Tuesday 7 May 2013

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Weekly Blog #13

This week has been one of my least impressive.

On Tuesday night I went out for dinner with a friend to FM Mangal in Camberwell.  My friend and I had no idea what we were doing so pretty much pointed at the menu and hoped that it would turn out OK.  I ended up with a plate of minced lamb - sort of like chopped up koftes - which was mixed up with a tomatoey sauce and little bits of turkish bread with a load of yoghurt on the side.  It was nice but it was enormous and I had food envy - my friend had chunks of lamb and chicken with salady things which looked more appealing.  I really want to go back, but I need to go with someone who will order good stuff for me.  Incidentally, when you arrive they bring a bowl of charred onions and garlic in a deep purple sauce (the whole of the internet seems to be speculating about what's in the sauce - I have no idea but it's delicious) and a basket of bread which is covered in spice and meat juices.  The bread is incredible and only gets better and more meaty and savoury as it gets cooler.  Frankly, I could happily have gone just for the onions and the bread, but given that they're free, that probably wouldn't be allowed.  Anyway, here's a picture of my dinner.  It's not going to win any prizes for presentation, but it tasted good.
I'm trying, largely unsuccessfully, to eat the contents of my freezer to make way for some ice-cream I am making for a dinner party in a couple of weeks.  I got a steak out for dinner on Wednesday which I had with salad and rice noodles.  I dressed the salad according to a recommendation from @ShedLikesFood in the comments section of last week's post - soy, hoisin sauce, sesame oil and mirin.  It was really good and was a far tastier and healthier alternative to regular salad dressing.  It turned out that the rice noodles were surplus to requirements - I left most of them.

On Thursday, I went to the ballet so my friend and I had a quick bite to eat at Polpo beforehand.  Now, I'm quite a fan of Polpo - the food is good, if not incredible, and I just like it there.  That said, Thursday's meal was pretty disappointing.  The pizzette was undercooked and floppy, the arancini were also undercooked (the mozzarella in the middle was solid), the braised scallops were very sweet and were crying out for a big squeeze of lemon, the sardinian flatbread with lardo was all flatbread and very little lardo and was just DRY.  The fritto misto was good though.  It was just all a bit sad.  I didn't take any photos.
I was shattered on Friday as I had to go home via B&Q.  I'm vaguely considering moving and since the idea popped into my head, I've realised that my flat is looking a little uncared for so I'm forcing myself to do a bit of DIY (hateful, HATEFUL.)  Due to lateness and tiredness, I had a fishfinger pitta sandwich and it was AWESOME.

Saturday was taken up with horrible chores.  I sanded down a window frame, painted stuff and then trotted off to get my hair done which is 4 hours of my life I'll never get back.  I had taken some mince out of the freezer and, upon rooting through my cupboards, discovered a jar of "Chinese Hot Chilli Sauce" which, on inspection of the ingredients, turned out to be black beans, chillies and sichuan peppercorns and tasted pretty good.  Laziness prevailed and I just chucked some of it into the mince, added some spring onions and served over rice.  It looks horrible but tasted nice enough.
Shed came and rescued me from the decorating on Sunday.  I had been up at the crack of dawn painting stuff and freaking out Ralphie with the roller.  By the time Shed arrived at 12:30, I was pooped and Ralphie was on edge.  She came via The Ginger Pig and had bought bavette steak and pork tenderloin.  While we were deciding what we wanted to do with the pork, we had a little steak starter of...just steak, actually.  Shed ALWAYS wants bibimbap when she comes over (which is fine by me - I can't usually be bothered to make it just for me) so we cobbled it together with random fridge and cupboard ingredients and the last of the gochujang paste

Dinner wasn't necessary on Sunday night - I just had some toast.

Yesterday, my friend Jassy and I went to the cinema.  We go to this lovely little independent cinema in Bermondsey and one of the best bits is getting a glass of wine and a hot dog to take in with us.  Cue total devastation: they seem to have stopped doing the hot dogs so dinner last night was a large glass of sauvignon blanc with an 11.30pm supper of scrambled eggs on toast.  Not ideal.

