Monday, 21 May 2018

MPM: 21st May 2018

A lot of the dishes on our menu recently have had a definite Asian slant. It just seems to be the direction in which my mind wanders when I start to think about what I want to eat. Now, obviously, Asia is a massive continent - both literally and in terms of culinary diversity, but I trust that you know what I mean when I make such sweeping statements.

This week, we are going out to dinner with Pater and Mater on Saturday, to celebrate the latter’s birthday. And, inevitably and ever optimistically, we have planned to eat soup on both Monday and Thursday. I am beginning to hate soup. Elsewhere:

Tuesday: we have leftovers of Sunday’s lemongrass and turmeric chicken to eat up, so we’re going to do an approximation of a bahn mi, by shredding it into a baguette with some crunchy veg and a slather of chicken liver pate.

Wednesday: paneer, red pepper and coconut curry. I LOVE a paneer based curry.

Friday: five spice caramel pork. I want to have this with noodles if D is agreeable (he is not the biggest fan of noodles in the world), if not, I am sure it will work equally well with rice.

Sunday: a recipe from “Our Korean Kitchen” - a spicy beef and vegetable stew, served with rice.

Happy Monday everybody!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Recent Eats - the Out and About Edition

My brother told me earlier that he was upset not to have been mentioned on the blog recently. So - hello D2. If I had got round to talking about the rather splendid meal we had at The General Tarleton for my parent’s anniversary then his name might have come up (given that he was there. As were my lovely sister in law and nephew and niece. I was slightly worried that little D and little S would be bored silly going out to eat but they, as befits the next generation of foodies, were fab. Better table manners than their uncle 😉).

Anyway, not only have I neglected to write about the GT but quite a few recent foodie adventures have gone unchronicled, so I thought that I would do a couple of quick round up posts, one for eating out and one for cooking at home. Let’s start with the eating out, shall we? And maybe throw in a few characteristically appalling photos?

Firstly, Whitby. I mentioned, at length, how much I loved Rusty Shears but we also took the opportunity to check out the latest venture by chef Andrew Pern, The Star Inn the Harbour. Our verdict - nice. It is not, nor is it attempting to be, The Star Inn, and is unlikely to earn Whitby its first Michelin star. But Whitby was crying out for a slightly more upmarket establishment and this fits the bill. Emphasis on fish and seafood, just as it should be given the location. Slightly twee decor, but I like twee. My mackerel escabeche with caviar creme fraiche and salted hazelnuts was a particular highlight.


We also went to The Moon and Sixpence for lunch, a rare beast for Whitby, in that it is unashamedly modern in design. There was sriracha on the menu, for goodness sake, mixed with mayo and drizzled over some very yummy crispy squid. Happiness is.


D’s main course was underwhelming to say the least (it takes a certain level of incompetence to make a gumbo bland) but all was forgiven when dessert arrived - the most amazing warm cookie pot. I think that I probably made some inappropriate noises.


Talking of cookies - they appear to be having something of a moment. We went along to one of the first Eat Norths of the year, and forced ourselves to share a pot of raw cookie dough because we got given a sample while we queued for beer and...well. More inappropriate noises. It was sold by The Baking Biker and oh, sweet Cheezus, I’ve just seen that you can buy it online.


Finally, and bringing us bang up to date, I got around to visiting Mommy Thai last night. It’s a tiny little venue in Leeds city centre serving, unsurprisingly, Thai food, and very nice it was too, not to mention exceedingly good value - under £30 for one starter, two mains and two bottles of beer. I have a rather annoying tendency to always order Pad Thai when confronted with a new menu and this was a fine example of the genre.


But I think D’s main course of five spice pork pipped it to the post flavour wise.


They offer a special lunchtime deal and I am very tempted to head back soon and avail myself of it given that it is walking distance from the office. Although I doubt that I would achieve much by way of work in the afternoon with a tummy full of noodles.

Monday, 7 May 2018

MPM: 8th May 2018

I know life is busy, but at the very least I should be making times for meal planning posts. I mean, it is a basic right of all my beloved readers to hear about what I am eating, is it not?

I jest, and although I always feel that the first post after something of a pause should contain an apology for the blogger’s absence, it is something of a liberty to assume that people notice or care. Apart from my Mum, who texts me asking where the blog is. But she’s my Mum, and is therefore contractually bound to consider everything I do important and special.

The truth is that the last few weeks have been busy and stressful. We’ve not been sticking to 5:2 particularly and any weight loss has most definitely stalled - boo. Things should be improving now though, so we approach the new week with renewed vigour. I am also seriously considering signing up for a 5k run to incentivise me to actually complete the Couch to 5k programme. Every time I have started it, I have actually quite enjoyed the session but it is finding the motivation to trek out to, er, the garage in the first place which is proving tough (and yes, reading that back I know EXACTLY how pathetic it sounds). There’s one in a local park in mid July but I’m fretting that might be too soon as I need 8 weeks to do all the training runs and would then like to have at least a month of consolidation, including some Park Runs, to feel confident going in to the actual, organised event. So I might see if anything is going on in late August or early September. A lot of my colleagues are quite into running and from chatting to them I have gleaned that there are quite a lot of events going on from which to choose.

And so to meal planning. D has spent the last couple of days doing some serious batch cooking, so the garage freezer is now stocked with umpteen Merguez sausages and several pots of chilli. Our goal for the rest of the month is to try and eat down the indoor freezer. I’ve been desperate to own a Smeg fridge for quite some time now, and we’ve agreed that since we can’t afford to do the kitchen renovations we crave at the moment, we can at least splash out on a pretty fridge to make the space slightly more attractive. I mean, how beautiful is this?



Anyway, this is a convoluted way of trying to explain why sausages pop up not once but twice this week, albeit in different guises.

Monday: a bank holiday fast day - soup.

Tuesday: to celebrate the lovely weather, I suggested a salad. So tonight there is going to be some element of shredded veg and then some sort of satay dressing, probably with noodles and definitely prawns. This dinner is still rather at the concept stage.

