Thursday, 18 May 2017

Recipe corner: An Ottolenghi yoghurt dressing to see you through the summer

It may seem odd to add, to the distinguished archives here on WW Foodie, a recipe that essentially a salad dressing.  For a start, the instructions are pretty much, “Place stuff in a blender and switch on”.  But I wanted to make a mental note of this particular dressing because D and I have come to the conclusion over the past few days that it is one of those things (like bacon, butter and cheese) that makes EVERYTHING taste better.

It’s an Ottolenghi recipe and he serves it as an accompaniment to leek fritters (the recipe can be seen in full here – the fritters themselves are lovely).  But we’ve drizzled it over salad, used it as a dip, added a dollop atop a pile of tagine and couscous and it just perks it all up.

D’s lunch today is a box of somewhat dubious looking cold leftovers – even these, he reports, are delicious when accompanied by a swirl of the magic green sauce.  So, with barbecue season fast approaching, I think that this might be one to have in the fridge at all times for splatting, spreading and dunking purposes.  The below makes one healthy sized batch that seems to keep quite happily in the fridge for at least five days. 

Cook’s notes: the raw garlic does make it quite punchy (perhaps avoid eating before a first date) but I see no reason why you couldn’t add a green chilli into the mix for some additional heat.  We used a Kenwood mini processor to make this – a kitchen gadget that I could not be without as it is perfect for chopping and blending small amounts is easy to use and, importantly, easy to clean.  Highly recommended (although please note that they do not sponsor me.  I’d quite like to be sponsored and provided with lots of lovely free stuff because I have no shame but Kenwood most definitively do not.)

 Ingredients

100g Greek yoghurt
100g sour cream
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
20g roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
30g roughly chopped coriander leaves
 
Open blender (or food processor).
 
Insert ingredients.
 
Close blender. 
 
Ensure blender is plugged in.
 
Press button to blitz.
 
When the whole is a uniform green, check the seasoning and then set aside ready for use.

Monday, 15 May 2017

MPM: 15th May 2017

I feel quite aggrieved that it is Monday morning already – I am sure that the weekend wasn’t long enough. Mind, what there was of it was very pleasant – I caught up with my Mum over coffee, got an overdue haircut (more of a mow when you have a curly mop like mine), watched the Masterchef final (Alison was robbed! Robbed!,) and Eurovision (the UK was robbed! Robbed!) and did some cooking.

Our feast of asparagus on Saturday night was absolutely gorgeous. As well as the frittata, D made a batch of asparagus soup from this recipe which I would highly recommend (but with the addition of a pinch of white pepper at the end to make the flavours really sing). Making asparagus into soup has always felt slightly sacrilegious but this was enough to convert me.  D removed the tips, as suggested in the recipe, and we roasted these separately and served them drizzled with an intensely flavoured garlic and herb yoghurt dressing. Gorgeous.

This week is shaping up to be just as yummy. One thing though – the weight loss has definitely stalled a bit recently; there have been too many missed fast days, too much laxness on non-fast days and my daily hops onto the scales have dwindled which is always a bad sign. So today marks a bit of a reboot: I want to make it into that elusive next stone bracket which is 4.3lbs away – a couple of good weeks could see that off. Game face on!

Monday: Fast day – soup

Tuesday: We have lamb left over from Sunday’s slow roast shoulder, so I am going to do an approximation of this Nigel Slater lamb and apricot tagine and serve it with couscous and a drizzle of the remaining yoghurt dressing from Saturday which should add a bit of zing.

Wednesday: Fast day – soup

Thursday: I’m out for the evening, so we’re going to freezer dive for a pot of something that we can eat early. Not sure what this will be yet but we’ve definitely got some chilli in there, some curry and some moussaka so plenty of options.

Friday: I’m making mackerel kabayaki which is a dish that I ate out recently and adored. I’m planning to serve it with sushi rice and a carrot, ginger and sesame salad – all new to me and it’s probably not at all authentic to bung them all together but I think it sounds tasty.

Saturday: D is cooking pork with risotto and a sage and walnut pesto in an attempt to use up some of the sage that is currently taking over the back of our garden.

Sunday: Sausages (homemade, from the freezer), mashed potato, red onion gravy. Perfect Sunday fare.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Recipe corner: A spring frittata

I always think of frittata as the slightly coarser cousin of the omelette. An omelette, to my mind, is a delicate, buttery thing with minimal ingredients. A frittata is far less rarified and a fantastic way to showcase whatever produce happens to be in season (or lurking at the bottom of the fridge). I once read that it is not the done thing to treat a frittata like eggy waste disposal but (and I feel the same way about pasta bakes) sometimes throwing in whatever you happen to have on hand produces a thing of great beauty and, even if it doesn’t, it will be perfectly and agreeably edible.

For all that, here a little bit of advanced consideration has been applied to produce something that sings of the season. I first saw a recipe for this particular combination in a Waitrose magazine, but have tweaked the method slightly to suit.


Cook's notes: if you asparagus is very slender, you probably don’t need to worry about pre-cooking it but we've been getting some MONSTER stalks here. You could switch out butter for oil if you don’t want to faff around with melting it but I do happen to think that when butter and eggs are brought together, good things are bound to happen. With regards the herbs, I used dill because I love it, but any of the softer, milder, greener herbs (parsley, basil, even mint) would also work – your rosemarys and sages and thymes would probably overwhelm. Your frittata dish could be a large, ovenproof frying pan or a cake tin (NOT loose bottomed) would work fine - I plumped for a 24cm Le Creuset pie dish which was PERFECT.

Ingredients

250g new potatoes, thickly sliced
Bunch of asparagus
15g butter
Tsp dill
Heaped tsp wholegrain mustard
6 eggs
75g Gruyere cheese, grated

Serves 2 - 4

Heat the oven to 180 (160 if, like ours, your fan oven is somewhat enthusiastic).

Put the new potatoes in a large pan, cover with cold, salted water and bring to the boil over medium heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends and chopping each stem into 2-3 cm lengths. Set a large bowl of ice cold water to one side. Once the water has come to the boil, set a timer for 6 minutes and, once it goes off, add the asparagus to the same pan for a further minute. Then you can drain and put straight into the cold water to stop the cooking.

Melt the butter (the microwave is probably the easiest option for this). Using a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the inside of the dish.

Drain the vegetables, pat dry and evenly distribute across the bottom of the dish.

Whisk the eggs, season well and stir through the mustard and the herbs. Pour over the potato and asparagus mix and then place in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove, sprinkle over the cheese and return for another 15 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling and the frittata is cooked through.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Skosh, York

Long-time readers will know that, up until 2012, D and I lived in the beautiful city of York. Although we are now settled in our little corner of North Leeds, it took a long time for me to stop missing my former home. But one thing that Leeds always had going for it over York was the food scene. Beyond the myriad of chain restaurants (presumably there to provide a sense of the familiar to York’s massive tourist population) and the plethora of pubs, there weren’t that many places that I’d recommend to a foodie friend. And the fact that our beloved J. Baker’s Bistro Moderne closed its doors not long after we left seemed like a sign from the universe that our move to Leeds was the right one.

