Monday, 8 February 2016

MPM: 8th February 2016

I wonder if the fact that Chinese New Year, Pancake Day and Valentine's Day have fallen in the same week this year is an indication of some sort of forthcoming Foodie Apocalypse. Certainly, it spells Likely Doom for the dieter hoping for a good result on the scales. And also Not Much Fun for people who have schlepped over here to read an entertaining meal planning post.

So in between Chinese food (we're going to Red Chilli in Leeds which has featured on this blog before - it's fab), pancakes (bacon and maple syrup or lemon juice and sugar?) and a three course romantic extravaganza, what will we be eating? Not much! We have the remains of a roast chicken in the fridge so I can see us just grazing on that throughout the week. By Sunday, we will probably have eschewed cutlery altogether and just be chewing happily at the carcass. Nice.

For actual meal planning, do, please feel free to check out the lovely people over at Mrs M's.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Random

I have recently been going through the photos on my phone and deleting them to create some storage space - the iPad is their home now. One of my plans for this year is to actually get some physical copies printed and do some scrap-booking. How quaint.

My photos can be divided into broadly three categories: Minx, Food and Other. Given that Minx spends 85% of her time asleep, I am not sure exactly why I have ended up with so many pictures of her. But then she is very beautiful.


I have a soft spot for this one because it was actually saved from the Cat Protection League's website - this was the shot they used in her bio and, so, the first picture that I ever saw of her. She looks so scared and sad here, doesn't she? Very different from the contented, purring bundle of fur that is curled up next to me as I write.

There is a sub category of Other which could best be described as "Shots of D where he is trying to pretend that he is not being photographed". I like these (and note the edge of a thumb creeping in to the top left hand corner of the shot).


But the number of food pictures - ridiculous. Particularly since some of them, I no longer remember what or where they are. Here we have a very pretty, but entirely random, cup of something with something else on the side.


Sometimes it must have been home cooked dishes that I intended to blog but failed in doing so. I can only assume that is why I have a picture of what I think is baked eggs and toast:


And another of sea bass (?) with parsnips (?) and garlic (?). This was one of D's and I'll bet he never wrote the recipe down so it will never be recreated exactly.  And what is the beige mush next to the roasted garlic cloves?  I seem to recall that this was a delicious plate of food and I'm now intrigued.


Sometimes it's restaurants that, again, I meant to write about but didn't. These are from our first trip to Homage to Fromage but they're no good for a review now because I haven't got a scooby what the dish on the left is:


Or what any of these cheeses are:


Although for all that, if you are in or around Leeds and like cheese then it comes highly recommended.  You have to really like cheese though - the menu does not cater for the lactose intolerant.

So it's been a pleasant (if slightly random) trip down memory lane, going through all of these and the lessons we take from it are - er, make notes, write up blog posts when you say you're going to do so and never serve up beige mush.  The other lesson is take photography lessons.  It is slightly disappointing to realise that my photography skills have remained so consistently terrible throughout the years.  Perhaps if I ever win the lottery, I can employ the very talented Lesley to take photos for me full time?

Anyway, I'm now off to delete all said random food pictures. A cull. A purge, if you will.  Which, clearly, will leave me with plenty of memory space for more adorable cat shots...

Monday, 1 February 2016

MPM: 1st February 2016





Greetings, fellow meal planners! Welcome to the month of February! Hopefully it will be slightly less damp than January...

Speaking of January, it was not a good month for British icons with the death of Terry Wogan yesterday completing a triumvirate of loss across music, film and broadcasting.



I was fans of them all. The funny thing when a celebrity dies, especially one like Terry Wogan who you think you actually know by virtue of his presence in your car or at your breakfast table week in and week out, is that it feels a bit like losing a friend. I felt disproportionately gloomy all day yesterday.

Anyway, setting maudlinisms aside, on with meal planning. D is out a couple of nights this week - Minx and I have no particular plans and may well eat beans on toast (NTS: do cats eat beans?) Other than that:

Smoked mackerel and chorizo potatoes with a peppery watercress salad
Caribbean chicken soup
Spicy sausage rice (from Gordon Ramsay's "Ultimate Cookery Course")
Roast chicken with all the necessary trimmings

I was also planning on making a delicious sounding honey roast root veg salad from January's "Delicious" magazine, but we have quite a lot of odds and ends of cheese in the freezer, so may throw together some sort of cheese pasta dish with those. We'll see.

More meal planning fun, as ever, over at Mrs M's.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Pass the hemp...

I seem to be accidentally turning into a health food person.

Exhibit A: the spiraliser.  I love the spiraliser!  It gives me a profound sense of satisfaction to use.  Yesterday, I added spiralised courgettes to my pesto pasta and spiralised carrot to my salad.  I find myself eyeing up items in the fruit and veg aisle wondering what else I can make into pretty ribbons.

Exhibit B:  my lunch today includes nut loaf and lentil crisps.  The latter I only picked up because I liked the sound of the creamy dill flavour, but turns out that I quite like the texture of the crisps themselves - a bit poppadum esque.

Exhibit C: D and I are currently slightly obsessed with spelt bread which we have been purchasing in Waitrose, such that I am researching recipes so that I can make it at home.  It has a subtly, nutty flavour and it ROCKS.

A book deal featuring 100 ways with lentils and tofu much surely be in the offing...

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Meat free musings

Well, we went a whole week without eating any meat or fish at all.  And, for the most part, what a delicious experience it was!  While I am not now having some sort of Damascene conversion and eschewing animal flesh forever (I ate a smoked salmon sandwich yesterday and it was lovely) I certainly am now more aware than ever that it is perfectly possible to eat delicious food that happens to be vegetarian (as opposed to vegetarian food that happens to be delicious).