Wednesday: already looking set to be a shocker of a day for me work wise. So I suggested something simple but oh so comforting with a half pack of sausages lurking in the freezer - the good old sausage sandwich. D is to contrive some sort of red onion marmaladey accompaniment.

Thursday: more soup.

Friday: a summery fish dish. Again, this evening is still rather at the concept stage.

Saturday: I am cooking the books, the book in question being Diana Henry’s latest (“How to Eat a Peach”) and the dish in question being crab, saffron and tomato tart.

Sunday: Merguez sausage stew with couscous.

Happy cooking and eating all!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Rusty Shears, Whitby (my new happy place)

We took ourselves off to Whitby for a couple of days this last weekend. We booked it months ago to mark the date on which we first met (fourteen!!! years ago) but we never need very much excuse to travel across. It's the perfect place to relax, take deep breaths of chip-scented sea air and be a wee bit indulgent.

And if it is indulgence that you are after, alongside a side of whimsy and a good, stiff gin then look no further than Rusty Shears - a tea shop come House of Gin. Was there ever a more appealing combination?


It doesn't open in the evening, but the sign reassures customers that gin is served from 11am, and there is nothing guaranteed to make one feel more hedonistic than ordering gin and tonic with lunch (we waited till one o clock because spirits before noon does feel wrong). There is an absolutely massive selection - we managed to try five different ones across the course of two visits and still had barely scratched the menu's surface. Amongst them - a local gin brewed in someone's garage just up the road and a Scottish gin with a mere two botanicals (juniper and rosehip should you be interested). It was total ginvana.



But obviously sustenance is needed alongside and the menu of sandwiches, light bites and the most delicious homemade cake hit the spot perfectly. I jumped at the chance to order a Reuben on rye, a great personal favourite, and D opted for wild mushrooms on toast. Then we committed the grave error of treating ourselves to a piece of cake apiece. I say error; the cake was fantastic, sublime. My Guinness cake with a thick layer of lighter-than-air-and-sweeter-than-a-kitten's-purr frosting was perfect. D's maple pecan cheesecake was a delight. But all that sugar occasioned, unsurprisingly, quite the slump and we ended up staggering back to our room for a much needed post-cake nap. Still, that's what holidays are for, no?




There was nothing that I did not like about this place from the eccentrically nostalgic decor (Miss Marple after she'd hit the gin selection) to the enthusiastic and charming staff. Oh, actually. I'm sad about the fact that it isn't open in the evenings - we could absolutely have whiled away an entire evening and an awful lot of money there - and that it is in Whitby rather than Leeds. But perhaps, given how much I both gin and cake, it is all for the best.



Monday, 16 April 2018

MPM: 16th April 2018

For the first time in quite a while, we have a full week of dining in to plan. Work is likely to be hectic and full on for the next few weeks, especially for poor old D who is currently co-ordinating a massive project on top of his day job. If he has any hair (or fingernails) left by the end of April it will be something of a miracle. So I want to make sure that he has plenty of nice evening meals to which he can look forward.

Monday and Thursday: fast day - soup.

Tuesday: this week's recipe book is Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals. I have no idea why I bought it; I dislike the concept and note from watching the programme (which is never off the Food channel) that Mr Oliver's timings do not include any sort of clearing up. Anyway. We're giving it a go and making a beef stroganoff with rice.

Wednesday: chickpea and paneer black pepper curry.

Friday: crispy sole with brown shrimp butter.

Saturday: D plans to make a batch of Merguez sausages. He's done them before and they are AMAZING. We're going to hold back a little bit of the mixture and make little patties to have as a burger. Can't wait for this!

Sunday: we've not had a roast dinner in a while so I think that it's high time for one with all the glorious trimmings.

Now that little lot has made me thoroughly hungry...

Friday, 6 April 2018

Easter Sunday lunch

Although Christmas Day is generally the time where we push the boat out with regards lunch, we decided to put a little bit of time, trouble and thought into our Easter repast this year.  And, might I say, the results were very pleasing.


We wanted our starter to be nice and simple and, as luck would have it, we still had a packet of Tobermory smoked salmon in the freezer so elected to have that alongside some homemade bread.  It turned out, when said packet was retrieved, that the smoked salmon was actually smoked trout but we enjoyed it just the same.  It needed nothing more than a scrunch of black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice to make it perfect.  As for the bread, my love affair with Dan Lepard's sour cream loaf continues.  Such a good bread.  We ate the last of it yesterday (Thursday), lightly toasted, and it was still very delicious indeed.


For our main course, we wanted to try and recapture the glorious duck dish that we ate at Joro earlier this year.  The duck was brined for 48 hours and then served with a coriander and peanut pesto and a katsu sauce.  To make it more substantial than the original, we added a side of rice through which we stirred D's coriander and green chilli chutney.  This was utterly sublime, and I intend to blog the full recipe very soon so that I don't manage to forget exactly what we did.  If you happen to come to our house for dinner in the course of the next year, it is quite likely that this is what you will be served.


D gave up sweet stuff for Lent, bless his heart.  For six weeks he eschewed puddings, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and cake like a little trooper.  So I let him choose what he wanted for dessert on Easter Sunday, and his request was for a no-bake lemon cheesecake.  When I came to research this, I found that the majority of lemon cheesecake recipes were, in fact, baked.  But I came across this one by Mary Berry which seemed to fit the bill nicely.  It may seem a cheat to use lemon curd as a flavouring but the results were delicious and it was incredibly easy to do.  Instead of making one large cake, which served eight, I opted to half the recipe and make four cheesecake pots which makes life an awful lot easier in terms of serving.  My only criticism was that, for me, the ratio of base to topping was slightly off - the biscuit at the bottom is always my favourite part of a cheesecake.  So, if I make this again, I'd probably up the amount of crumb in the bottom of the pots by half.  Bear in mind though that I am greedy. 

We finished with cheese from The Cheeseboard in Harrogate.  If you ever happen to find yourself in Harrogate, and if you are a lover of cheese, then you must make them a visit.  The selection is amazing and they do nice bread and chutneys too (although obviously my bread is better!)