Now, though, it seems as if York is beginning to up its foodie game. Andrew Pern is extending his city empire (of which more in a later post), there is a fabulous looking little street food market tucked away near The Shambles and Skosh has opened its doors to the paying public. As soon as we read Jay Rayner’s rapturous review, we knew that we had to go, a conviction only strengthened by the fact that the head chef there previously cooked at another late lamented friend, Van Zeller’s in Harrogate.

Skosh is situated on Micklegate, home of the Micklegate Run – a string of pubs in close enough proximity that hen parties minimise the risk of falling off their heels while they stagger between them. I would not let this put you off – you generally can’t move for hen parties in York and there is little danger that they will teeter their way into Skosh.

If you were a cynical sort, you might think that the people who designed the place did so by ticking every current trend box they could think of. There is the open kitchen at the back where the chefs toil away in full view of the diners. The menu of small plates rather than courses. An ironic take on an item of fast food. A multitude of global influences. But the minute you actually start to eat, all is forgiven. Because the cooking is really rather wonderful.

We started with a hen’s egg apiece – cheesy froth covering bosky mushrooms and a brief, sour kiss of vinegar. It was the only one of the dishes (according to our waitress) which did not particularly lend itself to sharing and I for one am glad that we got one each – we used our fingers to clean the inner shell of every last delicious smear. Oh, and talking of finger licking – the Skosh fried chicken with brown butter hollandaise was utterly fabulous; if everything was served with brown butter hollandaise, the world would be a better place.


Having had a slightly later and larger lunch than expected, we tried to be restrained with regards ordering but couldn’t resist a dish of mackerel and eel “kabayaki”, one of several dishes which nodded towards Japan. The fish was sticky and sweet and a joy in its own right, but became still further elevated by a swipe through the delicately saline oyster cream. It was undoubtedly a good choice but now, reading back through the menu as I write this, I mourn slightly that I missed out on crisp lamb belly with charred hispi and sumac, and chargrilled octopus with black olive caramel to name but a few.


On to “afters” and we simply couldn’t resist one of the two savouries on offer – a toastie with Baron Bigod brie, winter truffle and pickled turnip. Goodness, but this was a perfect combination. And, finally, a chocolate moelleux accompanied by a miso caramel ice cream which was so good that it reduced us both to silence (and more plate licking). If you are a fan of salted caramel than I urge you to try miso if you see it pop up on a dessert menu – it might sound slightly peculiar but it is utterly delicious.


So there we have it – an excellent new addition to the York restaurant scene (thank you, Mr Rayner for the tip off), which, judging by the busy, buzzy atmosphere when we were there is going down pretty well. Great news for York – and the perfect excuse for those of us who miss the place to travel back there even more regularly.

Monday, 8 May 2017

MPM: 8th May 2017

Hello friends! It seems daft to open posts with apologies for going a bit quiet, especially when the Internet at large probably neither cares nor notices when the lights of the WW Foodie temporarily go out. My Mum has been texting me asking for blog posts though so…

I do, in fact, have things that I want to say including a couple of gorgeous meals out recently and a fridge bottom pasta bake that turned out to be a thing of such absolute beauty that it needs recording for posterity. But before all that, let us turn our attention to meal planning since it is, of course, Meal Planning Monday.

As is so often the case recently, it is not a long plan. There’s two fast days in there and a night when D is out and so I’ll be home alone (I think there is some tortellini in the freezer which I will toss in butter, Parmesan and black pepper – bliss!) But what of the other nights?

Tuesday: Smoked haddock and leek fishcakes. Don’t know much about this dish – D is in charge. I am making him cook smoked haddock and leek fishcakes because a few weeks ago we went out for my father in law’s birthday. We went to a pub for dinner and D ordered at the bar. I requested smoked haddock and leek fishcakes and, for some reason best known to himself, he ordered me scampi. It was not the end of the world since I am quite partial to scampi, but scampi is not smoked haddock and leek fishcakes. So this week’s fishcakes are recompense fishcakes.

Thursday: A freezer dive – most likely chilli con carne which I will accompany with rice and cucumber in herby yoghurt.

Saturday: Asparagus night! I am going to make a delicious sounding asparagus frittata which also makes use of the new season potatoes, and D wants to do an asparagus whip. I also think some sort of lightly dressed salad will be in order, with raw asparagus shavings. We will follow this seasonal feast with some little cups of lemon posset.

Sunday: Slow cooked shoulder of lamb on boulangere potatoes. We’ve been making this recipe for years and it never disappoints. Some sort of green on the side (I quite fancy the idea of doing a petit pois a la francais which is basically peas and shredded lettuce lightly cooked in stock).

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The inhumanity!

It is ten o clock on Wednesday morning.  The second fast day of the week is a few hours down.  Already, our fearless heroine is having to steel herself, screw her courage to the sticking place and generally just work hard to not have an almighty tantrum right in the middle of the office.

Yep, this is the same fearless heroine who quite frequently doesn't bother to eat breakfast on the days on which she goes to work.  So how, exactly, is today different?

I guess that we will file it under "The mind is a strange and wonderful thing".  And we will also do our best to remember that it will get easier again and, also, that a nice result on the scales will make all of this seem worthwhile.

I have moved my "official" (to no one but me) weigh in day to a Friday so that it falls after the two fast days and before the weekend bean-fest.  While logically I know that there is no real difference, again it comes down to mind games.  My lowest weekly weight tends to fall on a Friday so why not have that number as the one that I capture for posterity?  It also means that, should the second weekly fast fall on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday (as often happens) I might be less inclined to go off the rails and declare Thursday night the unofficial start to the weekend.  Might being the operative word.

And, in other news, I popped into M&S this morning to pick up my prawn layer salad (note to self: START MAKING YOUR OWN PACKED LUNCH YOU LAZY MARE) and came away with this instead:


Now we can all be a bit sniffy about supermarket sushi - it is not the real thing by any stretch of the imagination but I quite enjoy it on its own merits and it is perfect for fasting - plenty of textural variation and good, strong flavours make it seem more substantial than its calorie count (193!) would suggest.  I'm looking forward to lunchtime with the kind of fervour that is usually the prerogative of teenage girls waiting the new Harry Styles album.

Monday, 24 April 2017

MPM: 24th April 2017

There was no fasting for us last week (we were on holiday. At least, we were off work.  And we certainly don't need much excuse to avoid it).  I haven't checked the scales, but I suspect that a little bit of over indulgence over Easter will have nudged that needle up so we are back to two fast days this week with our nominated Days of Pain and Misery and Soup for Tea being today and Wednesday.

And, predictably, today has been rather horrid thus far.  I think fasting is made worse if you avoid it for a while.  My body has apparently forgotten just what it is like to be deprived of calories and gone into full on whingeing child mode.  I am filling up on fluids and reminding myself that tomorrow I can eat EVERYTHING.  As a psychological trick, it is surprisingly effective.

This is what the meal plan looks like this week:

Monday: soup

Tuesday: moussaka.  A Valentine Warner recipe that we originally intended to put together during the week that we Cooked his Book.  It was bumped but now it is back and I am very much looking forward to it, especially having seen Rick Stein eat moussaka on TV the other day (the Good Food channel are currently showing his Venice to Istanbul series).

