Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #15 – Labneh

Dee – I was delighted to hear that labneh had been chosen as June 2015’s featured ingredient.  Basically it’s yoghurt which has had the water strained from it to give it a similar consistency to cream cheese and a slightly sharper taste.
I’d been wanting to have a go at making it since I first saw the recipe in the book, but never got further than the planning stage.  I guess there must have been an element of fear in there somewhere, as I did have some concerns about the yoghurt just seeping through the muslin and not ‘setting’.
It was only a matter of time before I rolled up my sleeves and got started though, and I was encouraged by Beth and Sarene from the Tasting Jerusalem group, who had put up some pictures of labneh that they had made.

I’ve split this blog entry up into three parts;  the first covering the preparation of the labneh itself, as described on page 302 of the book, and then two different recipes featuring the prepared labneh as an ingredient.

Recipe 1:  Labneh
To make the labneh, a little salt needs to be added to the yoghurt, and the mixture then wrapped in muslin and suspended over a bowl to catch the whey.  I remember a while ago reading about families making it at home tying the muslin to kitchen taps and leaving the bowl in the sink to catch the whey.  It’s a very simple process but the mixture needs to be left for some time before it is ready.  It is recommended that yoghurt made from goats’ milk is used as part of the mixture to add flavour, but I opted instead for some Greek yoghurt which was already slightly thickened.  I secretly also thought that this would minimise the risk of it all going wrong.
After 24 hours the process was complete and I was pleased to see that the yoghurt had been strained and thickened.  My labneh was ready to use.  I couldn’t resist having a little taste, and was happy with the creamy consistency that had been achieved.  As I had played it safe and only used a relatively small amount of Greek yoghurt, there wasn’t enough whey left to use in future recipes, but next time (and there will be a next time) I make it I will start with a larger quantity of yoghurt.

Recipe 2:  Root Vegetable Slaw with Labneh
This recipe appears on page 49 and is another light and colourful looking dish that proved to be ideally matched to the run of warm and sunny weather that we are enjoying at the moment.  We had to make a couple of substitutions with the ingredient list; the first being an increased quantity of celeriac which we used in place of kohlrabi, which we weren’t able to find.  The recipe also called for the ingredients for the dressing to be simmered and left to cool but we decided to leave this bit out and keep them as they were to add a little more sharpness to the taste.
There was a lot of peeling, chopping and careful slicing involved with this recipe but there was no cooking involved so it wasn’t too onerous.
I’d made a batch of seeded flatbreads up earlier in the day as my vision for the finished salad was to spread the labneh on the bread and top it off with the salad.  This worked well and in its finished form made what was initially a light salad into a pretty substantial meal.
There was loads of salad left over, which will keep us going for lunches for the rest of the week.  I’m hoping that the dressing will pickle the sliced vegetables slightly.

Bonus Recipe:  Labneh Balls
We didn’t use all of the labneh with the bread and salad but there wasn’t enough left to top any more bread, so I decided to make what was left into labneh balls.
The inspiration for these came from a photo that Beth from the Tasting Jerusalem group shared showing them topped with sumac, za'atar and dukkah.  There is a recipe for them in the book 'Yoghurt Culture' by Cheryl Sternman Rule, but as I don't have a copy of the book I just made these from small balls of labneh topped with spices and arranged on a serving plate.  It was quite a messy process making them, but it was worth it as they tasted great with the spicy toppings.  In the picture above, sumac and za’atar were used as the toppings.
They would make nice canapes at a dinner party to be eaten as they are, or they could be spread onto small squares of bread or crackers.

I’m glad that my labneh worked out well and look forward to making up some more in the future.  There’s the goats’ yoghurt version to try for a start, and further reading has revealed that it can be dried and preserved in olive oil, which I am also keen to try.  In terms of the blog, there is at least one more recipe in the book which includes it, so it will be appearing again.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the omgyummy.com web site)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #14 – Tamarind

