Week 16

At the risk of repeating myself (again and again and again), this has been a naughty week.  I’ve been busy – busier than I generally like to be.  I’m a bit of a homebody at heart; I actually enjoy spending time alone at home, resting and relaxing and recharging my batteries.  If my diary gets too full I get a bit panicky and overwhelmed.  I have a constant battle balancing my need for solitude and rest with actual neediness – sometimes I get a bit sad if I haven’t seen friends for a while.  I spent a lot of time with friends this week but this always leads to me misbehaving with food as we tend to eat out when we meet up.

On Tuesday I finished off the n’duja with this delcious n’duja pasta bake.  The best thing EVER happened too – I discovered that 25g of n’duja (which is plenty when stirred into pasta) is only 4 points on Weight Watchers!  This is literally game-changing; I’m SO happy about this because it’s about the least diet-tasting food there is.  Make this pasta bake – it’s easy, delicious and, it transpires, not that bad for you.

close up

On Wednesday, I had some pork mince that needed to be used up.  I raided my Chinese food cupboard (I genuinely have one) and made these spicy, garlicky, Sichuanesque ho fun noodles (recipe to follow soon).  I took the leftovers in to work the following day – this was NOT successful.  We don’t have a microwave and it transpires that congealed, room temperature noodles are not so good the following day.  I abandoned them and ate cereal instead.

ho fun

On Thursday evening, I went to the launch of the Ginger Pig Farmhouse Cook Book (available here) where we were stuffed with sausage rolls, pork pie, ham, corned beef…basically a whole lot of meat with a token bit of cheese on the side.  The launch was fun – Shed was brilliant (isn’t it weird when you see your friends being all professional?!) and the book looks great.  Here is a picture of an enormous pie:


On Friday, I had an impromptu night out with my friend Janie to Honey & Co.  Honey & Co is a tiny Middle Eastern restaurant tucked away in the rather strange location of Warren Street.  Janie called up early in the morning and managed to bag us the last two seats at the counter.  For £26.50 per person, you can get a selection of all the starters bar one (the octopus was excluded – we ordered it anyway and it was amazing) plus a main.  Starters included carrot and butternut squash fritters, a spring salad of peas, broad beans and manouri cheese, falafel, mashawaha (like hummus but nicer), homemade pickles, labneh and breads with olive oil to dip.

starters 1starters 2

There was so much starter and we made the mistake of doing it a bit too much justice.  We ordered poussin with sumac and freekeh and lamb shawarma as the mains and shared them.


Amazingly, we found that our pudding tummies were still open to suggestion so shared what turned out to be the star of the show – cheesecake with kadalf pastry and honey.  This was incredible – I’m not really a pudding person but I’d go back to Honey & Co just for this.


Honey & Co was excellent.  We had a 2 course set menu at £26.50, a 3 course at £29.50, an extra starter and 2 bottles of wine and we paid £60 each including service.  Great value, delicious food and lovely service – I can’t wait to go back.

On Saturday, my friend Jassy opened the cafe at Stepney City Farm which coincided with their first Farmers’ Market.  I went down to help out on the cafe’s stall selling cakes, pastries and vegetables from the farm which was a big success and a lot of fun.  The Farmers’ Market was a huge hit and will hopefully become a regular thing.  The farm is always looking for more volunteers, particularly in the cafe, so if you have a bit of time on your hands, I can really recommend it.  Plus, they have the best owls (seen below with my friend Cherry) and the goats are INCREDIBLE.


That evening we went for a celebratory dinner at Bob Bob Ricard.  I’ve been for drinks in the (temporarily closed) bar on a number of occasions and loved it – it’s expensive but it’s just such a lovely, luxurious experience.  This was the first time I’ve eaten at BBR and although it was perfectly OK, I shan’t rush back.  I had potato and truffle vareniki to start followed by lobster macaroni cheese.


We decided not to stay for pudding and went to Gelupo instead where a mere £4 scored me a cup filled with blood orange sorbet, bitter chocolate and caramel ice creams.  The blood orange was seriously good.


I spent Sunday cooking for the freezer and made Chinese beef in the slow cooker, bolognese and chicken and tarragon casserole.  Dinner was the Chinese beef with rice and tenderstem broccoli drizzled with a little sesame oil.


Finally, on Monday I had pilates with my neighbour and needed something quick afterwards and, as it was nearly 10pm by the time I ate, I had a fried egg sandwich.


PHEW.  It’s been quite a week.  I haven’t weighed myself today, partly because I just can’t face it (can you blame me?) but mostly because I have my first Weight Watchers meeting on Friday and I will start from scratch then.

Comfort Eating

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m a comfort eater.  If I’ve had a bad day, my first thoughts turn to what I can eat to make myself feel better…and yes, the craving is almost always for salt and pepper squid or something else that is deep fried and ultimately terrible for me.

This is the bane of my life, it’s what keeps me fat because more days than I would like turn out badly for a variety of reasons.  Somehow I have to break this sadness/stress/anxiety-comfort eating cycle and that’s something that I’m just starting to work on.  Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle it but it’s incredibly ingrained so it’s going to be tough to stop.

In the meantime, Winter is pretty much here and I’m going to try to replace my kind of comfort eating (friiiiiiiiiiiied crap) with good comfort eating – casseroles and slow cooked sauces like ragu.

Last weekend I was invited to have lunch with a bunch of people @ShedLikesFood’s flat.  For the record, Shed is a BRILLIANT cook and I constantly steal her recipes.  This one is oxtail ragu.  I bought my oxtail (along with a couple of fresh-as-a-daisy mackerel) from @markymarket who goes to Billingsgate and Smithfields markets in the early hours of the morning so you don’t have to and then brings whatever you have ordered to your office/home later that morning.  BRILLIANT.  I strongly recommend him if you’re London based.  His website is here: linky.

Oxtail ragu (mine made 9 portions)

Here are the ingredients:

In a large casserole pan that you can put straight into the oven, brown off the oxtail (I had 1.6kg.)  While that’s happening, chop up your vegetables – for 1.6kg of oxtail I used 3 onions, 3 carrots, 3 sticks of celery and 6 cloves of garlic.  They don’t need to be cut up too teeny tiny so it shouldn’t take too long/be too laborious.  Once the oxtail looks like this:

remove it from the pan, add the vegetables and soften until they look like this:

Add the oxtail back to the pan with 1 and a half tins of tomatoes (chopped or whole plum – doesn’t really matter), a tomato tin of water, 3/4 of a bottle of red wine,  salt and pepper and the aromatics:

I used 6 bay leaves, a couple of large sprigs of thyme and 1 and a half star anise (the star anise MAKES this – don’t even think about leaving it out.  It gives a lovely, warm, gentle spiciness to the sauce.)  Bring it all to the boil and then put it into the oven, preheated to about 120c.  And then go off and do other things.  I watched 127 Hours and took photos of Ralphie and my neighbouring gardens:

 How pretty???

Obviously you can do something else.  Have a bath.  Read a book.  Do the Davina workout DVD.  If you’re Shed, you would be putting this together at about 1am and then sodding off to bed and letting it do its own thing (incidentally, Shed cooked hers on the hob on the very lowest possible flame – you can do this if you don’t want to put the oven on.)

After 4 hours (you can totally leave it for longer) it will look like this:

Looks grim, right?  Right.  So, now the fun bit!  Whip out all of the oxtail and set aside.  Put the pan on the hob, turn the heat up to max and bubble the crap out of the sauce.  You want to reduce it right down so that it is thick and silky.  This may take around half an hour or you may not need to do it at all (Shed didn’t) so you’ll have to use your brain a bit here.  While the sauce is reducing, take the meat off the oxtail bones and shred.  You should take a bit of care with this, especially if you are watching your weight, as there are some bits that are a little bit fatty – I was quite fussy with mine and removed all those bits.  There are also some bits that just look like they’re going to be really chewy – ditch them too.

Try not to eat too much of this while you’re doing it…not easy.  Once the stock has reduced right down, check for seasoning (it needs quite a lot of salt and pepper) and then add the oxtail back into the sauce.  And you’re done!  Here is the finished product on gnocchi (shop bought – I’m going to try making my own soon to see if they’re vastly better):

It’s completely delicious – so comforting and silky and soft and YUM.  It’s already one of my favourite things and is incredibly easy, trust me.  If I can do it, anyone can, but make sure you do the following:
(1) Cook it long and on a very low temperature.  If you cook it on too high a temperature, the meat just won’t fall apart and go melty in the way that you want it to and it just won’t really work.
(2) Reduce, reduce, reduce.  I reduced mine by at least half.  You want the sauce to end up the consistency of single cream at least, maybe even double if you can manage it.  The sauce mustn’t be too wet because it won’t coat your pasta/gnocchi properly and if you don’t reduce it enough, you just won’t get the depth of flavour that you’re after.  There is quite a lot of cooking liquid which you need in order for it to cover the oxtail, but you need to get it concentrated.
(3) Season it.  Don’t be scared of salt and pepper, they’re essential and make things taste nice.  Keep tasting and adding but, for the love of god, don’t burn your tongue like I did.  It still hurts, 30 hours later.

