Week Fifty Two – A Whole Year

A downward trend

I have managed a year on the diet and I have now got to the stage where I only dream of butter every other night.

This week I lost five pounds which has reinforced my view that it is easier to lose weight in nice weather. So if I can lose weight through Spring and Summer and maintain the weight loss through the Winter I will be quite happy. It will take longer to get to a sensible weight but, as my daughter pointed out, when you get to my age your skin is not so elastic so you have to lose weight slowly.

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Week Fifty One – Memory Hole

Debbie got on the scales first at this week’s weigh in and had gained half a pound. As she had spent Saturday at my daughter’s hen party I thought half a pound was a fair result. I was feeling slightly smug as I got on the scales. I had been good all week and had been swimming and I had visions of being handed the slimmer of the week sticker.

I gained three pounds.

Three pounds. But I had been good, I distinctly remember being good.

Oh, apart from the trip to an Indian restaurant on Thursday night after Debbie arrived home after our kitchen was closed (I don’t do cooking after seven pm). Oh, and then we were in Manchester and, well, it was a lot easier to have a take away so I might have been persuaded to order a thing called a kebab calzone. This turned out to be one of those elephant’s foot things you see in kebab shop windows sliced up and forced into a folded pizza.

As the women were all off enjoying themselves on the hen do us men were left to entertain ourselves. This seemed to mostly involve drinking pints of bitter. I admit to being a Southern Softie and only managed six pints before switching to a soft drink.

And then I remembered that on Wednesday last week I made this:

Mac and Cheese
This is not a diet friendly recipe but sometimes you just have do things.
Serves four
500ml Skimmed Milk
1 onion, diced and fried until golden (for some reason I had quite a few of these last week)
2 Bayleaves
500g Macaroni
1tsp butter
1tbl plain flour
200g Fontina cheese, grated
200g Mozzarella, grated
150g Parmesan, grated
1tbl Bread Crumbs

Put the onions and bayleaves with the milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Allow to cool then strain. Add the cooled milk to the macaroni and leave to soak over night.

The next day preheat the oven to 200°c. Drain the macaroni reserving the milk. Melt the butter and then make a roux with the flour. Add the milk a little at a time to make a bechamel. Once the sauce is thick add the fontina, mozzarella and all by a tablespoon of the parmesan. When the cheese has melted into the sauce stir in the pasta then pour into an ovenproof dish. Mix the remaining parmesan with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Put in the oven for between twenty to thirty minutes until the top is browned.

So actually a three pound gain was a good result.

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Weeks Forty Nine and Fifty- Timing or Know your onions

I was going to write a blog post last week if only to say that I lost a pound at the weigh in but as I started to write I realised I wanted to do some more research.

Last week I tried a new dish where the instruction was to cook sliced onions on the lowest heat possible. The implication was that the onions should look like this:
cooked onions

The recipe said to cook the onions for around an hour (cook for thirty minutes then put the water on for the pasta ) but it took nearer two hours for the onions to be properly cooked.

This made me think about all those recipes which say “fry for five minutes until golden”. I understand that recipe writers don’t want to put people off trying something because it might take a long time to cook but wouldn’t a dish that was undercooked put people off cooking it again?

So I bought a couple of bags of onions, took a day off work and set up an experiment. Let’s see if, nearly thirty years after I left school, I can still remember how to write it up.

Frying Onions
Aim:
To test various hob settings for frying onions to see if they can be turned golden. This is golden granulated sugar and is the colour I was aiming for:

Brown sugar

The colour to aim for


Apparatus:
Halogen hob with six heat settings
Cooker knob
A 24cm Frying pan
Spatula
5ml syringe
Kitchen timer

Apparatus


Sunflower Oil
Onions diced to roughly 5mm

Method
5ml oil was measured using the syringe and put in the cold frying pan. The pan was then placed on the hob and preheated for one minute. 100g of onions were then added and fried for five minutes stirring every minute.

Results
Heat Setting 1

Heat Setting 1


The onions were raw. They were warm but very little cooking had taken place.

Heat Setting 2

Heat Setting 2


The onions were starting to cook and turn translucent although it would take another five or more minutes to be properly cooked.

Heat Setting 3

Heat Setting 3


The onions were translucent but were still crunchy.

Heat Setting 4

Heat Setting 4


We have colour! But still lots of crunch.

Heat Setting 5

Heat Setting Five


Hmm, they look golden but they are still really crunchy. A Little sweetness coming through.

Heat Setting 6

Heat Setting 6


Oops, a bit too golden? And although they are starting to burn they are still crunchy.

Conclusion

You can fry onions for five minutes until golden brown but they won’t be cooked properly.

After the experiment I timed how long it took for 100g of onions to turn golden on heat setting 3. After twenty minutes they were not only golden but cooked through and nicely sweet. Oddly there are nearly six thousand google results for “fry for five minutes until golden” and six hundred for “fry for twenty minutes until golden”. It looks like expediency wins over taste.

I really wasn’t expecting to lose any weight this week as we have been slightly indulgent. However I have also been pushing myself quite hard when I go swimming and I think this is why I managed to lose two and a half pounds this week.

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Week Forty Eight – Wobble

We have found it harder and harder to stick to the diet recently. My brother in law popped in for dinner recently and told me that my portion sizes are creeping up again (if this is the case why am I always hungry?). I am still not cooking with butter but I might be using a little more olive oil than is recommended by the diet.

The main problem seems to be dining out. A weekend in Manchester for my son’s twenty first birthday meant we ate three meals out. Followed by a take away when we got home and couldn’t be bothered to cook.

Then we had to go to Spuntino after it opened this week. Again better bloggers have reviewed this little restaurant. I can add nothing to what has already been said except to say that it was well worth queuing for an hour (technically an hour and a half as when we first got there we were told the queue was closed for half an hour so we retreated to the pub on the corner of the block). Actually there is something I should say: go there.

If I were say one negative thing about it would be that, even more so that its siblings Polpo and Polpetto, it isn’t the sort of place to go to in a group as, aside from a table in the corner, you sit and eat at the bar. Conversation wouldn’t be that easy amongst four people sat side by side. For two people it would be a wonderful place for a date and it felt exactly like that when Debbie and I went. There is even a kissing stool although as you can’t book you might not get it. I have always thought that you should not go on a date to the cinema as you won’t be talking during the film (unless you are complete and utter bastards) so maybe going to Spuntino isn’t a good idea either. It is hard to talk whilst salivating over the food and I am led to understand that making sex noises whilst eating is not acceptable behaviour for a date. At least not a first one.

So this week my resolve has wobbled as much as my belly. Hopefully I can get back on track in the next week and make up for the three pound I have put on in the last fortnight.

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Week Forty Six – Different Names for the Same Thing

A few weeks ago at the butcher’s I noticed a new cut of beef labelled “Picanha Roast”. I had thought I was aware of most cuts of beef but this one was new to me. If I was a Brazilian I would have known it instantly but it took the butcher to tell me that it is Cut Formerly Known As Point End Of Rump.

He told me that it was a wonderful, tasty cut and it was a pity that is wasn’t more popular. He was quite right. The pointy end of the rump where steaks cut would be too small is about one kilo in weight. It roasts to a lovely rare in about an hour plus resting. For a family you would get enough for a decent Sunday dinner but for two people there is enough for a roast and then a left over dish.

And the great thing about a lump of left over beef is there is so many things you can do with it. I toyed with the idea of a hotpot or cottage pie but the fact that we also had some left over roast spud meant just one thing: Massaman

There several different spelling of Massaman. And for each spelling there are hundreds of recipes all claiming to be authentic. I don’t claim this recipe is authentic but it is a little more diet friendly than most some.