One thing I noticed was that the range of veggie friendly food on the go is a bit lacking.  I work away from the office on a Monday and tend to pick up a sandwich in good old M&S.  In this instance, unless you were a fan of cheese or egg, there wasn't much there, especially in comparison to the plethora of chicken based options.  Fortunately, I love cheese and egg, but it felt a wee bit uninspiring.

The only meal where I positively missed the meat was my vegetarian Sunday roast.  I made a carrot and cashew nut roast from this recipe which was delicious (I had some cold for lunch today with salad and homemade coleslaw - lovely) but, for all the onion gravy and roast potatoes and buttery braised cabbage, it just wasn't quite the same.  I would rather have had chicken with perhaps a slice of nut roast fulfilling the role of the stuffing.

Which leads me on to my next point - that just because you're eating vegetarian food, your calorie consumption is not necessarily going to go down.  The nut roast is a case in point - the recipe serves 4-6 with a quarter portion coming in at something like 15 pro points (which would be somewhere in the region of 600 calories).  That's higher than for a decent sized portion of lamb, the fattiest of the Sunday meats, and significantly higher than a good helping of the leaner chicken, turkey or pork.  I also found myself eating more cheese than I might do in the normal course of things - probably because I really like cheese and, when it came to meal planning, it kept springing to mind as a natural protein source.

I think only one of the meals that we had was entirely vegan - Nigella Lawson's tomato and pea curry with coconut rice.  I really enjoyed this, although am slightly ashamed to say that D and I both commented on how nice the tomato curry would be as an accompaniment to some  spiced lamb cutlets.  Sigh.

All in all though, a success, and a salutary reminder of how it is not only possible but actually pretty easy to go meat free if you need to.  D will be serving up his meat free week at the end of February and it will be interesting to see how we compare - he tends to be a more adventurous cook than I, so probably less cheese and more spice.  I'm sure that there is a Spice Girls joke to be had there somewhere...

Monday, 25 January 2016

MPM: 25th January 2016




Today is my Dad's birthday. Happy birthday Dad! We'll be meeting up for cheese and sequins later in the week to celebrate and I am very much looking forward to it.

Other than that, it's another pretty quiet week which is good because I have far more work to do than I have time to do it in and I'm anticipating some long days. Plus, I'm currently reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" at the moment which is good but never appears to get any shorter no matter how many pages you read. It's a bit like when you're on a walk and you sight the pub and think a cool pint is at hand but then, half an hour of trekking later, it's still not any closer. I need to make some headway (in the book, not the hypothetical walk) or I run the risk of falling behind in my Goodreads challenge to get through 52 books this year.

Right, meals for the week:

Burn's Night: haggis, neep and tattie nibbles (from the M&S Christmas range), some excellent Scottish Brie and Cranachan for pudding.
Lemongrass and turmeric chicken (leftovers from last week's Sunday roast) with coronation rice salad
Salmon with pasta pesto, courgette and peas
Ham and pea soup (using the stock from our Christmas gammon)
Mushroom and Barolo risotto
Oxtail and chorizo stew with mashed potatoes

More meal planning over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 22 January 2016

BBC Good Food - coming to Harrogate!

I've been meaning to go the Good Food show for yonks but never quite got around to it.  Which is odd because it's basically an opportunity to go and eat food and talk about food and buy food which are three of my favourite things to do.

The Spring show is coming to Harrogate this April, for the third year running.  And 2016 will finally be the year that I break my duck and go along, partly because I've been asked to join the BBC Good Food Show Blogging Community.  Look at all those capital letters!  And I have a shiny badge down at the bottom of the page which makes it all official and suchlike.

Such things make me tremendously happy.

Basically, what this means is that for the next three months, I am going to write increasingly over excited articles about the show (Michel Roux Jr is attending!  And Paul "Silver Fox" Hollywood!  And Tom Kerridge!  And I'm going to spend so much money on local gins and chutneys that I will spend the the rest of the month eating beans on toast!)  You, dearest reader, will sigh and roll your eyes and put up with them because I'm endearing really, and I post cute cat pictures.  Then afterwards I shall write a breathless account of all my adventures, complete with dodgy photography and you shall sigh a bit more and hope that no one else in the history of PR approaches me to do anything.

Here are the essential deets: the show is taking place between the 8th and 10th of April at the Harrogate International Centre and it is going to be very exciting indeed.  I shall share more information with you as the weeks go by but the website is here if you just can't wait.  The tickets are on sale now and if you're anywhere near Harrogate in April then come along!  Watch in awe at my capacity for sample sized bites of food!  Buy gin!  And cake!  Possibly appear in aforementioned dodgy photography!  Ticket prices start from £13.50 but because I love my lovely readers I have a 20% off ticket code - just enter BL20 at the checkout (please note that this applies to adult and over 65 tickets only and is not valid on VIP or with any other offer.  Terms and conditions, people!)

It's going to be fun, folks - see how excited Minx is!

Be quiet.  I'm 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

73 questions, or, more about me than you ever cared to know


Who doesn't love a good meme? If you have time to spare then come, read my answers to 73 questions as posed by Vogue. If you have still more, why not answer them yourself and join in the egocentric fun!

1. Were you named after anyone? Nope.

2. When was the last time you cried? Yesterday - I had a very sore cricked neck and was feeling sorry for myself. Mind, I cry at the drop of a hat.

3. Do you like your handwriting? Yes! Although my husband claims that he can't read it.

4. What is your favourite lunch? Probably a nice sandwich - tuna mayo with cucumber is hard to beat.

5. Instagram or Twitter? Instagram.

6. If you were another person, would you be friends with you? No. I'd find me highly irritating.

7. Do you bake? Yes.

8. Do you like flying? Not really. I tend to have several stiff drinks before boarding a plane.

9. Would you bungee jump? No, because I'm not an idiot.

10. What is your favourite cereal? Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

11. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Nope.

