Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Migraines and tomato sauce...only one of these is good

In my life I've had only a handful of migraines. They usually start in the middle of the night and a couple of times I've had an "aura"; for me, this is a sort of visual fizziness. Not quite fireworks, but more a display of sparkles...a little like the thing you get when all the blood has rushed out of your head and you're about to faint. It sounds pretty, right? In reality, it's stressful because I don't know how long it will last and I can't make it stop. Eyes open, it's there. Closed eyes, it's there. I can't turn on the light because that makes me want to vomit. I become EXTREMELY sensitive to light and become a bit "Hollywood swooning diva".

After the migraine itself has ended, I feel like my head has been consumed by a fog which is expanding in my skull, threatening to burst it open. I'm overwhelmed with exhaustion and nausea and have to lie very still in a darkened room for as long as possible.

Last Sunday I had a migraine in the middle of the night. I woke on Monday feeling like death so swapped my day working from home and did what I could from the sofa in my dark sitting room. Tuesday morning came and I knew I wasn't going to make it in again...another day working from the sofa in a dark room. By Wednesday morning I was bored so I dragged myself up and onto a bus as I couldn't manage the 12 minute walk to the station - by this point, I was feeling very pathetic and getting quite worried - the after effects have never lasted so long before. Thursday, I still felt utterly appalling but made it out for a client dinner where I had a couple of glasses of wine. Error. I didn't sleep a wink. Friday I just wanted to die. The nausea was so bad I couldn't face lunch (I KNOW! Can you believe such a thing?!)  All week I was looking ahead to the quiet weekend that I had planned, a chance to rest up and get better...except that went belly up because of these little blighters:

Check it - it's a maggoty thing. It's actually the larvae of the pantry/larder moth and is plainly revolting. So instead of my relaxing, quiet weekend, I had to do an uber-cleanup whilst desperately needing my bed.  This was a highly stressful exercise involving much ladder-climbing, many binbags, lots of soapy water, chemical  pest spray and plenty of squealing and shaking from me every time I came across the maggots...which was a lot.  

Roll on this Monday morning and, after a slightly strange night which was riddled with insomnia, I got up feeling exhausted but otherwise ok. At about 2:30pm another full on migraine struck. I literally crawled under my desk to get away from the lights, moaned, groaned, donned sunglasses (useless) and somehow managed to get home where I fell asleep for hours. And now it's the early hours of Tuesday morning, I'm crying from fatigue and nausea and just feeling so under the weather for what is becoming a prolonged period of time. I'm feeling VERY sorry for myself.

Anyway. I'm moaning and it's really dull. And this is *sort of* a food blog. So, back to food! In a brief moment of not feeling bad over the weekend, I made some incredible polpette from Russell Norman's Polpo cookbook and a fresh tomato sauce. I shan't recount the polpette recipe for obvious reasons (I don't think he would appreciate it and you should buy the book - it's very lovely) but they were the pork and fennel ones. So pork mince, fennel seeds and the other usual suspects in a meatball. Delicious. They made me smile inside.

All mine though was the sauce. As you may know, I vehemently do NOT like tomatoes...or so I thought. I now think that I just I don't like tinned tomatoes*. They're strong and acidic and don't actually taste of tomatoes. So, to the sauce!


A pack of cherry vine tomatoes, cut into quarters
One small red onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
A pinch of dried chilli - not too much, you just want a teeny bit of background heat
Black pepper
Olive oil

Over a lowish heat, heat up a decent slug of olive oil with the onion and garlic. I always heat the oil up with the garlic in it because the garlic is less likely to burn and you don't want to burn it because burnt garlic is pretty ming. Add the chilli flakes, a good bit of salt (around 1/4 tsp minimum) and lots of black pepper. Stir for a few minutes until everything is soft. I highly recommend that you don't take this opportunity to take out the maggoty binbags. Chances are you'll burn everything and have to start again...which isn't irritating AT ALL.

Once the onions are soft, add the tomatoes to the pan, another slug of oil, heat until bubbling and then pop the lid on and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally so that it doesn't stick.

After 15 minutes, it should be all soft and the tomatoes should have broken down. Let it cool a little and then blitz it with a stick bender until smooth. Check for seasoning - it should be delicious and sweet and pretty darn perfect.

Russell Norman suggests that you part-cook your meatballs in the oven and then poach them in the sauce. Given that these were the best meatballs I've ever made, I now recommend this too. Mine had 15 mins at 200 in the oven, turning every 5 minutes and then 10 minutes of poaching in the sauce with the lid on.

