Friday, 21 July 2017

Recipe corner: easiest ever chocolate pots

Although life may be tough at times, there is always, always chocolate.

When I was a child, my love of the good stuff was well known throughout the family.  You could guarantee that if we went out for a meal and there was a chocolate based dessert on the menu that my little piggy eye would immediately alight upon it; the creamier, the sicklier the better for my young taste buds.  My mother claims to still remember the expression on my face the first time that she gave me a chocolate button - the utter wondering delight that such a thing existed.

As I have got older my sweet tooth has receded to the extent that if you really, really pushed me, I'd probably opt for a starter over a pudding (always assuming that both wasn't an option).  But my predilection for cocoa based confections remains in tact such that if D sees chocolate mentioned on a dessert menu, he pretty much knows that all bets are off.

While I never met a chocolate pudding that I didn't like, I do think that a classic chocolate pot is possibly the ultimate.  It's unapologetic in its rich intensity, a true celebration of the cocoa bean.  And when I saw this recipe online, I thought that it must be too good to be true - as simple a thing as you ever did see.  Reader, it is not.  The only, only thing to watch out for is to make sure you add the water gradually - apply the merest modicum of patience, and chocolate pudding heaven is yours.

You could use flavoured chocolate.  You could add other flavourings yourself.  Or, you could sit back and let the star of the show shine through.  My most recent version made excellent use of the remains of a Prestat Easter Egg.  It turns out that the only thing that can make a Prestat Easter Egg better is the ability to eat it with a spoon.

Ingredients - per person

30g chocolate - I advocate going as dark as you dare
1 tbsp (which is 15g) boiling water
1.5 tbsp double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Boil the kettle.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave proof bowl.  Stick it in said microwave and, er, turn it on.  Every ten to fifteen seconds or so, remove the bowl, swirl it around and see where you are.  The chocolate will continue melting in the residual heat once you have removed it from the microwave and you don't want to overdo it.  Once you've mastered it, I promise you, this is by far the easiest way to melt chocolate.

When the chocolate is melted, first, stir through the vanilla.

Now, you are going to add the water.  I would recommend weighing it out direct from the kettle.  Start with just a small amount, and stir briskly.  Initially, it will look as if the chocolate is going to seize into a great big mess.  Keep going.  When the water is incorporated, add another splash and repeat until all the water is incorporated.  Remember to stir it until glossy between each addition.

Finish by stirring through the cream.  You should have a mixture which is roughly the consistency of a thin creme custard.

Pour into little espresso cups and chill in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the mix to set.

Enjoy, preferably on your own in a darkened room.  Maybe light a candle, play some soft jazz.  Have some quality time with it.  Remember, whatever life throws at you, there will always be chocolate.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Recipe corner: a couple of broad bean ideas

A friend of mine at work has an allotment.  Lucky chap.  I love the idea of an allotment, although suspect that the reality would be altogether dirtier and more tiresome.  Anyway, recently he brought in a load of broad beans that he had grown and now needed to use, all of which were gratefully received by his colleagues.

But the truth is, I was unsure as to what to do with them.  I have cooked broad beans before but wouldn't call myself a fan particularly.  However, it turns out that I love broad beans when they're shmushed up with other stuff.  Who knew?

First a word on cooking and preparing.  The first job is to remove them from the pods - this was D's responsibility and was easy enough to do in front of the TV.  Once the beans have been podded, you need to bring a pan of water to the boil, pop them in and simmer for two minutes, then drain and run them under the cold tap until they are cool to the touch.  Now they need to be squeezed out of their little grey jackets.  This, again, is an easy enough job to do albeit slightly tedious - again, I would recommend accompanying with a podcast or an episode of "Gilmore Girls" (current Netflix obsession).  We stored the beans submerged in cold water in the fridge until the time came to use them - I'm not sure whether this is necessary or not.  It did not do them any harm.

Broad bean dip

This recipe is loosely based on the ingredients list for Waitrose's pecorino and basil dip which is a household favourite.  I was really pleased with the balance of flavours that I got here - the broad beans were enhanced but not overwhelmed.  This was an utterly delicious taste of summer.  Although we just had it on tortilla chips, I would also eat it as an accompaniment to a main course - I can imagine it being delicious with a nice piece of trout.


70g broad beans, weighed after shelling

2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp mayonnaise
20g Parmesan, finely grated
8-10 mint leaves
Tsp chopped dill
Squeeze of lemon juice
Half a clove of garlic fine grated

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the beans and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes until nice and soft.  Remove from the heat and drain.

