Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Risotto

This was a momentous occasion – my very first risotto!

I made my Super Duper Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Lasagna at the weekend and having bought a huge beast of a butternut squash, I was left with roughly half of it and no real desire to eat any more after overdosing on the lasagna ever so slightly. After Googling recipes that combined both leftover butternut squash and leftover bacon, the recipe that kept popping out at me was RISOTTO! I absolutely love risotto and often order it in restaurants. However, I’d never entertained the notion of cooking it myself as I knew it was a notoriously hard dish to conqour and despite seeing it cooked many times on TV, quite frankly I was scared. But, we had all the ingredients and I had an entire evening to kill so risotto it was!

I started by roasting the cubed butternut squash with a drizzle of honey while I began the risotto itself. I watched a combination of Youtube videos and read multiple recipes online so my final product was a kind of mish-mash of everything I’d seen. Luckily, it worked!

As I mentioned in a previous post I am On A Diet so made valiant attempts throughout the recipe to make it slightly lower-calorie and healthier. I failed immediately on the first hurdle when I realised you pretty much have to cook the onions in butter so you can then coat the rice in the oniony, buttery mixture to start the cooking process. So what started as a few feeble sprays of “1 Cal Spray!” turned into admitting defeat with two generous tablespoons of butter. Clover Light mind, but still butter.

I stirred the rice around in the pan with my softened onions and butter until the rice started to go translucent on the edges. It was go time! I assembled my other ingredients and mentally prepared myself for a lottttt of stirring. I used chicken stock which gave it a lovely rich flavour which worked really well with the bacon and the sweetness of the squash. I made approximately a pint of stock – I wasn’t using the correct amount of rice as I didn’t quite have the amounts the recipes called for so I adjusted the stock amount accordingly. I also skipped the wine step as I didn’t have any wine to hand (for once in my life…) and I don’t think it affected the flavour at all.

The next thirty minutes or so involved adding the stock to the pan in small amounts and stirring until it was absorbed, which I found incredibly theraputic! Here is the rice right at the beginning of the stirring stage, coated in butter and the softened onions.

In between stirring I grilled 4 slices of back bacon (fat removed! I know, so boring…) and kept an eye on my roasting squash. Once the cubes were soft and golden brown with delicious sticky honeyed edges, I removed them. I then had a dilemma as I wasn’t sure if I was going to puree the squash and add it to the rice or just add the cubes in whole. In the end, laziness won out and I minimised the YouTube window showing Gordon Ramsey’s butternut squash risotto with pureed squash. Sorry Gord!

I have to say this was a fabulous decision. The cubes softened slightly in the rice and broke up unevenly, leaving a mixture of almost indiscernible puree which acted as a thickener to the rice alongside larger, textured chunks. Lovely!

After a while I noticed the rice grains had really swelled in size and nearly doubled the amount in the pan which is really quite exciting to see. The butternut squash had broken up into the rice and turned it a lovely peachy, Autumnal colour.

I added the crispy chunks of grilled bacon into the pan and gave it a final glug of stock. (It felt a bit like I was feeding a ravenous animal every time the stock got absorbed which was pretty cool.)

I’m not sure how you know enough is enough when it comes to the stock adding, especially when you aren’t following a specific recipe and therefore have no idea how much stock you should have added in the first place. But, the final glug felt like the right time to stop, so I did!

I served my pretty greedy portion of risotto very simply with a garnish of excess bacon and butternut to break up the vast expanse of rice. I think it looked beautiful!

And more importantly, it tasted beautiful. I was initially worried that the combination of salty bacon and salty chicken stock would combine to create a crazy sodium-coma-inducing dish but I think the robust flavour of the butternut squash stood up to the salt and told it to pipe down. I was very very pleased with my first risotto and like everyone else who’s probably ever made one, am wondering why it’s taken me so long! This really is a simple dish and it’s good to know that you can mix and match recipes to create something more to your taste without sacrificing the final outcome.

Next on the risotto bucket list – Four Cheese (how can that not be incredible!?) and something involving chicken. I am no longer afraid of risotto!


Fish in a tomato sauce with olives (+ a veggie version!)

Since the end of March (following 5 days of what can only be described as obscene gluttony at Disneyland Paris) I have been on a diet. But not a crazy, impossible-to-follow, ‘Lose 25 lbs in 2 Days!’ diet, an actual healthy eating and exercise plan that is working for me. I know! It’s a miracle. I’ve done every diet under the sun in my 24 years on this earth, the worst probably being the ill-fated Dukan diet which I followed last summer, consisting of a week of only eating meat, yogurt and 2 spoonfuls of Oat Bran a day to keep me regular. I lost weight but I was unhappy, grumpy and most importantly, famished! Crazy times.

My new savour is a little app called My Fitness Pal. Basically you download it to your phone (you can also access it on computers and it updates your account simultaneously on both, very clever) and enter your height, weight, how much you’d like to lose etc etc and it gives you a plan with a certain number of calories to eat per day. You log your food every day and also whatever exercise you do. I am constantly amazed by the almost incomprehensible database of food that MFP holds. You can type in almost any brand of almost any food and someone, somewhere will have logged the calories. Kind souls. You can also create recipes by typing in all the ingredients and how many people it serves and MFP will calculate the calories per serving size. What I love about MFP is the incentive it gives you to exercise! If I’ve eaten most of my daily calorie amount but really want a KitKat after dinner, I know I can go for a little walk, log it on the app and I will be rewarded with an ‘extra’ 100 or so calories to enjoy a treat. Saying that, most days I am coming in under my calories due to increased exercise and making better food choices and I often don’t ‘eat back’ my exercise calories. This is a hotly debated subject on the MFP forums and makes for interesting reading. I find I am losing weight without eating my exercise calories so I’ll probably stay doing that.

I’ve lost 11 pounds since the end of March so I’m really pleased and definately going to continue using the app. I’m not saying it’ll work for everyone but I’ve recommended it to quite a few friends and family and they all seem to love it! It really works for me as I have always found keeping a food diary to be really effective and with MFP, instead of jotting it all down every night in a notepad as I did when I was younger I can update my diary wherever I am on my iPhone.

*I realise I sound like I work for MFP and may be getting paid for this post but I legit don’t, just sharin’ the love!

So there will probably be quite a few healthier, low calorie blog posts coming up from food I’ve been experimenting with to stay within my daily limit. I love that nothing is ‘forbidden’ too, I can eat whatever I want as long as it fits or I do extra exercise to make it fit! I love food and I can’t imagine holding back when it comes to restaurant meals or special occasions and that is why MFP is probably working so well for me. Basically that is my way of saying there’ll still be the odd caloric behemoth on here as sometimes only a deep fried Mars bar will do the job!

*never actually had a deep fried Mars bar but that is the first example that popped into my head. Worryingly.

So, one such low calorie meal was dreampt up by me the other week when I fancied something for dinner that incorporated fish, olives, tomato sauce and a cheesy breadcrumb crust. I could not for the life of me find a recipe that ticked all these boxes so I decided to just wing it. The result was delightful! I also made a veggie version for my darling boyfriend which also turned out surprisingly well.

It was a super easy dish and came together in about 15 minutes, perfect for busy weeknights when all you really want to do is get a plate of food on your lap as quickly as possible so you can watch at least 3 episodes of Dexter before bed. Or is that just us?

I started with my meaty and veggie cooking stations. Does anyone else who cooks for a vegetarian do this? I have one meaty dish, one veggie dish, one meaty cooking utensil, one veggie cooking utensil etc etc all the way down to teaspoons for tasting. Can’t be having any cross-contamination! The basis of the veggie dish was the beautifully anemic fake chicken fillets, courtesy of everyones favourite vegetarian food supplier, Quorn. We both actually really enjoy these, once they have some flavour added to them. They don’t look so hot straight out the oven though let me tell you…

The basis for my one was originally going to be cod fillets but I panicked at the price in Sainsburys and instead opted for two of the finest pollock fillets, about £1.80 which I thought was astonishingly reasonable. I pan fried the fillets with lots of salt and pepper and they looked wonderful, if slightly rugged (I was paranoid they’d stick to the pan with my scant amounts of diet-sabotaging olive oil.)

I then heated up a mixture of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, onions, garlic, oregano and sliced black olives until it was simmering nicely. I divided the mixture and ladled half on the Quorn fillets and half on the pollock fillets which were laying pretty in two ceramic dishes.

Finally I covered each version with a mixture of breadcrumbed WeightWatchers bread (only 50 calories a slice!) and finely grated cheddar cheese. I baked each dish for about half an hour until the breadcrumbs were browned and the sauce was hot throughout. I wasn’t too fussed on cooking times as obviously the Quorn and pollock was cooked beforehand so it was mainly a case of heating it all through.

We served the baked dishes with cubed potatoes cooked in a tiny bit of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper and oregano which turned out amazingly. Each dish made two generous servings – 2 Quorn fillets for Ben and 1 quite large pollock fillet for me.

These potatoes. Oh my lord.

The verdict? Delicious! The crunchy, browned breadcrumbs with the salty olives and rich tomato sauce worked together perfectly. It was really filling and I was pleased I’d chosen pollock once I found out they were 81 calories per fillet! That, my friends, is a calorie bargain. According to my calculations, one serving of the meaty (fishy?) version (minus the potatoes) was 280 calories. Add in the potatoes and you have a delicious, filling meal for around 450 calories. Obviously you could do without the cheese which would knock off about 100 calories but then it really would just be fish, tomatoes and olives and I think we all deserve slightly more than that. As long as you only use 30 grams of cheddar (and don’t eat another 30 grams while you’re cooking) the dish will remain low calorie.

We heated up the other halves in the oven the next day and we found them to be even nicer as the flavours had all mingled together in quite a pleasing way. Yum!

Floods Restaurant – Weymouth

Me and Ben recently spent a few stunning days by the sea in the beautiful coastal town of Weymouth. We stayed in an adorable caravan but spent most of the time exploring Weymouth and sampling a plethora of local treats and delicacies. The rain was shockingly bad but we didn’t let it stop us; luckily, when the rain came down, we were never far from a pub!

We ate in a lot of lovely places over the long weekend but for me, the standout meal was our dinner at Floods Restaurant. This is the number 1 restaurant in Weymouth according to Tripadvisor, high praise indeed! We tried to eat there on our first night but were told they were fully booked all that night and the next! Panic! I asked if we could possibly get a table for Sunday and we were able to snag an 8pm reservation. Success. I was so looking forward to it. I absolutely love seafood and seldom get the chance to sample anything near as fresh as I anticipated Floods would serve.

We arrived for our 8pm reservation and were shown to a lovely table for 2. The restaurant was very small with dim lighting and hushed murmurs from our fellow diners. We found it cosy and romantic, perfect for couples. There was a blackboard on the wall crammed with different options all based on that day’s fresh catches which we thought was a lovely touch. Although it did make it harder for me to pick what I wanted as some of the specials sounded amazing too!

I was delighted to see scallops offered on both the starter and main menus and quickly made the decision to indulge in my favourite food twice in one meal. Ben was also happy to see that there were a couple of veggie options for his starter and he was looking forward to the vegetarian main course of mushroom stroganoff – I had phoned up beforehand to enquire about the evenings offering as the online menu doesn’t specify.

For my starter, I chose the pan fried scallops, cooked in butter, garlic and white wine. The dream!

After I had removed the shell (love that presentation!) I was left with this.

The scallops were huge, tender and melt-in-the-mouth. I was wary of the coral having only ever had supermarket bought, coral-free scallops, but they were a delicious addition. The garlic butter was amazing and I made sure to soak up all the remaining juice with the fresh bread rolls we were served. I was in absolute heaven with this dish! I was gutted when I’d finished but I knew I had even more to come in my main dish!

Ben chose ale battered brie as his starter and was thrilled with the generous portion he recieved.

The brie was a creamy liquid inside the batter, oozing out teasingly when disturbed with his knife. It was served with a spicy homemade chutney, spicy and tangy, pairing perfectly with the creamy cheese.

For my main course I chose the monkfish wrapped in parma ham which came with even more scallops, balsamic glaze and a creamy, fragrant sauce.

This was an amazing dish. The parma ham infused the delicate monkfish with a lovely smokiness and the fish itself was cooked perfectly, flaking off underneath the ham with the gentlest nudge of my fork.

The scallops were once again served with the coral and were as delicious as the ones in my starter and the balsamic glaze was sweet, sticky and thick, just the way a glaze should be! We were served assorted spring vegetables and potatoes with our main courses and I particularly enjoyed the tiny roasted new spuds dipped in the glaze. This was a wonderful dish and has really made me want to start ordering fish and seafood more often when at restaurants. Normally I’m a steak girl but I need to remember how enjoyable and light fish can be.

When Ben was served his main course he was initially a bit put off by the presentation. I protested – how nice can mushroom stroganoff ever really look!? And we agreed they’d made a good effort with the shaped rice and sprinkle of paprika. He said it was absolutely delicious though and ate every last bite so I’m glad to report the appearance didn’t put him off too much! The sauce was rich and creamy with a strong earthy flavour from the mushrooms. We weren’t sure if the vegetables and potatoes went too well with a dish like this but he took some anyway!

Predictably, we were too full for dessert but they had 1 or 2 options I would loved to have tried, namely the chocolate pudding! And Ben wanted to try the lemon tart. We’ll just have to go back to sample them!