Week 3: Fruity hair

I started this week with really good intentions.  I planned all my meals and decided to try some of the weirder sounding recipes just to mix things up a little (tuna and flaxmeal fishcakes anyone?!)  THIS is how organised I was:

Menu plan

Monday didn’t start so well.  I’d slept badly and was in a zombie-like state.  As such, I managed to get two, rather different, things confused:

smoothie

On the left, curl cream.  On the right, lime, raspberry and avocado smoothie.  No prizes for guessing which I slathered on my hair.

An additional hair wash and half a day at work later, I got a last-minute invitation to a gin and seafood event at the Gherkin from my friend Janie.  So much for getting my mincer out and thai-ing up some chicken, this is what I actually had:

Monday dinner

Clockwise from top left: smoked halibut, a 12-year old scallop, blackened mackerel and confit salmon.  Not technically on the plan, but it wasn’t very carby, so I’m not sweating it too much.

Tuesday was scheduled to be my first HIIT day for the week.  I really wasn’t feeling it after another terrible night’s sleep and getting home late, and yet I did it and I killed it – it’s definitely becoming a little more manageable, although I’m yet to work my way up to 15 rounds rather than 12.  Ralphie wasn’t feeling the HIIT either – apparently my exercising induces extreme rage in her, as she flung herself at me and attached herself to my leg using her teeth halfway through a set of boxing punches.  Fun times!  After dealing with her, I was rewarded for my efforts with 5-spice chicken with brown rice and rather a lot of toasted sesame seeds:

Tuesday dinner

Wednesday was planned to be off-plan again as I had dinner at Brawn which was BRILLIANT.  Loved, loved, loved it.  I more or less forgot to take pictures, so here are some half-eaten snails and some totally eaten clams:

Brawn

(Pretty sure that these pictures are the sole reason why I’m not a successful restaurant blogger.)  For what it’s worth, the snails with the garlic and mushroom goos were PHENOMENAL, and Marina O’Loughlin was right when she said that Brawn’s pannacotta was the best she’d ever had.  Game-changing.  Ditto the black pudding and squid.  It was a happy-making meal – go, go, go.

Thursday was supposed to be a HIIT day but, frankly, I couldn’t be arsed so decided to shift it to Friday.  I was meant to be having steak and sweet potatoes, but I forgot to buy steak and no exercise = no carbs, so that dream ended there.  Happily, I had remembered to defrost chicken breasts which I turned into mince and did my favourite spicy chicken mince with double avocado, because I hadn’t fancied my breakfast smoothie.  No picture, you’ve seen it all before.

I was in a rotten mood on Friday.  Work was manic and in the afternoon, illness in the form of throat, jaw, ear and head pain crept up on me.  I left work in a terrible grump and, by the time I got home, there was no way I could do any exercise.  I had lost all of my beans.  Even more anger-inducing was the fact that the chicken breast that I’d got out in the morning hadn’t even vaguely defrosted, so there was to be no dinner.  I conveniently forgot about the fact that I’ve owned a microwave for the last 18 months (genuinely – I’ve only just remembered) and so I stuck two fingers up to the plan and ordered a takeaway.  Suffice to say, two hours later I was struck down with terrible remorse, so I shan’t be doing that again, even though the salt and pepper squid was SO delicious.

Saturday started with a liquid breakfast because there was no food in the house other than a now-defrosted chicken breast, which wasn’t appealing much.

liquid breakfast

Lunch was meant to be the tuna fishcakes, but my sister (who is also doing this plan and is a week ahead of me) had texted me this earlier in the week:

text

I may be a glutton for punishment, but slimy bloating is a step too far, even for me.  Luckily, I had a little more energy than on Friday so I did my HIIT and rewarded myself with something other than chicken.  Steak!  And sweet potato chips!  It was ace.

Steak1

Dinner was satay chicken – you know how that goes.

Sunday started with some HIIT so I had a giant protein pancake for breakfast.  This meant that I wasn’t so hungry at lunchtime, so I tried something from the plan that I hoped would be a little lighter – the tuna salad.  It was nice enough but mammoth in size and something wasn’t quite right with the dressing – it just wasn’t punchy enough – and my avocado was rubbish so it was a bit off-putting.  Definitely a recipe that needs some developing.

tuna

Finally, beef stir fry.  This was GOOD:

beef

All in all, not the best of weeks.  3 meals totally off-plan and only 3 HIIT sessions, so I’m a bit disappointed in myself.  That said, I think that my shape is changing.  My arms look to me like they’re getting smaller, as do my legs.  Even better, Janie greeted me on Monday, with: “You’re wasting away!”  and when I saw Andrew on Wednesday, his first words were “Where’s the rest of you?”  HUZZAH!!!  I must be doing something right, right?.

However, something that I’m struggling with is the HIIT.  My knees aren’t feeling great and the outside of my calves hurt from the star-jumps and I don’t know how to stretch them.  Basically, I just can’t jump.  Running on the spot seems to be fine with a knee support on.  Boxing punches – fine.  But what else can I do?  I think burpees, mountain climbers and squat jumps will absolutely annihilate my knees, so I’m a bit stumped. My back feels like it might go any minute.  I don’t think I was born to exercise – it really doesn’t suit me much – and yet when I decided to do an exercise video on Saturday morning, I got frustrated because it was just too slow and not exhausting enough, so I abandoned it for my normal HIIT.  What’s happened to me??

I could definitely do with some non-knee-ey HIIT suggestions, so if you have any (bearing in mind that I don’t have a gym membership at the moment) please let me know!

The week of five HIITs…did I do it?

This time last week I was feeling stuffed full of protein and apprehensive about the exercise part of this plan.  Foolishly, I had dared myself in my last blog to try to do five HIIT sessions over the week, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.  Up to this point in my life, the maximum number of times I had ever exercised in one week was twice and, frankly, that was a pretty rare event.

So.  Did I do it?

Monday:  I’d spent Sunday feeling like I’d been hit by a bus, so Monday was a significant improvement.  I discovered that cold omelette for lunch isn’t so terrible if you’ve forgotten to make a double dinner the night before, and this is coming from an omelette-phobe.  But did I do my HIIT?  Why, yes.  Yes I did.  I hurried home from work, worked out and then rewarded myself with this:

Monday dinner

Study in beige #1

Brown and beige.  Brown and beige is a bit of a theme on this diet.  Monday’s dinner was a strange combination of 5-spice coated chicken and spiced sweet potato wedges.  The chicken was overcooked and the wedges covered in too much gritty spice.  6/10

Tuesday:  I did my HIIT again!  Dinner was chicken coated in a honey, chilli and garlic marinade with little roasted potatoes.  Getting a bit bored of chicken to be honest, and the chicken was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too garlicky.  Fine on Tuesday night when I’m home alone, less fine on Wednesday when I was eating the leftovers in the office.  Sorry colleagues…

Tuesday dinner

Study in beige #2

Wednesday:  A lovely, lovely rest day with a free dinner out including caviar with tiny blinis, chateaubriand with a couple of spoonfuls of mashed potato and crepes suzette.  *Most retro meal ever klaxon*  In the grand scheme of things, and given that this was a free meal where I could have gone WILD, I think I behaved myself pretty well.  For the love of god, there was foie gras on the menu.  Foie gras – and I go for little fish eggs.

Thursday:  Working from home day.  When I started this plan, I had it in my head that it was going to be easier to exercise on the day that I’m working from home: I’d get up early, jump around and sweat buckets, get some carbs in, all before work starts at 9:30.  In reality: blatantly never going to happen.  Stay in bed until 9:15, log on, straight into work.  I find it impossible to motivate myself to exercise when I’ve been sitting around in my pyjamas all day.  HIIT FAIL.  HIIT did not go down.  However, not doing the exercise did mean that I got to eat the the best thing that I’ve had on this plan so far:

Thursday dinner

Study in beige #3

Chicken mince (impossible to buy, I had to mince my own) made spicy with red curry flavours, peppers and topped with avocado and sour cream.  LOVED this, and frankly it was a welcome departure from the texture of a chicken breast.