Wednesday: soup

Thursday: er, moussaka again.  D is out for a team meal so I shall content myself with leftovers and trashy TV.

Friday: we're off to our beloved York to check out new-kid-on-the-restaurant-block, Skosh.  It had a fabulous write up in the Guardian recently, so we have high hopes.

Saturday: while in York we intend to visit an old haunt of ours, Henshelwood's deli, wherefrom we shall buy cheese, charcuterie and an eff-ton of their superlative chicken liver pate.  This shall all be consumed, carpet picnic style, on Saturday night with homemade bread and a yummy sounding Ottolenghi yoghurt and horseradish potato salad.

Sunday:  D is making pork and juniper sausages - a recipe of his own devising.  We shall probably end up eating these as sandwiches, with vestiges of the carpet picnic on the side.

And that's it from us this week - enjoy whatever it is you happen to be cooking and eating and have a FABULOUS bank holiday weekend!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Black Swan, Oldstead

To celebrate (or commiserate) the fact that D and I first met thirteen years ago to the day, on Good Friday we pootled off to The Black Swan at Oldstead, it being some time since we enjoyed a Yorkshire Michelin star. The Black Swan has built quite the local reputation over the last few years but its profile was probably raised significantly by the fact that the extremely easy on the eye head chef, Tommy Banks, appeared on the BBC’s Great British Menu last year and cooked a dish at the final banquet.

If you like your foodie destinations remote and scenic, then this one will appeal. The village of Oldstead appears to consist of the restaurant, the house in which the restaurant guests stay, and a few sheep. We did catch sight of a couple of runners on the surrounding lanes who presumably came from somewhere, but it was certainly not obvious as to where. Oh, and further Instagram opportunities abound just down the road, where can be found a picturesque ruined abbey.

There is a relaxed bar area downstairs with a fireplace and a broad sweep of gleaming bar (sadly no cat – every country restaurant should have a cat) and then upstairs the restaurant proper spread across two rooms. It had a lovely, relaxed feel to it – well spaced, well sized tables (terribly important), an eclectic playlist that was set at just the right volume and the most charming set of waiting staff I’ve come across in a long time.

Gin and tonic
And what of the food? Well, the surrounding gardens are the source of many of the ingredients and the Black Swan’s whole ethos appears to be very much tied to local, seasonal eating. These terms are in danger of becoming clichéd but I certainly got the sense that, here at least, they were genuinely meant and that the kitchen strives to make the best of the land on which it sits. GBM fans may remember that Banks’s banquet dish was a celebration of the art of preserving and, sure enough, throughout the place were scattered jars of pickles and gently infusing fruit schnapps. The main constituents of one of the dishes, beetroot cooked in beef fat, had been harvested months earlier and then stored in a traditional clamp. Little things like this, that serve to root a restaurant’s food in place and tradition, are very important to me.

Beetroot
It may be another cliché, but I sensed a definite hint of Scandi in the style and sensibility of the cooking. Some of the flavour profiles reminded me of dishes I ate at Noma, as did the often sparse yet elegant presentation. This was particularly true of the sweet courses which eschewed traditional, hearty British desserts for something lighter, brighter and verging on the savoury at times. I adored the Douglas Fir parfait with sheep’s milk sorbet which sparkled on the tongue; the petit-four, a cake made from artichoke, chicory root and thyme was slightly less successful: it was interesting rather than delicious and I don’t necessarily want my cake to be interesting.

Douglas fir parfait
Slightly unfortunately, the high point of the meal came, for us both, with the very first mouthful – an amuse bouche (thus, doll-sized) tartlet of smoked eel and Lincolnshire Poacher. This was a single bite of utter deliciousness and set the bar so very high that none of the subsequent dishes managed to surpass it. A few came close: the afore mentioned Douglas Fir dessert, a venison tartare with onion puree which danced on the edge of being too darkly rich, a hazelnut and chicory parfait lollipop. It was also nice to see a chicken main course; served with a selection of aliums and draped with new season wild garlic, it was a salutary reminder that chicken, when responsibly reared and beautifully cooked, is a heavenly thing. It missed out on the top spot though because we both felt that some sort of additional element on the plate was required for perfection – I actually felt the lack of some sort of crispy, salty little potato element, but then I’m always slightly sad to see a plate without carbs.

Smoked eel tartlet 
Venison tartare
Minor quibbles aside, the general consensus was that this was very good indeed. To be honest, I’m not sure that it pips 64 Degrees in Brighton to the Year’s Best Meal (so far) but that is a question of personal taste rather than execution and there is no doubt that there was some serious skills on display here. Some of the most incredible meals I have ever eaten – my two favourite experiences remain Eleven Madison Park in New York and Five Senses in Barcelona – were made so because I believe that something genuinely exciting happens when a chef manages to look both forward and backwards, inwards and outwards. I think that Tommy Banks is such a chef, which, it therefore follows, means that The Black Swan has the potential to be such a restaurant. It is not there yet, but since he is the youngest holder of a Michelin star in the country, he has bags of time on his side and an establishment that is perfectly placed to enable him to achieve exciting things. Definitely one to watch.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Recipe corner: Mussels on toast

I’ve got behind on talking about the cook books / blogs that we used as the basis of our March meal plans. Which means you’ve been spared a blog post full of me banging on about how excellent all my old recipes are. (Although in all seriousness, I cooked five recipes from this blog’s back catalogue and they were all delicious. Yay me.)

During the week in which we cooked from Valentine Warner’s “The Good Table” there was, for me at least, one stand out dish. I’m usually a bit chary of sharing recipes here that appear in books or magazines because…y’know…copyright but this one happens to be posted on Mr Warner’s own website, so I figured that it wouldn’t cause any great harm if I reproduced it here as long as I linked to it. Voici le link.



It is such a simple idea that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it previously – creating a béchamel sauce using the wondrously fragrant, sea-redolent cooking liquor of the mussels and then stirring the little blighters through to create a rich, creamy pile of deliciousness. Yes, I am getting a little adjective heavy here but I thought it was that good. We’re coming to the end of mussel season now (if you hold by the old adage that you should only eat them if there is an “r” in the month) so maybe this is one to tuck behind your ear for a bit later on when the nights begin to draw in again. It is comfort food par excellence. Mr Warner suggests serving the mussels on toasted soda bread and the slightly dense, cakey texture does hold up particularly well here. I commend to you my very own soda bread recipe – it’s an absolute doddle to make and, I think, worth the effort in this case.

Ingredients

500g mussels, in the shell, cleaned and beards removed

25g butter
Level tablespoon plain flour
150ml milk
A good grating (perhaps ¼ tsp) of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Small handful chopped curly leaf parsley

2 thick slices of soda bread, toasted Butter (optional)

Serves 2

Put the mussels in a large pan with a splash of water, cover and cook over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the shells have started to open. You may need to give them a good shake about half way through the cooking time to ensure that they are evenly distributed – also, it is an excellent stress reliever. 


Remove them using a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the remaining juices into a small jug ready to make the sauce.

