Monday, 30 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday

Wow, its my second week I've remembered to submit my post over to the lovely At home with Mrs M's blog!
Last week has just flown by I managed to stick to most of the plan, with the odd tweaks. Meals got moved around and I ended up falling prey to shopping on an empty stomach on night but fortunately managed to at least avoid the reduced baked goods section for once! And I did get a bargain pack of organic bacon marked down to 70p which was squirreled into the freezer, so not all bad..also had a naughty but nice Chinese takeaway, though my excuse was doing night shifts I would burn it off haha. And whilst my gums have healed well, im still on softer food and next week’s menu takes it into account…oh for crusty bread!

The cod mornay was about the only thing that didn’t get eaten. I had planned it right up to ahem, taking the box out of the freezer (shh!) and promptly realised it was a whole dish and served two – I have a good appetite but wasn’t going to happen, so has been rainchecked for another day. Note to next guest I invite around, you will be having cod mornay ;-)

As requested by Jac, I will post up very soon my recipe from Monday nights spinach, mushroom and coconut dal! Was lush!

Finally whilst I do like to have pudding or something sweet after a meal, some are just too big to bother making just for me, so I’ve been very inventive this week! One night I mixed natural yoghurt with almond extract and honey, then spooned over some plump dried figs, then sprinkled with a little brown sugar. Another night saw rice pudding heated up with mini daim bars in! Tuesday night I perfected semolina pudding, something I had normally bought tinned …but I had a bag bought on a random whim of semolina, and completely made it up as I went along – semolina, milk and splenda (I‘ve run out of sugar and I’m not buying any until the splenda has gone!) then finished off with the last scrapings of a jar of mincemeat. It does not photograph well, so I will not be blogging it any time soon! And last but not least was my favourite - tinned sliced peaches, topped with more natural yoghurt and a bashed up plain chocolate digestive! A far cry from my recent cooking at a two star Michelin restaurant but just as delicious!

So on to week commencing 30th January.... This weeks meal plan is subject to change, as always! As I write this, our boiler went over the weekend, so no hot water, I am too lazy to keep boiling kettle so some dishes will be subbed for minimal washing up ones! I’ve done my shopping, all I need is milk this week. She says…

I have a mixture of shifts this week, and just finished nights so am all over the place! Amazing how eating chocolate biscuits at 3.40am feels so right ...

Monday – last of some Jamie Oliver fishcake's I bought on offer from the freezer, served with new potatoes courtesy of my brother, and peas. I think will make some spiced carrot and lentil soup too, as I got a huge bag of carrots in the market for a pound on Friday! Will see how I feel when I wake up!

Tuesday will be a nice simple cheese omelette, based on a Weight Watchers recipe, with last of the potatoes fried off and some beetroot that needs eating up. Think will make another batch of semolina pudding for afters…

Wednesday is the most subject to change, my dad is possibly coming around for dinner, and if so will be bringing some sausages from a good butchers near him. If so having them potentially with sprouts, orzo and roasted peppers. Depending on hot water situation, I might also bake something... I received some gorgeous smelling bitter almond essence from Bakery bits just before Christmas, so must try something other than stirring into yoghurt!

Thursday is battered fish fingers (guilty pleasure!), peas and pasta. Though may well change mind before then!

Friday one of my favourite lunches – tuna and chickpea pesto pasta – will be a big pot as on a late shift. If peckish later on will have a quick cup of vegetable bouillon with some noodles thrown in.

Saturday I might be out…if not will be a vegetable burger. I have no shame in admitting that I adore Birds Eye vegetable quarter pounders and handy stashed in freezer for emergencies! Will be served with whatever veg either needs using up or most likely more peas!

Sunday – possibly still out…if not planning to make a chicken and mushroom fricassee served with wild rice. If I’m in all day planning to bake a cheese, caramelized onion and bacon tart, which will last me a couple of meals into the following week…

Have a good week everyone!


Friday, 27 January 2012

Savoury Quorn 'Chicken' rice

The other day I was flicking through my lovely but slightly battered notebook I use for planning meals and making recipe notes in and I came across my scribblings for this recipe I made a few times last year, and realised it had never quite made it onto the blog. I’m not sure why, it was delicious but maybe the word ‘quorn’ just isn’t that appealing? I must admit it doesn’t exactly conjour up ‘ooh yum’ kinda thoughts!

Whilst I’m not vegetarian, at the same time I’ve never been a huge meat eater either. In fact I rarely cook meat for myself, is normally reserved for guests. My mum certainly had no trouble getting me to eat my vegetables growing up! Though she did tear her hair out slightly I think during my ‘veggie’ phase as a teen and I honestly never want to eat another cauliflower cheese bake during my lifetime!