Meanwhile, put all the other ingredients into a mini blitzer (I swear by my Kenwood one.  We use it all the time and the day it breaks we will be straight out to replace it).  Whizz them together so that they are all well blended.  Season lightly.

Add the broad beans and whizz again until smooth.  Check the seasoning and adjust to taste - perhaps add a touch more lemon juice which should really help the flavours to sing.

Serve as a dip or a sauce or just eat with a spoon.  It really is that good.

Broad bean and pea crostini

A Jamie Oliver recipe, very slightly tweaked, this makes a perfect summery snack or starter.  Quantities are rather vague - this is easily adapted depending on the amount of people you have to feed.

So preheat your oven to around 180.  Slice a baguette, brush slices with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake until crisp - probably 10-15 minutes depending on how much of a beast your oven is.  Set aside to cool.

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil and then add a decent size handful of podded, shelled broad beans and another of peas and simmer for around 5 minutes until nice and soft.  Drain and return to the pan.

Using a masher, lightly crush together the vegetables: you want them to retain some texture.  Then, throw in a good splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a flurry of grated Parmesan.  Stir through and check the seasoning.  I personally enjoy a good hit of black pepper here.

Spread the cooled crostini with cream cheese and then top with the broad bean and pea mix.  For us, this made six very generously topped crostini but I reckon it would have gone further were we not such greedy minxes.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPM: 17th July 2017

Not a particularly seasonal menu plan this week - you'll notice haggis popping up a couple of times which is something that I always associate with winter.  However, we have had a veggie haggis lurking in the freezer for ages (don't ask) that needs utilising. And, let's face it, when has British summertime ever been actually summery?

We're fasting Monday and Thursday - so that will be soup (I've knocked up a batch of this old favourite).  Elsewhere:

Tuesday: veggie haggis and clapshot, caramelised onion gravy and some sort of green - I'm thinking maybe a creamed spinach?

Wednesday: giant couscous tossed in 'nduja, roasted vegetables and a crumble of feta cheese

Friday: veggie haggis toasties.  Don't knock until you've tried them.

Saturday: I'm cooking up a veggie Indian feast, featuring two of my favourite curries - saag paneer and chana masala (aka cheesy spinach and spiced chickpeas).  To be served with rice and flatbreads and maybe a couple of cheeky chutneys.  YUM!

Sunday: fish of some description - but we'll decide what we're doing when we pick up the fish on Saturday.  We have an absolutely wonderful local fishmongers so we're going to choose something that looks yummy and then base what we cook around that.  If it's sunny, perhaps I might even persuade young D to fire up the barbecue?

Have a wonderful week, mes amies!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

In which I re-commit to 5:2

I've been thinking about what I did at the start of the year that worked so successfully.  And what I can add to those techniques in order to be even more successful.  Here's my list so far...

1) A food diary.  Practically every day in January, I carefully recorded what I had eaten.  It might sound a little obsessive but it never took long, and I kind of enjoyed it.  It focuses you; even though no one else was reading it, I wanted the food that I recorded to look good...let's be honest, who wants to actually have to write that they've scoffed half a pack of Hobnobs?

2) Alcohol.  I've mentioned this before, I'm sure.  I love a drink.  But my weight loss noticeably speeds up when I cut it out.  I'm not going to promise to cut if out altogether, but for "5:2 2.0" there will be absolutely none on school nights (unless for a very particular reason) and I will limit consumption at the weekends by focusing on higher quality, low volume.

3) Meal planning.  Whatever diet you're doing, meal planning is pretty key.  I also need to make sure that I'm planning lunches and breakfasts as well - I'd like to limit snacks and treats and a surefire way to do that is to make sure that I'm eating properly at meal times.

4) Ah, yes, snacks and treats.  The odd biscuit or packet or crisps or piece of chocolate is absolutely fine, but I need to keep an eye on consumption levels.  I'd like to limit myself to one "treat" a day, maybe relaxing slightly at the weekends. So that could be a biscuit with an afternoon cup or tea OR a packet of cheeky cheese and onion when I get home OR a few Maltesers after dinner.  Not all three.

