Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How to make the perfect Reuben sandwich

Since last December, it has been rare to find our freezer without several portions of D's home made corned beef.  And one of our absolute favourite ways to eat corned beef is in a classic American deli sandwich, a Reuben.

We had Reubens at Katz's deli when we were in New York earlier this year, but I think mine is better because, as delicious as Katz's beef was, the quantity served in the sandwich was so large as to overwhelm the other component parts - it just wasn't properly balanced.  For me, the joy of this sandwich is the way in which all the ingredients work together.  I like a variety of textures as well, hence leaving the bread under the cheese layer untoasted.

I think traditionally this would be on rye bread, but I find the really dark German style rye bread a bit too intense, so prefer to opt for a crusty loaf, a sourdough if possible.  If you are so clever as to make your own sourdough (one day I will get around to experimenting with that...) then use that.

Serve this with a big dill pickle on the side.

Ingredients

4 slices of bread (see above)
60g corned beef, thinly sliced
50g Gruyere cheese, grated
4 tbsp sauerkraut

For the Russian mayonaise:
2 tbsp full fat mayonnaise
Tsp Dijon mustard
Tsp tomato puree
Tsp chopped fresh (or freeze dried) dill
Pinch of dried chilli flakes

Makes 2 sandwiches, xx pro points each

Preheat your grill for bread toasting purposes.

Combine the ingredients for the mayonnaise and set aside.  You could, of course, use a reduced fat mayo if you were looking to shave some points off.

Toast the bread on one side until lightly golden.  In our beast of a grill, this takes about ten seconds.

Flip the bread slices, and on two of them, divide up the grated cheese.  Replace under the grill and cook until the naked bread is lightly toasted and the cheese is molten and bubbling.

Spread the mayonnaise on the naked bread slice, and then layer on the sliced meat and the sauerkraut.  Top with the melted cheese slice (cheese side down).

Serve with a napkin (this is a juicy devil) and a large dill pickle on the side.

Monday, 21 July 2014

MPM: 21st July 2014



A short week for meal planning this week, as we are off to London on Friday for the weekend.  My little niece is being christened on Sunday which is very exciting in itself, and we have a couple of nice bits planned for the Friday and Saturday - including a trip to London's second smallest museum which is dedicated to GIN!!!! My cup, or rather my martini glass, does truly runneth over.

This week, we plan to enjoy:

Tuna steaks with anchovy and rosemary butter (I'm leaving the choice of accompaniments up to D)

A Reuben sandwich, using some of our home made corned beef

Soup (variety tbc)

April Bloomfield's fruity lamb curry with basmati rice - a seriously tasty recipe taken from her "One Girl and Her Pig" book.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Scales on Saturday - episode IV: A New Hope

Don't let anyone tell you that weight loss is just about what you do or do not eat.  Weight loss is, in no small part, down to successfully playing mind games with yourself.  It is about strategy.

Since last September, my strategy has been to have one eye looking back on where I've come from rather than on where I was going, which until recently was pretty successful.  But, for the next few months, I'm adopting a forward looking approach.  Not so far as the ultimate goal - that's a way off yet.  But I'm stepping the pressure on myself up a little bit and challenging myself to reach a certain point by Christmas.  Or rather, since it is far too early for the C-word, by the end of this calendar year.

So, scores on the doors this week...

This week: -2.8lbs
Lbs to End of Year goal: 33.8

The observant among you will notice that my initial prediction that I would start this campaign with around 30lbs to lose was a bit off.  Which means the challenge is, well, a bit more challenging.  Still, to achieve this goal in the number of weigh ins I have left (of course I have a spreadsheet) I have to lose, on average, 1.5lbs a week.  That is entirely achievable.

A good start this week.  I'm not going to lie, I would have liked to have hit 3lbs, but I entirely accept that was rather ambitious.  As it is, I'm pleased.  That 2.8 was pretty well deserved - I tracked everything that passed my lips, I cut right back on alcohol and stuck wholeheartedly to our house meal plan, which was no great hardship given that it was delicious.  I actually ended the week with weekly points left in the bank - I'm going to try and work on that this week as I really don't think under eating my allowance for the sake of feeling virtuous is particularly laudable.  I also didn't get as much exercise as I had initially planned due to a couple of long days at the office.  I need to work out how best to tackle that.