I normally have a bag of quorn pieces stashed away in the freezer for emergencies. They are very handy for cooking from frozen, are frequently on special offer so purse friendly, and solve the issue of having some protein, something I seem to somehow forget when cooking just for myself! If you don't have the chunks, the quorn chicken style fillets work just as well, simply dice into 1cm cubes.

As mentioned at the the beginning, I’ve made this a few times now, its really tasty hot but also works well as part of a cold buffet or picnic recipe or for your lunchbox. Just make sure you cool everything down quickly.

Oh and this dish also reminds me of why I never want to touch Pimm's again but that's a whole other story.....!

The herbs and spices can be tweaked as to what you have in, think of this as a base recipe and let your mind wander!

From my rough scribbles this batch served two but is easily adjusted in quantities


100g basmati rice
150g Quorn chicken chunks or the fillets chopped up
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 red peppers from a chopped, sliced into chunks or 1/2 a fresh one, diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder (or use fresh)
1 tsp Dried oregano
1/2 tsp marigold stock powder into 1 pint boiling water
1/2 onion finely chopped
3 heaped tbsp frozen peas
3 heaped tbsp frozen sweetcorn

You will need a large lidded saute/ frying pan

Place the quorn chunks in a mixing bowl with all the spices and herbs, and 2 tbsp water, mix well and leave to one side.

Heat the pan, spray with oil and gently soften the onion, add the rice and half of the stock, cover and simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now add the remaining ingredients and stock, stir well and cover, simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the liquid has absorbed. Remove the lid if the mixture is too wet still.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday w/c 23.01.2012

I keep meaning to take part in this but either remember it on the Wednesday or completely forget! Over the past few months, what with moving house, twice, starting college of an evening, working full time shifts and nowadays just cooking for one, meal planning is both an essential but also a frustrating battle at times! Getting to blog even has been a challenge!

For example I had planned out all of last weeks menu, in fact a fortnights worth but then midweek got a cancellation appointment at the hospital and found myself the next morning closing my eyes and humming to myself 'find a happy place find a happy place find a happy place' as I had two teeth taken out, one on each side of mouth. Nice. Eating has been fun but I've been inventive with soft foods, including a delicious barley and swede soup, semolina pudding for the first time from scratch and celery soup...

This week the gums are a little less sore, but still not quite on solids so have re-jigged everything to as follows, though still subject to change if I change my mind!

Monday - Mushroom, spinach and coconut dal with carrot & sultana salad, cucumber raita (was lush)

Tuesday - leftovers from Monday night

Wednesday - late dinner will probably be soup, however lunch will be roasted pepper orzo with cheese and salad leaves, chopped very small

Thursday and Friday - Pea and pancetta risotto

Saturday - Cod mornay, new potatoes and brussel sprouts

Sunday - Rest of potatoes, beetroot and peas in honey and mustard dressing, parsley fishcakes

Friday, 20 January 2012

A day of Shiny pans and Fine Dining

When an invite dropped into my inbox to spend a day with saucepans, my first thoughts were ooh saucepans, shiny, yey, so obviously it didn’t take long for me to say yes. Then I did a quick google and saw the price list and had to pick up my jaw from shock. These were very shiny, expensive shiny. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cookware as previous posts will tell and over the years have acquired some expensive toys but these were still a little on the eek side! However it did alert my curiosity that little bit further as to why these babies warrant a higher price tag..

And so a few days later, clutching my tickets like a lost tourist I boarded the early train out of Exeter with birdsong around me and made the pleasant but slow commute to Chippenham, somewhere deep in the wilds of Wiltshire. Those who know me will probably be wondering why I was getting the train at Exeter, rather than my usual haunt of Surrey/ Middlesex borders – I was actually on holiday in Devon but due to come back that day, so decided to extend my trip by a day and stay another night in Devon – no real hardship really – one day….sigh…! This was despite moving house that week and having a fair few bits to do inbetween – I’m never one to sit still long or make it easy on myself!

Upon arrival at Whatley Manor, the setting for the All-clad demo, it set my jaw slightly gaping and feelings of looking slightly like a raggy Anne doll set in. My oh my do I need to find myself a rich husband, and fast. I really could get used to living a life of luxury! The place was elegance in itself, everything was just perfect, from the warmth of the staff to the artwork in the toilets!

Also very welcome was a cup of fresh coffee with a delicious little biscuit – far nicer than the one I had purchased on the train!

First up, we got to see the All-clad pans in use under the guidance of Martin Burge, the head chef of their 2 star Michelin restaurant, and his team as they demonstrated a stunning looking Pear and Blackberry gratin.

After building up an appetite, we then had a lovely lunch of braised veal cheeks on a bed of spinach. Those bad boys ain’t the prettiest thing I’ve sat down to eat but the meat just melted in your mouth.

I’m gutted I didn’t photograph the rest of the meal, was too busy eating! Alongside the veal cheeks there was a creamy parmesan risotto, though in all honesty I just wanted to smuggle the pan out in my handbag – it was so weeny and cute! Pudding was also a triumph – a heavenly tiramisu, served in a generously sized martini glass, which rather upsettingly was so filling I let the side down and couldn’t finish it though I did try my best L one thing I do plan to steal is the idea of having layers of chocolate within all that lovely creaminess – it was a joy to crack through and I am looking forward to attempting to recreate this part!

Unfortunately the day wasn’t all about eating lovely food - we had to earn our keep and so trudged back into the very shiny kitchen, and then got set to recreating the earlier demonstrated pear and blackberry gratin, using the All-clad range of pans and bowls. I paired up with the rather charming Hugues, one of All-clad’s managers who was great to work with – we managed the dish in perfect harmony, with no problems encountered and my dish was first to finish! The dish was constructed of caramelised blackberries, pear sorbet, shortbreads, sabayon and poached pears. The pears were my personal favourite – I would happily eat them all, so perfectly flavoured and delicate!

Spot the difference - One of these dishes was mine, one was chef’s: (scroll down for the answer!)

Picture A:

Picture B:

How I don’t really know but am rather smugly pleased at myself and Hugues efforts! It was my first, and probably last time cooking in this kind of setting but it was a great experience!

To give you a little history, All Clad was born in 1971 in Pennsylvania, and the range is still made there to this day. The pans were originally developed between a metalworker and a chef, and each pan is hand finished, to provide you with the very best in cookware. They are durable, made of the finest materials available and are suitable for all hobs – including induction, which is handy if you move house in the future. Across the range there are a huge variety of sizes of pans, falling into three main styles – copper core, stainless d5 and stainless steel.

My favourite pan was the saucier, it just felt so right to use! The curved inner made the spatula dance with happy abandon around the pan and despite being slightly scared to make caramel, and then add liquid to it, in a shiny pan, it magically worked. No burned pan to scrub! No sticking either! It also was a great size, not too big, not to small, not too heavy, just right. This is a picture of my caramelised blackberries:

Think I will be sweet talking father Christmas next year! To show you in comparison why I was scared – this is what I recently did to another brand of pan whilst attempting popcorn!

What can I say. Are they worth it? I do think so. I currently use Meyer hard anodized pans, which I am rather fond of and for now will be sticking with – more so that I’ve just moved into a flatshare and wouldn’t want to use the beautiful All Clad pans or my er rather antique cooker but if I was in the market for new ones, then I think I could very happily find a home for these! They are aimed at the home gourmet and chef – both titles way over my station but I do appreciate good quality cookware and these were a joy to use. They come with a lifetime guarantee and I think would prove a worthwhile investment.

Many thanks to Live, Chloe, Hugues and everyone at All Clad for both the invite and experience, and also to everyone at Whatley Manor.

P.s. Did you guess right? Picture B was mine, A was chefs!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Turkey steaks with Mushroom and Mustard sauce

Do you have any leftover Turkey still from Christmas? Hopefully not! If however you did stash some away unto the depths of the freezer and can't face another turkey curry/ sandwich etc then my quick and easy mustard sauce will be a quick salvation for you!

I often use yoghurt nowadays for making both sweet and savoury sauces, ever since I had a job lot of Total yoghurt a few years back it really made me think about using yoghurt in cooking, and not just for breakfast! You could easily interchange the yoghurt for a light cream cheese or even fromage frais would probably work. Maybe even some naughty double cream for those not making January a healthy month! Don't feel you have to be too precise on the measurements - this was very a much judged by eye, than spoon!

You can use any type of plain natural yoghurt in this, this batch was made with a probiotic low fat long as its not strawberry flavoured you can’t really go too wrong! Its such a quick and tasty dinner with very little effort involved. Perfect for busy evenings when you want something fast, but without lacking on flavour. I had dinner on the table in under 15 minutes, which is always good especially when it tastes great too! Better still it cooks in one pan so less washing up to do as well! 

Serves one - easily up-scaled though 

Simply heat a good solid based pan, fry a turkey breast steak in a little garlic oil for a couple of minutes both sides, until just cooked through, reserve and keep warm. Try and get a little colour on the turkey. 

Using the same pan, return to the heat, add a handful of sliced chestnut mushrooms and brown over a moderate heat for 4-5 minutes - you will want some of the juices for the sauce so don't cook over too high a heat but enough to brown them. Stir in 1 heaped tsp of wholegrain mustard and 2 tbsp of yoghurt, reduce the heat and return the turkey to the pan, gently heat everything through and serve immediately topped with the sauce. Easy as that! 

I served mine with spinach and orzo but any green vegetables would be good here!

*If you want to make it a little healthier, use spray oil in lieu of the garlic oil and add a little garlic puree to the mushrooms. Though turkey is pretty healthy anyway and I only used a smidge of oil so totally up to you!*

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Happy, Healthy New Year - Introducing The Complete Kitchen and giveaway

Happy New Year everyone! I thought long and hard and asked several questions before agreeing to review a diet cookbook on my blog. Mainly as you will have no doubt of I am sure - I love my food!
Also whilst being a not so secret cookbook fan, its not often I review them, and if I do I prefer to normally choose and do things a bit more organically. However I was intrigued by this particular book and agreed to have a bash at it! 

Firstly, I am not getting any younger - a big scary milestone approaches this year - gulp - and after a year of health issues that’s seen me verge from barely being able to eat and being underweight; to now having to physically restrain myself from the baked goods aisle, something needs to give! ...Its also been an emotional few months and I know that I’ve been comfort eating too a little too much.. my friend L knows that my chocolate addiction has a gotten a little out of hand..! 

Secondly I rarely cook for more than little old me now, which brings another issue of portion sizes! I am never particularly fond of wasting food so will often end up eating things for the sake of it. In addition I find cooking one single portion near impossible. When it comes to lunch, I am not very bread inclined, yet alone into sandwiches so for a long time I've been cooking extra for dinner etc but I am now finding I am eating two main meals a day, and the work trousers are feeling a wee bit tooo tight for comfort of late! 
In addition I work shifts, which are an excellent way to confuse your body as I eat at all different times. 

A few years back I had gained a couple of stone more than needed due to eating mainly too many sausage rolls from the dirty snack van whilst working in an office of nearly all men, and having an excellent Chinese takeaway around the corner, but then successfully with that old saying ‘diet and exercise’ I managed to get back to a healthy weight, and this is where I want to be again. Finding time to exercise is not easy (nor do dogdy knee’s!), life is pretty busy right now but I am moving house next week, to be closer to work and will be gaining a whole extra hour a day so no excuses! I also have a new bike and I am determined to get out on it come rain or shine! 

And so this brings me to introduce the new Weight Watchers book ‘The Complete Kitchen’, just launched which has the tagline of ‘The Ultimate guide to cooking the Weight Watchers way. This is a book aimed for those who enjoy their food and cook from scratch, like me but want to make some healthier changes, to either lose or maintain weight, and also in general be that little bit healthier. 

Over the past few years I have changed my cooking habits, I use a lot less oil and butter now, as you might have noticed in some of my recipes, (excluding of course the recent Amaretto Butterfly cakes!) choosing half fat crème fraiche instead of whole, using spray oil to cook with etc but with having like most, a busy lifestyle it can be a challenge at times to not only plan healthy meals but also to make them satisfying – there is no point in my eyes of eating something that leaves you underwhelmed, and therefore more likely to raid the biscuit tin afterwards! 

The Complete Kitchen book has a huge selection of recipes, with normal ingredients so no needing to buy anything weird and wonderful (unless of course you want too!) and if you ignore the pro-points logos splashed throughout you would think it was a ‘regular style’ of cookbook. I honestly have no idea how many you are supposed to do/ use (?), nor intention right now to start doing the ProPoints system but it is a handy guide to see what recipes are a bit more naughtier than others, allowing me to balance my meals a little better. 

For me personally the book will be a great start for the New Year to get back into a healthier way of eating. Once all the Christmas sweets are gone that is! I am starting fresh with near empty cupboards so can make a more concentrated effort! 

The book starts with some cooking know how’s such as frying onions with stock, rather than butter – something which I discovered a few years back and it’s a great way of not adding extra calories to a meal (and in my eyes leaves more calories to a bigger pudding!). Additionally it gives a list of store cupboard basics, how to organise your kitchen and a very useful list of roasting times. 

I must say on my first read through, I was pretty impressed with the book – I really like the clean, modern layout and how its split into sections including Soups, Salads and sandwiches; Weekend Suppers; The Modern Vegetarian and Sweet Endings. There really is something for everyone! Additionally the recipes also advise if they are freezeable – ideal for when I don’t want to cook from scratch everyday but at the same time don’t want to eat the same dish three days running! 

After going through the book, I had one main problem – I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make the most first! There were lots of tempting recipes that sound distinctly un-diet food including Roast Lamb with jewelled rice stuffing, Barley salad with gorganzola, Ricotta gnocchi, Autumnal Chicken stew, Apple and Cranberry traybake, Marbled meringues with chocolate mousse……and the list went on! However with moving house so soon, and a dreaded trip to the dentists coming up and also a short break coming up, I’ve decided to hold off testing a recipe immediately but once I am settled in I will let you know what I finally decided to make! 

In the meantime though I am very pleased to announce I have a copy of this book to giveaway to one UK based winner, simply enter via the below rafflecopter form and good luck!
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