Friday, 24 June 2016

TWTWTW: make bread, not war

It is not in the nature of this blog nor this blogger to be political, but let us just pause for a moment and say WT actual F before moving swiftly on to the cute cat picture of the week:

In other news, my bread making career goes from strength to strength, when I took a break from revision on Sunday to bake a batch of oven bottom muffins. I have written out the recipe and, once I've made a second lot just to test it again, I'll be sure to post. They were far nicer than the shop bought ones.

I was in Manchester for a couple of nights and, on the first of these, was reminded of the delights of Hotel Food. I really, really don't understand the thinking behind the menus of these chain hotel restaurants - you know the kind I mean. They're a sort of confused Greatest Hits of world cuisine. To be fair to the Jury's Inn, none of the food was bad, I just don't get what salt and pepper squid and Asian crispy duck salad are doing nuzzling up to steak and chips.

Now, sorry to post and run but we're heading off to a wedding weekend shortly so I need to go and dust off my fascinator. I hope, whatever your plans, you have a lovely couple of days and I will be back on Monday for another edition of Meal Planning: the end of the month and we're brassic and we need to live on stuff from the freezer edition.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A somewhat reduced MPM: 20th June 2016

I have an exam tomorrow.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have been so tense that I currently have a permanently painful jaw from all the clenching.  It is remarkably difficult to relax your jaw without thinking really hard about relaxing your jaw.  Anyway, tonight and tomorrow night I am in Manchester and poor old D is left to fend for himself.  He was muttering darkly about subsisting on pimped up baked beans, the little lamb.

Then on Friday and Saturday night we are off to the country!  For my sister in law's wedding!  The name of the venue continually escapes me but I'm sure it will be a lovely occasion and perhaps by then I'll have stopped with the jaw clenching.  Plenty of champagne is bound to help.

The upshot of which is that there are just three meals to plan this week.  And one of them is a repeat from the last two weeks because we are both slightly obsessed.

Wednesday: Homecoming dinner - chicken breast and giant couscous with lemon, mint and feta.

Thursday: Poached trout with minted mayonnaise, asparagus and new potatoes.  We just can't get enough of this quintessentially British combo.

Sunday: Five spice braised beef from this recipe (already made and in the freezer), probably served with soba noodles and stir fried veg

To anyone else out there currently experiencing exam stress, either directly or via an associated teenager: I send you sympathy, solidarity and a plea for jaw relaxing exercises.  To everyone else: have a great week you jammy, jammy bastards.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day

My Dad doesn't really believe in Father's Day.  In addition to that, I doubt very much that he knows how to find my blog.  But I'm going to write him a little post anyway.

While in terms of personality, I am very similar to my Mum, when it comes to looks I am very much my father's daughter.  We are both short and round and curly.  Exacerbating the tendency towards the round is our shared love of good food, (lots of) good drink and a slight obsession with cheese.  Whenever I am sad, I always find myself craving cheese on toast or cheese sandwiches or pasta bake and I suspect that this is because, deep in my subconscious, cheese means Daddy and home.

I admire my Dad tremendously.  He has a work ethic and a tenaciousness that I wish I had inherited along with the cheese thing.  He went to a top university, despite the fact that he did not come from a family of academics, and achieved great success both there and later in his chosen career, all through dint of incredible hard work.  He can be stubborn, ridiculously so, but he knows how to channel his stubbornness to achieve results.

He has a love of adventure, of new experiences, and has the endless curiosity of the academic.  He is loyal and steadfast and, undoubtedly, adores his family.

And if he were here right now he would probably tell me to stop procrastinating and to get on with some work (remember, I didn't inherit the work ethic).  So I will, but happy Father's Day to him and to all the fathers out there, quiet fixed points in a moving world.

Monday, 13 June 2016

MPM: 13th June 2016 (with added musings on when a diet blog is not a diet blog)

Once upon a time, this was a blog that was not just about good food but about proving that it was possible to eat good food AND lose weight.  It has drifted from that in recent times which is sad.  On the one hand, I love writing my little blog which is a wonderful aide memoire for all our foodie based adventures.  On the other hand, the weight loss thing has fallen by the wayside, for all the posts in the archive (and there are many) which proclaim fresh starts and renewed endeavour.

At the moment, I genuinely feel like I am juggling one too many balls to add dieting in to the mix as well.  It's not that I am overeating particularly, it's just that dieting requires time and effort and energy which I don't have to spare.  But D and I have both agreed that something needs to be done (he wants to lose a bit of weight as well) and, once this current spate of exams is over, we will both take steps to do it.  In the meantime, we are trying to at the very least commit to cooking and eating well, and meal planning is an absolutely fundamental part of that.

It helps that we both enjoy meal planning, but for all that, it seems to fall by the wayside in times of stress.  Not this time.  This has to be the one habit that is so ingrained that it never falls by the wayside.

So, onto this week.  I will be mostly in the study, weeping over tax manuals.

Monday: unusually, we're having the same dish that we had last Monday, which is poached trout and asparagus with minted mayonnaise and new potatoes.  The original recipe called for minted hollandaise but we decided that making hollandaise was a wee bit faffy for midweek, so just added the required flavourings to (shhh!) shop bought mayo (D favours Mellow Yellow).  It's such a nice combination of flavours and perfect for the time of year.

Tuesday: odds and ends salad - shredded roast chicken, 'nduja onions and goats' cheese croutons

Wednesday: Butternut squash and tarragon soup, with homemade baguettes for dunking

Thursday: a real favourite dish of mine!  Spaghetti vongole (from Russell Norman's recipe in "Polpo").

Friday: a no cooking night - we're indulging in our once a month treat of fish and chips (you can tell that we're middle aged though, as we order one portion of chips to share. I don't have the capacity that I did in my youth!)

Saturday: the plan is to go to the coast with D's dad and sister as a Father's Day outing.  D is going to slow cook a batch of his famous chilli con carne for us to eat when we get home.

