Saturday 20 November 2010

What a WEEK!

This last week, in fact this last fortnight has been seriously busy and difficult at work so I've had no time to do much more than sleep, commute, work, commute, cook, eat, sleep.  Writing here, social media and human interactions have fallen utterly by the wayside.  Quality time with kitties and Mr TOTKat has dropped well below the levels I'm happy with, but we went out to a gig at Koko last night and spent the whole time lounging on a sofa in the lounge bar, listening to the music and watching the stage via a screen in the lounge.  That was sooooo nice.

The lack of time outside of work-related activity has been frustrating and left me with little energy or enthusiasm to cook and prepare meals.  So, aside from a planned meal out on Tuesday, I've ended up buying lunch twice this week and we had fish and chips on Thursday night so I'm feeling pretty down about my diet.  If I stand back and look at the grand scheme of things, I'm still in a much much better place than a large proportion of the population in terms of minimising consumption of hugely processed food that's prepared by someone else/in a factory (even my fish and chips is made from scratch in the shop, the two lunches were Pho soups from EAT, who are relatively "good"and the meal out was Pizza Express which although it was pizza, again the ingredients aren't too bad compared with, say, a frozen pizza from Iceland).

I have managed to cycle to work and back twice, been to the gym twice so far and run home the last 6.2km of the journey on one day; with a planned gym session tomorrow and perhaps a run later today.  That's pretty good on the exercise front, so at least that's fared well even if I've ended up with 4 out of 40 meals (and I'm calling all of the times I eat during the day a meal as they roughly work out as a sort-of even spread of kcals throughout the day) not made by me.  Cor!  Er.  Now I look at it, that's only 10% of the number of meals (though it's 24% of the total kcals of the week, which is not ideal but still not terrible when my aim is 80:20 clean:dirty).  I am usually so much better than that, which is I guess why I'm so horrified at what's happened this week.  I don't mean in a supercilious or holier-than-thou way, I have just always been pretty keen on making stuff from scratch even before I got healthier; it's how I was brought up - food just doesn't come in packets or cardboard boxes and jars of ready-made stuff.  I've never understood the likes of Findus Crispy Pancakes or the kind of stuff you get from Iceland - that's not food!

Am I being unfair on Iceland here?  I know I have a similar opinion on Aldi, Kwik Save, Lidl etc. but that's probably because I've never set foot in one of those and all I know of them is the adverts on television for packaged, factory made, hugely processed foods made with low-quality ingredients and flogged off for ridiculously low prices.  Is it an unfair judgement on these shops?  Am I just being a food snob?

Monday 15 November 2010

This stuff is -good-!

...the carrot cake I baked yesterday, smeared with Nutella.



That is all.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Alison's carrot cake and a venison chilli

Alison's carrot cake looked sooooo good I decided to make some today :o)

Carrot cake - serves 12 (370kcal per slice)


  • 150g Flour, Spelt, Organic Wholemeal, Wholesome, Waitrose
  • 170g Flour, Bread, Wholemeal, Very Strong, Canadian, Waitrose
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder, Average
  • 2 Tsps Cinnamon, Ground, Average
  • 1 Tsp Ginger, Ground, Average
  • 3 Eggs/177g Eggs, Medium, Free Range, Organic, Columbian Blacktail, Waitrose
  • 150g Sugar, Cane, Organic, Whitworths
  • 200ml Oil, Groundnut, Average
  • 225g Carrots, Raw
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract, Average
  • 75g Walnuts, Pieces, Organic, Crazy Jack
  • 150g Raisins, Organic, Waitrose

1. Set oven to 190* C (375* F). Grease a loaf tin and set to one side.
2. Combine flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.

3. Grate carrot, chop walnuts, measure out raisins. Put to one side.

4. Add eggs to sugar in a separate bowl and whisk until creamy.

5. Add oil and vanilla extract and whisk again.

6. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet. Fold in.

7. Add carrot, nuts, sultanas, and stir until evenly combined

8. Pour into loaf tin, bake for 40-45 minutes.

9. Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool through to cold before slicing.

Slice and serve with a hot mug of tea.

 And the venison chilli - based on a recipe from Abel and Cole and including some green peppers I grew myself :o)

Venison chocolate chilli - Serves 12 (approx 260kcals per serving - 16g carb, 28g protein, 9.5g fat, 4.5g fibre and 2.8 portions F&V)

  • 1kg Venison, Mince, Lean, Wild, Abel & Cole
  • 255g Peppers, Capsicum, Red, Raw, Chopped
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Raw, Finely Chopped
  • 1 large Onions, Raw, Chopped
  • 30g Chocolate, Dark, 70% Cocoa Solida, Extra Fine, Lindt, Chopped
  • 200g Peppers, Capsicum, Green, Raw, Chopped
  • 2 Tsps Oil, Olive, Extra Virgin
  • 2 Tbsps  Tomato Puree, Double Concentrate, Italian, Waitrose
  • 2 Tins  Tomatoes, Plum, Tinned, Organic, Waitrose
  • 2 Cans  Kidney Beans, Red, In Water (drained Weight), Essential, Waitrose
  • 1 Chilli Peppers, Chilli, Mixed, Raw, Finely Chopped
  • 1½ Tbsps  Cumin, Seeds, Whole, Average
  • 1 Tbsp  Cinnamon, Ground, Average
  • 1 Tbsp  Paprika, Average
  • 450g Mushrooms, Closed Cup, Roughly Chopped
1.  Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan

2. Grind up the cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle while they're still hot

3. Mix in the other ground spices

4. Soften the onions, garlic and chilli pepper in a non-stick pan with the olive oil

5. While that is going on, chop the peppers

6. When the onion mix is soft and looking a little translucent, add the meat

7. Mix well and allow to cook for a little while until at least 75% of the meat is brown, then add the spices

8. Add the peppers and tinned tomatoes, mashing up the larger chunks of tomato and allow to bubble for a few minutes

9. Add in the mushrooms and make sure they're coated with the juices.

10. Add in the chopped chocolate and drained kidney beans and stir to mix well.

11. Bring to a bubble and simmer for at least an hour on a low heat.

12.  Allow to cool and divide into portions.  Try to make sure you make this at least a day before you want it as it will benefit from chilling/freezing and re-heating.

Abel & Cole

Finally, I decided we'd try Abel and Cole for at least some of our grocery shopping.  Having settled on a small veg box for a weekly recurring delivery, I noticed there was venison mince on special offer - cheaper than the 5% fat Aberdeen Angus beef mince from Ocado so well worth a go.  Of course then there were also venison shanks which looked interesting and on special offer too.  I threw in some pork and leek sausages to give them a try as well and, well, the results have been pretty amazing.  Not only were the sausages some of the tastiest we've had, but the potatoes are so flavoursome!  We've had the potatoes twice now, once mashed with carrot and butternut squash with the sausage juices mixed in, and once with the venison shanks.  They're so... potatoey.

Venison shanks were a tiiiny bit too big for my Star Chef, so I had to take a hacksaw to the bones to shorten them a little.  It was quite hard work, but mostly my own fault due to not putting a damp tea-towel under the chopping board.  The bone ends went into the cooking broth so as not to waste the flavour and marrow.  But there was sooo much meat on those shanks - 265g meat per 400g shank (raw weight) - it was an amazingly hearty meal.

Venison Shanks in Madeira and Beetroot (serves 2 hungry people - 665 kcals per person including potatoes):-
  • 20g butter
  • 2x smallish onions - chopped
  • 3x beetroots - chopped into 2-3" pieces
  • 2x 400g venison shanks
  • 3x small potatoes (approx. 300-350g)
  • 400-500ml beef stock
  • 150ml Madeira
  • splash of olive oil
  • 2x bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
 Season the outside of the shanks with salt and pat firmly.  Heat the olive oil in a small pan and sear the outside of the shanks.  Melt the butter and soften the onions in that butter.  Stir the flour in with the softened onions to mix thoroughly, then sit the venison shanks on top of the onions in your slow cooker.  Add the stock and Madeira and stir through well.  Cook on low (stew/soup setting) for an hour before adding the beetroot and bay leaves.  Cook for a further 3-4 hours on low until ready to serve with the potatoes (don't peel them, it's so much nicer!) which have been cut into chunks and boiled for 10-12 minutes until yielding to a fork.

Serve the shanks, vegetables and cooking liquor into a wide, shallow bowl per person and top with the potatoes.

It was all really tasty, sticky on the lips and extremely filling!  And the venison will just fall away from the bone if you pull on it gently with a fork, you honestly will not need a knife at all.  And the beetroot gives the whole thing an amazing colour.

I'll be making a venison chilli later today for freezing down.  Can't wait!

Saturday 13 November 2010


The Weight Watchers Pro Points giveaway winners are tam and laura(*):-

Congratulations!  If you two ladies would like to drop me an email with the address you want me to send your prizes to, I'll get them packed off to you.

* - numbers were assigned in posting order: 1 LNR, 2 LNR's friend, 3 tam, 4 laura, 5 Linz M, 6 lovelydeane, 7 Rachel Edwards, 8 ~ Cee ~ (dog was not counted for obvious reasons)

Friday 12 November 2010

Giveaway reminder!

The last day to comment is today (by 23:00 GMT)!  Comment on the giveaway post with why being a healthy weight is important to you and you could win some Weight Watchers goodies or a variety pack of teas.  Winners will be picked tomorrow and announced over the weekend.  Good luck!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Tasty lunchies and chin-ups

I've been having lots of fun with the Star Chef and the wide-mouthed Thermos  since I got them and it's SO NICE to have home-made, tasty, hot, nutritious lunches!  Seriously!  The latest one was a spiced soup of parsnips and apple:-

Serves 4 for lunches (approx. 200kcals per portion, 27g carb, 4g protein, 8g fat, 3 portions F&V):-

  • 500-600g Parsnips
  • 1 Medium English Apple
  • 2 Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 15ml Groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 1 Tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1 Tsp Coriander Seeds
  • 1 Tsp Powdered Turmeric
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1.25 litres vegetable stock
  • 4 Tbps half fat crème fraîche
  • Toast the coriander and cumin seeds then grind them with a pestle and mortar.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the onions and soften for about 5 minutes before adding the garlic.
  • Cook for another 2 minutes, then add the ground spices, along with the turmeric and ginger, stir and cook gently for a few more minutes.
  • Chop the parsnips into 1 inch chunks.
  • Add the parsnips to the saucepan, stir well to coat with the spices and oils, then pour in the stock.
  • Season and simmer for half an hour with the lid off, then half an hour with the lid on.
  • When the soup has been simmering for an hour, remove it from the heat, and use a hand blender to make it smooth - leave a few chunks if you'd like to.
  • When you're ready to serve it, either now or after chilling/freezing into portions, peel the apple and grate it into the soup. Simmer the soup for 3-4 minutes/reheat in the microwave/slow cooker, decant into bowls and add a small dollop (15g) creme fraiche and grind over some black pepper to serve.
I did all of the cooking steps in my Star Chef, first on "fry" mode for the onions, garlic and spices, then on "soup/stew" mode once the stock was added.  Only one pan to dirty, that way.
    I'm trying to wind things back a bit this week after last week's huge exercise haul and the end of the week with a dodgy innards.  So, I've cycled into work once and gymmed once so far (gymming and cycling home tomorrow) but the gymmage has gone a bit hybrid now, mixing two routines for a bit of variety:-
    • Warm up - 500m on L7 on the rower (01:55/500m pace)
    • Squats on the Smith machine - 3x10, Olympic bar plus 35kg
    • Chin ups using the Smith machine for a bar - 3x4, bodyweight
    • Squat and overhead swing - 3x10, 20kg dumb-bell - superset A
    • Reverse crunch with leg raise - 3x15 slowly - superset A
    • Walking lunges with kettlebell - 3x20, 24kg kettlebell
    • Squat, one-arm clean and jerk - 3x20, 14kg dumb-bell
    And today my abs and pecs are saying "HI!" quite loudly :o)

