September food and cooking favourites

October has been an exceptionally busy month at work – it always is – and it took a lot out of me to get a food favourites video up, hence why this is up very late. It’s a short and savoury line up featuring a great brunch spot in south-west London and a new lunchtime favourite. I also extol the noble virtues of eating oozing, melting strings of cheese.

August 2016 Food and Cooking Favourites

I feel like a slightly tentative snail or bear or other creature that habitually creeps from a comforting hibernating environment to say – hello! I’m here! I made a video! I have created content! I have not, despite appearances to the contrary, been smacked entirely unconscious by work, which picks up a head of steam around this time of year sufficient to blow us into December.

I have still been eating and reading and enjoying things, which brings me to my August 2016 Food Favourites, which, looking at it now, is centred around the theme of comfort: comfort food (meatballs), reading (Laurie Colwin) and TV (the Great British Bake Off). It’s a reminder that the weather is getting colder as we moved into autumn but also that things are starting to get more strained and stressful in the office as the deadlines hit us like arrows).

I filmed this a few weeks ago (it’s just taken me a while to get my editing act together) and my gushing about the Great British Bake Off and expression of it as a genuine national treasure of a show now reads as oddly ironic and a little bittersweet. (For those of you who don’t know, the Great British Bake Off, a BBC institution, has moved to the commercially orientated broadcaster Channel 4, which specialises in edgier programme aimed more explicitly at the youth demographic – or, as almost inevitably described, ‘yoof’. It’s inevitable that the unique character of the show will be lost now that the two presenters and one of the judges have declined to move channels).

Video: July 2016 food and cooking favourites

I had to send my camera in for repairs due to a ‘broken pixel line’ earlier this month. While it enabled me to catch up a little on blog writing without the distraction of photography, I did really miss being able to photograph and film when I wanted. It was very nice indeed to be reunited, and I threw together a belated video on my favourite food things from July. I definitely feel like fun and play became, inadvertently, a theme, from messing around with biscuit making to a short, snappy, entertaining food read. Very summer appropriate…

 

Video: April 2016 Food Favourites

It’s Sunday the 15th of May today, so pretty much bang on halfway into the month, but I have put together another video of my favourite food and cooking items from the month of April (see my first video of March favourites here). I talk about things to read, a fabulous recipe for a wonderful white loaf, my new breakfast obsession (handy hint: it’s skyr) and a lifechanging cooking implement (hint: I’m holding it in the thumbnail). I hope you enjoy it!

Friday Food Things, Part III: of magazines, portion sizes, and tahini cookies

Good Food magazine

075This month, Good Food magazine launches its new look, and the May issue’s dazzling front cover showcases beautiful eclairs dressed in spring-bright shades of icing. There’s also a 16-page Nigella collection (though I doubt it will be anything new for me as I actually already own all of her cookbooks). As a further bonus, if you buy the magazine from Sainsbury’s, you will receive a Lakeland duo-colour icing kit, which will enable you to pipe two different colours at once and comes with 6 nozzles, 8 disposable icing pages amd a coupling set. This is an extra exclusive to Sainsbury’s so it’s worth holding out on your purchase to get it from there.

 

Portion control

This postcard from the Imperial War Museum is affixed to my kitchen cupboards
This postcard from the Imperial War Museum is affixed to my kitchen cupboards

When I decided to reassess my diet and work towards losing the weight I’d progressively gained over the course of work and, especially, my part-time MA, the first thing I took in hand was portion sizes. For the first time in my life, really, I started paying attention to the portions of a recipe and limiting myself to a single share; no longer would I consume half a recipe of something which said ‘serves four’. At first it was difficult and I was very hungry, but it’s become much easier. I feel like I now have a much more intuitive grasp of how much I should be eating of any given food. These – I hesitate to call them insights, but I suppose they are – meant I read this Guardian article on portions with interest. The article is written by Bee Wilson, who is a fabulous writer, and thanks to my avid and greedy reading of her books, a lot of the information wasn’t new to me, but I still enjoyed it and it’s a very useful summary of what has happened to portion sizes in the last 50 years (they’ve gotten bigger). Jay Rayner, Gizzi Erskine and Tamal Ray’s contributions on how they approach portion control were engaging, too; of the three I’m most sympathetic to Gizzi’s approach but none of the three experiences overlaps exactly with how I approach food.

Cleaving

078I’ve been reading Julie Powell’s Cleaving. I remember when Julie Powell was a huge deal in the food blogging community, though I was never an avid reader of her Julie and Julia blog back in the day (I was a Chocolate and Zucchini girl). I did read Julie and Julia when it came out and found it riveting; she’s a compelling writer and I missed Tube stops reading this (which resulted in missing a train to my station and having to trek back in the dark). Cleaving was not such a success, partly I think because it’s about adultery, which I am, I realised, not really comfortable with, but more importantly, I think the central conceit of the book – that butchery, adultery and the ties of love and obsession are interconnected – does not work. I could have bought the elaborate metaphor in a work of fiction, where suspension of disbelief in these things is essential, but not in autobiography. It stretched my credulity to imagine that, as Powell sliced pork or beef, that the elaborate thoughts and memories of her marriage and obsession with her lover came as perfectly to mind as she portrays.

Salted tahini chocolate chunk cookies, via My Name is Yeh

050I have baked two batches of the salted tahini chocolate chunk cookies I found via Molly Yeh’s beautiful and considered blog; to my surprise my boyfriend adored them too. I thought that perhaps the tahini would put him off, because he doesn’t tend to like nut butters, but he is as obsessed with them as I am. They are utterly delicious: crumbly, salty, absolutely packed with chocolate.

My observations: the recipe states that you must not skip the step of resting the cookie dough overnight in the freezer. The first time I made these, I chilled the dough for about half an hour. The cookies baked up crisp, crumbly and short, which is how I like them actually. For the second batch, I rested the dough overnight in the fridge and only then scooped the dough out onto the baking tray to bake. My fridge is tiny and I don’t have a freezer, so this is how it has to be. The rested batch is indeed softer, slightly doughier and cakier, though not in an undercooked way. My boyfriend prefers them this texture; I like them crunchier, as per the first time, without resting.

The recipe has salted in the title but I thought 1 teaspoon of Maldon salt flakes a little too much. Three-quarters of a teaspoon, as per the second batch, is much better. The recipe also supposedly makes 12 but I find this inconceivable, since I made at least 18 large cookies using a pretty sizeable cookie scoop. If making 12 I can only imagine they would be unreasonably large.

Finally, cup measurements are annoying. If you want to make them the metric measurements (I weighed as I went) are as follows (I haven’t included the full list of ingredients, just the ones that benefit from being weighed out rather than measured in cups):

  • 113g butter
  • 140g tahini
  • 120g sugar (I did reduce this from the original recipe, which calls for a whole cup; I measured out three quarters of a cup because I thought the ratio of one cup sugar to just over a cup of flour to be excessive)
  • 190g flour
  • 260g dark chocolate chunks (I didn’t use the Valrhona feves; I just used Sainsbury’s dark chocolate, cut up into squares to retain the spirit of very large chunks of molten chocolate striated through the dough)

 

A new thing: my first food video!

I recently made a video where I talk about the food and food-related things I’ve been enjoying recently  – restaurants I’ve been to, dishes, and particular food products. It’s a new departure for me since I’ve always been very focused just on writing, but it was a lot of fun to make – although the editing process was admittedly a slog! Anyway, if you like discovering new food things it would be lovely if you’d take a look; I hope to make them a more regular thing as and when I have the time. I anticipate it will be a new and fun way to get to know the food community!

 

Between meals: things that go crunch – five unusual crisp substitutes

Some time ago I mentioned some of the fruit-based snacks I have occasionally been trying for days at work when I want something a bit more exciting than an apple but still sweet and convenient. This time I want to talk about snack foods which are alternatives to a standard bag of crisps.

I love crisps – I find them so delicious and enjoyable. But they are not very healthy: as you will see below, even ‘alternative’ crisps can contain high levels of salt and fat. Most standard crisps, and many ‘alternatives’, are also effectively devoid of nutrients. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally want to treat myself. I have reviewed a range of savoury, crunchy snacks below, but should mention that my baseline crisp – the crisp of choice, against which I really measure all others – is the decidedly low-brow Doritos tortilla chip in – yes – Cool Ranch flavour. Salty, robustly thick, with an enticing, powdery layer of flavour…well, if I could eat them every day, I would. But I can’t. (Please note this isn’t meant to imply that it would be good for you to eat the others everyday, though – see the nutritional information!).

Work-space snackin'
Work-space snackin’

Popchips Barbeque Potato Chips

Taste: Popchips burst onto the scene some years ago and reached my consciousness when Katy Perry started appearing in their adverts. However, I had my Doritos – what use had I for expensive, low-fat crisp alternatives?

Ah, foolish I. When I succumbed to the lure of the Popchip I discovered that they are fantastically, crazily delicious, and have easily become my new crisp-type snack of choice. Indeed, one (post-dinner) evening out with my boyfriend I found myself feeling peckish and insisted on a detour to Sainsbury’s so I could purchase, and devour, a bag of these Popchips. I love the barbeque flavour so much that I haven’t ventured into others, but there is a whole range to choose from.

ANYWAY: the barbeque flavour is pretty hefty and tangy, which I really like. At first I thought it was a little acrid but now I really appreciate how strong and spiced these chips taste, and prefer them to sweeter, mellower barbeque flavours. The coating of flavours is really substantial and the warmth and bite of paprika is recognisable. Just a handful of chips is a delicious snack that actually does fill me up a bit while also handling major crisp cravings. The single-size bags offer the perfect amount for me: just enough to satisfy my appetite, not so much that I feel bloated and guilty.

Claims: all the flavour, half the fat; suitable for vegetarians; ‘no artificial anything’. The chips are not fried or baked but ‘popped’ through the application of heat and pressure.

Ingredients: they are potato-based, with 54% dried potatoes, followed by sunflower oil and seasoning (composed of sugar, whey powder, salt, onion, yeast, garlic and tomato powder, oak-smoked seal salt – fancy! – yeast extract, the every-present ‘flavourings’, spices, acids and colouring based on paprika); rice four and potato starch finish it off.

Nutritional information: a bag is 23g and you will have eaten 97 calories, 3.6g fat, 15g carbohydrates (2.1g of which is sugar), 0.9g fibre, 1.3g protein and 0.49g of salt.

Availability: I have seen these in all major supermarkets and in typical snack-buying places such as corner shops.

Bottom line: I am addicted to Popchips.

Continue reading “Between meals: things that go crunch – five unusual crisp substitutes”

Between meals: Three fruity snacks

There are some people who seem to have no snacking needs, which is definitely admirable. I am, however, a habitual grazer. When I started dieting, it rapidly became clear that it was going to be quite difficult to fit snacks into a 1200 calorie diet. The thing about dieting is that you do tend to feel hungry.

Crisp whole strawberries; crunchy strawberry crisps.
Crisp whole strawberries; crunchy strawberry crisps.

However, I’m no longer confined by these shackles and have started reintroducing snacks into my day. I’m now in pursuit of between-meals nibbles which are satisfying but better for me than a chocolate chip biscuit or six (there are an alarming number of biscuits available in the office at any one time owing to the large number of catered events we hold). The general ‘healthy snacking’ advice out there is to have some unsweetened yoghurt; a handful of nuts; maybe some rice cakes and low-fat hummus. However, I still occasional crave a sweet snackerel, and indeed, sometimes only a buttery cookie will do. I’ve been trialling some slightly more ‘natural’ fruit-based snacks which I thought would provide some interest and sweetness when I really need to avoid the office biscuit tin but want something more exciting than an apple, and thought it might be fun to share my ‘findings’. The verdict is below.

The Giving Tree Strawberry Crisps

The fact that the dehydrated strawberries are whole was a surprise to me, but it's lots of fun!
The fact that the dehydrated strawberries are whole was a surprise to me, but it’s lots of fun!

Taste: Because they are called strawberry ‘crisps’, I expected the packet to yield freeze-dried slices of strawberry; instead, whole, perfect, albeit dried, strawberries tumbled out.  They were very sweet, very pure, the most perfectly concentrated hit of strawberry flavour. They were also quite hard and some of the larger specimens a little difficult to bite through. But I really enjoyed them! You can also let them dissolve on the tongue, which is fun.

Claims: one of your ‘five a day’

Availability: These were a Holland and Barrett find for me, but they’re available through Ocado, Whole Foods, Planet Organic, Selfridges and at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Barbecoa (very random since Barbecoa is a steakhouse), according to their website.

Continue reading “Between meals: Three fruity snacks”