Massaman Curry.
500g Meat (I used left over beef but you can use most types. If you want to slow cook this a beef cheek will do nicely)
250g Cooked potatoes
2 Onions
4 Cloves Garlic
2.5cm Ginger
1tbl Nam Pla
1tsp Shrimp Paste
1tbl Palm Sugar (or light muscovado)
1tbl Frozen Kaffir Lime Leafs
1tsp Cumin, Ground
1tsp Corriander Seeds, Ground
4 Peppercorns, Ground
Chilli to taste (but don’t be too cowardly!), Ground
4 Cardamon Pods, Ground
2tsp Tamarind Concentrate
165g Coconut Milk

To Finish:
50g Roasted Peanuts, Crushed

Slice one of the onions and fry gently in a little oil. Cube the meat and add to the onions along with the potatoes.

Add all the remaining ingredients except peanuts to a blender and whizz using a little water to loosen it if necessary. Add to the pan. Cook until the beef is soft. When serving sprinkle the peanuts over it. Serve with a little rice if desired.

Despite feeding my cold and having been out for meals a few times I was quite surprised to lose two and a half pounds at this week’s weigh in.

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Week Forty Four – Damn You, Twitter

Debbie thinks that the diet would be a lot easier if chocolate have never been brought back from the New World by the Spanish. I think it would be a lot easier if I had never discovered Twitter.

Most people I know IRL have not really taken to Twitter and seem to regard it as somewhere where people announce every mundane thing they do. I guess it is down to whom you choose to follow. Twitter is, at its best, a wonderful source of information.

It was through Twitter that I discovered Bray’s Cottage and their wonderful pies. It was through Twitter that I heard about Polpetto and rediscovered meatballs. Twitter made me go to Bob Bob Ricard where I fell in love with a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic and Debbie fell in love with a button. Twitter told me to go Rachel McCormack’s outstanding cookery class. When it came to finding a restaurant to take the Mothers to it was Twitter that came up with Les Deux Salons. Do you sense a theme developing?

Since January there had been a buzz on Twitter about #Meateasy and this week I finally managed to go. I went with my brother-in-law because Debbie was too scared to go to New Cross after dark ever. It was quite simply the best burger I have eaten. I would write a review but other, far better bloggers, have already filled the internet with reviews. At the weekend I was visiting my mum and mentioned going to New Cross just for a burger and how one blogger wrote a review of #Meateasy which turned into a defence of New Cross.

“New Cross?” said my mum, “That’s where you come from.”
My mum is getting confused in her old age. I am Suffolk born and bred. I pointed this out to her.
“We moved to Suffolk when I was eight months pregnant. Before that we lived in New Cross. You were conceived there.”
This was my “No Luke, I am your father” moment.
I may have howled “Nooooooo!” but to be honest I couldn’t hear myself above the noise of Debbie sniggering.

We didn’t go the the weigh in this week as neither of us were well on Monday but if we had I fully expected to have gained weight. And it would have all been Twitter’s fault.

Oh, my mum offered me a consolation about New Cross; “It could be worse, your brother was born in Hackney.”

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Week Forty Three – Disasters Of My Own Making

I am a fairly competent cook. I can do most things in the kitchen reasonably well and produce food that people enjoy eating. I know what flavours go together so I can improvise from random ingredients if I need to. I can follow a recipe and, more importantly, I can usually work out what part each ingredient plays and can therefore make substitutions if necessary.

Actually, all following a recipe involves is reading and comprehension. I can do that. I remember spending lots of time in Eggy Thomas’ English class reading various poems and prose then having to write long winded answers to questions about the piece. I used to quite enjoy it and I wasn’t that bad at it. I do have a tendency to skim read things though which, when it comes to recipes, can be a bit of a problem.

On Saturday we invited two friends of whom we don’t see enough to dinner. We planned the menu with a Spanish theme because I am very boring and if left to my own devices will always veer towards Spanish cuisine. We decided on some appetisers of Manchego from Flavours Of Spain, salted caramelised almonds and fried broad beans. The start, main and dessert were to all come from my favourite cookbook, Season Spanish Food by Jose Pizarro.

