Monday, 28 December 2015

Meal Planning Birthday

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Foodie on a diet: 2015 round-up

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2015

The final Meal Planning Monday of the year (probably)

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve: Gammon and roasties (traditional)

Christmas Day: post to follow

Boxing Day:  Turkey sandwiches with a LOT of trimmings

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

I can't WAIT.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Foodie at home: the best of 2015

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Foodie Abroad: the best of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 December 2015

Meal planning Monday - the coughdown to Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week everybody.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

All change at Weight Watchers HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bloggers do Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Christmas shopping everybody!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Meal planning Mog Day

Are we allowed to talk about Christmas yet?  Are we?  It's practically December so I think that's OK.  In the last week or so I've had my first (few) mince pies, attended a Christmas fayre and bought this:


Combining cats, Christmas and a hefty dose of childhood nostalgia, this is an amalgam of some of my absolute favourite things.  Have you seen the television advert?  I know that it has been conceived by some heartless marketing man who has calculated the exact level of tug required on heartstrings to make a purchase, but I DON'T CARE.  All profits from the sale of the book go towards improving child literacy in the UK.  And if Christmas is all about gift giving, then giving a child the gift of literacy, the gift of books for goodness sake, is probably up there with the best of them.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there.  And D, being a stalwart Waitrose man, would not approve of me banging the drum for Sainsbury's.  Thus, onwards.

There's not much by way of meal planning this week because I'm only home for dinner on two out of the seven evenings.  Yes, this week I am quite the social butterfly - and quite frankly it sounds exhausting.  Yesterday, D made his famous (and delicious) rabbit pie so he has plenty of leftovers to be getting along with (although he may end up suffering from pie fatigue around Thursday).  As for the meals we are having:

Lobster Caesar salad (this is going to be our starter on Christmas Day and we are just making it one more time to perfect the presentation)
Pulled pork cheeks with sherry, saffron and olives served with Spanish tomato rice

Next week's episode will probably be brought to you courtesy of Caffeine.  Good eating in the meantime everyone!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Hibernation

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.

Balls!
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.

Beer!
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
Harrogate
HG1 1SS
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.

Ingredients

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).

Prawns!
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.

Pizza!
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.    

Pudding!
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.


Solidarité.

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.

Ingredients

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...

Bread

...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.

Kohlrabi
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.

Aero
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
Nottingham
NG7 2SA
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.

Prosecco

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.)

Ingredients

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.

Scoff.