12. Do you think you’re strong? Neither physically nor emotionally.

13. What is your favourite ice cream? Ooooh, tough. We made a Christmas pudding ice cream last year that was gorgeous. And anything with chocolate is good.

14. What is the first thing you notice about someone? I honestly don't know! I often check out wedding fingers for some unknown reason - but I don't know why; I certainly wouldn't judge a person for being married or otherwise.

15. Red or pink? Pink.

16. What is the least favourite thing about yourself? My lack of willpower and drive.

17. Who do you miss the most? I always miss my husband when we're apart. He is my best friend and when he's not there I don't feel quite right.

18. What was the last book you read because everyone was reading it? I don't tend to do that.

19. What film made you cry the most? See above - I cry a LOT and am banned from watching any film where anything happens to an animal. I always well up at the end of Notting Hill.

20. What was the last thing you ate? Dinner - which was spiralised Swede with herb pesto and Parmesan cream.

21. What are you listening to right now? A Spotify playlist by a Guardian journalist called "Background music to read by". Debussy at the moment - lovely.

22. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be? Pink. Or green.

23. Favourite smell? Currently, Jo Malone "Blackberry and Bay" perfume. Also, bacon.

24. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone? Um...an accountant's PA. He won't return my calls, the bar steward (work related rather than fun).

25. Mountain hideaway or beach house? I like the sea, hate the beach. Can I sit in the beachside bar?

26. Favourite sport to watch? They're all dull.

27. Hair colour? Dark brown with the odd strand of grey.

28. Eye colour? My brother once described it as untreated sewage. I prefer grey-green.

29. Puppies or kittens? Kittens.

30. Favourite food? Ooooh, another difficult one. Probably cheese. Or sandwiches. Slightly obsessed with halloumi at the moment. My death row dinner, though, is bangers, mash and red onion gravy.

31. Scary film or happy endings? Both!

32. Last film you watched? Er....possibly Star Wars, the first of the original trilogy, with my nephew on New Year's Day. He likes the Stormtroopers.

33. What book are you reading now? The Count of Monte Cristo. Buckle my swash.

34. Summer or winter? Winter.

35. Hugs or kisses? Hugs.

36. Favourite dessert? Anything with chocolate. Or sticky toffee pudding.

37. Favourite room in your house? The one my cat is in.

38. How long have you been on Facebook? I'm not on it. I was but I deleted my account because they took issue with my married name.

39. What is your favourite country to visit? Scotland.

40. What was the last country you visited? Scotland!

42. Favourite sound? My cat purring.

43. Rolling Stones or the Beatles? Beatles.

44. What is the farthest you have been from home? America, I think. California.

45. Do you have a special talent? Procrastination!

46. Where were you born? East London.

47. Where are you living now? North Leeds.

48. Favourite hitchcock movie? Psycho. I've not seen many though.

49. What book have you read again and again? I reread lots of books but my go to comfort blanket of a novel is "Shroud for a Nightingale" by P.D. James.

50. Favourite tv series that’s on now? The most recent series is not long finished - The Bridge.

51. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Both!

52. What’s your favourite drink? Tea. Or gin and tonic if it is after six.

53. Who is your girl crush? Currently Sofia Helin, female star of The Bridge.

54. What was the first film you saw at the cinema? A Disney one I would have thought.

55. Heels or flats? Flats. Ballet pumps.

56. Favourite bed time story? The adventures of Billy the Whippet.

57. Bath or shower? Both, depending on the time of day.

58. Whats the hardest thing about being a mum? I'm not.

59. Favourite band? Ugh, I always go blank on things like this. I adore ABBA. And First Aid Kit are a recent favourite discovery.

60. Favourite solo artist? Um...it's cheesy, but I do like Adele. We've also been listening to Tom Odell's album quite a lot recently and I really like that. Pink is a guilty pleasure.

61. To be or not to be? That is the question!

62. What would be the title of your autobiography? God knows. My life is nowhere near interesting or eventful enough to provide autobiography material. Although that never stopped Jordan.

63. Best gift you’ve ever received? My engagement ring.

64. Best gift you’ve ever given? You'd have to ask them!

65. Favourite fruit? Raspberries.

66. What was your first pet? A budgie called Oscar.

67. Favourite board game? Scrabble.

68. How do you have your coffee? I like it strong with a splash of milk.

69. Best invention? The wheel.

70. Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds.

71. Blow dry or air dry? Air dry - I have curly hair and it likes to do its own thing.

72. Cheap or expensive shampoo? I'm not fussy. Actually I don't often use shampoo - I wash my hair with conditioner which helps the curl.

73. How difficult was it to answer these questions? Some harder than others. But fun!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Recipe corner: Turnip spaghetti with garden pesto and Parmesan cream



We got a new toy for Christmas. Now, don't worry, I'm not about to go all mung bean and green juice on you but I have to say I LURVE our new spiraliser. For one thing, it reminds me of a Play Doh factory. For another, it is a fun way to incorporate vegetables into dishes. And for yet another, it allowed us to recreate a dish that we ate at Restaurant Sat Bains last year and which I nominated as one of my plates of the year.

I'm really proud of our approximation. It tastes pretty close to the real thing but is as easy as anything to make and involves consuming a huge portion of veg. That is not to say that is particularly diet friendly - the pesto requires a fair amount of oil and there is a decent whack of Parmesan...however, as ever, I think it worth it.

A word on the pesto - the recipe is vague and that is because it is really all about using the herbs you have to hand in the proportions that taste good to you. It will probably be different every time you make it, and that's OK. We make ours in a little Kenwood mini chopper (which, incidentally, is another kitchen gadget that is well worth a purchase - we use ours practically daily) but at the restaurant, it was made in a pestle and mortar at the table for added theatre. Either method works well.

