Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A busy few weeks...

I have had a rather busy week or so, which goes somewhat towards explaining the quietness on the blog. So I thought I would share a couple of the things I have been up to.

Last Friday I went to an Indian cookery class with Maunika Gowardhan, an Indian chef and blogger over at Cook in a Curry. I have never been the biggest fan of Indian food but I have been making an effort to broaden my culinary horizons. My idea of Indian food was your usual take-away, tikka masala, rice, naan... But the main thing I learned from this class is that there is so much more to Indian food and cooking. Including, I was surprised to discover, a vast array of Indian desserts.

The event started with me arriving my usual 30 minutes early, which actually worked out great as I got a chance to chat to Maunika, who is just the loveliest person. The event included a 3 course meal which started with some Punjabi chilli and garlic lamb chops, a couple of varieties of chutney (the grape one was delicious) and a savoury cake which I was a little unsure of at first, I mean savoury cake? It was in fact beautifully moist and packed full of flavour. It went really well with the spicy chutneys.

Whilst we were all demolishing the starter Maunika starting cooking our main course. While she cooked we asked questions and listened to stories about the origins of the dishes and the best spices to use etc...

The main course was so delicious I didn't even get a picture of it before it was gone! It included a chicken curry with coconut milk, a white cabbage dish, which had the most amazing flavour, and a potato curry.

The main things I learnt from the class was that the first flavour you put into the pan will be the predominant flavour of the dish. Also you should treat spices as you would seasoning, don't go overboard.

I will definitely be trying some Indian food at home, this course boosted my confidence and helped show me that Indian cooking is not as complex as the long list of ingredients may suggest.I would highly recommend going to one of these classes if you can; upcoming events can be found here.

The morning after the cookery class my sister and I hit the road. We were heading down to Suffolk to visit our Auntie (*waves at my Auntie Hilary, who will be reading this*). I love roadtrips with my sister as it normally involves warbling along to the radio and eating lots of sweets. We also tend to stop at the OK Diner on the A1 for burgers and milkshakes.

The trip was so lovely. On the Sunday I taught my sister how to use a sewing machine and hemmed some curtains. It was great to get to use my rusty sewing skills again, I will have to get myself a machine and get back into the swing of it.

On the Monday we headed for London for dinner and a show. We arrived mid afternoon so decided to wander around the National Portrait Gallery, which was lovely. We got to see the official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge (which is not very flattering to our lovely Kate) and there was a fabulous Tudor exhibition on as well. I love all the royal historical portraits, I could of stayed all day.

Around 4:30pm we headed for an early dinner at Bills in Soho. I consulted the twitter hive-mind before going to find the perfect restaurant and Amy and Ashley assured me it would be the perfect place for a relaxed pre-theatre meal. I really enjoyed my giant rack of ribs and sweet potato fries, my sister and auntie opted for the beer battered haddock, which was a little disappointing as the batter was a little under-cooked. The service was OK, although we arrived at a weird time during a staff handover from day to night. Our first waitress Francesca was amazingly helpful and friendly. Our second waitress (who did not tell us her name) was less helpful and a little grumpy and looked quite offended when we complained about the under-cooked batter.

Despite the challenges we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the puddings went down a treat.

The show we went to see was Phantom of the Opera, it was spectacular although the balcony seats were a little on the small side, I couldn't feel my toes by intermission and the view was a little restricted thanks to the frightfully tall person sat in front. It was a wonderful show though, exactly how I imagined it would be.

We traveled back up North on the Tuesday with a car loaded full of gardening supplies. I am embarking on a vegetable growing adventure! I am utterly terrified and everything will probably die the second I plant it, but it should be fun! Any tips you have please feel free to share them.

So that was my busy busy weekend, I am now looking forward to a relaxing Easter to recover. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta Bake

I know I harp on and on about meal planning and the benefits of being super organised. However, occasionally I find myself getting home from work with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. These are usually the nights where Paul is busy or out and I am fending for myself.
I live exactly 150 yards from an amazing Chip Shop so on these night the temptation to scoff chips is overwhelming. This is the precise reason that I meal plan.

So the other day I was at a complete loss and lacking any sort of culinary inspiration, I took to twitter to have a moan (as you do) and it ended up turning into a bit of a Ready Steady Cook challenge where I listed he contents of my fridge and people gave me ideas.

Thanks to Roswen from Roswensian I ended up making this fabulous broccoli and cauliflower pasta dish.