5) Exercise.  Yes, this again.  Lesley has nagged me about it before and with good reason - I need to make time for this and commit to a proper programme of activity.  There's a hotel across the road from my office with a proper pool - I'd love to treat myself to monthly membership so that I could fit in some swimming.  I'd also quite like to try some yoga classes, as I think this would help with my anxiety issues as well as being good, gentle exercise,  but I'm not going to shell out a penny until I've proved to myself that I can make exercise part of my schedule.  We have a treadmill in the garage, I have the couch to 5k app on my phone - it's free, it's easy, it's effective there is NO EXCUSE.

I reckon if I can stick to all these edicts, as well as two fast days a week, I can get things moving again in six weeks.  Game face on!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Excuses, excuses

So, I promised a bit of a retrospective post to talk about 5:2 and how the year was going.

I have talked on here on a couple of occasions about how 5:2 is hard but not that hard.  Fast days are rubbish but they are doable if you are organised and if you just get past the fact that being a bit hungry is not going to kill you.  I'm therefore a bit disappointed that our fast days have got a lot more sporadic in recent weeks.

There is a bit of a reason - or is it an excuse?  I always strive to be honest on this blog, albeit optimistically honest (is that a thing?) so I might as well say that, particularly since the break in, my anxiety levels have been high and I've not always been feeling 100%.  I've been on anti anxiety medication in the past but I don't like that as a solution so I'm trying to deal with it myself.  And I've noticed that low blood sugar can exacerbate physical symptoms of anxiety so I've been a bit wary of fasting.  Ha, written down that looks exactly like an excuse!

My weight has remained pretty stable throughout - I'm currently a couple of pounds shy of a two stone loss for the year.  That's amazing BUT the majority of that loss came in the first couple of months.  That is not amazing.

I've made peace with the fact that I am never going to be a skinny girl again, but I would like to lose enough that I am an unremarkable size and, more importantly, enough that I am not endangering my future health.  I really want 5:2 to work for that because I am shit scared of the alternative.  The alternative is going back to a more regimented plan - a Weight Watchers or a Slimming World.  And that makes me want to cry; I love being liberated from counting, from obsessively measuring out every teaspoon of oil or knob of butter.  I actually enjoy going to the fridge an being able to sling something together from bits and pieces of leftovers and not having to worry as I go along that it will involve more points than I have left for the day.  I cook and eat well and have found my own natural balance (as evidenced by the fact that, even without fasting, I have maintained my weight).

But, if 5:2 isn't going to get me to where I need to be then I have no choice.

So, here's the deal.  I am re-committing to 5:2 wholeheartedly for the next 6 or so weeks, which takes us to the end of August.  It would be nice to knock off half a stone or so in that time, although any downwards movement would be good.  If I haven't made any more progress then I'm going to have to start on an alternative route come September.

It's blogged and therefore I have to stick to it, right?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Polpetto, London

We're just back from a few days spent down South which was very nice indeed.  We got to spend time with friends and family and, of course, we made sure that we got to eat.  Although London has a distressing habit of encompassing far more nice restaurants than two people can possibly cover in a limited amount of time.  Sigh.

We decided to go to Polpetto and, in doing so, have now officially managed to have a meal at each of Russell Norman's London outlets.  I've been irritatingly enthusiastic about him before on numerous occasions - see here or here or even here.  Finishing the set has long been a cherished goal of my husband, who believes in completism (and, as such, is doing his best to visit every single Brewdog bar.  The fact that they've opened one in Brazil is a constant source of annoyance to him).

Anyway, Polpetto.  I'm not sure that I've much to add other than what I have said about Norman's restaurants before.  They're not high end dining, the decor tends towards slightly shabby whimsy, the staff towards the achingly cool.  The food is, in my experience, always delicious.

Whoever was cooking on Monday night was skilled in the art of perfect protein.  Grilled octopus skewers were the absolute highlight of the evening, the meat all at once dense and tender.  Ribbons of flank steak, tangled with aubergine and lamb's lettuce, melted on contact with the tongue.  Squid, thinly robed in batter and fried, had just the right amount of silky bounce.

Elsewhere there was a pizzete, the base bubbled and blistered, the top, liberally cheesed which is always a good thing.  And an orange semifreddo, liberally scattered with great, golden chunks of honeycomb which reminded me of the sophisticated lovechild of a Chocolate Orange and a Crunchie, There may have been plate licking.

Sure, it's not setting the world on fire and since Polpo et al opened, the "small plate" dining experience has become somewhat ubiquitous.  I mean, we're even doing it in Yorkshire now. But it's all good stuff and I, for one, am very happy to hear that Polpo might be looking for a permanent home in Leeds.  It's the type of food that I will never tire of eating - honest, robust and tasty.

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