Ingredients

For the pesto:

A good big handful of green herbs - any you like. Tonight, for example, we used safe, thyme and rosemary with a little bit of basil and parsley. It's a question of what is available and what you like.
Olive oil - up to 100ml
15g finely grated Parmesan
Fat clove of garlic
Half a slice of bread

For the Parmesan cream:

1 onion, roughly chopped
15g butter
Bay leaf
100ml dry white wine
200ml chicken stock
30g Parmesan
2 tbsp fat free Greek yoghurt

For the spaghetti:

One swede (spiralised) (celeriac also works, and Sat Bains used kohlrabi if you can get hold of that)
Small knob of butter

In a mini chopper, or pestle and mortar, reduce the herbs to a thick paste, then add the garlic, Parmesan and bread to thicken. Drizzle oil until you achieve a relatively loose consistency. Set aside.

Melt 15g butter in a small pan, add the onion and a hefty pinch of salt, cover and turn the heat down as low as it will go. Sweat for 10-15 minutes, making sure it does not colour. While this is going on, make up your chicken stock and finely grate the Parmesan.

When the onion is meltingly soft, add the wine and the bay leaf and turn up the heat. Reduce until nearly all the liquid has gone and then add the chicken stock and crank up the heat a little more. Reduce by about a half and then pass through a sieve.

Return the liquid to a gentle heat and stir through the Parmesan until melted. Now remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before stirring through the yoghurt. You may still get a few white solids floating about in the liquid but fret not, just pass back through the sieve. Set aside.

Spiralise your swede and bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the veg and cook for around 4 minutes until tender but still with a certain amount of bite. Use the microwave to warm the Parmesan cream and to melt a small knob of butter.

Drain the swede and drizzle over the melted butter and season. Spoon the Parmesan cream into the bottom of the serving bowls, then the buttered spirals of Swede, and finally, a good dollop of the pesto (you will probably find that you have some left over which can be kept in the fridge for a few days). Eat, reflecting that not all health crazes are bad, especially when they are such excellent vehicles for butter, oil and cheese.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Meal planning Monday - we're going veggie!




I feel that I should begin this post by stating that I am most emphatically not a vegetarian nor do I have any desire to be one.  I love meat and I love fish.  I do, however, fervently believe that I have a responsibility to buy the best quality meat and fish that I can afford and do my bit to ensure that the animals who end up on my plate have had the best possible life.

Now, as we all know, this can get expensive.  And rather than compromise on quality, I'm happily prepared to compromise on quantity.  Vegetarian food can be absolutely gorgeous.  No, strike that, food that happens not to have constituent animal parts can be absolutely gorgeous.  I don't think we need to delineate between "vegetarian" and "not-vegetarian".

D and I have both agreed that it would be a good thing to build up our repertoire of veg based dishes.  To this end, we have both designed a week of vegetarian meals.  And this is mine.

One thing that I did learn was that I could never be vegan - I'm using a lot of cheese this week!  But I'm genuinely looking forward to this menu plan and am curious to see whether we get to the end and crave burgers for breakfast!

Here's what I've gone for:

Root veg spaghetti with herb pesto and Parmesan cream (this is actually a repeat of a dish we cooked last week which was all kinds of amazing!  Hopefully, I'll share the recipe once we've made it again)
Portobello mushroom "burgers" with Halloumi
Tomato and pea curry with coconut rice and an egg pepper fry
Baked gnocchi with blue cheese and spinach (we have some Christmas Stilton which needs using up)
Carpet picnic of home baked baguettes, mushroom pate and a Scottish cheese selection
Home made pizza topped with caramelised red onion and goats' cheese served with salad and a winter slaw
Carrot and cashew nut roast with roast potatoes, root veg mash and creamy leeks and peas

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Pollen Street Social, London

Having invited ourselves round to my brother’s house for New Year’s Eve, D and I decided to take advantage of the fact that we were dahn sarf and pop into London for a nice lunch. Much as I love Yorkshire, I do get regular restaurant envy when I read of the adventures of some of my favourite food critics.

We were tempted to try and book a table at Dabbous, which is a venue we visited a couple of years ago and absolutely adored, but in the end went and nabbed a reservation at Pollen Street Social. A relatively new (2011) addition to the London restaurant scene, it managed to gain a Michelin star within a year of opening, helped, no doubt, by the fact that the executive chef is former Ramsay protégé and Great British Menu stalwart, Jason Atherton. We were lucky enough to experience Atherton’s fantastic food when we he was cooking for Ramsay at Maze, so had high expectations.

Firstly, an observation. Pollen Street Social claims to be an informal restaurant. Allowing your customers to wear jeans does not, in itself, make you informal. Nor does playing music. The presence of thick, white linen, the phalanx of immaculate waiting staff, the Bible of a wine list, the sharing main course that costs not far short of £100…these elements tend to suggest that you are a rather formal restaurant. And that’s fine. I like formal – that’s what I’m paying for. But don’t kid yourself.

Secondly, brown crab on toast is a wonderful thing. DON’T MEDDLE. I don’t care how clever it sounds on paper, brown bread foam with a sprinkle of dehydrated crabcrap is a) not nice and b) falls distinctly short of the simple dish you’re attempting to homage.


From this, you might gather that our experience at PSS did not meet expectations. And, for the first forty five minutes, I’m afraid that this was so. The service was impeccable, the food well presented. But nothing wowed and the crab, in particular, was just plain wrong.