Despite being shamefully simple this dish really blew me away with its deliciousness, so I thought I would share. This dish is so adaptable that you could really throw anything you like into the mix. I happened to have a few capers and some Serrano ham which needed using up, so threw them into the mix.

print recipe
Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta Bake
A very adaptable recipe, great for using up leftovers.
Ingredients
  • 60-80g Pasta (cooked al dente)
  • 500g jar pasatta
  • a generous amount of broccoli and cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 slices roughly chopped Serrano ham
  • 2 cloves (minced) garlic
  • spoolsh of Red wine
  • 40g cheese
Instructions
Steam the broccoli and cauliflower until they are soft yet still firm.Fry the garlic in a little oil or frylight, add the pasatta and red wine and gently simmer for around 5-10 mintes.Add the pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, capers and ham. Stir through on the heat until everything is combined.Turn into a suitable oven dish and sprinkle the cheese on the top.

Cook at 180C for around 25 minutes, until the top is golden and crisp.

I found the cauliflower really took on the sauce flavour and made the small amount of pasta go much further. This made two individual sized portions for me which were 7pp each. Although I could of easily eaten the lot all in one for 14pp!

Whats are your go-to meals on disorganised days?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Sunday Summary.

Hello lovely reader, I decided to try my hand at one of these summary type posts. I am a huge fan of Amy's Sunday Summary over on She Cooks she Eats, one of my favourite UK food bloggers.

As I spent the week itself at work I won't bore you with the details, I will stick to the weekend.

So I had a remarkably quiet weekend, it was pure bliss. After my crazy busy weekend away last week (a blog post on this is coming, promise) it has been lovely to hibernate for a couple of days. My wonderful friend Sacha popped over on Saturday to catch up. She moved to St Albans in January, so we made ourselves some fancy coffee and ate homemade scones while we chatted the afternoon away.

An added bonus to her visit was that she hasn't seen me in so long that she noticed my weight loss; The first person to comment on it. Can't deny that it put a smile on my face for the rest of the evening.

The evening was spent curled up on the sofa with my Ruby watching Merlin. I tend to get a bit obsessive about certain TV shows and Merlin in the latest in a long line of obsessions. It is just such a wholesome BBC, Sunday night viewing. Sort of like Last of the Summer Wine with swords. I am probably not selling it to you but its just so refreshing to watch show without blood, swearing, serial killers etc...

So if you enjoy a bit of the supernatural, historical, witty banter and fun! I can highly recommend this show. I am onto season 5 which is the last one, so expect me to enter into mourning over Easter. It won't be as bad as the Gilmore Girl decline of 08, but expect a few straight legged toddler tantrums. If you have any TV show recommendations to help ease he pain, please share.

On Sunday I decided to make some soup. Weekends at home can be disastrous for the diet, so its good to have something low or free from points to eat, keeps me away from the snacks and grazing. The soup was a bit of a random concoction but I have to say it was the best soup I have ever made! So I thought I would share the recipe with you all...

print recipe
Butternut Squash, Carrot and Ginger Soup.
A warm, filling and delicious soup for long, cold weekends at home.
Ingredients
  • 1/2 medium sized Butternut Squash
  • 1 large Carrot
  • 1/2 Red Onion
  • Small Piece of Fresh Ginger
  • 2 cloves (minced) Garlic
  • a good pinch. Indian 5 Spice
  • 1 1/2 pints chicken stock
  • tablespoon. oil
Instructions
Peel and chop carrot and butternut squash and set aside.Finely chop the onion, and grate the ginger.Heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, ginger and spice. Cook until lightly browned.Transfer the cooked onion mix into your large soup pan with the chopped carrot and BNS. Add the stock and stir.simmer on the hob until half the liquid is left and the veg is nice and soft.blend in a blender or using a stick blender until smooth.Serve with a nice bit of crusty bread, and enjoy.

Sunday was spent getting my clean on, the kitchen got blitzed, wardrobe got cleared and I discovered a new favourite coffee. Previously I absolutely loved my Dolce Gusto lattes but since I am not eating dairy at the moment (a story for another time) I cannot drink them. So I started drinking the regular Dolce Gusto coffee, which was perfectly lovely black but on a whim I decided to try some hazelnut milk and YES! It was gorgeous! So creamy and smooth, not like regular milk though. I strongly suggest you try it, now.