So a largely crappy week where I put on 2lbs.  I have to confess, I'm not entirely sure I deserved that - I was expecting to stay the same so I felt pretty sad this morning.  I have noticed that on weeks where I'm very Bread Heavy, which I have been this week (lots of lunchtime sandwiches, fishfinger sandwich dinner, scrambled eggs on toast dinner, toast dinner, lots of bread at FM Mangal etc etc) it does seem to lead to a big weight increase.  Bread is bad, it seems.  Challenge for this week - eat less bread.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Weekly Blog #12

I've been trying to capitalise on the success of last week and have made a concerted effort to cook every night.
A high point this week was my attempt to recreate Neil Rankin's green chilli poussin.  He kindly told me the ingredients that I needed and somehow I managed to get it pretty damn close to the original.

If you can't be bothered to make it, go to The John Salt in Islington and get Neil to make it for you.  While you're there, make sure you get the red flannel hash as well - beetroot, goat's cheese, roast potatoes and a crispy breadcrumbed egg.  Really good.  Oh, and the raw beef, pear and sesame.  Etc etc.

I went fish heavy this week.  I made sea bream with ginger, chilli, spring onions, soy and a dash of sesame oil.  I loved this and it was incredibly quick and easy. 

I also made haddock with salsa verde.  I made the salsa verde according to Nigel Slater's recipe in the Guardian which was good, but I think next time I would blend half of it first to really get the flavours going and then add back in a bit of chunkiness.  It just didn't quite come together enough for me although, having said that, I had the leftovers the following day and it was better.

My friend Jordi and I went to the ballet at the Royal Opera House on Saturday, but before that we went for brunch at Balthazar.  Balthazar opened a couple of months ago and, in the main, has had pretty terrible reviews.  Jordi and I sat at the bar which was lovely; the barmen were friendly and attentive without being irritating.  I had a mimosa and brioche french toast with bacon and it was good.  It's not fine dining but I don't think it's trying to be.  While I probably wouldn't rush there for dinner, it's ideal for brunch or lunch.  Plus, the (very good) bread is free.

That evening, we had a party at Shed's house.  Vegetarians - look away now.  Shed had got her hands on a tiny French piglet which was pretty darn exciting.  She cooked it slowly for around 6 hours and then wrapped him up in foil and a bath towel to rest.  The result was the softest, tenderest, most amazing pork I think I've ever eaten.  He's not very pretty and you don't get any crackling (his skin is too thin to crackle up) but he was very special. 

On Sunday I was feeling a little delicate after very little sleep (I'm getting old and rubbish at drinking) so I just roasted a couple of chicken pieces with some lemon, garlic and basil and served with fried gnocchi.  I'm not sure what I thought about the fried gnocchi, truth be told, although they were very quick and easy.

Finally, I made Jamie Oliver's Indian carrot salad last night.  It's a while since I've made this and I'd forgotten just how good it is.  I made it with minced beef because that's what I had in the freezer and, while it suffered a little for not being deliciously fatty lamb, it wasn't a deal-breaker at all.  This needs to go back into my regular repertoire of meals.

Something that I've noticed this week is that my appetite is waning a little.  I'm not finishing everything that I've cooked, for instance I ate only half of the potatoes that went with my haddock, I didn't finish the gnocchi or its accompanying chicken and my portions of fish were smaller than I normally eat.  I find it so hard to leave food on my plate - it just feels so WRONG, but I'm trying to do it more and more when I genuinely stop being hungry before I've finished my food.  I'm also trying to curb my late night cravings for something sweet - this is easier said than done although I'm getting there...slowly. 

And it's working...2lbs off this week and I don't feel like I've been dieting at all. 