The tide began to turn with the main courses. My lamb loin was as sweet a piece of meat as I could have wished for, blushing and sticky with jus. My only quibble was the accompaniment of curds and whey and baby vegetables – absolutely delicious but served cold so that when the creamy cheese mingled with the lamb sauce, the whole dish was rendered lukewarm. I thought it a slightly odd decision but happily licked the plate regardless. D was less taken with his venison – well-cooked but, on the whole, a bit underwhelming.



We were then offered the opportunity to take dessert at the “dessert bar” which was situated next to the glass door through to the main kitchen and allowed for an almost chef’s table experience. Here, everything went up several notches. Not only were we treated to the spectacle of the working kitchen, complete with sweary head chef, but also presented with the nicest series of sweet dishes that either of us can remember having for a long time, all plated in front of us by the lovely head of pastry, Leo.

First, an Eton mess that wasn’t messy at all – a clove scented biscuit with fromage frais, blackcurrant sorbet and mousse all contained within a fragile box of the most delicate meringue. Then chocolate pavé, rich and bitter, with little cubes of fruity olive oil jelly and an olive biscuit, which combination happily reminded us of Barcelona. And even though we were now reaching capacity, we found room for a trio of miniatures – a divine chocolate pot infused with Earl Grey, a piercingly sour jelly and a melting mouthful of a Bakewell tart. As a decided pudding fan, I was in absolute raptures. Even D, who is not generally one for a chocolate dessert, was wiping his finger round the chocolate pot and wondering if it would be possible to come, order a bucketful and have done.

Definitely, for us at least, a game of two halves. I sometimes wonder – worry! – that I am becoming jaded, which I would absolutely hate, and there was lots to praise here, but it was by no means a flawless experience and, a week on, I still feel slightly annoyed about that brown crab. There’s just no excuse for that sort of thing. Still, observing the kitchen in a place such as this is a real privilege and salutary reminder that, actually, every single dish that was put in front of us was the product of a tremendous amount of work, precision and dedication. And swearing. Lots and lots of swearing.


Monday, 11 January 2016

MPM: 11th January 2016

I'm in Manchester today and was reminded, on the train over, how much I hate commuting. Ugh, people. Also, how sad is the news about David Bowie? Dying just doesn't seem like the sort of thing that he'd do.

The majority of the weekend disappeared down a grim, Nordic rabbit hole AKA a binge watch of series 3 of The Bridge. If you are yet to catch this gem of a programme then get thee to your nearest streaming service and check it out. The third series was as utterly compelling and addictive as the two that preceded it and one of the main characters is probably the most fascinating and complex women currently being seen on the small screen. Go watch.

So, meal planning. Our approach this year is to take it in turns to plan a week, and whereas last week was brought to you by me and was variations on a theme of "comfort", this Monday, it is D in the driving seat. Not sure what his theme is beyond "food I like to cook and eat" but that's ok. 

Fish and chips 
Turnip and celeriac tagliatelle with herb pesto and Parmesan veloute (our tribute to a dish we really enjoyed at Restaurant Sat Baines last year)
Ferran Adria's take on a Spanish omelette
Caribbean chicken soup with mango and chilli
Cholet (a Jewish beef stew - taken from Tom Kerridge's new book)
Saturday night burgers 
Lemongrass and turmeric roast chicken

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Recipe corner: A turkey curry for Boxing Day and beyond

I assume that every household has a turkey curry recipe.  I’ve been trying to remember whether we ate turkey curry when I was a child and I can’t…there was definitely such a thing as turkey lasagne, and turkey soup and, of course, sandwiches but when it comes to curry I’m drawing a bit of a blank.  So let’s say that I assume that most households have a turkey curry recipe. 

This is ours.  Or, rather, this is D’s.  It’s yummy.  It is flavourful rather than spicy and creamy enough to be a soothing hug of a dish.  The addition of the carrot and the raisins add a pleasing sweetness, while the potatoes make it substantial enough to be consumed on its own (although the addition of rice and flatbreads is always welcome).

I haven’t included a picture.  Curry never photographs well anyway.  It just looked like…curry.  But really tasty curry – there’s no need to wait until next Christmas to cook it (I’m sure it would work well with roast chicken).

(BTW: regular readers might notice that from now on, I stop putting the pro points count on recipes – mainly because pro points is now an outdated system and it will be meaningless to the majority of people following WW.  My email address is above, and I’m always happy to do a calculation of pp if you so wish.)

Ingredients

2 onions
2 carrots
6 cloves of garlic
Thumb sized piece of root ginger
Tbsp vegetable oil

Tbsp ground cumin
Tbsp turmeric
Tbsp garam masala
Tbsp ground coriander
Tsp chilli powder

2 chicken stock pots, made up with 600ml water
150ml double cream
150ml coconut milk

250g roast turkey, roughly chopped

450g (3 smallish) potatoes, diced
100g sultanas

Serves 4-6

Blitz, or finely chop, together the vegetables to make a rough paste.  Heat the oil over a medium heat, add the veg and soften slightly for a few minutes.  A pinch of salt at this stage will help it soften and sweat rather than catch.

When soft, stir through the spices and cook for a further couple of minutes until they no longer smell raw.  Now you can pour in the chicken stock and bring the whole to a gentle simmer.

Add the potatoes and sultanas.  Allow to bubble away until the potato is cooked through and yields to a knife.  Reduce the heat and add the cream and coconut milk.  Further reduce until the sauce is thick, glossy and smells like turkey curry heaven. 

Finally, stir through the turkey pieces.  As with all curries, this will taste better if left to stand for at least a couple of hours and preferably overnight.  Serve with rice and naan bread as required.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Woo to the hoo

Today was my first weigh in of 2016.

I like to weigh in on a Thursday.  It's far enough away from last weekend that you've had the chance to reverse any gain but it also allows you to get a low day under your (capacious) belt before launching into next weekend.

