Friday, 27 November 2015


I suspect that I was a bear in a previous existence.  Or a hedgehog.  Or a squirrel.  Some sort of woodland animal, the kind who likes to sleep their way through winter.

This week, I think I was fighting some sort of bug – I was very sinus-ey, headache-ey, sore throat-ey for around 48 hours but powered through using a combination of sleep and orange juice.  Mainly sleep.  It’s how I roll.

So if things are a little quiet, please don’t worry yourself gentle Readers.  Most likely I’m off in the land of Nod.  Either that or I’m out and about since for this last few weeks of the year I actually seem to have grown a social life!  Of course, I’m a little bit concerned how that will impact on my sleep patterns and am trying to identify corners of the office suitable for power naps.  I’ll keep you informed.

Monday, 23 November 2015

MPM: 23rd November 2015

And so to winter.  I loved the crisp cold of this weekend, especially since for most of it I was toasty warm inside and pottering around the kitchen in a fug of good smells.  As I write this now, on Sunday afternoon, the house is full of the scent of cinnamon as a banana loaf bakes in the oven, and I feel remarkably smug and domestic goddess-esque, albeit I am a domestic goddess who hasn't removed her pyjamas all weekend.  Fresh air?  I can stick my nose out of the back door, thanks.

Winter sheep!
Having said that, we have a couple of outing planned for next week, some joint some solo, so the meal plan is relatively short.

Mussels with leeks, bacon and cider
Creamy butternut squash and red pepper soup
D's famous rabbit pie with mash and Yotam Ottolenghi's braised red cabbage with sherry, prunes and orange.

I'm really looking forward to the pie in particular - D makes it very seldom but it is a triumph of a dish and the cabbage side will make a change from our standard recipe.

Rabbit pie!
Have a wonderful week everyone, whatever you're doing (and eating!)

Friday, 20 November 2015

Beer and Balls at the Yorkshire Meatball Company

British food in general has managed to get itself some pretty good PR in recent years and, as a result, the famous edict that to eat well in England you have to have breakfast three times a day has been well and truly dispelled.  And with this revival – or renaissance, perhaps, is a better word – has come an increased interest in the provenance of food and a championing of local produce and producers.  Which is a wonderful thing. 

I may not be Yorkshire born and bred but I am immensely proud to bang the drum for my adopted home county.  On Wednesday night, D and I were lucky enough to attend an event at Harrogate’s Yorkshire Meatball Company.  David and Gareth, the father and son team behind it are men who take their balls, and the content of their balls, extremely seriously.  (Oh, and by the way, it turns out that making slightly risqué jokes about balls in a meatball restaurant NEVER GETS OLD.)

The evening was not just about showing their balls off though – it also aimed to showcase a very fine local craft brewery called Great Heck.  Yes, it was a night that was jam-packed with beer and balls, as all the best nights are.  The idea was to match the beer with the different dishes, which is becoming increasingly trendy and with very good reason – a good ale is just as complex and interesting as a good wine. 

What can I say other than YUM.  A meatball is a wonderful thing anyway, but a meatball where the contents are impeccably sourced from one of Yorkshire’s finest farms is practically guaranteed to be good.  We got to try six different types, all presented in a slider with complementing condiments.  If you go to the restaurant, you can opt to have them with mash or pasta or veg or even salad – a simple concept but an excellent one.

I can confirm that all the balls were excellent.  Although, interestingly enough, I think my favourite were the fishy (haddock, chorizo, mashed potato) and veggie (chickpea) varieties which were bursting with flavour.  The classic meatball, beef and belly pork, was tasty but extremely densely textured.  D rated the smoky ball which was made of meltingly tender lamb and a hefty pinch of smoked paprika, a combination that worked excellently well and I can imagine being fabulous with a lightly spiced couscous. 

The beer, too, was top notch.  The well stocked bar had a plethora of local beers on offer as a matter of course, but the opportunity to try the different varieties from Great Heck was fantastic.  We particularly adored the Madagascar, a stout brewed with vanilla pods that was smooth as silk and as rich and smoky as a bonfire of fifty pound notes (poor analogy, but drinking on a school night will do that to a girl).  I’m relatively new to the world of Real Ale but am tremendously excited to learn more about it and develop my palate.  It’s a world away from the insipid, fizzy-pop lager that I swigged as a teenager.

What was especially lovely was being able to chat to the people behind the balls (and beer).  They were all so passionate about what they do and so excited to share their product.  They were also incredibly proud to work with fantastic local suppliers and show off the amazing produce that we have here in Yorkshire.  It was a brilliant evening, and if you happen to find yourself in Harrogate (or York, where they’ve recently opened a second branch) when they are running another such event then I would urge you to go along.  Actually, go along even if they’re not running an event.  As for us, we’ll be popping back for another helping of delicious balls with a side of innuendo in the very near future.

Yorkshire Meatball Company
7 Station Bridge
01423 566645

I was invited to attend the “Beer and Balls event”.  However, beer and balls are two subjects that I take very seriously indeed; the opinion expressed is my own and the enthusiasm is unfeigned.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Recipe corner: Masala spiced fish finger sandwiches

I don’t think that I ever met a sandwich that I didn’t like.  Not all sandwiches are created equal, obviously, and the slightly flabby, pre-boxed supermarket offerings are never going to be the finest example of the genre.  And yet, something magical happens when you take a thing and shove it in between two slices of bread, preferably with a smear of another thing.