I drained my pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking water and then tossed the pasta, pasta water, meatballs and sauce together. The result was utterly delicious and strangely light because the meatballs were made with pork rather than the traditional beef, and the sauce was so much lighter and sweeter for being made with gorgeous fresh cherry tomatoes.

This is the sauce on the pasta:

but you can't really see it, so here it is sans spag:

Undoubtedly, this tomato sauce is far more expensive to produce than one made with tinned tomatoes...but I will eat and enjoy this one, which makes it totally worthwhile in my books.

I shall be making a batch of these for the freezer so that on under-the-weather days, I can just pull a portion out and have a pretty healthy meal. *Happy piggy face.*

*actually still hate sun dried tomatoes, sun blush tomatoes, those freaky massive beef ones which are sort of fluffy and make me gag, not keen on tomato purée...you get the picture.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Bib bib bibimbappety bap

So I'm doing pretty well on my "diet" at the moment. The aim was to work to 1400 calories a day which I did really well at for 2 weeks, then I had one bad week where I just couldn't really be bothered and I was doing a bit of comfort eating after my bike crash* and I put a little bit of weight back on. Then I heard about the 5:2 fasting diet.

To say I was sceptical about 5:2 is a bit of an understatement - how can fasting for two days a week be good for you? Except it's not total fasting; you get to eat 500 calories if you're a girl, 600 if you are lucky enough to be a boy. So I decided to watch the Horizon documentary "Eat Fast and Live Longer" by Dr Michael Mosley (it's on YouTube) and see what it was all about. I came away feeling excited and totally convinced that (a) it is manageable and (b) that it's actually good for you. Seriously, the documentary is pretty compelling. Watch it.

Around the same time, the lovely @souchefnic launched her fabulous website: www.souschef.co.uk I can't stop drooling over it. For me, the thing that it's best at is providing hard-to-buy Asian ingredients which rock up a day or two later wrapped in beautiful tissue paper. Heaven.

I love Asian food more than any other cuisine. I love that it's spicy and salty and comforting and that it can be incredibly low in fat. It's the perfect cuisine when you're dieting. So, the first thing that I bought from www.souschef.co.uk was this beautiful dolsot stone bowl. It's pretty - it has naturally sparkly bits in the stone, see?

The purpose of this heavy beast? BIBIMBAP. Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish and goes a little bit like this...


1 portion of cooked basmati rice (around 60g);
Spinach: a couple of decent handfuls cooked down, water squeezed out and then mixed with a little sesame oil and a few sesame seeds;
1 carrot: sliced into sticks, stir fried for a couple of minutes and then tossed in soy sauce;
1 courgette: cooked in the same way as the carrot;
1/3 of a cucumber, chopped into sticks, salted for about 20 minutes and rinsed and patted dry;
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts;
1 tbsp red pepper paste (available here from www.souschef.co.uk **);
1 whole egg;
Sesame oil.

While you are preparing the vegetables, put the cold stone bowl into a cold oven, turn it on to 200c and heat up. You can leave it in the oven for another 20 minutes or so to get really really hot. Never ever put the cold bowl into a hot oven, it will probably crack and then you will cry.

Once hot, remove the bowl from the oven (with oven gloves - stay safe kids) and throw in a teaspoon or two of sesame oil. Swill it around to coat the bowl and put in your cooked rice. The idea here is that the rice should get a crispy crust but it didn't really work for me. I asked Nic how to do it and she says that you should put it on a direct flame and let it sizzle away for 5 mins and that makes for a better crust.

Place all your veggies in pretty piles around the edge of the rice along with a good dollop of the pepper paste and then crack an egg into the middle.

When you get to the table (or to the sofa with your tray if you're me) grab your chopsticks and mix the whole lot together and eat!

It's so tasty. Spicy, crunchy, delicious. If I'm honest, the only thing that it was missing is a bit of meat. Sorry vegetarians. Next time I'll add a bit of beef or chicken to the mix. Incidentally, you can use ANY vegetables you like. You really should put a rehydrated shiitake mushroom in there too, but I didn't have any at the time. I do now. Once you've eaten it! Wash the bowl in hot water with no soap so that you're effectively "seasoning" the bowl more and more each time you use it.

This isn't a 5:2 fasting day meal but it's a damn fine pretty healthy meal for one of the feed days. I urge you to try it.

Next time: kimchi.

* remember how I said in my last blog post that I was going to buy a scooter and my life was going to improve enormously? Well I went on a training course, found it utterly terrifying and then crashed the bike into a bollard, flinging myself into the middle of the road rendering me battered, bruised and unable to walk for a couple of days. I've recovered now but I shan't be getting a bike. I've got an iPad instead. *safety first face*

** I promise you that Nic isn't paying me! I just bloody love her website.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad