The Skinny Thing- Smoked Haddock with New Potato Hash

 

Just a quickie today, another easy dinner, under twenty minutes in the making and under five hundred calories in the eating. Not one for the no carb crew I’m afraid with potatoes but filling and nutrient packed. Those great faceless experts often tell us to eat more fish and haddock is very low fat but slightly chunkier than other white fish options and easily available in handy frozen fillets. I really find the texture and savoury finish of smoked haddock makes it much more satisfying that other fish suppers and the addition of some lovely spinach will help you grow big and strong like Popeye (fact) and fighting fit with the antibacterial properties of onions and garlic. Use a heart healthy oil to fry like some nice olive oil and this dinner is so good for you, it’s practically medicine!*

*please note, this dinner is not medicine*

Smoked Haddock with New Potato Hash

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Meal: Any, but a cracking brunch to set you up for the day!
Calories: Less than 500
Prep time: 20 minutes
Plans it suits: You’ll just about get away with this on phase two of South Beach and if you use olive oil as a healthy option this is free on Slimming World, if you have used that healthy option or use another oil then those are the only syn ingredients.

Per Serving:

1 fillet of smoked haddock, approx 100g
1tbspn oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
One small white onion finely chopped
150g new potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2-3 mushrooms roughly chopped.

Spinach- a half cup frozen or 2-3 cups fresh

20130423_190740This is fairly simple but you need three pans! Start off heating your oil (olive oil tends to be more acceptable to most diet plans but sunflower will give you a crisper finish on the potatoes) then add to it the garlic, onion and potatoes. Really don’t make your potato pieces too big or they wont cook through in time to serve. If you are using frozen spinach, put on a low heat now.
Stir the onion/potato mix frequently for five minutes, then turn on the heat for the haddock fillet (you should have this in a covered pan just covered in milk or water). You need to keep an eye on everything for the next ten minutes, stirring the ‘hash’ mix, keeping an eye on the spinach and making sure the haddock doesn’t boil over and cover your cooker in boiling milk. Trust me, you don’t want that.
As the potatoes start to brown, add the mushrooms to the pan and season well with sea salt and plenty of black pepper. If you are using fresh spinach, start to heat this now with a teeny splash of water in the bottom of the pan (literally half a teaspoon) and a pinch of sea salt.
If you’re lucky, everything should be cooked around the same time, try not to over do the spinach and make sure that the fish is piping hot and opaque all the way through.

Serve. Eat. Enjoy. Feel self righteous that you have essentially had a fish n chips dinner at about a quarter of the usual calories. Hurrah.

 

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The Skinny Thing- scrambled eggs.

skinnyUrgh, sunshine, and with it the impending doom of the season that I dread annually. Yeah great, summer. Weddings, swim suits, exposed flesh and body image neuroses ahoy! Yay!

I’m not going to slag off people who are diet obsessed, I myself often think the diet obsessed are ridiculous souls who need to just be sensible, go to the gym and live their bloody lives. Then I catch sight of my side profile in the bedroom mirror, all slumped shoulders and protruding belly flub and off we go- time to sob into my slim-a-soup for a few days before abandoning hope of ever looking anything like the way I think I want to and vow to wear a kaftan forever.

I wont go on, I think pretty much all of us worry about what we eat and how we look at some point and yes, I’m afraid there is a big correlation between the two. I have a dear friend who I talk about all kinds of crap with, but there is also a good amount of diet talk between us. We research,  we calorie count, we share tips and we wail when we don’t get the instant result we wanted after three days of low fat no carb salads and Jillian Michaels work outs. Then we have a pizza or too much wine or a Hotel Chocolat accident and wail even more. Then we stand up, tell ourselves to stop being silly and carry on, trying to avoid those pitfalls and treat our bodies right for nine days out of ten.
The one advantage I have, as this friend reminded me when I was having a sulk yesterday, is that I’m a pretty decent cook. Not to mention that I like to cook, which has to go in my favour as it means I can avoid getting stuck in grim, boring cycles that often make people stray from their intended eating patterns. It doesn’t have to be all boiled celery and steamed rice so there will be a new blog section now you’ll find under the ‘The Skinny Thing’ category where I’ll be stashing some recipes,  often very simple, that might work with your diet.