Sunday: salmon with pasta pesto.  It's a tradition on the eve of exams.

That's our lot, mes amies, and a very tasty looking lot it is too.  Have a wonderful week of good cooking, eating and whatever other -ing tickles your pickle.

Monday, 6 June 2016

MPM: 6th June 2016

We're approaching the mid point of the year which is, frankly, unbelievable. They say time flies when you're having fun, but this also, apparently, applies when you're having a generally stressful, miserable pig of a time. Yes, dear reader, I'm not in my happy place at the moment.

But there are bright spots on the horizon, including a very exciting meal out this Tuesday on which I shall report back in due course. Also, on Friday we're off to York Races for the day - and perhaps I shall win my fortune.

Elsewhere, we shall be eating:

Monday: poached trout with asparagus and mint hollandaise (from Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Heaven")

Wednesday: chicken (leftovers from the Sunday roast) with wild mushroom sauce and Puy lentils (adapted from a recipe in Diana Henry's "A Bird in Hand")

Thursday: courgette, herb and rice filo pie

Saturday: rarebit burgers (adapted from a recipe in "Delicious" magazine, June 2016) with baked spiralised curly fries

Sunday may well prove to be another roast, meat type yet to be decided. Although if the sun decides to make an appearance something a little bit more summery may be in order.

Happy cooking and eating this week mes amies! I shall try and ensure my mood is improved by the time the next meal plan rolls around...(you could always post your favourite joke in the comments! Mine is as follows: what is the definition of blu-tack? Smurf poo!)

Saturday, 4 June 2016

TWTWTW: Goodbye to an old friend

Beautiful Minerva McGonagall Cat left us this week. She was diagnosed with a tumour several months ago which had, at last, started to have an impact on her general health and so my Mum made the heartbreaking decision to put our little friend to sleep. She had been a part of our family for 16 years. I have been surprised at quite how much it has affected me; I mean, I cry at the drop of a hat anyway, but this feels like genuine grief. The level of impact that animals have on our lives cannot be underestimated - poor Minx has been subjected to a LOT of weepy cuddles this week. At the same time, it was the right decision to make and I take a lot of comfort from the fact that my Mum allowed a much loved, elderly cat to end her long and happy life peacefully and with dignity. We should all be so lucky.

D and I went over to spend the evening with my parents to say a proper goodbye to Minnie and, while there, cooked an absolutely gorgeous recipe - this cauliflower risotto by Jamie Oliver. Nothing is as luxurious and comforting as a risotto and this is a particularly delicious example of the genre and brought a smile to all our faces even in the sad circumstances.

Elsewhere this week, D and I popped to Headingley for an end-of-the-working week lunch and had some very nice sandwiches at White's Cafe Bar. I like White's - it has a nice atmosphere with just the right balance of buzzy and laid back, and is equally amenable if you want a good cup of coffee or if you want to drown your sorrows at the bottom of a large glass of wine. The group of very LOUD, very ENTHUSIASTIC students at the table next to us did threaten the mood a bit and, as D pointed out, it is quite dark if you sit at a table near the back of the room. Still, behold these sandwiches:

I went for the Philly cheesesteak which was doused with a pleasing amount of black pepper and American mustard, while D had a BLT with cheddar and coleslaw which was huuuuge. I mean, not "Man Versus Food" huge but still, required a bit of a jaw stretch. How does Adam Richman do it?

Right, I am off to cuddle my cat again - and to all pet owners out there, give your furry friend an extra kiss this week and remind yourself how lucky we all are to share a bit of our lives with them.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Recipe corner: Fresh baked baguettes

Paul Hollywood does not know me from Adam but he has, in a small way, changed my life. I am now a woman who after a day at work thinks nothing of whipping up a couple of baguettes to have with tea. From being a total bread phobic* a couple of years ago to this - what a way I have come.

*To be clear, I was frightened of making bread, not eating it.

I suppose, to the purist, I still don't really make bread because I rely heavily on my Kitchen Aid and her dough hook and do very little kneading by hand. However, the fact that in his baguette recipe Paul Hollywood tells you, specifically, to do it that way (baguette dough is quite wet and sticky and difficult to work with) inspires me to think that it's OK. God, or Paul Hollywood or someone, invented dough hooks and standing mixers so that people like me could come home in the evening produce fresh baked, crusty bread on a whim.

The recipe below is from Paul Hollywood's "Bread" book but since it is published elsewhere online, I don't have too many qualms about putting it here as well. Also, I must admit that my version reduces the water a smidge from the original 180ml. It may only be a tablespoon's worth but I found it made a huge difference to the way in which the dough came together.

My other top tip, if you specifically want to make baguettes, is to invest in a baguette tray like this one. The first time I attempted baguettes the taste and texture were right but the shape was ridiculous - this is not easy dough to work with. But allowing the dough to do its second prove and bake in one of these trays solves that problem completely.


250g strong white bread flour, plus additional for dusting the surface
5g instant yeast
5g salt
160ml cool water
2 tbsp olive oil, plus additional for greasing the bowl

You will also need: a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment fitted, a large bowl, clingfilm, a large plastic bag and a baguette baking tray

Weigh out the flour into the bowl of the mixer. Add the yeast to one side of the flour and the salt to the other.

Combine the water and the two tablespoons of oil into a jug.

Set the mixer off at its lowest speed and gradually pour in the water and oil mix. When all the liquid has been added it may appear quite wet and sticky. Have courage. Turn the mixer up a notch and, gradually, it should begin to come together. Once it has gathered into a ball around the hook, turn it up another level so it is now going at a decent, medium speed and allow to knead for about 7-8 minutes. After this time you should have a dough that, while still slightly sticky to the touch, is also silky and stretchy.

Oil a separate, large bowl and tip the dough into it, turning it a couple of times so that the entire surface of the ball has a light coating of oil. Cover with clingfilm and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size - I found that this took around 1.5 hours but it may be longer in cool weather.

Lightly flour a work surface and your baguette tray. Tip the dough on to the surface and use the heel of your hand to knock some of the air out of it. Then fold it over on itself a few times which will help the structure.

Divide the dough in two and, as if it were plasticine, roll each piece out into a rough sausage shape. Place the dough sausages in the baguette tray. Then place the whole in a large plastic bag and return to the warm place for the second prove - about another hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 and place a roasting tray full of water in the bottom. This will create a steam that helps the bread develop its crisp crust.

Bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown and crisp. I find that I need to cover the tops with foil after about 15 mins in my oven to stop them over colouring. The internal temperature of baked bread is 190-200 degrees if you want to use a cooking thermometer to check if they are done.

Enjoy, mes petites!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bundobrunch at Bundobust

I first wrote about Bundobust just over a year ago (see here if you're interested). Since then, we've been back several times and still absolutely love it. The menu continues to change and develop and several dishes have appeared there now that have become house favourites: the vada pav (a spiced potato "burger") and the Punjabi kadhi (a kind of yoghurt soup) are both must orders as far as D is concerned. Me, I stick by my original choice of the spiced scrambled eggs but have also developed a serious addiction to the okra fries.

Also last year, this time in Glasgow, we discovered how much we enjoy eating spicy food for breakfast. So when, as part of the Leeds Indie Food Festival Bundobust decided to do a joint event with the superlative Layne's Espresso called Bundobrunch we were there with proverbial bells on.

Writing about it feels a little bit mean, because at the moment this is not intended to be a fixture. However, chatting to the guy behind the bar I learned that the reaction was so generally positive that it could well become a regular thing which would be very exciting indeed.

As you can see from the menu, set box options (two savoury, one sweet) were on offer rather than a list of dishes from which to pick and choose. We both went for the same option which featured a breakfast biryani, chilli spiced rarebit and a sweetcorn and methi (fenugreek) pancake. As you might expect from this particular kitchen, the spicing was bang on, leaving a pleasant residual warmth on the palate rather than bash you over the head chilli (never desirable, but especially not at 10am). The star of the show was that sweetcorn pancake. Now, I would describe myself as, if not exactly a hater, certainly a non-fan of sweetcorn, but suspend those little kernels in spiced batter and somehow they are transformed! This is definitely something to be recreated at home.

The £12 price point felt a tad steep when compared to the regular lunch menu, and while I completely understand the thinking behind doing the set boxes, I was sad to miss out on some of the other dishes on offer (hello, asparagus fries). Although clearly opting for the same thing was a failing on the part of your intrepid reviewers. In our defence, it was quite early.

Anyway, I've got everything crossed that Bundobust do decide to take up a more permanent residence on the brunch scene. If you are in Leeds and fancy a light bite with a decent pint on the side it is definitely worth checking out their standard menu. Those okra fries are dangerously moreish.

Monday, 30 May 2016

MPM: 30th May 2016

D and I both weirdly enjoy meal planning. So much so that it is often something to which our conversation turns when we are out and about enjoying a convivial pint. Perhaps it is because our favourite table in our favourite bar gives us a view of D's beloved Waitrose. Or perhaps it is because nothing sharpens the appetite like that first drink of the evening. Regardless, our weekly meal plan is often jotted down when we are out of the house, away from recipe books and other resources. This week, we decided to make sure that we did it at home and thus used some of our overstuffed bookshelves, not to mention our home Wi-Fi connection.

May seems to have been a ridiculously long month. And who on Earth decided to make pay day fall after the Bank Holiday weekend? Tonight, we'll be feasting on whatever we can find lurking at the back of the store cupboard (Peppa Pig spaghetti shapes in tomato sauce, anyone?) The rest of the week is looking pretty good though.

Tuesday: a chicken Caesar salad, using an old blog recipe. Since I wrote this post, D has been busy perfecting his Caesar dressing so it will be interesting to see how this low fat version stands up.

Wednesday: risotto ai cavolfiore - that is to say, cauliflower risotto. D's pick from "Jamie's Italy" by Jamie Oliver.

Thursday: butternut squash and tarragon soup. If I'm home from work in time, I'll make some bread to go with it.

Friday: pork chops with Saint-Marcellin cheese. Another D choice, this time from "Pork and Sons" by Stephane Reynaud.

Saturday:Punjabi kadhi (a spiced, sour yoghurt soup) with cauliflower pakoras, chilli paneer and homemade flatbreads

Sunday: some sort of roast

A week of excellent eating. Hope everyone out there in the UK is enjoying this rather miserable Bank Holiday Monday and that everyone, everywhere has a fantastic week.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Recipe corner: Cashew chicken with egg fried rice and crispy garlic kale

Photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website

Usually, you have to put up with my less than stellar food photography - however, on this occasion, I have shamelessly borrowed someone else's so you can see what this dish could look like.

I did snap it myself and ended up with this:

Photo courtesy of me and several glasses of wine
The less said the better, eh?

I served this for our Friday night supper last week and we both hoovered it up, making yummy noises all the while.  Cashew chicken is one of my favourite dishes from the Chinese takeaway, so I expected to be all over it, but D was looking forward to it rather less - he was happy to revise his original opinion on eating.  It doesn't have many ingredients, and I considered adding garlic or more spicing to the stir fry, but stuck to the original recipe and actually, I think the deeply savoury simplicity of it is the charm.

This recipe is absurdly simple for all that it requires a wee bit of prep, and if you want properly good egg fried rice you really do need to initially cook the rice the day before.

Ingredients - chicken

2 skinless chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 egg white
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour
50g cashew nuts
1 tbsp rice wine (or dry Sherry at a pinch)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil

Ingredients - rice

100g basmati rice
1 egg
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tsp vegetable oil

Ingredients - crispy kale

Several large handfuls of kale
Tbsp garlic oil

3-4 spring onions, shredded

The day before (or, at least far enough in advance to allow it to cool properly) cook the basmati rice.  Cool and refrigerate until needed.