Friday:  I had options.  Option 1, aka The Naughty Option: dinner with my friend Andrew.  Option 2: go home, exercise, BATHE IN THE SMUGNESS.  Reader, which option did I take?

Friday dinner

OMG it’s not beige!

I took the exercise option.  I DID!  I DID!  I was feeling pretty excited about earning the above rice.  Sadly, it was completely ruined by the fact that this meal tasted like a big bag of poo.  These were Thai king prawns.  There’s two problems here: (1) king prawns are basically flavourless rubber protein – why do people think they’re good?  Little ones are so much tastier; (2) 60g of green curry paste is about 45g too much green curry paste.  Good god, this tasted crap.

Saturday: I was hungry, which was probably the first time I’ve felt hungry in 10 days, but then I didn’t eat much of last night’s dinner.  Once Ocado had dropped off the weekly (mind-blowingly expensive) shop, I climbed back into my exercise gear, worked out (keep up – that’s the fourth session of the week!) and then I made these bad boys for lunch:

Saturday lunch

Study in beige #4 – Dimensions of Red

These are the protein pancakes that I’ve wanted to try since day 1 and which would probably be nicer if I hadn’t bought the mocha flavoured protein shake.  That said: not chicken, so they got brownie points for that.  With my carbs for the day done, this was dinner:

Saturday dinner

I’m a bit baffled by this one.  It’s called “Italian beef and sausage casserole”, the sausages in this instance coming from – you guessed it! – a chicken.  It was cooked from scratch, fresh vegetables, stock, tomatoes etc…so why did it taste a bit synthetic, like a (fairly good) ready meal?  Baffling.  Also: chicken sausages?!  They be slimy.  The fact that I quite liked them gives me all of the shame.

Sunday:  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh the end of British Summertime.  Of COURSE I woke up super early.  That, there, is the law of sod.  I tried to get back to sleep to no avail, so had a chat with myself: a mere half hour of misery would mean that I achieved my totally unrealistic, over-ambitious goal.  So I did it.  And you know what?  It is getting a little bit less horrible each time.  I had more pancakes with yoghurt and raspberries for breakfast and then made these funny little protein muffins for snacks:Snack 1

Dinner was satay chicken, the only meal that I repeated from last week and which was vastly more successful this time (1 tsp of cayenne pepper is a BONKERS idea):

Sunday dinner

Study in ALL OF THE BEIGE

So that’s my week.  I’ve stuck to my diet 95% of the time and the exercise, 100%, which I never thought I would actually do.  Things I’ve discovered:

  1. It’s easier to exercise on days that I’m in the office.  It gives me a good reason to leave more or less on time, I psyche myself up for it on the walk home from the station, get in, exercise gear on, dinner prep done, HIIT, slump in recovery while dinner is cooking.  BOOM BOOM BOOM.  It really isn’t so bad.  It’s 25 minutes!  Anyone can do that, right?
  2. I prefer the low carb meals that you eat when you haven’t exercised.  This is a bit of a bummer, but also means that I’m not really missing carbs – yay.
  3. I still hate exercising.  I tried to do a burpee…ahahahahahaha.  NO.  My current exercise formula is high knee running on the spot (exhausting, makes my knee hurt, I’ve had to buy a knee support), then boxing punches wearing weighted gloves, then star jumps.  But I’m already thinking that even though this exhausts me and makes me sweat buckets, maybe it’s not enough?
  4. It’s working.  In June, I bought myself a new belt.  In late August, I had 3 new holes put into it.  On Friday, I started using the last of those 3 holes.  I can now fit into trousers that are 2 sizes smaller than those I was wearing in April.  And I’ve lost 5lbs in the last two weeks and am nearly down into the next stone bracket which is unbelievably exciting.