When they have cooled slightly, remove the mussel meat from the shells and hold them ready to go in the sauce. Discard any mussels which have failed to open at this point.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. When it is just on the point of foaming, add the flour and stir briskly to make a paste – I always favour a wooden spoon for this operation. Continue to stir until the paste is beginning to dry out – you will notice that it starts to form a ball away from the sides of the pan.

Now you can add the strained mussel juice, a little bit at a time, stirring hard in between each addition until the sauce appears smooth. A liberal application of elbow grease is required here. Once the mussel juice has gone, start adding the milk in a similar fashion, until it has all been absorbed and you have a creamy white sauce.

Turn the heat up a smidge and allow the whole to simmer for 5 or so minutes. Then, add the nutmeg to taste (not too much – nutmeg can take over a party if you allow it), a pinch of salt (again, not too much, there is a natural salinity to the mussels) and plenty of black pepper. Finally, stir in the mussels and the parsley and heat for a further 30 seconds to ensure that the meat is warmed through.

Toast the bread, butter it if you wish (I always wish for more butter) and then spoon over the creamy mass of mussels and serve immediately.

Note: I am convinced that this would make a fabulous brunch dish, if you were looking for something a bit different. If you were planning on doing it for brunch, I would recommend making the béchamel and the soda bread the day before, and then all you would need to do in the morning is make toast and stir through the mussels. If you do ever make béchamel in advance, once it is cooled, cover with a layer of cling film directly touching the surface of the sauce – this will prevent a skin from forming.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

5:2 hero products

So far this year I have managed to finish each calendar month lighter than I started. Admittedly, in February the difference was less than a pound (whoops!) but the point still (just about) stands.  5:2 works.

While there's no denying that fast days themselves are rubbish, I have found one of the keys to getting through them so far is sticking to a fairly limited routine of foodstuffs. Variety and experimentation are for the rest of the week.

Picture taken from thelaughingcow.co.uk

I have always had a sneaky fondness for plastic cheese triangles and find these great for fast days. They're only 25 calories each but the texture and mouth-feel definitely make them seem more indulgent.  The cheese flavour is not pronounced but it is definitely there. They can be eaten alone in a pinch, but if I have calories to spare, I like them on an oatcake or similarly low calorie cracker for a bit of crunch.

Picture taken from wikipedia.org

It goes without saying that fruit and veg are low in calories and high in bulk but it's these little beauties I find myself reaching for the most. Essential fast day fodder. Chop 'em and sprinkle with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.


OBVIOUSLY in an ideal world I would make a proper packed lunch every single day but, while I'm better about this than I used to be, I'm still capable of being ridiculously lazy. When I need to buy lunch on the go, this salad is what I reach for. It's a smidge over 200 calories but the Marie Rose sauce is pleasingly rich for such a meagre amount. I also like the fact that, although it is primarily veg, it contains a layer of pasta which (for me, a carb monster) gives it an additional satisfaction factor.

Picture taken from waitrose.com

Popcorn is a staple in our house at the moment. One of the things I miss when I'm fasting is the act of eating itself - actually chewing. Popcorn helps with this because you can have a decent portion for not very many calories and it takes a while to chomp through. And it's scrummy and feels like a treat (cinema / going out associations assist with this).
Have I missed anything blindingly obvious? Is there a product out there that will help make fast days more bearable? If there are any 5:2-ers out there who have other hero products to share then please...well, share

Monday, 10 April 2017

MPM: 10th April 2017

I don’t want to speak too soon…but it looks as if spring has finally sprung!  Oh frabjous day – isn’t it amazing the difference a bit of sunshine makes to one’s mood?

A shortened meal plan this week.  On Friday, we’re heading out to The Black Swan at Oldstead, somewhere we’ve been wanting to visit for a while. And on Sunday, it’s off to see the family for roast lamb.  With two fast days in there as well, that does not leave a lot of days to be planned. 

Tuesday: Aubergine cheesecake with wild rice and salad

Thursday: Leftover night: cold roast chicken, spiced couscous, aubergine cheesecake and whatever else happens to be lurking in the fridge

Saturday: Home made pizza night!  I’ll be doing a pissaladiere with goats’ cheese and mozzarella and D is re-visiting his Chicken Caesar Salad pizza which he created for my birthday a couple of years ago.  Sounds weird but, if you like pizza, chicken and Caesar salad there is a lot to love

Short but, hopefully, sweet.  Have a good week mes amies!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Cheap Eats in Leeds - Thai Aroy Dee & Ecco Pizzeria

A few years ago, D and I instituted the practice of aiming for at least one “CNO” a month. Which, for the uninitiated (i.e. everyone apart from us) meant the two of us dining out for a total of £30 or less all in. We all know that it’s pretty easy to eat well if you’re happy to splash loads of cash but can it be done on a budget?

The answer, of course, is yes if you know where to look but we fell out of the habit or, at the very least, became less stringent about the rules. Having recently seen our outgoings increase though, we are on a mission to be more frugal and so have reinstituted the concept of the CNO. But, because, you know, inflation, we’ve raised the upper limit to £40.

Thai Aroy Dee

I may have mentioned TAD before, but if you live in Leeds and are a fan of Thai food I would always recommend you come here rather than the glitzier Sukkothai or the buzzier Zaap Thai. I hesitate to mention authenticity in reference to Asian cooking, as I’ve never travelled there myself, but I have been here with people who know and they tell me it’s probably the most authentic Thai food in the city. Certainly, it’s delicious. The flipside is that nothing here, neither the food nor the restaurant itself, is particularly glamourous which is by the by if you can get a good feed for under £20 a head.

D threw a potential spanner in the frugal works by letting himself get too hungry which meant that he wanted to order a starter, a salad and a main plus rice and a beer. In the end, he was persuaded to share a portion of the Thai prawn crackers (crunchier, spicier and infinitely more addictive than their Chinese counterparts) followed by a minced chicken salad, stir fried minced pork with fermented eggs and a sticky rice. And a beer. I had a red Thai curry with duck and steamed rice. And a sparkling water. Because I’m trying to stop drinking on school nights.

Crackers!
D found the minced chicken salad to be a little delicate, and would have preferred a bit more zing and punch such as was found in the stir fried dish, which he deemed delicious. I can confirm that the spiced mince was heavenly, but avoided sampling jellified eggs because I have issues with anything that looks like jelly and tastes of old egg.

Mince and eggs!
The duck curry was also good. I think the duck must have been poached which left the meat incredibly tender although, where I am used to eating it fried, I must admit missed the contrasting crackle of crispy skin. The sauce was thinner than I expected but packed full of flavour with that classic triumvirate of sweet, sour and hot all in perfect alignment.

Duck curry!
Final bill? The whole lot came to £34.35 which we rounded up to £38.00 with tip. Not far below our limit but we took away enough leftovers to do us both lunch the next day. This might be no frills dining but it is undoubtedly good and definitely somewhere to consider if you’re looking for cheap, cheerful and tasty.

Ecco

Ecco is located in Headingley, which, if you know Leeds at all you will be aware seems to be mainly populated by students. As such, it is a good place to head if you wish to avoid the city centre but find interesting and frugal places to dine out.