The starter was to be Grilled Mackerel with Crispy Serrano Ham, the main was Pork Fillet with Piquillo Peppers and the dessert was Turron Mousse. I made a mental list of the ingredients I needed and we headed off to Borough Market. None of the fish stalls had any mackerel so I got herring sprats instead. I bought everything else and headed home.

I had read the first part of the mousse recipe which said to soak the sultanas in PX sherry for 24 hours and then use the sherry in the mousse. Unfortunately I didn’t buy the sultanas until Saturday morning. “Never mind,” I thought, “I will soak them for as long as possible and then make the mousse just before serving.”

I also missed the bit about marinading the pork for twelve house until I happened to reread the recipe three hours before I had planned to eat.

The evening came and our friends arrived. As our flat has a kitchen-diner they sat at the table with the appetisers whilst I cooked. Or rather they sat while I badly fillet the herring (I can fillet fish quite well but I have never tried to fillet such small ones), grilled them, tried to pin bone them destroying half them in the process, gave up, opened a tin of tuna, slicing my thumb on the edge of the can, and made watercress and tuna salad with crispy Serrano ham. I apologised profusely as I served them this before running off because I had forgotten to serve (or crisp up) the ham with it. Darlings that they are our friends pretended that it wasn’t horrible.

The pork fillet didn’t suffer too much from not having been marinaded for long enough and was jolly nice. After eating it everyone decided that actually they were too full for dessert yet so we decided to sit and chat for an hour or so. I then made the mousse and read through the recipe just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t, apart from the bit about leaving it in the fridge to set for six hours. Darlings that they are our friends pretended the turron slop was lovely.

My old English teacher, Mr Thomas, would have looked over the top of his glasses, through the fringe of his ginger wig and shaken his head sadly at me. And if the teenage me could have seen into the future to last Saturday night he might have realised he was wrong when he asked “what is the point in all this reading and comprehension, we’re never going to need it in the real World?”

Reading though this post I have comprehended that, maybe, appetisers, a starter, a main and dessert (and of course all the wine that went with it) might be the reason why I gained two pounds this week.

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Week Forty Two – Fussy (again)

I know I have written about fussy eaters previously but a few things have happened recently to make me want to revisit the subject.

My brother in law visited with his partner and her children last week. I cooked a mushroom risotto for the adults and pasta in a tomato and garlic sauce for the kids. I made two dishes because the children don’t like mushrooms. They are lovely kids but between the three of them the list of things they don’t like is enormous. If I had to feed them on a regular basis I think I would replace the contents of my store cupboard with pasta and ready made pasta sauces (I think I finally realise why these vile concoctions sell: it isn’t that they are convenient it is that they are so bland even the fussiest of rugrats will eat them).

My brother-in-laws own ankle biter is a tad less fussy although his standard response to being told what he will be served is “I don’t like it”. He can be persuaded the try things though and once he has tasted things he can be surprising: he doesn’t like pasta but liked anchovies when I served them to him in a salad.

On Wednesday last week I was pointed to a piece of research from University College London on the effects of bribing children to eat vegetables they don’t like. It turns out that giving children a reward, even just praise, does make them eat their greens. Or at least less likely to hate them. I especially liked that the researchers (one of whom was my niece) thought about the effects of their research in the home. If you have both fussy and non fussy children social rewards will not create a sense of unfairness.

Of course the other method of getting children to eat food they don’t like is to make them sit at the table until they have cleared their plate. I have a feeling that this might be counter productive though as nobody has ever said to me “My parents sat me at the table and forced me to eat sprouts/swede/brocolli and now I love it.” I doubt the research needed to investigate would get past the ethic committee though.

