Friday, 30 June 2017

A breakfast for on the go, and a TV dinner

I can't believe that we're coming up to the halfway point of 2017 already.  That can't possibly be right.

Lesley (hello, Lesley!) has recently started 5:2ing and asked me how it was going - so now, six months in, seems like a good point to assess progress so far and make some general comments on the diet (which will probably be exactly the same comments that I make every time that I do a progress report but they are good comments and bear repeating).  I will post that shortly.

Also, I have a couple of fantastic little things-to-do-with-broad-beans that I must share with you.  If you have an allotment (or, indeed, a garden) you may well be overrun with them at the moment and searching for new ideas.  Another, somewhat annoying, watch this space.

In the meantime, I just wanted to bookmark a couple of recipes for posterity and commend them to your attention.

These breakfast bars, a Nigella recipe via a lovely blog, are a cinch to make and a fantastic way of using up all those odd bags of dried fruit and nuts and seeds of which I seem to have a cupboard full.  They're healthy-ish: lots of good stuff in there but certainly not a low calorie or sugar option.  They last exceptionally well (over a week in an airtight container and still fine) and are perfect for breakfast on the go.  Which, in our house means breakfast at your desk when you've reluctantly hauled yourself out of bed in time to get to the office for seven.

And this garlic butter prawn linguine dish, we made on a Saturday night after a bottle of wine and an emotional rollercoaster of a Dr Who episode.  It is extraordinarily simple and low effort but delivers on indulgence and flavour.  Just the kind of thing that you want to cook and eat on a Saturday night after a bottle of wine and an emotional rollercoaster of a Dr Who episode.  One that I will be retaining up my sleeve for future use.

Back soon!

Monday, 19 June 2017

MPM: 19th June 2017

So it got hot. I, in common with much of the rest of the UK, have spent the last few days of the heatwave complaining about it bitterly. When the rain returns halfway through the week, we shall complain bitterly about that too. Such is the British way.

I really like the meal plan this week and am looking forward to all the dishes on rotation - with the possible exception of the inevitable Fast Day soup on Tuesday and Thursday. If it cools down enough to restore my appetite, I shall look forward to them even more.

Monday: roast sea bream with fennel, potatoes, olives and capers. A lovely sounding one pot dish that won't require too much effort and has an appropriately Mediterranean feel.

Wednesday: pasta in a sweet tomato sauce with roasted red peppers and sausage

Friday: a friend of ours brought us back some black pudding from a recent holiday and D suggested using it as part of a proper fry up. A weekend fry up supper was a real treat when I was a child so this should be great. Bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast will all be in attendance.

Saturday: garlic prawn linguine. The original recipe looks pretty simple - just prawns, garlic, butter, lemon and parsley. I'm wondering about adding some spiralised courgettes and roasted cherry tomatoes for a bit of additional interest (and nutritional value!)

Sunday: Parmesan roasted chicken thighs with cauliflower and thyme - aka variations on a theme of Sunday roast.

Have a good week all!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Recipe corner: Gochujang onion jam

I was going to open this post by talking about the aftermath of last week’s incident but self-pity is very dull indeed, especially when it is your own.  So, instead, let’s talk condiments.  I have already given you a creamy, herby salad dressing / dip to last the summer, now here is a relish guaranteed to improve any barbecue. 

It is spicy and smoky and sweet and sour all at the same time.  We have had it with both mackerel and burgers to triumphant effect;  at the weekend, D added pineapple chunks and juice and cooked it down even further to make a fruity caramel to serve with pork.  This is seriously versatile stuff.

The star ingredient here is the gochujang, which is a Korean chilli paste.  It is slightly fermented which gives it a very distinct, albeit hard to describe, flavour profile and is utterly addictive.  Korean food is supposed to be on trend at the moment, so you will probably find that gochujang is readily available in larger supermarkets.  I couldn’t honestly suggest a substitute. 

This recipe makes a large ramekin full of onion jam which is, I recognise, not a particularly useful measurement but the best that I can offer.  I have no doubt that it would keep well, in a jar, in the fridge, but we’ve been ploughing through it within a matter of days so have yet to test its powers of longevity.


3 red onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sugar
Tsp salt
30g sultanas
3 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Take a large saucepan and set it over a low heat to warm up while you slice the onions and transfer them to a bowl.  Toss the onions in the oil, sugar and salt and then place in the saucepan, turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cover. 

Meanwhile, place the sultanas in a bowl (you could use the onion one to save on washing up) and cover with water to plump them up.

Cook the onions until soft and golden, stirring occasionally.  I gave mine a good hour and they probably could have gone for a bit longer but I was bored!

Stir through the sultanas, the gochujang and the vinegar.  Turn the heat up slightly and cook for a further 10 minutes or so until the jam is slightly sticky and just beginning to catch on the bottom of the saucepan.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool before serving.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

And breathe...

I couldn't bear to have that last post up at the top of the feed anymore, so, here. We haven't had an obligatory cute cat picture in a while.

As guard cats go, she's not the greatest. But did you ever see a more beautiful feline?*

* I may be biased.

Monday, 5 June 2017

A bad start to the week

Picture the scene. Six thirty in the morning, I was lying in bed pretending to be asleep when D comes in and says, in a voice teetering somewhere between incredulity and panic, "Where's the car? The car's gone."

A little further investigation revealed my purse lying in the middle of the drive and the back door lock hanging off the screws. Somebody or bodies had got into our house in the night, removed the car keys from D's jacket pocket, rifled through my handbag and made off with our car.

Now, there's an awful lot of shit going on in the world at the moment, as recent events in London and Manchester prove. And this incident, is, in the scheme of everything that is happening, tiny and incidental and means nothing to anyone except me and my husband and, possibly, our elderly neighbours. But it just serves as further proof to me that there are some complete and utter wankbadgers out there. People who actually think it is ok to break into someone's house while they are sleeping and just help themselves to a car and then, as if that is not cockwomblish enough, leave the back door open through which our cat could have escaped if she had any sort of nous.

I am trying quite hard to be angry because the alternative is to be frightened. I bet arsewipes like those who paid us a midnight visit, I bet that they get off on making people afraid. They probably find it amusing. Well, screw them and screw all the people like them that shake our faith in the basic goodness and decency of humanity. They are not worth our fear.

Anyway, I apologise for the rant and the fact that the only meal planning I will do today is working out which bits of these spineless lowlifes I would like to chop off and bake in a pie (with apologies to George R. R. Martin). Normal service to be resumed shortly.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Norse, revisited

It was my Mum’s birthday last weekend so we popped across to Harrogate to go out for dinner.  Now, I’ve written about Norse not once but twice before, and there are only so many ways that you can say somewhere is super delicious and lovely and that everyone should go.  But this visit was worthy of a slight further note because it was our first since the Norse team moved into their new location.   Where previously they were situated in Balthezen’s cafĂ©, only emerging at night after the last coffee and cinnamon bun had been served, now they are down in the Montpelier quarter and you can visit for lunch!  Hurrah!

The new restaurant is in a cellar underneath a hotel but still manages to be a bright, airy space, in perfect keeping with the light, Scandi influenced food.  It seemed a lot bigger than before (I’m not sure how the number of covers compares) and yet was still packed out on Saturday night, with people several deep at the bar.  In fact, if there was one small criticism to level it is that they could have done with another staff member out front – the ones on hand were rushed off their feet and, occasionally, plates took slightly longer to clear than they should have done.  (NB: We fed this back to them and they have been in touch to thank us and to say that they are looking into it.)

The food, though, was fabulous.  They no longer do a set tasting menu but offer a list of thirteen savoury plates of various sizes, recommending three apiece.  We ordered the entire menu between four, with a view to sharing everything.  Thirteen plates plus two snacks and three desserts and yet, such was the lightness of touch and balanced parade of ingredients that none of us left feeling over-full.

General consensus round the table that the top dishes were, surprisingly, two vegetarian ones.  The Hasselback potatoes with cheddar and pickled leeks were always going to appeal to a family of cheese monsters.

The grilled hen of the woods were a revelation though – who on Earth knew that mushrooms could taste so luscious and smoky and meaty? 

I must also give a special mention to the hake, beautifully cooked and bathed in a fabulous, run-your-finger-round-the-bowl shellfish sauce.  The only problem with sharing was that I only got a bite or two – this was one that I was tempted to hide under the table and keep to myself.

Puddings: marginally less successful, as it turns out that D fundamentally objects to Jerusalem artichoke ice cream (I didn’t really mind it myself).  I do think that the elderflower parfait was terribly, terribly pretty though.

It goes without saying that, if you’re in the Harrogate area, this is a top destination.  And it was gratifying to see the place doing so well.  Long may it stay so bustling and busy, even if it does mean that dirty plates linger a little longer than they should do – fabulous local places like this are to be treasured.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Recipe corner: Tomato and ricotta "baked ziti"

I adore pasta bake in all its forms. It’s not pretty food and it certainly doesn’t tend to be sophisticated but, oh! A big pile of gooey, cheesy pasta will always make my greedy little heart beat slightly faster. As a child, admittedly before my taste buds developed a modicum of sophistication, tuna pasta bake would often be my choice for a birthday supper. Yes, it sits leaden in the stomach. Yes, the majority of Italians would turn their noses up. Yes, by the time that you’ve strewn enough cheese it becomes ridiculously high in calories and saturated fat (add a side salad if it makes you feel better). I don’t care.

The dish that I cooked last night, a layered tomato and ricotta pasta bake, was a vague attempt to re-create a baked ziti that I used to eat at the restaurant chain Sbarro. Sadly, it no longer has a UK presence so I cannot go back to check how close I got – however, it chimed pretty closely with the memory and I adored it. D felt it lacked a little oomph – perhaps some chorizo or bacon or chilli in the tomato sauce would remedy this – to me, was perfect as it was, and incredible comfort food.

In terms of technique, I aped pretty closely the Pioneer Woman’s baked ziti, figuring that an American dish required an American home cook’s wisdom. Her recipe is here – as you see, she favours a meat sauce, but mine is strictly vegetarian. That is not to say that it is particularly healthy; yes, there is a lot of cheese in there. Comfort yourself that the tomato sauce will pack in a couple of your five a day and contains relatively little fat.

Cooks’s notes: I didn’t have a stick of celery so substituted it for a second grated carrot, but you’re ideally aiming for a classic soffrito here. I keep a stash of Parmesan rinds in my freezer to whack into soups and sauces and they do add tremendous flavour but, if you’re not weird like me, just make sure you add stock rather than water to the tomato sauce. For the mozzarella, go for the slightly firmer kind that comes in a square block rather than a ball – it’s better for cooking.


Tomato sauce:

Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Generous sprig of oregano (or a heaped tsp of the dried variety)
50ml red wine
200g tin of chopped tomatoes
Tbsp tomato puree
Tsp sugar
Parmesan rind

Cheese sauce:

200g ricotta cheese
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
75g mozzarella cheese, grated
Scant pinch of ground nutmeg
Tbsp lemon juice

180g dried penne pasta
100g mozzarella cheese

Serves 2 – 4 depending on the depths of your hunger / greed

Make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil and sweat off the onion and the celery with a decent pinch of salt. When beginning to soften, add the carrot, garlic and oregano and sweat a bit longer until you have a colourful mulch of vegetables.

Tip in the red wine and allow it to bubble down to almost nothing. Then add the tomatoes, the puree and the sugar and stir well. Fill the tomato tin with water and add that too, along with the Parmesan rind. Season, bring to a vigorous boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and reduce by about a third. When it is done, allow to cool slightly before blitzing to a rough puree in the food processor.

Combine all the ingredients for the cheese sauce in a nice, large bowl and season well. Plenty of black pepper is called for here.

Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes less than it suggests on the packet – you want it to be a little too al dente so that it retains texture on baking. Once cooked, stir into the cheese sauce, along with a generous spoonful of the tomato sauce. You should have a nice, loose texture but, if not, a little splash of the pasta water will help it along.

Layer up the bake – half the pasta, half the remaining tomato sauce, half of the mozzarella cheese then repeat. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, removing the foil for the last 15 to get some colour on the top.