I had been wanting to visit (Ecco rather than Headingley) for ages, being a pizza fiend. It has quite the local reputation, always seems to be packed out and, impressively for such a small place, boasts an authentic wood burning oven. Apparently, to be considered true Neapolitan style pizza there are strict rules with regards the temperature of said oven and the length of time the pizza can cook (60-90 seconds) and Ecco are proud to advertise that they adhere to these standards.

I am not sure, however, that many residents of Naples would recognise some of the topping combinations that Ecco have adopted. D, ever the rebel, ordered an Istanbul “pizza” which was topped with tahini, rather than tomato, over which had been strewn liberal quantities of lamb mince, feta, pomegranate seeds and yoghurty salad. It was delicious, but it was not pizza.

Pizza!
I went for a slightly more pedestrian combination of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms and olives. The base was blistered and blackened which gave a pleasing hint of char, the sauce was good, the mozzarella plentiful and creamy. My personal preference would have been for a little less topping and a slightly thinner base, but I can’t say that I was complaining particularly. Chicken wings, ordered as a starter, and also cooked in the wood fired oven, were good if not exceptional.

Again, this was no frills dining. Tables are set very close together, service is efficient, food is served promptly with a minimum of ceremony. They do not sell alcohol which was not a particular issue for me but both D and the guy at the table next to us looked a little crestfallen at the prospect of pizza sans beer. However, with more pubs in Headingley than you can shake a drunken student at, locating a watering hole either side of your meal (and you will be in and out pretty quickly) is not hard.

Pizza for two (again, we had leftovers that we got boxed up to take away) with a starter and a soft drink came to £22.95 so even with tip we were well under the £30 mark, let alone £40. And I would quite happily go there again, although if you ask me, the best pizza in North Leeds is to be found a bit further up the road at Meanwood’s That’s Amore, where the menu is considerably smaller and the toppings are slightly less liberal.

Overall though, two excellent additions to the pantheon of Leeds CNO venues. But fear not, next month normal service will be restored as we head to Michelin starred (and priced) The Black Swan at Oldstead and pay the equivalent of ten Cheap Night Outs for a single meal. Huzzah!

Thai Aroy Dee
120 - 122 Vicar Lane, Leeds, LS2 7NL
0113 245 2174

Ecco
93 Otley Road, Leeds, LS6 3PS
0113 278 2828

Monday, 27 March 2017

Meal planning, goal setting

Apologies: it all went a bit quiet there.

Excuses time: I've been a little under the weather. So far this year I have had a poorly paw (TM Lesley) and a poorly tooth and now I am suffering with a poorly gallbladder. I say that I'm suffering - I tend to think that D has the worst of it since I've been in a foul mood and my appetite has been a bit all over the place which has impacted on our usual, stringent, food planning. The empty pad on the fridge has been rebuking me all week long. Also - busy with work, blah, blah, blah. I used to get more opportunities to write blog posts at lunchtime.

Anyway, the gallbladder will hopefully be whipped out at some point and in the meantime I need to man up. Firstly - a weight loss update. 1.2 lbs off this week which isn't bad considering that while I started the week eating very little (which helped with fast days), by the end I wanted to gnaw my own arm off. The goal setting of the title refers to the fact that I'd really, really like to hit the mini goal of two stone off by the end of April. It's definitely doable, but I need to keep focused and maybe tighten up a little bit on treats sneaking in to non-fast days.

So what are we up to this week? Well, our cookbook inspiration is being provided by the man himself Yotam Ottolenghi. We are hitting up his "Plenty More" tome for ideas; regular readers may well have heard me rave about "Plenty" in the past so I have high hopes for this. We're fasting Monday and Thursday, we're out for supper on Wednesday and D is out with friends on Friday so I'll probably have beans on toast (with cheese if I'm feeling particularly racy). Not much left to plan, which is a shame because there are loads of dishes in this book that I want to try...

Tuesday: tagliatelle with lemon and walnuts

Saturday: "mezze": dakos, grilled lettuce with farro and lemon, squash with chilli yoghurt and coriander sauce

Sunday: aubergine cheesecake

YUM! Have a fabulous week all - I'm going to occupy myself with planning the bribe (/reward) that I will deserve if I can hit my entirely arbitrary goal.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cook Book Review: Diana Henry's "A Change of Appetite"

In March, we have decided to theme our meal planning by picking a book (or website) each week to cook from.  Week 1 saw us cracking open "A Change of Appetite" by the extremely talented Diana Henry.

I am a big fan of Ms Henry, a food writer whose prose is as elegant as her food.  Her book of chicken recipes, “A Bird In Hand”, gifted us the absolutely superlative lemongrass and turmeric roast chicken which I crave on a regular basis.  I had owned “A Change of Appetite” for  a while but never made anything from it; D and I are both slightly suspicious of anything specifically badged as “healthy”, perhaps worn down by years of Weight Watching and spray chemicals oil.

We needn’t have worried.  The focus of “A Change of Appetite” might be healthy eating but it lacks any preachy tone or miserable austerity.  The recipes we tried were delicious, the flavour combinations sometimes unexpected by always successful.  The blurb (which you can read in full on her website here) refers to her drawing inspiration from a pretty wide field, most notably the Middle and Far East which was certainly true of the dishes that we cooked.
Of the three we tried (having drawn up a fairly lengthy shortlist), our favourite was the Burmese chilli fish with hot and sour salad – the recipe for which can be found online here.  We served it with some steamed rice but it probably would have been substantial enough without if you are an eschewer of carbs.  The fish by itself was gorgeous but it was truly elevated when combined with the zing and crunch of the salad.  If you have a food processor, or mandolin, to ensure that the vegetable shredding isn’t too much of a faff, I would definitely commend this one to your attention.

A lamb dish with fregola (we subbed giant couscous) salad and whole baked sea bass with aubergine also went down well.  That they didn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of the Burmese fish were more down to logistics than recipe writing – neither D nor I are huge fans of faffing around with bones (which is a shame as meat and fish on the bone is undoubtedly delicious).  I think that, in particular, the combination of the sea bass and aubergine (which recipe can also be found on the Telegraph website here) was surprisingly successful and I’d happily repeat it with fillets.  Actually, I’d just make the aubergine relish again on its own as it was fantastic cold the next day.

Those recipes that we didn’t get around to during the designated week and I have no doubt that they will be popping up in rotation shortly.  An excellent start to a month of book cooking – some new dishes and, more importantly, a renewed impetus to look to our extensive library for weeknight inspiration.

Monday, 13 March 2017

MPM - and a progress update

I’ve been following the 5:2 plan for 10 weeks now and things are going well. Strictly speaking, I had one week of 4:3 (which was bloody awful) and one week of 7:0 (that was the week that we went to Brighton and entered “holiday mode” a bit too early). In that time, I’ve lost 20.6lbs, which is nearly a stone and a half (yay!) and an average rate of just over 2lbs a week which is double what I was expecting (more yay!)


