purry ball of pussycat. Here, in fact, is La Minx doing her contended face:


Otherwise, I am sorry to leave Tobermory and Mull and Scotland but I think that we have managed a nice balance between activity and sleepy, bookish torpor. We have also eaten and drunk well for the most part (with one last fishy hurrah to come this evening). Naming a Top Holiday Dish will be hard, but at least it will give me something to do on the ferry tomorrow.

Day 13: Mull - eating out

Buggeration - I got so distracted by "Wolf Hall" that I completely forgot to post yesterday. Which is odd because I know how "Wolf Hall" is going to pan out: spoiler alert, it is NOT going to end well for Anne Boleyn.

And, of course, the challenge to blog every day was an entirely arbitrary, self-imposed one and no one will really care that I slipped up, but still, buggeration.

Let's distract from the fact that this is late by posting some pictures of food from a couple of Mull establishments, shall we? This has not been a holiday focussed on exotic or adventurous dining; if I had to sum it up in a single word, that word would be "comfort". And what is more comforting than sausages?


When I was young, and we would holiday in North Yorkshire, the biggest treat imaginable was a pub meal and I would nearly always opt for sausages. A proper, British banger, with chips or mash, you go a long way to beat it. MacGochans, one of Tobermory's busiest purveyors of pub grub, served theirs with bubble and squeak which is a variation I shall allow - just. While I think it is a bit of a shame that they are trying to position themselves as a restaurant with a bar rather than a pub that serves food, I still like it here and they served me up haggis lollipops so I am bound to love them forever.


We've managed two meals - a dinner and a lunch - in the peerless (for Tobermory at least) Cafe Fish with a third to come this evening. This salt and pepper squid was perfection - crispy and salty, warm from the pepper, the squid beneath with just the right balance of tender and chew. If you only eat out in one place while you are here, let this be that place. And definitely order the squid.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Day 12: Mull - the art of scones



Hidden away in a forest, about 12 miles from the town of Tobermory, is a gorgeous little walk through a forest called (I think) "Art in Nature". Someone has gone to the trouble of installing some beautiful sculptures into the forest itself. And, at the end, you emerge onto a white-sanded beach called Calgary Bay. It's idyllic, well worth checking out if you ever find yourself on Mull.


What I especially like is that it begins (or ends, depending on preference) with a tearoom. All good walks should involve cups of strong tea and fruited scones slathered with butter and jam. The scones at Calgary were golden and crumbly and lightly scented with cinnamon which is a splendid idea that I intend to pilfer when next I bake scones, which I do not do nearly enough.


A Very Good Day.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Day 11: Mull - over the yardarm

Ah, holidays. It is six o clock ON THE DOT and I am sitting outside the local pub with a glass of wine BECAUSE IT IS ALLOWED. Above, a surprisingly blue sky given how doomy and gloomy were the earlier weather predictions. It is also exceedingly mild considering that we are now into September. Not quite balmy, but not all that far off.

We have had such a lazy couple of days which has been gorgeous, especially since my book group decided to make "Wolf Hall" their Big Summer Read. I'm enjoying it very much, although I have started alternating chunks of its dense, beautiful prose with chapters of cupcake-strewn chick lit for shits and giggles. 

I also am in serious danger of turning in to a fish given the amount I've been choffing since we got here. Every meal, breakfast aside, has been marine based and it has been GLORIOUS. Check out the stunningness of Cafe Fish's posh fish finger open sandwich (today's lunch) draped with a beautiful, dill spiked slaw:

Monday, 5 September 2016

Day 10: Mull - Meal Planning Monday abroad

After a week of eating out for every meal, being in self catering accommodation is utterly glorious. This morning, I have had an apple and a cup of tea for breakfast - you can't do that when you have a solicitous Scottish matron hovering at your elbow (as in our Islay B&B) and you won't do that when you've paid good money to include breakfast in the room price (even if the scrambled eggs are rather pale and watery).

But we are obviously still on holiday, so I'm loath to commit to a firm meal plan for the week. We've got a table booked at Cafe Fish on Friday and we always try and fit in a trip to Mull's foremost public house, MacGochan's, where they serve surprisingly good steak. Also, currently reposing in our fridge, a sackful of fresh fish: mackerel, pollock and ling, caught by our own fair hands which we intend to turn into a hearty stew and a lightly spiced fish pate. So zero likelihood of going hungry here.

I've been trawling through photos looking for stuff to share; is it just us who seem to snap nothing but food? But anyway, here we have D's first seafood platter of the holiday:


This was taken at Sea Salt, in Islay, a pizzeria cum bistro which did a decent line in seafood. D loves a platter. He has got through a couple of others since, and plots to hoover up more before our return home.

Also from Sea Salt, a black pudding and goats' cheese salad. This was a starter. A STARTER.


I adored this intensely savoury combination, lifted by the tangle of sweet onions on top, and would love to use it myself. This was all a bit much though especially when, y'know, it's a starter and there is more food to follow.

Here is something a wee bit more...wee.


Caviar with oatcakes and creme fraiche - what a treat to see this on the menu at Cafe Fish on Saturday. I can't remember the last time I had caviar - it is probably considered rather passé in these days of austerity. Gorgeous.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Day 9: Mull - gone fishing

We are settled in to our self catering apartment in Tobermory. The location is perfect: the building was originally a bonded warehouse for the distillery and is situated at one end of the main street with views across the bay. We are within staggering distance of the pub (excellent) but nothing is very much further away than a five minute saunter.

D and I spent the afternoon fishing and several fillets of freshly caught mackerel are about five minutes away from being cooked for supper. As such, this post shall be necessarily short and sweet.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Day 8: Oban/Mull - crossing over

Oban rose in my estimation this morning when, while mooching around waiting for our ferry, we spotted not one but two local cats. I always approve of a town with cats.


This one was sitting outside the Seafood Shack, patiently awaiting his breakfast, which shows him to be a feline of impeccable taste. The Shack is probably the best place to eat in Oban, serving up the freshest seafood possible with minimal messing. Crabs are dressed, mussels cooked in a little wine and garlic, salmon lightly smoked. Sandwiches are available in three varieties: crab, prawn or aforementioned smoked salmon, generously filled and ludicrously delicious in their simplicity. Unfortunately, it is impossible to make such a thing look glamorous.


Last night, we dined at a local seafood restaurant called Ee-usk which, again, favoured a simple approach and produced some very nice food as a result. I had hake with a mussel sauce - two favourite ingredients of mine - and was pleased to see them so sensitively treated, especially after ranting about the British propensity for over-cooking yesterday.

But beyond fish and felines, Oban failed to reveal to us any hidden depths and I am not sad to go, particularly as we are now away over the sea to Mull where we intend to spend a week doing very, very little. The blog posts may well get very dull indeed...

Friday, 2 September 2016

Day 7: Islay/Oban - interlude

The town of Oban chiefly consists of a road lined with shops and bars that hugs itself around the curl of a bay. Above, a great, round tower looms and, at the far end, sits the ferry port. The constant sight and sound of the ferries going back and forth make Oban feel very much like a place to go through rather than to. Which is why, this year, we decided to make it a destination in itself and spend an evening. I will report back shortly as to whether or not this was a wise decision. Perhaps some places are better off as thoroughfares.

We have already completed the Oban distillery tour, our sixth in four days, and have declared ourselves officially "whiskied out". Tonight, there will be seafood and then tomorrow, we set sail for our beloved Mull. I am looking forward to being in self catering accomodation with my own, albeit basic, kitchen. Eating out for every meal becomes tedious very quickly, especially when (food snob alert!) so many places out there serve such remarkably average food.

I am always wont to leap to the defence of British food culture which, at its best is one of the most exciting and varied and lovely in the world. In the middle of the market, though, we Brits do need to take a couple of things on board. One: seasoning is not a dirty word. A pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, even a squeeze of citrus, can bring a dish to life. And two: for the love of the Teapot do we HAVE to cook everything to the point of cremation? Professional chefs - and, it follows, diners - need to get a wee bit braver.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Day 6: Islay - whisky, whisky everywhere (and many drams to drink)

There are no two ways about it, one comes to Islay for the whisky. There are an incredible eight distilleries on this one tiny island. 


Although the basic process for turning water, barley and yeast into whisky is the same wherever you go, I would still recommend visiting different distilleries. On each tour you will have a slightly different experience and glean slightly different information.



Over the last two trips we have now made it to all eight distilleries and, in the process, sampled some seriously good whisky. I always assumed that I didn't like the heavily peated malts for which this island is famous, but at some point in the journey my palate must have changed sufficiently  that I can now genuinely appreciate that whiff of smoke and loam and that slight burn on the roof of the mouth.



We actually left Laphroaig (pronounced Laff-Royg and arguably Islay's most famous export) until last, assuming it would be out least favourite. But whatever you think you know about this famously smoky single malt, prepare to be surprised. We tasted a range of different expressions all of which were far more complex and interesting than we expected.



We are unlikely to come back here, certainly in the near future. It is not as beautiful as our beloved Mull and is certainly not a foodie destination as far as we have been able to tell. But if you are in any way a fan of Scottish whisky, and are interested in challenging your palate and your expectations, this place is an absolute must visit. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Day 5: Jura/Islay - cat cuddles & chocolate puddles

Until the chocolate and whisky fondant arrived at the table last night, our dinner at the Jura Hotel, while pleasant enough, was not hitting any particular heights. And then - a boozy, oozy, glossy gush of chocolate heaven. Someone in that kitchen knows how to make a fondant.


Really, the Jura Hotel doesn't have to bother at all - it is the only place to stay on the island so its audience is pretty captive - but the elegant decor, the extremely comfortable room, the well stocked bar with the panoramic views AND the chef's way with desserts mean that it is a place to which I would happily return. There is even a friendly local cat, Elvis, who submitted quite amenably to crazy cat lady cuddles.

To be honest, I am sorry that we were not on Jura longer. It would have been nice to see the house in which George Orwell wrote "1984" and the whirlpool that sits just off the shore in the strait which separates the islands of Jura and Scarba. More than anything else, I like the fact that it feels like a little haven from the world, a place to be quiet and calm.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Day 4: Glasgow/Jura - road to nowhere

I am sitting outside of the only hotel on the Isle of Jura. To my left, the distillery and a scattering of houses. In front, a swathe of sea.  There might be a local shop hereabouts but I wouldn't bet good money on it, we are about as remote as it gets.


We primarily came to visit the distillery and, indeed, I am not sure what else would attract tourists to this tiny, beautiful, peaceful little corner of the Hebrides. Jura whisky is a thing of beauty - far lighter than is common in island single malts (which, we learned today, is because they have the second tallest stills in all of Scotland). But getting here is a labour of love, requiring a trip on the tiniest car ferry you ever did see (if you're fifth in the queue, you're waiting for the next one).

Food thus far today has been sporadic and uninspiring - a drab bacon roll on the ferry from Kennacraig to Islay and a Magnum (when did they get so sickly?) waiting for the crossing to Jura. I couldn't leave this post, therefore, without mentioning last night's dinner at Glasgow's Bread Meats Bread - a dirty burger joint par excellence. My pastrami melt was stunningly good and D did a lot of fervent nodding when asked about his burger.


We also ordered a side of poutine, out of 50% curiosity and 50% greed. If you've not come across this Canadian delicacy before, it consists of chips, a thick, meaty gravy and squeaky cheese curds. It is a rather odd thing - not in the least unpleasant but one of those food combinations that makes you wonder how anyone thought to invent such a thing.


We suspect that you have to be born Canadian to truly appreciate it.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Day 3: Glasgow - the most important meal

The forecast is gloomy for the rest of the fortnight but today, at least, we were blessed with clear skies and sunshine which made the walk down Sauchiehall Street to Kelvingrove a pleasant one. I like Kelvingrove, which in size and range of exhibits reminds me of the British Museum. It is a pleasant place to dip into for an hour or so. And the Dali painting, "Christ of St John of the Cross" is stunning enough to warrant the trip alone.

We've enjoyed two excellent breakfasts while we have been here, both of which venues I need to commend to your attention, although they are completely different.

