Monday, 5 December 2011

Mini Mince Pies

I think I have resigned myself to the fact I will only be putting weight on between now and January. If I am very lucky, I may maintain my weight, but let's face it, it's Christmas and that ain't gonna happen. It's times like this in the year along with our summer holiday, that I will indulge, guilt free.  But that's ok, because following a plan like WeightWatchers or Slimming World means you can get back on track when the time is right. These sort of plans are a way of living and I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

I personally I am not a fan of all these quick fix diets. Yes of course you can drop a stone in a month, but who wants to live off microwave pouches 3 times a day. I've seen them. A cat gets fed more than that! And don't get me started on the fact that alcohol is completely banned. I understand these diets have their place but for me losing and maintaining weight has to be a way of life. It's the reason why I started food blogging in the first place. If you can Eat Healthy But Tasty most of the year, you are perfectly entitled to complete over-indulgence at certain times, and most especially, at Christmas...

I've been dabbling with homemade mince pies for the last couple of years trying out different recipes, including Nigella's ones from her Christmas book (which is one of my favourite books by the way). They were nice, however I never really 'got' what was so special about mince pies. But, my goodness, I never, ever thought I could love this Christmas speciality so much! I am absolutely delighted I have found a combination of winning recipes, that for me have produced the perfect mini mince pie. 

If you want to stick to your WeightWatchers plan during this period, these mere morsels are just 3 ProPoints, so one is definitely not out of the question. The 4 that I have eaten today though should not be recommended if you want to lose weight!

For the pastry, I used a recipe from BBC Good Food. If you read the reviews on this 'Unbelievably Easy Mince Pie', (and I always do, which is why I rave about this website so much) people have said it's amazing, but: it's too dry, they needed to add egg or found the pastry sticks to the tin. I followed the recipe to the T and it worked perfectly!. To make mini ones use a tart tin and not a muffin tin. I dug out my Pampered Chef mini muffin tin & tart shaper and took great joy in using this fabulous piece of kitchen kit.

The pastry works well rolled out too. Just choose an appropriate size cutter that will roughly make 30-36 mince pies. I made 34 from the pastry batch recipe.  I weighed out each ball of pastry to 18g each and used the tart shaper to produce a perfect shape tart. I then rolled out the remaining pastry and cut stars to go on top.

You can use any shop bought mincemeat of your choice, but I followed a recipe from the wonderful Kate at Turquoise Lemons. I particularly like this Mincemeat recipe as it is 'fat free' (no suet) and packed full of flavour. You just need to drop a teaspoon into the case and top with the star. I did do as the recipe said which was to lightly brushed with a beaten egg.

Into the oven they went (160c fan) for about 10 minutes. They were just starting to brown so I guessed they were probably ready. I let them cool in the tin for 5 minutes and the removed them using a teaspoon onto a wire rack.

They are seriously good. Especially with a dollop of thick brandy cream. Nom nom...

WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Mince Pie: 3

Monday, 28 November 2011

King Prawn Pad Thai

I harp on alot about my love of Asian cuisine, particularly Thai. Before my husband and I opened our cocktail bar I worked in a local pub, The Grotto in Weybridge, Surrey which had a dining room serving up authentic Thai food. I loved working in the small restaurant part of the pub and learnt alot about food preparation there.

Toy, the Thai chef managed the kitchen virtually single handedly. Of course she had no method in managing the fast orders coming through (for takeaways as well as diners).  She did each ticket in turn, but everything she cooked was always incredible. I'd watch her hand rolling the vegetable spring rolls, preparing fresh satay sauces and stirring the Massaman curry whilst it stewed away. My love for Thai food really came from working here. She'd often send me off home with a garlic chilli squid stir fry or if I was lucky, my favourite: Pad Thai. I don't think I can ever hope to re-create Toy's amazing Pad Thai (and I'm certain I wouldn't want to ProPoint it!), but Pad Thai is still my dish of choice when I go to a Thai restaurant. I've tried for the last few years to cook a really tasty Pad Thai that is WeightWatcher friendly and delighted to have finally achieved it with this recipe!

Earlier this year I re-visited a newly refurbished Grotto as the new owner had managed to lure Toy back into the kitchen. The menu was just the same as it ever was and amazingly Toy remembered me from my stint there in 2002! I only worked there for a short time but she knew I went on to more glamourous things when we opened our cocktail bar down the road.  I've sadly heard that The Grotto has once again re-closed. I do hope someone snaps it up and gets Toy back in the kitchen as Weybridge will not be the same without her delicious Thai food.

You'll need for 2:
  • 1 tsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
  • 175g raw king prawns
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 25g roasted, salted peanuts, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • Asian vegetables of your choice, sliced to your liking
  • Couple of big handfuls of beansprouts
  • 3-4 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 tsp soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 125g rice noodles, soaked in hot water then drained
  • Fresh coriander leaves

What to do:

Firstly get the kettle boiling and put the rice noodles into a shallow dish. I use the Pad Thai thick style noodles which are available in Waitrose. Please do not buy the 'straight to wok' rice noodles as these are just horrible and will ruin what is a most fabulous supper! Pour the boiling water and leave to soak for 15 minutes while you prep the other ingredients.

Get everything chopped up and ready and have all the sauces and condiments to hand as the dish doesn't take long to stir fry.  Beat the egg in a bowl with a dash of light soy sauce for seasoning.

When the noodles have finished soaking, drain until needed.

In a wok, heat the oil and when hot add the prawns and garlic. As soon as the prawns are pink all the way through remove with a slotted spoon, keeping as much of the juice in the wok as possible.  Add the vegetables and stir fry on high heat for a minute or two. Quickly add the chilli flakes, fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar and peanuts stirring frequently.  

After a couple of minutes of stir frying, add the prawns back in and any juices along with the noodles.  Add the beaten egg and stir everything for another minute or two until the noodles are nicely coated.

Serve up and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 12

    Lancashire Hotpot

    I love tucking into a roast dinner on a Sunday, but sometimes it's just not possible to spend hours in the kitchen especially since I was coping with a hangover and 4 hours sleep after hosting a very lovely early Xmas gathering on Saturday night. So on Sunday, in between looking after 2 energetic boys, going to a kids party and tidying up from the previous night's antics, I wanted to cook something quickly that was warming and comforting and something that was the perfect hangover food. 

    Feeling guilty from the amount of bubbles consumed the night before, my chosen dish needed to be most definitely healthy but tasty! The end result was a Lancashire hotpot. I felt compelled to include this in my food blog as I am sure there are many of us who crave a comforting Sunday lunch without busting the diet.

    The Lancashire Hotpot was particularly fitting for yesterday, Sunday 27th November as it was Lancashire Day. So what better way to celebrate it then by making a very famous dish originating from the area itself.  Although it takes a while to cook, the preparation takes just 20 minutes or so and you can get on with a million other things whilst the stew takes care of itself. Perfect for us busy mummies!

    I couldn't resist adding some ale to bring out the flavour of the lamb and the kidneys and selected Thwaites Lancaster Bomber which is a chestnut colour ale, full of warmth and richness. It complimented the dish perfectly and this addition made the hotpot that bit extra special.

    You'll need for 4:
    • 900g diced lamb, such as Sainsburys Be Good To Yourself range
    • 6 lambs kidneys, cut into pieces, sinew removed
    • 1 large onion or 2 smaller ones, peeled & diced
    • 4 or 5 medium carrots, peeled and diced
    • 3-4 sticks of celery , peeled and diced
    • 2 big garlic cloves, sliced
    • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
    • 2 bay leaves
    • Few dashes worcester sauce
    • 500ml lamb stock
    • Seasoning
    • 1 & 1/2 tbsp plain flour
    • 125ml Lancaster Bomber ale (about half the bottle, drink the rest with your meal!!)
    • 1-2 tsp butter, melted
    • 750g potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly

    What to do:

    Pre-heat your oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3.  In a large heavy based saucepan, heat the olive oil. Brown the lamb all over, in batches if need be. Remove using a slotted spoon and keep to one side. Add the onion, celery & carrots to the pan with the garlic and stir well. Cook on a medium heat to soften the vegetables. Put the lamb back in and season. Sprinkle over the flour and stir it in well to cook out the flour. After a minute or two add the ale and stir continuously to prevent any lumps forming. Then add the lamb stock, bay leaves and thyme along with the Worcestershire sauce.

    Give everything a good stir and add more water if need be.  Allow to cook on a low heat for a few minutes then remove from the heat. Transfer to another dish if your saucepan is not ovenproof, and add the potatoes overlapping the slices.  Cover with a lid or foil lid if in a roasting dish and place in the oven for a good 1 and half hours.

    Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes, brush with the melted butter. Turn the oven up high to help brown the potatoes.

    Serve with green vegetables of your choice.

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 15

    Tuesday, 22 November 2011

    Food Bloggers Unplugged

    Thank you Susan from A little bit of Heaven on a plate for starting this cool idea and for Kate at TurquoiseLemons for tagging me!

    The idea is to pass it on or to tag 5 other food bloggers and answer 10 questions about yourself in the process.  So here goes...

    1. What/Who inspired you to start a blog?
    I've always been a huge foodie, loved eating out and cooking at home. Having run a cocktail bar for 3 years and then having kids I embarked on WeightWatchers to shift baby / general weight. I realised that 'diet' food was generally very unappetising and forget about filling a hole! So I learnt new ways of cooking using minimum fat, lean meats, plenty of vegetables so that every meal I ate was healthy, filling & tasty. Friends were interested in my recipes so I thought I would share it with the wider world and started my blog

    2. Who is our foodie inspiration?
    I take great inspiration from most of the TV chefs. Always been a Nigella fan but loving Lorraine Pascale. I often try and re-create their dishes with a healthy makeover. My mum has also taught me loads. I also love Ching He Haung as her cooking is really scrummy and naturally quite healthy.

    3. Your greasiest, batter splattered food/drink book is?
    Nigella's Feast is well used. I've made her birthday custard sponge every year for my childrens birthdays, usually carved & iced to resemble some monstrosity. The latest was my 5yo superhero cake.

    4. Tell us about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
    10 years ago, my husband and I went on holiday to Mykonos (pre-kids obviously!) A friend's father lived there and she arranged for him to take us out. We experienced the best meal ever! We chose our own lobsters from a pool, ate fresh sea urchins with lemon and olive oil (he'd called the fisherman up the day before and asked him to catch us some) and feasted on a platter of the freshest fish I've ever had.

    5. Another food bloggers table you would like to eat at is?
    Hmmm I am fairly new to this blogging and just getting to know these fellow food bloggers. I was amazed by some of the wonderful treats I saw recently at Lets Make Christmas and it was all organised by the wonderful Vanessa Kimbell. Reckon there's alot I could learn from her so lunch or dinner would be fab Vanessa?!

    6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
    I would LOVE a kitchen aid. In red please to match the other titbits in my kitchen. Thanks Santa. Promise to be a good girl.

    7. Who taught you how to cook?
    I learnt alot by myself. Once I'd established myself I think I then went to my mum for inspiration. It's only now in my mid-30's I feel a duty to learn her repertoire and pass it down through my family. Many of her recipes are on my blog.

    8. I’m coming to you for dinner. What’s your signature dish?
    Oh lordy! This is a hard one! A starter of scallops with black pudding on a rocket salad. A main of slow cooked lamb shoulder flavoured with garlic, anchovies & rosemary with roast potatoes and green beans. For pud maybe a chocolate fondant or a sticky toffee pudding.

    9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
    Cheese or any kind. Soft, strong, hard, smelly, so long as its cheese accompanied with a large glass of red wine!

    10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?I did a dance & drama degree at The University of Birmingham a few (ahem) years back.

    Now to pass on the challenge to 5 other food bloggers...#foodbloggersunplugged

    @CornerCottageB - Hannah Allman
    @craftstorming - Laura Tichener
    @Benjaminvear - Ben Vear
    @katecakeandbake - Kate Harries
    @BakingCindy - Food for thoughts

    Monday, 21 November 2011


    Paella is a bit of a Friday night treat in our house. Usually mid-week suppers consist of something that can be easily prepared in advance with little or no finishing once the kids are in bed. But on a Friday it's nice to eat a bit later, enjoy a nibble on some olives, carrots & reduced fat hummus while I get dinner ready, glass of wine in hand of course. I find on WeightWatchers if I'm really religious during the week, come Friday, I can afford a glass of wine or two along with dinner. I still try to keep to a healthy meal on a Friday (that's 12 ProPoints in my book) but it's usually something that takes a bit longer to prepare.

    We are quite traditional in that white wine is largely summer drinking and most definitely when eating fish, and red wine is mostly for the winter and always to accompany red meat. Paella works well with either but a splash of white wine does work particularly well with the stock bringing out more flavour.

    My paella uses chicken breast, raw king prawns, lots of red pepper & peas and it wouldn't be Paella without the use of saffron and cayenne pepper! My hubby has an allergy to some seafood but otherwise I would use the bags of frozen mixed seafood containing mussels, squid etc, but use whatever you like to suit your own taste.

    You'll need for 2:
    • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
    • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
    • 1 red pepper, chopped
    • 2-3 tbsp frozen peas, I use petits pois
    • 1 medium chicken breast (165g), chopped
    • 50g chorizo
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • 150g Paella rice
    • 1 big vine tomato or a few cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
    • Pinch of saffron
    • Pinch of cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika or normal paprika
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Liquid chicken stock concentrate or stock pot
    • 1 lemon
    • 100g (about half a bag) of raw frozen king prawns, defrosted
    • Boiling water from the kettle
    • Glug of white wine (optional)
    • Seasoning
    In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oil and gently saute the onions and garlic until slightly golden. Turn up the heat slightly and add the chorizo and chicken. Brown all over.

    Weigh out the rice into a measuring jug and make a note of where it comes up to. Add the rice to the pan and stir frequently to coat the rice.  Double the volume of rice with boiling water and chicken stock concentrate into your measuring jug.  Add the saffron to the stock and allow to dissolve.  Add the white wine if using or if not use a little of the chicken stock.

    Add the pepper & tomatoes and stir well. Add about half of the chicken stock, the spices and bay leaf. Give it a good stir and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas.

    Keep stirring every now and then and top up on some stock when it starts to look a little dry.  It should take about 20-25 minutes for the rice to cook through. A few minutes before the end, add the prawns and a good squeeze of lemon (about half a lemon). Taste and season accordingly. Cook until the prawns are pink throughout and serve up with lemon wedges.

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 13

    Thursday, 17 November 2011

    Cherry & Macadamia Chocolate Fudge

    My last entry in the Lets Make Christmas event is this wonderful fudge which is full on flavour with unique textures. I used cherries soaked in Kirsch and macadamia nuts which marry perfectly together with the richness of the dark chocolate fudge.  As far as giving this as a homemade Christmas gift goes, it far out ways any old plain vanilla fudge!  So if you plan on making fudge this year, give this combination a go.

    The basic fudge recipe I started with was from BBC Good Food. I found an old pot of liquid glucose in my cupboard so managed to cook the first batch using this, but after that locating this pot of sugary stuff was pretty challenging. Waitrose didn't have it, neither my local chemists and I did not have time to get to Tescos, so my 2nd batch used golden syrup instead.  I can't say I noticed a difference so my advice is to use whatever you have, which, let's face it, is more likely to be golden syrup.

    I also really like this basic fudge recipe as it doesn't require so much effort like other methods where you must continuously stir for 20 minutes. I chucked everything in my good, solid based saucepan and let it heat up till it reached the soft ball stage, 116 degree c. I decided last week to invest in a sugar thermometer from Amazon and it was a fiver very well spent .  It meant I could get on with other things without worrying too much about when the fudge was ready. You know how us mums are always trying to juggling a million things at the same time!

    I also found that you don't need to melt the chocolate in advance as the fudge mixture is so blinkin hot (well it is 116 degree c!) that as soon as you stir the chocolate in it just melts immediately.

    So although I started with BBC GoodFood, my recipe and method is here...

    • 300g caster sugar
    • 300ml double cream
    • 40g liquid glucose or golden syrup
    • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
    • 125g dark cherries soaked in Kirsch, drained and halved
    • 100g macadamia nuts
    You will need a 20cm square tin or one of equivalent dimensions


    In a heavy based saucepan add the sugar, syrup or glucose & cream. Stir on a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Get the thermometer in place so it can adjust as the mixture heats up.

    On medium to high heat, give the mix a good stir every couple of minutes. Meanwhile prepare your tin by lightly greasing and base lining with baking parchment.

    Break the dark chocolate into pieces, drain the cherries and halve and halve the macademia nuts if not already halved.  I also patted dry the cherries with kitchen towel so as not to make the fudge too 'wet'.

    The fudge mixture should take 10 - 15 minutes to reach the right temperature. Turn the heat up if need be. If you do not have a sugar thermometer you can do the 'soft ball test'. Simply drop a tiny amount of mixture into a glass of iced water. The mix should form a soft ball immediately. It really is so much easier with a thermometer though!

    Once ready, remove from the heat and quickly drop in the chocolate pieces and beat with a wooden spoon  for a few minutes until the mixture is grainy and comes away from the sides.  Quickly stir in the nuts and cherries and pour into the tin. Smooth out and allow to cool slightly.  Score with a sharp knife and allow to cool completely transferring to a fridge when cool.  Cut into squares and store in the fridge.

    I'll be packaging these up in pretty cellophane bags tied with ribbon when they go into my homemade Christmas hampers this year and hoping they will go down a storm! (The trial batch were very popular at the mum's coffee morning anyway!)

    Ginger & Lemon Shortbread

    Shortbread is an ideal foodie gift to give at Christmas as it has a pretty good shelf life if stored correctly, that's if it lasts that long! Whilst I appreciate shortbread in all it's traditional wonderfulness, I couldn't help but want to add a hint of flavour and texture to this wonderful treat. I experimented with a few recipes and my final version was really a culmination of everything I tried with my own twist using lemon & stem ginger.

    This shortbread will go to a fellow food blogger at Vanessa Kimbells Food Blogger Gift Exchange tomorrow at Fortnum & Mason. I hope whoever gets it will like it!  I am very excited to be taking part and meeting other foodie fanatics like me!

    • 115g soft unsalted butter
    • 50g caster sugar plus more for sprinkling
    • 175g plain flour
    • Pinch of salt
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 75g stem ginger, finely chopped
    You will need a 20cm round tin, preferably loose bottomed. Lightly grease with butter


    • Pre-heat your oven to 170c or 160c fan
    • Beat together the butter and sugar
    • Lightly stir in the flour and salt and start working it to form a dough like mixture. Be careful not to overwork the mix as the butter may get too greasy.
    • Add the finely grated lemon zest (I use a microplane for this, but any fine grater will do) and the sticky sweet stem ginger. Give it a rough mix with your hands
    • Tip the mix into the tin pressing with your fingertips to even it out.
    • Using a fork, crimp the edges all the way round and then make several pricks all over. I like to score the mix into 8 wedges before it's cooked.
    • Bake for 35-40 minutes till lightly golden
    • Remove from oven and cut into 8 wedges.
    • Sprinkle over a tbsp or so of caster sugar
    • Allow to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes and then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely
    • Store in a airtight container or tin. It will keep nicely for a good week  

    Friday, 11 November 2011

    Christmas Chutney

    This year, I am hoping to replicate the success off the Xmas hampers I gave to family and friends 2 years ago. I spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, with a rather large tummy bump, (7 mths pregnant!) stirring, chopping and blitzing ingredients together to make a perfect batch of Christmas treats.

    The contents of this year's hampers are still 'work in progress' but ideas so far are:
    - Christmas Chutney; perfect accompaniment to cheeses and cold cuts. Done, dusted. Jarred.
    - Basil pesto; delicious stirred into pasta or smothered on warm ciabatta. A sure cert especially with all our Italian family.
    - Fudge; testing out different flavour combinations at the moment...
    - Shortbread; cut into festive shapes. A great way to get my 5yo involved
    - Something involving stem ginger...there's alot of love for ginger among my family & friends!

    Back to the chutney. As of yesterday, these are cooked, jarred and maturing away so they are perfect to eat at Christmas. I've always made a Christmas chutney with apples and cranberries. The first recipe I ever used was from my highly trusted BBC Good Food.  I then made other versions which included plums, then figs. This year the base for my chutney was taken from Hugh's River Cottage on Channel 4.  I made a few changes to suit my own taste, which include adding fresh cranberries & cinnamon. I also omitted cardamom pods as I'm not a fan.  My exact recipe is detailed here.

    My batch made some 18 jars!  Feel free to halve the quantities or play around with what suits you.

    Weighing out apples
    • 1kg onions, chopped
    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1kg bramley apples, peeled and chopped into large-ish chunks
    • 1kg eating apples (Cox's, Braeburns, Pink Lady etc),peeled and chopped into small-ish chunks
    • 1 litre cider vinegar
    • 800g demerera sugar
    • 250g dried figs
    • 250g walnuts, roughly chopped
    • 250g dried cranberries
    • 200 fresh cranberries (or use frozen, defrost first)
    • Zest & juice of 2 large oranges
    • 200ml port
    • 25g root ginger, grated
    • 12 cloves
    • 2 tsp coriander seeds
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 3 tsp ground cinnamon


    In a very large saucepan, heat the oil and sweat the onions for a few minutes.

    Add the apples, sugar and vinegar and stir to dissolve. Bring to the boil and add the dried fruit, herbs & spices. Add the orange zest and juice and the port.

    Chutney Cooking

    Cook for a good hour on a simmer until the liquid has reduced significantly, stirring occasionally. Add the fresh cranberries and the walnuts and continue to cook for another 30-45 minutes.

    Pour into washed, sterilised jars whilst hot and place lids on.

    Leave to mature for a few weeks so it is perfect for Christmas! I'm already dreaming about tucking into the chutney on Christmas day along with my favourite cheeses...

    The finished chutney!

    Monday, 7 November 2011

    Chicken Chow Mein

    I reckon not a day goes by where I don't pick up a recipe book,  watch a cookery programme or browse the web looking for new recipes and food ideas. My blog is not just a collection of my own recipes but recipes that I have found that I've adapted to fit my overall criteria; healthy, low fat but very importantly, tasty & filling. I follow all the celebrity chefs on Twitter and love experimenting with some of their recipes. Whilst I just love cooking new recipes, my problem is that I have to give them a low fat / healthy makeover. 

    When it comes to Asian cuisine, my favourite Chef has to be Ching He Haung. She's like a modern day Ken Hom. What I love about her cooking is that it is naturally healthy, utilising the best in Asian ingredients to bring out full on flavour.  Since I've been a Ching fan I now regularly store items such as Sake and Shaohsing wine! 

    I made very little change to Ching's original recipe, just reducing the oil to bare minimum and weighing out noodles and chicken to calculate correct ProPoints. The original recipe can be found hereI've got to say that this chicken chow mein dish could not be any healthier or tastier. I pack it with vegetables and it really is a quick, easy, bloomin tasty mid-week supper.

    You'll need for 2:
    • 2 x 60g portions of egg noodles
    • 2 x 1 tsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil
    • 275g chicken breast, cut into pieces
    • 1-2 tbsp dark soy
    • 1-2 tbsp light soy
    • 1 tsp Chinese Five Spice
    • 1 tsp chilli sauce
    • 1 dsp cornflour
    • Stir fry vegetables of your choice. e.g. green beans, mushrooms, sugarsnap peas, pak choi, broccoli carrots, peppers etc.
    • A few spring onions, sliced

    What to do:

    Slice up the chicken and sprinkle with Five Spice and a good dash of dark soy.

    Get the noodles on the boil as per packet instructions and get your wok / stir fry pan nice and hot. Add 1 tsp oil to the pan and stir fry the vegetables until cooked but still with a nice crunch. Season with some light soy as you stir fry and add a sprinkling of Five Spice.

    Remove from the pan and keep warm. Heat the other tsp of oil. Sprinkle the cornflour over the chicken pieces and place into the hot pan to stir fry. Chinese cooking frequently uses cornflour to thicken sauces. It's a great, low fat technique and I love it's use here in keeping the chicken really nice and moist and this stage shouldn't be omitted!!

    Allow the chicken to brown and turn occasionally. Add a couple of dashes of dark soy and once cooked through add the vegetables back into the pan. I prefer to cook the vegetables and chicken separately so as not to overcrowd the wok and to ensure everything stir fries rather than stews together. Also I use ALOT of vegetables so I need the extra room in the wok!! A couple of minutes before the end of cooking, add the spring onions and stir through.

    As soon as the noodles are cooked, drain and return to the pan stirring through a dash of light soy sauce until needed.

    Finally add the noodles to the wok and toss everything together and serve up. This dish can be prepared in under 15 minutes! I like to get all my ingredients prepped earlier before I get the kids to bed so everything can be literally stir fried in a matter of minutes.

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 12

    Sunday, 6 November 2011

    Chicken Biryani

    The Anglo-Indian influence in my family has inspired me to learn the dishes that my parents grew up with.  My mother was largely brought up by her Grandmother in India after losing her mum very young and she learnt to cook from her Grandmother. I love the way families pass down their recipes and traditions and I feel it is absolutely essential we carry on in the same vein. With DH's family being Sicilian we have quite a repertoire of Italian and Anglo-Indian dishes now which we hope will enrich our tastebuds and give our children a sense of worldly cuisines.

    On the WeightWatchers plan, a typical restaurant Biryani would cost you an entire day's worth of ProPoints and it would certainly bust any calorie controlled diet. I now know why biryani dishes are such a no-no on a diet as there is virtually no portion control on the rice and they are laden with fried potatoes!  My aim in making this an Eat Healthy But Tasty dish was to get a fulfilling, flavoursome and authentic tasting meal. I was going to have to ensure not too much rice was used and find a way of roasting the potatoes with minimal fat.

    I chose a day when my parents were visiting to make this, ensuring I got the spice mix down correctly. I should have expected mum would have a thing or 2 to say about my version...

    Mum stated that "double the rice should be used for that amount of chicken curry". I explained to mum that using double the rice, plus the potatoes would make it a right old carb fest and just way too ProPoint /calorie /fat heavy. Mum also stated that Biryani is meant to be a dry dish and the way I was doing it would result in the dish being too "wet".  The thing is I actually prefer a bit more sauce in my Biryani and, dare I say it, feel mum's way is a bit too dry (eek!).  Much to my mother's disgust, the problem was resolved, for me anyway; less rice + more curry = moist, tasty, healthy, Biryani.

    You'll need for 4:

    • 1-2 garlic clove, crushed or grated
    • 1 tbsp sunflower oil plus 1tsp extra
    • 1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 2 cloves
    • 2 cardamom pods
    • 1 onion, finely diced
    • 1 level dsp cumin
    • 1 level dsp paprika
    • 1 level dsp garam masala
    • 1 tsp tumeric
    • 2 dsp Pataks Biryani paste
    • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
    • 3 dsp fat free natural yogurt
    • 450g chicken breast, cut into chunks
    • 300g charlotte potatoes, halved lengthways then cut into 4 or 6 pieces each half
    • Salt
    • 285g basmati rice
    • Good pinch of saffron
    • Half a pack of green beans, halved
    • 2-3 tbsp frozen peas and sweetcorn or frozen mixed veg

    What to do:

    This is an ideal meal for preparing in advance. There are a few steps to complete when creating this dish: roast the potatoes, make the curry, boil the rice, bake the lot together...

    In a non-stick roasting tray or dish place the potato chunks. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle over a 1-2 tsp vegetable oil. Using your hands rub the oil in thoroughly and place in a hot oven (200c fan) for about 20 -25 minutes until the potatoes are soft on the inside and crispy and brown on the outside.

    For the curry, 2-3 tsp sunflower or vegetable oil in a saucepan.  Add the cinnamon stick, broken, the cardamom pods and cloves. After a minute or 2 add the onion and fry on a medium heat.  Mix the other spices and paste together in a mug with a bit of water and when all mixed together, fill to the top of the mug with water. Add to the pan and allow the spices to cook out for a few minutes.  Add the ginger, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and a few dashes of lemon juice too, stirring occasionally.

    Next add the chicken and coat thoroughly. Add the yogurt, vegetables and another mugful of water, less if you prefer the curry 'dryer'.  Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the potatoes to the curry.

    Meanwhile rinse the rice thoroughly in a sieve. Add to boiling, salted water. Add a good pinch of Saffron and cook as per packet instructions. Usually 10 minutes. Once cooked, drain into a sieve and pour over boiling water to rinse through.  Allow to cool.

    In a oven-proof dish, lay some rice on the bottom followed by 1/3 of the curry. Repeat twice finishing with some curry on top. All of this can be prepared in advance. 

    Cover with a lid or foil and bake in the oven at 190c fan for about 40-45 minutes.

    Serve up!

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 13

    Monday, 31 October 2011

    Beef & Kidney Pie

    Eating healthy wise, I have had the worst week for a long time.  Of course, none of it was my fault, I was just led astray...

    It was half term and it started off badly on Wednesday where, under duress, (you know who you are) I took my 5yo to Burger King for the first time after water fun at the leisure lagoon.  Using my iPhone I scanned the WeightWatchers app and decided I was going to be 'good' with a chicken salad at just 2 points with some small fries for another 5. Not too bad for lunch, I thought.  Well of course it is a completely different story when you get there and the smell overwhelms you, not to mention you feel like a complete idiot ordering a salad! So a cheeseburger and small fries later oh and half of my boy's burger (as he didn't like it!)  I knew it was going downhill from there.

    Rather than kid myself I was going to be good for the rest of the week, I thought sod it and just indulged, rather wholeheartedly. I feasted on chocolate, cheese, kids leftovers (we all do it sometimes!) naughty Halloween choccie cakes, takeaway pizza at a Halloween/fireworks party, finishing on Sunday in this wonderfully indulgent steak and kidney pie. It didn't end there either as to top it off we had an apple & blueberry crumble for pudding!

    I blame the large consumption of red wine for the week on the nursery parents evening where they kindly offer you a glass of wine.  Of course this led to hubby & I polishing off a nice bottle of red with dinner and the week generally progressed to wine with dinner every night.  I didn't even make it to Zumba on Thursday.

    The last person to blame in my week of eating hell is my lovely husband. We were on our way home after a lovely morning with the boys, walking through Alice Holt forest. I'd planned to make my healthy cottage pie but on the way home DH put out there that he really fancied a warming steak & kidney pie. A detour to Waitrose and a few ingredients later I was in the kitchen, ale in hand, cooking away.

    Now a word on our choice of ale.  Admittedly we are not ale drinkers, although I reckon trying this has persuaded me otherwise, so in choosing an ale we selected Badgers Poachers Choice, a Hall & Woodhouse ale and H&W being one of our customers (Sendster) we thought this fitting. We were not disappointed by our choice as it was rich in flavour and certainly not just for making a good pie!

    You'll notice there is no ProPoint calculation at the end of this recipe simply because I couldn't bring myself to work it out!  I should say that the stew I made for the pie was truly delicious, and consumed on it's own with some mash potato or even some crusty bread would actually not be too bad ProPoints wise, but the All Butter Puff Pastry topping just kills your diet.  But you know what? Life is too short to hold back EVERY DAY, so occassionally a bit of puff pastry is really not going to hurt. We are having the leftovers for dinner tonight but I have already binned the pastry and it will be served with brown rice as I am soooo back on WeightWatchers plan today!

    You'll need for 4:
    • 1 small to medium sized onion, finely diced
    • 6 rashers of pancetta or streaky bacon
    • 500g topside of beef, cut into small ish chunks
    • 200g lambs kidneys, cut into button mushroom size
    • 2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
    • 200g button mushrooms
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 tsp dried thyme, or a few fresh sprigs if you have
    • 3 heaped tbsp plain flour
    • Seasoning
    • 1 beef stock pot
    • Few dashes Worcester sauce
    • 2 heaped tsp redcurrant jelly
    • 2 tbsp tomato puree
    • Half a bottle (250ml) of Badger Poachers Choice Ale
    • 1 x 37g pack All butter puff pastry
    • 1 medium egg, beaten
    • Olive oil

    What to do:

    In a heavy bottomed casserole dish, sweat the onions slowly with 1 – 2 tsp olive oil and a knob of butter.  Add the chopped pancetta and sweat for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

    Prepare the kidneys by slicing off the ends and working towards the centre bit, cutting away into large bite sized pieces.

    Cut the beef into chunks.  In a food bag, place the flour and a good pinch of salt and ground black or white pepper.  Put the beef into the bag and toss carefully ensuring the beef chunks are all coated.  Then add the beef to the onions & pancetta and stir continuously to ensure the beef does not stick.  Once browned, slowly add the ale and stir continuously scraping the bottom on the pan to a get a smooth gravy like consistency.  Add the carrots followed by the beef stock pot and 750ml of boiling water to the pan.  Add the tomato puree, Worcester sauce, thyme and seasoning.  Bring to the boil and then reduced to a simmer allowing to cook for 1 and half hours.  Half hour before the end add the mushrooms.  If it looks a little dry add some more water.

    10 minutes before the end of cooking, heat a frying pan and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Add the kidneys and fry for a couple of minutes on each side on a high heat.  Remove from the frying pan whilst they are still pink inside.  Add the kidneys to the pan.

    You can prepare the stew to this point 24-48 hours in advance.  In fact this is a perfect entertaining dish as all this hard work is better done in advance and tastes better the next day!  Bring to room temperature for the next stage or if you have just cooked the stew, allow to cool until it is at room temperature.

    In a pie dish or roasting dish, butter the sides and bottom lightly. Place the stew into the dish. 

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to approx 4mm thick or to slightly large then your pie dish.  Using a sharp knife, cut slices off and press along the rim of the dish all the way round.  Brush with a beaten egg.  Then use the remaining pastry to press down on top of the dish.  Using your fingers press the lid part to the pastry around the rim.  Seal using a fork to press together. Brush all over with the beaten egg and finish by using a sharp knife to make a couple of slits in the pastry lid to allow steam to escape.

    Bake in a moderate oven (fan 180-190c) for about 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

    Serve with your choice of green veg - we had green beans and spinach and some new potatoes.

    True comfort food and home-cooking at it's best!

    Thursday, 27 October 2011

    Chicken & Bean Enchiladas

    I've always got a pack of tortilla wraps in my breadbin, usually the WeightWatchers brand as they are just 3 ProPoints and make a quick and easy lunch.  We fill them with prawns and salad, or a tuna nicoise type salad or a Greek type salad using light feta cheese. With the weather changing and Winter on it's way, the 'salad wrap lunch' is kind of being abandoned in favour of warming soups. Because of this, I've been left with an abundance of tortilla wraps and as I can't stand wasting anything, I thought a supper of enchiladas was just the job!

    This is an ideal make ahead recipe suitable for those days when you need something prepared earlier in the day.  The sauce can easily be frozen so double up and pull it out of the freezer at your convenience. It also goes great with rice!

    You'll need for 2:
    • 225g chicken breast, cut into slices
    • Half a can of blackeye beans, drained
    • 3 tbsp frozen sweetcorn
    • 1 red pepper, sliced into small-ish pieces
    • 1/2 red onion, diced
    • 1 fat garlic clove, crushed or grated
    • 1/2 jar passata
    • 1 tbsp tomato puree
    • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
    • 1 tsp Cumin
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Couple of dashes of Worcester sauce
    • 4 reduced fat (such as WeightWatchers) tortilla wraps
    • 2 tbsp grated reduced fat cheddar

    What to do:

    Spray some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan or stir fry pan.  On a high heat, stir fry the chicken pieces until browned all over and remove from the pan to one side.

    In the same pan, fry the onion, garlic and pepper until soft.  Put the chicken back into the pan and add the Cajun seasoning and the cumin.  Stir thoroughly and then add the passata, tomato puree, salt & pepper to taste, and finally the Worcester sauce.  Add approx 120ml of water and the sweetcorn and allow to simmer for 10 -15 minutes. If you want to freeze the sauce, allow to cool and then freeze at this point.

    Spread a little of the sauce on the bottom of an oven roasting dish.  Divide the mixture into each of the wraps and fold over and place into the dish.  Save a little of the mixture (try to just get the sauce without the chicken pieces) and spread over the top of the wraps.  Finish with a sprinkling of grated cheese. The dish can also be prepared to this stage in advance and then placed in the oven later when you are ready.

    Bake in a moderate hot oven (180 fan) for 15-20 minutes until piping hot and golden on top.

    WeightWatchers Points Per Serving: 12 

    Thursday, 20 October 2011

    Italian Sausage & Bean Casserole

    DH's family are from Sicily.  We spend ALOT of time eating or thinking about Italian food.  Although I give it a good shot apparently no-one comes close to his Nonna's pasta dishes.   Probably because I'm always looking for ways to reduce the fat or cut the calories to make it less sinful. 

    In Sicily we eat Italian sausage with crusty bread and salad dressed in olive oil & lemon juice.  The sausage is usually just pure pork, salt & pepper, sometimes flavoured with chilli or fennel.  But that is pretty much it.  You can pick up good Italian sausages in your local Italian deli and they are really worth trying as the flavour is unique.  Sadly pork sausages are just something I cannot indulge in mid-week when trying to stick to my WeightWatchers plan.

    Until now I have yet to find a decent Italian sausage in a supermarket.  I am absolutely delighted to have recently found a gem at my local Waitrose deli counter.  It is not only deliciously tasty with it's fennel flavouring, but is made with 43% veal so is much lower in fat!  Hurrah!  A sausage I can finally enjoy (ahem).  Unfortunately I have yet to lay my hands on any nutritional info, so I have approximated the ProPoint values based on the % of pork and veal that make up the sausage. 

    Onto the recipe.  This is one that I have taken from the fabulous BBC Good Food Mag. I usually can't resit meddling with a recipe, but I've got to say I pretty much followed this one.  After reading the reviews, I upped the sausage content to 300g (x3 of the Waitrose Italian sausage) and increased the stock (I used chicken stock) to 500ml.  Instead of serving with crusty bread or mash potato, I added 60g of orzo pasta to cook through with the meatballs to really fill out the meal, negating the need, or the temptation to demolish a whole ciabatta as a side. Ok so maybe I did meddle more than I thought!

    You can get the original BBC Good Food recipe by clicking here but my version is also detailed below.

    You'll need for 2:
    • Half a large red onion, finely diced
    • 1 garlic clove, crushed
    • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
    • Pinch of chilli flakes
    • Salt & Pepper
    • 3 Waitrose Italian sausages (300g)
    • 1 tin of borlotti beans, drained
    • 1 tin of cherry tomatoes in juice
    • 500ml chicken or veg stock
    • 100g green beans, halved
    • 60g orzo pasta
    • Parmesan to serve

    What to do:

    Heat a non-stick frying pan or stir frying pan.  Remove the casing from the sausages and break them up into small meatballs.  I got 6 out of each sausage.  Spray with oil and fry on a high heat to brown all over.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

    Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and chilli to the pan.  Turn the heat down to slowly cook the onions.  Add some salt to help bring out some of the moisture.  When soft add the tinned cherry tomatoes and stock.  Allow to bubble away for a few minutes.

    Add the borlotti beans and the green beans.  I prepared everything in advance to this stage and when the meatballs were cool I put them in the fridge until needed.  If you do this just cover up the sauce and bring it back up to a boil when required.

    Next add the orzo and a little more stock if need be, but 500ml should be about right.  Add the meatballs and reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 10 - 15 minutes on a low heat so you do not reduce the sauce down to nothing.  When the orzo is cooked through, taste and season accordingly, then serve up with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 13 including parmesan, 12 without parmesan

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011

    Cherry Tomatoes & King Prawn Pasta

    I have a problem with cooked tomato skin.  I just cannot bear it.  It ruins the eating experience of a tomato, getting stuck  to one side of your mouth spoiling the delicious flesh part.  Raw tomatoes are less of an issue for me, but cooked ones simply must have their skins removed.  This poses a problem when cooking with cherry tomatoes as de-skinning is time consuming. 

    My husband has, on occasion, blanched, cooled and de-skinned, by hand, 1kg of the wonderful datterini tomato (a delicious grape like tomato).  This has taken him several hours.  How nice that he may have the time to do this on a Saturday afternoon with a glass of wine in hand, but for me, a busy Stay At Home Mum (sorta) I need to find a much quicker way of losing the little blighters as spitting them out onto my plate is hardly good table etiquette.

    This dish has been in my repertoire for a couple of years.  The tomato sauce can be used in a variety of ways but I love combining it with some king prawns, freshly griddled and tossed in at the end.  Try it with diced roasted aubergine or black olives and capers. Oh and don't forget; Italians NEVER serve parmesan cheese with any kind of fish/seafood pasta, but hey if you like it on your prawns, who am I to stop you?!

    You'll need for 2:
    • 350g cherry tomatoes, or a couple of small punnets
    • 1-2 garlic cloves, bashed
    • 1/2 onion, finely diced
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • Good pinch of chilli flakes or a fresh chili finely chopped
    • 150 - 175g raw king prawns
    • Glug of white wine
    • Handful of fresh parsley
    • 200g linguine or spaghetti

    What to do:

    Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion.  Add the garlic and turn the heat right down so you slowly cook the onions and garlics until soft without browning them.  This will take a few minutes.

    Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and add these to the pan with some seasoning.  Turn the heat up to get some heat back in the pan and when the tomatoes start sizzling turn it back down.  Add a pinch of chilli flakes or the fresh chilli and allow to cook gently for 10 minutes or so.  Now for the tomato skin removal.  Turn the heat off and using 2 teaspoons, gently tease the skin away from the flesh.  You can of course completely avoid this step but I personally feel you get a much purer taste if you spend a few minutes doing this.  If the skins don't come away easily then let them cook for a little longer and try again.  I often prepare the sauce up to this stage in advance

    Cook your pasta according to the packet instructions in salted water.  Once drained, reserve some of the cooking liquor.

    Once all the skins are removed, turn the heat up a little and add the wine allowing it to bubble away for a couple of minutes.  Add the drained pasta and some of the cooking liquor to the tomato mix and toss thoroughly. Stir through the parsley

    Meanwhile heat a griddle or frying pan.  Spray the prawns with olive oil and season.  Cook in the pan turning once for a couple of minutes on each side until the prawns are completely pink.

    Toss the prawns through the pasta and serve up!

    WeightWatchers PropPoints Per Serving: 12

    Monday, 17 October 2011

    Thai Green Curry with Chicken or Prawns

    Oooh I love a good Thai! It's my preference over a Chinese meal any day. Thai food has a wonderful fragrant aroma and the combination of sweet, sour, hot and salty is just sublime.  It's also a great one to prepare in advance and can be re-heated very successfully.

    Usually a Thai green curry would be a complete no no on a diet.  A can of coconut milk alone has 18, yes 18 ProPoints!!  That's 3 and a half glasses of wine!!  I know what I would rather have!  My recipe uses the reduced fat coconut milk and just half a can for 2 people.  This makes it only a couple of ProPoints per person but the challenge is to get the full flavour whilst keeping it healthy.  Admittedly you may feel you need more chicken or prawns but if you pack out the veg each mouthful will give you a different taste and texture sensation

    You'll need for 2:
    • 200g chicken breast cut into chunks or 200g raw king prawns
    • 1 tsp groundnut oil or any flavourless oil (not olive oil)
    • 2 heaped tsp of Thai green curry paste
    • Juice from 1 lime
    • 1 tbsp fish sauce
    • A few kaffir limes, crushed
    • 1 tsp grated ginger
    • 1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
    • Handful fresh coriander, chopped
    • A few spring onions, sliced
    • Approx 90g fine green beans
    • Approx 90g of mangetout or sugarsnap peas
    • Half a 400g tin of reduced fat coconut milk
    • 150g dried brown basmati rice

    What to do:
    It's pretty straight forward; heat the oil in a wok or a non-stick frying pan.  Seal the chicken pieces until golden, turning to sear on all sides.  Grate in the ginger and garlic.  Add the vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes.  Add the curry paste, fish sauce, lime juice and stir thoroughly.  Add the coconut milk and turn heat down to a simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the veggies still have a slight crunch to them.   If you find the sauce is reducing too much, cover the pan so the moisture stays in the pan.  It shouldn't take long to cook, perhaps 10-15 minutes.  Quicker than a takeaway

    Stir in the freshly chopped coriander and spring onions, just before serving with the cooked basmati rice.

    WeightWatchers ProPoints Per Serving: 13