But if you look at the chart you can see that there was a period when things started to move in the wrong direction – basically, most of February. I had three weeks of gains on the trot – one, after an indulgent weekend away, was expected the other two, not so much. The thing that seems to make the big difference for me is alcohol. If I don’t drink anything, I can eat with relative abandon on non-fast days and lose weight. As soon as I start trying to factor in some wine at the weekends or a sneaky couple of midweek pints, it slows right down. It’s a shame as I adore a tipple, but for now, I am putting my beloved g&ts to one side while I concentrate on shifting some poundage. Drinking is going to have to be an occasional treat rather than a regular occurrence.


On to this week’s meal plan and, continuing our plan in March to cook our books, the basis of this comes from Valentine Warner’s “The Good Table”. I have yet to identify any particular theme to this book, unless that theme is “delicious things that I want to eat”. We’ll be fasting on Monday and Wednesday, and D is out on Friday for a team lunch, so four evenings to plan:

Monday: Soup

Tuesday: Mussels on toast

Wednesday: Soup

Thursday: Valentine Warner’s Dad’s prawn curry

Saturday: Moussaka

Sunday: Slow cooked beef cheeks with baby turnips

YUM. That’s the third week in the row where I think we’ve had some absolute treasures to look forward to – and, this may be the fasting speaking, but I can’t wait to get stuck in to that little lot.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Further foodie notes on Brighton

We decided to visit Brighton on something of a whim. Despite growing up in deepest, darkest Essex I don’t really know the South coast that well at all – my family always headed North for holidays, and that remains my instinct even as an adult. But Stewart Lee was playing a few dates down there and we fancied doing something a bit different, so off we went. It’s good to expand your horizons.



Brighton is actually a city - it was granted city status by the Queen during her jubilee - and, it seemed to me, a rather affluent one.  It smelled like it had been on the receiving end of time, care and money, in stark contrast to some of the Northern seaside towns that I have visited in recent years that are dying on their arse.  In addition, Brighton has benefited from the influx of students from not one but two universities.  There was a definite buzz to the place and the juxtaposition of the beautifully elegant Georgian architecture and the messy vibrancy of youth culture made for a fascinating melting pot of a place. 



As I mentioned in my previous post, it turns out that Brighton is quite the foodie destination which is not something that factored into our initial considerations. Although like any UK city it had its fair share of chain yawnfests, there was a pleasing spread of independents as well offering a range of foodstuffs at a range of price points.

First off, we have Bincho Yakitori does not have the most user friendly website in the world, but if you’re interested in Japanese bar food (and who isn’t?) then definitely one to check out. The chicken heart yakitori skewers were one of D’s favourite dishes of the trip.

I had heard good things about the vegetarian scene (if such a word can be used in the context) and we ended up having lunch in one of Brighton's oldest vegetarian restaurants, Food For Friends.  It was fun.  Nothing earth shatteringly amazing perhaps but an interesting menu that resisted tumbling into standard fare or cliché and hearty portions of tasty food.  I would quite like to recreate my halloumi, mango, avocado and cashew nut salad at home. 



Given our proximity to the sea, we were determined to make as much as we could of the local seafood and it didn’t disappoint. At Riddle and Finns, D, a crustacea afficionado, was presented with his biggest shellfish platter to date, all for a ridiculously reasonable £30 - the picture below does not do it any sort of justice, but it turns out that it is hard to photograph something so huge without getting one or other of us in shot.  And, as you know, this blog is a mug free zone.  Anyway, he reports that the whelks were a little bit on the chewy side but that everything else was perfect and he was particularly taken with the dinky little winkle picker that was provided alongside the cutlery  In general, the fish cookery here was exemplary and the menu boasted a good range of dishes albeit all variations on a theme of classic. The service was friendly but haphazard – nothing, however, that an unexpected glass of limoncello from the restaurant manager couldn’t fix.




The following evening we headed to the Tempest Bar for some rather up market pub grub - check out the stunning langoustines in the picture; these tasted even better than they look.  On a Saturday night, this was predominantly a venue for younger and trendier people than ourselves, but we were quite content in our little booth with our seafood and several decent bottles of white.  I really liked it here: the bar staff were young and cute and charming and the food was delicious (in addition to the langoustines we indulged in popcorn mussels and fire kraken squid - bar snacks to put pork scratchings and packet of peanuts to shame). 



You always know that you've had a good trip when you start talking about "next time".  "Next time we'll try this...go there...do that..." We were next timing Brighton before we had even left and writing up this post has made me start it again.  Good times.

Bincho Yakitori: 63 Preston Street, Brighton, 01273 779021
Food For Friends: 17-18 Prince Albert Street, Brighton, 01273 202310
Riddle and Finns: 139 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, 01273 721667
The Tempest Inn: 159-161 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, 01273 770505

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

64 Degrees, Brighton

We were told, while on a walking tour of Brighton, that the seaside city has more restaurants than anywhere else in the country outside of London. Whether this is in actual terms or just per capita, it is undoubtedly true that Brightonians take their food pretty seriously and I would definitely recommend it as a destination for people who like to eat.

In fact, an early contender for Meal of the Year emerged while we were there and let me tell you – whichever other restaurants I happen to visit in 2017 have an awful lot to live up to. Were it Leeds based, 64 Degrees would have reduced D and I to penury. I am almost glad that it is so far away. The restaurant is a tiny, casual space dominated by the open kitchen. You eat at close quarters to your neighbours; the layout is such that litheness is a prerequisite of the waiting staff. It verges on the claustrophobic which can make this anxious diner a little uncomfortable. But the moment that the first plate arrived at the table all such considerations were entirely forgotten.

The menu consists of twelve dishes: four meat, four vegetarian, four fish, all priced between £7.50 and £14. The recommendation is up to six plates between a couple, which allows each partner to make one choice from each category; to be honest, I reckon that we could have managed one or two more as the portion sizes were not large. It is worth noting that the menu really does change daily – we glanced at it the day prior to dining there and a number of the dishes changed or disappeared. So if something catches your eye, order it. You may not get a second chance.

We started with octopus croquettes, rich and sweet accompanied by a Srirachia yoghurt and a spritz of lime to add fire and tang. The bar was set high and things only got better from there. Tagliatelle came doused in butter and truffle, draped with the golden ooze of an egg yolk. Squid, perfectly cooked served on the dreamiest, creamiest celeriac puree that you can imagine. Butternut squash, its sweetness balanced by the lactic cloud of accompanying goats cheese. All of these had us licking the plates.

Croquettes
Then came the meat, and the bar disappeared up into the ether. Firstly, a pork dish served with kimchi, sour and hot, and charred chunks of chilli infused pineapple. D declared this the winner. But my favourite was a cube of lamb shoulder that disintegrated into a heap of tender strands as soon as the fork hovered over it, the meat then rolled up in blanched spinach leaves with spring onions and gochujang.

Pork with kimchi and pineapple

Lamb with spring onion and gochujang
If I’m being strictly, strictly honest, dessert, while delicious and very pretty (you go a long way to beat a combination of lemon and rhubarb) did not quite match the dizzy heights of the savoury courses.