In order to give myself a starting point, I gritted my teeth and weighed myself last Thursday.  Which, if you'll recall was New Years' Eve.  I then proceeded to have an extremely indulgent lunch and an evening of profligacy (turns out that my brother makes a very good chocolate salted caramel tart and that I like Parma Violets when they are in cocktail form).

Still, I started tracking on Monday which clearly sent my body into a profound state of shock since I stand before you delighted to report a 2.6 lb loss on last week.  It's a start!

Loss / (gain) this week: 2.6 lbs
Loss / (gain) in 2016: 2.6 lbs

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

I (do not) heart January


Very January-ish
What I would like to know is who the hell decided that the New Year should start in January?  January is the very, very worst month.  It’s grey and damp and dark and cold and there isn’t a single Bank Holiday on the horizon until Easter.  It is a time of year when no one wants to be getting all gung-ho about healthy eating plans and exercise regimes and productivity goals.  They want to be eating Toblerone on the sofa while catching up on The Bridge or reading their way through the pile of paperbacks that they got for Christmas. 

Just me?  Really?

I want to make 2016 a good year, I really do, but I also want it to start in kind of mid March / April time, when the weather is improving and it is not dark ALL THE TIME and I can remember what it feels like to go out and not have to worry about my hair frizzing up in the damp. 

Still, they don’t let the likes of me decide the calendar.  And so, to tackle January head on.  Yesterday, being the first day back to school was the first day when I actually troubled myself to count points.  I have, for the time being at least, broken away from the official Weight Watchers fold and decided to stick with their (now obsolete) pro points plan, which I have always found works well for me.  If this becomes too difficult then, obviously, I’ll have a rethink.  But thinking, specifically, is what I DON’T want to have to do too much of at the moment, so the devil I know is the preferred option.

Being no longer bound by the Rules of the Gods of WW, I found that I got to the end of the day with 10 points leftover but still, I stopped eating.  WW decrees that you MUST eat ALL your daily points every day or your body will enter STARVATION MODE.  Frankly, after the amount of calories I’ve consumed over the last couple of weeks, I imagine that my system was relieved to have an ease up.  I don’t intend to make a habit of it, but neither do I think it will do significant harm every now and then.  And I woke up this morning actually feeling hungry, which was nice for a change.

I’m not going to set any lofty goals for 2016.  I think, in general, to aim to have more good days than bad is enough.  I would also like to end it lighter and fitter than when I started.  But I would also like to end it richer and happier and cleverer and…with better hair.  I just need to get through January first.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The first meal plan of 2016

Greetings beloved readers, and I hope all of you had a very happy and peaceful holiday period and are now raring to get the New Year going in earnest. Whatever your resolutions, I wish you the very best of luck with them. If you haven't made any - you are a stronger man than I!

This week's meal plan is brought to you by the word "comfort". I've picked dishes that are soft and soothing and perfect for digestive systems getting over the late December excesses. And all of them perfectly diet friendly with a few tweaks - losing weight has never been, for me anyway, dependent on eating salad alone.

Mushroom risotto
Twice baked jacket potatoes with ham and goats' cheese
Creamy spiced Dahl topped with a soft boiled egg and served with flatbreads
Soup and garlic bread
Fish pie
Pasta Bolognese bake
Corned beef with parsley sauce and root vegetable mash

You see? Comfort food of the highest order - in some cases (hello, fish pie) going right back to the nursery. All of it delicious though.

Still to come this week - an interesting lunch at Pollent Street Social and 2016 goal setting. Happy eating in the meantime!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Meal Planning Birthday

Today is my birthday. I awoke to a text from my brother telling me not to feel too bad about approaching 40. Which might have bothered a less content mortal. But me, I am perfectly happy to be a year older. I have trained D to tell me that I look 25 whenever I suffer a crisis of confidence and, in any case, don't really have an issue with being in my mid thirties. I work with a lot of recent graduates and it looks EXHAUSTING to be 22. I am legitimately old enough to say that I hate clubbing, that when I go to a bar I want to a) have a seat and b) hear what the person opposite me is saying and that I would rather stay in bed an extra 15 minutes than wear a full face of slap to the office.

And anyway, what's to feel bad about? I am writing this on a BRAND NEW IPAD AIR 2, there is a chocolate cake in the oven and a mimosa by my side. I am an extremely spoiled, extremely lucky, extremely happy girl.

This is Monday so by rights there should be meal planning. But we're off down to London on Thursday and will probably spend the intervening days eating all the Christmas leftovers. Tonight, for my birthday tea, we are having Momofuku chicken wings and homemade pizzas followed by aforementioned cake. We have turkey curry still to come and the remaining Brussel sprouts may well be turned into cheesy bubble and squeak patties. That's about as far as planning goes.

Hope everyone out there is safe and warm despite the recent spate of bad weather, and is enjoying these last few days of peace and indulgence before the new year starts. Happy eating people!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Foodie on a diet: 2015 round-up

Cats, books, life is good
2015 has not always been a very easy year.  In fact, at times, it has been downright unpleasant.  I can't say that I am sorry to see it go.

And yet, in its final weeks I find myself happier and more content than I have been for a very long time.  I look at my life and I like what I see.  I am excited for the future.

Anyone who has experienced any sort of depression will know that it can feel like being in the centre of a dense bank of fog.  Well, right at this moment, I feel like I've walked through the fog and have emerged at the top of the hill where the sun is shining and the view is great.

Let's not pretend that I have made any sort of progress on the weight loss front this year - but, I am in a really positive state of mind to crack on next year.  And I also think that just being able to cook and eat instinctively has been good for me - relentless tracking can be a bit joy sucking at times. But I'm ready to start up again.  And, to make life easier, D is also keen to get fitter and healthier in 2016.