I’m not a dietician, I’m not a doctor. I’m not endorsing any diet plans or slating any others, if I know one thing it is that there is no one method which works for everyone. If there was, we would all be exactly as slender or as ripped or as waiflike as we wanted to be. I’m just sharing some recipes that might make your efforts a little bit less of an effort. Diet food doesn’t have to be disappointing in the taste or satiety department. I’ll put notes on what plans I know these meals fit with and calorie counts based on what the My Fitness Pal website tells me. It’s probably not perfect information but I’ll do my best.

Scrambled Eggs n Veg

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Meal: Any but a very good breakfast to keep you full for a while
Calories per serving: 400
Prep time: 10 minutes
Plans it suits: South Beach type low carb plans, either free or 3 syns on Slimming World depending on Healthy Option allocation of olive oil.

Heat half a tablespoon of olive oil in a non stick pan then add two sticks of celery (chopped!!). Cook out for a couple of minutes then add one or two chopped mushrooms. Beat three eggs together with about 50ml of 1% milk and a good crack of black pepper. When the mushrooms are just starting to crisp, add the eggs mix and stir constantly with a spatula as the eggs start to cook. Keep cooking it to your liking, usually only a minute or two and try to stop before the eggs become very tight and you can see a the moisture start to separate out into a watery side. Season and serve. Done.

This is a real basic, low carbs, high protien and very happy on the GI meter- to the less diet savvy this means that you will stay full for a good while after this dish. I had this for breakfast this very morning. I’m not a size twelve yet, but I’ve not been climbing the hungry walls either!

Variations- whatever on your veg or use sunflower or vegetable oil if you prefer. I don’t advocate oil spray things as they are full of gross additives, just measure your oil and don’t use too much. Would also work with a handful of fresh spinach leaves or most green leafy veg. 

The Chocolate Chore result- Rosemary Infused Orange & Almond Salad with Cocoa-Balsamic dressing

The finished article, thanks Foodie Stuart from VIFC for the pic

The finished article, thanks Foodie Stuart from VIFC for the pic

I’m actually rather proud of this one, because in this day and age it’s not that easy to come up with something original in the food stakes. A quick google tends to prove that someone else has already done it. They say there are only seven possible stories in the world of fiction, it may well be the same with taste combinations that work but I’m claiming this one. I shall plant my orangey flag.

For those who are new readers, or established ones that haven’t been paying attention, I took a food club challenge to come up with a starter course involving chocolate. Sulking and some failures ensued, which you can read about here. But after abandoning the use of traditional barred chocolate, I looked to cocoa. I looked to what was left in the fridge that day. I looked to an established trend of putting balsamic vinegar with sweet stuff. Now just hold on a minute…….

So here it is, my tossily titled summer salad offering. Apart from being yummy, it’s vegetarian and vegan and depending on your nut usage possibly suitable for raw eaters. It’s packing in the vitamins and goodness from fresh oranges and spinach and makes a striking, colourful side dish. Refreshing and zingy with a lovely bittersweet finish, here’s how you do it:

Rosemary Infused Orange & Almond Salad with Cocoa-Balsamic Dressing

Serves 4-6 as a starter/side, 2-3 as a main

For the salad:

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 large oranges
1 large red onion
Fresh spinach leaves
1 cup blanched almonds

For the dressing:

8 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
4 tbspn balsamic vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder
Pinch of sugar

20130408_194033I may take some hate for this, but I’m afraid you need to start early on this one, with a lot of peeling. You need four big, fresh oranges, peeled, segmented then peeled again. Yes, as in taking the thin skin/membrane off the orange segments. Yes it takes ages, but it’s worth it to give an easy, pith free eating texture. Try to keep the segments whole where you can but they may break when skinning. The easiest way I have found if to slit along the inner edge of the segment with a small, sharp paring knife then peel down each side before pulling off the bottom section of the segment skin slowly and carefully. Put the radio on and have a gin while you’re doing it if it helps.
Once this is done, arrange half of the orange pieces into the bottom of a large bowl. Bruise (bash) the rosemary stalks lightly and put on top, then cover with the rest of the oranges. Cover this dish well and refrigerate for at least three hours, ideally over night.

To make the dressing simply combine the listed ingredients into a suitable vessel and aggravate it vigorously to combine- I like to do this in a small (cleaned out, dry) water bottle. Be wary on tasting that the cocoa tends to stay on the surface and a little dip taste will seem a lot heavier on the cocoa than your end result. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks but wont mature past the fist couple of hours. It may become a bit cloggy on cooling due to the extra virgin olvie oil (yes, you do need extra virgin) so leave at room temperature for about an hour before you need to serve.

keep those onions fine!!!!

keep those onions fine!!!!

Now, back to the oranges. After suitable infusion time carefully remove the segments from the bowl to another bowl/container. Discard the rosemary stalks and excess juice. Peel and halve the red onion (use a couple of small ones if needs be) and slice them finely. Finely. Like, very finely. Like that bit in Goodfellas where they cut the garlic cloves with a razor. Fine. Gently combine with the oranges and leave for an hour before serving.

Waited your hour? Great. Arrange the orangey onion mix atop plenty of fresh spinach leaves, then scatter the almonds over. Dress then serve immediately, as a tasty non guilt vegan dish or as the side dish to a meaty main of your choosing. If you need to transport this or have made it well in advance, do not put together with the spinach or dress until the last minute or you’ll get soggy leaves.

I look forward to providing this to accompany some BBQ lamb or chicken kebabs if the summer ever arrives. I can testify, however, that this makes a satisfying and filling lunch without anything extra other than a bit of crusty bread if you like.

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Variations- ok fine, you don’t need to do the rosemary infusion. If you skip this stage you will still get a lovely fresh, zingy result but it will be missing that subtle extra nuance of the rosemary. You could go with a mix of pink or ruby red grapefruit with the orange if you wish or this could be good with pommelo but avoid the sharper citrus like lime or lemon- big no. Raw cashews, hazelnuts or brazils could work instead of the almonds.

VIFC Meeting- Chocolate!

And so it all begins.

And so it all begins.

As I have hinted of late, I have been fortunate enough to get a seat at the table of a little group of foodies who gather in the upstairs room of The Victoria Inn in Colchester for the discussion (and inevitable consumption) of all things edible. Each week a theme is set and by wild card allocation you show up with either a starter, main course or dessert to fit that theme. My first outing to food club was an enjoyable success despite my own near on nervous breakdown in the days prior. Me? Take something as simple as cooking for other people too seriously? Never!

Although I will share in full my own dubious contributions to the group here, there wont be much access to the recipes of others for now, as we hope to put together a charity cook book at the end of this year. Obviously I will flood you with the opportunity to purchase this once it is available! But hopefully you might find some inspiration, or revulsion, or just say oh, right, and skip to the next post. Whatever. Enjoy!

Victoria Inn Food Club April Meeting- Chocolate!

Yes the theme for this meeting was chocolate, an easy brief to meet until you realise that in your absence last time you were allocated a chocolate based starter (thanks Tom!). But more about me later, below are the offerings of all.

Starters:

Roasted Beetroot from Ian, served sizzling hot dusted with chocolate and a wee pinch of salt. Sweet and scrummy and has me now thinking of ways to tart up an old beetroot chutney recipe with some cocoa.

Roasted Beetroot from Ian, served sizzling hot dusted with chocolate and a wee pinch of salt. Sweet and scrummy and has me now thinking of ways to tart up an old beetroot chutney recipe with some cocoa.

Goats cheese & parsnip bread with chocolate chips from Nicola. OMG. Food like this is one of the reasons I don't have a bread maker. Amazingly moreish, stodgy and satisfying I could, and would, eat this until I literally bust a gut. Fabulous, I will be attempting this myself at some point.

Goats cheese & parsnip bread with chocolate chips from Nicola. OMG. Food like this is one of the reasons I don’t have a bread maker. Amazingly moreish, stodgy and satisfying I could, and would, eat this until I literally bust a gut. Fabulous, I will be attempting this myself at some point.