So that’s ragu!  Easy peasy lemon squeezy and tasty.  And the best bit is that I got 9 portions out of it so have 7 in the freezer!  AMAZING.  Next up: chicken casserole.  I want a “white” recipe (i.e. no tomatoes/red wine) so if anyone has any suggestions, please pass them on.

F x

The Perfect Bolognese

Friday was a BAD DAY.  I weighed in for the first time in 4 weeks and I’ve managed to put on half a stone.  HALF A STONE!  Yes, OK, I’ve been on holiday…but we never had pudding, we shared a starter twice and didn’t have any the rest of the time…I didn’t even have an ice-cream for the love of god!   I guess breakfasts of spankingly fresh baguettes, butter and nutella every day really took it’s toll.  I’ve also had boozy/eaty nights out this week including The Passage Cafe with @misswhiplash (I discovered calves liver – AMAZING – and the Best Bar in London aka The Nightjar on Old Street roundabout) and The Corner Room with my friend Andrew.

Over dinner, Andrew told me about The Perfect Bolognese which was mooted and published in the Guardian (linky here) and I decided to give it a shot.

It should be stated at this point: FatFran does not like bolognese.  FatFran just doesn’t like tomatoey things, generally speaking.  My previous method for making bolognese was this: lamb mince, bacon, tomatoes, a whole tin of tomato puree, best part of a bottle of red wine, herbs etc etc.  Incredibly rich, heavy, heady and tomatoey.  A little bit of it was OK and others like it a lot, but it really wasn’t for me.

So, if I don’t like bolognese, why on earth would I want to make it? you might wonder.  Simple.  I wanted to use my Spong mincer again!

The Perfect Bolognese (serves 5 FatFrans – i.e. pasta with only a little bit of sauce – 4 portions for most people)

The most exciting bit was mincing my meat!  I used 250g of beef braising steak.

I love doing this.  I could happily only eat minced products if it meant I could use it every day.  It’s SO MUCH FUN.  I used the coarse mincing plate and I think this was definitely the right thing to do.

Next, I prepared my vegetables, Delia styleeeeeee.  This is one onion, finely chopped, 1 carrot and 2 sticks of celery, finely diced.  I also finely diced 40g of lamb’s liver (it’s meant to be chicken liver but Ocado had entirely sold out so I made do.  I think that chicken livers would work better to be honest) and 100g of streaky bacon (around 7 rashers.)  Now I know what you’re thinking.  Streaky bacon isn’t exactly slimming.  However, if you’re making 5 portions, that’s around 1.5 rashers per portion – I can live with that.

Now for the cooking.  Put a good knob of butter (I used lurpak lighter) into a heavy based casserole (I don’t have one so I made it in a regular pan and transferred to a pyrex casserole later) and then very gently fry off the bacon for about 5 minutes, after which you add the onion.  Soften this without colouring for a few minutes, add the carrots, soften for 5 and then the celery.  After a few more minutes, it should look like this:

Then the meat goes in!  Brown off the mince and then add the liver.  It’s once the liver goes in that it starts to smell AWESOME. Meaty, savoury, deliciousness.

Once this has cooked out, add 150ml of milk (technically meant to be whole, I used semi-skimmed) and a good grating of nutmeg.

This needs to be simmered very gently until there is almost no milk left – it took around 20-25 minutes and I pre-heated the oven to 125c while this was going on.  Once that’s done, season with salt and pepper, pour in 150ml of white wine and a tin of plum tomatoes – add them whole, they will break down as it slow cooks.  Transfer to a casserole and pop it into the oven.  The lid of the casserole should be slightly off so that the steam can escape.

After 4 hours, it should look like this:

And here is the finished dish!  I know, my presentation leaves a bit to be desired:

It’s bloody delicious.  It’s quite a dry sauce and seriously meaty rather than over-tomatoey so is right up my street.  I really, really recommend that you make it.  YUM.  Next time I’m going to try it with half beef mince and half pork as I generally prefer the flavour of pork mince.  I will report back with my findings.

After working SO hard, I treated myself to pudding: