Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Much pain, no gain

When we last saw our heroine, she was looking forward to a lazy weekend resting her poorly foot (or paw as Lesley called it – I much prefer the idea of having paws to feet!)

Well, the good news is that the foot is much improved from a couple of days of very little usage. I can now walk without wincing! Hurrah!

The bad news is that I am now suffering with toothache. Ouch. I spent most of Sunday taking the strongest painkillers that D could elicit from our friendly local pharmacist and whimpering (NB: I am a terrible invalid. I am the whiniest, most trying patient you could ever hope to meet. Stoic is not my middle name). An emergency trip to the dentist yesterday afternoon ended with a prescription for anti-biotics to clear up some infection and an additional appointment, two weeks hence, for a root canal.

Colour me most unhappy.

The silver lining to this particular cloud is that I could barely eat on Sunday, and so inadvertently had another fast day which bolstered my Monday morning result. Here are the scores on the doors so far for 2017:

Week 1 loss/(gain):​​ 4.0lbs
This week loss/(gain):​​ 3.4lbs
Total​​​​: 7.4lbs

By any stretch of the imagination, that is good going. To be honest, if I could just maintain that loss this week I would be perfectly happy – it doesn’t feel quite “real” at the moment (if that makes any sense?)

I talked last week about trying to eat a bit more on non-fast days and to be careful about being too careful. Clearly, the fact that I had an extra, accidental, fast day this week flies in the face of that a little bit. But I certainly didn’t feel deprived on the four normal days. There was a takeaway pizza one evening (with pizza leftovers for breakfast the following day), there was a meal out, a steak sandwich with a decent slather of blue cheese mayonnaise…

D and I have been having a Dry January which has, undoubtedly, also been a boost. I shudder to think of the number of calories that I am capable of taking in liquid form over the course of a weekend; they add up incredibly quickly. While I have no intention of staying dry once January is over, it has definitely inspired me to be more vigilant about the amount I have to drink as a general rule.

I’m also looking forward to getting started with the Couch to 5k – I’m going to hold off for another week or so to ensure my foot is absolutely fine, but it will be nice to get moving. And, once the weather picks up, D and I want to get out and do some walking which will be an additional boost. For now, it’s all about getting the food side of things right and, as the results above demonstrate, I think I’m on with that.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Whatever works

This week has seemed very long and, as I write this on Friday afternoon, I am looking forward to a weekend of doing very little.

I managed to injure my foot on New Year’s Eve. Not, as one might expect, dancing drunkenly on the tables of a local establishment but walking down the stairs at my parents’ house. I’ve done it before – I have a dodgy ankle that will occasionally “turn” for no particular reason – and my foot was well and truly jarred. It came up quite a pretty shade of bruise and, although this is now fading, it is still painful. And it’s not going to get better unless it is properly rested so, this Saturday and Sunday, you will mostly find me on the bed or the sofa with it propped up on a couple of cushions. You may well find the cat close by as well.

A quiet life is generally conducive to successful dieting. Of course, with the 5:2, it is perfectly possible to eat out and have a social life aside from the two days of abstinence. But it is easier to keep eating on the straight and narrow when you’re not having to negotitate multiple social engagements. I’m meeting a friend for an early supper tonight (I was, shamefully, hoping that she might be snowed in and forced to cancel) but I can’t see us going overboard. I’ve known A since we were at university together and she is one of those envy-inducing people who maintains a perfect figure by being sensible without apparent effort.

So, how has it been? The fast days, again, were tough. On Monday, as mentioned in my previous post, I really messed up but learned an important lesson in the process and ensured that on Wednesday I ate a light lunch to keep me going. Lightly seasoned chopped salad, two oatcakes, two low fat cheese triangles – only 150 calories but the difference was marked. I could walk, rather than crawl, home for a start.

I feel like my food intake has been slightly higher than last week, and am expecting my loss to be correspondingly lower. That’s fine. I’m not going mad by any stretch of the imagination, and I find keeping a food diary to be a really key tool in self regulation. I’ve actually invested in a beautiful, hardback Moleskine day to a page diary and I don’t want to sully its elegant pages with tales of over indulgence. Actually, day to a page is a fantastic psychological tool in itself – I genuinely feel like each new day (page) is a fresh start. Might sound weird. But whatever works.

Hope everyone out there in blogland has a lovely weekend – stay warm and virtuous (or, if you must sin (syn?) make it a worthwhile one).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A new kind of hard

I managed a 4lb loss this week following the 5:2 plan. That’s a pretty satisfying result for any first week back, but doubly so when you consider that over the course of the five non fast days I enjoyed a pretty pleasant programme of eating, including several slices of the triple layered red velvet cake that D made me for my birthday.

I think a respectful pause is warranted here - this cake is a true thing of beauty.

Returning to the point though: I must admit, when I am forced to think about it, I realise that I still struggle with what constitutes “normal” eating is on the non-fast days. Yes, I know that in earlier posts I boasted that I had normal eating down but…perhaps overly conscious that I wanted a good result, I found myself doing quite a lot of second guessing and, I suspect, under eating some days. Finding balance will clearly continue to be a work in progress.

It’s a new kind of hard. On Weight Watchers, I knew that if it was pointed then I could eat it. Sometimes, I would find myself polishing off a plate of food or eating a piece of chocolate just because it had been tracked – that’s not right. But, equally, last week I ended up quite light headed on a couple of occasions and that’s not quite right either.

My aim is modest – if I can manage a pound a week loss then I will be perfectly satisfied, so that should mean a fairly wide leeway on non-fast days, especially on weeks (like last week) where there are no meals out planned. I’m going to try to be a bit less controlling over the coming seven days and see what impact that has on the scales.

Oh, and I had a real learning experience yesterday, which was a fast day. Some people are able to save their full 500 calorie allowance for a single meal in the evening. Turns out that I am not one of them. I got through a full day of work on black coffee, sugar free squash and two satsumas and, by the time I got home, was feeling very poorly indeed. I managed to make and eat a bowl of soup but D subsequently packed me off to bed at quarter to eight telling me that I looked "dreadful". Lesson learned - trying to function on empty just doesn't suit my system.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Meal planning and weighing in

So firstly – news from the scales. Today I weighed in after my first full week, post-Christmas, on 5:2 and recorded… (drum roll please…) a loss of 4lbs!

Cue much happy dancing. A very pleasing result. I’m back under my mid-December weight and only 0.2 lbs over where I was at the beginning of December. Hurrah.

It’s been an interesting week, but I probably need to record my full thoughts on a separate post, as I want make sure I’m keeping a full, critical record of my time on 5:2. So, to meal planning.

Monday and Wednesday are this week’s fast days and I’ll be making a batch of broccoli, spinach and blue cheese soup which comes in at just under 200 calories. It’s a little high but it should have quite a luxurious taste and texture owing to the inclusion of, well, cheese.

Elsewhere:

Tuesday: Cauliflower risotto

Thursday: Rice bowl with stir fried pork mince and pickled cucumber.

Friday: I’m out – so D must fend for himself (sob!)

Saturday: Steak baguettes with caramelised onion and blue cheese mayonnaise

Sunday: Some sort of roast (tbc)

Thursday, 5 January 2017

2017: and so it begins

Happy new year lovely blog readers! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I basically decided to do the square root of FA over the Christmas period and very nice and indulgent it was too. We ate, drank and were generally merry for most of the time. I turned another year older, which briefly curtailed the merriment as I reflected on the fact that I am now ANCIENT. But I got a lot of lovely presents, which eased the pain.

Some of said presents were very much on a theme of food so I think warrant a mention here. D, who is an awesome giver of gifts, has booked me on to a one day artisan bread making course at Betty's Cookery School in Harrogate – that made me squee quite a lot. D2 (my brother) presented me with a leg of Serrano ham, complete with stand, which is currently sat on our dining table taunting us every time we walk past. He also gave me a sack of goodies which contains everything I need in order to cook Korean food. Expect a report back on my adventures in Kimchee making shortly, I’ve been meaning to try for ages and now have no excuse!

Of course, after the indulgence comes the encounter with the Scales of Doom (TM Peridot). I hopped on gloomily on Monday morning and was up 3.4lbs from my last weigh in. A bit of an ouch, but considering said last weigh in took place on a Thursday in mid-December just after a fast day, it could have been a lot worse. Two and a half weeks of indulgence in exchange for a quarter of a stone isn’t the end of the world.

Now here we are on Thursday and D and I have completed our two fast days for the week (Monday and Wednesday). They were not easy, I’ll be honest. In fact, I spent a good chunk of Monday asleep to try and distract from the misery (the advantage of fasting on a Bank Holiday). But, as of this morning, the scales have dropped a whopping 4.2lbs. I don’t expect to maintain the whole of that loss over the weekend, but seeing that quick fall has really inspired me to try and be sensible during the coming non-fast days. I think this is one diet plan where daily weighing might be a help rather than a hindrance.

Anyway, the truth will out come next Monday. In the meantime, I hope that all of you have a fab start to 2017 and look forward to sharing another year’s worth of eating, dieting, cat-stroking and general, all-purpose bimbling with you.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

2016: so long, and thanks for all the fish

2016 proved a bad year to be a celebrity or, indeed, a fan of democracy. But leaving all of that aside, the really important issue is what did we eat? I’ve been tracking back through blog posts to bring you a yearly round up. Hurrah.

Eating In

I notice that the number of recipes that I share here has fallen quite a lot, which is a shame, and something to pick up on next year. It’s partly because I invented a rule that in order to post a recipe, I needed to make it twice. So there are a load of dishes that I’ve cooked once thought, ooh I must share that, then not got round to making again. I’m rescinding the rule for 2017.

I always keep a note of what we cook at home (and how regularly), and looking at my spreadsheet, the top three meals were all fish based which is unsurprising – we loves the fish. Salmon with pasta pesto (a perennial favourite in our house) and fish pie make up the top two; for the latter, I enjoyed this recipe for its luxuriant simplicity.

I was also reminded of our phase of eating poached trout with minted mayonnaise on a weekly basis throughout asparagus season, which meant that it hit the number three spot. Stirring some fresh chopped mint and a spritz of lemon through mayo really elevates it. The original recipe, by Gordon Ramsay, called for a minted hollandaise – perhaps in 2017 we’ll get round to doing it properly, but, in the meantime, the mayonnaise was an excellent foil for the delicate fish.

Looking through the list, I’ve come across some dishes which were only cooked once but definitely deserved to be eaten more regularly. How is it we only managed to only have that fantastic Vietnamese style braised pork dish on one occasion? Or that fantastic cauliflower risotto (which recipe is, fortuitously online – thanks, Jamie O!)

Of the recipes that I did get around to posting, a surprisingly high proportion were baking themed which I suppose is indicative of what I’ve particularly enjoyed cooking this year. I am becoming a much more confident bread maker, which is lovely, and one of my goals for 2017 is to get a sourdough starter going. I’ve especially enjoyed our forays into homemade pizza. Our freezer currently lacks both pizza dough and sauce – that will definitely need to be remedied in the new year.

Talking of homemade stuff though, I am dead impressed with D’s first experiments in sausage making. He’s done two so far – a boudin blanc and a Merguez and both of them were excellent. If you’re interested, he’s used this book for both, and the recipes have turned out beautifully.