There may not have been a roast lamb in sight (I will remedy that shortly - one should never have to wait too long for a roast lamb dinner) but a very pleasing meal all the same and it was nice to mark the most important celebration in the liturgical year for all that I would no longer consider myself a practicing Catholic.  I hope that everyone out there on T'Internet, particularly those of the Christian persuasion, had a very happy and holy Easter.  The next stop is surely Spring!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Recipe corner: D's green chilli and coriander salsa / chutney / sauce / thing

Hey! Long time no blog! I'd love to say it's because I've been out and about having adventures but other than going to work and getting ahead on my Goodreads challenge, I have accomplished very little.

I've been cooking - it's not that there has been nothing to say. We had a week of vegetarian meals, for example, which was great. I loved trying out some new recipes which included finally making Marcella Hazan's tomato butter sauce which I thought was DREAMY. And the kale salad that I served on the side was also a surprise hit.

We've also both developed something of an unholy passion for sriracha and are busily drizzling it on everything. Top tip - combine it with mayonnaise, Greek yoghurt, dill and a squoosh of lemon juice for the most fabulous burger sauce.

But today we're talking about another condiment which has taken up permanent residence in our fridge. This stuff is so good - stir it through rice, splodge it on cheese on toast or just eat it with a spoon, it's addictive. D just made his latest batch today and I got him to weigh out everything so that I could report it EXACTLY but, of course, as with any sauce of this type, you can tweak to your own individual tastes.


This keeps in the fridge for weeks. We run through it pretty quickly though.

Ingredients

150g green chillies
150g fresh coriander - stalks and all
25g shallot
25g garlic
90g vegetable oil
30g white wine vinegar
15g lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Whizz all the ingredients up together and season well. The end.

Monday, 12 March 2018

MPM: 12th March 2018

Happy Monday campers!  Actually, I'm writing this on Friday afternoon so the weekend is still to come.  I hope that it was a good one.  We have plans for a trip into town for brunch and books, the very nicest sort of day.  Although, really, I need to stop buying books.  I've got a tottering TBR (to be read) pile that I really should tackle before adding still more to it.  But I just can't resist - nothing makes me giddier than the prospect of a browse around a bookshop.  Except, possibly, a browse around a lipstick counter.

We digress.  For today, it is Monday, and that means meal planning (although, actually, we did that on Thursday so the meal plan was contrived on Thursday, written on Friday and only published on Monday.  Mind blowing.)

This week, we fast Monday and Thursday - and after a couple of poor weeks we are determined to get two good days under our belts.  On Friday, we are going for dinner at that behemoth of the Harrogate food scene, Norse.  Looking forward to that one.  Elsewhere:

Tuesday: a four cheese risotto.  Yep, that's right - risotto made with FOUR different cheeses.  The recipe is from The Silver Spoon.  I am looking forward to sinking into a cheesy coma afterwards.

Wednesday:  D has selected bangers and mash - there's very much a comfort food theme emerging here, isn't there?

Saturday: a recipe from "Simple" by the wonderful Diana Henry. Devilled mackerel with cucumber and watercress yoghurt.

Sunday:  roast pork.  Tomorrow, we embark upon a vegetarian week so I have promised D a good chunk of meat to see him off and he has challenged me to make better crackling than my mother, who cooked roast pork for us a couple of weeks ago.  It's not something I cook very often, but I will do my best.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Head - meet sand

I'm avoiding the scales for a few weeks.  Possibly because I've not been feeling 100% lately (I remain in terrible thrall to a delicate digestion and it is becoming rather wearing), the fact that the scales have remained stubbornly static is making me disproportionately annoyed and upset.  So I am giving myself permission to back off for a while.

In times like these, my mind turns to alternative methods of dieting which would get me to where I want to be a little quicker than this circuitous journey on 5:2.  I starting Googling the Keto Diet* the other day (high fat, low carb), flicked back through our Dukkan book and wondered whether I could combine 5:2 with 16:8 (which would mean on non-fast days only eating within an 8 hour window).  But I think, actually that I just need to give my head a wobble, to stick to what I'm doing, to up the exercise and to concentrate on the fact that I've found something that works (albeit slowly) and has improved my relationship with food a hundredfold.

*Anyway, if I started on an eating plan that allowed me to eat unlimited cheese I would literally end up TURNING INTO CHEESE. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

MPM: 26th February 2018

I cannot tell a lie, when I weighed in this morning and the scales yielded me a mere 0.4 lbs loss, I was disappointed.  I try to be very, very realistic about what I can expect on 5:2 but less than half a pound still stings.  I'm hoping that now my digestive system seems to be settling down a bit, if I keep on with the old keeping on I will see a better result next week. 

Talking of better results, yesterday saw me dip the very tip of my littlest toe back into the exercise pool.  Long time readers might remember that we have a treadmill in our garage, purchased back in the days when D was a keen(ish) marathon runner.  I've long been using every possible excuse to avoid venturing out there and climbing aboard, but given that it is clear that my 2018 Weight Loss Campaign needs a boost, I've done it.  And by "it", I mean I completed the Couch to 5k week 1, day 1 workout, which is really more walking than anything else.  Let's see if I can manage day 2 and 3 this week and maybe even reach the giddy heights of week 2.

Meal planning - we are out on Wednesday (a quick bite before a trip to the theatre) and on Sunday (lunch with the parentals).  Today and Wednesday are fast days.  There's not an awful lot else to plan.

Tuesday: Beef and fennel stew (from the freezer), mashed potato

Friday: Nigel Slater's fettucine with fennel and prawns - how adorably simple and delicious does this dish look?  Perfect for an end-of-the-week-collapse-on-the-sofa supper.

Saturday:  D is cooking two dishes from The Palomar Cookbook (a recent addition to our collection).  He plans chopped liver followed by a deconstructed kebab.  I shall be contributing homemade pitta breads to the proceedings.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Joro, Sheffield

D says that I would never make a professional restaurant critic because I am very bad at criticising places.  And I get his point - I would rather not write anything at all if I have nothing nice to say.  However.