Talking of fussy eaters brings me to Debbie. One day last week I made Ossobuco and, in homage to Polpetto, decided to make a saffron risotto to go with it. I put the ossobuco in the oven on a low heat before I went to work intending to cook the rice when I got home. Whilst at work it occurred to me that I had a packet of fregula pasta sitting in the cupboard. “Why not make a risotto type of thing with that?” I thought. When I got home I suggested it to Debbie who pulled one of her faces. So I made her a risotto and myself a, well, would it be called a pastotto?

Pasta made like risotto (portions are for a side dish)
1 dribble olive oil
1/2 Onion, diced
1 Stick celery, diced
50g dried pasta (a small type will work best)
1 Splosh of white wine
Hot Stock
1 Pinch saffron (three threads perhaps?)
Grated parmesan

Gently fry the onion and celery until soft then add the pasta and wine. Once the wine has been absorbed add the saffron and then the stock. When making risottos I tend to forgo the “add a bit, wait for it to be absorbed, add a bit more” method in favour of a brisk whisk at the end but as this is an unknown quantity I added the stock a little at a time. I was making a risotto along side this and I noticed that this took more liquid and cooking time. When the pasta is cooked to you liking stir through the cheese.

This is not the frog's spawn you are looking for

I suppose I could have used a rewards system to get Debbie to at least try it but, to be honest, I prefer to use bribes for other things.

This week I lost the half pound that I gained last week. I am currently vacillating between trying to reboot the diet or accepting that I will maintain until spring arrives.

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Week Forty One – Oops

I was talking to my daughter about having no ideas for this week’s post. “Why not talk about the excuses dieters use?”

I know all about excuses. The blog post I was going to write was going to start “I should not have decided to reboot the diet just after we had done the food shopping for two weeks and whilst we had guests staying with us” but then I realised that, whilst not quite of the “the dog ate my diet book” variety it was still just an excuse for putting on half a pound this week.

And I have no excuse. My son was staying with us and I decided to cook the food he likes and had been missing since he moved out. I could have made something different for Debbie and myself but I couldn’t be bothered. We had some lovely food but things like slow cooked pork belly probably are not high on the list of diet friendly foods.

At the weekend, after the Boy had gone home, Debbie’s mum and dad visited. I decided on Saturday to play with my molecular gastronomy set that I was given for Christmas Debbie bought me after I sulked when Santa missed it off my list.

I had a little bit of coffee liqueur left so I created coffee caviar by dissolving into it two grams of sodium alginate (you actually need to dissolve it soft water first then mix that with the alcohol) then dropping into a solution of calcium salt. I made a coffee cream by mixing a shot of espresso with some sugar and cream. If you don’t have the right toy equipment you can use a whisk to whip it. The coffee spheres are quite resilient and will not break when stirred through the cream. Of course when you eat this you have to forget you are on a diet.

As I have said before, it is good to know that when I reach my target weight I will still be able to have blowout weeks without really putting on weight.

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Week Forty – Reboot

Christmas is a hard time for dieters. Debbie and I decided we would suspend the diet over the festive period partly because we felt like treating ourselves but also because we didn’t want to be awkward to cater for as we trotted around the country visiting friends and relatives. What we hadn’t counted on was that by not dieting we would realise what we were missing. Both of us this last week have found temptation hard to resist and following the diet harder.

I think also that a kind of fatigue as set in. We have been doing this for quite some while and, over time, strict adherence to the diet has been diluted to the stage where now, apart from still not using any butter in cooking, we aren’t really dieting at all. Okay we both make an effort to diet at lunch time but that can no more be classed as dieting than someone who doesn’t eat meat on Mondays can be called a vegetarian.

Whilst getting changed for swimming recently I caught a reflection of myself naked. It was not a pretty sight. There is no doubt that I still need to be on a diet. Therefore I am going to go back to basics and start the diet again doing red and green and orange days properly. As we move towards Spring hopefully it will be easier.

Having made the decision to restart the diet, this weekend we decided to have a blowout. In spite of this I still managed to lose three and a half pounds. I just hope the effects of a bad weekend aren’t delayed for a week.

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