There is lots and lots to be thankful for and lots and lots to which we can look forward, and that is a good thing.  To all the lovely readers of this blog, whether you have commented this year or not, a very warm thank you, a virtual glass of Baileys and a heartfelt wish that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and a great start to the New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The final Meal Planning Monday of the year (probably)

Although this is not the last Monday of 2015, it is likely to be the last meal plan.  In fact, one week today is my birthday so I will be lounging around drinking mimosas and generally being spoiled rotten by my husband (hint, hint, hintity hint).

I am working for the next two and a half days, but aforementioned husband is off so he will be donning the metaphorical chef's whites to produce the following:

Spaghetti with prawns and 'nduja
Homemade chicken Kiev with mashed potato

Then, on the 23rd I'm finishing work at lunchtime so we plan to meet up in Leeds for lunch and drinks - no plans this night although I think a few M&S nibbles and a glass of something cold and fizzy will be an apt way to celebrate the end of term.

Christmas Eve: Gammon and roasties (traditional)

Christmas Day: post to follow

Boxing Day:  Turkey sandwiches with a LOT of trimmings

Post-Boxing Day: D's famous creamy turkey curry

I can't WAIT.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Foodie at home: the best of 2015

Being a terribly sad spreadsheet obsessive, I keep a record during the year of our evening meals. Not all of them, just the ones that we would be happy to repeat.  I also note how many times that particular dish is cooked so that I can measure the popularity.  I've been doing this on and off since midway through 2012.  I probably need to get out more.

Anyway, it does mean that come the end of the year I am well equipped to reflect upon what we have been cooking (and eating).  Which is lucky for the purposes of this post.

As ever, our most consumed dish is the ubiquitous pan fried salmon fillet with pasta pesto.  which we have had seven times this year.  I don't know what it is about this particular combination of flavours that we love so much but it is a household staple.  The pesto is out of a jar, making this incredibly quick and simple to throw together.  Often, we stir ribbons of courgette and a handful of peas through the pasta for added green.  I don't think that I will ever get tired of eating this.


We try and have a roast dinner at least every other Sunday, and 2015 was the year of the roast lemongrass and turmeric chicken from Diana Henry's stunning "A Bird in Hand".  This recipe is all kinds of tasty.  And, as an accompanying side dish, my coronation rice salad works perfectly.  I'm so proud of that recipe - it definitely surpasses the original supermarket version that inspired it in the first place.


Continuing on a theme of spice, 2015 was the year when D created the masala spiced fish finger sandwich as an anniversary meal which I absolutely loved.  A good sandwich is a thing of beauty and a joy forever and this one was superlative.


Another innovation for 2015 was to institute "Sunday breakfast" as a way to extend our early morning fare beyond bacon sandwiches.  We've had some gorgeous dishes so far, but my favourite is probably the bhurji pau - spicy scrambled eggs.  I owe Babu Street Kitchen a debt of gratitude for opening our eyes to the possibility of spice at breakfast time.


From India to Italy - and one of my ingredients of the year (I banged on about it enough) has to be the 'nduja sausage that I bought from The Ham and Cheese Company.  Oh, but I love this stuff.  I've got lots of ideas for introducing it into different recipes, but to be honest, you probably will never better just spreading it thinly on toast, drizzling with a little olive oil and flashing it under a piping hot grill to melt slightly.

Talking of toast, I think that this year I might finally have conquered my fear of bread making.  Certainly, I have become distinctly more proficient and my confidence continues to grow.  The satisfaction of eating freshly baked bread, warm from the oven, is immense.  I don't have a huge repertoire as of yet but this Hairy Bikers' recipe for a rustic Spanish loaf is definitely a current household favourite.  I might have to write that up over here actually, as recipes on the BBC website have a nasty little habit of disappearing.

And finally, there was very little in the way of Weight Watching this year and nowhere is this more evidenced than by this remarkable dessert that we made at Easter - hot cross bun pudding with salted caramel.  We served it with a stollen flavoured ice cream, but it would be just as good drowned in cream.

Here's to more good cooking and eating in 2016!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Foodie Abroad: the best of 2015

This year we were lucky enough to go to not one but two 2* Michelin restaurants.  While Michelin is certainly not the be all and end all, two stars still means something – generally seriously good food and service as slick as a dolphin’s tummy. 

But there were delights to be had all over the place at every price point.  2015 was the year we inaugurated the CNO (Cheap Night Out) in Leeds – and although we tailed off a bit in the last few months that is definitely a habit we are going to get back to next year.  Leeds has an embarassment of riches when it comes to fabulous little independent joints producing top class dishes.  And not just Leeds – we also experienced some fantastic food in Harrogate which is the merest hop, skip and jump away.

Our annual trip to the West of Scotland was as wonderful as ever and full of good eating experiences, from city to shore.  We also experienced the delights of Nottingham (although I’m still bitter that D wouldn’t let me visit the kitty café) and the truly majestic fish and chips of the Magpie in Whitby. 

But what were the highlights?  The dishes that made our eyes roll back in our heads, the places that made us feel all warm and fuzzy?  Read on, dear friend.

The Geri Halliwell award for “Spicing up our Lives” goes to…Babu Bombay Street Kitchen in Glasgow.  We only went there for breakfast but it inspired two – two! – recipes when we got home, as we realised that life would never be complete without bhurji pau in it.  We’re planning to go back next year and check out the lunch menu.  Honourable mention to Tharavadu for a Keralan sea bass dish that I would eat every week if I could.

The Augustus Gloop award for “Pudding of the Year” goes to…the strawberry cheesecake at Norse, Harrogate.  Fairy light but packing a serious flavour punch – this was truly skilled cooking and a sublime eating experience.  Honourable mention to Restarant Sat Bains for producing what was, essentially, an ur-Aero.  An Aero to transcend all others. 

