Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Recipe corner: Crab and rocket spaghetti

I can never be entirely sure whether or not I like crab.  Sometimes, I just find it a little bit cloying. D, however, is a huge fan, and is never happier than when he is dismembering large crustaceans.  Still, I was very taken with this recipe which is based pretty closely on Felicity Cloake's version.  I love how all the flavours marry together.  It is incredibly quick and simple to do and tastes very luxurious for the points.  Incidentally, we have tried it both with and without the finishing touches of butter and Parmesan and preferred the dish with - they add an additional savoury note not to mention a velvety texture.  They do bump the points up a bit though, so feel free to eschew them if you're feeling extra virtuous.


150g spaghetti
1 large courgette

Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
Tsp dried chilli flakes
Tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
75g brown crabmeat
120g (one tin) white crabmeat, drained
Large handful of rocket leaves
Zest and juice of half a lemon
10g butter
15g Parmesan cheese

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Using a spiraliser or a mandolin or a potato peeler, reduce the courgette to thin ribbons.  Place the ribbons in the bottom of a colander (you will drain the pasta on top of it and the boiling water will take the raw edge off the vegetable).

Put the spaghetti on to cook in well salted water.

Put the oil into a large pan (large enough to hold all the pasta when cooked) and add the garlic, chilli and fennel seeds to the cold oil.  Set over a gentle heat and cook until the garlic is soft but not starting to colour - allowing it to come up to temperature in the oil should help prevent it catching.  Stir through the lemon zest and juice and the brown crab meat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a mug full of cooking water and then drain and add the pasta and courgette to the brown crabmeat, along with the white meat and the rocket.  Toss well, adding a splash of pasta water to emulsify.  Finally, toss through the butter and the Parmesan.

Monday, 18 May 2015

MPM: 18th May 2015

Happy Monday all!  Meal planning this week was a bit of a last minute affair and mainly borrows from our seemingly bottomless freezer.  Feeling a bit uninspired at the moment which means my food choices tend to go a little beige.  I've got book group on Tuesday and not sure what is happening on Saturday, but elsewhere...

Pork chops with creamy mustard sauce
Open sandwiches of roast lamb and wasabi peas
Pea and ham soup (I think this is the third week on the trot that this poor soup has been on the meal plan - perhaps this will be the week that it finally gets eaten!!)
Meatball lasagne (inspired by Peridot)
Some sort of roast

Let's see how well I can stick to that, shall we?  More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Monday, 11 May 2015

MPM: 11th May 2015

I think my cat fancies herself as a blogger.  There she was, curled up asleep in her radiator bed, and the second I opened my laptop she was up and positioning herself between me and the keyboard.  Which is extremely sweet, but it is making it very difficult to type this (it should be noted that I am far too wet to actually move the cat, who rules the household with a rod of purr.)

Anyway, meal planning Monday and the week is pretty much sketched out.  We're abroad on Wednesday night, seeing Stewart Lee perform in Harrogate and D is out on Friday night and, in recompense, was muttering about springing for an Indian takeaway on Saturday - a rare treat, but a welcome one.  Elsewhere...

Chilli crab and rocket spaghetti
Bacon, egg and asparagus salad (made this a couple of weeks ago but am now trying out a slightly different version - it's a delicious combo!)
Pea and ham soup
Some sort of roast dinner...?

Hmmm, not a vintage week, but it'll do for now.  As ever, head over to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Recipe corner: coronation rice salad

So, we bought a barbecue.  A beautiful, kettle style, Weber jobby.  We bought a barbecue, and the weather promptly took a dramatic turn for the worse.  I'm not saying that we were directly responsible for the pervading dampness of the Bank Holiday weekend but...

We bought a barbecue and decided that the first thing that we were going to cook on it was a simple, spatchcocked chicken adorned with nothing more than a slick of oil and a flurry of salt and pepper.  And, to accompany it, I decided to try and recreate the Waitrose coronation rice salad of which we are both so fond.