I’m already nearly halfway through this first cycle of the plan, which is crazy, but I really have the fear that I’m not going to have the amazing transformation pictures that other people seem to get.  What’s worrying me is that so many people on this plan aren’t actually proper chubsters when they start, so OBVIOUSLY they’re going to look good at the end.  I still have about 2 to 2.5 stone to lose; there’s no way that’s going to be achieved in the next 90 days.  So: The Fear.  And what if I plateau?  Plateauing whilst eating stupidly large amounts of food, with coconut oil coming out of my ears etc…then what will I do?  And how sustainable is this, really?  Do I want to eat like this for the rest of my life?  I’m conflicted.  It’s working, and yet something about it is making me feel uncomfortable and unnerved.

Week 15

I’m not feeling good about myself right now.  I’m still feeling a bit below par and lacking in energy which translates into feeling like I’m losing the will to live and certainly having no inclination to cook and look after myself.  I’ve been eating the wrong things, I’ve been eating too much of them and I just feel a bit out of control.

So – last week.  Tuesday was dinnerless.  I was feeling sick and weird so I just curled up on the sofa and felt sorry for myself.  On Wednesday I had a pretty substantial lunch of noodles with chicken and peanut dressing so I just had scrambled eggs in the evening as I was out late at an appointment.

noodles

On Thursday I went to Beagle for dinner with a few friends.  Beagle opened recently in the railway arches next to Hoxton Station.  We sat next to the kitchen and everything that came out looked amazing, so we were pretty excited.  To start I had a salad of crab, monk’s beard and preserved lemon.  It was nice enough – the crab was very good – but it wasn’t terribly exciting and I couldn’t taste the preserved lemon at all.  Other starters of asparagus with chive butter and boiled egg and cauliflower soup were better.  My main course was lamb shank with pearl barley and mint which was incredibly disappointing as it was completely overwhelmed by the mint and tasted of little else.  Puddings were good; my pannacotta with poached rhubarb was lovely and Jassy’s chocolate malt pot was nothing shy of a triumph.  Overall though, Beagle didn’t quite do it for me which was a shame.  I loved the place, loved the cocktails and desperately wanted to love the food, but I couldn’t.

crablambpannacotta

On Friday I made pasta with n’duja.  Now, I really love n’duja – spicy, porky loveliness…BUT WHY DID I BUY IT?  I shouldn’t be buying something that is made almost entirely from pig fat.  BAD.

pasta

On Saturday I had friends over for dinner.  My starter, which I completely forgot to photograph in its finished state, was James Ramsden’s duck rillettes.  Here’s a picture of the duck legs to illustrate just how bad for us this was:

duck

The rillettes were seriously good and actually far easier to make than I’d anticipated.  The flat smelt of duck fat for a few days post-leg roasting but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I served the rillettes with a dark sourdough (wrong – I should have chosen either a lighter, less sour sourdough or just something crusty and white) and cornichons and there was nothing left when I cleared away the plates.  The main course was poached chicken with freekeh from Jerusalem and was a big hit.  Annoying (drunkenly) I forgot to serve the cucumber yoghurt that I’d made to go with it, but I don’t think it suffered too much.

chicken

Pudding was Nigella Lawson’s no churn pomegranate ice-cream (which is just gorgeous and incredibly easy – I make it with a cup of Pom pomegranate juice in place of the 2 juiced pomegranates) with strawberries and persian fairy floss (or ‘pashmak’).  By this time I was pretty sozzled so, again, no photos.