Lemon and rhubarb
And, what is interesting as I write about this a week or so after the meal itself is that the flavour combinations, when written down, sound slightly…pedestrian, perhaps? Flat? Which couldn’t be further from the reality of the food itself which was, to a bite, superlative. I particularly enjoyed the use of Asian flavours to punctuate dishes without feeling gimmicky or trendy or detracting from not only the quality of the ingredients, but also the precision with which they had been prepared. When the bill arrived, I was astonished at the value of the meal. Then I discovered that they’d missed off some of the drinks. Even so, this was still pretty decent value for food of this calibre and we are already trying to figure out if we can fit in another trip to Brighton later this year to experience more of this glorious little kitchen. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

MPM: 6th March 2017 - Cook My Blog!

Time seems to be getting away from me at the moment.  I still haven't got round to putting my up my tales of adventure in Brighton (for adventure, read gluttony - it has taken a week for my system to recover!) and yet here we are with another Meal Planning Monday.

As I mentioned last week, this month each week in March is dedicated to a particular recipe book or, as is the case this week, recipe blog.  Yes, in a supreme act of hubris, this week I will be Cooking My Blog - it's WW Foodie Week!

When I started reading back, it really struck me how many more recipes I posted in the early days of the blog.  I don't think that it is because I cooked more back then; I certainly might have been more blasé (or ignorant) with regards copyright issues...and, also, when I was following Weight Watchers, I was always keen to share recipes that worked particularly well while still being low in points, a USP which is now missing. 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to revisiting some old dishes and keen to see whether they actually work or whether I end up tweaking them into something entirely unrecognisable.  As per usual, we are fasting on Monday and Wednesday, and we're out on Tuesday night.  The plan otherwise:

Thursday: Roasted tomato and ricotta risotto

Friday:  Pissaladiere with potato salad

Saturday:  Cardamom butter chicken, aubergine and red lentil curry, rice and flatbreads

Sunday:  Slow cooker shoulder of lamb with tomatoes and butterbean mash

Monday, 27 February 2017

MPM: 27th February 2017

During the month of March, we will be cooking our books. Which is to say, we've both selected two recipe books (or magazines or websites) and, each week, will pick a minimum of three recipes to make.

This week: Diana Henry's "A Change of Appetite". I love Diana Henry's writing and all of her books look utterly delicious but I don't think that I've ever made anything from this one so I'm very much looking forward to our selection of meals.


We'll be fasting for two days after a break last week, and D is out one night. So the plan looks like this:

Tuesday: it's pancake day! We will be having ours with bacon, maple syrup and chilli.

Friday: Burmese chilli fish with hot and sour salad

Saturday: Lamb scottaditto with fregola salad

Sunday: Roast sea bass with spiced aubergine, lemon and honey relish.

Have a fabulous week folks and I will report back with regards the book.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A sojourn by the sea

Huh.  Well the Great Slowdown continues apace so I have no particular updates on the weight loss front. 

But, but, but!  I have got over my fit of the sullens because tomorrow we are hightailing it down to Brighton for a long weekend of fun by the sea.  I have never been to Brighton before and can't wait to explore.  We have, of course, done some research into the restaurant scene down there and I'm very excited.  I fully expect to see a gain on the scales next week but I also fully expect it to be thoroughly worth it.

In the meantime, I leave you with a picture of my cat in a bag.  I know not why she chose to get in the bag but the resulting shot made me smile.


A plutard, mes amies!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Disappointment (nearly) all round

Disappointment 1

We should probably have known better than to go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. It’s asking for trouble. Our main plan was to watch a film about a pregnant serial killer* and take part in a Q&A session with the very talented writer / director / star** so we thought to make an evening of it and have something to eat first. The thing is, Valentine’s Day is a bit like New Year’s Eve or the week before Christmas; the kitchen is never likely to be displayed at its best. Still, when I first went to Oranaise (years ago now) I really enjoyed it and the menu has had me humming with anticipatory pleasure all week, so the fact that it was all a bit meh was a blow.

We shared a mezze platter to start – which was fine if generally a tad underseasoned. Main courses, though, were verging on the not fine. D had the Royal Couscous – he fished out the chunks of chicken, lamb and kofte (because he likes meat) but left most of the rest finding it not so much bad as profoundly uninspiring. I ordered vegetable brochettes which the menu claimed came with halloumi and baba ganoush. Neither appeared on the plate. The vegetables themselves were nice, (if a tad oily) but when you’re expecting halloumi and baba ganoush, the lack thereof is hard to take. I should have said something, but assumed I’d ordered the wrong dish until I checked the menu afterwards and saw that this was not so.

Romantic lighting...but where is the halloumi?
I hate to write negatively about places, and I am conscious that in choosing to go out on this particular evening I was positivly asking for mediocrity but, equally, no halloumi? That’s almost unforgivable.

Disappointment 2

The scales are showing a definite slowdown this week. Since the beginning of January, I have weighed daily and the direction of numerical travel has been almost exclusively downwards. This week, the drops are smaller and the bounce backs…less small.

Yes, I have been happy to blether that slow and steady wins the race, that I am fine with the idea of the rate of loss declining…and yet it still bloody stings. I’m a baby, I know. But it’s my blog so I’m allowed to stamp my feet and blow raspberries for a little bit. I think that the best thing to do is not to daily weigh for the rest of the week, which should avoid me getting even more petulant (that way madness and potential binges lie) and then reassess the position after the Official Result on Monday.

Not a Disappointment

*”Prevenge” which was very funny and very dark. If you have a stomach for gore and a sense of humour that tends towards the black, then I would thoroughly recommend it. **Alice Lowe, who you may know if you are a fan of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” (AWESOME) or the film “Sightseers” (also vg) was a charming and engaging speaker and clearly, given the difference between her character and off-screen persona, a very talented actress.

Enjoyment at the film almost, almost made up for the lack of halloumi. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Notes on 4:3 and a Wet Weekend

You now that I've said that 5:2 is hard but doable? Well, 4:3 starts to tip over into too hard and not doable. We fasted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday last week and Friday felt like a slog from start to finish - especially when work was over for the day and we celebrated the start of the weekend with yet another bowl of soup.  Meh.

And perhaps as a result of that, or perhaps because constant virtue can be rather dull, Saturday and Sunday ended up being a bit off piste, specifically with regards a glass or ten of the good stuff.  I've been eschewing my usual beloved tipples over January but suddenly, all caution was hurled to the wind.  The result was plain to see this morning - despite all the fasting, I gained 0.6lbs.

It's not the end of the world and is unsurprising, perhaps, after a spate of good results.  It's frustrating certainly - especially since I don't feel as if I overate, but the scales don't lie and, after all, gram for gram alcohol contains almost as many calories as fat.  Lesson learned (although I don't doubt that the very same lesson will have to be learned again at some point in the not too distant future.)

Meal planning this week - well, one or other of us is out for three of the seven nights (yes, we are dining out on Valentine's Day) and then obviously there will be yet more soup.  That just leaves next weekend to plan:

Saturday:  Coq au vin* with mashed potato and roasted kalettes

Sunday:  Merguez sausages with a warm salad of giant couscous and roasted red pepper

*Because if you're cooking with wine it doesn't count.  Obviously.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Out and about - Pigs and Pyjamas

Let’s dispense with the diet chat for now and focus on something much more interesting – FOOD. Because the whole point of putting yourself through two (or three) fast days a week is so you can fill your boots with the good stuff throughout the other five.