Here are a few posts you can look forward to on the blog in the coming week or two include;

  • Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta Bake
  • Manchego and Chive Scones
  • A round-up of my weekend away, including my super fun Indian cookery class and trip to London
  • Homemade Tortillas

  • The evening was spent relaxing in a scolding hot bath and listening to 70s classics on BBC Radio 2. Yep, its official. I am old.

    I hope you had an equally relaxing weekend, and don't forget those TV recommendations...

    Friday, 22 March 2013

    Caramelised White Chocolate Profiteroles.

    In March we celebrated our 7 year anniversary. We are not married but always celebrate the day we met, it is handy that it was at my friends wedding so she always reminds me when the exact date was. Rather than go out and spend lots of money we decided to stay in, cook and watch a film together.

    Most special occasions in our house are celebrated with steak, it is too expensive to eat all the time but we love it so much that any occasion, no matter how small is an excuse to buy steak.

    We prefer sirloin as it is easy to cook and bloody delicious. I served the steak with truffle oil mash and a mountain of rocket.

    Its been a while since I made a proper dessert, normally opting for ice cream, fruit or something ready-made. Since it was a special occasion I decided to push the boat out and make some profiteroles. Paul has never eaten profiteroles until he met me (I know, weird) so I like to make them for him to remind him of how bleak his life was before me.

    For Christmas I got the Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood. I absolutely adore this book, its not one of these books that simply tells you to use "low-fat" substitutes (with the exception of creme fraiche). Instead she encourages good quality food in smaller portions. I don't know about you but I'd much rather eat a small amount of something delicious than mountains of tasteless diet food.

    I am not going to share the full recipe in this post as I think you should really check out this book. However, I can tell you that the profiteroles worked out at just 3pp each! This includes the choux pastry, creme patisserie and the chocolate topping. You could make them even lighter by removing the white chocolate and simply drizzling dark chocolate sparingly on the top!

    I chose to make a caramelised white chocolate after seeing some delicious looking blog posts through Pinterest. I had never heard of it before but it looked pretty straightforward. I followed the instructions in this fabulous blog post from Food 52.

    My chocolate was not the best quality, as I was reluctant to spend a lot in case it really didn't work. So the end result was slightly grainy but not noticeably so when on top of the profiteroles. I think next time I do it I will invest in some better quality chocolate.

    The end result tasted a little bit like Caramac, but richer and smoother. I cooked mine for quite a while so got a pretty dark caramel colour, but you can alter the time to get the colour and level of caramel flavour to suit you.

    My chocolate did not achieve the perfect runny texture in the oven, but a quick simmer in a bain-marie and it was gooey and lovely, as you can see in the gif above.

    I hope you are not too disappointed with the lack of recipe with this one, but I would highly recommend getting the book, its only £12 on Amazon!

    Friday, 15 March 2013

    Weight Watchers FAQ

    One of the great things about being a Weight Watchers Blog Ambassador is that I get people asking me questions, over the last month or so I have had quite a few emails, direct twitter messages and facebook messages from friends and strangers asking for my advice on their menu's, details on how I am finding WW and even exercise tips (I know, this one made me giggle too).

    I mean, I am no expert on this whole being healthy thing, but it does feel good to know I am inspiring/helping others. This also helps me stay on track as I know there are people out there who I am accountable too. I suppose its the online equivalent to going to a meeting.

    I thought I would share a few Frequently Asked Questions with you;

    1. How does Weight Watchers compare to Slimming World?
    Now, I have never done slimming world before so am definitely no expert on this. The concept of red and green days, syns and free whatsits are completely alien to me. However, I have been told that Weight Watchers filling and healthy (F&H) plan is pretty similar.
    The good thing about the filling and healthy plan is that there is no need to point every little thing you put in your mouth. As long as it comes from the approved "filling and healthy" list you can eat it. You still get the 49 weekly propoints to use on treats or meals out etc... (much like SW syns).

    I sometimes have a F&H week when I feel like I am overwhelmed with pointing, or as a sort of break from the calculator.

    2. How do you handle cooking different meals for yourself and your family?
    A few people have asked how I find time to cook different meals for myself, and those in my house not following Weight Watchers, the quick answer to this is I don't! I plan my meals around things that me and my boyfriend will eat. I mean, who has time to be cooking 2 different things? For example, if I am cooking chicken breast's wrapped in bacon with potatoes and vegetables I will give him the larger chicken breast, cut the fat off my bacon, have less potato and load up my plate with salad or veggies.