Eating Out

Our trip to Paris in November saw us having some stunning meals, including a simple plate of lamb and mushrooms which I have already tried to re-create at home. A possible contender for my dish of the year.

Earlier in the year, and a bit closer to home, we visited the only Michelin star restaurant in Leeds. It wasn’t really my thing. But elsewhere, we have had some fine meals in this fair city, and, in Ox Club, found our favourite brunch spot. The thought of the Korean Fried Chicken still makes me smile – another possible contender for my dish of the year.

Without a doubt though, my favourite new local restaurant is the superlative Hana Matsuri which is just around the corner from us in Meanwood. I can’t stop thinking about their amazing sushi. Every single thing that I have eaten there is yet another possible contender for my dish of the year.

I’m nothing if not indecisive.

Dieting

Er. I tried Smart Points. I hated Smart Points. I made some half arsed attempts to revert to counting Pro Points, or even just calories, but nothing really took root.

Towards the end of the year, I decided to give 5:2 a whirl, and although the results were not particularly conclusive, I’m going to be fasting with gusto throughout the first couple of months of 2017 to see if I can make it work for me in the long-term.

My weight has not really changed much all year – the fluctuations up and down have all been within the same three or four pounds. Considering that it has been a year of considerable stress at times, I suppose I should be slightly pleased with that. It looks as though I may have conquered my demons with regards emotional eating, always a major factor in my weight gain. It also looks as though breaking free from the tyranny of counting has finally got rid of that feast or famine mentality which is so inherent in the long term dieter. I didn’t gain weight after a two week holiday in Scotland, or an indulgent long weekend in Paris, because I have learned the art of balance. That’s fantastic. But the scales need to go down.

I must admit, part of me is slightly panicky as to what I will do if I can’t get 5:2 to work. What the next plan is. I’m trying to ignore her for the time being.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Seven sleeps

I'm braising red cabbage at the moment, which is filling the house with a very (for me) Christmassy scent. I make this recipe pretty much every year - unadulterated, unchanged and unfailingly good. It also has the virtue of improving with age (much like me) so preparing it in advance is practically mandatory.

Are you sorted for your Christmas dinner yet? We are on our own this year so keeping things easy, yummy and slightly non traditional. Smoked salmon roulade on spelt bread to start followed by confit duck legs with mash and braised red cabbage - with cold turkey, gammon and sausagemeat loaf if anyone requires additional protein. Cheese, of course. And, finally, Christmas pudding ice cream - a recipe that I must share at some point. Gorgeous!

2016 has not been the easiest year on a personal level - let's not even start on global events. Which is why I am especially looking forward to this next couple of weeks; this holiday that is traditionally about peace and goodwill to all will hopefully be a time to focus on all the bright, shiny things that sometimes get obscured. Family and friends, sparkly lights, the joy of sharing and, yes, a bit of self indulgence.

The cute cat picture of the week is as Christmas themed as I can get - Minx tends to save all her most photogenic moments for when my phone camera is out of hand, the gorgeous little bugger. Still, small mercies - she has yet to bring down the tree!


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Slow cooker recipe corner: Merguez sausage and squash stew

I am unclear as to when a stew ceases to be a stew and becomes a tagine. I'm calling this a stew, despite the obviously Moroccan influences, because I don't feel qualified to call it otherwise. You can call it a tagine though, if it pleases you.

In any case, this is a mash up of a couple of online recipes adapted for the slow cooker so it lost touch with any claim to authenticity a while ago. That aside, it is utterly delicious. Merguez sausages are officially one of my new Favourite Things. Homemade Merguez sausages are amazing. I've probably posted this picture before but I'm so impressed by D's hitherto undiscovered sausage making skills (plus I don't have a picture of the stew. Stew is like curry - it always looks rubbish in pictures):


This recipe was a fitting way to use up these beauties, and I can give it no greater compliment than that.

Ingredients

6-8 Merguez sausages

Large red onion, thinly sliced
250ml chicken stock
Small tin (200g) tomatoes
Tbsp honey

Heaped tsp each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried chilli flakes, smoked paprika, ground together in a pestle and mortar

Butternut squash, peeled and cubed
Tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
Half a preserved lemon, chopped

To serve: fresh coriander, finely shredded

Serves 4, generously

First: heat a little oil and brown the sausages on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool slightly before cutting into chunks and transferring to the slow cooker.

Add a little more oil and then place the onion into the pan cooking for around five minutes until beginning to soften. Splash in a little stock to deglaze the pan then add the spice mix and stir well. When nearly all the stock has bubbled away, pour in the tomatoes and the honey, then turn down the heat and allow to reduce slightly while you get on with prepping the other ingredients.

Throw the squash, chickpeas, apricots and lemon into the slow cooker alongside the sausage.

Taste the sauce and season well. Pour over the other ingredients in the slow cooker and stir thoroughly. If the mixture looks a little dry, add a bit more of the stock. Set the slow cooker to low and allow to burble away for 6-8 hours. Before serving (with steamed rice or couscous) stir through the coriander.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The 5:2 diet - an initial review

Coming into the holiday period, with far more social engagements popping up than is usual, it is going to be tough over the next few weeks to fit in the requisite fast days so D and I are being relatively easygoing about it. We always knew that this initial stab was going to be experimental and, potentially, shortlived but it has also most definitely proved worthwhile.

Here is what we have learned so far:

Fasting is hard, but not impossible. Sticking to high protein foods such as eggs (D has been eating a lot of hard boiled eggs) and low calorie / high volume items such as cherry tomatoes (surprisingly low for a great, sweet, toothsome return) and keeping well hydrated are essential.