On Sunday I was hungover and feeling pretty miserable so, as I always do, I self-medicated with food and had some salt & pepper squid delivered.

squidThe salt & pepper squid led to a whole world of self-loathing yesterday.  I had to work late so by the time I got home at around 9pm, I was starving and needed to eat RIGHT NOW.  I had some sea bream fillets that needed using up so I  had those with a squeeze of lemon and some bread and butter.

bream

I wish wish wish I bought into Kate Moss’s statement that ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’.  I would dearly love not to like food.  I hate that it’s the first thing that I turn to when I feel bad or sad as it just makes everything so much worse.

I lost a pound this week which, in the grand scheme of things, is unexpected and lucky, but I’m just constantly hovering around this weight rather than losing anything significant.  Since I started this weekly blog 15 weeks ago, I have lost 1.5lbs.  Yes.  One and a half.  I think it’s safe to say that whatever it is that I’m doing at the moment just isn’t working, so I’ve decided to go back to Weight Watchers meetings, starting this Friday.  Joy.

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.

My third ever risotto!

Yesterday at lunch, I was filled with ricey inspiration by the risotto queen, @anglikebang, so today I decided to try making risotto for only the 3rd time in all of my 33 years.  I turned to twitter for support…and found NONE.  Jeez, they’re all sticklers for tradition!  So annoying.  All I asked for was a shortcut, but no.  Twitter did not deliver (well, they did not deliver what I wanted, everyone was actually very helpful) and I was told that dumping all the stock in at once was simply not permitted.

So I got home from work tonight and, despite feeling like a big pile of poo (thanks penicillin you complete git) I made risotto!  Here’s how I did it.

Chicken, mushroom and pea risotto (2 servings)


Ingredients
150g risotto rice
1 small onion, very finely diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A splash of white wine or dry sherry (I only had the latter)
15g porcini mushrooms
Regular mushrooms
Peas
Leftover roast chicken
Chicken stock (I used a Maggi stock cube)
Olive oil

Firstly make up the chicken stock with around 500 ml of boiling water, add the porcini mushrooms and leave it on a very low heat.

In a large saucepan, add a little bit of oil – literally only about 2 tsps – and very gently sweat the onions and, a few minutes later, the mushrooms.  Once they have softened, add the rice and stir so that the grains are covered in the oniony, mushroomy, not-particularly-oily-but-let’s-try-not-to-be-sad-about-that mix.

Mmmmmm!  Looks good, huh?  I threw in a glug of sherry (I would have used wine but it would have been a DISASTER if I’d opened a bottle – I am not very good at drinking wine in moderation…it just tastes too darn good) and, once that was absorbed, I started adding the stock, one ladle at a time, making sure each was absorbed before adding the next.

Check out the colour on that stock!  Porcinis are ACE.  Hmmm…it would seem that I added the peas at some point during the process too.  With the benefit of hindsight, I will add these much closer to the end of cooking next time as they were a bit squashy.  So, on and on and on it went with the stock.  It was around this point…..

…..that I got incredibly bored.  Uber, massively, mind-numbingly bored.  So I sort of left it to its own devices and did the washing up and fed the cat with the occasional stir going on.  When the rice was basically cooked, I added some leftover roast chicken and HEY PRESTO!  The risotto was done.

Genuinely proud!  And, given that I finished eating it nearly 2 hours ago, it’s brilliantly filling.  I’m taking the second portion into work for lunch tomorrow although I should hasten to add that this is not technically advisable.  Rice is one of the main causes of food poisoning.  However, I chilled it down very quickly (which is apparently the danger zone in terms of bad spores developing) and I’m going to risk it.  If I never blog again, you know it didn’t go well, and that @darrengdwn was right when he told me that this was absolutely verboten.

Anyway, I can see risotto becoming a bit of a staple in my diet.  I figure that it’s an excellent way of getting stealth vegetables into me (one-third of what I eat has to be vegetables/fruit), so it would be really helpful if you felt like commenting below to give me ideas of what to put in them.  I need variety or I will fall off this diet.  FACT.  And I don’t want to do that.

F x