Now not to diss our beloved Waitrose, but I think that my version is WAY better - more kick, more texture and less drowned in dressing.  Every barbecue, even the slightly soggy ones, needs a couple of decent sides and this is better than decent.  Along with some watercress salad and crusty bread, it was all that our beautiful chicken needed to ensure that our inaugural barbecue was a tasty one.


100g basmati / wild rice mix
Large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp vegetable oil
Tbsp curry powder
Tsp chilli flakes
Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp tumeric
50g raisins

For the dressing:
Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp half fat creme fraiche
Tbsp mango chutney
Tsp vegetable oil
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Handful of fresh chopped chives and / or mint

Serves 4 (as a side), 6 pro points per portion

Cook the rice according to packet instructions until al dente.  You want to ensure that it retains some bite which will lend the salad texture.

Gently heat 2 tsp of oil and then add the onion and cook off over a low heat so that it softens without colouring.  After about five minutes, add the spices and the raisins and continue to cook until the onions are meltingly soft and the spice mix has lost its harsh rawness - another five minutes or so.

While onion and rice are cooking, combine the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and season enthusiastically.

Now add the cooked rice to the onion pan and combine well. Cook for a further couple of minutes, stirring regularly to ensure that the mix is well amalgamated then remove from the hat and allow to cool slightly before combining with the creamy dressing.  Check the seasoning, adding more lemon or salt as necessary.

To have this at its best, allow to sit for at least an hour before serving.  It is relatively forgiving and can be made in advance, but don't serve cold from the fridge - always let it come up to room temperature first.  Your barbecue will thank you for it.

Monday, 27 April 2015

MPM: 27th April 2015

Greetings everyone, and welcome to a more summery meal planning Monday than I can remember for a good long while.  The weather is, quite simply, GLORIOUS.  Which means that meals are tending to be a bit lighter and a bit fresher.
D and I are out Friday at a colleague's retirement drinks, out Saturday at a local event and leaving Sunday and Monday plan free at the moment until we decide how the long weekend is going to pan out.  So, not many meals to think about in advance this week.  Here's what we we will eating chez WWF...
Brown crab risotto with crab and chilli cakes and Parmesan crisps - a dish inspired by our recent trip to Whitby, where all along the seafront you can buy fabulous dressed crabs.
Bacon, egg and roasted asparagus salad with a honey mustard dressing
Trout with cauliflower and pickled mushrooms with brown butter sauce - D will be cooking this, an approximation of one of the dishes cooked in Masterchef finals week.  We are both in a very fishy mood at the moment!
Pea and ham soup.
Mmmm, looking forward to that little lot.  As ever, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M's...

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Hello weight loss, my old friend...

For all my bravado a few weeks ago, I have yet to go back to a Weight Watchers meeting.  I don't know why, but the thought of setting foot through the door reduces me to a quivering wreck.  Definitely some issues there to work on.  But that is not to say that I have not been engaging in the Watching of the Weight.  I have a good few days under my (capacious) belt now and am feeling nicely in control even after our brief sojourn in Whitby.

One of my...issues is perhaps too strong a word but will do for now...with the WW model is the emphasis on the one weekly weigh in.  While I understand the reasoning behind it, it does set an awful lot of store by what you weigh in one particular moment in time rather than on the general progress.  I've recently found an app called Happy Scale which allows you to record a daily figure and then uses that to calculate a moving average as well as a record low summary.  So far, I like this approach.  The concern with daily weighing is always that it can be a bit obsessional, so I've switched my scales to kilograms - that way I can see and record the change in the numbers without really understanding what said numbers mean (I'm actively trying not to do conversion maths in my head).  I find that way there is a much less emotive connection between what the scales say and how I feel.  Logical?  Perhaps not, but you've always got to do what works best for you at any given time.

Anyway, it means that you are spared the interminable weekly weigh in posts for now - although I might do a semi regular update on progress if, for no other reason that to add a bit more accountability.  As to meetings, I just don't know...history tells me that I do better when I am going but history also tells me that I have a tendency to come to a juddering halt whenever I have a bad few weeks.  I'm keeping an open mind for the time being.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Whitby (and weight loss)

There are very few places in the world that I love as much as Whitby.  I've been visiting since I was a child and much of it has barely changed.  There is something completely timeless about the place.

For once, we were blessed with the weather. For the day and a half that we were there, we had constant sunshine and blue skies.  Whitby has a brooding quality which means that it suits grey skies and mizzle but it was so nice to walk round in short sleeves and feel the sun on our skin.

We went to the arcades, took a boat trip, climbed up to the Abbey and just...wandered.

On Thursday evening, we had planned to go for dinner at Green's bistro, which seems to be the closest Whitby gets to upmarket cooking.  But in the pub we found a corner table which was right by the window and afforded amazing views out across the seafront.  We couldn't bring ourselves to leave but lingered as the twilight fell and the lights of the arcades became increasingly gaudy in the gathering dusk.  So pub grub and cheap white wine it was, and then we fell into conversation with a large group of Goths who were there for Whitby Goth Weekend and ended up staying until well past the bell called time.  Next time, Green's!

Fish and chips at the Magpie Cafe were superlative as usual although I eschewed them in favour of  hake with a smoked haddock fishcake and creamy vegetables.  LOVED this and definitely would like to recreate something of the sort at home - I thought using a fishcake as an accompaniment was such a nifty little idea.

Points may have gone by the wayside to a certain extent, but prior to the trip, there had been a steady downwards trajectory all week, with a total loss of 2.6 kg across 6 days.  I expect to see a bit of a bounce tomorrow but nothing that a restrained weekend won't take care of.  I'm in a really happy place at the moment - I don't necessarily know what has caused the massive upswing in my general mood, but I am not going to knock it.  Onwards and downwards lovely friends, and a very happy weekend to you all!

Monday, 20 April 2015

MPM: 20th April 2015

Funny old week this week - I've got an exam on Wednesday so am a little bit...distracted, shall we say.  As soon as that is finished, D is picking me up and we are whisking off to Whitby for a couple of nights of R&R(&F&C).  We've planned the meals for tonight and tomorrow - I always eat the same dinner the night before an exam - and we know what we're having when we get back on Friday night, but the weekend remains a blank at the moment - probably some sort of roast on Sunday.  I'm sure we'll figure it out!

Anyway, the meals we have got decided are as follows:

Roast chicken breast, lemon couscous, asparagus
Salmon fillet with pasta pesto
Truffled mushroom risotto

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Amelia Rope chocolate (being a little of what you fancy)

I am a fully paid up, card carrying, unashamed chocoholic. Let's just get that out of the way first, shall we?  If there is a pudding on the menu that involves chocolate in any shape or form, you can be 99% sure that I will order it.  If there are two, then I'll be trying to convince D to order the other one.

This has been going on for a long time.  My mother claims to still remember the look of bliss that passed across my face the very first time that I was given a chocolate button. And I'm sure that there is a story in the family annals about me as a toddler managing to steal and eat my way through an entire box of chocolates (and it does sound like the kind of thing that I would do - moderation and I are not regular bedfellows).

Mind you, I'm not a chocolate snob.  A four finger Kit Kat is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  As is a bar of Dairy Milk, cold from the fridge and eaten with a cup of coffee.  But on the days when I don't have many points to spare yet need a chocolate hit, I tend to find myself turning towards the more expensive end of the market where you find greater intensity and complexity of flavour and thus can satisfy yourself with a smaller amount (theoretically).