We thought that we would want to “spend” most of our calories on a substantial evening meal, however, on the days where supper happened to come in at less than 200 calories (usually when we’re sharing a tub of fresh soup) that bit of additional flexibility has been most welcome. So we’re going to try and aim for 200 calories or thereabouts in the evening. Soup is perfect for this, if you can get past craving a chunk of bread and butter on the side.

Weight loss is not a given, however much you think you deserve it after two days of feeling a bit cold, hungry and grumpy. We were both slightly up last week despite successfully completing two days of fasting. What you do on non-fast days is just as important as what you do on the fasting ones.

So this is the plan for version 2.0 commencing in January:

A food diary apiece. Keeping accountable, even if it just to a pretty notebook, of what we eat every day will hopefully stop too much extra creeping in. The odd treat is fine, but a non-fast day is not an excuse to pig out. And balance is vital – if you’re having a more indulgent meal than usual (hello, chicken tartiflette) then keep the rest of the day simple and light. It’s just common sense.

And talking of treats, it is especially noticeable this time of year how easy it is to drink your way through excess calories. We both like a tipple or five but we are cutting right back.

One thing that is vital - planning and preparation on fast days. Everything needs to be in place so that we don’t have to think and we don’t have to rely on purchasing food items on the hop.

And exercise – a dirty word as far as I’m concerned but one that I need to get to grips with (how many times have I said that on this blog over the years?) Lesley is doing amazingly well at the moment with little more than a FitBit and a pair of dogs. I don’t think Minx would appreciate being taken for a walk but I have a FitBit that I can dust off and I have a treadmill in the garage so there is no excuse for not upping my steps and getting a bit more active. D has even challenged me to run a 10k by the end of 2017!

I’m really pleased to have a clear plan of action for after the holidays, and also that these last few weeks have seen me shave off a few pounds – not much, by any means, but a start. I have a roadmap in my pocket and I’m going to enjoy Christmas with a clear view of what I need to do once it is all over.

Monday, 12 December 2016

MPM: 12th December 2016

I write this from the living room which has been festooned with fairy lights and currently boasts not one but TWO Christmas trees. Joy.

This is a week of Christmas dos - a fuddle on Monday (do other workplaces have fuddles or is it peculiar to the civil service?), a three course, booze fuelled lunch on Thursday and festive pizza on Friday. We are still trying to fit in two fast days, but unfortunately (for us) they will be consecutive. Gah. At this point in the year, I hold out very little hope for weight loss but if I can minimise gains (or even squeak maintenance) I will be perfectly happy. Elsewhere...

Monday: mussel paella - I may be full of beige party food come the evening but am going to make this all the same as the poor dish keeps getting bumped.

Tuesday: fast day 1 - smoked haddock fish cakes and salad

Wednesday: fast day 2 - mushroom soup

Saturday: chilli con carne

Sunday: something (possibly more homemade sausages) with mash and braised red cabbage. The cabbage is a vital component of our Christmas dinner and benefits from being made in advance and reheated, so I'll do a full cabbage's worth and freeze some.

Happy cooking and eating folks, and happy nearly Christmas!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Recipe corner: chicken tartiflette

If I still included Weight Watchers points at the bottom of the recipes on here, this one would probably stand at eleventy million.  There is nothing vaguely diet friendly about it, it being a dish that is a celebration of creamy, cheesy stodge. Still, in such times, I am moved to quote Joey Tribbiani of Friends - if you're going to do a thing wrong, do it right.  If you're going to eat something groaning in calories, make it something like chicken tartiflette.

Oh, and it has kale in it, which means it is kind of healthy as well.  So.

This recipe is a tweaked version of Monica Galletti's from her new book, "The Skills" (and I believe it also appeared in the Good Food magazine a month of so ago).  Tweaked, because instead of using a whole chicken, I cheated and used thigh fillets.  Oh, and she cooks her bacon to release the flavour but then omits it from the finished dish which seemed slightly odd to me, so I left it in.

My only very slight criticism was that when I've had tartiflette in the past, I'm sure it has been a little saucier so I've upped the amount of chicken broth required to let down the cream in my version below - feel free to reduce it back again (the original recipe called for just 100ml) or up still further if you like.  You will have more broth than you need anyway but it is pretty tasty, so keep whatever is left in the fridge to use in any soups or stews you plan to be making.

Ingredients

Rapeseed, or similar, oil

Six boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
1 onion, roughly sliced
1 head of garlic, sliced horizontally across
100ml white wine
1 large bay leaf
Hefty sprig of thyme
1 litre chicken stock

500g waxy potatoes (such as Charlotte) sliced to about the thickness of a pound coin

6 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
150ml double cream
150g Reblochon cheese, cubed
200g kale, roughly chopped

Serves 4

In a large casserole dish, suitable for use on the stove top, heat a little oil.  Season the chicken fillets well and then brown for a couple of minutes on each side before removing from the pan. 

Add a little more oil, then add the onion and the head of garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onion is beginning to soften. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and reduce down to almost nothing.  Now add the chicken stock, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.  Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook through - around twenty minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside, allowing the chicken pieces to cool in the broth.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a large pan of cold, salted water.  Bring to the boil and cook for around 5 minutes.  The potatoes will just be thinking about becoming tender at this point.  Drain, and set aside.

Once cool, remove the chicken from the broth and shred. Preheat the oven to 180.  Pour the broth into a separate bowl, wipe out the casserole dish and return to the hob over a medium heat. 

Heat a little more oil and then add the bacon, cooking until beginning to brown at which point you can chuck in the onion.  Five minutes later, when the onion is softening, in goes the garlic as well.

Pour in the cream, plus 200ml of the reserved chicken broth, bring up to a gentle simmer and then season to taste - a liberal hand with the black pepper would be good here.  Stir through three quarters of the cheese, and, as it starts to melt, you can add the chicken, potatoes and kale, stirring well to make sure that everything is coated.  I told you that this pan needed to be large.