Actually, I’ve just remembered.  I don’t really like peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  Mind you, I can’t remember the last time I tried to eat one.  Maybe I should have another go.

Anyway, this recipe is my current favourite sandwich.  It was created by D as an anniversary treat meal back in September and it combines three great loves – fish, curry and sandwiches.  The ingredient list looks long (as is often his wont) but there is nothing there that you likely won’t have in your spice cupboard and the results are superlative.


2 thick fillets of white fish – cod loin or monkfish work well
Tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds
100g flour
1 tbsp cornflour

1 thumb of ginger, finely grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
100ml beer or lager

Suggested to serve:
2 x sub rolls
Mango chutney
Cucumber raita (bought or homemade  - combine yoghurt, crushed garlic, coriander or mint, lemon juice and grated or sliced cucumber)
Shredded lettuce

Serves 2, 9 pro points per portion (fish fingers only)

Combine all the dry spices with the cornflour, half (50g) of the flour, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cut the fish into finger shapes.  Or any shapes you like really.  Toss well in the spicy flour and then set aside.

Add the remainder of the flour and the ginger, garlic and beer and stir well to make a batter.  If it looks to be too thick – you want it to be about the consistency of double cream – add a touch more liquid.

Return the floured fish fingers to the batter and coat well.  You can do this well in advance and leave them in there quite happily.

To serve as suggest, split the rolls in half and spread one side with mango chutney and the other with raita and sprinkle over the lettuce and any other fillings that you might fancy.  Heat the oil and then fry the fish for a couple of minutes on each side, so that the batter crisps up and the fish remains tender.  Add to the bun and serve.

D’s drinking note:  Preferably accompany with a small glass of whatever beverage you used to make your batter – I like Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Lunch at Bella Italia

Nigel Slater recently criticised the term foodie.  I like his quote that food should be “something to be quietly enjoyed rather than put on a pedestal. (The very notion of someone being a “foodie” makes me shudder.)”

When I named my blog, I’d like to think that I was being slightly ironic.  I'm certainly not someone who has ever been particularly snobbish about food; merely I delight (to a slightly excessive degree) in eating, cooking, writing about and reading about the subject.  The idea of making it into a fetish, is, I agree, shudder inducing.  But unfortunately for me, you can’t run after everyone who happens across your blog and explain that the term was meant humorously.  Sadly, I will now never have Nigel Slater as a fan.

This is a very roundabout introduction to what is actually the simplest of things – lunch.  In particular, lunch at a chain restaurant.  One of those chain restaurants that tends to set up shop in city centres and out of town shopping parks near the multiplex cinema.  About as far away from fayne dayning as it is possible to be.  And yet, and yet.  As long as you’re not going to get all snobbish about it and enjoy it for what it is, a perfectly nice place to enjoy a perfectly nice meal.

I don’t recall ever being to a Bella Italia before.  Based on my experience at the York Clifton Moor branch on Saturday, I would certainly pop in there for a bite to eat before catching an early evening film.  Chain restaurants have their place, especially when they are delivering good quality food for decent value.  I suppose my one issue with them comes when they start to choke out the great little independent places who have the capacity (and, indeed, the freedom) to be a bit more creative.  But that, in part, is down to the diner who doesn't want to step outside their comfort zone.

So, to lunch.  It was Saturday, and busy and buzzy but our lovely server Louise was completely unflappable and charming in the face of the rush.  And, yes, I enjoyed the food.  And yes, I know it was lunchtime, but we did share a bottle of the house red (for research purposes) and it was very pleasant for £14. 

I started with one of the specials, ‘nduja spirale – breadsticks stuffed with mozzarella and my beloved spicy salami.  I was really excited to see ‘nduja on the menu (I believe I've mentioned that it is my current obsession) and hope it introduces it to a wider audience.  This dish was like an upper class stuffed crust that had got so far above its station as to detach itself from the pizza - yum.  D had gamberi, or prawns, with garlic and chilli – great, fat, juicy nuggets which he pronounced very good (and he’s a man who knows his crustacea).

Stuffed crusts!
For a main course, I put my WW head on and ordered a pizza Vita – which, at under 600 calories (roughly 15pps) was one of the more diet friendly options (all dishes less than 600 and 300 calories are flagged up on the menu).  The base was wholemeal, giving it a distinctly nutty taste and a more prominent role in the proceedings than usual which I actually liked.  The quality of the topping was good – the slices of Speck ham, in particular, were lovely and overall I enjoyed it although I think “pizza” is a slight misnomer.  D had a pizza proper which was thin and crisp of base and generous of toppings.  He appeared to like it although in terms of the logistics of eating he would have preferred a larger plate and a pizza wheel  (as opposed to a steak knife).  First world problems indeed.

Not pizza!
In order to provide a completely comprehensive view we also ate pudding although we were both rather full at this point.  Still, that’s what the separate pudding stomach is for, isn't it?  The selection of pudding “shots” was a really nice idea (and again, at under 300 calories each, a good option for the dieter who wants something sweet without blowing too many points on a huge portion) – we opted for pannacotta, tiramisu mousse and the chocolate amaretto pot between us.  D thought the chocolate was too sweet (I liked it) but praised the sharp morello cherry coulis on the pannacotta and took to mixing the two to cut through the chocolate.    

Elsewhere, judging by the constant stream of contented, sticky young children, the gelato cart was doing roaring trade – I thought that was another lovely touch.  Although I still don’t understand the difference between gelato and ice cream.