Spicy Beetroot, Leek & Walnut Salad
Dee – Tamarind was the featured ingredient from October 2013, and presented the greatest challenge to date for me when selecting the recipe to use it in.  It all stems from a cooking disaster that Jay and me had a few years ago when we used 4 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate in a recipe which called for 4 tablespoons of ‘tamarind’.  The results were…well, you can imagine I’m sure.  Anyway, from that moment on, we’ve both been extremely wary of any recipe in which it featured.  We’ve learned from our mistake though, and have brought the tamarind concentrate under control, so that it imparts its distinctive sour, earthy flavour without completely overpowering the dish that it’s featured in.  As yet though, we haven’t used tamarind in any other form.
On to the recipe in hand, and I chose this one firstly because Jay is a big lover of beetroot, and secondly because I was drawn to its colourful and photogenic qualities.  It is described as being influenced by the cuisine of Georgia, which we sampled and enjoyed as part of our world cuisines project (click here for details)
The tamarind formed the basis of the salad dressing, where it was accompanied by cider vinegar, chilli, garlic, walnuts and seasoning.  It worked very well with the other ingredients, and as mentioned previously made its presence felt without swamping the other ingredients.
The salad had a very earthy flavour, without the sharpness that I was expecting.  The pomegranate seeds, added at the end as a garnish, provided small bites of sweetness to add a bit of variety.  We used ready-cooked beetroots, so the salad was extremely simple to prepare, the most difficult part being the slicing of the cooked leeks into bite sized pieces without them breaking apart.
Despite the salad having chunky beetroot and leeks and a strongly flavoured dressing, it didn’t quite make for a complete meal in its own right.  On the other hand, it was too substantial to serve as an accompaniment to meat, fish or vegetables, so we went for what we considered the best way to enjoy it, as part of a meze/tapas type meal consisting of three different salads.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the omgyummy.com web site)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #13 – Pomegranate Molasses

Split Wheat and Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses
Dee – They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it certainly did in this case because I missed my weekly delve into the pages of the Jerusalem cook book last week due to Jay and me taking part in the BBC Good Food Seven Day Summer diet plan (click here for details).  All wasn’t totally lost though, as several of the recipes we cooked wouldn’t have been too out of place in this section of the blog;  Couscous, hummus, chopped salad and flatbreads were all included in the diet, and I used Palestinian Maftoul to great effect in a Spicy Vegetable Pilau.
It’s great to get back to this project though, and what a return it is:  The featured ingredient from September 2013, Pomegranate Molasses, is a wonderfully dark, rich and sensuous ingredient that envelops itself around every dish it appears in.  It is very sweet tasting, yet I have only ever seen it used in savoury dishes.  I think that adds to its mystique though, and I love using it in recipes.  I first encountered it when cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’ book, and both he and Sami Tamimi include it in their essential ingredients to have with them on a desert island.
The recipe I chose to showcase it in was the Split What and Swiss Chard dish, on page 100.  I wasn’t able to recreate the recipe one hundred per cent accurately as I was unable to get any Swiss Chard, and I had to make up a slight shortfall of split wheat with some pearl barley, though this was listed as an acceptable substitute.  I used spring greens instead of the Swiss Chard.  I chose this recipe because I felt it represented something of a challenge.  How would the sweet pomegranate molasses taste alongside the earthiness of the greens?
The recipe was fairly simple to follow, though it took some time to separate the leaves and stalks from the greens and chop them up.  There was also quite a wait before it was done, mainly for the wheat.  Patience certainly paid off though and there were some great tastes to be enjoyed.  The wheat had taken on a chewy texture, the stalks of the greens still retained a slight crunch which contrasted nicely with the softened leaves, and the pomegranate molasses and sugar added sweetness and richness which turned what was in essence quite a simple dish into something quite luxurious. 
The recommended accompaniment was some yoghurt, so I had a bit of fun with piping it onto the completed dish to give a zig-zag effect.  I don’t usually go to this much trouble but I quite liked how it turned out and it added a slight creaminess to the dish.  I topped it all off with a little more pomegranate molasses just before serving to create an initial burst of added sweetness.  Both these final flourishes turned out to have been more than mere decoration and I was pleased to have added them. 
In terms of quantity, we found that there was enough for six servings rather than the specified four.
Another one to make again, perhaps as an accompaniment to plain cooked chicken or burgers, as recommended in the commentary for the recipe.