Top with the remaining cheese and then bake for twenty five minutes until golden and bubbling.

Monday, 5 December 2016

MPM: 5th December 2016

It's December everybody!  We're already five days into our Advent Calendar, and the countdown to Christmas is well and truly on - hurrah!  I'm particularly over excited that on Tuesday we are going to a local Christmas market with carols and mulled wine, which should be a lovely start to the season.  And then on Friday, we're both out with friends - me for a Christmassy afternoon tea, D to drink copious amounts of beer.  Elsewhere, our meal plan looks like this:

Monday: Fast Day #1 and we're having fishcakes and salad

Tuesday:  Out for mulled wine and mince pies - but we have a stash of M&S nibbles in the fridge if we want something when we get back

Wednesday: Fast Day #2 - sooooooooup.

Thursday:  Mussel paella

Saturday:  Spaghetti carbonara

Sunday:  Lamb of some description with mashed potatoes and garlicky mushrooms (if you've seen my Paris post, you may recognise this as a re-creation of my favourite dish of the trip, I just hope that I can get it to taste half as good as it did in Cinq Mars!)

As always, happy cooking and eating this week les touts.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Foodie Abroad: Paris

I need to start handwriting accounts of our foodie adventures when (or just after) they occur.  I could buy myself a new notebook for the purpose – few things float my boat like the acquisition of fancy stationery.  The memory of food is a fleeting thing and although it is only a few short weeks since we were in Paris, already some of what I wanted to say to you has drifted away like a snowflake on the breeze, or some such seasonally appropriate simile.
Perhaps, though, what remains is the important stuff, the stuff that I really need to say. 
So.  Firstly a top tip.  If you ever go to Paris, get yourself over to Cinq Mars, a bistro which is all kinds of wonderful.  We read about it on a website – Paris By Mouth, I think, which proved to be an excellent resource.  We picked it partly because it was close to the Musee D’Orsay and we intended to go for supper after we’d had a stiff dose of Culture.  It was one of those happy accidents really, but we have both said that next time we’re in Paris (hopefully it won’t be another ten years) we simply have to go back.  The food was superlative.  We actually noticed that a lot of the people in there with us were English or American – perhaps they had picked up on it from the same website? – but this was no shoddy tourist trap.  It was simple, classic and utterly delicious.  I had lamb with pomme puree and mushrooms and it was one of the tastiest things I think I have eaten all year.  D is still raving about his veal chop with cauliflower cheese.  They give you the serving bowl of chocolate mousse and allow you to help yourself.  What is not to love? 

Wine!
The big treat while we were there was a trip to the three Michelin star Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire.  I have been a bit chary about writing about this, to be honest.  The two things that I now remember particularly about the experience are the bill and the appearance of the food.  It is, I am afraid, impossible not to mention the bill which was the most eye watering that I have ever seen (and I’ve eaten in a lot of expensive restaurants).  The food was utterly beautiful – it was art.  But, funnily enough, in terms of a pleasure to eat, I think I preferred the lamb and mash that I had at Cinq Mars.  I felt that some of the dishes we had at PG were slightly over complicated, that they had one or two components too many.  It’s an experience, certainly, but one I’d be slightly hesitant to recommend - perhaps I’m developing simple tastes in my old age?

Part of this is edible...


As I’ve said, we researched our destinations quite thoroughly before we went because, well, in this day and age, why wouldn’t you?  One lunchtime, we were sitting outside a cafĂ© in the Montmartre area and a couple approached our waitress and asked where they could go for frogs’ legs.  Google, people, Google!  If you’re going to eat frogs’ legs (I’ve tried them once and it was a frankly underwhelming experience so I wouldn’t bother again) then find out where to go for good frogs’ legs – why leave it to chance or a random waitress who may or may not like them herself?  For example, I said to D that I wanted to eat lots of snails, he went away and found lists of the best places to eat snails in Paris.  Which is how we ended up at Benoit one day and Bouillon Chartier the next.  Both very different takes on a classic Parisienne bistro.  Both did excellent snails drenched in vivid green garlicky herby butter.  Heaven.  Benoit is another place that would definitely warrant a re-visit, Bouillon Chartier is busy and buzzing and the wine was excellent value for money but the food tended towards the cheap and cheerful end of the spectrum.  We were sat on a table with a Canadian couple (it’s not the kind of place to go if you’re anti-social) and they were distinctly unimpressed by the quality of the meat and the pallor of the fries (although I should note here that I enjoyed my steak hache with peppercorn sauce very much.  I’m easy to please.)

Snails!
It was, overall, a wonderful trip to a wonderful city.  I had forgotten how very much I like Paris and much was left undone (which is good as it will, hopefully, encourage us to return before too long).  Perhaps next time, I will manage to be a more assiduous blogger.  I can’t guarantee it though – the thing about food is that I never want to let writing about it get in the way of filling my face with it.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Why I'm giving the 5:2 diet a whirl

There’s only so many times that you can make grand announcements about starting back on the dieting wagon and have people take you seriously.  I’ve been writing this blog for years and, look, still a porker!  An older and wiser porker, true, but still. 

So I’ve kept a bit quiet on that front lately, while I try and get it straight in my head what I actually want to do.  I’ve thought about it a lot and D and I talked about it while we were away because he wants to lose some weight too.  And for the last couple of weeks we have been doing intermittent fasts – commonly known as the 5:2 diet.
The premise is simple.  For 2 days a week you eat 500 calories or fewer (600 if you’re a bloke).  The rest of the time you eat normally.  Emphasis on the normal – you don’t gorge, because it defeats the point.  I’m probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here; there was a BBC documentary about it a few years ago and it has since become quite mainstream.  I think I even mentioned it in a blog post a couple of years back having done one fast day out of curiosity and given up in a fit of disgust.  So why come back to it now?
The answer is pretty simple.  I just cannot face accounting for every little thing that I stick in my mouth anymore.  I’ve successfully lost weight by counting calories, I’ve successfully lost weight by counting points but I seem to have used up every last little ounce of willpower to do these things again.  It is utterly, utterly tedious and utterly, utterly joyless and I don’t want my food to be tedious and joyless all the time. 
If this works it means that I only have to think about counting calories for two days a week.  And, don’t get me wrong, fasting is a bit blooming miserable.  But it’s only for two days a week.  Psychologically, it makes a massive difference to be able to say, “Oh, hello mince pie.  I can’t eat you today, but I will be wrapping myself all around you tomorrow.  Wait for me.” 
It helps a lot that D is doing it too.  We can be a bit hungry and a bit miserable together.  And, like I said, the fasting itself hasn’t actually been as difficult as I thought and I’ve successfully completed four fast days so far.  I eat a very light lunch at around one o clock – two oatcakes, two Laughing Cow triangles and some chopped salad or a couple of clementines.  I drink plenty of sugar free squash and a couple of black coffees during the day.  And then dinner is either a bowl of soup or something simple but high in protein like a piece of fish with vegetables or an omelette.  I hoard 10 calories for a splash of milk so I can have a cup of tea after supper.  At the moment, we’re relying on quite a lot of ready-made stuff simply because we don’t want to have to cook on fast days, but that’s OK.
And the results?  The results are as follows:
Week 1 weight loss / (gain)                         (0.4) lbs
Week 2 weight loss / (gain)                         3.0 lbs
Total loss / (gain)                                         2.6 lbs
Bit of a mixed bag there, but I’m going to give it a bit longer before I come to any firm conclusions.  I have no expectations that the losses will be quick – a pound a week is my modest ambition, and so far I have achieved over and above that, albeit not in a straight line.   Over those two weeks I have had fish and chips, wine, a roast dinner, cheese, chocolate, mince pies (clearly not all at once).  So although I’m conscious not to go absolutely mad nor have I been particularly abstemious.
D and I are committed to doing this until the end of January – although I can’t see either of us managing even one fast day between Christmas and New Year (you never know but…you kind of do).  So whether it works or not, at least I’ll have given it a fair try.  I really, really hope it does.  The only alternatives that I can see at the moment really blow.  As ever, beloved readers, I will keep you posted.

Monday, 28 November 2016

MPM: 28th November 2016

Well, here we are, Monday again. The weeks slip by depressingly quickly. I have lots to say but my blogging mojo has been a wee bit lacking of late - I must get my portly arse into gear.

Meals all planned and ready to go though:

Monday: pan fried salmon fillet, courgetti with pesto

Tuesday: pasta with mussels and potatoes (a bump from last week)

Wednesday: soooooooooooup

Thursday: we're out for celebratory sushi

Friday: D is out and I shall curl on the sofa with filled pasta tossed in butter, Parmesan and black pepper and those Gilmore Girls.

Saturday: chicken Tartiflette

Sunday: a tagine (stew) of merguez sausages, root vegetables and chickpeas

Talking of merguez, take a look at these beauties:


D's sausage making career continues to go from strength to strength - these were amazingly tasty. It's labour intensive mind you - Sunday afternoon was entirely given over to the endeavour - but, oh my, the results were delicious.

Monday, 21 November 2016

MPM: 21st November 2016

I have Paris themed posts to share with you; they currently lurk, slightly disconsolately in my drafts folder waiting for a bit of final TLC. Much like their author really - I have been doing plenty of disconsolate lurking since we got back from our trip. Call it post Paris / pre Christmas ennui.

In the meantime, there is always meal planning.

Monday: smoked salmon omelette

Tuesday: an old favourite! Oven baked red pepper and chorizo risotto. This is one of my most visited posts so if you haven't ever made it - why not? Literally tens of people can't be wrong!!

Wednesday: soup

Thursday: Rachel Roddy's weekly column in The Guardian is always well worth a read, and her recipe this week tickled my pickle so much that it had to go straight on the meal planner. Behold, mussels with potatoes and pasta. Simple and seasonal.

Friday: steak sandwiches

Saturday: veal chops with cauliflower cheese. A dish inspired by one we ate in Paris.

Sunday: D's career as a sausage maker continues apace; today he is going to attempt merguez. I will probably make some sort of couscous accompaniment.

Whatever you're cooking (and eating) this week - have a good one and stay warm!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Learning to fly

So here I am in Paris. Bonjour!


We arrived yesterday, after a mercifully brief flight from Manchester airport. Good lord, but I hate flying. I was relatively blasé about it as a youngster but something about getting older - awareness of own mortality, exposure to 24 hours a day news which is invariably crap and creates a permanent, swirling void of anxiety deep in the soul - has done for me. I find myself borrowing my mother's technique of keeping my eyes trained on the face of the stewardesses or, if none are within sight, the obviously more seasoned travellers, to check if they are reacting to the variations in engine sound. But then, I think everyone is trained to act cool on aeroplanes, to studiously yawn over the newspaper wearing a faintly bored expression, regardless of any inner turmoil they may or may not be experiencing.

But we made it, we are here, and the gluttony has already commenced. Also, the cultural experiences. But mainly the gluttony.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

TWTWTW: Bangers

This week it was Bonfire Night in the U.K. An occasion on which we celebrate, through the respective mediums of bonfires and fireworks, the fact that a bunch of nefarious Catholics were foiled in their attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

(Desperately tries to resist urge to make ironical comment on this given the current state of British politics).