So what is our summary here?  In short, if you call yourself a foodie but in reality you are just slightly greedy and don’t want to get caught up in the politics of it all, then you would have a thoroughly nice meal in a Bella Italia restaurant.  And it is was really good to see from the menu that the chain are starting to think about provenance and regionality: such things that may be buzzwords but they are concepts that ultimately contribute to a higher standard of food across the board.  

Map of Italy!
If you’re trying to lose weight but still want to go out, then the low calorie flags on the menu are good signposts to guide your choices.  If you want to get young children used to eating out then this sort of place (relaxed atmosphere, lovely, friendly staff, child friendly gelato carts) is ideal. If you just want to grab something quick, tasty and decently priced before you go and drool over Daniel Craig, this fits the bill.  That’s a lot of boxes ticked.

Disclaimer: I was invited to eat at Bella Italia and the meal was complementary.  However, my blog is my kingdom etc. and all opinions expressed are honest and, along with all spelling and grammatical errors, indisputably my own.  

Monday, 16 November 2015

MPM: 16th November 2015

It goes without saying that thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris today.  Maybe it is trite to continue blogging about “What I’m going to eat for dinner” this week, when there is such sadness and turmoil in the world.  But, maybe again, we overcome the sadness and the turmoil by turning our gaze to all the small pleasures that quietly fill our days; those small freedoms and joys that make our way of life so worth fighting for.


World news apart, wasn’t it a miserable weekend, weather wise?  Yesterday we hibernated with books and made soup and baked cake because that was the only way to deal with the unrelenting greyness and wind and rain and general gloominess. 

Talking of reading, I’ve recently become obsessed with this site, Goodreads which is kind of like social networking for bookworms.  If you’re on there then please do seek me out via this link.  Seeing what other people are reading is almost as compelling as seeing what they eat (so there is a vague link to meal planning).  The casual observer may note that my current rate of adding books to my “to-read” shelf I will soon have more than I can ever get through in one lifetime.  To which I respond by shrugging helplessly.

So, meal planning.  I can’t tell you what we’re cooking next weekend because we’re trialing some of our Christmas Day dishes and I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those relatives who will hopefully be joining us.  And we’re out one night at a local event (on which more to follow).  And a colleague’s retirement do falls on Friday so we’ll likely be freezer diving.  Elsewhere:

Ottolenghi’s ultimate winter couscous (all kinds of root veg and chickpea deliciousness)
Butternut squash soup, cheese and biscuits

I’m not sure that Mrs M is able to run the linky at the moment but if she has made it online this week, then more meal plans are available for perusal here.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Slow cooker recipe corner: "Pulled” pig cheeks with sherry, saffron and olives

There are certain dishes that are never going to be particularly photogenic.  And, as readers of this blog know, I have a way of making even the photogenic ones look like piles of pallid mush.  So rather than attempt to photograph pulled pork, here is a photograph of a pig ornament.  And my cat. 

So a few weeks ago, a lovely man called Chris emailed me and asked me if I’d like some meat and some alcohol.  I attempted to be cool but my reaction was probably more along the lines of SQUEEEEEEEEEEE.  Chris, bless him, didn’t seem fazed by the over enthusiasm and duly sent along some pig cheeks and a bottle of Fino sherry.  Chris, you see, works for a company called Grey’s Fine Foods.

I’ll fully admit, not a site that was on my radar at all which is extremely sad because I have been missing out on some real treats.  They specialise in all things Spanish – and the charcuterie selection, in particular, is a thing of beauty and absolute joy forever.  Plus it is a Yorkshire based company and I love to bang the drum for all things Yorkshire.  So do, please, go along and have a little look.  Several of my family members may well be getting Spanish foodie treats for Christmas.

We’ve cooked with pig cheeks before but these were a class apart – thick, a nice marbling of fat (obviously very jowly pigs) and full of deep, almost gamey flavour.  After an overnight sojourn in the slow cooker they fell apart as the prod of a fork.  Perfect for a slightly Spanish twist on pulled pork.

I served the below in a boccadillo – which is basically a Spanish sandwich, traditionally served in a sub-type roll.  I made a delicious loaf of rustic Spanish bread from this Hairy Bikers recipe and then smeared it with tomato and aioli and stacked up the warm pork and thin, crispy slices of chorizo.  It was all kinds of messy wonderful.  But this recipe would also be great with mashed potato, or patatas bravas, or a Spanish-ey mac and cheese or (and this has only just occurred to me) a veggie paella-type rice thing. 

One pack of cheeks, at £16.50 made six extremely generous portions.  But obviously this recipe could be scaled up or down to suit.


10-12 (about 1.5 kg) pig cheeks
Flour, for dusting
Tbsp. olive oil

200ml Fino sherry
Hefty pinch of saffron
Tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
Tbsp. tomato puree

2 onions, roughly quartered
2 carrots, roughly quartered
2 sticks of celery, roughly quartered
4-5 fat garlic cloves (no need to peel)
Several sprigs of fresh thyme

100ml chicken stock

Handful of black olives, chopped
Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Serves 6, 10 pro points per portion

Measure out your sherry and add the saffron to infuse.

In the bottom of your slow cooker (or in a casserole dish if making in the oven), make a trivet of the roughly chopped vegetables and the fresh thyme.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan.  Dust the cheeks with flour and a good whack of salt and pepper.  Then cook in the oil for a couple of minutes on each side until they have started to colour.  You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pan.  As they are browned off, transfer them to the slow cooker (or casserole dish).

Turn the heat down and pour the saffron-coloured sherry into the pan to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to make sure you get up all the tasty, crusty bits.  Add the paprika, cayenne, and tomato puree and bubble together for about five minutes to reduce.  Now pour in the chicken stock, and again reduce slightly before transferring to the slow cooker.  Cook, on a low heat, for at least 8 hours – overnight is fine (probably about 120-150 if doing in the oven).

When the cheeks are cooked and cooled, remove from the dish with a slotted spoon and shred.  They should be tender as anything at this stage.  Strain the remaining juices through a sieve over the shredded pork, making sure to squish all the vegetables to get every drop of flavour.

Stir through the balsamic vinegar and the chopped olives, and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Friends of Ham, Leeds

I don’t think that I have ever mentioned Friends of Ham on here and that is very remiss of me because if you were to find yourself in Leeds it is a venue that is well worth checking out.   And it is ideally situated within easy staggering distance of the station, making it the perfect place to both start and end an evening of revelry.  Although I warn you that if you start there you may never wish to leave.  No less a critic than Jay Rayner noted its quality back in 2013.  And the business has expanded since then so that it has a larger upstairs space and bar area and a food selection that extends (although not distractingly so) beyond charcuterie and cheese.  Many of the slightly more substantial options appear on a regularly changing specials’ board adding a bit of amplitude to the basic menu.

I say basic menu – but (may I refer to Mr Rayner again) when a place is serving meat and cheese of such quality, in generous portions with plenty of well-priced, interesting beverages on the side, basic isn’t quite the right word.  Sleek, perhaps.  Uncomplicated.  TASTY.

It was in Friends of Ham that I first began my love affair with ‘nduja, a spreadable, fiery Calabresian sausage that is desperately addictive.  I buy mine online from the Ham and Cheese Company, because that is where Friends of Ham acquire theirs.  So when we went to check out the breakfast menu last Sunday, the choice of ‘nduja toast topped with avocado, coriander and lime was an absolute no brainer, and very good it was too.

The breakfast / brunch market is definitely becoming a thing - which I quite like, especially when you get places like Friends of Ham offering something a bit different from a bacon sarnie on sliced white.  D had a Chorizo Monsieur, a pleasing fusion of Spanish spice with French indulgence.  Other offerings included smoked mackerel and cream cheese and Portobello mushrooms with poached eggs, spinach and béarnaise – which actually sounded like a really nice dish rather than a tacked on, obligatory veggie option.  They don’t have a lot of kitchen space at Friends of Ham, so it’s mostly a variation of things on toast, but it is nice things on excellent, nutty toast, washed down with good coffee.

One very small thing – I do NOT understand why you would serve hot coffee in a glass with no handle.  It is unnecessary and impractical.  Since I am generally drinking good local ales or wine when I’m in there, I’m not going to let it bother me too much.  Any place that sources and serves such consistently yummy things is one worth treasuring.  Not to mention that any place that is good enough for Jay Rayner is surely good enough for me.

Monday, 9 November 2015

MPM: 9th November 2015

Well, another week another meal planning Monday.  And what a miserable Monday it is!  Grey, wet, windy - AND our office didn't have any heating until around 11oc so people were sat around in coats and scarves.  Me being warm blooded (a layer of fat may not be aesthetically desirable but it certainly keeps me toasty) was less bothered.

We cooked a chicken at the weekend - well, I say a chicken, I am not sure WHAT nature of animal it was given the amount of meat we got off it.  We also cooked some beautiful pigs' cheeks (post to follow) and again, we now have a mountain of delicious pulled pork.  So the meal plan may end up changing to accommodate those.  D is out Friday, so I'll be on the filled pasta tossed with butter and Parmesan (my favourite supper for one) and we're both out in York on Saturday.  Elsewhere, tentatively, this is what it looks like:

Lobster mac and cheese (with chicken and pork on the side)
Roast chicken (leftovers) with potato, parsnip and porcini gratin (with additional chicken and pork on the side)
Masala spiced fish finger sandwiches with coronation rice salad (and chicken and pork on the side)
Soup (with chicken and pork on the side)
Roast stuffed quail with roast potatoes and creamy kale and parsnips (with chicken and pork on the side).

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M's.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Restaurant Sat Bains

We've been wanting to go to Restaurant Sat Bains since the early days of Great British Menu when we witnessed him make an amazing slow cooked egg and pea dish.  That's a long time and such prolonged anticipation has a tendency to let expectations creep up sky high. Fortunately, Mr Bains and team were more than good enough to match them.

As one might expect for a two Michelin star venue, this is not an experience that comes cheap but they do excellent midweek packages which are well worth checking out - we got the ten course tasting menu, (comfortable) bed and (delicious) breakfast for £170 per person and there are cheaper options available.  I promise you it's worth it.

I'm not sure how regularly the menu changes but, judging by the seasonality of some of the ingredients and dishes, I would guess fairly regularly.  One thing that seems to be a fixture, and which almost justifies the trip alone was...


...yep, the bread.  Specifically the black treacle bread.  This stuff was absolutely amazing.  It was so good that we broke one of our cardinal rules and accepted a second round (usually we exercise restraint to prevent getting overfull before the meal proper has begun).  We tried to get the recipe, first from our waiter and next from the chef himself (as a birthday treat they kindly arranged a kitchen visit).  We even asked Mrs Bains who checked us out the next morning.  All in vain - it is such a closely guarded secret that he even left it out of his recipe book.  Sob.