Bonus Recipe (Not from the Jerusalem recipe book)

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad with Garlic Dressing
I really didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to write about this fabulous salad, which has been a favourite of both Jay's and mine for some time, so I have included it here as a bonus dish.  The recipe was influenced by a Turkish salad of tomato and pomegranate seeds, and although it doesn’t appear in the Jerusalem cook book, it was featured in an episode of Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast covering the food of Israel, and the recipe is in ‘Plenty More’.
The Pomegranate Molasses forms the base for the dressing, where it is joined by garlic, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Ground allspice should have been included too but we had run out so I decided to use some Ethiopian Berbere spice mix instead, which provided quite a different taste to the allspice yet still worked really well.  It isn’t as incongruous as it sounds either, as there is a community of Ethiopian Jews who reside in Jerusalem so it’s not totally implausible to use it.
The salad itself is quite simple, consisting of chopped tomatoes, red onion and pepper, over which is poured the dressing, followed by the pomegranate seeds and finally picked oregano leaves.  We were lucky to be able to use fresh oregano from home as our plant is doing quite well at the moment.  We also have a thriving sage plant, so I must seek out a recipe which includes sage very soon.
We have made this salad several times before as it is easy to prepare and looks and tastes fantastic.  The dressing adds a familiar richness to both the colour and flavour of the salad, and as the recipe’s accompanying commentary states, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to sit with a spoon and eat the whole lot.  We were strong willed this time though and have saved some for tomorrow.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the omgyummy.com web site)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Evaluation

Dee – The Seven Day Diet Plan introduced us to the concept of ‘clean eating’.  This quote from one of the communications from the diet organisers gives a suitably succinct definition of what it means:  “Clean food is as close to its natural form as possible – unprocessed, minimally handled from source to shop, and preferably with little in the way of packaging.”  It is fairly close to how we’d been shopping and cooking for ourselves before the diet.  Yes, we did slip a little in recent weeks, which was what gave rise to us starting the diet in the first place, but that was more down to eating out too much and not watching what we were drinking, rather than any major flaws in our approach to cooking for ourselves.  We’d already started to address the imbalance a week before starting the diet, but its arrival gave us a ready-made structure to help us keep the diet going.

The plan was well organised, with menu, shopping lists and recipes available as electronic files for downloading.  The email communications at the beginning, mid-point and end of the seven day period were also full of useful information and encouragement.  Each dish had a calorie count attached, which was good to see, as were the comments on why the key ingredients had been selected.

The shopping list however was the main hurdle to overcome.  Some of my initial concerns about availability of ingredients proved to be valid, causing us to make most of the substitutions that I had anticipated.  These are discussed in the commentaries for each day’s meals.

Cost was another factor which we had to take into consideration.  We spent more on our weekly shop than we would do usually, but we also ended up with leftovers which we have been able to freeze and enjoy for future lunches and teas, so what seemed to have been a week’s shopping turned out to be a week plus one or two extra lunches and teas.

The recipe instructions were easy to follow and were suitable for cooks of all levels.  That does come with a caveat though.  Not all of the ingredients were readily accessible, and we had to rely on our experience of cooking at home to know what would work in their place and what wouldn’t.  It would be useful next time I think to identify where obscure ingredients are required and to list alternatives.
Quantities also tended to vary a bit, as I wrote about in the commentaries on each individual dish, but they exceeded the stated servings rather than falling short of them.  The recipe documents were well laid out, with photographs of the finished dishes to act as guidelines.

Taste-wise, we were very impressed with nearly all of the meals.  All of the five taste sensations were provided for, and nothing was left bland or tasteless.  There was a distinct lack of salt in the recipes, which I thought would be a problem, but everything we cooked turned out fine.  Pepper and other spices were used in contexts where I would have used salt, which is something I will be taking into my own cooking.  Even the one dish that I wasn’t keen on didn’t lack flavour.

Would we cook any of it again?  Yes, definitiely.  My personal favourites were the Spicy Vegetable Pilau and the Flatbreads and Beans, and Jay was particularly fond of the Quinoa and Chia Porridge.

As for the future, it’s unlikely that we will adopt a clean eating regime entirely.  There are several factors contributing to this decision, including cost, availability and convenience, but we will certainly be more mindful of how much processed food we are buying.

So that just about covers it from our side.  Thanks to everyone who has read this far.  It’s been a very interesting project.

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Seven

Dee – The final day of our seven day diet was Tuesday 16th June, and the time between then and now has allowed us time to add in an evaluation of the whole experience.
Today’s menu was comprised of a filling breakfast, a light lunch and the second fish based meal in a week.

Breakfast:  Wholewheat flatbreads with beans and poached egg
I’d been looking forward to trying out this breakfast as it was more savoury in nature than the other two recipes.  It reminded me of a healthier version of baked beans on toast. 
The beans were cooked in a sauce made from passata, onion, dates, paprika and vinegar, and it had a much sharper, richer and tangier taste than the shop bought baked beans.  Medjool dates had eluded us when we got the shopping in, so we used Khouat Alligs instead.  The recipe made enough for four servings, so we froze the unused portions, which we ended up enjoying for breakfast with two more flatbreads the next day.
The absence of salt in the flatbread recipe was slightly disconcerting at first, but I followed the recipe and the taste didn’t seem to suffer for it.  The taste of the sauce was predominant anyway.
Jay declined the offer of a poached egg, but I enjoyed mine.
This was a nice tasty and filling breakfast.  Because of the time needed to assemble it, I would be tempted to make up multiple flatbreads and large batches of beans that could be frozen and defrosted overnight ready for reheating while poaching the egg the next morning.

Lunch:  Peanut butter hummus with fruit and veg sticks
This second and final serving of hummus and crudités turned out to be lighter than breakfast, but kept us going until tea time.  The hummus had kept its flavour, though I wouldn’t have liked to have left it any longer in the fridge.

Tea:  Wild salmon with corn and pepper salsa
We were pleased to have been able to buy some wild salmon for use in our final meal, and it turned out to be excellent quality.  It was a very simple recipe to follow.  A rub for the salmon, which was then pan fried and served with a freshly chopped salad dressed with lime juice.
The pan-frying of the fish gave the skin that lovely crispy quality, and was accompanied by a delicious salsa similar to Pico de Gallo, but with sweetcorn rather than tomatoes.  It was supposed to have had chopped avocado in it but for some reason we didn’t have one, but it didn’t matter as we both loved the version we’d made.  There was more salad than we needed with our teas, and even though we took fairly generous portions of it, there was still some left over.  It was important to eat it up the next day as fresh salads such as this one are at their best as soon as they are made.

Well, that's all of the cooking and eating done.  To round things off, the final entry in this blogging project will be the evaluation.  

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Six

Dee – Day Six introduces a promising sounding vegetarian lunch, and a simple fish dish for tea.  As we’re nearly at the end of the seven-day dietary period, I’m now starting to check the contents of the fridge, in order to ascertain what will be left over after tomorrow’s final meals, and then to work out the best uses for them.

Breakfast: Date & Buckwheat Granola with Pecans & Seeds
This morning’s breakfast saw the fourth and final serving of the granola, which we served with yoghurt and blueberries which had been left over from day five’s tea.  The granola had become a little soggy by this point, perhaps because of the plastic container which we had kept it in, but I think next time we make it we will make a smaller quantity to keep it fresher.  We also make our own muesli, but as that only contains dry ingredients, it retains its texture a lot better.

Lunch: Asparagus & Lentil Salad with Cranberries & Crumbled Feta
I must apologise for the lack of photograph of this dish.  I forgot to take a picture before lunch and there was only enough for the two specified servings, so I will just have to describe it as best I can.
First on the plate were the lentils.  They were the green variety, into which were stirred a dressing made from chopped cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries, spring onions, cider vinegar and olive oil.
On top of this mixture was placed asparagus tips which had been blanched for a few minutes in the same pan as the lentils as they finished cooking.  Normally we char our asparagus in a frying pan before serving it but this time we decided to follow the recipe and leave it as it was.
Finally, a little feta cheese was crumbled over the top as a final garnish.
This turned out to be a delicious lunch.  We missed the charred quality of the asparagus but the blanched version was still tasty and made for a nice change. 
This is another dish that we are likely to make again as it is well suited to be made in a larger quantity and enjoyed the next day, but we may vary the blanching and charring of the asparagus.  Maybe we could even make half and half.  Now there’s a thought…

Tea: Lemon Pollock with Sweet Potato Chips & Broccoli Mash
We weren’t able to obtain Pollock fillets, and to be honest I didn’t expect to, so we opted for cod instead.
I was a bit nervous about the broccoli mash as it sounded too much like one of my least favourite foods: mushy peas.  I know a lot of people love them but I can’t abide the look and colour of them.  I tried some pea puree once and that had the same effect:  I couldn’t manage more than a tiny mouthful.  However, I persevered and prepared the broccoli mash recipe as directed.  There were peas in it that needed blitzing, but there were also leeks and broccoli, which I like.  The finished product had quite a rich colour and didn’t have the sloppy consistency that turns me off mushy peas, so I didn’t mind tasting it.  Thankfully I liked it.  Even though the vegetables had been cooked, the mash had kept a certain freshness.  The broccoli, leeks and peas had all kept their flavours, and the hint of mint gave it a pleasant finish, so I was happy to have it as a side portion on my plate.  Quantity-wise, it was another one that yielded far more than the specified two servings.  We had generous portions with our meals but there was still enough for another two servings, so we froze it for later use.
The fish was treated very simply, being cooked in the oven with a little lemon zest and pepper, then garnished with a dressing of capers, olive oil and a little lemon juice.
Similarly the potatoes were cut into chips and baked in the oven with a dusting of paprika. 
There should have been garlic added to the dressing for the fish, but we decided to leave it out as the recipe called for it to be added raw, which we’re not so keen on, and we didn’t feel like cooking just one chopped up clove on its own.
This was a simple but enjoyable tea, which allowed each ingredient to present its flavour without being overwhelmed by sauce.  I will be keeping a look out for Pollock to see how it compares with the cod.

Tomorrow is Day Seven, the final day of the diet.  We’ve enjoyed it so far, and are looking forward to seeing what the final few meals have in store.

Monday, 15 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Five

Dee – Day Five and we’re still going strong and, coffee and tea notwithstanding, sticking to the diet plan.  Today sees the introduction of new recipes for lunch and tea.

Breakfast:  Date & Buckwheat Granola with Pecans & Seeds
We’d kept just enough of this back to see us right for breakfast today and tomorrow.  Thankfully the weather was much improved on yesterday, so we weren’t in need of a warming bowl of porridge.  This granola, when served with the thick yoghurt that we like still sets us up well for the day and is filling enough to last us until lunch time.

Lunch:  Peanut Butter Hummus with Fruit & Veg Sticks
As we expected, this turned out to be quite a light lunch, though it was a lot tastier than we thought it would be.  The hummus included shelled peanuts rather than peanut butter, and was spiced up with smoked paprika.  The recipe called for a few whole chickpeas to be stirred into the mixture to give it additional texture but I decided instead to puree them all up as I wasn’t too bothered about varying the texture.  The apple slices worked extremely well with this dip.
Serving quantities were fine and we are both looking forward to Tuesday’s lunch.

Tea:  Chicken & Avocado Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing
Jay enjoyed this and would happily cook it, or versions of it, again.  I wasn’t so keen, and will leave it as my one and only sampling of the recipe.  I like blueberries, broad beans and beetroot as ingredients in their own right, but I don’t think they work together on a plate.  The tastes and textures are just too far apart.  The chicken and avocado weren’t a problem, and I don’t think the beans would have been out of place.  I’d even be interested to try the blueberries if they were pureed and mixed in with the balsamic vinegar, although the beans would then have to go, but I don’t think the beetroot belonged there at all.
I ate it all, but had to pick it apart ate the beetroot first, followed by the beans, before moving on to the other ingredients.
Out of all the recipes we’ve made, this has been the only one that I haven’t enjoyed, so that’s pretty good going.
We have blueberries left over, but they will be the garnish for tomorrow’s breakfast.  We also have beetroot, which we’re keeping on one side for a lunch or tea later in the week.

Day six tomorrow.  We’re not giving up now…

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Four

Dee – Day four marks the half way point of our diet, and it was marked by the arrival of an email from the organisers.  As well as congratulating everyone who had stuck with the diet thus far, there were tips on exercising, superfoods and mindful eating.  It was Jay who noticed that we were supposed to have restricted our intake of caffeinated drinks which we missed because of concentrating on the food shopping.  However, after a closer read through the article, it turned out that coffee or tea wasn’t the end of the world, so we hadn’t messed up as much as we thought.  I’d been drinking coffee in the morning, with yerba mate during the day, wheras Jay had also been having a coffee with breakfast and another one or two during the day.  This works for us.  We enjoy our morning coffee, and we haven’t felt any ill effects thus far, so I don’t think we’ll be changing that any time soon.

Breakfast: Coconut & Chia Porridge
This morning saw the arrival of strong winds and driving rain, so this porridge, summery as it was, made for a good start to the day.  It needed a little water adding to help it on its way as I reheated it.  The taste was still good, though in future I would probably just make the quantity that would be served, rather than a larger batch for reheating.

Lunch: Summer Pistou
For lunch we enjoyed some more of the summer pistou which we made on day two.  There is still enough of it left to feed us both for another two lunches, so we’ve divided it up and frozen it ready for another day.

Tea: Veggie ‘Meat’balls with Tomato Courgetti
We had two huge courgettes to use for this recipe, so ended up with enough courgetti for two more servings, so the surplus joined the summer pistou in the freezer.  We (well, Jay actually) sliced up the courgettes into strips by hand rather than buying a spiralizer, which made them a little wider than I’d have liked but it wasn’t a huge problem.
I was concerned by how loose the ‘meat’ball mixture was and didn’t think it would bake properly, but I stuck to the recipe and did my best to spoon it into vaguely ball-like shapes before they went into the oven.  Thankfully the mixture baked ok but looked more like patties than balls.  The taste was good.  More delicate in texture than I was expecting, with a good kick from the chilli.

We both enjoyed this meal, though if I made it again I think I would cook the courgette rather than leaving it raw.  

New recipes to try out for lunch and tea tomorrow...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Three

Dee – Day three and we are both still sticking to the diet plan.  The recipes have been all good so far and there are enough leftovers in the freezer for at least another three meals.  Space is also starting to appear in the fridge after it was crammed full on Wednesday.  Slightly less preparation required today as we have our first repeat meal.

Breakfast:  Date and Buckwheat Granola with Pecans & Seeds
This is the first dish that has appeared more than once, and it was helpful to be breakfast as I wasn’t so rushed getting it all ready.  The prepared ingredients had held up well and again set us both up nicely for the day.

Lunch:  Herb Pancake Wraps with Goats Cheese
This was probably the recipe that I changed most from the specified version:  I substituted an orange pepper for the tomatoes as it was part of a three-pack of peppers that we had to buy in order to get the red and green ones.  Next, I used up all of the pack of basil in the Summer Pistou so used Flat Leaf Parsley instead.  As in one of the earlier recipes, I used black olives instead of kalamata, and finally I used a mixed watercress-spinach-rocket salad instead of the specified baby kale, which wasn’t available. 
I also made a couple of minor changes to the presentation:  I decided to finely chop the courgette.  No excuses for doing this other than it being too messy and too much like hard work washing up the grater afterwards.  It turned out to have been a good move anyway, as the chopped up courgettes took on a pleasing charred appearance and taste after being fried in a little rapeseed oil.
I liked the idea of adding water to the egg pancake mix.  Although this made the pancakes a little more difficult to control in the pan, they did take on a subtler texture and flavour allowing the herbs to predominate rather than the egg.
I served it up as an open pancake, with the goats cheese being spread first and the salad placed on top.  This made for another pleasantly fresh tasting lunch.  Maybe a little on the light side but we weren’t able to find any radishes to serve alongside it.  I didn’t give in to temptation though, so that was my lunch.
Incidentally, after yesterday’s rubbish photos, I was quite pleased with how this one turned out.

Tea:  Roast Chicken with Sweet Potato Gremolata Salad
Back to the sub-standard photos I’m afraid.  I’m blaming this one on too much afternoon sun.  I should also apologise for the presentation, which wasn’t foremost in our minds when we took the photo as we were both quite hungry from the light lunch.
However, while it was lacking in aesthetics, it more than made up for in taste, and could well be a contender for the best meal of the week.
We decided not to wilt the spinach, and instead served the chicken and vegetables on the leaves as they were.  We also used a couple of chicken breasts rather than a whole bird and left the raw garlic out of the gremolata.  This was quite a long meal to prepare, but as mentioned above, was well worth the waiting time.  The pomegranate seeds being used as a garnish just before serving were a great idea, and added a delicious sweetness and richness to the dish.  The sweet potatoes and onions had just begun to caramelise when the chicken was finally cooked, and contrasted well with the fresh spinach leaves and pomegranate seeds.
With the ingredients we used, the specified serving quantity of two was spot on.
We both loved this dish.  There were a few pomegranate seeds left over afterwards, so we enjoyed these for dessert.

Once tomorrow’s entry is written, we will be just past the half way point.  There is an email from the organisers reminding us of this, so I will look at that as part of tomorrow’s entry.

Friday, 12 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day Two

Dee – We’re now on to the second day, with another busy day’s cooking.  Three new recipes, all meat-free this time, and quite different from yesterday’s.

