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Chocolate, Citrusy Goodness

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You can always tell when The Boyfriend’s gone on his travels again by the sugar content of whatever food I happen to be cooking and blogging about. If it isn’t putting you at risk of diabetes, I don’t want to know. Step forward brown butter, chocolate, orange and rosemary cookies from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts (no prizes which side this treat falls on). If chocolate cookies can’t lift the spirits, nothing can.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in love with cookies. Whether it was going through the biscuit tin after getting in from school or buying giant, fresh, gooey cookies from the canteen to get me though GCSE Maths lessons, cookies have been there. As an adult, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream has soothed after disastrous job interviews (during a maths test for an interview with a bank I panicked, writing out completely non-sensical sums and getting the answers totally wrong, wishing I was allowed to use a calculator. Upon finishing the interviewer gently reminded me of the calculator I’d been told I could use, which had been placed right next to the paper covered in maths gibberish. No, I didn’t get the job. Don’t even ask about the role play element of the interview), soul destroying hangovers and terrible days at work. Cookies are the best. The frustration with cookies is that it’s so difficult to bake a batch that aren’t dry and crumbly, dry being the enemy of a cookie lover. You want gooey cookies when fresh out of the oven which turn chewy once out of the oven for a few hours. I don’t think it’s possible to get a homemade cookie that stays gooey for longer than a couple of hours, although if anyone knows of a recipe for one please send me it!

These cookies totally deliver. Taken out of the oven while still pale in the middle, they cool to a perfect consistency and taste wonderful. Orange and rosemary go really well together, you can’t pick out the taste of the rosemary but get a subtle savoury hint on the tip of your tastebuds to complement the sweet chocolate and orange. At risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll of Rosemary PR, rosemary is super good in sweet foods and you should definitely try it. I brought these into work today without mentioning the rosemary and everyone loved them. Rosemary aside, the chunks of milk chocolate are divine and the texture of these cookies can only be described as fudgey. These cookies are practically good for you, after all, rosemary is believed to help improve memory, is antibacterial, can lift your mood and help detox your liver, whilst orange boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and can protect the skin. I haven’t researched the nutritional benefits of sugar and melted butter, but how bad can they be? Oh, turns out very. Never mind.

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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Skinny Saturday

Every time The Boyfriend goes away I make a decision that at the time feels like a brilliant idea but in the end turns out to be a completely idiotic one. And the decision is always the same one, every time he goes. I know, I’m an idiot. You’d think I would have learnt by now, after all The Boyfriend is regularly working away and has been for two years now. Yet still I think that by spending my first weekend sans Boyfriend all by myself doing solely what I want to do and being completely selfish is the best idea since sliced bread. It isn’t. Oh, it’s all good up until about 7pm on the Saturday, when a quick glance at Facebook reminds me of all the happy couples spending their evening together, or groups of friends getting ready for a night out and makes me go “huh, I probably should have made plans for this weekend”. Obviously, being apart from the person you’re crazy about isn’t tough in the way that cancer is tough, or your house being burnt down is tough, but it still has its challenges that at times make me feel pretty sorry for myself despite the fact that one of the things I dislike most on this Earth are people who feel sorry for themselves. If he’s only back for three weeks like he was very recently, we have an absolute whale of a time. We cram in trips to the cinema, meals out, our favourite foods, catch up with all the friends and family he hasn’t seen for months, have a ridiculous row that we always laugh at a few hours later (the last one of these was fuelled by me drinking a tad too much gin and turning into a huge drama queen), work on the house, plan holidays and spend a lot of time in fits of giggles. In short, it’s awesome. So obviously when he goes away its a pretty spectacular comedown and I think my reasoning behind spending time by myself is that while he’s home I haven’t had any time at all to bake, read, blog, watch Disney films or Sex and the City and I crave some downtime. Maybe next time I’ll just give myself a day of no plans.