Of course, one of the joys of tasting menus is that you end up trying dishes that you would never have ordered had it been on the a la carte.  One such dish in this instance ended up being the highlight of the evening, even for stalwart carnivore D and that was the kohlrabi "tagliatelle" with glasshouse pesto.  The spiralised turnip, was lightly cooked so as to be tender with a hint of peppery crunch, the herby pesto, created at the table, was rich with garlic and olive oil and underneath it all was a velvet hit of umami from delicate Parmesan cream.  Oh so good.  We are buying a spiraliser.

Also worthy of note was something called chicken liver muesli.  Yes, as weird as it sounds.  Yes, absolutely delicious.  I'm not even going to try to convince you - this has to be tasted to be believed.

Chicken liver
Top dessert marks go to the "Chocolate, mandarin, cardamom" dish.  The only way I can convey the sense of it is to say it is like the best Aero bar you could possibly imagine.  It is the thing that an Aero dreams of being; a light airy, melting thing that no sooner have you taken a bite then it is gone leaving your mouth coated with unbelievable flavour.  Superlative.

But really, there wasn't a duff note.  D was unsure about the miso fudge which was provided as a palate cleanser but it was certainly interesting.  Everything, including service and wine, was impeccably judged.

This is just the sort of food that some people purport to hate.  It has twiddles and fiddles and the menu lists components rather than naming dishes; the portions are small and precisely plated, there are smears and techniques a plenty.  But when this sort of food is done properly, by a true master of his craft, it is exciting and fun and a celebration of creativity and artistry, not to mention a pleasure and a privilege to scoff.  We may have waited a long time to go to Restaurant Sat Bains, but it was utterly worth the wait - and we certainly won't leave it so long to make a return trip.

Meeting the man himself
Restaurant Sat Bains
Lenton Lane
0115 986 6566

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Foodie Abroad: Nottingham

While we primarily went Nottingham-wards in order to have dinner at Restaurant Sat Bains (an early birthday present from the parents - thank you again M&D!) we decided to make a bit of a trip of it and spend a day and night in the city itself.

Gargoyle at Nottingham Castle
Clearly, one of our main goals was to check out some of Nottingham's eating and drinking establishments.  We're predictable like that.

Since we were there of D's birthday, I deemed it extremely important that we should have cake.  And according to some foodies in the know on Twitter, the place to go for cake in Nottingham is The Pudding Pantry.  Judging by the number of people squeezed in, the general populace agrees.  Unfortunately, said general populace had eaten most of the cake and the available range was smaller than we might have hoped.  Nevertheless, the butterscotch tart (apparently a local dish) and the cheesecake brownie (less of a local dish) were very nice indeed, and the reasonably priced bottle of Prosecco alongside went down a treat.  The tables were a little close together for ultimate comfort but it did mean that I got to eyeball other dishes and the American style pancakes looked very good indeed.  I'd go back for breakfast.


Butterscotch tart
Increasingly when we visit a new city we turn to Tony Naylor of the Guardian who has written a series of British city budget eat guides.  His tips thus far have been pretty good and I commend them to your attention.  On his recommendation we visited The Junkyard which was a great venue for good beer and people watching and had a light supper at Edin's Kitchen - a fabulously eccentric little cafe that did a fine line in toasties and well priced, if a little rough and ready, red wine.  We tried to go to Oscar and Rosie's but were turned away having failed to book.  That's fair enough on a Friday night, but the large venue was completely empty when we turned up and we were looking to be in and out in half an hour (we had a film to catch).   The concept of turning tables (as opposed to turning away patrons) appeared to be slightly lost on them.

Finally, no visit to a new city is complete without a trip to the resident Brewdog. D is such a fan that he now owns shares in the company!  And, indeed, the bars seldom disappoint and the wonderful beers never do.  Brewdog Nottingham don't have a kitchen but, even so, managed to knock out a fine meat, cheese and "stuff" platter - perfect for stomach lining.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Weight Watchers (lack of) update: October 2015

My attitude to Weight Watchers this month has been, in common with most of the rest of the year, that I could not give a flying firkin.

"Diet talk bores me."
I have not weighed myself – I am guessing it is relatively steady (although after a weekend of D’s birthday indulgence it may be creeping in the wrong direction).  I have not been eating madly off piste, gorging on cheese and buns and scoffing multi course dinners every evening.  On the contrary, it has been three meals a day with fruit in between for the most part, and my rediscovered love of cheap, low cal hot chocolate has more than satisfied any sweet cravings in the evening.
This is not enough to make a discernible difference.

And, here’s the rub, some days I just don’t care that much.

This is actually a good thing.  I am more at peace with my body and my appearance than I ever was when I was (briefly) thin.  I don’t love it – but neither does it cause me to writhe around in horror.  It does not impact on my ability to be a good person, a loving friend and family member and to do my job and earn a respectable living.  It is not a moral issue.  If people choose to make judgements based on appearances then I cannot stop them but neither should I take any notice – it is their issue, not mine. 

Here’s the other rub though.  I know that I would look better a few stone lighter – and I’m still girlie enough to be a little bit vain.

I also know (and this is more important) that I want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  And although I have dodged the bullet so far, at some point, things are going to go wrong unless I improve my overall health and fitness levels.

So that’s where we are.  I’m not going to go down the road of thinking about alternative diet plans because I suspect that way madness lies – if I stick to what I know then it will work.  It’s the sticking to it that is the problem.  It’s so nice to be able to cook and eat without having to think about it all the time – beyond the pleasurable ponderings that surround “What shall we have for dinner?”

I’m not quite sure what the answer is at the moment.  I guess, what I’m saying is: watch this space.  But you might be watching it for a while, so grab a cup of tea to keep you going.

Monday, 2 November 2015

MPM: 2nd November 2015

So, last week saw us pay a visit to the city of Nottingham and, more importantly, to Restaurant Sat Bains which dinner was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  This week is likely to be considerably less exciting.  Which is a shame, but as we are now into November I feel entirely justified in commencing Christmas related cheer.  It's surely the only way to get through one of the gloomiest spells of the year?

More on the lovely Mr Bains to follow, but in the meantime, the meals have planned for the week ahead and they look like this:

Salmon and ricotta pasta
Butternut squash, apple and blue cheese soup
Shepherds' pie
Chilli con carne (got to be done on Bonfire Night!!)
Roast chicken with trimmings

All this, and on Saturday I am planning to cook something very special with some beautiful pig cheeks that I was recently sent by Grey's Fine Foods, a very nice company that sell very nice looking Spanish food online.  Yes, that is a plug but I defy anyone to not get a little bit giddy at the sight of all that amazing ham and TRUFFLES (be still my greedy little heart).  Hopefully, I can do their produce justice.

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

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Recipe corner: Desi omelette wrap

We’re trying to expand out breakfast repertoire at the moment.  You may remember that we did a birthday breakfast countdown around this time last year and enjoyed it so much that we have instituted Sunday Morning Breakfast as a Thing.  A Thing to be eaten at the table, to be accompanied by a good strong pot of tea and to be a little bit more special than toast and jam (not, I hasten to add, that there is anything wrong with toast and jam).

This is another dish inspired by our visit to Babu Bombay Street Kitchen in Glasgow.  I am really becoming enamoured of spicy for breakfast!  It’s incredibly filling so although the points appear high, if you eat slightly later on a Sunday (as we do) it really will keep you going all day.  

To lower the points, ditch the butter (saves 1pp per portion), swap full fat mayo for light (saves 1pp per portion) or try looking out for "low fat" wraps (generally these are slightly smaller than the standard.  The recipe below reckons on using a 5pp wrap - the WW own brand, for example, are only 3pp.)


5 medium eggs
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2cm (or so) piece of root ginger, grated
Tsp oil
2 tsp butter
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
Handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander

2 tortilla wraps
Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp fat free Greek yoghurt
Handful of roughly chopped fresh mint
Tsp of mango chutney
Lettuce and cucumber to garnish

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Get everything ready before you start – organisation is key here.

Preheat the oven to 100.  Place the tortilla wraps on a baking tray, ready to go in.  Chop your veg and measure out your dry spices.  Combine the mayonnaise, yoghurt, mint and mango chutney in a small bowl and season to taste.

In a small frying pan (check that the circumference is smaller than that of the wraps) heat the oil and then add the onion and fry for about five minutes until softening.  Add the ginger, garlic and dry spices and cook for a further couple of minutes until soft.  If things look as if they are catching, a small drop of water will help.

Remove half of the spicy vegetables from the pan to a nearby bowl and add half the butter.  Briskly whisk the eggs together, lightly season and pour half into the pan, swirling to evenly coat the bottom.  Cook until almost completely set.  Then, gently, slide on to the tortilla wraps so it sits in the centre of the pile, and place the baking tray in the oven.

Repeat the process to make the second omelette.  When it is almost completely set, remove from the heat (it will continue cooking in the residual heat while you prepare the first wrap).

Strew lettuce and cucumber the omelette and splodge over half of the mayo / yoghurt mix.  Tuck in the ends and roll tightly.  I would recommend wrapping in foil to serve, like a Christmas cracker, so that it holds its shape and makes less mess.

Slide the second omelette from the pan onto the second wrap and repeat.


Monday, 26 October 2015

MPM: 26th October 2015

Sorry for the radio silence.  Life, work…it gets in the way of the fun stuff sometimes.  Plus, with D away last week my meal planning was very loose to say the least.  I think that I ate pasta in some shape or form pretty much every day.  What is it about cooking for one that I find so very gloom inducing? 

There has been some cooking going on.  My first attempt at homemade pizza – I mean every element made from scratch – went very well and I am looking forward to trying it again.  Bread making in general is becoming more of a regular feature in my kitchen as I begin to lose my fear of yeast.  Partly because I have realised that my Kitchen Aid’s dough hook can do all the grunt work.  I thought that this might lessen the smugness that arises from producing a freshly baked loaf – but nope.  I’m smug and I don’t have to get my hands too dirty.  Win, win.

This week, very excitingly, we are off to Nottingham for a couple of nights.  One of which will be spent at Restaurant Sat Bains.  This is a joint birthday present from my parents and we are thrilled about it – it is somewhere that we have wanted to try for a very long time.  We’ll be spending a second night in Nottingham and probably dining somewhere slightly more cheap and cheerful.  I.e. basically anywhere. 

Thus the weekend remains a little vague in terms of meal planning – Saturday night it will most likely be a freezer dive when we get home and Sunday, probably a roast.  The other three meals are as follows:

Aubergines baked with mushrooms and ricotta
Heck chickenItalia sausages with potato salad (I’ve been wanting to try these for a while)
Salmon with pasta pesto

More meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

World Mental Health Day 2015

Saturday was World Mental Health Day. 

It seems that there is a day for everything now.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing, although there is increasing danger of Day Fatigue.  Still, mental health is an extraordinarily important issue and one that is not always easy to talk about or to understand.

Depression is not glamorous.  It is not even, usually, dramatic.  It is invidious and draining and unrelenting, like a thick, pale fog.  And it is incredibly hard for those who suffer from it to explain it to other people. 

This is probably one of the loveliest, truest and best things that I have ever seen written about mental health and how it affects not only the sufferer but all those around them.  It popped up on my Twitter feed at the weekend and the original can be found here.  There is nothing else that I need to add.

Monday, 12 October 2015

MPM: 12th October 2015

It’s a proper Autumn day today, the kind where the air is so cold and sharp that it almost hurts to breathe and the leaves crackle under foot.  A perfect day for a stomp on the moors followed by a hearty slice of game pie in a remote pub.  Sadly, I am at work at a desk that looks over…the back of a cupboard. 

Unusually for us, there is actual social activity this week!  Regular readers of the blog might (quite rightly) have deduced that we are not particularly social animals.  I appear to be getting worse as I grow older.  It is not that I am a total misanthrope, rather that I like to be comfortable in my environment, and my most comfortable environment is my house with my beloved cat and a cup of tea (or glass of wine depending on the time of day).   D is just a misanthrope.

Anyway, on Tuesday I am out seeing a friend for dinner and Bingo (so D must forage for himself), and on Friday D is seeking out real ale in the wilds of West Yorkshire (so I will probably prick and ping).  And on Sunday he is off down to London for a five day training event so, clearly, I will be far too busy weeping into my pillow to eat.  That leaves us four meals to plan and they look a little something like this:

Hake withtapenade and pears – yes, this sounds very weird.  But it is surprisingly delicious; an old favourite that has dropped out of rotation for a while.
Leftover lamb biryani – the Sunday roast’s second innings.
Barolo and mushroom risotto – bumped from last week.
Home made pizzas – my first ever attempt at making pizza dough!  We’re designing a topping each – I’ll be sure to report back.

As ever, more meal planning fun over at Mrs M’s.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Weight Watchers update: September 2015

So, over the course of September I managed (drum roll please) to lose exactly nothing.  Exactly nothing.  I am the same weight to within a tenth of a kilogram.

It appears that I am really good at maintenance.  And that is no bad thing.  But I appear to have skipped over the getting-to-your-ideal-weight part.  Which is a bad thing.

To be strictly fair, September 2015 is not going to go down in the annals of all time good months.  At times it was rather hellish.  And we all know that in times of stress my ability to think (and eat) rationally gets sorely tested.  Also, there were two lunches out at the weekend which may have caused a bit of a bounce up this morning.

I've been at this too long to allow it to get me down.  It's an ongoing process rather that a finite journey to a particular destination.  But I would like that process to gain a little bit more momentum before the year is out.  Onwards and, hopefully, downwards!

Monday, 5 October 2015

MPM: 5th October 2015

What a shockingly gloomy day.  I have nothing against cold weather (I rather like it) but to unremitting grey dampness I do object rather strongly.

A quiet week for us; D has a medical appointment on Friday evening and has requested an Indian takeaway on the way home, other than that all meals are going to be cooked by our own fair hands.

Salmon with pasta pesto (perennial favourite)
Corned beef hash (bumped from last week)
Mushroom and barolo risotto
Butternut squash soup
Chilli con carne
Roast leg of lamb with assorted appropriate trimmings

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

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Recipe corner: Cod with Parma ham and spiced lentils

Readers, I have given up.  I am simply going to stop trying to make my photographs of food look good.  I’m just not prepared to spend the time and energy lining up the perfect shot – not to mention the fact that I’m not prepared to eat cold food.  No, instead, I am going to Instagram the crap out of everything and pretend that I am being abstract and arty.  Here, for example, we present “Cod noir”.

Cod Noir

So.  D and I have been together for quite a long time – even if you knock off the year that we spent apart (but still saw each other on an almost daily basis.  We were BAD at being separated).  Anyway, it has been a long time, so it is nice that he can still surprise me.  Recently, he declared that he was going to cook a dish of cod and spiced lentils.  I was dubious.  It didn’t sound like the kind of thing that would particularly float either one of our boats.  I tentatively suggested that he wrap the fish in some sort of bacony product (reasoning that everything tastes better with bacon) and then left him to it, expecting to find it all rather meh.

How wrong I was – dear Reader, this was SUPER tasty.  The salty bacon and the fragrant, deeply savoury lentils are the perfect accompaniment for soft, sweet flakes of lovely fish.  There is spice but very little heat (D suggests upping the chilli content).  And it is very good for you.  I would definitely commend this one to your attention.

If you omit the oil altogether, you save 4pps per portion.  Which is nice.


Tbsp. oil
Tsp. mild curry powder
Tsp. Garam Masala
Tsp. turmeric
2 x thick cod fillet (loins are good for this)
4 x slices of Parma ham

120g dried Puy lentils
Tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Red onion, finely chopped
Tsp. ground cumin
Tsp. ground coriander
Chicken stock cube (or pot, which is what we use)
Lemon – zest of whole and juice of half

4 tbsp. low fat natural yoghurt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground coriander
Handful fresh coriander, chopped

Serves 2, 15 pro points per portion

Preheat the oven to 200.