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Weekly Blog #11

It was supposed to have been a busy week but various plans were cancelled so, other than yesterday evening, I have been at home every night so have done quite a bit of cooking including:
This messy plate of food was my attempt at @thomasblythe's recipe for braised chicken with black pudding.  It should have been done with chicken legs and chantenay carrots but I got the butcher to section up a whole chicken so I used the breasts and drumsticks.  I couldn't get my hands on chantenay carrots at short notice, so regular ones had to do.  It was really tasty but I think that the key to it is getting good black pudding - this was from the butcher near my office and it was overspiced with cloves.  Just not savoury enough.
I also made Esther Walker's sausage and cabbage hotpot (recipe here).  It's the second time that I've made it and this time I cooked the cabbage leaves for only 3 minutes rather than the suggested 5 and I think it worked better this time; it wasn't wet at all once I shook them off before layering it up.  I used Waitrose's extra lean sausages (which lend themselves well to being casseroled, less well to being baked/fried/grilled etc) and Lurpak Lighter, so it's actually pretty diet friendly when served with a few boiled potatoes (I didn't finish them.)
Finally, a quick midweek meal was gnocchi with courgettes, reduced fat creme fraiche and prosciutto.  This undoubtedly works better with pasta (penne or similar) but it was easy and not too fattening as I used only a tablespoon of the creme fraiche.
My meal out this week was last night when I went to Koya where I had the Kinoko Atsu-Atsu with Onsen Tamago (hot udon noodles in hot dashi broth with mushrooms and walnut miso and a poached egg.)  I had this the only other time that I've been to Koya but that time I had the Hiya-Atsu (cold noodles, hot broth) and I remember it being much nicer than the food I had last night.  I'm not sure whether it was an off night, but my dashi broth just didn't taste of anything.  It felt like one of the worthiest meals I've eaten in months which was a bit sad.  It looked nice though:
Overall, I feel like I've settled down a bit.  I'm back to eating breakfast every day and taking my lunch into work with me which is half the battle as I'm not tempted to buy crisps and chocolate at lunchtime if I don't need to leave my desk.  My evil neighbour made me do two pilates sessions with her which left me barely able to move on Sunday.  Overall I lost 2.8lbs this week which I'm incredibly pleased with, especially as I really didn't do very much.  Onwards and downwards...

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Weekly Blog (weeks 8, 9 and 10)


I've missed a couple of blog posts which is largely down to the fact that I took a holiday - nothing fancy; I went home to spend 10 days being hugged to the bosom of my family which I really needed.

I did a lot of cooking when I went home.  I love cooking but it's just not so much fun in my flat because my kitchen is tiny and not very functional.  Over the week I was at home I made a couple of things from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, including poached chicken with freekeh and buttered flaked almonds:

This was so delicious.  I bought the freekeh quite a while ago from Persepolis in Peckham but this was the first time that I'd used it.  It's a greenish coloured grain that has a texture similar to bulgur wheat but it's really smoky in flavour - so good.  You can also buy it online from Sous Chef. 

I also made Ottolenghi's lamb koftes with a tahini sauce:

That greasy looking stuff is the ghee which is optional - don't bother.  It adds nothing at all. 

We ate a lot of comfort food because it was so cold - shepherd's pie, chicken and mushroom potato topped pie and sausage casserole.  My mum and I went out for dinner in York to the Dean Court Hotel's restaurant, DCH.  It's a slightly strange restaurant in that it's often lacking a bit in atmosphere but the food is really good.  My scallops with herb risotto and pea puree were lovely and so pretty:

Since I've been back in London (after a brief diversion through Norfolk and Essex), I've just gone off the boil.  I'm finding life a little bit tough at the moment with one thing and another; I'm feeling constantly tired and worn out and my diet has slipped down my list of priorities.  All my good habits have (temporarily) vanished - I haven't been eating breakfast and I haven't brought my lunch into work since I came back last Tuesday so I have resorted to rather unpleasant plasticky sandwiches from Pret and I haven't really been cooking.  I've been eating a lot of toast.
I've also had a couple of great meals out, the first at The Clove Club, which is one of the best meals I've had in months.  Such pretty food, amazing, simple ingredients and clever, clever cooking.  I know that a lot of people have been left a little cold by The Clove Club but I can't wait to go back.  Here's a little collage of some of the things we had, clockwise from top left: radishes with gochuchang mayonnaise and black sesame, leeks, smoked mussels and spinach puree, blood orange, sheep's milk mousse and wild fennel granita and rib of beef (aged for 9 weeks!!), ramson and potato.  OHMYGOD - that rib of beef was the best I've ever tasted.  So meaty and the fat was like butter.  Incredible.
The following day I was feeling a little hungover and was very susceptible when @DanDoherty_ tweeted that he was trying out a new waffle stack at Duck & Waffle.  After very little persuasion by Shed that we should go, Dan kindly saved a table for us and we dropped by for an early dinner.  The new waffle stack, which I stupidly forgot to take a photo of, is technically a breakfast menu item but he'd kept one back for us - potato waffles, crispy bacon, cheese, fried duck egg and truffle mayonnaise...proper hangover food.  We ordered lots of other stuff including the all-day breakfast (brioche, home-made nutella, bacon, foie gras and a fried quails egg - rich but GOOD) the octopus salad (both pictured below, the octopus looks a little scary) plus some nduja bread, crispy pig ears and we were gifted some amazing pollock balls in a lobster cream sauce.  We left feeling painfully full but feeling happy and deeply unhealthy - we didn't consume a single vegetable. 
I love Duck & Waffle.  Incredibly tasty, slightly dirty food with an amazing view of London.
And so here I am, 3 weeks later and 3lbs heavier.  I actually think that's pretty good going considering my terrible behaviour.  This week I will try to get back into my good habits of eating breakfast and bringing in my own lunch.  I also have a diet related excursion planned...but I'm going to keep the details of that close to my chest for now. 

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Weekly Blog #7

This week has been a strange one.  It started with some news that I could have done without which plunged me into a slightly dark place.  I continued to feel generally under the weather and very lethargic which was bad timing as it was a pretty demanding week.
On Tuesday I made a quick meal of smoked paprika squid with orzo, chilli and garlic, once my Ocado delivery arrived.  I used the wrong smoked paprika - hot rather than regular - so this totally blew my head off, and I'm no wuss when it comes to heat.
On Wednesday I made another quick meal because I was due to have my second pilates session with my neighbour - I was delighted when she postponed because I was Too Tired.  In honour of the new Pope, I had spaghettini with broccoli, anchovies, chilli and garlic.
Thursday was rubbish.  I had a work thing which went on until late so I wasn't able to eat until I got home when I just had scrambled eggs in a pitta bread.
On Friday I went to the ballet at the Royal Opera House so we popped around the corner to Polpo for a few plates including fritto misto, meatball piadina smash (meatballs, tomato sauce and cheese in a tortilla served with a pretty delicious coleslaw), cauliflower and fontina gratin and this gorgeous pizzette which was topped with goats' cheese, crispy kale and pine nuts.

On Saturday I was feeling tired and lazy so simply cooked a steak and made orzo with chilli and garlic again.  Super fast and tasty.

Ocado came again on Sunday (I'd managed to smash a kilner jar of flour all over my kitchen and it turned out that Ocado had kilner jars on special offer - win!) and brought me a chicken which I had with broccoli and a jacket potato.  I didn't quite manage to throw away all of the skin.

On Monday my evening plans unexpectedly fell through so I went home and made the ultimate comfort food - a chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie.  No, not terribly diet but not too bad either and I only ate half of it which is definitely progress. 