My self inflicted misery however has done wonders for this blog though. Every cloud! Not content with just one recipe to try out yesterday, I decided to really test Gizzi’s Skinny Weeks and try three of them: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m aware I should be using more neglected cookbooks and believe me this week I will be using them, but I wanted to have a virtuous Saturday without denying myself that vital component, flavour, and I knew that Gizzi could deliver. Breakfast consisted of what Gizzi likes to call Elvis toasts, which is a far more heart friendly version of The Kings 2000 calorie mammoth fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Gizzi’s come in at a much more reasonable 284 calories, although as it was Saturday I used normal white sliced bread instead of sourdough rye, and a whole banana instead of half so that must bump up the calories a little. Still, for a healthy breakfast it’s scrumptious and comes with the added bonus of half a square of dark chocolate grated over the banana. Half a square may not seem like a lot but it really does go a long way. Who can argue with a chocolate fix at 9am?

Lunch, which came along pretty late after a Primarni binge, was pancetta, farro and bean soup and like most recipes in this book, was completely delicious. I couldn’t find farro in Sainsburys so had to substitute it with farfalline, which are tiny pasta shapes designed to be added to soups. You might look at the pancetta and think this soup shouldn’t be billed as healthy, but in addition to the pancetta the soup also contains onion, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes and cannellini beans so you’re getting a considerate amount of goodness from the hefty amount of veg and beans. I didn’t add quite enough stock so my version turned out more like a stew than a soup but tasted no less divine for it. Pancetta is the star flavour shining through, but you also get the sweetness of the tomatoes and plenty of crunch from the mirepoix. To make this soup even better, you’re allowed to sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan over your bowl of soup and you don’t need me to tell you that this takes the soup to diet perfection. I’m very please that I have three portions to take to work with me for lunch this week.

Last but by absolute no means least, for dinner I went with yoghurt chicken curry bowl. Well, it’s just not the weekend in my book (which this sort of is) unless a curry is included somewhere. Looking at the ingredient list it’s impossible to find an ingredient that’s bad for you (normally an ominous sign in a recipe) and yet this curry was one of the best I’ve ever made. You make a paste out of spices, chillies, onion, ginger and garlic, mix it with fat free yoghurt then marinade the chicken in the spicy yoghurt before baking in the oven. Paired with some brown rice and topped with a zingy mango salsa, this was the perfect dish to lift me out of my lonely blues (self inflicted, I must add). The curry on its own packed in lots of flavour and would have been perfectly acceptable without the salsa, but boy is the salsa immense. Don’t make this curry without it! The pairing of sweet yet sharp mango with mint, alongside onion (I should have used red but only had white), tomato and lime juice is phenomenal and made my tongue do a little jig in my mouth. Gorgeous. I want to put it on everything.

The real strength of these recipes is that regardless of trying to lose weight or not, I would cook them all again. And not just for myself either, I see no reason why these dishes couldn’t be served to guests, they are that good. Healthy food has long had a reputation for being dull, uninspiring and bland but Gizzi has completely turned that upside down and filled a cookbook with mouthwatering food that just so happens to be good for you. I’ve barely ventured into the naughty side of the book, and for a woman who likes a good pig out, that’s no small feat.

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Gizzi, Gizzi, Gizzi, Can’t You See, Sometimes Your Foods Just Hypnotise Me

Many apologies to the late, great, hip hop legend that is the Notorious B.I.G for the title of today’s blog, but on trying to come up with a title this was all that would come into my head. On repeat. All weekend. I knew the only way to get rid of it was to put it in the title, with the hope that it would annoy everyone else as much as it did me. You’re welcome. It would be downright odd if I’d put that title in and then not actually cooked any of Gizzi Erskine’s recipes, so you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve cooked not just one, but two from her latest book, Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. The book, as the title makes pretty clear, is all about eating sensibly and healthily during the week and then upping the calorie content over the weekend after being good for the majority of the time. It’s absolutely not a diet book, I couldn’t bear one of those in my house, but is about eating sensible, smaller portions and filling yourself up with fruit and veg. I don’t do diets. While I go to the gym regularly, try and eat healthily and don’t want to be overweight, I really abhor the idea of a ‘bikini body’ and of being obsessed with flat stomachs, a certain dress size and calorie content. It’s not for me. I want to be healthy, but I don’t want to spend my life being miserable turning down food for the sake of having a flat stomach. If I happened to get a flat stomach by chance than that would be a happy accident, but I love carbs far too much to worry about what my stomach would look like in a bikini. For starters, the person I tend to go on holiday with is The Boyfriend who knows what my stomach looks like and he’s still with me. It’s not so bad. Strangers on the beach or by the pool are either too busy obsessing about what they look like in a bikini to care about what anyone else looks like, or too immersed in sunbathing/reading/posing to even notice anyone else. I’m not spending 6 months denying myself everything I love to eat so I can still feel self conscious and paranoid on holiday for the 1 day I might decide to spend at the beach. Secondly, when on holiday I eat like a king. At breakfast there is only one correct answer to the question “would you like your egg fried or poached” and that is “both”. I do not hold back. My hypothetical flat stomach would be ruined within minutes of arriving at my destination. Thirdly, we do not tend to take beach holidays. I will be damned if I spend months of my life on what the media love to call a ‘bikini body’ when my stomach is never on show in public. Balls to it. If having a flat stomach is what floats your boat and you’re happy to sacrifice carbs to get it, great, more power to you, you have more willpower than I’ll ever have. But it’s not for me. I’m fairly happy with the size that I am, I’d like to lose a touch more but I’m not going to look sadly at a tray of cupcakes being passed around and say no. Life is just too short. If you need more convincing on the subject, check out Caitlyn Moran’s excellent book How To Be A Woman and her thoughts and musings on women’s bodies and the pressure we are under from the media to look a certain way.

Saying all that, Gizzi’s book is filled with flavour packed, interesting recipes that are light on calories but that I would still eat whether trying to lose weight or not. From the two recipes I’ve eaten, you would never know from the taste that they are low on calories because the flavours are pretty full on and you’re allowed to use ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find in a diet book, such as chorizo and coconut milk. If this is what the healthy recipes taste like, I can’t wait to try out the sinful recipes in this book. First up, satay chicken noodle rice bowl. Being a big fan of Asian food, this naturally jumped out at me and I couldn’t resist cooking it first. Somewhere in Ukraine The Boyfriend is rolling his eyes, exasperated at the predictability of me. I don’t care though, it was so good. The recipe asks you to use yellow curry paste which I couldn’t find in the supermarket (although I have seen it there before) so I made do with green curry paste which is always in my fridge. I crisped up the chicken thighs (yes, you’re allowed to keep the skin on them, I love Gizzi), boiled up some brown rice and spooned over a supremely delicious curry sauce which was a combination of Thai curry and Indonesian satay, and if that combination doesn’t make you salivate then you’ve obviously never had either of them. As with any really tasty meal, I finished my plate with a combination of complete satisfaction and sadness that there was none left. You don’t get that with many ‘bikini body’ friendly dinners.

The second meal I cooked was pork and chorizo meatballs with spelt spaghetti. Although yet again the supermarket didn’t have what I was looking for so I stuck with my old faithful, linguine. Pork is leaner than beef, so the inclusion of chorizo doesn’t feel so bad and the sauce is made up of fresh, ripened on the vine tomatoes with mashed up garlic, fennel seeds and chilli so as meatballs and pasta goes, it’s pretty virtuous. The trick is dishing up a much smaller amount of pasta than normal, something I really struggle to do what with my unending love for the stuff. Yet again, Gizzi delivered on her promise. The meatballs had a spicy heat from the chorizo and while there wasn’t a great deal of sauce, the flavours of garlic and fennel shine through and there was enough to keep the pasta from going dry. I don’t like tomatoes when raw and firm, I’m not fond of the taste or texture, but once cooked down into mush like in this sauce I can get along just fine with them.

If you need inspiration for healthy meals and like big, punchy flavours then this is the best non-diet diet book around. Healthy meals that don’t leave you feeling deprived and hungry yet can also aid weight loss don’t come better than this. Remember though,there is no secret to losing weight despite what magazines and the Daily Fail might tell you, its just about eating sensibly, exercising and enjoying yourself. And never forget that being happy in yourself and full of self confidence on a regular basis will do more for you than a flat stomach on show for a few days of the year ever will.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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