Cover the lentils with water and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.  Cook for 20 minutes, or until they are tender.

Combine the yoghurt, coriander (fresh and dried) and cayenne pepper and set aside.

After the lentils have had 15 minutes, put an ovenproof frying pan lightly coated with oil a tablespoon of oil over a high heat.  Coat the fish with the dried spices and wrap in Parma ham.  Fry for 2 minutes until the ham has started to crisp up and then transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 5 minutes.

Once the cod is safely confined, turn your attentions to your lentils.  Drain thoroughly and then heat a further tablespoon of oil in a clean pan and put the onion into soften.  After a couple of minutes, add the garlic and dried spices, and, once all of these are cooked you can add the lentils and stock pot and combine thoroughly.  Add the lemon zest and juice and season to taste.

Serve the lentils topped with the cod and a generous dollop of yoghurt.

Monday, 28 September 2015

MPM: 28th September 2015

Ah, hello October.  It's the time of year when the thoughts of the meal planner turn towards stews and pies and steaming heaps of mashed potato.  Mind you, given the lack of summer in the UK over the last couple of years, such thoughts are never that far away, even in August.

On Friday, it is my grandmother's funeral, so we'll be over with my parents for a couple of nights.  And on Saturday, we have a lunch planned at the wonderful Van Zeller in Harrogate; a belated anniversary present to ourselves.  If it is as good as the last time we went we will definitely be in for a treat.  That only leaves four meals to plan and the current thinking is as follows:

Cod wrapped in Parma ham with spiced lentils
Corned beef hash
Spaghetti with a creamy tomato, caper and rosemary sauce - yes, this is the third time that this poor dish has appeared on the plan, let's try and get it made this time round, shall we?
Shepherds' pie - someone was making one of these on the TV recently and I realised that it has perhaps been years since I cooked up this childhood favourite.  Already looking forward to it.

That's it for us - but head to Mrs M's for more meal planning fun.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Very Sundayish

We are definitely well into autumn now.  It's not just in the quality of the light, or the smell in the air but in the little things, like the rumbling hum of the central heating clicking on first thing in the morning, and the fact that the butter is now hard.  I've been looking back and trying to work out exactly where the year has gone.  

I was trying to arrange a Sunday lunch date with a friend recently and she laughingly said that all her weekends were busy between now and Christmas.  Is this true of many people?  Or are D and I just desperately anti-social?  We tend to pass our weekends quietly; reading, sleeping, spending time to prepare nice meals, generally just collecting ourselves for the week ahead.  Later on today, I am going to turn a bag of windfalls into apple butter and perhaps do some baking.  Maybe have a bath while listening to Desert Island Discs on iPlayer.  

In the words of the carol (and, let's face it, it is never too early to start thinking about the C word) all is calm.  Long may it last.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Recipe corner: Bhurji pau (spicy scrambled eggs)


When we were in Glasgow this summer, we went for breakfast at an absolutely gorgeous little place that serve Bombay Street food with a Scottish twist.  It was called Babu Street Kitchen and you can find the original post here.

Anyway, I was so completely enamoured of their Bhurji Pau, a spicy scrambled egg dish served on a buttered roll that when we got home, D came up with this close tasting replica.  It makes a truly fantastic brunch dish or a light supper when you want something full of flavour but easy on the stomach.

The closest thing we can find locally to the Morton’s rolls that Babu serves (Morton’s being a Glasgow bakery) are Shelton's Lancashire Oven Bottom Muffins which you can buy in Sainsbury’s (and possibly elsewhere although I've not seen them).  They have a lighter texture than an English muffin and are slightly flatter and less crusty than a typical bread roll.  They toast well, are robust enough to make an excellent vehicle for a bacon sandwich or even a burger, and are only 4pps each.  Highly recommended.  If you can’t find them, a normal English muffin would probably make a very acceptable alternative.

Reduce the amount of butter, or indeed, omit it altogether, to save 3pps per portion.


5 medium eggs
2 small (or 1 large) red onions, finely chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
½ inch piece of ginger, finely grated
Small handful of coriander leaves, chopped
Tbsp. vegetable oil
Tsp. ground coriander
Tsp. medium curry powder
½ tsp. chilli flakes
Tsp. tomato puree
10g butter

To serve:

2 muffins (Oven Bottom or otherwise)
20g butter

Serves 2, 14 pro points per portion

Lightly whisk together the eggs with the dried spices and a decent amount of seasoning, then set aside.

Place a pan over a medium heat and add the oil.  When the oil has started to heat up add the onions (along with a pinch of salt to help the sweating) and cook for about five minutes until they have started to soften.  Then add the ginger and the chillies.  Cook for a couple more minutes, before stirring through the tomatoes.

Finally, add the lightly spiced eggs (popping the split muffins in the toaster just before you do so).  Take the heat right down and stir until the eggs start to lightly scramble – probably just a couple of minutes.  Remove from the hob slightly before they are done to the perfection as they will continue to cook in the residual heat.

Stir through the 10g butter, the tomato puree and the coriander.  Butter the muffins with the remainder and then top with the spicy eggs.  Remember Glasgow – and, possibly, wash down with a wee dram.

Edited to add:

Such a dish is too good not to share, so I am including it in the Belleau Kitchen Simply Eggcellent recipe link up.  This month's theme is anything goes (as long as it is eggy and said eggs are free range) so I'm looking forward to seeing what else pops up.