There is loads and loads to like about Joro.  But if I book a table for a tasting menu - which I have been told by the restaurant themselves takes around two and a half hours - then I rather object to having to vacate the table after two.  Fair play to the server, he told us as soon as we arrived that they would need the table back at eight.  And, owing to bad traffic across Sheffield we were about five minutes late arriving for our booking.  And, I totally understand why restaurants turn tables - especially relatively new, popular restaurants who need to get bums on seats to generate revenue.  But two hours was stingy, by their own reckoning; as a result, the pace of the meal was slightly quicker than I would have liked and we were not offered coffee (which, as it happened, we would both have appreciated).  Clearly, the solution is not to book a table at six, but why should early punters be treated any differently to those who prefer to dine later? 

Ooooh, deep breath.  That was tough.  Back to the fan-girl stylings to which my readers are much more accustomed.  Because, as I said, there was loads to like here.  The style is difficult to describe except to say it is very distinctly, typically, a certain type of modern British.  Helpful, huh? They themselves describe it as "An urban restaurant influenced by nature" - which is fair enough.  I would add that they are not constrained by any particular cuisine type, seeing as how the flavour profiles seemed to range across Europe and out to the Far East in scope.

The ten course tasting menu was considered, balanced and well executed with some dishes touching upon the sublime.  Of the savoury courses, a full four were entirely vegetarian and it was great to see these plates holding their own against their meaty counterparts.  A tangle of roasted brassicas served on a black garlic sauce, for example, really demonstrated how vegetables can stand up to hefty, smoky flavours and deliver something that is more than the sum of its parts.

For all that, our favourite courses all happened to involve meat - so no chance of us converting yet.  Among the initial snacks, the cubes of homemade black pudding with apple cider gel were utterly divine.  The pudding had a dense, almost fudgy texture which I appreciated very much.


I was in raptures over 130 day aged beef tartare with smoked butter and truffle.  Just look at the amount of truffle on that plate!  That shows a real generosity of spirit in the kitchen.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not given that this was a brigade of chefs who clearly knew what they were doing, the beef more than held its own.  This was an autumnal dish, musty and earthy - again, huge flavours but all in harmony.


D was particularly taken with mallard - cooked sous vide in a brine and served with a punchy coriander pesto, soy ketchup and puffed rice.  I say particularly taken, he spent the rest of the evening talking about it.  And much of the next day.  He says that he wants to recreate it himself and consulted with one of the chefs as how best to do this.  I am quite happy with this development.


One of the desserts - a brown butter and muscovado parfait on a Parkin base with sherry syrup and sour apple - was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  The other was good, although paled slightly in comparison with this inspired combination of sweet and sour and spice.


So much to like and a minor annoyance.  I would go back to Joro, and considering Sheffield is about an hour away by train that's quite the compliment.  But I wouldn't book an early table and I'd probably point blank refuse to leave until they brought me an espresso.  Just to learn them.

Monday, 19 February 2018

MPM: 19th February 2018

Amazing meal at Joro last week (write-up to follow shortly). Less than amazing was my digestive system's reaction to it. Yes, I am having (ahem) ishoos at the moment with what feels like food in general (and, in particular, food) which I'm fairly convinced are linked to the fact that I had a bit of said digestive system lopped out last summer. It appears to be rather pissed off with me and is exacting revenge. I'm fighting back by keeping a detailed food diary complete with colour coded (ahem squared) movement monitoring which, at some point, I may need to go and wave at the doctor. Although I'm terrified that they'll make me FODMAP, or some such thing. Which would not be in keeping with my (shamelessly nicked) life philosophy of everything in moderation, including moderation.

Anyway, the point is that the meal plan unravelled slightly towards the end of last week to accommodate my delicate little self. Although we were back on track by Sunday for a fiendishly good fish finger sarnie. I reckon that I've nearly nailed ciabatta rolls which are the perfect vehicle for any sort of sandwich that has the potential to be messy: robust yet airy with an excellent flavour.

New week, new start and I've stuck to a fast day today (I suppose it's only half six, there's time for it all to go wrong) will hopefully be able to stick, more or less, to the planned meals for the week without needing to resort to gruel.

Monday: fast day - soup

Tuesday: freezer dived turkey curry with rice and cucumber raita. And maybe a flatbread if I can be roused to such dizzy heights.

Wednesday: fast day - soup (and a trip to the cinema to see The Black Panther in an attempt to distract from the hunger pangs)

Thursday: prosciutto capalleti, garlic bread, some sort of salad

Friday: as part of our ongoing quest to cook our books, I'm doing a couple of dishes from Tim Anderson's "Nanban". I think that I've selected Tonkatsu, which is the Japanese equivalent of schnitzel, with sushi rice and mushrooms with spicy miso butter. I'm not entirely sure that it would be considered at all authentic to both things together, but the idea worked in my head, so we'll give it a go.

Saturday: D has requested burgers, so I'll be doing ciabatta rolls take 3 and will leave the filling of them to him.

Sunday: we had a pot of cream in the fridge that needed using up, so I threw together a pommes dauphinois last week and whacked it in the freezer ready for next Sunday lunch. Such a rich dish needs very little else, so probably a small amount of roast meat and something no-nonsenseley green.

Monday, 12 February 2018

MPM: 12th February 2018

Shrove Tuesday, Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day falling in the same week? SO many reasons to indulge in fabulous food. Unfortunately, because we are going out for dinner on Thursday (about which I am SO excited!) we will be fasting on V-Day itself. Which is a shame because I had a very romantic idea about something I could cook for D, but it will keep. If I'd properly thought about things, I would have tried to plan in a Chinese dish, especially given how much I enjoyed the couple of recipes that we made by Fuschia Dunlop recently, but never mind. Instead, the plan is as follows:

Monday: fast day - soup

Tuesday: pancakes (crepes rather than American style) with bacon, chilli and maple syrup. This is an April Bloomfield recipe and really rather wonderful.

Wednesday: fast day - soup

Thursday: out for dinner, review to follow!

Friday: a freezer dive - turkey curry, rice, cucumber raita, flatbreads

Saturday: D might be out, in which case, prick and ping for me. If not, I intend to rustle up a quick spaghetti carbonara using a hard ewes milk cheese called Lord of the Hundreds, which we picked up at the weekend

Sunday: a homemade fish finger sandwich, combining goujons, green chilli and coriander chutney, cucumber in herby yoghurt and homemade (probably) ciabatta rolls. Lush!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Recipe corner: Pasta with ricotta and nduja

I have long wibbled on about the wonderful ingredient that is nduja and now it seems to becoming a lot more widely available and commonly used.  Why, even our local pizza place uses it as a topping.  If you have yet to experience it then I would describe it as being as a type of sausage, fiery with chillies and a very soft, paste (or pate) like texture. 

Our absolute favourite (again, I've banged on about this before) is from The Ham and Cheese Company who are London based but do mail order.  They're not particular cheap, and the delivery charges make one weep a little bit but they are very, very good.  Alternatively, M&S have started doing a very passable version, a jar of which I received in my Christmas stocking (Santa knows me very well).  I would say that the chilli heat is slightly harsher and the flavours slightly brasher than our favourite which is why this pasta dish, with the addition of ricotta to temper and soothe, was an ideal one to make with it.



It's the kind of supper that I adore - you can make the sauce while the pasta is cooking and have everything done and dusted within quarter of an hour, and yet it has a depth of flavour that belies such simplicity.  Highly recommended.

Ingredients


Tbsp rapeseed oil
Onion, chopped
80g nduja
100g ricotta cheese
30g Parmesan, finely grated
Tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
180g dried pasta
Grated Parmesan, to serve

Serves 2, generously

Set a pan of salted water over a high heat and, when it comes to the boil, tip in the pasta and cook for 8-10 mins according to instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and then sweat off the onion, covered, with a hefty pinch of salt, for 5 mins or so until soft and translucent.

Stir through the nduja, turn the heat down to low, and allow to putter quietly in the background. As it does so, combine the ricotta and Parmesan in a bowl along with the thyme and a hefty whack of seasoning. Then, add the cheese mix to the onion and nduja in the pan, stir well, and allow to reduce slightly.

Siphon off some of the salted water and then drain the cooked pasta. Stir through the sauce along with a generous slurp of cooking water so that the sauce clings elegantly to the pasta shapes.

Serve, sprinkled with a little further Parmesan.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Two steps forward, one and a half steps back

I ended the month of January slightly lighter than I started, which I take to be a good thing. 

The cheese-topped, chips-on-the-side nature of our holiday in Scotland, not to mention the fact that we only managed one fast day during the week before we went (because we got into holiday mode slightly too early) means that I would have been entirely unsurprised to see a net gain on the month.  What I have noticed about my 5:2 losses, though, is that for all that they are slow (so slow!) they seem to stick far better than when I was losing weight more quickly with WW.  A fall from the wagon may occasion a gain, but not a particularly dramatic one.  Not like the memorable occasion, many years ago when I gained five pounds one week and then lost seven the next.  I wonder if I was blogging at that point?  I can't see a post called "Flying in the Face of Science" but I definitely felt as if I was. 

I know the blog is quieter than it used to be.  Actually, blogging in general seems to be quieter than it used to be.  And a lot of the blogs that are out there are very big and shiny and full of beautiful photographs as opposed to back in 2010 when people just got behind the keyboard and typed away on their unglamorous but entirely functional BlogSpot platforms.  It's a shame, because I think the sense of community has disappeared a little bit, and I think a lot of the people who still are blogging are doing it less to reach out and more with a view to becoming the next Big Thing.

But, to my original point.  The blog is quieter than it used to be partly because I don't really feel like I am on a diet any more.  5:2 has fitted in to my life relatively seamlessly.  There's only so many times that I can write about how fast days are tough and I feel very hungry but it's worth the freedom that it wins me on the other, non-fast, days. 

Still, I also started writing this as a place to record recipes and to record experiences, and I've not intention of giving that up because a Book Deal may yet be forthcoming!  Well, not really, but because I love being able to look back and remember stuff I've eaten and places I've been. And, you never know, someday I might reach my elusive Goal Weight and I can't think of a better, more proper place to record that achievement than this little corner here. 

So, as ever mes amies, onwards and downwards.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Chips, cheese, chips and cheese

Heavy snow at the end of last week meant that we were slightly worried about the journey up to Mull. Luckily, the roads were clear but we were treated to stunning views like this:


It's been grey skies and rain for most of our time here; fortunately we don't come to Scotland for the weather. And, at last, this morning we have been treated to the clearest of blue skies and an island awash with winter sunshine.


As I mentioned in my last post, not much is open here. And the places that are open are offering somewhat limited menus. Which means for the last week we have basically been eating things accompanied by chips or covered with cheese.


On one occasion I ordered a macaroni cheese and it came WITH CHIPS. Just...why? Actually, the real question is why did I eat most of them...


I think it's safe to say that the 2.4 lbs I lost during the first two weeks of the year will be back on Monday and they may be bringing a couple of friends with them. Ah well. It's been a lovely, relaxing break but I am well and truly stodged out which means that I am positively looking forward to a couple of days of fasting next week (remind me of that when I'm drooping and moaning on Monday!)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

A poor excuse for a meal plan

D rebuked me this morning for not posting this week's meal plan.  "How am I supposed to know what I'm going to eat?" he said. 

I didn't bother, mainly because:

a) there are only some many times you can write: "Fast Day - soup" without it being oppressively dull for all concerned and the entries for both Monday and Wednesday this week consist of "Fast Day - soup".

b)  we are going away on Friday so I don't know what, exactly, I'll be eating.  We'll be staying in Ecclefechan on Friday night so it will be something followed by Ecclefechan tart.  And we're having lunch in Oban on Saturday so likely fish will be consumed.  And Sunday night will either be a pub meal on Mull or the best of whatever the Mull Co-op has to offer.

c)  that just leaves two days of home cooking to plan.  And that didn't seem worthwhile.  But for what it is worth this is what we are having:

Tuesday:  Bang Bang turkey (only with chicken - using some leftover sauce from the Christmas batch and some leftover chicken which was located, lurking, in the depths of the freezer)

Thursday:  Cottage pie.  Brisket mince, again, from the depths of the freezer, stretched out with some veg and red lentils and topped with a blue cheese and chive mash.  Probably peas on the side because there should always be peas on the side of cottage pie (or shepherd's pie).

And there you have it.  You're welcome, D.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Recipe corner: Bang Bang Turkey

The period between Christmas and New Year never really feels like real time.  I have never, since entering adulthood, worked those few days - partly because my birthday falls on the 28th and I have always insisted that I can’t work on my birthday.  I know that millions do, but there have to be some advantages to having a birthday at such a time and one of them is that I always spend it at home.

Food between Christmas and New Year is also a strange thing.  You’ve had one big celebration and are probably gearing up for another.  You don’t really want to cook much (because that would get in the way of all the lying around).  You probably have masses of leftovers lurking in the fridge but all you really want to do is munch your way through your selection box.  Normal rules don’t apply and you find yourself eating cheese for breakfast and cracking open a bottle at three in the afternoon (or is that just me?)

Anyway, turkey curry is a must for us during this period.  We don’t tend to have turkey for Christmas Day itself, so buy a crown in specially and get the curry made in advance so the flavours have time to develop.  I’ve blogged D’s special recipe here.

And this year, he found another turkey leftovers dish: “Bang Bang Turkey” which is absolutely perfect for the season.  It contains some fresh, raw veg for a bit of crunch and a zingy peanut sauce which wakes your sluggish taste buds up.  I think it should become a regular part of our festive routine, especially since the sauce can be made in advance and frozen (I have stashed some away already in my deep freeze so it can make a re-appearance on the menu later this year.)  If you can bear to do a bit of chopping and steaming of rice then have a go at this one.  I imagine it would also work well with chicken.  The list of ingredients is absolutely massive I know, but the method is easy, and most of these are things that you are likely to have in your store cupboard anyway.  It is honestly not an arduous task to assemble.

Photo credit: bbc.co.uk


 
Notes

The original recipe is a Hairy Bikers one, and can be found here.

We served this on top of steamed basmati rice to make it a more rounded meal. 

I found that the quantities listed for the sauce would dress six lots of salad generously.  I’ve given the amounts per the original recipe below but do note that you will have leftovers which can be bagged up and frozen. 

Ingredients

For the turkey:

1 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of half a lime
½ tsp of palm sugar (or soft brown sugar)
½ tsp of chilli powder
½ tsp Chinese Five Spice
125g cooked turkey, roughly chopped

For the peanut sauce:

Tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
5cm piece fresh ginger, grated
2 red chillies, seeds removed and chopped
200ml chicken stock
150ml coconut milk
75g crunchy peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (you can substitute cider vinegar for this if that’s what you have in)
Tsp palm sugar (or soft brown sugar)
Tbsp fish sauce
Juice of half a lime

For the salad (suggestion only – select veg to suit):
Carrot, reduced to strips with a potato peeler
Red pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 spring onions, sliced
5 radishes, thinly sliced

To serve and garnish:
 
100g basmati rice, steamed
Red chilli, sliced
Fresh coriander and mint, roughly shredded
Roasted, unsalted peanuts

Serves 2, with leftover sauce

Whisk together the ingredients for the turkey marinade then add the turkey and combine well.  Cover, and set aside (I did this several hours in advance to no detrimental effect).

Make the sauce: gently heat the oil in a pan and then add the shallots, cover, and cook over a low heat until translucent (probably about 4-5 mins).  Add the garlic, ginger and chillies and continue to cook for a couple of minutes or until they have lost their “raw” smell (probably another 2-3 mins).  Now add all the other sauce ingredients, bring to a simmer and reduce by about half.  Set aside to cool.

To serve – add a couple of tablespoons of the cooled peanut sauce to the turkey and mix well. 

In a deep bowl, start with the rice, then the turkey and finally, divide the prepared salad veg.  Drizzle with some of the remaining sauce.  Garnish with chilli, herbs and peanuts as desired.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Foggy Friday

Bloody hell, another week as positively whizzed by and we're already nearly half way through January!  Out first week of fasting yielded me a pound loss (hurrah!) and D a magnificent 3.8 pounds.  He's being quite strict on non-fast days as well, so the result was hard earned and well deserved.

All has been quiet chez nous; I've practically been hibernating since the start of the year and I have no intention of doing very much this weekend either.  There are books to read and films to watch and cats to cuddle and cups of tea to be consumed and very content with that I am too.  However, we are rousing ourselves at the end of next week and decamping to Mull for a week.  A week which we will probably spend mostly reading, watching films and drinking tea, just in a different environment and without the cat. 

It turns out that lots of things shut on Mull in January.  Actually, in other parts of Scotland too, since we are stopping off in Ecclefechan (home of the famous and delicious Tart) and planned to visit a famous Scottish person's birthplace which is situated there, only to have our intentions frustrated by out of season opening hours.  So we're going to Gretna Green instead because I've never been and it's on the way. 

If you're still ploughing through the remains of the Christmas turkey, I've got a marvellous recipe to share which post I will schedule now while I am thinking about it.  If you're not, how go your New Year Eatings? 

Have a lovely weekend all. 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2017 - the year in review

And so, Christmas has been and gone and with it the final hurrah of 2017.  I spent most of the year’s dying days snuggled up at home doing little more than watching crap on Netflix and eating chocolate biscuits.  I weighed myself this morning; up 5lbs from the beginning of December which I am quite peaceful about considering that we abandoned 5:2 and any pretence of moderation right at the start of the month.  I am hoping to get most, if not all, of it shifted by the end of January.  Today sees me on my first fast day since…well, weeks ago, and there are even rumours that the Treadmill in the Garage will be grinding back to life very shortly.  As ever, I will keep you apprised.
Before we venture forth into 2018, as always, it is worth having a quick look back.  Firstly, weight loss and health matters – I committed to 5:2 at the start of the year on the basis that:
a) I still need to lose weight
b) Weight Watchers did not agree with me anymore – the constant counting and measuring and weighing and planning was, ultimately, not doing my mental health any good and
c)  Any other formal “diet plan” would likely be just as bad. 
5:2 seemed like the answer to the problem, in that it would require fierce commitment for 2 days of the week, but the rest of the time I could pootle along as I pleased. 
Well, it has worked in the sense that I am 2 stone down over the course of the year.  It’s not what you would call an amazing result, but it is a result nonetheless, and given the number of weeks where we’ve sacked off one or both fasts for reasons both spurious and genuine, I am pleased.  I have genuinely eaten well on non-fast days – aiming for moderation rather than restriction has really helped me develop a peaceful relationship with the food that I eat for the first time in my adult life. 
And talking of eating, D and I have agreed that some of our favourite ever meals were consumed in 2017.  We were lucky enough to visit several amazing restaurants and to pick a favourite is very, very difficult. 
The stand-out, in the end, is The Raby Hunt, which we visited at the beginning of November.  It has two Michelin stars and it is not London based – the conjuction of these two facts do tend to imply quality – but we have learned that Michelin stars do not always make for the best eating or for the best dining experiences (in our opinion.  Clearly not in the opinion of the mysterious Michelin inspectors who I fondly imagine cruising the country’s dining scene in pinstripe suits).  Raby Hunt, which I wrote about here, is just absolutely fabulous.  And the dish of razor clam and celeriac and almonds is probably, probably the best thing that I ate all year.

Razor clam and celeriac at The Raby Hunt
But there are honourable mentions to be made too: the thought of the lamb at Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside still makes my mouth water all these months later.  And we had a last minute contender in the form of scallop with fermented celeriac at TheBlack Swan at Oldstead just the other week.  It’s rather odd – I didn’t even think that I liked celeriac that much, but in expert hands, it turns out that it is rather sublime.  I probably need to cook with it a bit more.  We also absolutely adored 64 Degrees in Brighton – another superlative lamb dish, this one served with gochujang.

Lamb at Lake Road Kitchen
Dessert of the year probably, again, goes to one of the offerings at The Raby Hunt, but I can’t help but remember with very great fondness the fabulous miso caramel ice cream that we ate at Skosh in York.

Miso caramel ice cream at Skosh
Our own home cooking has, naturally, encountered new influences and ideas throughout the year (gochujang and sushi rice are now both permanent fixtures in our storecupboard), but I honestly think that one of the nicest things that I made was this summery broad bean dip.  I am already looking forward to broad bean season rolling around again so that I can make this dip by the pint.

Broad bean dip at home
We managed to make a bit more use of our extensive recipe book library, but want to ramp this up for 2018 and are aiming to cook a new dish at least once a week.  What with that and plans to visit (among other places) Joro in Sheffield and Where The Light Gets In in Stockport, I think 2018 will shape up to be pretty damn fine itself.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The first meal plan of 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! I do hope that you had a lovely time and are ready for a fabulous 2018. I myself have spent much of the day dozing over an Agatha Christie novel - starting as I mean to go on, you see.

We are all sorted for a meal plan this week and, indeed, are starting as we mean to go on by including some new recipes from a new recipe book on Saturday. We're aiming to cook at least one new dish a week this year.

Fasting is back on the menu as well and, to be completely honest, I'm almost looking forward to it. The first one in particular will no doubt be tough but my system feels a bit overwhelmed at the moment after a couple of weeks of profligate consumption. I'm keen to give it a bit of a break. Lunches on non fast days will be kept light and simple and veggie packed and, hopefully, once I'm back in routine, normal digestive service will be resumed (ahem).

Monday: we're neither of us inclined to do much today so it will be a few M&S nibbles from the freezer and some cheese and biscuits. I did mention something about baking bread but I'm hoping that oatcakes will suffice since I really can't be arsed.

Tuesday: fast day - soup

Wednesday: some midweek vibrancy courtesy of one of our favourites - salmon with pasta pesto. The pasta will be packed full of courgettes and peas to boost the green quota.

Thursday: fast day - soup

Friday: D is out and, at the moment, scrambled egg on toast is looking like my top choice for a solitary supper.

Saturday: a Chinese fakeaway, and, an opportunity to cook from one of the new additions to the household library - Fuschia Dunlop's "Every Grain of Rice". We'll be having smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce followed by chicken thighs with black beans and steamed rice.

Sunday: the rest of the chicken thighs will be roasted up and served with mashed potatoes and a selection of veg - so sort of a roast dinner. I'm seriously considering making Sophie Grigson's delicious sprout gratin as a side dish, not having had any Brussels so far this year. Although I am not sure that cream, bacon and cheese fits in with my current yen for all things ascetic.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Return to the Black Swan at Oldstead

Happy (nearly) New Year! Hopefully everyone out there on tinternet had a wonderful Christmas and is looking forward to seeing out 2017. It's been a good year for us - we finally bought our house, we installed the log burning stove that we've always talked about, work has been challenging but rewarding, D got a much deserved promotion and, most importantly, we've eaten some AMAZING food. So much so that I'm going to do an entirely separate post about my top dishes.

But first, I just had to tell you about my birthday meal. I'm a Christmas baby, and a couple of days ago, I donned a blindfold (well, a scarf over my head) and was whisked off by my beloved on a surprise Birthday Adventure. And it really was a surprise, because the destination turned out to be the Black Swan at Oldstead, a restaurant we visited earlier this year.

Poor old D. We've had numerous conversations about our favourite restaurant experiences of 2017 and apparently I had said, on more than one occasion that the Black Swan wouldn't be my priority to revisit. Which is not to say at all that I didn't like it, just that I'd not found all the dishes to be entirely to my taste. I think that he was a bit worried as to how his choice of destination would be received - but, as he explained, many places close over Christmas, and a good meal in a nice, localish venue with attached rooms had been tricky for him to locate.


As it turns out, we were bowled over by our second visit. The service was as charming as before, the restaurant as pleasant to sit in and the food, well, the food was absolutely fantastic. I'm not sure what had changed - whether it was just that this selection of dishes just happened to suit me better, which, when you only serve a tasting menu is bound to happen - but, for me, the stars aligned and I really started to appreciate the genius of chef Tommy Banks.

Undoubted dish of the night was a scallop with fermented celeriac. It was an absolute triumph of balance - sweet scallop, earthy and sour notes from the fermentation, an underlying rich creaminess from an ethereal celeriac purée and a hit of fragrance from the vivid dill oil. I've really fallen out of love with scallop dishes recently, but this one was perfect.


The main course, again, was all about balance and the harmonious coming together of a rich velvety piece of venison and a sweet-sour sloe ketchup. The sauce alone had a medicinal quality that made it slightly odd on the palate but as soon as it was paired with meat and the dark iron of cabbage everything made perfect sense.


And a blackened apple tarte Tatin with rye ice cream - oh my lord. Buttery, sweet, salty, sharp, savoury - every element came together, contributing to a perfectly fabulous mouthful of a dessert that was both familiar and very, very new.


When I first wrote about The Black Swan I said watch this space. Now, I say go to this space and marvel at the quality of the cooking emerging from this most modern of kitchens. A fabulous way to end a fabulous year of dining out.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Christmas Eve Eve

It’s nearly time for the Big Day and here at chez Seren we are practically ready to go. Despite the fact that it is just the two of us for much of the holidays, we have an absolute mountain of food. We don’t need to go shopping again until March.

I’ve been full of cold all week, coughing and spluttering all over the place, so am feeling utterly justified in taking to my bed this afternoon with the cat at my feet and “The Holiday” on the iPad. D and I managed a brief flurry of activity earlier on though, and between us have rustled up a batch of turkey curry, smoked salmon pate, pea soup (using the stock derived from slow cooking the gammon) and our Christmas Day dessert - mince pie baklava. Yum.

Whatever you and yours are doing for Christmas, whatever you’re eating, wherever you are, many, many best wishes from me and here’s to much more deliciousness in 2018.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Recipe corner: A good, old-fashioned rabbit pie

D started a blog once.  It didn't last long, and only two posts were, er, posted.  The second one was his recipe for rabbit pie.  The fact of the blog means that I know that we have been making, and eating, this delightful dish for six years at the very least.  And yet I have never mentioned it here.  Mea culpa. 


Everything about this pie is delicious.  The suet crust, which crisps on top but remains fabulously pillowy underneath.  The delicate flavour of the rabbit in its lightly clinging sauce.  There will be those who wish to enter into a debate as to whether it should be called a pie when the pastry is only on top but I will leave them to it and merely tell you to ensure that you have a pile of buttery, peppery mashed potato ready to serve on the side. 


Note: the rabbit filling can also be prepared in the slow cooker.  We did ours on Low overnight and woke to a very savoury-scented kitchen.  I do think that slow cookers beat scented candles for making a house smell homely.  I would recommend reducing the amount of liquid slightly if you make this in the slow cooker (my general rule of thumb is to half the volume).

Ingredients

2 small rabbits, preferably wild, skinned and jointed
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 white onions, chopped
275ml dry cider
425ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
8 rashers of streaky bacon, diced

40g plain flour
40g butter
Nutmeg (for seasoning, along with salt and pepper)
Heaped tablespoon Dijon mustard
A generous handful of golden sultanas

350g self-raising flour
175g suet
200ml water
Milk, for brushing

Serves 6-8

At the bottom of a large pot, make a trivet out of the apples and onions, onto which you can place the rabbit and bacon pieces.  Pour over the cider and stock, throw in the bay leaf and a little seasoning and then bring the lot to a gentle simmer and cook for an hour, or until the rabbit is tender.  Set aside and leave to cool.

Carefully transfer the bacon to a pie dish using a slotted spoon.  Remove the rabbit meat from the bones, and add this to the dish as well (rabbit bones are small and sharp so this stage should be undertaken with a little care and attention).  Toss together the two meats, along with the sultanas, so everything is evenly distributed.

Strain the liquid remaining in the pot and set aside for sauce making (everything up to this stage can be done well in advance).

Now for the sauce - melt the butter in a large saucepan and then add the flour and combine to make a paste.  Gradually add the sieved rabbit and apple and onion stock, whisking well on each addition.  You may not need all of the liquid - you want the resultant sauce to be slightly thicker than double cream.  When you are there, season well with the nutmeg (about a quarter of a whole nut), salt and lots of pepper, and stir through the mustard.  Pour the sauce over the contents of the pie dish.

And now for the pastry.  Combine the flour and suet in a large bowl, alongside another generous heft of seasoning, and then gradually add water until it comes together to form an elastic dough. 

Generously flour a work surface and roll out the dough until it is slightly bigger in diameter than the pie dish.  Cut off a strip of dough, brush it lightly with milk and sit this around the edge of the pie dish.  The remaining pastry can then be draped across the top.  Brush the surface with milk, cut a steam hole in the centre and proceed to bake for around 30 minutes in a preheated, moderate oven.

Monday, 27 November 2017

MPM: 27th November 2017

Despite just having the one fast day last week, my body appears to have taken it upon itself to drop a chunk of weight.  I'm 4.2 lbs down this morning.  It all seems a bit odd to me; I wonder if I'm dehydrated or something. 

A relatively quiet week for us - D is out on Friday playing snooker, but other than that, there are no plans which suits me fine. Now that winter is properly upon us I can think of few things nicer than settling down at home in front of our just-installed-this-year wood burning stove. With the cat by my side and a decent book to hand who needs to go outside?

So here's the plan for the week:

Monday - fast day, soup.

Tuesday - another Rafi's curry, this one called Ma's Paretal, made with chicken thighs, mushrooms and little cubes of butternut squash. Not sure that the latter, in particular, is a particularly authentic addition to curry, but never mind.

Wednesday - fast day, soup

Thursday - roasted aubergine macaroni cheese

Friday - probably some sort of prick and ping for me

Saturday - sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice. D thinks that he doesn't like sweet and sour, I hope to prove him wrong.

Sunday - beef stew. I don't think that beef stew is a particularly exciting thing, D hopes to prove me wrong.

Have a good week folks, and don't forget to crack out the Advent calendars,