    3. I have started WW this week and am STARVING!!! What do you eat?!?!?!
    This is probably the question I get asked the most. I have to tell you that for the first two weeks of weight watchers I was HUNGRY! Going from eating all the things at Christmas to eating a "normal" amount in January was hard, my body went into a complete sulk and my will power was tested to the max! After about 10 days the hunger went away and I adjusted to the new regime. I know it feels horrid at first but do stick with it.
    Also, take advantage of the free fruit and veg to stave off the hunger, keep pre-chopped carrots in the fridge, take a pot of blueberries to work to nibble on.

    4. So if I start WW now, will I lose 2 stone by (INSERT DATE HERE)
    This is something I don't like being asked, if you are looking for a quick fix for a specific date I would say maybe WW isn't for you. For me weight watchers is a lifestyle change, its about changing habits and gaining control of your eating. I am such a lover of all things food that I could happily eat, eat and eat all day long, Weight watchers helps me realise how much I should be eating and makes me accountable for what I eat. I am happy losing 1-2lbs a week and seeing results in the longer term, which in my opinion last longer.

    5. How do you allow yourself treats or rewards? The short answer to this is yes, I still eat chocolate and cake, just in much smaller doses than before. I still enjoy the odd MacDonald's breakfast, or trip to my favourite restaurant. Although, one thing I am careful about is rewarding weight loss with food. Throughout my life special occasions and accomplishments have been celebrated with food. I am trying to find new ways to reward myself which don't necessarily involve food. A manicure for achieving my first stone loss, a new dress to celebrate an anniversary.
    I personally think making time for yourself is key to this whole lifestyle change.

    I hope you enjoyed this FAQ post, and as it is rather wordy and not at all picture-y here is a photo of me for you, this is me 12 weeks into the weight watchers programme and 16lbs lighter. (apologies for the goofy facial expression)

    So these were the top 5 questions I have been asked recently, if you have any more feel free to ask them below and I will try my best to answer them.

    Thursday, 14 March 2013

    Ruby

    This weekend just gone was pretty exciting for a number of reasons, it was our 7 year anniversary, I made delicious profiteroles (more on this soon) and we got a cat! After we lost our beloved Tailsy cat last summer we were a little hesitant about jumping right into anything. However, after stumbling across Ruby on the Cats Protection Website we started to fall in love again.

    This little beauty is just the perfect feline friend for us, she is around 12-18 months old and was taken in as a stray by CPL in November. From the description on the website we had expected her to be a bit stand-offish or shy at first, but she is actually the opposite! She loved nothing more than a good cuddle, and is a complete bed-hog.

    She is a little clingy right now, which I am assuming is because she is in a new place and still finding her feet. Although it is pretty cute when she follows you to the loo, or sits on the windowsill when you do the washing-up.

    She already has us wrapped around her little white paws, but we don't mind in the slightest.

    So there you go, a new addition to our little family. I am sure you will be hearing more about our lovely Ruby-cat on the blog and if you follow me on twitter or instagram you will definitely being seeing pictures!

    Wednesday, 13 March 2013

    5 top tips for Smart Food Shopping.

    I love food shopping. Walking up and down the aisles and finding new and exciting things to try is my idea of a fun way to spend a Sunday! Unfortunately my bank balance and my waistline do not agree with me on this one.

    I could easily wander around the supermarket loading up a trolley and end up spending hundreds of pounds without even thinking! Also all those BOGOF or 3 for 2 offers on naughty things are just too tempting. So I tend to save in-store shopping for special occasions (Christmas) or picking up small numbers of things in a rush.

    Instead I do the majority of my shopping online. It is not always ideal and I inevitably end up with something I didn't order or without something vital to my weekly meal plan. However it is so much cheaper and I don't end up with that sneaky packet of doughnuts or share bag of crisps that tends to leap into my trolley when I am not looking.

    While doing Weight Watchers I find the online shop such an essential tool. For me Weight Watchers is all about being in control of what you are putting into your mouth. So here are my top tips for shopping online...

    Start with a meal plan;
    Even when shopping online it is easy to end up with things in your basket you don't end up eating. I find the best place to start is a rough meal plan. I do a rough weekly meal plan each week. On organised weeks I post them on the blog. You can see them here.
    Even if I don't know exactly what I am going to make I try to write down a starting point, my first draft meal plan tends to look something like this:

  • Monday - Turkey
  • Tuesday - Pasta
  • Wednesday - Sausages
  • Thursday - Chilli (quorn? beef?)
  • Friday - Fish.