This has been another week where I didn't really care that much and I didn't count my points at all.  I just can't stop eating nutella which is SO STUPID.  Somehow I've managed to stay exactly the same weight as I was last week, so in total I've lost 10lbs which works out as 1lb per week.  It's OK but it's not great.  I think that what has bedded in is a general attitude towards things like oil/butter - I just don't use anything like as much as I would have done before.  My portions are smaller.  There have been definite mental shifts which seem to be making a difference even when I'm not being very good and that can only be a good thing...it makes me hopeful that when I do finally lose all of the weight, then it may be possible to maintain that loss.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Weekly Blog #6

This week I needed comfort food because I've had a cold and have been feeling very sorry for myself.  On Tuesday I made the sausage hot pot thing that my sister made for me a few weeks ago.  It's basically sausages (Waitrose does some surprisingly good extra lean ones), onions, carrots, savoy cabbage and potatoes and chicken stock cooked for an hour before dotting the top with a little (reduced fat) butter and leaving to crisp up.  It looked revolting when I served it up so here's a picture of it when it was still a work in progress:

On Wednesday I made Fuchsia Dunlop's pock-marked old woman's tofu, aka mapo tofu.  I was feeling very full of cold and very pathetic and very much like I couldn't be bothered to cook, but the beauty of so many of the recipes in her book, Every Grain of Rice, is that they are incredibly quick and easy to make.  Most of the ingredients are store-cupboard things and tofu seems to last forever in the fridge.  Now, I know that tofu is a bit of a love/hate thing - I really don't like the stuff that is fried and spongey and has the thick brown skin thing going on - but  I used firm silken style (i.e. soft and mushy but doesn't break apart if you're fairly careful with it) and it was really delicious and very satisfying:

On Thursday I was feeling lazy so I had scrambled eggs and prosciutto in a pitta bread. 

On Friday I found myself in a tricky situation - the previous night's laziness meant I had no lunch with me and I had to go hunting.  My colleagues have been raving about Pilpel for ages so I decided to try it.  It was amazing.  Falafel, salad, proper houmous, aubergines...the only problem was that it was far too big and I gave up about two thirds of the way through (NB: this is progress; before I would have powered on through.)

It was a bit of a rookie mistake because it meant that I wasn't properly hungry that evening when I went over to @ShedLikesFood's place where we were having Steak Night.   How she managed to perfectly cook four types of steak (rump, onglet, fillet, prime rib) for 13 hungry men and women, I have no idea, but it was fabulous.  Look at this mound of meat!

I left Shed's house feeling very full but, amazingly, sober.  I spent the weekend either in bed or under the duvet on the sofa watching TV.  Did I mention that I'm ill?  I made Fuchsia Dunlop's gong bao chicken with peanuts on Saturday evening which was a hit except for the fact that I discovered after a couple of mouthfuls that the peanuts had turned a bit rancid so I had to pick them all out, happily saving a load of points in the process.

On Sunday I made pork and fennel meatballs from the Polpo cookbook, except with veal mince.

Delicious but I couldn't finish them because I had naughtily made some feeling-sorry-for-myself scones in the afternoon which I had with some amazing strawberry and vanilla jam made by the lovely @ginandting.  Actually, scones really aren't that bad - each scone had 1 ounce of flour, 1/4 ounce of reduced fat butter, 15 mls of skimmed milk and 1/8 ounce of sugar making them 4 points each. Let's not think about what the toppings added...

On Monday night I had my first pilates session with my neighbour.  She's a personal trainer and is doing some sort of pilates qualification and is using me as her case study.  I feel truly sorry for her as she has to put up with my wingeing and moaning for 12 hours.  We're aiming to do two sessions a week, if possible, and I'm hoping that it will be habit forming so that I get off my arse and DO SOME EXERCISE.  I'm not expecting miracles here - I'm hardly about to start running or turning into Forrest Gump, but maybe doing the Zumba for the Wii a couple of times a week would be a start.  I need to do something, I feel so unhealthy.  Anyway, after pilates I reheated leftovers of the meatballs and had with some rice as I'd had pasta at lunchtime.  They were even better the following day.

So another fairly crappy week.  I'm just not bothering to count my points at all.  I'm sort of being more careful than if I was Not On A Diet as I'm eating a little less and I'm not eating a ton of fried crap, but it's still not really good enough.  What I haven't mentioned is that I also had toast and nutella at least 3 times this week, which is why I patently don't deserve this week's weight loss of 1.4lbs.  I'll take it though.