    But seriously!  12 chin-ups!  OK, they were in 3 sets of 4 and apart from the first one in each set they weren't completely from hanging, but I'm still really really pleased with them!  I fully intend to get a photo of me doing some in my new "Strong is the new skinny" tank vest when it arrives :o)

    Monday 8 November 2010

    Strong Is The New Skinny

    Thanks to a Facebook post by Rachel Cosgrove, I've come across a great new movement... Strong Is The New Skinny, based on a particular post in a blog, which is taking shape and making strides.  While I think "Strong Is The New Beautiful" is a great message, "Strong Is The New Skinny" is more powerful right now.  Skinny has been king (or even queen) in the modelling, film and entertainment world for such a long time even for the front cover of some fitness magazines for women which just seems absurd.  Skinny is not something to aspire to in the same way that Morbidly Obese is not something to aspire to.  Neither is good, neither is healthy and neither is something that should be put on a pedestal as the ideal of beauty, yet Skinny is there right now and has been for many decades.  I want to see Strong up there where Skinny is.  And I want to be part of getting it there.

    Though I'm laid up in bed feeling crap, I'm still excited and thrilled by videos like this one:-

    OK, so some of the pull-ups and lifts are a little snatched and silly, but the overall effect... that's what I want.  Yes, women have a different hormonal make-up from men but it shouldn't get in the way of aspiring to strength, health and fitness.

    Now, to get me a couple of gym-tops with that slogan on it... annoyingly the "official" ones are sold from the US and suffer from the usual  problems with import duty and the messing about with the Royal Mail to get the delivery released etc.

    Sunday 7 November 2010

    It's all about the vitamins

    Feeling under the weather and a bit concerned my fruit and veg has been low the last week or so, I've gone for a recipe from Tone It Up Blog a Warm Flannel Hash, a nice variant on hash browns that involves sweet potatoes and beetroot.  Lots of B vitamins from the beetroot and complex carbs in the sweet potatoes and tons of fibre from both.  Topped with a chicken breast baked with honey and Dijon mustard.  Juicy and really very tasty as dinners go.  Although the hash didn't crisp up very well as it was too thick and not mushed enough in the pan or cooked hot enough it was still really nice.  So pretty and colourful too!

    Stomach in revolt

    I have no idea what's causing it, but I'm feeling pretty vile in the guts and have done for about 3 days now.  So this morning I'm having a nice bowl of fruity porridge with Total 2% stirred in.  Morrissons are doing a nice frozen mix of berries at the moment with cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries in it so that went in along with the raisins and a little squirt of agave nectar.  It's so pretty as well as comforting and tasty.  Hopefully it'll help soothe my poor belly.  And I should probably give the gym a miss today; I've been twice this week and cycled 120km, so I think that's probably enough (4,700kcals!)

    Saturday 6 November 2010

    Fluffy white rice

    Ohyes, I have cracked the rice doohickey setting on the Star Chef!  It was tricky to get the amount of water right for a small amount of rice but the third time was the charm.  For 2 people on a lower-carb diet, 100g rice and 280ml water is -perfect-.

    And I made a rose veal stroganoff with the rice:-
    • 2x rose veal escalopes
    • 100g half fat creme fraiche
    • 1tsp smoked paprika
    • 1x medium onion
    • 250g chestnut mushrooms
    • 10ml extra virgin olive oil
    • 15ml cognac
    • 1tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • salt to taste
    Slice the veal into strips.  Chop the onion roughly.  Slice the mushrooms.  Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and add the onions.  Cook until golden and soft, then add the veal strips and cook until the veal has turned colour on the outside.  Add the mushrooms and paprika and cook until the mushrooms are soft and juicy.  Add the cognac and creme fraiche, season with the pepper and salt and cook through until the alcohol has come off the cognac (lean over the pan and sniff, once you can do that without your eyes stinging/feeling sensitive, it's done).   Serve over fluffy, white rice.

    Rose veal is particularly good as the calves are free to roam and not shut up in crates.  Also veal tends to be leaner than the usual beef cuts you get.

    Friday 5 November 2010

    One of -those- weeks

    Don't forget the giveaway! Comment on that post before the end of 12th November to be in the running to win.

    I've been a bit quiet this week. This is mostly because it's been one of -those- weeks. Up at 6am every day, cycled in and out to work Monday and Tuesday, in on Wednesday for a full day offsite meeting on Wednesday followed by not cycling home, then cycling home Thursday and in and out on Friday. Gymmed on Monday, missed the Wednesday session due to being away, no replacement session on Thursday due to a lack of towels at the gym so took a towel on Friday to get a second session in - which was fabulous!(*) Meanwhile I've been in the office/work 8am to at least 6pm every day this week. Needless to say, I'm a bit tired and I've not had much chance to do anything except commute and work.

    So, food has suffered a little in the evenings. Though we've not succumbed to a takeaway so far, Thursday night's dinner was a couple of toasted bagels with poached eggs, chorizo, cream cheese and Marmite (not all on the same bagel!) because I'm a bit sick of cooking at the moment and I'd not got anything out in the morning as we'd planned to go out and changed our minds during the day.

    I did have some fun with the Star Chef again this week. This week's experiment was baked potatoes...

    6 hours on the "soup/stew" setting, having cut into them, stuffed the cuts with sliced garlic, rubbed the skins with olive oil and salt, and they were soft all the way through without being mushy. I do want to see if I can find a way to get the skins a bit drier though. Maybe a different setting? It'd help if I knew what temperatures the different settings related to as I'd like to try the "bake" setting but I'm not sure how hot that gets. Worth another go next week I think.  But again, it's the convenience of being able to set the timer and actually have baked potatoes that's just brilliant.  We've not had them in ages 'cause they just take too long to cook in the evening.

    * - not only did I do 3 unassisted chin-ups in a row, I did 5 in total with some rest in between.  Also, my trainer was doing his training session at the same time with some of the same exercises, so we ended up doing them pretty much together.  My 3 sets of 10 each side one-arm, squat clean and jerk with 12kg, 14kg, 14kg vs. his at 24kg, 26kg, 30kg... that one was -fun-!

    Monday 1 November 2010

    Good lunches are on the way

    The combination is finally here; the Star Chef along with a wide-mouthed Thermos and I'm sorted for hot lunches.  Finally!

    So, the idea is to set the Star Chef to cook or re-heat something overnight to put into the thermos in the morning so I can have hot food at work through the winter.  I've got lots of stuff in the freezer ready to go and loads of ideas for soups, stews and small-bite casseroles.  Salads?  Pah!  6.45 this morning saw the decanting of the soup I put on last night (2x tins of Marrowfat peas, including the water, blended with a hand blender and a pack of sliced ham chopped into it with a bit more water to top it off - makes 2x good lunches) into the Thermos.  It was a tiny bit messy and I think I'd be better off pouring than ladling next time.  Come lunch time (after 1pm), the soup was very much warm enough to be good.  Not piping hot or mouth burny, but plenty plenty warmth enough for a good lunch.  We're not allowed a microwave at work, so this is pretty much the only way I'm happy with that I can get a hot lunch where I know what's in it (places like "pod" are good at giving an ingredients list that's clean, but...), plus I object to the prices you end up paying in The City for prepared food.

    Hurrah for technology and simplicity both!

    Giveaway - Goody Bag from Weight Watchers

    Following the Weight Watchers Pro Points post, I have a goody bag from Weight Watchers that I'm going to give away:-

    • Weight Watchers magazine
    • Pro Points starter pack
    • Weight Watchers jam
    • Weight Watchers mini bottle of wine
    • Weight Watchers chocolate biscuits
    • Cookery book by Weight Watchers
    • Pro Points calculator
    • Weight Watchers USB stick
    All of these could be yours if you leave a comment on this post, by 12th November, telling me why being a healthy weight is important to you.

    I'll choose the winner with a random number generator where the number will be assigned to an entrant based on the order in which comments are received.  First prize is the WW goody pack and there are a selection of individual teas as second prize.