    With this as a jumping off point I then head to the supermarket website and see whats on offer. If I see tinned tuna is half price then the pasta dish becomes tuna-pasta, if quorn is cheaper than beef the chilli is then quorn etc... Even if you end up swapping the days around, at least you know you have 5 days worth of meals and you avoid the midweek "whats for tea?" panic.

    Use what you already have;
    If you are anything like me you will always have things lurking in the back of the freezer, forgotten packets of sausages, mystery bags of meat that you bagged and forgot to label etc...
    These are a great starting point for your meal plan if you already have some sausages, you'll only need to buy potatoes for your bangers and mash. This will really cut down on your bill and help stop the inevitable overflowing freezer.

    Be savvy with deals and coupons;
    I do my main weekly shop at Tesco using my Clubcard means that every few months they send me a £5 off voucher. Other supermarkets have similar loyalty schemes too, make sure you are aware of them and use them to your advantage. Sometimes eating healthier can mean things are more expensive; taking advantage of the offers out there can stop this being an issue. If the horse meat scandal taught us anything its that cheap meat is not all its cracked up to be.
    Also there are sometimes offers on cash-back websites, I would highly recommend checking the Money Saving Expert site before placing your order!

    Be careful with your fruit and veg;
    I only buy certain fruits and vegetables online, this is mainly down to my own personal experience. I have found that berries, soft fruit and salads are a bit of a lucky dip, they are normally on their last legs or a day or two away from moldy. I do however buy root veg, green veg and citrus fruit. I normally buy root vegetables in bulk packs and when they arrive I chop them and freeze them in individual portions, perfect for stews, soups or mash. The green vegetables I buy weekly and they seem to last OK.
    The fruit and vegetables I don't buy online I pick up from my local green grocer for half the price and they last twice as long. In an ideal world I would but everything from a local independent place but in reality this doesn't really work for me.

    Check, check and re-check
    Always always always check through your basket at least twice, I tend to add things that are on offer, then when I look back I think "do I really need 24 yoghurts?" or "Will the two of use really need 2.5kg of potatoes?". It is worth double and triple checking before hitting the order button.

    So this guide turned into a bit of a money saving post rather than a weight watchers guide, but I do honestly think online shopping is a vital tool when you are watching your waistline. It allows you time to check the points on the items you are ordering, or create a recipe using the ingredients you are buying.

    Do you shop online? What do you find good/bad about it? Feel free to share your tips...

  • Tuesday, 12 March 2013

    I Love Cake.

    So I know its been all about the healthy eating round here lately, but fear not! I still love cake.

    I lost my baking mojo for a while when I first started following weight watchers, I really didn't want the temptation and any attempt at low point baking just didn't seem to work for me. Many flat useless lumps of low calorie cake attempts ended up straight in the bin.

    Having now lost 16lbs and feeling a bit more comfortable and confident with how Weight Watchers works for me, I headed back into the kitchen and decided to try a simple sponge cake to ease myself back into the swing of things. I had been sent this totally cute little heart-shaped cake tin from Tala, I actually own a few Tala bits and pieces as I tend to find them in TK Maxx. The mini tin is only 10cm x 10cm which seemed much more diet friendly.

    I have other plans for the mini heart tin, which include cheesecakes, chocolate fondants and even a mini heart pie! Watch this space.

    The cake itself was 26pp which is a little indulgent to say the least, but shared with a loved one it makes it a perfectly acceptable 13pp treat. Afterall what are weekly points for if not cake?

    print recipe
    Pineapple Mini Cake
    Ingredients
    • 125g Plain Flour
    • 125g Caster Sugar
    • 2 medium Eggs
    • 125g Low Fat Margarine
    • 60g Icing Sugar
    • 40g Light Philidelphia
    • 1 tsp Baking Powder
    • 1/4 tsp Salt
    • a couple of slices of Fresh pineapple
    Instructions
    I used Mary Berry's all-in-one method for this cake. I put the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, salt and eggs into my Kitchenaid fitted with the paddle attachment and mixed until a smooth cake batter was formed. I filled two mini heart cake tins and baked at 180C for around 22 minutes, until the cake started to pull away from the edge of the tin and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake came out clean.I combined the cream cheese and icing sugar in my kitchenaid and chopped a couple of slices of fresh pineapple into small cubes and added them to the icing.I divided my cake into three layers, with a thin layer of the pineapple icing between each one.

    How would you make use of this cute little tin? Always looking for a little recipe inspiration.

    I was given this little cake tin by Tala to review, this post is therefore sponsored although all opinions are my own.

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