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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

French Onion Soup

I'm in full on autumn mode now. I've got my boots out the cupboard, my camel coat on and the latest County Homes & Interiors mag ready to scatter dried up leaves and twigs and shit in my home (well not really but you get the point). I love it when seasons start to change, especially the transition to colder weather. Back come the soups, stews and roasts in rickety old pubs, and the hope that the next six months will be all crisp, cold mornings, blue skies, flurries of fluffy white snow and magnificent icy displays. It's the magical time of hope before the grey, grisly reality of British winter seeps in through your socks. 
French onion soup is a real classic warmer and a perfect sweet, cheesy welcome to September. A bit premature you might feel, but sod it. This is one is too good to wait for.  

To make you will need:
6 large onions
Beef stock (enough to fill your pot)
Brandy (or Marsala/Madeira wine or even sherry is good)
Glass of white wine (and the rest for drinking!)
Bread for croutons
Gruyère cheese

Chop up your onions into thin slices. Warm a tablespoon or two of butter in your pan and gently begin to fry them. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so they become soft and glistening. 

Then, chop up a couple of cloves of garlic, pop them in with the onions and keep cooking, letting the onions stick to the pan (without burning) so they go a deep, rich, brown colour. This part is really important, as it's the caramelisation of the onions which makes them sweet and gives the soup all of the flavour. Keep going for about half an hour. 

Once they're nice and brown, add in a load of brandy (I used half this bottle) and the white wine, and stir in. Pour over your beef stock and simmer for another 20 minutes on a soft boil with the lid off. The soup should reduce a bit and go more sticky and thick in texture. Add in some pepper (you won't need salt with the stock) and taste. It should be all melded in together nicely. If not, let it simmer some more. 

To serve, ladle into some nice deep bowls and plonk a piece of thick toasted bread on top with a pile of melted Gruyère cheese (if you can't get this kind, just get one that will melt well - any Swiss cheese would do). Pop it under the grill for a minute or two until the cheese is bubbling. Sprinkle on a bit of parsley and enjoy. This soup will make you crave winter all year round! 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Notting Hill Carnival

Heaving crowds, reggae, jerk chicken, pickpockets and the heady scent of weed in the air. It’s got to be carnival!
After 2 hours getting through London, a 30 minute wait for the toilet, and popping open my first £4 can of cider I was ready to squeeze through the groups of wackily dressed people to try and find the perfect music set. We didn’t go see the parade so I’ve had to pad out the blog with a few stock images (sorry, apparently no one goes to watch it). Headlining this year were Basement Jaxx, Protoje & Yaadcore and Jus Now among others. I’d only heard of one of them, and to be honest wasn’t really sure who the hell we were listening to, but it was good fun. 

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We spent the day travelling round the carnival and trying not to think about how badly we needed the loo. Even with the locals opening up their homes for people to go, it was so busy that people resorted to peeing in the street and trying to avoid being collared by the police… not nice.

Notting Hill carnival is dirty. Streets lined with rubbish, rivers of piss, puke and the constant worry of getting robbed. It made me feel a bit like a student again. Is this how I lived for 3 years? The food is great though – true Caribbean fare; rice and peas, blackened chicken, corn and jelly doughnuts.

The party ends at 7pm so there are lots of wasted twenty somethings weaving to the nearest open tube (Paddington for us) in search of the next party. We ended up in a Dalson club after a quick stop in Mile End dancing the night away. After being so careful all day, I did indeed get my bank card, phone and oyster card stolen. Luckily the sheer amount of alcohol numbed the blow – ah the joys of London. I also walked into a lamppost – clearly the bad luck of carnival.

For anyone interested in going I would give the following advice – wear a money belt with your belongings under your clothes. Take cash, it’s hard to find a cashpoint. Take your own drink – it’s very expensive. Do sample the food – it’s great and freshly cooked before you. Don’t take children for very long, and avoid music sets as these places can get very busy and overwhelming. Leave enough time to get there and to get home. Do watch the parade – the costumes are amazing. Enjoy! It’s a historic London tradition and definitely worth going once.

Thursday, 21 August 2014


OK, it’s official. I want to lose weight. Urgh. Following a particularly indulgent holiday and load of scrumptious (if I do say so myself!) recipe posts, I'm not feeling my best. I've talked before about causes of overeating and ways to reduce that, and after nearly 2 years of not dieting I've not put on any weight, but I'm not losing it either and I'm getting a bit miffed.

I wish I was like my friends who can gobble what they want and be minuscule… but I can’t (sob). The thing is, I love eating, this is the problem. I love cooking, going out for meals and socialising over a BBQ or crusty bread dunked into a whole molten Camembert (*dribble*...I'll have to try that this weekend).
I used to be a seasoned dieter. I've tried them all, and the idea of having to eat salad for the rest of my life is just depressing. OK, so I could probably make the effort and create some nice healthy dishes (my Tom Yum soup being one, or Speedy Spanish Rice which is quite lovely). But what about the other stuff? The cheesy burgers, the pizzas, or these devilishly good peanut butter brownies? Am I doomed to spend my life saying "no" to all of that, creating only saintly recipes and giving up the cocktails?? I can't take it I tell you! Why must it be that I have to choose between my passion or my arse? Is there another way?

Well, the emotional side of it has helped immensely with how I feel, coping with stress or anxiety for example and definitely has played a role in stopping me piling on the pounds. But it isn't enough to help me lose any. The scales are just sitting where they have done for the last few years. I'm eating what I like and enjoying it, but overindulging just enough to keep the weight a bit higher than I'd like. 

So, I'm stopping the nonsense, giving in and trying the latest craze - the 5:2 diet. Fasting on 2 days out of 7 (For me I'm picking Mondays and Thursdays) and eating 'normally' on the rest. (*Normally is enough food to maintain my current weight which is just under 2000 calories). So while I may need to behave like a monk on those days, during the rest of the week I can relax, go out, entertain and keep doing what I love. 

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Monday was my first fast day. 500 calories only for most women, and 600 calories for most men. I ate a tomato cuppa soup, a pack of king prawns (which saved me at about 4pm) and then two poached eggs on a slice of wholemeal toast for dinner with shitloads of green Tabasco (I love that stuff). I've never enjoyed a tiny plate of food so much. It was hard, I'm not going to lie. I felt tired and grouchy and the only thing that got me through were those prawns and images of breakfast dancing in my head.
Tuesday morning I set the alarm for 7am (!) to cook a quicker variation of this. I never do that, instead I grab breakfast around 9:30 on my way to work, so I know it did a little bit of crazy to my brain. I had a brownie, a cheese toasty for lunch, then fish, potatoes and veg with lots of butter for dinner. So a pretty standard end to the day, perhaps eating a touch more than I would normally.
Yesterday was a different matter entirely. I fancied porridge in the morning, and sushi for lunch (even though I could have been eating pies and cake technically). Ok so there was a Nandos in the evening after the cinema, but I didn't overindulge at all - again a 'normal' day. Interesting, as I thought just a sniff of an upcoming fast day would make me drown myself in cream and gorgonzola.
Today is definitely easier than the first. I've learned that I need something solid, so the sugar-laden and not very satisfying cuppa soup is out. Instead I opted for a very welcome pot of fat free frozen coconut yoghurt with a few strawberries and passionfruit which is really tasty and filling. Although, the lady next to me is eating a cheese and onion toasty and I may faint with desire...

So, ahead of me lie two more blissful poached eggs on toast (I kid you not, it's going to be out of this world) and an early night, then three fast free days before week two begins. How will the scales fare? We'll have to wait and see. 

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