But I'm on the way, my strategy is in place, my eye is on the prize and it looks as if I am in full on cliche spouting mode.  Hurrah!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Foodie Abroad: Barcelona - a whirlwind tour of tapas


This was our second visit to Barcelona and, to be honest, while I was tremendously excited to go, I was also slightly nervous that it wouldn't live up to the incredible memories of the first time.  Barcelona was where we went on our first ever holiday together you see, and it is imbued with all the kind of optimism and joy which comes at the beginning of a relationship.  Lot of water under the bridge since then, and could any city be quite as rose tinted as I remembered?


Turns out, it can!  Barcelona is fantastic.  If you haven't been, go.  Now.  If nothing else you NEED to see La Sagrada Familia, the astonishing basilica designed by the architect whose work is synonymous with the city, Antoni Gaudi.


Of course, one of the main draws for us is the amazing food.  In my (admittedly limited) experience it is extremely difficult to eat badly in Barcelona and extremely easy to eat very, very well indeed.  For all that D had done extensive research beforehand, on a couple of occasions we just wandered in off the street for a bite or five of tapas and were never disappointed.  The general standard of the basic produce is extremely good and the cooking style is unfussy, unpretentious and very respectful of the ingredients.

Being a city by the sea, the seafood is, as you would expect, fabulous.  I developed something of a passion for deep fried baby squid and proceeded to order it as often as possible.


One of the tapas highlights of the trip was a place called Tossa which was supposed to be famous for its croquetas - deep fried, breadcrumbed cylinders of flavoured potato or thick bechamel.


At Tossa they take these little babies really seriously - one of them contained foie, for goodness sake!  While they were all lovely - curiously non greasy and just the right side of stodgy - my personal favourite variety was cheese and ham.  For all I claim the moniker foodie, I have pedestrian tastes!

Another tapas based revelation, which completely passed us by on our last visit, was the "montadito" which appears to roughly translate as "things on toast".

Shot complete with D's elbows!
The nearest approximation is an Italian bruschetta, but whereas bruschetta I tend to think of as a dainty mouthful, these babies were pretty substantial.  From left to right above - goats cheese with quince, salt cod, duck, steak with a padron pepper and foie gras with sweet balsamic drizzle.  Oh my word, these were lovely.  Steak on toast - what on earth is there not to like?  And, back to point about the basic quality of food in Barcelona, even this one component part of one dish on the tapas menu was perfectly sourced and cooked - exemplary, blushing steak.

One of the unexpected tapa highlights occurred on the very first day, in a little venue in the corner of the main city market, La Boqueria.  Bear with me on this one - crispy coca bread, chocolate cream, olive oil and salt.


My one gripe about Spanish food after our last trip was the fact that I couldn't get on board with the puddings - and puddings, my friends, I take very seriously indeed.  No longer.  This particular combination, which we learnt later was actually a popular after school snack for Catalan children, is one of the nicest new taste sensations I've experienced in a while.  The chocolate itself was unapologetically bitter, so combined with the crisp toast and salt the initial impression is almost savoury, but then the fruity note of the olive oil swoops in and elevates it to something else. What can I say - smitten.

We were lucky enough to have a couple of seriously high end meals while we were there (of which more to follow) but I stand by my original statement - even at the cheaper end of the market (and let us take it as read that I am disregarding the ubiquitous fast food outlets when I say that) the general quality is absolutely outstanding and the style of food...well, I've sobbed a little over my keyboard while writing this, that I can't just pop down the road and indulge in a couple of perfectly formed plates of tapas perfection.

Incidentally, both husband and mother have told me to cut back on the cat pictures.  But I'm so proud of the little one who appeared to cope admirably with five nights in the cattery.  Her Mummy coped less well, and there may have been tears when we first dropped her off.  Hopefully the whole process will be slightly less traumatic for all concerned next time round.


Monday, 14 July 2014

MPM: 14th July 2014



Bit of a blogging hiatus since coming back from holiday – I’ve just been trying to get back into the swing of things work wise and diet wise but I have lots of lovely pictures to share from Barcelona, so I’ll try and get that sorted this week.

I’ve been back on track since weighing in on Friday. The figure was higher than I would have liked, but I’m not going to brood about it, I’ve recommitted and I’ve had a good weekend, eating well (some might say positively indulgently considering pizza, bacon sandwiches, home made curry and a roast dinner all featured) but coming in within my points allowance. I intend for this week to continue in the same vein.

We had a dee-licious chicken dinner last night – honestly, I think I’ve got roasts cracked! Roast chicken, roast potatoes, herby carrot mash, creamy minted broad beans, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I think the key is to not to attempt too many different component parts. Anyway, what that means is that there is lots of lovely leftover chicken to use up, so two of our meals this week take advantage of that.

Elsewhere, D is running a 10k on Sunday and has requested spaghetti carbonara on Saturday night for the purposes of carb loading – no arguments from me! His post race meal will need to be protein rich and robust, and we have a brisket currently brining in the garage ready for that.

So the week looks like…

Caesar salad, with herby roasted chicken and caramellised onions

Soup (smoked haddock, sweet potato and spinach)

Chicken and leek pasta bake

Sticky pork belly with noodles, red pepper and pak choi stir fry

Spaghetti Carbonara

Corned beef with parsley sauce

And, as ever, there is more meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Lunch bunch revisited

Like a particularly stupid version of Pavlov’s dog, I never seem to learn. Despite the fact that I wrote a post over three years ago about the fact that buying lunch “to go” was generally an overpriced disappointment to be avoided, I have fallen back into bad habits. Well, I say this as if it a new thing – the truth is that for much of the Annus Separatus I got pretty lax about putting together my own lunches, and the practice of nipping to the shops, rather than spending five minutes putting my own lunchbox together, has rumbled on.


At least I am consistent, and the chief recommendation in that 2011 entry still stands – if you’re going to buy lunch on the go, then I maintain that M&S is far and away your best option. I’ve recently developed a slightly worrying obsession with their turkey, pastrami and Emmental flatbread which, at £4 a pop, is not a cheap habit. It is very tasty though (if you are into deli style flavours) and amazing “value” at just 7 pro points (and less than 300 calories).

Elsewhere, the pickings are slim, especially for the perennial dieter. I find that both Pret and Boots are consistently disappointing, and it is trickier to count accurately if you go to an independent outlet. So we come back round to the fact that the best way to ensure that you are getting a good, filling, low point, tasty lunch is to make your own.

As of the beginning of September, I am moving offices – so I’ll be bidding a fond farewell to my current Leeds city centre location and a cheery halloo to an office park in the middle of a slightly-out-of-centre wasteland. This will severely curtail the options at lunchtime – it’s the park canteen or nothing really – and will hopefully be the additional spur I need to break the takeaway habit. Which can only be good news for my poor, beleagured wallet: I saw an article online the other day that suggested that most office workers spend around £2,500 a year on buying food to go (this figure included takeaway coffees and extra bits and pieces of food shopping acquired on the way home but still).

So I need to get my thinking cap on and come up with some delicious, easy lunches – I mean, sandwiches are great, but a bit of variety might be nice. As if by magic, this extremely pertinent article popped into my blog feed recently so I’ll be interested to see what suggestions the author comes up with – and I also will be having a trawl through this lovely blog as Nicola always seems to have the most interesting and varied meal plans for both lunch and dinner.

Let’s see if another three years will be sufficient to break the M&S habit altogether…?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Setting my agenda

Greetings, friends! I’m in Barcelona this week, where hopefully the sun will be shining and the tapas will be tapas-ing. Can’t wait to share my adventures with you when I get back! But, in the meantime – last week it struck me. In (less than) six months time, it will be Christmas. Scary, no? So, at the 2014 halfway point, I’ve been putting some real thought in to what I can do to ensure that my weight loss continues apace in the latter end of the year. I would love to have hit the six stone mark by the end of December, which is about thirty pounds away. That is an imminently achievable target as long as I work through this current funk (and hopefully the holiday will give me the boost I need to regain focus on my return).


So, what has gone well this year?

 I’m very good at not giving myself credit for my own achievements. I’m a Yesbut. I’ve lost nearly four stone…yesbut it has really slowed down lately, yesbut there is still more to lose, yesbut I shouldn’t have gained it in the first place. Yawn. I’ve done well, I should be pleased. My weekly average, since starting this latest campaign last September, is 1.4lbs. OK, 2 or even 3 would be lovely, but 1.4 is still a respectable figure.

 We’re in a really good routine of planning and cooking evening meals. D has got involved which is great, we eat a good variety of foods, we cook from scratch most nights and seldom fall into the takeaway or “popping out” trap.

 I haven’t gone backwards. I really haven’t felt 100% these last couple of months which, in the past, I would have used as an excuse to self indulge, but I’ve put in enough good days to counteract the bad. I’ve got maintenance down to a fine art!

 Swimming! I’ve joined a gym and have managed to get myself to the pool at least a couple of times a week.

And what’s not gone so well?

 My enthusiasm has waned and, with its passing, the rate of weight loss has slowed to a crawl.

 I don’t plan my breakfasts and lunches with anywhere near the same care as my evening meals, with the result that I rely too heavily on shop bought, high point, expensive sandwiches and snacks and often find myself getting very hungry. Hunger leads to poor decisions.

 Weekend drinking has increased again – and the occurrences of midweek pick me ups as well. Alcohol is high in points which means I have to compensate by cutting back on the amount of weeklies available for extra food. This makes me hungry. Hunger leads to….(you know the drill).

So what can I do to address this?

 I’ve tried to avoid setting time based goals because not reaching them can lead to disappointment and disappointment can lead me to end up face down in a bowl of Doritos. But, as long as I realise that the sky won’t fall in if I don’t reach my entirely arbitrary goal, they can be helpful. I’m hereby aiming for the six stone mark by my last weigh in before Christmas which, as I write this, is 30 pounds away (although it might be slightly more after a week of tapas). I have 24 weigh ins to do it in, between the 11th July and the 19th December. BRING. IT. ON.

 I need to start being more organised about ALL my meals. Meal planning, henceforth, needs to include lunch planning as well.

 Alcohol is not my friend. Special occasions aside, I probably need to just avoid it altogether. Note to self: a Friday is not a special occasion.

 I need to up the exercise, which will give me an activity point safety net. My daily points allowance has gone down from 39 to 31 since I started, which is a big difference and could be one of the reasons why I am struggling. I’m enjoying the swimming, but I need to throw a bit of running in there as well – I want to be a runner. Runners are cool. Like bow ties.

Right – there we have it in black and white. The countdown to Christmas starts on the 11th July, my first post holiday weigh in. I know I can do this, I want to do it, I’m even (as I type) feeling a glimmering of enthusiasm. Hurrah! Onwards and downwards!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cooking with fat

Minx gets tired trying to keep track of what she is supposed to be eating...
So the debate rages on about what the real enemy is when it comes to our eating - it seems that after years out in the cold someone has decided that fat isn't actually all that bad for you but having sugar in your tea is akin to...something dreadful.  I don't pay an awful lot of attention, to be honest; I have no intention of ditching any of the food groups, mainly because I am greedy and they taste nice and life is genuinely too short to spend it worrying all the time.

This much I do know, if you're counting points, or calories, or whatever, and you want to get your intake down a bit, shaving some of the fat out of a recipe often helps.  In most cases you can, at least, halve the amount of oil called for in a recipe with no particularly detrimental effects to the flavour but a decent calorie saving.  Gram for gram, fat has about double the amount of calories in it as does protein or carbohydrate.