Combine the chicken with the egg white, the sesame oil, the cornflour and a touch of judicious seasoning and set aside for at least 20-30 mins prior to cooking.  Preheat the oven to 180.

Beat the egg together with the chilli flakes, the five spice and a decent pinch of salt and set aside.

Bring a pan of water up to the boil, and simmer the chicken for 4-5 mins until the meat has turned completely white.  This is known as velveting - you can also do it in hot oil but this method has the virtue of being somewhat lower in fat.

Now, you want two large frying pans or woks on the go at the same time, so get them on the hob to heat up while you toss the kale in the garlic oil and some salt and pepper and place in the hot oven to roast for around 10 mins until crispy (but not too singed).

Put the oil into the hot pans.  In one, add the cooled basmati rice, in the other, the cashew nuts.

Cook the nuts for around a minute, and then pour in the rice wine and the soy sauce and allow them to bubble down slightly, before adding the chicken.

Now add the beaten egg to the rice and stir well to combine.  Both the chicken and the eggy rice should cook for a further couple of minutes.  Ensure the chicken is entirely cooked through before serving (the easiest way to do this is by eating a chunk and that is the cook's prerogative).

Serve with the kale - I used my crispy greens as a base for the whole, but dumping it on the side is equally valid.  Either way is absolutely delicious.  Sprinkle the shredded spring onions over the top as an artistic garnish.

Monday, 16 May 2016

MPM: 16th May 2016

Happy Monday campers!  Did you have a lovely weekend?  We were pretty quiet here, but last night saw the inaugural barbecue of the year which was quite exciting - D cooked whole red snapper and clams in foil parcels and we served it up with potato salad, tomato bruschetta and a generous handful of peppery green leaves.  Fabulous stuff.

This week we seem to have developed a bit of social life, with the result that we are potentially out for three of the seven evenings.  What madness is this!  Next Sunday also remains unplanned; another barbecue might be nice but, equally, we might not be up for anything other than lying around and dunking biscuits in tea.  So, only three meals to disseminate:

Dover sole with shrimp butter, cucumber and a lemon and caper crumb
Spaghetti bolognese (50/50 spaghetti and courgetti - yes, I still love my spiraliser!)
Fresh soup (type TBC)

Not desperately exciting stuff, is it?  Still, it makes a change for us to actually be out and about.

Have a great week everyone, happy cooking (and eating!)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

TWTWTW: Back in the kitchen and the return of the Fakeaway

As mentioned many times on this blog for some unknown reason, when life gets stressful, one of the first things that flies out of the window is the cooking and eating of sensible meals.  I often lose my appetite, which feels ridiculous to say out loud since I do not look like the kind of wan and waif-ey creature who can't bring themselves to eat.  I certainly lose any desire to be in the kitchen.  In these dark days, the toaster becomes the most regularly used tool in the arsenal.

How lovely, then, to finally have got back into some sort of good routine this week.  We have cooked and eaten a number of gorgeous meals and both of us feel a lot better for it.

Yesterday evening, I decided to do a Friday Night Fakeaway for the first time in ages, and cooked a delicious but incredibly simple chicken with cashew nuts, which recipe can be found here.  Chunks of chicken breast are combined with egg white, cornflour and a little sesame oil for twenty minutes or so before cooking, which makes them incredibly tender in the stir fry. Seriously, give this one a go.  I also highly recommend drizzling some curly kale with garlic oil, sprinkling with salt and roasting in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes - you end up with something very akin to the seaweed they serve up at Chinese restaurants; it makes a great side dish and doesn't taste virtuous at all (which is clearly one of the points of fakeaway).

My mojo has returned to such an extent that I currently have some bread dough proving in the sun and, later, I will be giving my new baguette baking trays a whirl.  I have tried baguettes before, and although the taste was successful the shaping...not so much.  Paul "Silver Fox" Hollywood makes it look easy and it really isn't.

I must admit, no points are being counted at the moment - that's the next thing to add in and I'm going to have to spend some proper time pondering how to make the new Smart Points work better for me - my initial impressions were not favourable but the thought of going back to Pro Points, when I rely quite heavily on the online tools, is not really tenable.  I even found myself wondering about sticking my toe in the proverbial Slimming World pool this week - my Mum has had a lot of success on SW and is looking amazing at the moment - but I think that a) I would find it quite limiting and b) I'm just making excuses to avoid putting my head down and getting on with it.

Obligatory cute cat pic of the week:

Minx is, as ever, a furry, purry angel - even despite the fact that she has a charming new habit of coming and waking me up in the early hours for a little bit of a stroke and a cuddle.  Who needs beauty sleep anyway?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Norse, Harrogate (second visit)

A few days ago, I wrote about a return visit to Leeds' prestigious "The Man Behind The Curtain" which confirmed my opinion that while it is clever, modern food worthy of admiration, it is not food to love.  How wonderful, then, to go back to another venue where every beautifully crafted dish made me want to fall into it face first and lick the plate clean.  That venue is Norse in Harrogate.

I loved it the first time round and there is very little to add in a second piece, such that I probably wouldn't have bothered were it not for the fact that it is such a little gem of a place and really cheered me up after our trip to TMBTC left me wondering if I  just didn't "get" modern food anymore.  I've been lacking an appetite lately anyway and my palate was feeling distinctly jaded by the time we rolled up.

Consider me...un-jaded (if there is such a term).  From start to finish it is almost impossible to pick a highlight.  The moment that the fresh bread arrived at the table with toasted seeds and smoked artichoke puree, we knew that we were in safe hands.

We opted for the seven course tasting menu (with an additional amuse and post dinner chocolates it was, strictly speaking, nine in all) and it was a study in how tasting menus should be.  Every dish was small but perfectly formed.  And see how pretty?

The table was divided as to the best savoury course of the night - was it the buttery turbot with the punchy, herby pickled clams and the rich smoked mussel sauce?  (Apologies for the deterioration in picture quality - the lighting switched to "romantic" at this point)

Or the hogget that just melted in the mouth with the punchiest garlic peas that you ever did see?