We’ve been out for a couple of quick bites in and around Leeds recently, so here’s a quick round up.

The Cat’s Pyjama’s, Headingley

I was going to call this restaurant a relative newcomer, but since it has already managed to open a second branch in Leeds city centre in the last few months, that makes me sound quite patronising. Or, as if I have no grasp on the actual passage of time. Regardless, this has been on our radar to visit for a while. Its claim that it provides a celebration of Indian street food culture might be a cynical attempt to garner zeitgeist points, but the wonderful Bundobust has already proved that Leeds can take Indian food and take street food and make something amazing. We had high hopes.

I don’t think that it is quite as good as Bundobust, although, really, a like for like comparison is unfair given that CP has a much larger menu and encompasses main meal curries as well as street food sized snacks (not to mention the fact that it caters for meat and fish eaters). I did think that it was a cut above a bog-standard, high street British Indian restaurant, with a menu that resisted the tired old standards and clearly tried to do something a bit different.


Poppadoms and pickles were good. We shared a starter: Chicken 65, which is crispy fried chicken with chilli, garlic and a name with an obscure origin. The taste was good, the meat a little dry. Main courses were varied – the Saag Paneer, a great favourite of mine, was delicious (and tasted even better the next day) and the Goan Chicken Cafreal was a triumphant balance of spice and zing. However the Punjabi Chole, a pulse based curry, was slightly uninspiring.




For all that, I’d happily go back and sample the other options – the atmosphere was nice and buzzy, even on a Wednesday evening, the staff friendly and the food undoubtedly decent value, coming in at £30 a head for more than we can eat (they kindly packaged up our leftovers for us) and a bottle of wine.

If you find yourself in Leeds City Centre, I’d personally opt for Bundobust in the first instance, but wouldn’t have an issue with suggesting The Cat’s Pyjamas if they didn’t have any tables available.

The Cat's Pyjamas
53 Otley Road,
Headingley,
LS6 3AB

The Greedy Pig, Leeds

It has been a month of animal themed restaurants, as last Saturday we popped out for brunch at this, a veritable Leeds institution that recently popped up in a Guardian “Best UK Breakfast Spot” article, alongside Laynes which has recently had a refurbishment that I need to check out (note to self).

With regards the Pig - be warned; this is not a large venue and you may have to wait for a table. Also be warned, if you’re not lucky enough to nab one of the prime spots in the window you may well have said waiters looming over you while you eat your breakfast. I wasn’t particularly bothered, D found it disconcerting.

Having already stalked the place on Instagram, I decided that I couldn’t resist the pancake stack, which I ordered with bacon and maple syrup. The pancakes themselves were a triumph of the genre: thick but fluffy of texture and golden of crust. I did feel that two (smallish) rashers of (undeniably excellent) bacon was a tad disproportinate – perhaps one is meant to treat the bacon as seasoning but I did end up leaving the third pancake to ensure a decent bacon: syrup: pancake ratio throughout.


D went for a duck hash topped with a duck egg and kimchi. He was quite quiet while eating it which is generally a good sign, but I suspect that he suffered from slight food envy when he saw a pile of buttermilk chicken go past – to be fair, it did look amazing, and I think a return visit to confirm this analysis is inevitable.


Joint best breakfast spot in Leeds? I can’t speak for Laynes, but at the moment for me, I think Ox Club might just edge it. Further testing is most definitely required…

The Greedy Pig
58 North Street,
Leeds,
LS2 7PN

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Week of pain

The blog has become rather diet centric in recent posts.  I suppose that is just a reflection of what happens when one starts a new regime and it, briefly, seems utterly fascinating.  Give it a few more weeks and the novelty will have worn off.

Anyway, a very pleasing result this week.  I had already decided to quit with the weekly updates lest they become an utter yawnfest - but this was worthy of comment:

Weeks 1-4 loss / (gain): 10.6lbs
Week 5 loss / (gain): 4.8lbs
Total: 15.4lbs

I'm not quite sure what happened to create such a big loss.  I'm (sadly) far too experienced in this game to think that weight loss always occurs on a nice, straight line basis but even I was surprised.  However, this week, the scales are not showing any large movements - a plateau, if you will. 

The week of pain in the title refers to the fact that, a little while ago, D and I decided that it might be a good idea to throw a 4:3 week into the mix every month or so.  As it says on the tin, this consists of three fast days rather than the usual two.  It will be interesting to see if this busts the plateau or whether this week is just destined to be a bit of a slowdown.  It will also be interesting to see if I get through fast day number 3 (scheduled for tomorrow) without weeping.  The last two have been difficult - not because I've felt hungry particularly, more that I've been COLD and craving melted cheese.

Still, as I said in my last post, I feel cautiously optimistic that I have found a long term way of eating / dieting that seems to allow weight loss alongside a "normal" existence.  And that, for me, is the golden ticket that helps me to live with the temporary discomfort.  I wonder if I will be quite sanguine when (likely not if) the weight loss slows down and the victories are harder won?

In answer to Lesley's question, D, who has much less ballast than me has lost 7lbs in the past five weeks.  This is an excellent result and suggests that 5:2 can also work for people who aren't particularly overweight.  He tends to take a less moderate approach than I on non fast days and yet still has recorded consistent losses.  To take things to the next level though, and ensure long term consistency, both of us need to up the ante with regards to exercise - Lesley, do you think if I keep saying it that eventually I will do it??

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A month of 5:2

We have come to the end of January and thus a whole calendar month’s worth of intermittent fasting.

I’ve completed four full weeks – three doing 5:2 and one cheeky (and accidental) 4:3. So what are the final results?

Weeks 1-3 loss / (gain): 8.6lbs
Week 4 loss / (gain): 2lbs
Total: 10.6lbs

My intention was always to give this a fair shot and then assess whether or not it was worth carrying on. Based on those results, I am more than happy to keep going. I also I feel as if I’m in more of a position now to give a balanced opinion of 5:2. And here it is.

One - fasting is HARD. Some days it is quite hard and others it is very hard and there doesn’t appear to be any particular rhyme or reason as to why this is so. There may be some sort of biological (hormonal?) explanation, but certainly, I’ve not yet been able to identify a particular pattern as to why some days I bumble along slightly peckish but OK and others I want to chew my own hand off within a couple of hours of waking.

Two – if you, like me, have been on one diet or another for most of your adult life, being told to just eat “normally” five days a week is also hard. I feel like I’m having to learn that from scratch. Because it is January and because I’m all fired up to Bust some Lard, I’ve been erring on the side of caution which has clearly yielded results. Further down the line, I’m very conscious that the halo might start to slip and need to watch out for that.

Three – for all the caveats at points one and two, I would definitely recommend this to someone who was looking to breakout of the perpetual diet / binge cycle. Because, psychologically, it is just such a huge RELIEF to know that I don’t have to say no to everything and be in a state of constant, slightly unhappy denial. Last weekend, I saw friends. We had a meal out – there was pudding, there was a LOT of wine. The next day, there was an Indian takeaway. And yet I still did enough to record a 2lb loss because I practiced a bit of moderation and I completed my two fast days. That has all the hallmarks of a lifestyle that I can maintain forever.

Onwards and downwards!