Anyway, certain foods are traditionally associated with Bonfire Night. Sausages, or bangers, for obvious reasons. Chilli con carne (slightly less obviously). Parkin - a rich, sticky, spicy cake (again, don't grasp the significance of the connection. But any excuse to eat gingery cake). Our household being nothing if not predictable, all these foodstuffs were on the menu for the weekend.

I was thwarted in my attempt to make parkin by Waitrose rather rudely failing to provide adequate stocks of black treacle, but I produced a damp gingerbread loaf instead which was almost an acceptable substitute. It was D who really triumphed in the food stakes this weekend though, by using some of the new kit he got for his birthday to produce his very own sausages:


Just look at these plumptious little beauties! At my request, he made a batch of boudin blanc, which is a traditional French sausage consisting of pork and chicken, a combination of warming spices and milk and eggs which give it a light, moussey texture. It turns out that making sausages is neither easy nor clean nor quick, but it does give a person a certain smug glow. Also on the agenda for the next couple of months, plans are afoot to create a house sausage recipe (he is thinking pork and juniper) and some spicy merguez.

In other news, we leave for Paris at 5am on Thursday morning, for a long weekend of Gallic indulgence. And when we get back, we have plans in place which will hopefully mean that this blog goes back to being as much about weight watching (as opposed to Weight Watchers-ing) as it is about food. Colour me excited.

Monday, 24 October 2016

MPM: 24th October 2016

It's D's birthday week!



On Sunday, the big day, we are off to Whitby. We will walk to the end of both piers and visit the arcades, play pool and lunch on fish and chips which sounds like a pretty idyllic time to me. A bit less high-end than some previous years but given that we will be hitting a three Michelin star establishment when we visit Paris in November, I think we (and our wallets) will cope. Saturday, or Birthday Eve, we're seeing my parents for lunch so nothing planned dinner-wise, but seeing that M&S have started bringing out their Christmas party range, I think that something nibbly will do the trick.

On Thursday we are doing something unusual - cooking a dish for the second week in a row. It's just that good - when pressed to come up with things to eat this week, it was all we could come up with! On Friday, a new recipe from a lovely new book by the fearsome, but undoubtedly talented, Ms Monica Galetti.

Elsewhere:

Monday: Moules Marinieres

Tuesday: filled pasta tossed in butter, black pepper and Parmesan

Wednesday: soooooooooooooup

Thursday: Vietnamese style braised pork

Friday: chicken tartiflette (from Monica Galetti's new book, "The Skills")

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Hana Matsuri, Meanwood

Meanwood, a suburb to the North of Leeds, has been undergoing something of a middle-classifying since Waitrose opened a branch here several years ago. The latest indication? A tiny little sushi restaurant, just seven covers strong, has popped up on the high street and it is ASTONISHINGLY good.

Never having been to Japan (although I've visited plenty of Yo! Sushis in my time) it is obviously hard for me to judge the level of authenticity myself. Fortunately, when we visited the other week we were seated next to a lovely Canadian lady who had lived in Japan for a number of years who informed us that it was spot on - and then blew our little socks off by praising the chef in Japanese.

We ordered a platter of sashimi and a platter of sushi so we could try a good range of items. The freshness and quality of the fish was amazing - sweet and cool and buttery textured. We asked, hopefully, whether it was sourced locally but sadly not (they get it from a specialist supplier in London).




The platters would have been more than enough but, fired with enthusiasm we, er, ordered more. Chicken wings - hot, sour, crispy, addictively good. I am a massive fan of the confit chicken wing recipe in David Chang's "Momofuku" book and these were very similar. Silence reigned as we inhaled these, wistfully sucking the bones when they were gone like the middle class cavemen we are. A soft shell crab roll was similarly well received.




All this incredible bounty came in at just over £60 - good value to my mind, considering the quality of the produce (and the fact that we were utterly bowled over). I know raw fish is not for everyone - my mother, for example, can't stomach the stuff - but for those who love it (and I think it is hard to be ambivalent) this is such an exciting addition to our little local scene. It doesn't have an alcohol licence currently but there's a great bar a couple of doors down for a pre or post sushi tipple and, quite frankly, when your mouth isn't full of food it will likely be occupied in rhapsody.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Book review: "The North Yorkshire Cook Book"

A shamefully long time ago, on arriving back from our Scottish trip, this was waiting on my doorstep.


Not literally, you understand, Postie had managed to get it through the letterbox. But what better way to celebrate being back in Yorkshire than by reading about its lovely food?

The recipes contained within its pages have been provided by restaurants and specialist food shops from across the region (a full directory is included in the back). Because these venues range from high end dining to smaller cafes and delis, so too do the recipes vary massively in style. Personally, I like that - the book is a treasure trove of unexpected delights - but those who prefer their recipes books to focus on one particular ingredient or style may not be so keen.

Some of the places featured in the book are well loved haunts of ours: Norse, in Harrogate, have submitted a delicious sounding mackerel tartare recipe, while Rafi's, the spice shop that we used to frequent in our York days, offer up an intriguing Moghul style roast lamb dish that I'm very keen to try. There are also some nice bakes to be found - the Ye Olde Sun Inn bread flavoured with honey is definitely on my to-make list.

Some of the recipes are for restaurant style dishes (presumably because they have been written by, er, restaurants) and thus not for everyday - the plate of Yorkshire pork designed by Guisborough Hall sounds amazing but is not something that I'm going to knock out for a weeknight supper (although it would be perfect for a posh Sunday lunch party). Again, I like that - I'm a confident cook and not averse to spending a bit of time in the kitchen for something truly special, but it won't be for everybody.