Orange and almond salad, from my good self. Well I liked it and no-one complained, so I'll declare this a success. Full recipe in the next post.

Orange and almond salad with cocoa dressing, from my good self. Well I liked it and no-one complained, so I’ll declare this a success. Full recipe in the next post.

The Main Event

Chocolate Beef bourginon from Tom. Mmmmm. A traditional start spiked with dark chocolate and chilli, wonderfully rich and the chocolate gave the liquor a gorgeous, glossy finish. Yummo.

Chocolate beef bourginon from Tom. Mmmmm. A traditional start spiked with dark chocolate and chilli, wonderfully rich and the chocolate gave the liquor a gorgeous, glossy finish. Yummo.

Venison stew with veg and, yes you guessed it, chocolate! This one from Amanda. Again a lovely dark base made rich with chocolate to compliment the gamey meat, very tasty.

Venison stew with veg and, yes you guessed it, chocolate! This one from Amanda. Again a lovely dark base made rich with chocolate to compliment the gamey meat, very tasty.

 

Vegetable curry with chocolate and coconut. Yes you read that right, coconut. And I ate it. And I didn't die screaming enjoyed it! No seriously I did, mainly because I couldn't quite pick out the coconut and if we were doing a blind taste test thing I would never have picked it out. This was a lovely, sweet and warming dish and Paula gets a medal for coming up with something that I would eat again, despite knowing it contains the dread coconut! Aaaaargh!!!!!!

Vegetable curry with chocolate and coconut. Yes you read that right, coconut. And I ate it. And I enjoyed it! No seriously I did, mainly because I couldn’t quite single out the coconut and if we were doing a blind taste test thing I would never have picked it out. This was a lovely, sweet and warming dish and Paula gets a medal for coming up with something that I would eat again, despite knowing it contains the dread coconut! Aaaaargh!!!!!!

Desserts

Chocolate muffins with a white chocolate centre. Thank you Sheena for ensuring we could have our cake and eat it! These were delicious and light, apparently some freezing was involved in the process which I shall research more and hopefully implement in my own baking going forwards. Scrummy.

Chocolate muffins with a white chocolate centre. Thank you Sheena for ensuring we could have our cake and eat it! These were delicious and light, apparently some freezing was involved in the process which I shall research more and hopefully implement in my own baking going forwards. Scrummy.

Rich chocolate mousse shots from Matt. It may seem a  teeny tiny portion but ye gods you don't want more than this. Evilly rich and gloriously presented, a really naughty treat to finish a night of naughty treats.

Rich chocolate mousse shots from Matt. It may seem a teeny tiny portion but ye gods you don’t want more than this. Evilly rich and gloriously presented, a really naughty treat to finish a night of naughty treats.

Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding. It seems that Matt is more than a one trick pony, so to speak as he doubled up for this meeting and also brought along this. No fruit or messing about, just bread baked in a chocolate custard. Heavy duty man food and no mistake. Good stuff.

Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding. It seems that Matt is more than a one trick pony, so to speak as he doubled up for this meeting and also brought along this. No fruit or messing about, just bread baked in a chocolate custard. Heavy duty man food and no mistake. Good stuff.

The chocolate and nut tart, from Stuart. Apparently this dish had it's debut for Stuart's sister at Christmas. Crunchy with nuts and cheeky with rum essence all wrapped up in a squidgy chocolate base with a shortcrust pastry shell. I think it will be back by public demand soon.

The chocolate and nut tart, from Stuart. Apparently this dish had it’s debut for Stuart’s sister at Christmas. Crunchy with nuts and cheeky with rum essence all wrapped up in a squidgy chocolate base with a shortcrust pastry shell. I think it will be back by public demand soon.

Safe to say, this was not a dinner meeting suitable for any diet plan ever, unless you’re trying to fatten up for an upcoming movie role! Everything was enjoyed thoroughly and if I had to pick a winner for the night my vote would go to that fabulous bread from Nicola. Divine.

Waddling my way home I decided that the evening was more than a fair trade off for some extra gym hours and thanked the God of waistlines that we were going in taster portions as I probably would have gone a full plate of most of them and just ordered a wheelbarrow home. But my self control around the culinary delights is well documented so I’ll leave it there.

Next time, fruit!

several photos stolen from other group members, thanks for that!

The chocolate chore.

Stupid bloody chocolate.

Stupid bloody chocolate.

I never thought I would be pissed off after having an afternoon to play around with making some chocolate dishes. I love chocolate! Turns out I love eating chocolate and that doing anything with chocolate (other than scoff it infront of the TV) without a cook book is a bitch.

Let me bring you to speed, on Tuesday I’ve got my first turn at a food club night. A pub, a bunch of foodies, everyone bring something along, sounds great, sounds fun. Apart from the bringing something a long bit. The theme for my first meeting is chocolate, and I need to take along a starter containing chocolate. It may not sound like such a chore to you, in which case fine Sherlock, what the hell are you going to make? Because some kind of cocoa-spice rubbed meat or something is just going to be a mini main course, not a starter. Most of my ideas have been rubbished by those I bounced them off, only for me to go and try out their ideas which I have now rubbished myself. I have ruled out a cocoa rubbed venison carpaccio due to financial restrictions and the unpredictable nature of how many people feel about raw meat. I’ve also thrown out the idea of a goats cheese and chocolate dip because well, that’s not really a started either it’s a nibble. Yes, I have considered that I am taking this entirely too seriously but it’s food, dammit!

After exhausting several lines of reearch I had a chat with the older male sibling and I found myself with some crab. Think about it- chocolate goes with sweet, hot, citrus or salty tones. A crab salad goes lovely with some ginger, fresh chilli and plenty of salt and/or citrus in the dressing. Surely something can work out here.

 

The crab salad assembly line.

The crab salad assembly line.

You’d think so anyway. On a crab salad base of white meat, fresh ginger, chilli jam and lime I made two chocolatey variants. One white, one dark. I didn’t use a lot, grated and applied more as a heavy seasoning than a full constituent ingredient. The white somehow managed to destroy every other flavour in there, including it’s own, it was a just a flavourless texture that was pleasing on a toast point but might as well have been a seafood stick. The dark came through far too strongly, despite only a small amount being in there and just didn’t work, it tasted confused and sickly. It was like a dessert being eaten off a soup spoon that hadn’t been washed up from dinner properly.

So, out with the crab, but let’s stick with the salt. Salted chocolate is very cool at the moment , still riding on the back of the salted caramel trend of recent years. Chocolate also goes with cheese so how about that. I thought about some kind of tart- salted chocolate, soft french cheese and maybe some kind of hot fruit chutney? Yeah, maybe. I hit the cheese aisle in Sainsbury’s this morning for inspiration. There was Camembert and brie, cheddar and Chester and I just didn’t feel it. Actually I’d rather just get a nice lump of halloumi for my lunch and forget this stupid challenge completely. Now, hang on a minute. Halloumi. Solid and pleasing in texture, goes well in salady type things, wonderfully salty. That might just do it. I have found a lot of people on the interweb who like to cover a cheese in chocolate then slice and serve simply with a big chunk of bread. I’ll bet none of these people have a healthy blood cholesterol level but hey, it’s a one off. Why not?  After the general crab disaster I had a go at cutting up some halloumi sticks and got to work with bain marie. I tried it coated with dark, dark and chilli jam, dark and sea salt, white, white and lime, white and chilli jam. Slightly more pleasing results, apart from the dark and salt which was like chewing clotted sea water. I’m not sure I could tell the difference between the white and white and lime either. I was surprised to find the white varients generally more palatable, as the white oozes past the taste of the cheese in a creamy compliment, where the dark was a definite and separate taste. Not bad necessarily, but not easy to eat. Hmmmm.

So now, as I sit to document this astounding lack of culinary success I am awaiting the success of a cocoa based halloumi marinade which if successful may become involved in some kind of beetroot and cheese salad. I had wanted to avoid going with a cocoa dressing, it seemed like cheating somehow but I feel oddly worn out by it all at this stage and will just go with whatever. I’m not used to struggling to prepare a tasty dish, in this case I will happily settle with satisfactory.  If nothing else comes up I’m thinking some kind of stack of tomato slices or beetroot with a wedge of halloumi with a very thin white chocolate outer layer and some kind of sticky dressing or sauce.