I think that I wrote about Babu Bombay Street Kitchen when we were here last year but it merits a revisit. Set below street level, its unprepossessing appearance doesn't immediately catch the eye and the decor is quirky and functional rather than luxurious. But the breakfast there, consisting of a mere six items (up from last year's three) is fabulous. I enjoyed the bhurji pau, spicy scrambled eggs, for a second year running, D went for the bacon and omelette roti wrap, both dishes washed down with excellent coffee. If we were here another day, I'd be going back there for lunch.

But at the other end of the scale we have Cafe Gandolfi, a new one for us this visit. Judging from the number of people there when we turned up on Sunday morning, it appears to be a pretty popular destination and with good reason - the breakfast menu reads like a dream and the kitchen more than delivers. I could have ordered pretty much everything on there but decided to opt for pancakes with fruit, yoghurt and syrup. The pancakes were fluffy, the yoghurt was rich and ever so slightly sweetened and the fresh berries were ripe and luscious. Meanwhile, D went for Eggs Hebridean - which is Eggs Benedict with black pudding instead of ham. Judging by the speed at which the not inconsiderable plateful disappeared, I think it got the thumbs up from him.



I'll be sad to leave this wonderful city tomorrow but our next stop is the Isle of Jura - where whisky and venison surely await

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Day 2: Sterling/Glasgow - stepping out

According to my Fitbit, I have walked nearly 13,000 steps already today. Given that on a normal, deskbound day I might not even break the back of 3,000 this is one hell of an improvement. My feet are hot and dusty of sole and making their disapproval known through the medium of aching. But keeping vaguely active is hopefully the key to keeping any holiday weight gain to a minimum.

Last night we spent in Sterling where we enjoyed a decent curry followed by a wee dram in an adorable little pub that looked like it had been set up in someone's living room. Albeit someone who owned several hundred bottles of whisky.



And then this morning we skipped across to Glasgow. On the agenda: modern art and Mackintosh. Oh, and ticking off the new Glasgow Brewdog bar, Doghouse, which is situated in the Merchant City part of the, er, city. Yes, that is a second Brewdog in two days and there will be another one tomorrow. I would judge us too. The food here was lovely though - smoked meats and the kind of side dishes that you expect to see on Triple D. We shared a small portion of pulled pork, Mac and cheese and house pickles.


I continue to find new things to love about Glasgow; it's a fascinating, varied city jostling with amazing architecture. Edinburgh is more immediately beautiful but Glasgow, the scrappy younger* sibling is, I think, more endearing.

*(I actually don't know whether Glasgow is the younger city but I'm ignoring fact for the purposes of metaphor).

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Day 1: Stirling - tears & beers

Going on holiday is a wonderful thing, but before we can leave we have to drop the cat off and this is a Traumatic Moment.

I don't know what was more pathetic: the piteous mewing as we made the short drive, or the full grown woman actually in tears as she said goodbye to her furball. Luckily, despite having the unenviable task of manoeuvring her in to her travel box, D was more sanguine.

Anyway, that done and we were off to the first stop on our whistlestop tour: Stirling. We have actually visited before but were compelled to come back because Scottish beer company Brewdog have opened a bar here. D is an avid Brewdog fan and dreams of the day when he can say that he has visited all of their establishments. I am fond of their Punk IPA so am generally happy to accompany him. Although, since they have a bar in Brazil, a country to which I have no desire to travel, his dream may never be fulfilled.

Stirling has a castle - but I am afraid that sticky and grumpy from an extremely close four hours in the car - we baulked at the £30 entrance fee. Instead, we had a wander around the pretty cobbled streets which sit above the town centre, and visited a lovely church in which King James VI of Scotland, who later became King of England, was both christened and crowned.

The first meal of the holiday was, of course, lunch in Brewdog. £5 will get you a decent toastie with salad and sweet potato fries (I could have done without the fries to be honest) and I am still curious as to what part of my subconscious induced me to order veggie haggis - in general, veggie haggis is a concept of which I heartily disapprove. Nevertheless, this was actually quite tasty and provided good ballast for the inevitable glass of beer.