And so it is that I wanted to commend to your attention the wonderful products produced by Amelia Rope.  If you're a chocolate fan - particularly a salted chocolate fan - then you need to give these a whirl because in terms of balancing flavours this woman is on a par with Willy Wonka himself.  The chocolate itself is superlative but factor in a dusting of sea salt and a few drops of one of Ms Rope's beautiful flavoured oils and you have an absolute masterpiece.  If I had to pick a favourite, I'd probably come down on the side of pale lemon and sea salt simply because it is a slightly unusual pairing and utterly, compellingly delicious.  If portion control is your issue, then follow the example of  D, who got me a box of salted chocolate cubes instead of an Easter egg; these are an absolutely perfect way for me to get a sweet fix at the end of the day and still feel relatively virtuous.

This is not a cheap product by any means, and the fixed £5 delivery charge means that you are better off buying a number of bars at a time - although this is no very great hardship.  If you are a fellow chocolate lover and you do give it a try then I'd love to hear what you think - or alternatively, get your own recommendations.

NB:  Sadly, this is not a sponsored post.  It is just bloody lovely chocolate.
NB2: If you are a Weight Watcher, both milk and dark chocolate are 1pp per 7g square.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Recipe corner: Hot cross bun pudding with salted caramel

I wasn't going to bother putting this one through the WW recipe builder, because frankly, there are some things that we are better off not knowing.  However, the original happened to include the nutritional information, so I've calculated the points for shits and giggles.  It's a scary number, but I promise you, if you make this recipe, you will thank me for it.  And we can all go for a long, daffodil strewn walk to burn if off, yes?

This recipe was originally published in March's Waitrose kitchen magazine and the only change that I made was to use skimmed rather than whole milk because I tend not to have whole milk to hand and I always feel that if a custard has double cream in it, it probably doesn't make an awful lot of difference.  It is a good dish for a dinner party because all the component parts can be made well in advance and then you just have to pour over the custard, strew the sugar and bake.  We did this just as we were sitting down to cheese and the timing worked out nicely.

We served this with a simnel cake ice cream which was basically a spice infused custard combined with dried fruit that had been pre soaked in brandy and Earl Gray tea, and chopped pieces of marzipan.  Vanilla ice cream would be a good accompaniment too though, or just a trickle of cream.

Oh, this makes slightly more of the salted caramel sauce than you need for four puddings, so keep the excess and pour over ice cream.  Or just eat with a spoon.


100 ml milk
100 ml double cream
Tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Tbsp caster sugar
4 hot cross buns, chopped into eight pieces
Tbsp demerara sugar

For the caramel sauce:

110g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
1 tbsp brandy
75 ml double cream
Pinch of sea salt

Serves 4, 16 pro points per portion

First, the caramel sauce.  Put the sugar in a large saucepan - it needs to have a big surface area and a heavy bottom (a bit like me!)  Set over a low heat and allow to melt slowly.  Swirl it occasionally to ensure it is warming evenly but do NOT be tempted to stir.  While this is happening you can combine the brandy and the cream and get the butter measured out.

When the sugar is melted turn the heat up SLIGHTLY and simmer gently until it has turned a deep amber gold colour.  Watch it like a hawk - it will go from beautiful to burnt very quickly.  When it has gone as dark as you dare remove from the heat and stir in the butter (it will spit, so be careful).  Then stir in the brandy cream and the sea salt until combined.

Take the four ramekins you are using for the puddings and put a generous couple of tablespoons of sauce in the bottom of each one, swirling for even coverage.  Do this straight away while the caramel is still nice and loose.  Arrange the hot cross bun pieces on top.  You can do this in advance and set aside.

Put the milk, cream and vanilla in another pan and bring to just below boiling point - you want there to be lots of bubbles all around the edge just busily breaking the service.  While it is getting there you can whisk the egg yolks and sugar together lightly.  Remove the milk and cream from the heat and pour in a slow, steady stream over the egg yolks whisking constantly to prevent scrambling.  You can make this in advance as well.  Place some cling film directly on the top of the custard to prevent a skin forming as it cools and set aside.

Prior to serving, preheat the oven to 180.  Pour the custard over the buns and sprinkle with the demerara sugar then bake for 20 minutes or until golden.  You can drizzle more sauce on before serving if you like (and who wouldn't?)