And, when we're talking about pure energy content, all fat IS created equal.  Earlier this week, I watched Jamie Oliver pour several "lugs" (what is a lug, Jamie?  A good few tablespoons I reckon) of olive oil over a plate of mackerel and quinoa...and then refuse to add a knob of butter to his mashed potato.  Yes, there has been much written about the health benefits of olive oil, but that does not change the fact that pouring it willy nilly over your food is going to increase the amount of calories you consume by rather a lot.  Also, butter tastes good.  I love butter and cook with it often, and there is no reason you can't as long as you are sensible with regards quantities.  The idea that butter is "bad" while oil is "good" is a total nonsense.

The key for the home cook is to invest in some decent equipment.  A couple of good non stick pans will change your life (if your life, like mine, is quite small and quiet, and kitchenware excites you).  We bought ours a few years ago from M&S - a little pricey but worth their weight in...well, gold.  The point is, often a recipe calls for a lot of oil at the beginning just to stop food sticking to the pan.  It seems a bit of a waste to add something that is not going to contribute particularly to my enjoyment of a dish but just save a bit of time washing up.

Another tip is to buy yourself a silicon brush - this is something I picked up from watching Andrew Pern work during a Star Inn cookery course last year.  A brush will ensure that whatever fat you have added to the pan - even if it is just a scant teaspoon - can be quickly and evenly dispersed across the whole surface.  I use mine a lot for this very purpose.

When cooking foods with a high fat content of their own - streaky bacon and chorizo are two examples which immediately spring to mind - you can often get away with not adding any additional fat for cooking purposes.  Keep the heat low to start with, which will allow the fat in the item itself to render out.  I never cook bacon in oil - which makes me sound a bit puritanical -  but I just don't see the need.  The bacon will cook quite happily in its own fat as long as you start it off slowly.  And if I'm cooking something alongside said bacon - for example, an onion, I will cook the onion in the bacon fat as well.  Just make sure you do your meat first and that should provide you with sufficient lubrication.  And I'm sorry for using the word lubrication in a piece about cooking.  Those of you with a prurient mindset are allowed to leave the room for a giggle.

I suppose the point I am trying to make is, when you're following a diet plan, every little calorie or point or syn is precious.  But, equally, fat can be an important - even crucial - component of a dish and we shouldn't be afraid of it.  We just have to work out where it will actually contribute an element of pleasure to the food that we are eating - that's the bottom line, isn't it?  Enjoying what we are eating?

Personally, I like tuna...

Monday, 23 June 2014

MPM: 23rd June 2014



I know it is a cliche but, honestly, where does the time go?  We're coming up to the end of June people!  That's madness!  From now on we're in the downwards slide towards CHRISTMAS.

So this week is a bit like the end of term for me seeing as we are off on holiday a week today which is very exciting.  Some bits from the freezer make an appearance, but a new recipe as well.  Friday onwards is being left unplanned since we are out and about being social butterflies.

Salmon with bois boudran sauce and crushed potatoes: taken from "Heston Blumenthal at Home" this recipe looks rather delicious.

Lamb biryani: using leftovers from the Sunday roast.  The third time we have cooked this particular dish, which in our household is the highest of high recommendations.

Smoked haddock, sweet potato and spinach soup (thank you Mr Waitrose).

Chicken with broad beans and mint, probably served with some new potatoes tossed in a little butter.

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Scales and tribulations

Previously on WWF: -50.4lbs
This week: -2.4lbs
Total loss: 52.8lbs

Last week, I didn't post a weigh in result and for that I am sorry.  It is the first time, since last September, that there has been no post and no good reason for not doing a post.  It was just sheer bloody mindedness on my part.

As you'll see, this week, by dint of putting one foot in front of the other (in diet terms) I have scored a good loss.  Which is great.  Two steps forward and one step back is still going forward after all.

The truth is, I've lost nearly four stone (good) but two and a half stone of that total loss took place between September and the end of last year.  This year there has been a LOT of faffing around.  I am proud of the fact that I have never given up, that I have kept on keeping on, but equally, I am annoyed that I've allowed myself to navel gaze and procrastinate and not just get my nose to the dieting grindstone and make some real progress.

We go to Barcelona the week after next, and, once we're back, Operation Get Your Finger Out commences in earnest.