My father was adamant that the dessert was the star of the show - a pistachio and rapeseed oil cake licked with skyr and elderflower frosting and served with strawberries and honeycomb.  And, to be fair, you'd go a long way to find something more perfectly delicious, or a prettier symphony of spring pastels.

Four of us ate a superlative meal, we started with a bottle of champagne and then two of the party had a matching wine flight and the bill worked out at £75 a head - amazingly good value for food of such quality.  This is fusion food at its very, very best: the flavour profile is distinctly Scandi, but the ingredients are a parade of the Best of British produce and the two marry together perfectly.

A wonderful night out in a truly wonderful little restaurant.  Thank you, Norse, for rejuvenating my palate and getting me excited about cooking again!

Monday, 9 May 2016

MPM: 9th May 2016

It's been a while since we had a meal planning Monday, isn't it?  A combination of work and study and a nasty bug have meant a lack of cooking (and, indeed, eating) round here of late.

Fingers crossed the worst of it seems to have passed and it is time to get back into the kitchen and get producing some slightly more complex meals than toast.  This week, then:

Pepper and lime crusted tuna steaks with mustard cucumber "spaghetti" and wild rice
Warm salad of lamb with sweet potato and pomegranate
Corned beef hash
Fresh soup
Friday night fakeaway: Cashew chicken stir fry with egg fried rice and crispy kale "seaweed"

If the weather holds then we might break out the barbecue next weekend - perhaps some delicious whole fish with salads and bread to accompany, but that plan remains to be fixed.

Hopefully, they'll be some more meal plans over at Mrs M's to enjoy.  Have a good week lovelies!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds (second visit)

We first went to The Man Behind The Curtain (henceforth to be known as TMBTC) back in September 2014.  It was not that long open but it was already very ambitious, very modern and positioning itself at the high end of the Leeds dining scene.  Fast forward a year and the head chef, Michael O'Hare, has become something of a sleb thanks to an appearance on Great British Menu, and the restaurant has scored a prestigious Michelin star.  Interested to see what these changes had wrought in terms of the food, we duly got in line (it's now booked up months in advance) and, last week, finally returned to the top floor of Flannels department store.

Reading back, my original impression was not overwhelmingly positive.  It had all seemed a wee bit style over substance.  I expected this second visit to prove me wrong - after all, as well as impressing the Michelin inspectors, a number of highly regarded reviewers have swooned over O'Hare's food. But nope, my first opinion continues to hold true.

It is very, very clever cooking.  It utilises modern techniques and on-trend ingredients (Iberico pork, anyone?) and the plating is creative and quirky.  The problem is, the end result is not the sort of food that I want to eat.  The seasoning, to my taste, was on the cusp of too much, such that one particular dish reminded me of nothing so much as a Pot Noodle, exploding with dusty umami.  And texturally, a lot of the dishes lacked pleasing contrasts because of the overuse of sous-vide.  I don't care what anyone else says, I think sous-vide fish (in particular) is slimy and damp and not very pleasant to eat.  The flavours were, almost without exception, big and brash and bold and just a bit too much.  There was very little that was subtle, or delicate, and star ingredients just got lost.

I also strenuously object to cleverness for the sake of it when it comes to cooking.  So dessert was a chocolate and lavender mousse with a light, foamy vanilla custard spooned over at the table.  Fine.  Except that the custard was made with mashed potato.  It tasted like custard.  It looked like custard.  Why on Earth bother to make it with mashed potato?  I found it off putting. I approached the whole dish tentatively because I don't want to eat chocolate mousse and mashed potato.  I suspect that such reticence makes me exactly the kind of reactionary customer that TMBTC does not want to darken its trendy doors.  And that's fair enough.  You can't appeal to everyone all of the time.

Let's talk about some positives.  An early amuse of XO veal sweetbread in a steamed bun with pickled Shitake was a very lovely thing.  I think that the sweetbread must have been pan fried - a rarity here - as it had a lovely crust that yielded into a perfectly cooked, creamy interior.  It worked well with the spicing and was very prettily presented.

Presentation in general, although never going to appeal to stalwart traditionalists, was definitely artistic.  While there were problems with this Iberico Pork main course (mainly that the accompaniments overwhelmed the little piggy) I do love the way it has been plated.  That egg shell, incidentally, was edible, which was a nice touch.

And for all that I took umbrage with the chocolate and potato dessert, I adored the little passion fruit and praline cupcake that was presented as a petit four, complete with edible cupcake paper.

This was one of the few dishes where the flavours were balanced absolutely perfectly, with the sweetness of the white chocolate and hazelnut acting as a beautiful foil for the wincingly sharp passion fruit puree.  I would have liked another one of these.

What else?  D had the wine flight to match the tasting menu (there is no a la carte option here) and it was astoundingly good in terms of quality and value, with his particular favourite being a plum sake that did, indeed, taste heavenly.  The service was absolutely flawless.  The room itself is lovely - big, well spaced tables and the comfiest chairs that I think I have ever sat on in a restaurant.  Overall, much to admire.  And, indeed, I suspect a lot of people will enjoy the food.  The fact that it was not to my taste was, probably, more about me than about the cooking.

There is certainly nowhere else in Leeds doing this sort of thing at the moment and, certainly, I would urge people to go along and try it for themselves.  I wouldn't go back again myself - £70 a head is just too much for food that I know I am unlikely to enjoy, but I certainly wish Mr O'Hare and his very cool staff all the best - their presence in our city can only do good things for the already vibrant food scene.  Let's just hope that mashed potato custard doesn't catch on elsewhere.

The Man Behind The Curtain
68-78 Vicar Lane
Top floor Flannels

0113 2432376

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

TWTWTW: Catch up, Cat, Carriages


Oooh, all went a bit quiet there, didn't it?  Not to worry, chaps, I didn't decide to run off to the Good Food Show like Nellie the Elephant packing her bags for the circus.  But I have been busy working towards an exam.  And by working towards, of course I mean panicking a lot and shuffling all my bits of paper into piles rather than doing any proper revision.