Breakfast: Coconut, Quinoa and Chia Porridge
Firstly, apologies for the terrible picture quality.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no photographer.  I know it’s an important aspect of food blogging, and I’m working on it.  Anyway, on to the food:  I was a bit nervous about how this dish would turn out, having hardly had any experience of quinoa and none with chia seeds before.  The strong, earthy aroma from the soaked quinoa was unappealing, and the chia seeds, when mixed with water created a consistency similar to concrete.  However, I stuck with it and eventually, the resulting porridge wasn’t too bad.  The chia seeds had an interesting flavour, with a very subtle hint of chocolate, while the quinoa added a texture that was almost like a soft couscous.  Overall, it was subtler than porridge made with oats, but the coconut yoghurt, fruit and almonds that it was served with added more flavour and a slightly crunchy texture. 
There were no problems obtaining any of the ingredients, and quantity-wise it yields four generous servings. 
While it won’t replace oat porridge completely, especially on colder mornings, we have enough quinoa and chia seeds to make it again over the summer.

Lunch: Summer Pistou
There was quite a bit of preparation required for this dish, but the cooking was simple.  We used halved cherry tomatoes instead of chopped larger ones, and a stock cube instead of reduced-salt bouillon powder, but otherwise it was prepared in accordance with the recipe.  On the subject of seasoning, I was a little concerned that it would need more salt but it was fine with what I used.  The stock cube and parmesan provided enough seasoning.  I liked the light, fresh taste of the finished soup, but it also benefitted from the addition of the sauce.  Great for a summer lunch, but I need to check the taste after a day or two before I can decide if it’s suitable to make in the quantity directed by the recipe.  It specifies four servings, but I had a couple of ladles full and there is still lots left.

Tea: Spicy Vegetable Pilau with Cucumber Raita
The long ingredient list may appear daunting, but this recipe wasn’t too difficult to prepare.  We again had to use a couple of substitute ingredients:  Maftoul instead of Freekeh, and added dill to the yoghurt and mint as we’d used up all the cucumber in yesterday’s couscous salad.  Both of these substitutions turned out fine, though without the cucumber the Raita became a herby yoghurt sauce.
I was very impressed with the final dish, which was rich, fruity and spicy with a slight kick from the chilli.  The yoghurt sauce was a perfect accompaniment and the herbs added just the right amount of extra flavour.
This time, regrettably, the quantity was spot on and there were no leftovers to enjoy another day.  However, we have enough maftoul left and should be able to find the fresh ingredients easily enough to be able to make it again.

This has been an enjoyable second day on the diet, and we have both felt that we have had some great tasting food without feeling as though we are losing taste in favour of healthy eating.  That, to me, is one of the most important parts of a diet.

Let’s see what day three brings…

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Day One

Dee – Yesterday we went shopping to gather the ingredients for the week’s recipes.  I could have written a blog entry about it, but decided instead to leave it until we started work on the recipes.  In a nutshell; we managed to get most of the ingredients, with no real surprises about which ones eluded us.  Tuesday is not the best day to go food shopping as stocks were running low, but on the other hand it was less crowded, and with a list of this size I think it would have been a nightmare at the weekend.  We managed to sort out replacements for the ingredients that we couldn’t source, and these will be dealt with in the commentary accompanying each dish.
Cost-wise, it came to between £60 and £70, but that doesn’t count the ingredients that we already had at home, so price remains a significant factor.

Now, on to the recipes for Day One

Breakfast:  Date and Buckwheat Granola with Pecans and Seeds
For our first meal we came up against our first hurdles:  We were unable to find either buckwheat or medjool dates, so had to use farro and khouat allig dates instead.  The required an overnight soaking but the rest of the dish was quite quick to prepare, which was just as well as I had to get lunch ready too.
The farro and dates were then baked to produce chewy clusters, which were then mixed in with seeds to add a crunchy texture, and sultanas to add small bursts of fruit.  I’m fond of toasted nuts and seeds so decided to adapt my version accordingly, though it isn’t specified in the recipe so is by no means essential.
The yoghurt and sliced nectarines which the granola was served with made for a tasty and filling breakfast.  I especially liked the inclusion of cinnamon, taking the place of sugar.
We made the full amount, and look forward to having it again.

Lunch:  Barley Couscous and Prawn Tabbouleh
Second meal, second obstacle:  This time we were unable to find any barley couscous so used the more readily available semolina based version.  It was also nice to use some of the mint which has recently sprung up in our back garden.  We bought ready-cooked prawns, the smaller sized ones rather than king prawns.
The Tabbouleh was more of a couscous salad, which made for a nice fresh lunch.  Light and quite subtly flavoured, with the lemon and mint leading the way.
Once the couscous had soaked, the rest of the dish was quick and simple to prepare and I managed to get it near to completion while the granola was in progress.
The one deviation from the recipe was in the use of the nectarines.  Neither Jay nor me could bring ourselves to add them to the salad, mainly because of the prawns, so we ate them separately as dessert.
We made the whole quantity, listed as serving 2, but we found there was plenty left over for at least another day’s lunch.

Tea:  Herby Lamb Fillet with Caponata
Again we had to compromise with the ingredients to make this dish.  We used lamb leg steaks as we couldn’t get loin fillet, and used black olives instead of kaponatas.  We also bought two standard sized potatoes as baby new potatoes were only available in large bags.  All of these substitutions worked out fine as this proved to be a great evening meal. 
The caponata was nice and rich, with attractively chunky vegetables and characteristic piquant flavour coming from the olives, capers and vinegar.  Although listed as serving 2, we found that there was plenty left over, so will be freezing it for use at a later date.
With the lamb steaks, we had to pan fry them and served them sliced up with the fried garlic and rosemary on top as a cooked garnish.  Because we weren’t roasting the meat, we decided not to roast the potatoes either, and settled with just quartering and boiling them.  There was enough sauce in the caponata to enjoy them with.
This proved to be a good hearty meal which we would happily make again.

The diet has got off to a good start, and we are looking forward to trying out tomorrow’s recipes, the results of which will be up on the blog tomorrow evening.

Right, let’s get that quinoa soaking before I forget...

Monday, 8 June 2015

BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan - Signing Up

Dee - May was a hectic month for Jay and me, with lots of food and drink related engagements to attend to, and not a lot of time to cook for ourselves.  That, together with missed exercise slots, drinks in the evening and the few opportunities we had to cook at home being wasted in favour of getting tea from the chippy all took their toll, and before we knew it the weight had crept up.

So, at the end of the month, we decided that enough was enough, and started formulating plans to bring things under control.  We’d both lost weight in the past so knew what we needed to do.  The most serious challenge, as we also knew, was going to come from the constant temptation that exists for every food and drink lover with an irrepressible urge to write about it all.

As luck would have it, we spotted a message on our Twitter feed from fellow food blogger and founder of the Midlands Food Bloggers’ collective Jo, of Jo's Kitchen (click here for details), who had signed up for the BBC Good Food 7-Day Summer Diet Plan (click here for details).  After reading through the promotional text, we decided to sign up, and received the recipes and shopping list at the end of last week.

I am hoping that starting the diet will have more benefits than just our health:  It will introduce us to some new recipes to try out, some of which we might stick with after the 7 day period.  Also, it will be a new project to write about on the blog.  I am looking forward to writing a day-by-day account of how the diet progresses, and it will be interesting to read the whole thing back in a week’s time.

The ‘official’ start date of the diet was Sunday 7th June, but we’ll be starting ours a little later, on Wednesday 10th.  However, we will be following it for the full 7 day period.

To start with, here are some initial thoughts on the shopping list:  It’s organised into categories, and also split into ‘days 1-4’ and ‘days 5-7’,both of which are welcome with a shopping list as big as this one, and that’s the key negative point here:  It’s a very big list.  Luckily we have a fair amount of the ingredients in our kitchen already, but for people who cook less often, it could work out expensive, possibly with lots of unused ingredients left over.  Most of the ingredients are readily available, though I am anticipating difficulties obtaining Buckwheat grains, Chia Seeds, Quinoa, Barley couscous and Pollack fillets.  Luckily we have freekeh grains, but had to visit a deli, which has since closed down, to get them.  Perhaps I am underestimating the breadth of ingredients available close to home but if we need to make substitutions we will disclose them once we’ve been to get the shopping.

I’ve only had a quick look at the recipes, and everything looks straightforward enough, but each dish will be discussed in greater detail in the daily updates.

The next step then is for us to check our supplies and head out to buy the rest.

We will be back with an update very soon.