The Jeeves award for “Sublime Service” has to go to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, and to one waitress in particular who spent the entire meal gently ripping the piss out of D.  He loved it.  It goes to show that the mark of truly fantastic waiting staff is to understand your customer and tailor their experience accordingly.  Oh, and also to bring along extra marshmallows for the entire table.

The Bruce-Willis-in-the-Sixth-Sense award for “Plate of food that causes the Jaw to Drop”…now, this was a tough one.  But in the end, I had to go for the kohlrabi tagliatelle with pesto at Restaurant Sat Bains.  It was a prime example of a dish that sounded humble but tasted anything but.  It was the highlight of a truly awesome meal that included the bread of the Gods and frozen chicken livers.  And it was vegetarian.

All in all, an excellent year with the promise of more good stuff to come in 2016.  I can’t wait!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Meal planning Monday - the coughdown to Christmas

I have been suffering with a hacking cough and a crackling chest for over a week now and I'm officially bored.  I sound like a consumptive orphan who pops up in an early scene from A Christmas Carol to elicit sympathy.  Tiny Tim's wheezy younger sister.  I must be driving the people around me at work absolutely mad.

Still, at least I keep telling myself that 'tis better to have such bugs now than over Christmas.  I'm gritting my teeth when I'm saying it, mind.

Elsewhere, Christmas preparations continue apace.  The first component of our Christmas dinner is made and in the freezer.  We are doing a practice version of the pre-starter this evening.  The time plan is completed and the jobs allocated.  So that's all the important stuff done.  I still have to write cards and wrap gifts but, well, one step at a time.

Meals this week - I'm out on a Christmas do on Thursday and D is out on one on Friday so five evenings planned...with freezer dives on Tuesday and Sunday.

Thai red curry mussels
Pulled pig cheek wraps with Spanish tomato rice (bumped from a couple of weeks ago I think)
Spaghetti with carrot ribbons and garden herb pesto
Home made pizza (hurrah!)
Panacalty (corned beef stew) with suet dumplings

Have a great week everybody.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

All change at Weight Watchers HQ

So those little monkeys over at Weight Watchers have decided to change the plan again, just a few years on from the “Pro Points” re-vamp.  Instead of being professional, points are now smart.  Smart points.  SPs (not to be confused with the other SP – Sneaky Peak).

I haven’t looked at the new plan in vast amounts of details, but here are the headlines:

The calculator now seems to require a lot more information.  The points are initially calculated on calorie content but then can vary one way or the other based on the nutritional profile.  High protein content will bring the points down while high sugar and high saturated fat will shoot them up.

The points allowance has been recalculated – and the majority of people seem to have ended up with fewer points overall.

Some of the foods that I looked at – i.e. the ones that were saved in my favourites, hadn’t changed very much.  The most noticeable differences were the fact that skimmed milk has increased in points (presumably because of the natural sugars) and items of confectionary have also become higher – a KitKat, for example, used to be 6pps but is 9sps.  Foods high in saturated fat have also increased – butter has doubled, and olive oil also appears higher.  Which makes such treats much harder to build in to the plan.

All in all, I’m feeling rather ambivalent.  Change can, of course, be a good thing when it is done for the right reasons but WW has always been about flexibility and moderation and this feels like a bit of a move away from that.  And I always found that the pro point system yielded good results for me without feeling overly punitive.   A bit of chocolate after dinner, a knob of butter stirred through the mashed potatoes – these are the things that help me stick to a plan long term.  My current thinking is to pick up again with pro points in the new year, using a homemade, Excel based tracker and see how that goes which will have the added bonus of not costing me £5 a month to be an online subscriber.

If anyone out there has started on SP I’d be intrigued to know how you are finding it!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bloggers do Christmas

I am intrigued by the increasing number of bloggers (and I follow a lot of people – foodie, beauty, random…) who have been posting Christmas present guides.  This is obviously now a Thing and so I wondered if I should do something similar.

But then I drafted a post and I realised that it was basically my Christmas list re-written to make it sound slightly generic.

Does your Uncle Jo like reading?  Here are the books that I have enjoyed in 2015!  Or even the ones that I want to read in 2016!

For the foodies in your life, what about these products that I really like scoffing?  Or how about some new Le Creuset?  Everyone (I) loves Le Creuset.

Enjoy a bit of a tipple?  I went to this distillery in the summer and really liked the whisky!

You can't blame the bloggers.  Newspapers and magazines do it every year, and blogging is just a natural extention of the print medium.  It's just that I’ve always thought, if you know your nearest and dearest so little that you have to resort to a Guardian journalist telling you that all the well dressed men this year will be wearing cashmere striped socks, then…well, maybe consider giving them the gift of your time and attention this Christmas.  The very best presents are the ones that mean something.  Either because they are an item genuinely coveted or because the giver feels it has resonance.

Having said all that, just in case you are interested…

This year, my favourite books have been “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell (apart from the ending – oh, the ending!), the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman (Harry Potter goes to university) and “A Prayer for Owen Meaney” by John Irving  (I think Owen himself might be one of my all time favourite characters).  Ooooh, and “The Paying Guests” (because Sarah Waters is all kinds of wonderful).

I adore Amelia Rope chocolate and am beyond excited to see that she has started doing the pale lemon and sea salt as a truffle.

Grey’s Fine Foods sent me free stuff, so it only seems fair to mention them again, but they genuinely have a lovely selection of Spanish goodies and I really rated the quality of both their meat and sherry.

For entry level whisky drinking, my absolute favourite is Penderyn.  My favourite splurgier purchase this year was Ardbeg Auriverdes.

And, having recently become vaguely obsessed with this blog, I am desperate (desperate!) to own an Hermès scarf.

Happy Christmas shopping everybody!