If anyone out there has some good revision tips then PLEASE share.  I seem to lack the ability to do it properly and just floof about.  Meanwhile, the cat delights in positioning herself in the most awkward place possible.


The Good Food show itself was great fun.  It was so heartening to see the number of fantastic local suppliers who turned out and plied us with goodies.  Among my take-home haul were several bottles of gin by exciting new distillers and a Yorkshire halloumi cheese which stares at me every time I open the fridge and begs to be fried up until both crispy and squeaky.  I'd like to write up a more detailed post at some point...but time's winged chariot and all that...

More Joy

April 14th was the 12th anniversary of the date on which D and I first met so we went for a belated celebratory dinner at an old favourite: Carriages in Knaresborough.  It's a cute little wine bar-cum-bistro which serves well cooked, decent food and boasts a far better wine list than you'd expect in such a modest establishment.  It's never going to blow your mind but it's the kind of food that most people like to eat, done very well.  I must admit, I ordered scallops and goats' cheese out of curiosity, assuming that it would not quite work, but a delicate touch with the soft, salty cheese mousse actually enhanced the sweetness of the scallops, and showed a real ability to balance ingredients.  They don't have a website but they do have a Facebook page that you can view here for further info.

More Woe

D is continuing to follow the Dukan diet, albeit with a weekend break, and his results continue to be impressive.  My Weight Watching has fallen apart a little bit this week, but I should squeak an STS, having lost a further 0.6 lbs last week.  3.6 lbs in three weeks may not be incredible going, but it's not bad considering that my heart has not really been in it.

Home cooking is a little joyless at the moment; most nights D tucks in to his pile of protein and I add a side of vegetables and whingeing.  We are already looking to recover our cooking mojo in the month of May, and hopefully, I'll get some recipes posted up to the blog - they've been sadly lacking recently.

The next couple of weeks will probably continue to be quiet on the WWF front but I will, at least, try and have another good crack at the Smart Points in the coming week and report back on any progress.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Good Food Spring Show - final reminder!

Forget my grumps, forget the fact that the weather is horrible and that Spring appears to have Sprung off - this weekend the Good Food Spring Show hits Harrogate! 

See how excited the Minx is!

I'll be there, sniffing around like an overfed truffle pig, but, more importantly, a plethora of fantastic local Yorkshire producers will also be there selling their wares.  AND there will be sleb chefs to amaze with their cooking prowess. 

If you do decide to indulge in some tickets, be sure to use the code BL20 for a cheeky discount (20% off Adult / Over 65s ticket only.  Not valid on VIP or with any other offer.)

For further details check out the website, and I hope to see you there.  Well, you won't know that it is me and I won't know that it is you, but I shall smile inanely at anyone who catches my eye - and that's a promise.

Expect pictures of the spoils next week...

Smart points review: one week in

One week of smart pointing and the scales rewarded me with...(drum roll please)...a 3lb loss.

Which is good.  It's fine.  It's actually probably a little bit better than good.  But I would be lying if I said that I was pleased this morning.  If anything, I was a little deflated.  This past week has felt like really hard going, and for hard going I wanted better than good.  Even if it was just an inflated first week loss to bolster me up for the coming weeks.

I ended the week having had all my dailies and most of my weekly points - so pretty much where I was supposed to be.  But, as I have already said in my previous posts, I felt like I was on a diet ALL WEEK.

I'm going to persevere, because at the moment, I don't know what the alternative is.  And, there was a lot of positive feedback from members of the WW message boards who have been following the plan for a while, so I may just need a bit longer to get my head firmly out of Pro Points and into the Smart Points game.  I'll do a further update after the first month and see where I am then (for sake of comparison - the last time I started Pro Points, this blog records that I lost a stone in the first four weeks - it will be interesting to see how the results compare).

A note on Dukan

As I mentioned in an earlier post, D has been doing the Dukan Attack phase this week - which has basically meant eating nothing but lean meat, fish, low fat dairy and a couple of eggs a day.  He reports that he has not been hungry, just intensely bored.  He was well rewarded, though, having lost a whopping 9lbs in 7 days - a big boost was exactly what he needed to keep him going.  It will be interesting to see what happens as he comes out of Attack and on to Cruise phase (where he can introduce vegetables).  I have everything crossed that he continues to see those good results.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Meal planning Monday - and a blog giveaway!

After yesterday's grumpy post, today I will try to be slightly more cheerful.  After all, it's a brand new week.  And, excitingly, on Friday I will be paying a visit to the Spring Good Food Show over in Harrogate.

If anyone out there is in the vague vicinity of Harrogate this weekend and wants to come along then I have the power to make that happen!  The very kind people at the show have offered readers of this blog a pair of complimentary tickets for either Friday 8th or Sunday 10th April.

I thought about doing one of those Rafflecopter thingies that makes everyone follow me on Twitter and post a comment and generally be nice to me.  Which would be pleasant, but I suspect my technological skills are simply not up to it.  So if you fancy coming along just drop me an email at and let me know your name and the day on which you would like to go by noon on Thursday.  If I get more than one email I shall be incredibly excited and shall draw a name from a hat.  Or get Minx to decide.

On to the more mundane business of meal planning, and D is still Dukan-ing so protein features pretty heavily in the early part of the week.  Then on Friday, we're off to the show followed by a curry with my in-laws to celebrate Pa-in-law's 70th birthday.  Saturday I'm keeping free as hopefully I will have oodles of show produce to scoff.  In very small, WW friendly, amounts of course.

Monday - Dukan friendly meatloaf (with salad and cheese for me)
Tuesday - Gammon and fried eggs (him) / roast potatoes (me)
Wednesday - Dukan friendly meatloaf (part deux) (with mash and creamy mushrooms for me)
Thursday - Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs
Friday - out
Saturday - post show spoils
Sunday - Sort of Sunday roast: chicken, carrot and swede mash, creamy leeks, garlic roasted broccoli

Have a good week, folks!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Smart points review - the first weekend

Previously, on WW Foodie:

The review of my first day on Smart Points can be found here.

And now, the first weekend...

I am writing this on Sunday afternoon.  I am currently at my desk, in between bouts of studying international tax issues.  Plus, it is my special lady time and I have the crampiest stomach known to mankind.  I am not in the best of moods as you can imagine, so be sure and take all this with a pinch of salt.

No doubt that, come Thursday, if I have a really good first week's weight loss I shall be full of the joys of Smart Points but, for now, I have to say I am still very firmly on the fence.

Perhaps a lot of it comes down to whether or not you feel a "diet" (ugh, I hate that word) should be punitive.  If you read Peridot's blog, for example, she puts herself through the wringer on a weekly basis, interspersing fast days with restricted calorie days - the woman has willpower of IRON.  And Lesley is currently back on meal replacement packs and, by all accounts, rocking it.  Me bitching about the fact that I ate a bag of Minstrels after my tea and it took a rather large chunk out of my weekly points seems petty in the extreme.

But ProPoints always felt to me like it could be a viable lifestyle choice if you took a bit of care over planning your meals.  Smart Points, much less so.  Steph - as per your comment, joyless is often the word that springs to mind.

I think that the Minstrels are an interesting example.  The Smart Points calculation starts from the calories in an item.  A high percentage of saturated fat and sugar will then send the points up and a high percentage of protein will bring it back down.  So as you can imagine, an item that is basically all saturated fat and sugar (e.g. Minstrels) is going to end up pretty high.

Minstrels are 212 calories a bag.  If you're a woman on a fairly restricted daily calorie intake - say, 1200, which is pretty low - that represents one sixth of your daily calories.  Minstrels are 11 SP a bag.  If you're a woman on the lower end of the SP allowance - say, 31 (which is 29 dailies plus 2 out of your 14 weeklies) - then the Minstrels now represent a third of your intake.  It's obviously not quite as straightforward as that, what with fruit and vegetables being 0 SP, but it is a marked difference.

There will be many people out there who will say yes, but you shouldn't be eating a bag of Minstrels every day - I even said a similar thing myself a few posts ago.  To which I answer yes, I shouldn't.  But it shows a marked lack of understanding of the mentality of many dieters to tell them this.  Say to them - you could eat a bag of Minstrels every day, or you could use your points on slightly bigger portions at dinner and a good proportion of the time they'll go for the latter option.  Say to them - you shouldn't eat a bag of Minstrels everyday and we're going to make it bloody hard for you to do so and heels get dug in.

Or my heels do at least.

Anyway, I'm on day 4 of the first week and I'm still on track with, for all my griping, points to spare.  I just am feeling a bit Gollumesque over that weekly bank...

Image result for Gollum gif

Still, onwards and (hopefully!) downwards chaps.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Smart Points review - one day in

Weight Watchers relaunched their points based counting system at the end of last year with Pro Points  (PP) evolving into Smart Points (SP).  Now I, personally, had a lot of success on Pro Points and found it relatively easy to balance everything within my allowance.  My initial impression is that this is going to be a lot harder to do on Smart Points.

For the uninitiated - every Weight Watchers member has a daily points allowance and an additional "bank" of points that can be drawn on throughout the week.  Both the daily and the weekly allowances decrease as you lose weight.  In addition, exercise earns you "Fit Points" which can be swapped for food once you've earned more than a set amount - which amount rises as you lose weight to make you work harder.  With me?

My daily points allowance on SP is about the same as on PP, my weekly bank has decreased by 7.  So, overall, fewer points.  I think I'm going to be needing those Fit Points, especially as most foods, with the exception of some lean proteins, have gone up.

I wasn't particularly organised today, and had to buy lunch from our on-site shop.  I chose fairly wisely - a sandwich that, at 370 calories would have come in at 9-10 PP and a small pot of low fat yoghurt.  The sandwich turned out to be 11 SP and the yoghurt a whopping 4 SP.  Ouch. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for supper came in relatively low though, so it balanced out.

It feels, though, that Weight Watchers really don't want me to consume anything containing any amount of sugar or fat.  I adore butter, and used to be able to get 7g for 1 PP, which was enough for decent coverage on a slice of toast.  The same amount is now 3 SP.  Any and all sweet treats have gone up - a two finger Kit Kat, for example, has gone from 3 PP to 5 SP a bar.  All of these increases, combined with the lower allowances, makes it feel a lot more restrictive and "diet-ey".

I've come in bang on my daily allowance today but more by luck than judgement - I need to spend the weekend doing some careful planning to allow me to stretch those Smart Points further.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Oh woe, oh woe, back to WW we go

So, thoroughly disenchanted with WW, especially after the change to Smart Points, I decided that I needed to find an alternative plan.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was trying something but wanted to give it a fair shot before writing about it.

Cue hollow laugh.

The thing was, I was sick to the back teeth of counting.  I wanted to do something else and what I came up with was the 5:2 plan, which involves having two fast days a week and eating normally the rest of the time.  My reasoning was that, OK, the fast days would be thoroughly miserable and would involve some form of counting to ensure that I came in under 500 cals, but the rest of the time would be "normal" eating - exactly what I craved.

The fundamental problem was that it turns out I am RUBBISH at fast days.  I think I managed one properly - perhaps two - and hated them.  And I struggled with choosing the days.  It couldn't be the weekend.  It couldn't be on a Monday because that's tutorial day and I can't concentrate on seven hours of tax legislation on an empty stomach.  So that left Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  But Tuesday and Thursday are the good exercise class days - Tuesday is Body Combat followed by Aqua Aerobics, and Thursday is Clubbercise and I was nervous about exercising on 500 calories. I messed around and, basically, didn't achieve anything.

So I'm accepting the inevitable and dragging myself back to WW.  I am going to give Smart Points a good go - my gym buddy A has lost a stone and a half in the last few weeks so it clearly works.  I have bought a Fitbit and linked it to my account so that I can rack up Fit Points which I will probably swap for food, accepting that this will mean a slower loss.

As far as I can gather, Smart Points is pushing people towards a high protein, low fat, low sugar diet.  Which sounds rather joyless but, as ever, I will be trying to bend it to my tastes as much as possible and report back here as to the results.  I'm not necessarily going to publish Smart Points on the recipes that I post though, because I really like the freedom of just sharing stuff that I like without having to write a "Sorry, this is so high in points..." precursor.  As ever, if you want the Smart Points then please just drop me an email.

D also wants to drop some weight and has decided to do a month of Dukan - which is also geared towards high protein and low fat, so the two should mesh fairly well, although I am far too greedy to give up carbs altogether, which is pretty much what he is intending to do.  Again, I'll let you know how that goes.  Once he is in "Cruise" phase, which allows some vegetables, I can see the spiraliser getting a LOT of use which will be interesting.

Wish me luck my loves.  For the fifty one billionth time.

Monday, 28 March 2016

TWTWTW: Easter 2016

The weather outside may be frightful (par for the course during a UK Bank Holiday weekend) but here, chez WWF, all is peaceful.  Apart from the feline member of the household who was bombing around just a minute ago - not sure what it is she is chasing.

So on Wednesday we took ourselves off to Whitby for a couple of nights.  The colour theme of the sojourn can pretty much be summed up by this picture:

Very Grey.  But hey, you don't go the seaside for sunshine.  You go for atmosphere.  You go to take random pictures of seagulls:

You go for FISH AND CHIPS:

That plateful of loveliness is brought to you courtesy of Trencher's which I heartily recommend to you if you find yourself in Whitby and don't fancy queuing outside the Magpie.  I really liked the fact that they offered a small portion which was perfectly Seren sized.  I can never manage all the chips in a standard - when D and I get takeaway I always push for two fish and one chips between us.

Ha, but check out what happened on the Friday that we were heading back to Leeds:

The Weather Gods can be right bastards sometimes.

In other Easter tidings, I made my first ever batch of hot cross buns:

Yes, not things of beauty, are they?  They tasted nice though - a denser, breadier texture than shop bought offerings.  My next attempt will up the spice content, but the basic recipe I used can be found here.

Some sad news cast the slightest of shadows over the long weekend; my parents' beautiful tabby cat, Minnie, has been diagnosed with a tumour and is only like to be with us for a few more weeks.  I got the chance to see her yesterday and she is still in very good health and spirits, eating well and quite happy, so it looks as if the rest of her time here will be peaceful and content, as, indeed, was her whole life.  She will be very much missed.  I wrote a bit about her here.  Minx has kindly agreed that this week, Minnie should provide the obligatory cat picture.

Friday, 18 March 2016

TWTWTW: vet, 80s, teriyaki

I've been quiet all week - full of cold and rather sulky.

Obligatory cute cat picture

Minx went to the vet this week for her yearly jabs and was an angel throughout. The vet commented that she was a "perfect" weight, a rarity in our household. She doesn't appear to be overly bothered by food and will graze from her bowls throughout the day as and when she remembers. A salutary lesson for us all.

I go back to the 80s

I am writing this before the week is truly over, prior to heading down to London for an 80s themed birthday party. I have packed fingerless gloves and blue eyeshadow and will probably need to be steaming before I set foot outside the hotel room. Being aged 0-9 in the 80s, I wasn't particularly au fait with the fashions so have spent some interesting sessions on Pinterest acquainting myself with what passed for style back in the day. I am hoping for proper retro buffet snacks - cheese and pineapple on sticks, Monster Munch...oooh, boil in the bag fish! Not really a buffet snack but I remember eating it a lot as a child - can you still get it?

I do not quite succeed at lamb teriyaki

There has been a dish on the Wagamamas menu for a while now of teriyaki lamb with wasabi and pea noodles of which I have always liked the idea. I tried to make something similar this week and although it was fine it didn't blow my socks off. Perhaps my mistake was, per this recipe, making the teriyaki sauce from component parts - perhaps it's one of those things that you just have to buy pre-made. If anyone has any teriyaki tips then please let me know - I am sure that this dish has potential but I need to have a bit of a rethink.

Have a good weekend dear readers (insert witty sign off here).

Sunday, 13 March 2016

That was the week that was

I want to get into the habit of doing the odd round up post. As I get older, I get increasingly forgetful - although it might be the effect of gin rather than years - and lots of lovely things get consumed and then never make it as far as the blog.

Plus it will give me an excuse to throw in Cute Cat Picture of the week:

My culinary horizons are expanded

Last night, if I had been wearing a hat I would have been forced to eat it. We went for dinner with friends and got the opportunity to sample some authentic, home cooked South African food. I, having looked up bobotie online, was not convinced. But it turns out to be divine! Somehow the richness of the meat and the complexity of the spices perfectly balances with the sweetness. I am really quite tempted to try and make it myself. I do not, however, intend to garnish it with banana (sorry, Les) - that was just one step too far from my palate.

Oh, also, peri peri chicken livers. You NEED these in your life, dear readers.

We order too much Thai food

In the hope of reviving my occasional "Cheap Eats in Leeds" series, D and I had dinner at Leeds institution Thai Aroy Dee. Unfortunately, I was tired and he was grumpy after a whole broken glasses saga, so we clearly ordered far too much food and came in over the £30 mark. Mind, we ended up taking an awful lot of it away to eat the following day. We intend to return and give it another go.

Giant Couscous is my new favourite thing

Served this week with lamb and haggis meatballs, roasted aubergine and a creamy aubergine purée - this little grain is an absolute revelation! It has made me think that I need to be a bit more creative with my staple carbs and mix up the standard pasta, rice and potatoes rotation.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday lovelies...(insert witty sign off here).