Saturday, 27 October 2012

You say tomayto, I say tomato

There are various things in this life I would struggle without - my husband, my kids and wine all spring straight to mind. In terms of food, a good storecupboard is absolutely key in planning and preparing good quality, nutritious meals. I include the fridge freezer there too -after all, it's just a really cold cupboard, isn't it? I have kept almost all my fruit and veg in the fridge for a while (extending their lives significantly once taken out of those silly packets) and some dairy items have a really excellent shelf life. Fat free yoghurt and fromage frais both keep really well - ideal for keeping on standby to whip up a sauce or pudding - and bacon is another fridge must have.

It's a good idea to have a stash of basics at all times so you can always rustle something up. Wise at any time but especially when watching the scales. Not being a fan of packets of any kind really, my storecupboard largely consists of tins (tomatoes, pulses), dried goods (varieties of pasta and rice, couscous) and seasonings (soy, Worcestershire sauce, spices and herbs). I get a little nervous if I run low on pasta or rice and above all, tinned tomatoes. A tin of good quality chopped or plum tomatoes can go a long way, is a cheap and nutritious bulker and is versatile to boot. They can have so much added to them that some of through tomatoey-ness (yes that's a word) can almost be edited out for the non-tomato lover.

I buy them in 8s or 12s usually and that never lasts the month. As you know, I batch cook, so its not unusual for me to open a couple of tins at a time. Last week 2 went into chilli. Today 2 went into a sweet tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce for dinner (parpadelle in sweet tomato sauce with crumbled baked ricotta - thanks to Jamie Oliver's Dinners). I know loads of people who buy the cheapest tinned tomatoes out there, but I am actually really fussy about them. In my experience the cheap cans are full of tops and water and not much rich tomato. At the same time though, budget is important too. Feeding a family of four well in this economic climate can be tricky. I keep an eye out for offers in the supermarkets on the high end brands to get good deals or look in the likes of B&M/Home Bargains too. My latest bargain find was in the reduced section in my local co-op. Even before I was doing Slimming World my kitchen felt off colour without tinned tomatoes or passata in it, the fact that they are now free on Slimming World is an added bonus. Really, as well as being budget friendly and versatile, tomatoes are so so good for you, full of vitamins and goodness What's not to like?

Everyone will have their own ideas of what to do with tinned tomatoes obviously but I use them for chilli con Jamie (made with brisket), batches of tomato sauce, tomato and orzo soup, ragu, pretty much every curry I make and (thanks to a friend) I have a recipe on standby for Spezzatino con Salsicce (beef braising steak stew with sausages) which also contains a tin of tomatoes. Tinned cherry tomatoes are a bit pricier but make a luxurious tomato and mozzarella lasagne, or add some garlic and chilli to the cherry tomatoes with capers and stir through pasta. You really can't go wrong.

Trust me.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


So, here's the thing. I haven't done much blogging in the past few weeks. Not sure why. We have had a lot on and in honesty I've been in a bit of a rut. September shaped up to be a very busy month during which I have still managed to lose weight (just). We have done a lot of eating out (burgers, pizzas, fish and chips) and drinking (wine, beer). Although I made it to the end of the month unscathed, it was a far from successful month in termsbof average weight losses.

My 100lb dream is now scrapped.. well, not scrapped, but modified. I have 9 weigh ins left before Christmas and 25.5lb to go. It's not likely and I have reduced my 2012 target to 91lb (6.5st) which would still be a tremendous achievement, and I would hope upon hope to get my 100lb by 25th January 2013, which will be my 52nd Slimming World class. With clarity of mind, I think that this in is a more sensible target. My current loss stands at 74.5lb so I'm looking for 16.5lb by Christmas, not least because I really fancy buying a dress in a size 14 for my work Christmas party. As I am wearing 16 dresses and tops just now I think I can do it. Of course I have another busy weekend ahead, dinner and drinks on Saturday night and another meal out on Sunday.

However just because I have a heavy weekend ahead that doesn't make it a heavy week and so today I have been 100% on plan, rocking it old school with a porridge breakfast and soup lunch. Regular readers and good friends will know that soup ain't my thang. I have found one I like though and yes it's s bit dull but it is warm and cheap for the winter. It's my homemade Tomato soup. (To really make this my way you would need to check out one of my previous posts, Big Mama for my soffrito. Failing that sub the soffrito for 1 carrot, 2 onion, 1 stick of celery and 1 garlic clove, all chopped or whizzed in a processor.)

Tomato Soup - serves 2-3

3 heaped wooden spoons soffrito
1 tin of chopped or plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
500-750ml chicken stock
Black pepper
A pinch of chilli flakes
50g dried orzo, cooked
Parmesan, to serve

Saute the soffrito slowly for 10 minutes or so until soft. Add in the tinned tomatoes, puree and 500ml stock, stir then season with pepper and add a pinch of chilli flakes. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Blend to smooth in a blender. For a really smooth finish, push the soup through a sieve. Add the extra stock now if it's too thick for your taste.

Serve piping hot with the pasta served through and cheese (parmesan for choice) sprinkled on top.

Think of this as a healthy, homemade, pimped-up-and-not-so-sweet Heinz-a-like. It is free on Slimming World apart from the parmesan although to be honest you hardly need anyway for real flavour, and the pasta adds a real hearty feel to it. It is warm and tasty and toasts from the inside on cold, wintery days.

I've made a few batches of this now but have totally failed to take a picture of it. Instead I've attached a picture of some of the other things I've made this week. I'm back into breadmaking so I've knocked out a couple of loaves as well as pot roast soy and lemon pork loin, ginger puddings, chicken cheese and BBQ stuffed jacket potatoes, faked berry ice cream and a honey and 5 spice stir fry.


Monday, 8 October 2012

Bat out of hell

You know those perma happy tv families? They sit around the dinner table, gleaming and grinning, Colgate smiles all around as a suitably smug tv mum (Linda Bellingham, maybe?) serves up something hot and delicious to twinkly, smiley children?

Yeah, we aren't like that.

My children are young and no, mealtimes aren't always easy. Kids can be very high maintenance and mealtimes can be a nightmare. A combination of trying to instill table manners in a not-yet-four-year-old and her younger sister, plus making sure your little ones are full of healthy foodstuffs can be a real challenge. When you find something that they eat with gusto then, which fits in with your diet, your heart sings. The thing with Slimming World is how well it fits in with family life. Eating with your family, around the table is so important (in my opinion) and being able to dish up healthy, family meals which embrace all cuisines is an absolute dream. I am not looking ahead to a life of the same two meals and since we only get to share the table as a family twice weekly I don't intend to live on fish fingers either.

Luckily my girls are generally good eaters and Megan in particular will give anything a go and Heather - although slightly pickier than her sister - will mostly try new things eventually, even if some prompting/cajoling/bribing is required. This alone Heather has added paella and jumbo prawns to her "likes" list.

The other thing we have all tried together was meatloaf. It isn't something which most Brits eat much of, and I include us in that. I think I have written before that I am a bit fussy about mince but I followed my old fave, Jamie Oliver and his meatloaf as published in Ministry of Food. Meatloaf sounds weird and looks a bit odd but having now made it, served alongside the tomatoey, chickpea barbecue sauce in the recipe, wedges and veggies I will most definitely be making it again. It was a couple of syns but worthwhile, and I could cut them down a little bit too. Cooking for family and friends is a joy, particularly when I can enjoy the dish too, guilt free.

And clean plates certainly help.