So let’s talk people, let us become friends through the power of blogging and the like. Talk to me. Ever made a successful chocolate savoury dish that wasn’t a mole or chilli? Ever really struggled with a prescribed food challenge? Come in, share your story and if you like, share your recipe.

And stay tuned for stories of the first food club meeting. If I don’t chicken out of going due to having a distinct lack of suitable offering.

Stuffed Peppers

roasted peppers, sweet and soft and ready for stuffing!

roasted peppers, sweet and soft and ready for stuffing!

Before it dwindles entirely, Happy Easter Foodies! My free long weekend this so called spring has been pretty untraditional with curries and excessive amounts of exercise and so far not a sniff of chocolate. Weird perhaps, but unforced and relaxing it has been. I have, however decided to finish off this Easter Monday in an entirely traditional fashion with a dodgy film (The Mummy Returns) and one of my favourite dinners, a girl needs to get her treats in somewhere.

Oddly enough I’m not a fan of raw peppers, they are always slightly winky and repeat on my like a catchy Lady Gaga tune but twenty minutes in a hot oven and you are blessed with a sweet, squishy and wholesome loveliness of a vegetable which complements so many of my favourite other hot foods, like pizza, pasta and couscous.

Despite taking no more than half an hour to cook, being less than 450 calories per serving (yes, really) and very easily vegetarian or veganised this is a lovely hearty dinner, savoury and satisfying and a great finish to a cold day. I wont spoil the experience by going on about how good it is for you either, but it really is. Just make it and enjoy it.

Boomboom Stuffed Peppers

served

Serves 2 as a main or three as a starter

3 large sweet peppers of any size
Olive or sunflower oil for frying
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 small white onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 courgette
4 mushrooms
3 tomatoes
1 large handful fresh watercress
*optional* finely diced cooked ham or chicken

100g dry couscous
Fresh or dried thyme
Salt & Pepper

Start off with a hotish oven- about 180C. Halve the peppers vertically, removing and discarding the seeds, stem and pith. Place in a large roasting tin (don’t crowd them!), drizzle with olive oil then into the pre heated oven. Set the timer for ten minutes.

Put your dry couscous into a bowl with plenty of extra room, a good crack of black pepper and the leaves from your thyme- you want about half a teaspoon if fresh, a little less if dried. Cover the couscous with roughly double the volume in freshly boiled water then cover the bowl with a lid/plate and ignore for a little while.

Get your veg prepped now, that’s finely chopped for all ingredients. When the ten minute timer goes off from the oven, check the peppers and turn them over, take the oven temp down a little if they are blackening this early.

mixNow to make the ‘stuffing’ heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a big frying pan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and cook on a medium heat for two minutes before adding the courgette (don’t wait for the onions to go translucent). Another two minutes and in with the mushrooms. Stir well and keep an eye on it. At this point empty the couscous into a very fine sieve to get rid of any excess liquid and set aside.
Next add the tomatoes and watercress to the pan along with the ham or chicken if you are the carnivorous type, season with black pepper and Maldon sea salt to taste and turn the heat right down. Check your peppers, if they are soft and just starting to blacken on the cut edges, you’re ready to go. If not, well, find something to do until they are but this shouldn’t be more than another five minutes.
When the peppers are ready, leave in the oven until serving but turn the oven heat out. Turn said heat back up under the pan and add the couscous, stirring thoroughly but gently, otherwise you will cover your nice clean kitchen in little bits of dinner :-/

Once it is all well combined and piping hot, dish up over the roasted pepper halves and enjoy with a nice cold glass of white wine, or even put straight into a lunchbox to cool before refrigerating and enjoying as a hearty salad lunch the next day.

Variations- obviously you can leave out the meat to make a full on vegan dinner if that’s your thing. Spice lovers can add more chilli if desired. You can leave the thyme out of the couscous and finish with any other fresh herb as liked (basil, oregano, coriander) , but I would add anything other than thyme at the end, or dried into the dry couscous as above. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, serve with some thinly sliced brie over the hot couscous- fabulous 🙂