What's really lovely about this book is that it shines a spotlight on some really special little corners of North Yorkshire - most of the recipes come with a little introductory page with some history and information about the venues which is a nice touch, as are the lovely accompanying photographs. If you were a foodie paying a visit to York or Malton, the directory would give you a pretty good idea of the places to check out (assuming you are like us and basically spend your holidays lurching from meal to snack to meal).

As a celebration of our little corner of the world, this is an absolute treasure of a book. It costs just 14.95 of your English pounds and can be found on Amazon - so you don't even have to come up to North Yorkshire to buy it, although who wouldn't want to visit this most beautiful part of the world? And, to whet your tastebuds still further, I hope to be sharing a recipe from the book with you in the next week or so (assuming I pull my increasingly lazy blogging finger out). Stay tuned!

(PS I was sent a free copy of this book to review. You know the drill - yes, I like free stuff but I try and be honest because if I can't be honest with you, dear blog readers then with whom can I be?)

Monday, 17 October 2016

MPM: 17th October 2016

We've just booked ourselves a long weekend in Paris in November and I could not be more excited. It's been ages since I last visited. We fly out the day after I sit my last (touch wood!) exam, and after a frankly horribilus of a annus, I can't wait to soak up some good food and wine and culture - but mostly food.

With my thoughts full of crisp baguettes, ripe, glistening cheeses and scented cassoulets, this week's meal plan seems a little pedestrian but we'll make it work!

The eagle eyed may notice pork making two guest appearances - both dishes using leftovers from yesterday's roast. I am always surprised by how much I enjoy a pork roast - in my mind it is the poor relation of the chicken or the lamb but on the plate it always delivers.

We are out Friday and Saturday (I know! A social life!) and Sunday has yet to be planned (after two nights out we will probably be good for nothing except beans on toast on the sofa). So, for the remaining evenings:

Monday: creamy smoked salmon tagliatelle

Tuesday: cold roast pork, taleggio stuffed onions, salad with honey mustard dressing

Wednesday: soup night

Thursday: Vietnamese style braised pork with egg fried rice

Sunday, 16 October 2016

No direction

For the past few weeks, this blog has been little more than a series of meal plans which, while clearly an important part of social history to be preserved for future generations, hardly makes for riveting reading.

And I was out with my Mum yesterday afternoon and she asked me when the blog would go back to being about Weight Watchers. To which I replied, it won't because Smart Points kind of killed off Weight Watchers for me. The trouble is, I have yet to embrace a viable alternative.

One option is, of course, just to admit final defeat but when I really think about it, I don't want to. I talk a good talk about embracing self acceptance, and I'm certainly past making weight a moral issue, but I would be happier smaller. I'm not even talking small-small, just small enough to be healthy and unremarkable. But I feel like I have used up every ounce of dieting mojo allotted to me. Dieting is SO BORING. It is so much effort and so joyless.

I must admit, I've wondered about going down the VLCD route - a few months of Lighter Life or Cambridge to remove food from the equation and just get some pounds off but, ugh. Joyless to the power ten. Plus, I don't know if my marriage would survive.

It's all most irritating. But, while I continue to thrash around on the horns of my oh-so-first-world dilemma, I promise to make a more concerted effort to blog. I've got some excellent sushi to tell you about and a book to review just for starters, plus tomorrow's meal plan which I know is awaited with baited breath...

Monday, 10 October 2016

MPM: 10th October 2016

Ugh, I don't understand where the weeks go. I'm sure it was only yesterday that I was writing up last week's meal plan and yet...here we are, Sunday night, Countryfile on the tellybox and time for another MPM post. If, in the meantime, I was out having adventures then fine but nope, life is quiet. I like quiet but I begin to wonder if I'm a little bit too attached to my spot on the sofa.

Five meals planned for this week; on Tuesday, D and I are going out to try a new local sushi joint. It looks authentic to my entirely untrained eye. And on Friday I am out for girlie cocktails. I have recently discovered the Porn Star martini - unfortunately named but an utterly addictive, sour sweet mix of passion fruit and vanilla.

Otherwise:

Monday: spaghetti carbonara

Wednesday: slow cooked beef stew with a pillowy pile of mash - I'm thinking of trying a recipe from Nigella's "How to Eat" which flavours it with thyme and anchovies.

Thursday: soup

Saturday: lemon sole with brown shrimp butter - an old favourite that D wants to revisit and, possibly, sex up a little bit.

Sunday: roast (pork?), bacon and herb stuffing, taleggio stuffed onions and greens.

YUM.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

MPM: 3rd October 2016

It's hard to believe that we are entering the final quarter of the year. Colour me shocked.


Still, these last few months are often the very nicest. I love the cooler weather, the dark nights and the crisp, pale mornings. Plus, both D and I have birthdays coming up before the end of the year.

The freezer is, finally, nearly empty. It's only taken, what - three or four months? But defrosting can now proceed and, once that is out of the way, restocking - which is far more exciting. We've been trying to work out what our freezer staples should be - chilli and corned beef for sure, perhaps fish pie? Not to mention pizza dough and sauce the presence of which should dissuade us from making too much use of the takeaway.

So, this week's menu plan:

Monday: fish cakes with herb remoulade and dill potatoes (from "The Scandinavian Cookbook" by Trine Hahnemann)

Tuesday: leftover lamb biryani

Wednesday: lemongrass and turmeric chicken filo parcels 

Thursday: soup night

Saturday: Goan fish curry

Sunday: some sort of roast

There is definitely a spicy sort of slant to the week but I have no issues with that! D is out and about on Friday so I will most likely be pricking and pinging some form of pasta. Or making cheese on toast. Hurrah for cheese on toast!

Whatever you are up to, have a fabulous week of cooking and eating - and if you have any ideas as to what we should be getting for the freezer then do, please, share.