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.

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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:

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.

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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.

poussinlamb

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.

pudding

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.

owlgoat

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.

verenikilobster

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.

gelupo

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.

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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.

egg

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.

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Filling The Freezer

I have decided that the Freezer Is My Friend.  Not in terms of ready meals – yacksville except for fish fingers (do they count as a ready meal?) – but in terms of pre-prepared (by me) delicious meals for one.  The sort of thing that I can whip out of the freezer in the morning, chuck in a pan when I get home from work and serve up in less than 15 minutes with some pasta or rice and a couple of my 5-a-day on the side.
My freezer is a pretty scary place.  It’s teeny tiny, yet contains an extraordinary amount of crap including frozen peas, soya beans, quorn sausages (they’re blatantly getting chucked out), chicken breasts of a huge variety of ages, an East London Steak Company steak (WIN!), a bag of wine slush, these horrible little scallops (who knew that scallops could actually be actively unpleasant?), some ropey looking chicken livers, half fat coconut milk and a number of bags of entirely unidentifiable “food”.  Most of this is going to go in the bin (NOT the steak – never the steak) to make space for my new fad.  Filling. The. Freezer.
So far I’ve made bolognese and oxtail ragu.  This is all well and good but I felt like I needed something less rich and with absolutely no tomato in it at all and something that goes with a carb that isn’t pasta.  I racked my brain…BINGO!  Casserole!  Specifically…
Chicken and tarragon casserole (makes 6 portions)
Ingredients:
12 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
100g cubed pancetta (you can totally leave this out, it’s just as good without it)
12-18 whole shallots, peeled (use 18, they go amazingly mushy and delicious)
500g chestnut mushrooms (if you use the baby ones you won’t need to do any chopping at all)
A little olive oil
2 tbsp seasoned flour
2 tbsp dijon mustard
500ml chicken stock
150ml dry sherry (apparently wine works too)
5 tbsp creme fraiche
3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
or, pictorially:
Before we start, do NOT do as I do.  Unless you have ace kitchen skillz, don’t be cheap and buy chicken thighs that are skin on and bone in.  The skinning is easy and weirdly pleasing.  The boning…not so easy.  My chicken thighs ended up a little bit massacred.  I feel really bad about this, they really didn’t get the respect that they deserved.  (Will someone buy me some good knives – preferably Kin – and teach me how to bone stuff please?)
Anyway.  Take your skinless, boneless chicken thighs and coat them in the seasoned flour.  Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and brown the thighs in batches, popping them into the bottom of a large lidded casserole dish as you go.
While this is going on, deal with your shallots.  TOP TIP KLAXON!!!!!  Shallots are a bit of a fiddly pain in the butt, right?  Not any more.  Cut off the woody root end, put the shallots in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for about 20 seconds.  Drain the water off and then peel the skins off – it’s SO much easier than regular peeling and you don’t get the weeps either.  (Top tip courtesy of @rankamateur – she was also the one that told me about this recipe too.)  Here are the shallots:
Once the chicken is all browned off, fry off the pancetta until it’s brown and crispy.  The original recipe calls for 150g – I used less than 100g and I genuinely think that you can leave it out entirely as I made it without for a non-pork eater last night and it was still entirely delicious.  However, if you’re using the bacon, get it brown and crispy and chuck it into the casserole on top of the chicken.
In the bacon fat, saute off the shallots so that they look like this:
Once brown, they need to see the inside of the casserole dish too.  The final bit of frying is for the baby mushrooms.  They want a few minutes of browning off and then – yup, you guessed it – they go into the casserole as well, along with the dijon mustard.
Make up the chicken stock and pour it into the frying pan with the sherry.  Let the frying pan cool down a bit first if you want to avoid extreme bubbling, boiling over and a big old mess all over your hob.  Clearly, I did not do this because I am very, very foolish.  Deglaze the pan and pour the liquid over the chicken/bacon/shallot/mushroom mixture.  Give it a bit of a stir around so that the mustard gets mixed in.  Add a bit of black pepper but no salt at this stage – there may well be enough from the seasoned flour and the stock cube.
Put the lid on the casserole and put it in a preheated oven at around 140c.  This is the bit where you go off and do stuff but, unlike last week when I made the ragu, there’s no real time for a nap.  You have 90 minutes to kill.  I watched an episode of the West Wing, put fresh bedclothes on my bed and painted my nails.  If I had alcohol in the house, I would have tucked into that instead of doing all these good things.
90 minutes later, return to the kitchen, remove the casserole and lo and behold!  This is what you have:
The chicken falls apart, the shallots have gone all soft and silky and melty, the sauce is delicious.  YUM.  You’re not finished yet though.  Pour the liquid through a sieve/colander into a saucepan.  Put the creme fraiche into a separate bowl and stir some of the sauce into it.  If you put the creme fraiche straight into the sauce, it doesn’t really mix in properly and you get little spots of white through your sauce.
Mix it together and then add to the saucepan, whisk it around and then bubble it all up furiously so it thickens up a bit.  Chop up the tarragon and then add that to the sauce, turn off the heat and check the seasoning.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with either mashed potatoes or some rice.
Voila!  This is pretty much my food heaven, it’s just so comforting.  I think that you could easily get away with using significantly less creme fraiche and I won’t be using any bacon in it in the future – I think this is the first thing that I’ve ever cooked where bacon genuinely hasn’t added anything to it.  The best thing about this recipe is that it’s incredibly easy – you don’t even have to chop anything other than a bit of tarragon right at the end.  This is definitely going to be added to my mental list of favourite things.
I still have a bit of space in the freezer though.  What next?  A curry?  Pork?  Chicken again?  Bring on the suggestions but while you’re thinking, make this.