New Year, New Blog Direction

Hello! *waves* Remember me? I used to blog here about…oh…10 years ago, about cooking and eating out and nice things like that?

No?

Well, that miiiiiight be because it’s been over a year since I actually last blogged…and before that it was 8 months since the previous blog! Oops!

In my defence though, I have been busy.

First of all, during our fabulous October 2013 holiday to Orlando, my darling boyfriend proposed to me in my favourite place in the whole world 🙂

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You know what that means…A WEDDING TO PLAN!!

Then, when we got home, we welcomed this little princess into our home…our long-desired Birman!

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She’s called Saffie (Sapphire!) and she is just the best.

THEN, in December, we found out our landlord was selling our beautiful flat! So we were house-hunting once again.

We found an even more beautiful flat and moved in last April 🙂

Phew! On top of this, Ben got an amazing new job, we visited his family in Cumbria, we went to Disneyland Paris and Paris for a week, attended 2 weddings aaaannddd went to the Isle of Wight for a mini break.

By the time all this had happened it was September and then wedding planning began in earnest (but that’s a post for another day!)

And now here I am, January 4th 2015 and wondering where the last year went!!

So, the new blog direction. I did consider starting a new blog to document my new adventures but then I figured this is ‘My Life In Food’ and at the moment, this is what my food life is!

My new adventure? Slimming World! I actually joined SW for the first time last January and lost 10lbs which I was chuffed with. However, job woes, the aforementioned house move and general stress meant I stopped going to group, started eating whatever I wanted, and put all the weight back on. And more. Oops!

I am going to my local group on Tuesday to start again. And this time, Ben is joining me! He wants to lose a few pounds himself so we’re going to do it together and I’m so looking forward to it! Although we aren’t getting married until next year, I would much rather get to the weight I want to be at this year, so I’m not stressing and crash dieting right before the wedding. And honestly, we’re just both so ready to lose weight, get fit, and feel generally happier about ourselves. We’re considering joining our local swimming pool and going a few times a week which I think could be fun, and I imagine we’ll be back to the nightly walks we used to do.

I’m going to document my food on here; partly to keep track of what I’m eating for myself, and partly to share recipes. One thing that struck me when I used to go to group was the amount of ladies who would describe their meals and how they were struggling to keep things exciting. I love cooking (obviously, as I have a food blog!) and I HAVE to make my food interesting and exciting otherwise I’ll just give up! I also brought dishes to the group tasting nights a couple of times and the other members couldn’t believe they were SW friendly! So I’m going to share recipes and food ideas that I’m using, to hopefully inspire my fellow slimmers 🙂

I’m going to share some photos of things I cooked last year, to remind me of all the amazing food you can eat on SW!

Chicken and bacon carbonara

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SW breakfast!

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Moroccan spice blend marinated Quorn chicken, giant couscous, and roasted veggies.

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SW roast dinner – a classic!

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Roasted vegetable and tomato risotto – HEXA of cheese on top 🙂

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Quern peppered steak with Quark pepper sauce, roasted potatoes, tomatoes and asparagus.

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Gammon, eggs, chips and beans. So good!

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I lost 10lbs eating all this! It didn’t even feel like a diet! I need to say motivated and stick with this, wish me luck!

Piccola Roma – Bishops Waltham (Take 2!)

Last month, we returned to the fantastic Piccola Roma restaurant for our anniversary (I like to stretch our anniversary celebrations out to at least three meals!!) as I was desperate to have their steak again. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Plus, it’s very convenient for us as we can walk down to the village, have a few drinks at the pub (the new and improved Crown Inn, stunning) and then stroll over for dinner. Perfect evening!

The evening of our (8 year!!) anniversary was particularly nice and we sat outside in the Crown beer garden enjoying some ice cold beverages before our 8pm reservation. I’d emailed the restaurant in advance to make sure we’d get in, as I know they get pretty busy on Saturday nights.

Anniversary drinks!

Just before 8pm we reluctantly left the sunny beer garden and headed over to the restaurant where we were welcomed warmly and shown inside. The restaurant was already quite busy and the waiter said we could choose from two tables – I chose a nice 4 seater in the corner which was very spacious indeed.

The owner of the restaurant then came over to greet us and said that tonight, we were VIP’s! How exciting! We weren’t quite sure what this meant but she went on to say she had seen my blog post about the restaurant earlier this year and very much appreciated it! It turns out she had posted it on the restaurants Facey-B wall (which I had missed) and was just really grateful that I’d given them such a fab write-up. This was my first experience of being ‘recognised’ from PDK and I have to say it was pretty cool! I was just so pleased she liked the review and that I’d helped the restaurant out a bit – they unfortunately have some bad reviews on TripAdvisor which we can’t understand at all, you do have to take TA reviews with a very generous pinch of salt though 😉 We had really enjoyed our experience at Piccola Roma so my glowing review was just a reflection of that…confirmed by the fact we were now back! We chatted for a while with the owner who complimented me on my writing style and content which was really lovely. A lady at the table next to us then overheard us talking, leaned over with a pad and pencil and asked me to write down the URL!

After all this excitement we were more than ready for some food. We were bought complimentary bread and olive oil/balsamic which is one of my favourite things to eat EVER. Even though I knew we had a pretty full-on meal ahead of us I was unable to refrain from eating all of mine and a fair bit of Ben’s bread also.

Obviously, we ordered starters. This was our anniversary meal! (not that we don’t order starters every time we go out. ahem.)

I was pleasantly surprised to see garlic bread with cheese as a starter, so promptly ordered that. I was even more pleasantly surprised when it was placed in front of me! What a beast!

Pane all’Aglio con Mozzarella (V) our home made pizza base topped with garlic, mozzarella, oregano & extra virgin olive oil

£  3.95

Look at the size on that! An entire garlic pizza bread, all for me! (Just forcibly reminded of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, “A lovely cheese pizza, just for me.” hahahha)

I was taking close-up photos of it like an absolute mad woman, trying to capture the glistening pools of garlic butter while they were still melty and delicious.

I very kindly let Ben have a couple of slices of this although I did feel, if forced, I’d have been able to finish it. I was just very aware this was only my starter!

Ben chose the Caprese salad which, just like the salad he chose last time, came out with beautiful presentation.

Insalata Caprese (V) Sliced tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella cheese and fresh basil drizzled with extra virgin olive oil £ 5.50

Had we known how big my starter would be, he may not have ordered this and I would have shared the garlic bread (grudgingly). But, he really loved it and ate every single last bite! We both love the flavours of caprese salad and the tomatoes in this offering were wonderfully fresh and juicy – something that can really make or break the dish.

After a short break, we were ready for our main courses. I was very boring and ordered exactly what I got last time BUT in my defence that is the number one reason I wanted to come back so I couldn’t entertain the notion of ordering anything different. Ben was a little more adventurous and plumped for a new dish that caught his eye on the menu.

Here is my beautiful steak!

Bistecca alla Fiorentina 10oz rib eye steak pan fried in a creamy dolcelatte cheese sauce served with new potatoes or chips     £ 16.95

I chose chips, as chips, steak and blue cheese sauce are the holy trinity of food items in my humble opinion. Check this mother out!

   

Truely, a thing of beauty. I’ve spoken before of my love for steak and blue cheese sauce and Piccola Roma’s offering is right up there with the best.  The rib eye steak was thick and tender, cooked perfectly medium rare as requested. I don’t think I even need to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and pretty much licked every last drop of sauce off the place. Classy!

On our last visit, Benji got pesto pasta with a tomato and onion salad on the side. This time, he was in the mood for something a little different. We probably had only had pizza 2 or 3 times that week* so obviously he needed to get a fix! I struggle not to order pizza myself when it’s on a menu, steak is probably the only thing that can stop me. We like pizza, okay? A lot.

*I’m not joking.

He opted for mushroom pizza, one of his faves.

Funghi (V) Tomato, Mozzarella, Mushroom and herbs £8.50

I like the way his was approximately half the cost of mine. I clearly have expensive taste! Seriously though, that is a huge bonus of having a veggie boyfriend – he always brings the cost of the bill right down, bless him 😉 A cheap date!

There were no complaints from his side of the table and he made short work of the pizza. I didn’t try any, partly as I generally disagree with mushrooms and partly because I was in a full-on steak induced coma that wasn’t showing any signs of letting up. He really enjoyed it, though!

After these mammoth, feast-worthy courses, dessert was something we unfortunately had to accept we’d be unable to contemplate. The friendly manager had an alternative though – lemoncello shots, just like last time! We’d totally forgotten about these so this was a lovely surprise.

These were actually perfect for me, I often want a tiny taste of something sweet after a meal but don’t want to buy a dessert I won’t be able to finish. A shot of this sweet, lemony liquid was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and prevent a late night visit to the biscuit cupboard on our return. Result!

We’d been in the restaurant a good two hours by the time we finished and had enjoyed every minute of it. We were made to feel so welcome by the manager and waiting staff and the chef even came out to say hello! I so enjoyed my first ‘blog recognition’ and I was really happy the restaurant appreciated my review and were thankful for what I’d written. I was also glad the owner didn’t offer to take any money off our meal or offer to pay or anything, as I don’t want my blog to become a series of restaurant reviews I’ve been paid to say nice things about! Everything I say on PDK is my own opinion and as cheesy as it sounds, I just do it for the love of food 🙂

Our final ‘thank you’ from the owner was a little bag of biscotti to take home with us which was really lovely of her. We enjoyed them over the course of the week, with our coffees and teas.

Thank you Piccola Roma for a wonderful evening and for making our Anniversary so special, it goes without saying that we’ll be back!

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!